From the Archive; summer anarchy

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It’s the Summer Solstice and I’m re-posting this article as the Glastonbury Festival kicks off and protesters take to the streets for a Day of Rage. In heatwave temperatures (warmest since 1976), the soixante-huitards’ slogan, ‘les pavés, la plage!’ (translates as, under the paving stones the beach) is ringing in my ears. It’s twenty years since I went to Glastonbury; 1997 was a mud bath, two years before it had been glorious sunshine. Both times friends were made and tested, and despite the odds familiar faces popped out of the crowd. That era was all Parties & Protests and although my plans to visit a Euro Teknival didn’t materialise, later that summer I made it to Burning Man in the Nevada desert and learnt the mantra of hydration from the daily newsletter, Piss Clear!

Much has changed; the underground events mentioned in this article were organised without the aid of social media and minimal Internet coverage, even though I make much of ‘the daily mayhem of mobile phones, faxes and pagers’! One source of information (not mentioned in this article, but I wrote about it another time) was the indomitable SchNEWS, a photocopied newsletter reporting on legal and political campaigns and listing direct actions. It worked like this; you posted them a pile of stamps and they mailed you weekly issues. I met the photographer, Nick Cobbing, through SchNEWS, and by an odd quirk of fate have ended up living next door to their old office!

Now, come the summer there’s a stage in a field catering to every taste and subculture. Festivals are bespoke, niche, glampy affairs, with fancy dress, boutique beers, Insta-Stories and Twitter-Moments. This branch of the music, entertainment and events industries has blossomed, fanned by the British love of a camp-fire sausage and a piss-up in a tent. But I’d suggest that the roots were there back in the 1990s, as innovation and diversity were the order of the day. So I’m not complaining, just suggesting that an updated article would be a whole other story. On a more serious note though, the Millennials have discovered politics, and protest is once again in vogue…plus, we have the weather for it.
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From the Archive (and now); Destroy, punk and DIY

So an email arrived inviting me to the launch of Punk.London at Oxford Street’s 100 Club, and I have to admit it didn’t totally intrigue me. Instead in gushed cloudy memories of a dark, sweaty cellar and an uncomfortable din, which I must have endured (it feels like) a hundred times over a couple of decades. But a closer look at the invite revealed this to be an occasion for nostalgia, a celebration of a 40-year anniversary marking London’s punk moment and the start of a movement, a subculture in fact, the long-tail of which has affected both attire and attitude.

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

“Subversive Culture” is the strapline (pardon the bondage-tinged pun), which it is claimed has fuelled creativity (now the Creative Industries) ever since. Over the coming year a host of venues will stage events big and small, backed by the Greater London Authority (GLA); shouting about London’s past punk credentials must have tourist-attracting potential. With an identity and online hub branded by Neville Brody (still demonstrating punk attitude by being “notoriously abrasive”, according to Digital Arts), for me the most innovative element is an prompt to organise your own event; tagged “D.I.Y.” the page offers links to branding and fundraising advice, via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Regardless of designated anniversaries punk is perennial, and it doesn’t need much of an excuse to hit the headlines. In 1998 I reviewed an exhibition, Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain, and because it isn’t available on the magazine’s website I’m re-posting it, see below. Yes it was cheeky of me to declare punk to be the only “memorable cultural event in the 1970s”, but that’s a clue to my age. I may have been “witness” to the “heyday of punk” but only just; the article is unapologetically London-centric, too, hardly surprising as I was still at school and London was home. What isn’t mentioned is that I was a lender to the show too, having amassed a substantial collection of vinyl due to a fascination with indie record shops. I sold most of the best bits (the vultures were already circling at the Private View) as I became nomadic, leaving London in April 1998, and had neither the means (no turntable) nor inclination (changing musical tastes) to listen again.
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From the Archive; Pop Panel at Pick Me Up (version three)

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Arts Fair
Somerset House, London WC1
24 April to 5 May 2014
Review of Music x The Graphic Arts panel discussion at Pick Me Up 2012
23 March 2012

Over the years at Pick Me Up, the importance of getting visitors involved in workshops and events has become more and more central to the whole project. By Pick Me Up 2010, Somerset House Curator, Sarah Mann, had responsibility for programming the vast and varied offering, from academic conference to kid’s weekend. She invited me to co-organise and chair a panel discussion examining the role of Illustration and Graphic Design in the music industry, tackling such issues as how the packaging and branding of music and bands has changed as digital delivery rocks the edifice of corporate control and a DIY spirit emerges. The speakers brought a range of expertise to the discussion, drawing on their experience working with music, from the late-1970s to now. The review below first appeared on Eye Blog.

