With their new album Abolition of the Royal Familia proving that The Orb are still at the peak of their powers, Sun 13’s Banjo talks to main man Alex Paterson.
The post punk boom of the late 70s and early 80s made stars of some strange people.
Marc Almond bringing high camp to Top of the Pops, Phil Oakey appearing in Jackie magazine with a chain between his two pierced nipples and Adam Ant displaying his Pure Sex tattoo to theatres full of young fans are but three examples of how punk sensibility clashed with a world not quite ready to take it all in.
We can add to this Julian Cope standing on a piano, tripping his face off and wearing a night shirt on Top of the Pops, with The Teardrop Explodes.
There is a sense with all of these of square pegs in round holes, of people perhaps not immediately cut out for mainstream fame bringing their baggage with them.
And none more so than the archdrood himself, Julian Cope.
When they first started, The Teardrop Explodes were a fine, if slightly odd, band formed in the embers of the punk scene that had raged through the UK. Countless bands were inspired by the likes of Sex Pistols and The Clash to pick up guitars and make music of their own.
Where the post punk bands covered themselves in glory was by refusing to follow the path of identikit punk thrash that was well trod by 2nd and 3rd generation punk bands and by applying their emerging musical abilities in a new and different way.
These bands had an innate desire not to follow the crowd. This led to some of the most wonderful music we will ever know being committed to vinyl by bands who were not interested in fame or its trappings, doing what they were doing out of a need to create.
It was in these post punk bands that the true spirit of the explosions of 76/77 bore fruit.
One of these bands was The Teardrop Explodes.
Formed around the triumvirate of Eric’s, Probe and the Armadillo Tea Rooms, Liverpool bands sprung up regularly, often lasting no longer than a day or two. Eventually though, some of these bands left the tea rooms for the rehearsal rooms and actually started writing songs.
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The Teardrop Explodes wrote three songs, Sleeping Gas, Camera Camera and Kirby Worker’s Dream Fades. Bill Drummond, ex of Big In Japan persuaded the band to record all three songs, releasing them as the band’s first single.
On it’s release, Sleeping Gas was awarded Single of the Week in the weekly music papers. Suddenly The Teardrop Explodes found the spotlight shining on them for the first time.
Further singles Bouncing Babies and Treason were released and The Teardrops were one of Liverpool’s brightest hopes. However, success eluded them and their rivals Echo and the Bunnymen signed to a major label and left Julian and co behind.
It wasn’t until 4th single Reward went top ten that it seemed to be time for The Teardrop Explodes to have their own chance at the big time.
Treason was subsequently re-released and made it to number three, and The Teardrop Explodes became pop stars.
Lacking a stable line up, Julian Cope became the band’s face and focus, essentially employing and firing a series of players who were little more than session musicians.
Debut album Kilimanjaro gathered rave reviews and it seemed that everybody loved The Teardrop Explodes. What could possibly go wrong.
Well the answer to that is pretty much everything.
Pop fame sat uneasily on Cope’s shoulders and took to taking huge amounts of LSD and isolating himself. An American tour came to a messy end and Cope sacked fan favourite Alfie Agius. By now he had a reputation approaching that of Mark E Smith when it came to the ruthless way he dealt with band members.
Drummer Gary Dwyer was the only other continuous member of The Teardrop Explodes, and deserves great credit for his part in their story and for being the prop that held the band up when falling apart may have seemed inevitable.
Nevertheless, anticipation for the Teardrop’s 2nd album was so high that Cope had wanted to call it Everybody Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes.
Eventually called Wilder, it was in part designed to turn off The Teardrop Explodes new audience of pop fans.
There is still a rich vein of Cope’s love of classic pop running through Wilder, but it has an angular, awkward and arty approach that belied their status as staples of Smash Hits magazine.
Opening track Bent Out of Shape is a straight forward enough song, but underpinned by some strange noises and opens with Cope singing “All my life I’ve been bent out of shape, can’t you see it’s killing me’ adding “these are dreams that I never had” as if he has already had enough of the fame that landed at his feet.
Next up is Colours Fly Away, starting with a brass band section that harks back to the glory days of Reward. Fans could be forgiven that The Teardrop Explodes have picked up from where Kilimanjaro left off. But again, the opening lines show Cope’s unease with his success: “More by luck than judgement here I am, smiling at the fighting once again.”
Seven Views of Jerusalem is a jumble of beats and squawks with Cope seemingly in stream of consciousness territory, singing “I cut off my nose to spite my face, look at all pests around the place. Everyone’s laughing they think it’s disguise, but haven’t you seen all the lines round my eyes”
Lyrics such as these seem a long way from the same person who burst into the public’s affections by singing “Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news”
Pure Joy is trite and throwaway, but next track Falling Down Around Me is one of the album’s highlights. Built around a stuttering mix of bass and drums that seem to have little in common with the guitar track, the song has echoes of David Bowie from his early days, in particular the World of David Bowie album that was so popular amongst the Liverpool post punk cognoscenti.
The Culture Bunker is classic Teardrop and references Cope’s early days in Liverpool as he mentions The Crucial Three, the band he started with Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch, as he sings “I’ve been waiting so long, waiting for The Crucial Three, wondering what went wrong”
Passionate Friend is another classic. Apparently written for Ian McCulloch’s sister, thus deepening the rift that had grown up between the two one time friends.
Tiny Children takes things down several notches and gives us a sense of Julian as a lonely figure writing his disquiet and depression down for us all to read, as if we were sneaking furtive glances through his diary. Lyrics such as “I could make a meal of that wonderful despair I feel” provide a glimpse into a troubled psyche and his approach to the people he now has to deal with is detailed when he sings “But each character is plundering my home and taking everything that is my own”
The chorus of “Oh no, I’m not sure about those things that I cared about. Oh no, I’m not sure, not anymore” give the impression of an unhappy soul rocking himself in a dark corner.
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Like Leila Khaled Said further details an unhappy outlook, for some reason juxtaposed with Leila Khaled, member of the revolutionary Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the first woman to hijack a plane. Smash Hits suddenly seems a long way off.
And The Fighting Takes Over continues the downbeat, introspective theme still further, reading like an examination of Julian’s failing marriage in a sad but blame free manner, concluding “we were just a pair of little children, two children, no surprise”
Closing track The Great Dominions is perhaps the greatest song The Teardrop Explodes ever recorded, an open-hearted epic that again seems to look at his crumbling marriage.
The band provide a sympathetic backing as Julian pours his heart out in his own symbolic manner. The Great Dominions reads like the aftermath of a long and emotional argument, with Cope singing “Suddenly I came to my senses, a night on fire put out all traces of feeling”
The ending refrain saw Julian singing naked in a dark studio, his voice cracking as the tears come towards the end of the repeated line “Mummy I’ve been fighting again”, as the song climaxes around him.
As emotional as this is, it is difficult to see that the young fans who bought Reward would take to this tearful soul bearing with the same enthusiasm.
Of course, the post punk fans that the band had brought with them were more than able to love the sounds they found on Wilder, it was the pop fans that might have found it a more challenging listen.
Cope’s aim was not to make bad music, but to shake of his teenybopper image, a mantle that is easy to imagine never sat well on his shoulders.
Before the band could finish their third album, it was all over for The Teardrop Explodes. They remain one of the bands who have never reformed and probably for good reasons. Theirs is a tale that has too much depth, too many messy relationships and involved too many bad trips.
But, despite Wilder perhaps starting the death knell of one of post punk’s greatest bands, it is a mighty statement and one that deserves returning to.
A pop star who is prepared to open himself up to his public in this manner is a rare thing. We are reminded of the troubled output of Syd Barrett and Tim Buckley, but presented in a pop arena.
Wilder is a bloody-minded and honest look into the downside of success, when all The Teardrop Explodes had to do to ensure their continued success was to put on a happy face and smile for the pages of the pop glossies.
And as such, it is one of the bravest documents a band hungry for fame have ever committed to tape.
We all know how this is supposed to work. A band comes together and make an album that is so good that people buy it in droves, we talk about it in hushed tones for years to come and the band go on to create an enviable canon of records and gigs.
Except it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes incredible records fail to gain traction with the zeitgeist in the way that they should. The result of this is that record and band stay under the radar, get pressured or dropped by a record company looking for a return on its investment and they break up, ignored and disillusioned.
There seems to be no readily discernible reason for this, other than success in the music business is more a matter of luck than of talent. In other words, bad luck and a lack of lucky breaks can doom bands and records to undeserved obscurity.
But this does not mean that these records are any less wonderful. They still excite and amaze, they still float the listener away on clouds of musical perfection. Their worth is measured not in terms of units shifted, but in souls moved.
Such a fate befell One Dove and their Morning Dove White album.
It is, without questions, a towering thing of beauty, but it was beset with difficulties from its inception.
One Dove came from the 90’s dance music boom, combining chilled electronica, dub and dance floor appeal. Their first single Fallen was a hit in clubs at the time, which led to them signing to the influential Junior Boy’s Own label, changing their name from Dove, due to a band of that name already doing the rounds.
JBO released a superb Andrew Weatherall remix of Fallen, but already One Dove’s run of bad luck had started. Fallen was withdrawn after just one week, following complaints about an unlicensed harmonica sample from a Supertramp song.
A second single, Transient Truth followed and gathered further acclaim for One Dove.
Junior Boy’s Own was taken over by London Records and the new masters wanted a more commercial sound for One Dove. To this end, they brought in Stephen Hague to remix next single White Love. Hague was a big name producer who worked with the likes of New Order, Pet Shop Boys and Erasure, so his pedigree was good.
His work with the band earned them favourable comparisons to Saint Etienne and brought them wider attention.
However, the stage was set for tension.
One Dove resented Hague’s commercialising of their sound and resisted attempts to sugar coat their songs. The release of Morning Dove White was delayed by a full year as the band fought with their record company about how they should sound.
The impasse was only broken when it was agreed that Hague coulis only remix their singles if they were in the studio with him at the time.
On its release, Morning Dove White only managed to make number 30 in the album charts. Listening back to it now, this is a shame of near criminal proportions.
Morning Dove White is a sublime record. As much as Stephen Hague may figure in One Dove’s story, this album has Andrew Weatherall running through its veins.
In many ways, Morning Dove White is Screamadelica’s little sister, younger and more effortlessly cool than its more grown up sibling.
Both albums carry the same sense of clubbing euphoria and both perfectly capture the spirit of the times in their grooves, but perhaps Morning Dove White is less likely to finish its bag of pills in one go and then fall asleep on your sofa for the rest of the weekend.
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Morning Dove White starts with off with Weatherall’s remix of Fallen, minus the Supertramp sample. Singer Dot Allison introduces the album by seductively whispering ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this. One thing is, don’t ever tell anyone I told you this. Don’t save me, just forgive me. Forgive me, because I was only thinking of you.’
Straight away, Allison has drawn us in, made us her confidants. We are friends and we want to know more. The music is rich with Weatherall’s Screamadelica-esque swoops, beats and whooshes. One Dove have created a sound that would be perfectly at home on the dance floor and for a post clubbing chill out session.
There is an unhurried fell to the songs, with the first two tracks clocking in at just under 18 minutes, a link to the fact that their roots lay in long nights on club dancefloors.
Second track White Love exceeds ten minutes on its own. Here in its Guitar Paradise Mix, it builds slowly, with guitar chords feeding back before the beats kick in.
The drug references of the 90s are present and correct, with Allison singing ‘this powerful, this pure, behind our eyes. And when I trip, when I fall, it’s just like velvet’.
Despite being only the second track, White Love is the album’s centrepiece, an epic, sprawling trip of a song that, despite it’s length, never outstays its welcome.
Breakdown carries the vibe forward with dub basslines and a Higher Than The Sun beat and Dot Allison lamenting ‘I remember the night you left me, the moon was full, I felt empty.’ It isn’t all euphoria for One Dove, as heartbreak and melancholy seep into their songs like cold night air.
There Goes The Cure and Sirens are blissful and almost beat free excursions, drifting along on a haunting piano or organ refrains, moments of calm and reflection.
The version of Transient Truth here is a dubbed out nine minute epic, with a Jah Wobble-esque bassline and runs of eastern melodies. It is stunningly beautiful and the album’s least commercial sounding song. So far on Morning Dove White, every track could be a single, but Transient Truth is out there.
Morning Dove White finishes with the yearning Why Don’t You Take Me, a straight forward pop song buried under layers of dub and a yearning not to sound too commercial.
Reissues of the album have extra tracks in the shape of various remixes, but the original Morning Dove White is more than enough. It takes you out, shows you a good time, tells you how it has had it heart broken and walks home with you. At the end you are best friends, you know each other and you will always be there for each other.
Despite these creative peaks and some extraordinary music, One Dove’s experience had been a frustrating one. Part way through recording their second album One Dove split up, with the business side of the music industry proving too much for them and their creative vision.
Dot Allison went on to have an acclaimed career as a solo artist, releasing further beautiful music and collaborating with the likes of Massive Attack, Death in Vegas and Slam.
But, for a beautiful fleeting moment, One Dove existed and our lives were the better for it.
There is probably an alternative universe where One Dove’s path through the world was smoother and their artistic vision was encouraged rather than whitewashed and where they are revered as gods, but for us here in this universe, we have Morning Dove White to love and to cherish.
And that is enough.
