2 Tone

  • Mixing Pop and Politics: Author Daniel Rachel Talks To Tootal Blog

    For readers of a certain age there was a golden era for protest songs. A time before reality TV talent shows when passionate messages coupled with infectious melodies could regularly crack the Top 10. A period charted by musician turned author Daniel Rachel in his absorbing book Walls Come Tumbling Down, winner of the Penderyn Music Book Prize for 2017.

    We selected ten “angry anthems” and asked Daniel to share his thoughts on each of them.

    1.The Clash ‘Police And Thieves’ (1977)

    Written by Junior Murvin & Lee Perry. From the album The Clash. U.K. Album Chart #12

    The Clash, particularly Joe Strummer, had enquiring minds. Paul Simonon and Mick Jones grew up in South London, and were imbibed with Black Culture, which intensified when they moved to West London. It was natural that the sound they grew up with would infect their music.

    The Clash: Their 1977 debut album (CBS Records)

    I love the way you get the kind of On/Off Reggae beat of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones’ guitars. Then just before the guitar solo it breaks from the Reggae rhythm and gives way to more typical Clash sounding chugging guitars. Watch the footage of them doing this in Birmingham in 1978; I think it’s at Barbarella’s. There’s a vibrancy to that performance, not only in the close-up of the camera work, which is right on Strummer’s face, but when he moves out of shot the camera remains on the microphone and you’re left waiting for him to come back into shot.

    There’s also footage of a National Front rally outside Digbeth Civic Hall that same day, which turns into a confrontation between the Anti-Nazi League, Rock Against Racism and the police. There are two people that were in that melee; one is me, as a little boy who has inadvertently been driven into the melee by his parents. I thought it was very exciting and I was taken by the colours, and the look of the Skinheads. And the other person there was Ranking Roger.

    2. Tom Robinson Band ‘Glad To Be Gay’ (1978)

    Written by Tom Robinson. From the Rising Free E.P. U.K. Singles Chart #18

    TRB headlined the Rock Against Racism carnival in Victoria Park by dint of their hit ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’, so they had a greater status than The Clash at that point. They are not really a Punk band, but Tom in his sort of school uniform, Roger Huddle’s Black Power fist logo behind them, plus Danny Kustow’s kind of Punk guitar, brings an importance to this song. It’s a hugely important and equally inflammatory song.

    In the introduction, Tom says the World Health Organisation have categorised being Gay as a disease, 302.0. He discovered that because of Paul Furness, who had set up Leeds Rock Against Racism and worked in the medical records department at Leeds Royal Infirmary. It was Paul’s job to get code numbers for the doctors, and he found the classification, and told Tom Robinson about 302.0. It’s printed on the EP sleeve, on the side. That was an astonishing political statement, 302.0 eventually was removed from the World Health Organisation directory in 1990.

    3. Steel Pulse ‘Ku Klux Klan’ (1978)

    Written by Steel Pulse. U.K. Singles Chart #41

    David Hinds of Steel Pulse heard that David Duke, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was going to make a visit to Britain. In the song David is imagining walking down the road, kicking a can, when somebody from the Klan jumps out in front of him. This song brings the politics of Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, West Midlands.

    Steel Pulse 'Ku Klux Klan' (Island Records). The first single from their debut album, 'Handsworth Revolution'.

    Steel Pulse went to the South (of the U.S.), and they played ‘Ku Klux Klan’; David told me the day after the band had left there was a lynching in the city where they had been performing. Because of the age he was he didn’t have any fear about performing ‘Ku Klux Klan’, in that kind of atmosphere and climate, nor the potential danger that the band where in. That’s quite extraordinary.

    David Hinds grew up listening to British White radio. He’s a fan of Pop music; the Stones, The Kinks and The Who, but also bands like the Average White Band. David used to make a 45-minute trip across town, from Handsworth to college in Bourneville. His bus journey charted the change of colour of the city, so when he arrives at college, he’s gone from the black world of Handsworth to the white world of Bourneville. All this influences the way he sees the world, the way he writes music, the way he sings and puts together Steel Pulse. They don’t follow the tropes of what you might associate with Jamaican Reggae. And that’s as valid that Steel Pulse should be playing with ‘White Man’s music’ as The Clash are playing with ‘Black Man’s music’.

    4. Linton Kwesi Johnson ‘Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)’ (1979)

    Written by Linton Kwesi Johnson. From the album Forces Of Victory. U.K. Album Chart #66.

