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Paul Cannell

Paul Cannell by Marceline Smith

Paul Cannell was something of an in-house painter for Heavenly Records and Creation Records in the early nineties. Quite literally in Creation’s case when he set up a studio in their offices. Over a couple of years Paul did paintings for the sleeves of singles and albums by Primal Scream, Manic Street Preachers, The Telescopes, Flowered Up, Shonen Knife and more, including the infamous Screamadelica sun. Paul also toured with indie-nobodies Fabulous as a support act, painting on stage for the audience.

I’d always liked the bright colours, and childlike qualities of Paul’s work and decided to make it the subject of my A Level Art project. I arranged to interview Paul at the Creation offices which was kind of a dream come true for me, being a massive Ride and Creation fan. Thus, at a mere old age of sixteen, I made the long trek from the north of Scotland down to London and found Creation’s non descript door with some difficulty in the back streets of Hackney. This was during the height of Creation’s pre-Oasis success where the offices were a hotbed of drug-crazed mentalism. However, I saw no evidence of this as I made my way up the stairs past the hubbub of a busy sewing business and found myself in reception. I discovered Paul was not in the office and had to phoned and got out of bed so I was encouraged to go and have a cup of coffee in a nearby greasy spoon where I shared table space with The Boo Radleys! When I returned Paul had arrived and led me up past the swanky boardroom to his bright airy studio. There were drawings stuck the walls, paintings leaning against every wall and the floor was a bombsite of paper, canvas, paint, car body filler, polystyrene cups and fag ends.

The following interview has never previously appeared in print.

Can you tell me a bit about your background

I was just a boy really. When I was about 14/15 punk came out and I was really into punk rock. I’ve always drawn. I left school and went into print, did commercial printing, doing party invites and serviettes and stuff. Did that for a couple of years. Then I was a milkman for about a year and a half, then I signed on, dropped out, did nothing for about four or five years. I really hated work so I decided to paint. Started painting. Painted for about three years. I was trying to paint figures and that but I hadn’t done any life drawing so I went and did the A level course, just went in the next day and started.

How did you get involved with Creation?

I met up with a guy called Jeff Barrett through a band called Flowered Up cos I knew the drummer. He’d come round the house a few times and be freaked out by the paintings and stuff so as soon as he was in Flowered Up it was like ‘I want to do a cover’ so I got some ideas done and it was away. And after working with Jeff for Heavenly for about a year, just, not being ripped off at all, but like not getting no money for anything, then I got involved with Primal Scream through Alex Nightingale.

And they gave you this studio to work in?

Yeah, I pay a form of rent. If I sell paintings or do an covers then get paid.

Primal Scream - Screamadelica. artwork by Paul Cannell

How much do you get paid for a cover?

Well, I’m not supposed to disclose that but not a lot of money. Don’t think about doing covers to get you by ‘cos it won’t. [laughs] Not at all. Unless you’re full time at a major label of course. I’ve started selling my paintings now for a decent amount of money. And I’m capable of maybe knocking up four or five paintings a day if I really wanted to. But when money comes into art it fucks it up really bad. Business and art doesn’t mix.

What influences your work?

What influences my work? You tell me.

Well…some of its a bit cubist.

[sharp intake of breath] So you say it’s a bit cubist…[wanders over to a painting]. Can you see a Picasso influence in my work? Can you?

Ummm, maybe in the colours.

The thing is, for a lot years I worshipped Picasso. He’s like an ultimate character. But I’ve got other influences, I’ve got loads of influences. When I first started looking at paintings I was looking at Impressionist painters, Monet and people like that and thinking ‘this is beautiful’. I was so into like Renoir’s garden party thing. Fucking brilliant painting. But I got into more classical stuff before I really got into abstract but abstract painting to me was like ‘what the fuc k does this mean. People like Rothko. I just though it was crap, canvases put up on a wall. I couldn’t understand even self-expressionism or anything, Pollock and that. I had no idea. I just took on a lot of classical stuff. I’m pretty illiterate when it comes to reading and stuff but I like.. Caravaggio, I like his work. He’s a fucking pure genius, fucking good painter. He’s got it y’know? Then I fell into Abstraction and now I can’t get out of it.

