The Birth Caul and Austin Osman Spare

By Barry Kavanagh, 17 October 2000

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I do have a tape of [the spoken word performance] The Birth Caul, though.

Oh really? Ah, well that’s something I’m very proud of. The Birth Caul and the other couple of CDs. These have all sprung out of my recent preoccupation with magic.

First of all, though, about The Birth Caul, a lot of the earlier part of it you’re talking about Northampton, I presume, but you seem to depict it in a very bleak way.

Well, I don’t know. I think that what I’m doing in – in a way, yes, I’m talking, somewhere, in some places I’m talking about a specific history, i.e. mine. But more often I’m trying to universalize it. What I really want is for people to listen to it and think “Yeah, I know that, I know that feeling, I know that place, I know that time.”

Yeah, I thought the further back you went – but maybe it’s because of my age [27] or something – the further back you went the more I could, you know, I felt something with that piece.

The very first part of it is actually all about Newcastle, where we performed it. It’s talking about Newcastle where we actually did the performance in the Victorian Court up there.

That was you, David J and –

– Well, David J did the music, along with Tim Perkins but Dave wasn’t there at that actual performance.

Was that the same David J who was in Bauhaus?

Bassist from Bauhaus and Love & Rockets, yeah, yeah, Northampton boy and I’ve been friends with David for years. I think I was one of the first journalists to ever interview Bauhaus.

There’s great stuff about childhood there [in The Birth Caul].

Well, this all came out, we did a ritual one night and we were mainly asking “What should our next performance be?” and what came out was all this incredibly rich stuff about childhood. So it was a matter of building up into what eventually became The Birth Caul.

And then, near the end you have – when you’re going back before the actual birth and sense of identity, you’ve this great line “Being named we are no longer part of everything.” It reminds me of Taoism –

What was your original face before you were born? That’s just the words that came to me. It does cover some of that same territory. Did you see Eddie Campbell did a comic strip adaptation of The Birth Caul?

No, I didn’t know that at all.

Yeah, Eddie Campbell, he’s done a – probably still be available in some places – but he self-published it, The Birth Caul and it’s just done as a comic strip. It’s totally his interpretation, he took the CD, worked out the words from just listening to the CD and then produced this forty page comic strip of it and in fact he’s currently working upon another one of the performances we did, at Red Lion Square in Holborn [London] and he’s turning that into a comic strip at the moment.

That’s great. The whole idea, though, that the “named” is a lesser concept than the “nameless”, that’s something I’d very much agree with, I mean, Taoism is the one philosophy I would agree with.

Sure, I’ve got a great deal of respect for Taoism. My own tastes tend a bit more to the -[Laughs] – sinister and elaborate flourishes of the Western Occult Tradition.

Which would have entities and –

– Yeah.

Now, there’s another bit, further on then, near the end, where there’s this – I’ll read out the sentence: “Somewhere now above in giant chambers full of thunder and unthinkable emotions, god and goddess fuck and there amidst the sweat and stench of the taboo is light, uncanny and profound.” Right, “light”, that reminds me of Austin Osman Spare.

Oh, now you’re talking.

Because, you know, past incarnations, going back from man to animals to birds to vegetables et cetera.

The atavisms.

And he said “The lower we probe into these strata, the earlier will be the forms of life we arrive at: the last is the Almighty Simplicity.” That would be the “light”, I take it.

Mm-hmm. I mean, I hadn’t been referring to Spare when I wrote that.

But there’s a definite parallel [with the end of The Birth Caul]

But I’m sure there is. I hadn’t really noticed it until you pointed it out but yeah, I’m a major Spare fan, I’ve got a really nice double-sided pastel drawing by Spare, framed up on the wall, looking at me as we speak and I’ve got nearly a complete set of The Golden Hind and Form.

Even just the more available stuff is still limited edition.

Oh yeah. I’ve got all that as well but Spare’s one of the people that I actually seek out and I’m willing to part with a lot of money to get.

To get originals, yeah?

Yeah. Very interesting man. Very powerful magician. I sometimes debate, who was the – I mean, it’s like, who’s strongest, the Hulk or Thor? Who’s king occultist? Is it Crowley or is it Spare? Is it Bill or is it Ben? And, it’s difficult, because yeah, Crowley was probably a superior theorist, or in terms of the amount of magical information that Crowley left and the way that he synthesized different systems. On the other hand, Austin Spare could make it rain! And Austin Spare could draw the places where he’d been so that you could be in absolutely no doubt that he had been there. No, I’ve got a great deal of respect for Spare.

The one thing that confused me in that sentence of yours that I read out was the word “taboo”, even at that point in the cosmology.

Well, I was thinking of it in terms of your parents fucking. That is the primal theme. It is taboo. The god and goddess, that’s your mum and dad, that’s everybody’s mum and dad. Somewhere there is this moment of conception, it’s up above you somewhere, you’re down there in it, you’re at some moment of fusion but up above, there is this male thing and this female thing, totally incomprehensible to you, that are coupling and somewhere in there, there is you happening.

Yeah, I get it now.

Something like that. But yeah, there’s parallels to the Spare stuff, certainly.

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