The Specials emerged from an era of British music like few others; one that combined the influences of both homegrown political dissidence and Jamaican dance-house music. In the late 1970s, The Specials produced the first and finest combination of multi-racial (and also collaborative) music that the UK had ever seen, inventing the term ‘Two Tone’ in the process. Many since then have tried to hold the cue, but few have managed to do so or execute with such originality. I do doff my hat to those who have tried. In terms of being related to the quality of ‘ska’ music The Specials dealt (and continue to deal) in, I can only raise the name of the Fat White Family, a band who seldom sound in the same genre, but do very much carry the energy, wave of originality, popular tunes, humour, and indeed political messages of The Specials. The common political message can be left up to the reader to decide.
Horace Panter was in the Specials and played Bass in their original and current line up. These days, he’s very eager to get The Specials back touring (COVID forgiving) and also spends his time working with his own Pop-Art, adapting to being a ‘technophobe’, whilst also on the verge of being a grandfather. Felten Ink caught up with Mr Panter to discuss such matters.
Horace, what is the difference between being a ‘musician’ and an ‘artist’?
Being a musician gives instant feedback. If you’re doing good, an audience applauds or your bandmates acknowledge you. If you’re doing bad, you know about it pretty quickly too. There is a lot of adrenaline involved! With painting, the satisfaction and contentment is something internal. I guess, to use a pop psychology word, it’s ‘mindful’. The validation from an audience comes more slowly but it is there. I get a kick every time someone buys one of my paintings.
To me your own artwork looks like it would come under the term ‘pop art’?
Yes, I’d say I follow the Pop tradition. I take everyday objects and paint them, elevating the mundane. Andy Warhol had his soup cans, I have my cassettes, Japanese Vending Machines, American diners. I don’t mind people putting structure around my work – it doesn’t affect how or what I paint.
Do you look at everyday things and feel the need to make something?
I look at all genres of art (which is why I miss being able to go to galleries/exhibitions). Everything inspires me: it could be a colour or a shape or an object that suddenly takes on a specific meaning that I think could be transferred to a painting. A fellow artist once said to me ‘lots of people can draw/paint to a level that is extraordinarily but, as an artist, you have to have an idea’. I’d say it’s far harder to have an idea than it is to be technically brilliant. I don’t want to follow trends in art though I’m aware of them. I guess my strongest influences come from Pop Art, given that I was a child of the 60s when everything ‘cool’ came from across the pond: pop music, art, fashion. I love Peter Blake’s work but he was also influenced by American Pop culture.
What has being a musician taught you (if anything) about your own exploration into making your own art – to me your artwork doesn’t seem too personal?
As a musician, I’m a team player. I need a drummer and other musicians to create my music; it’s collaborative. I always refer to my art as ‘my solo album’. The work stands or falls on its own merit and by my own efforts. I have done a few pieces of ‘personal’ art but I keep them for myself!
I would love you to share some… I’ll keep it a secret, I promise. When is the best time for you to work, create, and why?
I prefer to paint in the daylight (natural light) which has been difficult with the short winter days. After walking the dog I spend most of the day in the studio but I do go out to see my printer or framer a couple of times a week. I try to take a break at weekends but if I’m on a roll, that often goes out of the window. The painting itself dictates how I work I guess.
It seems to me there are perhaps few other modern bands continuing the work of The Specials. Do they exist?
Where are the new Specials? I think various aspects of The Specials are observable in a lot of British music – the reggae/ska influence, the dance style, but nothing has come that close. Jerry (Dammers) once said he thought that Galliano were like The Specials. There are, of course, bands that, lyrically, resemble the band, but I think our USP was the message and the dance. Our message was serious but our music was uplifting.
I once read you saying nice things about Sleaford Mods (not my bag, to be honest). Personally, I think Fat White Family are one of the greatest bands currently on earth who at least share the attitude of a band like The Specials. What else is are you into musically?
I’m not familiar with Fat White Family – I’ll look them up – but Terry thinks highly of them. I thought the Sleaford Mods were mesmeric performers and it was great to have them on tour with us. I don’t listen to too many new acts (where do you find them these days if you don’t have Spotify… I don’t because I’m a bit of a technophobe!). I think my vast knowledge of rock’n’roll is something of a millstone around my neck. Everything I hear seems to sound like something else – spot the influence if you will. I have tickets to see The Drive By Truckers in June in London, re-scheduled from last year… I hope they play. Bands send me stuff on social media and, now and again, I prick up my ears and listen to a song all the way through. These days I’m quite impatient, if it sounds generic in the first few bars, I’m gone. I’m not cynical, maybe just have too many tunes in my head already!
I first got into the Specials in the days of indie dance floors back in my late teens/ early 20s (a long time ago now). Why do you think The Specials continue to be so important for newer generations?
Well, firstly: The tunes are great. The lyrics are easy to sing and are still relevant. The rhythms are irresistible. The live shows are full on – 100% full tilt celebration. Got your ticket for the 2021 gig yet?
Not yet, but… How has this ongoing lockdown treated you and have you been able to develop or at least maintain yourself as an artist, i.e. your own artwork and with the band?
All the Specials’ work for 2020 was rescheduled for 2021. Then, even our 2021 tour was put back from March/April to September/October. Between the lockdowns I did three small gigs, two with a Cajun/Zydeco outfit and one with a Blues band. They were all great and made me realise how dependent I am on performing as a release. During this current lockdown I’m one miserable mother-fucker. There’s only so much you can practice playing the bass! Art-wise, I’ve never been busier. There are new projects and new opportunities, making it an exciting time. Counter-intuitively, people have still been buying art, which is great for me. I’ve managed to paint a whole new series of cassettes which will be exhibited in the next couple of months. Obviously, the exhibition will be virtual which takes some of the fun out of it as it’s nice to build up to a physical exhibition and to meet people at the opening. Nothing is as usual though is it? I stay home, walk my dog in the countryside twice a day and do everything I can to stay sane!
What has this current situation given you that normal life would have restricted?
We (my wife and I) moved house a week before the first lockdown, from Coventry to a small village in Warwickshire. Love it. We have spent our time since then exploring the area, finding remote places to walk the dog (border terrier called Mijj!), had builders in, who have been great company… builders always are aren’t they! As well as concentrating on painting, I’ve had lots of time to read and think. Our son and daughter-in-law moved from South London to Warwick just before Christmas. It is a huge frustration that we can only see them in a socially-distanced situation, so no long boozy dinners together! I miss playing Blues/Cajun/Zydeco in pubs. Socialising in general. Visiting museums and art galleries. I was planning a road to trip to visit friends in the USA so god knows when that will be possible!
I don’t want to spend too much time on COVID but as it’s affecting everyone – what are your own thoughts on how the UK is dealing with it? Will we get back to normal (I tend to think aside from pubs and gigs, normality was overrated)?
I don’t think there was a single country in the world that was prepared for the virus (except perhaps Taiwan). We had to make it up as we went along didn’t we. There were always going to be conflicting interpretations of scientific data and weighing up the economic consequences. I don’t think we’ve felt those consequences fully yet. The performing arts industry has been decimated. The current debacle about musicians/performers needing permits to perform in Europe is a farce that needs to be fixed. Maybe bands like The Specials can take that on the chin, given they have a management structure capable of sorting all that out. It is young bands and musicians (including choirs, small opera companies, etc) that will feel it as they often go out on a shoestring budget and they won’t be able to absorb the extra costs. I’m just hoping to play in pubs again!
I’m now in my mid-30s and feel it – does one chill out more as they get older – You’re 67 now so what does age do to you?
