…dum diddy dooh!

A chance for more musing on Manchester in the 60s. We paid for stuff in pounds shilling and pence, and in 1969 the farthing was discontinued! We were lucky enough not to generate a debt from our studying being given a Government Grant to attend and keep us in beer and cigarettes. Some of us were better at looking after this sum than others, I supplemented mine by working in the holidays at Haydock Park Racecourse where I helped the groundsmen to cut saplings to make the fences for the steeplechase from Lord Derby’s Estate at Knowsley. We then took them back to the Racecourse.

The plantation on the estate was around 10 miles away, so we trundled off in the head man’s landrover. Apart from the birch saplings the woods had the biggest population of horse flies that I’ve ever come across, who would menace the gang throughout the day. All apart from George Willie Harrison ( no relation ) who was the oldest of the workers and probably in his 70s then. Nothing came near George and if it did it died almost instantly. We asked him for the secret of his success. ” Flit” he replied, ” Spray it all over myself every morning”. Flit was a fearsome brand of insecticide probably now banned and here was a 70 year old spraying himself with the stuff. It had no ill effects on the man but the insects approaching gave up the ghost within a yard of him.

After a day at the estate we loaded the trailer behind a tractor and trundled back along the busy East Lancs Road to the Racecourse. They put me on top of the load with a red flag to warn traffic behind that we were a slow moving load. It was not my finest hour. Health and safety was not a major consideration, after all I was an art student so perfectly expendable.

Remember this?

In my first year on the degree course at Manchester we assembled in the former lost property offices of the Manchester Corporation( we still got little old ladies popping in complaining of lost umbrellas, even though it had been closed for years) We were a motley group of individuals from all over the country. Myself from not far away, but we had others from as far away as Walthamstow, which to us was really the dark side of the moon. A bloke addressed us with a cigarette in hand and told us his name was Williams, he had more spots than the rest of us poor chap. I don’t fully recall what he said but he did try his best to make us feel welcome.

In the days that followed we got to know the rest of the staff, slowly. My own tutor was the children’s book illustrator Tony Ross, who’s sense of relief when I was given a free transfer to another team, was palpable. In retrospect I don’t blame him, I suspect that I talked too much and worked too little. The guy who took us for life drawing was a man addicted to his pipe and looked like a retired major from the lancers. The advertising bloke had the demeanor of a frantic market trader that went well with his name: Driver.The typography/design bloke was a little more intense.

We had visiting ‘celebs’ too, probably as a result of the wily ways of our head of department, who seemed to know these people. Brian Redhead came to see us, he was pretty major at the time, and presented the news on the BBC. The equivalent of John Humphries today. Unlike his perceived friendly persona on the radio I found him to be a quite an unpleasant character, or perhaps he was having a bad day. Ronnie Kirkwood, an advertising guru of the time who turned up in a very grey and dark Manchester in a gold suit. We could not believe it!

All the memories of the time will be coming back on Thursday when our little exhibition in Manchester kicks off. Open to the public from the Friday, come along and see the sort of things that a few of us have been doing for the past 50 years after this Manchester start.

Honky Tonk?

With the coming exhibition in Manchester coming up next week, I make no excuses for putting myself about as they say. I’ll be exhibiting with a number of friends who I spent my time with at Mancheste in the 60s. Sadly two of them have died in the meantime, but their work will be there, and many happy memories of them.

I had a brilliant time in Manchester after first completing the Foundation year, which was in Openshaw and surrounded by heavy manufacturing factories and there were times there in our lunch breaks when we would play football on a piece of waste ground against the lads from the factory. They thought we were easy meat of course, how could they possibly lose to a bunch of poncy long haired art students, especially as they were armed with steel toe capped boots and we were unsuitable clad in desert boots.

They were right. We always lost.

I think that year, after being cooped up in boarding school, was possibly one of the most exciting years of my life. We had a go at everything but the basis for everything was drawing. I thought I was pretty good and was possibly a little arrogant about my skills. I’d always been top in art at school. Looking around at the rest of the class which also included a fair collection of girls of my age, a novelty of massive proportions for me, I was soon dispelled of my beliefs. They had also been top in art! And they were much more top than I was. In addition a tutor described my work as ‘bloody awful’ and then set to, making me aware of my failings and how I could get better.

