Artist Neil Buchanan of 'Art Attack' fame - prints and original paintings available. Born on 11 October 1956 in Aintree Liverpool, Neil Buchanan has been a multi-talented creative hot-house over three decades. Neil’s alternating careers as musician and artist have been the two threads running through his life, whilst his two times BAFTA award winning TV creation, Art Attack, has undoubtedly proved his greatest and most enduring life achievement until now.
Neil was raised with his sister in a loving, working class family in Liverpool. He showed a precocious, natural talent for drawing that was spotted by his father early on and the two of them would sit and draw for hours. Neil describes his father as “the greatest inspiration in my life” and they shared an immensely close bond.
The young Neil “lived inside the Beano” and would stick his own hand drawn cartoons onto the ‘telly’, so that they’d be brought to life by the flickering TV screen. When Neil wasn’t drawing he was playing football out on the streets around his home or watching his heroes Liverpool FC play at Anfield, for the princely sum of half a crown.
“Liverpool FC was very successful at the time and I felt part of something incredible. It was a religion, deeply ingrained in me and of course I dreamed of being a professional footballer, but it was the streets and my imagination that created the stage for me to win some of my greatest ‘Cup Final’ victories!”
Growing up in the heady days of ‘Beatlemania’, Neil was instinctively drawn to music, but with pocket money in short supply he could only afford to buy a second hand guitar from a junk shop that didn’t have any strings. Neil instinctively turned to art and drew the strings onto the guitar, silently teaching himself to play ‘air guitar’ until he could afford to buy real strings. “Trust me to draw my way out of a corner. That battered old guitar was symbolic of the two loves of my life, art and music.”
With a natural flair for music and a real set of guitar strings to practice on, Neil quickly became very competent. A turning point in Neil’s life came at the tender age of 14, when he met his hero Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople who was playing at Liverpool Stadium. Hunter imbued the young teenager with an incredible sense of self belief when he told Neil to “follow your dream to the end”.
With a love of music and art, Neil set about cramming both into his teenage years. He formed the band Marseille playing the lead guitar and then went to enrol at Liverpool College of Art which was located on Hope Street (now the Liverpool School of Art & Design, part of Liverpool John Moores University). Despite the fact that John Lennon had studied art at the college before him, the principal said he had to choose between art and the band. Neil chose the band and said he “never looked back”.
In the first ever UK nationwide ‘Battle of the Bands’ in 1977 Marseille won the competition and were signed by Mountain Records for a five album deal. The band was at the forefront of what later became known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) and toured the UK extensively alongside legendary bands such as Judas Priest, Nazareth and Whitesnake. They were also the first British band of that genre to break into the USA and supported Nazareth and Blackfoot in 1980. Neil’s heady but brief career as a rock star in the late-seventies was cut short when the band’s record company collapsed in the inevitable morass of litigation and bad debt and the band was forced to split in the early 80s.
Neil found himself in a tight financial corner and entered what he later described as “the barren years”. During this time, he rented a one bedroom bedsit in Liverpool and lived off cornflakes “straight out the packet”. Neil managed to pick up a few graphic design commissions through friends and even designed the Liberal Democrats manifesto brochure. He was also commissioned to paint a portrait of Pope John Paul II, which was hung in the Pope’s private chamber during his visit to Britain in 1982. It was a great honour for an undiscovered artist, but the sporadic commissions didn’t pay the bills.
At this time, one job advert caught Neil’s eye, it read: ‘Have you ever had breakfast with a gorilla?’ The zany advert was searching for acts on a new TVS Saturday morning show called No 73. Neil was offered a spot on the anarchic live TV show as a caricaturist and by the second series the fast talking Liverpudlian had blagged his way in as a presenter.
The rest as they say is history; his energetic and effusive style of presenting won him a string of contracts including another Saturday morning programme Motormouth, which he co presented with Gaby Roslin, as well as Finders Keepers, ZZZap! (a programme which Neil created for deaf children) and Animal Crazy. However, Neil’s greatest TV triumph came after he followed a wise piece of advice from his agent: “He told me that if I wanted to achieve real success and longevity in TV I needed to create, produce and present my own show.”
Neil collaborated with his TV mate, Tim Edmunds, to create Art Attack. However, persuading the network that there was a gap in the market for a new-style of art programme, proved more challenging. After initial scepticism, Neil spotted a pile of fax paper and laid it across the office floor where he was pitching the concept.
He proceeded to draw a long line across the paper trail with a marker pen and when, after several minutes had past, he was asked “What are you doing?” Neil simply answered, “Art... and you’ve just spent the last two minutes watching me do it!” This sealed the deal.
Neil’s gift as an ideas man, and his ability as an artist, proved a winning formula on Art Attack. His seemingly endless stream of zany, ‘off the wall’ ideas provided the material to fill an incredible 500 episodes over a 17 year period. Art Attack appealed to children and parents alike and, at its peak, Art Attack was attracting six million viewers each week. As one of ITV’s longest running shows, Art Attack became a weekly feature on our TV screens from 1990 to 2007. The programme won a string of awards including the New York International Film & TV Festival, the Prix Danube, the Prix Jeunesse and The Royal Television Society. Undoubtedly Art Attack’s greatest triumph and Neil’s most treasured personal achievement was winning two BAFTAs for the programme.
Art Attack became a global phenomenon and was aired in more than 30 countries. This international success story helped the Art Attack owners in 2002, HIT Entertainment Plc, win a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade. Neil had the honour of meeting HM Queen Elizabeth II at HIT’s headquarters in London and he describes this as one of the “highlights of my career”. The international appeal of Neil Buchanan’s Art Attack continues, with Disney as the new custodian and owners of the brand, and an Art Attack experience now featured in Disneyland Paris.
Neil has marked his fifth decade by completing the circle in both his careers as a musician and artist. In 2010 Neil instigated the re-formation of Marseille with founder member Andy Charters. Last year he wrote, produced and recorded a new album called ‘Unfinished Business’ and Marseille went on tour. 2011 also sees a new phase in Neil’s art career with the launch of the exquisitely painted Neil Buchanan’s HOPE STREET collection, published by Art Attic Publishing, as a series of signed limited edition prints. Whilst his creative flair and ability to doodle and draw on Art Attack were well documented, few will have realised Neil’s outstanding talent as a fine artist and painter.