Saturday, 30 April 2022


Cafe Oto, London, Sat 23rd Apr

Ut are a punk (though they look to prefer the tag “radical”) trio, first forming in New York in 1978. Finding the Lower East Side an incubator which ultimately became a confine, they relocated to London. From where they were championed by John Peel, toured with the Fall and – not least – actually got to release some music. (Sometimes using This Heat’s studio.) In the make-it-happen spirit of those times, the band name just means “do”. Splitting in 1990, they’ve been playing on and off again since 2010.

Things started with the announcement drummer Nina Camal couldn’t make it. (Seems she’s the only member who went back to the States.) And then the shaky start. After a few numbers, seemingly dissatisfied themselves, they stopped for a lengthy retune. After which they brought on an extra player, rotating between a bassist, violinist or sax player. (The last two were the same guy, but then you’re not bothered about that.) After which they become the band we came to see.

It’s perhaps a little too easy to reach for Sonic Youth comparisons. Though both bands are sometimes described as No Wave, these gals are pitched closer to the shock-treatment anti-art iconoclasm of the original No Wave bands like Mars or DNA.

And seen live it becomes clear that, within that, Jacqui Ham was the most uncompromisingly No Wave, happy for her guitar to shriek. And Sally Young more willing to let a little… just a little, mind… rock riffing in. Their on-stage personalities seem to match this, Ham intense and driven, speaking to the audience only to convey information, Young more convivial.

But both bands share an urban urgency, even by punk standards, the restless energy of having constant vibrant input from a thousand different sources transformed into music. Ham has said “we liked the interplay between discordant things, the hard and soft, the lush and spiky, the friction between sounds and styles.” This does mean tracks tread a fine line between signal and noise, between accordance and dissonance. And hearing them bravely get up on that edge and dance, that becomes part of the appeal. Perhaps something to bear in mind with the initial problems.

And both bands demonstrate how post-beat American punk was, the Year Zero business a British invention. Lyrics are declaimed, somewhere between sung and recited, and hover between wordplay free association and suggestion of sense. Tellingly, track titles often collide clashing words, ’Mosquito Botticelli’, ‘Absent Farmer’, ‘Homebled’.

Oddly, it ended almost as it began. A time-consuming stage rearrangement to allow Ham to double up on drums yielded fitful success. Though perhaps kudos are due for trying the unorthodox. They then encored with ’Evangelist’, perhaps their signature tune, despite Ham explaining she could no longer play the notes then demonstrating this.

From Paris, three years ago…

Chalk, Brighton, Fri 22nd Apr

Before the band came on, the DJ played a Dead Kennedys remix which kept the original front end, while replacing the back with some hyperactive drum ’n’ bass. And that’s this review written right there, really.

More? Okay. Let’s generalise wildly. Music made by and for ethnic minorities tends to focus on the uplifting. It makes sense. Everyone knows the bad stuff already, what people want to hear is that there’s a way through it. While white music tends to foreground rage and frustration. Yes, we may be the white kids. But don’t go thinking we’re not pissed off too. Well, I did say it was a wild generalisation.

Anyway, Asian Dub Foundation somehow manage to combine both, often at the same time. People dance so much it feels like a Friday night out. (Not that I remember much.) But will boo Priti Patel’s name readily, and with practiced ease.

For a band nearly thirty years old, who I’ve seen more times than I can count, age has not withered them nor custom stained their variety. If anything its the reverse. Chandrasonic, the sole constant member, comments on their songs’ propensity to become true. Be a doomsayer to become a prophet, it seems. So ever-more souring times have just offered them more material.

Both set and encore start with quite extended instrumentals. Which don’t seem any kind of straying from their mission. It’s like their stance isn’t just in the lyric sheet, but baked hard into their sound.

Eleven years ago, after another of their storming visits to our shore, I wrote “Nazis have Screwdriver. We listen to Asian Dub Foundation. Which side would you rather be on?” And now there’s one less of Screwdriver than before, after he refused the vaccine (a “Jewish plot”, you see) and was promptly killed by Covid. While here’s ADF still firing from every cylinder.

