Archive for the ‘Adam Gee’ Category
Went with the flow. Original plan was to get a change of scene for my writing day by heading off to the RAF Museum just a couple of miles away and write among old planes. But I had to drop the Other Half off in Holloway (near the library where Joe Orton carefully defaced covers and blurbs and got sentenced to 6 months for his trouble). On the way back heard on Radio London about Kenwood House re-opening today after two years of closure for renovation so went with it and ended up having a good, flowing writing session at the end of the Robert Adam library you never used to be able to get to (there was a rope barrier before the restoration). The gilding has been stripped away, which was a later accretion, and the beautifully lit domed room looks just right in its 18C pale pinks and blues with fine detail in pure white.
Sitting on the new leather sofa on its first morning of active duty I wrote five pages of the Tony Wilson chapter, picking up from the emblematic opening scene and intro I wrote earlier in the week. It flowed easily between related moments so that it got well away from any simple chronological account and feels like something cutting the cake in a more individual way.
Lunch break in the cafe in the stable block with a newspaper – revelling in the not-at-work feeling. Then another burst of writing outdoors overlooking the lake and grounds. Plus a bit of reading about Sylvia Beach who could make a good shorter chapter for variety. So a very productive day lifted by an inspirational environment.
After the library session had a look around the restored rooms and the rest of the house. Found a full length Sargent portrait in the old rooms upstairs that hadn’t registered before. Plus a collection of Elizabethan painting which wasn’t familiar – some amazingly modern fashion such as dresses decorated with little rips. Was reminded what an amazing collection is in the house (a vague memory that it was once curated by Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt, he certainly wrote the intro to older versions of the guidebook) – Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner, Boucher, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and all first-class examples, nothing second-rate. It’s a special pleasure to grow up with your own local set of paintings (as Vanessa Feltz eloquently captured on the show which brought me here) and it’s striking to see how a building/place can weave itself into the fabric of so many lives over such a long time.
Off to the Angel at the start of Day 48 to catch up with Nicole Yershon of Ogilvy Labs and interview her about creative networking. We caught up at The Breakfast Club (which I was originally introduced to in D’Arblay Street by Garret Keogh of Telegraph Hill) and did the interview at Kipferl for the quiet (and to pick up a bag of Mozartkugeln). While there we bumped into Neville Brody, whose studio is round the corner. Hooked him and Nicole up so she could arrange for him to visit the 3D Printing show she was working at over in the Business Design Centre opposite, the event a direct, concrete result of her own networking and talent nurturing activities with all kinds of benefits to her organisation (from commissioned creative executions to specialist organisational expertise).
Concluded the week by interviewing Hettie Jones, poet and publisher of the Beat generation, over the phone in New York. We had a good chat and she said she enjoyed the interview as it was different from most and didn’t fixate on parties and sex. She told me a great story of an early meeting with Allen Ginsberg (whose poems appeared in her magazine Yugen) where she helped him, for his major poem Kaddish, get under the skin of the titular prayer by singing it to him – he was from a non-practicing Jewish family and she had childhood ambitions to be a cantor (not technically possible til 1987). We had a good few things in common – from a mixed marriage (she married black writer/dramatist LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka], an early American interracial marriage) to a mother of exemplary charitableness – so there was a real connection.
Unusually worked on Day 49 (a Saturday – I’m on a 9 to 5, Mon to Fri regime) as I was in Brighton (with Enfant Terrible No. 2, no Mrs, and three Albanian teenagers, the pals of aforementioned Enfant Terrible) so not far away from Paul Arden’s West Sussex cottage, now home to his widow Toni. As I drove West and slightly North across the county the roads gradually narrowed until I was on a track through beautiful old woodland near the height of its autumn colour. Interviewed Toni, who is originally from Copenhagen (she gave me some tips of what to see of an arty nature for my trip next week), seated beside Paul’s art/photography book collection in elegant grey cabinets and across from his photograph collection, including the Richard Avedon African woman mentioned in It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be . After the interview Toni kindly showed me some highlights from the collection including a large format monochrome contact sheet of Michael Josephs’ shoot for the cover of The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet LP; work by Norman Parkinson, David Bailey and Robert Mapplethorpe; and an amazing black & white shot of a dying horse by Colin Barker where the beast is actually not touching the ground as it crumples after being put down with a bullet. She then gave me a tour of the beautiful 17C cottage behind the gallery/barn where we had been speaking. By the front door was a drawing by Paul’s father, a commercial artist/early advertising creative, drawn in his late 90s. Below the pink and pale green former charcoal burner’s dwelling was a pond Paul had created at the foot of a slope, so an impractical location used to fine aesthetic effect.