Punk rock progenitor and one-quarter of arguably the greatest ever punk band, The Sex Pistols in conversation with Sun 13’s Banjo
Like a lot of people, Glen Matlock looms large in my cultural background. As one quarter of Sex Pistols, he was directly responsible for the total upheaval of my teenage world. He was the band’s main musician and was the closest we were likely to get to a Sex Pistol you could take home to meet your mum.
The Pistols and punk appeared quite suddenly in my life. I have a crystal clear memory of a day in my last year at school when I was told of a band who had appeared on TV the day before and swore ‘like troopers’.
Again like a lot of people, this was the first time I had heard about Sex Pistols. It was not to be the last.
I lived hundreds of miles away from where the program was broadcast and nobody in my school had seen it, but its shock waves had made it to my neck of the woods the very next morning, so we can see the effect this program had on spreading punk across the country.
But, and this is an important point to Matlock, there is more to him than his past. To the point that it is easy to imagine him coming across this article and feeling immediately dispirited that yet another interview with him starts off with that band and that interview.
He has played with Iggy Pop, The Damned and The Faces, but the shadow of the Sex Pistols looms large over him to this day.
Glen has a new album, Good to Go, released this Friday, 21st September. Recorded with Earl Slick and Slim Jim Phantom, it is an album of unashamed, unadorned rock n roll. To promote Good to Go, he has been keeping himself busy, playing gigs in such far-flung corners of the globe as Korea’s demilitarised zone and the banks of the river Ganges in India.
When I spoke to him he was in the middle of an intensive couple of days of back to back interviews, and sounding fairly worn out and weary with the whole thing, as anyone would be spending that much time answering the same questions and giving out the same details.
‘Sorry’ he tells us at one point as he struggles to answer a question, ‘I’m a bit interviewed out today, I’ve done about 9 or 10 interviews so far.’ Yeah, I saw your schedule I tell him, I’m amazed you’re still going.
Back on a roll, he continues. ‘I’ll tell you what I did do earlier’ he says, ‘I did The Wright Stuff tv program, then I did some Russian tv thing. But it’s all part of life’s rich pageant. I think my maxim to life these days is just say yes to most things that come your way.’
There’s a mate of mine who’s in the fashion business, and when we ask what we’re up to, we always quote Newton’s Law of Motion at each other – a body at rest stays at rest, a body in motion stays in motion, unless an exterior or equal force acts on it, or something like that.
But if you say I’m just waiting for the phone to ring it invariably doesn’t, and one thing begets other things.’
Glen Matlock also still sounds like someone who is passionate about the music he is making and is very keen that it gets listened to.
Tell us about the tour and these far flung dates you’ve been playing.
‘Well it’s not really a tour, but I’ve been playing selected dates. I’ve just got back from Korea, I’ve had something in India, just a one-off thing, and I’ve had a five night residency in a place in Canary Wharf, I’m going over to Dubai for a gig with Chris Spedding and then in September I’m going to Scandinavia for some shows, just me and my acoustic, which is kind of one down from being a comedian I think. ‘
It all sounds a long way from Monday nights in the 100 Club.
Yeah, but that’s alright too. When you’re an older bloke you take what comes along and as long as you approach it with a good heart, it all comes out alright in the end. The main reason I’m doing this is for the new album, which I’ve got to get people to dig somehow.’
So tell us about your new album?
‘It’s a bunch of songs I’ve been writing over the last four years. I wanted to so something a bit different, not the same old punk kinda thing, which is fine, but not when you’re not playing to the people who did it with the first time around.
And I saw Bob Dylan play, maybe three or four years ago and I can appreciate Bob Dylan. I’m not his biggest fan, but the band he had were fantastic. He had Charlie Sexton on guitar and the bass player was Tony Matthews, who plays stand up bass. And the drummer was fantastic and spent most of the set playing with brushes, and I thought that’s really cool, you can get the songs to come through, how can I do something similar?
And I thought ‘I know, I’ll call Slim Jim Phantom, he only uses half a drum kit, I’ll ask him if he’s up for doing it.’ And he suggested using Earl Slick on guitar, who I’d worked with before. Chris Spedding plays guitar on a track which I’m quite pleased with, with him being a member of The Wombles!
And I wanted to make the album a little more Americana-ish. I don’t think I’m ever going to get on Radio 1 these days, but I know that Radio 2 and Radio 6 are playing music like that, so I thought maybe I should change the tune, production wise.’
Would you want your stuff to be played on Radio 1 these days? Did you ever want your stuff to be played on Radio 1?
‘I think anyone who writes a song wants as many people as possible to hear it and then be able to decide whether they like it or not. If you write something that’s catchy and people hear it a couple of times they might think it’s really catchy.
Music is about communication, so the more avenues there are to get it out there the better really.’
Where do you look to for your influences these days?
‘Just what’s going on in my life really, and how I’m dealing with it and how you’re rising or not rising to the occasion or dealing with the pitfalls of it all. I’m not on some heavy political bent, because we all know what’s wrong with the world and you end up preaching to the converted and can come across as a bit Billy Bragg, which I don’t want to be.
You write in songs what you can’t necessarily express on a piece of paper and it brings out some emotional thing. Or that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.’
Has the way you write music changed over the years?
‘Nah, it’s the same old shit basically. Most songs I write, I’m walking down the street and an idea comes into my head, and if that idea doesn’t go away it’s time to pick up the guitar and work out the chords that go with it.
Every songwriter’s got a mental bag of half ideas that they can use and reference, but the whole thing is about trying to get across what’s on your mind. It doesn’t always have to be of the most fantastic consequence, but I think it’s got to be as succinct and direct as possible.
I try to write songs as if I’m having a conversation with somebody. I do like to think there’s a bit of humour in my songs, I think we can all be a bit tongue in cheek about things sometimes.’
Well it must all work for you. You’ve written some of the best songs ever recorded and it’s taken you all over the world and last over 40 years. You must be doing something right.
‘I suppose I must be. I don’t know what yet. [laughs]’
One thing I noticed recently, looking at the calendar, is that a few weeks ago it was the 40th Anniversary of the first time I went to Eric’s in Liverpool, and it was to see you in Rich Kids.
‘Were we any good?’
You were great, Rich Kids were a brilliant group.
‘I’ll tell you what I do remember about Eric’s, it used to whiff a lot because they had a problem with the drains, but also I do remember playing there with Iggy Pop, must have been in ’79, and I’m pretty sure we did a matinee performance for the underage people.
And instead of having the usual intro music to come on to, we played the theme tune from A Fistful of Dollars and Iggy would come on.
But by the time he’d come on, in that Iggy Pop style he has, there was all these kids dressed as scouts down the front.
And they started singing Happy Birthday, and for a split second he was dumbfounded and then he turned to the band and said ‘well fuck you’ and we went straight into Kill City.
I met some really cool people there, in fact we played there with the Pistols really early on. We played upstairs and there weren’t that many people there, but I skived out of packing the van and when I went downstairs there was this whole thing going on.
Yachts were playing and I was stood there having a drink and everyone was waiting for me. I got in the doghouse with everyone over that, but I met Clive Langer, Maybe Ian Broudie and Jayne from Pink Military.
It was good to realise that there was this thing outside of London. In our capital city ways, we may have been too high minded to think there possibly could have been.
But also likewise I remember going down to Newport or Bridgend in Wales, we did a series of gigs there and I met Steve Strange for the first time and got chatting to him.
And they were the same, they looked like punks before punk had been invented. And he asked where we were playing next, and it was a gig in Burton on Trent.
We stayed in Wales and by the time we got up, he was already in the car park waiting for us. He actually helped us carry the gear in, which I doubt he ever did since [laughs].’
Were you aware at the time, when you were playing these gigs, of the effect you were having on people and the outburst of creativity that you left in your wake?
‘You know what, I don’t want to sound big-headed, but yeah I think so. We knew we were polarizing people somehow.
We had this self-confidence, maybe not so much on my part personally, but Steve was the biggest ne’er do well in London. He was the spirit of the Sex Pistols, John put it all in words, I came up with the tunes and Paul provided the backbeat and kind of went along with what Steve said.
They were a double act and to me, they were always like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, which was fine by me as I liked Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.’
How do you feel about the way the Sex Pistols and punk turned out over the years to now, where we can still feel the ripples from what you did?
‘Good I suppose. I don’t really know any different. I remember reading some interview with Keith Richards and the interviewer asked him about the price of milk, and he replied ‘Don’t ask me mate, I’ve been a rock star all my life, what would I know’
And I don’t know any different, I’ve always been saddled with the Pistols thing. I’m proud of it, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because here we are talking about that rather than what I’m doing now.
And I kind of hate it for that sometimes. A little bit.’
Well back to your new album then. There’s quite an old school rock n roll feel running through it.
‘Maybe so, I like all that kind of stuff. I’ve tried to do something slightly different within the confines of what I like and do and the people I’m playing with and get the songs across. My favourite song on the album is Speak Too Soon, which is kind of earthy and quite up.’
My favourite is Wanderlust at the moment, although that could change – there are some catchy riffs on there.
‘That’s a bit of an older one that I’d never really recorded before, that’s kind of my hats off to Roadrunner, but not by Jonathan Richman, but by Junior Walker and the All Stars. I do like the bluesy kind of stuff sometimes.
I’m chums with Pete Wylie, although I haven’t seen him in a long while. But I’m a big admirer of his, and he called one of his album Songs of Strength and Heartbreak and that’s what I subscribe to lyrically, finding a way through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Pete Wylie does the most fantastic version of a Gilbert O’Sullivan song, Alone Again Naturally, just him and an acoustic guitar. It’s heart-rending.’
Matlock has a huge library of tales he can tell about his time in music, with every mention of a band of a city inspiring more anecdotes of a life well lived. And more tales are doubtless being generated as he continues to tour and make music.
Do you still keep up with new music?
‘I do, my kid’s in a band and they play me new stuff and it sounds alright, rocky kind of stuff. One of the bands I played with in Canada were really good, and the name is fantastic too. They were called Ringo Deathstar. And Ringo went to see them. [laughs]
I met him, I was helping out his son Zac, and his dad actually plays pretty good guitar. We did a showcase gig for the record we were making at Raymond’s Review Bar we were telling Zac we needed to go on stage. And he was saying ‘no, no I’ve got to wait for my dad’ and I thought ‘wait for your dad?’ before remembering who his dad was! ‘
Well according to your schedule Glen, you’re late for a radio interview now.
‘Have I? oh blimey, I didn’t know that. I’d better go then’
And with that Glen Matlock says his goodbyes and heads straight into another interview, no doubt adding further to his fatigue and world weariness. It says something of the man that he is still prepared to put himself through such a punishing schedule to promote his work. He is obviously still proud of his work if a little frustrated that it is not naturally finding a wider audience.
Reflecting on our conversation later, I think to myself that one of the common threads that runs through the lives of people who were caught up in shaping the early days of punk is that of the huge difficulty dealing with the huge void that followed when their part in it all seemingly came to an end.
Steve Jones and many others turned to heroin to fill their days, The Slits’ Ari Up retreated to Borneo, living with a tribe almost completely cut off from civilisation while others abandoned music completely, turning to other careers. Others were not so lucky and didn’t manage to make old bones at all.
Matlock’s approach to all this has been to keep his head down and keep making music. There is a certain dignity to this calm and steady approach, one that shows that Matlock has managed to avoid the pitfalls of his profession with ease.
We wish him well in his quest to carry on doing what he does, especially when what he does is release top drawer rock n roll in this manner.
Glen Matlock has left his past behind him and has, as always it seems, still got an eye on the future and a place in his heart for rock n roll.
Iggy Pop is a survivor. Not many people who were aware of him in the 60s would have bet money on him surviving the 60s, much less his 60s.
But, in the year zero declarations that accompanied the early days of punk, Iggy was one of the few members of the old guard to be given any form of credibility or kudos, along with Patti Smith and Can.
Iggy’s exertions and his attitude with The Stooges had some common ground with the new breed who were decrying what had gone before as boring and irrelevant.
Iggy and the Stooges were far from being boring and the noise they made was similarly far from irrelevance in the brave new world that was being created in 1976 and beyond.
Punk’s early dalliance with self harm was echoed in the antics of Iggy, an act that carried with it much shock value. Shock was part of the currency of the punks and, in Iggy, they had inspiration of sorts.
As a result he was adopted by the punks. This admiration was a two way street, as he had often struggled to find an audience and now a new appreciative crowd was opening up for him. It seemed the times had finally caught up with Iggy Pop.
On a personal note, my initial reaction to seeing Iggy on the cover of my brother’s Raw Power album was to think that he couldn’t be a punk as he had long hair. This was enough at the time for us to decry him as being part of the older generation and that the likes of Johnny Rotten had got this one wrong.
We played the album lifting the needle off the opening Search and Destroy, thinking it plain old Heavy Rock. Second track Gimme Danger had acoustic guitars on it for god’s sake, and so the experiment was quickly abandoned.
We hated Iggy Pop.
A few weeks later, John Peel played Sick of You and we fell in love with it, rushing to see each other in the playground the next day to tell each other about this incredible ‘new’ song.
We decided to give my brother’s record another go, and this time we’d listen to the whole thing, rather than the opening few seconds of the opening few tracks.
Raw Power blew us away. Yes, the production was dreadful, but here was the attitude and power of punk writ large in an album recorded way back in 1973. We got it.
We loved Iggy Pop.
