The smell of something burned, and diesel and candy floss and beer and cheap hot dogs. The fair came to near where I lived once a year and it was the most beautiful and exciting wonderland I could ever have conceived of, turning the otherwise sober, dog-walking common in to a magical landscape of lights and large mechanical objects. Never was there a happier place, and yet even at that young age I could sense the dark underbelly. The creepy mechanically laughing machines, the slightly dangerous looking rides before EU directives on safety that we may soon be without once again, the dark corners, dangerous teenage boys and air of trickery.
I loved it though, and that gaudy tribute to all things bright and electric. I never saw a steam fair but there was something Victorian about some of the decor on the rides, especially if you were lucky enough to come across a merry go round. Then there was that art-nouveau style worship of coloured electric light, mixed with ‘80s pop and flying above the world on a creaky ride. I thought the Irish ancestors might have been travellers, fuelled by the lace and flowers and feathers and folk prints that crept in to my home as I got older. It was the wrong kind of traveller anyway, and I found out that while they certainly travelled here they came to work on the canals, in between building the canals, so they were navvies. No fortune telling or embroidery there no doubt. My grandmother's famed psychic tendencies unexplained. Maybe it’s the Eastern European blood instead that calls when I see lace. I know a Russian Latvian come over here more recently than my family, and sometimes she looks like everything I would want in a fairy godmother.
When I first learned to screen print, I knew that it was the vehicle I’d been looking for to start investigating the fairground again. I could imagine layer upon layer of bright lights and tasteless decor. Like heaven again. I haven’t quite got there yet and have a backlog of prints I need to make; images that need to be teased from a range of places I’ve been going to. They should appear on the Festivals and Fairgrounds page throughout this year.
The prints of the Hyde Park Festival in 2017 have come to feel more sentimental to me than I could have predicted. A friend asked me if I wanted to see Stevie Nicks play on my birthday. Of course I wanted to see Stevie Nicks play on my birthday, of all the things I could do. Her writing and voice have been with me since I was 10 years old and discovered my own sort of music, when I should have been listening to Bros and Brother Beyond. Stevie was hideously uncool in London then, and I kept it all to myself in the confines of a Sony walkman from Argos with the bright orange foam ear pads. I couldn’t quite believe I was going to be in roughly the same geographic space as Stevie Nicks, and people I knew who had already seen her said she’s also an amazing live performer. This was later confirmed with a range of fur and feather costumes. Luckily there was a super fan next to us who was a beautiful cherub-faced, red-headed Irish boy who looked about 15. I think he was actually a baby-faced and adorable 22 year old. He knew the words to every song, cried hysterically and profusely throughout her performance, and became overwhelmed every time he predicted a song right. Never was there a sweeter boy spotted in Hyde Park. He took the pressure off me but I was probably just as overwhelmed as that inside, looking at the real person who wrote all those amazing words over all the years of my life. And yes, her hair really is that thick and lustrous.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were an amazing band, just up on stage with no gimmicks and minimal video art behind them. Just a bunch of guys with some musical instruments. They played, and played, and played some more. It was hours. By the end, all I remember is sailing around the sky on the round ride, looking down on Hyde Park and hearing songs that had been around my whole life, played like it was the most effortless thing in the world. I thought about those moments a lot when I was making the prints at the beginning of 2018, and several months after Tom Petty's death. Just for one brief evening in London, despite the high tech bag searches and security on entry, nobody was a terrorist. Despite the divided state of the country 52 percent of nobody got knifed by 48 percent of anyone else, or vice versa.
Some people say that music brings people together, and that it’s hard to hate someone who is enjoying the same music as you. I don’t know if that’s really true and I think that the main reason the Nazi’s tried to ban jazz was that it embodied things that went against their idea of world order, and was too eclectic and free to not be a threat. Not that it would stop people killing their neighbour by listening to it together, although that’s a nice thought. Either way, it’s hard not to see a group of people who gather on a hot summer’s day, in the park to see some inspirational performers play delightful music as anything but a positive thing in these troubled times. Some weeks later I worked as a printer at a huge festival on the other side of town. I didn’t really like the music at that but screen printing for 12 hours with a supply of free tequila was the best. Sometimes people just want to do nice things, and gather together without hating or rallying or anger. These days they are small moments of life but a reminder that every day should be that full of life and love.