RAGWORT WEEK 2020

October 11, 2020

Ragwort Week 2020 is being held between Monday the 12th and Sunday the 18th of October.

To mark Ragwort Week 2020 the very short film The Great North Road Ragworts has been made:

As with the previous eight Ragwort Weeks, 100 copies of the book RAGWORTS by Bill Drummond are being made available from Alimentation. Click HERE to buy. Or at least know more.

SOFA

October 8, 2020

SOFA is the name of a Forty Second Play by Tenzing Scott Brown.

SOFA was written in response to Bill Drummond being invited onto the Thursday afternoon show on  BBC 6 Music, to discuss the film BEST BEFORE DEATH.

SOFA was written while Tenzing Scott Brown sat on the sofa in The Best Gent Hair Saloon on Albion Parade, N16.

Bill Drummond performed a version of the play, but the version lasted over nine minutes, much longer than the forty seconds as proclaimed, thus way too long to be broadcast on a music radio station.

Listen to SOFA as performed by Bill Drummond:

Recorded and edited by Kenny Atkin @ VaVa Recordings

Paul Duane, the director of BEST BEFORE DEATH was interviewed by Matt Everett for the said Thursday afternoon show for BBC 6 Music.

To know more about or buy a copy of the blu-ray version of BEST BEFORE DEATH click HERE.

POST SCRIPT

October 7, 2020

Below is the Post Script to the play FORGIVE ME NOT by Tenzing Scott Brown.

The manuscript to this play was first made public via the Twitter feed of Rob Manuel. But without a Post Script.

To read FORGIVE ME NOT on Rob Manuel’s Twitter feed click HERE.

To read the missing Post Script read on:

Post Script:

It is now two days since I typed up the above Forty Second Play and hit send on it to Rob Manuel.  He has already pushed it out there to begin its life in the world. But re-reading it now there are a couple of points that I feel the need to clarify – they are:

I don’t think the Presbyterian outlook on the Universe, to be better than any other outlook, and I’m aware that as an outlook it has brought much friction into the affairs of mankind. It was just the one that my childhood was drenched in.

Also I am one of those Guardian readers, whose only experience of the confession box is what is presented to us in certain films. And it was the Young Man who stated that the confession box was used as a  “cliché” in a certain strand of American films. This was prompted by me (the Old Man) asking him, if he thought confession box scenes were a trope? He explained that trope was the wrong word but these clichéd scenes were used to get into the thoughts and fears of the protagonist mind, in a way that that regular dialogue would not reveal. He then gave me a number of examples where these confession box scenes had been used in films he had watched.

THE NEW RIVER FOUR

September 29, 2020

At times Bill Drummond is asked to pass comment.

At times Bill Drummond responds to being asked to pass comment by instigating one of his other selves to write a Forty Second Play.

One of these other selves takes the name Tenzing Scott Brown.

Four of these Forty Second Plays were written at the corner table of the New River Café, N16.

They were written over a period of four days in early September 2020.

The titles of these four plays are:

The Glorified Walking Stick

There Is An After Life

The Public Execution of Pop Stars

and

The Nik Kershaw Minifig

But…

In March 2020, Bill Drummond wrote a Forty Second Play, entitled Questions, Questions, Questions.

Questions, Questions, Questions was written as the introduction for a book entitled questions.

questions was written by Andrew Shaw.

questions was published by The Silent Academy in Port Townsend, Jefferson County in the state of Washington, USA. For further information about questions or to order online click HERE.

THE GLORIFIED WALKING STICK

September 29, 2020

The Glorified Walking Stick is a forty second play by Bill Drummond.

The Glorified Walking Stick is set on a blue skied Monday morning sometime between the spring of 1968 and the autumn of 2020.

The Glorified Walking Stick features two characters, Tenzing Scott Brown and Kristina Bruuk.

Tenzing Scott Brown is one of Bill Drummond’s other selves trying to break free.

Kristina Bruuk is an imagined poet and artist. She has been imagined by several generations of loner women scattered across Europe.

Kristina Bruuk is originally from Helsinki in Finland.

Each of these loner women are unaware that there are other loner women imagining her.

Kristina Bruuk and Tenzing Scott Brown have been friends over several decades and various continents. But they have never been lovers.

Kristina Bruuk once recorded an album of her own songs. It was titled Between Heaven & Helsinki. The record company never released it.

Some say that Kristina Bruuk ended her life with an overdose of heroin. Others think she is now an aged lady living out her life in a two-roomed apartment in Naples.

But for the purposes of this play, she is of an uncertain age and is walking down a tree-lined boulevard in Paris, taking in what the day has to offer. And wondering why she burnt the hand written memoir she had spent the past seven months writing.

As for Tenzing Scott Brown, he is sitting at one of the outside tables of a street café, taking the last sip from his second café-au-lait of the morning. There is a white plate on the table. On the plate is a scattering of crumbs. The crumbs are those of a fresh croissant that Tenzing has just eaten. As usual he had spread the freshly baked croissant with Normandy butter and blackcurrant jam. This is what he has every morning, at the same table, at the same café, on the same street, in the same French city. Or has done since…

There are some pigeons on the ground close by, hoping for these crumbs to fall to the ground. There is a lone crow flying across the Parisian sky, surveying the scene. Tenzing is also imagining a lone red balloon drifting across the same Parisian sky – but there isn’t. He imagines this most mornings.

