Sunday 26 January 2014

Girl Crush Sunday #1

The first in an occasional series for those lazy blogging days when I can't be arsed to write much!

from Ladytron

Plus my favourite Ladytron track:

Friday 24 January 2014

But is it art? IV

I wish I could say I'd painted this:

....on an 8ft square canvas, on my way to The Big Fuck Off Picture!  Night, ash, flames, ship, sparks, smoke, heat, the excitement of danger, the thrill of lost control... or whatever you want it to be.

But it would be a lie, and I'm a crap liar!

...Take photo of randomly paint-smeared drawing board, crop pic in Photoshop, change to negative.  (S'not cheating, is it?)

Wednesday 22 January 2014

On easiness, blogging and a missing song

There's a line from a song I used to have, and I can't find the track nor remember the title but this tiny fragment of a lyric sticks in my mind:

  “???? girl, at ease in this world...”

Without wishing to sound wilfully obscure I think it was off the Someloves cassette that I had years ago. I didn't know of this Australian power pop band (who've made an appearance on this blog before, here) until a good friend recorded some tracks for me in the '80s, but later when I'd saved up enough to visit Australia I bought the album there.  It was the only musical souvenir I came back with (I didn't get a didgeridoo) and I played it incessantly for a period. And then for some mad reason I gave it away...

All that's beside the point, though - the point is that lyric. It stayed in my mind 'cause every time I heard that line I smiled and thought, “Yes! That's what I want to ease in this world.” I'd have this vision in my head of a new improved version of me, the me I aspired to be. 'At ease in this world' means at ease with oneself, I think. Isn't that the ultimate, just to feel like that? Don't most of our problems stem from lacking a sense of self...  self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth?

Whilst there's loads about the tangible world I'm very uneasy with - the usual big issues like war (what is it good for) - I think I'm as at ease with myself now as I'll ever be, if it's about knowing and accepting yourself, shortcomings and all.  Must be an age thing!  No matter who accompanies us physically and partly shapes our experiences and personalities throughout life, we're still completely alone in ourselves, aren't we? - so it does help to be comfortable with the one and only person you spend your entire existence with...

This reminds me, I was talking to someone the other day who had a little bit of a snipe at blogging. (But please don't slag them off, I love them!) Their impression of blogging is that it's too full of people being navel-gazing or nostalgic, that it's really just the worst kind of vanity publishing and that it's pointless just posting music and pictures. I quickly sprang to its defence, naturally. I spend a lot of time working alone and whilst very happy in my own company, blogs help to remind me that there are so many interesting people and so much good writing, art and music that I mightn't come across otherwise (you can find some down the right hand side).  I miss real-life banter and stimulating debates with different people, so it's like my coffee machine conversation, a lunchtime mag or music rag, it's meetings of minds, sharing of memories, and trips to the gigs, libraries or galleries that I don't get to see.  Plus when I'm working I find I have random conversations with myself (but don't worry, not out loud), then as I've nobody new to discuss my thoughts with at the time I keep them 'til later, when I might write a post. Or leave a comment. The interactive side of blogging is a great bonus, an affirmation that there are others at the end of an internet connection with whom I feel at ease and I hope they - you - are at ease with me too.

Anyway I can't find the bloody song anywhere although I've searched lyrics sites and Youtube clips. Oh god, what if I imagined it all?!  Too much time on my own, navel-gazing.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Primitive painters

Oh, the eighties!

I was out before Christmas with friends - very lovely fellow illustrator friends, who understand the ups and downs and odd lifestyle that go with this career. Inevitably we discussed our common experiences:  the insecurities, both in our own abilities and in our finances, and more subtle strands of concern that run through the fabric of our jobs - compromise versus creativity, personal aspiration versus customer satisfacton.  I know "it isn't a day down the mines," as Mr SDS likes to remind me when I'm pulling my hair out about not being able to portray an aerial view of an elephant standing on one leg whilst juggling jelly beans with quite the success I hope for. But illustrators have to please others, and this means we're sometimes looked down on as safe and compliant in a world where fine artists run dangerously barefoot through the meadows of risk, freedom and cool. Still, inside me, as with many illustrators, there is another type of artist wrestling to get out but, in needing to keep the jobs coming, satisfy clients and pay the bills, I get so caught up with storyline, deadline and toeing the line that I rarely have time nor energy left to cross the line.