'Zig Zag Nation' is a song they played, but this is from Paris. (I’m not sure why everything is suddenly from Paris…)

Mica Levi: ***
Milton Court, Barbican, London, Fri 29th Apr

The record shows me to be a fan of both Mica Levi’s score to ‘Under The Skin’, equal parts enthralling and unsettling, and her composition ‘Greezy’.

’Star Star Star’ (seems you are allowed to pronounce it like that) was, unlike its predecessors, performed by a small ensemble with minimal instrumentation. The night started off with some suitably unearthly polyphonic chanting, sometimes sounding like reciting your vowels in an alien language. Which gave way to languorous, minimal synths, sometimes with the barest drum accompaniment. Voices sometimes accompanied this, but from that point always recited, never sung or chanted.

There was some on-stage theatrics. Ensemble members taking turns to sit front-stage, like a kid called to the front of the class. A piece of paper was passed while lit by torchlight, like an orbiting moon. All of which seemed a tacit admission that, while there was nothing wrong with any of the music, neither was it quite enough.

Had I seen this cold, my final word might have been “promising”. It all feels back-to-front, like this should be the early works, Levi still finding their way, the accomplishments still ahead.

The Barbican explained “these scores consist of written text instructions, speech rhythm techniques and drawings.” Which I either forgot before attending, or only found afterwards. Which leaves me wondering whether this is one of those works where the process is taken as the thing, and the ensuing work not really the point.

Friday, 22 April 2022


Don those headphones, travellers. It's time to soar past the confines of that three-minute limit, to get spacey, to go all ethereal, tuning into the music of the spheres before (very gradually) heading back down. All in under an hour of your Earth time. The Coil track in particular is like tuning into some new, between-stations frequency but finding messages made for you there.

The illo is De Chirico's 'Mystery & Melancholy of a Street’ (1914). The man who said: “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of visions and dreams.”

OM: Pilgrimage
Earth: Datura’s Crimson Veils
Black Light District (aka Coil): Refusal Of Leave To Land
Faust: SoftTone
Föllakzoid: IIII
Neu!: Negativland

Saturday, 16 April 2022


Hayward Gallery, London

“It is not an image I am seeking. It is not an idea. It is an emotion you want to recreate, an emotion of wanting, of giving, of destroying."

Getting out The Dirty Linen

Louise Bourgeois’ life was so long and so remarkably productive that this exhibition, fills the Hayward with work produced when she was in her Eighties and Nineties. An era where her art incorporated textiles and “domestic fabrics”, including bed linen and items of clothing.

Her career was effectively launched in 1932 where Fernand Leger, then her tutor, told her she was at root a sculptor. Because her art is about the physical, and needs its own physical presence. She said herself “to me, a sculpture is the body.” Yet much of her work alludes to the human figure without showing it. And crucially, when absent, the figure is made conspicuous by that absence. It’s in no one place in order to be everywhere.

As a rough but ready analogy - you know that scene from horror films, where someone pokes about in an attic full of weird old stuff, unsure whether something alive is hidden amongst it? In the films the cat is soon let out of the bag. Whereas this show is like rummaging endlessly about in that attic while remaining unknowing, and retaining all that enticing tension.

Let’s start off with the Pole pieces, where various elements are hung from a central pole (example above). They’re often items of clothing, as if arranged on a somewhat spectral radial clothes hanger. It recalls the commonly used Surrealist device, where clothes and mannequins are used to stand for the human figure. In one dated 1996 (all are untitled), a dress is sewn up and stuffed to resemble a mannequin.

The pole acts as a kind of equals sign, inviting us to compare the items around it. Which seems key. In general throughout the show its the large-scale assemblages which work best, where we have to somehow reconcile the often-disparate elements in our minds. (Even the piece from which the show took its title, a fabric book, is unmemorable.) So in another, also from 1996, a gnarled tree stump is combined with the clothing, with one truncated branch morphing into a mannequin arm.

