the other side of Denmark Street

Denmark Street London 072022 sm

Back to London last July. After a day’s touristing with the family – we went to the Churchill War Rooms, then wandered about central London until my feet hurt – I stopped off at one of my favourite old streets, the centre of guitar shops and music people, Denmark Street. Just off Charing Cross Road, round the back of the recently redeveloped Tottenham Court Road station, this was the center of the British music industry for a long time. Tin Pan Alley. As London has been pricing anything good out of existence for a long while now, but of it have been falling away and I was worried to finally come back and find it all gone down the pan. There’s a few old places no longer there, but I was pleased to still find a lot of places to mooch about looking at instruments, the character still exists. So I drew the street looking southwards, across from Wunjo and Regent sounds, and stood drawing until my feet hurt. This was intended as a sister piece to a panorama I drew of Denmark Street back in 2014 (see below) looking northwards, before major redevelopment started in the area. The 12 Bar club was still there, and Macari’s; I was saddened to see Macari’s on Charing Cross Road had closed recently, that’s where I got my beloved acoustic guitar that I still have. After drawing that picture years ago I learned about “Save Tin Pan Alley” –– which is devoted to preserving this historic and culturally significant London lane. As a guitar-obsessed teen I was often too shy to go into these stores, fearing that I would suddenly be found out and laughed at. They soon became my favourite places, though I still won’t get down an electric guitar and plug it in unless I know nobody is there to listen. They have different guitars than you see in a lot of guitar shops in the States as well. This past year I have finally rekindled my love of the guitar, having abandoned it for well over a decade, and got myself a new guitar, the Lake Placid Blue Squier Telecaster, as well as a Fender electro-acoustic for my son who is learning. Just last month I finally got myself a bass, for the first time in my life, and I of course got the Hofner violin. I should have been playing bass all these years, I love it, and the Hofner is nice and light, especially with the Flatwound strings. I need to fix the fret buzz though. Apparently I should adjust the truss rod, but I’m a bit nervous about that. I also need to fix up my old electric guitar in London and bring it back out here, the one my brother got me when I was 14, the Westone Concord II. I re-strung it and cleaned it up, but the third fret is pretty worn down where the B string hits it, making it hard to play an open D. Teenage Pete played that chord so much it filed away the fret. Maybe on my next visit I’ll take it down to Denmark Street and see if someone there can fix it. I’m still pretty basic with my guitar playing, and I don’t mind that, but it is nice to be back messing about with guitars again.

Denmark St panorama

back to where you once belonged

ibanez artcore

I bloody loved Get Back. Peter Jackson has done an amazing job with all that old footage from the Let It Be sessions, it really was like getting the Beatles back for a little while. I have so many things to say about it that I can’t even say them, so I continue to re-watch it, to listen to other Beatles buffs talks about it, and then re-watch it again. It’s an absolute joy, compelling to watch. To say that it has re-sparked my life-long love of the Beatles is an understatement. At the same time, I was also recently given the massive new Paul McCartney book The Lyrics for Christmas, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating and listening to Macca interviews about it for the past few months. So I’ve not only been listening to all the old Beatles stuff but many of my old Wings and solo Macca stuff, which I loved so much when I was a kid. On top of that, I have pulled the old electric guitar out from under the bed, the one I bought in 2006 and haven’t played since about 2009, it has been locked away in its hard case under the bed like a spaceman in stasis. It’s an Ibanez Art-Core AFS-75, in black. It has been nice catching up. 

