Fly away on my zephyr.
Publisher: The Friday Project (HarperCollins)
First Published: 30th July 2015
Date Reviewed: 8th October 2016
An idea sparks an artistic journey – after a brief conversation about a decoration for a student bar, Richards sets about creating a model airship, which leads him to think about how artists work within their creative spaces. He decides to contact various people of the arts world, interviewing them in context with his thoughts. (Amongst the icons are Jenny Saville, The Manic Street Preachers, David Nash, and Dame Judi Dench.)
The Beechwood Airship Interviews is a work of non-fiction the defies genre. At once a slight memoir and an arts/culture book, it’s an intriguing work that sports an overall artistic interest that’s apparent no matter how much or how little you happen to know about the interviewees themselves.
Richards’ starting point is the eponymous airship – a zeppelin of wood he creates as a sculpture for his student union bar. It is through this that he comes to ponder creative spaces, an artist’s personal connection to the place in which they create their work.
Richards’ interviews tend to follow a basic network connection – he starts with Bill Drummond who often lends work to the student bar, then moves on to Richard Lawrence who is a printer Drummond knows, then to Stanley Donwood who knows Lawrence and so on. The interviews span several pages and are offset by photographs. White space between questions and Richards’ now usual footnotes mean that the book is not quite the possibly daunting length it infers itself to be.
The questions are what make this book, along with Richards’ joviality and writing in general. There are no queries as to favourite roles as there are on TV shows or in papers, for example; Richards’ mission in visiting the people was to be different, to achieve the exact ideas and answers he was interviewing them to find. Some of the thoughts conveyed here are really quite mind-blowing in that artistic, literary pleasurable way.
In amongst the interviews, then, is Richards’ journey through the airship creation, his travels between places – home, university – and general diary-type content. His personable style pulls you along during the brief introductory periods – the vast majority of this book is formed of the interviews (as you might expect!)
Something of great importance to Richards in terms of education is the way art courses are run, how they’ve changed to become a lot more about rules and regulations – working towards a construct – rather than about creative freedom and becoming the artist/writer/musician one is destined to be. His thoughts – blunt, no prisoners – form a large part of the end though the thread is there throughout.
You learn a lot thanks to these interviews. How particular people work, yes, but also specific ideas, concepts, that unless you happen to be well-versed in every subject covered will be compelling at some point. You get the set-up – the off-stage portion of his time with each person; the cups of tea, the phone call between Dame Judi Dench and her daughter, the banter.
But really it’s the power, the almost inevitability, of this book to really wow you at times – supposing you are interested of course – that makes it the success it is. Richards’ enthusiasm is infectious; he tells you everything, taking you along for the ride in its entirety. The book itself may be niche and all about Richards’ desire to learn for himself, but the angle he takes and his writing style means that you’re just as much a part of it yourself from the word ‘go’.
The book could be considered a little too long; it does cover a lot and at a couple of points goes into the sort of artist philosophy that might turn off non ‘arty’ types. But that’s the way of interviews and collections, there will always be something a bit less interesting, and it doesn’t affect the book beyond that nor for any particular length of time.
Speaking in the present, if you’ve read Richards’ later work – rather possible as this book is somewhat of an outlier – you’ll find a slight difference in style that’s interesting in terms of the writing journey; this book was published a good few years after it was written. The Beechwood Airship Interviews won’t suit everyone but in terms of today it’s safe to say that with the recent publication of Climbing Days the potential audience number has increased, because, particularly, if you liked that book, you’ll like this one too.
I’ve met the author a couple of times and have interviewed him.
Update, 14th December 2016: Changed second usage of ‘decoration’ to ‘sculpture’ to more accurately reflect the project specifications.
December 14, 2016, 1:52 pm
I was wondering which order to read them in and think I’ll start with this one. It might be a while, though, as I’ve just started reading a 500 page German novel.
December 14, 2016, 4:47 pm
Has an intriguing sound to it that’s for sure!
December 15, 2016, 3:20 pm
Definitely a read that is that bit different. I have a niece who would love this book.
January 10, 2017, 12:43 pm
April: I think either way would work but I’d agree with reading it first being perhaps better.
Stefanie: It’s very unique and in a good way!
Tracy: That’s good to hear!