An alternative crowdfunding

So… would a bunch of you pledge some money, crowdfunding style, without knowing what it’s going towards – but knowing that three people with good taste will pick an artist and commission a piece of work of work with your money, and you’ll get something cool in six months time?


Watermelon 4 copyWatermelon is one of the two night’s I started at West Coast’s Black Cat Club. I wanted something of the spirit of the old Shaft at the Zap, Brighton; funk, soul, disco. Here’s some of what I played last night, 7th March:

  • James Brown: Get Up Offa That Thing
  • James & Bobby Purify: Shake A Tail Feather
  • Sly & The Family Stone: Dance To The Music
  • Beginning Of The End: Funky Nassau
  • Henry Brooks: Mini Skirt
  • The Third Degree: Mercy
  • Dee Lite: Groove Is In The Heart
  • Dorothy Moore: Here It Is
  • Thelma Houston: Don’t Leave Me This Way
  • James Brown: Get Up I Feel Like A Sex Machine (Pt 1)
  • De La Soul: The Magic Number
  • Coasters: Love Potion No. 9
  • The New Jersey Kings: Spinning Wheel
  • Millie Jackson: My Man, A Good Man
  • Harold Mabern: I Want You Back
  • MFSB: Family Affair
  • Johnny Otis: Watts Breakaway

Fancy some of that? I’m back for Watermelon again on Saturday 16th May.

Swifty’s Sunday Social, 20 years ago

P1160328It’s odd, looking back and realising that the summer of 2014 was 20 years ago. We were just having fun in a battered seaside town and I don’t think any of us considered that what we were doing would have such an impact. We weren’t a gang, and never called ourselves Imaginists back then. What we were doing wasn’t a conscious attempt to shape the future, even if we did all secretly believe we could change the world. But Margate was burning bright in 2014. There had been months of great theatre, incredible art happenings, a buzz in the national media (newspapers, back then – newspapers!)

It really came together on a Sunday afternoon at the sleepy end of that summer; Swift hadn’t had even one platinum album then, there was little to suggest he’d win the Turner Prize twice, and the idea that there’d be a room dedicated to him in Margate’s Imaginist Centre was faintly ridiculous. He was Tom Swift, not Swift; he hadn’t become, like Madonna, somebody known by a single name. He was just oddball painter Tom Swift, a lanky, awkward character with an eye on the main chance, fingers in some odd pies, a hatful of ideas, a neat line in drippy paintings. And, in Caspar, a mentor.

Yes, that Caspar – he was charismatic even then, but we didn’t realise how dangerous his religious quackery would become. I’m not sure then he even believed in the Sacred Duck; it was just an in joke. I think after Apple introduced the smart drugs, they started to alter the world around him, and he believed the coincidences and chances meant something. If we had known how far he’d take it, well; we’d have pushed him off the harbour arm, the Thames Barrier wouldn’t have been damaged so badly by that ridiculous Rubber Duck, and London wouldn’t have flooded.

P1160550Anyway – together Swift and Caspar and me cooked up the plan for Swifty’s Sunday Social at the Black Cat Club. Not the one you can visit now, of course – that’s a shameless cash-in, a Disneyfied version of where we hung out. It’s not even in the same place. There never was a Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre on the seafront. Back then it was an art gallery called Turner Contemporary, and that summer it was exhibiting work by Jeremy Deller. Forgotten now, but back then he was the big star, not us. Today’s Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre is just an imitation, as authentic as The Cavern in Liverpool, but it’s made Keith Roberts rich and famous. When I watch him on the panel of England’s Got Talent, I can’t help but remember the Gabicci-wearing, quiffed, suited and booted wideboy he was back then. He hasn’t really changed much, has he?

Our Black Cat, back then, was across the road; it’s the toilets of Starbucks now – I know, tiny. It was a proper underground club, sweat dripping from the ceiling and the walls sticky. It was where Swifty’s Sunday Social started, and my own Face Up! too. That was just supposed to be a one-off night, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mods vs Rockers battles in Margate in 1964. I never saw Face Up! becoming the brand it has become, and every one of our coffee shops around the world has a little bit of the Black Cat spirit, every item of clothing in our shops is inspired by what people were wearing in Margate back then, every disc and download in our record shops could have graced the turntables that year. But I digress; the first Swifty’s Sunday Social, all those Sundays ago, is what I’m writing about.

It was a good afternoon. There was a DJ, a local vicar called Emmet Keane (remember, there was still a Church of England back then!), playing reggae and dub; and Helen Seymour performed her poetry. She was an interesting character; slight and hauntingly beautiful, magic eyes, slightly awkward as we all were, slipping rhymes and interesting images into rambling stories. I saw the spark in her, but still can’t believe she’s the same person who wrote that poem for the old Queen’s funeral, let alone that her brief affair with a prince that started at the funeral could topple the monarchy.

P1160510And there was a Simon Williams film projected on the wall, too. I know, I know, it seems unlikely – a Turner Prize winner, the Poet Laureate, a ten-times Oscar winner, a TV superstar, the Prime Minister and me all in the one place, on one Sunday afternoon, but it’s true. It really happened. Simon’s film was a precursor to ‘365’, that won him that first Oscar. It was a black and white film (timelapse, of course, could it be anything else, from him?) shot from Arlington House, which wasn’t the swanky, gated place it’s become. Back then it was just a towerblock, Margate just a seaside town.

The crowd that Sunday afternoon was full of good, interesting people, too. Joe Brown was there; he was a shopkeeper, ran a junk shop with Kelly. He hadn’t become a politician then, had no ambitions to become Prime Minister. Really! Back then, people were career politicians, not people like Joe who just rose from nowhere. There were photographers, and writers, and painters, and dancers, and shopkeepers out that afternoon. The Breuer and Dawson boys, before they hosted their TV makeover series, before Breuer and Dawson was just a chain store. IndustroChic wasn’t a thing back then. A good crowd, for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but not as many people as have said they were there; we’d never have fitted everyone that said they were at the first one into that tiny room. I remember Simon saying we needed ten more people to make it feel busy; Caspar wanted fifty more. There was room for ten, room for fifty, and there weren’t queues around the block back then for anything Swift did.

I guess it’s that weekend that changed it all, really; that made it clear we had a scene. I know the Black Cat is compared to Warhol’s Factory, and while that’s a lazy comparison there’s something in it. The atmosphere maybe, that bottled sense of excitement, that belief that we could take on the world and win, that buttoned-down madness – but the impact of the Imaginists has been so much bigger, deeper, wider. It all started one Sunday, and nothing’s been quite the same since.

Margate, November 2034

The Graphic Art of the Underground

It’s a pretty neat trick, to take a bunch of stuff you’ve seen before, thread it together and give you a slightly different view of the world at the end. But that’s what Ian Lowey and Suzy Prince do in The Graphic Art of the Underground.

