Jean Dubuffet: Expériences Musicales LP (1961)
It probably needs pointing out, in a kind of "news" announcement, that I'm working on more drawings and demonstrating more interest in the intersection between drawn illustration and music. I'm often guilty of being of being a bit withdrawn and oblique - a bit autistic perhaps - so I think it's important for me to spell this out as a strategic statement. This is what the "Drawn" tag on the blog is all about and what my fledgling Instagram feed is dedicated to. In time I aim to take this art project much further.
Historically there has been an incredibly rich and intense crossover between music and hand-drawn illustration. Certainly, of course, "comics" but not not "comics" as such. "Comics" suggest pictures - that's to say fully-conceived images - but not, as such drawings. Some comics aren't even drawn. "What's the difference" you say? Surely I am just splitting hairs? Think of it this way, a drawing can be a picture but in the way that it often turns its back on the spectator, and is about the intense relationship between the pencil and paper, can just as easily not be a picture. A picture is always designed to be consumed as such - is unusually mindful of its own composition - whereas with a drawing any compositional assets are generally a happy side-effect. With the drawing its compositional and aesthetic power is usually a by-product of its magnetised execution.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Beat Bop 12" (1981)
For me the relationship is best illustrated by precedent and specifically in the work of a number of illustrators, heroes, who define the syndrome. Blues collector Robert Crumb is surely the dean of this axis of drawing music-obsessives; but there are precedents even to him in the disparate likes of the gloriously frivolous cartoons of Gerard Hoffnung to recording artist Jean Dubuffet's intensely engraved scatological studies. Like recorded music, theirs is a ritualisation of the act of inscription - this is why their drawing is an analogous to music and why music is often their subject matter. Think too of other pop-art greats like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring for whom music and the drawn line were somehow indivisible. In the UK the journalists of the "inkies" had as their spiritual siblings the music-obsessed artisans Brian Bolland and Jamie Hewlett. Equally, of course in the sleeve art of the great Limonious, Pedro Bell and Dave Nodz. Indeed, so indelible now is the link between line illustration and music that it has almost become a cliché - if one which is rarely discussed formally, occupying as it does, between proper formal disciplines, a gutter terrain of seeming inconsequence.
Brian Bolland. The Residents "Harry The Head" Artwork.
Old friends will remember that doodles did occasionally form a part of the old Woebot 1.0 blog. Years before I wrote I drew comics about music. Earlier still, in the mid-nineties I used to give these away in record stores like the long defunct Ambient Soho. A spell at St Martin's Art College studying Cel Animation in 2002 nearly destroyed my impulse to draw and in my work I've travelled further and further from drawing into the deep waters of Motion Graphics, Compositing and CG. Recently however, whilst working on my epic animation "Vitamin C", a major project which has now taken over three years, but which will be reaching completion in 2016, I've found myself drawing more and more. Indeed drawing has formed the backbone of the film. I love doing it and want to do more of it.
Why certainly I love music. In fact if you wants it - I gots it. Open that little red box there. That's right just on the back seat.
Uh huh - so you like Rap music yeah? I got rap music dude. I gots De La Soul. I gots Public Enemy.
Funk you say? I gots the funk. I got Prince. There's no more funky than that my friend.
Oh you like Reggae? Well everyone likes a bit of Reggae. So how about I slips on some of the ole Tuff Gong. A bit of Bob Marleeeeeee.
Shall we keep it chilled? Lets go with Neil Young. Ease into a little Van the Man. Perhaps some Creedence. Sergeant peppers. Greatest album ever no doubt. Aaah that's better.
Yeah you're right we need to lively up ourselves. The Replacements you say? Well certainly you're full of surprises my friend. Sorry Ma! Well, well, weeeel. A connoisseur's choice if I may say.
And then more punk rock? From Minneapolis? Well surely that'll be the Du talking.
May I make a suggestion? Meat Puppets II? You've not heard that. Well my friend you are surely in for a treat. Kick back and listen this to this baby. R Stevie Moore? Ever heard of him? Ho ho ho! Classic.
