Category Archives: knowledge commons

Day One

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 16.18.29 Before the Mast is the title of a new live work by the artist Stuart Brisley that will take place at DOMOBAAL, London from 21st November 2013. (For times and dates click-through the timetable at right.)

Before the Mast is the latest in a number of ten-day performances that Stuart Brisley has made since the late 1960s that reference the ten-day week of the French Republican Calendar. I am currently collaborating with Brisley to research this hitherto neglected aspect of his work. The research is being undertaken during my current residency at King’s College London, supported by CreativeWorks London. The residency enables me to collaborate with Dr Sanja Perovic of the French Department at King’s, who is a leading expert in the field and author of the recently published study, The Calendar in Revolutionary France: Perceptions of Time in Literature, Culture, Politics.

My research is being conducted through and around a series of ten conversations between myself and Stuart Brisley, and a number of other people, including Perovic. Three such conversations have now taken place, in London and Dungeness. There had been no plan to publish anything before the end of 2014, but our first conversation, which took place in June of this year, proved to be quite subtly interesting in its own right, so when Sanja Perovic and I were invited to co-author a text to accompany Before the Mast, we decided that it might be useful to produce an edited and annotated version of the transcript. Editing what had been an informal and wide-ranging conversation allowed us to devote attention to a quite elusive and unexpected thread that had emerged in the course of the discussion, concerning the fleeting production in public performance of an unselfconscious revolutionary state.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 08.17.10This text is entitled — quoting Stuart Brisley — ‘Into Day One of the Revolutionary Period’.

I am grateful to DOMOBAAL for making a PDF of the text available. You can download this free by clicking the title above, or by clicking-through this screengrab of page one (right).

In total, seven monographs have been published to accompany Stuart Brisley’s current exhibitions at DOMOBAAL and Mummery+Schnelle. For exhibition opening times etc. please see below.

Here is the information from the DOMOBAAL site:

These seven new books launch an ongoing publication project on Brisley’s work. Each are: soft cover, offset printed, 26.6×20.6cm, fully illustrated and focus on a single body of work as follows: Jerusalem (2011–12), The Missing Text (2012–13), Homage to the Commune (1976), 12 Days (1975), Hille Fellowship Poly Wheel (1970), Photography (1988–91), Before the Mast (2013). The series is published in an edition of 300 sets, of which 100 sets are available numbered and signed by the artist, presented in a clothbound slipcase made at the Book Works Studio.

ISBN 978-1-905957-45-3 Stuart Brisley – Photography (1988–91)
ISBN 978-1-905957-48-4 Stuart Brisley – Homage to the Commune (1976)
ISBN 978-1-905957-45-3 Stuart Brisley – Jerusalem (2011–12)
ISBN 978-1-905957-46-0 Stuart Brisley – The Missing Text (2012–13)
ISBN 978-1-905957-47-7 Stuart Brisley – 12 Days (1975)
ISBN 978-1-905957-49-1 Stuart Brisley – Hille Fellowship Poly Wheel (1970)
ISBN 978-1-905957-50-7 Stuart Brisley – Before the Mast (2013)
ISBN 978-1-905957-52-1 Stuart Brisley – Slipcase for the complete set (2013)



Stuart Brisley

04.10.13 – 30.11.13
at domobaal, 3 John Street, London WC1N 2ES
16.10.13 – 30.11.13
at Mummery + Schnelle, 44a Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3PD
Before the Mast
A new performance: one Revolutionary hour (02:40min) daily for 10 days
21/22/23/24/25/26/27/28/29/30 November at domobaal

Climate Commons – free event

Alice Angus and Giles Lane of Proboscis have kindly invited me to curate an informal studio event where some of the ideas explored in my novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South (Science Museum, 2013) can be discussed with a small audience.

