It’s been wall-to-wall Bowie here for the past 24 hours and I’ve been wondering why when a close friend asked me what relationship I had with him, my response was pretty lukewarm, to say the least. Sadness at his departure, yes. Great music, yes - and music that I can appreciate and like. But not so much that I ever really wanted to own it. In fact, I’ve only ever bought two records which feature David Bowie: his narration of Peter and the Wolf and his collaboration with Pat Metheny on the soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman.
But I suppose those two do at least illustrate his real genius: that he always knew who to collaborate with - those people that he knew would always push him forward.
But that doesn’t answer why my relationship with him is so tangental - and I think it all goes back to 1972. That was the year that he released what was regarded as his breakthrough album - and the response to that was fuelled by his appearance on Top of the Pops. And at the time it completely passed me by.
1972 was a year of enormous change and upheaval for me. The year started with my wife and I living in a rented flat in Southampton and me commuting to work in London, but in February we moved to Manchester for me to return to college to do a research fellowship (which turned out to be a mistake), our return to the south in October, then buying our first house in Winchester in the December, with me returning to work in London. It leaves me breathless when I look back and see just how much we squeezed into life in those twelve months. Oh what it is to be young and free(ish)!
But we didn’t have a television in all that time, and I didn’t listen to the radio (I didn’t drive then, which was maybe part of the reason for that). So that was perhaps why Bowie passed me by.
Which made me wonder what music I was listening to in 1972 - and here are the records I can remember buying:
1. Neil Young (regular readers from the past won't be surprised by that)
And there’s one particular song that I always associate with Manchester in 1972. It’s that song that is always associated with summer, with walking down the street and hearing it wafting out of open windows. It was the year that Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits was released, and the song was Bridge over Troubled Water. That song always takes me straight back to 11 Hesketh Avenue.
Interesting, looking back, to see that all my cultural references seemed to be originating in America. I never would have thought that.
And what were you up to in 1972 (assuming you'd been born by then)?
You may well think that this blog is dead. But it's not: it's merely resting. Just waiting for the right moment to return with a vengeance. Although that might not be for some time yet. I'll keep you posted though – you can be sure of that.
But meanwhile life goes on. And it might surprise you that I've been having some very interesting chats with designer friends. Virtual friends that I've met on here: albeit friends that I've never met. Perhaps one day I will.
Anyway, one of those chats involved my giving some advice. I'm always happy to do that, if you ask me nicely. But I don't force it down people's throats. God forbid that I should ever turn into one of those "you don't want to do it like that, you want to do it like this" fellows. There's enough of them already. Particularly among designers (or, should I say, a certain type of designer). I'm sure you've met them, too.
But back to the advice, which was this: when you first become self-employed (and if you're a designer, you almost certainly will, one day, become self-employed) the best advice that I can give you is to always follow your first instinct. That's about the people you meet and the work that you'll be asked to take on. That is, if it feels right go for it; but if it doesn't, proceed with caution.
It was advice that was given to me on my very first day as a solo artist. And it's always stood me in good stead throughout my career. I'd like to say that it never failed me, but that wouldn't quite be correct. Sometimes something happens, something that you couldn't have foreseen. Something that is beyond your control, and which spirals towards disaster.
So let me take you back to 1984. A time when you might well find me listening to:
I was working in Covent Garden (OK: on the fringes of) at workplace number 6. Alongside some very talented and like-minded folk. Good times and happy days. The office had two secretaries: for it was a job share (yes, we were ahead of the times). Now the afternoon secretary did a morning shift at an architectural practice based in Chelsea, and come early 1984 they were in need of a freelance graphic designer to help them out on a particular project. Would I be interested? Damn right I'd be interested.
So arrangements were made and an appointement set: I would meet one of the partners who would sound me out and tell me all about their requirements. The date: 28 March 1984.
But this was the Thatcher era, remember. Turbulent times. And on 28 March 1984 there was a London Transport strike. So, no tube trains and virtually no buses anywhere in London. But I was lucky, I managed to hail a cab in Shaftesbury Avenue that delivered me straight to Chelsea for my 2pm appointment.
And so I met one of the partners, Peter N. A nice chap, and we had a lovely chat. Mostly about the narrow boat that he'd bought and fully restored somewhere in the Midlands. We seemed to get on well and the job was outlined to me: designing the display panels for a new UNESCO-funded museum in the Middle East. Fantastic, I thought. So it was a yes from me, and a yes from Peter N. Terms were discussed and agreed, and we arranged that I should start work in two or three weeks time. We'd keep in touch by phone and arrange the exact date once other team members had been consulted.
And so it was that I found myself back on the streets of Chelsea. Mid-afternoon on the day of a transport strike. Not a free cab to be found anywhere. And to top it off, it had started raining.
What a long and miserable trudge back to Covent Garden that was, I can tell you. And I should have realised that that was the omen. But I didn't.
We've been having a bit of a clear out of the attic. And we've unpacked a whole load work samples. Including this font, which I designed in 1973 (and therefore all drawn by hand). It never got to see the light of day, though.
And to think I was living in Manchester at the time. If only I'd stayed there for the next 30 years I could have sold it to Oasis.
If you've not been coming here for that long then you probably haven't explored every nook and cranny. If, on the other hand, you've been here for the long haul there may be things that you've forgotten. So let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the highlights.
First off, this from July 2008 - this made me smile #52: