Plaisirs d’été (good and bad at art)

Good or bad at art?

Back in my school days – the dim and distant past, the criteria for good or bad at art was simple.

If you could draw, you’d get not only the full attention of the art teachers, butas one of he star students, you’d get to do photography, sculpture, pottery and such like – all the interesting stuff.

If like me, you couldn’t draw (i.e produce a drawing that looked like it had been down by a real artist and not a short-sighted, cack-handed geek), then you got shoved to the back of the class to “muck about”.

Art at primary school was worse, for two hours on Friday afternoon, our class teachers would hand us over to a student teacher for “Art” – meaning each kid got a blank piece of A4 paper, a set of cheap, half-dried, scratchy felt pens and the instructions “draw something nice and the best pictures will be hung on the classroom walls) – well I never made it to the wall.

So, in later years, I discovered photography, I enjoyed taking silly snaps and mucking about with different papers and filters in the dark room, and then came true salvation with digital photography, the invention of the scanner and some decent photo softwares.

I still can’t draw, but I like to muck about with images, I like to mess around with collage – whereby people who can’t draw rip up paper and stick it to more paper.

Actually there is more to it than that (or is there?) Collage – a juxtaposition of random images against improbable backgrounds that may (or may not- have a point or tell a story.

The following collage all follow one theme and one basic rule – done in summer with exactly what is to hand. Those newspapers or magazines that you buy to read on the beach and then just tend to pile up in your holiday accommodation before you take them all the the dumpster on the last day. That is the material, an the rule is to confine yourself to one newspaper or magazine per collage. You get pictures, you get a curio juxtaposition of headlines, you might even get a thematic on the go. Well here are some “random” results.

Can’t say if they are good or bad, the whole point in the first place was just to play about with limited resources and see what I cam up with

Let’s start with some early booking. If you want your place in the sun, hurry up.

Book Early

This one’s called “Vacances Parfaites.” Working from stress to holiday paradise. We all need a place in the sun to unwind.


à la mer

Plaisirs d’été – speaks for itself.

Plaisirs d'été

A touch of the Sex Pistols in holiday mode.

Never Mind the Tourists

A collection of headers from holiday adverts in a British newspaper

Don't Let the Sun go Down

Once again, all from the same newspaper, headers from holiday stories.

Noisy, messy antics

Did this the year after my mum died of cancer, the first real holiday I’d had since her demise.

It's Fun To Escape the Terminally Ill

Ready for your vacation?  Titles cut from holiday junk mail ads thrust into my mailbox at home.

Read for Summer?

A vos glaces …

A Vos Glaces

Dose this make any sense? Sex and the older Woman. Headlines taken from a newspaper I bought on my holidays in Port Grimaud.

Sex and the older woman

If you go a group holiday with friends, go with those kind of friends who will still be your friends afterwards.

Love your summer tribe

The Sun Tropez Times

Sun Sun St Tropez

This is Scotland not St Tropez – I enjoyed both that year.

This is Scotland (not St Tropez)

Take your own Doughnuts

Take your own Doughnuts

Venice is full of bloody tourists, all treated like bloody cattle.

Welcome to Venice

Au Départ – I cheated and did this one at home – I scanned a few 1930’s holiday and car ads; printed them, cut them up and then re-scanned.

Au départ

and finally, a couple of photo collages – collage background on three sides, installation in the centre, it’s all about Glamour in Cannes (cans)




The Colonel Comes to Town

Another long and lazy hot summer Sunday. This is the last day of this year’s Tour de France, so millions will be glued to their screens watching, as two hundred or so cyclists pedal their way round Paris.

So after the excitement of the Tour, a stint in the garden or simply a nap, sleeping off the rigors of a heavy Sunday lunch, well, you certainly won’t want to be cooking this evening. Why not send out for a fast food?

When I arrived in my corner of small town France over 25 years ago, the definition of home delivered food was simply a neighbor dropping you off a few groceries or maybe a local boulanger doing his rounds to bring you your daily bread – now – well the choice is awesome, just a phone call or a click away and you can have pizza, curry or sushi delivered to your door – and if you really want to make the effort, there are burgers, kebabs, and cous cows, just a short drive away – the advantage of living in a small town, nothing is ever very far away.

