You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat: Jason Evans at Bonington Gallery

You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat – curated by photographer Jason Evans at Bonington Gallery, Nottingham Trent University, April/May 2017

The name Jason Evans rang a bell but it was not until I arrived at the opening of this show that I realised from where. Evans is a photographer who works in music and fashion, and years ago I’d met him briefly when I was Japan, he was photographing that band that I like…

At the opening I couldn’t resist introducing myself and this blast from the past rather freaked him out, he remains something of a Radiohead insider. Aside from this weird coincidence, I was drawn to the work in the exhibition, especially the re-contextualized shop signs and the vivid narrow boat-style sign writing taking up a whole wall.

Opening night You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat, Bonington Gallery Nottingham, 18/4/17

Opening night You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat, Bonington Gallery Nottingham, 18/4/17

After visiting, I got involved with Meeting to make ends try (Philip Hagreen t-shirt action), as I’ve been working (casually) in the library service and met the criteria of “public facing” worker. Lots of other volunteers around Nottingham have been photographed by Evans and these pictures have been shared on social media with the hashtag #youregonnaneedabiggerboat

Public-facing, customer-focused, service-driven. And Mobile!

The image is one of a series of 16 wood engravings which featured in the exhibition. Philip Hagreen made them in the 1930s-40s for Catholic political magazine The Cross & The Plough and they are now held by the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.

Philip Hagreen wood engravings.

Jason Evans captures some of the signage at the opening night.

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Going back to the Bonington for the closing walk-through with Tom Godfrey and Jason Evans opened up some of the themes of the exhibition, and I’m glad I returned for a closer look.

Jason Evans lives on the Kent coast and his own contributions to the show were very much influenced by flotsam that he finds on the beach. The central piece, Wool and Clay, was made up of his living room rug and eroded bricks. The unrecognisably smooth shapes  matched the colours of the carpet. The piece played with ideas of ownership, houses and mortgages. Bricks are made near Pegwell Bay, said Evans, people are moving out to the coast as they can no longer afford to buy houses in London, when it comes down to it, all you’re left with is bricks… “Pegwell Bay is the place where the Romans first landed in Britain, where Christianity first landed in Britain and where the band CAN arrived to support Black Sabbath… it has significance…” A pleasing, to my ears at least, echo of Psychogeographical ideas about place, connections and coincidences .

Wool and Clay, Jason Evans, 2017 (detail)

With no wall text, just a fluorescent hand-out sheet with a short note and the names of the works, interpretation was left to the viewer, Evans wanted the work to be open to the community, not just the usual contemporary art crowd. Styling himself as a photographer and curator rather than “an artist”, Evans fretted that he might be straying into Jeremy Deller territory, but I see nothing wrong with that. So much contemporary, conceptual work feels cut off from a more general experience of the world. This felt like a show that welcomed you in, had moments of familiarity, moments of nostalgia and even of participation – the aforementioned T shirt project and an in-gallery photo opportunity, inviting interaction with a found object, a large length of rope washed up by Hurricane Doris on the Kent coast earlier this year, now sat on the gallery floor bearing the title Metaphor.

Jason Evans & Tom Godfrey photographing “Metaphor”, Bonington Gallery.

The other work collected here all comes, in some way, from the working world. Clark Brothers’ retail signs (“There are no brothers, just one man in his shop in Manchester”, notes Evans, “it just sounds better.”), Sign-writer Dick Hambidge’s albums of photographs of his work photographed in turn by Evans, and Nottingham-based Narrow Boat Painter Robert Naghi’s painting, blazing the title of the exhibition on the wall at exaggerated size. This is creativity used in the service of small-scale commerce from a pre-digital, pre-internet age. On the one hand it makes those of us of a certain vintage yearn for a world now almost completely disappeared from 21st Century Britain, but conversely it also makes appealing visual material to be captured by the Instagram generation. (As you can see from the state of my photos, I belong to the former group.)

