Sunday, September 12, 2010

50 Million Elvis Fans Can be Wrong...

This weekend I volunteered at the Hyde Park Proms on Saturday, and 'Elvis Forever', a tribute concert that does what it says on the tin, also in Hyde Park. I was volunteering for the Nigaraguan Solidarity Front, or something (my inability to remember the name of this organisation caused me several problems over the weekend), working the bar. It's some kind of socialist coop, where you work and get paid, but they take your wages. I'm not sure which brand of socialism they were adhering to, more Pol Pot than Che Guevara, perhaps. Nice people on the whole, most of them seemed to be veterans of bar work across many years and many festivals. They talked about Leeds and Glasto like they were talking about 'Nam or Korea - you weren't there man....

I almost wasn't here either, but forced myself into it at the last minute, and I'm glad I did on the whole. The Saturday was better than the Sunday. I got there just as they were setting up the stage. The stage was that big, Terry Wogan later commented, not because of the Proms, or even the King, but because the Pope was rolling into town later in the week. There's something appropriate about that, because Elvis is the king of kitsch popular culture, and the Catholic Church is the king of kitsch popular religions. There was a great atmosphere at the Prom, lots of people, mostly nice. Towards the end of the evening, a guy ordered a pint of beer for himself, and a vodka and orange for his wife. I started adding the orange, and said 'say when'. He said 'when' almost immediately. 'Not much orange in that', I said. 'Tell you what, stick another vodka in that', he said. I did that. 'Tell you what, stick another double in there,' he said. His wife was looking really horrified, 'What are you doing?' I added a double vodka. 'There's really quite a lot of vodka in there, right now,' I said. 'I know!' said the man, 'High five!' - and he high fived me, and went down the bar, high fiving the bartenders. Odd chap.

The bars were managed, or more accurately, mismanaged, by a totally superfluous team of, well, managers. What we needed, as barpeople, were skivvies, to get stuff for us and replenish stock. What we got was a group of people who looked like they got their management training from a socialist propaganda video. They stood at the back in cliques, smoking, drinking coffee, doing almost anything but managing. 'No,' I wanted to say, 'that's how managers act according to Communists, not in real life!'

Elvis day was a different crowd. More aggressive, less well off... Tom Jones was the big star of the night, and the fireworks at the end were okay. It was mostly just naff covers of Elvis hits, though, and, ugh, symphonic versions of the same...

Still, overall, fun experience. Would absolutely do it again. What I really need to do is get on that management team.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hmm, June already. I'm really not a very good blogger, am I? Since my last entry, I have, er, split up with my girlfriend, moved out of my flat and into a room down the road and generally been going through a kind of existential crisis. I have offset this by doing lots of evening classes: French, poetry, and an art class called "creative colour for artists and designers". I'm scared to say it, but I think I might finally be getting it as far as the art thing goes. Not that I'm necessarily any better at doing it, but at least I think I understand a lot more about what goes into a work of art. At last week's class, for example, we were supposed to draw flowers using a stick with some ink on it, and then colour them in using inks. Fine. I had no problem with the drawing bit, since I have done rather a lot of that in the past. But as soon as I started applying colour, I found myself adrift in a sea of infinite possibility with no idea what I was doing. What was I doing? IN ANY CASE I NEVER WANTED TO BE AN ARTIST! I only started drawing because I couldn't get anyone to accept my story submissions... But you start drawing, and before you know it, you get sucked in by the whole "art" thing, and you want to get better at it for its own sake. So the long and the short of it is that I got myself to this position where I could draw reasonably competently, or some things anyway, but then having this massive dilemma about whether to branch out and use pencils, pens, charcoal, etc. and whether to go abstract or just draw things... the whole art thing seemed so stressful. Don't draw much nowadays, as Philip Larkin might have written. So, back to the start of this twaddle, I think I understand the difference between art and...well, something else. Artists don't really know what the end product will be. They are interested in process. i.e, they go, "today I will use blue and yellow to express emotion and all other colours can go and fuck themselves" and that is a sort of experiment, and what comes out the other end might be good or it might be bad. It will probably be good if you are Picasso, because your talent and training means that whatever you do will be skilled, but if you are a typical art school undergrad it will probably be pretentious and awful, because you haven't made enough mistakes yet. All this is blatantly obvious to most people who have had some experience, but god it's taken me years to understand that skill in execution isn't everything, that having an intention or idea and seeing where that takes you is far more likely to produce art than planning it in advance. Tant pis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Drawing from (almost) life

