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07.05.24 / 02 / harry baker at the royal albert hall

So, the Poets' Revival at the Royal Albert Hall. The cream of the current generation of poets, not least Kae Tempest. And also Harry Baker.

Tempest a force of nature in performance as usual. They were incendiary a couple of years ago on the Greenbelt mainstage, and when the crowd roared for an encore they came out again and said:

"I don't do encores because I think they are manipulative. But I didn't want you to go away disappointed, so I came out to say thankyou."

And with that they had our hearts.

But Tempest was located mid-show. Harry closed it, after 500 years of hard-hitting Black history from George the Poet. So Harry had to lift the audience, but also honour the weight of all those who had spoken before. And he did. He landed his jokes and his serious moments. He had the audience from the start, he owned the room (what a room). I was deeply moved.

Of course he's a seasoned performer now, but we had worried about the venue and the occasion getting to him. No need. We need never worry about Harry and an audience again. Vegas beckons...

Royal Albert Hall, the Poets RevivalRoyal Albert Hall, Haarry Baker at the Poets RevivalRoyal Albert Hall, Haarry Baker at the Poets RevivalRoyal Albert Hall, Haarry Baker at the Poets RevivalRoyal Albert Hall, Haarry Baker at the Poets Revival

Above: The stage was in the round; Harry on it; L-R Kae Tempest, Toby Campion, Sophia Thakur, Lionheart, Momtaza Mehri, Theresa Lola, Suli Breaks, Harry Baker, George the Poet; the happy Baker family.


07.05.24 / 01 / enzo mari

I didn’t have high hopes for the Enzo Mari exhibition at the Design Museum, but it turns out to be very thought-provoking. Mari was an Italian designer who had a fairly typical career trajectory for his generation - start in the 1950s as an artist, become a product designer, become a theoretician and teacher. But Mari was a committed Marxist and worked with a sharper critique and social conscience than most of his contemporaries.

His art phase is intriguing - programmatic, which is to say that the art is algorithmic and could be produced by a computer, except such was not accessible to him at the time. It’s the visual equivalent of early electronic music.

His books, toys and pictures for children, often developed with his first wife Iela, are his most familiar works. His ‘egg and chicken’ book in which a chicken makes an egg, and the egg makes a chicken etc, was rejected by a publisher as pornographic because it implied that chickens mated, even though Mari had intentionally omitted that part!

His furniture designs of the 60s tried to be basic and simple, for ordinary people, in contrast to the ’supersensualism’ of his Italian contemporaries. This often didn’t work out in commercial terms - he found that people preferred ‘aspirational’ designs to ‘functional’ ones.

The Glifo modular bookcase had an integral joint system along the edges of the panels, requiring no additional pieces or tools for self-assembly. However, the joints collected dirt that was almost uncleanable. There was also the problem of yellowing plastic which afflicts all the plastic items of this era. Items that could last indefinitely were soon thrown out as they became unsightly. They are all still out there somewhere.

The sad thing is that the designers meant well. They were trying to create low-cost long-life items for everyone, all the ordinary people who hadn’t had access to stylish and durable goods before, and injection plastics seemed a good way to do it. And then it went yellow, or surfaces became marked and dirty in ways that couldn’t be cleaned or repaired.

In a sense, Autoprogettazione (‘Self-design’) was the critical response to these problems. Autoprogettazione was a set of mail-order instructions for making your own furniture using simple carpentry techniques. No furniture was sold, not even as self-assembly kits. You had to buy your own materials and Do It Yourself.

Mari’s primary intention was to reduce alienation, in the Marxist sense, by changing people’s relationships to their goods. People have a different relationship to things they have made themselves. They become artisans rather than consumers. The ‘rustic’ aesthetic, though appealing, was not at all the point. One could after all paint or modify the furniture - it’s up to you, you have become a person who can make things!

Autoprogettazione enabled Mari to escape the trap of the anti-design movement (1968 onwards, Sottsass, Colombo, Mendini et al). The intention of anti-design was to critique or reject consumerism, but as a movement of Italian designers it always resulted in yet more chic consumer objects - it ended up as Memphis. Capitalism could not be critiqued by the production of objects, however provocative - it knows how to sell rebellion back to you.

Mari could assume in 1973 that ordinary people knew simple carpentry (sawing, drilling, screwing, nailing) and had some space to do it. At this time my father was making shelves and bookcases, my generation had woodwork lessons at school, and there were many articles in books and magazines showing how to make furniture. I doubt that this general knowledge still exists, in the age of Ikea. This really is alienation, when the things you could make are sold to you as consumer objects, so that you can no longer imagine making them or have the skills to do so, but can only buy what you are offered.

