This week on the show we were joined by Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins. Click here to listen. If you'd prefer to read the interview...
Alan Moore: I’ve only just found out recently that we missed a couple of people from the Unearthing roster of famous Shooters Hill residents. We missed out on Boy George who was born just up the road from Steve’s and we missed out on Edith Bagnold who was the person who wrote National Velvet and International Velvet and she was, I believe, a morphine addict. Up there on top of Shooters Hill whacked out of her skull.
Steve: A morphine addict on Shooters Hill. It writes itself doesn’t it?
Alan Moore: I remember my former musical partner Tim Perkins, he once wrote a number called Intergalactic Velvet.
Jack: The next level.
Alan Moore: The next level, the third part of the trilogy. I can imagine Edith Bagnold on some of her wilder nights; she might not have been far from the truth. Intergalactic Velvet.
Jack: It’s an ever-changing project, isn’t it. So you could always add them at some point.
Alan Moore: There will be probably an Earthing eventually, this is going to be the sequel to Unearthing, but that won’t be for a few years yet until I’ve got all of this other stuff tidied away. It’ll be what’s happened to Steve Moore’s life since I wrote Unearthing, because that kind of changed everything. Stuff was changing anyway. One of the main things is Mitch got involved in what had previously been me writing a biography of Steve. That kind of altered everything. Very delightfully. Steve enjoyed the process but it meant that he had to be impersonated by Bob Goodman, which is something that you wouldn’t really wish on anybody.
Steve: In the photographs for the book? I thought that was Steve.
Mitch Jenkins: Steve Moore is right at the very very back because he didn’t want to be in it, because he’s a very shy man. And there he is standing on a box pouring water over Bob Goodman who is playing Steve Moore for the final…
Alan Moore: The rainstorm sequence. That was all Steve off panel with a watering can. And you can tell by the look on his face he really enjoyed doing that. He loved it.
Mitch Jenkins: Because we’d invaded his life for 3 years
Steve: And counting.
Alan Moore: It was during that time that Steve’s brother Chris was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. One of my favourite pictures of the many glorious pictures in that book is the picture of Chris Moore. I think that’s Melinda’s and Steve’s as well, and all the stuff about his cactuses. Mitch got a glorious shot of one of his cactuses. We’ll be getting some use out of that particularly thing. All of these bits of the project they all kind of continue on into other areas.
Steve: So it started as a planned biography of Steve Moore? It was the essay that was in City of Disappearances was the first time it saw public form wasn’t it?
Alan Moore: Iain Sinclair just asked if I could do a piece for London: City of Disappearances that was about people who were disappearing, had disappeared or would disappear. Or things or places that were in the process of disappearing somewhere within London, and I thought well Steve is just about within London, he’s right on the edge of Kent. So it’s a pretty liminal position he’s in to start with. And yes, he’s not disappearing any faster than anybody else, but when he’s gone, he’s such an unusual person, his loss, his disappearance, will probably have more far-reaching consequences than a lot of other people’s. So I wrote this thing, I think 50 pages, very pleased with it. I was collaborating with Steve all the way. And then this was what launched the entire resurgence of my contact and collaboration with Mitch.
Mitch Jenkins: I was getting, not so much bored, I don’t want to use that phrase, but I was becoming just a little bit jaded with my work in the advertising industry, always illustrating other people’s badly drawn pictures from creative directors. ‘We want it to look like this!’. So we’d go off and we’d be selling this product or this TV show or this film. Popped round to see Alan who I’d seen on and off over the last 30 years. Knocked on the door, had a cup of tea and said have you got a bit of A4 with a few random thoughts on it that I can go away and do something that’s gonna be really interesting that I can really visualise. No was the answer. Oh, that was a waste of fucking time. But he said but I’ve got this and he pulls out Unearthing. And he gives it to me and said go away and have a read. I went away and had a read, came back and thought well I can’t just take a few lines, if I’m gonna get involved in this project I want to visualise the whole thing, have something that looks completely different and hasn’t been done before. So went back, discussed it with Alan, he then put me in touch with Steve and once Steve had said yes it’s was okay, that’s how it started. Backwards and forwards to Shooters Hill trying to visualise to whole book.