It’s inspired by a lot of things. It’s inspired by children. I pick up so many kids drawings off the street at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s incredible, they’re great. I put them up here and in my house and people go ‘oh, I like this one’ and you say, ‘how much would you pay for it?’ and they’ll go, ‘I’d give you 200 quid for it’ and then you say ‘yeah..it’s a fucking kid’s drawing mate’. [laughs]. It’s great innit? What’s your name again? Marceline? See, you got a letter back ‘cos you sent a stamped addressed envelope. I got another letter off some guy who’s doing exactly the same thing as you and I still haven’t sent his letter off. I don’t mean to. It took me two weeks to send this information off to this magazine in Brighton. I thought I’d point that out. I looked at that other letter today and thought, ‘shit, I better post that’ and then I thought, ‘well, I don’t know. I haven’t got enough money, I’m pretty skint’. 29 pence or whatever it is for a stamp..

Just send it without a stamp and he’ll have to pay for it when he gets it

Yeah, right! That’s right. I should just send it and let them pay for it. You’re right actually. Nah, I wouldn’t do that.

What kind of materials do you use?

Oils. I mainly use oils but I add stuff. Like household paint, undercoat or something. I use this with it, car body filler, recycled. My mate works at a garage and he collects it from the back room and then he brings it home for me. I mix it with the paint and it builds up like a cement. It’s really good. Good fun.

Paul Cannell's studo by Marceline SmithPaul Cannell's studo by Marceline Smith

[starts wandering round showing me works]

There’s not much here. There’s work in reception that’s not there any more cos it got sold. But I’m working on paintings at home. I was working with numbers actually, the numbers 1, 2 and 3.

I point out a sketch that I like [left]

I really hate, I’m really opposed to straight lines. I remember being at school and being punished, being thrown out of the science lab. First they made us do the science lesson but sit outside and work out there which was just like putting all the freaks out in the hallway to fuck around. We used to just listen to Crass. Then, when they realised we weren’t doing anything, I had to do technical drawing as a punishment, that was the class I had to go to. I was already doing technical drawing as one of my options so I ended up doing twice the amount of lessons and it was really doing my head in, having to use a ruler. I still don’t use rulers. If you look at my covers they’re all wonky. No straight lines. That’s why it was alright working with the Manics for a bit ‘cos I could just do them like the fucking Sex Pistols. Just give them Jamie Reid ‘cos that’s what they wanted at the time.

Do you work with anyone or do you pick bands because you like their music?

At the moment I wouldn’t mind working for anyone ‘cos I need some money. I’ve got to do an ad now for the Scream and The Orb. But last week there’s a painting that was over there that isn’t there any more ‘cos it was taken away to be photographed for Primal Scream’s next single, it was all sorted. But now they’re not releasing the fucking single. So that’s how it is. It’s very disillusioning. You get all enthused when you get told to do things, do loads and loads of work and then they go ‘nah, it’s not on now’. So I’m a bit wary now. I don’t get on with the work until they really want it. If you really want it then I’ll do it. Like I’ve given ideas to bands and then they’ve ripped them off, gone to someone else and had it done and it’s turned out crap!

Someone comes in asking for a bit of wood “to sweep up some gravel, like”. This seems like a perfectly reasonable request to Paul who spends a good five minutes trying to find him one.

So, do you like the music of the people you work with?

Yeah, I’m quite into a lot of bands I’ve done work for. It’s interesting doing work with them right at the beginning and then…like the Manics are supposedly really big now. I still like the Manics. Flowered Up..yeah, I still like Flowered Up. I like Primal Scream obviously. I like the Telescopes. Do you know the Telescopes? I like that, that’s a good album.

Do you do any other kind of art as well as painting?

I like carving wood. I like welding. I do things like that [fishes out a small sculpture of bits of painted wood stuck together with nails and glue]. Yeah, I like sculpture but I want to paint first.

Goes into extended rant about painting

You’ve got to know how to draw, you’ve got to have control of your fucking hand. All this work that you see here, is done with the other hand, it’s not even done with my natural hand. I changed my hands about three and half years ago because I was sick of what my left hand was doing. I like drawing with my right hand because it’s messy, it’s like a kid. It’s clumsy. All this clumsy work you’re seeing here, that’s why it’s clumsy. That’s the only way I’ve been able to build abstraction. I was getting too dangerously technical with this arm. So…I’m not a very good artist and I don’t particularly like doing record covers. It’s a good feeling when it’s done and it’s released and you walk into a record shop, that’s a nice buzz.

* * *

Following this interview Paul did a few more covers for Creation and their offshoots and then slipped away from public view. I considered sending him my completed project so he could have a look but I doubted he’d ever get round to sending it back if I did.

* * *

I’m sorry to report that Paul Cannell committed suicide in July 2005. Heavenly’s tribute

Flowered Up
Manic Street Preachers
You Love Us
The Telescopes
Shonen Knife We Are
Very Happy You Came

Paul Cannell
Heavenly Records
Creation Records