Holly Johnson loves The Beatles; Bob Geldof loves the Stones; Lou Reed loves Ornette Coleman (Brian Eno loves Lou Reed); Pet Shop Boys love the Bee Gees. And they've all made something of it for a good cause. On 4 February at the Saatchi Gallery in London their works of homage will be auctioned in aid of the charity War Child. Emma Daly found out who made what how. Photographs by John Voos
Friday 24 January 1997
BLACK AND GOLD BOX STUFFED WITH BEATLES MEMORABILIA
I was reading the list of who had chosen what artist and was surprised that no one chose The Beatles. I thought they were the obvious, ultimate pop group. I suppose the fact I am from Liverpool and was born 30 yards from Penny Lane in 1960 had something to do with that choice.
The Sgt Pepper album was one of the first albums I became aware of; I must have been six or seven. "She's Leaving Home" was the first song that made me cry. I sat there with the lyric sheet and burst into tears, so it was the appropriate choice - my first emotional response to an artist.
I remember seeing the guitar badges [stuck in the box] as a child - never ever seeing a whole set together; you could either get George or Ringo, because John and Paul had already gone. So I was amazed to see a whole set in a Chelsea antiques market, which I bought. They are lovely things, just so Sixties, so The Beatles.
The Milestones charity decided a triptych format would be a unifying theme, and I had already made a series of icons, not in a triptych format, for an exhibition last year, using canvas and gold leaf. So this piece wasn't a huge departure for me. Using gold leaf is typical of Russian icons, so that was appropriate, and I've used objets trouves before.
I did get contributions for The Beatles. Brian Eno said, "Oh I have some Beatles things," and provided the Sgt Pepper models. The nodding Beatles I already had, and the wonderful yellow submarine that we all remember playing with as children, pressing the little button and seeing the heads of John, Paul, George and Ringo popping out, was a contribution from James [Topham] at Milestones.
I did look around quite a lot for the yellow submarine. I got a lead to a girl in Baker Street who wanted pounds 90 for one and I rushed along there and missed her, because she'd gone to Vietnam for two months. So I was really most triumphant when the yellow submarine turned up.
Beatles memorabilia is so collectable that you can't find it at car-boot sales any more. The whole point of this piece is to sell it at the auction, and that was another reason for choosing The Beatles - it's such commercial iconography. If I'd chosen, say, T-Rex or someone who was a bigger influence on me musically, it would have narrowed the market. But they'll have to outbid me for this first.
The Rolling Stones
"THIS IS NOT THE BLUES" - WOODEN BOX CONTAINING MAP OF LONDON AND WATER
Unless you're my age, you forget the impact of the Stones - the Beatles were a bit showbizzy, and weren't really saying anything that was that much different to what had gone before. The Stones didn't actually say much, but merely by their manner and their appearance they were as dramatic and revolutionary as the Sex Pistols in '76. They were very sexy, but they just went on about how ugly they were. I was a particularly ugly 11-year-old: very scruffy, with big lips, but Mick came along and saved my life.
The Stones were proselytizing the blues. Every time they played they'd talk about these people, so I went and started buying those records, and they were everything the Stones had talked about - really incredible music, everything about them was real.
It turned out to be less a tribute of how the blues got to Britain and more a tribute to Heath Robinson. It's a very obvious and boring visual pun, because I'm not an artist. I grew up in Ireland, so London was impossibly far away and romantic to me. So the centrepiece is a map of London, with that signature loop of the Thames with muddy water running through it, and the place names changed to those of the Mississippi delta. The extreme left edge is Rolling Fork, where Muddy Waters was born, and the extreme right is Dartford, where the Stones were. I've stuck in what looks like tea but is supposed to be muddy waters from the Mississippi on one side, and on the other a few little stones. Over them I've put the Magritte- style legend "Ceci n'est pas Muddy Waters" and "Ceci n'est pas the Rolling Stones". And it's quite right, because they're not rolling, something's wrong with them. I picked them on the beach last Sunday and I tested them, they rolled for me ... Actually, it looks quite good that they don't roll, it gives some enigmatic quality to the thing.
"STRANGE FRUIT" - BRONZE SCULPTURE OF LIPS AND FLOWERS
Billie Holliday was a very big influence on me in my late teens. I loved the sound of her voice, and I loved the quality of the songs, the sound of the recordings. And I suppose what I found most striking was the way she was able to convey such incredible feeling.
