Not too long ago, in a petite coffee shop that straddles the the suits of Clerkenwell and the hipsters of Hackney, The Velvet Onion were lucky enough to catch Dave Brown in his busy life for a chat – Velveteer Paulyne caught up with him following the release of Scribblings Of A Madcap Shambleton and now we can bring you the first part from our afternoon with the designer.
“I wanted to get across the idea that Noel paints as he writes and writes when he paints. It’s how his mind works, his comedy is very visual.”
Although the book is a collection of Noel Fielding’s artwork, with Brown taking on the entire design of the book I wanted to find out the process of putting it together and working with the artist. Dave explains, “When I was putting the Boosh book together and going through Noel’s mountain of sketchbooks, I realized that there was obviously loads that was Boosh related but there was also loads that wasn’t and more related to his stand up, so it was really a case of ‘With all your paintings and this, we could make an amazing book for you’.”
Back in the early days there was once a house in Hackney that occupied Brown, Fielding, Nigel Coan (Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, The Mighty Boosh’s, The Moon) and many others including illustrator Jake Steel (The Mighty Book Of Boosh‘s Rudi & Spider graphic novel) Richie Martin (Luxury Comedy’s Model Maker) and Joe Fox (Pipey Boosh Series 1). Their shambolic home was covered in Fielding’s artwork, though Dave jests at Noel’s failure at archiving what he would paint, “It used to do my head in, he would have a room full of canvases, all stacked up in piles and under his bed and because he couldn’t afford to buy new ones, he would paint over stuff he’d already done and had got bored of, it drove me insane cause some were great and he had no record of them. I would always try and take pictures of what he’d done but many were lost without a trace! but at least he has the book now, he’ll probably paint over all of them now!”
If I were to summarise my thoughts on Dave prior to meeting him – like everyone else, I thought of him as the Ape/designer/comic/dancer who is able to stick his fingers in many Booshy pies. But how would Brown classify himself when asked to narrow his occupation down to one thing? “A creative I guess. Or a Slasher, don’t they call it a slasher these days? Designer slash photographer slash performer slash Budgie breeder slash cheese sculptor. You try explaining to your accountant that you’re a designer, photographer, comedian, singer, director, DJ, gorilla, naan bread – Accountants and Tax men love stuff like that!”
When juggling this many roles all at once, it all boils down to a career working amongst friends. Dave originally met Noel in college where they shared a love for comedy, and he explains that at that point in time his main ambition was to become a designer or photographer. Indeed, working with a long time friend may be treading on dangerous ground but this pair seem to set an example when it came to the book. “He’s pretty good. He trusts me and lets me choose [paintings]. Obviously he has some favourites and there was no doubt that they would go in! There were some however, like the last page portrait with the tea, that he wasn’t really fussed about but I came across in a sketch book and loved, he trusts my opinion.”
There’s no doubt that the book is a big hit with the fans; after Noel’s art has been in the limelight for last few years being able to take some home with you is nothing but a delight. What about Dave’s own photography book though? “I really hope to do a book in next year or so of my photography, but purely of the Boosh – 10 years of the Boosh. I haven’t worked out yet though whether it’s going to be purely photography, or if there will be some writing from my tour diaries and stuff in there. I’m the only one with a photographic record from day one, and it would be great to get it out there for the fans.” This isn’t the first time a book of Brown’s own photography has been mentioned and with everything else happening it’s understandable if we have to wait a few more Christmases to see it.
As we all know, the Boosh folk have never been afraid to tread close to the line, and the middle-page of the Scribblings book is one that leaves little to the imagination. Dave explains, “That was up at Noel’s exhibition [the painted over pornography] and there were kids going to that. He’d never put anything up on a wall or in a book he wasn’t happy with. To be honest I thought that would get cut by the legal bods, and was amazed it got through. I do love it though, very Keith Haring, kind of makes a mockery of the crap top shelf porn that you’d often find in the woods as a child! Apparently Asda’s got a problem with it – they didn’t know it was in the book until a area manager called Alan pointed it out in disgust. There was outrage and now it’s been banished to on a higher shelf! Like that’ll stop the youngsters seeing naughty bits! think they need to chill out a little. Do a google search for anything these days and you get tits and arse, if you’re lucky. Anyway they can talk – they slap their arses in their TV ads!” He draws a line on the subject, “There’s a lot of other profanity in the book. It’s all silly or funny or in context isn’t it?”