    The most intimidating man I met for Walls Come Tumbling Down but what a hugely eloquent and powerful poet he is. He may have been one of the first people ever to take Patois and put it into a written form; as Linton points out, Robbie Burns spoke in the dialect of his homeland, and so Linton had the right to do so too.

    I think that the impact of the records he made with Dennis Bovell is not dissimilar to how you might consider 16th Century broadsides. The news of the street and of the people being delivered as a bulletin; it was the news that was not being told by the British media.

    As with John Cooper Clarke poetry was beginning to be an accepted form of voicing opposition to the establishment. In the Eighties Seething Wells and Attila The Stockbroker supported The Jam at Hammersmith; then there’s Pop Art Poem on Sound Affects, and, of course, Paul Weller sets up Riot Stories, his own poetry imprint, so there’s a connection there. And a Number One artist has sanctioned it.

    5. Ruts ‘S.U.S.’ (1979)

    Written by Dave Ruffy, John ‘Segs’ Jennings, Malcolm Owen, Paul Fox & Richard Mannah.

    From the album The Crack. U.K. Album Chart #16.

    Ruts 'The Crack' (Virgin Records). Also includes 'Babylon's Burning' and 'Something That I Said'.

    How mad is it that a Reggae band - Misty In Roots - finance and put out a Punk band’s single on their own label (People Unite)? Misty and The Ruts formed an alliance, so when Dave Ruffy, on the drums, and Segs, on the bass, were trying to play the Reggae music they loved they were being tutored, literally, by Misty. But Misty themselves were British. And the interesting thing is that Malcolm Owen was married to a mixed race girl; Ruffy says in Walls Come Tumbling Down that Malcolm was getting hit by traffic both ways. It’s a stunning line. The Ruts also got quite an Asian following, by dint of their Southall connection. That wouldn’t have been easy, for a young Asian girl to be going to a Punk gig in ’78, ‘79.

    During the Southall riots of ’79, the People Unite offices were trashed by the Special Patrol Group. Misty’s manager, Clarence Baker, was clobbered over the head and rushed to Intensive Care, which becomes another Ruts song ‘Jah War’. So, The Ruts, and Misty, were important politically, and played some mean Reggae rhythms.

    6. Stiff Little Fingers ‘Alternative Ulster’ (1979)

    Written by Gordon Ogilvie & Jake Burns. Did not Chart.

    Not all but most of Stiff Little Fingers’ lyrics were written by their manager, Gordon Ogilvie, a journalist writing for the Daily Express in Northern Ireland. Ogilvie wrote the lyrics for this song and then gave them to Jake Burns, saying ‘would you write a song called ‘Alternative Ulster’? When Gordon saw the band at a rehearsal two weeks later Jake said, “I’ve finished it. Listen to this”. Before that SLF were just doing Jam covers, and hadn’t yet become the band that we know them as.

    In 1978 Stiff Little Fingers’ got in touch with Tom Robinson and landed a support tour with his band. SLF weren’t only talking about Northern Ireland; they were talking about the freedoms of youth. Gordon says in Walls Come Tumbling Down that if The Clash can talk about “Sten Guns In Knightsbridge” then there is a legitimate argument for Jake to be singing about the British military presence in Northern Ireland

    I love SLF’s first album; Jake’s voice is like listening to razor blades, really fantastic. As a kid I loved playing it because you knew it would cause maximum offence to anyone in adult hearing vicinity, which is always exciting.

    7. The Specials ‘Ghost Town’ (1981)

    Written by Jerry Dammers. U.K. Singles Chart #1

    On this record The Specials master Reggae. It’s interesting they return to Reggae because in ’78 as The Coventry Automatics, when they supported The Clash, they were trying Reggae with a Punk fusion, and they don’t really get back into that until this point.

    The Specials always sounded more early Reggae / Rocksteady to me than Ska. When you think of ‘Skinhead Symphony’ on the Too Much Too Young EP, those songs are all from ‘68/’69; that’s Reggae, isn’t it? But it is the greatest EP ever. Absolutely! Not even The Beatles can match it. So exciting.

    The Specials 'Ghost Town' (2 Tone Records). Three weeks at No. 1 in 1981.

