Archive for the ‘tony wilson’ Tag
I’m firing on all cylinders again. A really productive week’s writing. Was on a real roll tonight writing about Joan Littlewood and improvisation – her openness to the moment and to others’ ideas, from the renowned actors to the fella that swept the stage.
Yesterday had an illuminating chat with the Chief Exec of Channel4, David Abraham, about the nature of collaboration, in connection with When Sparks Fly. He was talking at one point about artists and creatives who are so gifted that they need not collaborate and who can afford to be difficult, rude or whatever. It drew my attention to the fact that I need to be very clear about what I mean by the collaboration which stems from openness and generosity. I’m not really focusing on collaboration in the narrow sense of A and B make a thing together. It’s more about circles of creatives who inspire, support and catalyse one another’s work. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac – all responsible for at least one work of genius, all arguably good enough to be contrary fuckers, two out of three largely were – but this didn’t prevent a highly productive collaboration giving rise to a movement with influence across the decades. Tony Wilson, Joy Division/Ian Curtis, Peter Saville et al. What I’m mainly exploring is how peers nurture and champion one another to the advantage of all. As Ginsberg recognised, better a movement than a few disparate successes.
On other matters, had an inspiring evening at Google HQ in St Giles’s last night. It was a National Film & Television School event showcasing their Film Clinic initiative with Google. Producer Simon Chinn, of Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man fame, who I last chatted with on a roof top in Tel Aviv at the CoPro documentary festival, explained the genesis of Sugar Man and how he helped get it to happen on a grand scale. Between him and me was sitting former NFTS head honcho Dick Fontaine who was great fun. I was introduced to the founder of the Film School, Colin Young, by John Newbigin – Colin had great anecdotes about its early days. Alcohol seems to have played a key part. And to complete the set of NFTS grand fromages, enjoyed chatting again with Nik Powell, the current head. Seemingly he turned down Billy Elliot twice. The same can’t be said for my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross who execed it, and who yesterday announced her departure from Film4 after 11 years at the helm, culminating in this year’s Best picture Oscar with 12 Years a Slave. She has been very encouraging about When Sparks Fly and was tickled by the premise.
I’m due to go out to NFTS in Beaconsfield in a couple of weeks to do my annual lecture there to the TV students about Multiplatform.
Tidied up my model chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend, added the intro and the piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and then sent it to two people for some fresh-eyed feedback. The first tentative steps into the public domain! No. 1 copy went to my Other Half and the second to a friend, Farrah, whose opinion I really respect but who I feel sufficiently safe with.
Then I went for a run back to Sandymount Strand where a Godsky was illuminating the beach.
A good breakfast back at Bewley’s, a quick catch-up with an old friend of mine on his way back from an interview for production design on a horror movie, and then a great chat with TV producer Steve Lock who hails from my NW London neck of the woods but has ended up in Greystones, along the coast South of Sandymount and Dun Laoghaire (I’m always impressed with myself that I can actually spell that name). Steve helped me a few weeks back with the Tony Wilson/Music chapter, Chapter 2) by being interviewed about his time working with Tony at Granada. He kindly brought along today the Factory Christmas card for 1988 consisting of a flick-book animation from a New Order video and his FAC51 card for the Hacienda.
Steve dropped me off at Sandycove Point where I went to visit the Martello Tower where Ulysses begins. First a scene on the roof of the tower, looking across the bay to Howth Head where the book ends, the story physically embracing Joyce’s native city; then the characters descend and head over the lane to the Forty Foot, a rocky outcrop just opposite the Tower from which people have been swimming in the Irish Sea of Dublin Bay all year round for some 250 years. There was an auld fella swimming just round the corner this very afternoon – January 15th, full on winter, albeit a beautiful sunlit afternoon.
I didn’t get any other writing done today, too busy immersing myself in a perfect yellowy afternoon, which will charge the creative batteries if nothing else. I’ll get onto the synopsis document I need to produce tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some images from the Sandycove adventure…
Two really useful interviews today, both with people a bit more dispassionate about my protagonists – Tony Wilson and Allen Ginsberg respectively.
