Monday, 5 September 2016

IN CONVERSATION WITH BLACK CAT WHITE CAT'S ANGELA BASSON




I first saw Black Cat White Cat perform at The Shakespeare as part of Sheffield Tramlines 2013. I loved vocalist Angela Basson's raw animal magnetism and visceral passion, backed by a band so tight and accomplished and I determined to see the band’s live performances whenever possible thereafter.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m invited round to Black Cat White Cat HQ where on a dreamy terrace swing seat under a bead-fringed garden umbrella on a warm early summer’s afternoon, aforementioned vocalist Angela Basson talks about Janis Joplin, Strummer’s The Mescaleros, Katie Perry, women in music and the puff of green smoke in the Wizard of Oz...

***

On the history of Black Cat White Cat...

Angela Basson: Black Cat White Cat have been going about five and a half years. We’ve all got jobs and lives so we’ve just dipped in and out and it’s taken us ages to get to this point and record. We all write together, that’s important as we all own our own stuff.

I met our drummer Simon Stafford through going down to a gig night at Sheffield’s Club 60 - an underground studio a bit like Liverpool’s Tavern. I’d just played with my electro outfit from the town I was living in at the time, Goole. When I was sixteen I used to sing jazz, some guys were jamming and I was just sat there, feeling a bit shy, and I thought, “What am I doing? Why am I sat here in my own prison? Why don’t I just get up and sing some blues?”

So I got up and sang and then a stranger came over and talked to me. Turned out to be Simon Stafford and the first few things he said were just really supportive, I can’t remember his exact words, but it was something like “I think it’s a real shame that there aren’t more female musicians, that was great, it’s really nice to meet you.” And never, in all the time I’d been doing music, had anyone said anything so supportive because most blokes are so apologetic of themselves, aren’t they? They feel a bit awkward around woman in music. It’s too much of a rarity I think.

Simon’s a multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with many musicians in the past including Jarvis Cocker (who does a good radio show and likes his corduroy suits.) Simon was in the Longpigs too, and Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros – I know that when he played for two weeks in Brooklyn New York, that was the best time in his life, as a musician.

He loved Joe; he says Joe was nice to everybody and spent hours after the gig talking to fans. I liked the sound of Strummer before I met Simon, it’s clear he walked the walk. 

I bet his children missed their dad, I know from having my own child that juggling parenthood and music isn’t always easy. I plan to buy a really good ‘home on wheels’ so my daughter can come along on tour sometimes, if things go to plan. I’m qualified to teach so hopefully this will all be manageable during festival season.  

When I saw Chris Saunders play guitar in Shakespeares I didn’t know him, so I threw peanuts at him until I got his attention. I love the way that Chris plays – he’s captured something in between the cinematic and pure rock. Chris is a portrait photographer; he’s taken photos of hundreds of subjects including David Lynch who’s had a big influence on Chris artistically - Lynch is a fan of Chris’s work too, it’s all good company.


 “Whatever a woman does in the industry she will be judged – the platform comes with teeth and claws.”

***


On women in rock and pop...

AB: Women in rock tend to represent themselves in one of three ways: sexual, vulnerable or political. Whatever a woman does in the industry she will be judged – the platform comes with teeth and claws.

When I think of really famous women, Katie Perry, for example, strikes me as someone whose goal was to be powerful in pop and she decided to go in the direction of what the industry funds –attractiveness – and she’s tried to set herself apart by being not only sexual but kitsch and it’s obviously worked because she’s had a big team of PR, costume etc to enable it all. She looks good, she looks fun and it’s all very cheesy, a bit like a Carry On Film. My daughter loves her, she writes from the heart like most people. I don’t mind a few of her tracks. 'Birthday' sounds like classic Prince to me.

It’s interesting that she married Russell Brand, they seem like completely different creatures – she seems to support the development of self image and the feelings of the individual, which is good, Russell has very universal global concerns, he gets stick for it as much as support. Same as Sting who got so much stick for buying rainforests - I’ve never understood why some people get so angry when others, on getting a bit of money behind them, try to do the right thing. It's better than keeping your money hidden away. Best thing a person can do if it make people’s lives better, if they have that opportunity. I think the world might be changing in this way. I hope so. 

Jude Calvert-Toulmin:  I guess some people are critical of others' philanthropy because it makes them question their own lack of generosity.

AB: I don’t know, perhaps people think it’s because it would interrupt their career and make them become something else? Because what’s really huge in terms of entertainment on that level is not really thinking about the concerns of the world, and we bury ourselves from these issues, so to engage with serious complicated issues would be detrimental... there is a definite division between responsibility and entertainment. Greed rules everywhere.

JCT:  It’s contravening the escapist...

AB: Exactly. Katie Perry’s mostly about escapism. And I suppose that’s an art form in itself...

JCT:  Doesn’t really marry with what Russell Brand’s about, does it?


“And I suppose that’s how I survive, just go the opposite direction to where people try to position me.”



People have gone off Madonna, she was queen in the 80’s, she was subject to growing older as a pop artist and being cash rich and successful enough to continue, plus the perception of her seeming to have a large ego made her hard to swallow. I would not want to be that popular - why would anybody need so much? If things take off I’m hoping my make-up and costume enable me to unnoticed on the street. 

The main reason I formed a band is because I want to sing and perform, I simply enjoy it but I don’t want to bore people who have taken time out to come and see us so I give it my all.  

Power can be misused. Thatcher’s best quality was that she was a woman in power, she betrayed us by destroying communities and under-minding equality.

