A poet, painter and songwriter who is perhaps best known for his 1969 album ‘Crystal Telephone’, which has been described as a freakbeat / breakbeat / jazz / blues classic, Terry Durham was born in East Ardsley, Yorkshire, where his father was a steel worker, and his mother a mill worker. In this 1966 self-portrait, Durham is very much a young, ‘with-it’ young man of his time, with his ‘walrus’ moustache, thick mop of dark hair and blue-black fisherman’s sweater. His head is presented in a sturdy, four-square manner. His deadpan mien is self-consciously serious with evident, if slightly concealed, gentleness and sensitivity. His black, prominent right eye confronts us forcibly; his left eye, painted smudgy and brownish, seems to look away. The resulting stare is direct and oblique at once.
At this time Durham was experimenting with mixed media: the picture is oil and hessian on board. The ‘polo-neck’ is itself composed of a cut-out hessian fragment. The stormily-painted, blue-black outer background, with its touches of acid yellow-green, reinforces the impression of man at one with the elements.
The titles of paintings in a 1965 show of Durham’s work in Leeds, indicate spiritual interests at that time: To the Pyramid, Mystic Panel and Guardians of the Holy Circle. Ruth Borchard kept a catalogue (c.1966) from one of his shows at the Nicholas Treadwell Galleries in London. The titles of these paintings such as Shaman breathing flowers, Migration to the sun, Bright blaze of crystal are even more lyrical and mystical – even hippyish – but this was the height of the psychedelic era. The catalogue notes that ‘the Decca record company are releasing ‘Crystal Telephone’, which will be played at intervals during the exhibition’. As one listener to ‘Crystal Telephone’ recently wrote, ‘Imagine if Kerouac and the Beats came from North Yorkshire, this is probably what they’d have sounded like’. The album was reissued as a CD on the Vocalion label in 2005.
Ruth was evidently inspired by Durham’s show with Nicholas Treadwell. Her notes on the exhibition catalogue noted that Durham’s alive and odd shapes, the dinosaur-like creatures of [one picture] are childlike. Another picture, Morning weaving the sun, she called ‘biblical with its Tree of Life, golden sun’. She described the paintings’ mythical subject matter: ‘animals, flowers, dreams, mountains, snakes, moons, animals below the ground, almost crushed by the earth’ and admired Durham’s ‘brilliant concentration of colour’.