Kirk Brandon has been a constant in my life for over 40 years. With The Pack, Theatre of Hate and Spear of Destiny, he has charted a unique path through, for want of a better term, alternative music.
As much as I was a fan of The Pack, it was Theatre of Hate who first alerted me to the fact that here was a talent the like of which we had quite simply not seen before. First single Legion seemed to want to take punk back from the hands of the lowest common denominator photocopy bands of the time, who had reduced to art of punk down to identikit thrashed out landfill punk. Theatre of Hate reintroduced style, attitude and a desire to be different.
There has long been a debate as to who the first Goth band was, whether that title should go to Bauhaus, the Banshees or even Joy Division. For my money, the first band to set this up as a new musical movement rather than just a few unaffiliated bands, was Theatre of Hate.
Their gigs became a rallying point for this new, as yet unnamed movement. Their audiences had their own look and the music they listened to was a far cry from the likes of The Exploited and Anti Pasti. I remember a particularly incendiary gig of theirs at Liverpool Warehouse where the DJ told me afterwards, in some amazement, that the most requested record of the night was The Glen Miller Band’s In the Mood.
Their debut album was produced by The Clash’s Mick Jones and was an awkward, uncommercial glorious noise. Unfortunately, before they could record a follow up, Theatre of Hate were no more.
Kirk Brandon took the songs he had for this album to a new group, Spear of Destiny, for their own debut, The Grapes of Wrath.
Spear of Destiny turned out to be more of a commercial proposition than Theatre of Hate and their albums climbed ever higher in the charts. Unfortunately, Kirk fell ill with Reactive Arthritis and all band activity had to be put on hold.
Since then there has been a steady stream of albums from both Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate, with Kirk seemingly alternating between the two in terms of recording and tours. He also sings with punk supergroup Dead Men Walking and plays frequent acoustic shows.
The prospect of an interview with someone who has figured in my life as prominently as Kirk Brandon is one that makes me both excited and nervous, as a case of the ‘we are not worthies’ sweeps over me.
I needn’t have worried though, as his friendliness and his open manner instantly put me at ease. There are often pauses between questions and answers, as he formulates a response. This is something that marks him out as different, as a lot of people being interviewed seem to have an immediate reply ready or are prepared to say something without giving it due thought and attention. I find this to be a very endearing trait.
He also laughs a good deal, which isn’t something that would perhaps fit in with his image as an angry singer of angry songs.
Given everything detailed above there, there is but one way to start this interview.
Sun 13: The first question I want to ask you is, and I’m sure you get this a lot, but how do you keep yourself going? You seem to be always on the move, not just physically with the gigs, but creatively with the writing. How do you do it?
Kirk Brandon: “I know it sounds mad, but it’s my life, that’s what I’m really into. Since lockdown, I haven’t done so much writing, I’ve just recorded things on my phone. There’s actually acres of it, it’s just I’ve never done anything with it, so all these ideas are there on my phone because there’s no vehicle to actually do anything with them.”
S13: So are you the kind of person that feels compelled to create something, driven to do what do you do?
KB: “Yeah. There’s neither rhyme or reason to it, if you said to me ‘sit down, write a song’ it wouldn’t work, you’d be wasting your time, it’d be fucking rubbish. But for me, that’s inspiration. For me it has to come out of the ether, come out of the universe to write riffs, a chord sequence. And then the biggest journey is to write words.
You’ve got to have something to say and after over 400 songs it’s “what is it you want to say now?’ But you’ve got to have something to say, you can’t just write ‘She loves you yeah yeah yeah’, wonderful though it was.”
S13: Well since you’ve written so many songs, do you find yourself looking externally at the state of the world or more internally at your own feelings?
KB: “Mostly externally, I tend to engage with the world so I look externally as opposed to what’s going on internally with me. I’ve also thought over the years, when I write songs about love, am I just being indulgent here?”
S13: And there’s plenty to write about with what’s going on externally at the moment.
KB: “I don’t really know where we are now, but I know it’s not a good place. People have got to go for themselves now. This is a big discussion this one, but the ministry of propaganda have got us you know for sure that little box in the corner telling us what to think, what to do and what we can and can’t do and it’s quite disengaging from reality.
If you if you listen to that thing all the time listening to their opinions and what they think you should be thinking.
“It’s very George Orwell. He literally wrote the book with 1984, he got it all down in 1948 and voice it’s here, this is 1984.”
S13: Do you think it’s like it’s that full on?
KB: “Yeah you know you watch TV and it’s just endless reruns of programmes from about 20 years ago. There’s this thing on the radio with this Irish fella and I was going ‘hang on a minute, Terry Wogan is dead! How can Terry be on the radio if he’s fucking dead?’ This DJ sounds exactly like Terry Wogan, he’s a clone.”
S13: I remember an interview with you in the NME around the time when Legion came out, and you were railing against TV then saying that it could be a great educator but it’s used to keep people down and all these years later still feeling the same.
