The Alasdair Gray Archive – Off Topic

Lately the blog has been really focussed on Simple Minds and in particular the 40th Anniversary of Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, Rightly so. I do run this blog primarily as a Simple Minds (ie: Jim Kerr ogling) blog, with broader music topics – general album reviews, gigs reviews and interviews, etc.

Anyone who has spent time here in the past – even in the fairly recent past, knows I love art as well – photography, painting, drawing. And I love books too, though I don’t read much these days (more due to suffering narcolepsy when I read and also being a very slow reader. It makes for an awful combination!).

One of the last books I managed to read in its entirety was Lanark by Alasdair Gray. I even went on and bought a Kindle copy of 1982 Janine and still haven’t read it!

I initially caught the Gray bug due to His Kerrness referring to Lanark in an interview he had with Muriel Gray (no relation, as far as I am aware) in 1984. An interview that I only saw for the first time in early 2020. I looked into Alasdair Gray and sought out a copy of Lanark to read. I decided to go “old school” and bought a copy from a seller on eBay. The book made its way to me from the Isle of Lewis – but the way I held it to read it, the adhesive wore away from the spine and the book fell apart. In the end I borrowed a digital copy from the library to finish reading it. I had to keep borrowing it week and week after week.

Needless to say, not only did I fall in love with Lanark, I fell in love with Alasdair too. And not just his writing. Lanark is still the only thing of his I’ve read so far – apart from an open letter he sent to The Scotsman newspaper about how perhaps we are too hasty to tear down, demolish and rebuild, but perhaps there should be more consideration given to restoration. He talked about Sighthill in particular. I can’t help but wonder what he would make of all the redevelopment work that has gone on and continues to go on around Sighthill right now. And even what he’d make of the housing estate that has been given approval to be built upon the old Ruchill Hospital grounds. Right now, when I look out my bedroom and living room windows, I see a living Alasdair Gray painting. That view is going to change in its appearance in years to come.

And so, yes, I love his paintings, murals and illustrations as much as his writing. I particularly love getting out at Hillhead subway station to view the spectacular mural that spans the wall of the subway’s entrance. If you search my blog you’ll find photos and video of the mural at Hillhead. I’ve still yet to go to the Ubiquitous Chip and the last time I was at Oran Mor, I was not even aware of Alasdair, or his amazing work there.

Sadly, Alasdair passed away at the end of 2019, but he has left such an amazing legacy.

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Alasdair Gray Archive, located at The Whisky Bond, just off Possil Road, overlooking the Forth and Clyde canal between Speirs Wharf and Applecross. It really was a wonderful hour I had spent there. I had the space to myself with the curator of the archive, Sorcha, as my personal guide. It is only a small space – not much larger than our living room (if any larger at all) and was arranged to show Alasdair’s office/writing space at one end, his art space at the opposite end of the wall, as well as a display of his bookshelf and illustrations, artworks and prints on the wall opposite.

I was allowed to view certain things and could view the massive “work-in-progress” folio in the top drawer of his artist’s bureau, which was incredible. One hour just was not enough.

I hope to return sometime in the near future to get lost again. I look forward to future “Gray Days”.

You can learn more about the Alasdair Gray Archive by visiting: thealasdairgrayarchive.org

I’m thinking this is a dungeon where all the naughty boys of Glasgow get put.
Below is the layout of archive, showing how Alasdair’s workspaces were laid out in his Hillhead home. Click on the photos to get enlarged viewing options.

Bryn The Beautiful Blackbird

A watercolour painting of a blackbird in song that I had commissioned by my amazingly talented friend, Deb.

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I like to give birds alliterative names.

All my own crappy creations ended up with alliterative names and so upon deciding on a name for Bryn I thought about the Welsh connection with Deb. Bryn means “hill” so it just seemed so apt for him. And being a glorious songbird as well, and with the Welsh known for their beautiful singing voices it all made total sense.

I shall get a beautiful frame for him and hang him on the wall in my bedroom, along side that other wonderful singer that festoons every wall of my room. And there’s a lovely rhyme with the names Jim and Bryn – total accident but there you go! It was meant to be.

Deb does AMAZING watercolour paintings of UK wildlife. If you’d like to see more of her work and perhaps buy some of her beautiful art, you can view and make enquiries through her FB art page HERE

Ideas To Overcome A Creative “Impasse”

Maybe setting limitations would work to do it? Having a set amount of time in the day? Some of these things I have tried before. Let’s doit again and see. But we’ll implement some different things this time. Anyway, ideas are worth sharing too…hence this post.

Click the image to see a video from BBC Ideas (in collaboration with the Open University).

The Very Definition!