On my return to Brighton I was delighted to have a note in direct response to this very blog from a reader based in Dublin who had first-hand experience of one of my other protagonists and who kindly offered to give me an interview. That kind of loop of connection is what the Web – and When Sparks Fly – is all about.
Started the day off track at a coffee shop meeting inspired by Russell Brand’s interview by Jeremy Paxman a couple of weeks ago. Chris Ward, who gave me some publishing advice on Day 22, gathered together a small bunch of people who were struck by the Newsnight interview to discuss its implications and possibilities. We met up in Somerset House for a couple of hours and kicked about some ideas. This is an appropriate location in that it’s within yards of both The Coal Hole and the site of The Fountain Tavern (home of The Kit-Kat Club) which were places of political gathering and activism in the 17th and 18th Century. Given his increasing activism, Allen Ginsberg would have approved of this tangent.
Having spotted Ginsberg in the background of DA Pennebaker’s Subterranean Homesick Blues promo (shot in 1965) on an ad on Channel 4 the other night (Day 43), and being just a couple of streets away, I decided to seek out the location. And very atmospheric it was. Totally unchanged since 1965 (though the scaffolding has finally gone). Documentary-maker DA Pennebaker came back around 1985 and they were still working on The Savoy building on its left-hand side. The streets and alleys around The Savoy remind you of the rich palimpsest of history and stories that lays over this fabulous city.
I set up office in Westminster Reference Library, the Art bit, and carried on with my current pass at the Literature/Ginsberg chapter. Research-wise I pushed on with Hettie Jones’ memoirs, How I Became Hettie Jones, taking it into the legendary Gaby’s for lunch (it’s as perverse as ever, how many Cash Only restaurants can there be in Central London?)
In the late afternoon I spoke to the Allen Ginsberg Project / Estate in the East Village, NYC who are kindly helping with some interviewees, thanks to documentary-maker Yony Leyser whom I met in Leipzig last week.
I found out today while researching the Ginsberg chapter that the term “subterraneans” was one Ginsberg coined to describe the intellectual hipsters and hip hedonists who hung out in Greenwich Village bars like the San Remo and Fugazzi’s. Dylan took the term from Kerouac but Kerouac had actually adopted it from Ginsberg.
Started the new week with a sunlit trip round the civilised (off-peak) North London line to Richmond where I interviewed Alexandra Taylor, one-time protegee of Paul Arden at Saatchi & Saatchi, a very accomplished Art Director, who, alongside Charles Saatchi, was one of the only two people Arden cited as having inspired him during his career (on receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award from Creative Circle in 2007). Alex is currently putting together a book of Arden’s photograph collection, making use of his diaries.
From Richmond High Street (well off my manor, little known to me other than as a transit point for getting to the rugby at Twickenham) I jumped on a bus to get to the river. Found myself a perfect spot below Richmond Bridge at which to work, a bench facing into the lowering autumn sun across the Thames just above a path which suddenly disappeared in the high tide, in just a matter of seconds. Boatmen, geese and other passers-by punctuated a mild afternoon of writing more of the Advertising/Arden chapter and reading Hettie Jones’ book How I Became Hettie Jones. Hettie is a magazine publisher and poet who knew Allen Ginsberg and was married to Leroi Jones, the writer/dramatist, author of Dutchman (which I came across and read in a teenage burst of play-reading). He became Amiri Baraka who plays an important role in one of my favourite movies, Bulworth.
I gradually made my way to the BBC in White City, via more Hettie Jones in a caff in Acton Central, for the process of dropping the live interactive insert into tonight’s Health Freaks.
Picked up where I left off yesterday, ploughing through the tail-end of a key Ginsberg research book. Was watching telly last night and saw an ad (on Channel 4) for The Greatest Hits of Bob Dylan, made up largely of archive film clips, and I noticed, for the first time, Ginsberg in the background of that famous clip for Subterranean Homesick Blues (which was the promo film for DA Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back). I’ll go pay homage to the spot behind The Savoy Hotel, London next time I’m in that area.
