For Drummers Only #1 (2022)

My immediate response to The Kick-About No.56 was ‘make a film’, so I set about trying to find a means to visualise Sandy Nelson’s percussive effects. I built some simple 2D shapes in the video-editing software and tried to ‘vibrate’ them. I had the image of a cymbal being struck, a disc-shape producing more complex effects due to the persistence of vision. I struggled a bit, because I couldn’t get what my imagination was showing me. That said, during the experiments that led me to give up on the idea of moving image, I began to develop work for which I could muster more enthusiasm – and if not visualisations of sound exactly, than artwork that wouldn’t look too out of place on the front cover of a jazz album. More to come.

The Kick-About #56 ‘For Drummers Only’

There’s something stripped back and uncompromising about the paintings of Basquiat, the prompt for our last Kick-About together. Likewise Sandy Nelson’s For Drummers Only, a 12 minute drum solo from 1962 that has likely had a few of us bopping about our respective work spaces or reaching for saucepans and wooden spoons to make a noise with…

Vanessa Clegg

“I closed my eyes and let the music fill me up… legs and feet jiggling to the beat, memories of the 606 club on the New Kings Rd..the doors opening just before midnight, musicians arriving after their various gigs and ‘ jamming’ ’til the early hours, alcohol in coffee cups and cigarette smoke hanging low, climbing the stairs at dawn. A quiet response to an exhilarating disc and time travel.” Watercolour and graphite on gesso.

James Randall

“Loved the track and immediately went to motion and hit on a methodology that seemed to work. Then I needed a soundtrack without the fear of copyright infringement so created a noise to time an animation to. The narrative for the animation came from me walking into town for an artist’s talk- haven’t been out at night for ever! My first attempt came to a sudden halt after some effort was spent trying to recreate a street scene. It was never going to have any of the emotion of the real thing. So I rethought and came up with a type work that you can sometimes read but poor colour choices make that very difficult. Also about two thirds of the way through my words created in a different computer application run out. It’s a bit of a mess but I think it’s pretty and that’s what we need isn’t it?”

Colin Bean

“The prompt initially recalled my grandfather tapping out the ‘Radetszky March’ on the kitchen table.  He saw service in both world wars and as an Austrian  became German in 1938 and served in the Wehrmacht. Themes in ‘The Tin Drum’ (Gunther Grass), written after the war, suggested the imagery. Once I had the image, I used a Berol handwriting pen over washes created with watercolour pencils and used the same to enrich. The scrap glass over the image was smashed with a hammer. In honesty I have not  properly read The Tin Drum, but some years ago I did read ‘The Painted Bird’ (Jerzy Kosinski) and neither is for the faint hearted. Both, I think, deal with individual survival. In the end the image makes comment on the aspects of the war that my grandfather survived but didn’t say much about.”

Charly Skilling

“I love drumming. I love the sound, the rhythm, the feel of drumming. Fingertips on  desktops,  palms on bongos,  sticks on big bass, brushes on snares – any type of drumming is ok with me. And Sandy Nelson was one of the first big name  drummers to make its way into my consciousness. So having wallowed in the Sandy Nelson track several times, I first tried reflecting the rhythms by using sharpie pens as drum sticks, allowing the tips to mark as they would and then adding more purpose to my daubing as a kind of notation. I then moved on to create my own rhythms by allotting different colour paints to my fingers on each hand and drumming with first fingertips only and then with the flat of my fingers and palms.  Finally, I used two paintbrushes as drum sticks and, one in each hand, bashed out the rhythm. I had such fun. I’ll probably do it again!”

Jan Blake

I became totally immersed in this and this early painting was trying to capture all of it in one place….”

“… I then felt that the whole piece reminded me of a train journey through various terrains. Maybe prompted by a trip I will be making next week. I love the planning and the anticipation of travel.  Train journeys and stations have been cropping up in my sketchbooks  for many years and its the rhythm of the trains and the intricacies of the cables that seem to lend themselves to this drumming piece I ran out of time to arrange all the images I had encountered in my imagination so here are some I have selected to represent this journey.

Marion Raper

“Upon doing some research I discovered that drumming releases endorphins, enkephalins and alpha waves in the brain, which are associated with feelings of happiness and well being. How wonderful!  Is this why we tap out feet or click our fingers to a catchy rhythm or beat? Or perhaps even feel we simply have to get up and dance? Although this is a rather tenuous link – here are some quick sketches of  happy couples ‘getting down with the beat’ and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Long may it continue!”

Kerfe Roig

“The drumming of Sandy Nelson reminded me of heartbeats which can careen wildly under different circumstances.  When I looked online for images of hearts, I was attracted to the somewhat psychedelic MRI images. I wanted to work large, but even with 18 x 24 paper, I was unable to do justice to all the different elements of the heart. I made no layout, but just started drawing in the upper center with my colored pencils, a small section each day.  So both the line quality and the proportions changed as I went on.  Whole sections were expanded, compressed, and left out – just like the trajectory of the drumming in my mind.” /

Francesca Maxwell

“What a great album, thank you Charly, very inspiring. I find percussions and drums quite fascinating. When I was heavily pregnant with Sophie, we went to a Kodo Drummers gig. I didn’t realise it would be quite so loud and powerful, I could feel the sound waves going through me like through air, I could barely breathe. I was quite worried about Sophie, but she started kicking madly as soon as the sound stopped, which I took as a sign of appreciation. So here I am, back on the heart, and the heart beat responding to the drumming.” Acrylic Inks on watercolour paper, 25×17 cm.