I have invited two other authors to join me for readings and discussion: the artist and activist James Marriott of Platform, a London-based arts, human rights and environmental justice organisation, and performance artist Hayley Newman, who is committed to working collectively around the current economic and ecological crisis.

twbooksJames Marriot is co-author with Mika Minio-Paluello of The Oil Road (Verso), an extraordinary book tracing the concealed routes from the oil fields of the Caspian Sea to the refineries and financial centres of Northern Europe. The Oil Road maps this ‘carbon web’, guiding the reader through a previously obscured landscape of energy production and consumption, resistance and profit.

Hayley Newman is the author of a new novella, Common (Copy Press), which chronicles one day of her self-appointed artist’s residency in the City of London. Taking us to crashes in global markets, turbulence in the Euro-zone and riots on hot summer nights, Common opens up the City through richly imaginative stories and empowering political actions.

Readings and discussion will be chaired by curator and interdisciplinary innovator Bronac Ferran


Climate Commons: literature, climate change and activism

6-8pm, 19 June 2013

Free but booking essential

Proboscis Studio
4th Floor 101 Turnmill Street
EC1M 5QP London

Casual prejudice vs perpetual privilege

Casual and/or stupid class-based prejudice should not come as a surprise when there is a Tory government tossing its hatreds around so freely, but still I was slightly surprised on Saturday morning as I listened to the radio while making the coffee. My trusty Roberts R900 was tuned to Radio 4 rather than its usual Resonance 104.4fm, and I couldn’t quite believe my ears when presenter Richard Coles — interviewing the journalist and author Caitlin Moran — said something about growing up in a council house in Wolverhampton being an unusual background for a writer, and that for Moran then, writing was more than just a pastime.

What? I wondered if I could possibly have heard him correctly. It reminded me of the bizarre and thoughtless assertion made by Granta’s outgoing editor John Freeman a couple of weeks ago that ‘Best of Young British’ author Sunjeev Sahota’s life in Leeds was ‘completely out of the literary world’, an apparent geographical deficiency that seemed in Freeman’s opinion to be compounded  by the fact that Sahota had ‘studied Maths’. Whatever next?

I had to go back to the BBC iPlayer to listen to the Caitlin Moran interview again and see if I had got the wrong end of the stick. Here is what (an admittedly rather tongue-tied) Richard Coles actually said:

The the writing thing, to get back to that, I mean, I think, one of the reasons I wondered if, that you are so productive, so fecund if I may say so, with writing, is that you write almost for your life, and I wonder if that came as, ’cause you grew up in, er, a background which is unusual for a writer. You grew up, grew up in a council house in Wolverhampton with lots of siblings, I think seven other siblings knocking around, and, er, and that would suggest for many people, that would suggest that your opportunities in later life are rather limited, but not for you. I mean, you kind of wrote your way into the life you have now. And I wonder if that means that writing for you is more than simply just a pastime, or a means of earning a living, but it is actually something fundamental to who you are.

What do you think? Moran more or less ignores Coles’s question, good for her, and he claws back some ground with the more agreeable proposition that writing is fundamental to her identity, but I’m still struggling to understand the bit about council houses and pastimes. Which writers is he comparing her to, and which background, I wonder, might he consider as being usual for a writer? A childhood spent somewhere other than Wolverhampton? Is that enough, or would growing up in private rented accommodation have been more conducive than in a council house. Or does a literary talent depend on having parents who are home owners? Perhaps writers can be thought unusual if their parents ‘bought their own furniture’?

Similarly, I wonder what kind of life John Freeman thinks would demonstrate that a first-time published author such as Sahota was part of the literary world — whatever that is? A life not lived in Leeds, or one that didn’t involve needing to earn a living? Does he really think you have to have studied literature to be a writer? Do you need to have already been a part of Freeman’s (imaginary) literary world before you are published, in order to satisfy some received idea of what a writer is?

Both statements seem to reinforce an idiotic assumption that writing takes place within some kind of metropolitan insiders’ club, and that the writer’s life is ‘always already’ — as the poets say — one of perpetual privilege.


More on this or related themes by Tony White:

Who has the right to write in the UK right now?

Knowledge commons #1

The good news or the bad news?