Some of the later stuff in the exhibition steps into alt.worship territory. People wonder where we get our ideas… or rather, it’s reinforcement and techniques.

Enzo Mari, 16 animals 1959Enzo Mari, The Fable Game 1965Enzo Mari, Chair P 1974Enzo Mari, Autoprogettazione 1974Enzo Mari, Zen GardenEnzo Mari, kneelerEnzo Mari, paperweights 2010Enzo Mari, interviewEnzo Mari, interview

15.04.24 / 02 / goodbye landline

I just ended my landline contract. It was a waste of money. Nobody uses it any more (except for nuisance callers). But ending it feels scary. This is incomprehensible to younger people. A landline was a necessity and a mobile was an expensive unreliable luxury. Now they cost the same, but the mobile does far, far more for the money. The landline only does one thing, and that use has evaporated.

I regret buying a new landline handset a year ago, for the sake of my mother, with an answering machine - another quaintness (if only it had an actual tape cassette!). But I'd rather she phoned my mobile so I could take it immediately. You could see the way things were going by the fundamentally outdated design of the handsets - my 'new' one works like a mobile phone of the 00s, fixed keypad, tiny screen. I struggle with it after 15 years of touchscreens. The market for landline sets is now the elderly, and another decade will see the end of it.

So this is another moment when a technology that seemed eternal vanishes from my life, like TVs or tape recorders. The funny thing is the alteration to my sense of home. Home was where the phone was, tethered to a socket. You had to have a fixed address to house it, so you could be contacted.


15.04.24 / 01 / coffee at 4pm

I wish coffee shops weren't in the habit of closing at 4pm, or even 5. For me, late afternoon is coffee time. I've done whatever I'm doing in the morning and afternoon, and it's time for a break. Time to get out of the office or home for a while, time to take stock, to consider what to do next. Not yet the close of day, but the break before the one last thing that will run to 7 or 8pm. The coffee gets me through my circadian late-afternoon low point.

But good, independent coffee shops, most of them, see their role as serving the morning rush and lunchtime. The chains stay open later - not always much later. It's been worse since the pandemic, when many shops reopened with reduced hours and have got comfortable with that. There are a couple with longer hours, but my choice is restricted. I go searching in different streets, and they have all just closed.

Surely I'm not the only person working this kind of rhythm? It feels quite natural to me, given the way our working hours extend into early evening in London. A lot of people cling to the desperate hope that they'll go home on time if they can just power through without a break. I've tried that, but it's just a recipe for total exhaustion by the time you actually get home.


10.04.24 / 02 / clearing the bicycle racks

They’ve cleared the bicycle racks outside my flat again. They being the estate management I suppose. The sudden void is shocking. There are two left.

In a block of flats people buy used bicycles and then don’t use them. The bike is locked to the racks, rusting. The owners move and abandon the bike, still locked. They get bikes for their children, who break them or tire of them. These are left on the grass or path. Some people hoard bikes, two or three chained together, none used or maintained. When the management tie notices of removal to them these are promptly torn off but the bikes still don’t move or get looked after. Eventually as yesterday the management cut the whole lot off and remove them. There was a beautiful 1980s Peugeot, white saddle and trim, silver and stripes. The hoarder let it rust at the bottom of his hoard. I would have loved to have had it, when it was in good condition. What a waste.

I wonder if the ubiquity of hire bikes is affecting the hoarding. They get dumped around but they also get ridden away again.


10.04.24 / 01 / Grace movies 2007-09

Over Easter I updated the Grace services archive with photos for 2007, 2008 and the first service of 2009. This period also includes movies of the services, starting with Nine in December 2007 and ending with Journeying in January 2009.

The first movies - Nine, Elijah - are low resolution, probably shot on my new Sony Eriksson Cybershot phone which had a good-for-the-time camera in the back. It was the first phone camera I had that was worth using, even so it struggled with the low light of Grace services. The quality improved considerably for Lunch not included, Wounded in all the right places, and Contamination - I was now using a real camera.

Biggest regret - no footage of Ed smashing the piñata in Clean. Not even a still photo from anybody! I found myself in the balcony lowering the piñata with Adam, and maybe I left my camera below, but there are no photos from me for the rest of the service so I must have forgotten to bring it.


