Val Denham’s Autobiography/Biography
I was very inebriated when I had my interview for The Royal College of Art. I’d got there two hours early and consequentially spent time sat on the steps of the Albert memorial working my way through a couple of very large bottles of cheap cider. From my point of view the interview seemed to go well. All twelve tutors sat and laughed at my answers. As I left the room though, a sudden instant drunken gloom descended and I thought, “Shit! I’ve really messed that up”. I knew that they knew that I was pissed.
I passed. This is the story of my life. I always pass.
There were twelve tutors in the room and perhaps because I’d been spotted in the loos putting my make-up on, I later found out that the rumours had started straight away that a drag queen was applying for a place at the prestigious Royal Collage of Art.
Side by side two black and white television sets are switched on in the living room. There aren't any lights on in the room. My Mother and Father are watching a set each tuned to different channels. A space of around four or five feet or so exists between the television sets. The sound volume is loud on both sets. I told my Mother I wasn’t sure if this image was a dream or a real memory. “Yes” she said, “that’s right, he liked his sport and I liked my programmes.” It is no wonder I grew up strange.
Duality is the key to every aspect of my life.
Gail, my wife has this to say.
There are two keys to understanding the mind of Val Denham. There is the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the duality. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has a major impact on her day-to-day life and her creativity, (how’s this for irony? She’s just dusted the screen as I type about her brain!) Val believes that the creative process is in itself a form of neurosis dependent on Seritonin levels. To begin to understand his or her duality do this; if she takes an attitude and you cannot understand it, then find it’s opposite, for then you will begin to understand. Duality runs through every aspect of his/her being. Born a boy, but for many months after her birth, even her Mother was confused. Not knowing whether to dress him in male or female attire. Sometimes she thinks it’s her fault that she is like she is. It isn’t,
It’s biological, something to do with an influx of oestrogen whilst in the womb. This has the effect of the "brain-sex" not developing as it should. A female brain in a male body is the result.
I was born on November the fourteenth 1957. Sarto Place in Leeds, Yorkshire, now demolished.
My first memories are of my Dad leaning over my pram to blow smoke in my ear. He later told me that this was a cure for earache, how did he know that I had earache!? I couldn’t even speak yet! I remember the stuffed Panda bear and the lemon yellow duck.
As I grew older I realised that I preferred my own company. Other children seemed a bit rough to me, climbing trees, getting dirty. Fighting each other. Best to stay indoors, watching the telly or drawing. Reading Batman and Superman comics or just dreaming.
My best friend was my cousin Joan who lived next door to us. She was older than me, but a true best pal. We would make tents out of bed sheets, or light fires, go nicking sweets, exciting stuff!
I hated school! It was a big old Victorian building. One afternoon playtime I thought I saw a green turquoise tinge to the sky. It was just like the hot soft crayon between my fingers.
Other boys really like football! I wrote L.U.F.C on my rucksack, all the boys had that on there bags, it means Leeds United Football Club, now I know what it stands for, but for years I wondered what this "lufc" thing was! I swapped something for a football annual, just to appear normal, and then threw it under my bed.
I wasn’t unpopular, other kids liked me to draw cars or naked women for them and I could tell very scary ghost stories. It’s just that I didn’t really fit in. I was a weirdo.
In 1965 my Brother arrived on the scene, I was eight, he’s now taller than me!
My favourite programmes on the television at the time were, “The Outer Limits”, “Dr Who”, “The Twilight Zone” and “The Munsters” all weirdo fodder, I know.
In 1970, I went to Harrington High Secondary School in Leeds, an all boys’ school, wow, was that a shit hole. Still, the art teacher (Mr. Butler) suggested that I apply for art college when my time at Harrington High was over, so it wasn’t all bad. I did rugby once (and once only) NEVER AGAIN!!!! Kicking my lovely legs! Bastards! and such a dirty game. Very unpleasant, don’t ever try it. Bloody dangerous.
My last memory of Harrington High (or Cow Close as it was really called before they changed it’s name) was of the teachers calling my friend Mick and myself back on the last day. We put two fingers up. Forever. Bye bye.
I broke my leg, a double fracture when I was 15, roller-skating, don’t ever try it. Bloody dangerous.
Both Jacob Kramer Art College and Bradford Art College accepted me. I was that good at art.
