Sunday, 26 June 2011

Interview: Doodlebug

“All right Barney?” enquires another of the passersby on a sunny, yet blustery, afternoon outside Beech Road’s On The Corner cafe in Chorlton. The bespectacled man sat before me is the Barney in question. Multi-talented arts instigator Michael Anthony Barnes-Wynters is recognisable not only as a resident of Manchester suburbs since moving up from Bristol in 1989, but also for his work supporting independent arts within the city.

“I’d come from Bristol and one of the guys who lived in our household was from Manchester and in the house we had a band, which I used to do all the artwork, stage visuals and promotions for. We came up to Band on the Wall to play, so that was my first trip to Manchester back in the early 80s. It was amazing; it all stayed with me. And also knowing this guy called Charlie Clarke, who used to go on about Wigan Casino; he was a Northern Soul head. It lead to a kind of soft spot so in 1989 I moved – came up to Madchester and got straight involved with what was going on. My next door neighbour was Steve Williams who was a main DJ for the Haçienda and the Blackburn parties. So straight away I got to do flyers for the Haç and that.”

Barnes-Wynters may have arrived during Madchester, but his own experiences weren’t directly dependent upon the Wilson-oriented media buzz. Instead Barney started up his own regular Sunday night slot at a nascent Dry Bar under the moniker Hoochie Coochie. “I walked into Dry Bar, which had just opened, and approached Leroy – Leroy, by the way, ran it then and also now runs Gulliver’s. It’s quite interesting, actually I think it’s brilliant, looking now at how Dry (201) started bar culture, frankly, with the whole design aspect and it kicked off bar culture in ’89, so I walked into that sort of scenario.”

The night saw many names en route to local and national acclaim, one of the more notable being DJ, illustrator and tea connoisseur Mr Scruff. “Andy [Carthy, aka Mr Scruff] had approached me to DJ, so we would DJ side by side together, one deck each at Dry (201). He later approached me and gave me a tape and said, “Have a listen to that.” So I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ll take it into Rob (Gretton)...” Rob’s reaction was, great, as long as we cover costs, you can come in, use the [production] desk and do it – and so, from that, the relationship between myself and Andy started there and the rest you know; the story, which is brilliant.”

Barney has much to say on the subject of stories, which ones are told and which ones remain largely or entirely untold. “’Madchester’, Manchester, Haçienda, music – all that stuff – it was interesting having a spokesperson like Tony Wilson around, because you needed that intellect, that articulate person who could actually focus it all. Now looking on back to it, it’s just the churning out of that same story – ‘the story, the story...’ 24 Hour Party People was brilliant, I thought, but there are many stories here, which haven’t been touched and which, hopefully, will be touched. I always remember a time years ago when Manchester always used to take the piss out of the Beatles story but, you know, it’s become the same thing here; actually, worse.”

Where the present-day stories are concerned, Barnes-Wynters is always striving to unearth the next artistic gems – the reason behind which he attributes to his upbringing in Bristol. “It’s a core of my ingredient, you know. I grew up in the ‘70s in Bristol and my street was like Sesame Street, you just had all these characters; all these different flavours from all over the world on one street. It was amazing! Terraced houses, two up/two downs; we had the Adams family across the road – they were this kooky, mad family – brilliant. A Teddy Boy and girl family plus the hippy house, where I used to hang out, they were in their early 20s. Meanwhile I’ve got this music, which, you know, I couldn’t understand the lyrics... because it was Serge Gainsbourg. I was listening to L’Histoire de Melody [Nelson] aged 10... Then listening to Gil Scott Heron – God rest his soul – and Pentangle; all sorts of stuff. So what drives me? I just feel lucky enough to have been brought up where and when I grew up. Because now I flex, you know, it’s easy... I never let go of analogue, meanwhile I embrace any new...”

Barney’s gratitude extends to his fundamental ability to be able to enjoy the world in all its glory. “Bottom line is that I appreciate that fact that I have all my senses – as a kid growing up in my school we had a deaf unit and I used to hang with the deaf kids. For some reason I tend to attract... what’s the word?! Oddballs, let’s say! Introverted, definitely. I tend to hang with the underdog; I always have.”