Haha! It makes me jealous of anyone who is 30 years younger! Stuart Copeland once said to me “musicians stay younger longer” – I hold to that thought constantly!!Less angry, sure. More chilled, sure. Without the mist of anger I have been able to think more deeply about things like politics… I’m less reactive and more contemplative. I look for context in everything, despite the fact that context is often obscured. I see that MSM and social media are designed to make me angry so I back off. I’m going to be a grandfather this year and that gives me a deep sense of joy. The personal stuff, family, friends, etc., is the important stuff.
In terms of your artwork, I love your cassette art in particular – how do you choose who to stick on there. I was thinking you should do a mixtape version and link to a playlist on Spotify… with the help of the one they call ‘Alexa’?
With the cassettes there are self-imposed boundaries. Circa 1970 – Circa 1995 are the boundaries. Having said that, more bands are recording and releasing cassettes as they have achieved a kind of iconic status. All the cassettes are the same dimensions. The interesting bits are small, overlooked factors like the screws (do they have screws?), or the window. Are there numbers folded into the front place under the window? (what use were these anyway?). These small factors inform how the cassette looks. Yes, I only do bands I like. No way would I do an Abba cassette – or Queen! Don’t even mention Queen! Having said that, my new series doesn’t feature bands/songs; it celebrates the object alone and I’ve concentrated on design/colour. The idea of Alexa scares me shitless!
I agree with you on ABBA, God forbid Alexa decided to play me that. Are you ever bored with making music?
Never! Music is such a wonderful thing to be able to perform. I can’t possibly imagine my life without it. Now and again I get fed up with a painting I’m doing so I’ll put it aside or scrap it. I never get fed up playing music!
Are you cynical about older bands getting back together to tour or make new music? I don’t wish to be crude, but making money is important – thoughts?
Well, at my age, I ain’t in it for the travel and I do have a family to support. I would by lying to you if I said that the money didn’t matter. You might be surprised that I still have a mortgage and I don’t have a pension plan, or even a new (or old) BMW! I have never been close to being a millionaire, more’s the pity haha! My accountant says that in a good year I make about the same as the average builder. The Specials is a big band with a large crew, the cost of doing a tour is eye-watering. Regardless, I love it! Being with Terry (Hall) and Lynval (Golding) and the gang is like being with family… we have decades of history!
Interview with Horace Panter – January 2021. To be continued…
For some, mainly Matt Morgan Appreciation Society members (like myself), Matt Morgan will be best known as Russell Brand’s sidekick on the hugely popular XFM and Radio 2 shows. Those familiar will also know he’s the man who as a school-boy suffered a horrid but hilarious ‘pin-pinning’ (thus becoming the original victim), he who as a child believed he had a crow living in his bedroom wall, and the man who, by his own admission here, sometimes thinks about going back ‘into the shadows’.
For everyone else, these days Matt is better known for his work as a writer for TV (‘Mr Winner’ and ‘The Mimic’), broadcaster, and now the host of his own regular show. On Patreon he hosts Q+A’s with himself, publishes videos of his extreme camping trips, and broadcasts interviews with his ‘mates’. Thankfully these happen to include the likes of outdoor survival expert Paul Hayes aka Hazes Outdoors, comedian Rob Beckket, and my favorite, the often curmudgeon but always funny and frank singer-songwriter Mr. Noel Gallagher.
Here, we chat about the future of his Patreon show, the decision to make the move to paid-for media, what it’s like to be friends with and piss off the most talented Gallagher brother, and why going into baby-mode is so comforting, among other things…
Matt, on your Instagram there are some videos of you dressed as a baby. What’s that about?
That came from when I was with John Noel who was the agent Russell was with at the time. It came from was a sketch with my friend Kieron Hawkes, he directed shows like the The Mimic and Power. It was from the idea of ‘immersive’ documentaries, so it was one step on in telly evolution from Louis Theroux going somewhere. At the beginning, it was like, “I wondered if I could live as a baby. I used to do it without thinking, but as a man, can I do it now?” The point of the joke was how utterly stupid those immersive docs were. So I did one where I was an adult baby, and I went and had an adult baby experience, which is like, basically not sexual, but she [the lady providing the service] changed my nappy, she gave me a bath.
It’s pretty funny
I think I’ve always had an interest in adult babies. It’s just really funny to me. The oversized babygrows and stuff, it’s very visual. We stayed the night with her. She was saying how it’s very rarely sexual, a lot of is men with powerful jobs who get to switch off and go into infantilization. They get to go there, she puts a babygrow on them, she reads them stories, she gives them warm milk, they sleep in a big cot and then the next day, they get dressed and go back to their normal life. It wasn’t completely immersive because we were filming it but I did just let myself go and have the experience. The bit where she was reading me a story and I had warm almond milk in a thing, and the bit where she was changing my nappy, that was just a bit awkward. There was no poo involved, but I’d wee in this nappy and she changed it. Honestly, when she was reading me the story and I slept in this cozy little cot… there was something about it that was really nice.
I’m still not trying it
*laughs* At the time I remember saying to Kieron, “They should do this at spa hotels. Instead of having a massage and then some face peel or something, you should have a big nursery, where you put on a babygrow, you play with Lego, and someone reads you a story and they give you warm milk.” Like honestly, it would revolutionize the world. You’d make so much money.
The comedy world is changing in terms of what’s deemed acceptable. I remember Russell Brand comparing you to one of the men dressed as women on the old Bounty kitchen towel adverts. How do you feel about the fact that some stuff wouldn’t be acceptable these days, in comedy terms, with ‘cancel culture’ and the trans debate which is in full flow (on Twitter at least)?
Well, it depends. There’s context. I think as I remember that Bounty ad, it was part of the joke; don’t men with beards, you know, big fat men with beards look silly dressed up as women. So that was their joke. You have to be careful. You wouldn’t get away with that now, because people are so much more aware. I remember, when I was a kid and I worked in a shop as a teenager, there was a woman who came in who I previously would have said, “Oh, a bloke dressed as a woman.” But who was trans back then. I remember seeing what I think people called transvestites at the time, which was just something else. People didn’t understand did they? So transvestites are someone who has dressed up as a woman for a kink? I think it’s really important to be caring about it because imagine the shit they get. I wasa once actually writing something with a transgender character in it and I don’t think I would now, because I think…
You’re straight and male?
Yeah, because I think now it’s like, “Well, you can’t speak for them.” Which, I mean, that’s a whole other thing to get into, because then you get into, well, can men write female characters? and could an adult write a child? And that’s mental. Of course they can.
Do you think it’s important not to be going after the more vulnerable, punching down etc like to be more wary and compassionate?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve done stuff… Everyone in comedy has done stuff where you’re wearing women’s clothes if your a man or the other way round. But I’ve never blacked up, I think I would always known, “No way. Not doing that.” But that was common on our TVs not that long ago really. I think it’s good that things are changing because I’m very aware, you don’t want to make anyone feel excluded, like the idea of punching up and punching down. I think comedy’s better when it punches up because you should be attacking the people in power, not the disempowered. But then, to go back to your original point, I think that you’ve got to have compassion and I think, punch up. In the context of a stand-up gig, someone like Frankie Boyleor Jimmy Carr, you know what you’ll get when you buy a ticket. It’s not like, “Oh someone called Jimmy Carr’s on, I think I’ll go and check it out. It sounds like a light entertainment evening.” But when you get there, you know what they’re going to do. And also Louis C.K. I know he’s canceled for being a creepy sex pest, but any comedian, they stand on stage and they pick through things, do you know what I mean? They’re not making blanket statements.
