Naming and categorizing: The Orange Headed Tanager
The world as an organized place, in which things must be representable, ideally by drawing, and have a clearly associated name. Books and papers are filled with birds (often with names phonetically spelt – Eegle Oul – or the result of poring over books and cards from PG tips tea - see above). Cars are equally important, and all of them must be known and memorized: Mercedes, Humber, Hillman, Cadillac. Some books (the Observer series) reify this tendency for categorization (cars, warships) and some sets of picture cards (PG Tips butterflies) begin life-long passions. By six I could identify any British butterfly and nearly all bird species. This latter passion also continued, fed by outings with my grandfather’s naturalist friends, which led us to lapwings’ and oystercatchers’ nests and young.
Owning: The Heinkel Bubble-Car
Strongly related to naming and categorizing, and probably prior to it in instinct, is knowing what is yours and what is ours. The family is not only a set of people and relations, but a safe space, defined by places and feelings: the precise colour and texture of the pale green carpet in my first bedroom, the familiar discomfort of the coconut matting which carpeted the lounge in the third house I lived in – aged 3-6? - later the sound of the Aga being filled with coke and the ash ‘riddled’ out each morning, signifying warmth and breakfast. Aged only perhaps six months I was placed at a party in the driving seat of a Heinkel bubble car owned by one of my parents’ art-school friends, only to howl with distress when removed from what had seemed so self-evidently a ‘me-sized’ gift: my ‘own’ car.
Listening: The bass clarinet
The first record player, a small stand-alone valve device containing the first loudspeaker from which I heard music, was accompanied by a small (because expensive) collection of records: Finlandia and the Karelia Suite, Beethoven’s Sixth, Richard Burton in ‘Under Milk Wood’, the Oistrakhs playing Bach and Vivaldi double concerti. ‘Listen teddy, Beethoven’….. The world organized as sound, reassuring, repeatable, special. Then the explosion of pop – an invention almost exactly simultaneous with my lived experience of it in the form of The Beatles. Who had to be played –mimed to – with carefully constructed cardboard and wood replicas of each of the guitars, but especially Paul’s Hofner bass, musical instruments were established as a source of magic, this reified by Alan Cooper of the Temperance Seven (another parental art-school friend) practicing his newly obtained bass clarinet over my cot.
WorkIng: Being an artist.
The seriousness of it is never in doubt, as it forms a permanent, unavoidable context for everything else. Rolling down Herbert Read’s lawn as a four-year old; earnest debates and art-school parties with Trevor Bell, who lived in the adjoining cottage to my first home in Leeds; my Great Uncle Frank – who taught a young man named Hockney; but most intimately my parents – who ensured that the engagement with printing ink, paint, thread and textile was a continuous (self-)critical act. There are role models everywhere, and those to whom I have regular access (Peter Strachan, Ron Lowe, my father) have palpable ties with those who increasingly occupy the Observer colour supplement on Sunday (Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland).
Moot Hall – Roger Freer, Basil Bunting (sound), establishing an identity as a musician. Film Soc – Jim Gledhill Herzog - I warned you there were role models around!.
Tom Phillips (the series)
John Harris - flutes, Layton/Christine - Dolmetsches, Terry A – singing, Segovia, Oistrakhs, Jake Thackray, B&O, Pentangle, first instruments, composing with Tandberg, architecture books, Trevor Wishart, then New Music in Action 1974
Jill – Geoff, Julia – Austin Wright, Emma – Robin Wade (The Chinese Exhibition, The Tutenkhamen Exhibition)
Writing about it: Denis, John Berger, Alan Bennett,
A sense of the other: Nonny Plocket and Mr Withering Band