Tag Archives: performance art

The girl who loves gangsters the Kray Twins and imprisoned Charles Bronson

Sarajane at the Kray Twins’ grave in Chingford, East London

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Sarajane Martin which said:

“I am aware this may be a long shot but I’m a 21 year old Fine Art student living in London, studying at the University of Westminster and I am in the process of writing my dissertation…”

She asked if I could help her with something. Alas I could not, but I can spot a good blog subject when I see one, so we had a tea and coffee this week. She handed in her dissertation today.


Sarajane: I was born in a moving car going at about 80 miles an hour. My dad kept driving and he said he heard the sound of a child being born behind him. He turned round and me mam was sat there with me and he was fucking flying and he just kept going.

John: He was on his way to the hospital?

Sarajane: Yeah. He ran in and he said: Me wife’s had a baby in the car! And they told him: You are drunk, sir. Please go! And he’s like: For fucksake! My wife’s just had a baby!

John: It was unexpected, then?

Sarajane: Yeah. Afterwards, me dad went back to the house to get things for me mam, like pyjamas and stuff, and the second he hit the spot when I had come out, where he heard that noise, Pretty Flamingo by Manfred Mann came on the radio and he sang it all the way to Durham, thinking about his new daughter. He sang it to me my whole life. I have a tattoo of a flamingo on my leg and it says Daddy and he’s got one on his.

John: When Ron Kray shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub, there was a jukebox playing, wasn’t there?”

Sarajane: Yeah. It was playing The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. Ron said, the second he shot him, it went: The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore… Anymore… Anymore and it jammed. How weird is that?

John: What is your BA (Hons) dissertation called?

Sarajane: What Does Performance Art Contribute To The Myth of The Criminal?

John: What DOES it contribute?

Sarajane: Well, if I’m being totally honest, I just said ‘Performance Art’ because I’m an art student and I had to connect it to art somehow. I wanted to write about gangsters and bad boys an’ that.

John: In her autobiography Handstands in the Dark, Janey Godley says that old-time Glasgow gangsters were like actors. They were putting on a performance of being gangsters.

Sarajane: It’s right, that. It IS a performance, like it’s not real. I got interested in criminals. I think it’s a thing we all do.

Sarajane Martin at Soho Theatre in a T-shirt

John: You have a Kray Twins T-shirt on.

Sarajane: Ultimate gangsters.

John: Criminals are bad people.

Sarajane: I know. It’s not that I think they’re nice people. I just find them more interesting than good people. That’s just a human reaction, isn’t it?

John: Any specific reason?

Sarajane: I know exactly why. I have two older brothers. The oldest one is 37. I’m nearly half his age. I’m 21 and I’ve done much more than he’s ever done because he has just like been in prison his whole life near enough. Petty stuff. Gone with the wrong crowd. Daft. Stupid. A rolling stone.

He would write me letters when I was a kid. I remember seeing it was an HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) envelope and I was buzzing, thinking it was really cool. My brother in prison had sent me a letter! I was thinking of this when I was writing a letter to Bronson.

John: Charles Bronson, the criminal.

Sarajane: Yes.

John: He’s changed his name again, hasn’t he?

Sarajane: Yes. Charles Salvador.

John: Some women get married to long-term prisoners.

Sarajane: People start to write to a person because they know that person’s a murderer.

John: Why would they want to write to someone who has killed people?”

Sarajane: Because they see the good in people. They say Ron Kray was mad. But he was ill. Nowadays, he wouldn’t have lived like that. It was such a different time.

John: There are still psycho killers around today, though.

Sarajane: Yeah. Yeah. But they’re treated differently.

John: Have you seen The Piranha Brothers in Monty Python?

Sarajane: No.

John: People say the East End of London was safer when the Krays were around. They only killed their own, not ordinary people.

Sarajane: Yes. In a Fred Dinenage book, Ron is quoted as saying he wanted to kill George Cornell. He says he had shot people before but he did it just to maim not to kill. With George, I wanted to. I walked in there and wanted to kill him. That’s mad.

John: You are from the North East of England. There are loads of hard men up there.

Sarajane: Yeah. But Northerners are wankers.

John: Are you sure you want that quoted?

Sarajane: I’m a Northerner, so I can say it. They’re just not very interested in the world around them.

John: If this were 1963 or 1965, would you have thought of marrying Ron Kray?

Sarajane: Probably. (LAUGHING) I don’t think Ron would have done what he done if we had met. (LAUGHING) I don’t think Ron would have been that interested in me. They reckoned when Ron liked someone, that was it. Someone said: You would hear that the Krays were coming and all the good-looking lads would piss off. They knew Ron was on the way.

John: You just fancy bad boys.

Sarajane: I don’t fancy Bronson or owt like that. I just love ‘em, you know what I mean? I don’t fancy them. It’s not like that.

John: You would not marry Bronson but you love him?

Sarajane: Yeah, but in a different way… Appreciation…

John: …of what?

Sarajane: I don’t know.

John: You appreciate his art?

Art by Charles Bronson was controversially displayed at Angel station, London, in 2010

Sarajane: I do. I love his art.

John: It IS interesting.

Sarajane: Do you know he sent a Get Well Soon card to the girl who lost her leg in Alton Towers? (When a rollercoaster crashed at the amusement park.) Bless him.

