Sunday, 14 April 2013

London Loves.....Johnny Marr

So, I’m at the Coachella festival out in the Californian desert this weekend and I got to meet and interview one of my all time heroes Johnny Marr. Which was nice. I even got him to talk about my hometown Wood Green, where the Smiths recorded the single ‘Panic’ in 1986. He was a very, very nice chap.

Here’s the interview in full:

London Loves: I don’t normally do this, interviewing my idols…
Johnny: It’s alright. I’m nice.

London Loves: I've been told I can ask two or three questions, so I've gotta pick good ones.
Johnny: Ok, I’ll give you good answers then.

London Loves: I’ll start off with a funny one…So, Margaret Thatcher’s dead. D’you reckon she listened to the Smiths?
Johnny: Errr….I don’t think she er…. [LAUGHS] I don’t know, she probably likes Barron Knights or someone like that.

London Loves: [Think she listens to] Beethoven…?
Johnny: Yeah..probably Beethoven over a Sunday roast

London Loves: …with Denis…
Johnny: My thoughts about her dying are that, when you see the word ‘Thatcherism’, nobody can convince me that word is anything other than very, very negative. No matter where you are on the political spectrum. And I thought that David Cameron’s statement that she made Britain great was not only disingenuous but it was a lie and an utter insult to a few generations of families in Wales, the north of England and many places around the UK who have had to deal with the effects of her legacy for thirty odd years. So I thought it was really distasteful that he did that and beyond jingoistic bullshit.

London Loves: I think you’re right, I was born in 1979 the year she was elected so when I was 17 was when Blair got into power, I won’t blow his trumpet now but it was so amazing when New Labour finally got into power in 1997 because my entire life until I was 17 was just Conservative government which is just weird.
Johnny: Right. Where was that then?

London Loves: What? Where?
Johnny: Yeah, where?

London Loves: Well that was my next question right..I grew up in Wood Green in North London, and I was gonna ask you do you remember…
Johnny: That’s where we did ‘Panic’

London Loves: [LAUGHS hugs Johnny] you do remember it?
Johnny: I do remember it yeah.

London Loves: The Livingstone Studios…
Johnny: Were you aware of it at the time?

London Loves: No, I didn’t realise until…I knew it was in the Chocolate Factory, in the Wood Green Cultural Quarter but I didn’t realise until I read that book, Songs That Saved Your Life, which was an amazing book…
Johnny: That was a good book yeah, that was the only [Smiths] book that I thought was any good.

London Loves: Yeah, Severed Alliance….I once won that book as a school prize
Johnny: Oh, just cynical nonsense.

London Loves: Terrible. But, Wood Green. Do you remember recording Panic there?

Johnny: Yeah, very well yeah. I went to Wood Green as well to record with Billy Bragg when we did Greetings To The New Brunette and the b side of Levi Stubbs ‘Tears’ had this spoken word thing that I played The Four Tops ‘Walk Away Renee’ on and they were both done in Livingstone as well.

London Loves: Was it a good studio?
Johnny: The studio was great, but the area was a little errr…. boring. The shopping centre right? [LAUGHS]. There’s a shopping centre nearby. I remember thinking ‘this is probably what Slough looks like’

London Loves: Slough’s worse.
Johnny: No you’re only saying that because you’re from Wood Green

London Loves: [LAUGHS] Wood Green’s fucking amazing. There’s a big Turkish community…
Johnny: I remember there were some good places to eat there…

London Loves: And you recorded Ask in Finsbury Park which is down the road. I’m an Arsenal fan. That sound in the background on Ask… Ask is my favourite pop song ever recorded. You don’t like it that much do you?
Johnny: Not particularly. I’m not crazy about it no.

London Loves: I absolutely adore it. And that chugga-chugga-chugga thing.
Johnny: Yeah it’s a harmonica.

London Loves: You playing a harmonica?
Johnny: Yeah, I like that bit because it’s just a sonic device that had nothing to do with clever musicianship or being commercial other than one of those… occasionally I get into a hook where it just goes [imitates the chugga-chugga sound] and it’s the same reason why I liked the thing that starts off ‘How Soon Is Now?’

London Loves: You played that SO well [here at Coachella]
Johnny: Yeah the band are really good

London Loves: Haven? Yeah I just saw them walk past.
Johnny: The rhythm section are great. The guitar player’s this guy called Doviak he’s like this mad scientist genius guy.

London Loves: So you knew him from back then?
Johnny: Doviak’s played with me since 2002 and Iwan played with me when I played Patti Smith’s Meltdown and then Jack I produced in Haven.

London Loves: So it feels good doing your solo project?
Johnny: Yeah, feels great. Especially as people like it. There’s nothing quite like people liking it to give you a bit of chutzpah.

London Loves: One final question, you know when you were in the Smiths you used to be physically sick from nerves before you went onstage, has that gone?
Johnny: Yeah I started to lose that around the end of The The it was just pressure and always being on a 100% hype out. It’s not good for you but now I do so many shows…

London Loves: Yeah you were throwing shapes…
Johnny: I never get too complacent before I go because I think about certain people in the audience and I think about them and it’s a fine line between getting yourself psyched up and making sure you sound good. If you’re too hyped out you don’t sound right, I don’t wanna fuck with my tunes.

London Loves: You feel confident now?
Johnny: Yeah still get the jitters but nothing like I used to.

And then he was gone. Oh, after I took the photo with him. The man is basically a god.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

London Loves.....Pocklington

The Breese Little gallery in Clerkenwell is another of London's many fascinating little artistic spaces providing an environment for emerging artists to exhibit their work.

Currently on display is a collection of enchanting crayon drawings by Freya Pocklington called Wolves Find Dogs Delicious. The dark, fairytale-like connotations of the title are reflected in the work. While on the surface they are dreamlike soft images of dogs, children, sausages - all very Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake-esque - there is some of the dark undertones of Roald Dahl's tales in the subject matter. One can never quite tell what is being implied, or even threatened, by the characters but always there is a sense of menace.

