Twenty five years ago today – 21st November 1991 – The Field Mice played their final gig at the Dome in London before splitting up. Huge Field Mice fan and regular contributor to the EIO40 website, Rob Morgan asked us if he could write an article to celebrate their music and what it meant to him. We didn’t need to think about it twice. So have a read as Rob reflects upon the Field Mice songs and albums, how they have impacted on his life and how they introduced him to the world of Sarah Records and indie pop.
Like so much great music, it was John Peel who introduced me to The Field Mice. In fact it was the listeners rather than Peel himself, as the first time I heard the Field Mice was on the 1989 Festive Fifty. It was their second single “Sensitive” and the first time I heard it I thought “Yes that’s good, I like that…” In fact my diary states “Heard a song which was like the Wedding Present, only a thousand times better”. But it took me a while for the song to worm it’s way into my heart.
I’d taped the Festive Fifty and kept returning to that song, there was something there which drew me in. Was it the wall of guitars which punched through the song? Maybe it was the shy yet powerful words? Or the singer’s lack of forcefulness, which made him sound like me? It was a combination of all of these things – and the fact “Sensitive” was a bloody good song – that won me over. Then there was something else Peel said – “The first Sarah Record to make the Festive Fifty” – what was the significance of that? I should have known this, I read the music papers every week, didn’t I?
During the early Summer of 1990 I started to do some research into what Sarah Records was. At this point, I should mention, I was quite dismissive of the majority of indie pop – sure I loved a lot of the music on Creation Records like MBV, Felt and Ride but most of the C86 music and the jingle jangle nonsense that followed it had passed me by. Indeed the phrase “jingle jangle nonsense” was often quoted from my diary at the time. I loved all the Factory Records acts – especially the more obscure ones like Stockholm Monsters and The Wake – that was more my scene.
But now I wanted to know about Sarah Records. Most of what I found in my stacks of music papers rubbished the output of the label and seemed to back up my prejudice. However my brother had a pile of the fanzine Bucketful Of Brains and lo and behold there was a half page article in there on Sarah, which told me more than the combined knowledge of the music papers. This piqued my interest, and then I noticed that Sarah had issued a compilation called “Temple Cloud” which included “Sensitive”.
I bought the LP early in August 1990 and it opened up a whole new world of music for me. Each of the sixteen songs was brilliant and the three songs by The Field Mice stood out. “Sensitive” was there, sounding loud and proud, while “If You Need Someone” was a perfect pop song, chiming guitars and a lyric I could identify with, and “Song 6” felt like all my thoughts about the beery blokes I was unlucky enough to hang around with and how they treated their girlfriends. These songs spoke to me like few songs I’d heard before.
And I wanted more.
The day after buying “Temple Cloud” I hurried back to Cardiff and bought the first two mini albums by the Field Mice – a ten inch called “Snowball” and a twelve inch called “Skywriting”. I can still clearly remember getting the records home and examining them on my bed before playing them. “Snowball” was purple, very purple – nothing at all on the front, the barest of details on the reverse. This was as minimal as my beloved Factory Records, and in places it sounded like The Wake or New Order too. Opener “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” pulsed for seven minutes on a bed of sequencers and drum machines while closer “Letting Go” could have come straight from “Harmony”, the debut album by The Wake – the mournful air, the mumbled vocal, the bass leading the way.
Between those two were six songs which veered between Byrds-y jangle pop (“Everything About You” and “Couldn’t Feel Safer”) and deeper more thoughtful songs – “End of the Affair” is tinged with sadness, arpeggio guitars and oboes sighing while “White” is astonishing – a wall of noise guitars, hammered drums and words which cut me deep. Then the lyrics shocked me.
“Time and again I dream about you, I haven’t seen you for so long…do you ever think about me? Where are you now? Wherever you are I hope you are happy and that life is being good to you”.
That lyric would just about sum up how I felt about a number of members of the opposite sex by that point, all those unrequited loves I’d had. And The Field Mice had put it in a song! As if to prove the futility of those thoughts, the singing stopped and huge waves of distorted flanged guitar overtook the song. What a thrilling song, yet so close to my heart.
If “Snowball” was great, then “Skywriting” was stunning. Every song was different but every song was fantastic. The opener “Triangle” spread out for ten minutes across all of side one and sounded like “Let’s Kiss and Make Up”‘s older brother, more pulsing synths, more drum machines, the bass like Peter Hook, those loud flanged guitars were back, and the minimal lyrics were perfect, lovelorn and hopeless.
Over on side two, The Field Mice swung through country (“Canada”), perfect wistful guitar pop (“Clearer”), tense post punk (“It Isn’t Forever”) and more. The final two songs were a shock. “Below The Stars” was a gorgeous weightless ballad, drifting over six minutes while the singer extrapolates the feelings from “White” – thinking of a lost love, wondering where they are – in a poignant way. If I didn’t have a tear in my eye on that first listen, I’ll say that I’ve listened many times since with tears rolling down my cheeks. Finally “Humblebee” is just odd – a guitar jangles in the distance while a barrage of spoken word samples make a deafening cacophony, it’s like “Revolution #9” for the Indie set, replacing the loop of “Number Nine” with “Chocolate Love Sex” – very disquieting and slightly unnerving.
My clichéd ideas of what a Sarah Records band would sound like were shattered. The Field Mice seemed to be capable of all kinds of music, but with a heart and lyrical honesty that touched my soul. These were songs I’d been wanting to hear – had been trying to write even – all my life, and there was a clear headed, plain speaking honesty which struck a chord with me. The Field Mice were my new favourite band.
Of course I wanted more records by them, so a week later I took another trip to Cardiff and bought the two part “Autumn Store” singles as these seemed to be all that the record shops of Wales’ capital city had at the time. While the five songs across the two singles weren’t the revelation that “Skywriting” had been they still still had their moments. “The World To Me” was a whirlwind of jangles and trumpets, “Anyone Else Isn’t You” tiptoed along the line between twee and sickly while “Bleak” painted a portrait of someone hiding themselves away from life which sounded scarily familiar. Yes, that sounded like me.
By now I was scouring through the music papers for any information on the band, and I didn’t find much. They certainly weren’t on the front page of the NME or Melody Maker. Scanning through back issues I found a few reviews and a very small article on The Field Mice but generally the music press didn’t give them much attention. Around October 1990 Melody Maker made their new EP “So Said Kay” single of the week and that was the first I knew of the new release.
I bought it that day, a big pink ten inch five song EP and gasped in wonder at the new songs. Gone were the sequencers, it was all guitars and occasional string synths, plus percussion, but oh the songs were so good! “Landmark” was slow and resigned and my interpretation of the song was completely different to the MM version. “Holland Street” was an instrumental which built and built to a glorious climax. “Indian Ocean” was hopeful of finding love, which gave me hope.
But there were two outstanding songs – “Quicksilver” and “So Said Kay”. The former had some beautiful heart stopping spine tingling chord changes and a lyric which could have been ripped straight out of my diary and worked well as the final part of a triptych with “White” and “Below The Stars”. On the other hand “So Said Kay” built up slowly from acoustic guitar and oboe, to include a melodic bass, piano, string synth and a lyric which sounded like a cut up conversation, leading to the repeated line “She reached in and placed a string of lights around this heart of mine”. I didn’t know then the lyric was excerpts from the film “Desert Hearts”, I just knew it was special. I taped the EP three times onto a C90 and played it constantly.
There must have been some problem with distribution of records around the winter of 1990 (probably the collapse of Rough Trade Distribution) because it took me ages to find the first two Field Mice singles, finally locating them in March 1991. “Sensitive” was as great as I knew it was, having played it on “Temple Cloud” and the b side “When Morning Comes To Town” was a bittersweet duet about the point a couple start to realise their relationship is over.
Meanwhile the Field Mice’s debut EP was bedroom pop pure and simple – so spare, so stark, the guitars ringing out and the cheap drum machine holding down the beat, and yet again lyrics which cut deep. “Emma’s House” had the same yearning melancholy I heard in their later songs, while “Fabulous Friend” had more heart stopping lyrics – “I’m not brave, I’m not special, I’m not of those things”, that could be my mantra.
By now I was fully immersed in The Field Mice, desperate for any information on them, and making compilation tapes for friends, trying to convert them because I like to share, I wanted confirmation from other people that The Field Mice were as great as I thought they were. After all the music press were still sniffy about them, the Melody Maker review of their new single “September’s Not So Far Away” was ridiculous nonsense which said nothing about the song itself.
“September…” was wonderful, the band suddenly sounded like a band, the drum machine had been packed away and the song now had a real drummer, and there were more twelve string guitars and male female harmonies – The Field Mice had grown up and turned all their Byrds dreams into reality. On the b side there were only two guitars and two voices but it was just as lovely, memories of love and that yearning again. Around this time I bought a fanzine with a Field Mice interview which started to put some of the pieces of their story into context. The last line was worrying though – asked what their hopes for the future were, lead singer Bob Wratten replied “I hope we make an album before we split up”.
Summer 1991 brought the release of a Field Mice compilation “Coastal”, fourteen songs from their previous records which were starting to sell out. It was great to have some Field Mice on CD – Sarah Records were very much a vinyl label, I think the CDs of their early albums were made through a distribution deal with France. And it was also nice to see “Coastal” receive good reviews in the music press, and for it to reach number one in the Indie album charts. It looked like the Field Mice were more popular than I thought.
September 1991 brought with it “Missing The Moon”, an actual twelve inch single though sold for the price of a seven inch. The title track was everything I had hoped – a huge glowing pulsing indie dance crossover, the kind of song New Order would kill to make, a perfect mix of guitars and electronica, and the song itself was still yearning and beautiful. I bought it three days before “Screamadelica”, so the two records are always entwined in my head. “Missing the moon” got a fabulous write up in the NME, an unexpected surprise. By now I was on the Sarah Records mailing list and a postcard dropped through my letterbox advertising the single, their album “For Keeps” and their tour. They weren’t playing anywhere around South Wales, but I persuaded a friend in Basingstoke to see them in Reading and to buy me a t shirt.
But before that was the new album. “For Keeps” had specific memories attached to it, buying it from Cardiff and borrowing a Martin Amis novel from the library on the way home, so the first listen that October day was the soundtrack to the opening pages of “London Fields”. I soon stopped reading though.
“For Keeps” was wonderful, with only the occasional mis-step – and frankly that’s the last song so you could always consider the penultimate song as the closer… Or was that just me? But when it’s good, “For Keeps” soars. “Star of David” has more heart stopping chord changes and actually dynamics which only a full band could generate – the move into the chorus is so dramatic and so perfect it hurts. “Coach Station Reunion” is the epitome of joy, jangling twelve strings, whoops of pleasure during the guitar solos. “Tilting At Windmills” is a dreamy drift of hazy melody and wordless harmonies. “Willow” was a lovely acoustic ballad whose words were almost too raw and too honest to listen to, uncomfortable truths.
“For keeps” received some good reviews, particularly from the Melody Maker who also ran a full page article on The Field Mice, so now I knew a lot more about them, how they were more influenced by the Factory aesthetic than the C86 aesthetic. Everything seemed to be going their way at last – good press, good sales, a nationwide tour….
My friend saw them in Reading and said they were brilliant, which was high praise from him as he was a Sub Pop nut – in the letter which accompanied the “Chocolate Love Sex” t shirt he sent me, he bemoaned Nirvana selling out and thought “Nevermind” wasn’t a patch on “Bleach”. There had been good live reviews too, and there was another new song issued on a compilation CD, the song was called “Other Galaxies” and was eleven minutes long, building from a gentle love song of comfort and hope into a huge juggernaut of distorted guitars and feedback. It was a glorious noise, and it was the last song the Field Mice would record.
I can remember the day as vividly as the day I read about The Smiths splitting up. It was a live review of the last gig of the tour in London, and it implied that this was truly the end of The Field Mice, love had brought them together and love had torn them apart. I couldn’t believe it – they seemed on the verge of success, maybe a move to a larger label, it just seemed to wrong. I didn’t know the full story until years later, the sleeve notes to “There and Back Again Lane” and “Where’d You Learn To Kiss That Way?” – he tensions in the group, the problems… It’s not for me to comment, to be honest. I just enjoyed the music.
It’s now 25 years since The Field Mice split up and I still consider their body of work to be pretty much perfect. The records and production are timeless, not limbed to the 80s / 90s crossover by baggy beats or dated instrumental touches. The songs stand up to repeated scrutiny, still reminding me of times past and unrequited loves that really I don’t care about any longer.
The Field Mice were incredibly productive, a large amount of music in a short time scale – and there’s outtakes on reissues and online if you look hard enough. Their influence is more far ranging than it seemed at the time – bands such as The Drums and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have been influenced by them and the Sarah Records style. There’s been a book and a documentary film on Sarah – something which would have been unthinkable twenty five years ago. And to me, The Field Mice are still one of the most important bands I’ve loved – for creating such gorgeous music, for the words which are poignant and true, for opening up the world of Sarah Records and indie pop to me… Those records will always be special to me, and I hope I’ve given some idea of why that is here. The majority of their back catalogue is on Spotify and is definitely worth hearing, the double CD “Where’d You Learn To Kiss That Way?” is great, but if you want a simple introduction to the Field Mice, here’s a dozen of my favourite songs by them.
Also here is the bandcamp link for a free download of the final Field Mice gig
Author: Rob Morgan
For further reading please check out our interview with Anne-Mari Davies of The Field Mice HERE
Thank you to Rob for sharing that and for his valuable contribution to the EIO40 community. If you would like to contribute to our Indie Encounters feature and share your indie moments please email us at email@example.com or DM us on Twitter
We are going to dispense with any sort of lengthy introduction here. If you don’t know who Anne Mari Daviesis or her contribution to music then that’s about to change. Even if you are aware of her work, you are going to get to know her a whole lot better. Believe us.
The simple facts are these:-
We asked Anne Mari Davies if we could interview her
She said she would answer any questions honestly unless she couldn’t remember the answer (and she was true to her word)
We asked a select number of EIO40 community members to provide questions for Anne Mari to answer
We sent Steve from EIO40 down to her home on the south coast
This interview is what he came back with
You see. this is all about Anne Mari and you should be left to just dive in read what she has to say, without being held up by some superfluous preamble. It’s a open and honest account of her time in The Field Mice. How she came to join the band, her battles with mental illness and stage fright, her relationship with Bobby Wratten and “those’ songs as well as the final days of the band, from her own very personal perspective. There is also an insight into her early musical life, her influences and what she got up to after The Field Mice.
We should point out that the interview is pretty much unedited. We didn’t want to lose any of Anne Mari’s personality during the translation process and hopefully her character shines through here as much as it did it person.
Anne Mari: I grew up in South Manchester, between Stockport and Macclesfield, a little place called Poynton, which liked to think it was a village, even though it was way too big to be a village. I lived there from 3 to about 20. Manchester was quite a big part of my life as a child and I eventually went to university in Manchester.
EIO40: What did you study there?
Anne Mari: Politics. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I thought I was going to change the world whereas I should have really gone into engineering. And I will blame my sister’s friend for this, who I quite fancied at the time, a very arty man. He said, “You’re far too artistic to do an engineering degree.” So I thought, “Okay, I’ll do something else.” I did politics and I’ve never used it since.
EIO40: What were you like as a teenager?
Anne Mari: I was a really good girl. I was the class swot. I was head girl and a nice girl. I did a few things that I probably shouldn’t have done but I didn’t take that many risks.
EIO40: And what about music as a teenager? What were you in to?
Anne Mari: I’ve played the guitar from when I was really young, I think I was seven when I started playing that. I’d always picked up any musical instrument I could and played it. And I really liked stuff that I could play and stuff that I could sing along with. I haven’t got a power ballad voice, so the whole ‘Whitney’ thing was off the radar for me and anything like that. I listened to The Beatles quite a lot, because that, again, is music that you can play, you can reproduce. I mean I’m talking quite early here.
Obviously ABBA. I was born in 1971, so show me somebody of my age who wasn’t in to ABBA. I liked a lot of Motown stuff as a teenager. I just wasn’t really interested in a lot of the “charty” music that was going on and I didn’t fit in at school that much because of that. I did like New Order very much, and The Cure, Suzanne Vega and Tracey Thorn. It was all stuff that I could try to directly, you know, replicate a bit musically.
Around that time my good friend Chris Cox started bringing Sarah records and fanzines in to the sixth form common room. These flexi-discs that were six and a half inches, so you couldn’t put your automatic record player on them, you had to actually lift the needle.
EIO40: Can you remember any particular ones?
Anne Mari: In short..no, although Another Sunny Day would probably have been the first one that really captured me, I think. But it was as much the newsletters and the ideas behind them that stopped me feeling like I was something peculiar.
There were four of us, Chris, Andrew, Sarah and myself and we hung out in the sixth form common room and around Poynton pool and named the ducks after Bobby Gillespie and so on and so forth, you know. And that’s really… That’s what got me in to the music.
EIO40:Were you going to gigs around this time?
Anne Mari: Yes, some. We were 16, 17 so weren’t old enough to go to a lot of gigs. But yes, I was at The Field Mice gig at the Boardwalk in Manchester. That was really exciting. As much as anything because we were going to meet Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd (from Sarah Records). Which, by this point, they were as famous as anybody as far as we were concerned.
So we did go to some gigs but mainly we were going up to Piccadilly Records in Manchester and buying whatever was the latest 7”, usually one that had a free badge on the front or something. I remember buying ‘‘Shimmer’’ by The Flatmates and we all went and bought the Razorcuts. It was very exciting to have that Piccadilly Records bag coming home from town on the train.
The Flatmates ‘Shimmer’
EIO40: Tell us about your early musical life. We are aware that you were in a band called The Purple Tulips. Tell us about those early days.
