The Resurrection of Giant Drag – in conversation with Annie Hardy

Gemstone Scanning: Annie Hardy is back, part-way through a UK and Netherlands tour with a resurrected Giant Drag

‘Is that the good doctor?’

There’s my opening question. Not to my interviewee though, but Dr Kiko, the London-based Italian tour-managing a quickfire UK and Dutch jaunt by cult US indie rock duo Giant Drag.

He very quickly hands over the phone, perhaps worried I might ask him to prescribe me something, like the GP at the heart of a certain Dr Feelgood number (‘Everyone needs a shot of R&B, so come on down to my surgery’). And soon enough, I’m on to Annie Hardy.

If you don’t know Annie’s story, you’ve some catching up to do, but you could do worse than check out a few online videos – try the promos for ‘Kevin is Gay’ (and the Jimmy Kimmel Live! Appearance), ‘Stuff To Live For’, ‘This Isn’t It’ and ‘Devil Inside’, plus the revealing 2009 Groupee sessions’ footage, not least ‘Swan Song’ and ‘YFLMD’ – and streamed tracks for her ‘nu grunge’ outfit, then pop along and see her while she’s in the country. Think PJ Harvey, or maybe Cyndi Lauper fronting Nirvana.

Is this quirky California girl enjoying a dismal and nippy British winter?

“It’s very cold – much colder than I’m used to, but …”

She’d not long arrived when we spoke, but was she steadily acclimatising?

“I’m trying to. It’s a lot wetter here than home too.”

I get the impression that some visitors from the Southern hemisphere and the west of America love to come to the UK in winter so they can get to wear more clothes. Is that the case with Annie?

“Not really. I’d rather wear less clothes. Don’t want to sound like a slut, but I like to be warm. I like to have that option. But then when I’ve played a show I’ll be sweating and I’m too hot, so I can’t win. But at the end of the day you end up adjusting.”

On the day we spoke, Annie was in Hackney, East London, all set for that evening’s tour opener at Oslo. Did she have a busy afternoon ahead?

“Yeah, we’ve got to pick up more gear from the music store, then have a very long soundcheck. We’ve never played like this – back home we were using electronic drumkits and practise amps, so this is a rather sizeable change of pace.”

‘We’ in this case is Annie (guitar, vocals) and co-rider Colin Deatherage (drums and synthesiser – and while that sounds an unlikely combination, it certainly works). Has she got plenty of merchandise to share with us?

“Oh yeah, I’ve a lot of handmade merchandise that I brought (over). Basically, that’s all I brought. I literally didn’t bring one pair of underwear with me. Instead, I brought handmade jewellery and other stuff I make.”

Maybe a tour of East London will throw up a few underwear options for a woman voted 50th Coolest Person in The World by the NME back in the day.

“I hope so.”

Or maybe they’ll come your way tonight, thrown on to the stage, as would be the case at Tom Jones concerts back in the day (and probably now, but I haven’t researched that).

“That’s never happened before … but I’ve had people throw tampons at me. Not like Carrie … I was on stage once and asked for one, and all these tampons came my way. I was like, ‘Shit! Does that work for money? I need a dollar!’ Then a bunch of money came my way, and I thought, ‘Fuck, yeah, I think I’m on to something here!”

I was going to say, after the oft-repeated 1967 Marianne Faithfull police raid yarn, the Rolling Stones would get Mars Bars thrown their way on stage, yet you got sanitary items. What does that tell us? I’m not sure.

“I think it tells the story that whatever you want in life, you’ve just gotta ask for it.”

Absolutely, and it seems that Annie’s got to know the UK and mainland Europe fairly well over the years, with plenty of mutual love between artiste and crowd this side of the Atlantic.

“Oh, totally. I feel more understood by the kind people of England and Europe in general.”

Ever try to put your finger on why that might be? What do we get that maybe you don’t back home?

“Well, you know … I think it’s my sense of humour. I have more of a dry sense of humour.”

She looks to dwell further on this, coming up with something about Stella Artois being an import back home that people will pay a lot of money for, while Budweiser is expensive to ‘you guys’, but at home ‘regarded as crap’. But I’m more of a real ale man, and I’m not sure I know anyone who craves a Bud, so that analogy’s a little lost on me.

Whisper Om: Ajay and Merinde plug the new Deutsche Ashram LP, in a brief break from their Giant Drag support role.

The Netherlands is definitely good for the amber nectar though, and discussion followed about Giant Drag’s Amsterdam-based support act, Deutsche Ashram, a gifted duo comprising Lancashire alternative and indie scene luminary Ajay Saggar and talented Dutch singer Merinde Verbeek, previously featured on this website, and brought into the frame by Dr Kiko, apparently.

While I recommend you all catch up with their two LPs so far (the new one, neo-pop opus Whisper Om, is just out, with details here), Annie suggested that while she doesn’t tend to listen to a lot of music these days, the bonus for her was that Ajay was helping out with sound on a tour for which ‘everyone’s multi-tasking’.

And Ajay and Merinde will no doubt be a positive factor in the organisation of three tour dates in the Netherlands on this jaunt, not least one at the Paradiso, where they both work.

“Yeah, it all worked out pretty well.”

Actually, in the Resurrection tour press release, she delves a little more into that mutual love with her UK and European fans and how the tour came together, stating, “The best part is that, like last tour, people are helping me out of the kindness of their hearts and because they think I’m a good person and believe in my talent. Quite a change of pace from the projections of the fallen people that surround me here in America.

“It’s life-affirming and validating and restorative to my spirit to be able to come back and take Giant Drag on another run around the only place that matters, Europe and the United Kingdom. This tour, which I’m calling Cum Back Tour for the time being, will be cast with people who mirror back to me my own positive traits. I’ve had fatal humility for the past few years. Fuck that shit.”

Any of these dates Annie’s particularly looking forward to? Any cities and towns she felt she owed it to herself to return to?

“I thought Bristol was really great, the best show of the last tour. And then someone was telling me last night that Stonehenge is on one of the major ley-line points and vortexes of the world. So that makes sense now.”

Something that can be said of the Glastonbury Festival site too.

“Yeah. and that’s so cool.”

I’m sure she would have enjoyed her visit to the good (cargo) ship Thekla this week then, on a return to Bristol. But has she got time to properly see places on this swift schedule, or is it a case of set up, play, wham bam, thank you mam?

“There’s no time whatsoever, although one of the shows I believe has gotten cancelled, so maybe we will have time. 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.”

I subsequently followed a link and found a Northern Mudlarks video, filmed on the Fife coast. But by the time you read this, Annie will have returned south of the corner, possibly with a bag of new undies and sparkling garnets. heading for tonight’s visit to Yorkshire (details below), the Resurrection tour having wound its way from London to Bristol, then Newcastle and Nottingham before dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Meanwhile, debut Giant Drag LP, Hearts & Unicorns, from 2005, is finally about to be released on vinyl, through Yeah! Right Records, and there’s a new Annie Hardy solo EP, Saves, out too, released in digital format through Full Psycho Records, described by Annie as, ‘Flow state songs that came out finished from start to end, as if I was receiving a fax from the seventh dimension’.

But I guess the big question is ‘why now?’ Why go back out there as Giant Drag, way beyond the 2013 farewell tour, rather than as Annie Hardy?

“I don’t know. It just kind of worked out. I did a sixth anniversary post of the farewell tour, and (Dr) Kiko saw that on Instagram and suggested we did it again. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s!’, one of these things you say and then nothing happens.”

Unbeknown to Annie though, the doc decided to look deeper into it, with her blessing, and ‘about five minutes later he’d produced a two-week tour that would usually take several weeks to do.’

But it won’t be easy for Annie, who, post-farewell tour, has suffered so much loss and tragedy. Her infant son and his father both died within the same year, while friend and bassist Alvin DeGuzman died of cancer, and even her cat was tragically killed.

However, through it all somehow, she transmuted that pain, 2017’s debut solo LP Rules following, my subject transforming ‘into Annie Hardy 3.0, a ballsy powerhouse of freestyling comedy mastery with the same vulnerability and tender heart that has always been her mainstay’.

When I listen back to an at-times heart-wrenching Rules, paying its own special tributes to lost loved ones, I think of Van Morrison’s life-affirming, ‘The Healing Has Begun’. Some three years on, it’s a stupid question maybe, but was that album a case of you trying to make sense of a lot of things?

“Yeah, that was a really profound healing experience. My son had died and I was in the studio recording Rules, when … actually, today’s the anniversary of when Robert, my baby’s father, died, while I was making it. And strangely he was due to go to the UK and the Netherlands, exactly where we’re going.

“He never made it, obviously, but it’s pretty crazy that the tour starts on the same day he passed away. And we’d never played the Netherlands that much. It was just once last time, so for it to be the same route that Robert was doing is super-bizarre.”

Will this tour set be exclusively Giant Drag songs, old and new, or with a smattering of solo tracks too?

“I do a small acoustic set in with it all, but I don’t know if it’s solo stuff. I’m not really playing anything off Rules, ‘cos it’s so fucking depressing as a record. It’s mostly – pretty much equally – old Giant Drag and newer Giant Drag. But with the solo stuff … there’s not a big difference, y’know.”

What’s going to be playing in the van this time? You suggest you’re not a big listener to other music.

“I prefer not to listen to anything. Usually it’s talking. We’ve not had any long drives yet though. I don’t know. My life’s become so much better for that – my creativity has become out of this world because of it, and I feel a lot less oppressed.

“When you’re writing music, you can’t help but regurgitate stuff and judge yourself against all the greats that you listen to. So I’m releasing a lot of the judgement, because I’m not hearing music.”

Do you tend to fill empty hours between soundchecks and so on with pen or guitar in hand? Or do you wait to get home for all that?

“I’m kind of writing all the time, although I go through dry spells. Because I get inspired by my life, mostly through upset, I’ll start recording music or writing as some last-ditch effort in the moment of trauma or serious upset – it’s the one thing I can do, turning all the negativity into something good.”

Do you recall where your first live performance this side of the Atlantic was, and how it went?

“That would have been … fuck! Somewhere … not London. I wanna say Norwich or Nottingham. It went all right. It was not too dissimilar to now. I had a new person playing with me, because Micah (Calabrese, her original musical partner, the pair working together from 2003) never wanted to be in a band. He has life skills, like building computers. But he helped me train that guy and we came over and I think it was good.

“To be honest, I don’t have a lot of memories of that (first) tour for one reason or another – whether it’s because it was over a decade ago, or because I was getting wasted, or whatever. But it must have been a good time.”

Who was the first act you saw live or on television, or heard on a radio or a stereo, and thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life’?

“That’s a good question. Probably Nirvana, back in the ’90s.”

Bear in mind that Annie was born in 1981 and hadn’t quite become a teenager when Kurt Cobain took his own life. He clearly had a big impact on her though.

Were there ever day-jobs to pay for her rock’n’roll lifestyle and dreams?

“I think the last job I had was in a coffee shop. But I was like, ‘You know what? This is fucking not it! I’m just going to fully commit, because I know this is what is meant to be mine. I’m going to live and adjust accordingly.’

“Then I think I got a DJ job, at some Hollywood bar every Saturday night for $200. And I moved into a closet under the stairs at my friend’s house, where I paid $200 a month, so one week of work covered my rent, and I was there … I got signed while I was living in that closet.”

It’s way too early to ask you this really, but what will you be missing most from back home in LA while touring?

“Ooh, my cat. Besides that, I can live without most of the rest of whatever’s going on in America behind … happily. But Goostine … he still makes my heart ache.”

We briefly got on to pet therapy there, and the trauma of losing a loved pet, before switching subjects again, this time to Giant Drag’s version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ and how Annie regularly tells audiences the story of how she wrote that song as a little girl, and Stockton, California-born Chris stole it (from a girl who was only eight when it became a hit). Has he admitted his guilt and paid up her share of the royalties yet?

“Not yet, but I do think at some point somebody must have clued him into my pre-song monologue. I don’t learn from mistakes! I can’t stop. The joke’s been going too long to stop now.”

If you had to write a list this week of ‘Stuff to Live For’, as per another live favourite, what would be on there?

“Well, active creation I would say. That flow state, the point of … I think (Abraham) Maslow called it a peak moment when you achieve self-actualisation … which I think I did last time I was over here. I just had this feeling of oneness with the universe, having a place in the world … that was a timeless, spaceless place of being in the act of creation.”

There’s a bit more on Annie’s ‘flow state thinking’ in the tour press release, where she adds, “I operate in the flow state, that space of inspiration and creativity that exists outside of time and space, where all you require is freely given to you by the universe, completely effortlessly, merely because you’re allowing it to come in. Kiko is whirlwinding through booking his first tour with the greatest of ease operating through this principle.

“In life and with my music and professional career, the more I try, the worse something gets messed up. The less I try to exert control over things, the bigger, bolder and more beautiful life continues to get. I’m excited to hit the road with an all-sober touring party of angelic souls and be able to experience these beautiful countries with a clear mind and balanced spirit. Even though it’s going to be cold as balls.”

And if she could step into the time machine and head back to the dawn of 2000, four years before debut Giant Drag EP, ‘Lemona’, what advice might Annie Hardy 3.0 give her 18-year-old self … and do you think she would actually listen?

“She wouldn’t have listened … but I would have given her this advice – stay single, don’t date anyone, and never take that first pill … ’cos they’re too good.

“Although ultimately, I don’t regret anything, because it took all the bullshit I’d been through to get me to this place I’m at now. Although it’s an incredibly lonely place that most people aren’t able to go with me, one day that may not be the case. I could be wrong, but … ha!”

Drag Racer: Annie Hardy, back out there with Giant Drag, six years beyond the farewell tour, and passing your way.

Giant Drag Resurrection Tour 2020, remaining dates: Wednesday, January 29th – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds; Thursday, January 30th  – Deaf Institute, Manchester; Saturday, February 1st –Vessel 11, Rotterdam; Sunday, February 2nd – Paradiso, Amsterdam; Tuesday, February 4th – dB’s, Utrecht; Wednesday, February 5th – Het Bos, Antwerpen; Thursday, February 6th – Music Hall, Ramsgate. For more details head to the band’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms. You can also keep in touch with Deutsche Ashram via their Facebook and Instagram homes.


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Wild Wood Wonders and Wanders, via Seattle and South London – catching up with Smoke Fairies


Hats Entertainment: Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, aka Smoke Fairies, under cover (Photo: Maria Mochnacz)

It’s bang on seven in the evening, and Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire are at their South London gaff, doing a little further prep work for a 10-date homeland tour.

Jessica: “We’re signing a huge pile of records … what looks like every single record we’re putting out. There’s stacks and stacks of them.”

There seem to be lots of impressive formats of the eagerly-awaited new Smoke Fairies album, Darkness Brings the Wonders Home, including a special edition, deluxe CD with lyric book in a hardback-bound, plus gold foil embossed sleeve, coloured vinyl, and so on.

Jessica: “Yeah, it’s a bit confusing.”

Katherine: “I think the most-rare copies are going to be the ones that are unsigned. If you get one of those you’ll be really lucky.”

It’s the girls’ first album in four years, released on  January 31st, recorded over four weeks in Seattle, Washington State, just over a year ago with producer Phil Ek, who started out assisting Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden), and is more recently known for work with The Black Angels, Fleet Foxes, and The Shins.

And Smoke Fairies’ latest subject matter? Ah, that’ll be ‘drawing inspiration from mysteries both real and imagined: sea monsters, flocks of crows taking flight in extravagant formation, and strange creatures dwelling in the mud’ near their new abode.

The girls are based in Borough, near the market close to the Thames and London Bridge, but last time we spoke – I reminded them – four and half years or so ago, they were wandering around a churchyard with their band in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire looking for Sylvia Plath’s grave.

Katherine: “Ah, that was me you were talking to. I remember that very clearly. It was a very nice day and I was chatting about what we were doing … probably one of the weirder days on that tour.”

Vision On: Jessica and Katherine wait with trepidation to see what WriteWyattUK’s written. (Photo: Annick Wolfers)

I seem to recall you played the Hebden Bridge Trades Club the night before.

