Art for art's sake, money for Christ's sake ... rock stars fund-raise again

An article from The Observer, Sunday 22nd December 1996, by Charlotte O'Sullivan

Next year, some lucky person will be able to buy eau d'Ornette, a deliciously sensual perfume concocted by Lou Reed. Now, hang on a second. Lou Reed flogging toilet water - is nothing sacred? In fact, eau d'Ornette is one of several artworks that will be auctioned off on 4 February at the Saatchi Gallery to raise money for children in Bosnia. Phew...

The London-based charity War Child, best known for organising 1995's Help album, is behind the event, entitled Milestones. For this, a range of pop stars have been asked to complete a piece of 3D art which celebrates one of their musical heroes (eau d'Ornette, for example, is Lou Reed's tribute to jazz trumpeter Ornette Coleman).

The auction (£120 a ticket) will be an 'incredibly stylish' affair, according to PR Charmian Norman-Taylor. Little Pieces From Big Stars, an earlier War Child auction of poppy art, raised £70,000. Involving celebrity musos proved easier than Charmian had anticipated. Basically, renaissance man Brian Eno, a patron of War Child as well as a contributor to Milestones, roped in most of his friends. Although some people refused (Noel Gallagher was too busy and Eric Clapton 'too embarrassed - I'm not an artist'), Sinead O'Connor and Underworld's Karl Hyde got back almost immediately. The goodwill was extraordinary. Despite his wife's illness, for instance, Paul McCartney found time to commission a sketch of his hero Buddy Holly, 'at 60', from artist Jeff Cummins.

Arriving at the Opal Gallery, where the works are stored, Charmian shows me her favourite piece, Yoko Ono's beautifully spare sculpture of John Lennon's glasses.

Brian Eno, looking like a dapper garden gnome, is there with his synthesiser, master-minding his own contribution, a techno rendition of the Velvet Underground's 'White Light/White Heat' on a one-off CD (according to Eno, CDs are a 3D form of art). While Charmian dances along, he sings a few bars, very high - 'so that I sound mad,' he explains carefully.

What about Eric Clapton's implied criticism that musicians and artists are not one and the same thing? 'The fact is,' says Charmian firmly, 'so many musicians have an art school background, and the pieces reflect this.'

She's right of course. The dark and trippy ode to Syd Barrett, from Blur's Graham Coxon (a bolt of lightning directed at a tiny, multi-coloured Syd) is a particularly impressive case in point.

Kate Bush went as far as to take lessons in bronze sculpture for her homage to Billie Holiday. Having said that, fame itself makes for saleability. Gary Barlow, formerly of Take That, has chosen Elton John as his milestone. 'They're very good friends, so Elton's lent him an item of clothing,' says Charmian with a kindly expression. 'Gary's trying to do something with that.'

Although everything seems to be running smoothly, last Monday's deadline has been missed by many of the artists. Like a demented teacher, Charmian has been chasing the late work, but of course some people's excuses carry rather more weight than others. Bono (taking his hat off to Miles Davis), David Bowie (bowing to the Walker Brothers) and Iggy Pop (who is keeping his milestone a secret) were allowed until January. However, Bowie managed to deliver on Friday. Charmian laughs the despairing PR's laugh. 'The other pieces will probably show up the day before the auction. Oh well.'