‘Which do you want first,’ we used to say. ‘The good news or the bad news?’

The bad (although very old) news is that there is no Glastonbury this year. It’s a shame as I’ve enjoyed doing gigs at the Free University of Glastonbury over the past couple of years. Highlight of the 2011 festival for me was performing with Richard Norris of The Grid and The Time and Space Machine on a new live version of my short story ‘A Porky Prime Cut.’

The story was commissioned by SCAN in Bournemouth and Poole and is set in and around Turbary Common and the West Howe area of the conurbation. The ‘Porky Prime Cut’ of the title refers of course to the messages that were scratched into vinyl records by legendary pressing engineer George Peckham, and the ebook of my story includes links to various resources by and about George. The story itself tells of a subtle war of attrition between wannabe art students and soul boys of the time, a particular byproduct of which was a certain acid house myth about, ‘Bournemouth soul boys who were so “hard core” that they were into T.G.’

If you know Richard Norris’s work you’ll immediately see why it was such a good fit to work with him on the story: he really was a UK acid house pioneer. Richard co-produced (with Genesis P-Orridge) Psychic TV’s Jack the Tab LP, a piece of musical metafiction in its own right in that it was presented as if it were a various artists compilation of the then nascent UK acid house scene.

The good news is that we enjoyed doing the Glastonbury gig so much that a few weeks later I went down to Richard’s studio in Lewes, East Sussex to record a studio version. Here is an exclusive preview of that session: me reading ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ with Richard’s fantastic accompaniment. Click the ‘forward’ button on the small player icon below to start.

Creative Commons License
A Porky Prime Cut by Tony White, music by Richard Norris is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Download a free ebook of ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ (published by James Bridle’s Artists’ eBooks project), which includes beautiful photographs of Turbary Common by Bournemouth photographer Diane Humphries.


For news of more live events including the Free Word Centre, London on 26 April, and — just confirmed — the Port Eliot Festival in July, see my new Events page.

More good news: Taste the Lazer, a new LP by The Time and Space Machine is out next week!

In case of emergency

February 4 is National Libraries Day: ‘a free-to-join gathering of people who believe in the importance of libraries.’

Well, count me in, because libraries of one kind or another are places in which I seem to spend a lot of time, although my use of them has changed over the years. When I was a child I went to the library to borrow books, and I’ve encouraged the same as a parent. Now when I go to libraries it is most often as part of the process of writing them, because of course there is more to libraries than the lending and borrowing of books, vitally important though that is.

Libraries can also be both a repository for and a gateway to archives of all kinds, many of which are simply unavailable anywhere else. For example, I was researching for a forthcoming fiction title among bound archive copies of the now defunct alternative news weekly Leeds Other Paper in Leeds Central Library recently. Most UK newspapers are held in the British Library’s Newspaper Collection in Colindale, London, but not the Leeds Other Paper. These copies of the LOP in Leeds Central Library may well constitute the only complete collection that exists of this important alternative newspaper.

While waiting to access the LOP archive I also happened across the Leodis project, a fantastic photographic archive of the city that was established by Leeds Library & Information Service as part of a Yorkshire-wide Lottery-funded photography archive digitization project in 2003. The Leodis site is a bit clunky in many ways, but not bad for something that launched in 2003. Back then, even now-familiar approaches to copyright and licensing and the ways that we access and interact with content online like Creative Commons were still more or less part of a creative, legal and publishing avant garde, so e.g. there is no obvious notice on the Leodis site about whether, how or under what terms one can use the photos, beyond the options to leave comments or (and I’m resisting the urge to put an exclamation mark at the end of this sentence) to buy a print.

It is well worth digging around — well, wading through — the Leodis site however as there is some really great material on there, not least of which for a bibliophile are the many pictures of the Library itself, which has gone through various transformations over the years including the recent excavation of a magnificent tiled hall, originally the reading room and now a visually stunning cafe. Browsing through the photos, I found myself particularly drawn to some images of the Music Library, the very shelves and false ceiling of which it was in fact that had needed to be removed to reveal the spectacular tiled hall beneath. The Music Library still exists, it has simply been moved upstairs.

In light of popular myths about the supposedly recent so-called ‘dumbing down’ of libraries to accommodate music, DVDs and other media, it was interesting to read in the text accompanying this great image that

The [Leeds] Music Library was started in 1950, as part of policy to establish subject departments, rather than keeping all stock as a vast collection. Originally music scores and books were available, in 1957 a record lending library service began. This cost £2,500 for which 1,837 records were purchased.

The work of fiction that I was in Leeds to research is set in the city in the mid-1980s. Many of the LPs in the Music Library’s loan collections at that time could well have been purchased as part of that same late-1950s job lot, but they were still in good condition and still being loaned out nearly thirty years later. The Music Library’s vinyl loan collection is now long gone of course, but I was pleased when trawling some secondhand dealers recently to find for sale one mint vinyl copy of an LP that had been a Music Library favourite when I lived in Leeds, and which now I thought about it I was keen to hear again: Follow the Drinking Gourd by Alex Foster and Michel Larue.

Foster and Larue’s album was released in 1958 by a New York record label called Counterpoint who up until the previous year had traded as Esoteric Records, a willfully obscure jazz and art-house label started by Jerry Newman which operated out of 75 Greenwich Avenue (now the Bar-B-Que restaurant). As a student in the early 1940s, Newman had cut live recordings of jazz gigs direct to disc. He set up the label after WWII, in part at least to release those early bebop recordings. Newman’s interest in live recording continued, too. For a fantastic example of this, see the Ghostcapital music blog, which has a great rip of Newman’s live recording of the Toraia Orchestra of Algiers that was released on Esoteric in 1952, plus high quality scans of cover art, record labels etc.

According to Bill Morgan’s The Beat Generation in New York: A Walking Tour of Jack Kerouac’s City (City Lights Books, 1997), Kerouac hung out in the back room of Esoteric because a school mate worked for Newman. Supposedly he cut some recordings in Newman’s studio, but a 1955 plan to record On the Road with live accompaniment from saxophonist Allen Eager never happened.

In a foreword on the back cover of their 1958 long-player for Newman, Michel Larue and Alex Foster suggest that ‘American Negro Folk Music has been too long neglected [...] Here is music created years ago, yet [it] is the source of the present American trend in music.’  According to a short biographical note,  their ‘new approach in Folk Music’ was the result of Foster and Larue wanting to collaborate and perform in night clubs, not just for the theatre and concert hall audiences to whom they’d each been playing up to that point.

I don’t know how many copies of Michel Larue and Alex Foster’s vinyl LP are still floating around, but — and I can’t say this clearly enough — if you see it, buy it. The production of Foster and Larue’s sparse arrangements is clear and spacious, and there’s a stagey kind of rockabilly-funk to their percussion-and-bass-propelled versions of Blues, gospel and folk standards that include a masterful and probably definitive ‘John Henry’.

If you can’t get hold of the vinyl, the record has also recently been reissued for CD and MP3 (albeit under another name — ‘American Negro Slave Music’ — and with a slightly reduced track listing) by the Essential Media Group label. Here is their page on the Myspace player.

The title-track of Foster and Larue’s original vinyl release — Follow the Drinking Gourd — is of course a folk classic in its own right, with a long and complex if not to say contested heritage. See the website of Joel Bresler’s fascinating Follow the Drinking Gourd: A Cultural History project for more on this. Bresler reveals that Foster and Larue were the first Black artists to record the song, but among the numerous versions of ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’ that are collated and discussed in his wide-ranging commentary I was particularly delighted to see one by the Welsh folk and country act Triban, who recorded the song in both Welsh (as ‘Dilyn y Sêr‘) and English languages.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve written about Triban here before, in connection with the destruction over the past decade of the former Redgrave Theatre in Farnham, Surrey (a connection that is both too slight and too convoluted to repeat here). However, that single emblematic act of cultural vandalism pales in comparison with what could be about to happen to public libraries all over the country: a century or more of work for education, literacy and the public good swept away with no thought for the consequences.

