|Midnight Shakes The Memory #2 | FOOTNOTES Page | Obituary Page ||
That night I stay in the studio working into the small hours, listening to the thin sound of a transistor radio with fading batteries. As the local radio stations die on me one by one, I range over the dial in search of music. From the irritating babble of foreign newscasts a distant station slides out of a heterodyning whine, gains sudden volume and clarity, a tinny clangorous sound that abruptly carries me into the past.., to 1938 and a flat at 88 Grays Inn Road. The Flat, fan-centre and London residence of Arthur Clarke and Bill Temple.
Earlier that year I’d attended my first convention and started on a fannish career as an illustrator. I’d been asked to do cover designs for Novae Terrae, bulletin of the Science Fiction Association, then edited by Maurice Hanson, with assistance from Arthur and Bill.
I was a self-taught artist and the early sf pulp mags were my first text books. I admired Elliot Dold above all illustrators of the late twenties and thirties - his style seemed so essentially suited to sf, and far beyond anything of which I was capable at the time. So I guess I pinched most of my early tricks from the ubiquitous Frank R. Paul. (.And had to unlearn ‘em later!) Thus my inexpert attentions to the first stencil reduced it to flapping ribbons, but somehow the trio got it on to duplicator and coaxed a cover from it.
I am a fast learner. I abandoned the lethal print cutter misguidedly supplied by Maurice and made myself sane styluses, found some wheel-pens, and practiced diligently. The next cover presented fewer problems. And so it was as a member of the editorial team that I found myself invited down to see the production of the current issue of NT.
I arrived one wet weekend at the end of October to be met by Maurice and escorted round to the Flat. Panting up several flights of stairs we had trouble squeezing round the door into a room where Arthur, Bill and several helpers, were busy operating the duplicator. Cramped was not the word legend has it that Arthur once rashly ventured into the room wearing a double-breasted suit and got jarrmed between the walls.
What still sticks in my mind is that the noise of fanactivity was drowned by a blockbusting cacophony from the gramophone. It sounded exciting and futuristic (I wasn’t sufficiently sophisticated then to describe it as ‘avant-garde’). The short playing time of 78s had its advantages and when I got chance between repeats, I asked what it was. With an ecstatic gleam in his specs, Arthur revealed that it was Steel Foundry, a symphonic poem by one Alexander Vasilievich Mossolov.
I was impressed; though later I discovered that the music of this composer had earned him the disapproval of Soviet authorities as ‘formalistically depraved’, and that he had been under attack for defects of character and drunkenness.
And here I am, some forty years later, unexpectedly listening to that very same piece... ■
(revise for hb 29 March 1978)
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