Monthly Archives: June 2017


PSON MFP image

I feel rather awkward putting myself into this sequence.  I am  caught between my native   Scottish trait of modesty and the combined  MacCormick/American  general (for lack of a more accurate word) assertiveness.  Sobeit.

My own music life has been  threefold.  First as a singer,   pianist and then composer/improviser.  A paramount feature of my musical activity is that,  similar to my cousin Neil, the artist, I have never had a music lesson and to this day cannot ‘read’ music, just follow the lead notes up and down.  I have a very good ear which allows me to memorize music. That  merged  with years of experimenting on  keyboards from a very young age  enables me to find the right combination  of sounds.    I spent many hours listening on the radio to every type of music and attending concerts.   The MacCormick influence on my musical life is there but my mother’s family had in two cases ‘playing by ear’ skills – my Grandmother Janet Potter (who played entirely on the black keys!) and her daughter,  my  Aunt May Penman.  My Aunt MacCormick, the music teacher, of course would never countenance ‘playing by ear’ and indeed she found my early  childish one finger playing highly amusing.     In retrospect, I am happy that  my parents did not try and force me into  piano lessons.  I think it might have discouraged me from experimenting.  However, I do often consider the great advantage I would have  now if I could read music, and more important, be able to score my own compositionsI also thus deprived myself of proper fingering and dexterity.  A good article on my approach can be found in the next PART.

Turning first to my singing life, it was entirely choral – no solos, please.  My first venture was at age five singing with with  my school class at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition  in 1937. 

Next was in  the Woodside Senior Secondary School, Glasgow, Gaelic Choir under the guidance of Tom Crawford when we won the local Glasgow Gaelic Mod schools prize.

My third choral venture    was in Rochester, New York  in 1951-52, where, as a  new immigrant, I  joined my employer’s ensemble, the Lincoln Rochester Trust Company Choir.  (I am center rear light jacket.)

Rochester bank choir.jpg


Then in Japan, where I was serving in the US Army, I sang with the First Cavalry Division Glee Club which won second place in the US Far East Choral Competition in 1954.




From 1954 to 1958, I reached the pinnacle of my singing career when I performed with the Cornell University Glee Club.   I was also very proud to serve as President of  that group which was founded in 1868.




My piano ventures have been as accompanist, US Army ‘concert party’ type band member but mostly for my own pleasure.  Again, at the risk of boring readers, all this was done without the ability to read music – all ‘by ear.’    My first public  appearance was  quite amusing.  Some pals were preparing for an audition for the Carl Levis Show in the late 1940s.  This was a BBC radio talent hunt.   They asked me to be an accompanist for their singing group.  So I went on stage with them in he Grand Theatre in Glasgow, age 16.  The chosen piece was Jingle Bells and I launched into my usual attempt to reproduce the harmonies and sounds of an orchestra.  We had only been performing about a minute or so when a voice came out of the darkened theatre – ‘Hey you on the piano, quieten down – we’re not auditioning you.’ 

My other efforts on the piano are not worthy of display here.   Suffice it to say that whatever skills I enjoyed gave me much pleasure and were of great social benefit. One of my fondest memories is playing four hands, improvising  with another ‘ear’ pianist, fellow student Bill Barnes, in the lounge of International House at the University of Chicago.    We would feed off each other’s sounds and came up with several fine arrangements, the  best of which – ”  It’s All Right With Me”  I have rearranged for midi multi instruments reproduced on disk – not  alas available to me at this time. 

My activities as composer are difficult to set out here.  I will begin with the first public performance of one of my pieces.   The music of this  work is  the last movement of my seven part Cornell Sketches, more of which later..

That composition  [music and lyrics]  was ‘performed’ at Sage Chapel, Cornell University.

(An aside – I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hymn tune Bunessan was also to be sung at the service.  I recall trying to explain to the bemused organist the claimed MacCormick connection.)








alumni hymn0001.jpg



Only two of my other songs are in score.    The  lead sheet first  below was prepared by me while all full scores above and below were prepared by  organist/composer Brian Hoffman from my recordings. 


EPSON scanner image


A related piece languishes unscored.  “The Wedding-Cake-Walk.”

Last is a children’s hymn suggested by an old rhyme from childhood  –  ‘Look up, look down, you owe me half a crown.’





Note the optimism expressed in the latter page!











This photograph of the choir includes family members:  Aunt Anna at extreme right  rear; Aunt Mary in army [ATS]  uniform helping narrow the photograph   dating,   middle back row;  Aunt Isobel,  wearing glasses back row; Aunt Clemmie,  at extreme left, rear; and my sisters seated front row from extreme right, Morag and Fiona

Here is a program from one of the many concerts given by the choir including solo voice and piano student performances .

aunt anna program 1 001.jpg







In Australia, my cousin, Avril Robinson, daughter of my Uncle Andy and Aunt Zelma, has continued the NEIL LINE  choral tradition by singing with the Gold Coast City Choir in Queensland.

My sisters, Morag and Fiona, have sung with a Sweet Adelines group  in the chorus and in quartets on Long Island New York while living in East Hampton.  Here is a glamorous photograph of them readying for a performance.  Morag is second and Fiona third from the left.

EPSON scanner image



I turn now  to my own line, perhaps the only one among THE MACCORMICKS with a professional artist/painter.  My cousin, Neil, son of Iain and Nan and grandson of NEIL LAMONT  AND CLEMENTINE MACCORMICK, has made painting his life work.  I recall many years ago while visiting Uncle Iain and Aunt Nan in Toronto,  Neil being persuaded to show us his works of that early period.  They were very accomplished and attractive (forgive my unprofessional critic’s vocabulary).  He has carried forward a talent which was displayed by both his father and mine.  I believe that its source may been through Granny MacCormick’s  mother –  the Grant family.  .  In any event, his parents must be given great credit for encouraging and supporting his growth as an artist.  As you will read below, Neil is entirely self-taught – no art school can claim him as their product.

BORN 1958, Toronto, Ontario

RESIDES Toronto, Ontario

EDUCATION No formal art education

In 1993 I began using photos as source imagery for my paintings to apply a level of objectivity to an inherently subjective process. By adhering strictly to the information presented in a photograph, by restricting my palette (two reds, two blues, yellow and black), the size of the paintings (5.5 X 8″) and by using a single brush (an inexpensive #6 gold sable) I further eliminated many subjective decisions from my process.

I’ve spent decades sporadically roaming city streets with my camera, subconsciously searching for subjects that reflected my core feelings of invisibility. Whether trailers, decrepit neon signs or derelict commercial buildings, each had attained the kind of invisibility within its surroundings that often heralds transformation, renovation or destruction. I’m interested in the existential question of being: If it’s ‘invisible’ to everyone, does it exist?

I’ve begun to see my rigorous, rigid painting process as ‘performance ritual’. Monday to Friday I work at an old office desk from 9 am to 5 pm. I begin the day by removing the paints from a drawer on my left and placing them on the desk. I remove the painting from a box behind my desk. At noon I break for lunch and record my morning’s hours on an index card or ‘time sheet’ that I keep in a drawer on my right. At 12:30 pm I resume working until 5 pm when I record the afternoon’s hours on the sheet.

This ritual is an integral part of my practice and a necessary element in the production of a much fetishised image on board: the average 5.5 X 8″ painting requiring up to 300 hours or more to complete.

Through the restrictions I’ve imposed on my process, I’ve acheived a level of detachment from my subject and the physical object of the completed painting but I realise that in my attempts to eliminate the identifiable marks and gestures I made as an artist, I’ve somehow run headlong into myself through my work.

Neil MacCormick

January, 2013

BORN 1958, Toronto, Ontario

RESIDES Toronto, Ontario

EDUCATION No formal art education


2012 Winchester Galleries Modern, Victoria, B.C.
2008 O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York, N.Y.
2004 O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York, N.Y.
2003 Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, Ont.
2001 Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, Ont.
1999 Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, Ont.
1998 Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver, B.C.


2016 Size Matters, Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York, N.Y.
2016 A Historical Overview of Photorealist Cityscapes, Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York, N.Y.
2014 The Winter Exhibition, Winchester Galleries, Victoria, B.C.
2014 20/20 A Celebratory Exhibition, Winchester Galleries Modern, Victoria, B.C.
2014 Precision, Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal, QC.
2012 Beyond Realism, Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal, QC.
2012 Collector’s Choice, Winchester Galleries Modern, Victoria, B.C.
2012 Hyperrealism: A Moment in Time, Mark Gallery, Englewood, N.J.
2010 National Contemporary Realism 2010, M. A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, OK.
2005 Temple Arts Festival, Nashville, TN.
1999 Myth, City, Saga, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Mississauga, Ont.
1993 Christmas Show, Barton Leier Gallery, Victoria, B.C.
1992 Christmas Show, Barton Leier Gallery, Victoria, B.C.
1989 Neil MacCormick and Marty Hunt: Acrylic Paintings, K. Griffin Gallery, Toronto, Ont.


20/20 A Celebratory Exhibition, 2014, (ISBN 978-0-9781328-6-6) pgs. 15, 80.
Precision, Galerie de Bellefeuille, 2014 (ISBN 978-2-923814-61-2) pgs. 24, 25.
Au Delà Du Réel – Beyond Realism, Galerie de Bellefeuille, 2012 (ISBN 978-2-923814-40-7) p. 54.

Times-Colonist, ( Victoria, B.C.), ‘On Art’, Robert Amos, Jan. 27, 2005, p. D9.
Times-Colonist, ( Victoria, B.C.), “On Art: ‘Exacting Work Pays Off’”, Robert Amos, Dec. 16, 2004, p. D10.
Eye Weekly, ( Toronto, Ont.), “eye Candy: ‘Brush with Trickery’”, David Balzer, Apr. 03, 2003, p. 35.
Toronto Star, ‘Art by Numbers’, Judy Stoffman, Mar. 31, 2001, p.J20.
NOW Magazine, ( Toronto, Ont.), ‘Neon is Illuminating for Neil MacCormick’, Si Si Penalosa, Feb. 25, 1999, p. 75.

CityTv, ( Toronto, Ont.), CityPulse News, Mar. 10, 2001.
CityTv, ( Toronto, Ont.), CityPulse News, Feb. 27, 1999.
Bravo!, ( Canada), Bravo! News, week of Mar. 5, 1999.
CityTv, ( Toronto, Ont.), CityPulse News, Mar. 31, 1989.

CBC Radio One, ( Canada), ‘North by Northwest’, interview, David Grierson, Jun. 7, 1998.


Canada Council for the Arts, Visual Arts Section, Creation / Production Grant, 2004.
Canada Council for the Arts, Visual Arts Section, Travel Grant, 2001.