The first was with Jon King, singer and co-writer (with Andy Gill) of landmark post-punk band Gang of Four. He had contact with Tony through appearing on his TV show So It Goes as well as through touring (Warsaw, the early iteration of Joy Division supported Gang of Four). Their paths also crossed at what was billed as the first Situationist conference in Manchester, where Tony, Jon and a worse-for-wear Mark E Smith appeared on a panel together. Jon’s insights into autodidact Wilson’s enthusiastic interest in Ideas was a useful one and helped clarify whether he really was a pretentious ‘twat’ or not, or more importantly what motivated his creative catalysing.
The second was with David Amram, the musician and composer most closely associated with the Beats. He sees Kerouac as the prime-mover in the circle by virtue of the seriousness of his commitment to his art. We crossed paths briefly when the scroll typescript of On The Road came to the British Library a year ago. Again his non-idealised perspective on Allen was a useful counter-balance to the mythologising and smoothing of rough edges over time and retelling.
Both conversations were fascinating and free-flowing, and such encounters are without doubt the highlights of this experience and process. One point of contact between the two interviews is that both interviewees spotlighted Muddy Waters as a key person in their worlds. Jon saw Gang of Four as a blues band in essence with Muddy and Robert Johnson as core figures. David puts Muddy at the heart of American music, even though at points in the 60s it took the Brits to show the Yanks what they had.
As Jon recounted his time at CBGB’s in New York towards the end of his student years in the Fine Art department of Leeds University, another idea came to mind for a spin-off project which I initiated at the end of the afternoon with a friend of mine who works a lot in radio. A good omen was we both came up with the exact same (slightly obscure) working title.
I’m writing this post in the sunlit, leaf-strewn churchyard of St Marylebone Parish Church, with the bells ringing. That’s a stark contrast with where I did most of my work on Day 69 which was in an armchair by a fireplace in the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. I’d been to a meeting at King’s Cross Station, beneath the new fan-lattice glass roof which I’d never looked at before, with a British-based academic/innovation expert originally from Kiel. She is focusing on the shift from the self-centred world of work to a group/team/pluralistic focus, concentrating on corporate contexts. Whilst there is without doubt an interface between her research and what I’m writing about, coming at the subject from the perspective of individual artists or creative catalysts and their immediate (usually friendship) circle is an angle I feel much more comfortable with. Making rewards and performance relate to sharing, open and altruistic behaviour in corporate contexts is not simple and without that in place it is easy to conjure up an exploitative scenario.
So back at the dimly lit fireside I tapped away for several hours on Factory and Tony Wilson. I also landed a class interview with a key member of a prominent band of the era. I was reflecting earlier in the day how many of my teenage heroes I’d ended up meeting and working with during my career. In almost every case it seems a highly unlikely scenario [Word of the Day] from the perspective of those youthful days, which is what always makes it a kick.
Rounded off the day at a film screening downstairs in the hotel (hence the choice of venue) – the Coen Brothers’ latest one, Inside Llewyn Davis. Enjoyed the film, especially the music performances set in 1961 Greenwich Village, though suspect I will be among a relatively small appreciative audience, it’s quite far from the mainstream and I have a particular interest in Dylan and his precursors.
After the movie my Other Half and I had a drink upstairs in the hotel and got a chance to chat with both Oscar Isaac, the talented young star of the movie, who plays a character based on Dave Van Ronk and was very nearly the second Bourne after Matt Damon (finally losing out to Jeremy Renner by a whisker), and T-Bone Burnett whose soundtrack graced the picture. Both of us are fans of T-Bone’s Crazy Heart soundtrack and we had a terrific chat with him about both music and modern day surveillance (a subject he seems currently much bothered by). He was a total gentleman in both his elegant, tall bearing and his easy manner. The perfect person with whom to end a week of writing about Music, openness and generosity.
