ART ROCK: Reef Younis investigates what rock stars do next. No.5: The inverted case of Neil Buchanan


Whether you grew up watching Tony Hart, Rolf Harris, or even the late Mark Speight, it seems written (somewhere) that everyone has a children’s TV artist they can fondly, or not so fondly, reference.

Aside from catching bits of Tony’s reserved patience – and Morph’s (probably) witty repartee – Rolf’s Animal Hospital (and court) appearances, and Mark’s sad tabloid demise, for many of us of a certain age, Neil Buchanan will always be the true afterschool Artila the Hun.

With his groovy, wacky creations, Buchanan made Art Attack an institution; after all, how many kids’ TV presenters could convince the Bank of England to lend them £250,000 to create a massive version of the Queen’s face from £10 notes, inspire a deranged few to believe he’s Banksy, or instigate the level of NSFW Art Attack episode edits that inevitably end with a gallery of cartoon cock and balls? Only one, decked out in a customised £700 red jumper, apparently. Yet it all could have been very different…

It’s October 31, 1977 and 16 year old Neil Buchanan is on an early path to rock stardom. His band, Marseille, have just been crowned winners of the ‘UK Battle of the Bands’ by Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor at Wembley Arena, scooping the £5,000 prize in the process. Two albums quickly follow – ‘Red White and Slightly Blue’ in 1978, the self-titled ‘Marseille’ in 1979 – as do tours supporting the likes of Judas Priest, Nazareth, and Whitesnake. The world is at the young guitarist’s feet: Marseille are sharing press inches with Iron Maiden, a US tour beckons, the noise of 20,000 capacity arenas are ringing in his ears…Gaby Roslin reminds him that he’s stood in front of a screaming mob of pre-pubescent kids on a Saturday morning, and that he needs to read the bloody autocue.

See, in 1980, Marseille’s management company, Mountain Records dissolved and left the band with no deal, money or equipment. Neil left as a result but got a break into television after meeting a producer of kid’s TV programme Saturday Banana when Marseille played the show. A decade of various presenter jobs gradually built up to the crucial launch of Art Attack in 1990 and he’s never looked back since. Much. In 2010, Marseille announced they were reforming and ready to take advantage of a “whole new generation of rockers” inspired by Art Attack’s international audience. For a few years, it meant that you could have found Neil soloing away in his Weller haircut, vest, and black choker in the back room of a North West pub. It’s not his most edifying image – it’s a long way from bespoke £700 jumpers – but when you’ve sold the rights to a kids’ TV show for £14 million, let’s face it, he probably doesn’t give a fuck.