Meet the Corde-heads

It began with a small piece in an October 2013 issue of The New Yorker. It was in the ‘Talk of the Town’ section and it was a short profile of songwriter Jimmy Webb, in which it was revealed that the author of such classic bits of Americana as ‘Galveston’ and ‘Wichita Lineman’ was a Concorde fanatic. Webb collects Concorde memorabilia. Fascinating. But why? And is this a common affliction?

131007_r24081illu-320I hit Google and came up with a whole bunch of other people who shared Webb’s obsession (if not his talents). I fired off some emails and met my first ‘Corde-head’ – Webb’s term for Concorde fanatics. Simon Jones of Fulham, London, also collects Concorde items but unlike Webb, who goes for straightforward memorabilia, Jones only buys bits of the actual aircraft, like wheels, mechanical bits and bobs, even a whole nose cone, which, apparently, is the Holy Grail of Concordania. He’s interested in the inner workings of Concorde. It transpires he also has an end goal, which is nothing less than to kickstart the whole supersonic airliner programme.

At this point I became too busy to contact the other names on my list so I handed off to Peter Watts, a fine journalist who contributes regularly to Ink titles, as well as The Times, Independent, Observer, Independent On Sunday and Uncut. Peter went on to interview a Chicago-based design consultant and author of a book on the ‘lifestyle of Concorde’, a collector of Air France-only Concorde items, a dealer in Concorde collectibles, a spokesperson for a proposed Concorde museum and Jimmy Webb.

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The finished piece appears in the just published Spring 2015 issue of PrivatAir magazine. You can read it online but here is Peter’s interview with Jimmy Webb:

Jimmy Webb, the man who wrote ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘Galveston’ and ‘Macarthur Park’, chuckles as he recalls the first item of Concorde memorabilia that came into his hands. ‘I have to be honest, the first thing was a salt and pepper shaker that I stole in the Seventies. I loved it so much, I quelled my guilty conscience. It was like Gollum’s ring, “My precious”.’ He pauses. ‘A conscience is only useful up to a point.’

Webb, who lives in upstate New York, now owns thousands of items of memorabilia, including several editions of Concorde china, silk scarves worn by stewardesses, a model that once appeared in the window at Harrods, napkin rings, photographs, eggcups and cockpit instruments including a control yoke, artificial horizon and machine showing the centre of gravity. He pines for the dial that measured radiation (‘they had to descend if there were solar flares’) but does have champagne glasses (‘they are quite rare, it must have been something people liked to tuck into their purse’) and has made a ‘very trendy’ desk out of aluminium meal service containers.

His love runs deep. Webb flies gliders – ‘the purest form of flying’ – and enthuses about Concorde’s combination of technology and beauty. ‘It’s where technology meets art,’ he says. ‘Concorde ranks very near the top of not only human technological achievement but artistic expression as well. It looks like Picasso drew it, and it wasn’t just one technological breakthrough it was a score of them.’ He wishes that at least one Concorde was still flying. ‘It would be a great symbol for Britain, to have one show up around the world.’

Webb recalls playing lawn bowls (‘I am the only overseas lifetime member of Barnes Bowling Club’) and everybody stopping to stare as the ‘white angel’ flew over. He travelled by Concorde many times but was never tempted to start a McCartney-style singsong because ‘it was too hard to tear myself away from the window’. Of the flight itself, ‘it was awe-inspiring,’ he says. ‘You had to change your underwear because it sounded like catastrophe when they opened up those big engines. It would vibrate through your body and you had a sensation of all this power strapped to your ass.’ Elton John (‘he took Concorde like we take taxis’) is another musical Concorde fan, Webb reveals, and while Webb has never written a song about the plane he may do so yet. ‘I can’t think of a good reason not to,’ he says.

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The still-life images were taken by San Francisco-based photographer Michael Winokur and are of items in the collection of Nathan Shedroff, also of San Francisco, who owns a full Concorde service (cutlery, crockery, napkins etc) for 16 and has used them in special seven-course Concorde dinners he has hosted for friends. The images previously ran in Colors magazine. (Posted by AndrewH)

The write stuff

Interviews done over email rarely yield good results. The act of putting things down in writing makes interviewees hesitant and cautious. There’s no spontaneity. Plus, most people find writing a chore, so answers are brief and not very illuminating. But that’s not always the case. Recently, for PrivatAir magazine, we wanted to do a story on the dwindling number of people who describe themselves as explorers. We wondered, in this age of Google Earth what is there left to explore?

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We met up with Robert Twigger, who once spent six months in northern Borneo and New Guinea in search of the world’s longest python, crossed Canada in a birchbark canoe and was the first man to cross Egypt’s Grand Sand Sea on foot. Although we did hike together in over 30˚ heat this was along the south coast of England and it only took us an hour to reach the pub. For our other interviewees, including Jason Lewis, who circumnavigated the world using only human-power, urban explorer Bradley Garrett and polar trekker Liv Arnesen, meeting up was not practical, so we had to shoot them our questions in an email.

To say we were pleasantly surprised by the results is an understatement. All five interviewees sent back responses that were more thoughtful and beautifully articulated than we ever could have hoped for. They required no editing and cleaning up on our part. Jason Lewis for example, explaining why he does what he does: “Google Earth may whet your appetite, but nothing beats stepping out of your front door and asking yourself: where will I sleep tonight? Who will I meet? The potential for adventure, like beauty, is around us at all times. We just need to break our routine, take that leap into the abyss of not knowing, and see the world with fresh eyes.”

