Friday, February 27, 2015

John Patrick Byrne: Album artwork

John Byrne was born in 1940 in Paisley. He grew up in Ferguslie Park housing scheme and went to St Mirin's Academy. After he left school his first job was mixing powdercolour for the designers at A F Stoddard, carpet manufacturers, in Elderslie. The slab boy left after a couple of years to study at the Glasgow Art School specialising in drawing & painting. In his final year he won the Bellahousten Award for painting and travelled to Italy for six months. Despite his undoubted talent John found breaking into the art world difficult and decided to send a small picture of a man in a panama hat in the faux-naïf style (affectedly naïve) to the Portal Gallery in Mayfair. A perpetual joker he claimed this was the work of Patrick, his father, an untrained painter. To Byrne’s surprise the gallery asked to see more of 'Patrick's' work. He sat down and painted another half-dozen in the 'naive' style and the result, was a one-man show at the Portal Gallery, London in 1967.

A year later Byrne was commission to paint the cover for the Beatles new album entitled Dolls House. For inspiration he took the artwork from Alan Aldridge’s book The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. The album was retitled Double White and issued with the famous all white cover. Byrne’s artwork was later used on the Ballads compilation released in 1980. The Beatles: "De Mooiste Songs" (The most beautiful songs) was also released on Dutch Parlophone in the same year with a similar cover.

The Humblebums was a Glasgow based folk duo of Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. Later Gerry Rafferty joined them to make a trio but Harvey left soon after. Gerry was a fellow Paisley Buddy and good friend of John Byrne who he asked to produce artwork for the cover for their new album, The New Humblebums in 1969. Gerry and Billy included a track written by Rafferty entitled Patrick on the album dedicated to Patrick. The lyrics begin.

"Patrick my primitive painter of art/You will always and ever be near to my heart")

This would cement the beginning of a long working relationship between Byrne and Rafferty who later completed several of the singer’s solo albums covers and together they co-wrote several songs.

In 1971 the artist was also commissioned to paint an album cover for Donovan entitled HMS Donovan. He also animated a cartoon movie called Old Fashioned Picture Book, inspired by HMS Donovan and including three songs from the album. The movie was scripted by Alan Bennett but only a short length pilot was ever made and the full film never was finished.

When Gerry Rafferty left the Humblebums to pursue a solo career he released his debut album, Can I have my money back” with sleeve artwork designed by John Byrne. John also helped co-write the track "One Drink Down" with Gerry Rafferty which features on the album.

John Byrne was commissioned to do the artwork for Billy Connolly’s first solo album in 1972, entitled Billy Connolly Live! The singer,comedian had then only a small cult audience in Glasgow.

In the same year Gerry Rafferty team up with school friend Joe Egan to form Stealers Wheel with Roger Brown, Rab Noakes and Ian Campbell. They signed for A&M Records and before they started to record their first album Brown, Noakes and Campbell were replaced by Paul Pilnick, Tony Williams and Rod Coombes respectively. The cover for the new album was a John Byrne original. Closer examination reveal the name 'Stealers Wheel' carefully embedded eight times in the design, in addition to the large lettering in the bottom left-hand corner. The album was a critical and commercial success with the hit single "Stuck in the Middle with You", on the album. By the time the first album was released Rafferty had left the band to be replaced by Luther Grosvenor.

Gerry was persuaded to return to Stealer’s Wheel and continued with Joe Eagan as a duo with backing musicians as needed on tour and in the studio. The second album Ferguslie Park was released in 1974 and once again the artwork was by John Byrne .

The band released their final album Right or Wrong (1975) which prominently featured sleeve designs by John Byrne. It also included an inner sleeve.

The collaboration between artist and singer continued and when Rafferty released his City to City solo album in 1979 it had a portrait of himself, painted by John Byrne on the cover. The album included Baker Street which featured the distinctive saxophone solo played by Raphael Ravenscroft. The success of Baker Street and other tracks as singles established Gerry Rafferty as an International success. The exposure further enhanced John Byrne’s bludgeoning career as artist, and playwright. When the single was released it had a sleeve (cover) with Byrne's artwork.

The Night Owl album was also released in 1979 and again had the sleeve emblazoned with a John Byrne original. By now Rafferty’s albums were instantly recognised by the distinctive artwork of his friend, John Byrne.