Then we got two really good designers, Mark Millington and Paul Chessell. Great guys. Paul didn’t come in until towards the end of the process, but Mark had been working on designing it on and off for 3 or 4 years. We’d get some pages that were beautiful and others that I felt were just going too far in one direction and wasn’t too keen with. So I then got Paul to come in give us an overview of what he thought of the project and he said ‘a bit of simplicity’, chucked in a few ideas, worked on some pages. We’d pop round to Alan’s say ‘what do you reckon’, ‘I’m liking this, this works’, and we’d talk about it, and then six years later, here we are tonight.
Steve: In terms of what you’d call fieldwork, actually going to Shooters Hill to do work directly for the project.
Alan Moore: I’d been going there since I was 14.
Steve: But did you make specific visits after that?
Alan Moore: When I’d started planning the work I realised that I was going to need some reference about Shooters Hill and its history, which I was able to dig up with Steve’s help from various sources. I was also going to need Steve’s memory of his own life. Luckily he’s the kind of anal-retentive guy who’s kept journals of everything including his dreams for over 30 years. So I wasn’t without reference material. I’d been going there since I was 14 and the mystique of the area, I’d had plenty of time to soak that up. I knew about Algernon Blackwood having his birthplace over in Oxleas Woods. I knew about the surrounding areas, about the highwaymen stories, about Caesar having made his first invasion of Britain over the top of Shooters Hill and Julius Agricola about 50 years later, his more successful invasion. All of this stuff, we just sort of soaked it all up.
I was lucky enough to find what the geological underpinnings of Shooters Hill are. And this fantastic fact that Shooters Hill created London. That if a chalk fault hadn’t collapsed on the north face of Shooters Hill. That’s what gouged out the Thames Valley. Without the Thames Valley no Thames, without the Thames no London.
The thing is it was so perfect because Steve has lived in exactly the same spot all of his life and I don’t know of another single human being who has done that. There probably are, but few and far between.
Steve: In the piece you say he sleeps no more than four paces from where he was born, which is remarkable.
Alan Moore: His entire life circles around that house, that little close, up there on top of the hill. It’s his geography. And his parents before him, when they got the place in the 1930s because hey, it was a step up, it was above the rabble, it was a nice little hilltop community, pretty much independent, it was a step up in the world. And this was just before the Second World War and the Luftwaffe, which made it perhaps not quite such an ideal desirable residence. And then when the battle of Britain stopped they thought thank god, we can have a son, so they had Chris, Steve’s older brother, just before the V-bombs started.
And you still you go up to Shooters Hill and there’s rows of identical houses and every third or fourth one, a completely different style, because those are the ones that the V-bombs hit.
From what I hear, British high command was actually leaking false information to the Germans telling them that oh-ho-ho, your V-bombs are overshooting London and are landing harmlessly in the fields to the north. So the Germans thought right we’ll put a bit less fuel in them and basically, yeah, we don’t care if South London gets flattened as long as they’re not landing in W1.
I think what Mitch has brought to this, the eye for the image. Some of those images in there are extraordinary. There’s that picture of the Bull that’s kind of fractured into lots of separate images. And then there’s pictures of the giant Nazi flying saucers of a scene that’s never existed and never will, that was just a passing phrase, a passing fancy in the text of Unearthing.
Jack: “Piloted by Hitler’s brain”.
Mitch Jenkins: We were going to do the mole machines, but we thought let’s not overcomplicate it.
Alan Moore: This is the thing, it doesn’t matter how dull or grey or forgettable you think that these little urban corners are, that no matter where they are, if you look at them with an incisive enough eye, with a sympathetic enough eye, then you can find imagery and words and concepts that are impossibly rich. Considering that this is talking about one man…
Mitch Jenkins: Living in one house.
