You studied Fine Art at Blackpool College of Art during the sixties. What was that like?
Yeah, I did. But it wasn’t a very grand college, and it didn’t seem like the career for me. I’ve joked that I might have ended up as some seedy middle-aged art teacher in a girls’ public school in the north of England. I might even have got into trouble, I don’t know.
Could we legitimately describe you as a culture vulture?
Not really. In terms of literature or poetry I’m not very well-read. Over the years I have absorbed a lot about painting. I’m sceptical about anything that qualifies as abstract because there are so many phonies.
Have you ever bought a piece of expensive fine art as an investment?
I don’t know how you’d measure the term ‘expensive’, but I enjoy buying art. I dislike the term ‘collector’ because I don’t consciously accumulate anything. I’ve more than one flute but I’m not a ‘collector’.
An afternoon spent wandering around an art gallery – would that be heaven or hell for you?
A whole afternoon might be hell, but I could stretch to an hour. It’s a bit like a rock concert – if there’s an intermission, that’s my get-out clause. Some of the art exhibitions that give me the biggest kicks are the regional ones. My son-in-law and I went into a gallery in Swindon, which was an interesting reflection of what’s basically a railway town.
What do you make of so-called ‘modern art’ – things such as the unmade bed and the pile of bricks?
I’ve never liked it. As a schoolboy I became acquainted with the work of Salvador Dali and he struck me as someone who wasn’t a very good painter. He knew how to court the interest of the public and did so shamelessly. You get more bang for your buck with Magritte than Dali. Though a great bandleader, Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, is another who fancied himself as an abstract impressionist. But had you asked him to paint a milk bottle he’d have fallen at the first hurdle. Don was a rogue and, like Damien Hirst, he conned a lot of people. There’s Damien and… what’s the name of that awful woman?
You must be referring to Tracey Emin. Do you see her as brave or as a charlatan?
I’d have to say charlatan because she’s so aggressive about what she does. We can only applaud a woman that takes on the establishment. But the same people that judge her will be judging Tony Blair in forty or fifty years, and neither will come out of it well. Though so far Tracey has yet to invade a small country. But give her a weapon of mass destruction – which some of her attempts at painting are – and she might still succeed.
Do you think that rock music can really be considered to be art?
It’s too soon to elevate the work of Jagger and Richards or Lennon and McCartney to such a lofty position. Let’s come back in two or three hundred years.