Banksy Brace Yourself: The Spark That Drives Us

Music Drives Me… to Banksy

Music has always featured in my life. From early childhood memories of building train sets with my Father and listening to ELO. To heading off to the library during 6th form and borrowing Jesus And Mary Chain CDs, and then discovering the Pixies and seeing my first gigs. Music really moved me as it moves so many other people, and for me I’d happily go to a nightclub and dance all night on my own, lost in music.

The Brace Yourself Banksy
The Brace Yourself Banksy

I’d written my own songs, and despite not being able to sing a note started managed to convince other people to join me on stage; the first and probably highlight being a rewritten version of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven on Earth at a Durham College. This was followed by busking and a lot more writing in Nottingham. However, despite having a growing collection of guitars I didn’t really move forwards for a few years.

The Start of The Band

That is until one day in 2006 my neighbour Simon asked if I’d like to join him and get a band together to play a few songs at his 40th Birthday party. Although Simon was an accomplished pianist he decided that he wanted to level the playing field and for us to pick new instruments to learn from scratch. We started with him on drums, me playing bass, and Kevin on guitar. There followed a few years of religious practice at Panic Studios in Acton, the eventual hiring of Vanessa the singer and ‘Six and One‘ were born – because we were all parents and between us had 6 girls and only one boy.

The 40th birthday party passed with fairly average renditions of 500 miles, Blondie, Susan Vega, and a Snow Patrol song. Soon afterwards Vanessa left to go up North. Vanessa was replaced by Ciara and Mark was added on lead guitar. Weekly practices at Panic continued, and with new members and a different number if children we needed a new name! Being a new Dad I spent a lot of time going to museums (I especially remember Hampton Court) and the cynical policy of directing people out of the museum through the gift shop. I think we ended up in the pub having a discussion and Simon really liked my idea of Exit Through the Gift Shop, and it ended up being our name with this line up. I bought the domain name, and I even got a t-shirt made with the name on it.

My Exit T Shirt My Exit T Shirt

Exit Through The Gift Shop

The Next Phase

Having Mark on board grew our ambition (as well as our ability) and we started playing more songs, and had another gig at the school fete that most of the band’s children attended. We played similar cover songs, although I think a Reef song got added to the set. I persuaded my wife to video the performance and I even went as far as uploading it to my YouTube account, tagging it with our band name “Exit Through The Gift Shop“.

We had a bit of a hiatus because Ciara hadn’t really enjoyed performing in front of a large crowd on a big stage, and we settled back into learning more songs and working with a number of different singers and improving our show. Then in 2009 Kevin the guitarist found Natalie who joined the band as singer and has sung with the band ever since. With our new found confidence we played an open-mic night in the Duke of York in Hanwell, which eventually led to us being booked for gigs there, and then further afield in Kingston, Hammersmith, and Central London. Around about this time Mark noticed that Banksy had painted his work ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop‘ for his June 2009 Bristol exhibition and thought nothing more than it being a cool meme.

Gigs In The Duke of York
Gigs In The Duke of York

A Message from Banksy

Then in January 2010 I got a strange message on my YouTube account that held the Exit Through the Gift Shop videos. It was along the lines of “Oh no, we’ve both turned up to the party wearing the same dress, could I borrow your name for a while because I had it earmarked for a film.”. He continued on to say that if we wanted to change our name then in return he’d personally paint you a new backdrop” and it was signed off Banksy. I immediately sent it on to the rest of the band, who were a mixture of excitement and disbelief, but we wrote back and said that we’d be more than happy to change our name and came up with two alternatives and asked him to choose one to rename us. The alternatives we offered were “Brace Yourself” and “Unexpected Item“. Banksy chose “Brace Yourself” and then asked us if we had any guidance for him on how we’d like the backdrop. We agreed to cede creative direction to his genius and just asked him to do whatever he wanted as long as it was big and bold!

And then it all went quiet!

The film was launched and we hadn’t been invited to the premier, and we started to worry that it’d all been a hoax. I had a feeling that everything was going to be OK, because I couldn’t believe that somebody who was famous for his social and political commentary would go back on his word. Because we all live near media land in West London, some of the other members of the band started to put out feelers to journalists and PR people to try and find out what was happening.

However around the end of the March I got a message on YouTube saying that the backdrop was ready and it was about to be delivered. This time the message was signed by Pest Control which got us very excited that this was looking genuine.

The Delivery

The next day I got a call from Simon, who was working from home, to say that a white van had arrived and delivered a large brown package to his house. I was working around the corner and quickly ran up to his house and we took the parcel up to his loft and nervously started opening it.

Opening the Banksy Parcel-untitled- 022

Opening the Banksy Parcel

Within a few minutes we had it unravelled and laid out on the floor, it was massive, about 8ft x 6ft and stunning – the Grim Reaper driving a bumper car with concentric circles behind it. I think that’s when it finally hit me how significant this was. As well as being blown away by the quality of the painting I was personally very pleased that everything was well in the world and Banksy was a man of his word!

This was also about the time everything started going wrong for me in the band, as is often the case in a situation where a group of people’s circumstances change and the members of the group have different ideologies. Fortunately I had a holiday planned and was away for all the radio and TV interviews that were scheduled, although it was very interesting to watch from afar how the story was being retold. A version of the events even made it in the Telegraph and Guardian, and even Ealing Today have a quote from me!

“I, personally am really happy with the outcome because we’d read that he was a genuine man and that he does lots to help people out and I’m really pleased that he was true to his word.”

As the story spread, the painting was valued by a nice man at Sothebys and it was suggested that it should be insured at £200,000. It was obvious that it was too valuable for us to perform in front of and secure storage was arranged for it. The question of ownership was raised and one of the band drew up an agreement that stated our collective ownership of the painting, and that if we wanted to sell the painting we would require a majority vote (ie 3 out of 5 of the band members).

We launched the band with the new name and a copy of the backdrop at the Brentford St George’s day festival, and although we did invite Banksy to come along, I think he was too busy with other things!
The band continued, with the Banksy experience increasing our confidence; we recorded some cover songs as the amazing High Barn recording studios in Essex, and played more songs to larger audiences, the highlights for me being the Brentford Festival 2012 and playing the Shakespeare pub in Victoria.

One of the High Barn session songs, Poker Face can be heard here

Playing the Brentford Festival
Playing the Brentford Festival

A New Band

However, the experience I’d had around the Banksy led me to enjoy in the band less and less, and by the end of 2010 I had left to start another band. I got a lot of out of exploring my own songs rather than playing other people’s songs. My new band, Power Corruption & Lies is starting to come together with almost an album’s worth of material on SoundCloud and with a number of gigs booked this year.

Brace Yourself in 3D

The Banksy experience was a great story but with the painting sitting in safe storage it wasn’t very satisfactory. It was very exciting when Banksy turned the concept into a 3D experience by bringing the Grim Reaper to life in his bumper car as the climax of his New York shows in October 2013 which sparked further conversation about what it meant.

Stealing Banksy

We’d all been trying sporadically to find a platform to show the piece so that more people could appreciate it, and Simon came up with the goods last week (April 2014) when it was shown alongside other pieces at the controversial Stealing Banksy show in London.

Banksy Selfie
Obligatory Banksy Selfie

I really enjoyed meeting up with my old band members and we all got a buzz out of seeing our painting being displayed there and taking the obligatory selfie. I especially enjoyed chatting with the attendees of the show and discussing what the painting meant. There were some great ideas, most based around mortality, but it was pointed out that the spark that sends the power to the bumper car was very prominent – perhaps that is an indicator of what drives us through life?

Music is the spark that drives me, what drives you?