The last Gerry Rafferty album to feature the artworks of John Byrne before there was a reprise came in the 1980 release of Snakes and Ladders. The album was less commercially successful than the previous releases and Rafferty was beginning to musically change his direction. His next release was the introverted Sleepwalking (1982) which instead of a cover painting and hand-lettering by John 'Patrick' Byrne, featured a simple, stark photograph of an empty road stretching to the sky. The single from the album Royal Mile was released in a sleeve by John Byrne artwork.

It was Another World, the ninth and final studio album by Gerry Rafferty that again featured the artwork of John Byrne. The front cover is entitled Dark Victory and rear booklet back cover Pensive Angel. The album was released in 2000 on the Icon Music label to good reviews. The single All Souls was released in a sleeve designed by John Byrne.

Byrne's artwork featured on the compilation albums One More Dream: The Very Best of Gerry Rafferty which was released in 1995: the Days Gone Down: The Anthology: 1970–1982 (2006): and Gerry Rafferty & Stealers Wheel: Collected (2011). This would come as no real surprise as by this time Byrne and Rafferty's collaboration was inseparable.

To commemorate the works of Gerry Rafferty, Barbara Dickson, his friend and a admirer, recorded some of his songs in 2013. The front cover was painted by John Byrne.

John Byrne and Peter Capaldi in Conversation

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Elvis Presley: One a' Jock Tamson's Bairns ?

Elvis Presley visited UK soil (Prestwick Airport) for the first and only time on March 3rd, 1960. He was on a stop-over on the way back from his two-year military service in Germany. The King of Rock’n Roll would never perform in the UK despite many attempts to encourage his management to let him do so. In the event Presley would not come to Scotland is it possible there was a wee bit of Old Scotia in Presley himself to appease his loyal following ?

The family tree of Elvis Presley has attracted much attention by his fans and genealogists alike. Things are not entirely clear with some claims he was from German extraction but according to Allen Morrison resident of Greenock and author of The Presley Prophecy , Elvis Presley had Scottish ancestry. Morrison claims Presley’s father Vernon, could trace his family tree back to an Andrew Presley, a blacksmith, from Lonmay, near Buchan, Aberdeenshire.

It appears Presley Snr’s son was also called Andrew and immigrated to New Bern, North Carolina at the time of the Jacobite rebellion (1745/46) where he worked as a blacksmith. Previously there was some speculation the surname Presley was derived from the mispronunciation of Paisley. This was a common occurrence. Alternatively Presley was spelt Pressley but it seen clearly in the Lonmay Parish Records the surname Presley was fairly common to the Aberdeen area in the 18th century.

Andrew Presley Junior had a son called Dunnan Presley born 1780. He was married twice and had 3 sons. Dunnan Presley Junior was born in 1827 He married had two children but when his wife died drifted into the army and then remarried Martha Jane Wesson at Fulton, Mississippi in 186. Together they had five children including two daughters, Rosella (1862) and Rosalinda (1864/65). Dunnan left his second family and although Martha Jane remarried she died in childbirth in 1868. Rosella (Elvis’s great grandmother) and her sibling were taken under the care of their maternal grandmother, Millie Wesson. Dunning Presley died in 1900 in Mississippi, at 73 years of age.

Rosella bore nine illegitimate children but never identifying her lovers or made any claim on them. Her son was dapper drifter, Jessie Dee (JD) McClowell Presley was born in 1896. JD was a handsome man who liked to dress well. He was a drifter and philanderer and liked to drink which often got him into trouble. He married Minnie Mae Hood in 1913 and together had 5 children: 2 girls and 3 boys. Their first child was born in 1916, Vernon Presley (1916-1978), who was Elvis Presley's father. Vernon had four siblings but his relationship with his father JD was always tenuous. Jessie and Minnie Mae were divorced in 1954. Elvis always called his grandmother 'Dodger.' Minnie Mae never remarried. She moved in with her son and daughter-in-law at their Berry Street home. Later, she would live in the Graceland mansion until her death in 1980.

. Elvis Presley’s mother’s surname was Mansell. This is French in origin (Norman) and many French nobles moved to the Scottish borders after they were invited by King David I of Scotland (1084 – 1153). David was the brother in law of William the Conqueror's youngest son, Henry. Many Mansells later moved to Ireland before eventually settling in the American Colonies in the 18th century.

