Back in time with K÷ – in conversation with Peter Hook

Live Presence: Peter Hook is missing the thrill of touring right now, and is eager to return soon (Photo: Ant Mulryan)

It was suggested I should persevere when trying to get hold of Peter Hook, the Joy Division and New Order bass guitar legend not always likely to answer his phone.

The moment I was told that, I was reminded of our previous interview in December 2017, when it took a few days to get to speak to him, my interviewee finally calling back on a Saturday afternoon after a soundcheck in Belfast. But he picked up straight away this time.

“I’ve just been out with the dogs. I’ve done my bit. I was just tidying up you lot, then I’ll be watching Netflix with the rest of the bloody country.”

Anything else lined up (I asked, mischievously)?

“Are you joking? Mate, I thought it was bad in January and February last year, watching all my dominoes fall down. But someone put all my dominoes back up, moved them to 2021, and now they’re all fucking falling down again!”

Despite the gruff exterior, Peter’s enjoying a rare bit of dedicated family time at present, locked down with his good lady and one of his children.

“Me and the better half have done very well, I must admit. After being away for 40 years … ha ha! … being thrust together for a year and a half has actually worked out fantastically. I could actually count our major arguments on one hand.

“The weird thing about being away all the time is that you get nothing done … and when you come back, you’re fucked – you don’t feel like doing anything. But because I’ve been here, I’ve managed to get loads of stuff done, which has been very satisfying.

“I’m keeping fit, and as a grumpy old bloke who never goes anywhere … we went out the other day to Sainsbury’s, and I realised I’d not been outside the door of our house, apart from walking the dogs, and haven’t mixed in public with anyone for three and a half weeks.

Ritz Cracker: Peter Hook in trademark low-slung bass action at the Ritz, Manchester, happy to be facing the crowd

“I’m in the vulnerable category – I’ve got asthma, pneumonic scarring on my lungs, so have to be really careful. It’s weird, isn’t it. How are you coping?”

We talk some more about having our children home, university studies carrying on from home – from Sheffield in my case – for now. And I suggest it’s the younger generation I feel most sorry for – missing out on vital life experiences. They should be out, living life.

“Doing what we bloody did! My daughter was at Sheffield, graduated last year and is now doing a Master’s in Newcastle. I took her back to have a picture with the name of the college. There was no graduation do, but the kids were going down, posting pictures of themselves next to the name.

“It’s been awful. It’s going to be two years we never get back … and at our age it’s maybe more important! It’s quite odd for me as a musician. I had a massive hit with ‘Aries’, then – lo and bloody behold – Jaz got in touch with me, told me he’s found this fricking tape!”

The single ‘Aries’ was from the latest Gorillaz LP, Song Machine Season One – Strange Timez, and he’s also talking about K÷, described as a ‘unique collaboration between kindred spirits’, namely Peter, the afore-mentioned Jaz Coleman, and his Killing Joke bandmate, guitarist Geordie Walker.

On March 5th, they’re set to release the K÷93 EP on numbered 10” clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, limited to just 2,000 copies worldwide, also including a gig flyer postcard and exclusive sleeve notes by Jaz and Peter.

Recorded in 1993 at Peter’s Suite 16 Studios, the former Cargo Studios in Rochdale where Joy Division recorded as far back as 1978, the recordings were lost until last November, when Chris Kettle (formerly of E.G. Records) handed Jaz a DAT cassette at a record signing for Magna Invocatio in a London record store, saying, ‘Look what I found’. Remastered from the original cassette, the session according to Jaz, ‘could be described as spontaneous and magical. I think it sur­prised all of us. Peter encouraged the softer, lower tones of my voice. And then we emerged from the haze and went our separate ways.”

Jaz added, “When you listen to this rare chemistry, you will understand why I’ve always felt this experience begs for a full opus magnum somewhere in the near future.”

Finder’s Keepers: Jaz Coleman unearthed tracks from 1993’s sessions with Geordie and Hooky (Photo: Mont Sherar)

I’ve had those three tracks on repeat for a while now, and I’m impressed. Not at all what I initially expected … even though I’d read the advance publicity. My favourite track is ‘Scrying’, the gothic feel you might expect beautifully fused with melodic touches. Think where the more commercial Cure and Damned were headed in the mid-‘80s, add a little more menace and elements of electronica, Jaz building upon Geordie’s accomplished guitar and Peter’s distinctive bass. That said, it’s not over-obviously Hooky, and as for the vocals – switching between beautifully under-stated and more impassioned but still not over-wrought – it’s definitely not what I’d associate with Jaz, who adds more pegged-back but still brooding and powerful (alternating between gruff and more sensuous) vibe among the minor chord workouts, while stirring synth floats above Geordie’s subtle touches.

Maybe that’s the byword and by-product here – subtlety. From all three musicians involved. It’s certainly difficult to equate with the might of Killing Joke’s ‘Millennium’ the following year … and yet, I see more similarities there than with New Order’s Republic, released that summer. More to the point, whatever they decided to conjure up in the studio, it worked. But what’s Peter’s take on it all, 28 years later?

“I played that session – we did eight songs together – and a lot of my friends who heard it, loved it, and kept asking, ‘Where’s the tape?’. I told them I didn’t know, I’d lost the cassette, and also – which I’m a little more annoyed about considering it was my recording studio – we didn’t have the master tapes. So they must have been skipped somewhere.

“When I came to do the New Order memorabilia for an auction last May, they were asking, ‘Have you found that tape yet?’. I’ve since been through the whole of my tapes – 500 of the buggers! – and it’s not there. So when Jaz phoned to tell me he’d found three, I was absolutely delighted. And when I heard these three tracks, I was even more delighted, because they were really fucking good!

“It was an odd session. I was asked to do an experimental recording session in Cologne by a promoter who’d put New Order on, a nice guy I’d got to know quite well. He came up with this concept of hiring out this four-studio complex, getting 20 musicians from different walks of life – including a lot of older German musicians from Faust and Can – and putting them all together.

“It was like reality TV, putting them into teams, and I was delighted because he shoved me in with Geordie and Jaz. I knew them both very well. We used to play with Killing Joke as Joy Division, there was huge rivalry between us, which has never gone away – we fought like fucking cat and dog!

“But I always liked their attitude, I love Geordie as a guitarist, thought Jaz was stark raving fucking mad! I knew (Paul) Raven really well as well. I’d go to the Embassy Club with him, Siouxsie and the Banshees roadies, Richard Jobson, and the DJ who owned the club … oh, what’s his name?”

We paused there while I tried to work out who Peter was referring to.

“We’ve got a senior fucking moment, mate! I can fucking see him! It’ll come to me … anyway, we had a wild old time.”

It’ll probably come to you in the middle of the night – you’ll be shouting it out in bed.

“Yes, and the wife will go, ‘No, not again!’ Ahh – Rusty Egan! That’s who it was! Phew! He’d have killed me if I’d lost his name.

“Anyway, we had a lot to do with each other, and when Killing Joke came to Manchester, I’d go and see them, meet up with Jaz, Geordie, Raven, and then Youth. We were very good acquaintances. If the boys needed anything in Manchester, they’d phone me.

“So, on FreeSpiel (the name of the project), we worked in the studio, did two songs very quickly, which turned out really well. I had a few words with Jaz though. He started singing like in Killing Joke. I said, ‘Mate, have you ever thought of just singing?’ He went (adopting shouty Southern tones), ‘What do you fucking mean?’

“We had a bit of a ding-dong with that, but I got him to sing, which I was delighted about … and he sounded great. And sometimes we need pulling up, whatever we’re doing.

“The session worked very well, then that evening we went out, got absolutely plastered, and they played me their new record. They were having problems with Youth at the time. He’d left, and they asked if I’d join Killing Joke. I was like, ‘What a compliment,’ and New Order weren’t getting on much better, so I considered it, but realised when I listened to the music that I didn’t play bass like that. It just didn’t feel right for me.

“I remember Jaz got really pissed off with me, saying I couldn’t do it, but we parted on good terms, and when we got home I got another phone call off him, asking if they could come down – him and Geordie – if we fancied doing more tracks.

“I said, ‘Yeah, fucking great!’, offered them my studio, so he said, ‘Right, we’ll come down, three weeks, see what we can come up with.’ I said great, no problem. Then, literally within hours my doorbell went, and there was Jaz and Geordie with all their bags. I said, ‘Eh? What are you doing? I thought you were staying in a hotel, not fucking moving in here!’.

“They proceeded to move in with me, like fucking Big Brother, for three weeks! You can imagine, it was a very interesting time, we’d go and work at Suite 16, with my mate Rex (Sargeant) as engineer. The tracks came very quickly and easily. In three weeks we had eight tracks, many with vocals, and – achieving one of my ambitions – I managed to rip off the bass from Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’. We had a song featuring that, which I was over the moon about, thinking about that for so long.

Cool As: Geordie Walker, up there with Paul Simonon in the cool stakes in Peter Hook’s eyes (Photo: Mont Sherar)

“So we went out, got fucking hammered at the Hacienda, had a wild three weeks, then they went back to London, and it wasn’t long after that I came down to talk to their management about forming a group, the three of us. I remember that meeting very well. It was very positive, the music was great, we were all quite happy, but then the manager said, ‘I’m going to set you the biggest task of all, you’re going to have to come up with a name’.

“We’d all been through that – a name can be the most difficult thing in the world, and I’ve no idea what happened, but I ended up going back to bloody New Order, and they told Youth I was thinking of joining .. so he came back. Ha ha!”

Perhaps that was all the inspiration he needed to return.

“Well, I’ll take that as a compliment. And basically, we forgot all about it and got on with our lives. I’ve only seen Jaz and Geordie a few times since … and we’ve never mentioned it. It was just left. So when he found the cassette, I was delighted. All we had to do then was think of a bloody name!”

That, I guess, is part of the positive side of this past year, being given the time to breathe and get the grey matter properly going. And it’s also given people the chance to root out these gems from darkened cupboards.

“Yeah, and I was delighted. That was a wonderful time, and I remember it very fondly, realising one of my ambitions by playing with Geordie, having always rated him – he’s an amazing guitarist, I love his style and everything about him. To me, he’s as cool as Paul Simonon.

“I don’t know how the record will be received, but whatever it leads to, I’ll be absolutely delighted.”

Last time we spoke, just over three years ago, you were in Belfast for that evening’s Peter Hook and the Light performance at the Limelight. Having the time of your life, I seem to recall.

“Yeah. Listen, the only thing that’s blighted my life has been this bloody legal battle with New Order. I’ve had a fantastic time apart from that.

Stepping Out: Peter Hook, immensely proud of the quality of tracks written with Jaz and Geordie (Photo: Ant Mulryan)

“I’ve heard of some group battles, but this one now has been going on 14 years, and I cannot believe the amount of energy, time and money we’ve put into it. I’m completely baffled. And with covid and what we’ve all gone through, people we’ve all lost throughout this period, it’s makes our fucking stupid arguments ridiculous.

“But you know, I keep saying to the wife, the good bit of my life – like The Light, what we achieved with ‘Blue Monday’, and what we’ve achieved throughout the whole 40 years, this is the price I have to pay. Ha ha!”

Yeah, maybe.

“Oh, thanks for agreeing with me! Ha! It’s like wearing a bloody hair shirt, innit!”

I have to say, it saddens me, those situations, bands I love, like The Jam, Slade, New Order, whoever, falling out …

“It’s weird, isn’t it. It’s that combination of ego and money, it seems to be the worse combination. I’m sure there are people in the business world that argue about money all the fucking time, but because they’re not in the public eye and they’re not fighting for fans or whatever …

“It’s very difficult, and it has to be said, you know … I’m not too sure how much I can tell you … but it’s very difficult that people expect you to act in a certain way, yet do nothing to deserve it, and you get stuck in a vicious cycle.”

You don’t think you’re any closer to resolving all this?

“No, I’d say we’re as far away today as we were on this day in 2007. In fact, if anything, it’s worse.”

New Direction: New Order’s debut LP, Movement, 10 months after first single ‘Ceremony’, turns 40 later this year

Let’s talk some brighter anniversaries instead then, and there’s a big birthday coming your way (last weekend) – your 65th. Is that a scary proposition, or just another number?

“Ha ha! Is it scaring me? I guess in the way a number can scare you, considering my Dad died when he was 58, I suppose I’m lucky to get to 65. The odd thing is, I was doing an interview about John McGeoch the other day, and you start realising how many of your contemporaries you’ve lost. It’s absolutely awful, and just here in Manchester, losing people like CP Lee, Mark E Smith …”

Both names I was about to bring up.

“CP was such a nice guy. I didn’t get to go to his funeral. And we lost one of our roadies a couple of weeks ago, with us from Joy Division days, and again couldn’t pay our respects. It’s like a surreal grief.”

With Pete Shelley gone not so long ago, of course.

“Yes, of course, the one who got me and Barney going. Without him, we wouldn’t have known what the fuck to do. He was so generous with his time, and so nice when we were starting. He was literally the only one that encouraged us. What a lovely man.”

One of the last gigs I saw in 2019, not long before the shutters started to come down, involved Steve Diggle’s latest Buzzcocks line-up playing Gorilla, Manchester. Such an emotional night, back there on the band’s home turf.

“Yeah, and I played with the Buzzcocks – with Pete – that summer. They were on just after us, and I was saying to him, ‘Fucking hell, this is weird, innit – me and you still here! Ha! The way we started, almost together.’ Of course, his group was formed to support the Sex Pistols that second time (they visited Manchester).”

And this summer marks 45 years since the first momentous Lesser Free Trade Hall happening in Manchester.

“Yeah, we were running neck and neck. I’m very blessed, mate, and think when I do wake up Saturday morning, I will be thanking my lucky stars. And I’m raring to go!”

First Cover: The original Blue Monday sleeve by Peter Saville and Brett Wickens resembled a ​5 1⁄4 inch floppy disc

Seeing as you mentioned CP Lee, I have to ask about Gerry & the Holograms’ self-titled EP lead track.

“What’s that one?”

The one some might suggest shared key characteristics with New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’.

“Oh, the piss-take?”

Well, maybe … but that was out first.

“Yes, it was. You know what, CP, I’d known him a long, long time, and he taught my daughter at college. Amazingly, he arranged for me to give out the prizes – me and Mrs Merton (Peter’s ex – the late Caroline Aherne) – one year at Salford College, a fucking hoot ‘cos we were both pissed.

“He was such a great friend. As the singer of the Albertos (Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias), I used to see him and Bruce (Mitchell, also of the Albertos), and CP would go to great lengths to tell me it was him who shouted, ‘Judas!’ at Bob Dylan at the Free Trade Hall, when he played electric guitar. Yeah, the guy’s a fucking legend!

“And I believe they’ve made a little shrine to him in his pub, with his umbrella, which he left last time he was in. I’m really looking forward to visiting that … soon as we’re allowed.”

There seems to be real kinship between all those Manchester and Salford acts from back then. You’re still out there, give or take the last year, as is Jez Kerr with A Certain Ratio, while Johnny Marr’s in a continued rich vein of form, and somehow John Cooper Clarke seems to get younger by the year.

“He’s the only bloody one! Ha!”

New Dawn: The iconic cover of 1979’s debut Joy Division LP, Unknown Pleasures, the beginning of the story

And from the previous generation, someone like Graham Nash’s still coming up with the goods.

“Yeah, and we’ve played with Graham quite a lot, supporting the Hacienda Classical, so I see him quite a lot.”

I was briefly baffled at this, later realising he mis-heard, thinking I’d mentioned Graham Massey, of 808 State. But we’d already moved on.

“Yeah, so really the only ones I’m not friendly with are the rest of fucking New Order! Ha! How bonkers is that?”

As for Mark E Smith, it’s now been three years since we lost him. How did you rub along with him, and the rest of the band for that matter?

“Yeah, the band were gorgeous people. I knew them all very well. But Mark was very difficult. We were really in competition ever since we first played with them. We did the first punk festival in Athens when Greece first opened up and became democratic.

“I also played with him at a Derek Hatton benefit, and saw them play a lot, but every time we did an interview together it was very caustic. I remember doing one for Melody Maker and he was proper off on it. We were arguing like fuck, taking the piss out of each other. He said, ‘Listen, I’ve got a fucking plastic bag ‘ere, with all my takings from Ireland in. I’ve just come back off tour’. And I said, ‘I bet that’s not very heavy, you twat!’

“We were proper going at each other, then I got up, went for a wee. We were both having a drink, put it that way. While I’m in the urinal, he walked in, and I thought, ‘Ay up, he’s going to have a go, the twat!’ And he just got his nob out, went to the next urinal, and went, ‘How’s it going? Not bad this, is it? Good craic.”

“I thought, ‘Fucking hell, what is this?’ So you did get that aspect of him being a wind-up merchant, shall we say. And I remember him getting his own back once, when I went out with Mrs Merton, and he came up, kept telling her I was shagging loads of women behind her back. Every time I moved away from her, he would go over … bastard, he got me in some trouble that night!

Bass Instinct: Peter Hook in live action. And he’s itching to get back out, soon as he can (Photo: Connor Griffin)

“So yeah, we had a very healthy, antagonistic relationship. But I went to his funeral, met friends there, and it was as nice as it could possibly be.”

Well, next time I hear ‘Carrier Bag Man’, perhaps I’ll think of you.

“Well, please do! I suppose it was one of those good-natured jibes at the Melody Maker interview, where I said, ‘I won’t be going to your funeral, y’bastard,’ and him going, ‘I’ll be going to yours, y’bastard!’. And unfortunately, he lost that one, God bless him.

“Y’know though, he’s an under-rated musician. It amazes me when you listen to some of their tracks, then hear the trouble they had making them. They always worked in Suite 16 with my great mates Rex Sargeant – God rest his soul – and CJ (Chris Jones), the keyboard player in Revenge.

“He’d say they were fighting constantly. How they got anything done … but by God, didn’t it give them an edge! And I was thinking today, characters like him are sorely missed. You don’t get characters like him anymore, do you.”

While we’re talking history and anniversaries, it’ll have been 40 years last month since ‘Ceremony’ came out the first time. A great single, and listening back, I see that as a continuation of where you’d been heading with Joy Division. And within three months, you’d be recording that first New Order album, although it would be mid-November before Movement was released.

“That’s a bit scary, 40 years, isn’t it. Perhaps I should pop round to Bernard’s with a bottle of champagne.”

Captain Hook: Peter Hook, in the swing of things as The Light shone out on the scene in 2017 (Photo: Craige Barker)

Good call. Why not!

“Ha ha! I could lob it over the fence – ha ha! But I suppose it is … 40 years! And it always struck me, and one of the reasons I started The Light when I was unemployed, was because I couldn’t believe that as an entity we never celebrated anything to do with Joy Division. Throughout the whole of our career.

“And here we are now, not celebrating anything to do with New Order either! It was the anniversary of New Order’s first gig last year, we did nothing for that, and it’s just such a great shame. I’ll never … I just cannot admit they are New Order now. So we get off on the wrong foot right away.

“I do understand the survival technique needed, but … yeah, it is a great shame. And the thing is, the fans I’m sure would love any kind of olive branch – anything you could do would make everybody much better. But you never know, mate. Listen, we never thought we’d see a time like this in our lives …”

So when was the last time you saw a live band, or that you played in public?

“My God! We finished a tour of America at the end of November 2019, then I had three months off to do the New Order memorabilia auction … then covid came, I lost 150 gigs last year, and it’s looking like I’m going to miss the same amount this year, which is devastating.

“But listen, I’m fit and healthy …”

Is your vaccine jab booked yet?

“I’ve heard nothing … but I go up a category this Saturday. I’ve heard of a few people who have had the jab, so I can’t be far away.”

Maybe someone has been modifying your date of birth on the records.

“Hey! As long as they’re not modifying my jab! If I wake up with two heads, you’ll know who did it!”

As for this weekend’s birthday party, I’m guessing you’re not hiring a huge warehouse in Manchester on the sly. A quiet one at home, is it?

“Yeah, I’m not great at celebrating birthdays, I must admit. I’m a pretty typical, olden male. But every morning I wake up and thank God for another day … another day to waste, pissing about doing fuck all! But listen, we’ve all still got stuff to do. And I can’t believe it. I still feel fucking 24! Unbelievable.”

And long may that last.

“Well, thank you very much! You have a great time …”

And with that, he’s away, off to watch Netflix presumably.

To pre-order the K÷93 10”, featuring the songs, ‘Remembrance Day’, ‘Giving Up The Ghost’, and ‘Scrying’, plus exclusive merchandise, including t-shirts and mugs, head here

For the latest from Peter Hook, head here. For news from Killing Joke, follow this link. And for details of Chris Bryans’ impressive A Prophecy Fulfilled, ‘a tale of pioneers and revelations’ and a people’s history written about and with the co-operation of Killing Joke (This Day in Music Books, 2020), head here.

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Timeless cack-handed melodies – talking The La’s and Shack with Iain Templeton

Doorstep Troubadour: Action stills from Solian’s ‘B-Side the Sea’ promo video, Iain Templeton donning film-maker Jason Biggs’ Sunderland scarf on location in downtown Liverpool (Photo: WriteWyattUK via The Pool Underground)

“I’ve kind of been airbrushed out of their history really. I was busking in a band on Bold Street, and someone said, ‘The La’s are checking you out.’ I replied, ‘Ah, fuck The La’s. Syd Barrett meets The Beatles. Not interested!”. But then Lee (Mavers) came up to me. him and John (Power). He always had a bit of an entourage with him. This was early 1988. He said, ‘You’re our new drummer!’. The first thing he said to me. ‘This is biblical, la! You’re our new drummer. You are The La’s drummer.’

“I pretended I didn’t know who he was. I said, ‘Ah, no, not my scene’. They asked if they could go round my flat when I’d finished, play me a few songs. It was about teatime, Saturday night, they left at two in the morning and were back at nine, then went back to Huyton, where they lived. They stayed until I said, ‘Alright, I’ll give it a shot’.

“So I joined them, but he was so myopic – everything was ‘right’, everything had to have ‘dignity’! He’d say, ‘You’ve got to stomp with your right foot!’ I’d swing between left and right, and he was like, ‘No, you’ve got to do it like this, la!’. I was with them probably five or six months. I was the guy who left them, so he airbrushed me out. I don’t really get a mention.

“But there were about 40 drummers! They had Chris Sharrock waiting in the wings. I told them they didn’t need me, they needed someone like Chris. Lee’s Dad told me, ‘You’re like Gene Krupa!’ He was lovely. When I left, Lee said, ‘I could cry, la, but I won’t!’ I suggested, ‘Get your Neil’, and he said, ‘It’s not the fucking Osmonds, la!’. Neil’s a really great drummer, but that’s what he said at the time.

“He’d seen me busk in town, stood up with a bass drum, ride-cymbal, mounted tom and snare. From then he wanted stand-up drummers. Neil would stand up. Don’t get me wrong, Chris Sharrock was a great drummer, but … he went from Robbie Williams to Oasis, that’s what you need to know. He’s established, a bit mainstream … but he played with Lou Reed, man! A nice lad. I remember seeing him in a pub in town one afternoon. He’d been with them about a month. He asked, ‘How do you handle them?’ I said, ‘Well, I left, didn’t I?’.”

I’ve experienced some long interviews down the years, and my chat with Iain Templeton, known to some as Tempo, is certainly up there with them. I wrote lots of questions, but it took an age to get through just a few of them. It didn’t matter though. Most of what I wanted to ask came up, anecdotes about his spell with The La’s a perfect example (even if official records suggest 10 drummers rather than 40). And soon we moved on to his next prestigious employer, one assuring his place in the rich history of Liverpool’s music scene.  

“I’d only been in Liverpool a year and a half when I got with The La’s, where John Power was like an acolyte to the Messiah, Lee. Then I got with Shack and it was brothers – that was even thicker. It was all cocaine as well, which I didn’t like. And the reason I left Shack three times early doors, was because of The La’s experience. The songs were brilliant, but Scousers, for being so broad-minded were also so myopic. At least that’s my experience.”  

Live Tempo: Paris 2018 with Silvain Vanot, (Video copyright: Arnaud Bringer-Casanova / Les Champs Magnétiques)

I won’t bother with background detail about The La’s. If you’re reading this, you probably know enough. I’ll still say it though – their self-titled 1990 debut LP (the only one, as it turned out) was a work of genius. And while there’s not too much mention of Iain’s part in the official story (many of the parts were re-recorded, and as far as I can tell one of the few public airings of his part in the band’s short but rich history was a BBC Radio One session for Liz Kershaw in May ’88), it’s in the small print.