Katherine: “Yeah, that place is really special, although we’re not going there on this part of the tour. We’re playing Manchester though.”

Indeed they are. After opening the tour in Margate, the girls are heading for the North West, playing the Soup Kitchen in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, not so far in the scheme of things from the last place I saw them, supporting Public Service Broadcasting at the Ritz in May 2015.

Jessica: “Ah yeah, that was a good show.”

Katherine: “That was probably the last tour we played with a full band. This time though we’re switching things up a bit. We’re one person down, a four-piece now, and because it’s been such a long time since our last record it almost felt like starting from scratch again, scrubbing everything out almost, thinking about what we really wanted to do from the beginning point.”

It’s been a long time since your last LP, Wild Winter was released. Any particular reason?

Jessica: “I guess there’s loads, finding what kind of songs we wanted to write. We’re always writing, but it was about taking the time to find out what we really want to do and finding the right sound, going back to being a two-piece, then finding the right opportunity to release stuff and make sure we write with the right people.

“In the end we ended up going out to Seattle, and that took a long time to sort out. Contracts and things take a lot longer to sort out than people think. So there was a bit of artistic stuff and a bit of boring admin that meant five years kind of slipped by.”

Did you decide on Seattle chiefly because of Phil Ek?

Jessica: “Yeah, primarily.”

I know Fleet Foxes came up in conversation last time as an influence, in respect of those gorgeous close harmonies of yours.

Jessica: “Did you say that, Kath?”

Katherine: “I guess we might have been listening to them in the back (of the van) or something!”

Note here that I thought Katherine said ‘bath’ at the time, but that was later picked up on by Jessica. Bet Fleet Foxes sound good in the bath, mind. Anyway, carry on.

Jessica: “Fleet Foxes are definitely a reason why we sought Phil out though, thinking, ‘If he knows how to record harmonies …’ He’d also worked on this album by The Black Angels (the Texas psych-rock outfit’s fifth studio album, 2017’s Death Song), which we’re really big fans of.

“This album is also way more kind of riff-driven and we wanted someone who record guitar riffs really clear, and having heard that last Black Angels album, we thought we should try and work with Phil.”

You do seem to be channeling your inner guitar heroes on new numbers like ‘Elevator’.

Jessica: “Yeah. I think that’s always been there, and we’ve always been fairly riff-driven, but I guess it might just have got a bit swamped with the backing and other band members on our last album. It took us a while to decide that it should just be about us and the guitars and the close harmonies.

Katherine: “In many ways the guitar playing’s got simpler. We’d often have different sections and lots of details, and now I think we’ve broken them down to their barest details, and more essential. I guess in a sense it’s a simpler sound, and sometimes those more simple sounds can sound bigger.”

I  guess that’s your more bluesy roots coming through. And while when you started you were perceived as being more folky, the blues were always kind of in there.

Jessica: “Yeah, there’s always been a kind of darkness and heaviness to our music, and it’s really good to explore that and I think we have on this record.”

Budding Friendship: Katherine and Jessica, coming to a town near you this next week or so (Photo: Maria Mochnacz)

Katherine: “Because there was so long between the records, we had quite a lot of time – while things were being sorted out – to decide which songs represented what we wanted to sound like. And there are songs that didn’t make it on there that had a different sound. It was about finding a family of songs that perfectly fitted together.”

Ah, so there could be another little family there waiting to see the light of day, another album likely to appear pretty soon after this one?

Katherine: “There’s definitely another family that was left behind!”

Jessica: “Ah, that sounds so sad!”

Early reviews I’ve seen of the new record tend to use those trigger words for more recent Smoke Fairies releases, like ‘dark’ and ‘stark’. In fact, Jessica said in their press release, reflecting on the LP title, “Times of darkness are when people are often the most imaginative. It helps you to see all the wonders of the world you hadn’t noticed before – the things you’ve been blind to because you’ve been on autopilot for so long.”

Looking back at my review of their set with Public Service Broadcasting at the Ritz, I alluded to the fact that the girls, while clearly beguiling and rather exquisite with their on-stage blend and chemistry, were a little ballsier than many might have expected. And that wasn’t meant to be patronising.

Jessica: “That’s good. I think we are.”

Katherine: (laughs) “We do always get a little frustrated, getting pigeon-holed from the start as some sort of folk act. And to us, there was only a short period where we were a folk act.”

Jessica: “And we were never really folk in the traditional sense anyway.”

Past Product: Your scribe proudly displays his signed Smoke Fairies CD, following a 2015 merch stand moment.

Katherine: “It wasn’t folk in the way that would allow the folk scene to think of us a folk artist. We were always intertwining with other styles, and always had quite a driven sound.”

Jessica: “Because of the name, I guess, and the fact that we are two women, journalists always tend to use words like ethereal and spell-binding …”

I best cross those words out now. Yep, carry on …

Jessica: “They’d expect us to put on some kind of dreamy live show, when in fact we really like playing guitars and cranking them up.”

Absolutely. Stomping down your space boots on the stage as you go?

Jessica: “Exactly!”

Katherine: “Even when we’re writing songs, the riff is the starting point. It’s really essential to what we’re doing.”

But in terms of lazy pigeon-holing, there were always shades of so much more – from electronica to a bit of pop, trip-hop, you name it …

Jessica: “Yeah, and I guess that’s why, maybe, people are a bit confused by it.”

Katherine: “I think with this album it was a case of, ‘How do we present who we are now in the clearest and most easy to understand way. We can veer off into lots of different directions, but chose to go down quite a specific path with this record, to make sure people understand who we were.”

Live Poise: Jessica, left, and Katherine in action in 2015 (Photo: Elliot McRae c/o Smoke Fairies on Facebook)

Incidentally, I reckon you should record, at least as B-sides or extra tracks on albums, some of the autotuned ditties you’ve featured on your entertaining podcast, detailing life on the road with Smoke Fairies.

Katherine: “Ha! Well, the one about farts I think has potential.”

Personally, I liked the ‘We’ve Seen Birds’ prototype too.

Jessica: “I guess when people think about us writing songs they think of toiling away with a quill pen into a leather-bound book. But sometimes you can just get a lot of fun and inspiration from joking around.”

Katherine: “The podcast has been such an enjoyable experience. It was a chance to not take us too seriously. You can really get quite intensed out by music. It’s hard and it’s tough, and you get a lot of knockbacks. Sometimes you just find the lightness really helps.”

And anyone who’s been on the road as a fully-functioning band or is just interested in a fly on the panel van interior sense about that whole dynamic of touring shenanigans will warm to all that.

Katherine: “Yeah, you get into this weird kind of touring pattern, with silly in-jokes, losing all sense of decorum. Me and Jess spend a lot of time together, and sometimes when we’re hanging out I think if people knew how ridiculously stupid our conversations were, they’d be quite surprised. Because our music delves into that darkness and bleakness, but …”

I suppose we more likely expect to see you trudging through woodland in the dead of night with mud on your palms.

Jessica: “I mean, we do a lot of the time, as well.”

Two’s Company: Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, aka Smoke Fairies. A little darkness goes a long, long way

There’s a cracking story on your latest podcast about you being stopped by a policeman  somewhere in America, asked to provide various details to ensure your bonafide driving credentials. I won’t spoil it here, but recommend readers check it out.

Jessica: “I think if we were American, we’d have been carted off and tasered, or something. Maybe we were saved by our British accents. A horrible thought, but we were in a privileged position, I think.”

Katherine: “That was a day that just got worse and worse, and more out of control.”

Jessica: “And you never are (in control) when you’re on tour.”

Katherine: “But I’m looking forward to going back out there again, having more ridiculous stories to tell.”

And we should get a few stories from this forthcoming domestic jaunt, which starts … erm, Elsewhere, I believe.

Jessica: “Yeah, Exactly. That’s down in Margate.”

Katherine: “We should be filming a video down there too, for the next track coming out, ‘Elevator’. We basically play ridiculous versions of ourselves on stage … and going up and down in an elevator as well.”

That’s called a lift where I come from. But I let that go. Too much Aerosmith in their diet, maybe.

Outdoor Chic: Smoke Fairies, supporting new LP, Darkness Brings the Wonders Home (Photo: Maria Mochnacz)

And isn’t it in Margate where they’ve reenergised the theme park, with a retro fairground feel?

Jessica: “Yeah, Dreamland, that’s really good.”

That’s the one, with creative input from the design company set up by past WriteWyattUK interviewee Wayne Hemingway, I seem to recall. And you thread your way right through to a sold-out show in Portsmouth for your tour finale, visiting the Square Tower. Is that as close as you get these days to a show in your old hometown, Chichester?

Katherine: “I guess so. I don’t remember playing Portsmouth, but we were always gigging around our hometown when we started out.”

Are you still in touch with any of the big-name acts you toured with in the past (an impressive list that includes Bryan Ferry, Richard Hawley, Laura Marling and The Handsome Family, as well as the afore-mentioned Public Service Broadcasting)?

Jessica: “Well, we were invited to Richard Hawley’s birthday party (last weekend), but we’ve been rehearsing so much with this new album release that we didn’t have time to go along. He’s always been really supportive though, and is so down to earth. We could definitely call him to ask anything about guitar amps or whatever.

“With regard to Bryan Ferry … maybe we’ll send him an album. We haven’t really spoken to him for about 10 years, but I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten us.”

And are there still day-jobs for you two? Last time we spoke you were temping between recording and tour commitments.

Jessica: “Yeah, in fact they’ve kind of got more serious as the years have gone on.”

Katherine: “When we were temping, it just got so depressing, so now we’ve found things that are more meaningful.”

Past Support: Richard Hawley has been a big help to Smoke Fairies’ cause in the past (Photo: Chris Saunders)

These days Jessica works within architectural circles while Katherine is involved with libraries, ‘so they’re still both in the culture sector, and it’s interesting’, as Jessica put it.

Accordingly though, the pair have to use up contracted holidays for tour, promotional and recording commitments, including their four-week stint in Seattle for the new LP, recorded in November 2018, the girls having then ‘sat on it for a year’, sussing out the best way to self-release, having previously been part of the Full Time Hobby label stable.

Apparently, Jessica and Katherine spent a fair bit of their time out in Seattle in a guitar shop near the studio, experimenting with countless guitars and amps to augment the album’s sonic palette. As Katherine put it, “It was like being in a sweet shop, getting to try all these guitars we’d normally never be able to afford. We ended up making friends with guitars we never thought to use before, like this weird vintage Kay that sounded great but was so hard to play—to the point where there were days when our fingers were bleeding, or we had blisters in places you didn’t even know you could get them.”

There’s already been one live show, Smoke Fairies performing at a special sold-out launch in mid-November at The Social in Little Portland Street, London, presented by Rough Trade, a limited edition 7” picture disc of the first single from the album, ‘Out Of The Woods’ / ‘Disconnect’, selling out on the night.

So what’s the A-side about? The girls say it’s sparked from Smoke Fairies’ study of the overgrown pond behind their house, Katherine revealing, “There’s something magical about all these weird things living out there in the mud. We started to project onto that, like the idea of something unexpected and good coming from the mud of your emotions.”

And their overall take on Darkness Brings The Wonders Home? That it ‘signals a strengthening of the inextricable bond they’ve forged through the years’, the pair finding ‘the courage essential for bringing such an emotionally-trying album to life’.

As Katherine put it, “So many of the songs are about these feelings of disconnection, but the irony is that Jessica and I have each other, and that means so much more than any of the other relationships that come and go. I think what we’re attempting to show is that, in all this chaos that’s so tumultuous and overwhelming, there are always ways to change your perspective.

“Making this album, we conquered so many worries and doubts and felt so much stronger at the end -we went right into the darkness, and somehow brought something incredibly positive out of it.”

Smoke Signals: Jessica and Katherine continue to make an impact on the UK indie scene … with added riffery

The new LP is on my listening pile right now, and I’ve liked what I’ve heard so far. What’s more, I’m hoping to get along to the Soup Kitchen on February 1st, a new venue for me.

Katherine: “It’s quite a good venue. Last time we played there everyone cried.”

Blimey. Is that a good thing?

Jessica: “We had this beer we were selling, called Wild Winter, it was very strong, and I think there was something about the concoction that made everyone quite teary. It was a Christmas album so I suppose people have a lot of emotion attached to that. Some songs touch on family and on religion, and I guess people just got a bit emotional.”

Katherine: “We should have a warning on our music that you shouldn’t drink anything over six per cent …”

Otherwise, I guess you might wake up in some dank and dark woodland, wondering what the hell happened.

Katherine: “Yeah, or you might need a lot of counselling.”

For this website’s 2015 interview with Katherine Blamire, head here. And for our review of Public Service Broadcasting and Smoke Fairies at the Ritz in Manchester around then, head here.

Woodland Tops: Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, Out of the Woods and back on tour (Photo: Maria Mochnacz)

Smoke Fairies’ new LP, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home is available to pre-order via, where you can also snap up tickets for the remaining dates on the accompanying tour yet to sell out.

UK tour dates:  26th Jan – Margate, Elsewhere; 1st Feb – Manchester, Soup Kitchen (sold out); 2nd Feb – Leeds, Oporto; 3rd Feb – Norwich, Arts Centre; 4th Feb – London, Rough Trade East [instore]; 5th Feb – Oxford, Bullingdon; 6th Feb – London, Hoxton Hall (sold out); 7th Feb – Birmingham, Sunflower Lounge; 8th Feb – Bristol, Rough Trade; 9th Feb – Portsmouth, Square Tower (sold out). Meanwhile, Jessica and Katherine’s Smoke Signals podcast can be found here

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Taking the Continental approach to live entertainment – in conversation with Rob Talbot

Wünderbar Regulars: Rob Talbot hanging out with with Edward Tudor-Pole at the Conti in late 2019, while Pauline Murray silently questions whether he should get another half in. Swords of a Thousand Men just out of shot.

Rob Talbot reached his 10th anniversary as events organiser at The Continental in Preston, Lancashire, in 2019, and clearly still retains his initial passion for that role, long after a second career switch.

“I was working as a teacher, thoroughly miserable, saw this come up and just went for it. I was teaching secondary school English in Blackburn, and was a supply teacher before that. But I’ve always been a music fan.

“When I got the job there weren’t really any gigs going on. It was more about promotion of the venue in general. But it sort of morphed into that, building up that side.”

It certainly has, a host of happening and cult acts, fairly big and not so big names featuring since. I was relatively slow to the party, based a few miles down the road, knowing the South Meadow Lane venue chiefly as a quirky watering hole on the banks of the River Ribble, handy for a bike ride into town via the Old Tram Bridge and taking in the wonders of the adjoining Avenham and Miller parks.

It wasn’t until influential post-punk outfit Wire visited in the summer of 2013 that I checked out the main concert hall. But many more visits soon followed.

My main link came through Rico La Rocca’s John Peel tribute shows, featuring various under-sung acts who featured at some stage or other in sessions commissioned by the legendary BBC Radio 1 presenter.

It wasn’t just about indie and post-punk, but the avant garde, psychedelia, folk and emerging pop too. And much more besides.

In 2019 alone I marvelled at acts as diverse as Penetration and The Rutles, and WriteWyattUK favourites The Wedding Present played memorable back-to-back nights there in 2017.

Cash Customer: Rob Talbot gets confrontational at the Conti with 999 frontman Nick Cash

Rob – you’ll spot him on the desk by the venue’s back room most nights, or nipping outside for a crafty cigarette – lived fairly close when he got the job, in Ashton-on-Ribble, and is these days not so far off in neighbouring Penwortham. And was quick to praise those he’s worked alongside over the past decade.

“It’s mostly me, although other people do feed in. It’s my nine-to-five and a bit more besides, with evenings.”

And that’s an understatement, I reckon.

According to his blog, he’s also a ‘bookworm and film addict’, as those who know him personally and follow his social media posts know well.

“Yeah, there’s not a lot of time for that, but I get as much as I can in.”

Rob is also a published non-fiction writer and is ‘heading towards’ publishing his debut novel at present, at the negotiating deals stage, writing in the horror genre. He also writes articles for Scream! The Horror magazine.

But back to the main day and night job – what were his 2019 Conti highlights?

