Actually, perhaps designing my first album sleeve may be a little premature in terms of how my design experience developed into an extreme sport. We need to go a little further back …
After living in the Himalayas for 2 years (that’s a whole other story) I arrived in London in the glorious summer of 1976 with two dozen paintings I’d carried back overland from India. Seriously culture-shocked and barefoot still, I moved in with friends who lived on the borders of Chelsea and Fulham. It was, and still is, a community I love.
Then it was full of drug dealers and gangsters, terraced houses, children playing in the streets and a crew of local characters with more stories to tell than the Ancient Greeks. It’s still pretty much the same though it’s probably the kids in the street selling drugs, some of the terraced houses are inhabited by a more sophisticated breed of gangster and the characters are even more extreme, though often too ‘out of it’ to tell their stories.
I noticed a couple of weeks after I’d moved into the Lots Road area and made friends with the gangsters (obviously, you would wouldn’t you?) that a new club was opening inside what is still The Furniture Cave on Kings road. (The club is now the appallingly suburban Crazy Larry’s.)
There was a sign outside the entrance to the club which said ‘COUNTRY COUSIN, Supper Club, Restaurant and Gallery’. I nipped home to collect a few paintings. ‘Give it a go’ I thought. I met the owner – a wonderful and (I realised later) very well-connected restauranteur called Christopher Hunter. He’s probably the only true anarchist I’ve ever met. He did whatever he liked (you really don’t want to know) and his friends who filled the club were the likes of Danny La Rue, Freddie Mercury and Shirley Bassey. ‘Darling’ he said ‘I love your paintings. I need an exhibition when we open. The walls are yours’.
To give you an idea of why I loved Christopher so much is easily explained through one incident. I arrived at the club one morning and Christopher was sitting alone in an ocean of empty tables, his head buried in his hands. ‘Why Chris, what on Earth’s the matter?’ I said. ‘Dear boy,’ he said, taking both my hands in his, ‘some awful awful news. My bank account’s in credit. I’m spending my own money!’ I looked at him and he was genuinely devastated. ‘Come on,’ he said ‘we’re going out to buy a red convertible Mercedes sports car.’ And we did.
What is this to do with design you might well ask. As the stories keep coming, you’ll see, you’ll see.
Being the place it was, Country Cousin needed staff who could deal with the arrogant rich, could flatter the famous, humour the terminally drunk and, at all times, be themselves. They were an amazingly flamboyant and intelligent bunch – confident, beautiful and irrepressibly energetic. They enjoyed themselves hugely and their good humour was infectious. That was Christopher’s skill. No matter how potentially successful his ventures might be, he knew he needed to oil the machine with talented individuals as important as his personal vision of The Great Life.
I practically lived at CC for nearly two years and quite early on Chris asked me if I would join the Country Cousin Family as it’s resident designer. ‘Chris,’ I said, ‘I have no experience at all in design. I wouldn’t know how to start’. He laughed at me. ‘Darling, darling,’ he said, ‘If you really want to do it, there are people out there who will show you how. Learn, dear boy, learn.’
Where next? Probably meeting the astonishing diva – Holly Woodlawn…
5th September 2009. Serendipity.
As I sat writing this blog at a Fulham riverside pub, a white-haired older gentleman approached me. He wore a wide-lapelled very smart pin-striped suit, a pink silk tie and the same colour handkerchief blossoming out of his top pocket. ‘What are you writing?’ he said. ‘About Chelsea and Fulham in the 70’s’ I said. He sat down and told me about his past, living in the Fulham area. He was 78. ‘My friends used to call me Al Capone’ he said with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Now because of the alcohol I consume – they call me Alka Seltzer’.