Bourgeois called clothes a “second skin” and there’s a sense they’re to do with the extended self. (The way we formulate the terms “my foot” and “my shoe” so similarly.) But at the same time this expanded definition goes alongside a narrow one. Consciousness means that we’re aware we have a physical existence. Most living creatures don’t know this, precisely because that’s all they have. But consciousness can also lead us to the sense that physical existence goes on outside of ourselves, that our real self is elsewhere. And in practise our terminology becomes fuzzy, slipping between these two extremes. Sometimes our shoe is part of us, other times our foot isn’t.

At the same time she was producing Cells, installation environments enclosed by doors, walls or chain fencing, littered with objects. Many such as ’Cell VIII’ (1998, above) have narrow entry-ways. And we are, I suspect, intended to use them, to experience the work from inside, enveloped by it. (Unfortunately if unsurprisingly, they’ve been deemed off limits by a nervous gallery.)

Should we see these as rooms or head spaces? The point is they’re both. Earlier in her career, Bourgeois had produced a series of Femme Maisons, which were less anthropomorphised buildings than figures morphing into buildings.

Bourgeois’ career was long enough that she personally knew the Surrealists. Who she was simultaneously influenced by and took against, more-or-less for the reasons a women artist would. (She was a natural fit for the ‘Dreamers Awake’ show, on female responses to Surrealism.)

And, as mentioned, these phantom forms of the self are a Surrealist device. The Surrealists sought to undermine the notion of the essential self, which they saw as limiting. They developed a penchant for alter egos, and their works can often look like a self-portrait which has just been divided into its component parts, a cast of characters created to illustrate various aspects of the artist. All this is to the good.

But there’s times when this multiplicity of selves tries to do away with the central question just by sub-dividing it. What can look from outside as one person is in fact several selves cohabiting. We’re less like a classical bronze, solid and fixed, and more like a wardrobe, a collection of costumes. But the central question remains - what does it mean to have a self?

Bourgeois’ answer is that we become like a scrapbook of experiences we amass. These don’t build up like kit parts to create some core identity but perpetually interact. A little like the way we discovered atoms to not be a solid mass but a collection of particles in space, the self is little more than an optical illusion when seen from without. Elsewhere, a fabric head such as ’Pierre’ (1998, above) is held together by Frankenstein stitching, despite the cloth all being the same colour.

Along Came A Spider

“All very interesting”, you say, “but what about the spiders?” Bourgeois is famous for them, and one of the two variants of the exhibition poster is devoted to ’Spider (Cell)’ (1997, above), so let’s look at that next. A spider straddles a cell like a kind of double cage, and there is something deliciously menacing about those elongated, knotty legs.

Spiders do, in fact, have a body. At least they have head and abdomen segments. But we tend to conceive of them as a head sporting multiple limbs, an image we see in several of Bourgeois’ drawings. Part of our horrified reaction may be that we parse them as something we cannot parse. They appear to be physical beings but are unembodied, a defiance of what seems fundamental rules. So they come to represent utter otherness, as alien as anything on Earth can be. Hence their very existence can feel menacing.

But we also tend to parse them as feminine. Google has readymade answers to the questions “are there male spiders?” and “are house spiders female?” (Spoilers: “yes”, and “not always”.) Spider-Man aside, most spider characters in popular culture tend to be female. And this spider is shown with eggs, in the upper part of the cell. Her pose could be construed as protective of that cell. In which case, it’s being protected against us.

There’s also fragments of tapestry stretched along sections of the chain-link cage. And Bourgeois identifies spiders with her mother, who worked as a tapestry restorer. “The spider is a repairer”, she commented. And of course we need to bring together both these things. The ‘otherness’ of the spider remains part of the point. To Bourgeois, it’s the very thing which makes it something with which to identify.

The Needle And The Pin

On the subject of repairers, she further commented: “When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.”

Mostly it is remarkable to think she produced these works in decades most devote to watching UK Gold. However it is possible they represent an old person’s view of the world, a time when memory has more substance to you than substance has, when both your environs and mind are full of the detritus of earlier eras. Bourgeois said herself “I am a prisoner of my memories”, and she was perhaps caught in her own web.