In his hand Tenzing is holding a copy of Should We Meet At The Crossroads, Keep Walking by someone calling himself The Perambulator. It had arrived in the post earlier this morning, it was addressed to him personally. There was no covering note inside the package – thus no explanation why this book had been sent to him. The postage stamps on the package were Finnish, the postmark said Helsinki.

Tenzing Scott Brown has been reading it without a break for over two hours at his table at this street café in Paris. He is captivated by the words, the flow, the atmosphere. It’s as if the book had been written for him. He had just read the last sentence of page 211, the one that reads “I catch Rena’s eye and look down to my feet” when he stops to look up at the sky to see if there might be a red balloon floating across it – there isn’t.

But…

Instead he sees Kristina Bruuk approaching.

Kristina Bruuk is always approaching even when she is almost disappearing.

Thus…

This is where the actual Forty Second Play begins.

Kristina Bruuk:

Hey Tenzing, what are you reading?

Tenzing Scott Brown:

I think it is a novel, but maybe a memoir.

Hard to tell these days.

Set in Helsinki and it seems to feature you.

Kristina Bruuk sits down on one of the chairs across the table from Tenzing Scott Brown

Kristina Bruuk:

They all feature me, even when they don’t know it.

Any good?

Tenzing Scott Brown:

Twisted.

Kristina Bruuk:

Twisted?

Tenzing Scott Brown:

Yeah, like any great book set in Helsinki should be.

Kristina Bruuk:

And the walking stick?

Kristina Bruuk is referring to the hazel walking stick with the honeysuckle spiral, leaning against the table.

Tenzing Scott Brown:

It is my version of The Glorified Walking Stick.

Kristina Bruuk:

Is that supposed to mean something?

Tenzing Scott Brown:

If you read the book…

Anyway, any news on the release of your Between Heaven & Helsinki album.

Kristina Bruuk:

Not until after I am dead. 

The End

Although that is the official end of this Forty Second Play called The Glorified Walking Stick, Kristina Bruuk orders a café-au-lait from an unseen waiter

Picks up the copy of Should We Meet At The Crossroads, Keep Walking

Flicks through the pages

Puts it down

Picks up the glorified walking stick

Admires its honeysuckle spiral.

And while this is happening we the audience – whoever and wherever we are – hear Pleasant Valley Sunday as performed and recorded by Kristina Bruuk playing on a Spotify playlist for the lost and the lonely.

Fade to grey…

Post Script:

Should We Meet At The Crossroads, Keep Walking by The Perambulator is to be published by Hesterglock Press in late 2020.

Between Heaven & Helsinki by Kristina Bruuk was recorded in Helsinki in 1997 for Kalevala Recordings, it might never be released.

THERE IS AN AFTER LIFE

September 29, 2020

There Is An After Life is a Forty Second Play by Tenzing Scott Brown.

There Is An After Life has been written in response to BBC Scotland wanting to interview Bill Drummond about the eponymous Strawberry Switchblade LP, for the second series of Classic Scottish Albums.

The Strawberry Switchblade LP was originally released in April 1985.

There Is An After Life has two characters and a narrator. The two characters are an actor playing Tam Dean Burn playing Bill Drummond and an actor playing Kirsty Wark playing The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop. The narrator is an actor playing Laura Kuenssberg, who will be reading this. But this is not the Forty Second Play. The Forty Second Play does not begin until the dialogue between the actor playing Tam Dean Burn playing Bill Drummond and the actor playing Kirsty Wark playing The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop, begins.

The narration proper begins now:

There is an after life, or there was in the head of the “real” Bill Drummond when he woke from his dream at 1:27am this morning – as in a Tuesday morning in early September 2020. He was awake but he was still dreaming  he had left this life, but had not yet reached the After Life proper.

The gates were not pearly.

He was sitting at a table of a street café in Naples.

He was being questioned by Laura Kuenssberg.

You know who Laura Kuenssberg is?

Laura Kuenssberg was wanting to know the history of his sex life in the life he had lived before he had died.

Laua Kuenssberg was wanting to know if the sex life he had, had always been consensual. She needed to know the details before she could allow him to get to the next level towards the After Life.

He told her that there were times he had sex out of duty, even though he did not want to have sex. 

Laura Kuenssberg told him that was consensual.

He told her there were times he had sex, even though he knew his sexual partner was having sex because she hoped to get pregnant, but he would make sure he would withdraw before he came.

Laura Kuenssberg told him this was still consensual, but it was getting grey.

He told her that his favourite colour was grey.

He then told her that there had been times that he knew his sexual partner was hoping the sex might lead to a proper relationship, when he knew that he hoped that after sex, he could disappear into the night. Not because the sex was not good, but because disappearing into the night was better.

Laura Kuenssberg then asked him if he had seen I May Destroy You.

He said “Yes”.

He then asked Laura Kuenssberg if he should go to his wall under Spaghetti Junction and write the words “I DON’T THINK I HAVE EVER RAPED ANYONE BUT…”

Laura Kuenssberg said “No”

Laura Kuenssberg then told him, he had now passed through this level, the Sex Life level.

Only one more level to go.

The most important one.

The Pop Life one.

Laura Kuenssberg then got up from the chair at the table of a street café in Naples and disappeared.