John: I hate to say this, but Hitler was an artist.

Sarajane: And Joseph Goebbels was about five foot high and used to wear high heels when he was in photos. What a weird thought.

John: You graduate this year. What are you going to be?”

Sarajane: I felt I knew before I started the course.

John: What did you think back then you were going to be?”

Sarajane: Famous. That was the only thing I wanted. I wanted to come to London and be famous. Like Bronson. Go into prison and become famous.

John: Really?

Sarajane: No. I’m joking. I always just wanted to be a painter. I was going to be pure punk and drop out of Art School and just be a failure. And then I thought: No, I can’t go my whole life saying Oh, yeah, I dropped out of Art School.

John: Have you done any art inspired by the Krays?

Sarajane: I’m saving it for my degree show. I want it to be like you feel the presence of the two of them.  Possibly something like two life-sized sculptures which show the difference in their characters.

John: So what are you going to do when you leave university this year?

Sarajane: I haven’t got a clue. All I know so far is I’m going to Nuremberg and to The Berghof. And Nürburgring. Do you like Formula One racing?

John: I’ve never seen it live.

Sarajane: I like the old 1970s Formula One, me. Much cooler. And they were much more ‘for it’. Now it’s all money and there’s no, like, courage in the game. In the 1970s, they were like right up to death, looking it in the face: We don’t care. Niki Lauda is one of my heroes. His crash happened at Nürburgring. He was on fire. They had to put a thing in his lungs and like vacuum his lungs and he did it more than once. He was that much of an animal he was like: Do it again. It doesn’t even hurt that much, man: do it again.

John: You’re just looking for the ultimate bad boy.

Sarajane: He’s not a bad boy, though. He’s just a total nerd who had an accident.

John: You’re attracted to death and punk. It’s Goth Art.

Sarajane: Goth’s dead. I’m pure punk. I’m pure 1970s punk, me.

Sarajane Martin – work in progress

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The artist formerly known as The Iceman has sold a painting… I think

The Iceman

The Iceman’s entire stage act involves melting a block of ice

So, in the last two days, I have received 10 e-mails and currently 22 JPEGs of paintings of blocks of ice from my speciality act chum The Iceman.

The Iceman’s stage act involves melting blocks of ice.

That is his entire act. He has his fans.

“Incredible.” (Mike Myers)

“He’s a living saint.” (Stewart Lee)

“A figure of mythic proportions.” (Independent)

“This inexplicable man.” (The Stage)

The Iceman has had several brushes with fame

The Iceman when he was last (partially) seen in this blog

“My friends are all fans of yours.” (Phill Jupitus)

“Your act is shit!” (Chris Tarrant)

“A brilliant act.” (Simon Munnery)

“Truly a performance artist.” (Jo Brand)

The last time I blogged about The Iceman – two years ago – my piece was headed:

PERFORMANCE ARTIST THE ICEMAN – NOW AS SUCCESSFUL AS VAN GOGH IN HIS LIFETIME

In his 10 new emails, The Iceman suggests I should write a follow-up blog headlined:

THE PAINTER FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE ICEMAN BREAKS/DOUBLES VINCENT VAN GOGH’S RECORD, SELLING 2 PAINTINGS IN HIS LIFETIME.

"This one must be worth something - it's got real money on it-count the minimum price?"

“This one must be worth something – It’s got real money on it”

“My paintings are getting more sophisticated by the second,” he tells me. “The galleries want me more. You had better purchice a painting before the prices get out of reach? If you don’t like the icethetices, see it as an invicement. My deep art always benicefits from iceposure on your mammoth blog.

“The Iceman,” he continues, “now goes under the name of AIM – Anthony Irvine Man. As usual, my aim is lengthening the life of the original blocks of ice through a parallel transformation in the medium of paint. In the process, dicecovering  a thing of beauty can be made.

“I can’t tell you prices, but they are significeant. You can find all my recent paintings on Twitter -u are a follower!!!? – @Cold02ukIrvine

The Iceman and (I presume) Laurence shake on the art deal.

Iceman (left) & Laurence (I think) Rundell shake on the deal.

As far as I can fathom from The Iceman’s unique writing style, a man called Laurence bought one of the new Anthony Irvine Man’s paintings at the Topolski Gallery/Bar under Waterloo Bridge in London.

He sent me a photograph.

“The handshake,” he explained, “is an agreement to honour/complete the sale and instead of paying in cash to transfer funds to the Iceman’s bank accice. The Iceman met Topolski (through/with the IceMother & an art appreciator – the IceWoman/IceWife was also there) when it was still his studio.

An unusually colourful Iceman painting

Unusually colourful painting by re-born Anthony Irvine Man

“The painting was SOLD,” he continued to explain, “but with permission to hang in exhibitions. IM magnifices sunrays to melt block… booked in advance – on hold. Both paintings are based on live performance of live block handling @ Tooting Lido – See vid clip on web sice www.iceblocked.co.uk. Another art critic cfs aim to basquiat & Dubuffet but I aim, am too humbled by that cf to dwell on it.”

So I think that clears things up.

He rounds things off by saying:

Iceman block

Sometimes, on stage, The Iceman needs some humping help

“Laurence (buyer) is going to send me some text re WHY he has bought the painting, so will forward to you when it comes. Can you spot the ‘snail damage’? It is on the painting of the IM with spray-can on head. It took some water – my garage studio is very damp, being open to the elements – icepropriately.”

