5 Jun 2014

Nottingham Musicians.

During recent years depicting musicians performing live in various Nottingham venues was a recurring theme in my work. This post is about that artwork, not a critique of their music. Suffice to say I didn’t paint any subject whose performance I didn’t enjoy. However, a few personal opinions about the Nottingham music scene might be of interest.

Spending the early 70’s in Liverpool it was commonplace for me to see rock bands and beat poets sharing the same billing as the preceding decade’s Mersey Beat morphed into the Liverpool Scene. It was a city where the Arts informed everyone’s way of thinking, assisted in no small measure by its Irish and West Indian links. Simultaneous to this the steel works of Birmingham were forging sixties beat music into Heavy Metal whilst, before decade’s end, disillusioned youth in London gave vent to Punk.

By stark contrast, whenever I came home to Nottingham during that time frame, one’s social life was very much about Night Clubs. No wonder then that our greatest claim to musical fame became Paper Lace of “Billy, Don’t be a Hero”. Such show bands thrived and made a good living on the chicken-in-a-basket circuit of Tiffany’s and Working Men’s Clubs across the Midlands. If you need an idea of what this was like, watch a 1979 edition of Top of the Pops. Bands like the Rezillos or the Undertones were all happening elsewhere. We got the ones still in flared trousers with feather cut hair. Somewhere along the line the continuity of youth inspired music trends had been severed.

Happily today one can see any number of fine musicians in Nottingham, often in pubs utilizing their (usually unpaid) talents as a prop against the recession’s diminishing customer count. The variety is exemplified by the soulful Natalie Duncan and the “folky” Jake Bugg, both of whom rose from the ranks. And if whilst listening to Nottingham bands today one is more conscious of the probable content of their individual record collections than any communally shared musical agenda, then that is more a comment on the city than the artist themselves. “Madchester” was never going to happen here. 

Johnny Johnston Quartet at the Bell Inn.

I can’t pretend Trad was ever my favourite form of jazz, but the Johnny Johnston Quartet at the Bell Inn were never less than superb entertainment. The first band I ever thought of painting, it established at the outset how I would proceed with future similar subjects. To paint anything one really has to experience it first-hand. Simply copying photographs will only produce lifeless results, just as flash photography will eradicate all sense of “atmosphere”. But even though sketchbooks in the dark were almost impractical, I could watch closely to memorize typical poses and expressions, and take small cell phone type snapshots (always without flash) to cut up, arrange, and work from back in the studio. The background here is an impression of sound rather than a slavish imitation of the interior. Pictured are Johnny Johnston, sadly now deceased (left), and Brian Bocel. The band were amused and excited to see the final piece, and I enjoyed sharing it with them. The manager of the Bell Inn asked if he might put a copy on display. Fine. But I hadn’t envisaged it would be reduced to sepia tones and pinned next to the gent’s toilet. The painting was more successfully exhibited in the Thoresby Open Exhibition of 2012 (see THIS LINK). 

Stuck in 2nd at the Jam Café.


The Jam Café Nottingham, functions as both coffee bar with alcohol, and live music venue. Pictured here are reggae band Stuck In 2nd. I remember the lighting on that occasion was particularly dark, so more than ever I relied on a liberal use of shadows to disguise my lack of information, and think some of the final painting a little too static. But I was happy with the way I captured the movement of the conga player on the left, his entire body swaying and playing the instrument. If you can play an instrument yourself (I can manage about four chords), it helps when trying to convey rhythm pictorially, or having to make up small details in the final piece.

Will Jeffery at the Malt Cross Inn.


As readers will know from previous posts, the Malt Cross Inn was a music hall in eras gone by, and the small stage is still used today to present live entertainers. What obviously caught my attention in this scene was the very dramatic lighting from the spotlights, making pools of light on the stage and casting large shadows on the wall behind. Will Jefferey is not a rockabilly act, but I am, and so the opportunity to paint an upright bass in such a setting was not to be missed. Never successfully exhibited publicly, this one remains my personal favourite.

Jonathan Beckett at the Guitar Bar, Hotel Deux.



When Jonathan Becket performed a retrospective of his songs at the Guitar Bar I was especially taken by one called “The Midlands”. (My interest in all things Dukeries is well documented HERE). Once again I returned to my studio with some very hazy snapshots from which I could just about produce a “likeness” of the two musicians involved, working from blow ups on the computer screen as if they were  seated before me. But this time I created a background based on images associated with the Midlands. One can see references to miners (with a symbolically dead pit pony), oak trees from Sherwood, and factory building skylines. The painting was successfully exhibited in the Patchings Open Exhibition of 2012 (see THIS LINK. There is a video of the painting in progress on THIS LINK).

Rosie Abbott, singer songwriter.




Unlike the other musicians here I actually know Rosie Abbott, and the best artwork I produced between 2006 and 2010 were not in fact my paintings but rather a series of music promos I made in response to her songs. This portrait came from an image made during one of those video shoots. Rather than depict a public performance, I wanted here to convey more of the creative spirit of the songwriter, especially as I was able to listen to more of her avant-garde works than have been publicly available. The painting was successfully exhibited in the Patchings Open Exhibition of 2011 (see THIS LINK).

Thee Eviltones at The Maze.



My last musician painting to date. The Maze is an especially dark venue, and certainly one of Nottingham’s most popular. Once again it was a matter of crawling about below audience eye level, not distracting from their entertainment with an intrusive flash, taking small snapshots. Back in the studio I chose and arranged what seemed like a typical “pose” for each band member. The background suggested itself as the painting proceeded. I knew I wanted a dynamic setting for such a high energy band. The solution was inspired quite simply by the band’s striped t-shirts. If it was such an important motif to them that they each wore one, then it was important enough to incorporate in the painting.

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