You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Drawing’ category.

A Caress of Cretan Calm

26 March – 4 April 2018

“Seems I got to have a change of scene
‘Cause every night I have the strangest dreams…….

I’ve recently written a catch-up Crete visit blog and used a track by Jittery Joe as its title, so why not use him again, he was really in his prime in 1969. In any case, it’s a good excuse to make a link to another of his youtube movies.

Every time we make a visit to this Shangri-La island we seem to arrive dead on our feet, but thanks to a little help from our friends P&M, we’re always feelin’ alright by the time we leave.

This time around our habitual busy work schedule had once again caused us both to be running on empty during the weeks before departing from Luton to fly eastward into a welcoming evening sky. P&M’s welcoming open arms were there to greet us at Heraklion airport and we were instantly immersed into another world. One that’s lived at a more relaxed pace, filled with happy smiling faces speaking a language and employing typography we can’t understand, but where our ignorance is bliss. And what’s more, despite the tragic state of the Greek economy, roads in better condition than the UK!!!

Arriving in the peaceful tranquility of moonlit Agia Pelagia near Spili, the only sounds to fill the air were the distant occasional clangs of wandering goatbells. The following morning, breakfast on the terrace in warm morning sunshine. Immediately we were enshrouded in relaxation mode. We just drank it all in. It was impossible to resist.

The next ten days drifted by in typically leisurely Cretan pace. We explored Rethymno and the grounds and fortifications of the Fortezza; had a guided tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete; drew and painted on a different scale for a change in my Olive Grove Studio; explored the narrow streets and harbour of Venetian flavoured Chania and the hillside village calm of Ancient Lappa; found aged and decaying murals in lonely hillside chapels; walked isolated mountain tracks with my trusty Cretan guide; enjoyed the beachside community haven of Matala, with the Mermaid Cafe, mentioned by Joni Mitchell in her song ‘Carey‘, a track on the album ‘Blue‘; witnessed sunsets and starry skies to die for; ate good Cretan food, drank excellent ‘Karydia Brother’ wine.

A relaxing, unwinding, de-stressing, calming and thoroughly restful visit……………..however………………there was one occasion potentially detrimental and harmful to my health.

What began as a normal Friday evening spent in a bar in Plakias quickly evolved into a particularly stressful nail biting one. As any lifelong follower of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club would confirm, supporting this team is a roller coaster ride. This year has been a good one, but it’s still had its share of ‘moments’. Having found a bar with a TV and a Skysports football channel available, I endured one of the most traumatic games of my life. The season has ended well, but watching my team hang on with 9 men to beat Middlesbrough can only be described as an absolutely nerve shredding experience. The following week it felt like history repeating itself as WWFC survived two penalties in added-on time to beat Cardiff. Only a Wolves supporter knows what having unyielding loyalty to the old gold and black really feels like.

However, even having said that, this was an isolated anxiety-associated episode. As far as stress is concerned, Crete is the perfect antidote!

“You feelin’ alright?
I’m not feelin’ too good myself…….


Cretan Season in the Sun

19 – 26 October 2016

“We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun…….

Having just returned from another visit to Crete I was about to write a new blog when I found that there wasn’t one from my previous visit. I suddenly felt very confused. After experiencing such a stimulating and rejuvenating environment surely I couldn’t have forgotten to reflect upon it? Had it mysteriously disappeared? Or had I really been too busy to actually do one.

A look at the calendar and then it all became clear. Yes, I was busy. The trip was made two years ago, during the Autumn half term break while working at Rowlatts Hill Primary painting the ‘Once Upon A Time’ mural. However very soon after we returned our world turned upside down, as Mum’s health took a serious turn for the worse and sadly she passed away. It could be said that this visit was the calm before the storm. The writing of a reflective Crete blog was obviously lost in the maelstrom of events which occurred during the weeks that followed and which saw that difficult year through to its conclusion.

Before embarking on a new blog therefore, I’ll make amends and write an old one first.

It’s the last week of October 2016 and all is still well. Our busy schedule has been replaced with a few days in the sun, in Peter & Monica’s exceptional company, staying with them in their idyllic world in Agia Pelagia near Spili, and our minds and soul nourished and enriched once again with warm Cretan hospitality; watching a sleeping dog soak up the sun while drinking a chilled glass of Fix beer at the Agia Fotia Taverna in Agia Fotini and listening to nothing but the sound of lapping water; exploring sights of significance in the history of Crete, the monastery at Arkadi and the WWII monument and bridge at Preveli; finding plants both beautiful and strange while wandering the paths of the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete, a haven of tranquility created out of the ashes of a fire in 2003; looking at the jaw dropping sight of the upper entrance of the Samaria Gorge; indulging in the sights of the beautiful Amari valley and taking a hike up to the summit of Mount Samitos; luxuriating in the peace, shade and uninterrupted birdsong of the Olive Grove studio; savouring a glass or maybe three of the latest batch of my Kaydia brother Yiorgos’ excellent home brewed wine; the leisurely hustle and bustle of cafe life in Plakias and Rethymno thrown in for good measure.

We couldn’t foresee the events that were about to unfold, but that break gave us the energy to face it. We’d found an island of calm, and the peace and tranquility of Crete had given us the strength to confront anything an impending storm could throw at us.

Gladiator Mural (Part 3) at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

31.5 – 8.6.17

‘Don’t stop until you are proud’

The third and final part of the ‘Gladiator’ project was to be painted on the floor. Physically, painting large walls is always a challenge. Painting ceilings is even more onerous, there is no escape from the strain on neck, back and shoulders. A floor however is probably the most demanding. Back, neck, knees, calf muscles and hamstrings complain after long sessions of bending and crouching in an almost fetal position. Wrist and elbow feel the pressure too from reaching and supporting one’s weight. Even with the use of kneeling pads for protection, there’s no respite at all.

Having said that, unlike the two previous occasions when I have painted a ‘fl-ural’, a ‘Volcanic corridor’ at Fulbridge Academy and a ‘Rabbit Hole’ at Titchmarsh School, this at least would be on a much smaller scale. The area to be covered measured only 1150 x 1170mm, nevertheless I use the word ‘only’ reservedly, I knew from experience that even this would not be a short undertaking, nor would it be an easy one. If the painting proved successful though, it would not only be the icing on the ‘Pudding Club’ cake for the ‘Gladiator’ project, it would be the cherry on top too.

I began to develop design ideas by researching Roman floor mosaic motifs, and while engaged in this task an article about an archaeological discovery in the centre of Leicester appeared on the BBC news page. I incorporated features seen in the photographs from both this reference and from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services website and employed a similar but brighter palette in order to make a connection. I retained its simplicity by restricting the design to four colours, with two blue tones, a red, an orange (rather than the brown/grey of the original) and white.

On showing my design to Principal Jay Virk it was given an immediate and enthusiastic thumbs up. I prepared actual size artwork to assist the transfer of design to floor, and pencil crayon drawing soon evolved into a fully fledged ‘fl-ural’.

The painted ‘mosaic’ acts as a very effective final statement to the ‘Gladiator’ project, and symbolically like a full stop at the end of the last sentence of an immensely enjoyable novel. Following the application of four coats of varnish this brought my residency at Rowlatts Hill Academy to a conclusion. A quote painted on the wall at the end of this corridor has been staring at me for the last couple of months. It reads, ‘Don’t stop until you are proud’. It’s always difficult to assess a painting while working in such close proximity with it, but I’ve reached a point where I’m feeling pride about this one, so I’ve stopped.