I wish more than anything I could paint him. I honestly, absolutely get lost in his beauty. To me, esp. when I am working on art and he is at the centre of it all and I am deep into my spell, mouthing the words under my breath in short intervals “he’s beautiful. He’s just so beautiful” – that’s when I wish most that I had a canvas to hand, could pick up my brushes and just…paint him – and do him justice. For lack of that, I try and do the next best thing. The thing I may just be able to fudge. Turn a little hazy, fuzzy little freeze frame of video into – a work of art.

HE is a work of art, to me. Jim Kerr – you are art and beauty personified. And I’m so sick of caring what you think of me. Whether you like me or not. It just doesn’t matter any more. I love you. I adore you. And it is how it will always be…until the end of days.

You are my sun, moon and stars. My beginning, middle and end. You are…he.

Scorpio is ruled by Pluto – the Roman god of the Underworld. So perhaps I feel some affinity to Persephone – the Greek goddess of the Underworld. I certainly understand Persephone’s fixation with Adonis. How could she not be? And, well…look what it says – to quell the feud between Aphrodite and Persephone over him, Zeus divides up Adonis’s time in thirds. One third of the year he spends with Persephone, one third with Aphrodite, and one third with whomever he chooses.

Who does he choose? Aphrodite! Poor Persephone. Well…she at least gets to be with him one third of the year.

I should be so lucky!

Only in my dreams.

Locked in my emotional prison.

Spot the correction below…

These are the things that need written words. These are the things I could not admit to or discuss by speaking them.

Let’s Rock!

A wonderful friend of mine in Oz – Wendy – has done these amazing rock paintings for me.

When she showed me the progress of the New Gold Dream themed one a few days back, I cried my eyes out. I knew she was working on a silhouette of Jim but I wasn’t expecting that amazing NGD cover background on the rock. I was overwhelmed.

Today she shared photos of both completed rocks with me and I absolutely adore them both.

They will take several weeks to get to me all the way from sunny Queensland, but they will find the most loving home here when they arrive in not-quite-so-sunny Glasgow.

An Independent Socialist – A World In Gray

Please do not be fooled by the blurb you see attached to the video! There really isn’t too much talk about the then imminent Scottish Independence referendum. It really is all about the remarkable Alasdair Gray. A man I wish I had been aware of, learned about and began to have some kind of – albeit without any actual personal interaction with – affinity for while he was still living.

There is a sadness I feel that, having moved to this amazing city just a few short weeks before, that Alasdair left us at the end of December in 2019.

Yes, you have to pay to watch the film – documentary – but if you love art, love the murals around Glasgow, have ever read Lanark or 1982 Janine and loved them – see that mural at Hillhead subway station each day (I can’t tell you how many times I have passed it by already and never realised it was there – with great shame) …

Just watch it.

Even as I am still finding my way through Lanark, I take in all the places I recognise. A number of them are local or not very far away. I even found myself reading a letter to a local paper he had submitted about wondering what was to become of Sighthill (the general area, not the cemetery – that wasn’t the topic of Gray’s letter) It is literally just up the road. Just go down to the end of the adjacent street, past the bowling green, round the corner, past the speedway track – up Finlas Street turning into Carlisle Street, until it meets Keppochill Road – and there you are. Sighthill Cemetery. Three weeks ago I didn’t even know it existed! There is NOTHING to mark it out on Google Maps. A few times coming down the A803 from the city centre by car or on public transport I could see there were some graves but I had assumed it was attached to a churchyard – not an actual full cemetery. A cemetery so vast that – as far as I am aware, only the Necropolis is larger (although trying to confirm this with research would indicate Sighthill is larger in acreage so I am a bit confused). Needless to say it is a large expanse and perplexing not to be revealed on a map!

Gray within the pages of Lanark seems to mention a street nearby, Ashfield Street. There is only one Ashfield Street in all of Glasgow. A few Ashfield Roads but no “street”. Only this one. It must be it! And there is talk of Riddrie where he grew up and the area that is now know as Robroyston but was once Garngad – all not terribly far away, further over to the east and north of us on the other side of Bishopbriggs.

But I shall stop waffling and let you watch it! I found it enthralling.

Virtual Art Exhibition Tours During Lockdown

The Royal Academy of Arts had a post on their social media about some virtual exhibitions you can enjoy during lockdown.

The one following is not a full virtual exhibition as such, but a taster into a Hopper exhibition that was running in a gallery in Basel until the lockdown in Switzerland closed its museums and galleries.

I do miss exhibitions. I miss the Kelvingrove! I’d love to see more of Edward Hopper’s work up close. I have a Taschen book of his work that I bought in a charity shop a few years back – with the idea of displaying some of them on the walls. The Taschen books are printed in such wonderful quality! It was a bargain for the few pounds I paid for it.

