erm no actually John I don’t but I’m sure I can Google it (haven’t got sat nav). It’s a bit past Hartlepool towards Middlesborough then off into the wilds of Billingham. An odd land that Derek Jarman would probably have really liked. Part quaint village, part industrial backyard, it has a charm all of its own.

My plan was to film and photo John Hart’s original drum kit (he of the Hartbeats featured here previously). He still uses it for recordings and if you turn them over you can see the ’64 stamp inside the tom toms.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the location. The front lawn was freshly mown; not big but big enough to assemble the kit and for me to whiz around, doing a 360, with various cameras.

But John’s house is the first one on the street and overlooks a wide open expanse of fields – dominated by electricity pylons in the foreground with the Teesside Billingham chemical plants in the distance. It’s a real bonus I hadn’t expected. A surreal – yet typically ‘real’ backdrop to show off the Slingerland ’64 kit in all its glory. He tells me that up until last year there was a chemical factory at the end of his street… but now there is just stubble from the freshly mown fields. Growth and decay are necessarily themes in this piece and it fits nicely.

He’s keen to play me a track he and his musical partner Roland have been working on. By his own admission it’s the first ‘Pop’ song they have ever recorded.

“Strange” I proffer, “for a band that was working professionally for all those years?”

“Well we only did rock and roll, and covers” says John.

Some things never change they just mutate into ever more hideous forms. I muse this thought as I am reminded by the sticker on John’s drum kit. Yes it’s a scary graphic that looks like it might have been concocted by Jeff Koons.

‘New Faces’ says the spooky busker graphic. The Hartbeat boys were on that tv show fronted by a producer guy called Micky Most and, apparently, Arthur Askey (I had to Google that to confirm since it seems an incredulous mix). A 70’s talent show you could be forgiven for not knowing about; it and similar others to follow, were the forerunners of the monster that became X-factor. What an odd mix.. Micky Most the cheesy but cool (ish) equivalent of say Louis Walsh… and Arthur Askey the equivalent of well… any ‘national treasure’ old time vaudeville act you may care to name.

Prime time TV still hankers after similar combinations in order to catch the maximum audience demographic. Same formula; new faces = old faces.

We chat in John’s hall and another theme emerges; that of the foot pedal and the ‘encapsulation of sound’. It’s interesting because the foot pedal can be seen as a time machine in its own right. In the 60’s an AC30 amplifier for instance had a volume knob, a tone knob and a tremolo knob. That was it. I was under the impression that there was a reason for this – that it got used quite a bit. John reckons you didn’t really use tremolo unless you wanted to sound like Jim Reeves, which was a somewhat partial and dubious ambition for early rock and rollers.

But then all the PEDALS came out. The fuzz box, the wah pedal, the sustain pedal etc. etc.

“I tried a Jimi Hendrix pedal” says John

“It was amazing, but after a while you start thinking… Hendrix didn’t have a Jimi Hendrix soundalike foot pedal – he just made that sound up himself”.

I agree. Hendrix arrived at his sound, his style and approach to playing, via a personal history that included playing in BigBand type setups when he was younger and evolving his technique through experimentation and the desire to break moulds and push boundaries.

Buying a pedal to emulate his sound is like buying a silver bullet ride though history, travelling so fast that you miss the scenery along the way and well…in that case… miss the point!



What it is to be human. Life is such a weird thing and I am aware that my own personal creative drive has been fuelled by the need to make sense of it; coupled with a need to confront the absurd nature of life itself.

It may be no use to you when you leave this planet, but that isn’t the point. Art makes life worth living. Art galleries to me are spiritual places. Art is the nearest I get to understanding religion. I don’t say that for effect, and it’s not a manifesto statement; for me it’s just a fact. It’s quite apt that my show next year will be in a former church.

That said, my namesake passing away gave me cause to consider my mortality. You have to say he was one hell of an understated achiever and regardless of whether you think it was a waste of time landing on that lump of cheese, it still stands out as one giant something or other. I think of it a bit like public sculpture… a hopeful statement, overshadowed by the enormity of the surroundings.

Another recent demise, that of the film director Tony Scott, had me doing a double take. I’m guessing he jumped off the Los Angeles bridge in a disturbed state of mind and it’s probably not worth trying to find too much logic in that one.

Spookily though, the day before he jumped I was watching his brother Ridley’s first film ‘Boy and Bicycle’. Shot with a 16mm Bolex in black and white, it features his younger brother Tony riding along the coast and through Hartlepool on his bike. The landscape is 1965 industrial down-at-heel chic. Factories, sweeping vistas of industrial desert, offset by the poetry of the north east seaside coastline and the backdrop of billowing factories across the bay in Middleborough. Evocative stuff and chic tho it may be now, it was the reality of Hartlepool in the sixties.

Tony on his bicycle… so much to come for the two Scott brothers who first studied at the local college and went on to such fame. It’s a great film, helped enormously by the soundtrack by John Barry. Scott apparently wanted to use a track by the composer called “Onward Christian Spacemen”, which Barry re-recorded for the film. Weird link I thought… all things considered.