The bad news in this new cultural and educational emergency is that there is of course no one simple way to raise the alarm.

Tim Etchells, ‘Emergency Phone’, 2012.


National Libraries Day, Saturday 4 February 2012:

See the activities map and other resources on the National Libraries Day website for information about events happening on the day.

If you are on Twitter, follow @NatLibrariesDay and the hashtag #NLD12.

Further listening:

Alex Foster and Michel Larue, American Negro Slave Songs (Digitally Remastered), Essential Media Group, 2009. (Possibly MP3 only), £7.49

Michel Larue, Songs of the American Negro Slaves, Folkways/Smithsonian Institute, 2009 (Original Release Date: 1 Jan 1960). CD £21.59, MP3 £5.99.

Triban, Harmony: Y Casgliad/The Collection, 1968-1978, Sain Records, 2011. SAIN SCD 2637 CD bocs set £16.99 (also available as 64-track MP3 download)

Forthcoming fiction:

Tony White, DICKY STAR AND THE GARDEN RULE, Forma Arts and Media Limited, publication date: 26 April 2012, 49pp, size: 210 x 148 mm. ISBN 978-0-9548288-6-8 Price: £5.00

‘Feeling the heat of the audience’ – a conversation with Matt Locke

Matt Locke is the founder of The Story conference. He has been commissioning work at the technological cutting edge of mass media and participation since the 1990s, initially for arts organisations like Huddersfield Media Centre, then as Head of Innovation for BBC New Media and for Channel 4, where after an influential spell as Commissioning Editor for Channel 4 Education he was until recently Acting Head of Cross-Platform for the station. Now he runs a new company called Storythings, and yesterday the first batch of early bird tickets for the third conference in the series, The Story 2012, sold out within minutes of going on sale.

I interviewed Matt for Arts Council England back in the spring, and I’m pleased to say that my article based on that conversation has now been published on the Arts Council website where you can access it as a downloadable PDF or Word Document.

Matt brings some fascinating and provocative insights to what turned out to be a very wide-ranging discussion. At one point he talks about how games are now often released as

a minimum viable product, so when you launch a new game it has about 20% of the total feature set of the game, just enough to get people interested, and then they’ll continually iterate features for the rest of that game’s life. And that’s a really fascinating way of looking at culture – you know rather than think about the finished product. What would the minimum viable product for a novel be? In some genres you can do that more obviously: look at feedback, see how a game is working on line, look at the stats and the tweets and change it. If you’re doing drama or film it’s really difficult, but it’s not about having the shortest possible iterative cycle, it’s understanding what that cycle is and how you can be creative with the results that you’re hearing from the audience.’ He turns the question back on me, ‘Do you think you’ll ever get to the point where you’d release a 2nd or 3rd version of a novel?’

You can download the article here (opens as PDF).

See also: a related interview with novelist and future publishing researcher Kate Pullinger.

As in free speech

Just back from a very enjoyable weekend of performing and compering at the Free University of Glastonbury. Here are a few photos…

On Friday I read from the satirical stream of filth consciousness sentience that is my novel CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO.

Compering on Saturday I had a very interesting conversation with Dorian Lynskey about 33 Revolutions per Minute, his fascinating history of protest songs.

Also on the Saturday programme were Bad Science author Ben Goldacre, comedy writer Emma Kennedy, as well as comedian Marcus Brigstocke who spoke about his new book, but the highlight was interviewing the one and only Suggs for a heaving tentful of Madness fans.

Suggs is a lovely bloke and a great raconteur, so his forthcoming one-man show should be a blast. Keep your ears open for news of this in the autumn. Like me he is also a big fan of Resonance 104.4 fm and gave it a plug or two during our chat.