He felt relieved that he did not have to go to his wall underneath Spaghetti Junction and write the words “I DON’T THINK I HAVE EVER RAPED ANYONE BUT…”

Then the actor playing Kirsty Wark playing The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop arrived.

You know who Kirsty Wark is?

And this is where The Forty Second Play by Tenzing Scott Brown begins proper.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop is dressed in a black and white polka-dot dress and her hair is tied up with red ribbons. In her arms she is carrying another black and white polka-dot dress and red ribbons.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop sits down at the table on the chair Laura Kuenssberg had been sitting on.

And she looks at Bill Drummond – or the actor playing Tam Dean Burn playing Bill Drummond. And this is where The Forty Second Play begins proper proper.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop:

Bill Drummond, have you ever had a non consensual relationship with Pop Music?

Bill Drummond:

Yes.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop:

Explain.

Bill Drummond:

I failed Strawberry Switchblade.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop:

Explain.

Bill Drummond:

I should have never been party to Strawberry Switchblade signing to a major record label when they did.  Thus, the pressure to create a hit single and a cash in album that then failed both creatively and commercially, and follow up singles that were shit and even shittier. And then watched as Strawberry Switchblade were thrown on the dust heap of failed pop careers when it should never have been a career in the first place – but an adventure.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop:

Was there an alternative?

Bill Drummond:

Yes.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop:

Explain.

Bill Drummond:

After the release of the single Trees & Flowers on Will Sergeant’s 92 Happy Customers record label, Strawberry Switchblade should have been encouraged to evolve at their own pace. In that way they may have evolved into something wonderful and glorious and beautiful. Instead they dissolved into a forgotten one hit wonder.

The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop:

Bill Drummond you may enter into the After Life proper. But because of your crimes against the highest of all art forms – Pop Music, you will be obliged to wear this black and white polka dot dress and red ribbons, that I will leave for you on this table, for as long as this After Life exists.

The End

Or the end of the dialogue of this Forty Second Play by Tenzing Scott Brown.

What happens next is the actor playing Kirsty Wark playing The Fairy Bad Mother of Pop gets up from the chair she has been sitting on at the table in the street café in Naples and disappears.

Then…

While Trees & Flowers by Strawberry Switchblade is playing over the Spotify playlist for the After Life, the actor playing Tam Dean Burn playing Bill Drummond, stands up and takes off his pale blue Stanley workshirt and walking boots and his Levi Strauss, 501, red tab, button fly, shrink-to-fit, blue denim jeans. And puts on the black and white polka dot dress and ties the red ribbons around his head. He is now ready to enter the final door into whatever the After Life might be.

THE END

At this point the “real” Bill Drummond falls back to sleep.

Some hours later, the “real” Bill Drummond is sitting at his table at the corner of The New River Café in N16. The empty page of his Black n’ Red notebook in front of him, his green Pentel pen in hand. He writes.

Now go and listen to Trees & Flowers by Strawberry Switchblade and weep.

There is no End

THE PUBLIC EXECUTION OF POP STARS

September 29, 2020

The Public Execution of Pop Stars is a Forty Second Play by Tenzing Scott Brown.

The Public Execution of Pop Stars has been written in response to the writer Nick Duerden requesting an interview with Bill Drummond for a proposed book. A book about “how singers and musicians navigate their life after the first flush of fame; how they endure, reinvent themselves, and keep life interesting for themselves.”

This request came in late April 2020, at the height of the first wave of the global pandemic. This request sparked off a brief flurry of emails between Nick Duerden and Bill Drummond.

It is now the early Autumn of the same year. The second wave is threatening.

What follows is the Forty Second Play written by Tenzing Scott Brown in response to this request. As a play it has been much informed by the previous Forty Second Play, There Is An After Life.

Two women, deep into their middle years, dressed in black and white, polka-dot dresses and red ribbons in their hair enter the stage. They are carrying guitars. They face the audience – a worldwide audience. And in unison they recite the following lines:

“We are Strawberry Switchblade.

We exist to confront the world with certain truths.

It has been brought to our attention that mankind is the only life form on earth that is hardwired to destroy each other. And in turn destroy themselves.

This hardwiring must be unwired, if mankind is to survive.

Or…

We propose a departure from the tried and tested forms of self-destruction.

A departure that will celebrate Pop Music as the most vibrant and wonderful art form that has ever existed and ever will exist.

We propose that any future Pop Singer or Pop Group of any past, present or future genre, that has had a top forty record, and then follows it up with a record that fails to make the top forty will be taken to a designated public space and executed in front of the people. The failed Pop Singer or Pop Group will be given the choice of a noose hanging from a gallows or a razor sharp guillotine.

It is this course of action that will truly celebrate Pop Music as the most vibrant and wonderful art form that has ever existed and ever will exist.

Thank you.”

THE END

Strawberry Switchblade, then pick up their guitars and start to sing their song Trees & Flowers.

And the audience will then compare and contrast the beauty of this song with the power of theatre to impact social change as opposed to merely entertain. 

THE NIK KERSHAW MINIFIG

September 29, 2020

The Nik Kershaw Minifig is a Forty Second Play by Tenzing Scott Brown.

The Nik Kershaw Minifig has been written as an alternative to The Public Execution Of Pop Stars. As in, incase The Public Execution of Pop Stars is shite.

The Nik Kershaw Minifig has only one character – a Lego minifig of former pop star – Nik Kershaw. He addresses the audience directly.

