I was a teenage Indie kid. Dark blond hair cropped short at the sides and a fringe over one eye. Black jeans. Shirts the closest thing to psychedelic you could find in Ilford’s charity shops. Some army-surplus hooded jacket. Sneakers. You get the idea.
This was all back in the late 1980s when Margaret Thatcher ruled the land and indie music worshipped at the altars of The Pastels, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and the American noise scene. I smoked Rothmans, bought a lot of records, and sneaked into pubs that didn’t ask for ID.
It was the days of cider and black; lumps of dope in matchboxes; flicking through the LPs in HMV and the Virgin Megastore, Oxford Street; watching gigs at The George Robey, the Astoria on Charing Cross Road, the Town and Country Club; sitting on the floor next to girls at parties; wandering round Camden Market and buying Velvet Underground posters and bootleg cassettes of indie gigs in photocopied covers on bright coloured paper. I had a metallic red guitar I couldn’t play very well.
My school friend Simon Ward taught me the chords to Revolution by Spacemen 3 and I daydreamed about being in a band. Simon had already made that leap.
I spent the sixth form in a freaky grammar school with an all male student body, certifiably insane teachers, and ten-year-old graffiti on the roof that said HM PRISON. Strange times.
Simon Ward introduced me to indie greats (Joy Division, Big Black, and friends) with an armful of cassettes and I discovered the rest for myself. My parents couldn’t understand why my record collection turned from listenable 70s rock into Black Flag and Spacemen 3 pretty much overnight. My mum was horrified to discover an album called Groovy Hate Fuck by Pussy Galore in my room.
I studied a little for my A levels, listened to music, and expanded my literary tastes with whatever they sold in HMV: books about bands, books about drugs, and transgressive stuff like Willam Burroughs. Modern classics: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Hemingway; Truman Capote. One day at school during a history lesson Simon told me he was in a band called The Moons.
Simon was one of those indie types with a tangle of brown hair falling over his eyes, black jumpers with cigarette burns, and the kind of shyness that involved constantly looking at his shoes and speaking quietly while still being pretty assured of his own brilliance. He played guitar well and came from vaguely Catholic family somewhere near Valentine’s Park.
The Moons were part of a teenage indie scene that covered our school, a girl’s grammar school near Ilford, and a minor public (ie. expensive private) school called Bancroft.
At the time we thought the sun revolved around us but the scene was just twenty or thirty late teenagers barely old enough to drink in pubs convincingly. We all liked indie music to some degree. Some played in bands; others watched. The Moons did serious indie pop with a drum machine; Urban X were in thrall to the Velvet Underground/Spacemen 3 drone; Bark Psychosis did aggressive noise somewhere between Swans and Head of David.
All anyone ever achieved in terms of musical success was recording demos on the 4-track home recorders some richer kids persuaded their parents to buy, and organising gigs at a rented scout hall in Wanstead. I got dubbed versions of the former but never saw the latter. Reports said it was all blocked toilets, bad noise levels, a bit of dope-smoking, and angry letters from the scouts afterwards. They managed probably two gigs like that. The Telescopes, just starting out, turned up at one through some obscure connection; Simon used to claim they were just a punky thrash band until they saw his guitar drone technique and ripped it off. Może tak, może nie.
There was the occasional venture out into the wider world. The Moons played support at a George Robey gig where they went down pretty well. It was probably 1990 but might have been a year or so later. I smoked someone’s roll-ups instead of my usual Rothmans and was violently sick in the toilets but tried to pretend I was okay. Very suave. Disco Inferno were also on the bill. I’d seen them before at The Swan in Statford: Simon knew the keyboard player, who would later join Bark Psychosis, and the drummer of the band they supported used to come in the Ritz Video I worked, so I got two invitations. I’m still convinced that band was an early version of Suede but all evidence points elsewhere.
I remember an Urban X gig in someone’s garage around the same time, maybe a little earlier. The Asian bass player (Sanjay?) who used to play sitting on the floor wearing a sombrero had left and a girl called Katherine, dark and intense who later had a brief fling with the thirtysomething public schoolboy singer from World Domination Enterprises, had taken his place. Two stand up drums like Bobby Gillespie in old Mary Chain days. After the gig I somehow failed to walk home a curvy blonde called Isabelle but would end up going out for four years with her friend, a Franco-Asian bundle of fun called Annabelle. She aborted my baby, and later broke my heart with minimal effort.
