Dundonian Life with Jimmy Thomson

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City Life Dundee were invited by Sue Moody, from Dundee’s McManus 168 project, to showcase the life of a Dundonian artist that a lot of people don’t even know about. Yet James Hall Thomson is one of Scotland’s most prolific commercial caricature artists ever. Born in Dundee in 1937 and schooled at Rockwell, Jimmy learned his artistic trade in publishing houses such as DC Thomson, the Scottish Daily Mail, the Glasgow Herald, the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail. He eventually settled back in Dundee in the 1970s, working as an artist at Valentine’s, and that’s when he also started doing freelance work for the Melody Maker where his life’s artistic passion was set free. Popular musicians, personalities and politicians couldn’t escape the nib of Jimmy’s pen. Jimmy, a clarinet player, has a particular interest in jazz and so has met and drawn many of the jazz greats. In 1984, Jimmy became a freelance artist and undertook many other commercial projects including artwork for the Pizza Gallery chain. Jimmy’s artwork has been auctioned at Sotheby’s, bought by collectors and personalities from all over the world, and he has also generously gifted a lot of his work. Jimmy, who has two twin daughters, is now happily retired and as he put it “still scribbling and playing his clarinet”.

 

madonna  beatles  chuck

 

Coffee Date at the Overgate

As soon as we found out about this extraordinary Dundonian we couldn’t wait to meet him. We were invited to a public exhibition of his work at Dundee’s Central Wellgate Public Library. Meeting Jimmy for the first time we knew immediately this man was genuine and warm. We had a great wee blether right there and then, even though he was running late for his regular morning coffee date at the Overgate with his wife, Stella. This wouldn’t do, so he gladly accepted our offer of a lift to the Overgate. We dropped Jimmy off and agreed to meet again a few days later, at his same favourite coffee stop, for a full City Life interview…

 

img_3850We firstly talked about his artistic apprenticeship…

“In 1955 I was invited into DC Thomson’s art department to train to be an artist in the surroundings of over fifty artists, including Douglas Philips, Fred Sturrock and even the famous Dudley Watkins who worked from home at the time. I started doing caricatures in the radio and television columns and the Romeo magazine.”

He then took us back to his youth…

“I was good at French, played drums in a Scottish country dance band and was an amateur magician.”

We asked Jimmy where he got his artistic inspiration from…

“I have no idea. I cannot pin that down, it’s just something that happened. I suppose it maybe all started when I started drawing funny faces as a child.”

We asked about his life’s passion – his caricatures…

“Over about fourteen years I drew around 700 drawings for Melody Maker, I also did well over 500 for the Pizza Gallery, I’ve also got hundreds of drawings at home that have never been published.”

“Some people didn’t like their drawings, like Matt Munro, but many did, such as Neil Sedaka, Billy Connolly and Jimmy Logan.”

“This was my bread and butter and I never looked upon it as anything else.”

Jimmy shared his thoughts on his many life memories…

“Most of my contemporaries have gone, it’s a good job that there’s not many of them still alive that can slag me off, ha ha ha!”

“It’s all gone, there is so much to forget, life changes all the time. Inside you don’t change, I’m really only eighteen inside!”

We talked about success…

“You don’t have to make a fortune in life to be happy.”

His thoughts on Dundee…

“I don’t really categorise myself as a Dundonian, I’m just here in Dundee, I will continue to hide my light under a bushel, ha ha ha!”

Jimmy offered some advice to young Dundonians…

“If you’re good at what you do then develop it, you’ve got to follow your own star!”

 

elvis  freddie  elton-john

 

McManus Gallery Auction

img_4193A week later, at the McManus Galleries, a celebration of his life’s work and an auction of eighteen of his caricatures (kindly donated by Jimmy) was undertaken to raise funds for the McManus 168 group. The night was launched in song with Alice Marra leading Dundee’s well kent singing ladies, ‘Loads O’ Weemin Singin’, into a choral rhapsody. Then Dundee’s Head of Cultural Services, Billy Gartley, formally introduced proceedings. It was a successful night with over £1,000 raised. We caught up with Jimmy, sitting with his wife and family at the end of the night, and asked him how it felt to have his life’s work celebrated and if this was a new horizon in his life…

“I don’t believe it, I don’t know if I deserve it, as I say, it was just my livelihood, that’s it!”

“Hmm a new horizon… I’ll tell yeh next year, ha ha ha!”

Jimmy turns eighty next year, a remarkable man with a sharp intellect and an even sharper wit, still full of character, still full of life, still a snappy dresser, still smiling and still laughing, so finally we asked where that magic energy comes from…

“I don’t know, I’d better not try and find out, it’s no’ natural ha ha ha!”

For more information about McManus 168 please visit: www.leisureandculturedundee.com

 

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