My feet were still hurting from the march on Sunday just gone. I didn’t care too much as I practically floating on hope in the overflow of people, the seven thousand strong on a Monday night, who couldn’t get in to Manchester Cathedral to see Jeremy Corbyn speak at the People’s Post protest. Outside the organisers erected a gazebo and sound system near Harvey Nicks and Selfridges so old JC and friends could speak to us as well. His main point was to try and save the last fifteen per cent of the Royal Mail and the heart of the postal service – the cherished Universal Service. This service is the promise that no matter where you live, whether that be Land’s End or John O’Groats, if you pay 63p on one day, your first class letter will get there the next.
We the people all pointed forwards like penguins at feeding time. Hungry for change, we clapped after every sentence was delivered. Posties everywhere were coming alive in our minds as a vital part of what makes Britain Great. Suddenly in the thick of it, a scuffle. A voice even louder than those on stage could be heard above our heads.
“Excuse me.” We the people moved out of the way.
“Excuse me.” We the people shuffled back stepping on each other’s toes.
A ripple effect was going through the crowd. Heads turned. Necks craned. Eyes darted nervously around. An old man in a blue pin striped suit wearing thick glasses marched through holding his briefcase aloft.
“Excuse me,” he bellowed in a voice more powerful than his slight frame would suggest. He was oblivious there was a rally going on. He cut through everyone easily. He disappeared into the sodium night. He left behind a trail of questions surfing waves of bemusement on the warm night air.
The penguins settled back down. A few moments later a leathery man with thick black hair and a beard appeared in our midst. He had piercing grey eyes. He held up a crushed polystyrene cup to one person then another. He mumbled, “Mer ner eeee.” No heads turned. Hands scratched at necks. Eyes fixed self-consciously on the stage. No-one moved. The skinny shabby man slid in between the cracks in the crowd. He occasionally repeated his incoherent mumble. His cup stayed as light on the way down as on the way up. No-one wondered who was he or where was he going. We the people couldn’t afford to look.
I shifted my weight from the left foot to the right and back again, desperate to get some feeling into my heels. Up on tip toes I got a better view of Jeremy stood square on to the crowd. His clothes were too big for him: a light grey tweedy suit coat, dark trousers, and a billowy white shirt haphazardly tucked in. He had new glasses. Half way through his speech he chucked away his crib notes. His hand jabbed the air awkwardly. His was a different kind of leadership; an intelligent academic voice, not a anaphylactic political one, and it rang soft, insistent and true.
“I’ve never been in here before,” said Jules about Central Library. “It is completely overwhelming.” Despite being a resident of Manchester for eighteen years, it’s not really surprising as reading has never been one of her favourite things to do.
An undiagnosed dyslexic at school in the 1980s she was bullied by her fellow class-mates.
“School was pretty harsh. I was dragged out of the classroom for special lessons and the other kids used to call me all sorts of names. I used to hate standing up in class to read out loud. I didn’t know what words look like so I didn’t know what they meant and I used to get laughed at, it was horrible really. Books are not my thing and libraries are scare me.”
So it was no mean feat when Jules walked in to the spiffy £50m newly refurbed library for the Everything Everything curated Chaos to Order Live Library experience. Along with two hundred other audience members she was about to be part to of an interactive literary event called The Reading Room.
Inside this room twenty-eight desks with twenty-eight readers reading twenty-eight texts awaited. The readers are ordinary folk from all walks of Mancunian life who, under the gentle firm direction of Quarantine’s Richard Gregory, prepare to share stories, poems, books, words in any form that have helped shaped their lives.
High above everyone, a message presses down from the Book of Proverbs etched in a thin gold headband running around the dome wall:
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her, she shall give of thine head an ornament of grace, a crown of glory she shall deliver to thee.
I am sat at one of these long tables, have been for twenty minutes scribbling out memories of every book I have ever read. Pieces of white A4 paper with loose inconsistent handwriting spread haphazardly on the desktop:
Annie Proux: Brokeback Mountain – I saw the film first always a mistake.
Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar – This book is about a woman called Ester who is depressed.
Enid Blyton: Five Go To Kirren Island – I was unknowingly drawn to George the tomboy.
Alice Walker: The Color Purple – God, rape and incest all on the first page.
Douglas Coupland: Generation X – Gave us loads of names for new things like McJob.
Hunter S.Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
Robert Tressell: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – It’s about a man who works on a building site 100 years ago. He thinks differently like you know the rich shouldn’t be so rich and wealth should be shared.
Mary Wesley – I can’t remember the title let alone the book. All I know is an old school friend and I read it to each other on holiday after our A-levels.
“This is the lesbian table by the looks,” says someone sitting down and picking up a piece of paper.
“I’m not,” says my Dad.
“Well you made one so that makes you an honorary one,” says someone else.
Twelve hungry faces huddle in. Jules, with her 1950s movie star handsomeness, sits down opposite me. I ask questions like: Who taught you to read? Can you name a book that made you laugh? Who is your favourite writer? Who is your favourite fictional character? Who first read to you?
Jules says laughing: “I first moved to Manchester when I was twenty-two and my partner got me into reading. She used to read The Famous Five out loud when we were going to sleep which was really great and she did all the funny voices like ’Oh Timmy’ and made it really interesting.”
Agreeable murmurs cocooned the table.
“Yes being read to is wonderful.”
“Oh I love being read to.”
“It’s so intimate.”
“The best, it’s incredible.”
“Why is it so nice?”
“Perhaps because your parents read to you when you were little?”
I asked them if they would like to be read to now? And the faces, some familiar some strange, glowed wide-eyed as they leant forward under the canopy into the soft oblong light.
Holding open my favourite book at the first page I began to read:
The lunch hour in the co-workers’ cafeteria at Frankenberg’s had reached its peak.
I got through four or five pages before stopping to explain why Carol by Patricia Highsmith is as much a part as the colour of my eyes.
I gave them the facts:
- The book was published in 1952.
- Under the pseudonym Clare Morgan.
