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January 24 2012

Picturing Nick Drake back on tour

A lost recording by the late singer has been turned into a UK-wide photography project. Laura Barton takes part

One summer evening in the late 1970s, Michael Burdett was scavenging through a skip behind Island Records HQ in London. He was a teenager, employed as a postboy at the label, and had been given permission to hunt through all the discarded demos for tapes he could record over in the studio he was setting up at home.

An object caught his eye. "A scruffy little tape," he recalls. "On the front, in felt tip, it said 'Nick Drake' and on the back 'Cello Song'. And at the bottom were the words 'With Love' and two kisses. I knew Nick's material; he'd been dead five years. I couldn't let it go to the dump. So I took it and kept it."

Burdett didn't listen to the tape for 20 years. By then, he was a composer, writing music for adverts and TV acts such as Mr Blobby, but had taken himself off to Wales to record his own album. One day, struggling with a piano piece, he decided to distract himself by playing some of the many unlistened-to tapes he had acquired over the years. The first was that recording of Cello Song, a work that had appeared on Nick Drake's debut album, 1969's Five Leaves Left. But it did not sound like the version Burdett was familiar with. "I remember it distinctly: windows open, sound of the river coming in. As the guitar started I thought, 'That sounds different.' Then the percussion began and sounded busier. And then two cellos came in, and they played a flourish I didn't recognise. Nick started humming, and I realised I was listening to something different, something I suspected nobody had heard for a good 30 years."

The album version, produced by Joe Boyd, features Clare Lowther on cello, Danny Thompson on bass and Rocky Dzidzornu on congas, as well as Drake's distinctive guitar-playing and exquisite voice. It is at once melancholy and sublime, in its essence everything that would bring Drake acclaim and adoration in the years following his death in 1974, aged just 26.

Burdett tracked down Cally Callomon, manager of Nick Drake's estate. He played him and Robert Kirby (Drake's friend and regular strings player) the lost recording. "They thought it was a beautiful version," says Burdett, "but we were none the wiser as to where it might've come from. Though it turned out not to be Nick's handwriting."

Burdett was unsure what to do. "Copyright laws mean it's not my place to broadcast or release it," he explains. Another decade passed and, reading of Kirby's death, Burdett thought again of Cello Song. He also happened to watch Werner Herzog's 2005 film Grizzly Man, and was struck by a scene in which Herzog sits with headphones on, listening to the sound of a man being eaten by a bear. His thoughts led to the unheard Drake recording and suddenly he knew what he wanted to do: photograph people listening to it.

"For the next year and a half," he says, "I kept the camera and the recording with me wherever I went. I approached people at random and ended up photographing tattooists, homeless people, florists, mountaineers, City workers, people aged two to 96." Of the 200 people he asked, 167 agreed. "I think that is the beautiful thing about all this," he smiles. "It's not just about Nick Drake – half the people had never heard of him."

He calls his collection of photographs the Strange Face Project, a nod to the song's opening line: "Strange face/ With your eyes/ So pale and sincere." It was also a reference to the peculiar intensity that played across subjects' faces as they listened. "With four minutes 22 seconds to photograph someone," says Burdett, "I invariably found that the images were telling."

We sit in Burdett's car and look through the photographs, about to go on show at the Idea Generation gallery in London. There are famous subjects: Tom Stoppard, Noel Fielding, Billy Bragg; as well as a car park attendant at Southampton airport, a climber on a mountaintop in the north-west highlands of Scotland, and a man fishing for grayling on the River Itchen in Hampshire. At the end of the recording, Burdett would ask each person what they thought. The comic Robin Ince told him: "Listening to Nick Drake always makes me nostalgic for things that didn't actually happen to me, like standing in a wheat field in Cambridge, which I've never done."

Others were less articulate, but just as moved. "I remember driving through Shropshire on a Saturday night," says Burdett. "There was a lone youth standing on Wem station platform. I approached the guy. He had a hood and a black eye. And I said, 'Hi there, sorry to trouble you. My name's Michael and I've been going around the country photographing people from all walks of life listening to a recording that hasn't been heard for 40 years. It's by a chap called Nick Drake. Would you be interested in hearing it?' And, bizarrely, yes was the answer. I remember putting the headphones on him, and it's dark, no shelter, and he's standing listening – and suddenly I see a train coming. It's coming from behind him, and it comes so fast and zooms past him so that he gets thrown onto the platform. But he gets up and continues listening. He got to the end of the recording, took off the headphones, looked at me and just said, 'Well tranquil.'"

I am listener 167 in the project. I have always regarded Drake's music as an otherworldly thing, swallow-tailed and windhovered. This version of Cello Song is a more earthly creature: richer, busier, warmer than the one I am familiar with, and in many ways more engaged with its era. It appears more psychedelic, with shades of the Beatles' Within You Without You. As I listened to the track, I stared at the ground, oblivious to the traffic, the cold wind, the snap of Burdett's camera. It is an entrancing work and, like all of Drake's material, engulfs the listener. Once it is over, I am startled. I stand in the street, suddenly aware of the roar of the day.


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December 22 2011

Readers' gig photos: our Flickr picks – in pictures

Here's our pick of the gig pictures submitted to our Flickr group in the past few days



December 14 2011

Readers' cultural review of 2011: What, no Katy B?

Last week our critics picked their highlights of 2011. Did they get it right? Readers respond with their own highs (and lows)

MattB75

One Man, Two Guvnors was the most fun I've had in a theatre for years – easily the best play of 2011, and James Corden best performer. The National theatre largely misfired for me: A Woman Killed with Kindness, Cherry Orchard, 13, The Kitchen, Frankenstein and Greenland were all largely disappointing.

The RSC's Homecoming was the best revival. Rupert Goold's Merchant of Venice was great fun, even if the inconsistency in Portia's characterisation (from ditzy blond Glee fan to brilliant prosecutor, hm) took the edge off it.

Tom Brooke was my favourite actor of the year – in The Kitchen, and I Am the Wind.

oogin

Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid are still two of my least-admired starchitects. However, credit where it's due. I had the pleasure of wandering Toronto's AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), redesigned by Gehry [a few years ago], and apart from his usual frivolous facade, the interior had been quite brilliantly done. So restrained and sophisticated: words I never never thought I'd use for the old showboater.

daveportivo

Katy B owned pop in 2011, or temporarily leased the lower sections of the charts from Adele at least. Seven singles off one album and a successful B-side, bridging the gap between cool, intriguing dance and charming, relatable 2000s-style British pop-star writing. Loved it.

Kleistphile

The programme of the year has been Mark Cousins' superb history of the cinema, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, on More4. Incredibly wide-ranging, informative and inspiring, with extremely intelligent analysis of how film developed and how the great directors innovated.

drdownunder

Artist Christian Marclay's awesome 24-hour film-montage The Clock, shown as part of the British Art Show in Plymouth. Mesmeric, fascinating, witty editing and marvellous film-buffery content.

SlimJim888

The Inbetweeners Movie. The snobs may scoff but this film says more about Britain and its youth than 20 Ken Loach films ever could.

OldFriar

Two of the greatest musical evenings were the appearances of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer in Mahler's First symphony, and the zany late-night Prom with audience requests including Bartók, Kodály and Stravinsky. A month before that, the magic combination of Andris Nelsons and the CBSO in Richard Strauss and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky.

At the Royal Opera, the three most memorable performances were Madama Butterfly with Kristine Opolais in the title role and her husband Andris Nelsons in the pit; Werther with Sophie Koch and Rolando Villazón doing his best (still short of what Jonas Kaufmann can do); and the recent revival of Faust, with Vittorio Grigolo, René Pape, Angela Gheorghiu and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

digit

The release by the BFI on DVD and Blu-Ray of Barney Platts-Mills's 1971 film Private Road, starring Bruce Robinson (who later wrote Withnail and I). I first saw this in about 1987 on TV and I've been wanting to see it again ever since. Even better than I thought.

Mark42

Gruff Rhys's Hotel Shampoo was my favourite album of the year; Cashier No 9 was not given the recognition it deserved. Enjoyed Kate Bush, Tinie Tempah, Noel Gallagher and Will Young's offerings, but very disappointed with Coldplay. Adele: lovely voice but too many songs sound the same on her album.

