Protex Interview

Protex were one of the great pop-punk bands from Northern Ireland during the first rush of punk/new wave. To me they were just as exciting as the Undertones, SLF, the Outcasts and the brilliant Rudi. Don’t get me wrong,I loved those bands, but I loved Protex just as much. I remember my brother buying me the compilation album, 20 Of Another Kind and playing the Protex track, I Can’t Cope, over and over.

Protex proved that Irish bands could match the best of the new wave across the water (the compilation also included the Jam, the Cure, and Sham 69…but our boys were as good as any of them at that moment). Patrik Fitzgerald and the Xdreamists were also on it and showed the power and variety of the Irish bands of the punk/post-punk era.

Protex were full of passion and energy and great new songs when I saw them wow the punk rockers in Blackpool. I wanted to know more and the band’s Aidan Murtagh was kind enough to answer my questions.

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Were you into music before punk came along?

I grew up listening mostly to Slade, T. Rex , Dr Feelgood and Thin Lizzy and The Beatles. My older brother had a great record collection and in our house we often heard Lou Reed’s Transformer album. Bowies Aladdin Sane and Hendrix.

The films “That ll be the day “and “Stardust” had an impact on me – I got a love for rock n roll , particularly the Everly brothers ,Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. Eventually got to see The Everly Brothers twice and Chuck once.

Where did you get your records?

I bought my records mostly in Sounds Around, owned by Ivan Martin, the DJ, also at Caroline Music and then when punk came, I went mostly to Good Vibrations record shop.

Did anyone encourage you to play music?

My brother and his mates played guitar and I was excited when I first heard an electric guitar being played in our garage. It was my brother who first taught me a few chords.

I’ve been playing and singing in bands from 14 years old – mostly at youth clubs and at the odd disco. At that time we played mostly Dr Feelgood , Thin Lizzy and Status Quo as well as a few 50s songs.

Any outstanding gg memories?

My first gig I attended was Rory Gallagher in the Ulster Hall in The Early 70s – just after The Blueprint album I think. It was at the height of the Troubles and no bands came to Belfast. It was electrifying. Later got to meet him as a fellow musician in London several times.

Equally memorable was seeing the original Dr Feelgood with Wilko playing at Queens University – I saw them twice. That would have been a few years after seeing Rory. Protex played with Wilko and The Solid Senders at The Marquee, Wardour street in summer 1979.

What inspired you to write songs?

Punk came along with a DIY attitude and I wrote my first song – Don’t Ring Me up which was released on Good Vibes. I suppose listening to it today I can hear Everly brothers, Buddy Holly on speed – people used say this in the early days but I didn’t get it – I was hoping they’d say The Buzzcocks or the Clash. I suppose I can now see it’s a rock n roll song.

How hard was it to get the early gigs for Protex?

It was difficult to get gigs in Belfast back then, especially if you were a punk. Belfast wanted cover bands or Blues bands. Terri Hooley put shows on and was good to us. The main venues were The Pound and Harp Bar. We also did The Dark Space 24 hour event in Dublin at The Project Arts Theatre. We played Mc Gonagle’s in Dublin and later The Cork Arcadia with U2. Later we broke away from The Harp bar in Belfast and did our own tour of youth clubs across the divided city. When we got a recording contract we moved to London. We were one of the first Good Vibrations bands and one of the few to get signed.

You toured a lot with the Boomtown Rats. How did that come about, what were those gigs like?

The husband of our American manager was from Dublin and had managed The Boomtown Rats before Fachtna O’Kelly. Protex needed a high-profile act to tour with. We had our minds on the two biggest pop acts at that time – Boomtown Rats and Blondie. We were unsuccessful with Blondie but got on to the Rats tour. They were at their peak with I Don’t Like Mondays at No 1 in the charts.

The tour was good experience for us and developed us in many ways. B.P. Fallon was also on the tour with Protex so we learned a lot from him in terms of the media side of things as well as presentation. It was a bit of a crazy time for us teenagers.

The Rats were all very supportive. They were a few years older and wiser and it was a good opportunity for us to meet press and media and other bands, celebs and be right in the centre of “The Music Business” and to form an opinion of that business.

Geldof, Paula Yeats and all the Rats were all very good to us . We met a lot of Irish bands and players at the time.

You also toured with Adam and the Ants. Any stand-out memories of those gigs?

The Adam and The Ants tour, I don’t have a lot of memories- I recall Adam Ant was a great guy , very much Punk at the time and their audience were maybe too hardcore from the Protex power-pop. We decided to come off that tour after several dates.

In hindsight I believe a tour with the Buzzcocks would have suited us better than any of the above. There was talk at the time about this but it never came off.

We played two tours of North America including some Canadian dates and that was fantastic. When we arrived in New York it was a breath of fresh air for us, as in the UK in the early 80s thing were changing with skinhead ska and then new romantics. In the New York clubs we were surprised at the reaction we got. The scene was very strong at that time and there were so many clubs. We played Hurrahs, Max’s Kansas City, Tier 3, Irving Plaza to name a few – all the punk clubs we had read about . In the audience at theses pubs and clubs were members of The Ramones and in Max’s, Johnny Thunders. I got to hang out in CBGBs but we never gigged there.

It was nice to return to play New York in recent years too with the current version of Protex. We have a great audience there, and it was in Brooklyn that Sing Sing Records released our Strange Obsession album (after 30 years or so). Today most of the Protex interest is outside UK and Ireland. We just appeal to different markets I guess.

Chas Chandler produced your album. What was that like?

Working with Chas Chandler was a great experience – I was a huge Slade fan and had asked our A and R guy at Polydor to get a producer who would make the same noise for us. Chas was a tough Geordie and had loads of stories about how he discovered Hendrix , about the Animals , Slade and about the Beatles and the swinging 60s. He owned the old IBC studios which he renamed Barn Studios- Status Quo, the Animals, the Beatles, the Small Faces, Slade etc all recorded there so that was a special place to be. He made changes to two arrangements of songs. Otherwise he let us fire ahead. To be honest he wasn’t really in touch with the new wave or punk thing – but was seen as one of the great record producers of the time. Back then it didn’t seem a big deal to us. We were a bit pissed off as he worked us from 9am – 5pm! We had been used to working previous to that in RAK studios with recording sessions until 4/5am……However – the Strange Obsession album end result – Protex in 1980 felt at the end of the recording that we could have done better and we weren’t entirely happy at the time.

Did you feel part of a scene at home or when you moved to London?

I think once we had left Belfast we kind of thought we were out on our own. It cut the Good Vibrations tie and still feels like that today. History has now been re- written. I remember it differently.

When we reached England, we were part of the music business and we didn’t really feel part of a punk movement as such- the whole landscape where we were now was new wave /punk bands but it didn’t feel like a “movement” the way it did in Belfast. We just saw ourselves as PROTEX and felt a rock n roll/punk/ power pop band and just wanted to write songs and play gigs. It was always about the music and attitude of playing the music.

The recent performances and the new songs prove that Protex a very much alive and relevant. In fact, as much as I loved the early singles, the new material feels even stronger.

It’s great to get the chance to play and write again. Once I started playing I realized how much I missed playing and how much I get out of it.

Having come through the years and the experiences, it’s now a bit weird being the only original Protex member left, but I’m getting used to it. I’ve got great players even if the attitude and musical back-grounds differ. We are older.

I still write songs as before and remember every song I write is a Protex song – trying to keep to the original sound. The important thing is that we are not simply a nostalgia band, many people we meet ask us about new songs and that’s important. It keeps the creative thing going. We meet many good bands at gigs and festivals.

Do you remember your favourite bands from back then?

Favorite bands from back in the day – I think my fave would be the Undertones. We played with them many times when Feargal was about, always great live. We played many times with SLF in the Pound in Belfast before they left Belfast. Early Rudi were great and their impact in Northern Irish punk is totally under-estimated.

Michael

Russ Bestley Interview. The Art of Punk

Russ Bestley has established a reputation as one of the great historians of popular music. His specific area is punk, post-punk and DIY music. The 2015 book, The Art of Punk which he co-authored with Alex Ogg is one of the best books ever written about popular music. It includes many of the most original and interesting examples of punk art along with text that places these in context.

In addition, Russ is the editor of the Journal of Punk and Post-Punk which features material from fans, academics and musicians. It captures the key, and often over-looked, aspects of punk and post-punk.

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You are best probably known as lecturer/curator/author on punk and DIY, what motivates you to continue your work celebrating and unpacking the history of punk?