The public adore Adele but the main point of discussion beyond her singing ability is her dress size, so she comes under sexual and vulnerable I’d say - there are schools of thought debating whether her dress size affects how entertaining she is. It’s a patronising, “Hey she’s on the large size but wow she can sing.” Why wouldn’t she be able to sing? What does size have to do with it?

AB: For someone of my age you have to be on the ball and do it with passion and heart. I have to be as on top of the game as I can be so it has to be a show and it has to be energetic. I feel like there isn’t space for average female singers so I cannot be one. I sing with character. I had a few opera singing lessons years ago but I'm self-directed. When I perform my aim is to be full on, give it a full percentage and I don’t see how I could do it any other way, I don’t think there’s another avenue. At sixteen I couldn’t sing how I sing now. I was so shy back then, plus I think it’s rarer to have a woman rather than a bloke fronting a rock band so I think it’s a responsibility to do it as well as I can.

My advice to single young girls starting out in the industry if they're in a band with a few blokes is to be aware that the blokes will be quite flirtatious and often want something more out of you. It's human nature but it can be irritating. When you were in a band was it all male musicians?

JCT:  No, in Venus Tree we had three women and one bloke and I was pregnant as well with my third child when we did most of our gigs so the dynamic was completely different – actually for the last few gigs my stomach was really protruding making my guitar sit at an angle...

AB: I got sacked from a band for wearing too tight jeans. This guy...I was singing a bit of blues and he said “It’s doing funny things to t’lads in t’band. I don’t know what you’re trying to do there.” And I was quite a bit older then so I was thinking “What?” so I was sacked for wearing tight jeans .

JCT:  Unbelievable...everyday sexism...

AB: Then after I’d left I was talking to one of the lads in the band in the pub and I said, “So what really went on?  Why was I asked to leave?” and he said, really bitchily “Coz. You really aren’t good enough” and I said “Fuck you, one day, I’m gonna fucking write some stuff that’s gonna be fucking brilliant. Don’t you fucking tell me I’m not good enough.”

And I suppose that’s how I survive, just go the opposite direction to where people try to position me. What he could have said was “Angela, it’s a setback, keep going with it, bands move on all the time.” It bugged me. Even if he thought it, it was a mean response to actually voice. 

***


On making the debut album 9 Wild Lovers...

AB: We’re going to put out a couple of singles including the single ‘Fat Bitch’, and in early autumn put our first album 9 Wild Lovers online & CD hopefully on vinyl which you’ll be able to buy from Bandcamp here.

JCT:  What was it like working with producer Ross Orton who mixed 9 Wild Lovers?

AB: It was brilliant. It’s no secret that Ross is world class. He’s super professional and a great character, it was loads of fun. He got his head down, he worked hard and I really admire him. He’s built his own studio with bare hands, no tools (laughs.) It was a great experience, if he doesn’t really like the music he won’t work with it and I respect that. Ross is really into rock so I knew we’d get great results.

I love the Arctic Monkeys track ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ which Ross produced – he co-produced the whole album in L.A., he’s got a platinum for that hung up, he deserves it, really talented bloke.
Dave Sanderson, who recorded the album, was really understanding of the fact we were skint and had to spread the cost over time. We could only do a day here and a day there when we could afford it. So it’s taken two years to record the album.

We recorded the album at 2 Fly, where the Arctic Monkeys recorded their demos (now quite a historic thing musically). There’s a much bigger vibe around music and possibility and energy amongst Sheffield bands because of the Arctic Monkeys, they went so massive that people felt it could happen to them. I think the music industry, the infrastructure and the vibe for making something happen has grown on the back of their productivity.

Dave’s produced some fantastic music, Hey Sholay, 69 Days of Static, The Payroll Union and currently Faerground Accidents who are doing OK, so he’s working on some really good material. In terms of our producers we’re really lucky. Both Ross and Dave apart from being great producers are really good company as well.


“I’m gonna make one of my dreams come true, make some muppets and be in my own muppet show.”


***

On gigging...

So far we’ve never tried to promote the band. We made a single, Fridge a couple of years ago and Paul Blakeman really wanted to put it out on the Club 60 label on vinyl and Helene Michaelides really wanted to do the video for the single, which you can see on YouTube. I’m a big Jim Henson fan so I just thought “I’m gonna make one of my dreams come true, make some muppets and be in my own muppet show.”  I wanted it to have a message too so it had a ‘Give Blood’ theme and everyone did it for free. 

There are two more videos in the pipeline. Bands need videos nowadays, everything is centred on the internet.

We’ve done about 30 gigs around Sheffield over the past few years but never asked for a gig. We just play gigs if someone asks and we can play them. We played Newcastle and everyone thought we were great, amazing and one guy said “If you’re not on Jools Holland by next year I’m gonna kill myself.” Simon says he is probably dead now, ha!

That’s the thing I’m looking forward to, I’m looking forward to playing more out of town, and I think it’ll be vibey.

JCT:  What about London?

AB: We've not played London yet but we're planning a tour in the future...


“If you’re not on Jools Holland by next year I’m gonna kill myself.”



***

On musical influences...

AB: ScottWalker melted my soul. Shirley Bassey, she’s an against the odds singer. Kate Bush, she’s intriguing, she does it in her own individual style. Jim Jones, I’d love to support him, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, TheDetroit Cobras, Gold Blade, Joan Jett, Billy Holiday because again she’s an against the odds singer where despite racism in America, they just had to have her, her voice was so beautiful. I like lots of music, the list is endless.

