Gaye is rightly considered one of the first female rock stars of the punk rock movement, whom ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia of 70’s Music’ called the “first female punk star”. She was “one of punk’s first female icons” wrote Dave Thompson (author of more than 100 books) adding that her “photogenic” looks, “panda-eye make-up and omnipresent leather jacket defined the face of female punkdom until well into the next decade”. Gaye is now a successful artist. What follows is a skimming stone across Gaye’s career in her own words.
Brighton & Hove News: What prompted you to move to London from Devon in 1976?
Gaye Black (aka Gaye Advert): I wanted to go to all of the gigs that were advertised, and they were nearly all in London. It was a bit isolating being down in North Devon. Also as I’d finished college and qualified as a graphic designer. There weren’t really any jobs in Devon to apply for, so the plan was always to move to London as soon as possible.
B&HN: Were you actually playing music before you left Devon?
G: I’d started playing bass in my room to pass the time. Playing bass in isolation is a bit limiting, but it was my favourite instrument so I just wanted to start learning it.
B&HN: How quickly after your arrival in London were The Adverts formed?
G: Pretty quickly. Myself and the singer (TV Smith) were there at the beginning of course. We were looking for a guitarist and we got Howard (Pickup). He was in West London as we were, and worked at a rehearsal studio which was quite handy! It took ages to find a drummer, and in the end we had one who hadn’t played drums before, who offered to do it.
B&HN: You played at The Roxy nine times, and The Adverts appeared on the live album ‘The Roxy, London WC2’. What do you remember about the venue and those times?
G: The Roxy was great, and as soon as Andrew (Czezowski) and Susan (Carrington) started putting on gigs there, we were going along there all the time. So it was just a natural progression to do our first gig there. It was almost like playing to friends. It was like a living room, it wasn’t much bigger than that. We just went there as often as possible. We couldn’t get enough of it!
B&HN: Your debut single was ‘One Chord Wonders’. Am I right in thinking that you were described as such in the press?
G: I can’t remember the actual quote. It went out on Stiff Records, and they sent us out on tour with The Damned. The byline for the tour advert was “The Damned can play three chords, The Adverts can play one. Hear all four at…..”
B&HN: You had a fairly big hit with ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’. That song was considered quite controversial at the time wasn’t it?
G: It was, but it wasn’t really being sensational. I suppose it was a bit of an odd story, and it caught the singer’s imagination. Gary Gilmore (the first criminal in the USA to face the death penalty in almost ten years) donated his eyes to science, and the singer wondered whether the person who woke up with them would know who their new eyes had come from!!!
B&HN: Why did The Adverts split up in 1979? It seemed that you were on an upward trajectory at the time?
G: Well, the record deal was coming to its end, and Howard, the guitarist had left. He just disappeared and didn’t turn up one day. The first drummer was sacked, as was the second one. There was just myself and TV Smith left, and also the keyboard player Tim Cross, who joined for the second album. We got a couple of brothers in to play guitar and drums (Paul Martinez and Rick Martinez). I don’t think our keyboard player got on with them. Anyway it kind of just ground to a halt, and it didn’t carry on again.
B&HN: You weren’t tempted to carry on in music yourself?
G: No. I think I was a bit disillusioned and worn out. I did get picked on quite a lot by the press, and that really bugged me as well.
B&HN: I got the impression that you were objectified at the time.
G: Yes, very much so. It wasn’t what I wanted, and it caused friction in the band as well. Certain members didn’t like me getting my picture published more often than theirs, but I hated it as well.
B&HN: You were described at one point as a punk icon.
B&HN: After The Adverts finished, you commenced a career in Social Services, which isn’t the softest or easiest career option to choose. Which branch of Social Services did you work in?
G: It’s better than selling things. I hate material things and the idea of having to sell products. I was a Homecare Manager. I did that for seventeen years and then they privatised homecare so there was a lot of us made redundant. We got early retirement, and I just went back to doing art.
B&HN: When did you actually start producing artwork, or was it something that you’d always done?
G: Yeah. In my foundation year I could have specialised in stained glass. I didn’t do any there though so I started doing stained glass at evening classes while I was still working. I would make little panels and things, and I made jewellery out of it as well. I suppose I first started exhibiting in 2008, and I’ve just been doing it ever since.
B&HN: I understand that some of your artwork is influenced by black metal music. How did that come about?
G: (laughs) I don’t know! I just unwittingly got led into the more and more extreme things!!! It is pretty good imagery. It does spark off some dark designs!!!
B&HN: What other influences do you have in your artwork?
G: Well, all sorts really! The new one I’ve just done is inspired by the people who are trying to sue Tate Modern. They spend millions of pounds on a flat that’s just like a goldfish bowl with glass walls and complain when people look in. I find that quite amusing!!! I’ve just done another one about technology. I never actually plan my work particularly, it just kind of evolves. I might go into the studio with one kind of work in mind, and then come out having done something completely different!
B&HN: I notice that there are a lot of death-related images in your work. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and also ‘Dust to Dust’ feature photographs of yourself as a young woman surrounded by skulls. Does this represent you coming to terms with your own mortality, or with mortality in general?