In this way there’s a tension between whether her work is a repairing needle or a pin - in the sense of pinning something down, of documentation. Some critics claim to find her art pedagogically ‘feminist’ and therefore dismissible as one-dimensional. In fact it’s often highly ambiguous, and this is the axis on which that ambiguity plays out.

At times her art’s about the familiar Modernist frustration with the flesh, of our minds being stuck inside meat sacks which will slowly wear out on us. ’Lady In Waiting’ (2003, above) is another Cell, but of quite a different kind. It’s recursive, the small figure set inside a larger fabric chair, itself inside a doorless chamber. But also the figure is made of the same fabric as the chair. It isn’t just in the cell, but is of the cell - we are our own prison. Similarly the red legs (which must have been signed somewhere, but I couldn’t find it) have stigmata holes, as if bodily existence is inherently a form of crucifixion.

But more often their focus is gendered existence. You wouldn’t need to be a strict Freudian to see ’Cell XXV’ (2001, above) as composed of male and female elements. The three floating dresses seem to orbit the grounded spheres, as if the male essence is the centre of this world, protons to electrons. (Is there a testicular equivalent to phallocentrism?)

Perhaps significantly, its enclosed against us. (While elsewhere, vitrines are used as confining cells.) It’s sub-headed ’The View Of the World of the Jealous Wife’, as if a map of symbolic power, so perhaps owes us no other perspective. Yet where does that other perspective come in? Telling it like it is, that’s important. But in itself it’s insufficient.

The print ’Eternity’ (2009) is a clock face with a male and female torso set against every hour, one sporting an erection, the other already pregnant The pregnant belly is normally absent from Surrealist art, so fixated on male desire. Yet this also reads as essentialist, as if biology is all-defining to us. Every time is up-the-duff o’clock, with literally no way out of this endless round. In that sense it’s not so far from a work like Duchamp’s ’Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors’ (1923), which (as noted another time) involved “the reduction of sex to the mechanical.”

And ’Knife Figure’ (2002, above), where a chopping knife hangs poised over a pink mannequin, doesn’t look so different to some of Giacometti’s Surrealist sculptures, such as ’Man And Woman’ (1928/9) or the charmingly titled ’Woman with Her Throat Cut’ (1932). Does she intend as protest what they meant as simple description? Quite possibly. Does that make a difference? Yes. But not enough of one.

Whereas ’Femme’ (2005) is a block with ‘feminine’ parts attached, breasts and vagina. It seems linked to the notion of ‘femininity’ as a construct, an idea some have forced upon others.

Similarly, while the clothes could be her second skin, you could as easily see them as shed skins, relics of the past, the way a spider sheds old ill-fitting skins. The figure in ’Lady in Waiting’ has spools of thread going into her mouth, perhaps forming her, and spiders’ legs digging into her torso. Or is it the other way around, that she’s both exuding the thread and growing the legs? Could the cell be a womb-like space, in which it can grow?

This tension between pin and needle may be most acute in ’Repairers In the Sky’ (1999), where gashes in a metal plate are part-stitched together. This perhaps turns the magic of the needle in on itself. Whether we take these as eyes, mouths, vaginas or some combination of them all, does this turn ‘repair’ into a form of silencing, as erasure?

Overall, though ambiguity over this question runs right through her work, Bourgeois seems to fall more on one side. The existence of her art confirms that there can be such a thing as a woman artist, bringing a female perspective to things. The strange-but-true story that she saw little recognition till the Eighties may, at least in part, be due to this. But the content of her art, too often that merely looks back to before such a time.

Doors Marked Private

The items were sometimes foraged for, but often were personal effects, items of clothing she once wore, and similar. She said part of her fascination with the spider was that it made its web from its own body. And there’s no doubt that much of her work stemmed from her relationship with her father, which she regarded as emotionally abusive.

A door, used as a wall, on one of the cells is marked ‘Private’. And never let it be said we don’t know a metaphor when we run into one. What do we do when we reach this door? The standard answer is that we need the guidance of experts, who can unlock it for us, who can demonstrate their familiarity with her life by explaining where this particular object came from, and so on. And initially, this seam can seem a lucrative one to dig. We’re told, for example, to look out for when objects are in groups of five, representing the size of her family.