25.03.24 / 01 / a metaphorical landscape

In recent years there have been a number of furniture ranges aimed at the ‘agile working’ market. Draggable, pushable, modular. Writable screens that you can tuck under your arm and put up on easels. Desks with wheels. Carts and screens with wheels. Everything with wheels. It’s all good, functionally speaking. Assemble it to suit your work-group needs. Drag it somewhere else tomorrow.

But the design language of these ranges tends to be utilitarian. Just doing the job. Tubes and castors and laminate and boxes. I don’t find much pleasure, not even the pleasure of the truly utilitarian, the industrial or artisanal.

I want a metaphorical language. Something that makes a place, that speaks to the imagination and the emotions. I’ve only been thinking about this recently in explicit terms, but looking back all my stuff has worked like this. I’ve always been influenced by Ettore Sottsass and Archizoom, the speculative environments of Italian anti-design designers around 1970. Chairs as grass or baseball mitts, beds as tombs, offices as deserts or jungles.

Archizoom, No Stop City 1971Ettore Sottsass, Grey furniture 1970Archizoom, Dream Beds 1967Ettore Sottsass, 'If I were rich I would confront all my complexes' 1976

Above, Archizoom 'No-Stop City' 1971, Ettore Sottsass 'Grey furniture' 1970, Archizoom 'Dream Beds' 1967, Ettore Sottsass 'If I were rich I would confront all my complexes' 1976.

We live by narratives. The narrative of 00s furniture was, we are corporate, global, technological. Once this was refreshing! An escape from the provincial and small. The narrative of the 10s was, we are hipsters in a startup. This was more fun, but it was mostly a lie. Both these narratives were totalitarian. Everyone has to play.

I don’t know if a poetic approach is any free-er, but can it allow for more ways of being? A diversity, to use the currently fashionable term? I’m not sure how much organisations like this.


24.03.24 / 01 / goodbye monotype

Since 2015 I've had a subscription to Monotype via fonts.com, primarily to enable webfonts on my sites. Grace is of course Helvetica, and smallfire.org and smallritual.org were Neue Haas Unica which is an 'improved' Helvetica - a font geek font for those who can tell the difference. I hoped that webfonts would make a slightly more professional experience and deal with some of the crudity of Windows font rendering.

But Monotype have been closing down fonts.com and transferring all accounts to the main Monotype site myfonts.com. At least that's what they said they were doing, so I assumed a seamless transfer. I suddenly got an email last Monday telling me that my subscription expired that day and I needed to sign up to a new plan to continue. At four times the previous cost.

Investigating online I found angry people on Reddit whose clients were struggling with massive price increases or they lose their brand font libraries. Turns out Monotype was bought by private equity who are screwing the customers and fattening it up for sale.

It was always quixotic of me to subscribe to get a better class of Helvetica - I had periodically questioned why, but it was affordable. No longer. So I didn't renew.

All my sites have reverted to basic Helvetica/Arial, with a few small adjustments. Even I can hardly tell the difference on the Grace site. smallfire.org lost the heavy and light font weights, but it's hard to tell what's changed unless you directly compare.

smallritual.org looked bad. Turned out the nice generous highlighter effect was a function of the webfont, somehow. In basic fonts the background colour shrank to the actual text and ugly gaps appeared. I almost gave up on the idea, but then tried adding a thick matching border to the link style - it worked. But I'm sore about losing Unica.

This is why every firm that rebrands now commissions its own fonts. It's cheaper to pay someone to create a font than pay exorbitant license fees indefinitely. Maybe we should commission a Grace font. Trouble is it would have to be similar to Helvetica ;-), and there have been so many new fonts in that space in recent years that I can't imagine how they create enough differences to avoid copyright issues.


12.03.24 / 01 / hearing loss

I was finding it hard to hear what Jonny and Mike were saying to me in the Jazz Cafe, even though they were next to me. This had been coming for a while, so I booked a hearing test.

audiogram left ear

The left ear - the good ear - is losing the top end due to age. If one more data point drops I will need a hearing aid. It’s actually better than I thought - just that losing the high frequencies reduces clarity of speech.

audiogram right ear

The right ear was damaged by a badly programmed drum machine at an all-nighter in Brixton Academy in 1991 - The Shamen headlined I think, but the drum machine belonged to Meat Beat Manifesto. The hi-hat was way too loud and penetrating. I felt it at the time, but my hearing collapsed a couple of days later at a church pantomime rehearsal. It was ‘Mother Goose’, and the woman playing the goose gave a loud and piercing squawk, again and again - my ear was agonisingly painful and I had to leave and seek medical help. It took five years to recover to the point of being able to be somewhere with amplified music, and then only with an earplug in my right ear.

