Charles Rennie Mackintosh Making the Glasgow style

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

On Saturday we travelled over to Liverpool to visit the exhibition about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the “Glasgow style” that had recently opened at the Walker Gallery. I’m a fan of the work of this rather brilliant architect / artist / interior designer and have visited a number of buildings that he designed over the years, so was keen to see the exhibition, even though, unusually for the Walker, there was a charge for entry. Despite this we had to queue for a short while before we were allowed in as the galleries were at capacity, so the entry fee certainly hasn’t put everybody off.

There was a lot to see; architects’ drawings, paintings, furniture, other objects produced by Mackintosh and other members of the Glasgow School, plus contextual information (including a number of short videos), and we spent a good hour and a half looking round. Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed but the catalogue was, I thought, reasonably priced at a tenner, so we were able to take home a good reminder of what we’d seen. A number of “highlights” can also be viewed on the exhibition website.

Although Mackintosh’s work featured heavily, and was no doubt the main draw for visitors, there were some works by the other members of his close circle,
Margaret MacDonald (who he married), her sister Frances and his friend James Herbert McNair (who married Frances). Together, they became known as “the Four”. The group has a Liverpool connection as McNair was appointed as Instructor in Design at the city’s School of Architecture and Applied Art in 1898 and he moved there with Frances. The Walker had previously held an exhibition about the McNairs back in 2007, which I remeber visiting.

Exponents of the Glasgow Style were influenced by a number of artistic movements, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement,  Art Nouveau, and Symbolism , and they in turn, particularly Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald had an impact on the Continental artists.

Although a lot of attention is paid to Mackintosh, I think that his wife had a major influence on him and it could be argued that they were collaborators. And one of the highlights of the exhibition for me was Margaret’s large gesso work , The May Queen

Other highlights included

  • Architectural drawings by Mackintosh for some of his iconic buildings including the Glasgow School of Art (sadly severely damaged by the fire last year) and his proposal for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, which I think would have been a magnificent building if his design had been selected,
  • Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them, a watercolour by Frances MacDonald McNair from 1911, painted when she was going through a very difficult time in her relationship with McNair
  • Furniture, fittings and stencils designed for Mrs Cranston’s tearooms in Glasgow
  • Drawings and a video about buildings designed by two other architects, James Salmon Jnr  and John Gaff Gillespie 
  • Book cover designs, bookplates and sketches by Talwin Morris

So, all in all, a very good exhibition, well worth seeing. It’s a pity about the entry fee, as I’m sure that will put off some people who’d like to see it (especially families).

Art and about in Liverpool – Part 2

Leaving the Tate we made our way across the city centre, heading towards the Walker Art Gallery. Needing something to eat we stopped off at the
Bakchich  Lebanese “street food” restaurant just off Williamson Square – the second one in the city, the original being in Bold Street.

We wanted to see the exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at the Walker, which is part of the nationwide event organised by the Royal Collection Trust. A total of 144 of Leonardo’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection are on display in 12 simultaneous exhibitions in Galleries across the country, including Liverpool and Manchester. In May 2019 the drawings will be brought together to form part of an exhibition of over 200 sheets at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Arriving at the gallery, the room where the drawings were being exhibited was, not surprisingly, very busy and was hot and stuffy.

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So we decided to take a look around the Gallery as we hadn’t been for a while. Here’s a few of the paintings we saw

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Good Time George (2008-9)by Maggie Hambling
A portrait of her friend, Liverpool born George Melly
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A view of Liverpool from across the water by L S Lowry
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French cyclists with a girl (1925) by Christopher Wood
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Kin Cattrall (2017) by Samiro Addo
A portrait of the Liverpool born Canadian actress by the winner of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018
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An early self-portrait by Rembrandt
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A bust of Einstein by Jacob Epstein

We made our way back to the Leornado exhibition. It was still crowded but managed to look around (we’ve been in much busier “blockbusters”). There were some beautiful drawings, most of them small but full of intricate detail (magnifying glasses were provided for visitors to use). This one, the head of Leda from Greek mythology was certainly my favourite.