I had to pick up a photo of the Rink in Seaton Carew, which is where some of Boy and Bicycle was filmed, and had arranged to go to the Northern Film archives in Teesside University on Tuesday so took a detour off the A19 and along the coast to pick up the photo. From there it is an ‘interesting’ run to Middleborough through a landscape reminiscent of Blade Runner and, if you are of a mind, you can traverse the river Tees at its widest point by taking the transporter bridge. It’s a massive statement on the horizon, but also a little mad, because you are actually suspended on a cradle (or pagoda) under this huge structure, and hover not far above the river itself. I’m thinking it made more sense when lots more people would have been crossing to get to and from work with their bicycles. As it is, you don’t get many cars on it for all that superstructure. We drove down for a historic bridge experience.

Oh well… ‘sorry’ the sign said, ‘the bridge isn’t open today.’

The nice people at the archive questioned me about my project. I think they finally came to an understanding of what I am doing and why a two year license to use their archive material wouldn’t be any use to me. Apparently they’ve had a Turner prize nominee with just the same problem. No nomination for me (I’m too old anyway ha ha) but we shared that problem, so now the problem is halved.

I had a very pleasant few hours winding film backwards and forwards through the gate and it took me back to the days when I too used a Bolex cine camera. I still have it actually. Real film really is quite something.



…sorry Beyoncé it just popped into my head and I had the urge to bastardise the lyric.

With brolly and hope, I was filming John and Roland from the Hartbeats on a wet Friday morning, standing in front of where the Rink ballroom used to be.

Gradually we were moving further and further down the road (literally and metaphorically as it turned out) because the patch of grass, weeds and daisies most people assumed was the site of the Rink was, historically speaking, slightly askew. It’s interesting in that even such a simple fact; a ‘fact’ that was taken for granted by most I have met (the majority of whom went to the Rink many times) turns out to need tweaking.

Hence to the left, to the left.

We were in the process of mentally moving the building from the nice neat space I thought it inhabited, to slightly further down the road towards the football ground. Not a massive move admittedly, but one that intrigues me. One of the thrusts of my piece is how stories are told and re-told, and in the process get re-invented. I have always been aware that this piece is a re-invention on my part anyway…so to have to conceptually shift the literal space that is my theme is an interesting example of myth making at work.

I had had nagging doubts from the first time I visited the site. Wandering around the grassland it just didn’t seem as wide as I first imagined it should be. But I convinced myself it was just an illusion, that if the area was instead no longer open space but occupied by a building, then once inside that space I would realise it’s actual largess. So I thought myself out of the doubt.

Some time later I received a letter which referred to the Rink now being occupied by the football ground ticket office.’ Yes I know what Nancy means’ I thought ‘but I think she’s just got her bearing’s slightly off’. Turns out she is almost certainly right.

Standing with John and Roland they recount having a friend who lived in one of the houses that still overlook the grass – she was able to watch the crowds form on dance nights and he is sure there was open space where people would mill around… and yes Roland vividly remembers where the fire exit was… Being onstage, he was well placed to see the bouncers as they unceremoniously hurled certain unruly unwanteds head first out of the fire exit onto the grass… so there had to be open space where I had imagined the building stood. And yes the football ground wouldn’t have had a car park or a ticket office there, so said space must have been what the ballroom inhabited.

A simple shift but one which acts as a great big reminder that even the most basic facts are often not facts at all.

I am interested to take the guys around town. We stand by the junction where Roland’s house used to be. It’s all very anonymous now, featureless office buildings and scrub land. Around here were rows and rows of terraces; it used to be buzzing I’m told… all the way down to Lynne street where the tailor’s shop stood. Four red suits made to measure.

When you pace the streets you do have to wonder at the ineptitude of the developers. I am not one for standing still. Change is ok by me and nostalgia by definition a romantic rehash of reality, but what happened here appears to have ripped out the heart of the ‘pool and replaced it with a poor substitute for progress. It’s no longer even modern, just unimaginative.

Here the suits were born. Bright red in a grey world.

Apparently the first night the guys wore those suits the crowd rushed forward towards the stage in a mass;

“It was really quite scary” says Roland, but also, grinning (an electrical engineering apprentice in white winkle pickers, guitar hitched high, facing up the hysterical mosh)

“It doesn’t get any better than that” he said.



Where do you stand in the great copyright debate, when one man’s stealing is another man’s artistic soup?

It’s an issue oft mentioned in the music industry. I did used to think, like a lot of people I expect, that if you used a tiny snatch.. let’s say 2 seconds of a track as a sample for example, that it was ok if it was integrated into another, larger work. Wrong of course is the answer to that.

I often find myself in the middle of this in the Rink project. Some of what I am wanting to reference is, by its very nature, material either recorded or photographed way back when, and it can be quite tricky establishing ownership. It has been particularly pertinent this week.

Occasionally I Google for film relating to Hartlepool, and found some really quite evocative 8mm film footage from the Gowland family, shot from the 40’s through to the 60’s. It’s the usual thing… holidays, swimming, picnics, train spotting etc. but here and there the YouTube clips echoed with what I had shot myself; in particular short sequences of girls dancing in a park with post war collective innocence. Having filmed my group of dancers outside on the grass at the Rink a month or so ago – it reverberated through time in a magical way.

