top of page

All the Love of the Universe - Santana

Despite or maybe because of my work in the arts, the license given to artists for eccentric or nonconformist behaviour by the middle classes has always irked me. The rampant licentiousness of the likes of Rodin, Picasso and various less famous artists I have known over the years is generally a matter for them; however I can never understand why the condemnation that members of other professions for similar misdemeanours received was so much greater. If a milkman or gardener or accountant was promiscuous it was shocking and ought not to be allowed, but if an artist did the same thing, it was, somehow, alright. "He's a free spirit" they'd say or "well you know how it is with these creatives". Perhaps it is a sign that society wasn't really taking them seriously. Much better is the town where artists are respected as worthwhile professionals. Indeed I have lived in a community where artists are so much part of the economic and social infrastructure that it's a mistake to speak ill of an artist to the milkman as they as they are probably related. This may seem an exaggeration, but this actually happened to me, back in the days of milkmen.

Nowadays, there is an assumption that all artists are very "creative" people. Naturally, artists by definition create art, but I have met artists who number among some of the least creative or imaginative people I have ever met. This is not to say that most good artists aren't, indeed, very creative people. They are, without doubt, often pushing boundaries and, as a result, sometimes landing themselves in a heap of trouble by so doing. There is a danger though, that some artists see themselves as "creative" and look down on the rest of mankind as mere mortals, bereft of the gift of creativity.

In the 1990 North London Lesbian Strength and Gay Pride Festival (see previous posts), Islington Council put on an exhibition called "Up Against It" that featured the Islington Library book covers that were defaced by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell in the early sixties. The exhibition took place at Essex Road library one of two libraries where the original "defacements" by Orton and Halliwell originally took place. The pair used to redesign the covers of library books with cut-outs from magazines or other books in the library as well as typing out their own book jacket descriptions of the books' contents. They did this to shock the staid library users and would hang around the libraries for hours having left the doctored volumes on prominent display hoping to see the reactions of the public to their creative interventions. Sadly they were caught in the act in 1962, and Islington Council prosecuted them, securing shockingly harsh prison sentences of 6 months each, for causing £450 of damage to the art books from which they made the cuttings.

The "defaced" book covers themselves are wonderfully satirical miniature works of art, often very funny. Their dynamic and colourful Shakespeare covers, using exciting collages of classic art, show such enthusiasm for the subject matter that they should be adopted for all school editions of the texts instead of the dry bookfaces that are the norm.

A few years ago, I was privileged to be in a small group that was shown a the first "rushes" of a new film by a pair of prestigious art-house film makers. The film was like many of their productions, a picaresque journey with an overall theme during which a series of interesting "characters" are met en route. These are usually eccentric people with an interesting occupation or tale to tell, more often than not some kind of philosophical professor, or author, or artist, whose views or anecdotes contribute to the overriding theme of the piece. These meetings were often described as "coincidental", taking place "amazingly" "by chance" as though there was some post-divine logic driving the narrative.

In the film rushes, which we watched with live narration from one of the directors, they passed the prison where Orton and Halliwell were interned. The director remarked scathingly that nowadays Islington Council had the book covers on permanent display, that they were now the main attraction of Islington Museum, and indeed that it was a typical example of the hypocrisy of the "establishment".

Afterwards, I spoke to him and told him that I was one of the people who put the exhibition together and that its tone was very much one of reparation, saying that the sentence had been wrong and making the point that its harshness was as much to do with the fact that Orton and Halliwell were gay as the vandalism they were charged with. The main point of the exhibition and indeed the festibval was to show how the times had changed in that Islington Council now celebrated rather than victimised its Lesbian and Gay communities. I also pointed out that when we did the original exhibition, we discovered that we could not display the actual book covers, as he supposed, but had to put copies on show as the originals were deemed too valuable by our insurers to be put on display without a level of security that we could not afford. Indeed the fact that the exhibition was bought back year after year was entirely due to the demand from the London gay community. The film director, instead of treating me as yet another of those amazing chance meetings which make up their odysseys, wasn't in the least bit interested. I can only think that what I said didn't fit into the prevailing argument of the film. While I had no thought that I might be included in any final cut, it did occur to me that a Council Arts Officer might not be the kind of witness to add a dash of colour to their parade of free spirits.

Unashamedly influenced by Peter Green, Carlos Santana has one of the few instantly recognisable guitar styles of musicians playing today. He started his band - Santana - in 1966 in San Francisco and fifty four years and twenty-five albums later, they are still going strong, with many of the original line-up returning to record with the group again in 2016. Santana has always veered between two musical styles, the first the popular latin influenced rock of the first three albums and intermittent recordings since, the second a more experimental jazz influenced rock sound. It is as if bandleader Carlos uses the one to pay for the honesty or self-indulgence (depending on your point of view) of the other. Both are great, although maybe it's significant that the record I most often return to is their fourth LP from 1972, Caravanserai. It is also one of my favourite album covers of all time. The track has all of the excitement and freshness of their earlier recordings and climaxes with a terrific guitar solo from Santana himself juxtaposed with some wonderful, swirling organ from the excellent Gregg Rolie

Once, while in my home cricket pavilion padding up to be ready to bat, I overheard two old club retainers conversing as they watched my 15 year old son smite the ball to all corners of the pitch. One said, "It's amazing for such a father to have produced so fine a cricketer" to which the other replied, "it was probably the milkman." They pondered this remark in silence for a few moments before the first shook his head. "No, no, it couldn't have been the milkman. He's even worse at cricket than Stylus."

bottom of page