One or two of the students in that foundation year will be exhibiting with me from next Friday, the others were on the Degree Course that followed. We’ve kept in touch over all these years, I can’t wait to catch up with them again at the scene where it all started.

Making an exhibition of myself, again.

One of the posters for the Exhibition

If you happen to be in Manchester anytime after the 24th, then feel free to take a trip to the Benzie Building at Manchester School of Art, where I and a bunch of fellow graduates from 1969 are exhibiting to celebrate our 50 years in the business, and since our graduation. All the details you need to know are on the poster right here. Don’t forget it’s weekdays only, but then if you are in Manchester on a weekend you do need to look at your life in detail.

I’m off there for the opening and looking forward to seeing my old friends. My own graduation and final show was in retrospect not my shining hour, so I’m hoping that this makes up for it a little. I passed, but perhaps only just. My priorities at the time were football, music, beer and female company if I could find it. So the work took a rather sorry 5th place. I was far too young to go to college and although I worked hard in my foundation year ( I had to to get into the degree course ) I have to confess that I was extremely relaxed in the degree course.

The incentive of surviving after I left made me a little less relaxed about what I should do next and after a period driving a lorry delivering cakes to all points North I saved enough to go and find my fortune in the London. My mother bought me a suit so that I could go to the interviews at the various advertising agencies that I had lined up to take advantage of my minute talents. I’m not sure if she thought that the interviews were in the Orkneys or somewhere similarly cold and wet, but the suit was built for Manchester and not the sunny south east. I must have looked like a pink piggy at the interviews, I certainly sweated like one. Wether it was nervous energy but that and the bulky suit challenged my supply of right guard to the limit. Not many people seemed to be wearing the waistcoat where I was going, or if they were it was without a jacket and they looked like they’d bought them from an old army surplus store. Whereas my bespoke special had only been made after I’d been asked which side I dressed. “Nearest the window” was my puzzled reply.

Come along and see some great work, not from me, but from the talented friends I made all those years ago, and who went on to become big in the business. I found myself in the end and more than eeked out a living. What a lucky chap I was to have such talented friends who had a huge influence on me, and unlike me at the time, knew the meaning of hard work, enthusiasm and raw creative talent.

I can’t wait to see them again, see if I can borrow a tenner off them.

This is the full poster and the drawing was done by a chap called Anthony Woolaston, who sadly we have been unable to trace. He obviously had a lot of talent as he managed to capture the essence of all of us. That’s me on the front row, fifth from the left, wearing my old school scarf, what was I thinking? Anthony, or ‘Doove’ as he called himself at the time, put himself in the picture and he is 8th from the left with the flowery tie.

If you happen to know of his whereabouts let me know, be good to get him along, and at least thank him for the use of the drawing.

Mr Grumbly wanted for light balloon duties

You will be stationed next to a large metallic object the looks like a massive toy balloon and is the work of world renowned artist Jeff Koons. This is an exceptionally tactile piece of his work and is set on a plinth at the LACM Galleries here in Los Angeles. This plinth also reflects the work.

Your duties will be to observe anyone getting too close to the artwork or, heaven forefend, actually touch it. You must advise them to step away from the balloon.

You will be suitably armed with a plastic covered identity badge and a sullen manner, as well as a personal radio so that you can warn the authorities that the work is likely to be seriously compromised by visiting small children who think that this display, is what it seems to be.

This is an extremely tough assignment as temptation will be high on busy days, whereas on quiet days it is likely you will spend many hours contemplating exactly where your own life went wrong.

Salary will be commensurate with exactly how miserable a ‘vibe’ ( as they say in these parts ) you can impart.

It has to be emphasised that the present incumbent is well established in the post.


Seriously though this is a brilliant piece of sculpture, and it’s well worth a trip to LACMA to view it, and the poor guy who has to stop people who get too close!