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Wednesday 7:48am, 28 March 2012
Pop panel
Originally published on Eye Blog

Music design session at Pick Me Up with Malcolm Garrett & Kate Moross

On Friday night, as part of a “packed programme” of events, talks and workshops at Pick Me Up (the graphic arts fair at London’s Somerset House, now in its third year), I chaired a “Music x The Graphic Arts” panel discussion. Since the digital revolution of the 1980s, the music industry has undergone radical changes in formats, distribution, style and substance.

The panel: designer Malcolm Garrett (Buzzcocks, Duran Duran); critic (and Varoom editor) John O’Reilly; the prolific Kate Moross; and Tom Oldham (label boss at No Pain in Pop and Berserker, an online music/comics magazine).

Malcolm kicked off with his schoolboy Hawkwind obsession, which led him to Barney Bubbles. Highlighting the polarised nature of Britain’s tribal counter-cultures in the 1960s and 70s (naming IT and Oz magazines as “the birth of blogging”), he suggested that with Punk, “it all changed”. Later, in the 1980s, the zeitgeist was celebratory; the music industry sold lifestyles, with video and “merch” paramount, and the first sponsored tour was by Duran Duran, brought to you by Coca-Cola.
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Guest blogger; assessing Peter Saville, legend

Peter Saville Blueprint spread

Interview, 13 September 2013
Published, Blueprint, issue 331, 10 December 2013
Interview: graphic design legend Peter Saville talks to Liz Farrelly
Further contribution by Paul West, Form

For as long as this interview is available on the Design/Curial website, I’ll redirect you there; after that, I’ll repost it. It was a pleasure to be commissioned by Blueprint again after a few year’s hiatus. I worked in house from 1990 to 1994 beginning as Editorial Assistant, and writing from day one; I reached the heady heights of Deputy Editor, then freelanced under every editor until about 2006. Being asked to interview Peter Saville was the bonus; this is the third time I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a long interview with Peter, as well as having a few good chats along the way. He’s a great talker and it shows in the two and half hour transcript! Peter was to be honoured with the London Design Festival’s major award, which prompted the coverage. The award spiel mentions the winner’s contribution to design in London, and I realised that Peter’s amazing affect was as an inspirtion to and an incurbator of a considerable amount of graphic design talent that has gone on to make London the most important city in the world for graphic design. So, I asked around, and got a bunch of people to talk about their favourite work by Peter. Paul West had worked for Peter, and so I’m posting his contribution here as I couldn’t get it to the magazine by the deadline. Thank you Paul for adding such a great further contribution to the story.

Paul West: Where to start with Peter’s output. Who can’t love FAC1; the “Unknown Pleasures” pulsar; the “Closer” tomb, photographed by Bernard Pierre Wolff with the beautiful Lapidary typography; the “Blue Monday” floppy disc, his Section 25 work — the list is endless. To even go on more is redundant, so well catalogued is his work (alongside designers including Martyn Atkins, Brett Wickens, Richard Smith to name but three) that it’s entrenched in our popular counter-culture, in turn influencing culture.

True Faith

If I could name ONE piece of work I have loved above all other it is the fabulous “True Faith” 12″. This beautiful gold leaf suspended or floating on Yves Klein’s “International Klein Blue” backdrop, with the absolute minimum of information on the back cover (Name — Title / bside — Copyright — the all important Fac183 catalogue number — pre barcode!) and the way it fused art, hi-tech, independent couture, anti-couture; it feels as new now as it did then.

In 1987 I wrote my college thesis on Peter Saville Associates and Vaughan Oliver (V-23) and as a result I got through the doors and worked at PSA ’88 to ’89. I remember asking Peter about this cover and I him saying that the expanse of white on the back sleeve made the front sleeve look like an art piece, with the back cover serving as the catalogue descriptor. I loved that. It was so Warhol.

Of course so much of Peter’s great “visual” work is thanks to the genius of Trevor Key who had a studio space next door. I remember watching the exploratory work Peter and Trevor were doing for “Fine Time” and “Technique” and thinking how great it was, to be so progressive with such a spirit of discovery and invention, it was incredibly inspirational for a 20-something graduate. One day I was in Trevor’s studio talking to him about his work and looking through a massive pile of old test polaroids (including, X-Ray Spex “Germ Free Adolescents”) and I saw THE polaroid of “True Faith”. l had to ask. “Can I have it?”. “Piss off” came the reply. #legend.

From guest blogger, Paul West, Form

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