He may have had a long and successful comedy career as Vic Reeves, Britain’s self-styled top light entertainer and singer, but he signs his artwork with his real name. Jim Moir. For many, (cheers, Bob Ross) painting became a hobby during lockdown, but it’s been a key passion for Moir since his art college days.
Speaking to Northern Soul, Moir says: “I know it’s been difficult for a lot of people, but lockdown for me was easy because I was just doing what I do anyway. I’ve always just woken up and gone in my studio or in my kitchen and painted. Lockdown didn’t make any difference to me at all. I don’t socialise that much, so I haven’t been spreading any diseases. I just kept producing like I do. I get up in the morning and start painting.”
Now, 45 of Moir’s recent artworks have formed a new exhibition, Return of the Gas Miser, at the Contemporary Six gallery in Manchester. As you might expect, the subjects really run the gamut – from self-portraits, mind-bending oil paintings and beguiling, delicate watercolours of birds or skulls to unique visions of Kraftwerk or Ena Sharples and even an exploded BAFTA award (titled Exploding BAFTA). No dilettantism, this: it’s clearly the work of a skilled, dedicated, unique artist.
Moir himself confesses that he’s particularly attached to his eye-popping oil paintings, some of which have emerged slowly over time. “There’s one which is the name of the show, Return of the Gas Miser. That’s probably taken about a year. But when I say a year, not a year to paint. I’ll do it in one day, look at it, think ‘I’m not happy with that’, and then go back to it weeks later. I like paintings that evolve like that. And they evolve into…I really don’t know what. Sometimes they linger on for about three years, but most of them get done in one day.”
Faced with the hypothetical option of having a successful career as an artist but never performing again, Moir doesn’t hesitate to agree. “Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I’m quite happy with that. Very happy with that. Although…I mean, I’m in a very lucky position. I decided quite a few years ago never to do television again, because it is a bit of a strain when you’re not in charge, and I like being in charge of things. I’m in complete charge when I’m painting. I just take on jobs now that I really fancy doing.”
Taking years to complete a painting certainly sounds like a sharp contrast to making a TV show, which must be rife with pressure.
“Yeah, but nowadays people take control of you a lot more than they used to, and I don’t like that. So, I think for peace of mind…I mean, everyone talks about being mentally healthy and all that. If you do what you want to do and make sure no one’s interfering with it, then you’re going to be happy, aren’t you? But I don’t think doing television really made me that happy, because there were too many people telling me what they wanted.”
Fans of Vic Reeves’ surreal brand of comedy should find much to admire in Moir’s artwork, but a lot more besides, too.
“There are elements of humour in what I do,” he says. “In some of them there’s no humour. You look at my birds, that’s just my passion coming through. Not everything has to be comedy. People think ‘oh, it’s going to be another David Shrigley’. And all hail him, I think he’s great, but he does a thing, and he sticks with it. I like to mess about. I like to go from one area to another. I mean, I’d be useless in a band. I’d be going, ‘this piece is classical, this one’s reggae, then we’ve got some soul after that and maybe a bit of folk music’. And I like that. I don’t think you should be restricted, because then it becomes [with scorn] career-based. I just wake up with different thoughts. I go all over the place. I drift about. It is kind of mood-based, a lot of it.”
Moir’s comedy oppo Bob Mortimer had his memoir, And Anyway…, published recently. Moir’s read it, of course. “I read it in one day. Started reading it, I couldn’t put it down”, and jokes that “it should be called All Hail Me, that book, shouldn’t it?”, which is to say that Mortimer pays glowing, effusive tribute to him and the impact that their partnership has had on his life. “It is like, how great I am – which is lovely. But yeah, it’s nice. It’s a lovely book, Bob’s.”
Vic & Bob haven’t retired just yet, though. At long last, after many delays, they’re due to start filming The Glove, their first feature film project. Specifically, it’s about two lifelong friends who go off on a quest to find Michael Jackson’s mythical training glove. Like you do. “It’s a film that Bob and me wrote 10 years ago and we’re going to film that in March and April next year. We’re still deciding, but we both want to do it on the A66. So, we’re working on it. But it is happening, and we’ve got some big Hollywood name actors in it.”
Indeed, Moir mentions a couple of major comic actors (we’ll draw a discreet veil over their names) who play recurring roles within the Marvel film universe, both of whom were keen to join the cast of The Glove.
“But they couldn’t do it, because of bleedin’ Marvel. They’ve got contracts out…not contracts as in hitmen, but if you’ve got a contract with Marvel, you can’t do anything else with anyone else, in case you get injured and you can’t do the Marvel film I expect. But anyway, there’s another favourite who I’ve always wanted to work with and who’s always wanted to work with us. We didn’t know if he was free, but it turned out he is, and that’s Paddy Considine.”
Long-time Vic & Bob watchers might recall that Catterick, their oft-overlooked 2004 BBC Three series, which itself began life as a film project, was at one stage due to co-star Considine. “Originally, yeah,” confirms Moir. “We’ve always meant to work together. We’ve got a great part for him.” Rumours suggest that Nicolas Cage will be appearing in The Glove, too. At this, Moir’s eyes glint mischievously. “You might have heard that, yeah.”
With sobering synchronicity, Return of the Gas Miser arrives in Manchester almost exactly 30 years after Vic & Bob played a pair of triumphant shows at Manchester Academy, just as they were riding high with Dizzy, their hit collaboration with The Wonder Stuff. “Do you know what? Thirty years ago today, Dizzy was Number One!” Moir beams. “You know those old Top of the Popses from 1991 that they put on? You look at them now, I’m number one in the charts.”’
Around that time, Moir and Bob Mortimer were spending quite a lot of time around Manchester, filming the Granada pilot show The Weekenders and, as photographic evidence can prove, clubbing it down The Haçienda. “We used to go to The Haçienda a lot at that time, hanging about with New Order and The Smiths. Yeah, those days, I can’t remember much about what happened. I do remember quite a few stories, but I can’t even attempt to get those told in fear of them being published.”
Moir was born in Leeds and raised in Darlington but talks of Manchester with particular fondness.
“Whenever we’ve played here on tour, it’s been ‘ah, can’t wait to get to Manchester’. The audiences are the best in the world. People are out for a night out and they go to be entertained and enjoy themselves and you get the best response. You go to other places in the country, which I shouldn’t mention…” And it’s a bit more ‘arms folded’? “Yes. They think they’re watching television. In Manchester you always know that you’re going to get a good response. And if you get a good response, you give it back.”
Moir seems to retain a genuine affection for Manchester and made a point of choosing it for this exhibition.
“I get offered a lot of galleries, but I love Manchester. It’s my favourite city.” And you don’t just say this wherever you go? “No, I don’t! I’ve filmed here a lot, so I’ve lived here for probably amounting to about a year in bits and pieces. I just love it. I love the fact that it’s the most productive city in the world as far as the arts go. I’m talking about music and everything. And the honesty of the people. There’s no trumpet-blowing or anything like that. People here tend to just pump out the best things in the world and not go ‘hey, have a look at us’, just ‘here it is’. This is just the natural way of Manchester and I applaud that. Now I can finally say I’ve made some art mark on Manchester. I really, really love this city. I’m so proud and privileged to be here.”
Jim Moir’s Return of the Gas Miser show is at the Contemporary Six gallery in Manchester city centre until November 27, 2021.