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Interviews

Trevor Fung Interview: “if you love music you just follow your heart”

Dance Music legend Trevor Fung talks about the changing face of Ibiza and the birth of Acid House

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Interviews

Paul Cook Interview: “There was no Pistols manifesto or anything, but we did go out to shake things up”

Banjo speaks to ex-Pistol Paul Cook about his past and his present.

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Interviews

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs talk Brexit and the seven deadly sins

With Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ much anticipated second album King Of Cowards boxed-off,  we chewed the fat with the Newcastle five-piece.

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Interviews

Woody Woodmansey Interview – David Bowie’s drummer on playing Ziggy Stardust

Holy Holy are a long, long way from being a tribute act.  Comprised of the mighty Woody Woodmansey on drums, Tony Visconti on bass, Glen Gregory and James Stevenson on guitar, they are more accurately described as a Supergroup. 

Woodmansey was Bowie’s drummer through his rise and peak, playing on Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust itself, amongst others, while Visconti produced many of Bowie’s finest albums.  Glen Gregory of course is best known as frontman for Heaven 17, and Stevenson has played for The Cult, The Alarm and Scott Walker

So when the opportunity came to speak to Woody Woodmansey about his latest project, it was more than we could resist.  After all, how many chances to you get to speak to a legend?

Woodmansey has a gruff Northern charm that all the years of international travel has failed to dent.  He is chatty and down to earth, it is only when he starts referring to Bowie and producer Visconti by their forenames that you realise that you are talking with rock royalty. 

His tales of forging a sound and identity with Bowie, and of the unique vision that he passed on to his band, are incredible to listen to.  He also laughs a ,lot, a laugh that tells of a life well lived. 

So, what can we expect when Holy Holy play Ziggy Stardust at the Phil?

“Well, we started Holy Holy about three years ago, and when we played with David during the Ziggy tours and the Aladdin Sane tours, it was always a case of you play all the notes in the right order, that’s taken for granted, but on top of that it’s the spirit of the show, you know, it’s the communication that’s intended with those songs. 

So we concentrated on that – not that we’re going to play a bum note [laughs], but the senior thing is getting the atmosphere of the song, and the spirit of it across, and that’s what people can expect.  There are thousands of tribute acts and singers out there, especially now since David passed away, but I haven’t seen many that have captured that [laughs]”

Which means that Glen Greggory has got some pretty big shoes to fill.

“Yeah, he’s amazing.  When we started, Tony [Visconti] had just done an album with him in America, and so when we put the band together, I rang Tony up and asked whether he’d be interested in doing it he said “Yes, but we gotta get Glen Gregory, he’s amazing”.  And in three years, we’ve done two American tours, a Canadian tour, a Japanese tour and two English tours, we haven’t had one bad comment about his vocals. 

Which is quite hard to achieve because, as you said he’s filling some big shoes.  But he does it as Glen Gregory and he pulls it off.  He really understands the music and the songs and I think the fans get that, they get that he knows what he’s doing.“

Well he probably grew up with those albums in the same way that a lot of people have.  How does it feel taking these classic songs back on the road these days? 

“Well we kind of got in full in the face really.  We were on tour in America playing The Man Who Sold The World, and – unplanned – we were playing the High Line in New York on David’s birthday and when we got there the staff said ‘we’ve heard a rumour that David is going to come down and sing with you’. And we said ‘well we haven’t heard that rumour, but we hope he does! [laughs]. And then during the show Tony Visconti phoned David up from his mobile and he answered. 

He said ‘we’re onstage just down the road from you and we got the audience to sing happy birthday to him over the mobile.  And we played a bad karaoke version of Happy Birthday to him over the phone [laughs].  He really liked and then he said ask the audience what they think of Blackstar, his new album, ‘cos it had just come out on his birthday.  And they went mental. Which he thought was really nice. 

And then he said ‘Good luck on the tour, catch you later’.  And then a day and a half later, our next gig was in Toronto, we got called early in the morning and we got the news.  That was surreal to be honest. 

