As another challenging year moves towards its stuttering conclusion, here’s the first half of my 12-month review of sorts, featuring quotes prised from the collected words of the WriteWyattUK website in 2021, involving the opening six months as the first anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic on home shores came and went, the virus still at large but music and the arts fighting back while the Government dithered and protected its own interests as we found our own way through the gloom.
David Stark, author of 2020 Beatles memoir, It’s All Too Much, recalls sneaking in – uninvited – to the mid-July ’68 premiere of the Fab Four’s animated film, Yellow Submarine, at the London Pavilion, Piccadilly Circus, where he was in esteemed company:
“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’!”
Brix Smith, who released Lost Angeles with Marty Willson-Piper in 2021, 24 years after it was initially recorded, and is set to curate a new book on The Fall in 2022 with the writer behind WriteWyattUK, recalls a 2014 Steve Hanley book launch in Manchester that sharpened her resolve to make a stage comeback, in what turned out to inspire the formation of Brix and the Extricated:
“That night, Steve put together a band of ex-Fall members, including Paul (Hanley), 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 (Brix and 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!”
Indiana-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and film-maker Brick Briscoe, host of The Song Show, who delivered the Brick Briscoe and The Skinny LP (ILoveYouSoMuch) in 2021 – the story of which, not for the faint-hearted, will follow on this website soon – on missing out on the New York punk scene first time around, but later making up for it:
“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!”
Former Microdisney and Fatima Mansions frontman turned solo artist Cathal Coughlan, who released rightly revered solo LP, Song of Co-Aklan in 2021 and is about to deliver the debut Telefis LP alongside award-winning US producer Jacknife Lee, questioning the UK Government’s pandemic response strategy and its self-serving motives:
“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.”
Liverpool-based drummer Iain ‘Tempo’ Templeton, best known for his time with brothers Michael and John Head in Shack, on his fleeting involvement in the formative days of The La’s:
“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?’.”
Legendary Joy Division and New Order bass player Peter Hook, now leading The Light but also finally releasing in 2021 a limited-edition EP of 1993 recordings under the banner K÷ alongside Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker, on his coping strategy for pandemic lockdown policies:
“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. 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!
“But me and the better half have done very well, I must admit. After being away for 40 years … haha! … 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. 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.”
Respected Lagos-based multi-instrumentalist Femi Kuti, son of Nigerian legend Fela Kuti and father of emerging artist Made Kuti (Fela’s grandson), in a year both released acclaimed new LPs, on their family’s musical, political and cultural legacy:
Femi: “Ah, the legacy’s there. But of course, we’re passing it about, playing music. Made plays all the musical instruments (on his LP) and recorded it all, and I still do six hours of practise (a day).
“That’s our life! Unfortunately, we have to sing about those things, because we live this situation. This poverty’s right outside our doorstep, we drive bad roads, we have bad healthcare. I don’t see a love story as important as the crimes I see outside – the kidnappings and the hatred. But I hope the music will inspire change, and I think Made can speak for himself …”
Made: “Because of our upbringing, the books we read, the conversations we have, the life we experience, the music is really just a reflection of our state of mind.”
Beautiful People mastermind Du Kane hints – on the back of the 2021 release of a remastered triple-CD/purple vinyl boxset celebration of their debut LP, the Jimi Hendrix-sampled, highly-influential If 60s Were 90s – there could be follow-ups finally seeing the light of day at some stage:
“We got another deal after that, but it was very hard to cross over from that to … anything! Unless we were sampling The Beatles or something. I did some recording, sampling Vangelis and Demis Roussos’ 666 (the pair recording together as Greek prog rock outfit Aphrodite’s Child). But they’re still unreleased.
“The second Beautiful People album though was just a bunch of really great songs, going back to what we would have done before the Hendrix project came along and we changed direction. We had an album called Beautopia, released on Castle, with one single, ‘Take It’ / ‘Psychedelic Betty’, and another, ‘Not Necessarily Stoned’, which is on the DVD – the only thing that’s on there not from this first album. But they didn’t release the album, which was a shame, one that led to a misunderstanding, mainly because Castle got bought out.
“I went into the label one day, didn’t recognise anyone. Everyone had left. They started a new company, and they weren’t big enough to take us on. We were left with this album and a lot of unreleased material, very Brit Pop/rocky. I’m very proud of it. Great songs, and I probably will put that out, now people can deal with people directly, online. I just want to have my work out there! I’ve been carrying it around for years on my back, proud as I am of it. Until then, I can’t really move forward.”
