Jonny Hannah is one of the best and most successful artists to have come out of Dunfermline. Educated at Queen Anne High School, Liverpool School of Art and The Royal College, he has produced stunning work for Vogue, Penguin Books and The New York Times among others as well as publishing several highly regarded books. He lives in Southampton with his wife and sons but, as this Darktown exhibition shows, he is still very much inspired by the town of his youth…

by Jonny Hannah

For some time now, I have been going to Darktown on a regular basis. My alter-reality hinterlands, accessible via ferry over the Sea of Possibilities, and by road down the Lost Highway. A place where anything can happen, but little does. But what makes it special are its residents and shopkeepers. Slim Gaillard runs the second hand emporium to die for, McVoutys. B-movie superhero Jacques Tourneur curates an ever engaging set of films for the local dilapidated moving picture house. Amalia Rodrigues, queen of Fado, sells only hearts and hands. Sadly, Emmett Miller’s Unquiet Grave junk shop closed down only last week. 

Darktown offers me a refuge from modern life and council tax payments. A relief from x, y and z factors. Any visit to this distinguished distopia offers a relaxing coffee at the Mermaid Cafe, a great bowl of mussels at the Hotel de la Plage, and a chance to draw and paint in my modest hideaway in Rue Zig-Zag in a leisurely manner, with fewer deadlines than normal. 

Looking back, Darktown began in my formative years growing up in Dunfermline. I reckon The Skids were on their way there, when going Into the Valley. Couple that with buying dark, dark denims, with bright yellow stitching at Donaldson’s on Dunfermlines High Street, and an annual treat from the Kay Bruce toy shop on east port, and before I realized… Darktown was born. But it would take decades to rise to the surface. To help that process happen, I played Fats Waller, Hank Williams and CW Stoneking, obsessively. I watched Wages of Fear, anything by Jacques Tati, Les Diaboliques, The Red Shoes and Whisky Galore over and over again. I poured over Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell and Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind. And there it was… I had my ferry ticket to Darktown in my hand and have been setting sail ever since. 

And I’ve made several attempts to bring it to life for others. For my exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park; Main Street, I created three shops, including Brel’s Record bar (inspired by my many hours spent in Dunfermline’s Europa Music all those years ago). And last summer saw me customise (or is it vandalise?) a Saab 93, to create my very own Darktown Turbo Taxi, often seen driven around the rues and lanes by the Queen of Darktown (people often double up on their jobs there, just like in Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero). 

So, here it is, back in my old home town, from my new home town of Southampton, via the shores of the Sea of Possibilities. Step inside and enjoy my Darktown songs and stories. When you enter the Fire Station Creative for the month of April, you get a free ticket for the ferry, one way of course, because once you buy a long player from Brel’s, or buy some rope from the Owen coffin Chandlery, you’ll never want to go back to normal life, until you need to pay the milkman, that is.

For any more info, treat yourself to Greetings from Darktown, published  Merrell in 2014. Or sample the delights of my Darktown Turbo Taxi playlist on Spotify. Essential Listening….

Engage, enjoy, the meter’s started running. Where to sir? And you Madame? My Darktown Turbo Taxi is at your service…