Took the Enfants Terribles out for lunch down the street to mark their half-term, which was fun.
Then rounded the day off with a trip down to Gospel Oak (I love that place name) to do my first interview of a contemporary exponent of openness and generosity in the realm of creativity, namely Carole Stone. Carole is a former journalist at the BBC and has latterly been working with YouGov. Over the years she has built up and nurtured a huge network of interesting people, old and young, successful and starting out, all bound together by her charm, warmth and genuine love of helping people get stuff done, worthwhile stuff of all kinds. Carole gave me a frank and insightful interview in her cozy front room, with languid cats and equally charming husband Richard in attendance, on how she operates and why, which I’ll weave into the Ginsberg chapter, as he was also renowned as a great networker of the authentic variety.
Here’s a brief extract from my draft Ginsberg chapter on this theme:
Ginsberg was proactive in his connecting to and of people. He was referred to by one friend as “the central casting office of the underground”. He was habitually seen carrying a purple bag and in it was an address book in which he wrote the details of people he encountered who were kindred spirits or of potential help moving the world in the right direction. He took delight in connecting people he thought might spark off each other, regardless of whether they were underground or establishment. The purple bag contained in effect a global network of the like-minded.
On something of a pilgrimage today. Read up about Peter Cook and The Establishment club in the square in front of where my grandfather lived when he came to livd in Leipzig as a young man in the home of his favourite sister and her husband. The smart apartment building gives on to Nordplatz, centred on an old church and made up of simple but attractive grassed gardens. I get a certain pleasure of continuity and return from standing on its stone threshold.
I am writing this post sitting in the gardens of the St. Elisabeth Krankenhaus in the Connewitz area in the south of the city, the hospital where my father was born in 1937, two years after it opened.
From Nordplatz I walked through the adjacent autumnal woods round the zoological gardens. I stopped for a bit to do my daily German revision with the Duolingo app (keeping in touch with my linguistic roots) then headed on to Kathe Kollwitz Strasse where my grandfather and his young bride moved in. Where their flat was has been blank ground for a long while (a car park with trees) but by the time I get back here it will have been built on, laying to rest the vestiges of their home here.
I read some more Cook book on the back chair of this resonant memorial which feels like the hub of my Leipzig.
Before I left for my trek I had reviewed my master document to get a feel for what progress I’ve been making on the book and had a pass at the nascent Theatre chapter which needs a number of interviews transferred into it. That’s looking like a laborious transcription task though I will see if it can be automated at all.
Once back at the hotel after a dinner out at Leipzig Media City, about two clicks from my father’s birthplace, I did some more online research about Jeremy Deller, making me even more reassured that he is a good subject for the Art part. In particular I was reading about his work Procession for the Manchester International Festival. I’ll think of my pilgrimage around the city as a fusion of that and Richard Long’s work with some spirit of Picasso in its triangularity since today is his birthday.
I’ve just boarded a train at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof heading for Leipzig, the city in which my father was born. It’s a modern glass-doored version of one of those old-fashioned railway compartments. The only other occupant is a rotund German, balding, pot-bellied, bespectacled, avoiding eye contact, ignored my Guten Abend. So straight out of Emil and the Detectives (albeit travelling in the wrong direction) which is as it should be. Alles in Ordnung.
This will be my third time in Leipzig. The first time was a great adventure with my own gang of urchins which you can catch up on here and here [written 3 years ago to the very day]. And here’s a poem inspired by that trip.
What with the packing and generally getting my shit together, not that much accomplished book-wise before hitting the trail. My focus today has been on the Comedy chapter – sussing out whether Peter Cook is a potential candidate for the protagonist of the case study. I consulted comedian Gordon Kennedy of Absolutely Productions (with whom I once shared a train carriage to St Helens on a research trip) and he was uncommitted regarding Cook as he hadn’t really encountered him much. My friend author Doug Miller who is really good on the Ingrams/Cook/Private Eye circles felt there was real potential so I’m following his guidance and embarking on Harry Thompson’s quite fat biog of Cook. From memory he was Daisy Goodwin’s business partner who I’ve been working with recently on a TV project to do with Facebook. I liked his biography of Herge and this one seems an entertaining and informing read.
