A wee while back, whilst perusing all the nice things on display at Pick Me Up (the annual Somerset House smörgåsbord of all things great and good in the graphic art world), I was lucky enough to bump into the 'George Clooney of graphics' Anthony Burrill (John L. Walters of Eye Magazine's words, not mine). Knowing my love of all things musical, he hinted he was about to collaborate with Somerset House on a forthcoming exhibition about Woking's finest: Messrs. Weller, Foxton and Butler.
Anthony Burrill : Photo by Mark Leary
As 'The Jam: About The Young Idea' opens at Somerset House this week, I reckoned it was time I caught up with Mr. Burrill to quiz him on his work for the exhibition, and to find out a little bit more about who and what gets his creative toes tapping.
Right then, AB - what's the deal with this new exhibition about The Jam at Somerset House?
Well, I know Claire Catterall, who is the curator at Somerset House, we'd spoken earlier in the year, she said she had me in mind for a new project. In fact, her first email was along the lines of 'Are you a fan of The Jam?', so I emailed back and said 'Er, well, not really', but she persevered and asked if I'd like to work on the exhibition graphics for their forthcoming The Jam exhibition.
I hadn't really worked on such a large scale exhibition before, unless you count something like Pick Me Up, and definitely not for anything quite as specific as this. I thought it was an interesting choice on their part, I don't think I'm the obvious candidate for the subject. But when Claire sent me the treatment of the exhibition, which included a lot of ephemera - there are around 500 objects incorporated into the exhibition, paper memorabilia, cuttings, home-made graphics, mid 70s to early 80s, all pre-computer - it began to really appeal to me, the feel was quite letterpressy, a lot of the items were cut-and-paste, home-made and simply produced, it felt like it had the great base energy that was relevant to those times.
Have you had any dealings with The Modfather in the making of the exhibition at Somerset House?
No, it's been mainly with Paul's sister Nicky. Back in the day, Paul's dad John managed them and Nicky ran the fan club. It was like a family cottage industry. I suppose really she's the custodian of The Jam archive. (AOTW Postscript: having attended this morning’s press preview of the exhibition, I’d like to add that I was lucky enough to meet the mastermind behind it all, Paul’s sister Nicky - she's an absolute bloody sweetheart, and should be congratulated on bringing together such a marvellous mix of memorabilia.)
So, you're not a real fan of The Jam?
My sister was - she had the 7 inches of 'Eton Rifles', 'Going Underground', but I was into something a bit more esoteric (much laughter at 'esoteric'). I suppose my first favourite band were Adam & The Ants, and then bands like Human League and Japan followed.
Anthony Burrill : Photo by Mark Leary
Do you think that a band having a strong visual identity was important to you - like Japan?
Yes, definitely. The fact that they felt like they'd been beamed in from another planet, they just didn't look or sound like average chart fodder, despite eventually becoming very successful. Listening to records like that in my bedroom, I felt completely transported out of the everyday.
And there was so much more mystery about musical artists back then...
Completely - you couldn't get any information about any of them, unless it was an interview in the NME, they were much less accessible and you had to really hunt down anything you could find.
Anthony Burrill : The Jam 77' - 82' Art School
Music has influenced your work?
I think I create the visual equivalent of music - I'm a frustrated musician! I get my 'music' out in a visual way. All the music I was into in my formative years was very visually driven, and seeing those distinct identities that I liked, then hearing the unique sounds that went with those identities, created a world for me that I wanted to be a part of, but I had to find my own way and the right medium to express myself.
Are there musicians that you admire, not necessarily just for their musical output, perhaps for their ideas and personal ethos?
Yes, people like David Byrne and Brian Eno, who you know aren't just about entertainment, you know it goes way past that, something much more creative, who challenge and take you to a different place. Coincidentally, I saw Nick Cave this morning.
Shut up! You're kidding me - be still, my beating heart. Where did you see him?
Ashford station! I was just buying my ticket, and this bloke walked into the station and I thought 'that's Nick Cave'. And there he was, just being Nick Cave, absolutely immaculately dressed. So I thought I had to say something, and went 'Er, Hi Nick - big fan' and he went 'Thanks' - and that was it. But it was enough! For a few minutes this morning, Ashford was cool.
Thinking about how beyond-cool Mr Cave is, if you could have been anyone from the whole history of rock 'n' roll, who would it be?
Either one of the drummers in Kraftwerk, or Mick Karn from Japan, when they were at their peak. Just to experience what it's like to walk on stage, in that band, at that time.
Which instruments do you play?
None (more laughter).
