Harry Pye describes his latest collaboration with Francis Macdonald as part of a major group exhibition at David Risley Gallery in Copenhagen.
I first made e-mail contact with Francis Macdonald (of Teenage Fanclub) in 2013. I was organising a group exhibition that celebrated the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley walking into Sun Studios and making his first record. The show went well; I managed to get 30 artists to make an Elvis painting, and 30 musicians or music journalists to write a tribute. A short time later, I got in contact with Francis again to see if he’d be up for giving some feedback on my early attempts at writing lyrics. Somewhere along the line we decided to have a go at writing a song together, and within a couple of months we had 10 or more demos that we both liked. It crossed my mind that the reason I had so many ideas for lyrics was that I’d just turned 40. It kind of made sense that such a milestone had made me more reflective.
Twenty years ago, I was a student. One of the best things about doing my art degree was getting to spend time with visiting lecturers such as the sculptor Bruce McLean. I’m a big fan of Bruce – I liked the idea of his pose band Nice Style, who went on stage and posed in their fine clothes but never actually sang. On one occasion, Nice Style were the support act for The Kinks –a double bill I would love to have seen. At age 20, I didn’t really know anything about anything. Bruce seemed like a fountain of knowledge and was always up for a chat. I remember when I asked him why he made sculpture – he red back straight away, saying that all artists were misfits and that art enabled them to find out what was going on in their heads.
While writing lyrics over the last few weeks, I feel I’ve got a lot of stuff out of myself that wouldn’t have come out through painting or drawing. I’ve found the whole experience of trying to be a lyricist, and collaborating with Francis, very enlightening and also highly enjoyable. Maybe my lyrics are more like art than my art? Lots of people are good at more than one thing, but usually I think we’re all ultimately one thing more than we are another. The only person I can think of who is an exception to that is Billy Childish. Like William Blake, it appears that Billy’s writing and his painting are of equal importance to him (and everyone else).
When David Risley told me hew was putting a new show together in his gallery in Copenhagen that featured musicians who make art and artists who make music, I was keen to be included. Martin Creed, Alan Vega, Kim Gordon and Daniel Johnston are just some of the names involved, and there were many more that the talented Mr Risley had his eye on. His plan is make a show “that will be open and dynamic, with events, live music, record nights, talks and films. I have asked a record shop to make a selection of records that fit the theme, and make a record shop in the gallery.” One of the many songs Francis and I had been working on is called ‘Sympathy For Jean- Luc Godard’. I thought it would be nice if this track made its debut in Denmark. The plan is for both Francis and I to draw scenes from Godard’s films on postcards; we could not only film the postcards and make a little video, but also exhibit them all then. John Lennon once said he saw his songs being like postcards to the world. I like this idea – that anyone can write a song with a simple message, or draw a cartoon and share it with whoever wants to look or listen.
In nursery school, everyone draws and sings together, but as children turn into adults more and more of them stop singing and drawing. Maybe some of the art and music crossovers featured at David’s gallery will ask some questions about why it was that people stopped singing or drawing? Maybe it will make them start again?
This is our Music / This is our Art is at David Risley Gallery, Copenhagen from 21 February–21 March