A. J. Diamond Associates, Toronto, ON
Aldo Group, Montreal, QC
Fleishman Hillard, San Francisco, CA
Mr. and Mrs. Ivan C. Karp, New York, NY
Marty Z. Margulies, Key Biscayne, FL
McCarthy Tetrault, Toronto, ON
SJM Partners, Potomac, MD
360 Networks, Toronto, ON

copyright 2007 Neil MacCormick

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Largely Insignificant Day

One Day at Rest, Untitled 19 (10:30 pm) 2015 5.5×8″ acrylic on board
I completed my project ‘One Day at Rest’ on December 31st, 2015. It began on July 2nd, 2011 when four GoPro cameras recorded more than 7200 digital image files of a day in our life. Twenty of those files were used to compose ten paintings and ten drawings, illustrating the events of that day.
I spent four and a half years immersed in the minutiae of a single, largely insignificant day while the tumult of the present pressed on. I wanted to confront and contain the impermanence of an average day of an average weekend at a particularly unremarkable time in our lives, to arrest the relentless trudging towards the unknowable future.
While I painted and drew, the planet we inhabit completed more than four revolutions of our sun. It rotated on its axis 1643 times. I broke my arm, I lost a tooth. My mother died, my dog died. I lost a gallery in New York and gained two in Canada. I participated in six group shows and had one solo show. I sold one painting. We moved 550 kilometres down the road from Montreal to Toronto, my sixth move in nine years. I began to make peace with the ghosts of my hometown after twenty six years away.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 17 (9:26 pm) 2014 5.5×8″ acrylic on board
With the project completed, I emerge from a kind of mental exile, reengaging with my art world brain, with what happens after the work is done. What to do with this body of work? Do I want to sell it off piecemeal? Do I want to sell it at all? Would anyone buy it? Do I even want to share it with anyone?
I’m conflicted about what I want from my life as an artist. More so after thirty years than at any time before. Perhaps it’s just the confident ignorance of youth petering away, diluted by the disillusioning realities of the art world or my own warring desires of notoriety and obscurity.
Working for so long in isolation, I alter between states of grandiosity: ‘This is the best work I’ve ever done, no one is doing work like this!’ and hopelessness: ‘I’ve wasted my life, no one will care about any of this, I don’t even care about it!’. In the end comes ambivalence: neither, nor. Any remnant desire I might have had for some unspecific personal transformation slowly evaporates with the completion of the project.
In times of stress, an image often floats into my mind of myself as a child. It feels like loss. I’m in the basement of our house in Toronto. It’s summer, and in the cool relief of that crudely appointed space I quietly assemble a model car. It’s an image from the seemingly endless solitude of an afternoon in July or August. I imagine that I’m aware neither of the past, nor of the future. I’m content to hide from the sun, from my peers, from the neighbours. I will always be in this moment and I will live forever.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 18 (9:06 pm) 3×3″ coloured pencil on board
I’ve spent much of my life trying not to participate. Trying not to be noticed, hoping to be left alone. So much of my childhood was spent trying to cope with the insidious, if intermittent turmoil of the family around me. I coped by retreating in to myself, by assembling models, by drawing, by watching television, by removing myself as much as possible from the physical world outside our doors.
I never wanted to leave the house. I created an unchanging landscape of days that made solid a ground that always seemed to be in threat of shifting, of altering for the worse in some irreparable way.
I’ve lived most of my life not far from this self-protective shell. I seek comfort in routine and greet change with reluctance and suspicion. Despite knowing that the only constant in life is the endless, shifting cycle of decay and renewal, and despite having the dark knowledge of my own inevitable demise, I subconsciously believe that my routines will make me immortal: If you can make one day much like the next, then surely this chain of days can push endlessly ahead, slowing time to a crawl.
In my late fifties, I’m more aware than ever of the ticking of the clock, of the pages flying from the calendar as in an old movie. I continue to impose routines on my life, sometimes to the detriment of my relationships and never to any great effect.
For the last four and a half years, the child in the basement stopped time. He made a day in 2011 last until the final hours of 2015. Whatever the outcome of my reengagement with the present, I can say at least in that regard, that the project was a success.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 20 (10:04 pm) 3×3″ coloured pencil on board

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Big Picture

Waiting eight hours in a packed emergency room with one’s swollen arm in a sling makes one reassess how life was before one’s elbow slammed into a sidewalk. I write this as I recuperate from surgery for a broken ulna which has left my arm looking and feeling like it was beaten with a mallet until the person beating it became bored with the project. 

Lesson in mortality – January 23, 2015
In my seven years here, I’ve found Montreal’s winters to be a difficult, endless misery and this year’s version has been particularly challenging. As we prepare for a spring move to the slightly less ice-gripped and snow addled city of Toronto, this parting gift from Montreal’s icy sidewalks has given me pause to think over the dispiriting events of the last year and allowed me to place them into a larger life context.
Whenever I’m on the highway, and it cuts through a section of sedimentary rock, I wonder if anyone else imagines how our own bodies will one day be part of that same geological process. We seem to believe that all of the earths ancient systems, like the depositing of mineral or biological matter that comprise these sediments, have somehow paused for our benefit.
I’ve read that if the age of the planet we inhabit was expressed as a twenty four hour clock, human beings come into existence just over one minute to midnight. I remind myself of this every time I’m unnecessarily obsessing over some minute aspect or other of my life. Specifically, the kind of thoughts one has about legacy.
As a kind of balm, I used to think to myself that if no one cared about what I was making as an artist while I was alive, that perhaps when I was dead it would all make sense to someone and my work would achieve some measure of notoriety or at least become a footnote in the discussion of the art of my time.
It’s a pretty harmless way to maintain some momentum. It’s hard to convince yourself to produce work when you feel no one will ever care. Life is about fooling ourselves into believing something matters aside from our inevitable, out of control run down a hill that ends in the ultimate face-plant. Hence our devotion to religion, children, the perfect lawn, a new car, achieving representation at a blue chip gallery or having a painting find its way into a museum collection. 
One Day at Rest, Untitled 13 (6:48 pm) 8X5.5″ acrylic on board
Which is not to say that I find no meaning in life. Through my paintings, I find it in the expression of the feelings and thoughts that are the accumulation of my life. I find it in my involvement with my partner Hayley and her own creative work in her company, Birds of North America. I find it in the daily struggle to maintain some personal dignity in the face of the void.
The exhibition of my ‘One Day at Rest’ series has been derailed by the combined ambivalence of gallery and artist, and the final two pieces that need to be completed suddenly feel like an exercise in futility. Yet another period of reassessment begins.
Perhaps reassessment is a constant state that comes in and out of my conscious brain because I know that life is fluid and ever changing, but I also know that I sometimes beat this thought down in order to maintain some illusion of order amidst the chaos of the universe.
It’s hard to maintain the screw-you-I’ll-do-what-I-want attitude when you also have to deal with the realities and appetites of commercial gallery spaces, but I feel more strongly than ever that I need to be the one in charge. I don’t want to ‘paint to a deadline’ or waste my time on a commission in order to please someone else’s ego.
The whole point of withstanding the mental anguish of a life in the arts is to have some measure of control over one’s life and art. I refuse to relinquish that control to anyone. If this means that all of my life’s efforts in art amount only to a fraction of a layer of sediment on a planet orbiting a dying star, that’s okay. That’s all it will ever amount to anyway. In the big picture, that much is clear.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 15 (9:09 pm) 8X5.5″ acrylic on board

Monday, June 17, 2013



A  friend in Montreal,  Dahn D’Lion, produces a line of printed t-shirts as part of his inclusive initiative ‘We Live Here Too’, a kind of ‘best friends’ club for the disenfranchised of the world. In his own words: ‘Youth, Queers, Vegans, Punks, Artists, DJs, Ballerinas, folks with disabilities, folks with hyper-abilities, and any combination thereof’. I don’t buy many printed t-shirts but this spring, after seeing his inspiring and intelligent video about the meaning behind his shirt ‘Unemployable’, I was moved to make a purchase.

I saw images of the shirt some time before I saw the video and I had developed my own take on the ‘Unemployable’ reference. It seemed to mesh around thoughts I’d been having about the idea of ‘letting go’. Letting go of the stricture of expectations. Letting go of distant, hazy goals, of defining myself today by aiming my efforts at some imaginary, wonderful art-world future. Letting go of even wanting to understand the fickle art market, the often incomprehensible success of other contemporary artists.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 11 (4:34 pm) 2013
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on board

It’s difficult not to be lulled into the warm bath of a ‘thing’ that works. In my case, it was centred-subject portrait paintings of forlorn, forgotten industrial buildings and storefronts. I knew that I had to create a cohesive, identifiable body of work to get where I wanted to go (a particular gallery, O.K. Harris Works of Art in New York) and my enthusiasm for that pursuit sustained me for years. I even achieved my goal. 
Success is a drug. It feels good. People buying your paintings feels good. The money  feels good. The prestige of being represented in New York feels good. This is the warm bath: make a painting, send a jpeg, sell a painting, ship a painting, receive a cheque. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 
Pretend that you fit in. Stop thinking about why you paint. Stop wondering if what you paint is saying what you want it to say. Ignore that most people don’t seem to get what you’re trying to do. Ignore the pit of your stomach feeling that these building portraits no longer mean anything to you and that finding subjects for these paintings is becoming a pain in the ass. Forget that you used to tell yourself that being an artist wasn’t about making money.
Art world goals tend to involve someone or something outside of the artist. The goal tends to be some form of acceptance by peers or collectors or galleries or media or academia or granting organisations. I’ve decided, though not for the first time, that if I have a goal, it’s to produce work that I feel needs to be done, regardless of what anyone else thinks. 

One Day at Rest, Untitled 9 (3:42 pm) 2012

5.5 X 8″ acrylic on board

To me, art is a middle finger aimed at convention, not a cry for acceptance. Too often, the most financially successful artists play the old role of the ‘licensed fool’ in a Renaissance court, having been given bemused permission to behave badly by the reigning art world royalty of blue chip galleries and big city critics. 
My ‘unemployable’ is a statement. You will NOT employ me to further your needs as a curator, gallery owner or director, collector or arts organisation. You CANNOT employ me. I am unemployable.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 7 (1:06 pm) 2012
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on board


Monday, June 11, 2012

Fetishising the Negative


One Day at Rest, Untitled 5 (12:37 pm) 2012
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on board

Montreal has finally slipped the shackles of winter. Only the scars on boulevard trees and the bent iron railings of gates too near the sidewalk to avoid the reckless destruction of countless, clattering mini plows remind us of what has passed.

Winter lingers in my mind until the long days of daylight savings time drive out the darkness. I very easily slide into a dark place in those winter months. The space I reserve in my mind for negative thoughts becomes so easily accessed.

We often carry the effects of negative comments and actions that have been directed at us through our lives. Like a favoured collection I revisit them, as though opening a jewel case, sorting through the scars, running a finger along the edges of damaged tissue.

Of all the myriad unpleasant experiences I could mull over, one seemingly insignificant episode inexplicably rises to my consciousness with some frequency: the nine year old me, making my way home from school, uses a penetrating, newly learned whistle to call to friends a block ahead of me. A class mate, a girl whom I don’t know well, scolds me from across the street: ‘You think you’re so cool!’