The photos of the various paintings in this blog were, I think. taken by Elizabeth Holdsworth of the Royal College of Art but, like much else in The Iceman’s occasional publicity blitzes, this is a tad vague. I find it more intriguing not to investigate further.

I think the newly re-born Anthony Irvine Man would continue to prefer to be seen as an International Man of Micetery.

On YouTube, FYI, he explains his philosophy in 23 seconds:

… and examines his own face in 24 seconds

and, in under 2 minutes, re-runs an over-6-minute audition he did for me in 1987.

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Eccentrics

In London soon: a little-seen Saxon comedian with a chicken on his head

Martin Soan, master maker of stage genitalia

Martin Soan – long stalked a Saxon comedian

I was in bed all of yesterday, trying to throw off the remnants of a cold which had turned my voice into a rivett-rivetting impression of a frog.

The only real interruption to my sleep was a Skype video call from comic Martin Soan, who was wondering if I was going to his Pull The Other One comedy club show in Nunhead on 29th January.

Wild hoarseness would not stop me, because it is my first chance to see live The Short Man In Long Socks – I always thought he was called The Short Man With Long Socks, but I stand – or, given my cold, lie – corrected. I presume it is a variable translation from his actual German stage name: Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken.

Martin tells me it is Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken’s first live UK appearance. I think I may have seen him back in the 1980s when London Weekend Television’s Entertainment Dept had a tape with video excerpts of Vier gegen Willi a German peaktime TV show which was co-presented by a hamster. I think LWT was considering doing a British TV version but might have been put off by the fear of complaints by animal lovers. In Germany, they had to have multiple Willi doppelgängers on standby because the eponymous hamster tended to die under the hot studio lights.

There is currently a clip of Vier gegen Willi on YouTube, though the star rodent does not appear until 26 mins 16 secs into the clip.

Martin told me yesterday: “I first saw Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken 15 years ago in Leipzig, at Jim Whiting’s club Bimbo Town – the best club I’ve ever been to. It’s full of automata, installations, art, music and performance and is what us Londoners call ‘immersive’ – everything is out of this world and challenging. It’s a funfair of surreal proportions in a disused factory and it is VAST… Jim is a magnetic force and artists of all descriptions gravitate to him. Some aren’t even artists but genius just the same.

“Anyway one such act featured that night I went to Bimbo Town was Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken, I really, really was impressed, It was the most pointless and ridiculous act I have ever seen, but one of the best. There are three sections to the routine. Him getting ready to ‘go out’… Him ready to go out… And then him out. That doesn’t really explain his act, but… “

“I seem to remember,” I told Martin, “that, in Vier gegen Willi, he had a live chicken on his head.”

...a chicken...

…a chicken…

“Oh yes,” said Martin. “I forgot about that.”

“Is he possibly,” I suggested, “ever-so slightly bonkers?”

“Depends how you define it,” said Martin. “When I met him, he didn’t think any of it was mad at all. I had the feeling it was maybe a little cathartic for him.”

“Why cathartic?” I asked.

“No idea, “replied Martin. “He told me he very rarely did the act.”

“Possibly,” I suggested, “because of a lack of willing or well-balanced chickens.”

“It was just a thing he felt he had to do,” Martin explained.

“And they say,” I mused, “that Germans have no sense of humour…”

“He is fiercely not German,” Martin told me. “He is very definite that he is a Saxon not a German. Apparently he earns a very good living as an optician in Plagwitz (a suburb of Leipzig). He told me Saxons love designer glasses. He invited me around to his flat for kuchen (cake). We got on really well and he showed me his etchings. Very dark, they were – the subjects. Lots of eagles and women wearing horns. Angst is a good word isn’t it?”

“I do,” I agreed, “always enjoy hearing it said out loud.”

Too poster - Phil Kay

Kay fan: Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken

“When I was back in England,” Martin continued, “I contacted him regularly to try and entice him over. I have actually booked him three times and three times he has cancelled and I got resigned to never getting him over for the club. But he’s making it on the 29th of this month because there is some opticians’ convention in London and because Phil Kay is on the bill at Pull The Other One. He has seen Phil Kay perform abroad and he’s a big fan. So he wants to perform with him.”

“Who else is on the bill?” I asked.

“Darren Walsh and a nun.”

“I’m not going to ask,” I told Martin. “Some things are best left to the imagination.”

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Germany, Performance, UK

The American female performer who may play Quentin Crisp in London

PennyArcadeWebsite

On Monday, American performer Penny Arcade starts a 20-night run at London’s Soho Theatre of her Edinburgh Fringe show Longing Lasts Longer.

Her mother was abusive and her father was mentally ill. Aged 13, she ran away from home and spent a summer homeless. She was sent to a reform school. They released her when she was 16. She left for New York City, with money stolen from a sandwich shop where she worked. In New York, she changed her name to Penny Arcade after an LSD trip.

When I met her yesterday, the first thing I said was: “I read somewhere that, when people first meet you, they always ask how old you are.”

“No, they don’t ask me,” she said. “I force it on them.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she explained, “while my age doesn’t define me, it certainly in some ways explains me, because of what I lived through. I have been on my own, forming my own analysis, for 50 years.”