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I didn’t take snaps of any of the others – the crowd made that difficult and the glass covering the drawings was reflective. There were a range of studies – preparatory sketches for paintings and sculptures, pages from his notebooks of anatomical and nature studies and other subjects. Some of the drawings included samples of his writing – it was tiny – famously written backwards and back to front.

You don’t often get the chance to see so many Leonardo drawings all together and I think it’s a really good initiative that they have spread them around galleries across the country. We’re off to Manchester next Saturday and hope to see some more at the Manchester City Art Gallery. I hope it’s not too crowded!

Double Fantasy – John and Yoko

Last Saturday evening we watched John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky a documentary film on Channel 4 which tells “the untold story” of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. The film also “explores how the art, politics and music of the pair are intrinsically entwined.”

I was particularly interested to watch the documentary as only a few days before we’d visited an exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool – Double Fantasy – John & Yoko – which covered much of the same ground. 

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The multi-media exhibition covers John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s relationship from when they  first met in November 1966 at an exhibition of Yoko’s work at a London gallery right up to John’s death in December 1980. Like the film, it tells their story in their own words, but also includes personal objects alongside art, music and film produced by both John and Yoko drawn from Yoko’s own private collection, and which

explores the personal and creative chemistry of this iconic couple and their ongoing Imagine Peace campaign (exhibition website)

In many ways John and Yoko were an unlikely couple. John a famous popular music star from a lower middle background from a working class city in the north of England, and Yoko a Japanese avant-garde artist from an upper class background. But they clicked with John, perhaps, seeing in Yoko what he really wanted to be (a cosmopolitan avant-garde artist, not an upper class Japanese woman!). The exhibition shows how they influenced each other’s work, with Yoko perhaps having a bigger influence on John than John on Yoko.

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For many Beatles fans, Yoko was not popular, to say the least. Many of them blamed her for the breakup of the band. John took her with him to recording sessions and she, allegedly, offered her own musical suggestions and tried to join in on some of the songs. This certainly didn’t go down that well with other members of the band and probably widened rifts that were already starting to open.

My own view is that Yoko’s input probably accelerated what would have happened in any case rather than being the primary cause. It’s rare for a creative partnership to last forever and the Beatles were already starting to drift apart as they developed their own interests. Yoko was, for many, an easy scapegoat, and some of the antagonism was no doubt because she was Japanese. There was an underlying racism and the memories of WW2, which only ended just over 20 years before, meant that many people had a dislike of the Japanese.  Attitudes have mellowed over the years, but probably hasn’t completely gone away.

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The exhibition was chronological, taking in all the key events of their relationship from their first meeting at Yoko’s exhibition illustrating them with artefacts, works of art and song lyrics, a rolling programme of films and music videos and a music room, overlooking the Mersey, with tracks from albums playing and featuring album cover art. 

Exhibits included costumes they wore at their wedding

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Art works by Yoko and reproductions of drawings by John

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handwritten drafts of song lyrics

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Their politics were really rather naive, but well intended and their Bed-Ins for Peace protests in Amsterdam, not surprisingly, featured prominently in the exhibition

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The story of the music that John created after he left the Beatles, in most cases working with Yoko, featured heavily. It was an opportunity to reappraise what John had achieved after he had left the Beatles. Inevitably not everything was a classic (and that’s true of every act, including the Beatles) but there were some songs which were as good as anything he had created during his partnership with Paul McCartney,   –  Mind Games, Jealous Guy, Watching the Wheels, Woman, Happy Xmas (War is over)  and, of course, Imagine

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Colin’s Magical Mystery Tour

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We spent last Saturday on a tour of Beatles related sites in Liverpool organised by our friend Colin. He’s a really keen Beatles fan and spent quite a bit of time organising the tour, researching and scouting out locations. So on Saturday morning we drove over to his house where, together with a bunch of Colin’s family and friends boarded a mini bus ready for the relatively short drive over to Liverpool.

First stop was Huyton Village Cemetery

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Where Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles’ original bassist, is buried.

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Then on to the Jewish cemetery, to visit Brian Epstein’s resting place

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Then on to Penny Lane

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Look closely and you can see Macca’s autograph

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In my first year at University, I lived in Student Halls, just at the bottom of this famous street, so it brought back some memories.  I used to go to the chippy half way down the street.

