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Back Page: John Byrne

Artist John Byrne talks music

Can I have My Money Back, Gerry Rafferty, Transatlantic Records, 1971, cover design by John Byrne

Can I have My Money Back, Gerry Rafferty, Transatlantic Records, 1971, cover design by John Byrne

On the road

 
I mostly listen to music in the car, with Radio 3 on, so I don’t know what it is, because I’m not very up on classical music. But I just hear it all and take it all in. I’ve also been listening to the Beautiful South’s version of ‘You’re the One That I Want’. I listen to it quite loudly in the car as I drive along with the windows down. I just love it. It’s a slower version than the Grease version with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It’s off the Gold Diggers LP, the most recent one.
 
Current sounds
 
I bought a copy of Bitch’s Brew by Miles Davis, but haven’t listened to it yet. I’m curious about him because he didn’t conform at all. And Fela Kuti, He’s just died. Had about 200 kids. I like Toumani Diabate and Ali Farka Toure from Mali. I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Last Thoughts of Woody Guthrie’ which is a spoken word piece that he wrote a wee while ago. I got a copy of it from Seamus McGarvey, the cinematographer. He made me a compilation CD and this Bob Dylan piece is absolutely spellbinding. 

Records or CDs

I get records—I’ve hundreds and hundreds of them. I just got a wonderful one from (Glasgow artist) Lucy Mackenzie. She’s got a record label now. The record is absolutely wonderful. It’s got a gatefold sleeve and you open it up and there’s a wee sort of pop-up room. Fantastic! She’s a complete genius that girl. She really is.
 
First record

It was Elvis, and it was the EP from Love Me Tender. I always remember having it under my arm because we didn’t have a record player.


Work


I don’t listen to anything when I’m writing. Absolute dead silence, although I usually listen to Radio 4 (when painting). I can listen to plays and talks and everything and get on with it at the same time.


Downloading 


I never ever have. I’ve not used the internet for anything at all. I’m a total Luddite. But the children have got an i-Pod.


Posters 


There was a big poster from a painting I did of the archetypal black guitar player. Everybody thought it was Hendrix, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t BB King either, but funnily enough I bumped into BB King on the Sunset Strip in 1972 and he’d mistaken me for Frank Zappa because it was very dark. He came up to me and said, ‘Hi man. I haven’t seen you in ages.’And Frank Zappa was quite short, much shorter than I am. We walked into Schwab’s Drugstore and Al Cooper (Alice Cooper) was sitting at the bar and said to me, ‘Hi man. I haven’t seen you for ages. What you up to?’ And to Al Cooper I said quietly, ‘I don’t think I’m who you think I am.’ And he was looking slightly bewildered. I was absolutely bowled over to meet BB King. He’s a wonderful guitar player. All his guitars are called Lucille.


Record sleeves 


I did the new Humblebums, which was Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty. Years and years ago. And then I did all of Gerry’s sleeves. I love designing sleeves. You know if the record’s successful it’s going to be in hundreds of thousands of homes. So it’s a lovely way to disseminate your work. CDs are smaller, but you still get some good covers.


Life changing 


Certainly ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, when I first heard it. It was just so fantastically different—you’d never heard anything like it in your life. I know that’s difficult to imagine, but it was very different before Elvis came along. Changed the world. Would I rate him the King? Without a doubt, aye.


John Byrne was interviewed by art writer Cedar Lewisohn


John Byrne first exhibited under the pseudonym Patrick, had his first solo show in London, 1968 and went on to exhibit around the world. At the end of 2004, his paintings were a highlight of the Royal Scottish Academy’s new academicians show. Concurrently, a solo show was mounted at Edinburgh’s Bourne Fine Art. Byrne is also well known as a writer for television and stage. His achievements include BBC TV’s Tutti Frutti 1987 and The Slab Boys Trilogy 1978


Featured as ARCHIVE SPOTLIGHT #6 as part of Suzanne van der Lingen & Claire Walsh's Footnoting the Archive project, 2016