There is some blurb on the website of Denise Harvey, a small independent publisher, working from the island of Euboea, which says: “In 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, (Nikos) Gatsos published his major work, the surrealist epic poem Amorgos. Written in one night of inspired concentration, the poem was a distinctive re-imagining of the Greek poetic tradition, composed at a time of mortal danger for the Greek people.”
There is a photo which plays an important part in Ali Smith’s Artful lectures, it is of four women sleeping, or of a group of surrealists slumbering, taken at Lambe Creek House, Cornwall, in 1937. The four women are Lee Miller, Ady Fidelin, Nusch Éluard, Leonora Carrington, all significant figures in their way.
In her text Ali says: “That’s Leonora Carrington, you said, one of the most underrated of the British Surrealist artists and writers. Why we haven’t had a huge retrospective of her work at the Tate I don’t know.” This is a recurring motif in Ali’s writing, one where women artists, poets, writers, singers are not given due credit. Ali later wrote an introduction for Leonora’s book The Hearing Trumpet when it was republished by Penguin.
That photo by Roland Penrose, which is reproduced at the back of Artful, makes the four young women look like they would be the best ever post-punk outfit. Their dress sense oddly is reminiscent of a clip available on YouTube of Slits on Belgian TV doing ‘In The Beginning There Was Rhythm’, in 1981, .with some unidentified dancers who are mesmerising, skanking and waltzing around in printed and pleated skirts, blouses, sensible sweaters, dancing in their heads and out of their skins.
The four sleeping surrealists were as notorious as Slits, in their way. But the four women look less wild in the photo, more like The Raincoats, less brash and more quietly subversive. On The Raincoats’ Facebook page there is a photograph of Ali Smith with Gina Birch and Ana da Silva from the group. It looks like it could be a glorious collaboration.
The shot was taken when they all took part in a benefit in the summer of 2016 for the Feminist Library, on Westminster Bridge Road. Ali’s writing perhaps finds its closest musical echo in The Raincoats’ Odyshape LP. There is a similar refusal to accept constraints of form, but Ali’s and The Raincoats’ works are totally pop in their own unique ways. Here is something about Odyshape from a book called A Moment Worth Waiting For:
“It remains one of the most adventurous and strangest of pop records ever. It’s hard to think of any other record so inherently against rock orthodoxy, without making a big song and dance of it. Where so many of the punk generation paid lip service to breaking with the past, The Raincoats on Odyshape made what seemed to be unprecedented music.
“Rhythmically and structurally the songs are joyously all over the place, and the group pushed and pulled in all sorts of diverse directions, incorporating idiosyncratic instrumentation and melodic ideas that bristled and bridled and beguiled. ‘Shouting Out Loud’ opens Odyshape, perfectly capturing a confidence and vulnerability, while at the same time showing the group had developed enough to sound loose, which is a large part of the record’s enduring appeal, that and the fact it seemed so out-of-step at the time has meant it has evaded dating.
“Odyshape is such a beautifully intricate and warm record: there is so much going on. It is loose, too, in the sense of swapping instruments and personnel around from song to song, having a go at using different voices, different lyricists (Ana da Silva, Gina Birch and Caroline Scott), with all involved happy to hit this, pluck that, and take some time to get it right.”