After talking about the book in such depth I went on to ask the extent of his involvement. It sounds like it was close to near to everything! With the exception of some photos that were taken by buyers abroad, including Dave’s brother now residing in Australia, the Boosh’s American representative Danny Bennett, and famous photographer Nobby Clark – Dave and friends took the time to track down all of the paintings and collate them for our visual pleasure! And it wasn’t always easy. “Many were owned and framed behind glass; ideally I’d have got them all out of their frames in a studio and shot them all in the same lighting state but very difficult when people own them, we couldn’t exactly start ripping them off the walls, pulling their frames off, and walking off into the sunset. I had to shoot many at people’s houses on floors/tables. I developed a technique where I’d shoot them at angles to avoid the glass reflection then re-touch them back into perspective. Absolute nightmare and so time consuming – and probably the most boring thing I’ve ever explained in an interview! I got technical on your arse! Sorry.” Dave’s light-hearted comment about the complications with the photographs doesn’t disguise his passion about his work, his attention to detail and conquering something that was a serious hindrance at the time. Personally I could listen to such talk all day.
The afternoon drew on and as we trailed off discussion about the book, Dave continued to be frank, open and laid back, which I found more than impressive considering how many balls he has been keeping in the air lately! Scribblings is something to be admired, and now we hope it is a piece of work that you can look upon in awe with knowledge of the hard work that has been put into it.
During the rise of the Boosh, Dave Brown provided the vast majority of the designs for the DVD covers, menus, posters and beyond. As the work flowed in a steady stream, the time came to start up his own design company and so, APE was born. At the moment The Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton book and Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy may be at the top of the barrel but you can find APE’s work in many other places.
While all this work was being produced, Brown could still be found on screen and on stage either pulling some shapes, singing or posing as our favourite gorilla. The line between designing and comedy could seem somewhat fuzzy; how they become separate from each other is a question that Dave answers with an admirable perspective and confidence, “They do overlap occasionally, I like to think I approach creative work with humor in mind, its not always easy but wherever possible I try, people react and gravitate towards something that makes them smile, its human nature. Over the years I have worked with more comedians through Boosh work and contacts like Tim Key, Rich Fulcher of course, & Jimmy Carr, I think being involved in comedy helps you understand what comedians are after design & photography wise, I’d like to work with more to be honest, It’s always annoyed me how so many comedians have the same style posters, lazy designs with little ideas, without blowing ones trumpet The Boosh as well as those that do care and appreciate the power of good branding stand out a mile!”
This poignant insight into his workflow is broken as Dave quips about his current situation, “I’ve obviously worked loads with Noel over the years which is great but sometimes, like now, I get a little sick of looking at his face all the time! I did a shoot with him the other day for the Luxury Comedy advertising so his big pointy face is back on my screen once again just when I’d finished the book as well! The people in my studio think I’m some kind of obsessed psycho stalker!”
Dave may jest at his non-stop working relationship with Fielding, but there is still an air of respect that comes across when he speaks of their long-term friendship and with Noel’s rise in the world of celebrity, “He’s been working on [Luxury Comedy] for ages and ages with Nige. The book (Madcap Shambleton) has been something that happened along side him making of the show. It was hard, I didn’t want to bother him too much with the detail, he’s writing the show, he’s playing loads and loads of different characters, then in the edit all day – it’s intense for him – so me ringing him up going ‘what you think of the layout on page 52?’, wasn’t really going to work so he let me get on with it, he trusts me. Once I’d got it all together and designed, we sat down and he burnt it, gave me a dead leg and made me start again! Nah, he loved it and got all excited, writing loads of new stuff and doing loads of new paintings – I then had Nige [Coan] ringing me up asking for him back!!”
A name that comes up regularly in our conversation is Boosh animator Nigel Coan, “I’ve been somewhat in the background over the years but Nige has been a dot on the horizon he’s so in the background; unlike me though he’s happy to not have any attention, he just sits there working it all like a puppet master. Luxury is amazing, they should both be so proud, Nige has directed and co-written it with Noel, directed all the animation – he’s worked his tiny ladies butt off! All those people asking ‘When is the Boosh next on!?’ they’ll have their fix of madness – it’s nothing you’ve ever seen before and it’s absolutely hilarious!”