My work broadly spans two subjects – graphic design (particularly visual research methods) and punk (its history, especially UK punk between 1976-84, and the art and design of punk artefacts and ephemera – record sleeves, posters, flyers, fanzines etc). I was a teenage punk fan (which I can see is the question coming up, so I’ll say more about that later), before going on to get more actively involved in the scene for many years until I eventually ended up in a dead-end job driving a forklift truck in a warehouse. I was made redundant at the end of the 1980s (thank god) and decided to go back to college to study art and design as a ‘mature student’. That led to a chance meeting with a tutor who was around the same age as me and who had been involved in the local punk scene for as long as I had, though we had never spoken. He inspired me to study graphic design, and we ended up working together for over 20 years, researching design approaches and practice and collaborating with other designers and activists around the world.

One thing that impacted hugely on me when I began studying again was that tutors identified me as a ‘punk’ and suggested I read some academic books explaining the subculture, such as Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style. The problem for me was that, while it’s an interesting book, it fails to acknowledge the experiences of myself and thousands of others like me – beyond categorising those of us out in the ‘provinces’ as clumsy imitators of the avant-garde cultural elite in the Kings Road in 1976. The ‘hicks from the sticks’, you might say. I guess that triggered a response in me that led to twenty-odd years (and counting) of ‘academic research’. I wanted to provide a counter-narrative, to tell a broader and more inclusive story that acknowledges the wide variety of experiences of punks across the UK (initially) and then more widely. My PhD, Hitsville UK: Punk and Graphic Design in the Faraway Towns, 1976-84, focussed on the design of UK punk seven-inch single sleeves, along with the notion of the punk diaspora – the evolution of different punk styles (musical, visual, stylistic, ideological) across the UK, in part as a reflection of local identities and in part as a reaction to the stereotyping or commodification of ‘punk’ by the media and the music industry.

So, I guess what ‘motivates’ me is still that desire to research and narrate the bigger stories. I also think the central purpose and benefit of ‘Higher Education’ lies in the idea of criticality – critical reflection and critical thinking. In simple terms, that means viewing information or communication with a sense of objectivity (or even healthy scepticism), weighing up evidence, checking facts and sources, identifying rhetorical bias. That, for me, chimes pretty well with my experience of ‘punk’ – questioning authority, holding truth to power.

Were you a fan in the first place?

I was a teenage punk fan, then I played in punk bands, worked as a roadie/humper/sound and lighting technician for live gigs, and spent several years working in a record shop. I was fifteen in 1977, which was a pretty good age to be inspired by the punk explosion, at least in a kind of ‘received’ way… by which I mean, I became a passionate fan of ‘punk’ from reading about it in the music press, hearing punk bands on the radio, buying records when I could get them. That was easier said than done at that time – I grew up in Tunbridge Wells, a small town in the middle of Kent, and our main local record outlets were Boots the chemist (for chart records) and the Rediffusion television rental shop (a box of singles on the counter next to the general electrical goods). My Mum and Dad read the Daily Mail and The News of the World, which were a great inspiration to me: lots of shock-horror stories recounting how disgusting this new craze was, which my parents and grandparents were outraged by – what other attraction do you need as a rebellious teenager? Access to gigs at that time was difficult – I remember saving up from my part time job (cleaning operating theatres in the local hospital) and buying tickets for a gig by Siouxsie & the Banshees with support from The Cure in Lewisham… my Mum found the tickets and destroyed them. She had read in the paper that these punks were all mixed up with Nazis, and was worried that I was going off the rails.

How did you get into music?

I guess like many/most kids I had a passing interest in pop music from a fairly early age. That would have been the very commercial end of Glam Rock I think – T Rex, The Sweet, Slade, Suzi Quatro, that kind of stuff – Top of the Pops, basically. I don’t think I was quite old enough to understand (or discover) the supposedly ‘cool’ bands that influenced early punk – Bowie, Roxy Music, Velvet Underground, Stooges, New York Dolls – I guess I discovered most of that stuff once I was already into punk (77-78) and was being told how important they were. My twin brother and his mates at school got into the regular teenage boy ‘proper’ Rock bands – Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, ELO, Deep Purple, that kind of stuff, but it didn’t appeal much to me. I did like Queen – I guess a halfway house back then between the ‘serious’ Rock acts and the Glam Rock pop stars. Early in 1977 – around January or February – I heard the Stranglers on the radio. The song was London Lady – the flip side to their debut single Grip – and I was hooked. I had read about this ‘punk’ thing in the papers over the previous six months or so, but hadn’t had any opportunity to actually hear it. From there on, I began to seek out channels where I could hear more – Stuart Henry’s Street Heat show on Radio Luxembourg, and a little later on John Peel on Radio One. Punk records were also starting to have a commercial impact – meaning I could find them in Boots or Rediffusion – and even in my Mum’s Freemans catalogue, which began selling chart albums alongside the knitwear and household appliances.

Any particularly memorable gigs?

Lots. Once I escaped my Mum’s clutches enough to get to London or Brighton – the nearest big towns/cities where bands played regularly – I got to see the Stranglers (many times), the Ramones, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Clash, The Damned and quite a few of the bigger punk bands at their commercial peak. I missed out on the Sex Pistols the first time around, which I regretted, but equally as my tastes were maturing and new, smaller punk and post-punk bands were beginning to make their mark, there were lots of opportunities to be there at the start of something new and unique. Early gigs by Killing Joke stand out to me – an incredible experience, an amazing band – 1980-82 was a great time to see them at their creative peak. They are still an incredible live band, I have been following them around for 37 years now. The Stranglers were brilliant back then too – powerful, tight, musical and with a real charisma. The Clash at the Electric Ballroom, Camden, February 1980 – the power kept shutting down as the sound was tripping the decibel meter in the venue, but the gig was a total riot.

Any favourite records?

Again, lots. Hard to pin that question down – I have a pretty big record collection, and a lot of records mean something to me on different levels. Some are just musically or lyrically awe-inspiring, some remind me of people, places and events, some are just slightly ridiculous but manage to make me smile. Still, here’s a few, in no particular order:

Adverts – Crossing the Red Sea (1978)
Alternative TV – How Much Longer (1977), Life (1978)
Rezillos – Can’t Stand the Rezillos (1978)
Killing Joke – Killing Joke (1980), Whats THIS For (1981)
Killing Joke – Nervous System (1979), Wardance (1980)
The Stranglers – Rattus Norvegicus (1977), No More Heroes (1977), Black & White (1978), The Raven (1979)
Flys – Bunch of Five (1977)
Mekons – Where Were You? (1978), The English Dancing Master (1982)
Plastic Bertrand – Ça Plane Pour Moi (1977)
Lurkers – I Don’t Need to Tell Her (1978)
Magazine – Shot By Both Sides (1978)
Wire – Pink Flag (1977)
Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material (1978)
UK Subs – Another Kind of Blues (1978)
Penetration – Moving Targets (1978)
Undertones – Get Over You (1979)
The Wall – New Way (1979)
Zounds – Can’t Cheat Karma (1980), Demystification (1981)
Buzzcocks – Spiral Scratch (1977)
Zounds – The Curse of Zounds (1982)
Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979)
Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1981)
Various Artists Streets (1977), The Roxy London WC2 (1977), They Shall Not Pass (1983)
Undertones The Undertones (1979)
Ramones Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977), Rocket To Russia (1977)
Psychedelic Furs The Psychedelic Furs (1980)
Only Ones Remains (1984)
Hüsker Dü New Day Rising (1985)
The Fall Live At The Witch Trials (1978), Grotesque (1979)
Dr Feelgood Down By The Jetty (1974), Malpractice (1975), Stupidity (1976)

But then there are literally hundreds of others. I’d add classic early singles by Satans Rats, Suburban Studs, Radiators From Space, the Jerks, Blunt Instrument, Nipple Erectors, Desperate Bicycles, Puncture, the Carpettes, the Depressions and loads more as personal ‘favourites’, plus a few later singles by the likes of the Partisans, Demob and Charge, or later still Hüsker Dü, Mega City Four, more Killing Joke, more Mekons etc etc.

Punk history seems to have coalesced around a standard narrative. What are some of the misconceptions about punk? Are any of the ‘great punk stories’ still untold?

Yes, unfortunately I think punk history has coalesced into a standard narrative, as I guess all things do over time. The great shame there is that a lot of the nuance or contradiction, and a lot of what might be called outliers or exceptions to the ‘rule’ get airbrushed out in the process. So punk becomes a ‘London’ thing that involved a small number of highly privileged and/or lucky people who happened to be in the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time to get their fifteen minutes of fame or to witness events that could give them some sense of subcultural credibility for years to come. Meanwhile, the vast bulk of punk fans, participants, contributors or whatever you want to call them were not part of that ‘elite’… Their story (our story) often gets lost in the process. To an extent I guess you could say ‘so what?’ – but I think it is important for any kind of ‘history’ of popular culture to try to reflect the diversity (and contradictions) of a period in time, not to stereotype a narrow definition as written by the ‘winners’.

