The first time I saw you, you were dressed in cardboard Y-fronts. Lush, black, curly pubic wig-hair fringed the tops of your legs. You and Scott were smoking and drinking, meticulously choreographed, to Bohemian Rhapsody. It was the most bizarre and funny thing I had ever seen.
And if I hadn’t made friends with you after that performance, it would probably still be the most bizarre and funny thing I have ever seen. But we did make friends. And you gave me another eight years of bizarre and funny things.
Your collaborations with Scott never failed to make me laugh. Laugh until it hurt. There’s still, seven years on, hardly a month that goes by when I don’t point somebody to your “Coffee Mile” video, in the context of a discussion about coffee. Or drugs. Or artists. Or creative culture. Or Ecclesall Road:
And your Art Sheffield 08 video… it makes me giggle every time I watch it. And I have, by now, watched it dozens, if not hundreds of times:
Yeah, the art establishment never really seemed to appreciate your work, did they? But so what. Your letter was the best thing I saw in any art gallery that year:
I was honoured – and pretty nervous – when you, Scott and Robin asked me to be event photographer for your “Just For Laughs” night of performance art-karaoke. That was actually my ever first paid photography job, so thank you! I was so nervous, I went out earlier in the day and bought a new lens, costing nearly ten times what you were paying me, just to give me confidence that I would get good enough pictures. I’m glad I bought it, but I needn’t have worried: I had a marvellous, joy-filled evening. I think the photos show that.
You and Scott did an aerobics work out wearing boiler-suits. Boiler-suits full of squeaky dog toys. To the tune of Billy Ocean, “When The Going Gets Tough”. It was so silly, so wonderful.
Then there was the time, at Peep’s exhibition opening, when you spent the night in a giant baby-bouncer. You looked hilarious, sat in there, smoking a fag. And you had so much fun even though, as you said, “my balls are killing me”.
You were a hoot. I loved seeing you out and about. And I loved checking up regularly on the WebsterGotts art blog to see if you’d posted anything new.
Sometimes I didn’t quite understand why you did what you did… that beard-growing contest, for example. But, bugger me, a few years later and every fucker in christendom’s got themselves a beard like yours. You were always way ahead of the curve.
But WebsterGotts fizzled out and then, as a joke, you went and started a band. I presume it was a joke? I always remember you being obsessed with electronic dance music, but this something quite different. The first time I heard Wet Nuns, at the Washington during Tramlines 2010, I thought you were fucking awful.
I was gutted. I had loved your work with Scott, and this thing with the painfully-fake American accents (how long did you stick with those accents? About a year? Two?) and the Deep South dirty blues: it all seemed a bit one-note in comparison.
But again, it was you that was ahead of the curve. I just had to catch up.
I saw Wet Nuns again the following night, at the S1 Artspace after-party. My god, what a gig! The music still didn’t do much for me, but the atmosphere! Rob was too drunk to stand up, you couldn’t see straight, and the audience of about 20 people spent the entire set crowd-surfing. It was the most fun gig I’ve ever been to.
When Wet Nuns released their first video, for Heavens Below, I was hooked. With the help of Darren Topliss, you made the band look like the coolest, scariest thing ever. I admit I was surprised by just how good it was. I shouldn’t have been: I’d already seen plenty of examples of your genius in videos.
By then, I got it. I’d caught up with you. And I fucking loved your songs.
The videos got even darker, more scarily hip, grosser yet more engrossing.
Then with your third, a complete change. Animation. Embroidery.
(Those video frames embroidered by Toni Buckby are now one of my most treasured belongings)
Remember that time we did a photoshoot in a graveyard for Toast magazine? Nooses above tombstones. Literally: gallows humour. This post feels incomplete without it but I can hardly bring myself to look at those photos right now. I’m sure you would have mocked me for that. If there was ever a chance to break a taboo, you would drive right through it with a pickup truck.
Wet Nuns went from strength to strength. NME bigged you up. The Arctic Monkeys admitted their love for you. They showed your gigs on the BBC – the ending of this Leeds Festival gig is so typically Wet Nuns:
You toured all over the UK. I seemed to catch you more often in London than in Sheffield, as I was working there at the time. Every time you played, I would drag along new initiates into the cult of the Wet Nuns.
Through all of it, the irreverent and wonderfully puerile humour of you and Rob was key. Like that time you gave an interview with your trousers around your ankles. When you were touring, you never missed a chance to make use of the free stationery that hotels provide:
It’s funny, I always thought that the people I knew in bands never made it big. But Wet Nuns made it big. I was so proud when I saw you pack out the O2 during Tramlines. And so proud that you were still acting like a dick, up there on the big stage. You climbed onto your drum kit, and got stuck there. You couldn’t get down again, so your roadie (Bernie, the “stuck technician”) had to come on stage and carry you off, slinging you over his shoulder like a toddler’s dad.