“Probably Acid Mothers Temple, who I’ve wanted to have here for a while.  Also, the Damo Suzuki show, which marked 10 years of gigs at the Conti, with quite a few bands on, samba drummers and all sorts. It felt like quite an event and showed how far we’d come in those 10 years.”

Visible Girl: Pauline Murray, in action at The Continental in 2019 with the mighty Penetration (Photo: Gary M Hough)

Quite a coup. Have you been a Can fan for a long time?

“I’ve always been quite psychedelically-minded. The whole programme here – and it’s obviously not all for me! – is to try and do something for everyone … within reason, y’know.”

There’s certainly a broad church of tastes catered for, taking us on to the recent sad news that former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band creator and Monty Python musical member Neil Innes, who appeared at the Conti with his cult Beatles parody band, The Rutles in late May, had died. A real shock.

“It was, and there were plans for them to return this year. He seemed to be in fine form.”

Before retraining as a teacher, Rob was an office worker, the first of his ’life-changing’ moves following at the University of Central Lancashire, studying for a PGCE. I guess he was writing in his  spare time though.

“Pretty much. I’ve always been doing something like that. I used to do art and comic strips quite a while back, but writing’s taken over really.”

And that was following your parents’ lead, wasn’t it?

“Yeah, my Dad’s a writer/artist, and my Mum’s a writer, and recently they’ve been working on novels together.”

Colin Calls: Wire’s Colin Newman in action at The Continental in 2013 on a hot summer’s night (Photo: Richard Nixon)

His folks hail from Wigan but Rob grew up in Preston, with his parents based in Sunderland since the mid-1990s, his Mum working at the university there.

Married and with two teenage daughters, what would 47-year-old Rob see as most important about local venues in these penny-pinching days of austerity and changing social patterns, when so many pubs and clubs have closed or are under threat?

“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.”

That’s certainly true when it comes to the CAMRA-award-winning Conti, which has a charm of its own. In a sense it’s not just one venue either – it boasts a snug bar too, also used for music and arts events, as well as inside and outside areas to socialise in a setting with a real community vibe. Blimey, best stop there. This is starting to sound like an advertorial. Help us out, Rob.

”There’s a different vibe completely in the snug, and it’s good that we can do proper gigs of a decent size and everyone can enjoy it. I talk to a lot of regulars who come to the gigs and it’s almost like they’ve got a stake in the place. They love it, and they’ll take a chance on some things that normally they probably wouldn’t, but they do because it’s here.”

And you continue to mix things up a bit, with regular open mic. and snug sofa sessions, classic album nights, and so on.

“Yeah, those are just things we try to push, and they’re free as well, which encourages people to get out and get involved.”

Bridge Spanned: Outside the Conti, Preston (Photo:

I seem to recall a writers’ group meets down there.

“There is – a creative writing group I wish I’d been to but never have. And a local poetry group, and a book club that meets once a month.”

I guess over the past decade you’ve seen a fair few big names pass through and smaller acts on their way to making a name for themselves?

“Yes, Rae Morris springs to mind, and quite a few others, and I’ve seen a lot who deserve to be bigger.”

I caught him on the hop there, but as well as Atlantic Records’ Rae there have been bookings for Ezra Furman, The Monochrome Set, Deaf School, The Magic Band, Fat White Family, Mike Peters, The Troggs, Evil Blizzard, The Lovely Eggs, The Loft, King Creosote, John Bramwell, A Certain Ratio’s Jez Kerr, Viv Albertine and Nick Harper.

A fair few of the above are on that ‘how the hell did I miss that?’ list. And you can add to that a few I did catch, like Rose McDowall, The Orchids, The Chesterfields, King Champion Sounds, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, The Membranes, The Common Cold, Datblygu, Eton Crop, The Nightingales, Deutsche Ashram, The Folk Devils, and The Wolfhounds, and a few more I – again – somehow missed, like Trembling Bells, The Mekons, The Three Johns, Lydia Lunch, Thurston Moore, Senser, Justin Sullivan … I’ll stop there. Which bookings have given Rob the biggest thrill?

“Probably a punk band like Discharge. They were my early 20s. Also, Nik Turner from Hawkwind. There was quite a geeky buzz from that. And he’s been back a few times.”

And what would you say remains your dream future booking?

“I’d love to put on The Damned. They’re a little too big for us, but who knows. I’m hoping word gets back to them via the punk circuit about how great a place this is to play.”

You have at least one classic late ‘70s punk bands coming this April, with WriteWyattUK faves The Members playing.

“I’m looking forward to that. And there are a few punk gigs I haven’t announced yet, including Anti-Pasti, plus TV Smith and The Vibrators on a double-bill, the UK Subs later in the year, Anti-Nowhere League coming back, Attila the Stockbroker coming back with a full band … quite a few things going on.”

Booking Now: Rob Talbot has a moment away from the day and night job, The Continental, Preston, Lancashire

For more about Rob’s writing, head to his website. And to find out what’s coming up at The Continental in Preston, Lancashire, try here.  


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Aspirations wrapped up in books – talking Get It Loud in Libraries with Stewart Parsons

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

It’ll be 15 years ago this coming May that a pilot show featuring Natascha Sohl lured the BBC’s North West Tonight cameras to Lancaster Central Library, for what turned out to be the debut event of the innovative Get It Loud in Libraries initiative.

But while that show attracted a three-figure crowd, project founder and company director Stewart Parsons sees the following year’s sell-out gig by Sheffield five-piece indie rock band The Long Blondes at the same city centre location as his true breakthrough. And as he put it to me, “Just signed to Rough Trade, playing a library: perfect.”

That booking – and the inevitable ‘shhh!’ headlines across the print and broadcast media – was followed by several more, and … well, I’ll let Stewart carry on the story.

“Lancashire County Council were brilliant supporting the first wave of activity. Then the popularity of the programme won us a few national awards and we scoped out the delivery, maximising local government funding to Burnley (Essex hip-hop duo Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip), Skelmersdale (Swedish indie pop outfit Miike Snow) and the Harris in Preston (American singer-songwriter Neko Case).”

Stewart, originally from my adopted hometown of Leyland, Lancashire, was a humble music librarian at the beginning, but soon realised he’d hit on a winning formula.

“I wanted to subvert perceptions for young people of what a library can look and feel like. Libraries are the original cultural venue and I wanted to turn up the decibels to make that better known.

“Also, I wanted to circumnavigate the BPI agreement, which at the time denoted that a CD could not be loaned in a library until three months after its commercial release date. That offer was rubbish for young people demanding the latest Franz Ferdinand or Interpol album.

“So I started asking bands to play live instead. Didn’t get Franz Ferdinand, though I still live in hope. And I once turned down Hot Chip before they broke through. I hate myself for that. They would have been ace in the library. But it is hugely important that all demographics of the community have welcome access to brand new, quality live music, and libraries are the perfect hub for that. I wanted to create doorstep gigs in welcoming cultural venues that were accessible for all.”

Vision 2020: Just a few of the Get it Loud in Libraries sonic treats lined up for the first few months of this year

In the early stages, Lancaster Library began staging comedy shows too, under the name Laugh Out Loud in Libraries, with Arthur Smith, Josie Long and Lucy Porter among the first guests. And five years into the venture, a £500,000 Lottery-funded refit was initiated to open up the space for larger shows, around the time the organisers started taking the scheme across the county.

Around then, Morecambe Library welcomed film star turned solo artist Juliette Lewis and Mercury Prize winner Speech Debelle, and then came Brit Awards’ Critics Choice winner Ellie Goulding, Dum Dum Girls, and many more, involvement from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council – UK libraries’ governing body – helping initiate ambitious plans to roll out the idea nationwide for both music and comedy.

Speaking to the Lancashire Post five years ago, Stewart said, “I won’t be happy until every library across the globe is doing this. We’ve got interest from some European libraries, we’ve got interest from some American libraries. It’s one step at a time but it’s such a transferable concept. What a 14-year-old girl in Lancaster wants – to be able to see bands in a safe, high-quality environment – is exactly the same as what a 14-year-old girl in New York State wants, or the middle of Kansas, or Denmark or Sweden. It’s just a pleasure for libraries to be a part of it.”

So many names have followed, from Adele, Bat for Lashes, Blossoms, Cate Le Bon and Clean Bandit through to Florence and the Machine, Guillemots, Imelda May and Jessie J, on to Noah and the Whale, Plan B and The Wombats. And in 2019, those involved included established acts like Robyn Hitchcock right through to recent WriteWyattUK interviewee Erland Cooper and happening overseas indie outfits Fontaines D.C. and Pip Blom, playing at various venues. And Stewart’s highlights?

“Oh, so many! The whole Get It Loud in Libraries team has developed a huge crush on Bodega, who have now played three shows for us. They utterly get libraries and their part to play in pop culture. And IDLES were the first band to make me cry with sheer pleasure in a library, when they played Coventry Central Library.”

You seem to have another busy year ahead too. How many libraries are involved at present?

“We’re now funded by Arts Council England, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Youth Music so have an agreement to play a network of around 12 libraries across the UK, including Lancashire, Cumbria, the Wirral, Merseyside, Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Coventry. So, 2020 will be another thrilling year chasing targets that we’ve long wanted to play the library stage. We’re still looking to pin down some artists and certain shows are long in the planning but still might not come off! We’ll introduce a few new libraries and also be part of Independent Venue week again, at Birkenhead Library with our Sinead O’Brien gig.”

At what point did this become a full-time passion for you?

“I grew up loving the library (in Leyland, incidentally, where your scribe is based) and loving the chart show on the radio, fast developing a massive passion for pop music in all its glorious forms. So this job was sheer passion when I was 10 years old. I just had to wait another 20 years before I became a bone fide music librarian. I believe both libraries and music have huge transformative powers on the human self and that’s why I think it works, although it is quite a simple idea.”

Orcadian Transportation: WriteWyattUK interviewee Erland Cooper and support AVA, among 2019’s attractions

I have great memories of nights at Lancaster Library with Robert Forster, The Thrills, and also Ian Broudie on a festive bill with James Walsh, plus The Magnetic North in the amazing surrounds of Liverpool Central Library, introduced on the night by award-winning author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce. What have been the most memorable moments for you?

“Actually, The Thrills was a nightmare, because the PA and mixing desk broke down, the tour manager was beyond wicked, and I almost felt like giving up after that … for about 10 minutes!

“Adele is an obvious choice (she played Lancaster Library in 2007), but to hear that voice in my beloved music library brought shivers. IDLES at Coventry Central Library was immensely moving and felt so authentic and real. Young Fathers in Skelmersdale Library after just winning the Mercury Music Prize was incredibly exciting, too. Plus, the guys punched a hole in the library ceiling, so it felt super visceral.”

I’m sure you’ve probably told the tale a few times before, but tell us more about Adele’s Lancaster show, and where she was up to career-wise at that point.

“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.”

I have this vivid image of The Thrills sneakily lining up relevant book titles behind each other, taking the mick out of their bandmates. And I gather British Sea Power, playing the library in Morecambe, used Ordnance Survey maps as skirts tied around waists.

“British Sea Power gave the librarian in Morecambe palpitations. They did another show for us in Westminster Reference Library on Trafalgar Square and people got thrown out for smoking dope in the library.

“Elsewhere, we had to wait until two in the morning while The Blackout went out for pizza after their show. They didn’t realise we had to lock up and go home. And Richard Hawley was in the audience in Sheffield when we did a library tour with The Crookes. So many stories! The artists generally relax because they get looked after and it’s a warm home-from-home so guards can come down….”

Busy Times: Just a few of the happening acts that graced Get It Loud in Libraries stages during the first half of 2019

Not all these acts will end up as million-sellers, but that’s not what it’s about, is it?

“It’s all about intimate boutique doorstep gigs that are simply about you and the music. It’s about showcasing the best new music acts in towns, less toured by the music industry, maximising the cultural capacity of the library, and offering people – especially young people and families – a reason to visit. Doorstep gigs with tomorrow’s BRIT and Grammy Winners! Plus, the Get It Loud in Libraries Academy offers talented young people a real opportunity to develop new skills in the creative industries through interviewing bands, film and photography. And it’s important that young people have a ‘rock school’ platform, as often schools and colleges don’t have the resources to provide that kind of training.”

What would the dream booking be for you from here?

“Hmm…I still dream of Franz Ferdinand. Belle and Sebastian. And let’s go Hot Chip too, after that disastrous early decision.”

Stewart is based these days in Standish, handy for the office he shares with his Get it Loud in Libraries team in Wigan, where he’s joined by, ‘Elizabeth, my operational director, two brilliant young events managers, and our wonderful marketing officer, Helen’, adding, ‘We have 25 gigs per year to deliver, so share them out better these days’. Did he always work in the library service?

“I’ve worked in libraries since 1986, at the Harris Library (in Preston), Lancaster Library and Get It Loud In Libraries. I was a slow developer in libraries but always ambitious to visualise my kind of library – cool, contemporary, buzzing, and relevant. Music libraries and a love of pop music led me here.”

Were you an avid library visitor in your youth?

“I was an utter library disciple! I learned everything in the library – from cricketing bowling techniques deployed at Leyland Cricket Club to guitar chords and recognising garden birds. This was pre-internet, and the library was my go-to refuge. I discovered so many authors and poets there. It got me though my dole years after college in 1985. I will never forget it.”

Liverpool Live: Self Esteem in action at Huddersfield Town Library in late October, 2019 (Photo: Get It Loud in Libraries)

What music were you into, growing up?

“Oh, I loved anything with a big chorus, a square 4/4 drum, a towering riff, an addictive pop melody. So in ‘73 it was all Mud and the Bay City Rollers and bubblegum glam. Then I fell for Quo and devoured their back catalogue. Then AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Motorhead. Then I was mad for The Pretenders, NIck Drake, Pink Floyd, Blondie and The Undertones. There’s only two kinds of music – good and bad.  I loved three-minute pop. The Dickies! I got all my music growing up through the radio and TDK tapes. And Hardman’s on Leyland Lane, where I spent all my pocket money the day I got it.”

I gather via a previous interview with The Skinny that your first gig was Whitesnake at Preston Guild Hall in 1981. How old were you then?

“I was 15 and had finally begged my Mum to let me go to a rock gig. She rang the Guild Hall on the morning to tell them to look after me when I got there. It all stank of patchouli. People shouted out ‘Wally!’ during the final soundchecks. Full grown women wandered around in denim and made me go a bit funny. Utterly pivotal times. I think my jaw was on the ground for the whole show.”

What are you favourite venues these days?

“I like Manchester Albert Hall, but it can get too crowded. I’ve only been to one show at the Royal Albert Hall, but it’s so glam. I know it’s a naff answer, but I have started to prefer our own library venues, so I’ll say Ashton-in-Makerfield Library, where Stealing Sheep were legendary last November.”

My final show of 2019 was not far from your old patch at The Venue, Penwortham, involving The Amber List (who’d be perfect for a library gig, incidentally). It’s a great set-up there, very welcoming, and I’ll definitely return, but I couldn’t help but think it was until very recently a fully-functioning library, so what a shame it had to close before being adopted for the wider community. I should point out that the local town council has opened a new library venture very close at the rebranded multi-use Priory Lane Community Centre, so hats off to all involved. That’s a positive outcome, but up and down the country a severe lack of Government funding and interest plus knock-on council cuts have hit libraries hard in recent years. Do you see the Get It Loud initiative as another way to tackle that, bringing on new generations of potential readers, perhaps in similar multi-use set-ups?

“Well, if libraries are not being used for their primary purpose and function, let’s at least retain their cultural roots and transform them like this. It’s a reviving and beautiful kiss of life to what can be amazing beautiful buildings.”

True, and In what ways can your events go on to inspire people?

“We’ve had very moving and beautiful statements from people telling us our events have restored their love of live music. Or that our events are the only gigs they attend, as they comfort their acute anxiety and invisible disability. We have also had young people tell us that they have gone on to university or employment in the arts or creative industries due to their work experience or digital training with Get It Loud in Libraries, and that is very gratifying. And if one young girl tells us they want to grow up to be a drummer after seeing one of our shows, that’s good enough for us.”