Scrawny arms and limbs may denote malnutrition, a scrawny hunch backed hyena with doe-like eyes stares out of the painting with an imploring expression. Scraps of meat, bones and sausages seem like they may be part of an elaborate trap, or simply there to mock and tease these bewildered beasts. In another image a child in a fox's costume looks at a forlorn, possibly drugged rabbit.

Wonderful scenes, but what do they all mean? I asked the artist herself...

London Loves: What do animals mean to you?

Freya Pocklington: I look at the relationship between humans and animals, using them as a symbol for our more animalistic side; the part of us which breaks away from conforming to society's demands. I also like the hilarity of them being pets, how we talk to them as if they are humans and how some owners shave their dogs to look like teenage mutant ninja turtles or a lion. Last week I heard a lady asking her dog in the park not to poo on the grass.

London Loves: Do you think humans can be judged/assessed according to their attitudes/affinity towards animals?

Freya Pocklington: I think that as a society we have become more distant from animals and thus nature. This can only be a bad thing as we are becoming more detached from where food comes from and what we are doing to the planet.

On the other hand I think that the idea of humanising animals is particularly interesting and sometimes obscene. I regularly search the trashy newspapers for animal stories as they choose the most out-there and silly stories. I read one story last week of a dog which had a very human face and a few months ago a story about a man who lives with wolves and eats raw meat with them.

London Loves: Do you have a particular fondness for dogs?

Freya Pocklington: Not as much as you would think! I have a particular fondness for other animals such as anteaters and servals. I have chosen dogs because they represent our obsession with trying to make things human which aren’t. I find the whole idea of pedigree dogs fairly upsetting due to the poor health and welfare issues. The ones that really interest me are stray dogs as they are fascinating to study and seem to have more personality and charisma than their more groomed counterparts. I lived with twelve rescued/stray dogs in Portugal for a while and studied the hierarchies and behaviour within the group. The truly gruesome and ugly one of the group was actually the kindest and had a lot of character.

London Loves: The title Wolves Find Dogs Delicious..where does it come from?

Freya Pocklington: I found it on a website stating ten facts about wolves. Wolves are cannibals and dogs were bred from the grey wolf. Chihuahuas are a long way from their ancestors but I like the fact that such a pampered pet came from such a creature.

London Loves: Anthropomorphism is something humans have been doing for a long long time. Do you think it is helpful and in a way, is it the reason animal lovers love animals? Narcissism?

Freya Pocklington: Some of my pieces mock anthropomorphism in that we place too many human traits on objects and animals. The title itself suggests that we forget where animals come from and their natural instincts.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theories on stages of utopias intrigue me as he suggests we go through three stages; firstly free individuals, mostly solitary, then moving to a form of mixed existence with conflicting ideas on freedom, alongside the benefit of community, but finishing up, as Huxley describes in his book 'Brave New World', in a place which is purely social. I am looking at how we are trying to condition animals into social states. There are plenty of reports in the media about dogs and foxes biting people and reacting against humans who encroach on their world or try and make them tame. I think anthropomorphism is partly to blame as we are forgetting what an animals true state is. 'Fantastic Mr Fox' or 'The Wind in The Willows' make animals seem like cute and cuddly creatures.

On the other hand, animals can be a great way of communicating difficult subject matters. George Orwells ‘Animal Farm’ couldn’t have been told in any other way and Art Spiegelman's ‘Maus’ using animals in a comic book format to show his personal experience of the Holocaust using human faces, would have been too harrowing and inaccessible. We empathise with animals as they cannot tell us their feelings, they are unreadable and vulnerable and this can be a great tool for an artist or writer to emphasise a point.

London Loves: The works themselves have a kind of cartoony innocence in their aesthetics but closer inspection reveals kind of dark, troubling and uncertain images. Where do you think the inspiration for this combination comes from?

Freya Pocklington: From Walt Disney cartoons, Wizard of Oz with its scary talking bodiless heads and 'Orlando' ('The Marmalade Cat'). I am also a big fan of Armen Eloyan who paints rather cruel cartoons, almost angry deflated creatures from forgotten films or billboards. I like his dark humour and how he appears to see through the ‘cute’ and paint the absurdity of it.

London Loves: Tell me about the technique you've used. I'm particularly interested in the Conte crayon drawing technique and how you achieve the smooth almost dreamy effect...?

Freya Pocklington: I used to draw very neat large drawings in pencil, which took me months. I found it quite laborious and meant I could only work in my studio as I was worried they would get damaged. I moved to Italy for a bit and drew on location in museums, so my materials changed and I introduced colour and the pastels are so vibrant and easy to use. I create a surface by rubbing the pastel over paper and then draw very using the HB black. After I have introduced the coloured conte I get a big brush and wash various inks over the work. This is always scary as some works can get ruined this way! I then build up the drawings with more drawing and ink washes which is almost like painting.

London Loves: What are you working on next?

Freya Pocklington: I'm afraid I'm not much of a planner, but I have recently been studying female dominance in mammals and researching the hyena, which is a fascinating animal. I like to dispel anthropomorphic myths and this animal has such a history of a bad reputation. I am also currently planning a series of prints, which look at complex insect systems.

Wolves Find Dogs Delicious is on at the Breese Little, 30D Greatt Sutton Street, Clerkenwell

Freya Pocklington is giving an artist's Q&A session tonight Tuesday 19th Feburary at 6.30pm

Saturday, 5 January 2013

London Loves.....Adjani

                     'How To make Love To a Priest's Daughter' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

“I’ve lost a few friends because of my art” says Adjani Okpu-Egbe standing in the basement of the Mok Space gallery opposite the British Museum. “Girlfriends too. I didn’t have time to go out. It’s expensive, buying canvas and paint brushes. But I was so depressed that it was therapeutic.”

Okpu-Egbe’s determination to succeed is clear. His talent, too, is apparent. In the past year he has put on his first solo London exhibition (‘Letting Go’ at Mok Space), appeared on the BBC’s Diamond Jubilee coverage painting in front of millions, exhibited in New York and Los Angeles and now returns to London with a new show ‘Community Man’ at the Brick Box in Brixton market.

His remarkable journey as an artist is barely a year old. Self-taught, he only seriously began painting in earnest after a bad injury whilst on duty with the British Army in Kuwait in 2009 caused him to become physically immobilised and so depressed that painting was the only form of therapy that gave him purpose and happiness. “If it wasn’t for my art and my daughter I wouldn’t be here right now” he tells me while we chat about less profound but equally meaningful subjects (football and women). Football in fact is a big inspiration to his work and explains a lot about how and why he became an artist. Born in Cameroon his early dreams, like most, were to become a footballer. 

                                'Head of A British Commonwealth Soldier' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

“My father was a business man and wanted me to follow him but I was not interested in his lifestyle. He didn’t allow me to play football. I had an opportunity to play at an academy but my father chased the men away. I was forced to do Maths but I would just paint pictures of famous footballers. Maradona, Roger Milla, Gary Lineker…who's that other guy with the long hair…for Marseille…? ” After some deliberation I realise he is talking about ChrisWaddle. Some of Adjani’s friends went on to play for club sides in Cameroon and had trials in England. Meanwhile he was forced to stay in doing maths equations. If his father caught him painting pictures of footballers he would beat him. “Sometimes I wouldn’t have time to flip the page over [when I heard him coming] so I’d start doing my mathematics on top of my artwork. So if you look at every piece of work there’s a maths equation in it – straight from my childhood.”

Later, he moved to England and joined the British Army. Many of the pictures in his collection were painted in his tiny room on the military base at Abingdon in Oxfordshire while recovering from injuries sustained on duty. Two years ago, during the aftermath of the London riots he was painting in the street, trying to encourage youths and re-instil a sense of community togetherness when he was arrested by the police who alleged he had looted a t-shirt. He produced the receipt for the t-shirt he had in fact bought but they ignored his claims and he ended up on the cover of the Wandsworth Guardian. Ultimately, the attention may have helped him but the incident highlighted a disturbing trend in indiscriminate policing that followed those dark days of summer.

So, what does his art represent? “Social injustice really pisses me off” he says. “I can hear just a comment. Sometimes I eavesdrop. I can change direction, follow people, paint what they say. Most of the work is autobiographical and I’m very prolific. I can start painting whenever, if I’m pissed off and have nothing to paint on I will paint on your shoes.”

He’s not just saying this for effect, he’s wearing an outrageously colourful pair of converse painted beautifully in his usual acrylics. Later he posts on facebook pictures of his flat where he has spontaneously painted nearly every surface and door in the place. I wonder what the landlords will think of that…

                       'The Blackwhite Conundrum' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

How to describe his style? Basquiat meets Ofili meets Miro meets Matisse? His work is a (forgive the pun) riot of colour and distorted figures, warping into scenes that are at the same time familiar but twisted into something more surreal. The tube carriage, for example in The Blackwhite Conundrum, is recognisable with its handrails and seats, but the tiny seats (almost details) are drawn comically small, Lowry-esque, and occupied exclusively by white figures. In the foreground a veiled Muslim woman wearing a remembrance day Poppy and holding the hand of her child stares out of the canvas. Her body, the fabric of her hijab, frayed and torn appears to pour itself liquidly over the floor, as though she is melting inside, or being eroded away by chemicals. The child has her back to us, staring down the carriage as though down a vortex to another dimension. Above there is no roof to the tube, instead we seem to be looking up into the stars and swirls of the night skies. A Metro newspaper litters the ground, a beautifully depicted reference to that which binds London’s commuters together – ignorant tabloid free journalism. The piece is clearly a comment. But on what? My reading is that it speaks of the self-consciousness of the ‘other’ in London society. The minority figure who is as British as anybody in the tube carriage but feels a sense that they stand out, that they are awkward and are being looked at. Stared at even. The veiled woman stares at us pleadingly. It captures that moment we’ve all experienced in London when you make eye contact with a woman wearing a headscarf and she looks at you, clearly smiling unseen, and her eyes say “despite all appearances I’m just the same as you and everybody here.”

The slightly mangled, amorphous heads, eyes and images as well as the splashes of paint resembling bodily fluids like blood remind us of Francis Bacon’s dark brooding works – but in Okpu-Egbe’s images there is less of the darkness and more of a kind of buoyant confused disorientation. I sense this disorientation in his manner. He is a buzzing restless chap. You sense his brain is literally overflowing with ideas and that there’s not enough hours in the day to get them all down on canvas. 

                       'Barefooted Athletes, Pride of Africa' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

We see political messages and references to popular culture. Some of them are clearly jokes that have exited directly from the artist’s sub conscience with very little intervention of logic. Mario Balotelli’s Revelry features what looks like a Rastafarian girl with a bull terrier and a seal on her back. “I want Balotelli to buy it” he tells me. Maybe, just maybe.

Head Of A British Commonwealth Soldier is a beautiful Picasso inspired portrait of a soldier in primary colours. The veteran’s head is haunted and spooked by everything that surrounds him, even a tactically placed railway card – the tough journey back to civvy street?

Barefooted Athletes, Pride of Africa a richly blue background with a jet black figure takes me back to the Miro retrospective at the Tate in 2011. Adjani explains it thus: “when people want to become stars, Olympic athletes for example, all they see is the bright stars, they don’t see where they came from. They trained barefoot. A whole poem sits behind the picture telling the politicians [in Africa] to piss off basically. Politicians are intellectual gatecrashers. They do nothing to help the sports people in Africa to become the stars we see. It is also a celebration of black people’s endeavours. We make the best of something time and time again. Take Obama. How does a man come from an African background, an enslaved people, and become president? We have this resilience embedded in our DNA, it’s just some people don’t know how to use it.”

Adjani Okpu-Egbe’s himself is remarkably resilient. There’s nothing he can experience that’s going to keep him down. He’s discovered his latent talent and it’s about to explode onto the art scene. Mario, if you’re reading this, in your Cheshire mansion. I think your mansion could do with a splash of Cameroonian-London colour.