Phil Gomm

“My immediate response to this prompt was ‘make a film’, so I set about trying to find a means to visualise Nelson’s percussive effects; I built some simple 2D shapes in the video-editing software and tried to ‘vibrate’ them. I had the image of a cymbal being struck, a disc-shape producing more complex effects due to the persistence of vision. I struggled a bit, because I couldn’t get what my imagination was showing me. That said, during the experiments that led me to give up on the idea of moving image, I began to develop some work for which I could muster more enthusiasm – and if not visualisations of sound exactly, than artwork that wouldn’t look too out of place on the front cover of a jazz album.”

Phil Cooper

“I’ve been enjoying listening to the amazing percussion of Sandy Nelson this week. I’d put it on when I was cooking, cleaning, working, it’s great for doing anything to. From time to time I’d grab a pen or a ruler and start tapping things in time to the music, the beats and rhythms are infectious. In response I made some cut-out paper shapes, trying to capture something of the music in the repeated shapes and colours of the papers. I then photographed them, overlaying the shapes and making different arrangements before adding some effects in Snapseed and Enlight. It was great fun and I found using sounds as a starting point was very freeing. It really encouraged spontaneity.” / /

Gary Thorne

“Still on whirligigs… but wishing to crank up the crank-shaft automation in order to learn a few new tricks whilst challenging the figure of speech ‘when pigs fly’. Some tweaking still to be done…”

Graeme Daly

“The plan was to plug the music for this week’s Kick About into a powerful plugin within Maya and have each drum model move to the rhythm of the whips and high hats in a synchronised swim of instruments. But alas my setup couldn’t handle rendering video with all the glossy gold materials and red rim lighting. Instead I decided to settle on snapshots and just focus on the materials and lighting, similar to the atmosphere you might see in a warm low lit speakeasy or jazz lounge.”

@graemedalyart / / / /

Thanks to Australia-based artist, illustrator and Kick-Abouter, Judy Watson, we have our new prompt, in the form of the drawings of Mervyn Peake. Have fun.

Short Film: Whizz Bang Ooh Aah (2021)

Thanks to The Kick-About No.40, I went shooting off on another short-lived, if intense, trajectory inspired by these beautiful and poetic illustrations of fireworks. I’ve been sharing images resulting from my photography of soap bubbles, which was the safest way I could think of – in a short time – to work with colourful displays as fleeting as fireworks. I really enjoyed some of imagery, finding in it some of the explosive qualities we associated with pyrotechnics. What these experiments couldn’t express was the kineticism and noise of a good firework display, so I was further tempted to have a bash at using the photographs to produce some moving-image. Whizz Bang Ooh Aah is the result, my intention being to get close to that moment at the end of a big organised show when the sights and sounds become almost over-whelming, before the abrupt outbreak of darkness, silence – and applause!

The Two Rivers Café Podcast / Wine Doesn’t Agree With Me

Last year, composer Andrew Fisher very kindly agreed to write the theme for my audiobook adaptation of my first children’s book, Chimera Book 1. Andrew nailed it first time out, taking all the inspiration he needed from artist Phil Cooper’s artwork, and delivering a wonderful mix of b-movie-meets-magic, all shimmer, Halloween chills and a pang of melancholy. A few months later, Andrew invited me on as his first guest on his all-new The Two Rivers Café podcast, where he challenged me to make a new short film on a given theme, to which he would then compose an original score. The theme I chose to work with was ‘wine’ – which was counter-intuitive considering wine doesn’t agree with me! You can listen to our conversation here and watch the film we made together below. Andrew will be talking to, and collaborating with, other creatives in subsequent episodes, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in The Two Rivers Café .

Wine Doesn’t Agree With Me (2021) Phil Gomm / Andrew Fisher

The Kick-About #17 ‘Andante quasi lento e contabile’ – Hely-Hutchinson

This week, the woods remain lovely, dark and deep, as dreams of snow and ice continue to characterise this suitably festive Kick-About, with new works inspired by the third slow movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s 1927 A Carol Symphony. The Kick-About has been running for thirty-four weeks and was started, in part, as a response to the first lock-down. Throughout this time, our fortnightly shindigs have been a constant source of anticipation, comfort and satisfaction and I just wanted to say a big thank you to all my fellow kick-abouters for your creativity, conversation and always, the surprises. A big thank you too to all those who comment, who participate, who browse, and who share. Now go have yourselves a very merry Christmas!

Marion Raper

“This painting isn’t what I had intended – but then again what is these days!  In my mind I had envisaged carol singers and a merry Christmas card type scene. Alas it all went rather pear-shaped, so this is one I did earlier. I suppose it has a rather snowy and bleak look about it, but if you just keep walking around the corner and over the hill, there is little village hidden away and yes, I can hear the sound of Christmas carols drifting across the fields.  Merry Yule tide and a peaceful New Year one and all.”

Phil Cooper

The wonderful piece of music for this week’s kick about prompt has been wafting through the flat today, reminding me that Christmas does have some very nice things about it, once I forget about all the things I’m supposed to associate it with these days. I used to love this time of year as a kid, less so as I’ve got older and feel pressured to have somebody else’s version of Christmas and not the one I want. 

I made this collage a few years ago, putting a few of my favourite wintry things together to create a version of Christmas I’d actually like; snow, the winter landscape, a cosy lit window, a jet black sky studded with hard bright stars. If you stepped inside that house there’d be a real tree with very beautiful decorations and real candles. Oh, and Christmas pudding and custard – now I’m living in Germany, I’m missing Christmas pudding soooo much, they don’t do it here!” / /

Jan Blake

“I have run out of time for this kick-about so  I am sending you my Christmas card. Wishing you all a  warm, safe and cosy Christmas and may 2021 brings us all a way out of such a strange time.”

Graeme Daly

“The music of this prompt felt very christmassy and warm indeed. To me, nothing feels more christmassy than going for a walk in the countryside of Ireland, where the invigorating air hits you with pure refreshment and the frost glistens the shrubbery and flora. I spent a lot of my time, when I was a young lad, outside, building rickety hideouts and treehouses with my friends and cousins. Going for a walk near my family home always feels like I am dipping into my memory vault, where walking past a bparticular tree will spark a memory of us building and climbing away; walking through the grasses of the fields reminds me of being cut by barbed wire, and being so dumbfounded by having fun, I didn’t realise I was bleeding with barbed wire marks in my palms.

I remember the beehive camouflaged into the ground of one particular field; I can only imagine the sight of us all running and screaming our heads off as we ran for our lives from the angry hive – after we’d awakened it! Memories like that are scattered around the countryside of Ireland. They echo as I stroll past them, and now I am older I can really appreciate them. Although all the hideouts and treehouses are dismantled, and our worn-down trails filled by vegetation again, the clean air and bright stars haven’t changed.

Although isolation has, for now, stopped me from revisiting those actual areas of my past, I remember them as I walk through the bogland surrounding my Mam’s house, where I know I would have been in my element too. I am still drawn to those picturesque areas and the crisp, clean air – and I really appreciate the little bird houses built into the trees to shelter the birds in the bitter winter. I still walk past a particular tree and think – that would have been a good one to climb.”

@graemedalyart / / / /

Phil Gomm

“When I listen to this particular movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I almost feel the temperature drop. It’s like that moment from The Sixth Sense, when the kid’s breath is suddenly visible in the presence of ghosts. The plucking of the harp is the musical equivalent of frost moving its way across the landscape – hard, sharp, crystalline and magical in some ancient way.

The house I grew up in had no central heating, only the gas fire in the living room. There was no double-glazing either and it was quite normal to wake up and see your breath in the bedroom. It was also common to find ice on the inside of the windows – frost ferns of extraordinary beauty. In response to this music, I wanted to capture those patterns of ice, but the weather here is stubbornly mild and ordinary. Undeterred, I set about recreating the sorts of photographs I might have taken, but had to rely on some digital transformations, taking an image of an actual frosted fern taken in my garden several winters ago, and pressing it against a window of my own invention. When the first of these images coalesced, I gave a small cry of delight – for yes, here they were again, those delicate veneers of ice, just as I remembered them, and for a moment at least, I was my small pyjamaed self.”

“As an 11th hour coda to my efforts at faking frost, I sent my resulting images over to CGI-whizz, Deanna Crisbacher, and asked her to have a kick-about too…”

“… and this last image is where Dee and I met in the middle to produce one more.”

Kerfe Roig

The musical selection of seasonal carols made me think of the cosmos – not just the return of the light this season celebrates, but the vast circles of time and space to which we belong. But how to show this in a concrete way? I turned to sacred geometry – the Seed of Life and the Egg of Life, images based on seven circles as a framework for the whole of creation, forms that also echo the tones of the musical scale. For my collages I used images from 2 of my reference books–Majestic Universe and Space Odyssey. It was a learning process, fitting all the pieces together like a puzzle, but I eventually approached the images I had in my mind. And for the poem, a seven line form–appropriately named Pleiades. Its six-syllable lines also reflect the 7 + 6 circles of the Egg of Life mandala.”

in the beginning, dark–
isn’t it always?—then
inside the seed, the egg,
invoking each other,
imagined, conjoined, kin–
instruments of (re)birth /

Charly Skilling

“Listening to Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I found myself wondering about the meaning and roots of the word “Noel”; why the Coventry Carol, also featured in this piece, could sound so gentle and loving when it was about the mass slaugher of children; and generally, how tradition and custom allowed us to sing of the Christmas story, without really registering the words at all. So I have tried to restore some of the words most associated with our Christmas carols back into the context of the original event – a re-telling of the nativity, which is all mine, illustrated with some beautiful paintings, which aren’t.

I’d also like to wish each of my fellow Kickabouters a safe and peaceful Christmas, and a much happier New Year! Thank you for making this year so much better than it might have been. Love and virtual hugs to you all.”

Simon Holland

Chris Rea once sang “I’m driving home for Christmas” Over the years I have often found myself doing the contrary. Whether it was for work or escapism, I would often find myself in a red and white queue, wending my way up some motorway or other. Rea shares an empathy with his fellow travellers, as they sit in their cars waiting to continue their journey to meet loved ones. I often experienced it in a different way as I was driving on those dark evenings; I was leaving home going somewhere, not back to family or to the out-of-town shopping centres, or to the supermarket to get the turkey dinner and this congestion Rea sentimentalises was a hindrance. I craved the dark mornings, or the late-night finishes. I knew the people on the roads then were the same as me, their purpose not driven by consumerism or sentimentality but by necessity.

Come Christmas day I would often find the ceremony of the event claustrophobic and melancholic. As the darkness settled in, I would make my excuses and leave. The streetlights led me somewhere – and away from something – neither the ‘somewhere’ nor the ‘something’ were tangible or important – the act of travelling was the goal. I would simply travel without a whim or care, but inevitably the ley lines of the world would draw me to the coast, where I would park by the harbour and watch the dark waves for a while before reluctantly returning home. Whichever way I experienced my Christmas lights, there was a freedom on those sodium drenched roads, no top-to-toe tailbacks, no red lights all around.