    The week before this got to No. 1 The Specials played the last Rock Against Racism Carnival in Leeds. They were the headline act, with Misty In Roots and the Au Pairs. Jerry Dammers tells a great story that when they got to the trombone solo, Rico didn’t play. Jerry goes over and say’s, “Rico, Rico! Play now!” And Rico says to Jerry, “Me nah feel for play, Jerry”.

    As a young kid, it never dawned on me that 2 Tone music was political. I would just sing along to, “Just because you’re s a Black boy/ Just because you’re White/ Doesn’t mean you have to hate him/ Doesn’t mean you have to fight”, or when Ranking Roger toasting on ‘Doors Of Your Heart’; “Stick him in your living room and turn off the light / Bet you wouldn't know if he was black or white”. The politics only began to infiltrate my mind as I developed a social conscience. Until then they were just great pop songs, but sub-consciously they were educating me.

    8. Billy Bragg ‘Between The Wars’ (1985)

    Written by Billy Bragg. U.K. Chart #15.

    The EP was dedicated to the Miner’s Wives Support Group; unfortunately the record was released just as the Miner’s strike finished. It’s an incredible EP. The other songs are ‘Which Side Are You On?’ by Florence Reece, ‘World Turned Upside Down’ by Leon Rosselson and Billy’s ‘It Says Here’. The words to all four songs are imbedded in my mind

    ‘Between The Wars’ is a ‘them and us’ song, isn’t it? You have that; we have this. You say that; we say this; Billy was the one-man Clash. It’s folk-punk. I feel hugely connected to this record. I was at school and we had a production of Pride & Prejudice, and I was The Butler. We were due to perform on a Thursday night – Top of the Pops night - and I knew that Billy was going to be on; I was such a fan. I said to, my drama teacher, “I’ve got a little portable TV, can I bring it in, because I don’t want to miss it?” and she let me! Our ‘backstage’ area was the school gym; I took the TV in and I made everyone watch Billy doing ‘Between The Wars’. He sang it live. I was really excited because not many people were Billy Bragg fans. I thought, “Yes!”

    A couple of years later my best mate, Simon (of Ocean Colour Scene), who was working at the Birmingham Post got in contact with Billy’s press people and got tickets and a bumper press kit sent to him, for Billy’s show at The Alexandra Theatre; Michelle Shocked was supporting him. Simon didn’t like Billy much but afterwards he said, “God! It was like watching a stand up comedian”.

    9. The Housemartins ‘Flag Day’ (1985)

    Written by Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore. Did not chart.

    Billy Bragg’s wife, Juliet, who had managed The Selecter and ran 2 Tone Records with Rick Rodgers, talks so passionately in the book about what Paul Heaton’s voice does to her and the tone in his voice, which cut through to the marrow. “Too many Florence Nightingales, not enough Robin Hoods…” What a strange choice for a single; it didn’t chart but it was followed by ‘Sheep’, which creeps in at the bottom end of the chart and then, ‘Happy Hour’, which was magnificent and went top ten.

    Paul told me at this time he hadn’t yet got his handle on political lyrics. The Housemartins had that lightness that a band like The Redskins didn’t. He said, “You just wanted to tickle them under the arm a little bit”. There are so many great political songs on the second Housemartins album. There’s some telling lines about Margaret Thatcher on ‘Five Get Over Excited’; ‘Feigning concern, a conservative pastime, Makes you feel doubtful right from the start / The expression she pulls is exactly like last time, You've got to conclude she just hasn't a heart’.

    The Housemartins 'Flag Day' (Go! Discs). Failed to make the singles chart but was No. 10 in John Peel's Festive 50 of 1985

    Like Elvis Costello, Paul resisted joining Red Wedge. Paul came down for a meeting in London; he went in and a 'Wedgee' was barefooted. Somebody was probably wearing loafers without any socks on. Paul said, ‘This isn’t my crowd’. Basically, he’d been spending his time on the frontline during the Miner’s strike, and he wasn’t really getting the “Southerners” thing, even though Billy Bragg, and Paul Weller, and The Communards and Junior were all at the meeting; Paul said it wasn’t his scene. He had a few demands of his own; the abolition of the monarchy, and nationalising the record industry. Red Wedge rejected his ideas.

    I told Paul how his lyrics fed into my life and what they meant to me and to my peers and he said, “It’s funny. You tell me my lyrics have influenced you but Paul Weller influenced me and Joe Strummer influenced him”.