Matt Fawbert, general manager at The Ferret in Preston, Lancashire, on his hopes earlier this year of a full return to a live programme of events, in keeping with more or less every other UK venue in 2021:
“We managed to do a short run of limited-capacity seated and socially-distanced shows in autumn as well, all of which sold out in advance. This run got cut short by local restrictions hitting Preston, so we had to close before the last of our planned gigs. Over recent months we’ve been running weekly livestream gigs, various live acts from the area – filmed live on our stage behind closed doors, and broadcast over our social media platforms – usually via Facebook, many of which can be watched again via YouTube.
“Live music is missed massively by everyone, from performers to audiences. It’s going to be quite emotional when we finally get to open up properly, it will probably feel too good to be true at first. Gigs have a way of connecting people – not only through the music, but the shared experience and friendships that are built in the crowd, on the dancefloor and in the beer garden!”
Stalwart post-punk icon Robert Lloyd on continued public love for his band, The Nightingales, not least on the back of 2020 Stewart Lee-fronted film documentary, King Rocker, and his determination to carry on making new music.
“I don’t know. I suppose it’s a mixture of me thinking I’ve got something to say, the band wanting to express themselves, and the quality of the material. I know what pop stars are like – it’s a traditional to say the material you’re working on is the best thing you’ve ever done. If we had a quid for every time we’ve heard that. But I do think this is our best stuff – better than the old Nightingales, and I really like the three people who are in the band. That makes a massive difference.
“All I need now is for us to sell some records and hopefully make a few quid. I don’t want to die a pauper, with everyone saying I was a good bloke!”
Seb Hunter, guitarist of Hampshire-based three-piece Provincials, on how the band’s sound had evolved from its initial dark folk remit, on the evidence of latest LP, Heaven Protect Us:
“That’s just me, I don’t know what to call us! Dark folk used to fit really well with the stuff we used to do … but we’ve now expanded the sound. First off, it was all dark harmoniums, lap steel and weird tunings. That’s probably still the core of our sound, all very soundtracky, and when we play live we tend to turn the lights off, go down to red fairy lights, all very vibey. But we’ve added drums, widening that sound, and like having free sections, coming from an improv background.
“However, that has opened this issue, having initially been pushed towards that folk label. We’re excited about our new material, heading towards a slightly more dynamic, more psychy side. But the album still has the dark stuff as well, so I don’t know if we’re going down the wrong route by leading with these tracks.”
Former frontman of The Bible, Boo Hewerdine, on his 35-year journey in music since their Backs Record debut, Walking the Ghost Back Home, a string of band and solo albums released since as well as celebrated songs written for other artists, Chris Difford and Eddi Reader among them, asked if he’d have considered back in ’87 still being involved in music when he turned 60:
“Yeah, I guess. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s where I feel at home. And in my mind … I may be deluded, but I’m still trying to make the perfect record. I’ve some friends who look back on things with nostalgia, and I love doing that a little, but I don’t really do that.
“That’s one of the reasons it’s so good working with Eddi Reader, because it’s always about the next thing. The other thing is that I don’t think I’ve ever had real success. I’ve sort of pottered along. I haven’t really got a glory era to look back on.
“What I’m doing now always seems to be the most exciting thing I’ve been involved with. I mean, this Adam Holmes record is one of the two or three best things I’ve ever been involved in.”
Doyle and the Fourfathers/East India Youth frontman turned solo artist William Doyle on finding inspiration in the most unlikely places, including in his case – during the lockdown – BBC 2’s long-running Friday night magazine show, Gardener’s World:
“I became obsessed with Monty Don. I like his manner and there’s something about him I relate to. He once described periods of depression in his life as consisting of ‘nothing but great spans of muddy time’. When I read that, I knew it would be the title of this record.
“Something about the sludgy mulch of the album’s darker moments, and its feel of perpetual autumnal evening, seemed to fit so well. I would also be lying if I said it didn’t chime with my mental health experiences.”