Signage: Clark Brothers of Manchester. Ladders: Gallery’s own.

Do the “digital natives”, the young art students of NTU, experience the same nostalgic melancholy that these works inspire in people who can remember when hand painted signage was all around us? “Photo albums are always a little bit sad,” says one younger visitor. Another points out that in Latin American countries, where the signs are still hand painted, these crafts are still ongoing.

This show felt like a celebration of these specialised trades as well as an elegy for a time before absolutely everything was in the business of just selling you something. That said,  I left with an overwhelming desire to go into Clark Brothers and buy some signs next time I’m in Manchester.

Left Lion: Radioheadcase

After a pint with their Literature Correspondent, when I was still in somewhat of a state of post-tour euphoria, it was decided to feature my Radiohead blog in Nottingham’s premier cultural free paper, Left Lion.

Here’s the Q&A and some extracts from the blog, which finds it’s new home here.

I dug out my old “Creep” badge and had my photo taken by David Baird and put James Walker in his place about infering that fans are crazy…
 

 

 

Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, Albert Hall, Nottingham 10/6/16

In these post-post-modern times anything from the 1920s to the 1980s seems to count as “Vintage”. Is it all bunting and nostalgia? I went along to Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair to find out.

The term “Vintage” tends to get bandied around rather loosely and has degrees of meaning from “genuinely antique and collectable” to merely “second hand”.

Nottingham has had a healthy “Vintage” scene since the 1990s, when the kitsch emporium Daphnie’s Handbag was a stalwart purveyor of crimplene frocks, over-sized sunglasses and easy listening vinyl, at their shop on Mansfield Road. These days Daphnie’s (and many other dealers) find their home in Hopkinson, a warehouse full of trinkets, homeware, clothes and other tastefully aged rammel.*

With the demise of Trinity Walk’s Vintage To A Tea, where genuine 1930s to 1970s clothes came with the wonderful expertise of the proprietor, I was hoping to see some good examples of Vintage clothes at Lou Lou’s.

Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair is a national concern with gatherings most weekends in cities across the UK. Winner of ‘Best Vintage Fair’ in the UK at the National Vintage Awards 2015, some impressive photos in their Facebook marketing led me to go along to the Albert Hall to check it out. As an avid rammel hunter myself, my expectations were high.

There were several clothes stalls at Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, with a good spread of women’s and men’s garments, edging towards the garish end of the dressing up spectrum. Prices were fairly high (more in line with Nottingham’s Braderie, Cow and Wild Clothing vintage stores) but there were a few genuine gems if you had the cash to splash.

The best clothes of the day were spotted on fellow fair-goers, with several spectacularly turned out 1950s ladies in evidence (full net petticoats and co-ordinated head gear present and correct) and more than one or two gents in tweeds.

loulous 2

A soundtrack of 1960s girl groups segued into Bowie as I moved between the two floors of the Albert Hall, holding at least 30 stalls. Many concentrated on jewellery and other accessories, offering a rather hit and miss selection of proper old stuff and more modern bling. For the prices, I would have preferred more focus on the original pieces, some dealers have a good eye for the real thing, others offer all their wares at a fixed price and leave it to the customer to dredge the gems from the dreck.

Several of the traders who make their day to day home in Hopkinson had stalls at Lou Lou’s, including Woolf Vintage and Arts, who had a nice line in earrings and the Forgotten Library who turn old books into clocks.

Other traders such as Derby’s Soboho, made a showing (with a lovely 1960s handbag that was sadly out of my price range) and hat designer Alice Ball entertained a steady stream of customers trying on her vintage-inspired creations.

There was more crockery and homeware than I’d been anticipating, with a good showing for Meakin coffee sets, china cups and a smattering of flashback-inducing toys. There was an air of grandma’s attic about some of these and a little more curation of the objects would perhaps justify the asking prices. A surfeit of cake stands was overshadowed by the “everything’s a pound” cups and saucers, but there were an impressive haul of cake forks and cutlery on offer.

crockery collage

The refreshment stall was mercifully free of cup cakes, serving beverages in china cups and saucers in the busy foyer. Alongside them, the Diamond Diva’s Beauty salon was setting hair in victory rolls – I didn’t spot any beehives but it was consistently busy.

