There wasn’t anyone artistic in Dale Grimshaw’s family, it was just something to do, and learn along the way. That he had a natural talent was obvious, but he developed it through a difficult and potentially violent childhood – the experience of which informs many of his paintings.
Indeed, it was this kind of emotional power in one of his paintings (a self-portrait) that brought me to his brilliant, visceral and original work. His portrait may have seemed imperious, but his eyes revealed a vulnerability, a tremendous humanity and soul.
Originally a street artist, Dale Grimshaw is now one of Britain’s most exciting and talented young artists, and last year, his one-man show Moreish was a hit with both public and critics. I contacted Dale to ask him more about his life, his work and how he started out.
Paul Gallagher: What was the first turning point in your career as an artist?
Dale Grimshaw: Probably getting in at Middlesex University, formerly Hornsey College of Art. It meant I had to really consider the moves I was making in life. I had no support from anywhere else; just my rented flat, my belongings and myself. It meant I’d have to sell it all and move from Lancashire. It was a springboard to other things and places.
Paul Gallagher: Tell me about your childhood and first artistic ambitions?
Dale Grimshaw: There wasn’t anyone artistic, in the literal sense, in my family. I just naturally continued drawing and painting long after other kids had normally given up all that creative nonsense outside of school.
At secondary school, there wasn’t anyone that took any notice of my abilities. Little did my art teacher know that I was practicing to paint with oil paints I’d nicked from shops at home. Ironically, she was called Mrs. Oil but she would rather hit you than take any real interest. My mom saw I had talent and did her best to encourage me.
I first saw ‘The Stranglers’ written in huge letters on a bus stop wall in the late 70s. I was hooked and fascinated by the idea and mystery of graffiti. I wrote on walls, playgrounds, bus seats, textbook covers, and my own body even. Sadly at the age of 15 I tattooed my own arm with my ‘tag,’ which is still there today, as bold as ever. I hated it for decades… bad karma, anyone?’
Voice Project co-founder Hunter Heaney recording schoolchildren in Koro Abili
It would seem by now, that most of the world is well-aware of the LRA—Lord’s Resistance Army—the much-feared fighters led by blood-thirsty despot Joseph Kony, who has been terrorizing war-torn northern Uganda (and beyond) for over two decades. Kony’s diabolical practice of abducting children from their families and often forcing them to commit atrocities—killing or raping friends and family members—have left many of the former soldiers who have managed to escape from him feeling unable to return to their tribes for fear of reprisals.
Among the Ugandan women, an extraordinary peace movement formed. Armed only with music—so-called “dwog paco” or “come home” songs—their goal was to let the LRA soldiers know that they are forgiven and that they should return home. The Voice Project was inspired when Hunter Heaney was volunteering at an IDP camp in Agoro, a small village in northern Uganda where he heard the “dwog paco” songs and learned of how they were spread, often just by word of mouth, like musical chain letters.
When Heaney returned home to the US, he enlisted his friends, filmmaker Anna Gabriel (daughter of Peter Gabriel) and musician/producer Chris Holmes (Ashtar Command) who co-founded The Voice Project with him. The trio tapped into their contacts, convincing friends and musicians from across the globe to cover another artist’s song in “cover chains” like they are playing “tag”—the point being, that when you went to their website to hear Peter Gabriel cover Tom Waits, you would become aware of the situation in the Congo. Perhaps you’d want to share the songs on Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps you’d want to buy the Home Recordings album on iTunes—featuring Peter Gabriel, Billy Bragg, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Andrew Bird, Dawes, Joe Purdy, R.E.M.‘s Mike Mills, Angélique Kidjo and many others—and support a very worthy cause.
Owing to the rather unfortunate circumstances involving the Invisible Children organization and the Kony 2012 video, you are probably wondering if the money is going to produce cult-like music videos. I personally know the people involved and I can tell you for sure that this is not the case.
Where the money will go is towards helping The Voice Project (working in tandem with the United Nations) to build and maintain FM radio stations that will play the “dwog paco” songs around the clock allowing the message of forgiveness to penetrate deep into the jungle. There has been a dramatic increase in defections from the LRA recently and most of of the former combatants escaping from Kony cite the FM radio broadcasts and “come home” messages in the Luo language from family members and other defectors like themselves as their principle reason for coming out of the bush and returning to their homes.