But what about Bad Acid (Anthony once formed a 'supergroup' with long-time collaborator and pal Malcolm Goldie)?
Well, I'm such a frustrated musician, yet I can't really play anything. So, Bad Acid started with my friend Malcolm, who's a musician - well, not really a musician - because we wanted to play live Acid House music, so we started a stupid band so we could mess about. Malcolm on guitars and I 'played' the laptop. I used a program called 'Re-Birth' so I could emulate vintage acid house sounds. We ended up playing quite a few times, one time we played at Village Fete at the V&A - that was probably the height of Bad Acid. (Dear readers of TMT, I should explain that I was there the night Bad Acid performed at the V&A Village Fete 2006, and if that was the height of Bad Acid, then it was quite a vertiginously dizzying height - AOTW)
I distinctly remember it being absolute bedlam on stage, and that there was a man in a skintight silver jumpsuit, a sort-of crazed freaky dancer...
Yes, that was Wilfrid (Wilfrid Wood: brilliant sculptor and all round good egg - AOTW). He was our Bez. Very distracting for anyone watching.
If you could form another supergroup, but could choose any visual artists from history, and also any musicians to play alongside you, who would you have on the AB tour bus?
I suppose Eduardo Paolozzi would be on drums, reckon he'd be a great rhythm section - he should have been a jazz drummer! Richard Hamilton on keyboards, think he'd add an interesting sound - and he taught Bryan Ferry, Ferry says he was a great influence on him when forming Roxy Music. I'd probably have to have Brian Eno in there too - not really doing anything, not playing - he'd just be wearing a feather boa.
I'm sensing a theme here - you're getting Eno in as the supergroup's Bez?
Yes. I think he'd make an excellent Bez. And I'd have Phil Oakey on vocals, back when the hair was at its finest.
Yeah, you definitely need someone who can actually sing on vocals. Maybe not Hockney?
I think that Hockney could be in on flute. And I'd definitely want Peter Blake to do the album cover.
I reckon the general public would pay vast sums to see such an extravaganza...!
I should hope so. It'd be massively worth any ticket price.
Best live band of all time?
I've had a few for different reasons. I saw Public Enemy play back when I was at college, probably around 1988, they played at Leeds Poly. They were supporting Run DMC, and they absolutely blew Run DMC out of the building. I used to go see Stereolab a lot and loved them. And LCD Soundsystem were superb.
Anthony Burrill's studio : Photo by Mark Leary
Do you like classical music?
I went through a big Philip Glass phase when I was at college. At Leeds Poly library, there was a great vinyl section, so I took out as much as I could, then I'd sit in my room and listen to them, the operas, symphonies, all of it. I've always really liked that kind of systems stuff - like Steve Reich - y'know, the sort of thing that led onto techno. But I suppose it all just goes back to something more primal and banging a drumbeat out round a campfire. The simplicity of that appeals.
Anthony Burrill's Studio : Photo by Mark Leary
Any new music you're into?
I haven't been to all that much live music for the last couple of years, just the odd thing here and there. But I have been to see Sleaford Mods a couple of times recently - Malcolm (Goldie) is completely obsessed by them, think he's seen them about 15 times. They seem to actually have something to say, feels like they're on a bit of a mission to speak their minds and say out loud what people are thinking. You could say maybe in the same way that The Jam did back in their day.
And so, returning to the exhibition, it's called 'About The Young Idea' a lyric taken from The Jam song 'In The City' - have you given your own young any ideas musically speaking? Apart from force-feeding them David Sylvian from an early age?
As a family, we’ve always listened to music, be it at home, driving in the car, everywhere. Our children have grown up listening to a broad variety of music and it's definitely informed their taste. It was an exciting day when Rosie, our daughter, stopped listening to One Direction and started pumping out bass-heavy rap from her bedroom. Our son is a drummer, his best friend plays guitar and together they’ve worked through the entire Joy Division, White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys back catalogue.
Interest in creativity isn’t just limited to visual culture, it’s everything that connects with you and inspires you to make your own thing. I think we’ve instilled a love of creativity in our children quite naturally through our everyday enjoyment of music, art and reading.
Anthony Burrill : Photo by Mark Leary
Well, if that doesn't make you want to pogo round your living room to 'In The City', there's something the matter with you. Me? Thoroughly disappointed that I couldn't manage to shoehorn the word 'preserve' into an article about The Jam. 'The Jam: About The Young Idea' opens to the public at Somerset House on 26th of June until 31st of August.
Anthony Burrill : The Jam Exhibition Poster
The Jam Exhibition : Photo by Paul Driver