Thursday 28 January 2016

Q & A with James Johnston

Harry Pye: I really like the film on You Tube of you and Gallon Drunk playing live at Clouds Hill, Hamburg. Were you happy in Hamburg and pleased with the way that film came out? James Johnston: "Sure, it looks great and it was fun to do. There's also some excellent footage of the band around the time of The Soul Of The Hour album playing in Budapest that was shot for TV, that's really good too. I played the Clouds Hill Festival again last December, the first time I'd played any of the new songs live. That was filmed too and will be out at some point fairly soon."
You're now bringing out a solo album - what are Terry, Leo and Ian going to be doing with themselves? Terry and I are lucky to be involved in the new PJ Harvey album, which is an absolutely superb record, he's also playing in Holy Holy with Tony Visconti, and Leo is also playing with a couple of bands at the moment. Ian is the only GD member with me on the solo record, which was necessary as it's really quite different, so when that's performed live it will be with Ian. The core of musicians on the album is very small, but a huge depth is brought to it with a choir and some beautiful strings. Ian plays some wonderful stuff on the record. It's my favourite thing I've done so far, and probably closer to what I actually listen to. It's a heartfelt record for sure, and intense in a different way to GD. I'm planning towards the next one with Clouds Hill and Johann already."
The Gallon Drunk sound has been described as "Swamp Rock" - from your personal experience of rocking all over the world, which countries are the most keen to lap up swamp rock? "Well with GD, outside the UK, we go down well in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and also seemingly unlikely places like Budapest. I suppose it changes over time too. Often it's also a reflection of the quality and organisation of the venues though, obviously that helps. We haven't played in Ireland for a while either, nor the States where there's a good following that we built up ages ago doing big supports. However whether or not it's swamp rock is another issue...whatever it is." Does your solo album have a title and am I right in thinking the cover of the album will be a big Steve Gullick photo of your face? Still thinking about the title, such a nightmare until it's finally set, the song order too. And yes, a portrait could be on the cards. Steve's a very, very good photographer, so thankfully there's some flattering and striking pictures to work with. He was on hand in the studio too. We'll see. It's all still very up in the air.
Are your new solo songs mostly unplugged/acoustic? "Well, it's got a fairly wide range of instruments on it. The general sound is Piano, hammond, Taurus - which is moog-type synth bass, bass guitar, drums, electric guitar, strings, choir and voice. So a mix of electric and acoustic. It's got quite an intimate yet lush and large sound. The voice is very up front for me. A lot of it was written on the piano in order to get away from guitar songwriting habits." Will you be doing any live shows to promote your album and what formats will it be available on? There'll definitely be gigs to go with the album, very much looking forward to it all. The album will be in all the usual formats, vinyl included for sure."