The Beatles were the band that made me first pick up a guitar in the first place, back in the 80s. My friend and fellow Beatles-nut Ralph had a guitar, so I got one for a fiver at a car-boot, but it was a pretty crap acoustic, so on my 14th birthday my brother got me an electric guitar, a Westone Concord II. I need to finally bring that old thing back from England at some point and fix it up, give it new pick-ups, make it a project. That’s what I actually learned to play on, though I was never very good and couldn’t do anything fancy, just play chords and do the the odd bit of finger-picking. It was easy to play though, easier than my Ibanez, which might look and sound better but never felt completely right. I think I’m a bit intimidated by this one. I would write songs, so many songs, it was always about trying to create, come up with new tunes. Anyway in 1996 while working at Thorntons chocolate shop in Oxford Street I went out on my break and bought a Hohner acoustic guitar at Macari’s on Charing Cross Road, which from day one had a beautiful warm sound, and it still has. I have brought that with me, to Belgium, France and over here to California, and it’s my favourite guitar. I got the Ibanez after moving to the US – my second Ibanez, actually. The first one, a black electro-acoustic I bought in Cotati a week or so after my arrival, broke when it fell over softly onto the carpet. So I went out and got this one as a much flashier replacement. I enjoyed it a lot and even recorded a few new pieces with it. I love playing with music, even if it isn’t exactly sophisticated, I just love it. And then I stopped, for some reason I just stopped playing entirely, and wouldn’t even pick up my acoustic. This lasted for years, and I was off guitars. I wasn’t any good, so that was that. I got a ukulele a few years ago after our first trip to Hawaii and loved it, so for the past few years I’ve been playing that off and on, and I love it, the gentle sound. I’m still learning but it’s already one of my favourite things. So I started getting my acoustic out a bit more, but not wanting to disturb, played quietly or when people weren’t home. After watching Get Back, my old Beatles love made me want to just be strumming, all the time, so I was on the uke or the acoustic as much as I could. Certainly on our trip to Hawaii I played a lot of ‘Here Comes The Sun’, which was optimistic given all the rain we had. Then last week I remembered my electric guitar, hidden away under the bed like a secret. I dragged out its heavy hard case, unhooked the clasps, and released it from its plush blue bed. Now the next bit should be, “and then the years fell away as I played a melodic solo, my hairs standing on end, I was back.” But that would be completely false because I was never that good a player, and the truth is I never felt comfortable with this guitar. It was nice playing it again, but it still felt like it could never be fully in tune when playing open chords (I felt the same back in 2006), I’m mentally used to the fretboard on my old electric, and I’m still sounding beginner-level clunky when it comes to riffs and scales. I feel a bit unworthy of such a fancy looking guitar. I think I’d hidden it away for so long because I thought, well I might just sell it. But then, you know what, I found that I could do a few things, and why not learn, why not take this time to improve? So that’s what I’m going to do, play it more often, try things I wasn’t able to do before, see what comes out. I got some new strings, I’m going to put them on this weekend. It feels like a new guitar, to the point that I feel surprised when I listen to the old recordings from 06-07, I did actually play it more than I thought. And I even drew it back then – see below, along with the chords of a tune I wrote called ‘Angry Words’ (ironically I didn’t write any words to that one, the tune was all in the lead riff). So now ‘m watching a lot of YouTube videos on doing this and that, and it feels like starting over, like an absolute beginner. Just like a sketchbook and pen, I loved having a guitar in my hands when I was growing up, it made me feel that little bit safer.



midsummer indigo girls

Mondavi 2019 A1 sm
This will be another long post. I really did do a lot of sketching in 2019 and this is all from the same day. Apart from the sketch below, which was done at lunchtime (and coloured in afterwards) it’s all the same evening, midsummer night, June 21. I definitely haven’t already posted these, have I? I had been asked by the Mondavi Center at UC Davis to produce some sketches for their annual magazine, which is called “Gateway“. To do so, they invited me to come to the Indigo Girls show in an official sketcher capacity, to draw some of the outside, the lobby, and of the show itself (the last part being done in near total darkness). It was a fun night. The above was sketched outside the main entrance as people started to arrive.
Mondavi 2019 A2 sm
I drew some people outside the Mondavi Center arriving for the show. I got there early, picking people who stopped in one place, but I did some quick sketches of people walking past. I don’t think these people were together, and they didn’t all have flowery clothing, I added that in for fun. I sketched the ticket warden (or whatever they call them) because I loved how they stood out in their smart black and white, and they were all friendly, they usually are at the Mondavi.
Mondavi 2019 B3 sm
Mondavi 2019 B2 sm
Mondavi 2019 B1 sm
I was asked to sketch people in the lobby area, so I grabbed a wine and a place to stand. As it turned out I knew quite a few people who were attending the show, it was a popular one.
Mondavi 2019 B6 sm
Mondavi 2019 B4 sm
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Mondavi 2019 C1 Chastity Brown sm
And then it was time for the show. I was actually given a special seat, though it was in near-complete darkness. The opening act, Chastity Brown, was really good, I loved her voice, and she talked to the audience, as you can see above. Then below, the main event started. I was able to sketch some of the audience in between the shows, and also when lights were down. There was a lot of purple and blue light, and I struggled to see my pasge, but the music was great, and sketching to music makes the pen move so easily.
Mondavi 2019 C3 Indigo Girls sm
Mondavi 2019 C2 sm
I used the zoom function in my eyes* in to get a better look at the performers (*I squinted real hard), the two main guitar-playing singers (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) and the very performative violin player in between them (I don’t recall their name). For some reason I needed to write down the chords.
Mondavi 2019 C6 Indigo Girls sm
Mondavi 2019 C8 sm
Mondavi 2019 C4 sm
Mondavi 2019 C5 Indigo Girls sm