When I was in a band years ago, I used to wear a flower behind my ear as a kind of good luck memento (sic), that was something that she always used to do when she performed. So I suppose whenever I think of Billie, I think of her beautiful voice and the flower that she used to wear.
When the image came up of the mouth and the flower, it just felt for some reason that bronze was a really good medium. I had been wanting to try for six months to do sculpture and to try bronze.
It was really fun for me. I've not done anything like this before, to work with something that's a solid, three-dimensional object, as opposed to music, which is so completely untouchable physically. It was thrilling to have something which was just a lump of metal, which you can turn around but you can no longer change or fiddle with.
The Royal College of Art very kindly let me use their facilities and cast the piece for me. I modelled it in wax. I'd never really appreciated how lovely it is to be working with something so tactile. It really does take shapes, it takes your fingerprints into it. I found it very therapeutic, I'd recommend it to anyone.And I'd never appreciated how wonderful bronze is, when it's molten it looks like liquid fire.
Graham Coxon of Blur
Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd
"SCREAM THY LAST SCREAM" - POLYSTYRENE LIGHTNING BOLT, 96ins x 36ins, HITTING SMALL FIGURE ON BRIDGE
It became obvious after a few days of thought that I'd completely forgotten about Syd Barrett and I was trying to think of clever influences when I needn't have done. He was more of an influence on me guitar-wise than maybe anyone else except Pete Townshend.
The importance is just Syd's lovely, uncynical approach to playing the guitar and song-writing - kind of visionary. I was about 16 when I first heard anything by Syd Barrett, knowing that it was Syd Barrett, and it was kind of frightening and kind of funny and of course very psychedelic. He's one of the only songwriters who is interesting and mysterious now from the psychedelic scene, because of his disappearance and the myths surrounding him.
The piece is based on two songs that never made it on to a Pink Floyd album, "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man", and the little guy who's meant to be Syd is dressed in the way he's described as dressing in the song "Vegetable Man". I suppose it's representing some flash of inspiration, or some kind of encouragement to his creativity.
I went to Goldsmiths' College for two years and had to leave because the band was doing better than I was at art school. I work a lot at home, but not sculpturally. I'm just starting again, because recently I've had a lot more time on my hands, and this is a good opportunity - it's the only thing like this I've been involved with and it's a real pleasure.
More Blur in Pop, pages 14-15
The Velvet Underground
SEVEN-MINUTE VERSION OF 'WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT' ON CD, WITH CASE DESIGNED BY ENO
The Velvet Underground was the band that decided me on becoming a rock musician, because they offered the prospect of creating some unity between the ideas that I'd been interested in from avant-garde music and the visceral excitement of rock music. There's no viscera in avant-garde stuff. The other thing was what they chose not to write songs about love and relationships of that kind. I'd always been fed up with that, and I still am; it still forms 96 per cent of pop lyrics - it's just sheer laziness, sheer lack of imagination.
"White Light/White Heat" is not actually my favourite song. But if you had to name one Velvet Underground song, probably that would be the one people would name.
I'm playing some kind of a game in making the song: what I've done is reverse something that Lou Reed does. He sings the verses and then throws away the choruses - they're sort of throw-away scat choruses and you can't understand what he's saying at all. I've tried to decode what he was saying there, which is close to nonsense actually, and I've arranged them so that they are sung by a choir. So these things that were almost incoherent become very clear and with very precise diction and timing.
In fact there's a message in that, funnily enough. I say: "I first heard 'White Light/White Heat' on the radio, it was a Saturday, it was probably the John Peel show, it was early 1968." And then it says, "And I thought" and breaks into another song that I wrote, which is like a piece of gospel, where I say "Upon this rock I shall build my church". And I keep saying that. And then it says: "The whole album took one day to record - that was one day in New York, in autumn 1967. I just spent almost that long trying to hear what Lou Reed was saying in the choruses."
The point is that it took the Velvet Underground almost no time to do. But the amount of listening time that thing has received from me and all the other people who have listened to it consolidates it into something much, much bigger than it was ever made as.
The song is sold with a CD cover I designed; it's the only copy in existence but it is to be sold with full exploitation rights. That means if somebody buys it they can release it; just like with an ordinary record, whoever releases it can take the profits that a record company would take, which are for the sales of the actual object itself, but as always, they pay a royalty to the artist. And these will go to War Child. What a sucker, eh - it will probably be my only hit ever.
