Personal

10th November 2012

Dave Whitehead April 21 1929 – 10th November 1998

I have a dream today that my Mom and Dad are sitting together, on a wall by the harbour in Brixham, Devon. There are no arguments, no bitterness, but just a contentment and reflection that their son has done just fine  for himself and their grandchildren are happy and present. It will be dark soon, and the bus will be there to take them back to 11 Elm Bank Rd.  Tea and toast and a warm fire.

In Sunnyside my Dad sits on his stool at the top of the garden by the front door, whistling and nodding to everyone passing by. My mom walks by and he smiles and waves. She looks at the old house and remembers the good. My cousin is playing football in the garden next door, Mr Oakley’s curtains are drawn upstairs as he sleeps to ready himself for the night shift. A few doors down my Grandma’s door is open, there are empty bottles to return to the shop for change. She’s making potted meat sandwiches, and there are no tears in the mirror yet, just a warm safe and proud home.

28th March 2012

Happy 83rd birthday Mom. It took a long time coming, and there was so much confusion on my part..But your strength and courage are deeply missed. You still come to me, at times I can’t predict, but I realise that you’ll never leave me. You are part of me, and that part is where I gain much of my strength from. I will never forget.

School Winter Concert January 11th 2012

Every year for the past 4 years we go to the school Winter Concert to see our son play in the school orchestra. Some of the kids on stage I’ve known since pre K, and its a bemused and wondrous feeling to me that here they are, now in 6th grade, soon to move on to middle school.

The concert starts with the 3rd graders, just learning their instruments, playing brief stanzas from well known songs. It moves through chorus, and finally on to the 6th grade orchestra who at the age of 11 are beginning to grasp nuance and expression.

Midway through the vocal part of the concert, Fenner from 5th grade stepped up to the mic to perform an Acapella version of The Beatles song, “Blackbird”. And from the moment she sang the first two lines, wonderful diction, holding her pitch and hitting the notes, I was washed over with feeling, and it struck me yet again why I love music. It was an emotionally symbolic moment where the connection between the melody and Fenner’s heart rocked her physical body along as she soared through the poetic lines of Lennon and McCartney. She had found her freedom, just like the lines hope for:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Black bird singing in the dead of night

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see

all your life

you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly

Into the light of the dark black night.

©: Lennon/McCartney Northern Songs Ltd.

The song was actually written in response to the Civil Rights struggle in the US, but these are symbolic words for all the kids in school as they start to grow up and move on to middle school, the place where dreams should be built.

As Fenner was singing, I looked at all those kids up there on stage and wished and hoped that they get encouragement and support to find something they are inspired by and then follow that path into their working life, thus finding their own freedom. In Nick Hornby’s “Songbook” he writes about the response he sees from his autistic son Danny when he hears “Puff The Magic Dragon” by Gregory Issacs. This is the incredible power music has, to allow us to transcend and be inspired. This is what we want for all our kids.  Magically I heard that in Fenner last night.

So go forward you youngsters, be inspired, and find your own voice.

10th November 2011

I see you in the mark on my face, and I see you in the paleness of my skin. You’ve never been so close, but here we are, 13 years on today. The kids play upstairs and the noises in the house echo. The heat comes on, a low rumble, the wind outside picks up and makes itself heard through the fireplace, announcing the arrival of another winter.

December 21st 2010 Short thoughts

The catskills dec 21 2010

8am

The bright sunlight reflects off the frosting on the ground and in the trees. Turkey vultures circle above, squawking excitement over some sorry deceased animal. It’s the only sound I can hear. I’m wishing happiness for everyone, no matter how modest or brief.

Joe Henry at 92st y dec 2010

Hunched over the piano singing his beautiful masterpiece, “Our Song”. “This was my country, this was my song, somewhere in the middle there though it started badly and it’s ending wrong”…”It’s my right if the worst of it might still somehow make me a better man”…It’s an optimistic cry. I hope your place feels safe, familiar, free of anger and disappointment. A position to build from, offering hope, and a chance. Make a CD compilation, call it “hope”, and give it as a gift.

Manchester December 2010

Cold, angry, drunk, beautiful city. Eastlands, place of dreams, stands to the east rising out of the perimeter city wastelands, the pennine moors  sweep beyond, offering a dramatic backdrop to this city’s desperate glory. Be safe.


Silverwood Colliery

This mine has gone now. It opened at the turn of the 20th century and closed 23rd Dec 1994. The National Coal Board gave my dad work for 30 plus years before he accepted voluntary redundancy. It gave us a house (below) with free home maintenance and a pile of coal once a month for heat. It gave us a village to grow up in where everyone seemed to know each other. As a child, it all felt right.

