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Ever Changing Moods

18 Apr

Ever changing Moods first published in the Mudhutter  fanzine 2007

There’s a picture in my living room that for me captures perfectly the mood of Wigan Athletics former home Springfield Park. It’s titled “First Avenue” and shows fans making their way to an evening game in the fading light. It’s a route that was well known to me and to the man who skilfully painted the scene, local artist David Barrow.

I managed to get in touch with David over the summer and he kindly agreed to be interviewed for the fanzine. David lives a couple of goal kicks away from Wigan’s former home and the interview took place in his fledgling personal art gallery. An exciting project featuring some of his latest work and some of his iconic Northern Soul images.

He was born in Parbold but moved to Wigan at an early age, I asked him which schools he had attended “I moved to Springfield when I was about 8 and I went to the Bluecoats school then onto Gidlow Middle and finally Whitley High School and they’ve all been pulled down since!” Did you do well at art at school? “Yes I was always good at art and teachers would always praise my work and ask my opinion on other paintings, some kids were good at football, I was good at painting and drawing”casino

I read that you started painting seriously at 19 “Yes, I left school and went to work at the Civic Centre in Wigan. When I was about 18 or 19 they put me on shifts and I had plenty of time on my hands so I took up water colouring with a lot of very good results. In 1984 or 85 I published my first painting, it was the Market Hall and it won a local competition. I had it turned into prints and it was very successful so I did some more of Wigan Pier and Central Park. The Central Park ones sold out three times over and I even had people knocking on my door at 10 o clock at night asking for them”

David’s efforts were warmly received and encouraged he set up his first exhibition “One of the paintings in the exhibition was of the Wigan Casino. When I was about sixteen my older brother came home with a new short haircut and replaced all his rock records with Northern Soul. You couldn’t help but hear it around the house and I thought yeah I like that. So one Friday night me and a mate went to the Casino and we were just blown away by it. We also went to soul nights at Blackpool Mecca, the Ritz in Manchester, all over the place really, we even went to an all-nighter in Burscough once”

The Northern Soul picture led to a new direction for David and he was quick to act upon it, all the pictures in the exhibition sold but none as quick as the Wigan Casino one “A guy from Ormskirk bought it within hours and I thought I would do some more pictures drawing from my own Casino experiences. To be honest I was looking to spread my wings having exhausted all my Wigan scenes”

David has some of the evocative Casino scenes in his gallery and I was delighted to see the original artwork for the first time, each one is influenced by the title of a classic song as he explained “This one is called Afternoon of the Rhino, this one is I’m on my Way and so on. It was a hard subject matter to paint because the inside of the Casino was so dark so that’s why I painted the silhouettes, the girl dancer etc”

David eventually compiled a booklet with his Casino scenes “I made this little book and approached Russ Winstanley asking him what he thought of it. He was impressed and said I should do more, so I asked him if perhaps he could get some of the soul artists to sign them. He agreed and we got The Flirtations, The Velvelettes and Martha Reeves to sign 100 each. We managed to get Dean Parrish to sign just two”MTI5NDc5ODc2MjkyOTEzNzk1

Suddenly David’s profile shot through the roof and he was soon being interviewed by the likes of Radio 4 and G.M.R.  The Casino pictures were a huge success and indeed they still are today as David explains “An exhibition of my Northern Soul paintings has just been shown in the Salford Art Gallery and the curator of the gallery rang me to say they had a fantastic response, their best ever. They had a lot of mods visiting time and time again. In fact the curator wants to take it on a tour of the country and hopefully the Arts Council will get involved with sponsorship” David is trying to hang onto his remaining Casino pictures with the exhibition in mind. He admits to doing “around 30 or 40” but adds that a few have already been sold “One day a millionaire called at the house and bought 16 of them in one go”

I ask him if there is any chance that the tour will take in his home town but sadly it appears not “I have approached the council about various venues but to no avail, I only recently asked the Drumcroon Centre would they be prepared to host it but they said they can’t because it wasn’t seen as being educational”

The demand for the pictures shows little sign of waning and a new venture in America could open up a whole new audience “There’s a chance that the play Once upon a time in Wigan could be made into a film. They are kicking round the idea in America and apparently $20 million has been set aside for it. They have already been in touch with me to ask my permission to use one of my girl dancers as a logo”

