Walter Tull. Why have you never heard of him?

Walter Tull - the first black English Army Officer

The 25th March marks a lonely anniversary. There should be parades, bunting, crowds.  But there will not be a single Reveille. On that day ninety-three years ago an authentic hero died in the Second Battle of the Somme. A Boys Own hero, a sporting legend who had played for Spurs, a leader of men who had stood side by side with them as they went over the top in some of the most dangerous fighting in modern warfare. A man who had been sent into care after the early death of his parents, separated from his brother and left to survive alone. A man of principle, impeccable morals, and the highest standards. An example, an icon, a man you probably haven’t heard of.

This man was Walter Tull.

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888. By 1900, both his Barbadian father and his English mother were dead. Walter and his elder brother Edward were placed in a children’s’ home in Bethnal Green.

Spotted while playing for the children’s’ home team, he was invited to join Clapton, a top amateur team, in 1908. Helping them to victory in the FA Amateur Cup, the London Senior Cup and the London County Amateur Cup that same season, he was soon attracting the attention of other clubs. It was Tottenham Hotspur who moved in for him, trialling him in their ‘A’ and reserve teams throughout the season. Still an amateur, Walter Tull was invited to tour Argentina and Uruguay with Spurs, signing as a professional on his return. After only seven first team games, he was dropped. This may have been a consequence of the racial abuse he received playing at Bristol City. Rather than stand by Tull, the Spurs management consigned their young star to the reserves.

In 1911, Herbert Chapman signed him for Southern League Northampton Town where he stayed until, like many of his contemporaries, he joined the army in September 1914. Serving in the famous ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ the 17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, he reached the rank of Sergeant. Still able to play football when on leave, he guested for Fulham in 1915.

Recommended for a commission, Walter Tull became an officer cadet in 1917. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 23rd Battalion in the Middlesex Regiment, he was mentioned in dispatches early the following year.

The strange thing is this. There was a ban of black men becoming officers in the British Army. It was somehow ungentlemanly to have a man of colour leading white men into battle. Yet that is what Tull did, heroically.

He was destined for further greatness. In 1917, Tull signed for Glasgow Rangers. Unfortunately, Walter Tull didn’t live to lead the Ibrox attack in the same way that he had led his soldiers. He was killed in action during the German Spring Offensive of March 1918 whilst serving with the 23rd Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment.

Walter, like many professional players, had joined the Football Battalion in 1914. The Army recognised Tull’s stature as a leader and he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

In July 1916, Tull took part in the major Somme offensive. Tull survived this experience but in December 1916 he developed trench fever and was sent home to England to recover. Tull had impressed his senior officers who recommended that he should be considered for further promotion. When he recovered from his illness, instead of being sent back to France, he went to the officer training school at Gailes in Scotland. Despite military regulations forbidding “any negro or person of colour” being an officer, Tull received his commission in May, 1917.

Tull became the first Black combat officer in the British Army.  Phil Vasili celebrates this in his superb story and scholarly work, ‘Walter Tull. Officer, Footballer – All The Guns In France Couldn’t Wake Me’  (Raw Press ISBN-10: 0956395406  ISBN-13: 978-0956395405)  He relates, “According to The Manual of Military Law, Black soldiers of any rank were not desirable. During the First World War, military chiefs of staff, with government approval, argued that White soldiers would not accept orders issued by men of colour and on no account should Black soldiers serve on the front line.”

Lieutenant Walter Tull was sent to the Italian front. This was epoch-making in its own right because Tull was the first ever black officer in the British Army. He led his men at the Battle of Piave and was mentioned in dispatches for his “gallantry and coolness” under fire.

Tull stayed in Italy until 1918 when he was transferred to France to take part in the attempt to break through the German lines on the Western Front. On 25th March, 1918, 2nd Lieutenant Tull was ordered to lead his men on an attack on the German trenches at Favreuil. On penetrating No Mans Land Tull was hit by a German bullet. Tull was loved by his men and several of them ran under a hail of machine gun bullets to try and bring him back.  These efforts were in vain as Tull had died soon after being hit.

One of the soldiers who tried to rescue him later told his commanding officer that Tull was “killed instantaneously with a bullet through his head.” Tull’s body was never recovered.

So on the 25th March the distant guns of the Western Front will lay silent. The campaign to award Walter Tull a posthumous Military Cross after an Early Day Motion in June 2008 failed will also fall silent. The fluttering white papers of bureaucracy in Whitehall will fall like feathers over the memories of gallantry against impossible odds. The battle for Walter Tull began the day he was born in Folkestone in 1888, an Englishman of valour and faith. He died a hero twenty-nine years later.

The German Army shot him. His body was never found. And yet we have still managed to bury him.