Lou Lou’s seems like a really popular event, with a steady stream of people through the doors all day, I don’t know how much stuff people actually buy at such events, but plenty of folk rummaged through the displays.

*Rammel: Notts noun. Discarded or waste matter, junk, rubbish.

Exploring the Creative Quarter: A Guidigo Tour of Nottingham

http://www.picturedbylamar.co.uk/

Picture ©Lamar Francois http://www.picturedbylamar.co.uk/

These days Nottingham has thriving art and music scenes, independent shops, decent coffee and even the first independent UK book shop to be opened this century, Five Leaves Books.

Working in association with Walking Heads, my colleagues based in Glasgow, we realised that these two great post-industrial cities have much in common as they re-invent themselves for the challenges of the 21st century.

The tour looks at the history of the area of Nottingham now designated as The Creative Quarter and meets some of the people who work in the varied creative industries in the area.

Lace Market Square (CQ), The Adams Building, Back Door Detail, Broadway & Birkin Building (Geograph.org.uk),

Lace Market Square (CQ), The Adams Building, Back Door Detail, Broadway & Birkin Building (Geograph.org.uk)

The tour takes in The Lace Market, Hockley and Sneinton Market including New College Nottingham, where students of art and design learn their trade, and established independent craft practitioner Debbie Bryan who takes inspiration from the Nottingham’s lace heritage. There is art from leading gallery Nottingham Contemporary and curator Jennie Syson; Find hidden gems in unexpected places, like a Morris & Co window in the largest pub in town. Dig down to the caves and secret passageways of The Galleries of Justice, one of Nottingham’s top tourist attractions and discover some remarkable stories from the history of St Mary’s, Nottingham’s oldest and largest church and find out how it is used as a creative venue today; Learn about local cultural magazine Left Lion, who bring Nottingham musicians, actors and writers into the limelight. Explore the regenerated Sneinton Market and the thriving gallery scene around St Ann’s and Sneinton.

Unitarian Church Morris & Co; Nottingham Contemporary detail (geograph.org.uk), St Marys on Light Night (Kevin Marston); The Galleries of Justice (GoJ).

Unitarian Church Window by Morris & Co; Nottingham Contemporary detail (geograph.org.uk), St Marys on Light Night (Kevin Marston); The Galleries of Justice (GoJ).

Celebrate 25 years of Nottingham media and cinema, at Broadway and find out about the “playable building” that is home to the National Videogames Arcade. Finally step through the gate of the transformed Cobden Chambers to find independent businesses getting established with the help of Creative Quarter, not to mention tales from Dawn of The Unread, where Nottingham’s literary past is woven with the many layered history of the textile and lace industries which built the grand architecture of The Lace Market…

The tour is narrated by Nottinghamshire-born Dorothy Atkinson, who you may know from her work in films made by Mike Leigh… we recorded at JT Soar, a nearby studio & music venue which used to be a Fruit and Veg warehouse.

Dorothy Atkinson at Sneinton Market

Dorothy Atkinson at Sneinton Market

The tour features archive photos from Picture The Past, who have kindly let me use images as a pilot scheme.

Photos from Picture The Past courtesy NCC. The Adams Lace Brown Room; Old Town Hall (Nottingham Historic Film Unit); High Pavement; Sneinton Market 1937.

Photos from Picture The Past courtesy of NCC. The Adams Lace Brown Room 1914; Old Town Hall c.1870s (Nottingham Historic Film Unit); High Pavement pre 1960s; Sneinton Market 1937.

