For me, painting and music have always walked hand in hand.
When I left school in 1970 I set off for Italy to study painting, but I took my guitar with me and ended up recording Dreaming With Alice in Rome.
Back in England in 1973, I joined up with Ben, an old friend from school, and together we formed a band. For a couple of years it seemed as though we were always just a whisker away from being signed up. But the music industry felt very cut-throat, there was a lot of pressure to be commercial, and slowly I began to feel I was losing my way.
In 1975 I decided to go travelling and spent six months working my way across Canada from Newfoundland to Vancouver. At that time in Canada it seemed that everyone was listening to The Beach Boys, which felt a little incongruous on the prairies or up in the Rocky Mountains. I looked forward to getting down to California.
By Christmas I was in Los Angeles and eager to try and get something going. I wrote songs, recorded some demos, played a few gigs and pushed the tapes I had of our band in front of anyone who would listen. Even Phil Everly lent them his ear. He said “Sounds great, man, keep going”, which is what I did, but nothing quite clicked.
By 1977 the band I’d formed with Ben had drifted apart. I went back to painting, although I never stopped writing songs.
Early in 1980 I went travelling again, and spent six months living in the Inner Niger delta in Mali. Africa renewed my love of music.
I used to buy cassette tapes in dusty streets from market hawkers, and that’s how I first came across musicians like Ali Farka Toure, Baba Mall and Youssou N’Dour and the Super Etoile de Dakar. Because I had my guitar with me I was received like a travelling griot and asked to play wherever I happened to be.
One memorable night I was invited to play for a group of Touareg who were camped on the banks of the Niger just south of Timbuktu. I played until my fingers bled and there were only four strings left on my guitar. Their favourite songs were Johnny B Goode and Rock Island Line, but they also quite liked All My Life.
I spent most of the 1980s moving between London and New York, trying to make ends meet and painting when I could. At the end of the decade I got my first painting break. The London art dealer Christopher Hull took notice of my work. Suddenly I had a good gallery that wanted my pictures. I started spending a lot of time in France and it was there that I really started to paint in a quiet and concentrated way. Through the act of painting, songs began to come to me again.
In 2006, things began to conspire to get me recording. I wrote more songs. Somehow, I got to grips with digital technology. I built a little home studio and started work. Old and new friends encouraged me to keep going. A new album of songs began to take shape.
As it turned out, the Sunbeam reissue of Alice in November 2006 was a kind of catalyst. To wake up one morning and suddenly find yourself back in the arms of something you created so long ago has been a strange but magical experience. I realized I would come to regret it if I didn’t follow Alice’s path and see where she would lead me again.
Since Shooting The Moon was released in 2008, I’ve played in all sorts of places, including London, Paris, Chicago and Tokyo, and seen three more albums released – I Lived in Trees, Live In Japan and most recently, in 2014, South Wind, Clear Sky. Meeting and working with other musicians again has been a wonderful contrast to my solitary life in the painting studio.
You could say that when I’m painting I’m a painter, and when I’m writing and playing music I’m a musician, but for me they are so tangled up together in the creative process that I find them hard to separate: each feeds off the other. The thing is to keep going and see what happens.
"For me, painting and music have always walked hand in hand"
"I wrote songs, recorded some demos, played a few gigs and pushed the tapes I had of our band in front of anyone who would listen"
"I used to buy cassettes in dusty streets from market hawkers, and that’s how I first came across musicians like Ali Farka Toure"
"I spent most of the 1980s moving between London and New York, trying to make ends meet and painting when I could"
"Through the act of painting, songs began to come to me again"
"In 2006, things began to conspire to get me recording"
"Old and new friends encouraged me to keep going"
"The Sunbeam reissue of Alice was a kind of catalyst"
"My latest album is called South Wind, Clear Sky and was released on 29th September 2014"
"Working with other musicians is a wonderful contrast to my solitary life in the painting studio"