Still, it wasn't all bad: the end of Westlife and hopefully the beginning of the end for X Factor.

dbeecee

Right Here Right Now; Format international photography festival in Derby. Thousands of photographers took part from all over the world, including Joel Meyerowitz and Bruce Gilden. An exciting and eclectic mix showing the best in street photography.

davidabsalom

Best resurrection: Rab C Nesbitt. Comedy of the year for me. Now that the Tories are back in, he seems to have found his mojo again.

zibibbo

Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery. I think the major problem with this absurdly hyped show is that, apart from the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks and the unfinished St Jerome, the other six "Leonardo" paintings on display are either too unattractively gauche, stiff and mannered to be considered good or significant. Or they're too implausibly naturalistic to be an autograph work (La Belle Ferronière is too lifelike to be by Leonardo). Or just too plain weird and damaged to take seriously (step forward, the newly discovered Salvator Mundi).

Thank you, Adrian Searle, for having the integrity to give your honest opinion about this insanely promoted but hugely disappointing show.

andglove

The High Country, an album by Portland band Richmond Fontaine, demands your attention from first song to last. It's one of the only albums that will give you the same sense of satisfaction that finishing a novel does.

LDTBFJ

Bridesmaids was a great and genuinely funny film. Comedies (and female comedians) are too frequently dismissed, especially by the Oscars board.

Snarlygog

British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet in Plymouth. It was good to see [Christian Marclay's] The Clock and Sarah Lucas's work up close and personal. At least there is an emphasis on craft skills in video art: good focus, framing and timing are back in fashion.

alphabetbands

Nicola Roberts, the good one from Girls Aloud. In her album Cinderella's Eyes she lays out her inner demons and anguish on a platter of sumptuous dance pop hooks and beats. The album is so simple that my two-year-old can sing along, and layered enough that we slightly elder statesmen can appreciate it as well.

juliendonkeyboy

In no particular order: Sufjan Stevens live at Southbank: ambitious, experimental, joyous, exciting, sad. Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle: the sixth episode, Democracy, was quite simply awesome. Senna is my film pick: made in 2010, but didn't get released on these shores until 2011. Wonderfully moving.

habsfan0303

Propeller's Comedy of Errors was riotous. I mean, how often does a naked grown man run past you with a sparkler wedged into his buttocks?

glynluke

Archipelago is the worst film I have ever seen in 50-odd years of cinema-going. How Peter Bradshaw and Philip French can find a single redeeming quality in this dreadful two-hour river of bathetic, emotionless, drama-free drivel baffles me.

Shatillion

I loved Attack the Block. I got mugged the week before it was released and actually found watching it quite cathartic. I was rooting for the little shits by the end. That's good screenwriting.

JimTheFish

A really disappointing year for British TV, which has been on a downward slide. Doctor Who was probably still the best thing domestically. The Crimson Petal and the White and The Hour were underwhelming misfires; The Shadow Line was about the only really promising new kid on the block.

The basic problem is that there's just not enough TV drama being produced. We need more one-offs, more Plays for Today to allow TV to find new voices and take more chances. Everything seems to be market-researched and focus-grouped into mediocrity.

LocalBird

We went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this summer and were blown away by the incredible Jaume Plensa exhibition; the alabaster heads took my breath away. Beautiful, mesmerising and enchanting.

Carefree

Memorable plays: Flare Path, Frankenstein (Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature was brilliant), and Much Ado at the Globe (Eve Best and Charles Edwards were good enough to almost match my memories of Janet McTeer and Mark Rylance as Beatrice and Benedick).

Damper squibs were Chicken Soup with Barley (far too long). Conor Macpherson's The Veil at the National started brilliantly but didn't deliver the beautiful, haunting, elegiac power of The Weir – a great shame.

Alarming

There were aspects of Grayson Perry's Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman that drove me round the bend. But he wrote well about his theme and chose some absolutely lovely objects from the British Museum's collection.

uptomost

85A collective from Glasgow's brilliant mechanical opera Idimov and the Dancing Girl at the Secret Garden Party. Spooky, funny, ingenious.

AdminGuru

The Tree of Life: a vast expansive film with multiple interpretations, and little in the way of film convention for the casual viewer to latch on to. Viewers fall into two camps I think: those who want simply to be entertained and led, and those who want to explore and participate. Tree of Life is about participation.

Wrighthanes

I just couldn't get The Tree of Life. I tried. I wanted to like it. Admittedly I was on a Singapore Airlines flight, which is not the ideal way to appreciate its cinematic beauty.

DeunanKnute

The Tree of Life is quite possibly the most overrated movie of all time. The sheer brilliance of every single actor isn't in dispute, nor is the superb cinematography. The movie itself is the problem, because it's a real clunker. It's also one of the few films I've seen at the cinema where people were either (vociferously) walking out in disgust or staying behind just to boo.

GorillaPie

The [designs for the] new US Embassy in London. I realise these buildings have to be more fortresses than offices, but really. I'm disappointed that such an important new commission isn't going to be more iconic. Especially since I live opposite the site.

Gundmundsdottir

Possibly the biggest disappointment was the final track on Bon Iver's second album: it never fails to surprise me with just how cheesy and plain bad it is.

CurlyScot

Some of my favourite moments have been in otherwise unremarkable shows. I was slowly won over by Susan Hiller at Tate Modern, and Nancy Spero's works Azur and Hours of the Night II [at the Serpentine] were so incredible I forgot all the meh stuff that surrounded them. The only exhibition I have been unreservedly knocked over by was Mike Nelson's Coral Reef at Tate Britain – an old piece so I'm not sure it counts. Not a superlative year; let's hope 2012 is better and isn't overwhelmed by a spurious Cultural Olympiad.


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November 07 2011

TV highlights 08/11/2011: Leonardo Live | Sorority Girls | The Office: An American Workplace | My Transsexual Summer | Imagine: Simon & Garfunkel – The Harmony Game | True Blood

Leonardo Live | Sorority Girls | The Office: An American Workplace | My Transsexual Summer | Imagine: Simon & Garfunkel – The Harmony Game | True Blood

Leonardo Live
7pm, Sky Arts 1

On the eve of one of the biggest-ever exhibitions of his work at the National Gallery, Tim Marlow and Mariella Frostrup offer a guide to the Da Vinci works on display. Although he's as much renowned for his speculative science nowadays, this exhibition will focus on his paintings and drawings, and his drive to convey some notion of perfection in human form. A good way to catch the show, especially as the real thing will probably feel like shuffling through a train station at rush hour. David Stubbs

Sorority Girls
9pm, E4

Somewhere between Tool Academy, Geordie Finishing School For Girls, Ladette To Lady and Gossip Girl sits this new reality show, in which Leeds University students have to prove their feminine charms in order to join a squeaky clean, American-style sorority. There are plenty of amusing clash-of-cultures observations, as the US sisters look on in horror at the pierced and pissed UK girls. But the competition element is brutal, and there's one glaring question left unanswered: why on earth do they want to be part of such a dry, conservative institution in the first place? Rebecca Nicholson

The Office: An American Workplace
10pm, Comedy Central

Dunder-Mifflin is now a subsidiary of Sabre Corp. The Scranton office is being kept running as it is, bafflingly, the most profitable. Greeting them into the new order, Sabre send down a hilariously vague Christian Slater-hosted corporate video and an even more hard-to-fathom executive, Gabe (Zach Woods, playing more or less his character Chad from In The Loop). All this is too hard for Michael to process so he travels to the home of his recently deposed boss, David Wallace, hoping his old nemesis can help. For viewers though, all this change is invigorating. Phelim O'Neill

My Transsexual Summer
10pm, Channel 4

Much like Seven Dwarves, this documentary has been sold on the "shock" element of its subject matter, when in fact it's sensitive and funny rather than exploitative. Seven transgender people, at various stages of their transitions, meet at weekends at a "retreat" house to hang out, support each other and talk about things they've never really been able to share before. What they get from the experience is quite incredible, though be warned, this doesn't shy away from explicit surgery. RN

Imagine: Simon & Garfunkel – The Harmony Game
10.35pm, BBC1

The title here is at least partly ironic: in 1969, as they worked on Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were about to end their creative partnership. You'd struggle to learn exactly why from Jennifer Lebeau's documentary, though, perhaps because of the duo's close involvement in the film. Frustrating, but what you do get is a look at how they crafted their final studio album. Confirmation, if needed, that it's fiendishly complicated to make simple pop music that endures. Jonathan Wright

True Blood
11.10pm, Channel 4

After finding the mushy remains of his lover on the living room floor, King Russell of Mississippi is on the warpath. Eric, responsible for said mushy remains, has fled back to the comparatively sedate Bon Temps, but it isn't long before the shadowy forces of The Ministry come a-knockin. Bill and Sookie's relationship woes seem comparatively dull, despite a risque shower scene. Business really picks up in the episode's denouement, where Edgington gives a terrifying demonstration of his powers. Gwilym Mumford


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October 11 2011

Guardian young arts critics competition 2011: the winners

Our young critics competition turned up some fearless talent

What makes a great critic? Lots of things: an eye for detail, an instinct for the right adjective, an empathy with audience and artist. A great critic can make a reader feel that they, too, have been there: watching, listening, holding their breath. A great critic's opinion carries conviction; a great critic loves language. And, in a world where everyone has an opinion, and the means to share it, these qualities matter more than ever: a professional 21st-century critic has to look harder, write funnier, be smarter than anyone else.