- And with a different title: The Price of Salt.
- It got banned because of the ‘shocking’ subject matter – two women falling in love.
I gave them the feel. Love overcomes anxiety.
I gave them my literary heart: In this book no letter is wasted, every word means what is says and the sentences, oh those short sweet cupid arrow sentences, fly across each page as if on fresh snow. You know?
“No,” said Jules. “When I read words in my head it’s like they’ve got spikes and they’re all prickly and quite awful like barbed wire.”
Intrigued by Jules’s opposite experience of reading we chatted some more after the event.
“Oh you lonely duck.”
“Oh you lonely duck?”
“O. U. L. D. Oh you lonely duck. You should’ve gone home, you would’ve gone home and you could’ve gone home. We were taught to spell things out like this.” She held up her hands like two index finger guns pointing at each other so the left thumb was b and the right thumb d. “Bed,” she said.
These days being dyslexic is something Jules has more or less come to terms with. She gets by, and it has, she says, been pivotal in her becoming a freelance photographer.
“It was a big change in my life. In my HND I had to write a 5,000 word essay and wanted to write about heroin chic – that was the trend back then – but I didn’t know where to get the words out of my brain and onto the paper. I knew what I wanted to say I couldn’t physically do it. I didn’t submit anything and I still got a merit because of my pictures.”
“I guess it makes sense that your visual language would make up for the lack of literal,” I said.
“Some books I can get into because they are so visual. I can see the book in my head like the Harry Potters they make me feel like I am really there.”
“Never read them,” I said too quickly then added, “I could learn a thing or two off JK. What is it that’s in those books that speaks to everyone?”
“They’re easy to read,” replied Jules, and she made her point wisely.
Desk HA Glyn Treharne: Extract from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens | Desk A Joan Horan: Lyrics for Giving Up, a song by Holly Williams | Desk B Nikki Smith: Extract from Carol by Patricia Highsmith | Desk C Sean McGlynn: Song titles from the album The Real Johnny Cash, The Ultimate Johnny Cash Collection | Desk D Miranda Wade: Umbrella, a poem by Taro Yashima and an extract from The Beach by Alex Garland | Desk E Liam Byrne: Extract from Walter Lippman’s political science book Public Opinion | Desk F Jason Crouch: Extract from computer operating manual, An Introduction to the Commodore Amiga 500 | Desk G Tim Cort: Extract from Chief Seattle’s 1854 oration speech concerning concession of native lands to the settlers | Desk H Maureen Stirpe: The Stolen Child a poem by W.B.Yeats | Desk J Claire Andrews: Extract from East of Eden by John Steinbeck | Desk K Libby Edwards: Guess How Much I Love You, a book for children by Sam McBratney | Desk L Ali Wilson: Sea Fever a poem by John Masefield | Desk M Elaine McCann: The Colour of Wednesday, an article about synaesthesia by Valerie Thornton | Desk N Alan Entwistle: Extract from Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh | Desk O Miriam Wild: Easy Rhymes A.K.A. Cheap Shots, Royal Shit, Small Times, poems and lyrics by Michael Conroy | Desk P Glenys Mercer: The Life That I Have, a poem by Leo Marks used as code in Second World War | Desk PA Cristina Delgado Garcia: Extracts from Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence by Judith Butler and We Are All Very Anxious, an article by Precarious Consciousness | Desk Q Niamh Horan: Extract from The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton | Desk R Rosie Adam-Clark: How Do I Love Thee a poem by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Tales of Love an analysis of narcissism and idealisation by Julia Kristeva | Desk S Scarlette Barber: Extract from when Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr | Desk T Les Kinsey: What Do You See? A poem by Phyllis McCormack/anonymous | Desk U Anne Marie Seymour: Extract from Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah | Desk V Mark Donnelly: Mid-Term Break a poem by Seamus Heaney | Desk W Jacqueline Hall: Extract from Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik | Desk X Maureen Horrop: Desiderata a prose poem by Max Ehrmann and If a poem by Rudyard Kipling | Desk Y Brenda Hickey: Extract from Churchill – The Great Leader author unknown | Desk Z Amy Liptrott: Extract from If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor | Desk ZA Anne Rua: An Irish Airman Forsees His Death a poem by William Butler Yeats | Everyone: Extracts from A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel.
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When I am dried up, a desert of words, feeling what I imagine it would be like to be an old woman in a time before any of the waves of feminism whetted her appetite for life, I always find myself reaching for a book called Carol. The copy I lovingly caress, in my hour of need, is a handy-sized hardback re-issued as a Bloomsbury Classic in 1993. First published in 1952 as The Price of Salt under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, it was said to be the first gay novel with a happy ending. (This is a happy ending in the world of 1950s gay fiction by the way, so be prepared.)
Although truth be told it is not only the subject matter – a tale of two women’s persecuted love – that I find myself going back to this book time and time again. Of course I am rooting for anxious little Therese Belivet to stalk smug privileged Carol Aird successfully into loving her and for them to be happy. It is more the way Patricia Highsmith tells this story from beginning to end without a word, a metaphor, a character, a theme or an event out of place that inspires me as a woman and a writer. There honestly isn’t a duff word in the book. Even Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby – whom Highsmith’s technique and style at least equally match – has a wincing paragraph or two of description about sunshine sounding like tinkerbells or some such jarring nonsense. Needless to say both books are pure poetry. And Carol kills it better and better with every read.
Right from its lonely opening lines:
The lunch hour in the co-workers’ cafeteria at Frankenberg’s had reached its peak. There was no room left at any of the long tables, and more and more people were arriving to wait back of the wood barricades by the cash register.
It has me.
It is perfect.
Written for the feminist revolution blog WOMANTHEORY for International Women’s Week
Carol the film directed by Todd Haynes is currently in pre-production and stars Cate Blanchett
As a sixteen-year-old Simon Beck (1969* – 1974 Edgarley and Kingweston) used pure stamina, a map and compass to win the 1974 British Orienteering Championships. After studying engineering at Oxford University then becoming a map-maker it wasn’t until much later on in his life that all his skills came together in one inspiring moment and the world began to sit up and take notice of this quintessential English eccentric.