Where do you want me to drop you? By the gas station? You too my friend, have a lovely day.
I came across this thanks to a Google search after listening to Billy Bunter's excellent interview with Floyd Dyce of The House Crew.
It seems a very, very long time ago. Twenty six years have passed. I was at Camberwell Art School at the time. I can almost not believe it, but, yes, I'm certain I was there; though I can't see my face among the other lanky gurners. I remember milling around with a bunch of people with that usual sense one gets at public events of there being no focus for our attention.
I don't remember being possessed with any particularly articulate political agenda (that's for boring old people isn't it?) just that it seemed like a pleasantly annoying thing to be able to protest about. The only abiding memory I have is of some "wet-behind-the-ears" student union muppet lecturing me of the event's wider significance and him being scornful of my ignorance of this profound erosion of my democracy. Plus ça change.
It's a bit of a treat this one. It gets its own "drawn" piccie. Scavenged from an old hard drive. Was originally a C90. Hangs together like the best mix-tapes do. One for the listening crew. Over the years I have made Mrs Ingram hundreds of these tapes. She has a big box full of them. All of them are a sacrament of love, and therefore strictly top secret. However one or two have found their way outside this intimate circle - often as a result of requests by visitors to the house.
In no particular order therefore: Durutti column. Blind Idiot God. Echo and the Bunnymen. Polyrock. Sonic Youth. Television Personalities. Rihanna. Frank Ocean. Dif Juz. Ol' Neil Young. The Field Mice. Beat Happening. The Feelies. Bobbie Gentry. Antena. Family Fodder. The Del Byzanteens. R.E.M. Galaxie 500. David Sylvian. And a big slug of Roxy Music.
Andy Beckett’s “When The Lights Went Out” was a gripping study of Britain in the seventies. In the manner of British social historians like Dominic Sandbrook and David Kynaston who progress in chronologically incremental chunks, he’s shifted his window of time forward. There’s a predictability to this move which is a let down. Beckett’s previous book had been on Pinochet and UK/Chilean relations. One wished he’d sidestepped this repetitive syndrome and gone off again on some wilfully tangental trajectory.
Where “Promised you a Miracle”, its title deriving from a Simple Minds song, differs from “When The Lights Went Out” is Beckett’s decision to introduce himself more forcefully into the narrative. From memory, that earlier book only featured him in the brief coda in which he tries (and humorously, deprecatingly fails) to convince a “young person” of the importance of the seventies today. We get a whole lot more of him here and it damages the book. One can almost sense echoes of his decision to switch strategies in a quote he uses by a Channel 4 associate producer David Graham: “And a lot of the journalism was quite lazy. The ritual balance of interviews: you, the journalist, heard both sides of an argument from the protagonists. You synthesised a result. But you did not inject much original work.” The inference is that mature journalism requires a more openly involved narrator. Perhaps it was that growing up in the era he felt it obliged to add his own voice? Ultimately, although this can work in some author's hands, it doesn't suit Beckett’s style.
Throughout the book there is a sense of Beckett, if not spouting the Guardian party line, but being fearful of the consequences of political incorrectness. He’s chosen to write a book about these Tories, can he not be more sanguine about them? No opportunity to needle a right-wing authority figure is passed over. Rather than taking a consistent ideological approach though, decrying unemotionally and with clarity the problems with their actions, he chooses to hedge his opinions with snide remarks. Milton Friedman becomes a university professor “with deceptively merry eyes”, Patrick Minford studies Liverpool from “the safe distance of his Cardiff office” (not exactly Oxford is it?) and alternates between hissing and “bulldozing certainty”, Geoffrey Howe “searched for the right euphemism” in discussing monetarism, David Cooksey of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme allows “a faintly baffled note [to enter] his creamy metropolitan voice”, EAS beneficiaries like Alan McGee’s Creation and Superdry “Neither were businesses you could exactly envisage Margaret Thatcher patronising” (Elsewhere in the book Thatcher is revealed charming a socialist rock group: “‘We’ll give her hell” they said beforehand… and within two minutes they were eating out her hand.’”)