Apart from that I set up a meeting with entrepreneur James Laycock (mentioned yesterday) and a call with Mark Brown, writer on Creativity, with whom I made The Blue Movie in 1994, winner of the Grand Award at the New York International Film and TV Festival, a large chunk of silver I was holding when I first met Peter Fincham [story here], now one of the grand fromages of ITV, who is one of a panopoly of UK comedy movers&shakers interviewed by Thompson for the Cook book. (Thompson and Goodwin worked at Talkback before setting up on their own.) I’m meeting another one, an actress, next week to talk about Joan Littlewood. [I just noticed in that post which tells the New York award story that Allen Ginsberg was already entering my consciousness, six years ago - how these things brew...]
I’m rather tickled with the idea of writing part of this book in my grandfather’s city, hence this trip now.
Went for my second session at the Joan Littlewood archive over in Hackney. Took actor Adrian Dunbar with as he has just finished playing Brendan Behan in New York in the play ‘Brendan at the Chelsea‘ by Janet Behan (niece), and is about to take the play to Dublin, Belfast and Derry. (“His performance alone makes “Brendan at the Chelsea” a must.” NY Times) He ploughed his way through all the The Hostage and The Quare Fellow material. Meanwhile I picked up from 1963 and the Oh What a Lovely War scrapbooks and worked my way via Mrs Wilson’s Diary (set designed by Damon Albarn’s mum) and Lionel Bart and the like through the 60s and 70s until 1974 when the archive ends and Littlewood’s Theatre Royal hits the buffers.
There’s a nice line about Joan in the play: “Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, Brendan Behan wrote under Littlewood” – there’s more about how he wrote under her here [murray-melvin-on-brendan-behan] and more on the play, which Adie directed as well as strarring in, here [human-behan] and here [drinker-with-a-writing-problem]. It would be great to see the play on at Stratford in Joan’s anniversary year next year.
Our generous host again looked after us very well with cake, coffee, chat and fascinating insights and titbits from the world of Joan & Gerry. One of my favourite clippings that I came across during the afternoon was one telling of how she’d been arrested for what would now be called ‘Stealth Marketing’ or something, for painting pawprints from the high street and the station to the theatre as a means of piquing curiosity. So a gorgeous, chilled out afternoon was had by all.
On the way to pick up Adie I went to a brief Channel 4 meeting about a game I was working on prior to sabbatical. It’s a really exciting project because it is a game That Does Good.
On the way back I went to a very interesting discussion held by YouGov and the London Press Club at the Stationers’ Hall (which is on the same street as my home livery hall Cutlers’ Hall). The theme was the future of Investigative Journalism and the participants were:
Chair: Andrew Neil, journalist and broadcaster.
Panel: Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-Chief, the Guardian; Tom Harper, investigations reporter, The Independent; Tom Bower, author and journalist; Heather Brooke, investigative journalist; and Andrew Gilligan, investigative journalist.
I’d been kindly invited by Carole Stone who I’ll be interviewing shortly for the book on the subject of personal networks.
My Other Half chatted to Gilligan and Rusbridger after the debate. I bumped into journo/writer Christina Patterson who recently left The Indy (to coin an Ardenism: It is. She Is.) after first meeting her at Julia Hobsbawn’s network-driven event in Portland Place the other week, the London launch of Names Not Numbers 2014. I also ran my thought-up-on-the-night notion of a Kickstarter for Investigative Journalism past Simon Albury who recently left the Royal TV Society (It may be. He is.). He had raised an interesting point about the potential charitable status of some IJ activities. I reckon the Storystarter idea has legs, driven by the issues people care passionately about and the institutions they distrust – doesn’t yet exist as far as I know…
I’m writing this one from BBC Media Centre while getting ready for tonight’s broadcast of Health Freaks, a new series I have been working on, the only Channel 4 work I have carried in to my sabbatical.
I have spent most of the afternoon writing happily away outside a cafe on the King’s Road, Chelsea within spitting distance of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX shop. May the spirit of Punk rub off on me. I’m writing away at the Paul Arden chapter and in his contrariness is at least something of punk appeal. In a distinctly non- punk vein, for mid-October a remarkably mild afternoon which I thoroughly enjoyed sitting out in.
Prior to my writing burst, I was round the corner at The Chelsea Arts Club interviewing an advertising photographers’ agent, David Lambert, who worked with Paul Arden from 1974. As I walked into the club I saw a notice on the board announcing the death of Carolyn Cassady, who had been a member – reminding me of my lesson from Carolyn: strike while the iron’s hot when it comes to interviews.