Tenzing Scott Brown invited Prince to write a forward to this Forty Second Play. What follows is the forward:

“Hi, my name is Prince. I used to be a famous pop star in the 1980s. What made me famous was that I was a genius. It’s what got me noticed. But then I started doing stuff that made me look mad. I started to stop using my name and used a squiggle instead. And making records to annoy my record company. Records that were indulgent.

And although I was a genius, people stopped buying my records. So I changed my name back to Prince and did a world tour where I was a caricature of how I used to look during my purple patch in 1984. But this world tour was in 2007. It was as if The Beatles had reformed in 1987 and they went out touring as middle-aged men but wearing their collarless Pierre Cardin suits they wore in 1964. It was pathetic. But it is what the fans wanted. They loved me for it. So I took too many painkillers and died. I am afraid I do not know who Nik Kershaw or Minifigs are.”

That was the forward by Prince.

This is the Forty Second Play called The Nik Kershaw Minifig:

“Hi my name is Nik Kershaw.

I used to be a famous pop star in the 1980s.

What made me famous was that I could write good pop songs and I was cute.

But then people stopped buying my records even though I could still write good pop songs and I was still cute.

It is now thirty something years later.

And I still make records.

But all my fans want to hear is my old hits from the 1980s.

So I have decided to become a Lego minifig of myself.

And using a stop motion app I have on my phone, remake all my old videos from the 1980s using Lego.

I think it is what all pop stars from the 80s should do.

Fans will love it.

And it keeps you busy.

And you never grow old.

If Prince were alive today, it is what he should be doing.

It is either that or the allotment.

I’ve got my own YouTube channel and everything.”

THE END

Post Script:

1984 meets 2020 at the New River Café is the title of the Post Script to the Forty Second Play The Nik Kershaw Minifig by Tenzing Scott Brown.

But this Post Script is written by one of Tenzing Scott Brown’s other selves – Bill Drummond

1984 meets 2020 at the New River Café

In 1984 I re-read the novel 1984 to compare and contrast.

In 1984 I was working as an A&R consultant for Warner Brothers / WEA / Warner Music. I was observing how the machinery worked.

One of the two great rivals of Warner Brothers / WEA / Warner Music was and probably still is Columbia / CBS / Sony Music. They had Michael Jackson, Warner Brothers / WEA / Warner Music only had Prince – something had to be done.

In June 1984 Purple Rain by Prince was to be released. For most of the previous twelve months Thriller by Michael Jackson had been at number one on the American album charts. By then Michael Jackson was already being talked about as the King of Pop. To my ears this sounded wrong – it did not alliterate. Elvis had been the King of Rock – that alliterated. The Prince of Pop would have alliterated but he was Michael Jackson and not Prince – so that would not work.

I was party to meetings where the marketing of the album Purple Rain was discussed. It was decided that Prince was to be marketed as a “genius”. The implication being that Prince was up there with Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, whereas Michael Jackson was only up there with Elvis and The Beatles.

In the 2020 world, informed by Black Lives Matter, how does the above paragraph read?

In the lower leagues of pop, Warner Brothers / WEA / Warner Music’s other great rival Decca / MCA / Universal were having hits with a boy called Nik Kershaw. Something had to be done, so Warner Brothers / WEA / Warner Music signed a boy called Howard Jones and started having hits with him.

Whereas I was having troubles with my own personal demons – these included the question – what to do with Echo & The Bunnymen? So I decided that their fourth album Ocean Rain should be marketed as “the greatest album ever made”. It wasn’t – that accolade belonged to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by a rival Liverpool group.

Since Yesterday by Strawberry Switchblade was recorded and released in 1984. But that is another story belonging to the Post Script of another Forty Second Play.

On the 26th of August 1997 – when in Helsinki packaging and posting records featuring Kristina Bruuk, records released on the Kalevala label – I went to watch Michael Jackson play at the Olympiastadion. With me was one of my sons. He turned to me and told me, this was the best thing he had ever seen in his life. I did not tell him I thought it was over rehearsed, meaningless and empty. That it was not wild and uncontrollable like I want pop music to be.

One year later to the day…

On the 26th of August 1998, I went to watch Prince play at the Wembley Arena. I don’t know who I went with or why, or what they might have said to me. But I thought it was over rehearsed, meaningless and empty. That it was not wild and uncontrollable like what I want pop music to be.

Maybe it was too late in my life to know what I wanted pop music to be. Maybe like Billy Furry I should stick to the rural.

In 2020, during the lockdown months, I re-watched The Lego Movies 1 & 2 and The Lego Batman Movie. This was with my youngest son who was seven years old.

These films were made using a computer animated, stop motion technique.

These films are brilliant in so many ways.

My youngest son now has a stop motion app on his device.

He makes short stop motion films with his Lego minifigs. It’s easy – even I could do it.

As yet, he does not know who Michael Jackson or Prince were.

You do know what a Lego minifig is?

You do know what a stop motion film is?

As lockdown was being lifted one of my other sons alerted me to the fact that KLF fans were making Lego minifigs of The KLF and celebrating them via social media.

This is what they wanted.

They didn’t want Forty Second Plays.

You do know what The KLF is?

The mother of my youngest son and life partner for the past fifteen years was clearing out a cupboard. She found a scrapbook she made when she was around 10 years old. It was full of interviews with, and photographs of Nik Kershaw. Nik Kershaw was her favourite pop star at the time.

