Vardo restorer Nick Dow
"Our minds can wander onto many things when painting
but never for long when fine lining" - Nick on the brush

Rolling "Ronnie" Rolls again
Naturally at home
Legend rocker and Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood wakes up to a bowtop waggon for his 60th birthday breakfast courtesy of beautiful wife Jo Wood.

By Perigwyn Tilston

As a heavy metal pheasant rocked n crowed in the early morning sunlight of Ronnie's woodland grounds, little did the "Romany Stone" realise he would be waking up to a different type of riot - one of splendid artistic curlicues and colours in the fiendish shape of a Gypsy bowtop waggon: a 60th birthday present from his beaming wife, Jo Wood.

The Romany bowtop waggon, skilfully daubed with ornate artwork, is the finished hand of vardo restorer Nick Dow of the Flyde.

Ronnie's wife and page 3 model Jo had originally been scouring GypsyWaggon's website looking for a bowtop to purchase for a surprise present, only to find the one she liked was sold. Jo then contacted Nick Dow and his northern company Ingram & Fallon, who restore gypsy waggons, and Nick had just the vardo to suit the rocker.

Nick's poaching skills were next in calling - not to pocket Ronnie pheasant but to deliver in secret a one-ton waggon in an equally risky way under Ronnie's nose, not wishing to stir the crazy rocker into poking a pair of purdey barrels through the window. So the scene was set under the midnight moon with the tired pheasant snoring in swaying trees. The vardo was nervously delivered and parked outside the guitarist's spread - job done.

The next morning Ronnie couldn't believe his eyes as he woke up to find a bowtop waggon waiting on the driveway, and he burst outside in raptures of laughter.

Admittedly the Rolling Stone looks distinctly at home sitting on the footboard of his manor openlot, but then why shouldn't he - just one glance at the guitarist's face and it's obvious to anyone's eye that Ronnie Wood has the "kaulo ratti" - dark blood - and is more than proud of his Romani roots.

The guitarist comes from a musical and artistic Romany family and was born in Hillingdon, London. Brought up on water barges and council estates, he's the first Rom in his immediate family to be born on terra firma.

Even today with all the falsities of worldly fame Ronnie is still clearly grounded, being perfectly at peace in his own artistic realm where he has a great passion for portraiture, drawing family and fellow rockers who have inspired him during his musical journey. Ronnie has art exhibitions all over the world.

The bowtop sounds like the ideal hide-away to disappear into, or perhaps with? He jokingly planned to take the waggon on tour this year, and the Isle of  White concert was the perfect opportunity.  With Jagger on the horse, Charlie Watts on the cratch and Keith Richards in the pan box, smoke belching from the doors, they could soon have been seen strutting their stuff on the drom.

If Ronnie's desire to roam ever took over, leaving the Stones behind, then poor old Mick could have problems for his next concert  - with the lead singer "dancing in the street"  bellowing "has anyone seen my Ronnie?, "He's a rocker looks like a Gypsy and drives a bowtop", or should it be "He's a Gypsy looks like a guitarist and plays a bowtop, and hey man he's still got my Keith in the pan box ". 

Banter aside - we must never forget, as every Romani including Ronnie knows, the much romanticised golden vardo days of the early part of the 1900s were not so shiny for most Anglo-Romani people. Often darkened by extremely painful times, the travelling folki struggled to exist, enduring bone-frozen harsh winters and rain-soaked muddy months, year after year, decade after decade - it was often a far cry beyond the horizons of cheerful colour for these struggling tribes of Britain as the carved gargoyles looked on in silence - they know the real truth. We should respect this and never forget.

Many of today's elegantly painted vardos are striking pieces of artwork - kaleidoscopes of  rich colour. However, in the old days some weren't so blessed - just plain and simple timber waggons, absent of any expensive carvings and washed over in any old skinny paint a Rom could lay his hands on - for struggling Roms there was hardly any time for the fine brush decoration, and any book of gold leaf with most hungry Roms would have been sold on before ever reached an acanthus porch bracket. Mudded timbers and deep thorn scratched paintwork would have been the reality for most travellers' vardos, till eventually a fine spring day came to wash the waggon down and rest from the winter voyage. There are still some fine waggons being built today, but many of  the "knock ups" would never had made a fifth winter on the drom in the golden times. 

We're very fortunate and blessed with time, money and Wrights of Lymm to be able to paint such masterpieces
. Either way it's always kushti kola - a good thing - to see a Rom with his vardo, for that's the way it should be.

Parruka tute ta atch baktalo prala.

Special thanks to Nick Dow (images strictly copyright).
Also many thanks to Ronnie Wood and Jo











Traditional interior - nicely decorated
On the foot boards of his vardo
Ronnie Wood and wife Jo

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