Now, having had a family, my house has had its share of being festooned. Christmas day isn’t so much of a chore, even with in-laws and pets and the general hullabaloo. I can even survive the most banal Christmas hit (just), but occasionally there is still that yearning to travel and experience those quiet routes again.” / /

Vanessa Clegg

“A mini mystery with a touch of fairy tale. We will pretty much all be indoors this year (especially if the rain goes on) so I’ve brought the spooky woods into the house and paused the singing… With luck it’ll resume. Winter Solstice! Light is on its way. Meanwhile, I hope everybody has a cosy creative few days with positive thoughts for 2021.”

‘early morning’

‘that night’


James Randall

“Well there you go – 2020 is almost over. I am a humbug from way back, so this really was a challenge! I guess I sidestepped it by jumping to a new year’s message, hopefully as treacley as the music. Based on some pics of cockatoos in Centennial Park – such wonderful clowns – which were taken a few weeks ago with grevilleas and bush cherry flowers, which are out in the garden now.

To all the kick-abouters Season’s Greetings and best wishes for a bright shiny 2021. It’s been marvellous seeing all your beautiful works.” 

We have the lovely Gary Thorne to thank for our next Kick-About prompt, which will no doubt come as a very welcome distraction from all things titivated, gilded and ‘Christmassy’. Gary presents us with simpler fare this week – left-overs from the great feast, perhaps?

MFT #4 To Keep My Love Alive (1956)

Ella Fitzgerald singing To Keep My Love Alive is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.

My ex never rated Ella Fitzgerald. He found her vocal seamlessness anodyne, preferring the gravel of Dinah Washington, the rasp of Etta James, the smoke of Sarah Vaughn.  He found Ella too polite, too popular, too ubiquitous, desexed. For all of that, as a gay man of a certain age whose identity had been criminalised until 1967, he nonetheless relished Fitzgerald’s success, the ‘in-plain-sight’ contrariness of her huge popularity; as Frank Rich noted about Fitzgerald in The New York Times in the days following her death in ‘here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians.’

True enough, Ella Fitzgerald and her great American Songbooks are too often the taken-for-granted soundtrack to cookie-cutter coffee-shops, the many colors of her superlative recordings rolled together like so much brown Plasticine – which is why hearing Fitzgerald sing To Keep My Love Alive is always such a subversive surprise.

Composed by Richard Rogers, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, To Keep My Love Alive is a song entirely dedicated to the various grisly mechanics of the murdering of husbands. This is a ditty for psychopaths characterised by audacious clever rhymes and a complete lack of conscience, delightfully free of moralising or any kind of comeuppance for the narrator. Specifically, when Ella sings To Keep My Love Alive it is like discovering your favourite auntie, school teacher or ample, smiling dinner lady is a serial killer. In this way, Ella Fitzgerald is hands-down the perfect performer for this nicely nasty little song.

I’ve been married, and married, and often I’ve sighed
“I’m never a bridesmaid, I’m always a bride

I never divorced them, I hadn’t the heart
Yet remember these sweet words, “’till death do us part”

I married many men, a ton of them
Because I was untrue to none of them
Because I bumped off every one of them
To keep my love alive

There is a perverse logic here I recognise; not the bumping-off part (my ex-partner is alive and well despite our various disagreements), but the idea of hastening the end of something before the end itself can disappoint. Fitzgerald is killing her husbands, not for their inheritances (though we can presume from their knighthoods they are not short of a bob or two), but in a selfless act of self-defence. She is protecting the ideal of romantic love from the indignities of long-term intimacy; from the farts and the floaters and the acid-reflux; from the balled tissues on the nightstand with their gooey soft-centres; from the baggy y-fronts and even baggier ball-bags, from the hairy soaps and varicose veins; and from the creeping somnambulism of routine and suppressed red-mist rage at all the snoring, at the chewing, at all the breathing. Rodgers and Hart’s heroine would rather her husbands dead than disappointing.

As a small boy, I was the same about holidays. Buoyed by the prospect of all the long days of freedom ahead of me, I’d be bonny and bouncy at the outset of my holidays, but come the mid-point of my week, my mood would bruise. Next thing, I’ve already re-packed my little suitcase and I’m sulking powerfully, now actively trying to hurry the holiday to its dreaded conclusion by refusing to participate in the present.

Sunday afternoons were the same. Christ, they’re still the same; it’s 4 pm on a Sunday and I want the weekend dead and buried so I won’t have to endure the awful ticking down towards the inevitability of Monday. I want things dead, not dying. The long days of late August can grip me similarly, as I whip on my widows weeds even as the sun still blazes and ample opportunities remain for loafing and lotus-eating. I’ve lost count of the number of pleasant experiences I’ve killed off prematurely simply because the prospect of them ending is worse, wringing the lovely necks of parties, blithe company, and sunny days to see off the misery of denouement.