To this day I carry earplugs with me everywhere, in case of a loud environment. I often put the other one in to protect my left ear - because once the damage is done it’s too late. The earplugs reduce the volume, but more they soak up the risky high frequencies. Many venue sound systems are amazingly harsh - I feel that I get a better experience with earplugs. I know that the sound system is really well balanced when I can take both earplugs out - no stray high frequencies.

I had no record of the early 90s hearing tests, so was curious to see what it looked like. Overall there’s less hearing loss than I imagined, but there is what they call a ‘notch’ at 2K - a big one. The hi-hat took the nerve cells out, WHAP! I didn’t want a hearing aid at this time, I’ve lived with it for 30 years. When the good ear needs a hearing aid I will try both.

Tinnitus - of course in the right ear, but it’s diminished over time (or my brain tunes it out). At first I wondered how I could cope. I remember resting my head against a gurgling fridge to get relief. Sadly the left ear now has tinnitus too. I know when a room is really silent because I hear piercing whines.

I had forewarning of all this. My hearing had been noticeably reduced by listening to acid house all day on a Walkman 1988-90, apart from clubbing. I had no regrets. My feeling is, your body will wear out anyway, so try to get the damage in cool ways (note that I ascribe the hearing loss to a drum machine not a church panto goose). Damage as a memento of doing something interesting.


11.03.24 / 01 / UVA at 180 Studios

I saw the UVA exhibition at 180 Studios in December, but they offered a ticket upgrade to membership at half-price so I took it. The other day I went back 'for free' to get a couple more movies. My favourite is Musica Universalis, a simple but clever idea.

Above, Musica Universalis, the red sequence.

Above, Musica Universalis, the blue sequence. A still of this did well on Flickr Explore.

Above, Edge of Chaos.

Above, Our Time.

Above, Chromatic.


17.02.24 / 01 / 1968

Saw the Barbara Kruger exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. I've been a fan for years but she seldom shows here so this was a must. Free but I had to queue for half an hour. Sardonic and amusing, cat videos and Donald Trump, the current era has plenty for her to work her knife on.

Barbara Kruger exhibition I need therefore I shopBarbara Kruger exhibition I love therefore I needBarbara Kruger exhibition I am therefore I hateBarbara Kruger exhibition I sext therefore I amBarbara Kruger exhibition I die therefore I wasBarbara Kruger exhibition This is about you. I mean me. I mean you.Barbara Kruger exhibition Our people are better than your people

There were several examples of this editing take-down - I must go back and film the US pledge of allegiance one.

The merchandise is good - essentially wearable/portable Krugers, and a Kruger in any material or size is actually a Kruger - but one feels slightly guilty about buying it. Her work critiques its own selling.

Not far away a pro-Palestine demonstration was happening. Having a strong sympathy I went to take a look. It seemed good-natured and heartbreaking. A family affair.

Free Palestine demonstration

Something about the afternoon felt like 1968 - people with long hair, round glasses, flared trousers, ethnic materials, the political art and loud demonstration. It would have been nice to go to Notting Hill afterwards and sit on a cushion next to Jimi Hendrix, but you can't always get what you want.


15.02.24 / 01 / structural modelling

The structural options presentation for the Hong Kong Cultural Centre roof, mentioned below, just turned up in a box of stuff. Here are some of the options - the first is closest to the final building. The little chains, although crude, give a sufficiently accurate idea of the structural shape to enable fundamental choices to be made.

I also did a perspective of the foyer. In those days you had to set the perspective up by hand on paper and then ink it - I can hardly conceive of the labour now.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre roof structure model 1981Hong Kong Cultural Centre roof structure model 1981Hong Kong Cultural Centre roof structure model 1981Hong Kong Cultural Centre foyer perspective 1981

The Centre is rather different internally as built in the late 80s, but still seems to have a cable net roof with a skylight along the axis.


28.01.24 / 01 / lightweight structures

Digging through old slides from my student days, I found this one.

Institute of Lightweight Structures, Stuttgart, 1979

We were architecture and engineering students from the University of Bath. The School of Architecture and Building Engineering was effectively run at the time by radical engineering firm Buro Happold, who were collaborating with Frei Otto and the Institute of Lightweight Structures (IL) at the University of Stuttgart. So when we went on a trip to southern Germany in 1979, the key visits were to IL and the Munich Olympic Park.