His legend preceded him, and we discovered that his life was already the stuff of legend. The drugs, women and self-mutilation, the stage diving, the silver hair, the peanut butter!
We started buying his other records, notably the first two Stooges albums. Live album Metallic KO made the hairs on the back of our neck stand up as we listened to Iggy bait the Hells Angels in the audience, who in turn responded by showering the stage with bottles.
In June of 1978, we started going to matinee shows at Eric’s and getting hands on with the whole punk thing. It was an incredibly exciting time and, looking back, we can appreciate just how spoiled we were.
My first Eric’s gig was Joy Division and Rich Kids, my second was The Clash and The Specials. Further shows included Gang of Four, Ultravox!, The Cure and a memorable afternoon that gave us Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes for 50p.
Like I say, spoiled.
Then, a year or so later, we got the news that Iggy was coming to Eric’s. and, incredibly, that gig was 41 years ago at the time of writing, April 21 1979.
Now, when we went to Eric’s there were always flyers available on the door and, once a month we got the new schedule and we could check who were going to be seeing for the next few weeks.
This time though there was something different. A second flyer. This one didn’t have a list of bands on it, it was for one particular show, it was for Iggy Pop.
Adding to the unusual nature of this show, we could buy tickets in advance rather than just paying on the door.
Our excitement was tempered by the price of the tickets, which were a shocking two pounds! Most gigs at Eric’s were only a quid, so this was a 100% price increase. By foregoing records for a couple of weeks we managed to save enough for this extravagance and bought tickets.
In 1977, Iggy had played at the Manchester Apollo, a famous gig that was filmed for Granada TV, who played a clip of him singing Lust for Life, wearing leather trousers and a horse tail. And yet, just 18 months later he was playing Eric’s, with a capacity of around 300 people.
One reason for this, according to Doreen Allen, who worked at the club and was given the job of sorting out Iggy’s rider, is that he wanted to play in Liverpool and no other venue would book him.
The blow was surely softened by the fact that they were able to book him for two shows, a matinee in the afternoon and an evening show later on, thereby doubling the attendance.
Come showtime of course, the venue was rammed. I had seen the place packed out before, notably The Clash gig I mentioned earlier and when The Skids played after appearing on Top of the Pops just a couple of days earlier with their breakthrough hit Into the Valley, but this was smoothing else.
Although this was ostensibly a matinee show for under 18s, such was the demand to see Iggy that there was a real mix of ages at the show. Demand far outstripped supply, so fans took whichever Iggy show they could get tickets for, with some lucky punters going to both shows.
Iggy walked on to the stage and launched straight into Kill City. My first thoughts, after months of seeing him only in the pages on the NME and Sounds, was amazement that he was actually in colour, not just black and white like in the photos! And he was also 3D – wow!
As an added treat for us young punks, ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock was playing bass in Iggy’s band.
Somehow, and this used to happen fairly regularly, I managed to squeeze my way to the front of the crowd and had a view of the gig from about three rows back. This also happened with The Clash although I am at a complete loss as to how I managed it.
The audience were aware that this particular day was Iggy’s birthday. Whether he actually announced it from the stage or not I can’t remember but, seeing as the majority of the audience were young kids, we burst into a spontaneous singalong of Happy Birthday.
There was always a part of the Eric’s crowd who were too cool to clap, but we were 15 and 16 years old and cool was a problem for another age. Such issues weren’t going to stop us wishing Iggy Pop a happy birthday in song. Of course they weren’t!
At first he seemed unsure how to react to this and it is easy to imagine that this kind of thing had never happened at an Iggy Pop gig previously.
But as it became cleat that yes, we were going to sing the whole song to him, he relaxed into it. Towards the end, after the “happy birthday dear Iggeeeee” he ran around the front of the stage with the biggest smile I think I had ever witnessed plastered across his face.
Once we had finished, I stuck my hand out when he was within striking distance. He grabbed my and shook it and my teenage life was complete. I swore there and then that I would never wash it again.
Glen Matlock has his own, kind of strange memories of this: “We did it this matinee at Eric’s in Liverpool and it was all these Boy Scouts and Cubs. Just after the music Iggy would come on. All these kids started singing ‘Happy birthday to you…. happy birthday Iggy Pop, happy birthday to you!’
Iggy was really taken aback (it was his birthday obviously!). He looked at me, looked around, looked at the crowd, and went ‘Well fuck you’ and went straight in to ‘Kill City’! There was all these 13 year-old kids! That was quite funny.”
I’m not sure where he got the Boy Scouts thing from, but it’s good to know that it still sticks in his memory all these years later.
The rousing version of Happy Birthday we were able top provide him with can be heard below.
We were all treated to a full Iggy show, taking in 17 songs including the likes of Sister Midnight, Shake Appeal and finishing with a storming I Wanna Be Your Dog.
Iggy Pop at Eric’s is a gig that tends to stick in people’s minds. Author Frank Cottrell Boyce mentioned it when he appeared on Desert Island Discs, the Liverpool Echo included in their top ten punk gigs in Liverpool and it gets mentions in Liverpool Museum, The Independent and… well, you get the picture.
At last year’s Sound City, I somehow found myself on stage sat next to Andy McClusky from OMD on a panel discussing the importance of Eric’s to Liverpool’s music scene.
I was asked what was the best gig I had seen at Eric’s. I replied that, as we saw so many incredible bands there it wasn’t possible to say which was the best, but the one that stuck in my mind the most was this one.
It was a genuine anyone-who-was-anyone-was -there-where-were-you-sucker type of gigs, one of those incredible moments that, even as you were watching it you knew it was never going to truly leave you.
And here we are, 41 years later, still talking about it, still recounting those shock waves that rocked our teenage years.
2 Kill City
3 Sister Midnight
4 I`m Bored
5 Happy Birthday To Iggy
6 Fortune Teller
8 Five Foot One
9 Little Doll
10 Endless Sea
11 Cock In My Pocket
12 Shake Appeal
13 New Values
16 Don’t Look Down
17 I Wanna Be Your Dog
Wayne Hussey can be said to be something of a well travelled soul, both musically and geographically speaking. Moving to Liverpool in the late 70s, he was involved with the scene that sprung up around the famous Eric’s club and joined ex-Penetration singer Pauline Murray in The Invisible Girls, later being snapped up by Pete Burns and Dead or Alive.
From here he joined the Sisters of Mercy and moved to Leeds. When The Sisters fell apart, he formed The Mission, where success took him to London. Later in life, love took him to Brazil, where he now lives with his wife.
It is fair to say that The Mission has been his most enduring and successful band, still active over thirty years later.
The band rode the crest of a wave as, for want of a better term, goth started to flourish and became a huge live draw, headlining Reading Festival twice and selling out Wembley, tearing around the world on a diet of Blue Nun wine.
While The Sisters have become what is politely referred to as a ‘Heritage Act’, whereby they tour old material to a nostalgic audience, effectively becoming their own tribute act, The Mission seem to have reached a perfect balance whereby they cease operations almost completely between albums and tours, coming together again when their muse strikes.
Outside of The Mission, Hussey has released solo albums and collaborations, testament to his creative drive and desire to continue making music.
Ahead of The Mission’s latest Liverpool gig at the O2 Academy on May 19, Getintothis caught up with Wayne, to discuss life, love and Liverpool.
Hussey has an immediately recognizable voice. Anyone who was even vaguely into the 80’s goth scene will have come across The Mission and, more than likely, seen them live. His voice has an almost jovial quality to it and, unusually for an interview situation, he asks almost as many questions as he receives, turning the whole thing into more of a chat than any kind of formal question and answer session.
He also has an infectious laugh that peppers our conversation, which adds further to the good-natured atmosphere. It is also easy to tell that Wayne has done many interviews over the years, and chooses his words well, not being afraid of pausing to search for the right word or phrase to best express himself.
As Wayne was a Liverpool resident for some years, this is naturally where our conversation starts.
“It’s been a while since we played there actually. We have been busy, but considering that I lived in Liverpool for six years, it’s always nice to go back. I think it must be getting on for ten years actually”
Do you still feel any connection with Liverpool, given that you spent some of your formative musical years there?
“I have very, very fond memories of living in Liverpool. I moved there when I was just turned 19 and left 83/84, so I was there for five or six years. I remember it just being sunny all the time, but I know that’s not right because I’ve been to Liverpool since [Laughs]”
No, I can assure you it isn’t sunny all the time.
“No, but that’s how I remember it. It must have had something to do with the drugs at the time I guess [laughs]. I lived in the Tuebrook area, but moved to Sefton Park, as you did then when you were in that kind of crowd”
What are your main memories of that time?
“Well, obviously I used to go to Eric’s. It was kind of the epicenter for our generation of musicians. When I saw our generation of musicians, I mean the alternative musicians, not the ones who would play the nightclubs and clubs but the more…..punk musicians I suppose.
Not that I ever considered myself to be punk. But I saw a lot of bands at Eric’s, I was even in bands myself who supported big bands there. It was a good time.
And I’m still obviously a big Liverpool supporter. When I was a kid, football was my big passion, but then in 1972 I saw T Rex and Bowie, so that changed the course of my life”
So how did punk affect you when it first broke?
“Well I was still in Bristol am I saw The Damned supporting T Rex on 76, I saw The Clash, Television supported by Blondie before I moved to Liverpool. And then once I got there I met some people who told me about Eric’s and I saw a lot of gigs there.
We supported The Pretenders, the original Ultravox, Joy Division supported the band I was in”
So that would be [late 70s Liverpool band] Ded Byrds then?
“Yeah, that was Ded Byrds. Bloody hell, you’ve done your research [laughs]”
Well I saw Ded Byrds there a few times, I saw your gig with Ultravox. In fact, I have your autographs somewhere.
“Bloody hell [laughs] You must have been the first person to ask for my autograph.
I think there were too many egos in that band. When we supported The Pretenders, Seymour Stein was at the show, as he’d just signed them for America, and he saw us and loved us, so we signed to Sire, we were about to go on tour with The Ramones, then we just had a fight and split up”
That must have been really frustrating!
“Well, I don’t know. You never know what course you would have taken if things had been different, maybe the Ded Byrds would have been around and we’d be playing The Masonic [laughs]”
After all these years of playing music, what’s in it for you these days? “Well, I love music. I love listening to it, I love sitting down with a guitar and trying to play along to somebody else’s record and seeing if I can play it.
And if I can’t then I just take what I’ve worked out and write my own song [laughs].
From the time I first started playing guitar I could never play anybody else’s song, so I listened to records and tried to assimilate what I could and end up writing my own song.
Which has actually stood me in pretty good stead I think, and I still get a big kick out of making records and writing songs. When it kicks into place there’s nothing quite like it”
I remember Billy Duffy [Guitarist from the Cult] saying that punk stopped him from listening to a lot of older rock music, and that when his punk conscience let him, he discovered that he really liked a lot of it. Was there a similar thing for you at any time?
“Not really, because I was into a lot of music before punk came along, so I was into Bowie and T Rex from the tail end of 71/72, and then Roxy Music. So I was kind of one of those weird kids at school who moved from pop music into rock.
I got into Black Sabath and Pink Floyd – Pink Floyd were actually the first band I ever saw live. Pink Floyd cost me a quid [laughs]”.
Bloody hell, it cost me a quid to see Ded Byrds.
“[laughs] Billy was a few years younger than me, but what punk did for me was it made me realise that anybody could get up and play, it wasn’t about being a virtuoso, it was about having energy and good ideas. And an attitude as well.
Although I have to say the a lot of the punk music at the time, particularly the English side of it, was a little too non-musical for my tastes. I preferred more the New York end of things, Talking Heads, Television, that kind of vibe.
For an 18/19 year old, it seemed a bit more musical to me. So I never had that, but I do think that when punk came along there was a degree of de-learning.
By then I’d been playing for three or four years, so I was already of a certain proficiency on the guitar and I think I had to kind of, not dumb it down, but to approach it differently, and to de-learn.
With punk you had to throw the rule book out of the window”
Which is what made the music that came after it so interesting I think.
“Yeah, absolutely. Without punk there wouldn’t be 95% of the bands that are around today”
What records are you listening to these days?
“Well I don’t go out and actively look for new things to listen to, but I read reviews and if there’s something that sounds interesting I’ll search it out. Or if someone recommends something I’ll have a listen.
But someone said that when they look at my Facebook page, I’m always recommending bands! They said you recommend Tame Impale, you recommend The XX, Laura Marling, or The Smoke Fairies. I said I suppose so, but I considered that I just went backwards into more and more older music.
But I still like to hear new things and I think there is a lot of good music out there, I’m just not particularly exposed to it out in Brazil”
So why did you settle in Brazil?
“Well my wife’s an actress, so she needs to be there for her work, where I can pretty much do mine anywhere in the world. I do miss the interaction I have to say, when there’s a group of you in the studio playing, I do miss that”
So you kind of write by email these days?
“Well throughout the band’s history I’ve kind of written the songs and then taken them to the group. It kind of gives me license to say that this is how it goes. Sometimes I go in with very strong ideas and sometimes with almost no idea at all and we bash it around until we find something we like”
I wrote an article on your fans and the lengths they would go to follow you around and go to your gigs and they still do to this day. You have the most dedicated fans I think I’ve ever known, what do you put that down to?