Hunter Heany, via email from Uganda explained:
When we first heard these “come home” songs in 2008 and worked to start spreading the word on this, how effectively music was at bringing these kids home, how music was actually helping to end this war and had already brought home thousands of children and combatants, that this was something we could help amplify on the ground as well as learn from as an international community, there were plenty of people who just dismissed it. They didn’t take it seriously or just treated it as a quaint, localized story.
Getting funding was almost impossible, we got turned down by every single foundation we applied to, but the people who got it, understandably enough, were the music people. They are the ones who helped us spread the word on this and carry that message around the world. I think deep down we all know that music can change lives, it’s one of the most deeply effective and formative means of human communication, and musicians who have built their lives around that truth were our first natural supporters.
The rest of international community is catching on now, and that is incredibly exciting.
For the first time in in a quarter century, the region has a chance at real peace. By helping the Ugandan women’s peace movement amplify their message of forgiveness, The Voice Project has played an important role in all of this.
An extract from my contribution to Mark Goodall’s brand new book Gathering of the Tribe: Music and Heavy Conscious Creation, a collection of essays on music and the occult, featuring contributions from Mick Farren and David Kerekes among others, and pieces on the Beatles, the Fall, Nick Cave, John Coltrane and many more.
Before it was destroyed in a 1965 bombing, Harlem’s Nation of Islam Mosque No.7 could boast a cluster of striking alumni and associates, suggestive perhaps that powerful — or even sinister — forces were circling it. Louis Farrakhan was once in charge there, and was preceded in the role by none other than Malcolm X, who famously brought Cassius Clay into the Harlem orbit (turning him into Muhammad Ali in the process). Somewhat bringing up the rear is the comparatively little known Clarence 13X, whose eviction from Mosque No.7 and the NOI by Malcolm X led him to found The Nation of Gods and Earths — more colloquially known as the 5 Percenters, an heretical sub-sect of the NOI that would later distinguish itself by providing the slang and mythos behind much of the greatest rap music ever made, including Rakim, DOOM, and the (so to speak) meta-gangster rap of mid-nineties New York, exemplified by acts such as Nas, Mobb Deep and The Wu-Tang Clan.
Cassius Clay, of course, remained “Orthodox” — describing himself as “a fisherman for Elijah Mohammed” (the then-head of the NOI and self-proclaimed savior of Black America). While there is inadequate opportunity to get into the rules and dogma of the NOI, we should note that the hook upon which Clay skewered his bait had much more in common with Freemasonry than it did traditional Islam…
As in any Masonic sect, NOI members are initiated incrementally, and must memorize (and demonstrate some understanding of) tracts of esoteric lore in order to graduate to higher levels. One of the things neophytes must learn is a catechism of symbolism and numerology called “The Lost and Found Muslim Lessons.” These can sound pretty odd to profane ears (for example: “What are the exact square miles of the useful land that is used every day by the total population of the planet Earth?”) but are meant to impart esoteric insight through recitation.
These “Lost and Found Muslim Lessons” are wedded to the NOI’s recognizably Gnostic narrative, in which the traditional Gnostic Demiurge figure (the inept or malevolent creator of the material world in which the soul finds itself imprisoned) is the infamous Yacub, a mad scientist responsible for breeding the defective white race (“Dad”) and endowing it with a significant metaphysical fallacy for good measure — the concept of a “mystery god,” a deity that exists without (rather than within) humanity. Humanity itself is divided up between the ten percent of people aware of such truths but who opt to use them to oppress the ignorant eighty-five percent, and the remaining five percent who are aware of these truths and dedicated to using them to empower and enlighten the masses (good on ‘em).
Unfortunately, membership of the NOI looks a bit of a drag. As well as apparently having to permanently don a bow tie (I think I’d sooner be circumcised), gambling, fornication and intoxication are forbidden. Rectitude is the order of the day… excluding, apparently (and as ever), the sect’s leadership, who in the Sixties were beset with a number of scandals regarding its near pathological philandering, a double standard that must have helped to inspire Clarence 13X – expelled by Malcolm X from Mosque No.7 for like incontinence – to form his 5 Percenters, changing his own name to “Allah” for good measure.
Now here’s where it gets interesting, for Clarence 13X did not found his group in order to implement the top-down rectitude lacking in the NOI, nor to replicate its hypocrisies, but to instead altogether loosen the shackles of piety.
