November 30, 2007
And now here’s what I do know: Over the last three decades the Jazz Butcher has consistently put out some of the most intelligent, inventive, hilarious, moving and brilliant music ever recorded by any mortal. I know that might sound excessive, but this is a guy whose canon is worthy of this kind of lionization. How many albums, you ask? Ten-- and that doesn’t even count compilations or E.P.s or live albums (of which there are many). I suppose the next question would be where you should start—at the beginning with Bath Of Bacon, in the middle with Condition Blue or with the band’s last studio album Rotten Soul. Although when it comes to this sort of thing I’ve always been somewhat of a linear purist, I think with The Jazz Butcher, you can jump in anywhere, because while most bands start thin and tentative, The Jazz Butcher seems to have sprung fully formed, his obsessions intact, his observations fresh, his melodies inescapable. In other words, you’re always going to feel invited. (Although, I feel I must add that I think you should buy everything he’s ever done.) Musically you’ve got post punk and rock and roll and folk with dashes of dance and electronica and you might think of the Modern Lovers or the Velvet Underground or Spacemen 3 or the Television Personalities and that would probably be fine with Mr. Fish. Lyrically he’s wry and wise and but he can also be heartbreakingly sad. He can write a positively frenetic, altogether strange number (“Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present”) and in the next instant he can leave you devastated by the kind of wrenching ballad (“Angels”) that makes you realize you blew it with the girl and the night shall remain a place where she won’t be ever again.
Yes, it does happen that fast.
But to leave it at that description alone, falls short, embarrassingly short, and for a man whose oeuvre contains hundreds of songs—maybe even thousands—that summation fails to capture just what it is that he does. In the same way you wouldn’t describe Roger Federer as a guy who hits a decent tennis ball, or the universe as being kind of big, you can’t just call The Jazz Butcher a singer/songwriter from England. He’s an extraordinary, singular talent, who writes songs that last. And let’s talk about those songs: Kittens pop up (“Love Kittens”) pin-ups are conjured to make a metaphorical point (“Just Like Bettie Page”) slain Prime Ministers are toasted (“Olof Palme”) dead movie stars are brought back to life (“Peter Lorre”) songs are covered (“Roadrunner”, “Sweet Jane”) and hearts are blasted asunder under the watchful eye of a knowing ballad (“Cit Of Night”). But that doesn’t even scratch the surface, because we haven’t said anything about the zombies and big old winds and Hungarian love songs and ghosts and penguins and girls who keep goldfish and girls on drugs and girls that say yes and girls that go and never come back. It’s a whole universe of things that the Jazz Butcher sings about and for some strange reason that world hit me in a way that nothing has ever hit me before: not Stipe’s melodic mumblings about trains or Westerberg’s sublime lonely howl or Morrissey’s glorious gloom can touch the caretaker cabaret of The Jazz Butcher. The Jazz Butcher is an animist, an observational genius who knows that you can put into a pop song whatever you choose. Alongside his trusty guitarist (the marvelous Max Eider) and a revolving cast of musicians—some from Bauhaus, one from The Woodentops, a few from The Blue Aeroplanes, to name a few—The Butcher has a body of work that is worthy of being mentioned in the same hallowed halls as any great you choose.
This was supposed to be an introduction, not a coronation. So now we’re all embarrassed. Just trust me about The Jazz Butcher. It’s never too late to get on the bus.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—we’re proud as hell to have him to The Carousel. Read on.
Musically, once Max adopted that loungey guitar style of his, it provided a definite, identifiable sonic hook, as it were. My ability on all the instruments was extremely rudimentary, so at least that compelled me to keep things simple. The first line-up was pretty gang-minded. I'd say that the NN1 end (David and me) tended to provide the theoretical end of the aesthetic, whereas the Londoners (Max and Owen) actually had the chops. And the Triumph Vitesse convertible. Important, too, to credit D. Elvis Barker of Glass Records for corralling such a pack of foppish shitheids and building some kind of a mythology around them. Not to say that he was Malcolm McClaren or anything, but he was very astute in feeding us new music and cultural references that he knew would push our buttons. Uh...we didn't really notice any of that at the time...