Departure Lounge frontman Tim Keegan on how geography couldn’t stop his band – its members based in Devon, Sussex and Tennessee – reconvening to record again, pulling together splendid new long player, Transmeridian, the remote version of the group certainly playing up to the band’s name:
“Yes, and it fits with our vision of keeping it small but global – global indie, if you like. Although I don’t think our music is particularly niche. Someone said in a recent review our contemporaries are Coldplay, Keane and Travis. Well, some of our stuff isn’t that far from what those guys were doing, but there wasn’t room for us, and we didn’t have the timing or the budgets. But what’s nice is that we can still exist … on a lower flying level, as it were.”
Veteran guitarist Pete Hughes on how his late-‘60s band Stoned Rose ended up on a Cherry Red compilation of psychedelic rock, and what lead singer Mick ‘Caz’ Carroll – who died in 2018, aged 68 – would have made of their late-found cult fame.
“He’d have been buzzing about this. He would have found it unbelievable, someone picking up on something we did 50 years ago and considering it good enough to be put on a very credible album. Like me, he would have been philosophical about it – he wouldn’t have been jumping up and down, thinking, ’Wow, we’re going to be pop stars again’. But it’s nice for people to hear what we were doing in those days. It deserved to be heard at the time.
“And it’s not like it’s coming out on next-door-but-one’s record label. It’s going out all over the world. Mick was the lead singer, and his vocal on ‘Day to Day’ is fantastic. He had a fabulous voice, and back then it was more Robert Plant-like. And we carried on writing songs from there, touring the world.”
New Zealand-based, Lancashire-raised singer-songwriter Tim Allen on what’s it like to be living in a country where the Prime Minister – Jacinda Ardern – seems to have got it spot-on regarding official reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, as opposed to his home nation:
“It’s brilliant. Most people love her, and I think she’s great. I met her before she was Prime Minister. She was campaigning and came into my son’s pre-school. I’ve a picture of me, my son and her.”
James’ co-founding bass player Jim Glennie on how the band’s All the Colours of You LP expressed in creative terms the times we live in:
“To some degree the album does reflect the period we’ve been through, so there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s sad. Inherently, Tim (Booth)’s reflections on things and how they’ve impacted on him. But at the same time, we wanted a record that was uplifting – the last thing we wanted to do was wallow in misery and darkness. That’s the last thing anybody needs right now.
“And I think (producer) Jacknife (Lee) picked up on the fact that we wanted a lightness and a humour at times, not taking ourselves too seriously and getting that mixture sometimes where bits of the lyric might be dark or quite personal but with something underneath it that’s very positive. That’s kind of a trick we do a lot – when Tim comes up with a dark lyric or we write music that’s more uplifting, he tends to use that as an excuse to get something quite dark in.”
The Loft/The Caretaker Race guitarist Andy Strickland – also working on a new LP by The Chesterfields in 2021 – on how the in-depth sleevenotes and timeline of his breakthrough band came together for the Ghost Trains & Country Lanes compilation, having seemingly made impressive diary notes at the time:
“Yeah, I’ve a battered old briefcase containing loads of bits of paper, set-lists, receipts, posters, up in my studio room. Pete (Astor) and I talked about what we could put in the booklet, to make it different from the last compilation apart from the extra tracks. We wanted photos that hadn’t been used before, and when I looked into what we were doing in 1984/85, this massive document emerged, which needed rather a lot of editing. I sent it round to the guys, everyone going, ‘Blimey, I remember that!’
“We thought people of our generation would like sitting there reading it while listening to the CDs. I love that sort of thing. I’ve been having a Beatles solo blast lately, loving going through those booklets.”
Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey of The Catenary Wires – who along with drummer Ian Button also played live and released an LP alongside former Pooh Sticks frontman Hue Williams as Swansea Sound in 2021 – on the symbolic use of Birling Gap, a crumbling, iconic English location on the South Coast (read by this scribe as a metaphor for our post-Brexit existence under a right-wing Government amid plenty of flag-waving nonsense) whch fitted their remit for their new LP’s name perfectly.
Rob: “There’s a song called ‘Three-Wheeled Car’ about a Brexit-supporting couple who’ve gone to look at the cliff and the sea to celebrate the splendid isolation of being English, but then the car goes over the edge of the cliff, so it’s like a suicide pact. There’s also the irony that the reason those cliffs stay so white and are getting whiter is because the erosion is getting worse. The chalk gets cleaned every time a lump falls off and there’s a fresh face of chalk. The whiter and more English the cliffs become, the greater climate change is.”
Amelia: “Actually, when you were asking your question, I thought you were saying ‘crumbly and ironic, like you are!’”