Anne Mari:I mentioned earlier there were four of us who hung out together in lower sixth. There was Chris, Andrew, Sarah and myself and Sarah and I played the guitar together. We were all interested in the same type of music, and Chris started writing lyrics and I put some music together. Don’t even know if I can call it music really, it was very, very basic stuff.
Andrew and Chris didn’t play any instruments and we didn’t have any drums or anything. I did have a selection of percussion instruments, I think I’ve still got them upstairs, so they would be playing on anything at hand, tables, that sort of thing. Sarah and I muddled through with keyboards, guitar and singing.
What were our influences? Probably the whole C86 stuff. Because the whole thing about the C86 sound, for me, was… It’s a bit like punk, anybody could do it, right? It wasn’t about, like I said earlier, the big power ballad voices or anything. It was about anybody being able to do it. And I think there’s something really important about anybody being allowed to do something creative, whether or not you are classically trained or hugely talented or whatever. It’s still important to have a go at stuff, so that’s probably where The Purple Tulips came from.
I can’t remember about the name. I think we liked purple tulips, Sarah and I. We hung about together a lot and we had a good couple of years, you know. So there you go. It does seem strange to consider The Purple Tulips a proper band, because it was just a load of sixth formers having a laugh. But it’s nice of people to be interested, anyway.
The Purple Tulips (with apologies to Sarah)
EIO40: Did you send a Purple Tulips demo tapes to Sarah Records?
Anne Mari: Chris sent them a demo tape and then Clare wrote about it in the fanzine, which was, for us, just the most extraordinary turn of events, really. Because, as I said, Clare and Matt were basically stars in our world, more so than any of the bands we were into.
EIO40: Do you still have any Purple Tulips tapes?
Anne Mari: I don’t, Bobby (Wratten) does. He or Beth (Arzy) sent me a photograph of the cassette the other day. I don’t have a cassette player, although I do have a few cassettes up in the loft, so there may be some Purple Tulips bedroom recordings up there.
The Purple Tulips demo (and Bobby’s dog Nate)
EIO40: And what about musical training? Were you self-taught?
Anne Mari: Erm… ish. My dad showed me how to play something on the guitar when I was about seven. My dad was very musical. He had the most beautiful, Welsh, bass voice, absolutely gorgeous. My family are Welsh originally. He played the guitar and he played the organ. He had one of these, you know, big organs with pedals and he used to show me what he was learning and I’d play that.
It sounds daft but I played the recorder at school and I just wish everybody still played it at school these days. I suppose they have the ukulele now which all the kids play, but they don’t learn to read music in the same way that we all did because we all had to learn the recorder at school.
I couldn’t get in to the guitar lessons at school, they were always too full, so my dad continued to teach me at home and then I joined a folk club, so it was all, ‘The times, they are a changing’’ type songs. I was looking back through some of my old songbooks recently and it’s loads of political songs. My folk club singer must have been really, really political.
I did eventually start classical guitar lessons, which is where I met Sarah, because we were both doing the same lessons.
EIO40:How did you come to join The Field Mice
Anne Mari: I really liked the band. As I’ve mentioned, I was in to all of the Sarah Records stuff, and the song that got me hooked was ‘If You Need Someone,’ which came out when I was 18 I think. By that point I couldn’t stop playing it. The lyrics got me completely hooked on the band.
The Field Mice ‘If You Need Someone’
We’d been recording this stuff at the time with The Purple Tulips and enjoying doing it, when somebody wrote to Chris, and said, “Does Anne Mari know that The Field Mice are looking for a female singer?” So Chris showed me this letter and I was like, “Oh, you’re going to see The Field Mice in Leeds, aren’t you? Next week or whatever? Give them a copy of our tape”.
So he took along a copy of the Purple Tulips demo tape with a letter from me saying, “Somebody told my friend that you were looking for a female singer, this is me. Are you interested?” Bobby wrote back and said, “Yes, I’m interested. We’re coming to Manchester very soon so let’s meet up and if it goes well we’re going to Japan next month, do you want to come?”
So that’s how I got involved and we met up at Michael (Hiscock) sister’s house in Manchester and then we did a couple of gigs in London, I think, before heading off to Japan. Mark (Dobson) and I joined at the same time but Mark didn’t come to Japan with us because he was expecting his first child so the four of us went off to Japan in late 1990.
EIO40:To be thrust from essentially a bedroom band to a tour of Japan in presumably a short space of time must have been incredible. What do you remember of that tour?
Anne Mari: Yes, it was strange. We played a couple of nights at this place in Tokyo and the audience were really quiet with a polite applause at the end of each song. I was standing on stage thinking, “We’re dying here, this is awful.” But I have since found out that it’s a cultural way of behaving that I just didn’t get at the time. When we came off-stage there was this queue of 100 people waiting for autographs, and you think, “I thought you didn’t like it”. So it was an interesting experience.
EIO40: Was it easy to pick up and learn the earlier The Field Mice songs?
Anne Mari: Yes, it wasn’t too bad, although, because Bobby isn’t trained, he is self-taught, he doesn’t play recognisable chords. So there was always a bit of “What chord is it?” “Well, it’s kind of on the fourth fret and it’s like this and…” I had absolutely no idea what that chord was. It did have to be done in person, a lot of it. Sometimes he would send me tapes through the post with lyrics and chords where they were recognisable, or he’d draw the chord on paper.
Fairly often I would turn up on a Friday night and the first time we would play it as a five-piece was in the sound check and then we would play it that night, so I was learning a lot of stuff at home, on my own. I was working out harmonies and then the first time we’d try it was not in rehearsal, it would be on stage. But, it keeps it fresh. It was very different to just recreating the earlier songs.
EIO40: Did your involvement with music interfere with your studies?
Anne Mari: Oh, it totally interfered with my studies. I was travelling down to London or if not London, wherever we were gigging that weekend, virtually every Friday. Fortunately, my studies finished at midday on a Friday, so I could jump straight on a coach to wherever we were playing.
EIO40: So you were in The Field Mice at the same time you were at university?
Anne Mari: Yes. I was 19 when I joined The Field Mice, so I was in the second year of my degree. It was that autumn term when I joined the band. We went to Japan that term and so yes, it totally interfered with my studies. We would spent the whole of half term recording and things like that, so I wasn’t doing my dissertation or coursework. However, I did manage to do my dissertation on politics and pop music, so that at least meant that I was marrying to two of the aspects of my life at that time, but my studies totally came second.
The biggest problem though at that time and which I am quite happy to talk about was the mental health issues. during our final tour which was while I was in my final year at uni.
We didn’t tour for that long really when you look at it, only between year 2 and year 3 but I started getting very ill. That completely affected my studies. It made me almost unable to sit in an exam room and take an exam, because I had become so agoraphobic by that point that, to sit in an enclosed space and not be allowed to leave was really difficult. I was really, really ill by the time I took my finals. So that totally affected my studies.
EIO40: Can we ask what brought on the illness you were suffering at this time?
Anne Mari: Well I don’t know what brought on the anxiety disorder really but I can pinpoint when it turned in to a real problem. We were playing a gig in France, in Paris. It was at the end of quite a gruelling French tour, where we’d travel for 10 hours a day and then play and have three hours sleep, and we weren’t getting on that well as a band. Well, we were, but there were a few creaks going on and I was finding that really stressful.
I did feel that because the band had already existed before I arrived and then Bobby and I started a relationship, that it created tensions. That’s what that can do. Plus when you’re all late teens and young adults, you’re all a bit strange at that stage of your life anyway, I think.
So, we went to play live this night in Paris and I’d always felt sick before going on the stage but this time I thought, “No, I really am not well.” Maybe I wasn’t well, maybe I’d eaten something that disagreed with me, I don’t know, but it was a very stressful, unpleasant night. They ended up calling the pompier (fire service) because they couldn’t get a doctor. The whole thing was just a very big, stressful night. But we thought, that’s it, that was a horrible night, on we go. But the following night I couldn’t get on the stage because I started being ill again and then it just escalated.
I went to see My Bloody Valentine and I was sick there, then I went to see Harvey (Williams) play and I had to leave because I was ill. And then, suddenly, I just wasn’t able to leave the house because I was just having anxiety attacks all over the place.
So, unfortunately, by the time I got to my finals, which were an added stress on top of that, my brain just said, “I can’t actually deal with this, I’m going to shut down as much as possible.” I did get my degree and I got a good grade but how, I have no idea, because I muddled through that final year, limped through in fact, so there we are.
EIO40: It seems like the right moment to ask about that last Field Mice gig at Tufnell Park Dome if that’s Ok. The footage that is on YouTube has a quote that it was done, “through gritted teeth,” as the band had already split. Harvey seems to be enjoying himself, as does Michael. Was it really that bad on stage?
Anne Mari: Oh, yes. It was quite bad on stage that night. Yes… God, I can’t even remember how the divisions had ended up by that point to be honest. I was really unhappy on stage because I, by this point, absolutely loathed playing live so that was that. It was also terribly sad. I felt very guilty that the band was splitting up and it might have been to do with the fact that I’d said I couldn’t play live any more.
But actually, and Bobby didn’t discuss this with anybody before hand, including me, he had already decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. I do now believe it had nothing to do with me and my difficulties getting on stage or anything.
Bobby never liked touring, never, ever. He used to disappear for hours, if not days, when we were on tour and we never knew where he was, because he found it very hard. There is this intensely private side and then, the public side, of the lyrics and everything. They don’t quite marry. So he had already decided that he wanted the band to split. I think the rest of the band members probably didn’t understand why or how. They may have thought that I’d had an influence or not, I don’t know, but it was pretty tricky for most of us, I think.
EIO40: Did you know the band was splitting before the gig?
Anne Mari: Yes. We split the night before. We had our first ever band meeting in Glasgow. I was going to say at the meeting, “Look, I can’t do this anymore guys.” I think it was obvious to them all because I was so poorly. But we walked in and before I even had the chance to speak Bobby said, “Can I just say I don’t want to do this anymore. Tomorrow’s the last night, and that’s it.” And it was just this stunned silence of, “Whoa, where did this come from?” So that was a difficult night, the night before, and then we limped through the next gig.
In that YouTube clip I look more miserable that I even remember feeling. I looked so miserable. It did feel really, really sad. I think my overwhelming feeling was how sad it felt. And yes, you know, Harvey and Michael are always going to have a bit of a boogie around when there’s a riff going or whatever, but it was very, very sad.
EIO40: Do you look back now and think, “I don’t feel so bad about it because, actually it wasn’t down to me”
Anne Mari: I do, I do. It took me a long time to realise, to believe that it wasn’t me, but I’ve known Bobby for over 25 years now and I know him well enough that that’s the kind of thing he’ll do.
EIO40: Do you talk openly about those days or do you sort of keep it under wrap
Anne Mari: No, we don’t, no.
EIO40: Now one of our lot, Paul, recalls a Field Mice gig at the Assembly Rooms in Derby where hostile elements in the crowd seem to be having a negative affect on the band to the extent he felt Bobby looked like he was ready to walk off stage.
Anne Mari:I can’t remember that at all, but there was always something going on at gigs. either the microphones were rubbish or whatever else.
I remember a gig at The Richmond in Brighton when Mark pushed his drums in to the crowd and Bobby smashed his guitar up on stage. That was a very bad night. The sound system was so poor. There were lots of tensions going on. There was a bit of tension at the time between the label and The Field Mice and Clare and Matt wanted us to play The Richmond but we wanted to play somewhere a bit better. That sounds a bit egotistical but we wanted to play somewhere that had a better sound system. The Richmond was notorious for having bad sound. It was just awful, you just could not hear yourselves at all and there were tensions between us all anyway and I think we were just fed up.
I don’t know what happened first, did Mark put his drums in to the crowd first and then Bobby smash up his guitar? I can’t remember, but I do remember just thinking, “What is actually happening? This is The Field Mice, this is like your twee indie band, supposedly.” It was a bit rock ‘n’ roll really.
Bobby still has his guitar from that night. He left it there after we all went home and then, the following morning, he said, “I want my guitar back.” I was like, “Well, it’s in bits.” So we came back down to Brighton, me and him, and went and knocked on the door and went, “Don’t suppose you’ve still got the bits of the guitar that he left behind?”
This was right towards the end and it was just, “Oh, this is just rubbish”, because those tensions were happening and that’s why we had the meeting. The meeting was with the record label, the one in Glasgow when it all ended, because there were increasing tensions.
There is a fair amount of stuff in My Secret World (the docu-film about Sarah Records) about could The Field Mice have got bigger? Because people feel that they could have ‘made it,’ whatever that means. And had they outgrown Sarah and stuff?
I think there were a number of things going on. I mean, personalities were clashing, the label had quite a lot of musical control over what was released and I think, in their defence, it was their livelihood so they wanted to release stuff that they liked. They didn’t want to release what they classed as rubbish. So they had quite a lot of input on what was allowed to be released and that created tensions because we didn’t always see eye to eye. They wanted us to play places like The Richmond and so it wasn’t quite working, really, by that point. So that’s one of the reasons that we had the meeting.
EIO40: So the tensions were building before the Glasgow meeting and the final gig in Tufnell Park
Anne Mari: They were. I don’t believe The Field Mice ever would have got big though, whatever label we were on. There was interest from larger labels but I just think the personalities involved were ready to implode at any time.
It wasn’t the be-all and end-all to be famous and big for some of us and so therefore we weren’t all going in the same direction. And some people in the band wanted to give up their day job and get enough money from it to live off it, and others didn’t and then you’ve got Bobby, who just wanted to write his stuff and be left alone really. So a right old mixture. As I said we weren’t all going in the same direction.
I could not see, at least myself and Bobby, dealing with anything big. Certainly not me at the time, and I just couldn’t see us dealing with the marketing side of things and the publicity. You do end up with more rules on a bigger label half the time. I worked for EMI for several years as an accountant, so I did see that side of it, what it was like. “No, you can’t spend that on your record because we’re not going to get the return,” you know. And that’s really where they’re coming from.
EIO40:What was the best venue you played at?
Anne Mari: I remember this funny aircraft hangar type place that we played in France once when we were part of a festival where it was just amazing. Honestly, the stage was bigger than most of the places we’d ever played. And the sound system was fantastic, so that was really good. I think they’d done the order alphabetically and it was a very eclectic mix of artists.
We were meant to be following the Fields of the Nephilim, which, as you can imagine, was slightly different to The Field Mice. But The Fields of the Nephilim split up that day and so we got news that we were going on an hour earlier and we were like, “We are going to be bottled, this is horrendous”
So we went on stage thinking, “What is going to happen?” We’d never played to such a big crowd, because everybody was there for the whole day. But it was fabulous, it was absolutely wonderful. I think, at that point, we were like, “God, this is so good, wouldn’t it be great if we were playing things like this all the time?” So we had little moments of wanting to be bigger than we were.
Probably my favourite venue in London was the New Cross Venue. An absolute dive of a place but I really liked it there. I really liked the atmosphere and it was a good size to play. I think that’s my personal favourite.
EIO40: There’s no record of the The Field Mice ever playing in the USA so we assume you never did. Were you aware of an American fan-base though?
Anne Mari: I think some of the college radio stations might have been interested but we weren’t together that long as a five-piece, you know. We played France several times, we went to Switzerland, we went to Japan, we did loads of gigs in London, and we were all either working full-time or at college
EIO40: Now Rob found it interesting that you sang on early Trembling Blue Stars songs such as ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Now That There’s Nothing In The Way.’ Which seemed to signal an acceptance from Bobby that you could be friends, so how did you feel about singing those particular songs? Simon also wanted to know if it was possible to detach from the deeply personal songs of Trembling Blue Stars, in order to sing them.
Anne Mari: Bobby and I carried on being friends even though it was a really difficult time. There was a period of time when he was recording and I was not part of it. There was a period of time before that when it was all very, very rocky and I was still recording with him.
After The Field Mice we were still together and we were together during the Northern Picture Library and then, towards the end of that, that’s when it was all started creaking a bit, around the time of Norfolk Windmills (B Side of Northern Picture Library’s last Sarah Records single in 1994).
EIO40: Wasn’t there a Northern Picture Library French tour around this time?
Anne Mari:Yes, which I didn’t go on, and that really was when everything went a bit kaput with Bobby. Towards the end of that period, I was still singing on songs but it was odd because some of the lyrics are nothing to do with our relationship. Some of them are to do with a film that he watched on television, or a book that he’d read, or something else. Or it might be a similar theme but it’s actually not about me and him or anybody else involved, so it is actually quite hard to tell which songs are about our relationship and which ones are not, but they are about the same sort of themes.
EIO40: Did you know yourself back then if Bobby had written about your relationship on particular songs?
Anne Mari: There are times when I did. There might be a phrase in there which I’d know I’d said, then I would know it was specifically about our relationship, but actually, some of the times, I wasn’t sure whether they were. ‘So Said Kay,’ for example, is nothing to do with Bobby and his life, it’s a film. And in fact, ‘The Rainbow’ is as well. So neither of those is anything to do with us.
Trembling Blue Stars “The Rainbow”
It can be very easy to want to read more in to it because so much of it is, “Oh, here’s another chunk of the story.” I’m the same, when I first got the tracks I’d be like listening, listening, listening trying to figure out what’s being said, you know. And yet the other thing you’ve got to remember is, when he was writing those lyrics, that was a day, a moment, when he was feeling like that and he might not have felt like that permanently, or three weeks later, or even by the time the song was recorded. It’s tempting to read loads in to these things but they are a moment in time.
I did sing on songs that were painful and I think, first of all I would de-sensitise myself. Then the more I listened and listened and practised, practised, meant I could put quite a lot of feeling in to something, particularly if it is upsetting or even the opposite. So, intensely personal songs can be really interesting to sing as well as those that aren’t.