But these are breadcrumbs which will just get you lost in the wood. And we know this from those who’ve already followed them. Tracey Emin, a self-acknowledged Bourgeois fan who has even collaborated with her, shows us what the terminus of this trail is. Her ’My Bed’ (1998) offers no point of contact with the viewer. It shows us the messy, unmade bed where she had a depressive episode, but is silent on the episode itself. It’s like trying to figure out why a battle was fought, going only by marks left behind in a field. We who got there too late gape at the bed from the outside, remarking on the heightened sensitivities of the artist which we couldn’t possibly share.

Do these works tell us things about the artist? Of course they do, the artist made them! But the more challenging and more vital question is - do they say things to us? If they don’t then nothing is exchanged, and where there isn’t exchange there’s robbery. We shouldn’t look at Bourgeois’ work in that misdirected way, and we don’t need to.

Coming soon! You never know, there may be more visual arts reviews…

Saturday, 9 April 2022


De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, Fri 8th Apr

Robert Plant… couldn’t all old rockers do it this way? A while ago he gave up singing “You been coolin’/Baby I been droolin’”, and headed off in a more rootsy direction. When he does a Led Zeppelin song it’ll be heavily reworked, and he doesn’t even bother with that once here. I’m not still doing what I did when I was twenty-one. Why should he?

Of course, paradoxically, he’s able to do this because Led Zeppelin had that element to them in the first place. But that’s part of the point. It’s because they were such a great band that he’s able to leave them, and it means they remain a great band in our memories. (Though it’s also true their one-off reunion show was awesome.)

His wish seems to subsume himself back in a band unit. The tickets in our pockets and the banner behind the stage read ‘Saving Grace’. And a great many of the vocals are sung chorally, between him and Suzi Dian, normally while looking to one another. It’s a noble endeavour. But of course a hopeless one. He gets the biggest round of applause as he comes on, and this review starts with his name.

The music’s rootsy not rocky, the guitarists swapping various acoustic and electric instruments with some dexterity. Early on there’s a banjo/mandolin team-up which sounds great, only for that combination to never come back. Even as they sing together it’s the difference between Plant and Dian’s voices which make it, like layers in a sandwich. (It’s bizarre to think now that throughout Zeppelin’s history he was only once paired with a female voice. It’s just that it was Sandy Denny, so we all remember.)

As he tends to these days, the set was mostly (perhaps all) covers. But with lyrics about angels handing you a new set of wings, of changing an old coat for a new, it feels like they’ve been chosen for a reason. This new band are yet to record. So while the support act has a CD stall they don’t, despite Plant’s career stretching back to the Sixties. Just like starting over.

There seems a strong tendency towards spirituals, perhaps more than the solo releases. And from there it all fits together. Choral vocals lend themselves to that, being intrinsically about the us. “It’s better than staying in,” Plant quips. And this proves timely. One of the first post-lockdown gigs reminds you that part of the point of music is to take you out of yourself, to bring us all together. The set ends with an out-and-out gospel number, five voices and one acoustic guitar around one mike. A warming way to be sent out into the night. I was still tempted to shout out for ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but resisted.

From an earlier tour, one of several Low covers Plant has done…

Saturday, 2 April 2022


(The next instalment of ‘Mutants Are Our Future’, on the Tomorrow People trope in popular media. With the usual PLOT SPOILERS. First part here, but they can be read in any order.)

Bitten By a Gift Horse 

Martin Smith… could there be a more regular-sounding name than Martin Smith? Then there’s his Northern accent, as so often in British culture used to signify utter ordinariness. Martin Smith is in trouble at school, described as “disruptive, slack, insolent”. Though we guess fairly quickly he’s not too dumb but too smart, solving a Maths problem his supercilious teacher couldn’t manage - and promptly being accused of cheating.

’Codename Icarus’ was a BBC children’s drama, first broadcast in 1981. And there are strong similarities between these classroom scenes and an earlier BBC effort, Susan’s in the introductory ‘Doctor Who’ episode, ‘An Unearthly Child’. 