My entire life is constructed brick by brick upon a single whim, a single choice. This way or that way? Both choices are right and both have their own merits. With myself it was the architecture of Bradford College that decided for me. My first wife, my children, my homes, my jobs and my evolution teeter upon the architecture of Bradford College. The pretty entrance to Grove Building was so much more attractive than Jacob Kramer in Leeds. Perhaps it’s just that the sun was shining that day in 1974 when I met the building walking up that hill. I just liked the entrance. So I chose Bradford College.
That’s when I went funny really, art school. I met other people like myself who were also rather odd. We had some real eccentrics in those days.
I was pathologically shy, Gail took me under her wing and for the first time I had a real girlfriend. She finished with me when I started to change into Caligula.
I dyed my hair, I wore make up. Students and tutors told me that I was a genius.
Who was I to disagree? My parents kicked me out of home when I was 19.
Boy was I a handful. I can't say that I blame them for it now.
When I left Bradford College around 1978, I went to live in a house that we called “Kipper Villas”. “Hit The Ripper with a kipper” was our motto. There was Antal, Fiona, Kim, Elita and myself, all living in an alternative family. The girls went out to work, whilst Antal and I did our make up and made strange music. It was pretty wild I can tell you. Ah, the drink, the drugs. You know the story.
Shortly after, I was back at art college, but this time in London at The Royal College of Art.
I got a “Master of Arts” degree, a lot of good that did me. I mean what do you do with it?
At the RCA, I did painting, printing and perfomance art. “Coum Transmissions” and my old friend Genesis P.Orridge inspired the performance art bit that I did there. Yup, I was the poor mans Coum.
I met Genesis in 1979, when I went down for my interview at the RCA.
It was at the RCA that I first formed a band with Mike Wells, later of “Greater Than One” and “Tricky Disco” fame. The band was called “The Death and Beauty Foundation”
I got married in January 1980 to Elita; we were married for 21 years until our divorce.
She finished with me when I started to change into Caligula on acid.
I left the Royal College of Art in 1982 and embarked on my freelance artist phase. That’s when I did all those record covers for Marc Almond, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, etc.
I had a job for a year as an archivist, photographing graveyards and churches.
I also learnt about the joys of alcoholism.
My colleague Peter taught me about physics and God.
We watched as a vicar came toward us shimmering and undulating in the heat from the grass burning between the gravestones. The sky so cobalt blue, the fire orange as it parted the waves. “Why is the grass on fire?” we enquired, “Lawnmowers are too wide for these narrow strips of grass and weed” was this dark vision of a holy man’s reply. This wasn't a dream either.
“The Death and Beauty Foundation” eventually became “Silverstar Amoeba” a group that had Oli Novadnieks and myself as the only permanent members. We became known simply as Val and Oli. (Clever!)
Then after the archivist job, I got a proper job with the Council. Consumer Protection Services, Welfare Benefits Unit. I was the only graphic artist. That lasted 13 years, until the bastards made me redundant. Walthamstow Council it was. I spent most of the time drawing my own Tranart as they were paying me to sit there from 9 till 5.
In 1987 my daughter was born, that forced me to grow up somewhat. An Angel sent from Heaven above.
I was painting and recording on four-track tape all the time, sometimes with Mr. ace guitar Oli and sometimes just solo. We did many gigs, supporting groups such as “Psychic TV”, “Einsturzende Neubauten” and even “The Virgin Prunes” at The Hammersmith Palais.
In 1990 my beautiful son was born, that forced me to grow up somewhat. That boy will break so many hearts, without a doubt. He probably is, even now. He's very clever and making quite a name for himself.
During the mid 1990’s I went mad. I saw a psychologist called Loretta, and discovered that I have a severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder problem. I also have a gender identity thing going on, no kidding?
Yes, I clean and tidy and straighten things a lot. I’m incurable, and basically do I really want to be cured? Would I still be me? I kinda like being who I am.
Gail loves me just as I am and the house is nice and tidy. It influences my art. Ahhhh………….who wants to be normal anyway? A square, no thanks.
I got divorced in 2001. I came back to Yorkshire after two decades in London. The prodigy returns.
I’d lost my job with the council, I lost my kids, wife and home, I was as redundant as it's possible to be and to top it all I was a man! Why not top yourself Denham?
Sod it. I was going back to my roots.
Gail and I live in Bradford near the countryside and cows. We love it here.
I live as a female now and I seem to be accepted by almost everyone. I'm so much happier with my life. I think that I may have missed out some important stuff in this biography? Never mind, I'll add it as I remember.