I remember Clare Wadd saying something on My Secret World which rang so true. She said, “Everybody thinks that you want to have a song written about you. And it is really flattering, it’s totally flattering to be somebody’s muse and to have a song written about you, but it is only one person’s side of the story. If you want to put your side back you’ve got no place to do that, which actually can be really frustrating.”
I thought she really hit the nail on the head then. I’d like to say that was my thought but it was hers. I just was, like, “I concur, totally. I totally get that.” Because that is very much how you feel sometimes, you just like, “Well, that is only how one person sees things.” But I never would have sung on anything I was really unhappy to sing, I don’t think Bobby would have asked me to anyway.
EIO40:Songs by The Field Mice, Northern Picture Library and the Trembling Blue Stars are still considered some of the best-crafted songs and have aged extremely well. Do you revisit any of your music?
Anne Mari: Do I revisit it? Yes, and particularly recently because of the film (My Secret World). and also the book (Popkiss) because, to be quite frank with you, I don’t actually always remember all the titles and stuff, you know. So I did revisit it and actually found my favourite is the Northern Picture Library stuff which, interestingly, Bobby says he hasn’t listened to for years and years and years. I said, “You must listen to ‘Alaska’,” because it’s great, I think it’s great. I think it has stood the test of time really well. It was, at the time, quite experimental I think, but it doesn’t sound it now.
And that’s a really nice thing to say, that some of the songs are well-crafted, because I think they are. And I can say that, partly, because I didn’t write them, so I’m not blowing my own trumpet there. I think they are very beautiful.
EIO40: There’s something unpredictable about a lot of the NPL, and to a certain extent the later Field Mice songs, in that they don’t seem to follow a formula and that what’s next doesn’t follow what was before in terms of the sound.
Anne Mari:Yes, and that is partly due to the record collection in Mr Wratten’s room. It’s like going in to a record shop. It has every genre in it that you could possibly think of. You say to him, “Have you got any bizarre jazz from 1943?” he’ll have something. Equally, he’ll have some reggae. Whatever he’s listening to at that time is what influences the songs and that’s what the albums convey. The variety of sounds he’s listening to.
EIO40: Is there a particular song that sticks out, that you look back with fondness or maybe the opposite?
Anne Mari: The one I’m horrified by is ‘Willow’ because I cannot listen to it. Not because of the lyrics, I just can’t listen to my vocal on it. Probably because there’s no reverb on it. (Laughter) It’s like, “Put some effects on me, now. I don’t want to listen to myself singing, I want to listen to the ‘reverb-y version”. Somebody said to me the other day, one of the parents at school said, “Oh, I’ve been listening to some of your stuff and I love that track ‘Willow’.” Isn’t it funny?
Actually, one of my favourite songs is ‘Insecure’ from ‘Alaska’ (NPL). I also love the ‘Blue Dissolve’ EP, I love it. And I’m quite proud to say that’s me and I’m quite happy for people to listen to that, and ‘Five Moments’ as well actually, I’m quite happy with that.
Northern Picture Library “Insecure”
EIO40: We know after The Field Mice and Northern Picture Library you continued to work on projects with Bobby over the years. In fact, we understand that you have very recently been working with him on his Lightning In A Twilight Hour project.
Anne Mari:I’m so, so privileged to still be part of what Bobby creates. I absolutely love going in to the studio, and it’s with the same engineer, Ian Catt, which I’m really comfortable with. With Ian I’m happy to experiment, because he knows me well enough so, if I go wrong I don’t crumple in the heat like I probably would if it was somebody I didn’t know and I was trying to be all professional. I absolutely love being part of that. I’m beyond excited about the new release coming out in April, so excited. Michael (Hiscock) came over and played a few tracks of bass and Beth (Arzy) sings on it, obviously, and I’ve sung a few bits and bobs.
EIO40:So you’ve all sort of stuck together over the years?
Anne Mari: Yes.
Lighting In A Twilight Hour – The Sky Beyond The Sky
EIO40: Which musical project you are most proud to be associated with?
Anne Mari: Northern Picture Library definitely and if anybody ever says, “I’ve never heard of you, can I listen to something you’ve done?” then ‘Alaska’ would be what I’d choose. Or ‘Blue Dissolve’, because those are the bits I don’t mind listening to myself, and I do like the influences that we had then.
Equally, the stuff that Bobby’s doing at the moment, his ‘Lightning In A Twilight Hour’ is fabulous. It’s gone back to being very experimental really, I think.
Elefant (Records) are fantastic, he’s got complete free reign to do whatever he wants to do and they just tick the box, you know. I’ve never known a label be so liberal in what they allow you to do. They don’t ask for demos or anything, it’s just, “Off you go.” So therefore he can explore the more unusual things. I actually think there’s some compost on one of the tracks, if you can imagine compost having a sound. I don’t think he knows actually.
It was bit like that with Northern Picture Library. My dad walked around with one of these little recording devices and recorded the sounds of a power station, and that’s on one of the tracks. Just being able to do that kind of stuff with freedom and not being worried about what the record label might or might not say when it goes to them is really, really brilliant.
EIO40: And what’s your favourite song that was written by Bobby?
Anne Mari: ‘‘Five Moments’.
The Field Mice “Five Moments”
EIO40: We’re ashamed to say that the only song of yours we own is the Northern Picture Library version of Something Good on that Sound Of Music compilation CD.
Anne Mari: Oh well, but you know, I really love that. That was recorded so quickly, in such a short space of time. We had an hours recording to do that. I have always loved musicals and I think that’s one of the highlights of my recording career. And not only that, John Peel playing it on the World Service was a moment that I remember really vividly. I don’t know if you recall but it got played twice in a week, and once was in the middle of the night. Bobby’s a bit of an insomniac and he came, woke me up five o’clock, or four o’clock in the morning and went, “Listen, listen.” And I’m like, “What? What? Oh, I can hear myself.” And it was such a wonderful feeling to hear that. So chuffed to be able to record that song
EIO40: Which band on Sarah Records would you like to have played in and why? Apart from The Field Mice of course.
Anne Mari: I think The Wake. They were just that bit more mature. They knew what they were doing. Fantastic songs that completely stood the test of time and very lovely, humble people as well.
EIO40: A photograph of you appeared on the Trembling Blue Stars “Lips That Taste Of Tears” album cover. How did that come about?
Anne Mari: My sister was a graphic designer and she knew a photographer up in Manchester. So I went in to the studio and had the time of my life for a day, it was fab. I really, really enjoyed that as an experience, it was great but something that, you know, Clare and Matt had always been absolutely against, having female on the cover. So it caused a bit of upset.
EIO40: Tell us about your life away from music. Have you had a full-time job? Have you had a career?
Anne Mari: Yes I have. I studied as an accountant in my late 20s and I’ve been in the charity sector for the last 13 years which was full time until I had the kids (Anne Mari has two delightful boys). Actually, having children has been brilliant for getting the instruments out again. We’ve got a piano, we’ve got guitars, there’s a cornet that my eight-year-old plays I feel it’s very important to have music around children right from the word go, so that’s what’s kept me going musically.
The other thing is, which is completely random in a way, is that I now teach salsa and bachata. I got in to Cuban music in my late 20s and Afro-Cuban more than the straight salsa stuff, so I was lucky I was living in London and there were just amazing places to go and resources.
So I started dancing and the musical outlet for me became dance rather than singing for a time and I teach dance once a week. Some of the Cuban rhythms are so complex and so intricate, it’s like flying when you get it, it’s wonderful. It’s a very different area, very different genre of music, but really, really fabulous.
EIO40: Did you go to a screening of My Secret World?
Anne Mari: I went to the one in Brighton. It was quite nerve-wracking actually, to go along to that. I had been sent a copy of the DVD beforehand, so I knew I was going to see. It did feel a bit strange going, but actually it was just really lovely. Alison (Cousens) was there from Brighter, my friend Sarah from The Purple Tulips came along with me, because she’d been there right at the beginning. We said, “You know what, it does really make you remember what it felt like when we first hear those tracks, you know,” and how important it was for those songs to be coming out of the sixth firm common room CD player when the usual stuff was so far removed.
EIO40: So, with increased nostalgia surrounding Sarah bands following on from the successes of the Popkiss book and My Secret World and our own efforts to a lesser extent, would you ever consider reforming or is it a bridge to far?
Anne Mari: It’s a bridge to far
EIO40: You appreciate that question had to be asked?
Anne Mari:Yes, of course it did. It’s absolutely not going to happen on any level. Apart from anything I’m not going to play live again, can’t see a situation when I would. Although I did go to see a band the other day, a local band called Pog. I just thought they all looked like they were having such a good time, loads of them on stage, loads of different instruments, sort of a post-punk sound going on, but really good songs, really, really good songs.
And I thought, “Oh, I’d quite like to be a part of that.” And that’s the first time that has happened in years and years and years. You should look up Pog, they’re brill. It’s this local guy called Paul Stapleton.
That’s the only time that I’ve even thought that but I still probably wouldn’t on the balance of risk, I just don’t want to go back. I know that a lot of bands are reforming and touring again but I can’t actually imagine wanting to go and see a band that I liked 25 years ago let alone be in that band playing all the old stuff. I know Bobby, as the writer, wouldn’t be wanting to. If he did want to ever play live he’d want to do the new stuff. Because the old stuff is of a time long gone.
EIO40: So was Tufnell Park the last time you ever stood on a stage?
It is barely conceivable that purveyors of alternative and indie pop music will not have come across The Band of Holy Joy in some shape or form since their first musical releases into the public domain in the early 1980s when they began life in New Cross, London.
The main vehicle of Johny Brown’s musical vision are still very much going strong. A box set of early recordings released on the Flim Flam Label has just been released and, this October, The Band of Holy Joy release a brand new long-player ‘Funambulist We Love You’. We caught up with Johny in a café-cum-bicycle repair shop to talk about past, present and future.
EIO40: Let’s begin sort of at the beginning; on the 2011 album ‘How To Kill A Butterfly’ you sing about the North “why I Ieft I’ll never understand”. You must have left North Shields at the age of around 20 to come down to London; what were you thinking?
Johny Brown: “I just drifted down here. I came down to make music because there was no scene in Newcastle, there never had been a scene in Newcastle. I had friends down here who were making music and making art and I just happened down. I ended up in a big squat with loads of like-minded musicians and artists.
I used to come down to London from the age of 15, 16, bunking on trains to come to gigs and I sort of came down for a week, then a couple of weeks and sort of ended up living down here. I love Newcastle and I’ve got strong, strong ties with Newcastle but for what I wanted to achieve the action was down here.
EIO40:Those strong ties might explain why you returned to take part in The Great North Run a couple of years ago. That must have been quite something, running through the streets of your hometown?
Johny Brown: I did a run in London a few years ago, round The Strand and it was great; Sunday morning, the streets were all blocked off and I thought ‘This is great’. So I thought the next run I’ll do is The Great North Run, across the bridge. I thought it was running by the river, you know. But you get on it [The bridge] and you cannot move, it’s a crawl and once you cross the bridge it’s like a motorway down to South Shields and you can’t see a thing. But then you hit this hill and it’s ‘Wow! You can see the sea’ and then I was flagging a bit and there’s my home town North Shields, the Priory at Tynemouth… It’s just awesome.
EIO40:The Band of Holy Joy have certainly been prolific at times; 1984 to 1992 and then from 2008. What happened in the gap and at what point did you worry that you might have to get what my dad would call a ‘proper’ job?
Johny Brown:I got a proper job 10 years ago; that’s funded the band to keep going. I managed to avoid any gainful employment until 2008. A lot of the 1990s went by in a blur. I was quite footloose and fancy free. But in 2001 I had a brain tumour and I crashed. That’s when the band went out the window. The band went out of the window first of all cause we’d been touring endlessly for fifteen years, guys living in each other’s pockets. It’s not nice, you need a break.
Then we got back together, played a few gigs and it was going quite well but it wasn’t what I really wanted. And then I had the brain tumour and for two years was in quite a bad place. I was still writing my plays and DJing and then I crashed big time. And that’s when I got a job, and took the band back in hand.
EIO40:How much of the experience with the brain tumour influenced your creativity?
Johny Brown: None. Absolutely none. It did drive us towards working for MENCAP, wanting to do something useful with my life. I’d been on tour for twenty, thirty years, I didn’t have a clue. I started to do some DJ workshops for the Elfrida Society. I didn’t know what a learning disability was, but I really loved it. I soon saw that the energy I’d been putting into running the band and looking after twelve nutters on tour, as far as looking after needy people, I saw that I could direct and channel all my energies into working with people with learning disabilities and making their lives a bit more worthwhile.
My whole thing is social inclusion, it always has been, and this is social inclusion on a really meaningful scale. Giving people the chance to do things that I’ve done; I’ve had a great life, lived the life I’ve wanted to live, and I’m giving something back now.
EIO40: Wikipedia lists about 40 different members of the band over its history. Has it always been a collective, on an easy-come easy-go basis, or are you just The Fall’s Mark E Smith in disguise?
Johny Brown:I’m the anti-Mark E Smith! If someone wants to be in the band they’re in the band; if somebody leaves someone else comes, it’s just the joy of playing with people. I don’t think I’ve ever sacked anyone from the band… I think I sacked Karel a few times – the violin player – but he always sort of clawed back. The band started as a social thing, and more and more people came and joined us: “oh, you can play trombone, come and join the band.” Having said that, the line-up we’ve had for the past five years has been pretty stable.
The band had always been a cooperative, people had an equal say, whereas this time I wanted to pay for it myself and have more of a vision in the band. It’s still an equal share between six people but I’m a lot more focussed than I used to be. Now we bring out about an album every year that sell about 300 copies and when we do our CD-r’s they sell about 100 copies and it’s great: we’ve got our own little audience.
We’ve never really been in step with anything; we feel a kinship with the indie world, we’re on a level with The Bitter Springs, The Blue Orchids now and The Nightingales and that’s just a really great place to be.
EIO40:How did the collapse of Rough Trade affect you as a band?
Johny Brown:I’m really not sure… We had the option to do a third album with them, but I’ve got a feeling Geoff would have ditched us I think. I don’t think ‘Positively Spooked’ sold as many as he would have liked us to have sold. It sold quite a few, we were on track and in retrospect is was quite good.
Rough Trade folded, Geoff wiped the debt off we had a publishing deal with Chrysalis who let us use their studio and we amassed about 30-40 songs, 10 of which went into ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’ and it was ex-Rough Trade staff who set up Ecuador Records but it didn’t happen, ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’, for whatever reason. Then we sort of dwindled out… but during that time we toured Russia twice, we played around the world.
EIO40:After ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’ everything seemed to go quiet. One of the most appealing factors of The Band of Holy Joy was its disparate nature and there was nothing to fill the gap.
Johny Brown: There came a time I think where the NME just tightened up. The moment The Stone Roses came along it was game over. I’ve never really been able to explain it, but from then on everything became ‘format’, all with the eye on success whereas we really were a cry of pain, a cry of perversity and pleasure from the back of beyond.
EIO40: You got involved in the soundtrack to the ‘McLibel’ film. How did that come about?
Johny Brown:Franny was the drummer in the Holy Joy, basically, so when she made the film she used the music from Holy Joy tracks. Alf mixed them in the studio, took the vocals out and used them as backing tracks. I was hardcore vegan at the time, about four members of the band were vegan, Franny was vegan, I had friends who were A.L.F. Franny made the film, she was absolutely committed.
EIO40:As well as leading The Band of Holy Joy, you’ve written plays and have a radio show, Bad Punk [on London community arts radio station Resonance FM]. How does that come together; is it a similar process to putting an album together?
Johny Brown:It’s totally different. Me and James do it every Friday night. We do soundscapes, we bring actors in and writers, poets, and they do text over our soundscapes. We just take our favourite records – African funk music, Egyptian jazz, punk rock, put it all together and its just us having fun.
And then every now and again I’ll do a proper radio show, bring someone on and interview them. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years. It was one of the first things that gave me focus after my brain tumour. Every Friday night I’d do a show. They gave me a month of Fridays and said if you’re good you can do it.
And Resonance… it’s the best radio station in the world and I really enjoy it. I love radio. I’ve set up a radio station with MENCAP down the road so they can present their own radio shows. Its great, they’re communicating, their confidence grows.
EIO40:How did the collaboration with The Bitter Springs arise?
Johny Brown: I’ve no idea. I’ve really no i… actually, I do know: we’ve got an uber-fan in New York whose absolutely obsessed with The Band Of Holy Joy and he’s also obsessed with The Bitter Springs and he’s also obsessed with Morten Valance. He paid for us to go to New York about ten years ago and he introduced us to The Bitter Springs. I’d never heard them and I loved it. I like that strain of English bohemian, literary but quite working class music. That’s my bottom line.
EIO40:The new album ‘Funambulist We Love You’ sounds a very joyous record; the most seamless and coherent album you’ve released.
Johny Brown:Absolutely. We’ve been working towards this for the past ten years. ‘Love Never Fails’ was a smorgasbord of different sounds but I want albums to be really streamlined, to say something and be distinct from the last album. And I love making albums, I still believe in albums. If I was 21 I’d be making 23 second songs, thinking that would be it. This album we’re starting to nail it, and hopefully the next album we will nail it. ‘Funambulist’ is us making a nice poppy indie record.
EIO40:So what can we expect over the next few years from The Band of Holy Joy?
Johny Brown:I don’t know. I really don’t know. We’re going to make an electronic album, I know that; that’s on the cards. We’re going to make a ‘More Favourite Fairytales’ 4 or 5 which will purely be about London, now. But there’ll also be another album like ‘Funambulist’, which is more poetic and pop. The radio show will go on.