Yes, even in deepest France, we have all the same fast for chains as you do, however, until a few days ago, one major player was missing – well look what opened up in town last week …



Good Old Colonel Sanders finally made it, but until he got here, all KFC fans could only get their favorite chicken treat by driving at least 60 or 70 miles – well now a tasty morsel of Kentucky Fried is only a few minutes away. That’s progress

On a final note, the only thing you can’t get on home delivery or take away is good old French gastronomy – if there are any enterprising locals reading this, I would certainly be a future customer to anyone offering a home delivery Boeuf Bourgignon or a fistful of snails.

Polaroid Collages

John King 2_2John King

What o do on hot days when you are living out the heat in shuttered darkness – get a pile of old magazines, a pot of glue and pretend to be an artist. Seriously, I’ve tried my hand at collage before. This latest effort … well I was kind of amazed at the rebirth of Polaroid snaps, they’ve become quite fashionable – those small, white bordered photos with their garish color. I get quite a few of my photos now developed in a Polaroid format. So here is some Polaroid collage – I found those huge white borders around photos in fashion magazines interesting – what if I could make my own border and then just fill it with anything to hand – once again, my randomness – guess this is a sign of drifting at fifty – looking for a decent art project, looking for an aim in life whatever. Anyway I took fashion magazines, flyers, junk ads thrust through my letterbox and spent and afternoon mucking about with textures and colors. The July 14 collage was made before the Bastille day attack in Nice. All collages scanned at 200dpi then put through an I photo software.

John King 2_2

Mucking about with shades of blue -mostly background sky from swimwear adverts.

John King 1

Black and white hand torn strips for texture, quite pleased with the result of the anxious looking girl in the image – kind of con jours up the tension and anxiety of this early summer in France.

John King

Trying to mix a few colours


John King 3_2

Main graphic source for this last collage – the vast wads of junk advertising I regular get in my mail box

Looking for Luçay le Libre


After the events on Bastille Day in Nice, I decided to head off into the French countryside and find if the real France was still out there somewhere,  In times of crisis, we tend to unfurl the flag and fall back on our Republican bedrock, but we also like to hark back to out traditional “douce France” – within every Frenchman there is a dormant peasant. Deep down All Frenchmen and women have rural roots and perhaps still a few traces of mud on their boots. So it was on a hot and lazy summer Sunday that I went drifting.

Drifting, true drifting, is difficult. We are conditioned by a time ethic and structured by our life routines. It is difficult to just cast off and go where the current takes us – like a message in a bottle cast into the ocean – where will it go, if it actually goes anywhere?

I can’t drift, I need a destination, however random that may be. I unfold a local map and try to be as random as possible – close our eyes and point … ah, I’ve already been there. Drifting is one thing, but this is also a “voyage of discovery” – the whole point of undertaking such an enterprise is (as they say in Star Trek) “To boldly go where no man has been before,” or in my case, to go somewhere this man has never been before. In my quest for rural France, I find an obscure village on the map “Luçay le Libre” – an intriguing name and what is more, it lies beyond the local county boundary – not only shall I be discovering a new place, but I shall be crossing frontiers. So, camera in hand, it is time to hit the road.


A good day for photos – clear blue skies, and in this corner of my little world, vast, flat landscapes – fields of wheat or sunflowers stretching into the interminable distance to eventually meet the sky on a far but clear horizon. Straight roads and clean cut clear horizons – the dividing line is definite, the contrasts are clear and everything stands out – very much a contradiction to those troubled times we are living in.


You might have this common misconception that the French countryside is all small, enclosed fields, separated by charming hedgerows and each field full of Charolais grazing nonchalantly on sweet verdant pasture – and this is certainly true of the Normandy region for example – fields, hedgerows, orchards and herds of dairy cows contentedly chewing the cud – Normandy all cider and cheese – I however live in the “grain basket” of  France – vast “intensively-farmed fields” and not a hedgerow in sight.