“I also read,” I said, “that the phrase ‘performance art’ was invented to describe you.”

“No,” Penny told me. “I am one of the people who invented what has become known as solo performance art, text-based performance art.”

“As opposed to improvisation?” I asked.

“No. I’m a great improviser. It’s one of my most salient attributes. Most people are not improvisers. Text-based performance art as opposed to visual work, where somebody walks around with a bucket on their head for an hour. Text-based performance art is high content. It’s about real stuff. I don’t make work for the same 300 art school cripples that go to everything. I make work about things that affect me that I know affect other people.

Penny Arcade in Soho yesterday

“I am different from other people” – Penny Arcade yesterday

“I am different from other people. I’ve had a different life from most people. I have been an outsider and rejected by my family and society with a velocity of impact so profound that it was not until I was in my fifties that I could really get my head above it. I’ve had a very very long time of understanding or trying to understand what it means to be an outsider, what it means to be rejected by society.

“When you have this kind of profound and painful reality, it makes you very sensitive to other people. I think pathos is a cornerstone in my work and my work engenders empathy. That’s the goal of my work. To make people feel what I feel or feel what other people feel – by being very very honest and very very very revealing.

“That said, Longing Lasts Longer is a bit of a different kind of show. The point of Longing Lasts Longer is basically to present a kind of manifesto of how I think we got to where we are right now, how it’s affecting the younger people. It’s a warning to younger people. People have said the show is critical of younger people but I’ve said: No, it’s critical of what’s being done to younger people. The biggest trouble in the world, of course, is the fact the world is filled with stupid people.

“Thinking is difficult. That’s why very few people do it. In order to think, you have to create a new groove in your brain that is deeper than you knew before, which is why most people don’t think. It’s hard work to think. It’s a very exciting show. There are over 100 sound cues in the 60-minute show. It’s very hard-hitting, unrelenting and it’s very funny. And it’s really about the human condition.”

“You’ve just come back from Poland,” I said. “Did you perform Longing Lasts Longer there?”

“No. I did Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! which is my sex and censorship show. It was very well received there and it’s 20 years old. We did 48 performances of it in London three years ago and the London Times called it “the smartest, most quotable party in town”. So I’m an aphorist, like my old friend Quentin Crisp.”

“When did you meet him?” I asked.

“I met him when he was about 77. He died in 1999, shortly before his 91st birthday. I had wanted him to live to be 100, which made him quite angry with me.

Quentin Crisp with Penny Arcade

Quentin with Penny – “I had wanted him to live to be 100”

“He called me in 1996 and asked me: Miss Arcade, I know that I’ve always promised you to live to be 100 years old, but I was wondering if I could get a dispensation from you and only live to be 90. “I said: What are we going to do if you die? What am I going to do? He said: I’m going. You’re staying. I feel sorry for you.

“And he was quite right. Although I don’t think anything would have prepared him for what has happened since 1999 in the world. The level that we’ve gone overboard into since 2001. The terrorism, the corporate and political disregard for the truth and integrity. Quentin liked evil to be cosy, like in an Agatha Christie book. Not the levels that we’re dealing with now.”

“Has it really changed that much?” I asked.

“Well, the world’s a horrible place filled with horrible people. That hasn’t changed. I’ve watched squatters who were supposed anarchists and, as soon as they got their floor in a building, there wasn’t room for anybody else. I mean, it’s human nature. It’s something I struggle with: my own human nature, my own greed, envy, self-absorption. But I notice these things. A lot of people don’t notice them in themselves.

“I was very close to Quentin in the ten years before he died. He was a phenomenal study in ageing and I learned a lot about ageing from him.”

“What did you learn?” I asked.

“Society tells you that the last 40 years of your life are inferior to the first 40 years of your life. But that is not true. The last 40 years of your life is how you complete your character. And you have to complete your character in order to be a complete person.

“I learned what real individuality means. I learned what real integrity is. I learned how our values are not something that we purchase or download, but something that we pay for over time on the instalment plan. I learned the benefit of being curious.”

“Had you not learned that earlier?” I asked.

“When I really started spending a lot of time with Quentin, I was 40. I was still in the throes of a lot of post-traumatic stress from my childhood and my early life. First a lot of bad things were done to me and then I did a lot of bad things to myself and it took me a long time to climb out of that. I met Quentin when I was still quite un-formed. I was really in a process of becoming and that made me very similar to him I think. I think he recognised that quality in me – that I was someone who was committed to becoming, not to pretending and being something I wasn’t.

“Watching him and being with him and his ruthless honesty – with himself as well as with everybody else – I also saw his foibles and his conceits and his vanities. Which all human beings have.”

“What were his foibles?” I asked.

“Well, he never really stopped being the middle class person that he was born. The middle class couldn’t contain him, but he couldn’t uproot it out of himself either. He never really forgave the brutality of his younger life, even though he seemed as if he did. But he had very little pity for anyone. He had very little empathy. He used to say to me: People have no rights, Miss Arcade. If we all got what we deserved, we would starve to death.”

“What’s next for you?” I asked.

From Edinburgh to London to Oz to NYC

From Edinburgh to London to Oz to NYC

“I’m going to be in Australia with Longing Lasts Longer from February 1st till May. Then I want to go back to the Edinburgh Fringe in August, because I love to be in Scotland and I would love to bring another show there. Then I’m going to be doing a larger version of Longing Lasts Longer in New York in November 2016.”

“With even more music cues?” I asked.

“Yes. And a lot of video. And I’m also going to be writing a script about Quentin Crisp.”

“A stage script?”

“Yes.”

“You could play Quentin,” I suggested.

“I could. And I told him that I would. But I don’t know if I’m quite ready. It might be…”

“It might be too emotionally raw for you?” I asked.

“I don’t know…I can channel him, that’s for sure.”

“You have to write the play,” I said. “And you should play him yourself.”

“It’s an interesting idea. Penny Arcade is Quentin Crisp. He and I always said that I would eventually play him, because he saw me play people that he knew. I used to be known in the 1980s for character work, before I stumbled down this cultural criticism. I used to do the cultural critique through characters and then I got rid of the characters.

“If I played Quentin Crisp myself, the first place I would do it is at the King’s Head Theatre, because that’s where Quentin Crisp first performed.”

There is a promo for Longing Lasts Longer on YouTube.

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Filed under Gay, Performance, Theatre

Performance artist The Iceman – now as successful as Van Gogh in his lifetime

The Iceman has had several brushes with fame

The Iceman had several brushes with fame during his career

Via Skype, I talked to my chum the legendary – some might say semi-mythical – British alternative comedy / performance artist The Iceman.

“You were kind enough to show some interest in my paintings,” he said.

He has been melting and numbering blocks of ice on stage around the UK for at least 30 years.

I first encountered him when I auditioned acts for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV series in 1987.

For almost that long, he has been taking Polaroid photographs of his blocks of ice and trying to sell signed faxes and photocopies of the Polaroids for surprising amounts of money.

To varying effect.

Now he has a new artistic idea.

He has started to create oil paintings of the Polaroid photos of his blocks of ice.

“You recommended an art gallery in London,” The Iceman told me. “I mentioned that he probably heckled me at the Tunnel Club and he ignored my e-mail.”

“Why have you decided to become a fine artist instead of a performance artist?” I asked.

“Has the interview started?” asked The Iceman.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I said. “Why are you wearing a large hat?”

“It is meant to make me look like a painter,” said The Iceman. “I thought you might be interested to compare an original Polaroid…” (He held up a photocopy of a Polaroid)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 Polaroid

The Iceman holds aloft the Polaroid of the original Block 220

“…with a painting.” (He held up a painting.)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 painting

Iceman holds aloft the painting of the Polaroid of Block 220

“That is Block 220 –  the most recent block I painted. Do you see any resemblance?”

“I can’t afford it,” I said. “How much is it?”

“It is not for sale,” said The Iceman.

“Why is it not for sale?”

“It is an original,” said the Iceman. “I am not sure I am happy to sell the originals. The National Gallery or Tate Modern might want them. So, a bit like the Polaroids, I will only sell signed copies of the paintings.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “you could take Polaroids of the paintings and sell the Polaroids of the paintings of the Polaroids of the original blocks?”

“Did you hear about the probe landing on the comet full of ice?” asked The Iceman.

“Yes,” I said. “Has anything landed on you?”

“My hat,” said The Iceman.

Mr Methane in his artistic hat and bow tie

The Iceman talked in his hat and bow tie with attendant duck

“Is the bow tie,” I asked, “there to make you look artistic as well?”

“Y-ice,” said The Iceman. “I am finding my sound quality is not very good.”

“With the bow tie?” I asked.

“With Skype,” said The Iceman.

“So why do paintings?” I asked.

“Well,” said The Iceman, “I took the Polaroids to capture a live moment during my non-act so that the blocks lived on, though in a different physical form. So, recently, I thought Why not change the medium? and, although I had no experience of oil painting, I decided to do oil paintings of them. Block by block. I have done 23 so far. I do about one a week.”

“Which is your favourite?” I asked.

“I quite like Block 220,” said The Iceman. “I think some of them are quite moving.”

“That is a little scary,” I said. “All in oils?”

“All reliable?” asked The Iceman.

“All in oils?” I repeated.

“My sound quality is not very good,” said The Iceman. “I thought of doing water-colours – melted-ice-colours – but I think oils suits me best. I have been told water colours are more difficult because all the colours merge.”

“But why paint them at all?” I asked.

Block 202

Block 202 with audience – as interpreted by The Iceman

“I do not want to be pomp-ice,” said The Iceman, “but I think the point I am making is I am just interpreting these blocks in my own way and what I lack in technique and skill I like to think I make up with heart. So I think quite carefully before I paint and then I do it in quite a fast manner.

“It is a bit like my original so-called act. I lacked technique and skill, but I think there was something that I was sharing with the publ-ice. I am hoping sometime soon to have a gallery situation where I have a sequence of Polaroids underneath the paintings. Or maybe above them. And, of course, I would be melting a block of ice in the gallery at the same time. So there would be all types of things happening at once. A live performance, wise sayings and the archive and the more recent interpretation of the archive.

“I have the numbered blocks which I am doing in oils. When I do the adjectival blocks, I might do them in watercolours.”

“Why,” I asked, “are some blocks adjectival?”

“I have not numbered some blocks in sequence,” said The Iceman, “so I have to give them names.”

“What sort of names?”

“Blue block.”