Who have you been listening to lately? Which singers, songwriters or bands have inspired you recently? Recently, by necessity, I've been listening intently to what I've recorded as we've been mixing, so as a break I'd listen to stuff like Beny More, a fantastic Cuban singer from the fifties, or solo John Cale, Eno, Miles Davis, the new PJ Harvey album, live Hendrix, Sparklehorse, and a great new album Abracadabra by the French band Ulan Bator who were there right at the start of what's now termed Post Rock - all sorts really, and rather a lot of Bowie of course following his death. Big White Cloud by Cale always does the trick for me, out of this world. But no music's often quite a relief to be honest when you're working on something, or just a record that makes you laugh or dance, or the miracle combination of both."
You've been in the music business a while now. Over the years you've played the Hollywood Bowl with Morrissey, met Little Richard, got championed by John Peel, been one of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds etc - what mattered most? What was a big deal? "All those things were absolutely a big deal, very much so. Playing on the new PJ Harvey record was a wonderful surprise too, and I loved the gigs I did with her and John Parish recently at the Festival Hall in London at the release of her book The Hollow Of The Hand. I've been lucky enough to play with some great people over time, paths do eventually seem to cross if you stick at what you're doing and create your own little niche in the massive ocean of music out there. And now I have the chance to really do my own thing too."
When you play live with Lydia Lunch you often end the set with your cover of Kill Your Sons which is one of my favourite Lou Reed songs. What do you rate about Reed? In your opinion was his was of guitar playing as important as his lyrics? "It's such a classic, and I love playing our version with Big Sexy noise. We've got a gig at The Lexington on March 20th, then one in Bucharest on the 30th if anyone fancies coming along and hearing us blast it out. I'm a big fan of Lou Reed, all the Velvets records, Street Hassle and so on. His guitar playing's out of this world, like his lyrics and attitude distilled into raw, unhinged sound. Just perfect."
Read any good books lately? "I'm a chapter into Francis Bacon In Your Blood by Michael Peppiatt, and so far it's excellent. Before that an Everyman's collection of Apolllinaire, Tender Is The Night, Under The Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas (who also wrote a beautiful book called The Ice Palace), Yasmina Khadra's The Swallows Of Kabul, and A Farewell To Arms - which I'd never read before. They're all things I've read over the last year or so that I've loved. I read Moby Dick on the last Gallon Drunk tour. A tour bus is a great place to catch up on reading, or take on something dauntingly long during the interminable eight hour drives. One book I'd always recommend - particularly if you want a laugh, albeit a somewhat dark one, is The Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis, about a struggling artist in East London, very underrated and extremely funny. Similarly grim but hilarious territory as Julia Davis' superb series Nighty Night."
After this album comes out, what will be the next chapter in the James Johnston story? "Well I need to start working on the next one, that's the main thing at the moment. I'll be on tour a lot this year, and next, promoting records that are coming out this year, so I should get on with it while I have the time. But having just finished this one I'm finding it hard to jump straight back in, but something will come, you just have to be prepared to discard a lot of what seemed initially like great ideas along the way. Also a couple of people I want to do some writing or recording with, so that's something else to work on as well. Good to talk to you Harry". Colour photo of James at Corsica studios 2009 by Natasha Xavier. B&W photo of James at top of page and photo of lyric sheet by Steve Gullick

