Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Matt Mahurin - Searching For Truth In The Darkness

                                                        Kurt Cobain - Matt Mahurin

You know the images.  They've served as social commentary stunning the covers of TIME, Newsweek,  Esquire, Rolling Stone, and too many others to mention.  You've also seen the videos created for such iconic artists as U2, R.E.M., Iggy Pop, Metallica, The Ramones and Tom Waits - the list goes on.  But if you happened to be a fellow artist living in Los Angeles in the late 80's and 90's, seeking inspiration beyond the safe and predictable, the name Matt Mahurin evoked a combination of admiration and consternation - a formidable figure in the LA art scene. Unarguably, if you knew his name…you were hip, and when he exhibited, you were there. 


Matt Mahurin

                                                             Tom Waits - by Matt Mahurin

He was the one who landed the cover of TIME Magazine at the age of 23; but if you thought you could imitate him with the dodging and burned-edged photo manipulation, you could bet he was already putting the finishing touches on something so innovative, that by the time you sussed out the formula, he was striking out in newer and more unfathomable directions. 

                                                    U2 - Love is Blindness - Matt Mahurin

                                                            Arles, France - Matt Mahurin

                                                             Lou Reed - Matt Mahurin

                                        Tom Waits - Hell Broke Luce - Matt Mahurin

Matt Mahurin is no stranger to controversy, and his disquieting imagery was rarely as blatantly demonstrated as in his infamous TIME magazine mug shot photo manipulation of O.J. Simpson.   

                                          TIME Cover - O.J. Simpson - Matt Mahurin

                                                         Marilyn Manson - Matt Mahurin

Most of my readers are well familiar with his work; it's surrealistic and provocative, and yes, it's dark; but the imagery is there to remind us that dreams and nightmares often share the same shapes, and how they are interpreted sometimes reveals more about the viewer than the originator. 

                                                   Carnivale - Painting -Matt Mahurin
                  


Now based in New York City, this California-born artist, illustrator and film director's works are included in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.  He is also the illustrator of three children's books, My Beautiful Child, Grumbles From The Forest, and Once Upon A Cloud.


If I was asked to describe Matt Mahurin, multifaceted would be my reply, but socially conscious would be what I'm thinking.  Several months ago he illustrated his second US postage stamp for Alzheimer's Awareness.  As a documentary photographer, Matt has brought worldwide attention to the problems of homelessness, the AIDS epidemic and man's inhumanity to man within the US prison system. 

                                                           Texas Prison - Matt Mahurin

                                     Alzheimer's Awareness Stamp  - Matt Mahurin

In 2015, he was commissioned by the UK band Muse, to create the cover and video for their 7th album, 'Drones;' and he is perhaps more in demand now than ever before, which accounts for the year-long 'jump cuts' the proceeding interview has taken us to hammer out!  Ironically, however, that somehow seems appropriate. 

                                                         Muse - DRONES - Matt Mahurin


Above all, Matt Mahurin is an artist with a keen awareness that the lines between the creation of art and its reflection of the society in which we live should never be blurred, if they are to withstand the test of time.  To provoke, as a creative, is to inspire one to not only recognise the beautiful, but to embrace the darkness that exists within each of us.  

For over three decades, this is exactly what he's been doing, and it is this fearless approach and fluency within a realm of materials, from the purity of paint and palette to the masterful skill of digital media, that has encouraged others to create beyond the boundaries of acceptable limits, and allowed him to seamlessly evolve throughout the decades, whilst solidifying his rank amongst the very best of his peers.

                                                           Photo Credit - New York Times

GH:  The first time I heard the name Matt Mahurin was back in the late 80’s in reference to the video you did for REM’s “Orange Crush” – which according to Michael Stipe, was not about the soft drink, heroin or acid tabs, but rather  “…about  the Vietnam War and the impact on soldiers returning to a country that wrongly blamed them for the war.”  I’ve never forgotten the haunting images in that video.  Can you tell me more about the narrative running through it, particularly the juxtaposition of the solider and the little boy?

