Art, design, music, film, photography, writing… the list goes on. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to answer when someone asks “So, what do you do?” I don’t think I know any more. My girlfriend doesn’t know and my parents lost the trail an age ago, if they ever really knew. If truth is told, I don’t care. I know that I love to create, the thrill of making something beautiful, relevant or interesting from nothing. Mischief, mayhem, blu-tack penises and/or breasts in inappropriate and prominent places or just good old drawing, as long as it helps me develop as a professional and a person I will continue to pursue it. Then there’s the more than pressing issue of making money in this spiraling economic recession. The last few weeks temporarily took the career off the tax support machine, albeit temporarily and oh so briefly. Suddenly I am appreciating it’s health like never before, bounding from project to project with reborn exuberance. You know that feeling when you’ve been sweating and shivering in equal parts, leaving the flu prison bed only to go to the toilet and suddenly you hit the track to recovery, all better and demanding fresh air, arms aloft as the camera flashes create a wall of light as you are liberated from inevitable death at the finishing line? Well that’s how each job feels right now, in my tiny and overworked mind. After the brush with the end of my three-year illustration hallucination that gave birth to this project, I am very aware of the dangers of becoming a jack-of-all-trades. However, with a little money due when clients decide to pay to fight my way, coupled with a brief window between jobs, I am in a position to make the most of the time on my hands, seeking projects that will boost the longevity of my career. It’s a fine line to tread, all about creating a balance between the work that pays for the reduced meat and the work that will develop my style and put me in the shop window for the jobs that you dream about when you leave school. I hit up my database, tantalizing their eyes with my all singing, all dancing fresh new work, my HTML pheremones giving them square goosebumps in their hard drive and then I sat down to assess some very interesting opportunities away from the confines of magazine pages and advertising safety.
I live with Danni Skerritt. Danni is a very talented writer and sound engineer in training. Together we run Quenched Music. Quenched was our method of finding a way to work in the music business, I mean let’s face it, how far can you get calling up the receptionist at EMI and telling them how you’d love to design the album cover of whichever band you’re fawning over? I have yet to come across a record company receptionist who understands my fucking Yorkshire accent, let alone what I’m after when I start asking to speak to Art Directors and Creative Directors or “The people who deal with pictures and posters and that.” I think that ninety percent of artists would love to work with the bands they dig and that is a vast competition pool. So taking the initiative we felt we may gain more recognition and win the ears of the right people if we set up as a company. Since then we have spent the last couple of years keeping our ears to the ground for the sounds that must not be ignored under the guise of Quenched Music. Let’s face it, there’s much dissent in the air right now towards many things and the music industry does not escape the list. The X-Factor comes under so much debate and vicious criticism and whilst it certainly isn’t a healthy thing, the mainstream industry has been dead in the water for some time. Ten years ago, I would have parted with a foul-mouthed string of obscenities towards Simon Cowell’s cash cow, rejecting any form of discussion or consideration of its long-term impact. As a twenty-eight year old I am able to take a moment to step back and view the dirty animal from a wiser eye. As an Illustrator I stubbornly refuse to fast track a bunch of generic images into a stock image database in the hope that I may make some extra pocket money when people refuse to pay for a unique commission. Where does it end? When does the tipping point occur where I have drawn my last image and I am rendered redundant, some ugly paradox of Van Gough’s posthumous celebrity, in JPEG format, 72dpi, stolen by bedroom dwelling geeks instead of cunning and glamorous robbers in a glorious and flawless heist. It’s like a self-service checkout of the creative industries…Perhaps I am old school but I still hold too much respect for the draftsmanship and care/attention that goes into a commissioned work.