Mercury Prize winners Wolf Alice’s singer/principal songwriter Ellie Rowsell – in a new interview alongside bandmate Joel Amey, right – on the celebrated indie outfit being invited to take part in the first online Glastonbury Festival:
“I don’t really know what to expect, but because the line-up is so reduced, I feel unbelievably flattered to be asked to do it. And yeah, it’s going to be intimate because it’s just going to be ourselves in front of our crew and probably just a few people there, but then it’s live-streamed globally, so anyone who’s anywhere can watch it if they have £20 or whatever… so that feels even more scary in a way. It’s a really unique experience that I’m just thrilled to be a part of.”
Composer/producer of UK acid folk act Tunng’s Mike Lindsay and Mercury Prize/Grammy/Ivor Novello nominee Laura Marling on their working relationship as LUMP, having released second album Animal in 2021:
Mike: “We just had one day of experimenting. I had a piece of music and didn’t know if we could work together or not, Laura came up with some magic, and it seemed to take on a world of its own. That was the first song on the first record (‘Late to the Flight’).
“From there, we decided to try another day, that worked, then we tried a few days, and we had this collection of music that all seemed to take its own adventure on when I tied them together. It was very organic in that sense, and very ‘in the moment’ when we were together.”
Did you see it as a departure from what you were doing elsewhere?
Laura: “Yeah, definitely, it’s a great relief in that sense, completely different to what I do, certainly. A different way of working … and also working with someone else is great.”
Martin Stephenson on his earliest forays into live music, before the birth of The Daintees, with whom this Northern Scotland-based, North-East England-raised singer-songwriter made his name:
“It sounds mad, but I was a new wave guitarist by the time I was 15, and then I was in a couple of great bands. There was one, Strange Relations, where the singer was 21, into The Monochrome Set. He was cool, he was bisexual, and he developed his own photographs. I was his little sidekick guitarist, into the early Cure and anything really, but I had a great musical education and was into Captain Beefheart by the time I was 11.
“But when punk came along, I did what Joe Strummer did – I denounced the whole fucking lot and rebirthed, pretending I’d never listened to Steve Hillage. Ha!”
Holly Ross talks of her resilience alongside partner David Blackwell, co-driver of cult Lancaster-based lo-fi psych-punk duo The Lovely Eggs, in the year they released sixth LP, I Am Moron:
“I think one of the important things at the core of The Lovely Eggs’ ethos is just riding with whatever shit is thrown at you. And we’re quite used to surfing that wave. Whatever it’s been in the past – whether our van’s broken down and we can’t make a gig, we’re stranded or whatever happens, good or bad – we just ride that wave. That’s what we choose to do.
“We haven’t been able to gig for over a year, and at first it was pretty shocking when we had to cancel our tour. We never cancel gigs – if we say we’ll do it, we will. We’ll not let you down. But once we got used to the idea it’s not going to happen, we realised we just had to go with it, and that’s what we’ve done.
“We’ve just been up to no good doing other stuff these last 12 months … like making a single with Iggy Pop. Stuff like that.”
The Membranes/Goldblade bassist/lead singer and music writer/Louder Than War head honcho John Robb on the uncertainty of our times and those mistakenly thinking they have all the answers:
“There have been a lot of festivals shifting, and some have been moved back a year. We did have a 20-date tour lined up. But everything’s more or less kicked into next year, apart from a few club dates, hopefully, for the autumn, and a few festivals from autumn onwards. We still don’t know 100 per cent though. There were a few festivals organised recently in Spain and Holland, and that seemed to work, but now there’s this variant, way more infectious but not seeming to put so many people in hospital … yet. Trouble is, we don’t really know for three weeks the long-term effects.
“It looks like two jabs will hold the line, but would you want to be the person who says, ‘OK, fuck all that, I’m going to open up my venue tomorrow!’, then four weeks later everybody’s really ill and it’s your fault?
“The buck doesn’t seem to stop with anybody either. It doesn’t stop with anyone on Twitter, that’s for sure. Ha! Remember all the 5G stuff at the beginning? When even those people realised that was a load of bollocks, they didn’t say, ‘Sorry, I made a mistake there’, they just moved on to another thing. But that’s very ‘now’, having that absolute certainty about stuff you know nothing about.”
The second part of the 2021 WriteWyattUK year in quotes review will be with you very soon. Stay tuned.