Sir Paul was frail, he looked a wreck to me
At night he was a horse’s neck to me
So I performed an appendectomy
To keep my love alive

Sir Thomas had insomnia, he couldn’t sleep at night
I bought a little arsenic, he’s sleeping now all right

Sir Philip played the harp, I cussed the thing
I crowned him with his harp to bust the thing
And now he plays where harps are just the thing
To keep my love alive
To keep my love alive

I thought Sir George had possibilities
But his flirtations made me ill at ease
And when I’m ill at ease, I kill at ease
To keep my love alive

In what was a case of life imitating art, I bit my mum’s hand while watching Jaws. Grizzled shark-hunter Quint was seconds away from meeting his sticky end between the foam teeth of Spielberg’s rubber Carcharodon carcharias and mum had the temerity to put her hand over my eyes to shield me from the ensuing gouts of blood. I bit her to make her take her hand away – which she did. I wanted to see the nuts and bolts of this horrible thing. This was death made for looking at. This was death as spectacle. To Keep My Love Alive, however whimsical, is likewise in a tradition of storytelling that delights in the presentation of the destruction of the human body for our entertainment. It is a tradition based not on shock, but on anticipation.

Sir Charles came from a sanatorium
And yelled for drinks in my emporium
I mixed one drink, he’s in memorium
To keep my love alive

Sir Francis was a singing bird, a nightingale, that’s why
I tossed him off my balcony, to see if he, could fly

Sir Atherton indulged in fratricide,
He killed his dad and that was patricide
One night I stabbed him by my mattress-side
To keep my love alive
To keep my love alive
To keep my love alive

To Keep My Love Alive doesn’t end with our merry murderer being found out and carted off to the nearest insane asylum. This isn’t a whodunnit. We know very well who is doing what to whom and we’re being invited to enjoy their terrible behaviour. More than this, we are being invited to look forward to the next death-dealing ingenuity. The structure of the song quickly establishes there will soon be another murder, and then another, and now another, and we welcome warmly each inventive tableaux. Slasher movies know this. Director Richard Donner knew this when he made The Omen. The Final Destination franchise made millions of dollars because it knows this. These successive games of death are never games of if, or even really of who. There are always games of how.

Twenty years after To Keep My Love Alive was penned, Edward Gorey published The Gashley Crumb Tinies, his 1963 ABC of children’s mortal accidents. In common with To Keep My Love Alive, it takes a conscientious moral effort to reinstall the fact of Gorey’s subject-matter being about terrible things happening to innocent individuals. It takes effort because, truth be told, we don’t care. We don’t care because we are ghoulish. Because we love gallows humour because we need it. We like it when the unspeakable is spoken. More than this, we approve. We like it when our artists, writers, and filmmakers think, say and do the things we know we shouldn’t think, say or do. Edward Gorey dispatches luckless children for our pleasure and we feel only sneaking affection for his macabre alphabet. Ella Fitzgerald murders husbands and we smile and clap and tingle admiringly at her liberty to behave so appallingly.

Passion Animation Studio’s viral sensation, Dumb Ways To Die (2012), is where Rodgers and Hart and Edward Gorey meet in a sweet venn diagram of music-driven fatalities. Again, we have a simple song with a simple structure, distinguished by some fantastic word-play, and all in the service of powering along a sequence of appalling deaths designed to entertain. (Oh yeah, there’s also an important message somewhere in here about railway safety from Metro Trains in Melbourne, Victoria). If you know this charming little ditty already, you won’t thank me for resurrecting it. If you don’t know Dumb Ways To Die, I apologise in advance for the way it will now burrow into your brain, where it will worm snugly alongside To Keep My Love Alive and reside there stubbornly for days.

MFT #3 The Last Time I Saw Richard (1971)

The Last Time I Saw Richard is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.

I was introduced to Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album, Blue, when I was a first year undergraduate at art college. Maybe this is when everyone first hears the album? It certainly reads like a cliché now I’ve written it down.

The person who brought Blue to my attention was an older female student, a formidably assertive ceramicist, who was bisexual long before it was a thing and gave zero fucks what people thought of her. This was back in the early nineties, so my copy was pirated for me on a plain silver disc covered in the big indelible loops of the ceramicist’s hand-writing. I don’t know why this warm, generous, hot-headed woman thought I needed this album. Obviously I was walking about the place with a Joni Mitchell-shaped hole in me, as conspicuous to everyone else as a really bad hat.

Whatever the reason, Blue arrived with me, gifted by someone older and wiser, by someone who lived and worked in London, someone who’d travelled widely, someone less inhibited, someone with more notches on their bedpost, someone trailing more damage, someone bigger, someone braver.

The first thing you notice is how immediate it sounds, as if this is music not reaching you from some recording studio in 1971, but from a more intimate pocket of space.

I like every song on Blue. If it wasn’t June, I’d just as likely be enthusing about River, ‘the greatest, saddest Christmas song of all time’, and if I was tousled and sunburned from lounging too long by the pool, I’d be likely banging on about Carey, ‘the greatest summer holiday song of all time’.

The Last Time I Saw Richard is the final track on the album, the one that leaves you in silence, the one that makes reaching for another song or album feel as unseemly as buying a puppy moments after burying your dog. The song is just three short verses long; two people sitting across from each other in a bar, one of whom, Richard, is chiding the other’s romanticism and predicting for her only disillusionment. Richard’s companion suspects Richard ‘protests too much’, that his heart, though buried beneath bitter experience, lives on no less hopefully, and she points to his choice of songs on the establishment’s jukebox as proof.

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68
And he told me, “All romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
“You laugh,” he said, “you think you’re immune
Go look at your eyes, they’re full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies, pretty lies
When you gonna realise they’re only pretty lies?
Only pretty lies, just pretty lies”

He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer, and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said “Drink up now, it’s gettin’ on time to close.”
“Richard, you haven’t really changed,” I said, it’s just that
Now you’re romanticizing some pain that’s in your head
You got tombs in your eyes, but the songs you punched are
Dreaming, listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet, love so sweet

The Last Time I Saw Richard is filmic, which is surely why it springs to life so readily in my mind’s eye. I love the description of the barmaid in her fishnet stockings. I understand everything I need to know about this supporting character; the wilt of her bowtie, the aching of her feet, her impatience with couples and their intense conversations familiar to anyone who has worked behind a bar or waited tables; someone’s life is falling apart and all you’re thinking about is slipping your feet out of your shoes.