Through either accidents or respiratory problems caused by coal dust, Silverwood Colliery also took the life of both my Grandad’s and two of my Uncle’s, one at the age of 18 on his very first day. It also contributed enormously to my dad’s own health issues. After school when dad was working day shifts I would go over to meet him coming out of the mine at the pit head so I could walk over the road to  shower with the men and eat in the canteen. In the 1960’s there was very little protection for the miners from coal dust, and my enduring memory is of standing at the pit head with all those black faces coming through the exit – a dark corridor with brick walls –  only being able to recognize my dad when he was about 20 feet away. He never quite managed to get out all that dust from his face. When he died in November 1998 , as I was saying my goodbyes looking down at him in his casket, I  could see those dotted black marks around his face that betrayed how he had spent most of his working life.

My dad was a quiet man who had a hard upbringing. He rarely complained, despised going to the doctors, and generally displayed that stoic English manner common in his generation. Emotions were not for sharing.  Both his parents died young, he was largely raised by his older sister Doreen, to whom he was devoted throughout his lifetime. She remains the sole sibling from a family of nine children. For his entire adult life he lived 300 yards away from Doreen, and she in turn still lives in the same house in Sunnyside, Rotherham. After his death, Doreen told me he would try and stop by every day to say hello and look in on her.

I moved to London in 1978 but when visiting home I would go with my dad to the grave of my Grandma on my mother’s side, who I had lived with for a couple of years just after leaving school. She lived on the same street as my family growing up. After 10 years of these visits, my dad one day casually mentioned that both his parents lay in one of the graves a stone’s throw away. When I asked him how they had died he quickly said “ I can’t remember”, and afterwards that response made me realize that his inability to talk about feelings and his emotions was his way of dealing with pain. He died without me really knowing who he was. Had he led the life he wanted? Did he have dreams? (surely).. Were they realized? Had he found a place in life he could live happily? When I became a Father I vowed to break the cycle. My kids would grow up knowing who I was and where part of their heritage lies.

Yorkshire was a raw place to grow up in. Cold and damp much of the time, but surrounded by incredible beauty with the Yorkshire Dales (http://www.yorkshire-dales.com/) The Moors (http://www.yorkshiremoorsandcoast.com/ ) and The Pennines. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennines

Yorkshire Moors

Thanks to Petr Kratochvil for use of the above photo .And here’s where you can see more.

(http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/browse-author.php?a=1 )

The typical Yorkshire landscape in the photo above is the kind of setting that inspired Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. Haworth and The Bronte Parsonage and Museum is a worthwhile trip whether you like the book or not. The winding cobble street of Main St (below) with it’s small family owned shops makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the 19th century.

© Bronte Parsonage Museum

In the industrial region of South Yorkshire fists were preferable to words when it came to settling differences or if someone tabbed you for the “wrong look”. Alcohol was popular. Luckily I could play football, and by and large that excluded me from many school beatings and bullying. The early days were about a yearly holiday in Devon ( http://www.visitdevon.co.uk/) The Beatles, pop music, and the England football team that won the World Cup in 1966. In the early 1970’s for me and my friends it became about Rod Stewart and The Faces, the live music experience, the haircut and clothes, drinking cider in my friend Mick Bannon’s parents living room Friday night listening to “A Nods As Good As a Wink” on repeat.  For me personally it also became about Manchester City Football Club. I don’t recall one particular game or moment when I fell in love with City. Growing up in Rotherham, I supported my small Third Division home town team but everyone interested in Football had a favourite First Division team. The City kit had a great deal to do with it, the sky blue, claret and white combination looked stylish and dignified. The Red and Black stripes of the away kit looked continental and therefore menacing at the same time. But City also had Colin Bell, who looked like the perfect football player. Long blond hair, lean and graceful, he could run all day and displayed both class and style.

MAINE ROAD MANAGEMENT

One of the very few things I was able to share with my dad was a passion for Football.  I timed my home visits around Manchester City’s fixture schedule. We developed a ritual. I would drive over to his house for 12.30pm, he would make sandwiches and soup in a flask, and we would drive over the Moors to Maine Road Manchester to watch City. We arrived at 2pm, parked in one of the side streets, paid a kid some money to ostensibly “look after the car”, ie not damage it, have our pre match Bovril drink in the ground, then take our seats in the North Stand. He would have to leave the game 7 minutes or so from the end because he walked slowly due to his coal mining related knee injury. I’d run and catch up with him closer to the final whistle and try to get a jump on the traffic. Countless times he would miss a goal as a result.