    10. The Style Council ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down!’ (1985)

    Written by Paul Weller. U.K. Chart #6.

    In Birmingham, Style Council fans that I knew were people that looked like Casuals. They would wear espadrilles with no socks and jumpers tied across their shoulders. It’s the reason why I resisted The Style Council. I didn’t like the kind of people that liked them. And then, you watch their videos, and Paul’s rubbing Mick’s chest and they’re on boats together and that kind of nonsense. The thing about ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ is, it sounded more like The Jam.

    It is an incredibly didactic lyric, but it’s being delivered in a manner, and with a melody and a rhythm that’s really exciting and that’s the basis of any great protest song.

    Jerry Dammers talks about the reference to the walls of Jericho, and how it has been since discovered that the wall fell because it had been undermined. Jerry’s saying music alone isn’t enough to bring walls down; there’s got to be some form of collaboration. That is why Paul Weller decided, alongside Billy Bragg and Annajoy David, to do what nobody else had ever done in Rock ‘n’ Roll history and go to the corridors of power; and go to Parliament to effect change. To do the opposite of Punk, which was anti-establishment. They were encouraging people to register to vote and to get change from within. Gordon Brown vindicated Red Wedge’s goals in 1990, when he delivered a White Paper on the music industry, and then by Neil Kinnock, whose policy papers for the 1992 General Election had Red Wedge ideas within them.

    Red Wedge was hugely influential, particularly on a generation who would express themselves 10 years later in 1997, and equally in Labour Party policy. That’s an amazing achievement for Pop Stars. That’s the guy that’s on Top Of The Pops rubbing Mick Talbot’s chest; influencing Labour Party policy. It’s incredible.


    Walls Come Tumbling Down by Daniel Rachel was the winner of the Penderyn Music Book Prize for 2017. John Harris, writing in The Guardian, described the book as “a triumphant oral history”, whist Shaun Keaveny on BBC 6 Music called it “A colossal and brilliant book”.



    Walls Come Tumbling Down is published by Pan Macmillan and available in paperback here https://goo.gl/T7AYnL





    Daniel is also the author of Isle Of Noises: Conversations With Great British Songwriters (a Guardian and NME Book of the Year). For more details visit www.danielrachel.com

  • A Special Talent: Horace Panter Talks To Tootal Blog

    Although most of his career has been defined by music (as bass player with The Specials), the artist formally know as Sir Horace Gentleman graduated in 1975 with a degree in Fine Art from what was then called 'Lanchester Polytechnic' in Coventry (now Coventry University). It was there that he first met Jerry Dammers and the concept of the concept of the Punk/Ska band materialised.

    He has been exhibiting in the UK since 2009, and his Cassette vs Vinyl exhibition has already visited Manchester, Los Angeles and Dublin. Horace talked to Tootal Blog ahead of his latest exhibition in London.

    You have a degree in Fine Art. Was there ever a risk that music would have lost out to a life dedicated to art?

    For a little while. I did my Foundation Course at Northampton School of Art, and it was very prescriptive. It was, like, Monday morning we will do this. Wednesday we will do this. And there was Life Drawing and Objective Research. I got to the Polytechnic in Coventry in 1972 and it was, “Okay, get on with it”. ; I was waiting for someone to say, “It’s Monday afternoon, you need to do this”. So, I kind of floundered for a while. I was halfway through my second year, and it was like, “Hang on. You could get a degree out of this. Your parents will be so upset if you went home…” So, I buckled down but to be honest I was learning to play the bass guitar at the time, which was far more exciting. So art was something that I did during the day but then by night I dreamed of being Andy Fraser from Free, or the bloke from Booker T & the MGs.

    Why the bass guitar?

    Bass is easy, one note at a time. It was always the thing; the clever guy at school learnt to play guitar, his mate played rhythm guitar because he had been taught by the first guy, and, to their friend who was too stupid to play barre chords, they’d say, “Oh, you can play bass”. That’s always how it was back in the Sixties. Though I’d always wanted to play the bass guitar because I wasn’t very good at playing a six string, but I kind of got on with it and at college I met Bob Carter who taught me the rudiments of the thing then it started to make sense. Bob went on produce Lynx, Junior Giscombe and the first Wham! single (sadly, he died in 1988 and I lost a good friend).

    It sounds like you were a very conscientious student. A bit at odds with the ‘Young Ones’ image of students in the ‘70s?