EIO40:After all the trials and tribulations along the way it seems as though now The Band of Holy Joy are right where they want to be?
Johny Brown: We’ve found a level we can work in. There’s no big expectations but we have the work ethic which allows us to do that, yes. We’re still curious, we still want to make really good records, and that’s the bottom line.
The Band of Holy Joy’s new album ‘Funambulist We Love You’ is released on Tiny Global Productions on October 27th and is available for pre-order here
‘The Clouds That Break The Sky’, a 3-disc box set of early studio albums is out now on Tiny Global Productions.
A plethora of recordings by The Band of Holy Joy can be found at bandofholyjoy.bandcamp.com
After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song John Hartley has turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free. He is currently raising money to support men’s mental health charity CALM (@theCALMzone) at http://brokendownrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-broken-heed
We were absolutely honoured when Jim Bob agreed to swing by EIO40 HQ for a cup of tea, a slice of homemade cake and a chat about all things JB, Carter USM, writing books and other sundry stuff.
To be honest, not sure we could do an introduction justice for an interview with James “Jim Bob” Morrison. Noteable alumni of South London, famously one half of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, accomplished solo artist and award winning author. We could list the accolades and achievements, but won’t. We’ll be here all day. Instead we’ll just let Jim Bob’s own words tell the story.
EIO40: Hi Jim. Thank you for giving up your valuable time to talk to us. Now, going back to the early days what were you like as a teenager? Were you rebellious at school?
Jim Bob:I think I was rebellious in a way. I mean when I was at school I would say I was one of the fairly good kids but I was easily manipulated by the bad kids. Definitely towards my final time at school I was hanging around with the wrong people. I didn’t go to school a lot in the last year. I think I did two exams. I did really badly at school. I went from when I was about 13 and top in maths and by the end of school I was in the non-exam group. I don’t know what that says about me. But I was always into music. I was passionate about it.
EIO40: What were you into musically back then? Those teenage years can be formative, can’t they?
Jim Bob:Yes or even before then. I mean it is the one thing I do remember quite a lot of. I had an older sister and she had quite a lot of friends that used to come round. Even when I was like around nine and she would have been about eleven, they used to listen to a lot of Ska music and stuff like that because they were like Smoothes. Did they call them Smoothes? Skinheads with hair. A sort of cross between mods and skinheads.
I probably was really into whatever she liked. Then whatever boyfriend she had I tended to get into their music. When I was probably 13 or 14 I remember a boyfriend she had for quite a while, he liked rock music. I liked whatever he had so that would have been things like Supertramp.
By then I had a lot of eclectic things going on with people I knew at school. The first band I was in, I must have been I suppose about 14. It was a band just doing rock and roll songs. The first live performance was doing Buddy Holly songs. It was a band that wasn’t really a band. I don’t think anybody could play. I think the music teacher played guitar just to link it.
I was really into rock and roll when I was young, like Bill Haley and Buddy Holly. But it was probably for really short periods of time because by the end of school when I was 15 or 16 it was punk. It was right at the end of my school that I got into that. I remember the headmaster doing an assembly and warning people about punk music. He told us that it was, “Just a phase and don’t get involved in it”.
I remember getting into trouble, not beaten up, with some other kids because I had straight jeans. I wore straight jeans and they were still wearing flares. You had to sort of be quite secretive about the fact that you might like The Stranglers or something because it was definitely frowned upon by most people, by kids I mean.
EIO40: On the subject of school, by that what we actually mean is your 2006 solo album ‘School’, is ‘Mrs McMurphy’ based on a real teacher?
Jim Bob: Yes she is. She is actually based on my daughter’s cookery teacher. In fact there are probably more. Some bits of the teachers in the album do come from her teachers at the time. She had a trendy history teacher, a really, really moody, chip on his shoulder geography teacher and a really horrible, really angry cookery teacher. I think I was just nicking those. But there did seem to be a thing about geography teachers. Do they still do options these days? When you got to 13 and you could choose what subjects to do, people seemed to drop geography and I presume if you are a geography teacher it must be a bit, every year, “Uh, here we go again”. It is the unpopular subject.
EIO40: Can you remember the first gig that you went to?
Jim Bob:I am pretty sure that the first gig I went to was Queen in Hyde Park. They did a free gig. I went with my mates. I don’t know how old I was. I reckon 14 or something. I remember my mate went to the toilet and I never saw him again that day. I was there like terrified, surrounded by all these old hippies. But they sort of threw bottles at a lot of the support acts. I remember quite a lot of that day, particularly having to get home on my own.
I remember one of the support acts was Kiki Dee. It was around the time of, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ with Elton John. She did that with a cardboard cut out of Elton John. But I can’t remember who sung his bits or if she did both bits. Who else was on? Steve Hillage who was like a real old hippy. I don’t know any of his music but in my head he is like Neil from The Young Ones. I think a lot of people threw piss at him. I just remember it being quite an intimidating atmosphere at that age. I am pretty sure that is the first gig I went to.
EIO40: I understand you originally started a band with Les Carter (Fruitbat) called The Ballpoints, was that right? Was that your first band?
Jim Bob:I was in a band before. Well if you exclude the things I was in at school that weren’t really bands. I was in a band called Jeepster, which came from a T-Rex song. That was my first band. It was around the time of the mod revival, that sort of time. We were a little bit moddy. We had quite a lot of big ideas about how great we were and how all our songs were about very specific things. But we only did one gig. When we got the gig I left my job. It was my first job and I’d had it for quite a while. It was quite a good job. We had one gig in some youth club somewhere and I left work because I thought, “This is it. Here we go”.
Jeepster then sort of turned into The Ballpoints. It would have been two members of Jeepster became The Ballpoints. Then Les joined later. At that time he was a sort of a constructive destructive force. He used to come in bands and basically get rid of members, not in a horrible way but he was very good at sort of working out, “This person is holding us back” or whatever. Whereas I would just carry on. If it were up to me I wouldn’t want to upset anyone and just carry on forever and not get anywhere. Then we changed our name to Peter Pan’s Playground.
EIO40: Did you have any demo tapes from these bands?
Jim Bob: Yes we did.
EIO40: Have they ever see the light of day?
Jim Bob: No. They do exist and people are always asking about them. There are certain record labels that would like to release stuff. The Jeepster stuff to me is quite bad but it is brilliant in its badness. Whereas The Ballpoints probably stands the test of time not so well because we were trying to be serious. We were trying to be The Jam whereas before it was just fairly unique.
There is also a lot of Jamie Wednesday stuff that people are pretty much week-by-week asking us to release. I don’t know. I mean if I am honest I have to lie to people because I quite like not everything to be available. Do you know what I mean? I quite like there to be a bit of a secret for the 15 people that heard it at the time.
EIO40: Now there was a gap between The Ballpoints and Jamie Wednesday. Did you go back to work at that point?
Jim Bob: I was working. I mean not long after I left my first job I got another job. I did quite a lot of long term temp work. I was always working. But I think after The Ballpoints both Les and me were mates and that but we were both trying to do solo things. We made quite a lot of demos again. Some of those became Carter songs. I was doing solo stuff under the name Jamie Wednesday. He was doing solo stuff under the name Cartoon Carter because his surname was Carter. He was supposedly a cartoon character. But we didn’t really do anything other than just make demos really. Then at some point we decided to become a band.
I think it might have just been me wanting to play some of my songs live and Les played with me. This was around venues in Streatham and Croydon. Then maybe at some point we thought, “It would be good if we had some drums” or something like that. Then we met a sax player. A lot of times it tended to be meeting people. We met a saxophone player so therefore we had a saxophone. Then that led to Jamie Wednesday having a horn section and so on. But yes there was a time when we were just doing solo demos and that.
EIO40: A Jamie Wednesday track recently appeared on the Cherry Red C87 compilation (“We Three Kings Of Orient Aren’t”)
Jim Bob:Those albums are pretty good aren’t they? Just the amount of stuff they have on there. Cherry Red are brilliant at finding stuff. They will pretty much release anything but they are good at getting the right songs together. I suppose if you are thinking about the early ‘80s onwards there probably was an indie scene in the way there wouldn’t be now. Because now it would be so connected to money and Spotify and all the rest of it. Whereas then it was very much real. You could go and see four bands in a pub that nowadays would be playing Brixton Academy but selling fewer records.
EIO40: Okay, so moving onto Carter now. Did you ever think that you would be as successful as you were?
Jim Bob:I think we always thought we were really good right from the beginning. We always felt that. But I don’t think we planned as much when it happened as we had in the past. It all happened, with the exception of about a year at the beginning, quite quickly and quite easily so that there almost wasn’t time to really think about that.
EIO40:Watching an interview you did a few years ago, I think you said you’d only sent the demo to one label. There wasn’t any sort of shopping around per se.
Jim Bob: The whole thing came from Jamie Wednesday. The band split before a gig but we I had do something. Les & I went into a studio in someone’s garden shed, which is where we ended up recording most of the Carter albums, and just recorded these backing tracks. Then two weeks later or possibly even less, a week later maybe, we did the gig. We weren’t rehearsing or anything like that. We did the first gig and then from that did some other gigs. Then made a demo quite soon after and gave it to the first label. They said, “Yes do you want to do a single?”
It was only after that first single that there was a gap because we got in a legal disagreement about whether they should let us record anything else with another label. Then within a year or however long it was, the next thing would have been ‘Sheriff Fatman’. That wasn’t massively successful at first but it got reviews and stuff. Yes I suppose we didn’t really have a chance to think. Then all of a sudden you are doing really well and by that point you don’t like it anymore. You do some moaning, “Oh no not another interview”.
EIO40: Was that what you were thinking this morning?
Jim Bob: (Laughs). No, Back then it was more like you know you are doing something you enjoy but you have got to spend the whole day doing 12 interviews and you start to hear yourself, you start to hear your own opinions and think, “Oh this bloke is an idiot. What is he talking about?” If I had to read back or see some of those interviews, I’d think “God, what a twat”.
EIO40:What do you consider to be your best Carter gig?
Jim Bob: I don’t know. I mean I always say Reading in ’91. Of the ones I remember, I remember that as being amazing at the time, especially because we weren’t headlining, but we sort of felt like we were. Not in an arrogant way. More we felt we were almost at the peak. Whereas when we were in Glastonbury, even though we were headlining, there were a lot of people starting to hate us. Whereas at Reading most people liked us at that point.
But then most of the reunion gigs we’ve done, I kind of think were sort of better in an odd way. Not all of them. Although a thing that surprised me was when somebody put up a load of videos somewhere. I think it was when Jon Beast died. A lot of videos and some of the old videos are just amazing to me for what it was like. In some of the gigs it looks like there is no stage because everyone is on stage, the crowds, the stage diving, it is chaos. That is quite exciting. In a way those gigs with hindsight are probably more exciting than the recent reunions that were more controlled.
EIO40: You mentioned Glastonbury in 1992, where Carter were famously banned for life by Michael Eavis following Les taking umbrage at your set being cut short. Are you still banned?
Jim Bob: Well I have played twice on the Leftfield stage since but I don’t think anybody would have noticed. Les has played there with Ferocious Dog. I don’t think we would be banned anyway. The way I look at it, without meaning to sound like I am still having a go at Glastonbury, but I imagine if Carter were big enough when we reformed to headline it then I think they would have forgotten all of that. Because didn’t Oasis headline it? I am pretty sure they said worse things about Glastonbury than we ever did. Or the Manics, they said worse.
EIO40: Now you mentioned Jon “Fat” Beast earlier who sadly passed away in 2014. At what point in your history did Jon begin introducing you and the chanting start?
Jim Bob: I think the chanting had started before he had anything to do with us. He used to be a promoter at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town. He had a club there called Time Box. Carter played there quite early, very early on. Everybody played there, bands whose names have slipped my mind now. No only did he promote but he also did the lights. There weren’t many lights but he did the lights. All I remember is they had a box at the back upstairs where he’d do the lights. For some reason, considering he was the light man, he had a microphone. So he would just sort of heckle us because that was his character.
Then at some point he said he thought we needed lights. We didn’t have any lights. We weren’t a band with lights. It was just me and Les and a cassette recorder. He was obsessed with us having lights and I think we kind of resisted it. Then by the time we did have some lights we were doing a sort of college tour and he wanted to come along and do the lights. He said he didn’t want to be paid. He would just sell the merch and take some money from that. We said, “No”.
Then the first day of tour we turned up and he was there. He just came. We just couldn’t avoid him so he was just there. Then at some point he introduced us and the Fat Bastard thing happened, but I think he had already done it for Mega City Four. They were already shouting it at him for that because it was a football thing anyway, wasn’t it?
He was still doing our lights so he would introduce us and then come to the back and do the lights. At some point I think he lost interest in the lighting part of it and he got someone else in to help him. In the end he was just doing that.
EIO40: Naturally we’d like to know a bit more about those memorable lyrics you come up with. Is there is any particular Carter song you are most proud of lyrically?
Jim Bob:There are loads of little bits. There are lots of lines. I can’t think of any. But lines of mine where I think, “That’s quite clever”. ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’ as a total song I guess. It has got everything in it but it is not too, you know it has got all the puns in it but not at a point where it is a bit too embarrassing. ‘The tequila sun is rising and the Harvey’s Bristol moon is sinking’, is a line I really like. At the time I felt quite a sort of certain pride, awkward pride I suppose about the way that song meant a lot to people, people who were having difficulty, sort of the way people related to it. It was horrible that they related to it, but they said that was a positive thing.
But the lines that people quote are often things that I nicked. Not nicked but like, I don’t know, I think of things like people sometimes quote, “You can’t judge a book by its cover but you can tell how much it cost”. That came from a film. That is not me. But I often see people say, “Oh genius”. The genius wasn’t me. That is from Brideshead Revisited. I am not saying they are all stolen. It is like Morrissey and The Smiths. With a lot of his stuff you find you are watching a film and somebody says something and you go, “Hang on. That is a Smiths song”.
I think the reason why our music is never used in films and adverts is probably because the lyrics were very specific. They tend to stick out. That is a good thing, but a bad thing financially. But yes, because if you hear ‘Sheriff Fatman’ in a film you are hearing all that stuff going on. Whereas you can play, I don’t know, say The Stone Roses and you’re not quite sure what it is about. Is it about a woman banging some drums?
I met this bloke in Germany once who wrote some sort of thesis or something about the lyrics of ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross’ from a German perspective. He explained what they were all about. It was really interesting because there were so many different levels to it that I kind of ignored, that most people ignored. For example it would be, ‘Hello, good evening and welcome to nothing much’ and he’d have to explain about David Frost and where that came from. And that New Cross was a place in South London but it refers back to Only Living Boy in New York.
EIO40:What was your best memory from your time with Carter?
Jim Bob:I’m not sure. Some of it is not that clear but the early days in a way were really exciting.When ‘101 Damnations’ got in the indie chart and then the actual chart. Then being at a gig when that happened, how exciting that was because it was new. Later on it gets to that point where you think, “Oh. Only number two?” But moments like that, you don’t tend to remember in a precise way.
In more recent times I do remember I got that feeling when we did the first reunion gig at Glasgow Barrowlands, the first proper sort of reunion. Walking through the venue during the day when they were setting all the lights and everything up and thinking, I had a real sort of feeling, “This is not just for me, but this is for me”. It was the biggest rush. It was quite a good feeling. I think I used to like that at gigs. I used to like walking around an empty Brixton Academy knowing it was sold out and that you are kind of responsible for that. That was a really good feeling.
Also the fact that, apart from the band and people working there and the audience, not really anybody else knows about it. Kind of outside of that small circle certainly with the reforming things, people just don’t know it happened. Do you know what I mean? Because it is not in the press. Everyone just still thinks, “Oh that band from the past”. Yes I like that sort of feeling. I miss that.
Then of course the large riders. It is always good to see a large pile of alcohol in a room that you can’t get when you are playing in a pub.
EIO40: When you did that first reunion, how difficult was it to decide on a set list?
Jim Bob:If it was entirely up to me it would have been relatively easy. I mean Les would be more inclined to do some ones that were more challenging to him and to the audience. Whereas I was quite happy to just do the obvious ones. We played quite long sets as you definitely have to play longer sets when it’s a comeback gig because you can’t just base it all around a new album. You have got to do everything. We’d had 14 singles or something so we sort of had to do most of those I think, if not all of them. Then there were songs that we were obviously going to do, ‘Prince in a Pauper’s Grave’ and things like that. It mostly does itself really I think.
It was good when we did the four albums thing because we definitely played songs there that we had never played live before. That was quite good to do that.
EIO40: You were forced to do songs you wouldn’t normally play?
Jim Bob:Yes, and to play them in the right order because people don’t do that very often. But it is bullshit isn’t it? Because you come on and you say, “We are doing all this album and then we are going to do loads of hits afterwards”. Then you look at it and just think, “Technically I am doing the same set just in a different order”. Maybe there are a couple that you wouldn’t normally do.
EIO40: You’ve probably seen on Twitter and social media, as we most certainly have, that people have kept all their posters, T shirts and other memorabilia. Have you kept any of that yourself?
Jim Bob: Yes. It is not in an organised way, but I have definitely got a lot of stuff. There is a lot of stuff under the bed. There is a big silver chest. It is not made of silver, a silver cover with loads of t-shirts inside. I have got a lot more of the old stuff than I have of the new stuff. I probably haven’t got most of the new Carter shirts but I have got all the old ones. They were better made in those days as well. Although surprisingly few CDs and that sort of stuff. I have probably got one copy of ’30 Something’.
EIO40: Is there a particular item that you have a fondness for?
Jim Bob: I quite like the gold discs just because they look like prizes don’t they?
EIO40: Assume they are not shoved under the bed?
Jim Bob: No, but they are not hanging up. They are just there. There are good things that people gave us just sort of sitting there gathering dust, like puppets from Japan. People made puppets of Les and me. Things like that are pretty cool.