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The Beatles song really describes the shops on Smithdown Square at the top of Penny Lane. This is where there’s a bus terminus where buses from the centre of the city with the named destination stop.

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Here’s the bus stop

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and the barber’s shop

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We popped into the pub across the road from the chippy for half an hour and then, suitably refreshed set off for our next destination, Strawberry Field (note that Field is singular).

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Strawberry Field, which isn’t far from where John Lennon grew up, used to be a Salvation Army children’s home.  According to Wikipedia, he

would often scale the walls of Strawberry Field to play with the children in the Salvation Army home. The proprietors complained to his school about his antics but to no avail. Finally, they took him to his Aunt Mimi with whom John was living. She told him if he continued to do this, they would hang him. He continued anyway. Thus, the line in the song, “Nothing to get hung about, Strawberry Fields forever”

Construction work is taking place at the moment, so we were only able to take a look at the gates, which are actually replicas of the originals,  installed May 2011.

Next stop was Mendips, on Menlove Avenue, where John Lennon lived with his Auntie “Mimi”

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Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes are owned by the National Trust and it’s possible to visit them and go inside on a National Trust tour. We’d done that some years ago. But on Saturday we could only look at the outside.

Then on to Woolton Village, to see the hall where John and Paul first met

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and then into the churchyard

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to see Elanor Rigby

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and also to pay homage to the great Liverpool football manager, Bob Paisley.

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Back on the bus and on to another cemetery, the final one of the day, to visit the very modest, but beautiful, grave of Julia Lennon (John’s mother)

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Cilla Black is also buried in the cemetery so we had a look at her headstone too. Not as simple and modest as Julia’s.

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Then back on the bus and on to Paul’s childhood home at 20 Forthlin Road

img_9158img_9159 We then drove into Liverpool city centre and stopped for refreshments in the Jacaranda Club on Slater Street

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The club was founded by Alan Williams, the Beatles first manager, and they used to perform here in their early days.

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I loved the old Juke box

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In the upstairs bar they have a record shop selling new and second hand vinyl discs, together with several turntables where you can listen to them (the second hand ones, anyway)

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This Pete Best’s drum kit (the Beatles’ original drummer who was replaced by Ringo Starr)

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Then it was back on the bus and down to the Pier Head to take a look at the statue dedicated to the Fab Four and pose for pictures

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We had someone take a group photo, which is at the top of this post. I don’t normally post personal pictures but you’ll have to guess which one of the group is me!

A short drive from there and we were dropped off on Matthew Street

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I used to hang out here and drink in some of the pubs in my student days. It was quite different then, much quieter, before it became a tourist attraction.

We called into the Cavern Pub for a drink and watched the band for a while – they were VERY loud

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Before crossing the road and paying our £2-50 apiece to descend into the Cavern Club itself

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There was a band on playing Beatles tunes

The Club opened on 16 January 1957 as a jazz club, but later became a centre of the rock and roll scene in Liverpool in the 1960s.  It  closed in March 1973, a few years before I went to Liverpool University and was filled in during construction work on the Merseyrail underground rail loop. It was excavated and reopened on 26 April 1984 to become a major tourist attraction (although the original entrance is long gone, replaced by an electrical substation.

We stayed the rest of the evening in the area, eating in a nearby restaurant. After the group split up with some choosing to sample the local pubs. We went with a smaller group for a drink in the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. Around 11 we all got back together to take the minibus back down the M58 to Wigan.

It was a good day out. Colin had done a great job pulling together the itinerary and keeping us entertained with quizzes and a commentary while we were on the bus. Well done Colin!

Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool

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More than 8,000 life-sized Terracotta Warriors have been unearthed in burial pits at the tomb complex of Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, since 1974 near Xi’ in North West China. They’re one of the “wonders of the world” and a small selection of them are currently visiting Liverpool as part as an exhibition at the World Museum in Liverpool.

We went to see the exhibition last Friday evening. It’s proving to be very popular (not surprising really) and tickets have to be booked a few weeks in advance.