Here we are at IL watching a demonstration of surface modelling. In those days it was necessary to use physical modelling techniques to create and analyse membrane structures. The rig is probably scanning a model into a computer for structural analysis. I can't see what the model is made of - which means it could well be a soap film. Given a set of supports and edges, a soap film will create a minimum surface between them in pure tension.

Later on we did similar things at Bath University, but the models were usually made from women's tights, which are also pure tension surfaces. The computer (there was only one) was looked at askance by some of the older tutors, as leading the students astray. One architecture student who laboured to create his degree project in the computer was failed, in part for the wireframe print-out drawings. He went to America for no doubt a brilliant career.

I've always been grateful to have been taught by Buro Happold. At the time I don't think I realised what I was being given. I worked for them for a month one summer as an intern, but I learned so much just by being in the room. I modelled structural options for the Hong Kong Cultural Centre roof, which is a cable net, and did perspectives of the foyer. A casual question led to a dissertation analysing the Georgian houses of Bath as models for a climate-controlled city in the Arctic.

In general, I learned seat-of-the-pants structural engineering - how minimal can it be, and not to be afraid of deflection (it's just becoming a more natural shape for the forces in it).


25.01.24 / 01 / more old website designs

So the update of the Grace website was a good moment to put shots of the 2015 version in the Grafix section here. It was my first responsive design, and I assumed that it would contain only text and single images, hence the narrow format. Also a preliminary version with solid-colour pages - I've always wanted to do that but never found the right place. Coloured pages are great in books or magazines, even bright saturated colours, but on screen the colour is illuminated so becomes wearing. Red paper and a red screen are different experiences.

Old iterations of alternativeworship.org and smallfire.org also added. alternativeworship.org was highly consistent over the years, and I wouldn't change the look and feel much now from the final version. The fact that I was actually paid to develop it - by Dawn Ministries in a hook-up arranged by Andrew Jones - made a real difference to the quality of the result, a lesson I haven't forgotten.

Whereas smallfire.org started in 2000 as a ludicrously garish essay in 1970s Jubilee Line station colours - brown, orange, royal blue, lime green, yellow - and a horizontal scrolling format taken from Evan Hecox's first site, quite a novelty at the time. The menus and buttons were all built in Flash, put together in frames, so all that remains of the early versions is unplayable pieces. Probably just as well. Hecox's site is also lost. The horizontally scrolling photos still continue in all my sites. To me it's the best way to read them, like a comic strip.

The later iterations of smallfire.org had learned something about quality and consistency from alternativeworship.org - the yellow/red/grey colours still run through. I brought back the tealight 'flame' from 2000 for the current site logo, though it doesn't 'twinkle' like the Flash version!


11.01.24 / 01 / keeping the suspended ceiling

In the 00s businesses wanted to look global and corporate. They were escaping from 80s or even 70s offices full of dark veneers and heavy colours. They wanted a neutral, dematerialised look - white, silver, grey, glass, gloss - to express their new dematerialised technological world. And they wanted it to look the same everywhere on the planet. Ten years later they were saying, rip it out! Fill it with hipster junk! Make it look like an old warehouse!

The warehouse aesthetic arose naturally from being a startup in an old industrial building in a poor part of town without much money to do up the surroundings. That accidental aesthetic became a shorthand for organisational and technological change, and a shortcut to behavioural change - let’s all make like a software startup.

Which is OK if you are in a 19th century industrial building, but crazy if you are in a 21st century skyscraper. The surroundings you have inherited are white metal ceilings with luminaires and grilles, drywall partitions, flush glazed office fronts, carpeted raised access floors.

So we spent the last ten years ripping out perfectly good suspended ceilings to create the fashionable exposed services look, and sticking fibreglass fake brickwork onto drywall partitions. It’s not honest and it’s not sustainable. For me, the next frontier is, how do we achieve the cultural and behavioural changes, within the glossy 00s fitout? What exactly do we need to change?

The metal suspended ceiling is perhaps the central issue. It does a lot of good things. It has a major role in modulating the acoustics of the space. It carries all the necessary services - lighting, grilles, fire alarms, sensors, etc. It hides functional but unpretty ducts and wires. But it also imposes a technical and uniform feel - the antithesis of domestic. Can we accept that we are in a modern office, and not in a home, a hotel or a warehouse? Colour change seems like an idea, but it’s vulnerable to fashion (which raises a secondary issue, of how fast fashion should change, and what should remain outside of fashion). Personally, I find black and bronze have continued to look good as ceiling colours over a very long time. What else? Grey requires caution - light grey can look like white, badly lit.