Goodness knows they chafed him enough — Clarence (a handsome fellow, as well as a snappy dresser) enjoyed a drink, smoke, toot, flutter and fuck no less than the average Rolling Stone, and saw little wrong with his fellow 5 Percenters enjoying the same, so long as they were careful to eschew pork — the notorious P.I.G. (he also — and in no little contradistinction to Mick, Keith and the gang — encouraged his followers to steer clear of smack, which he deemed “the swine of substances”).
Of much greater importance to Clarence than conventionally respectable behavior — which he appeared to think either would or wouldn’t assert itself in its own sweet time — was the wider dissemination of the NOI’s metaphysics among the offspring of New York’s African American slums, a rambunctious generation theoretically ripe for NOI conversion but likely to be deterred by the required lifestyle strictures.
Clarence lived out the remainder of his life balancing his role as religious mentor with his penchant for drinking, gambling and womanizing, during which time the 5 Percenters spread impressively, with its founder attracting plenty of negative attention and spending a certain amount of time in New York prisons and mental institutions, eventually being shot dead in ambiguous circumstances.
It was surely Clarence 13X’s teasing apart of morality and metaphysics that later made his creed so viable to the Nineties rap outlaws. Even in his lifetime this masterstroke had its repercussions, with the initial generation of Clarence’s converts causing a tabloid furor, the press misunderstanding the 5 Percenter insignia as merely the shtick of a dangerous new gang — by the time the ‘crack epidemic’ would divide up America’s slums into predators and prey, 5 Percenter theology was well entrenched as the warrior creed of a growing urban soldiery.
One tempting explanation for the ensuing high proportion of significant 5 Percenter emcees is that, by demanding that adolescent initiates begin committing the extensive NOI catechisms to memory, the proselytizers — usually older friends or relatives — incidentally enhanced these young persons’ mnemonic and recitative abilities.
Certainly, by the time the young RZA decided to form his collective, he was able to reap seven superb emcees with a single close sweep of his razorblade. For the initial core of the group, GZA, Method Man, and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, RZA’s blade hardly had to travel, as all four were related to varying degrees and had been listening to hip hop, studying 5 Percenter theology and playing chess since childhood. These three voices — respectively cerebral, stylish and anarchic — dominate Enter the 36 Chambers...
So, one minute the Wu were playing clubs and house parties in their native Staten Island — there are rather picturesque accounts of ODB tripping on acid and firing his gun into the ceiling mid-gig — and the next they were superstars. RZA would spend the following five years brilliantly consolidating their legacy: producing and directing classic solo albums by the Wu’s five most talented members. Taken together, these solo debuts — Method Man’s Tical, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ghostface Killah’s Ironman and ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers, the Dirty Version — surely constitute the richest oeuvre in hip hop.
Besides the career criminal and the cataclysmically unlucky, no one is more instinctively superstitious than the superstar — who fortune has touched with her most conspicuous (albeit volatile) wand. You can only imagine how the members of the Wu, all long since initiated into a form of urban witchcraft that attested to their inner divinity, felt to wake up and find themselves world famous. Whether or not the impoverished and mundane aspects of their former lives ever tested their faith in the mystical worldview of The Nation of Gods and Earths, their subsequent success manifestly compounded it, resulting in their becoming propagandists for Clarence 13X’s small sect and introducing it to tens of millions of listeners around the world.
For ODB, meanwhile, who had betrayed schizophrenic tendencies long before stardom provided ostensible confirmation of this supernatural worldview, success would only push him deeper into psychosis. By all accounts, he was one of the most dedicated 5 Percenters in the Wu, a fact that has usually been met with incredulity by some chroniclers of the group, who are stumped by the challenge of ascribing fervid religiosity to a pop star renowned for his spectacular affection for arrest, anilingus and crack cocaine. Fair enough, though in ODB’s history of womanizing, incarceration, shootings and insanity, we can detect an echo of the life of Clarence 13X himself, and are reminded that the 5 Percenters are an unusually flexible – and, frankly, rock’n’roll – sect.
“Transgate”, the recent controversy surrounding writers Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill’s comments about transgendered people online and in the print media, may seem like a bit of a storm in a teacup to those who have not been directly affected by the issues.
But it could be a decisive moment, not just for transgender awareness, but also how people view the “oldstream” media (in the UK at least) and in turn how social media can shape and express changes in public opinions exponentially quicker, and much more powerfully, than print and television can.