What I’d been looking forward to the most was performing my recently published short story ‘A Porky Prime Cut’, with live accompaniment from UK acid house pioneer Richard Norris on the Saturday evening. We didn’t get any photos of that, sadly, but it went so well that we’re going to do a studio version at some point very soon. More news on that as and when. In the meantime…

…to underline the Free University of Glastonbury’s belief in both freedom of speech AND free beer, we also gave away copies of a strictly limited print edition of ‘A Porky Prime Cut’. I’ve got a few spares of this to give away, so message me if you would like to lay your hands on one.

Free University of Glastonbury 2011

Lots of last minute preparations for this year’s Free University of Glastonbury which is the name of the festival’s literary strand (not quite as described by the Observer). I did an event for the Free University of Glastonbury for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, so I was delighted to be asked back. All of the Free University events take place in the hula-styled environs of the HMS Sweet Charity stage, in The Park area of the festival site. There are some great people involved this year, see the full programme just received from FUOG instigator Mathew Clayton below (which was definitive as of last night and which differs slightly from the info on the festival website).

I’m performing on Friday lunchtime around 12:15, compering the Saturday lunchtime session, and then in a special late addition to the bill I’m performing with UK acid house legend Richard Norris on Saturday afternoon at 17.30.

I’m really excited about this. Richard has composed a new backing track which he’ll be mixing live as an accompaniment to my story ‘A Porky Prime Cut’, which I first performed at my National Portrait Gallery gig (with bass player Simon Edwards) a month or two back.

In as much as it is about anything, ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ is a kind of collision between Throbbing Gristle’s design aesthetic and the Bournemouth funk, soul and zine scenes of the early ’80s – via vinyl obsession, the history of acid house, art school and the cryptic etched messages of UK record pressing maestro George Peckham a.k.a. the ‘Porky’ of the title. It’s fantastic to be doing this gig with Richard, not least because he is a real pioneer of the British acid house scene: as part of Psychic TV he co-produced their Jack the Tab ‘compilations’ in 1988.

To celebrate the Free University of Glastonbury gig with Richard, a strictly limited edition print version of ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ will be available free on the night while stocks last.


For the Friday gig I’m probably going to be rambling about various things like this,

and this,

as a kind of preamble to talking about this,

and reading from my novel CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO (which I’ve blogged about here and here).

I’ve barely taken in the rest of the festival programme, although my friend Tim Etchells has just posted some amazing photos of his illuminated sign which was installed in the Shangri-La area last weekend (note the moody-looking sky).


The 2011 Free University of Glastonbury programme (in order of appearance) :


12:15 Tony White

13:00 Jon Ronson

14:00 Mark Thomas


11:30 Dorian Lynskey

12:15 Suggs

13:00 Emma Kennedy

13:45 Ben Goldacre


16:40 Marcus Brigstocke

17:30 Richard Norris/Tony White


11:30 Gavin Knight

12:15 Richard King

13:00 Matthew De Abaitua

13:45 Edwyn Collins and Grace Maxwell

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New feature – short story bibliography

I’ve added a new feature/page to the blog: a short story bibliography (click here or find it via the navigation bar above). The list begins with a story called ‘Title Track’ from 1994, and runs to what at time of writing is my most recent short, ‘Auto-destructive Arts Policy’, which was published a month or so ago. This bibliography is very much a work in progress and it will be tweaked and updated as needed. I’ve added a brief explanatory note (or list of excuses):

…basic bibliographical information about forty-odd editions of I think twenty-seven short stories published since 1994 [...] in roughly chronological order. It does not yet include ISBNs (where these exist), links to publishers’ websites or places where the stories can be purchased, watched or listened to, nor (quite) every online or print edition of some stories. [Where] I can’t lay my hands on a particular physical edition I have been unable to provide page numbers. Asterisks denote that to the best of my knowledge a particular story or edition is definitely out of print.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but the information was so dispersed, the stories published in such varying editions and formats by numerous publishers, art galleries and museums, magazines and journals etc., that it has taken much longer than I thought to get to this stage.

More info as I find it…


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