The usual graphic design suspects, and plenty of familiar images, are all here. There’s Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and Family Dog’s psychedelic screenprinted posters, Jamie Reid punk graphics, Peter Saville’s hard industrial design for Factory, and Barney Bubbles riotous album sleeves, and they all deserve their places here.

But Lowey and Prince thread together more diverse artists, illustrators, designers and makers to create their narrative, which starts with Von Dutch and Ed Roth customising Hot Rods and ends with Rob Ryan’s papercuts and Naomi Ryder’s embroidered illustrations. It’s that bringing together of the bright mainstream of popular culture, and of  the dark corners of underground art, which make this such a strong book.

That wider story finds ‘the spirit of youthful energy and rebellion’ threaded across the last 60 years, and constantly starting underground before moving to the mainstream.

It’s fair to say that in almost every case, the makers – whether of custom cars, psychedelic posters, punk fanzines, street art, designer toys or indie crafts – see themselves as bold explorer’s of unknown places, largely independent of what’s gone before. But the line Lowey and Prince draw from a Von Dutch car paintjob to a Gandalf’s Garden front cover to a Barney Bubbles album sleeve to an Alex Gross painting to a Pete Fowler toy is pretty straight.

It’s a captivating story, well told, and suggests that some things we’re familiar with are worth looking at again, and some things we’ve never seen are worth taking the time to investigate. If you’re interested in youth culture or underground art, graphic design or independent crafting, there’s enough in here to make this a useful (and in the future, well thumbed) addition to your bookcase.

What would Jeremy Deller do?

Bouffant Headbutt by Shampoo is a glorious piece of pop. It’s a snotty, sneery punk anthem – 2 minutes 11 seconds of perfect attitude. it was released in 1993 on the frankly too-cool-for-school Ice Rink label.

Now you’ll feel our bouffant in your face

(Bouffant Headbutt by Shampoo)

It’s also the first time I came across Jeremy Deller. He took the live photos on the single’s sleeve. He may have designed the Dolly Bird T-shirts they’re wearing; he produced designs for Covent Garden shop Sign of the Times, and a number of pop stars were caught wearing them. I’m fairly certain he was hanging around some of the same bars and clubs as me – Where’s Jude in Farringdon, Blow Up in Camden and Soho, the Good Mixer in Camden. Those were heady days; late nights, early morning trains, a buzz that wasn’t just chemically induced, a sense of urgency, excitement as the people we danced with at night made it onto Top of the Pops or into Face and i-D.

Those years in the mid-90s were reminiscent in more than just sound and style of the classic years of British pop. And Jeremy Deller’s always been into pop, a cultural archivist as much as an artist: Brian Epstein, David Bowie, Morrissey, Bez, brass bands playing acid house, Keith Moon and posters of Kate Moss.

Shampoo – two teenage girls with attitude and pretty popstar boyfriends – fit perfectly into that tradition. They even ran the Manic Street Preachers fan club, and Deller produced The Uses of Literacy, an entire collection of work inspired by those fans. And Unconvention, an exhibition which he imagined the Manics had curated, too.

I’d like to be a gallery
Put you all inside my show

(Andy Warhol by David Bowie)

Deller brought music and art together even further, producing posters imagining Keith Moon having a retrospective at the Tate, turning  song lyrics into scripture, imagining the baggy scene coming to the Hayward Gallery, a poster given away at Frieze asking ‘What would Neil Young do?’. Posters and prints are a perfect pop medium, and they’re something Deller’s returned to over and over. Fast, out there in public, easy to  produce, and ephemeral.

They’ve been an important part of what I do, too; a minor obsession started because my first real job was producing and distributing posters for the Connaught Theatre. I’ve still got some of those; classic designs, elegant typography, ephemeral. Since then, I’ve produced posters to mark projects and actions; a set of three screenprints for Worthing Pier, a dozen designs for Bedford Happy, posters for Face Up! so good they all get nicked.

So Jeremy Deller coming to Margate feels like an interesting collision, my mid-90s life catching up with where I am today as an artist.

Art isn’t about what you make but what you make happen

(Jeremy Deller)

I’ve spoken on the Social Art podcast about Deller’s work, and referenced him in various talks and workshops. I think our work as social artists is similar; unsurprising as we come from very similar starting points; music, collaboration, pop, and people. So, a couple of times when working on projects or in different places  I’ve found myself wondering ‘What would Jeremy Deller do?’

That, and his visit, felt like something that should be marked by a poster. A limited edition, well printed, but given away and produced as a piece of public art. And nickable – it had to be nickable. Something people would steal and take home for their wall.

So the two have come together in my artwork for Margate, produced as an edition of 100, printed in heavy black on dayglo paper. Drawing pinned to walls, stuck up in shops. Find one, it’s yours.

IMG_20140927_150734 IMG_20140930_164804 (1) IMG_20140930_165001 IMG_20141010_190500 (1) IMG_20141011_132627 (1)

‘Why did you move to Margate?’, people ask

People ask why we moved – me, Mrs T, three children, a dog, lots of books – to Margate: here’s why.


The summer kicked off with Outboard, a block party in an old boat yard in Margate. Photos here.


Then there was a performance by Siobhan Davies at Turner Contemporary. Photos here.


Face Up! with Andy Lewis marked 50 years since the Mods vs Rockers fights. Photos here. We did it a couple more times after that, too. Photos here. Thanks Pretty Green for helping make it happen.


Margate Meltdown the next week was pretty ace. Well, it’s the Ace Cafe run. Photos here. There were more motorbikes, when the First Night Riders visited the Theatre Royal. Photos here. And we popped down the Harbour Arm a few times, to catch the beautiful cars at the Thanet Classics meetup. Photos here.


Breakfast Club led us off on a walking tour of Margate’s history. Photos here. And Story Hunt by Daniel Bye was rather special, too. Photos here. The storytellers who own Margate’s shop are a whole summer’s entertainment by themselves. Photos here.


A short drive took us on a daytrip to the Historic Dockyard at Chatham. Photos here. And short walk takes us to The Shell Grotto, always open – a proper ancient mystery. Photos here.


The Red Ladies visited town and staged a demonstration at the Theatre Royal. Photos here.


There was also a great night at Follow The Herring at the Theatre Royal.


And Dwelling appeared at Turner Contemporary – worth visiting again and again, as the light changed. Photos here. The Red Ladies and Dwelling were part of Summer of Colour which included bundles of other stuff, too. Photos here.


Roundabout was another bit of Summer of Colour, a pop up theatre which the Theatre Royal brought to the Winter Gardens. Photos here. We saw three shows in there. And in the Winter Gardens in its normal role, we saw Coco and the Butterfields, when my son’s choir sang with them.


There was more music for the Margate Soul Weekend – with Norman Jay, who I DJ’d with years ago. Photos here.


Another day trip took us down to Folkestone. Photos here.


And in Margate, there’s a constant background noise of artists like Paul Hazelton and Tom Swift to keep you entertained, too. Photos here.