Colours and finishes: Twenty years ago it was a point of pride to be consistent, even uniform. Death by brand standards. Now every room is different to the next and the finishes schedule runs to 100 items. This too is ripe for change. I’ve been wanting to calm things down for six or seven years at least.

Key words:

  • Calm
  • Adult
  • Hospitable
  • Warm
  • Professional (What is that? A kind of self discipline?)
  • Inclusive
  • Classic? The 00s thing aspired to neutrality and longevity - it was often very high quality - but classic went out of fashion. Sustainability means honouring that intention.

Our culture loves visible change. It shows we’re alive and growing. So we change things just to make a point. It has to become a point of pride not to change certain things - to stay the same, to keep things for the long term.


10.01.24 / 01 / archivist

When I go to pioneer mission events or similar I never know how to describe myself in that context, in order to explain what I’m doing there. I ask Jonny what I should say, I want him to define me, but he doesn’t.

Sometimes I am called an archivist, but I have a discomfort with that. It implies a purely historical role, packing stuff safely away to be forgotten and rediscovered centuries hence*. When I called smallfire.org an archive I didn’t know that I was branding myself! It was an odd choice of word at the time but I couldn’t think of another way of describing it.

And now I look after the Grace web archive. But if it were just an archive it could simply be a collection of files and folders on a drive or download somewhere, for Grace’s internal use. I’m a preserver of things that I think have artistic or historical merit, but also by instinct a publicist and a polemicist. The Grace archive is a publication (and the same is true of smallfire.org) to the world at large - look what we did, you can use it or be inspired by it, you can do it too - it’s intended to generate action in the near future. There isn’t a lot of difference between the Grace archive and a blog, really - i just need to make more of it on the front page newsfeed.

My motivations are always from architecture and punk - publish what you think and do to pursue a line of argument in public, to generate change. The archive is missional and provocative.

It’s also a classic ‘donut’ situation - all this amazing stuff for global consumption, from a small bunch of people who can hardly keep it together.

* Sue Donnelly who is a professional archivist is upset at my characterisation of the archive, but for me this is the conventional image. tp bennett had an archive and an archivist for business reasons, but the experience was one of disappearance, projects vanishing into boxes or backup tapes stored remotely, with no interface and difficult to access. It used to take several days to get an archived project back, on one occasion several weeks when the software to read the tape malfunctioned. When I left in 2021 the recent archive was about to become instant-access, but for a century-old firm much would never be reformatted.


09.01.24 / 01 / grace site update

For several years now I’ve had a Grace photos site on my to-do list. Yes there’s stuff on Flickr and smallfire.org, but I have more material than can sensibly be put in those places.

The 30th birthday service in November generated a stream of Whatsapp photos that had to be integrated into the archive page. In doing so I realised I had the solution for the rest - add the photos to the bottom of the archive service pages. This gives a place for the less good photos, the minor services, the ones that aren’t the hero images chosen for publicity but are still a record of an event.

So far I’ve done the exercise up to the end of 2005 - only another 18 years of services to go! smallfire.org is a massive help here - photos and html already formatted. To incorporate the photos I’ve given the Grace website its first major reformat since 2015. It was my first responsive design so I’ve developed better ways of doing things since then. I need to update and maybe rethink the menu system, never a fun task since it means changing every single page. This is also about bringing material in off other platforms, videos also. Flickr, Vimeo etc were a great solution in the late 00s but now hosting comes with huge storage and HTML5 handles self-hosted videos well at last.

Before the Drupal website of 2006, we had no archive as such. Some material from earlier events was added after 2006 but it was understandably patchy. While adding photos I’ve disinterred quite a bit of missing material from old emails, and even bits of 1990s paper - several entire services have been found. Sometimes there are photos but little or no material to explain them - maybe they will jog some memories. Putting the photos together with the archive material allows for a fuller reconstruction of what happened.