In deciding to name my Company Maine Road Management, it was as much about the common bond I found with my dad as it was about the Football Club. The name helps keep the memory of him alive for me today.

David Whitehead 1928-1998.

MAINE ROAD MOSS SIDE MANCHESTER

The low lying North Stand can be seen in the foreground. Like many Football grounds in England it was built in a residential neighbourhood and you can clearly see the terraced houses surrounding the ground. I’ve not been back here since the ground was pulled down in 2003.

After 6 years of wasteland, here’s what looks like will happen on the site:

(http://www.manchester.gov.uk/news/article/5121/kick_start_for_homes_on_former_stadium_site)

MANCHESTER CITY

 

October 24th 2011

Carlos

Who really cares who’s right and who’s wrong at this point?

It’s long past the point of debate as to whether it was a misunderstanding or not. It’s not clear what Carlos or his agent feels they have to gain by being indignant and prepared to stretch this thing out as long as they possibly can. Everyone was wrong and you were right, so come on back, all is forgiven? All Carlos stands to gain is further damage to his reputation which rests as that of a malcontent who cannot be trusted. It doesn’t matter that you may have given your all on the pitch Carlos. That is the very least  the fans expect. The truth is that an apology for any misconception or any mis judgement on his part, and a vow to train and compete for a place in the team is all it would take to restore a sense of dignity and honour.  He has no future at Manchester City, but he surely does somewhere else, and it would  behoove him to act professionally and unselfishly and go into a new situation on a path of redemption come January.

Effort, dignity, honor and professionalism Carlos. Being a team player by definition requires compromises, and surely the end goal is success for the team not individual status.  I’m sure when he leaves City his agent will blame Mancini, blame anyone, excuse away the repeat behaviour. And some manager or chairman somewhere will have a large enough ego to think they can change him.

BLUE MOON RISING

“Its too late to change your mind (you let loss be your guide)” *

I love my football team. I’m crazy about them, and the romantic notions I have in my head about the values the team represents. A tradition and commitment to play entertaining football, built on the Lee, Bell, Summerbee, and Young years. A team with a passionate and loyal fan base, a team that represents not just a City but  the dreams of those that follow it. A team capable of restoring our losses in life, and well…. a team to be proud of. And as a City fan, that’s something that’s been hard to say for a long time.  There is something in the moral excellence and loyalty of my perception that is of course metaphorical. I can’t fool myself that easily anymore.

When the passion consumes like this though, sport is not a distraction, it’s a focus, a study, and the best way I can rationale it is that it offers me a chance to learn more about myself. It’s shocking to me that it can still affect my moods, not quite like it used to in the 1970’s but still….

In the recent Manchester derby game, despite playing very well, City lost 2-1. The game presented itself as another opportunity for City to demonstrate their progress in narrowing the gap between United, but after so many defeats to United when it matters the most, it really just felt like one more loss, nothing more or less. It’s hard to mask the disappointment, the negative feelings of inevitability and submission…but myself and all the other fanatics will come back for more. We constantly walk the line between anticipation, hope, pride, and naturally, foreboding. Losses in big games at least allow me to practice my zen. When my dad used to say “I’ve ginn it best me…I’m off tah Joker”, it meant he’d lost patience and was going to the pub instead of hopelessly carrying on with the task in hand….And sure enough, after a half dozen pints of bitter and an afternoon nap he would be back to continue the torture and try fix that leaking tap, running toilet, or whatever it was he struggled with. So after a couple of days moping around, my sports pulse returns and I’m ready to start the emotional cycle all again. This has gone on for 45 years. I could trace it’s origins back to England winning the World Cup in 1966, when I remember running out into the street just after the presentation of the trophy and emulating Jeff Hurst’s goals against our garden fence.  The next door neighbour Madge Oakley quickly yelled at me for making noise (huh?), as George was sleeping, working nights down the coal mine and he had to get up for work soon. The glory had to be re enacted elsewhere. Subsequently I had my dad help me build a goal net on our garden so future dramas could be played out without further interruption, though that didn’t stop my Aunty Mary next door from giving me occasional hell, especially if the ball hit her washing.

