Onion Talking: Brown, The Boosh And The Book Club
As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of The Velvet Onion, The Book Club in Shoreditch is hosting a photography exhibition and a series of events in celebration of The Mighty Boosh. Dave Brown, famous for sweating his way through three TV series and two live tours in a hairy gorilla suit, and – luckily for us – the man responsible for photographing the Boosh’s story, was kind enough to talk to us about the exhibition:
Dave Brown is a delightful interviewee. He’s a font of fascinating knowledge about behind the scenes with The Mighty Boosh and a passionate advocate for creativity in all its forms – especially photography (but more of that later). Chatty, friendly and considerate, our conversation about his experiences with the Boosh circus come peppered with apologies that he’s working and eating his dinner at the same time. At 10pm. Multi-tasking as only a parent with young kids can (and needs to).
The exhibition at The Book Club in Shoreditch came about off the back of Dave’s previous photography show at Proud Gallery, Behind the Boosh. Photographer and film maker Dean Chalkley recommended Dave to the east London venue, having held an exhibition there himself. “I was honoured that he suggested me,” Dave proffers humbly. “I’ve always absolutely loved his work.”
This show will have a different emphasis to the collection that was shown at Proud, with its focus on the Boosh live in its various forms – including the two UK tours, Australian and American gigs and performances from the early days. That’s a fair few photographs to sort through.
“Everything went crazy after the 2006 tour,” explains Dave. “I edited lightly and quickly back then – mainly due to the time I had, the amount of shots there were and also the speed things needed to go out. But going back through them all now for the exhibition I found some really lovely stuff I’d forgotten I’d taken; it’s been a lovely trip down memory lane.”
I ask him if he had a strategy for editing down over a decade’s worth of photography into a coherent exhibition. “It’s not easy,” Dave admits. “I’ve tried to find pictures that haven’t been seen before – for my own sake and everyone else’s. Some I picked because of my memory of that moment, how lovely it was or how funny or how good. Others I’ve picked because I know it’s one that the fans will like, because it includes a certain character or theme or moment. And then there are others that I’ve picked from a more photographic point of view, because of the composition or the crop.”
He’s enjoyed the experience of working with the Israeli-born curator, Liat Chen who, while having a wealth of experience under her belt curating exhibitions about contemporary cultural scenes, wasn’t previously a Boosh fan herself. “She’s been working her way through the box sets and is now addicted, thankfully!” Dave notes. Not being so wrapped up in it has meant Liat has been able to approach the process with a less emotionally-involved mindset. “So when I was going through my first edit with her, she was flicking past some of the photos I really loved!” he laughs. “It’s hard but we are getting there.”
The exhibition also includes work from other artists who have been connected with the Boosh live, including illustrators, Mr Bingo, JAKe and Ivana Zorn, and comedy photographer extraordinaire, Andy Hollingworth.
“Andy came to the Wembley Arena gigs,” Dave explains. “He did a load of shots from out front, while I hadn’t taken any shots of the actual show on stage – obviously because I was busy at the time, but also because I feel that’s someone else’s remit, although I’ve taken some stuff from the wings during shows.”
“Andy has a great eye and got some superb shots from that Wembley show, and for once I’m actually in some of them!” he adds. One of the downsides of being the resident photographer is that pictures of Dave tend to be few and far between, but the exhibition includes a couple of selfies and he occasionally used mirrors in his shots – so we will get to see him.
Ivana Zorn’s acrylics of Boosh characters will be featured in the show. The A4 portraits were commissioned for the Outrage cards which were included as part of the Future Sailors limited edition DVD pack. Ten of the original paintings of characters featured in love shows will be shown.
Mr Bingo’s iconic Boosh Hair illustration will be included, and original artwork by JAKe, which was used for early promotional material such as Arctic Boosh, will also form part of the exhibition. “Me, Noel & Nige were at uni with Jake, and lived with him in Hackney after we graduated,” says Dave. “We’ve got some of his original artwork in it and some of his sketch books too, which I absolutely love – he’s such a great cartoonist.” Fans of the Boosh will probably be familiar with at least some of the pieces by Ivana, JAKe and Mr Bingo, but it’s a rare treat to get to see the originals.
A Boosh exhibition wouldn’t be complete without something from Noel Fielding, the man generally recognised as the originator of the show’s unique visual universe. Original artwork by Noel, which has been used for DVDs and books (including a beautiful matt-textured monkey face on a box which was used for the Book of Boosh) will be included.
