James Edgar – Jimmy Schwartz the Artist
No man is an island. We are all affected by the ones we are attracted to and the ones attracted to us. They leave their imprint. Some more than others.
James left an imprint.
I was reminded of him by an article on the Roy Harper Appreciation Society.
He is perhaps best remembered by me as one of Roy’s close friends from Roy’s Blackpool days and the man who provided the artwork that inspired ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, perhaps Roy’s greatest artistic creation.
James presented Roy with the image of Geronimo, included on Lifemask, that he had coloured in. Roy was incredibly moved by it and inspired to write the poem that became the spine of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ – something that we all should be incredibly grateful for.
Some people are charismatic; they have an aura about them. James was one. He was a chameleon, edgy, always on the go, enthusiastically searching, delving, then retiring into introspection.
I first met James round at Roy’s infamous 58 Fordwych Road flat in Kilburn – a hang-out for musicians, artists and beatniks; a bohemian melting pot.
In the late sixties, early seventies we would meet up to sit around, talking, smoking and laughing. Always laughing. I remember a lot of laughing. I wish a tape recorder had been on to capture the spirit of those days – the philosophy, ideas and absurdities – and the laughter.
The flat was decorated with floral Indian bedspreads, dimly lit and often Roy would have a Kodak carousel flashing up slides – photos of birds and nature that Roy had taken. We’d sit around, often on the floor, passing joints. Sometimes there was music but often there was just talking and laughter.
One evening we’d been going at it for a few hours. Roy had some particularly strong grass that blew your socks off and opened your skull to the heavens. We were pretty hammered. James arrived.
I remember it well. He came into the room looking dapper, hair below his shoulders scraped back behind his ears, calf-length brown boots, a tweed jacket with many pockets, shaped facial hair, looking very stylish.
I’d met James.
He looked around at us and said ‘Aaah, I’ve got some catching up to do.’
He sat cross-legged on the floor and proceeded to take out items from various pockets – a lighter, a penknife, a pack of large rizlas, four big blocks of hash – different colours and varieties.
He stuck some rizla leaves together and proceeded to lay down a bed of Roy’s incredibly strong grass. He then progressed to carve off slices of hash with his penknife and lay them on the grass. He constructed a very large spliff, sat back and began to smoke it all himself. It was big enough to zombiefy an elephant.
Only then did he relax and, seemingly unaffected, joined in the conversation.
I was amazed.
I met James on a number of occasions following that – often memorable.
At one time, about twenty years ago, James was at one of Roy’s gigs in Hull. I was there with my son Henry. We sat around talking, reminiscing about old times and catching up. James was enthusing about his new art. He was into taking polaroid’s and photos, distorting them, making them into something else. He was taken with my son Henry, who was in his early teens, and wanted to use him as a subject. He took a number of photos of him and was going to do all manner of things with them. He was in a manic phase.
Unfortunately I never got to see any of the end products. I would have loved to.
The last occasion I saw James was at a Harper gig in Liverpool in the early noughties. I’d driven across from Hull in my old banger. The gig was great and we’d stayed talking and laughing. James looked worse for wear, dishevelled and unkempt. He was bumming around with a backpack and sleeping rough. This was in winter with snow on the ground.
I was setting off for home in the early hours of the morning. James said he was heading to London and was going to hitch. He asked if I could give him a lift. I explained that I had to go back to Hull. He said that was great. Could I drop him off at the M1.
We had a discussion. I was uneasy about dropping him off in the freezing conditions in the middle of the night. There were no motorway stops on the M62. He was insistent. He said he had his bedroll and he’d settle down in a field.
Reluctantly I agreed. I drove him to the intersection and he clambered out of the car.
The last I saw of Jimmy was a straggly figure disappearing off into the dark, into the fields, with a backward wave.
Jimmy Schartz, James Edgar – the artist – a ghost in the night, a ghost in the machine. A man who left an impression.