    Art College in the Seventies was the preserve of the English eccentric or the work shy. Although I had aspirations to be the former I was actually the latter. You went to Art School to join a pop group. It worked for me.

    When The Specials took off did you give up on Art completely?

    The Specials in 1979 (L. to. R) Lynval Golding, Neville Staples, John Bradbury, Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers, Horace Panter, Roddy Byers.

    Art was always there, especially when we (The Specials) started travelling. It was like, “Hey, we’re in New York”. Everybody else went out to Studio 54, or some nightclub, and I went to bed so I could be up early to go to the Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim the next day. So, art and music jockeyed for centre stage for quite some time but art was always there. I could come off a tour, and art was my way to relax, to decompress.

    And then in the Nineties I became an Art Teacher, so I had to focus on art because that was my profession. It was like, “How can I enthuse children, especially children with special needs, about art? How can I make this interesting and exciting?” And that made me focus a lot on what I like about art but it’s been an up and down exercise, really.

    It must be quite a leap to go from being an art student, or an art ‘fan’ to being an exhibiting artist?

    I kind of use the music business model, if you get a great band you don’t just keep it in the rehearsal room, you go out and you do gigs. If you’ve got a collection of paintings you don’t keep them in your attic, you go out and get some exhibitions. The art is a commercial enterprise. I’m not just sitting up in my garret thinking, one day, fifty years after I’ve died these will be worth something. Let’s get these out to people. Let’s make fine art prints of them and see if someone wants to buy them.

    With Music, I’m the Bass Player. I’m a member of the team. Can’t go out to a pub and get my bass out and start singing with it. It doesn’t make sense; I need to work with a drummer, or a keyboard player or a guitarist. I’m a cog in the machine. I’ve often thought I could do a solo album but “No, you can’t. You’d like to but (A) you can’t sing, (B) you don’t write songs and (C) you can’t play a melody instrument well enough”. With the art, that’s my solo album. The work stands or falls by my efforts alone. I can’t blame the drummer if it’s a bad painting.

    Your collections include a portrait of The Specials, but there’s not a lot that points to ‘Horace Panter: Ska Musician’. Is that deliberate?

    Horace Panter: Equally adept with bass and brush (Photo by Conor McCabe)

    I haven’t really thought about that. No, I don’t suppose you can see Horace from The Specials but then I don’t just play Ska or Reggae, I play Blues, I play Country.

    A while back I did what I called my Blues Series. Collages of my favourite Blues musicians and I did a couple of Jazz guys as well – Miles Davis, Charlie Parker. I wanted to actually “paint music”, if you now what I mean. It’s all very well doing a nice portrait of Muddy Waters but loads of people do that. I wanted to do something that explained how the music impacted on me. Blues has got an awful lot to do with history and a sense of place. The people who moved from the Mississippi and Alabama, up to Chicago to work in the factories, and they took their music with them. But then they discovered electricity, and you have Chicago Blues. I wanted to do something that captured that.

    Did music play a large part in your life when you were growing up?

    Oh, enormous, yes. My father bought an orange and lilac transistor radio round about 1962. It was about the size of a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes packet. It was amazing; the Pirate radio stations changed my life. Before them you had a programme that played Pop music for about 45 minutes – ‘Midday Spin’ or something it was called but that was the only Pop music you heard on the radio. Than all of a sudden the Pirates came along and you could hear Pop music all day. It changed my life and I think it changed the music industry here as well. Radio Caroline, Radio London; all of a sudden there was somewhere for all this new music to be heard and the results were tremendous. At that time I wanted to be a Pirate radio DJ; I was obsessed by Pop music when I was younger.

    There are people who were equally as obsessed with The Specials when they were younger. That first album is almost 40 years old now. Why do you think they have endured?

    The songs are great. The lyrics are really clever and the rhythm is just so seductive. I think that’s a testament to the longevity of the band. That Ska music, especially with the energy of Punk Rock is just so infectious. That’s why bands are still playing it.

    The source material for your ‘Master Tape’ paintings must be very rare. Are you painting the original tape, from photos or are these imagined?

    Multi Cassette Technicolour 2 by Horace Panter.

    Let’s think of a seminal album or a seminal session. Then I’ll try and get some research done. If I can’t a get a picture of an actual cassette from that particular recording studio at least I can look on various websites and find the logo for the studio and concoct something. So, some of it is from photos of cassettes and some are sort of, shall we say, my artistic license because out there somewhere something like that does exist. Or did exist.