“I don’t know really, to be honest with you. I’d like to attribute it to some kind of integrity that the band have, but I don’t think we’ve got more integrity than anybody else.
I think there are a whole load of bands from the 80s who benefitted from the fact that the fans were young at that time and have stayed with them.
I’m not sure that the same thing applies to 90s bands. I think that, whether we like it or not, nostalgia is a big seller and I think that people come to shows not just for the visceral moment of being there, but also they come to relive something, to remember something”
But at the same time, you’ve never really rested on your laurels, you’ve always created new music and moved it forward.
“Well there is that, but I would say that’s been more detrimental to us really. There are some bands that haven’t made records for years and they still command a very loyal audience.
There are bands that make the same record over and over again and are huge.
I think with us, my boredom threshold is very low, so I like to make records that challenge me as well as challenge the audience”
So what’s next for The Mission?
“Well we do these shows, then we have some more in November playing with Alice Cooper and then after that we’re going to take a break. I think we’ve been back together since 2011 and I’m just starting to feel a little bit bored with the rock band format.
And I think that with the last album we did I kind of tied up a lot of loose ends in my own little mind and I think it’s just time to do something else.
That’s not to say that we won’t get back to it at some point, but I think it’s time we all had a little break from it and did something else. And I know that Craig, Simon and Mike need it too. So we’ll finish the shows this year and take a little time out. Also, I’m writing my autobiography”
Well that should be a good read.
“Well we’ll see [laughs]. It depends on what I decide to keep in or edit out. But I’m having fun writing it that’s for sure. It’s amazing how you can remember one thing and it opens up a load of other memories.
And it’s quite interesting, even when I’m talking with Craig and Simon, and we’re talking about a particular incident we all remember it completely differently. So this will be my take, my memory of things”
Well, one last question Wayne. How easy is it to get Blue Nun these days?
“I haven’t drunk Blue Nun in years! Somebody brought a bottle to a show two or three years ago, and we opened it and tried it and, aw God man, how did we ever drink that stuff [laughs].
I’m on the red these days”
And with that we say our goodbyes. Wayne Hussey has come a long way since the Ded Byrds, and even a long way from his time in The Sisters.
From Liverpool to Brazil and from cheap white to a (presumably) more classy red. He sounds like that rarest of creatures, a musician who is at peace with his past, is enjoying his present and has an eye on his future.
We wish him well and we’ll see him from the mosh pit soon.
How far would you go for your favourite band? Buying all their albums? Maybe a tattoo?
How about following them around the country and abroad when they tour, hitching between gigs and sleeping rough for a few weeks or even months?
No? Well back in the 80s/90s, this was what a few dedicated fans did, and nowhere was this more popular than Liverpool.
Common mostly within the early Goth scene, the dedication of fans was almost boundless. Liverpool had a very healthy Goth scene in the early/mid 80s, centering around the infamous Planet X, although other clubs such as Steve Proctor’s System also played tracks by many of the bands emerging at the time.
Before the scene was perhaps pigeonholed with the ‘Goth’ tag, it was not uncommon for the likes of The State and Macmillans to play tracks by Sisters of Mercy or The Cult before segueing into some of the latest electro or funk cuts.
As happens at the best clubs, those meeting on the dancefloor formed lifelong friendships. Groups of people came together and went to gigs and clubs all over the country, such as the Planet X coach trip to see The Cramps at the Hacienda. Fans were devoted to this particular type of music, and this gave rise to groups of people following bands on whole tours.
These travelling fans were even given their own gang name, so The Mission’s followers were The Eskimos, New Model Army had The Militia and Play Dead were followed all over Europe by the Stay Dead Crew.
But what drove fans to up sticks and endure the hardships of life on the road? The good folk of Getintothis have asked some of the Liverpool road warriors to tells us the whats and the whys. This is their story.
So firstly, why put yourself through all this?
Debbie Evans: “Aside from the love of live music, following bands meant freedom from the constraints of home at a young age and membership to an elite club, part of a gang, all with same goals…to secure a guest list place, drink until you could drink no more and membership to the mosh pit with guaranteed protection.
I would only admit it now but as a teenager there was nothing better than walking to the front of the queue at the Astoria in London and saying “guest list””
Debbie also followed this up with what seems to be a common theme among those who embraced life on the fringes of society – belonging. “In secondary school I always felt like an outsider. Following New Model Army at 17, I finally fulfilled my desire to be a part of something that mattered.”
Scouse Ali: “I went to see The Mission at The State Ballroom in 86 and was totally hooked so went to a few more gigs and I that was it I was hooked with life on the road, hooking up with mates”
David ‘Ramone’ Woolsey: “It was a social thing back when I was a teenager. Whole new genres of music were opening up to me via John Peel and through friends.
Bands would come to Liverpool but then you’d see that they were also playing Manchester, Stoke, Leeds, all relatively close by. So we’d go by car or National Express who used to run very early morning services that got you back home by 6am.
To be honest , 80% of the fun of following a band was the experience of getting there and meeting up with people beforehand and not knowing where you were staying that night. The bands almost became secondary”
So where did you sleep while travelling?
Debbie: “In the early, novice days the sleeping arrangements were primitive. We once slept on a platform at the top of a slide in a kid’s park. One of us didn’t even have a sleeping bag just a scabby grey army blanket, he was bloody frozen!
On the Claytown Troupe European tour we slept anywhere and everywhere, train stations, shopping precincts, doorways of apartment blocks, the homes of kind hearted German students who took pity on us and the occasional hostel.
Some of us even slept in a bedroom that was being used as a cannabis farm – they wouldn’t let us switch the lamps off all night!”
Martin Atherton: “Where did we sleep? Car Parks, Train Stations, Subways. After one gig, we decided that the photo booths in Victoria Station were our best chance, so my friends got in one booth and I got in another, sat on the cold floor with my knee’s up willing myself to get some rest”
Ramone: “Everywhere, from multi-story car parks in Leeds and Zurich, a train in Dublin, Bus stations in Stoke, Arye ,Toilets in Rome, A museum in Glasgow , an empty double decker bus in Munich and, occasionally, the bands tour bus or hotel.”
How could you afford it at that age?
Debbie: “Guest lists were essential, so ligging on a massive scale had to be done! And if you could get some of the rider even better!
I would save up my wages if a big tour was coming up. For the European Claytown Troupe tour I sold the first All About Eve EP and the first Stone Roses 12″ to raise some funds.
Food was never really a priority on tour – I came home from Europe weighing 6 ½ stone!”
Ali: “I worked every hour I could to get the money to follow The Mission, I even spent the driving lesson money I had on following them. I still haven’t learned to drive and don’t regret at it one bit!
Once, at The Mission’s end of tour party in Nottingham, the band gave the following £100 as a thank you. We spent it on crates of Stella and ciggies. Very rock n roll!”
Ali is still following her favourite band: “Last year was The Mission’s 30th Anniversary so I’ve been doing this for31 years this year. I wouldn’t change a thing, life would have been pretty boring had I not decided to follow The Mission. Roll on the next tour in May!”
Ramone: “The Majority of us were on the dole and I went everywhere with my Post Office savings book. I’d cash my giro and put it all in the account and then simply draw it out when needed.
But food and drink wasn’t always a priority back then. I could live on a pack of Marlboro Reds, some coca cola and whatever passed for speed in that town.”
Did young girls ever feel they were in any danger on the road?
Debbie: “I don’t recall ever feeling at risk, it was all just a big adventure. Although looking back we put ourselves in some very vulnerable situations, but we were always in a large group, travelling with people from all over the country and we all stuck together.”
Martin: “Girlfriends and female friends were all in our party, it wasn’t just a male preserve and we all looked out for each other.”
Ramone sees this happening in the present day, as manager of Evil Blizzard. “I see what it’s like from the other side of the looking glass. Being asked for guest list, times, gossip, news, money off merchandising, etc. We must have been real pain in the arse pests with tour managers and bands back in the day!”
Martin Atherton also saw this from both sides, as a fan on the road and as guitarist in Liverpool’s Scorpio Rising.
Did this influence the way he saw and treated his own fans? Martin: “We did become friends with our followers with regards to Scorpio Rising. How could you not after having done it yourself, it was a proud feeling that people cared enough to make the effort and we in turn shared what we had, van space, rider and such like.”
Are you still in touch with your fellow road warriors?
Ramone: “Oh yes – Evil Blizzard not only contain friends from then but are also followed by some of the same people I used to go to gigs with back then”
Ali: “Thanks to Facebook we’ve all near enough been reunited and a few Eskimos still follow The Mission”
Would you do it nowadays if you were the same age as you were then?
Ramone: “I’ve often thought about this scenario. Life is so different for this generation. Going to see the bands we followed was a lot more financially achievable.
Tickets were a maximum of £5 and we hitched everywhere. These days’ bands seem to be catapulted from small venues to the main room of the 02 in a heartbeat and the ticket price follows. Nowadays you book hotels, tickets, time off work, trains and a single show can run you up to close to £150 – £200, which was my entire budget for a whole month on the road in 1986 with the Mission.
I don’t travel as much as I’d like to today, with work, mortgages and other financial commitments. Going to see bands is not as frequent as back then. We occasionally go and see bands out of sheer nostalgia.. The Mission, Spear of Destiny, Chameleons and even the Sisters of Mercy,who were awfu!
But it’s just not the same. – Must be an age thing.”
Martin: “I still go and see a lot of live music, but these days I prefer small venues where I can see what the musicians are playing”
The travelling fan seems to be a phenomenon very much of its time. It is likely that this is because those brave enough to take it on were at the right time in their lives, with youth and resilience on their side and before bills, mortgages and jobs took precedence.
And, perhaps more importantly, they were lucky enough to be at this stage of their lives as a brand new music scene was emerging in front of them. If this is the case, they were lucky indeed to have wrung so much enjoyment and passion out of their youthful years.
As Martin Atherton put it “I’m so glad that we made all that effort and put up with the freezing, sleepless nights, because we made the most of those times. Which was just as well, because they were the best times to be young”
With Queen Zee having split up, Sun 13’s’ Banjo spoke to Zee Davine about creating art, subculture and what the future holds.
Zee Davine, ex-singer, guitarist and focal point of the wonderful Queen Zee, is many things. A musician, a spokesman and a role model, definitely. But the first thing that strikes you when you see Zee live is a certain undeniable star quality.
Star quality is a difficult thing to define, but an easy thing to recognise. Some people just have that something extra, something more that means you can’t take your eyes off them. They command, even demand, your attention and you, in turn, are happy to give it.
With Davine at their head, Queen Zee were, however briefly, the best band in the world.
But then, just when things were going well and their rise seemed unstoppable, Queen Zee announced their split, saying ‘It has been an honour to be a voice for the freaks, weirdos and queers for the last three years.
This band has taken us on the greatest personal journeys of our lives so far We are not mourning a loss, we are celebrating our time together.’
Those of us in the know, who had been affected and infected by their sense of purpose, their sense of fun and the sheer exhilaration of seeing them live fell to mourning.
But before too long came notice that Zee Davine was again ready to take to the stage, this time under a new, more personal name.
But what would this new stage show be? What would Zee’s new music sound like? What could we expect from this news?
In Zee’s first interview since Queen Zee split up, we were able to ask these questions, to find out what is going on in Zee’s world and to hopefully have something to look forward to.
We started by looking back and finished by looking forward. Obviously, the first thing we wanted to know about was what happened to Queen Zee.
Why did Queen Zee split up just as it seemed you were about to take over the world?
“That’s kind of been the reaction I’ve had. I think to everyone outside of the band it felt like a weird time, but I think inside the band it made total sense to us. We never really had any intention to do any of the things we did, [Queen Zee] was a DIY local punk band that just seemed to get out of hand.
It was such an amazing and beautiful experience for our last run of shows, playing Brixton Academy and Reading Festival, being backstage with Dave Grohl, it was surreal!
So with all the joy that brought us we didn’t feel there was any more to achieve. To view the industry as this game of milestones, to tick them all off and get to the stage where you’re headlining Glastonbury or Coachella or becoming a multi-platinum Adele type artist just feels really bizarre to me.
With Queen Zee we always had a message that we wanted to put out there, we had some songs that we wanted to do and we did that.
We never even wanted to do an album, we only did the album because we got PRS funding for 500 vinyl copies. I feel like there was always a timespan for Queen Zee, it was five individuals who all had very different tastes and different views on how we should be artists, how we should conduct ourselves.
We were just enjoying each other’s company, enjoying making music and creating and I think everyone just wanted to go and fulfill themselves in some creative way and Queen Zee just wasn’t that way.
It’s nice that the reaction has been that everyone felt we could have done more. I’d rather people had that reaction than ‘about time!’“
Go out on a peak.
“Yeah, how else could you top a great year than go ‘right, that’s it’.”
Have you got a band together for your upcoming shows?
“Yes and no. It’s not so much as band orientated as Queen Zee was, people come and go, it’s more of a collective feel. But yeah, all seven of us on stage.“
That’s a big band for The Stockroom.
“It is, the band are bigger than the stages we’re playing on this tour, but we’ll make it work.
Dave from Queen Zee is still playing drums, we’ve got bass, guitar, keys, saxophone, there’s a lot of electronic elements, it’s a bit more diverse than Queen Zee. A punk bite remains, but I’ve been able to delve into my other loves a bit more. “
So what’s influencing your new music?