Walter Tull (left), a true English hero

A Place in the Sun – my love affair with Tracey Thorn

Seashells and carousels – Tracey Thorn in The Marine Girls
I first stumbled across Tracey Thorn on the Cherry Red compilation ‘Pillow and Prayers’ in 1983. She had three songs on the album under her own name, The Marine Girls and Everything but the Girl. I was astounded by the maturity, magical resonance and mellifluous marshmellowness of her voice. I also loved the feeling of walking along Springtide beaches staring into rockpools that her voice conveyed.

I was at the leftish University of Sussex, camping out on the Vice-Chancellor’s lawn, protesting in a kind of self-harming way by occupying the Administration Block and thwarting attempts to distribute student grants (remember those?) to indigent students.  I would hang out in the Pulse Cafe at Sussex University, making out as a callow proto-revolutionary in Mandela Hall, visiting the Vinyl Demand record shop off Trafalgar Street, dipping into the vaguely seditious Solstice Bookshop (run by contemporary Paul Bonett, now a successful avant garde Estate Agent in Brighton) and engaging in some highly self-indulgent pirate radio activity.

Solstice Bookshop in the late 70s, Trafalgar St, Brighton

For a boy from Southend, transplanted to the exciting and Graham Greeneian Brighton landscape, Tracey Thorn’s melancholic voice accompanied this Bohemian existence perfectly and I rushed out to buy as much of her work as I could.

The all-female Marine Girls were formed by Tracey with her schoolmates Gina Hartman and Jane Fox in Hatfield, Herts England in 1980. At first, Tracey Thorn played guitar, with Gina on vocals and Jane on bass. There was a drummer shortage so the band applied necessity to invention and pursued a minimalist approach to arrangements. Gina Hartman sang on ‘A Place in the Sun’  and recorded the first album, ‘Beach Party’ before leaving (voluntarily) and was replaced by Jane Fox’s younger sister, Alice Fox on vocals. This was before Tracey Thorn first put voice to mic. The original trio recorded a tape called ‘A Day by the Sea’ and sold it to their mates. The Marine Girls eventually released two albums in the UK – 1982’s ‘Beach Party’ and 1983’s ‘Lazy Ways’. ‘Lazy Ways’ was produced by the band’s mentor, Stuart Moxham of Young Marble Giants.

The video for early single  ‘A Place in the Sun’ was shot on Brighton Beach and features some background footage of the now derelict West Pier. I looked in vain in the video for a glimpse of me with a crocodile of 100 German foreign language students – a Summer job I had at the time.

Whilst at Hull University, Tracey began writing her own material as the logistics of getting back south to write with the rest of the band was difficult between university breaks. The Marine Girls broke up after Tracey and Alice Fox fell out following a concert in Glasgow in 1983. Tracey then recorded her solo album ‘A Distant Shore’ which influenced Curt Cobain and others, before joining Ben Watt in Everything but the Girl. In 1997 Cherry Red Records packaged the two Marine Girls’ albums onto one CD and 4 years later spinART reissued the albums in the US.

 “We never really paid much attention to these so-called ‘rules’ about what a band was supposed to be,” Tracey said. “We didn’t know anyone who played drums, for example, so we just formed a band without a drummer.”
The very minimalism of the sound, instead of placing the album in an envelope between post-punk and the advent of the ‘Twee’ (Altered Images etc) movement, creates a timeless voice from the eighties bedsit low-fi chamber. Tracey’s unique voice remains a siren call from the caves of the southern isles which forever recreates the hours spent listening to these albums on headsets and Walkman on the stony, yet strangely comforting beaches of Brighton, Hove and Worthing.

Play these albums now and enjoy the waves gently lapping at the toes of your imagination.


Bass – Jane Fox (tracks: 1 to 31)
Guitar – Tracey Thorn (tracks: 1 to 31)
Percussion – Alice Fox (tracks: 15 to 31), Gina Hartman (tracks: 15 to 31)
Saxophone – Timothy Charles Hall (tracks: 1 to 14)
Vocals – Alice Fox (tracks: 1 to 31), Gina Hartman (tracks: 15 to 31), Tracey Thorn (tracks: 1 to 31)


Lazy Ways (Tracks 1 to 14)
‘Originally issued in album format 1983 BRED 44, and as a double play cassette with Beach Party C BRED 44’
Beach Party (Tracks 15 to 31)
‘Originally issued in album format 1981, Licensed from Whaam Records reissued on Cherry Red Records 1987 BRED 75′

Track Listing:

Lazy Ways

1. A Place In The Sun (2:31)
2. Leave Me With The Boy (1:50)
3. Falling Away (1:46)
4. Love To Know (2:52)
5. A Different Light (2:22)
6. Sunshine Blue (2:05)
7. Second Sight (2:58)
8. Don’t Come Back (2:01)
9. That Fink.Jazz-Me-Blues Boy (1:32)
10. Fever (2:14)
11. Shell Island (2:27)
12. Lazy Ways (2:42)
13. Such A Thing.. (2:22)
14. You Must Be Mad (2:02)

Beach Party
15. In Love (1:53)
16. Fridays (2:03)
17. Tonight? (1:19)
18. Times We Used To Spend (1:41)
19. Flying Over Russia (2:05)
20. Tutti Lo Sanno (2:21)
21. All Dressed Up (1:46)
22. Honey (2:02)
23. Holiday Song (2:12)
24. He Got The Girl (1:24)
25. Day/Night Dreams (1:10)
26. Promises (1:29)
27. Silent Red (1:33)
28. Dishonesty (2:16)
29. 20,000 Leagues (2:23)
30. Marine Girls (1:39)

31. The Lure of the Rock Pools (1:50) 

Marine Girls – A Place in the Sun – original video shot in Brighton 1982 – featuring rare footage of the West Pier and Peter Pan’s Playground:

As in Photography, so in Life.

Eva Kalpadaki - Empty Space (untitled - and unintentional in its design)

I had the pleasure recently of meeting up with Eva Kalpadaki PhD who is a very talented photographer of the abstract and minimal, and who is based in the very corporeal and maximal Brighton. 

The context in which we met was unusual in that it was a forum of Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce which brings together creative businesses and artists at The Basement in Brighton. The next event is linked here:

Thrown together in a group discussion, it was obvious that both of us had a shared interest in how conventional networking (where two people reprise their business cards in each other’s faces as quickly and brutally as possible) could be subverted into something more interesting. How simply asking open-ended questions of each other would lead to a far greater understanding of how each other operates, what our aims and ambitions might be – and how we might be able to support one another in achieving them.

Eva’s photography which she kindly sent me links to, has an interesting lesson to teach us, unconsciously and without a manifesto.

I started the conversation on email.

RS: I was encouraged to see an artist who is capable of asking deeper questions through the simplicity of abstract photography. The minimal approach you use on the latter material, where the lens unflinchingly captures the interface between reality and dreams – and the jolt that boundary can deliver is superb. However, just as exciting is your earlier work using the ultra-plasticity that the camera can obtain when exposing its eye to flowers and other natural objects shows a different perspective – but achieved with the same sophisticated eye. The area that I am particularly interested in and impressed by is the unresolved questions that your art raises which subvert the usual expectations of the medium.

EK: As much as I like ‘the usual expectations of the medium’ and I started photography by exploring those expectations I ended up in what you saw; to question the nature of photography and to cause a tension in what you are looking at. I don’t know what to expect as I follow my inspiration and the flow of things but I am really looking forward to the next step.

RS: The most interesting ideas are the ones that no-one else is thinking yet. The trick is to see things in a different light, and then turn that light on for others.  Then get people of like mind to coalesce around you. 

The reason I like Eva’s work is because, as with minimalist art, it seeks to move away from self-expression and in so doing drops the usual conventions which ask for storyline, insight, commentary, allusion, metaphor and the artist either physically or symbolically inside the work.

The technique is the palette. The palette informs the technique. It speaks of space. The image on the canvas is the art in itself. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. If you can read messages, meanings and morality into the creation, then that is your mind’s neurological pathways conspiring together to write a storyboard – and therefore speaks more about your history and hinterland than the artist’s.

Artists like Eva are seeking to engender reaction, response and allegiance in the viewer through the unadorned action of the photograph rather than in the subliminal meaning or consciousness of the artist. If it is beautiful it is because it is beautiful. We can admire the work because of its purity and aesthetical freedom. It is a physical object like a glorious sunrise or a new born baby. It is enough in itself to be admired. It does not need a context, a movement or endorsement by its peers.

Ad Reinhardt said about minimalist art, “The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more. The eye is a menace to clear sight. The laying bare of oneself is obscene. Art begins with the getting rid of nature.”

How does this apply to life and how we apply ourselves to it?

Well, every time we go into a situation with a complex set of expectations, a series of demands before the negotiation has even begun, an anticipated lexicon of what the other person is going to say, we spoil the essential beauty of the moment of meeting.

Instead, what would it be like to simply look forward to the moment. To anticipate the specialness of interaction with another unique human being. To enjoy the visual kick, the vocal surge, the intellectual power jump?

Eva’s art does not have an agenda attached. Her simple, tranquil, ‘empty’ expressions of life from a different perspective are teaching one lesson only. Or is that an anti-lesson?

Here is the lesson: Do not expect, simply enjoy.