Throw in trips to Whitstable, Herne Bay, Broadstairs and Canterbury, days out at the Powell-Cotton Museum (below) and Quex Park (photos here from their military weekend), art on the doorstep at Turner Contemporary, the Giant Print festival, sandy beaches and chalk cliffs… well, why wouldn’t you move to Margate, if you possibly could?


PS And that’s without including the fast train to London so I can get to work in Stoke quickly…

Get Up and Tie Your Fingers

IMG_20140718_204252Get Up and Tie Your Fingers tells the story of a disaster at sea, through the women in a small fishing community. They’re living a life which remained essentially unchanged from the 1800s through to the 1950s, when overfishing ended a way of life.

The play focuses on three characters, mother Jean and her daughter Molly, and close family friend (and Molly’s future mother-in-law) Janet. While Jean is weighted by her past, Molly wants a different life, and is inspired by Janet’s stories of work as a Herring Lass, travelling from Scotland down to Margate as she followed the fishing fleet, gutting and packing the fish. While fishermen are always there, they’re offstage, a presence but never part of the performance which has an all-female cast.

But the fishing disaster which finally claims the lives of these men – sons, husbands, and brothers – is the point at which the three women really come together, and through their loss realise that life has to be lived now. The play ends at the very start of their journey together.

Jean is played perfectly by Barbara Marten, who holds the stiffness of her upbringing and the fear of loss in every firm, straight inch of her Presbyterian performance. Sian Mannifield’s Janet is a counterweight to this; a joyous, singsong performance, as a woman who’s lived and enjoyed life along the way, but is nearly brought down by the loss of her sons. Her telling of their deaths, witnessed from the harbour arm, is truly moving.

And Molly, who balances both past and future so is at the centre of the whole play, is played by Samantha Foley. She has a dark, heavy, 19th century beauty which you’ll find in old photos. Her austerity of gesture, and her tough, physical grace make Molly both Victorian and very contemporary.

The three leads are supported by Steffi Sweeney and Erin Connor, leading a chorus of fifteen local women. This is a brave way to perform; the choir change throughout the tour, different in each town. For Margate, The Landmark Show Choir have had to learn their movement across, through and around the set in about seven hours. They’re a constant presence, singing a tricky score but also, often just standing still or sitting in ones or twos and watching over the performance like a Greek chorus.

Get Up and Tie Your Fingers is a stylish piece of contemporary theatre, blending a sparse and atmospheric choral score by Karen Wimhurst, with strong movement and great physical performances. It all takes place on a striking set by Alison Ashton that reflects the claustrophobia of a village, the closeness of a community, the smallness of a family home, and the safety of a harbour.

That’s a life and those are themes that are universal and timeless; and that’s what makes this a great piece of theatre.

Get Up and Tie Your Fingers is at the Theatre Royal, Margate until 19th July.

The Real Britpop

Britpop also-rans Mocking Kevin

There’s a bit of celebration happening, 20 years on from the start of Britpop.  But it’s not really the Britpop that I remember.

I was there – working with lots of the more minor bands after turning down a job with Blur in 1993, DJing at clubs like Blow Up and Brighton’s Basement, hanging out with Menswe@r, Heavy Stereo, Moloko Plus and My Life Story, and drinking at the Good Mixer.

And what I was part of was much bigger than the Blur vs Oasis battle that’s being replayed right now.

Britpop started before the music press gave it a label, in bands like S*M*A*S*H, My Life Story, Elastica, Spitfire, These Animal Men, Denim, Suede and Pulp who were discovering a british style. It really came together with Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish, a collection of perfect British songs in a brilliantly British sleeve. Still, I think, the most important album of the time

From those roots, came a radically diverse scene, with lots of different bands exploring being british in very different ways. It wasn’t just the straightforward rock it became later – Pulp were still very artschool, Blur were channeling classic 60s bands, but there were also bands like St Etienne, Cornershop, James Taylor Quartet and Portishead, making a very different noise but being bought by the same people. Listen to My Life Story and Divine Comedy, Dodgy and The Bluetones, Ash and Elastica, and you’ll find something much more than 60s rock revived. It doesn’t all sound the same.

And there was an incredible diversity within the musicians, too. I don’t remember a music scene before or since with as many women – Elastica, Echobelly, St Etienne, Catatonia, Curve, Kenickie, Salad, Powder  and many, many more. And a huge explosion of bands from outside London, too – Pulp were proudly Sheffield, there was a strong Brighton contingent, a whole wave of Welsh bands as far apart as the Manic Street Preachers and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, Ash from Northern Ireland, Ocean Colour Scene from the Midlands, Oasis, Black Grape and a whole bunch of stoutly Northern bands.

Look at Echobelly alone – a female singer from India, a Swedish guitarist, a black female guitarist – and all of those were pretty much ignored because they weren’t exceptional and because the songs were so good.

And Britpop came with a culture wrapped around it, too. Books like High Fidelity, fashion names like Fred Perry and Ben Sherman, Kate Moss, the Young British Artists, illustrators like Jamie Hewlett and Phil Bond, and films like Trainspotting are very much part of the whole scene.

So let’s look again – and let’s not remember Britpop as ladrock, Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia and nothing more than a Union Jack wrapped around a revival.

Britpop was an energetic reimagining of what it meant to be British, and has a legacy in the fact that Britain is the most creative country in the world, leading in music, literature, film, design and art. It truly made a difference.


The Worthing Workshop

Another piece for a local paper about Worthing’s rock ‘n’ roll history. Was Worthing the birthplace of punk?

“The Worthing Workshop was active for less than five years, but its alumni have had a huge – and until now, unrecorded – influence on the UK’s music scene.

In the late 1960s, every town worth its salt had an ‘arts lab’ bringing together art, music, and literature.

Worthing’s was started in 1968. The Living Loving Workshop was founded by Jimmy Doody, who with his company Krishna Lights went on to make the psychedelic lightshow into a commercial product. Doody’s work led to a company called Optikinetics – and a massive industry in disco lighting.

Doody’s early efforts evolved into the Worthing Workshop, and Ian Grant and John May took over the running. Grant went on to manage The Stranglers and Big Country, and John May later worked for Greenpeace. A close friend of Grant’s at the time, Alan Edwards, now runs The Outside Organisation – working with acts like Amy Winehouse, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols and Leona Lewis.

The Worthing Workshop held regular Saturday night gigs at The Norfolk, later home to more music as Flappers Bar, and now demolished.   Blues band Steamhammer, whose songwriter Martin Quittenton went on to pen hits for Rod Stewart, were regulars.

Their original singer Chris Slade is still a Worthing resident, running a company finding Brits property in France.

Another regular act were psychedelic blues band Mysterious Babies, featuring Brian James who later formed the Damned.

The Worthing Workshop also staged two open air free concerts at Beach House, with Steamhammer and T2, best known for their 1970 album It’ll All Work Out In Boomland. Jim Doody also brought the more famous Deep Purple to the Pavilion Theatre.