“Probably the same stuff, but I’m taking it to a different place. Instead of looking at the energy of a song being created through the distortion and the noise of it, creating the energy through its tempo or its arrangement, clashing keys or creating a dissonance in the song.
I’m getting a lot more into the songwriting of it in this project, getting into creating something that challenges the ideas we have around Pop and what a Pop song should be.
That’s something that’s always fascinated me, how far can we push what it popular, how can we get the weirdest thing ever to be Pop music, get the masses singing along to something that’s really bizarre. That’s what I’m trying to achieve.”
So that’s the plan, to go to Pop music, whatever version of Pop music it might be?
“Yeah. I’ve always had that love of Pop, I think Pop has always driven everything I’ve done. I’ve always tried to make my music quite concise and to the point. It’s just where I come from, its my background. It’s such a bizarre time for Pop, what was Pop in the 70s was very different from what was Pop in the 80s.
But now, there are no subcultures. You can like Billie Eilish and you can like Black Metal or Ska Punk, and that subculture vibe of ‘I’m a mod’ or ‘I’m a goth’, that is so gone. Pop music now, I feel, can be anything.
So it’s Pop in the sense of popular, but Pop in the sense of Kylie, maybe not so.”
I know you’re an Iggy Pop fan, it sounds like you’ve perhaps moved from Raw Power to The Idiot.
“The Idiot is my favourite Iggy record, so probably there’ll be a bit of that in there.”
Do you still have the same message or manifesto as when you were in Queen Zee?
“I think it’s a little more intense this time. The liberating thing about picking up again and creating your own stuff, which I never really intended to do, I intended to not do music but I think it was the message that has motivated me to keep creating, to keep going. “
You’ve been doing this for a while now, you’ve been a mouthpiece for the LGBT scene for a number of years, have you noticed any changes in that time? Do you think Queen Zee made a difference, do you think you’ve made a difference?
“I’m not sure how much I made a difference, but I’m always amazed when I see the reaction to Queen Zee. I’m not sure how much of it was Queen Zee or how much was down to a general movement in music around 2016/2017. There was a lot of queer artists, it was almost like another wave of Riot Grrl and Queercore.
I’m not sure who spearheaded that, I don’t know why that happened, but it did. I think you can feel an undercurrent in the Punk scene at least and that is very much a part of it again.
In terms of the world, the world is in a state of psychedelic flux. Of course we’ve seen great changes, when I first started Queen Zee I didn’t come out, even though it was very much there in the material and the songs, I wouldn’t talk about it personally, about my queerness or my identity.
Non-binary wasn’t a popular term, gender fluid wasn’t really a term and even though I’d grown up with icons like Pete Burns to help me formulate this into some kind of language, people wouldn’t really get it. They would get the reference, you could say ‘gender bender’ and people would get it.
But now non-binary is used on certain passports in the world and can be used for legal documentation and that’s over such a small span of a couple of years, so it’s really gaining public momentum.
And then on the other hand, hate crime has increased, the murder rate has increased, Trump’s attacks on trans people, the Tories have a very minimalist view on the funding that goes into trans help services. We know the rhetoric that Boris Johnson has used before to describe us LGBT people, so I don’t think the climate has changed but I think the undercurrent has.
But that could, if I’m completely honest, have always been there and it was just a different generation taking over.”
You mentioned how there are no subcultures anymore, no one is a goth or anything anymore, but when I would see Queen Zee live, it was like there was a new audience, a new movement. Is all this a grassroots movement that is flourishing despite the authorities and the political climate? Is this where the rebellion is coming from?
“Yeah, totally. I feel that by destroying subculture we’ve almost created a new subculture, one that’s like a youth movement in general. It’s a disenfranchised youth that’s very aware. It’s the most aware young audience there’s been since the 70s.
It’s so politically turned on, it’s living through Brexit, it was raised in austerity and there’s just this mass of young people who want more, that has this aspiration for more vibrancy in their lives, for more colour, just more than the mundane Brexit doom based scenario that they’ve had to live through.
And that’s what Queen Zee wanted to do, we just wanted to inject some colour for 35 minutes and the fact that people responded to that, there’s definitely a hunger for it.
I’m not sure where people are getting it from, or where they’re going to get it from, but if I was going to bet money on the next Beatles or the next band that really, really explodes, I would say it’s going to be the kind of band that can really become the pinnacle of that and become the anti-everything.”
Can we also expect a non-musical direction from you as well?
“Totally. The idea of Zee Davine is not just my musical output, I’m creating as an artist and song is part of it. The shows are just as rooted in performance and rooted in art as they are in music.
That’s something I’m developing more as an artist and exploring more and I fell that’s where the hunger is, that’s where the appetite is, that’s what’s connecting when I see the eyes of the audience at a show. “
How far is this non-music career going to go? Could it be TV, could you become a celebrity?
“It’s everything. I really just view myself as an artist, I create on every platform and in every format, music is just something I’m inherently drawn to.
As a kid, playing around in your big box of toys, music was the one that I grabbed first. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to play with the other toys. It means that that’s maybe my favourite one.
I’m writing a short film at the moment, with a friend, that will come out next year. The album that’s coming out is a series of videos that interlink. There’s 20 minutes in the show that has no music.
So I’d really like to show how far I can push things, because that’s why I do it. I enjoy creating things, seeing what I can do and being that sort of vessel for it. It will be interesting to see where it does go, I honestly don’t know.”
When can we expect the new album?
“I’m being kind of a perfectionist on it, so not really soon, but fairly soon. Definitely 100% this year and probably sooner rather than later but there’s no single locked in, there’s nothing yet.”
So it would seem that, far from Queen Zee’s ardent audience having to console themselves following the split, we are about to experience an amazing burst of multimedia creativity.
Zee’s passion about art and message is as strong as it ever was. What we are seeing is an artist who refuses to let boundaries or pigeonholing define them or what they do.
What we are seeing is a brave and bold move from someone for whom staying true to your vision is more important than being successful.
Despite the highs that Queen Zee scaled and the impact that they had, it would seem that the best is yet to come.
First a bit of background information.
Being a Birthday Party fan was never easy. Or, more accurately, it was seldom a group activity.
I had friends who liked all kinds of noisy, out there music made by people who inhabited the fringes of society and convention, but none of my immediate social circle were Birthday Party fans.
On the other hand, I loved them! I loved them with an intensity that set them above other bands I followed. Liking the Birthday Party became a badge of honour, a way of identifying like minded souls.
It seems strange in these Internet-enriched times, but finding fellow fans was not easy. At the time, I was writing to a girl who had placed an ad in the classified pages of the NME, wanting contact with fellow Birthday party fanatics, and we were in touch for many years. However, we only met at Birthday Party gigs.
I had one other friend who I dragged to see a Birthday Party show at Liverpool Warehouse – he didn’t say he hated it, but he never came to see them again.
I saw them three times and, at last, here was a band who were a truly unpredictable proposition. You never knew if you were going to get a conventional show or a violent confrontation, a kiss or a kick.
The second time I saw the Birthday party Nick baited the crowd a little, but definitely led from the front. The next time he drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniels whilst performing, in less than an hour and finished the night collapsed at the back of the stage crying.
Moving forward to post-Birthday Party times, Nick definitely had the public’s attention. His shows were getting bigger, the critical reception was generally very good and the spotlight was firmly pointed at him.
Rowland on the other hand seemed to have been critically neglected and his stock was much lower. This was obviously wrong and obviously a shame.
By now I was no longer in touch with my pen pal and finding fellow believers in the cause was even harder. I did manage to drag a friend along to see Crime and the City Solution in Manchester, but no-one I knew liked or would listen to These Immortal Souls.
Moving forward again. I had a job in Our Price records – remember them?
I thought this would be my ideal job – there were after all questions on the application form asking me who my favourite bands were and what kinds of music I preferred. I remember thinking that all application forms should ask these questions if they were expected to reveal anything worthwhile about a person.
It actually turned out to be more concerned with shifting units and marketing the big sellers, but that’s another story.
Again, this may seem strange in these download days, but it was tricky finding records and CDs by some bands, so customers would place an order and we would try to find it for them and then call them to let them know if we were successful.
One day it was my job to phone customers and tell them we had their orders ready to collect. Part way through I came across a CD of Get Lost (Don’t Lie).
I was amazed; I didn’t know one other person who had this! So when I phoned the guy up to tell him his order was in, I couldn’t help myself. I went against company protocol and asked him about it and generally struck up a conversation.
When he came to pick his CD up, we spoke again and arranged to go for a drink a few days later. Fans of These Immortal Souls had to take company where they could find it, and as I mentioned earlier, this was a way of finding people who were on the same page as you. We occasionally went for drinks and swapped tapes and tales.
Anyway, this is all background.
Shortly after this, I saw in the NME that These Immortal Souls were on tour. This was quite an infrequent occurrence so I had to be there.
I contacted my new friend and we got tickets for their Liverpool gig. Bearing in mind that Nick Cave was by now playing some fairly big venues I found it a little sad that Rowland and TIS were playing at the tiny Planet X venue in Liverpool.
I had headlined this venue myself (well, with my band) so I thought they should be playing somewhere much more prestigious. But even this venue seemed to be out of their reach as it was far from sold out, I’d played to bigger crowds there myself!
Hindsight has led me to see this as an unexplainable and shameful neglect of a truly great and individual talent, but there we go, life’s like that sometimes.
Now, occasionally when I went to a gig I had an ambition to do a certain something.
For example when I saw Hanoi Rocks I wanted to have my photograph taken giving Michael Monro a hug, or when I saw the Au Pairs I wanted to share a spliff with Lesley Woods. I’m not sure why these ideas even came up, but both of these ambitions were fulfilled.
When I went to the These Immortal Souls the idea had formed that I wanted to buy Rowland a drink. I wasn’t sure how possible this would be but, for some reason, the ambition was there.
At the gig, the crowd was sparse and the band were just hanging around. Seeing my chance, I went to speak to Rowland.
He was a surprisingly slight figure, but I always thought that when he was in the Birthday Party. It always amazed me that this thin, almost geeky looking individual was responsible for the whirlwind of noise that was emanating from his guitar amp.
Even though he was quite a weedy looking kind of guy, he had an air of something about him. Not violence exactly, but perhaps the potential for violence.
Not arrogance exactly, but perhaps the potential for an aggressive tirade. He looked like the kind of person you didn’t want to argue with, not for fear of a physical attack, but because you imagine he could cut your argument dead with a well chosen barb or two.
Anyway, he looked a lot more approachable this time around.
I asked him to sign a few things for me. The Honeymoon in Red album, Some Velvet Morning 12”, a CD or two.
We chatted while he was signing. When he was signing Some Velvet Morning I asked him what Lydia Lunch was really like. He replied “when she was good she was very, very good, but when she was bas she was horrid”, which struck me as a great answer. Partly because it sounded true!
I seized my moment and asked if I could buy him a drink. He asked for a vodka and lime which struck me as immeasurably cool, partly because it was so un-rock ‘n’ roll, i.e. because it was about as far away from a Jack Daniels or a pint of lager as you could get, but partly because it gave me a flash back to one of my earliest experiences with the demon drink.
This was when I was about 13 or 14 and my mum asked me to drop some Christmas cards off at next door’s house. The lady of the house invited me in and was obviously a bit tipsy by this point.
She asked me if I wanted a drink and wouldn’t hear of me having a glass of orange, so she gave me a vodka and lime! I don’t know why, I can only assume that they were big spirits drinkers. I
thought it tasted nice enough, a bit strong on the lime cordial front because I was more used to having it diluted with a glass of water. I don’t remember the vodka tasting of much, but it doesn’t really does it?
It also tasted a little like the Lime Barrel from a box of Terry’s All Gold chocolates, which I also loved. She must have given me three vodka and limes, quite a lot for so young a chap, and I was at least a little drunk by the time I got back home.
So I bought Rowland his drink, and I got one for myself too. I was so enormously pleased to be buying him a drink, and fulfilling my latest gig ambition.
I remember being at the bar asking for two vodka and limes and wanting to shout out “I’m buying a drink for Rowland S Howard!” but thankfully I managed to resist these urges.
I gave Rowland his drink and we chinked glasses.
We chatted a bit more; he seemed to be quite an intense sort, his answers seemed very thought through; possibly because he’d been asked them all before, but possibly because he genuinely gave a lot of thought to what came out of his mouth.
It was, is and always will be such a shame that he didn’t become more famous, because he suited being a star. He had the charisma, the talent and the bearing of someone who was born to be feted, to have his picture on a million teenage bedroom walls, to be admired from afar.
Maybe there’s an alternate universe somewhere where Rowland S Howard is a name synonymous with an almost superhuman level of fame and worship. I hope so.
I was a bit concerned about looking like a bit of a fanboy by this stage, so I went off to chat to the other members of the band.
Genevieve was as lovely as I’d imagined, all elfin and smiley. I didn’t talk much to Harry, but I had a brief chat with Epic about the Swell Maps.
I always thought it odd that two people from this underachieving tinny punk band would go on to become these respected figures, working with some of the greatest musicians I had ever seen.
A friend of mine used to run away from home to stay with the Swell Maps, I asked if he remembered him. He didn’t.
During the gig, the friend I was with kept shouting out for Black Milk. When this song was about to be played, Rowland dedicated it to his ‘friend’ at the front.
After the gig I never saw either of them again.
