Artrat Twenty Questions

Is the cup half empty or half full?

Whether the glass is half empty or half full, for some, depends on whether you are drinking or pouring! Winter solstice, midwinter, the 21st of December is the shortest day of the year but that night is also the longest night of the year. So my glass is half full. It isn't half empty

Of what?

Of Red Wine or a dark beer from a magic self-refilling bottle! Of anything it's an attitude about how you accept or don't accept what comes your way, how you are happy or how you are never happy, how you always feel unlucky or how you feel luckyIt’s about optimism, whether you are stressed or you are easy going and stress-free. You might live longer if you believe your glass is half full

Who was/are your greatest influences?

My family, kids and best friend and partners.All soul singers. From Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bob Marley, Robert Johnson to Hank Williams and Sam Cooke and my self-educated Glaswegian dad.

Which movie always makes you cry?

I don't often see movies more than once. Cinema Paradiso did make my eyes brim, there's that scene when the mother's knitting unravels like a yarn as she drops it and the ball of wool rolls and follows her as she runs downstairs in excitement to see her son who has returned after so many years.

At the end End of 'Pleasantville,' A fragile voice sings John Lennon’s ‘Across the Universe it made me sob as I watched it recently and suddenly felt the loss after I had just found out a friend had taken her own life before Christmas, I was vulnerable emotionally at that time and found myself sobbing. It was the song that overwhelmed me perhaps it was also a mixture of also….remembering the way our 'working class hero' John Lennon was killed, and how we lost him.

Years ago I saw a Mai Zetterling Documentary about the human side of the Olympics, not about who won, medals or anthems and measuring broken records. In one scene we see two huge giant weight lifters, one has flu and sneezes into this tiny hanky, he’s so big, he makes it look like a tiny sweet wrapper, this one with the flu, can’t lift the weights in the competition, he collapses under them and so loses. The winner, the other huge man, puts his big arm around the sad loser to console him as they walk off. He has his arm around the loser comforting him. I cried, moved by a mixture of compassion humanity and happiness. Seeing these huge men being so vulnerable and human. I've realised Films that involve 'orphaned' or 'adopted' kids and their parents reuniting happily can make me cry.

What is your earliest memory?

Age 1 - 2 years, being woken up and shown to party guests, it was a smoky room, with lots of faces and a cartoon (?Disney) was being projected somewhere, it was nightmarish as I was so young and I thought it was a dream for years. But apparently, my mum told me that they'd had a party and my dad had woken me up to show me to his mates. Another memory aged 5-6 years Living in Camberwell, 100 wells way, next door to a pub, Climbing over a wall to the dump next door and Catching wasps in empty milk bottles by putting the mouths of the bottles on top of the wasp and flower, then picking the flowers they landed in, turning the bottles the right way up and putting them in a row on top of the wall, and using the flower as a bottle top-lid trapping the wasp buzzing helplessly and confused inside the bottle." As flies to wanton boys...etc"

What is your favourite painting?

That changes all the time and I’ve forgotten many I’ve seen by unknown artists. I always liked paintings of people ‘doing’ things. and enjoyed paintings that moved me, i.e. to laughter, so I liked cartoons also. I used to like Breughel paintings, (I don’t know the titles) because they were so populated by people doing all kinds of things, like a school playground, dancing, cooking, playing the bagpipes, football etc. I also liked Van Goghs darkly painted ‘Potato eaters’ sitting around the table, which I know other people find very dour and sombre, but it was the subject I liked, people, eating.

I love Daumiers' cartoons and his painting of Don Quixote has a fluidity I love, the experience of him capturing that moment with his brush, full of movement. I always loved Goyas' dark caprices, prints, and cartoons and his painted sketches for portraits were truthful, he didn't flatter anyone, and you felt as if you knew and had met that person, you see those faces on the streets these days too. I liked Diego Rivera and Orozco as they were full of narratives, Mexican Indian history and politics, they remind me of my time living and working in Mexico. I used to like Kathe Kollwitz because she drew people's hands, there was a sense of touching and they were drawings-litho prints. The lack of colour made you focus more on the subject. Her compositions were strong. Frida Kahlo I like because her paintings are so personal (about her ongoing injuries) and surreal, yet surreal in an unpretentious way, though I'm sure she wouldn't have considered herself a surrealist she was just being herself and telling her own story. I like that. Magrittes' painting of the old man and bird cage is like a poem without words. He also had a sense of humour. Vermeer too, I love the light in the paintings, the naturalism of the colours, Vermeer's sense of detail, the pouring of creamy milk from a jug, the cloth texture, and brilliance. I also like Rembrandt's self-portraits such an insight. I enjoy laughing and giggling at Gary Larson cartoons too, though I know he didn't use paint to create them. It's his thought processes that make me laugh, the subversion of ideas.

And your favourite book?

Don't seem to get time to read enough at all. I drive a lot and the kids keep me busy. Books I remember enjoying or being moved by. Grapes of Wrath, Ned Kelly, The Bone People, Hanta Yo, Bound For Glory Woody, The Shipping News- I enjoyed the language and read it while I was in Newfoundland where it's set, Dostoyevskis Crime and Punishment. The Crucible reads well even though it is meant to be staged as a play, it's wonderfully constructed.

Where was your strangest gig?

I don't know anymore what is normal. I've played in Prisons, (Holloway Prison) Weddings, in a Mexican Cantina once with a Mexican clarinet player amigo called Remi (Remi so-fa-la) where suddenly a fight broke out and everyone chased others out of the Cantina till there was no one left there to play for.!

In Mexico, I played between strippers and myself and the strippers shared the same changing room with the Mexican comedian MC. I sat there as the women dressed, painted on body make-up, and put on wigs. I recall that I slept on the stage that night.

I led a funeral procession on my Harmonica through Kensal Rise Cemetery and then sang a few songs over Jill's grave. That was a hard but poignant moment. I sang London Kisses which mentioned the graveyard and the surrounding area where Jill had lived and worked in West Kilburn.

I was asked to propose marriage for a woman, to her boyfriend from the stage at a festival once, and he accepted, luckily, I sang them my old song 'Dance of Measureless Love’ and then balanced it with a song I made about Marriage and divorce called 'The Immaculate Deception'. They got Handfasted in Cornwall.

I’ve had a couple propose marriage at another gig I played at Glastonbury and I ended up, by chance, being in the area of Norwich when they got married and so sang at their wedding too. Singing with others in Austin Texas in a bar the night John Lennon died was weird, they stopped the gig, and I nearly got into a fight with some drunk redneck in another bar that same night about how violent the USA was and how Lennon had chosen to live in the USA and how we'll all be blaming the USA for his death etc. The guy must have been feeling guilty about John's death or something like that.

I played a gig once, A PA went dead, a power cut, so I just came off stage and played and sang to the crowd acoustically for the rest of the set and it became more intimate and magical in the end. It wasn't strange for me, but stranger for the PA crew. I played and performed with a small Mexican circus.

When I was working with the Azteca family Circus in Mexico, called "Circo Ideal" we played and worked in tobacco plantations, cattle country, amongst rodeos, anyway this incident happened one evening in a small pueblito, a mountain village near the Pacific coast. Apart from the Lions, and myself, I was the exotic act from London England!" Desde Londres Inglaterra" "Rory, El fakir" and "Rory, El Payaso Musicale" We had a King Kong Act, which we advertised on loudspeaker, King Kong would pull the villagers in, and it was Gonzalos, dressed up in a Gorilla Suit with a Fierce looking mask-baring teeth. Gonzalos was a gentle mild-mannered, slightly built man, unlike his other two Brothers Victor and Henrique who were gymnasts, and strong men. Henrique would pull King Kong (Gonzalos) in on a chain, he would have to heave him in, the curtains would shake, Someone would shake the curtains, the drums rolled, and people would be warned to be careful. "Caballeros, Cuidadado!" Henrique his handler would suddenly, tug him, King Kong, in. But then he would break free and escape from Henriques control and roam around the ring rampaging angrily. And 'Auntie' Marcella would plant herself in the audience and pretend to be a tourist taking photographs with a fake camera. Pancho the ringmaster would warn her not to take photos or go too close. "Please be careful madam, Cuidado!"It was my job at that moment to stand at the door in front of the back curtains, to re-assure people who would jump, in fear of King Kong, out of their seats and proceed to run away, out of the tent, which people often did, the magic of the circus in some of these remote campesinos was still very strong. So I had to tell them everything would be OK and that they were safe.

