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Summer in Siam - the Pogues


Artwork by Jon Cole



When I first started doing discos, in the early 90's, the needs of the annual, local village fete were a lot more demanding than one might suspect. To be successful, you had to play the latest tracks without being "naf", while embracing dance music from as far back as the second world war, to get the old folk on the dancefloor (see post https://www.unclestylus.com/single-post/2018/03/21/aint-got-no-home-clarence-the-frogman-henry ) and then somehow keep them, as the music became faster and the small hours larger.


The evenings began at seven with slow tunes as people chatted, drank and ate, providing the opportunity to place a marker in the sand. I was proud that I could boast discos that included the likes of Bob Dylan, Velvet Underground, the Pogues, Nina Simone and Tom Waits to name but a few, and yet kept the dancefloor packed until 2 am. The secret was to slip these in early so the sixty pluses could lap them up for their sedate pseudo-waltzability.


"Summer in Siam" was one of these, reputed to be among Shane McGowan's very favourite Pogues' songs. Besides recalling those Summer discos, it also now makes me remember an artist, Jon Cole, who died in a car accident in Cambodia in January 2007. I know Siam is the old name for Thailand, which isn't Cambodia, rather the country to its north, but it always makes me think of him.


On November 30th last, hearing the news of the tragic death of Pogue lead singer Shane McGowan, I dusted off my "Summer in Siam" platter and put it on the turntables. As the piano tripped down the gentle slope of the drum intro, Jon once more came to mind, and I remembered that an exhibition of his work was just about to close at Gallery Project 78 in St Leonards-on-Sea. Curious. I'd noticed the exhibition was on, and had intended go, but it had slipped my mind, and I'd nearly missed it.


Jon was a talented, unique artist who I knew only slightly. He worked, on a couple of commissions I had helped secure the funding for, a large wall mural designed by artist Ray Smith, and as part of the design team, with artist Caroline Le Breton, for the re-creation of Marina Pavilion in St Leonards-on-Sea. I also sometimes saw him at the artists' collective, Project Art Works, in Hastings, enabling and painting alongside neuro-diverse artists from the group.


Since his death, I have got to know him a little through his artwork, selections of which are exhibited every few years in Hastings and at least once in London, as though he just won't go away, which is a good thing. His pictures often appear to be abstract, but are always arresting, the colour or phrase of line demanding the viewer's attention, as though suffused with potential energy, yet calm and often beautiful at the same time. Although they look it, it's as though his paintings are not abstract at all, the art feels quite the opposite, very real. It's as if, in each artwork, he has gone somewhere far away, got lost, and then found himself. The work has a purity which feels very honest, very positive, which is why they, and therefore Jon, stays with you.


Perhaps it was this same ability to embark on such journeys that enabled Jon to work so productively and sympathetically with neuro-diverse artists at Project Art Works. As someone said to me, "it was as though he went for a long walk with them, and let them do all the talking."

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