MM:  It’s not my thing to explain what a piece means – although I can say that my intention in every creative endeavor is to put as much of myself into it as possible. Whether I’m collaborating with brilliant artists like REM, U2, or Tom Waits to name a few, I believe I am chosen to contribute my ideas and emotions to present a visual exploration of these amazing musical talents.
Over the years, I have done countless projects on the horrors of war and simply feel fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to express my feelings and opinions in a format that has a global reach.
GH:  I consider you an artist with a social conscience.  You’ve illustrated and worked as a photo essayist concerning such heady topics as homelessness, the AIDS epidemic and man’s general inhumanity to man – I am referring to your work with Time and Newsweek, etc.  Can you tell me how you made the transformation from creating within the purview of a solitary illustrator to working in the highly social realm of directing music videos?
MM:  Whatever technical skills or creative styles I possess, I have always believed the message of the image is most important, and most lasting. Whether it’s standing alone in my studio or surrounded by a rock stars and a killer crew on a sound stage, I will use every format to express my opinions. It is both an honor and a thrill to be given the resources and respect to offer my point of view on so many important issues and concerns of my time.
GH:  In 1993, you did a video made especially for the AIDS/HIV benefit.  It was for one of my favourite 90’s bands, Urge Overkill, and the song was “Take A Walk.” It’s really a beautiful reflection of the song - from the psychedelic images meshing with the sitar to the pills being automatically swallowed to the lyrics, "I don’t pray anymore – I don’t love anymore."  As a video director, how do you work with metaphor and deciding when to stay true to lyrical content and when to stray to more personal or even surrealistic interpretation?
                                   Take A Walk - Urge Overkill - Matt Mahurin
MM:  Like any successful endeavor in life it is always about a healthy balance. When I shot the AIDS piece, I simply immersed myself in a new world, in this case, an AIDS hospice, and then went about the journey of capturing and responding to those moments and gestures that I believe would most honestly and deeply convey my intention. For this piece the challenge was to balance the tragedy of AIDS with the humanity of those who devote themselves to bring comfort to those who suffer. I do my best with every project to fuse the truth of my subject’s world with the intuition of my mind’s eye.
                                                 AIDS Hospice - Matt Mahurin
GH:  As an artist who naturally gravitates towards the darker side of things, I find your work comforting, however many consider it tenebrous if not a little disturbing at times.  Someone pointed out to me in reference to the male shadows in my paintings that Jung considered the shadow an unconscious aspect of the personality.  You also have a reputation for frequently using your own image in your creations.  This seems highly personal to me – affirming a tangible connection to your work.  Are your videos entirely  tailored to your clients or will there always be the aspect of subjective artistic integrity embedded within them?
MM:  Using myself in the work is often more a result of efficiency as I often have to work under tight deadlines—and there is no time to find a model. It is also an issue of control as I don’t have to worry about conveying my needs to another’s interpretation.
My videos must of course suit the needs of my clients, but I would only do this work if I felt I had great freedom and opportunity to express my personal point of view and creative vision.
When creating the videos I believe that the artist has given me their song as a soundtrack to my little movie. Because of the powerful artists I work with, I must present a strong vision to avoid the risk of my visuals being overwhelmed by the intensity and quality of their music. Although I will sometimes be very focused on a specific storyline, I often choose a more open-ended approach to the narrative; allowing the viewer to interpret the images with a more personal and poetic response.
GH:  I’ve watched your work evolve throughout the years from illustration to music video to film.  As well, your photographic prints now reside within the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  No matter what medium or modality, there is an unmistakable ‘look’ to any Matt Mahurin creation, and you appear to be someone who knew from the beginning what visual image he wanted to project to the world.  What is your advice to young artists regarding belief in one’s own vision; or is flexibility a more important asset and definitive ‘style’ something that must be earned?
MM:  I deeply believe that whether it’s a camera, paintbrush or computer, these are simply different tools in the same hand. Whatever accomplishments I have achieved is as much a product of my failures (of which there have been countless) as it is of my successes.
What I believe is most important to true success is to be true to one’s beliefs and desires—and to not be afraid to take risks and speak up. I also believe being a solid professional is the foundation to creative freedom—to handle the challenges of the real world demands while still preserving the freedom to create with abandon and conviction.

And finally, to love what you do, trust yourself, and believe that what you have to offer as a creative being is not only unique and worthy, but has the power to truly enhance the lives of others.

GH:  Lastly, I was really excited to see your cover design for the Muse album Drones.  Much like the social commentary in Orange Crush, Muse’s 2015 concept album concerns the dehumanization of modern warfare.  How did the project with Muse come about and what was it like working with the band?
MM:  I was being considered to direct a video, but I brought all my social/political illustrations to the meeting because of the band’s commentary on abuse of power, social injustice, and authoritarianism.
The band were in synch with my point of view and the project just kept growing to include more images on crucial issues.
Because of the global reach of Muse’s fans, it was exciting to be able to connect with an entire new generation of young people with images with a message.
GH: Thanks, Matt.  Looking forward to the next three decades!
                                                  Paul Westerberg - Runaway Wind -Matt Mahurin
"That’s the scary part...  
I didn't know if I should smile, 
crack up, 
scream 
or run..." 
- The Wizard of Oz
                                                                The Wizard of Oz - (1939)


Monday, December 04, 2017

ALL THAT GLITTERS - A WINTER EXHIBITION 2017

Thank you to my collectors & galleries for another great year!  Special thanks to the beautiful A Gallery in 
El Paseo for an incredible day, and what I'm sure will be a very successful exhibit!  Whether you're a snow bird, fortunate enough to call it home, or just travelling through Palm Desert, California, be sure to stop by the gallery and check out the new collection.