I wouldn't even be (just!) able to pay the bills as an illustrator if I hadn't had a lucky break when my mum died and I lost my job. Oh god, that doesn't sound right! But that's how it happened – the death of a parent and a redundancy payment provided not only an epiphany but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (presumably?) to switch direction completely and take a massive, scary, slightly barking and utterly thrilling risk. I'm not sure I'd ever have managed it full-time otherwise; talk about "every cloud"... plus the worry of not having any new work never goes away (it happened last year).

Anyway, at the moment I'm fortunate. But I still harbour desires to occasionally run dangerously barefoot through the field of finer art, maybe even completely naked except for a raspberry beret – don't picture it. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with the illustrator David Hughes whom I was lucky enough to talk to several times when I was back at my old art school a few years ago. I liked him a lot because of his edge and his humour as well as his art. He was uncompromising, straight-talking, dry.  He probably wouldn't remember but I walked back to the bus stop with him one day and we chatted about music the whole way. However, it was on another occasion that I told him I just wanted to unlock a door and release my inner Artist, that one with the capital 'A',  but I didn't know where the key was. “You need to do a big fuck off painting!” was his advice and I've kept those wise, memorable words with me in the interim years, although I still haven't fucked off and painted it. Terrible of me. Perhaps I need to get a little drunk first? Is that what it takes? That and a very, very big piece of paper, I suppose.

You can see some of David Hughes' work here.

Friday 17 January 2014

Abstract moment of the week #4

All credit to the writers of Coronation Street for their brilliantly random and unlikely reference to Mark E Smith in one of tonight's episodes.  It was so casually delivered by shopkeeper Dev with regard to an event at the Town Hall for local business people "...with pre-dinner drinks in the Mark E Smith Suite"... that it could easily have been missed.  But if,  like me,  you were still laughing through the next few lines of dialogue on noticing it (in spite of another harrowing storyline going on!), you might have a sudden hankering to hear some Fall.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Puts you there where things are hollow

I was just paying the £16.50 to S at my hairdressers  for my regular dry trim today when she said, “By the way, I meant to ask you, C – did you illustrate 'The Gruffalo'? Only I was watching the film of it over Christmas and I said to my husband: I'm sure one of my customers did the pictures for this.”

“I wish!” I replied, laughing, although inside my head a cheeky little voice was saying, “ you think I'd still be coming here and getting change from a £20 note for a haircut if I had?”  'The Gruffalo', as I'm sure you're aware, is a famous, best-selling picture book, plus it's won several awards and sold over 10.5 million copies around the world. Life for me would be very different if I was receiving the royalties from that.

Or would it? As I walked home, it set me on a trail of thoughts which then led me to the notion of fame in general and how difficult I'd find it to cope with recognition. All these kids that say they want to be stars and celebrities... I just don't understand. I won't deny that the money would be lovely, but I simply couldn't bear the pressure. The lack of privacy would be my biggest problem. Then there are all the expectations, the critics, and the judgements from people who don't know me about how I look or what I wear, what I say. Oh god and what about the gossip? The possibility that a boy from a very distant and very dim past might want to tell tales about the night I let him put his hands up my jumper in my parents' back garden, you know the kind of thing. I couldn't handle it (fame, I mean; I'm not talking about the boy now...).  It would be my idea of hell.

I'm quite happy to stay in the shadows of obscurity. Of course I wouldn't mind receiving the royalties on a best-selling book but, you know, I think I would still get S to cut my hair... I'd just be more generous with my tip.

(Thanks too to The Swede over at Unthought Of, Though Somehow, whose recent post was very timely!)

Sunday 12 January 2014

On loving Mark Hollis and people who confound our expectations

I know what you're thinking: oh god, she's not still bleating on about some bloody '80s synth-pop band. This'll be my last word on the subject, promise!

It's just that I had no idea. In the mid 1980s I was working in the record shop and getting into just about anything as long as it didn't make it into the upper reaches of the charts. I was listening to... hmm, let me think... off the top of my head: the Fuzztones, the Godfathers, the Pebbles albums, Mighty Lemon Drops, Rain Parade,  the Prisoners, Sonic Youth, the Jesus and Mary Chain....   Bands like Talk Talk were easily dismissed in my young mind as too commercial, too mainstream for my taste. We had to play chart music every Saturday in the shop, it was compulsory. It became like a factory soundtrack. So I was a musical snob, I felt contemptuous to a lot of it, and it's probably for this reason that I never paid any attention to the back story on Mark Hollis and his band.