Even when we were recording the first album, I had no idea that anyone would ever really know the identity of the Jazz Butcher. I had always liked the idea of sniping away from the margins without anybody quite knowing where this shit was coming from. It was not to be, however. A combination of encouragement from D. Elvis Barker and our own youthful susceptibility to the possibility of free drink soon led Eider and me out into the Black Lion, if not the public eye. When the album came out with pictures of me on it, all was lost. Of course, these days I’ve just about got what I wanted. Sniping, unpaid, from the margins while people wonder where this shit is coming from. Ah, turned out all right in the end, then.
This was a remarkable moment, not least because up until that very point, nobody had ever called the guitarist “Max”!
I had, frankly, squandered a couple of potentially good songs already with the Conspiracy EP. Max and I had been dispatched to the countryside to make demos for Distressed Gentlefolk. It’s true that we got “Angels” down in prototype, but we also got completely carried away and put out our lo-fi rantings as an EP. Hey, it sold really well and there were only two of us splitting the money! That, however, meant that a lot of tunes that could have gone on the album didn’t; and I think that there are a few moments on the album where it really does betray a shortage of quality material. In addition, there were certain really ambitious ideas that simply weren’t coming off in the studio. “Hungarian Love Song” should probably have been a b-side. “Buffalo Shame” fell over on its enormous, shaggy rump. “Nothing Special,” intended as an essay in straight-ahead vodka-blinded misanthropy and rage, ends up with an intro that sounds like Elvis Costello’s godawful “Oliver’s Army.” What’s that all about? The mood of the band was funny. We were feeling quite ambitious about the record, but I think ultimately that only encouraged John Rivers to overdo the proggy aspect of things. The record should have been warmer and more rocking. Max was probably the most enthusiastic at the time. Owen and I were on a fitness kick that resulted in his hurting his stomach and my driving a rowing boat into the bank of the boating pond. Graham (bass guitar) was effectively missing in action. He struggled a bit to keep up with the pace of recording, so I ended up dubbing some of the bass on myself. We had all been touring frantically for about 18 months, recording in the breaks. Max, Owen (drums) and I were tired but we were buzzing. I think poor old Graham was just tired. We all enjoyed ourselves over the session, but almost as soon as I got the tape home I thought that something was wrong here. I just think the record sounds a bit tired and drained and I don’t think the “bleached” digital clarity helps with that. I think there could have been some better songs on it. I think somebody should have kicked my arse about that, really. But we were cocky. Halfway through the recording session, D. Elvis Barker told us that we would be going on tour to America. Graham wanted to know if he could rent a motorcycle and follow the tour bus around. It was at this exact point that I realised that we had already lost him to a parallel universe.
Perhaps, though, it’s fair to give a big-up to the most influential ones: Max, self-evidently; Rolo, an inspiration at the very start; David J. for showing us all how to do it; Paul Mulreany, so much more than just “the drummer”; Richard Formby, sonic magician and a pool of light and calm and beauty on an ugly bus; Gabriel “The Bishop” Turner, another guitar-playing drummer and power-crazed programming pioneer. The guest contributions of Alex Lee and Kevin Haskins have both been crucial to certain records, and they are two of the loveliest men you could hope to meet. I think it’s fair to say that it does feel a little bit like “starting over” sometimes, mostly if you have a change of drummer, because a drummer is so central and important to a band. Until the drummer’s locked in, you’re not really going anywhere. But it’s always been a pleasure. It’s unbelievably obvious, but so many people fail to remember it: why work with people you don’t like?
I also like the fact that, along with Cult of the Basement, it will shortly be appearing on I-Tunes, where it can make money for me. Plug.
