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Harry Pye

Mehis Heinsaar

Lauri Sommer


Harry Pye’s Postcard from Leeds

Mikey Georgeson was a founder member of “David Devant & His Spirit Wife”. He sings and plays guitar and keyboards and is a great song writer. Recently Garageland magazine voted “David Devant” 4th in a poll of the greatest Art School rock bands of all time. Over the last few years he’s performed both as “Mr Solo” (which is just him singing over backing tapes) and also as a member of a super-group of indie stars called “Glam Chops”. Mikey has written many great songs. Often they contain a splash of saucy musical hall wit. For example, “I Think About You” is all about lust:

“Now get this clear – I’m being sincere.
Your biggest fan, that also ran, is not someone I fear.
Read my mind and what you’ll find will help us leave the world behind.

Oooh-ah, in the garden – with my purple heart on, and the day that we first met – that’s the day I can’t forget. In my romantic novel – just call and I will grovel.
You can tie me up in chains, then come home and pick my brains out.”

Mr. Solo


David Devant & His Spiritual Wife

Gretta Sarfaty Marchant doing her performance

“Shower”– Martin the accordionist taking part in the performance.

I first saw his band play live at a festival in Deptford in South London. The year was probably 1995 and so I must have been about 21 years old. I saw them a year later, just after I got my job at Tate Britain, and spookily that night they sang a song about the gallery called, “Pimlico”. I loved the fact they turned just another tube stop on the Victoria line into a semi-mythical nirvana...

“We’ve all been to Pimlico –
it’s the kind of place lovers like to go.
And if you don’t, you will never know –
it’s got a lovely gallery!”

By 1997 the band were being featured in Melody Maker and The Times. You’d meet more and more people who agreed they were an incredible live band and that Mikey was a great front man. They were signed to a decent label and their songs were getting on the radio and in the charts. It’s hard to describe what a thrill it was to be in the crowd at one of their shows.

Fast forward 11 years and Mikey and I are getting drunk in the bar of a travel lodge in Leeds. Mikey has two sons now. “David Devant” only play live about twice a year and he has released two solo CDs. His most recent batch of songs contained some wonderful material. There was one song in particular I went through a phase of playing over and over again recently. The chorus contained the lines, “Well I’m doomed if someone up there doesn’t like me”. It’s quite a personal song he plays on a child’s toy guitar. I guess the message of the song is: if the world is a stage, why wait in the wings? In each verse he sings about his situation, admits his fears but then concludes that the show must go on. For example:

“Well I’m doomed if I worry about losing my hearing.

Well I’m doomed if I worry the crowd might be jeering, but you’ll never know what you’re missing,
if you don’t take the time to listen...”

The reason we’re in Leeds is because along with Jasper Joffe, Gordon Beswick, Olly Beck, James Jessop, Martin White and one or two others we are supporting Gretta Sarfaty Marchant. Gretta and Mikey will be performing together with accordionist Martin White on one evening. And on the next evening we will be screening a film Gordon Beswick has made about Gretta’s life and then I will be talking to Jasper Joffe and James Jessop about Gordon’s film and what it’s like to work with Gretta.

Aside from London and Birmingham – Leeds is apparently England’s biggest City. Manchester gave the world “The Smiths”, “The Happy Mondays”, “New Order” and “Joy Division”. Liverpool gave the world “The Beatles”, “Echo & The Bunnymen”, John Peel. So far Leeds has only given us one of “The Spice Girls” and that group who recently had a hit with “I Predict A Riot” whose name escapes me. It doesn’t feel like a big City. It’s hard to get a grip on Leeds. We go to the local art gallery which has a few great paintings by Stanley Spencer, Walter Sickert and one or two others. In the gallery café we talk about Leeds. “Do you think you could be happier living here instead of London?” asks Jasper. Everyone is silent for a minute and then gives the same answer: “No.” Why? It’s hard to say but there’s something about Leeds that is just dead.

Olly Beck and I go for a walk. We find a Woolworths and talk about how this chain of shops have been going for 99 years but will soon be wiped out because of the recession. We take a few photos of us in the pic-and-mix. Every child in England has been taken to a Woolworths and told to pick some sweets but soon it will be just a memory. Olly is a writer. He knows a lot about performance art and so is interested in Gretta who has performed in New York, Milan and Paris. Olly curated part of Gretta’s show at Leeds university and hung and selected many photos of Gretta doing a performance based on a painting by Goya.

In the evening a crowd of students gather at the college to see Gretta perform with Mikey Georgeson. Mikey sings a song called, “Home Sweet Home” and then Martin White joins him to perform an old “David Devant” number called “Parallel Universe”. Gretta’s performance is about escaping from a cage. We see her trying to break out and achieve freedom. Jasper isn’t impressed but the rest of the crowd seem to like it. Two young girls even come up to Gretta at the end and tell her it’s the best performance art they have ever seen. Jasper still isn’t impressed, “But they are just two idiots. What do they know?” he states firmly. Gretta’s companion, Francesco doesn’t like the performance either. “It was an embarrassment” he says with his arms folded. Terrence Jones who invited Gretta to come to Leeds doesn’t agree with Francesco. Terrence is happy with how it went and keen to congratulate Mikey and Gretta. More students appear and say they enjoyed it too and Gretta seems happy.

The next day in the college lecture theatre I introduce Gordon Beswick’s film, “Gretta’s Progress”. Gordon has done an excellent job and the film gets a big round of applause at the end. Gretta has photos and film footage of her life and work in Brazil, Japan, Italy, France and the U.S. There is also a lot of footage about Sartorial moving from Notting Hill to a gigantic space in King’s Cross. The film ends with Mikey Georgeson singing the Sartorial theme song in which all the artists who have shown there are given a name check. Gretta loved the song and put it on You Tube for all to see. Jasper thought the song was great but not everyone was impressed. Mat Humphrey (whose name got left out of the song by mistake) said the song made him want to throw up. Possibly he was referring to a section of the song when Mikey asks, “Whose more sexy – Jay Jopling or Gretta?” which he has since turned into an artwork. Or maybe he was just pissed off because his name got left out?

Leaving Leeds after a couple of nights there we all go by train back to King’s Cross. James Jessop has more energy than the rest of us put together and clowns around jumping on seats and mucking about. I’m tired, but happy. I can’t help thinking about Mikey’s song about being doomed. I think Mikey (and Gretta) have the right attitude about their work/life. You have to accept that you win some and lose others. You can’t control who turns up to your shows. You can’t even guarantee that your friends will like what you do. As Bart Simpson says, “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” But every time one of these events take place it seems a few more converts are found. What can an artist do beside putting on the best show they can and not giving up?

A week later I see Mikey again, this time at the 100 Club in Oxford Circus. The venue is famous as everyone from Chuck Berry to “The Sex Pistols” to “Oasis” once played there. The place is packed. Onstage “David Devant & His Spirit Wife” are joined by special guest, accordion player Martin White. The crowd is loving it. I look round and see hundreds of people singing along. They know every word of Mikey’s songs. They perform a rare number inspired by the pop artist Richard Hamilton called, “Slip It To Me”. The song is fast and edgy like early “Talking Heads” but with cheeky ianduryesq lyrics. I think to myself: This is great.


Harry Pye
is a writer, curator and painter who lives and works in London. See also his postcards from London in previous issues of Epifanio.

All images are courtesy Mikey Georgeson and Sartorial Gallery, London.