I asked the person who posted these how I could get permission to use short clips in my piece. Not getting a reply, I trawled other sites – and came across a reference to the same footage in the Northern Regional Film and Television Archive (NRFTA). I opened a dialogue with them about using the films, along with some other more obvious flicks they have showing the town and local industries. Result; now negotiating rights and licenses in a way I hadn’t initially considered when just looking to ‘see what was out there’.

Now this is not a criticism of NRFTA who I totally understand have guidelines to adhere to and wages to pay, but what it has highlighted to me is the grey area that ‘art’ occupies in terms of where reference can be drawn from and how source material can be completely different in a different context. The more usual model seems to be that people hire films to view for a weekend or a term perhaps or to put into a television prog. that will be broadcast on a particular date. Typically licenses seem to be granted for a certain length of time.. 1 year..5 years maybe even 10 years. The assumption seems to be that the clip will have a particular, time delineated purpose, after which it will no longer be required.

Well that may well be the case with my work – perhaps it will be shown once and never seen again! I sincerely hope not though. But when will it next be seen? 1 year 5 years 20 years later? I see my work in the same way as a painter would. If I stick a picture of a hat from a magazine onto my canvas, splash some paint over it and continue working that canvas until I’m happy with the painting – what then if I had to license the picture of that hat for say 10 years? After 10 years do I then peel it off the canvas and thus render the picture incomplete? It’s an odd dilemma.

Andy Warhol could have had the same problem with the Campbell’s soup cans. He didn’t seek permission to paint the brand. As it turned out the company apparently saw it as good publicity, though after his death the Warhol foundation and Campbell Soup Company formed an official legal agreement on licensing.

Damien Hirst on the other hand agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to head off legal action from the designers of the original educational toy that Hirst had admitted was the basis of his 20 foot bronze sculpture ‘Hymn’. It was as near a copy as you could get and yet, some would argue, transformative in a way that made it a unique piece.

A one million purchase from Mr Saatchi no doubt oiled the wheels.


It’s holiday season

so some of the things I wanted to do this week just didn’t get done due to people being away… well I’m hoping they’re away otherwise they’re just ignoring me ha ha.

This should be a good opportunity; I have a backlog of tasks that really should be addressed but which I find ways of de-prioritising. I should be writing to galleries, and to be fair to myself I have started, but I need a bit of momentum and, because I know the chance of a reply any time within the next few months is slim, I have tended to relegate the task to the ‘later’ pile. This is stupid of course as knowing something has a long lead time should really make me speed up sending the proposal in order to get it back sooner, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I’m sure there is an interesting psychological phenomenon at work here.

I’d be interested to know how other people approach this task, but personally I have decided to be very selective with who I contact. I did that with my last show, only sending one proposal to Durham gallery, knowing they incorporate a military museum in the same premises. As the piece I wanted to show had military overtones it was appropriate to the space. That approach obviously worked as, at our first meeting, the curator actually said he found it more appealing receiving proposals from artists who fit the ethos of the building, and wished there were more like that.

Thus my plan is to approach galleries that I feel have a link in some way to the essence of the Rink Project. I guess a case could be made that the project relates to issues inherent to many communities, and that is no doubt true, but I am wanting to be more prescriptive.

I really need to show somewhere in Leeds, as my father spent most of his life there after leaving Hartlepool and it therefore became the place I was brought up. That would be of no consequence normally, however this piece has a ‘back story’ element which involves him in an obvious way (he will be filmed making the journey back to Hartlepool from Leeds as part of the project) and me; less obvious, but interwoven throughout.

My role, as the instigator of the piece, is the unseen hand, threading the stories I’m given and deciding how to re-present them. In a way of course the whole story is mine. It’s me selecting a subject to examine, based on a vague impression I gleaned as a child. We never made trips to Hartlepool and yet I knew one side of my family came from there. Living in Leeds was my roots, my normality; our little house in Horsforth. Hartlepool was my Narnia.

Except I was never inclined to go into the wardrobe until now…

…and now I have all these things I want to bring back.

When I was a teen I worked in a newsagents that opened out onto the main drag, the Headrow, opposite Leeds City Art Gallery. In my lunch break I would often pop over the road to have a look at the exhibitions. Preparing as I was to go to art college, that gallery was my main regular contact with high art. It’s the obvious place to display my treasure. It would close a circle, and this piece is characterised by the many circles that overlap, concentric and eccentric, making shapes I could never have anticipated.

Don’t expect a reply for 6 months says the form… I can wait.

There are other places too that I think might connect with the ‘otherness’ of Hartlepool. Glasgow would be one of them, perhaps even Liverpool. My experience of Wales is limited but I’m thinking the Welsh would understand. The east end of London too. I’m thinking shipbuilding, docks, a sense of identity and pride in a community that might have taken a few knocks. I’m thinking Hull because of its geographical position out on a limb.

One or all of them would be good. Fingers crossed. It’s the only lottery I play.