Andy Wickett, the latest addition to the staff of Artlabs, a Chennai-based animation training school, looks like he’s just left the pages of Lonely Planet. Clad in a sky-blue shirt, a pair of cargoes, and slippers, he eyes the camera and says apprehensively, “Do you think I look okay in what I have on?”
But mundane worries disappear as Wickett starts talking about the wild set of circumstances that eventually led him here. He studied at the Moseley Road School of Art in England, and has done a course in electronic media from Wolverhampton University. During his early career as a freelance animator, he brought alive music videos for artistes such as Stereo Nation and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Then someone suggested that he teach at Artlabs in Chennai. “My reaction was, ‘No way’,” says Wickett. “And then I was like, ‘Oh what the hell, why not’.” That, quite simply, is why he’s here, instructing students on the art of music animation at Artlabs. Yet, there’s a lot more to Wickett than meets the eye.
Squashed somewhere in his resumé (just below “1988—produced illustrations, teaching aids, and exhibition presentations for the Sikh community in Handsworth, Birmingham”), are the words, “1979-1982—Duran Duran. Singer/ songwriter. Wrote hit singles Girls on Film & Rio.”
Yes, he was part of the 1980s band that sold more than 75 million records and charmed the world with its synth-pop sound and vivid videos. But he left just before the group hit big time.
Music is still an important part of Wickett’s life—he’s working on a project for a “Jordanian artiste”, whom he refuses to name. And he’s looking for a female singer in Chennai to join the project. “Do you have a sister who sings?” he asks.
Wickett is open to musical ideas wherever he is. In the years he spent playing with electro-reggae band Xpertz in North African nations in the 1980s, he soaked in tribal and flamenco musical traditions. “I’m always picking up influences everywhere—there’s this marriage hall right by where I live in Chennai, and I’m always craning my neck, trying to understand what it’s all about. It’s part of the learning,” he says.
Wickett is all set to make the most of his tenure in Chennai. He’s already asking around town, trying to get some gigs going. “I would like to perform here with some of the local bands, that might be fun, yeah,” he says. He’s also scouting for a freelance assignment as an animator. But his one concern is that he isn’t getting any younger—“I’m 40 something…,” he mumbles.
Wickett is still bitter about his departure from Duran Duran. He alleges that they “nicked” Rio and Girls on Film, two of the group’s hit singles in the early 1980s. “And what did they pay me for it?” Pause. “Six hundred pounds!” he snorts, the disbelief still etched on his face. “Yeah, they got the fame, but I’ve seen more of the world than them,” he says philosophically.
His departure from the band followed experiments with various kinds of music, including punk and reggae. In the 1980s, he switched to painting commissioned portraits. He then began to work on computer graphics of videos for pop artistes. He made animated videos for record label Plan 9, and his work was used by companies such as Sony, Wizcraft and Oriental Star Agencies.
At the turn of the millennium, he decided to take it a bit further, and enrolled with Wolverhamptam University to do a course in electronic media, specializing in 3D animation, whilst continuing to work for Plan 9. His latest project is Girls on Film 2006, an animated version of the 1980s hit.