“Why did you call it Blue Block?” I asked.

The Iceman in his studio earlier this year

The Iceman in his studio on England’s South Coast this year

“Bedraggled Block,” continued The Iceman. “Things like that. If people visit the blog on my website, they will see them. At the moment, the only visitors telling me: We can increase your search engine visitors by 400%. Do you get that?”

“For about six months,” I said, “I was getting e-mails from companies saying they could increase my breast size. Penis size might have been a fair comment, but I think my breasts are too big as they are.”

“It is a funny thing, this cyber sp-ice,” said The Iceman. “But I know you are a great networker and you have millions of hits on your web blog, so I am hoping – much as I am talking to you from friendship, of course – that you can help me create some interest in my paintings from the public. I think they have got something.”

“The public?” I asked.

“My paintings,” replied The Iceman.

“Doesn’t,” I asked, “a painting of one block of ice look very similar to a painting of another block of ice?”

Block 215

Block 215 “based on authentice Polaroid of live performance”

“No,” said The Iceman. “That is what is interesting. Every block I paint is startlingly different.”

“Startlingly?” I asked.

“Startlingly,” repeated The Iceman. “The Polaroids do, some of them, look quite similar, but the paintings look startlingly different.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Startlingly,” said The Iceman. “Visually.”

“Ah,” I said.

Block 282

Block 282 – “Battersice Arts Cicer 4 hour melt with Vladimice”

“The colours,” said The Iceman. “And the interpretation of the audience members. I am not very good at drawing a human figure or face, but I am developing. The paintings come across as quite child-ice in some ways. But maybe succ-ice awaits.”

“How many paintings have you sold so far?” I asked.

“Sold?” asked The Iceman, surprised. “One.”

“That,” I said, “makes you as good as Van Gogh.”

“I think,” said The Iceman, “that I may put people off by saying Pr-ice-l-ice unaffordable and that sort of thing.”

“What sort of prices are we talking about?” I asked.

“I like the painting because it is more thoughtful and reflective than the act,” said The Iceman, ignoring my question. “More intense in an odd way.”

“So have you,” I asked, “lost the urge to melt?”

“I have edged the blocks out, yes. I am still willing to go out occasionally, but something I asked myself quite often is Has the last block already occurred?

I hope not.

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The Demolition Decorators’ act in 1979: provocation and nudity at a London pub

The Glastonbury Festival starts today, so a timely reminder of an act which performed there in 1979…

The Demolition Decorators’ online album Don’t Say Baloney

The Demolition Decorators’ online album, released in 2005

The Demolition Decorators were a collective of eleven musicians and comedians based in London 1977-1981. They were arrested 24 times for street performing and apparently squatted on the main stage at Bath Festival to hold a ‘people’s event’ complete with laundry service. They called themselves ‘incidentalists’ because their performances tended to involve an element of confrontation, Allegedly at one gig, some of the audience were so incensed they firebombed the hall. Some of the Demolition Decorators’ music was released on the internet as an album Don’t Say Baloney in 2005.

I first heard of them a few weeks ago from alternative comedy pioneer Tony Green, a friend of poet John Hegley.

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

John Hegley aka 1970s Spudikins

“In the late 1970s,” Tony told me, “Mr Hegley and I ran a children’s theatre company.”

“God help the poor children’s minds,” I said.

“How can you say such a thing?” replied Tony. “They loved us. Children love me: I’ve never really grown up myself. I think we were doing a show called There’s No Smoke Without Water, in which I played Sir Water Pipe Raleigh and John Hegley was Spudikins.

“We were at Glastonbury in 1979 and we came across a group called the Demolition Decorators, who were doing an anti-media piece which we thought was absolutely hilarious. They were a rock band / comedy performance band. We thought they were absolutely brilliant. Max Coles was the comic in the crew and he was just sitting in front of a TV set with a 30-foot carpet, looking at it.

Demolition Decorators at Glastonbury 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

Demolition Decorators perform at Glastonbury Festival, 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

“I think he was making a point about people watching too much TV. On the third day, I think the TV set was smashed to bits with people running around holding pieces of flaming ember that had been the TV set, screaming Coronation Street! Crossroads! – which we thought was a great idea.

“We asked the Demolition Decorators where they came from and, to our great surprise, we found they were based in Holloway so, when we got back to London, we made a point of going to a lot of their gigs.

“We thought they were absolutely hilarious and really liked their music. We both thought they’d take off, but you can’t always spot who is going to be famous.

“I booked them into a really rough club in East London and said: Look, If they don’t like you, they’ll probably kill you and it’s only £15 total for the group. They discussed it, then immediately phoned me back to say Yes and I could not believe how well that gig went.

“They went around asking the audience what they wanted and gave the audience what they wanted, but in their own particular way.

– What would you like to see?

– Well, that bird. Is she, like, yer singer?

– Yes.

– I wanna fuck ‘er.

– Right… What’s your name?

– Bill.

– Right, Bill would like to fuck Jan… And what about you?

– I’m a deeply religious man. Could you do a religious song for me? Something like I Believe.

– Right.

“They got the whole list of what everyone wanted and most of them were I wanna fuck the lead singer.

“So they erected a tent, banging it into the middle of the floor, causing quite a lot of damage. The singer, Jan, took all of her clothes off, got into the tent and said: Right. I’m in the tent. Is it Bill who wants to fuck me? Come over here and get in the tent and I’m ready for you.