                                     'Mario Balotelli's revelry' by Adjani Okpu-Egbe

'Community Man' his latest show is currently on at the Brick Box in Brixton until the 31st January.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

London Loves.....Akerman

        'See Perspective at the Elephant' by Jeremy Akerman 

"You should really pop in and see Jeremy's work, it's mind blowing" says Amalie Russell, owner and director of the Hardy Tree Gallery, in her endearing Canadian dialect. Her words did the trick because suddenly here I am, again, in this petite but enticing arts space cowering beside the hustle bustle of central London traffic and grime.

Russell (an artist herself) has managed, in a short space of time, to exhibit a diverse range of artists here, from local photographers, to audio-visualists accompanied by techno DJ sets, to Goldsmiths-trained bastions of that golden 1990s era of British art. Jeremy Akerman falls into the latter category, his skills honed at that grand old Deptford institution, he was in the year below the much celebrated Gary Hume. Having established himself as a curator as well as an artist in his own right he has returned from a residency in South Korea and produced a series of fantastic... photographs? ...paintings? I'm stuttering...."I call them mosaics". Yes, mosaics. Exactly.

Influenced by cubism, I at first assume these images, created with a cutting knife from huge photographs, to be the creation of a mathematical brain. They are, essentially, landscapes but the scenes depicted (parkland, churches and urban buildings photographed and enhanced to a smooth, colour-heightened "postcard like texture") have been painstakingly chopped into circular shapes and fragments and carefully rearranged across the artwork distorting the viewer's perception. Blowing your mind? Actually I rather felt them to be quite lulling. These are familiar images to me. A leafy Hampstead Heath, a concrete Aylesbury Estate in Elephant & Castle basking in the sun. Yet the contiginous circles, juxtaposed with a kind of precise anarchy in relation to one another "so that a piece of the top left of the scene can be seen right the way down in the bottom right", I found to be a transporter. Moving me from familiarity to a distant newly discovered place. 

             'Pleasurable Forest' by Jeremy Akerman

Good art should blend humour and seriousness, I have always thought, in order to bring real pleasure. The bruised gore of Francis Bacon for example has never been pleasing on my eye. Akerman here gives me what I want to see. Comedy and obfuscation amidst a quite serious point - that perception is everything and can be messed with. "The world is all around us and we are in it. It surrounds us and sometimes we effect it and sometimes it effects us". I ask whether he means this in a phenomenological sense and he half agrees. "Sometimes there are days when you trip over something and bump your head and coincidences happen. Somethings things just aren't quite physically right. Social study says things are 'all ok' [ordered and rational] and we start off from that perspective so as to make sense of them. But if you start off from a position of 'everything is not ok', like the Cubist movement did, then you reveal other things."

It's at this point that I make the enquiry as to whether Akerman is a former mathematician to which he laughs and says the pieces don't follow a geometric law. "It's more about perception than maths. I got a C at 'O' Level." This humours me intensely as I also got a C (at GCSE). I blame this on my flagrant truantism and Akerman and I briefly compete over who bunked off school more than the other. Kids these days can't bunk off we agree, everything's locked down. It turns out Ackerman's brother beat us both in bunking off. "One day our mother found him in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Turned out he'd been there most of the school year." I turn to Russell to assess her absentiesm credentials but she, charmingly though somewhat embarrassed, reveals she was something of a swot at school (a NERD in Canadian). Akerman's girlfriend Anne Odling-Smee, here to accompany him on a drive down to Brighton, was also a straight A student. When I mention my mother's recent move to the south coast, Bexhill-on-sea it turns out she worked as a designer on the refurbishment of the grand art deco De La Warr Pavilion on Bexhill promenade. (Small world, and something I should revisit in future blogs.)

             'perspective4' by Jeremy Akerman

Having touched on his early family life, Akerman reveals the shed his brother bunked off in was in the garden of their vicarage home. He is in fact the son of a vicar. While his brother rejected faith and eyes it with suspicion ("he felt let down and you don't want to hear the words 'God will never let you down' when he already has let you down") Akerman is much more exploratory around the subject. "The church is the base of almost every bit of art history we know of" he says. He finds churches fascinating, but in several of his pieces, including the one above, the central round 'eyes' appear. "People's eyes generate a kind of chaos theory. Not chaos theory but a distortion of order. This notion of the eyes focusing in the centre is me trying to eliminate myself, if you emptied yourself out and tried to see yourself you might end up looking like that", he says pointing at the image.

His father, the vicar, was buried in a church later burnt down and its ruins had to be supported by scaffolding erected around the church to stop it collapsing in on itself. Clearly prime fodder for a cut up, heavily dissected colourful mosaic. One which means a lot to Akerman clearly, but one that - as art should - laces the seriousness of morbidity, love and death with a comic touch.

He wastes no opportunity to reference Simone Weil as his chief theological influence - observations that go somewhat over my ill educated head - but his serious approach to "pushing perspective to an absurdity" is reflected mostly in his discussions of the meanings around God, belief and art. Looking at the church pieces he describes, perhaps sarcastically a "highway to the heavens" and that the relationship to space in a church always comes back to this visual idea. When I ask if he believes in God he tells me "it's not about belief, it's just there. I grew up in my father's vicarage so it's just there. As a believer and a liberal you're more promiscuous than athiests. You get to explore so much more without shutting yourself off". Somehow I believe him. 

Rowan Williams, somebody he also respects as a theologian lifted Weil's idea of abandoment for his own writing. "The notion that when that God has abandoned his creation you move into another space. God's tactical withdrawal sucks people towards him into the vacuum created. Heidegger said what attracts us is that which calls to us. It calls and we go towards it. It's like creating art in the studio, something calls you and you go to it and bask in it for a while."

He says this while we look at his rendition of the Aylesbury Estate teetering on the brink of visual collapse while the wasteland foreground glistens like sand on a French beach. Then he says I should come and see his studio in Brockley some time.

And by God, I just might!