One night, though, there were some Barrachos, (Drunks) two Broncos in the Audience. Gonzalos, as usual, stamped 'dangerously' and 'boisterously' around the ring in the Gorilla suit, suddenly without warning, from nowhere, one of the cowboy broncos, jumped over the seats, and ran out into the ring shouting out "I'll save you all" and grabbed King Kong (Gonzalos) in a headlock around his neck, wrestled him to the ground and then pulled Gonzalos's gorilla mask off. Folks laughed, including me for a moment, but Gonzalos was very upset, angry being attacked in this way, the illusion of his monster was broken. The Mexican Cowboy Bronco was thrown out of the show. That night we, all the men, stayed awake patrolling the site, guarding the tent and site in case of any repercussions. The drunk might come back with friends and want to cause more trouble. We carried guns with the circus for hunting, and also because the circus ticket office cash box had been held up and robbed in the past. But that night, the night when King Kong's real identity was exposed, those drunks didn't return.

I got arrested at Leicester Square years ago for "willful obstruction" They called it. I was "Busking" I was visiting London for a week, living in Germany at the time. I had a crowd while I was singing, and playing the harmonica, the meat wagon drove up and arrested me before I could even bottle the crowd who booed the cops, as I was put in the police van, folks tried to give me money, through the closed windows etc. Also in the van was a portrait painter who had been arrested for the same offence. The cops reckoned we attracted pickpockets! First I pleaded not Guilty, in court, then the judge said I had to come back and appear again two weeks later, well I was living in Hamburg it would cost me the ferry tickets on the Prinz Hamlet to come back again. So I told the police/court clerk officer I wanted to go back into the court and change my plea to Guilty, annoying the judge for wasting his time. I was fined £10.

Another time busking with mates to a crowd who were enjoying what we were doing, "We aim to please, you aim too, please." I'd cry as I nodded to the open guitar case. We were stopped by the cops. The policemen tried to confiscate our earnings and takings. Before the cops could do this, we got everyone in the crowd who had given money to come and take their contributions back. So there we stood, with the crowd on our side and the cops there who couldn't take away our wages! As the people had taken back their contributions, they had been refunded!

What makes you angry?

Racism, bullying and cruelty. Since I was at school. I always got this gut feeling and some adrenalin rush to my head when I witnessed Racism or bullying which, looking back, I suppose was a ‘righteous’ anger. I still get it. That Bullying that other school kids or older blokes did always involved me in fights at school with the perpetrators. I'd butt in to defend someone. I was called "Wog lover". My skin, being olive or darker in complexion was commented on too. I was called a "Gypo". I see that bullying on an International scale now, with George Bush and his 'Christian Fundamentalist- Oil corporation backers and Friends, Enron and the CIA terrorist Bullies who go into countries like Chile, Iraq, and Afghanistan and walk all over the people there, Culturally and economically. Taking their minerals and oil, bringing their version of ’Democracy and Freedom’ which is ‘fascism’ installing men like General Pinochet, the Tacomponentsan, Noriega and Saddam, giving them all money and weapons, Coca Cola, Macdonalds, pollution-(Union Carbide Company)

The Rights and freedoms of Speech appear to be eroding in the USA for poor, working-class Americans, the phobia and paranoia of the US Ruling Class are creating a mentality of Demonizing and medieval witch burning which is scary and fires me up. The Xenophobia ('fear of Guests' in Greek) is getting worse. I'd like to call my kind of anger an 'angry Love'.

What's your favourite Robert Burns poem/line?

Haven't got a favourite but I like these: To a MouseWee, Sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie, O what a panic's in thy breastie! To a Mouse, The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang ft a-gley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain for Promis'd joy. and this: I wasn fou, but just had plenty. The Jolly beggars let them cant 'bout decorum who have Characters to lose.

What would you call your autobiography?

'Things I should have remembered to forget

'Going not leaving.'

'Rakes Progress


I'd rather live my life more, spending time outside with my kids than hide away in a room and try to write about it.

