Friday, 19 March 2010

David Vaughan RIP

If you remember the Sixties you weren't there. Or so the legend goes. Well David Vaughan certainly remembered those wild, wild days. And he WAS there, rubbing shoulders with Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Armstrong-Jones, later Lord Snowdon (or "Lord Snow-bum" as David called him.)

He was the archetypal rebel. An art student who came down to the Slade School of Art in London from Manchester, via Bradford, and let rip. The son of an engineer dad and welder mum, he got into fights, he womanised, he got drunk but he also painted, sometimes brilliantly, often feverishly.

He was described then as "a modern Goya". He was an integral part of the Swinging Sixties scene. He painted McCartney's piano in psychedelic patterns. They met through a mutual friend the Guinness heir Tara Browne, whose death partly inspired the lyrics to the Beatles' song A Day In The Life. He produced huge canvasses and murals. But the lifestyle took its toll. He freely admits to getting heavily into drink and drugs and at the end of the Sixties spent time in a mental hospital.

His 15 minutes of fame might have ended there. But he had a daughter, Sadie Frost. And when she became a celebrity and certainly when she married Jude Law, fame came knocking again. I met him at one of his exhibitions in Manchester in 2003. I didn't know then that he had only 10 months to live and would not see his 60th birthday. We chatted for an hour in a gallery and then went to a bar in Canal Street where we chatted for another three.

David's conversation was funny and hugely engaging, littered with four-letter words but also with diamond anecdotes and pieces of historical and cultural erudition. The tale that amused me the most concerned the time he was acting as an unpaid events manager at The Roundhouse, an iconic former railway terminus turned theatre and arts venue. David claimed he once paid Jimi Hendrix £50 to play there and someone in the audience stole the great man's guitar.

But that's not the story that tickled me. David had helped to stage an exhibition of avant garde art at the venue and was clearing up the day after the event when a rather sniffy man in a pinstripe suit arrived.

The officious visitor turned out to have been sent by a collector who had loaned one of the highly valuable pieces for the exhibition and mistook the rather unkempt David for some kind of janitor. He barked at David that he needed to collect a certain numbered exhibit and generally treated him very rudely.

David, never one to respect officialdom, quickly realised that Mr Suit had no idea exactly what the artwork was that he had been sent to collect. David told me: "So I went out the back and saw a huge skip filled with all kinds of rubbish. On the side of the skip was a yellow light used to warn traffic it was there. I took it off, dropped in on the floor and jumped on it several times until it was virtually flat. Then I wrapped it in paper put it in a cardboard box and carried it very carefully back into the venue and handed it to the man. He turned on his heels and left."

I would love to have seen the collector's face when he was reunited with his "treasure". David's last days were spent living in a caravan. But the man retained his charisma and much of the passion of his youth. I recorded a lot of our conversation and to give you a flavour of David I made a You Tube video from the tapes which can be seen here. His obituary can be seen here.