Manchester City is a club built on family values, something which from the outside given the newly found wealth and overseas ownership is difficult to believe in. I’m forever indebted to Lionel Conway for affording me an introduction to the Directors of the Club. On my very first time walking through the club doors I saw Colin Bell my boyhood hero standing at the foot of the stairs leading up to the lounge areas. Now, as a boy, I used to try and play like this man. So the discreet thrill and the sensation of time slowing down transported me back to the cold dark nights spent on the terraces in Moss Side Manchester, the roars of appreciation ringing aloud. I would fashion my physical movements on his, and mimic the way he wore his shirt and socks. Seeing him standing there took my breath for a moment and evoked memories of my dad, and the happy times we spent watching City. Perhaps it’s just the lack of success the club has had that explains it’s homeliness, but I’m inclined (naturally) to believe there is a genuine attempt to honor the everyman culture the club has had since the 1960’s, and it’s embodiment lies in Joe Mercer, arguably the finest manager City has ever had. On a recent visit I was sitting in the Directors guest lounge, and I met Janice, the kit lady at Maine Rd for over 30 years. She’s now retired, and was visiting NY with her husband for the very first time this year.  Janice described Mike Summerbee amongst other players as being like a son. She told me stories of the club allowing her to keep the FA Cup at her house one night. How the club treated her so well she could not but feel like part of a family. And there in the lounge were the players that thrilled me in my youth: Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Tony Book, Joe Corrigan. And in talking to them it’s apparent that these are down to earth working class men who just happened to be born with a god given gift. Here are some of the finest and modest footballers to ever wear the City and England national shirt. Parts of the stadium and surroundings are named after them, eg the Colin Bell stand, Joe Mercer Way, The Mike Summerbee Bar. They continue to live in Manchester, that part of the world where they achieved fame. It all feels such a stark contrast to the celebrity and transient world of rock and roll. In the corner of the lounge sits Norah, Joe Mercer’s wife, who is now over 90 years old, she has her 1970’s styled City ‘bar scarf’ on, engaged in conversation about the match and all things City. These people form a dream like sequence for me, as if I’m in an after life returning to a scene I saw and admired only  from a distance in my youth. But this time I’m right there with them, not observing from afar.

In talking with Directors there is a strong appreciation of the past, and there is a consciousness at all times to respect the club’s heritage. The philosophy is acknowledged as if it’s not something one necessarily needs to come in with but it’s something one needs to grasp and relate to to be able to properly represent the club. My privileged glimpse reveals what I believe to be the soul of the Club and it’s desire to do well and also importantly do right for the community. When you park your car and walk up Joe Mercer Way, there are 2 mosaics by Mark Kennedy. One shows Joe holding up the league championship trophy and the other shows him standing with his back to the old Kippax stand at Maine Rd. These serve as a gloried reminder and compass for the merging of past and present. All that’s missing now for City fans is a trophy and when that day comes we will all have “ginn it best” and go down the pub to celebrate.

I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Mike Summerbee for his incredible kindness, generosity of time, and modest desire to share the thrill of the journey. I cannot imagine a finer Club Ambassador.

* Broken Bells.  It might be “laws”, not “loss”. But the latter works much better for me here.

The business of music

December 6th 2010

Sufjan Stevens…..More.

In 1978 a girlfriend invited me to a Peter Gabriel concert at the London Hammersmith Odeon. This was just after Peter had left Genesis, and around the time of “Solsbury Hill”. I don’t recall much about the music that night, I was not a fan of Genesis, but I was very interested in Sally, so I happily accepted the invitation. What I do recall that night though, is seeing for the very first time a show with Big Production. The stage featured various props and built sets, including if I remember rightly, trees and a house.   Peter would appear in various costumes in the oddest of places, singing from some ledge 15 feet in the air. This was all new to me, and over time in the wrong hands  the “show” aspect of live music went on to become overblown and pompous. Rick Wakeman’s “King Arthur and the Knights Of The Round Table” (abbreviated title) performed on ice no less, comes to mind.  I was used to seeing The Faces stumble around a stage with no props except scattered bottles of wine and beer, plus the occasional football kicked into the crowd. Nick Lowe, Elvis, and Graham Parker at The Nashville, Hope and Anchor or Dingwalls also didn’t carry the same pomp and circumstance. It was all about the music and drink -in- hand- having a good time. Standing up to see  a show in a pub does not indicate the same experience as taking your seat in a splendid renovated theater for a couple of hours, as was the case at The Beacon Theater Nov 15th where I was fortunate enough to see Sufjan Stevens finish his US tour. Sufjan is part of the new wave of younger artists that think hard about how to present a show  that the audience can emotionally participate in rather than just observe, and the emphasis is very much on music staging rather than props. So..I saw a wonderfully tight band, backing singers / dancers, projections both front and back stage, and 2 hours of glorious modern indie pop opera.  At times choreographed, at other times appearing to just wing it, above everything it was joyous music performed with artistic abandon; Sufjan infectiously laying his soul out on the stage in what amounted to a homecoming finale to the “Adz” tour. There were a few folks that cried out for just the banjo, but it seemed reductive to deny this show as a testament to how far Sufjan has come as a songwriter, singer, entertainer and performer.