For now, I'm retreating back to the drawing board - I've been commissioned to design a double album cover for Australia's Paper Kites, which I'm really excited about.   Having a blast working with Sam Bentley & co.

I'm ending 2017 with an exclusive interview with iconic artist/photographer/film director, Matt Mahurin.  With a roster of clients that include U2, REM, Muse, Tom Waits,  Rolling Stone Magazine and too many others to list here - I can't wait to share this one! 


Wishing everyone Happy Holidays.  Thank you all for your support.  Please continue to support ALL of the arts - it's never been  more crucial.





                        'Just Married' - Acrylic on Canvas - 42 x 32


                 1st Dec. 2017 A Gallery

        March 2017 / December 2017







The object isn't to make art,

it's to be in that wonderful state

 which makes art inevitable. 

- Robert Henri




































Venturing into the Slipstream - Interview with Mark Refoy - From Spacemen 3 to Spiritualized...


On 20th July 1989, a talented young musician from Northhampton, England was on the eve of making his debut as guitarist for the avant-garde neo-psych trio Spacemen 3.  Jason Pierce, Pete Kember and Natty Brooker were quickly amassing a cult following for their hypnotic droning sound and stage antics, including the 11-minute, deafening trace-like 'Suicide,' and the cleverly titled 1990 release, 'Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To.'


Mark Refoy was about to join the roster that throughout its 9-year history, was loosely comprised of an equal number of alternating members, including Will Carruthers (Brian Jonestown Massacre), the late Natty Brooker, and Jonny Mattock (Massive Attack, The Breeders), to mention a few, but most notably, and to paraphrase Mark, Spacemen 3 will probably always be remembered as the brainchild of its two most predominant and founding members, Jason (J Spaceman) Pierce and Pete (Sonic Boom) Kember, both ironically born 19th November 1965, in Rugby.


Having already fronted his own band, Tell Tale Hearts, Mark's whirlwind tenure with Spacemen 3 included gigs at London's Town & Country Club, Subterranea, in West London, and the Reading Festival in August '89, where the band joined headliners, New Order; but it wasn't long thereafter, during the making of their fourth, and what would become their final album, 'Recurring,' that the Pierce/Kember artistic relationship was beginning to dismantle.  Taking great pains booking separate recording schedules in order to avoid contact with each another, the pair's prophetically irreparable estrangement signaled the beginning of a split so well documented in the media, that to this day, it rivals RKID - Oasis's battling brothers - in its acrimony.  

Not surprisingly, the band's remaining members, namely Carruthers, Refoy and Mattock had begun to feel creatively stifled, and were growing disillusioned with the increasingly laconic atmosphere surrounding their fellow Spacemen.  

By January of 1990, Kember had already sewn the seeds of a solo project, Spectrum and Pierce, anxious to get back on tour, had invited the band's remaining members to join his fledgling side project, Spiritualized which enjoyed critical acclaim most notably for Mark's titled, 'Lazer Guided Melodies,' and 1997's, 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.'  Spiritualized additionally had the distinction of being the last band to play at Manchester's iconic,  'Hacienda.'


For those who don't know, the band name was inspired by the back label of a bottle of Pernod, presumably 'spiritueux,' which if you've ever experienced the end of a bottle of absinthe, I suppose spiritualized is more than a remote possibility.

                                         Jason Pierce - (photo - Steve Gullick), of course.

'Recurring,' released in 1991, two years after the band's official breakup, is a beautifully fractured departure, the 2-part juxtaposition leaving no doubt as to Kember's rhythmic, innovative genius, nor Pierce's ability to produce entrancingly atmospheric sounds, independent of one another.

                                     Artwork - Laser Guided Melodies - Natty Brooker




                                                            Mark Refoy (Spiritualized)

For Mark Refoy, his time spent in Spacemen 3 and co-founding Spiritualized was well served; but following on the heels of his restless band mates, he was eager to branch out and intent on regaining creative control.  The exodus would prove to be a wise move, as over the years Refoy has consistently proven himself to be a skillful musician in his own right, enjoying success as the creator of the Britpop, electronic band, Slipstream, releasing two initial albums, Slipstream and Be Groovy or Leave, followed by Transcendental in 2003, and in 2008, 'Mantra,' produced by Pete Gleadall (Pet Shop Boys, David Bowie, George Michael, Tina Turner, U2) in 2008, and Stereo Brain / Mono Heart, in 2013.




