Ten ways to pay tribute to Adrian Mitchell

1. Write a blog post about him. Here it is.

I suspect like many people, I became aware of poet Adrian Mitchell’s work when I randomly heard a recording of Peter O’ Toole reading “To Whom It May Concern” (otherwise popularly known as “Tell me lies about Vietnam”) at some anti-war rally in Britain many years ago. Googling it I can’t find any references and wonder sometimes if I just imagined it, but it doesn’t matter, hearing that poem is what led me to discover Adrian Mitchell.

2. Tell a story about meeting him.

I met Adrian Mitchell once in 1992 when he was touring the country to promote his “Greatest Hits” book. I lived in Rotherham at the time and he and musician Pete Moser came to perform at the local Arts Centre. Because he was quite famous I made sure I got my tickets months in advance, expecting it to sell out. There were just five of us in the audience.

After the show he sold and signed copies of his new book and I took my copy of “For Beauty Douglas” to have it signed (see above). I apologized on behalf the people of Rotherham for the meager turnout. He was very gracious and friendly, and quite philosophical about the turnout, and I’m glad that I liked him in real life.

3. Quote him.

“Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”

4. Parody his work in a way you hope he would like.

Ten ways to avoid selling fish and chips to any artist

Tracey Emin walks into a chip shop and says “I’d like fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Not everything is about you”.

Damien Hirst walks into a chip shop and says “What fish have you got?”.
The owner says “Shark’s off”.

Pablo Picasso walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “The wife’s busy”.

Renee Magritte walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “This is not a chip shop”.

David Mamet walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Fish and chips, please?”.
David Mamet says “That’s what I’m asking”.
The owner says “That’s what you’re asking?”.

Ridley Scott walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Stop shining that light in my eyes”.

Robert De Niro walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Are you looking at my fish?”.

Laurie Anderson walks into a chip shop and says “This must be the plaice”.
The owner says “Outside.”

Richard Bolam walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Who the fuck are you?”.

Adrian Mitchell walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “There’s no fish and no chips, but we do have mushy peace”.

5. Spread his message of peace.

Adrian Mitchell was a committed pacifist and social activist. All he wanted was for people to stop killing each other.

6. Repeat an anecdote about him.

Adrian Mitchell included instructions in several of his books that it was forbidden to use any of his work in connection with any examination. An exam board once used one of his poems, without permission, in their ‘O’ Level and CSE level papers. The Guardian newspaper arranged for him to take the same exam and had it independently marked. For the questions about his own work he scored 14 out of a possible 40 marks.

7. Introduce someone else to his work. That’s one of you lot.

8. Reproduce one of his poems without permission. He would approve.

I like that stuff

Lovers lie around in it
Broken glass is found in it
I like that stuff

Tuna fish get trapped in it
Legs come wrapped in it
I like that stuff

Eskimos and tramps chew it
Madame Tussaud gave status to it
I like that stuff

Elephants get sprayed with it
Scotch is made with it
I like that stuff

Clergy are dumbfounded by it
Bones are surrounded by it
I like that stuff

Harps are strung with it
Mattresses are sprung with it
I like that stuff

Carpenters make cots of it
Undertakers use lots of it
I like that stuff

Cigarettes are lit by it
Pensioners are happy when they sit by it
I like that stuff

Dankworth’s alto is made of it, most of it,
Scoobeedo is composed of it
I like that stuff

Apemen take it to make them hairier
I ate a ton of it in Bulgaria
I like that stuff

Man-made fibres and raw materials
Old rolled gold and breakfast cereals
Platinum linoleum
I like that stuff

Skin on my hands
Hair on my head
Toenails on my feet
And linen on my bed

Well I like that stuff
Yes I like that stuff
The earth
Is made of earth
And I like that stuff

9. Write your own poem. He’d like that.

I could die here (extract)

A cough
And then another cough
Then another
And another
And another
In a loop of breath
That has no breath in it
I spoke to a friend without speaking
She said “Don’t die”
And so I didn’t
Even so I remember:

I could die here

10. Publish it. Here it is.


Sniffin’ Pritt

Home taping is still in music

In 1976 I was 12, and consequently too young for Punk. However, at 14 I was just the right age for the so-called New Wave which, to me, was the more experimental elements including Throbbing Gristle, Killing Joke, Theatre of Hate, The Human League, Crass, Bauhaus ad Cabaret Voltaire.

