Friday, November 11, 2011

Eyeball Massage / Mental States

There are two exhibitions showing at the Hayward Gallery at the moment, Pipilotti Rist's "Eyeball Massage" and George Condo's "Mental States". Visitors are free to take pictures or make video recordings of Rist's installations, but not of Condo's stuff. While there are signs in the Condo show in the upper gallery warning visitors against touching the exhibits (the "don't take pictures" signs are fewer, and more discreet), there's nothing in the downstairs gallery telling people that they can take pictures, nor anything to warn against touching. I had to point this out to an "invigilator" who objected to my pulling Pipilotti's swimsuit aside in order to get a better look at the video screen within.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Looking for the Truth


My 14" film, "Looking For The Truth", will be screened on Saturday 18th June at Club Karlson in the Netherlands Media Art Institute building, Keizersgracht 264, Amsterdam, as part of the Ma Machinima International Film Festival.

The Festival runs from 1.00pm Friday 17 June to 01.00am on Sunday 19 June (and continues until 04.30am online)

My film, made with Moviestorm 1.2, is in Machinima Film Block 4, which screens on Saturday between 10.00pm - 11.30PM local time (Holland is BST +1)

If you can't make it to Amsterdam on Saturday, don't despair: the festival is streaming live in Second Life and on the world wide web.

Information about the festival, including live streams, can be found on the MMIF website:

Harris is Looking for the Truth. You can find it on VimeoAmber is Looking for the Truth. You can find it on Vimeo

Monday, June 6, 2011

Look Back in John Peel's Shed

I saw John Osborne's one-man show, John Peel's Shed as part of the @PulseFringe festival in Ipswich recently. I liked the show for a number of reasons. First, I was intrigued by the title because I know that John Peel kept his records in various outbuildings around his gaffe in Stowmarket, and also because I used to listen to John Peel as a teenager. It was a bit like Top of the Pops, a cultural fixture at which attendance was almost compulsory. I also used to regularly read John Peel's column in Sounds, and still think of Mrs Peel, aka Sheila as "The Pig" and of offspring William as "William (A Baby)". It's a little odd to think that even smaller Peelings, as then unborn, now speak to me in the earhole through the radio. But I digress.

I enjoyed John Osborne's show for its premise: Osborne, also a John Peel listener, albeit from a different era, had won a competition involving coming up with a slogan as to why the John Peel show should win a Sony radio award, and he (Osborne) was duly rewarded with a prize that consisted of a box of records from John Peel's shed which were delivered by a couple members of the production staff to Osborne's humble student abode in Norwich.*

Osborne had the contents of the box records spread out on the floor of the Wolsey Studio and he regaled the audience with stories about his experience as a radio listener, and he also played some tracks from the records he had won.

I enjoyed the show because of the way it span out into other areas: we learned that Osborne was so burdened with the responsibility of using and sharing his treasures that he inveigled his way into a community radio set-up in Norwich, undertook a production training course and recorded a series of shows in which he played some tracks from his box of records. Osborne conceded that there probably wasn't anyone listening to his broadcasts (I suspect this is true of many if not all community radio stations, but at least their existence allows someone to tick a "community engagement" box somewhere) but I admired the effort and the story it allowed him to tell. The story was interwoven with snippets of information about Osborne's life, radio listening habits and employment history, each of which were inspiring, enlightening or amusing in their own way.

The gig however, may have been little more than a pretext for Mr Osborne to whip out a pile of books (I think he had ten copies under the coffee table which was part of his set) and offer them to the audience at a fiver a time. I had spotted the books fairly early on and anticipated or partly hoped that at some point Osborne would distribute them for free. Ever the optimist, I had assumed that I would probably be awarded a copy, perhaps as a "reward" for asking an interesting or amusing question, or for sharing one of my own radio-related anecdotes. I was a little surprised then, if not ever-so-very mildly put out, that the tomes merely formed the basis of a vulgar transaction. However, my displeasure was somewhat alleviated when, while still sitting in the front row, I looked at the price of Radio Head on Amazon and saw that it was being offered there for some six pounds odd. The bargain-hunter within me was alert to the opportunity to bag a copy for a fiver and also to get it inscribed by the author, which would surely add to its value. However, by this time the swell of the departing audience had swept me into the foyer and then out into the night and the opportunity was past (I didn't fancy battling my way back up the stairs, against the flow of the small crowd, such as it was, to cop a copy for a fiver when the call of the pub was strong and a couple of pints could be had for the same price).