Library Love: Stewart Parsons, at Liverpool Central Library, awaiting his next special guests (Photo: Andy Von Pip)

For all the latest from Get It Loud In Libraries, head here.  You can also keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

With thanks to Andy Von Pip for the photographs of Stewart Parsons. You can see much more of his splendid work here.



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In the footsteps of Morrissey and Marr – talking The Smiths with Richard Houghton

By day a manager for a regional housing association, Richard Houghton still sees himself as ‘a frustrated journalist/author’, something he first made assured moves towards remedying five years ago, collating fans’ first-hand memories of the Rolling Stones’ live shows for his first published book.

His resultant ‘part-musical memoir, part-social history’ was just the first of many ‘fanthology’ publications, subjects ranging from The Beatles, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to Pink Floyd and The Who, while Richard’s also made considerable contributions to recent exhaustive co-written biographies of OMD and The Wedding Present.

Latest addition, The Smiths: The Day I Was There, is another labour of love from this Northamtonshire-born, Manchester-based music fan, celebrating a band who were recording material for barely four years yet packed so much into that period.

“They did. I think that was partly because both Morrissey and Johnny Marr were brimming with musical ideas, and once they came together their creative juices really started to flow. So what they produced in terms of recorded material but also live performances was the result of the two of them having been waiting for the right opportunity.

“And it was that immediate post-punk era, where The Jam had gone and The Clash were fizzling out and teenagers who liked guitar-based music, particularly in Britain, were looking for a new set of heroes.”

In that short spell, The Smiths managed some 200 shows, playing various countries. I’m guessing you had responses from all over for this latest title.

“Yes, there are memories of over 130 of the shows they played, so around two-thirds of all of their gigs. Whilst they did two North American tours, not counting the flying visit they made to New York early on, they didn’t play many European shows and never went to Asia or Down Under.”

You managed to collate more than 400 accounts, unearthing along the way a few seldom seen or in some cases previously unseen photographs and memorabilia. Are there specific stories that jumped out at you of all those submitted?

“What I was most struck by was the extent to which some fans would follow them around the country without tickets and sometimes with no money and no means of getting from A to B. Johnny Marr and Morrissey were both quite generous in terms of offering to put people on guest-lists, and where they couldn’t do that, they’d suggest to fans that they came in to watch the soundcheck and then hide in the toilets!

“There are also several tales of fans climbing in through lavatory windows to gain access to shows or photocopying tickets. This was in the days before bar codes and QR codes and the various security means that venues now have in place to make sure that only bona fide gig-goers can gain access.”

You spoke to a few people who were very close to the subject at one stage or other.

“Yes, a couple of promoters had interesting tales to tell, for example having to provide flowers for Morrissey to throw around on stage as part of the rider. Normally bands ask for food and booze, not flowers ‘with no thorns’!”

Then there was Simon Wolstencroft, the drummer best known for his long stint with The Fall (1986/97) and also worked with Ian Brown (and an early version of The Stone Roses) and Terry Hall’s The Colourfield. He appears quite early in the story.

“Simon drummed on the first rehearsal session that Johnny and Morrissey did together and was Johnny’s first-choice pick to be The Smiths’ drummer. But, in his own words, he ‘didn’t like the cut of Morrissey’s jib’. Simon and Johnny had previously been playing more Earth, Wind & Fire-type material and Simon wasn’t convinced that a shoe-gazing band was what he wanted to be in.

“I was also hoping to talk to both Craig Gannon, who played guitar on the Queen is Dead tour, and the band’s sound-man, Grant Showbiz, both of whom indicated that they were willing to chat, but problems with schedules meant that didn’t happen. But, other than asking the principals themselves to take part, which I didn’t do because I think I knew what the answer was going to be, I’m happy that I managed to capture a wide range of memories from different people.”

Club Scout: Richard Houghton on hallowed ground at the corner of Coronation Street and St Ignatius Walk, Salford

I was 17 when I first got to see The Smiths on the Meat is Murder tour, having picked up on them a lot earlier via John Peel, soon buying all the product I could. I loved Morrissey’s wordplay and enjoyed a few of those early music press interviews, but could never really relate to his more maudlin nature, much preferring Johnny’s songcraft and guitar hooks, and Andy Rourke’s basslines. Did you find fans who contributed fell into different camps on that front?

“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.

“I wasn’t a huge fan when they were around. My best mate was though, and every time I went to his house or flat The Smiths were on the turntable. My tastes were more conservative – classic rock like the Stones, The Who and Black Sabbath. Unlike – it seems – everyone else, I wasn’t tuning in to John Peel every night to see what was cool. Probably because I wasn’t cool!

“But I remember when ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ came out because someone put it on the juke box in my local and loads of my mates started jumping around to it, knocking bar stools over in the process.

“I never got to see them live. I was relying on that best mate to get me a ticket to see them and of course they broke up rather unexpectedly, when he and I both thought there’s be another tour and more opportunities to go and see them.”

Reading all these accounts, what was the performance you wished you’d been there for?

“I’d have loved to have seen what proved to be their last show, at Brixton Academy in December 1986. They’d just toured with Craig Gannon but had gone back to being just the four of them again and apparently there was a real sense of camaraderie amongst the band.

Guild Exit: WriteWyattUK interviewee Marcus Parnell was among Richard Houghton’s contributors for his book

“I think the Queen is Dead tour had been quite challenging – Morrissey had been pulled off the stage in Newport and famously had a coin or a drumstick – no one seems quite sure – thrown at him just one song into their set at the Guild Hall in Preston – so there was a growing undercurrent of violence at their shows as they attracted more of a laddish element. But this was by all accounts quite a joyous show. Sadly, of course, it proved to be their last.”

You also helped put together an official biography of The Wedding Present, 2017’s rather splendid Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said, working alongside David Gedge, another important band in indie circles the world over, with strong links to Manchester, and a group with which we both have a major love. As an adopted Mancunian of sorts, which other acts associated with the city (two cities, if you count Salford separately) resonated with you?

“Well, I live in Chorlton in south Manchester now, which is where the Bee Gees grew up and put on their first public performance, so how does that sound as a nomination? I’ve become a fan of the ‘Manchester is as important as Liverpool’ argument over the years. You’ve got Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Hollies, 10cc, Buzzcocks, Joy Division and New Order, the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Oasis.”

You say yourself that you live fairly close to Johnny Marr’s Stretford roots. Do you find yourself from time to time seeking out city landmarks with Smiths links?

“I live about 10 minutes from Morrissey’s childhood home, and he was in a Stretford pub just before Christmas that I walked past the day before and the day after. I don’t particularly have to seek the landmarks out. I walk my dog past Southern Cemetery, referenced by the song ‘Cemetry Gates’, every day.”

Some Smiths fans are known to be somewhat obsessive about the band, and in many cases a love for Morrissey too. But in view of his more recent drift towards endorsing dodgy, extreme right-wing political figures and movements, there’s been an increasing sense of discomfort and unease about professing a love for his past endeavours. That must have been an issue for you in putting this book together.

“A couple of people involved in the music business said they didn’t want to contribute stories because they ‘couldn’t separate the man from the music’, but most of the people who contributed memories of seeing The Smiths were quite clear that the Morrissey they knew then and in his immediate post-Smiths solo career wasn’t the Morrissey of today.

“Back then, he wrote from the point of view of the outsider and that’s why people who were unsure about relationships, gender identity, sexuality and their place in the world identified with his lyrics. No one who contributed a story of seeing The Smiths expressed any sympathy for the right-wing views Morrissey now seems to espouse. Rather there was sadness that a child of Irish immigrants should seem to want to stop anyone else from coming to this country to better themselves.”

In a sense, I’m with Billy Bragg on this, and can’t think of the band the same way now.

“I take the Nick Cave approach to this. Once the song is written and released it’s not the artist’s song anymore. It belongs to the fans, each of whom places their own meaning on it. So if a song reminds you of a particular time or place, that’s how you own it. Morrissey becoming a spokesperson for the right doesn’t devalue what ‘This Charming Man’ meant to somebody 35 years ago when they first fell in love, first had their heart broken, or whatever.

“Moz had acquired ‘national treasure’ status despite voicing a liking for the Kray twins and being rude about the Royal Family. But I’m afraid that even national treasures can go too far.”

You’ve seen him live a fair bit live since The Smiths’ days. Can you put your finger on what it is about him that resonates with those diehard fans?

“Yes, I’ve probably seen him a dozen times. Although he doesn’t play a lot of Smiths material, he does trade on that legacy, which is fair enough. And Morrissey still has a commanding stage presence, but I think it’s far to say that the once loyal fanbase of Smiths fans is smaller now than it was. More and more people want to preserve their memories and really don’t like what he’s become.”

Meanwhile, Johnny Marr’s sparkling career continues to go from strength to strength. I take it your love for his work goes way beyond the fact that he’s a fellow Manchester City fan.

“Johnny’s live set would be a lot weaker without the Smiths songs – hearing 4,000 people singing along to a Smiths classic at the Albert Hall in Manchester in September was quite something. What he is doing is giving fans an opportunity to hear those songs with the proper arrangements. But of course, he’s cursed by the fact that the work for which he is most famous and with which he’ll always be associated is what he did with Morrissey. It’s like Paul Simon. He may hate the fact but he was half of Simon and Garfunkel and in the great public consciousness ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ will always eclipse ‘You Can Call Me Al’.”

Word Smith: The boy with the book in his hand. Manchester-based Richard Houghton with his latest publication.

Do you think the other members of what was seen as the classic Smiths line-up – Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce – were badly treated by the Morrissey-Marr power base?

“The fall out from the court case is well documented (wherein a judge decided royalties should be split four ways and not 80% between Morrissey and Marr, with the other 20% going to Joyce and Rourke), and I think the band as a whole were badly served. They should have got proper management instead of muddling through, not sorting out contracts, and so on.

“I thought Johnny’s autobiography, Set The Boy Free, was actually a bit disingenuous in that respect and I still don’t understand why he didn’t put his foot down with Morrissey and insist on installing a manager who could deal with the day to day hassles. But a fan in the book claims that Johnny wanted to leave the band after the first album so perhaps things were in a state of virtual collapse from the beginning. Maybe there was no ‘Morrissey-Marr power base’ because the tension between those two, as well as creating great songs, meant that the band were dysfunctional on a human level. Who knows?”

I saw a recent tweet from Johnny that suggested without doubt there would be no second coming of the band. Do you think that position would ever change?

“Quite a few people I spoke to for the book had held out hope that Morrissey and Marr might do something together without Joyce or Rourke, but I think events over the last year or so, with Morrissey’s increasingly politically provocative statements, have ruled that out. Johnny doesn’t need the money, or the hassle.

“Lots of people who contributed memories said they hoped a full-blown Smiths reunion wouldn’t happen. But they also said that if it did, they’d definitely find a way of getting themselves a ticket.”

In a sense, you had to be around at the time, during that era, to understand the impact The Smiths had, weighing it all up against the political climate and so on. Is that how you see it?

“Yes, I think that’s true. Thatcher was Prime Minister, the miners’ strike was on, and there were benefit gigs for political causes that The Smiths contributed to. But of course, they were quite apolitical too and certainly not as obviously aligned as, say, Billy Bragg or Paul Weller.”

Hollow Inside: Richard’s favourite Smiths’ LP, from 1984

The Smiths created a major legacy, not least in indie circles. And three and half decades on, they seem to be as influential as ever. Did you find in putting this book together fans who love them despite not even being around to see live music in the ’80s?

“Not really, because I was seeking out people who had seen them live. But I did have a few people who said they wanted to contribute memories of seeing Morrissey live, either because they missed out on seeing The Smiths or because they’d followed the individual band members’ solo careers. So I included a few of those, including some stories about Moz cancelling gigs, which of course he is almost as infamous for as he is for his dodgy political views.”

I’ll put you on the spot now. If you had to decide on one Smiths album, a favourite album track, and maybe five singles, what would you go for?

“Well, Hatful of Hollow, which mostly collects the Peel sessions together, would be the album.”

Agreed. That’s this scribe’s favourite Smiths LP too, although The Queen is Dead will not be far behind for me.

“Then ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ would be the album track, and the singles … I guess ‘Hand in Glove’, ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’, ‘Panic’ and ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’. Johnny knew how to write a good pop tune.”

He certainly did. Meanwhile, you now have a number of books to your name. What are you working on at present, and what’s the first to come our way in 2020?

“My next project is Queen – The Day I Was There. And unlike The Smiths, I did actually see Queen, four times in total. In fact, they played Lancashire several times between 1973 and 1975 before they became a global phenomenon on the back of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, with three appearances in Preston alone, two in Lancaster, and one in Blackburn. If anyone saw any of those shows, and anywhere else for that matter, I’d love to hear about them. Not as cool as The Smiths, but then I never pretended to be cool!”

Ask Me: Richard Houghton on camera for Granada TV at Salford Lads’ Club, denying all knowledge of previously breaking into the palace with a sponge and a rusty hammer and lifting lead off the roof of the Holy Name Church

If you saw any Queen shows and would like to contribute to Richard’s next publication, contact him via You can also check out his Facebook page and head to his website.

Regular readers will know there have been previous WriteWyattUK feature/interviews with Richard Houghton, and you can check out via the followin glinks my chats with the man himself about his Rolling Stones book in 2015, The Beatles in 2016, and The Who in 2017.

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Another year over … a new one just begun – WriteWyattUK’s live story of 2019

Higher Ground: ‘God bless you, Pete’. Steve Diggle at Gorilla, on Buzzcocks’ Manc return (Photo: Gary M Hough)

As December 30th became December 31st, we slipped into Ramones Night apparently, the seminal NYC punk outfit’s ’20-20-24 hours to go’ from 1978’s ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ neatly reinterpreted. And that, subliminally – as is the case with a lot of stuff that ends up in my head – got me thinking about another classic track by Da Brudders.

Also released as a single in 1980 (although the two-year-old ‘Sedated’ was only a US 45 that year), the mighty ‘Do You Remember Rock’n’Roll Radio?’ channelled the spirit of Mott the Hoople and Wizzard as far as I’m concerned, mirroring their own tributes to so much great ‘50s and ‘60s rock’n’roll. Can it really be 40 years since that first burst out of the transistor radio under my pillow and my brother’s tape machine (not sure I was using the term ghetto-blaster then)?

“It’s the end, the end of the 70’s
It’s the end, the end of the century.”

It was shortly after that Stateside release, when I was 12, that I saw the first of my 450-plus live shows (and counting), catching Blank Expression (who later supported The Jam) a two-mile cycle ride away at Wonersh Youth Club, a precursor to seeing The Undertones at Guildford Civic Hall the following summer, my music life plan starting to fall into place. And as it happens, this coming February marks the 35th anniversary of my sole Ramones live show, a night to remember at the Lyceum Theatre, both of those tracks on the setlist, at a venue that’s solely hosted The Lion King‘s West End production since 1999.

I was aiming to get this end of 2019 live wrap-up online a day or so ago, but events overtook, a year starting with tributes to Buzzcocks’ frontman Pete Shelley, gone far too early at 63,  ending with those to another genius words and tunesmith, 75-year-old Monty Python music maestro and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band/Rutles supremo, Neil Innes.

I never got to interview Pete or Neil, just missing out in both cases in similar circumstances, but I got to see both perform, catching Shelley’s reformed Buzzcocks in 1991, 1993 and 2003, and finally witnessing Innes with The Rutles this May, a night at Preston’s Continental that will always stay with me, as will a post-gig chat with Neil and John ‘Barry Wom’ Halsey. Gentlemen, craftsmen and entertainers both.

Stage Stars: Bruce Watson, Richard Jobson and their Skids bandmates gave it their all (Photo: Michael Porter)

My 2019 live outings started in Preston, Richard Jobson’s emotional ‘What Do I Get?’ a highlight of a highly-charged Skids mid-January set at the Guild Hall (now closed, at least for now), on a night when father and son guitarists Bruce and Jamie Watson delivered for both the headliners and support act Big Country, the Spirit of Dunfermline ’77 still intact. And then came Pete Shelley’s long-time friend Pauline Murray, peerless on further ‘Cocks covers ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘I Don’t Mind’ on a cracking night with Penetration at the Conti – with support from the eye-catching Mardigras Bombers and storming Vukovar – as we reached February.

