When I was seven, I lived on a bit of land that backed onto the grounds of a mental asylum. My dad used to say, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” I think my dad might have been right.
So began the graphic novel that I wrote and drew in 1991 – the story was called ‘(R)evolution Messiah’ it was designed in a story arc of three parts – I sampled ideas from Box 9, a novel by Jack O’Connell, Shane by Jack Schaefer, Illusions by Richard Bach and a part on the Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse.I don’t think it ever got published – in fact I hope it didn’t. I handed it over to a promoter who gave me a lump sum of cash and walked away from where I lived and started again, it was one of those days, I never collected or diverted the post. That life ended.
The story involved Shane, who lived in the wilds of the Independent Republic of Albini. The cities were fortresses, walled off to the outsiders, the clans and the reprobates. Inside the walled cities, the rich lived high above ground level, where the worker bees (their servants) toiled, tasked and buzzed about in the mundane jobs for a pittance – they were often washed away in flash floods and new workers rounded up from the outskirts of the walled worlds. The rich stood on the walls and dished out cash bribes, like the scattering of corn for chickens, the desperate had no chance of escape once lured in by the fluttering notes and rounded up.
Outside, was a dog-eat-dog world of Travellers and Crusties; the Clans. Trying to live in peace, playing music and organizing mass meet ups of festival raves. But the poverty, hunger and drugs led to flare-ups and the constant buzzing of drones watching over them created a manic sense of madness, waiting for the Politzi to attack, then round them up, to become the bees.
Shane, a tall man dressed in black, had the constant buzzing in his brain – he was a loner who created art – the buzzing at times was bees – dodging and dive-bombing his thoughts. At other times the buzzing was hummingbirds, hovering and reversing in and out of his ears, devouring his brain in a beautiful buzz. In the story, Shane enters the walled city and escapes again, then returns, living a dual existence manipulated by an ‘art dealer’ who plucks him from the crowds after his drone spotted Shane’s outsider art in the dust bowl. The hummingbird in his brain is the most beautiful sound to die with.
Birds play a major part in the story, as they often do in my works, I don’t know why – I was bought up in the countryside, but struggle to identify anything ‘country’ orientated. I’m a true peasant – small bird ‘sparrow’, big bird ‘sparrowhawk’ – “that is all I know, sire” “I knows me place”.
When I was seven, I didn’t live on a bit of land next to a mental asylum – my dad just rented the land to grow crops – it was 7 acres with a stream between the market garden and the lunatics. On Sundays, when it was quietest, you could hear screams. The other side of our families rented land was a property that had a pet lion called Shane. We were in England. My life is odder than my stories.
We had a house a few miles away in a village called ‘Snodland’ – not only was the village called ‘Snodland’ but our road was called ‘Ham Hill’ – I don’t know what a ‘Snod’ is.
In the village lived a white Reggae/SKA singer called Judge Dread, he was the first white recording artist to have a reggae hit in Jamaica. The BBC banned more of his songs than those of any other recording artist because of his frequent use of sexual innuendo and double entendre. Yet he spent 95 weeks in the British national charts, he is only beaten by Bob Marley at 135 weeks.
Alex Hughes/Judge Dread was a bouncer, wrestler and a debt collector for Trojan records – I’m not a fan of his own work, but his record shop had the most imports of Jamaican music ever. From the age of 7 to 12 my taste in music had the pleasure of being formed by this eclectic mix that money could not buy – without having to ever leave a village in Kent. This was the late 70s and early 80s – so music like this was impossible to hear in any normal circumstances.
Judge Dread made singles such as ‘Up with the Cock’. I wonder if he felt imposter syndrome? Probably not in that era – I was obsessed about Doctor Bird. Doctor Bird is a label revived by Trojan Records in 1970, the year I was born, it is yellow and green, the colours of Norwich City Football Club. My dad moved from East Anglia (Where Norwich is) when I was 9 months old. I still support Norwich to this day, their nickname: ‘the Canaries’.
The doctor bird or swallow tail humming bird (Trochilus Polytmus), is one of the most outstanding of the 320 species of hummingbirds. It lives only in Jamaica. Bringing me back to my story.
Shane, in the graphic novel, has his art sold very successfully for large amounts of money. At the opening of his final exhibition, the humming in his ears becomes so intense, the fraudulent feeling so internalised, that he swats away the hummingbirds attacking his brain through his ears so violently that he smashes one of his works from the wall – the glazing smashes, the canvas splits and white powder spills from the framed construction – his art ‘dealer’ looks on mortified.
Shane runs and runs from the city, buzzing, blurring and constantly humming to himself until he stops and looks out of his padded cell at a 7-year-old that lives on a bit of land that backs onto the grounds of a mental asylum. His dad used to say, “the grass is always greener on the other side”. I think his dad may have been right.
I have a complete Lack of Knowledge About Birds, but I just looked up the meaning of ‘Snod’ – its definition: (of a person or thing) neat and tidy.
Humming tunes while writing – it neatly and tidily brings me to a BIRD playlist – it isn’t filled with SKA and Reggae – but illustrates an eclectic mix of tastes formed from the age of seven on a bit of land…
Magpie Mix Tape: Lack of Knowledge about birds.
Shane is an artist who lives and works in the UK. He creates Idiosyncratic images often based on the Norwich or Norfolk landscape – using a contemporary collage technique mixing photography, design and ink work – the original works are then heat-pressed in sections onto canvas to produce a unique final result.
Most original works are available from https://www.thereddotgallery.com/Artists/shane/ , exhibitions in East Anglia, UK, or directly from the artist.