Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 7 - John Mason

Strachan McQuade Interviews John Mason

Readers of Phil Rickman’s ‘Merrily Watkins’ novels never fail to be blown away by the  disquietingly Gothic undertones of John Mason’s cover art. John’s trademark style of tinted infrared photography is now almost as instantly recognisable as the characters inside the books. Over the years he has built up an impressive portfolio of stunning work that includes his eerie Haunted Realm series of photographs, as well as working with Phil Rickman to produce ‘Merrily’s Borders’ – a beautifully illustrated guide to the locations and historical background against which the Merrily Watkins novels are placed. John has also recently published a new book of photographs ‘King Arthur’s Britain’ published by Mansion House Books. 
Fresh from a successful art exhibition in Glastonbury, the man normally found lurking behind the lens granted us an exclusive interview. As usual Strachan was off like a shot to meet him.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
John Mason

McQuade: Here I am at the top of Glastonbury Tor, the supposed site of the fabled Isle of Avalon, its misty glamour once perfectly captured in a dreary sonnet by folk rockers Roxy Music. This is the very spot where on the fourteenth of November 1539, Abbot Richard Whiting was dragged by a horse all the way up the hill. Why he couldn’t simply have walked, I’ve no idea. Poor old Whiting was then hung, drawn and quartered, with chunks of him displayed all over the town – I’ve been known for the same thing myself after a few too many drinks down the pub, it’s easily done you know. 
Glastonbury Tor is also home to Gwyn ap Nupp, King of the Fairies, rumoured to appear riding a big, black horse every second Wednesday, except in February when he visits his sister-in-law in Swansea. Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m still waiting for John Mason to arrive. I passed him ages ago on my scooter as he trudged up the hill. Ah, here he is now. By Jove, the poor bloke looks puffed out.
So tell me, Mason, this new book of yours, ‘King Arthur’s Britain’ published by Mansion House Books. What’s it all about? Is it a cutting-edge reworking of the traditional Arthurian legends? A stirring adventure story about Merlin and the gallant Knights of the Round Table? You know the ones, Lancelot, Gawain and the other fellow….what’s his name, Friar Tuck?

Mason: I’m only out of breath because I took the time to throw your excuse for a scooter over the hedge and into a rather large muddy pit! Maybe next time you won’t try to run me over on the damn thing you heathen lunatic!
Anyway, enough about you and on to the REAL reason why we’re here on top of Glastonbury Tor. Stop looking about for your scooter McQuade, you won’t find it because the damn thing sank! Right, where was I? The book, yes, I decided to do a book on most of the accessible locations in England, Scotland and Wales that are associated with King Arthur and because I couldn’t find anyone who would work for free I ended up writing the damn thing as well!
Needless to say, I did the whole book in my trademark Infrared black and white photography style and also because I had NO editorial interference, I was able to select the pictures myself AND didn’t end up having to argue about the cover shot either! Greg at Mansion House Books has a good eye for a cover shot and his first choice was the same as mine!

Ha ha. A skinny bloke like you lifting and tossing my scooter? Pull the other one. You’re probably best known for your striking, atmospheric book covers used for Phil Rickman’s ‘Merrily Watkins’ novels, but I hear you’re a dab hand with a paintbrush too, and have just held an exhibition of your work in Glastonbury town. Nothing like an art exhibition to bring out the weirdoes, that’s what I’ve always said. So how did that come about? And how did the exhibition go?


Mason: Well, the exhibition was at Glastonbury Galleries in the High Street and I decided to do a combination of both my infrared black and white photographic prints AND some of my oil and acrylic paintings as well!
The reason I paint is because I get bored easily and when I can’t go out and play with my camera, I tend to spend the day and the occasional night slapping paint on a canvas!
The exhibition went well and the local weirdoes and nutters were quite mild compared to a certain Scottish personage I’ve just met!