Misconceptions. Where do I start? Firstly, that punk was some kind of coherent or consistent voice of protest – against authority, against capitalism, against racism or sexism, somehow in tune with what might be termed ‘progressive’ politics in more recent terms. Secondly, that there was a close connection between black and white youth cultures (notably reggae and punk) anywhere more widely than the often well-publicised pockets of activity in West London and a couple of other major cities in the UK. Thirdly (to extend point one), that there is a core philosophy or ideology of ‘punk’ – a myth that has been propagated by some very vocal and influential voices in the US, for instance, and it certainly has had an effect, particularly on younger punk participants who have ‘received’ that set of guiding rules unquestioningly. In some ways that ‘effect’ comes from well outside the punk sphere anyway, as a central part of the ‘progressive’ narrative within contemporary media, advertising and education – the liberal orthodoxy. I’m not necessarily arguing against those principles, but I do find the way that some have become ‘naturally’ embedded within ‘punk’ a little troubling.

Untold stories? Well, I have been calling for some time for historians and academics to look at the role of the music industry and commercial operators in relation to (particularly early) punk – promoters, agents, venue managers, technicians, roadies, marketing and promotions departments, designers, journalists, sound engineers, producers, entrepreneurs… I’d love to see the accounts books, the tour itineries, minutes of meetings with A&R departments. It often feels as though the ‘Year Zero’ rhetoric still stands in relation to this aspect of the industry at least. Obviously the histories of punk movements further afield than the UK and US are rich and varied, and deserve to be recounted – there is some great work going on there, both within academia and through dedicated fans and writers around the world. I guess the more difficult (though in my view more appealing and more rewarding) aspect here is for a writer to try to draw the bigger narrative, to fit it all together. Certainly I have found that with my own work on punk in the wider regions of the UK: many fans (and some writers) focus on a kind of catalogue approach – listing groups alphabetically and assiduously documenting band members, recordings, significant events etc – but they seldom try to draw back and review the bigger picture or draw any conclusions about regional similarities, differences or shared experiences.

What is the motivation behind the journal Punk & Post-Punk?

The journal was launched in 2012 following a conference on Post-Punk at Leeds University. The aim was (and remains) to encourage the academic study of punk and post-punk from a wide variety of perspectives and disciplines, and to publish articles that offer new contributions to knowledge. To date, we have published eighteen issues of the journal (it comes out three times per year), and we have covered a wide range of historical and contemporary punk scenes, critical contexts and related ideas – from the impact of post-punk on Japanese underground cinema to the use of laughter as a device within Cuban punk recordings. The last issue was guest edited by Jim Donaghey and is a whole issue dedicated to punk in Indonesia, for instance, and the next issue will take a critical approach to punk and ‘DIY’, historically and contemporaneously. We try to offer a fresh perspective on the subject and to bring in new ideas and approaches that help to expand our knowledge.

What are you working on at the moment?

Lots of different projects, as usual. One core theme I have been exploring over the past two or three years has been the relationship between punk and humour – by which I don’t just mean ‘comedy punk’ records by the Toy Dolls or whatever, but the more complex interaction between punk and ‘comedy’ (mainstream comedians trying to make jokes about punk, usually unsuccessfully, or punk comic performers employing humour for entertainment) and punk and humour (including the use of satire, irony, sarcasm and black humour as a provocative tool). I’ve written a few articles and book chapters on the subject – most recently for a book on ‘Critical Comedy’ where I outlined the particular use of humour by Killing Joke and Dead Kennedys as a counterpoint to the more overt or obvious comedy of the Pork Dukes or Chaotic Dischord.

I’m still working far too many hours on the journal, and on various design tasks. In the summer I produced a small exhibition on the theme of Punk in the Provinces, to accompany a Punk Weekend event as part of Whitley Bay Film Festival in North East England. Alongside my own graphic display of punk DIY and regional/local records, I produced a large wall print based on pages from Pauline Murray’s scrapbooks of press cuttings from the early days of her band, Penetration. Pauline also has her original hand-made clothes from the mid 1970s, so we displayed them on mannequins alongside photographs of her wearing the same outfits at the Roxy and Reading Festival, and on the cover of NME and Record Mirror. I also designed and wrote a free newspaper entitled Punk in the Provinces: It Was Easy, It Was Cheap, Go and Do It! that was given away at the event. Around the same time I finished designing the third volume in the Tales From the Punkside series of books edited by Greg Bull and Mike Dines, entitled And All Around Was Darkness. I’m just finishing another book chapter on punk and humour, then I will be designing a new book, The Global Punk Reader, edited by Alastair Gordon, Paula Guerra and Mike Dines. Looking ahead, we have a Punk & Post-Punk special issue on the theme of Punk and DIY coming early in 2018, and I am hoping to develop a full book on the theme of Punk Humour.

One theme of your work is that is wasn’t all about London/New York….what has fascinated you about the regional/provincial/global scenes? Anything particularly interesting that you have discovered/learned?

As I said earlier, I guess I’ve always been interested in the regional/provincial scenes in part because of my own history – growing up in Tunbridge Wells (which did in itself eventually produce one punk band that achieved something, the Anti Nowhere League – and more recently Slaves), then moving to Portsmouth in 1980 and getting involved in the punk scene there. I played in one awful band at school in TW, then another band called Doldrums in Portsmouth in the early 80s, whose only notable contribution was to play very loudly and cause as much annoyance as possible in order to get thrown off stage when we played live. I eventually formed a post-punk/hardcore group in 1987 called Watch You Drown. We gigged quite widely in the late 80s and early 90s, and connected with DIY punk scenes in Southampton, along the South Coast to Exeter, across the North from Preston to Bradford, around North Wales and up to Liverpool. We also toured Northern France and traded records and tapes with other bands and labels across Europe and the US – and at that time also the Eastern Bloc, where you couldn’t send any money but could exchange records and fanzines etc. We had a long hiatus when the drummer moved up to Sheffield in the 1990s, but we have been back together again for a few years and we are back recording and gigging, which I really enjoy. So I guess it was quite natural for me to extend my interest in these ‘faraway towns’ when I went back to college and began writing about punk – as a counterpoint to the well-trodden narratives.

You have the eye of a trained artist when it comes to the visual culture of punk… any single/album covers that you find particularly inspiring?

Well, I’m a big fan of Jamie Reid’s work, obviously – to me, the two buses (Boredom/Nowhere) encapsulate everything there is to know about ‘punk’ design. I also love Mike Coles’ work for Killing Joke and the Malicious Damage label – the stark simplicity and bluntness of the KJ Wardance single sleeve and the debut album – and obviously Winston Smith’s work for Dead Kennedys and Gee Vaucher’s stunning illustrations for Crass. I didn’t really understand some of Malcolm Garrett’s work for Buzzcocks at the time, but now I see there is a real intelligence and wit behind the sleeves for What Do I Get? and I Don’t Mind. The early Vibrators singles had great covers, alongside George ‘God’ Snow’s single sleeves for 999 and Barney Bubbles’ work for Stiff and Radar Records. But then I also like a lot of low key and obscure punk sleeves – Terri Hooley’s instant graphics for the debut Victim single, the childish simplicity of the first Toy Dolls EP, Alternative TV’s How Much Longer sleeve, Mekons’ Never Been in a Riot sleeve by Bob Last, Spizzoil’s 6,000 Crazy… Like my favourite records above, it’s hard to pick a shortlist!

Michael

Steve Mack Interview. Stag, That Petrol Emotion and the US punk scene.

 

 

 

 

This was a particularly exciting interview for me. That Petrol Emotion were one of the greatest live acts of all time, and their records captured their musicality, originality, fun, ambition, enthusiasm and ability to construct amazing unique songs.

When I mentioned to one of the stalwarts of Ireland’s independent rock scene, Michael Connerty, that I had just interviewed one of my musical heroes, Steve Mack, I recalled how the Irish rock scene has never produced “another band like That Petrol Emotion”. Michael smiled, and said, no scene anywhere in the world has produced another band like them.

Simply put, That Petrol Emotion, were one of the greatest. In my Top Ten greatest bands for sure. Three of the band, Reamann O’Gormain, Ciaran McLaughlin, Damian O’Neill are now in the outstanding, The Everlasting Yeah!, and were good enough to write brilliant pieces for our book, Favourite Gigs of Ireland’s Music Community. And they say you should ‘never meet your heroes’. It turns out that some of the greatest heroes of Ireland’s DIY and punk scene are also thoroughly decent human beings too!

I won’t go on, but I remember a particularly memorably night when I was lucky enough to finally see one of the all-time-greats, Iggy Pop. The gig was in Birmingham and he was superb, yet the opening band on the night, That Petrol Emotion, were even better. That takes some doing.