The photos begin in May 1998 when I started to take them - if anyone took some earlier I don’t have them. There is a marked increase in the number of photos from November 2003 when I switched from film to digital. This exercise shows up what I didn’t photograph - in the days of film I was being economical - which of course I now regret (not sufficiently heeding the Larry Clark advice, “Photograph everything... Time goes by quicker than you think, take the pictures now.”). Even with digital I sometimes didn’t bother - I was looking for striking images to publish rather than a mere record of what might be a visually low-key service. The new archive format removes that concern - just snap away for the record. Sometimes good-looking services didn’t result in good photos - I didn’t have the right frame of mind, couldn’t find the shots.

I’ve also added the flyers to the earlier service pages. From 2005 there were digital flyers for individual events, but before that there were generally just the quarterly or annual printed flyers. They were nice so it’s good to have a place for them. Sometimes they're the only image or source of information! The last printed one was for 2009-10, by which point we’d discovered Moo cards.


30.11.23 / 01 / another city

'Another City' was a proposed series of alt worship events in 1999 with all the major London groups taking part. I became the coordinator, which was herding cats. The series didn't happen because groups couldn't commit to venues and events in time, except for Abundant's NYE 1998 party. However, Epicentre and Live On Planet Earth managed to persuade St. Paul's Cathedral to host a labyrinth, after Another City itself had been cancelled.

So here are the flyers and the website. The flyers never got published because of the lack of commitment to dates - the website could at least be changed. It was my first site, made in Macromedia Freehand and exported using Insta.HTML which became Dreamweaver a few years later. It rendered the pages as a grid of small image tiles in an html table, which was effectively impossible to amend directly. After help from Adam I learned html to manage the bugs. I quickly realised that the fundamental nature of html was coloured rectangles, whatever the graphics might appear to be doing - this was the era of swirly designs that were betrayed whenever a tile or two failed to download. So I decided that I would work with the actual structure of html and make design out of that, and as simply as possible to achieve the desired effect - a modernist approach.

The Another City site lasted the whole of 1999 and then got canned, but the proposed photo section became smallfire.org in 2000.


29.11.23 / 03 / blue and green not fit to be seen

That reminds me of the blue and green clothes I wore in the early 70s. "Blue and green not fit to be seen" chorussed grandparents from somewhere in the 1930s. Dark blue shirt with light blue paisley kipper tie (they all were then). Lime green paisley shirt with matching (therefore invisible) tie. Elephant collars, slim fit. Blue denim jacket with green corduroy flares, or vice versa.

In those days there were no mass-market youth fashion retailers in the UK. Swinging London had shaken things up but nobody quite knew how to scale it yet. There was C&A, department stores, mail-order catalogues, and 'gentlemen's outfitters' (or 'lady's'). Shirts came in boxes, often with coordinated ties. Even for teenagers, but the styles and patterns were from Carnaby Street five years late, 1967 in 1972. All this went in the late 70s with the arrival of Top Shop/Man and Chelsea Girl/Man, scaling up the boutique model to a national retail chain and making it work.

None of this stuff was branded. What mattered then was the look, not who made it or how much it cost. Wearing your money came in the mid-80s.


29.11.23 / 02 / wizzzer

The Wizzzer was a lovely thing. I had various accessories to make it stand and do tricks. Mine was one of the first 1969 production so it didn't have the tacky graphics of later models. Sadly after many years of hard use including by younger brothers the gyroscope came loose from its bearings inside the plastic enclosure and there was no way to repair it. I still kept it but eventually the rubber tip perished also, as is typical, so I threw it out late last decade when I was paying tribute with website colours. I've always liked that very 60s blue/green combination.

Wizzzers were a great example of non-gendered 60s toys - it was assumed that boys would be fine with the pink (magenta) version and girls with the blue one. In fact there was a lot of magenta on toy cars at the time - it was seen as wild/daring/psychedelic, not girly - looks horrible now, the most unrealistic colour ever applied to a toy car.


29.11.23 / 01 / smallritual.org 17

I was pleased to find a few smallritual.org versions from 2017-2019 in the Wayback Machine, having overwritten the original stylesheets and messed up the files - I could retrieve them from Wayback and set up some screenshots. I hadn't realised that those versions had been up that long - and there are others that seemed significant but have left no trace. And there were some terrible ones that came and went pretty damn quick! After a while I realised that I had better experiment in private and only publish when I was sure, which means that a lot of stuff, good and bad, was never published.

smallritual.org 17.1.1 and smallritual.org 17.1.2 are two versions of the rainbow menu. The inspiration was 70s / early 80s toys and tech (ZX Spectrum etc). I liked it a lot, but felt that the rainbow is overdetermined nowadays - it can't just be read as a cheerful set of stripes anymore.