I asked Dave about the ownership of the Boosh’s visual world, given the vividness of Noel’s vision and the prominence of his photography. How does that dynamic work? “The visual side of the show is all out of Noel’s head, I can’t take any credit for that.” he says. “But being at Uni together, always sharing influences and inspirations, it’s all one big melting pot.”
Listening to him talk about the good old days, you get real a sense of renewed energy and affection for the show, following a few quiet years away from it all. “When I did the Proud exhibition, I sent a couple of pictures to Noel, Julian, Rich and Mike and asked them to write some memories down about those moments. It was lovely reading them back, it’s easy to forget what an amazing time it was and how close we all were.” he says with obvious warmth. “It would be amazing to do it all again one day.”
“I’ve also been watching some of the shows again lately, they still really make me laugh,” he continues, “Noel and Julian together, when they’re really on it…there’s been nothing since then that has even come close to touching that chemistry. I know I’m biased, but I love them to death, I find them so fucking funny. It still holds up.”
Revisiting the show has encouraged Dave to start thinking about creating another book, possibly self-published, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of their first meeting back in 1998. “The last Boosh book was in character,” he explains, “We were still the characters from the show. But we’ve never done a retrospective; us talking about it from our own points of views, our memories of the moments. A big book of photography, ephemera, scripts etc. could be amazing.”
How long does he think that the public’s interest in the Boosh will continue? “I always have this voice in the back of my head – it was so long ago, does anyone even care any more, just let it go, Dave!” he replies. “But then people are still mad for it. I love that there are people who were into it when they were younger who are now showing it to their kids!” He notes that Julian’s renewed enthusiasm for the show has largely come from watching it with his boys. “And also it’s just so, so good – I guess it’s part of UK comedy history now. And the feedback I get from social media and meeting people is that it’s still loved and watched by many a beautiful person!”
One example of how the Boosh continues to inspire and excite people is the extent to which the team at The Book Club have embraced the whole concept. Dave’s delighted with the inventiveness and enthusiasm he’s encountered within the event and PR teams, all of whom seem to be fans of the show. “They’ve bought a load of shoe shaped glasses, so you can actually drink a Bailey’s cocktail from a shoe!” he laughs. “It’s great, I love how they’ve just gone ‘yes, we can do that’ to everything.” The end result is a series of weird and wonderful events which stretch from the launch party on 20th October to the end of the exhibition run in January 2017, including a fancy dress Halloween party and an artists’ lock-in, amongst others.
Dave’s appreciation of and empathy with the Boosh’s fanbase has helped to shape his pricing strategy for the exhibition. Although the photographs require significant upfront investment for printing and framing, he’s keen to offer something affordable to visitors. “I’m going to have various print sizes for sale. The ones on show will mainly be huge prints so they look great in the space, but I’m going to offer a range of sizes so there’s hopefully something everyone can afford.” What’s more, a percentage of the profit will be donated to Help Refugees, so the proceeds will be going to a good cause too.
We discuss the careful balancing act of shaping your creative output to suit those on a budget, while at the same time maintaining artistic standards. It’s something Dave feels passionate about: “I look at photography as an art,” he says. “You’ve got to respect the medium, and you’ve got to respect the moments. That’s why I want to print them properly and frame them properly. When a photograph is up on a wall, it’s a piece of art.”
So what’s next for the man formerly known as Bollo? Dave’s keen to take on more photography-based projects, but at the moment graphic design commissions are keeping him busy. His agency, APE is doing well, with a number of brand and design briefs from the private and public sectors. Indeed, at TVO we often come across projects in which Dave’s had a hand, which have recently included poster design for Gareth Tunley’s The Ghoul and cover design for Lliana Bird’s new book, The Mice Who Sing For Sex. The latter is another creative collaboration with Noel.
A couple of highlights from this year have been photography/design projects for two charities: KHULA in Zululand and Pears Foundation is Israel. Both took him and his camera overseas. “I’m starting to get more photography projects, which is great!” he says. “These were really inspiring projects…I’m in my element in that kind of situation.”
Right now, however, Dave’s time and energy is focused is on getting the Shoreditch Book Club exhibition ready: “I’m really excited about the thought of standing back and seeing some of my favouite shots and memories from the ‘on tour’ years, massive, up on the wall, whilst drinking Baileys from a shoe.” He pauses, “Now can I please finish my dinner?”
Look out for our exclusive competition to win entry to the exhibition launch party, coming soon!
You can see Dave’s photography and other Boosh live related artworks at The Book Club in Shoreditch from 20th October 2016 until 29th January 2017; for more information head on over here. Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to talk to The Velvet Onion and we wish him all the best with the show.
Tell us what you think!