You can’t stop people from being honest and going through things. Even Jimmy Carr, who’s not doing that sort of conversational comedy, he’s doing one-liners, right? But it’s in the context of his Jimmy Carr gig, and it almost goes with it that you go, “If he’s saying this joke, then he knows the power of what he’s saying, and why it’s funny is because “Oh you’re not allowed to say that.'”
You’re removed in that sense because you write for screen?
Well, thankfully I don’t have to worry about this particularly because I don’t do that sort of comedy. Everything I’ve ever written is pretty mainstream, really. And also, I’m not a stand-up, so I’m not up there saying stuff. That’s the thing. I think it’s good that people are much more aware of the idea of “who’s this hurting?” Because I think that’s important, but of course you can’t police people’s honest thoughts.
When did you start doing that whole survival type thing as a hobby? What’s the attraction to that?
One night, for some reason, I was watching this Ed Stafford show, where he goes somewhere and he’s got nothing. He’s basically naked, but as a survival expert, he quite quickly finds water, then he does shelter. And depending on the environment, basically, if it’s cold, then fire is a priority, if it’s warm, then shelter is a priority. So I was learning all this stuff. But I used to be a Scout and what I liked about Scouts was lighting fires, playing with axes, knives, but it was also controlled. It awakened something in me that was basically put away at the end of my teens. And then I think I spoke about that with Russell [Brand] – “Oh, I want to do this. I want to go camping and stuff.” And the idea of camping in this country is obviously at a campsite where there’s a shower block and toilets and all that stuff. And I was like, “Well, how do you get away from that?” And then when you look into it, wild camping in this country in illegal. In Scotland, it’s legal because you’ve got ‘Right to Roam’. But here, I mean, England’s not massive, It’s not like America where you’ve got vast fucking national parks where you could literally get lost in and die. I was like, “Oh, I want to go somewhere that’s not like, ‘Oh hello, here’s your pitch.”
Which brings us to you and Hazes Outdoors…
Yeah, he said, if you’re interested in this, I’ll send you some stuff, because he basically… Well, It can get expensive actually, because you start buying all this kit. But he sent me some stuff he didn’t need anymore. It was basically everything I needed. Sleeping bag, a folding saw, like a knife with a fire steel so you can start fires and all that stuff. Somebody else, through listening to the radio show sent me a message and said, “I’ve got a small woodland on my farm in Essex that you’re welcome to come and camp in.” So I went. I was quite to keen to do it when it was cold. I’ve been camping in Summer enough to know that it’s not very difficult. You’re not even cold at night if you’ve got a sleeping bag. So I wanted to be cold. What I was craving was the simplicity of, “I’m cold, I need to light a fire, I’m hungry, I need to cook my food.” That sort of thing, as opposed to the stresses of everyday life which are so often abstract.
It must be difficult getting used to long hours in the darkness (sorry if I sound like a therapist)?
I remember Hazes Outdoors said, “Be careful in Winter because the sun can go down very quickly.” When the sun goes down and you’re in woods especially, it’s even darker than the fields, it’s pitch black, so you’ve got your head torch on but the world shrinks down. You’ve got your little glow of your head torch, and that’s it. The first couple of times I did it I did get freaked out. You’re so freaked out by noises, and just the vulnerability that you’re out there and you think, “God, what if someone just saw my fire and my tent and came up and just fucking stabbed me through my tent.” You start thinking such mad shit. Because usually, you go to sleep thinking, “Right, the doors are all locked, I’m pretty good, I’m pretty safe.” I don’t know, it’s just really good. And it’s not survival, survival, I’ve always taken food with me, I’ve had 4G. You’re not really looking at your phone, but you can. You don’t feel like, “Oh shit. I’m in the middle of nowhere.” But it’s still good to do it. It’s still quite extreme compared to what most people would call camping.
On your video you posted recently on Patreon, Hazey sleeps on the ground?
Fuck that. I’ve got a Hennessy hammock with a bug sheet net and stuff. Honestly, I sleep in that as comfortably, if not more than I do at home. Because you’re slightly swaying and it’s like being a baby. It’s just like hanging in the air.
There’s that baby thing coming up again.
Haha – all it does is just give a bit of a reset, to go outside. You’re away from your troubles for a bit. It’s masculine in a non-toxic way, do you know what I mean? It’s not, “Oh, I’ve got loads of stress, I’m going to go and get absolutely fucking pissed and I’ll be fine.” It’s not that.
Onto the podcast and your Patreon site where you now post your content.
You’ve spoken on the Pod how Noel Gallagher was pissed off when you joked that Morrissey had died (It was, in fact, Russell Brand’s cat, Morrissey, RIP). Was he genuinely angry with you?
Yeah, he was.
What’s he like when he’s pissed off?
He swears loads. He’s up for a laugh. So I just thought, “Fuck it, this will be funny.” So I text him: “Fucking hell, Morrissey’s dead.” And he text me: “What the fuck, what, what?” Like that. He was freaking out and then he called me and he went, “Are you fucking serious, what the fuck, he’s fucking dead, he’s fucking dead?”. I went, “Yeah, he’s dead mate, he died this morning.” And he went, “Fucking what?” And I went, “Yeah, yeah.” He goes, “What? Morrissey’s dead?” I went, “Yeah, yeah, Russell’s cat Morrissey’s dead.” And he just went, “You fucking prick… Oh, you wanker… You fucking idiot, you fucking cunt, you fucking…” He just went like that and hung up. I was like, “Oh god.” And then he text me loads more swear words.
You’ve used up all your prank points on that.
I know. Afterward, I was desperately trying to think of some other famous pet. I was thinking, “God, is there anyone else I could do this to”. Like I’ll just leave it a week, and then do it again. Noel said to me later, “It really freaked me out because I had been listening to The Smiths so much. And thinking about Morrissey a lot. And then when you said that….” And then I felt really bad. I knew he’d be all right. He’s had a go at enough people over the years.
The stuff with you and Noel is all gold, really, it’s amazing to sit and listen to.
He’s good, isn’t he?
You both are. It’s purely unguarded, no PR, no bullshit, none of the usual pre-prepared answers you get with a lot of Podcasts and interviews.
Well, that’s the thing I found. The thing is, it’s like normally, and I did try and do this with the Podcast in its first iteration, which was to be like “I’m talking to people about what they find funny, and whatever.” Which was great and then, Coronavirus happened, and it was like, “I’m not going into London to do the interview.” I can’t remember who was lined up, but any stand-up comedian who’s a pro isn’t going to be totally unguarded and have a chat. They’re going to be like, “Oh yes, the first gig and, oh, worst gig of my life.” And all that shit, and I just thought, “I’m bored by that just thinking about it.”
So I just reverted to calling people I’d already spoken to and people I actually know, like Jo Lycett, Rob Becket, Noel Gallagher, and that seemed to work. And I think now actually having moved to Patreon, I’m going to impose a bit more format on it going forward, because I’ve got this little squad of people that I call… this is exclusive to some extent.
*Semi sarcastic* Ooooooooh!
It’s only me, so it’s nothing great. In the future it’ll be more like, “What have I been doing this week?” That’s the format. And in the way that a stand-up comedian will tell you a story, but then relate it to bigger things, like, “Oh, I wonder what that says about me?” And just investigate things a bit. Basically, if Noel was on that week, I’d have four things that I’m going to be talking to him about. “Oh, I got my patio done, and I had to talk to the builders. And how do you feel, like being working class? And then, when a builder’s around your house, what do say? Hello, mate, do you want a cup of tea?” Or are you awkward or whatever. That sort of thing really interests me. What I hate is artifice. You know like these podcasts where, and I’m not judging them, but if it’s like… I don’t know, they’ve got such a format, the person is a slave to the format.