Anyway, a fun evening was had, it was a good show. So eventually the magazine came out in the Fall, using the outside sketch on the cover. Here it is!




i wanna see some history

sex pistols 1996 ticket
Here’s a little bit of my past, a drawing of an old concert ticket I still have, the Sex Pistols comeback show at Finsbury Park in June 1996. It’s pretty worn out – most of that wear and tear was from being in my pocket while pogoing around with 30,000 other sweaty punk rockers on a very hot Sunday evening. I went with my uncle Billy, and my Hungarian friend Andrea (we lost her during Skunk Anansie, one of the many supporting acts). I had been a Sex Pistols fan since I was about 13, when Billy first played me some Pistols records at his flat, but never thought I’d ever get to see them – I was not even two in 1978 when they split up. When the ‘Filthy Lucre’ comeback reunion tour in ’96 (with Glen Matlock back on bass) was announced, we had to go, and the Finsbury Park gig, being in Johnny Rotten’s home area (he used to go to the same school as my dad actually, but much later), was going to be great: support from loads of old (and new) punk and similar acts, most exciting of all for me being Buzzcocks, another group I’d always wanted to see (and never saw again; RIP Pete Shelley, by the way!) I had been at the Hellfire Club on Oxford Street the night before, practicing my pogo, Iggy Pop was on stage right before the Pistols, shirt ripped off, all abs and muscles and dancing (I couldn’t relate) and then it was time for the Sex Pistols and it was loud and crazy and too much fun, going right into the night. We were at the front, crushed against the barrier, barely able to move. I remember there was a woman next to me cheering and dancing, and behind her this lecherous bloke made many gross moves on her, and didn’t stop even when people called him out; I’m happy to say I elbowed him in the face as I was pogoing to ‘Seventeen’ and he sodded off. It was a crazy night. I went over the top of the crowd eventually, the crush at the front being a bit much, and then jumped up and down for the rest of the night in the middle of the Finsbury Park crowd. Rotten gave a massive fun performance, I remember him announcing “Fat, Forty and Back!” (I was Skinny and Twenty). They rattled off all the classics (they don’t actually have that many songs so it was basically their whole catalogue), in front of an audience that was probably larger than the total number of people they had ever played in front of, combined. Well, their largest gig ever. Not exactly how I grew up imagining Pistols gigs – in some sticky-floored ballroom jumping up and down on broken glass, or down at the 100 Club with cracked ribs and sweat and smoke (though there were those things), and not exactly Manchester Free Trade Hall, but I daresay a few bands were formed that night too. Andrea must have gotten home on her own, and Billy and I found his car on the other side of Finsbury Park and sped back to Burnt Oak. Wicked, we just saw the Pistols, no big deal. Not going to be going on about this for the next twenty years or so. It’s especially more fun telling people about that day now that I live in America, where people are more impressed, “oh yeah I saw Buzzcocks supporting the Pistols,” like it was in 1976 or something. It does go down as one of those things I’m glad I went to, and glad I went with Billy, and I’ll remember it all my life.

in the state of denmark street

Denmark St panorama sm

This is Denmark Street, just off of Charing Cross Road in Central London. I sketched it over a period of two and a half hours one Wednesday afternoon, having taken the morning off from sketching (I was up in the loft searching for my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books), and added the rest of the colour later on. Denmark Street is famous within British musical history as our very own ‘Tin Pan Alley’, home of music publishers and recording studios, and later of music stores. There are lots of guitar shops, as well as other instruments of course, and is also home to the famous 12 Bar Club. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, all are associated with this street in some way (the Pistols actually lived here for a bit). Not only music – the comic shop Forbidden Planet was founded at number 23, where that red awning is in the picture now. It’s around the corner on Shaftesbury Avenue now. This place is steeped with history and it’s a street I have always had a lot of love for, being a bit guitar-obsessed when I was younger (it took me years to actually pluck up the courage to enter one of those stores though, very intimidating to a shy teenager!). I actually bought my current acoustic guitar from Macari’s, though it was from their other branch, on Charing Cross Road, back in 1996.