Links to Eva Kalpadaki’ s work.

A course she is leading at Phoenix Brighton (starts 27.4.11) and a link to an exhibition Eva curated with some of her  students from Phoenix during the Brighton Photo Fringe 2010:

Finally, one of my son Callum’s pictures, and a link to his Flickr site:

Don't look for meaning, just savour the image. 'New Light' by Callum Stannard

The Hirsch SB-1 guitar makes its debut – and ‘The Messiah will come again’

The Hirsch SB1 - Small is indeed beautiful

A few days ago I spent a couple of hours with Jonathan Hirsch. So what, you ask. We were introduced three years ago by a mutual friend Georgina Angele who thought that we would have something in common.

Jon is a dreamer, inventor, perfectionist and musician. He combines all these qualities in the form of his life’s obsession. Creating his own guitar. Like me, he’s listened to all the greats, wondered at the strange blend of spiritual transcendence and sheer down to earth sweat and toil involved in making a guitar sing. He’s listened agape to the pyrotechnics and impossible finger work of Jimi Hendrix; he’s stood in awe at the fluid dexterity of Eric Clapton and he’s tried to emulate the distinctive finger-picking style of Mark Knopfler. For years he’s yearned to put his own print on the path to the stars that these immortals have trodden. To leave a legacy, to make his mark, to mark his make.

The Hirsch SB-1 Small Body Electric Guitar stands in a corner of an upstairs studio. A perfect thing. Enthroned on its own bespoke stand, regal, yet small in a Windsorian way.

The Hirsch SB-1 is a wonderful, unique creation. It combines a full length neck with Gibson length combined with Fender string spacing.  The body is its signature piece. It is a neck-through body construction with a contoured heel and carved top, with a creamy brown mahogany veneer.  I suppose one could call it a travel guitar, but that just doesn’t do it justice. It has the glorious curves and styling of a vintage guitar with the ability to play full fret,  is roughly half the size of a standard guitar, yet boasts a two-octave fingerboard. The construction is customised with top quality wood, pickups and hardware and the kind of lovingly finished touches that only hand-built instruments have.  Jon intends to commission a limited first edition of just five, individually numbered and badged with the name of a well known popular song – ‘Love me do’ etc.

The SB1 - form follows function

So who will buy it?

Jon thinks that the Hirsch SB-1 will appeal to serious musicians, professional or amateur, who are not prepared to compromise on quality, pitch or performance. Someone who has made a little money and has to travel. The SB-1 is 30 and a half inches long – half an inch under the air restriction for hand luggage. You can take this beauty onto the plane and fondle it during the journey.

The likely selling price is going to be between £4and £5k so this is not a whimsical purchase. However, when there are only five of these works of art in the world, the price begins to look quite slim. The purchaser may well already have  a Strat or a Les Paul and will buy on form as well as function. They may have a small guitar collection and want a small guitar to join it. However, design is not enough. It has to sound sublime as well.

Matt Backer who plays guitar with new British torch singer, Rumer has already laid hands on it. It is on television on Comedy Rocks (Friday 4th February, ITV1). The SB-1 has had its initial break. Jon, the proud father, went to London to attend the recording. In the breaks, he played his guitar and waited for people to come alongside and admire his handiwork. Rob Harris, the guitar player from Jamiroquai did just that.

Talking to Jon, you realise that this quest to launch a new kind of guitar is not about the money. It’s not even about business success. It’s about leaving something behind. Something that could only have come from him. That kind of passion can’t be taught, instilled or mentored into someone. It can only ever be released.

It was a privilege to spend some time with Jon. A local musician, Tom Walker (The Tom Walker Group – Everyone was there EP – stopped by to pick up the guitar for a few moment, run his fingers up and down the neck, play a few runs. Jon stood by, enjoying the sensation of someone else playing his baby, intrigued by the different sound coming from it.

By day, he works in digital interactive media, deftly manipulating other people’s ideas into learning dialogues and experiential portals. But his heart lies in creating the ultimate conversation. Between creator and man. Between idea and realisation. Between the present and the future.

This encounter inspired me to seek out again one of the greatest guitar sounds ever produced, by Roy Buchanan, on ‘The Messiah will Come Again’ played on a brown 1953 Fender Telecaster that he nicknamed ‘Nancy’. I once played this to the owner of B&W Loudspeakers, Robert Trunz, on the original prototype pair of £35,000 Nautilus loudspeakers. We both ended up in tears. The birth pains of creation tend to do that to you.

The Album – Roy Buchanan – Buch and the Snakestretchers 1971

Roy Buchanan's treasured 1953 Fender Telecaster - 'Nancy'

‘The Messiah will Come Again’ – full album version.