Sunday, 5 April 2009


ABOVE: Loose Marbles Jazz Band in Fritzels bar
While in New Orleans I tried to draw as much as I could. Unfortunately and typically -during the exciting moments most deserving to be recorded in paint, I was having too much fun to concentrate. I did a couple of pictures from memory which I will post as soon as they are finished. I am coming to the opinion that drawing from life is all very good exercise but the GREATEST art must be done from memory or somewhere deeper - reverse memory - visions of the future or the past but NOT from life somehow. Anyhow, here are several pictures that were all drawn from life and painted from memory of friends, acquaintances and places in New Orleans during my month long stay there.

Above: Some great friends and great musicians including Mat on guitar and

Joe Powers on piano !

Above: SECOND LINING - for more info on this New Orleans beautiful weekly phenomenon check out my chapter on SECOND LINES on this site!

Shanty is a good old friend of mine who I met in croatia on out cycles in the summer of 2004 I think. He is a remarkable handyman and very caring friend always ready to help others. In fact he is called Shanty after the trailer on his bike where anyone would drop anything they did not want to carry. He was so fast he needed to be slowed down so he carried everyones things. His trailer was called shanty town because that is what it looked like and he was called shanty after his trailer! HO ho ho!
Above he is having a hair cut from another even older and very dear friend Gesina from Germany. She and I lived in the same house in the winter of 2003 in Barcelona. She is perhaps the most positive and loving person I know - I feel like she is a really special friend. Here she is giving Shanty a haircut. What with us both being Europeans I felt somehow even closer to her in New Orleans! They are doing the operation outside the hut on Rosie Lee lane at the back of Miss Jane's home where Shanty and I were staying. Below is Shanty playing clarinet:

Dizzy a Turkish born washboard player who had lived last few years in New York. Charming girl and always very elegantly dressed and also a fantastic musician - very sensitive and always jumping around with the music.

Willy is a very Talented song writer and guitarist. Very easy to get along with - modest and touching. He is humble which is remarkable considering the beauty of his songs. I have come to the conclusion that in so far as song writing is concerned - it is perhaps the most unjust talent - those who write the worst songs can get very far while people who spill their soul into words are too deep or meaningful or write too powerful music for others to appreciate. Or maybe it is just all taste and bad taste. In my opinion if you dont like the music people like Willy write then you are a moron or a Philestine or both but probably worse!

Lester and a girl whose name i forgot - posing in a courtyard with an umbrella during the intermittant sweaty menacing rain before the storm came. Lester was a neighbour of Miss Jane's and had been brought up as an acrobat and figure skater as a child. He could still do a back-flip before breakfast with a work belt on but all I ever saw him doing was smoking, drinking and chilling out. Very fun and engaging man - very agreeable, talented and kind.

Hassan - fantastic local singer and pianist! Very good company and sly chess player! Great fun to hang out with!

Emily in bed - she kindly let me stay in her flat when there was no room at Miss Jane's - although some nights she was so tired from work that she would be asleep when i arrived and asleep when i left and would not even know i had been there. I made this picture as a thankyou present for her hospitality and her deep kindness and generoscity of time in giving me private swing dance tuition.

Downtown New Orleans - The town became rich in the 80s when oil was found in the gulf but then bust and many of the big office blocks down town are empty and rotting. This is a typical street scene in the Central Business District (CBD for short). Empty bare streets with big shadows and strong sunlight and often a solid wind coming off the Mississippi and mowing between the skeletonal office blocks and rattling the empty can or bottle across the silent streets.

I have forgotton this girl's name - i saw her at the 2nd Line and smiled but we met next day at a party where i did painting of her which she was very sympathetic about - i am glad to say it looks much prettier and more like her in colour than the original in black and white - i hope she gets to see this - please tell me if you know her name!

Brett - more commonly known as Chigago - you have never seen a man who enjoys a cigarette and glass of beer as much as this cat - and as for his playing - a truly catholic repertoir of music from Debussy and Rachmaninov to Jelly Roll and Scott Joplin and lots of pop and original compositions too. A real hero on the piano and a truly beautiful cat with so much talent he glows!

Chance the dance teacher - very slick Lindihop dancer and devoted teacher and very genuine nice fella. He has established lindihop classes in New orleans and is also a slick tap dancer who can be often seen strutting for the Loose Marbles on Royal Street.

A well dressed Spanish girl I met on the street and painted.

Thursday, 2 April 2009



The tradition of Mardi Gras Indians goes back to the stories of Native American Indians who looked after African run-away slaves and accepted them as FELLOW HUMANS. Native Americans had many faults like everyone but they had no concept of one human being being another's material property! These run-away slaves intermarried with the indiginous people's and there are a few cases of black men become Chiefs of Tribes and trying to free other slaves. There is very little Indian blood left in Louisiana but the memories live on!

Each parish chooses their own chief and he assembles a tribe including spy boy, second in command, indian princess, wild men and sometimes many more but those are the essentials. Each one has their job - the Spyboy has to run ahead and keep the chief informed about other Indian tribes in the vicinity.

A Wildman

The Wildman or Wildmen watch his back and are permanently guarding the Chief. They often dress in bone costumes - voodoo style - and are often the only tribe members who are white - maybe because their faces are usually covered by masks!

Pierre as Wildman for Keito's tribe on St Joseph's night parade - which ended in a bit of a shoot out down town.

