Natty By Name and Natty by Nature

Staff Reporter (12 June, 2021)

He is a Sapeur, an Artist, a Peacock


Anyone who lives in and around the Elephant & Castle would have seen Natty Bo promenading about Walworth with his unique and distinctive style. Many will have watched him DJing some of the best rare Reggae and Ska music ever produced, and I have seen him perform with one of the many bands that he fronts, but I am amazed once again now I find that Natty is also a fantastic artist, writes Michael Holland.

I arranged to meet him at the venue of his next exhibition in Pullens Yards. I sat with a latté outside Electric Elephant Café awaiting his arrival, and he did not disappoint. Natty Bo entered the yards at the far end so I got the full effect of his big entrance. He strode down the centre of the cobblestones, backlit by the morning sun, a vision in a pastel suit, two-tone brogues, a hat tilted to the perfect angle, and just the right amount of jewellery to not cross over into bling. This moment needed a Peaky Blinders slo-mo sequence. 

Everything about Natty is fastidiously chosen for his cultivated look. His opening form of greeting was an infectious smile that includes a rather wonderful gold tooth that attracts the eye. I could see my reflection in it.

But let’s not think that Natty Bo is all style and no substance, because he walks the walks too – he just doesn’t brag about it. For this interview, however, I needed to know all the details. And let me tell you, there are bragging rights galore in his life of hard work and creativity.

Natty began life in Hackney before moving south of the river to Thamesmead, then Brixton, and ultimately the Elephant. ‘I was drawing all the time as a child,’ he says. ‘Painting was my escape at school.’ At weekends he attended Wilsons Annex for extra painting classes, which motivated him to apply to art school.

Having been accepted by the prestigious Chelsea School of Art, Natty studied sculpture, photography, print-making, 3D design, painting, drawing, and Art History for his Diploma, before completing a degree in Fine Art.

But living through years of study does not come for free so the versatile Natty went out busking: ‘I was singing and playing blues harp,’ he recalls. 

It was music that first brought Natty Bo to my attention, so I asked him about it: ‘I had always collected records,’ he begins. ‘Blues, Ska, Rock Steady, Reggae, Latin, Swing, Funk, and, of course, James Brown… I DJed at Gaz’s Rockin Blues in Soho(a legendary one-nighter club), and joined The Trojans (a Celtic-Ska band)… Plus, I had a few crazy bands in the 80s.’ 

He ran off a list of names, including Ska Cubano ‘who became world renown ’til 2014’, The Top Cats, ‘still running after 25 years’, and Natty Congeroo and the Flames of Rhythm, ‘my 30s, 40s Swing & Blues band that plays regularly to Swing dancers’, he explains.

My brain was dancing now and when he spoke of Yiddish Twist, Cumbia Mambo, and Calypso Jive I felt a need to sit down, although I was already seated. I directed Natty back to his art exhibition.

Pullen-nite 2021

‘I use all mediums,’ he said. ‘Oil, watercolour, charcoal, pastel, ink, coffee, tea, pencil, emulsion, found objects, wax, clay, wood, Polyfilla, old paper…’ My head was spinning again.

Do you have favourite subjects? ‘People, dancers, performers, buildings at night, derelict factories, dreams, film noir, nudes, Harlem, Jazz scenes, Windrush, decay, abstractions…’ Natty loves a list but I was beginning to feel listless. I could only dream of having his energy.

What can visitors expect to see at the exhibition? ‘A various array of styles, from Figurative, Impressionistic, Surrealistic and Abstract paintings; mixed media sketches, sculpture, collages …’ I stopped him there.

Is there a theme? ‘Rhythm v Construction… There are some nightscapes around Pullens Estate; I tend to omit the cars and study the artificial light and atmosphere… I’m moving towards a dramatic mood change from the mundane to the exciting.’ 

Having a sneak preview of the artwork I could now understand what he was trying to describe. I could now see the beauty and the complexity of his art that provides something for everyone. He is not a Jack, but a Master of all Trades. He has artistry in many forms, and I left having even more admiration of the man I had already admired for some time.

He is a Sapeur, an Artist, a Peacock. He is Natty Bo, and once seen he is never forgotten.

Natty Bo’s Art Exhibition is part of the Pullens Yard Open at Electric Elephant Café, 186A, Crampton Street, SE17 3AE from June 19th – 31st August. Admission: Free.


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