Billy Holiday is the woman who enticed me to sing through just listening and thinkingWow, that’s amazing, I wish I could do something like that.” I was stuck in a small town, there was nothing else to do so I might as well sing along to Billy Holiday records.

And Suzi Quatro in the 70's, I was a really young girl when she came on the scene, I just loved her vibe but Siouxie Sioux – although I really like her now – was still a fledgling, underground punky act, something you wouldn’t have watched on Swap Shop. So whilst Siouxie Sioux was writing her first few albums I would have been listening to Prince, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Wham and Madonna cause that was blaring out the telly.

I’m originally from the vinyl record era – it’s the difference between an old book and Kindle – vinyl records hold memories better than downloads somehow.


“Billy Holiday is the woman who enticed me to sing.”


Prince was a bit of a sexual awakening. When he wrote Purple Rain I was probably developing so watching the movie was “Oooo...what’s this funny feeling? Prince is nice!”

I got into Janis Joplin when my friend Mike bought me an album and said “You need some Janis in your life.” Quite often people will say “You’re like Janis Joplin”. I must look a bit like her or it’s just a few things that make people think that. What are the elements about her?

JCT:  You’ve got a wild, independent freedom in your stage presence that is reminiscent of Janis. With artists like Siouxie Sioux and Suzie Quatro it’s more contrived and staged, they’ve got a really boxed-in image, whereas yours is so organic and natural. The name of the band is Black Cat White Cat, obviously, but you’ve got a feline presence onstage.

AB: When I watch videos I just think I look terrible but that’s not what other people say.

JCT:  You look absolutely amazing on stage. Every woman thinks they look terrible, that’s just part of being a woman. You’ve got an incredible stage presence. It’s cat-like, the way you move, it’s got a freedom and an uncontrivedness about it that’s very reminiscent of Janis.

AB: Thank you very kind words. Yeah Janis...I think people are really cruel about the way that she looked. Sometimes I see photographs of Janis and she looks really nice. Obviously she’s singing and when you’re singing your face is contorted.

So even when you make an effort with your togs, move around, sound brilliant, your face gets contorted, someone takes a snap and then all hell breaks loose.  We’re not allowed to be natural. We’re not allowed to contort our faces but they still wanna hear the sound so because she sang so well – and it’s a really physical thing, singing – she had to be that way, but what they wanna see is a really evenly shaped face with a mouth that opens up not so much and that’s OK, and that’s why nowadays people make all those videos but Janis was from the pre-music video era, she sang live and you get loads of live footage. End of.  

Now it’s all manipulated, you’re a product of the time. And because she never got to live her life and settle down with one guy she went down in history as a woman who was lost and promiscuous and everybody was experimenting back then but she got pulled up for it.

“...even when you make an effort with your togs, move around, sound brilliant, your face gets contorted, someone takes a snap and then all hell breaks loose.  We’re not allowed to be natural.”


***

On perseverance...

AB: There’s always been things trying to hold us back from being a band but we just carry on.
Driving to the practice room once the car got stuck and we spent three hours jumping on top of the car trying to move it an inch...at one point we thought we’d lost all our recordings (we found them on a hard drive in the end)...I was supposed to go down and sing some vocals at the tail end of things and I walked into a lamp post and had to cancel, it’s been like that all the time but it’s all just typical...we just kept going despite all these things. In 2015 Simon Stafford was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which put the album on hold for another year. After successful surgery Simon is doing really well, he's escaped death with amazing results, thanks to the NHS. 

JCT:  Yeah, some of these are huge hurdles you’ve had to overcome, especially Simon's brain cancer...

AB: Yeah. You think you’re in control and you’re not. But we're going to keep going, the reaction when we play live is always so positive. I’ve been in other bands and I’ve never had reactions like when Black Cat White Cat play - you know when people are faking it or not – at the end of the gig we often get ten or fifteen people coming over and saying “That was amazing”, “That was fucking brilliant” and “That was awesome – have you got something I can buy?”  

We didn’t know we were good or not until we played our first gig at the first ever Tramlines up near the Uni, it was a really packed gig. Someone told me that this bloke had gone to the bar to buy a pint and said “Fuck ‘avin’ a pint, this band’s too good I’m just gonna watch the band I don’t care about me pint.” That kind of reaction is inspiring - you're only as good as the reaction.

That’s when I knew. It’s basically up to the audience. It’s always up to the audience. Playing to the wrong audience feels like feeling-up somebody who you really don’t fancy. The trick is to play the right places on the right night to the right people.

JCT:  The first Tramlines when it was pissing down and Reverend and the Makers played on Devonshire Green? I was dancing in the audience with my brolly to that gig.

AB: Yeah that one. I’ve been told that the Reverends said we’re one of the best bands in Sheffield. 
Russell Senior from Pulp wrote a really lovely piece about us. He said he was really worried about going to see us in case it was rubbish and then it’s really embarrassing but then the opposite happened and he loved us. He thinks I sing a bit like Grace Slick.
I know Richard Hawley thinks our stuff’s good. Well he’s in our first video, isn’t he? 


“Fuck ‘avin’ a pint, this band’s too good I’m just gonna watch the band I don’t care about me pint.”


***

On ‘Fat Bitch’...

AB: We’re releasing ‘Fat Bitch’ as a single at some point. I’m saying it to myself, ‘Fat Bitch’ - it’s about me. I own it. If somebody uses this term towards somebody else they are being abusive, don’t tolerate it, they have the problem. I’m saying I have my own problem, and part of that problem is the way people struggle with humanity wanting to be accepted and loved and we all mess up at one point. It’s a plea to find a soul mate, the ultimate preoccupation is to be loved and love back.