    The nice thing about the cassettes is you’ve got a very limited time span. I couldn’t really do an Oasis cassette because everything was on CD by that time. And I couldn’t do a Beatles one because that was before it. I think Philips made the first cassette in something like 1962 but they didn’t become popular until the late the late Sixties and they were done and dusted by about ’92, but that’s fine by me because that’s when I grew up.

    If you’re an Undertones fan you’re going to know that they recorded at Wizard Recording Studios in Belfast. You’re going to have a connection with that particular work. It has to be an album that I like; I’m not going to do an ABBA cassette. Another professional artist I know suggested I paint Thriller, because it was the biggest selling album of all time. And I did some research – Westlake Studios in L.A. - but I didn’t have the fire in me to do it. I didn’t like Thriller particularly. Whereas I do like New Boots & Panties. A: It was great and B: It was recorded in the Old Kent Road.

    Are you pleased that the vinyl revival offers an opportunity for artwork to be better appreciated?

    I think that’s great; there’s something to be said for artefacts. I think there’s a general reaction to the Digital era. There’s a really good book called The Revenge Of Analogue by a Canadian writer called David Sax. He documents all this; it’s not just vinyl. You can now buy Polaroid cameras; 35mm film is back on sale. People get together to play board games. Lots of different things where he’s saying there is a movement back towards the actual artefact. Back in the 1960s I was buying albums because I liked the cover. The type face on the Free records, especially their second, I think it’s Arnold Böcklin, I’m not sure. And I fastidiously learnt how to draw like that.

    I’m surprised you haven’t done more album artwork?

    I did a couple for Stone Foundation. I was up for doing the last one but the record company said, “Oh, no, we want photos of the band”.

    I’ve started to branch out. There’s a little independent Reggae label in Holland; I’ve done some work for them. I did some work for the new Doc Marten’s store in Camden, and I’m actually designing a beer can for a small London restaurant chain called Chick’n’Sours. So, it’s kind of putting your different irons in different fires.

    The first Specials album shows the band in the archetypal 2-Tone dress code; suits, button down shirts, skinny ties, pork pie hats. How important was the band image to you?

    An advert for The Specials album (1979). Band photo by Carol Starr

    On the back of that first album, it’s the canal basin in Coventry. We are on the “sea bed’ but the actual canal has been drained. Carol Starr took that one, and we are looking up at Chalkie Davies, who is taking the front cover photo. The white shoes were a bad idea but never mind.

    I think every band had a ‘Look’; The Beatles had those funny collarless suits, whilst The Rolling Stones tried to look as scruffy as possible. But it was a tribal uniform. I’m very aware that you have to look a certain way if you’re on stage, especially if you are connecting with a particular tribe. You announced who you were by what you wore. I always had this idea that the Mods who took acid became Hippies, and the Mods who drank became Skinheads. I was always aware you had to look like something, especially if you were in a group.

    Was The Specials “Look” a collective decision?

    When The Specials first started we were a Punk band that played Reggae, if you like. So, we’d play a Punk song, and then we’d play a Reggae song. Musically it wasn’t particularly cohesive and visually it wasn’t either. I didn’t like the idea of wearing safety pins and bin liners. So, I had my hair cut short and bought some combat trousers and button down shirts. I affected the guise of a Skinhead. When we introduced Ska – which meant that we could play our Reggae songs faster but our Punk songs slower – but still maintain maximum danceability it was like, okay, we should look like a Mod group. And there was this Mod thing doing the rounds at the time – The Merton Parkas, The Chords, Secret Affair – and you could by a second hand tonic suit on Gosford Street, like the suit I wore on that album cover, for seven quid. It probably cost more than that to get it altered.

    Can you remember the first time your parents let you buy your own clothes?

    Vaguely. I think the first fashion item I ever owned was a Batman t-shirt. A bit Pop Art I suppose. I also bought a big Batman poster so that was obviously a big influence in my life. I did own a Paisley shirt. I thought I was absolutely amazing wearing it.

    And can you recall the first record you ever bought?

    The first record I bought was by The Byrds. It was called ‘5th Dimension (5D)’. It was in 3 / 4 time. That was me nailing my cultural colours to the mast. The second single I bought was ‘All Or Nothing’ by the Small Faces. How about that?