The Worthing Workshop had its own magazine, founded by Nigel Thompson – known to many as a schoolteacher of many years standing.

Originally called Swan and then renamed Scab, the magazine included poetry, articles, and interviews and was reportedly investigated for pornographic content.

The magazine was behind a series of impromptu poetry performances on the seafront and outside Worthing’s old town hall. Other events took place at the Art College Annexe in Union Place.

Members of the Workshop would regularly sell underground magazines like IT and Oz, as well as colourful screenprinted posters, at Holders Corner on Saturdays.

Twice, the group joined August’s Carnival Procession. Most notoriously they put the band The Pink Fairies on a float. The band, closely allied with Hawkwind, are now seen as the UK’s first punk band.

Take that fact, the connections with The Damned and The Stranglers, and Worthing may deserve a place in the history books as one of the places that punk started.”

Phun City

Originally written for The Sentinel, the Worthing supplement for the Argus, this is a good introduction to the legendary Phun City free festival. One day, I’ll write the book:

“Sussex landed gentry the Somerset family have a place in the history books, as unlikely allies of the ‘free festival’ movement.

Phun City was the first free festival in the UK, and took place in July 1970. A 20 acre site at Ecclesdon Common, now lost under the A27 just north of Worthing, was turned over to camping, giant inflatable domes, and an open-air market.

The main stage was a rough scaffold affair, and at one point during the preparations the whole stage was carried to a new position on the site by an army of local hippies because it had been erected too close to power lines.

The stage saw sets from The MC5, Pretty Things, Kevin Ayers, Mungo Jerry, and the Pink Fairies – all playing for free. The MC5, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had their own political movement, the White Panther Party.

Ironically, Free were on the original bill but dropped out when organisers said they would be unable to pay them.

The obligatory psychedelic lightshow was provided by Peter Wynne Willson, today providing massive lighting rigs for stadium tours by U2 and Pink Floyd.

There was also a poetry gathering, ‘guerilla theatre’, cinema, DJs, and a science fiction convention with special guest William Burroughs, the American novelist and spoken word performer best known for the book ‘Naked Lunch’.

Former Worthing High School pupils Mick Farren and Gez Cox organised the event, renting the land at Patching from Mr J Fitzroy Somerset. Back then, rock festivals were a new idea and the local press reported terrified local residents, condemnation from the council’s health inspectors, and mixed reactions from the local clergy.

While Angmering’s Rev Reath was talking about getting food to the site, and reaching out to the hippy community, another local clergyman had a different view.

“They don’t do any work and then expect other people to help them,” said Rev H N Snelling , rector of Clapham and Patching, “ I don’t think we should encourage them to carry on with this mode of life. I can’t feel any pity for them”

But Mr Somerset was unrepentant about leasing the land to Mick Farren, saying “what he does with it is his own business.”

Phun City was the first free festival in the UK, but that wasn’t the original plan. Original posters, featuring a cartoon character drawn by International Times contributor Edward Barker, list a price of £2 for all three days, or day tickets for just £1.

However, the local authority took out an injunction in an attempt to stop the festival. By the time the injunction was lifted, organisers had three days left to set up the site and didn’t have any fences. Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Reilly stepped in, providing financial backing to make sure the festival went ahead.

Those who attended remember a slightly shambolic festival and a naïve optimism, but overall a powerful sense of community.  And many wonder – if Worthing had embraced Phun City, would we now be hosting an event the size of Glastonbury every year? “

Greatest albums

This is a working post, so expect additions and changes. But I’ve been thinking about the greatest albums, ever and thought it was time to start a list.

  • Dexys Midnight Runners; Searching for the Young Soul Rebels
  • Blondie; Parallel Lines
  • Ian Dury; New Boots and Panties
  • Elvis Costello; This Year’s Model
  • Billy Bragg and the Blokes; England, Half English
  • The Kinks; Are the Village Green Preservation Society
  • The Small faces; Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake
  • Blur; Modern Life Is Rubbish
  • Noisettes; Wild Young Heart
  • Michelle Shocked; Short, Sharp, Shocked
  • Talking Heads; 77
  • Dusty Springfield; Dusty In Memphis
  • Brian Auger & The Trinity; Befour
  • Dr John; Gris-gris
  • Steely Dan; Pretzel Logic
  • Love: Forever Changes
  • Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band; Trout Mask Replica
  • Patti Smith: Horses
  • Stevie Wonder; Innervisions
  • Fatboy Slim; Better Living Through Chemistry
  • Primal Scream; Screamadelica
  • Portishead; Dummy
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival; Bayou Country
  • Jesus & Mary Chain; Psycho Candy
  • Pulp; His n Hers
  • They Might Be Giants; Flood
  • Fairport Convention: Liege & Lief
  • Kate Bush; Hounds of Love
  • Devon Sproule; Keep Your Silver Shined
  • Pixies: Doolittle
  • The Clash; Sandinista
  • Jonathan Richman; Rock n Roll with the Modern Lovers
  • Ivor Cutler; Velvet Donkey
  • U2; Achtung Baby

Mixtape for another blog

I’ve just contributed a guest post to the lovely From Disc Till Dawn blog, a mixtape:

“A mixtape is a difficult thing for me. I love so much; the sounds of a low slung punk bass rumbling one minute, a battered double bass being plucked the next. I like ukulele, and big Marshall stacks. Anything with horns is good; but then I’m partial to a capella too. I adore all things British and I love seeing weird Americana live. Music is in my head all day, every day like a soundtrack. Sadly I can’t play anything so the decks in the corner of my office are the closest I get to musical creativity. This isn’t my desert island discs by the way, which would take me months of work and crafting. It’s a snapshot and has all been played in the last few days”

So, want to know what’s been on the stereo lately? It’s on the From Disc Till Dawn blog over here.