“So Bill walks over towards the tent and Jan says: Hold on just a minute. I’ve taken all my clothes off. Are you going to take yours off? You’ve seen what you’re going to get. I want to see what I’m going to get. I want you to get your clothes off before you get into the tent.

“Of course, the man went a deep shade of crimson and ran away.

“Somebody else said: I’ll fuck ‘er.

“So she said the same thing to him. And Max, who was their comic, said: Look, I’ve got to be honest with you: she’s actually his girlfriend (pointing to the groups’ artistic and musical director Arif) and I’ve always wanted to fuck her. This is my golden opportunity and I’m not prepared to let it go now.

“So he took his clothes off and got into the tent.

“The audience was going: Do you think he’s fucking her?

From inside the tent, Jan says: If anybody else wants to get in, we’ve got plenty of room here, so you can get in and find out for yourself, can’t you?

Another one of the women in the group said: Oh, I think they’re quite attractive, so I think I’ll have a go.

So we have two women in there with their comic, Max.

“He then says: I can’t handle both of them! I need help! Would a man come in and help me out? They’re insatiable! Please! Please!

“No-one got in the tent, of course. So that really had put the audience down a peg or two.

“It was a brilliant success. We ended up with East End dockers, people from the East London Gay Liberation Front, all sorts, all holding hands in a big circle singing Happy Days Are Here Again and that was all down to the – I felt – genius of the Demolition Decorators. They had broken down the barriers of everything I loathe. There was no racism. No homophobia. If the world could be like this – big heavies holding gay people’s hands, some people with no clothes on, black people, white people all holding hands singing Happy Days Are Here Again.

“It was heaven and, since that time, it’s all been a bit downhill, really, John.”

“Where are they now?” I asked.

“Max had to get married, I think, to some Irish woman who had got pregnant. John Hegley told me the last time he saw Max was in the Essex Road and Max died of leukaemia about five years ago.

“Arif – who also called himself Dave – was from New Zealand. After a big gig they did at Ronnie Scott’s Club to try to launch them as a performance group, he thought: It’s not going to work here in England. So he said to Max and people like John Hegley and me who had done guest spots with them: Why don’t you come with us to New Zealand?

A young Tony Green (right) with unknown monster (Photograph by Anna Smith)

A young Tony Green (right) at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“We never did. But Jan, who was his wife and the mother of his child, unfortunately did go. They were only there about six months before she was killed in a freak accident in April 1982. She was with their child in a van on top of a hill. She had left the handbrake off, the door came open, the child nearly fell out, she leant over and saved the child but somehow went under the van which ran over her.

“I’ve not been in touch with anyone because, as you know, I am a computer illiterate but, as far as I know, Arif is still there and involved in children’s theatre.

“It was a great pity. Mr Hegley and I were great fans of the Demolition Decorators. The theatre group we belonged to wrote them off as nothing more than anarchist ego-trippers. That was not our view at all.”

Diarist Paul Lyons remembers the Demolition Decorators online HERE… And there are memories of Glastonbury 1979 HERE.

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Memories of early alternative comedy: Malcolm Hardee and Sir Gideon Vein and the late lamented Ian Hinchliffe…

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Anna, not too long ago, recovering in a Vancouver hospital

Last week, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. In part it read:

“The whole time I was living in London – over four years – I never saw a window with the blinds or curtains open, except once.

“I was walking home from The Earth Exchange, which was a vegetarian restaurant in North London that used to be a good place for comics to work – Julian Clary played there when he was starting off and Andrew Bailey and David Rappaport did a macabre duo with candelabra and a huge birdcage which David wore on his head as he descended the stairs making bird sounds while Andrew carried the lit-up candelabra, throwing corn flakes at him…

“Anyhow, one night at about three in the morning, I was walking back towards central London with Tony Green, who was dressed as Sir Gideon Vein, when I spotted a window lit up, curtains pulled wide open, on the main floor of a house. I was amazed! Finally I would get to see what went on inside a dwelling in London at night.

“Tony tried to stop me. No, he begged. Don’t do it. What will the people who live in there think when they look out their window and see a big girl with red hair in plaits standing outside and staring into their sitting room?

“But I could not stop myself, so I raced up to the window. Tony gave up. Besides, he had to take a piss. I stood in front of the window staring in, but there were no people at all; it was just a very dull looking sitting room.

“So, a bit dejectedly, I returned to the pavement where I found Tony  urinating into a flowerbed. What will the people think, I asked, if they open their front door and look out and see you pissing on their flowers?

Tony Green this month in his normal attire

Tony Green this month in his normal attire

Tony Green is an interesting figure from – if he can forgive me for saying this or even if he cannot – the early years of British Alternative Comedy. His character Sir Gideon Vein was (and, indeed, occasionally is) a Victorian era throw-back character.

Tony has occasionally turned up fleetingly in this blog. About 20 years ago, he took me to the fetish club Torture Garden. He looked like he was dressed as the Peter Davidson incarnation of Doctor Who. But he was not. That was normal attire for him. A few weeks ago, I mentioned him performing as both The Obnoxious Man and The Pompous man at Pull The Other One comedy club.

