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Don Letts - Culture Clash, Final Chapter

Last Word

At the beginning of 2006 I was off filming Franz Ferdinand in South America. They were supporting U2 and did their own shows in Rio, Chile and Argentina. My last few films had been very controlled stylistically so it was a great opportunity to return to my punk roots. Later that same year I was on the road again documenting the birth of The Good, The Bad and The Queen, a ‘Dickensian’ dub combo created by Damon Albarn and featuring Paul Simonon of The Clash and Tony Allen who was actually Fela Kuti’s drummer. The following year they released their debut album; shaped by this city it was a classic London record, subtly reflecting the mix that rocks our mutual boat with Damon’s voice putting a quintessential English stamp on it. It couldn’t have been made anywhere else. It was the perfect soundtrack to the movie that is London. Pure technicolor! In Spring 2007 I get a call from BBC 6 Music offering me a regular late night radio show. I’ve been hosting Culture Clash Radio on the station from that time till this and I got to tell you it’s one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. Now some would have you believe I’m at home listening to reggae 24/7 but that’s not the way I roll. The worlds a big and beautiful place and I embrace it all (although it helps if it’s got a wicked bass line). So my show crosses time space and genre and in my 5 years of broadcasting I’ve never played a record I don’t like.

Don Letts Final Chapter 1

I get my bass fix d.j’ing both here and abroad playing a reggae based selection. We’re talking the history and legacy of Jamaican bass culture. It’s very much in the spirit of what I was doing during my days at the Roxy - using my culture to turn people on. I come from a generation whose soundtrack helped empower the listener, helped people to be all they could be and reveled in individuality. I’m living proof that music has that potential. When I was starting out, music was an anti-establishment thing, now it seems like a lot of people get into music to be part of the establishment. I mean how radical can you be if that's what you want? The future’s all about new values. We live in a cultural climate that feels like punk never happened and Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame has become a nightmare of people that can’t justify three. For the most part Western culture has become increasing conservative, if not darn right stagnant. Nevertheless I remain optimistic. The punk spirit is like the force in Star Wars—you can’t stop it. There’s always something going on, you just got to look in new places and like Joe Strummer said, ‘make sure your bullshit detector is finely tuned’. Look to the amateur and the naïve for the new ideas in the future, everyone else is reading from the same book. Personally a punk attitude still serves me on a day-to-day basis. As I’ve said all along, a good idea attempted is still better that a bad idea perfected and I’m still turning my problems into my assets.

            Don Letts Final Chapter 2

In 2011 I was presented with the opportunity of treading familiar ground. Big Audio Dynamite reformed for a 6 month tour and if nothing else it was a great way to deal with mid-life crisis (and much safer than riding a motor-bike!). We played some seriously high profile festivals around the globe as well as sell out gigs on our home turf – and yes I still had coloured stickers on my keyboards. For my part I had a great time, it was cool to me standing on stage with Mick Jones and the boys again. It some how felt like the third act of Big Audio Dynamite ‘the musical’ and I count myself as a very lucky man indeed for being presented with the opportunity.

Don Letts Final Chapter 3

As it turns out I’m still hustling my way through the 21st century, o.k so it’s a creative hustle but a hustle never the less. Like many I survive by juggling several different things. So in that respect I’m ahead of the game cause I’ve spent my whole life doing that – and luckily I enjoy it, as for me it’s all part of a whole. And in my book if you can make a buck doing something you enjoy you're a winner. By the end of this year I will have seen fifty-six summers. I guess I should be both older and wiser, but I think I got screwed on the wiser part. What I have learnt is that the evolution of mankind is painfully slow. I know this by looking at myself. Now you might look around the bubble that you’re living in and think otherwise, then you turn on the news and it's a reality check. But when I think of what my parents achieved in their lifetime and the selfless sacrifices they made to set us up, I’m pleased with my part in the process. I’ve learned that for the most part we have to work towards goals we probably won't live to see. That kind of sucks, but the small changes I see in my bubble get me through the day. I still want to paint a new portrait of London on film—every city should have a great movie (as well as a great song). I want to celebrate the cultural mix, the juxtaposition of old and new, the very duality of my existence. I want to reflect on the input we as immigrants have made as I believe that it is this influx that has put the Great back in Britain. Hanging on to an island mentality ain't going anywhere. It’s the creativity that comes out of the multicultural mix that makes London swing.