The sense of deflation I felt from this remark was probably more extreme than warranted but it must have pierced a particularly sensitive part of my psyche. Was it wrong to stand out? Will people hate me if I do?

I was a precocious, confident child. In the sixties, precocious, confident children were placed in accelerated programs and completed three years of schooling in two years. I was one of six kids in my grade two class who were placed in this program.

By grade five, at age nine, I was already struggling to cope with the social displacement that comes from being younger than one’s group of peers. A late summer birthday meant that some of my classmates, with later birthdays, were almost two years older.

It didn’t take long to fall out of touch with my former classmates in the lower grade. A year with the older students in grade five made them seem impossibly young.

Anxieties always find a way out. The subconscious, internal battles we wage often manifest in debilitating thoughts or actions. The feeling of displacement I had at school, combined with the stress of familial complications made manifest in me mild versions of agoraphobia and body dysmorphia. 

The agoraphobia, from which I occasionally still suffer, is classic ‘fear of the marketplace’, a kind of discomfort or even panic when faced with the chaotic crowds one finds at malls or markets or simply the chaos of the urban environment. Body dysmorphia, simply put, is a condition wherein a person has a preoccupation with perceived shortcomings in their physical being. It’s one in an arsenal of psychological maladies brought about, in part, by depression, anxiety and social withdrawal.

The anxiety of these things can be so strong that I have sometimes developed a limp while walking alone in public. In my mind there are vestigial, critical voices commenting on how I stand, how I walk. My debilitating, self critical analysis interfering with the simplest mechanical systems of my body.

As an offshoot of this, I now have what I jokingly refer to as body-of-work dysmorphia. This is an inability to see one’s work objectively. I constantly struggle to understand where I fit in the art world, to see my work as having value. A finished painting is a new opportunity to question one’s career decisions, one’s worth to society. A chance to revisit the old wounds of rejection.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 6 (7:18 am) 2012
3 X 3″ coloured pencil on board

Society reveres iconoclasts, putting their faces on T-shirts and mugs, quoting them endlessly in print or on the web while simultaneously deriding unusual behaviour in individuals, discouraging any deviation from the norm with the kind of Victorian moralising that ensures we all just become cogs in society’s machine.

I’ve always had a conflicting desire to stand out from the crowd while being wholly fearful of drawing attention to myself. The precocious, confident child still exists in my psyche in remnant form. I’m trying to let it out a little more often now while knowing that anything I do that is unusual or challenging is an invitation to the world to pick it apart.

In that place which is more than just ‘the blues’ but also just shy of despair, I compulsively turn over the accumulation of rejection in my mind. In a strange way, the delicate box that contains my collection of negative thoughts acts as a way of grounding me. Prodding the source of pain is a way of remembering who I am.


Saturday, February 11, 2012



One Day at Rest, Untitled 3 (9:17 am) 2012
5.5 X 8″ acrylic on boardI spent the last month weaning myself off facebook. I went to my home page, checked for messages or notifications, looked at the first couple of posts and left. Do I really need to see what other artists are doing? Is it helpful?Most of my art life has involved selective ignorance. Long before home computers, in the hazy days of my youth, finding out about anything was a chore that involved leaving the house and I rarely left the house for anything but school or street hockey. The few art books that made their way to my consciousness came from my sister who worked at a bookstore. I had undeveloped interests and it pleased her to feed them: Diners, by John Baeder; New Techniques in Egg Tempera, by Robert Vickrey; Ken Danby, by Paul Duval; High Realism in Canada, also by Paul Duval. I didn’t buy or look at art magazines, didn’t know any artists and got most of my visual education through popular sources like newspapers, television and high-end greeting cards.I’ve always drawn or painted: at the kitchen table with the radio blaring while my mother cooked or baked; at the dining room table with my sister, copying the pictures she made for her homework assignments; at the coffee table in the living room with the television blaring. I drew what was at hand: a cigarette lighter; a newspaper masthead; the radio. I incessantly drew hot-rods and other vehicles. We were a car free family in North America and cars were an exotic ‘other’ for me.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 2 (8:15 am) 2011
3 X 3″ Coloured pencils on boardI also spent a lot of time looking out the window, watching planes on their descent to Toronto’s Malton airport or people and traffic going by on our quiet street. The world has always seemed to be something apart from me and I’ve always taken measures, mostly unconscious ones, to protect my mental and physical space in it.Partly in an effort to develop and protect my own system of thinking, I’ve never read artist’s biographies. In my early twenties I bought and began to read a book on Edward Hopper but I didn’t get far. Many of the things he was saying were already in my head and I didn’t want to associate those thoughts and ideas with Hopper, I wanted them to be my own.Although my life as an adult is a little more open to the world, my exposure to art continues to be guarded. What began as a way of protecting my embryonic thoughts from a barrage of challenges has become a kind of identity. In all my trips to New York City, I’ve never been to the Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Whitney or the Frick. I’m still not exactly sure what or where the Frick is and I have no real desire to know. There have been no art school ‘crits’ and until facebook, no obsessing over other people’s work.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 4 (7:19 am) 2012
3 X 3″ Coloured pencils on boardThe internet should be a boon to someone who doesn’t like to leave the house but I find it a mixed blessing. My weekly coffee and conversation with artist Randall Anderson has convinced me that some art world discussion is a good thing and can fundamentally change how one perceives one’s own work but the internet’s unlimited access to thousands of other peoples’ career decisions can be confusing.Facebook is my new ‘peering from the window’. Only now, instead of a quiet suburban street, it’s the busiest possible downtown intersection. Logging out of facebook is the equivalent of closing the blinds, leaving me to the comfort of my own thoughts. Even if those same thoughts are in the minds of my peers and have been in the minds of generations of artists before me.A Note on the Drawings:I’ve used a limited palette of colours in the drawings, similar to that of my paintings. Two reds, two blues, yellow and, instead of the mars black of the paintings, a very dark brown.


Friday, October 28, 2011

One Day at Rest, Painting 1


One Day at Rest, Untitled 1 (7:51 am), 2011
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on illustration board

Now that the first painting for ‘One Day at Rest’ is finished, I’m pondering which images from that day will become drawings or etchings, figuring out a handmade book that I might make. I suddenly feel like an artist again instead of a machine for producing photorealist paintings.

I used all manner of materials when I was younger, the different media transforming the ideas I brought to them. What happened? Perhaps I was too eager to define myself. I’ve been so intently focused on producing a cohesive body of work in the last couple of decades, refining the definition of what I do, that I forgot to take time to experiment. The commercial gallery world, where I felt inclined to belong, likes to define things, needs to define things. The simpler the definition, the easier the sale.

Painting is exhausting. It consumes every ounce of concentration I can generate. For me, the end of the day means the end of thinking about art. I need to get away from my desk, blank out, go for a walk, watch television. Late in the evening I’ll think about the day of work I have ahead. In my mind, I go over the areas I’ll be tackling in the morning like a marathon runner crossing the country. Tomorrow, I’ll try to get to Calgary.

I’m excited enough about my new project that it’s dislodged decades of walls I’ve built around what it means for me to be an artist. During the several months that I work on a painting, I’m not sure I can do other things like drawings or prints, but the time between paintings, when I’m usually feeling unsettled, distracted, or guilty about not painting, suddenly seems like the perfect opportunity to experiment.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Way Forward


Digital photo ‘One Day at Rest’ (7:08 am) 02/07/2011.On July second, 2011, I took more than 7,200 photos of a typical summer Saturday in our condo studio in Montreal. Four cameras, covering virtually every square inch of living space, recorded our existence from our waking at 7 am to lights out at 10:30 pm. The digital cameras were mounted surveillance style from the ceiling and at an interval of seven or eight seconds, one of the four cameras would silently record an image. I also carried a voice activated digital sound recorder throughout the day and recorded over eight hours of audio.I plan to produce ten paintings, some drawings, etchings, an audio/video piece and anything else that strikes me as a necessary part of the project. I hope to present it all in the Jim Kempner Fine Art Underground space in New York while I finish off the last painting at my desk in the gallery, performing my daily painting ritual, for the entire run of the show. Any number of things could go wrong with this plan over the next couple of years but at least I have a way forward.‘One Day at Rest’ is an attempt to further explore my perception of honesty, its nature and role in my work, and a more direct attempt at portraying my physical and psychological existence without the distorting filter that results from turning the camera outwards.I’ve spent decades sporadically roaming the streets with my camera, subconsciously searching for subjects that reflected my mental state, my unease with the world. Every subject I painted spoke to me in this way, whether trailers, neon signs or derelict commercial buildings. It took several years to consciously understand that I was searching for a way to reflect my damaged self, except I’d found a way to expose myself to the world without truly giving anything away. I hadn’t intended to perform this psychological dance of the seven veils, I thought at the time I was being pretty direct. I certainly felt the anxiety of the exposed, but a growing awareness of how people perceived my paintings made me realise I was on the wrong track.In a gallery setting, my paintings look vaguely like photographs. Admittedly, like ink-jet photographs printed on cheap paper in fast draft mode. I’ve often explained to someone hustling past the images at an opening ‘By the way, these are paintings, not photographs!’ People would often do a double take and look a little closer but I began to feel that most were saying to themselves, ‘That could be a photo or it could possibly be a painting but I’m not interested enough to care.’ The current dogma of contemporary art appreciation doesn’t seem to allow for a small photo based painting. Ironic, given the preponderance and apparent popularity of rather dull photographs of abstract collages, photographs of paintings and photographs of photographs. I’m puzzled that people don’t seem to ‘get’ the work but I think they’ve been taught that there’s nothing to get.When what I do no longer works for me, it’s time for a change. Art is communication and I feel that my message could do with a little reworking. It’s just an old building, how can I expect anyone to get that it represents my tortured soul, that it speaks of impermanence, mortality, alienation, the nature of and value we place on the production of culture? I’ve been hiding behind a facade, sometimes a literal facade, strangely, and it’s time to change how I show myself to the world.Seventy two hundred photographs of me doing very personal things somehow didn’t make me feel any more exposed than my paintings of buildings or signs. For me, they are the same thing. I hope for the viewer they are something quite different.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sea Change


ABC United Trading Corp. 2011 5.5 X 8″ Acrylic on illustration board.ABC United Trading Corp. will likely be my last storefront for awhile. The changes I’ve made to get my paintings into a different realm in New York have had unexpected consequences. This ongoing process of recontextualisation has led me to a surprising revelation: It appears I’ve driven a car into the desert and run out of gas.I’m not sure when, exactly, I ran out of gas. It may well have been long before I made it to New York for my first show at O.K.Harris in 2004. The twenty year drive to show my work at a good gallery in New York City somehow kept me from knowing that I was no longer inspired by what I painted.The little ringing voices of truth that I imagine occupy a space just above and behind my head are most easily ignored when life is complicated. The more entanglements my life or career has, the more I ignore them. The blessed silence afforded by the odd confluence of a dying American economy, the strange weightlessness of an unsure venture with a new gallery, and my aching disinterest in my own work has finally allowed the voices to be heard above the din of self delusion.Art is self exploration. This fact doesn’t always mesh well with a world that prefers to see culture entwined with commerce. The artist’s understandable preoccupation with the financial insanity of this kind of pursuit and the accompanying deviation from the purity of one’s truth is no longer an option for me. The pressure we place on ourselves, or allow others to place on us, to proceed along a predetermined path to ‘success’ has the effect of eliminating from our lives the insignificant seeming non sequitur, the chance encounter which changes one’s entire direction. I think I know now that there isn’t a goal. Only a direction to take and reevaluate when necessary. This is a journey whose length is indeterminate and unknowable and ends only when we ourselves end.I can choose to find some gas and continue on or I can leave the car in the desert and find another road out. The immense relief I feel as I walk away in another direction is the answer to the question ‘Have I done the right thing?’