While living in French ski resort of Les Arcs in 2004, Beck suddenly decided to make up his own unusual form of exercise by walking in snow to make strange and beautiful drawings from the world of geometry. He strapped on raquettes (snow shoes) to his feet and went out walking. In the fresh snowfall often on frozen lakes it is the sheer size and use of the land’s contours as a canvas that make the pictures so mesmerizing. The Huffington Post regularly features his work, his Facebook groupies nearly number 40,000 while photographs of his work – reminiscent of crop circles – regularly go viral. In one such emailer entitled ‘Snow Quilts!’ the artist wore a Millfield School athletics vest and as an Old Millfieldian (1989*-1991; Portway) and someone who used to wear that vest as if it was painted on my body, my first thought was: Is that an old school vest? Quickly followed by: That guy must be freezing! Those pictures are stunning! How did he do that? I must find out. So I did and discovered how only armed with a compass and a clothes line Simon Beck has founded an original and very cool new form of self-expression – Snow Art.
How long were you at Millfield for and which house were you in?
I went to Edgarley age 11 in 1969 and after two years went to the senior school at Kingweston for three years then I was a day-boy.
What were your defining moments, memories and connections with people (fellow students and staff) from your time there?
The best thing that happened was getting joint second prize for effort and progress in soccer. I was never good at it but would very much have liked to been. I was also the British Orienteering Champion which at the time I didn’t realize was going to play such a big part in my life. What I needed was some sensible advice such as, “Look kid, orienteering is always going to be an important part of your life, you can be a happy teenager and student and entirely successful in adult life if you set your sights a bit lower; you don’t have to try to get into Oxford just because you are brainy enough to get through their selection procedure”. I wish I’d know that at the time but still these things have a way of coming around.
How has Millfield impacted on your life would you say?
I feel that the school has the right attitude that sport should be at the centre of people’s lives, the older you get the more your physical health impacts on your overall wellbeing. There is absolutely no point in having loads of money if you can’t enjoy it. Our culture seems to be full of old people who have money, nice houses and cars and stay in posh hotels et cetera but never seem to be happy.
How old is the vest in the picture and how come you’re still wearing it?
It is 40 years old, I don’t wear it other than for photos. I got it out on that occasion to see whether anybody from Millfield would recognise it and get in touch and you did!
I think for me it is the ephemeral nature of the work that is very moving, what is it for you that moves you to make these pieces of art over lakes that might crack, in the cold and on sore feet?
Well, the cold is only a problem at the end of the day when it is necessary to change my footwear so I can ski home. Sometimes I take the easy option and walk back leaving my skis behind. After ten hours doing the drawings yes I get sore feet and walking in rigid footwear is the least uncomfortable way to exercise. There is no danger of the ice breaking provided one avoids known weak areas. To my mind the work is not ephemeral provided I get good photos of it. No, photos are not the real thing, but most people will only see most of the art they ever see, in photos. For many people the fact it is ephemeral is a good job because nature will undo it, so if you don’t like it you don’t have to put up with it for long. The snow does not belong to anybody and it doesn’t belong to the snow artist. It is, as a minority have described it, a form of graffiti, but nature will surely clear it up, usually sooner rather than later.
Using snow as your canvas gives the work a deeper resonance than a lot of art around today due the contrast with all the exact mapping elements of your process – machine v nature – but also because it taps into global warming, ancient symbolism and spirituality as well as the craft community who call them snow quilts! How conscious of this were you when you started out?
That is a load of gobbledygook. It is just a different way to draw something. Then again the drawing interacts with its surroundings and I would give that as the surprise discovery. The drawing becomes part of the landscape and vice versa. I think part of the reason they make for such good photos is that they are done in the most featureless bit of snow one can find. The sort of place that photographers would regard as a bit of boring foreground and would try to avoid it by placing something else in the foreground or zooming in to more distant detail. So something dull is replaced by something of interest and the landscape is enhanced.
What are you favourite designs and why?
Those that require the least amount of careful measurement. The bit I like most is the last stage doing the shaded areas. The most enjoyable drawings to create are those that consist of all curves and medium sized shaded areas. The ones that look best are those with fractal edges although these are tedious to create. I am so tired of doing the edge of the Koch curve that I intend to teach others how to do it even though I will be giving away useful trade secrets! Still, you don’t get something for nothing, and I am looking forward to travelling to interesting new places to promote products and tourism and movies.
I also liked this comment you said on your Facebook page: “I hope to spread the message the mountains and snow are beautiful and worth preserving, and there are better things in life than spending so much time doing things you don’t want to so that you can spend money you haven’t got (yet) to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”
I have always felt that too many people place too much emphasis on what they own rather than what they spend their time doing.
Have you always thought like that? What are the significant moments in your life that have brought you to this viewpoint today?
I think so. Children are expected to play and enjoy themselves, adults have to see a purpose in what they do. I get tired of being asked why I do this or that. We don’t need to rationalise what we spend our time doing. We live in the leisure age where machines do most of what is necessary, such a pity so many of us become victims of our own greed, especially when this “more is better and growth is great” attitude is steadily damaging humankind’s collective home (the Earth) and may well bring about a crisis where the Earth will no longer support more than a fraction of the number of humans who are trying to live on it.
Many people have asked about the possibility of publishing a coffee table book of your drawings. Are there any plans for this?
There are plans, and I am starting to think about publishers. At present I am working on getting together a collection high quality photos in time for Christmas 2015. I have a great drawing of the top of the tower of St Mary’s Church in Taunton Somerset. I hope to get some big names involved in selling Christmas cards worldwide to raise funds for the bell restoration and rebuilding the second tower.
