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England's Hidden Reverse, David Keenan - a review

Tibet and Stapleton, 1991. (photo Ruth Bayer)

Photo : Tibet and Stapleton, 1991. (photo Ruth Bayer)

England’s Hidden Reverse is an impressive, illustrated, hard backed volume coupled with a CD of music by Nurse With Wound, Current 93 and Coil.

I read the original 2003 print, published by SAF, but I understand there is an updated and revised edition available.

The text is a fascinating look at the lives of London-based musicians from these and other bands and the interconnected nature of their social and artistic endeavours. The tales are told in a broadly chronological order, jumping from one artist to another in order to express the extent to which these lives and musical careers overlapped. These artists were (or are) true eccentrics, leading extreme lives.

The book details, most often in their own words, the obsessions – magical, musical, sexual and narcotic of Stapleton, Tibet, Sleazy, Balance and others. It includes references to their (often shared) esoteric and literary inspirations – such as Crowley, Spare and Burroughs. It’s a touching and frequently funny read for mature adults interested in experimental post-industrial music of the 80’s and 90’s. For those old enough to remember the persecution of S&M enthusiasts in the gay scene during the Thatcher years, it reminds us of that bizarre witch hunt involving Satanic ritual abuse and body piercing that casts its shadow over UK recent history.

One of the funniest sections revolves around David Tibet’s puppet theocracy. A warning about the dangers of excessive recreational drugs use.

“[Having] decided that Noddy is a gnostic deity, then it’s a small step to thinking that I might as well worship Punch and Judy. … Noddy had appeared in the sky crucified, and since Christ was God, therefore Noddy was also God, so he was Goddy.”

The CD is brilliantly odd, and the book is immensely readable. I suspect it isn’t easy to get hold of, but if you can beg, steal, borrow or buy it, you should check it out.

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