All the artists

Image by Dean Barwell - Revolutionary Arts, Pop-Up Gallery

This could take a while, but I’m compiling a list of all the artists we’ve worked with in ten years of Revolutionary Arts. I haven’t listed all the artists who took part in the successful open house schemes we ran in Horsham and Worthing yet…

  • Alice Angus
  • David Armitage
  • Eugenie Arrowsmith
  • Sue Baker
  • The Bamboo Band
  • Ben Barker
  • Dean Barwell (photo – top)
  • Pearl Bates
  • Nathan Bean
  • Dan Belton
  • Big Chill Recordings
  • Nic Blair
  • Steve Bomford
  • Ed Boxall
  • Russ Bravo
  • Robin Brenchley
  • Bob Brighton
  • Tessy Britton
  • Brenda Brooks
  • Caroline Brown
  • Chris Brown
  • Faye Brunning
  • Buckler’s Reel
  • Buzz Theatre
  • James Caldicott
  • Maria Carapeto
  • The Caravan Gallery
  • Steve Carroll
  • Nikki Cheal
  • Sin Mui Chung-Martin
  • Naomi Clark
  • Clothkits
  • Andrew Collins
  • John Collins
  • CoMA Sussex Ensemble
  • Louisa Cook
  • David Cottingham
  • Janine Craye
  • Adrian Crick
  • Anthony Cropper
  • Culture Quarter Programme
  • Susan Cutts
  • Abigail Daker
  • Luna Davenport
  • Harriet Davies
  • Lloyd Davies
  • Michelle Dawson
  • Alexandra Dipple
  • Bianca Donnelly
  • Bill Drummond
  • Lou Durham
  • Melissa Ede
  • Caroline Elderfield
  • John Evans
  • John Farmelo
  • Pete Fijalkowski
  • Christine Forbes
  • Becca Foster
  • Leanne Foster
  • Mark Gaynor
  • Susanna Gibson
  • Gimpo
  • Gerald Glover
  • Kenn Goodall
  • Gary Goodman
  • Dave Gorman
  • Wendy Greene
  • Justine Grice
  • Sheila Guyatt
  • Sue Harding
  • Sally Harris
  • Katherine Haynes
  • Ned Hoskins
  • Sonia Hunt
  • The Ice Prince Orchestra
  • Alison Ingram
  • Sarah Johnson
  • Jessica Jordan
  • Susie Kershaw
  • Christiane Kersten
  • Fozia Khaliq
  • Olga Kohutek
  • Eva Lauermann
  • Hugh Lloyd
  • Sian Lloyd
  • Sam Lock
  • Rose Mackew
  • Daniel Martin
  • Natalie Martin
  • Linda McVeigh
  • Meanwhile Project
  • Natasha Middleton
  • Alison Milner
  • Alison Milner-Gulland
  • MLA
  • Moor Arts
  • Hazel Mortley
  • Paul Munson
  • Blanca Negro
  • Patricia Neve
  • Jonathan Nyati
  • Nick Orsborn
  • Edith Pargh Barton
  • Michael Parkes
  • Nell Pascoe
  • Fred Pipes
  • Geoff Plant
  • Ingrid Plum
  • Ivan Pope
  • Michael Radcliffe
  • Linda Rainbird
  • Rainbow Shakespeare
  • Dayna Richman
  • Tim Riddihough
  • Steve Rowland
  • Joanne Rowling
  • Linda Rush
  • Trevor Rush
  • Justin Sainsbury
  • Ben Salter
  • Sarah Sherry
  • Nirmal Singh Darman
  • Chris Slade
  • Micki Slade
  • Pete Slight
  • South Kilburn Neighbourhood Trust
  • Spacemakers
  • Steve Speller
  • Martine Spencer
  • Spilt Milk Dance
  • Belinda Stephenson
  • Hannah Stewart
  • Teresa Stewart-Goodman
  • Elizabeth Stiles
  • Textile Arts Forum
  • Theatre Akimbo
  • Dan Thompson
  • Netta Thompson
  • Nigel Thompson
  • Tracey Thompson
  • Duncan Thrussell
  • Maggie Tredwell
  • Richard Vobes
  • Clive Vosper
  • Andy Waite
  • Helena Weaver
  • Lisa Weller
  • West Sussex Writers’ Club
  • Caroline Whiteman
  • Georgina Williams
  • Jan Williams
  • Sarah Young
  • Debbie Zoutewelle

Happiness Dan’s 120 Songs Blog

Somebody should set up an Internet Salvage Company, like those architectural salvage companies that save old doors, window frames and garden gates for re-use. The Internet Salvage Company would save good ideas that got forgotten. Here’s an old blog which lasted for a few posts in 2006, when an iPod Shuffle held 120 songs, in its entirety. Written under one of my DJ pseudonyms, Happiness Dan.

MONDAY, JULY 17, 2006

Another Girl, Another Song
Elas, who built my PC and handles all things that make stuff possible (Microsoft, virus protection, my whizzy new wireless router), has been in touch. “You have to have ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ by the Only Ones,” she says.

And she’s right. It will be added to the mighty Shuffle.

Odds and Ends
Also added; Monkey Gone To Heaven by The Pixies, Silver Machine by Hawkwind (after reading the Lemmy interview in Mojo, while stranded on Ford station today), Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks.

And – strangely – I Quit by popsters Hepburn. After walking down the Kings Road a couple of days ago, I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve no idea who the singer is, but she’s got a cracking, really distinct vocal sound and a good line in wry lyrics. Under-rated … where are they now?
Cover Versions and More Added
I was in the Splash FM car with the radio station’s managing director Roy Stannard last week. He has a collection estimated at 10,000 CDs which – even by my standards – is obsessive. We were discussing this blog, and got talking about best cover versions. ‘Satisfaction by Cat Power,’ says I, ‘and Robert Wyatt’s take on I’m A Believer’. Both are now on the Shuffle.

I’ve added the Stones original version of Satisfaction, too; just on the off chance that they’ll get shuffled together at some point (I also added The Last Time, while I was on a Stones trip). I may add the Devo version of Satisfaction, but I downloaded it recently and it’s not the same version my dad used to play me on 7″. I’ll have to find that version – any suggestions?

Another three covers made it on; Arthur Brown’s take on I Put A Spell On You, Hush by Kula Shaker and Billy Bragg’s The Red Flag (to the original jaunty tune, not the German dirge).

21 Songs
I’ve swapped Five Years for Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, added Gimme Danger by The Stooges, and stuck Mathar by Indian Vibes on for some sitar-tatsic times. 21 songs in, and it’s all shaping up nicely.
TUESDAY, JUNE 20, 2006

Quintessentially British
I’m trying to get the soul stuff down to a list of ten. Or twelve. Maybe fifteen songs, tops. Some soul songs, anyway, will appear soon.

In the meantime, the lovely Mel and the mysterious Missy P have made lots of suggestions that got me thinking about my sense of British-ness. So – some Beatles. After much deliberation, It’s All Too Much from the Yellow Submarine Songtrack album. I’ll have to add its sister track, Sorrow by The Merseybeats, too – but I’ve only got it on 7″ which won’t fit in the iPod.

Some Blur, and I followed Missy P’s recomendation of Star Shaped from Modern Life Is Rubbish. I’ll probably add some of the later, dirtier Blur too.

Some Bowie (Five Years), English, Half English by Billy Bragg, and London, Can You Wait? by Gene. Now, with all that Britishness to balance out the flavour, it feels like a more balanced 120 Songs.
More Julian Cope
“Julian Cope-The Greatness and Perfection of Love,” Missy P (a MySpace friend) says, “the only pop song you could ever need as far as I’m concerned. Power pop at it’s best. Whoo!”
I’ll Manage Somehow
“Duchess – Scott Walker” says Johnny Dean, who used to be in Menswe@r, “nothing else, just that”.
MONDAY, JUNE 19, 2006

Little Fluffy Clouds
6 Music DJ and really rather good writer Andrew Collins has suggested Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb, and I think he’s got a point. I used to DJ in my student days, and Little Fluffy Clouds (the full 10+ minutes) was not only a centrepiece to the whole set, but gave me a great chance to mess around with dropping samples and beats.