The tour is available to download free on Guidigo (which is also free) on iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

Feature image photo credits: Sneinton Market Fountains Daniel Hodgett; Broadway at Night by Ashley Bird; National Videogames Arcade by Eve Bentley; Cobden Chambers courtesy of Bildurn.

Death & Chips: But I Know This City, B S Johnson in Nottingham

This weekend saw me drop everything and head into Nottingham for a series of connected events that I only realised were taking place when I fortuitously caught a tweet promoting this article in Left Lion.

Left Lion #73 November 2015

Left Lion #73 November 2015

I had forgotten or perhaps misremembered that Nottingham was the unnamed but vividly described city that features in B S Johnson’s book-in-a-box The Unfortunates. I had added this experimental novel to my very long list of “books to get around to” after devouring Jonathan Coe’s biography of Johnson, Like A Fiery Elephant some years ago, but never found a copy and it had fallen out of my mind as newer books with less dark themes had usurped my attention.

On Friday night it transpired that Jonathan Coe was to be in Nottingham at the behest of the Broadway to present Dead of Night the celebrated Ealing Studios portmanteau film made in 1945. As it turns out, the keen cinéaste Coe uses the structure of five connecting stories for his latest novel Number 11… his earlier novels What A Carve Up and The House of Sleep are among my favourites.

After Dead Of Night, talking about his new book and signing copies for the faithful, Coe stayed at Broadway to present a rare screening of films by B S Johnson including the idiosyncratic documentary Fat Man On A Beach, which had introduced Johnson’s work to Coe when he was a child…

BS Johnson in Fat Man On A Beach (The Arts Desk)

B S Johnson in Fat Man On A Beach (The Arts Desk)

Fat Man On A Beach is funny, strange, confounding, silly and, with the fore knowledge of Johnson’s early demise just weeks after it was broadcast in 1974, deeply effecting.

It served as a wonderful re-introduction to the author and a fitting prelude to the following day’s event, But I Know This City a community reading of The Unfortunates organised by Excavate theatre for Being Human Festival.

Not entirely sure what to expect, my friend and I showed up at Broadway for the first chapter and began a whole day of extraordinary experiences finding readers at locations all over Nottingham.

The beginning... the first sighting of Bryan at Broadway.

The beginning… the first sighting of Bryan at Broadway.

In 25 cafes, basements, bookshops, several pubs, a parked car, a front room (on the Promenade, my dream street), inside the Council House and performance pods at Nottingham Playhouse, we found ourselves asking “Are you Bryan?”.

But I Know This City Map

But I Know This City Map (Excavate)

Rehearsed readers at each location read the loose-bound chapters of The Unfortunates and gradually the novel was reconstituted as Johnson’s memories of Nottingham, reporting on football matches, his student days and his friend Tony came into focus. Descriptions of food (memorably some chips that redeem a meal), of meetings and visits, of friends and lovers recur through the story woven around recollections of the illness and heartbreaking early death of Johnson’s Nottingham friend Tony.

Readers in L

“Bryan” in Lee Rosies, Rough Trade and Bookwise

The Nottingham of the 1960s was vividly conjured as many of the locations we visited over 8 hours (with a long break for lunch) were described.

An examination of grief and the nature of memory, The Unfortunates is at times raw and intensely moving, qualities emphasised by these intimate readings, leaning in to hear in the noisier venues, huddled around pub tables, scurrying through the freezing dark to find the last few venues…

Following Bryan all the way to the top floor of City Arts

Following Bryan all the way to the top floor of City Arts.

Back at Broadway we tracked down the last two readers, driven inside by the cold. Two more chapters read to us in the bar.

We managed to witness the final chapter (thank you Andy) and the collected props in the Broadway’s lounge and were among around a dozen people to experience all 27 chapters… including Jonathan Coe’s recording of the shortest chapter.

The end. Some of the props, collected in the Broadway lounge.

Tweets from the day #ButIKnowThisCity

Nottingham author (and Bryan for the day) David Belbin’s blog on But I Know This City of Literature.