Denmark St panorama sm L Denmark St panorama sm R

So when I heard that Denmark Street was under threat of demolition, all part of the Crossrail redevelopment that has completely destroyed the junction of Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, I knew I had to sketch it while it still looked like this. Many of these buildings are ‘listed’, historic buildings of importance. Whether they will be knocked down or just somehow modernised is not clear, what it will mean for the historic character of Tin Pan Alley is also unclear, will the music stores be forced out in favour of latte shops and corporate office space is also not clear, but let’s face it. If Denmark Street loses its character it will be yet another blow to London.
Sketching Denmark St, London

Here’s my sketchbook. I used the watercolour (“art-plus”) Moleskine, with a uni-ball signo um-151 brown-black pen. Oh, and here is a map showing where Denmark Street is.

Denmark St map sm

And finally, I thought you might like this. As you may know, I like drawing fire hydrants, mainly because I find them exotic and foreign, for we don’t have them in the UK. Well, actually we do, but they are underground, with metal coverings on the pavement. Here is one I sketched on Denmark Street. So there you have it!

Fire Hydrant in London

the 100th picnic day

picnic day 2014 smA couple of weeks ago, UC Davis celebrated its 100th annual Picnic Day. One hundred! Click on the images to see larger versions (or you could hold your face close to the screen, though I wouldn’t advise it). Picnic Day is a UC Davis institution, the largest university open house in the country, attracting thousands of visitors to such attractions as the Doxie Derby, Battle fo the Bands, the Chemistry Magic Show, and, er kittens. Yes, we waited for half an hour in line to see kittens, only to find out they were now cats (they were probably kittens when we started queuing). Four cats, just sitting there doing nothing, two of which were asleep. Yet massively popular. My six year old wanted to see nothing else. The first thing we watched however was the Parade, the annual march of bands, bikes, floats, the occasional political candidate, which was as fun as ever. We sat down outside Shields Library to watch it, when I started painting, but broke my water jar (as described in a previous episode). I added the rest of the colours at home.

picnic day 2014 battleofthebands sm

This second spread was sketched at the Battle of the Bands. I went home with my family, already tired after the excitement of the cats, and had a rest before heading back in to see the famous band battle. I’ve only seen it once, briefly, but I don’t really like crowds. I am getting better at sketching in large numbers now though, but nonetheless it was tricky. I stood at the top of the slope leading down to Lake Spafford, on the banks of which were gathered the bands themselves. Now these aren’t your guitar-hero indie-beard bands, oh no these are the colourful marching bands, and boy is this an event. The bands come from universities around California. The idea is that each band takes turns playing a song, and then by the end of the day (or night), the last band standing, the last one that has not exhausted all its known songs, is the winner (and I’m told it’s always the UC Davis Aggies). It is crazy, and chaotic, but it all works, and those musicians really keep it up for hours and hours. On the left there is a dancing tree from Stanford. I finally left during a long bit in the middle where all the bands came together in groups of the same instrument, and placed themselves around the crowd in a kind of promenade-theatre fashion, playing a continuous jam (I left after 45 minutes and it was still going on) in a variety of poses. Definitely a Davis event to be experienced at some point in your life.

And this was all. In nine years this is the most Picnic Day sketching I have ever done.

sketching to music

hafter birthday party sm(Click on the image for a bigger view) Saturday evening last week I was invited to a double-birthday party for a local musician, David Hafter, and his son Noah, also a musician. It was at a place called Third Space, on Olive Drive in Davis, and I sketched the above panorama because panoramas are what I’m sketching! But I also did a couple more; below left, a sketch of Noah  playing his set (I gave the sketch to him), and one of Neon Lights (bottom right), many of the members of whom also play in David Hafter’s band Wealth of Nations (above). Regular visitors may remember that I sketched this band before on a couple of occasions in the Fall. The music was very nice, and I always sketch more quickly when listening to music – it’s the rhythm I think! Anyway, it was a nice evening, and many thanks to David for the invite.