Find more about Simon Beck and like his stunning snow art on his Facebook page
Keep in touch with your old skool connections at the Old Millfieldian Society website
Stay warm this winter and buy a Millfield School athletics vest from the school shop
In 1993 an empty Last Splash CD case permanently resided at the top of the other CDs sprawled across typical student detritus that grew next to my bed – an overflowing stolen pub ashtray, penguin biscuit wrappers and unused packets of fruit-flavoured condoms. (Only the mint one ever got used – weird I know how does that qualify as a fruit?)
Living life as a 2D person skating through a spoon-fed education system I only ever got as far as listening to music or watching films. It wasn’t until The Noughties and getting together with you my ex ex ex that Kim and Kelley et al became real. I mean really real. Beyond 3D. 4AD. As you can probably tell I don’t know how to explain it, really I don’t but whatever it was that you did to me. Thank you. You made me a much much cooler kinder human than I would’ve otherwise been – one that would probably still be rocking out to Wet Wet Wet.
Post 9/11 in a world just before the internet broke all the rules you had nothing apart from a grey duffle coat and your music. I had even less. We clung to each other for dear life. Once after we’d made out under your Mickey Mouse duvet in a dive of a student room on the most burgled street in Manchester I told you I’d renamed my breasts Kim and Kelley. (Stage left and stage right.) Under the left one I was going to get a tattoo saying ‘The Kid’s Got Heart’ in a comic sans. (It was a fun and fresh font once.) This line was a line Bob Dylan said when he first saw Kurt Cobain play. I told you, I imagined, when I was on the slab in the mortuary and the porter slid me out of a filing cabinet drawer, the breast, now walnut old and drooped under my armpit, would make way to reveal these mortifying words. You didn’t think it was weird. Laughter bubbled out of your little mouth and your eyes shone like black coals framed by mahogany thick hair. From then on for the next five years we told each other everything. I said way too much and drowned you out to the last drop.
Tonight under a lazy can’t quite be bothered to be a pitch-black Barcelona sky it’s many lifetimes and girlfriends later. The Breeders are about to play the album in honour of it being twenty years since its release. They (like you) are ingrained in me, concentrated over time, until no twist of DNA is spared the painful shiver of excitement at seeing them in the flesh again. We’re friends now you and I. That makes me happy. You are not here. That makes me sad. I wish you were though, squeezing my hand and telling me in your sweet unsure voice how Kim is the same age as your mum, Kelley knitted herself off the junk and how she once made a handbag out of a cardigan that used to belong to Steve Albini. It is a silly and impractical to way to think. I know but I can’t help thinking it anyway. A friend of mine whom I also love very much would tell me in no uncertain terms that I am being illogical and to stop wallowing. During this imaginary conversation I see myself stare back blank faced and think, what does logic have to do with the heart?
I spy Kelley or is it Kim no it’s definitely Kelley creep onto the stage in a cool 90s blue on blue striped indie jumper. She fiddles with her monitor. She raises and lowers both hands up and down shushing the cheer from the crowd. She goes off. The musketeers return and form a flat line-up as close to the front of the stage as possible with Jim MacPherson on drums behind. They are the originals. Left to right as we look at them: Carrie Bradley on violin and keyboards and vocals, Kim on lead vocals and guitar, Josephine Wiggs on bass and drums on Roi, and Kelley on guitar and vocals on I Just Want to Get Along.
I automatically film it on my iPhone3GS. You can hear my friend saying, ‘Are you being one of those arseholes that video so people behind can’t see?’ I looked around and thought everyone’s too old to mosh anyway. A minute into the first song New Year we’re bouncing around shrieking it’s us it’s us we are the mosh-pit. And a killjoy moment changes into warmth washing through me.
Kim is twenty metres away standing firmly in front of two mics. She’s 52. She be bigger now, stronger, legs planted like trees in the ground like a recently erupted oil geyser. The second old-time jazz mic held together with white gaffa tape doesn’t shy away as she bows down to check and awoooah into it. Josephine Wiggs slides and fingerbumps the neck of her bass. Ban nar nar nar na na. Cannonball. It sounds weird. Is it too slow? Maybe it’s me that has slowed down? What has happened to me in all the twenty years since I danced on tabletops at the Purple Turtle in Reading missing archaeology lectures left, right and centre and singing my closeted heart out? It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the lyric that meant to so much to me ‘the bong in this rare gay song’ the one suddenly on a pedestal in the middle as the rest of the music falls away was in actual fact ‘the bong in this reggae song’. Oh queer. We hear what we want to hear.
Josephine Wiggs keeps it real at la fiesta de la musica by mentioning how cold the weather is at the end of the song. She repeats this British tic at the end of other songs. She is cold I guess in her leather jacket, boots, combats and Yessir! Army Cap. Yet I find her endearing and strangely warming to remember that she is a Brit-By-Jove and that bassline is part of an American stream of coolness that has washed through pretty much every alt-indie-rock band worth their salt in the last twenty years. Pod, The Breeders first album was Kurt’s favourite LP. The Pixies were the coolest indie-rock outfit there everwas. And everyone knows all the best Pixies songs are the ones sung by Kim. Therefore Kim is…well you figure it out…
Before the band play Do You Still Love me Now? Kim nervously asks for some marijuana over the mic and babbles / urges us all to look at La Luna, La Luna. I turn my head and stare at the silver shimmering mirrorball of reflected sunlight all animal all magnetized. The sky suddenly looks much darker.
Does love ever end?
When two hearts are torn away?
Or does it go on?
And beat strong anyway?
As I turn my head back from La Luna to the stage a bubble the size of a pamplemousse floats overhead. I watch it go over the crowd and duck and dive on the cold wind. It passes me, it passes my friend, it passes the two blonde sisters in cropped black leather haute couture jackets – honestly the most astonishing Breeders fans I have ever seen – and they know all the words! – it passes Kelley, then it floats on until it disappears into a dark black corner of the stage. I think the moon is bubble of air, the earth is a bubble of air. One day they will pop. One day all of this will pop. Pop!