Complementary Therapy: Pauline Murray on form with Penetration at Preston’s Continental (Photo: Gary M Hough)

I alluded there to The Clash (who played with Skids in their Fife hometown back in those heady days of punk) and this was my first year touting my biography of the Westway’s finest, giving interviews for various print and online publications and radio stations on my love for Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon’s game-changers – from Radio Scotland and Radio Newcastle down to Radio Guernsey, Radio Jersey and Talk Radio Europe. There were even contributions to Pete Mitchell’s Virgin Radio documentary on the band. And there are still a few copies left, folks, either from me (send us a message) or via Action Records, Preston, or Ben’s Collectors’ Records, Guildford.

So it made sense on a mid-February jaunt to my Surrey hometown, Guildford, to catch tribute band London Calling at the Boileroom, playing the entire double-LP that gave this acclaimed Bristol outfit their name. I’ve said it before. I don’t do tribute bands, but in this case, why not. What’s more, as a bonus, I found myself the following night in the presence of ‘60s soul royalty, catching Geno Washington and the Ram-Jam Band supported by my pals The Sha La Las at the nearby Holroyd Arms. That’s entertainment, cats.

Watch Out!: The Wilko Johnson band in action, and on top form at Warrington Parr Hall in 2019

Talking of born entertainers, Wilko Johnson’s stunning trio – supported by Glenn Tilbrook – had Warrington’s Parr Hall rocking, and I caught the latter Squeeze legend again under his own steam  soon after at The Grand, Clitheroe, with the splendid Nine Below Zero contributor Charlie Austen, while making the first of two visits to the old railway station rebranded as The Platform, Morecambe to see beguiling North Cornish vocal group Fisherman’s Friends – with local shanty support from the Sunderland Crew – their story playing out at the flicks soon after, one of the year’s cinematic feelgood highlights. And success couldn’t come to a more down-to-earth group of fellas.

Another of my ‘70s heroes was next, Steve Harley’s leading his own trio on my Platform return, while in mid-April my youngest daughter and I saw a blistering short set from Dublin’s hot property Fontaines D.C., plugging a major contender for LP of the year in Dogrel for Action Records at Preston’s Blitz nightclub.

Back in the ‘70s legend stakes, I had the pleasure of seeing possibly one of the final outings for Mott the Hoople’s Class of ’74, Ian Hunter (and his Rant Band) joined by fellow old-stagers Ariel Bender and Morgan Fisher, the dynamic front-line trio’s combined age a staggering 223 by New Year’s Day, yet still able to run rings around many a younger performer. And their setlist? Solid gold.

A further Buzzcocks tribute arrived in late April on my first visit to Gorilla, Manchester, Nouvelle Vague on inspired form from the moment Melanie Pain and Phoebe Killdeer threaded their way through the audience by torchlight to Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey’, our stylish French visitors topping up the emotion levels with ’Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve’) and Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Another hlghlight that night was their laidback take on ’Teenage Kicks’, and we got the real deal on my next Oxford Road visit, this time across the road at Ritz, The Undertones and Neville Staple Band wowing us on a joint 40th anniversary gig celebrating two classic debut LPs that helped define my musical taste – The Undertones and Specials.

Live Presence: Tender, Darek, Pip and Gini , proving a big hit on this side of the North Sea (Photo: Phil Smithies)

I missed out on seeing The Go-Betweens live, unfortunately, but in mid-May experienced my second Robert Forster show and my first at Manchester’s Band on the Wall, a venue I’d visit twice more before the year was out, my first Northern Quarter return a fortnight later – after that momentous Rutles outing in Preston – for another band who delivered a cracking debut LP in 2019, Dutch visitors Pip Blom a force to be reckoned with on this evidence – as were supports Talk Show and Jacob Slater – and judging by the truly water-tight Boat. Sail on, Pip and co.

While there were a fair few firsts, I’d caught my next act 24 times come November (and you can add four Cinerama shows to that tally, if we’re talking David Gedge gigs). The Wedding Present always impress, and I enjoyed support Vinny Peculiar at Blackpool’s Waterloo Bar (I should say ‘bowled over’, but can’t bring myself to it), belatedly catching up on his back-catalogue in the aftermath.

Location Helmsdale ; Edwyn Collins, outside his studio, shot by fellow Scots-based ex-punk warrior John Maher

Next up was Scottish national treasure Edwyn Collins and his band. And what presence. That was at Gorilla again, on another emotional night, with support from another happening outfit making her breakthrough this year, Gabi Garbutt and her band. And back in Manchester soon after, another of those outfits inspired by Edwyn’s Orange Juice popped by in mid-September, The Chesterfields on a national one-week jaunt, Sheffield shoegaze wonders The Suncharms supporting at the Night and Day Cafe.

Talking of Sheffield, conversations with Jon McClure of Reverend & the Makers are always a blast, and he was joined by guitarist Ed Cosens at Action Records’ shop for an intimate set in late September, plugging a ‘best of’, while your scribe returned to Clitheroe Grand a few days later for a stonking Icicle Works set. That McNabb fella knows how to entertain. And four days later, eardrums working again, there was a night out with my better half to Liverpool’s Guild of Students for a sold-out top-notch performance by Richard Hawley and his band, 2019 LP Further (and all his others of course) getting plenty of plays in the preceding weeks.

Green Light: Stone Foundation, full throttle, Phil Ford driving from the rear, between the Neils (Photo: Paul W Dixon)

Starting November in style, I  finally got to see the soulful Stone Foundation, back at Gorilla, before a further Guildford trip, helping celebrate a couple of monumental birthdays with mates, my first G-Live visit – 38 years after that first Undertones experience at the Civic Hall on the same site – involving evergreen ska legends The Selecter, co-founders Pauline and Gaps seemingly younger by the year. And that was followed by another Wedding Present corker at the Boileroom, the last for guitarist Danielle and drummer Charlie, set to embark on a new life adventure, a baby on the way.

From there, my eldest daughter hopped over the Pennines from uni for a second gig that month, Erland Cooper and band plus support AVA transporting us to a whole ‘nother country, bringing a taste of Orkney to Manchester’s Band on the Wall on another magical night. And one more November show followed, my youngest joining me on a road-trip to Leeds for the return of North London indie near-legends BOB, like The Chesterfields back for one week only, more than 25 years after I last caught their entertaining live show, this time at characterful Wharf Chambers.

Banwell Bluesbreakers: BOB in live action at Wharf Chambers in Leeds, night three of their six-date November farewell tour. From left – Richard, Simon (in front of Dean) and Arthurman. (Photo: The Dribbling Code)

There was still time to fit in two more Gorilla visits, Steve Diggle and his regrouped Buzzcocks with ultimate Manchester tribute to Pete Shelley, but also a statement of intent for the band’s future. And that was followed four nights later by the new breed, Beabadoobee leading a Dirty Hit Records showcase also starring No Rome and Oscar Lang, providing a night of pure grunge/pop crossover joy. It was almost as if that depressing election result a few days before never happened.

Amber Gamblers: The Amber List, coming to an ale house near you soon … probably (Photo: Catherine Caton)

This scribe and his beloved were back out one more time, gig-wise, a splendid year of gigs ending just up the road at a new location to us, a former library (and we need more of those of course) reborn as Penwortham’s community-run The Venue, the low-key setting spot on for WriteWyattUK favourites The Amber List, the support on the night – We Are Ben Newport – music students at college with my youngest. Yes, the future is bright, and good music is here to stay.

Farewell Neil: Ron Nasty’s alter-ego, genius songsmith Neil Innes of Bonzos, Python and Rutles fame, checked out

In fact I got to see 46 acts at 29 gigs playing 19 venues in 2019, my biggest haul in 30 years. Not quite as high as my late-‘80s spell, having caught 111 shows over the last two years of the ‘80s, when my Captains Log fanzine was going from strength to strength and I clearly had more money in my picket. But as I’ve now creaked into my early 50s, I’m fairly proud of that tally. It was also nice to have my girls join me for seven of those dates, not too embarrassed by being out on the town with their old man.

That all gives me the cue to say thanks for staying with us in 2019, as we move on into 2020. Cheers one and all, and as the line goes on the fade-out of that Phil Spector-produced Ramones hit mentioned at the top, ‘Stay tuned for more rock’n’roll’.

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WriteWyattUK 2019, in quotes, part two – the final six months

With 2020 knocking at the door, us at WriteWyattUK Towers (OK … just me) thought it high time to deliver the second part of this site’s highlights from the last 12 months in quote form, covering from July to December. Just click on each highlighted link for the full feature/interview.


Merseyside Musings: Carl Hunter, centre, chatting with Bill Nighy, right, on the Sometimes Always Never film set

“You can kind of forget what you’re doing, and when you’re making a film it’s very intense, working on it every day for 10 months or so. It’s a marathon, and because you’re doing it all the time it becomes your life really, so I can be a little blasé about it. But not because I don’t care or I’m rude or arrogant. I remember a mate asking what I was up to, and I said, ‘I’m going up to Scotland to spend a few days with Edwyn Collins to work on the soundtrack of the film. And he went, ‘Fuck off! You’re not! Orange Juice Edwyn Collins? You’re gonna work with him?’ I was asked about a composer for the film, but I never wanted a composer. I wanted a songwriter, partly because I’d seen Submarine, where Alex Turner did the music. I liked that, and always had this idea of working with Edwyn. I asked if he’d be interested, he said yeah, then recruited Sean Read of The Thunderbirds, and Chay Heney, who was in a band called Sugarmen. The three of them moved into Edwyn’s studio in Scotland in the depths of winter, and were properly snowed in. Yet these three musical alchemists turned out this amazing soundtrack, with two classic Edwyn songs out as a 7” double A-side single, then a 12” vinyl album.” The Farm bass player / screenwriter Carl Hunter, a first-time feature film director in 2019 with the superb Sometimes Always Never

Bard Italia: Matteo Sedazzari puts pen to paper on his debut novel on Frith Street, London W1, the heart of Soho

“It’s nice to have like-minded friends who share similar tastes in music, fashion and such-like. I was a Jam fan before I became a Mod, discovering the band by accident when going through my brother’s record collection, All Mod Cons. For some reason, it resonated. It was enlightenment, it really was. I had no idea who Weller, Foxton and Buckler were. It just felt right. I felt it was for me, as I was struggling at school, not with my friends, but with teachers. The sound of The Jam gave me the voice I was looking for, as covered in A Crafty Cigarette. At that moment, I didn’t care if I was the only Jam fan in the world. It was me seeing the light. ” Matteo Sedazzari, who published second novel, Tales of Aggro, in 2019

Balloony Tunes: The Kooks, at that point a four-piece, at the launch of their fifth album (Photo: Andrew Whitton)

“I love that we’re students of music. I don’t know how you could criticise someone who loves playing music going to music school. For me, we probably were taught all that stuff. But when you write it all on paper you’re probably more interested in going out, meeting people and having a good time. Physically investigating the history of music is much more exciting than being taught in a class. And exposing yourself to as many live performances as possible, that’s an absolute thrill.” Hugh Harris, guitarist with The Kooks, and – like the rest of the band – a past BIMM student

Maracas Master: Mark Berry, the artist best known as Bez, spells it out for the Government (Photo: Paul Dixon)

“Let’s just say I’ve left it a little bit late now for any career change. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And luckily, I’m still fit and healthy, so yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m a different bloke to when I first set out. I have changed my lifestyle slightly, moving into more sustainable living. I got involved in politics for a while, and I’m a Grandad these days.” Happy Mondays’ resident freaky dancer and percussionist Bez, growing older with a little more wisdom, it would seem, yet still happy to party

Force Field: The Real Thing, still feeling it, all these years on, at Perth’s Rewind Festival (Picture: Martin Bone)

“He was my right arm, and we never ever pictured ourselves without each other. It was a hard decision to carry on. We felt there was no way we were going to try and replace him. For me and Dave (Smith) he was irreplaceable. We wanted to always be known as the original Real Thing, rather than bringing someone else in and making it into something else. But we can do that because I was the lead singer. While I’m there we’ve still got the Real Thing sound. What I have, basically – and this is technology for you – I’ve sung all Eddie’s parts, and our keyboard player can play them along with us while we’re singing. So we’ve still got that nice three-part harmony. We’ve never known anybody else- there was me and Dave, Eddie and Ray (Lake). From when we were in school, we were together. Me and Dave know each other inside out and know how to carry the show. And we know what we’ve always done to carry a show. So we’ve just carried on, and it’s been very successful.”  Chris Amoo on carrying on The Real Thing after losing his brother and the band’s co-founder Eddie, who died in early 2018


Chain Males: Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers, busy again in 2019 (Photo: Murdo MacLeod)

“I think that the polarisation of politics in many Western democracies, America and Britain especially, has been very obvious. For a number of years now. I think it will end eventually, but I don’t know how or when it will. It’s got a while to run yet. And I don’t think you could watch what’s gone on in the last couple of years and not write about it.” Craig Reid of The Proclaimers on the sad state of the UK’s and the world’s political landscape in 2019

Good Company: Debbie Horsfield and fellow Poldark crew members celebrate the continued success of their adaptation of Winston Graham’s classic Cornish historical saga (Photo courtesy of Debbie Horsfield)

“The option was to stop after four series or have a look at the clues Winston Graham left in book eight (The Stranger From the Sea) about things that happened in the interim. And there are clues. He talks about things that happen to the characters and touches on things, but doesn’t go into massive detail. I talked to Andrew Graham, Winston’s son, and we agreed that filling in some of those missing years and using as the starting point the clues Winston left while looking at his own methods for creating stories, which was increasingly to look at what was happening historically, socially and politically at the time, such as slavery, the Acts of Union in 1800, Acts of parliament designed to suppress potential revolution, the Napoleonic Wars … I think the books have always been relevant to what’s happening today. When the first series came out, people asked if I’d invented the bits about greedy, self-serving bankers. But maybe some things never change.” Director Debbie Horsfield on a scriptwriting dilemma for the BBC’s fifth series of the 21st-century adaptation of Poldark

Live Presence: The Amber List. From the left – Tony Cornwell, Mick Shepherd, Simon Dewhurst, Tim Kelly

“We’re all, I guess you’d say, seasoned musicians, having played in numerous bands. We’ve all had a faint brush with the potential that something was going to happen, kind of getting giddy on that. But now I think we’re all very realistic, doing it because we enjoy it. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it and how much it meant to me. I started writing solo stuff again and did an album about three years ago, and when we got The Amber List together, I’d forgotten the joy of playing in a band and getting out gigging.” Mick Shepherd on his latest live and studio band venture, The Amber List 

Three’s Company: Ash’s Mark Hamilton, left, and Tim Wheeler, centre, with Rick McMurray, right, checking us out

“We went to the same school, although I didn’t really know them. It was probably six months before we got together. I saw them play some kind of Children in Need show at school. They were a kind of weird band. They had these two older guys who’d left school, one playing drums, one singing but walking off stage because he couldn’t sing, Tim having to take over. But I thought they were kind of cool. They were (two years) younger than me, but you could tell Tim and Mark had something, even if the others were something questionable. It was shortly after that they got rid of the other guys, and the only other drummer they knew was me.” Ash drummer Rick McMurray on the band’s 1989 roots and how he joined Mark Hamilton and Tim Wheeler’s fledgling outfit

Biscuits Promised: Edwyn Collins, set to get on the road again with his band, for a string of memorable 2019 dates

Grace: “The tune’s completely brand new, but the first verse was a jumping-off point. When we first moved here, I’d gathered around 30 of Edwyn’s notebooks, with jottings all over them. And when he was writing again, I mentioned how I’d found that first verse. He was always against revisiting anything he’d written before, but I said, ‘I don’t understand what your problem is.“ Edwyn: “What it is, before my stroke I was a little bit pretentious, a little bit arrogant, and I thought all my lyrics were brilliant.” Edwyn Collins and wife/manager Grace Maxwell on the subject of ‘It’s All About You’, the opening track/jumping-off point for his splendid 2019 LP, Badbea

