David Lister: Let's raise a toast to the role of the drinking hole in artists' lives

The Week in Arts
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Independent Voices

How do we commemorate our artists? Usually it is by a blue plaque outside their home. And each time I pass one I try to imagine that inside the relevant house a writer toiled, or an artist made preliminary sketches, or a pop singer wrote some early lyrics.

It takes quite a bit of imagining, as often entry to the home is forbidden, and in many cases it may not have been their home for very long. But at least it gives a sense of place. A much better sense of place, and of person, was given last Monday when a life-size bronze statue of L S Lowry was unveiled at the bar of his local, Sam's Chop House, off Manchester's Cross Street. The artist used to stop in there for a regular half of bitter and a bowl of soup in the old sherry bar.

The current owner of the city-centre pub, Roger Ward, says he was inspired to commission the piece after seeing a statue of Ernest Hemingway at bar El Floridita in Havana. And inspired is the right word. For I really hope that Mr Ward has started something. His commemoration of Lowry reminds me of Henrik Ibsen's table at the Grand Café in Oslo, where the playwright spent time every day of the week, and his table and armchair remain. Impossible to have a coffee there without imagining Ibsen either deep in thought about his next work or eavesdropping on conversations that might inform it. And now it will be impossible to have a drink at Sam's Chop House in Manchester without thinking of Salford's great artist, L S Lowry.

Let's commemorate our artists not just in their homes but in the places where they were regular fixtures. For better or worse, pubs are a major part of British cultural life, and for better or worse, artists of every description tend to like a drink. Celebrating them in their watering holes could make a visit to a pub a much more cultural experience, could inspire a very different sort of pub conversation.

Sir Peter Hall has told me that when he mounted the English-language premiere of Waiting for Godot in 1955, he and Samuel Beckett used to retire to the pub for a Guinness after rehearsals. Couldn't we have a little sculpture or painting of the two of them chewing over the day's notes and wondering about the meaning of life, or – more tricky – the meaning of the play?

Elton John grew up playing piano at his local pub. That has to be worth a sculpture. Various Young British Artists drank at pubs near Goldsmiths College when they were students, and do so in Shoreditch now. Examples are endless. So congratulations to Mr Ward and Sam's Chop House. This, I hope, is the week where the sober, commemorative blue plaque gives way to a drunken nightly toast to the local artistic celebrity. Britain has a pub culture, but from now on the phrase can have a new meaning.

A case of art not imitating life

The critics didn't like it much, nor did a lot of viewers, but I rather warmed to the TV comedy Episodes with Matt LeBlanc, Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan. The series – about two British comedy writers who take their show to Los Angeles – had its last episode this week. It ended with the American TV producer commissioning a series after viewers at a test screening had loved the pilot (a difficulty for the two married writers who were undergoing a personal crisis).

In real life, though, it is questionable whether there will be a second series, as viewers and critics have not been overwhelmed. So on the screen the series is commissioned with positive viewer feedback, while off the screen the series is not recommissioned because of a lack of positive viewer feedback. There has to be a Kafkaesque sitcom in that somewhere.

An MP really can be a voice of the people

Viewers watching BBC TV's East Midlands Today programme would have seen a story about a lost pair of trainers size 21. Cue a vox pop in Derby city centre on who could possibly have owned such outsize shoes. One person strolling down the high street responded: "I've never met anyone who would wear such big shoes, but he or she should be easy to find." And on he walked.

The vox popee, unrecognised by BBC East Midlands, was in fact the Culture minister Ed Vaizey, visiting Derby for a conference of the Association of British Orchestras.

I rather like the fact that a government minister can become a member of the public. Mr Vaizey may feel a little disconcerted that the citizens (and TV reporters) of Derby didn't recognise him, but he shouldn't worry. A culture minister needs to blend in with an audience, be an invisible member of the Big Society, and know that he can move to Derby when the pressures of fame become too much.