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This Week's Editorial: 11/9/20

This week's editorial is written by Steve Shepherd.

First let me say that if you are reading this I guess George Saunders turned down Alan's offer of guest editorial.*

Long ago and far away I was a radio producer at the BBC. I started out in the archive of the BBC's legendary Gramophone Library. I was the jazz archivist (it sounds grander than it was, or perhaps it doesn't). After a few years I was one of the researchers on the old Start The Week. We wrote notes on books and plays and films so that Mr Bragg could act as if he'd read, seen, attended them all. The researchers were also responsible for finding and booking guests. My memory of the mid '90s isn't great, Maria and I had two children under three at the time, but I do remember the week we had Oliver Stone, John McVicar, Rosie Boycott and new playwright Sarah Kane around the table. I'd booked Stone; his new film was Natural Born Killers. We'd invited armed robber turned author McVicar as he had been a real life violent criminal and liked to talk about it, plus he'd had a film made about his exploits. I remember that Oliver and Sarah Kane got on famously in the green room. We had sent him the script of her play Blasted and he was impressed. I also remember that McVicar really really hated Natural Born Killers. I mean no-star-review hated. Rosie Boycott and I had attended the preview screening together and laughed all the way through it but McVicar hadn't seen the funny side. The producer was delighted. It was going to be a sparky show.

Oliver Stone was larger than life. He arrived at Broadcasting House at 8:30 a.m. looking very casual, a bit sweaty but all smiles and new-world charm. He knew he'd made something special and was revelling in the controversy he had generated. John McVicar was a small, grey and serious man, a whippet to Stone's Great Dane. He was there to burst Oliver's bubble and to his credit when his chance came he was fearless and uncompromising in his criticism. In his opinion Natural Born Killers was full of gratuitous violence, was utterly unrealistic and was a totally irresponsible, obscene film. When McVicar had finished his tirade the production team, safe behind plate glass in the control room, traded nervous glances. In the studio Melvin Bragg coughed, laughed and then turned to the director saying something like: "Well ...Oliver Stone ...what do you make of that?" Stone had the widest smile on his face I'd ever seen. "Wow" he said "McVicar made it sound really great!"

All of that happened a quarter of a century ago, and my daughters are all grown up now, as is my son who wasn't even a twinkle when John spat in Oliver's eye. Sarah Kane could only endure another four years of existence and killed herself in 1999. Rosie, Melvin and Oliver are still going strong as far as I know.

Poetry, stories, films, music. It only occurred to me when I was asked to write an editorial that One Hand Clapping reminded me of something I'd been involved with before. The version of Start The Week I worked on in 1995 was, I would argue, a distant ancestor to this journal, showcasing highlights from diverse art forms. There was one crucial difference though. Start The Week, like most radio and TV arts shows before and since, was strictly parasitic if not vampiric. By which I mean it fed off of the cultural capital guests had already accrued. No one without a significant profile or buzz gained access. What's more if a "big name" became available late in the week less prestigious guests would be ruthlessly stood down (a very young Mark Kermode, then Radio One's feisty film critic, thought he was going to get to meet Oliver Stone right up until late Thursday afternoon when McVicar confirmed).

One Hand Clapping, by juxtaposing the known and the new, is attempting to create a community of artists who help one another find an audience. Many nineteenth and twentieth century artists lauded today failed to find audiences and lived lives with, to quote Frank Zappa, "no commercial potential". They could have done with a One Hand Clapping, ignored as they were by publishing houses, old style record labels and art galleries that had no option but to think in commercial terms. The goal here, in this journal, uncoupled as we are from commerce, is simply to find wonderful artists and introduce them to you every other Friday. Some will be established and have a generosity of spirit while others will be working away below everyone's radar. All you have to do is to read, watch, listen and then spread the word.

By the way, I'm sure Alan wouldn't have bumped me for George (Lincoln In The Bardo) Saunders. I'm just saying that if he had it wouldn't have been in the spirit of the One Hand Clapping I know, love and subscribe to.


*This is an imaginary offer, invented for comedic purposes.

Steve Shepherd is our Commissioning Editor.


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