The images which accompany this song in the picture palace of my head are pilfered from Edward Hopper, a blending of Nighthawks (1942), Automat (1927), New York Movie (1939) and Night Windows (1928). The era is wrong, but everything else feels right. This affinity is as much to do with the brevity of Hopper’s paintings as it does with their isolated subjects. Mitchell’s three short verses allude to entire lives and complex emotional realities. They find their visual counterpart in the cropped glimpses of Hopper’s compositions; both offer views fleeting as they are meaningful.

After Hopper’s paintings, it’s another room I see, the bedroom of the student house I lived in for the duration of my degree. The house itself was unremarkable, rather awful even, situated in an estate populated by smugglers – not the whiskery Cornish sort, but the sun-burned, bald, brick shithouse kind with fleets of transit vans stacked with stolen fags. As art students, my housemates and I had little in common with our neighbours, except in one regard; like them, we didn’t have a proper job between us either.

The first thing I did after moving into my student house was paint my room’s old granny wallpaper with terracotta emulsion. Terracotta was having a moment, likewise anything with moons and stars on it. There was nothing to be done about the purple carpet in my room, except, Stockholm-syndrome style, grow to love it. Luxury of luxuries, my room had a double-bed, old and soft and a disaster-zone for vertebrae. I had a duvet cover of tiny flowers in shades of custard, biscuit, and the brown-pink of sticky-plasters. My room faced West. On sunny evenings, the terracotta walls blazed (my purple carpet too) and my double-bed would bake. I was conceited enough to think, by letting the plangent chords of The Last Time I Saw Richard escape freely out of my open window into the broiled air of the estate, I was providing a service to the world-at-large. I liked to imagine the song inspiring moments of respite, reflection and fugue, similar to the scene in The Shawshank Redemption when an entire prison is transported by Duettino “Sull’aria”. In reality, these plangent chords were as short-lived as mayflies, swatted from the air by the rich imbroglio of noise from our neighbours’ front gardens, where smugglers sunbathed in deck chairs, drunk as lords and ribald as vikings.

Young people like to think they’ve discovered sex, much to the twinkling amusement of everyone older than them. It must be the same when young people discover Joni Mitchell, but in my defence, there’s something more subtle to express here; sometimes you arrive at something you understand in your sinews, not because your own experience aligns with it. It shouldn’t be possible to feel pangs of nostalgia for an experience who’ve never had, and I was hardly built in the image of the characters populating Joni’s songs; I wasn’t shot through with all that super-8 sunlight. I wasn’t a restless traveller, beach-comber, spontaneous road-trip taker, or world-weary disillusioned lover. In no one’s imagination was I a carefree soul, and yet, I found Blue‘s songs recognisable, none more so than The Last Time I Saw Richard.

Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a Coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I’m gonna blow this damn candle out
I don’t want Nobody comin’ over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes
Dark cafes, only a dark cocoon
Before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days

A rare phonecall between my father and I takes place in the grim, dim hallway of that same student house with the flaming terracotta room upstairs. I’m lonely and dissatisfied in ways not completely visible to me. I’m not sure I’m on the right degree course. I’m not sure I’m on the right path. I’m not sure I’m living the life I want to. I’m not sure of very much it seems. Dad tells me to buck-up. Dad, a hard-working self-made type, shrinks the vagaries of my formless existential angst by reminding me that happiness is the quest for ‘a bigger sofa, a bigger car, and a bigger house’. I need to wake up, move on, get real, grow up. This is the last time I solicit his advice – just in case he’s right.

I think about this telephone call when I hear The Last Time I Saw Richard. The song returns me to the white-hot frustration I felt at the fatalism of my dad’s counsel. I transpose our telephone conversation to a Hopperesque bar, with my father and I sitting on opposite sides of a table; he tells me I’ll soon learn what he’s learnt and that it’s time to put away childish things. I remind him of the paintings of his I’ve seen from when he was a young man – the dinosaurs, and the Biro bats on his old satchel.

A few years later, I go to a barbecue hosted by one of my friends from art college. I’m as poor as a church mouse and can’t really afford to be socialising, but there will be other people from college at the barbecue and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. It’s fun for a short time, and then I’m holding a piss-poor excuse for a hamburger listening to multiple conversations about London house prices.

On the train journey home, I stare out at the houses neighbouring the railway line. The Last Time I Saw Richard plays in my head. It’s because I’m thinking about Edward Hopper, and all the big/little stories going on inside these houses. More specifically, it is the lines about Richard’s coffee percolator and his house with ‘all the lights left up bright’ going round and round. We’re all Richard now, I decide miserably, thinking back to the barbecue and its utter banality. I cast glances around the carriage at all the hollowed-out men and women staring out of windows. Now I’m thinking about the final lines of the final verse, as the song’s narrator doubles-down on her refusal to go this same way, even as the chords, the vocal performance, and the shape of the song lead us to suspect it’s already too late, that she is Richard too, and if not yet, then one day soon.

When I listen to The Last Time I Saw Richard, I see the paintings of Edward Hopper. I see my student room and all that took place there. I also see this awful barbecue and how awful we were, chatting boringly, our not-much younger selves looking on with withering disdain.

