nthposition online magazine

'Snakes and ladders' by Alan Moore and Tim Perkins

by Ian Simmons

[ cdreviews ]

"There's only one Perdurabo, Tattwas out for the boys!", Thelemic away supporters, ontological punch-ups: it can only be Alan Moore, with his third spoken word meditation on London dark. Put together for a Golden Dawn event on "real magic" at the Conway Hall in April 1999 and, as on previous outings, supported by music from Tim Perkins, this takes its cue from the hall's location on Red Lion Square. It draws together skeins of magic and coincidence that this venerable site has woven around itself - forgotten movie stars, assorted pre-Raphaelites, Oliver Cromwell and, most of all, resonant late 19th century horror writer and Golden Dawn adept, Arthur Machen, whose grief-stricken, hallucinatory wanderings following his wife's death nearby form the backbone of this work.

While all three of Moore and Perkins' CDs have been triumphs, this is most definitely their best. First, it is exploring territory close to Moore's heart, ritual magic (he is a magician of formidable repute and expertise); and secondly, Tim Perkins' music complements it seamlessly, without any of the jarring excesses that slightly marred Angel Passage and The Highbury Working. Moore's examination of magical concepts from the Golden Dawn mythos links fluidly with explorations of Machen's distraught visions as he walked a vividly transformed delusory London, meeting characters from his own fiction, alternating between a glowing, exalted state he termed "Sion", and a pit of foetid, dark horror, referred to as "Baghdad". These states are lambently evoked, and strike resonances with Moore's own experiences, bumping into his own fictional occultist, John Constantine, who steps out of the dark to give him the true secret of magic ("Any cunt could do it"). It takes him back to his Northampton home town, where Machen once performed at the lunatic asylum with travelling players, and Francis Crick began on his path to unraveling the entwined snakes of DNA, almost exactly 50 years before this CD's release date. Occult snake symbolism and its reflection in DNA reverberates through this piece, as do death and resurrection (of a kind). Machen's wife dies, Rossetti's muse Lizzy Sidall too, buried in Highgate, then exhumed to retrieve poems. Cromwell dug up for execution three years after his demise and kept overnight at the Red Lion that gave the square its name, also touched by alchemical logic, and horrible omens nearby during George V's funeral. All come together in a psychogeographical stew of formidable potency, successfully complementing the comic book version of this piece, drawn by the superb Eddie Campbell and published a year or so back.

As in his comics, no one but Alan Moore is producing anything like this. He has talent equal to his towering physical stature and with work such as this, From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he remains on an impressive roll. He has been creating consistently excellent work since the Seventies, a track record few others can equal. I, for one, always look forward with anticipation to what will come next.