Art Chronicles: Mooching Around Tate Britain

Back down in London after a pleasant, eventful and stormy weekend amongst the nation’s crime writers at Theakston’s International Crime Festival in Harrogate – (Sorry, Val McDermid and doubtless others – I should move that apostrophe to the other side of the final S) – and what was I going to with my first morning back in the capital? As it happened, other matters took me out Pimlico way and thus it was more or less decided for me … a visit, far from unusual, to Tate Britain. I was there close enough to opening time to be the first one up the spiral staircase to the newly elevated Members’ Room and the barista’s first flat white of the day, which I enjoyed in peace and tranquility until a fellow member chose to park herself near me and conduct a mobile phone conversation with a presumably deaf friend, detailing the problems, that morning, of changing trains at Wimbledon.

Stopping only to pick up a complaints form, I hightailed it down to the main floor where my eye was caught, quite by chance, by the elongated and superbly controlled explosion of red that is Anthony Caro’s Early One Morning from 1962.

Early One Morning 1962 by Sir Anthony Caro born 1924

‘Early One Morning’ Anthony Caro

Made from steel and aluminium and marking a shift in Caro’s work away from more realistic forms towards abstraction and the strong, flat single colours favoured by the American Abstract Expressionists, it carries with it, nonetheless, echoes of Henry Moore and his sculptures of mother and child.

And this, of course, is one of  the marvels of Tate Britain as it is now hung, step into one of the rooms and an area of British art at a particular period surrounds you; one piece of work leads painlessly, pointedly to another. Beyond the Caro, on the left hand wall, are two of the more famous David Hockneys  - A Bigger Splash and Mr & Mrs Clark and Percy – bisected by a beautiful – joyous, even – John Hoyland, in thrall also to the Abstract Expressionists but none the worse for that, it’s Rothko-like, maybe more Elsworth Kelly-like reverberating red offset by strips of dark green and paler grey.

28. 5. 66 1966 by John Hoyland 1934-2011

’28. 5. 66′ John Hoyland

Continue along the wall and at the furthest end, beyond the arch, is one of Frank Auerbach’s paintings of Primrose Hill – accompanied, it seems, by a persistent bird song that first of all has me looking up at the ceiling to see if one has somehow sneaked in and then draws me through the arch and into the adjoining room, where, beside Michael Andrews’ marvellous Melanie and Me Swimming, a small and old-fashioned looking television screen is showing Gilbert and George’s In the Bush, a blurry piece of video focussed vaguely on said bush, in front of which a figure (or are they figures?) of someone (or ones) seems to be moving. George, perhaps? Or Gilbert? Possibly both. And what are they up to in there? No doubt about the bird though, which, while I can’t identify it’s particular call, just keeps on singing.

'Melanie and Me Swimming'  Michael Andrews

‘Melanie and Me Swimming’ Michael Andrews

Placed just a little further along is Tony Cragg’s Stack, a rectangle of compressed materials – wood, concrete, brick, metal, plastic, textiles, cardboard and paper – which instantly calls to mind  Phyllida Barlow’s gargantuan many-part sculpture, dock, which is currently clambering all over the inside of  the Duveen Galleries – the high-ceilinged, classically proportioned central corridor of Tate Britain – with its wonderfully messy assemblages of timber, card, plasterboard, fabric and polystyrene.

'Stack'  Tony Cragg

‘Stack’ Tony Cragg

Turn away from the Cragg, in fact, step back through the arch and look up past Hoyland and the Hockneys and the Caro and there are the pink, orange and red panels that form one section of Barlows’ work filling the frame and echoing back into the room. Turn again and proceed through the opposite arch,  passing between Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking and Roger Hilton’s exuberant and de Kooning-like (those Abstract Expressionists again) Oi Yoi You and a visual corridor of magnificent earlier sculptures stretches away – from Henry Moore’s Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure and Barbara Hepworth’s Corinthos to Epstein’s monumental alabaster Jacob and the Angel.

There. An hour, give or take, mooching about Tate Britain. And what delights, what wonders it contains.


More About Charlie – Haden, That Is

Since learning of the death of the superlative American bass player, Charlie Haden, whom I wrote about here …, I’ve been listening to quite a lot of his music, and not only the prized jazz stuff with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett, with Path Metheny and Hank Jones, but also to a 2008 album called Rambling Boy, a collection of bluegrass and country songs dedicated to the memory of his parents with whom, along with other siblings, he performed on the Haden Family Radio Show from – would you believe this? – the age of two. And there’s a short and scratchy sample of his two-year-old yodelling on the CD to prove it.



The family connections are kept up on the recording, which features vocals by his three daughters, Rachel, Petra & Tanya – separately and together - by his son, Josh, and his wife, Ruth. Pat Metheny plays guitar on most tracks – and an exquisite solo on one, ‘Is This America (Katrina 2005) – and the other superbly accomplished musicians include Jerry Douglas on dobro, Sam Bush on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and John Leventhal on guitar. Guest vocalists include Elvis Costello (a great ‘You Win Again’), Vince Gill, Ricky Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby and Rosanne Cash.

As Haden says, his life changed when, at the age of 15 he heard Charlie Parker playing with Jazz at the Philharmonic in Omaha, Nebraska, and knew he had to play not country but jazz. Maybe so, but as this album proves, all those young country radio years never fully went away nor were forgotten.