If I haven't already noted the fact, then I have been remiss, but it should be recorded that part of my enjoyment of the show resulted from the fact that it prompted me to recall some of my own radio-related experiences. Here then are some:

1) The only time I ever met John Peel that I can recall was in a bar at a pop festival. I think it was Reading and I think it was 1979. The bar was a tent and I think it was a backstage bar. (I don't recall how we blagged passes, but I've a vague recollection of wearing a black and white sticker on a t-shirt.) It was also an empty backstage bar, apart from a lone bloke standing in the middle of the tent. I was at the entrance to the tent with my mate Leaney. "That's John Peel" he said. So I went up and said hello. I'd like to think that I also mentioned liking his radio programme and that at least one of us offered to buy him a drink, but we were probably skint and wouldn't have had the resources to do so. On the other hand, at least one of us would almost certainly have tried to have blagged a drink, but whether or not this was in fact the case remains uncertain, and that's how this shaky recollection must end.

2) Sometime in the early-to-mid 1970s Tony Blackburn had the breakfast show on Radio 1 and handed over to "Diddy" David Hamilton (no, not the film maker) for the next slot. One day, however, TB announced that they would be taking the radio car to London Zoo so instead of getting the bus to school, when I got to Golders Green station, instead of getting on the 102, I got on a bus going in the opposite direction (2B?) and went to the zoo instead. After wandering around for a while I came across the radio car, with its huge aerial up in the air, and chatted briefly to Messrs Blackburn and Hamilton. Imagine my surprise when I was called into the House Master's office at school the next day and asked to explain my absence. Apparently the House Master's wife had been listening to the radio, heard me on air and had grassed me up. What a cow!

3) Another time in the early-to-mid 1970s a new radio station started, called Capital Radio (194MW). For some reason a nearby VW garage was promoting this launch, or had somehow tied it in with the launch of a new model of one of their cars, and they were giving away glasses of cider (actually, they weren't glasses, but were those white plastic cups) along with helium-filled balloons and Capital Radio (194MW) t-shirts. The promo girls didn't seem to mind who they gave the cider to, or how much they gave, so I took repeated advantage of their generosity. And I got a T-shirt as well.

4) That actually wasn't the Capital Radio-related anecdote that I originally had in mind (it just came to me while I was bashing out the bit about John Peel in the beer tent). The actual Capital Radio-related anecdote that I had meant to recount is this: a DJ called Dave Cash, who I think had the mid-morning slot or possibly the early afternoon show, was inviting people to ring in or send a postcard with amusing tales of how they procrastinate. Capital Radio mugs, pens, pencils, T-shirts and the usual bits of freebie ephemera were all offered as inducements. One of these days I'm going to call them on that and get one of those mugs and t-shirts.

I think that's enough radio-related anecdotes for now. However, I should also record that, during the show John Peel's Shed, I did feel something of a brief if fleeting affinity with John Osborne. Some of it due to the connection we shared in John Peel, but some also because of our shared habit of radio and some linked listening experiences. Osborne talked of Resonance FM, and I was reminded of the time I sought it out for the show "Where's The Skill In That" which was the temporary home of Robert Sandall and Mark Russell's "Mixing It", which was not only a brilliant programme that opened the ears of many listeners (and picked up Sony awards for Radio 3) but was so cruelly dropped from the airwaves that I was moved to write a letter of complaint to the BBC. Osborne also talked about the time he listened to Tommy Boyd who had a phone-in show; I used to listen to Tommy Boyd on LBC when he was bought in to fill the slot previously occupied by Jeremy Beadle (yes, that one) who had either left, or was dropped. It wasn't the same phone-in as Osborne's but I was a listener. And a caller (to both Boyd and Beadle).

So much did I enjoy John Peel's Shed that I actually sought out a copy of John Osborne's book, Radio Head, which I found for 60p via ABE Books. However, the postage was £1.45, so it wasn't quite the bargain that it might have been, although it was considerably less than a fiver so I'm still quids in, or the price of a pint. I'm currently reading and enjoying the book, even though some of the anecdotes are already familiar to me from John Peel's Shed. I'm also considering undertaking a radio production course for the local community radio station, even though it is probably the case that no-one will listen. (I have ideas for a show too, but the community radio idea and a 'speak your brains'-style phone-out were formulated some time before I'd even got tickets for John Peel's Shed, much less seen the show or read the book).

That's all we've got time for pip pip pip pip pip piiiiiiiiip!

* As far as I am aware, all student abodes are humble, not just those in Norwich. If, however, John Osborne's student abode is not deserving of the epithet, I am happy to be advised accordingly and make any necessary corrections.

Mind the Gap!

Oh golly, I haven't posted to this blog since September last year! How very neglectful of me. Next time I am preoccupied I shall try to remember to take a little time out of my busy schedule to post a little something, even if it's just a short, two-line comment on an otherwise inconsequential scintilla of a thought, for you, dear reader, for you.