As for Shack, the same principles apply. If you’ve got this far down the interview, I reckon you’ll know about the cult Merseyside outfit formed by Michael and John Head, previously at the forefront of The Pale Fountains. Again, the word genius comes into it. If you’ve somehow missed out though, you’ll do far worse than start with 1999 LP, HMS Fable. And this time, Iain’s name is written large on the credits.

That wasn’t his only contribution though. He featured on Michael Head and the Strands’ LP, The Magical World of the Strands, recorded around 1993 and finally released in 1996, something of a bridge between the first and second comings of Shack. And Tempo largely stuck around since, also proving integral to 2003’s …Here’s Tom with the Weather (its title a nod to the Bill Hicks line, but partly in reference to his son of the same name, a regular around the studio as a youngster) and 2006’s On the Corner of Miles and Gil (named in tribute to a musical partnership that duly inspired Michael Head – Miles Davis and Gil Evans). And I put it to my interviewee that while the online history suggests he was on board from 1991/92, then 1998 onwards, I get the feeling it’s more complicated.

“I got with them in 1990, lasted a year and a half, falling out with them in a studio in London which ended up being smashed, part of the Waterpistol debacle. I walked out at half two in the morning, said, ‘You can fuck off!’, went back to where we were staying, grabbed my weed and my bag, and hitched home. It took me 16 hours to get to Liverpool!

“That was in a studio called Star Street, where the Ghetto (Recording Company) label was based. The irony, eh! The label was set up by music publisher Dick Lee, and Ian Broudie did the early Lightning Seeds stuff there. They had an office upstairs, and this demo studio downstairs.

“Too much brandy and coke. I wasn’t used to that horrible white shit. We had this big scrap, then I walked off, said I’m going home … forgetting it was in London! Ha! They probably thought I’d be in the room when they got back.”

I should add some background history. Waterpistol was the second Shack album, recorded in 1991 – on the back of less-celebrated 1988 debut, Zilch – but the Star Street studio where it was chiefly made burnt down shortly after, with most of the tapes destroyed. The sole remaining DAT was with producer Chris Allison, at that time in Los Angeles. Word has it that on returning, he left his copy in a hire car. It was found weeks later after a frenzied search, but by then Ghetto had folded, the LP without a distributor.

Accordingly, Shack split, bass player Pete Wilkinson joining John Power of The La’s in Cast, with Waterpistol not released until 1995, via German indie label Marina. In the meantime, the Head brothers – after a few dates backing Arthur Lee’s Love, formed the afore-mentioned Michael Head & The Strands, earning further critical acclaim when the resultant Magical World LP finally surfaced, increased interest leading to them soon working on the sessions that would lead to the highly-acclaimed HMS Fable, Tempo long since back on board.

“I’d just split up with my Chilean girl, went to the Canary Islands, and they went to Sheffield to mix The Strands album with the guy who did the first Oasis album. But they were on smack. I was putting down drums on tracks they’d already recorded.

Live Presence: Iain Templeton, Paris 2018, guesting on ‘Queen Matilda’, (WriteWyattUK via Arnaud Bringer-Casanova)

“When I (first) came back, we had a little skirmish, about 1995, but later that year they got a deal and said, ‘Look, we can give you three ton a week. Are you doing it?’ I said yeah, and 1996 to 2006 proved a very active time. After that, John wouldn’t work with Mick, so we sort of fragmented. It’s been on and off, but a lot more on than off. Immense grey areas there. It hasn’t been easy. We did get together to do a couple of things though, and I wouldn’t rule out a reunion.”

With no Shack reunions I know about since 2010, Michael Head has worked with the Red Elastic Band in more recent years, as well as Bill Ryder-Jones, formerly with The Coral. Meanwhile, Iain remains in touch with and occasionally plays alongside John Head. As you can probably tell, throughout our conversation we drifted from subject to subject, but now and again we dipped back into Shack-related tales, like the following story.

“In 1992 I fell out with Mick Head, so I left, but when I saw them at the Everyman pub in town (later that year), he said, ‘Up for a jam sometime?’. I said, ‘Yeah, why not,’ and he said, ‘Well, how about a tour of Japan?’ So I ended up back with them, we went over to Japan, got to Osaka, got out of the bullet train (Shinkansen), and there were hundreds of people there. We were like, ‘What the f-?’. Then we turned around, and Gary Lineker was behind us. Mick shouted out, ‘Alright, Gary, yer bluenose!’. Straight out. There he is in Japan, just got into the city, and someone’s called him a Bluenose! Ha! Hilarious.”

For the uninitiated, that’s a term from the red half of Liverpool for those associated with Everton, with whom England striker Lineker featured for a season after seven years with hometown club Leicester City, leaving Goodison Park for three more under Terry Venables then Johan Cruyff at Barcelona. Three years followed for Tottenham Hostpur before an injury-ravaged two-term finale at Nagoya Grampus Eight. You probably knew all that, but at least that’s something where I can give a few certain dates. The history of Shack appears far more sketchy.  

Then there was a story touching on a friendship with a certain Zak Starkey, on board with The Who since 1996, but also spending between time stints with several other outfits, including Oasis from 2004/08, both of whom took Shack out on tour as a support band.

“We became good mates, me and Zak. I took to him to where his old man was born, and once everybody clocked who he was, they all started ripping beermats, ‘Here y’are, sign this! You’re just like your auld feller!’ And when he looks at you, he does look ‘Liverpool’. He looks local. A lovely guy.”

That pub was The Empress, the Dingle hostelry that features on the cover of Ringo’s 1970 solo LP, Sentimental Journey. In fact, he’d already mentioned that boozer, not far from his Toxteth base, when we’d somehow got on to Don Powell, him telling me a mate was in there one day, having a pint, when the legendary Slade drummer – a Beatles nut – walked in, making his own pilgrimage. 

“Those streets have been renovated now, and where Ringo lived was like a bombsite just 10 years ago, they go for a lot of money. Toxteth’s been regentrified.”

There’s plenty we didn’t get on to, for instance his work with David Gray, just before ‘Babylon’ took him to another level, a stint with Pete Wylie, around the time Liverpool venue The Picket was forced to close in 2004, and also the Last Poets’ Jalal Muriddin, and French singer-songwriter Silvain Vanot. But my main excuse for getting in touch was a forthcoming solo release, a project accelerated by the covid-19 shutdown, my interviewee only recently going public about his new songs, also conducting an online interview for Independent Venue Week with Greg Topolian … after a little encouragement.  

“I’d never really let anyone hear those songs, other than people who might play on them … until last August. I’d say, ‘I’ll be in your band if your songs are as good as mine’. But drummers tend not to get as much chance. Weather Report’s Peter Erskine said, ‘What’s the quickest way to split up a band? The drummer goes, ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a couple of tunes.’!’ Mick (Head) wanted one of mine on the last couple of albums, but it was hard enough for John. But now I’ve decided I’ve got to do this.”

Home Comforts: Tempo takes it easy, awaiting the verdict on his new solo venture (Photo copyright: Claire Melhado)

He sent me side one of his proposed album before our interview, side two soon following, Tempo intending to release them under the name Solian. The six songs on side one bleed into each other, something he attributes to a love of Manu Chao’s work. But while the lo-fi quality of the recording works so well, and I reckon they’re as good as ready, it seems he’s not averse to a few late changes, as I learned when my confusion over the name of the opening song (was it ‘Sweet Home’ or ‘Home Suite’?) led to him renaming it ‘Sweet Home Suite’ on the spot before telling me more about its origin.

“There’s a festival called Liverpool Light Nights, and I was booked to do this small gig next to the Anglican cathedral, at The Oratory. Then covid happened. But they had a theme, ‘Light Nights Present Home’, and on the poster I added the word ‘Stay’ before the last word, and felt this song would work in the circumstances. All those people complaining about not being able to have a haircut or being stuck at home during lockdowns. Having travelled around India and various places, I just feel we should think ourselves lucky we’ve got a home. There’s a lot of people in town whose home is a fucking tent!”

It’s a great start to the record – lush, laidback, ethereal, with gorgeous chord sequences and additional guitar from Jason Kristensen and John Head (having continued to occasionally work with the younger Head brother in recent years).

“There’s probably four guitars, mostly me, but I also had John on there, embellishing. You see, I’m left-handed and play upside down …”

A lengthy discussion followed with your fellow left-handed scribe, one I’ll hold back on for now other than to say he’s keen to conduct ‘a study into left-handedness in the arts’.

Back to the recordings, and we go straight into ‘B-side the Sea’ (he does love his wordplay), Tempo having made a promo video with guitarist Jason Biggs, part of his The Pool Underground venture.

“It was raining, so we were shooting it in Jason’s house. I said, ‘I really wanted to be beside the sea, but he said, ‘Iain, this song is about home. You’re just wishing you were beside the sea.’ Also a good way of minimising the expense! It’s a bit vaudeville, but it’s an instant song, and it’s got layers. It was the first track we did and the most commercial – it should get radio play. Yet it’s lo-fi, because I recorded it myself.”

Monochrome Set: Iain ‘Tempo’ Templeton, grounded in black and white (Photo copyright: Alex Wolkowicz)

In the tradition of great tracks like The Coral’s 2003 single ‘Pass It On’, it’s barely two and a quarter minutes, not outstaying its welcome. And I suggested it has a George Harrison meets Dave Davies vibe.

“Wow! I’ve been sending stuff to a friend of Jason’s, Laura Rickenbacker – a great name for a bass player! She’s in Sweden, a total Beatles and Nilsson nut, and said, ‘The way to sum you up is you’re a dark horse, like George. I was knocked out by that, and both Greg and you have now mentioned The Kinks. Nice one.”

Discussion followed about our mutual favourite Kinks LP, Arthur, and their finest single, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, Tempo bringing the Head brothers in.

“He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, but Ray Davies is a big influence on Mick, and John loves that Ray’s little brother, Dave, is still treated like a little brother. That dynamic – Shack was that really! That’s why I didn’t give them many songs. There was no room for mine.”

I love the seaside sound effects, and I’m also reminded of ‘Seaside’, the short introductory track on 2006 debut Kooks LP, Inside in/Inside Out, one I’ve put on many a holiday compilation. As for track three, again there’s a Kinks vibe. What’s it called? Is it ‘I’ll Be There For You’, as I scribbled down?

“That’s ’I Be There’. I didn’t want it to be another ‘I’ll Be There’. There’s loads of them. Yeah, I suppose there’s a Kinks thing there too, now I look back. I grew up with them and the Small Faces.”

He was soon off again, this time in praise of Steve Marriott and Dusty Springfield, then getting on to Ronnie Lane’s songcraft, Geno Washington’s stagecraft and Toxteth’s own The Chants and the band that followed, The Real Thing … before we get back to ‘I Be There’.

“My son was only four or five – around 18 years ago – when I came up with that. It was really me saying, ‘When I’m not there, I’m there! You’re always in my heart. I’ll be there, watching over you, and I’ll be coming home.’ That universally works as a love song … and it’s another single really.”

The whistling adds to its charm, I suggested, and somehow we get on to Lionel Bart’s Oliver soundtrack, Iain again in awe, before we get back on topic.

“That goes into a song called ‘Dayze’ … which is actually about night. It’s good to be arty at night, because most people are asleep and you can pick up on all the active vibes that are out there. As I say in the song, ‘Night-time is the time to be free, everything you own is really something you don’t need.’ You can just have a pair of shoes and a pair of shorts and get by in a warm country.”

Again, there’s a reflective, dreamy feel, its lovely over-lapping vocals really working.

“I double-tracked them. I was singing into my sleeve then. I’m more confident now! The lovely piano is played by Rachel Diop. She also plays clarinet, flute, she’s a great singer, plays guitar, an all-round, great musician, and having worked with fellas for so long, she’s so accommodating. That was our first collaboration. Once we’d got that piano in, it was like bricks and cement.

“I initially used a drum machine, and over-dubbed tom-toms and cymbal. I love drum machines. People say, ‘Aren’t they the enemy?’ No, that’s musicians – they’re the enemy!

“That then fits into ‘Free like a Bird’ …”

Ah, I’d written down ‘She Don’t Waste No Time’, maybe to distance it from posthumous Lennon-penned Beatles single ‘Free As a Bird’.

“Oh! Well, how about ‘Free (She Don’t Waste no Time)’? Getting this feedback is amazing!

“I wanted it to be all one word, like Love’s ‘Andmoreagain’ … but ‘Freelikeabirdinthesky’ looked ridiculous! That song’s really about, ‘Aren’t women lovely … the special ones’. It’s about my girlfriend who flew back to Chile – the regime was fucked, so she could go back. I always say, ‘She left me for another country’! She loved Chile, in her heart. And like the first song, it’s almost like the Cuban mountain music that initiated what we call salsa. When you play those chords, rumba-style … I love those chords. A lot of what I do is very Cuban, and therefore has West African roots, Spanish, Indian … even if it ends up sounding like The Kinks!”

Perhaps that fits in with this lad – in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from around the age of six to 17, by which time he was playing ‘in all sorts of pub bands, blues and everything’ – identifying with Liverpool. Like the port that became his home, all manner of international influences pass through and are taken on board.  But how did he end up on Merseyside?

“I first came here in 1986, to Toxteth, where I am today, for a party, over from Blackpool by car with three other lads. I met this woman, stayed the weekend, forgot my afro-comb, and she said, ‘Just leave it. It’ll go into locks’. I did, and I’m still here! And in my heart, I’m as scouse as anyone. These are my people. This is what I’m like – direct.

“I said to The La’s, ‘You can’t have me on drums. I’m not even a scouser.’ But Lee said, ‘You are now’. So after a year and a half, I was in the top band in town, being called an honorary scouser.”

Back to the record, the last track on side one – is it ‘Ocean Sea’, ‘Without You’, or ‘Only Wanna Be With You’?

“It’s actually ‘Sola Luna’. It’s about the sun and wanting to be out in the sun. And like ‘B-side the Sea’ it’s a dream, ‘the deep blue ocean calling me home’.”

There are more chord changes to savour there.

“Nice one. On the first demo it was more a love song. Then I sussed it was about the sun, adding ‘Luna’ as it’s a Ying and Yang thing, the duality of life – very important. You can’t have the sun without the moon. The moon turns the tides, and all that.”

Funnily enough, it reminds me a little of Paul Weller’s bandmate Andy Crofts’ band The Moons. And talking of Weller, his drummer Steve Pilgrim also features in Liverpool outfit The Stands (not to be confused with Michael Head’s Strands, although Steve Pilgrim has also played with Michael), a former Shack support band.

Talking of drummers, the introduction to the final track on side one reminds me of Ringo on ‘The End’ from Abbey Road, as sampled in the intro to ‘Get Back’ on the Love album.

“Well, when this album comes out of ‘Dayze’ and Free (She Don’t Waste no Time)’, it’s definitely got a Love element to it. And on ‘Sola Luna’ I think it’s all the way through … but it’s not conscious. I love that album, seeing Love as George Martin’s epitaph as well as the crossover with (son) Giles. A beautiful album.”

Again, it’s not far off a glorious final two and a half minutes, and for me has the feel of Neil Finn’s son Liam’s I’ll Be Lightning LP from 2007.

“You know Yorkie? His Mum’s house was where the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and Pale Fountains rehearsed, in the basement. He ended up playing bass for Space, and produced our last album (Shack’s 2006 LP On the Corner of Miles and Gil). He absolutely loves Crowded House and really loves Split Enz. He’d say, ‘Fuck Liverpool bands, these are the most rewarding of The Beatles’ crown!”

Well, check out I’ll Be Lightning, you’ll love the sound …

“What, it’s lo-fi and shit like mine? Ha!”

I was actually going to say that final track on side one has a soupy quality, like it’s come out of the speaker into some kind of vat.

“It’s a broth … all thrown into a pan of scouse. Juices come out, and there you go – soup!”

And like the album itself, it’s chock-full of timeless cack-handed melodies.

“Ah, man, that’s great!”

At this point, he decides to interview me instead. But I’m not quite done and plough on, picking up my programme from Catatonia’s Home Internationals in May 1999, having seen Cerys Matthews and co.’s showcase outdoor event at Llangollen, where, as well as a cracking headline set, there were memorable appearances from feted Welsh outfits Gorky’s Zygotic Mynki, Big Leaves and Richard Parfitt, and a certain band called Shack, third on the bill.

“Ah, yeah! We arrived on Friday night, got to the hotel late, but Cerys waited up for us, along with the bass player, Paul (Jones, on board from 1993 to the end in 2001). I got chatting to Cerys, and it was all a bit abstract, like meeting someone on a train. I told her, ‘Cerys, you are the Princess of Wales!’, and she gave me a big hug.

“When they came on the next night, she said, ‘What did you think of Shack? Great, aren’t they?’ And when we went to Margam Park, Port Talbot, she said it again.

“I was hanging with the bass player quite a bit, there with his wife and kids, and I was missing my son. Paul was about 55 then, having been in loads of bands in Wales (including Y Cyrff). I also recall meeting Cerys’ Dad, a doctor. Both her parents came to Port Talbot. I said, ‘You must be so proud of her’, and he said, straight back, ‘I’m proud of all of my kids’. A lovely thing to say.”

Shack certainly impressed that day, so I’m surprised it took a while before I got round to buying HMS Fable. Then again, within nine months we had our first daughter, so priorities changed, any disposable income disappearing. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d picked up on Michael and John having been at the heart of The Pale Fountains, despite having loved 1985’s From Across the Kitchen Table LP. Now, of course, I clearly hear parallels between the title track and ‘Natalie’s Party’, for a start.

“I think what it was, the Palies used to wear stupid clothes, like Oxford graduates from the ‘20s, and were trying to live that down. I think that’s part of the reason they wanted me on drums. I’d been in The La’s and they were trying to be like The La’s then. They wanted to go indie, get away from that over-blown Virgin, spend-a-fortune image.

“Actually, when we went to Japan, we were called Shack/The Pale Fountains, doing all those songs, and I ended up playing with the Palies at a reunion, the original drummer, Jock (Thomas Whelan), struggling with his walking. But I played on a few songs with him, and it was lovely – that line-up complete but for the bass player, Chris ‘Biffa’ McCaffrey, who sadly died in 1989.

“Actually, my most beautiful memory with Shack was from the second time I was with them, when Mick turned to John and said, ‘It’s like having Biffa back’. Biffa was his best friend, and only 28 when he died. When I got the depth of what I’d heard him say, that blew my mind. It’s a deep love I’ve got with them boys, and Wilkie.”

That’s bass player Peter Wilkinson, part of the 1990/91 version of Shack before joining John Power’s Cast, in more recent years featuring with both Echo and the Bunnymen and returning to Shack. But back to Llangollen …

“Everyone was great backstage. A lot of Welsh spoken, but soon as you came along, they’d go into English. Gorky’s were great too.

“After that we ended up doing the Manics’ Millennium Stadium shows in Cardiff, New Year’s Eve ‘99. They were lovely lads. I remember James Dean Bradfield knocked and came into our room, said, ‘Alright lads’, went back out and came back with two crates of champagne. ‘This is from us to you. Thanks for doing it. It means a lot to us. We love you’. Nicky (Wire) was great too. His brother’s a poet (Patrick Jones) and opened for us. And just taking the trouble to come and see us, knock and say hello means loads.”

From what I can gather, Cerys saw you live at an NME event at the ICA earlier that year, and was so impressed she booked you, having also heard an advance copy of HMS Fable.

“Yeah, she knew our management. I’ll talk anyone’s head off, as you now know, but she was worse than me! ‘What do you wanna drink?’ ‘I’ll have a beer’. ‘I’ll get you a beer. Would you like a brandy with it?’ I then had three hours listening to her. Ha! She was great!

“And I love North Wales. We did …Here’s Tom with the Weather in Bethesda. We were there around four months. We went to this pub, and next thing we’re talking to the Super Furry Animals’ roadie. Sadly, he died a couple of years ago. You’d asked for strings and he’d offer coke as well!

“But from Cerys onwards, they embraced it, and we felt welcome there. I’ll tell you something else. I love Gruff Rhys. ‘Ice Hockey Hair’ is an absolute masterpiece. Of all those from that era – the Gallaghers, The Verve, and so on, Gruff’s my man. And I’ll tell you something else – he’s also left-handed, plays guitar upside down like me!”

Footnote: after our interview, Tempo shared side two of his solo LP with me, and I can confirm the second half is as rich and compelling as the first, the quality continuing across the record. I won’t go into detail yet, but watch this space. Hopefully a release date is imminent, those timeless cack-handed melodies deserving your attention.

Looking Up: Iain ‘Tempo’ Templeton says grace, whilst awaiting his next live outing (Photo copyright: Claire Melhado)

For Iain Templeton’s rather elusive online presence, try this Whispering Pines label website link. You can also find Solian’s ‘B-Side the Sea’ promo video via The Pool Underground here, the track available as a digital single from March 4th, with more detail following soon.

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Updating the profile – the Cathal Coughlan interview

CC Rider: Cathal Coughlan, back with sixth solo LP Song of Co-Aklan, his first in a decade (Photo: Gregory Dunn)

Home is normally London for Cathal Coughlan, having initially left Cork in the summer of 1983 alongside Sean O’Hagan to relaunch Microdisney, keen to pick up on interest from legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel and escape a supposed ‘unpopular support band’ tag.

But right now, he’s holed up with his partner in North Staffordshire, isolating of sorts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re just taking a break in the Midlands … except that we’re stuck here for the lockdown. We began by taking a break … a break that became mandatory. It’s ok though – it’s possible to get out and have a walk, which became really hard in London.”

My excuse for tracking down Cathal is the forthcoming release of his sixth solo album, his first in more than a decade, Song Of Co-Aklan a compelling 12-song opus recorded in London, with guest appearances from good friends and old bandmates, including the afore-mentioned Sean O’ Hagan, Jon Fell and John Bennett (Microdisney/High Llamas), Luke Haines (Auteurs/Black Box Recorder), Rhodri Marsden (Scritti Politti), Aindrías Ó Gruama (Fatima Mansions), Cory Gray (The Delines), and Dublin singer-songwriter Eileen Gogan.

I was only a couple of listens in when we spoke, but continue to pick up more and more with every play, the first shot across the bows the sublimely-catchy lead single and title track, an accompanying video by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker George Seminara also starring Luke Haines and James Woodrow, Nick Allum and Audrey Riley (aka the Grand Necropolitan Quartet, Cathal’s long-time collaborators, drummer/percussionist Nick Allum having featured throughout the Fatima Mansions years and on all Cathal’s solo LPs). 

And yet I put it to Cathal that I love how the second single is the darker, more brooding and discordant Steely Dan meets Scott Walker-like ‘Owl in the Parlour’, going from arguably the most commercial on the record to one of the least obviously radio-friendly.

“Oh, yeah!”

It’s certainly a record worth putting the extra ear-work in for, tracks like ‘St Wellbeing Axe’,  with its hints of latter-day Bowie, and the slow-building ‘The Lobster’s Dream’ coming alive, the same applying to ‘Owl in the Parlour’, now among my favourites.  Besides, I guess he’s got form for all that, going right back, an amazing song like Microdisney’s ‘Loftholdingswood’ initially relegated to B-side status. But while the new LP grows ever stronger for me, I’m guessing top-40 hits aren’t on the agenda.

“I wish I could say it was entirely premeditated, but it’s such a diverse-sounding record that it took a long time to come up with a running order. I’ve ended up with this thing that starts off lively, gets really intense for quite a long time, and finishes in quite a pastoral way. I hope people go for it – ha! – because I couldn’t find another way to do it.”

I agree about the way the LP is sequenced, that second half of the album my preferred half, I’d say, with so much in there waiting to grab you after repeated listenings, not least on ‘The Copper Beech’, ‘Falling Out North St.’ and ‘Unrealtime’. Getting back to the opening title track though, particularly with the chorus, I hear echoes of the Icicle Works. I guess his and Ian McNabb’s voices share certain qualities. 

“It’s a fairly singalong chorus, and it’s got some very nice jangly guitar from Mr Woodrow. It does get a bit ragged in the middle part, but the idea was to be kind of contrary. There are more straightforward things on the album, like ‘The Knockout Artist’, quite near the end. I don’t really mess with people much on that one.”

There’s a song that grows on me the more I hear it, my favourite on the record, one on which Sean O’Hagan adds synth touches. It’s also one deserving wider airplay, with lots of lovely guitar, swirling keyboard, and an underlying ‘70s feel. But is there an overriding message? Does this record tell us more about where we are right now in the 2020s? And what’s ‘The Song of Co-Aklan’ about?