“The deaf kids would get taunted and I always used to just stick up for them... And so, I’ve got this thing about appreciation of my senses so I tend to explore by any medium necessary, so with Doodlebug and the whole thing with International Doodlebug Day, which I set up in Manchester, London and Tokyo on the same day, at the same time for the first 3 years and then we did it ’98 to 2006 where we invited different artists... basically, bedroom artists, doodlers literally, but it was also to do with doodling with sound – it wasn’t just pen to paper, it wasn’t just mark making.”

“It never goes away because someone is always reminding me or asking me, ‘when is the next one?!’”

Indeed, the legacy of the annual tri-city triumph remains in Manchester. Sketch City met at one of the events (“Those guys got the bug by coming along to International Doodlebug Day – on my site there’s still photos of the first time they got together”) and now embody the Hoya:Hoya experimental electronic clubnights. Internationally recognised artists, such as Alex One and Boris Hoppek, joined the party (“It was very much about bringing in International artists to design collaboratively with local artists”) and as a result Barnes-Wynters was involved with curating the UK’s first street art exhibition at URBIS in 2003.

“There are pieces up in the Northern Quarter which are still there from 2006.”

“Bearing in mind my background from Bristol was very street-based in terms of visual art, so there was the thing with Banksy obviously – there was that connection because Doodlebug used to work with Arc Gallery Store (RIP), which was a clothing/accessories shop with a gallery on Oldham Street opposite Magma and basically brought Banksy to drop stuff here.”

As for taking International Doodlebug Day into double figures, Barney is happy to speculate: “I stopped at nine, because I felt it needed to stop ad breathe. Indeed, there’s plan of a number ten – I think it would be... it’s going to be a 21st century DIY flex in cahoots with Madlab to really take it beyond the page and back to Doodlebug’s original 1998 manifesto of the synergy of art and science, beyond just marking – so it’d be a very wonky Madlab / Doodlebug scenario.”

Castlefield Gallery and greenroom were amongst those to recently lose Arts Council funding, but, aside from enthusing about Madlab, Barney remains confident that the arts in Manchester have enough platforms to survive and thrive. “greenroom is gone, but artists are still here. Contact [Theatre], which is where I’m based and have been since it opened, still remains – with a spearhead of Baba Israel who is a brilliant artistic director for that place. But also in particular Islington Mill and Blank Media Collective.”

“It was always Doodlebug presents… and you couldn’t pigeonhole it, but is was described as a 21st century Old Grey Whistle Test, which is a compliment because only a couple of days ago I noticed with Old Grey Whistle Test there are people paying its homage,” says Barney. That Old Grey Whistle Test set-up is the vibe for the first of a trio of summer Now Then Manchester shows at Dulcimer in Chorlton. As host for the event on Wednesday 29th June, Barney elaborates on a few of his choices to join him onstage. “There’s liveness from Rioghnach Connolly from Honeyfeet and Your Orange Coat: German Techno Lesbians. I am speaking with Naomi Kashiwagi in the mix as well as Howard Walmsley – film maker (808 State), Biting Tongues frontman, working with MC Tunes and Ed Barton. Lotte Karlson, Norwegian designer, glass blower who I collaborate with on Alexandra Arts. And Thick Richard I think is without doubt the dog’s bollocks performance poet, end of story plus David Boultbee and Kate Moran of Bread Art Collective and artist Kerry Howarth.”

“Really with next week, we’re just going to flex and feel how it goes. It’s that thing of mindfood, which is what I’ve always put Doodlebug as. Sharing ideas and inspirations, so conversations are good to engage with whoever’s there because I think it is an experiment, so it’s not going to be, right, this DJ’s on then and this is going to be here, no – I think we’ve just got to feel it. But we’ll be prepared for whatever audience is there. I like to engage with the audience rather than just throw things at them.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Image #1: Poster design by Louie Mitchell; photography by Simon Bray.
Images #2, #3 & #4: Courtesy of Doodlebug.
Image #5: Courtesy of Opus Independents.

Doodlebug Nuggets fortnightly show on ALL FM 96.9 starts Sunday 3rd July: 7-9pm
Doodlebug Nuggets screening of Howard Walmsley’s ‘Nish, Clish, Bangin’: The MC Tunes Tapes at Islington Mill on Thursday 7th July, 7.30pm

No comments:

Post a Comment