I mean it was for everybody really, nobody saw it coming.  And it was like ‘wow, what do we do?  Do we pull the gigs out of respect? And then Tony said that [David] had worked right up to the end, even when he was ill, he’d work as long as he could on the musical and the album and then go home, rest and then come back again.  And I remember on the Ziggy tours, he didn’t always eat properly and he was not a healthy specimen all the time and he would catch bad flu. 

And some nights he could hardly talk and we’d say ‘shall we pull the concert?’, and he’d say ‘Nah, I’ll get there’ I’ll do it’. And he would, he would pull it together and then collapse afterwards.  So we thought that we ought to follow that example, that was his thing – the show must go on.  So it did.”

One of the most striking things about the Ziggy album is how it constantly gets rediscovered by new generations of fans and bands.  When you were recording it, did you get any sense that you were recording something of historical significance?

“[Pause]  No.  [laughs] No, you don’t, I mean we moved from The Man Who Sold The World to Hunk Dory and that was, I guess, for me it was a songwriter’s album.  It was David going ‘I can write on Piano, I can write on guitar’, he was kind of streamlining everything he’d done before into a direction, and I think that the Ziggy fell and the Ziggy concepts started to happen a little bit during Hunk Dory.  Life on Mars probably should have been on Ziggy and Queen Bitch probably could have been on there. 

So it started to come to fruition on that album, but he still hadn’t really started to join the dots up at that point.  But when we’d finished Life on Mars, Ken Scott called us in and we sat there and even our jaws dropped. It was like ‘it that what we sound like?’ [laughs]It was a dawning on us.  And then you’re a bit worried and you thing that there’s nothing out there like that, has it gone too far? 

But that track was probably the one where we went ‘wow, there’s a lot more to his songwriting, he’s got more strings to his bow than he’s actually shown by this point’. 

But you’re just doing your next song really, doing your best on that next song or that next album, so you never thought that in 40 years people would still be appreciating it. And the fact that it’s been on the radio all that time, it’s never really disappeared. We thought it was good, we always thought we were good [laughs], you wouldn’t do an album and think ’yeah we’re really shit aren’t we”

The rate you all worked at back then was phenomenal.  There was at least one album a year and a huge amount of touring; how did you find the time to write, record and rehearse?

“Well luckily we didn’t have to write, David did most of that.  But I guess you go into a sort of rock n roll bubble, you know, the rock n roll lifestyle, and you’ve decided to play that game so that’s what it means.  It just became a matter of ‘that’s how we do it’. You didn’t get much time off, I don’t think I had a Christmas off or a birthday off or New Year’s Eve off through that whole period, you’re always doing something. 

You’re in the studio or you’re on the road, you know.  But you’re doing what you love so you never really see it as hard work.  And then when you get back off a tour and you get back to your flat, put your suitcase next to the chair, sit in the chair and wake up two days later! [laughs]

Bands don’t seem to operate like that anymore, there are longer breaks between albums and tours. 

No, they don’t.  But I think a lot’s changed.  It could be that the 70s were closer to the roots of rock n roll, ‘cos it had only been out twenty years. So all the inspiring music and what you listen to when you’re learning your craft, you pick it from the roots of rock n roll.  So when you have to do new stuff, you’ve got that attitude in your head.  I think now that, all these decades later, it’s probably lost a lot of that. 

And then with technology coming in it makes it easier for people. The way we worked you had to get that song in three and a half minutes, you had to play it correctly, with feeling, more or less immediately.  Nowadays you can do a chorus and then go ‘well lets cut and paste it into a song’, and that wasn’t what music, or rock n roll particularly was all about.   It’s that feeling, it’s not just the right notes. 

There’s thousands of musicians who can play the right notes, but can they get any feeling into it?  I like to hear the human being playing the keyboard, not wonder if it’s a sample or if there’s a real drummer been anywhere near it. 

When were touring, I remember one night there was a girl sitting at the front and she’d been singing along with every song, and Tony stopped the show and he said ‘how old are you?’ and she said ‘fourteen’.  And he said to the audience ‘there’s a girl here, fourteen, and she knows every word, and at the back there were 70 year olds and they were headbanging!  And they were singing all the words as well [laughs].  And the a lot of the people at the meet & greets are teenagers, so I guess good music will always get through, will always get discovered.“

My theory with David Bowie is that everyone has their own version of him that they think of as theirs.  Mine would be the Hunky Dory era, but with your completely different vantage point, what is your David Bowie.