Alan Moore: In one house in one very restricted little area of London, I think that the kind of material that we have unearthed, shall we say, is treasure. Yes, I do think that Steve Moore is one of the most interesting people in the world. I do think that after Northampton, Shooters Hill is one of the most interesting places in the world, but that’s just me. I’m sure that if anybody else were to look at the place where they were situated that intensely, then with a little bit of poetry, with an eye for a nice picture you could do something like Unearthing. You could elevate the place where you’re living and make it a mythological landscape.
You weren’t with us Mitch, but during the Olympics I went up to Steve’s and he took me into Oxleas Wood, to the café, which is where Algernon Blackwood’s birthplace was, and it was where they’ve got the surface-to-air missiles for the Olympics. And he’d taken Brian Catling and Iain Sinclair over there the week before and when they’d gone there were children just playing around this thing, and it had got a generator near it, so the kids were just waiting for the bouncy castle to turn up. When I got there, there was this thing, it looked like… I vaguely remember from Doctor Who when I was a child, this might have been the television series, or it might have been Ron Turner’s comic strip in TV21, there was an Emperor Dalek that had got a big, black round head. That’s what the surface-to-air missile thing looked like.
I presume that this big sphere is presumably the control, the command unit. It’s got a quiver of two Stinger missiles on either side. Brilliantly sunny day, children playing around it, people having picnics on the grass. And it’s sighting from left to right, angling upwards, aiming at these totally blank pieces of sky, swivelling round, seeming to track the movement of the children that are playing 10 feet away from it. And after watching this for a while I thought This isn’t loaded, is it. None of these are loaded. If you shoot down a terrorist plane over London, you are guaranteed to do just as much damage if not more as whatever the terrorists were planning.
Mitch Jenkins: Just look at Lockerbie. What happens when a plane blows up and falls out the sky.
Alan Moore: Look at what happens when that helicopter flew into a crane. Alright, I think only one or two people got killed, but that was by an incredible fluke of luck. So I thought it would make much more sense to do highly publicised dummy missiles, or unarmed missiles. Get a lot of publicity, put them on the top of tower blocks where you know that the residents will complain. That’ll get it in all the papers. Put them in all these highly publicised places.
As Steve Moore pointed out it was like they were following some sort of occult grid, at least a literary occult grid, in the sighting of all those missiles. There was the ones at Shooters Hill right near where Algernon Blackwood’s house had been, there were the ones down in Blackheath where David Lindsay who wrote A Voyage to Arcturus had lived when he was writing it, there were some at the old Bryant and May factory on the river, which was where Annie Besant had organised the match girls strike. She was of course a famous theosophist. There was some in Epping Forest, which were at the site of the madhouse that John Clare was kept in before he walked back to Northampton and a different mad house
Jack: It’s like that scene in From Hell where they go round London in the horse and cart…
Alan Moore: I kind of get an impression looking at a lot of modern culture that a lot of people they probably read far too many of my books when they were younger and now they’re in positions of power.
Mitch Jenkins: With Stinger missiles.
Jack: You said that whichever area you pick there are many things to unearth, but in Unearthing you find a lot of threads and links that link Steve Moore to the area, that’s obviously something you’re very conscious of.
Alan Moore: It’s more that Steve Moore grows out of the area and I believe that any of us, we are products of the place that we spring from. It’s like in fractal mathematics, there’s the Mandelbrot set, which everybody’s seen. This incredibly complex fractal construction. There are smaller sub-sets with that which are called Julia sets. They all look pretty much the same, but they are all uniquely different and their individual properties are caused by the point in the Mandelbrot set from which they originate and I think that is true of human beings as well. How can we help but be influenced by the actual landscape that we emerge from? I would say that it’s much more likely that we are influenced by the bricks and mortar and trees and people and streets around us when we are born than that we are influenced by the actions of some impossibly remote consolation. It seems like a likelier bet to me.
To some degree I suppose with Unearthing what we were saying was that you can’t separate people and landscape. That you have to consider them together. If you’re doing a work of psychogeography it will probably always end up as a work of psychobiography and vice versa. That you start to investigate somebody like Steve Moore, you cannot consider him separately from the place that he emerged from. The human and the human’s habitat are inextricably part of the same thing.