The effect is no doubt adopted for the benefit of the default, unquestioning metropolitan left reader that usually consumes these histories. Almost, in fact, as if an editor has said: “Come along Andy, we can’t give the impression here that we endorse these Tories, can you qualify your remarks here?” I have no great personal affection for Thatcher but it seems fairer to view her government not against the backdrop of supposed consequences thirty years later, but in the immediate historical context of the three-day week, bloated unionisation (we learn in the book of “leftist” TV production company Diverse's refusal to work with the NUJ and ACTT) and regrettably uncompetitive industries. Ironically, Beckett, author of such an authoritative tome on the seventies would seem ably equipped to provide that context.
The Thatcher government’s historical failings were notable. Rather like Chairman of The Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan who famously commented: “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” they too made the mistake of giving the benefit of the doubt to big business. Thatcher’s Tory party sold off the state’s resources too cheaply. Housing and valuable, if inefficient, national industries were given away for too little (rather like the recent government’s fire-sale of the Post Office) and those profits were not used extensively enough to reinvest in new infrastructure. These were though, arguably, not ideological failings of Capitalism but evidence of disastrous and short-sighted management. Only rarely, in abandoning his politically correct gibes and dealing with actual concrete realities, does Beckett sink some convincing blows into the Thatcherite project. Right to Buy in particular is depicted with clarity. It is convincingly revealed that only the wealthier and more worldly council tenants benefitted from the scheme which saw Thatcher capitalise on the house-building of previous social democratic governments.
In conversation with fellow Guardian-affiliate Paul Morley the wonkiness of Beckett’s soft-left doublespeak really becomes apparent. He asks Morley to justify ZTT within a socialist framework; ZTT which was clearly a beacon of private enterprise in its most glorious and valid manifestations. Morley, perhaps after a few pints, must have been shaken to the core: “I was committed to ultimately the same ends as those who were more directly politically involved on the left”, he vamps, but was “more interested in the politics of the imagination”. Beckett, a little like one of Mao’s inspectors concludes creepily: “It seemed a vague form of Leftism” and drills down further: “And wasn’t setting up a company in early Thatcherite England, a vaguely political act of a different sort?” “No, no”, said Morley immediately. Can it be so treacherous and treasonous to admit and allow?
Beckett takes equally ineffective aim at the UK’s class structure, which in the early eighties with Brideshead Revisited, Another Country, Chariots of Fire and The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook had a sudden grisly cultural currency, but without reflecting that East End boys Spandau Ballet dressing up in monocles had a whiff of detournement. By the early-eighties, rather like the collapse of the gold standard, class had ceased to be manacled to wealth. The “nouveau poor” of old families selling their stately homes and struggling with Lloyds rackets was a more dominant reality. Beckett even quotes one Andrew Osmond, former Gurkha, writing in Tatler reflecting that he should emigrate. I’m surprised that Beckett, a former public schoolboy at Marlborough (on a scholarship he opines - just like Boris Johnson at Eton isn’t it?) seeks to insert himself so uncritically in what seems to be an argument based on the much starker realities of the super-rich today than on the early eighties. Eton college is now half-full of the children of Russian oligarchs.
And yet it’s hard to square this supposed traditional socialist perspective with Beckett’s seeming enthusiasm for the Falklands war. With his military background one senses that anything more critical would be inadmissible. Here the prose became almost ridiculously overheated : “…the British advance was so fraught and photogenic, so doggedly step-by-step and hard fought, so dramatically but uncritically reported, so risky and bloody-minded - the British troops were outnumbered almost throughout - and so in keeping with the self-image of the British Army, and of many Britons, and of Thatcher herself, as resourceful and determined underdogs, that it became legendary in Britain even as it was happening.” Passages like this encourage my suspicion is that Beckett is considerably more sympathetic to the right than he allows himself to appear. Indeed a recent Guardian article of his, on the face of it decrying the Thatcher legacy attracted such fury and scorn from an outraged left, that I actually felt sorry for him.
