In Pubs and how it came about…
It is ten years since Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow published In Pubs in a limited edition of 200 signed and numbered copies. They sold out fairly quickly and I only have one copy left myself. It’s a nice piece of stuff, 60 odd pages spiral bound with wine coloured thick card covers front and rear. It also features an introduction by Alasdair Gray and a previously unpublished short story by James Kelman (which subsequently appeared in his 2010 collection If It Is Your Life). Unfortunately In Pubs seems to be the publication that strangers email me requesting to buy. Therefore I have decided to upload it to its own page on this site along with some reviews tacked on at the end and this brief account of how the publication came about.
In Pubs as a body of work began life as a series of drawings I was making over a period of time off and on strictly sticking to stuff that happened in the pub environment. I didn’t know what it was going to be or where it was going at first, just kept adding to it now and again. Then sometime in 2006 I was asked to take part in a group show by Lowsalt, an artist run crowd that put on shows in temporary spaces. This one was in an empty shop unit in St andrew’s Street and the show ended up entitled Rack ‘n’ Ruin. Lowsalt and the other artists asked me to design the poster for the show. Some of them weren’t too happy at their portraits when they saw it. Personally I think I look the worst out the lot on it.
In Pubs was a series of 28x28cm prints aranged in a large block on the gallery wall attached with loops of sellotape on the back of the top corners of each print. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of this show but it was really good, all the different artists pieces worked really well together.
Some time later I was informed that I had been selected as part of the Jerwood Artists Platform to be given a solo show in the Cell Project Space in Bethnal Green, London. I went down to meet the curator Sheena Etches and we discussed what form the show could take. What we came up with was that the show would take the form of a kind of reading room with tables and stools scattered around the gallery. Each table would have on it a pile of each of my previous publications, and a new one called In Pubs collecting together all my drawings from the Lowsalt show plus a few new ones. For the cover of this I chose a yellow card which I imagined resembled the colour of lager, but I was never that happy with it in the end up, it was a bit bright.
The show worked really well and everything was paid for by the Jerwood Foundation. I had a new publication to my name, and another plus-point was that it got 3 of my older self published numbers back in print, 100 copies of each. And I got weighed in with a not bad fee.
Next thing I am back in Glasgow, living temporarily in my Dad’s spare room at the time, with 98 copies of the yellow In Pubs in boxes freshly couriered up from London along with all the other unsold ones piled up in his living room. Although the show was busy and well recieved for the month it ran, the books did not exactly fly off the brand new Ikea tables.
I asked Malcolm Dickson, director of Street Level, what he thought about the possibillity of perhaps having a book launch at Street Level to try and offload some copies of the yellow In Pubs and get it a bit more publicity. The reason I asked him was that he had told me in the past that he really liked my stuff in the Rack ‘n’ Ruin show. To cut a long story short Malcolm liked the idea of a book launch, but he suggested a new version of In Pubs published by Street Level and augmented by the inclusion of some kind of contribution from Alasdair Gray and James Kelman, which I was right up for as they were and still are very important artists to me. Malcolm sorted all that out while I got on with putting the book together and liaising with Clydeside Press who I had used to print all my publications. Everything came together and I met Malcolm in Blackfriars for a pint with the quote for 200 copies to be printed. Being a large format publication and involving a degree of paper ‘wastage’ due to the odd size of the pages it was a good bit dearer than he had expected. But it all went ahead. The launch night took the form of a question and answer session between myself and the critic Neil Mullholland and the audience. It was well attended, standing room only at the back as it turned out. The lift was out of order, which resulted in a wheelchair user being carried up two flights of stairs in their chair by severeal people to attend. After the Q&A session there was music and free drink etc. The only snag was that there were only two books. The nice wine coloured card I had chosen for the cover turned out to be too heavyweight for Clydeside Press’s machine to handle and the 3rd copy they ran off the press completely mangled up one of their machines putting it out of action in the run up to christmas, a busy period for printers. On the night people could look at the two copies and place orders for copies to get sent to them once they got printed. Clydeside arranged with the paper mill to get a specially made batch of lighter weight wine coloured card made to comlete the job.
The launch was a really good night. Street Level employed a professional photographer to document the question & answer session, which resulted in these fantastic photos of the back of my head.
Scottish Left Review issue 46
In Pubs, Stuart Murray, Street Level Photoworks, 2007, Limited Edition
In 2005 Stuart Murray produced a book of drawings called On the Street. It consisted of a series of faux-naive hand drawings of what some would consider the detritus of society – drunks, prostitutes, the homeless and so on. The drawings were accompanied by short fragments of what appear to be quotations from the characters themselves. The aim of the book was, through a cumulative focus on people we see daily in our cities but largely ignore, to raise our awareness of a ‘subculture’ in Scotland which is being ‘disappeared’. Ever since the rebranding of Glasgow in the early 1990s there has been little space for the less shiny elements of its cultural history. The culture may remain alive in parts of the public consciousness only through satire (at best Rab C Nesbit, at worst some ad-mans idea of a comic Scots drunk) and in some literature (some of James Kelman’s work).
It is therefore particularly appropriate that some writing by Kelman accompanies this book. It is also appropriate that there is a foreword by Alasdair Gray; there is a strong echo of Gray’s contrariness as to what constitutes an appropriate subject for art, not to mention an echo of his sparse, almost gothic and often humorous illustrations. This time we leave the streets and head into the pubs where Murray catalogues the characters who inhabit the few Glasgow bars which have not been redesigned as ‘style bars’. We have the same faux-naïve illustrations, the same life-in-an-expression reportage and the same fragments of dialogue. And it works just as well (especially the humour). Murray documents his subjects almost like a loving entomologist, and it stands as an interesting record of what sometimes appears to be a dieing culture. Above all, it is a beautifully packaged piece of art.
There is one thing which strikes me about the book, however. The characters we find are almost all middle aged men, almost all from a pre-1980s working class culture, almost all like something from a William McIlvanney novel. The effect feels almost historical, and certainly very male. It will be interesting to see what Murray does next – I would love to see him dissect the lives of the new generation of ‘detritus’, the young binge drinkers (male and female), the disoriented stag and hen parties, the dazed clubbers. Fragments of their lives would make an interesting comparison.
John McShane’s handwritten review from The Drouth reproduced as it was originally published:
Friday 1st August 2008
The Zinefest last Saturday was a lot of fun and made me want to put more effort in to selling stuff, just so I can stock Stuart Murray and Olly Paterson.
Stuart is a postman, a teddy boy and a chronicler of Glasgow’s rough pubs in In Pubs. I’m sure he is going to be a big star. I’m not sure if he thinks what he does has anything to do with comics, but I do.
Anyway, tonight I found myself stuck in Waverley station for an hour and decided that I deserved a pint. I bought my drink, but all the tables were at least partially occupied. I sat next to John, who was just like someone out of Stuart’s book. At first I was a bit scared, when he asked me if I was of the Rangers persuasion, but when I told him I worked in the NHS he warmed to me (“I love Gordon Brown”).
I couldn’t always tell what he was saying so I can’t really document his crazy, booze addled conversation, but I was reminded of how much time I spent talking to scary, bonkers people in pubs when I was younger.