So it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it – and somebody has to do it after this generation have had their turn. For the fourth year running, we've been looking for the UK's best young critics. We asked for entries in eight categories, and split those into two age groups: under 14, and 14 to 18. Most wanted to write about film, TV, theatre, visual art and music; there were fewer entries for classical, dance and architecture. You told us about your 2011 highlights and lowlights: Bon Iver's "magical" new album, Kevin Spacey's Richard III (not terrifying enough), Gavin Henson's "robot" turn on The Bachelor, the discreet charms of Coventry railway station. You were direct, engaged, enthusiastic, occasionally brutal – and you impressed our judges, who included writer Anthony Horowitz, singer Emmy the Great and Kick–Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman.

In the film category, 13-year-old Francesco Dernie reviewed Project Nim, James Marsh's documentary about the chimp raised as a child, concluding: "I do think he achieved some humanity." For Goldman, this was "the stand-out entry, a beautifully honed balance between information and opinion". Kiera McIntosh-Michaelis's review of Kevin Macdonald's crowdsourced documentary Life in a Day won in the older category. "A little gem that showed natural writing talent," said Goldman.

Among younger pop critics, 13-year-old Holly MacHenry won for her rousing review of Gogol Bordello, with the judges praising its ability to convey the raw excitement of being there ("About halfway through the second song I decided being cool wasn't important and started jumping about"). Julia Smith, 18, was first in the older age group for her review of Bon Iver's recent album. His previous album, For Emma, Forever Ago, she wrote, "hits you right there. You know, there, that space between your head and your heart". Judge Emmy the Great said: "She will doubtless be the sort of music critic who has fans. I am one."

There was a surprising amount of foreign reporting in visual art: Seward Johnson's controversial 26ft Marilyn Monroe in Chicago, two shows at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, ceramics in Switzerland. The Met shows inspired the best writing: 14-year-old Angelica Gottleib's take on Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen retrospective ("a marvellous, skeleton-like back-brace … antelope ears crafted from gleaming twigs"); and 12-year-old Freddie Holker's extraordinarily accomplished review of a homage to Lucian Freud, in particular his painting Naked Man, Back View ("Disgusting. That's what I'm thinking, that's my gut instinct.") Of Freddie, art critic Adrian Searle said: "The writing is tight, the descriptions vivid."

It was a strong year for theatre. Thomas Marshall, 16, won the older category with his review of Kevin Spacey's Richard III: "At about 11pm, a hunchbacked man with a leg-brace is hung upside-down, dead, in a darkened room somewhere in London to the applause of hundreds." (This first line had director and judge Katie Mitchell "hooked".) The under-14s group scored the competition's youngest winner, nine-year-old Laura Stevens, whose review of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Stratford used "beautiful imagery to relate what she'd seen, conveying her enthusiasm and insight", said playwright Lucy Prebble.

There was a confidence and swagger to the TV reviews, pleasing our TV editor, Vicky Frost. Hannah Quinn, 17, won for her savagely cynical review of Gavin Henson's The Bachelor ("The end is nigh! A mad scientist has succeeded in creating a robot and an army of clones!"). Horowitz said: "This is a critic who puts her personality right on the page – great fun to read."

Dance critic Rachel Balmer, 16, wrote one of the bounciest, liveliest reviews. Riverdance, she said, was "the oddest genre of theatrical art", featuring "singing, a bout of flamenco, a candelit vigil … some Irish-style disco dancing complete with cartwheels … I told you it was odd." Our classical music winner was Rosie Busiakiewicz, 18, who reviewed a new recording of Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet.

In the final category, architecture, judge Ted Cullinan declared Michael Sackur, 13, winner in the younger category, for his "beautifully observed formal critique" of Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin: "Criticism like this is hard to write." Fourteen-year-old Mollie Davidson won the older category for her review of Coventry railway station. This, Cullinan said, was a brilliant summary of the "earnest economical period" of architecture just after the second world war.

The winners will receive a Guardian certificate and a £25 book token; their entries are published today at guardian.co.uk/culture. Picking an overall winner was tough, but with Alan Yentob, creative director of the BBC, and Georgina Henry, head of guardian.co.uk, we agreed on 12-year-old Freddie Holker for his amazingly mature critique of Lucian Freud. I would conclude by saying something along the lines of the kids are all right – but that's just the kind of cliche our young critics know to avoid.

• Winner Freddie Holker will be writing for G2 later this year.


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Mikey Welsh obituary

Artist and former bass guitarist with the US band Weezer

The death of the former Weezer bass guitarist Mikey Welsh, whose body has been discovered in a Chicago hotel room following a suspected drug overdose, was predicted by Welsh himself. In a Twitter posting two weeks ago, he wrote: "Dreamt i died in chicago next weekend (heart attack in my sleep). need to write my will today." In a second message, he added: "Correction – the weekend after next." He was 40 years old.

Welsh joined the Los Angeles-based band Weezer in 1998 in the wake of the departure of their bassist Matt Sharp, though, due to various internal squabbles, the group did not resume active duty until 2000, when they reconvened to rehearse for a tour and write a batch of new songs. They had originally become popular with a mix of post-grunge metal, catchy pop hooks and geeky humour, as demonstrated in hits such as Undone (the Sweater Song) or Say It Ain't So.

They returned to the recording studio and made their third album, Weezer (2001), confusingly bearing the same title as their 1994 debut. The new disc became known as the Green Album, the first one having been unofficially dubbed the Blue Album, and spawned a couple of radio and MTV hits with Hash Pipe and Island in the Sun. It was the only Weezer album Welsh actually appeared on, though he can also be heard on the group's limited edition Christmas EP (reissued as Winter Weezerland in 2005).

Weezer went back on tour after the new album's release, but in August 2001 Welsh was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It later emerged that he had suffered a serious nervous breakdown caused by drug use and the stresses of touring, and had attempted to take his own life.

In an interview with the website Rock Salt Plum, Welsh confessed that "basically, a lifetime of doing drugs and being undiagnosed as having ... post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder finally caught up with me when I was 30 years old. At the beginning of a three-month European tour with Weezer, I started slowly falling apart."

Weezer recruited Scott Shiner as Welsh's replacement. Welsh subsequently played a few dates with the Boston band the Kickovers, but then took a complete break from music, moved to Burlington, Vermont, and began a new career as a full-time visual artist. He mounted numerous exhibitions and enjoyed considerable critical acclaim for his work.

Welsh, who was born in Syracuse, New York, took his first creative steps as an artist when he was a teenager. He worked at first with watercolours and collage, and pursued his artistic bent until he decided to switch to music when he was 19. He played with a number of bands in the Boston area, including Heretix, Jocobono and Slower, and toured with the singer-songwriter Juliana Hatfield.

His connection with Weezer came about when he joined the Rivers Cuomo Band in 1997, this being a solo project by Weezer's frontman Rivers Cuomo. The band went through several different lineups as Cuomo experimented with new material, but Welsh remained a constant presence on bass. When Cuomo rejoined his Weezer cohorts, Pat Wilson and Brian Bell, to begin work on a new album, they agreed that Welsh should be recruited.

Welsh's post-Weezer career saw his life transformed in all respects. In 2003, he married Danielle, whom he had known for several years on the music circuit before he joined Weezer. "She played bass in this band and I always thought she was really beautiful," Welsh said. He became stepfather to her son Rye, and four years ago the couple had a son, Jack.

Welsh's art career seemed set on an upward trajectory. As well as exhibiting and selling individual works, he had won design commissions from Burton Farm snowboards and Gordini goggles, and he created an album cover for the band Twin Berlin.

At the time of his death, Welsh had been planning to attend Weezer's gig at the Riot Fest in Chicago. He is survived by Danielle, Rye and Jack.

