Showing posts with label touch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label touch. Show all posts

23 Apr 2010

The Office

touch: Kamikaze

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.” 

touch: Andy

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...

touch: Gordon

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.”

The Office

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.

touch: Sandy

touch: Michael

touch: Eva

 touch: Alan
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

Glesga Gitans

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.

touch: Zooro

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.

Zooro’s zapatos

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...

touch: Radu

touch: Gabby

touch: Doina

touch: Carman

touch: Claudio

touch: Olimpia

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.

touch: Luciene 

 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.

2 Apr 2010

biopic 02 chapter 9

  The trip to the art fair brought things in to sharp focus. Even among the art-going middle-classes Barrie is not immune to derision and antipathy. There’s no disguising the public's fear or suspicion of his altered state. If his disfigurement had been caused by a genetic disorder or defect at birth, society would be bound by political correctness to accept or at least tolerate him. His is a case of identity theft – disenfranchised and relegated to the criminal status of his perpetrator. Barrie would willingly submit himself to the surgeon’s scalpel to gain acceptance.

Make Poverty History G8 Rally Edinburgh, 2005 (photo © Kamikaze)

 In 2005 I commissioned a knitter to knit me a pair of candy pink SAS balaclavas. The War on Terror was being fought on the home front and paranoia was at a peak - no one was above suspicion. I had the idea to employ them in everyday scenarios – parodying the pervasive hysteria of the time.

We associate hooded masks with violence or intimidation – the same way society views Barrie’s disfigured veneer. Beneath the balaclava could breathe a terrorist or freedom fighter, foe or amigo.

Barrie is a luchador who can’t jump the ring and hide in the audience. Lucha Libre Barrie puts on a brave face - his resilience gives diamonds the rub.

Touch – the Barrier is still up.

26 Mar 2010

It dawned on me as I heaved my way through the rain and commuters that something was amiss. An ad for a ‘creatives coffee morning’ seemed such an incongruous concept I had to investigate. It was 8am (in the morning) and something didn’t ring true - if there were artists attending, they too must be wired or frayed.
The auspicious location - a restaurant in a converted banking hall, had been commandeered and turned into a make-shift boardroom. The tables, like the breakfasters, were tightly nestled together as speed dating serial-net-workers conspired over croissants and cappuccino. Their cursory glances in my direction hissed ‘impostor,’ I was as welcome as a piece of gum on a Gucci mule. Our suspicions confirmed I beat a retreat, leaving the tryst to connive.
Conclusion: 1. the word ‘creatives’ is a collective noun, 2. a ‘creative’ is not an ‘artist,’ 3. trust your intuition, 4. keep 8am sacrosanct.

 I hightailed it to the West coast to meet Barrie outside the Glasgow Art Fair. I was curious to know what he made of art and the art world - someday he too could be hanging on a wall. The fair had all the fun of a clearance sale at a Scottish Home show – armchair art without the furniture. It was hard to see the wood for the trees, barely enough on view to kindle any enthusiasm ‘fer ert.’ 

Barrie was drawn to street art, excited by images that triggered his sense of nostalgia and moved by themes that pulled at his sympathy strings: isolation, depression... He established early on that he couldn't see the pointillism of photo-realism - the pursuit of surface perfection didn’t sit easy.
 One of the first (of the many) Peter Howson paintings on display reminded Barrie of “skipperin’ homeless.” The appeal of a Tunnock's Teacake was soured when he discovered it was yet another photo-realistic rendition.
 The Magic Art bus, moored in George Square, wasn’t the joy ride it promised. The converted London Routemaster was festooned with Beatles memorabeliart and a painting of Celtic soccer legend Henric Larson performing an over-head kick. Barrie wholeheartedly endorsed the subject matter but the reason for its inclusion went over both our heads. We agreed on one thing: returning his MBE was John Lennon's finest moment - rock'n'roll.

Richard Demarco

The highlight of the day came at the D.E.A.F (Demarco European Art Foundation) exhibit. Professor Richard Demarco CBE, OBE, HRSA, FRIAS, RSW, HRWS (his business card credentials); co-founder of the Travis Theatre, artist and maverick impresario, took an instant shine to Barrie- much to his bemusement.


Demarco marshaled Barrie to a print of the German artist Joseph Beuys at work in Barlinnie Prison. He then proceeded to enlightened Barrie on the history of Beuys (Demarco’s protégé) and the artists work with prisoners, before asking him straight out if he’d been inside Barlinnie Prison! His blissfully unabashed blurt was met with magnanimous refrain - Barrie bit his toungue. First impressions count in a society that makes arbitrary judgments based on face value.* Defaced and devalued by a delinquent, Barrie is vilified and condemned to masquerade as a criminal. On the outside rehabilitation's a two-way-street.