This place used to be all hedgerows, but in 1949, the French government undertook huge agricultural reforms – France needed feeding and so the government embarked on a paternalist “collectivization” of French agriculture – small family farms were encourage to merge, hedgerows got ripped out to make larger and more productive fields and farmers got cheap loans to invest in modern machinery – some still say that theses reforms ripped the heart out of rural France, but the country needed feeding and agriculture was still a case of many farmers working to near subsistence-level, selling off what surplus that had at the weekly village market. Besides the late forties and early fifties marked a massive migration from the countryside to the cities – there was no money to be made on the farm, so youngsters headed off to work in factories.

I suppose that there is no better indicator of French historical, social and economic change than the countryside – and now these rural wastelands are a sign of technological change. Out in the fields there is more growing that just wheat – wind turbines are sprouting everywhere


At this harvest time, hay bales are juxtaposed with wind turbines -modern France.



And so to those far flung villages – once thriving communities – autonomous communities who bothered little about the goings-on in the big cities. There was the café and the market and what more did you need?


I’ve ended up in a village called Vatan, until you actually reach the main square, the place looks like a ghost town – houses shuttered up against the searing afternoon heat and shops and businesses closed for the duration -in the main square, a handful of cafés open for business – mostly passing tourists, a few motorcyclists on an afternoon run and errant souls like myself. Villages like this were once the hub of thriving agricultural communities, but now everyday seems a slow death, the place has lost a great part of its raison d’être.




And then there is the Tour de France – the world’s greatest cycle race and perhaps one of the few things that still truly unites all Frenchmen – Cycling apart, watching the lengthy TV afternoon coverage of each stage of the Tour de France, all those people who rarely head into deepest France actually have the opportunity to see what the place really looks like – watching the Tour is truly worthy it, if only to see real France. Looking at the signs in Vatan, I don’t think the Tour has been here for years.



And when I finally get to Luçay Le Libre …. four or five houses, a church and ….. the twilight zone that is the French countryside.

Finally on my return, I did google my final destination and … nothing, not even an explanation of the name.

Talking to the Boy Who Knew Too Much


Meeting Mika or Talking to “The Boy who knew too much”*

Mika erupted onto the world’s musical stage in 2007 with his multi million selling album « Life in Cartoon Motion. » since his phenomenal debut, Mika’s musical career has gone from strength to strength. Classically-trained musician, prodigious songwriter; TV talent show judge, fashion designer, expert linguist and ex-choir boy, who is Mika? I caught up with Mika at the Printemps de Bourges music festival to find out. (This interview appeared in the July edition of the Connexion newspaper)

So, who is Mika?

That’s a question I ask myself everyday, and there is no single answer. I come from nowhere and everywhere. There has never been one single place that I’ve grown up that I can really call home. I guess in many ways I’m an immigrant, and I’m proud of that. Born in Beirut, I feel just as much at home in England as I do in France or Italy. English, French, Lebanese? I’m not sure of my true identity, so that’s why I make music, to get some sense of identity.



What about your musical style? You seem to have been given many different musical labels, including pop, rock, jazz and even glam rock,

I suppose my musical style reflects my different experiences. I am first and foremost a songwriter telling stories through my music, and each story needs a different theme tune.

You recently did a couple of shows entitled « The Art of Song » on BBC Radio 2. Tell us about that.

Yeah, I did the first show on New years Day and then another in late March of this year. It was basically a programme about songwriters; I got to play tracks from my favourite songwriters and then look at the stories behind the songs. You know, when you look at songwriters, we’re all the same, coming from everywhere and nowhere, we are not in life, but on the outside looking in, telling stories from our peripheral perspective.

From choirboy to judge on the French and Italian equivalents of The Voice. What’s the best way to make it in music, join a choir or go on a TV talent show?

Both are important. I was head choirboy at my school in London. I can still sing the mass in Latin and on my first casting for a TV talent show; I didn’t even make it past the first audition. There isn’t one single road to success; there is only individual ambition, the will to succeed and the willingness to take risks.

You’re playing a lot of festivals in France over the summer, what can you tell us about the show?

Stripped down minimalist staging with all the emphasis on the music.

Finally a few words of advice for wannabe Mikas

I would say, never be ashamed of what you do or who you are, and be proud of your music.

*Title of Mika’s second album.


Mika Summer Festival Dates

13/07     La Rochelle                   Les Francofollies.

16/07     Nimes                           Festival de Nimes

19/07     Carcassonne                 Festival de Carcassonne

20/07     Sollies Pont                  Festival du Chateau

Mika official website.