My colleague at work was a little scathing as only a relatively small number of the warriors are on display. He felt that the spectacle was in seeing the massed ranks.

Visitors are allocated a time slot but we still had to queue up to wait to get in. First of all you’re shepherded in to watch an introductory film. Personally I didn’t find it very enlightening and don’t think it set the scene particularly well. However it didn’t last too long and we were soon entering the exhibition proper to be greeted by a horse and its groom.

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We were able to get quite close to the life size figures – within a metre. Photographs were allowed (no flash), and although the exhibition was busy, we were able to get a good look.

Then into the main part of the exhibition where we learned about how China was unified under the First Emperor and about life in China during his reign. There was a good selection of artefacts on display

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supported by information panels

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Then the main display of warriors – seven of them in a row

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Again, we were able to get very close to the figures and inspect their features, clothing, armour etc.

The life-sized figures vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. They all have different features although experts have identified 10 basic face shapes.

Although today they appear as terracotta grey, they were original painted in bright colours, like this reproduction on display in the foyer of the Museum,

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which has faded and flaked off. However, by getting close it was possible to see traces of the paint. Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows, but very few remain as they’ve either been robbed or disintegrated over time.

Here’s a closer look at some of the figures.

The General

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An Officer

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A Light Infantryman

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A Heavy Infantryman

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A Charioteer

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A Standing archer

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A Kneeling archer

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This wasn’t the end of the exhibition. Some high ranking notables and later Emperors also had their own armies created – although these were smaller than life size and not as realistic.

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and there was a beautiful golden horse found in the tomb of Emperor Wu, the 5th ruler of the Han Dynasty

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Well, despite my colleague’s warning, we were not at all disappointed – quite the reverse. We learned quite a lot about the history of China and the early Emperors, and it was fantastic to be able to get close up to the figures. They were breathtaking.

Spiro and Leveret live in Liverpool

The week after our trip to Amsterdam the “Beast from the East” arrived bringing freezing cold weather and heavy snow. Much of Britain was paralysed as we aren’t geared up to deal with it. A concert by El Brooke’s at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall was cancelled as she was stuck somewhere down south in the snow. But the same evening we drove over to Liverpool for a different concert at the Phil, in their smaller venue, the Music Room. We had tickets for a concert by Two instrumental folk bands, Spiro and Leveret, the first date of their national tour. The north west was lucky in that although it was bitterly cold, we only had a smattering of snow. So our journey over to Liverpool was uneventful. Less so probably from the bands who’d driven up from the south (Spiro are based in Bristol) and the next date of their tour, in Settle in the Yorkshire Dales, had been cancelled due to the snow over there.

I discovered Spiro when a track of theirs was played on the Cerys Matthews show on BBC6 Music and since then I’ve been a fan. So I was keen to see them live.

In Liverpool they were on first, with their minimalist take on traditional tunes. The four piece – fiddle, mandolin, accordion and guitar, take a traditional tune as a starting point then weave complex riffs and melodies around it. Although the accordion player largely stays seated occasionally standing up, the other three prowl around the stage, at times duelling musically with each other.

Leveret are also accomplished musicians who play traditional tunes. A three piece – a fiddle a squeezebox and an accordion – staying seated throughout their set, they’re much less animated, except for the fiddler whose legs move almost like he has ants in his pants! Their approach to the tunes is different than Spiro, more traditional.

Both sets were excellent and I especially enjoyed seeing Spiro playing live.

As an encore both groups returned to the stage to play together.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment. We stepped back out into the cold. Some snow had fallen while we were inside the venue but hadn’t stuck on the road. Driving home down the M62 and M6 it started to snow. But we got off lightly. It had gone by the morning when I had to drive to Chester.

Dazzle Ferry

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During our recent visit to Liverpool I spotted “Everybody Razzle Dazzle”  pulling into the Pier Head ferry terminal. The light was better than last time I photographed the ferry so I snapped a shot.

The jazzy design was created by Sir Peter Blake as part of the First World War commemorations and was inspired by the Dazzle camouflage used on merchant ships transporting goods across the Atlantic during the First World War as a way of confusing U-boats.