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The Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton

November 23, 2011

On 12 November I went to a signing in Manchester Waterstones for The Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton, an art book written by Noel Fielding and compiled by Dave Brown.

From the get-go, this wasn’t the type of book signing I’m accustomed to. Up at the crack of dawn (OK, 7am but that’s early enough!) in order to get there in time to be guaranteed a place in line, I think I must have been one of the oldest people there who wasn’t a chaperoning parent – and I’m not exactly ancient. This in itself is slightly surprising to me considering the book – which is a beautiful compendium of Noel’s artwork – resembles nothing so much as Jake and Dinos Chapman interfering with Dr Seuss, but maybe not so surprising given his fairytale love of surrealism and the ridiculous. Add to this the fact that waiting in line to get signed was more akin to buckling up for a long-haul flight, with the whole day totalling up to a whopping twelve hours in the Arndale Centre, it could have easily been a less-than-joyful experience. It wasn’t, though – it was brilliant.

The activities officially kicked off at midday, with Noel and Dave arriving (Noel suitably attired in a bright yellow jumpsuit with ‘I <3 ART’ emblazoned upon the back) to do a real-time painting on the Waterstones window (think rock n’ roll Rolf Harris). One of the admirable things about Noel Fielding is his encouragement of fans, especially young fans, to be creative and imaginative, and true to form this spontaneity resulted in a W fashioned of blue, blood-spitting cats-in-boots. Whilst the artists went for a break, the fans began to queue and were encouraged during that time to produce their own artwork (some of which can now be seen at Noel Hearts Art). Well, I’ve been to a lot of book signings in my life and I can honestly say that all of them could have been improved by people handing out paper and felt-tips!

With only a short break in the middle (when they joked that “we’ve had enough, we’re going home” the remaining crowd actually seemed to find it quite fair enough!) the guys clocked up a wrist-busting five hours solid of signing. It says a lot that the fans who waited all that time and longer remained in as chipper spirits as they did, talking to those around them and generally passing the time. It also says a lot that both Dave and Noel remained patient and charming for the duration, signing books, shoes and ukuleles, posing for hundreds of photographs and taking the time to talk to every person who had come to see them.

I think what I love most about The Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton – with its padded cover, different textures of paper and multi-coloured, mind-mapping text – is that it’s inspiring people to get creative themselves. An art competition is set for the day of the signing, and the night before scores of teenagers actually take a break from Facebook and Twitter to get out their pens and paper and draw – I think that in itself is a startling achievement. Any celebrity who champions real media and DIY, who moves from project to creative project without choosing the safe route of rehashing past successes, who encourages people to live their lives rather than watching themselves onscreen, is certainly using their powers of influence for good.

I’m looking forward to what’s next from Noel Fielding and Dave Brown, because whatever it is, I certainly can’t predict it.

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