As for me here now stood elevated on the bright orange plastic casing of the cable cover to get a better view I ask myself – does it get any better than this? It occurs to me scanning the crowd of mainly sexy Spanish men with their alt-gfs in tow that my hopes of hanging out in a crowd of interesting women is largely null and void. The best of times change and thankfully so do the worst. I look at Kim and Kelley and wonder if they are happy. It’s strange because whenever I think about them I don’t think about them on stage singing and playing guitars they are always on the porch swing at night at their parent’s farm in Dayton, Ohio. Despite the damage of life they seem happy. They regularly break-out the same half-moon smiles in synchronicity. Twins. They must be happy making all this music that has made so many other people happy. It makes me happy and I’m just one person. It must satisfy something. And then….they play Safari. I have no idea what this song is about but I hope it makes you happy too.
Back in 1997 when Magic Arm was going about his daily business as Marc Rigelsford he decided to move to up from Worthing to study photography at Stockport College. Sixteen years later and a switch of art forms his love of the visual world still frames his love of the music world. Presumably photography gave him his stage name (a Magic Arm holds a camera or light fixture in place in variety of situations), film the new album title Images Rolling and painting the album cover. And, as he says on his website, he only got into making music in the first place to lend a hand to a film-maker friend who needed a soundtrack. If you take an hour off to lie down and properly listen to his music though, the connection between the two art worlds comes even more into focus – you can see his songs. They are the kind that get stuck in your head. They are the kind that make you see the world differently. In the medical world this sensory swap-shop is called synaesthesia, in the creative one – bingo time! He has captured imagination.
In a joint effort to increase his exposure Magic Arm is now signed to Switchflicker and Peacefrog. He is an independent artist in the truest sense of the word. Self-taught on his instruments – from drums to guitar to harmonica to keyboards and piano to pedal loops and Pro Tools – he’s also written, recorded and produced this latest album for two years in a hermit like vacuum at home. “I’m literally trying to write pop music but it never comes out that way, there’s always a dark edge to it,” he says on his website. Switchflicker label head Jayne Compton says she can see his journey being something akin to Swedish folk-pop labelmate Jose Gonzalez. “All he needs is a breakthrough song like Heartbeats on an advert and he’ll be off,” she said.
Although not a household name yet, his audience is widening. Musically nods go out to The Beatles (on a trippy day), the Beta Band, Elliott Smith, label-mate Jose Gonzalez, Grizzly Bear (on a melodic day), Hot Chip, Badly Drawn Boy and Bon Iver et al. While acolytes include 6Music’s Marc Riley, Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam and Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear who wrote on his blog of the first EP Outdoor Games in 2006, ‘Two things I love: my dog and Magic Arm’.
It’s been four years since the first album Make Lists, Do Something was released. Compared to Images Rolling it has an altogether more eclectic electronic core with the stand-out tracks being Widths and Heights, Bootsy Bootsy, Outdoor Games and the cute hidden track right at the end is a sonic harbinger. Since then he’s grown a beard, learnt some Spanish and cultivated a more rounded consistent natural sound under the listening influence of Yann Tiersen, Simon and Art Garfunkel and the soundtracks of Michael Galasso.
With a total running time at just over half an hour the ten tracks on the new album are best to listened to on loop. Repeatedly they come into their own on those kinds of days, you know, hangover days, comedown days, headphones at work days, tender post-coital shenanigan days, late night driving days, going on holiday days, beach days, dinner party days, any day with the word day in it really.
It might not be full of hits but the hook-laden opener Put Your Collar Up, Great Life and The Flood have the power to make any high street or a shopping mall a semi-religious experience. I know. It happened to me. Two months ago I was walking down Market Street in Manchester, stressed unhappy people trapped between baseball caps and trainees everywhere. They were squinting into the Saturday afternoon as if just come up from living underground when Put Your Collar Up and Great Life came pouring through my headphones back-to-back. The normal Dickensian atmosphere of the street was suddenly transformed into a bearable celebration of life. People looked human again. Pure pop sensation.
The songs beautifully document apathy ‘no-one tries at anything’, the age of over-information, pointless striving, ageing and in Tonight I Walk the chirpy power of finding your own way. In the last line on the last track The Flood (which also has the album title lyric in it) he laments ‘you don’t have to belong’. It shouldn’t take many listens for his sofa-comfy
voice to break through onto permanent rotation in your brain. If that doesn’t do the trick there’s always Ben Dumville’s glorious trumpet playing, the recurrent harpsichord-style piano peppered throughout or the infectious snake charm swing of Is History.
In these times of smash-and-grab culture it’s lucky for Magic Arm that his bag o’tunes sound even better live. At a secret gig in Kraak, Manchester, a friend of mine fell in love with him at first sound. A notoriously difficult man to please his on-the-spot review went something like this: ‘he’s a bit nervous isn’t he / the songs made me melt / the flipping between instruments and pedals is hypnotic’. This love at first sound is starting to happen a lot. Whenever I play this album ears attached to all kinds of heads prick up. Pierced ears. Drunk ears. Dirty ears. Friend’s at parties ears. Egotistical artist’s ears. My 4-year-old nephew’s easily distracted ears. People deep in conversation ears. My mother’s ears. Hipster ears. Janice Long’s ears. Chef ears. Keep an eye out for him.
Magic Arm’s Images Rolling is released 3 June 2013 in a collaboration between Peacefrog and Switchflicker. Pre-order limited edition vinyl for £13.99 inc P&P. Tour starts on Thursday 9 May at The Caves, Edinburgh.
I was hurtling along on a train from Manchester to Nottingham waiting on a text to see if an old friend was going to make it to meet me at the World Event Young Artist where she was exhibiting. We’d had a good time in the past then a falling out and now we were making a hash of trying to get the friendship back on track. An hour later I knew she was going to be a no-show. At the venue I had a heavy heart and couldn’t see her work clearly, then a picture called Secret on the opposite wall with a bright blue eye poking out of it caught my attention and WHOOSH! art did that thing that it does best – it helps make sense of our emotions, allowing new personal truths and a chance to be a better person perhaps?