The Petrols’ singer, Steve Mack also has a new band, Stag. They make effervescent pop music underpinned by 40 years of men, and women, in platform boots and glitter, stomping their way into the hearts of many pop and rock lovers, and the charts of many countries.

Stag play next Monday night in the Workman’s Club. The decent thing to do would be for legions of music fans to turn up and enjoy a truly spectacular night.

 

Michael: You are best remembered, and most loved, here in Ireland for your dynamic antics with the incomparable, That Petrol Emotion…..how did you get into music in the first place?

Steve Mack: Hah! Well, I was brought up in a relatively musical family. My grandfather wrote musicals, and my dad had a great stereo. I grew up playing the usual assortment of instruments in school – drums, clarinet, sax – and eventually bought and taught myself how to play guitar. I put together a punk rock band for our high school talent show, where we blew folks away, and I was kinda hooked, though being a professional musician didn’t really seem like a viable option.

Did you get any encouragement from friends, family, teachers etc?

Steve: Yes and no – it always came relatively easy for me, but I never practiced so wasn’t very good to be honest. But one night at a college party my friend forgot the lyrics to a Monkees song and asked me to fill in. I did and he told me I should be a singer. I was blown away – no one had ever complimented my musical ability before.

Are there any particular highlights of the Petrols’ days that you look back at with most joy?

Steve: Oh jeez – so many good times. The Feile was one of the highlights, and I’m not just saying that. We were at our peak, and it felt so good. Playing to 80,000 folks in Estonia was mind-bending. Recording our first album, Manic Pop Thrill. Playing in venues in the US where I’d seen my heroes play. Honestly it was such a great, cherished time in my life.

We’re obsessed with punk at this ‘zine…..what did punk mean to you? Did you have any particular favourite records or memories of gigs?

Steve: And well you should be! Punk changed my life. Seriously – I was a suburban new-wave loser, frustrated with life and the political situation in the US, which was dire at the time, though in retrospect Reagan seems almost lovable at this point. And then you hear the Dead Kennedys – and everything changes. You hear Minor Threat. You hear Black Flag. Gang of Four. The Buzzcocks. And you meet people at parties and at gigs in Seattle, and you realize you’ve found your tribe. My tribe, being the folks who went on to be the godfathers of grunge. We all grew up together, partied together, played together.

The thing that drove grunge was that there weren’t that many acts who came through Seattle at the time, so the ones that did we went absolutely bat-shit crazy over. DOA and the Subhumans from Vancouver – great. Black Flag, of course. I was actually hired to be security at a gig that turned into a riot. Me! All nine stone of me at the time. Hilarious. Iggy Pop at the Showbox where the drums caught on fire – epic. The Dead Kennedys. The Damned. PiL. 999. All of these bands were seminal influences on all of us.

Then in 1982 I went and spent a summer in DC, working for a government agency. The drinking age was 19, so I could drink legally! And since it was east coast, so many more bands played there! Killing Joke. The Dickies. Gang of Four. X. Bad Brains (!!!). Government Issue. The Necros. Man, those DC punks were HARD. In Seattle, we stage dived like crazy, but people always caught you, and helped you if you fell down. In DC, guys were literally trying to beat the shit out of you. I guess they were pissed off because they weren’t drinking.

Stag has a swagger and energy that summons up the past as well as the present, you have always seemed alert to how deeply music can affect people. Were there any acts or genres or even scenes that inspired you in particular?

Steve: All of us in Stag have been in a bunch of bands, and have deep record collections. We decided with Stag that we just wanted to make a big, joyous noise – if we ended up wearing some of our influences on our sleeves, who gives a f**k? Besides, the influences we think are obvious people don’t even remember! So we just go with our instincts and make it big, make it rock, and make it hummable. Obviously we love the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, and 70s acts like Cheap Trick and Badfinger, as well as glam bands like T-Rex and the Sweet, hell, even Mud if pushed to admit it. But then there’s a modern edge that recalls Guided by Voices, maybe some Spoon – it’s all a great stew of goodness.

What can Irish music fans expect from Stag?

Steve: We will rock. We will crush. We will jump up and down a lot. And tell really stupid jokes. And drinking. Plenty of that. All good fun, right?

Is the process of making music with Stag different from with the Petrols, if so, in what ways?

Steve: Oh yeah. Though, in fairness, a lot of it probably has to do with age and maturity. Ben London, our lead guitarist, comes up with all the song ideas, but we arrange them as a band. Sometimes I fine-tune the lyrics. The most important thing is that it’s a collaborative process where all ideas are allowed a shot. And Ben is great about letting some songs rise to the top, and others fall by the wayside. We’ve more or less taken the ego out of the process, which makes it a lot of fun.

What would you dream festival line-up be……apart from yourself, what other 5 acts (living or dead) would you include?

Steve: Oh lord – you’ll get a different answer from me every day on this. But for today, let’s make it a Detroit-based festival. So that would be the original line up of the Stooges, the MC5, and Funkadelic. Throw Aladdin Sane-era Bowie as an honorary Detroit member. And of course Stevie Wonder. How about that for a great night?

 

https://www.facebook.com/StagSeattle/

Michael

 

Thursday’s Tunes…in memory of Grant Hart

Husker Du Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely

 

This week’s Thursday’s Tunes are posted with a deep sense of loss.
Apparently Grant Hart from Husker Du has died.

I’m so sad. I never met the man, yet his music touched me in so many ways at different times of my life. Husker Du were my pre-Nirvana Nirvana. Lots of the things that I grew to love in R.E.M, the Replacements and the Jesus and Mary Chain struck me first with Husker Du.
As Michael Heaney and Michael Connerty noted, knowing about Husker Du in mid-1980s Dublin was like tapping into a wild and free American underground full of exciting music, possibilities and unlimited potential.

There was always a hint of hearbreak about Husker Du and Grant Hart’s later music. I know of few sadder, more honest, songs that his 2541.

Here are some memories of what Grant Hart meant to the small Dublin DIY independent music scene and some videos.

Michael Connerty: Such prolific output over those five or so years and so much of it was total dynamite. Before I had any of their records I had this taped off John Peel and must have listened to it about a thousand times!

It’s hard to get going today with the full volume Husker Du soundtrack. One of their unique qualities was their ability to convey intensity, youthful aggression and confusion at the same time as sweetness, melancholy and romance – absolutely perfect for that time of my life.

Michael recalled a night when as a DJ at the Cathedral Club he played Husker Du’s Songs About UFOs. Michael Heaney was one of the only people to dance!

Michael Heaney: I remember that night! I also recall Stan Erraught [Stars of Heaven] remarking on my Huskers badge after some Stars of Heaven gig – it was the first time I ever spoke to him. Back then, knowing bands like Husker Du was almost like a password to a secret, exciting world of music, shared only by a few fellow freaks. Those memories are all bound up with my love of the band. Poor old Grant

Husker Du Makes No Sense At All

 

 

Husker Du Could You Be The One

Husker Du Interview/Retrospective

Grant Hart 2541

 

Green Day Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely [Husker Do cover]

Michael

Thursday’s Tunes: Songs of Inspiration

Petrol Girls
Touch Me Again

Summer’s almost over, sometimes we need a bit of a boost, a bit of inspiration to propel us into the colder months.

This week’s playlist is a reminder of just how diverse and creative the music influenced and inspired by punk was, and is. There are some old classics here, like Masquerade from the Skids, Hong Kong Garden from Siouxsie, Enemies from the Radiators (which is my favourite Irish single of all time), the Ruts with West One (Shine On Me).

Then we have a bit of Scream, showing how hardcore brought a new life and creativity to punk in the early 1980s. Along with Minor Threat, Black Flag, Seven Seconds, Dead Kennedys and MDC, Scream made emotional, direct and turbo-charged music. The clip here feature Dave Grohl on drums in his pre-Nirvana and pre-Foo Fighters days.

Following that we have some of the new bands that are part of the multi-faceted family, Petrol Girls, Heavy Drapes and Interrobang?!.
The we have a bit of Irish music….the mighty Paranoid Visions with the TV Smith, the vital force behind the Adverts.

And finally a really great documentary on the Scars. A brilliant band from Edinburgh who like to many other artists of the era were influenced by Bowie and Roxy Music and then found the spark of creativity from the Pistols and the Clash to create their own sound.

Michael

The Skids Masquerade

Siouxsie and the Banshees
Hong Kong Garden

The Radiators
Enemies

Ruts
West One (Shine on Me)

Scream
Feel Like That

Petrol Girls
Touch Me Again

Interrobang
I’m So Taciturn

Heavy Drapes
Into The Blue

Paranoid Visions with TV Smith
Outsider Artist

Scars
Documentary

The Future of Punk: Heavy Drapes Interview

Has punk lost its energy and direction after 40 years?
Has it become a formula?
Can you combine influences as diverse as Crass, the Damned, Hanoi Rocks and Morrissey?