You even started your own festival, Detestival (great name, by the way). It was a gas. Thanks to you, I got to see just about the most amazing band in the universe, Bo Ningen. Thanks to you, I got paid a bottle of Kraken Rum just for going to photograph just about the most amazing band in the universe.
And then, all of a sudden, Wet Nuns disbanded. It felt like, ha, a bereavement. I never understood why you would call it a day when everything was going so well, but then I guess you had your reasons.
And I missed your last gig. I missed your last fucking gig. I could have gone, but I stayed at home. I was kicking myself then, and I’m kicking myself now.
I only ever caught one song from your new band, Baba Naga. Bloody London commute prevented me from getting to the Washy any earlier, so all I caught was one song, and one out-of-focus shot of you. But I liked what I heard and I would have liked to have heard more.
(And Palmela Handerson. I’m gutted that I never saw that. That sounds like it would have been right up my street.)
Despite all the times I hung out with you, and all the joy I got from you, I can’t really say I knew you. We never talked much – never talked at all – about our lives. Hanging out with you was all jokes, and japes, and music, and silly accents, and drinking to excess, and… well, this video you made gives a pretty good impression of what hanging out with you was like:
But I did learn, mainly from your posts on Facebook and Instagram, that you were so much more than just a tattoo-covered hard-drinking Very Metal clown. Your knowledge of British wildlife seemed encyclopaedic. Your instagram account was filled with amazing wildlife photos. Your passion for birds was greater than almost anyone I know. As one of your friends on Instagram commented, you were like “a foul mouthed Bill Oddie”.
And I learned a little of your family. I was, and still am, speechlessly in awe of the fact that your grandad designed this thing:
(And not only that thing, but also the D-Type: the most beautiful object that a human being has ever made or will ever make. If there is a heaven – which there isn’t – and you see your grandad down there – which you won’t – then please pass on to him my rambling compliments for his quite unsurpassed design skills.)
And from time-to-time I would notice your mum commenting on your Facebook posts, and those of friends. And I would think “the gene for humour, intelligence, irreverence and decency is strong in that family”.
And now… suddenly all of your bizarre and funny has stopped. I couldn’t believe it when Andy told me. I still can’t believe it. Where previously you’d brought me laughter, this time it was my tears that were uncontrollable. I don’t think I’ve ever sobbed like that before. I’m feeling a little better now but, oh, an empty ache. Why you so cold?
No, I don’t need to ask why, you have your reasons. I’m just… sad. I could do with cheering up.
So I’m so glad you left behind such a treasure trove of videos and memories. I’m still unearthing new ones – like ShopTwats, the blog you kept on the stupidity of customers at the shop where you worked. We can still all laugh at you. I only wish that we could still all laugh with you.
You were the funniest man I’ve ever known. You were creative, clever and kind. Your band was ace, though you should probably have left all the singing to Rob, right? Your art did what all great art should do: it made people feel. You defied expectations, shattered stereotypes, and smashed taboos. You were Britain’s unlikeliest birdwatcher.
I miss you, and I will always miss you, you daft bugger.
Alexis Gotts. December 1981 – November 2014.
Postscript: since sharing this 12 hours ago, I’ve been overwhelmed with the messages of love for Leki.
A couple of years ago, I saw Laurie Anderson play in Sheffield. It was a beautiful and moving gig. At one point, she talked to us all about death. Her thoughts were inspired by the death of her amazing keyboard-playing dog Lolabelle (god, Leki would have loved Lolabelle) – although more recently she has also dealt with the death of her partner, Lou Reed, for whom she wrote not one but two beautiful obituaries.
I will have to paraphrase and mis-remember what it was she said that night, which was essentially that she views death as a transfer of energy. The energy of one life is snuffed out, but it lives on in the increased energies of those who mourn and try to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones. Most obviously, when somebody dies young, their parents and friends may make donations to charity, even set up charitable foundations, to ensure that the person’s memory lives on. Even just by talking to one another, gathering together, checking up on old friends, starting conversations, contemplating, we are putting to valuable use the energy of the one who has gone.
An idea is brewing in my mind for one way in which I might harness Leki’s phenomenal energy for those who still need it. I’ll talk more of that in time. But for now, I just wanted to share this idea.
You can read more about Laurie’s ideas on death in her own much more considered words here.
And just check out Lolabelle’s mad keyboard skillz!
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