And if you want to read more about Charlie Haden, there’s a very nice piece by Geoff Dyer in today’s Guardian, and another on Michael Carlson’s excellent blog, Irresistible Targets.




What I’m Reading

Recently Finished:

  • Dare Me : Megan Abbott
  • The Obald : R F McMinn
  • Henry James - His Women & His Art : Lyndall Gordon
  • Artists, Beats & Cool Cats : Jim Burns
  • Another Great Day at Sea : Geoff Dyer


Currently Reading :

  • Nicholas Ray – The Glorious Failure of an American Director : Patrick McGilligan
  • The Blinded Man : Arne Dahl
  • Tunes, Tours & Travel-itis – 18 Years of Faces, Facts and Fun with the Alex Welsh Band : Jim Douglas
  • Austerity Britain, 1945-51 : David Kynaston


Dipping Into :

  • The Ecstasy of Influence : Jonathan Lethem
  • 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel : Jane Smiley

Lined Up :

  • The Good Soldiers : David Finkel
  • The Village – 400 Years of Beats, Bohemians, Radicals & Rogues – A History of Greenwich Village : John Strausbaugh


More about “Fedora”

While the afterglow from winning the CWA Short Story Dagger still lingers, there’s a interesting post on Martin Edward’s Crime Writing Blog about the awards evening and the story itself.

Martin was the editor of Deadly Pleasures, the Severn House anthology in which the story appeared, and without his encouragement ‘Fedora’ would never have been written.

You can find his piece here …


Charlie Haden 1937 – 2014

I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Haden once; it would have been some fifteen or more years ago, just before a reading I was going to give at a bookstore on Venice Beach at which his son was working at the time. Charlie had made a point of coming along to say hi, tell me that he’d been enjoying reading my stuff, and give me a copy of his latest – possibly the first? – recording with his group, Quartet West. A typically generous offer from someone who was, by all accounts, a generous man.

Photograph: David Redfern

Photograph: David Redfern


Of all of his recordings, including the groundbreaking Atlantics with Ornette Coleman, I think my favourite is Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns & Folk Songs, a series of duets with Hank Jones at the piano, of which Gary Giddins says, in his marvellous book, Visions of Jazz: The First Century

Steal Away is something different. Charlie Haden, whose many previous recordings have an autobiographical edge, produced the album, undoubtedly recalling his family band apprenticeship in the Bible Belt. His looming, sonorous, shivery bass tone always seems to have a hell-hound on its trail and so works perfectly here …

This isn’t one of those albums that wants to get your flesh all bumpy with unbridled hosannahs. It’s subtle and sone without being dusty and politic, solemn but never somber, performed with a purity beyond the reach of the kind of pianist who can’t resist flashing over the keys to cover a lapse in thought. It’s gentle, deep, and often starkly beautiful, and it underscores a fundamental ingredient in the spiritual life of jazz.

The recent set Charlie Haden recorded with pianist Keith Jarrett, all to prophetically called Last Dance and bought just the other day, is still in its cellophane wrapper close by the stereo, waiting to be played.

There’s an understandably knowledgeable and deeply felt obituary on Richard Williams’ excellent mainly music blog, The Blue Moment.


A Little More Light on the Darkness

Clear news of the US publication of Darkness, Darkness comes from Pegasus Books, with a publication date – in all formats, as they say nowadays – of September 15th. The jacket design, as can be seen, is close to that used in the original William Heinemann/Random House release.

Darkness Darkness_3D

And here in the UK, another review has surfaced, this one by Geoffrey Wansell in the Daily Mail and beginning thus …

The last bow for Harvey’s intuitive Nottingham-based Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick, with his offbeat ways and difficulties with relationships, moves you to tears with its indelible poignancy.

The 12th novel in a series that has illuminated the world of crime fiction for 25 years, it is a superb coda for an unforgettable character.




Kathy Stobart 1925 – 2014


Writing this, I’m listening to Kath Meets Humph – side one, track one, “In a Mellotone”, several sorts of nice synchronicity there – the 1957 album which marked the arrival of tenor saxophonist Kathy Stobart, who has died at the age of 89, into the Humphrey Lyttelton band – a musical relationship that would continue on and off, until she formally retired in 2004.


When she wasn’t filling the tenor chair for Humph, Kathy led and played in a number of other groups, often leaning towards a somewhat more modern sound than her full-toned, freebooting work with Lyttelton suggested. In later years, she was a passionate advocate for young musicians, young female musicians in particular, and she was a much-favoured teacher at City Lit in central London.


Most of her obituaries mention that she was responsible for teaching Judi Dench to play saxophone – well, to mime playing saxophone -  in Alan Plater’s 2000 television film The Last of The Blond Bombshells. Unremarked is the fact that in 1988, along with fell0w City Lit tutor Joan Cunningham, she provided the soundtrack to my own first ever radio play, Ivy Who. The Ivy in question, was, of course, Ivy Benson, leader of the most famous of all-women bands, and although, radio being radio, we could have used musicians of any gender, my producer, Caroline Raphael, needed no persuasion to go along with my suggestion of approaching Kathy, who, in turn, suggested Joan.


Coming from a musical family, Kathy’s own professional career had begun at the age of 14 in Don Rico’s Ladies Swing Band (in which, as well as playing saxophone, she sang, danced and did impressions of Gracie Fields) although, firmly of the belief that woman should take on men on equal terms, she was keen to point out it was the only all-women outfit she ever belonged to.