Gentle language is very important and the actual content of the song is completely diametrically opposed to its title – I sing of acceptance, classic romance but I’ve set it within the context of postmodern anxiety, with a flash back to Led Zep.

I wrote ‘Fat Bitch’ on an acoustic guitar. I was single and I’d been seeing this lad who was messing me around and it just came from that, feeling fed up with looking for love and feeling I wasn’t getting anywhere, so it’s a song about wanting to meet someone who was worth their weight - it was never fully constructed as a song, it was a scrappy half-written idea but it was one of the songs that helped me recruit musicians. Simon, Chris and Ross played a big part in completing it as a full-blown track.

“It’s basically up to the audience. It’s always up to the audience.”

‘Fat Bitch’ refers to how to we, men as well as women, can pull ourselves down and look for reasons as to why things aren’t working out and then look to themselves...you want to just meet someone who’s genuine and accepts you for who you are and loves you inside and out and the feeling that sometimes we’re really meticulous and ridiculous about this, there can be nothing wrong with somebody and they can have all sorts of hang-ups about their shape and who they are and it really is about just meeting that right person, there’s probably nothing wrong so with you that most people go through one way or another. But we do these things to ourselves to make sense of the world.

JCT:  Do you think women do this more than men?

AB: No I think men do it as well but there’s definitely more pressure on women to look more polished than there is on men, and it’s really time consuming to achieve that polished look so there’s more leisure time spent on that so maybe they feel when they are out and about if they’re not presented in a certain way they’ll be seen as not making an effort whereas for a man it doesn’t even cross their mind, they’ll just fling on a t-shirt...

JCT:  Well have you noticed how women in the public eye from TV presenters to MPs, the first things that are commented upon are their weight and clothes? Remember the presenter David Frost? In his late seventies, old and doddery, fronting national mainstream TV shows. You wouldn’t get an woman in her late seventies looking like that presenting daytime television, it wouldn’t happen.

AB: I remember when Blondie came back on the scene with Maria and Debbie Harry got pulled up and she was fabulous! People were really hung up about whether she was young enough to keep doing it but good on her, because I wonder whether TheRolling Stones would have headlined if she’d not done that before them, whether they’d have felt self-conscious. I really felt for her.

JCT:  Well, I love Keith Richards but who’s ever criticised him in the press for his looks? Nobody. Ever.

AB: Yeah. It’s just cool. End of. Debbie Harry talks about that a lot, how her image has been a huge part of her career and it has, she was a stunning young girl, but for a while the public couldn’t accept her as an older woman yet if you saw her without knowing she was famous you’d just think she was a stunning older woman. It’s an impossibility to stay the same age.

JCT:  The problem is that because polished air-brushed photographs of women in the public eye are foisted on us it’s what we as the general public now expect. How do you feel about this as a female performer?

AB:  I’m normal and I will adhere to some of it. I’m as vulnerable as any other person, I’m not separate from it, I’m gonna go out in togs, and although I’m not going to be separate from it, I’m really aware of it.
 My make up and costume mean when I am on stage I’m working, and when I’m off … I’m off, just me ‘Angela’ hippy and mum.

JCT:  Good point...why do you normally wear black when performing by the way?

AB: Coz I’m 60% Goth.


“I don’t think images of nearly naked woman in six inch heels is a balanced world view and I don’t think women are getting a fair representation.”


***

On women in the industry...

AB: Many people feel that women in the music industry are over-sexualised, dancing provocatively and performing almost naked. The industry is funding this and the pressure on young girls to do the same is very real – I don’t mind it massively, but I don’t subject my daughter to these over-sexualised images, they’re not educational or particularly entertaining, In fact I think it desensitises sensuality, they are culturally irrelevant but somehow addictive to people, in fact I’m not sure how a woman doesn’t have sexuality. I don’t think images of nearly naked woman in six inch heels is a balanced worldview and I don’t think women are getting a fair representation.   

When I was a girl I remember women saying that feminism had made things worse, well it didn’t, what it did and still does is challenge the status quo and that frightens people. Feminism became very academic and when people struggle to understand something, it can become repellent. Of course there are different points of view but I think unfortunately many people feel feminism stands for ‘female supremacy’ and of course it doesn’t.

A man can be a feminist in my book; I think it’s a word that describes the desire for equality. We cannot ban words, they are out there. Like ‘Fat Bitch’ we have to change the negative into the positive, it’s about vernacular. We can’t just eliminate words from history, it wouldn’t work. Feminism has been used more for good causes than bad.

I’m for being supportive of people in whatever they want to do as long as it’s isn’t hurting anybody else. I think it’s that simple.


“I’m the witch you never see under the shed when Dorothy first lands in Oz.”




***

On The Wizard of Oz...


AB: Dorothy clicks her heels to escape and return home so I have this thing about wanting to escape the place I grew up in – Goole – I always had this instinctive feeling that there was more to life and that people could be a lot kinder than they really are, because of course there’s the witch who’s being really mean to Toto in her black and white world and the witch is the landowner, ‘the Conservative or Top Down Authority’ if you like and then Dorothy goes into the magical world where’s the crossroads of good and evil and you have good witches and bad witches  and on your journey you make friends with these unusual characters.

I cite some of Wizard of Oz in my lyrics, and there’s a tale of a green ghost a childhood friend told me about when we were twagging (skipping school) one day on the Monkey Bridge (I mention the Monkey Bridge in one of my songs.) There’s these great water towers called The Salt and Pepper Pots, a feat of engineering -  there’s lots of engineering feats in Goole, it’s an important port but a small town - and there’s some lovely footage of the water towers, you can find it on YouTube where the men are rigging to build it and they’re sliding up and down, there’s no hard hats, nothing, and when they opened it in 1915 they had amazing green fireworks during the opening ceremony and there was an explosion in which someone died.