KB: “Well it is the same isn’t it. Back in them days we had different TV shows with band splaying music and now you’ve just got Jools Holland.”
S13: You’re right, at least when we got ‘our’ bands on TV, like the first time Theatre Of Hate were on Top Of The Pops, we kind of got the impression that we were making inroads into the mainstream and now that just doesn’t seem to happen.
KB: “They just want to hear depressed singers sing depressed songs and everyone is miserable and no, I’m not and I never will be. There’s too much to take the piss out of!” [laughs]
S13: Coming back to those early days do you look do you look back fondly on your time With The Pack when you were just starting out?
KB: “Yes I do. I am in touch with John Werner. Obviously his brother is dead. I always have a laugh with John about the old days, because it was just so ridiculous. Penniless people, we were like Victorians, penniless blokes going into disused houses, taking out baths and sinks and selling them for like 3 quid down the road. We were the great unemployed, the great unwashed, we were them.
“It’s all very funny, but at the time it wasn’t. You had 12 or 13 pounds to survive a month and you realise this ain’t gonna work, not really.”
S13: When did you realise you had such a unique and powerful voice?
KB: “I realised it when I was with The Pack and we recorded No 12 and Brave New Soldiers. That’s when I realised I could sing. It just all came out, I was a very angry young man. Do you know Rebel Without a Brain?”
S13: Yeah, I know that.
KB: “It was a joke, a parody, but it was also true”
S13: Did you feel that when you were in Theatre of Hate you were part of a new movement?
KB: “Sort of yeah. Joy Division, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Chameleons were around, and others, they were playing fantastic music. And later Wayne [Hussey] with The Mission.”
S13: Dare I mention the word Goth, did you feel that you were a Goth band?
KB: “Not really. Most of these people, if you said to them ‘are you a goth?’ they’d look at you like you’d just said something really weird to them. Even Wayne would just go ‘we’re not Goth.”
S13: Can I ask why Theatre of Hate split up?
KB: “I think we were using hard drugs. But that’s not really ultimately the reason. I think in part it was to do with the management, I think it got a bit clueless back then. We should just have taken 6 months off, a year off and come back again.
“There’s more than that to be honest, and it doesn’t rest principally with him. I should have been brighter if you want the truth. I wasn’t waving I was drowning [laughs]. But we all got on.”
S13: Could we say that Spear of Destiny were kind of a grown up Theatre of Hate?
KB: “No, Spear is something different. The albums we create today, I enjoy them more than the old albums in the 80s. It’s difficult, some of those songs were good songs back then, you know, Mickey, Young Men, but you still want to continue writing, you still want to continue playing. You can’t just be a retro act, just playing the good old tunes.”
S13: And that wouldn’t fit with your creative drive.
KB: “Not really. But if the hours are good I’m in [laughs].”
How do you go about putting a set list together if you’re focussed on the new material but you have an audience’s expectations to meet?
“Well we’re going to do the complete World Service recordings live, the album and the B-sides, all of it and do some other ones on top.
“We’re doing a handful of Theatre of Hate shows in December, some with The Chameleons.”[Tour dates below]
S13: When you’re writing a song, do you think ‘I’m going to write a Theatre of Hate song’, ‘I’m going to write a Spear of Destiny song’ or do you just write and see which camp it falls into?
“Exactly, that’s exactly it. For some reason they’re clearly defined. I don’t understand why but they clearly define themselves.”
S13: If you had to choose between Theatre of Hate and Spear of Destiny, which one would it be?
KB: “I couldn’t choose. I really couldn’t choose. Spear has been the vehicle for songwriting all these years, but Theatre of Hate has got a life of its own, which is amazing. It’s got that unique sound even now.”
That unique sound, I think to myself, is Kirk Brandon. And yes, the work he does and the songs he has written definitely do have a life of their own. He has amassed a huge body of work but, more than that, he has built himself a unique platform on which to stand.
The fact that he is still driven to create the work he does is incredible. The further fact that he still sounds so good and still has so much to say is, again, unique in post punk music, if we can even still call it that.
Kirk Brandon is surely headed for National Treasure status. If you don’t believe us, go and see one of his gigs (details below) and see how much fire he still has in his belly.
Theatre of Hate tour dates:
Dec 10th Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
Dec 16th Stockton-on-Tees, The Georgian Theatre
Dec 17th Manchester Ritz
Dec 19th London, The Venue
Spear of Destiny tour dates – 35th Anniversary of ‘World Service’
Sept 15th Exeter Phoenix
Sept 16th Birmingham Hare and Hounds
17th Sept Bedford Esquires
18th Sept Stoke Underground
19th Sept York Crescent
21st Sept Leeds Brudenell Social Club
22nd Sept Darwen Library Theatre
23rd Sept Southend Cricketers
24th Sept Luton Hat Factory
25th Sept Hull Welly
26th Sept Southampton Joiners
28th Sept Bristol Fleece
29th Sept Grimsby Yardbirds Club
30th Sept Manchester Club Academy
Oct 1st London 229
2nd Oct Leicester Musician