She then told me that in 1986 she took down, from her bedroom wall, a Smash Hits poster of Nik Kershaw. She was going to throw it away because now she was a teenager her tastes in pop stars had changed. But on the back of the poster she found there was a poster of Robert Smith from The Cure. She decided that Robert Smith from The Cure appealed more to her teenage taste in pop stars.

You do know what Smash Hits was?

She then told me she would rather watch a stop motion film made using Lego minifigs of Nik Kershaw’s video for The Riddle than listen to whatever his latest album might be – or watch a play written by him – even if it only lasted for 40 seconds.

On re-reading the emails from Nick Duerden I noted he referenced Nik Kershaw in passing. I also noted he did not mention Billy Fury in his farming days.

Instead of making stop motion films with Lego minifigs of all the old videos from my previous lives I write Forty Second Plays that might never be performed but only imagined. 

I wonder if a stop motion film could be made – using an app on my hand held device and my youngest son’s Lego minifigs – of the novel 1984 by George Orwell?

MAKE LIVERPOOL SHITE AGAIN

August 21, 2020
Morning 19th of August 2020 under Spaghetti Junction

Oh to be standing on the shore, staring out at the sea, dreaming of far off lands, somewhere over the horizon.

White privilege is the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people…
These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play and speak freely. Wikipedia 2020*

What follows are some of the thoughts I have had over the past forty-eight hours:

The Earth is being observed from a distant galaxy.
The Observers are interested in observing a life form that imagines itself to be the dominant species on Earth – Mankind.
They observe a male with a toothbrush moustache at a rally in Nuremberg in the 1933.
They observe an African American male on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963.
They observe a male in a white suit standing on a stage on the Isle of Wight in 1969 in front of 600,000 people including somebody who looks a lot like the 16 year old me.
They observe a male who used to be called Anthony Wedgewood Benn addressing the members at a Labour Party Conference in Blackpool in 1980.
They observe a male campaigning for presidency of the United States of America at a rally in Texas in 2016.
They observe that the individuals of this species, are drawn to gathering in crowds. Crowds of thousands, listening to and hero worshipping a male on a platform before them. They observe that it does not really matter what that male is saying, as long as it makes the crowd feel good about themselves. In exchange the crowd gives the object of their focus power and status.

This is the only life form that the Observer has ever witnessed behaving in this way. And the Observer does not know why this life form chooses to behave in this way.

In July 1858, John Hanning Speke discovered what he claimed to be the source of the River Nile.
In January 1912, Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole seven weeks too late and then died on his return journey.
In May 1953, Edmund Hillary may have been the first man to climb Mount Everest.

We can now think of these three as white western males driven by their vanities to prove something that was hardly worth proving. But in their time they were celebrated by millions of other white western males (and females) across the British Empire.

In light of the three examples I have given above.
And the thousands of refugees willing to risk their lives and everything else they have or have not got, to cross the English Channel.
And the several million carbon footprints I have left in my trail.
And as a white Western male born into the British Empire, I have to question the motivations that drive The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour.
I take a break from thinking these thoughts to look out of the window. I pick up my iPhone 7 and re-click on the White Privilege page at Wikipedia, I scroll down, there is a quote from a Peggy McIntosh, it reads:

“White privilege is an invisible weightless knapsack of assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”

Aside from the American spelling of the word cheques, these are exactly the items that I pack in my weightless knapsack for each leg of The 25 Paintings world tour.

Am I just a remnant from a bygone era? Me thinking I can strut around the globe, pissing in whatever pot I fancy. Just like those three examples above and the many hundreds of thousands of others that never achieved their fame or infamy, but did their bit in propping up the British Empire in its far-flung corners. At the same time as destroying or appropriating whatever ‘primitive’ cultures lay before them.

Maybe it has been these last few months of the global pandemic and the resulting lockdown, plus me having to confront my own diminishing physical and mental health, that have forced me to consider the above question. As in me being a remnant from a bygone era.

In early May, I was sitting on the sofa watching a TV news story about BANKSY having secretly donated a painting to a hospital in Southampton. According to the report, it was a thank you to the NHS. To me, sitting on the sofa, it seemed weak and patronising – a middlebrow action pandering to the editors of the programme I was watching. This was not what we wanted from our BANKSY. I wanted to throw the TV out of the window, but I didn’t have it in me to get up off the sofa.

Then on the 7th of June, when sitting on the same sofa, I watched the TV news footage of the statue of Edward Colston being toppled in Bristol and dumped in the dock. And I thought – “How could any art compete with that?” This was the real deal. This was activism supplanting art. And not art posing as activism.

When Echo & The Bunnymen were playing the Colston Hall in Bristol, back in the early 80s, we had no idea who or what Edward Colston was, we just wanted to know if we had sold the place out. And if we did know who he was, I don’t think it would have made any difference. I mean, a couple of hundred years ago weren’t many of our cities built on the slave trade or the East India Company or the like? I mean it wasn’t our job to feel guilty or address what our forefathers had done back in history. I don’t blame my German friends for what their grandfathers did to the Jews.