In the Wizard of Oz the witches appear in a green puff of smoke and my friend had this thing about ghosts – I never did, never believed in this tale and then I discovered that there was some truth in it, someone did die in a green puff of smoke...

Growing up in eighties Thatcher’s Britain was quite a brutal period for a child - not that other periods before it weren’t difficult – we still had corporate stuff going on so I empathise with Dorothy’s journey on a road of discovery to get back to whatever true love is or to find something meaningful and find a righteous path or one of humanity and she mistakenly burns the witch, she doesn’t do it on purpose, she doesn’t realise that pouring water on the witch is going to kill her off, she feels quite guilty about it. 

I fancied making some ruby slippers so I performed with powder blue socks and ruby slippers so I wasn’t just completely dressed in black. Now I’m true to the L. Frank Baum books and I wear silver slippers.

***

After an enchanting and thought-provoking afternoon talking to Angela I’m left with the striking impression of how challenging it is to be a female artist loyal to your principles in what is still, essentially a patriarchal world, especially the world of music. How many festival line-ups comprise all male bands for example?

Considering Angela’s fascination with The Wizard of Oz, it’s interesting to note that its aforementioned author, L.Frank Baum, was very close to his mother-in-law, the noted suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage, and edited a newspaper focused around women’s rights, as well as being the secretary of his local women’s suffrage club...

The magic, and messages of his Oz books live on...




Sunday, 20 March 2016

INTERVIEW WITH FINE ARTIST CHRIS GRAHAM

"The art wankers that wear the right clothes, say the right things and smile in all the right places. They might get the jobs, but they'll still get caught wanking off in the toilets."


When did you first realise you wanted to become an artist? 

I don't think I always wanted to be an artist, or at least what I thought an artist was as a child. I remember wanting to be a soldier, an astronaut and having a short mental dalliance with ballet, but I think that was something to do with the tights and tutus.

As a child my mum said I was always drawing and painting, sitting in front of the television, scribbling, high on new experimental markers from me dad's printing job. I thought an artist was someone who made beautiful pictures in gold frames for rich patrons and they worked in a studio full of their drawings and paintings and smelled of paint and solvents. Or markers? Not knowing how to use my particular skill set back then, I ended up doing a degree in Illustration. Much later, after a failed attempt with an illustration agent at an unsuitable London agency, I soon realised I was an artist with a capital 'A'.

I realised I didn't want to, or maybe I wasn't actually capable of, painting and drawing 'nice' pictures that made the whole world look beautiful. Not like them other artists, the 'art wankers' as I now affectionately call them, with their pseudo-scientific intellectualism, their international art language, the mere producers of 'chewing gum for the eyes', colourful interior fucking decorators for whom it's just a job, with tax breaks and jollies, like Dolly Parton's 9 to fucking 5. The art wankers that wear the right clothes, say the right things and smile in all the right places. They might get the jobs, but they'll still get caught wanking off in the toilets.


I think trying to look and sound the part doesn't make you an artist, but it will get you into the interview. I'm working class. I'm the son of a miner and a nurse. I mistakenly believed the life that was being prescribed to me and that my making skills had to be used for a 'job', for employment, for a career, for capital, to sell more shit and further the illusion that we are at the peak of human existence and we are all winning. I think I always wanted to be an 'Artist', but it wasn't until 2014 really, after completing a masters degree in fine art and critical theory, that I fully realised that I already was an Artist and had always been.

I work 24/7, 365 days a year as an Artist. I have no fucking days off. There ain't no money in it for me, but I don't make my shit for the money, I make my shit because I have to. It's a form of therapy for me. It keeps me able to continue. I often say that we all have mental health issues, but luckily, I ain't fucking suffering. Do you remember the 80's cartoon Dangermouse? That was made by 2 blokes called Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall. At the end of the cartoon, the credits rolled and the words 'Cosgrove Hall' were shown. I always thought it was a physical place, a building somewhere that the animators worked in, a bit like Bletchley Park, but for cartoonists. I remember telling me mam and dad that I was going to work there when I was bigger. I never did work there and I am still only 5 foot 3.


What brought you to Sheffield Hallam University to do an MA in fine art? 

Geography and economics. It was the nearest and the cheapest. Well, that's not strictly true and does Sheffield a disservice. Sheffield Hallam University and the city of Sheffield have a long history of art excellence and making and Sheffield has always had a vibrant night life in its darker corners at the blurred edges of the map. At the time of first enrolling at Sheffield Hallam, my dad had just been diagnosed with myelodisplasia (pre-leukaemia) so I deferred for a year and looked after him with me mam. I was helping me dad to the toilet in the early hours of the morning and as I held the piss bottle to his penis, he placed an arm around my shoulders for stability and pissed all over my forearm, "Make some art out of that fucker", he said. We laughed. He died during my final year.


What did your MA exhibition mean to you?

After me dad died, I was gutted obviously, but I threw myself into my work harder than before, determined to make my Art do something, say something. Anything. I'd spent the previous 2 years of study, leading up to the final exhibition, thinking that I didn't know what I was doing, thinking that I wasn't producing very much. I realised later, that I was producing shitloads of work and doing shitloads of reading and research when compared to some of the other art wankers who just talked a good talk. I just didn't know yet, where it was all heading.