The Chief is always addressed Chief - even during everyday situations - and he remains chief sometimes for years until someone else is chosen to take over. He carries a decorated oversize rifle usually with a name written with crepe-like-ribbons on its side. He brandishes this and leads his musicians about who follow singing his praises and beating tambourines and drums until the time (I never saw) when he crosses another Indian chief and they face each other off with battles of the wits - exchanging insults, friendly or viscous.

Keito - our local chief with Forest - my neighbour - the dude with the beard holding the pole

Local street cleaners, delivery men, housewives, carpenters, mechanics turn into amazingly dressed Native Americans for the day. They are normal people who transform into beautiful heros and the legends of the community giving pride to their followers and making their life bigger than real life. These are normal people who bust a gut all year to get their new costume together and then live it to the max. NO government funding, NO arts council funding, NO outside help, NO justification - just community pride and solidarity. These things HAVE to come from the community! Screw all the people that complain they have not got enough money for their project - that never stopped the Cyclowns and never ever ever stopped the Indians! Art is part of being human! It costs money of course but it is your identity and makes life beautiful and is often as high in human priorities as eating and there are no government-funded eating lotteries so I am not being moronic!

Some old Costumes from the late 90s in Treme museum
You need to dig into your roots and community and you will find more than money - skills, dedication, energy, spirit, pride and love - all things that are often missing from government funded art projects! Artists need respect but they also need to earn it! When they earn it and get it that is a healthy society. When people are spending a lot of money to see some wierd contemporary dance show and some graffitti artist is getting fined for making beautiful murals then society is ill. Everything grows up and watering land with no seed or bad earth is a barren exercise!

Anyhow, preaching over.

On St Joseph's night every year they gather in their neighbourhoods after dark and process about showing themselves off before driving down town for the big get-together where they face off other chiefs and the chief of chiefs is decided upon. The sunday after many Indians come out on parade (without the hostilities) and link up with the second line. At St Joseph's night event there were some scuffles and a gun was fired but the sunday was very peaceful and fun - I wandered ahead of the Second Line to look at them all.

There were more Indians than i could count: over 60 or so, dressed up in their finest costumes with feathers all over the place. The most impressive and active fella was a tall fellow with a huge tomahawk made from feathers and a massive light-kharki colored costume with matching feathers that spread around him in every direction for a meter or two. On his chest and lower skirt there were two huge pictures in beadwork - one of Indians attacking a hill-top of semi naked blond haired white chicks and in the fore ground they were binding one chick with her boobs out and going to do something with her! It looked more than a bit suspicious.

Some old Costumes from the late 90s in Treme museum
On the lower skirt was a more politically correct picture showing 3 indians with bows and arrows and tomahawks burning a wagon full of cowboys and scalping one hopeless cowboy on a horse. The wagon was on fire of corse and the indians and their horses seemed to be flying while the cowboys were squat and heavy.

Beadwork on an Indian's back
The chief wearing these costumes would wave his huge feather tomahawk about the air repeatedly and lick his lips with a big dog like tongue which huge out at the side as he posed with his axe aloft and his legs wide apart and his face screwed up in a look of calculating anger at an invisible foe. Suddenly he would charge ahead in erratic leaps and huge jumps and wave his tongue in the air and hoot and wail and jabber in pidgin english about himself in the thrid person: "Big chief is the coolest, YAH YAH! I pretty front and back, I show you niggers how to be black! RAAAAH! HOOO, HOO, HOO!" etc..... There were many more Indians in even more beautiful costumes but he looked the most authentic of them all! Despite the stories of mixed Creol, Indian and Slave blood the vast majority have no native blood at all but are pure Afro-American - but like the folks in Green on St Patricks day, that is no reason to not celebrate an ancient tradition!

Mardi gras indians on the Super Sunday parade

Indians at the end of the Super Sunday march resting their heavy costumes on the grass

New Orleans - Party time

partying in new orleans

Me breakdancing on Royal street

me breaking



Above: Elvis strolling down the street

New Orleans is famous for its parties - people make any excuse for a party and often need none. Compared to everyone else I felt more Irish than Finnigan's side-burns but that did not stop thousands of people dressing rediculously for St Patricks day and doing some of the most surreal Irish accents I have ever heard.

The wearing of the green - me and Lulu on St Patricks day

Anyhow, after a few days in new orleans living with a bunch of artists with a big common wardrobeof carnival costumes I realized there was nothing to stop me dressing up as much as I could.

Me dressed a little like Uncle Sam

I was not alone in this permanently festive atmosphere. I was very pleasantly surprised how well people generally dressed - many were over-weight but they dressed with a lot of style - way better than the English (that's not saying much) and many on a par with the French.

Johnie looking good at the wedding - a little rabbit like I think!

But when they go to town I don't think I have yet seen their match! The Mardi Gras Indians are the ultimate in this field.

Above - Indians at the end of the Super Sunday march

Followed closely by the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs.

Second Line Dancers with Brass Band behind them

Both of these traditions are explained in the next chapter, here I just want to show photos of some of the wild ways people dress in New Orleans day in day out whatever the weather or time of day!

The happy couple Ratty and Oops at the wedding in the children's playground

Typical Californian girls ... he he he: Katya and Lila ...with no paaants ooon!

Buskers on Frenchman street - from left to right - Blu, Jessy, Colin and Jo

Bots and me drinking a cup of tea in our tweedledum tweedledee costumes

A melange of styles at the wedding

Setting off for the Second Line

Pierre Pressure at the wedding

Me dressed up

Machiah at the wedding as a bride's maid

Katie. Blu and Jo pimping out