Living in a dormitory village in South Yorkshire, my youth was hardly urban and my only exposure to anything remotely “alternative” was the John Peel show on BBC Radio 1. In those days the Peel show was broadcast Monday to Thursday 10pm to midnight, and I used to listen to every minute. I was living no more than 15 miles away from Sheffield, although it might as well been Mars as I had no prospect of getting involved. However, that didn’t stop me from making music and art and stuff.

Also, whilst I was by no means radicalised by the anarchist politics of Crass, listening to their records and reading their sleeve notes at least introduced me to ideas that were absent from The Mike Yarwood Show. The most valuable thing that I gained from that period is the DIY ethic, and the awareness that the world, even then, had developed technologies that could be pressed into creative uses not necessarily imagined by their inventors. Photocopiers and cassette tape recorders were the weapons of choice in those days for duplication and distribution, although it was still a slow and painful process.

It seems we have come to an interesting time, when technology exceeds our expectations. Production, distribution and communication technologies are widely available.

However, one song remains the same. If you want to make anything happen, you still have to do-it-yourself.

Retrospective Issue 02 – Beauty

Here is issue 02 of the catalogue. It’s not really a catalogue.
It’s designed to be printed A4 back-to-back and folded twice to A6. There will be a print run too.

The poster is a piece of work I made for Host 6: Beauty,organised by Host Artists Group, which was shown by Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum (SCAF) in the Sheffield Pavilion 2007 at the Venice Biennale, and later at Documenta 2007.
It can be viewed online on issuu.com and you can download a PDF here Retrospective – beauty v3. Published by Black Daffodil Independent Press.

I am an artist and I can prove it.

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” – Gore Vidal (1925 – 2012).

I’ve been a closet artist for most of my life and suffered from what I recognise in many others: status anxiety.

This week, an artist friend of mine described the art world as being one of the most hostile environments she has ever experienced.

She’s right. Art is one thing, but the “world” of art is quite another, characterised by wilfull treachery, paranoid insecurity, competitive jealousy and schadenfreude.

I know artists who are undermined to the point of paralysis by the imagined terror that their work will not be received well, and that this might reduce their standing amongst their peers. They worry they have not read the right books, not referenced the coolest people, are not working in the most current medium or are not being seen in the right places.

Fuck that. To my mind there is only one solution to this impasse: publish, be damned, and take your chances in the shuttle.

Retrospective: re-imagining the past

In 2004 I went to Edinburgh to see the major retrospective show “Paolozzi at 80” at The Dean Gallery. Eduardo Paolozzi was a major early influence and, although his work is shown regularly, it is rare to see so much of it together.

Reviews of the show:

It was a very good show and upstairs was a gallery of “early work” including some juvenilia as well as a drawing of himself aged 11. The drawing is listed in the catalogue as “Self-portrait c.1935, Pencil and blue crayon on paper.” Paolozzi has signed it but the title has been added by a curator at sometime later once he had become an established artist. I could’t help feeling this is slightly ridiculous, it’s just a child’s drawing, but it led me to reassess my own work as the output of a whole life rather than suppressing the early doodles, the naive cul-de-sacs and the embarrassing failures, and only concentrating on the more successful and mature “serious” stuff.

Above is a self-portrait of mine from 1988.

As a result, I have decided to catalogue and publish my entire life’s output (so far), warts and all. Well, not absolutely everything, but a representative catalogue from childhood through to maturity. I have been very productive (on and off) although most of my work has never been seen. I will be 50 in 2014 and need to make a start.