“It’s kind of a refracted vision of how people are being forced to live in seemingly intolerable situations, like having their homes bombed out from under them, and in the overall scheme of things it’s not seen as mattering, because so much of the wealthy part of the world has become completely numb to things that would have caused a lot of concern, even in the ‘70s.

“The ‘70s was a very turbulent time and in the ‘80s we had the Lebanese civil war and a bunch of other really long conflicts – Northern Ireland kept on going and going – and yet something like Syria seems to cause no direct alarm to anybody. And I say direct because the refugee problem and the mass migration it fuelled has contributed to other political movements as more wealthy countries try to keep those people out, even though their situation has been rendered so intolerable.

“But I’m not trying to offer any kind of solution, I’m just kind of offering a suitably broken-up vision of it. Because it is a broken reality. That’s what I’m trying to get across really – it’s a broken reality where certainties that we console ourselves with don’t work. Once a thing like that descends on you, all bets are off, and the pandemic has given us a taste, but no more than that.”

Speaking of which, I initially took a positive slant on the public reaction to the covid crisis, the public seemingly recognising the true value of health workers, carers, front-line workers, and so on. After all that divisive shite about Brexit and the General Election won on it, maybe we were waking up to what was really important – the NHS, the Welfare State, community values …

But it didn’t take long for that vision to sour, a Government seemingly more interested in awarding key contracts to cronies, freezing public sector pay while clapping along with the rest of us. And already we see the reality of false borders between the UK and Europe, media outlets stoking up ‘us and them’ attitudes, so many taken in by it all.

“Yeah, that is diabolical, the exceptionalism and very selective view of history is really fundamentally disturbing for the future of this country. When I moved here, I had a slightly Pollyanna view which is that the UK had the welfare state and had taken some measures to reform its society after the shock of the Second World War. But gradually we’ve seen so much of that reversed, done in a dishonest and ambiguous way – with sneaky privatisations and little bits of kleptocracy.

Owl's That: Parlour-made Cathal Coughlan, back with 12 brand new songs for 2021 (Photo: Gregory Dunn)

Owl’s That: Parlour-made Cathal Coughlan, back with 12 brand new compositions for 2021 (Photo: Gregory Dunn)

“The thing about the NHS in the pandemic is that because of this dearth of candour we have, it was possible for the whole ‘leave’ wing of the Tory party to co-opt the Thursday night applause as if they’d thought of it. And clearly there’s still no consideration given toward rewarding properly the people who have worked in the NHS through all of this or taking into account the fact that such a high proportion at certain levels were born in another country.

“It would be nice to think once the smoke has cleared, there will be some sort of evaluation. No one’s looking for a lynch-mob, but it doesn’t seem too likely at the moment that this evaluation will happen. It will just move on to the next thing.”

First time I saw Cathal was with Microdisney in December 1985 – 35 years ago last month – supporting That Petrol Emotion at the Boston Arms, Tufnell Park, North London, his imposing stage presence just part of a rich sonic and visual tapestry, this punter soon splashing out on The Clock That Comes Down the Stairs, that Rough Trade release remaining among my favourite ever LPs.

Seemingly mournful in tone, here was sheer poetry, in music and lyric form. While many of the LPs I listened to then were slowly left behind, it stood the test of time. And the following year came another corking album, the Lenny Kaye-produced Crooked Mile, this time on major label Virgin. Ahead of this interview I went back to that for the first in a very long time, having forgotten how well I knew every chord change, every nuance, so many of the lyrics coming back mid-song.

Those albums were an integral part of the soundtrack of my life around then. But only one more followed, the overall too safe and smooth (although partially good as ever) 39 Minutes proving to be their last, Sean going on to form The High Llamas while Cathal gave us the similarly-acclaimed if not wildly different Fatima Mansions.

Although it took a while, Cathal’s now rightly considered to be among Ireland’s most revered singer/ songwriters, ‘beloved by fans of caustic literate lyricism and erudite songcraft’, as current label Dimple Discs put it.

Since the demise of Fatima Mansions in the mid-‘90s, he’s released five acclaimed solo albums and taken part in an array of different collaborations, making numerous guest appearances. And there was 2019’s Ireland’s National Concert Hall Trailblazer Award – celebrating culturally-important LPs by iconic Irish musicians, songwriters and composers – for The Clock Comes Down the Stairs.

Despite that old adage about never judging a book, or in this case an LP by its cover, if an image ever sold a record, there it was for me, sold from the start by Felicia Cohen’s sleeve photograph of a busy rail intersection at Crystal Palace, soon feeling the same way about the record itself.

“I think it’s aged pretty well. There are things on it which are of their time, sound-wise, but I think they actually hold up. It doesn’t automatically follow that just because you can pretty accurately work out when something was made that it’s automatically anachronistic. There’s some great things from the ‘80s that could only have been made then – the classic for me being Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen, which completely works.”

Agreed. But while The Clock briefly topped the indie charts in late ’85, as former Buzzcocks manager and New Hormones label boss Richard Boon put it on Paul McDermott’s splendid 2018 radio documentary about Microdisney for RTE, ‘They should have been more than just cult heroes’.

I wasn’t trying to work out what resonated then, but listening back now – knowing where Sean went with the High Llamas and his love of Brian Wilson’s work, and hearing Cathal’s love of Scott Walker, Bertolt Brecht, and so on – I see how a chalk and cheese combination of Cathal’s often mournful tones – although never less than poetic, descriptive and insightful – and Sean’s bright guitar work and melodies appealed. What John Peel called, with a nod to Thomas Carlyle, ‘an iron fist in velvet glove’. And there were parallels with Prefab Sprout and Microdisney’s Aussie pals The Go-Betweens.

There’s a quote from Robert Forster on the RTE documentary suggesting ‘we were immigrants and I think that was something that pulled us together’. Both bands struggled to be heard, with very little money to get by on, sharing the same rehearsal rooms and alcohol-fuelled downtimes. I also assume there was a feeling for both bands that they had to make it big or face going home, their dreams burst. But raise their games they did, the songcraft of each act making me sit up and notice then and now. And it’s clearer now that they had in common positions on the outside lane of pop – outsiders in more ways than one.

“Yeah, we were. I think we confused people. Some of it cultural stuff. We didn’t have the agenda capabilities of the normal London music group, where it’s important to show your influences and maybe not mix your messages too much. I’m not saying we were right and they were all wrong, because frankly there were a lot more of them than us! But coming from Ireland as it was in those days, you didn’t have that kind of nous, really. It was just about finding something that worked. If it confused people, that was the price you had to pay.”

In music, football or whatever, I’ll often come down on the side of the underdog. I guess in Cathal’s case too, the accent and Irish heritage marked him out as different. A love of The Undertones and their successors, That Petrol Emotion, made me more open to that, but I guess that made it all the harder for London Irish outfits running the gauntlet on a daily basis at a time when the Troubles were such an issue, both sides of the water.

“It wasn’t overtly terrible, but there were everyday things that were problematic, like looking for a place to live when you needed to do that, and politics generally. But inside music, at least with the people who’d speak to you, there was no problem at all. It was quite a welcoming set-up in many ways. We met people like The Mekons and The Go-Betweens, and a little later, the Kitchenware people. But officialdom was a lot stickier in those days.”

Picking up on the indie factor, you were with Rough Trade, and a small number of acts on leading independent labels like Factory and Postcard went on to have commercial success. Was there a defined manifesto to do the same when you got to London, and did you know where you were headed?

“We thought we were headed for the label that became Blanco y Negro, best known to posterity as the home of The Jesus and Mary Chain, although that was still a couple of years in the future. But it was going to be this amazing kind of artistic salon, co-funded by Geoff Travis (Rough Trade) but also Mike Alway from Cherry Red and a bunch of other people.

“It didn’t really turn out like that, so there was a lot of waiting around. They did sign their name on the invoice for us to go and record most of the first album but over-committed all over town and inevitably a reckoning came. Geoff had told us if all else failed the album could come out on Rough Trade, and Sean had the presence of mind to remind him of that, so that ended up happening. But it was a weird time at Rough Trade, The Smiths just beginning to absolutely sky-rocket!”

I understand you were helping out in the warehouse with that push.

“We had to re-sleeve a whole lot of ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ singles because of changes to the cover.”

While no doubt always short of cash, in a critical sense you had important backers. You mentioned Geoff Travis and Mike Alway, and there was Peel …

“Oh yeah, more than anyone else really.”

Was it six Peel sessions with Microdisney and two with Fatima Mansions altogether?

“Sounds about right. There was an awful lot of support, and the amazing thing – hard to describe to anybody nowadays – is that you could communicate with a pretty broad audience all over the UK and even Ireland and wherever people picked up UK armed forces radio, whether or not you had a record out. When you had as much coverage, session-wise, as we had, it was pretty decisive.”

True enough. We picked up on bands time and again through Peel playing them first. I guess that was the case all over, helping you play towns and cities where you had no previous links.  

“It was. I’m not saying we were getting fantastic fees, but as long as you didn’t have to stay over and pay for a B&B … that was about the limit. We could just about do Newcastle, because we knew people there and could stay. We only made it to Glasgow once during that period. There was the usual pretty unsavoury driving after shows, the driver having trouble staying awake, completely sober but having difficulty. There was a lot of that.”

It was hard enough for us getting home from London, let alone heading in all directions back to the capital. Many a time I drifted off down the A3 after a few ales as a passenger after nights out in Kentish Town, Kilburn, Camden, or wherever.

Going back to that first time I saw you, I’m not even sure we caught the start of the Boston Arms set, but recall you in rant mode during ‘464’ or ‘Harmony Time’ (or both). I was aware that the early years’ collection was called We Hate You South African Bastards! and perhaps put those factors together, misremembering a major shouty moment about the evils of apartheid. Either way, it made a huge impression.

“Yeah, memory over long distance is a little bit tough. It certainly is for me. I’m not even positive that we did the Boston Arms with the Petrols.”

Well, I recently discovered an online upload of someone’s bootleg that night.

“Oh, really. We did the Town and Country Club with The Go-Betweens around then …”

I think that was late April ’86.

“Oh, okay.”

I should point out I only knew that because I looked it up earlier. I’m not that much of an anorak … honest. I don’t think I saw Microdisney’s Whistle Test performance earlier that year first time around though. I’d have definitely remembered that.


Anyway, when did you last get back to Cork?

“Oh … that’s a sore one. September 2019. It really bites this time. If I had any idea this was coming, I would have made other plans for the latter part of that year. But there was stuff that had to be done, then this happened, and it’s the longest I’ve been away for 40 years.”

How different is Cork today from that you left in 1983 when you came over with Sean?

“In some aspects, it’s unrecognisable. I have to be really careful not to make assumptions about anything, because I haven’t spent any big chunk of time there, but in the case of Cork in particular the appreciation my generation had for music, visual art and literature from outside really blossomed for the generations since, and there is actual infrastructure that allows people to do stuff there, have their base there and have a community there.

“That wasn’t there in my time, so it’s a great thing. On the other side, they suffered through the 2008/2010 economic collapse. That really took its toll, so the progress hasn’t always been in one direction, but it could be argued that it’s still the same place, just more sure of itself, certainly on the creative side.”

Regarding your initial era here, you made lots of good friends then that remain so today. And this LP is with Dimple Discs, a label effectively revolving around Damian O’Neill (The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion, The Everlasting Yeah) and namesake Brian O’Neill, from your Rough Trade days. I guess you’ve known both for a long time.

“I first met Damian in 1981, I think, with the five-piece early Micro Disney (as they were then). We supported The Undertones in Salthill, a resort just on the edge of Galway. I think we drove back to Cork that night, but spent a very happy hour or so chatting to Damian, John (O’Neill), Mickey (Bradley), Feargal (Sharkey) …

“I met Brian at Rough Trade, I think that would have been 1983, probably that stint in the warehouse. Somebody last year posted a video where I think you see the side of my head. It’s not like I spent a huge amount of time there. It just happened to be the day someone was walking around with a camera. Someone else who features heavily is Nick Clift, who’s working the digital side of this album from his current home in Jersey City.”

I interviewed Nick last year about his band, the Folk Devils, their story intertwining historically with the early days of Killing Joke and links with Rude Boy leading actor Ray Gange, bringing in The Clash story and squat scene of the early ‘80s. While clearly a big city, it seems there was a relatively small community of artists around London out to make an impact, including Sean and yourself, rehearsing in Camberwell, living initially in Kensal Rise, but also with an East London link.

“East London was where are all the cheap premises were, particularly studios like that in Hoxton Square – unthinkable now. We did a lot of mixing for The Clock Comes Down the Stairs there. Yeah, even London was capable of hosting lots of rough and ready little businesses, which no way it is now.”

When you first came over, I was still 15, yet to do my O-levels, but equate Summer ’83 with the last Undertones gigs (until their 1999 return), seeing them bow out at the Lyceum and Selhurst Park.

“I remember me and Sean running into Damian and Mickey (Bradley) on Ladbroke Grove that following winter, and they were starting a group.”

Was that Eleven?

“That’s right!”

I saw them a couple of times at the Marquee. I thought they were great, felt that might be their next direction. But it wasn’t to be.

“I never got to hear them. We were pretty skint and could only go to gigs if we could get in for free.”

Well, they managed one Peel session.

“Ah, I didn’t know!”

Would you ever have thought, almost four decades later, you’d still be involved in all this? Or was that never in doubt? Did you always have that belief you were going somewhere?

“I can’t say I had the belief, but certainly had quite a lot of determination, although I’ve been prone to extremes of doubt and a lot of short-term thinking. It is quite surprising to look back now, for that reason. Even though it’s been intermittent for the last while, there’s still been live work, other people’s projects or bits of writing, and I’ve been able to keep it going.”

Are you making a living out of this? So many of us end up dabbling in other areas to ensure bills are paid.

“I’ve had to do that. It’s just a logical consequence of not selling any records! There is no mystery benefactor. You have to sustain yourself by some means. But at the moment I’ve got a bit of breathing space to try and do as much as I can.”

This new LP suggests you’ve put a difficult year to great use, as have several artists I’ve spoken to lately. In a sense it’s how we function perhaps – maybe others are getting a taste of that approach to life, having to adapt similar coping mechanisms. That doesn’t mean we’re not suffering the same mental health issues, but …

“I suppose so, although there are still times when I have to pinch myself. I nearly grab my coat to go down the shops to get a screw or a packet of nails or something, and you can only do that under quite specific circumstances. Just having that ability and breathing space to a possibly quite mundane experience that takes you outside of yourself. Even when I’ve been at home doing music seven days a week, I’d always want to take a walk around, get some vegetables or something, just to break that up, and now that’s difficult.

“I was lucky that the album was more or less already mixed and I’d been in the studio, but had quite a lot left to do. The only way I was going to get done in any reasonable timeframe was to do it myself. That pulled me through the first couple of months without any major shift. It was a case of get the head down, get the thing actually finished.

“After that, I started working with Jacknife Lee on this duo album we’ve done as Telefis. That will come out later this year. And although it’s been done remotely, it’s pretty intense in its own way – it’s not an introspective strum-along!”

Co-Dependence: Cathal Coughlan, ready to return to the road once the covid coast is clear (Photo: Gregory Dunn)

Although part of you as an artist is used to working alone, I bet you miss the performing.

“Oh yeah, that would be the next logical thing to do. We just don’t know when it’s going to be possible.”

It’s all very well telling you it’s a great album, but I’m guessing you need that feel from people seeing you play in a crowded pub or whatever.

“You do. That’s when the material starts to talk back to you, and you get more of a focus on what you want to do next. That’s the thing. I’m trying hard to get stuck into the next thing and I’ve got some things I think are quite good. But it would really help to give this album a bit of a kicking in front of an audience to find out some things.”

When that finally happens – and we won’t try and put a date on it – would that involve a set based on this LP but with a sprinkling of past solo work, Fatima Mansions and Microdisney songs?

“Definitely a mix. The only slight unknown is what kind of line-up I’d have on stage. That’s partly a factor of how far you’ve got to go and how many people you can afford to bring along! To an extent that dictates what material to pick from, but I’m pretty lucky at this point there’s a lot to choose from.”

You’ve worked with a lot of those involved on this album for a while, haven’t you, like Luke Haines?

“Yeah, we’ve done quite a bit. We did The North Sea Scrolls with Andrew Müller (2012). That was the most intensive co-working we’ve had, but we see each other pretty often. When he offered to do some stuff, I was delighted, especially when it transpired it wasn’t going to be a double-bass record – it was going to be bass guitar, which wasn’t any logical decision, but he was able to fit in great. He’s totally self-sufficient in home recording.”

James Woodrow and Nick Allum also go back a long time with you.

“Yeah, and Audrey, but Nick goes back the longest of all – 1988 or thereabouts.”

Last year, I interviewed Eileen Gogan – who features on understated, slowly-building finale ‘Unrealtime’, along with Sean O’Hagan – and she revealed how important Microdisney were to her growing up and how great it was to guest with you for the band’s reunion shows, and for yourself and Sean to work on her record.

“It’s been great getting to know Eileen and work with her. I was a fan of her first solo record. That’s where that started. Obviously, she’s a bit younger, we weren’t part of the same generation, although we know some of the same people. There was a real feeling of strength in having her on stage with us – a great thing for us.”

Did you keep in touch with June Miles-Kingston (who contributed backing vocals on The Clock, Crooked Mile and 39 Minutes)?

“A few social media ‘hello’s, but I haven’t seen her in a great many years.”

Her CV is certainly impressive.

“Absolutely, and the reason for getting her on The Clock was that I was so taken with the way she sang ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ with Fun Boy Three. Her and Terry Hall were a great blend.”

You’ve not always gone for the expected. For example, when you played the Barbican with Microdisney, you finished with Frankie Valli’s ‘The Night’. I also see you covered ‘Easy’ by The Commodores back in the day. It seems you liked to surprise people.

“Yeah, we specialised in awkward cover versions, and that was one!”

Is that an Irish showband mentality coming through?

“Erm … we were willing to allude to it. We didn’t think it was going to win us fans, necessarily. We did ‘Woodstock’ at a couple of shows, and I think one by The Jesus and Mary Chain, who were opening for us. We also did ‘Jesus Christ’, the Big Star (Christmas) song, in the middle of a summer! So yeah, lots of really stupid cover versions.”

I guess we’d have expected you to do Captain Beefheart or something along those lines. But I like the fact you did that instead.

“Yeah – Beefheart, the Velvets … that would have been the right thing to do, but we were not going to do the right thing!”

Going back to your roots, you played a bit of piano early on. Were you the first in your family to try and make it in music? And was there always music around the house?

“Not so much around our house, but there were people in my extended family who were very talented. On my mother’s side my aunt and uncle were really great singers. My uncle’s still singing at the age of 81 – a very powerful tenor, I guess you’d say, with my aunt a soprano. Neither of them did it professionally, but they were known throughout the region for their talent.”

Looking forward to live shows when it’s safe to get out again, will those be under the Co-Aklan banner?

“I’ve an intention to evolve into Co-Aklan. That’s the plan. We’ll see what fate does to that for me.”

Is this alias you trying to spell out all these years later how to say your name properly?

“Not really. I think I’ve had second thoughts about just going by my own name. It came to seem like a bit of an unnecessarily rigid thing to do, probably the product of the state of mind I was in back in 1989. That’s a long time ago now, so it seems I should try and do something else.”

To quote ‘Town to Town’, ‘She’s nervous and her best friend is waiting, she’s trying to pronounce my name.’ All these years on, it seems that might still be the case.

“Well, I totally get that. Both parts of my name are pronounced in different ways depending where you are in Ireland, much less California, where they have a very tough time with it.”

And outside the solo work, will there be any more Microdisney shows? Crooked Mile will be 35 next year. Or was that it with The Clock and those live shows I sadly missed?

“I think it probably was, but we had a great time doing it. I absolutely wouldn’t rule anything out, but there are no plans.”

And Fatima Mansions?

“Oh, the Mansions – haha! I mean, the fact it’s never happened apart from one semi-reunion for a birthday party means there’s nothing to tap into in terms of logistics and everybody living in widely different places. I’m not sure it could be pulled together.

“It would be fun, but could involve weight-training for six months. It would be everything Microdisney wasn’t. With Microdisney there was work to be done, but it wasn’t mad!”

Live Return: Hopefully it won’t be long before Cathal Coughlan is back at a venue near you (Photo: Gregory Dunn)

Song of Co-Aklan is due to land on March 26th, with detail on how to pre-order and all the latest from Cathal Coghlan via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or his own website.

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Creating soundscapes, drawn from life at home and abroad – the Brick Briscoe interview

Saloon Ranger: Brick Briscoe, performing live at Montrose Saloon, Chicago, Illinois, with Allen Clark III, left, on drums

Brick Briscoe was editing his TV show at his home studio in Petersburg, Indiana, when I called last week, needing it submitted by Sunday night ahead of an air date of February 11th.

“I’m almost done – get off my back, man! Ha!”

Am I adding to the pressure from up top?

“Just from the network. No big deal. It’s the game I chose to play for rock’n’roll.”

This talented singer/songwriter and guitarist with a passion for film (he also produces commercials and other TV and film-based projects from his studio base) also produces and hosts The Song Show for PBS/NPR affiliate public radio station WNIN, serving the Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky tri-state area, showcasing his true passion for music, mining the deep history of song by relating common themes across genres and time periods in each episode, his guests the musicians and songwriters he comes across playing music or picks up the phone to call. 

“Actually, we were going to call the TV show The Song Show TV, but I decided it was going to be a music and travel show, travelling around the world, looking at culture and music in every little spot, deciding we’d just go anywhere, so we decided to call it Any Road.”

But then, a worldwide pandemic surfaced.

“Oh, my God. We were getting ready to film season two in Europe, leaving on March 21st. Obviously, that didn’t happen. I had to adjust, making a two-part two-hour series called Music is Dead, about the state of the industry, filming everybody who’s been on the show, talking about all that … and then this happened. Now part two is totally different to how it was planned.”

At the risk of an ‘Ooh, I bet you’ve seen some changes’ type question, the music industry has shifted immeasurably in the last couple of decades.

“Oh yeah, completely. You used to imagine you could make money on records, and still can … but right now, you can’t. We’re so used to selling in person, after a show or during a show. Records, t-shirts, whatever. It’s interesting that people still buy CDs at shows, maybe as a memento.”

I brought up with an interviewee a while ago how I’d seen an online discussion involving Billy Bragg, someone on his Facebook page questioning why he was selling early years memorabilia, more or less saying, ‘You can’t be hard up, surely’. But there’s a fella who makes his living on the road, and hasn’t been able to do that. Some people don’t seem to get that.

“I don’t think they do. I saw someone giving him guff about selling some posters or something, saying, ‘I thought you were a socialist’. What the hell, man? It’s not like he’s Elon Musk. We’re talking about a guy who’s worked his ass off 200 days a year, you know.”  

Scheduled to be in Europe to work on television and music, Brick instead found himself with nothing but time on his hands, stuck in Petersburg, where he was born and raised, revealing, “I buried myself in my home studio and dreamed in pictures, trying to find the colours on my guitar. The words were easy, the script was already written. And, to paraphrase filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, I spent the next weeks ‘sculpting in time’.

“This was one of the first projects I’ve done where the music came first. After I had the sounds the lyrics came naturally. I drew on my past life and found inspiration. Most don’t know that my first career move was to be a film director. It seemed like a responsible move when I was 18!

“So with that in mind, I started writing lyrics that reflected ideas for films, both personal and remote, that I always knew I was going to make. And the one that came closest to actually happening was called ‘My Favorite Los Angeles Restaurant’. So the journey began. I’ll let the listener decide if some of these ‘films’ have the same characters or if the whole record is just one big movie.

“I loved living in Los Angeles. I really miss it and as I was working on this, I tried to put myself in the mindset I had when I did live there. It’s a place close to my heart, not so much for filmmaking, but my daughter was born there, so it feels like home. And I learned more about who I am and what it takes to get anything done from the constant trials and tribulations I endured while trying to make films. I don’t know why, but it makes me laugh now.

“I hope the romance of cinema shows up subversively in the record. It isn’t an homage to Hollywood, but an homage to how the mixture of how I feel when I see a film with the realities that music is something I can actually do in a practical sense. I was working with the tagline, ‘I was going to make a film about you, but the money wasn’t there’ when I started the project. I love the feel of that. I wanted to make a film, but all I could afford was this postcard, or this piece of pie, or these songs. And hopefully, no matter how you cut it, it isn’t cheap.”