McQuade: You met another Scotsman on the way here? What a coincidence. Look, it’s getting a bit windy up here. Best if we nip inside this crumbling old tower so I can get my pipe going. You’d think they’d knock this old ruin down and build a proper bus shelter. Must be really crowded in the tower when they stage the music festival. And how they get that fat bloke, the Big Bopper, up here I can’t imagine. Now, another project I’m supposed to ask you about is the long awaited DVD of Merrily’s Borders, a supplementary cinematic version of the book of the same name you produced a few years ago with that Rickman fellow. I heard the rough footage even contained shots of the Hazey Jane II gig at Kentchurch Court – waste of film if you ask me. But why has the DVD taken so long to materialise? I expect half the time was spend photo-shopping out Watson’s bald patch, or was it delayed because Rickman continually kept fluffing his lines? Tell you what, you keep talking into this microphone while I nip out to the scooter to get my flask of oxtail soup. 

Mason: Good luck with finding the scooter! Anyway about the DVD. At the moment, all the filming has been done and Phil has written the script and done the voice-overs for it. The whole project is now in the post production phase and is being edited as we speak and the aim is to have in ready before Christmas. IF for whatever reason, we blow that deadline then it will be out in January. I’m also hoping to film a little bit of a teaser to include the next Merrily as an ‘extra’! 

McQuade: By Jove! My scooter really has gone. I was looking forward to that oxtail soup, you black-hearted pagan scunner. I knew we should have stuck to interviewing proper writers. You arty types are far too unpredictable. But tell me this, Mason. Wearing a bandanna on your head has become something of a trademark look. Is there some practical reason for this form of head-wear? Like adhering to a strict hygienic code of practise while working in McDonalds? Or is it out of consideration to faint-hearted members of the public? Perhaps to conceal ginger hair?

Mason: The bandana originally was to stop sweat getting in my eyes while I was filming and also to keep the sun off my head when I was on location abroad and after awhile, as you say, it became something of a trademark and then just an everyday item of clothing! I quit McDonalds because they wouldn’t let me wear it!

McQuade: Quite right too. I wouldn’t want a hippie artist doodling beside the deep fat fryer while my chips burned. Let’s get this finished off as I’m freezing.
Standing up here at this sacred spot overlooking the magnificent Glastonbury Zodiac embedded into the landscape around us lets me segue neatly into my last question, which is - what does the future hold for John Mason? No, I’m not interested in your horoscope or whether or not your lucky piece of kitchen cutlery is a dessert spoon. I wish to know what your next project will be? More books? Paintings? Films? Or do you plan on resting upon your laurels and go for a good piss-up with your mates?

Mason: Well, the future is still unclear at the moment. Sure I’m working on more books, this includes ‘Myths and Legends of England’, ‘Myths and Legends of Wales’ and ‘Myths and Legends of Scotland’, I may do an Ireland book, but that will depend on how I get on with these ones!
Also, the ‘Myths and Legends’ dvd  that I’ve been working on is in post production as well and could end up being several volumes!
I’ve also got video projects I’m working on with some Spanish pagan friends to shoot as well. These include such subjects as ‘Druidry’ and ‘Labyrinths’!
I’m still evolving with the painting and that will also lead to more exhibitions next year as well.
AND I’m also threatening to sort out a few web sites to showcase both my infrared work and my paintings. The sites I’ve already got are really out of date and need a complete revamp.
Oh, and there is not a chance in hell I’m helping you get that scooter out of the muddy pit even if you do find it, but I will point you in the direction of the bus stop if you like!

McQuade: No need for that, Mason. I’ve already arranged for Gwyn ap Nupp to give me a ride back to town on his big black horse. The scooter was to have been a gift to you. Feel free to drink the oxtail soup if you do manage to recover it from that muddy pit. Bet you’re wishing you’d left well alone now. (sound of approaching galloping hooves) Ah, here comes old Gwyn now. Now, now, Mason. No need to get so vexed, and I wouldn't kick that crumbling old tower so hard if I were you, it might.............. (thundering crash of tons of rock collapsing) erm, fall down. Ah, looks like they might have to build that bus stop after all. Over here, Gwyn, there's a good lad.

Buy John Mason's New Book 'King Arthur's Britain'

Visit John Mason's Haunted Realm

View John Mason's Artwork

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! I've ordered your book- Greg says just his second US order.