Monday 25 January 2016

Q & A with John Moore

Last week I went to the opening of a great exhibition organised by Marie-Louise Plum. I was glad I went and I liked all the artists she had selected. I knew of the music John Moore made with Black Box Recorder but I didn't know he was also a painter. I was pleased when he agreed to answer a few questions via e-mail...
The Rebel: I read that "Mental Spaghetti" was founded by multidisciplinary artist and mental health service user, Marie-Louise Plum, in 2011 as a ‘confessional’ blog to share her experiences in the NHS mental health system. Her website evolved into a platform for fellow artists and mental health service users to share, develop and promote their own work and meet like-minded peers. And that now a network of artists work together. How did you meet Marie-Louise and get involved with her group? John Moore: "We were brought together by a six foot seven, one-eyed, Polish skinhead, who'd come to mend my windows."
Black Box Recorder went on Top of the Pops, had rave reviews and respect from their peers. What was the best thing about the whole period of your life? And what was the best song the band ever recorded? "Afternoons spent plotting with Luke Haines in the Spread Eagle pub in Camden, over huge amounts of Guinness, throwing down appalling ideas which, when sung by Sarah, sounded gorgeous...we were on fire for a while. My favourite song from that period ( at 11.30 on a Thu morning.) is Gift Horse, which was going to be called Gift Horse Mutilator. I was walking through Notting Hill one afternoon, and came to a house where there police were digging for human remains...a gift for any songwriter. By the time Luke and I had finished, it had become a yearning love song, set during a police investigation, with Sarah's most beautiful vocal, and a choruses that sounded like the theme from The Likely Lads."
You are a musician who makes paintings and also occasionally writes articles for newspapers. What do you think of this quote by Julie Burchill? "Art is the brainless babble of a visual person (who are by definition stupid: painting, that's what children do because they can't write)." Do you make paintings about things you can't write or talk about? "She says it like it's a bad thing. (I adore her, by the way; and she was a BBR fan. ) I'm fairly articulate, and I do write when the mood takes me...or when there's a cheque involved. I actually don't see much difference between words and long as they are properly applied."
There are thousands of paintings in the vaults at Tate Britain because there's no room to show them. Do we need more paintings? "Mine....and my friends, no one else's. The vaults should be emptied and picture loaned to mother would have one."
Which artists do you know most about? Are there any painters you would consider giving a talk on or making a documentary about? "I don't really know much about any artists. I have a feeling about some of them, and certain clues about why they did what they did, but I don't have a Van Gogh Pillow case or Modigliani table mats. I couldn't possibly make a documentary about either, because I didn't go to Cambridge."
Do you like to work from models directly or do you prefer to use photographs? "Photographs. With models, I have one sitting, and take a lot of pictures, all angles, 360 degrees. When I painted the landscape, I kept having to go back, and work out which trees were which, what they were...there was one I had a real problem with, I couldn't identify it at all, until I realised it was three trees spaced apart, but all appearing as one."
What is your idea of beauty in art? "This is where the words/painting debate kicks in. I couldn't possibly describe it, but I could show you."
Could you be a model and are you happy being naked in front of an artist? "If I believed in the artist, then yes, of course, but, with very few exceptions, anybody who wanted to paint me naked would automatically disqualify themselves for having very poor judgement."
The artist and critic Matthew Collings believes Captain Beefheart is the only famous musician who also paints that is any good. Are there any other famous musicians who make paintings that you rate? (e.g. McCartney, Dylan, Ronnie Wood, Joni Mitchell etc) "Well the critic John Moore says there aren't any artists who are any good as musicians, and there aren't any pastry chefs who are any good as tightrope walkers. I like Ronnie Wood because he paints Bo Diddley. I like Luke Haines's wrestling paintings, Mikey Georgeson's Bowie paintings were great to see at The Menier gallery, and Ian Dury was no slouch. I'd even quite like to own a Ronnie Kray painting one day...although he wasn't quite a musician."
You paint in oil, acrylic and watercolour - what's the best thing about each of those three mediums? "Watercolour - the price, the portability..when I remember, I take a notebook to paint in. I'm a bit heavy with it, and it ends up like gouache, but I am getting the hang of adding water. Acrylic because it dries during your lifetime, and doesn't poison you, and Oil, because it's oil..the holy grail. Oil gives you an argument, and it's hard to use, and you wish you'd stuck with acrylic, until it goes has to eventually, because it is so bloody expensive."
Are you still linked with Absinthe or have you cut all ties? Is Absinthe a good thing to dabble in? "I'm no longer involved. It was a nice phase, but once it became a business, I lost interest. It's a very bad thing to dabble in, you must take it seriously, or La Fee Verte will bite you on the arse."
How did you learn to paint? Do you think Art schools are good things? Were most of your favourite artists self-taught? "I'm still learning, and I hope I always will be. I never went to art school, so I don't know whether they're good or bad. Probably a great place to hang around when you're a kid, and waste some time, and form a band. They're all a bit Tony Hancock The Rebel aren't they? I don't know enough about my favourite artists to know how they began, except for Van Gogh, who worked it all out himself, and was told by his successful artist brother in law to chuck it in, as he was rubbish...probably a descendant of Tony Hancock."
What next for John Moore? "More painting, more writing, more recording. Releasing a new LP, called Knicker Dropper Glory".

