Friday, 29 November 2013

More work across borders

As the launch of the collaborative project Colourful Star approaches (1 December), here is another 'taster' from


Having been trying to reveal,

through eye and hand,

what’s lost and what remains,

it is not without reason

that we should look at ourselves

looking out each day on brave new worlds.

Painting by Marina Shiderova, words by Tom Phillips

Venue: The Last Post

On the final closure of Bristol/Bath what's on institution Venue after 31 years ... 
Dear Local World, 
So, here we are then. Friday 29 November 2013. Venue’s last day on Earth. Hours from being swept away as part of what you so dreamily term “the development of the what’s on module.” Sometime in December, we learn, will re-emerge, like butterfly become grub, as Because, heck, nothing answers “Hey, where to find what’s happening in town tonight?” quite so snappily as www. Given a firm push, a downhill gradient and a stiff following wind, it just rolls off the tongue. 
It may surprise you to learn we don’t necessarily have a problem with you closing the Venue website. Don’t get us wrong, it is curious timing. As you know, the most recent figures for daily page hits are: August - 44,162; September - 48,544; October - 55,824. Nevertheless, the two remaining of our number, working part-time on alternate weeks, would be the first to admit that Venue is a husk of its former self. Frankly, they’ll be glad to be put out of their misery. Where once they were part of a vast team of journalists delivering informed, first-hand comment from every last facet of city life, today our hapless duo struggle to do much more than pass on received opinion and rehash press releases. Naturally, we don’t have to explain this process to you, Local World, but we’re keenly aware that newcomers to the site might look at recent content and wonder at our concern. 
We’ll come to that shortly, but, this being an open letter, a brief history lesson for the uninitiated (we’re being tactful here, Local World - we’re all too aware you haven’t got a fucking clue yourselves). Venue magazine began life in 1982, covering Bristol and Bath and surrounds, but swiftly fter 18 proudly independent years it was sold to Bristol United Press, owned by your predecessor, the Northcliffe Newspaper Group. Last year, having suffered death by a thousand cuts and a colourful assortment of full-frontal stabbings, the magazine was closed down. Today, it’s fallen to you, Local World, to apply the coup-de-graceless and bring down the final curtain on 31 years of work. 
And hand it all over to the Post. 
The Post, which decreed all street art as vandalism for years, and yet today, having so very belatedly recognised which way the wind is blowing, reaches for Banksy with the same onanistic lust the Express reserves for Diana. 
We’re not going to claim we ever “championed” Banksy. We never really went in for “championing”. We simply covered everything we considered of value. So we might not have “championed” street art, but we did report t. Always. Even before 1985, the year of Arnolfini’s seminal ‘Graffiti Art’ exhibition, featuring work from the UK’s first wave of can-wielders. One of them was called 3D, or Robert Del Naja. He went on to co-found Massive Attack. We put Massive Attack on the cover before they’d even released a single. 
Do you see what we’re driving at here? Have you any idea the number of wonderful bands, and theatre groups, and artists, and voluntary organisations, and filmmakers, and minority groups who had no voice anywhere else, at all, ever, and poets, and DJs, and on, and on, who claim inspiration from something they read in Venue? We make no assertions for the influence of our opinion; we simply did our level best to place a mirror in every last corner of Bristol, no matter how hidden, and allow the city to reflect back on itself. 
And you want to hand over that legacy to a paper whose management - not journalists - are the precise equivalent of those radio stations which promise “your better music mix” and then put the same few songs on repeat. Which claim “the best new music” and fail to add “once it has charted and proved its popularity.” You want to hand over that legacy because, to quote from a staff email you neglected to send us, “The existing Venue website has really good functionality with a real blend of music reviews, listings, restaurant reviews etc, etc. This is a fantastic opportunity to grow our digital audience and a great platform to sell advertising on.” 
Do you have any idea how much that hurts, Local World? Of course you don’t. You who boast all the cultural hinterland of a freshly discarded wet wipe. (Though you do have history, of course: born earlier this year, the helplessly stumbling result of a merger between Iliffe Media and Northcliffe, with a profit forecast of approximately £30 million - that debt-free dowry from the Daily Mail General Trust was a lovely gift, no? And they absolved you of responsibility for the deficit on that pesky old final salary pension scheme. Ah, Local World! You are to localism what urinal cake is to mountain freshness.) 
And now you presume to inherit our work. We were writers, Local World,photographers, not “content providers”. We were bound together not only by our city, but by a love of language, of striking image. Our editors consistently backed our individual judgement and allowed us complete freedom of expression. As a result, Venue inspired a loyalty out of all proportion with the pittance it paid. Local World, we put our very heart and soul into our catalogue of work. And if you think you can now simply walk in and trample on its remains, then you can, with the very greatest lack of respect, fuck the fuck off. 
Because we, the undersigned, do hereby assert our full rights under copyright law. It really would be for the best if you were take a moment to visit this pageon the Venue website. Sit down, take a deep breath, and pause and reflect on this: “This website and its content is the copyright of the individual authors credited.” Please be assured we did not pull this phrase out of our collective arses, but out of legal statute. And if we perceive so much as a single full-stop, a solitary pixel of our work when your shameless hijacking is unveiled, then you in turn can expect to perceive a court summons. We are, to put it in terms you regularly use but cannot hope to understand, passionate about defending our legacy. 
Robin Askew
Lesley Barnes
Tony Benjamin
Melissa Blease
Anna Britten
Darryl Bullock
Charlotte Butterfield
Jay Chakravorty
Hannah Chapman
Matt Collins
Marc Crewe (deceased)*
Stephen Dalton
Ellen Doherty (deceased)*
Carl Dolan
Rebecca Ewing
Kristen Grayewski
Elfyn Griffith
Tom Hackett
Mike Harley
Steve Henwood
Gareth Jones
Nic Matthews
Tamar Newton
Huw Oliver
Julian Owen
Emma Parkinson
Kid Pensioner
Tom Phillips
Leah Pritchard
Pat Reid
Jo Renshaw
Andrew Rilstone
Stuart Roberts
Anna Rutherford
Mark Simmons
Delia Sparrow
Joe Spurgeon
John Stevens
Campbell Stevenson
Nick Talbot
Lou Trimby
Tom Wainwright
Cris Warren
Ben Welch
Kirsten Williams
Kate Withers
John Christopher Wood
Adam Workman
Steve D Wright
Nicola Yeeles 
*Because if there is an afterlife, and we don’t add these enduringly lamented names to our treatise, we’ll never hear the end of it.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Working across borders