• Michael Edward Welsh, musician and artist, born 20 April 1971; died 8 October 2011

• Mikey Welsh's website


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October 06 2011

Music Loves Summer: our photographers' best images

Remember the summer? Here's a reminder of the best festival action with a selection of images from a free exhibition of Guardian and Observer photographers' work at Kings Place, London N1 9GU from 3-14 October



October 02 2011

Boy George: when we were heroes

Some never-before-seen photographs from the birth of the new romantic movement perfectly capture the spirit of the time

I don't know who said it but someone wise once warned that, "You should have a healthy respect for the past but never wallow in it." One of the worst things you can do is live your life in retrospect, but there is a kind of magic to old pictures. Graham Smith's brilliant photos, most of which I have never seen before, recall a time of great adventure and naivety. We thought we knew it all and could change the world with a lick of eyeliner and a dash of rouge.

Of the new romantic moment I have always said, "It was all Bowie's fault", but factor in Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Marc Bolan, Quentin Crisp, Sally Bowles, and a whole daisychain of others who made us dream of a magical world without rules where there really was a wizard behind the curtain.

The 70s were the best time ever to be a teenager. It was the decade that had it all: glam rock, punk, ska, reggae, northern soul, disco, electronica. Pop stars, rock stars, were mythical creatures with lives we could only dream of living, but we tried, oh how we tried. It was punk that finally demystified the rock'n'roll dream, but those of us who loved Bowie could not get him out of our veins. I was just 12 years old when I first saw him as Ziggy Stardust at Lewisham Odeon, and only 15 when I met Philip Sallon; both encounters were to have a profound effect on me.

Through Bowie and Sallon I discovered I was not alone, that there were others like me. Philip took me to my first exciting nightclubs, where I would swoon over anyone I'd seen in a magazine or even a fanzine. He would lecture me, "Clothes don't make people interesting, dear. Trust me, most of these fuckers have pea brains." You could say much of my life has been held together by Philipisms.

Neither punk nor new romanticism were strictly urban affairs. The woodwork squeaked and out came the freaks from all corners of the country. Steve Strange was the Welsh Caligula who lorded it on the door of The Blitz. Rusty Egan was the nice cop of the duo who kept the dancefloor full with his quirky tunes. I still remember the times when Steve barred me from the club, thus driving a nail through my existence. Or when I worked briefly as a coat-check girl and robbed handbags while necking with punk heart-throb Kirk Brandon. It makes sense that many of us went on to achieve global success with music, millinery, fashion and photography. We were young, full of our own self-importance, getting far more attention than we deserved, and far less than we wanted.

A book, We Can Be Heroes by Graham Smith & Chris Sullivan, is being crowd-funded – readers can pledge to purchase the book, which will be printed when it reaches its target. For more details visit www.unbound.co.uk


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August 23 2011

How one photograph can turn a musician into an icon

From Sinatra to Dylan, the camera has helped to cement the public mythology of some of our greatest artists

From Johnny Cash "flipping the bird" at Jim Marshall's camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert Mapplethorpe's portrait of an androgynous Patti Smith in white shirt and braces on the cover of Horses, and the late Amy Winehouse posing provocatively in bed on her wedding day, photography has often spoken louder than words when it comes to enshrining a performer in the public eye.

Over the past 15 years, Proud Galleries in London have carved out a niche as purveyors of classic music photography prints. To celebrate, Proud Chelsea is showing a greatest hits exhibition entitled 20th Century Icons. The show provides ample illustration of photography's power to help construct, perpetuate – and occasionally puncture – the image of the rock star as demigod.

Three photographs stand out: Terry O'Neill's arresting image of an imperious Frank Sinatra and his bodyguards strolling along a boardwalk in Miami in 1968; Elliott Landy's portrait of a bucolic Bob Dylan at home in Woodstock in 1969; Ethan Russell's picture of Keith Richards posing beside an airport customs sign proclaiming a drug-free America in 1972.

In their separate ways, each photo raises questions about fame: about the presence that certain performers have, even offstage, and their willingness to play up to, or subvert, their own status.

O'Neill's fly-on-the-wall shot of Sinatra looks like a film still, an out-take from a gangster movie or an Oceans Eleven-style caper. In fact, it is a snapshot of Sinatra, his bodyguards and his body double (wearing an identical suit) arriving on the set of a crime film called Lady in Cement, in which Sinatra starred as private investigator Tony Rome.

The photograph's power resides in its ability to capture Sinatra's presence: the Sopranos-style minders, the look of admiration from the seated man on the left, the way the singer – and his double – both stare hard at the camera, neither offended nor surprised by it. (O'Neill had been introduced to Sinatra by Ava Gardner and was granted unprecedented access to the star.) It dramatises the darker side of Sinatra, a performer whose business interests were allegedly mixed up with the mafia for most of his career, and whose shadier connections were constantly monitored by the FBI.

While O'Neill's snatched shot plays with the conflicting versions of Sinatra the star and Sinatra the gangster, Ethan Russell found Keith Richards a willing collaborator in his portrait of the artist as a rock'n'roll outlaw. The photographer travelled with the Rolling Stones for part of their infamously dissolute 1972 tour. Russell was, as he later put it, "watching from the sidelines when I noticed the sign. I called Keith over and took two quick snaps. The customs officer threatened to confiscate the film, so I retired quickly. I knew what I had got."

What he got was one of the first of many shots that shored up Richards's image as a self-styled rebel, a man who not only lived outside the law but flaunted it. Alongside Annie Leibovitz's portrait of an elegantly wasted Richards unconscious in his dressing room, this image was key in the myth-making of Richards – a process the rock star was all too complicit in.

Consider, then, Elliott Landy's downhome portrait of Bob Dylan, which was used for the back cover of Dylan's 1969 Nashville Skyline album. It is the antithesis of the Sinatra and Richards photographs: it presents a grinning, bearded Dylan who has embraced a brief period of blissful domesticity, a man attempting to escape the weight of his own mythology.

Dylan had summoned the affable Landy to his house, the fabled Byrdcliffe residence in the woodlands of upstate New York. Though relatively relaxed, Dylan was uncomfortable being photographed, and Landy had to work hard over a few days to put him at ease. It was Dylan, Landy later wrote, who suggested the angle of the shot – "What about taking one from down there?" – and Dylan who produced the hat. "Do you think I should wear this?" he asked, smiling as he visualised himself in this silly-looking traditional hat.

The end result presented a man who was a world away from the strung-out singer on the cover of Blonde on Blonde (1966) and a more humble, upfront version of the mysterious Dylan on the cover of his previous album John Wesley Harding (1967).

The Nashville Skyline portrait cemented Dylan's new image as a family man in retreat from fame and from his own legend. He looks relaxed and approachable, although the shot was as staged and self-serving in its way as Russell's portrait of the "outlaw" Richards. In a year when America was in the grip of social turbulence and unrest, when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated, and when Richard Nixon first came into office, Dylan repositioned himself as a seemingly unconcerned, low-key, country-style balladeer.

In exploding one myth, Dylan erected another. The Frank Sinatra and Keith Richards portraits may be more directly self-mythologising, but Landy's portrait of Dylan speaks, in its deceptively quiet way, about the same process: the power of a single image to articulate – and condense – the mythology that great artists often construct around themselves in order to survive – or, in Dylan's case, to hide behind for a while so that they can reinvent themselves once more.

Now see this

Signs of a Struggle: Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism at London's V&A is a small retrospective group show that looks at the influence and impact of postmodernism on photography. It includes work by Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and Jeff Wall, as well as more recent images by Clare Strand and Anne Hardy. A taster for the V&A's imminent blockbuster, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990 which opens on 24 September.


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August 16 2011

When Cat's Eyes met Ron Arad

Horrors frontman Faris Badwan tells Dorian Lynskey about his new work: an opera-pop crossover featuring a light-emitting curtain by Ron Arad. Will it be better than the day he fooled the Pope?

In the basement of Ron Arad's studio in Camden, London, a promising artistic collaboration is coming under a little strain – and table tennis is to blame. Arad, the Israeli-born artist, designer and architect, and Faris Badwan, singer with the Horrors, are both fiercely competitive players. Arad has the advantage of having designed the table, a curious, broken-backed affair that sinks in the middle as if it's been quake-damaged, and sends the ball spinning in unpredictable directions. But Badwan, who has height and long arms in his favour, is winning. "No more Mr Nice Guy," growls Arad as he claws back points. But, just before he can draw level, the pair are summoned upstairs. A rematch is promised.

The two men have other, less fractious interests to bond over. Both are restlessly prolific. In the past year, Badwan has completed the third Horrors record, Skying, and launched Cat's Eyes, a project with Canadian opera soprano Rachel Zeffira, both to wide acclaim. Sixty-year-old Arad has been designing furniture, buildings and art installations since the 1970s. Deyan Sudjic's 1989 book about him was called Restless Furniture. Arad's 2009 MoMa retrospective was called No Discipline, and included everything from carbon-fibre armchairs to polyurethane bottle racks. Both titles are useful indicators of Arad's aesthetic.