Back in 2018, The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour took me to be working in Lexington, North Carolina. While there, I was surprised to see a statue of a Confederate soldier acting as a war memorial in the centre of the town. It was there to commemorate the local young men who “took a rebel stand” and died in the American Civil War. They were fighting, amongst other things, for their right to keep the local black population in slavery. I was surprised that nobody, over the past one hundred years, had pulled this statue down. Hadn’t the civil rights movement sorted all this sort of stuff out? But I did know one thing, I knew it was not my job to do that pulling down.

What is my job?

What is your job?

Then just after 6am on the 15th of July I heard a breaking news story on my bedside radio. It was about a statue of a young black female protester that had been secretly placed on the plinth where the toppled statue of Edward Colston had stood. And as the story broke further, I learned that this young black female protester had stood there herself giving the black power salute just after Colston had been toppled. This was brilliant. Inspiring. This was activism as art. And it worked. I celebrated by getting up and putting the kettle on.

But then it came out that this whole thing – as in the statute of the young black female protester – had been masterminded by Marc Quinn. Marc Quinn being one of the major movers and shakers in the Brit Art crowd back in the mid 1990s. This somewhat undermined it for me. Was this merely art posing as activism.?

But there was another voice in my head going “But Bill, it was obviously going to take a person with confidence and the where-with-all to make an action like this happen. And that should not undermine the message.”

But it was not until that evening while sitting on the sofa again, watching the news with my partner Ronita – Ronita being a woman of colour sees things differently to me – that I got a real sense of it being just another worthless statement of white privilege. It was Ronita’s reaction at seeing this statue of a young black woman having been done by another middle aged, middle class white male with an international art reputation, with art works in private collections and public galleries around the globe, that it really sank in. And the fact that he was there on the Ten O’clock News being interviewed made it even worse. He might have been thinking he was doing it for all the right reasons, but in reality, if you take a few steps back you see his action for what it is – white saviour complex to the max. White privilege writ large. Whatever Marc Quinn thinks or says does not change that.

And does not change the fact that I would have done the same as him if I could only have got up off of that sofa. And does not change my motivations behind The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour. A tour being done off the back of white privilege, however I might want to dress it up, and tell whoever might be listening that I am sidestepping the art world of private collectors and public galleries. I mean you have seen the film Best Before Death, right?

All of this, what Marc Quinn did, what I’m doing on The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour, is all as pompous as being the first white man to claim to have discovered the source of the Nile, or getting to South Pole, or maybe the first to climb Everest.

Am I aspiring to be whatever the equivalent of a 21st century statue on a plinth? A statue that should be toppled before it has even been erected.

Earlier this week, I got an email from the Deputy Director of Museums in Liverpool. He was reminding me how I had done one of my posters back in 2007, the year before Liverpool became European City of Culture. At the time I had printed forty of them. The majority I had fly posted around the city. But a few I kept back and folded them into large paper boats. These I then set sail on the ebb tide of the River Mersey. And I watched them as they drifted out towards the Irish Sea.

The tone of the text on the poster was that I was challenging Liverpool to achieve something in their year as European City of Culture, something that only Liverpool could do. This Deputy Director was telling me that they have a copy of this poster and they are planning on putting it up as part of their ‘permanent’ collection in one of their museums. He wanted to know if I wanted to write a few words to go with the exhibit. This request started a domino affect. The pieces are still falling.

This is the artwork for the original poster:


This is it fly-posted on the streets of Chinatown, Liverpool circa 2007:


This might be the artwork for a new poster circa 2020:


I have written on numerous occasions before how, John Lennon in his Plastic Ono Band phase was a massive hero to the 16 year old me. He was why, at the age of 18, I chose to go to Liverpool College of Art. I might have lost interest in him after his Imagine album. But John Lennon is the one person that I know exactly where I was when I heard they had been killed – in my front room just off Penny Lane.

Over the years since his assassination, Liverpool has reinvented itself as a tourist destination. A big part of that tourism is based on The Beatles. I hate this. I think it is fake. And I think it is cynical. But people need jobs. People need to trade in whatever they have got, be it apples, drugs, dingies across the English Channel or slaves. Or just the sweat on their brow.

Statues exist to be toppled.

There are a number of statues of John Lennon in Liverpool, as well as an airport renamed in his honour. Even the art school I went to took his name.

John Colston did a lot of good for the city of Bristol. He paid for schools, almshouses and hospitals for the people of the city. That was why there were statues and concert halls and streets named after him in the city. Any atrocities he may have been party to were ignored.

And unwittingly by being killed at the age he was, the legacy of John Lennon was ripe for exploitation by Liverpool’s city fathers. Thus by default has done a lot of good for the city. But the reality was, John Lennon, like the rest of The Beatles, got out of Liverpool as soon as he could. And he never put anything creatively or financially back into the city. Some would also argue that along the way, John Lennon culturally appropriated the music of Black and Jewish America. I am in no position to comment on that argument. My whole working life has been largely based on cultural appropriation.

We are led to understand that John Lennon was a wife beater.

All it needs is for there to be a high profile domestic violence case, to then trigger an equivalent to the Me Too / Black Lives Matter movements for the City of Liverpool to have to confront the way it markets itself to the world. Will they have the wherewithal to remove the John Lennon statues and change the name of the airport and art school before the statues get toppled and the airport and art school are raised to the ground?

Today I got an email from a woman and a man in Great Yarmouth. Her name is Jules. His name is Kaavous. They were wanting to know when this year’s Ragwort Week is going to be. This email triggered a bit of a dialogue.