The result of his locked-down labours, My Favorite Los Angeles Restaurant, Brick Briscoe’s 13th LP, was released last week on our side of the Atlantic, produced by Brick with Brian Sherman and recorded at The Spider Cave (aka La Cueva de la Araña), Petersburg, with further recording in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Middletown, Delaware. Is he pleased with the transatlantic reaction so far?

“Oh, my! It’s really been cool to see the different takes on what I do, and the songs some radio stations are playing. It’s like, ‘What? That’s what they chose?’. Really interesting.

Soundscape Survivor: Brick Briscoe, making the most of a difficult situation in 2020 and showing the way in 2021

“It almost makes me feel like a progressive rocker. Over here, I’d be more known as someone with that indie-punk thing going on, and I come from a punk rock generation, so it would make sense that would hang on. But they’ve picked up on the more cinematic songs.”

Although initially wanting to do nothing more than be in a rock band, he was coerced into attending university, and after taking a class at Indiana University on the complete works of Charles Chaplin, he decided to try to make films. Then, during a stint at Southern Illinois University the following year, he discovered Truffaut, Godard and Tarkovsky, his fate sealed.

During a journey of personal and financial ruin, Brick moved to New York, then Los Angeles, and finally back to New York chasing the cinema. Influenced greatly by Cassavetes, Truffaut, Rohmer, Cukor and a host of others, he pitched films all over both cities (with several near misses) until he moved back to his hometown, deeming cinema dead.

It does seem, I put to him, that he’s had to adapt his game, with career rethinks en route, not least perhaps moving away from dreams of making it primarily as a filmmaker with a budget, instead adapting your cinematic vision to soundscapes of sorts.

“Yeah, for sure. I’ve tried to weasel my way into scoring films, and I’ve been lucky enough to score some things, although not big movies as I would imagine. Being a filmmaker, I kind of think in those picaresque moments of travelling, so it would make sense that those big cinematic moments would show up in my music eventually.”

A few months ago, I told Brick, I spoke to California-based filmmaker Saunder Jurriaans about his success scoring for films and TV and his own adaptation to make the most of a difficult situation amid the pandemic, in his case finally releasing a solo album he’s wanted to for some time. I guess you’ve had to think similarly.

“I think that’s true. I was supposed to be over there (Europe) for eight weeks, and wasn’t just gonna sit around and mope, so used that time to work on my record, rather than wait to get back. I was probably going to start this record about now.

“I’ve written so much stuff. We actually started my next record last Thursday. But what you said about not being able to do certain things, I think it’s radically different over here. I’m very cautious because I’m in remission from cancer, but overall in the Midwest, bar bands are still playing. Cover bands, that is. Original bands aren’t out there. We get asked to play all the time, and it’s like, ‘No!’.

“But everyone’s real cool about it. They get it. I understand these places need to keep making money and somehow keep their employees, but I would feel awful if someone came to my show, caught the COVID, and died. Or If I brought it home to my wife or grandkid.

Shutters Down: Brick Briscoe is staying put in Petersburg, Indiana, right now, but with a view to a return to Europe

“We’ve filmed a couple of concerts though, and they came off really well, in front of no audience for the LP. I weaned my way into this historic opera house in a placed called New Harmony, Indiana, with an amazing history of utopianism – a really fascinating story. “

That was with his band The Skinny.And I like the sound of New Harmony, Indiana, for a start, I told him. And Thrall’s Opera House. 

“Oh yeah, it’s a town of around 800 people, but it’s incredible, and they have this beautiful opera house. We just set up on the stage in a circle, playing to each other, with just a crew with us. That came off great, so we decided, ‘Let’s do it again’, went to this big warehouse, filmed a bunch of my older songs, a little more rock’n’roll, kind of did that the same way.

“That’s been great for us and kept us in people’s eyes a little bit. And we’re gonna do more. We’re actually filming all these recording sessions. That’s what we have to do, y’know!”

In another interview, Brick revealed, “I spent years chasing the cinema dragon in NYC and Los Angeles.  I came up pretty empty and sometime around 1996 I decided rock’n’roll was easier to manifest.  With that in mind, I decided to make some of the films I thought I were going to make me the ‘auteur’ I imagined I was. I’d rewrite them with lyrics, guitars and piano.  It all started with a romance, ‘Woke Up Beside You’, and then the pulse of the title track jump started the process”.

With Brick rooted in the US Midwest – with a twist on but an ultimate nod to a big hit for R. Dean Taylor – I put it to him that maybe Indiana wants him, and he can’t get away now.

“Right! A little bit. I remember that song as a kid, thinking, ‘Oh wow! He’s singing about us!’ It didn’t mean much to me then, but heck, yeah. I’ve been all over this country but came back here, for some godforsaken reason.”

However, New York City is also where the heart is, yeah?

“It really is. The music I grew up with and ended up loving, like Television, Patti Smith, the Ramones, all that stuff, along with The Jam and The Clash, all that, those formed who I was for sure.”

Did you happen to see The Clash when they played their long run at Bond’s in NYC in the summer of 1981?

“I did not, unfortunately. I was still in college then, totally broke at the time. But I have a lot of friends who were there. Frank Funaro, who played and produced one of my records and was in the band Cracker and (the later version of) Camper Van Beethoven, he was there.

“He was actually in Joey Ramone’s band for his solo record, and the Del Lords, and the Dictators. He became great friends when I was in New York, telling me all about that scene.”

Well, tell him next time you see him that I’ll never tire of Camper Van Beethoven’s ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’. A perfect recipe for world peace, I’d say.

“Oh! I’ve seen him play that song a bunch of times.”

The press release that comes with the new LP suggests quite rightly that the songs ‘move between punk rock edge and a curious freeform adventure, with Brick’s buzzsaw and angular guitar riffs cutting a trail for his lyrics to find an unsettling safe house’. I can’t argue with that, and seeing as he mentioned Television, I tell him there’s a real Tom Verlaine quality to his voice in places.

“I’ve seen that comparison before … although not to my vocals. But I’ll take that.”

Perhaps it’s your inferences. And they were a mighty influence, it would seem.

Marquee Moon in particular was a profound influence for me. But I have to be honest, I thought those guys were so good that I didn’t ever try to imitate what they did! To hear Verlaine and (Richard) Lloyd play together is like, ‘Oh, my God!’ They know what notes they’re playing!”

Brick Surrounds: Brick Briscoe, ready for the outside world and any road out as soon as it’s safe to get back out there

I got to at least talk a little about New York punk with Chris Stein of Blondie in 2017. But you were too young to be part of that CBGB’s scene, weren’t you?

“Well, that was what I was digging at high school, but I wasn’t there when it happened. The high point though was when I was standing backstage at CBGB’s in one of the last years it was open, The Dictators were playing, and I felt this presence right next to me, and it was Joey Ramone!

“I’m tall, but this guy was really tall. My God, he looks so sick … but that’s just how he was. These beautiful girls were just coming up, fawning over him. I’m like, ‘My gosh – this is what being a rock star means.

“Then the coolest thing happened. He walked out on stage and sang a bunch of Who songs with The Dictators, me standing there, right by the side of the stage. A great rock’n’roll moment.

“I got to talk to him a little backstage after the show. I wasn’t going to play fan-boy, although I was in my heart! But that’s something living in LA and New York teaches you – you don’t do that. It doesn’t play well!”

At that point, we briefly got on to my South-East roots, growing up in towns where bands like The Stranglers and The Jam spring from, knowing Brick loved both bands.

“I’d say Paul Weller was my biggest influence. And growing up a lower middle-class kid – my Dad was a teacher – guys like Ray Davies, Pete Townshend and Paul Weller sang about us better than our guys did. Everybody was hippies and all that stuff until punk rock happened, then REM came around. I just didn’t identify with all that. I got the angst from the British guys!”

I’m sure a number of Irish influences deserve a mention too. And, I put it to him, The Beatles were heavily influenced by US rock’n’roll and soul, the Rolling Stones by the Blues, and so on, that back and forth nature of music – one side of the Atlantic inspiring those on the other side – going on for so long now. Similarly, there’s the influence on the punk bands over here of the psychedelic scene, Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets and all that.

“I think the US and the UK have this amazing thing, musically, this amazing culture going on. We absolutely love what’s going on. We take it, then make it our own … then we send it back! Like you did with the Blues.”

Inspirational Fare: The highly-influential early-1977 Television LP Marquee Moon made a big impression on Brick

I suppose The Beatles and The Beach Boys did that too – inspiring each other to go that little bit further.

“Yeah! Absolutely, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

I’ve yet to catch Brick live, but word has it that his live shows are fittingly intense.

“I’m really lucky I’ve got a band, yet it’s almost like I’m playing a solo show – they just get what I’m about to do. They know when I’m gonna slow down or when I’m going to get quieter or throw my guitar at ‘em … although that’s never happened!

“I’m not a real friendly guy before I go on. I hate to say this, but I try to get in character for those songs. But after the show, man, I’m so happy … even if we sucked! That’s over, and it’s like, ‘Let’s hang, have a beer. Let me cry to you about how we were bad tonight, and you tell me we were great!’. Nobody knows when you’re being bad, y’know … unless you’re terrible! Not that that’s ever happened either!”  

Is that right that half of your 2018 LP, IV (which I pronounce ‘four’) was recorded in a hospital bed?

“Yeah, and I love that you called it that … because really it’s ‘IV’ (‘eye-vee’), and I did that on purpose but didn’t want to draw too much attention to it. The picture on the front of the album – go look at it sometime – is actually a close-up of the wound where my chemo port goes. But maybe some people thought that was a flower or something.”

So, IV as in intravenous?

“Yeah, but what I did – when I got diagnosed – my old drummer, from Phoenix, Arizona, flew home and brought me a drumkit, set up my studio, my old bass player from here came too, and we recorded half the record. I had to go to do chemo, then we recorded the other half in my studio.

“They allowed me to set up in the hospital. I was scoring at the time a documentary on NPR, with a deadline looming, so they let me camp out. I started recording and writing new songs, recording almost all the guitar parts and a lot of the vocals in hospital.

“You’ll be shocked how well soundproofed hospital rooms are … but I think that’s on purpose. You don’t want to hear other people crying, particularly on the oncology ward.

“I never thought I was going to die, although there was a possibility. But I heard people who were … crying to go home at night. That probably influenced a lot of what I was doing.”

I guess music provided the additional medicine and therapy that ultimately pulled you through.

“Well, absolutely. I would say at that point – although I’m never one to have had a bucket-list – you start realising what your legacy might be, so I just felt, ‘Why wait?’. I may not have any energy, but …

“As soon as I got out of the hospital, I had no feeling in my fingers, and I never thought I’d play guitar again. The chemo gives you neuropathy. I still can’t really feel my feet, although it doesn’t affect my walking. I could not feel my fingers in months.”    

It clearly takes more than the big C to keep you down.

“I hope that’s true for everybody. It’s like this in any aspect of life – attitude is almost everything. I’m lucky, but my parents were such optimistic, hard-working people, I’m optimistic too and know that if I don’t do stuff, the pay-off in the negative is awful if you just hold yourself back.

“People cared that I had cancer, and that I might die, but they wouldn’t have cared about what angst I was going through, so I might as well put it out there as art … then they might care.”

Talking of optimistic vibes, while the pandemic continues to rage, with plenty of ignorance and misinformation doing the rounds out there, the vaccines are on the way and there’s a new president in office, the orange one finally gone and set to stand trial. It seems that there are reasons to feel positive again right now.

“I think so. My wife and I watched the inauguration all day, and we wept and all that. I’m not foolish enough to think there weren’t people within a three-iron of my house who weren’t as mad as hell that this guy got elected though, and we’re so divided in this country.

“We have so many people who believe conspiracy theories that are so outlandish. They’re not going to let go of it. It’s gonna take some patience. But you’re right – I believe we’re going to get a handle on COVID, and if this goes well, you’ll see me the end of this year or beginning of next year over there.”

Well, let’s be honest, we’ve got our fair amount of nutters here. Again, it seems pretty much a 50/50 split in various respects.

“Yeah, I’ve been watching closely, and guess it started with Brexit and all that, right? Although I don’t live there, it seems like a strange situation. I can’t judge so much what they’re doing, but boy, it doesn’t look smart.

“And while we’re talking, a notice just popped up from Reuters on my phone saying, ‘UK surpasses 100,000 COVID-19 deaths’.” 

Yes, a sad landmark. But let’s not go there right now. Instead, I see you married your high school sweetheart Marta in 1987, having started dating in 1978. Was that in Petersburg?

“Yeah, she moved into town from Phoenix, Arizona. I’d already gone through all the girls in our little town, so they wouldn’t talk to me! Ha! So when a new girl turned up, and she didn’t know me …”

I guess she’s knows you by now.

“Oh, my God! She got me through the cancer, for sure. I’ve got a daughter and granddaughter, that gives you reason to at least live, but Marta has been so important and supportive of everything I’ve done. And she has incredible patience.”

And hopefully soon you’ll be able to travel again, including your postponed return to France (the LP From Lucky Point to Pere Lachaise conceived while making a film there immediately after going into remission), maybe?

“Yeah, the thing that influenced me in art the most were the films of Godard and Truffaut, and Éric Rohmer. Those had profound influence, and I always imagined I’d got to France. Then, right after I got out of having cancer, I got the opportunity to go, make a documentary about World War One.

“I just fell in love with it all. This was like New York to me, this spirituality to the art. I could spend a year there, easily. I kind of have the same feeling about England, thinking of Weller, Morrissey and Marr … I’d love it there too. And we watch all your TV shows, y’know.”

Your travels down the years haven’t yet taken you to St Petersburg though?


I was thinking Russia, to be honest.

“No, but I had an opportunity when I left college. My grandmother had a bit of money at the time and said, ‘I’ll send you on a trip’. I wanted to go to Russia, thinking it would be fascinating artistically to see all the Cold War stuff. Then I realised I should take that money, move to New York, so that’s what I did instead.”

Clearly, with no regrets. Maybe next time instead.

“I would go there in a heartbeat. I’ve been to St Petersburg, Florida, but have a feeling that’s different!”

Hometown Sunset: Brick Briscoe captures the sun setting on Petersburg, Indiana, where he was born and raised

Talking of Petersburg, Indiana, the song that first drew me in from the LP was ‘The Blue Jean Bridge’, its Stan Ridgway-esque vibe building to angular guitar and a Pete Townshend-like song of two parts feel. There’s also a great promo video of Brick and his band the Damn Dudes playing the song – in a self-isolated style – out there, linked here. Is that song a good example of your imaginative storytelling, or is that a true story?

“The Blue Jean Bridge is an actual bridge, about two miles from my house, named after a politician from here’s nickname.

“Growing up here, it’s such a hard life, it’s a coalmining area going through an awful lot of upheaval, people here constantly losing their jobs, trying to figure out a way of getting back into it.

“I’ve seen people walking across that bridge and every time, ‘Are they thinking about jumping?’ That’s what that’s about.

“It’s a good example, but I’d say maybe (LP opener) ‘Cody Jarrett’ and ‘My Americana Lust’, those are maybe the songs … I like poetry more than novels, and try to create a vibe.”

I hadn’t picked up on the latter until after my interview, but it’s quickly become one of my favourites from his impressive new record, an early-‘70s-like Who feel met by a Ray Davies-esque vocal and songcraft.

And there for me lies the strength of the new LP, enough to make me want to head back through his catalogue. That last three-song salvo of ‘The Blue Jean Bridge’, ‘My Americana Lust’ – with added vocals from Cynthia Murray, who also contributes to the title track – and ‘Let’s Get Sick’ make for a thrilling finale, the last track building nicely, kind of Lenny Kravitz meets the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder.

I didn’t know that when we spoke though, so couldn’t tell Brick that at the time. Instead – time against us both – we wrapped up, me mentioning what a great line it had been between Lancashire and Indiana, the reception suggesting he might even be in the next room.

“It’s amazing. And no, I’m not, but if I am, I’m probably not supposed to be there.”

Good point. You’d be breaking our lockdown isolation bubble situation for a start.

“Well, there’s a real interview right there, buddy!”

Garage Bandleader: Brick Briscoe, in action during a pre-recorded show for WEHT in Evansville/Henderson, Indiana

Brick Briscoe’s new album, My Favorite Los Angeles Restaurant, is out now via and

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Ever redefining: from The Continental to The Colossalist – the Vukovar feature

Mill Workers: Vukovar in action at The Mill in Todmorden in late 2019, in what turned out to be Simon Morris' final show with them

Mill Workers: Vukovar at The Mill, Todmorden, late 2019, in Simon Morris’ final show with them (Photo: Matty Giddins)

Remember live music? It’s been a while. Come mid-March it’ll be a year since my last gig, and slightly longer since my most recent visit to cherished Lancashire arts venue The Continental in Preston, where at one stage it seemed it wasn’t a show unless Vukovar were opening or appearing further up the bill.

My first sighting was in December 2016 at Tuff Life Boogie’s Un-Peeled Xmas Party, headlined by The Membranes and also featuring Folk Devils and a stripped-down version of  The Wolfhounds, all four outfits making an impression.

Vukovar were a three-piece then, self-styled ‘idealists, voyeurs and totalitarians’ of the North’s ‘Brutalist wastelands’. They’d clearly warmed up by the time I arrived – singer Dan Shea stripped to the waist, Iggy Pop style, and guitarist Rick Clarke, back to the audience, in Stu Sutcliffe mode, the pair swapping lines with Libertines-like energy amid a chaotic climax.

Four weeks later they were back, supporting cult Scottish indie artist Rose McDowall, ex-Strawberry Switchblade, filling in late doors for Yorkshire’s Drahla, technical woes complementing the rock’n’roll demeanour. From the first beat (with my review here), Buddy on drums held the interest, while Dan’s vocal and synth touches and chemistry with bass-man Rick was somewhat mesmeric.

Again, there were elements of Iggy as well as Jim Morrison, Julian Cope, and maybe even The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Family Cat. I described the concept as ‘extreme indie art-rock’, the band digging in after Rick jettisoned his malfunctioning bass and stormed off. We pondered whether it was part of the act. You never forget a Vukovar performance.

Incidentally, I understand that Rose actually joined the band for a while in 2017, although Rick told me it ‘ended in totally burned bridges and chaos, as you’d imagine’.

My most recent sighting of the band was in early February 2019, when they were supporting North-East punk legends Penetration, and it seemed that you never saw the same Vukovar twice, this ‘an outfit seemingly in a state of flux right now, between incarnations’, as I remarked.

That time it was harder to get a handle, bass player Rick joined by female guitar and keyboard players plus crouching, determined poet Simon Morris, of Blackpool-based DIY avant-punk collective Ceramic Hobs – another outfit with a fluid line-up, comprising nearly 30 members over their three decades together.

Stripped down: Vukovar’s Dan feeling the heat at The Continental in Preston (Photo copyright: John Middleham)

Vukovar still utilised ‘thrashing guitars, malfunctioning synths and dramatic stage exits’, but seemed to have found fresh direction, Simon on hand, reading aloud from a notebook. They’d reached the next chapter in their somewhat outlandish art-house journey, perhaps.

They’ve now released an eighth album. Yes, eight – some going. But there’s something else, this latest long player is dedicated to the afore-mentioned Simon Morris, who died aged 51 in late 2019, having been reported missing, subsequently found in the River Wyre five days before Christmas.

Simon last met and played with Vukovar in mid-November, supporting Fall founding member Martin Bramah’s post-punk outfit Blue Orchids at The Mill, Todmorden. He’d not long returned from – and was buzzing about – a book reading in Los Angeles, and was set to head off for a live engagement in New York with another band he guested with. He never made it. 

A published author, influential indie provocateur Simon also championed mental health awareness and was associated with late ‘90s movement Mad Pride, aimed at destigmatising mental illness at a time when, in his words, ‘we all felt like the scum at the bottom of society’, the tie-in London gigs played to ‘crowds of enthusiastic and friendly crazy people’.

He’s not been forgotten, Dan and Rick recently putting together a personal, impassioned tribute to the man they called their ‘anti-father’ for author Dennis Cooper’s DC’s website. And Simon’s experimental spirit is somehow captured on Vukovar’s latest offering, ‘engineered and produced by The Brutalist House and the Ghosts in their Machine, mastered by Phil Reynolds’.

A statement issued ahead of the LP read, ‘Following the death of one of theirselves, various failures and ever-deepening reliances, Vukovar have finally emerged once more. With the disintegration of the old group, a new, stable line-up – the NeuPopAct – have collided and colluded to here present The Colossalist, part one of the Eternity Ends Here triptych; the most ambitious thing attempted by the group and the most wrapped in turmoil.’

According to their own myth, ‘Vukovar formed in a crumbling place-filler of a town in 2014. They were always dying and reorganised after cease to exist in 2019. Effete artists pretending to be northern hardcases pretending to be uniform fetishists in iconoclast drag’. And the rider? ‘Do not trust us; we are fragile stars’.

Their underground, defiantly esoteric nature rules out standard interviews, but that doesn’t mean the band named after the Croatian city but linked to Blackpool, Todmorden and Warrington – with past links to Wigan and St Helens – wish to remain obscure.

Influential Spirit: Simon Morris, crouched down at The Mill during his final outing with Vukovar (Photo: Matty Giddins)

As to how the band came about, Rick told me he met Dan while ‘putting shows on at a shitty pub in a shitty part of town, and there ended up being a brawl’. Ani Loftus arrived more recently, via a link with Simon, while Jason Walters and Rory Johnson were with a group supporting Vukovar who Rick subsequently got to know when he moved to the Yorkshire borders, a bond later forged at The Mill in the show which turned out to be Simon’s last.

“Me and Dan were drinking with Rory before the show and asked him to play drums. We had about 10 minutes’ practise, Simon only just back from LA. The next day I met Jason, an excellent drummer and Rory’s cousin, in the pub and asked him to join.”

It was meant to be, it seems.

Like Ceramic Hobs, Vukovar challenge writers looking to describe their output. When the new record landed, Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates described them as ‘darkwave churchcore’. Labels, eh.

I’m not sure if the band’s own description of their music as NeuPop refers to influential early ‘70s German electronic rock outfit Neu! There are certainly Krautrock elements. As for the pop part, the first single off the new release, ‘Here Are Lions’ (with a promo video here) is arguably their most commercial to date, and there are occasional nods to more pop-like directions within. But Dua Lipa need not lose sleep yet.

It’s their most accessible record so far though, the highlights for me including the near self-titled ‘Vukovar (The Double Cross)’ and ‘Silent Envoy’, both bringing to mind the later, darker pop of Depeche Mode (and not just because of the leather trousers) and early, less chart-bothering OMD. Then there’s ‘In a Year of 13 Moons’, for these ears hinting at the indie roots of Simple Minds and ‘Primitive Painters’-era Felt.

As for closing track ‘Hearing Voices’, that’s a reimagined Galaxie 500 song fittingly containing sound clips of Simon Morris’ voice from various interviews and archive material.

Paul Scott-Bates concluded that The Colossalist is ‘Vukovar’s best to date without a doubt. Any imperfections are perfect, any moments off-key are perfectly in tune, any mistakes are intended. The band continue to release essential listening.’ And while he drew comparisons with the likes of Coil, OMD, New Order and Soft Cell, the Rats on the Run website reckoned, ‘Vukovar know their way around a pop song, they just serve them in strips wrapped in dirt. One-part industrial, one-part post-punk synthplay, equal parts turmoil and fear.’

I wouldn’t disagree with either assessment, but wonder if beyond the completion of the Eternity Ends Here triptych – including contributions from Jane Appleby (Ceramic Hobs) and Gea Philes, with Phil Reynolds again mixing and mastering – the Vukovar LP after that might see them attempt to lure in a wider audience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting a departure to stadium rock, although that in itself could be interesting. Either way, as long as they still put in occasional chaotic reappearances at the Conti …

Blurred Vision: Vukovar put the locals through their paces at Camden’s Dublin Castle in early 2020 (Photo: Adrian Kiff)

The Colossalist is available on CD and in digital format on Other Voices Records, the first in a planned series of releases in collaboration with artist Andrzej Klimowski. For more detail, head to Vukovar’s Bandcamp page or this record label link

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The further rise, beyond The Fall with Brix Smith

Solo Outing: Brix Smith, a new solo album is on its way, and the former Fall guitarist/vocalist will be curating a brand new book covering the legendary band she made her name with 

Brix Smith has a defining year ahead of her, having made best use of her pandemic downtime, despite personal loss and heartache, like so many of us.

The Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter and guitarist – her moniker in tribute to a teenage love of The Clash’s ‘The Guns of Brixton’ – is eager to get 2021 off to a more positive start, talking to me with great enthusiasm about a new LP on its way and a book project she’s curating, inviting fans of The Fall and those involved with the band and various offshoots en route to share tales about seeing and hearing the Manchester post-punk legends and related experiences and encounters, celebrating the influential outfit’s impressive legacy and wealth of material.

You’ll know at least part of the back-story, Brix meeting frontman/main songwriter Mark E. Smith – the band’s sole ever-present member, who died three years ago – at a show in her dual home city Chicago in 1983, soon joining the band and starting a new chapter in her life based in the North West of England, her songwriting and guitar playing in time fully utilised.

Brix left The Fall after splitting with husband Mark E. Smith in 1989, but returned to record and tour two mid-‘90s LPs, and is credited with co-writing some of their best-regarded tracks, introducing a more pop-oriented element. And alongside all that there was her Adult Net side-project, launched in 1985 with fellow Fall member Simon Rogers, Mark E. among the contributors, an LP following in 1989.

In more recent years, she bounced back at the forefront of acclaimed five-piece Brix & the Extricated, also involving ex-Fall trio Steve Trafford and brothers Paul and Steve Hanley, their live shows and three LPs inspiring rave reviews.

Before we got to all that, London-based Brix – who married fashion entrepreneur Philip Start in 1999 – told me about another imminent release covering her ‘lost years’ in LA, having returned to her childhood home city after initially leaving The Fall, that early ‘90s period including live work with The Bangles’ lead singer Susanna Hoffs – who remains a close friend – and in the studio with The Church’s Marty Willson-Piper.

“I was working with Susanna, but also writing an album with Marty, which is finally after all this time set to come out. It’s called Lost Angeles, because those were the lost years for me, when I wasn’t in The Fall.”

The tale of that era and many more feature in Brix’s acclaimed 2016 autobiography The Rise, The Fall and The Rise. But there was a long gap away from the music industry before her five years performing and recording with Brix & the Extricated, whose most recent show was a year ago last week at the three-day Rockaway Beach Festival at Butlin’s, Bognor Regis, an event also involving Fontaines DC, John Cale, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Wedding Present. And success with the Extricated has now inspired a fresh direction, working with Martin Glover, better known as revered producer and Killing Joke bass player Youth.

Most Recent: Super Blood Wolf Moon was the third LP from Brix and the Extricated, released in 2019

Most Recent: Super Blood Wolf Moon was the third LP from Brix and the Extricated, released in 2019

“Before the Extricated, I went 15 years without touching a guitar or singing a note in public. But after three albums in a row, touring relentlessly for five years, I decided last January to take a break to write and push pause, let myself recoup both creatively and physically.

“It takes a toll on you at that level. It’s important to take time, reflect, let your mind become empty for a while, so new things and experiences can regenerate in your creativity. Otherwise you burn out. I felt intuitively before the virus it was time to take a break. We had a few festivals booked for 2020, but postponed. It was more about sporadic gigs. I didn’t have a calendar of commitments.

“I channelled my energies into resting then writing again, maybe coming at it from a different angle, writing with other people. I was put together with Youth, to see what happened. We’d never met before, but Ros Earls, who manages him as a producer and also Nadine Shah, felt he may be a great person to write with, Nadine instrumental in pushing me to maybe branch out.

“Youth and I had plans to write, but he was in Spain, the lockdown happened, and I was stuck here. But around the end of April we met up on FaceTime and started to collaborate remotely. I set up a little studio in my bedroom, which I’d never done before, learned how to record, and we started writing, pretty much straightaway realising there was something special, turning into this album.”

Will it come out under your name, or with the Extricated?

“As Brix Smith, with Youth as my collaborator and producer. This is the first time I’ve released a solo album since the Adult Net, so it’s been a long time coming. My work with the Extricated really helped me gain back confidence as a player, a singer, a writer. It took on a life of its own, a facet of creative output, and it was wonderful to be working with them (Paul and Steve Hanley) again. At the moment, it’s on hiatus, but it’s not gone away.”

As I understand it, the Extricated was borne out of a conversation at a book launch for Steve Hanley’s The Big Midweek – Life Inside The Fall (co-written with Olivia Piekarski) at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge in December 2014.

“Exactly. It was very organic. We never plotted or planned it. In a million years I wouldn’t have thought … at that point I hadn’t seen any of them for 18 years, not even communicated. I never thought I’d be back on a stage or writing and making albums with Steve and Paul.  

Auto Matter: Brix’s 2016 autobiography, the writing of which inspired her eventual return to performing and recording

“Before Steve’s book came out I was working in fashion, had my shops, was doing telly, and Andrew Weatherall and his fiancé, Lizzie, my husband’s right hand in the business, handed me a pre-release copy of Viv Albertine’s book, Andrew – the creative liaison for Faber & Faber – saying, ‘You need to write a book, you need to tell your story’. And I felt maybe it was time to do that.

“But at the same time, he said – and this was crucial – ‘And you should pick up the guitar again, because it’s criminal that you’re not writing and playing.’ I thought no way am I going to do that. I felt my insides were bashed around from my experiences, thinking no one cares. Then Craig Leon, who produced the Adult Net, The Fall, Blondie, the Ramones, said the same thing – ‘You really should think about picking up a guitar again’.

“And so did my husband. All three said that in a space of a month, so I thought maybe this was a sign – three people I really respect telling me the same thing. I started writing the book, wrote a bunch of chapters and a journalist in New York helped with the timeline, to get right all The Fall stuff. We put together five chapters and a proposal to Faber & Faber, hooked up with a literary agent, had a meeting with Lee Brackstone, Viv Albertine’s editor, and had a book deal within 24 hours. And the words began to just pour out of me.”

Was writing the book a form of catharsis?

“Yeah, but more than that, it was the actual angle of how the outlet for my creativity in the words somehow gave me a safe channel to pick up a guitar again. Writing the book and talking about my memories, even in my own head – getting it out on paper – I realised I had been fundamental to The Fall and shouldn’t denigrate in my own mind what my contribution was to that band and the music industry in general. I was pre-riot girl, the mother of riot girl, really! I shouldn’t underestimate what my contribution was.

“The writing of the words unleashed those creative juices for me to pick up a guitar again, and in my bedroom, by myself – unbeknown to anybody, even my husband – I took my white Rickenbacker out of the case it had been in for 15 years, started to play again and record myself. For two months I played every day and wept every time I started singing.  

“This weird emotional valve had been opened after all the pain I’d bottled up for years that I wasn’t doing what I’d been put on the earth to do, that I pushed music aside because of all sorts of things – insecurity, thoughts that I was a failure. Loads of things came out, and it was cathartic in a way.

“I don’t know if I can explain it in words to people, but the voice that came out of me was different than the voice I’d had before. It was a voice of a woman that had lived and was now able to show her vulnerabilities. And I didn’t give a fuck anymore. I didn’t care about being judged by people and what they’d say. I just wanted to get it out. It felt good, sounded good and it made me feel good to play again. I knew then that the magic had come back and the book had unleashed that magic.

“At the same time I was starting to write the book and started to play and write again, Steve Hanley’s publisher sent me a copy of his book to fact-check, and reading that made me realise what a contribution I’d made to the band and the high esteem in which people held me. So when they asked me to come to the launch, I thought, fuck me, I’m going to go!

Part Two: The first Brix and the Extricated vinyl long-playing offering, from 2017

Part Two: The first LP by Brix and the Extricated, featuring Jason Brown, Paul and Steve Hanley, and Steve Trafford

“These were important people in my life, important creative partners. Steve and I felt we’d been through world war together, let me tell you. So I called Marcia (Schofield, with The Fall from 1986/90), now a prominent medical doctor, said, ‘Will you come with me?’.

“That night, Steve put together a band of ex-Fall members, including Paul, Una Baines, and different singers, like John Robb, this amazing band doing cover versions of Fall songs. They never asked me though, and during ‘Mr Pharmacist’ I was watching somebody – who I now know is Jason Brown from the Extricated – play my guitar solo, a fire going through my body as if driving me up on to that stage. I wanted to shove him over, grab that guitar and fucking play it! Then I knew the mojo was back.

“That same night I said to Steve, ‘Why the hell didn’t you ask me to play? I would have done it. I’m playing again secretly, writing in my bedroom’. He was like, ‘I’d never have the temerity to think you would do this’. I said I would, he said, ‘Why don’t we just get together and jam?’, and I said, ‘Hell, yeah!’ That’s how it started. He said, ‘Let’s get our kid on drums, Jason Brown and Steve Trafford’, and once we all got in a room together … there was magic!”

Incidentally, my first Fall live encounter came a few dates into Brix’s tenure with the band, in October 1983 at the University of Surrey in my hometown, Guildford. Brix herself only experienced the band for the first time six months earlier, discovering 1981 six-track EP Slates in a Chicago record store, the 20-year-old catching the band on their US tour soon after, Mark’s enthusiasm and support for her songwriting a key consideration in her decision to shell out on a one-way transatlantic plane ticket and a new life overseas.

“I was obsessed with British and Irish music but wasn’t a hardened Fall fan. It was through my friend Lisa finding that record. When I put it on, I’d never heard anything like it and became immediately obsessed. It was intellectual in a different way, and every time I heard it, I heard something else. It was so complex yet so tribal and simplistic in certain ways, so psychologically complex. Every time it was like a different thing, it would morph again, like a living, breathing thing. Extraordinary!

“Never in a million years did I think I would be in The Fall or even aspire to be in it. I was a musician and had left school to pursue music with Lisa, taking a term off to see if we could crack it. These were the days when anything was possible. I was writing and hoping to record a solo album, which is what the Adult Net became.

“That was always my intention, so when this set of circumstances or fate happened and I ended up at that Fall gig, I met Mark and he ended up hearing the songs I’d been writing that month, hearing something in it then conspiring in his own mind to get me in the band.

“That happened slowly, but I think he knew. When they recorded Perverted by Language, he asked if they could use ‘Hotel Bloedel’, which was my song, one of the three he heard in the car the night we met, titled ‘One More Time For the Record’ then. He saw how my knack for top-line melodies, hooks and riffs, and – to be blunt – my physical appearance could maybe help bring more attention to the band and make it more accessible.”

First Footing: Perverted By Language, from late 1983, was the first Fall LP to feature Brix Smith

First Footing: Perverted By Language, from late 1983, was the first of many Fall long players to feature Brix Smith

I was barely 16 when I first saw The Fall, and didn’t truly get the appeal, which surprises me now considering the amazing set-list and footage from around then. I was more interested in support band Serious Drinking, and recall a rather hostile atmosphere, a brainless right-wing skinhead element in the crowd – not interested in any of the bands, just causing trouble – bringing the mood down. But John’s Peel’s love for the band steadily made an impression and in time I was hooked, the Brix-era of the band the one I truly identify with.

“A lot of people struggled with it initially. It takes time to break down the brain until you finally get it. It’s not always beautiful music either. There’s a lot of ugliness, a lot going on there. I think Mark was very clever. I’ll give him credit for that. I was certainly scared to join The Fall. I knew I was in for flak, but at the same time he believed so much in my talent and what I could bring to it.

“I’ve said it a billion times, but I was extremely careful from the minute I joined to never stamp my personality on it, only to add a little light to their shadow. The canvas was already painted. I wasn’t going to erase that. I loved the canvas as it was, but if there was any way to weave gently the light in, that was what I was going to do.

“I believed The Fall should have been one of the biggest bands in the world, one of the most important. It was frustrating for me that people couldn’t see what I saw.”

When I admitted to Brix I recalled nothing about her part in that first Fall show I saw, but would love to go back in the time machine to experience it all afresh, she responded, “Me too. If only I could recall every minute of that gig. I think in those early days i was so nervous I stood in the back trying not to get spat at!”

In fact, live footage from Channel 4’s The Tube, recorded six weeks later, suggests she was lurking at the back a fair bit.

“I needed to very gently work my way in, find my path, so The Fall’s music was still inherently The Fall. I was only enhancing it. But then my writing came out and he started to use me as a writer all the time. Then people realised I wasn’t just a piece of fluff. I was a proper writer and they began to give me the respect that he gave me.”

Fast forward to 2021, and the new LP, its vibe described as ‘dystopian California’ …

“The album’s all written and recorded. Youth and I did it over a period of eight months, writing remotely in the beginning but then getting together in person in July, then remotely again because of lockdown, then I flew to Spain and recorded more in his studio. It’s all finished and mostly mixed at this point.

Honey Tangle: The first Brix LP away from The Fall, released as the Adult Net in 1989

Honey Tangle: The first Brix LP away from The Fall, released as the Adult Net in 1989, on the Fontana record label

“It’s really my second solo album, my first since the Adult Net, and those following my writing from Adult Net to The Fall through to the Extricated will absolutely see my very firm handwriting in everything, and there will be elements of everything in there. I’m really proud of this one.”

Will you get a band together to tour this album when the shutters finally come back up, post-pandemic? And will Youth be involved?

“I’ll be putting a new band together to tour it, and Youth will come and do appearances, for sure. He will definitely be playing with me now and again. I’m going to put an all-woman band together for this project, put my money where my mouth is, having been a strong woman in the music industry for a long time. I’m gonna make the motherfucker of all-girl bands … with Youth as a guest star! Ha!

“That’s the idea now. Of course, things can always change. One of the most important things I’ve learnt about this last year is to remain fluid. We don’t know what’s happening. We have to remain flexible. My advice to everybody is to accept the present situation with grace. Fighting against it only leads to bad feelings inside. It can break down your creativity and mental health, so as much as we can remain in the moment and be fluid and not be rigid and fixed on certain ideals … Things change all the time. I’m not locked into anything in terms of the band or whatever. But in my mind, it would be wonderful to put together an all-woman band, go out and just kill it.”

Are you going to mention names here?

“No, but I do have a hit-list of people and like to look for young female talent as well and bring younger girls through if I can. I have a few names I’d like to attach in my dream book of band members, but at the same time I see myself as a mentor.

“It turns out that I’m a mentor to lots of female musicians, so if I can bring any talented younger women through and not only show them the ropes but also embrace their talent, I’m going to do that too. I’m open to a lot of things here, but the main thing is to have fun.

“I wish I’d had a female mentor that had shown me the ropes, brought me through and given me the confidence. I’d love to be that for someone. We’ve got to keep music alive and put all of our talents together!”

You mentioned The Slits’ Viv Albertine, a motivating force for women in rock, as was Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, and so on. You’ve also name-checked The Runaways before.

“All those really early girls in punk were so exciting to me. Chrissie Hynde was a huge inspiration, an extraordinary songwriter of the highest calibre with an incredible voice, an incredible performer and a wonderful guitarist. She was a personal idol, as well as Debbie Harry and Tina Weymouth.”

Those women were never going to be content just being the pretty ones in a band. They were always going to find their own path, do it their way.

“Yeah, and a handful of others, like Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux. These women were literally beacons of light for me. And this is really random and people will say, ‘What the fuck?’, but Karen Carpenter too. The first ‘rock concert’ I ever went to was The Carpenters, I saw Karen behind those drums and was like, ‘Oh my God, women can do this! I can do this!’

“It was so important to have those women out front, doing what they do, inspiring others to come through. If I can be that woman to other women, that would be wonderful. With The Runaways, it wasn’t so much about their songwriting but their look and attitude, like people growing up in the ‘50s seeing Rebel Without a Cause. It was a rebellious thing, and The Runaways were it for me as a teenager.”

I’m guessing you were always aware of Youth’s work, moving in similar circles over the years.

“I’d never met him, but we knew of each other. Talking with Nadine Shah and her manager about who I should work with, to come at something from a different angle, Ros said, ‘What about Youth?’ I was like, well, he’s legendary in terms of songwriting and production and with Killing Joke, we were always around them in The Fall, at some points crossing over completely. And we had many mutual friends. I said, ‘I don’t even know if he’s going to know who I am’.

“But Ros said, ‘He’s a shaman, and you’re a witch!’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s probably true. Why don’t you ring him, say my name, and if it resonates, it will immediately resonate with him and he’ll say yes. If he doesn’t, we’ll move on’. So she called, and I believe he said, ‘Fuck me, I’d like to work with her. She’s a legend!’ Something like that.”

Killing Joke anecdotes aside, of which there are many entertaining off-the-wall tales, I recall an interview with Neil Finn about Crowded House recording their Together Alone album with him.

“Oh, the naked thing?”

Well, there was that. Was that what was going down in Spain, or is he beyond all that now?

“Erm … did I record naked with Youth in the room? No.”

I was thinking more about the chanting and early morning primal screaming.

“Well, Crowded House may have needed to release some stuff. Both Youth and I are extremely intuitive, as was Mark Smith. I work on that level and people do call me a witch. But that’s because I work with energy. I fully admit that.”

You were already there in that sense, I guess.

“I was. I’ve been there for years. When I write songs or do anything creative, and how I live my life, I believe when we’re alive our spirit and energy is in a physical body, but when we die our spirit and our energy returns to the non-physical and you are able to access that.

“I believe that when a channel is open and I’m feeling great or in Brian Wilson’s words, ‘Good Vibrations’, it’s very easy to collect information from the non-physical, and I admit that’s what I do.

“Whether people think I’m nuts, I don’t care. Many other musicians will agree it’s the moment you get those skin tingles and it creatively comes through. It’s kind of non-quantifiable – you can’t say for sure what’s happening.

“Youth also works in that way, his own way. He’s very much of the earth, a high-ranking druid, extremely spiritual. To put us together was really a masterstroke, as we create on multi-levels and it transcends the physical, because music is vibration, and it’s using vibrations to penetrate multi-dimensions.

“I’m suspecting Crowded House may have been bound up within themselves and he wanted to break down some barriers. But I always prepare the space before any show I play and any time I write, burning a stick of palo santo – holy wood – to give a kind of blessing, clear the energy, let go of all the negative stuff, bring in the positive, and we’re good to go.”

So you don’t need to get naked on a New Zealand clifftop?

“No, but we did have really interesting experiences – in his studio in Spain he’s got a sauna and at night we’d get, whoever was there – me, Youth, the studio engineer, the drummer, Siobhan Fahey from Bananarama, who sings on two tracks – into this wood-fired sauna after a session, late at night, with percussive instruments and chant. Youth would lead and we’d all chant together. It was absolutely magical and then, with baking hot bodies, we’d get out and stand under the stars.

Big Impression: Slates, the first Fall record Brix heard, leading to her catching that Chicago live date … and history

“The studio’s located above a valley he thinks is the goddess spot, and there was one day when we trekked down into this gorge, it was amazing being led through, and again we did some kind of ritual of thankfulness. That kind of spiritual element does come into play working with him and in my life.”

The Fall, like yourself, were about moving on, but do you ever go back through the song catalogue and hear things that mean something different to you now? There was plenty of stream of consciousness type writing after all, from Mark and yourself.

“You think it’s stream of consciousness, but it’s channelled. Mark was super-psychic, spiritual in his own way, a precognitive psychic. He’d get snippets of information of things yet to occur. Many songs came to pass that were predictions of what was going to happen, in the way Nostradamus did that.

“I channel in a different way, but working with Mark really tapped into that, one of the reasons we worked so well together. I believe we were being fed the information, channelling through our bodies like a radio receiver. Call me a witch, I don’t care, but mostly I’m an energy worker, and so was Mark. He understood that everything flows … continuously. Nothing stays the same.

“If you stay the same, you stagnate. In order to keep things fresh and alive, you have to move, and that’s the reason he understood so intuitively why he changed members so many times – it was to create chaos and churn up the energy to keep it alive.

“Of course, I think about the future. We all do. I try and plan for the future. I have rockets of desire I send out – things I want to achieve and accomplish, goals I set, places I want to get to. But by and large I try and remain as much as I can in the moment. If I worry about the past, there’s nothing I can fucking do about it, and actually it doesn’t even exist. The past is no more.

“It’s good to have aspirations, but all those at the moment are just thoughts. They don’t exist. They haven’t come to pass. I can drive my train in that direction, but in terms of this pandemic and what’s going on in the world, it’s so scary when you project yourself forward.

“The film of all the terrifying things that could possibly happen that goes around your head does you no good at all. To live in a future that’s just a figment of your mind and your fears. So I pull myself back, live in the moment, and feel good – whether it’s writing, singing or watching fucking Netflix! Try and keep myself grounded in the here and now. Because the world’s changing so fast, and we’re not in control of any of it, it’s stupid to try. So just keep yourself safe and do what you love.

“I don’t go back over the back-catalogue for a couple of reasons. Being completely honest, sometimes when I listen it makes me emotional. I feel so sad about a million things, like Mark not being here, the fact that such a creative partnership no longer exists, or I listen to songs and they bring back very difficult emotions I was going through in terms of what was going on in my life.

“Also, hearing Mark’s voice sometimes just makes me sad. But periodically things come on the radio or I have to talk about something and if I get myself out of that emotional state, I realise how extraordinary that output was and hear things differently because I’m in a different place now.

“There are things I wrote at the time that now I go back and listen, I think, ‘Fuck me, I didn’t understand what that was!’ But now it makes complete sense, because it was precognitive.

“There’s a misconception that he wrote all the words, but quite a lot of lines and titles I came up with but was uncredited because I didn’t see the point of saying so. I really felt I was Mr Spock and he was Captain Kirk. He was driving the ship and I was first in command. I was happy to play those roles and accept that decision.”

You mentioned Nostradamus, and a song that came back to us recently was Slates’ final track, ‘Leave the Capitol’, in light of the recent Trumpite coup d’twat in America.  

“Of course, and you can go back through many points in history and many Fall songs that elude to things that were yet to happen. My case in point is ‘Terry Waite Sez’, recorded and released just before his kidnapping. I wrote the music sitting in the telly room in our house in Manchester, took it into the dining room and showed Mark, saying, ‘Here’s the music to a new song, but it has to be called ‘Terry Waite Sez’.’

“We worked in cahoots without even knowing what we were doing. Another was ‘Powderkeg’, written in my four years off in California, the lost years. I came back with a bag of songs in my pocket, although for some reason I’m not even credited as a writer. Filling out those writing credits, Mark took liberties, which everyone will tell you. Infuriating and galling, but it is what it is.

“And Super Blood Wolf Moon, the last Extricated album, is completely precognitive. It came out at the end of 2019, and what’s the name of the first song? ‘Strange Times’. What we’re living through now. And there’s reference to the virus all over that album, written before we knew it even existed.”   

Final Outing: The Fall’s 1996 LP The Light User Syndrome was the last studio album by the band to feature Brix Smith

If you had a chance to relive a couple of moments – be it a live show, radio session, studio recording, or even a bus trip between venues – where would you head?

“One of my favourite shows ever was at the Metro in Chicago, the venue where I first saw The Fall, coming back as a fully-fledged member of the band to my part-time hometown, playing a sold-out gig, having only been in high school there a few years before. One of those ‘pinch me’ moments.

“Even better, backstage were the Plastercasters, the women artists who sculpted rock stars’ penises. They asked if they could plaster-cast my breasts. Of course, I said yes, although that hasn’t happened yet! But the fact they asked me, when I’d known all my idols from Jimmy Page to Jimi Hendrix do that, was a surreal moment. And my family were there, so that’s one I’d love to relive.

“For a similar reason, there was one in LA, my other hometown, at an amphitheatre, when we had Howard Devoto’s Luxuria offshoot opening for us, and another at a massive amphitheatre outside LA where we played with New Order, The Smiths – I think – and Durutti Column. Maybe in Irvine. We did a few shows with New Order on that tour.

“Those gigs were amazing, but it was also about camaraderie with other bands. We did a lot with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in Europe, lots of co-headline tours with the Swans, and also The Cramps. For me it was about sharing a stage with bands that influenced me. Joy Division was probably my favourite band ever, so to see those guys and Gillian in New Order, hang out with them as buddies … I love all that stuff and the energy of those gigs.”

And if you had a chance to sneak back and talk to Laura Salenger, aka Brixton, as she got on that plane in May ’83, heading for a new life across the Atlantic, what might you tell her?

“The thing is, she was following her gut instincts all the way along, listening to her internal guidance, even if she knew not where it was coming from. You couldn’t have said anything. She was doing all the right things. She had to make all the mistakes … and none of them were mistakes.  Everything was for a reason. She played it exactly right.

“There would be nothing I would change, and I have zero regrets. Everything I chose to do led to where I am now. And despite the personal losses and what’s going on around us, at this very second sat here talking to you, I’m in a great place. When Laura got on that plane, she was following her instincts. There was nothing else I could do.

