Thursday, October 19, 2017

graham gouldman at st george’s…

Last night, I went along to St George’s, with great friends Lal and Chris, to see/hear former 10cc member Graham Gouldman perform (alongside Iain Hornal and Ciaran Jeremiah).
He was superb – playing for 90 minutes and the entire ‘set’ consisting of songs he’d written (or part-written) over the past five decades. The list of his ‘hit’ songs is incredibly impressive and will be very familiar to people of my generation(!)… they includes such titles as “For Your Love”, “Evil Hearted You” and “Heart Full of Soul” (The Yardbirds); “Bus Stop”, “Look Through Any Window” (The Hollies); “No Milk Today”, “Listen People” (Herman’s Hermits) and “Pamela, Pamela” (Wayne Fontana). In 1972, along with Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Crème, Gouldman formed 10cc and they enjoyed a string of highly successful records, including “Rubber Bullets”, “I’m Not In Love”, “Dreadlock Holiday”, “Donna”, “Art For Art’s Sake”, “Good Morning Judge”, “The Things We Do For Love”, “I’m Mandy Fly Me” and “The Wall Street Shuffle".
An AMAZING array of some of the most popular songs of the 1960s and 70s, in particular.

Gouldman’s status as one of the world’s leading songwriters has rightly been acknowledged with his induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame at a special ceremony in New York.
What was particularly good about last night’s concert was that all the songs were played acoustically (and by highly-talented, accomplished musicians) – none of your digitally-enhanced stuff for them!
As you might imagine, the evening was also interspersed with stories and anecdotes… Gouldman came across as a very ‘nice’ and ‘genuine’ bloke who continues to enjoy making music. Last night’s large and enthusiastic audience would no doubt urge him to do so for many years to come!
A brilliant evening.
Photo: Graham Gouldman (with Ciaran Jeremiah and Iain Hornal) at last night’s concert.
PS: There’s been a brilliant documentary on BBC4 (“I’m not in Love: The Story of 10cc”) that’s well worth watching – although, for some reason, it doesn’t currently seem to be available on BBC iPlayer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

world turned upside down…

“World Turned Upside Down” is the name of a rather special exhibition that’s being curated by my amazing friend Si Smith (see note below) in Leeds. Although I feel a little out of my depth (understatement!), I am one of 17 artists (including daughter Ruth) contributing work for the exhibition. 
It’s a group exhibition responding to the Beatitudes.
The exhibition runs from evening Friday (evening) 20 October until Wednesday 15 November in St Edmund’s Church (Lidgett Park Road, Roundhay, Leeds LS8 1JN).
I previously participated in one of Si’s curated exhibitions at the Left Bank, Leeds in 2012… and it was stunningly impressive (not my stuff, I hasten to add!) – so I KNOW this one will be well worth seeing if you’re anywhere in the Leeds area.

Si Smith explains the unlikely, extraordinary inspiration for the exhibition as follows:
“At Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony, the Beatitudes were read. That struck me as a truly dissonant moment and – whether deliberate or not – a pretty direct rebuke to the values that he represents. Because whilst we’ve succumbed to the belief that it’s the richest, the strongest and the most powerful who’ll always and inevitably triumph, the message of the beatitudes is that in the end, it is actually the meek who’ll inherit the Earth. As I pondered it, that idea of re-imagining a world turned on its head really appealed to me, and it’s something that our contributing artists have enjoyed grappling with too – I think that the work they are producing will make for a really interesting and thought-provoking exhibition”.

For the exhibition, I’ve put together twelve simple photographs of twelve rough sleepers (Chris, Daniel, Gary, Gemma, Geordie, Ian, Joe, Kim, Nathan, Paul, Phillip and Shaun) I’ve befriended over recent months. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, here in Bristol – like most cities across the UK – there are SEVERAL dozen rough sleepers… (apparently, in the past six years, the number of rough sleepers in the city has increased NINEFOLD)(yes, ninefold!).
They each have their own stories, but I’m not providing any details or specifically identifying them. I think it’s better to let their portraits speak for them… (I’m not going to show the overall piece of work because one of the individuals didn’t want his photograph shown on facebook… and I don’t want to break his trust). They are individuals with lives to live – each with their hopes and aspirations, each with their fears and regrets.
Blessed be the meek…

