Scourge of the political class, Gerald Scarfe has had a long love affair with music. He talks The Big Issue through his greatest hits
1. Hammer time
“When I first worked with Pink Floyd I was puzzled by their music. It was Dark Side of the Moon at that time. They invited me to The Rainbow in Finsbury Park where they were performing and I found it theatrically very thrilling. Finally, I found my way into inventing my own world that would run alongside their world.
“Roger Waters, who was the main instigator on the visual side, and I talked about it but he never suggested anything visually. He really wanted me to do the social and political comment I do anyway because a lot of their work is a reflection of where we all are. The hammer is obviously a force of oppression, a fascist force, controlling, and very, very hard. Naturally I thought, what’s the implement and the object that is the most unforgiving and brutal, and a hammer came to mind.”
2. Leave those kids alone
“I have quite a beef about education because I didn’t get any. I was a chronically asthmatic child from a very early age so I missed most of my schooling. Society put me in a position where I almost couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have academic backup. In those days you had public schools, secondary modern schools and grammar schools and they were all designed to produce a citizen that fitted a certain part of society. I was always aware kids were being produced for a purpose. I would like to think it’s better now.”
3. The nutty Nutcracker
“I designed The Nutcracker for the English National Ballet [see below], very much with my granddaughter in mind. She was six in 2002 and I designed it for her. Little girls like ballet but children like fun, colour, cartoon and pantomime so I put a lot of that into it. Mind you, the critics loathed it – “What the hell has this guy done to our darling Tchaikovsky?” – ballet follows pretty strict rules. I had the snowflakes that dance across the stage coming out of a fridge, which a lot of people thought was a bridge too far – or should I say, a fridge too far.”
“The whole point of a caricature is that it’s recognisable. With politicians, there is no point dealing with those little guys on the backbenches, no one knows what they look like. All of The Stones are extremely well known facially [see below]. When you meet a lot of these guys they are – what’s the word – normal, quite bourgeois, especially when they get money and huge success and they don’t have to try so hard. A lot of them live sedate, quiet lives offstage as an antidote to that life onstage.
“With Pink Floyd there was no personality cult like there was with Mick and Keith. When you went to their concerts the lights would go down and they’d melt onto stage – they’d suddenly be there. The first night they played The Wall at Earl’s Court in 1980, when my animation of the flowers making love (the ‘fucking flowers’ as they’re now called) came on there was a huge roar from the audience and I felt this amazing rush. I remember Roger came over and said: “That’s you they’re cheering. You’re a rock ’n’ roll star now!”
Scarfe and Music runs from September 5–October 31 at the Barbican Music Library
Gerald Scarfe was speaking to Steven MacKenzie. @stevenmackenzie