Thursday 21 January 2016

Médecins Sans Frontières event on 27th Feb

Deborah Rigby has organised an amazing event that's taking place in Yinka Shonibare's studio near Bethnal Green in Feb. Maybe some of you know art collectors and enthusiasts that would be keen to support this night in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières. If so please spread the word. Tickets are a piffling £125 and the good news is - everyone is a winner.
This art and music fundraising event is for Médecins Sans Frontières. Yinka Shonibare MBE RA has kindly given the use of his project space at his London Fields Studio on Saturday 27th February 2016. Your support would greatly add to this exclusive event and help raise money and awareness for this exceptional charity. It will be a small ticketed event with limited capacity for 110 people. Everyone who buys a ticket (with all proceeds going to Médecins Sans Frontières) will receive a bag with a prize - a few lucky people will receive small original artworks by artists such as Phillip Allen, Simon Bedwell (BANK) (Beck’s Futures nominee 2005), Dave Beech (Freee Art Collective), Brian Dawn Chalkley, Marcia Farquhar, Amanda Faulkner, Martino Gamper, Anne Hardy, Anish Kapoor (Turner prize winner 1991),
Keelertornero, Rannva Kunoy, Goshka Macuga (Turner Prize nominee 2005),
Paul Noble (Turner Prize nominee 2012), Saskia Olde Wolbers (Beck’s Futures winner 2005), Janette Parris, Elizabeth Price (Turner Prize winner 2012) , Michael Raedecker (Turner Prize nominee 2000), Sophy Rickett, Yinka Shonibare MBE (Turner Prize nominee 2004) , Bob and Roberta Smith, Georgina Starr, Milly Thompson (BANK), Gavin Turk, Francis Upritchard, Gary Webb, Harry Pye, P.J. Harvey, Anne Hardy and many more to be confirmed.
In addition to the wonderful prizes, Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle (Pulp), Corinne Drewery (Swing Out Sister) and Bishi to DJ. There will be a guest speaker from Médecins Sans Frontières followed by some acoustic performances during the evening from Sukie Smith from Madam, Kitty Finer and Mattie Barclay. Everyone who purchases a ticket will receive a raffle prize - ranging from an artwork (around 50 artworks), to a yoga lesson for three people, a visit to the Courtauld Institute with a personal talk by an art historian, Jem Finer studio visit, Aesop Selection or a £150 voucher to a Hix restaurant. All prizes are being kindly donated by friends and their contacts who are sharing their time and skills to help. For more information please contact Deborah Rigby on email address: NEWS JUST IN: Terry Hall of The Specials is now also DJing so get in touch with Deborah for the details of how to buy the last few tickets.

Tuesday 5 January 2016

BLIND FAITH exhibition

The phrase BLIND FAITH means belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination. Bertrand Russell once remarked "Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence".
Above: "New Spirit" by Howard Dyke
Above: "Riot" by Howard Dyke
Above: Untitled by Howard Dyke
Above: Buddha by Sandra Turnbull
Above: Buddha by Sandra Turnbull
Above: Screen print by Jacob Beaney
Above: "Saint Keith" by Jacob Beaney
Above: Painting by Barry Thompson
Above: Painting by Barry Thompson
Above: Painting by Jasper Joffe
Above: "Swirly" painted by Jasper Joffe
Above: "Lots of Heads" painted by Jasper Joffe (220cm x 190cm, 2006)
Above: "Magic Mountain" painted by Gordon Beswick
Mexican/USA Border photograph by Robert Goldstein
NYC Bible Poster photographed by Robert Goldstein Above:
Above: "Brush Pot" painted by Kiera Bennett
Above: Painted by Kiera Bennett
Above: "Hooked" painted by Kiera Bennett
Above: Conspiracy Theoretic (Millhouse)Painted by Tom Pounder
Above: Conspiracy Theoretic (George W Bush) Painted by Tom Pounder
Above: Conspiracy Theoretic (Friends) Painted by Tom Pounder
Above: Jock
Above: Jock 2
Above: Lemmy painted by Erica
Above: Wake Up painted by Erica
Above: "Is David Bowie Happy?" collage By Astrid Horkheimer
Above: Elvis Lives collage by Astrid Horkheimer
Above: Bruise by Rose Turner
Above: "Look Into The Future" by John Moore
Above: by John Moore
Above: by Natasha Xavier Please note: The work shown on this blog post is to give a taste of where the artists are coming from and what they do. The work you see here wont necessarily be displayed at the Blind Faith exhibition.