Monday, October 30, 2006


Ta-da! Here's how the finished articles will look when mounted in a row.


Got a bit of a wriggle on over the weekend and finished the third piece of artwork in the Various series. I enjoyed writing this scene in the book, and so it was an obvious pick for the final print.

Now I wish I had a tree house of my own - although I bet that if you tried to build such a thing, you'd have the planning authorities on your back. Also, of course, there would be some tutting from child protection agencies for setting a dangerous example. God forbid that a kid should do something as reckless as climb a tree.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Work in progress

I'm currently producing a series of prints, privately commissioned by Hoxton Fine Arts. There will be three prints for each book title in the trilogy - three for The Various, three for Celandine and three for WinterWood - so nine in all.

Each trio of prints is designed to be displayed in a row, with the bramble motif linking them together. The one shown here will be the central print for The Various series. I was originally going to do an illustrated map of Mill Farm and its surroundings, but it seemed to work better as an aerial view - albeit a slightly distorted one.

The prints will be all be signed and numbered, and I shall put a link to Hoxton Fine Arts here and on my website when the time comes. I've also committed to producing a few hand-tinted versions of these prints. I must be mad.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Gents

Jazz is about improvisation, I suppose. Usually around a given structure, or theme. I'm very happy to play the same songs over and over, and see how they turn out different every time.

But jazz is also about reaching out into the absolute unknown, and to this end I'm tempted to suggest that for next year's Marsden Festival the Gents become a ukelele band. I think we'd be great. I love the idea of playing ukelele as a double bass - upright with a big long spike going down to the ground.

This is too exciting. I have to go away and think about it for a bit.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jazz weekend

The second weekend in October is always a good one for me. Marsden hosts its annual Jazz Festival and I get to play a couple of gigs with my old friends from Somerset, The Gents. We've known each other for over thirty years, and played together in various formations/combinations during that time. I first met the singer Paddy Mounter soon after I left art college, and we've been pretty much nose to nose ever since. We must have done a thousand gigs together, most of them with The Glad Band - a kind of jug-band outfit that's still loosely existant in that we're all alive ( to the amazement of some) and kicking. We did a wedding gig in Devon during the summer. Never again, we said, but then we say that every time.

On this occasion we fell out with the catering manager over where exactly we were supposed to be set up. (We'd assumed it would be in the marquee, where all the people were, when in fact we were supposed to be out on the cold and windy patio where the people were not. So we more or less refused. Big argument.) It's one of the basic rules of function gigging: ALWAYS stay on the right side of the catering manager, otherwise you don't get fed. We didn't get fed for a very long time. Mind you, that might have been more to do with the chef than anyone else. I never saw such a massive guy in all my life. I reckon he must have eaten the biggest part of everything he cooked, and he was cooking for a hundred and fifty. He was dressed all in white, and so you couldn't really miss him, and yet Pete Bendall, the bass player, didn't seem to be able to bring him into focus. This will come as no surprise to those who know the original Mr. Dazed-and-Confused.

'Where is he, then?' says Pete. 'Is that him over there?'
'Nah, that's the marquee,' I said. 'He's the BIG guy next to that.'

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The bells...contd.

It was my job, as youngest ringer, to climb up into the belfry and untie the clappers before practice began. Why it should be thought necessary to secure the clappers in the first place I can't say. I mean it's not as though they were likely to be going anywhere.

So I had to go up a dark and winding stone staircase, with my puny little Osram torch, and then creep among the belfry beams undoing all these leather straps. Very creepy indeed. The worst of it was, once the ringers down below figured I'd had enough time to do the job they'd make a start. Standing next to a half-ton bell when it swings into action is no joke. Apart from the fear of being crushed in the darkness, the noise is like nothing else. No wonder Quasimodo was deaf. The sound waves would actually shake your body. I'd come flying down that spiral stairway pretty much bouncing of the walls. The only time I've ever hear anything come close to that volume was in the St Pauls area of Bristol at carnival time. They'd put these great bass speakers out on the streets for the reggae, and if you got too close to one of those it'd shake you up a bit. Still not as loud as the bells though.

It all seemed worth it at the time, just to be out of school for a couple of hours at night, and to be able to walk back through the town and buy a bag of chips.

Buying a bag of chips was a risky business in itself though. It was against school rules - like talking to girls, going into pubs, smoking, all the fun stuff. You were suppose to wear your school cap all the time, so that people knew not to serve you.

I did go into a pub once, one Saturday lunchtime after lessons were over. There were about half a dozen of us. We must have been mad. I mean you could get shot for something like that, more or less. We maybe shared a half of bitter, I don't remember, but just as we were coming out our deputy headmaster was coming in - and bumped straight into us. Now this was a man with a furious temper and a merciless nature, so we knew we were done for. The sack, no question.

What saved us was the fact that he was already drunk, swaying on his feet, very bleary. He looked at us, and you could see that he knew that something was terribly wrong, desperately amiss. But he couldn't figure out what it was.

It seemed as though we stood there for a month, waiting for the anvil to fall. Finally it came. The old soak whacked the kid next to me over the head with the palm of his hand and roared, "Boy! haven't got your cap on!"

Then he disappeared into the bar, and we never heard any more about it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The bells...the bells....

Woke up this morning to the sound of that great sixties soul classic, Sam and Dave's 'You Don't Know Like I Know'.

It wasn't coming from one of my daughters' music systems, though, or from the drubbing speakers of some pimped up BMW outside in the street. It was the bells.

Yes, the church bells from old St. Bart's down in the town had somehow escaped their normal Sunday duties - dull paeans to the Almighty - and stumbled upon the Devil's music. You...don'' Round and round it went - a gleeful peal.
And why not? Sam and Dave were probably from a gospel background in any case, come to think of it.

It didn't last long, and the bells were soon whipped back into line - the usual tuneless and arhythmic tangle. For a moment, though, it had sounded like they'd made a wild bid for freedom.

* * *

I was once a bell-ringer. It was only for a short while - when I was about thirteen, I suppose. I was at boarding school then, and bell-ringing was a way of getting out of that prison for a few hours on a Wednesday evening. Oddly enough the church where I used to go for practice was another St. Bartholomew's.

Bell-ringing is difficult, and it can be quite dangerous when you're learning. It's a bit more complicated than simply pulling on a rope. That rope goes up through the ceiling and into the belfry, where it wraps around a huge wheel to which the bell is attached. The bell starts from an upright position. When you pull on the rope, the wheel turns and the bell swings downwards with huge force, travelling in a circular motion all the way round to an almost upright position again. There's a furry section of the rope called the 'sally' and it's this bit that you grip in order to begin ringing. You pull on the sally, and down it comes, but then, as the wheel turns its circle the sally shoots up into the air - fifteen feet or so - disappearing through the ceiling and up into the belfry itself. You have to remember to let go of the sally. If you were to hang on to it, which all your novice's instinct tells you to do, then you'd be whisked heavenwards and rammed through a three-inch aperture in the roof. OK if you happen to be a bat.