Great Yarmouth is just a few miles up the coast from my workshop by Sizewell B.

Great Yarmouth is one of those many English seaside resorts that are on their uppers. As in Great Yarmouth no longer serves the purpose that it once did. Who wants to go to Great Yarmouth when you can go to Ibiza for less? There is an upside to this. Many of its boarding houses and hotels are having a new lease of life as temporary lodgings for refugees and asylum seekers. And many of these asylum seekers in Great Yarmouth are from the Portuguese speaking African countries, such as Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Angola.

Jules and Kaavous’s thinking was that the African Portuguese population in Great Yarmouth were rising up through the cracks in the pavement like the Ragworts that I praise and celebrate during Ragwort Week.

Jules and Kaavous’s thinking was that maybe I should do Ragwort Week in Great Yarmouth sometime soon working with this African Portuguese population.

I like the Portuguese language. Have done ever since I hitch hiked to Portugal to join the Carnation Revolution back in 1974.

I have fond memories of being taken to Great Yarmouth by my grandfather when I was a child and where I had a ride on the big wheel. This was back in 1962.

As stated above, Great Yarmouth is just up the road from my workshop by Sizewell B. Thus very few carbon footprints away.

Jules and Kaavous then sent me an image of a space that they have access to in an empty department store. I like empty department stores. They are the future.

Primeyarc (formerly Debenhams) Great Yarmouth
Photograph courtesy of originalprojects;

Maybe next year (2021) The 25 Paintings world tour should head for Great Yarmouth instead of Kampala on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda – as in the claimed source of the Nile. This being where it was going to be going. And all The 25 Paintings will be done in Portuguese and I will work with this community in Great Yarmouth. And I will attempt to do it in a way that is not patronising. And maybe, for one year only, I will use green instead of blue in the paintings as most of the countries in Africa that speak Portuguese have green in their flags. Or is that me just bending my own self imposed rules to patronise the blackman? And anyway I hate flags.

And…

Maybe in the year 2022, The 25 Paintings world tour should head for Liverpool, to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Beatles making the hit parade for the first time. And maybe all The 25 Paintings should be repainted with the exact same statement – BEATLE FREE ZONE. And all done identically in black & white. And during October, I position these 25 identical paintings at different but pertinent places around the city. Examples being Penny Lane, Mathew Street, Menlove Avenue, Frank Hessy’s, Quarry Bank School, Speke Airport, Strawberry Fields, The Welsh Streets, The Art School etc etc.

And…

Maybe – taking into account my physical and mental health, my carbon footprint, my white privilege, my family responsibilities and the ongoing global pandemic – from there on in, as in for the four remaining years of The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour, I should take it to the failing sea side towns and ports on this island and work with those refugees and asylum seekers that have done the crossing of the seas for me – proper travellers with a reason to cross continents. It can be them that will bang the drum and blow the horn, even if it is still me that makes the bed and bakes the cakes. I might not be able to suppress my white saviour complex completely and may have to accept my white privilege as something I was born with.

But…

Spaghetti Junction will still be the hub of this twelve year world tour. It will still be Spaghetti Junction that I return to for each of these remaining years to proclaim the title of the next step. And it will be Spaghetti Junction that I will return to when all of this has been done and dusted. In fact maybe I should get up to Spaghetti Junction as soon as things allow to paint onto “my” wall the words of the opening sentence of this whole piece.

Afternoon 19th of August 2020 under Spaghetti Junction

And…

One of the jobs on each of these seaside locations might be to stand on the shore and stare out to sea and dream of the far off lands somewhere over the horizon. Lands that I will never know.

And maybe even if I don’t get to do it, someday someone will walk the road from Jerusalem to Damascus.

Discuss.   

Actually don’t discuss yet there is a Post Script:

The Beatles recorded all their records; lived in; had their Apple offices in, a city called London.

The Beatles chose not to be a Liverpool band.

The Beatles chose to be a London band.

Echo & The Bunnymen, Faron’s Flamingoes, The Wild Swans, The Clayton Squares, The Farm, The Liverpool Scene, The Real Thing, The La’s, The Big Three, The Coral, Pink Military Stand Alone, Clinic, The Searchers, A Flock of Seagulls, Shack, The Undertakers, The Icicle Works, Big In Japan, 29th & Dearborn, The Lotus Eaters, China Crisis, The Mighty Wah!, The Room, Deaf School, Apollo 440, Ellery Bop, Lawnmower, Benny Profane, The Zutons, Care, The Wombats, The Spitfire Boys, SPINN, Those Naughty Lumps, Stealing Sheep, The Merseybeats, Amsterdam, The Quarrymen, A Shallow Madness, Gerry & The Pacemakers, CamelPhat, Albert Dock & The Codfish Warriors, The Roadrunners, Atomic Kitten, Space, The Teardrop Explodes, Black, Cast, Frankie Goes To Hollywood are all and will always be Liverpool bands. There are others. Many, many others.

Yes, there are some great bands from Over The Water, as in Dalek I Love You, Pele, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and of course Half Man Half Biscuit. But as Over The Water is not technically Liverpool, they can chose to ignore all of this, but they would be more than welcome to catch the ferry over the Mersey to lend a helping hand in making Liverpool shite again.

Okay, now discuss.