The back story, which I've only just discovered (and I realise this may be old news to anyone more in the know, but in case you're like me....) was that Mark was really one of those true artists who, having had some success, still maintained the desire to express himself musically, with whatever natural, personal drive he had, and without compromise. After providing his record company EMI with a couple of hit singles, he was given financial and artistic freedom to work on a new album (Spirit of Eden). And the result was not what EMI wanted. I guess they'd been expecting a dozen It's My Life facscimiles, but what they got instead was jazzy, improvised, dark and introspective with several tracks exceeding 8 minutes in length. I can imagine the look on the executives' faces when they heard it for the first time. ...

So what did EMI do? They sued Hollis for being wilfully obscure and uncommercial.

The case was eventually thrown out of court, but the damage was done. Hollis left EMI and signed to Polydor – but then EMI released, without his consent, a remix album of earlier Talk Talk material and re-issued It's My Life - which was of course no longer at all representative of the band's sound. So Hollis sued EMI. And this is all why I am a little bit in love with him.

That, and the way he comes across on this classic TV interview, alongside the rather lovely film director Tim Pope, who strikes me as being thoroughly funny too. I love the way they just won't "play the game".

And there was me thinking Talk Talk were just a fairly unremarkable, somewhat inane product of the anodyne eighties pop world. I love it when my expectations are confounded, when there is so much more to people than we think at first. It's a lesson in never being too quick to judge.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Talk Talk II

More music.

I have unexpectedly fallen a little bit in love with Mark Hollis from Talk Talk... in a completely non-physical way... but more on that later perhaps!

In the meantime, on my ongoing voyage of discovery which started simply from digging out an old '77 punk album (see previous post), I came across this cover version of Talk Talk's song 'Inheritance' off their 1988 album 'Spirit of Eden'.  This take is from the tribute album 'The Spirit of Talk Talk' (2012).  Recoil is the project of former Depeche Mode member Alan Wilder, and this track features vocals from Linton Kwesi Johnson (takes me back to listening to 'Forces Of Victory'!) and Paul Marshall (Lone Wolf).

I dunno why, it's just moving me at the moment!

Recoil ft. Linton Kwesi Johnson and Paul Marshall: Inheritance

Thursday 9 January 2014

Talk Talk

A quick musical diversion - last night we randomly dug out the 1977 'Streets' punk compilation and I had completely forgotten just how excellent this song by Mark Hollis' band The Reaction is....

I love it!  I love the rhythmic guitar and the song in general makes me think of the mod revival sound that was to follow soon after, before Mark's new band revisited it in 1982...

But before that we had the Music Machine and a totally different, but still brilliant, song with the same name:

And now it's just a telecoms company...

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Nature vs nurture

I have a friend who grew up in a house without books. I find it hard to imagine – there were lots of books in my childhood home. There was a lot of art too; pottery, sculptures and paintings, and we watched BBC2 and were taken to exhibitions and music events, and my mum used to love holding her cheese-and-wine do's. All very middle class; although my mum's roots weren't, but she had aspirations and she also married someone who was. So really it's no wonder that I like books, art, music, culture. And cheese and wine. I grew up with the stuff.

Back to my friend with no books in the house. His father was an agricultural worker, his mother a housewife, they didn't have much money and, from what I can gather, their lives were pretty much mapped out by the tradition of their gender, class and era. He, however, in spite of struggling academically at school, displayed great interest in art, literature and history. He was never encouraged by his parents, but his creativity and ambitions were deep-founded and weren't going to be suppressed. He even taught himself how to "speak posh".

We've often talked about it... nature versus nurture. Nurture doesn't appear to have existed in his case, so it would seem that nature gave him those gifts, although not directly via his parents. Mr SDS has a similar story; whilst his mum and dad were laughing at On The Buses before going down the pub, he preferred to watch Monty Python whilst smoking a Sobranie Black Russian. His favourite subjects at school were English and Art but nobody else in his family had ever knowingly shown any interest in either and he disappointed his dad by hating football. He was telling me the other day how he'd never had yoghurt as a kid because it was considered too exotic. (I, on the other hand, regularly indulged in a strawberry flavoured Ski but had never sampled the delightful combination of baked beans with chips until I met it works both ways.)