The topic of Coan also brings up a memorable recent event for the boys; when Fielding and Brown were awarded a Masters Degree by the University in Buckinghamshire, “One of our lecturers called me up and said ‘I’ve put you and Noel forward for an honorary Masters Degree!’ I said ‘What about Nige?’ and he said ‘I didn’t have time to put him in too!”. Dave laughs as he recollects. “He was furious, deeply furious – but the more furious he became the more Noel and I found it hilarious.”
A sneaky insight into the upcoming surreal series is Brown’s on screen involvement, “I play a character called Jeremy Beautiful Chest. He dances while Noel paints – he’s his muse. I’ve got a sign that says Keep Off The Chest.” It offers an obvious link to one of the Scribblings signing events, when we witnessed dancing hedgehog Dave, while Noel covered a billboard with colour in London’s Soho. “There are some cross overs between the show and the book, the painting master classes being the most obvious, the limited edition box of the book carries Noel’s painting overalls from the show, the paintings he does in the show are also in the book.”
Of course the much anticipated question is also touched upon – will he be getting his face out? “This time I’ve got my face out but I don’t say anything – I do make some sounds as one of the characters I play, a blue mountain! it’s either one or the other with Noel – or either musical or physical.”
Luxury Comedy will be the latest TV show to bring some much-loved Booshdom stars back together again; I can’t help but ask him who he would say he is the biggest fan of, “That’s like Sophie’s Choice! It’s massive and they’re all very different people.”
I take off some of the pressure by narrowing it down to just Musical Booshdom, and he is a little less hesitant, “Musical Boosh, I dunno, Julian [Barratt] is a musical force, as is the wonderful Antony Elvin, but Dave Westlake needs a big mention, drummer in the Boosh band on the last tour, he helped produce all the music for the Eleanor show, he also put together all the music for the Boosh album” Westlake is a name that’s sometimes mentioned in Booshy circles but not often, so it’s interesting to hear of his Booshdom roots, “He was the drummer in Sneaker Pimps, he and Julian were at college together, him and Julian are a bit like me and Noel really, just more wise, jazzy and tweed!”
Now that Dave has finally been given the chance to allow his full mug to shine on screen and taken a stab at pretty much everything that’s been thrown his way, is there anything else he’s been hiding from us? “I’m pretty good at table tennis. When I say pretty good I mean fucking amazing. A lot of people like to play ping pong, but no one knows the art of table tennis.” We’ll be sure to keep an eye out in 2012!
As we discuss the many aspects of Dave Brown’s career, most seem to come full circle back to the Boosh. It is clear that Dave still has a passion for the show that started it all for him. As we discuss fans’ continued loyalty to the show, it is clear that the Mighty Boosh is far from forgotten for him, “Over the years, I look back at stuff now – I saw someone had made a mix, that Nicey Nicey Zoo Zoo thing and it’s the last part with Vince and Howard in the van that I immediately just pissed myself at. I do miss that chemistry between them, I love it. Julian needs to do more. He’s such an amazing comedy actor.”
I touch on fans’ recent attempts at a petition to ‘Bring Back The Boosh’, ”Do you think if we got enough signatures the government would make us do something? People will ask me questions on twitter that I can’t possibly answer and then they keep asking!” Dave jests.
“Some of us wouldn’t need any signatures, I’d drop everything tomorrow! I could do [a petition] saying bring back Python though but it wouldn’t do anything.” He then continues to defend the quietness of the Boosh at this point “Noel and Julian have never churned it out for the coin, they’ve never done that. Something will happen when the time is right and that’s what’s great about it. It’s a natural thing, these things take time like a good risotto, well, a bit like a good risotto?”
All in all Dave certainly puts an outstanding amount of care and attention into each and every project he can get his hands on – and if that includes working with some of his (and of course) our favourite people, then that’s just a cheeky bonus. Whatever the future holds for Brown I am confident in saying that we’re unlikely to be disappointed.