By Lee Gale
British Ideas Corporation, 2018
The power of Rotherham. In the Seventies, young Beverley-born artist Peter Watson was a frequent visitor to the industrial heartland of South Yorkshire and found himself enthused. All around him stood steelworks, slag heaps and cooling towers but instead of revulsion, Watson liked what he saw and set about recording the scenery with oil on canvas.
Continue reading What a wonderful Wold: an interview with artist Peter Watson
By Lee Gale
A long time ago, I used to work for Jack magazine which, at the time, was by far the finest men’s title money could buy. Sadly, not many people agreed with that statement and Jack closed in 2004. Nevertheless, each issue would have articles that were lovingly crafted by writers with massive interests in male culture – namely football, World War II, decent comedy, obscure music and old-men’s pubs. You’d come in with an idea and it would be given the green light without question. It was an incredible environment to work in. I loved the Avro Lancaster and set about writing a long-form magazine article about its history as soon as I’d got my feet under the desk. This inevitably led to interviews with wartime RAF bomber crews.
I visited squadron leader Tony Iveson of 617 Squadron at his home in Tunbridge Wells in summer 2003. On the walls of his spotless home were paintings of Lancasters on various missions, and I seem to recall one was of 617 Squadron’s successful raid sinking the Tirpitz in 1944. Iveson was involved in three missions to sink the bothersome German battleship. I’ll put a few of my other interviews on British Ideas Corporation over the next few weeks. I’ve just read that Iveson died in November 2013 at the age of 94, so he would have been 83 when I interviewed him. He was perfectly lucid and a riveting storyteller.
Continue reading A 2003 interview with Tony Iveson, Lancaster pilot with 617 Squadron
By Lee Gale
Writer and musician Simon Wells knows a thing or two about cool British culture. His previous books have covered The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and homegrown cult films, and he’s also co-curated a Sixties film season at London’s National Film Theatre. Perhaps, though, his latest project falls closest to his heart. His new book, In Echoed Steps: The Jam And A Vision Of The Albion, is an investigation into the poetry and literary influences of Jam frontman Paul Weller.
To Wells, the Modfather is more than mere pop legend. He’s on a par with Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Lord Byron, albeit with a distinct talent for distilling his thoughts into three-minute psychedelic compositions. So take off your green parka, dust down a copy of Geoffrey Ashe’s 1971 tome Camelot And The Vision Of Albion and butter some crumpets using the blade of Excalibur. As you are about to discover, Weller’s words have a lineage that can be traced back to King Arthur.
Continue reading Home-made Jam: the very English poetry of Paul Weller
Clocking in at over 700 pages, former New Order bassist Peter Hook has much to say in his new book Substance, which catalogues, in fan-delighting minutiae, his tumultuous tenure in Britain’s foremost indie four-piece. Intra-group wrangling, love trysts, moodiness, shocking amounts of white powder and hangovers from hell defined the band’s existence. Throw in some jet lag, tax issues and ownership of a loss-making nightclub and you have a story that’s more epic than any film could ever capture (although Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People from 2002 gave it a good try.)
Continue reading Bills ’n’ thrills and violins: Peter Hook
As autobiographies go, Tony Garnett’s The Day The Music Died: A Life Lived Behind The Lens is as gritty, honest and heart-wrenching as the film and television work that he’s known for. In the Sixties and Seventies, his career was entwined with that of director Ken Loach, a producer on such notable dramas as Kes (possibly the finest film ever made), Cathy Come Home and Up The Junction. In the Nineties, Garnett’s BBC projects This Life, about a group of hedonistic law graduates, and The Cops, focusing on a police station in the fictional northern town of Stanton, were both controversial and strong signifiers of their time. Continue reading Tony Garnett: the film-maker with his own epic story to tell
When Rowetta joined the Happy Mondays in 1990, not only did she bring the Mancunian masters of indie-dance crossover a more soulful presence, she provided additional visual stimulus to a band that was already pretty watchable in the first place: cos the Mondays had Bez!
With her dominatrix toughness and body hugging bondage attire, Rowetta arrived as an equal partner in this most laddish of lad bands. Here was a woman who was clearly having a ball. With every swish of her whip, Factory Records shifted towards the mainstream: no longer would indie automatically mean an embracing of the mediocre. Soon, Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches arrived, an LP that was basically a summer holiday on vinyl, reaching No.4 in 1990. Rowetta’s extraordinary vocal range and “Yippee-yippee-yay-yay-ay”-ing perfectly counterbalanced Shaun Ryder’s Nike Air-wearing, couldn’t-give-a-toss cool. We just wished that our girlfriend was hot like Rowetta.
Continue reading 808-orchestrate: Rowetta and the Haçienda Classical
Unless you have broom handles for legs, it’s become practically impossible to buy jeans in Britain. “Skinny” is now the nation’s regular fit, while “Regular”, well… you have to assume every pair has been dragged from the shelves of the high street and taken to the nearest incinerator. All of a sudden, everyone’s starting to look like Max Wall.
One location that’s stubbornly impervious to the enforced narrowing of fashion is Manchester. Here men, on the whole, still dress like they’re off to see Oasis at Maine Road. Perhaps it was an act of black magic conjured in the bowels of the Factory Records office one long night in 1989, but it’s like a spell has been cast on the city, meaning that the width of jeans will forever provide legs with much-needed space. It certainly pays to visit Manchester in the sales and stock up on wide-fitting denim.
Continue reading Donald Trump is not amused: the illustrations of Stanley Chow
Two weeks on from the referendum and the dust is far from settling. Some people are a few friends lighter while others are feverishly posting messages about loopholes that might prevent the UK’s break from the EU. Facebook, once home to throwaway banter and pictures of slap-up breakfasts, has transformed into a political shooting alley. Leave voters tread with extreme caution on social media or have stopped using sites altogether. Right now, there seems no end to it, although the ever-reliable Billy Bragg made a valuable point on his Facebook page earlier this week, telling his 273,000 followers: “Though it may be painful for the Remainers, democracy must prevail. The alternative is unthinkable.”
Continue reading A nation divided: Frank Field MP on Brexit
Bloomsbury, London: the heart of British literature and not a shop selling vinyl records for, oof, at least half a mile. Tim Burgess, frontman of The Charlatans, is sitting in a stupendously sunlit room in the offices of Faber & Faber, publisher of his new tome Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco. Part paean to LPs and part autobiography, it features a cast of 54 contributors including Ian Rankin, Lauren Laverne, Andrew Weatherall, Bob Stanley and David Lynch, with each naming an album that deserves closer inspection.
Continue reading Vinyl demand: Tim Burgess puts the needle on the record
British Ideas Corporation, 2016
While too many plumbers create havoc for ordinary families with Barney Bodger pipework, spur-of-the-moment joints and wedged-in 4×2 – all nefariously hidden behind a bath panel – there are some, like Pimlico Plumbers, who take the job seriously and have clearly prospered as a result. Londoners will be familiar with the distinctive red, white and blue of Pimlico Plumbers vans but they’ll probably be more aware of the fleet’s private registrations, a creative toilet humour that pulls the chains of both young and old.
Continue reading Sympathy for the DVLA: the private plates of Pimlico Plumbers