Monday, 24 January 2011
Read more after the jump!
Since the 1960s, Jerry Cornelius has been rocking the worlds of music, music and multi-dimensional time travel. Magic Bullet’s Bevan St Michael, caught up with Jerry one typically action-packed afternoon courtesy of Babylon at the Kensington Roof Garden, where they talked about life, fashion and the latest in arms and armaments. Photos: Brownlow. [NB - I haven't used Brownlow's photos here as my scanner's on the fritz - presumably, he took the cover shot, though.]
It’s a bright spring day in London and from the roof garden at Babylon in Kensington you can see clear across to Notting Hill and the tower blocks of council flats. Somewhere here, however, lie the roots of the most dangerous man in the world. Somewhere beyond Holland Park is Portobello Road, the occasional home of my globe and multiverse-hopping interviewee. It’s quarter past three, and he’s fifteen minutes late: strange for this nomad of the time streams to be so lax with his timing, but lateness is the prerogative of the fashionable and they don’t come trendier than Jerry Cornelius, The English Assassin.
Down below, I see a late-model black saloon pull up on Kensington High Street: the driver hops out and around the front to open the passenger side door. After a moment of disdainful hesitation, a black figure emerges, runs a hand over his black buzz cut, smoothes down his black velvet car coat, pushes his shades up his nose and heads inside.
He comes through the doors of the Babylon restaurant and two harridans surrounded by shopping bags (Gucci, Dior, Hugo Boss) look up from their Pimms and flash their eyebrows at each other like monkeys warning each other of an approaching predator. From behind Cornelius, the ragged denim-clad human wreckage that is his driver, Shakey Mo Collier, squeezes though the door and approaches my table.
“Ello. Yer from Magic Bullet?”
“Yes, Bevan St Michael, interviewer of the strange, the dangerous and the-”
“Yeah, whatever, mate. Yer got any….” He rubs his thumb and fingers together.
This was not part of the arrangement but when one has spent as much time in the company of the human predators as I have, one comes prepared. I toss a wad of notes across the table and Collier grabs it, riffling through the stack with one dirty thumbnail. He nods, as if in agreement to some interior inquisition, and waves to Cornelius who is lurking amongst the topiary by the entrance, staring disinterestedly at the menu. He nods and glides over.
Naturally, I had expected this man to be impressive – one of the greatest assassins of any age, a rock star, a messiah to some – yet even so I am taken aback. The scent of his cologne, the flash of sun from his shades and the smooth curve of his smile exude an aura of lethal charisma. Cornelius slips into the seat opposite and Brownlow begins snapping away. Cornelius poses obligingly, but without enthusiasm.
I am about to offer Cornelius a drink when Collier pulls a flask and collapsible cup from one of the many pockets of his soiled denim jacket. Cornelius smiles, tips the cup at me and takes a long drink.
We exchange greetings while I gather my thoughts: Cornelius cocks his head and raises his eyebrows from behind the protection of his shades like a cowboy raising his hat on a stick to tease the Indians.
“Mind if we have one without the shades?” asks Brownlow.
“Yes, I do.” The voice hasn’t changed, still the silky classless drawl that can clearly be heard in the background shouting cat calls in the tapes of the Warren Commission (“All the way with LBJ!”), still the weary inflection familiar from the footage of the Deep Fix at the Isle of Wight (“Pull down the fences! Pull ‘em down!”), still the hidden laugh audible in his testimony for the Brighton Bomb Enquiry (“Bunch of amateurs, your Lordship.”).
I clear my throat. “Shall we begin?” Cornelius shrugs. “Well, it’s good to see you looking so well.” He smiles a tight smile, which shows up lines radiating from under the shades. How old is Cornelius? Age must surely mean nothing for one such as he, yet he seems to have changed and matured since he played guitar on “Ready, Steady, Go” in that oft-repeated footage from 1965 (last seen on BBC 2’s “I Love the ‘60s” last Wednesday night, repeated on BBC4 on Thursday, then shown again on “I Love ‘I Love the 60’s’” on Friday, and available for download on www.bbc.com/endlessfuckingnostalgia.htm).
I gesture out across his old stomping grounds. “The old neighbourhood’s changed a bit, I’ll bet.”
Cornelius rubs at his nose and looks over at Collier, who hands over a little under half of my bank notes. “Yeah,” he says.
“They still do the Carnival,” I say, “When did you last go to the Notting Hill Carnival? How did you find it?”
He shrugs again. “Moorcock's children go there instead of me these days. They found it by taking the tube to Notting Hill Gate then walking down Portobellow Road and turning left down Elgin Crescent. They said it was getting a bit too Heritage for them. They all live over in East London, these days. Stoke Newington. What some people call this century's Notting Dale.”
I smile. “I’m a Hoxton man, myself. I mean, I was born in Hampshire, but I share a loft space with…” Cornelius frowns, as if I am speaking a foreign language, then checks his watch (Tag Huer, if I’m not mistaken).
“Well, so, er… How's the family? We haven't seen your brother for a while. He used to hang out with us at the Magic Bullet office quite a lot.”