However, as the title casually gave away, Susan had a diegetic explanation - she was actually an alien. Martin’s cleverness is just asserted. Okay, in his case it’s not actually a super-power, but it’s effectively treated as one. We’re told he’s “another Galileo, Einstein, Newton.” From the title down there’s repeated, if metaphoric, comparisons to flight.

And this works in the tale’s favour, creating no barriers between viewer and protagonist. When young it’s common enough to imagine yourself as imbued with almost endless possibility. If there’s no sign of any of that now, then you are yet to fully unfurl. The older generation thereby becomes your adversary, with their confining rules and customs. But you still believe this to be true of yourself, not those fools who surround you in your generation, who seem to be equally unaware of your genius. Youth makes you special. But only your youth. So in both scenes our identification character is shown as trapped between their teacher and classmates.

There’s little attempt to make him likeable. Unlike Susan or those nicely spoken Tomorrow People he’s every bit the irascible genius, obsessive in his work and impatient of others. He might not be a mutant, but he’s still a freak. (“Kids like us, freaks. No-one wants to know. Until they can use what we’ve got!”) He’s pretty horrid even to his highly platonic girlfriend. The assumption is that we’ll identify with him anyway. Or possibly even identify with him more.

Notably, his chief complaint about that teacher is that he’s never acknowledged the “beauty” of Maths. As children we expect school to be all about stimulating our imagination, only to find it’s more about rote learning of set doctrine, leading to several years of cross-purpose communication.

There are a few hints, however, as to where Martin’s Maths mind came from. He’s reading a book of advanced calculus only so he can improve on it, because it’s “out of date”. He won’t show it to anyone at school, as that would be like handing “flowers to an ape”. This is our old friend the generation gap as evolutionary leap. And flight is sometimes used as a metaphor for puberty.

Except it’s more acute than that. It’s not generation that makes the leap, but the essence of youth itself. We’re explicitly told that Martin and the other young proteges will be spent by the time they’re adults, to be replaced by the next intake of gifted teens. Never trust equations made by anyone over thirty.

He’s in the habit of sneaking back in after school to use the (wonderfully retro-looking) computer, climbing in the window like Romeo scaling the balcony to his beloved but forbidden Juliette. The ensuing scene, where he then gets into a text conversation, not knowing whether this is with the computer or someone else, must have seemed more mystifying in those days before e-mail. We are to take it, I think, that he assumes he’s communing directly with Science in some way, and is surprised to find another person on the other end.

This brings him to the attention of John Doll, who recruits him to attend Falconleigh (“some sort of school for bright kids”), run by - wait for it - the Icarus Foundation. The attentive, encouraging Doll with his suave, modulated voice seems the antonym to the closed-minded disciplinarian Maths teacher we ran into earlier. Naturally enough Falconleigh is in a country house, with kids reading under trees in bucolic grounds while classical columns adorn the door. Here it’s the tutors who call the kids “sir”, as they’re the ones with the real know-how.

An Uncivil War

But that’s only half the story. These events intercut with a Cold War espionage tale, where Allied missile tests are mystifyingly being disrupted. So we segue between war rooms and classrooms, between received pronunciation and regular life. In fact it starts out by establishing the Cold War scenario, and at some length.

Why do this? Why not kick off with the audience identification stuff? Partly it enhances the juxtapositions if we start grand and go small. The opening theme is dramatic and classical (Stravinsky’s ’Firebird’), as if the whole thing will go off in that direction. Then the first word used in the school setting is “disaster”, a Cold War word transported to the diminutive.

This double-barrel structure does somewhat give away that the gifted pupils of Falconleigh are going to be connected to this. (Still soon after the Second World War, Bletchley Park may have been an inspiration.) But then foreshadowing is generally chosen over surprise; official investigator Andy Rutherford soon guesses all’s not well in the school of Falconleigh, with the plot throwing obstacles in his way.  