The new Scottish rockers, Heavy Drapes, combine a punky energy and style with a brash attitude and songs that pack a mighty punch. Live, as I watched them in front of a large crowd from the punk community in Blackpool, I was moved by their great songs, great sound and absolute commitment. I wanted to know more about them, and the band’s singer, De, was decent enough to answer some questions from me. I was impressed with his honesty. He wasn’t trying to be a ‘spokesman for a generation’, he was just trying to make music for his mates. Music with integrity and fire and passion. No compromises. No rock and roll fantasy. And that’s refreshing in 2017.

Michael: What are Heavy Drapes trying to achieve?

De: Short term, to write a set of songs that make people sit up and take notice. To record those songs and deliver an album which is viewed as something special. That’s where we are at the moment, playing the songs live to the people who want to hear them and then recording them.
We’ve achieved all the stuff needed to get us to this point, like grabbing people’s attention by being bloody good at what we do, shouting about it, reminding people that rock music doesn’t need to be dull, it can be dangerous, glamorous and fun.

Long term, as above with some cash behind us and on an international level.

It’s all about the music, nothing will be achieved with a shit album.
What other front-men/women have inspired you?
Very few to be honest. Iggy, Rotten and I’m struggling after that. There’s a number I’m interested in coz they deliver good chat, like Morrisey, Liam Gallagher, Ian Brown. They talk about stuff I can relate to.
I wanted to be a front-man because learning an instrument wasn’t for me but it was an attractive outlet to express myself.

What career highlights so far are you happiest with?

De: That changes week on week. Right now, it’s the success of the Rebellion show, the actual gig and the mountain of good stuff which has come on the back of it. To go from opening for 999 in front of 80 people (which was a great gig) to pulling over 2000 in the Empress Ballroom, all in 18 months with only a 4 track EP under our belt, is astonishing. How did that happen?

Punk was about style and politics as well as music…has style always been important to you personally?

Yes, more so than the politics. I was only a boy when punk grabbed me, it was the visual aspect mixed with high energy rock that got me hooked. Yeah, I was much more interested in a nice pair of trousers than I was with what ‘Anarchy’ actually meant. That wasn’t any different from my mates. We got into punk coz the bands poked fun at the stuff our big brothers liked. We loved the Damned too, the first album. The Clash were never big round my way. No one sounded as dangerous as Sex Pistols or the Damned; I wasn’t aware of Iggy & the Stooges until later.
All said and done. I got well into a bit of Crass; they nailed it visually and musically for me on the Stations of the Cross album.

 

When did you start going to gigs…..what gigs stand out for you?

Gigs in my early teens happened but when you don’t have your own cash, you need to be choosey. Possibly the most painful moments for me as a teenager were the times I didn’t have the cash for a show or being too young to get in.
The first time seeing the Damned was pretty exciting. It was absolutely believable to me that Vanian could jump off stage and suck my blood. They looked like a bunch of nutters, it was really appealing. These nutters delivered a perfect first album.

Brigandage, Boys Wonder, Sid Presley Experience, Hanoi Rocks, they’re all in my head at the moment, so they must be special. Public Image Limited the first time they toured; buzzing I was. And Oasis back in 1995 when they played Irvine Beach in a circus tent, there was something special happening, you could feel it.

Sex Pistols 1996 Glasgow, they looked and sounded like a big, fuck off rock band. Sex Pistols again at Crystal Palace, Birmingham, Brixton, Loch Lomond and Hammersmith. I’m a sucker for the big tunes.

5 favourite singles

Easy and without hesitation. Anarchy In The UK, God Save The Queen, Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols), Problem Child (The Damned), Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (Ramones).

5 favourite albums

I only have 3 albums where every single track gives me goosebumps; Never Mind The Bollocks, Damned Damned Damned and [Iggy and the Stooges] Raw Power.
The other 2 would have to be, ummmmm! Ramones 1st and Stooges/Fun House.

Why has punk remained so vital to people?

I don’t have the answer to that. The punk that’s out there at the moment isn’t vital to me, I’d rather listen to nothing. We formed Heavy Drapes to give our mates a band to come and see coz they were moaning about everything being a bit dull. The more shows we did, the more people were telling us the same thing. We’re 4 guys in a rock band who like a bit of early punk rock and we’re stirring things up because we’ve taken the time to think about what we’re actually doing. It’s vital to the people who like us that we do well and don’t self-destruct, they’ve bought into us but that’s not a punk thing, that’s a music thing. Nope, lost with that one.

How are you carrying on the punk ‘tradition’?

By stealing the bits we like and moving forward. I’ve never thought of it as tradition, I just think if you’re going to use bits and pieces from the past to create something fresh then why not the good bits? I’m not going to be inspired by Rancid, then try and sneak a beard into punk. I’d rather have the awareness to know that Stiv Bators with a beard would have been laughed at. It’s like, punk has become so far removed from what it was. It’s like the hippies have taken over. We exist to show that it doesn’t need to be like that, it can have a bit of style and swagger.

So there you have it. Heavy Drapes, a new band with roots in punk. With songs full of sinew and muscle, blood and guts. And if their roots are in punk, they are not just wallowing in nostalgia, looking at the punk past, in fact, they may be the future of punk.

Even better, they have just enlisted Paul Research. Many of remember the brilliant but short-lived band, Scars. In my opinion, Paul was one of the best of the post-punk guitar players, with a distinctive sound, full of electricity and imagination. Scars played a diverse, daring style of New Pop and played a brilliant set in the Dublin’s Project Arts Centre with The Atrix in 1981. A gig that lives in the memory.

Michael

Interrobang‽ Interview

 

How do you follow up on the most unlikely global hit pop song ever?

A song, perhaps best known for the infectious chorus, ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again’, scorched across the global pop charts some years ago. Its title was Tubthumbping and the collective responsible for it were Chumbawamba previously known only to the DIY music community.

Interrobang‽ are the new band from two members of Chumbawamba, Dunstan and Harry, yet the sound couldn’t be more different. That’s says a lot about a commitment to be creative, innovative and experimental. Onstage they are dynamic and thrilling, combining just the sounds of guitar and drums with Dunstan’s vibrant, expressive talk-songs.

Because the guitar is such a vital part of the band’s sound, yet avoids most of the clichés and limitations of rock guitar, I wanted to know more about it. It reminded me of the intensity of Fugazi and even the Ruts or the interesting bits of Bauhaus in places, so I asked the Interrobang‽ guitar-person Griff and here’s what he had to say.

 

 

 

Michael: For me, Interrobang‽ came as a complete surprise. I’d seen two-piece bands with a drummer before, going back to House of Freaks circa 1989, yet Interrobang‽ was captivating, even revolutionary. Musically speaking, can you recall any acts that gave you a similar feeling, overwhelming you by being original without feeling like a gimmick?

Griff: I love that feeling when you discover a new band that makes you throw out everything you previously understood, and makes you want to set sail on a new course. I felt like that when I first heard Public Enemy in the 80s. A friend leant me It Takes A Nation Of Millions on cassette and it was all I listened to for about a month, it blew my teenage mind. The noise, the words, it was something totally new to me and it seemed to make so much other music I was listening to at the time redundant.

 

How difficult is it for you as a musician to compose for a lyricist/performer who seems to have a very strong sense of how to perform his lyrics?

Griff: Our process for writing the Interrobang‽ material was very much a collaborative effort. The initial batch of 4 songs were created in a room as a live band, using improvisation as the main way to generate sounds. Dunstan would start reciting/shouting the lyrics at a tempo and vocal pitch that was right for him and I would respond with whatever felt right in the spur of the moment. We recorded what we did so that we could pick and choose the things that were working after the event. Even so, quite a few of the songs just came out fully formed that way. I think Curmudgeon and Billingham just happened without us having to change very much, we just used the recordings to learn exactly what we had played on the initial attempt. Obviously slight improvements and tweaks to the guitar parts happened as the songs all found their space over time, but the structure and essence of those two songs just arrived fully formed.

