Friday, 15 February 2013

Rock 'n' Roll

Just before my fourteenth birthday in 1972 a marvellous thing happened. My first proper concert. Sharing the excitement with my best friend Brian, and no parental involvement!

Marc Bolan was my musical hero at the time, I loved the glam rock stuff although I'd first picked up a guitar after listening to early Elvis albums and playing along to them. 

To be honest, the music of Bolan and T.Rex wasn't that dissimilar to early rock and roll. A lot of it was based on twelve bar blues with references by Bolan in some of the songs to old blues musicians and songs. Of course Bolan's lyrics were a little more fanciful and mostly nonsensical to be honest.

The concert was at Belle Vue in Manchester; a zoo, fairground and concert venue, now long gone. 
We were quite near the front with the obligatory headband and glitter. Everybody was standing on their seats and screaming throughout the whole set apart from the acoustic set where it all calmed down a little.

The programme above is faded as I've just taken it down to scan from the wall where it's been on show for a number of years. It's actually complete with photos, lyrics and poems ...

After the gig we went into a photo booth and had some pictures taken with my new white 'silk' T.Rex scarf (yes, I have that too). I have got the photos but just can't find that photo album at the moment. I know you'll be waiting in eager anticipation to see them!

We also recorded a disc in a recording booth, these were really so cool. You went in, sang your song, and a few minutes later a disc would pop out that you could play on your deck when getting home. Technology at its best! We screamed our way through 'Metal Guru', the new single at the time, and I still have that disc somewhere too ...

The T.Rex album 'Electric Warrior' was the first full priced album I ever bought. My dad thought spending £2.10 on it was reckless ... It was played constantly on our old radiogram, and still sounds great today.

I also had a passion for David Bowie's music, according to my last.fm stats he's at the top of my play list followed closely by Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan and Jethro Tull ...

In the 70's I went through all the musical styles: prog rock, punk, dance, new wave. What a fantastic and eclectic decade of music and fashions, and to be honest I still listen to all of them ...


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Smokin'


I've been sorting my 'playroom' out where I do my music, photography and occasionally art work. There are folders full of paintings and drawings going back thirty years plus, to be honest not much I'm particularly fond of nowadays. I also have books, boxes and drawers full of memorabilia, or as some people may call it … junk. I'm not including the drawers full of cables, cassettes and old computer CDs just yet. I reckon it may take at least six months to sort it out properly.

I'm trying to make some sense of all this and have decided to scan documents and photographs etc and gradually force them upon my Facebook friends! A book is also planned with 'memorabilia' from the sixties and seventies.


One of the books I came across, in very good condition (for any collectors out there) was The Park Drive Book of FOOTBALL 1968/69. I wasn't particularly sporty but I did have an  appreciation for Manchester United at the time!

Sports sponsorship in all things by tobacco manufacturers was the norm until quite recent times, so a book like this, coveted especially by youngsters, was not out of the ordinary.  It has photographs in colour and black and white, it has league tables and results for the season. It has interviews about teams and players, some of them sporting a large cigar or cigarette. Of course this was also in the days when footballers were paid 'normal' salaries and were often 'just one of the lads'.


How did I happen to own such a tome? A piece of social history? Did I smoke a zillion Park Drive unfiltered cigarettes at the age of ten and send off the packet fronts? Well … no actually. What we did as kids was scour the streets, healthily riding around on our bikes to find as many discarded packets as we could, no matter how grubby or how wet. Thank goodness for the lack of recycling bins in the '60's!
These would then be dried and brushed, put in an envelope and sent off with the anticipation of the book arriving in a few weeks.
I did start smoking later in my teens, everybody I knew smoked.
Twenty cigarettes were about twenty pence if you bought king size.
I stopped smoking in 2006.


'Remember, if you smoke after sex then you're doing it too fast.'


Woody Allen

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Art ... What Art?


Having very recently retired from teaching Art & Design after nearly 30 years in a public sector high school I had decided before Christmas to write a piece on the state of art education. The first piece of many I hope.

Now that the English Baccalaureate is about to take hold and send the creative arts spinning back to the old days of budget cuts and the 'steering' of the more 'academic' (often the usually better behaved pupils with a willingness to learn and experiment) away from the arts in general it just feels the right time to express an opinion, although I can't understand why there is so little protest from educators about these damning changes.

