Author Event: Barry Miles

30 08 2011

Barry MilesAt times this event seemed more like a reunion for ex-punks and hippies, as guest Barry Miles recalled story after story from an amazing life, the hotspots being the time he spent with Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs in the 1970s.

The legendary music writer was in town primarily to promote his latest book, In The Seventies: Adventures in the Counter-Culture, but as the audience started chipping in with their own hazy reflections, I began to feel like I’d perhaps been born 20 years too late.

Still a Soho regular, Miles has lived the rock star life, regularly referring to the running joke of how he could possibly stay sober and translucent while all the madness of sex, drugs and rock and roll went on around him. “I’m originally from the Cotswolds,” he joked. “That pretty much guarantees you a strong constitution.”

Miles first recalled the 18 months he spent on Allen Ginsberg’s U.S. farm cataloguing his tapes. “It was a mammoth job,” he said. “Only 8 or 10 of Ginsberg’s total body of work hadn’t made it onto tape so we recorded it with him to complete it. It was once released in a CD box but there are no plans to ever do so again. You can probably get it all on the internet for free now anyway, but some of it was quite remarkable to listen to.”

18 months with Ginsberg surely led to some form of drug taking, asked chair Iain MacWhirter of The Herald. “Ginsberg didn’t take many drugs,” said Miles. “He did some pot like everyone else and dropped some acid every year… just go keep his hand in, you know. He was too busy for it.”

Back in London and Miles became involved with the Gentleman of St James, William Burroughs. “He wanted, and did his best, to be as anonymous and invisible as possible,” said Miles. “He got some advice from a Mafioso pal of his, and from then on began to walk, talk and dress a certain way so he could achieve this.”

“Burroughs loved his guns,” said Miles. “When he died ten years ago it was discovered he had 28 guns in Kansas, just outside Dodge City. He had one for every occasion, even for going to the hairdresser.”

Miles soon became part of punk scene as it exploded in London but remained in the large alongside it. “Punk was a reaction to the political scene at the time but it had its roots firmly in the hippy movement, despite the fact it was marketed as a ‘hate the hippy’ thing, both hippies and punks had a lot in common. Johnny Rotten was massively influenced by Hawkwind and you can’t get much more hippy than that!”

“Self harm was the bad side of punk,” he recalled. “Take Sid and Nancy—that was just over the top. He used to slash his chest on stage and things—not good.”

According to Miles, “punk lost its edge in ‘77 because the clubs were all closing by then and the bands had all signed up to record companies. The only thing was the producers never realised that the bands were all on speed while on stage, and when they got them in the studio none of them could play.”

These days everything has changed claimed Miles, even down to the so called young British Artist (YBA) movement. “Their whole m.o. was to make money not to reflect society; there’s no real sense of self-expression any more,” he said. “Hurst and Emin set out to shock for commercial reasons, which to me is a side effect of coming from the greedy Thatcher era.”

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Author Event: Keith Jeffery

30 08 2011

Keith Jeffery

In week that saw an ex-CIA man hassled by the public and a visit by ex-MI5 head honcho, Stella Rimington, the circle of secrecy was completed today with the visit of MI6 historian, Keith Jeffery.

The Belfast boy agrees he is one of he luckiest biographers alive, or unluckiest depending how you look at it, to have been given access to the secretest of secret places in the UK: the archives of MI6, the UK’s international security service.

In his book, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949, Jeffrey was given complete access to MI6 archives leading from its formation in 1909 up to 1949, but limited access to the archives afterwards unless they related. “I never have the time to read everything anyway,” he said. “There was just too much information, and have you seen the size of the book anyway?”

There was another reason why the book only goes up to 1949: “MI6 didn’t want people extrapolating things that happened in the past into current events. 1949 was long enough ago that it can be classed as ‘another time’.”

Makes sense, but as PR goes it certainly is a massive step forward for MI6 to allow a civilian into their building to read their paperwork. MI6, the organisation that once prided itself on not existing in the first place, is moving into the 21st Century with great strides but it has it critics. “We need intelligence services,” said Jeffrey. “Particularly with the foreign reach that the UK has these days.”

Now that he has had time to build a relationship with the organisation, Jeffery says: “I think I’m happy to say that the MI6 have done more good than bad over the years. Take the Enigma machine, for example, they were instrumental in the UK being able to get their hands on it.”

In the book, Jeffery has protected the names of those agents that were mentioned in the information he researched for obvious reasons. However, after World War II, there were a great many that outed themselves and those agents remained unchanged. Other than that, the story is as complete as it can be.

The book contains some of MI6’s more hilarious antics over the years, like their quest to find the perfect invisible ink. They discovered the best material to use was semen, which was eventually scrapped when the smell of the decaying substance became too much even for their hardened agents to bear.

On completion of his research, Jeffery is able to remark that while it is an unfortunate side effect of the job, “MI6 regularly have to break foreign laws. It’s quite simply the game they’re in.” But on the subject of assassination attempts, he said: “Assassinations are a comparatively poor weapon of war because basically it hardly ever works. It’s not off the agenda completely, but it’s not permanently on it either.”

Before he began work Jeffrey was understandably “vetted up to the eyeballs”. And when final clearance was given and he got the job, he was invited to a dinner with the Director General, who told him he could ask him any question he liked about what they were up to. “My answer was ridiculous in hindsight; I told him I didn’t want to know.”

For the sceptics, though, Jeffery left us with the following sobering thought: “Terrorists only have to get it right once, MI6 and the security services have to be right all the time.”





Author Event: Pamela Stephenson-Connolly

15 08 2011

Pamela Stephenson-Connolly

As if the heat inside the RBS Main Tent wasn’t high enough, the temperature was raised to boiling point tonight when Dr. Pamela Stephenson-Connolly arrived to talk about her new book, Sex Life: How Our Sexual Encounters and Experiences Define Who We Are.

Fresh off the plane from Papua New Guinea, Stephenson-Connolly took the book festival by storm and turned all chatter to the subject of sex, “hot, however you want it sex.”

The audience was very forthcoming as she talked about her opinions on sex, sex education and the barriers we place between ourselves and our partners. But I remain unsure as to whether the revelation that there is a surprisingly high amount of people in the world that perform oral sex on their pets, was too much for this Edinburgh audience.

It certainly wasn’t for the evening’s host, Rush Wishart, whose witty retorts and and quick-snap jokes saw her almost steal the show from the raging siren sitting next to her.

Stephenson-Connolly nearly blew the lid off the place when she pulled her dance partner Leroy out of the audience not once, but twice, to partake in a sexy Argentinian tango. And with that she was gone, leaving behind her almost 600 audience members with thoughts of romantic endeavours to come.





Author Event: Julie Hill

15 08 2011

Julie HillPeppers Theatre was packed to the gunnels with a wide variety of people keen to hear the thoughts of environmentalist Julie Hill, talk about her book, The Secret Life of Stuff. But it wasn’t any normal discussion, and it isn’t any “normal” book on recycling.

Hill spoke about how we all love stuff. We buy things for whatever reason and it accumulates over time before we get rid of it (when we die)—but then what? Renewables are only renewable if companies allow them to be made from materials that can be recycled, so is sustainability limitless or does consumerism have limits, after all, if economic growth cannot continue in its present form what will happen?

The discussion was wide and varied, covering the preservation of water to some important advice about never promoting the idea of a wind farm to a Scottish highlander. Rob Edwards who chaired the event, tied things up by remarking that in order to support Julie in her work we should all go out and NOT buy her book, prompting much laughter in the tent, but to which Julie had ultimately, to nod her head in agreement.