Geographical limitations meant that we had to find other ways of writing as the project started becoming more serious as I was in Leeds, and Dunstan in Brighton. After the initial batch of songs we moved to a process where I would record improvised guitar parts and ideas in isolation and add them to a Dropbox folder. Dunstan would then pick and choose the ideas that he felt best suited the mood and tempo for songs as he generally had a good idea of how he wanted to deliver the lyrics he had. He would then chop up my guitar ideas and put rough vocal takes on top using garage band i think? I would then get those Garage Band versions from Dropbox and then try and play his arrangements again as a song, maybe changing a few things here and there. This would then go back in the Dropbox and Dunstan would then add his vocal again, maybe moving guitars around again. We’d go back and forth like this until we had a finished song of guitars and vocals. i was always keeping an eye on the parts to make sure that it was something I could recreate live using the loop pedal, as we were very much focused on the live presentation of the songs for the first couple of years. The idea of how to record them came much later. We deliberately made the decision not to think about the recordings until we had played as many live shows as possible. We wrote 12 songs in this way before Harry joined the band on drums.

 

Can you tell us a little about how you actually create your sounds in the live shows?

Griff: My technical set up is very simple as far as the sounds I create, as I don’t use any pedals to influence the personality of the sound in any way, it’s just the Les Paul plugged into the amp, well… 2 amps 🙂

In the initial rehearsals I tried to do everything using a single guitar amp. I’d start looping and then would play live guitar lines over the top of the loop but it was immediately apparent that that wasn’t going to work as the drums had to follow the loop rather than the other way around. It was impossible to do that with the live guitar playing over the top, we kept losing track of where the loop was and things would fall apart.

So, I did a bit of research and bought a Radial Tonebone Twin-City Active ABY Switcher pedal. This let me send the guitar to 2 separate outputs. You can send to output A, or to output B, or A AND B at the same time. I sent output A to the loop pedal and then the loop pedal could have its own dedicated amp. Then when i played my live lines on top I could switch to output B going to a second amp and that way the loop amp was playing LOUD right next to the drums, with no live guitar obscuring the loop. Now it was possible for Harry to follow the loop without things getting out of synch. It still wasn’t easy to do, and it required a great deal of skill form Harry, especially as we drop the loop out in sections and need to maintain tempos so that when the loop comes back in things don’t fall over, but Harry managed to do it with some practice.

It wasn’t until we got all of this working that I realised that I could voice the amps in a way that would sound amazing when both amps are playing the same sounds (ie. when the loop drops out). I make sure the loop amp is quite clean, with a lot of attack, to make it easy for Harry to hear and follow, but the live amp has a bit more gain like a traditional rock sound. The result when you play power chords through both of the amps is a big part of the Interrobang‽ sound.

 

How did you come to fall in love with the guitar in the first place?

Griff: I was always very musical as a kid and was playing violin from the age of about 7 in primary school. My friends were always surprised how I could pick up an instrument and play any tune that they named, it was like a party trick. I started playing guitar when I was about 11 when a guitar playing friend of mine asked me to help him work out the chords for ACDC Back in Black. Once I’d worked it out I couldn’t put his guitar down, and ended up getting my own £60 Kay’s guitar a few months later for Christmas from a second-hand shop at the end of my street. I never put it down from the day I got it. I spent a lot of time working out guitar parts from cassettes I had of The Buzzcocks, SLF, Sex Pistols, The Damned and plenty of others.

 

I’ve read a bit about your ‘mood boards’ (I am a teacher and this is very exciting to me, as lots of my students aren’t rewarded by the standardised education system). Can you tell us more about how you use the mood boards as a road map?

Griff: The mood board was the idea we had on the night that we formed Interrobang‽
Dunstan told me that he had all these lyrics ready, and when he told me what they were about I immediately wanted to help him put something together to deliver them to an audience. I didn’t want to push my musical ideas onto him, as i knew he would have strong opinions about how he was expecting it to sound, so I suggested to him that he make a compilation CD of songs and bands that he thought we should be referencing. It was so useful for me as it was a very coherent compilation and I was inspired by it instantly, having lots of ideas about what to do. The keystone of the mood board for me was the Gang of Four and Wire songs. I knew it had to be anti-rock, brittle, insistent, and intense.

The other very important influence on there, and the one that pretty much dictated, and helped me to develop, a specific guitar style for the project was Dr Feelgood. To be honest I have stolen Wilko’s approach and style on the guitar, and then added a few inflections of my own. I decided to put a few rules in place for my parts, to try and spell out the anti-rock thing. Self-imposed rules included; NO bending of the strings, NO hammer ons, NO pull offs, NO solos, EVERY note was of equal importance so I took Wilko’s relentless up/down strumming pattern and applied it to single notes on single strings. I tried to make it as robotic as possible to emphasise the motorik nature of the sound that you get when using loops.

There were other things on the mood board which didn’t influence my playing style as much but were more influential in an atmospheric aspect. Things like Beefheart and Tom Waits.
The mood board was a great way to start the project and it was good to communicate with actual sounds and songs rather than dialogue which can leave too much room for mis-understandings and conflicting assumptions. I really think that this helped us get to the interrobang‽ sound quickly and without too many wrong turnings.

 

Not everyone is familiar with your past history, what parts of your music career have shaped you, and what you bring to Interrobang‽

Griff: I’ve played in a wide range of musical projects throughout my life, and it would be hard to find a consistent musical approach or thread through them all. I’ve usually been a facilitator of other people’s ideas though.

The musical project I was working on directly before the Interrobang‽ project was an improvised psych rock 3 piece that was all about the loop pedal. I’d just come out of a singer-songwriter band before that and I was sick of spending rehearsals discussing what should happen when, rather than actually playing. We were called The Other Things and we would play for 4 hours solid once a week. We’d record the entire 4 hours and then edit it into a 40-minute album, and stick it on Bandcamp. I was exploring what I could do with the loop pedal in that project, so when Interrobang‽ started I knew I wanted to put some of those techniques to use in a different context.

 

To me, Interrobang‽ is a form of mash-up, with music meeting a dramatic vocal performance. Can you think of any other cultural mash-ups that you admire/appreciate?

Griff: Hah, that’s funny that you use the word “mash-up” because the only other musical collaboration the I’d had with Dunstan was in the early 00s when we worked together to put out a white label of a mash up that I had created. I was in London at the time and I’d made a bunch of tracks where you take accapellas or instrumentals of popular songs and mash them together to make new songs. I’d made one that mashed together Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” with Happy Monday’s “24 Hour Party People”, basically it was Sean Ryder doing his thing on top of the Kylie groove, with Kylie singing the chorus’. Dunstan loved it and set up a little label and we made 1000 white labels of it, and then drove round London record shops selling them to shops out of the boot of a car. It was a lot of fun.

I think we also tried to do something similar using lots of post punk 7” singles that Dunstan had, but tried to add his vocals on top, a bit like the early Sleaford Mods stuff that Jason did before Andrew Fearn was on board. I can’t remember why we didn’t get very far with that project, but it didn’t really come to fruition. I think I have some recordings on a hard drive somewhere of that stuff. I might have to go and dig it out to see what’s there!

 

Did any punk records/groups/statements make an impression on you? Any punk records or acts that stand out for you?

Griff: I was born in 71 so was too young to get any of the first wave of the punk thing as it happened. But I did go digging through the punk sections in local record shops as a teenager in the mid 80s and loved all the big names that were available there. The first gig I ever went to was Public Image Ltd at Manchester Apollo, it was quite a daunting experience as I was about 15. Most of my friends at the time were either into indie stuff like The Smiths and The Cure or into Led Zepellin and Pink Floyd. I loved all that stuff too.

One record that made a big impact on me was Rudimentary Peni’s Death Church. When I saw the hand drawn cover in a shop in Affleck’s Palace in Manchester I was intrigued and bought it straight away. I didn’t really understand the context of that record, knew nothing about the anarcho punk scene, but it totally engulfed me. It was so dark and was like nothing else I had ever heard. Quite psychedelic in a way.

When I was older at the end of the 80s I moved to Newcastle and met a new crowd who were all into American hardcore stuff. Minor Threat totally blew my mind because of their straight edge stance and total commitment to their message. I shaved my head and tried to adopt some of their approach for a while, but struggled with the straight edge thing, haha.

One of my favourite bands that I discovered around that time, and one that I think has a huge influence on how I approach the Interrobang‽ songs was NoMeansNo. The “Wrong” album was, and still is, one of my favourite albums.

https://www.facebook.com/intrrbng/?ref=br_rs

 

Interview: Kim Clark Champniss. “Joy Division Changed My Life.” Canadian author talks about punk, interview techniques, music and life. And shows what to do when John Lydon walks out of a Sex Pistols interview!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6FLkt9gD7I


9781459739239[1]

One of Canada’s most celebrated music experts, KCC is probably best known as a broadcaster, both on radio and TV. Yet beyond the music there is the man, and his autobiography is a gripping account of a life lived at times in the margins of society where music is a constant companion and driving force. Although it is not a music book per se, it sparkles with particular brightness when Champniss is recounting his teenage dalliances with bikers and skinheads, punks and new wavers as well as night club citizens. In fact, youth subcultures seem to be the signposts on the forgotten byways along which he travelled intrepidly. His enthusiasm for his beloved Fulham FC has evidently never diminished.