A more recent thing which was for the last Brixton Academy gig, someone had reproduced the tickets for all the times we played there, might have been 25 times, and had framed them with a picture of the venue. They gave that to Les and me. Things like that are wonderful.
EIO40: After having been in a band for so long how did it it feel performing solo?
Jim Bob:Well, because after Carter the first thing I did was ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’, so it was another band technically, live anyway. The first gig I did with ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’ was fine, because it was packed. Then we did Reading and Leeds, on the smaller stage, and that was okay. Then the first gig outside London was a shock. I remember that. Basically because there was no-one there. (Laughter). That shook me a bit.
EIO40: It was a different world that what you had been used to?
Jim Bob:Yes. I thought, “Oh, right.” and that carried on for a while.
EIO40: Do you feel more vulnerable performing on the stage as a solo artist?
Jim Bob:No. Because when going on tour one of the reasons I don’t do that many gigs anymore, definitely one of the reasons, is that even though it’s just me and a guitar I can’t do gigs on my own completely. I mean, I can but I’ve hardly done any. There’s always someone with me. I can’t drive, so someone usually has to drive. So that’s Mr Spoons. Then there will probably be Marc (Ollington) or someone else there, selling any merchandise or whatever, and collecting the money, things like that. If I went on my own I wouldn’t collect the money, because I would be too timid to go and ask for it. (Laughter) I would feel I was insulting people by asking to be paid. So they’re there and that makes it almost like having a band, in a funny sort of way, even though they’re not onstage.
Playing solo doesn’t scare me in any way, and it means I can do whatever I want, I suppose, song-wise and that. Then getting back together with Les you sort of realise that some things are better being onstage with someone else or as a band. Also there’s a fine line between band and solo with me and Carter, because technically I suppose we were a duo, so we weren’t really a band then. So that’s good, that feeling of having someone else there, but also you end up having disagreements about the tiniest things, that you would never disagree about on your own.
For me it’s very much an audience thing, depending who the audience is and how many of them there are. Probably my biggest – well, I think it is my biggest fear, in terms of being a performer, is empty venues. I really can’t deal with it. And that’s transferred into book readings being the same sort of thing. It’s not size of venue. If I played in your living room, and say it holds 25 people or something, and there were 25 people here, I would be happier with that than I would be at a 600 capacity venue with 100 people there. Doing those ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’ things to empty venues with a band was less of an issue, because we had a good time as a group of people.
EIO40: Is there particular artist that you would like to perform onstage with, alive or dead?
Jim Bob:Only in a fantasy type way. In reality I think it would be awful. It’s all bloody… It’s very much about that now, isn’t it? Collaboration is what everyone does. I can’t think of anybody obvious. There are people that I like and admire. I like Elvis Costello, but I don’t know what it would be like performing with him. Yes, I would say Elvis Costello.
EIO40: Is there a song that you wish you had written?
Jim Bob: Oh, God. Yes, there are probably quite a few, but they tend to be what I hear on the radio. Say a really simple song. I do remember not long ago hearing ‘The Air That I Breathe’ by The Hollies, and I thought, “Oh, I wish I had written this.” (Laughter) Those sort of real just brilliant songs.
They’re not massively clever. They’re just really simple, with brilliant melodies and that. There are a lot of those. Probably a lot of older songs. Those sort of things. I like ‘The Long And Winding Road’. Just simple, usually slow songs. I like a lot of Nick Cave, but I think it’s Nick Cave that I like as much as the songs, if you know what I mean.
EIO40: Turning to your solo stuff. ‘School’ and ‘Goffam’ were concept albums. How did you get the idea for those?
Jim Bob: I think ‘School’ was the only one that’s an actual proper concept. I’m trying to think if there was a first song on that that sparked it. I think it was ‘The Orchestra Song’. I think that’s how it started. I just had this idea, and then I wrote songs very quickly, I think it only took a couple of weeks or something, about a school orchestra. I’m sure it’s probably been done, and it’s probably a corny thing that’s been done in films, but the idea of a fame school being saved by a visionary headmaster who forms an orchestra. Not even a good orchestra. So that’s how that happened.
Then I had rules that I gave myself that all the songs had to be possible to be played by a school band. When I say school band I’m probably thinking of a school band from years ago, not now, because they’re probably all studio whizz-kids now. Some people didn’t like the album, because it didn’t have any bass and stuff like that, but I was thinking very much traditional, old-school instruments. So there are a lot of tambourines, and people banging things and lots of percussion.
It came together very quickly, writing around things that I remembered from school, teachers, and fights between schools, stuff like that. I thought it would be a musical. I still think maybe one day. If I was Damon Albarn these ideas would happen, but because I’m not Damon Albarn… I don’t know what I mean by that. Well, I do know what I mean by that. I imagine it as being a fairly simple musical that was performed in schools by schools. Schools would put on their own version of it. That was sort of how I saw that, but I haven’t actually written or got anywhere. No-one has written a script as such. But I think it’s all there. Like I say, if I was Damon Albarn somebody would give me £1m.
Goffam was a looser idea. A fairly simple idea. I don’t know where that came from. I think it was just a fairly half-arsed idea, but it was an idea about some terrible superheroes. Superheroes who just weren’t very good. Scared superheroes, in an inner-city deprived area, with superheroes who don’t really bother helping anybody. With ‘It’s A Humpty Dumpty Thing’, that was another loose idea about working in an office.
EIO40: There was a time then it was a bit confusing for us, whether it was Jim Bob or JR Morrison. There seemed to be an overlap.
Jim Bob: Yes. What happened there was I liked doing ‘Super Stereoworld’. I think even though it was a massive failure as a band I really liked the whole thing about it. But for some reason it was probably trying to get as far away from Carter maybe at the time, so I didn’t want to call myself Jim Bob. With hindsight, if I had called myself Jim Bob I think things probably would have been different maybe. So I think the JR Morrison thing was me still not quite ready to just give in to that. So I think whatever I did after that, I don’t remember what that was, was probably me thinking, “Oh, yes, just call me Jim Bob now”
When I did Carter songs live for the first time, Les really didn’t like it, for example. He doesn’t care now. He didn’t stop me, but I know he didn’t like it. I can understand that. Because that happens a lot, doesn’t it? Bands split up. Especially when there’s two of you. With Oasis maybe as some sort of example, The Smiths. When they split up the band, and then they did their own stuff, and then at some point both members start playing the band songs. It’s definitely happened with all those. Because Morrissey didn’t do that many Smiths songs, but now he does quite a few. Johnny Marr didn’t do any, I don’t think, but now he does. I’m pretty sure the Gallagher brothers have started doing Oasis songs, haven’t they? Probably when Les came to terms with it, was when he introduced a Carter song into his Abdoujaparov set.
EIO40: Moving on to books, was it an easy transition from being a musician/artist to becoming an author? Is it similar to song-writing or a completely different process?
Jim Bob: There are aspects of it that are the same, or that were the same. Like trying to construct sentences in an interesting way. Certain bits can take a long time and can drive you mad. And just trying to word a sentence. That did happen with song-writing. I could spend ages on one line.
I’m writing a book at the moment, which I’ve been writing for quite a long time now. It certainly feels like a long time. The process has probably changed now from when I wrote the first one. Because it would be more alien for me now to try and write a song than it would be to write a book now, if that makes sense.
I think it’s a lot harder to write books, because with music you can get away with a lot more. Firstly, you can do an album like ‘I Blame The Government’, which I don’t like now, but you would get away with that. Whereas with a book it’s not going to get printed if it’s not good, or up to some sort of standard, especially now. So that’s harder.
The hardest thing I would say for me is that you can’t get anyone’s opinion until it’s too late. I wrote 80,000 words of the latest thing, and my agent didn’t like it. That’s after I had written 80,000 words, by which time that’s a year and a half or something, With a song I could have said, “Do you like this?” “No.” “Okay.” That’s one thing.
The other thing is with a song, I would know straight away. I’ve never listened to a song, and someone else has told me it’s bad, and I’ve thought, “Oh, yes, you’re right.” Do you know what I mean? Whereas a book you really need other people’s opinions, but you can’t get them until you’ve done all the bloody work. (Laughter) That’s the worst thing for me, I think. And the not knowing at any point whether what you’re doing is a complete waste of time.
EIO40: Where did the inspiration for the character ‘Frank Derrick’ came from?
Jim Bob:Oh, it was entirely my mum. It was 100% my mum really. All the books up until now, there have been bits of people in there. Just tiny bits. Then exaggerated. ‘Storage Stories’, there’s probably a lot of me in there, in an obvious sort of way. ‘Jarvis Ham’, there’s a couple of people I know in there. With ‘Frank Derrick’, at that time my mum was 81. That’s the first giveaway. She was living basically all the things that was the setup with Frank. She was 81. She was living in a first floor flat in a village where it’s all bungalows. She had no money. She was just a fairly disastrous person, in terms of dealing with money and stuff like that. People were constantly knocking on her door offering to do her roof and stuff. Trying to get money out of her basically.
Because I was the nearest one in the family, even though I was 60 miles away, I spent quite a lot of time there. I would go down once a week. Then it became twice a week. Then she was ringing me five times a day. Then she started to get a bit… Let’s say ill, shall we? So I think just because I was spending so much time with her I wanted to write a book about somebody like that, about somebody of that age, who was realistic but also quite entertaining. Whereas the second Frank Derrick book was nothing to do with her. By then he was his own character, with other things created around him.
Yes, without my mum I wouldn’t have done it at all. So there are a lot of very specific things in there that I’ve just copied from her life, but maybe, like the Carter songs, exaggerated. Like she would buy crap from a charity shop all the time and presume it was all worth a lot of money. It never, ever was. Yes, that kind of stuff.
EIO40: Will we be hearing from Frank again in the future?
Jim Bob:I don’t know. I’m writing a different book at the moment about something else. It’s possible. The people who have read both books, a certain amount of people do want another one, but it’s a question of whether a publisher would want to publish it. It would also have to feel as though it wasn’t just, like I say, an old man going on an adventure. Because the first one is him in his normal life, and then the second one is very much like ‘Mutiny On The Buses’ or something.
EIO40:You are on a solo UK tour in December, what can people expect?
Jim Bob: Song-wise I think it will probably be half and half, or thereabouts, of Carter songs and not Carter songs. So there will be hopefully something for everyone. Chris T-T is the support, so we might do something together as well. The bulk of it will be me, the guitar, singing mostly the songs that people know. And I imagine, going from past experience, a lot of people singing along.
Certain gigs I’ve done in the past, especially some I remember on the last tour, a lot of the bad gigs were the ones where the Carter logo was so much bigger than my name. (Laughter). I have done gigs before and it said, ‘Jim Bob from Carter’, and the Carter was massive. That’s quite rude, really, isn’t it, in a way? I definitely did at least one ‘Jim’s Super Stereoworld’ gig where it was only a billing on a blackboard but they billed it as ‘Carter USM’. They just put ‘Carter USM’. (Laughter)
EIO40:Talking of being on tour. What is your least favourite road?
Jim Bob: Least favourite road? I think I wrote about this. I definitely did write about this. (Laughter). There’s a bit where you used to come in off the A3 or something. I just don’t know what road it is. It’s a road where we just used to recognise everything on it coming back from a tour, and it used to really depress me. Now, because I go to Devon quite a bit, and come home the same way, there’s that bit when you hit Wimbledon, just on the outskirts of Wimbledon, and that’s it. You’re suddenly in a traffic jam. And you know you’re back in London because everyone is rude and horrible. (Laughter) And it takes as long to get 5 miles as it’s just taken you to do 200 miles. So whatever that road is called, the one that goes over the tram track in Wimbledon. (Laughter)
EIO40: What is the most common misconception people have of you?
Jim Bob: The obvious ones would be the shorts and cycle hats. Because it never goes away. I heard recently somebody, I’m not going to name, a well-known person on a proper radio station, who should have known better, asking a question about, “Oh, yes, they always wore those shorts and those cycle hats, didn’t they?” The thing is, I didn’t wear shorts quite so much. I never wore a cycle hat. So that’s one thing.
There’s a lot of annoying things. Like people just thought that the band and the audience were very thuggish. Which I don’t think was true. Actually, the other thing I’ve just remembered is the assumption that I somehow, I was in any way involved in attacking Phillip Schofield. That was 100% Les. (Laughter)
EIO40: He’s got you in trouble a few times hasn’t he, what with Glastonbury?
Jim Bob: Yes, I know.
EIO40: Having been in a successful band, we are interested in your thoughts on the current environment for bands and artists compared to back in the day. Is it harder for them or easier considering how music can be accessed these days?
Jim Bob: As far as I can tell, I would say it certainly seems harder. I think the thing is that the levels of success maybe have changed dramatically. So you’ve got people who are more successful than they used to be, but then there’s quite a big drop to the next level. Whereas in the past you would have U2, say, and then Carter, but Carter was still really successful.
Now you would have U2, and then the equivalent of Carter would still have to have day jobs. And we would be giving away all our music, because it was the only way anybody could hear it. I think that’s the hardest thing, for people to make any money. Some of the things that we didn’t do, we refused to do, now you would have no choice. Like having sponsors names. We never had brand names near the stage and stuff like that. Now I would imagine that’s physically impossible, because all the venues are sponsored anyway.
And there’s so much emphasis on how you release stuff. Whereas before it was nothing to do with bands, was it? I mean we resisted CDs, definitely, for a while. We resisted things like the “buy one get one free” thing that was going on. We didn’t like that. And the extra tracks. We resisted all of that, but eventually gave in, I think.
Now it’s, “It will be released exclusively on Spotify”, after everyone has heard it on the Guardian website. That kind of thing. And the last people in the chain are the people who actually pay. I buy CDs still. So it’s quite frustrating when you buy a CD but you have to wait two weeks longer than everybody else before you can hear it, unless you want to just listen to it. But I feel like, “I’m going to wait.” (Laughter). Everyone moans. All the old bands moan that they’re not making any money anymore.
EIO40:What sort of music would be on your tour bus stereo?
Jim Bob: I haven’t done it for a while, so it would have changed, but there would be three or four of us on tour, because Chris would be there. When we first started doing it we had CDs probably. Then we did it with iPods. So I’m guessing we would be doing it with phones or something this time. So we’ve always done that. We will get 40/45 minutes each or something. There are certain things that you get used to hearing. Like with Marc Ollington, you know what you’re going to hear. Lots of David Bowie, Morrissey, and Pet Shop Boys. With me you know you’re going to get lots of The Jam and Elvis Costello.
Because I’m writing all the time at the moment, I do listen to music but it tends to be music that I know really well. I listen to a lot of old stuff. I think I’ve got possibly 30 different Elvis Costello albums. He’s made so many albums. So it’s that thing of thinking, “Right, what am I going to put on?” And you think, “Oh, one of these ones or something else?” So I haven’t bought a lot of new music , but I try and chuck in a few new ones, so as not to appear like a complete old fart. I really like Courtney Barnett and Sleaford Mods, but apparently they didn’t like us liking them. Actually , I’m not sure if that is true. This is hearsay. Somebody told me. (Laughter) They thought we were just pretending to like them to look cool or something. I do really like them though.
Oh, I bought the Dexys album, the Dexys Irish thing. That’s a mad album. I used to really like Dexys when they were Dexys Midnight Runners. I was a big fan. Everything they did I thought was amazing. Then years later… Actually this is not a particularly good story. It just was weird. It must have been around the time of the solo album. I was in a club with, I think I was with Clint Boon and he was meeting Kevin Rowland, and so there he was with Kevin and I was “It’s Kevin Rowland!.”
Then Clint Boon had to go off and do something, so I got left standing in this club, and it was really awkward, because he was quite quiet and I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say, “Oh, you’re great.” (Laughter) But we just just sort of stood there not talking. So yes, that’s weird.
I love meeting famous people. Especially when they’re, to my mind, really famous. And then you tell people who you’ve met and it’s disappointing when they don’t know who you mean. (Laughter). I do go on about Cillian Murphy being at the last Carter gig. Do you know Cillian Murphy?
Jim Bob: From Peaky Blinders? The actor? The Hollywood actor? See, that’s what I mean. It’s that kind of thing. Ask your missus. She will know. Women love him. It’s that kind of story. Because to me it’s like, “Fucking Cillian Murphy.” He came in the dressing room, and we had a chat and that. Actually, he knew The Frank & Walters, because he is from Cork. He knew The Frank and Walters! So that’s good. I never quite got over that.
Before that I met Juliette Binoche, which was weird. I had written about her in my first book. I was with my girlfriend and
Juliette was doing a play at the Barbican, and the sound person was this French guy who I knew, who was a Carter fan. I’ve known him for years. He got us tickets, so we went to see it.
Then afterwards we were just going to go to the pub, and then he said, “Oh, don’t you want to meet Juliette?” “What?” I thought it was going to be some sort of green room thing, or press thing, with lots of people. It was just us in her dressing room with her. I think I was going to pieces a bit, and my girlfriend was just having a chat with her as though like… (Laughter). To me it was amazing. An Oscar winning actress. But then I just tell some people and they go, “Who’s that then?”
I don’t know why I started talking about that, but yes, I love meeting famous people.
EIO40: Okay, so you’re a songwriter, musician and now an award wining author, which begs the question. What you are going to turn your hand to next?
Jim Bob: Blimey! I think I will stick with books for a while. Off the top of my head I don’t think there’s anything else I can do. They’re both related to writing, I suppose. I was asked to write a film. There was one for that Word Count mini-novel thing that came with the Humpty Dumpty album. That was adapted for a film years ago, but it was never completed. There’s a ‘Storage Stories’ television series thing on it. But these are all just things that I was doing with someone else, and he did all the work basically. I just used to go and meet him and say, “Yes, that’s a good idea.”