TRIPTYCH OF SILVER DISCS WITH DYLAN'S PHOTO AND STEWART'S FAVOURITE DYLAN LYRICS
When I was about 12 years old, my brother, who is four years older and who has immaculate taste in music and film, got a lot of Delta blues singers' albums, and he also got Dylan's first album. And for some reason I just, even at 12, totally connected with the Dylan album, picked up a guitar and started to learn the songs.
I learnt all the songs on the Freewheelin' album and then decided, "Oh, that's what I'm going to be, a guitar player and songwriter." And then I just went out and started to play them in folk clubs, even as young as 14. There are certain songs that I went back to and even now, every other week, I'll play "A Simple Twist of Fate".
I took these spiralled words from some of my favourite songs, and these stills are pictures I took of Dylan in Camden Town about two years ago, when I was making a little short film with him, it was a spontaneous kind of thing. I was in bed and Dylan rang about one in the morning and said did I want to make a film. And these images of him, even though they are only two years old, are of how I first saw him really, in the Sixties. I always had it, in my imagination, that he had a top hat on. He looks kind of tough and mean, but also compassionate.
I had to get my old films out and re-photograph them, and with a friend of mine we put them on a computer and imaged them and then had to spiral the words around. The transparencies come out of a computer, and then you print them on photographic paper.
I surrounded the pictures with these colours, those daisies. The Sixties was all about being stoned or tripping and lying in the park and listening to Dylan, so I tried pop art meets trippy kind of feel. They look like CDs - in fact CDs that looked like that would go down quite well.
Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys
The Bee Gees
FLASHING LIGHT-BOX MODEL OF DANCE FLOOR FROM 'SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER'
I was a bit worried it looked too minimal ... I've always loved The Bee Gees' music, and a lot of Chris's youth [Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys] was spent dancing to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
We don't really have any heroes, and then I suddenly thought The Bee Gees, because they've always been songwriters that we really admired. And we admired the fact that they had distinct phases. In the Sixties they did all those wonderful songs like "New York Mine Disaster" and "Words", and then in the Seventies they were sort of soul at first, and then disco. And then they came back in the Eighties yet again.
Chris said, "It's obvious, do the dance floor from Saturday Night Fever" - and I thought it was a brilliant idea, but I couldn't think how you would do it. Then about 10 days ago, I happened to bump into Brian Eno in a restaurant and he immediately worked out how you could do it.
So the next day I had to get up and find a video of Saturday Night Fever. Then I drew up a plan, took it to Brian's office and some people he knows made it - in fact he had a hand in making it. I felt rather guilty that we weren't making it.
I realised The Bee Gees are celebrating 30 years this year, so maybe their record company will pay lots of money for it.
'ODE - EAU D'ORNETTE', A SCENT MIXED BY THE SINGER
I love Ornette Coleman, his music resonates in my mind, my body and soul, and has done for a number of years. I constantly find myself humming melodies and it turns out it's Ornette Coleman. I love his harmonies; I love the work with Don Cherry and Charlie Hayden, which is not to say I don't like his latest work, but I've been enormously affected most of my life by his early work. I think it's incredibly beautiful and pure.
I like to make scents, it's something I was interested in doing. I'll tell you my recipe for eau d'Ornette: you get a large boiling vat and put a goat in it, two buckets of blood and three flowers from Central Park, and stir it. Then there are some secret ingredients from New York that I can't tell you about. I would not go very far in commenting on my talents in that direction.
I can't describe ODE, because I sent the only batch to London - there really is only one bottle. I made a second batch, but it was a little off. I'm not good enough to make a large amount, because I'm doing it by hand and you have to be really careful. I'm a little loose with the recipe - which is part of the fun; it doesn't always work out.
I think whoever buys this should give it to a friend. You could keep the empty bottle (with graphics by Laurie Anderson) as a museum piece, if you wanted to do such a thing, but I think you should wear it, preferably in bed, with your very, very, very best friend. That's what I would do. I think it's a very romantic smelling piece myself; it's not citrusy, it's in the other direction, dark and spicy and leather and tobacco and gasoline ...
If people would like to order the perfume from me it's pounds 1m, in advance. But with the British economy being what it is, what would pounds 1m even be worth any more? You can't even support two princesses ..."
Musical Milestones will be auctioned at a dinner in aid of War Child on Tuesday 4 February. Tickets, priced pounds 120, are available from 0171-727 8656. The works will be on show to the public from Thursday 30 January to Monday 4 February at the Lichfield Studios, 133 Oxford Gardens, London W10, from 10am to 5pm; and from Thursday 6 February to Sunday 16 February, 10am to 7pm, at 'The Economist', 25 St James Street, London SW1.
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