Jeremy Akerman's 'The Stream Will Soon Renew Its Smoothness' exhibtion is on at the Hardy Tree Gallery, Pancras Road until 25th November

Friday, 24 August 2012

London Loves.....St Pancras

               © Hisano Luttman

The Hardy Tree Gallery, a tiny, boundary pushing arts space on Pancras Road is currently showing a wonderful exhibition of black and white photos by local artist Hisano Luttman. Born in Japan, Luttman moved to Kings Cross over twenty years ago. She has lived there ever since, a resident of what is sometimes referred to as Somers Town. Between 1988-1990 she documented the area in a personalised photographic portrait of the streets and architecture. Today, in 2012 the pictures appear to come from a completely different world. A bygone era of London rapidly disappearing underneath ceaseless modernisation. The gallery, itself situated in the heart of St Pancras is overlooked by the shiny new behemoth of the Eurostar terminal. The beautiful gasometers in Luttman's pictures have all been ripped out and the skies are instead littered with the sight of cranes lifting and moving building materials. New buildings have emerged, creeping skywards. New, expensive looking roads have replaced the dark, dingy streets once stalked by prostitutes and drug dealers. The British Library and The Guardian are neighbours in the area. The UK Centre for Medical Research is currently building its new £500 million home on a vacant plot, from where the future of cancer treatments will be mapped out. The beautiful St Pancras Renaissance Hotel has reopened after lying dormant for decades. The area has seen significant change since Luttman's photos were taken. In an interview with London Loves she told me what the pictures and this area of London mean to her.

London Loves: What does the Kings Cross, St Pancras and Somers Town area mean to you personally?

Hisano Luttman: This is the place I’ve lived since 1988, sure I have lived somewhere before, but this is the place I call home. As I learnt about the place, the history, I found an attachment, also I became close friends of an old lady (by using the local launderette where she was the service wash girl), a sweet lady, she was in her 80s, born and lived all of her life here, she introduced me to her friends, they became my friends. To them, I was never Hisano, I was Tina, it felt strange, but also natural. I met her family, and she met mine. This was where the sense of belonging really came from. I remember she told me about the Chalton Street of her youth, a busy marketplace 7 days a week, this pokey little street sandwiched between Euston and St Pancras. Sainsbury’s, all this street, both sides was stalls, a Jewish furniture shop, a silk stocking place… that’s how the area came alive to me.

                    © Hisano Luttman

London Loves: What's the biggest change you've seen or felt in the 20+ years you've lived in the area?

Hisano Luttman: The people. When I arrived there some of the older people felt to me like the characters of those old films, the Ealing or the Gainsboroughs, remainders of another age. Those people had an inherent sense of Britishness. I knew the people who had lived all their lives in this area, who had spent their lives for example working in the local industries, on the railways, they were a part of the local fabric. But now they’ve gone. Those that remain, they may be the same people – people who’ve spent their lives around here, but their experience are different, they weren’t shaped in the same way.

London Loves: Talk us through your favourite photo from the exhibition and what you like about it/what it says about the area...

Hisano Luttman: The shot of the kings cross parcel yard (main pic), it contains everything I loved about the area; the brickwork, the cobbles, the gasometers, the railway lodging house…. People have said to me it looks Victorian, but I did nothing, just snapped it, that was how it was and that was how I caught it.

London Loves: Are you positive about the future for Kings Cross?

Hisano Luttman: I am not sure … the change was needed, it had to happen, but what I see now is a community sidelined, nothing really for the locals. It’s like, to the east of the Pancras Road, everything is new and modern, you cross over into Brill place and you’re in Somers Town, nothing has changed. All this wealth and yet for the people who have lived here all their lives, the old people, the day centre – the lunch club, shut down last year, not because there are no old people, but because of cuts to services. So where, I ask, are the benefits to the community from all this money? 

     © Hisano Luttman

London Loves: You must have seen a lot happen in these streets or from your balcony... tell us the good and bad things you've seen in the area.

Hisano Luttman: Somers Town is actually a warm place, a small place. And once you are inside it, the community itself is quite close. We look after each other and know each other. It doesn’t mean you nod an hello to everybody, it’s more that even if you don’t know the gang of kids hanging out on the corner, once they’ve seen you a few times, they know you are local, so they’ll leave you alone. It’s an inclusive community.

On the downside, when they cleaned up the worst parts of the Cross (Argyle Square), they didn’t solve the problem of the hardcore drug addicts and prostitution, they just displaced them. We caught the fall out and for a few months, it was not a nice place to be. Of course we have our own problems, every place does, but we saw them triple or quadruple overnight. We got over the worst – largely thanks to a dedicated ward councillor continually pestering the Council and Police, but again they – the addicts and prostitutes were just moved on, it just make’s me wonder where they went.

London Loves: Does anywhere in London feel even remotely like Japan?

Hisano Luttman: Department stores – English departments stores before were really old fashioned. You had departments (fashion, haberdashery, kitchen appliances etc), but now the department stores like Selfridges, the layout is like Japanese stores, so you’ll walk form a section selling one brand, into another selling a rival brand, into another, all within a single department … that’s very Japanese. But the service, no, English assistants don’t have it. Also in the sense of the shopper – especially young people, before they would look for individuality, visit markets, look for the little shop that was special, but now it all seems to be Brand driven and that to me is a very Japanese thing. And it’s inherently sad that I think you’ve lost that, because with it you lose the individuality, the flair…. It’s a funny thing, because back in the 80’s that’s something we Japanese studied of the English – that individuality, the music, the fashion, it was so London driven … and yet now its almost - in a way - the opposite.

London Loves: There are so many people in London from every part of the world, I always wonder do they feel at home here. Do you?

Hisano Luttman: I can only speak for myself, and as someone who came here – not born here. If someone asks me where is my home, Nagoya or London, I would always say Nagoya, because I always feel – even after all of this time and all of my positive experiences – I still feel like I am a bit of an ‘alien’. But, whenever I go back to Japan, then I miss London, I want to come back, because when I am there I feel in some unexplainable way estranged from Japanese society – not like I don’t fit or have my place, but like I have seen or lived too much to feel totally comfortable with it – questioning my actions and responses so to speak.

London Loves: What other photographic projects, particularly in London, would you like to do.

