30 Apr 2010
Terry (Gilliam) gave my kid a pearl of wisdom, he warned him to “stay away from men in plaid.” Mindful of Terry’s caveat we (the Afro-Celt contingency of the family and me) set course for the Kingdom of Fife. Cousin Kate was getting hitched and the Kirkaldy clans would be on parade.
Sure enough, the picture-perfect setting overlooking the Firth of Forth was awash with plaid. Here plaid is ‘tartan,’ skirts are called ‘kilts’ and furry fanny-packs are ‘sporrans’. This brazen contravention of norms doesn’t emasculate or feminise the wearer. Scots aren’t tough, they’re hardened - tempered by the squalls that gnaw beneath the hemline. It is on these occasions that I’m reminded of my Anglo-Saxon roots - to be in the pants-wearing minority still feels curiously alien.
This was the perfect opportunity for some recreational ‘touch.’ For months I have been focusing on the gated comfort zones of the homeless and the vulnerable. Today could see my hand penetrating personal space and making contact – touching.
Kate and Isobel bride and mother
Brian and Bill groom and father
Julie and Dawn handmaidens
Darren and Ross
Liz and Molly
Margaret and Ruth sisters
Sulaima and Omar siblings
Chantalle and Natasha
Finlay and Skye
The contents of their sporrans.
Now I come to think of it, when Terry gave his advice he was wearing a poncho- a plaid poncho.
23 Apr 2010
Kamikaze felt a firm affinity towards Barrie- they'd scaled the walls of the same dead end streets. This was their last chance to meet before Kamikaze set sail for the South Pacific.
On the Saltmarket Kamikaze’s smile didn’t fail to mesmerise. Before reaching Barrie’s pitch we heard an almighty stichie coming from around the corner. It was Barrie hollering at his foe-pal Andy to get a “faaken’ moove aan.”
Barrie glided towards us like a speed-skater on quicksand. Kamikaze and I stood our ground – he’d have passed through us if I hadn’t put my hand out.
The two embraced like re-conjoined twins - estranged spirits reunited. We escorted Barrie to his pitch and took in some of the city’s salacious sights...
Gordon softly wraps his words in Welsh, his voice is a tonic for the guttural assault of Glaswegian. He is a street sage who stands incongruously outside a cosmetic surgeons – one hand swaddled like an amputee, the other clutching a copy of The Big Issue. Gordon is up to chapter 14 of his autobiography – he’s writing it in longhand. He is fond of the staff at the surgery; their respect for one another is reciprocated, they’d never move him on.
As we parted our ways Gordon vowed he’d always remember Kamikaze’s “wonderful smile.”
Barrie retraced his steps to one of his off-street drinking dens.
The suffocating stench of stale ale and piss chokes your senses when you enter ‘The Office.’ The city-centre siding is a convenience-refuge for sub-urban abusers.
The Office, a shooting gallery where users steal a moment to refuel, is adorned with some of the most eclectic street art found his side of the Camp Nou.
Kamikaze concluded, after taking only a few hours to establish a life-long friendship, that Barrie had a “wonderful spirit.
We left Barrie to sober-up and set off in search of an unsuspecting all-you-can-eat buffet. Proprietors wince when they see Kamikaze’s metal masticators enter the restaurant. Kamikaze takes ‘All You Can Eat’ personally - he sees it as a challenge to his consitution. He’s barred from sushi bars in Austria for consuming his bodyweight in fish roe and Curry’s eletrical stores for grazing on the halogens. Tonights unsuspecting prey would be a regular curry house.
Constitution restituted and gorged to gouchin’ point, we set the GPS for Govan.
On Paisley Road Toll the stifled strains of the Verve’s melancholic anthem The Drugs Don’t Work escaped the walls of a fortress bar. Inside the nae-go pub, a straw-bleached blonde with an inseparable grip on the mic was spilling her bleeding heart over a cranked-up karaoke. The sublime soundtrack was the perfect accompaniment to a dreich Govan nicht. This was her moment, and she made it her own.
The Grand Ole Opry is a cultural haven in the heart of Orange County - all colours and faiths are welcome here. Inside its muralled walls we’re safe from harm - save the occasional burst eardrum, tongue lashing and scathing wit. We’d come to shoot stragglers I’d missed on previous outings. I bagged myself (from top): a showman, a Greek gunslinger, a German Cowgirl and a Duke of Hazard – something for the connoisseurs.
We left Glesga with our ears ringing to the sound of laughter, gunshot and the unsung chantreuse fae Govan echoing “I know I’ll see your face again...”