William (Bob) Mansell married Morning White Dove (1800-1835) a full-blooded Cherokee Indian and they settled in western Tennessee, in 1818. It was common for male settlers in the West to marry 'white' Indians as there was a scarcity of females on the American frontier. The appellation 'white' in Morning Dove's name refers to her status as a friendly Indian. Early American settlers called peaceable Indians 'white', while 'red' was the designation for warring Indians or those who sided with the British in the Revolutionary War. The Mansells became farmers and raised three children, the eldest was John Mansell, born in 1828. He married Elizabeth "Betsy" Gilmore and they had nine or ten children together. John Mansell squandered the legacy of the family farm. In 1880 he moved to Oxford, Mississippi, and changed his name to Colonel Lee Mansell.

The third of John Mansell's sons was White Mansell who married Martha Tackett. Their daughter Octavia Luvenia "Doll" Mansell was born in 1912 . She was Gladys Presley's mother and Elvis's grandmother. She married her first cousin Robert Lee Smith (1873-1931) who was the son of White Mansell's sister, Ann. Marrying first cousins, was common in insulated communities of the agrarian South.

Gladys Love Smith and Vernon Elvis Presley eloped and were married in the County of Pontotoc in 1933 . Gladys Love Smith and gave birth to Elvis Aaron Presley on January 8th, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. Twin Jesse died at birth.

The joyful news Elvis Presley may have been part Scottish was enough for Mike Mike King of Philip King Kiltmakers Aberdeen, accepted the commission to produce an unrestricted tartan called the Presley Tartan of Lonmay . The blue represents the nearby town of Peterhead; the grey for the skies; the green for countryside grass; and yellow for local cornfields. .

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day: Bissums, handfasting and jumping the broom

A traditional besom broom consisted of an ash stave with bristles made from birch twigs and tied on with thin pieces of willow wood. Symbolically the stave (or handle) was masculine and the brush or broom (the faggot), feminine. There is reference to the Beson Broom in the Bible :

‘… I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts.'
– Isaiah 14:23 (KJV translation)

In pagan belief the Beson Broom represents purification, protection, fertility and prosperity and were ritualistically used to sweep harmful energies away before a rite could be performed.

Handfasting, predates the Christian marriage ceremony, and was an old marriage ritual where the couple’s hands were generally bound together with a cord. The idiom “tied the knot” comes from this tradition which was still practised in some parts of Scotland and Wales, within living memory. Symbolically the person overseeing the ritual i.e. the high priestess, used the beson broom to sweep away evil prior to the ceremony. In the past handfasting was the binding of two lovers and not marriage for life. Handfasting ceremonies were frequently renewed usually at a year and a day intervals. This may account for the declaration of love we see today, in Valentine’s Day.

A beson wedding (or civil wedding) involved the couple jumping over a broomstick for good luck. In front of witnesses the man would jump the broom first, followed by his intended bride. Provided the jumps were clean and either party did not touch or knock the beson broom then the marriage was recognised and the offspring were legitimate. This kind of marriage was a partnership between spouses and the woman kept her own home and did not become the property (a shackle) of her husband. If the couple decided to divorce, they simply jumped back over the broomstick again, but this could only be done in the first year of marriage.

In the home of superstitious people, an upward pointed besom (bristles up) sat over or near a doorway, to keep evil spirits and negative energies away for the house The Idiom ‘swept (a person) off their feet’ is used to describe someone so infatuated with another as to be effortlessly carried along unquestionably with their object of affection. "To sweep," in this case, is likely to refer to a broom and its action to inexorably move things together and if a metaphorical broom sweeps you off your feet, then you have completely lost your balance (reality) and fall for someone or something (infatuation). By the same token the person may have become bewitched.

There are many associations between the bosum broom and witchcraft and in Ireland, the besom was called a "Faery's Horse". Witches riding broomsticks may have had its origins in ancient fertility rites when to encourage the crops to grow high, people would jump high in the air on brooms. It is recorded the leaping witches smeared their bodies, hands and feet with “flying ointments” made from psychoactive drugs i.e. a base of either atropa belladonna or Mandragora officinarum. Sometimes the broom was ridden with the faggot (brush) facing downward or reversed. When not used for ritual flying the beson broom ever present in the household may also have been used as a sex toy as many accused witches were spinsters or widows. By the Middle Ages the beson broom had become a symbol of anti-establishmentarianism and sensuality. This is evidenced by the word 'besom' (bissum) becoming a slang term for an easy woman or hussy. 'Bissum' was also a common Scottish noun used to describe ‘mischieviously playful little girls.’