As I tied up the last job of my recent deluge of commissions, I worked from home. Danni was working from home too and we were rotating the usual mound of unsigned band CD’s that he receives in the mail on our battered £20 excuse for a sound-system. Our conversation arrived at the Dirty North. Dirty North are a Manchester three-piece from Wythenshawe and we have been aware of them for a couple of years since Quenched operates an open-mic night at Gullivers on Oldham Street, where the band rehearse, perform and hang out. Their sound is an interesting hybrid of reggae, rap and guitar music. It always sounded more innovative and born of passion to me than most of the bands we came across, so when The Stone Roses drummer, Reni named them as ‘something good’ immediately after Ian Brown and John Squire had described the current music scene as ‘very very bland’at the comeback press conference, a huge media and curious Roses fans scramble ensued to find out who the Dirty North were. This left me pacing my bedroom, desperate to track down a phone number for one of the boys in the band. After trying all contacts to no avail I tried the social networking graveyard Myspace. Thankfully for me the last garrison of Myspace is musicians and bands and among the moss addled headstones and wilted flowers, I found life and bassist Carl Palmer returned my message, eager to hear more about my urgent proposition. He told me they were rehearsing at Gullivers that following Monday, So true to form, grabbing the opportunity by the balls, the only way I know how, I sat and watched the whole session from the slightly hungover shadows the upstairs area of Gullivers. Even then, with my very infantile music knowledge, I could see the signs of something great.
This lot had a raw energy that I haven’t seen for some time. It reminded me of the swagger and self-assurance carried by Ian Brown back in the late eighties, monkeying out of the dole queue of Thatcher’s recession ripped Britain into the limelight without a trace of a doubt it would ever happen. As it turned out, the missing piece in the puzzle was the album artwork. I told them that I would take it from here and they trusted what I had to say. The deeper this financial trouble goes the more I am called upon to be evermore robust in my methods of breaking down walls. One thing I’ve learned is how you spend your time between jobs is perhaps even more important than the work you do. Strong music is starting to emerge, fuelled by the smoke from the ruins of the good life instead of the fucking Feeling or Scouting For Girls putting out an eigth album of teenage breakups. Independent films start to take on a more meaningful outlook and people suddenly have something to say and to me, none of it is surprise.
Palmer originally from down south enlightens me to the origin of the band’s name. “Dirty North Innit? There’s a dirty south and a good south and a good north and a dirty north. This is the dirty north.” Dave goes on to make me laugh a bit too hard, “Someone told us after the Roses mention that they googled us and delved so deep, about twenty-two pages that they started finding this obscure Scottish Pornography.
“If you’re lucky, you might get a burnt out car” Palmer teases me when I discuss the idea of photographing the Wythenshawe council estate (which is the biggest in Europe) to play a part in the album inlay. These are lads much like myself that have grown up with no silver spoon, having to carve out openings through hard work and help from those in the same boat or those with the vision to see the talent. They seem to be maturing just at the right time and it completely thrills me that I may have the chance to execute the look of the next impact debut album. I was too young for the Stone Roses self titled debut. I was consumed by coursework when Definitely Maybe landed but I am determined to work with Dirty North and ensure that Down In The Game delivers for the sake of all of us…or maybe just my own aspirations… The album has all the potential and something tells me that these three will make it happen. They possess the drive that many musicians lack to compliment their skills. It’s these kind of gambles you have to take as a creative, fully embracing the risk of failure, and doing it anyway. If I’m honest, it’s the dragging myself back into town on a gloomy Monday night in November to meet the boys that put me in the right place at the right time. I cannot change the world from my couch. In increasingly isolated times, unity and belonging are what will see the people who suffer most through the dark days and in the Dirty North, just maybe there’s a band that people can get behind that will speak for the British youth.
Johnny, Dave and Palmer started jamming in Dave’s mums house, tolerance from the neighbours allowed them to nurture the roots of the band. A small but massively significant break. It’s the wide acceptance of manufactured fast tracked music that has seen its rise to the fore, but for every dismal failure that limps from the Saturday TV slot to a singles chart number one and back into obscurity and the front cover of Reveal Magazine, wanking off a poor animal in a jungle for one last autograph, there’s a pissed off kid with a cool enough head to harness the despair and turn it into something beautiful whether it’s music, art or something entirely removed, be prepared to see much more backlash from the bottom shelf in the coming storm.