Last September I had made a promise to complete three projects at the school, and which I had estimated would require approximately 12-15 weeks to fulfill. However, due to the unforeseen circumstances outlined in my ‘Pure Imagination’ blog, instead of three months my stay had come close to being nine.

Working at Rowlatts Hill has been an absolute pleasure and I thank everyone for being so supportive and understanding about my personal situation. I could easily make a long list of all the teaching and support staff I’d like to thank, I have been made extraordinarily welcome and enjoyed some very good company. In particular I am indebted to Jay and Grant, Principal and Business Manager at Rowlatts Hill. We began with a working relationship, we now enjoy a meaningful friendship. In addition similar feelings apply to Site Premises ‘Captains’ Matt and Nathan too. The assistance and support I’ve received from both has been invaluable, their good humour consistently uplifting and, to say the least, incomparable. I’m really going to miss you chaps.

Thank you Rowlatts Hill. To paraphrase the opening line of Charles Dickens‘A Tale of Two Cities’, what has been the most difficult of times has also been the best of times.

Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy, Balderstone Close, Leicester LE5 4ES

Once Upon A Time Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School – The Movie

Rowlatts Hill Primary School, Balderstone Close, Leicester LE5 4ES

Once Upon A Time Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

7.9.16 – 13.2.17

‘If you want to view paradise

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to do, do it

Wanna change the world? There’s nothing to it’

I know I’ve used the phrase ‘most challenging project’ before, and I hate to repeat myself, but this was another albeit in a slightly different way. In fact I even reached a point where I thought I’d have to abandon this one. Before I’d reached a half-way stage I took a break of 4 weeks and couldn’t envisage myself returning to complete it. In fact I couldn’t even see myself picking up my brushes to paint ever again. I would describe that break as the most difficult of times.

Fortunately I was surrounded by some very good people. Considerate, patient, kind and understanding people. Last year didn’t begin well, and ended very badly. I was pleased to see 2016 disappear. Turning the calendar to reveal 2017 felt like breathing fresh air and making a new beginning.

rhstaffroomDespite my personal problems, working at Rowlatts Hill Primary School in Leicester is a very enjoyable experience. I have always been made welcome and there’s always cake, or chocolate, sometimes samosa. Let’s just say I’ve never gone hungry. Two years ago I painted a corridor wall with portraits of their selected ‘Heroes’ and before I’d finished Head Teacher Jay Virk had invited me to return. She spoke then about another project she had in mind by showing me the entrance to the Foundation Stage area of the school, which at that time was simply a small enclosed corridor with magnolia walls.

The Proposal
Jay wanted the area to be welcoming, exciting and colourful and asked if I’d design and paint a mural that would fill the space, which would both entice young children to read and instill in them the desire to explore the wonderful world of books.

However before I could embark on it I had another mammoth project to complete, ‘The Cavern’ music room mural at the Fulbridge Academy, with which in many ways this project had distinct similarities. It took a long time to finalise the design for ‘The Cavern’, there was such a rich source of material from which to select I felt overwhelmed. I encountered the very same ‘problem’ with Jay’s Foundation Stage entrance. I was spoiled for choice and the final decision of which books to include, and which to leave out, proved heartrendingly difficult.

‘Once Upon A Time’ became the working title for the painting and the more I researched, the more I delved into a world of superb illustration. I decided that not only would this painting be about the stories and their authors, it would also acknowledge and celebrate the work of the excellent children’s book illustrators who bring these stories to life. The world of make believe and imagination invented by the author has no boundaries, and to generate the images that visualise and make sense of that dimension is a very special skill indeed.

My ‘short’ list began by researching many ‘Favourite Children’s Books’ lists as well as making a note of the books and stories used in the school. As with the ‘Cavern’ music room project, the design developed as a historical timeline too rather than favouring one particular era, however there were some titles which were obvious certainties for inclusion. The design was drawn and redrawn many times before the final selection established itself, and even then late additions appeared during the painting stage.

The Location
The space had some awkward and unique features which played its part in the development of the design; a ceiling and wall height that changed part way along the corridor; two large windows; two large glass double doors and two wooden doors; plus a strangely positioned vertical post support feature resulting from a previous building modification. Other than that, it was plain sailing, except that the walls had some unusual features of their own with raised surfaces that jutted out, as well as the usual light switches and fire alarm box, and raised conduits to conceal electric cables. In other words, unlike the ‘Heroes’ corridor, they weren’t flat. The design really needed to disguise all of these abnormalities if that were possible.

As I have mentioned, there were many permutations of the design before a conclusion was found however from the moment I was first introduced to the space there were some things I envisaged immediately. To begin with I saw Lewis Carroll’s ‘too big’ Alice filling the facing end and extending across the door. I felt that the part of the story when she became a giant in a small room reflected the nature of the confined space. Not only that, the ‘Alice’ door would be regularly opened for the children to enter their own ‘Wonderland’. At the opposite end, above the double glass doors, I foresaw the butterfly from ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ as a visual metaphor. The story of a caterpillar evolving and eventually taking flight would be synonymous with the children leaving the early years area to spread their wings and make their own journey through the school.

I also intended to paint some exceptionally large images next to the large glass double doors at this end of the corridor, their reflection would suggest a continuation of the design into the main school. I deliberately selected two large and instantly recognisable heads for this purpose, half a Gruffalo was located on one side and half a Harry Potter on the other. The idea for this came directly from having grown up watching comedies like Harry Worth on TV.

For the remaining door I imagined one that was aged, forgotten, covered with ivy and concealing a secret garden. It’s actually an intervention room, but anything could be hiding behind a closed door, and it doesn’t have to be something frightening.

The oddly positioned ceiling support was the most awkward ingredient to incorporate into the design. I’d spoken with Jay about painting the ceiling so decided I could disguise it as Jack’s beanstalk growing up into the clouds. However, finding a suitable illustration which would work with it proved very troublesome. Despite investigating a plethora of drawings of this classic story I could find nothing that would be compatible with this strange architectural feature. Then, just as I began considering alternative stories which might be sympathetic with this structure, I had almost completed the painting by this time, by chance I came across a piece of work by Shawna Tenney in a book titled The Truth About Ogres. It was a terrific illustration and perfect for what I so desperately needed…………..except for the fact that I would have to reverse the image in order for it to work in the space available. As I’d already had to ‘flip’ an illustration by Quentin Blake in order that the seagulls attached to James’ Giant Peach could fly around a ceiling light, I felt reassured that this minor edit wouldn’t be detrimental to the original illustration.

The Design
My design had made a beginning but the rest of the space remained an unfinished jigsaw, and the number of pieces hadn’t yet been determined. The ceiling was an enigma as I hadn’t painted one in detail before however here was an opportunity to follow the example of so many Baroque churches (such as Sant’Ignazio in Rome) and stately homes (such as Burghley House in Stamford) and expand this confined space into an endless sky. I wanted the composition to suggest a possible storyline too so that it didn’t simply appear like a gallery of static characters, but as though there was a conversation going on between them and suggest they might come alive and play together when all the ‘grown-ups’ weren’t around. On the one hand the painting might encourage children to explore the books the characters came from but on the other it could also be used as a learning resource for the children to simply look around and invent their own stories.

This stage of the design process took several weeks as my ‘short’ list of potential candidates for inclusion were placed in different positions, and illustrations were researched to consider alternative poses. There were options provided by different illustrators too. Although some of the characters have a particularly distinctive appearance some books have received attention from a variety of illustrators to offer a different image. There are many Peter Pans, Long John Silvers and Jacks with giants and beanstalks out there. I have tried my best to acknowledge the sources of the images I have used, but I apologise for any inaccuracies and omissions as this is unintentional, I would like to ensure that the proper credit is recognised toward both authors and illustrators.