I started Day 67 on non-book business in Marylebone to do with my main non-exec directorship – it was a nice change to be immersed in a thoroughly commercial world. I moseyed on though Mayfair in the direction of BAFTA in Piccadilly and briefly immersed myself in the art world courtesy of the Halcyon Gallery which has a big show of Bob Dylan’s iron sculptures and paintings which was fun. Once I got to BAFTA I dived back in to the Music chapter happily. Bumped into a couple of people who were helpful in making connections to interviewees (both for Music chapter). And set up some more interviews. Wandered across St James’s and through the dark park to Channel 4 HQ for Xmas drinks, my first visit to the building in several weeks, only my second since 1st September kick-off day, refreshing.
Day 68 began in the British Library with more tapping away about Tony Wilson. Had a lovely lunch round the corner in St Chad’s Place with Jesse Cleverly of the newly established Wildseed Studios, which he describes as “a content incubator looking to invest in great new ideas”. We talked Book, multiplatform, Royal Court (where he used to work), Nigella, creative process, etc.
Then bee-line home for more writing and to speak to the other protagonist of my Music chapter – Terri Hooley of Good Vibrations. He was totally charming and warm, and I really look forward to heading over to Belfast to hang with him in the next few days. He offered me a tour of Van’s East Belfast which will be a real kick.
And the day ends here in the Adam & Eve on Mill Hill’s Ridgeway – as much my home turf as Cyprus Avenue is Van’s. I’ve got mulled wine, crisps, seat by fire, Sinatra on the pub stereo, and my fresh little Air. Happy days.
This morning did an interesting Allen Ginsberg-related interview with Kathelin Gray, a close associate of William Burroughs who crossed paths with Ginsberg on a regular basis, initially on the hippy scene in her home city of San Francisco and later in New York in the Lower East Side playground of Ginsberg’s circles. She has impeccable Beat credentials in that her mother was a close friend of Carolyn Cassady and she remembers being bounced on the knee of the elegant blonde. She works across a range of disciplines including producing, writing, directing and curating. She produced a documentary featuring Free Jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and indeed there’s an Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny track named after her. She consulted for ECM in the 80s (who have been on my radar for Music case studies) and was involved recently in Godfrey Reggio’s latest film, Visitors, with a soundtrack by Philip Glass (who collaborated with Reggio on the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy and of course collaborated with Ginsberg).
We met at BAFTA (good to be using my membership a bit more during this time) and talked first about Ginsberg and then about Kathelin’s broad-ranging work. We spoke about her involvement in Biosphere 2, a closed ecological system experiment in Arizona, and her current focus, a project based on the Research Vessel Heraclitus, a 25-metre Chinese junk. Since 1975 its multicultural crew of explorers and artists has sailed the vessel over 270,000 miles, in every sea except the Arctic. The current three year expedition is to study the changing port cultures of the Mediterranean. I could do with a bit of Med myself right now under these grey skies.
In the afternoon I wrestled a bit with the Tony Wilson chapter which has reached a treacly bit. I’ll just have to persist and keep writing til I get out the other side…
By way of consolation prize, I popped downstairs to Hatchards and bought myself a signed copy of Robert Harris’ latest novel about the Dreyfus Affair to read as my down-time book over the holidays.
Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
[Baudelaire, Spleen – Les Fleurs du Mal]
Had a child off sick from school so found myself reading Norse myths with him, taking advantage of his recent interest in Thor comics. It was interesting to read that in Norse mythology there are three categories of people: Leaders, Makers and Doers.
Spent much of the rest of the morning preparing for some making by watching a BBC4 documentary on Factory Records, centred on one of Tony Wilson’s last extended interviews.
Then back to transferring notes from books into my draft Music chapter which is an arduous, slow task, often threatened by impatience to just dive in and write. I finished the process in the evening beside the local swimming pool where said sick child ploughed up and down the lanes as his illness declined with distance from the school bell.
But that leaves me with a clear, full-on writing day for Day 63 to get the build-up out of my system…
Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: Goddarnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore!
Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands was the locus of today’s activity. Started with a Channel 4-related meeting with some emerging film talent I met in Leipzig the other week who have a lovely project on the go which deserves some traction and support. Their pitch at Leipzig Dokfest was charmingly English and stood out really favourably in that European context as authentic and bringing beautiful craftsmanship.