In 2005, Mark was recruited by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, The Pet Shop Boys, to join their World Tour, including headlining the Live 8 Concert in Moscow.   



These days, Slipstream has streamlined itself to mainly Mark and Mattock, each veteran Spacemen, and both Northhampton lads with a love for rock n' roll, if not more than a few tales to tell...

                                                                 Jonny Mattock & Mark Refoy

                                              Out of the Blue - Cover art Anthony Ausgang

In October of this year, Slipstream released a brand new album, 'Out of the Blue,' which presented the perfect excuse for me to catch up with Mark, something I've been meaning to do for a while now.


GH:  So you grew up in Northampton.  What music were you listening to as a kid, and did you and Jonny (Mattock) know each other before Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized?

MR:  As a kid my parents would play a lot of music at home. My dad loved opera and classical music, so did my mum, but she also liked country, jazz and early rock n roll. I think that filtered through to my subconscious in some way. My mum used to sing us Red River Valley at night. After the age of about 9 or 10 I was heavily into pop music. 

Apparently when I was about 5 I was transfixed by The Beatles on TV, but I have no recollection of that. My parents didn’t like the pop music of the time and they actively encouraged us to turn the TV off whenever pop music came on. I don’t blame them at all, I’d do exactly the same right now given the current state of pop music! I loved Slade and TRex until I was about 12 and my uncle bought me the Beatles 62-66 red compilation and after that I was hooked, still am.



I was aware of Jonny Mattock before, because he and I are both from Northampton and we’d go to local gigs and play at local venues in our respective bands; Jonny played drums for The Apple Creation and I was in Tell Tale Hearts. We also worked in the same local mental hospital, St Crispins, he was a cleaner and I was a nursing assistant. We’d see each other about there.

GH:  Would you say the success you've achieved is luck and being in the right place at the right time, or is 'I know my craft and I've earned it' a better description?

MR:  It’s a combination of both, you won’t be successful without one complementing the other. Although whether I’ve ever been a ‘success’ is debatable. My main notion of success is when you’re playing an idea and it turns into a song you’re happy with and you get that feeling of ‘this is good!’

GH:  Was there any one defining moment in the formation of Slipstream, when you said to yourself, 'I've outgrown Spiritualized and I need to be doing my own thing?'

MR:  I never wanted to leave Spiritualized, but it was engineered in such a way that I couldn’t remain in the band any longer. I think Jason was doing me a favour at the time but I didn’t see it until years later. 

Slipstream came about purely by accident. I was doing songs and demos of my own while I was in Spiritualized. I sent some tapes out under my own name and Che Records managed to get hold of one, I didn’t actually send a copy to them, they heard the songs and said they wanted to do a single so they put Sundown out. I didn’t have a band, it was just me and Jonny Mattock so when Che said ‘you need a band name’ I rifled through my record collection for inspiration and two Van Morrison songs came to mind, ‘Queen Of The Slipstream’ and ‘Astral Weeks’ where he sings ‘If I ventured in the slipstream….’ So I thought, I’ll call this band Slipstream.


GH:  How would you describe your artistic process?  Do you and Jonny collaborate on music and lyrics?

MR:  My artistic process is when I casually strum and noodle away on whatever guitar is at hand and when it starts to sound good I’ll boot up Logic and try and get a song going. Or I might start with Logic first and do it that way. The music comes first and then I’ll try, without thinking too much, to do the words.


We collaborate on music but not lyrics. Jonny has started writing songs on his own. ’Like No Other’ is his which is on our latest single and album. We will work on our own material together, usually at my place and then send it to Pete Gleadall who mixes it at his studio in London, which is another whole creative artistic process in itself because he is a bona fide production/mixing genius.

GH:  Not that this is ever likely to happen, but if Spacemen 3 were to reunite, would you want to be a part of it again?

MR:  For me Spacemen 3 was always Jason and Pete. The two of them could go out on their own and it would be Spacemen 3, or if they hired a whole backing band with a choir and orchestra it would still be Spacemen 3. That’s how I see it anyway. 

I don’t have any real desire to be a part of it again, but you never know how you’ll feel about these things until they actually happen and in this case, it ain’t happening baby!


GH:  How did touring with Pet Shop Boys come about and did you know Neil and Chris previously?