This is what I wrote for my exhibition blurb:
“This year, I’ve spent more time talking to some of the rough sleepers in our city.
They’ve all got their stories…
The thing that has struck me most is their quiet dignity and their gentle friendliness.
I’ve never been threatened or verbally abused and they’re always happy to talk.
None of them likes the way they’re forced to live.
Some of them live in doorways.
Some live in small make-shift tents.
Some live in squats.
Some get the occasional respite of a night shelter.
Some are there because they lost their jobs and/or could no longer afford to pay their rent.
Some are there because of their own foolishness in the past.
Most are there due to circumstances beyond their control.
There are sad stories of broken relationships, broken homes… of being unable to cope.
There are sad stories of being verbally or physically abused by passers-by or rowdy drinkers.
There are sad stories of being robbed of what little money they had or having their tents slashed. 
Many feel ashamed by their circumstances.
Many just want to be given another chance.
Many simply feel hopeless… utterly hopeless.
Most feel that society doesn’t care about them.
The sad reality is that, once you’re down, it’s very difficult to get back on your feet again”.
I think the exhibition will provide plenty of food for thought.
Please see it if you can.
Photo: this is just ONE of the individuals I’ve spoken to over recent months… I chat to him regularly.
PS: Si Smith is a wonderful illustrator (as well as being a very special bloke)… who created, amongst LOTS of other work, the thought-provoking book “How To Disappear Completely”.


Monday, October 16, 2017

september-october 2017 books...

Please, Mister Postman (Alan Johnson): This is the second of Johnson’s brilliant three memoirs (somewhat typically, I managed to read them out of order: 1, 3, 2!). He’s a wonderful writer – evocative, informative, self-deprecating, very funny and sometimes very sad. His is an incredible story… born in 1950; orphaned aged 12 when his mother died (his father had walked out); effectively brought up by his amazing older sister; passed his eleven-plus but left school when he was 15; worked for Tesco as a shelf-stacker before becoming a postman, aged 18. In the same year, he was married and became a father (his wife also had another daughter)… he went on to become General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union before entering parliament as Labour MP for Hull West+Hessle in 1997… and filled a wide variety of cabinet positions in both the Blair and Brown governments, including Home Secretary. This memoir essentially deals with the transition from boyhood to his time as a full-time Union official in the late 1980s… with all its responsibilities and time-consuming meetings and nationwide (and international) travel – which, sadly, resulted (at least in part) in the end of his first marriage. Probably, the best set of political autobiographies I’ve ever read. Very highly recommended!
Get Me The Urgent Biscuits (Sweetpea Slight): Moira bought this book recently on a whim(?) when we recently re-visited the wonderful Book House bookshop from our days living in Thame. It’s a memoir of an “Assistant’s Adventures in Theatreland”… how an innocent 18 year-old, with dreams of becoming an actress, arrives in London for work experience for a West End Theatre. She ends up being “stolen” by a formidable/demanding/eccentric producer (Thelma Holt), being re-named “Sweetpea” (her real name was Jane Slight) and continued to work for her for the next 20 years. As one might imagine, it’s full of amusing stories of her ‘adventures’ and the people met along the way… but, actually, for me, although I found it mildly entertaining (and somewhat informative about the workings of the theatre), it won’t live long in my memory! 
Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell): I first read this book eight years ago and, following a recent conversation with a good friend, decided that it was about time I read it again. From last time, I recall feeling incredibly disappointed when I realised that ‘his’ church attracted some 11,000 people to its three gatherings on Sundays (I’m very much a small, intimate, church community man, I’m afraid). Bell is a very good communicator (and very honest about his own spiritual struggles) and there were certainly several passages that resonated for/with me… however, overall, I came away feeling a little disappointed (not quite disillusioned, but…).
Days In The Sun (Neville Cardus): Another Cardus cricket book - this one was first published in 1924 (my copy was published in 1949). More wonderful, evocative, lyrical prose from Neville Cardus about cricket from a bygone age. All observations written in the early 1920s, but frequently making reference to pre-WW1 cricket and even cricketers from the 1870s (eg. Spofforth – “The Demon Bowler”!). All fascinating stuff (if cricket’s your ‘thing’!), like “it was June 1864 before the MCC legalised overhead bowling”; characters such as the England captain JWHT Douglas (no mention of Christian name, just his four initials!); calls, from certain quarters, for the game to be “speeded up” – like the article in ‘The Times’ in 1919 coming out with an “ingenious suggestion involving the banishment of the left-handed batsman because he interferes with bustle” (we might never have known the likes of Lara, Sobers, Gower, Pollock, Lloyd, Gilchrist etc had this been implemented!); and incidental comments such as the morning of a Roses match where, in two and a quarter hours (and in front of 26,000 spectators), Lancashire bowled 57 overs and 110 runs were scored – compare this to the current (I think) Test Match requirement for a minimum number of 15 overs to be bowled per hour! Somewhat predictably, I loved it.
The Broken Road (Patrick Leigh Fermor): This is the final book of Leigh Fermor’s trilogy (I’ve read the first “A Time of Gifts” (published in 1977), but not the second “Between the Woods and the Water” (published in 1986). They tell the story of his walk, as an 18 year-old (and on incredibly limited funds – he started off with £2 in his pocket and a tiny monthly allowance that he collected from post offices en route), from the Hook of Holland in 1933 to Constantinople. He never completed his third book (from the Iron Gates to Constantinople) but, on his death in 2011 (aged 96), he left behind an unfinished manuscript. The task to get his final draft published was undertaken by his editors and literary executors Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper in 2013. It’s an extraordinary tale of an extraordinary, brilliant and very private man. Amazingly, he wrote the first two volumes from memory (he had his first diary stolen in Munich and his various letters to his mother were stored in the Harrods Depository during the war and subsequently destroyed ‘unclaimed’. He did however make some notes for the last leg of his journey. Leigh Fermor has a wonderful gift for description and an eye for detail (not to mention something of a gift for languages). It’s an amazing adventure at a unique time (just before ‘everything’ was about to change with the coming of WW2): the people he met, the places he saw, the background historical contexts he was able to highlight… and all written down, in great detail, decades after the events. The book finishes with extracts from Leigh Fermor’s ‘Green Diary’, written in 1935 when he explored Mount Athos (a mountain and peninsula in north-eastern Greece and an important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism – containing some 20 monasteries) over a period of 3 weeks in 1935. A really wonderful book.