“Well, it’s probably a blend.  It’s probably what we went through from The Man Who Sold The World, which taught us what we could do as a rock band, to Bowie’s songwriting really coming through on Hunky Dory.  That for me was probably the classic album I think.  There was no gimmicks or anything, it was just ‘these are songs, they’re well crafted and well sung. And they’ve got messages and it’s a good product’.  And then Ziggy was the concept and that brought it all. 

And we were able to bring all that together and put it all in a show.  And the Aladdin Sane was what happens when you’re on the road, writing and recording at the same time.  It was more rocky. And it was our impressions of America, we probably played a bit different when we were over there; it’s bigger so you think you have to play louder [laughs].  So I guess my Bowie was stretched over four albums. 

I guess it ended up being such an iconic character that he created in Ziggy, and he made sure we were all on the same page.  You couldn’t stand behind him as a blues guitarist from Huddersfield with ripped jeans and not a clue what he’s all about.  And he did a good job of that , he didn’t do it all in a weekend.  He would say ‘we’re going to see a play tonight’ and we’d say ‘what’s the play?’.  And he’d say ‘I don’t give a shit what the play is, watch the lighting guy, he’s the best one in London.’

So he kind of brought theatre lighting into rock n roll, which hadn’t really been done before.  And with clothes it was kind of an education process, we had to know what was happening to make it all believable.  It was a good journey, we weren’t just musicians playing things.”

How closely did you follow his career afterwards?  Did you buy his records, see his shows?

“I saw him a couple of times.  I kind of like the weird side of him, as opposed to the Let’s Dance commercial stuff.  Cat People (Putting Out Fire), weird concepts like that, I always felt that was David.  

He never sang like anybody else or worked like anybody else.  When you hear “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” coming out of the lounge you wonder ‘What the hell is that all about’, you know [laughs].  And that’s why I liked him, it was the weird, freaky side.  For me he was one of the most creative individuals in music.  And as a songwriter he had that ability to point you in a direction, even if it was weird. 

And at the end of the song, you had your own story, you knew what it was about.  It might not be what he meant it to be about, and it you ask a hundred thousand people you might end up with a hundred thousand different stories.  But that was his talent, he could write it so that you could contribute to it, he didn’t join up all the dots.“

And one last question, will you be doing any U Boat songs?

“[Laughs] No, definitely not!”

Banjo

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Interviews

Daughters interview: “The lion at the bottom of the mountain is hungrier than the lion at the top”

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Interviews

Creep Show Interview: John Grant and Stephen Mallinder come together

Before their gig at Liverpool Arts Club, Banjo spoke to Creep Show about egos, remaining childlike and being lonely.

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Interviews

Stephen Morris interview: “We didn’t want to be Joy Division anymore, but we didn’t know anything else”

With New Order drum maestro Stephen Morris’ autobiography now published, Banjo catches up with the post punk legend.

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Interviews

The Orb’s Alex Paterson Interview: “The Orb is a sphere that circumnavigates the planet and takes an overview. And it’s pretty messy isn’t it?”

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.

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Interviews

Glen Matlock Interview: “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”

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.’

Iggy Pop at Liverpool Eric’s: Shock was part of the currency of the early punks and, in Iggy, they had inspiration of sorts

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.

Jah Wobble Interview: “Joining the Pistols would have been a huge mistake”

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.

Banjo

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Interviews

Wayne Hussey Interview: ” still get a big kick out of making records and writing songs. When it kicks into place there’s nothing quite like it”

Wayne Hussey

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.

Banjo

Categories
Interviews

Zee Davine Interview: “Pop music now, I feel, can be anything”

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.

Banjo

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/63Rggji5w5RZEJjT262Spr

Categories
Interviews

Jah Wobble Interview: “Joining the Pistols would have been a huge mistake”

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.

Banjo

Categories
Interviews

Stealing Sheep Interview: “you have to be brave and push boundaries and experiment with your own vision”

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.

Banjo