Like I was saying, so many other Podcasts have that banal nature…
Yeah and also, that a lot of those things, you can only have that guest on once because you’ve applied the format to them. “What are your favorite sporting moments in your life, or whatever?” And then you can’t come back on in three weeks’ time and say, “Oh, I’ve got seven different ones.” I could think of formats, but if it was like, “Okay, you’re allowed to pick one footballer, one musician…” All those variations on parlor games. It’s your ideal dinner party or whatever. And I just think that won’t work because it will just fall apart so quickly. So that’s what I’m going to do. Like, ‘What have I been up to, what have I been thinking about this week, what have we done this week?’ and if there’s a guest or not, because I quite enjoy doing them on my own and it seems to work.
They do work, even the ones on you do on your own.
It’s weird, isn’t it? Because it doesn’t bring the mood down if you’re having a laugh. I think that stuff needs to be handled properly, you can’t just be flippant about it. So that’s the weekly podcast. And Noel can fit into that, because I can just tell him what I’ve been up to and he’s… the thing with Noel is, he never… he’s similar to Russell in the way that he’ll never dry up. He’ll always have something to say about a subject. And also, to be honest, his fucking anecdotes are star-studded, because of the life he’s led. So he’ll just be like, “Oh, I was with Paul Weller and McCartney.” and you think, ‘Fucking hell’.
You were talking a few weeks ago about the chance of you and Noel doing a regular thing together. Is that still a possibility – like a co-host situation on a show?
Yeah we have been talking about it, because he’s got his studio, so he’s got a brand new studio that he’s built himself, it’s just for him basically, and he was like, “Oh we should do something regularly.” So I guess he meant we should sell a podcast, do it for someone, like Spotify or something. And that would be a regular podcast. So I’ll carry on doing my Patreon podcast and that would be a second thing. What’s been interesting about it, what everyone seems to have realized, like even doing this call, it’s like, we don’t need to be in the same place to record. Or to do anything really. I’ve been amazed. That’s why I’ve moved really, because it’s like, “Oh shit, I don’t need a studio. I don’t need to go in and use a studio, I don’t need to even go to meetings.” Me and Noel could potentially do something where we’re at our houses, but we do something regularly.
On your move from the ‘Funny How?’ podcast and taking your content over to Patreon, you obviously did it to make more money which is common sense. On the original setup, did you try to sell it in any way, or was it just not a viable option really?
I was doing it with Global so then it’s on Spotify, iTunes, and all the main places. Basically, you do it and then they sort out the advertising and they sell advertising if they can, and then the ad split is negotiable but basically starts at 50/50. So you provide the content, they provide the advertising and you take half the money each. And so it makes some money like that. But I think Coronavirus did affect things because people weren’t buying new cars, people weren’t going on holiday, people weren’t buying high street fashion stuff, because they couldn’t and so I think a lot of advertisers just pulled their ad campaigns. So that didn’t help. I don’t think that was the complete problem. With podcasts you have to accept that it won’t make much money for the first six months or a year. I was sort of okay with that at the beginning, but then when I saw how much it was… I was just like, “Really? This is almost not worth doing for the hassle.” And I’d quite happily just disappear back into the shadows and do my writing and stuff, but I was quite enjoying doing it and it was going down well. I didn’t want to just walk away from it. I looked at different options and found you could use Patreon to boost your income by doing extras. I just thought I should take the risk and just go completely on Patreon. You do lose people. You lose numbers, but the people who are left are actually paying you instead of going for advertisers, so in terms of how much of my income it takes to do it, it’s much better.
Maybe more work or expectation?
I think it’s a little bit more work because I feel like I’ve got to provide, not just podcasts, I’ve got to do… I’m doing extra bits and video and stuff. Yeah there’s more expectation, and also, you go, “Well, these people are customers now, they’re not just getting it for free.” So I’ve bought some equipment now and I realize it’s not just audio. It will include video as part of it.
You seem like quite a laid back person. Is that a fair comment?
I suppose I am laid back in some ways. But I can get really fucking angry.
I’ve been listening to you for a while, going back to the radio show days with Russell Brand. You’ve always seemed like the kind of calm, quiet voice of reason?
Yeah, I suppose, but then you’re forced into certain roles aren’t you, by the person you’re with? With Russell, I’m naturally going to become the straight man to someone that mental. When I say mental, now he would look at me and think, “Fucking hell, you’re mental.” He’s extreme in whatever he does, so now he’s an extremely spiritual person. He’s weird, Russell, he’s not just like, “Oh, shall we have a cup of tea and a sit-down?” It’s like he’s always intensely up for something. And he’s on this big sort of journey to work out what this all means, this life and stuff like that.
I just think I’m sort of vaguely interested in spiritual stuff and whatever, but I don’t have that yearning that Russell has to understand the universe and stuff. I sort of feel like I’ve worked my version of it out when I was about four. And I’m just coasting on whatever I took life to be at that stage. I think I’m much more practical. Like now I’ve moved house, I’ve been camping, I’m swimming in the sea, I just think that’s enough for me. I don’t need to sort out the mysteries of the universe.
Onto Withnail and I. Allow me to self indulge.I adore that film, and you’ve spoken of your own love of it on your shows. Do you remember when you first watched it?
I remember when me and a mate Rich were around 15, in the days of VHS. Back then, there was basically four channels. And I used to stay up late to find boobs in a film. It would be like quick, record them, yeah, Channel 4, late at night, usually some sort of vaguely artistic thing. We were really bored, I think my parents were on holiday and I’d been allowed to stay in the house.Rich went through tapes desperately looking for something to watch. And my mum and dad had accidentally recorded it… So we fast-forwarded to the end of this film hoping there would some boobs, so tragic, and then that music starts, King Curtis. We hadn’t tuned into the comedy at all, we thought it was a serious film, and we were watching a bit going, “This is fucking mental.” And then the bit that really, really made me laugh was when they sit a chicken on a brick in the oven. And also the line, when he says, “Kill it before it starts making friends with us.” It’s so ludicrous, that idea. It’s a clever idea but worded like a child, ‘making friends with us’.
Years later I thought about it and I never knew what it was called. I just remember this mad fucking film, with a chicken sat on a brick and these two blokes. And years later when I went to university, somebody said, “Withnail and I.” And it was like, “Oh my god, I watched it. Oh, fucking hell.” And then when I watched it then, I was like, “Oh this is a comedy, this is hilarious.” I thought it was some mad thing on a VHS video, with no boobs.
“I mean to have you even if it must be burglary!”– What’s your favorite line from the film?
Let me think, best line? Well, there’s a couple, God there’s so many. Once you start thinking, you go, “Fucking hell.” But like I really liked the bit where he [Richard E. Grant] says, “There must and shall be Asprin.” Because it’s perfect for his attitude to life. He’s so entitled that because he wants it so badly, he can will it into being. “There must, and shall be Asprin.” And I love those sort of characters. I like it when he’s talking to his agent: “How dare you, fuck you.” He’s such an arsehole. I do think about the line, when he goes, “This is really a rather groovy long white hat.” Or whatever he says, and they go, “It’s a wig.”
Yeah. They were talking about a judge and some hat, and Danny the dealer says, “No, man, this was more like a long white hat.”