Hisano Luttman: As you know, the photos in this exhibition were all taken between 1988 and 1990, around this time I took lots of photos they were never expressly intended for exhibition, they were just me capturing images through my lens. I want to revisit the images I took then, and maybe also revisit some of the places and compare the changes.

 St Pancras - A Photographic Diary 1988-1990 is on at the Hardy Tree Gallery, 119 Pancras Road, NW1 1UN until the 2nd September

Sunday, 10 June 2012

London Loves.....Dogs

Some people are dog people and some are cat people. In my family we grew up with both. At our peak we had two dogs and four cats running around, not to mention rabbits and gerbils. By the time we left our old house on Nightingale Road, half way between Bounds Green and Wood Green, so many pets had come and gone our garden was very much a pet cemetery. 

In this edition of London Loves, I asked three London 'dog people' (four including me), to talk about their own dogs.

The Surtees family slowly graduated to getting a dog, first practising with fish (killed by the cats obviously), stick insects (released back into the wild once we grew bored and terrapins (god knows what happened to those). But from as early as I can remember we incessantly begged our mother to get a dog. She finally caved in when I was about 8 or 9 years old. On the proviso that we all take turns walking him in the evenings she drove us all down to Battersea Dogs Home and we came back with Frank. The staff there had labelled him cross Great Dane but he looked more like a Pointer than anything else. Immensely powerful, he could run for miles up mountains, over streams and swimming across lakes to chase sheep (literally). On the Parkland Walk - a disused railway line that serves as a nature trail running between Finsbury Park and Muswell Hill - I remember many summer evenings after school spent trying to get Frank to come back and to stop humping other people's dogs. He was neuteured but that didn't stop him. Fiercely protective and mildly insecure it took him a long time to shake off the mistreatments he'd endured before being rescued. Our second dog Smiffy was similar. Most rescue dogs have 'issues'. When Frank died we all went into a period of mourning which, for me, was truly depressing. Smiffy is dead too now. They both had nice lives. The sad thing about owning dogs is that their lives are so short and they seem to go from puppies to old timers in the blink of an eye.

In September 2001, about a week after 9/11, my mum returned from a week in Derbyshire on a residential course with the Association of Radical Midwives and as I walked into the kitchen to greet her I was surprised to find a tiny fluffy ball of black and white leapingng up the garden steps and immediately beginning to chew my toes. It was love at first sight. Her mother was a white boxer, her father an unspecified huge hound. We named her Poppy and in eleven years she's grown from this cheeky thing...

Into this...

Here, my mum Anne Surtees (main picture) talks about what Poppy means to her...

"Poppy is my sixth dog and probably my last dog. She started life in a deprived council estate in Derby. From being a tiny bundle of black fluff with a spattering of white she grew into a beautiful, sensitive, funny gentle giant. As I just wrote that sentence she knew I was thinking of her and came over to push her lovely face into mine, smiling with pleasure at me. I feel very lucky to have a dog like Poppy who is happy to do anything: walk for miles over hill and dale in sun or rain, trudge through snow, drive in the car for hours, live with cats, say hello to old ladies, sleep in a tent... Anything is fine with her as long as she can do it with me alongside her. She is my best friend who accepts and loves me unconditionally. My children say she is naughty and she does take advantage of her age and position sometimes. Barking at unsuspecting passers-by who come too close, wanting treats in her dinner and digging up my garden if I leave her alone for too long are just a few examples of her transgressions. Yet her cheeky grin and wicked tail wag absolve her every time."

My next London dog owner is Laura Roberts. Originally from the Rhondda Valley in Wales Laura now lives in East Finchley in north London with her boyfriend Ed and their dog Fred. Here's Laura's account of living with Fred...

"This weekend it'll be a year since we picked up Fred and brought him back to London. He was a gift for my birthday from my boyfriend. Our friends back home in South Wales show Beagles and often have puppies for sale. We'd been speaking about getting a dog for a while so I asked if they had any boys left in their recent litter. They said no but that we could have one from the next litter. Little did I know that my boyfriend had been in touch to ask them to keep Fred for us.  

I'd always had a dog growing up and seem to remember him being a lot easier to look after than Fred. Maybe I'm looking back with rose-tinted glasses, or maybe it's just that my parents did all of the 'work'. During Fred's first six months with us he managed to destroy half of my shoes, our bottom bookshelf of books, quite a few dvd cases and two handmade cushions. People say that dogs chew things because they're bored, because they don't have toys. It's a lie. Our living room looked like Pets at Home but all he wanted to chew was our stuff. He also took it upon himself to ensure that every last inch of our carpet had been wee'd on. We soon became quite well acquainted with the wonder that is a Vax carpet cleaner. Since then though he seems to have got a lot better - or maybe there's just nothing left to destroy. 

The puppy classes might've helped too. My boyfriend saw the classes as a sign of weakness - we were admitting that we couldn't train our own dog - so I took Fred there myself. It was six weeks of hell. The other puppies were all around three months old - tiny little things. Fred was this great, big, seven month old dog who looked like he'd been kept back a good few years for failing class. He spent the first class mainly facing the wall because that was the punishment for barking too much. Bad dog. It did get better though and we passed the course. Although everyone passed so I'm not too confident our certificate actually means anything.

One of the best things about being a dog owner in London is people's reaction to him - so many people stop and stay hello. Strangers even start talking to you on the tube if you have a Beagle sitting on your lap. Before we got him we didn't know any of our neighbours. Now - due to the many hours we spent outside encouraging him to wee away from our carpet - we know loads of the people who live around us. It makes you feel a lot more settled in your community. We walk him at least three times a day around the same route which means that quite often you see people on a daily basis - it's like being back in a village as opposed to being in a city.

The only trouble with having a dog in London (although this might apply to anywhere) is that he's a magnet for children. He's a friendly looking dog so most children aren't afraid of him plus, he's really good with them and will happily sit down to be stroked. Some children are very polite and ask before touching him but you wouldn't believe the amount of kids that come running up and grab at him before asking. It's fine because he's generally a good dog but not all dogs are and you never know, he could be having an off day. I wish parents would teach their kids that they should ask before touching a dog."

