Mark Crook
Designer, Director

Age: unembarrassed

Status: inside left

I was born above Freeman, Hardy and Willis in South Norwood High Street in 1962. The usual formative years, various schools, I met Dean at South Norwood High School when I was 11, lots of anecdotes, great fun, two years there before taking a scholarship at London Nautical School in Stamford Street Waterloo, two years there, not much fun. Finished my education in Sussex and started work at 16. Printing and Graphics seemed like a decent enough trade, so I got an apprenticeship and attended the London College of Printing for five years learning and learning and learning.

I was always interested in music. I played the piano from the age of 5, started guitar lessons at 9, I also had flirtations with the violin and steel drums. I started to imagine myself as a performer after seeing the Human League in its original format, Oakey, Wright, Ware, and the other one. At the time they were very avant-garde musically using tape machines, and synthesisers only, not a guitar in sight, I was struck by the power of the absolute metronomic darkness of the sound and the performance, which also included slide visuals which I had also never seen before.

This inspired me to do the same and I formed my first band with my then girlfriend and two other friends, Ashley Graham, Peter Flory, and Duncan Jarvis. “Oscillator” Not a bad name I thought for what we were trying to achieve … I based the template on the League, a tape machine (my Grandad had a reel to reel, can't remember the make, think it was a Phillips) a Farfisa organ I'd had since I was 11, and a friend called Simon Springford who was well connected with a studio nearby, so I was able to borrow a few bits of kit from there and record a backing track. Simon joined and although he was a guitarist and so ruined my totally automated ideal, he could play extremely well and I liked him.

We gigged once. It was a disaster. Halfway through the set, in front of the entire school I had only just left, a reel of the tape machine (a Teac 2-track studio machine with the big rubber tape stops) came off and rolled across the stage and into the audience, ending, prematurely my first ever show. I found out later, when I came out from the rock that I had escaped to, that everyone thought that it was part of the show and loved it… I will never understand showbiz.

After that a funny thing happened. I was wallowing in self-pity and teenage angst (the girlfriend had gone off with the bass player... predictable) when at a party, the guy in the support band came up and said “if you let me be in your band, I’ll let you go out with my sister” which at the time I thought was an interesting opening gambit. That was Steve Robinson, another guitarist, and now lifelong friend and up until 1990, musical collaborator. So, I went out with (later married) his sister Andrea and joined by two other great musicians (probably the best I’ve played with) Pete Lusk on Bass and Ian Day (Squid) on drums we started the regular band thing with “Still Life”.

Between 1978 and 1981 I was writing, playing gigs, rehearsing. My friendship with Steve continued after the demise of Still Life and I became involved in a band that he had formed with two other guys called Wild Cargo. Wild Cargo was influenced by Talking Heads and 80s dance music. We wrote a huge amount over this period, and performed in every toilet in the South East. All this time of course I was working - graphic design, paste-up, planner platemaking.

I was “youth” and therefore a touchstone for all that could be “cool”, and thus I was employed in more ways than one by production company "Silent Partners" in London, making pop videos, which at that time a new and exciting format. We were responsible for The Specials promo for “Ghost town” , a Blancmange promo "God’s kitchen", an Elvis Costello short film, "Clubland" and a half-hour promo for Pete Townsend's album, “All the best cowboys have Chinese eyes” directed by Chalkie Davies and Carol Starr, and a Paul Carrack promo directed by the guy that shot all the Echo and the Bunnymen covers.

n 1982 we pitched for a TV programme to slot in between a music programme that was scheduled to start when Channel 4 launched. We developed it under the working title of Club TV, and it later ran on Channel 4 as "The Switch". I traveled around the country gathering the best music from a selection of major towns and cities - Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Coventry, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Hull - meeting various movers and shakers of the time getting their feedback on the concept and booking them for the shows.

This was great fun, culminating in a presentation at the Edinburgh Television Festival on the state of youth TV in front of many luminaries of the time including Jeremy Isaccs, John Lloyd, Melvin Bragg, Billy Connolly and a crowd of TV’s high and mighty. I jumped ship from the project when it stopped being the young, edgy and interesting, cutting edge television programme that I helped to conceive and became the stale, formulaic, safe programme that it turned into. Principles… must be the luxury of the young.

The 90’s saw me knuckling down to graphic design a big way. As the club scene took off, and AppIe made computers which didn't run on DOS, I was in Brighton working on flyers and posters, and large-scale marketing and promotion of club nights at the Escape - “Use your Loaf” “Club Foot”. I still maintain a good working relationship with promoter Ben Gill, designing publicity material and corporate ID for his 3-floor "Ocean Rooms" club.

I also continued to work in audio studios - Air, ICC, Blue Box, House in the Woods, Rainbow, Park Gate - producting and engineering demos for young, unsigned bands, and writing and recording my own music.

Having developed my software skills in the direction of multi-media design and production, I have enjoyed a residency with Mint Design, working on projects for De Le Ware Pavillion, AMEX, both East and West Sussex County Councils, Sodexho, HSBC, on interiors, presentations, multi-media and video.

In 2001, I started promoting “Closer” a regular and somewhat pioneering Sunday night event at The Hanbury Ballroom, which helped to develop the acoustic live scene in a town with little in the way of played music on this scale.

I have also promoted nights at The Tin Drum, and Havana, working with artists Caramel Jack, Rory Moore, Matt Oldfield, Jason Dutton, The Flying Machine, Celebricide.. to name a talented few.

26 years after we last spoke at South Norwood High School, I met up with Dean, and we continued almost as if it were the next day. He brought his band to Brighton in 2002, and I brought The Closer Organisation to London in 2003 and we promoted a successful series of nights called Far Out. We have been working together, writing and recording music, making videos, and planning the revolution under the FUNK banner for the last couple of years, and even as he puts these words into my mouth, I have to say, it's jolly good fun.

 

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