Fucking brilliant. I’ve watched it so many times, but by talking about it now, because I couldn’t remember the lines around that, so I clearly need to watch it again. But, fucking hell, it’s just so good.
Lest there’s anyone reading this who would like tips on becoming a writer or at least practicing as such, what are your own regimes in terms of working. I myself find sitting up really late with some wine as the only good time to work.
Well, my natural instinct is like you said, same as you, stay up really late. It feels like in the daytime, not just because the doorbell’s going and stuff… It just feels like the world is alive. And then once you get into the evening and the night, it feels like the world shrinks down, and you can think clearly. That’s how I am. A lot of writers, like the majority of writers, when you read books about how to write or you read articles about the process, honestly 90%, will say “I get up at five, I’ll be at my desk, and I do four rounds of writing before…”. What the fuck? I’ll never be like that. I’m never good in the morning.And I come alive at night. So I don’t go to bed until late, and I could never get up early. But there’s other people who stay up late, but then the thing that fucked that up was having kids.
Of course, your wife must be great in that sense?
Well, she is pretty understanding, but then one of the reasons we’ve moved is because I need an office. I need a room to work in. Before it was in our bedroom, and then we had two children, so they all end up needing a bed, a bedroom obviously. So I’d sort of out-bred myself office wise. I get up for 8.00, 8.30, 9.00 o’clock now, which is fucking way better than 11 or 12 like I used to. And I haven’t tested it since we’ve been here, I haven’t had a real deadline where I’ve got to get something done, but I’m much more comfortable at night. My wife’s understanding. She can get up with the kids, and if I get up later on, I’ll do the end of the day with the kids, like bath time, bedtime, and stuff like that. It imposes structure, and I think structure is actually quite useful but I’ve not mastered it. I don’t think I ever will. I’m really bad at being my own boss.
People can impose structure on themselves, but the problem with me is, I am me. I don’t know how people act like, “Come on, back to work, you” to themselves, because then I’m just like, “Fuck it, I’m not feeling well, I’m just going to sit down.” I’ll keep going back to it and there’s nothing happening, and then suddenly I’ll hit the theme of something, and you look up and it’s like four hours later, and you’ve done loads of work. With writing there’s deadlines, there’s money involved, there’s people saying, “Did you get that thing?” So I can’t’ just float around and go, “No, no, the sun is too low. I can’t write today” because I wouldn’t get paid ever.
If it’s not happening, it’s not happening and then when you try and force it, you just make a mess…
Yeah. I actually thought that I would pay for a service where you tell someone what your deadlines are, what work you’ve got to do, and then they basically call you in the morning and say, “Get up.” And then they say, “At the end of the day, send us what you’ve done.” You could make millions from self-employed people just running a self-boss service where you phone them up and say, “Right, can you email us everything you’ve done today?”… because then at least I’d fucking think, “Oh shit, I better do this.”
Yeah, there would be pressure on you to things done.
It would probably work for a week and then I’d think, “Hang on, I’m paying them to do this. Fuck off. They’ve got no power.” Do you know what? It should work like you’ve given them your credit card details and if you don’t hit your deadline, they charge you. Because then you’d be like, “Fuck.”
That might actually work.
Mate, you can have that.
So I’ve got a man-baby pamper business in hotel spas and I’ve got another one where you get charged if you don’t meet deadlines…
It’s been a year and many days since Morrissey released ‘California Son’, his tremendous ‘covers’ album where he set about repurposing some of his own personal favourite tracks. By doing so he gave older admirers as well as younger fans the chance to discover or rediscover artists and older songs we may have missed or forgotten about.
At the time the record seemed a kind of stop-gap, a filler perhaps, which tickled a thirst I thought would only later be satisfied by a new and original record; the subsequent ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’ release. Coming from an artist so virile in originality, Morrisey’s ‘California Son’ wasn’t enough for me, I thought at the time. I wanted new Moz, new lyrics, new controversy to defend, new meaning to obsess and to ponder over, new – and at the same time, older – philosophy to lust after.
These days, the more I listen to Morrissey’s ‘Son’ (perhaps a take on Ramones’ own ‘Son’ record), and the more I listen to the originals from which the songs came, I struggle to believe what Moz has done with them. Tracks like Bob Dylan’s ‘Only A Pawn In Their Game’ stand-alone as a beautifully written tune that Morrissey manages to amplify and take to new and profound places, with the benefit of his own thundering backing band. Then there’s ‘It’s Over’, the Roy Orbison song that Morrissey again amplifies and gives fresh meaning to. ‘Wedding Bell Blues’, even with Green Days’ Billy Joe Armstrong on backing vocals, is truly momentous, joyous, and arguably the most uplifting song our dear allegedly ‘morose’ Morrissey has ever produced.
‘Lady Willpower’, ‘Lenny’s Tune’ and ‘Suffer the Little Children’ again sound unrecognizable from their origins – and again, again, again – it’s those origins and the unrecognizable brilliance on show in ‘California Son’ that younger listeners like myself have been able to discover and compare. But then with ‘California Son’ at times, there seems little to compare to, given the depth, reinvention and general majesty of the versions here.
The album’s final track – the cover of Melanie’s ‘Some Say I Got Devil’ – tops the lot. Needless to say, I was unaware of the original but have since listened. All I shall say is that Morrissey’s version is damning, apocalyptic, and utterly profound.
Upon release ‘California Son’ was given the usual treatment by reviewers directed to focus, by editorial agreement, on miscontrued issues found in Morrissey’s own personal opinions, rather than musical or artistic endeavour. But the truth is, from sheer artistry, the record is up there with the man’s greatest work. A belated ‘bravo’ is in order.
Maziar Ghaderi is an Iranian Canadian artist, filmmaker, producer and partner in Holding Space Films, a ‘boutique’ production company based in Toronto. Holding Space Films was founded back in 2017 by director, editor, cinematographer, and Maziar’s wife, Patricia Marcoccia.
The company’s first feature to hit screens was entitled Shut Him Down: The Rise of Jordan Peterson, an up close look at the professor, clinical phycologist and author of the title. The film would later be developed into a longer feature length documentary, again with Patricia directing and Maziar co-producing. Released in 2019, the film is a balanced and fascinating exploration into one of modern times most polarising academics.
I catch Maziar whilst on his honeymoon of all places, and thankfully, he’s still willing to give me his time. We chatted about his own inspirations and sacrifices as an artist, how his background as a young Iranian making the move West influences his work, and ofcourse, the process, dangers and joys of making his documentary about Jordan B. Peterson.
Maziar, can you tell me about where the idea or interest to make a film about Jordan Peterson came from initially?
Patricia has been a reader of his work since ‘Maps of Meaning’ (Jordan’s first book). She was also a psychology student undergraduate back then, so this is when she first came across him and his work. In 2015 she simply approached him after class to see if he’d be open to having a film he made about him. Jordan Peterson has always been a professor that students would always line up to talk to after class. He was seen as a life-changing professor throughout his time at the University of Toronto. Patricia has always been moved by his research in the psychology of meaning and this is what prompted the initial interest to do a project about him. We arranged and went over to his house to meet his wife Tammy, showed him our portfolio and the rest is history.
Presumably, the controversy around the use of gender pronouns and Jordan’s rejection of Bill C16 (A Canadian bill which sought to make the use of gender pronouns mandatory)helped the film, given the attention brought upon Jordan and subsequent ‘controversy’?