Friday, October 13, 2017

loving vincent...

Moira and I went to the Watershed this afternoon (my second visit in three days!) to see the much-acclaimed “Loving Vincent” film directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.
The Watershed’s blurb describes it thus: “The world’s first fully painted feature film brings together the paintings of Vincent van Gogh to tell his extraordinary life story – and every one of the 65,000 frames of the film is an oil painting, hand-painted by a small army of 125 professionals”. All these oil paintings are created in the style of van Gogh to provide a beautiful, animated end product – a truly magical, astonishing achievement… which apparently took seven years to come to fruition.
I’d previously seen some advance publicity and felt sure that the film would certainly be worth SEEING… but I didn’t know much more than that. Well, it tells the (imagined) story of van Gogh’s final days and his controversial death (a bullet wound to the stomach: was it an accident or a suicide?).

I’d actually prepared myself to be disappointed by the film (after all my prior expectations), but am very happy to say that I thought it was very impressive and very beautifully put together. I think my only reservation is that I feel that the film is in a danger of making the artist something of a celebrity cliché (or perhaps we’d already done this ourselves by our admiration and adulation?). In just a little over 10 years, van Gogh produced more than 800 paintings – that’s a pretty incredible achievement(!) – and it’s left me wanting to understand more about the artist’s life (and his work).

But back to the film… some of the images/frames worked more convincingly than others but, overall, I thought it was a really impressive film… and an astonishing achievement.
Very, very well worth seeing – you’ll be amazed!
PS: I’d chatted to Iris about the film a few days ago and said that I thought it was quite remarkable that van Gogh, who had died so young (he was 37 years old), had become one of the most famous artists of all time and yet he’d never sold a single painting. She immediately corrected me and said: “actually, Grandad, he sold two” (according to the film credits at the end, it seems that he actually sold ONE in his lifetime, but I love that Iris had a view about him!). x

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

tawai: a voice from the forest…

I went to the Watershed this afternoon (I was going to undertake a long walk to Ashton Court/Leigh Woods, but the weather forecast put me off). So, did I go to see Blade Runner 2049? Nope (especially after Jonnie Treloar’s recent negative review!)… but, hey, I haven’t even seen the original.
No, instead, I decided to check out Bruce Parry+Mark Ellam’s “Tawai: A Voice From The Forest” (you may well know Parry from his various “Tribe” documentaries on the BBC – although I don’t think I’ve ever watched any – in which he lived with indigenous peoples in an effort to understand their way of life). ‘Tawai’ is the word that the nomadic hunter-gatherers of Borneo use to describe their inner feeling of connection to nature.

Essentially, this is a film which looks at a deeper understanding of indigenous peoples and how their way of life can benefit those in the industrialised world. It’s a thought-provoking, poetic documentary (with some beautiful photography) – compiled from the forests of Borneo, the Saddhu of India on the Ganges, the Amazon jungle and the Isle of Skye – which explores what might have changed within the human psyche since we stopped roaming and began to settle. What can we learn from how nomadic tribes around the world live and how might this help us create more balanced ways of relating to each other and the natural world?
It’s a rather striking, sincere film – perhaps a little too earnest for my taste? Clearly, Parry has a great love and appreciation for his subject (plus lots of experience of living with nomadic tribes), but I was disappointed that most of the conversations (both with individuals from the various tribes and the ‘experts’) were all rather one-way, with Parry apparently unable to contribute to, expand on or question the things that were being said. Now, some of this might well be due to the difficulties of translation (but other documentary-makers have coped without undue difficulties) or perhaps it was Parry’s lack of intellect (I might be being rather unfair here?) or speed of thought? Either way, for me, the film’s message lacked a degree of clarity and emphasis.
It’s a fascinating film with a significant message: Tawai providing (in the words of the Watershed programme) “a powerful voice to indigenous peoples that demands to be heard before it is completely lost”… but didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