Anyway, enjoy the little teaser video and let’s hope that sometime in the future we can once again get “up close and personal” with art.

Make Me A Mural

Wouldn’t it be awesome if he – and Charlie too…perhaps on a different building…had a mural in honour.

If it’s good enough for Alex Harvey, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Billy Connolly…

Why I Love … Today I Died Again

It’s that … cold war Europe sensibility and style it has. Actually, it’s more post-war (The Great War), 1930’s, really. It’s Christopher Isherwood Berlin. Not flappers and sharp-suited men…later…early 1930s….now more the time of “austerity” (and how relevant does it make this song now?!), mass unemployment – post Wall Street Crash and the Hoover Dam project and, In America, Roosevelt’s New Deal.

There’s an “austerity” to the song. The musicality of it. It starts slow and sparse. A very slow dum beat – echoey, long bending bass notes. And a very dreary, dour synth. There’s a bleakness to it. Lyrically, Jim sets up the scene, “the human drum beats a rhythm of life / the clothes he wears date back to the war”. Which war? In my mind, the Great War (WWI) – but most likely he means WWII – they are some mighty old clothes to be had for 1980, either way!

Moving on from those opening lines…the lyrics printed in the album’s sleeve have the next line as being “he talks a lot / often to himself” but it isn’t what Jim sings on the album. The line alters slightly…and brings you in more as a listener “you talk a lot / often to yourself”. Talking to oneself always deemed a sign of mental illness. “What’s the first sign of madness? You talk to yourself. What’s the second sign? You answer back!” So…who’s mad? The protagonist in the song? Or you, the listener?

With the imagery I get from early Simple Minds songs, in particular, it’s very prescient that Jim should use the line “paint me a picture” because it is exactly what his lyrics do for me. They paint me a picture. They create a whole scene, in fact. A whole little play. It varies from still images as a slideshow, an actual painting on its own, or a short movie.

He goes on “America can fall”. The love of Capitalism its fall? The Wall Street Crash? Was he prophesying the second crash that is to come in 1987?

The title itself…and the lines expressing it are the most curious. There’s really a strong expression of nihilism and even oppression in it…with little recourse of showing a way out – as the most optimistic of Simple Minds songs will convey. And as much as I draw strength from the upbeat and optimistic SM tracks…I can draw, if not out and out positivity from the more “dour” of SM tracks, I can gain a strength and a resolve from them all the same.

There’s a nostalgic look back to “better days” within the lyrics too. “Back to a year / back to a youth. Of men in church and drug cabarets” hence my feeling of the setting of the song, time wise, as being the 1930s. Namecheck for the album “is this the age of empires and dance? Oh, what a world…”

There is so much of this album that is “film noir”. I don’t think I will ever fall out of love with it.

The last 90 seconds of the song is just the culmination of all of its components. Jim’s title of the song hauntingly just bending and weaving and echoing. The instruments building on a crescendo…and that final 30 seconds in which Brian increases the pace of the beat with added lovely cymbal splashes. Just … mwah! Perfection.

And then we fade away and on into Celebrate (which I have previously tried to put into words as to why I love without using just the single word “PHWOAR!” to suffice. Lol)

If Today I Died Again was represented by a painting, it would be this (for me)…
It is titled “Self-Portrait with Model” (1916) painted by Erich Heckel. The very same artist whose work inspired cover art for the albums “Heroes” by David Bowie and The Idiot by Iggy Pop.

And that is why I love Today I Died Again.

Boy On Film

I upgraded one of my art apps a few days ago. The previous Prip piece was done incorporating one of the new settings now available to me. Of course I start off a new piece tonight thinking I’d use more of the new things available to me.

Nope! Much like the muse I doggedly work with…I stuck to all the settings and options I had available to me for free.

I’m an old stick-in-the-mud! Lol

I cannot wait to get my own space for painting and drumming. My own little art studio. I’ll probably freeze to death, as I envisage this thing being a glorified shed down the back of a garden somewhere in the southside of Glasgow. Soundproofed, of course – to protect peoples’ ears from the drumming and the wails of frustration as I paint away.

I am definitely from the Howard Hodgkin philosophy of art (ie: art is pain and there’s nothing enjoyable about it). It sets off my depression BIG TIME – painting…but there’s a compulsion too. And I miss it.

And I will continue the digital art. Always. It’ll be a counterbalance. The digital art *IS* joy, and therapy. It is the thing I love. Esp. when I am working on Mr Muse. How can it not be? LOOK AT HIM! Like I need more excuses. Lol