Ascended ten floors to interview Rory Sutherland, boss of ad agency Ogilvy, whom I first met earlier on in the process as I got to grips with the Paul Arden/Advertising chapter. We had a thoroughly enjoyable chat at The Ivy, nice and appropriate for the subject-matter, which was a big help as I mapped out the landscape and headed off on the journey. True to form, this time he again not only gave really generously of his time but engaged in an enthusiastic and very well informed manner with illuminating observations from his own industry as well as from his passions beyond.
Spent the rest of the afternoon in Ogilvy’s offices, cracking on with the Tony Wilson stuff.
Ended the day heading due West to BBC in White City for final TX of this launch series of Health Freaks, dropping in the live insert into the pre-recorded show with Dr Pixie on voice-over and the team from Outline Productions.
I’m writing this high above Outline‘s offices (down below in Kentish Town) perched on the top of Parliament Hill. Before me is a beautiful panorama of autumnal trees and Highgate village on the summit opposite, lit in a low yellow sunlight. Behind me is the path my dad took daily in the 50s to his school, William Ellis, as well as the café where he first talked to me about his terminal illness. Beyond the golden trees to my left is the summit where I was born (Whitestone Pond). So I’m feeling right at home. And from up here I can turn round and see Canary Wharf silver-grey on the skyline.
Rounded off the week with a delightful phone conversation with Rosebud Pettet, a long-time, close friend of Allen Ginsberg, who lived with and beside him for over quarter of a century on&off. She was at his bedside when he passed on to the great poem in the sky and wrote a story about that experience which she shared with the likes of Patti Smith, Francesco Clemente and Philip Glass as well as Allen’s brother Eugene and partner Peter Orlovsky. She gave some beautiful insights into life with Allen from their meeting in the 60s when she was a teenager to his final years when he finally moved out of the building they had shared on the Lower East Side for yonks.
At one point in her travels Rose lived in London (not three miles from my end of the call) and at another point she was in Christiania in Copenhagen where I was last week.
I began the day back in the walled kitchen garden of Kenwood researching Sylvia Beach and her relationship with Joyce, with whom she was very close and supportive, not just around the publication of Ulysses but in his Parisian family life too.
In the afternoon I wrote about the legendary 4th June 1976 Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, attended by some 35 people and yet which inspired a great blossoming of music from Manchester including Joy Division and The Fall and their knock-on effects. It’s a good way into exploring the interface of truth and mythology around Tony Wilson, Factory and the Manchester scene of that golden era.
All week I’ve been trying to get in touch with a lead singer from another great band of the time to interview, wracking my brains about who I know who would have worked with him in recent times. Was drawing blanks from that line of inquiry until I was standing at the bread bit of the local supermarket during the weekend when I turned around and there he was. Singer of one of the great singles of all time and a landmark of punk, both of us loaves in hand, both in our silver fox period, face to face over a basket of family shopping. The world works in mysterious ways…
Day got off to a slow start with domestic stuff intruding. The upside was a good chat over lunch at our local favourite with Enfant Terrible No. 1. Putting me in a relaxed frame of mind to kick off the Actual Writing of the Music chapter along the lines that came to me walking down to lunch. I’d been struggling to find the emblematic scene (with which each chapter opens) for Tony Wilson. What finally came to mind was the legendary writing contract in blood scene immortalised in 24 Hour Party People (brought to you by the FineFolk at FilmFour) when Wilson and Joy Division formalise their relationship in a pub one afternoon. I came up with the notion of writing the scene in 3 takes. 1 as captured in the movie. 2 and 3 as told elsewhere by Tony Wilson. Each varies in detail and substance thus capturing the mythologising, self-mythologising and post-rationalisation integral to Wilson and his story. I read it back to Enfant Terrible No. 1 and he liked it.
Then I headed off with Femme Fatale No. 1 to see David and Tom Kelley, founders of IDEO, discuss their new co-written book Creative Confidence at the new Royal Academy buildings beside Burlington Arcade (the old Museum of Mankind, formerly part of the University of London which a distant relative of mine was involved in establishing, a factoid that emerged during a bout of family history research earlier this year). Tom kindly offered to write a blurb for the book (subject to his liking it of course).