“I always listened to my internal guidance, with every choice I made. Sometimes I took routes that might have been more difficult than others, but that’s what life is – each thing leads you to the next. And it’s okay to not be okay. I used to fear the darkness – depression, lows, negative feelings. I would fear having that come around me like a black cloud. Now I realise everything flows.

“The spark of creation comes from the darkness. It is the right desire that you shoot out to get out of the dark place. And in order to get to the light, you have to have been in the dark, or you have no contrast. And those contrasts are so important, even if they’re uncomfortable. So don’t fear it, realise it’s going to pass and from that darkness something good will come. That’s what I believe.”

For the latest from Brix Smith, you can follow her via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  And for a June 2019 feature/interview on this site with Paul Hanley, head here.

Band Substance: Brix and the Extricated, on camera around the time of their third LP in 2019, the band now on hold

‘What really went on there? We only have this excerpt.’

Three years after losing the genius that was Mark E. Smith, and following a wretched year where we’ve all missed live music, a new book project is underway celebrating The Fall, charting the band’s amazing four-decade journey from late ‘70s Prestwich punk roots through recollections from fans, ex-members and others who played a part in their incredible story. But we need your help.

Do you have a tale to tell or memory to impart related to the band’s amazing sonic journey that you’d like to share? The new publication will concentrate on – but not be exclusive to – the period from 1981’s Slates to 1996’s The Light User Syndrome, with Brix Smith curating the project, adding insight into her time with the band and related offshoot outfits.    

‘Remember …’ the first time you heard John Peel play ‘Rowche Rumble’ or ‘Totally Wired’? Or maybe ‘Kicker Conspiracy’, ‘Cruiser’s Creek’, or ‘Telephone Thing’ turned your head to The Fall. ‘Remember …’ how you sat transfixed watching that spell-binding national TV debut on The Tube in late ’83, witnessed June ‘85’s Clitheroe Castle headliner, or Manchester’s Cities in the Park in August ’91?

Perhaps you go further back, the touch-paper lit in June ‘77 when The Fall supported Joy Division prototype Warsaw at The Squat, Manchester, or Buzzcocks and Purple Hearts at North East London Poly. Alternatively, it could have been one of several side-projects, an Adult Net, Blue Orchids, Creepers, Extricated or Imperial Wax show inspiring you to head back through the catalogue.

Whether it was one of the many radio sessions, seeing Michael Clark put through his paces at Edinburgh Festival to Brix and Steve Hanley’s soundtrack, hearing a track on a mate’s stereo or at your favourite record shop, we’d love to hear from you. Even if it’s just reminiscing about the night Karl cadged a ciggie off you outside a club, you shared a pint at the bar with Craig, or Mark told you to ‘do one’ in his own inimitable way as you struggled, awestruck, to find the words to address him.

Where and when did you become aware of the band, who were you with, and what were your first impressions? What memories are stoked by those associations? What was it that truly resonated and sticks in your mind when you hear mention of The Fall? Did you catch the gruelling Australasian tour which proved to be Marc Riley’s last with the band, or the following US visit? Were you there when Brix first stepped up to the mic on ‘C.R.E.E.P.’ in late ’83? Have you any photos or ticket stubs from those special gigs you’d like to share (adding relevant consent and photo/press credits)?

The finished product will form part of a wider series of music ‘fanthology’ publications, including ‘I Was There’ titles endorsed by the likes of The Wedding Present, Killing Joke, Simple Minds, OMD and The Jam. And your contribution could end up alongside those of big-name fans and first-hand accounts by Fall band members, crew, studio and venue personnel.

There are several great books on The Fall, written from the inside and fans and critics alike. This is not about replacing those, but creating something equally worthy, entirely complementary. Some recollections will jar with others, commentators may fall into opposing camps, events remembered differently, but 50,000 Fall fans could well be wrong, and your story could add extra colour to an already rich palette. Be sure to pass the message on to others who might miss out too. And this time, flair will not be punished.

Your favourite of five dozen or so singles and EPs? The relative merits of your favourite of 30-plus studio LPs and many more recorded live sets? A show or festival appearance above all others? The ultimate line-up? Ever book the band, join them on stage, work with, support or top a bill with The Fall? Here’s a new chance to enter that Wonderful and Frightening World. We look forward to hearing from you, via   

Returning Force: Brix Smith is back, promising new recordings and a new book project (Photo: Amelia Troubridge)

Returning Force: Brix Smith is back, promising new recordings and a new book project (Photo: Amelia Troubridge)


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Floating down the stream of time with The Beatles – the David Stark interview

Cover Stars: Ingrid Black's artwork on the cover of David 's memoir, with more detail about the artist at

Fab Front: Dave Stark’s memoir, featuring Ingrid Black’s cover art, with more detail about her at

Heard the one about the 15-year-old and his mate who gatecrashed the premiere of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film in July 1968, ending up directly behind the Fab Four in seats reserved for Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull?

That same lad, on a non-school day, was also spotted in shots of John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their way into Marylebone Magistrates’ Court on drugs charges three months later, days before his 16th birthday, in a year when he was also on hand for filming of The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

And a year later he sneaked into the premiere of The Magic Christian, starring distant relative Peter Sellers and a certain Ringo Starr, taking advantage of a flustered usher amid HRH Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon’s red carpet arrival.

Soon enough, John, Paul, George and Ringo got to recognise David Stark at such events, many more encounters following down the years, the 68-year-old these days on the guestlist, considered a distinguished visitor, as with his involvement at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA) graduations, alongside Sir Paul McCartney.

And while 2020 was a difficult year for David – amid emotional upheavals and sad times, with good friends lost – he put the first UK coronavirus lockdown to good use, finishing a memoir recounting his days as a Beatles fan who in time got to enjoy many of those first-hand encounters with his heroes.

He first caught the band in person 56 years ago this month, attending Another Beatles Christmas Show with family at Hammersmith Odeon, the group’s second festive offering in London.

I won’t go deep into the details of all the encounters that followed. You can find out for yourself in It’s All Too Much, David’s ‘Adventures of a Teenage Beatles Fan in the ‘60s and Beyond’. But it’s fair to say it’s been a star-studded journey for this music industry veteran.

The drummer of tribute act The Trembling Wilburys – who also stood in for proto-Beatles act The Quarrymen in 2013 – has worked with Elton John and members of The Moody Blues and The Who down the years, and got to enjoy quality time with the likes of Sir George Martin and even John Lennon’s beloved Aunt Mimi.

Graduation Day: Sir Paul McCartney and loyal Beatles fan David Stark at LIPA, 2011 (Photo copyright: David Stark)

Then there was his 1999 audience with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, at an event he helped organise, and another when one of his past bands, Riviera Feedback supported Eddie & the Hot Rods the night they recorded the Live at The Marquee EP in July 1976, replacing the Sex Pistols after they smashed up some of the Rods’ gear.

David grew up in north-west London, and isn’t so far off now, based in Belsize Park, having attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School in Elstree before embarking on an indirect path into the industry he loves, a short stint with Premier Drums followed by time with Dick James Music, Decca Records, MAM, and Music & Media/Billboard magazine.

He’s edited Sound Engineer & Producer, the Eurofile Directory, and The Producers’ Handbook too; and since 1993 has edited and published SongLink International and Cuesheet. David was also a recipient of a BASCA Gold Badge Award for services to the music industry and was made a Companion of LIPA by founding patron Sir Paul McCartney in 2006.

His life story is certainly Boys’ Own stuff in place. Did this admitted Beatles nut consider himself a shy lad, or did he always possess a bit of ‘front’?

“I was quite shy. I scratched the surface. I could have pushed it a lot more if I’d wanted to. But just being in those few situations, I was really lucky, but with a bit of front, especially at the Yellow Submarine premiere. That was unbelievable – for a kid that age to get that far. But it was just the timing and the circumstances, thanks to Keith Richards, Dick James, and all that.”

Thanks to Mick Jagger and his partner at the time, Marianne Faithfull, too, for being in New York that night.

“Totally. Who’d have thought!”

If that part of the tale turned up in a Hollywood blockbuster, I’d probably question its plausibility.

“I know. That’s the funny thing. Steven Spielberg made a film years ago about Beatles fans in the States getting into their hotel room at the Plaza in New York. A great film, and I always related to that. Lots of kids have their own (similar) stories from all through the Beatles years. I was just a bit luckier than most, I suppose, living in London at the right time.”

Standing In: David Stark helped out on drums for The Quarrymen in 2013. From left – David Stark, Len Garry, John ‘Duff’ Lowe, Rod Davis and Marko Laver (Photo copyright: David Stark)

Geography seemed to be on the side of this native of the capital’s Middlesex borders. But I guess he had more opportunities – as someone born in 1952 – to see his heroes than someone born around then on the outskirts of Liverpool. The Fab four had well and truly uprooted by then, heady days of younger fans being able to catch them at lunchtimes at The Cavern long behind them.

“Yes, and being at the end of the Bakerloo line on the Tube in Stanmore, then at the end of the Northern line in Edgware, was fortuitous. And as I reached my teens, I was into town a bit for discos and the cinema. I’ve good memories from there.”

A love of the cinema comes into his tale, not least memories of seeing A Hard Day’s Night in the summer of ’64 – David starting secondary school that autumn – and Help! in August ’65 at the flicks. In a sense, I argued, that was perhaps the last golden age of popular cinema.

“Possibly, although I’ve loved going to the cinema ever since. But with A Hard Day’s Night being in black and white, it was in that era of classic and iconic British dramas and comedies. It was really of its time and for me still stands up. When it comes on the telly, I have to watch it. It’s brilliant, the script spot on. It’s incredible for their first film.”

While David was first exposed to The Beatles in January 1963 when he heard Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman play ‘Please Please Me’ on Pick of the Pops, it was a while before he learned drums, and even longer before he made his way in the record industry. His was a far more circuitous route, but one he’s equally proud of and thankful for.

“Oh, I’m very lucky! All through my life, meeting a lot of my heroes, some of whom became good friends.”

David follows this by mentioning my Christmas interview with Slade’s Don Powell, a drumming legend he tells me is a good pal, mentioning how he helps organise the celebrity dinners Don mentioned, involving various friends from the industry.

The title of his book comes from one of the more psychedelia-tinged George Harrison numbers on Yellow Submarine, in a nod to the premiere for that animated film he sneaked into.

“Yes, and it’s the perfect title. I love that song and loved that film, although it’s not one of his best known numbers.”

Tremble Ohs: With his most recent band, covers outfit The Trembling Wilburys. From left – David Stark, Dzal Martin, Andy McNish, Glen Knowler, Dave Collison, Marko Laver and Howard Robin (Photo copyright: David Stark)

The line, ‘And the more I go inside, the more there is to see’, that was your journey with The Beatles, wasn’t it?

“I guess so, yeah. Always a bit philosophical, old George. But very true, I’d say.”

Does that mid-July ’68 happening at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus remain pretty vivid today, five decades down the line?

“It always stayed in my memory, being such an incredible occasion. And the fact I was caught in a couple of pictures that day, then later found that news clip where George (Harrison) and Pattie (Boyd, the Beatle’s wife at the time) walk straight past … and I’m making the most stupid expression!

“But what I remember most was the excitement of it all and it being such a colourful occasion, everyone dressed in ‘60s fab gear, looking incredible, especially The Beatles, in particular George with his yellow and orange suit and hat. He looked fantastic, they all looked great. The whole thing was London and the Swinging 60s at its finest.

“Even I looked the part, wearing a Lord John suit with a turquoise shirt and kipper tie. I must have gone up there with something in the back of my mind, despite having no clue what was going to happen. I think I was prepared for any eventuality, and this possibility of getting in. It was pure luck that we managed to bluff our way through and get the manager to approve us, saying, ‘I see you know people here’!”  

As I was only born five months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it’s difficult for me to imagine just how advanced aspects of that LP sounded back then. I’ve heard so many great records since that built on that and other classic Beatles albums – including one of my personal favourites, Revolver – that it’s difficult to get a handle on just how revolutionary they were at the time. They certainly broke the mould time and again, from the moment they retired to the studio.

“Definitely – without doubt! That’s how it was. Every record was a progression from the previous one, and in most cases they were only six months apart, with two a year until Sgt. Pepper. And not only were the songs getting better, but the recordings were getting better, moving slowly from four-track to eight-track, and with George Martin’s experimenting.

By George: David with another hero, Sir George Martin, at 2011’s Gold Badge Awards (Photo copyright: David Stark)

“Everything was progressing through the Sixties. We went from black and white TV to colour, and The Beatles went from black and white to vivid colours. Everything was happening, an amazing period to live through. It’s hard to explain it to people today, but that decade changed everything.

“I loved it all. I was still at school, listening to Beatles records and one or two others. I’d tape the charts on the radio on a tape recorder, so when I hear old records today, in my mind I can hear what song’s going to be next from that tape, almost 50 years on.

“That was the Light Programme in those days, shows like Pick of the Pops and The Saturday Club. I was still taping when it turned to Radio 1. I just wish I still had them.” 

Were you listening to pirate radio stations too?

“Yeah, Radio London mainly, because of Kenny Everett, who was fantastic. I enjoyed Johnnie Walker’s shows too … and he’s become a pal. Such a fantastic voice, and still going strong.”

I tend to take issue with over-simplified notions that in the ‘60s you were either Beatles or Stones fans. And it seems that you had time for both acts.

“Oh yeah. I loved the Stones as well, and seeing that Rock’n’Roll Circus show was great. I’ve seen them loads and loads of times over the years … although not as many times as The Who, my second favourite band.”

And you got to meet Keith Moon and John Entwistle in later years through jobs in the industry.

“Yeah, John I knew a bit, promoting his solo record at one point at Decca Records. He was a good bloke, and I met Keith a few times. He was … well, if I do another book, there’ll be stories about him and The Who for sure!”

Yellow Submarine: The soundtrack of the Beatles’ animated film arrived on the market six months after the movie itself

That brings me to a landmark January ’67 support set you witnessed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience – their first major London appearance – for The Who at London’s Saville Theatre.

“I saw Hendrix three times that year, the third time at the Royal Albert Hall with Pink Floyd and Amen Corner. That was fantastic too.”

But it was Jimi’s June return to the Saville I wanted to mention, the night he played the title track of the Sgt. Pepper album, somehow redefining a number released just three days earlier.

“Yes, that was so unexpected. It was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this!’. Nobody realised until around 30 seconds or more what he was doing. It was great, George Harrison and Paul McCartney were there too, and all of them were there in January for his first major gig. And apart from the release of Sgt. Pepper, I’d say 1967 was Hendrix’s year, without doubt. And I still play him a lot today.”

Down the years, David seems to have had an uncanny ability to be in the picture, in more ways than one. And how? Well, sometimes it’s about contacts and being in the know, and arguably his roots gave him a few of those opportunities, such as his Jewish family links and initial chance meetings with the likes of Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s younger brother Clive – during a summer ’64  family holiday at a hotel in Torquay (not Fawlty Towers) – and music publisher Dick James.

“You are right, because if you look at The Beatles’ history and the persons involved with them, quite a lot were Jewish, such as Brian Epstein and Dick James. That said, I’ve never played on that, at all. I’m not particularly religious, but it is something that does connect people.”

In a sense though, that was the entertainment business at the time, wasn’t it?

“It was, although when I left school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I was reasonably good at art and thought I’d try that, but I guess I knew I wasn’t really good enough. Then my parents broke up, and that’s why I didn’t end up going to uni, ending up getting that job at Premier Drums. And I really enjoyed that. I mean, having to go and meet Keith Moon at the Rainbow Theatre …”

That must have been a hardship for a drummer who always loved The Who.

“Oh, very hard! He was great, and very funny.”

Second Service: The Beatles’ second long player, from November 1963, was the first one that David Stark bought.

For 18 months, David was also employed as an estate agent, showing prospective clients around flats and houses in north London, on one occasion appointed by Spike Milligan to sell his house in North Finchley and arrange the purchase of another in Hadley Wood, near Barnet.

But while The Beatles’ solo endeavours grew apace, David’s lack of success in finding his first band, Raw Deal, that crucial deal, proved not to be fruitless, an approach made to Dick James Music with a demo tape leading to an offer of a job. He was on his way, soon getting to know a wealth of famous clients, including Elton John.

“That was my first proper job in the music business, having skipped a couple of years. On reflection perhaps I really should have gone with it when I left school – writing to every record company. But I didn’t know that then. Instead, I made my own way, but … why didn’t I write to George Martin?”

Ah, another hero David got to know in later days.

“What a really lovely guy. He would have been 95 a couple of days ago. Always such a nice guy when I met him, and for me the quintessential Englishman, especially with that voice … wonderful. He was always very funny as well, and never ‘bigged’ himself up.”

Reminiscing about his opportunity to see the band play live in early January 1965 at Hammersmith Odeon, David uses the word ‘overwhelmed’ in the book, mentioning how he was ’desperately trying to hear the music but ultimately just taking in the experience of actually seeing The Beatles playing, familiar from so many TV appearances.’

He was lucky enough to get tickets through his Dad’s accountant, Dick James’ silent partner in Northern Songs, formed with Brian Epstein to administer The Beatles’ song catalogue. I gather there was also a chance of an investment, one his father turned down, way before shares were floated.

“Yes, if I remember right, he had that opportunity to invest, but didn’t, because he felt he didn’t know enough about music. Just one of those things, but my life could have been completely different. Who knows!”

Abbey Road: David Stark’s favourite Beatles LP, with the Fabs on the street where John jokingly rebuked him

It did help in his situation that school pal David Templer lived close to Abbey Road Studios, leading to his first personal exchange of sorts with John Lennon around Easter 1966, making for a lovely tale.

“That’s right! I was at school in Elstree, just outside London, and David went there as well, a long way from St John’s Wood every day. But he was always telling me he’d seen The Beatles arrive there and got their autographs, so that was it – I had to do it too!”

And that day you also decided – after seeing his kit – you wanted to take up the drums.

“Exactly. The first time I ever played was when I saw his kit. I thought I’ve got to have a go on this. That’s when it started for me. And an hour or so later, John Lennon was telling me off for having my bike parked up against the studio gate!”

It was the following year that Brian Epstein died, David overhearing news of his death from Sandie Shaw, while holidaying with his family in Majorca in late August, the Eurovision winner staying in the same hotel.

And how about the time he was caught on camera in October 1968 as John and Yoko appeared at Marylebone Magistrates’ Court in relation to a drugs bust at their Montagu Square flat? 

“That’s right. There were hundreds of people there, but I somehow got lucky, right behind them.”

Those meeting-the-stars moments continued apace – from the Rolling Stones’ Rock’n’Roll Circus at a TV studio in Wembley to the Magic Christian film premiere, while David met John Lennon for the last time in July 1971 with Yoko at Selfridges, signing copies of her republished Grapefruit book, weeks before they left for New York.

Cinematic Magic: While the film failed to impress, David Stark managed to sneak into the premiere and mingle

He also talks about memorable meetings with George, and tells a lovely tale of a Saturday night in the autumn of 1970 when he went for a spur of the moment spin in bandmate Vince Lewis’ Ford Anglia, deciding on a whim to call at Ringo’s secluded Hampstead home, ask him out for a pint, first knocking on the wrong door, by chance interrupting Lulu and then-husband Maurice Gibb, who told them which house they really wanted.

“Oh yes! You know, you can’t make this stuff up! That’s how it happened. It’s just ludicrous. And then it was Ringo himself who opened the door – holding a pool cue, demanding to know what the hell we were doing on his doorstep!”

Apparently, Ringo had friends in, David spotting Eric Clapton just behind him. I don’t reckon he’d have got away with that today. The property would have far more secure for starters.

“Oh yeah, they’d all have gated properties. You wouldn’t stand a chance. Although, funnily enough, Paul’s had his house in St John’s Wood since 1966, and over the years he’s put up with the fans.”

I could go on, but time was against us. Yet five decades or so on, interest is clearly still there in the Fab Four judging by pre-Christmas reaction to a sneak preview of Peter Jackson’s Let It Be project, the original film still officially unreleased but now set to form part of a Get Back DVD package, including a re-imagined version of the documentary, the Lord of the Rings director in London to film new interviews during 2019. The completed film was set for release in September 2020, but is now pencilled in for August 2021, pandemic restrictions willing.

“That’s going to be very interesting. He’s re-editing the film, and I think his brief is to turn it into a happier film. And It wasn’t all misery. That promises to be another big event, so it never stops.”

I should mention that David received an official invitation from Apple for the original Let It Be, The Beatles’ fourth feature film, premiered at the London Pavilion in May 1970. On that occasion, there were no Beatles in person though, unsurprisingly just a month after they officially split up. As David put it, ‘The words ‘attending your own funeral’ spring to mind’.

Rockdown Product: Some 57 years after David Stark bought his first Beatles-related product, Macca ploughs on

Let’s hope we’re all back on track by then, and I dare say if that’s the case Ringo will be out and about touring with his All Starr Band again pretty soon.

“Yeah, and I’m sure Paul will as well. He’s out on the road every year and must be missing it. I’m definitely missing it. I didn’t do a single gig last year with the Trembling Wilburys, and we can’t wait to get back. We’re booked to play in March, but I didn’t know if that’s going to happen. I doubt it. So maybe we’re talking the second half of the year, or even later.”

And Paul continues to make interesting records, judging by his ‘rockdown’ release, McCartney III.

“Yeah, I’m enjoying that. And the other connection we have is through LIPA, where I see him every year normally. It’s just such a shame all colleges and unis are now shut again. It’s terrible for those students. I give out songwriting prizes every year with Paul, and they’ve asked me to do it online … but it’s not the same as being there in person. I really don’t know what’s going to happen this year.”

In the meantime, with the next lockdown underway, there may be a follow-up book on its way.

“Well, it’s on my mind, and I’ve got all these other stories, and loads of pictures.”

Paperback Writer: David Stark at home with part of his Beatles collection in the 1990s (Photo copyright: David Stark)

For details of how to get hold of a signed copy of David Stark’s It’s All Too Much, head to You can also follow the author via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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WriteWyattUK’s Guide to Finding Inspiration … In Spite of These Times, pt. II

In which WriteWyattUK takes a look back – in quotation form – at the pick of our feature/interviews from 2020, the dreaded year the coronavirus carved a devastating impact on the music and arts scene. Click on the highlighted name for the full interview, and we’ll conclude here with the final six months.


Live Presence: Prog legend Jon Anderson in concert, hoping to be back out again sometime soon (Photo: Tami Freed)

“At that time, it was the Everly Brothers with my brother, and I’d sing a lot of commercial romantic songs in the mid-‘50s, and then Buddy Holly … and of course Elvis Presley – my brother bought the vinyl Elvis Presley album, and a little Dansette record player, so I heard all those incredible songs. My brother wanted to be Elvis and I wanted to be Roy Orbison, and I’d sing his songs.” Yes legend Jon Anderson on his formative days as a performer back in Accrington, Lancashire

Broadcast Innovator: Steve Barker, a key part of BBC radio for more than 40 years, broadcasting from Lancashire

“We do what we do, we do it from Lancashire, and we’re proud of being from Lancashire, we always have been, and we’re all from Lancashire, but we play music from around the world. We play music that excites us and we think people will enjoy, and that seems to be a pretty clear intent.” Veteran BBC local radio On the Wire presenter Steve Barker on how his county base informs but never rules his love of broadcasting

Liberties Takers: Fontaines D.C. are hoping to be back over in the UK next May, all being well, COVID-19-dependent.