His studio, which he has owned since the mid-1980s, is stuffed with his playful creations, most of which are curved: tables, chairs, window frames, even parts of the floor and ceiling. At one end is a fibre-optic curtain, a prototype for the huge circular version – eight metres by 18 and made of 5,600 silicon rods – currently installed at the Roundhouse across the road for three weeks. Arad has called his installation Curtain Call, and has invited musicians, designers, visual artists and performers to use the 360 degree curtain however they wish. "There was going to be a chef," he says, "but he dropped out."

Cat's Eyes are at Arad's studio on a rainy summer evening to shoot a video for their new single, The Best Person I Know, using the prototype curtain.

"What are you going to do here?" asks Arad, a cheerful, Chaplinesque figure.

"We're going to use a lot of your furniture if that's all right," Badwan says politely.

"Everything's all right!" says Arad. "This is a progressive kindergarten here."

The two men were introduced by Zeffira, who has known Arad since she sang with his daughter Dara in a choir in Hampstead several years ago (his other daughter Lail is also a singer). Zeffira grew up in "a little hick town" in Canada, notable only for having the world's largest lead and zinc smelter. Aptly, the dominant teen soundtrack was heavy metal. "I had to hide the fact that I liked classical music to hang out with the cool kids," she says. "My parents wanted me to have some culture so they force-fed me it. Before I met Faris, I had a huge hole in my playlist."

Badwan introduced her to obscure girl group records; she played him Bach and Ligeti. Zeffira had once sung for Pope John Paul II and used her Vatican contacts to secure the duo's debut show at St Peter's Basilica. "I didn't bring it up with Faris for ages because he hates gimmicky things," she says.

"It seemed ridiculous in the beginning," he confirms, "but then we thought it would be inimitable."

"It was all lies after that," she continues with a touch of guilt. She told the Vatican they were a choir called St Jude's and added to the end of the mass a song called Psalm 23, in reality an arrangement of their album-closing number I Knew It Was Over; the live Vatican performance can be seen on YouTube. "I think they thought Faris was a page-turner," she says. "If I'd have said we're a pop band, they'd have said no because it was a serious mass. It would have been totally disrespectful. I did confession afterwards. In my mind."

"The challenge wasn't to shock," says Badwan. "It was to fit in."

For someone who used to call himself Faris Rotter in the early days of the Horrors, Badwan is a quiet, thoughtful character with a wry sense of humour. The son of a Palestinian neurosurgeon, he attended Rugby school and went on to study at Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design in London. He didn't think much of it. "I was quite competitive, and there weren't many people up for doing anything – like turning up. It wasn't like I felt I was the best person around. I just didn't feel that people were really engaged. I found that when I was left to my own devices, I got a lot more done."

He still draws every day. "He can't stop," says Arad. "This is the first time I've seen him without his sketchpad." Deprived of his pen, Badwan spends the whole interview fiddling with a spoon. Asked why he launched the collaboration with Zeffira just a few months before the Horrors' return, he shrugs. "I guess I'm quite impulsive, and Rachel wants to do things so she's pushing me along. Honestly, when I get bored I just do stupid things."

"Like the wax mountain," says Zeffira, smiling. "Oh God, listen to this. For months and months, he was melting drips of wax and built an actual mountain out of candles. It was huge. It took hours and hours of dripping wax."

Badwan mutters with unease. He seems constantly in the process of wriggling out of things that bore or confine him. A mention of David Lynch as an influence on Cat's Eyes draws a heavy sigh. "David Lynch is great, but it's just the repetitious nature of [the comparison]. It's like the goth thing. Now Rachel's the goth queen by association. We're 'the dark duo'."

Suing Michael Jackson

Even being in the Horrors, which he loves, has its bothersome deadlines and expectations. "Before you make anything to be presented to an audience, it feels like a thing out of reach; and then, when you've been doing it for a while, you start to see the pattern. Once the pattern is obvious, it loses a lot of the magic."

Arad nods sympathetically. "When you do a building, it can take five years and it's full of obstacles and difficulties that have nothing to do with your creativity. But some things have no negotiation at all. You just do what you want to do when you want to do it, and you're not answerable to anyone. So you do the whole spectrum from irresponsible to super-responsible – sickly responsible."

Has he worked with a musician before? "Yes, I sued Michael Jackson once. If you go to a video called Scream, they used my pieces as props without asking me." He smiles. "This is my first non-litigious collaboration."

Cat's Eyes are sketchy on the details of what exactly they will do with the curtain. Badwan doesn't like to over-explain anything. A suggestion that the duo's album might have been a deliberate attempt to make a narrative song cycle (it certainly makes sense as one) is met with uncomfortable denials. "The best things appear by accident," he says. "When it's too self-conscious, you don't get any real emotion. We just became really excited about the whole thing. When you find someone you enjoy working with, it sends you into overdrive. I guess Ron's the same with his output."

"There's a need to play and to fight boredom and to keep yourself entertained," says Arad, adding that it's a bonus if you can earn a living from it. "I think we're all lucky in that way. We get away with it."

• Ron Arad's Curtain Call is at the Roundhouse, London NW1 (0844 482 8008) until 29 August. Cat's Eyes perform there on 22 August. Cat's Eyes by Cat's Eyes is out now on Polydor.


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August 11 2011

Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez immortalised in nude sculpture

Sculptor Daniel Edwards, who has previously portrayed Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in bronze, unveils new work

Justin Bieber, 17, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Selena Gomez, have been immortalised in bronze ... naked. The pop stars are the subject of a new sculpture by Daniel Edwards, the American artist best known for a statue of the singer Britney Spears, nude on a bearskin, giving birth.

While Edwards has announced the sculpture in an attention-grabbing statement, it's not clear whether the Bieber-Gomez tribute has actually been cast. The released images seem more like computer-generated illustrations than photographs. Titled Justin and Selena as One, the sculpture shows the two singers in their birthday suits, bonded at the ribcage. Bieber, who was born in Canada, has a maple leaf covering his nether regions while Gomez, from Texas, has a strategically placed lone star. Before them, over the words "Justin & Selena Forever", a bronze Canada goose is mounting a bronze Texas armadillo.

"From my point of view, when I look at it, there's a lot of interesting components," Edwards told MTV News. "Can you think of any teenage couple that's bigger or been bigger than them?" The artwork is deliberately provocative, he said, commenting on the way adolescent stars are often sexualised. "[It] happens time and again to teenage celebrities, where they're kind of exploited early – earlier than what is legal – and the media fuels that as best they can."

Elsewhere, Edwards has been more tongue-in-cheek. He suggested the work "be considered for installation at Canadian embassies around the globe, as a symbol of Canada's prowess in the areas of art and commerce". But despite these jokes, Edwards – himself a father – told MTV he thinks seriously about representations of underage sexuality. "You see all those beach photos of [Justin and Selena]," he said. "My children are young, but I think I would be freaked out if I saw images of them like that on the internet."

Justin and Selena as One will reportedly be unveiled at New Fine Arts, a coyly named adult entertainment store in Dallas, Texas.


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July 24 2011

The record exec who drew all the big stars

Mike Smith sketched almost every band he ever watched, and now his pictures are collected in a book

You can spot the industry executives at gigs – they're the ones lost in concentration, brains computing an artist's potential commercial value, while they sharpen their pencils and start sketching. OK, so maybe that last bit only applies to Mike Smith, the managing director of Columbia Records, who has spent the past two decades drawing almost all of the bands he's watched.

Whether at dingy indie venues outlining anonymous support acts, or at enormodomes sketching Eminem, Smith's pencil has certainly done the rounds. Now a collection of his line drawings – from Elastica to the E Street Band – is to be released as a book, Artist & Repertoire, while an exhibition at Somerset House in London runs until September.

Doesn't he get some weird reactions from audience members? "Not really," he laughs. "Most people just think I'm a journalist taking notes, but if they see I'm drawing they normally respond really positively."

Smith started sketching at 16 when his dad moved jobs and he was forced to relocate from Liverpool to Bristol. "It was a way to make friends in a new environment," he recalls. "I'd draw people and it would intrigue them. It was a good way to start a conversation, especially with girls!"

He had always been fascinated by music, but Smith soon realised that his bass-playing skills weren't all that, and drawing became his main creative release. Despite an eye for talent that has helped him sign Blur, the White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys, Smith finds it hard to watch a band without sketching them.