I'm curious to know where it all comes from. Maybe an artistic/literary/academic or whatever gene can skip a generation or two, or three? Maybe ancestors displayed the same tendencies or interests but were never able to indulge them? Only the wealthiest and most privileged could attend cultural events, eat unusual food, get a good education, dabble in the arts.  Maybe some of the farm labourers and serving girls from whom I was descended on my mum's side might have had similar tastes to me, but were never given the opportunity to explore such subjects?  It would have been so hard for them to realise - and probably even harder to admit to against a background of austerity and necessity.

Oh well, I don't know. And as there are no future generations to come from me and Mr SDS, I may as well stop worrying about it; this line of music-loving, book-reading, yoghurt-eating, classless wine-guzzlers ends here.

(With thanks to el hombre invisible whose blog Include Me Out unwittingly inspired!)

Saturday 4 January 2014

Suburban explorers

We didn't know there would ever be a name for it, but we used to do it as kids. An old storage shed in grounds by the swimming pool, a derelict house with an overgrown garden that could be found by following a secret path, abandoned stable blocks and the newly formed shells of the homes being built on an out-of-town estate. Curious and thrilled, my friends and I would peek through their windows, some with glass in and some without, and sometimes step inside their mysterious doorways. I suppose it was a first, naïve foray into urban exploration.

Or maybe it was more suburban, as we lived near open countryside. My friends and I grew up in an era where Stranger Danger Paranoia didn't seem to exist - it merely meant being told not to accept sweets from men in cars. So around the age of twelve and thirteen, just before boys, chip shops and the make-up counter at Boots lured us away, we spent those long seventies Summers out and about unsupervised, sometimes within the streets of our small town but frequently further afield too. Our parents were glad to be free of their daughters for whole days on end as we packed cans of Coke and bags of crisps into satchels on Saturday mornings and wandered the footpaths and bridleways, without mobile phones and, most importantly, without fear. We got to know all the fields, woods, gates, ditches, farms and hedgerows as expertly as we knew our own immediate neighbourhoods. We made up names for our favourite fields and sometimes even the Friesian cows in them (which we drew and identified by their markings). We weren't stalked, flashed at or attacked; the chainsaw-wielding man we once saw in 'Top Field' was the one chopping logs - we just watched him go about his work. I still have convoluted dreams about walking those tracks, effortlessly memorising routes and reference points just as we did for real: the lightning tree, a wooden stile, a line of poplars. We didn't have compasses or maps but we never got lost and were always back home, happily tired and golden-armed, in time for tea.

The most exciting moments, though, were when we stumbled across abandoned buildings. Sometimes there was evidence of other humans having been there; the disused storage shed with its heavy but unlocked door had old newspapers spread around and a dirty old blanket in the corner. One afternoon when we sneaked inside, we noticed a small pile of ash in the middle of the dusty floor. I'd like to say the ashes were still warm but that may just be my memory playing tricks on me. “Oh, what if they come back?!” we whispered nervously to each other about the grunting, wild-haired, leather-skinned resident – our very own unseen Stig of the Dump - who had formed himself fully in our imaginations. We left hurriedly and never returned.

One day, by accident, we found a huge, derelict house. We could get to it by swerving off a path through a maze of trees which gradually thinned out to reveal a vast, wild and unfenced garden. We never entered the house though; it was too imposing, too Mockingbird Lane. We'd merely creep as close as we dared before quickly turning back (being sure we'd seen a figure moving about behind a broken window, of course) then sprinting to the safety of the shrubs where we stayed for hours, wondering in excited trepidation if we were being watched. The grounds always seemed to be in shadow, no matter what the weather; a mass of entwined roots and ivy, long grass like unripened corn and crooked, spindly trees.  There was a large, dank pond in the middle - a scary, smelly pond of unimaginable depths. We would go back time and time again, but we never told a soul. On a spontaneous whim a few years ago my friends and I decided to see if the secret garden was still there and navigated our way through bracken and tangled trees after a boozy reunion lunch, our jackets getting caught on spiky twigs and branches snapping under our unsuitable shoes. And we found it – ohhh!  It was just the same, mossy-green and dark and like a parallel world, the only difference being that the pond had gone and weeping willows grew in its place. I still felt the thrill. The old house was there too, but the new scaffolding around it and the builders' sign had finally eroded its air of mystique and menace. Sweetly sated and revived by the unexpected and dream-like glimpse back into childhood and its clandestine playground, we turned our backs on it once again, turned our backs on the past, and sprinted - well, almost -  home. In time for tea.

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