Lowry’s Matchstalk Men

An example of Lowry's art, one of many, see the video for moreThis 1978 song brought Lowry’s painting to a wider audience, before this most of us in the Midlands hadn’t heard of him and presumably the further south you went the least likely you’d be to find a Lowry fan. He died in 1976, and the song was written as a tribute by Brian and Michael who never had another hit. It went into the charts and everyone knew about Lowry’s matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs.

Perhaps I have skewed vision on this. It is entirely possible that many people in the midlands and south of England were aware of Lowry as an artist, it’s just that I wasn’t aware of him as I was growing up until this song became famous and his paintings started to be shown on the telly. Up to that point, my perception of art was the Mona Lisa and The Haywain (my mum was from rural Worcestershire and we had a print of The Haywain at home and this was my fantasy of pastoral life).

So when I started to see these cartoonish paintings of buildings and crowds of undernourished people it was quite mind blowing. That’s art? That was something that I could paint myself! That was something that a normal person could achieve. Apart from the main question of why on earth would anyone want to paint factories and streets as I had grown up to despise these scenes and idealise the countryside, I started to wonder whether it was possible for me to be an artist. This can only be a good thing as although I am not such an artist as to make a living from it, I do consider myself artistically creative.

Some of the lyrics of the song were confusing, for instance for me ‘clogs’ were something that people from Holland in the olden times wore. It blew my mind all over again when I realised that children ‘up north’ were wearing wooden shoes in my lifetime. I suppose it beats going without shoes altogether but it brought home to me how protected and fortunate I was, privileged compared to some though still in comparative poverty compared to many children today (again it depends on how you look at it, children today have a poverty of freedom compared to what we had in the seventies). Even though I used to walk around without shoes for most of my childhood, the point is that I had the choice.

I think a lot of it is a class thing, like the refusal to call himself an artist (Lowry said he was a person who paints, so I wonder if anyone hired him to decorate their dining room?). That demonstrates an inverse snobbery and a pride in his working roots. Perhaps this is not necessary now in our supposedly classless society, but it may be an interesting study to find out what a person considers beautiful, what they would choose to paint if they were an artist. Factories or fields?

Back to the record – it was the St Winnifred’s School Choir singing in the background, who were also famous for singing the godawful There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

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5 Responses

  1. I LOVED IT FOCK ON!!!

  2. A word about clogs – Lancashire clogs are not completely wooden. They have a wooden sole and leather uppers. My gran and her brother were the only kids on their street to wear shoes instead of clogs, and they felt like social outcasts because of it! The thick leather of the clogs used to rub holes in their heels so they really couldn’t manage to wear them.

    In the song, they talk about “kids on the corner of the street in their sparking clogs”. Clogs had little metal pieces tacked onto the wooden sole unerneath to make them last longer, and if you swung your leg right on the stone paving slabs, you could literally make sparks fly!

  3. …………….. We first met in 1965, and we’re still matess after all these years!!
    http://www.myspace.com/matchstalkmen

  4. I’m honoured to have a comment on the blog from the people I’ve written about. Wow. I love that song, always did.

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