grayson perry: the most popular art exhibition ever!…

Moira and I were due to attend the preview night of Grayson Perry’s exhibition at the Arnolfini on Tuesday 26 September but, due to the queues, we decided to opt out – afterall, it’s a free exhibition and we can walk round it as often as we like between now and Christmas.
I love Perry’s work but, probably, most of all, I love his approach to his art and his wonderful ability to talk about it (and other stuff) in a brilliantly straightforward, engaging way. This quote from the exhibition programme sums it up quite nicely:
“Art can be intellectually stretching, moving and fun at the same time… People, on the whole, come to art exhibitions on their day off. They do not want to feel that they are just doing their homework. Maybe it’s time to take the sting out of the word popular. When I came up with this title – The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! – I liked it because it chimed with one of my ongoing ambitions – to widen the audience for art without dumbing it down. Mainly I liked it because it made me giggle, but popularity is a serious business. Ask any politician.”

I love the way he frequently uses words in his work (eg. “flat whites against racism”!). I find his stuff funny, entertaining, profound, poignant, beautiful… and thoroughly thought-provoking. I’ve listened to his Reith Lectures, I’ve watched his TV documentaries, I’ve been to hear him at Colston Hall and I’ve seen his work at a number of exhibitions over the years - the first time he made a real impact on me was when we went to see his exhibition “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman” at the British Museum in 2011 (yes, it took me some time to ‘get him’!). He comes across as just a really nice, ordinary bloke (if there is such an animal?), but there’s clearly far more to him that that (like "talented artist"!?).
He’s become a national treasure.
Whoever would have thought, say as little as 20 years ago, that an Essex-born, straight-talking transvestite would achieve a status such as this?
Of course, he has used his cross-dressing to his advantage – it singled him out and made him instantly recognisable within an art world that had perhaps become rather too predictable (I was at college with sculpture/artist Andrew Logan – not on the same course, I hasten to add – and was very aware of how used his appearance and style to mark himself out in a vaguely similar way)(at college, he decorated his room in the form of a country meadow - with the radiator resembling a sheep, plenty of blue sky and clouds and greengrocers “grass” used as his carpet!).
Although we didn’t actually get into Perry’s preview at the Arnolfini, we did see him mingling with the crowds – completely at ease with himself and utterly accepted (and adored?) by all who had come to see his show.
I think it’s quite brilliant how Perry has managed to challenge (in a gentle, amusing but determined way) prejudices that so many of us have perhaps harboured – and I very much include myself in this – on a whole variety of things. It’s not anything to do with him condoning people’s behaviour or characteristics or eccentricities or views, it’s just that he seems genuinely interested in finding out more about their circumstances and listening to their stories.  
It’s great that the exhibition will be at the Arnolfini for the next three months… I’ve been once thus far (and thoroughly enjoyed it – even though I’ve seen most of the pieces before - and just know that I’ll be dropping in on a regular basis to focus my attention on just a handful of pieces at a time (there is so much to see in every piece of his work).
Photo: A quick collage of various images taken at the exhibition (and, yes, it’s good that he’s perfectly happy for people to take photographs of his work!).

Friday, September 29, 2017

on body and soul…

I had one of those special, surprising, wonderful afternoons in the cinema today.
First thing this morning, I’d decided I fancied going to see a film (it had been perhaps a month since my last film?). All well and good, but the ONLY film at the Watershed this afternoon (and, as you know, I’m pretty sniffy about going to other local cinemas!) was Ildiko Enyedi’s film “On Body and Soul”.
Although the film won the top Golden Bear Award in Berlin, I was very nearly put off when I read that the action takes place in a Hungarian slaughterhouse and that audiences were warned that “there are some very graphic scenes of the various stages of animal slaughter”)… AND YET, it sounded intriguing:
Maria (wonderfully played by Alexandra Borbely) is the new quality controller at the abattoir and has mild autism, whilst finance manager Endre (again, brilliantly played by Geza Morcsanyi… and, amazingly, making his screen debut) is suffering with his own personal issues and a dead arm. Work is grim, but (thanks to a somewhat strange police investigation into a theft at the abattoir) Maria and Endre discover that they have been dreaming the same idyllic reoccurring dream (where they wander through snowy forests as deer!).
This might all sound rather weird, but it actually develops into a REALLY beautiful, romantic film.
It’s absolutely exquisite and I think, if you can stand the animal slaughter scenes, then you absolutely MUST see it.
It’s definitely one of my very favourite films of the year thus far.