In 2003 I spontaneously answered a small hand-drawn ad in MacFie’s Music shop in Nth Hobart, someone looking for interested parties with whom to play guitar music of a Eurofolk bent. It was Luke Yates, a young uni student recently-returned from travels in France, previously an 80s metal guitarist who had an acoustic epiphany while tending goats in the French countryside.
Cactoid Fractal Swing (Dumpleton / Yates 2004) from the album An Anthology Of Revised Ambiguities.
Luke & I immediately discovered a shared curiosity in the quirky, offbeat sounds of European folk, Rom gypsy, Jazz Manouche, the Near East, Flamenco, the pathos & melancholic edges of cabaret, circus music, anything with that exotic flair, weird time signatures & plenty of articulate dissonance. Not that either of us had learned to play any of it, we just devoured as many recordings as we could and worked out the essential ingredients ourselves. Within the month, Spondooli Brothers were writing & performing their first compositions.
There’s also a certain absurdist humour inherent in all these musics, which appealed to our own sense of same, and before long a Spondooli aesthetic emerged – the music, the lo-fi Op Shop gypsy outfits, the accents, the mythology…..and the artwork. Creating the Spondooli artwork was a welcome departure from my usual commercial illustration, and for the first time in many years I gave myself permission to draw for My Own Pleasure. (This is a big deal, when all your creative energy is usually spent illustrating other people’s ideas & teaching / inspiring other people’s kids to get creative.)
I’d been designing some circus tent panel designs for Justus Neumann’s Circus Elysium, and while researching old circus poster art (a la PT Barnum et al), I found a glorious image of a man in tux & fez, solemnly conducting a pair of musical pigs. For some reason the pig idea stuck, and so developed our mascot, the Ukulele Pig. The UpsideDown Question Mark represented the Spondooli response to the world – a state of perpetual bafflement. The circus theme continued into the lettering for our logo and the subsequent gig posters & CD art, and was all the more fitting when, performing live, we never knew if the music would derail mid-hurtle or not, and we often felt like trapeze artists without a safety net.
Recently I dusted off all the old Spondooli art & decided to put it together here as a celebration of more colourful days, so here ’tis. I’ve included some Spondooli tunes as a soundtrack, to complete the picture as it were, if you so choose. You can also click on the images to enlarge them.
Moustafa’s Revenge (Dumpleton / Yates 2004) – Bradfield Dumpleton – acoustic guitar / Luke Yates – acoustic guitar, from the album An Anthology Of Revised Ambiguities.
SPONDOOLI POSTER ART:
The very first Spondooli poster was the generic design at the top of this page. The Spondooli Brothers didn’t perform frequently (on account of spending most of our time wrangling work, babies, uni studies, work, family, babies, uni studies, family, work etc etc), so when we had a gig, I wanted the posters to make a splash, and to be pieces of art in their own right. The style was old world retro (before old world retro became de jour), and stood apart from the trends of the time (though of course it all just goes in ever-diluting circles). Also, being an acoustic duo, we were better suited to sharing gigs with kindred acts who had a more robust sound, and this was a fundamental inspiration for each poster.
Dancing On Yesterday’s Grave (Dumpleton / Yates 2004) – Bradfield Dumpleton – acoustic guitar, vocals / Luke Yates – acoustic guitar, from the album An Anthology Of Revised Ambiguities.
Animal characters also became a theme (we’re all just performing animals in the circus of life, are we not?), and a useful device to indicate the flavour of each gig – eg the funky medieval lute-playing pig when we shared a CD launch with Harlequin, who played Moorish music on hand-crafted medieval instruments. Some of these characters’ lives were extended – the Dancing Bear reappeared on the back of our CD cover, the Funky Lute Pig stars on the cover of my Baroque-tinged album Marzipan, and the Crooning Moon Man became a mascot for my own solo ukulele music post-Spondoolies. In hindsight, the Crooning Moon Man is clearly indicating my growing interest in ukulele & 1920s jazz, but I had no idea at the time where that would take me.
SPONDOOLI CD ART:
Luke & I were both really proud of our first CD, An Anthology Of Revised Ambiguities. For us it was an authentic work of art, so it deserved to be clothed in appropriate finery. The Guitar Tamer was a shoe-in for the front cover, and we wanted a full-colour booklet inside, an extra window for people to explore the world of Spondooli through, to add more story to the music. Like back in the old days, when album cover art mattered.
I decided to create individual panels to illustrate the songs, using the titles to suggest the imagery. In some cases the illustrations are reflecting a story or mood in the song, in other panels the drawing is a story unto itself. The long vertical shape & design aesthetic of the panels were a little reminiscent of the old cigarette cards of the 1920s.
For instance, the instrumental Dancing On Yesterday’s Grave was our very first collaboration and marked a new beginning for us both, in defiance of our past, so a Mexican Death image seemed fitting. The baby in the guitar case for New Song was a tribute to my daughter, and the flailing trapeze artist in Symfonjo Garibando was myself and every man who walks the tightrope juggling the pressures of family life & work.
Symfonjo Garibando (Dumpleton / Yates 2004) – Bradfield Dumpleton – acoustic guitar, vocals / Luke Yates – acoustic guitar, from the album An Anthology Of Revised Ambiguities.
The centre of the booklet became a homage to sheepliness (Luke & I both being born in the sign of the Ram), bucking the “flying pig” trend with an airborn woolly, a kind of Dumbo-meets-Ottoman-Empire thing.
Madame Octopus (Dumpleton / Yates 2004) – Bradfield Dumpleton – acoustic guitar, vocals / Luke Yates – acoustic guitar, from the album An Anthology Of Revised Ambiguities.
One of our best-loved songs had always been Madame Octopus, so I payed homage to her on the inside disc tray, with the Guitar Tamer printed on the disc, so that when you removed the CD from the case, the two images created a before / after sequence, thus:
THE MAP OF SPONDOOLISTAN
Around this time I also designed a map of Spondoolistan, which didn’t make the CD booklet but was used in other promo material. Drawn in Ye Olde Mappe Style, the chart is peppered with puns & visual jokes, some esoteric humour & nonsensical randomness, as well as a couple of villages named after two songs on the album.
When I released the limited edition Camel Lips CD (solo project, as the Spondooli Other), I connected each song in the liner notes to its native region on the map, delving deeper into the Spondooli mythology.
The Spondooli illustrations mark a creative renaissance for me, reconnecting me with the pleasure I once took in drawing for its own sake, and is an illustration style that I still enjoy working with. This period represented a new level of creative expansion, musically & artistically, that I think I’m still tapping into.