The Latest APRIL 27, 2010 - by Andrew Kay


Artist, writer, painter, composer, performer and legend Brian Eno talks to Andrew Kay about guest curating the 2010 Brighton Festival.

It's a warm spring afternoon and I am in London for a concert. With time to spare I drift into the Victoria & Albert Museum and look at a few favourites along with some new works. I eventually wander into the theatre section and, in a final cabinet, come across an exhibit that has an almost iconic place in my own cultural history. It's a tiny outfit made of black satin with the most outrageous shoulders, which rise in huge plumes of black feathers.

I remember it well. It was of course worn by Brian Eno, or Eno as we then knew him, and it comes from his days in the avant garde artschool/glam-rock band Roxy Music. I remember seeing them for the first time on The Old Grey Whistle test and the buzz in school the following morning. For us, Bryan Ferry was the least interesting thing - it was Eno who stood quietly, looked almost alien and simply twiddled knobs.

It's hard now to equate the outrageous costume with the almost shy, grey-suited man who only a few weeks earlier had been presented as curator at the launch of this year's Brighton Festival. Or is it? Fortunately I was able to ask him myself.

Was accepting the curatorship of Brighton Festival an easy decision to make?

Yes it was. It wouldn't have been a year ago but last year I did the Sydney Luminous Festival and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, contrary to my expectations, and found that I like the job of presenting artists and events the people might not have heard of.

How does the collaborative process start for you as a producer?

Well, I an an evangelist, really. If I like something then I want everyone to kinow about it. I've always been like that so this is a chance to turn that into a job.

Do artists approach you or do you approach them?

In both this case and the Sydney Luminous Festival I approached people.

And in your career as a producer?

No, it's the other way round then. I get approached.

Do you struggle to find these challenges or do they come easily to you?

They come too easily. I have to turn a lot of things down because otherwise I would never get to do any of my own work.

Did you ever like being a pop star?

For about a week I think it was.

As little as that?

It was never something I imagined I would do or be, and never something I regretted doing either.

Have you ever embarked on a collaboration and found that it just wasn't going to work?

Yes I have.

Is that hard, uncomfortable?

Yes, it is uncomfortable. But it's only really happened once where decisively it wasn't going to work.

And was that a mutual agreement?

Yes, and I won't say who it is.

What do you hope to have brought to the Brighton festival?

Well, I hope that the area of art that I work in straddles areas of high and low culture. I like things that cannot be placed in one box or the other. So most of the things I am doing will be slightly difficult to categorise, and I like that.

And what do you hope to take from the experience?

I just want to have a nice month in Brighton as I will be living here.

What in your career has been your greatest challenge so far?

Oh, I don't know. That's a hard question to answer.

Have you had a major disappointment?

Oh dear, I'm not very good at autobiographical questions, you know. I don't think about me very much.

What do you find most satisfying? Sound, image or word?

It depends what I am working on. Yesterday, for example, I spent most of the afternoon working on images, on stuff for the festival, and then at half-past three I thought, 'I've got two and a half hours before anyone comes to the studio, I need to do something physical, I'm going to make a piece of rhythmic music' and I did, I made a new piece of music. So, you see, I move very easily between things. But what I find hardest is writing words. Speaking is easy but writing I find hard.

What have been the major influences on your career?

Well, of course going to art school was a very big influence on my life.

Yes, me too.

You were an art student?

Yes, graphics, although I write full-time now.

You see, this is one of the things that happens to art students and politicians, because they look at art schools and cannot make clear book-keeping decisions about what art students do and what they are good for. I am always saying that one of the reasons England is so much more important than its size would warrant in the world is because we have art schools. We have people who are trained to be creative and are able to change.

You don't seem to have ever said no to anything anyone has asked you to do...

No, it's been one the biggest problems of my life. For me, art school has been very important; I was there from '64 to '69 and in the art schools there was a revolution going on, a movement to regard all of the arts as, if not actually integrated, then integratable. The idea was inspired by Cage and Rauschenberg - you could move from music to painting to sculpture to anything. There was no reason to think of yourself as just a painter or just a sculptor. And this made complete sense to me. I could see no reason why I shouldn't try to do anything I felt like trying to do. I was prepared to accept that I might not succeed at all of them but I was going to try. I think that was the important message for my future.

In Sydney you returned to the stage for the first time in a long time. Do you like being on stage or do you prefer the security of your studio?

I enjoyed that show. It was thought out differently from any other show I've been involved in. Pure Scenius! was mostly improvised. There were seven of us on stage, as there will be in Brighton. There was quite an elaborate conceptual background to the show which may not have been entirely obvious to the audience, although I did hint at it at times, but it made for a real adventure. I thought I might never do this again but of course now I am, in Brighton.

Is there one Festival event that you are not involved in that you are looking forward to?

Quite a few, actually. I am looking forward to Hofesh Shechter. I know about him because a friend has worked with him. And I am looking forward to hearing the historian Anthony Beevor speak. I like his writing and will be going to that. Uncle Vanya is one of my favourite plays and Roy Haynes at eighty-five will be great.

What do you listen to for pleasure, or does your work occupy all your listening time?

I listen to all sorts of things. Let me tell you because they are all in a pile here. I have been listening to a whole lot of records on the Domino label - Wild Beasts, Two Dancers, Coconut by the Archie Bronson Outfit, Bonnie Prince Billy's new album...

Is there any music that you return to repeatedly?

Yes, Fela Kuti and the Afrobeat stuff in general. And Me'Shell Ndegéocello - she has for years been the undiscovered genius for me. Well, not undiscovered several people have recognised her talent but not the world at large.

When do you find time to sleep, Brian?

Oh, I don't stay up late. I just sleep normal hours like everybody else but I start getting busy earlier on in the day than other people perhaps.


77 Million Paintings - 12pm-8pm daily, Fabrica, late opening until 11pm on Saturday 1 and Saturday, May 15

Speaker Flowers Sound installation - Saturday 1 and Saturday, May 2, 12pm-6pm, Marlborough House, Old Steine

Apollo: This Is For All Mankind - Saturday 1 and Saturday, May 2, 9pm, Concert Hall, Brighton Dome

This Is Reggie Watts - Wednesday 5 and Thursday, May 6, 10pm, Pavilion Theatre, Brighton Dome

This Is Acapella! - Friday, May 7, 8pm, Concert hall, Brighton Dome

This Is Pure Scenius! - Sunday, May 9, 4pm, 6.30pm and 9pm, Concert hall, Brighton Dome

This Is The Books with Anna Calvi and more - Monday, May 10, 8pm, Komedia

This Is Afrobeat! - Friday, May 14, 8pm, Concert Hall, Brighton Dome

This Is Reasons For Optimism - Sunday, May 16, 8pm, Corn Exchange, Brighton Dome

This Is Tales Of The Afterlives - Sunday, May 22, 8pm, Concert Hall, Brighton Dome

Brian Eno: This Is An Illustrated Talk! - Sunday, May 23, 8pm, Concert Hall, Brighton Dome