G: I’ve always been drawn to skulls. I try to get away from them and they always seem to come back again!!! I’ve been doing this electronic photo-layering. Obviously I didn’t take the photographs of myself. That was a kind chap called Jeremy who took them at a live gig at The Nashville in 1977 or 1978. He doesn’t mind me using them. The background photographs I took in the Czech Republic. I like layering photographs electronically and then eating away at bits, making whole new artworks. It’s a nice thing to do in winter when it’s dark and gloomy and you can’t really see what you’re doing. You can carry on working on a laptop into the night. That’s how they came about, and the same with my other more recent ones, like the Poly Styrene ones. They’re really old school. I got a YouTube video of X Ray Spex and took screen shots from it. I quite like doing that because you’re never quite sure what’s going to come out. Also I like doing paint effects as well. On the recent ones I’ve been working away with paints. I like the contrast with the crispness of collage, as that’s my main thing. I do like the unexpected juxtapositions of one thing taken out of context, and then put up against another thing.
B&HN: I was particularly taken with your ‘Memorabilia’ series of works.
G: I did them actually for the Rebellion Festival, for the anniversary year, 2016. I did a series of ten of those. They’re still on sale on my website. I’ve got a limited amount of stuff that I’ve kept and that people haven’t seen over the years. Again I’ve taken photos of them and layered them. A lot of the photos I’ve used are photos I was given around ’77, and that I had stuck up on my wall in my attic room. You can see the yellow sellotape marks on them still.
B&HN: It’s a very affectionate tribute to that era isn’t it? Does that seem a long time ago to you now? A lot of the music from the time, when you play it now, it still sounds really fresh. And it seems relevant to today, I think.
G: Absolutely, yeah. Some things don’t change!!! There’s loads of current punk bands carrying it on like The Cyanide Pills. You listen to Buzzcocks today and it could be current.
B&HN: I had a look at some of your other work and I particularly like ‘Evil Squirrel’ and ‘Don’t Play With Mummy’s Things’. The baby’s legs sticking out of the necklaces make playing with Mummy’s things look like a particularly dangerous thing to do! Was that intentional?
G: Absolutely, yeah! They are actually my late mother’s old necklaces in there that the baby’s drowned in!!! It’s actually been sold but it’s still here because the guy’s in San Francisco, so it has to be shipped over there at some point.
‘Evil Squirrel’s’ a bit of an icon. There’s bottle top brooches in there and all sorts. The actual squirrel, before I painted him up, I found on the ground after the main flea market in Rome one night. I couldn’t leave him there so I picked him up and brought him home!
B&HN: You seem to exhibit fairly regularly.
G: Yeah. I’ve just got back from the Rebellion Festival. That was quite a big one.
B&HN: How did that go?
G: Yeah, OK. Apart from my own stuff I’ve done the cover art work for Alvin Gibbs’ (from the UK Subs) solo single. We had prints of that on sale which we’d both signed. He’s asked me to do the next one as well.
B&HN: I understand that you described the Rebellion Festival as being “like a school reunion”.
G: Yeah it is!!! Loads of friends that we’ve known since the seventies – all in one place!!!
B&HN: Who did you see play when you were there?
G: Oooo gosh! Pauline Murray three times! She played with Penetration, solo, and also with The Invisible Girls. I’d never seen her with The Invisible Girls so that was great. Alvin Gibbs also appeared three times: with The UK Subs, his own new solo project The Disobedient Servants, and he did a spot with Wayne Barrett as well. Lots of people were doing multiple shows, which was great. Also The Ramonas. On the first night they did Ramones songs. The second day they did their own songs instead of Ramones covers.
I saw The Svetlanas. They’re Russian. The singer, Olga, is absolutely mad! That was really fun. I was right down against the barrier filming that! I also saw The Professionals of course. They’re mates of mine. It got a bit wild at the end!!! Saw The Damned too. Various other bands too – it’s all turning into a bit of a blur!!! The Stranglers! Saw them! I was just listening to ‘Black and White’ in the front room. I was admiring Jean Jacques Burnel’s bass playing. I used to be down there nearly every week at The Nashville just staring at his hands.
B&HN: What do you have planned for the future?
G: Actually I’m meeting somebody on Sunday about an exhibition in The Netherlands. I’ve got the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. There’s been a show there later this month I believe. There’s a book called ‘Cash Is King’. They did the book last year and asked me to be in the next one. Again they had a launch and exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. The Saatchis have asked them to do it again this year. With the second book ‘Cash Is King 2’ they asked me to curate a punk section. So I’ve got people like Pauline Murray and Charlie Harper in it. So that’s just out, and I’ll be exhibiting at the Saatchi Gallery later this month. There’ll be The Underdog Show in a couple of months in Crucifix Lane in London. I’m also in a little one at the Acton Open, in West London.
For future work I want to get some more electronic stuff done, and mix up the styles as well. Some of the memorabilia ones I’ve done painted backgrounds with the photographs and memorabilia on top. There’s lots of possibilities and permutations. I’m just looking forward to getting cracking on some more stuff, and maybe some bigger 3D stuff while I’ve still got the space.
And so endeth my chat with Gaye Black nee Advert. Gaye is exhibiting at the Acton Open at the W3 Gallery until 9th September; the Cash Is King 2 exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in August and September; The Punk Rock and Roll Art Show at the Underdog Gallery in Crucifix Lane, London SE1 from 8th to 10th November. Gaye’s work can also currently be seen at the Waterloo Square Gallery in Alfriston, East Sussex. Check out Gaye’s website www.gayeblack.co.uk
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