“We actually worked our arses off rehearsing in the summer of 2018 when we were set to go in to record the album, having never done that before. We were really nervous, and we couldn’t believe we’d managed to fool them into giving us a record deal, that kind of mentality. But we also knew, ‘Now we must do the work’, thinking, ‘Oh shit! We need to record these songs’. So we got them really tight. I learned so many things about songs, like the chord progressions that were going on, bar counts, all these sort of things.” Fontaines DC co-founder Conor Deegan III on the Dublin outfit’s work ethic

Interior Shot: Producer Grant Keir on the set of Lift Share with co-leading actor Mark Rowley, and still busy in 2020

“I think television is still a really important benchmark, sets standards and sets viewing figures too. Talk to any of the social influencers, people marking their careers on Twitter and TikTok and all that – if you offer any of them a slot on television, they’ll bite your hand off. It still sets a kind of social, political media agenda. That for me is what’s so disturbing about all the major channels in the UK evacuating the schedules of serious documentary content. We wouldn’t get to make those films Virginia (Heath) made back in the day for (The) Bandung (File) and Rear Window. You couldn’t make them now.” Film producer Grant Keir giving his considered opinion on the continued importance of traditional TV slots

Ferry Share: Director Virginia Heath, centre, with Mark Rowley and Ularu off to the Outer Hebrides to film Lift Share

“I basically got to that story through my colleague at Sheffield Hallam, Paul Atkinson, who’s part of the same research centre. He’d written an article, Hairy Guys in Sheds, and was telling me about it in the pub one day, and I thought that would be a really nice subject for a film. That kind of DIY ethos and anti-corporate spirit, making instruments from found materials. I just found it really inspiring.” New Zealand-born film director Virginia Heath on the inspiration behind the hit Cigar Box Blues music documentary


Six Appeal: The Psychedelic Furs, back into light once the pandemic’s behind us all again (Photo: Mathew Reeves)

“It was very frustrating, because we were so happy and excited to get it out and be able to tour with new material. So when the whole pandemic came down we were chomping at the bit to get out there and play to people. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. You can live in a studio, but until you get out and play the songs face to face with your audience, you can’t really gauge the success or failure of a song or album.” Founding Psychedelic Furs member/bass player Tim Butler on his exasperation at not being able to tour 2020 LP Made of Rain

Four Play: Sunbirds Marc Parnell, Laura Wilcockson, Dave Hemingway, Phil Barton, delivered the Cool To Be Kind LP

“I went back and we did a video for that song, back to Hessle Road, where I grew up and used to live. It was very poignant really. It’s changed a lot through the years, but a lot of the same things are still there. Hopefully some things will never change. My old house has been knocked down, but a lot of the same spots are still there that I mention in the song.” Former Beautiful South/The South singer Dave Hemingway on returning to his Hull roots for debut Sunbirds single ‘Meet You on the Northside’

Last Time: BOB in 1991. from left – Simon Armstrong, Stephen Hersom, Richard Blackborow (above), Dean Leggett

“Those recordings were just left on the shelf. For years I wanted to put the BOB archives in order. When I first moved here (West Cornwall) in 2002 I vowed to set up a studio and mix it all, not for any other reason than to get it all out of my system, put it to bed so I could move on, musically. So if I got run over by a bus, people would know what we did.” Richard Blackborow on indie favourites BOB releasing their second studio album, 28 years later than originally envisaged

Banned Substance: Everything, Everything, back rehearsing and itching to get out there again in 2020, but still waiting.

“It’s so often where we default to. We’ve done it a few times. It’s quite an easy way to become uniform. We’ve always admired that kind of utilitarian ‘I’m going to work, I’m doing a job’ thing. There’s also a link to Kraftwerk, DEVO and bands that took what they were wearing almost out of the equation – making it uniform across the band. I’ve always liked that.” Jeremy Pritchard on Everything Everything’s return to the boiler suit look

Belief Systen: Andy Crofts, waking up to all he’s achieved in recent years, and making good use of his spare time

“Well, as you know, that’s what we do, year in year out, touring the world and all those kinds of things. But this quarantine thing has messed everything up and we’re all at a bit of a loose end. We’re all excited, hoping everything will be back to normal next year, but it’s been a bit rubbish in the sense that we just love playing wide. You get a buzz playing live, off the audience and off each other. But on the other side, I’ve pushed myself – I’ve got this book finished, very quickly; I’ve put out some music of my own and for someone else on my label; and I’ve kept busy.” Andy Crofts making the best of not being able to get on the road with Paul Weller’s band in 2020


Looking Up: Stone Foundation, keen to get the pandemic behind them and return to the live circuit again in 2021

“Iit becomes more and more difficult to try and keep Paul off our records than put him on them! He’s such an infectious character, and he’s been so good for us. I can’t speak more highly of Paul. His support and the inspiration he offers up is second to none. And just the fact that when he’s in the studio and hearing our stuff … on the last record in particular, there was no plan to have Paul involved. We’d tell him when our sessions were booked in or ask if we could book sessions in his studio. And as is his usual way he’d make sure he’d be down there for a day or two…” Stone Foundation singer/co-founder Neil Jones on Paul Weller’s regular contributions to the band’s LPs

Good Nick: Folk Devils’ Nick Clift in live action, with the reformed version of the band. Hopefully more shows will follow.

“There’s a lot of new material in embryonic form. Because of the way we work it’s not really possible to do it over the internet, better to knock it into shape when we all convene. If Kris, in Scotland, and I, in New Jersey, still lived in London, where the others reside, it would be a lot easier to write and record. But there’s an album brewing, and it promises to be a … beautiful monster.” Nick Clift on the plan to release new Folk Devils material as soon as possible

Monochrome Set: Ginnel. From the left – Paul Lakin, Mark Wareing, Pete Brown, Scrub. Ready to thrill you in 2021

“Happens every new generation … kids see the likes of Oasis, and bang! There’s 100 Oasis lookalike and soundalike bands. Or bang! There’s 100 Nirvana-type bands. The kids need to stop hopping on the bandwagon and look backwards on history and check out stuff from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and so on. There’s loads of stuff worth stealing from. We’ve picked up on stuff, added our own twist … and bingo!” Preston-based ex-Dandelion Adventure frontman Mark Wareing, now leading Ginnel, on the need to keep reinventing, looking backwards to go forward

Artists United: Ray Gange with Clash legend Paul Simonon back in 2013 (Photo copyright: Louisa Philips Kulukundis

“Yeah, it opened my mind, for sure. It’s a cliché, but it broadened my horizons. It certainly did. It gave me a ton of opportunities. I didn’t necessarily grasp them, but they were there. And I think it’s a great document, although it’s a little bit … I’m trying to think of a better word than haphazard …  chaotic in its assemblage, you know.” Ray Gange on the positive side of his lead acting role in 1980 Clash-related film Rude Boy


Farm Hand: Carl Hunter, modelling Bruce Foxton’s jacket, enjoying Irlam Live, Summer 2019 (Photo: Steve Grimes)

“It came about during lockdown. I’d drive into Liverpool occasionally, out of boredom really, and the city I grew up in and know like the back of my hand, I’d never seen it so empty. It was almost apocalyptic. I thought I’d take photos, just out of curiosity, document this moment in time.” Farm bassist turned film director Carl Hunter on the inspiration behind his acclaimed More Than Time short film

Hammersmith Valets: Ewan Butler, Ian Hodgson and Stephen Street, set to deliver Bradford’s second LP in 2021

“Fortunately, we’d all grown up with exposure to excellent music, from punk to soul to 2 Tone, and were aware of that kind of music, so it was a development of that kind of vibe. It was never about right-wing, Skrewdriver-type connotations. It was very much related to soul.” Ewan Butler on how indie favourites Bradford were initially determined to reclaim the skinhead look from its right wing associations

“I was offered a support slot for Glenn Tilbrook at Blackburn Museum, and at that stage said to Ewan, ‘Fancy doing a couple of songs for old time’s sake?’ So we started doing ‘Skin Storm’ again, stuff like that. That was the spark.” Ian Hodgson on how Bradford returned after a three-decade sabbatical

Bea Movie: Beatrice Kristi, aka Beabadoobee, delivered her debut album, Fake It Flowers in 2020, to critical acclaim

“It is exciting! It’s also really scary. This album has so much of me in it, so much of my life up until now. I didn’t know that this would become what it has, and I never thought anyone would care – I mean look at my artist name! So yeah, it’s exciting and a little terrifying!” Bea Kristi Laus on her amazement at getting to release her debut studio LP as Beabadoobee, to great acclaim

Looking Up: It turned out to be a year for reflection for David Gedge’s The Wedding Present (Photo: Peter Koudstaal)

“Since Going, Going … came out, and that’s four years ago now, we’ve been doing quite a lot of touring, places where we hadn’t played before like Australia, New Zealand and Asia. So we thought 2020 should be a quiet year … I just didn’t realise it would be this quiet!” David Gedge, who could never have envisaged how The Wedding Present’s less busy 2020 could have turned out


Baby Love: New York City punk-rock’n’rollers Baby Shakes made it over to Derry in 2020 (Photo: Nathan Frohnhoefer)

“Since day one, the ‘Tones have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. They’re all super-sweet, really funny and very down to earth. Although we’ve been nervous about supporting them and recording together at first, we all get along so well, and it’s always been such a good time in their company. When we got to chatting, we realised we had a lot in common as far as taste in music and a similar sense of humour. We were literally in tears laughing at their jokes some nights in the studio and on the phone!” New York outfit Babyshakes talk about working with Northern Irish punk heroes The Undertones

Action Stations: Gordon Gibson checks his rising stock at his Church Street HQ (Photo: Neil Cross / Lancashire Post)

“Well, yeah, everyone’s in the same boat. At least we’ve been open as much as we can. A lot of record shops around the country have never re-opened … just doing mail order. They haven’t opened their doors (since last time). But we had to – we’re a record shop and want to meet people!” Action Records shop owner and record label boss Gordon Gibson contemplates the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on Preston’s retail businesses

Tree’s Company: Richard Farnell at home in Sale with a copy of Felt’s Penelope Tree (Photo: Richard Farnell)

“Initially, the first lockdown was pretty positive. It gave us chance to catch our breath, and the website did really well in the first few weeks. However, towards the end it felt the novelty was wearing off, and it was less busy. We furloughed all but two of 11 of us. Our customers were really supportive, and you could recognise many regulars’ names appearing on online orders who we’d normally see in the shop. I hope we get the same level of support this time, but it does feel like this lockdown might be different.” Co-owner of Manchester record shop Vinyl Exchange Richard Farnell on long-term worries as a result of coronavirus restrictions

Work Experience: Robin Turner ticking the no publicity box in the Heavenly Recordings office, all those years ago

“Yeah, it’s 30 years without compromising and being this disparate, extended family, but a family all the same. I mean, I’m still part of it, even though I’ve not worked there for 10 years. Like The Godfather … dragging me back in. And it’s got that identity that makes it work. And you’re right, if you think of comparable labels, there’s Creation, its last records around 2000, and Factory, where it was all over by the early ‘90s. Heavenly’s managed to out-last lots of similar institutions.” Author and music publicist Robin Turner on a new book celebrating 30 years of Heavenly Recordings and how it pays tribute to the label and its cult success

Sun Screen: Saunder Jurriaans, ready to break out and play live, post pandemic lockdowns, on the back of Beasts

“I am and have always been a huge fan of long epic, dramatic, proggy, rock songs! ‘Ghost Walk’ was written a bit later in the scheme of the record and my recording chops were much better, I felt more confident going for it. I played every instrument myself on that one … it was a real exercise in overdubs!” Cult movie and TV soundtrack composer Saunder Jurriaans reveals some of the influences on debut solo LP, Beasts

Curtain Call: Ian Robinson facing the public at Chorley Theatre in January 2016 (Photo copyright: Chorley Guardian)

“When we opened again in September, it was nice to see people back, to catch up with volunteers and our audiences, many telling us it was good to get back to some kind of normality. And really It’s about the fun aspect, meeting people, and all that. It shouldn’t have to be about form-filling.” Chorley Theatre’s Ian Robinson reveals how much he values the Lancashire arts hub and venue’s community feel


Drum Major: Simon Kirke behind the kit with Bad Company during their 1979 US tour (Photo: Lyndy Lambert)

“We didn’t just play Stax, we played some classical music. I was really into Mozart and Bach, and we played a lot of Beatles of course. But foremost it was Stax and Motown – that’s how we bonded those Monday nights, and I believe that really cemented us musically for quite a while.” Legendary Free and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke on his breakthrough band’s initial inspirations

Keeping Going: Kate Stables, trading as This is the Kit, saw off the coronavirus during 2020 (Photo: Ph. Lebruman)

“I really miss swimming! I just want to go to one of Paris’ many excellent municipal swimming pools and plough up and down for as long as possible. I really miss swimming pools. And libraries. I miss all the public services and amenities! Libraries, pools, community centres! We need them!” Kate Stables, the inspiration behind This is the Kit on what she’ll do the moment it’s safe to return to the outside world, post-virus

Glam Survivor: Don Powell gives WriteWyattUK the thumbs-up while recording this June in Denmark at a studio used by The Glam, the band he joined for a cover of Slade’s ‘Far Far Away’ (Photo courtesy of The Glam via Facebook)

“We did our first tour of Australia in 1973 and were trying to find out what we meant to people down there before, which was more difficult to find out in those days, without the internet and all that. When we landed in Sydney, all these cameras and photographers were waiting, and we were looking behind us wondering who was on the plane with us – who were they waiting for? But it was because of the success of Slade Alive, and it was non-stop from there – a great tour.” Slade drumming legend Don Powell reflects on his first tour Down Under and how big the band were there … much to their surprise

That’s it for this year, folks. Thanks as ever for your support. A quick gander at the viewing figures suggests – with less than half a day to go – approaching 96,000 reads on this website in 2020. Thank you all. Plenty going on in 2021 too, some of which I shall reveal as soon as possible in January. Here’s to more great music and a return to live entertainment as soon as we can. Until then, stay safe, and here’s to a happier and healthier 2021. 

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WriteWyattUK’s Guide to Finding Inspiration … In Spite of These Times, Pt. I

In which WriteWyattUK takes a look back – in quotation form – at the pick of our feature/interviews from 2020, the dreaded year the coronavirus carved a devastating impact on the music and arts scene. Click on the highlighted name for the full interview, and we’ll start with the first six months.


Club Scout: Richard Houghton stood outside Salford Lads’ Club, stopping Smiths fans if he’s heard their tales before

“That word ‘maudlin’ is a term that many Smiths fans reject. The idea that their music is only for manic depressives really winds them up, and I wonder if that’s because the song ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ is so firmly lodged in the public consciousness. A lot of people said to me that far from making them sad the lyrics of Smiths songs made them laugh.” Richard Houghton, author/editor of 2020 publication The Smiths: The Day I Was There, questioning the band’s ‘miserable’ image

Parsons Knows: Get It Loud in Libraries founder Stewart Parsons at Liverpool Central Library (Photo: Andy Von Pip)

“She was 16 or 17, cheeky, cool and irreverent, drinking Beck’s whilst (support act) Mr Hudson was on stage, and nipping out for fags. Looking back, it felt like they were all having a big laugh in a library, just waiting for world stardom. She only did four songs, but they were wow factor. Everyone just turned and looked at one another, whilst she played it dead cool. She loved Get It Loud in Libraries though. ‘Thanks for doing what you do,’ she told me on MySpace.” Stewart Parsons, founder of the highly-successful Get It Loud in Libraries movement, recalls the 2007 evening Adele played Lancaster Library

Wünderbar Regulars: Rob Talbot hanging out with with one of many impressive 2019 Conti guests, Edward Tudor-Pole

“It’s something for people in the community to go out and do, particularly at the weekend, and not something corporate. It’s not about going to some faceless venue, buying a can of Carling Black Label and just seeing a band from a distance. You’re just here, they ‘re right in front of you, and you can say hello afterwards. People love that.” Events organiser Rob Talbot on the attraction of smaller venues like The Continental in Preston, Lancashire (you remember the concept of live music, right?)

Drag Racer: Annie Hardy was back out on the road in early 2020, touring six years beyond Giant Drag’s farewell tour.

“I’m hoping to at least get down to some freezing cold beach somewhen, looking for crystals and gemstones. You guys have a lot of Victorian mines out here. I keep watching YouTube videos of this girl and her Mum beachcombing, finding all these rubies and korite, all sorts of things. I’m into all that shit! I think that’s in Scotland.” Giant Drag’s Annie Hardy on her hopes for a little spare time during her early 2020 solo whistle-stop European tour


Neuk Vision: Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, from Scotland with more love earlier this year (Photo: Sean Dooley)

“I penned most of the new lyrics on a train journey to London and back, busked a few chords together, sent Virginia some acoustic demos, then set about building an all-acoustic band culled from the Fence players I’d worked with over the years. Virginia is from New Zealand, and was in no way going to deliver a cliched Scottish ramble through heather, shortbread tins and golf courses, and that suited me fine – but I insisted the music come from a traditional, acoustic source, and that nostalgia would feature heavily in the song material. I simply put myself and the views of those around me into bygone days.” Kenny Anderson reveals how King Creosote’s classic 2012 From Scotland With Love film and album project took shape

Bearded Theories: West on Colfax caught on camera. From left – Pete Barnes, Alan Hay, Mike Lambert, Scott Carey.

“I suppose it’s down to your perception of country … cowboy boots, hillbillies … but I’d say bands like Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and even REM to an extent have been ploughing more of a guitar sound. And there’s bands like Green on Red … Over the last 15 or so years I think it’s started to grow a lot in this country too. We use the term Americana because it’s a handy clothes-peg to hang different sets of music on the same line. If you were to put band T-shirts on that line, you could have all kinds – from Waylon Jennings to The Byrds, Wilco, Gram Parsons, Courtney Marie Andrews … And there are so many great UK bands.” West on Colfaxco-founder Scott Carey, once of Paris Angels, dismisses my initial reluctance towards Americana

Double Trouble: Ben Ayres and Tjinder Singh, still moving forward with Cornershop in 2020 (Photo: Chris Almeida)

“I don’t know about nostalgia. We try to write about issues that are forward. But sometimes you need to go back, and that song goes back to Empire, talking about battles where someone like St Marie would come down and be able to assuage the problems those battles have created. A lot of shit has gone down and we look to St Marie for some benediction on that. And the end of that is fetching it up to date with modern technology, which is the new sort of warfare … or it could be.” Tjinder Singh on the motivation for ‘St Marie Under Canon’, from Cornershop’s critically-acclaimed England is a Garden LP

Studio Tan: True Deceivers (L to R) Nick, Jamie, Rupert, Dee and Graham, Wormwood Studios (Pic: Rob Blackham)

“That’s the one my Mum and Dad are most proud of, playing with Lindisfarne there. My folks are from the North East – they left in their 20s – so as far as they’re concerned Lindisfarne are gods. I said, ‘I don’t think it’s all the original band,’ but my Mum said, “That doesn’t matter – we know you’ve made it now, if you’re playing with Lindisfarne!’ Graham Firth of The True Deceivers on why Kenney Jones’ 2019 Secret Widget Festival at Hurtwood Park was a big moment for his family.


Backed Winners: The Blow Monkeys, grounded in 2020. L to R – Neville Henry, Dr Robert, Crispin Taylor, Mick Anker.

“When we sang that song, we did it together in the studio, I was facing him and doing my Curtis Mayfield impression, and there was the real man right there! But he made me feel really relaxed and was everything you expected someone like Curtis to be. He was a lovely man. You do get those ‘pinch me’ moments, but then you find out that they’re all just flawed human beings like everyone else, and usually the talented ones are the most modest. Curtis taught me a lot, and I’d grown up with his music, which was so informative to my life.” Blow Monkeys’ frontman Robert Howard, aka Dr Robert, pays homage to Curtis Mayfield, having recorded anti-Thatcher single ‘(Celebrate) The Day After You’ with him in 1987

Pete’s Sound: The Wah! man himself, heading to a town near you until the COVID-19 took hold (Photo: Brian Roberts)

“For lots of reasons, the small nature of the creative bit and clubland at the centre, you can walk from one end of it to the other, and there aren’t other bits. In other cities, clubs are all over, but if you start at Hope Street, the south end, up to Dale Street, it’s a 10-minute walk at best. So if one club isn’t any good or none of your mates are in one place, you can easily go to another. And I still see Gaz (Gary Dwyer) from The Teardrop Explodes and people from all the bands. I played in Leeds last week, some people stayed behind to get things signed, and this fella said, ‘You won’t know me, but my band was called Dead Trout’. And I said, ‘I remember Dead Trout!’ I’d only looked at a poster of one of their gigs on an archive site the day before. So even Dead Trout are still around, y’know! Kind of weird, but I love that. I know some of the younger guys too.” Pete Wylie on the relatively smalltown feel that works in Liverpool’s favour

Who’s Masking: Lee Mark Jones, one of the many victims of live show postponements in 2020, but eager to return

“I was into The Sweet and even Showaddywaddy! It was rock’n’roll, so at least we were on the right path. I’d hate to be a kid nowadays. I was never a Bowie fan, but I was a Ziggy Stardust fan. That was the one that changed it all for me, that period. I was fascinated by all that. The ultimate rock star that went out at the top. I can’t believe it was only one and a half years, and I know lots of people who were at that final gig when he announced that was the last time. To do that then … what! Imagine the record label’s response!” Gypsy Pistoleros frontman and solo performer Lee Mark Jones on the inspiration of glam rock on his sense of stage presence

Professionals’ Approach: Chris McCormack, Paul Cook, Tom Spencer, and Toshi JC Oguwa, pre-self-isolation days

“Yeah, well, it comes from the Pistols, from me and Steve Jones really. The actual punk sound, if you like. That carried on into The Professionals first time around, and it’s influenced a hell of a lot of people over the years. And now by chance we’ve got Chris McCormack in the band, a big Steve Jones fan … so the sound continues.” The Professionals’ former Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook defines the band’s trademark sound


Passing Through: Pete Astor, who returned to his musical inspirations with the You Made Me covers album in 2020

“Truthfully my favourite band when I was 12 or 13 was Slade, not Bowie! But I adored him and loved Hunky Dory. I bought that from a record shop and about a year later realised the lyric sheet was missing. I went back to the shop and told them, and they went round the shop and found it!” Former Loft and Weather Prophets frontman Pete Astor talking early influences on the release of his 2020 You Made Me covers LP

Vampish Past: Wendy James followed three Transvision Vamp LPs with two by Racine and now four under her name

“Overall, my taste and style have not changed with time. The music that excites me now, ultimately, is the same as when I was starting out songwriting and back through my days in Transvision Vamp. I continue to marvel at Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, I continue to be blown away by The Stooges, I continue to be everlastingly enthralled by Bob Dylan, but the older one gets the more one discovers, and I am now informed more cohesively and fully by all the music, new and old, which settles into my consciousness.” Transvision Vamp singer turned solo artist Wendy James on how the inspirations that got her involved in music remain the same

Deli Ally: Baxter Dury knows how to track down a good eaterie when he gets the chance, lockdowns permitting

“I just volunteered actually – I signed up. When they asked me my skillset, I realised I had absolutely zero! I could talk about having a famous father, tell them I’m really good at interview techniques, or I could teach old people how to Instagram. Ha! Bleedin’ useless.” Baxter Dury, who released the splendid The Night Chancers in 2020, on how he stepped forward to help out when the coronavirus started to hit his beloved London

Hay Festival: The Ferret during its annual transformation for Glastonferret, but there was no such happening in 2020

“Growing up in Preston, when I was in bands there were more venues, such as 53 Degrees – downstairs and upstairs – and three venues at the Guild Hall. But now everything’s shut down, and there’s really just The Ferret, The Continental and a couple more that sometimes put gigs on. The Ferret’s the heartbeat of the city as far as I’m concerned. It’s more than a venue. It’s where bands cut their teeth and where you find bands. A lot of my favourites I listen to now were discovered there. While I don’t work in Preston anymore, I still try to put shows on there.” Bristol-based promoter Danny Morris explains why he continues to help out his Lancashire home city’s independent music scene

“To be honest, it’s almost become more about the response than the money. It’s been utterly amazing to hear the messages people have been putting out there. I’ve cried a few times. This place matters. That’s really been the theme.” Sue Culshaw of Preston live music venue The Ferret reacts to local support for the venue following forced COVID-19 closure


instructions Required: Eileen Gogan, delivered the splendid Under Moving Skies in 2020

Instructions Required: Dublin-based Eileen Gogan and The Instructions delivered the Under Moving Skies LP in 2020

“I just thought he must be a session musician, and said to Brian, ‘Listen, his guitar playing is great, there’s one bit where I need a guitar solo. Could you ask your man Damian if he’d be interested? I’ll pay him. He asked, then Evan looks him up, tells me he’s a founding member of The Undertones. I had no idea. We were sitting there listening while playing scrabble. I just loved the lo-fi quality of that record. That’s what prompted me. Nothing to do with the riff from ‘Teenage Kicks’ or something, because I just didn’t feckin’ know!” Eileen Gogan on getting to know Undertones guitarist Damian O’Neill through Refit, Revise, Reprise, then bringing him in on Under Moving Skies

Boy Wonder: Damon Gough, the artist best known as Badly Drawn Boy, mentally prepares to chat with WriteWyattUK

“A lot of the stuff on my new album reflects this – the world at large, how’s it’s operated these last few years and how that frustrated me.  Now we’ve got this virus it’s perspective on other things, and you couldn’t have written that better, after three years bickering about Brexit and the time wasted doing that, with other issues overlooked because of it.” Damon Gough on how Badly Drawn Boy’s Banana Skin Shoes proved a timely LP

Reflective Moments: Erland Cooper hoped to be on the road in support of Sule Skerry, his new Orcadian soundscape