One of the things I like to do to relax is a bit of life drawing. Ideally I would go to a class, but I find them a bit of a rip off in London, and there's always too many people at them. They run some okay ones at the Prince's Drawing School, but since they rejected me for their drawing course, I have been giving them the cold shoulder. On Channel 4 on demand you can watch these Life Classes, which are really good. It's not the same as drawing a real person, but it's the next best thing. Plus you get a really good tutor and you can pause it for as long as you like. I find it really relaxing, and it is nice to be able to do it from my desk.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This is Hamsa, who was volunteering until early 2009. Don't see her much these days, which is a shame. Really clever, lots of fun, can't ice skate to save her life...

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Maria brings joy everywhere she goes, and everyone loves her. I'm not sure exactly how she does this, as she moans all the time and complains endlessly. She's Argentinian, but has a Scottish accent (she denies this) and is generally extremely sceptical about everything. At lunchtimes we play the bean game together, and she usually wins. She's going to do an internship in Ecuador this April, and I will miss her (sob). In this picture she's actually talking to Juli on the train. They are great pals at work, although they have little in common if you ask me...

Friday, February 5, 2010


I have so many volunteers going through our organisation and most of them are really cool. I end up drawing them a lot over their stay, so I thought I may as well start putting them up.

This is Juli. She's German, completely crazy, but really nice. She's a proper old school rebel, and is always going on marches, protests, demonstrations etc. She often gets into trouble and sometimes lands in court. She's like one of the Baader Meinhof gang. She hangs out in hippy communes, goes to climate camps, eats out of bins at the back of Tesco (sometimes), the whole bit. I like trying to annoy her by talking about my share portfolio, but she doesn't take the bait. She's a really good caseworker, but doesn't have much patience with lesser mortals around the office. I think some other vols are scared of her! I wish I was as idealistic and committed as Juli, but I'm too cynical and pessimistic. Tant pis! I drew this on the tube train going from Colnbrook detention centre near Heathrow.

Okay, so one of the comics I bought in Angouleme was a real gem: 10 Petits Insectes.

It's loosely (very loosely) based on the Agatha Christie novel which was originally given the catchy if not politically correct title "Ten Little Niggers". Someone realised this wasn't exactly good taste, so other editions have been called "Ten Little Indians", but that's not great either, so these days it's called "And then there were none". The story is about 10 people who are invited to an island where they are bumped off one by one. That's what happens in Ten Little Insects, but there the similarity ends.

It's written by Davide Cali, who I thought I had never heard of before, but then I realised I had a book of his, "The Enemy", with illustrations by Serge Bloch. It's a really nice mix of doodles and collage, with a witty anti war message. The artist on Insects is Vincent Pianina, who I actually met and chatted to a while. Nice guy, he even drew a picture for Katy (my girlfriend).

Ten Little Insects, as the story suggests, replaces the people in the Agatha Christie setting with Insects. This allows the author to make some good insect-related gags and also to play up the grotesque elements of the story without it getting too gruesome. The art is beautifully quirky: a lot of it is just built up with primary colour planes without any lines. I wasn't sure this would work when I first saw it, but now I love it. The angular drawing style reminds me a bit of classic 1950s animation. In fact, this would make a brilliant cartoon. The characters and the humour are what make the book for me, though. Here's one of my favourites: the characters get to the island, and sit around a table. One of them puts on a record which says "YOU'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!"

They naturally assume that this is a sick joke, and one of the insects suggests they turn over the record.

Insect 1: What's on the other side
Insect 2: "You're all going to die (instrumental version)"

Basically, if you don't find that funny, you probably won't like this book. I like this book a lot. It's only in French ( , but maybe some clever UK publisher will pick it up.

I hope I don't get sued for using all these images. Is that allowed?