It’s been 35 years since  I slept on the floor of Paddington Station having made the trip to Reading to see Wishbone Ash and missing the train home. And it’s 35 years ago since I took a day off work to take the train down to London to see Rod Stewart at Olympia, catching the night train home, arriving in Sheffield at 5am to go home and get to work for 9. The Sufjan Stevens show at The Beacon reminded me of what it’s like to be a fan all over again.

Sufjan Stevens : “Djohariah” from the ep “All Delighted People”

It opens up like a Leonard Cohen song poem, with a choir of grieving angels repeatedly harmonising “wuuu who”, before it states the main theme. The song progresses through various levels of ascending grief, still repeating the main theme, the mantra “Djohariah Djohariah”, and bridged with the wailing voice of treated guitar solos. It’s an 11 1/2 minute intro before the angels grieving calms, and Sufjan begins his  tender  bitter vocal. This is modern indie opera. Incredibly brave and emotional music. If I was Pink Floyd, I’d give Sufjan my entire body of work with carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. Instead, we get Roger Waters asking  “Is there anybody out there”. Again….

http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/album/all-delighted-people-ep

All Delighted People EP, by Sufjan Stevens
sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com
8 track album

Rough Trade (as in…a Group of Companies)

Neil Taylor has just written a book about Rough Trade called “Document and Eyewitness”. As far as I can tell, it’s only published in the UK right now: bit.ly/98CTqt

The book is written in an oral history style, including interviews with most of the major Rough Trade personnel throughout the years. I worked at RT from 1986-89, and Neil interviewed me extensively. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of my own remembrances, but I’m reading common themes of disappointment, anger and bitterness about how the story unfolded.  Of more interest though, there’s also a tone of bewilderment. This tone not only betrays the extent of the influence the experience had on employees lives, but it leaves a lasting imprint on how special the company really was. The internal  conflicts are well documented and understandable. Filled with a range of idealistic people that could either express themselves very well, or not at all, the fluid ‘outsider’ culture was all pervading and at times contradictory. Aaron Rose’s documentary “The Beautiful losers” could just as well have cast half the RT staff in the role of  the awkward outsiders he refers to. One employee being banned from entering Production because he “confused” staff, warehouse workers going on strike, welfare meetings discussing someone’s coat that had been ripped on a door handle,  this was all part of the internal workings. The weight of it all ultimately dragged me down, but in retrospect the manifesto was always valuable. I’d like to think that given time,  and in a new era of communications, the company would have developed a more refined approach.

Despite the disappointing ending of RT, I’d like to echo the tone of Neil’s foreword and use this opportunity to acknowledge what the company achieved and stood for. I’m proud of my time at RT. At one point I remember saying to Simon Edwards ,my closest compadre, “we’re the best at what we do. no one understands or comes close to our approach”. This was 1987, not 2010 where “tradition” is routinely being dismantled. I just can never imagine that many unique characters converging together again, at that young time in their lives and at such a marvelous period in music history. RT was not just a company of it’s time but a prototype in considering the very definition of “independent”. It reflected a culture and spirit that started with a love of music (not in itself enough to warrant specialness)  but an idealism that contradicted music business motives. A belief that things could and should be done differently. It was not about singular gain, and for that  I acknowledge the founders, especially Geoff and Richard Scott, who allowed that seed to grow.

Rough Trade (ie: the group of companies)  lifespan was too short and it ended badly, not simply because many of it’s supporters lost money, but it signaled the end of a collective culture. It’s competitors feasted on it’s demise, saying all along that the company had no “real” managerial expertise and operated fecklessly. Most or all of these Companies have since gone on to declare bankruptcy or have been salvaged by a large corporation.

I’m bouyed by the motives of artists like Jack Johnson, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, and others that are showing remarkable conscience in what they do and the sense of new values that say “not just for profit”. So while I believe we will never see another Rough Trade again the way it was, I do think we will see elevated consciousness from folks wanting to create their own legacies which are not simply about how much money has been made and how many records have been sold. I think we will see it in niches, independently minded spirits who take control of their destiny and shape their own values.

