I recently bought a couple of promo CDs of Blur’s Think Tank album from Paul Coombs, who it turns out is a dedicated Banksy expert hailing from Banksy’s home town of Bristol. We began corresponding and Paul told me about a Bristolian ska band calling itself Mother Samosa. The band had released a CD called Oh My God It’s Cheeky Clown in 1993. He told me that the band had originally released two cassettes, the second called The Fairground of Fear) that had become extremely rare. In actual fact the CD is also very difficult to find–I have yet to find a copy of any of them.
What is interesting for a collector of Banksy’s record cover art is the fact that the design of the cassette inlays is credited to one Robin Gunningham. Once upon a time, the Daily Mail tried to find out Banksy’s true identity and suggested that he was none other than a Bristolian named Robin Gunningham, said to have been born in 1974. The paper even approached Gunningham’s parents, who true to form, refused to admit anything.
A while ago music fan Raimund Floeck sent me a link to a podcast about the Vibronics, a dub group from Leicester. U.K. The podcast was an interview with Vibronics frontman, Steve Gibbs (a k a Steve Vibronics) who told a story about how in the mid to late 1990s an artist called Robin designed the Vibronics logo, and that this same Robin turned out to be the guy who became the famous artist Banksy. So I had to establish that Banksy had actually been in Leicester around that time. Two things could be established: 1. that there was a DJ couple in Leicester atthat time called Tom & Banksy and 2. Paul Coombs told me about a festival in Leicester in the mid 90s that many Bristol artists visited, probably including Banksy.
So, let’s try to create a possible timeline. If Banksy was born in 1974 (or 1975 as some others have suggested) he would have been 19 or 20 in 1993 when the Mother Samosa cassettes were released and he would have been perhaps 24 or 25 when the Vibronics logo was designed. Now, if this Robin is a fan of ska and dub music, it would seem to be a possible link between doing designs for a Bristol ska band (Mother Samosa) and a Leicester dub collective (The Vibronics.) What is known is that Banksy moved to London together with Hombre Records boss Jamie Eastman in 1998 or 1999 and designed the covers for hip hop artists One Cut (or OneCut.) He later became associated with Wall of Sound Records and designed a string of covers for artists on that label and its subsidiary Ultimate Dilemma. By the early 2000s he was back in Bristol.
As I reported in a previous post, Ed Cartwright, who sold me a copy of Röyksopp’s Melody A.M. promo, once worked for Wall of Sound records and was there in 2001 or 2002 when an artist called Robin (Ed never heard his surname) spray painted the covers to the Melody A.M. promo.
Banksy’s first came to widespread media attention in the U.K. in 2006 when he redesigned Paris Hilton’s CD booklet to reveal her topless and instead of the Paris CD included a CD-rom of music by DJ Danger Mouse. 500 copies were secretly placed in HMV stores all over the British Isles.
Wouldn’t it be cool if my timeline was correct and Robin Gunningham is Banksy’s real name? But I’m only guessing, and I cannot, as yet, guarantee that the Mother Samosa cassette and CD covers or the Vibronics logo are actually early examples of Banksy’s art. But I’d like to think that they are.