On a drive home across the road from hell, the M62, it was a delight to hear THE JOHN PEEL LECTURE delivered by Billy Bragg. I have always enjoyed Billy Bragg's writing and this particular lecture was very close to my heart. It is about Billy's journey as a performer and also his views on the English Baccalaureate and creativity. I hope he doesn't mind me quoting a few paragraphs as he puts it much better than I could. There is a link to the full piece at the end of this blog.

'The coalition government are about to introduce a new exam system that threatens to exclude creative subjects from the core qualifications expected of our 16 year olds.

The English Baccalaureate, the new GCSE performance measure, requires that schools publish the number of students that get A-C grades across 5 subject areas at GCSE level. These are: English, Maths, Science, Modern Foreign Languages and Humanities (History and Geography). These subjects will be expected to take up 80% of the curriculum.

Under such a regime, there is a real danger that the creative arts will struggle to compete with the core subjects. And at a time of cuts to the education budget, the pressure on schools to dump subjects like music and drama if favour of those that offer high marks in performances tables will only grow.

The insistence that knowledge is more important than creativity, that the latter will flourish if left to its own devices is, like the English Baccalaureate, a throwback to the per-art school days of the early 1950s.'

People are quite happy to have enjoyed the wonderful spectacle of the Olympic opening ceremony, they may visit the occasional art gallery or sculpture park, buy designer clothes, browse through a magazine, buy their children picture books. 

They may even occasionally marvel at a piece of architecture, the design of the latest car or the attractive packaging of the food, jewellery and anything else that comes wrapped or boxed. 

They may be thrilled at a movie or a well filmed and designed television programme. They may go to the theatre to see a play or a popular musical and marvel at the production, but do they think about the hundreds of people, artists, designers, actors, dancers etc who have created this for them?

The Department for Education has no mention of the words creative, art, drama or music in its general article about the English Baccalaureate. The only near mention is in a paragraph about why it was introduced:

'The number of non-academic qualifications taken up to age 16 had risen from about 15,000 in 2004 to about 575,000 in 2010, with a higher take-up of vocational qualifications by young people from deprived backgrounds. Many of these qualifications do not carry real weight for entry to higher education or for getting a job.'


Let's see that again: 'Many of these qualifications do not carry real weight for entry to higher education or for getting a job'. I don't see how that statement could be any less condescending, a real slap in the face for creative educators.

You'll notice that any mention of sport and fitness is also missing from the DfE article. What happened to the Sports Colleges, oh yes, that's right, they're now Academies doing the English Baccalaureate. Perhaps children are now fitter than they used to be and have no need for PE, and after winning all those gold medals at the Olympics do we really need any more? 

In my time as an educator I have seen fashions come and go, and often come back again, but this English Baccalaureate could have real long term repercussions for the arts in general. A sad state of affairs.



'Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited while imagination embraces the whole world.'

Albert Einstein





Thursday, 20 December 2012

It's been a funny old year

Self Portrait 52/52 Year Three




















Today I said goodbye to colleagues and goodbye to the school I've taught at for the past twenty nine years in Wakefield. I've taken early retirement even earlier than I had originally planned to due to health problems this year. Only seven months earlier mind you.

Last March I think I metaphorically burnt out, came to an emergency stop, hit a wall and was forced to take time out. I did, and I never returned. I'm still smouldering now, but I'm hoping a positive fire will build over the next few months as I get back to full time creativity with my photography and artwork. I'll speak of that another time.


Talking of burning out, I'm hoping you'll all be around to read this after 21 - 12!


I've had the past nine months to get to terms with being at home and organising my own time. I like it. I don't miss the constant time considerations when teaching, I won't miss knowing where every holiday will be in the year and exactly what lesson I'll be teaching each and every day twelve months ahead.


I'm looking forward to more long weekends away with my lovely wife Jan, and have already booked a holiday out of school holiday time, now there's a price revelation!


I've really enjoyed having the time to shop locally and spend time preparing meals. I've enjoyed getting my garden in order and spending as much time out of doors as possible, either with a camera or a spade!


I'd like to to thank all those friends who have been so supportive over the last year and I look forward to more trips out, more photography and more ale!


Now available for coffee mornings and weekday creativity ... anyone?




"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."


Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta




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