Someone was already using a similar logo without his knowledge as David explains “One of my mates rang up one day to say “Do you know they are using one of your images on a beer pump?” I had no idea so I rang the brewery involved and introduced myself, the line went quiet and then the lad apologised and told me he was a keen northern soulie who had used the picture as a tribute. We got chatting about the old days and I told him to carry on using it, after all he had been using it for about 2 years! He came down to see me and I went to his small brewery to sample some of his beers. I intend doing a northern soul calendar soon and the brewery are seeking to sponsor it” The beer in question Northern Dancer can be seen and sampled in the Moon under the Water amongst others.PicMonkey-Collage

Paul Weller also visited the Casino in his youth and his interest in everything northern soul led to David designing an album cover as David recalls “Paul used to go to the Casino and he would climb on to the stage and ask Russ Winstanley to play “Determination” by Dean Parrish, it was his favourite record. Years later Paul hired Russ to warm up the audience before he appeared in concert. Russ rang me up one night to ask me if I could send up some of my countersigned prints especially the Determination one. So I sent the prints up and I didn’t hear anything again for about 3 months, then out the blue I got a phone call from Steve Craddock who was also on the same Paul Weller tour with the group Ocean Colour Scheme. Steve who has also appeared with Weller, wanted me to design their next album cover”

“He told me he wanted a painting of the “Jam House” in Birmingham. He sent me some photographs and I did the painting for them. Steve was pleased with it and it was used on their “Live at the Jam House” album. He is also a soul fan and he and his wife have gone on to buy some more of my paintings, he’s a really nice bloke”Live_Acoustic_at_the_Jam_House

David later met up with Paul Weller “Russ rang me up and asked me did I fancy meeting him, so I said yeah of course. He was in Manchester watching Ian Brown in concert. So off we went and we had V.I.P. tickets to go backstage, the first person I saw was Peter Kay. Then Steve Craddock came up to me and said come on I will introduce you to Paul. We went down these corridors and arrived at the back of the stage, Paul Weller was sat on a stool listening to the group and you could see the entire crowd massed in front of the stage. While we were waiting for the song to finish Paul Weller’s drummer gave me a box of Stella and I just stood thinking I shouldn’t be here! It was surreal, but when the song was over Paul came bouncing over shaking my hand and saying how much he loved my stuff. It’s amazing where painting can take you”

Amongst all the soul pictures in David’s gallery are some of his newer works, some of the paintings are work in progress whilst some have only just been finished. David tells me that I am one of the first people to see these new images. These are modern works, one series is called “Industrial” and the other set “Joy” The Joy paintings are bright and colourful, one of the images shows children playing, the painting captures the exuberance of youth, the vitality and movement is clearly felt. The Industrial pictures are all together different, black and solid they seem to have been fashioned from the very coal that was mined from these parts.

A new set of Springfield Park scenes will form part of this series; they will be like nothing you have seen before as David explains “This new set of pictures is really a new art form. I have created them from cut outs using hardboard and have glued them together to form the picture. It has created a gritty scene which is quite effective”

The new industrial paintings are certainly very haunting especially the street scenes. One in particular stuck in my mind, a single white streetlight illuminating a desolate street where perhaps once a community lived in terraced houses. The light still shone but no one entered its comforting glow anymore. As if it was patiently waiting for a new housing estate to grow and prosper around it again. At least that was my interpretation of the artwork, yours could be totally different, it could be anywhere in the North of England, to me it was Wigan.

Terraced houses in Wigan - 1961

A street of terraced houses in Wigan – the archetypal view of a North Western English Industrial townscape of the early 1960s. Photograph by Shirley Baker

These certainly are exciting times for David Barrow; he recently received a Gibson Les Paul guitar through the post courtesy of Steve Craddock. An exhibition is taking place in London where 100 rock artists have donated a guitar that has been painted by an artist of their choice. Ocean Colour Scene chose David and the guitar is now adorned with images of the Casino. All the guitars will be auctioned off at the end of the exhibition.

The Northern Soul exhibition will soon travel around the country, apart from Wigan unless the powers that be in this town get their act together, I won’t hold my breath. New northern soul pictures are in the pipeline which will delight a whole army of soulies and a series of Mod pictures are a distinct possibility which I for one can’t wait to see. Alongside these will be the countersigned prints by some of the most famous soul artists in the world.

The Northern Soul calendar is taking shape and hopefully with sponsorship will be out very soon.

David Barrow is constantly evolving as an artist and within his work there’s something for everyone, he is passionate about his art and when he says “I will always paint, I will die with a paintbrush in my hand” I for one don’t doubt that he will.