From nowhere Demarco proclaimed Barrie to be an ‘artist’ - another protégé? Seizing the moment Barrie got out his Big Issues while Richard took the photo opportunity to purchase a copy from the artist – performance art?

I left Barrie At Queen Street Station as he pitched-up to make an honest living.

* the divisive nature of photography is complicit in reinforcing this prejudice.

15 Mar 2010

On the Saltmarket you've got to side-step the soused alchies and gouchin gangrels as they dance the sidewalk tango. Half-way along there's a wet and a dry filling station - their first stop when re-fueling.

Mark sits like an endangered species stuffed in a display case for it’s own protection - as the CCTV tapes testify. For many of his customers Mark is their first port of call before embarking for oblivion. His box is a toll booth - hard cash is fed through the hatch and hard liquor is dispensed for the journey.


Fortified wine, lager, spirits and heavy flow from behind the barricade while undisturbed bottles of tomorrow’s vintage plonk gather dust in a glass cabinet. Mark has been confined for eight years but it's not a sentence, he loves the view of life from his watch-tower.


George’s general store keeps the Saltmarket troops fed and fragrant. He provides the locals with their basic provisions - fags, mags and messages. George is the king of his emporium and a lynchpin of the community. He needs no perspex for his protection but every corner is covered by CCTV. Everyone get his personal touch - a gallus mix of Glesga charm and guile.

8 Mar 2010


There’s a new manager at the helm of The Big Issue distribution office. Dougie is charged with boosting revenue and morale. He is enthusiatic and keen to glean any info I might have picked-up along the way. After half an hour of reeling out my observations Dougie was reeling from information overload.


Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of an urchin burying herself into a Romani. My efforts to coax her from his shadow only made her withdraw deeper into his coat-tails. With her brother’s reassurance she stepped into the open. I had to kneel to catch her name as she whispered “Gabriella”. Just turned sixteen, Gabriella was ready to learn the ropes and follow in the steps of her family vending the Big Issue. With pride she lifted her head and, my hand.


I accompanied Andy to his pitch at Glasgow’s Queen Street Station. Andy’s story is a sobering reminder of how vulnerable we all are to becoming homeless. A car crash had left him and his girlfriend unable to work due to the injuries they sustained. They couldn’t pay the mortgage... The money he raises goes towards the renewal of his professional driving license, not board. Tonight he’s skippering – sleeping rough.


Ivaylo stands outside Buchanan Galleries like a municipal sculpture on it’s pavement plinth. He’s 69, from Bulgaria, warm natured and shivering. In his wonderful, thick Slavo-Scottish accent, he tells me he’s been in here for eight years and he truly ‘loves’ the Scots. Eight years skippering - I cant help feeling that he’s pitched his love on a one-way street.

5 Mar 2010

biopic 02 chapter 7

Barrie turned up with a new cut, a benign cut - a hair cut. The scars on his head were now sharply revealed. "The two on the top were when I went through a windshield, the other was from a paving slab," the consequences of joyriding and betrayal.

It had been another one of those somber weeks that seem to shadow Barrie: his terminally ill friend passed away sooner than expected and yet another died from gambling - Anthrax Roulette. I'm amazed that his spirit hasn't been ground away by the constant knocks. Barrie assured me that (somehow) he's been attending AA and keeping a grip on the wheel, and reality.

We finished with another touch shot. This time he took my hand and pushed it to his outer limits. There was the merest of contact, but contact nevertheless. The previous touch was just an alcoholic aberration. He couldn't remember me taking the shot and was affronted to learn that he'd shaken my hand. “Oh aye, ah’d had a drink” were his mitigating circumstances.

You can’t kid a kidder, kidda.

28 Jan 2010

biopic 02 chapter 4

Barrie strode into into the studio with unerring accuracy and announced he was feeling "brand new." He hadn't taken anything and he wasn't reborn. Sure, he was reading from the script, but his words weren't slurred. He'd been distributing the Big Issue since 5am and was fired-up, for once he hadn't doused the flame at dawn. Barrie was alight; articulate, focused and funny - Barrie was sober.

"Jus' wan can," he proclaimed, as proud as Punch, "all weekend, jus' wan can!" Barrie had started reducing his alcohol intake a couple of months before the diagnosis. Since our last session he had faced the challenge head-on and squared-up to sobriety.

We made certain of the occasion, only too aware that this could be one of those fleeting moments - a glitch on the timeline.
  On our last encounter Barrie revealed the catalyst that spurred him to try heroin. Inspiration came when watching Trainspotting. The image of Ewan McGregor; enveloped, comforted and protected by the carpet, was so seductive he needed to experience it for himself. The next day he bought the kit, shot-up, OD'd and woke in A&E. Unperturbed, he re-calculated the dose and spent the next ten years between penal and pavement purgatory. He has been clean for two years now - alcohol wont be so easy to kick.

Barrie recalling that moment.

At the end of the session we took another touch. No change - cell mates not soul mates.