Nova Studios Paul Burwell update

For the last two years we’ve been working on a feature length documentary funded by Future’s Venture about the artist Paul Burwell, who died in Hull in 2007.

Burwell was a pivotal figure in a creative scene through the late 60s, through the 70s and into the 80s which is still largely unrecognised and uncategorised, thanks largely to the fact that it’s creators pushed against labels taking consciously underground and subversive stances in a society which seemed to be becoming increasingly restrictive and mainstream.

Thescene refused in the first place to be viewed as a scene, and even if it inadvertently became one, it refused to be restricted by form, content or media. Music and sound, dance and gesture, sculpture, paint, fire, the written and spoken word, magick, sex and drugs were all seen as gateways to new experiences of consciousness. It grew out of the 1960s British counter-culture and it's players and makers included the likes of the People Band, The Spontaneous Music Ensemble, pyrotechnician Stephen Cripps, writer Iain Sinclair, poet and artist Brian Catling, poet Bob Cobbing, Carlyle Reedy’s Monkey Theatre, Welfare State International (very close to Future’s Ventures heart), actor playwright Steve Berkhoff, performance artists Anne Bean and The Kipper Kids, sculptors and noise makers Richard Wilson and Max Eastley, muscicians and composers like David Toop, Cornelius Cardew, Gavin Bryars, Brian Eno and many more. All of these people were essentially exploring levels of reality and perception that might exist outside the status quo. Very often the work was - and still is - dangerous, dirty, hilarious, terrifying, trance-inducing, fascinating, beautiful; and always it makes you question the values of the world we live in. Like it or not, it’s political.

Paul Burwell was a catalytic figure in this broad gang - one of those ‘hub’ people who links all of the disparate members.

There’s a point when you’re making a documentary about someone you didn't who has died where they begin to stand up in front of you. It’s when all the research you’ve done, all the people you;ve spoken to, all the artefacts you’ve found an handled start to coalesce into an idea of a person that feels like a memory, even though you never met. It’s like you've joined a collective consciousness where that person still lives.

When we die, very often all that is left behind is distilled into a few cardboard boxes. In Paul Burwell’s case that’s quite a number of cardboard boxes (maybe about 40 of them) and they currently live in the hallway of the Norwich home of book-seller and archivist Will Shutes - who was kind enough to let me take a rummage and see what we could find and use in the documentary.

It was like a goldmine for a researcher: sketchbooks, and scrapbooks, letters, diaries and journals, publicity, photographs and more - all dating back to the late 60s when Paul was making his first creative explorations and experiments. The boxes show a mind that was rarely at rest, rarely satisfied, always pushing for new experiences and searching for new ways to create the spectacular; someone fascinated by religion, sex, fire, music, love, weapons and women. Not always a happy life, but one which was lived to the full, and one which really did play an as-yet-untold but hugely significant role in the story of the last 50 years of British creativity.

The creative devillment and disruption that Paul, together with his friends and colleagues, unleashed into the world is still rippling. Paul’s story is one that needs to be heard; because one thing’s for sure, when the world is burning and drowning, we’d better enjoy the party - it’s the only thing that’ll save us.

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