Monday, April 4, 2011

Living in Exile


Petemar Enterprises 2011, 5.5 X 8″ acrylic on illustration board.I’ve made two significant geographical moves in my life. The first, in 1989, from Toronto, Ontario to Victoria, B.C. (3397 kilometres). The second, in 2008, from Victoria back east to Montreal, Quebec (3733 km). Both moves gave me a sense of living in exile in one way or another. Both were largely financially driven but each also had an element of escape. The first, escape from the fold of family, old patterns of expectation, the ‘didn’t I know you in high school?’ encounter. The second, a licking of mid-life wounds, an almost random stab at the map for a new place to start again.Perhaps the urge to move on is an inherited trait. My parents became postwar, economic exiles of Scotland when they made the difficult decision to move to Canada in 1950. Canada was a place of employment opportunities and where one could buy a dozen eggs if one wanted. The latter was no small consideration for a young family living in postwar food-rationed Glasgow. My father never fully committed his heart to Canada despite spending a large majority of his life here. ‘Home’ for him was more than 5,000 kilometres from the house he shared with us. In a way, he never fully committed to the idea of a home with a wife and three children either. He once remarked to me as we stood looking at the backyard of the house I grew up in, ‘This would be good place to raise a family.’ I thought, ‘Actually, it was. Where the hell were you?’Sometimes the moving on comes before one is actually ready to leave. Over the last year or two I’ve struggled to understand my place in the art world and tried to sort out why I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the ‘photorealist’ label, despite the obvious connection my work has to the genre. I know that I’ve moved on but I’ve had trouble falling into step with my new surroundings. Exile is the removal of oneself from the realm of interest that so possesses the person in exile. The removal, which can heighten one’s desire to engage the mind with what was left behind can also, over time, allow for a dampening of the passions. So it is with my dying interest in photorealism.Montreal isn’t home yet but it probably will be before long. ‘Moving on’ is more of a psychological transformation than a change in one’s address. It’s easy to pack a truck and move oneself physically but the ties one has to a place aren’t so easy to shake from the mind.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Painting: ‘House on Marconi’


House on Marconi 2010, 5.5 X 8″ acrylic on illustration board.It’s an odd sensation painting something that one walks by everyday. The subject of ‘House on Marconi’ sits only a few yards from our front door. Over the last few months, during the daily dog walk, I’ve occasionally been tempted to check out details that were unclear in the source photograph but I mostly avoided looking too hard. There’s an awkward creepiness in paying so much furtive attention to someone else’s house. It’s not unlike developing an obsessive crush on the person who makes your soy latte every morning. Not that I would know anything about that.Being so deeply immersed in a subject, as one is when spending three months painting it, is an unusual experience. All the more unusual given the prosaic nature of the subject. No one in the ‘real’ world ever spends that much time considering such a quotidian scene. I have a complicated, subconscious response to my subjects that feels almost physical. It may be the sense of desolation or the inherent, sad beauty of the unremarkable facades but I get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when confronted by the scenes that become paintings. They act as clues to some long buried personal mystery, each one giving a sense of bringing me closer to resolution but never delivering a result.As I sort through my slides looking for the subject of my next painting, I have to constantly remind myself that it’s the pit-of-my-stomach, anxiety-disorder, existential aloneness that I’m painting, not old houses, storefronts, or my neighbourhood. Certain examples of these things can trigger in me the feeling I’m wanting to explore but aren’t, in and of themselves, a reason to paint.





For the WILLIAM LINE PART TWO,  we focus  on  the same generation as Linda Towne but a different branch.  The line is WILLIAM > Ewen > Ewen/Sheila > and three great grandchildren. 

The first, Bill MacCormick, has been active in three principal roles –  musician, politician and author.  As you will find in the Web, there are many articles  on his and his brother’s musical careers.  I have chosen one for Bill which may provide details  of greater interest to   readers. .   (The piece on Bill’s  brother, Ian, who is cited in this article, will follow.)


© Copyright 2011

“Thank you very much for this interview. I would like to know what were some of your very first influences in music. In fact if you can tell me a few words about your childhood and teen years.

Born in London in April 1951.

Older brother Ian went on to become the Assistant Editor of the New Musical Express in c.1971.  He wrote under the name Ian MacDonald (that way he could review things I was on!) and later wrote ‘Revolution in the Head’ about the Beatles (4 editions), ‘The People’s Music’, ‘The New Shostakovich’ (2 editions).  He committed suicide in 2003.

Went to Dulwich College in 1963 (a ‘public school’ which, in England, is a private school) where I met Phil Targett-Adams (now Manzanera.  His mother was Colombian and that is her maiden name).  Ian also went to Dulwich (1961).

Grew up watching ‘Ready Steady Go’ on TV and other pop music programmes.  First records bought were singles and EPs by The Shadows then moved onto the Beatles, Beach Boys, Tamla, Soul, R&B, Folk music, etc.  My uncle played us a lot of classical music (Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc.,).  Ian got into things like Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis which I also listened to.

In 1966 my mother met Honor Wyatt.  They both were teaching assistants at Dulwich College Preparatory School.  Honor was Robert’s mother.  We were invited to a party in Kingston in August at a place owned by Idries Shah of the Sufis where we first heard Soft Machine (it was their first gig under this name).  Idries Shah was a friend of the poet Robert Graves who was a friend of Honor’s which was why they were asked to play.  I’d never seen a band live before and it was amazing.

The Softs were living at Honor’s house at 48, Dalmore Road, West Dulwich near to Dulwich College (and on my route to school).  Honor invited Ian and me and my parents round for dinner one day. An interesting culture clash for my very straight parents and the members of Soft Machine and their girlfriends.  Ian started writing Robert letters about music and he sent back postcards (still have them somewhere) and then I started calling in on the way back from school where I’d stare at their equipment (they used to rehearse in the front room much to the annoyance  of the neighbours) and then go upstairs and drink tea and chat to Robert and listen to music, mainly jazz.  Ian used to have long talks to Daevid Allen about all sorts of esoteric stuff.

As a result my musical education was radically and swiftly broadened.  We were lucky to have a very good record library nearby and soon Messiaen, Berg, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, etc., was being played at home along with Rubber Soul and other mainstream pop.

Meanwhile, Phil T-A (as he was known) had bought a red Hofner Galaxie electric guitar and was playing with some friends of his at school but, about this time, we started hanging out and the idea of our own group emerged.

In college you had a project that later became Quiet Sun. How did it all began?

The band Phil and I formed in late 1967 (I was the singer) was called (courtesy of my brother) Pooh and the Ostrich Feather.  We messed about a lot with various other guys until someone told us about a young man in the year below who had his own drum kit.  His name was Charles Hayward.  We invited him round to Phil’s mum’s house where he set up a huge, red glitter, double bass drum Premier kit.  He immediately became a member of the band.  Charles was already a great drummer having been given lessons for some time.  We found another guitarist and a series of bass players and rehearsed a variety of material: Somebody to Love by the Jefferson Airplane, Spoonful (Cream), Born in Chicago (Paul Butterfield), 7 and 7 is (Love), i.e. a range of songs from our favourite bands.  Two guys raided the science block at school and we soon had our own psychedelic light show.  We played our first public performance at a thing called the ‘Summer Miscellany’ which was a general arts show put on by the boys in the Great Hall at Dulwich.  We played three songs including, for the first time, an original called Marcel my Dada written by Charles and Phil.  We would regularly play around the school in various rooms and halls taking over the Swimming Baths Hall (drained during the winter) on several occasions and playing to several hundred kids from schools around the area.  We also played some church halls and at parties.

I left Dulwich in July 1969 having deliberately failed my final exams so I wouldn’t have to go to University as my parents hoped.  Ian was, by now, at Kings College, Cambridge where he last for a year before he came down to join the NME.

During this time I followed Soft Machine round every gig they played in and around London.  They had spent most of 68 in North America supporting Jimi Hendrix on an interminable tour and, when they got back, Kevin Ayers disappeared and Hugh Hopper (and, for a time, Andy Summers later of The Police) joined.  I generally spent most of my time and my little money buying albums, going to gigs and reading the Melody Maker.  Robert came back from the US with a list of bands we had to listen to: Spirit, Mothers of Invention, Velvet Underground, CTA (as they were then known, later Chicago) and we had already latched onto the Airplane, Quicksilvers, Dead, Love, Doors as well as being swept along by the Beatles, Pet Sounds and other stuff.

Phil left Dulwich in December 69 and we both got temporary jobs whilst working out what to do next.  Charles had another year at Dulwich.  I fancied being a drummer and bought a drum kit and, for a time, we carried on with Pooh with two drummers.  Then Charles left school and we concentrated on trying to get a proper band together.  We advertised for a keyboard player, bass player and sax player.  Dave Jarrett, who had also been to Dulwich but was several years older, answered the keyboard problem, a guy fresh out of the British Army briefly became the sax/flute player (he left because he needed to earn some serious money) and no-one answered the bass player ad.  We had a bass guitar lying around so, in order for us to be able to rehearse, I started to learn the bass lines.  The instrument seemed to suit me so I stuck with it and became the permanent bass player.

Richard Williams wrote a short piece about us in the Melody Maker after hearing a demo tape we recorded (one piece by Phil, another by my brother).  Warner Bros sent us off to a rehearsal studio in the country where we recorded some more demos but, ultimately (mid 71) we were running out of steam and options and money.  We had, however, played a gig at Portsmouth Polytechnic supporting Symbiosis in which Robert was playing.  At the end of the gig we were invited on stage to jam with them.  Robert had never heard me play but something caught his eye because, when he left Soft Machine and Quiet Sun broke up, he asked me to join the as yet unnamed Matching Mole.  Phil, in the meantime, had answered the famous Roxy Music small ad in the Melody Maker (and the rest of that is history).

In 1975 you released legendary Mainstream album. What are your strongest memories from the recording session and the production of the LP? What can you tell me about the cover artwork?