Ahead of a UK tour, Sun 13’s Banjo spoke to bass legend Jah Wobble about a busy 2020, Chinese dub and pushing the borders.
Jah Wobble is something of a renaissance man.
First learning to play the bass as part of John Lydon’s post-Pistols band Public Image Ltd, he has explored the edges of World Music, Dub, Post Punk and anything else that may have caught his magpie eye.
At the age of 62, Wobble still has a crowded diary for 2020, starting at The Cavern on January 16.
Before this, we spoke to him about his plans for the year, being a nuisance and Sinead O’Connor’s Chi.
Wobble is a talker.
Before our interview started properly, we had already been talking for getting on 10 minutes, taking in such subjects as commuting, cell phone coverage and cooking.
He frequently starts off on one subject only to be distracted by the ideas and connotations this subject sparks. He asks almost as many questions as he’s asked and seems genuinely interested in the replies.
An interview with Jah Wobble isn’t one-way traffic, it is a conversation.
is back catalogue is so large and diverse, that my first question is really to pinpoint what he will be bringing on his upcoming tour.
What’s your latest musical project, what are you bringing to The Cavern?
“I’ve just put it up on Bandcamp today, it’s an album called Ocean Blue Waves.
The title is from a painting I did and we’ll be doing a couple of numbers off that. There’s a number called Take My Hand, it’s kind of a rocky number, and then the title track of the album, which is very jazz-funky, but quite earthy as well, I don’t like over sweet jazz funk.
So that’s the latest project and then I ‘m doing a thing with the family. My missis runs the Pagoda Centre in Liverpool, so moved to Liverpool when she was about 13, 14. She’s a really, really good musician.
And my sons, one boxes a bit and the other’s a good footballer and we’re all musicians. And they play Chinese instruments and western stuff as well, so we’ve done a family album. We did one called Chinese Dub in 2008 and this is kind of like the follow up. It’s pretty fantastic mate, if I say so myself.
So I’ve got plenty going on.”
How is it making music with your family?
“Actually, it used to drive me up the wall, but this time it’s been fine. I’m 61 now and I think I found it a lot harder 11 years ago. And my boys were younger as well, so they might have been a bit naughty, but now everyone’s sensible and they know what they’re doing.
And the older I get the more I get on with my wife really, she’s easy going. There are times when you’re younger you know, you clash when you’re making music. And I defer to them with this, the Chinese melodies and stuff.
That’s how this all started, they would come back from Pagoda with this old Chinese melody, March of the Generals, and I would deliberately fuck about with it, change the arrangement. And everyone liked it and said ‘Do you want to do a record?’
And ever since then I’ve been thinking at some point we should do it again. And you never know how long you’ve got left, so let’s get it together now. So that will come out I suppose in Spring time.”
It’s going to be a busy year for you.
“Yeah. And I’m doing a thing in South London called Tuned In, which is a community project. A friend of mine works for Merton Council, he’s quite senior but he gives a toss, gets involved you know what I mean? So we hit the ground running with a load of people.
It was designed for old blokes, you know – divorced, used to play in punk bands, probably drink a bit too much, a bit isolated, living in tower blocks and all that and thinking ‘let’s get them out of their flats, get them active.’
The funny thing is though, we’ve got the old blokes, but we’ve got youngsters coming as well, we’ve got the homeless coming. And it’s a jam session, but it’s so successful we’re building a studio to record in and we’re running recording courses and I’m going to make an album.
It’s going to be a proper album and it’ll be in every way brilliant! I can’t wait to start that.
So I’m doing that Monday to Wednesday and I’ve got the shows booked in Thursdays to Saturdays. Sundays a Scrabble day. And we’ve got a few jaunts abroad planned so I’ve got to keep myself in nick. I’m a little bit scared of the schedule coming up.”
I first saw you playing at Manchester Belle Vue back in ’78 with Public Image, and you kind of grew up in public as a musician, didn’t you, you were learning you craft on stage back then.
“Yeah, very much. And when I left PiL I was lucky, I went to work with Can and everything and I had a strong idea about how things should work, what kind of shape the music should be.
I always speak in terms of shapes and patterns rather than chords, which I came to realise years later is quite a mediaeval way, early music way. It’s a very modal way. I think that came with the OCD I had when I was younger.
When I left PiL, apart from doing that stuff, working with Holger and Jaki, The Edge and Francois Kervorkian, I started working with The Human Condition with Jim Walker. That was a big part of learning my craft, playing live with the prototype Invaders of the Heart.”
I’ve gone back on Fender Precision now. That happened when I went over to America, I can’t be bothered travelling with a bass anymore and I got fed up with the Ovation because they’re so heavy.
So I travelled to Toronto and the promoter got me a really fantastic vintage Fender P and I just fell in love with it again.
All the old stuff was done on a Fender P, so I ended up sounding like I haven’t since back then, and funnily enough, it got me into the mindset I had then. And what I was thinking is how inventive I was back then and I’ve got that back again. More than I think I have for quite a while.
And playing with Tuned In as well. There are some very good musicians there and some of the players there are unique and they get you playing uniquely as well. And it’s got me enjoying it, it’s a fantastic rehearsal for me, it’s been quite inspiring. And it’s very inventive.”
Speaking of being inventive, we looked back at the 40th anniversary of Metal Box recently. What are your memories of making that record?
“PiL had a really good feel-good factor to start with, and then the drugs and drink started creeping in. I’ve probably talked about that a lot, so I’ll be careful not to dwell on that. I was part of that, I’m not in any way trying to be holier-than-thou or anything, but by the time we did Metal Box a lot of stuff had soured. But when we got together, we could rise above it.
So all this stuff about us being in the studio and absolutely hating each other wasn’t really true. I did get pissed off with people at the time. And with John [Lydon], John could be a bit lazy at times. But when he got on it, he was great.
With Keith [Levene], he’s very bright and I think I was half bright and we never had to talk much about it. When we came to Metal Box, there was no regular drummer and I think there was a feeling of ‘we can go to there, to here or we can just jump to there.
And ‘to there’ meant not being mannered, not being bourgeois, let’s just jump straight to the heart of the matter, do something very deep and very primal.
And John’s lyrics, like Careering, were fantastic. Poptones is my favourite. John came up with those lyrics and we knew it was something special. Very expressionistic.
I still like to learn more about art and music and I heard that visual art sets the scene, the impressionism or abstract expressionism, and music catches up with it 30 odd years later. And I think PiL were very much in tune with the 1950’s abstract expressionism, nihilistic and looking to break beyond formal structure.
So we knew it was a special kind of record and it was really out there. And I went on developing the bass.
When I left I thought ‘how ridiculous, we’ve got so much potential but it’s so crappy I’m leaving, we don’t work, we don’t do gigs, we’re just lounging about.’ But actually, I’ve come to realise we were done.
I don’t mean that the everyone else was done but I carried on, I don’t mean it like that, but we were done with that thing at that time, it was enough. It makes it more special that there wasn’t a Metal Box 2.“
After that you collaborated with a lot of people, Sinead O’Connor, Can, Primal Scream, The Orb. What sticks in your mind as producing the best music, or perhaps the best people to work with?
“Bill Laswell for sure. And I can tell you why, I can tell you a story. I’d known Bill for a while, maybe eighteen months, a couple of years, and we were talking about art and about Jackson Pollock, who he really likes.
And he broke into Jackson Pollock’s studio and he scraped a bit of paint from the floor, you can imagine what the floor was like, and he put it in a matchbox. He showed it to me and I thought ‘this geezer’s for real’ and a lot of people you feel are not 100% real, there’ll be soft soaping you a bit and they’ll try to convince you they’re a great artist, but he’s for real.
I’ve met some other great people, I’ve worked with Baaba Maal and Natacha Atlas, Sinead O’Connor, who I saw break a membrane on a mic, and it was the sheer supernatural power of Chi that broke it.
Jaki Liebezeit is the most amazing person I’ve ever worked with, we were hand in glove.
The last time I saw Jaki was in Liverpool and I held him out of a hotel window by his lapels while he smoked a joint, so he didn’t set the smoke alarms off.
I said ‘do you trust me?’ and he said ‘I trust you onstage and off’ and I held him while he smoked his joint.”
Do you change the way you play depending on who you collaborate with?
“Yeahhh, to an extent. You have got your own DNA, but if you try to get me to be Jaco Pistorius I just can’t do it. I haven’t got the musicality or the knowledge of keys, let alone the technique of running through those keys.
But you try and be amenable, you try to meet people halfway and kind of fit. But there are times where you’re working as a session player and you’re there to do a job and you might have to change your sound slightly and fit in a bit. Often the compromise will be not playing what you think is the better line, but you’re quite restricted.
And that’s where the likes of Paul McCartney, Ronnie Lane and Glen Matlock, they’re British bass players who are great at playing 4 chords imaginatively.
And Ashton ‘Familyman’ Barrett had that, he’s my favourite bass player. They were proper songs Bob Marley wrote and Ashton ‘Familyman’ Barrett would phrase the b-line along, he was the most musical of Jamaican bass players with his phrases.’
Speaking of Glen Matlock, there is something I’ve always wanted to ask you. Is it true that John Lydon originally wanted you to replace him after he left Sex Pistols, but the rest of the band were too scared of you?
“Apparently so, yeah that’s right, but nobody told me at the time. I was quite wild you know, I was a wear out, I was a nuisance and it would have been the biggest mistake ever. PiL was much better because I had a blank canvas.
When John disappeared, I knew he was hanging around the Kings Road and he came back to the college of further education where we were and I said ‘Where’ve you been?’ and he said ‘I’m in a band.’ And he might as well have said he was training to be a 747 pilot! So he was in a band and I went down a week or two later to see them rehearse and I thought ‘this is going to be fucking terrible’
’ve got that thing about being nice to people, being quite emphatic. I’m a narcissist but I do read situations and I know when to be nice, but I thought ‘it’s bound to be shit. Don’t tell him it’s shit’, so I was ready to tell him it was great.
When I got there the first person I saw was Matlock and I thought ‘fucking hell, he’s really good.’ He was the best one of them, the most musical, you know he could play tunes on the bass and knew what he was doing. He was great and kicking him out was a really mad thing.
They were a great band the Pistols and Matlock was a big part of that.
I see him occasionally, he’s a nice bloke. A bit taciturn, but I think everybody is from that generation of punk and post punk, in London especially. It was like they’d all been given the winning lottery ticket that was then duly torn up in front of them. None of them made any money, it was all a big disappointment, you know.
With PiL it was ‘wayyy, we’re in the top ten’ and I’d moved out of my squat back in with my mum and dad and everyone was saying ‘what are you staying there for, you’re on Top of the Pops?’, wondering where’s the money gone. And all I wanted was a bit of money so I could rent a gaff somewhere, that would have done me.
But I put my name down with the council and they gave me a ‘hard to let’ for two bob a week, which was fantastic, so that did me.
But [joining the Pistols] would have been a big mistake, it wouldn’t have worked well. The PiL thing was much, much better for me to develop.
It was a very fortunate situation, where you’re a rookie but the majority of what happens gets based around what you’re playing, it was fantastic, it built me up.”
And what a build up it was. I can think of no other musician who was placed at the centre of such a storm of expectation, attention and scrutiny while learning their instrument. The fact that Jah Wobble did this so spectacularly and that he came through it all with his sanity and credibility intact speaks volumes to the man’s character and the force of his personality.
I also struggle to think of a musician who has charted a course through so many different types of music and managed to make this part of his journey rather than some disjointed attempt at session work.
He seems to have arrived at a good place in his life, where the love of his family and his place in music allow him to be himself and to still make the musical journeys he loves.
What we can expect of his upcoming shows and what follows them is open to guesses, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it will involve one of our most genuine and idiosyncratic musicians doing what he thinks is right and what continues to push the borders.
Jah Wobble is a legend. The fact that he is also an engaging and thoughtful individual is just a bonus.
American Music Club made some of the best but most overlooked music around and Sun 13’s Banjo wonders why.
The point of our Lost Albums features, if there is one, is ostensibly to shine a light on some records that we feel have been criminally ignored.
If we’re being honest with ourselves here, it is also a chance for us, as music fans, to vocalise our frustrations, to turn to the ether and scream “Why!”
Why is it that these albums are so overlooked when the music they contain is some of the best that has ever been made?
We know there are a variety of reasons (luck, payola and the vagaries of fashion to name but three), but there is little more frustrating than listening to an album that you absolutely know is one of the most incredible things you have ever heard and know that it will never be discussed in hushed tones in the pub (remember pubs?), never feature in the Best Album of the Decade features that regularly appear in music mags and will languish in your record collection, lost but loved.
And few bands have this fate applied to them more thoroughly than American Music Club.
Singing songs of love, heartbreak and alcohol, American Music Club mixed rock, folk, country and punk and created a rich seam of Americana that has withstood the passing of time to sound as good and as vital as the day it was created.
In truth, we could have chosen any of their albums for a Lost Albums feature, such is the quality and the near obscurity of their recorded works, but Everclear is the one that should have brought this all to an end.
Everclear is the record that was meant to take them overground, to REM style levels of acclaim and adoration.
That it didn’t is testament to the fact that the cream does not always rise to the top and that, despite all the essential elements being present and correct, quality is no guarantee of success.
I have felt personally disappointed over these Lost Albums things before, but this is the one that actually upsets me. American Music Club should have been one of the 90’s biggest bands, but instead, mention of their name is greeted by blank stares and shrugged shoulders from those who should really know better.