When I listen to The Last Time I Saw Richard I make and re-make promises, swearing I’ll ensure my eyes will remain as ‘full of moon’ as I can manage. I’ll do the job of Joni’s narrator too, challenge Richards when I find them, prove them wrong and re-enchant them. I’ll do this for myself too, and when it’s difficult, like it’s difficult now, I’ll try and remember what is temporary about dark cocoons and what is transportive about Joni’s gorgeous wings.

The Kick About #2 ‘Metropolis’

We were all surprised and delighted by the response to the first Kick About, with a whole range of work in a variety of media triggered by Max Ernst’s 1955 painting, Moon In A Bottle. We got sculptures and paintings both analogue and digital, drawings in pastel and in Sharpie Pen, animated loops, and even a verse or two of original poetry. The Kick About #1 also garnered interest from other creatives up for a bit of running around, which means this second edition is a veritable cornucopia of creativity.

This time out, our prompt was a single word: metropolis. When I look across this eclectic range of work, I’m reminded of another collection of cities – Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a book in which Calvino describes an array of architectural marvels, all of them different, but all of them ultimately revealed to be expressions of the characteristics of only one city – Venice. Here too, a single name for a city inspires multiple impressions.

Kerfe Roig

“Most everything I own is in storage, and I do not have many collage materials in my temporary apartment.  But I do get the NY Times delivered, and I cut them up for what I’m working on as needed I took two of the obituary pages from last Sunday’s paper and collaged it with images and headline haiku collected from the last month’s papers.”

Kerfe Roig, Headline Haiku: Metropolis, collage /

Jordan Buckner

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a painting a day as part of the #MaySketchaDay. It’s been fun, but also tough to consistently make new, interesting things. However, when the theme word Metropolis showed up I took a sigh of relief. Not purely because the Fritz Lang film Metropolis is a huge inspiration to me, but also because it’s the kind of word that I could apply to a lot of my work. Big, bulking cityscapes with dark corners, glimmering towers and hidden stories.

So, in response, I made a couple of neon-British industrial cityscapes. If Blade Runner took place in Manchester maybe? Due to the nature of #MaySketchaDay I have to be pretty quick, so to speed up the process I take my old paintings and collage them together as my starting point. In the way of Gestalt psychology, this noise eventually begins to express pattern and shape, and from there, the painting starts to take hold.” / /

Watch Jordan paint live at

Harry Bell

“It started life as a doodle, became a drawing, then in Photoshop was turned into a fanzine cover for Beam 10 (X).” /

Alan Postings

“A ray gun prop inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis created in Autodesk Maya. I set a challenge of a day’s build/design (plus a few hours of edits) and made it up as I went along!”

website /

Tom Beg

It’s safe to say we are pretty crammed in here in Yokohama, a city of nearly 4 million inhabitants perched on a series of rocky hills overlooking the Tokyo Bay. Space is at a premium and geometric tower blocks, condominiums and apartments dot the landscape to the backdrop of rusting factories and billowing smokestacks. It’s hard not to think or see metropolis whenever I step out my front door. It’s also hard not to think about Fritz Lang’s seminal sci-fi film Metropolis because I love it so much. For this Kick About then, I’ve reimagined my local area as some sort of lost production set for that film. I’m more of an old-fashioned traditionalist when it comes to photography but going with the theme I’ve harnessed the futurist power of my phone and its camera to create my very own and very local metropolis. /

Gary Thorne

“My prompt was Mother-city; the hub providing settlers to beyond, with the sparrow characterising community and Springtime nest building. The unanchored nature reflects a very common feeling. HB pencil, on Artistico Fabriano 640gsm hot pressed. 77cm x 56cm. These drawings demand 24 hours commitment, as nothing is forward planned, usually reaching completion in 3-5 days.”

Judy Watson

“The current theme is Metropolis, which could mean any metropolis, but I have taken it to be the 1927 German expressionist Sci-fi film by Fritz Lang, because it’s one of my favourite films. I have fond memories of being taken along to it as a teenager by my big brother. My eyes were nearly popping out of my headsome of the most compelling memories of the movie for me were the scenes in the Rich Men’s pleasure gardens. The Pleasure Gardens are extraordinary. They are stupendously opulent, and are filled with tumescent plants and feature a scalloped grotto and various fountains…” / /

Benedict Blythe

“I became rather inspired by some cinematic B-roll footage of Shanghai, and several images of empty, dystopian style environments. This piece soundtracks the emotions and ‘point of view’ of a person as they move with a steady pace through this cityscape. The architecture builds around them and the barren day passes and transforms into a frantic nightlife. The heavy, clean drums give the music a heavy and prominent pulse, defining the slow but steady movement and the jazzesque chords are supposed to mimic the music associated with these places and spaces. The use of contemporary, electronic sounds are to further add to this sense of a mundane, dystopian forest of concrete. I used FL Studio Mobile on my Ipad to write the actual music and mix the parts. The wind and city soundscapes were added afterwards on my laptop and mixed in Garageband.”

Benedict Blythe, Metropolis V3, May 2020

Anass Moudakir

“All I could think of was modernity and buildings, a lot of them. It started as a De Stijl influenced doodle, which then turned into a more constructivist piece and finally a bit more tweaking and ambience. A lot of fun during the process.”

Phil Cooper

“The following images are photos of models I put together for a touring stage production of Hansel and Gretel that I worked on in 2018; you can read more about the production in a blog post I wrote while we were developing the show here.

