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Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Wednesday, 26 May 2010 14:01 UK
Ex-roadie John Ashton finds a new gig as an artist
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Detail of Little Egret Missing A Fish
Egrets on the Avon estuary feature in many of John Ashton's paintings

From a wild life to wildlife - John Ashton has moved from one end of the career spectrum to the other.

John, who lives in an idyllic spot on the Avon estuary in Aveton Gifford in south Devon, is carving out a new career as a wildlife artist.

It is a million miles away from his previous life as a roadie for some of the world's biggest rock bands.

And he couldn't be happier with his change of lifestyle: "It is just so nice here," said John, 56.

John moved into the music industry in the early 1970s, when he was a lighting engineer and a singer in a local band in his native north Somerset.


John Ashton talks to Spotlight's Victoria Graham

"One thing led to another, as they tend to, and the next thing I knew I was a roadie for Harvey Goldsmith," John told BBC Devon.

"Like most roadies, I was a frustrated musician. I started off doing lighting for bands in the Bristol area.

"And then I went on tours with the Rolling Stones, Queen, U2, Bruce Sprinsgteen, ZZ Top, and Deep Purple.

"My last job was the original Live Aid gig in 1985. That was an amazing day. But by that time I'd had enough really."

John first took up art in his spare time while he was a roadie - and there was plenty of that: "We would do one big major tour a year and that was in the summer.

"Then we'd head off back home for the winter months and spend our money, basically. And I would paint."

After the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in July 1985, John decided to make the switch permanent.

"I remember that day so well. It was all so thrown together we thought it would be a right lash-up.

Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury at the Live Aid gig

"But as soon as Status Quo played those opening chords, I said to my mate, 'this is going to work'.

"And it all came together. It was a very, very poignant day. I got a Live Aid t-shirt and had it autographed by people like Paul McCartney and David Bowie.

"Then after the Wembley gig we all went off for a party - I remember David Bowie knocking on the door and coming in. We watched the American Live Aid concert all through the night.

"And I said to myself then, 'well, you're not going to get it any better than today'."

"After the Live Aid gig I headed down here with a bag over my shoulder and I have been here ever since.

"Where I live now, I'm right on the estuary - our garden gets flooded sometimes at high tide."

It is the perfect spot for an artist who paints birdlife, and he has a great view of the birds on the river.

"I go walking along the estuary every day with my dog, Coda, and I take photos of what I see. I especially like the egrets. And then I go into my studio and paint, with the birds flying past the studio while I'm painting. It's amazing."

In recent years John has become a full-time artist, working in oils. He exhibits at local galleries and this year was a nominee in the 2010 Wildlife Artist of the Year competition.

Detail of Mrs Swan and babies
Detail of Mrs Swan and babies

Although he did not win, it does mean that two of his paintings - Swan Attack and Morning Aerobics (swans doing their exercises on the river) - are on display at the Mall Galleries in London.

The competition is run by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and 50% of sales of pictures at the show goes towards the charity.

John is also waiting to hear if two more of his paintings will be on display at the Royal Academy this year.

"I painted these especially for the Royal Academy. One is a dramatic picture of a swan and the other is a little egret with the reflection on the water.

"I particularly like my recent paintings of the egrets, with the reflections. I like to think I'm getting better with every painting I do."

"I should find out in early June (2010) - wouldn't it be great to have RA after my name?"

John looks back on his roadie days with nostalgia - he worked with the likes of Jagger, Mercury and Springsteen, so who wouldn't? - but he has well and truly moved on.

"Most of the memorabilia I had has disappeared but I'm not that bothered. It's the memories that count - although I wish I'd taken more photos.

"But I have always been country boy at heart. I missed all of this and I think that is reflected in my pictures."

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