I recently met him at the Soho Theatre bar in London for a cup of tea, but he soon moved us to the upstairs room of a nearby pub. No surprise there.

When I switched my iPhone’s recorder on for this blog, Tony was doing an imitation of the late performance artist Ian Hinchliffe’s gruff Yorkshire accent.

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony/Sir Gideon Vein at T’others

I’m not having people thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt-lifter. Are you taping any of this? You’ve got it at the middle, really. I mean anyone will be thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt lifter. Such bad terminology and who really cares these days?… Not that I give a damn, you know, but…”

“Sadly missed,” I said. “Sadly missed. The first time I saw Ian Hinchliffe was at a club down in Oval around 1990 – I think you were running it. Malcolm Hardee and I went to it.”

“That was T’others at The Ship,” said Tony. “You and Malcolm came with his mother. I remember I got into an altercation with Malcolm and she said: Hit him, Malcolm! Hit him!

Joan & Malcolm Hardee

Malcolm Hardee and mum

“He told her He don’t mean it, mum. I know him. It’s only a joke! and he said to me You didn’t mean that, what you said? and after that, I got on very well with Malcolm’s mother and I told her Mrs Hardee, you’re very well-spoken.

Yes, she told me, I don’t know how Malcolm came to get that accent. It was around the time his little eye started going off in the wrong direction.”

“I met someone,” I told Tony, “at the interment of Malcolm’s ashes. He had known Malcolm as a teenager and said he used to practise it in front of a mirror – the accent, the droop of the cigarette out of the mouth and everything, the whole character.”

“I once said to Malcolm,” Tony told me, “I don’t know how you get away with it. Your material’s crap. And he said It’s not a question of the material, is it? It’s not a question of talent. You don’t need talent, you don’t need material when you’re me. It’s charisma. When you’ve got as much charisma as what I’ve got, you don’t need nothing else.

“That’s sort of true,” I said. “Are you a Londoner?” I asked, trying the get the chat onto some course.

“Of course I am,” said Tony in mock outrage.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You could be from anywhere.”

“That,” replied Tony, “is what someone said to me the other day. Are you from the Colonies? How dare… God, sir… I’m a Londoner born and… (He started singing) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…

“… from the 19th century, perhaps,” I said.

Kirk Douglas in The List of Adrian Messenger

Did Kirk sing Londoner in The List of Adrian Messenger?

“Of course,” said Tony. “Well, I’ve been going a long time now. Remember Kirk Douglas singing Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner in The List of Adrian Messenger? He can’t do it with the authentic Cockney accent any more that I taught him in 1963. I was only a young man then.”

“You taught him an accent?” I asked.

“Of course I did!” said Tony in mock outrage. “His Cockney accent.”

“How did you meet him?” I asked.

“Well,” replied Tony, “I was only – what? – in my (he started laughing) in my sixties at the time. I look very good for my age, you gotta admit it does work. I can tell you the secret, John. It’s Oscar. There’s a picture in the attic. Hey!” he said, putting on a Kirk Douglas whine, “what’s that song you’re singing? and I said It’s a song. Buy us a few drinks, Kirk. Buy US a few drinks – there were ten of us in the company…”

“You just bumped into him?” I asked.

“You don’t believe this, do you?” asked Tony. He started laughing. “You’ll believe anything!… It was in the Cutty Sark and I thought it was going to get me into movies. All I got was half a pint. I never saw him again. He’s been using it ever since. Even now – how old is he? He’s nearly 100 now. He’s had two strokes. When he gets on TV, he still sings (Tony put on a Kirk Douglas whine) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner… He’s forgotten to do the Cockney accent, but you can’t expect everything at 97. But I forgive him. I’m like that in my old age.”

“Someone,” I said, “was lamenting to me that they had not seen Sir Gideon Vein perform for ages.”

“I used to run a private little club off Mallow Street,” said Tony. “It was one of those places, John, where you got carte blanche to do as you like. I could put all of my favourite performers on there. People like Mr Hinchliffe and one or two other oddities.”

“You were one of the few people to put Mr Hinchliffe on,” I said.

“We did a gig some time ago at an arts centre,” said Tony. “Someone called Chris Brooke put us on and I said to Chris: Do you think it’s a good idea, Chris, really? You’ve just taken over this new job as programme devisor which, from what I understand it, is quite a good job. Do you think it’s a good idea for the first one to put on the likes of Hugh Metcalfe – the man who started The Klinker club – and Hinchliffe and me as compere? For the first one, that’s not a good idea.”

“Because?” I asked. “It’s great idea, surely?”

“Well, did he want to keep the job? But he was quite clever, because we kicked off and, after us, he put on the Mike Westbrook Band and you can’t go wrong with the Mike Westbrook Band. I saw Ian in the dressing room. On this occasion, they had had some particularly good canned beer – one of his favourites – on the train and he had over-indulged. Maybe about 15 pints. Anyway, he fell asleep on stage. His partner – they were both over 60, so you could hardly call her his girlfriend – went Wake up! Wake up! And, after about seven minutes of snoring on stage, he did wake up and he looked at the audience and said: What are you bastards doing in my bedroom?

“Quite a good line, actually. So funny, in fact, that someone who was running a mega performance art festival in Belfast decided to book him as one of the headline acts.”

… TONY GREEN’S MEMORIES ARE CONTINUED HERE …

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