The Secret Garden door offered the possibility of extending the overgrown ivy across the wall as a textured backdrop to the composition, and the simple act of including a tree nearby in Tom’s Midnight Garden became a most important element to advance the design. It allowed foliage to extend across the ceiling to connect the two sides of the corridor, supply a branch from which Max (from Where The Wild Things Are) could swing, conceal the upper part of the BFG, and also locate a position for Winnie the Pooh to float as a little black rain cloud.

The ceiling not only provided a solution for the post support feature by including Jack and the Beanstalk but gave the opportunity to incorporate flight. There were many candidates but Mary Poppins, the intrepid Charlie Small, SuperTed, The Snowman, Peter Pan and James and the Giant Peach were perfect to fill that role.

I’d describe the production of the design as ‘tricky’, but it would have been impossible to make a perfect selection. There will always be a feeling of disappointment that important characters are missing, I have regrets that Black Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Famous Five and Rupert Bear are not present, but I had similar feelings about omissions in the final design of ‘The Cavern’ too.

My selection for the final design reading from the left as one enters the corridor was:
The Gruffalo
Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler

Stig of the Dump
Clive King/Edward Ardizzone

Mary Poppins
P L Travers/Mary Shepard

The Adventures of Charlie Small
Charlie Small/Nick Ward

Mike Young/Philip Watkins

Peppa Pig

Find the Duck
Stephen Cartwright

Where the Wild Things are
Maurice Sendak

The BFG (& Sophie)
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Judith Kerr

Thomas the Tank Engine
Rev. W Awdry/Reginald Payne

Finn Family Moomintroll
Tove Janson

Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

The Cat in the Hat
Theodor Seuss Geisel

The Borrowers
Mary Norton/Diana Stanley

Mister Tickle
Roger Hargreaves

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jeff Kinney

Burglar Bill
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll/John Tenniel

Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson/Monro Scott Orr

René Goscinny/Albert Uderzo

The Jolly Postman
Janet & Allan Ahlberg

A Bear Called Paddington
Michael Bond/Peggy Fortnum

Tom’s Midnight Garden
Phillipa Pearce

Winnie the Pooh
A A Milne/EH Shepard

The Sheep-Pig
Dick King-Smith/Layn Marlow

Flat Stanley
Jeff Brown/Scott Nash

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Beatrix Potter

The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett/Russell Barnett

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

Charlotte’s Web
E B White/Garth Williams

Horrid Henry
Francesca Simon/Tony Ross

Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Harry Potter
J K Rowling/Mary Grandpré

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

On the ceiling:
The Snowman
Raymond Briggs

Jack and the Beanstalk
Joseph Jacobs/Shawna Tenney

Peter Pan
J M Barrie/Alice B. Woodward

James & the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake

As all the characters on the walls were make believe, upon completion I painted my signature as a fictitious character too, Sir Lancelot, one ouatsignatureof the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend. He made his first literary appearance in the 12th century……………but it’s also an anagram.

I began transferring my design to the walls at the beginning of September and a ‘Varnishing Day’ on 13th February saw the painting finished, which gives the impression it had taken 7 months but, without including the time taken to produce the design, it had actually amounted to 52 days.

It seemed a strange coincidence that 13th February was my final day. That same date in 2016 was when my wife and I found my Mum in a confused state at her home after she’d spent the previous 14 hours lying on her living room floor. She’d suffered a stroke and for the next 3 weeks she was confined in a hospital ward followed by another 2 weeks in a Care Centre. In May she was in hospital again after experiencing heart failure and although she did mange to return to her home another series of mini strokes followed and saw her condition deteriorate in the autumn. On the morning of the 13th November she was found with hypothermia and a more than irregular heartbeat after another night on the floor. Although she was wearing her emergency bracelet she hadn’t pressed the alarm button and despite the attending paramedic’s insistent and repeated request to be taken to hospital she refused, preferring to remain in the comfort of her own home. She’d had a dreadful year. She understood the implications. She’d had enough.

We stayed by her bedside night and day for the next week and she died on the evening of the 19th November. She was always interested in what I was doing and to learn details of my next project. As far as ‘Once Upon A Time’ was concerned, she’d offered suggestions for inclusion and interested to follow the development of the design. She was also keen to see my photographic diary each week as the painting stage progressed. This has been a very difficult project to complete. It’s the first painting I’ve done that she’ll never see.

The Fulbridge Academy Music Room Project – The Cavern……….

4.1 – 10.6.16

The Brief
I know I’ve said this before, and I’m certain I will say it again, but this was a most demanding and challenging project, perhaps the most complex and involved mural proposal I’ve been involved with. Even before I’d completed the Fulbridge ‘Sistine Chapel’ project Principal Iain Erskine had invited me to return to the school to paint another mural. This time the location was to be the music room, recently renamed The Cavern, and my brief was to transform the appearance of an ordinary classroom into an inspirational and stimulating music workspace.

Children from nursery age through to year 6 engage with music in this venue, and I would be working in the room while lessons continued as normal. This was to be a new experience even for Fulbridge Academy and I was very conscious about being a disturbance and invading the space of Music Co-Ordinator Phil Duff. Nevertheless, from the very beginning, Phil was very accepting of the prospect of a painting gradually appearing on the walls as he continued to lead his music workshops, and that vote of confidence gave me much peace of mind.

Iain’s first thoughts were to suggest an approach similar to the ‘Champions of Humanity’ corridor mural I painted in 2012 but which this time might intimate the appearance of a Music History ‘Timeline’. The first thoughts in my mind’s eye envisaged a radical change in both the atmosphere and appearance of the room, which would conjure more the feeling of a music venue or studio than what might be perceived as a traditional classroom.

It was an exciting prospect and following a first meeting with both Iain and Phil I retired to my studio where I spent several weeks engaged in research and to develop some design ideas. I’ve always had a particular love for music in all its forms and this brief felt like a gift sent from heaven!

However I also knew it would be a very difficult and tricky problem to solve too, that in order to present the many and various complexities of the history of the subject serious editing would be required, causing the omission of more personalities than I could possibly include. As well as the face to face and email conversations with Iain and Phil, Academy staff were also asked to offer suggestions and a list containing both the familiar and the very unusual began to evolve and take shape. Nonetheless, the research and consideration stage of this brief created an almost insoluble dilemma, prompting the design to undergo many alterations and modifications.

The Design
An early influence for the design in terms of how I might piece the individual ingredients together was a mural in Dixie’s Bar of Music in New Orleans painted by Xavier Gonzalez, however as I began making my first scribbles I was reminded of the paintings and drawings of David Oxtoby I’d first seen almost 40 years ago. I could also picture the flamboyant portraits produced by Sidney Maurer as inspiration too. Eventually I settled on the idea of producing a mural that might reflect the pages of a scrapbook that was forever being updated, but instead of the surface being paper it would have the appearance of bare brick in the same way the original Cavern Club in Liverpool looked in the early sixties.

I was determined that as many genres of musical style as possible would be represented and also that the selection wouldn’t be overloaded with personalities from the more recent past. There needed to be a consideration for a mix of gender and culture, to acknowledge the voice as an instrument and to recognise the legacy of enigmatic performers as well as that of composers.