    What’s next for you?

    At the launch of Cassette vs Vinyl in Dublin, July 2016. (L. to R.) Chris Barton, Morgan Howell and Horace Panter (Photo by Conor McCabe)

    I’m working on Cassette vs. Vinyl, for the Truman Brewery exhibition. This is great fun. It is three artists – me, a guy called Chris Barton who makes giant facsimiles of cassettes; they’re amazing. It’s an actual cassette and the box it goes in. And Morgan Howell; he makes giant paintings of 45 RPM singles. They are stunning. I’ve seen them hanging in record company boardrooms, and the BBC offices.

    And me and my studio demo cassettes. So the three of us, it really works together because I don’t do vinyl, I don’t do sculptures, and they don’t do cassette paintings, but it’s a music related thing. One example of your childhood is going to be there. We exhibit together, we started off last year in Manchester, and then we took it to Los Angeles. We recently had a show in Dublin, and now we’ve got the Truman Brewery show in Brick Lane, for a week.

    What can visitors expect to see? How would you describe it?

    It’s very good; it’s like a musical experience but a visual musical experience. It’s amazing the number of people that come up to me and say, “I’ve got a box load of cassettes like that in my garage”. Or you hear their children ask, “Dad, what’s that?’ I've also done a painting of a Walkman. That was an amazing piece of Pop history. Totally redundant now but in 1983 everybody had one. These images are like “repositories of memory”, to offer a really pretentious answer. When people look at them the number of sentences that start with “I remember…” I always thought that’s what art should do; it should trigger an emotional response, and these certainly do.

    I have this other bonkers theory that Pop Art was to the art world, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, what Punk Rock was to the music business in the Seventies. Up to that point, you had the abstract expressionists – Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Robert Motherwell – huge paintings with swathes of colour, which dealt with the hefty subjects of doom, tragedy and ecstasy. Then all of a sudden this bloke comes along with a soup can.

    There again, in the Seventies you had Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Yes with their triple album, and along comes Anarchy In The UK.

    On the subject of Pop Art, your other works include a portrait of Elvis Presley, in the style of Peter Blake.

    Elvis with Badges by Horace Panter. A homage to Peter Blake.

    I hadn’t realised this before but I read up a little bit about it and that Peter Blake painting was based on a Gainsborough apparently. I was asked by a friend of mine to contribute to an exhibition commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Elvis Presley recording ‘I Love You Because’. Whilst I’m not a great fan of Elvis I am a great fan of Peter Blake. And on the original self-portrait Peter Blake is standing there with an Elvis Fan Club book. So I just changed it around, so it’s Elvis in the picture with a Peter Blake book. Some of the badges that are on my Peter Blake figure are stuff that wouldn’t have happened in 1961, when the original portrait was done. There’s a (Punk band) Black Flag one, and Rock Against Racism and the Rolling Stones… stuff like that.

    Peter Blake is obviously a big fan of music. Do you know if he’s a fan of The Specials?

    I met him once. It was at a Paul McCartney show at the O2 and I was in the backstage bar. And there was Noel Gallagher over there, and there’s Bob Hoskins over there and all of a sudden this figure appeared in the doorway. A little man with a goatee beard and a stick, with his family. And I thought, “Fuck me, that’s Peter Blake!” And I don’t do all of that Pop Star stuff. I don’t like that “Hey! Great to see you, I’ve got all your records”. I don’t “hang out” very well. But it was, like, “Come on, Horace, you’re not gong to have this chance again”. So, he settled down and I plucked up the courage; walked over and said, “Hi, I’m Horace Panter. I’m in a band called The Specials. I really like your work”. And luckily his family said, “Oh, we saw The Specials at Chelmsford the other week. You were great”. And I thought, “Thank you. A bit of kudos.” And I just slobbered and made a total fool of myself for about 30 seconds in front of Peter Blake. But, you know what? Everybody else can fuck off, because I’ve met Peter Blake.


    Cassette vs. Vinyl featuring works by Horace Panter, Morgan Howell and Chris Barton, is at The Old Truman Brewery, London E1, from the 19th to 24th October. Admission is free. More details at www.trumanbrewery.com/cgi-bin/exhibitions.pl

    For details of all Horace Panter Art Editions visit www.horacepanterart.com

    With thanks to Horace and Clare Panter for generously giving up their time for the Tootal Blog

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