2019 is a year for celebrating anniversaries at York gallery According To McGee.

“This is our 15th year,” says the Tower Street gallery’s co-director Ails McGee. “We’ve had it in mind to mark it with something of national importance for some time. So when we saw that 2019 is not only the 40th anniversary of the Sony Walkman but also of ska legends The Specials, we thought ‘let’s intersect these birthdays with a crucial, contemporary exhibition, and here we have it with Pause Play.”

Ails and Greg McGee have established links with The Specials through According To McGee running a series of exhibitions by Specials bassist and now Pop Art artist Horace Panter since 2014.

“The success of these shows encouraged us to get on the phone again to Horace to plan a suitably vibrant celebration of the anniversaries, and Horace himself couldn’t be happier,” says Greg.

“It’s great to work with According To McGee again,” says Horace, whose band played to a sold-out York Barbican crowd on May 9.

“This exhibition revisits my cassette series of paintings and prints and includes a few new prints just launched, and York is a perfect place for their first showing. For me, the cassette and the Walkman represent an analogue era and what was a cultural shift in how we listened to music.

“The Walkman was revolutionary in as much as it was the first portable device with headphones. I was given my first one as a gift from Sony when The Specials toured in Japan! The blank cassette enabled us to record our own mixtapes, to keep or give as gifts. All very special!”

Greg points to discussions with York artist Mat Lazenby as the spark that ignited the Pause Play Pop Art show. “It’s an ambitious happening and at’s input was, as ever, crucial,” he says.

“The name of the exhibition, the vibe, the cultural reach, comes directly from our collaboration, and it’s so good to get Mat’s latest work on the walls. It can hold its own against any Pop Art artist on the scene, and the inclusion of 3D glasses is a nice touch. “

Mat says: “Biggie Smalls (alias Christopher George Latore Wallace) is a mythic figure in hip-hop music; his enormous charisma and deadly eloquence often clashed with a personality borne out of bravado, but also vulnerability, allied to a sense of surrender in his lyrics.

“In this work I’ve crowned him with the crown of [the late artist] Jean-Michel Basquiat a motif that suits the dichotomy of success and failure, reverence and ridicule.””.

The ever progressive McGees seek to push the envelope still more by introducing Chris Barton’s art to the north. “For decades, Chris was a highly respected name in Hollywood, with direct technical involvement in the realisation of Yoda in Star Wars, the mice in The Witches, characters from Harry Potter and animals in Babe,” says Greg.

“As an artist he has hit a purple patch with his production of massive cassette art with a stunning flourish only 20 years in Hollywood could inculcate.”

Chris says: “I’m delighted to be exhibiting at According To McGee in celebration of the iconic Walkman’s 40th anniversary. My Giant Cassette Art series explores the emotional connections we have for the music and bands that used this medium to bring their work to life and how this is woven into our memories of times, places and loves.”

Gallery manager Sophie Austin was involved in selecting Barton’s works for Pause Play. “These incredibly collectible one-offs are a perfect tribute to cassettes,” she says. “It’s not only the size of them, but the astonishingly draughtsmanship and eye for detail. The inlays are individually created too, all hand painted acrylic on canvas. They’re in the front window for your perusal. We’re hitting a time when the diminutive originals, the cassettes people used to have in their cars, bags, bedrooms, are becoming exciting heritage objects.”

Greg agrees: “Rewind back to when music was pre-iPod, and the coolest, most intimate way to listen to music was with a Sony Walkman. The device revolutionised your favourite song,” he says.

“It became a statement, the way true game-changing gadgets do. Pop culture and the Pop Art that represents it waxes and wanes. We’re now at a fascinating juncture where cutting-edge technology and nostalgia are intersecting.

“We can’t think of more accomplished artists than Horace Panter, Mat Lazenby and Chris Barton to harness in their art this exciting anniversary with a new collection of paintings and limited editions.”

Charles Hutchinson