It goes without saying that everyone could make a different final selection, but it might be prudent to explain some of my decisions. In addition there is another underlying back story to the selections which raises not only a point of concern but a warning, that a career in the creative arts can also expose frailties very damaging to individual well being. (To begin with, surviving beyond the age of 27 is a very important hurdle, an extraordinary number of musicians have succumbed at that age). Music as an artform has left with it a wonderful history for us all to enjoy, but as an industry it is absolutely littered with casualties.

It was alarming to take note of how many people from the world of music actually died during this project. In the week before I started painting Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, The Specials’ drummer John Bradbury and jazz singer Natalie Cole died, and during the time I spent working in the room itself David Bowie, Glenn Frey (The Eagles), Black, Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), indie rock band Viola Beach, George Martin, Keith Emerson, Andy Newman (Thunderclap Newman), Prince, Billy Paul and Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention), to name but a few, departed too.

(Following each selection I’ve included a youtube weblink so that a flavour of each Cavern inductee can be sampled directly)

The Selection

As the room now goes by the name of The Cavern, The Beatles had to be included but I felt their image needed to reflect their early years when like a tsunami wave they changed the musical landscape as well as the mindset of a generation. Michael Jackson and Miles Davis are placed to each side of the Cavern stage. I’ve always compared Miles Davis as an equivalent to Picasso in the world of jazz, who throughout his career was consistently imaginative and innovative, constantly reinventing his chosen genre and nurturing the careers of others, and the same description could be applied to Michael Jackson. As the list of possible protagonists for this project lengthened, my method of selection was to seek out ‘Signposts’ and not ‘Weather Vanes’. This wall is a perfect example of that premise as each could be described as an incomparable giant. In their particular field there can be no doubt that these figures were leaders and others followed in their wake.

(The Beatles – Some Other Guy – The Cavern 1962)

(Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal 1987)

(Miles Davis – So What 1959)

CavernThe only wall that had any pre-determined plan was that facing all visitors when entering the room which would become The Cavern stage, a focal point with a raised platform being added upon which potential musicians and singers could perform. Iain asked for instruments to be included so that it might suggest that the Fab Four could be waiting in the wings ready to play. On the left is Paul McCartney‘s Hofner Bass, George Harrison‘s 1963 Rickenbacker 360/12 in the centre and John Lennon‘s Rickenbacker 325 Capri to the right. The small drumkit is based upon a photograph taken of Pete Best playing in the Cavern Club, who was the Beatles’ drummer from August 1960 until August 1962 when Ringo Starr replaced him.

(A Walk Inside The Cavern, Mathew Street, Liverpool)

2ToneEarly visuals saw the design take a variety of different layouts in order to discover how I might succeed in including as many genres of music as possible, hence the ‘Walt Jabsco‘ Two Tone and ‘M’ Motown record labels appeared and avoided the need to restrict the composition to individual portraits alone. As with making selections of individuals, record company logos could also have been added in abundance but I resisted the temptation to go further than these examples. Nevertheless, having said that, the images of Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstong were purposefully selected and combined in order that I could also create a visual pun. I wanted the position of Louis’ trumpet in relation to Frank’s ear to intimate the painting by Francis Barraud of Nipper the dog staring into a gramophone horn, which was the trademark of His Master’s Voice, a large British record label from the 1890’s.


MotownTwo Tone, an independent label set up by Jerry Dammers of The Special AKA in 1979, was a ska and reggae revival with an overtone of post punk energy. According to Dammers, anti-racism was intrinsic to the formation of the Specials, in that the band was formed with the goal of integrating black and white people. Many years later Dammers stated, “Music gets political when there are new ideas in music, …punk was innovative, so was ska, and that was why bands such as the Specials and the Clash could be political”. The very memorable logo was a collaborative design, Horace Panter created the 2Tone type stamp & Jerry Dammers added the black & white checks and designed the ‘Walt Jabsco’ figure I mentioned earlier. I don’t know who Walt Jabsco was, but I do remember Jerry wearing a bowling shirt with that name emblazoned on the back when we were at art school. Based in Detroit, Motown (Motor-Town) began as Tamla Records and successfully delivered a pop influenced style of soul music that played an important role in the racial integration of popular music.

( Two Tone The Specials – Too Much Too Young 1980)

( Motown The Temptations – Ball of Confusion 1971)

Awkward spaces such as that between the windows and heaters on the right hand wall encouraged the postioning of personalities who might be recognised by their eyes alone. In my naiivety I thought the spectacles of John Lennon, who was included for a second time as a solo artist, were very identifiable however I’ve since been proved wrong, I definitely didn’t foresee that he might be confused with Harry Potter! With music infused with a sense of spirituality Bob Marley popularised the reggae music of Jamaica to audiences around the globe, and his laid back stance at the microphone worked perfectly, and for that matter very appropriately, placed ‘high’ above one of the doors. Elvis Costello, as well as a choice in his own right was also included to represent the genre of New Wave, a development in style which links with the previous era of Punk Rock. Likewise the inclusion of Elton John and David Bowie (appearing as Aladdin Sane, the character he invented after killing off his previous alter ego Ziggy Stardust), pointed to a period of early to mid seventies Glam Rock as well as to themselves as individuals.

(John Lennon – Cold Turkey 1969)

(Bob Marley – I Shot The Sherrif 1975)

(Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Pump It Up 1978)

(Elton John – Bennie & The Jets 1974)

(David Bowie – Jean Genie 1973)

Bob DylanAs a singer-songwriter, a poet with a guitar, Bob Dylan has been a significant influence upon other musicians for more than five decades. Songs from his 1963 Freewheelin’ album such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’, and in 1964 ‘The Times They Are A-Changin”, became anthems for a generation of young people fighting for civil rights, for anti-war movements and campaigns for nuclear disarmament.

(Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’ 1964)

MadonnaMadonna has been successful both commercially and critically having sold more than 300 million records and has been listed as the best selling female recording artist of all time by Guinness World Records. Throughout her career she has written and produced most of her songs, and her inventive and sometimes controversial stage and music promo presentations reflect her original ambition of a career in modern dance.

(Madonna – Vogue 1990)

FreddieAlthough on my original shortlist I am embarrassed to admit that Freddie Mercury was a late addition, this section of wall having previously been reserved for Andrew Lloyd Weber because of his successful career as a composer for musical theatre. However, after he was reported to have flown back from New York to take his place in the House of Lords to vote with the government in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor (and he had only voted 30 times in 14 years despite having had 1,898 opportunities) he immediately fell out of favour and I washed him off! Freddie was therefore painted instead and I felt even more embarrassed for having excluded him in the first place. His presence as front man for Queen was like the appearance of a messiah and as a live performer in front of a stadium audience he surely has no equal.

(Queen – Radio GaGaLive Aid, Wembley 1985)

DmitriI have only the greatest respect for Soviet composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich, whose career coincided with and was restricted by the iron rule of Josef Stalin. During Stalin’s reign the style of Socialist Realism was established for ‘the arts’ and any ‘revolutionary’ expression or experimentation was actively discouraged causing many artists of various disciplines to be purged. Shostakovich fell from official favour and was denounced on four occasions and was fortunate not to ‘disappear’ himself. Despite these restrictions placed upon his creativity and the constant fear he must have had for the lives of his family as well as his own, he produced symphonies, string quartets, works for piano, operas and film music that are both innovative and inventive.

(Shostakovich – The Gadfly played by Nicola Benedetti – composed for The Gadfly film 1955)

JSBJohann Sebastian Bach is considered one of the greatest composers of all time. He was productive in the extreme having produced Passions and oratorios, cantatas, a cappella music, keyboard music for organ, harpsichord and clavichord, orchestral and chamber music. His reputation and influence continues to grow as time has passed, his music ‘revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth’. Many also consider him to be the father of jazz.