Yes, I would say that that’s what’s giving him that initial global attention but I think it was actually the book that gave him a more sustainable popularity. ’12 Rules For Life’ was very well received and sold millions of copies so I think this is what made him and gave him the rise that we know today. I actually didn’t know anything about him until Patricia introduced me to him at his house. I saw him as an eccentric, an interesting guy with an open mind. He always had a very fatherly demeanour to him, with an interest to help out young people. Looking into some of his ideas, I found some of them quite compelling, especially the ones that delved into mythology.
You both spent a lot of time with Jordan and his family – were they ever suspicious of your intentions and how they would be portrayed in the finished film?
To his credit Jordan was never prescriptive and gave us a lot of space to make this film. He truly does respect artistry and we did earn his respect throughout the production. We started filming in the spring of 2015 and ended in December 2018. Patricia’s documentary style is more ‘a fly on the wall’ to capture all of the subtle moments.
The finished film is balanced, it does give time to his critics – How did Jordan feel about putting the criticism in the finished piece? He seems like someone who can handle it.
Jordan respected the fact that the film doesn’t tell people what to think. It’s challenging for viewers. But I actually would disagree with you here re: Jordan’s temperament. My experience of seeing Jordan in interviews is that he can get quite defensive with criticisms, but this wasn’t the case with us, for the simple fact that’s he’s grown to understand that we’re not coming from a nefarious place but simply trying to tell a good story that is rooted in truth. Partisan advocacy films from either side of the aisle have a short artistic life on the shelf but films are able to transcend are more the types of films we prefer to make. We don’t feel that for this project it’s our job to make people feel certain way about Jordan. We wanted to do a documentary that was more about showing and not telling because with the subject like Jordan Peterson, everybody’s always trying to tell you something about what they think. We wanted to do something different. We wanted to make a human story that doesn’t use anybody as a punchline. We’re pretty happy with the final result.
How has your opinion of Jordan shifted (maybe it hasn’t) and what did you learn from making it?
I’ve realized the extent to which people identify with what they think and when you attack their ideas they take it personally. But when it comes to academia, where Jordan comes from, and film and arts industry where we come from, it is a more progressive social justice culture that is dominant. It can tend to be a bit authoritarian at times. I think this makes conservatives a bit desperate and they felt out of the conversation which is partly true, so some of them stick onto a sense of cruelty and ridicule towards a dominant culture coming from the left. It’s really funny to think that in a way conservatives/libertarians are like a subculture now.
Apart from agreeing to be filmed and obviously be interviewed, did Jordan have any other influence in getting the film made?
Jordan had no influence in the films production. We had total editorial control. In fact, the film was already finished when we showed it to Jordan. This is important for journalistic integrity.
The first time I came across Jordan was the interview with Cathy Newman at Channel 4 in the UK – it was a huge thing at the time (it still is). What were your thoughts on that interview?
I thought Cathy Newman acted quite silly and really hurt her reputation of course and I was very impressed to see the way Jordan handle that. He wasn’t emotional and he represented his views very well (unlike GQ and VICE interviews, oh and that French one). But I actually have a different take on that interview and the response online from most people. I know Jordan pretty well and I know he likes strong women that are very disagreeable (like his wife Tammy) and after watching the interview I actually thought they quite liked each other even though they fought. And I do like the more British style of journalism where the interviewer never tries to be your friend, but they actually focus on getting to the facts of the matter. I think the digital response to the interview changed the way Jordan thought about it, it was a classic example of how people in the peripheral can change what the participants of the actual exchange thought about the exchange itself. This is the digital sculpting the physical world without anyone noticing.
Why do you think Jordan gets the criticism he does, being likened to the ‘alt-right’ etc ?
I think the reason that happens is the fact that things are so polarised. If you are criticising one side then people assume that you’re on the polar opposite. It’s a black-and-white sort of framing that is pretty disappointing. But also to be fair in Canada, Jordan Pearson became well known because he criticised human rights law, and when you do that and people don’t know you it’s natural for people to be suspicious about you. The only people that came to Jordan’s defence were conservatives, some of them very shady, like Rebel Media for example. So as soon as that happens some people simply put them in a box.
Have you or Patricia experienced any negative responses for making the film, i.e. giving ‘a platform’ to someone as divisive as Jordan?
We receive some messages from friends showing their disappointment but most of these people don’t know about the situation as much as we do nor have they seen the film. Alas, people are going to think what they are going to think, but overall the response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive. We were threatened by Antifa for a screening in Portland but alas no one showed up. We think it has to do with the fact that one of their members was killed in a hit-and-run the night before screening.
How do you feel about the current ‘culture wars’ for want of a better phrase which are ongoing?
People are living in completely different worlds and I can’t remember time more polarised than it is right now. People talk about politics and their identity more now than ever and it hurts cross cultural contamination and dialogs in good faith, with social media making things so much worse. It’s pretty disappointing but it also leads an opportunity for courageous artists and filmmakers to carve out space that is able to transcend without coming across as trying to appease either side.
I understand you came from a Iranian secular background. How do you feel about Jordan’s occasional focus on Christian iconography?
When I started to film the Bible lectures my eyes kind of rolled because I simply don’t respect dogma, but as I saw the way Jordan was talking about focusing on psychology and mythology in the power of story. I began to become more interested because it’s coming from more of a artistic narrative point of view. It’s actually maybe more interesting to delve into my own heritage with respect to Zoroastrianism. It’s been a fascinating journey so far and that’s been a bit of Jordan’s influence ironically enough.
Moving away from the documentary, in terms of you as an artist, how much of your own politics influence your work?
Probably greatly. Probably more then I would like to admit. But it doesn’t dig too deep because my artworks tend to come from a cultural human perspective with very abstract elements incorporated into them.
When did you set out to make films – what kind of things inspired that decision?
My background is more in media arts and Patricia did a masters in journalism which led to video production. We both have a lot interest in expressing the complexity of the human condition.
And the human condition is of course a great subject to work on.
The human condition has a familiar feeling to it, like rain on your forehead. Everyone can relate to it because it offers a starting point that’s rooted in a common ground. But at the same time as ineffable as understanding the origins of the universe, it’s also something unimaginable to us because we can’t quite agree or understands the reason that we’re here. Creating art that delves into the human condition is a way for us to loosen the valve on this curiosity through our own personal creations.
What things most inspire you when working as a creative?
This is a bit hard to answer of course but generally speaking I think I like to offer artistic experiences for people that they don’t expect while still being linked into something that they’re very familiar with almost at a primal level. One way this is manifested is in the synthesis of cultural intangible practices and new media technology.
Can you tell me more about your background – your coming from Iran to the West, what that change was like and how its had an influence on your work and output?
I was five years old when we came to Canada so the divide happened more between my public life at school and my private life back home. Each of these has her own very different sort of dance so any immigrant kids in a similar situation learns to dance both ways. My work is very much from a western urban perspective however I do like to remediate and remix traditions from my family’s heritage and put them together in new ways.
What kind of sacrifices have you had to make as an artist?
A sacrifice you have to make is that you simply don’t make as much money that’s someone who chooses a more conventional vocation. I’m a bit luckier because I can always lean back on my graphic design, video editing or other technical skills to get designed gigs in between projects. The life of an artist means you go to restaurants and look at the numbers first then the letters if you know what I mean!
Being a creative partner with ones spouse must be a great thing to have – does it always go smoothly, in terms of the production and usual relationship business which might get in the way?
To be honest people have told us horror stories about working with a partner but for us it’s never been like that. We have different styles that’s work well together with enough common ground to be able to reach a focal point.
Future projects – do you have any other people in mind who could be as interesting as Jordan?