Means to me


Paul Smith

I started buying Paul Smith’s clothes in the early 80’s and I still wear some things made by him that I bought back then. He introduced bold colours and a remarkable range of fabrics and designs that were instantly copied on the high street. His shop in Floral St London made the shopping experience enjoyable. The staff were always pleasant and laid back, exerting no sales pressure at all. I remember the lovely mahogany cabinets with the smell of wood polish. The clothes were stored inside but you could freely dig in and take stuff out to try on and look at. Sir Paul inspires me far beyond simply making great clothes. I read an interview with him recently and it surprised me to realise he was 63 years old. My immediate thought was that he may be producing work for only another 15 years or so, and the idea of not having his inspiration around reaffirmed how much I’ve enjoyed what he’s been doing for the past 30 plus years. To this day Sir Paul only sells things in his stores that he likes, making the stores a direct expression of his individual taste. His Los Angeles store on Melrose Ave is painted pink!

Contrary to trends in the fashion business, the Company is still owned by Sir Paul and his wife Pauline Denyer, with 2 other members of his Board.  Sir Paul acts as Chairman and Head Designer. He remains an incredibly down to earth person who frequently visits his stores and talks to customers. The few folks I know who work for the company have nothing but good things to say about him. His independence and ability to express himself in wonderfully creative ways through his designs and various collaborations reminds me of David Byrne’s work. Sir Paul’s own ‘brand’ is never clouded by any of the collaborations and as such his identity remains singular. His business is now global and very significant, yet it remains remarkably personal. That’s a unique quality, and serves as a tremendous inspiration. That seems to me like something worth preserving and emulating. I highly recommend his book below. It’s painstakingly (de) constructed in form, and it’s a great read or something to just flick through from time to time. http://amzn.to/9JfPlH

For more information you can go to http://www.paulsmith.co.uk/

Andy Goldsworthy

I split my time between Woodstock which is my primary residence, and New York City where my office is based. The Catskills are a  special part of the world. Friends and clients who visit usually find themselves speculating on how they can afford a summer place or second home. Or how they can rent a place in the mountains for a few months to write. There’s a pull to the place that’s related to space and our relationship with nature and earth. My old Buddhist therapist in London used to tell me to go sit by a tree to feel my connectedness to the earth. I’ve got plenty of trees in my yard now to do that. In 1903 an Arts and Crafts Colony was founded in a part of Woodstock later called Byrdcliffe. It seems that the founders Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead (no relation) and his wife Jane Byrd McCall  looked at many places before settling on Woodstock, where Ralph Whitehead felt the town’s position – neatly settled between two mountains – was both spiritually and artistically stimulating. The utopian self sufficiency model they envisaged didn’t work out, but Byrdcliffe is known as a functioning Arts Colony to this day. What makes Woodstock so comfortable for me is that in some respects it reminds me of Yorkshire. It’s much more mountainous of course, as opposed to rolling fields, but it has stone walls everywhere, low lying mists, winding country lanes, and the changing seasons are marvelous. About 40 miles south of Woodstock down the NYS thruway is  Storm King Art Center. Incredibly, there’s a wall at Storm King, built by Andy Goldsworthy. (http://www.stormking.org/AndyGoldsworthy.html )

Mr Goldsworthy comes from Cheshire England, about 50 miles west of Yorkshire. Because it summarises beautifully what he’s about, I’m going to quote directly from this bio that as far as I can tell is from UC Royal Walters College Cincinnati: “Andy Goldsworthy is an extraordinary, innovative British artist whose collaborations with nature produce uniquely personal and intense artworks. Using a seemingly endless range of natural materials—snow, ice, leaves, bark, rock, clay, stones, feathers petals, twigs—he creates outdoor sculpture that manifests, however fleeting, a sympathetic contact with the natural world. Before they disappear, or as they disappear, Goldsworthy, records his work in superb color photographs. Goldsworthy deliberately explores the tension of working in the area where he finds his materials, and is undeterred by changes in the weather which may melt a spectacular ice arch or wash away a delicate structure of grasses. The intention is not to “make his mark” on the landscape, but rather to work with it instinctively, so that a delicate scene of bamboo or massive snow rings or a circle of leaves floating in a pool create a new perception and an ever growing understanding of the land”.

Wow. There you have it. If you feel any strong connection to the earth and elements you have to see this man’s work. He’s incredibly driven and focused and he’s developed such a defined individual voice. A true inspiration.