So I reduced to blue and green, taken from a 1969 Mattel Wizzzer top I had for many years (it's in Wikipedia now!). I made so many combinations, with yellow, light blue, dark blue, chartreuse, white added for blending effects. I made joggled versions of the logo.

And then I threw it all out. I wanted the tramlines of versions 10-15 back. The blue-green stripes look good to me now, I can't see what the problem was. The trouble is, every version has its own logic which I follow through to the end - and then decide it isn't what I was searching for, that some important thing has fallen out on the roadside. As previously mentioned, I don't want to change, I'm just chasing a half-grasped idea of perfection. I want to feel content when I look at my website.


25.11.23 / 01 / typepad blog designs

Following my lament below I found my Typepad blog on the Wayback Machine in all of its major iterations from 2004 to 2016 - the screenshots are now here. It's good to have them back, I put a lot of work into them, sometimes following and sometimes leading the main site design. There are a few iterations missing, I have the headers but no bodies have turned up to match, maybe they didn't last long.


23.11.23 / 01 / change as usual

So Daniel’s lament about web design took me to the Web Design Museum. And there I found the old 00s Warp Records site (see also Wayback Machine where the site works - partially), styled by the Designers Republic. This was one of the key influences on my sites of the 00s - the murky colours, stripy menus and pseudo-drop shadows. And the tiny Verdana - we all did it then, who does it now?

And I had already made a new smallritual logo in a 00s/tDR/Autechre style, being somehow in a hard techno mood, which called into question the rest of my site design.

So I thought, what happens if I reverse the menu colours to do the highlighter thing? And it worked, and and and one thing led to another.

I spent so long working on a minimal modernist design, but the logo was the big problem. I made a hash of it ever since abandoning the old block letters in 2020, which I now realise still worked better than anything else with that site design. Especially the drop-shadow version which I first made for the Typepad blog - why did I never screenshot the iterations of that?

The thing I have to constantly remind myself is that a website is a content delivery system, not the content itself. It's the frame not the picture, but I treat it as the picture.

Postscript: I just found smallritual.org on the Wayback Machine - some versions of the site that I've mislaid or forgotten that I actually published! (Puzzle - why did it stop visiting my site during the pandemic?)


19.11.23 / 01 / books

What tripped me up there was making an entry about the books I had been reading.

Nick Cave, Sean O’Hagan / Faith Hope and Carnage got me through the miserable first part of the year. It's about Cave's creative process as affected by bereavement and grieving. Moving, profound and very quotable - the first book I’ve ever been tempted to mark passages in, a practice I deplore.

Followed by Patti Smith / Just Kids - more warmth and wisdom. Smith and Mapplethorpe resurrected the practice of literally starving in garrets for their art. Smith clearly has remarkable powers of hustle - the key moment of their lives is when she talks her way into a room at the Chelsea Hotel and a job to pay for it, fresh from a near-death experience in a junkie flophouse. And in doing so, lands them at the centre of the New York art and music world. They are nobodies but talent and ambition will do the rest.

Smith and Cave have things in common. Complexity without heaviness, precise and evocative in words. Hard living has made them wise and kind. They were certain of their destinies as artists from the beginning, even though they did not know exactly what kind of artists they would be. Cave intended to be a painter, until he failed art school and had to fall back on music. Even now he considers himself a visual artist (conceiving songs as a series of visual images) more than a musician. Smith was a poet with no musical intention, who was cajoled and pushed by friends and collaborators towards rock as a form of presentation (everything in the 70s devolved towards rock as a form of presentation).

And both are people of faith, in ways that deepen them and enlarge both their compassion and their poetry.

And then I took up Paul Morley’s biography of Tony Wilson ‘From Manchester With Love’. In contrast to the others this was not an easy book to read, for purely stylistic reasons. Morley extends sentences with sub-clauses, additional information and changes of direction to the length of entire very long paragraphs. One gets to know a lot, six sides of an issue in one sentence, but the train of thought is hard to sustain. Smith could say as much in simple, clear prose.

As I finish the book, the latest monument of Wilson’s legacy opens in Manchester - Aviva Studios, built on the site of Wilson’s beloved Granada TV studio. It's the home of arts organisation Factory International, and was originally to be called The Factory until a funding crisis obliged them to sell the naming rights. One doesn’t have to be successful or consistent to leave a deep legacy - as long as the ideas get out there and take root. Wilson knew this, which made him a frustrating creative partner and a careless businessman.

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