Abdul Mati Klarwein was a painter – born in Hamburg – best known for his works used on the covers of music albums.
Mati Klarwein, Golda Meir & Ben Gurion. This is the third part of our series of articles. Christina Katrakis interviews her good friends Tomás Graves (son of Robert Graves, writer, musician and environmentalist) and Natalia Farrán Graves (Robert’s granddaughter, singer, writer and artist). The interview focuses on the major stars and celebrities who visited Robert Graves in Mallorca and includes stories never told before, curious anecdotes and personal insights. We will get some insights of some celebrities of our and of their time like Oliver Stone, Ava Gardner, J.R.R. Tolkien, Alec Guinness, Stephen Hawking and many more…enjoy this little look back in art history. In this part we will hear visits from Jorge Luis Borges, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir & Ben Gurion, Ronnie Scott, Robert Wyatt and Mati Klarwein.
Christina: Now, I know of one exception to the ‘no writer/poet friends for tea’ rule: Argentinian surrealist writer Jorge Luis Borges, the father of magical realism, surrealism and fantasy in Spanish language literature, legendary author of “Fictions” and “Aleph”. What do you remember about that great ‘tea time’ with Borges?
Tomás: I remember him visiting Robert in the 1980s. Borges was blind and my father was absent-minded by then, and so the meeting was described by Borges as “spiritual”.
Christina: Ha, ha, ha… that is just too funny! As surreal as Borges’ writing… it’s like having tea in wonderland, or should I say ‘Aleph’? Any anecdotes from this already hilarious meeting of the blind and the absent-minded? What a pair!
Tomás: Borges had to go to the bathroom after so much tea, and since there were no toilets on the ground floor of the house, my mother led him outside and pointed him towards a tree.
Christina: Well, at least it was an organic choice! (laughs)
Tomás: I remember driving him back to Palma, where he recited part of the epic poem Beowulf to me in pure Saxon!
Tomás: “Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum…”
He went on and on… all the way to Palma.
Christina: Must have been the best audiobook ever! That man doesn’t cease to surprise me… pure Saxon… what next? (giggles)
On Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir & Ben Gurion
Tomás: Oh, yes. I remember as a child meeting Moshe Dayan in Golda Meir’s house in Israel, where my father had been invited.
Christina: Do you remember anything about the conversation?
Tomás: Well, they talked politics and religion, which at the time I found boring… so, while they talked about politics and religion, I drew funny faces in the sand of Golda Meir’s garden.
Christina: Were they torture for you, these ‘adult conversations’?
Tomás: Not exactly, but my father was talking with Meir and Dayan for what seemed like hours…I had to amuse myself somehow. So drawing figures in the sand between the flowerbeds seemed like a great idea! (smiles)
Christina: Why was your father invited?
Tomás: Robert had done a great deal of work on the Hebrew Myths.
Christina: Did you get a chance to visit any of the ‘mythical’ places in Israel with your father?
Tomás:: I remember visiting the Golan Heights with David Ben Gurion. He also showed us Bethlehem in the distance, through a barbed-wire fence; at that time, it was in Syria.
Christina: Wow, David Ben Gurion… he was a real character. Must have been strange for a child to see the land where Jesus was born from behind barbed-wire fence… it’s like the vision of the ‘imprisoned myth’… Did anything ‘mythical’ actually happen during that trip?
Tomás:: Actually, it did!
Christina: Oh? Do tell!
Tomás:: Later we went to visit a kibbutz, with Dayan, I seem to remember, and we were sitting in a big room with a fireplace with some people (perhaps family of Dayan’s), including a kid smaller than me on a tricycle. There was a thunderstorm brewing up outside. Suddenly, there was a bang and a ball of lightning came in through the window.
Christina: My God, was anyone hurt?
Tomás: No. It crossed the room just where the child had been a few seconds earlier, and smashed against the wall of the fireplace.
Christina: Incredible! A mythical sign. It seems that myths and your father were never far away from each other…
On Ronnie Scott
Christina: Let’s move from myths to music: what about the famous English jazz tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott? He also came to visit, right?