hafter party noahneon lights

wealth of nations

wealth of nations at E St plaza
A couple of weeks ago, I went downtown on a Saturday evening (nursing an injured leg, having pulled my groin playing football) and saw a local band called Wealth of Nations playing in the E Street Plaza. An excuse for some night-time sketching, and to listen to some good music. I had sketched the singer David Hafter before at the Farmer’s Market a couple of years ago, he has a great voice. I had happened across the band earlier in October while passing Armadillo Music and recognised his voice as I was passing by, so popped in to listen and to sketch (see below; the whole band were playing but the drummer was hidden).
wealth of nations at armadillo, davis
wealth of nations at E St plaza (with sticker)

frankie and the fabletones

frankie & the fabletones 100th gig
On Wednesday after work, which was nice and mild and not at all hot (I wish it would stay like this!), I went to Central Park in Davis for the Wednesday Farmer’s Market / Picnic in the Park. I was off to see Man of Steel that evening (very good movie; should perhaps have been called ‘Man of Who’s-Going-To-Clear-Up-All-This-Mess’). Before then however I wanted to see the local band Frankie & the Fabletones, who were performing their 100th gig. They played a selection of popular oldies (I really liked their version of “Leader of the Pack”) and even had a guest spot from the Mayor of Davis Joe Krovoza, who sang an Al Green song, “Take Me to the River”. One of the group’s lead singers is well-known and much-loved local artist Heidi Bekebrede (if you’ve spent any time in Davis you will have seen her ceramic work), who was also celebrating her birthday the next day. I sketched near the front, where little kids were dancing (not in the picture), along with the lady I sketched with the castanets. I didn’t have space to sketch the whole band, but there were at least a couple more members (some other time!). My wife and son came along for a while; he liked the music, drew a couple of race tracks in his sketchbook and then went off to the bouncy houses. This whole sketch took under an hour start to finish. I forgot my little water jar (again) but thankfully my wife had a little purse-mirror thing & some water, I didn’t want to use the waterbrush again. I always feel I have to sketch quickly when watching bands, as you never know how long they will actually be on (or in a certain position) but thankfully they did let us know. And I LOVE sketching to live music, it really helps the rhythm.

you read me like an open book

Friday was fun!
ArtAbout event at armadillo music

I exhibited some of my sketchbooks and prints at Armadillo Music in Davis as part of the 2nd Friday ArtAbout event. Having just come back from London, and being in the middle of a massive amount of work, I didn’t have much time to prepare for it but decided that what I really wanted was to show people the sketchbooks, and have a few Davis-centric sketches blown up into prints. As always with me, deciding which to show took forever, but I settled on a few select images, and chose Moleskines #4, #5 and #7 (the current one), along with the Davis accordion moleskine, the fire hydrants sketchbook and the ‘How To Save the World’ sketchbook as well.

exhibiting my sketchbooks

The event was highlighted by an hour of live music from the incredible Rita Hosking and her band. Rita is a Davis-based country-folk singer-songwriter, who recently won best country album at the independent music awards, and it wasn’t hard to see why – her music was utterly beautiful, reminded me of why I like country music, and after what had been an incredibly busy and stressful week, standing there sketching and listening to that music made me feel totally relaxed. I’m honoured to have been on the same bill.

sketching Rita Hosking

My artist reception was straight afterwards. A lot of people came for that, a surprising amount, many of whom I knew, plus some who had seen me on Urban Sketchers, plus some who were passing by. I had leaflets ready talking about ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ (sketchcrawl on Saturday!!) and Urban Sketchers, plus many of my new Moo cards (some of them are of Pele). I talked, and talked, in fact donkeys in Davis no longer have hind legs, I talked so much. I hope some of it made sense. It was great though, to enthuse about urban sketching and micron pens and what not. I enjoyed showing kids my waterbrush and letting people watch me sketch. I met some great people, and hopefully got a few people interested in drawing Davis (again, sketchcrawl on Saturday folks!).

artabout jan 14

Many thanks to Melanie at Downtown Davis Art About and to Josh and co at Armadillo Music for arranging this event. And to my wonderful wife Angela for your support (and for taking these photos), and my son Luke for saying “daddy! that’s what you drawed!” every time we pass a fire hydrant. And thanks to everyone who came along, I really appreciate it. Cheers!

four davis sketchesartabout jan 14