That’s one of the very interesting topics of conversation in a Google Hangout-filmed debate posted by Channel 4 News yesterday, titled Transsexual people and the online age of outrage. It features writer Paris Lees, of META magazine and this well read Vice article, Sarah Savage of Channel 4’s My Transexual Summer, and experts on social media and transgender-issues.
Transgate certainly seems, as is mentioned in the video, a tipping point in public aware of the transgender community and the struggles faced by its members. I certainly don’t remember this much debate around a trans issue in my lifetime, and if there’s any heartening aspect to this whole shameful debacle, it’s that the backlash suggests trans people now have more allies than ever before.
But aside from drawing attention to the hateful attitudes certain persons, columnists, and even schools of feminism display towards people on the trans spectrum, this whole issue has made it that much clearer to the public just how valuable our opinions (and our freedom to express them) are to oldstream media. More and more, the cries of “freedom of speech!” and “anti-censorship” employed by columnists and news institutions over the last week are beginning to translate to the general public as “freedom for us to tell you how it is!”
This is particularly evident when commenters try to repost quotes from the Burchill article itself in the comments sections under certain op-ed pieces decrying the removal of her article only to see the quotes themselves removed. It has happened to me, and it has happened to others, and it makes a mockery of any kind of claim to “free speech”. Why should a writer of such low caliber as Julie Burchill be allowed to make statements about a social group, when members of the public are blocked from doing so?
It’s quite simply a PR disaster for print journalism.
This comes at a time when the Levenson Enquiry is trying to establish whether an independent regulator is needed for the British press. As people are getting their news from online sources much more these days, and thus beginning to doubt the role (and agendas) of mainstream news outlets, journalists are unlikely to be able to whip up enough outrage—real or “manufactured”, a frankly hypocritical term journalists LOVE to use about any controversy that they themselves did not stir up—to make people give a damn.
And let’s be clear about one thing, this is NOT an issue of “censorship”, a claim that’s getting bleated over and over in various echo chambers. If the offensive article was really “censored”, then how come it’s so easy to find on another major, mainstream news platform? I thought “censored” meant it would be gone for good? Or only available through a leaks site? Not on the site of the Daily Telegraph, surely?
This quote from Harry Giles very neatly explains the difference between “censorship” and “editorial policy”:
“… the columnists get it wrong … most call the Observer’s decision “censorship”, without expanding what they mean by that. This makes it seem as if the Observer’s decision were equal with a government passing a law against a speech or a type of speech. Government censorship prevents all speech of a certain kind, or an instance of speech, from happening in a country. Newspaper censorship – another word for which is “editorial policy” – says “we do not think this kind of speech should happen in our house”. Granted, because newspapers have a particular important role in a free speech society, they should be more careful about restrictions in their editorial policy than I would about restrictions on my Facebook wall.”
That is part of an excellent blog post by Giles, called Julie Burchill, Newspapers and Freedom of Speech, that dissects Transgate in a cool, calm and steadfastly philosophical fashion. It’s one of the best analyses I have read about the whole matter, and avoids being confrontational, or emotional (which is pretty hard, considering the language used by both Burchill and Moore.) I highly recommend it.
And for more enlightened discussion of Transgate and the mainstream media’s reaction to the “Twitter storm” here is the Channel 4 News discussion:
Back in 2011, when the UK was being inundated with revelations regarding the extent of News Corp’s nationwide espionage, it was interesting to muse on the hacking victims that weren’t coming forward – and the seamy secrets that weren’t spilled in the tabloids. After all, was there a powerful person in the land whose phone wasn’t tapped – you had to ask yourself what Rupert Murdoch didn’t now know about this country? It was such thoughts that made the subsequent castigation of News Corp so comic, as peasant after peasant was obliged to gingerly hurl a rotten tomato at a master who would all-too-soon be released from the stocks.
And, a few months on from “Hackgate” – wouldn’t you know it – there was “Savilegate.” These consecutive scandals betray a quite provocative symmetry. In the former, a media corporation was raked across the coals because of its perceived callousness towards a victim of pedophilia (the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone), leading to a limb of that corporation – the News of the World – being lopped off. In the latter, another media corporation (the former’s nemesis, no less) was raked across the coals because of its perceived callousness towards the victims of pedophilia, leading to a limb of that corporation – Newsnight – almost being lopped off. Curious.
The genesis of Savilegate is interesting. An excellent source tells me: “the Savile accusations were going nowhere until the Spectator picked them up. An interesting osmosis then occurred: News Corp spotted it, and Rupert Murdoch himself said ‘we can use this.’” Indeed, who else would have the “great clanking balls” (to borrow Tony Blair’s unforgettable phrase) to break that longstanding media taboo?