MR:  I didn’t know Neil and Chris before playing with them but obviously I was very aware of them. I knew Vanessa Best, the bassist from Ultrasound and she was friends with Bic Hayes who was in Levitation and Dark Star. Bic got the job playing live guitar with Pet Shop Boys, they wanted another guitarist so they asked him if he knew anyone who could do it so Bic asked Vanessa if I was up for it and that’s how it came about.  I think they really wanted Johnny Marr because he’d played on the Release album they were about to tour but he wasn’t available. It was a great experience, I learnt a lot and they’re great people to work for. I met Pete Gleadall through the Pet Shop Boys, he’s been their musical right hand man for decades.

GH:  When you look back at your career with Spacemen 3, Spiritualized and Slipstream, what would you say is your fondest memory, and what, if anything, would you just as soon forget?

MR:  One thing that I remember with Spacemen 3 is playing the Reading Festival in 1989. It was a massive gig and I think we blew pretty much everyone off stage even though we went on stupidly early in the afternoon. Someone threw a boot and it just missed me. Can’t please everyone!


I have great memories of being on tour in Spiritualized, especially the early days. We were generally having a laugh most of the time and enjoying ourselves, which was contrary to how we were perceived by the fans and music press etc. Jason has a great sense of humour.

I have a memory of being in America with Slipstream, and I was daydreaming in a cab going over a bridge in New York and I thought, ‘the only reason I’m here at this point in time is due to me obsessively playing my beat up old nylon string guitar in my bedroom when I was a kid along to the first Clash album from beginning to end.’


GH:  How do you feel about the future of music in Britain, and are there any new bands you're excited about right now?

MR:  I don’t really feel anything about the future of music in Britain, I’m only concerned with the here and now. Where I work, the channel of choice on TV is 4 Music, which plays all the latest chart stuff. 99% of it I can’t relate to but the one song sticks in your head every now and then, I can’t remember what the last one was though!

I recently bought an album by Bicep called Bicep and an album by Forest Swords called Compassion. I don’t know if they’re bands in the accepted sense of the word but it’s music that I’m excited about right now. 



GH:  So Logic Pro is banned and you can take only one guitar to the desert island...what's it going to be?

MR:  Either one of two: a Gretsch Jim Dandy acoustic or a beat up old three quarter size classical nylon string acoustic. Either one will do me.

GH:  Who are your heroes?

MR:  My heroes, chronologically, would be Noddy Holder, John Lennon, Joe Strummer, Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, Bernard Sumner, Kraftwerk and a whole host of others. But you think differently about ‘heroes’ the older you get. I still admire my heroes from younger days but they don’t figure in my life as much as they used to. But hell, if I watch some old electrifying Clash footage or hear Rock n Roll music by The Beatles, woah, I’m down with them! 

GH:  Thanks, Mark, it's always a pleasure!



Coming soon - Interviews with author Stewart Home, artist Matt Mahurin, and more on my album collaboration with Australia's Paper Kites.  Until then, check out the new American-Noir originals at El Paseo's A Gallery, Friday 1st December, 2017.

                       

                          

Sunday, December 03, 2017

London Noir - My Love Affair with 60's Soho

                                                            'Absolute Beginners' Acrylic on Canvas - Higgins

                                                                               'The Profumo Affair'
In the early 1960's, Soho, London was often described as seamy, sordid and decadent, a polestar for sex shops and clip joints, a stone's throw from the gritty hub of London's most notorious underworld mobsters, notably East Enders, Reggie & Ronnie, the infamous Kray Twins, and South London's chilling Richardson Gang.  


                                                                                         Soho 1965 - Photo by Henry Grant

Soho was also a part of the city where Francis Bacon's godless, sardonic, 'sensation of the moment,' propensity spawned a scandalously bohemian subculture, where pubs ignored clocks, and burgeoning jazz and blues clubs sparked the careers of such iconic acts as the Yardbirds, Led Zepplin, The Who, and Davy 'Bowie' Jones; but these things were hardly unusual for a part of the city always known as a haven for nomads, intellectuals and those cut from a slightly different cloth.  Indeed Marx and Engels composed their Communist Manifesto in a room above Soho's Red Lion Pub.


                                                                             'Tainted Love' - Acrylic on Canvas - Higgins

                                                                                           
Occupying part of London's West End, approximately a square mile in size, Soho loosely encompasses Charing Cross Rd. to the east, Regent to the west, Leicester Square to the south and Oxford Street to the north.  With a few exceptions, such as the market traders on Berwick Street, the Soho of today is a homogenised hodgepodge of luxury hotels, posh apartments, high-end bistros and tapas bars, a byproduct of gentrification's sticky fingers pushing the locals farther east and stripping the city of its charm; but I'm not overly interested in the Soho of today.  

