In this book Robert Dellar traces his life journey from his childhood in a working class area of Watford, through Sussex University and the London squatting community, to what he calls the ‘murky waters of mental health’.
Of special importance is the pioneering work Robert did in Hackney Hospital, setting up a patients’ council and advocacy department. At the time of the hospital’s closure in the mid-90s, Robert organised some lively gigs, which he describes here in colourful detail.
He subsequently worked at Southwark MIND, (the first user-run MIND group), before joining Mad Pride, an organisation which linked mental health to rock and roll through the gigs it produced. Dellar and his friend Peter Shaughnessy also turned mental health demonstrations into theatre.
The title of this book is taken from a song by punk legends Alternative TV. They make several appearances here, as do Nikki Sudden and two survivor punk bands, the Ceramic Hobbs and Rudimentary Peni.
Lesser-known but equally talented artists like Dave Russell and the Astronauts also make a number of appearances here. While Mad Pride is associated with punk rock, a number of folk musicians and poets also took part in their gigs.
Some parts of this book deal with grim and tragic topics, but it is also shot through with a sense of humour and a deep compassion. There are also flashes of anarchy. The titles for a lot of the chapters come from songs, many of which are those relating to the Punk and new wave years.
This was a period of great importance to Robert, during which he also produced many fanzines. His fanzine influence continued with the Southwark MIND newsletter, which was always an inspiring magazine to read. The book also exposes some little-known capitalist scandals like the exploitation carried out by drug companies.
It also shows how charities like SANE (Schizophrenia a National Emergency), whilst appearing to be respectable, do a lot to demonise people with that label, contributing to schizophrenic people’s negative experiences of such things as heavy medication, stigma, and locked wards.
The book highlights the demonstration Mad Pride organised against SANE in the late 1990s which forced SANE’s founder, Marjory Wallace, out to face the protesters.
This book is an enjoyable, entertaining read. Robert’s journey has been an uphill struggle, but there have been proud achievements along the way. I have a lot of respect for the good work that Robert Dellar has done over the years.
Kevin Coyne’s first solo album, Case History, was recorded in 1972, shortly after Nobody Dies In Dreamland. Last year, it was re-released by Turpentine Records.
Shortly after its release its label, John Peel’s Dandelion, folded and Case History became very hard to find. I only heard the record in the early 1980s, when it was issued as a box set with the two Siren albums. The label that issued the records in the early 1980s was called Butt records whose logo was an ashtray overflowing with dog ends. When I listened to Case History the songs stirred up something in me. They are as direct as any punk recording of that time.
Kevin has been quoted as saying that the songs for Case History were recorded in just three or four hours, and that Case History is not just an album but a whole period of his life. This becomes very clear as the album unfolds. Dave Clauge and Nick Cudworth from Siren accompany Kevin on the first two tracks. The opening track ‘God Bless The Bride’ is an upbeat number where Kevin asks God to bless everything from the bride and groom and their families, to the hotel by the sea, and the little room with its pot dogs. Track two ‘White Horse’ is a gentle song. I have never understood what the song is about, but the imagery is quite fascinating. Track three (‘Uggy’s Song’ ) is where Case History really starts to let rip. We find Kevin on his own with his frantic acoustic guitar playing. As I mentioned in my review of Nobody Dies In Dreamland, ‘Uggy’s Song’ is the story of a black tramp murdered by the police in 1971. The police called him ‘Uggy’ because they considered him to be ugly. The next song ‘Need Somebody’ is about growing old and lonely. However Kevin also expresses the difficulty of reaching out to a friend. Then comes ‘Evil Island Home’, a disturbing picture of England as Kevin saw it at the time. The chorus to Evil Island Home comes across with a sense of disorientation.
As Case History moves on we come to ‘My Message to the People’, a statement of intent from Kevin. He sings “don’t tie me to your steeple, don’t put me in the stocks in your market square“. While Kevin’s guitar playing was very basic, it could also be very powerful. The next track ‘Mad Boy’ is a picture of someone who has been diagnosed as mentally ill. Someone who others feel needs to be controlled. Kevin sings “fetch the doctor, the doctor’s done his job. No more disagreeing with his mother”. The song’s chorus of “mad boy, mad boy” is quite otherworldly. Kevin’s mates from Siren return for Case History’s last track. Titled “Sand All Yellow” Kevin sings in two voices. One is the voice of the patient, the other one is the voice of the doctor. When Kevin speaks as the doctor there is a sinister tone to his voice.
After Case History the CD contains some bonus tracks, starting with ‘Cheat Me’, a single that Siren issued shortly before their split. Then we get ‘Flowering Cherry’. As Kevin anticipates the coming of summer, he also hopes that his love will grow. Then we get alternative versions of ‘Evil Island Home’, ‘My Message to the People’ and ‘Mad Boy’. We get a previously unreleased Siren song called ‘Doctor Love’, a rough and ready rocker. Then there is another version of ‘Cheat Me’ from a radio session. There is a version of ‘Flowering Cherry’ with a delightful trombone solo. The record finishes the way it started with another version of God Bless The Bride.
Thank you to Robert, Eugene and Helmi Coyne at Turpentine records for making this CD available. I look forward to whatever they bring us next. While this record was released a long time ago I feel the things Kevin is singing about still have relevance in these times.
Most of the old Victorian psychiatric hospitals have gone now, to be replaced by modern psychiatric units. But our life struggles can still lead us to nervous breakdowns. Case History is the beginning of a long and prolific career by of one of Britain’s most gifted songwriters.
To buy a copy of Case History visit Turpentine records at www.kevincoyne.co.uk
For the official Kevin Coyne website visit www.kevincoyne.de
For more about Kevin Coyne’s long and prolific career visit PASCAL’s fans website at www.kevincoynepage.free.fr