Spatial Future: Ian McNabb, still a proven force to be reckoned with, approaching his fourth decade on the road

“We all love anniversaries. It kind of gives you something to hang a few dates on. It used to all be about looking forward and new music, and I do believe that to be true, but we’re now in a phase where ticket prices and going to gigs is so expensive. If people are paying £25 up to £50 and even more when you get to the heritage gig malarkey, you want to turn up and hear two hours of songs you absolutely love. Days of playing two oldies then seven tracks off your new album, that’s gone. Rock’n’roll’s so long in the tooth now and things have changed so much. The world’s a different place, and those songs have become classics now. It’s not just nostalgia to play them.” Ian McNabb was offering punters value for money in 2019, performing with both The Icicle Works and Cold Shoulder


Earlier Incarnation: From the left – Davey, Dom and brothers Simon and Mark in a 1988 Chesterfields line-up

“It’s 35 years since Davey and I put the band together; his lyrics, I think, are amazing. I’m just so happy to be out there singing his songs, hopefully doing them justice. If I didn’t think that was the case, I wouldn’t do it.” Simon Barber, paying tribute to his Chesterfields co-founder Dave Goldsworthy, in the year he reformed the band for a series of successful UK live outings

Best Practise: Jon McClure, aka The Reverend, quite possibly in a special ‘meet your Makers’ initiation ceremony

“Lots of people write less good versions of their first album forever, or until they stop doing it, but I feel more powerful than ever in lots of ways, with a better angle on who I am as an artist. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend quite a lot of time with Damon Albarn. I look at him and a few other people, and think you can get better as you get older if you don’t try to be 21, accepting where you are and what lane you’re in, pushing at the boundaries. I feel really positive and in lots of ways I’m completely divorced from the rest of the music industry. And I’m alright with that. I live in Sheffield, my fans are there, and I’m a bit old school, me, starting to put artistry before everything else, and it’s gone dead well. When I tried to fit into the music game, it went really badly. If I’ve got any advice to young ‘uns it’s just to do what you want, do what you think is good.” Jon McClure getting reflective and offering a little advice, a dozen years after Reverend and the Makers’ commercial breakthrough

Bass Instinct: Tim Butler hogging the camera, in live action with The Psychedelic Furs, with brother Rick to his side

“I saw The Clash play the 100 Club with the Sex Pistols, which was what really made us talk about getting a band together. That was with Keith Levene playing with The Clash, and there was Siouxsie and the Banshees playing, with Sid Vicious playing drums and Marco Pirroni playing guitar, and of course the Pistols had Glen Matlock with them. That was a transformative gig for us, with the Pistols a kick up the arse to the music business and the whole prog rock, denim-clad sort of music scene. Sort of like Nirvana were in America in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I think there needs to be another kick up the arse now. For a while I thought it was going to be The Killers, but they didn’t turn out like I thought. A great band, but I think the mainstream pop chart is still a bit stagnant. It all sounds the same. There’s nothing that stands out. It could all be the same person.” Tim Butler on the punk bands that inspired The Psychedelic Furs to find their feet


Electric Performer: Jeffrey Lewis, without his Voltage, as heard on the Bad Wiring LP (Photo: Sonya Kolowrat)

“It’s certainly true that over the years we kind of went through this evolution of turning into a band from just being kind of me in a bedroom with a tape recorder, with my brother Jack playing bass. It was the two of us for a while, we started making up songs and by 1997, playing little places in New York. By around 2002 we were playing with a drummer, starting to go on tour, learning the ins and outs of what it meant to play shows on stage and make recordings. It was a very slow, weird learning process we sort of accidentally found ourselves engaging in until at this point we were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re a band, here we are on tour, and we know how to talk to a venue, do a soundcheck and ask for ‘more keyboard in the right stage monitor’ and professional sounding stuff. I guess that just slowly happened, but then with all these bands we love, like Yo La Tengo, The Velvet Underground and all that kind of noisy full-on sound like The Fall, and Stereolab … for a long time I felt there was this disconnect between the fact that we’d be getting press that would consider us a solo, acoustic singer-songwriter thing, then we’d show up and play this loud, full-on rock’n’roll stuff with distortion pedals and everything. And still to this day I show up at a venue and they’re surprised that the guitars will be going through an amplifier, or that there’s a microphone for the guitar, or we have a DI box, and so on.” New York-based indie singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis on slow evolution from late-’90s DIY folkie to ‘barn-burning indie-rock live sensation’

Double Act: Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson, rocking The Selecter’s 40th anniversary tour (Photo: Rob Marrison)

“He was just a young boy. I think he was 15, and we were both just standing there, looking at each other, thinking ‘Wow, this is Jerry Dammers’ house!’, completely not knowing what this was going to be the start of. And the first time I saw Roger on the stage … whatever the X-factor was, he had it. He was such a wonderful person to be around and out on the road with and performing with, for sure. I think what it taught us was that you don’t know what the future holds, so if you are able to be out on the road and in full health to tour on that scale, that’s absolutely great. Enjoy it.” Cultural icon/leader of The Selecter, Pauline Black on losing close friend Ranking Roger, of The Beat, this year.

Hat’s Entertainment: Neil Sheasby, third left, with his Stone Foundation bandmates (Photo: John Coles Photography)

“Going the other way to Coventry, that’s where 2 Tone unfolded, and was the nearest city to us. And in Birmingham – the other way – we had Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Beat, UB40 … We were surrounded by it. Around 12 or 13, I was going to matinee gigs, but then Dexy’s just seemed different. It seemed to stand out. When I first heard Searching for the Young Soul Rebels I felt, ‘This isn’t what the other stuff is, this is something else’. I was being informed, and you dig deeper into the lyrics and stuff, realising he’s talking about Irish poets, some sense of national pride, all that. Kevin Rowland didn’t really do many interviews, because he had that great idea of just doing essays in the music press – and all that attracted me as well – but when Paul (Weller) did an interview he was informative and he’d talk about whatever he was reading or listening to, like Curtis Mayfield, namechecking the Five Stairsteps or something, so I’d be checking all that out. We didn’t have the internet, so you had to go and find the records, which was hard to do, but again all that was really exciting and I felt that was a real rite of passage.” Stone Foundation bass player/co-founder, and music writer Neil Sheasby, on the importance of Kevin Rowland and Paul Weller for his musical odyssey

Vapors Return: Dave Fenton, live at Cardiff University SU Great Hall, with The Vapors  (Photo: Warren Meadows)

“This time last year we did three gigs at the Mercury Lounge in New York City, which all went down well, and we sold out. A great weekend for everyone, and quite a few fans came out from the UK. We’ve got quite a good following there and got invited back for the lost ‘80s tour this summer, doing around 22 dates over 30 days across America. It was weird playing there. Indoors it was freezing cold because the air conditioning was on, but when you went outside it was 100 degrees.” Dave Fenton on the successful US return of revered new wave outfit The Vapors – several decades after their first visit


Lounging Around: Vinny Peculiar mastermind Alan Wilkes, shades indoors and a continued respect for David Bowie

“I always considered myself Bromsgrove’s answer to Bowie. At least that’s what someone told me once. I saw Bromsgrove as the new Bromley … if only because it sounded a bit similar. We’d bullshit people about that, but it didn’t quite happen … then I had kids, got a real job, and all that. The whole David Bowie thing of the 70s, I don’t think anyone will ever do what he did. The Beatles changed with every album, but Bowie did it for longer at a time when the microscope was heavier, and did it so amazingly. Switching genres and bands, creating the whole avant-garde alternative in such a great way. I was a big fan from The Man who Sold the World to Scary Monsters.” Alan Wilkes, aka Vinny Peculiar, pays tribute to one of his most important influences, the late David Bowie

Mosin’ Around: Ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell back in live action in 2016 with his band (Photo: Warren Meadows)

“It was all about experimenting. We didn’t really know what we were doing. You’ve just got to go out there and see what happens. And I think we did introduce some new boundaries in pop music … or tried to. It’s also coming up to (The Gospel According to theMeninblack 40th anniversary. That was before the Simmons electronic drumkit, but that album’s got an electronic drumkit on it … before they even existed. That was through some recording techniques I experimented with, using condenser microphones against the drums for a real metallic sound. There was stuff like that that pre-dated anything else, and I’m really proud of that. The Meninblack was my favourite album.” Hugh Cornwell reflects on his days with The Stranglers, not least making 1979’s The Raven and the next year’s highly-experimental follow-up

Faraway Motorway: BOB waiting on their lift, way back then. From left – Henry, Simon, Dean, Richard (Photo: BOB)

“Around 1991/2 we did a couple of big UK and European tours and were writing lots. We’d written the third album but when Rough Trade collapsed, we were looking for something else. Someone from EMI talked to (manager) Paul Thompson, wanting to work out what sort of deal they could offer us. We were all very excited, but it fell through. He had three projects on the go – Duran Duran, Radiohead and ourselves, us and Radiohead at the same level, about to be taken on in progression-type deals. But Duran Duran were spending loads on their comeback album and he was told by the execs he couldn’t sign both bands. Presumably there was a toss-up between us and Radiohead. He was only there another two months, so obviously wasn’t happy his ideas had been taken away. But now we’ve found the tapes, they’ve been remastered digitally, and Richard’s mixing those plus a bunch of others recorded in Harlow at The Square, live to the desk in a room at the back, and now remixed. So we’re looking at 12 properly-recorded brand new songs no one’s heard, a double-CD featuring that album and loads of unreleased demos and songs we were working on. There’s nearly 200 tracks in various forms that never came out, whittled down to around 50.” Dean Leggett, explaining why it’s taken BOB 30 years to finish the follow-up to their superb Leave the Straight Life Behind LP

Reflective Moments: Erland Cooper, out on the road in support of his acclaimed Orcadian soundscapes in 2019

“I wrote it in between the cracks of all the other projects I was doing. For me it was like a tool to just ease a busy mind. Let’s say, if you’re on the sweaty London Underground for example, rushing around … I won’t get into intricacies of stress, because that’s relative in what you’re going through compared to anyone else, but I would just put this on. I’d get to the studio and make these layers to kind of counteract what I’d just experienced, and I would then travel with it. So instead of frowning on the Underground, when I hear this Orcadian accent, I’d be beaming. I think that’s what music and other people’s art does for me – it transports me to a place, whether that’s real or imaginary. Even if it’s just for a minute or 10 seconds, three minutes or 40 minutes of a record, that’s fine, and that’s all I’m ever trying to do, to get an essence of something that transports me somewhere else. I think we did that in Skem (The Magnetic North’s second LP, Prospect of Skelmersdale), we did that in Orkney with the first Magnetic North record, and I think that’s just what I do. And it’s probably that little boy or that kid who wanted to leave in his 20s. I can’t stop writing the same song.” Singer-songwriter Erland Cooper explaining the concept behind his Orkney trilogy, with the second LP, Sule Skerry, released in 2019

Latest Compilation: Happy Stupid Nothing (2019) includes some later greats from Babybird’s song catalogue

“I was very grounded. I started in my late 20s. I was in a theatre company before that, but that paid nothing. I was doing that for 10 years, on £40 a week. But when it came to this, I knew a bit more about the business. My original manager used to book bands at The Leadmill in Sheffield. I knew what a cut-throat business it is. I was aware it wasn’t necessary going to be something which would be a career. I always knew it could end. But then there was ‘You’re Gorgeous’, and it went insane. We signed a big deal and all these things. You lose your head a bit then, but realise again after a few years that it’s not permanent. To this day, I don’t know where my next lot of money is coming from. And it’s always been like that. You can work in any job and suddenly be made redundant. Music isn’t really a proper job, is it. Anything creative is seen as not being proper, as my Dad would say.” Prolific artist and Babybird founder Stephen Jones on the need to ultimately stay grounded to survive long-term in the music business

Revered Company: Joe Strummer with Tony Beesley after a Mescaleros show at Sheffield Leadmill show in 1988

“Post-Clash, I spent some time with him at an after-show party in Sheffield, and we sat chatting for hours about all sorts of subjects. He was very accommodating, generous and friendly: a memory I will always cherish. He actually inspired me to get back into my writing after I mentioned my fanzines, and he offered to help. I suppose that was yet another inspirational milestone for me in influencing my eventual move into writing full-time. I last saw Joe live when he and the Mescaleros were touring with The Who in 2000. Little did we know, at the time, that he would soon be no longer with us.” Music writer and publisher Tony Beesley, who co-wrote and published Clash fans’ book Ignore Alien Orders in 2019, on his final head-to-head with Joe Strummer 


With Pete: Buzzcocks in 2015, starring from the left, Chris Remington, Steve Diggle, Pete Shelley and Danny Farrant.

“When he died, it was all over the BBC News, and they were playing our songs on Radio 6 Music one particular day. I missed a lot of that, because people were phoning me and I was trying to sort things out, but at the end of one show – I think it may have been Lauren Laverne – I was listening in to see what people were saying, and heard six songs back to back. That really blew my mind. I thought, ‘Bloody hell! We were really good!’ And hearing Pete’s voice singing, a little tear came in my eye. I was saying ‘You go for it, Pete!’ at the radio, y’know. I think one of those was ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ And that’s one that takes me back. I remember this groove, and we didn’t really have a groove kind of song at that point, so I went in, did that riff, John and Steve joined in, then Pete – a bit late turning up – came and joined in, adding the words. We recorded ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’, had a meal at a Greek restaurant, then around 10 o’clock that evening recorded that B-side. We’d had quite a bit of ouzo by then, but felt, ‘Well, we’ve got the A-side, so that’s alright’. There’s a bit in the middle where me and Pete are jamming, looking at each other, me playing some off-chord piece, us answering each other. But it was all down to a nod and a wink, and ‘OK, let’s get back into the song’, and moments like that take me back to that recording process, back to the Greek restaurant, keeping it going … and the ouzo!” Steve Diggle, reminiscing – after the death of Pete Shelley in late 2018 – on a certain late-’70s recording session with Buzzcocks at Stockport’s Strawberry Studios

Kick Start: Beatrice Kristi Laus, aka Beabadoobee, has true star quality judging by her headline Dirty Hit showcases

“I’m very proud of all that – the songs from Patched Up and from Space Cadet kind of show the growth I’ve had as an artist. And I want to reflect that in my (next) album. I think everyone expects me to follow this grungey path, and I do want to make really loud, grungier songs, but at the same time I still want to keep that stripped-back acoustic sound. The new album’s going to be a real mixture. But I’ve basically had a different phase for every EP release.” Beatrice Kristi Laus – aka Beabadoobee – reflecting on her swift artistic development since 2017 debut single ‘Coffee’, her year ending with a Brit Awards’ Rising Star nomination and a series of sell-out Dirty Hits Records’ showcase tour headline performances

That’s it for this two-part feature, pop kids. Thanks for taking the time to read through to the end. You can expect one more WriteWyattUK  feature in 2019. You have been warned. 



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WriteWyattUK 2019, in quotes – the first six months

As another busy year for the WriteWyattUK website draws towards a close, an annual opportunity arises to wander back through a few of our 2019 feature/ interview highlights, with a chance to click on each highlighted link and relive those moments in full.