Double Johnnies

He’s a national icon, as French as a Camembert cheese or the Eiffel Tower itself; Johnny Halliday is France, and at 74, the nation’s best loved rocker is still packing them in. Of course if you can’t get to see  the real Johnny Halliday, why not get the next best thing – France’s top Johnny double – Johnny Rock (AKA Denis Le Men) ?- Monsieur Rock brings Johnny to those places the real Johnny will never play and to all those die hard Johnny fans who can’t get to see their idol. I caught up with Johnny Rock, talk about his life as Mr Halliday. (This interview appeared in the July edition of the Connexion newspaper)


Which is which?

Real Johnny on the left and Johnny Rock on the right.

How did you become Johnny Rock ?

I suppose my life with Johhny or as Johnny started in back in 1966. Back then there was only one TV channel and for us kids , only one show on it worth watching: «Age Tendre et Tête de Bois». Nowadays it might be called a chart show. There were all famous singers of the day in glorouis black and white: Claude François, Eddie Mitchell and of course Johnny Hallyday. I suppose Johnny became my idol from the first moment I saw him on TV. I was only 11, but I remember thinking at the time that «this is the man I want to be when I grow up» – even at that early age, Johnny became my role model. As the fascination with Johnny grew, I started to imitate him, mostly for friends. back in the sixties there was no school on Thursdays, so us kids would all go down the local youth club and I’d regularly perform my Johnny Hallyday turn. I earned the nickname of «le petit Johnny», even the teachers at school started to call me Johnny.

I left school at 16 in the early 70s and went to serve an apprenticeship as a shipwright but I carried on my Johnny impersonation, mostly as a party piece for friends and family., then in 1984, at a big family wedding, I was doing my usual Johnny routine, unaware that one of the guests was a local discotheque owner. He liked my routine and asked if I wouldn’t like to come an do a regular spot at his disco. I statred solo then over time joined up with some local musicians to form a Johnny tribute band. As word got around about the band,we statred to build up a good local following, and we were getting regular bookings on the local pub and club circuits.

In 1987, I got a call from a woman called Evelyne Pratt, she had formerly been one of the « Clodettes » (Claude François female dancers), she ran a talent agency in Paris, she’d heard about the show and she needed a Johnny Hallyday double on her books. We signed a contract, and for the next two years, I spent pretty much every weekend on the road doing my Johnny routine as part of Evelyne’s show. Of course I was still working as a shipwright at the time, so Friday to Sunday I’d be on stage as Johnny Rock and during the week, I’d be back in the shipyard as plain old Denis le Men the Cherbourg shipwright. I frankly wasn’t earning enough to give up my day job, but as I later discovered, as my « impressario » Evelyne was earning far more from me, than I was. She was ripping me off, so I ripped up the contract and went solo.

In 1997, the shipyard closed down and everyone got laid off. I suppose with my carpentry skills I could always have found another job, but it never really crossed my mind. Johnny Hallyday had always been a huge part of my life, so why not make a life as Johnny ? It might seem a starnge choice to some, but I had a good stage show, I had plenty of plenty of bookings, why not do this for a living ?

Do you make a good living ?

I live comfortably.

What’s it like earning a living as Johnny ?

Well the real Johnny will have his agent, his minders, his roadies and such – Johnny Rock is a one man business.

So what about sex drugs and rock and roll. Johnny’s had his fair share of hard and fast living, what about you ?

My only drug is performing. I just love being on stage doing what I do. With or without Johnny, I could quite happlily be on stage every night, but at 61, I’m not getting any younger and performing is pretty tiring. I’m on the road every weekend. I might have a show in Dunkirk on a Friday and then a gig in Marseilles on the Saturday ; So, i’ll be driving all day or night, and then when I get to the next gig, I have to set up the gear – the amps, the lights and so on. Johnny rock is a one man business, although I do have mates who come along and help me from time to time. Like I say though, performing is a drug, so you’ll take as much as you can take and even when you can take no more, you’ll carry on.


Every rock star has groupies, what about you ?