This was also the first JBC album where I was the only thing in the building that approximated to a “producer”. At long last I had complete, hands-on control of the entire mixing operation. And when that day dawned, when there were truly no more overdubs with which to procrastinate, when the engineer was re-routing the desk and breaking out the reels of tape, I was flapping terrified. I spent an hour or so playing chicken with the traffic on the main road on one of the studio bikes and when, by about four o’clock, I had, despite my best efforts, failed to be crushed by a speeding potato lorry, I figured I might as well give things a go. At which point I must offer special credit to the studio engineer, Tim Burrell, who had fully grasped my state of mind and, being the big Julian Cope fan that he is, played the role of Donald Ross Skinner even better than the desperate situation demanded. While allowing me to believe at all times that I was in full, Phil Spector control, he very quietly steered the recordings towards some kind of coherence and professionalism. It was beyond a pleasure working with Tim on those mixes, it really was. In the end, of course, we left the jammy bits on at the ends of the tunes. We just had so much fun playing them that we figured that would come through on the record. Also, we felt that we had really caught the nature of how we sounded live, something which previous album productions had pretty spectacularly failed to do. So I like that, and I thought it was worth making the most of it. This had the side effect of really pissing off the dumber portions of our North American following, the ones who would shout for “The Devil is my Friend” all the way through “Susie” or something, so I like that aspect of it, too. You know, some people reckon it’s their band and you just play in it. I really felt that the whole Condition Blue episode served to remind people that we did have the right to make the music we wanted.
It began with the beer. His dressing room was next door to ours, and in he came with a case of Holsten in which he, of course, had no interest. We did. We offered him things, but he didn’t really want anything. Later he came and gave us a load of food that he didn’t want. Then he brought us something else. It went on and on and we warmed to him a great deal. This, remember, was 1985, at the height of Ronald Reagan’s voodoo economics, and here it was: the trickle-down effect in full…well, effect. As pasty-faced callow would-be socialists we were confused at our delight. After his performance Jonathan was given a huge sticky chocolate cake by a girl fan who had obviously been thinking hard about what she could give Jonathan that he might actually want. As soon as the dear girl was out the door, Jonathan was back in our dressing room, donating the cake! He is intimidating, but he is a gentleman and, frankly, good to be around.
By chance--and a spectacularly good bit of booking by someone at Warwick University--we met R.E.M. the very same evening. We came off after our set, which had been rocking, and as soon as we were off the stage we were buttonholed by two young American guys. I was chatting with them about how bloody brilliant the JBC were and wondering why the little skinhead one looked so familiar. At some point my mind dubbed a mop of hair on top of his head and it began to dawn on me; “Are you…uh…is your name Michael?” Yes, the other one was Bucky. To be honest, they weren’t really heroes to us at the time. We were aware of them as being an up-and-coming U.S. band. My flatmate had one of their singles. They really were only just on our radar, but they took to us in quite a big way. Michael Stipe went on MTV and said that we were his favourite U.K. band, which must have helped us sell some tickets here and there. They sent us each a copy of their record. To be honest, I think we flogged them for beer money. I’ve run into Peter Buck a few times over the years (often there’s a Robyn Hitchcock connection) and he has always struck me as a really sincere, down-to-earth geezer. If you like beer and guitars, he’s yer pal, and I find that very refreshing. He certainly doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would mind me flogging one of his albums for beer money. I once said to Peter Buck: “You’ve got the easiest job in the world, you.” He did not argue. In 1993 I was asked to open for John Cale at the Forum. Now, that was scary. But I shook him by the hand and got away quick. He seemed really big, which is odd, because most pop stars look really small in the flesh, I find, especially Siouxsie and the Banshees. They’re tiny. Cale filled the little backstage corridor, I swear. I saw him onstage in Northampton just a couple of months ago. He’s really not that big. Spooky! He was incidentally, blinding: the best I’ve ever seen him.