It was also long enough to get from the decks to the toilets (at the other end of the Wine Lodge) and back again. I think for 120 Songs purposes I might track down the single edit that clocks in at about 4 minutes: otherwise there will only be enough room on the Shuffle for 118 Songs.

Andrew has also suggested “Try A Little Tenderness by Otis Redding, notwithstanding the fact that it fades out, like so many great soul records do.” The soul side of 120 Songs is still up for debate, but The Orb goes on later today.
Funky, Jazzy, Groovy
Nicola says there needs to be some soul in there. She’s right. And some funk. And probably a little bit of jazz. Some ska, and calypso, too.

I’ve always liked a bit of Northern Soul, so maybeI should start with some of that. Seven Days Too Long by Chuck Wood (which brings us back to Dexys again)? The Snake by Al Wilson (or Dodgy’s Britpop-era version)? Backfield in Motion by Mel & Tim? Hold On I’m Coming by Erma Franklin (or maybe the obscure Bette Bright version, if I can find it)?

And some Motown. I’m thinking probably Uptight by Stevie Wonder.

Uptown Top Ranking has got to go on. The Beat Goes On by Buddy Rich, too. And Be Young, be Foolish, Be Happy by the Tams. And Don’t Forget About Me from Dusty in Memphis.

This needs more thought. What’s missing?
SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 2006

120 Songs
It was my birthday yesterday – and I’m getting closer to the magical 33 years. So, time to start a quest.

I was given an iPod Shuffle. It holds 120 Songs. It plays them at random.

So, with just 120 Songs, these have to be the best 120 Songs ever. Every one must be a perfect slice of pop, or a quirky 3 minute slab of aural strangeness, or the best of its genre, or hold some lyrical magic to earn its place on the list.

And – to make it a little harder – there’s that randomness. So, every one of the 120 Songs must play well after any other of the 120 Songs.

First up was Teenage Kicks, followed by the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams. Jonathan Richman’s Roadrunner was next. It has to be here, as possibly the greatest rock ‘n’ roll single ever.

Jolie Holland’s Mad Tom of Bedlam and Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman add a different, alt-country-ish flavour. Traffic’s John Barleycorn (Must Die) flies the British folk flag.

Galliano’s Heaven Knows is on there – for the line ‘Heaven knows, and heaven ain’t telling/ god’s lost on the A27’. The A27, for those from further afield, runs across the top of my hometown Worthing.

Robert Wyatt’s Shipbuilding had to go on – genius song, from one of the greatest voices in British songwriting. And from another Brit genius, World Shut Your Mouth.

Nancy Sinatra’s Gotta Get out Of This Town is a brassy addition, which always makes me want to shimmy in a three-button-ticket-pocket-and-side-vents kinda way. For similar reasons, Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile) is on here – I knew the Dexys cover first, but this is Van the Man’s version. Mark Ronson’s cover of Radiohead’s Just also makes it on, for its sheer boogieness.

Sparks (This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us) and Buffalo Springfield (For What It’s Worth) have a massive anthemic quality, so made it on.

That’s it so far. 14 tracks. There are lots more to add. Blur, the Small Faces, Steely Dan, Spitfire, Pulp, the Manic Street Preachers, Dusty in Memphis, Captain Beefheart, Love, Elvis Costello, The Fall, Suede. What else is missing?

Captain Beefheart 1941-2010

On the 10th June 1974, there was a strange, primal gig in the brutalist modern surroundings of Hove Town Hall. A raw, rough and dirty rock ‘n’ roll singer in the civic splendour. It was Captain Beefheart, and I was there. Kind of.

Nobody quite knows how children hear music in the womb. Some people suggest that classical music makes a child smarter. Others that children dance; certainly the foetus moves in response to music. Certainly, the baby can hear and recognise a parent’s voice and starts to learn its native language while in the womb. And seven days before I was born, my mum and dad went to see Captain Beefheart.

Captain Beefheart – real name Don Glen Vliet, although he changed Glen to Van – is certainly a cult figure. I remember my father playing me Trout Mask Replica, two slabs of heavy vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with a terrifying picture of a man with a fish head for a face and a shuttlecock balanced on his top hat. It opens with a broken, scratchy old blues song, dismembered and ripped apart and exposed as bare elements. Van Vliet’s voice holds it together, the voice of a shaman, a wise man, an ancient figure.

And it’s that voice that anyone who’s heard a Captain Beefheart remembers. A roaring, whooping, howling scream of a voice; a low, deep, swamp blues growl of a voice; a rambling, narrative, stories-from-the-start-of-the-universe voice.

Five full octaves, breaking microphones, hurting trees, calling to me in the womb.

Tied into twisted, atonal recordings and scratchy loops, broken samples and field recordings. Surrealistic humour, strange notes. Van Vliet surrounded himself with the best experimental musicians. Anyone who’s played experimental rock music – The Fall, Hawkwind, Roxy Music – owes the Magic Band a debt.

There’s hasn’t been any Beefheart music since the mid-80s. Instead Van Vliet has followed a successful career as a painter. His paintings are just like his music; scratchy, raw, experimental, elemental.

Beefheart famously said ‘I’m not even here really, I just stick around for my friends’. Not any more. The voice I heard a week before I was born is silenced. Goodbye, Beefheart.

Words for Ben

A singer-songwriter chum said he was having trouble writing about himself. I said I loved the sleeve notes from the back of early Stones albums. So here’s what happened when I wrote some words for Ben Salter:

Give a man a guitar, an honest voice and an interesting life and you’ll get great songs.

The greatest singer-songwriters blend fragility and confidence, serious subjects and a light touch. Think about the blend of humour and honesty you get with Billy Bragg, Jonathan Richman, Warren Zevon, Loudon Wainwright III or Graham Coxon.

They’re all people who’ve picked up a guitar, knocked a tune into rough shape and sung about their life. The message is the medium. Straightforward, honest, useful musicians; not clever, virtuoso tricksters. Punk not prog.

Great lyricists, to a man. Think about the couplets in ‘New England’, the exuberance of ‘Roadrunner’. It may be wrong to wish on space hardware, but Ben will, and he’ll care.

Suited East End artists Gilbert and George said ‘We want our art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life and not about their knowledge of art’; Ben does that with music.

And the result is great lo-fi, scratchy rock ‘n’ roll – less garage band, more kitchen sink singer. Songs about opening milk cartons and most of the milk spilling, commuting, being in a band that never make it. Everyday stuff. The piper at the gates of school.

A nice cup of tea. And a biscuit.