 Ah yes, the ladies. I don’t like to call them groupies. It happens at evey gig. There are those ladies who would like to end up between the sheets with the real Johnny Hallyday, but he’s not around, so they’d be quite happy with the next best thing. I get propositions all the time. I’m not kidding, but I could quite happlily have a different lady in my bed after every gig, but that’s not my style. I’ve got quite a large female following though and it can be a problem. I used to put up all my forthcoming gigs on my website, but now I only put up one at a time because I’d get female fans literally stalking me from one concert to the next. I regularly get ladies showing up at my front door, one or two have even slept oustide waiting for me. A few months back I had to close down my Facebook page because of jealousy between my female fans ; there was a real cat fight going on. The ladies were putting up posts like « Johnny Rock is mine, I saw him first, hands off » It was getting really nasty.

Tell us about the shows and the sort of places you play.

I play pretty much anywhere and everywhere. I do private functions, weddings, birthdays and such. I’ve played in supermarkets, stadiums, camspites, restaurants, village halls. I’ve done concerts for 20 to 30 pêople, I’ve played stadiums in front of 12,000 people. A few years back I played at the Olympia in Paris as a warm up act for the comic Jean Marie Bigard.

You play supermarkets ?

 Yeah, I do regular work for a couple of the major retail chains. I’ll play for supermarket openings or promotional évents.

And are there those places you’ll never play again because of a bad gig ?

I can’t say that I’ve ever had a bad gig, everyone is always pleased to see Johnny. I’ve always been well received by organisers and audience alike. I’ve got one golden rule though, never play somewhere the cheque has bounced. There are those places that you do a show in good faith and when you cash the cheque you find that it’s kind of rubbery.

So, you play one off gigs all over France, do you ever do any serious touring like Johnny ?

For a couple of summers now, I’ve done what I might call my West Coast Tour, playing campsites up and down the Atlantic coast.


So, if I book Johnny Rock for an evening, what do I get for my money and how much will it cost me ?

The price dépends on what you want. I’ve got my one man show which is popular for private functions or small venues. I turn up with the pa and the lights and I sing along to audio backing tracks. If you want something more elaborate, I’ve got my tribute band, myself and four other musicians. This is the sort of thing I might do in village halls or on campsites, Finally, I’ve got a full size Johnny Hallyday stage show with ten musicians and two backing singers, this is for large venues such as concert halls or stadiums. As well as the backing singers, the stage show also includes a full brass section. This is the sort of thing that Johnny Hallyday might have at the Stade de France. Like I said though, what you get dépends on what you can afford and it can be an expensive business, because obviously I have to pay my musicians, but also we all need fed and we need accommodation after the gig. If we play on campsites for example, we normally get a night’s accommodation in a mobile. No question of hitting the long road home after a three hour show.

You play three hours !!!

Of course, just like the man himself, however our ticket prices are lower. You can see Johnny Rock for 15 or 20 Euros. It will cost you almost three times as much to see the real Johnny Hallyday. You know there are many Johnny Hallyday fans out there who will probably never see their idol because they they live too far from the major venues where Johnny plays and between the price of concert tickets and transport, they simply can’t afford to go to a Johnny gig. You’ve got to remember that Johnny is a singer who appeals to the popular classes, so many of his fans aren’t all that rich. If they can’t see Johnny, then they come and see me. I’m the next best thing and probably as close as they’ll ever get., and they can get very close. At the end of a gig, I’ll always stick around for a while and talk to the fans, they’ll take photos with me and I’ll sign autographs.

Do you always do the same show ?

No, we change every year. You have to. There are those places that we play regularly every year. You can’t go back to same place twice with the same show. In January I get together with my musicians and we spend a month rehearsing a new show. I also get my seamstress to run me up some new stage costumes, the come February it’s back on the road with the new show that we’ll do until the end of the year.

New show, new répertoire. How do you choose the songs ?

Well, no matter the show, there is a hardcore of five or six Johnny classics that you have to play : songs like « Toute la musique que j’aime » or « Que je t’aime » and of course « Le Penitentier ». Next up there have to be a few songs from the latest album. You’ve also got to add a few showstopping rock and roll numbers like « Allumer le feu » and then we go through the back catalogue either ooking for songs that Johnny hasn’t performed for ages or songs that he’s never actually performed at all. Strange to think that I am playing songs that Johnny has never done on stage and probably never will. Occasionally, I might just slip in one of my own songs. I’ve written a few in my time, but I probably won’t be recording them.