In September 1974 (Matching Mole broke up in September 72,  later that year I was briefly a member of Gong [for about a week] and then really did nothing apart from play on two tracks on Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets) I had decided to give up on music and I went back to college to get the exams I had failed deliberately in 1969.  The plan was to go to university to read politics and I had a place at the London School of Economics.  Half way through the first term Phil announced his plans for his first solo album (Diamond Head) but said he wanted to record a Quiet Sun album at the same time.  Basically, we would go into the studio at about 10 pm each night and work into the early hours.  We managed to get hold of Dave Jarrett and did a few rehearsals (which sounded remarkably good) before starting in Studio 2 at Basing Street Studios.  John Wetton very generously leant me his white Fender Precision for the duration.  Because of the time constraints most of the tracks were first or second takes.  Eno and my brother would hang around to make useful comments and Eno introduced Dave Jarrett to the joys of synths.  Most of the tracks were ones we had played as Quiet Sun back in 1970/71 but Wrong Rong was a piece Charles had written late on and we had never played this as a band.  We needed some more music so Charles played the piano track, did the singing and added some drums.  Other than that I was the only other person who played throughout the song and the solo in this song is probably my favourite piece of my own bass playing. (Link to a recording of this piece can be found at ) The whole time was hugely enjoyable and fuelled by nothing more than large quantities of rather stewed black coffee.  We were seriously indebted to the engineer Rhett Davies who did a fabulous job on both albums.

The cover was done from a Cambridge friend of my brother’s, Nigel Soper, who was a graphic artist (he designs high end art and photography books now).  Quiet Sun refers to an astronomical event Ian saw written about somewhere entitled ‘The International Year of the Quiet Sun’, i.e. a time when solar flares were rather restrained.  Nigel found the picture for the cover in an early 20th century French book and the picture was supposed to indicate the relative size of an asteroid or something like that to the city of Paris.  He hand coloured it and we all loved it.

You wrote the song Mummy was an asteroid, daddy was a small non-stick kitchen utensil. Writing and playing such music requires a fair amount of theoretical knowledge. Are you a self-thought bass player? And how did you choose the title for that song?

All of us taught ourselves to write our musical ideas down ‘properly’ but any knowledge we had was gained from music theory books.  Charles was the only member of the band who had lessons and who could read a music score (for percussion at least).  We did things like get the scores of classical music from the library and read those whilst listening to the music.  It helped give us a basic grounding in music theory (though my brother took this a lot further).  I ‘learned’ to play bass by playing the parts of the Quiet Sun tracks which required a reasonable amount of speed and dexterity (I used to sit and do scales for hours) but I rarely picked up on the basic rock and roll and blues bass parts that most people started out from.  I had to learn some these in a rush a bit later on.  There was no need for these in Matching Mole and I was happy just make up bass parts as I went along.  Hugh Hopper, when Mole did their last tour supporting Soft Machine in summer 72, helped me with some exercises he used but these really were aimed at either speed/accuracy or interesting scales rather than ‘the bass line for a three chord blues goes like this’.

‘Mummy’ was originally entitled ‘Dog’ (I still have the original handwritten score somewhere).  When we were in the control room at Basing Street the title ‘Mummy was a Maoist, Daddy was a running dog capitalist lackey of the bourgeoisie’ came into my head.  My brother shook his head and the next moment the final title was being scrawled on a piece of paper.  No idea where it came from except that I was reading a lot of Philp K Dick sci-fi at the time so we’ll blame him.

Matching Mole released debut in 1972 and soon after second album called Little Red Record. Can you tell me what were the circumstances behind this two releases. On the second one Robert Fripp was the producer, right?

Who did the cover artwork for albums?

When Robert invited me to join his new band the line-up was to be him, me, David Sinclair (who had recently left Caravan) and Phil Miller ex-Delivery.  We rehearsed in a small mews house off Portobello Road that Robert had bought.  We played all sorts of things:  some of David’s Caravan material, Moon in June, Beware of Darkness by George Harrison, Los Vegas Tango by Gil Evans and some parts written by Robert and Phil which eventually found their way on to Mole 1.  New Zealand born keyboard player Dave Macrae popped by on occasions.  We were offered some studio time by CBS in their old studio off Oxford Street and started recording at the end of December 71.  In the meantime, someone stole my lovingly restored Fender Precision and the only bass I could find in London was a Gibson EB3.  We recorded through January and February in a dreadfully cold studio where the multi-track kept going wrong.  We often had to move to another studio near Marble Arch to keep going.  In addition, there was a miners’ strike and there were regular power cuts.  We were still finishing off the album in early March because of all of these problems.

We started playing live on the 22nd February and soon found the money available in Europe was far better than in the UK, often ten times better.  We played in Holland, Belgium and France as much as possible and supported John Mayall on his UK and French tours.  Dave Macrae replaced David Sinclair early on (though we played a few gigs with both of them) and soon everyone (but, looking back, not Robert) was writing material for the band.  Robert asked Robert Fripp to produce the second album and he came down to see us rehearse a few times.  Unfortunately, at the time, Phil Miller seemed a bit in awe of Fripp and this affected the recording of at least one song.  We went into the new, heated CBS Studios for the first time on 14th August 72 and recorded the album in nine days breaking off to play the Bilzen Jazz Festival in the middle.  I asked Eno to do the synth effects on Gloria Gloom having met him when I went to see Roxy recording their first album at Command Studios.  He was happy to oblige and, I may be wrong as they had the same management company, but it seemed this was the first time Fripp and Eno had worked together.  We were helped out by the Mutter Korus on several tracks: actress Julie Christie (my teen heart throb and the Flora Fidgit of the title track), Alfreda Benje, ‘Alfie’, Robert’s then partner now wife (Gloria Gloom) and David Gayle a friend of Julie and Alfie’s.  [Alfie was Julie’s best friend and Julie came to see us play on several occasions which was quite disconcerting for me.  Gloria Gloom was Julie’s nickname for Alfie and Flora Fidget Alfie’s nickname for Julie].

Phil’s apparent issue with Fripp came to a head on the track Flora Fidgit where, with the technical wizard Fripp looking on, Phil found it difficult to play the guitar part (which is missing on the album).  Looking back I feel more could have been done to put Phil at his ease and, frankly, none of us really helped.  But there you go.  Anyway, the album was finished on 31st August, we played the Queen Elizabeth Hall to a sell out crowd, went to Europe and supported Soft Machine around Belgium and Holland and, on the morning after the last show in Groningen, Robert announced he was winding up the band.  To this day I don’t know why.  We had lots of dates booked in the UK and Europe, a good new album awaiting release, some good coverage in the press and were doing the business on stage.  Phil and I toyed with the idea of keeping something going but he eventually went off to join Hatfield and the North and I auditioned for and was accepted by Gong but not for long (see above).  After a week staying out in the middle of France at the end of October with only the clothes I stood up in and with no French to speak of I called it quits and came home.

I’ll have to check on the names for the artwork but Little Red Record’s design came from a People’s Republic of China postcard Robert had found somewhere which was entitled ‘We are determined to liberate Taiwan!’.

The style of Matching Mole could be described as decadent in music. Do you agree with that?

Decadent?  Never heard that description before.  Chaotic, on occasions, self-indulgent, on occasions, really quite good on other occasions but decadent?  Not that I can see.

I would like if you could share experience you had as in 801…

The 801 project was really just a way of filling in time in the summer of 76 pending the completion of Listen Now.  Everyone, except Lloyd Watson, was involved on that album and when Phil said ‘why don’t we do some gigs?’ it seemed like a good idea.  We rehearsed at a studio in Island’s offices in Hammersmith but, prior to that, Phil, Eno, my brother and I went down and stayed in a small house near Ludlow in Shropshire and we kicked around ideas for songs.  We put together a short list of material from Phil’s, Quiet Sun and Eno’s albums and then I suggested Tomorrow Never Knows when we were trying to come up with something different.  EG Management, Roxy’s managers, put together appearances at a series of festivals in France together with three in the UK.  France, though, was where the serous money was.  Then there was a riot at a festival in Orange and all the other festivals were banned.  Because of this, and to make financial sense of the project, Phil got the Island Mobile down to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.  We recorded the concert and basically mixed it in about a week and it was released about six weeks later.  It still sells surprisingly well and the recent double CD boxed set seems to have gone down well.

I would like to hear if you could share some interesting stories from the time when you were touring with Matching Mole and Quiet Sun? Where was your touring territory?

As they say about Vegas, what goes on tour, stays on tour.  Every band had its good and its bad moments (except the 801 when it was all good).  Mole did great gigs at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Olympia in Paris, Greens Playhouse in Glasgow and the QEH in London.  Our appearance at the Reading Festival was pretty poor.  I got catastrophically drunk in Amsterdam once (that was enough), resisted the efforts of the road crew to get me stoned (again in Amsterdam) and had my hand held before the gig at the QEH by Julie Christie which made me more nervous than going on stage.  Other things happened at other gigs.  But we won’t go into that.

What happened after the 801?

After the 801 I continued working with Phil and Eno.  I played on some tracks on Before and After Science and some other stuff which appeared on Music for Films.  I also did a session with Eno and several members of Can at Basing Street Studios but I have no idea what happened to that.  We basically jammed for a couple of hours.

When we finished Listen Now, on which I played throughout and co-wrote several songs, in 1977 we toured with another version of the 801 with Phil, me, Paul Thompson from Roxy, Dave Skinner on keyboards and another ex-Dulwich boy, Simon Ainley on guitar and vocals.  He had been the singer we plucked from nowhere to sing on Listen Now.  We did a month’s worth of touring round the UK, recording the gig at Manchester University where Andy Mackay and Kevin Godley and Lol Crème (10cc) guested.  Eddie Jobson appeared when we played at Hull and did ‘Out of the Blue’.  Then I wrote and played on Phil’s album K-Scope but, just as we were finishing that the word came that Roxy Music were reforming and the album was finished in a bit of a rush.

In the meantime, Simon Ainley had gone off to join a band made up of yet more ex-Dulwich musicians.  The band was called Random Hold and it had been formed by David Rhodes (who went on to work extensively with Peter Gabriel) and David Ferguson.  I knew all of them and was eventually persuaded to join the band and pay for all of the expenses.  We struggled to get any interest until a friend, Alan Jones from the Melody Maker, came to see us rehearse and two weeks later he printed an enormous article, both centre pages going onto a third, which changed everything.  Suddenly everyone wanted to be our friend and I negotiated a recording contract with Polydor with a large advance.  A few days after we signed we played a place called the Rock Garden in London and Peter Gabriel, his manager Gail Colson and the manager of Genesis, Tony Smith, turned up.  Gail became our manager and we signed a publishing deal with Tony Smith.  Peter wanted to produce our album but we needed to record his own album (Games without frontiers, Biko) and though we spent a week with him playing some of his new material we were eventually produced by Peter Hammill (Van der Graff Generator) who was also managed by Gail Colson.  We spent two weeks at Startling Studios (owned by Ringo Starr and previously owned by John Lennon. It was where the video for Imagine was filmed) and then moved to another place to mix the album.  Peter Hammill took too much control of this process, in my opinion, and I left him to it.  The album was not as good as we hoped and, after touring supporting XTC we were dropped by Polydor.  A small label in the US picked up on us though and we supported Gabriel in the UK and North America on his 1980 tour.  He introduced us every night and was very good to us but, when we got back, the two Davids sacked me which was not a clever move as I was still owed a lot of money.  I cleaned out the bank account (with Gail and Tony’s approval) and the band folded.