Back then I probably wasn’t the nicest person. Good-looking, although jak zawsze I didn’t really know it, solipsistic like all teens, arrogant, mostly drunk, often depressed, but aware deep down that I was getting away with things I shouldn’t and treating people with less respect than they deserved. I’d also decided I was a writer, despite not having written anything, which didn’t help. My behaviour would change but not until the scene had flown away and I never saw those people any more.
The Success Story of Our Clan
Bark Psychosis were the only band who made anything out of that scene. Everyone else broke up in the early 1990s with college and parental pressure. The Moons would later reform in an altered form as The Brunettes (not the ones you’re thinking of) and I played bass for them. Not very well. The picture at the top of the page is me from that period. We only lasted 1994-95. Urban X ended and their singer, a Scottish-Hungarian guy called Shandel turned up in Brighton as a singer-songwriter calling himself Cosmo. He almost supported a Brunettes gig at a pub down there but didn’t do it for reasons lost in time.
The two guys behind Bark Psychosis wanted a life in music more than anything. Graham was a shortish guy with spiked hair; John taller with a long dark centre-part. They had roped in a guitarist who really wanted to play keyboards and didn’t much like the band, and a drummer whose musical tastes were more … something else. Heavy metal maybe?
They had connections with a druggy squat scene in Woodford or somewhere based around the guys who ran Cheree, a fanzine turned record label. That may have been why The Telescopes turned up at the scout hall gig. Another band called The Fury Things (again, not the ones you’re thinking of) were part of the Cheree world but the only time our paths crossed was when I saw the singer, who had an epic blond fringe and pretty girlfriend, in a Wanstead pub. I was too drunk to have a conversation; I was like that a lot back then. Alcohol took the shyness and drowned it face first in a pond.
Bark Psychosis were a year younger than the rest of us, which meant a lot at that age; they attended Bancroft which put them at the upper end of the middle-class cohort. They weren’t especially well-liked by the people I knew on the scene, like Simon and his band mates. John was regarded as having a sour personality; Graham arrogant as the day is long. But maybe we were all like that as teens.
They did a demo tape which I might still have somewhere. I remember at least four songs, maybe six. Clawhammer was on it; another was an instrumental overdubbed with lines from a BBC version of Coriolanus they taped off the radio; one called ‘Come to Daddy’ after the Hellraiser quote with two-line lyrics growled out by John from a conversation with Moons bassist Stephen ‘Jack’ Lemon about a girlfriend who never said anything (‘I don’t want to see you any more/ you don’t say nothing, you might as well be dead‘).
I thought they were great, although Simon Ward mocked the songs. The demo’s last track was definitely godawful. This was 1988, high point of transgressive American noise bands singing about horror and serial killers and prison riots and the evils we do to ourselves and others. Bark Psychosis had a go with a song called ‘Log’. They were sixteen at the time so the closest they got to body horror transgression was a track about straining to release one into the toilet bowl. John sang it. I remember one line: ‘the sweat is dripping down on my knees‘.
But they were serious about music, much more than the others.
Onwards and Upwards
Bark Psychosis would make it into a proper band with actual records and gigs and a twentysomething life in squats to support the music. I bought their first 12″ All Different Things on Cheree and was impressed that someone we knew had made a real vinyl single. I think it even got reviewed in Melody Maker. No-one else, including my girl Annabelle, seemed to care much.
Previously they’d had a track on a flexi-disk put out by Cheree: it was a possibly bootlegged fragment of a Spacemen 3 drone performance with a Fury Things track and BP’s Clawhammer on the other side. The flexi was wrapped in a yellow, folded down and photocopied A3 page with text and photos about the bands; all that had a black & white cover around it. Probably in a plastic bag, for what it’s worth. I know all this despite never getting the record because Catherine of Urban X gave me a copy of the packaging. Maybe I still have it somewhere, slid in between the pages of an art pad from St Martin’s.
After that I lost interest and lost touch, except for a brief period playing with The Brunettes. I had problems of my own, deep enough to drive away my friends and ditch that slice of suburban life between East London and Essex.