My 'Summer of Love' sensibilities are firmly rooted in the 60's of both sides of the Atlantic; so it was not surprising I decided to accept a challenge from my UK collector, Pat, who earlier this year asked if I'd ever considered painting vintage 'London Noir,' which he described to me as 'similar to American Noir, only seedier and very, very noir.'  Intrigued by the creative possibilities, I knew it was essential I endeavour to restrict my research to a particular time period, so casting aside my aversion to limitations and psychedelic fascinations, I opted to venture farther back into the 60's, to the 'very, very noir' Soho that existed between the years 1959-1966, with Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, my starting point.

                                                                                                        Ronnie Scott

Working at a distance, with an arsenal of family and friends supplying me with photographs and tantalising tales of the infamous luminaries of the time, in addition to offering a few first-hand confessions of what it was like to live in Soho in the early 1960's, I embarked upon a truly eye-opening, if not riveting journey back in time, devouring the books of Colin MacInnes, Joe Orton's subversively hilarious plays, most notably, 'What The Butler Saw,' listening to music that rocked and jived and shook this former 'valley girl' to the core, and lapping up the designs of Ossie Clark and Mary Quant, as worn by Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Peggy Moffit and Veruschka, the images and styles that made such an impression on my work as a fashion illustrator.  


Leslie Hornby 'Twiggy'


                                                     Ossie Clark with Chrissie Shrimpton - Photo by David Bailey

                                                                                           Carnaby Street - 1966

                                                                     Playwright John Kingsley 'Joe' Orton

The first two paintings of my LONDON NOIR series, 'Absolute Beginners,' and 'Tainted Love,' are the results of these adventures.  'Absolute Beginners' was not inspired by The Jam.  Love IS in our hearts, but this painting is actually a nod to Colin MacInnes's coming-of-age novel of the same name, which is my favourite of his London Trilogy.  Set against a backdrop of Mod culture, during the summer of the Notting Hill race riots, reminiscent of Salinger's, 'Catcher in the Rye,' the book is a sensitive portrayal of a self-conscious adolescent coming to terms with the societal changes and resultant racism that blighted parts of London in the late 1950's.  I have taken artistic liberty in this piece, melding Carnaby and Wardour Streets.

                                                                                        Work in Progress - 'Absolute Beginners'





                                                                               The Jam - 'Absolute Beginners' (1981)

Departing from the idealism of youth, and venturing farther into the seamier side of 60's Soho is 'Tainted Love.' The composition was inspired by The Who's, 'Man With The Money,' with title homage a combination of Gloria Jones's '64 hit and author, Stewart Home's gripping exploration into 60's London counterculture…'Swinging London' being the predominant theme of both paintings.  

                                                            Work in Progress - 'Tainted Love' - July 2017

                                                                     'The Who' - Man With The Money

                                                                                      'Tainted Love' - Stewart Home

                                                                                   Gloria Jones and Marc Bolan

Soho in the late 50's and early 60's was the backdrop for an explosion of artistic expression. Edmond T. Greville's film, 'Beat Girl' (1959) starring Gillian Hills (Blowup & Clockwork Orange) and set in Soho, is perhaps one of the best examples of cinematic adolescent angst.  With its subplots of jealousy, emotional blackmail, debaucherous behaviour and general juvenile delinquency, it rivals 'Reefer Madness' in its melodramatic moral caution.  Also filmed against the setting of 60's Soho were 'Passport to Shame,' 'Expresso Bongo,' and the suspenseful crime noir, 'The Small World of Sammy Lee' - The haunting jazz-soaked soundtrack alone will transport you back in time. 

                                                                                              'Beat Girl ' (1959)


                                                                     'The Small World of Sammy Lee'

The art world of 60's Soho arguably centred around two of London's most controversial characters and their volatile friendship - Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, two figurative painters, bonded if not obsessed by their admiration of each other's twisted talent, as well as a shared penchant for booze, gambling and pugnacity that spiralled their mutual respect into mockery and caustic contempt.  The culmination and subsequent deterioration of their dysfunctional relationship came as a result of Bacon's unwelcome triptych of Freud, which it seems posthumously gave Bacon the upper hand, when the works later sold for $142 million in 2013.   Many of their dramas were played out against the backdrop of Soho's Gargoyle Club, later infamously known as 'The Colony Room.' 
                                                                 Bacon & Freud - Photo by Harry Diamond


                                                                                       Freud's Portrait of Bacon (1952)