Here’s an overview. bit.ly/bVhkoV

And here’s some things I recommend:

bit.ly/bhqxaQ

bit.ly/ami0kI

bit.ly/aXZ0eK

Alan Bennett

Author, Actor, Humourist and Playwright Alan Bennett is an English treasure, a punk rocker and a Yorkshireman too.  In 1960 he created and wrote the stage revue “Beyond The Fringe” with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and  Jonathan Miller. In what was clearly an inspiration and influence on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, “Beyond The Fringe” along with “The Goon Show” and “Hancock’s Half Hour” to all intents and purposes gave birth to English social satire. Specifically the show gave voice to the first generation of English folk growing up after the World Wars. It’s where the loss of national identity, irony and the mocking of authority and tradition were first explored. This was bold stuff back then. They suffered their share of ridicule and critisism from patriots and war veterans. These themes have since been fostered by John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson, Rik Mayall, Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard,  and many others.

Here’s some Youtube clips: bit.ly/9NsWsA

Bennett’s work includes  “The Madness of King George 111”, “The History Boys” and “Talking Heads” a series of Monologues for TV. His stage play “Lady in the Van” is about a tramp who lived in various vans for 15 years on his driveway.

“Talking Heads”:

bit.ly/cWPSxX

His prose collection “Untold Stories” deals with his family history of mental illness. By turn it is remarkably candid and deeply moving. His style of writing is very humanitarian. In October 2008 Bennett announced that he was donating his entire archive of working papers, unpublished manuscripts, diaries and books to the Bodleian Library free of charge, stating that it was a gesture of thanks repaying a debt he felt he owed to the UK’s social welfare system that had given him educational opportunities which his humble family background would otherwise never have afforded.

David Peace

I’ve never been interested that much in crime writing, though it’s unfair to categorise David Peace simply as a crime writer. So for the record, he’s an English Author. Well, to be specific, he’s from Yorkshire. In the terrific interview below in the Guardian, there’s a cliché quote that jumped out at me and summarized a lot of what I’ve been feeling these past 5 years: “It’s like that cliché: we spend the first 40 years of our lives trying to escape from where we started out and the next 40 trying to get back there”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/feb/22/fiction-david-peace-the-damned-utd

Perhaps this explains why my mind often wanders off imagining buying a small cottage somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales and using it as a summer home when the kids are out of school. Then I get to think of all the great places in the world I could spend a summer in and wonder if Yorkshire really would be one of them? Plus the hassle I would get from the Inland Revenue. Not forgetting too the fact that the cold damp place has become increasingly desirable (ie expensive) over the last 15 years, in the way that The Catskills (gorgeous in summer) has for NYC residents. Going back to Yorkshire feels great, but after a few days I start to realize why I left in the first place. Inbred attitudes and a sense of oppression that beats you into thinking nothing is possible, never mind anything is possible, which is the feeling I still get from New York. That’s a harsh assessment because there are some things I love; the simplicity of life, the lack of vanity, and a strong sense of community. But generally the induced sense of helplessness and attitude of “you’re born here and you die here” becomes quickly overwhelming.

David Peace’s core body of work (and a great starting point) is known as “The Red Riding Quartet”. It involves 4 books set in Yorkshire between the years 1974 – 1983. Respectively the books are “1974”, “1977”, “1980”, and “1983”. Each book is set to the backdrop of then current events including The Yorkshire Ripper and Police corruption. Growing up in Yorkshire  makes this stuff gripping reading for me, giving birth to the past and a chance to gain new understanding. Not only do I understand the anger and it’s origins in these books but I can still feel the terror it invoked. This Yorkshire I grew up in was characterised by malevolents and malcontents, especially amongst the post world war first generation, and these books do a great job reflecting that attitude. “Red Riding” a 3 part TV adaptation of the series aired on Channel 4 in 2009 and has been picked up by IFC for US broadcast.

After the Red Riding Quartet, Peace wrote “GB84”, a brilliantly fictionalized account of the UK Miners Strike 1984-85. This stuff resonates with me because my Dad was a Miner, arrested during the strike on a picket line in Nottingham. The strike was initiated in protest of job cuts. It became a year long war of attrition spitefully driven by then PM Margaret Thatcher and her intense desire to bring down the Unions who had embarrassed her predecessor Ted Heath in the 1970’s.