While one presumed intention in Newscorp lifting the lid on Savile is obvious enough – “screw you, BBC” – an additional, subtler motivation is also feasible. Put simply, by instructing his media empire to turn up the volume regarding the real Jimmy Savile Murdoch must have known he would be sending very awkward reverberations through the wider establishment that was tentatively standing up to him and holding him to moderate account at the Leveson Enquiry.
Yup, Labour, the Tories, the Royals, the cops – Savilegate must have had the lot of them squirming. You can release all the shtick you like about there being “no pedophile ring” involved (I actually caught some BBC Savile coverage where this reassuring message scrolled ceaselessly across the foot of the screen) but his lifetime license to abuse and access the nation’s children without a hint of trouble suggested otherwise, while his manifest intimacy with the great and the good carried further uncomfortable messages into the national unconscious.
Meanwhile, Leveson was still promising to damage News Corp’s reputation and influence around the world…
Step forward Labour MP Tom Watson, the person deserving of the most credit for the development of Hackgate. Savilegate certainly appeared to have influenced his research and thinking in the logical direction, and so, fresh from inflicting a flesh wound on Rupert Murdoch, Mr Watson thinks “fair enough,” and turns his trusty ole .45 on the Devil Himself, asking at PMQs about that “powerful pedophile network linked to Parliament and Number Ten.”
David Cameron’s expression said it all (“won’t someone rid me of this meddlesome priest”), and the ripple of silence that spread through Parliament betrayed the sense that this had an outside chance of going down as one of the most significant moments in British political history. You can only admire Watson’s chutzpah, but the damnedest things will happen if you try to shoot the Devil, and in this incident it was to transpire that the gun was loaded with some very magical bullets indeed – ones that whizzed away from their intended destination to bury themselves in the enemies of… Rupert Murdoch.
Initially, it had all looked eerily promising, and the effect of Watson’s words on the public imagination was compounded when he revealed the death threats he had subsequently received. Coupled with Savilegate, all this was threatening to wake the British public up from its long, deep sleep. Nothing better illustrated the unlikely places extreme disquiet was creeping into than Phillip Schofield’s outright heroic (and, of course, widely reviled) confrontation with the Prime Minister on daytime television.
Then, of course, there occurred that piece of grandiose chicanery regarding Newsnight’s incorrectly “naming” Alistair McAlpine as an abuser of Steven Messham. Only they didn’t name him – and his name had anyway already been in circulation for years, presumably due to a mix-up with a certain Jimmie McAlpine, his deceased cousin (the less said about him the better). This went almost completely unremarked of course, and most of the public was once again successfully frightened away from waking reality.
Understandably, much has been made on the blogosphere of the following exert from Alistair McAlpine’s 2001 book, The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business, and the following – shall we say coincidental? prophetic? fishy? – suggestions regarding dealing with the media.
“Another useful ploy is the false accusation. First, create a situation where you are wrongly accused. Then, at a convenient moment, arrange for the false accusation to be shown to be false beyond all doubt. Those who have made accusations… become discredited. Further accusations will then be treated with great suspicion.”
What was really interesting, however, is how the effects of this apparent masterclass in mass manipulation weren’t delimited to “discrediting” those who would like to see powerful pedophiles exposed and prosecuted, but also influenced Leveson, providing a smokescreen behind which Lord Leveson himself could switch costumes – when it cleared he was no longer the judge of News Corp (as he was supposed to be) but of the Internet, and the “online dilettantism” that had supposedly resulted in the conveniently close-to-hand defamation of Alistair McAlpine.
Admire and wonder at the course of those magic bullets! Did someone get to Leveson (or rather the Establishment he represents)? Furthermore, was Savilegate somehow the instrument of this manipulation?
Certainly something is going on behind the scenes. The question is how much the British Establishment is able to put its collective interests (in other words, survival) above its intestine disputes. Since the outbreak of hostilities we’ve seen suspicious deaths (Christopher Shale and Sean Hoare) and death threats (Tom Watson and Steven Messham) – the stakes are clearly high. Meanwhile, there are thousands more people – including some honest and intrepid politicians and journalists – for whom Pandora’s Box is now very much ajar. Certainly the British Establishment can often look too rotten to burn, but you might once easily have thought that about the Catholic Church….