                                                                           'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' by Francis Bacon

                                                                               John Deakin, Bruce Bernard, Jeffrey Bernard


                                                                                         Muriel Belcher

Located on Dean Street, this private drinking club, with its garishly green walls and extended hours of operation, was owned by the temperamental Muriel Belcher, although Bacon shares founding member status. Muriel had a knack for profanity and cooking, in addition to cooking up controversy with her coterie of colourful creatures of the night including the aforementioned Bacon and Freud, alcoholic ex-Vogue and war photographer John Deakin, and doomed Welch poet, Dylan Thomas, each exploiting and reveling in their atmosphere of excess, intrigue and decadence.  The Colony Room served its final drink in 2008, but remained popular with artistic types until the end, with certain members of the YBA (Young British Artists) loosely comprised of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucus, sharing a particular fondness for the iconic watering hole. 

                                               Damian Hirst and Sarah Lucas at The Colony Room - photo - The Guardian

                                                                              Francis Bacon at The Colony Room



On the lighter side, if not a more female-friendly representation of 60's Soho's rich history, were the many coffee bars popular amongst British youth, including the uniquely decorated, Le Macabre, complete with its horror-themed ambiance and coffin shaped tables. Moka, which officially opened in the early 50's by Italian actress, Gina Lollabrigida, has the distinction of being singled out by acerbic American beat poet, William Burroughs for its 'outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy and poisonous cheesecake'. 2i's on Old Compton Street is where musician Marc Bolan (T-Rex) once worked as a waiter and was also featured in the movie, 'Expresso Bongo.' 

                                                                                   'Le Macabre Coffee House' 
                           


                                                                            Marc Bolan - John's Children


Equally unique to Soho were its many 'hostess clubs,' with their champagne and showgirls veneer more often disguising the dark and sordid landscape of organised crime that flourished throughout the West End during that time period.  For those interested, one of the best and most authentic descriptions of life within these establishments and London subculture in general, can be found amongst the writings of South London's, Stewart Home.


                                             Christine Keeler - 1963 - Photo (Lewis Morley)

Perhaps one of the most infamous showgirls of that time period was Christine Keeler, the 19-year-old hostess/model whose brief ill-fated affair with a married government minister, John Profumo, and alleged simultaneous liaison with a Soviet naval attache caused a political scandal that not only resulted in the defeat of the Conservative Party, but Profumo's subsequent suicide by overdose, the details of which have since been dubbed, 'The Profumo Affair.'  Author Richard Davenport-Hines's 'An English Affair:  Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo,' is an enthralling account of the scandal and the sordid events leading up to it. 

Most people in the UK, and I'm guessing many in the US, are at least familiar with the name, Kray Twins, the two brothers who ruled London's criminal underworld through protection rackets and organised violence during the 50's and 60's.  Their stomping ground was mostly the East End with pubs like 'The Blind Beggar.'  Perhaps lesser known, but enjoying the distinction as the one man both brothers truly respected, was Billy Howard, a dominant figure on the club and gambling scenes, exercising his reign in a less publically flamboyant but equally terrifying manner. Peter Rachman was another shadowy Soho figure of the time, the Kensington landlord operating his West London empire that included large areas of Notting Hill and several nightclubs, overcharging and exploiting a good majority of the city's impoverished new West Indies population, and thereby overachieving his slumlord status. 

                                                                                   'Ronnie & Reggie' - The Kray twins

But lest you think 60's Soho's only claims to fame were crime and cravings, one of the truly historical gifts imparted by this era of bohemian intemperance came in the form of its music scene.  The soundtrack of this period is as remarkable for its diversity as it is permanently etched in our brains.  

                                                                 The Rolling Stones - Denmark Street (1964)

East of Soho Square, on the edge of London's West End, sits Denmark Street, now sadly losing its rough about the edges authenticity to gentrification; but in the early 60's, this area was a thriving music mecca known as London's Tin Pan Alley - it's name patterned after New York's music district.  Home to Melody Maker and NME, as well as Regent Sound Studios, Tin Pan Alley in the 1960's became the centre of London's music scene, its recording studios alternately housing such bands as The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and members of Led Zepplin.  

                                                                      Marc Bolan - John's Children

Mod subculture is another Soho phenomenon with roots in the Soho jazz clubs of the late 50's, but the smartly tailored suits and winklepicker boots, the Vespa's, the amphetamines and the music - ska, and rhythm and blues at clubs like The Marquee, where the Rolling Stones played their first live gig in 1962, The Flamingo and La Discotheque, both unwitting participants in the scandalous Profumo Affair, the Bag O'Nails where Hendrix played his first gig, and rumored to have been where Paul McCartney met Linda Eastman, may now be just a chapter in London's past, like the art, the crime, the scandals and the grime, but the fabric of that particular time that exemplified Soho has already left a lasting impression on modern culture...

one that continues to astonish, enthrall and inspire, and one which will undoubtedly always remain...

a hard act to follow.  