Drum Major: Mike Baillie in live action for the Skids at Newcastle Academy in June 2017 (Photo: Mick Burgess)

“I just remember the whole chaos and this rush of energy, the whole place going absolutely crazy. Richard (Jobson) still talks about it, and how important it was to be accepted by your idols. It was completely surreal that this could happen in your grubby little grey town. It was an amazing experience.” Skids drummer Mike Baillie on the Dunfermline punks supporting The Clash at the Kinema Ballroom in August 1977

Complementary Therapy: Pauline Murray with Penetration at Preston’s Continental (Photo: Gary M Hough)

“He found a different way to write the love song. Love songs have been written again and again and again. Most of pop history is based around the love song. But he had a different take on the love song, more of a realistic take, which was what punk was about – trying to say what was happening for real. So ‘Orgasm Addict’ – who’d ever written about that? Or a song about falling in love with the wrong person? The gay side of it. Nothing had been expressed like that in the love song. A lot of stuff about punk was expressing all things in a new way, and by being nihilistic you actually get something come out that – putting all the other love songs to one side. And I’m sure someone like Pete Shelley was a Bowie fan. You can hear a lot of Bowie inflections in what he sings. But it was a new take on the love song, and teenage love was different to how teenagers expressed love in the ‘50s, ‘60s, or even the ‘70s. It was like, ‘We’ve had enough of all these slushy love songs. Let’s look at what love is really like’. And it’s quite angsty, y’know.” Pauline Murray, of Penetration, on losing close friend and Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley

Live Presence: Kirk Brandon, back in live action in 2019, this time with The Pack (Photo copyright: Warren Meadows)

“Looking back, the lyrics to the songs were simplistic, aggressive, confused, funny and silly – much like myself at the time. Life consisted at the time of trying to survive on the streets and squats of the south London – the whole period was funny, violent, grim and all at the same time, the band mirrored its surroundings – so no excuses made. The band’s first gig, now consisting of myself, Canadian brothers John and Simon Werner and Rab, was as much a shock to the band as to startled filmgoers. I remember they showed Marlon Brandon in The Wild One before we went on, so we were all juiced up for some kind of riot! What actually happened was about 150 people with thousand-yard stares stood stock-still, stunned at the power at the noise of the band – we were fucking angry! A lot of the shows we played ended up in mini-riots and many venues were trashed. One night we played Deptford, South London at The Crypt, and I recall thinking, ‘Great, everybody’s dancing!’ Only when we had finished our set everybody was still dancing – in fact they were all trying to kill each other. We left the stage as The Crypt was being deconstructed.”  Spear of Destiny/Theatre of Hate frontman Kirk Brandon on first band, The Pack, who regrouped in 2019

Uke Lee Device: C.P. Lee, still very much in love with Manchester all these years on, by all accounts

“If you mention it internationally, people tend to think of MerseyBeat, but that was only a couple of years, and while The Beatles were of course a fantastic influence on music, they left and never went back, whereas here in Manchester … I know Liverpool has had its renaissances since, and some great bands, but it’s more fits and starts on the Mersey, whereas Manchester’s had this consistent trudging towards a musical nirvana. We had a quiet bit when the Chief Constable shut the clubs down, but musicians revolted and founded a cooperative, a tremendous thing that kept it spinning.” Writer/broadcaster/ lecturer/performer C.P. Lee, extolling the virtues of his home city over the main regional opposition


Odditorium Exports: The Dandy Warhols, celebrating 25 years and a little luck in the business

“Luck only gets you so far. You have to work hard, take advantage of the luck. We already had a pretty decent work ethic under our belts before the serious luck happened.” Dandy Warhols guitarist Peter Holmström, whose band had their biggest slice of luck in the UK through ‘Bohemian Like You’ being used on a Vodafone TV ad

Gray Day: David Gray was back with his 11th album in 26 years in 2019, with a tie-in tour thrown in

“Who doesn’t love those two? I mean Marvin … we’d all be thanking him forever for  What’s Going On? if that was the only thing he’d ever done. It’s just knockout. To get some of that feel … and I’ve got that soul in the way I perform. That’s my thing. I’m a British soul singer in a way. That’s where my voice goes. It’s got a natural bluesiness. To dig into that and that kind of feel and sense of scatting off the rhythm, and being playful within the frame, those things get me high and so excited, working off the beat that way.” David Gray, on being compared to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder by this scribe

Tunnel Vision: Norman Watt-Roy, Wilko Johnson and Dylan Howe, going underground (Photo: Leif Laaksonen)

“Funnily enough I had a heart attack, while playing with Wilko at Hampton Court (Lido) in 2017. I wasn’t in any pain. We were coming up to the end of the set and I just felt really weak. I told Wilko, ‘I can’t play’. I took my bass off and Wilko looked round and said to Dylan, ‘Do a drum solo!’ I came off and they called an ambulance and I got rushed to hospital. The guy in the ambulance was looking at his machine, saying, ‘You’re actually having a heart attack now, Norman. I said, ‘Am I? I’m not in any pain’. But within three hours they’d operated and put this stent into my arteries and I was fine. I took a month off then we went to Japan and started another tour! They took me to St George’s at Tooting, because they knew I lived in Fulham, and that’s one of the best for heart care. I later got to know my surgeon, Zoe, very well, and she told me it was a minor heart attack, but I was very lucky to be surrounded by people and for the paramedics to be there, being an open-air festival. She said there are people who have felt a little funny, gone to bed and died in their sleep, so I was very lucky. Since then, people have said how the Grim Reaper’s tried to get both me and Wilko, and failed!” Blockheads/Wilko Johnson bass player Norman Watt-Roy on him and his boss’ brushes with health in recent times

Happy Wending: Glenn Tilbrook, back out on the road, in headline and support act roles (Photo: Rob O’Connor)

“In a nutshell, my belief – and it’s almost an old-fashioned belief now – is that the role of taxation and Government is to provide these things for people, so this sort of situation doesn’t happen. As a society we’re slipping backwards to an older time where there were poorer people who were despised, thought of as lesser people, and rich people who may or may not deign us with their magnificence. And if I look back on my life now … growing up as I did and as Chris did in council housing where we had space to play and they were well maintained … that was the ’60s, and in many ways that was the golden age of the Welfare State. I don’t look back on things and get nostalgic very often, but about that I do. There was still Cathy Come Home, there was still private landlords milking poor people and being heartless, just as there are today, but the problem is that all that stuff is growing now.” Squeeze singer/guitarist Glenn Tilbrook, who was supporting food bank charity the Trussell Trust on his band and solo dates in 2019


Three’s Company: Steve and his acoustic bandmates James Lascelles and Barry Wickens, doing the rounds in 2019

“I’ve no regrets. At the age of 21 when I walked away, I’d done my three-year indentures, had 120 words-per-minute Pitman’s shorthand and had covered some really good stories, particularly in my last year at the East London Advertiser. We were in Krayland, opposite The Blind Beggar, covering some big news. It wasn’t provincial anymore, and in those days local papers were always run by juniors – around two seniors and five juniors. Every Wednesday night we put the paper to bed in Dagenham, and the next morning we’d find our stuff all over Fleet Street, because it was all good national news. I enjoyed it. I liked the life, until I grew tired of it – having spent a lot of time in Bow Magistrates’ Court, wearing the seat of my trousers out, covering stupid shop-lifting stories. But I was writing songs and playing in folk clubs at that time. The only downside of it all and the only point I regret was that leaving all that really distressed my parents. My Dad was pretty heartbroken. I hadn’t got anywhere to go. In those days you could leave a job and get another. But I was on the dole for around 10 months, busking, writing songs and forming Cockney Rebel. But I’ve had a great life – 45 years of this and I’ve still got an audience.” Celebrated singer-songwriter Steve Harley, on his days as a London newspaper reporter while moving towards his chosen career 

Sole Men: Fisherman’s Friends await the next influx of emmets, media interest, and good tides for singing at The Platt.

“The first time we officially walked out as a group was on the Platt. That was the first time we decided we were actually going to do this. We were planning to go to America to join up with some singing friends over there. At some point we were having a rehearsal over in Billy’s chapel, and just said, ‘Right, let’s not have a rehearsal over here, let’s have it on the Platt. We didn’t advertise. That was the start of it really, and we never really looked back.” Jeremy Brown, on vocal group Fisherman’s Friends’ first public performance in their home town of Port Isaac, North Cornwall

Dropping By: Gretchen Peters at Glasgow’s Cottiers Theatre in 2019, with Barry Walsh, left, and Conor McCreanor

“Just little glimmers – they’re little fireflies in a jar at this point. They’re not real songs. The thing I do on the road that I am able to do is catch ideas and write them down and squirrel them away. The thing I’m not able to do is flesh them out, finish and edit them. That’s really a kind of hammer and nails aspect of it, and that’s the thing that really requires that downtime.” US country noir singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters on the complications of trying to write songs while out on tour

London Calling: Esteemed broadcaster Gary Crowley, still at the top of the dial. Ask nicely and he’ll give you a smile.

“All these bands were coming through, and I don’t forget that I was incredibly lucky – brought up a stone’s throw from my school, and that was on Edgware Road, where I saw Joe Strummer go into the café there, and got an interview with him. This was the Metropolitan Café, sadly no more, so when we went to the fish and chippy to spend our money, I literally bumped into him. I said, ‘Oh my God! Listen, we’ve just started a punk fanzine, and Joe – would you be up for an interview?’ And I can only assume that he was impressed by my hutzpah! I got back to school, told a couple of pals, and then the word got around. This would have been early summer in ’77. I said, ‘Can I bring a friend’, and he said, ‘Of course’, but when word got around, I think seven or eight turned up from my school at (The Clash’s Camden HQ) Rehearsal Rehearsals. And bless his cottons, he couldn’t have been more welcoming.” Radio DJ and TV presenter Gary Crowley on his chance meeting and subsequent interview in 1977 with The Clash’s Joe Strummer while still at school

Vest Behaviour: Neville Staple in action at Glastonbury Festival (Photo: John Middleham)

“The way we brought ska to the mainstream was by mixing Jamaican music with the English style, which at the time was punk. The movement helped transcend and defuse racial tensions in Thatcher-era Britain. The actual black and white chequered imagery of 2 Tone has become almost as famous as the music itself. I remember the massive reactions to hit songs like ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Too Much Too Young’ and ‘Gangsters’, and fans still write to me about my rugged, energetic and fun stage presence.” Neville Staple on the legacy created by the initial 2 Tone bands, including the Coventry outfit with which he broke through, The Specials


Guitar Man: Dean Friedman, who was most likely heading for a venue near you in 2019, four decades into his career

“Here’s the thing, I grew up listening to all kinds of music but always had a special affinity for folk singers like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Bernie Taupin, storytellers who painted pictures in their songs. There was a narrative where you could really envisage what was going on, almost a cinematic quality. That was something I aspired to do, starting out and to this day, and someone like Chris Difford … I know Squeeze are acknowledged as a legendary band, but I think they’re even better than they’re given credit for. Someone like Chris, I don’t think he has any peers as a lyricist.” Cult US singer-songwriter Dean Friedman, not just a fan of Half Man Half Biscuit

Three’s Company: Ian Hunter (centre), Morgan Fisher and Ariel Bender, reunited in the UK, with Ian’s Rant Band

“I heard Jerry Lee Lewis do ‘A Whole Lotta Shaking’ when I was 15 or 16 and thought, ‘Oh, thank God! I’m here for something’. There was nothing before that. I didn’t understand why I was here. A lot of people don’t know what they’re doing, then they hear something or see something and know what they’re supposed to do.” Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter on his 1950s’ rock’n’roll lightbulb moment

Nouvelle Chanteuses: Phoebe Killdeer and Melanie Pain were out front when I saw them at Gorilla in Manchester

“It all really happened as a little accident. I was dating a musician who was looking for a singer for his project. He asked me to record a demo. I wasn’t singing at all at that time. I was maybe 20. He said, ‘Could you sing it, so I have something to send to singers?’ I recorded that and he sent it to producers and people he knew, among them Marc Collin, who said, ‘I like the voice of this girl singing. Can you give me a phone number?’ He called me and I said, ‘I am not a singer’, he said, ‘Perfect!’ It all happened super-quick after that. I went to his studio, we did two tracks, first take – the two songs I did for Nouvelle Vague, ‘This is Not a Love Song’ and ‘Teenage Kicks’.” Nouvelle Vague singer Mélanie Pain looking back on her big break in music


All Together: The Undertones and The Neville Staple Band, playing live together in 2019, the Spirit of ’79 still intact

“The main thing was that we were always huge fans of music, and were soaking everything in – a wide variety of music. That was the core for me, Damian, Mickey and Billy anyway.  We’d just play records. Our entire life revolved around listening to music, trying to find out new sounds. It was like osmosis almost. It came on to us, and once we’d got signed and knew this was our job – at least for the next few years – we wanted to make the most of it and try and write as many songs as we could. It wasn’t always easy. I remember the sessions for Hypnotised, when Mickey’s father died halfway through, so we cut the recording off. And we realised before that we hadn’t enough songs written to finish the record. So we went back and wrote two or three other songs, between those recording sessions. I’m sure every musician would say the same though – if you’ve got a deadline and the pressure’s on, that focuses you.” John O’Neill, recalling the writing process behind those first two wondrous Undertones LPs

Bull Park Life: The Undertones, ’79 style. From the left – John, Feargal, Billy, Mickey, Damian (Photo: Paddy Simms)

“Laurie was a very well-known Derry photographer, normally taking pictures of rioters or buildings or local singing competitions and showbands. The session was done by Bull Park, famous in Undertones folklore, near our headquarters – O’Neill’s, Beechwood Avenue – and where we always played football. We did a few corny showband poses, deliberately, and he wanted us to go a bit further, put our hands out. John especially wasn’t having that! But we picked what we liked, and I really like that cover. I especially like the front cover, it shows us as we were. There’s no thrills. We were a pretty ugly-looking band! And it’s very punk. No pretence.” Damian O’Neill, on how photographer Laurence O.Doherty and the band came up with that debut Undertones LP cover

Bearded Theory: Alan McGee, out on the road and telling tales throughout 2019, and still the inspirational figure

“I had five quid in my pocket, and I was effectively, technically homeless. But I managed to squat. These were the days when you didn’t need to be homeless, back in the ’80s – you could squat.I was there for about six months, then got a little bedsit. If I couldn’t have done that, I couldn’t have made it in London. I look back now and wonder how the fuck I done it really. I came with no money but actually made it work. Unbelievable really. I’m not saying I’m really talented. I have got talent. I’m not denying that, but the truth is that even if you’re the most talented person in the world, the odds would still not be fantastic. I really did it because of the tenacity, I suppose … that tenacity I got from Glasgow.” Alan McGee, music industry exec., label owner, musician, manager, and much more, recalls moving as a 19-year-old from Glasgow to London in 1980

Celebration Ratio: A Certain Ratio, going strong in 2019, celebrating four pioneering decades (Photo: Kevin Cummins)

“Football was my life really. All I wanted to do was play for United and play for England. And I was lucky enough to play for United until I was 17, signing schoolboy terms at 15, becoming a ball-boy. But at 17 I broke my ankle badly, was at a loose end, and finally found myself in A Certain Ratio.” Jez Kerr, on a late career switch from being on the brink of top-level football to joining Factory Records-bound industrial punk-funk pioneers A Certain Ratio

Wild Wood: Jim ‘Jim Bob’ Morrison, long after his Carter USM days, takes to the trees (Photo: Paul Heneker)

“If we made one mistake it was naming a famous album 30 Something! But you can’t really go back on that. I remember around then a meeting with a lawyer or accountant type, advising us to get pensions, saying nobody in the music business would work beyond 50. That’s massively untrue now. But at the time the idea of anyone being in a rock band beyond that age … I had little to do with the financial side. I’m the same now. I switch off when anybody’s talking about all that. My manager now seems obsessed with spreadsheets, but there could be anything on them. I have to pretend I read them!” Jim Bob Morrison, ex-Carter USM, on his lack of interest in the financial side of the music industry

Boat People: From the left, Darek Mercks, Pip Blom, Gini Cameron, Tender Blom (Photo: Raymond Van Mill)

“Well, I did know what he did with the band, because he always told stories about that, but it was really nice recently playing with them at the John Peel Centre (for Creative Arts, Stowmarket, Suffolk). That was so much fun, our two bands together and lots of people who knew each other. A very special moment. I really like seeing them touring as well, and playing gigs in the UK. He’s showed us lots of videos and pictures, all that kind of stuff. I thought it was so cool.” Dutch indie star Pip Blom on sharing a bill with her Dad’s band, John Peel favourites Eton Crop, at the Suffolk venue named in the legendary DJ’s honour


Space Invaders: The Membranes’ John Robb and Rob Haynes at Preston Conti in 2016 (Photo: Joel Goodman)

“With the nature of The Membranes we always try to move forward. No point in repeating ourselves. This album’s more about the choir and the amazing harmony of the human voice. When you get 20 people sing the part at the same time, it’s a transcendental experience … quite beyond … at the highest level of sound as possible … pure harmony. And in these discordant times we’re living in, pure harmony is an interesting concept.” John Robb waxes lyrical on the subject of rightly-acclaimed 2019 Membranes double LP, What Nature Gives … Nature Takes Away