I was moved. A few hours later I put a call out on the blog:
It’s difficult to find anything about this young artist whose work I recently stumbled into at the 2012 World Event in Nottingham. A quick ging-gang-google reveals that she was born (1989), lives and works in Podgorica, Montenegro, a country squished in-between Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her homeland has a beautiful coastline onto the Adriatic Sea that gives the place its main economy – tourism – until the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s in neighbouring countries crippled that industry. Perhaps this is why her airy colourful images belie content with a much blacker heart. Who knows? Not me. I’m just guessing. Snezana get in touch so I don’t have to keep babbling on about the place where you come from instead of what’s going on with you.
To be continued…
A couple of months later in November an email landed in my inbox:
Best regards, Snezana
Since then a trail of emails have kept us in contact while this talented 23-year-old graphic designer, illustrator, drawer and painter graduated last month from Faculty of Fine Arts, Podgorica, Montenegro, picking up a bagful of best student awards and scholarships on the way.
Currently working in a publishing house, she uses a wide range of mix media materials such as gouache, ink, watercolor, pens and collage in her extensive portfolio but it is drawing and painting that are her first love as demonstrated in the deeply moving fine art pictures she creates.
Last week she took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few quick questions:
What are the significant moments that have brought you to be the person you are today?
I am not sure in existence of those moments; in fact, I think that person is born as is. While the good or bad moments are those which “force” you to choose direction and they actually participate in building of a person’s character. We are all different characters, so for each of us these moments isn’t same. In fact every moments which touch us, actually influence in building us.
Tell me about your art, one thing, one picture or a story that sums up your practice?
Our emotional states, how they effect on our lives and our bodies, and the way they can lead us is the core topic of my artworks. I prefer sensible souls and their states of mind and emotions. Sensible souls are those which feel and experience much more of other souls.
Anything you want to say?
Works which I have created in last two years talk about very sensible souls, and how their divine emotions enlightens their souls, but in same time that strong emotion can kill their bodies. In working and thinking process in one moment I asked myself:
What would happen if these two souls met each other?
How to build a relationship between them?
Would they be in love and how would their souls and bodies behaved in that case?
With this question I continue my work based on topic “Two Souls”, I have created a lot of works on this theme, but “Two Souls” aren’t done for me, I am still working on it…
And the Secret picture can you tell me a bit more about that?
His secret is fear of the world. The world where his body and soul existing produced deep in him a beautiful and difficult emotions…so his arms want to protect him of that strong feelings, but in same time his eye still want to feel because emotion is the only thing that makes you alive.
To see more of Snezana Pupovic’s work please visit her online portfolio where you can hire her skills and buy her work.
Check out the rest of the 999 artists from around the globe selected for the cultural olympiad World Event Young Artist 2012.
Go on holiday to Montenegro and visit the beautiful coastline kissed by the Adriatic Sea.
Tell me about your mother?
She is 72 years old and used to be a computer programmer until she retired. She likes reading and is active in her local church.
Tell me about your father?
He is 72 years old and used to be an electronics engineer until he retired.
He is active in his local church. He has back problems like me but is addressing them with pilates.
What are the significant moments that have brought you here to be the person you are today?
Professionally, I guess going to art school in Glasgow was quite pivotal. In terms of my personality I guess I have been formed to some extent by my (happy) childhood.
Are there any skeletons in your closet that we need to know about?
No. My closet is empty.
What are your hopes and fears for the future?
Hopes: that my football team will be successful. Fears: The break-up of the NHS, global warming.
How Are You Feeling? runs at the Cornerhouse until the end of January 2013.
Find out what happened when I took Colin Britt who sells the Big Issue outside the venue inside an art gallery for the first time to see it.
On the rare occasions when I’m not playing the card game Shithead and I fancy a stroll out into the vulgar world of fun, the place I like to frequent chat, drink, smoke rollie fags and dance is the converted textile building-cum-club called Kraak. Don’t be fooled by hip high handwritten whiteboard with the word KRAAK and an arrow underneath pointing to a brick alley behind the Police Museum of Stevenson Square that this is a double-bluff public crack den, it is of course Manchester’s most authentic city centre hangout for people who’ve fallen through the cracks of society. It took its name from the Dutch word to crack something open. In a city succumbing to regenerationitis where the Cornerhouse is moving to become a multiplex on the newly unveiled First Street opposite the Hacienda apartments, club owners Jayne Compton and Dom O’Grady keep the lone flag flying across the city for D-I-Y independent unbranded good times.
In the last two years avant-garde hungry audiences have made their way down the crack in the alley, up the stairs and through the doors into the two hundred capacity main space to see the likes of JD Samson’s band MEN, Demdike Stare, Mark Fell, DJ Boogie Blind, David Hoyle, Womb and regular Filmonik screenings to name but the tip of the iceberg. The space has also become a staple for local and national cool-hunters to launch their albums and magazines, plus individual hedonists celebrate birthdays while the more adventurous of the city’s organizations encourage staff to let their hair down longer and wilder in its anything goes late curfew atmosphere.
Jayne showed me the up and coming gigs on her iPhone Google calendar and said, ‘We’re pretty much booked every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the next few months.’ She reeled off a few names, ‘There’s Wet Play presents Magic Touch, Jan Krueger, Manatees and Wode, Black Bee Soul Club, MCR Scenewipe, Richard Youngs and Dylan Carlson.’ She added that the venue’s draw to both artist and audience has made the place a creative hub and art scene.
She’s right of course, artists are the lifeblood to any event space and so are the piss-artists who watch them. And Kraak likes to treat them in equal measure. The cheap honed-down choice of drinks in a stand-alone fridge that wouldn’t look out of place in a house is ideal for the addled mind. A round of five black sambucas costs between 8 and 13ish quid depending on who serves you. I’d recommend you ask for The Doctor for the former price or muso-extraordinaire Magic Arm, who’s second album Images Rolling is about to be released, for the latter. Or is it the other way round? Either way the staff’s friendly uber-laid back chatty devil-may-care service style is endemic to the place. The latest addition to the team is a state-of-the-art blue Kentucky mop and bucket with detachable ringer so different mop heads can be attached a la Wurzel Gummage depending on which part of the club is being cleaned. ‘Toilets are the pulse of any club so they’ve got to be regularly cleaned with the right tool for the job,’ added Jayne.
