Friday, 9 January 2009

Shameless name-dropping

I fell off the Manchester book award today. And after all my recent reminiscing about Manchester too! I had been on the longlist, but did not make the shortlist. Ah well. It was nice while it lasted.

Manchester has indeed been on my mind in the last few days. My email conversation with Helen Chase prompted me to Google a couple of people and I found my old friend Jim Parris. Jim was the bass player and musical heart of the band I was in - the one that never played. It was called Theramin. My old friend, former house-mate, studio-mate and fellow illustrator, Alan Adler, was on drums.

And what a fantastic name Jim Parris is, by the way. It sounds like someone Jack Kerouac would have hung out with.

Jim was - and is - a hugely talented musician. He was (and I'm sure still is) very good-looking and cool: everything I was not (and why am I saying 'was' there?). It must have been very frustrating to be in a band with people like me who could barely play a chord without help, though he never showed it if it was. Jim went on to form another band, called Bee Vamp in 1978. John Peel liked them I think. I was very jealous.

Alan also played drums in a band called The Thunderboys when he and the effervescent Carmel McCourt and I all shared a house. Most of the people in the house were in the band (not me though). Carmel was a painting student who, if memory serves, did spot paintings years before Damien Hirst. Carmel McCourt's not a bad name either is it?

Carmel guested on vocals for Bee Vamp and later the band Carmel emerged, with the lovely Carmel on vocals, Jim on bass and Jim's cousin Gerry on percussion. They had a couple of proper hit singles. They were on TV. I was very, very jealous.

After a couple of emails to Jim, Carmel herself got in touch. It was great to hear from her and to hear her news. She is appearing in a play called Song of Songs. I hope I get to see it. I'll give you the dates and venues when I've looked at the email again.

My link with music went in another direction. The other founder of Theramin was Paul Ablett who sang and played sax - or would have had we ever performed. He auditioned me by asking me to play along with James White and the Black's Contort Yourself.

Paul also used to write music reviews for the Student Union newspaper - Pulp. He asked me to illustrate them and those drawings were my first real illustration commissions.

I left Manchester in 1980 and went to London, sharing a house in Palmer's Green and a studio opposite the British Museum with Alan Adler (who was still playing the drums). The Pulp pictures and some paintings of rock stars I did in my final year - Howard Devoto of Magazine among them - got me a job at Record Mirror drawing caricatures of pop stars for the letters page. A job that lasted for five long years. I don't think I ever drew Carmel, but I certainly drew Mick Hucknall of Simply Red who was in her year (the one below mine) at the art college in Manchester.

I had very little interest in the 80s pop scene and I probably did not put my all into those drawings of Bananarama and Haircut 100, looking back. And Boy George stills owes me £200 for a drawing I did for his fan club. My guess is that I'm probably not going to get that back now, am I Mr O'Dowd?


  1. So - when can we see the Howard painting then?

    H :)

  2. Sadly all my old work is in storage. It wasn't that great, although I'm fairly sure it was a good likeness. It was published in a book of portraits along with another painting I did of Sid Vicious. It was a photo-realistic thing based on a picture in the NME I think. I may have it on slide somewhere. If I do, I'll give it an airing.