A double album was later released on vinyl and in 2001 I organised the release of a double and single CD which comprised the studio recordings, all of our demos and stuff recorded live in Ottawa and Philadelphia.  2,000 of each were pressed and they sold out.  They are no longer available.

Although the two Davids had sacked me it wasn’t personal and I helped produce some demos for David Rhodes before he went off to join Gabriel and I managed a new version of Random Hold after being asked by David Ferguson, but I had lost interest and, in 1981, I left the music business and went into politics.  I was employed by the Liberal Party until 1989, then became a director of a market research company which did all of the Liberal Democrats research.  In 1988, after contracting pneumonia, I was diagnosed with a blood condition called haemochromatosis which has caused me several other problems and I was forced to retire.  Since then I have self-published two books about the First World War, a subject I have been interested in for the past 25 years.  I also helped Phil Manzanera with his web site on occasions.

You’ve known Robert Wyatt almost your entire life. What was it like working with him? What exactly happened after the accident?

Robert, along with my brother, were the two most important musical influences on me.  I can never thank him enough for having sufficient faith in me to be a member of Matching Mole.  I would have left the music business in 1971 except for him.  Working with Robert was always fun and funny.  Lots of laughs off stage and fantastic enjoyment on stage.  We see one another every now and then but it’s like we’ve been in touch regularly whenever we meet.  Last time I saw him was after he’d been given a Gold Badge by the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers.  We sat outside his hotel overlooking Green Park and talked for a couple of hours.  As ever, fun and funny.

After Mole broke up Robert did some one-off gigs with people like Kevin Ayers, Hatfield and the North and Francis Monkman (ex-Curved Air).  Alfie then got a job in Venice working on the Nick Roeg film Don’t Look Now (starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) and Robert went with her.  He took a small portable keyboard on which he wrote several of the songs that would later appear on Rock Bottom.  We exchanged postcards and I pestered him a bit about reforming Matching Mole which he eventually agreed to.  By the end of May, the new line-up, Robert, me, Gary Windo on saxes and Francis Monkman got together to hear Robert’s new material.  We also had a meeting with Richard Branson about signing to the new Virgin Records.  A few days later, Saturday, 1st June, Robert went off to a party in Maida Vale for Lady June and Gilli Smyth.  I was invited but didn’t go.  I was called the following morning to be told Robert had fallen out of a window.  My first instinct was he must be dead because I thought he fallen out of a window in Alfie’s flat.  She lived on the 22nd floor of a building called Hermes Point north of Notting Hill. Then I remembered the party and discovered he’d fallen three floors into a basement, narrowly missing a set of iron spiked railings.  He was so drunk he was very relaxed when he hit the ground otherwise he’d probably have died.  His spine was severed quite low down.  He was taken to a specialist spinal hospital at a place called Stoke Manderville in Buckinghamshire,  I visited as often as possible but I couldn’t drive and it was three train journeys and a long walk.  On the other hand, I had nothing else to do.  I stopped playing, got some dead end jobs and, the following year decided to resume my education until rescued by Phil Manzanera.

In 1975 I was very fortunate that, after the Quiet Sun/Diamond Head sessions, Robert, who appeared on Diamond Head, invited me to play on Ruth is Stranger than Richard soon afterwards.  We had a great week up at the Manor in Oxfordshire with Laurie Allen, Gary Windo, George Khan and Eno and that confirmed to me I should give music another try.  Soon afterwards I started working with Phil Manzanera and my brother on the songs that would form Listen Now.  I last played with Robert in about 1978 when I played on a single he did for Rough Trade: Caimenera/Arauco.  It was basically just Robert, me and Harry Beckett on trumpet.

Since you played in bands that were more or less avantgarde at the time, do you think music is devolving since the progressive era?

Although, for reasons not entirely clear to me, some of the stuff I have been done has been tagged as ‘progressive’ I have never really been into that sort of music.  Indeed, I didn’t really listen to much rock music throughout the 70s when I was active.  Lots of other stuff: jazz, classical, world music.  As time has passed I have found less and less to interest me in current music.  Stuff like Radiohead and Coldplay I enjoy but not a great deal else. What saddens me beyond belief though is the decline in American black music.  After the stellar wonders of Stax and Tamla and the rest, the recent dreadful sexist, misogynistic crap that stands to represent Black music is a terrible let down.  I am sure there is certainly some good and interesting music being made out there somewhere but now, in the main, I prefer to read and write.

All your life you’ve been working with music. Was there a moment in your life when you realized music is what you want to do in your life?

Seeing Soft Machine for the first time at the Idries Shah party was one of those moments as was attending the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace in 1967.  But what made me determined to be a professional musician rather than to play about at it was attending the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music in June 1970. Jefferson Airplane played and dozens of other groups but it was so bloody uncomfortable and the conditions so bad I vowed that if I ever went to another music festival I would be on stage and not in the audience.

You had been working with several other well known Canterbury musicians. Is there a particular project or person you liked working with the most?

Every project I’ve been involved in was special in some way and brought its different rewards.  I’ve been fortunate to play with some fantastic drummers – Robert, Charlie Hayward, Simon Phillips, Paul Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Bill Bruford amongst others – and enjoyed every minute of it.  Matching Mole was fantastically liberating.  801 started taking me into rather more ‘normal’ bass playing territory.  Overall, Robert and Phil Manzanera are the two musicians I have worked with most and, I suppose, there must be reason for that.  Perhaps they just couldn’t get rid of me.

Thank you again for your time and effort, Bill. Would you like to share anything else that I didn’t ask?

I think I’ve probably written way too much already.”


Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011

© Copyright 2011


As to Bill’s political activities, he worked  for the Liberal Democrats and for the developers of the Polly, a then rival in the Liberal Democrats to EARS Electoral software and then in market research. He later was elected a Liberal Democrat  councillor for the Anerley ward of the London Borough of Bromley.


The third role is one in  which  Bill MacCormick  is  still fully engaged – that of researcher and author of books examining  a most  tragic period of the tragedy that was World War One.  Note that like his brother. Bill has chosen to write under a pen name, Alan MacDonald. 

Here is Bill’s own description of the first of his published books including   an explanation   of the family sources of his keen interest in the subject.

Pro Patria Mori - Revised Edition

Pro Patria Mori - Revised Edition



1. Planning the ‘Big Push’ (read excerpt)
2. “A Small Modern Fortress”
3. “The Very Devil”
4. May 1916
5. June 1st to June 23rd *
6. The Artillery Programme (read excerpt)
7. The Bombardment: U Day to Y2 Day (read excerpt)
8. Z Day: 0500 – 0730
9. Z Day: 0730 – 0830
10. Z Day: 0830 – 1200 (read excerpt) *
11. Z Day: 1200 – 1430
12. Z Day: 1430 – 1630
13. Z Day: 1630 – 1930
14. Z Day: The Evening and Beyond *
15. Prisoners of War *
16. Casualties (read excerpt) *
17. The Aftermath (read excerpt)
18. Postscript
19. Fallen at Gommecourt *
Appendix 1: British Order of Battle
Appendix 2: German Order of Battle
Appendix 3: 56th Division casualties
Appendix 4: The Battlefield now
Appendix 5: Contemporary Newspaper Reports of the Attack
Appendix 6: Roll of Honour of the 56th (1st London) Division
Appendix 7: Prisoners of War *
Appendix 8: Roll of Honour of the 2nd Guard Reserve Division 

Appendix 9: Details of Cemeteries & Memorials mentioned

Chapters and Appendices marked * are new to the revised edition of ‘Pro Patria Mori’ or have been greatly expanded.

About ‘Pro Patria Mori’

A significantly revised and expanded edition of ‘Pro Patria Mori’ was published in August 2008.

The main changes to the book are:

  1. An entirely new chapter on the appalling treatment and experiences of British Prisoners of War and an additional appendix listing all known PoWs
  2. A Roll of Honour of the German defenders of the 2nd Guard Reserve Division
  3. A vastly expanded ‘Fallen at Gommecourt’ section which now contains nearly 200 photographs of men who died at Gommecourt
  4. A significant number of additional stories drawn from personal memoires of the battle
  5. In all, the book is now 180 pages longer (at 716 pages) and now has over 300 photographs, maps and plans

I have been actively interested in the Great War since we discovered the diary my grandfather kept during 1915 and 1916 when he was in the 1/20th London Regt (Blackheath and Woolwich). During this time he fought at Loos, was promoted Sergeant and was eventually commissioned into the 1/4th London Regiment to replace casualties suffered during the attack on Gommecourt on 1st July 1916. This was my first link with this action.

Missing at Gommecourt

Later, I discovered a second and more personal link – an uncle of my mother had been killed at Gommecourt. 4540 Rfm Charles Robert Tompson from Watford joined the 1/9th London Regt (Queen Victoria’s Rifles) on the outbreak of war. At 7.30 a.m. on Saturday, 1st July 1916 he climbed out of the British trenches opposite the village of Gommecourt and trudged forward with the rest of the battalion towards the German barbed wire. Charles Tompson was never seen again. He is one of the ‘Missing of the Somme’ whose name is recorded on the massive Thiepval Memorial that sits glowering over the battlefield from the heights above the River Ancre.

The First Day on the Somme

Inspired by Martin Middlebrook’s seminal work ‘The First Day on the Somme’ I had been a regular visitor to the Somme battlefields but Gommecourt was one village I had always passed by, thinking it a ‘sideshow’ to the big battles further south. But, determined to find out more about Charles Tompson and his mates, I started to research the battle. As a result, I became increasingly obsessed with the tragic sacrifice of so many men in what was a mere diversionary attack designed to deflect attention away from the main Somme offensive.

Six year’s work

‘Pro Patria Mori’ is the result of over six year’s research into the 56th Division’s attack on Gommecourt. It is based on nearly 90 War Diaries and other official documents held at the National Archives; over 60 personal recollections, collections of letters and other material held variously at the Imperial War Museum, Liddle Collection (Leeds University) and the National Army Museum; and over 50 published books including several German unit histories.

Fully indexed and with more than twenty maps and photographs the book covers in detail everything that happened in the Spring and early Summer of 1916. From the initial planning by Haig and Rawlinson, through the preparation of the artillery programme, to the attack itself, everything is comprehensively covered. In addition, the treatment of the thousands of wounded is described in detail along with the fall-out from the battle as senior officers attempted to justify the sacrifice of nearly 7,000 men in action which was designed, but failed, to serve no other purpose than to divert guns and men away from the main Somme offensive.