I imagine I will make some more music or something one day, but it’s quite difficult. It’s the admin that just does my head in. Because I think the last album I did was one of the best things I’ve done, just ever, but getting that together, just booking the studio. I think there are 29 people on it or something. In the days of Carter I didn’t do any of that. I never knew what we got paid or anything really. Somebody could have just been stealing it all. I never would have known.
EIO40: Have you ever thought about getting a full band back together?
Jim Bob: Yes, I’ve thought about it. I would love to do that, but again, like I say, it’s mostly the admin. I don’t like the admin.
Friends of mine who played on the albums, just getting them to commit to be in the same room, on the same day, as the other people, that kind of thing. Which can be really complicated. Booking rehearsal studios. Then you have to hire a van.
That’s what I was saying earlier, about why I haven’t done so many gigs. Because the people I go on tour with have got more demanding jobs, and just can’t commit to it anymore, and I don’t want to do it on my own, and I don’t want to pay someone I don’t know to do it. So I would rather not bother.
So yes, I would love to have a band. I would like to have a really good band. I would like to have The Bad Seeds. That band specifically. Jim Bob & The Bad Seeds. (Laughter) That would be perfect. I would like that.
EIO40: The last album was well received. So are we going to see any new music from Jim Bob in the foreseeable?
Jim Bob:Not at the moment. With the last solo album specifically I suddenly had the urge to do it, and wrote the songs, and once I started they were finished quickly. But I don’t want to force it. See, that’s the way I see ‘I Blame the Government’. Also, there was one solo album where I felt, “Oh, I should probably make an album now.” Then I look back and I don’t know what the songs are about. So it will happen, but it won’t happen until it happens.
EIO40: Cheers Jim. Thank you for taking the time to talk to EIO40
Jim is currently on a UK tour with Chris T-T. He will also be playing on the Hull to Amsterdam Shiiine On Mini-Cruise in March 2017 and the Shiiine On 2017 festival in November. He will also be appearing at the Down The River Indie All-Dayer in Norwich in May.
You can find find more about the current tour, future live dates as well as all things Jim Bob related at his website
Feature photo by Jacqueline and Holly and taken from Jim Bob “School” album (2006)
Following our previous forays in to the world of “Variations On The Theme of Desert Island Discs” we have another stranded soul washed up on our fictitious indie island and ready to offload their innermosts.
We were delighted that Russell wanted to contribute to the EIO40 website in some way and we felt On An Indie Island With You would be a perfect platform to discover his inner indie workings. So over to Russell…
Initially I thought choosing my Desert Island Discs would be an easy task; just choose my most played songs on Last FM. The songs that mean the most are not necessary the ones you listen to all the time.
My overwhelming love of the nineties is evident in my choices. In 1991/92 I would go to gigs at the Joiners Arms in Southampton nearly every week and I would listen to the radio constantly. Taping John Peel at night and listening to it walking to school in the morning. During this time I was a permanent fixture at the indie disco. A night called Marshmallow Moon at the Hot House in Bournemouth.
Most people would predict that my choices would be a classic shoegaze line-up; My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride and Lush. Well there are a few surprises!
Mercury Rev–Car Wash Hair
When this was released it was really catchy, sing-a-long chorus but incredibly weird. If you compared it to the rest of Yerself is Steam it is one of the more accessible songs. There is an effect in the song which sounds just like a submarines sonar. It conjures up memories of cycling listening to a Walkman and feeling happy that Car Wash Hair was coming up. It was not as easy to skip through songs with a Walkman as an Mp3 player, and every time you compiled a new playlist that would mean using another TDK C90.
It is easily their most well-known song and I had the pleasure of seeing them perform live supporting Ride in 1991. I remember David Baker (then vocals in Mercury Rev) rolling around on the stage floor screaming into his microphone. I don’t know if they played Car Wash Hair as most on the songs were unintelligible. I saw Mercury Rev (without Baker) again in 1999 at the V Festival. A much less chaotic show and they performed a memorable rendition of Car Wash Hair and this was the only time I have seen anyone use a Theremin live onstage.
Spiritualized –Why Don’t You Smile Now
Spiritualized at their most Primal Scream. With a bit of swagger, “Yeahs” and “Whoahs” being used throughout the song. It is a change from the usual introverted psychedelia. It has the most epic wall of sound in indie music.
This song became my Holy Grail. I only had a recording of this on tape and it was only available on the b-side of the Smile/Sway which was released in 1991. I did not get into Spiritualized until 1992 and was only aware of this song when it was incredibly difficult to get hold of the single. I wrestled with my conscience was it worth getting a postal order (it was 1992, I did not have a cheque book) and sending it to Eastern Block or Sister Ray for just one song. I never did it.
In 2003 my girlfriend of the time got the song from Napster, and then it became widely available in Spiritualized’s Complete Works.
Depeche Mode –Enjoy the Silence
This takes me back to September 2004. I was in rehabilitation after a nasty accident and I had been in hospital for 3 months. During this time I lost interest in music. Family and friends would bring in things for me to listen to or the music press and I would not be animated by this at all.
I did not have anything to play music on either. If someone brought my CD player from home it would have to be PAT tested by the hospital handyman. It all seemed too much effort as I had difficulty staying awake for over 4 hours at a time.
In the room opposite mine was a patient who must of absolutely loved Depeche Mode and Talking Heads. I really enjoyed Enjoy the Silence and Road to Nowhere second. As soon as I was released back into the community again I went into HMV and brought Depeche Mode, The Singles 86-98 and The Best of Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime. This was the first time I had ever had any of their records.
I felt I could relate to David Gahan’s near death experiences at that time, and it seemed very poignantly coincidental.
The song reminds me of the Brit Awards in 1991. It won the Best British Single award as voted by the public. Controversially they had written to all their fanclub members and asked if they could vote for their track.
Spacemen 3 –When Tomorrow Hits
I didn’t really get into Spacemen 3 until 1998; in my early twenties. The last year of my degree, University up till that point had been a breeze. If you turned up to lectures, put something on paper, handed it in on time you got through. That had changed, I was due to leave university, in a few months and the pressure was cranked up. I didn’t know if I was going to pass, what I was going to do for work or even where I was going to live.
Every night I would come home from lectures and rest for an hour and have something to eat. Then at 6pm I would go to my room, put on Spacemen 3 and start writing up notes and essays. The drug-fuelled paranoia of Spacemen 3’s last album, Recurring, mirrored my own uncertainties about my future. Even the lonely, barren and harsh landscape of Dartmoor was reflected in the minimalistic first half of the album. The night would finish and I would go to bed. The next day would be the inevitable recurring cycle of lectures, dinner, essays and Spacemen 3.
Much of my love of C86 has come with age, this is the exception. This single used to be played every Saturday at the local indie disco. This was in the early nineties eventhough the single came out in 1986. But it is such a danceable number; I think it must have been played solidly from 1986 till 1992.
The Field Mice –This is Not Here
If there was ever a song that for me that epitomises shoegazing, it is ‘This is Not Here’. I was probably the only person into The Field Mice at school. This was when I realised that I was one of the coolest indie kids around. When I brought The Field Mice album that includes this track, I had to walk up to the counter in Our Price and they had to order it in for me. I would get respectful nods at my choices.
Then came the long wait. Cargo were the only distributer that could get the obscure indies, Our Price used to wait until they had at least six items to get from them before they placed their order. I would have to go to Our Price with my duplicate order and collect my purchase.
Lastly, there was someone at the Hothouse Bournemouth that had a Field Mice tour t-shirt. This trumped my best garment; a Thousand Yard Stare Stifled Aardvark long sleeved t-shirt.
The Stone Roses –I Am The Resurrection
I dithered putting this one forward as it has become a bit of cliché to be my age and love this song. The Stone Roses single-handedly transformed me from a football mad boy, into the indie youth culture. I constantly played this album and the closing track was the climax to a spectacular album. At the time it was really strange to me, to have a song over five minutes long.
In the Blackpool Live video Ian Brown sits on the stage towards the conclusion of ‘I am the Resurrection/ playing bongos with drumsticks. This is as iconic as Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival.
The House of Love – I Don’t Know Why I Love You
‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You’ is my favourite song by them and I will say that they have never had a bad release. Their music is like the internal monologue in my head.
I saw them perform in the day at Glastonbury in 1992. I really wanted to see them and it was one of my highlights of the festival. Pete Evans threw a broken drumstick in the crowd and I caught it. This is my most prized piece of memorabilia.
The Chrysalids –by John Wyndham
I was going to choose ‘Tai Chi Classics’ by Master Waysun Liao, but I can have this as my religious text instead of the Bible. My other top three books are ‘Vanity Fair’, ‘On the Road’ and ‘The Chrysalids’. I will go for ‘The Chrysalids’ it had me reading late into the night, the story twists and turns. It also led to the classic quote, “watch thou for the Mutant”. I am not going to say much about it because it needs to be read.
“Shall I mourn your decline with some Thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief?” Ian Dury, ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’.
I have fond memories of Thunderbird Wine and now you can’t get it at all. I did spot some on Amazon Prime but that would be £15 a bottle with the delivery. I would have a glass of Thunderbird Blue on the desert island and listen to my records.
Must Have Record
Without a doubt ‘When Tomorrow Hits’. It is my favourite song, and has the ultimate guitar wig out. When everything is coming apart, completely saturated in feedback and the whole world is collapsing. At this point they turn the volume to 11. A truly exhilarating experience.
My first indie moment was hearing The Stone Roses. I went from a school boy into football to a full-fledged baggy indie kid. My first gig was Cud at the Bournemouth International Centre, in 1991. I have never looked back since then. From Exeter Cavern, Salisbury Arts Centre, Royal Albert Hall to Glasgow Stereo I have seen most of the great indie bands. On my 40th birthday when asked if I wanted to do something special, I said that I wanted to go to There and Back Again Lane.
Other interests would be Recycling, Tai Chi and dreaming that Spacemen 3 would reform.
Thank you to Russell for that fantastic and enjoyable insight and for taking the time to contribute to EIO40. If you would like to contribute to our Indie Encounters feature and share your indie moments please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Twitter
“How do John”, went the email from EIO40HQ. “I met and interviewed Anne-Mari Davies from The Field Mice today for the website…I took a T-shirt and CD with me in the hope that she would sign them…Perhaps we can work out a joint special feature?”
It was about the same time the previous year that I first encountered the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), reading their tweets and browsing their website as I lay on the bed in the biggest trough I’d fallen into since being diagnosed with depression a few years ago. It was clear that one of the best ways to get through a low was talking. Sometimes that talking might be largely in bursts of 140 characters to complete strangers. Some shared their feelings. Some engaged in musical conversation. Some sent pictures of their cats doing bizarre things. I’ve said before and will say again; the EIO40 community were an invaluable part of my recovery.
CALM exist to raise awareness of male suicide. This is not to suggest in any way that female suicide should not be tackled or publicised; it’s just that in the UK 76% of all suicides are in males, and suicide is the most likely cause of death for men under the age of 45. According to the latest data, of UK males aged between 18 and 45 a huge 42% have considered suicide, with a third of those not wanting people to worry about them. These are scary statistics. Not every person with a mental health illness wants to kill themselves. However, I reckon that everyone who does deliberately kill themselves has a mental illness. And that’s 12 men every day.
The number 12 has lots of connotations for men (and women) of our age: 12 players in a football team (including substitute) when we were growing up, 12” of vinyl holding the extended version of our favourite track and 12 tracks on many of our favourite albums. With this in mind, and the recent EIO40 Ultimate 1980s Indie Album collaboration, it seemed the perfect number to work with.
Thus was born the idea of the EIO40 Feelgood playlist. It is probably accurate to say music permeates most of this community’s entire lives – apart from when the snooker’s on, maybe –and its effect on our emotions has been researched and written about throughout the ages. A piece of music can in turn carry us on the crest of a wave or wash us up, bruised and battered, on the shore. We often seek music for comfort, to soothe and console ourselves. So what better thing than to have a readymade toolkit for those moments when we need something to give us a lift? One song might not be enough – some of the community commented how the same songs could have different effects depending on the nature of the low mood – but with twelve to choose from there’s bound to be one that can help in some way.
And now, even better, we can see what works for our friends and acquaintances. And even better still, the sharing of the playlists has generated conversation, and conversation about shared pleasures builds trust, confidence, friendship (even if it’s only electronic), and these friendships can give someone a channel through which to communicate when other channels close down. And this might stop someone becoming another statistic.
Here are the playlists that were submitted. Take what you want from them. Me, I decided to put my playlist on my iPod, and then added another 12 from the submissions, taking songs by bands I hadn’t originally included in my list. Someone’s Track 1 became my Track 1, their Track 2 my Track 2 and so on. Thank you all for your support in this initiative to raise awareness of CALM and male suicide. Please visit www.theCALMzone.net for more information, and follow them @theCALMzone.
Please also have a listen to our special Indie Feelgood Album show where Steve from EIO40 and Johny play selected songs from the submitted albums
Barry Borge @BorgeBarry
Paul Power’s Tache @BlazCTID
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song John Hartley has turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free. He is currently raising money to support men’s mental health charity CALM (@theCALMzone) at http://brokendownrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-broken-heed
If you follow us on Twitter or are a member of our Facebook group you will know we ran an interactive feature the aim of which was to create an indie compilation of tracks from 80s indie albums. Over the space of 3 months we built the album track by track with the help of the EIO40 community. There was both a Twitter and a Facebook album with the events run separately.
When it was finished and we had our final tracklist for both albums we thought it would be a good idea to see what alternative tracklists people could come up with following the same format. Below are the suggestions we received. If you click on the image you will see who is responsible for the tracklist.
Each track on our compilation album had to correspond with it’s track number on the original album it was on. So for example track 1 had to be the opening track on the album it came from, track 2 had to be the second track etc etc. This was the case up to track 10. For track 11, this was any song that is a higher track than the 10th on it’s album (so 11th, 12th, 13th etc). Track 12 was the final track and so had to be a closing track from an album. Also, an artist couldn’t appear on the album more than once.
We also decided to include a Bonus Track which was a song that was a non-album track released in the 1980s. So where there is a 13th track on someone’s playlist below, this is the Bonus Track.
If you would like to send us your tracklist to add to those below please DM us on Twitter (@IndieOver40) or email us indieover40@gmail
So thank you to everyone who contributed to the creation of the Ultimate 80s Indie Album on Facebook and Twitter.
Following our recent foray in to the world of “Variations On The Theme of Desert Island Discs” courtesy of @Shinpad11, we were delighted to be approached by another party wishing to step up to the indie confessional.
Seb Gevers aka @zerozero31 on Twitter has washed up on our indie desert island bearing only his collection of valued tunes and the memories associated with them. We’ve not known Seb a huge amount of time and in fact getting to grips with his many monikers has been a challenge in itself. Maclogg was an early trading style of @zerozero31 on Twitter and then he popped up on Facebook as Bas Gevers. When we got an email from him offering to contribute to the site, he was called Seb.
Whatever his real name, we certainly know him a lot better after reading this remarkable insight. So without waffling further we would suggest you just kick back and immerse yourself in Seb’s indie world as he guides you through his musical life.
My first musical memory comes from 1976. I had been left sitting in the car (it was the 70’s, so …) while my parents quickly went to the post office to do whatever it is you do at post offices. They must have left the radio on because, as I watched them disappear into the building, “Dancing Queen” by Abba came blasting out of the speakers. Even allowing for the fog of memory and the dreadful quality of the speakers in the car, Dancing Queen was, is, just a joyous happy song albeit with questionable lyrics (again, the 70’s …) that just puts a smile on your face whenever you hear that opening piano glissando (Editor’s note: a glide from one pitch to another, after consulting wiki).
I grew up listening to music from the 50’s and 60’s. My mother was the one with whom I share a love of music, her tastes being very broad. On any given Sunday in our house you could hear Amalia Rodrigues, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, something Tex-Mex, blues, R&B, doo-wop and, of course, Abba. My father was more into classical music and brass bands, two influences that have not, so far at any rate, rubbed off on me.
So there was always music in my life. Music remains important, because I can still hear pretty much any song and be able to relate a moment in time to it, like musical milestones on the road of my life. Looking back now on the music on my iPhone, it’s clear that my musical highway traverses the ages of 13 to about 26, which equates to the years 1982 to 1996, a golden era for indie music – post punk, new wave, C86, grunge, alt rock and Britpop. And as indie music is what this blog is all about, it comes as no surprise that having been left on a desert island, I need music to keep me company. I need indie music. The following eight are probably a good place to start …
The Lotus Eaters – The First Picture of You
Years ago, my local TV station up in Aberdeen, Grampian TV, used to kill the dead space between programmes with adverts, obviously, but occasionally also music videos. I’m not sure why they did this, but my guess is that somehow advertising revenue was hard to nail down between 3pm and 5pm, when the task of selling shampoo, tampons and washing-up powder to kids just home from school was something that even Saatchi and Saatchi would have had difficulty with.
So instead they’d play videos. And you have to remember that this was of a time when this was quite unusual for a regional broadcaster to do. Not many people had even heard of MTV, even though it had been around since 1981, so to see an actual music video was very unusual. Most of the time it was real dross, but occasionally something interesting would appear. It’s been a while, but I remember being introduced to, amongst others, Madness (“House of Fun”), The Stranglers (“Golden Brown”) and Dexys Midnight Runners (“Come on Eileen”) in this way.
They’d have played hundreds of songs I’m sure, but one in particular caught my attention. I don’t recall when I first heard it, but it must have been somewhere around 1983. Thatcher had just gotten re-elected on the back of victory in the Falklands War, the first episode of Blackadder had just been shown and I was about to go into my second year at Hazlehead Academy.