We loved the admission of John Hare, now 70 and a veteran of several scientific expeditions into the deserts of Mongolia, that his greatest professional regret was not to have found the yeti. “We searched for the wild man and heard many stories of his existence but, alas, did not find him.” He was also sorry he wasn’t born around 1870. “The period between 1870 and 1914 was a wonderful time to be an explorer.”

Click on the spreads below to read the rest of the texts or visit the Privatair website. (Posted by AndrewH)

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Ink London Creative Awards: Best Cover

Here at Ink London we’re hosting our inaugural annual Creative Awards. One of the two categories is “best cover”. We have 15 magazines up for consideration and each team has been asked to select its favourite cover produced for that title over the last 12 months (July 2012 to June 2013). The nominations are below and the results of our internal voting will be posted first week of July.

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APEX, February 2013

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bSpirit, Jan-Feb 2013, relaunch issue

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bthere, August 2012

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easyJet Traveller, December 2012, the knitted cover

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Germanwings, 2013, April-May-June 2013

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Gulf Life, December 2012, the Paris paper-cut hat

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J Magazine, April-May 2013, the ‘you rang m’lord’ issue

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JetAway, July-August 2012, the big lemon issue

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Let’s Go with Ryanair, June 2013, the hot 25 issue

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Metropolitan, April 2013, the sexy lips issue

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N by Norwegian, April 2013, the Scream in a bed issue

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Privatair, Winter 2012, the Six Feet Under issue

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Thomas Cook Travel, summer 2013, the ice lolly issue

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Voyager, August 2012, the Paul Merton issue

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Wizz, April-May 2013, the Warsaw burger issue

Posted by AndrewH

Don’t forget the monkey’s blood

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This week I met Donald Zec, the man in the picture above. He’s 94 in two weeks time and must be one of the last remaining journalistic links with the golden age of Hollywood. Beginning as a crime reporter in the London of the 1940s, Zec went on to become a royal correspondent before being despatched to Hollywood by the Daily Mirror, then the UK’s top selling paper. He hadn’t been there more than a couple of days when Humphrey Bogart dropped by the hotel with an invitation to go out sailing on his yacht. Zec went on to befriend Marilyn Monroe and Ingrid Bergman, spend time with Marlon Brando and James Dean, and seriously piss off both Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza – the latter sent him a tea chest filled with toilets rolls and the message, ‘Donald, these foolish things remind me of you’.

I spent 90 minutes with him in his west London flat for a story that will run in the next issue of PrivatAir. One of the things we talked about – other than Bogart, Monroe, Brando, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, the Beatles… – was how to get a good interview, because if anybody knows, it has to be Donald Zec. Here’s how he won over Marilyn.

1) Don’t concentrate solely on what people say at the risk of missing what they’re really like. When you buy a secondhand car, the novice opens the door and looks inside; the car dealer looks at the door because that’s where the rust shows.

2) Do your homework. If you’re talking to someone who can make ten thousand dollars in an hour, you owe it to them not to waste their time. Don’t ask questions to which you should already know the answer.

3) Make yourself liked, or at least presentable. Your subject has to feel it’s worth giving you half an hour of their time. Ideally, you’re the kind of person they’d like to have on their boat for the weekend.

4) Be completely prepared to throw all your questions out the window. Pay attention to what the person is saying because you might hear something that completely changes the track of the conversation. You’ve got to be able to seize on the moment that the interviewee says, ‘Of course, that was the moment I got so angry that I strangled my wife’.

5) Go the extra mile. There was a journalist called John Dean Potter, who was a reporter on the Daily Express. He’d interviewed a maharaja in India and had written up the story and gone to the cable office to file it. The Indian who was sending the telegram said, ‘Oh you met the maharaja? Did you know he drinks a glass of monkey’s blood every morning before breakfast?’ Potter didn’t. So he travelled all the way back to the maharaja’s palace. ‘I thought we covered everything,’ said the maharaja. ‘Yes, but just one small thing. Somebody back at the cable office told me you drink a glass of monkey’s blood every morning for breakfast?’ said Potter. ‘Yes, that’s right, didn’t you know?’ replied the maharaja. The story was taken off page 12 and moved to page one.

(Posted by AndrewH)

Letting go with a grin

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Behind its Six Feet Under cover (photo by Pierre Pellegrini), the current issue of Privatair, which has just landed in the UK office, contains one of those rare stories that after reading leaves you with a kind of warming inner glow. Which is odd, because it’s about calligraphy. And a Bible. And mortality. There, you feel uplifted already don’t you?

It’s a profile of Donald Jackson, master calligrapher and Senior Scribe to Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office at the House of Lords. Mr Jackson’s latest project, completed in 2011 after years of committed labour, is a hand-lettered and -illuminated Saint John’s Bible. It’s the only entirely handmade Bible to be created in the last 500 years: seven volumes, each two feet tall, totalling 11,050 pages of text all executed using feather quills. Despite the extreme aesthetic nature of the task, Jackson turns about to be quite earthy and a wryly engaging character. ‘I’m rather prone to mistakes,’ he admits. He embarked upon the Bible, he says, because, ‘It’s the Everest thing: it’s there so, sod it, let’s climb it’.

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Along the way the story touches on the essentiality of creativity, the relationship between the traditional and modern, and why we do what we do. It’s a terrific profile piece by Josh Sims, elegantly written and full of little details that stick with you long afterwards, not least the quote with which he closes the story: ‘This has been 15 years of my life and now I’m nearly 75. Obviously life is drawing to a close. When you’re working on that text for that long, it’s right in front of your eyes that you’re wearing out. And so in some way the Bible project has been a preparation for death for me – so I can let go of it all with a grin.’

I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of the magazine and read the whole thing, and admire the photography by Andrew Montgomery. (Posted by AndrewH)