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.

January

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

February

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.

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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