While sitting outside the cafe at the Bluebird I organised a meeting with actress Gaye Brown who, apart from working with Joan Littlewood, was in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (in that magical year, 1971).
David was very generous with his time and stories, and seemed to be enjoying recalling these tales which linked one to another as he hauled them up from the 70s and 80s. He stars in my opening emblematic scene in the Advertising chapter so it was good to get the story direct from him. The version I’ve already written is very accurate it turns out, I just got one extra telling detail from the from-the-horse’s mouth version as well as the chance to compare notes on what it actually means.
The Chelsea Arts Club was a strange affair on a weekday afternoon. Some ladies who lunch, some ageing types with no pressing need to work, the ubiquitous newspaper reader. It felt full of heritage with people on the past chairmen list like Whistler, Philip Wilson Steer and John Lavery but I didn’t recognise any of the last decade’s lot and only Sir Chris Powell was known to me on the current officials photo- board. Not the friendliest place I’ve ever been – CAC? we’ll leave the jury out on that.
As I walked back down Old Church Street Adrian Dunbar rang to confirm arrangements for tomorrow’s trip back to the Littlewood archives. He wanted to bring Janet Behan with, Brendan’s niece (author of Brendan at the Chelsea), but the times wouldn’t work out so that will have to be a separate visit. These little chains of connection are fascinating and the root of the excitement of the project – as well as the very essence of Creativity.
It had to be done. Sitting on the stage of the legendary Theatre Royal in Stratford East. MacBook Air close at hand. My theatre chapter notes on me. Half an hour to spare. I began writing my chapter on Theatre starring Joan Littlewood and Joe Papp on the very boards where the Theatre Workshop was set up in East London by Joan and her partner Gerry Raffles and where ground-breaking shows like Oh What A Lovely War came into the world.
I was there at the kind invitation of Stella Duffy, writer, novelist and performer, whom I first contacted after reading her Guardian blog about her project to revitalise and realise Joan and Cedric Price’s concept of the Fun Palace. She was running an Open Space to bring together all the potential partners in the 2014 project.
During the day I was privileged to meet a number of people who worked at this very theatre with Joan and collaborators both on and off stage including actor Murray Melvin and director Philip Hedley who kindly helped those gathered to understand where Joan and Cedric were coming from with their vision for Fun Palaces where theatre, arts and science could hang out together in the name of Fun and non-boring Learning.
I was energised simply on arriving in Stratford as this was my first time back since the closing sporting events of the Paralympics and was charged with happy memories of ten days volunteering down at London 2012 in the Media Centre/Press Office of the Olympic Park.
The theatre there is uniquely intimate, 450 seats but when you stand on the steeply raked stage every one of them seems within easy reach of your gaze and words. Acting has never really been my thing, I’ve always been happier behind the camera, but if I had to do it that’s a stage I’d like to give it my all from and the black bricks of the unusually deep stage (a depth created by acquiring the adjoining building at some opportunistic juncture) contain some essence of innovation and experiment which had me leave with fantasies of performing.
On my way out I bumped into a fellow Gee (no relation) whose path I’ve crossed on Facebook, partly through the random coincidence that her daughter and my grandmother share the same less than commonplace name. Lisa Gee is a published writer of books and journalism and during our enjoyable outdoor chat beside the Theatre Royal box office (where I took the opportunity to pick up tickets for the 50th anniversary revival of Oh What a Lovely War early next year) she was kind enough to share some insights into the publishing side of things.
Towards the end of the afternoon I had to head West again to attend a technical rehearsal in the bowels of Channel 4 for my Health Freaks commission which involves a live insert into a pre-recorded show which is technically tricky and needs split second timing. It was my first time back in C4 HQ since I started my sabbatical on 1st September. There were the best part of a dozen of us in the small edit suite ranging from presenter Dr Pixie McKenna through the production manager of the TV show to the colleague making up the on-screen graphics. That ‘cosiness’ drove home how much of a work of collaboration and teamwork this kind of creativity is – a perfect note to end a Joan day (it was her birthday yesterday so the anniversary had been marked on the stage at the start of the day with some red flowers presented by Stella before a projected photo of Joan sitting on bombsite rubble in front of the Theatre Royal) as Joan, for all her leadership, was a tireless advocate of creative collaboration and collective creation.