 The enthusiasm he had for great disco and soul records throbs in the early part of the book, while his Damascene moment when he encounters Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ reminds us that this was an Englishman in the New World with a box of records under his arm; a man on a mission to play music that inspired and consoled people, or just made them want to dance.


 His razor sharp observations make the characters brim-full of energy, his encounter with a successful academic book seller is Charles Dickens meets Hunter Thompson. Who knew the world of traveling salesmen was more rock and roll than rock and roll itself?




 Naturally, the book made me want to know even more about the man and the music. He was generous enough to answer some questions about his life and work.



KCC Q+A

Music seems to be a guiding, sometimes chaotic, hand in your life why do you think you were captivated by music so deeply and for so long?


 Pop music captured me very early. It never let go. It was a combination of not only the power of song, but of the culture that grows up around it: rebellion, sex, individuality (and, paradoxically, tribal), energy, and the love of dance. To be knowledgeable about pop/rock gave you entre into a new world, valuable currency as a teenager.


 You mention the advent of punk in London, what was it like to sense this new wave of youth culture gathering?


 I had returned to London just after the famous Sex Pistols interview with Bill Grundy in December 1976. My family, and English friend, asked me, the music guy, what my thoughts were on this new thing. At the time I was immersed in disco, and dismissive of what I thought was an extreme element in music. But then I began to see the influences in not only music, but fashion, design, and attitude. Within a year the repetitive nature of disco weighed on me. “What this town needs is an enema” comes to mind. I began to welcome the radical change.


 Punk quickly splintered into ‘new wave’, do you have any particular fond memories of that new soundtrack to the early 1980s?


 As a successful night club DJ in the late 70s I became bored with the repetitive nature of the 4/4 beat. Soings such as “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” (Ian Dury), “Ca Plane Pour Moi”(Plastic Bertrand), “Money” (Flying Lizards), and “Planet Claire” (B-52s) began to creep into my music set. The Vancouver Sun came to the club I worked at – took a photo of the small group of new wavers who took the floor when I played those tunes, and then printed a story about Disco on its last legs. Under the photo they had the caption “New Wave punk rockers take over Pharaohs in Gastown”. I lost my job. But New Wave pointed me in a new direction. Joy Division changed my life.


 You are remembered for your excellent documenting of punk rock on TV, can you tell us more about how that came about?


 I was working for the TV show “The NewMusic” in the early 90s. My boss, the late John Martin, when he started the show in 1979, documented the early Toronto punk scene, and the punk bands playing Toronto. (There is the famous 1979 Clash interview at the O’Keefe Centre. The Undertones opened). John wanted me to go through the archives and tell the story of punk utilizing all those great early interviews, plus update them with new ones, which I did. The result was ‘Punk 76-79”. I was surprised by the incredible response. It hit at just the right time.


 What did you learn about punk when doing that?


 I learned just how important Toronto was to the Punk scene in North America. New York, Boston and Toronto were the epicentres.


 Do you recall any punk records/gigs that stand out?


 “Homicide”/999. “London Calling”/The Clash...and of course Joy Division’s music.


 What do you think punk’s legacy was?


 Punk changed the world...not as a musical legacy, but as the D.I.Y. attitude. It de-mystified the music industry. It empowered the creative urge. It empowered the person. It shook up society.


 You have interviewed some of the most legendary, as well as lesser-known acts (I recall you as one of the first people to sense that Alanis Morisette would go the distance…) what do you think makes for a ‘great artist’?


 Talent, luck, right timing, right team, commitment. Context. Things are best understood by the context in which they find themselves. The same applies to artists.


 What makes a great interview?


 Do your homework. Listen. Listen. Listen. Provided the subject is willing to talk, the interviewer can feed off the answers, and then ask fresh questions. Break the media mould.  Hopefully, something fresh is revealed, not just to the audience, but maybe to the subject themselves.


 How did you prepare for them and do any stand out in particular?


 I research as much as I can. I listen to as much music as I can. Here are the interviews that stand out for various different reasons:
 1) Joni Mitchell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oqUYMkOp4M
 2) U2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I7zibFNrF4
 3) Sex Pistols: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6FLkt9gD7I



What advice would you give to anyone considered a music industry career?


 Don’t do it. But if you must, commit to it with all your heart...and be prepared. “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” Hunter S Thompson.

Michael

Paranoid Visions talk about Rebellion festival


One of the most-talked about events at the Rebellion festival this year was the collaboration between Steve Ignorant from Crass and Dublin’s punk stalwarts, Paranoid Visions. They took to the stage in front of one of the biggest crowds of the festival. For anyone who has been following Paranoid Visions since their early days this was an unlikely triumph. They struggled to get gigs in their home-town of Dublin when punk was a dirty word and punks bands were barred from just about every Dublin venue. Paranoid Visions persevered though and gained the respect of the international punk community. In fact, the band are largely responsible for the current thriving punk community in Ireland. I asked Peter Jones (P.A. Jesu) from the band some questions about the ‘Blackpool triumph’.

How did it feel playing in front of thousands of people on Saturday?

I was very nervous to be honest. Most of those songs have lived with me for almost 40 years so I know how much they mean to people, not least myself. What made it worse was we had opened a floodgate and the buzz seemed to be quite strong about the show. Steve holds those songs so dearly to his heart that he always wants to do them justice. But hearing the roar as we came out, listening to the “bomb tape” crass used to use live and kicking into Owe us a Living and just hearing the power of the live sound and seeing the delight on people’s faces calmed me within seconds. It was a really special 50 minutes I have to say!!! Those songs are deceptively difficult, crazy structures and dynamics and a very accomplished and original rhythm section!

 

Did it feel surreal considering how ‘far away’ punk felt when you went to that first Poison Girls gig?

Not really, over the intervening years we / I have grown into it and that initial introduction to the diy, no stars, no barriers approach of true punk is in my blood I suppose. But that being said, afterwards, I was thinking about it and wondering exactly how I had reached this stage!

 

How did the connection with Steve Ignorant first come about?

Steve always gets asked this too. And the answer is that we just kind of assimilated him! I promoted the Dublin gig for his Last Supper tour and we were supporting him in Manchester. We just kind of hit it off, he liked the clear chaos that surrounds us and we weren’t tongue tied around him so we are easy to get along with. We were asked to support in New York but when their visas fell through we were left high and dry with flights booked and only local gigs to do, so he felt obliged to pay us back with the support at the final show in Shepherds Bush.

After the gig we were chatting and I said we had a song (Split Personality) that needed his delivery style and we were struggling to get it right. So he said “fuck it, I’ll do it if you want”. So we arranged for him to come over and stuck him in a studio to do it and also suggested we did another one, “rock n roll n revolution”, for a single Louder than War records wanted from us. Done and dusted in 2 hours including tea break. Later that night he explained how he really enjoyed working with us like that as it reminded him of recording Stations of the Crass… get in, get it done, get out! And said any time we want to do more he’d be up for it. So then it just steam rolled…..the proposed ep became an album, one off gig at Rebellion led to tons of offers, many of which we turned down and continue to turn down if it doesn’t suit (we turned down a lot of money for Punk Rock Bowling in LA as Steve had 2 Slice of Life gigs already booked…. !). I think the relationship is long-term even after we all retire from live duties we will nestle in studios to create music together!

 

Can you tell people who missed it what you performed?

The idea was to do songs that encompassed Steve’s 40 years singing in punk bands plus a nod towards the scene he helped create through crass, so we have songs there from Crass, Conflict, Stratford Mercenaries, Schwartzenegger and with ourselves. Plus Poison Girls, Dirt and Flux of Pink Indians songs because we all loved them so much and thought it may increase the party/celebration feel.

Owe us a living
Securicor
Join the dots
Banned from the roxy
Hiroshima
Where is love
Charity begins at home
So what
What a shame
Berkshire cunt
No more running
Braindance
Persons unknown
Big a little a
Tube disasters

 

Yikes…..

I have seen the audience for P.V. grow every year at Rebellion, what was it liked playing there this year?

It was amazing. I thought our crowd might be compromised as we were technically overlapping with DOA, the Members, the Professionals and Slaves… plus we were playing the following day with Steve. But we jammed the venue to capacity. I don’t really know, but the reaction commercially and critically to the past few records has been better than ever so maybe the new breed of punk rockers are getting into us too or maybe its an audience outside the UK and Ireland that’s finding out about us.

Is this the most stable line-up the bad has had? To me it feels like the most vibrant/powerful.