*Dave Balfe has been a colleague and friend for the past forty two years and counting. Dave Balfe is from Over The Water. Like me, he has been a Beatles fan since childhood. I thought he might have issues with some of what I wrote above, so I sent it to him. He has just got back to me. He has numerous issues with what I have written. The overriding one being that he suggested that maybe men in our privileged position in life should possibly acquire some humility and learn to shut up. But one of his more specific issues was with me quoting Wikipedia. He explained that to be seen quoting Wikipedia, is to reveal how shallow one’s research has been, thus you do not really know what you are talking about. I stand accused. He also accused me of indulging in mea culpa. I had to look it up on Wikipedia.

ANTIMACASSAR TO KURDISTAN

July 31, 2020

Brylcreem – a little dab will do ya! 
Use only if you dare; 
But watch out! 
The gals will all pursue ya!
They’ll love to run their fingers through your hair!

My father died eleven years ago. He was 96 years old. I was 56 years old. On the day he died he had more hair on his head than me, and less grey hair than me.

My father used Brylcreem on his hair every day of his adult life. And there was always the same sharp parting. It never shifted. It was there on a photo I have of him at 16. It was there the morning he died.

If this Covid-19 had not happened I should be driving across Europe right now, in a white Ford Transit van with my colleague Tracey Moberly. In the back of the van would be The 25 Paintings. I would have been heading for Kurdistan in Eastern Turkey. To be more precise – to the city of Bingöl.

This is where I was to be doing this year’s leg of The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour. It was to be in Bingöl because that is the home town of Metin my barber. He has his barber’s shop on Albion Parade within 50 strides from the front door of my flat in north London. Brylcreem is not an option at Metin’s barber shop. But of course, Metin’s is also on lockdown.

When Beatlemania swept the nation, in the Autumn of 1963, the sale of Brylcreem plummeted. And it never recovered. For the previous one hundred and sixty years men in this country had used oil on their hair, to hold it in place. Brylcreem was not introduced to the men of the land until 1928, which was just a few months before my dad turned 16, and that photo of him that I refer to was taken.

But back in 1803 when the craze for men oiling their hair was first sweeping the nation, it was an oil called Macassar that they used to keep their hair neatly in place.

It might have looked fabulous, the gals might have pursued them, but there was a downside – this Macassar oil soiled the headrests of upholstered armchairs and sofas.

This was not so nice.

Something had to be done.

So, our Victorian relatives came up with the idea of draping the headrests of these upholstered armchairs and sofas with pieces of cloth. Pieces of cloth that could be removed and washed at ease and then replaced back on the headrests.

Over the years, these pieces of cloth became refined fashion accessories for the house-proud. They were crocheted and embroidered to the highest level.

They no longer looked like something that just existed to stop the headrests of armchairs and sofas, becoming soiled and stained by bi-products of man’s vanity.

But…

They had already been given the name of antimacassar. And the name stuck long after the men of the land had moved on from grooming their hair with Macassar.

Macassar was made from coconut oil and Ylang Ylang oil and maybe a couple of other oils.

And while we are at it Brylcreem is made from water, petroleum and beeswax.

When I was a boy in Newton Stewart, everybody had antimacassars on the headrests of their armchairs and sofas, like everybody had ashtrays on their coffee tables.

But then…

Yesterday, my almost mother-in-law, who is being shielded from Covid-19, temporarily moved into the furnished flat downstairs from where I’m doing lockdown.

She brought with her a couple of throws to cover the sofa and armchair in this furnished flat. They were of a very light cotton with hand dyed Indian designs. They weren’t actual antimacassars, but something clicked.

The first handwritten draft of the book I’ve been working on is nearly done. Lockdown has some time to go. The only physical aspect to my work that I have access to here are my knitting needles and a box of balls of wool. These being for The Million Stitch Blanket that I am working on over The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour.

Maybe I should knit an antimacassar using the wool I have access to. This antimacassar would be made up of 25 A5 sized knitted rectangles. Each of the 25 rectangles representing each of The 25 Paintings – as in each of the 25 A5 sized rectangles knitted in the colours of the painting they represent.

I reckon I could knit one of these rectangles a day, between my home-schooling and domestic responsibilities. And after all 25 are knitted I will sew them together to make an A1 sized antimacassar ready for work.

And ready for me to take on a budget airline later in the year to Kurdistan, where I will find an armchair in Bingöl, in need of an antimacassar. And while there I might not be able to do all the things that I usually do on each leg of The 25 Paintings twelve year world tour. But I could write a very short play, where this hand knitted antimacassar is not only the prime prop in the play but could be the male lead. The female lead of course being another antimacassar, but one that is Kurdish and been there on the headrest of an armchair for the past 100 years.

She would have observed the vanities of men, expressed through their hair grooming, over those hundred years. Whereas my hand-knitted one would be young, arrogant and brash.

The stage set would be just two armchairs facing the audience each with…

Look anyway I can get to all that later when I actually write the play.

For now, all you need to know is – up until I was ten years old, I could have occasionally been witnessed helping myself to a dab of my father’s Brylcreem. This was to help coiffure my hair before heading off to one of those loathed birthday or Christmas parties I was made to go to.

But after the summer of ’63, and the Beatlemania that swept the nation, my father’s jar of Brylcreem, never again had its lid surreptitiously un-screwed by my fingers.

And Elvis Presley’s hair looked ridiculous from then on.  

Time to get knitting.

Antimacassar waiting on the beach at Sizewell B.