This weekend, on the 1 December, the Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova and I are launching an online collaborative project under the name of Colourful Star. Full details of that will follow shortly. In the interim, you can read/see a few early examples on Marina's website here: and here:
Marina has recently exhibited at the National Ethnological Museum in Sofia and at the Bansko Mountain Film Festival.
That this collaboration is being launched in the same week that the UK government and much of the UK media have chosen to vilify Bulgaria is - genuinely - a coincidence, but hopefully one which will be go at least a little way to showing that Bulgaria is not some 'wild country, far, far away' - and that xenophobic paranoia is not the only available response to the Europe we happen to be living in.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Home Thoughts

Draft of a poem about not being born somewhere else

In the town where I was nearly born,
elevated lines converge
towards a life I almost led –
here reflected back by silvered blocks,
the windows of an engine shed.

Its proximity to airports drew them,
Mum and Dad, settling down,
at their age, with a child,
but with an eye to taking,
if needs be, quick and easy flight.

As it happens, they went elsewhere,
and these morning streets
with bus stops, bins, barked trees
and overcast but promising sky
are neither more nor less familiar.

In transit and transition,
there is no sense of coming back,
of making a return, accounting
for how I’d see things differently
had they not invested,
called somewhere home,
further west along the track.

Tom Phillips 2013

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Jože Plečnik: Poet of Concrete

Ljubljana’s salient architectural features were the work of Jože Plečnik, the so-called ‘poet of concrete’, who’d developed his austere tastes in Vienna and Prague long before communism took hold in Yugoslavia. As well as bringing the Ljubljanica river under control by cordoning it with terraces, he’d built the Cobblers’ and Triple bridges, the colonnaded fish market, several churches, a stadium, the chamber of commerce, a gymnasium, the National and University Library and a cemetery. According to a tourist leaflet, Ljubljanans regarded him as their Haussmann, a visionary who transformed a provincial backwater into an imperious regional capital. Fortunately, Plečnik himself had had other ideas. Rather than altering the entire geometry of Ljubljana by driving grand, Parisian-style boulevards through the centre, he had built into the existing fabric of the city, more often ornamenting than obliterating. You couldn’t miss his stark additions to the Art Nouveau fripperies left behind by the Austro-Hungarians, but while the Triple Bridge formed the centre piece of the riverfront districts he refashioned, the cobbled streets and cottage-like houses on the left bank remained, and weeping willows draped the terraces with which he’d straightened the Ljubljanica.
Tom Phillips 2013

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Breakfast at Southville Deli

You don’t know this but last night
I lay awake and watched you sleeping,
Heard the soft scrape and wheeze of your breathing,
Felt the warmth of your body and thought:

‘What on earth are you doing here?
I’m not married to you, Audrey Hepburn,
And I’ve never eaten breakfast
Outside a downtown jewellery shop.’

Politely, Miss Golightly tossed and turned
Till the milkman’s electric go-cart squeaked.
It was never meant to be. She spurned
My offer of staying the rest of the week.

Which, all things considered, is just as well.
Manhattan fantasies are nothing but rot
For drunken fools who are over the hill
And believe there’s more than they’ve got.

There isn’t. Love simply changes its hue.
Sometimes, it pulses a deep, vibrant red,
Sometimes it’s insufferably blue.
Whatever. The amorous film stars are dead.

Which means, my love, there’s more to life
Than what passes for it on the telly.
Audrey Hepburn would never be my wife
Or do breakfast at Southville Deli.

Tom Phillips