"I do worry that I might miss things because I'm concentrating on drawing the guitarist while the singer's doing something brilliant elsewhere," he admits. "But I hate not drawing."

Smith cites David Hockney's line drawings as an influence and says that most artists are pleasantly surprised when they discover his hobby. "It's not what they expect the head of label to be doing, I think it shows I have some degree of sympathy for the creative temperament."

His favourite drawings include one of Damon Albarn during the Parklife sessions, surrounded by champagne bottles, although it's not all about star power – he's especially fond of one that depicts "three scousers at a Beta Band gig in Liverpool, clutching beers and watching the band . . . it captures a sweet moment in time."

On a more musical tip, Smith's currently looking forward to the Mercury prize awards. Because his artist Katy B is nominated? Yes. But also because it's "a great chance to draw 12 acts in a night".


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Mike Smith's sketches of rock stars – in pictures

From Bruce Springsteen to the White Stripes, see how this record exec recorded memorable gigs with a pencil drawing



July 10 2011

World of leather

Heavy metal was born in the Black Country when its furnaces still blazed. Now the area is celebrating its heritage – with a raft of gigs and exhibitions. Stuart Jeffries straps on a Flying V and goes back to his roots

When Mark Titchner was a boy, he spent hours watching Black Sabbath's Master of Reality album rotating on the stereo of his Dunstable home. Not so much to revel in frontman Ozzy Osbourne's Lovecraftian horror, or the guitar virtuosity of Tony Iommi who, only four years before the album came out, had lost the tips of two fingers in an accident at a Birmingham sheet-metal factory.

No, it was the spinning label that captivated Titchner. "It was my first experience of rotoscopic art, and it floors me every time I see it," he says in his east London studio. The label, known as the "Vertigo swirl" after the record label that released Sabbath's albums, is a roto-relief, cribbed from those made by Marcel Duchamp. "I used to put it on the turntable and spend a nice long time looking into it, rising and falling with it into the abyss."

That youthful fascination feeds into Titchner's work in his new solo show, Be True to Your Oblivion, at Walsall's New Art Gallery. It's part of a sprawling season of exhibitions and events celebrating Birmingham and the Black Country as the birthplace of heavy metal. I'm particularly looking forward to Hell Bent for Leather: Judas Priest and the Heavy Metal Look at Walsall's Leather Museum, which will, fingers crossed, tell the neglected story of fetish gear, homosexuality and heavy metal.

Little Mark's Sabbath records inspired much of the Turner nominee's later artistic practice. His 2006 piece Ergo Ergot, to be shown in Walsall, consists of two large spinning roto-reliefs that form a geometric arrangement called the Titchener Illusion, after 20th-century psychologist Edward Titchener. "He's no relation," says the artist. "The illusion is that a circle surrounded by other circles looks smaller the larger the surrounding circles are."

This optical illusion is especially striking when, as in the case of Ergo Ergot, two circles of the same size are placed side by side, and then surrounded by circles – small circles on one, larger ones on the other.

I'd come to Titchner's work through his banners hanging outside Gateshead's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, screaming bracingly fatuous messages such as "The Future Is Behind Us". Like Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer, Titchner in his text-based work establishes what he calls "a dialogue about how you receive thought and ideas". He's had sour fun recently with banners subverting the government cuts agenda – images of them feature on his blog.

One new work at Walsall will be a video portrait of Nic Bullen, founder member of Birmingham grindcore band Napalm Death. It consists of an extreme closeup of Bullen singing, slowed down so you can see his muscles working as he silently bawls – Titchner has muted his friend. The artist was inspired by Billie Whitelaw in Beckett's Not I: "All you see is that terrifying babbling mouth."

Before we carry on, let's define our terms. Grindcore music is not grime. Grindcore is a stupendously fast anarcho-punk music drawing from death metal, industrial music, noise and hardcore punk. It arose in Birmingham in the 80s (probably not as a response to Duran Duran, but you never know). Grime is dance music originating a few bus stops from Titchner's studio.

Is that a metal turd?

What's the allure of heavy metal? "The sensibility of metal has a darkness to it that draws me, but it has a social dimension – particularly as you get into the grindcore end of it. There's anarchism, but nihilism is far away."

I was brought up in Birmingham from the 1960s to the 80s, the very period during which some of the region's greatest metal bands – Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Napalm Death, Godflesh, Diamond Head – were making ears bleed worldwide. I never claimed this music as my heritage since I regarded punk as deflating its pretensions.

"That's only one way of telling the story," counters Titchner. "Another is that after punk came these grindcore bands who said punks are effete – let's go faster, be angrier and be proper anarchists. That movement still has its hive in the Black Country."

Titchner's views prompted me to revisit my birthplace and reconsider its musical heritage. But there was an immediate problem. So much of the industry that fired the music has gone, crushed by deflationary Thatcherite budgets in the 80s. My dad's story is typical. He was an engineer for car, aeronautical and metalworking firms across the West Midlands, but spent his final years of working life as a Youth Training Scheme manager. I suspect he taught kids to manage down their expectations: the pride he took in being an engineer could hardly be theirs in this deindustrialised region.

I started at Longbridge, looking at the wastelands of the car plant that once employed 50,000 people. Then I drove over to Wednesbury to visit my nan's house. She died in 1976, but I still remember sitting on her back step looking over the fiery blast furnaces of the Black Country at night. It's all gone – that fire and unspeakable beauty. My upset intensified as I drove around Dudley and Bilston, both so leafy that they felt like the Green Country rather than the Black Country. Counter-intuitively, heavy metal wasn't obliterated by Thatcherism: after the industry that spawned it was destroyed, metal music became more political and harder to listen to – expressing, perhaps, a howl over what was lost and a rage for those who took it.

At Wolverhampton Art Gallery, I experienced a corrective to this sense of loss in a show called From Iron Ore to Grindcore. On a table was something that looked like a metal turd – the final steel cast from Elisabeth of Bilston (the last Black Country blast furnace) dating from 1979, the year the flames were extinguished for good. In the years when Elisabeth and her sisters burned, local bands such as Judas Priest did something alchemical with industrial dust, fire and noise, transmuting them into music rich with fantasy, leather, desire and metallised beats – all of which makes it sound as Wagnerian as Alberich's metalworking cave in Das Rheingold.

I play the riff to Paranoid

In the next room is You Should Be Living: the Visual Language of Heavy Metal. My favourite piece here is Nic Bullen and Damien Deroubaix's installation in which visitors can sequence short grindcore audio loops at a mixing desk and scream into microphones. At least that's what I did: the guard eyed me narrowly.

Nihilistic art will figure prominently in some of Titchner's new work in Walsall. "I've long been intrigued by what happens when language ceases to communicate. That comes from Napalm Death – their almost primal scream music is a moral standpoint in the face of language that has lost its meaning." In a world of empty slogans, he seems to be saying, screaming is more authentic, more articulate, a nihilistic subversion of prevailing values.

Titchner says his latest work was inspired especially by Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album, whose sleeve was decorated with intentionally baffling runic symbols, and by US black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room. He shows me the latter's 2004 album sleeve, featuring an unreadable hieroglyph.

"In this new work I was inspired by these kinds of metal non-typography to write strange neologisms on breeze blocks for a wall for the show. Then I carved them so it was like tomb carvings. Then I crossed everything out and it still wasn't right. So I obscured the text completely and mirrored it. I ended up with intractable symbols. It's a long, drawn-out process to arrive at a negation of words." It's the culmination of Titchner's text-based work, perhaps: instead of ironically subverting meaningless slogans, he batters them senseless. Very heavy metal.

Finally, I drove to Birmingham Art Gallery, where, in a space in which I've seen Renaissance art, is a show chronicling 40 years of heavy-metal culture. There I met the man credited with devising the first metal riff (possibly the one on Black Sabbath's Evil Woman), Tony Iommi. I shook his legendarily injured right hand. How did Iommi feel to see his music given the institutional imprimatur? "It's fabulous – but it's taken a long time. We spent a lot of time in the States because we were frowned on so much here."

Does Iommi think different bands have different riffs depending on the different metalworking jobs their members worked in? "Maybe. That might explain why Judas Priest sound different from us. Certainly the riffs I played on Paranoid or Iron Man only make sense if you realise where I worked as a teenager."

Iommi and I stood before a huge roto-relief, the Vertigo swirl. I told him that Titchner used to spend hours looking into it. "Yeah, a lot of our fans did – on dope probably."

Iommi wandered off to be feted by fans. I explored another room with electric guitars plugged into headphones for visitors to play. I strapped on a Flying V and tried to play a song I know well, Sabbath's Paranoid (it's my brother-in-law's ringtone). It sounded woeful. Clearly I need to work harder at reclaiming my cultural heritage.