I started off by making my Kate Moss screen prints and then I made a deformed (by depleted uranium) Fallujah baby and then I made 2 cast bronze Abu Ghraib prisoner statuettes, a full size fibre glass donkey, fitted with a masturbation cup, cardboard letters spelling 'capitalism' that I made anagrams from, a large ceramic Chinese baby in a McDonalds box. I was just purging and making and remaking and purging, unconcerned by the final outcome, lost in the madness and chaos of the world around me. Because for me, that's what an Artist is. What an artist should be. It's not a fucking job (getting paid sometimes would be a bonus though). It's about showing the world back to ourselves so that we can see it afresh. I think Art should try to reconnect us to life, not hide life from us, in some art wankery, intellectual, pseudo scientific, international art language, codified, elitist fucking bollocks. In blue, to match your fucking sofa!


After the final show, I was reviewed by David Gilbert from Axis web and I was happy as fuck and felt I had done my best for me and me mam and dad.

How do you feel about the concept of fame, as expressed in your Kate Moss piece? 

I've been eating Kate Moss for years. Eating her image. Consuming Kate Moss. I do lo- fi postcard collages, paintings on furniture, screen prints, whatever tools I have to hand. Whenever my wife buys a glossy magazine, there's always a Kate Moss image in there somewhere. She's an icon. A manufactured goddess for the every man/ woman. They're either using her image to sell more shit or attacking her image for not looking beautiful every minute of every day.


When Kate first spoke on television in a make-up advert, all she said in her native Croydon twang was, "Live the Landon Lack", but those four little words, dropped her back to earth like a hot fucking turd. Only human. The celebrity machine finds new stars, chews them up and spits them out, perpetuating the objectification and commodification of the 'unattainable' female form. As to fame, I don't think I would want to be famous. Or maybe that's just my brain compensating for my abject failure. Can you imagine me famous, as some poster boy for disaffected capitalism? What with my yellow teeth and greasy tee zone and clothes way past 'oh so last season'. I'm more like Kate Moss's badly dressed, disfigured, disabled, illegitimate brother, than any 'goygeous' salesman of our as yet, unsold futures.


Your work references the fundamental dichotomies of beauty vs ugliness, good vs evil. 

These seem like simple binary choices. Beauty/Ugliness. Good/ Evil. Only ever one or the other? Incremental? Measurable? Clearly defined? Sometimes everything is everything is everything all at once, mixed into a world of fucking grey. The world will make hypocritical monsters of us all if we let it. I believe real beauty can shine out of the 'ugliest' of people and that beauty can be hidden, blackened and unseen in the 'goygeous' people too. We all forget to see humans sometimes and we can stupidly judge people on their external, physical, first appearance.

Chris round ours, talking to Brian, summer 2014.

People always ask me if I hate Kate Moss. They see my images and think I must really want to flay the flesh from her face, desecrate her body, be the misogynist of their first misreading of my work. Maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe I'm part of the problem. Can everything be understood instantly? Can contradictions ever create stability? Do you need to spend more than a 'micro slice' with humans to see them more clearly?

A few months ago, I was hanging my Kate Moss print in an art space in Doncaster, when a woman asked me if I hate all women, or just Kate Moss? I told her (told her? Maybe I am a misogynist) I love women. All of them. Told her she'd maybe got my work wrong. Told her I was making feminist work against the patriarchy that promotes misogyny.


I explained to her that Kate Moss was just, only fucking just, sixteen when she did her first topless modelling shoot. So, on her 16th birthday, just after the cocaine, champagne and chocolate cake, the photographer said something like "Now you're 16, you need to get your little titties out today love". Bosh! Done? No discussion? No coercion? No manipulation? No fucking grooming? No little girl needing to be talked into it? All in one day? Fuck off. Get a fucking grip you cunts. Or maybe Kate decided to do it on her 16 birthday because she just wanted to? It was her choice? "I know, as a recently empowered through capitalism, 16 year old girl, why don't I get me tits out for you today?". I reckon she had people talking her towards it from day one, before she even grew tits. After this quick explanation, she loved the work, said it was very powerful. I'm glad I was there to explain my true intention, as it was obviously lost in transmission. Like I say, I'm a failed artist. Maybe I'm just an arstit.



   How do you feel about religion? 

Personally, I think religion is the delusion inside the illusion. But each to their own, whatever gets you through the day and all that polite bollocks. I was conditioned into Irish Catholicism as a child. Well they tried to, but it didn't stick and I was apostate at 10 years old. Like Doubting Thomas, I would've needed to repeatedly finger Jesus to believe. As the nuns used to say whenever I questioned the miracles, just before I got the slipper/ ruler, "You've just got to believe Christopher" (my name means 'bearer of Christ'). Funnily enough, I don't think you do have to believe with religion. You don't have to really believe and be a 'good human' in the hope you'll get into heaven and be saved from a life of damnation. You just have to turn up to mass, wear the right clothes, say the right things, smile and genuflect in the right places, promise to say your prayers in penance for your supposed sins and then get straight back to the shit in your life, cheating on your partner, beating and raping kids, swindling expenses, doing what you like really, because there is no final judgement and retribution. Only several hail Mary's and a few Lord's prayers. And death. And even if, as I died and my soul/ spirit/ mind floats off into the ether, even if then, I see a black woman speaking in a middle eastern accent and 'God' and religion is finally 'proved' to me and she/ he condemns me to eternal damnation, I would still choose 'free will' and say "Fuck you! I'll take my chances in the void".


What is the funniest thing that's ever happened to you in your life as an artist? Or even just in your life? 