“Bugger changed his name to Hoogstraten but managed to wriggle out of pokey once again. No doubt he'll be looking up his old mates in Notting Hill when he gets out - Tony Blurr, Jack the Straw and the rest of those wankers he hangs out with.”
From somewhere, the sound of automatic gunfire wafts up from the street. One of the harridan’s spills her Pimms and Shakey Mo peers intently over the side of the roof garden’s wall. “Can’t see anyfink, Mr C. Prob’ly just them yardies.” He turns to me. “Lovely lads when they’re smoking dope, see, but all this coke and crack…” He shakes his greasy locks in disappointment
Cornelius says nothing, looks pensive for a moment. What's behind those shades, I wonder? Regret? Nostalgia? Maybe even wisdom?
I think he's about to speak, then Mo, reacting to an unspoken request, fetches a small glass pipe from the breast pocket of denim jacket and fishes a plastic bag from his jeans. Cornelius taps a rock into the cradle and using his Ronson takes a huge lungful of crack smoke. He passes the pipe back to Collier who sucks about a quarter of a breath before coughing wetly over myself and Brownlow, and offers it around. I, Bevan St Mchael, who has drunk rivers of vodka, chased more dragons than St George and taken three quarters of the Andean jungle up his nose, demur, but Brownlow sucks enthusiastically at the dwindling coal.
“See there’s them wot can handle their medicine and them wot cannot, am I right, Mr C?” Mo leans back expansively and clears his throat – harrroook-ker-ker-ker. He starts rustling around in his pockets.
Heading him off at the pass, I address Cornelius again: “Quick fire round!” Cornelius starts and reaches a hand into his jacket. I hold up my hands and laugh. “Questions, I mean, quick fire questions! Er… KGB, CIA, MI5, Mossad, the Vatican, the IRA - is there anyone you haven't worked for?”
“The Church of Scientology.”
“Is there anyone you wouldn't work for?”
“Is there anyone you've longed to work for but never had the opportunity?”
“Where were you on September 11, 2001?”
He rolls his head around on his neck – relaxing or limbering up? “For a bit of fun I had slipped briefly into the mind and body of George Bush. Believe me, Dante knew nothing about hell.”
Brownlow gets up from beside me and heads off to the gents. Collier finally produces a long fat spliff from one of his pockets. “Takes the edge off the crack,” he tells me lighting it up and passing it to Cornelius.
“So, what's in the wardrobe this spring?”
“I've gone back to basic early 60s black. Nice Italian bum-freezer, drainpipes, thin black tie, button down collar white shirt, bit of cuff, bit of gold on the cuff, No 2 haircut.
“What are you driving?”
“For my sins, my son, I'm doing a black Lexus 350. I didn't want to get it but the zeitgeist made me. I can't bring myself to buy those foreign cars like Rolls Royces or Jaguars. And the Duesenberg got sold to Seaton Begg and is back in some 1930s or other. I'm just not in a romantic mood at the moment.”
“What's in your shoulder holster?”
Cornelius visibly brightens, and smiles to display neat, white teeth. “My shoulder holster? I gave up on the mini-Banning (vibragun) because Mitzi Beasley kept borrowing it for her own purposes. I've now got a very nice S&W Macronuker.” He pulls it from under his jacket, a small, silvery and efficient looking handgun and opens the breach for me to see inside. “Chamber holds six neat little nukes. Very fashionable. And perfect for today's gent around town.”
“So, then, what does the future hold?”
“The future?” Cornelius laughs. “There’s no such thing.”
“Ever get the desire to pack it all in and settle down in Milton Keynes?”
“I keep packing it all in, but somehow it falls back out. Not that anyone much notices....”
“How about getting the band back on the road?”
Cornelius glances at Shakey Mo, who looks at him expectantly. He shakes his head. “It's too difficult lugging all that Glucosamine along – barrels and barrels of it. Not to mention that the rhythm section keeps dozing off.”
“Come on, in these times of “Pop Idol” and computer bop, don’t we need some old fashioned rhythm and blues. I mean, whatever happened to rock and roll?”
“It’s alive and well and living in Milton Keynes.”
At that moment, a burst of artillery rumbles up at us, and we can see a line of tanks edging around the corner from Kensington Park. In the lead tank, a grotesquely fat man in a khaki mitre is struggling in the porthole, although it is unclear if he’s trying to wriggle out or wriggle in.
Cornelius and Mo look at each other. “Looks like we’re on, Mr C.”
“So it does, so it does." His face changes, not a smile, exactly, but a kind of ease, as if some taxing problem has just evaporated. "Excuse me,” he says, glancing at me, then sliping out of his chair and across the roof garden, past Brownlow who is emerging unsteadily from the gents. In another moment, he's through the doors and gone, as cordite-tinged smoke drifts up from the street and the ladies-who-lunch clutch at their shopping, debating whether to save the Versace or the Yves Saint Laurent.
A moment later on the street below the Lexus is revving and the thunderclap of one of Cornelius’ mini-nukes echoes out over the London skyline. Jerry Cornelius is on the job.