In the Doherty

In the words of new director Roger Wright this year’s proms promise to “juxtapose the familiar and the unfamiliar”. Alongside Elgar’s gushing sentiment the eclectic sounds of Stockhausen, Dr Who and Vaughan Williams will be heard. Abandoning Nicholas Kenyon’s practice of adopting a theme for each programme Roger Wright has chosen to structure the season around the anniversaries of a series of significant composers.

The centenaries of Elliot Carter, Messiaen, and the late Stockhausen’s eightieth birthday are all celebrated and the fifty years since Vaughan Williams death is marked by an unprecedented free concert of folk songs. Besides showcasing established musicians plenty of space is made for new composers. The Torino Scale by Mark Anthony Turnage and the Dr Who theme tune will feature and the BBC has commissioned eleven new compositions (the Scottish composer Anna Meredith will have her work premiered on the last night.) Writing for The New Statesman last year Tory London Assembly member Brian Coleman confessed his dislike of such ‘ghastly modern’ music. His article went on to argue that the proms are responsible for cultivating ‘cultural apartheid’ in the land of hope and glory. This idea has had significant press in the last month following Margaret Hodge’s widely criticised call for diversity. Admittedly Stockhausen’s compositions are by no means easy listening. However, with the introduction this year of contextual pre-concert events at the Royal College of Music and concerts that cost as little as £2.20 accusations of elitism look set to be undermined.

British artist David Hockney made headlines this week when he donated his monumental painting "Bigger Trees near Wharton" to the Tate. Sprawling over fifty adjoining canvases the image clocks in at twelve metres long and five metres tall. It depicts a coppice near Bridlington in Yorkshire, and was completed for the Royal Academy exhibition last summer. Hockney’s generous gesture prompted Jonathan Jones (writing for the Guardian) to describe the artist as "a national treasure". The painter, however, explained his donation in terms of gratitude, saying: “I think it is the duty of the artist, once they have become successful, to give.” The Tate was one of the first institutions to buy Hockney’s work when he was an emerging talent in the sixties. His gift (which would cost millions on the open market) comes at a good time, as the value of paintings continues to rise. Last year, the NS commented on the unfortunate growth of private art collections in the UK – hopefully Hockney’s manoeuvre will help to keep more of our treasures national.

The Tate Modern also attracted interest this week. Following on the heels of Banksy’s recent book launch street art is once again in the public eye. Next month the gallery’s external wall will display graffiti from around the world, including artwork by Barcelona’s Sixeart and the Italian artist Blu. It is hoped that the high profile venue will help graffiti shed its association with antisocial vandalism, and the event is expected to prove very popular. The Tate Modern describes street art as an “important aspect of current art practise.” However, as we reported last year street art is continually evolving and graffiti is by no means its only form. Artists such as Slink have found new ways to surprise the unsuspecting pedestrian. Slink, who sees his work as a social experiment has commented that: “Adults pay no attention to their surrounding. We walk around as if we were blind.”

Other artists in the news this week include Damien Hirst and Pete Doherty - both managed to successfully upset uniformed officials. Hirst’s infamous sculpture ‘Mother and Child, divided’ ran into trouble at the Japanese customs. The artwork, which won the Turner Prize in 1995, consists of a dead cow and calf, sliced in half and preserved in formaldehyde. Due to be exhibited at the Mori Art museum in Japan the piece was stopped by customs as a result of the Japanese ban on British Beef. After the gallery confirmed that the cow was not for eating the curators managed to guide it safely to the exhibition. Doherty’s collision with authority was less benevolent: the Babyshambles singer and ex-boyfriend of Kate Moss has been jailed for fourteen weeks after breaching a probation order. It is rumoured that he will still perform at Glastonbury this summer.

Stavros Damos for the New Statesman
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A L Kennedy Q&A: “Of course we’re all doomed"

The novelist talks wise politicians, time travel and Captain Haddock. 

What’s your earliest memory?
I’m not sure my early memories are that real. I recall pulling a doorknob off in the hallway in an attempt to leave home, because I was walking away from salad and was never going back . . . Salad back then was limited and scary.

Who was your childhood hero?
I was fond of Captain Haddock. And impressed by Henry Dunant. My heroes were mainly in books. My adult heroes would be numerous. The Lakota (and other) folks resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline are amazing. Bill Nighy is quietly doing amazingnesses on behalf of others. The whole of Médecins sans Frontières – they’re extraordinary. Lots of people do amazing things but don’t get mentioned. We are constantly given the impression by politicians and the media that everyone else is a bastard. It’s not true.

What was the last book that made you envy the writer?
I don’t think that’s ever happened. I’m always happy to read a wonderful book. But I guess I have envied writers who have been to amazing places or lived in amazing times and been useful. Rebecca West, then, Chekhov, Robert Louis Stevenson.

What politician, past or present, do you look up to?
Nelson Mandela was very wise about a number of things. Václav Havel and Gandhi also. In the present, the mayor of Düsseldorf is pretty impressive. So is Nicola Sturgeon. They’re people you can stand to be in the same room with – which is unusual in politics.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?
Anything I enjoy knowing would get spoiled by having to sit and spit out chips of it. Plus: my memory is on temporary leave of absence while I have the menopause.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?
I’d like to have visited Shakespeare’s London – awful to live there. The UK in 1946-50 would fascinate me. And I’d like to have been in the US for the Sixties.

What’s your theme tune?
Depends. Bits of Dylan, lots of Elvis Costello, “Bread and Roses”, some First World War songs.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I was told that if I held on and passed my forties, life would be infinitely more fun. I did and it is.

What’s currently bugging you?
Don’t get me started. Let’s boil it all down to ambient cruelty and stupidity. We seem intent on becoming extinct. And if we go on as we are – we kind of should.

What single thing would make your life better?
I can’t tell you. But it would.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
No idea. I quite liked bits of acting – that’s tough, though. I like painting, in the sense of decorating. I wouldn’t mind being a painter.

When were you happiest?
I would imagine it’s all the times when I’ve forgotten about being me entirely and been completely involved in something other – nature, writing, giving a shit about someone else . . .

Are we all doomed?
Yes, of course. We always are. We all die. That’s why we ought to be kind. 

A L Kennedy’s “Serious Sweet” is newly published in paperback by Vintage. Her children’s book “Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Almost Entirely Unplanned Adventure” is published by Walker Books

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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