When the song came on, I stopped whatever I was doing, because in a year in which you had Wham, Culture Club, Kajagoogoo and Rod Stewart filling the charts, nothing sounded quite this different (the Flying Pickets perhaps being the exception, but, well, hey ho ..). So if you know the song, you’d know what that intro sounded like. A quiet, pulsing synth leads it off, it’s then joined by a woodblock, then even more synth voices (basically imagine any early 80’s synthesizer pad), then jangly guitar, finally a piano .. it all goes on for about a minute and half before the vocals, a bass, a particularly difficult drum pattern and lovely lyrics kick in making for a wistful tune, but a belter nevertheless.
I had no idea what the song was called, or who the artist was. In the days before you had SoundCloud on your smartphone (or you even had a phone, or the internet for that matter), there was no alternative other than to sit in front of the telly every afternoon waiting for the commercial breaks between episodes of the godawful “A Country Practice” and reruns of “Columbo” hoping that it would come on again so I could get my fix of not only the song, but also the rather delightful young lady in the video.
Having remembered to keep a pencil and a piece of paper near the TV to write down the name of the song (“The First Picture of You”, as it turned out) and the artist (the exotically named Lotus Eaters), I rushed out to our local record shop – One Up, which was then still on Union Street – to get hold of a copy. I ended up buying the picture disc version which I cherished and looked after, the disc itself being, in a sort of easily-impressed-13-year-old kind of way, a work of art. But whatever hopes I had of it somehow ending up being the next undiscovered A&M copy of “God Save The Queen” are long forgotten – I hear my lush picture disc might be worth as much as £8 now.
So this was pretty much their only hit, everything else that followed not even coming close to repeating the highs of “The First Picture Of You”. Their final single “Hurt” reached number 5 in the Italian charts, by which time the band had been dropped by their label before eventually splitting somewhere around 1985. Of course, they didn’t know any of this yet. Back then, Peter Coyle, Jem Kelly, Ged Quinn, John Hendry and Phil Lucking believed this song would lead them to bigger and better things, to fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams. It didn’t, but I still have this single somewhere, in a drawer, in a box. I can’t play it anymore, the record player long having disappeared into the nearest charity shop. But now we have the internet I can play this song whenever I want. Time may dull the memory, but the song remains the same. A fabulous slice of summer pop so it is.
Billy Bragg – Greetings To The New Brunette
Round about the same time I was being introduced to The Wedding Present by John Peel. One evening he played a track called “They’ve Got A Bomb” by delightful anarcho-punk band “Crass”. He had a way of doing that you know, John Peel, taking you out of you comfort zone, hitting you with something completely unlistenable just when you were bopping along to the Undertones, or some Ukrainian folk music collective.
Now, I had been listening to a lot of punk at the time – the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers etc and so on, but Crass, Jesus, they made Johnny Rotten look like Johnny Mathis. Crass were everything I thought punk stood for: politics, action, revolution and change in a way that the sort of stuff I had been listening to just didn’t. “London’s Burning” is all very well, but no one I was listening to sang about the things that Crass did on Do They Owe Us a Living: “At school they give you shit / drop you in the pit / You try, you try, you try to get out / but you can’t because they’ve fucked you about”. And even now, thirty years later, listening to “Asylum” still gives me the shivers.
Listening to Crass in the early 80’s in Britain made me stop and think about the world around me. I was only about fourteen at the time, but seeing the striking miners on the news every night as they struggled to keep their jobs and their communities together in the face of the brutal onslaught of the monetarist economic policies unleashed by Thatcher at the height of her powers, I knew that the world was not a fair place. Punk was supposed to be a catalyst of revolution, but somehow it had failed to materialise. In bands like Crass, and to some extent Angelic Upstarts, I realised that safety pins and fashionable boutiques along the Kings Road selling swastika t-shirts are not the answer. I mean, I still listened to Prefab Sprout, but at the same time I began to look more critically at was was going on.
Having asked my dad what segment of the political spectrum Thatcher represented, I vowed that whatever she believed in, I would believe the complete opposite. So, one evening in the Central Library in Aberdeen, I picked up a copy of the Communist Manifesto and slowly worked my way through that. It was hard going, but I understood the general thrust of what Marx was saying. A bit later on I picked up Animal Farm, 1984 and A Brave New World to reinforce my fundamental belief that the world was basically a dysfunctional place, led by a corrupt elite that had only their own selfish interests at heart and would stop at nothing to keep the status quo.
Throughout all this period, during which I must have been insufferable, I also picked up at the library a copy of “Workers Playtime” and “Talking with the Taxman About Poetry” by Billy Bragg. I’d never heard of him, but I was initially attracted by the Workers Playtime album cover, with its flag waving communists proudly on show. Figuring that this sort of artwork could only mean I’d found a political musical soul mate, I took the records home and played them pretty much non-stop.
I loved Workers Playtime, there’s a lot of great tracks on there, but it was “Talking..” that really enthused me with it’s mix of politics (“Ideology”, “There Is Power In A Union”) and everyday life (“The Home Front” , “The Warmest Room”). Those last two tracks in particular still invoke a particular sentiment nearly 30 years later, a nostalgia for an era I never knew, an era that comedian Stewart Lee would call “the post-war socialist utopia, contract with the people, Call The Midwife etc”.
But the song that stands out for me is the opening track – “Greetings To The New Brunette”. On an album that’s got some heavy moments on it, lyrically, “Greetings To The New Brunette” is like a breath of fresh air. Think of it as a Ringo Starr number, like “Octopuses Garden” just turning up in the middle of Abbey Road, and you’re like “what the hell… “. That kind of thing.
So “Greetings” (only real fans get to call it that) is really about politics and sex. The former was a big issue for me back in 1986, when “Brunette” (ok, just joking now) was released; the latter less so, but not for the lack of hoping. Put it this way, it was easier to get my hands on a copy of the collected works of Chairman Mao than it was getting my hands on Yvonne Mintie from the 5th form who lived on the end of our street and for whom I had “a thing”, as was the parlance of the day.
Interesting trivia – being a political song, I always thought the Shirley referred to was Shirley Williams, the former Labour and Lib Dem grandee. Tehee. So this song is important because it happened to me at that point in time when my burgeoning social conscience met plain old crude puberty. A tense meeting of minds, as seen in a mixtape I made at the time, where “Suspect Device” is followed by Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet. A lovely song then, both lyrically and musically that evokes so much. Another track to pull me through the lonely evenings on the island.
Portishead– Wandering Star
Life on a desert island is not always going to be fun. There’s going to be times, probably at night when the animals come out and a murky gloom falls over the lagoon. And if we’re talking gloom you can only go one of two ways: either Jesus and Mary Chain gloom (think “Deep One Perfect Morning”), or film noir gloom. And that’s where this track comes in. Actually, that’s where the whole first Portishead album, Dummy, ought to come in.
It’s a masterpiece of the trip-hop genre, the sort of atmospheric yet slightly edgy music that, when you close your eyes and just immerse yourself in it, you can just see a whole scene in front of you. Black and white, late at night, in the rain. Cobbled streets, a club somewhere, dark and gloomy, avant-garde patrons, an expectation of something strange and dangerous and otherworldly going on.
This track is as near to that sort of perfection as you can get. From the steady du-du-du-du bass line, the harmonica sample, the jazzy solo – wonderful. Yeah, “Glory Box” is a better song, but “Wandering Star” just sounds different to me every time I hear it. And every time I see with my eyes shut, it plays a different scene in my mind. It’s a track that keeps on giving, making it an essential track on the island – it’s a track that I could never get bored listening to.
Slowdive – Celia’s Dream
This track, from 1991’s “Just For A Day”, is one of those constants on whatever music storage device I’ve owned over the years. To think that most of this is done using feedback and a wall of effects pedals (and this is where the term shoegaze comes from, from musicians on stage looking down at their pedal banks) is just astonishing. I mean, I’ve owned a few guitars and effects over the years but never quite managed to make feedback sound this good.
Slowdive (the name alone is brilliant) were one of those shoegazing acts (see also Chapterhouse, Ride and Lush) that broke through around this time. There’s something very immersive about Slowdive. My favourite way to listen to a Slowdive album is in the dark, on the floor, with a decent set of headphones and, above all: volume! My idea of shoegazing heaven would be listening to the first two Slowdive albums whilst floating in one of those isolation tanks. Again, not sure where I first heard this but it’s been a perennial favourite ever since, along with “Alison” from the Souvlaki album.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin– Happy
Having spent most of my teenage years young (by default), free (inasmuch as you can be free whilst living at home) and single (through general outward appearance), by 1991 I had somehow managed to get myself a girlfriend. We were both in college at the time. I was studying computing science (not very well, see track 6) and we’d spend literally hours sitting next to each other, sending email back and forth on the college’s Univac computer with it’s brown and yellow screens and the interminable keyboard shortcuts. We had arranged a date, all without direct verbal contact, all done through email much like the way it’s done nowadays.
So on the afternoon of the date I went out and bought, apropos of nothing, two things from the HMV in town: Ry Cooder’s first album (I wanted to get a copy of “Police Dog Blues”, a track I had heard on Paul Jones’ Rythm and Blues Show on BBC Radio 2 the week before) and the single “Happy”, by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. I was into The Wonder Stuff and The Levellers at that time, so from there to the Neds was not a huge leap into the dark.
I think I might have seen them on Top Of The Pops or something, the whole two-bass thing being quite a novelty. In fact, that’s what makes the song for me, that bass line on the intro. Again, not one of those lyrically deep songs that says something to you about your life, but it’s the sound, it’s the bass, it’s the guitars that plant this song firmly into the “I remember where I was when” category. In this case, I remember where I was when I first heard Happy: on my way to a disastrous first date that ultimately led, three years later, to a failed relationship and a rather hefty financial settlement. Still, those basses, eh?
The House of Love– Hope
Another survivor from the drives around the town, “Hope” comes from the House of Love’s eponymous debut album. Like much of the Wedding Present’s early work, the lyrics only became clear once the internet had been invented and someone bothered to put the words to the songs up. “It’s a lie on a seat of a night / When you’re bawling like a baby”, which I heard as “It’s a life on a seat of a knife / when you’re bold and lack a baby”. The fact that these words made absolutely no sense bothered me not a jot as I drove my little Vauxhall Nova (with the alloy wheels and sporty steering wheel) around the streets of Aberdeen at night, terrorizing pedestrians with 80’s alternative pop, mouthing misheard lyrics in their general direction.
I first heard The House of Love somewhere around the early 90’s. I had just started a course at Uni (see also track 5) and rather than listen to my maths lecture (a deeply tedious subject given by a deeply tedious man whose name I cannot recall but whom we all called Doris) I would sit at the back of the lecture theatre and listen to “Destroy The Heart” and “Christine” and “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” until the batteries on my Walkman gave out. Which, for anyone who remembers Walkmans, happened fairly quickly.
But this song always sticks out for me, partly because I used to listen to it all the time (probably because I was constantly rewinding the tape to make sure Guy Chadwick really didn’t sing “when you’re bowling like a lady”) and partly because it’s one of the songs I’ll always associate with living in Aberdeen.
The House of Love, like most of the tracks in this list have not only a spiritual home, they also have a geographical home, mostly around the north east of Scotland. As far as I know The House of Love are still going, but it’d take a lot to better this album and this song. So, this one makes it onto the island to remind myself of home.
The Wedding Present– Never Said
Like most of the songs I’m taking to my desert island, I was introduced to the Wedding Present by John Peel. It was probably around 1989, and I was out on one of my drives around the town. I liked to borrow my dad’s car and go driving around Aberdeen, the music providing a backdrop to the world rushing by outside the windows.
It was at the traffic lights somewhere along Union Street while waiting for the cassette deck to wind back “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” by the Clash that I first heard that “da da da dadadadadada da da da dadadadadadada” intro to “Kennedy” from 1989’s Bizarro. I remember being struck first and foremost by the guitar sound, an unrelenting wrist-damaging assault by pick on string, and by the lyrics, and by the extended outro (some 2 minutes long). Having heard that, after the roaring silence that followed the end of that song my life was never the same again.
As a 19-year old for whom the ladies were not exactly lining up around the block, or indeed any form of architectural construct, David Gedge spoke to me directly. It was like listening to The Smiths at 78 rpm, at once mixing my drab existence with unattainable hopes of (ultimately failed) romantic encounters. If Alan Bennett had played bass and not written for a living, this is the band he’d have been in.
Having been initiated into the world of the Weddoes, I sought out their albums. In 1989 having only released Tommy and George Best that wasn’t that difficult, my local Our Price Music obliging. I finally got to see them in the Music Hall in Aberdeen somewhere around 1991. And jings, they were LOUD. Having somehow ended up near a speaker, I spent most of the next two hours being aurally punched in the stomach whilst simultaneously having my eardrums punctured.
There are three versions of the Wedding Present. There’s the Tommy/George Best jangly guitar, student bedsit Wedding Present. Then there’s the mid-career, edgier Bizarro/Seamonsters/Hit Parade Wedding Present, and then there’s everything else that followed. In that last incarnation I’m not that interested (though ‘The Thing I Like Best About Him Is His Girlfriend” is a stand-out track).
And so the song I would pick, the one that just encapsulates everything the Wedding Present are about – and there’s a lot to choose from – it would be “Never Said”, from Tommy. “I’ve walked behind you for more than an hour / I don’t even think I know this part of town / I think I’m trying to find a way to talk to you again / I think I’m trying to find a way to bring you back again / Oh won’t you please come back again”.
You can keep your Ed Sheeran, that’s real teenage angst right there kids.
Oasis– Cast No Shadow
Ah. Britpop. Whenever I think of Britpop I always think of the bloke who lived in the flat above me. Stan, his name was, and he’d play Robbie Williams every night before he’d go up the town. I reckon he only had the single “Angels” as it was all he ever played. After a night out you’d hear him struggling up the stairs at 2am, more often than not with some bird he’d picked up on his trawl, followed by a lot of crashing and banging. Then silence (“wait wait wait, you’ve got to hear thish song from Robbie Williamsh, itsh <belch> fabuloush.”), then “Angels”, the loud singalong version, and then after two repeat plays there’d be more banging, if you get my drift.
None of which has anything to do with my final choice of track on my indie desert island other than that it came from the same period.
So, I was an Oasis fan. Well, to my friends and acquaintances at least that is, because I was in fact, during that whole period, a sheltered, closeted Blur fan. To me and most of the popular press at the time, Blur where the Beatles, purveyors of carefully crafted, lyrically clever music, while Oasis where the Stones. Grunts, balls to the wall, in yer face RAWK. Blur had cheeky chappy music, they had Phil Daniels, they had music with wit and humour. Oasis just had volume, an overdrive pedal and somone named Bonehead. Oasis was real man’s music, Blur whimsical art-college faffery. But to this day I still prefer the Beatles, even though I’ll admit to anyone who asks that the Stones wrote the better music.
Still, it’s Oasis that seem to have stood the test of time. Every weekend, “Wonderwall” is played at some wedding somewhere around the country. After a Christmas single (apparently Paul McCartney still rakes in more than £500k per year from “Wonderful Christmas Time”), this is the next best thing, having your songs sung in chorus in a Best Western hotel next to a motorway by groups of drunken middle-aged men standing in a circle with their ties tied around their heads, air-guitaring away and getting the lyrics wrong. (I suspect this is very much the way that my neighbour Stan spent his early Sunday mornings back in the day.)
So, where was I? Oh yes. Oasis. Desert Island. So in the early 90’s I was working for a large computer company that no longer exists, having been bought over by a company that makes printers as well as, it turns out, a malt vinegar-based sauce, blended with tomato, dates, tamarind extract, sweetener and spices. They’d send us down for a week to Farnborough where we had a training center. Essentially, this training turned into a week-long binge-drinking session on account of our ridiculous per-diem rates which allowed us, if we pooled our resources together, to clean out the hotel mini-bar every evening for a week and still come out the other end with money to spend. So we’d get drunk, then decamp to someone’s room where we’d all sing along to “Angels” at top volume.
After one particularly gruelling trip in which I had learned nothing except the price of a pint of Bailey’s (£27 back in the day, or £45 in today’s money) I remember hearing “Cast No Shadow” on the radio, and I remember thinking that this was not the way I imagined my life to go, in a shitty hotel, eating shitty food with a stinking hangover in a dining room full of photocopier salesmen from Guildford while the airshow was going on (“shut the fucking windows!!!!”).
Somehow the words “Chained to all the places that he never wished to stay / Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say/ As he faced the sun he cast no shadow” resonated with me, and I resolved there and then to change my life, just as soon as I got back to Aberdeen.
So whenever I hear this song, it reminds me of a time in my life when change was needed. It’s a song that fills me with hope, even though the lyrics are not that positive. I guess the message is not to turn into the man in the song – casting no shadow, being invisible, a nobody. It’s what I strive for everyday I think, though not always with success.
Must Have Track
There’s so many tracks that I considered that would make any list, but I can only choose eight. Gone are The Smiths, The Sundays, The Stone Roses, Nirvana, Tad, Dodgy, Sleeper, Blur, Belle and Sebastian, Turin Brakes, the Delgados. I could just have asked for the entire soundtrack to Monkey Dust series one, two and three. I’d have had Goldfrapp with me on the island in that case, or Eels. But alas.
No, the track the rescue party would have to pry from my cold, dead, sunbleached hands would be: “Greetings To The New Brunette”. Lovely song, lovely lyrics, lovely times.
I’m not really sure what an Indie book would be. Apart from “A Beat Concerto” (Paolo Hewitt’s autobiography of The Jam) I don’t own any music books. Music is for listening to, not for reading about. So I’d probably bring something by Irvine Welsh, perhaps the Trainspotting, Filth, Glue and Skagboys anthology, if such a thing exists. Welsh often references music in his books, so I get by here on a technicality.