“Oh, I wish I was in Orkney. I managed to get my folks back before the ferries stopped, as they live in England sometimes. I was supposed to be there now, travelling to the island of Sule Skerry … which sounds very whimsical … travelling there this week with Amy Liptrot. Instead I’ve been burrowed – like a puffin – in my studio.” Erland Cooper on reluctantly swapping lockdown on his home island for carrying on creating new music in East London

Still Life: Karima Francis will be ready to carry on where she left off when the coronavirus is finally done and dusted

“It’s going to be hard at the moment for those in domestically violent relationships. I have noticed though that there’s a lot of help out there, for instance with hotels open in London, and a lot of phonelines. But it is very hard, a tough time. I don’t know anyone who’s finding this easy.” Karima Francis on the impact of coronavirus-related lockdowns on incidents of abuse


Attention Stop: Vapors (L to R) Michael Bowes, Ed Bazalgette, Dave Fenton, Steve Smith, Dan Fenton (Pic: Si Root)

“I was pretty chuffed. We worked quite hard and quite fast with Steve Levine. He’s very good, but he cracked the whip, with about six days doing backing tracks and six more doing vocals and overdubs, six days mixing. There’s very little time to sit there and experiment. I was very pleased with how it came out, but at the time, it was like, ‘Is it finished yet?’” Dave Fenton on recording The Vapors’ third LP, Together – 39 years after the last – with Steve Levine

“When I think back to 1978 and my days as a young filmmaker, I realise how fortunate I was to have been in the right place at the right time. I had the privilege then of documenting a brief and fleeting moment in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict. It was a time when a small but brilliant chink of light shone in the heart of darkness, a shaft that split traditional values asunder. Out of the bombs, bullets, and bullshit came a movement more powerful than the hate and propaganda.” Film director John T.Davis on iconic cult Northern Irish punk rock documentary Shellshock Rock, 42 years on

Nerve Centre: Ian Allcock, bucking the trend of economic downturn in 2020 with Optic Nerve Recordings

“I don’t know what my parents were doing. We had Oklahoma, Carousel, The Tijuana Sounds of Brass and The Sandpipers, but also all this other stuff, from sunshine psychedelia to The Beach Boys. I then had my brother, older than me, buying punk stuff, and I liked that. Then I heard ‘Better Scream’ by Wah! Heat. You know where there’s that one single that makes you think, ‘Oh wow! There must be more music like this out there.’ Then you go and find it. That was my gateway really, to indie like Girls at our Best, the Young Marble Giants, and the Postcard stuff. I was spending ridiculous amounts on 7” singles then albums, probably all my wages when I left school in 1979 and started work.” Preston-based Optic Nerve label boss Ian Allcock examines family influences on his initial love of music

Soundation Stage: Ajay Saggar in his Netherlands studio, all set for his next sonic adventures (Photo: José Pietens)

“I really want people to hear this record. It’s uplifting, and interestingly at these shows I’ve done everyone comes specifically for the music, not just for the craic, a chit-chat, to get drunk then go home. Attention is really focused on what you’re doing and what you’re giving them. At the end of my set, after a long fade-out, one of the last notes played … I never look at the audience. I’ve got my head and my hair down, full-focused …” Amsterdam-based musician Ajay Saggar on spreading the word about his first Bhajan Bhoy LP

Denim Days: Ian Prowse, back to the wall amid covid concerns, but ready to return to the road when the virus is done

“We were having the time of our lives! I’ve been doing this for 30 years and rarely have I … I was going down a storm and then getting to watch one of the greatest artists of all time do his set, getting stuck in. And he’s mates as well, so I got to hang around with him. And all we talk about is politics, football and music!” Former Pele and Amsterdam frontman Ian Prowse on how his tour supporting his friend Elvis Costello came to an abrupt halt in early 2020

The second part of this annual review will appear on this website shortly … all being well. Stay tuned, pop kids.

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Slade’s ultimate rockin’ survivor – back in touch with Don Powell

Glam Survivor: Don Powell during recording back in June in Denmark at the studio used by The Glam, whom he joined for a cover version of ‘Far Far Away’ (Photo from Danish band The GLAM’s Facebook page)

It was a grey and overcast day in Silkeborg, but Don Powell wasn’t overly bothered about that.

“It’s just grey skies here, a bit overcast, but whatever. We’ve been pretty lucky here really, and after spending quite a bit of time in Russia over the years, this is like the Bahamas!”

It’s been a strange year for us all, but the 74-year-old Slade drummer seems to have taken it several steps further, his confirmed departure from the legendary rock band earlier this year followed by a stroke later that month, bouncing back to record and rehearse with two other bands, and announce future dates with his own band and guesting with another, followed by another emergency medical setback in recent weeks. So how’s the health right now?

“Pretty good, mate, I go up the gym every morning. There’s a special program the physiotherapist worked out for me, and it’s working well.”

How are people taking the coronavirus restrictions there in this Bilston, Staffordshire-born 74-year-old’s adopted Danish homeland?

“We started a lockdown here about a month before the rest of the world. Consequently, it hasn’t been that bad really, although it keeps rearing its head every now and again. People are pretty good about it, with distances, wearing masks, and what have you. It’s just that I don’t know when’s it going to end.”

What happens when the vaccine arrives there? Will you be heading for the front of the queue?

“More than likely! I will get there to get it sorted out. I think it’s pretty important. I tell you what though, I never thought I’d see the world like this.”

Powell Wow: Don Powell with the Cum on Feel the Hitz: The Best of Slade compilation, the band's most recent UK top-20 hit

Powell Wow: Don Powell with the Cum on Feel the Hitz: The Best of Slade compilation, their most recent UK top-20 hit

And how about the dreaded Brexit? I guess you’ve got co-nationality status, but …

“It hasn’t really hit yet, but I’m not really looking forward to it.”

The sheer amount of paperwork involved promises to be a right mess, enough to make a lot of musicians reconsider if they can afford to tour in Europe.

“Oh God, yeah. It’s incredible, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Shouldn’t you have been out on the road with the Don Powell Band (also featuring Bob Wilson, guitar/vocals, formerly with Steve Gibbons, the Idle Race and Ruby Turner; John Briscoe, guitar, who was in a Slade tribute band and hard rock outfit the Juggernauts; Ian ‘Curly’ Davis, vocals, who has a West End show background and was with Desolation Angels; and Craig Fenny, bass, part of the original Slade II and the Redbeards from Texas)?  

“Yeah, but of course, everything is on hold now, so that’ll have to be whenever it starts again. I really don’t know when.”

There were plans for Christmas dates with the Ex-Men too, another of Don’s live projects (members including Lancashire-based guitarist Pete Barton, hence one date being not far off my patch at The Grand, Clitheroe), announced in May, including dates across Europe but also the 100 Club in London and on Don’s old Black Country home ground at the Robin 2, Bilston.

“Funnily enough, we should have been in London tonight. We were set to do three shows in Holland then come to London, but it was knocked on the head. And the 100 Club brings back lots of memories. I remember a press thing there back in about 1970, with the original line-up.”

It’s Christmas: The legendary Noddy Holder presents the latest package, Cum on Feel the Hitz: The Best of Slade

Speaking of which, your website’s list and details of all the dates you’ve played down the years still amazes me – from initial days with Dave Hill in The Vendors to The ‘N Betweens, the outfit that became Ambrose Slade then simply Slade.

It was the latter’s classic line-up of Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Hill and Holder that managed six No.1s and 24 top-40 singles and three No.1s and 13 top-40 LPs in the UK alone. But it’s the small detail of those classic and early year shows that always stops me in my tracks. And the morning I called Don I saw that 55 years ago – on the run-up to Christmas 1965 – he was between ‘N Betweens dates at Tito’s and Silver Blades in Birmingham, then the Harold Clowes Hall, Bentilee.

“Ah, yeah, Bentilee was like a youth club gig, and Silver Blades in Birmingham was always a great gig, part of an ice skating rink. We’d be playing to the skaters going round, and when they got around to us they’d stop and have a look, then carry on skating. Then, after Silver Blades we’d go and play a late-night drinking place, open till about four in the morning.”

Also, 50 years ago – just after the release of Play It Loud, the first LP released under the name Slade, he was between dates at Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre and closer to home at Walsall’s George Hotel.

“Oh yeah, fond memories. The Tricorn was great, but we had no roadies then and we had to drive the van up into this multi-storey car park, get the gear in that way through a door that was part of the car park.”

And those dates were before a Boxing Day gig at the Temple in Soho, London.

“Ah yes, that was a tiny little club in Wardour Street, and sometimes we’d play the Marquee first, pack the gear away then do an all-nighter at the Temple.”

For someone who’s suffered with short-term memory issues for 47 years since the horrific July ’73 car crash that killed his fiancée Angela and left him with a fractured skull, broken ankles, several broken ribs and no sense of taste or smell, he has an amazing sense of recall. And maybe that was helped by the fact that he was encouraged to keep diaries as part of his recovery to remember each morning what he’d been doing the previous day.

First Footing: From left – Don Powell, Dave Hill, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea posing for Gered Mankowitz’s camera on a freezing cold winter’s day on Pouk Hill in the Black Country for the 1969 debut Ambrose Slade LP, Beginnings

Lo and behold, despite six days unconscious – he was out of hospital within four weeks and back recording with Slade after six weeks, partway through an east coast US tour, dropping by at the Record Plant in New York, where John Lennon had just finished working on his Mind Games album. And among the recordings was a certain ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, the song that ensured Slade became the first band since The Beatles to see three singles go straight in at No.1 on the UK charts. But we’ll get back to that shortly.

First, I mentioned how 45 years ago the band was between stateside dates in St. Louis, Missouri, on the build-up to Christmas 1975, part of a year-long, ultimately unsuccessful bid to ‘crack’ America, between the ‘In For a Penny’ and ‘Let’s Call It Quits’ singles, their popularity at home about to take a slide, the last of 17 straight top-20 UK singles.

“That was a good gig for us, and a good place to play. I often go back through my diaries, read some of the places we played. We travelled all over America, touring and everything. In fact, I must tell you this. On our first American tour we were in Philadelphia and I remember watching this group on before us. I couldn’t believe this band – they were incredible, I thought blimey, who’s this? And it was The Eagles!

“I’ve now managed to get a poster to prove to people that was the case, and actually Billy Preston opened the show, then came The Eagles, and we topped the bill. I kept telling people The Eagles supported us, but nobody believed me. Now I’ve got the proof! I told some guy in America and after many years researching he found a poster.”

I could have kept going down the anniversary line, for instance 40 years ago he was between dates at Hull City Hall and Rotter’s Club in Manchester, Slade’s fortunes picking up again after the band’s wilderness years, on the back of that summer’s Reading Festival, a new heavy metal following behind them. Or that on December 18th, 1982, they played Hammersmith Odeon, supported by Jimmy Barnes’ Australian outfit Cold Chisel, with your scribe there, barely a few weeks after my 15th birthday. A Christmas night out to remember for sure.

But time was against me, Don had the floor, and as he’d mentioned Billy Preston I moved on to The Beatles, knowing he was a big Ringo fan, telling Don I’d recently had the pleasure of speaking to fellow drumming icon, Simon Kirke, of Free and Bad Company fame, who’s featured with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, and – like Don – clearly retains his love for drums and his drumming heroes all these years on.

“I don’t know if you know the story, but two or three times a year, around 40 of us get together to have a lunch – musicians, actors, writers and others – and there’s always this drummer there by the name of Clem Cattini, who started with The Tornados, best known for ‘Telstar’, which was a No.1 all over the bloody world! He then went into session drumming, and played drums on over 200 hit records, including 55 No.1s. What a record!

“He told us once he played on ‘Lily the Pink’ by The Scaffold in the morning, never knowing where he was going to next but having been booked for another session, packed his drums away then went to another studio and played on ‘It’s Not Unusual’ for Tom Jones. Clem’s incredible, and such a humble man as well. When you talk to him about certain records, he’ll say, ‘Yeah, I played drums on that’. Yet in those days it would just be like a union fee, so he got paid nothing really.”

Fiftieth Birthday: Slade’s Play It Loud LP, from 1970, with nine of its 12 tracks co-written by drummer Don Powell

Simon Kirke told me, I continued, about receiving a call from Ringo, inviting him to tour with the All-Starr Band, saying how grateful he was for that opportunity, having just gone through rehab after his own drinking problems, something both Ringo and Don could relate to.

“Yeah, that’s amazing, and I’ve also played drums with Ringo’s band. I was talking with this guy who dealt in vintage kits in Seattle, mentioned how Ringo was one of my favourite drummers, and he told me one of his friends was playing drums with him and had just started this tour.

“We then discovered he was doing a gig in Denmark, not far from where I live, and it was arranged for me to go along. And I got up on the night and played on ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’, the last two songs … and I’ve got the photographs to prove it, mate!”

For someone brought up on The Beatles and who still loves them, that must have been special.

“Yeah, they’re my favourite band. Ringo was great – just one of the lads. I didn’t really know how much he wanted to talk about The Beatles, but we got on to them playing places like the Shea Stadium, Ringo saying how there were no monitors in those days but you just played as a band.”

Getting on to Don’s current health, his first stroke was on Leap Day, February 29th, thankfully with his stepdaughter Emily – a doctor – at home when it happened. 

“Yeah, that was a weird thing. I was just watching TV, had a cup of tea by my side and couldn’t pick it up. I said to my wife I feel really strange, and luckily Hanne’s daughter was here. She said you’ve had a stroke, did some tests, and said to her Mum, ‘If he was my husband, I’d send him to hospital’. So they sent for an ambulance.”

Don classed that as a ‘small stroke’, and certainly seemed to confound the specialists – not for the first time – with his swift recovery. As for his latest episode in recent weeks, he was only kept in overnight.

“Well, I felt great, and the doctor said, ‘You’re not normal’. I don’t know what he meant by that! He just kicked me out, and I felt really good. But there’s no reason for it. It’s just one of those things.”

Fringe Benefits: Dave Hill, Don Powell, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea play ir proud in their Slade ’70s chart-topping days

At this point, I hear a voice in the distance, and Don sheepishly feels he better rephrase that.

“My wife’s just said it was stress-related … whatever that means.”

In fact, that second health scare was diagnosed as a TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack). But whatever the medical disgnosis, I told Don he seemed to be the ultimate rock’n’roll survivor, what with the tragic events of ’73, his battle with the booze, surviving those two episodes this year, and many more hospital visits down the years.

As for his old bandmates, Dave Hill suffered a stroke in 2010, and Jim Lea’s had a major cancer battle. But Don, Dave, Jim and Noddy are all still here to tell the tales, an amazing five decades-plus after the band formed. They clearly constructed these Black Country boys well back in the post-war years.

“Yeah, there must have been something in the water!”

Do you feel 74?

“No! Not at all. But I tell you what, I never thought I’d get this far. I haven’t drunk alcohol since 1985 or 1986. I don’t think I’d have been here now if I had, especially (after my days drinking) with Ozzy (Osbourne).”

I’ve told many people the anecdote Don told me three years ago about how the day he gave up drinking was the day Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife, came at her husband and Don with a shotgun at their place, sick to the back teeth of their drunken antics.

“That’s it, yeah … but I will say that if it wasn’t for her, I think Ozzy would have been dead a long time ago. I know they’ve had their fights, but theirs is a great marriage, a very strong marriage.”

Loud Hailer: Dave Hill with Play It Loud, 50 years on (Photo: Slade Are For Life – Not Just for Christmas on Facebook)

Meanwhile, another year, another Slade compilation, and another chart hit, the latest collection – Cum on Feel the Hitz – cracking the UK top-10. Clearly the appetite’s still there for the band and their music.

“Yeah, it’s amazing. You see all this stuff and think, ‘How much further can you go?’ But people still want to hear it. And you forget how much stuff we recorded until people come up and mention they’re doing a compilation, me thinking, ‘I’d forgotten all about that song!’”

And it’s nice that all four of you were behind the release. I won’t dwell on the fall-out (Don initially announcing he’d been ‘sacked via email’ by friend and bandmate of 57 years Dave in February, the particulars of which Dave soon insisted were inaccurate), but when was the last time you spoke direct to the others?

“Like I said, it must have been some time ago now. We’d have had one of our lunches at the beginning of December … but because of this crap that’s been going on … I’d have seen Nod there. I haven’t really spoken to anyone for a while now, but nothing’s been going on really.”

There was a photo on your website, showing a display of the latest compilation in an Australian record shop, and among the greatest hits sleeves was a copy of Slade Alive, which was apparently the biggest-selling LP in Australia in the 1970s. Is that true?

“Yep, it actually outsold Sgt. Pepper. We did our first tour of Australia in 1973 and were trying to find out what we meant to people down there before, which was more difficult to find out in those days, without the internet and all that. When we landed in Sydney, all these cameras and photographers were waiting, and we were looking behind us wondering who was on the plane with us – who were they waiting for? But it was because of the success of Slade Alive, and it was non-stop from there – a great tour. There was us, Status Quo and Lindisfarne …”

Our mutual friend, another Dave Hill, the North East publicist, was talking to me recently about that tour, having heard a fair bit about it through his past conversations with Lindisfarne (Dave Ian Hill, as he calls himself in print to avoid any confusion, wrote Fog on the Tyne: The Official History of Lindisfarne in 1998. He told me Caravan were on the tour too. That’s a fairly eclectic mix. 

“It was incredible. We were travelling on the same tour bus and they (the radio) was playing Slade stuff all the time, all the other bands saying, ‘Oh no, not you lot again!’. But it was a great tour and us and Quo have been mates ever since.”

Dun Deal: Don Powell’s splendid biography, Look Wot I Dun – My Life in Slade, written with Lise Lyng Falkenberg

Back up to date, we had some sad news recently about Dave Kemp, a friend of the band since the Summer of 1972 who went on to work closely with yourself and Jim Lea and was involved with a couple of Slade websites and fans’ pages, as well as more recently managing female tribute band Slady.

“Yeah, very sad, He was very poorly. We’d been mates since the ‘70s. It just so happened that we lived near each other in London. I remember going to the supermarket one day, he was there, and that was it.”

I only had a couple of dealings with Dave, but he seemed a lovely fellow.

“Yes, a lovely bloke, and like you say he was looking after my website and did a great job. And he’s been over here (in Denmark) a couple of times, him and his wife. Yeah, very sad.”

Within six months of your first stroke this year, you were playing drums on a cover of ‘Far Far Away’ with Danish band The Glam in August. There’s clearly still plenty of love for Slade on your doorstep.

“That’s it, and I was with them recently as well, doing a couple of gigs. Lovely blokes. They’ve got their own studio, not far from where we live. I’ve been down there a few times. Really nice guys.”

It got a bit confusing earlier this year, because we’ve got the Don Powell Band now, we’ve already mentioned the Ex-Men, and there’s also Don Powell’s Occasional Flames, releasing a single this summer.

“Yeah, and the stuff we recorded some time ago, I think that should be coming out sometime around now, another album we’ve done.”

What name will that go out under?

“I don’t know at the moment. It’s just going to be an online sort of thing.”

Great Pals: Don Powell with website hired help anbd all-round good mate Dave Kemp, close friends for many years

Don’s certainly kept himself busy, and was back at the drum kit by early June after his first stroke. As stepson Andreas put it in a family statement, ‘And they said he would never play drums again … honestly I think our neighbours hoped the doctors were right!’

Meanwhile, it’s now 50 years since Play it Loud was released. When was the last time you listened to that LP all the way through?

“Recently actually, as someone else mentioned the same thing. That was the first time we went into a proper studio with Chas Chandler (The Animals bass player turned Jimi Hendrix Experience then Slade manager). In fact, it was the old Olympic Studio in Barnes (South West London), where the Stones used to record. And Hendrix. It’s sadly closed down now.”

You were co-writing some great songs with Jim Lea then. The credits suggest all nine originals among its 12 tracks, including four of my favourites on that record – ‘One Way Hotel’, ‘Pouk Hill’ (an account of the band’s first album cover photoshoot), and both sides of the single that pre-empted that LP, ‘Know Who You Are’ (a reworking of instrumental ‘Genesis’, the opening track of Beginnings, the previous LP, credited to Ambrose Slade) and ‘Dapple Rose’, written by Don about an old horse he recalled from his days living with his folks. Oddly, another Don-penned lyric was ‘I Remember’, its lyric about amnesia (‘I take a long deep look at the things that I took, but it still isn’t clear’) pre-dating his memory issues a few years down the line.

I often wondered, I put to him, why he didn’t carry on with the songwriting to that same extent.

“Well, yeah, and me and Jim basically wrote that album, but when Nod and Jim came up with ‘Coz I Luv You’, we realised they could do it. And it just worked out they could do it quicker and better, so soon enough I handed over to them.”

Put it that way, and you see the logic, that October ’71 single the band’s first of many UK No.1’s, the die cast. And five decades on, I’m probably as surprised as Don watching via his website and social media pages how many tickets, posters, reviews and old pictures have been unearthed from gigs back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, be those for Slade, The ‘N Betweens, or The Vendors … quite a treasure trove.

“Yeah, it’s amazing really, and it still only seems like yesterday.”

That record: 'Merry Xmas Everybody' still has a life of its own, 47 years after its initial release

That record: Slade’s festive evergreen ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ has a life of its own, 47 years after its release

Now the hard-hitting question … and surely he knew it was coming at some point. Has he switched on the radio or TV and heard that song these past few weeks?  

“Yeah, it’s amazing really. We always called it ‘that record’. I’ve said this many times before, but we’ve had 24 hits, yet some people only remember us for that one! But it’s great really. I’d have never thought it would still be out there.”

I guess you’ve been home-based lately, so maybe haven’t heard it so much, but do people still call and say, ‘It’s on the radio again!’

“Yeah, or I’m in the supermarket and it’s playing over the system, or if I’m in a garage somewhere. I think the worst thing is when I’m in a lift with a lot of people, and it’s playing in there!”

More or less proving his point, I told him how I was listening to Sara Cox on BBC Radio 2 the Friday teatime before our Monday morning interview, driving back from the chippy while the host was talking to a woman from Staffordshire – based around 15 miles from Don’s Bilston roots – whose hubby, incidentally going by the name of Don, had retired from the Prison Service that day. And somehow I instinctively knew what song she’d request, the first time I’d heard it this year. I was only a couple of minutes from home, but had to sit on the drive on arrival until Sir Nod had declared his annual ‘It’s Christmas!’ announcement to the nation.

“Brilliant! And I still remember the day we recorded that song. I think I’ve told you before. It was a heatwave in New York, around 100 degrees, and there we were recording that record!”

Whild Life: Jim Lea co-wrote several tracks with Don Powell in the early days, before Noddy stepped up to the plate

So what’s the plan this Christmas for you? Will it be a quiet one at home with Hanne and the family?

“Yeah, all the kids will be round, and Hanne’s parents. We’ll have a massive Christmas lunch here, there’ll be kids and grandkids opening presents, and what have you – it’s gonna be a big family situation.”

And what were your family Christmases like in the Black Country, growing up. Were those happy days?

“Yeah, fantastic. It’s always been a family thing. Mum and Dad always insisted we were all there for Christmas lunch, and all that kind of thing. Dad would go to the pub at lunchtime and have a couple of pints before he came back, and then we all had Christmas lunch together.”

And after all you’ve been through – again and again, as your old Quo mates put it – maybe you should let us in on the secret. What’s the Don Powell recipe for survival? The love of a good partner and family, and walks through the forest?

“Yeah, a bit of all that really. We live right by all the lakes here, which is fantastic, so it’s all that and time with the family.”

Until he’s back out there making ‘noize’ again of course … hopefully very soon.

Home Again: Don Powell taking it easy back in September at home in Denmark, his base for several years, where clearly it’s still all about the kits (Photo courtesy of Slade Are For Life – Not Just For Christmas via Facebook)

For a link back to WriteWyattUK‘s December 2017 feature/interview with Don Powell, head here. And for Don’s official website, head here, for his official Facebook page try here, for the Don Powell’s Occasional Flames page try here, and for the Don Powell Band’s Facebook page, head here.

For December 2018’s feature/interview with Dave Hill, head here, for July 2018’s feature/interview with Jim Lea, head here. And to catch up with this website’s first feature/interview with Dave Hill, from December 2015, head here. You can also check out the lowdown on Noddy Holder’s live show with Mark Radcliffe in May 2013 via this link, and a WriteWyattUK appreciation of Slade from December 2012 here.  

Think that’s about it for now, folks. Keep on rockin’, and Merry Xmas Everybody!

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