Absolutely. We’ve always been a bit of a revolving door. We have traditionally had adequate musicians who really understood what we were doing, or great musicians who didn’t, or in some cases musicians who had no concept of what we are about…. But for 5 records and 4 years we have had the perfect combination of terrific musicians who completely understand what being in this band involves and why we do it. They also embrace the musical diversity and have a style of their own which fits really well. It’s the best and most stable line up we have had. And that shows in the records and gigs we’ve done.

 

What other bands were highlights for you this year?

Interrobang continue to prove they are the best band in the UK. Slaves blew me away. TV Smith, UK Subs and Ruts DC were as astonishing as ever. Bad Religion are amazing and I was so pleased to see them for the first time.

 

What’s next for Paranoid Visions?

We are writing the next album “Dog Eat God” for 2018 release. Pushing the ante even further with this one. One track, Alphabetti Spaghetti will have 26 guest vocalists. We cut down on gigs this year and will continue this practice next year so everything we do feels like an event. We are also working on plans for a short tour with Steve and are entertaining offers from several territories before deciding which to do!

 

What’s happening with the new punk bands in Ireland?

Lots of great local bands as always. The Lee Harveys, the Black Pitts and I Am A Carcrash continue momentum and will all likely have releases over the next year. We are also starting a series of singles called “No Romance” (continuation of the Advance Records and Dando Sessions themes). This will consist of a 4 band 4 track split ep to serve as an intro to the individual 3 track ep releases by each band to follow in the wake. Volume 1 will have Audible Joes, the Turn, the Gakk and the Nilz on it. We are talking about a UK bands one afterwards. There will be a common theme throughout for artwork and presentation so they become collectable.

Michael

Gareth Murphy on early punk, entrepreneurs and women

 

One of the best books about the music industry is Gareth Murphy’s Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Music Industry.

More than just a standard history, the book focuses on the individuals who made huge changes to the industry. People who founded record labels, often as D.I.Y. enterprises on a shoe-string budget. It is fascinating, and inspiring, to learn how these people started their labels, made decisions, nurtured talent and brought us some of the music we love the most.

Gareth’s parents were two of the most interesting entrepreneurs of Ireland’s counter-culture. His mother had a fashion stall in the legendary Dandelion Market in Dublin in the 1970s, and his father was a music promoter responsible for bringing bands like the Ramones to Dublin. Crucially they were responsible for staging Dublin’s first major rock festival in 1977. It featured Thin Lizzy, Graham Parker and the Rumour, the Boomtown Rats and the Radiators From Space. As such, it was a key moment in Ireland’s rock as well as punk culture.

In the new issue of Long Live Vinyl magazine, Gareth has a lengthy article on the early punk moment. Just as he did with Cowboys and Indies, he looks at punk with a fresh perspective and highlights the significant contribution of behind-the-scenes individuals like Danny Fields, the early Ramones manager.

Gareth very kindly answered some questions for us about his punk research. Interestingly, he notes that some of the most successful and innovative music entrepreneurs had a background in punk. He also identifies how Richard Branson’s Virgin empire got a major boost from punk.

What was the most interesting thing you discovered/learned when you were researching the piece?

Well, over the last five years, I’ve pretty much been around the block when it comes to punk. I’ve talked to a lot of key players and had to look at punk from different angles – both in the UK and from an American perspective. At the end of it all, what you come away with is a sense of all the mythology. Blagging seems to be a core feature of punk. Punk was, and remains, a great news story. It never sold that many records. I’m sure it’s sold far more newspapers, magazines and documentary grant applications. So, it’s unique in that regard, and you have to cut through the fibs and be forensic.

Writing this piece, I had to condense everything down to a definitive essay. Although I was given 2,500 words, I didn’t have the space to pirouette around diplomatically. I had to pour the main points into the given pages and be damned with it. So I guess what I learned is that I don’t care if I’m offending anyone.

If punk mythology has thrived unquestioned for so many years, it’s because so many writers have stars in their eyes and keep giving these punks free rides. I definitely don’t have any stars in my eyes. Not anymore. It’s a snake pit of professional bullshitters and I can prove it.

What songs/albums from that early punk era do you go back to and listen to most?

It’s the “punk-not-punk” bands that I like the most. The Stranglers would definitely be my favourites to come out of that whole scene.

Although, I really wonder if they count as punk. Listen to their keyboard player, Dave Greenfield, who is very much a virtuoso, almost in that prog tradition that punk supposedly hated. He’s a genius who made many of their songs so good.

Talking Heads are another example of a band who surfed that punk wave, initially, albeit somewhat sideways. I think they were a really important group who I happily listen to today. Blondie I love, but again their best stuff was not punk at all. I actually can’t stand their first punk album. Same goes for Ian Dury. He’s the original London punk, isn’t he? And what a hilarious poet, but the Blockheads were the opposite of punk.

Musically, I don’t really like raw punk. What I do find interesting, musicologically, is how it was a reaction to corporate rock and hippie uniformity. It’s a great story as a cultural event. I definitely get the joke and can recognize how it put energy and meaning back into the music business. As a clothing fashion, I love it, too.

My problem is that I’m a musician, so there’s only so much Sex Pistols or Ramones I can listen to before I get bored. That said, in a party or a particular situation, one well placed joker like “God Save The Queen” or “Blitzkrieg Bop” can work a treat. Very much a question of context and what was happening before.

Your family ‘had a seat at the table’ with those early punk bands…any stories that stand out?

My parents were gig promoters, so the anecdotes I heard tended to be horror stories. The laughter was always mixed with due shock. My father, Pat Murphy, organized that famous Ramones gig in the State Cinema in Phibsboro [Dublin]. He was taken to court because fans ripped up the seats and threw them in the air. The venue was trashed and I think he may have lost money in the end.

Generally, the punk gigs got so violent, they had to get metal detectors at the door, and at one, they found a meat cleaver in someone’s trench coat. Gobbing and stage invasion was in vogue, so bouncers had to guard the stage while being gobbed all over. Apparently, on the front line, punches were flying in all directions.

I was too young to see the gigs, but I do remember the stress at home, because as promoters, my folks were taking all the risk. They were terrified someone would die from a stabbing or being crushed. This was a perfectly reasonable nightmare scenario because at the side door emergency exits, dishonest bouncers were letting people in for cash. The venues were dangerously over-packed and no matter what my parents did, it was always terrifying mayhem. In the Olympic Ballroom, nutters used to dive off the balcony onto the people below.

Were there any women entrepreneurs that have been forgotten about by the standard histories?

I can’t think of any truly game-changer women managers or label heads. The music business has always been male dominated and largely still is. As my mum put it: “women aren’t stupid enough to take such crazy risks.” However, there was the New York journalist Lisa Robinson who in 1975, alerted Danny Fields about the Ramones. She was one of the very first players who sensed something happening. A bit later, there was Linda Stein who, on Danny Fields’ invitation, co-managed the Ramones.

On the fashion side of things, Vivienne Westwood was a key player who proved herself as a successful entrepreneur. But I think it’s in the actual bands that one finds a higher-than-usual proportion of women. I’m thinking of Debbie Harry, Gay Advert, Poly Styrene, Jayne Casey, The Slits, and if one widens the field into new wave and post punk, there’s Siouxsie Sioux, The Raincoats, Chrissie Hynde, Tina Weymouth, Lene Lovich, The Go-Go’s and half of the B-52’s.

There’s no doubt that punk was good for women. And even the subsequent generation of early 80s pop stars, like Madonna, Toyah, Annie Lenox and others, definitely got their cues from the pioneers in the late seventies. In that sense, you can see that punk’s take-no-shit attitude was, in many respects, its single greatest strength.

Who were the impressive entrepreneurs of that era do you think….what traits did they have?

There were plenty of labels to come out of punk. In fact, giving so many people a crash course in business was the the real success of punk and it’s amazing that nobody really says it more often. Stiff, Factory, Fiction, Mute, 99, 4AD, STT, Radar, ZE, Def Jam, Zoo, Epitaph, etc.

People say that punk made Richard Branson because he signed the Sex Pistols, but he already had a chain of record shops and a boutique record label that had scored a massive hit earlier in the 70s with Mike Oldfield. He was already heading for bigger things, but it’s true that Branson learned new tricks from Malcolm McLaren about playing the media. Virgin was a much more aggressive company after punk.

But I think the most interesting examples were obviously Rough Trade and Beggars Banquet. Both were record shops that evolved into labels because of punk. They’re still around today, because what they had were musically literate bosses – Geoff Travis and Martin Mills respectively.

As young shop owners, they learned vital lessons about operating within modest means, keeping up to date, building a community and being genuinely independent. And all these labels, including some new ones like Def Jam, KLF, Sub Pop and others went on to drive hip hop, rave and grunge. They were all run by punk graduates.

Michael