*Please Drink Reprehensibly*
That’s me said the woman in the yellow. A yellow hat, yellow coat and yellow scarf signalled artist in the area from a hundred yards. The sausage dog called Gerty on an extendable lead outside the van signalled an artist in the area with style. Are you Bill by anychance? she asked. I’ve had lots of chats with people coming down here and they all say I must talk to Bill.
The old man brushed the compliment aside and ploughed on, well I better just give you a bit of background…
Would you like a cup of tea or anything? What about a biscuit?
I might have one of those at the end of out chat he said eyeing the small mound of chocolate brownies and flapjack squares on the paper plate, I’m not a Clitheronian.
Yes I hear that. I said we wouldn’t hold it against you…
I’ve been here nearly fifty years and I’ve been interested in the local history right from the beginning. I’ve been coming into Brungerley Park on a regular basis for nearly fifty years and enjoying it. Henry the Sixth was captured you know…
On that bridge? [Amy pointed out of the back door of her van to the bridge at the bottom of the park.]
Well not on that bridge it didn’t exist. That bridge was only built in 1816. There’s a plaque in the middle.
Right. But somebody was captured on that bridge.
Now this is where it’s all been getting confused…
Because people have been telling me, well people keep telling me James the Fifth, Henry the Something was captured on that bridge. All different things. And every time they say it it’s a different number.
This is concrete because I’ve done my research in the British Library on this. Henry the Sixth was captured here in 1465 on what was called the Hipping Stones. Right? Now then I feel sorry for Henry the Sixth in way but this was quite a decisive part in the Wars of the Roses. He’d been hiding and dashing away, the Lancastrians had been beaten from 1461, he been in Scotland and various places. And the Lancastrians were defeated again in May 64, the Battle of Hexham, because he wasn’t a soldier at all, he wasn’t interested in it, he ran away. For several months or so he was hiding in part of Westmorland and Cumberland and Lancashire and Yorkshire and eventually landed up here. Now you know about Boland and all that?
[Silent nods from Amy and me in the van in the vain hope of getting away with knowing nothing about English history.]
So we can be quite precise about the time he was on the run. He was on the run for about a year after the Battle of Hexham.
[Gerty barks. She knew that.]
He was caught and taken prisoner here and then down to London and was imprisoned there for the next six years in the Tower of London, not in a great prison way because it was a Royal residence as well. He was let out for about six months when the Kingmaker, the Earl of Warwick. Yeah?
[Silent unsure nods again. Confident knowing barks from Gerty.]
So the Kingmaker, the Earl of Warwick, swapped sides, he’d been very much a Yorker because there were all family troubles and things like that. Except for that six months when Warwick took him out and let him become King again. As soon as the Yorkers came back and had the last battle and so on he was murdered. He was an unfortunate chap. I mean who would want to become King of England at the age of nine months?
[Low murmuring hmmms from us and barks of agreement from you know who.]
Bill carried on: Things went wrong we were still involved with France and things went downhill. We began to lose in France.
[Manic yapping from Gerty. Bloody know it all.]
Sorry just let me shut this one up. Gerty be quiet. We’re getting history lesson.
Sorry about that she’s not the brightest button.
Well she’s not that interested in Henry the Sixth…
No, she’s more into Henry the Eighth.
Well Henry the Sixth was king at nine months and it was the nobility ruling the country for a very long time and then they had mental health problems as well and all that. But he’s still remembered for two things which involve the country today he founded Eton and the Prime Minister went to Eton and all that kind of thing and he also founded King’s College Cambridge. There was an arranged marriage with a French princess and she was a very formidable character and she ruled the roost from the age of fifteen and so on and so forth. He had a rough life. He had mental problems. His father of course was Henry the Fifth who we all remember won the big battles and so on died within a year of his son being born.
[Gerty lets out a peal of squeals and the conversation takes a sharp turn in another direction.]
The main thing I want you to know about here is the bridge. The hipping stones are here and when they built that and the river backed up that’s when they had to put some extra hipping stones and then they built a wooden bridge but it didn’t last for very long so then they had to build another.
You can see the hipping stones when the river goes low can’t you?
In 1992 the weir was not working because it was being repaired and the river naturally went down because it was a hot summer so for the first time for a couple of hundred years these hipping stones were revealed. The five hipping stones that were put in in 1784 we saw them in 1992 and it might be another two hundred years before we see them again.
What are they made out of?
Just stone. Blocks of stones. Like stepping stones. It’s how they used to cross the river. The river got wider. Before there used to be only smaller stones. It is very rare is that when the stones appear.
Why are they called hipping stones?
Now I’ve just been looking up that and we’ll have to do a bit more research. It’s a fairly well-known word. It’s the kind of word that Judy whatever her name is or Sue on Countdown might know.
We must settle that it was Henry the Sixth captured here.
That’s concrete now.
It really is. So we know how many Lancastrian kings there were right? And how many Yorkers kings? We know that?
[Blank faces filled up slowly again with lack of knowledge.]
Well you’ll not forget this when I tell you. Three Lancastrian kings. Three Yorkers kings.
What was the significance of his capture?
The significance was the War of the Roses had started in 1455 and the Yorkers had won the first battle. They didn’t immediately take over or try to. There was an uneasy peace until 1459. That was partly because his wife, the French princess, who was still only in her early twenties, she had a son so there was possibly another Lancastrian to follow Henry the Sixth. As nothing changes whether it’s the fifteenth century or the twenty-first people were doubtful about who was the father. Henry the Sixth pretended that he didn’t know anything about it at all. It’s that kind of thing that all the nobility worked up against each other you see. It’s a family thing. Clitheroe has been concerned with it again through the man who had the honour of Clitheroe for a long time because of a chap called De Lacy. He lost two sons in the early part of the fourteenth century. One falling from a castle wall and one drowning in a well in another castle so he married his daughter off into the Dukes of Lancaster into the House of Lancaster. They then became Dukes and that’s why when Henry the Fourth became the first Lancastrian King in 1399 the honour of Clitheroe came and stayed with all the monarchs all the way through until Charles the Second gave it back to one of his generals. It’s fantastic stuff really. And there we are. What about you?