Tomás: Ronnie Scott was on holiday in Palma when he saw the opening of a jazz club announced in the newspaper. It was my brother-in-law Ramón Farrán’s club, the Indigo.
Natalia: Oh, let me tell you about the Indigo saga! My father applied for a permit to open the club and everything was ready, but the paperwork was taking a while. Robert asked him how it was going and he replied that there were delays with the permit, although everything was in order, so Robert said, “Take me to Palma!”
Christina: That sounds like the beginning of a ‘club thriller’! (smiles)
Natalia: Ha ha! It does! I can just hear the dramatic music (smiles). They both went to speak to the authorities. Robert told them, in a mixture of English and Spanish (and plenty of hand gestures) that opening the Indigo Jazz Club was very important for Majorcan tourism.
Christina: Ha, ha… I can imagine Robert’s gesticular multilingual presentation (smiling). Did it produce results?
Natalia:: Oh, yes. The following Friday, the Indigo Jazz Club got its permits and, shortly after, the club opened its doors to the public.
Christina: Well, it took a well-known name like Robert Graves for the Spanish authorities to get their act together… the usual ‘mañana’ story! He seemed to be very encouraging…
Natalia: Oh yes, absolutely! He was always supportive of anyone starting up a new venture. He even helped to promote the club once it was open.
Christina: In which way?
Natalia: He was photographed by the local press advertising the Indigo Jazz Club. There is a well-known image of him sitting behind my father’s drum kit, smiling and pretending to play – he was such a good sport!
Christina: Now, going back to Ronnie Scott – did he come to the club that night?
Natalia: He came with his saxophone for the opening night and Robert was there.
Christina: Oh, so that’s where he met Robert.
Natalia: Yes… my father told me the story: he was busy that evening talking to customers, and a man sitting in a corner, covering his face with a hat, asked him, “Can I sit in with you for the next set?” My father asked him, “Are you a professional musician?” Yes – Ronnie Scott is my name”, came the answer, as he took off his hat and revealed his face. My father, who had played at Ronnie Scott’s in London in the late 1950s many a time, turned around in great surprise and they gave each other a big hug. Ronnie played every August at the Indigo for a few years’ running after that, and attracted many visitors to the club.
Christina: Did Ronnie and Robert become friends?
Natalia: Yes, they did – in his autobiography “Different Every Time”, Robert Wyatt (musician and founder of ‘Soft Machine’) remembers this period and comments on the unlikely friendship between Robert and Ronnie: “You couldn’t imagine more difference…this East End Jewish wise guy, really funny and hip, and this patrician classical scholar. But they got on absolutely like a house on fire”, he wrote about them.
Christina: And Ronnie became close friends with Ramon as well?
Tomás: A close friendship emerged and Ronnie ended up sending the best British jazz musicians to play there in exchange for a holiday!
Christina: Well, that’s a fine exchange if you ask me. Nothing can beat Mallorca for holidays!
Natalia: Yes, he invited many jazz stars, like Tubby Hayes and Eje Thelin to play in his club in Palma… can you imagine, Mallorca in the 1960s? It must have been spectacular. And with jazz in the background – I was definitely born in the wrong era!
On Robert Wyatt
Christina: You mentioned Robert Wyatt. What about his friendship with the Graves clan?
Tomás: Robert Wyatt was the son of a friend of the family (Honor Wyatt, a journalist with the BBC). He worked as a doorman at the club that summer, in exchange for drum lessons from Ramón, my brother-in-law.
Christina: But I heard that he was taught drums by American jazz drummer George Neidorf?
Tomás: He did as well, but it was that summer in Mallorca that did the trick. He later went on to found The Soft Machine, Britain’s first progressive jazz-rock band. He also became a good friend of Ronnie Scott’s while in Mallorca.
Christina: Wow – The Soft Machine were huge!
Natalia: He was in Deià the previous summer, too. My father spent time teaching Robert Wyatt the year before.
Christina: Wow, so it was your father who taught him the drums? I’m getting closer and closer to resolving this ‘drum riddle’!