The largest scale clash between miners and police came in what was called “The Battle of Orgreave”, a local steel plant in Rotherham, my home town. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Orgreave

It’s hard to understate the effect the Strike had on the Country both during and after, and not just on the Mining Industry and local communities. The country was greatly divided in opinion, newspaper and media coverage was widely polarizing, with subsequent accusations and acknowledgement of wire tapping, doctored evidence and deliberate misrepresentation by government sources. Unemployment was as high as 50% in some mining towns, other heavy industries such as steel and railroads were adversely affected.  The struggle symbolized the class conflict in England which the Thatcher government fueled with it’s apparent apathy towards poverty and the working classes in general. In 1994, 10 years after the strike, South Yorkshire was classified by the European Union as an area in need of special economic development, and the whole of West Yorkshire, where David Peace comes from was classified in need of special assistance. 10 people in total died during the strike, 3 were teenagers doing what I did with my dad, which was going up to the coal tip at night searching through the slag heap for lumps of coal to burn. With no coal being produced, we were forced to find alternate ways to heat the house. We would go to the woods and chop down trees to burn and shamelessly steal coke at night from the local school. School deliveries were exempt from union enforcement policy. The strike lasted a year. The miners returned to work without a new deal or any reassurances there would be no further closures. Many miners wife’s handed out carnations (a symbol of heroism) at the mine. The dismantling of the Coal Industry began. Whether the Industry as a Nationalized Corporation had a sustainable future is debatable. The manner in which the Thatcher Government went about the process of change is not.

On the subject of Working Class Hero’s, David Peace’s next book was called “The Damned United”. Self described as a “fiction based on a fact”, it’s a brilliant account of Soccer Manager Brian Clough’s 44 days in charge of Leeds United. The book has since been made into a wonderful film with Michael Sheen playing the role of Clough.

Peace lived in Tokyo between 1994-99 and set about writing a trilogy of novels set in US occupied Tokyo post World War 2. “Tokyo Year Zero” is the first, following a beaten down disillusioned detective investigating the murders of young women around the city and based on a true account of a serial killer. Book 2 is called  “Occupied City” released in 2009 which I’ve yet to read. Book 3 is tentatively called “Tokyo Regained” with as yet no scheduled release date.

British New Wave Films

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_New_Wave

A style of film making that drew particular attention to the social injustices and every day struggles of working classes, especially in the North of England. The Wikipedia entry above lists most of the essential films, I would add Ken Loach’s “Kes” to the list. The film is based on a book “A Kestrel for a Knave” written by Barry Hines. It deals with the life of Billy Casper, a young boy growing up in Yorkshire with little hope of a future beyond Coal Mining. He finds his passion (and his hope) when he comes across a Kestrel that he trains, opening up an obsession with Falconry. There’s no Hollywood ending (as in “Billy Elliot”), and the film portrays the cruelty of the times and society he lived in. The casting is brilliant, featuring Brian Glover as the (recognizable) bullying school sports teacher. Here’s the original film poster:

Great British Filmaking in the 1960’s

Actors:

Michael Caine

Julie Christie

Albert Finney

Maggie Smith

Lynn Redgrave

Tom Courtenay

Richard Burton

Rita Tushingham

Tom Courtenay holds a special place in my heart for playing the lead in 2 of my favourite films:

“Loneliness Of A Long Distance Runner” Courtenay plays the role of a working class Northern teenager who’s sent to a prison school for committing a robbery. He seeks comfort in long distance running. He ends up deliberately pulling short at the finishing line in a race against another prison to defy the authority of his establishment jailors.

“Billy Liar”: Courtenay plays the role of Billy Fisher, a bored junior clerk at an undertakers who spends his days dreaming of becoming a comedy writer. Set in a fictitious Northern town, Billy is engaged to 3 different girls. He meets Liz (Julie Christie) who unlike his fiancés not only understands him, but encourages him to make his dreams come true. He’s suddenly confronted with the dilemma of finding the courage to leave behind all that’s familiar but soul destroying to him. His inability to go through with it reveals the extent to which society can suppress hope and ultimately render impotent the longing desire for self expression.

Directors list.

Lindsay Anderson (“If”, “This Sporting Life”)

John Schlesinger (“A Kind of loving”, “Billy Liar”)

Tony Richardson (“Loneliness of the long distance runner”, “Look Back in Anger”, “A Taste of Honey”)

Richard Lester (The Beatles films)

Karel Reisz (“Saturday night and Sunday morning”)

Jack Clayton (“Room at the top”)

Lewis Gilbert (“Alfie”)

Angry Young Men (Playwrights and Authors) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angry_young_men