Privately printed

‘Pro Patria Mori’ is privately printed. You can believe this or not, but two publishers were interested in publishing the book but only if it were cut by nearly 50%. I am not interested in editing on this scale and have decided that I would rather risk the cost of printing myself than see the book effectively neutered. You can see some short excerpts by clicking on the chapter links in the Contents box.

The revised edition of the book is now over 700 pages long with over 300 maps, plans and photographs.   You can buy ‘Pro Patria Mori’ by following this link .

Alan MacDonald

© Alan MacDonald 2006/7/8. All rights reserved. No publication without permission.


Here follows a review of the second in the series.

A Lack of Offensive Spirit

The 46th (North Midland) Division at Gommecourt 1st July 1916Alan MacDonaldPublished by Iona Books February 2008ISBN 978-0-9558119-0-6Reviewed by Wayne Young“A Lack of Offensive Spirit” comes as a welcome companion to “Pro Patria Mori” published in 2006 by the same author (and WFA member) Bill MacCormick (writing under the family pseudonym Alan MacDonald). It records the actions of the 56th London Division at Gommecourt on the 1st July 1916. The current book completes the story by describing the actions of the 46th North Midland Division, and their part in that tragic diversion.The book begins with the pre war origin and social make up of this North Midland territorial Division, and goes on to describe their old volunteer beginnings and links to communities throughout the black country, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. The early chapters complete the formation of the division and its embarkation to France, and early trench experience, culminating in its baptism of fire at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, at the end of the battle of Loos in October 1915. The move to the Somme comes soon after an unpleasant spell relieving the French on Vimy Ridge.The narrative now concentrates in detail on the division’s experiences in the line at Gommecourt. The story is followed in diary form throughout May and June, use of the various unit war diaries emphasising the huge efforts made to prepare the sector for the coming offensive. Outstanding use of the Field Ambulance records are made to reveal the high levels of sickness suffered throughout the division, further hampering the preparation required. The role of the artillery comes under the same spotlight with extensive research revealing delayed battery position preparation and ammunition firing returns falling short of planned expenditure. Frequent gun failure is also revealed, all explaining the short comings of the preliminary bombardment.The heart of the book covers the assault by the infantry, this is arranged by brigade. Ample use is made of IGN present day maps overlaid with the trenches, coupled with present day photographs of the ground, help to keep the reader orientated. The text is vivid and detailed, with the emphasis firmly on the fighting men. I particularly liked the foot note biographies of the officers and men featured in the text. Equally useful and illuminating are the extended biographies of the senior generals. Rather like his original book, this is a similar passionate labour of love, and unfettered by publishing constraints, it pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in views and opinions expressed on the conduct of the commanders and their decisions taken during that fateful day.Following the fighting the story moves to the aftermath, and subsequent enquiry into the Division’s failure at Gommecourt. The author unveils a rich seam of survivors’ accounts, and concludes with the bitter personal post war efforts of the divisional commander Stuart Wortley to restore his reputation. The closing chapters deal with the casualties, with exhaustive battalion rolls of officers and men. To conclude the book there are numerous appendices including a fascinating account of the post battlefield clearance and resulting re-burials. Also there is a very useful battlefield and cemetery guide, as well as an excellent order of battle, a bibliography and last but by no means least, a comprehensive index.This book deserves to be widely read for a number of reasons; it completes the story of an often neglected part of the first day on the Somme history, and it is extremely well researched providing deep insights into all aspects of the planning and execution of the assault. The 46th division erected several battlefield memorials after the war, indeed a new memorial has been placed near the Hohenzollern redoubt, on the old Loos battlefield, this book will help to increase knowledge, appreciation and remembrance of the first territorial division to join the BEF in France and Belgium.—————————————————————————–A few months ago, Bill sent me an email with a report on his current   research and writings.

“For information, I had another book published back in 2014: Z Day, 1st July 1916 – the Attack of the VIII Corps at Beaumont Hamel and Serre (  Same day, just a bit further south J   This one contains something of interest to Canadian (if not American) readers as it contains an account of the infamous destruction of the 1st Newfoundland Regt., on 1st July 1916.

“Being a sucker for punishment I currently have four different books on the go – broadly all on the same subject. Nothing if not focussed. Two should be out later this year and they cover the planning of the Somme from both the British and French perspectives as well as another volume which attempts to explain why and how the British and French found themselves there and the variations in tactics, equipment and results. Goes all the way back to the Franco-Prussian War! I plan to cover the rest of the Somme front, including the French, in 4-5 more books as per the Gommecourt ones over the next 4-5 years. Two are partially written and 90% of the research done. It keeps me off the streets.”

The second great grandchild of the WILLIAM LINE in this segment is Ian MacCormick, Bill’s elder brother.  You will find him on the Web under his pen name of Ian MacDonald.    Tragically Ian died in 2003.  Here I follow my practice of  using  the obituary as the means of describing his career as author and musician.  In his case however, I present two obituaries because they have sufficiently different emphases and content. 

“This obituary was first published in the Independent on 25 August 2003. It is here by permission of Ian’s family.

What has been labelled “the Shostakovich debate” began in 1979, with the publication of Testimony, the memoirs of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, dictated to the musicologist Solomon Volkov shortly before Shostakovich’s death in 1975. Testimony, a bitter and brave book, revealed to a largely unsuspecting west that the Soviet Union’s most vaunted composer, far from being a hapless stooge of the regime, was in truth a passionate and courageous anti-Stalinist. But Testimony walked straight into the guns of the cold war. The KGB organised denunciations by Shostakovich’s relatives and colleagues, and the campaign of disinformation persuade several prominent musicologists, chiefly in the USA, that Volkov was a fabricator, that he had exploited his association with Shostakovich to pass off a money-earning fake. Writers on the right seized on Testimony with told-you-so glee; the left insisted it was a falsehood, one commentator even asserting it was the fruit of a CIA plot. The lines were drawn for musicology’s most passionate debate in decades, with the soul of the composer as the prize.

Into this febrile atmosphere stepped MacDonald’s The New Shostakovich, published in 1990, which demonstrated close parallels between the Shostakovich of Testimony and the music itself and thus called the composer to the support of the memoirist. The book also revealed MacDonald’s profound and detailed knowledge of the Soviet background against which, he argued, it was impossible to understand the music correctly.

The impact of The New Shostakovich was instantaneous. Norman Lebrecht described it as a “tour de force of musical and social analysis”. The composer’s son recommended it as “one of the best biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich I have read”. Vladimir Ashkenazy wrote a letter of appreciation, and Semyon Bychkov felt it “gets under the skin of Shostakovich and understands
the perversity of the Soviet system and what it has inflicted on humanity”. For Richard Dyer, writing in the Boston Sunday Globe, it was “most thorough study of this enigmatic figure yet undertaken in English (or Russian, for that matter)”. MacDonald changed the nature of Shostakovich studies for ever.

But it was his sometimes over-literal interpretations of the music, occasionally ascribing a film-music specificity to particular gestures, that aroused most excitement. Many of his admirers found in The New Shostakovich a Rosetta stone to “explain” the music, and his critics condemned him for reducing the universal message of the music to detailed specifics. MacDonald later [contended] that some of his images had been over-precise, and considered a revised edition to tone them down – but he stuck to his guns over the thrust of his argument, contending that it was the specific nature of Shostakovich’s inspiration that gave his music universal strength. Yet he never claimed to be an authority on the composer: I consider there are no experts on Shostakovich. The subject is too vast, our present knowledge too partial, and the requisite state of sympathetic insight into his life and work too underdeveloped for anyone to claim to be, or be regarded as, an expert on him …. I certainly wouldn’t, being at best an ephemeral agitator in the cause of truth….

Indeed, MacDonald had never been a conventional academic. He spent only a year (1968–69) at Cambridge University, of which he later wrote: “The stately air was fragrant with marijuana and no one seemed to be doing a stroke of work”. Nor MacDonald, either: he enjoyed the drugs culture, changed courses three times, largely to avoid exams, and left.
Having developed an enthusiasm both for popular and classical music while he was still a schoolboy at Dulwich College, he now began writing about music, and in 1972 was appointed Assistant Editor of The New Musical Express, then being heavily outsold by Melody Maker. In his three years with the magazine, he and the editor, Nick Logan, improved the sales by some 160%, from 90,000 to 220,000, comfortably overtaking their rival.

Ian MacDonald also wrote lyrics and songs. His younger brother, Bill, had played with Phil Manzanera (later of Roxy Music) in a group called Quiet Sun, and when Manzanera recorded some solo albums, Ian provided some of the material for them, and worked with Brian Eno, too. Sub Rosa, an album of his own songs – reflecting his fondness for groups like Steeley Dan – was released in 1990.

The book which brought MacDonald the widest acclaim was his Revolution in the Head, subtitled The Beatles’ Records and the 1960s and first published by Fourth Estate in 1994 (a second, enlarged edition appeared in 1997 and a paperback from Pimlico in 1998). In it he details every single Beatles’ track recorded, describing the instrumentation (and who played what), the details of the recording and first release, analysing the music and relating it to the text. It was the most thorough examination the songs had ever received, and the press showered it with thoroughly deserved praise.

“One of the most convincing cultural analyses of recent British musical history which you could ever hope to read”, reported Peter Aspden in The Financial Times. “A pinnacle of popular music criticism”, said The Independent; “In Ian MacDonald, The Beatles at last have a critic worthy of their oeuvre.” The Observer esteemed it “a dazzling piece of scholarship” – “Best of all, the book drives you back to the music itself with fresh ears and understanding”. Stuart Maconie, writing in Q, rated it “the most sustainedly brilliant piece of pop criticism and scholarship for years. An astonishing achievement”. The reviews must have exceeded his publisher’s wildest hopes and yet MacDonald, with typical modesty, inscribed the copy he sent me: “I suspect this may go under your head. (No need to read it, of course!)”.

Until the final depression began to sap his energy, it was always on call to serve his enthusiasms. When OUP published a study of Shostakovich by the American musicologist Laurel Fay which he felt was shamefully inadequate, his detailed and devastating review – posted at “Music under Soviet Rule”, the website he maintained ( – ran to over 50,000 words. And he corresponded regularly with scholars of Soviet music all around the world, usually giving generously of his time. He leaves unfinished a study of David Bowie and a book called Birds, Beasts & Fishes: A Guide to Animal Lore and Symbolism – he empathised deeply with animals and felt a direct line of communication with cats in particular.

MacDonald believed – passionately, of course – in an after-life, and the spur to write The New Shostakovich came one night when he felt a prod in the back and heard an instruction from Shostakovich to write the book. That belief must have helped reconcile him to the decision to commit suicide. He had suffered from acute depression from around 1976 and attempted suicide twice in 1978 and 1979 (mentioning the fact openly in his writings), and had spent the last three years in an ever-blacker depression from which death eventually seemed the only solution. Praise for his most recent book, The People’s Music, a collection of his writings on pop and rocks published six weeks ago, was not enough to revive his spirits. He was found dead at his Gloucestershire home on Thursday morning, having posted a note on the door to call the police.