We are going back to do the original film we set out to do, with regards Jordan’s friendship with the indigenous carver Charles Joseph, who’s a pretty interesting guy too. Charles is a true artist, a raw individual that has no lying in him. Camera lenses are naturally drawn to people like this. The most striking project it is the documentary about Nizar Zakka, the innocent man who is held captive in Iraq for years. There are so many lost voices stuck at Evin Prison and I want to help amplify their story.
How do you manage so many projects at once?
It can get very difficult but it’s always good to have projects at different stages of production. But because we are a two person team we can divide and conquer, but it can get difficult at times.
2020: Some new projects we’re working on this year (Coronavirus permitting)
Mixala: The first Peterson film we were making before the “Rise” story unfolded.
Finding My Father: An artist’s journey through creation, identity and memory.
Third: Exploring third genders in indigenous cultures around the world.
George: A Hungarian migrant’s survivor story from the gulags to Olympic stardom.
The Hooded Ones: How two college roommates overcame their political divide.
Left Behind: How families of political prisoners held illegally in Iran persevere.
“Will the rats carry my box, and the dogs dig my grave, will the pigeons lower me, down, down, down…”
Jacob Lovatt has been a pioneering figure within the Glasgow music scene for some of it’s most important and memorable years. He emerged in the early 2000’s with Uncle John and Whitelock, a raw, rabid hybrid of post-punk-horror, recalling bands like Gallon Drunk, The Birthday Party and The City and Crime Solution.
After leaving Uncle John, he started Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers, a vessel for him, and his band which has since cemented his status as the man responsible for the genre ‘doom-wop’, even if that term was initially coined as something of a piss-take. Since the band’s inception, they’ve managed to release three of the most gloriously gloomy albums this country’s ever witnessed. As we discuss, it’s a frustrating and slow process, but worth it for those of us seeking light from the darkness.
In this warm and funny interview with Jacob Lovatt, we discuss the difficulties of making the most from the underground, the restrictions that artists like he and his band faces, being creative whilst managing a family life, the comedy in the sadness of the tunes, and subsequent ‘trenches’ he goes through to make such angelic music.
Let us bathe in the joy and not the misery.
Jacob, you released ‘The Moon. The Hare. The Drone’ record back in 2018, and you dropped the ‘Pearly Gate Lock Pickers’ from the main credits, if not in the band makeup – Why was that?
I suppose that personnel shifts had occurred within the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers, somewhere and another. With that album I went to the band said I thought of dropping it. It was more for guys in the media, or guys like yourself, it was just a bloody mouthful. I thought I’ll just do you guys a favour. I thought ‘lets just cut that’. It was a bit of a laugh when I came up with idea of calling the band that. It was really about ‘how big a name can you get away with?’. I wasn’t even thinking it was gonna be a recording band initially, that wasn’t really even on the agenda – I was just trying to find a vessel that I could vent stuff I was writing after leaving Uncle John and Whitelock.
In doing so, move more towards being a solo artist?
There was a little move in that direction, I suppose lyrically and mood wise. I was thinking this is what I do, it’s who I am, and since Uncle John it has been a vessel for me venting my creative, angry or whatever outlook.
What’s the future for the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers?
The way the band works, on the last album, is kind of the way it’s working now. Just after we finished ‘The Hare. The Moon. The Drone’, guys in the band were all just becoming fathers, so that had a big impact on what we were doing musically. You just don’t have time and if you do then you’re not doing your dad job properly. Bringing up kids and being in bands at the same time is difficult, unless you’re making loads of money, but we’re not. At some point we’ll get together. On the last album, I’d booked a studio for 11 days with some ideas. I know Chad (guitarist) had a few ideas and we went into the studio and it was whether we’d come out with an album, or one song, we just didn’t know. It was the first time I’d ever done that and it was a really nice process. That’s probably how things will work in the future. We don’t tour, we don’t do anything like proper bands do, cos no-one asks us to play gigs!
And is that different from your approach when you were in Uncle John and Whitelock?
It’s not the same world when I was in Uncle John and Whitelock. People watch what you do in terms of your social media presence, your Youtube output, your… ‘whatever else it might be’. Everyone’s got a job, and everyone’s doing that and music at the same time – and we’re not full-time artists where we can just put all out energies into that. But that was always the way it was gonna be after Uncle John and Whitelock, for me. I’d made that decision. I wasn’t gonna be ploughing into full-time musicianship and going down that route. I wasn’t willing to put my neck on the line, really, thats why its became more about the me writing, trying to come up with songs or at least enough of the songs to to take to the band.
These days you’re now living in St Andrews?
I grew up in Dundee, so it’s strange back to be here, especially after spending 12 years in Glasgow. I feel like I’m kind of haunting myself. I keep kind of almost bumping into an 18-year-old version of me. Although things have not really changed that much. I try really hard to do some writing and get some new stuff on the go, that’s the main thing at the moment. The rest is all looking after kids, wiping arses, changing nappies, walking dogs, doing the washing.
How does living away from Glasgow, the surroundings, affect your songwriting?
I knew it would stay dark but when I first moved north of Aberfoyle, I thought it’s all gonna go towards folk music, that it would become all about the woods and the hills. I was almost expecting that to come instantly, but it didn’t happen. Really, it wasn’t until the last Jacob Yates album where it started to come through [the woods and the hills]. It slowly seeps back through into you. I grew up in England when I was a kid, in a small village and the woods and fields was always around but it’s only just come into my writing now, really.
Did you ever consider chucking everything and just focusing on music?
I was never in a position where I thought this could work full-time. We’ve never had a label say ‘Hey, we’re gonna give you an advance’. At the height of Uncle John and Whitelock, there was a few larger labels that sniffed about. But even then, eventually they were like ‘nah we’re not gonna go with that, that’s not gonna happen’. It has crossed my mind. When I was walking away from Uncle John and Whitlock I was like ‘well if I’m gonna stay it’s gonna have to be full-on, mad type thing’, and I just didn’t wanna go ‘full-mad’. I didn’t think it would be good for me and I didn’t think it would be good for anyone else.
It’s a wee bit frustrating for ‘followers’ of your music having to wait such a long time in between albums…
It’s a tough thing for the guy trying to write them! Time, money, availability… it’s down to that. Each time I finish I then need to find someone to put the thing out. It’s enough of a big thing to go and record an album, but who’s gonna put it out?!
How do you go about getting these records out?
With the ‘Hare. The Moon. The Drone’, I already had that album in the bag. We’d sent some emails out to a few folk, Chemical Underground, a few other Glasgow labels, and got nothing back from anyone. Then, I’d thought about Keith from Optimo, who I’d known for ages. I knew they’d loved Uncle John and Whitelock and I just was like ‘do you, would you, put a record out by me?’ and he was like, ‘dude I’d put anything out by you’. So we met, chatted a bit and he said ‘look, we’re a dance label, and this is something we wouldn’t do normally, we can’t promote you… we don’t have money to put into the project beyond pressing them up’.
Equally, I sat opposite and said ‘well, I’m not going to tour it and or do any gigs really, so I won’t be doing much around marketing it’ etc. We both laughed and he said ‘Ok, cool, lets do it.’ Let’s face it, no ones making any money off of what I do. I’m not and nobody else is.
Presumably the same when you were in Uncle John and Whitelock?
We shifted quite a lot of units but we put a lot of work into that. We sorted out the distribution and we gigged a lot so people were interested and at every gig we’d be selling records. I’m not doing that as much now, or nowhere near what I was doing with Uncle John and Whitelock, it’s just not viable.
I guess real life must get in the way…
Real life has to get in the way, you can’t ‘not’ go to work, pick your kids up from school, and the rest of it, you know. Unless a tour pays more than I’m earning, then it’s not gonna work, and then with that I’m gonna be away from my family and that makes me feel shit too, so it’s a double edged sword. But I would desperately love someone to say ‘Hey, let’s go and tour’. I’d love to be playing live music evert night of the week, ofcourse I would. There’s nothing I like more than standing in front of my band and going ‘this is amazing’. Thats what i get the biggest hit out of.
Let me be one of many to say the output is still brilliant…
It’s nice of you to stay that. I’m very critical of what I do and I always go back and think ‘I could have done that, maybe I should have done this’, and thats of course what you do. It’s good to be like that, I’m not really that satisfied. I’m proud of what I’ve done but I’m always constantly thinking ‘well, maybe I could try this or do that in a different way’. I dunno where the new stuff will go.
Your music, lyrics etc are often quite dark, a huge attraction for myself. You seem a pessimistic sort… is that fair?
*Laughs* Pessimistic maybe. Do I think the worlds doomed? Yeah I guess I do think that, but every time I say that I laugh, that’s the way I look at it. You have to laugh these things, or not take them with any ounce of seriousness. You have to be able to look at the funny side of things. The kind of music that I love is quite often like that too. I think thats just what comes out, I’m trying to sort of emote… I’m trying to write songs that I’d like, where I’d try to get some kind of emotional content across and some emotional cross back from the audience. I’m totally aware of that, that’s something that I thrive on. I want people to feel sad, happy, angry or confused, or bemused. But I don’t want people to walk away thinking ‘God lets go and end it all’.
How about your own metal health – how does that make it’s way into the music? if you don’t mind me asking…
I definitely suffer from darker trenches that I go through and I have issues that I have to deal with. I’m feeling on the up at the moment a bit – sometimes I feel very despondent and difficult. I don’t mind you asking that. It’s good to talk about these things. It’s nice cos you can kind of make these things autobiographical if you want or you can characterise it in a way thats a narrative about something else, so that’s a nice way of ‘sort of’ dealing with it. Without it I’m defiantly a poorer person. If I’m not addressing it it I defiantly suffer for it.
“Had to tell the truth, my lover had upped and gone – hanged himself in the woods with a dog looking on.”
– “Bits of Glass’ from the ‘Goths’ album. I’m slightly obsessed with that song and that line, it’s bleak to the point of poignant.
It’s funny cos theres the myth around it and it being real even and whether that’s true or not, I’ll leave that to the listener. It comes from when you drive along roads you must see bunches of flowers rotting by the roadside, I know a place where I see this bunch of flowers, and it evokes the story and it takes me to place. It does what the song says, it’s just about a couple that break up. She crashes when she leaves and it’s the aftermath of that, and how you deal with guilt, or not *laughing*.
What about the writing of songs like these, how does it work for you?
Some things like that will trigger a narrative, or I’ll piece together a story from that, but it might just be as simple as seeing a bunch of flowers on the side of the road, or an abandoned car on the way to work. That’s where ‘Bits of Glass’ came from. Other things like ‘Care Home’ (From ‘Goths’) will just be things out of the papers, about… you know, the state of the world, and Jimmy Saville and all the rest of it. There’s lots of different triggers, there’s lots of areas, things from my childhood, stories or myths that I’ve read or heard about, it comes from all over the place. It’s great!
The ‘Goths’ album was particularly dark. Can you tell me about that?
On ‘Goths’, all those songs were little kind of gothic/ horror. Yeah, it was a pretty dark album *laughs*. The idea was to make it be so dark that it’s just pitch black. Then there’s a little tiny bit of light that you see creeping underneath the door, maybe that’s a good or bad thing, cos who knows what’s out there. Good friends of mine listened to that record were either like ‘that’s rubbish’, or, ‘it’s too bleak, it’s too down, man, I can’t take it!’
With songs like ‘The Heart’. The line “Five hundred years ago we were cutting off peoples heads, look how far we’ve come, we’re still cutting off people’s heads… burning babies as witches..”. The song is massively bleak, but it has that punchline at the start so there’s instant laughs. But then there’s the line ‘We’re burning babies as witches’, which people are doing right now, burning their kids cos their possessed.While you’re still laughing, you hear that, so then your like these people are just sick, what’s wrong wit these people!?
I do like that. I love lyrics.
How has your approach to writing changed over the years, the influences?
You definitely mature as you go. Sometimes it becomes not far off being ‘automatic’. For me, it can be very much like a ‘third hand’ writing it. I found a song the other day, I was just going through some lyric books and looking at some notes and I found something. I can’t remember writing it, and it cant have been that long ago. It’s of the ilk of what I’m doing at the moment, and I’d just stuffed it in my notebook and clearly hadn’t thought about it since. But when I found it I thought, ‘this is great’! There are times when you are just automatically writing, which is a nice thing to have.
With Uncle John and Whitelock, it was very Marijuana based. A lot of creativity comes out of that but a lot of time you’re just rubbing your head and not really doing anything. So that’s why the lyrical content has matured over time, because I’m not doing that anymore. You just get better at writing just as you go.
In terms of the influence and where things are coming from, It’s not really changed massively from Uncle John and Whitelock, from what I look at and where I take inspiration from. I think the rural side of me, the guy thats sitting on a beach and watching his dog run around, I’m noticing more organic things coming through and theres more of nature of things coming through, it’s getting a bit more Ted Hughes. I’ve been working with a filmmaker called Henry Coombes and he’s interested in the audience and what they’re doing while I’m singing these songs. So while I’m talking about really dark subjects, it’s looking at why are people hugging each other and laughing or why is a boyfriend or girlfriend kissing in the background. I’m never a member of the audience so I don’t really know, it’s an interesting thing to look at. I don’t get to see it from the stage,cos I should be lost in the moment or I should be lost in the moment otherwise it’s a shit gig.
Have you ever considered just publishing poetry?
The project that I’m looking at, at the moment, the filmmaker (Henry Coombes), there was an idea to pull together a documentary around me and the songwriting, the creative process, live performance, and then looking at the reasons of what I write about, the humour, the darkness, the bleakness. We tried to get some funding together to try and expand on that but funding didn’t come through, which was a bummer. So I started to think about trying to do a digital book of poetry and lyrics, but also within that there would be live performance and music. Maybe that would be going back to my songwriting back to when I started until now, which is a pretty vast expanse.
You mentioned the influence of drugs previously, albeit ‘lighter’ ones like Marijuana, and you have written about it a lot in your music – was that ever a possibility for you?
You have to check yourself sometimes. I could have gone down that route and imploded and have done nothing. I was lucky to find a beautiful amazing person in my life who’s now my wife so that totally pulls you through these sort of things, and you go. Thank God for that.
Has there every been a chance of Uncle John and Whitelock coming back together for a tour?
I wouldn’t know, but I would never say no to it. It would be a good laugh, with those songs…
Do you still listen to that band?
I might stick ‘Crowley’ on sometimes, listening to that big booming base. I enjoy that, I have very fond memories. Good times were had with that band but hopefully that’s enough. Maybe I’ll be to be sitting in a chair, in a care home one day, thinking about that time…
Besides music or family life, what are your current passions?
Wandering with my dog on the beach. Like Lemmy used to say, ‘I’m happiest wandering in the fields with my dog’. I am most happy doing that sort of thing, outside of the family, which is amazing and wonderful, but it’s nice to spend some time by yourself.