When I started university, I didn't just feel it, I was actually, the odd one out. During the first week I attended a lecture on the theme of Catastrophe with 200 other students, to watch a film by Renzo Martens called 'Enjoy Poverty'. It's an excellent film about a filmmaker getting 'black coolies' to carry his equipment across Africa, through jungles and deserts, from village to village, talking to them about western politics and their own continued enslavement in poverty, getting locals to take him to fly ridden corpses and famine stricken families so that he can teach them reportage photography like the white journalists who flock to disasters, and then sets them up for a fail when they try to sell the images. Hard exploitation to show the exploitation.

At the end of the film, the tutor asked "What is catastrophe?". My hand shot up straight away and when asked I replied "It's a catastrophe that they can't eat their own dead black babies". The whole lecture theatre fell silent apart from a few audible groans. The tutor said, "What a great Swiftian response", and me being the uneducated underclass that I am, thought she meant a fast response to the question, until someone told me about Jonathan Swift and his Modest Proposal and the Irish potato famine.

Another time, (there was several every hour) the head researcher quietly asked before the lecture "Has anyone got a dictaphone?", to which I replied "Use your fucking fingers mate, you won't get spunk on the buttons". Again, no laughter, only nervous silence. I pissed meself.


Have you encountered people finding your work offensive? 

From day one at university, some students, teachers and audiences found my work, ideas, presentations, offensive. I was even told on several occasions, not to become the 'irritating Other', for highlighting within the institution, those issues that my work critiqued. Some people felt that I was chastising them and their life choices, felt that I was telling them off, by using my artwork as a form of institutional critique. But that's their complicity guilting them, not me. We're all complicit. We're all hypocrites. The world makes us so in our silence.

Some people hated the Kate Moss prints when they first saw them and moaned about sexism, pornography and misogyny and that I could be seen to be promoting it. I explained that as an Artist, all I am trying to do is hold a mirror up to our lives and if you don't like sexism, pornography etc, then don't shoot the fucking messenger, use your own skills and perception to make artwork about it or the things that concern you and the wider world. Or don't, as was the case in the majority of the art wankers' output.


What about the limited exhibition space in Tel Aviv and the scroll? 

I was asked to submit art work for an exhibition in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, called Entrapment and Engagement. I knew straight away that the work I wanted to send would fit the brief perfectly. Quite a few of my friends and colleagues questioned my choice to send my work to exhibition in Tel Aviv, what with the Israel boycotts, but I sent the fucker anyway.  I wasn't sending them some nice 'happy clappy' interior decoration that would enable them to carry on killing Palestinians without ever questioning the atrocity.

I sent them my 'Corporate Holocaust', 7 metres of drawings that deproblematize WW2 propaganda, reconnecting the political, religious and corporate players of the time, Nazis and dead Jewish babies, hand drawn using 3 bic biro pens, using 6 million millimetres of black ink, displayed in a mock T' Orah scroll that showed 1 metre of drawing at a time, in the hope that the audience may review our/ their recent history and see the similarities between then and now. 100's of international corporations made money before, during and after the Trading with the enemy act. As they still do today. War is business and we're all fodder for the Industrial Military Complex one way or another.


You're a supporter of Exaro News' campaigning investigative journalism into child abuse, what do you think about the UK elite's attitude towards and ways of dealing with the survivors of child rape by those in power? 

I'm always interested in alternate histories, other voices, that fight to appear, that break free from the dominant history of the victors. I was groomed and sexually assaulted as a child by someone who was lodging with us. I wasn't repeatedly raped or killed, I was lucky, but it destroyed my trust in the adults around me and I entered into drink, drugs, crime, violence and ended up in young offenders at 18. I then spent 10 years on self destruct in those environments before I got me shit together, spending another 10 years on self-reeducation and self -rehabilitation outside of institutions.

Now don't get me wrong, I most probably still would have entered into those things anyway, coming from a working class, ex mining community, underfunded in education and health care, with few real economic prospects beyond a shitty factory job at the local knocker factory. But the broken trust made me more vulnerable to being in those environments and it took me another 10 years of self-education and self-rehabilitation to correct those wrong behaviours, with the love and support of my family and a few great art teachers.


But, because I was a child when it happened and because I was unable to understand it and then subsequently couldn't report it until 10 years after the fact, the police called it 'historic' and told me there was nothing they could do. Hold on a minute. Nothing you can do? The cunt is still working with kids. But it was my word against his and in the eyes of the law, nothing could be proved that anything had happened and I was not allowed to name him. He was an army cadet instructor and part time territorial army instructor and full time fucking paedophile.

I did all the police work for them, trawled the internet and found the cunt working in Japan, where they sell used schoolgirls' knickers from vending machines. He was working as an English teacher to toddlers and holidays/ volunteers in a Thai Orphanage, frequented by other fucking nonces, well known to the authorities. What fucks me off the most, is when people defend celebrities, politicians etc who are accused of paedophilia. "No, they wouldn't do that. They're so nice. They do so much charitable work with all those sick children. I can't believe it". That's the fucking point you blind cunts! They ingratiate themselves into positions where it looks like they are whiter than white, beyond reproach, beyond questions of guilt. Have you forgotten Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter etc etc et fucking cettera?

