When I got Darren’s email inviting me to contribute an illustration to the booklet of Bugbears, my wife and I had only just returned from a short trip to Brussels. While over there, we had spent quite a few hours roaming the endless galleries of the Royal Museums of Art. Maybe it’s a sign of becoming middle-aged and one’s changing ideas of excitement, but we decided to leave their modern art collection to one side and concentrate on the slightly misguidingly named “Ancient Art” wing instead.
As expected, the place was full of Flemish Primitives, the most amazing Van Eycks, Van der Weydens, Bruegels and Boschs as well as equally brilliant paintings by many others whose names I had already forgotten the minute we walked out of the museum, dizzy with the emotional impact of these amazing images. It seems incredible to me how these painters of the 1400s to 1600s used Christian myth and everyday observations as a pretext to express themselves in aristically radical ways. A lot of what passed for God-fearing art, later generations would have found downright pornographic, gratuitously violent or just plain surreal.
So back in Canterbury all this was still going through my head as I read Darren’s message, which came with the liner notes to the album, including the lyrics of the songs he had chosen to interpret.
I was immediately drawn to “Babylon Has Fallen”, guessing that, to a reggae fan like Darren, the title itself must have been irresistible. But with all the pictures I’d seen in Brussels still present in my mind, it also brought out my buried memories of Bruegel the Elder’s “The Tower of Babel”.
I haven’t been to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in decades, but this painting made a huge impression on me when I saw it as a child, maybe on a school trip or on some rainy weekend family outing. Growing up in an agnostic household I was (and still am) woefully ill-equipped to understand the biblical subtext, but what stuck in my head was the vague idea of human hubris punished as the mighty tower falls.
Quite how this fit in with the English Civil War I was not too sure, but then neither were Darren’s sleeve notes:
“This powerful song presents something of a problem. It is nowadays usually associated with the Roundheads, and its biblical imagery – of Church and King as Babylon – certainly accords with the usage of the puritan radicals like the Diggers and the Levellers, but research has failed to reveal its source.”
I decided this historical ambiguity was the perfect excuse to take some liberties and draw lots of naked humans in mid-orgy at the moment of the tower’s collapse as they are attacked from above by angels brandishing swords. Darren’s basic requirement was that the illustration had to be black-and-white, so I used a nib and black ink, which was a