Neil has creativity down to a fine art

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Art isn’t the only string to Neil Buchanan’s bow. Tonight the Art Attack star will be taking to the stage in Sunderland with his band Marseille. Katy Wheeler finds out more.

BACK in the day, Neil Buchanan was my first crush.

I loved his cheeky Scouse accent, his red Art Attack sweat-shirt and the fact he could make a giant picture of the Queen using £250,000-worth of £10 bank notes – these were important things to a 12-year-old.

Using household items to make artwork meant Neil fast became a hero to us 90’s kids and he was a permanent fixture on our screens throughout the decade.

Now he’s back and is replacing his big art attacks with a big sound, much to the delight of students across the country who are getting to see their childhood screen star on stage.

As part of his tour with band Marseille, Neil tonight plays North Shore, the students’ nightclub at St Peter’s Campus.

But far from being a new venture, the stage is where the artist’s first brush with stardom began.

He explained: “I first got involved in the band when I was nine. I grew up in Liverpool at the end of The Beatles and in those days you either wanted to become a popstar or a footballer.

“I decided I wanted to be both, but I was a much better guitar player than I was footballer.

“The band was basically a gang of mates who lived in the same street or went to the same school.”

Marseille were at the very forefront of what later became known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and were the first band of that ilk to secure a major recording contract.

After bursting on to the rock scene in 1976, they toured with legendary rockers UFO, Whitesnake, Judas Priest and Ian Gillan.

However, legal entanglements surrounding the demise of their record label kept the band sidelined and off the road for two critical years.

By the time they fought their way clear, their slot on the scene was gone, filled by other talented acts.

The band reluctantly split in the early 80s and Neil went on to forge a successful TV career with the award-winning Art Attack and Finders Keepers on ITV.

The friends never lost their passion for music though and recently reformed for new album Unfinished Business, with the original founder members Neil and Andy Charters providing the guitar fire power, joined by fellow rockers Nige Roberts (vocals), Ace Finchum (drums) and current guest bass player Kev Wynn.

Neil said: “We signed our first record deal really early after winning a battle of the bands.

“It was before the X Factor and all those types of shows. We ended up in America playing to arenas of 30,000 people every night and flying in Learjets.

“Then the next day we find ourselves back on the dole in Liverpool due to a dodgy record deal.

“In those days the town of Marseille in France was very edgy, very seedy with ladies of the night and dodgy goings on so, it was a good name for a gang of lads starting up a band.

“Twenty five years on it’s now a middle-class holiday destination, but when we got back together we still had our reputation from the old days so it would have been silly to call ourselves anything else.”

The band’s album has been winning rave reviews and they’re back on the road doing what they love most. As well as playing their old rock band haunts, Marseille are also playing to a new generation of fans at student unions.

Neil, who was last in Sunderland for a celebrity football match at the old Roker Park, said: “I’m very fortunate in that people have put me where I am and given me the chance to put the band back together.

“I still draw pictures for people who ask and the gigs have been brilliant. Any students who make or wear an Art Attack sweat-shirt for the show get to come up on stage with us.”

Speaking about Art Attack, Neil said: “Art Attack had phenomenal success and won 37 awards worldwide, won three Baftas and ran for 17 years. I wanted to give something to the viewer with the show, I wanted to show kids how to be playground heroes.

“Most TV shows I’ve been in I’ve created. I’m not qualified to paint, I’m not qualified in music, I just create stuff because I enjoy creativity.

“I create things for people like me. I’m an ordinary working-class scouser, I go home at the end of the day and watch television and I wanted to create something entertaining for other people who do that too.”

Despite touring with the band, Neil hasn’t hung up his paintbrushes and is about to release his first ever fine art collection, based on his childhood in Liverpool.

He said: “It’s absolutely fantastic. I’m having a ball and rocking and rolling with my mates. Then I get to come home and do paintings I want to do, no more dinosaurs or cowboys or ballerinas.

“If it wasn’t for the loyalty of the Art Attack fans I wouldn’t be able to do that.”

l Tickets available on the door for £5, but will be on a first come, first served basis. Doors open at 7.30pm and there is a support band called Clint.

l To learn more about Neil’s artwork, visit www.neilbuchanan.co.uk