My final dog owner, Chris Hey, lives in Wichmore Hill and has recently acquired a Labradoodle (which, if you hadn't guessed is a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle). Here, Chris tells us about Molly the dog...

"We chose our beautiful labradoodle puppy because we wanted a gentle, affectionate and easily trained(!) companion in our retirement. After previously owning two much-loved rescue dogs we decided this time we wanted a dog that didn't moult. Molly quickly grew tall and weighs 26 kilos at 9 months, but she loves to run and play and we will make sure she doesn't get fat by over-feeding her. She is the most gentle, happy dog I have ever known and likes nothing more than being with people. She has never cried or whined, only barks at umbrellas, and is eager to do party tricks. She adores going to the vets  as there are more people there, and animals which she sees as a bonus! Her biggest sin? Infrequently, joyously, but unpredictably, ripping up plastic, wood, garden plants, tea cloths etc. in the blink of an eye. She is a comforting companion, a source of fun and a soft fleece to hug."  

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

London Loves.....Gigs

Last year bulldozers demolished London's best concert venue the London Astoria to make way for the Crossrail project. A sad moment for many London concert goers not to mention the G.A.Y community.

The size and shape of the Astoria - somehow large but intimate at the same time - and the ability to see the stage perfectly from downstairs or upstairs made it my personal favourite.

I saw some marvellous gigs there including The Libertines euphoric first big headline show in early 2003. Afterwards, being amongst the last to leave, we exited sweating into the chilly Charing Cross Road to find a gaggle of schoolgirls gathered around a tall bedraggled Burberry-coated figure leaning against a lamppost; Pete Doherty. Why he was hanging around outside the front entrance of his own gig I still don't know. Maybe he wanted some fresh air. Maybe he was waiting to score some skag. Or maybe - as later events suggests - he just wanted to meet his fans. I still have his scrawled autograph on a travel card somewhere but he managed to succesfully evade my attempted kiss on the lips. Ah, those romantic pre-Oyster card days.

That was a special show as anybody who was there will testify. It took place in near darkness. Very low lighting, a very nervous shy Pete and Carl presumably on a lot of drugs wearing leather jackets with nothing else underneath just bare sweaty chests. Two shambolic frontmen and a juggernaut of a rhythm section. John barely moving and looking like he'd rather be anywhere else but there. Gary pounding the drums at ear splitting volume.

The opening chords of 'Horrorshow' ringing through that venue like a pneumatic drill and the chaotic, sprawling, anarchic moshpit that accompanied every song was electrifying. A call back to the old days of gigging. Punk rock for a new generation.

Somewhere in the midsts of time my ticket for that gig got lost. Probably in the crowd. I lost many things in that moshpit; a pair of spectacles, a jumper, my sanity..... But I've kept the tickets to pretty much every other concert I've ever attended in London. And here I've compiled a few of the tickets to gigs that have meant the most to me. You've probably all got favourite gig memories so please do share yours in the comments section below.

Nirvana, Brixton Academy, April 1994 - The gig that never was

I kick off with a gig that, sadly, never happened. A gig I looked forward to more than any other in my life. I was 13 years old when the tour was announced and remember asking my nan to book tickets for me and my best mate Graham. When they arrived via Stargreen box office - one of London's few remaining independent ticket outlets, located on Argyll Street, a place I thoroughly recommend instead of Ticketmaster et al - the anticipation was almost too much to bear.

Nirvana meant so much to kids of a very specific age - my age. They occupied a small window of time in between the indie of the late 80s and the coming of Britpop and Oasis which changed 'indie' music forever. Nirvana were the last of the truly alternative bands. They have become misunderstood in the course of time as a depressing, overwrought, teenage angsty band. In reality they were just a very heavy, very loud rock'n'roll band with an incredible sound, a ferocious drummer and an unbelievable singer/screamer. And they were showmen - trashing their equipment after every show to entertain the fans.

A month before the Brixton show Kurt Cobain overdosed in Rome midway through the European leg of the In Utero tour. The tour was postponed and Kurt flew back to Seattle to recuperate. He never recuperated and was found dead on 8th April at his home having blown his brains out with a shotgun. The postmortem found that he killed himself on the 5th April - the date of the gig we were supposed to see.

Rage Against The Machine, Brixton Academy, September 1993 - My first ever gig

Look at the state of this ticket. It gives you a rough idea of how messy it was in the Academy that night. Sweaty, riotous, celebratory. An amazing way to kick off my London gigging days. I still remember buying the ticket from the box office a few weeks before the show. Talk about pre-internet era! Buying tickets IN PERSON. Some work colleagues and I recently relived the magic of buying tickets in person; trundling down to the Scala one lunchtime to get Kurt Vile tickets. No booking fee and seeing the ticket printed off there and then from the machine - of such things dreams are made.

Anyway, Rage Against The Machine. Another angsty, grungy, heavy band. This was an Anti-Nazi League benefit show with a really big bill of support acts and my brother and I queued up from about 4pm (note the doors opening time of 5pm). We were pretty much first in the queue. The line-up as I remember it was: Lush, Headswim, Billy Bragg, Senser (who remembers them??) and Rage at the height of their powers. I was a very scrawny 13 year old and there were some very large metaller type men in the crowd. With every mosh I was lifted fully off the floor with no control over my own body movements. Amazing, truly amazing. How my (usually very strict) mother let me go to gigs like this at that age I do not know. I suppose she had no choice in the matter, she could see nothing was going to stop me.

Compulsion, LA2 (later the Mean Fiddler), June 1994 - The naughty gig

Who remembers the band Compulsion? Nope, didn't think so. Who remembers the LA2? Yeah, some of you do. The London Astoria 2 later knows as the Mean Fiddler was situated just yards from the main Astoria and the entrance was a very exciting lit stairway going down underneath the bowels of the West End. It was a sweaty, thrilling little club venue that hosted Popscene - the britpop club night which along with Loony Tunes at The Dome in Tuffnell Park was
the place for teenaged kids with floppy haircuts to dance to Blur, Ride and The Inspiral Carpets in those heady days called the 1990s.