We devised an approach to the staging that used a lot of children’s toys for the table top models and for the screen projections. The toys added an additional poignant, emotional quality to the music and words and gave the Hansel and Gretel puppet characters something to interact with. For some architectural elements we used toy building blocks. We painted them in monochrome tones to suggest an environment without pulling too much attention away from the music and words.” / /

Kevin Clarkson

Kevin Clarkson, Metropolis, Acrylic on board / /

Lewis Punton

“Metropolis, a prompt that couldn’t help but be met with an onslaught of quarantine consumed media, meaning that those initial visions of bronzed skyscrapers somehow found themselves in a rather uncomfortable blend of Mad Max and the Peaky Blinders! A mingling that resulted in a somewhat smoky poem…” /

Phill Hosking

“I took the notion of the ‘Metropolis’ as an overcrowded and oppressive place and projected it into one possible future, a mildly dystopian and ugly one, where there’s evidence of human ingenuity but very little evidence of humanity.”

Tony Reeves

“We absolutely loved doing this kick about, thank you Phil for inviting us in! First and foremost, we’d like to thank the Pexels video community for the fabulous free footage. In terms of workflow, the Forces are experimenting with an improvised approach to composition. We have a bunch of loops in Ableton live, and a bunch of samples in an iPhone app called CueZy (which is fantastic for live performance). We’re then running another iPhone with synths including a couple of awesome apps called TC-Performer and TC-11, and using piano, rhodes and other samples on Logic. The idea is to use sound more as colour, so we can improvise in response to visuals – hence why we loved the Metropolis project. All compositions are just recorded down to a stereo out, so there’s no going back and re-editing – what you hear is all a single take. We hope you enjoy, and we can’t wait to see what everyone else has come up with!” /

Vikki Kerslake

“It’s pastels on paper with a bit of Photoshop editing. I had German 1930s film sets in mind.”

Matthew Eluwande

“The pandemic has kept us out of our daily life and activities. We were cut off from life itself, but we are coming back to life using beauty – here represented by the sinamay roses. The tiger whiskers attached to the rose depict our strength. We’re taking back our metropolis, using our sense of style as our means of protection.

Piece made from Sinamay fibre, eco friendly and sustainable. / /

Charly Skilling

…and a bonus ‘metropolis of string’ “I started thinking about the networks, the connections that make up a major city – the roads, the cables,  the lighting, the energy. My thanks to the photographer for his skills.”

Liam Scarlino

“I lived in this building for two years, in Taipei. It’s in a back road of the red-light district. The lane is full of gentlemen’s clubs in the basements and bars on street level. The strip is teaming with marauding businessmen and pop-up food vendors in the evenings, dying down at around midnight when everyone packs up or goes downstairs. The building itself has five floors and no lift, with a long staircase heading right to the top in a single column.I lived in an illegal extension on the top floor, a fairly common arrangement in Taiwan. The walls shifted from side to side during earthquakes and in typhoons water dripped through the light fixtures. The apartment was clean though, and despite the grime outside, the area was intense and colourful and full of life. The rent was also very cheap.

Relating to the idea of a metropolis is the position of the building on Taipei’s tessellating grid system. Blocky buildings in different sizes and states of repair populate the back lanes, bumped right up to the edge of the road. Air conditioning units protrude out of grey broken tiles between steel and glass.

It’s by no stretch a beautiful city, but at night-time the neon lights switch on, and all the surfaces glow in greens and blues and pinks. Taxis slowly wind their way through the crowds with warm headlights casting long shadows into the distance. Everything mingles together and this vivid amphetamine version of Boris Bilinsky’s famous poster becomes far more appealing.

Returning home late at night, my building loomed overhead, bathed in neon and surprisingly still, with a few lightbulbs reflecting off protective bars, as the wiring gently hummed.”

Liam Scarlino, Linsen North Road, created in Cinema 4D

Graeme Daly

“I wanted to capture the energy and constant movement that encompasses a metropolis, like a long exposure shot caught in an instant with lots of energy in the line-work and brightness in the blinding city lights,  I had a go of animating it too, as I want to incorporate such elements into my new animated short so it felt good to get some practice.  I also couldn’t help but pay homage to Metropolis by Fritz Lang – it’s one of my favourites!  Those harrowing tunnels with the workers heads hung low as they approach the underbelly of the city always stuck with me.”

@graemedalyart / / /

Emily Clarkson

“My submission was entirely inspired by the aesthetics of the Fritz Lang movie poster, and the opening titles to ‘Batman – The Animated Series’. I love the drama in the storyboards by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm. The bold, dramatic environments in the show and the movie poster really stand out, although they are quite different. Strong graphics and shapes appeal to me hugely and that’s something the Art Deco period had in spades!” / /

Phil Gomm

“I really enjoyed this challenge.  It was like being back on my Art Foundation course!”

Phil Gomm, Tower, Pencil drawing > photography > Photoshop

Eleanor Spence-Welch

“This is really an amalgamation of my favourite parts of the 1927 film. Perhaps it’s a little too literal an interpretation of the prompt, but it’s been fun to reminisce over my memories of watching Metropolis for the first time. Perhaps I need to watch it again soon…” / /

Simon Holland

 “A bit of Metropolis meets a bit of Egyptian meets some other stuff.” / /

Who’s up for another game? Courtesy of Kick-About team mate, Gary Thorne, we have a brand new prompt for a brand new creative challenge – see below for our latest theme and new submission deadline. Have fun – and anyone visiting who’d like to have a run around with us, then do please get in touch. The more the merrier.