(Bach – Cello Suite No.1 – Prelude played by Yo-Yo Ma – composed between 1717 and 1723)

MariaIn recognising the voice as an instrument there could be no better examples than the operatic soprano tone of Maria Callas and the rich and warm laid back baritone of Frank Sinatra. They are both unique and unforgettable so I thought I’d place them to face each other. Whenever I hear Maria Callas sing I feel every hair on my body stand to attention, which is very odd because I don’t understand a word she’s saying! Nevertheless, it is impossible not feel the passion and expression in the projection of her voice. I don’t know of anyone else who can deliver such emotion, strength of feeling and sentiment simply through the words of a song. The first time I heard her sing ‘La Mamma Morta’ (‘They killed my mother’) I felt goosebumps run the entire length of my body, and the same has happened whenever I’ve heard it since, yet I hadn’t clue what the song was even about. ‘La Mamma Morta’ is from the opera ‘Andrea Chénier‘ by Umberto Giordano and Callas plays the part of Maddalena. In this aria she tells how her mother died protecting her during the turmoils of the French Revolution, and how her faithful servant (Bersi) had to sell herself as a prostitute in order to save Maddalena’s life. Tom Hanks gave a great description of it in the film Philadelphia. For anyone who feels that opera is not for them I’d encourage them to at least listen to this one aria with the voice of Maria Callas. It may well change your life!

(La Mamma Morta lyrics in English)

(Giordano – La Mamma Morta sung by Maria Callas – composed 1896)

RayThere are many renowned personalities in the music industry who excelled despite their unprivileged childhood and the first in that category to be featured in the Cavern is Ray Charles. His mostly absent father worked on the railway, his mother was a sharecropper. When he was five years old not only did he begin losing his sight, his brother drowned in his mother’s laundry tub. He was completely blind by the age of seven and his mother died when he was fourteen. From these most humble of beginnings he ultimately combined rhythm and blues with gospel to pioneer a new style of soul music. In 2004 Jamie Foxx received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film ‘Ray‘, which was based on the musician’s life.

(Ray Charles – I Got A Woman 1958)

HildyIf we try to trace the earliest forms of music we have to look at the point at which something survives and that we can reproduce, which is the early days of plainsong from around 300AD consisting of a single unaccompanied melodic line. Much later than this, these daily and meandering remembered chants, which previously had a shared repertoire across Europe and the Middle East, were gradually tweaked and developed from one generation to another in oral fashion. By the time of the eleventh and twelfth century names begin appearing. Kassia of Constantinople (805/810 – before 865) is one example, an abbess who wrote Byzantian chant, whose scores can be interpreted by modern scholars and another is Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179) an abbess who wrote poetry and also began combining voices and harmonies in very much the same way as a modern composer does. A composer of around 70 works, she is the first we have any significant information about.

(Hildegard – O virga ac diadema sung by the Kinder- u. Jugendchor der Katholischen Kirche Holzkirchen – composed between 1140 and 1179)

OzzyHildegard’s image is taken from a restored stained glass window that was once part of the Rochuskapelle, just east of Bingen on the Rhine, and the light that would have shone through it works as a complete contrast and total opposite to the blackness surrounding the figure portrayed as the other ‘bookend’ on this wall. The Prince of Darkness is the nickname of Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath, a hard rock band who incorporated occult and horror inspired themes in their dark and apocalyptic repertoire. As permanent resident of the Cavern and a lifelong fan, Ozzy’s inclusion was a special request by Phil Duff and his image taken from the cover of the Black Sabbath Volume 4 album.

(Black Sabbath – War Pigs 1970)

Wolfie2A quartet of classical composers take their place on the third wall, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the largest and most dominating presence as might reflect his reputation and legacy. A prolific and influential composer his earliest works were written from the age of five and despite his early death wrote more than 600 works including symphonies, chamber music, opera and choral pieces. He is perhaps the most enduringly popular of classical composers.

(Mozart – Gran Partita 3rd movement Adagio played by ‪Ensemble‬ Zefiro – composed between 1781 and 1782)

William ByrdA composer of the Renaissance William Byrd, a student of Thomas Tallis, has been described as perhaps Britain’s greatest. Though a Protestant in his youth his involvement with Catholicism became increasingly important and his commitment to this religion found expression in his motets, one of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music.

(Byrd – Mass for Four Voices – Kyrie sung by The Tallis Scholars – composed early 1590’s)

Elgar2Edward Elgar is one of the most distinguished of British composers. Among his best known works are the Enigma variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, his symphonies and choral work such as The Dream of Gerontius. A lesser known fact is that he fell in love with football and is accredited with writing the first football chant, ‘He Banged the Leather for Goal‘ (whereas I thought it would have been ‘You’re going home in a horse drawn ambulance!’ Obviously I was wrong). He became such a devoted fan of Wolverhampton Wanderers he regularly cycled the 30 miles from Worcester to watch games during the 1890s.

(Elgar – Enigma Variations – Variation IX (Adagio) ‘Nimrod’ played by London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis – composed between 1898 and 1899)

TchaikovskySome of the most popular music of the classical repertoire was written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally. If anyone was asked to name a ballet production, that list would almost certainly include The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty which are perhaps his most familiar works, along with his First Piano Concerto, the 1812 Overture and his Overture-Fantasy Romeo and Juliet.

(Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Finale – composed between 1875 and 1876)

Ravi3Above the portrait of Tchaikovsky and to the left of Byrd I included the large figure of Ravi Shankar to acknowledge an Asian tradition of music. In the fifties he toured Europe and America playing Indian classical music and engaged with western music, most notably through his relationship with concert violinist Yehudi Menuhin and The Beatles’ George Harrison. He was one of the best-known exponents of the sitar and influenced many other musicians throughout the world.

(Ravi Shankar – on the Dick Cavett Show 1971)

TullNamed for no apparent reason after an 18th-century British agronomist who invented the machine drill for sowing seed, Jethro Tull was one of the most commercially successful and eccentric progressive-rock bands. They began as a blues-based band with some jazz and classical influences, and by the early 1970s had expanded into a full-blown classical-jazz-rock-progressive band which in the late 1970s turned toward folkish, mostly acoustic rock, all the while selling millions of albums and selling out worldwide tours. The large figure playing the flute is Jethro Tull’s driving force, Ian Anderson. With his shaggy mane, full beard and penchant for traditional tartan-plaid attire, Anderson acquired a reputation as a mad Faginesque character with his Olde English imagery and stage antics, like playing the flute or harmonica while hopping up and down on one leg. Although touring and recording as a band for over 40 years Ian Anderson no longer uses the Jethro Tull band name. Since 2012 he has toured and recorded music under his own name, but for all intents and purposes other than this name change, they are still a 5 piece band (with a guest singer) and their music is still very much ‘Jethro Tull’ – but without Martin Barre on lead guitar. The reason Tull have been included in this mural is simple. They are my favourite band and I’ve done the painting. So they’re in!

(Jethro Tull – A New Day Yesterday 1970)

Elvis PresThe largest figure on this wall is a musical icon, the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley. He began his career with the Sun Record label in 1954, in 1955 his recording contract was sold to RCA and by 1956 was an international sensation, and his unusual and provocative style ushered in a new era of American music and popular culture. He made films, television appearances, gave concert performances around the world and sold over one billion records. Known globally by his first name alone as well as simply ‘The King’, he was one of the most influential figures of twentieth century popular culture.