              Don Letts Final 4

P.S As luck would have it at the beginning of 2012 I was approached by Fred Perry to create a film celebrating the labels heritage for its 60th anniversary. 'Subculture' traces the journey of British style driven youth movements from Teds n’ Rockers to Mods and Skinheads through Soul-Boys, Punk and Two Tone right up to Casuals, Rave and Britpop. I realized while making the film that in one way or another I’ve actually been touched by, or involved in, nearly every one of these tribes (yes I’m that old!). But most importantly it re-enforced the impact of my culture from the time of my parent’s arrival to this very day. Funnily enough I’ve been so busy being a part of it, I’d never really had time to think about it.

Click HERE for all posts by Don Letts.

As part of our 60 Year Anniversary Celebrations, Don Letts has created six short films exploring British music and street style. The Don Letts Subculture Films are now avilable to watch on Fred Perry Subculture HERE.

A Chat with Horace Panter

Horace Panter was studying for a degree in Fine Art when he and some friends formed a little band called The Specials. Several albums, tours and trips around the world later, art is back in the frame for the musician and painter who has used these opportunities as inspiration for his work. We caught up with Horace to chat influences, icons and what's up next.

Horace Panter at work in his studio

Fred Perry: Hi Horace, talk us through your most recent work:

Horace Panter: I’m currently working with a screen printer in Birmingham. After having read a book on Warhol, I liked the way he used a process that removes the artist, while at the same time using the process to make the work very personal. Also, I like the idea of fake, so I want to do a fake Warhol. I’m also looking at the idea of mixed media, collage and the like. I’ve recently met up with a Scottish artist, Colin Brown, who does some cool collages; I saw his work in a gallery in St Andrews and they reminded me of some of my ʻChicago Bluesʼ pieces so I bought one. I’m always referring back to the work of Joseph Cornell because he is an important influence. In terms of painting, I’m doing some faux-religious stuff. I’m fascinated with the symbolism of all those Fra Angelica Giotto, early Renaissance painters- I’m convinced I’ll end up painting real icons!

'Hound Dog Taylor' by Horace Panter

FP: You were studying art when you first formed The Specials - do you think your art and music inspire one another, or are they very separate disciplines?

HP: They are separate disciplines. As a musician (I’m a bass guitarist) I’m dependent on drummers, singers, guitarists, etc., and I’m a very good team player. This is very different to painting, which I view as my ʻsolo careerʼ. Where the two disciplines converge is in the marketing. I’ve used a music-business model to get the work seen; my wife is my Malcolm McClaren!

FP: Is there any particular music you listen to whilst you work?

HP: When I’m doing my Blues paintings, I listen to Blues! I have difficulty with multi-tasking; I could never do my school homework with the TV on. I generally work in silence – total concentration.

FP: Are there any particular visual artists who have inspired you, or whose style is evident in your work?

HP: I’m like a chameleon…or the Borg! I assimilate a lot of stuff I see: Henri Rousseau, Peter Blake, Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Indiano, Kenneth Noland, Mark Rothko, Ed Rusha, and traditional iconography. I have some cool books on Australian Aborigine Art and I was really impressed with what I saw in Beijing a couple of years ago. I suppose Pop Art is my biggest influence, but I’ve started looking a lot at American 19th century Realists. I think The Borg is the best description of my influences and tastes!

'Scarecrow' by Horace Panter

FP: Several of your paintings feature other noted musicians - do you see art as a means of paying homage to your heroes? Is there a reason behind these pieces?

