Brian is north Wales’ premier Easy Listening DJ. He can turn your cocktail party from a bad cocktail party to a good cocktail party without the use of drugs or animals. He is available to hire. Although quite versatile, he regrets that there are some moods he is unable to cater for.
Scratching the Surface: The Real Brian Nylon Sets the Records Straight
Taken from One In The Other (G39, 2009)
Hello, I’m Brian Nylon. I was the DJ in Residence for Real Institute’s Real Writers’ Residency Programme from 1964 – 1977, and it’s my great pleasure to be your host as I reminisce about both my time there, and the shady, elusive and fascinating group responsible for its operation. I must warn you that some of what I have to say will be shocking to some, fanciful and unbelievable to others. But I hope you don’t need me to tell you that I didn’t get where I am today – celebrated DJ, entertainer, holder of multiple honorary NVQs from Rhyl Institute, the only living person ever to appear on a Romanian postage stamp, winner of the 1978 Doncaster Pro-Celebrity Topiary Tournament – need I go on! – by being coy about the truth.
My involvement with Real Institute, a freemasonry alternative started at the dawn of the 20th Century by Jules Verne and Ernest Willows (well, according to a South Bank Show Special that was on TV a while ago – I’ve heard conflicting rumours, but I have no reason to doubt the credibility of such a long running arts documentary), dates back to the early 1960s. I first met Hywel Palimpsest Lovekraft, owner of Cardiff’s first licensed marital aid emporium and self-proclaimed (though never conclusively verified) Real Institute member, while studying German Popular Song at Düsseldorf Technical College. HP claimed to be reading 14th Century Swiss Hair Accessories, but, strangely, he took great pains to spread rumours that he was in fact studying Physics, a spurious course made up by the college’s governing body just so that he would qualify for the women’s gymnastics team. Further confusion was caused by the fact that he was only ever seen mindlessly serving hot meals in the student cafeteria. It was there, during a Thursday lunchtime, that our paths first crossed. What started with a somewhat heated argument over the size of goulash portions ended in a long-lasting and intimate – but ultimately non-physical – friendship. After my studies ended and his contract was terminated due to continued breaches of health and safety regulations, we relocated to Cardiff, where we rented a small flat on Bute Street next the so-called Rainbow Rooms, a smoke-filled hot-bed of depravity, surrealism and board games operated by a shadowy cartel of anonymous artists, writers and light entertainers. Let me play you a relevant clip from that South Bank Show I mentioned earlier, it’s really rather fascinating and better than listening to me ramble on. I was rather annoyed with myself actually, I accidentally taped over two episodes of The Golden Girls that I hadn’t gotten around to watching, but I’m sure they’ll show them again. Ah yes, here we are:
“The Rainbow Rooms, it soon became apparent, were a Mecca for upcoming musical and variety talent in Wales, with, of course, the Real Writers’ Residency Programme in amongst the thick of it. Opportunity came Knocking more than three times for a host of Cardiffian superstars when novelist Graham Greene conceived the idea for the hit TV talent show in the early sixties during his infamous extended Residency. Taking advantage of the media circus surrounding the publication of his debut smash-hit novel ‘Abergavenny Rock’, Greene had established himself as a familiar face on our screens when he created and starred as the host in numerous gameshows, including Double Your Money, The Sky’s The Limit and Masterminder with Dennis Waterman, all filmed at Broadcasting House, Butetown. Cashing in on the cult status of The Rainbow Rooms, the BBC elected instead to film Opportunity Knocks at the club itself between 1960 and 1970, transmitting live broadcasts hosted by Greene, Paula Yates and Jools Holland. Inevitably, Real Residents weren’t slow to pick up on the possibilities for exposure, and began cropping up regularly as contestants, with careers being made and destroyed at a stroke by the ruthless ‘Clapometer’ recording audience response. Les Dawson, Tommy Pynchon and Pam Ayres were firm favourites, surviving the public vote for eight consecutive weeks apiece. Not all residents fared so well however – Sylvia Plath and husband Ted Rogers were memorably pelted off the stage with showers of rotten meat by merciless hecklers midway through a hilarious recitation of Plath’s classic comedy skit ‘Oh I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth’. The couple were to divorce soon after.”
Hywel and I were regulars at the club, not least because it was the only place to buy milk after 5pm, and itching to put my musical education into practice I persuaded Real Institute to let me provide warm-up music for local performance poet Tom Jones. The response was overwhelming, and once the audience had thrown all of their knickers onto the stage, set about forcibly removing Tom Jones’. Unable to get them fully off, the hysterical masses threw Jones onto the stage instead, causing considerable damage to the record decks and scratching my rare copy of Ray Conniff’s Merzbow For Lovers. Suitably impressed by the power of pre-recorded light song, Real Institute offered me the prestigious position of DJ In Residence, where it became my responsibility to provide background music to inspire and engage the Writers In Residence as they went about their duties. LP Hartley, legendary author of Fly Fishing, generally preferred uptempo instrumentals. I remember a particularly sticky creative block of his being broken by Herb Alpert’s cover of the Shakin’ Stevens classic Holiday In Cambodia. Vidal Sassoon, meanwhile, wrote the entirety of Myra Breckinridge whilst listening to a selection of Jimmy Young showtunes. My proudest moment though was the final chapter of Bruce Forsyth’s The Odessa File. As he drew his latest work to a climax, Forsyth asked me to provide something lightly Latin. Our minds locked in exquisite synergy, and the final conga beat of Edmundo Ros’ Blame It On The Bossa Nova rang out around the room at the precise moment Bruce triumphantly typed his final full stop.
In 1977 I suffered an emotional breakdown and fled the country – and, so I’d hoped, all things Real – to tend pigs in rural Poland. It was there that I met Waclaw, a local farmhand of ambiguous gender. We fell in love, and all was blissful until my Polish language skills progressed sufficiently to discover that Waclaw had previously spent time in Betws y Coed helping out with the cake stall at Real Insitute run Alternative Film Nights. Still fragile after my illness I panicked and fled Poland to tend goats in rural Nigeria.
Some years later, mentally strong and with the finest herd of Nubians in Western Africa, I was astonished to be approached by two vaguely familiar white men from North Wales. It seems that they needed help doing the sound at one of the forthcoming Real Institute events, and also wondered whether I’d be able to knock up a quick poster, and had spent the past seven years trying to track me down. Initially hostile but eventually deeply touched by their persistance, I agreed, heading back to Wales and leaving my wives and children to care for the goats. Despite heavy rainfall, the event itself was a revelation – an interesting group of open minded people watching a selection of intellectually engaging European films that it was simply not possible to get hold of in the sparsely populated sub-Saharan grassland.
Enchanted by the experience, I stuck around in the area, drifting in and out of projects as the demand for volunteers or creative input arose. It was a magical time, a time of exploration, of collective responsibility, a freedom of ideas, an anything-goes-provided-we-have-enough-manpower-and-funding-for-it rollercoaster ride; the local community had access to strange, wonderful and eclectic art occurances; perhaps more importantly, the local charity shops were finally able to fill those bothersome gaps in my Bert Kaempfert collection.
It wasn’t always light-hearted fun and laughs though – I remember with frightening and vivid clarity the time when all-out nuclear war threatened to destroy Conwy County after an unsavoury clash with the Russians. I learned from my hairstylist that the local butcher’s apprentice had mysteriously acquired lost Super 8 footage of the botched Russian Voskhod 2 space mission, footage that – according to the milkman – directly contradicted the official reports that proudly boasted of the mission’s success. Real Institute felt it to be in the public interest to broadcast the sensitive film, and as Betws Memorial Hall had already been booked for a beginners’ linedancing class, it was decided to project the images directly onto the dark side of the moon from rural Nebo, using custom LunaBoost2 technology. I was there to provide dramatic musical accompaniment, but just as Ray McVay’s smoking hot version of Also Sprach Zarathustra burst forth from the PA system, the technical crew announced that the projection was being deliberately jammed. The assembled crowd were understandably anxious, and this spilled over into uncontrolled hysteria when Russian armoured vehicles carrying megaton nuclear warheads appeared over the hill from Pentrefoelas, intent on destroying the film, the projection equipment, its operators and the surrounding fields. Much to everyone’s relief though they soon turned out to be just couple of tractors on their way down to Capel Garmon, but it was a sobering moment that caused us all to reflect deeply and privately on the fragility of existence.
Finally, I feel compelled to mention that not all Real Institute projects seemed to be quite so worthwhile. The worst offender was undoubtedly Really Restrictive Shorts, which, as I understand, saw an overweight man squeezing himself into a pair of cotton briefs originally intended to be worn by 8-10 year olds, every day for a whole week. The ‘event’, if one can be so generous as to dignify it with such a word, was supposed to last for 2 weeks, but was cut mercifully short when the subject was hospitalised after 7 days with circulatory issues. It remains unclear to me – still, after all these years – why anyone in their right mind would conceive of such an absurd, exploitative and as far as I can tell purposeless endeavour, and the less time I spend thinking about the amount of taxpayers’ money frittered away irresponsibly on making it happen, the happier a fellow I’ll be. What passes for entertainment these days is continually astonishing. Just last week, for instance, it came to my attention that the most popular item on the whole of the internet was a small, crudely rendered animation of a dancing banana. It seems disproportionate to get oneself worked up into a lather over something as innocuous as pixelated fruit, but I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this was really the ultimate goal that mankind has been fighting and evolving towards for so long, the end result of centuries of conflict, innovation and discovery. Show a Cro-Magnon adult a jet engine, its workings and its consequences, or play them a particularly dynamic James Last medley with its driving pop beat, infectious brass section and swelling, angelic chorus, and their mind would explode with awe and wonder. Show them a fat guy in tight pants, or a 20 second movie of a skateboarding dog and tell them this is the future of your race, this is what your discovery of agriculture will ultimately lead to, and I’m pretty certain they’d die of futility on the spot. A huge backwards step if you ask me. But, regardless, my dealings with Real Institute have been largely positive, and they’re a nice bunch of people when you can track them down, so on this occasion I give them the benefit of the doubt. Each to their own! Just as I cannot find much to enjoy in the concept of obese men in boys’ underwear, there are some people out there, so we are told, that, try as they might, simply don’t like the sound of the Hammond Organ. In my passionate, impetuous, artificial-fibred youth, had someone approached me at the Rainbow Rooms to request that I turn the Klaus Wunderlich off, I would have dismissed them as fools and sent them packing with sharp words, but now, as I meander lazily into my Autumn years, I have to concede that some people just like different stuff to others. It’s a lesson we could all benefit from learning.