(Elvis Presley – Blue Suede Shoes 1956)

Adele2One of the best selling artists in the world today and likely to be the most recognisable face to children at the school is Adele. It is impossible to predict history while still in the present, but when Iain asked for the inclusion of an artist from today whose reputation might stand the test of time the most often suggested opinion was this singer and songwriter. She has already sold more than 100 million records, so we are not alone in presenting that opinion.

(Adele – Rolling In The Deep 2011)

AmyHowever, another artist from the recent present who achieved much in a tragically short career and whose reputation I’m certain will endure, was Amy Winehouse. Her powerful and individual vocal style was a mix of soul, rhythm & blues and jazz and following her well received debut album ‘Frank’ her second, ‘Back to Black‘, was awarded five Grammy Awards. Her ongoing mental health battles escalated as an ever-increasing furor of media attention invaded her career and her private life and insurmountable problems developed with heavy drug use and alcohol, which caused her early death aged 27. Her idol, singer Tony Bennett, described her as ‘an artist of immense proportions’ and George Michael as ‘the most soulful vocalist this country has ever seen’.

(Amy Winehouse – Back To Black 2006)

Robert JAs far as legends are concerned, Robert Johnson‘s poorly documented life has given rise to many stories, such as his meeting with the devil at a crossroads where he sold his soul in order to become a great blues musician. In 2010 Rolling Stone magazine placed Johnson fifth in a list of ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’ and Eric Clapton has called him ‘the most important blues musician who ever lived’. In the Coen Brothers film ‘O Brother Where Art Though?‘ the Tommy Johnson character played by Chris Thomas King is based on Robert Johnson.

(Robert Johnson – Me & The Devil Blues played by Eric Clapton – composed 1937)

Edith2There is some speculation about the early life of Edith Piaf however legend has it that she was born on a Parisian pavement. Regardless, her mother abandoned her at birth and she lived with her maternal grandmother till her father took her to his mother, who ran a brothel and she was brought up by the prostitutes who worked there. At the age of 14 she became a performer, singing in the streets to earn money and when aged 19 was discovered by a night club owner. A nickname was coined from a combination of her height and a slang term for her name, La Môme Piaf, the Little Sparrow. A songwriter as well as a performer the subject of her songs reflected her life, such as ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ (‘No, I regret nothing’) which was not written by her but was perhaps her most famous. Another, ‘La Vie en rose’ which can be translated as ‘Life Through Rose-Tinted Glasses’, was also the title of a 2007 biographical film for which Marion Cotillard won an Academy Award for Best Actress as Piaf.

(Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien 1959)

BillieLike Piaf, Billie Holiday had a turbulent childhood. The daughter of an unmarried teenage couple she suffered from her parents’ absences and being left in the care of others and her frequent absence from school caused her to be sent to a reform school when aged 9. By the age of 11 she had dropped out of school completely. At age 12 a neighbour was arrested for attempting to rape her and later, with her mother now working as a prostitute, she also became one herself before she was 14, which eventually resulted in her being sent to prison and then to a workhouse. Her singing career began in night clubs in Harlem and she gradually pioneered a new vocal style. Following a succession of abusive relationships, legal problems and a prison sentence, bad health, alcohol and drug addiction, her life came to a premature end aged 44 from heart failure caused by cirrhosis of her liver.

(Billie Holiday & Louis Armstrong – The Blues Are Brewin from the film New Orleans 1947)

Buddy2It is sad but an inescapable truth that so many of the creative artists portrayed within the room died young. A lifestyle of pressure and stress, personal insecurity or doubt of ones craft may have been the reason in some instances, temptation of alcohol and drugs being the cause of harm too. Damage to health that is deliberately self inflicted is not an uncommon occurrence. There are also those whose lives ended due to violence or through accident. Buddy Holly was only 22 years old when he died in a plane crash with fellow artists Richie Valens who was 17 and the Big Bopper (JP Richardson) aged 28. Despite his very short career he has been a major influence on later artists, including The Beatles. Holly’s untimely death is commemorated in Eddie Cochran’s ‘Three Stars‘ and most notably ‘American Pie‘ by Don McLean, the tragedy of February 3rd 1959 now remembered as ‘The Day the Music Died‘.

(Buddy Holly – Oh Boy his second and final appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, 26th Jan 1958)

GlennCrashes have claimed the lives of many artists, Eddie Cochran, Marc Bolan and most recently the band Viola Beach in car accidents, and in the air Otis Redding, Ricky Nelson, Jim Reeves, John Denver, Patsy Cline, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jim Croce and members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd to name just a few, but it was a plane’s disappearance in thick fog over the Channel that claimed the life of Glenn Miller, neither the plane or his body have ever been found. An arranger, composer and Big Band leader of the swing era he joined the army during WW2 at the peak of his career to form an army band, and his music was broadcast and performed to raise morale for the troops serving in Europe. In a radio broadcast Miller spoke about what he felt music might mean to people at that time, ‘America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music’.

(Glenn Miller – Chattanooga Choo Choo from the film Sun Valley Serenade 1941)

JimiI will always remember my 15th birthday, it was also the day Jimi Hendrix died. I was a particularly enthusiastic fan and it hit me as a terrific shock, he was another only 27 years of age. Jimi’s guitar playing was inventive, imaginative and at times outrageous, but definitely unique and distinctive. Though too young to see him in concert I’d witnessed his performances on TV at the Isle of Wight Festival and at the cinema in films such as Monterey Pop and Woodstock. As far as I was concerned Jimi was a phenomenon and tracks such as ‘Hey Joe’, ‘All Along the Watchtower’, ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Purple Haze’, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’ are indelibly etched into the soundtrack of my teenage years.

(Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze 1967)

LudwigPainted on the wall alongside Jimi is another giant, arguably the biggest of them all, Ludwig van Beethoven. Following in the wake of Mozart and despite increasing deafness he continued and developed that legacy, being responsible for a prodigious output: nine symphonies, thirty two piano sonatas, sixteen string quartets, the opera ‘Fidelio’ and the Missa Solemnis Mass. If the achievement of Ray Charles as a blind musician was impressive, then that of Beethoven is even more astounding. He was a conductor, virtuoso pianist and composer whose hearing began to deteriorate in his late twenties, and for the last decade of his life was totally deaf. In some accounts of his life it has been recorded that his last words were ‘Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est’ (‘Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over’),  however others have suggested they were, ‘I shall hear in heaven’. I prefer the latter.

(Beethoven – 5th Symphony 1st movement Allegro con brio played by Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt – composed between 1804 and 1808)

FrankAs I have already mentioned, I placed Frank Sinatra and Maria Callas directly opposite each other. Their instrument was their voice and although they were two very different singers both were distinctive and timeless. Frank Sinatra was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century, his career began in the swing era of the 1930’s and continued for over 60 years. Although he ‘retired’ in 1971, there were another thousand concerts after that and he is one of the best selling artists of all time. In his prime his laid back lazy baritone voice was full, silky smooth and absolutely one of a kind. As a song-stylist who marked the beginning of an era that made the vocalist the focus and not the bandleader and his band, there is no-one who can bear comparison with Ol’ Blue Eyes!

(Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You from The Frank Sinatra Show 1957-1958)

Louis2Louis Armstrong was one of the most important and influential musicians in the history of jazz yet his childhood in New Orleans, spent in an area known as ‘the battlefield’, was poverty stricken and his grandparents had been slaves. When he was a boy dancing for pennies in the street he would scoop up the coins and put them in his mouth for safekeeping, and was given the nickname Satchelmouth, which was then shortened to Satchmo. He learned how to play the cornet after being sent to a reform school which was where he first played in a band. Following his release aged 14 he worked odd jobs before performing with local bands and then on steamboats on the Mississippi river, which he described as ‘like going to university‘. Eventually working in Chicago he developed a vocal style delivered in his individual throaty manner and was also the inventor of scat singing after he dropped his sheet music during a recording session and couldn’t remember the lyrics. As an African-American living in a segregated society he gained access to things usually denied those with his skin colour and he was criticised for not taking a strong enough stance within the Civil Rights Movement. Although he did have strong political views they were rarely aired publicly, feeling that he would become a target. ‘My life is my music. They would beat me on the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn’t be able to blow my horn … they would beat Jesus if he was black and marched’.

(Louis Armstrong – Basin Street Blues from the Bell Telephone Hour: The American Song, 2nd Feb 1964)

Johnny CashWith an instantly recognisable bass baritone voice, Johnny Cash, the ‘Man in Black’, successfully combined country, rockabilly, blues, folk and gospel music into a unique blend. A biographical film ‘Walk the Line‘, released in 2005, with a convincing Joaquin Phoenix taking the role of Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter (for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress), chronicled his early life to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, his relationship with country singer June Carter, his unpredictable behaviour due to his drug addiction and the fan mail received from prison inmates which inspired him to perform a concert in Folsom Prison. One of his most memorable and earliest songs (and my favourite), is ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, which includes the chilling line ‘But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die’. It was recorded in 1955, a haunting folk-style ballad about which Cash said, ‘I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that’s what came to mind’.

(Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues 1969)

James BrownKnown for his turbulent personal life as well as his social activism, both in his songwriting in songs such as ‘America is My Home’ and ‘Black and Proud’, and advocating the benefits of education to schoolchildren James Brown was born in a one-room shack in the woods of Barnwell, South Carolina. Growing up in abject poverty during the Great Depression, he danced for pennies, picked cotton, washed cars and shined shoes. At the age of 16, he was arrested for stealing a car and sentenced to three years in prison. While in jail he organised a prison gospel choir and met Bobby Byrd, an R&B singer and pianist, forming a friendship and musical partnership that proved one of the most fruitful in music history. James Brown is unquestionably one of the most influential musical pioneers of the last half-century. The Godfather of Soul, the inventor of funk, the grandfather of hip-hop, he is cited as an influence by artists ranging from Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson to Afrika Bambaataa to Jay-Z. Brown wrote in his memoir, ‘Others may have followed in my wake, but I was the one who turned racist minstrelsy into black soul—and by doing so, became a cultural force’.

(James Brown – I Feel Good 1966)

3PDThere is one figure left to describe but unless you keep a watchful eye on the listings of bands playing the Peterborough pub circuit, are an employee of Fulbridge Academy or a personal friend of Mr Phil Duff, it is perhaps unlikely you would have heard of the titanic rock trio that is 3 Parts Dirt! While I’ve been daubing the Cavern walls with paint I’ve not only been a witness to the entertaining and imaginative music lessons Phil has delivered but also of his determination to master works by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, Brahms, Chopin, Percy Grainger and Cécile Chaminade on his piano too. In addition, I’ve been introduced to and become an addicted groupie of his rock band 3 Parts Dirt! who play Phil’s original compositions. He’s a very talented man and I’d encourage everyone to get connected to the 3 Parts Dirt! Facebook page and keep informed of upcoming gigs. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed, just read this review of their recent gig at The Angel Inn in ‘Rowdy Oundle’. If there’s any justice in the world, 3 Parts Dirt! will be invited to appear in the next series of ‘Later………with Jools Holland’.

(3 Parts Dirt! Selfish  Everything And Nothing  Drinking In The Sun  Old Codger)

So, the Cavern music room project has reached it’s conclusion. What more is there left to say other than a big ‘Thank You’ to Iain Erskine for the invitation and the opportunity to be involved with such a fantastic project, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work at Fulbridge again.

Lastly, I must also say a big ‘Thanks’ to Phil Duff for allowing me to take temporary residence in his room for the last 70 days. Being in Phil’s company has been like reliving my art school days again. It’s been a laugh a minute and to paraphrase a familiar Led Zep song, it reeeeeeally has been a ‘Whole Lotta Fun’!!!

The Casablanca Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

16.11 – 4.12.15

IMG_0737 IMG_0739 IMG_0750IMG_0747

Rowlatts Hill Primary School, Balderstone Close, Leicester LE5 4ES

The Casablanca Mural at Rowlatts Hill Primary School

16.11 – 4.12.15

Why ‘The Casablanca Mural’? Humphrey Bogart famously said in the last line of that movie, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, and I looked upon my invitation to work with Rowlatts Hill Primary School in Leicester in the same way.

However, instead of Louie, read Jay Virk, Head Teacher of the school who sent me the invite. Not that Jay bears any resemblance to the Claude Rains character at all. What she does have however, and in abundance, is the patience of a saint. It was the 25th November 2014 when Jay first made contact with me and it was a week short of 12 months before I actually began work on her project.

There were good reasons for this of course. Of all the schools, in all the towns, in all the world, Jay had walked into Fulbridge Academy and seen some of the corridor murals I had painted just as I had begun working on the monumental ‘Sistine Chapel’ project. This took longer than I anticipated, and I also squeezed in a couple of drawing workshops at Warmington and Titchmarsh Primary Schools at the beginning of March too, which concluded with a mural painting for the Titchmarsh School library, so I was unable to even make a visit to Rowlatts Hill to discuss her proposal till April ’15. Not only that, I had already committed myself to another project at Fulbridge to follow-on from the ‘Sistine Chapel’. I still had a Music History timeline to research, design and develop for their Music Room (now renamed ‘The Cavern’), which I then drew onto the walls during the month of July.

The months of August and September were spent making preparations for my ‘Landmarks & Milestones’ exhibition at the Castle theatre in Wellingborough, but I returned to Rowlatts Hill in October to familiarise myself with the space. Although ‘The Cavern’ was not finished I decided I would delay the painting stage of this project till the New Year as it was likely to take several weeks to complete, whereas the length of Jay’s project was a little easier to determine. Also I didn’t relish the prospect of making the longer daily commute to Leicester in my little 19 year old Corsa when driving conditions were possibly going to be foggy and icy.

With my modified workplan set, I began preparing designs for the walls Jay had shown me as my blank canvas. She asked if I would transform a corridor by illustrating a collection of people who were a source of inspiration through their creativity, inventiveness, innovation, ingenuity, imagination, originality, artistry, insight and vision. Jay had asked for suggestions from staff and children, and although she found restricting the list to 16 names difficult she felt those put forward were a good reflection of their community. The list presented to me was:
Rosa Parks
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nelson Mandela
Malala Yousafzai
Mother Teresa
Anne Frank
Mohandas Gandhi
Queen Elizabeth II
Albert Einstein
Richard III
Florence Nightingale
Charles Darwin
William Shakespeare
Mary Seacole
Vincent van Gogh
Stephen Hawking

The reason I’ve selected ‘My Hero’ by the Foo Fighters as the title of this blog is because of its chorus, “There goes my hero/Watch him as he goes/There goes my hero/He’s ordinary”. The personalities included in the composition may be household names but really they are just ordinary people who have done extra-ordinary things. Within the context of a Primary School whose principles are to encourage children to achieve well and to become something special themselves, I felt this sentiment particularly appropriate.