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July 08 2011

Home of Metal exhibition – in pictures

Home of Metal is currently taking over art spaces in the West Midlands. To celebrate, here's a selection of art works, objects and memorabilia



July 01 2011

Manchester international festival is go

The Guardian is at the Manchester international festival, kicked off by Björk last night. Did you see her? Are you going? Please send us your pictures, tweets and comments

Last night, the third Manchester international festival started in spectacular style with a performance by Björk. It was the live debut of her new project Biophilia, which as well as an album – out in September – also incorporates a series of apps and an education project. Special instruments had been made for the show, including a musical Tesla coil, a cross between a gamelan and a celeste and four giant pendulums with strings attached which were plucked as they swung. There was even a voiceover by David Attenborough. Dave Simpson reviews the show here.

Today sees two other exciting works get their live debuts. At 4pm, red-hot interactive theatre company Punchdrunk launch The Crash of the Elysium, a collaboration with the BBC's Doctor Who team, which my colleague Mark Brown will be sampling and writing about later – with child in tow, since adults aren't allowed in without one. Lyn Gardner wrote about the show a couple of weeks ago.

Then the Palace theatre will see the opening of Damon Albarn's second opera Doctor Dee, about the Elizabethan mystic and alleged alchemist. Albarn himself will be performing; it's directed by Rufus Norris. John Harris interviewed him about the piece last week, and we'll be reviewing it tonight.

Elsewhere, there's a special performance by violinist Alina Ibragimova with visuals by the Quay Brothers, while Sinead O'Connor plays at the festival's hub, the Pavillion theatre in Albert Square. Next week sees the premier of – among other things – Victoria Wood's new play with music, That Day We Sang, which she talks about in Film&Music today.

Of course, we want you to get involved in our coverage too. If you'd like to tweet your thoughts for us (they'll appear on our Mif home page), tweet @guardianculture using the tag #mif11. Our Mif Flickr group is live - please post your pictures here. Also, please leave a comment below if you've seen anything at Mif you liked (or hated), or if you're looking forward to anything.

In the meantime, plenty of people have been tweeting about last night. @jonnohopkins writes "Another reason Bjork was amazing. Strictly no photography! Bliss" and he's right, it was enhanced by the lack of people holding up their phones to record it. He also mentions that Johnny Depp was apparently there. Team Guardian didn't see him, but we did bump into Antony Hegarty at the gig, and Willem Dafoe at the Mif opening party later on. Both are currently working on The Life and Death of Marina Abromović, an opera starring and about the performance art legend, which opens here a week tomorrow.

More tweets: "Bjork is wearing what can only be described as a Carlos Valderama fright wig..." says @dawski, referring to the singer's giant ginger afro.

Meanwhile, Damon Albarn has dented @emmagoswell's northern pride. "Nice plug for #MIF but Albarn just refered to Manchester as a town. On national Tv. Twice! Southern fool." She'll be bringing Oasis into it next.


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June 19 2011

The time of my life

From an illicit Pixies gig to a Mesopotamian ziggurat, Guardian critics recall their biggest moment of inspiration in their respective fields

How to enter this year's competition

Pop: Alexis Petridis

Can any gig you see as a critic ever match the ones you saw as a teenager? Bizarrely, going to a gig when I was 17 was harder work than writing reviews has ever been. It involved not merely getting to London, but lying to my parents about where I was going, lying to my friend's parents about where my parents thought I was going, bunking off school, and then convincing somebody who looked 18 to go to the bar on my behalf.

But none of that mattered the night I saw the Pixies supported by My Bloody Valentine, in September 1988. It's not every night you see arguably the two most important guitar bands of the era on the same stage at the peak of their powers: the Pixies had just released their incredible second album, Surfer Rosa, while My Bloody Valentine had released the astonishing single You Made Me Realise.

It says something about the pre-internet age that, before they walked on, I had no idea what the Pixies looked like. I didn't expect the guy who sang all those dark songs about sex and violence to be chubby and balding. This was nothing compared to the shock of their sound: a ceaseless roar, with the next song starting as the last chord of the previous one was still dying away.

I remember that gig in snapshots. Two roadies having to hold on to My Bloody Valentine's drumkit as Colm O'Cíosóig hit it with such ferocity that it started moving across the stage. The Pixies performing Hey, a song so self-evidently filthy it seemed to have been beamed in from another world. But most of all, I remember feeling more excited than I'd ever been in my life. You could argue that my career has involved chasing that feeling ever since.

Visual art: Adrian Searle

The first serious art exhibition I ever saw was on a school trip to Goya and His Times at London's Royal Academy in 1963. I have seen many Goya shows since and think I know his art well, but he always surprises me, even when I look at paintings I have known for most of my life. How time flies.

I can't say this was the best show, or even the best Goya show, I have ever seen. I was, after all, only 10. But I remember being struck by Goya's weirdness: the distorted faces of the Spanish royal family, the isolated, looming figure of the Duchess of Alba (Goya's lover), the strange skies. Decades later, I saw that the clouds over Madrid often look like old, torn tapestries.

I must have about 20 books about Goya now, including the tiny paperback I bought at the time. It's a useless book – pictures too small, colours all wrong – but I kept it. Another book is Goya's Last Portrait, a play by the critic John Berger. A few years ago, Berger and I had a long talk about that dog Goya painted, the one that could be drowning in quicksand or might just be sticking his nose up over a hill to sniff the sky.

I remember wondering why Goya's paintings meant so much to me when I knew nothing about art and had never been anywhere, least of all to Madrid. Maybe that show only became important later, because of things that happened in my life. Many roads lead back to a kid looking at Goya and understanding nothing.

Classical music: Erica Jeal

It was 10 years ago, but I remember it better than things I heard last week. The Alban Berg Quartet and the cellist Heinrich Schiff were playing Schubert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall: the String Quintet in C, the one with two cellos and the glorious first-movement melody that begins again and again, as if the composer couldn't bear to let it go.

A few minutes in, I knew this performance was different from any I'd heard before. Then I realised why. It was all coloured by death, every note. Something in the Alban Berg's playing made it obvious: Schubert, at 31, knew he was dying, and had composed a love letter to the world that was as sweet as it was sincere, full of anguish, acceptance, anger and serenity. I wondered if I was just a bit strung out: perhaps I was the only one experiencing it this way. But at the end, the usually reserved QEH audience was on its feet.

There are few things more depressing than a performance of a work you love that leaves you cold. But there is nothing more exciting than hearing a musician, or an orchestra, take something you thought you knew, and make you realise there is still more to fall in love with. I felt that way hearing Iván Fischer conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony in January this year. I felt that way in 2003, when I heard veteran tenor Peter Schreier sing a searing Die Schöne Müllerin, somehow bringing an old man's wisdom to a young man's tale.

That was Schubert again. I'm starting to suspect that Schubert understood everything there was to know about the world, and that the answers to all life's big questions might be found in his music. I haven't uncovered them yet, but I'm still listening.

Architecture: Jonathan Glancey

For as long as I can remember, right back to when I was a teenager trying to piece together the story of architecture, the ziggurat at Eridu had been a presence in my life. I was haunted by the thought that somewhere in deepest Mesopotamia, today's southern Iraq, there lay, in ruins and largely hidden under sand, what might be the world's first monumental building: the mother of all architecture in the world's first metropolis.

I finally got to Eridu just months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Somehow I had persuaded the right people to let me go, and a platoon of Saddam's soldiers now escorted me along routes flanked by unexploded munitions dating from the first Gulf war. The heat was intense: 50 degrees. On the way, we stopped to climb the ziggurat of Ur, walking the site's excavated streets in the zig-zagging shadow of the great pyramid.

When we reached Eridu, the young soldiers were as excited as I was. We almost fell on the sands. It was thrilling to palm them away and find the stepped form of its crumpled ziggurat, built and rebuilt over thousands of years. There was a lake here once, and marshes. Eridu, founded in 5,400BC, was a sacred place for millennia until finally being abandoned in the 7th century AD. In 1949, excavations were undertaken, but it became a no-go zone after the first Gulf war.

At the same time as those excavations were taking place, Le Corbusier was designing his astonishing Unité d'Habitation, a block of flats in Marseilles. Although ultra-modern, this building also managed to be as elemental in form and as ancient in spirit. Great architecture connects with the past and pushes into the future.