Ian MacDonald (MacCormick), writer; born London, 3 October 1948; died Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire, 20 or 21 August 2003.

Ian MacDonald      c.The Guardian

An outstanding writer on the music of the Beatles – and a scrupulous defender of Shostakovich

Probably no other critic – not even the late William Mann of the Times, with his famous mention of pandiatonic clusters – contributed more to an enlightened enjoyment of the work of the Beatles than Ian MacDonald, who has died aged 54. In his book Revolution In The Head, first published in 1994, MacDonald carefully anatomised every record the Beatles made, drawing attention to broad themes, particular examples of inspiration and moments of human frailty alike.What could have been a dry task instead produced a volume so engagingly readable, so fresh in its perceptions and so enjoyable to argue with that, in an already overcrowded field, it became an immediate hit. Without a hint of sycophancy, MacDonald had managed to describe the magic created by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in such a way as to reacquaint those who were around at the time with their own original enthusiasm, while alerting listeners of later generations to the precise qualities that had made the Beatles so exceptional. Its introduction alone provides something close to a definitive evocation of the factors that turned the 1960s into “the sixties”.

It came out of the blue, in the sense that MacDonald had been virtually silent on the subject of popular music for several years before its publication. But its clarity and conviction were wholly characteristic of his critical approach, which had been formed in the mid-1970s while he was a member of the collection of talented writers and editors whose weekly outpourings made the New Musical Express the most compelling music paper of its era.

Four years before the appearance of Revolution In The Head he had attracted similar levels of acclaim from a very different quarter when he published The New Shostakovich, a biographical re-evaluation in which he attacked the KGB’s attempts to discredit the composer’s own memoirs. MacDonald’s scrupulous analysis was illuminated as much by his own deep study of the Soviet system as by his ability to immerse himself totally in whatever music he was thinking about at the time.

At King’s College, Cambridge, where he switched from English literature to archaeology and anthropology, he fell among kindred spirits. There may never be a better concise description of that evidently charmed time and place than MacDonald’s wry paragraph, with its gathering rhythm and subtle alliteration: “During the academic year of 1968-69, Cambridge University felt an alien influence from beyond its sober curtain walls. Solemn flagstones frowned up at kaftans, wooden beads and waist-length hair. Staid courtyards winced to the sounds of Beggars Banquet, The White Album, Big Pink and Dr John The Night Tripper drifting through leaded windows. The stately air was fragrant with marijuana and no one seemed to be doing a stroke of work.”

Despite the obvious attractions of such a world, he dropped out at the end of his first year and for a time involved himself in producing lyrics for Quiet Sun, an experimental rock band which included his brother, Bill MacCormick, and the future guitarist of Roxy Music, Phil Manzanera. In 1972 he joined the staff of the NME, where he remained for several years as an assistant editor. While not as widely celebrated as Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Mick Farren, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill, MacDonald was nevertheless one of the most significant figures in the NME’s revival under the editorship of Nick Logan.

His own editing skills were a vital element of the formula. This was a time when an NME headline could enter the lexicon, and “Sten Guns in Knightsbridge”, attached to a famous early piece on the Clash, was his. So, in a different register, was the decision to hire the brilliant stylist Brian Case to write about jazz.

MacDonald’s own byline was a guarantee of a thoughtful, usually provocative piece; his interests ranged from Laura Nyro and Neil Young through Miles Davis and Steely Dan to Terry Riley and John Tavener. By the time he left the paper, its circulation had more than doubled, overtaking its chief rival, the Melody Maker, on the way to selling 220,000 copies a week.

As he lamented in his later writings, in those days music and the values it represented mattered to audience and commentators alike in a way that might seem preposterous to a generation raised amid a marketing-led culture. He and I once met for lunch in a Holland Park bistro for the sole purpose of continuing an argument, begun in print, over the authenticity of Barry White’s music.

By 1975 the success of Roxy Music had enabled Phil Manzanera to undertake solo projects, including an occasional band known as the 801. He and MacDonald resumed their collaboration, the latter contributing Orwellian lyrics to a fine album titled Listen. Twenty-five years later, Brian Eno, another member of the original Roxy Music, would help MacDonald produce a solo album of his own songs, Sub Rosa, released on Manzanera’s label.

Revolution In The Head was the product of a lengthy period spent living away from London, and its success encouraged him to write for a new generation of music magazines. His exacting, trenchant and sometimes very funny essays appeared first in Mojo and then in Uncut; a collection of them was published earlier this year under the title The People’s Music.

The climax of the     anthol ogy is a lengthy meditation on the life and work of Nick Drake, the precociously gifted singer-songwriter whom MacDonald had encountered at Cambridge and who committed suicide in 1974, when still in his mid-twenties. Written with an intensity that at times overwhelms its ostensible subject, it can now be seen to have provided clues to MacDonald’s own lengthy struggle with profound depression. “Can it be,” he asks, apropos of Drake’s preoccupation with spiritual transcendence, “that the materialist worldview, in which there is no intrinsic meaning, is slowly murdering our souls?” The decision to commit suicide, at his home in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, indicates that he had drawn his own conclusion.

· Ian MacDonald (MacCormick), author and critic, born October 3 1948; died August 20 2003 


In this the last piece on three   great grandchildren of the WILLIAM LINE we turn to the son of Sheila (MacCormick) and Mickey Stewart  

Alec Stewart  performed as batsman, wicketkeeper and captain of the England cricket team in addition to his long service with Surrey County Cricket Club which  continues today.     

Alec Stewar. t

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Personal information
Full name Alec James Stewart
Born (1963-04-08) 8 April 1963 (age 54)
Merton Park, England
Nickname The Gaffer
Height 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Batting style Right-handed
Bowling style Occasional right-arm medium
Role Wicket-keeper
Relations MJ Stewart (father)
International information
National side
Test debut (cap 543) 24 February 1990 v West Indies
Last Test 8 September 2003 v South Africa
ODI debut (cap 104) 15 October 1989 v Sri Lanka
Last ODI 2 March 2003 v Australia
ODI shirt no. 4
Domestic team information
Years Team
1981–2003 Surrey
Career statistics
Competition Test ODI FC LA
Matches 133 170 447 504
Runs scored 8463 4677 26165 14771
Batting average 39.54 31.60 40.06 35.08
100s/50s 15/45 4/28 48/148 19/94
Top score 190 116 271* 167*
Balls bowled 20 0 502 4
Wickets 0 3 0
Bowling average 148.66
5 wickets in innings 0
10 wickets in match n/a 0 n/a
Best bowling 1/7
Catches/stumpings 263/14 159/15 721/32 442/48
Source: Cricinfo, 14 October 2007


The younger son of former English Test cricketer Micky Stewart, Stewart was educated at Tiffin School in Kingston upon Thames.[2] He made his debut for Surrey in 1981, earning a reputation as an aggressive opening batsman and occasional wicketkeeper. He made his England debut in the first Test of the 1989/90 tour of the West Indies, along with Nasser Hussain, who would eventually replace him as England captain.

At the start of his career, Stewart was a specialist opening batsman for England, with wicketkeeping duties being retained by Jack Russell, who was generally recognised as the superior gloveman and who batted down the order. However, Russell, the inferior batsman, would often be dropped to improve the balance of the side (i.e. to accommodate an extra bowler or batsman), in which case Stewart would don the gloves. After enduring years of selection and deselection, Russell retired from international cricket in 1998, leaving Stewart unrivalled as England’s keeper-batsman until his own retirement in 2003.

His highest Test score, 190, was against Pakistan in the drawn first Edgbaston Test on 4 June 1992; it was his fourth century in five Tests. In 1994 at the Kensington Oval he became only the seventh Englishman to score centuries in both innings of a Test match, scoring 118 and 143 as the West Indies were beaten at their Bridgetown “fortress” for the first time since 1935.[3]

Stewart was groomed for the England captaincy under Graham Gooch, deputising for him in four tests in India and Sri Lanka in 1993, but when Gooch retired from the captaincy later that year Mike Atherton was chosen to succeed him.

Always more of an establishment figure than any sort of rebel, it was no surprise when Stewart was asked to captain England in 1998 when Mike Atherton resigned. Despite being the age of 35 at the time, Stewart’s level of fitness was impeccable, especially bearing in mind that most players do not continue beyond 37. As it was Stewart went on to play for England beyond his 40th birthday – but as events were to transpire – his captaincy of England barely lasted 12 months.

In his first series as captain, against South Africa, Stewart scored an outstanding 164 in the third Test at Old Trafford to salvage a draw, a result which eventually enabled England to overturn a 1–0 deficit to win the series 2–1. Nonetheless, failures against Australia and in the 1999 cricket World Cup saw him sacked from the captaincy to be replaced by Hussain. During his captaincy, he had the unusual distinction of simultaneously captaining the side, opening the batting and keeping wicket. He continued to deputise occasionally as captain of England’s one-day side, and became the second international captain to concede a match in 2001, after a pitch invasion during a One Day International against Pakistan rendered the continuation of play impossible.[4] He continued as an England player for five more seasons, and became only the fourth player to score a century in his 100th Test, scoring 105 against the West Indies at Old Trafford in 2000.

Stewart’s batting average (39.54) is the lowest of any player to have scored 8000 or more runs in Test cricket: he is the only player to have scored over 8000 runs despite an average of under 40.[5] However, when played as a specialist batsman in Test cricket, Stewart averaged 46.90 in 51 games with 9 centuries. Since World War II, only Len Hutton, Geoff Boycott, Dennis Amiss and Alastair Cook have bettered Stewart’s average of 46 as a specialist opening batsman for England.[6] As wicketkeeper-batsman he averaged 34.92 from 82 tests, higher than many of his contemporaries and many of the current batch of international wicketkeepers. He was unlucky enough to be on the losing side in a record 54 Test Matches.

Stewart is a well-known supporter of Surrey County Cricket Club and Chelsea F.C. When shirt numbers were introduced for One Day International cricket, Stewart chose the number 4 shirt in honour of his favourite Chelsea player when growing up, John Hollins, and kept that shirt number throughout his career.[7]

Alec Stewart holds the record for scoring most test runs without a career double century in test history(8463)[8]

Alec Stewart also set a record for playing most number of ODI matches as captain who has kept the wicket as well as went onto open the batting with 28 times in his career.[9]

Post-playing career[edit]

In 2004, Stewart became a founding director of Arundel Promotions with specific responsibility for player management and representation. Cricket playing clients include Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Ashley Giles and Matt Prior.[10]

In 2009, Stewart rejoined Surrey as a part-time consultant to the coaching staff specialising in batting, wicket keeping and mentoring.[11]

Since retiring from playing Stewart has taken on the role as the Club Ambassador for Surrey CCC and was made an executive director in 2011.

On 17 June 2013, it was announced by Surrey County Cricket Club that Stewart would take charge of first team affairs following the sacking of Chris Adams, until a long term successor is found. In October 2013 the club announced that Graham Ford would become head coach in February 2014, with Stewart becoming Director of Cricket, a new position.[12]