But … the Stanley Kubrick connection. In either late 1988 or early 1989 Simon Ward joined Bark Psychosis as a moonlighting second guitarist after their original guy left. I don’t remember his name: just another indie kid. Mark, maybe? Simon lasted one gig at a rented room over a pub then quit in the closest he ever got to a rage when Bark Psychosis overran their time and headliners The Moons had to play a shortened set. I got drunk beyond belief, staggered around the pub garden, got left behind by the friends who drove me there, got a lift back with Simon’s unsmiling father, fell in through the door of my parents’ house, tore a chunk off my thumb on the bathroom doorjamb thinking ‘Good thing I did that when I was drunk otherwise it would really hurt‘ as the blood spurted, and went to school the next day without a hangover.
Simon had practised with Bark Psychosis at Bancroft beforehand and reported that Graham wasn’t much liked by the pupils. When the BP singer asked a younger boy to do something the kid retorted: ‘Fuck off, bog brush hair‘.
Graham and John might have left Bancroft by then so I don’t know why the rehearsal was at the school. The mysteries of life. Simon also got the origins of the name: they had a teacher (Maths, Physics maybe?) called Mr Bark who would go into a rage whenever someone got a question wrong. So, Bark Psychosis.
The second guitarist gig opened up because the original BPer had quit to try a different kind of music.
Enter the Director
The band was called M Orchestra. It was just him and a keyboard. Vaguely dancey music, still obviously indie. The demo cassette had a big M in gold metallic marker surrounded by more silver marker. I got it because Simon received a copy, wasn’t too impressed, and passed it on. It was pretty good, more professional that you would expect.
I lost the tape years back through some move in London or Warszawa or all the other places I’ve lived. It sticks in the mind because of something Simon told me, probably in a pub, probably around 1989. He still didn’t like the music but was quietly excited that M Orchestra was going places. The film director Stanley Kubrick was interested in producing a record. He knew the M Orchestra kid’s father through business. And Kubrick was gay.
It was gossip enough that I later scribbled it into a diary I briefly kept in the mid-1990s. M Orchestra, Kubrick, gay.
Nothing ever happened with M Orchestra, at least as far as I know and the scene atomised, ended, with or without me. We were just kids, sitting around in pubs, drinking too much, thrilled to kiss our girl or cup her breast, sure that life would always be like this. I remember looking at myself in the mirror of a South Woodford pub toilet, on my way out the door back to Annabelle and John Stanton and Catholic Richard and others, thinking that this night had so many minutes and hours left it would last forever.
It didn’t. Most of the scene went on to jobs and kids and mortgages and bourgeois life, although the long-haired guitarist from Urban X called Jeremy joined Thee Hypnotics. I went off on my own adventures.
And M Orchestra’s Stanley Kubrick was a fucking impostor. His real name was Eddie Alan Jablowsky. He was a fiftysomething Jewish travel agent from Whitechapel with a rich fantasy life who called himself Alan Conway. He had convictions for deception and fraud, had to leave South Africa in a hurry when his business dealings attracted police attention, and abandoned his wife for a gay lover who died of AIDs in the 1980s.
The travel agent business fell apart and Jablowsky dived head first into alcoholism. He started claiming to be the legendarily reclusive director Stanley Kubrick. The M Orchestra con must have been very early on – most accounts say he started his impersonation in the early 1990s but I’m sure I heard this story in 1989. He would go on to con money, meals, and sex out of a lot of people for the next few years. Everyone from Frank Rich to Joe Longthorne fell for the act.
‘I really did believe I was Stanley Kubrick,’ Conway said. ‘I could have carried on until the day I died.’
He stopped drinking in 1995, quit the Kubrick impersonation but not the conman lifestyle, appeared on television talking about the scam, and died in 1998 owing lots of people money. John Malkovich played him in 2006’s Colour Me Kubrick.
That’s it. All I know. No clue what kind of business deal connected Jablowsky with the M Orchestra guy’s father; no clue if he took them for any money (producer fees); no clue if they ever made it to a studio (unlikely); no clue if something sleazy happened (I hope not, although Jablowsky liked young men).
But, for those of you who like to spin webs between big-time directors and minor indie bands, there’s a Kubrick-Bark Psychosis connection. Not much of one, but it’s there.
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