Who were Compulsion, you ask? It's not really important but here's a taster.

Why was this the naughty gig, you ask? The answer involves ampethamines, parents and expulsions from grammar schools.

The gig was tremendous and was notable for the lead singer wearing a t-shirt upon which were scrawled the words 'STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON'.

Oasis, Wembley Stadium, July 2000 - My favourite gig of all time

Say what you will about Oasis, they know how to play a rock'n'roll concert. This was my favourite ever gig for many reasons. The location, the fact it was meant to be the last ever concert before the old Wembley was knocked down (sadly Bon Jovi squeezed another gig in later in the summer therefore nullifying that claim), the weather, the atmosphere, the support acts (Doves in their pomp and a rejuvenated, reunified Happy Mondays) and above all the sheer banter.

The concert took place amid uncertainty as to whether it would be Oasis's last ever gig. The brothers had come to serious blows just weeks before. This was the second of two nights at Wembley. After the first night Liam Gallagher went on a massive all-night bender arriving at the show on the Sunday still pissed and high and cursing everything in sight. The gig was televised live so we got to re-live it all again when we got home. I still have the video. Gigs just do not get more entertaining than this. Oh and the music was pretty special too.

Eminem, London Arena, February 2001 - Worst gig of all time

Perhaps the shittest, most depressing concert that has ever taken place in London. The venue in docklands under the shadow of Canary Wharf was picketed outside by gay rights activists angry at Eminem's 'homophobic' lyrics. The audience consisted of kids with spiky hair and braces accompanied by their mums, mixed with wannabe badboys smoking spliffs and doing 'gangsta' hand signs. The main event featured an American man wearing a boiler suit flailing around with a pretend chainsaw wearing a Jason mask pretending to pop pills and kill people. Every song cut out halfway through to be replaced with weird cartoons on the big screen. Half way through I simply walked out - perhaps the only gig I've ever left midway through. What the hell was I thinking???

Fugazi, Stratford Rex, May 1999 - Loudest gig ever

So deafeningly loud that one could hear ringing in their ears not just days afterwards but in between songs! Bizarre venue. Not surprising really as this is a bizarre kind of band. Look at the ticket price - £6! In 1999! Don't mug yourselves off guys. Guys? Oh.

Tindersticks, Highbury Garage, November 1993 - Cheapest gig ever

Ok, so the Fugazi one was comparatively cheaper, inflation wise, but the Tindersticks for a fiver?? You just wouldn't get that these days. Intimate pre-'Relentless make-over' Garage. Audience of thirty somethings and middle aged fogies and us 13 year old kids too young to even drink. A nice couple bought us each pints of ale. Our mate's dad collected us afterwards in the car. Not exactly rock'n'roll.

The Strokes, Alexandra Palace, December 2003 and Interpol, Alexandra Palace, November 2007 - Closest ever gig(s)

I love a gig that is within walking distance of my house. Who doesn't, right? None of that post-gig public transport hideousness. As a long time Wood Green resident and now as a Crouch End resident I love it when decent gigs take place at Ally Pally. I can go to the local pubs I like beforehand and laugh at all the poor bastards who have to trek back to south London or wherever.

I can see it from my window now as I type, the old palace sitting up there on top of the hill overlooking all of London. I've been to a few shows there. These two were easily the finest. And look at those pretty concert tickets too. Splendid. Really fucking splendid.

My (girl)friend collapsed near a bus stop on the way home from the Strokes one and we had to call an ambulance. That wasn't so good.

Babyshambles, Rhythm Factory, May 2004 - Weirdest gig ever?

After the Libertines imploded the Doherty idolisers - myself included - followed him everywhere he went and supported him in everything he did. For a while. This, one of the early Babyshambles gigs with the early line-up when Pete was still borrowing the guitarist and drummer from the brilliant, short lived White Sport (who were also on the bill ) was bizarre. A sweatbox Rhythm Factory with emotional drunk, high youngsters falling all over the place, kissing, fighting, groping.

We waited til about 1 or 2am for Doherty to finally show up and run onstage clearly very high on crack to give a thoroughly abrasive, dishevelled, disconcerting set most of which just sounded like feedback and a clattering banging sound. At one point Doherty tried to light a cigarette for about 2-3 mins. Afterwards I shared a taxi back to Finsbury Park with some girls from the north east who were crying because they'd finally got to see their hero play live. Really weird.

Morrissey, Kentish Town Forum, November 1999 - The day I hugged Morrissey

Anybody who knows me knows the extent of my Smiths and Morrissey obsession. In 1999 a friend and I went to see him play four nights in a row at the Forum in Kentish Town. I attempted to get onstage on each of these four nights. On one occassion Morrissey spotted me crowdsurfing toward the stage and put his hand out to pull me onstage. For a brief moment, merely seconds, I put my arms around him as he sang 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me'. I buried my face in the back of his neck which was incredibly sweaty. The sweat was cold as he had just been off stage before returning for the encore. That's about as much detail as you need...

Here's a picture of the moment, which somebody actually captured and put up on a Moz fans forum site....

Radiohead, South Park Oxford, July 2001 - Best ever non-London gig

Ok, so, in a blog about London things this is kind of cheating right? I do apologise. But I couldn't write an article about gigs without mentioning this one. And, well, Oxford is close to London, right?? It's just down the M40.

This was a fantastic gig despite the heavy, consistent, pouring rain. Supergrass and Beck supported but nobody cared about them. This was Thom and the boys at the absolute peak of their powers coming back triumphantly to their home town. Quite formiddable.

I attended this gig with the young members of the Mystery Jets who had just completed their bacchelaureates. Posh, eh? Blaine's mother (who lives in a village nearby) tried to get me to persuade Blaine and Will that pursuing rock'n'roll was not a fruitful path while Blaine's father Henry - also a Mystery Jet - retained a thoughtful silence and a half smile. I half heartedly told them that maybe they should continue with their studies. Thankfully they ignored me.