My work has always been about memory, history, nostalgia. About family. About places, and how we are connected to them. About conversations, and stories, and little stolen snatches of narrative. About being British, connected to the South Coast, about an identity that’s nothing to do with the Daily Mail or the BNP, but everything to do with a culture that’s always changing, shifting.

So here’s what I want to do. I want to meet some British people and have a cup of tea and a biscuit with them. It’ll take, what, twenty minutes of their time? It won’t be recorded, or photographed, as all I want is the memory, the story to tell.

I need to find a way to meet the people I want to meet now. It’s a quest. I think Twitter can do it for me, and probably take me sideways to meet a few other interesting people along the way as well.

I want a cup of tea and biscuit with

  • Jeremy Deller
  • Prince Charles
  • Kate Rusby
  • Peter Blake
  • Alan Bennett
  • John Major
  • Jarvis Cocker
  • Stephen Fry
  • Judi Dench
  • Banksy
  • Gilbert & George
  • Tony Benn
  • Emma Thompson
  • John Prescott
  • Billy Bragg
  • Tony Robinson
  • Phill Jupitus
  • Len Deighton
  • Michael Caine
  • Dawn French
  • Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Shanaze Read
  • Iain Banks
  • Mark Thomas
  • Sharmi Chakrabarti
  • Caroline Lucas
  • The Queen

Can you introduce me, please?

Tank Girl in Worthing

Originally written for the Worthing Community website – this comprehensive Tank Girl biog was the site’s most popular page, so when that site was lost I moved it to my old blog, I Hate Dan Thompson, where it’s had 37,695 views. Woo.

“It’s just a matter of trawling our brains for good ideas” Jamie Hewlett

In 1988, artists Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin created Tank Girl for Issue One of Deadline Magazine. The pair, living in a Worthing bedsit, could have had little idea of where she would take them. While studying at Northbrook College of Art and Design, Hewlett, Martin and fellow student Philip Bond, had created a fanzine called Atomtan. Deadline, created by Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins, was a more accomplished forum for these new talents. Even amongst strips like Wired World, the great Love And Rockets and Hewlett and Martin’s own Fireball XL5, Tank Girl, with its post-feminist and post-apocalyptic vision of a not-too-distant future, stood out.

Seminal style magazine The Face referred to her as “Fab!” while the NME predicated “a rise to world domination”. The anarchic comic strips were full of cut-and-paste imagery, and used a visual equivalent of the sampling that was becoming so popular in a music scene where guitar bands like Pop Will Eat Itself, Jesus Jones and Carter USM were discovering new technology.

It was easy, in the politicised late-’80s and early ’90s, to identify with Tank Girl’s aggressive attitude, upfront humour and sexuality. Hewlett and Martin said “She was Thelma and Louise before the fact; she was Mad Max designed by Vivienne Westwood; Action Man designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.” She was an obvious icon, and Tank Girl t-shirts began to spring up- including one for the Clause 28 March, against Thatcher’s homophobic legislation. In 1991, Deadline was approached by Wrangler, who, keen to build an advertising campaign for their jeans that was individual and anarchic, used Tank Girl in a series of press ads in 1991. Hewlett and Martin subverted the character at every turn. She flirted with a hippy revival and new age fashion before it was fashionable, dabbled in post-modernism, and hung out with riot girrrls and the beat generation. Tank Girl could be all things to all people and Hewlett and Martin revelled in their artistic freedom.

More surprisingly, readers loved this freedom too. Far from wanting Tank Girl to be tied down to shooting, shouting and spitting, they wanted to see what Hewlett and Martin could dream up next.

Tank Girl wasn’t just a British phenomena, though. Penguin, the largest publisher in Britain, had bought the rights to collect the Tank Girl strips as a book (they all appeared first in Deadline), and offers for foreign rights were plentiful. Before long, Tank Girl had been published in Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Argentina, Brazil and Japan; several publishers were fighting for the US license. Eventually, Dark Horse Comics acquired the US rights to publish Tank Girl and a US version of Deadline. Two successful series of Tank Girl’s adventures and two collections created a stir in the US, and before long there was interest in a film version.

Established rock stars including Adam Ant, Billy Bragg, The Ramones and New Order loved her and were keen to be involved in the magazine. In the early ’90s, bands like Blur, The Senseless Things, Carter USM, Curve and Teenage Fanclub all appeared in Deadline. In true post-modern style, comic strip and reality blurred. Many of the bands appeared in the strips and Hewlett’s artwork appeared on their record sleeves. Sarah Stockbridge, a catwalk model and favourite of punk designer Vivienne Westwood’s, brought Tank Girl to life in a series of photos that went on to be used in Elle, Time Out, Select and The Face. Vogue, too, featured Tank Girl. They cited her as a crucial influence on “Bad Girl Fashion” which featured shaven heads, body piercing and tattoos.

Rachel Talalay, producer of Hairspray and Cry Baby for cult director John Waters, and herself director of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, called up Deadline’s Tom Astor. Talalay had been sent the Tank Girl book for Christmas and was immediately smitten. With an unswerving belief in the project, she steered the Tank Girl movie into pre-production with MGM in January 1994.

Hewlett, although still living in Worthing with girlfriend and one-time Elastica member Jane Olliver, was spending time with fellow Deadline artist Glynn Dillon, hanging out with bands in Camden’s Good Mixer pub and helping formulate a scene that would become Britpop. Hewlett and Dillon brought their new friends to Worthing, and to seafront venue The Wine Lodge. The pub was described by press as ” Camden on Sea.” Elastica, Menswear and Blur could be seen listening to DJs like Worthy Dan, who went on to work at legendary London club Blow Up, whose website charts their long-running success. After the Wine Lodge, the party carried on at The Factory, a nightclub whose design- by Hewlett, and friends including fellow artist Philip Bond- echoed the Tank Girl strip. Bold red and green stripes, a wall of blown-up panels from Tank Girl set against ’70s wallpaper, a Ford Escort hung from the ceiling and toilets pasted with pages from old annuals were a suitable backdrop for a mix of alternative sounds. [Hewlett’s nightclub designs were eventually lost when I redesigned the club. DT]

Meanwhile, the Tank Girl film was ready for the cinemas. Disappointingly, the final film was a result of much fighting, some agreement, and too much compromise. Although it preserves the anarchic and nonsensical charm of the Tank Girl strips, reeling from Busby Berkley to Mad Max and back through Tex Avery, it mystified critics and public alike. It sacrificed the danger and raw vitality of the original, and was a box office flop. Deadline, after reputedly taking huge gambles on their future with Tank Girl merchandising, folded.

A new Tank Girl comic was short-lived. Meanwhile, Hewlett and Olliver opened a vintage clothes shop in Worthing. Called 49, it, too, folded after a short life. It looked like Hewlett and Martin’s fifteen minutes of fame was over. Hewlett moved to London. After splitting with girlfriend Olliver, he moved into a flat with Blur’s Damon Albarn. He had also just split from his long-term girlfriend, Elastica’s Justine Frischmann.