Gateway to the Pyramids of the M8 - and home.
20 Apr 2010
It has taken 7 months to come this close. To gain the confidence of Glesga’s Gitans you can’t go in shutters blazing - you’ve got to take the long view.
My insider was Zooro: an ebullient Roma Gypsy from Transylvania. He agreed to help unmask the reclusive world of Glasgow's Roma community.
The setting, an apartment above a beauty parlor on Glasgows Southside, was nothing out of the ordinary - no campfire in the living room, just the regular two-bar. As Zooro unraveled the gypsy counter-culture his son took cover from the midday sun and snored blissfully on the cream three-piece. He and his family travelled Europe selling The Big Issue before arriving in Glasgow. Now they want to settle down and give their three sons the opportunity of an education.
Zooro’s home is like any other flat found on the infamous ‘Vicky Road.’ This vibrant location is home to a significant concentration of Glasgow’s Asian and Eastern European population. Victoria Road is known colloquially by the dissonant natives as ‘Beirut’ and directions are clarified with ‘I’m no a racist BUT.’ The accustomed hospitality of the Celts has been replaced by resentment and suspicion in face of the Gypsy influx.
While Zooro explained Roma morals and ethics I couldn’t help but be distracted by the tops of his two-tones peeping from beneath the tablecloth. His ostentatious brogues were making a clear status statement.
touch - passport to the Roma...
Roma culture is shrouded in a wall of secrecy upheld by all sides. Romani (Roma language) is largely preserved by word of mouth and neglected by academia - the race is on to map its rapidly disappearing dialects. Words from Romani such as: dad, pal, chav, gadge, mush, kushtie and scran have become a familiar part of our everyday vocabulary. The migrant Roma are right to be guarded, their nomadic culture endures a daily diatribe of abuse and ingrained discrimination. The Gypsy diaspora battle to keep alive a rich culture that has been ostracised since its inception – it pays to keep schtum.
At the Big Issue Luciene was performing his remorseful Wisdom routine - Norman Wisdom is a legend in Romania. A supermarket manager at his Livingston pitch (a 40 mile round-trip) sensed that his customers couldn’t cope any longer with Luciene’s larger than life personality and requested he vacate the premises tout de suite. Luciene shrugged his shoulders and grinned - happy with his relocation just a half-hour ride away.
Luciene was another Roma making a shoe statement - his Athena moleskins are the Pininfarina of gypsy street-wear.
Our cultures differ fundamentally, we live in parallel but seldom cross the road. We attach moral sentiment to begging - the last resort. The gypsies subsist in our 'last resort,' behind the margins of our settled society. What are the alternatives for a transient population? No fixed abode is the address of the disenfranchised.
The Big Issue prevents them slipping from view. They're not looking for state benefits; they may not be here long enough to qualify. By selling The Big Issue they are trying to change perceptions. They're putting a hand out.
15 Apr 2010
"Hey you! … Yeah you! … the one reading this now! How are you? I hope good and blessed in all aspects of life. Before you read any further, stop and look at my picture again. Do I look like someone you could become friends with? Well, I really hope you said yes, because I’m an easy-going, down-to-earth, open-minded, “lovable puppy” in search of what I cherish – genuine friendships that last a lifetime. I’m patient and a good listener, but also like to be heard at times. I have a good sense of humor, so nothing much offends me, unless family is involved. I’ve been away in the dog house since the age of 17. I made a few mistakes at a younger age and had to learn the hard way. I am ready to enjoy life now. My hard times are soon to be my good times."
In Search Of: Friends
12 Apr 2010
The day started with an interview - Scotland on Sunday magazine wanted the full SP on Barrie and the biopic Big Issue project.
The shoot took place in a vault sandwiched between Skyline’s studios 1 and 2. Barrie is no stranger to claustrophobic spaces; for years he was conditioned to sleep in cells, bins, boxes, bridges...
I took advantage of the setting to review a 4 thirds digital compact for Professional Photographer magazine.
8 Apr 2010
Malcolm McLaren- one of the most revered and reviled figures in British music and fashion is scamming it upstairs. He'll have something to discuss with my old man - he was too was robbed of life by mesothelioma.
I met Malcolm at the beginning and the end of the 90's. True to form he was the cocksure bastard we all loved and loved to loathe. On our first encounter he wore a cape and brought a crook - the perfect twisted-metaphor.
In ’99 I shot Malcolm for Time Out magazine - he hadn’t lost any of his abrasive charm.