A luxury item
Tricky this. I’d like to bring a guitar so that I can do my perfect cover of “There She Goes” at passing ships as they sail off into the distance, but being an Indie island I’d have to bring my best baggy cardigan. It’ll keep me warm when I’ve burned my way through the Bible and the collected works of Shakespeare.
In short: Bloke. Life. Mortgage. Music. Football. Scotland. Holland. The odd photograph. You’re going to need a tray.
Okay, a bit longer then: I’m Seb Gevers, a mid-forties father of four and husband of one. I play a bit of guitar and sometimes also a bit of drums. Neither with any great proficiency, but then that didn’t stop most of the bands that I listened to in my teens, bands which I realise now would be called ‘indie’. I live in Netherlandshire, a small country just to the left of Germany. In a country not exactly known for its indie credentials (Betty Serveert aside), I dream of the good old days when John Peel was on the radio, The Word was considered ‘edgy’ and Chris Evans would have Sleeper on his show.
Back in the day I used to do a lot of writing about Scottish football (hey, someone had to) and sometimes also about music, both topics I’d very much like to get back into writing about. So if anyone wants to talk about that space where Scottish football, midlife crises and indie music overlap, I can be found on Twitter (@zerozero31) and occasionally on Tumblr (zerozero31.tumblr.com). Also, less interestingly, on Instagram. I’ll leave you to figure out the username.”
Thank you to Seb for that fantastic and enjoyable insight and for taking the time to contribute to EIO40. If you would like to contribute to our Indie Encounters feature and share your indie moments please email us at email@example.com or DM us on Twitter
We were delighted when @Shinpad11 contacted us offering to contribute to the website. Obviously that’s not his real name and neither is his Twitter moniker Shinny. His mum probably calls him Anthony and we suspect his teachers called him “McDonagh!” when summoning him to the front of the class at school
We loved Shinny’s idea of a Desert Island Discs for the website. It fitted in nicely with the Meet The Community feature and offered a chance to get to know a community member from an alternative angle.
Our only concern was that a cease & desist letter from the Beeb’s lawyers claiming some sort of breach of copyright over the usage of the format and name would land on the EIO40 dormat. We therefore decided to put our own variation on the name in an attempt to put the legal eagles off the scent. We also liked the reference to the epic album closer on Shed Seven’s Change Giver. Let’s hope Rick Twitter doesn’t share the same lawyers.
We’ve never actually listened to Desert Island Discs so had to leg it over to Wiki to get a handle of the format. If you are like us and not familiar with it’s workings then simply guests are invited to imagine they ended up on a desert island somehow and can choose 8 tunes, 1 book and a luxury item to take with with them (which suggests they went to the island by choice if they are packing stuff in advance).
So let’s cast ourselves away with Shinny to his own little indie desert island and get to know him a bit better. What you will learn is that Shinny loves his music and knows how to express his love of music in what is a rather poignant and emotional piece at times. But, as Shinny was keen to tell us, “that’s the whole point of DiD.”
I quite like Radio 4, particularly Desert Island Discs. Given that I’m now over 40 it’s ok to say this kind of thing out loud. Recently I was digging out some old stuff to put a “mix tape” together. I still don’t like the term MP3 Playlist. That’s when I had my brainwave – why not do an Indie themed Desert Island Discs
So that’s what I started to do. I soon discovered putting this together was much more difficult than I’d ever expected it to be. What I have noticed is that my choices are very representative of me and where I’m from. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise but it was still a bit of a jolt! My selections focus on the 90s – perhaps that’s when my life was at its simplest and most enjoyable?
Anyway here goes, it’s served its purpose for me:
Born to Graham & Nora in Wigan in the winter of ’74 is as dull and ordinary as it gets. In fact I’m amazed Alan Bennett hasn’t been in touch. My parents never got to share vows or rings and so the life of a bastard awaited me, it’s a role that I’ve relished in for 40 years!!!
Like most homes, the radio and record player were a big part of family life, be it the Irish Country music of my grandparents, my mums Rod Stewart LPs or her brothers and their night radio.
My 1st ever single was Flash by Queen, I was only 5 but I loved it and it could have been worse, I remember buying the Frog Chorus. As a 5 year old, it had everything – space rockets, good guys v bad guys and was, well, quite frankly a rocking tune. However, it’s not very Indie so it doesn’t make the cut.
Oasis –Slide Away
To be fair I could have picked any off this album, I was going to go with the 1st single ‘Supersonic’ but what about the others??? I’ve opted for the epic ‘Slide Away’, as it also popped up as a B-side on ‘Whatever’
I was in my late teens, had a weekend job and felt like the North West was the centre of the universe. Both Manchester and Liverpool are about 30 to 40 minutes away by train, there was no better place to be!
’94 saw the release of some albums that have gone on to be loyal friends of mine, and I could have done this list from tracks off any of these albums; Weezer- Blue Album, REM – Monster, Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Blur – Parklife, Beastie Boys – Ill Communication, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Let Love In, Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York, Morrissey – Vauxhall & I, Pulp – His ‘n’ Hers and Portishead – Dummy
Those early Oasis singles started to arrive as I sat my A-levels and by the time I’d moved to York to start Uni, everyone had the album. You could walk along halls of residence (faster than a cannonball) and you’d hear the album creeping out from every door you passed.
Definitely Maybe still sits in slot 6 of the CD Multiplayer in my car, it’s been in there since the day I bought the car some 10 years ago and it gets played at least once a week.
An Emotional Fish – Celebrate
I first heard/saw this when they played on the James Whale late night TV show on ITV. The opening bass line is an absolute killer. Being 15 in the summer of 1990 I knew I was on to a winner as a) they had a band name that would command a response of “Who”? and b) well quite simply it was a fantastic tune. The album has a few other decent tracks, particularly Colours, Julian and Lace Virginia. They went on to support U2 but by then I’d moved on.
Dinosaur Jr – Freak Scene
This only works when played at full volume! The only drawback was that it didn’t appear on Where You Been – as that is *THE* album for me. This track is full of teen angst and frustration. As good as Sonics Youth’s Teenage Riot and Territorial Pissings by Nirvana.
For me, J Mascis is the greatest rock guitarist I’ve ever seen and certainly the loudest. He may carry the look of a hobo and have zero stage presence but f**k me, he can’t half play guitar (I’ve seen him play drums too). If Dinosaur Jr are new to you, try the album Where You Been, it’s an absolute masterpiece.
Morrissey – Suedehead
Yet another indie staple – I quite simply can’t help but sing along. I’ve probably killed this song for most people whose company I share. I will never tire of the sadness and bittersweet happiness that this tune delivers. Shoulders back, flailing arms and an open shirt, if this doesn’t move you, you’re probably already dead.
The Wedding Present – Granadaland
My number one band. David Lewis Gedge is up there with Mark E Smith, Mozza, Ryder, Cooper-Clark & NG when it comes to summing up the lives and times of being a Northerner. What I love about this track is the rousing boo from the Leeds crowd on the “*punk” video, DLG smirking as the Yorkshire faithful take the bait.
The song is a marriage of frantic break neck speed guitars and tales of falling in and/or out of love wrapped in dark Northern humour. TWP are masters of good, bad, ugly and painful memories. I’ve been listening to them since my mid-teens, when a mate’s older brother did a copy of the George Best album for me on a tape, also adding a few Peel Sessions on the 2nd side. I played that cassette until the tape wore thin and translucent. I can still recall the cover he did and the football sticker of Careca the Brazilian striker on the outside of the case.
Track 6 Orange Juice – Rip It Up
It’s an oldish tune and one that I wouldn’t have ever encountered when first released (given that I was only 8 years old at the time). It’s a wonderful number. It’s poppy, its easy on the ear and its radio friendly – I’m beginning to wonder how it’s made it this far.
Sometimes a song doesn’t need a reason, this is that song…
Sugar – If I Can’t Change Your Mind
Some songs do need a reason. This one is painful for me, sums up my recent domestic episodes. Bob sings about a fella that isn’t sure why he’s just lost everything that was central to him:
“How can I explain away
Something that I haven’t done?
And if you can’t trust me now
You’ll never trust in anyone”
Basically, if felt like Bob was singing about me…
I didn’t think I’d ever be able to play this track again and that would have been a real pity. The fact I can, tells me I’ve turned a corner…
Billy Bragg – The Milkman of Human Kindness
Be nice to one another. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept should it? So why are so many incapable of it? When it comes to love songs, this and Pulp’s ‘Something Changed’ are as close to perfection as you’ll get. Billy keeps it simple. From his playing style to his singing, there’s no need to over complicate matters. When we do that, we lose focus.
“I love you, I am the milkman
Of human kindness
I’ll leave an extra pint”
It doesn’t get better than that, be nice to each people.
This is a fantastic choir version cover
Book John Sellers “Perfect From Now On / How Indie Rock Saved My Life”
The Amazon review is better than mine…
“Despite vowing never to get caught up in music due to his father’s overbearing Dylan-obsession (which haunts him to this day) the young John Sellers found himself powerless to resist the lure of indie rock. When his favourite band went their separate ways in 2004, Sellers examined his own listening rituals and began to analysis how his love of music had a massive hold over his life and what that meant. His obsession, above and beyond mere music fandom, has taken him on some adventures; to ground-breaking shows with his favourite bands; getting drunk with his heroes and even a pilgrimage to lan Curtis’ grave. Seller’s examination of his own obsession of his favourite bands such as the Smiths, Joy Division, Duran Duran (and later Nirvana & Pavement) exemplifies, why music, and in particular certain bands, mean so much to those whose worship them. Sellers has written a fan’s perspective in a tremendously humourous and passionately detailed memoir – one that any fan of music, not just indie rock, will relate to”
So I can listen to Test Match Spe
Must have Track?
Hardest choice of all, it has to be The Wedding Present, my favourite track changes from day to day but for today Granadaland…
Thanks for sharing my musical trip down memory lane.
Thank you to Shinny for sharing that and for taking the time to contribute. If you would like to contribute to our Indie Encounters feature and share your indie moments please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Twitter
It started off as a simple tweet. An observation from us that Bruno Brookes never got the opportunity to utter live on Radio 1 “Eve’s Volcano (Covered In Sin)” on a Sunday evening back in 1987. You see, Julian Cope’s lush final release from the Saint Julian album topped the chart at the rather frustrating Number 41, denying it exposure to a much wider audience by a mere whisker.
In response to our tweet a regular participant in our community Simon White AKA @Wimon on Twitter, suggested a weekly or maybe daily feature of indie songs that peaked at Number 41 in the UK charts. We normally sit up when Simon speaks and he got us thinking. A great suggestion undoubtably but a better one would be an article for the website penned by Simon on the very subject of indie songs that just didn’t quite cut the UK Top 40 mustard.
So after a DM session with Simon we had secured his signature and established a frame of reference resulting in what you are about to read. It’s a quality piece of work with the added bonus of a fantastic playlist at the end which is an essential listen.
I used to love buying singles. I must have bought far more singles than albums over the years. There’s a thrill with a single: a band putting forward a single musical shot that, in the space of 2 to 5 minutes will convey an idea, a statement, a melody, a sentiment, a new direction, a chorus that sticks in your head for days (not to mention the artwork, accompanying video and if you’re lucky a couple of decent B-sides too). Within such time constraints, it is remarkable how often the concept of a single just WORKS.
The single would often be the way you’d discover a band, perhaps on Radio 1 or Top of The Pops or The Chart Show. If it had enough of an impact on you, you’d go out and buy it as soon as you could, or perhaps hold back and get the album instead. And if enough people bought the single, it would be a hit, then more people would hear it on the radio, more people would like it and then discover the band and explore more of their songs in the process.
The Top 40 always felt important to me too. The most popular song is rarely the best song, but if you loved a song and knew that thousands of other people were sharing that emotion too, at exactly the same time, then it was an uplifting aspect to being in love with that song.
Back in the day, single sales would pick up slowly and through word of mouth and radio play, a song would crawl up the charts as it became more established and popular. But The Jam sparked a different response from their fans, who would typically try and buy their singles in the first week of release. At the time, The Jam were putting out very strong B-sides too. And with Going Underground/Dreams Of Children, they had the first UK single to go straight in at Number 1 in over 6 years.
This buying pattern became the indie sales blueprint, so within that genre, first week sales would often represent the peak position in the sales chart (as you would then have to rely on new fans for an improved position in the second week of release). Your favourite band would put out a new single and you’d always buy it as soon as you could, to maintain the completeness of your collection.
I always buy Saint Etienne singles and even when in Scotland in 2002 for a wedding, I still found time to buy their new single Action (during its first week of release), whilst shopping in Edinburgh. Dutifully, I bought both CD1 & CD2. With their renewed sense of pop and coolness (that had gone a bit AWOL since 1998’s Good Humor), it was a reasonable hope that they’d be back in the Top 20 that Sunday. But this never quite happened. I’d done my bit, but the single only entered at Number 41. And if you’ve never heard it, that’s why. A week later it had dropped to Number 89. But it came from a fine album (Finisterre) and there are probably 5 or more even better actual/potential singles on there that you may also have never heard.
And this is the curse – the frustration – of getting THAT close. Whilst Simply Red may quietly kick themselves at having 4 singles peaking at Number 11, some bands have never even had a Top 40 hit. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci may have a life changing album on offer in Barafundle, but the indie-waltz of Patio Song peaked at Number 41 and that’s as good as it got for them. They even had other singles peaking at Numbers 42, 43, 47 & 49, just to rub it in. Imagine if Lenny Valentino by The Auteurs had just done slightly better? Or Emily Kane by Art Brut? Or Ladies’ Man by The D4? Or Psycho by Thee Unstrung? But for all these bands, these were their most successful singles, all peaking at Number 41 and leaving behind a sense of what might have been.
In 1994, US band Cracker peaked at Number 41 with Get Off This. They’re still going and probably not even sulking, but they’ve never troubled the UK charts again. Although for some bands, this can just be a blip on the journey. King Of The Rodeo by Kings Of Leon was a Number 41 hit, but they soon had a couple of million sellers under their belts and birds shitting in their mouths on stage!
For others, it’s a strange position to reflect upon, after relative past success. As a blueprint for a hit, teaming up Tim Burgess with The Chemical Brothers for a 10 year anniversary reunion would seem like a great idea. In the preceding years, The Chems had had Number 1 singles and only grown in stature, but single The Boxer couldn’t even match the modest success of Life Is Sweet and stalled at Number 41. A few months earlier, R.E.M. had a great song in Aftermath, but it didn’t connect with those who’d bought Automatic For The People (and its associated singles) some years before.
You can of course be unlucky more than once. The House Of Love peaked at Number 41 with consecutive Fontana singles (Never & I Don’t Know Why I Love You) in 1989. And Julian Cope has managed it with The Teardrop Explodes (You Disappear From View) and also as solo artist in 1987 with Eve’s Volcano (Covered In Sin). Some record labels are repeat offenders here (perhaps not putting enough copies on the shelves?): Creation Records had Number 41 hits with My Bloody Valentine – Glider EP and Primal Scream – Don’t Fight It, Feel It. Heavenly Records too, with The 22-20s – Why Don’t You Do It For Me?, Ed Harcourt – This One’s For You and Northern Uproar – Rollercoaster/Rough Boys.
So perhaps Heavenly’s Jeff Barrett should be regarded as The King of Number 41? But The Queen of Number 41 is shared between two ladies. PJ Harvey had 3 x Number 41 singles (You Come Through, Good Fortune and This Is Love) plus there was a further such hit for Polly Harvey with Josh Homme as part of Desert Sessions – Crawl Home. And Siouxsie & The Banshees annoyingly had 4 x Number 41 singles (Israel, Slowdive, The Passenger and The Killing Jar).
When I look through a full list of these songs, and recall how frequently I would go single-shopping, it’s remarkable how many passed me by. There really are some great songs on the list, but sometimes it may just be that too many other songs were released that same week. For example, The Senseless Things missed out on a Top 40 hit with Primary Instinct because Stairway To Heaven by Rolf Harris was released at the same time. And sometimes I just blame myself, like the time in 1997 that I couldn’t quite push myself enough to purchase Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle & Sebastian (I did buy it some months later and they are now my favourite band). So in some small way, we’ve probably all let some of these songs down a little.
Help is at hand with the EverythingIndieOver40 compilation: “NOW 41 – Now That’s What I Call Almost”. There are sadly too many tracks that could have featured, but we have compiled 41 of the blighters to illustrate the point. And it fares far better than the real NOW 41 (which had the likes of UB40, The Lighthouse Family and Phil Collins on it – and that was just Disc 1!). At least we now have the technology to compile and share this stuff and celebrate 41 in all its lack of glory.
Simon White (@Wimon) grew up in Cardiff but has spent almost all his adult life in England. His “Road To Damascus” indie moment was in HMV, Cardiff in late 1989, when hearing Fools Gold for the first time. However, he already had indie leanings, having seen The Darling Buds and The Blue Aeroplanes at the start of that year. His first job in Bristol was in the red-bricked building on the vinyl inner of The Field Mice – Emma’s House EP (SARAH 12).
In 2000, he produced two issues of indie fanzine Music For Girls, featuring exclusive interviews with Bobby Wratten and Rosita. He now lives in Tunbridge Wells with a wife and young boy. He always thinks fondly of World Of Twist whenever passing the jeweller’s shop on The Pantiles, featured on their album sleeve. He has recently resumed his mid-90s songwriting hobby and just written his first ever song in a minor chord!”
Thank you to Simon for a quality item and for taking to get involved. If you would like to contribute to our Indie Encounters feature and share your indie moments please email us at email@example.com or DM us on Twitter