HP: I love The Blues and I have always wanted to describe the music visually, not just paint a picture of Muddy Waters, but try to describe the music itself. The Blues wasn’t tidy, wasn’t polite, neat. It was visceral, brash, came from the heart, rather than the head. I’ve tried to put that over in the work. And yes, absolutely, these paintings are a homage to my favourite Blues practitioners!

In another galaxy altogether, I saw an exhibition of Stanley Spencerʼs ʻGarden Paintingsʼ that I thought were beautiful, so I painted a picture of a scarecrow in a kitchen garden with him in mind - trying to ‘channel his spirit’ I suppose. One of my favourite Wayne Thiebaud paintings is of a pair of shoes and I’ve just gone out and bought myself a new pair of Doc Marten brogues that are currently sitting atop a desk in my painting studio!

FP: Do you have a favourite piece, or a project you are particular proud of?

HP: The ʻFruit Girlʼ paintings probably, although ʻPunk Rock Girlʼ and ʻBeijing Street Sweeperʼ both have something special about them. Of the Blues paintings, ʻHound Dog Taylorʼ and ʻStevie Ray Vaughanʼ are my favourites, although ʻBo Diddleyʼ and ʻMuddy Watersʼ seem to be the most popular. If there is a painting I’m NOT proud of, you don’t get to see it!

'Muddy Waters' by Horace Panter

FP: Youʼve been in several successful musical groups, but your painting is a solitary project. In your mind, what are the pros and cons of creating individually and as part of a group?

HP: As I said earlier, being in a band involves tight team work and working for the benefit of the group as a whole. Painting, as you remark, is a solitary occupation ... all the decisions, successes and failures, are my own! I enjoy my own company so I have no problem with immersing myself for hours on end in the process of realising an idea on paper. The studio is probably my favourite place. Having said that, I can’t deny that being on a stage playing bass guitar is close to heavenly!

FP: Finally, what’s coming up next for you - more music, or more art?

HP: The Specials are about to announce plans for 2013, which I’m really looking forward to. Regarding the art, 2012 has been a very positive year and has put me in a good position for 2013. My work is represented by several galleries in the UK and even one in Singapore: White Room Art, Leamington Spa and Bath; Number Nine Gallery, Birmingham; Contemporary Six, Manchester; Metropolis Art, Bournemouth; 1 Love Art, Bristol; The Artists Gallery, Aberdeen; Icon Gallery, Singapore. So, in answer to your question...both!

To see more of Horace's artwork and for information on past and future exhibitions, visit his official website.

www.horacepanterart.com

Exhibition: Punk Graphics 1971- 1984

A new exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery Project Space explores the graphic design surrounding the punk movement from 1971 – 1984. Curated by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Someday all the Adults Will Die features several hundred pieces of previously unseen material selected from private collections and archives. Homemade cassettes, fanzines, posters, records and clothing surround the space; created by the likes of Gee Vaucher and Gary Panter alongside numerous anonymous artists.

Crass Poster, 1978 -© PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

© PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012 

© PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

This now distinctive DIY style emerged as an expression of the movement’s youthful rebellion and anti-authoritarian mentality, creating a powerful aesthetic that’s influence is still visible today. Much of the graphic material from this period was created by inspired amateurs, allowing them to tap into a rough-hewn style to create their own handcrafted visual language. Highlights from the show include original press releases and pamphlets for the Sex Pistols and Ramones, as well as early fanzines including London's Outrage, Punk, Sniffin' Glue and Surburban Press.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of Punk: An Aesthetic, a new book featuring essays by William Gibson and Linder Sterling; edited by the show's curators Kugelberg and Savage.

Someday All the Adults Will Die: Punk Graphics 1971 - 1984 opens on 14 September 2012 and runs until 4 November 2012 at the Hayward Gallery Project Space, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX