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Category Archives: The Rage

hopefully an album review to come soon… in the meantime, feast your grey matter on this. And persevere beyond the opening moments. She starts deliberately off-kilter; grating, even… give it a moment and she locks into the rhythm.

And it’s mindblowing.

And I’ve a sneaking suspicion we’re just scratching the surface here…

Who’s gonna want me when / I’m just somewhere you’ve been

Sometimes, you don’t even realise you’ve died. You don’t realise you’ve disappeared and you don’t realise there’s a blank, scratchy sheet where your personality used to be.

Before you know it you’re someone that used to do stuff and all your stories are 5 years old. Even the embarrassing ones. Especially the embarrassing ones.

Sometimes, it takes a single song to wake you up.

I can breathe this song in, like calorific air, and feel instantly human. The morning after I first heard it, I couldn’t drag my bones from my bed before I’d watched its gloriously downbeat, Vincent Gallo-esque video on the phone I’d had stuffed under my pillow all night.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m too old to listen to music and think ‘aaah, they’re singing my life… they’re playing out my thoughts…’ Like, I’m supposed to have it all figured out by now. Well, I never figured it out. And she’s singing my life.

I’m through with asking you if you knew love

Now, this thing of bands getting back together. I’m always in two minds about it…

Peter: That’s why I was not sure about it. Because it’s normally not a good idea. Most bands that were once quite good; you see them back together and you think ‘why do they bother?’

Well, I would pretty much refuse to go and see the New York Dolls… you know, I mean, you guys split up the year I was born… the guy that introduced me to you, I’ve got his memories, I’ve got other people’s memories, I’m happy with second-hand memories, I’m happy with Nina’s book, other people’s pictures. I’ve always veered away from seeing bands that reform ‘cause I think… I don’t want to be disappointed. I don’t want the myth ruined…

P: Well, the New York Dolls to me, without Johnny Thunders in it, isn’t the New York Dolls. I mean, they haven’t got Jerry Nolan even, do you know what I mean…

Alan: And I think that’s the other thing as well. I don’t think we’d have done it if one member hadn’t have been around. It had to be the original members, really.

Well, I think you played Manchester a while back and I resisted. But now it’s like, ‘aaagh, no, they’re playing on my doorstep, I’m not going to not go’.

A: the main thing is, a lot of people have said. ‘we just never ever thought that we’d get to see you…’

(and yep, hands up, I’m guilty of putting that exact phrase into one of my original emails to Alan…but you know, here’s the dilemma: As much as I’m anti-reformations and anti-revisionism, I’m also very much anti-ageism when it comes to music and I despise the restrictive life-span that the music press put on all but a precious few musicians in this country and actually, The Only Ones aren’t just poodling around the UK churning out the old classics, they are writing new material that is every bit as rousing as anything they wrote before I was thrust upon this planet).

… people that have grown up with the music. Younger people, that just thought ‘I’ll never get to see them’. And so far, it’s been really well received.

Do you get a lot of younger people coming to the gigs?

P: I think it’s a mixture, normally, you can tell there’s the people that have seen us the first time round, tall grey haired…

A: Yeah. You sell quite a lot of Large t-shirts.

P: In Japan, it was nearly all people in their twenties and teenagers. I don’t know why Japan is so different.

A: Yeah, a lot of young people

I think people really do their research out there…

P: They’re really into Western music.

A: Very emotional audiences, a lot of guys just watching in tears.

So how do you find the audiences are now, as compared to 30 years ago?

P: Well, obviously, 30 years ago, it was quite riotous, you know. The audiences… you know…

A: They’d be quite wild and then sometimes we’d get caught in…

P: The spitting was bad.

A: Oh yeah, that was horrible. Especially for Peter, when he’s singing (gestures to an open mouth, a prime gobbing target…)!

Presumably you don’t get spat at much now?

P: No! No…

A: It was really uncomfortable, you know, you’re just thinking…

Was it normally a sign of affection?

P: It was them enjoying themselves. It became this ritual among this certain type of punk. The ones that had read about it in News of the World, do you know what I mean? Some people said it was the The Stranglers (that started it), who weren’t even a punk band, you know.

A: It lasted for too long, anyway.

P: After a while it sort of died down and you wouldn’t get it anywhere until you did a gig in Middlesbrough and there’d be one person who’d only just read about it. When there was only one person spitting, you could take off your guitar and go and sort them out…

A: To be honest, I didn’t start making music to be spat at. It was too bizarre.

P: It only happened, really, at hardcore punk gigs. Our audience, the people that actually came to see us, didn’t spit.

Did you find it frustrating being lumped in with a lot of punk bands?

P: Well, soon after it happened, they invented the term ‘New-Wave’, which meant new music that was exciting, but wasn’t three chords at 90 miles an hour.

Were you a bit more comfortable with that tag, then?

A: Yeah

P: Yeah. I mean, people hate to be labelled because they like to think that any option’s open to them, musically. It was good to be part of something new and exciting.

A: I think it got all of the record executives out of their ivory tower, to come down and see bands. Because they would never even come out of their offices before – they were a bit scared of what was happening. All the super-groups they kept putting together, no one was interested in anymore. So it was really healthy. It definitely changed, shook the industry up.

I think it needed it. When all those bands like Yes and Blind Faith and all these super-groups were around, it was becoming really stale.

P: It was all really self-indulgent, horrible music. I guess the only good thing that happned was like, David Bowie and Roxy Music that was quite interesting in the early ‘70s.

So, for you guys, was forming the band a way of trying to break away from that tedium?

P: I just wanted to get a group together because I had a group in the early ‘70s and that’s to do with what I was talking to you about earlier, you know. Xena went around to record companies and lots of them said ‘sounds a bit like Lou Reed There’s not room in this music business for one Lou Reed, let alone two Lou Reeds.’

It’s funny now… I went through the thing of people with lots of enthusiasm but not much musical ability. So, I’d gone beyond that and wanted to get people that could actually play quite well. So that’s why we were a bit different from the punk bands that had just got together. I suppose I was older… well, I was younger than Joe Strummer, but you know, it had got to the point where I could appreciate the musicianship.

How do you find it, playing songs that you wrote 30-odd years ago?

A: It’s just as much fun. I think we’re trying to have fun with them, trying to add something extra into them as well.

Do you feel like the songs mean the same thing to you, or, as you’ve experienced different things in your lives, have they taken on different meanings?

P: Well, I feel, you know, I still enjoy singing the old songs, you know. I think they’re great songs, lots of them, you know. Obviously, I think the new songs, I feel more for because, as a lyricist, I think I’m better than I was back then. As you get older, you get a lot more experiences, a lot wiser; you get better at your craft. We used to stick to the same old songs for ages, then we’d occasionally resurrect something we hadn’t done for a while. But in Japan, the last time we went, because the guitar that Gibson had supplied me wouldn’t stay in tune, there was lots of time between numbers so we got talking to the audience a lot and they were asking for things that we hadn’t played for 30 years… someone even shouted out for ‘Silent Night’ and John started playing that.

Do you get to meet your fans?

P: Yeah

A: Especially in Japan…

P: Because they have an organised signing after the gig, they let you have half an hour, three quarters of an hour, you know…

A: To meet anyone that’s bought a poster, or CD or whatever

P: They take their photographs with you, you know. They come up, sort of shaking with emotion, you know. It’s sweet. They’re unique, compared to any other, they’re unique as a race. And one of the most attractive things about them is their humility, I think.

How about your British fans? Do you meet a lot of them?

P: Not as much.

A: They don’t organise it quite as well as the Japanese! I think you meet quite a lot through email as well, but not face to face. If someone asks to come back to the dressing room, we usually say yes, give us 10 minutes or so…

Do you have any obsessive fans?

A: Not so much now.

P: No. You get people that turn up to nearly every gig.

A: There’s a few on email, they have to have everything and know everything about what we’re doing. There’s fans that write to each other. Even some of the Japanese shows have already gone to Canada. Some people just watch what we’re doing all the time, so I guess that’s obsessive. But it’s not ‘obsessive’ meaning ‘scary’.

Not crazy, then?

A: No.

P: We used to though.

What kind of obsessive fans did you use to have then?

P: I particularly remember a girl in Holland that had my name tattooed all over her. She jumped on the bonnet of the car to try and stop us from leaving.

A: It was a bit scary.

In the gap between being in the band in the ‘70s and now, did you all remain in music?

P: In the ‘90s?

Yeah.

P: ’94 – ’96 but that’s ‘cause I got straight then. I hadn’t been totally drug free since the ‘70s. ‘Cause I always told myself, I wanna get totally drug free first and really, that was a horrible trap that I laid for myself. Once I told myself that I want to get drug free, I more or less cut out music from my life, really. Because it took me so long to get drug free, I wasted so much time.

I wish in some ways that I’d just been like Johnny (Thunders) and just carried on doing (music). At least when you’re doing it, you haven’t got that much time to take drugs. Now, music is like therapy for staying away from drugs, I think. ‘Cause they’re the two big passions in my life, you know. One’s totally disruptive and one’s totally enjoyable. It’s a pity they had to compete really, I should have just battled on with music really.

Obviously, the legacy of The Only Ones is massively embroiled with your drug use. A lot of people associate the band with drugs, do you ever regret that…

P: Well, it’s annoying for Alan because he never took them.

…but do you ever feel like the drugs have become more of a legacy than the music?

A: Yeah

P: Well, that’s worrying because lots of people assume that every song is about drugs…

A: It became too much for me… it felt like drug use was pulling the band down… the American tour was degenerating really badly and it just seemed… I remember being at Tropicana with a girlfriend (I recall a story from Nina’s book and believe this is the young lass that looked like Olivia Newton-John..) and just everybody was stoned, everybody that was around the band…

P: People with needles hanging out their arms.

A: That’s right, both John and Peter weren’t interested in needles but there were some girl fans who enjoyed doing that and I just happened to be sharing a room with John… and that’s the problem, you sort of lose your perspective and I was with a girlfriend he walked past me with a needle in his arm, and I was just like ‘oh, for fuck’s sake, John’. That seemed to be one of the points where I thought ‘this has now gone too far’. Not just that incident, but everybody in the road crew and the fans…

P: John had to wear, like, three overcoats onstage ‘cause he…

A: He was withdrawing…

P: No, he wasn’t withdrawing, it was a dirty hit.

A: But, do you know what, it felt like everybody was losing the plot. I was robbed in the hotel room, Peter was robbed outside the hotel room. It just felt like time to go. So I went to Peter and Xena’s room and I just said ‘it’s time to go, I can’t do it anymore’. And Peter said ‘well, if you’re gonna leave then I’m…’, I think he said he was thinking of going on his own as well…

P: I found it hard being in a band with John because I was still trying to keep drugs away from when I was working, you know, sort of, go to America without any drugs, to be straight for the tour. But then, it’s difficult…

I dunno if you’ve seen the film Clint Eastwood did about Charlie Parker? Bird. It’s a good film. And Charlie Parker had the same thing, when he was trying to stop taling heroin, in his band was this guy Red Rodney and Red Rodney was just getting into the heroin when he was trying to stay away from it. That’s the way I felt with John because I still felt that when you’re around heroin all the time, it makes it that much more difficult to stop and that’s the main reason.

A: That hotel room in New York, That was really the end of the band.

P: I wanted to carry on as a solo artist, get a new band together. But when I came back from New York, I got hepatitis and that knocked me, for the ‘80s. I didn’t get proper liver function back, well, I got clean at the end of the ‘80s. Hepatitis B. I mean, now, everybody’s Hepatitis C and I mean, to me, I can’t see the point, ‘cause it ain’t… people don’t even know they’ve got it, the symptoms are so… but Hepatitis B, that really does knock you sideways, that.

A: So, that hotel room in New York was the end of the band, even though we carried on playing a cat and mouse game with CBS.

There’ll be more about that cat ‘n’ mouse game in part 3!

I recently attended a round table talk, as part of Yorkshire’s Digital Week. It was chaired by John Robb of Goldblade and focused mainly on how artists / labels / journalists can actually make a living out of their art, or business, in this ever-evolving digital age.

My thoughts on the issue have been (and still are, really), fairly jumbled. I won’t download music for free, unless the artist has put it there purposefully for my taking. Yet, I’ll quite happily accept a copied CD off of someone. I’m utterly precious about the importance of print media. Yet, since the magazines that I used to write for turned to dust, I stopped buying magazines full stop. I can’t remember the last time I bought a fanzine, yet I will extol their virtues until the sacred cows come home.

Facebook depresses me and I baulk at the idea of using it to share my writing with others (OK, that’s largely because I do a lot of swearing and I already use Facebook for the Day Job) but I’ll happily use Twitter to do just that. Maybe it all just got too complicated. When I started writing about music, about 8 years ago, it was simple: Send article to editor of cool magazine. Hear nothing. Send editor mildly abusive reminder. Land job. And from there, it went on.

Now, it’s as though someone’s ripped down the stage curtain and shoved us all on stage, butt naked, with the house lights up and nobody to hold our hands. Last (wo)man standing. May the strongest artist/writer/critic/label survive… you’re your own editor now. And your harshest critics are a mere click away.

These musings are, however, a mere backdrop to the meat of this piece. During the round table chat, I gravitated towards talking about Kristin Hersh and the way that she has adapted to the change in the way that we consume and produce music, in a really positive and inspiring way.

Recognising the origins of folk music – and harking back to a time before record labels existed, before cats got fat off other people’s hard work and creative output – Kristin joined forces with Cash Music music and started giving her music away for free, for people to enjoy, share, pass on, download, remix, mess around with and re-post their own versions online for other folk to enjoy share, pass on… and on it goes. There’s an online tip jar for those visitors that recognise the need for an artist to eat, feed and clothe her children and keep a roof over her head.

Kristin didn’t stop there. She (with the aid of her manager-husband Billy) carried on figuring out innovative ways to connect to her audience, without a record contract either facilitating, or obstructing that mass conversation. Strange Angels is Kristin Hersh’s subscription service. For $30 a quarter, her strange angels get a new song every month (no writer’s block allowed, I guess!), a guest list to any of her gigs that you want to go to, a free copy of any physical releases and access to extra online material (videos, photos). Oh, and she’ll give you the phone number to her studio, in case you fancy a chat.

It’s real encouragement for anybody looking to harness the benefits of this new digital age that we live in, or striving to connect with people and fight off the isolation that comes with staring at a laptop screen for 23 hours a day.

Look here for her music: http://kristinhersh.cashmusic.org/speedbath/

Search the rest of Cash Music for similar like-minded artists: http://cashmusic.org/

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This an extract of an interview that I did with Mudhoney a few weeks back, over a tasty curry at Hansa’s in Leeds.

All of the band were present and to sum them each up in a pointlessly reductive manner, Mark was playful, like a puppy that would tear your leg off if you gave him the wrong dog food. Steve seemed more studious (though maybe it was just the glasses… gee, that really is reductive). Guy was passionate and keen to chat, just as keen to eat (and the grub is mighty fine here). Dan was quiet – he seems like a speak-when-he’s-got-something-important-to-say kinda chap. Which is possibly why he doesn’t feature too heavily in this section.

I wanted to talk to the band about the rising culture of revisionism in music. When I used that phrase, they initially gawked at me like I’d just puked up the Review section of that day’s Guardian newspaper. Convinced that it was a real word and I was using it in the right context, I bumbled on, asking them how they feel about bands reforming, revisiting old material, vaguely mentioning ATP and skirting around the ‘Don’t Look Back’ series, of which Mudhoney took part a few years ago.

Mark: “You mean the ‘Don’t Look Back’ stuff?”

Er, yeah, that and the fact that there are a hell of a lot of bands reforming, like the New York Dolls, etc, etc, blah blah blah.

Mark: “I go by a case-by-case thing really (there are mumbles of agreement between mouthfuls). I mean, I was really excited to see the The Stooges. I’m not as excited to see The Stooges with James Williamson. But I’m still pretty excited to see them… It was a pretty weird process for us to do it (referring to their ‘Don’t Look Back’ performance of Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles) But we’re doing it again with the Raw Power Stooges (sic) in New York, about a year from now.”

Guy: “Barry (Hogan, All Tomorrow’s Parties henchman)’s been very clever, because he’s picked bands that have been popular for him. There’s people that want to see them that didn’t get a chance to see them.”

Mark: “And it’s a really fucking good idea.”

Guy: “But a lot of these bands reforming, you know, a lot of it’s about money.”

Care to name names?

Steve: “Well, I think that’s a good part of why we’re doing it, right?” (more mumbles of agreement)

Mark: “And I think a band like The Stooges should get the money.

Sure, I get what you’re saying, but you know, there’s tons of bands that I like, that I never got to see first time round, but you know, that wasn’t my time. Why should I feel the need to be a part of it? Isn’t it a bit selfish to insist on having a little bit of everybody’s past for yourself? Doesn’t kind of indicate a serious lack of anything happening in the here and now, if we’re all desperately scrabbling around getting bands to reform and recreate the past? Sounds like a fairly damning indictment of modern music culture…

Mark: “So don’t go.”

I won’t!

Guy: “You can never recreate the real thing; like, seeing the Stooges in a football stadium in Seattle is never like seeing them in a small ballroom in the ‘70s.”

Steve: “I’m amazed that, you know, punk rock fans wear the same things that punk rock fans have worn for years. You know, it’s like, you’re worse than the hippies ever were…When we got into music, people were wearing stuff from, like, 10 years before, late ‘60s, early ‘70s and this was the ‘80s. Punk rock was like, what? 30 years ago? People wearing leather jackets with The Clash and The Exploited patches right next to each other, you know, just not getting the point at all. At the time, there was a huge gulf between those two bands. Now it’s all kinda the same thing.”

Mark: “I’m always happy when I see the kids doing something that I don’t expect them to do.”

Steve: “So, what, you’re happy when they wear leather jackets with The Clash and The Expoited next to each other?”

Mark: “No, but I accept that, because…” (at this point, Mark’s profound statement is cut off by the more pressing issue of a waitress taking our drinks orders)

I think there’s a lot less tribalism with kids these days, they listen to loads of different types of music, because it’s all there at their fingertips.

Guy: (the conversation moves on to electronic music and access to downloads) “people don’t really buy albums, they just buy tracks. And there’s so much out there, so much that’s underground, they start a label on their own or there’s independent labels. Thre’s all these labels of what it actually is – it’s fascinating.”

I guess, in a way, it’s become so much easier now for kids to sit at home, with a laptop, than it is to lug guitars and amps across town. Harder to find places to practise too. I think in many places, people are less tolerant of noise, warehouses & practise places are getting bulldozed to make way for posh flats, councils trying to gentrify every inch of their towns and cities…

Steve: “And you can also discover so much music now, just sitting at your computer, which I think is great.”

Mark: “But you know, I looked for those first two Stooges records for a couple of years before finding them on Canadian import in Oregon…”

There is a general agreement that the widespread availability of downloads kinda kills the thrill of the hunt that record collectors have thrived on for years. Pity the children. And the lazy ones…

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I was going to call this piece of writing ‘QWIM: Questions – Women In Music’. I backed down on the grounds of it being a) a bit crude and b) a pretty shit acronym. 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have given a fuck. 10 years ago, probably no one else would either. When Donita Sparks was flinging tampons at festival crowds, then a crap play-on-words about cunts was hardly anything to be worrying about. Okay, that was more like 17 years ago. Shit. I’m getting old.

When I started to listen to music in earnest, I was probably just a bit too young and too bogged down in surviving adolescence in a middle-class town to have been caught full blast by the riot grrl movement.  But I quickly became aware of it. The politics and debate that it inspired informed the records that I bought, the way I thought about music and the way that I thought about myself. It only took one listen to Pussy Whipped to become engulfed in the flames of my own potential.

The music papers that I bought in the newsagent next to my school were bursting (or at the very least, bubbling away) with comment about feminist politics and making gigs inclusive spaces for male and female alike. When my friends got into Nirvana, I bought ‘Doll Parts’ on “7. A few months later, I bought myself a record player so that I could actually listen to it (I was already acutely aware that my cassette player probably wasn’t going to be sufficient equipment for the record-buying mission I would shortly embark on).

I saved up and bought myself a Fender JagStang. The boys were jealous and I loved it. And no fucker was carrying my amp anywhere for me. And you know what? I had an army behind me. A stack of fanzines, emblazoned with feisty women in babydoll dresses, I had people speaking to me in the ‘alternative’ music press, I had Polly Jean Harvey, I had Patti Smith, I had Bikini Kill and most importantly, I had Courtney Love (though it’s hard to believe it now).

Fast forward though jobs, university, playing in bands, debt, writing about music, more jobs and even more debt.

What I see around me now makes sick to the marrow. Ladies, it would appear that we had our voice in the 1990s. Now it’s back to playing nicely for the boys.

I recently half-heartedly engaged in an online debate about what I considered to be an overtly macho, testosterone-heavy culture at Leeds festival. I think I was supposed to be happy because Brody Dalle was allowed to play, and they let Karen O run riot on the main stage. I was very kindly informed (by a girl, if that’s relevant, which it probably fucking is) that liking music just because it’s made by a woman is just as sexist as not liking it because it’s a woman.

Brick wall? Head? Bosh.

It’s hard to be intellectual when you’re seething with rage.

Oh, and apparently, the lineup at Leeds Festival is kinda cock-heavy because, you know, that’s just what the industry’s like…

UUUUGH… Yerrrr, (adopting Bill Hicks-style microphone-halfway-down-gullet-technique)…(ready for the distortion, now) …THAT’S MY FUCKING PROBLEM!!!

This whole thing runs deeper than what we like and what we don’t like. It’s about what we ALLOW and what we prohibit. And women aren’t allowed, right now, to be anything other than polished, pretty, well-dressed and utterly, utterly marketable. I’m listening real hard and I can’t hear any of these trussed up starlets saying anything I want to hear about, nothing I care about. None of it relates. None of it translates.

In fact, what I am hearing, is this: “I know that there’s far more ways to be sexy than to dress in a miniskirt and a tank top… I think you attract a certain kind of man by dressing like that…Women wonder why they get beaten up, or having relationships with arsehole men. Because you attracted one, you twat.” (ripped from www.thequietus.com)

There you go, girls. There goes Elly Jackson from La Roux: your new role model. Good luck with that one. Hope it works out well for you.

At the start of 2009, a group of people (the dudes that hold the strings… purse strings, puppet strings… they just like strings, really) decided that the Next Big Thing was going to be… Women!!! Women that sing! Women that play instruments! Well, fuck me sideways. Now, excuse me if I’m wrong but I was under the (clearly-misguided) impression that we’d been around a little longer than since the arse end of 2008. So I see headlines and cover shots documenting this new phenomenon. Where is the backlash? Where is the argument? Where is the voice of reason? We’re a gender, not a genre, douche-bag.

I never really felt like I fitted in with any of the feminist / grrl / queer groups around. I’m not queer, for a start. And I always figured I’d wasted too much of my early 20s shagging my way to enlightenment, rather than learning to DJ, putting a ‘zine together or throwing tampons at people. But it was always kinda reassuring to know that they were there, fighting their (our) corner, being kinda pleasant when I did show my face. Now they just feel like a dying breed. I’m not digging deep enough because I’m not used to having to dig so fucking hard.

I know, girl, do I know that there are girls, ladies, women, whatever, out there, out here, making music, fitting in seamlessly with the boys, the men, whoever. I can think of a bunch here in Leeds. They don’t stand out because they’re female, they stand out because they’re ACE. But you know, the scales are still tipped, it’s still fucked up. And there’s no discourse anymore. It’s not cool to talk gender politics anymore.

We just make do. Make do and mend.  Fuck you, La Roux.