An open-ness to the nuances and difficulties of modern life grows through the course of the book. When we’re deeper into the fabric of the age it becomes increasingly facile to judge situations and people within a left/right political dialogue and his writing settles into the depth and authority of “When The Lights Went Out”. On Channel 4 Beckett writes with some equanimity: “The fact that many of these people were leftists and continued to see themselves as such, even as they altered their ways of working, their attitudes to earning, their behaviour towards competitors and trade unions: the fact that this mass conversion to Thatcherism was not always noticed or acknowledged by those involved - all this made it all the more pivotal to how Britain changed in the eighties…” The London Dockland Development Corporation, with its triumphs and flaws, is also given the same sensitive and open-minded treatment.
However, by the book’s denouement we’re back where we started. Hearing the remarks of “Loonies” at the GLC’s women’s unit (Beckett’s own inverted commas) causes a shudder. One manager boasts, with inadvertent comedy, on the back-breaking work of giving away 11 million pounds: “I worked bloody hard. But I got the money out.” Another reflects with toe-curling self-satisfaction that would prompt a mob storming Downing Street if its equivalent were uttered by “Bullingdon club pig-fucker” David Cameron: “I was called a gold star lesbian because I’d never married and never been in that kind of [heterosexual] relationship. Being Black as well was just the icing on the cake. I had three of those equality points. In that room, it gave you currency… I was unassailable a lot of the time.” Yet we are told Norman Tebbit is “chilling” in his decision to shut down the GLC, even when (again, bafflingly, Beckett’s own evidence) the council’s ulterior motives are in plain view: “John McDonnell told one of Livingstone’s Biographers John Carvel that ‘within three months’ of the grants system starting,‘ Each constituency member [councillor] was realising that the political returns were absolutely enormous.” On the one hand Beckett is content to attack Tories but then refuses to engage critically with these remarks. Does he want in or out of his own book? The problem might be simpler, that secretly he is as unsympathetic as any Tory (ironically these women come across as extremely reasonable on their Twitter feeds) but he hasn’t the single-mindedness to make the argument he really wants to.
In 2013 the indomitable online music retailer Boomkat were planning on making a series of C60 cassettes. I was delighted to be asked to make one for them. Yay! One thing lead to another though and the whole idea was shelved. Boo.
I suspect that their enthusiasm had got the better of them and they hadn’t thought through the copyright ramifications. It would only take one annoyed artist who hadn’t agreed to have their work sold without them receiving any profits for the house of cards to come toppling down. Perhaps they were simply too busy being brilliant ol' Boomkat?
The nice thing about my tape was that I’d tried to use it as an opportunity to reach out to some of my musician colleagues whose work I respected, people who I felt were fellow travellers, and beg them for one of their tracks to include. If I had been crazy enough to have set up a label, and I did toy with the idea, these are people whose work I would have released.
Not any old tracks by this lot either, but personal favourites of mine. There’s connect_iCut, computer music’s own one-man blizzard of rocknoise, with the dazzling “Port Shale”; Xylitol, esoteric synth-punk, represented with his brilliant cover version of Conflict’s “Red Armies”: thorpe acre, bucolic, Brixton-ian, binaural daydreamer with “Ahoy Land Ahead”; and finally the majestic Ship Canal, crazed, degree-zero laptop innovator with “A Fucking Cuddle”. Together we were, momentarily at least, like Voltron.
Spliced amongst them are a carefully-chosen selection of the chilly and eldritch and the nicest track from the Woebiotic EP, ”Rain” dedicated as it was the deluge of Winter 2012. One last blast of winter then before the spring.
Woebot : Standard Quality C60
Li'l Louis - How I Feel
Ø - Röntgen
connect_icut - Port Shale
Blancmange - Sad Day
Cypher - Frozen Boom Erection
Actress - Crushed
Wladimir M - Evil
Xylitol - Red Brigades
Hashim - Primrose Path
Borsig - Hiroshima
Casino Vs Japan - It's Very Sunny
Thorpeacre - Ahoy Land Ahead
Holger Czukay - Schaue vertauensvoll in die Zukunft
Holy Ghost - Magnet
Woebot - Rain
Nebula II - Peace Maker
Ship Canal - A Fucking Cuddle