And that’s because this is in essence a series about a nightmare hiding inside of the dream. The ostensibly similar ‘Tomorrow People’ story ‘The Secret Weapon’ is based around kidnap, about being taken from your kind. This is about being seduced and recruited, being taken to your kind, but it all goes wrong anyway. Like being bitten by a gift horse.

And unlike the Tomorrow People, there’s nothing inherently moral about Martin’s genius, which can be weaponised. (“It’s not the knowledge that’s bad, it’s what the rest of us do with it.”) Hence Martin’s antagonist soon switches to Doll.

Doll tells him he should become “just what you ought to be,” but of course he’s the one doing the defining. Scientific enquiry is made into a kind of Fordist production line, each pupil working on their part while unaware of the whole. Results end up on “the supermarket shelves”.

Martin’s truculent working class manner, so at odds with Doll’s devilish charm, makes it all something of a class issue. In fact it’s not far off being a story about a bright working class kid who wins a scholarship but becomes disillusioned, just with added space lasers.

He resents the fruits of his labour being used by others, even if it’s mental labour. (“Have you ever had an idea that hasn’t been in anyone’s head before yours? Hasn’t been greasy-fingered?”) His repeated line “I won’t be used” becomes a variant on “I won’t go down pit” from ’Kes’. (Which also used the metaphor of flight as escape.) And in a reversal of the colour coding we saw in ’Secret Weapon’, it’s Martin who sports black and Doll white.

In a nod both to the Foundation and series title, Doll tells him he should “free your spirit and mind… fly”. Ironically, then, he’s dismissive when he sees Martin sporting binoculars, telling him there’ll be no time for his birdwatching hobby here. So it’s in not doing what he ought that Martin starts to stumble across the truth. Which happens when he sees a pigeon fly near an outbuilding, then drop dead to the ground.

Yet Martin the freak also knows he belongs nowhere else. The story rather labours this dilemma with his brainwashing, which seems no more than a souped-up, dramatised way to portray his unwillingness to leave the gift horse behind, even as its biting into him. In fact, with the girlfriend figure that seems to be literally the case, as if she didn’t require the metaphor part.

So what starts out as a Cold War drama effectively turns into a civil war within the Establishment. With Martin about as uncivil to the Establishment Good Guys as he is Doll. When parallel protagonist Andy offers to get him out of Falconleigh he replies that either way “the bomb would get made, wouldn’t it?” Though this development is rather scuppered by the revelation that Andy’s posh boss is really on our side.

Only in the final episode does Martin meet the mind behind the Foundation, Frohelich. Unlike Doll his motivations are much more personal, and he appeals to Martin to stay, without the usual school aids of hypnosis and injections. A scene which becomes the Last Temptation Of Martin.

Frohelich’s own situation was even quite similar to Martin’s. Told by the Nazis to make a bomb, he escaped by faking his death and in a sense did die, losing his vital youthful insight. (We’re repeatedly shown him flying but by artificial means, by helicopter.) The Foundation seems his attempt to perpetuate this youthfulness, keep it bottled, as well as create a technocratic elite to take charge of things. But also, it’s heavily hinted, so that he can keep associating with others like him. The whole scheme’s an elaborate way of asking “will you be my friend?”

As things progress the espionage plotline seems to be taking over, only for it to fall away and be replaced by this scene. Martin isn’t rescued, and we don’t see what happens to Doll or Frohelich. The point is that Martin hears Frohelich out and refuses. The show’s peculiarity is to cleave closely to other elements of the trope, but make a frontal assault on the business about joining the gang of your peers.

And arguably this contradiction comes out in the very last shot. As Martin runs into the arms of his rescuers we look on in convenient long shot, out of hearing. He’s never had much to say to them so far, and that doesn’t look likely to change. In Joseph Campbell terminology, this is a story which ends with the Refusal of the Call. So perhaps the last shot should have been him slamming the door on Frohelich. In true stroppy teenager style.

What’s more it includes the most Eighties school disco scene of all Eighties school disco scenes. Which might sound a rash boast, but is not an idle one..

Coming soon! Mutants Are Still Our Future, but the series will be taking a short break…