Art, Blog

Gursky World

I’ve invested in a National Art Pass this year (having taken advantage of their offer of 3 months for £10 last summer). On a recent trip to London, I used it to visit the Andreas Gursky retrospective at the newly re-opened Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.

Gursky’s Mega-photos have been on my radar since I spotted one at Tate Modern and saw this documentary (BBC’s The Art Show, back in 2002).

Ben Lewis – Gursky World from TofuTasties on Vimeo.

The German photographer’s work is in hyper-real high-definition, often a lot trickier than it at first appears. The starkness of the images really suited the Brutalist architecture of the Hayward, a gallery that should be cold and car-park like, but somehow manages to be light and spacious and perfect for contemporary art.

I enjoyed the show, but this particular photo, of JMW Turner paintings, made me start looking at how the pictures were hung and who was looking at them…


Andreas Gursky: Turner Collection 1995.
Andreas Gursky: Turner Collection 1995, at The Hayward Gallery
Andreas Gursky: Antarctic
Andreas Gursky: Antarctic, at The Hayward Gallery
Andreas Gursky: Tokyo, Stock Exchange,
Andreas Gursky: Tokyo, Stock Exchange, at The Hayward Gallery
Andreas Gurksy:Bahrain I'
Andreas Gurksy: Bahrain I’, at The Hayward Gallery
Blog, music writing

The Afghan Whigs at Nottingham Rescue Rooms

The Afghan Whigs, Ed Harcourt – Rescue Rooms – Nottingham – 15 August 2017

Billy no mates at the Rescue Rooms. My friends can’t make it and I have two spares, but no one comes to gigs like this on spec anymore.

The Afghan Whigs are a band back from a 16 year hiatus for a second phase, with two great albums in recent years back on top form. I’ve seen them three times before. Once circa 1999, when I’d play their then new album “1965” whenever I got a turn on the decks in the record shop where I then worked.

I saw them again at the Electric Ballroom in 2014, I happened to be passing through London and managed to buy a spare on the door.

This year, in May, I went to Manchester hoping to see them play The Cathedral. In the wake of the Arena bombing the show was moved to the Ritz, becoming all the more powerful for harnessing the defiant mood of the city less than a week after the atrocity.

Their albums “Do To The Beast” and this year’s “In Spades” have taken up residence in my headphones (when other records get dumped from the over-burdened memory.) They’ve become go-to listening for late night journeys. The Whigs world is a dark one, but full of soul.

Outside the venue too early to go in, three blokes loiter by the door, this band’s version of a queue. Hair that might once have been a quiff, band t-shirts carefully chosen. We are the walking wreckage of our former selves. And only when it’s nearly too late do we realise we were actually alright all along.

I chat with a couple who share my table. The geezer talks over his wife to demonstrate his knowledge of obscure tracks (even though, I discover, he’s not actually got around to seeing the band before). I ration my beer, hide in my notebook, I’m early for doors. I’m trying to raise some takers for my spare tickets, but the demographic is such that using social media is a fool’s errand. You don’t see many young people (unless they’ve been dragged along by their parents) at these shows. But we’re all Zineagers.

Say what you like about the over 35s, they’re efficient with their time. I’m either spectacularly early or so late I arrive only just in time for the very first note. Less concerned about cool too, not to say there aren’t a few very cool looking folks here, suited and booted.

These days I’m getting jaded, skint. Picky. I have time to get another beer, deposit the spares on the door with the instructions to give them away to the last to show up (employing what I like to think of as Ticket Karma) and I still walk straight to the barrier!

Ed Harcourt is touring as opener and also playing as an honorary Whig. He constructs a loop and plays “Occupational Hazard” from 2016’s “Furnaces”, he picks out notes on a Beastatone guitar, layered and stark. He’s become a good fit for the headliners, tattoo’d and cowboy booted. Black-clad and ready to explore the dark side. He announces that he turned 40 yesterday and warns that he’s facing “the fear” after 48 hours of drowning it out. But he rises above it, crooning “Until Tomorrow Then” to a “blue birds on my shoulder” glissando finale.

Greg Dulli, Whig in chief, sets the ball rolling. Picking his way onto the crowded stage to replicate “In Spades” opener “Birdland” (complete with audible sniff) before the rest of the band join him for a breathless trilogy – “Arabian Heights”, “Matamoros”, and the ever sexy “Somethin’ Hot” (which for lesser bands would be peaking early). They’re funky in a low down fashion, no nonsense without clichés that aren’t their own, blending the older material with the new like they never went away. They lead a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Harcourt, and play their ominous and faultless cover of Pleasure Club’s “You Want Love”.

“You want to go back?” asks Dulli, “I’m willing to go back half my life for you.” And they play “Honky’s Ladder” from 1996’s “Black Love”.

Dulli stops and summons a couple of women from the crowd to the front. “You and you…” he reaches over and hands them what at first look like dubious packages, but as they pass over my shoulder I realise that they are freshly wrapped earplugs from a stash in his pocket. Volume dealt with they plough on.

Between legs of this tour, long-time guitarist and fellow member of Dulli’s other band The Twilight Singers, Dave Rosser, passed away after suffering from cancer. “Can Rova”, a song about leaving, becomes a tribute. “You don’t see me any more.” Rosser will always be with them (and still gets to take his applause at the end of the show).

Dulli takes to the piano for three more songs, including their take on the Bonnie and Clyde story (somewhere between Serge Gainsbourg and Beyonce & Jay Z’s version) “Going To Town (Slight Return)”. They go way back to their debut LP for “Son Of The South”, sprawling and epic and storm the place with “Into The Floor”.

Telling off someone in the balcony for filming, this is a strictly no flash photography gig, Dulli says, “Pay attention, this might be the last time you ever see us.” I hope not, I hope they’re here to stay.

Use your time wisely, for one day you will be too old for this, but not yet. Not quite yet.

Back for more, making us work for it, the encore treats the loyal with “Summer’s Kiss” and “Faded”. I hope someone used my spares.

Art, Blog

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.


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.

Blog, music writing

The People’s History Of Pop

Last year I spoke to the makers of The People’s History of Pop about Radiohead and specifically 1997 and the release of OK Computer, the episode was on BBC4 on Friday and is now on the iPlayer. I’m on near the start…


I’m a big fan of the music docs on BBC4 so it was interesting to be involved in making one. We recorded a lot more footage with memorabilia and me babbling on about the band, but in the end they focused on Glastonbury and the breakthrough into the mainstream…


BBC4 tweeted a link to the blog during the show, so hello to you dear reader if you’ve found me after watching.

As you can see in this screen grab, I had a load more stuff with me on the day (spot Phil’s drumstick from T in the Park 1996), a few of my many 90s Radiohead T-Shirts and even my diary from 1997.

Shout out to Emily who was also featured, who I remember as someone who was always in the queue and suffereing many hardships to be at the front!

Here’s my blog about not going to Glastonbury, but watching it on TV at home.