Folk Roots: Eddi Reader swapped busking for the charts and international recognition (Photo: Genevieve Stevenson)

“I was a massive folk music fan, and what I liked about folk was that it was a brilliant alternative to Amanda’s Wet T-shirt Night in the local disco, y’know. I found a lot of solace in folk music. To go in and hear unaccompanied females sing in a Scottish accent, songs of love, murder, death and life, I kind of felt I didn’t need anything else. My family were a bit worried – ‘what’s all this folk music?’ They didn’t really get it. But I was going to all the folk festivals in 1979 and 1980, when it was all dying. I was there at the latter half of the pre-folk revival and remember how well attended it was then. The first would be Inverness Folk Festival in April and I was there as a young punter. I’d sneak in the back and you’d get a floor-spot. It was a place where you could perform. You couldn’t perform anywhere else, unless you had sound equipment and were in a band. If you were in a folk club you could stand on stage and ask if you could sing or play something and there were a lot of people my age who did the same thing. That graduated to busking and singing those songs, like ‘Lord Franklin’ and Blues Run the Game’, learning about the alternative music scene. And the alternative scene for me would have been Gram Parsons, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. All of that had been dying a death during the late-‘70s. But the folkies were all for it.” Singer-songwriter Eddi Reader on her folk roots

Band Substance: Brix and the Extricated, including the Hanley brothers, released an acclaimed new LP in 2019

“It was more luck than good fortune that I ended up playing the one instrument that none of them played. I had no musical training whatsoever. I was going to learn guitar at school, but my Dad wouldn’t stump up for a guitar case. He said we’ve still got the box it came in, so he put two strings on the cardboard box. And there was no way I was carrying that to school, so I never pursued it.” Brix & The Extricated/The Fall drummer/music writer Paul Hanley explaining how he ended up behind a kit

Cancer Beware: Mark Radcliffe doing his bit for North West Cancer Research’s #SpeakOut awareness campaign

“I was lucky really, my cancer was visible – it was a lump in my neck. They got to it quite quickly. But they call it a silent killer as you’ve no idea of knowing what’s going on there. With any sign, you need encouraging to get it checked out. I think blokes tend to think, ‘Oh, it’ll be nothing’. And not necessarily just blokes. Some women are like that. It’s a very simple message – just get it checked. It’s amazing, if you catch something early – things that would have killed you 10 or 20 years ago – they can get you back from that point now. They said with mine it would have killed me in months, not years. So I’m lucky to be here and I’m enjoying life – loving every day.” Broadcaster Mark Radcliffe with his personal spin on the importance of early diagnosis for cancer treatment

Stay tuned for part two of our 2019 WriteWyattUK feature/interviews’ quotes special, pop kids. 

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Dirty Hit Tour Presents … Beabadoobee, No Rome, Oscar Lang – Gorilla, Manchester


Oscar Party: Opening act Oscar Lang and his band went down a storm live (Photo: Ianthe Warlow & One Great Song)

My fifth visit to Whitworth Street West in 2019 and a second in five nights, with the clientele far younger under the Oxford Road railway arches this time. But in a similar manner to punk legends Buzzcocks on Sunday, all three acts on Thursday also had the place moving.

Heavy traffic between the M61 and M60 ruled out two-thirds of the first set for this punter and daughter, but Oscar Lang and his band went down a storm judging by the last two songs, the spirit of the season strong as they gave us the heart, cockle and yule log-warming ‘Christmas is Home’, us wishing we’d caught the rest of the set.

It could be the slowest-burning festive No.1 hit of all time, making its Soundcloud debut last year and now, properly recorded, still to crack the charts. It’s only a matter of time though. By Oscar’s admission, it carries ‘full-on cheesy, ‘80s Christmas song vibes’, but certainly hits the spot. Watch this festive space, or at least catch it on Spotify then shell out, get his royalties flooding in.

In an NME interview, he reckoned his synthpop-heavy but chilled indie sound mixes elements of Mac DeMarco (lost me there), John Lennon (I get that, yet hear Julian Lennon more) and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker (fair enough).

Oscar’s certainly been busy since signing to Dirty Hit, his Silk LP – Beabadoobee guesting on one track – and mini-LP Teenage Hurt and To Whom it May Concern and Bops, etc. EPs making an impact, the latter including an obvious choice for set-closer here, the super-chirpy, especially-catchy ‘Hey!’, the crowd reaction suggesting a whole lotta love for this London five-piece in the snowflake-white tops, and too soon melting away backstage.

It was a similar tale of adulation for capital-based Filipino artist No Rome, the audience in large part intimately knowing his nine-track set, presumably picking up on him via past tour supports with The 1975 and fellow label-mates Pale Waves. Was this the biggest act out there I knew nothing about? To be fair, my shock at their reaction was comparable to his own as he held the mic. out and they sang along. There were even kids being linked in at home via FaceTime. Sign of the times, eh.

Pop Royalty: No Rome led the crowd a dance at Gorilla in Manchester (Photo: Ianthe Warlow & One Great Song)

With 2018’s RIP Indo Hisashi and this year’s Crying in the Prettiest Places Eps behind him, he appears to be brimming with confidence, a natural performer switching regularly between guitar, keyboard and vocal walkabouts, finishing with The 1975 co-write, ‘Narcissist’. Too reminiscent of Drake-like mellow pop for these ears, but who am I to judge? No Rome is potential pop royalty on this evidence, the warmth between performer, audience and back again truly something. And remember, when he does make it big, you heard it here last.

That was the thing about this evening – that enveloping love for all three acts, not least the collective spirit between the bands themselves, who when not on stage were often spotted peering down from the room above, partying along with their label-mates.

This was night 19 of 20 – starting in Cambridge in late November and with just one more sell-out to come at The Dome, Tufnell Park, handy for the label’s West London base – and they still got on, the second Dirty Hit three-act tour – following Superfood, King Nun and Pale Waves in 2017 – a triumph.

There’s clearly a buzz about this label, which had just marked its 10th anniversary, its eclectic roster – also including WriteWyattUK favourites Wolf Alice – really going places. And for me, the brightest star was still to come, Beatrice Kristi Laus – aka Beabadoobee – personifying post-teen spirit and expertly straddling that line between grunge and indie-pop.

Doing my homework over previous weeks to get to know her catalogue, I wondered how she’d sound live. And as it turned out, I was duly impressed, the recorded versions given extra bite. her live show defintely at the grungier end of the spectrum. My sole niggle was that her gorgeous vocal was a little lost in the mix beneath her guitar work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how she likes it – hiding her light under a bushel, so to speak.

Besides, that modesty does her justice, this frontwoman with a difference seemingly happier snuck to one side of the stage, just one key component of a dynamic three-piece. It wasn’t a classic three-piece though – there’s a holistic fourth member, pre-recorded parts giving this Brit Rising Star 2020 nominee a freedom of movement so she can just let loose with her six-string, her rhythm section pitching in perfectly.

KickStart: Beatrice Kristi Laus, aka Beabadoobee, has true star quality, both live and in the recording studio

From the start the more Dodie-like dreamy nature of her early recordings was cast aside, launching straight into ‘Are You Sure?’ and barely holding back from there. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of room for the acoustic side of her songcraft. But this made for a more full-on live experience.

I told Kristi during our interview I could hear snatches of The Cardigans, The Sundays and Suzanne Vega in her work, and having now caught her live I can add the likes of The Breeders, and maybe Lush and Sleeper at their more raucous.

Kristi’s had a busy 2019 too, releasing a selection of mini-LPs and EPs, and touring the US in support of Clairo, and her live presence appears to be growing accordingly. Yet there was no sign of complacency, the artist more about grim determination at times, only briefly giving us that winning smile, with none of the easy-going between-song banter we experienced earlier on.

In a sense, she seems to have outgrown ‘Coffee’, the track that signalled her arrival, a remnant of a long-ago phase (albeit barely two years back) in her career. It went down a storm, a mass sing-song ensuing, and she delivered it perfectly, but it might have fitted better at the top end of the encore she never had time to claim.

She seems more at home on harder, faster numbers like ‘I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus’, ‘If You Want To’, ‘Disappear’ and ‘Space Cadet’ though, the crowd surging and moshing to their hearts’ content, with more laidback tracks like ‘Apple Cider’ and ‘Ceilings’ taken up a notch, and ‘Angel’ ramped up a little more.

Our Queen Bea ended in top gear with the bass-driven ‘You Lie All The Time’ then a crowd-pleasing show-stopper paying tribute to Eliana, her left-hand woman, ‘She Plays Bass’ providing a neat ending to a cracking night that suggests the future of indie-pop might just be safe in such hands.

Queen Bea: Beabadoobee ruled the roost for this scribe on Dirty Hit’s tour (Photo: Ianthe Warlow & One Great Song)

For WriteWyattUK‘s recent feature/interview with Beabadoobee, head here, and for the latest from Dirty Hit Records, try here or check out the label’s  FacebookInstagram and Twitter links. For more about Beabadoobee, you can follow her FacebookInstagram and Twitter links, and you can also nip over to find Oscar Lang via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and No Rome via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

With thanks for the photographs to Ianthe Warlow and One Great Song, where you can see a parallel review and lots more photos.


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Buzzcocks / Shanghai Treason – Gorilla, Manchester

Higher Ground: ‘God bless you, Pete’. Steve Diggle makes contact on his Manchester return (Photo: Gary M Hough)

It made sense to start my final week of live shows in 2019 with the Buzzcocks, my first two having involved tributes to Pete Shelley, lost to the world a few weeks before.

Back then, the headliners were the Skids and Penetration, both set to join Buzzcocks in June for a long-planned Royal Albert Hall show that took on new meaning over the new year.

Understandably, those Preston appearances included poignant nods to the man himself, Richard Jobson giving it his all on ‘What Do I Get?’ while Pauline Murray’s ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘I Don’t Mind’ proved just perfect.

And then, at the business end of the year, we kind of got the real deal, Steve Diggle’s 21st century Buzzcocks back in the city where it all started for them, and where many others were moved to form bands in their wake, the inspiration well running deep.

I’m not sure if it was ever touch and go that this seminal punk outfit would regroup and return, but from what I gather from Steve they carry on with Pete’s blessing, and this short run of festive gigs with a fresh line-up set out the stall for a new decade.

Perfect Harmony: Steve Diggle, with Chris Remington, as part of a new-look Buzzcocks (Photo: Gary M. Hough)

Besides, Chris Remington (guitar) and Danny Farrant (drums) have 24 years’ service to the cause behind them, so it was only latest recruit Mani Perazzoli (guitar, backing vocals) on trial here. And he passed with flying colours.

So, after the summer’s RAH memorial wake (and a cruise ship warm-up), we had a momentous eight-gig return run – part-tribute, part-glimpse into the future. And punk rock was never about standing still. ‘Nostalgia for an age yet to come’, as a great wordsmith once put it.

This could never be business as usual with just one remaining survivor from their revered Class of ’77 (when they found their feet, post-Devoto). But I guess it never will be again, however determined the current four-piece are to set out their stall for the next chapter of this legendary outfit’s existence.

Some have inevitably voiced doubts about the resumption, but having been part of the band since the start (discounting an early Devoto/Shelley Bolton Tech existence) guitarist and now lead vocalist Diggle has every bit as much right to carry on. And here’s a way to keep those wondrous Shelley compositions alive, from a band who retain that original punk spirit, with a healthy balance on this occasion between heritage/legacy songs and more recent set additions.

The night before the band played Preston, but for me Steve’s first return to his old Manchester stomping ground since Pete’s passing made more sense. And so it turned out, and we were left in no doubt that the star turn here was doing this for all the right reasons, the sheer warmth radiated and mutual love between artist and audience something to see.

Stage Presence: Buzzcocks’ Chris Remington and Steve Diggle on form, Gorilla, Manchester (Photo: Gary M Hough)

When I arrived, a homeless guy outside – yep, welcome to Food Bank Britain, where the turkeys voted for an early Christmas and we seem doomed to five more years of the same gloom – was eager to point me in the right direction, a Big Issue donation duly handed over, my new pal telling me in a rich Manc accent he could tell I was a proper Buzzcocks fan. I begged to differ though. He looked far more the part. What stories he could tell, I bet.

It’s been an issue at recent gigs that the ignorant tend to talk through supports and sometimes even headline acts, but there was no chance of that here, my friend Richard having to wait until folk-punk five-piece Shanghai Treason had belted out a full-on set to recount his Buzzcocks live at Loughborough ’79 anecdote, and how there were barely 30 punters in the main hall for special guests Joy Division.

For their part, Sheffield’s Shanghai Treason were loud and proud, banjo suggesting a Men They Couldn’t Hang meets Pogues vibe, while the singer seemed to bring a hard rock element to proceedings. Either way, they impressed, the determined playing and passion for their craft ensuring the crowd were on their side throughout.

Soon enough, the Rocky theme signalled the main act’s entrance, the grin on the face of Steve – stylishly turned out, as ever – hardly slipping all night, emotions soon kicking in, this punter on a high as the mighty ‘What Do I Get?’ gave rise to first LP opener ‘Fast Cars’, ‘Why She’s the Girl From the Chain Store’, and Devoto-era debut EP mainstay ‘Boredom’, the latter just as powerful 43 years on.

There was a reminder of recent strong fare with 2003’s ‘Sick City Sometimes’ before the glorious sub-two minute punk pop of ‘I Don’t Mind’ and new single ‘Gotta Get Better’, a number that started life as a Diggle solo track a perfect vehicle for this latest phase. Back we went to the debut LP for ‘Autonomy’ before a baggier middle section, 1999’s ‘Speed of Life’ and 2014’s ‘Third Dimension’ teeing up ‘Moving Away From the Pulsebeat’, a snatch of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’ within, Diggle briefly veering from Keith Richards territory to move like Jagger.

Buzz Light: Another Music in a Different Venue as Buzzcocks return to Manchester (Photo: Gary M Hough)

Now and again there was a ‘God bless you, Pete’ aimed above, the legacy of Peter Campbell McNeish truly honoured, his old compadre knowing full well what an honour it was to be the custodian of such great songs … and so many of them.

Steve was clearly enjoying the craic, trading fist-bumps with the devoted, throwing a few Richards-like shapes and delivering those buzzsaw riffs we so love, the now-undisputed frontman giving an impromptu line from Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ before they launched into ‘Fiction Romance’, a mighty jam on ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ and the B-side of the new 45, ‘Destination Zero’, the main set ending with Spiral Scratch‘s ‘Time’s Up’.

I reckon the rider was taking a hammering, with more than a hint of the ‘tired and emotional’ as Steve introduced ‘Love is Lies’ on returning, the man himself admitting, ‘You can take the Manc out of Manchester, but you can’t take him out of the fucking pub!’ I too was on a high, having requested that very song, happy in the knowledge there was a slurred ‘Malcolm’ in his intro, And from there I was in raptures with a glorious take on ‘Promises’, the song Diggle wrote and Shelley kidnapped, his political statement turned into ‘another bloody love song’ … to great effect.

Two more numbers followed from The Way, ‘People Are Strange Machines’ and ‘Chasing Rainbows’, before we were back in our late-‘70s bubble, a crowd-pleasing ‘Orgasm Addict’ followed by Steve’s rowdy masterpiece, ‘Harmony in my Head’, then what else but ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’, tears welling again with those opening chords and lyrics.

Long after the band had departed, Steve remained, shaking hands with all and sundry, chatting some more, the applause continuing. What a night. Buzzcocks past, present and future all in one, back in Manchester, and as vital today as ever.

Twin Guitars: New addition Mani Perazzoli  gets the seal of approval from Steve Diggle (Photo: Gary M Hough)

With thanks to Gary M. Hough for allowing access to photographs taken on his Sony RX100 III on a rare night off. For more of his great work, head here.

For the latest WriteWyattUK feature/interview with Steve Diggle, head here, and for a 2015 chat with Steve, try here. And for details of the new Buzzcocks single and all the latest from the band, head to their website and keep in touch via Facebook.  

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