So this is me and this is the project called Exploring Landscapes and I’ve been commissioned by this company called Creativity Works. It’s not just me there are another six other artists situated around and we’re all finding out different stories about parks in the area and what goes on here. So this is why I’ve pitched up here. Another part of the commission is in 2013 there is going to be an event and we’re finding out what people would want that to be.
Would you have the authority to have a blue plaque put on the gate to commemorate Henry the Sixth’s capture? In two years time it would be 550 years since it happened.
[Gerty barks in approval.]
Picture by Dull Hunk
In the middle of my city just to the south of the mouth of the main town road a building is yielding kicking and screaming noisily getting torn down.
A rotten tooth in the jaw of youth there’s too much sugar in your diet the cavity broadens bureaucrats dawdle walls have gone forever quiet.
Colin the Big Issue seller had a busy week last week. His pitch is right outside the main entrance of the Cornerhouse that has just opened its doors to David Shrigley’s new show How Are You Feeling? and the ever-affable artist designed the cover on the magazine. “I sold 220 mags,” said Colin, “it’s a shame they couldn’t have kept it running for a couple of weeks as the picture on the front is really funny and a lot of the customers were very chatty about it saying if they did or didn’t like his work.” It’s no surprise Colin did such a roaring trade and became a canvas for other people’s opinions as David Shrigley is a now a well-known name in and out of the art world. Every time I passed Colin, said hello and asked him how sales were going, my curiosity rose about him. The next day I invited Colin to see the exhibition together.
Since bursting onto the art scene with his razor sharp funny black and white doodles in the 90s, David Shrigley has become one of the most popular artists in the UK. The opening night alone attracted more than 1,000 people to see installations, drawings, an interactive play and an on-going life-modelling class with your own artistic efforts finding a place on the gallery wall.
He’s gone on record many times saying that he can’t draw and works by intuition including a very funny anecdote about The New Statesman and his lack of technical skill in the sweetly written Big Issue article by Katie Popperwell. Is he joking? Being self-deprecating? Truth in jest? How can a self-confessed man who says that he can’t draw become the artist of his generation? Perhaps like R.Mutt aka Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, that is going to be his biggest joke on the art world? When he stayed on to set up his studio in Glasgow after graduating from the School of Art with a 2:2 in Environmental Art and eschewing the London Brit-Art scene, his higher brow contemporaries didn’t think it he would be the one to make it big. By the end of the millennium it was his art work that had become hot property and spawned a million imitators. Even dark arts master himself David Lynch got in on his style with Dumbland and you can read what the other David thought of his efforts. To demonstrate the enigma of the can’t-draw-still-successful debate even more simply take a look at this picture by David Shrigley of Katie Popperwell (after staring at her for ages) and you decide.
After sharing a Cornerhouse pizza and a little about our lives Colin and I went upstairs to check out the work curated by Mike Chavez-Dawson. As we wandered round he said art didn’t feature in his life in fact he’d never been in an art gallery before. He’s sold the Big Issue since 1996 first in Birmingham and then in Manchester. The spot outside the Cornerhouse has been his office from lunch-time everyday for the last eight months. Inside all the venue staff said hey, hello or hi and our waitress said how nice it was to see him inside the buidling. I explained that this show was themed around mental health with an interactive and therapeutic remit to it but for me the real beauty of David Shrigley’s ability to connect lay in the words accompanying the images that let people know the deeper more serious message. I looked up pleased with my art critique but Colin was off and away saying ‘wow’ as he saw the gong in the installation room, he wrote ‘Not Bad’ on the How Are You Feeling? white board and laughed out loud when he saw the big black bag called The Burden.
“It’s like a giant rucksack.”
“Yeah you’re meant to pick it up and carry it around but it’s broken at the moment so you can’t.”
“Someone broke the burden?”
“Yeah, someone broke the burden.”
Colin’s a tall man, maybe as tall as David Shrigley at 6′ 5″, and he’s weathered well in forty-five years despite many personal battles. Up in the drawings room I watched as he mooched around with ease at the relentless barrage of images fly-postered one on top of the other on the gallery wall. He stopped and stared and chuckled at various pictures and as we were exiting he called me over to share matter-of-factly, “I relate to these”:
On the top floor of the gallery there is a giant naked male mannequin for visitors to have a go at drawing and leave their own mark on the wall. I opted out having two left hands but Colin said he’d done a bit of art at school and took to the task with aplomb. After a while I glanced nervously around at Colin to make sure I wasn’t going mad but he was engrossed in his chalk masterpiece. Suddenly the model’s big blue eyes blink and his relaxed penis pisses water (I hope) into a bucket on the floor in front of him. I got up and left Colin to carry on with his drawing to look at the other pictures by visitors on the wall. It’s nice and friendly I thought how often is it you get the opportunity to come and be a part of the art world.
“You alright Colin?”
“Yeah it’s been nice I’m just signing my name.”
As he stuck his picture on the wall I saw that he’d signed his full name – Colin Britt – and that he’d written BIG ISSUE like a tattoo on the model’s arm. A few minutes later we were back outside in the cold and he was shouting those words to people passing him by on the street.
The Big Issue in the North is available now from Colin outside the Cornerhouse most days from about lunchtime onwards for £2 of which he gets £1.
How Are You Feeling? a new book by David Shrigley is available from the Cornerhouse bookshop and website for a special price of £10 (rrp£12) during the length of the exhibition. I don’t know how much David Shrigley’s cut is probably not as good as Colin’s.