One returns to that quote from The Ladykillers I used a couple of posts ago about “one of the primary pleasures afforded to the middle classes” being “being fooled by art,” though here we are definitely talking about the bohemian wing. Walk into Milton Keynes Gallery for the next couple of months and you are greeted by … well, this is how the Exhibition Guide describes and explains it:
In the gallery entrance, Hattan has immediately turned the world on its head by wedging abandoned Christmas trees, upside down, to the ceiling. His work is often driven by classic sculptural questions, such as ways of countering gravity.
This is by no means – not even close – the worst example of the sort of thing The Antipoet describe as “art wank” to be found in the guide. Which continues:
The lamppost balancing precariously [yeah, right – blogger’s interjection] on the bannister up the stairs is one of many works Hattan has produced with street lamps. An homage to his father who was an electrician, the ‘stem’ of this post is roughly coated in concrete as if plucked out of the ground like a flower or weed.
The question at the head of this blog – What would Danny say? – is there because I’ve been reading Danny Baker‘s infectious autobiography (of which more later) and one could surmise that while he is far from being a philistine, it might well be on the lines of “They must be having a laugh.” But as I wandered around the gallery I’d have to report that among the ‘drawings’ I’d consider inferior to what we’ve got in the loft in scrapbooks of the kids’ (ahem) art practice at primary school, I found myself charmed and amused enough by other stuff to have no regrets about the time I spent at Swiss artists Silvia Bächli ‘s and Eric Hattan‘s “reflections on the everyday” going under the title What about Sunday?
I find something somehow intensely satisfying about Silvia Bächli‘s painting on the left, for example. The show features both individual and collaborative works by the artists, and while Eric Hattan‘s intriguingly titled De l’obscurité au supermarche (a quote from jazz musician Steve Lacy “who remarked on the incredible journey of Jazz from an underground activity to being played at supermarkets”) can be dismissed as potatoes displayed on a plinth (which is what it is – oh the killing wit) I had a good time with one of the components in particular in his video installation in the Cube Gallery. The films on the walls come from projectors at floor level so it’s impossible to walk around without your shadow intruding. The biggest is a loop of a shiftingly focussed walk into one of the many underpasses that feature in Central Milton Keynes. There’s a black cat strolling along though it’s not featured. What happens is that you can position yourself and move so that your sharp shadow becomes a part of the scene; your sharp shadow walks into the blurred reproduction of the underpass. It’s an odd feeling and I had, oh, minutes of fun with it. Little things.
I may often seem dismissive of what’s on show in MK Gallery – some I’m moved by, some I get, some I don’t want to get – but I’m glad it’s there and of late they’ve been active in getting more people involved in it as a cultural and creative meeting place. I hope they get the go-ahead for a planned expansion, look forward to getting a decent cup of coffee there when it happens.
And so we turn to Danny Baker‘s highly entertaining Going to sea in a sieve: the autobiography (Weidenfeld & N, 2012). The autobiography, that is, up to the point when – he’s taken his cards and gone freelance with NME and started on national television – he first gets asked for his autograph in the street. I look forward to the sequels. Happy-go-lucky, spontaneous, cheeky chappy – all the cockney clichés – he survives, nay thrives, on positivity and being, with no discernible plan, in the right place at the right time. A working class throw back, Dickens would have delighted in creating him even if he apologises for having such a happy angst free childhood.
Top of the class at primary school, he chooses to go with his mates rather than the posh school, and leaves at 15. I had no idea what a short full time he’d had of it, before, with his mate Mark Perry, he started the whole punk fanzine thing with Sniffin’ glue. Working at One Stop Records in South Molton Street, hip early importers of American stuff you just couldn’t get anywhere else – I can remember buying the first Captain Beefheart album there, before his time – he was acquainted with people like Elton John, Marc Bolan, Bowie and the whole nascent gay club scene. Bolan gave him a shirt he’d admired – a Chuck Berry duck walk patterned silk affair – only for his mother to ruin it by putting it in the washing machine. The tremendous anecdotage just flows and flows – his mates, his family, the music biz and beyond – but his personal story is a fascinating one in its own right, with a romantic twist near the end that could have been Hollywood scripted!
There is a welcome debunking freshness to his accounts of cultural events long chronicled in legend – punk, punk musicians, working at the NME – and he was there right at the centre of things. Hence, on punk hitting the media, “ ‘Bored’ soon became the mantra, but nobody really was.” He details what a creative musical period the early mid’70s had been, then:
Another entirely bogus piece of received wisdom has it that punk came along to rescue poor old pop music after it had been hijacked by progressive rock bands foisting five-disc concept albums on us all. This is an out and out fallacy. […] Instead it was the airless studio-desk-bound tinkerings of acts like Queen, ELO and Abba that chiefly caused those who sought far cheaper thrills to revolt. But nobody wants to hear that. Glossy turns like Queen, ELO and Abba have all long since been given a free pass amid the punk-plot revisionism and now have entire feel-good industries behind them to convince people that their high-end production and corny showbiz styles were as welcome back then as they are aboard the pop nostalgia bus today.
Amen. He backs that up with a couple of tales about Queen, but some punk musicians don’t get away unscathed either. There are so many tales to tell; one of the funniest concerns celebrated rock music writer Nick Kent’s insistence to receptionist Danny – before he became a writer NME – to “Under no circumstances let my mother know where I am” and the circumstances in which our man did; another dented icon.
If you know Danny Baker from his tv or radio work it will come as no surprise that this is a very funny book, and that the narrative flow is full of tangents, but you’ll also know that these diversions invariably have a point that adds something with a whiff of folk wisdom. The sheer love of words and word play he attributes to his father, a docker who was quite a character himself, and who sat Danny on his knee about age 5 for repeated readings aloud of Robert Browning’s rhyme-fest The Pied Piper of Hamelin – as good an advert, surely, as any for the encouragement of parents to read to their children.
As if all the above weren’t enough, we also have to congratulate the author on creating one of the great footnotes. His musical tastes are broad:
In my lifetime I estimate I have owned around fifty thousand records […] but I don’t regret a single purchase and feel warmly about each and every one of them.
To the word ‘them’ is appended an asterisk, and at the bottom of the page, in the footnote it leads to, that statement is qualified, completely out of the blue, with:
With the possible exception of Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia.
That, my friends, is class. The follow-up to the epic groundbreaking Horses, Radio Ethiopia is quite possibly the worst, most leaden and joylessly uninspired album ever put out by a major artist; I just tried to listen to it again and can only concur.
Finally, an agreeable evening on Sunday as the poetry posse turned up at Dan Plews’ AORTAS Open Mic night at The Old George. I performed my recent epic, hewn from the bitter experience of three bulbs in the back garden:
not fit for purpose
A bloke came up to me afterwards and said, “You know, I planted 50 gladioli bulbs last year and only one of them flowered.” Nice to know one is not alone.