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Bruce Lacey dies aged 88

Composer, performance artist, shaman and general mischief-maker Bruce Lacey has died

Oddball composer, performer, poet, inventor and all-time maverick Bruce Lacey died on 18 February, his family has told The Guardian. He was 88 years old. “His legacy and his influence can be seen through other generations of artists,” his family said in the news story published on 20 February. “At times, he may have flirted with fame but he was never seduced by it. Others may emulate, but there will only ever be one Bruce Lacey.”

Noting the multifaceted trajectory that his work had taken through more than six decades of art, music and performance, Lacey was not afraid to poke fun at the arts establishments. “I’m basically a bit of a piss-taker,” he acknowledged to Julian Cowley, who interviewed him at his Norfolk home for a feature in The Wire 368. “But someone I’d known at the Royal College of Art, where I studied as a painter, told me there was a new art movement called Assemblage, making things from all sorts of junk. ‘You’re a sculptor,’ he said. So I had two exhibitions, in London galleries, in 1963 and 1965, and quite by accident I was hailed as one of Britain’s leading sculptors.”

Lacey attended Hornsey School of Art in North London at the end of the 1940s, following a stint of training with the Fleet Air Arm at the end of the Second World War. It was there that he acquired skills in electrical engineering, developing an interest in machinery that would continue throughout his career. Indeed, this interest in machinery could be read as a marker for his politics. “Lacey is vigorously opposed to those regimented and coercive forms of social organisation that so often arise when mechanisation takes command,” Cowley noted. “In his book Bomb Culture (1968), Jeff Nuttall captured a sense of Lacey’s complex relationship with machinery, describing his remote-controlled automata as ‘magnificent hominoids’, sick, urinating, stuttering machines constructed of the debris of the century, always with pointed socialist/pacifist overtones but with a profound sense of anger, disgust and gaiety that goes far beyond any simple political standpoint’.”

In 1962 Lacey performed for the first time with a pair or electronic robots at The Establishment jazz venue in London's Soho. During the 1970s he got into making his own synthesizers, and his electronic improvisations can be heard on The Spacey Bruce Lacey compilation released by Trunk Records in 2014. He also worked on a series of films, including Everybody’s Nobody (1960), which he co-directed with his friend John Sewell, How to Have a Bath (1971), A Homage To The Earth Goddess (1982) and The Reawakening Of My Ancestral Spirits (1987).

Much of the above information can be found in The Wire 368. You can read more about Bruce Lacey’s life and career in Julian Cowley's feature via our archive.

The trailor below is from Jeremy Deller and Nick Abraham’s 2012 film The Bruce Lacey Experience