Who makes you laugh?

Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe, Billy Connolly, The Office, Ali G sometimes i.e., asking Buzz Aldrin about his landing on ‘the sun’, asking him ‘Couldn't you go at night? Sometimes he isn’t funny at all. Maybe it depends on who his victim is. Bill Bailey, Father Ted, Vicar of Dibley, Monty Pythons, Life Of Brian, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Ton Allen, Arnold Brown...

Who would you have paint your portrait?

Frida Kahlo,

Where's your favourite place?

I like the neck collarbone of my sweetheart. and her ears, but most of all her lips. Wherever the mountains meet the warm sea.

Is music dead?

No, not while people are living, while folks cry or laugh or have a story to tell or to whistle and dance to. I suppose the best music and songs are timeless, the kind of music that takes me on a journey, moves me, and stirs my soul. Soul music for me isn't a label but is any kind of music that is played with feeling, Stimmung, Duende, Dread, passion, fierceness, tenderness, and truth. In my view, there are only two kinds of music: that which I like and call 'good', and that which I don't like and will call 'not good', and sometimes I could even find redeeming qualities in the bad if life wasn't too short! I heard someone say that songwriters don't die they just decompose!

How many instruments can you play exactly?

I can't play any instrument exactly but I can whittle away inaccurately on, banjo, mandolin, Guitar, trombone, whistles, Chinese flutes, Bawu, Harmonicas, bass harmonica, spoons, drum, percussion, I've used accordion bass for recording purposes only, not live gigs. Bagpipe chanter and I include my tap shoes in there when I play. I'm a trombone owner, I call mine a fretless bass Kazoo, in order not to take myself too seriously on it. But I was looking for a tuba, wanting loud fat bass sound, (My Bass Harmonica is too quiet) I found a trombone for £50 in a Leeds pawn shop, and so I enjoy playing it at acoustic sessions, where there is never any bass, all high toned fiddles and flutes mostly. I don't have to plug it in, I play it very rhythmically, sometimes inventing riffs to push or swing the tune, and long drones like a didgereedon't.

What's better than sex?

Do you mean just penetration? I thought everything in life was inseparable from Sex. I find too many things itself is sexy. It won’t stop touching me! Doesn't that depend on who you aren't having sex with? Laughing and seeing your loved ones laughing and friends, my kid’s laugh is up there. Flying with your own wings, like a bird maybe, or swimming off a boat with friends in a warm place somewhere.

What's your favourite drink

Depends on the climate and weather.Pineapple lime with coconut juice and rumDeep fruity smoky red wine.Hot Chocolate.My sweetheart’s lips.

What would you like for your last meal?

Why would it be my last meal? Some good friends to sit around the round table and eat with me.A table that laid itself. For starters, I'd enjoy Sushi. Miso Soup, Raw Oysters with lemon and sauces, Then Bacon and fried egg, tomatoes, avocado mayonnaise, and a touch of marmite all in a toasted sandwich.Wine. Thai Noodles. Pad Thai, prawns Green Curry. Ginger. Coriander.And a full Mariachi Band singing and playing.Chocolates for Dessert. Figs.

OK, Rory, The firing squad's getting itchy-fingered. Any Last requests?

A long, long kiss. A long walk, (I may be some time") To let me teach my kids how to sing and play music together. To teach my ‘eventual’ grandkids how to teach their kids to sing and play the guitar and ‘mouthy’ (Harmonica) together. That would delay the shooting a little! To teach my Kids karate and how to unarm a firing squad and then how to hypnotize the firing squad into feeling a huge electric shock any time they touch a weapon. a bulletproof vest, To see my family.To see the first fruit crop of the seeds I just planted.

To eat a meal with ingredients that would be very hard to find and take very long to prepare. To hear a song sung, one of the long ballads, one of the very long ballads. Maybe I'd have to make the long ballad up. To sing it until the firing squad fell asleep then run like a gazelle from the mouth of the lion.

Perhaps the chance to drink with and get to know the firing squad, let them share my last meal, with my mates, meet my family, ask them if they would water my seedlings after I've escaped. And we could all live happily ever after and make a cheesy Hollywood film about that. I’m getting carried away here, but that’s what I want!