And what about staging and special effects?

Well I’ll never be up to Johnny’s level, but I’ve done a few gigs where I came on stage riding a Harley Davidson or driving a Ferrari. I even did one oper air concert where I was lowered on to the stage from a helicopter. As for spécial effects, I’ve just built myself a new guitar that includes a miniature flame thrower, I use this when we do « Allumer le feu. »

How do you get along with the other Johnny look-a-likes ?

Well we’re all Johnnies and every Johnny thinks he’s more Johnny than the other JohnniesThere’s a lot of rivalry between us Johnnies and, sometimes, things can turn nasty, a few years back, one Johnny from Armentières in the north of France, threatened to « beat me up » if ever I showed up on his « patch ». He said I’d made disparaging rearks about him on a TV show. Well I’ve done plenty of shows in Armentières since then, and I’m still intact. You know, when I started doing Johnny back in 1984, I was the only look-a-like on the scene, then for some reason in 2000, Johnny doubles started popping up all over France. Just remember though, Johnny Rock was the first, and I have the official Johnny Hallyday seal of approval.


Have you ever met Johnny Hallyday or performed with him ?

Ah ! A duo with Johnny, that would be a dream come true. Seriously though, we’ve met up eight times over the years. Our most poignant meeting was on the set of « Vivement Dimanche » – Michel Drucker’s old Sunday afternoon chat show on France 2. I was having a chat with Jhnny in between takes, he told me that he liked what I did, then he looked me over and said I could almost be his little Brother ; « le petit Johnny ». That was a great moment.

Do you ever do shows with other look-a-likes ?

 Yeah, I regularly get together with other look-a-likes to do tribute shows. There’s my good friend Eddie de Ville an Eddy Mitchell double, we’ve been working together for twenty years. Of course you can’t have Johnny without Sylvie Vartan, Johnny’s first wife and a successful singer in her own right, so I ofetn work with a Sylvie look-a-like called Sylvie Star. There used to be two Sylvie look-alikes on the circuit, but one retired a few years back.

And in terms of appearance, just how closely do you follow Johnny ?

Lifestyle apart, No matter the period or the dress style, I’ve always faithfully followed Johnny, I have to, it’s my business. When he had long hair in the 80s, so did I, when he cuts or dyes his hair I do the same. People expect me to look like Johnny no matter how he looks.

So, if Johnny shaved his hair off …

 Well I’d have to do the same

What do you think Johnny Hallyday represents for the French ?

 Johnny is part of our héritage. He’s as iconic as the Eiffel Tower itself. He’s a monument. Johnny is France. When Johnny dies it will be like losing part of our history.

What’s his appeal ?

Apart from the music, Johnny is honest, he’s hardworking, he doesn’t cheat and he doesn’t lie. People respect that. When he says that he loves his fans he really means it. He gives eveything for his fans, he lives for them. Johnny is very much the French Elvis, though he has lived longer. He inspires the same dévotion that Elvis did. There’s also maybe a physical attraction. Johnny is tall and handsome, he’s the man that women like and the man that many men want to be.

So, if you hadn’t been Johnny ?

I’d love to have been an actor in the styles of Alain Delon. He’s one of my idols. Over the years, I’ve done a spot of acting, appearing as Johnny in films or on TV. My finest acting hour was starring longside Benoit Poolevored in the film « Podium » – a film all about a Claude François look-a-like.

Do you ever get confused with this double life, is it difficult to seoperate Johnny from everyday reality ?

No, during the week, I am just plain old Denis Le Men, the ex-shipwright from Cherbourg, and when I am stage, I am Johnny Rock. Yes in many ways, Johnny is my life and has been a big part part of my life, but there is life after Johnny, but there isn’t much of a life without him because that’s how I earn my living. Some people put on a suit and tie everyday and go to their office to earn a living, I dress up as Johnny and go on stage. No matter what we do, we are all assume some kind of mantle for our work, though mine is just a bit different.

Finally, will you ever retire ?

 No ! Look at Johnny, he’s 74 and still going strong. I’m only 61. As long as my haelth permits, I’ll carry on being Johnny, even when he’s no longer with us.