Everclear is an album that deserves to be found.
My first exposure to American Music Club came when they played Reading Festival’s second stage back in 1991. A friend had heard them compared favourably to Swans, who were going through their acoustic phase at the time.
On returning from the festival, we checked out their California and United Kingdom albums and fell in love with singer Mark Eitzel’s voice and his candid lyrics. This was the start of a long journey to the heart of both Eitzel and American Music Club.
The band had built up a small but dedicated fanbase and their albums so far had received positive, if unspectacular press, but Everclear was a step up in terms of production and the potential for mass appeal.
Everclear hit a wall of inexplicable commercial indifference, but the critical reception was such that Rolling Stone magazine put it in their top 5 albums of the year and put Eitzel on the front cover, hailing him as Songwriter of the Year.
Later, The Guardian was to describe him as “America’s greatest living lyricist”.
Following this burst of publicity, American Music Club signed to Virgin Records for their follow up and a good deal of money was spent on their promotion.
So all the ingredients for success were there – wonderful, critically acclaimed music, a cult fanbase and major label support. It seems unbelievable that all this could have led to an attempt at success that was almost heroic in its failure.
Eitzel himself described American Music Club as a band “destined to fall through the cracks”, but given his self-deprecating nature this is not too surprising.
This deprecatory streak has been with him a long time, causing him to question the value of his work on a seemingly constant basis. His early demo tapes were given the titles Mark Eitzel’s 4 Track Tape of Shame and Mean Mark Eitzel Gets Fat while his two favourite solo albums are The Invisible Man and The Ugly American.
By the time they recorded Everclear, they should have been on an upward arc that would lead to great things.
The album starts off with the sublime Why Won’t You Stay, a short opener, clocking in at just under three minutes that manages to cram more emotion and pathos into is brief life than many bands do across whole albums.
Why Won’t You Stay seemingly finds Eitzel looking on the form of a sleeping lover, unable to sleep himself and pondering “Why do you do this to me, showing me all that I’m good for is to watch you sleep”
Eitzel’s insomniac imagination makes him suppose that the sleeping girl is, in fact, dead, wondering “seems like nothing’s too good for this life, but some things are too good for this world.”
Eitzel came out as gay in 1985, but his muse remained the woman he had lived with for over 8 years, Kathleen Burns. He later turned down offers to become any kind of a gay spokesman as, he reasoned, he was still writing love songs to a woman and was therefore not the kind of person they were looking for.
All this adds to the song’s despair as, all these years later, Eitzel was still able to recall moments from their relationship that gave him cause for concern, right down to how he felt watching his lover sleep.
The music is a slow and slight waltz and American Music Club back Eitzel’s tales up perfectly. Their playing is restrained and sensitive throughout, combining country, folk and the alternative rock that was taking America by storm at the time.
As album openers go, Why Won’t You Stay sets the scene perfectly, as American Music Club lay out their emotional stall.
Second track Rise is a change of pace altogether. An uplifting song that finds Eitzel in a rare optimistic mood, telling us “Everything can rise.” The song is a sweeping roar, with guitarist Vudi showcasing his trademark blend of delicate picking and abstract noise perfectly.
Vudi was integral to the sound of Everclear, his approach to his instrument adding an experimental edge and creating huge washes of sound or delicate arpeggios to the sound. Without Vudi, Everclear would be a much different, poorer album.
Bruce Kaplan‘s pedal steel guitar also gave the band an extra dimension and an added depth. It’s a skillful player of the pedal steel that can add texture to a song and not make it sound like a country cliche,
Meanwhile, bassist Dan Pearson is the only player I have ever seen with a three string bass.
Clearly American Music Club were far from being a conventional band.
Rise was written as Eitzel’s friends were succumbing to AIDS and he reasoned that with this going on in their lives, the last thing his friends wanted to hear was another maudlin song about his ex-girlfriend, so he tasked himself to write something positive.
Miracle on 8th Street looks at Eitzel’s issues with drink, his barfly tendencies that have occupied a large part of his life. He is an observer, looking at himself and noting “I know you’re strong enough to live in a world where all the magic’s gone. I watch your hands tremble, you reach for another sip. Now all your luck is gone.”
Ex Girlfriend is an album highlight and one of American Music Club’s best songs. In it, Eitzel is trying to comfort someone over the end of a relationship, saying “Your ex-girlfriend told me you spent all yesterday crying. Hey, I didn’t know things were going so bad for you. Maybe you’re just trying to get her to come back to you or work your way out of the cynical attitudes that protect you.”
Again, Vudi lifts the song and the band offer empathetic playing to carry the sad tale.
The album’s overriding themes are of despair at the creator’s life and situation. This feeling was never to really leave Eitzel and permeates his work.
Sick of Food is another highlight that sees its writer tired of what life has to offer but still desperate to live it. “I was sick of love, and so I just stopped feeling, but I couldn’t find anything to take its place”
Drink again rears its ugly head; “I’m sick of drink, so why am I so thirsty?” Before asking “I just called to ask you what I did last night.”
The Dead Part of You looks at the cost of committing to being part of a couple in a relationship, as Eitzel batters away at his acoustic guitar and sings “he has taken everything and there’s so little of you left”
Part of Eitzel’s skill is to document the dark corners of emotion and return with lyrics that we can relate to, that we can apply to our lives. His lyrics are heartfelt and meant and come from a place of sincerity, albeit with a mean eye that is often turned inwards.
What the Pillar of Salt Held Up shows Eitzel’s propensity for long and ungainly song titles that reached its peak with What Godzilla Said To God When His Name Wasn’t Found In The Book Of Life on their 6th album, Mercury.
What the Pillar of Salt Held Up is a song of fragile beauty with serenely picked acoustic guitar and a superb vocal.
Final track Jesus’ Hands is a fitting way to end an album like Everclear; a drinking song where Eitzel tells his audience “Well I’d like to hang out but I can tell that you’re not a drinking crowd. I got places to go, people to see, I got a thirst that would make the ocean proud” before telling us that he sees himself slipping through Jesus’ hands, but the lure of the bottle is too strong to resist.
And with that, Everclear comes to the end of its journey, a journey that has taken us from hopeful highs to crushing lows, taking in broken relationships, alcoholic hazes and a genetic disposition to see the darker side of life.
It is perhaps this that denied American Music Club their rightful place at the top table. Theirs is a vision that rarely sees the sunshine, instead choosing to focus on the shadows.
This is not a forced position, something that was done to aim for an audience, but rather a reflection of the outlook and mindset of Mark Eitzel, something that ran through their songs and their albums.
Their major label follow up, Mercury, is another incredible record that was promoted with tours, an extravagant advertising campaign complete with the likes of double pack CD singles courtesy of Virgin records, but it was to come to nothing.
Its first song contained a line that seemed to sum up Eitzel when he described himself as being “drunk on the kind of applause that gets louder the lower you sink.”
American Music Club split up in 1995, with Eitzel releasing a string of excellent but similarly under performing albums.
In 2001 he had new songs ready to go but couldn’t afford to record them. It wasn’t until a friend won the lottery and wanted to finance the recording session that he was able to go back into the studio to record the beautiful Don’t Be A Stranger. That this album had to rely on the kind of odds involved in a lottery win to even exist is nothing short of ridiculous.
An American Music Club reunion followed in 2003, touring and adding another couple of albums before disbanding for good in 2010.
These days Eitzel is still touring, but playing small venues and failing to make a living from music. In 2019 he announced a ‘Living Room tour’, where he posted on Facebook asking for people to volunteer a room in their house so he could play a gig to a maximum of 60 people.
In a recent interview, Eitzel admitted that “Of course I secretly hanker for Bruce Springsteen’s level of success, are you kidding? If I could actually play a show and have people not talk through the show and not have to deal with smelling the toilet from the stage. But I don’t know how I’ll achieve it, now that I’m old and over.”
There is an almost casual disregard for American Music Club these days. Their Facebook page is completely empty and their website is little more than Wikipedia links.
Hopefully, there is an alternative world where Mark Eitzel and American Music Club’s talent and their superb canon of songs were recognised for the treasures they are, where they headlined Glastonbury and played the world’s biggest stage. A world where Mark Eitzel doesn’t have to concern himself with the smell of the toilets on stage or playing in people’s living rooms.
Unfortunately, that world is not this one. But at least in this world we still have the music of Mark Eitzel and American Music Club. And for now, at least, that will have to do.
Sun 13’s Banjo speaks to Stealing Sheep about their influences, rejecting the norm and playing in a beam of light.
After an eventful 12 months, it seems only right that Stealing Sheep are Getintothis’ band of 2019.
The year has seen them release their incredible Big Wows album, which quite rightly made our album of the month back in April, where we noted that ‘ the mere fact that they exist makes pop music a better place.’
They also played the 6 Music Festival held in Liverpool, made a triumphant and extravagant return to Edge Hill Arts Centre and finished the year with a three night residency at The Stockroom, an ‘intimate’ venue with a capacity of just 80 people.
And, something we’re very pleased about, they will be appearing at Liverpool Sound City in 2020.
But more than this, what marks Stealing Sheep out from the pack is the way they naturally, even instinctively, look to do things differently. Not content with the idea of turning up to play a set of songs in their day clothes, they have instead mastered the art of performance.
We can think of no other band capable of putting on a show like Stealing Sheep do and it is simultaneously impressive and inspiring. Every aspect of every detail seems considered and, wherever possible, an alternative, better way of doing things emerges.
The same attitude informs their music, where once again the level of thought and attention to detail raises the Sheep above the masses and makes them stand out and shine.
Personally, no one has impressed me as much in the whole of 2019 and this is a situation I can’t see changing anytime soon. If I see a better gig than the last one I saw by Stealing Sheep, chances are it will be by Stealing Sheep.
To look back at their year and to find out what might be happening in the future, Getintothis spoke to keyboard player Rebecca Hawley about their dream gig, how they get on with technology and empowerment.
I find it difficult to pinpoint where Stealing Sheep get their influences, but I get hints of post punk bands like The Raincoats. What would you say influences your music?
“I’ve never actually heard The Raincoats, but I get where you’re coming from with the way of making music and them not being from classically trained backgrounds, and being a gang of friends and putting music together.
We actually listen to such a massive mix of music, but film soundtrack stuff, Bernard Herrmann. Also, a lot of electronic music, techno stuff, and we really like Daft Punk and their approach. And we listen to a lot of Suzanne Ciani, Delia Derbyshire, Laurie Anderson, those kind of more conceptual synth women.
But it really is a broad range, because then there’ll be times when we just want to listen to Dad stuff or folk stuff.“
Is that where you see yourself, more at the conceptual side of things?
“We do more ‘art’ shows with dancers, so I feel like we’ve got an outlet where we explore more experimental ideas and then the band side is much more of a party atmosphere, using our album’s recorded material.
But we often remix that for a live audience as well. I guess we try to experiment with different ways of performing live,”
I think that’s where the post punk thing comes into it for me, it was a time when people were questioning everything that went into an album or a gig – do bands just stand there and play or can they do something else, can they take it further?
“Yes, because we’re all individuals and we all come from more artistic backgrounds, so that keeps it really fresh and alive for us, playing with costume and lights, how to make it more like a collective experience for the crowd. And us.”
Which shows do you prefer doing, the more theatrical; ones or more straightforward gigs?
“Both, for different reasons. The ‘spectacle’ shows have more of a barrier between us and the audience and we’re more robotic.
We play into that, we feel that everything has to be completely perfect and in sync in the way that we’ve choreographed it, whereas the band show is a much more free spirited experience where there’s no fourth wall and we can break down the barrier between us and the crowd and have that direct connection.
So they both have quite radically different experience connected to them for us and for the audience. It’s interesting to explore the two extremes like that.”
The last two Edge Hill shows that you’ve done were incredible, and now I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Stockroom to see the other side of Stealing Sheep. What made you play a residency there rather than one night at a bigger venue?
“We have a big history with The Kazimier, so that venue and that area of town is such a massive part of our evolution as a band, along with the people who run that venue. With the car park that’s turned into the gardens, they’ve been really creative with the space and the former stockroom, where all the drinks used to be is somewhere we used to hang out backstage.
It’s got an atmosphere that only comes through all of these years of being on the same theme together. So that venue it’s like a portal, like a beam of light in the middle of the gentrification, that has our history in it.
It’s a place that resonates basically, and it felt like the right thing. Plus the fact that we’ve got quite a big show now that fits on a bigger stage and to bring that into a tiny room to have an intimate show with only 80 people, I think that that experience is going to be really amazing.
And Edge Hill has become this incredible place for us, it’s local but it’s a little out of the way, so it’s good for them to bring more of the Liverpool cultural scene into their venue. They have these amazing facilities where we can road test things that we otherwise couldn’t dream of. That pairing has become revolutionary for what we’re doing.
When they first approached us it was at a time when we really needed it, when we wanted to start pushing our artistic boundaries but we didn’t have the financial backing to do that. We suddenly had this unlimited creative scope, so that’s been massively important in our development.”
Is this part of your search for something different?
“Yes, I think it’s just natural for us to lean that way, to have these different experiences with live shows and spaces. In Edinburgh we played The Caves, which is a space that has a really amazing history because the person who found it knocked through walls and claimed it, he was basically a squatter and he just sat on it for ten years and now it’s an amazing music venue.
