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Saturday, February 10, 2007

This Will Not Happen Without You

Despite the rain today Debbie and I headed out to Newcastle and the Hatton Gallery. Whilst The Baltic will grab the press and the headlines the Hatton gallery is tucked away at the back of Newcastle University and is one of my favourite spaces.

The show we’re here to see This Will Not Happen Without You and celebrates the work of The Basement Group, Projects UK and Locus +. In the early seventies The Basement was a venue for cutting edge performance, video art, and all manner of general weirdness.

As the title cunningly implies it was situated in the lower reaches of Spectro Arts Workshop where I was employed for a few years in the recording studio. No boarded-up derelict building in Newcastle was complete without being flyposted by a series of iconic posters advertising strange things done by people that most folks have never heard of. Yet to a small brigade of like-minded souls these posters were an oasis in what seemed very often like a cultural desert.

Basement shows ran twice weekly during term time as most of the audience were made up of those attending the fine art course ran by Roger Wilson at Newcastle Polytechnic (now University of Northumbria) and Newcastle University.

The wonderful thing about the Basement was that one week you'd have some luminary from the arts scene and the next, a local student or artist that was completely unknown. The point is that both would get the same fee regardless of their reputation or lack of it.

You might see a clunker or you might have your world turned upside down and it was that element of chance is what made Basement events essential viewing. Shows which still resonate for me and changed my perceptions about the world I live in include ones by Ian Bourn, Stuart Brisley, Nan Hoover, Alastair McLennan and Charlie Hooker.

As a regular (and fleetingly a member) of the Basement, I took part in a couple of Hooker performances. One of them was part of a week-long series of performances at the Tate Gallery in 1981 (as tangentially documented in the sleeve notes to King Crimson’s Live In Philadelphia KCCC release) and one in a multi-story carpark in Gateshead.

This venue was featured in the gangster movie Get Carter but for our purposes it combined a music score for four percussionists following a score laid out on the ground and four minicabs whose lights and movement were directed by Charlie via a CB radio. The show was wacky enough to make national news and get featured on the BBC’s teatime magazine show, Nationwide in the slot traditionally reserved for the skateboarding duck.

Here's a picture of the performers with Charlie directing us...

from left to right: Richard Grayson, Jon Bewley, unknown person, yours truly

I did a few performances myself at the Basement both solo and with Chris Wainwright, with whom I went on to perform several arty / percussion / photography events and installations – notably at the old Liverpool Academy of Arts, attended by my favourite poet of the day, Adrian Henri.

Wandering around looking at the exhibits and documentation felt a little odd.

As an exhibition I’m not sure how well it works on a stranger, on someone who hasn’t spent the hours sitting inside that venue watching a procession of serious arty-types do their thing. However since I was one of those people, I spent an hour or so wandering around the place grinning like a fool. The weirdest part was seeing part of my past documented in somebody else’s history of a time and a place.


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