Widely recognised as the first ever punk single released, ‘New Rose’ is, for me, where punk should have ended. It never got better than this. I know, I know – Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Clash, etc. – but I was too young to have seen any of those bands live and in their prime, so I can only go by the records, and this is the pure unadulterated spirit of punk : Fun House-era Stooges filtered through minds raised on Valiant comics, Richard Allen paperbacks, shoplifted cider and World of Sport wrestling on a Saturday afternoon. The tribal drumming, the growling riff, the breathless sense of urgency, and all finished in well under three minutes. Top it off with a drummer who called himself ‘Rat Scabies’ and a singer who looked like a young Dirk Bogarde understudying the role of Dracula in a Hammer Horror film and how could I at twelve years old have ever possibly resisted? Over the years I’ve had stand-up arguments with people who’ve resented my assertion that The Damned were better than The Clash, and I still stand by my words to this day. The Clash were for those stood outside Smith’s in Leeds aggressively selling Socialist Worker, whereas The Damned were for those of us who didn’t know anything except what we didn’t want, which seemed to me to be what ‘punk’ was all about.
It’s been several weeks since I posted anything. During that time I’ve noted that my lack of posts have made not the slightest bit of difference to the volume of traffic to the site. I get the same daily average, which adds up to the same number of people you could probably squeeze into a telephone box. The conclusion: no-one is paying attention. That’s quite liberating in a way. It means I can post whatever I want and know it will make no difference. It made me think of sending out messages in bottles, hoping they wash up on a beach somewhere, which in turn led to thinking about ‘Desert Island Discs’. As I’ll never be invited on that programme, I decided to simply follow the format and come up with 8 songs that I would want with me were I to ever find myself stranded on a remote island. The selection process was difficult, but I ended up choosing only those songs which, whenever I hear them, I’m transported back to a certain time and place that has significance for me. Over the next week I’ll reveal one song per day from my list, starting with this one:
This was the first ‘proper’ single I ever bought. I was twelve years old. For about a year before that I’d been buying 7″ singles from car boot sales, just grabbing anything that I liked to cover of, before discovering the Virgin Records reissues of all the Sex Pistols singles. I used to go to HMV in Leeds and buy a new one each week, and in there they had a blackboard that listed all the records that John Peel was recommending on his radio show. One of those was ‘Ceremony’. I was completely ignorant about the band, or Joy Division, or anything surrounding the mystique of Ian Curtis’ short life and sudden death, but I liked the graphic design of the cover and the evocative one-word title, so I bought it unheard. Back at home I put it onto my shitty Decca reord player and sat down to listen to it. There was none of the silliness of the Pistols or The Dickies. It was serious music, and I think I understood on an instinctual level that I would not really “get” this until I was older. And I was right. It took years for me to get educated about the mythos surrounding Curtis and his band. I never ever really liked New Order, and don’t really consider this one of their songs. It’s a Joy Division song, spawned in that era between punk and goth where bands were trying to forge a new sound that addressed the truly bleak period in British history of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Whenever I hear it, I’m reminded of that time, walking through Leeds city centre in a permanent twilight, the streets covered in slush that never melted, the shops boarded up and the Yorkshire Ripper still at large. Cutting through that grimness was Hooky’s chiming bassline and Curtis’ inscrutable lyrics that always sounded to me like a statement of defiance (“I’ll break them down, no mercy shown”) against a world that won’t listen.
My 2019 painting ‘Moonlight Shadow’ mocked up as a cover for Miriam Darlington’s Owl Sense. I grew up on a council estate that stopped dead at the edge of former mining works, an abandoned farm and, beyond that, untold acres of woodland. Sadly, most of that’s now gone, buried under housing estates and the M621 motorway, but as a kid I remember being out in the woods and catching fleeting glimpses of barn owls, vespertine spectres in the smokey dusk, looking – just as J.A. Baker exquisitely described them – like “burning snow.” Here’s the original painting:
The soul throbs like the sea for a larger life. No thought which I have ever had has satisfied my soul.
Richard Jefferies, The Story Of My Heart
My 2017 painting ‘Lover’s Day, mocked-up as a cover for Richard Jefferies’ The Story Of My Heart. As a typical memoir of a man’s life, it doesn’t work, but it’s not supposed to. Instead, Jefferies – who died young, at the age of 38 – sustains a prolonged rumination over the – for want of a better term – spiritual void that he found could only be addressed by a deep immersion in wild nature. The prose is reminiscent of J.A. Baker’s at his most expressive, but lacks any real thematic structure as Jefferies’ thoughts are blown like leaves in the wind. Some people love the book (Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, allegedly kept two copies by her bedside), others find it frustrating and annoying. Treat it as the prose poem it is and you won’t go far wrong.
Here’s the original painting, probably my favourite of my own landscapes:
I’ve been working on this painting since November 2018. Progress had been interrupted by other projects earlier this year, but now I’m putting all my energies into getting this one finished. It’s destined to hang in our living room, a blaze of light and colour to replace the dark and foreboding lanscape currently hanging there. Landscape paintings are, as I’ve learnt, really just self-portraits, reflecting the mentality of the artist at the time. You’ve only got to look at Gaugin and Van Gogh’s paintings of the same cafe in Arles – one is bright and full of cheer and bonhomie, the other looks like a depiction of Dostoevsky’s hell as a room with a chair in it. The scene I’m painting here was a bright and balmy Autumn afternoon, the birds were singing, and the troubles of the world were, for a time, held at bay.