On 2nd November I returned to meet with Jay and also with Grant Penton, Business Manager at Rowlatts Hill, to present my proposed designs and to discuss my selection of the various photographic and painted source material. All the images chosen have a backstory which can be investigated further. Their response was both enthusiastic and positive. Although I had suggested keeping the list to 16 names my design actually included 17 portraits, with the Queen appearing twice. As she became the longest-reigning British monarch on the 9th September 2015 the design began and ended with her image, the first from a photograph by Dorothy Wilding taken in 1952 the second from 2015, which acted like ‘bookends’.

Two weeks later, on the 16th November, I began daubing the walls with paint but 18 portraits actually appear in the final composition. Due to an error of judgement on my part during the painting process a larger than intended space began to yawn out at me, which offered the opportunity for the inclusion of an additional hero. I spoke with Jay, who in turn conferred with her colleagues, and when she returned asked if Jessica Ennis-Hill could be included. In terms of her being an inspirational figure to young people I felt this to be a perfect choice, especially with the prospect of the Rio Olympics being a major feature of the forthcoming 2016 sporting calendar.

The painting stimulated much conversation with both staff and children as it gradually evolved on the walls over the 12 days it took to complete. There were some memorable moments too; I thoroughly enjoyed overhearing my ‘neighbour’ Alex teaching his year 3 group; was both touched and lost for words when a child walked quietly up to the wall and bowed his head at the image of Mohandas Gandhi; and a big thanks to Grant, Matt, Nathan, Karla & Liam, those wall vibrating Tuesday evening ‘Moose Knuckle’ rehearsals were very special. Many, many thanks Jay for inviting me to work at Rowlatts Hill. It was a pleasure. Let’s do it again sometime.

The Casablanca project was enjoyable from start to finish and although I say it myself, I think it turned out okay. I feel very pleased with it. Here’s looking at you kid!

Landmarks & Milestones: A Painter’s Progress

5-29 October 2015 • The Castle, Wellingborough NN8 1XA

Our lives follow a meandering path, taking us in different and unexpected directions. This retrospective exhibition is an opportunity to reflect upon a painting career that has incorporated a variety of subjects and activities, with dramatic changes in scale.

From early formative works through to more recent painted and drawn images, it also includes examples of monumental mural paintings, a recurring feature of the artist’s output since 1977.

My painting is me
A kind of biography
Written in pictures

Landmarks & Milestones: A Painter’s Progress
5-29 October 2015
Exhibition Wall & Gallery
The Castle, Castle Way, Wellingborough NN8 1XA
01933 229022

Operation Amsterdam

1997 & 1998

Following footsteps
I walk streets graced by Rembrandt
To catch his shadow


Balancing bridgeways
Over watery highways
Cobble stoned byways


Coffee, freshly brewed
Rijksmuseum, van Gogh too
Mind that! Sidestep poo!

Wet Streets, silver lines
Hand rolled cigs (but not Woodbines!)
Red lights, neon signs

Bike bells ring, trams clang
No mistaking where I am
Back in Amsterdam!


Drowning in God’s tears
‘Hiroshige’ sightseers
Splash through Dam Square weir!

Thunder! Lightning strikes!
Heavens open filling dykes
Wet me, dodging bikes!


Circular city
Ringed like a slice through a tree
Defying the sea

Enthralling, vibrant
Fills me, the short stay migrant,
With great excitement

Galleries galore
Filled with paintings I adore
To study and draw

Dimly lit and brown
Bars filled with conversation
Thrive throughout the town

Bric-a-Brac, knitwear,
Markets in the open air
Pop up everywhere

I mean no cliché
When I say, I hope I may
Soon return one day


Canalside houses
Echoes of Golden Ages
Lean on strong neighbours

3 Parts Dirt! 10cc Abba AC/DC Achille-Etna Michallon Ajaz Akhtar Alberto Giacometti Albrecht Durer Alice in Wonderland Amsterdam Andrew Wyeth Andy Warhol Arctic Monkeys Athletics Atomic Rooster Banksy Beatles Benjamin Marshall Bernard Cribbins Black Black Sunday Blondie Bob & Marcia Bob Marley Boxing Brian Brinkley Brushes app. Bucks Fizz Caesar Cambridge Camille Corot Cancer Canned Heat Castle Caverstede Early Years Centre 'Bigger Picture' Chalk Pastel Charcoal Charles R. Knight Charlie Small Children's Books Christo Claude Monet Coldplay Corinne Bailey Rae Coventry Creative Partnerships Crete Cricket Daniel Lambert Darren Fraser David Bomberg Deacon's School Dennis Creffield Diego Velάzquez Discovery Primary School Django Reinhardt Dogsthorpe Academy Drawing Edgar Degas Edvard Munch Egypt Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun Elton John Elvis Costello en plein air Epping Forest Europe Eurythmics Evolve magazine Exhibition Fitzwilliam Museum Floella Benjamin Foo Fighters Football Forest Schools Francesco Guardi Frank Auerbach Fred Astaire Frida Kahlo Fulbridge School Garage Door Gary Moore Gene Wilder Gentle Giant George Bellows Georges Braque Georgio de Chirico Gerry Rafferty Gian Lorenzo Bernini Gingerbread Man Giovanni Bellini Gladiator Glasgow Boys Glenn Frey Gnarls Barkley Greece Gruffalo Haiku Hands Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Hercules Brabazon Brabazon Iain Erskine Ian Anderson Ice Hockey Impressionism iPad Iron Curtain Jacob van Ruisdael Jacques Brel James Abbott McNeill Whistler James Ferrara Jamiroquai Jazz Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Jean-Francois Millet Jethro Tull JMW Turner Joe Cocker Johannes Vermeer John Constable John Lennon Johnny Kidd & the Pirates Juan Sánchez Cotán Jurassic Way Killer Shrimp King's Cliffe Endowed Primary School King's Cliffe Primary Kit Downes Quintet KT Tunstall Lanchester Polytechnic Landscape Landscape painting Lascaux Laurel Barbieri Leningrad Lenny Kravitz Len Tabner Leonardo da Vinci Lewis Carroll Little Red Riding Hood Loch Craignish Lonnie Donegan Luke Steele Lynyrd Skynyrd Mad Hatter Madness Manfred Mann's Earth Band March Hare Marvin Gaye Media Media Archive for Central England Michael Jackson MichelAngelo Modest Mussorgsky Mosaic Moscow Mural Muse Music National Gallery Newark Hill Primary Nickel Creek Nick Ward Nina Simone Oasis Obsidian Art Gallery Owl Painting Panda Panorama Paul Cezanne Paul Gauguin Peterborough Peter Paul Rubens Picasso Pirates Pleurisy Pneumonia Portrait Procul Harem Queen Radio 3 Essential Classics Rafael Alberti Rainforest Ray Charles Red Hot Chili Peppers Rembrandt van Rijn Rene Magritte Right Angle Gallery River Nene Roald Dahl Rock Music Rod Campbell Rodrigo y Gabriela Rod Stewart Rogier van der Weyden Rolling Stones Romans Rome Rowlatts Hill Primary School Royal Academy Roy Clark Russia Salvator Rosa Sarah Walker Scotland Seascape Self Portrait Sistine Chapel Small Faces Sport Steppenwolf Stereophonics Swimming Talking Heads Terry Jacks The Automatic The BFG The Crooked House Himley The Editors The Jam The Killers The Moody Blues The Red Deltas The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Thin Lizzy Thomas Faed Tina Turner Titchmarsh School Titian Tom Jones Totem Pole Trompe l'oeil Tuscany USSR Venice Vienna Vincent Van Gogh Volcanic Voyager Academy Warmington School We Are Scientists William Hogarth William Law Primary School Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club YouTube

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.