Film: Peter Bradshaw

In my time as a critic, there have been many films that have made me want to punch the air with joy (and a few that made me want to punch a brick wall). But the film that I come back to, over and over, is Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, a beautiful, sad, sexy, mysterious movie that came out in 2000, when I'd been in this job for less than a year.

The premise is simple enough. The scene is 1960s Hong Kong, and Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung play neighbours who discover their spouses are having an affair. The realisation gives them a kind of intimacy: they have a tragic, erotic quasi-affair of their own. It is electrifying. Leung's desperate sadness is something he cannot admit to anyone, and the final sequence, in which he "confesses" it secretly to himself, is heartbreaking.

So many mainstream films have everything signposted and underlined, leaving no doubt as to what you are supposed to think and feel. In The Mood For Love demands you notice nuances and subtlety; you have to exert yourself to see, really see, what Wong is doing.

Theatre: Michael Billington

The toughest challenge for a theatre critic, and the greatest excitement, comes from responding to something new. How to describe, interpret and evaluate a play that expands the frontiers of drama? My mind goes back to a night in April 1975, when I reviewed the first performance of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land at the Old Vic.

I knew something about Pinter, having seen The Homecoming, The Caretaker and The Birthday Party. But I'd never reviewed a Pinter premiere, and this one had the smell of a big occasion: a production starring Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud.

I know I got some things wrong. At one point, Hirst (Richardson) engages in a prolonged reminiscence with Spooner (Gielgud). I took that as genuine rather than a parodic fantasy. But I did intuit that the play was a reflection of Pinter's own fears: that Spooner, the shabby minor poet, was the man he might have been; and Hirst, the literary celebrity cut off from life, was the figure he was terrified of becoming.

What I remember above all is the crackling comic vitality and sombre poetry of Pinter's language. In the mouths of Richardson, who was all spring-heeled ebullience, and Gielgud, who looked like some seedy, downmarket WH Auden, Pinter's phrases bounced off the walls like a ball in a squash court. In the play's overpowering final moments, one had a sense of Hirst starting to crawl unburdened towards death. Or, at least, to what Pinter poignantly calls a no man's land "which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains for ever, icy and silent". That struck me as theatrical poetry at its best: distilled, precise, yet infinitely mysterious.

Trying to pin down a Pinter play at first sight was exhilarating, like stepping into a ring with a champion boxer: one ran the risk of being knocked out.

Dance: Judith Mackrell

It was a Royal Ballet matinee in April 2001, and the hairs on the back of my neck started prickling: I realised I was witnessing the start of one of the great careers. Alina Cojocaru was just 19 and performing her first Giselle, a role that challenges even the most experienced ballerinas. In act one, she has to play a naive peasant girl, her heart broken by the aristocratic love rat Albrecht; in act two, she is a ghost, her dancing as transparent as air. Cojocaru did more than dance both roles with mesmerising beauty: she made you believe she had performed Giselle in some other, previous life.

I have seen more technically brilliant performances (although in act two, Cojocaru's dancing was so eerily exquisite, her feet barely seemed to touch the floor), but I have never seen a dancer live the role with such intensity. In the mad scene that leads to Giselle's death, Cojocaru's body looked so broken with pain you weren't sure she was acting.

Other great productions I have seen would include Les Noces, created by Bronislava Nijinska back in 1923 with a visual, emotional and musical power that blows your head off; Mark Morris's fierce Dido and Aeneas, with himself as the lead; Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring, a dance to death on a stage covered with black earth; and Frederick Ashton's poetically exact Scènes de Ballet.

The best moments I have as a critic are when I forget I'm working, when nothing I know has prepared me for what I'm experiencing. As I wrote on that extraordinary day back in 2001: "You felt that flukey thrill of being in exactly the right place at the right time."

TV: Sam Wollaston

The best thing I've ever watched on TV? That's impossible. If you're including drama, news, sport, documentary, comedy, everything, how can you possibly say which is better: news coverage of the twin towers coming down (extraordinary but hardly "good") or series four of The Wire (extraordinary, but less important in terms of changing the world)? Then there's Mad Men, The West Wing, The Thick of It, Ali G, The Office. And Big Brother's first series, when Nasty Nick was kicked out, because it changed television for ever. No, I don't dare pick that – too scared of the flak.

I'm going for Seven Up on ITV. Or 49 Up, as the last instalment, in 2005, was called. Back in 1964, 12 seven-year-olds from a wide range of backgrounds told film-maker Michael Apted what they wanted and expected out of life. Every seven years, Apted has been back to check on them. We've seen them grow up, become adults, fall in love, start careers, get married, have children, succeed, fail, despair, get more posh, get less posh, become Australian, have grandchildren.

It's been an extraordinary journey, a social history of this country: we've seen how attitudes to class, work and family have changed, along with clothes and hairstyles. But it's also, more importantly, the story of 12 individuals. This is real reality TV, touching, sad and funny – and about as important as television gets.

• This article was amended on 20 June 2011. The original stated that 49 Up was in 1995


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June 12 2011

Photographer Stephen Wright's best shot

'At the time, I was using my bedroom as a darkroom – and storing all my chemicals in old lemonade bottles'

Click on the picture to see the full image

This shoot really should have gone to a big-name photographer – an Anton Corbijn or a Pennie Smith – but it went to me, a fan using a cheap Nikon with the wrong lens. I'd sent Rough Trade, the Smiths' label, pictures of the band playing, and Morrissey liked them. They asked me to shoot what would become the inside sleeve to The Queen Is Dead.

I barely slept the night before, but the band were all amiable. The setting was Morrissey's idea. He wanted an iconic Manchester location. We also tried Victoria Station but it was too dark, so we ended up at Salford Lads Club in the winter cold. You can see Johnny Marr shivering in some shots.

I like the casual, staggered way they are standing, and they're nicely framed by the arches. But I always say it's the band, not the photo, that is classic. Morrissey has a Mona Lisa expression: it's neither a smile nor a smirk, but he's very much in command. If you look at the body language, you can tell he was king of the pack.

The Queen Is Dead celebrates its 25th anniversary this week and this image is now in the National Portrait Gallery collection – yet it was taken by someone whose darkroom was also his bedroom and whose processing chemicals were kept in old lemonade bottles. I think the cheap equipment, and the fact there was so little light, gave it a grittiness, like a 1950s picture. Morrissey sent a card saying: "A sweeter set of photos were never taken."

Fans come from all over the world to recreate the shot. The round trip from the centre of Manchester is probably £25 by cab, so I've done my bit for taxi-drivers over the years.

CV

Born: Wallingford, 1960.

Inspirations: Alfred Eisenstadt, Anton Corbijn.

Dream subject: "I shot Miles Davis live, but never got portraits. I wish I'd photographed Marvin Gaye."

Top tip: "Photographers should be seen and not heard."

You can see more pictures on Stephen's website and, from 10 June, six of his favourite images are showing at the Idea Generation gallery in Shoreditch


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June 03 2011

Damien Hirst 'spot' painting to be sold by Dave Stewart at auction

Colourful spot painting by Damien Hirst and work by Gilbert & George among those to be auctioned at Sotheby's

A large and early "spot" painting by Damien Hirst given to his friend and drinking partner Dave Stewart is to be sold in London at Sotheby's.

The auction house said the Hirst was one of seven works being sold by the ex-Eurythmics guitarist in its auction of contemporary art at the end of the month.

As well as two Hirsts, Stewart will also sell works by Gilbert & George, Cindy Sherman and the late Angus Fairhurst.

The painting Dantrolene has been valued at £400,000 to £600,000. According to Sotheby's contemporary art specialist Alex Branczik it is "a very rare thing" and "one of the largest of its kind to come to the market for several years".

The painting, which features one-inch spots, was a gift from Hirst after Stewart wrote the song Damien Save Me following the pair's first boozy encounter in the 1990s at an art exhibition in Docklands, east London. The dedication on the reverse of the work reads: "Being God (for Dave)".

The song is featured on Stewart's 1994 solo album Greetings from the Gutter, an album Hirst also created the artwork for.

The two artists have spoken of their friendship before, with Stewart telling one interviewer: "He reminds me of the Joker in Batman. Electric, turned on, alive. He'll talk for hours, really get you buzzing. [He] says that you've got to cope with death before you can handle life."

Hirst has said of Stewart: "Dave is wacky and wonderful, all over the place. [He's] got all these things on the go – like one plus one equals five."

Stewart is also selling a phallic flower work by Gilbert & George which once hung in the converted church he shared with ex-bandmate and partner Annie Lennox.


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May 27 2011

Kate Bush's only tour - in pictures

One and only: pictures from fans who captured Kate Bush's 1979 Tour of Life



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