Natalia: Well, both Neidorf and my father did! Yes, Robert Wyatt spent a couple of summers in Deià when he was very young. My father gave him a few drumming lessons during first summer and nicknamed him “Batty Robert” (from “batería”, drum kit in Spanish), so things wouldn’t get confusing with the other Robert in the house!
Christina: So how did their drumming sessions go?
Natalia: At first, they used to do vocal percussion duets for fun. Robert (my grandfather) “used to get people to do things”, as Robert Wyatt put it in his book, at dinner parties or picnics – sing songs, recite poems, tell jokes…
Christina: Oh dear – I know that kind of scenario well… my grandmother was like that, too. At least it was never boring in the house!
Natalia:: Never a dull moment! But yes, my father taught Wyatt to play the congas that summer, and they used a practice kit as well. “Batty” Robert enjoyed these sessions and asked my father if he would be his teacher, so they started working with a full drum kit.
Christina: Where did they do the lessons?
Natalia: Mostly in the club. Wyatt spent a great deal of time at the Indigo, either in the audience, playing on stage or helping my father out (around the club, or as a doorman, as Tomás said earlier) in payment for his drum lessons. Whenever he went to the club, my father would give him an intensive drum lesson, and they both remember these sessions fondly. “Batty” also played congas with Mati Klarwein sometimes, as did my father.
Christina: Those were the day of music in Deià, weren’t they?
Natalia: Truly! There was a great deal of live music going on. Later on, Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen (co-founders of the ‘Soft Machine’) started spending time in Deià too – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Christina: Now, do we have any anecdotes about Mati Klarwein, the famous painter known especially for his works on the covers of music albums? (I love this quote from Juxtapoz Magazine: they wrote that he is “literally responsible for every great, legendary record cover you’ve ever seen – if he didn’t do it, he inspired it”)
Tomás: I’m passing this one to Natalia – her father was Mati’s close friend. On my part, there are just too many stories about Mati. I talk about him in my book “Tuning Up at Dawn”. So…read it! (laughs)
Natalia: Uh-oh! Shameless book plug alert! (laughing) Actually, do read it, it’s brilliant! (smiles) Well, I don’t have any stories of my own of Mati’s as such, but he was such a wonderful man, and an important presence in the village.
Christina: So, he was your father’s friend?
Natalia: He was friends with Robert and with my father. He fell in love with Deià during a short visit, invited by archeologist Bill Waldren, whose family still live there.
Christina: He came for a visit and lingered, or moved to Deià all together?
Natalia: Mati built a house in Deià with his father, and settled there in the early ’80s.
Christina: What was Mati like, what did he like to do when in Deià?
Natalia: He enjoyed organizing happenings, especially full moon parties, and he seemed to understand that life and art were one and the same thing. He was so free! He loved playing percussion, I think it got him into a creative zone… my father tells stories of playing percussion on many an afternoon on his way back from the beach at Mati’s house. Mati used to leave an enticing jug of fresh lemonade on the window sill, as an invitation (or bribe!) for my dad to join him… we all miss him.
Christina: What about his work?
Natalia: Well, the album covers are incredible, and I have always loved his “improved paintings” concept, where he’d recycle old paintings. That was absolutely brilliant. He also painted a spectacular portrait of Robert.
Christina: Did he have a lot of friends in the village?
Natalia: Everyone loved him! And he had so many incredible connections – he shared a tailor with Jimi Hendrix, and Warhol once declared that Mati was his favourite painter. You start unravelling the thread and everyone is connected… I always say that, in Deià, there’s more like two degrees of separation between people than six. But yeah, Mati was in a class of his own.
Christina: You speak with such enthusiasm about him – was Mati an inspiration to you as kid?
Natalia: He has inspired us all, I think – he turned his surroundings into art…turned Deià and its beautiful trees and people into art. I suppose that’s what I have taken from him. Life can be art… if you can, you should live your life as art.
Christina: Do you think that Mati chose Deià, because it was easier there to ‘live your life as art’?
Natalia: Probably. Or Deià chose him!
Christina: Amen to that!