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/
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:
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.
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.
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”
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
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
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.
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