Hewlett worked on a number of advertising campaigns. His designs also appeared on the set of children’s TV programme SM:TV, presented by ex-pop stars and Byker Grove actors Ant and Dec.

Rumours about how Albarn and Hewlett spent their time were rife, but no-one predicted the end result of their relationship – Gorillaz. The band are four comic characters who could easily have appeared in a Tank Girl strip. Using digital technology, Hewlett has animated his characters, giving a new twist to his distinctive visual style. Interestingly the band’s live line-up includes The Senseless Thing’s drummer Cass. The website, is a testament to Hewlett’s creativity. And with Gorillaz winning MTV Music Awards including Best Dance Track and Best Song, Hewlett has taken the earlier crossover of comics and real life to new extremes.

The Empty Shops Agenda*

The a, b, c, of Empty Shops

“The fact that the trees are in blossom very briefly is what makes them important to us.” Tim Anselm (The Beekeepers blog, 1st Apil 2009)

This is an agenda for people using empty shops, slack space and setting up meanwhile projects, looking at the when, why and how of empty shops based on years of experience. It’s also an attempt to make it clear that not every project is perfect for an empty shop. These are special places, and the meanwhile shopkeepers are special people.

a. Embrace The Meanwhile

Like the Buddhists say, it’s about living in the moment. Right now, there’s lots of empty space and all the experts agree, by the time I finish writing this sentence there will be even more. 1000 shops a week are closing. When we’re out of the current recession, there won’t be as much.

Enjoy it while you can – move quickly, be agile, and think on your feet, or you’ll miss it. Grasp the nettle, grab the moment, and embrace the meanwhile. What did you do in the recession, daddy?

b. Find The Character

Using empty shops for temporary pop-up projects is about much more than getting an idea onto the high street for cheap. The best projects are celebrating the local, finding the distinctive, engaging with the character of empty spaces, exploring new ideas and exciting the neighbourhood. As such, they are useful for community groups, local authorities and central government wanting to address a variety of different agendas.

These projects and the places have their own character – find it and embrace it, don’t try to make it look like everything else on the street – or like everything else you do, either.

c. Enjoy The End

The success of an empty shop project may be measured in many ways. It can increase footfall for a neighbourhood, supporting local traders. It can raise the profile of a community event. It can bring together a new partnership, whether that’s a group of excited, inspired and engaged individuals or a working relationship between organisations and authorities.

And it’s quite alright for a project not to work. Like Becket said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Empty shops make great laboratories for new ideas and new businesses. And– in a week, a month, or half a year – it will all be over. Look forward to the end, it means it’s time to start planning a new project.

*well, it was a manifesto – but that’s a bit ranty. A polite agenda, maybe.

Written as part of the Empty Shops Network project

Ice Prince Music Workshop

Last Saturday, Revolutionary Music and CoMA hosted a free workshop as part of the Ice Prince Arts Festival, marking the first anniversary of over 2000 tons of timber being washed up on Worthing beach. I’ve never quite got to grips with video, but I will in 2009 – and here’s a first stab. Two short sketches from the workshop…

The Ice Prince Arts Festival was part-funded by Worthing Borough Council, and the workshop was one of three pieces of art commissioned by Worthing Arts Council with that funding.

A New Type Of Local, Independent Shop

I’ve been trying something different for the last six months.

Random Rules was a small, independent music store just off Warwick Street, Worthing’s ‘cafe quarter’. After a promising start about two years ago, sales were dropping. The owner didn’t want to invest in stock. The shop was losing its way.

So – for six months, I took over. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve built up a loyal customer base, a reputation for stocking interesting CDs and odd stuff, and created a buzz through some innovative marketing. We’ve staged instore appearances by bands, despite the shop being tiny; organised events for children; hosted web TV shows; kept the coffee machine on the whole time.

So it’s worked; sales are up, people enjoy visiting and hanging out, and trust the shop’s recommendations. People described it as a little bit of Brighton or London. We’ve just been shortlisted in the Worthing Business Awards, in the ‘retail’ category. And a few weeks ago, it was time to renew the lease. Easy enough.

The thing is, I don’t think you need a shop to stay successful in retail. Why sit and wait, using a business model that’s hundreds of years old? Surely it’s time for something new?

I’m not talking about an online shop; anyone could do that. Stack it high, sell it cheap, go global.

I want to create the atmosphere of an old-fashioned record shop. A place to hang out, hear new things, build friendships and buy stuff that you love. I want it to stay local, but online.

I’m talking about harnessing social media (that’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and all those nifty Web 2.0 gadgets and gizmos) to create the same retail vibe. The same buzz, the same conversation.

I’m talking about using the same techniques we use with the Revolutionary Arts Group; open houses, unusual venues, marketing stunts. The same buzz, the same conversation.

I’m looking for a whole new way to retail music. Finding the best stock, and getting it to Worthing’s customers. I’m trying something really different for the next six months; want to join me?

Bill Drummond Said (Part Two)

Bill Drummond said: “All recorded music has run its course. Dispense with all previous forms of music and music-making and start again”

Bill Drummond is right.

How many times have you bought a CD only to find that the recording you now own is a pale shadow of the track you heard the band play live?

How many times have you bought a CD only to find that the recording you now own has lost something since you heard it on the radio?

How many times have you bought a CD and only played it the once?

Bill Drummond has formed a choir, The17.

I’m going to do something different. The Revolutionary Music shop will close on Saturday 20th September, at 5pm.

Revolutionary Music is dead. Long live

Dan Thompson, 8th September 08

Made In Worthing

So – Worthing will get a new arts festival in September 2009, a year from now.

Made In Worthing will showcase contemporary visual and live arts, music and literature, produced by local artists, companies and groups – and will continue the tradition of the now-defunct Artists and Makers Festival to bring interesting, challenging and unusual guests to the town. For the record, they’ve included Bill Drummond, Dave Gorman, Andrew Collins, Gimpo, The Caravan Gallery and acts from the Big Chill.

Made In Worthing will aim to explore the place and spirit of Worthing and take a sideways look at our local identity. The whole thing will be brought together by the Revolutionary Arts Group and will happen in September 09.


The Fanzine

I’ve been sitting in Revolutionary Music for six months, and haven’t quite got the fanzine off the ground. It shouldn’t be difficult; I know how to, and enjoy, writing; I have lots to write about.

Now, though, I have a partner in crime, Dean Barwell.

We’ve already chosen a name for the first issue (we may change it every issue), a style and started writing. The first issue will be at the printers next week. Nil By Mouth will cover music, art, cycling and allotment gardening, with a splash of politics.

It won’t be a Worthing fanzine, as we intend to go for a global distribution through shops that we like and find interesting. That’s fairly random, of course; Worthing, Brighton, Chichester, London, New York, Ann Arbor, Toronto are on the list so far.

But hey, let’s write the thing and see what happens, eh?