We played in a library and the premise of that really appealed to us because it’s about reclaiming libraries as public spaces and diversifying how we experience libraries.”
How will this differ from your last performance there?
“Last time we played we celebrated the centenary of suffrage with a 15 piece female marching band and a 15 strong dance troupe from Edge Hill University. It was a bespoke performance with workshops and a residency with brighter sound a charity based in the northwest with a manifesto to rebalance gender in the music industry. This resonates with Sound City too and made for a magical collab.
In 2020 we’re touring our album show Big Wows, performing tracks from our latest album and live remixes of our past stuff, it’s our 10th anniversary as a band and this is culminating in super eclectic show filled with lasers, choreography, costume changes and rhythmically synchronised lights, programmed and built by Venya Krutikov, one of the directors at the infamous Kazimier Productions.”
Where would be your dream gig?
“We’ve been plotting for a while to do something in the Barbican, because we’ve seen quite a lot of interesting things there, so that’s one of our dreams.
But in a more dreamy, fantastical sense we’ve been looking into a virtual reality dream venue, so I think that will come to fruition in the next year or so, a self-invented space to perform. Inside a rainbow for example or a beam of light”
How would you describe your relationship with technology?
“That’s a theme within the album. We’re from the pre-Internet generation, so we remember what it was like to go and call for your friends and they might not be in and it was a surprise and it was spontaneous, before Instagram and being popular online and how it affected people.
We had that as a discussion within the group and that started coming through the music. It also affects how we make music, how you start making music with acoustic instruments and then how the computer becomes a tool as well.
It’s a love/hate relationship with the computer because it’s an amazing palette that you could never have accessed otherwise and then it’s that journey of trying to find the human, emotive quality in all of the sounds and how slight things like modulation travel through the sound of the synthesiser and gives it an almost organic felling, and then pitch shifting so it sounds more human, because the human voice isn’t just monotone, it fluctuates.
And I feel that this mirrors the conversation that we’re having about technology and how we’re trying to manipulate it to bring back to its human essence.”
Your music is quite intricate and has lots of different parts to it, but it all manages to fit together. How do you go about writing your songs?
“We each have a vision for a song and the meanings we want to get across, and that’s an independent thing that comes out of one of us having a certain message or a certain chord progression that has a feeling to it and then that person usually directs the vision and we all support that and bring it to life and then we all add our own personalities to it.
On most of the albums there’s kind of a ‘leader’ per track and I think that that comes out. That gives the albums so much variety and dynamic because it’s always going between each of us. And the fact they’ve all got vocals linking together creates a thread that goes through everything that we do that makes it completely ours, no matter how we want to experiment with genres and sounds. It’s our personalities coming through those vocals.”
You’ve changed a lot musically over the years, have we now arrived at the Stealing Sheep sound or is this just another stop on a long journey?
“I’d say the latter, which is kind of annoying because it means we’re never satisfied. We have a personal need to push our boundaries of what we can do and that’s what makes us us, the thirst for fresh energy and sounds and exploration.
But I do feel there’s been a reference to each decade in each album, where we’ve been really enjoying a certain era. They’ve kind of been in the right order too, 60s, then 70s, then early krautrock into more electronic 80s pop, then into where we are now.
Lucy’s been playing a lot of Charleston jazz drumming in the background so I don’t know if that will come through, but who knows.”
You do always seem to have one foot firmly planted in the future as well, so it never seems retro.
“I think that applies to so many things we do as well, like what we want to do with a gig and the album sounds.
We’re on tour at the moment and we have a support artist on tour with us called VideO, who does all of our visuals, she’s very much in tune with who we are and what we represent, and we’ve been working with her as sort of a pen pal over the Internet for a year without even knowing each other and now we’ve got her in real life.
I feel that when we’ve been the support artist in the past it’s been very, very hard, you’re right at the beginning of your career. So we wanted to change things instead of going by the rules of the past and so we have them on tour with us, in the van, making sure they don’t have to spend money unnecessarily, putting them up in our hotels and anything that we can do to make that experience better for the new artist.
Hopefully we’ll be changing the culture in the music industry that way, with little things where we go “we don’t have to just do what everyone did to us, we’re in a position now where we can make it a bit different” and that applies to how we want to do a lot of things.”
Is this questioning of the norm, rejecting of the norm something instinctive or is it something you’ve sat down and talked about?
“I think it’s instinctive and it might be based a little on our backgrounds and the lack of opportunities we might have experienced as younger people and coming at things from a more artistic background, where you’re taught that if you’re following the market you’ll always be behind the market.
So you have to be brave and push boundaries and experiment with your own vision, even though that can be harder and more scary and you could face more rejection.
If you’re coming from a background where things haven’t always gone smoothly, maybe that’s part of your instinct to reject the norm, because the norm didn’t work for you as a child, and for many people who are disenfranchised or on the outskirts of privilege and things like that. So maybe that’s something that’s come through how we’ve been brought up.”
Do you see that as part of what you do, giving a voice to the disenfranchised?
“There’s a feeling of wanting to unite people who have been outcasts, at school or somewhere else. That’s a strong feeling for us, just through different things in our past, like family members that have been rejected. You have more of an empathy, there’s definitely a fight in that and it’s a good fight to have.”
There’s an air of empowerment about Stealing Sheep as well. Is that part of the same thing, the same struggle?
“Yes, that’s something that we’ve experienced through being three women on stage and being constantly compared at the beginning, realising that that shouldn’t be how it is. All this subconscious bias that everybody has and the “which is your favourite?” and “who’s the most talented?” and things like that.
We’ve rebelled against that and realised that it’s about supporting other women, making sure women aren’t a threat to each other, that it shouldn’t be like that. We want people to feel that girls should support each other instead of being seen as competitors.”
What next for Stealing Sheep?
“We’ve got a few plans for 2020. We’ve already announced South by Southwest, and we’re going to announce a US tour and we have the plans for the virtual reality experience that we’d like to start developing. Also, there will be new music in the new year, so quite a lot.”
So, while Stealing Sheep may be the best band of the last 12 months, it would appear that they are all ready for the next 12. It is also easy to see they aren’t afraid of a challenge.
They have the songs, the appeal, the intelligence and the drive to take their sound and their performance truly overground in the next year.
Our band of the year may also be our band of the future.
Crime and the City Solution’s Paradise Discotheque is an album that should be in everybody’s top ten, Sun 13’s Banjo looks at why success never came for this lost gem.
Crime and the City Solution are a band who seem trapped in a ‘should have been’ situation.
They should have been more successful, their albums should have been selling in huge quantities and they should have been a band that everyone has heard of and loves.
But fate can be cruel and quality is sadly no guarantee of success.
What we are dealing with here is not so much a lost album, as a lost band.
Why this should be the case is difficult to determine. I am put in mind of a comment made by Al Jourgensen when he was asked why he thought Ministry had suddenly become famous and successful back in the 90s, after many years at the fringes.
His reply was along the lines of there being decision made by either fate, record company execs or both, whereby a finger was pointed at a particular underground band, a decision was made that ‘they’ll do’ and levers were pulled, decisions were made and said band were then rocketed to stardom and stadiums.
The flip side of this coin however, is that for the bands who do not have this finger pointed at them, success in any meaningful, financially supportive way is often disallowed.
Such was the fate of Crime and the City Solution, who were denied success at anything other than a cursory level.
This does not mean that the music they made has any less value than that of their more successful peers. On the contrary, few bands that have ever existed made music as beautiful and haunting as Crime and the City Solution.
Their story starts back in Australia in the maelstrom of 1977, when Simon Bonney put the band together in Sydney. There must have been something in the Australian air at the time, as this was when Nick Cave formed The Boys Next Door (later to become The Birthday Party) and Rowland S Howard was involved with The Young Charlatans. Kindred spirits bringing bands into being at the same time.
In 1978, Bonney moved the band to Melbourne where, with the distance between them removed, all three bands became friends to some degree.
The initial lineup lasted only a couple of years before they fell apart, leaving no records behind to tell their story.
Fast forward to 1985. The Birthday Party had fallen apart, as they were always bound to do, and the band’s members were scattered to the winds. Nick Cave, as we know, went on to huge critical and commercial acclaim with a career that still, magnificently, shows no sign of tailing off.
But what of their stellar guitarist, the whirlwind of sonic turbulence that was Rowland S Howard?
Well, Simon Bonney travelled to London and reformed Crime and the City Solution, with Howard at its heart, the guitarist perhaps seeing Simon Bonney as a natural successor to his former partner Nick Cave.
For a while, Birthday Party drummer/guitarist Mick Harvey played with both Crime and the Bad Seeds, also taking on management duties for both bands.
As you may expect from all this, there are common threads joining these bands together, in terms of sound, lyrical slant and attitude. But, while eclipsed by the success of Nick Cave, Crime and the City Solution can lay claim to an output the equal of anything their more famous countryman has produced. But, tragically, one that has had less coverage and reach.
Crime and the City Solution have produced a body of work without flaw, including such gems as the haunting Six Bells Chime, All Must Be Love and Shine.
The cliché is that a band’s debut album is often their best, but Crime grew in stature with each release, reaching a pinnacle on what was to be their last album for 13 years, before reforming again in 2013.
On Crime’s fourth album, everything fell into place perfectly.
Paradise Discotheque starts with single I Have The Gun, an almost jaunty number with country leanings that may give the listener a false sense of normality. The country theme was further explored in Simon Bonney‘s first solo album Forever, itself an incredible, 24-carat gold record more than worthy of its own lost albums feature.
By track two we are into something denser and more intense. The Sly Persuaders is a bluesy tale of corruption and greed, or perhaps even capitalism itself.
Bonney’s words were often very literate, coming across more as a story than actual lyrics and again it is easy to see a connection to the work of Nick Cave. The Sly Persuaders can be seen as a short story, with its cast of shadowy characters and easily-persuaded town residents.
Musically, the importance of Bonney‘s wife Bronwyn comes to the fore on this album. Her input helps lift Crime above the masses, often adding a melancholy counterpoint to proceedings. She also shares song writing with her husband and between them they make a formidable team.
Next track The Dolphins and the Sharks is perhaps Crime and the City Solution‘s high watermark. An unabashed love song, The Dolphins and the Sharks is beautiful and, again, literary. The object of the song’s affection is a beacon that shines out in grim conditions; ‘Waking from the slums of the night, you kick your toes out and touch the light, you are a beautiful and lazy sight.’
Simon and Bronwyn Bonney‘s ability to set a scene with just a few words is again in evidence as the opening lines show: ‘The urban heat is stifling, the kettle’s on the boil. The dishes are dirty and the milk’s about to spoil. The sounds in my head crowd the hours, you brush across me like a summer shower. It ain’t loud now‘ all delivered in a slow drawl.
Musically, The Dolphins and the Sharks is hauntingly beautiful. If you are reading this and by any chance are unaware of Crime and the City Solution, listen to this song and marvel at how uplifting and affecting music can be. The Dolphins and the Sharks is really as good as music gets.
From here, most bands and most albums could be forgiven for lurching into a trough, after so magnificent a peak. But Paradise Discotheque is not most albums. The Sun Before The Darkness features a cyclic, melancholic guitar riff that works its way into your subconscious and stays there.
Live, the guitar in this song was more to the fore, but here in the album version it is buried in the mix adding atmospherics and letting the strings take over and guide the song.
Lyrically, we find ourselves in a world where the deeds of man have stopped the sun from rising, ‘Since the sun has refused to rise, to wake is an unwelcome surprise‘.
Again, there is a story here that conjures images with an efficiency of words: ‘Daybreak, strange shapes on the horizon obscure the sun.’
The only cover track on the album is a version of the traditional Australian song, Motherless Child. Crime and the City Solution‘s version here is a claustrophobic and dense take on this tale of a rootless person travelling the world.
Ironically, this is pretty much what happened to the Bonneys after Crime and the City Solution split up, with work and a restless spirit taking them to live in places such as Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and The Marshall Islands, before settling in their current home of Thailand.
With side one (remember sides?) out of the way, Crime and the City Solution settle down into the main part of Paradise Discotheque, an incredible, ambitious and brave four-part epic called The Last Dictator.
The songs follow an epic tale of ambition and power seeking, with references to historical and biblical stories. The scale of the songs and the ambition needed to bring them to life is staggering.
The only other record I can think of that matches the scope and aspirations of The Last Dictator is The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists, which has even been performed as a play.
There is something about The Last Dictator Parts 1 – 4 which would also suit being performed in this manner and it is easy to imagine it cast as an epic film, such is its depth and density of language.
Simon and Bronwyn Bonney were clearly working at a level that is quite simply beyond the reach of most lyricists. As good as these songs are, it is perhaps a shame that The Last Dictator didn’t take the form of a novel; the themes and treatments are utterly compelling and work on many narrative levels.
As to the question of why this magnificent album wasn’t more widely received, I really have no answer. When I was younger and in a band myself, I believed that the cream would always rise to the top and all a band had to do to become successful was to produce great records and fantastic music.
Time has robbed me of this illusion and I realise that success is more to do with chance, payola and sheer dumb luck.
The fact that Crime and the City Solution were deprived of these does not make this record any less valuable, any less powerful or any less wonderful.
Seek it out, play it, fall in love with the marvel that is Paradise Discotheque and marvel at the unfairness of the world.