Since the dawn of time, humans have fucked children in the belief that it creates purer bloodlines. Then we got psychology and learned from the survivors that fucking children really fucks them up. We need more conversations on all forms of abuse that we accept daily. Prisons and psychiatric wards are full of incurable child rapists and sex offenders. There's no cure for heterosexuality/ homosexuality/ bestiality/ paedophilia. Your own sexual predilections are your own sexual predilections. I think the only way to try and change paedophilia, is to try and educate the abusers to the damage that they inflict. To make them realise that the victim does not see their actions as they do. I didn't see my abuser wanting to fuck me. I just saw someone paying attention to me, taking me to school, buying me sweets, taking me to a fucking gun club, the dirty bastard. If I would or could have seen his motives before he tried to buy my silence for the upcoming deed, I'd have said "Fuck you" from the start.

As to our elite rulers? They're just sad cunts who haven't learned from their own institutional raping, fagging, beastings at private schools. To them it's normal to oppress the weak and the vulnerable. It's normal to not consider the well being of those they govern. They don't give a fuck. They are all venal cunts.


Has any of your work to date dealt with this subject? 

As you can imagine, it can be a bit of a conversation killer whenever you mention paedophilia, but I am open and honest about my life when I meet any fucker, I have no guilt or shame, because I did fuck all wrong. I was lucky. I think so far, my work has just tried to get people to see the unseen and accepted abuse that capitalism creates, maybe as a precursor to thinking about paedophilia? I don't know. Much like spotting paedophiles (you can't), as people generally don't see the abuse that corporations inflict, they just see the happy smiling face of the corporation/ monster that's abusing them and others, without seeing the horror of their actions in bringing their products to you. Usually, the only people to see/ catch paedophiles, are those caught underneath them, the victims, or those that open the door onto their actions.


What is the most joyful thing that has happened in your life recently?

I had a 4cm, suspected benign, slow growing, suspected DNETS, grade 2 tumour removed from my right frontal lobe at the end of January. Suspected. When they actually cracked the top of me head off, it was a 4cm diffuse astrocytoma, grade 2 to 3. I became ill during the summer and rapidly began to suffer ever worsening symptoms as the tumour grew and increased the pressure inside my head. My neurosurgeon said he'd never met anyone like me, or seen anything like what happened when the anaesthetist began to anaesthetise me ready for the operation.

He said that I was wheeled into the operating theatre and as they prepared to anaesthetise me, I was in the middle of a conversation with him, they injected the anaesthetic, I then went unconscious and he performed a six and a half hour 'stealth craniotomy' operation, with full resection of the tumour. He said that when the anaesthetist injected the reversal to wake me up, I woke up and carried on with the exact same conversation in the exact same place I left off, before the anaesthetic was administered. He repeated that he had never seen anything like it, to which I laughed and said "You must have seen thousands of patients, just like me".


I'm just lucky. On first waking in the operating room, I found myself, imagined my mind, my soul, my me, curled up inside the void left behind by the tumour and I went through the most sublime human experience as my brain and consciousness were 'rebooted' and all my feelings, thoughts, memories, ideas, fears, came back 'online' all at fucking once.

As an artist, I have a massive visual memory and vocabulary, and with that, I was treated to the most awe inspiring, internal, visual light show that displayed in my mind's eye, every single idea, thought, bit of knowledge, book, film, food, fight, fuck, memory, everything, ever, that I had had. All at once, in the deafening sound of a singular, pink, synaptic pop. Imagine everything your brain contains being 'shown' to you and 'felt', all at fucking once. I was remembering facts and figures that I didn't even know I knew. As I lay in the recovery room minutes later, sucking in oxygen, hot piss drips stinging my glans from the catheter removal, I told the nurse that the date needed changing on the cannula in the back of me hand, as "I've just had my operation today and this is yesterday's date on here". She said she thought that I was going to be alright. "Alright? I'm going to be fucking fine babe" I replied. You try making sense of that shit without scaring the life out of your wife and family.


I had a week of super steroids and opiates and I was high as a cunt. I couldn't see my daughter for the first few days as I was too high. When I did see her, I cried my eyes out. I couldn't see her eyes. I was staring right through them. Through her eyeballs, through the orbits of her skull. I could see the base of her brain and it was on fire, electric, just like mine. She was sucking in the planet.

Facebook Post by Chris Graham, post brain surgery, 3rd February 2016


To produce this turd, today's menu consisted of...
5 hours unmedicated sleep.
06.05 Half mug of tea, 1 small spoon of sugar, splash of milk.
06.08 2 paracetamol.
06.10 Small one skinner spliff, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
06.20 2 weetabix, 2 slices white toast, margarine, raspberry jam.
06.30 Half mug tea, 1 small spoon sugar, splash of milk.
06.45 Small one skinner spliff, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
Gently (for me) running 5 hours of internal physical/ mental system diagnostic checks on the new hardware upgrade from the NHS neuro ninjas. All appears functioning well.
30 minutes in the garden on anaesthetically disconnected legs, waiting for the sun to shine.
5 skinny cigarettes.
2 litres of tap water.
11.45 2 slices of toast, margarine, 1 runny, crispy, fried egg, salt, brown sauce. Large mug of tea, 1 sugar.
4.5 hours unmedicated sleep. 2 paracetamol.
2 large plates of beef stew, over fried chips and 3 slices of white bread and the rest of me mum's dinner too.
1 blackberry and raspberry yoghurt.
1 bag of sweet and salt popcorn.
A warm bath. Wife had to wash me arse.
A couple more one skinners, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
2 hours listening to Zoviet France to soothe my void.
38 minutes listening to television static.
Several repeated conversations with worried wife, family, friends, assuring them that I know what the fuck I'm doing. For the first time in 42 years, I am in control. Autonomy is not just a word. It's a state of fucking mind.
Now for more sleep.
Tomorrow I see my daughter again.
Anew.