                                                                                      East London's 'Small Faces'

                                                                    West London's Pete Townshend (1964)


Soho Today:


With the support of several of its most vocal members, including actors Rupert Everett, Benedict Cumberbatch and musician Pete Townshend, "Save Soho" was created by musician Tim Arnold and writer/comedian, Stephen Fry, in response to the December 2014 forced closure of a beloved Soho landmark, Madam Jojo's. Advocating inclusion rather than exclusion, the group seeks to protect the areas' small entertainment venues, shops and bars from gentrification. The purpose of their petition, signed by more than 9000 people, was to protest the city's decision favouring 'identikit high-end boutiques' over 'once proud centres of subculture.'  The group and its supporters are still thriving, and rumours are a 'bigger and better' Jojo's may soon reopen in the same location and under the same name.


                                                                                      'Madam Jojo's'
To learn more, check out: Save Soho 


A special thank you to my collector, Pat and to Lucy Johnson & Sean Hocking (without whom I would have been musically all the poorer) for their 'boots on the ground' enthusiasm, anecdotes and introductions to such figures as Colin MacInnes, Joe Orton, Paul Gilroy, Pauline Boty, Sebastian Horsley, et al.  I am in artistic collaboration with Lucy on the cover of her next noir novel and awaiting news about an enticing new musical based on the life of our mutual connection, Stewart Home.  Other than that, London Noir is still a work in progress, with more to follow. -Gina, 12th August 2017


                                                                Prince Buster - One Step Beyond (1965)

My project soundtrack:

Alex Harvey - I Ain't Worried Baby
Alexis Korner Blues Inc. - Little Baby
Bert Jansch - Soho
Brian Auger Trinity - Kiko
Brooker T and MG's - Green Onions
Cilla Black - Anyone Who Had A Heart
Cyril Davies - Chicago Calling
David Bowie - Can't Help Thinking About Me
David Bowie - Do Anything You Say
Davy Jones (David Bowie) - You've Got a Habit of Leaving
Donnie Elbert - Little Piece of Leather
Donovan - Belated Forgiveness Plea
Donovan - Isle of Sadness
Don Rendell and Ian Carr Quintet - Shades of Blue
Dusty Springfield - I Only Want To Be With you
Eddie Floyd - Things Get Better
Eric Burden - I'm Crying
Fontella Bass - Rescue Me
Gloria Jones - Tainted Love
Graham Bond Quartet - Untitled Abbey Road Blues
Homer Banks - A Lot Of Love
Ian Whitcomb - You Really Turn Me On
Jeff Curtis and the Flames - Route 66
Jimmy James and the Vagabonds - Two For One
John's Children - Smashed Blocked
Junoir Walker - Shotgun
Kinks - Till The End Of The Day
Lulu - I'll Come Running
Marianne Faithful - Come and Stay With Me
Mark Leeman 5 - Going To Bluesville
Mickie Most - Heartbeat
Pink Floyd - Lucy Leave
Pretty Things - Rosalyn
Prince Buster - One Step Beyond
Robert Plant - Laughin' Cryin' Laughin'
Row Boat  - Me and My Baby
Skatalites - Guns of Navarone
Small Faces - All or Nothing
Spencer Davis Group - Somebody Help Me
Syd's Crowd - Road Runner
Syd's Crowd -  Things are good babe
Syd Barrett - I'm A King Bee
The Anglos  - Incense
The Animals - Bright Lights Big City
The Animals - It's My Life
The Beatles - It's Only Love
The Beat Merchants - Pretty Face
The Count Five - Psychotic Reaction
The Hollies - I'm alive
The Kinks - The World Keeps Going Round
Them - Mystic Eyes
The Maytals - Treat Me Bad
The Nashville Teens - Tobacco Road
The Paramounts - You've Got What I Want
The Rolling Stones - Empty Heart
The Rolling Stones - Tell Me
The Searchers - Needles and Pins
The Who  - Man with the money
The Yardbirds - Evil Hearted You
The Zombies - Don't Go Away
Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders - Road Runner


                                                              'She Said She'd Always Been A Dancer'


 'Now, you can think what you like about the art of jazz – quite frankly, I don’t really care what you think, because jazz is a thing so wonderful that if anybody doesn’t rave about it, all you can feel for them is pity: not that I’m making out I really understand it all – I mean, certain LPs leave me speechless.' 

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