Not wishing to shuffle off this mortal coil in a hail of coins in an obscure part of Normandy, I give it the full Dubya and veto this insane suggestion. The show goes well, however, and as the French People shout for an encore, the question of “La Mer” is raised again. We do know how to play the song, so for a laugh we go out and do it. The place goes fucking Edgar Wallace Donuts.
In February 1987 Alex Green and I are on stage at the Little Rex club in Paris. In scenes reminiscent of the Jonathan Richman live album with its umpteen reprises of “Ice Cream Man,” we are called back to the stage to perform “La Mer” something like five times in a row. In 1988 a French band called The Little Rabbits records a cover of “La Mer” and has a sort of indie hit with it. Then other French bands cover it. The stupid wee song is still earning me about two to three hundred pounds a year, 25 years after it was first recorded. Then, of course, there is the question of “The Devil is my Friend.” It was recorded as an extra bonus track on the b-side of a twelve inch single. When Dave Barker came up to the studio and heard that we had recorded it, he went “Well, that’s stupid.” We were unable to deny this at the time.
Then we went across the Atlantic. Everywhere we went people would holler for the shit country song. People even played the stupid bloody thing on the radio. In 1988 the JBC come back onstage for a bit of an encore at Barriemore’s Theatre in Ottawa. Tragically, we are all wearing matching tee shirts with the Jazz Porker on them (the reason for this escapes me now). We stand, helpless, our instruments just hanging there, while eight hundred lusty Canadian voices chant endlessly: “THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND! THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND! THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND! THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND!”
It was actually scary. I just thought how funny it would be if some right-wing Christian type had happened to wander in and see what was going on in there. Honestly, it was like Iron Maiden and all the Hammer movies you’ve ever seen all mixed up in this big old Victorian theatre with these four pasty idiots just standing there under the lights on the stage in these stupid fucking tee shirts, surely the campest, most inappropriate Satanic cult leaders of all time. It was mind-blowing. So there you go. Nobody ever went broke taking the piss out of the host nation’s music. Who knew?
But back in the day, of course, all he could see was me swanning off in a car with some bird from the record company. The second line-up was specifically assembled as a band. We didn’t know each other that well, at first. After about 3 weeks on the road in the UK (with the ‘Minks) and in France, we sat down one night in a hotel room and we came up with the Rennes Accord. Effectively, this laid out all sorts of useful rules about what did and what didn’t constitute acceptable behaviour and what appalling sanctions should befall transgressors. For the remainder of the tour, this code was ruthlessly enforced, chiefly by current NME Roadie of The Year, Steve Molloy (known these days simply as Fatty). His brutal regime of headslaps and suchlike caused Mulreany to speculate one afternoon: “The bus, man. It’s like Romford on wheels…no, no it’s not…it’s like PRISON!” We were all delighted. “Hi dad! I’m in jail! I LIKE IT HERE!” At the end of that tour I was describing some of the more colourful outbreaks of carnage to my pal Sonic Boom. His verdict? “It sounds like hell.” “Naaaaah,” I replied, “It was brilliant.”
Most people who have ever done this for any length of time do realize, sooner or later, that what happens when band members fall out is not so important. Everyone understands that people on tour are not at their most rational. To be honest, I prefer someone who just goes all-out mental now and again to some of the other coping strategies which some people adopt. And, as Alan McGee so rightly wrote: “Any time one of my whining pop stars phones me up from tour to complain about how dreadful it all is, I ask them if they’d prefer to be working down a mine.” I haven’t stayed friends with everybody. Only the ones I like. But that is most of them.
Off the top of my head…in third place: Summer of 1986, first trip to the U.S.A.: singing “Sweet Jane” in the Cat Club, New York, knowing that Lou Reed was playing literally a couple of blocks away at the same time. The runner-up: Playing the Italian Young Communists Festival 1986 to about 30,000 people in the big old square overlooking the Bay of Naples, and playing it well. As we went on stage, our agent Mario said, “One good word for Gorbachev, one good word for Maradona.” I followed his advice to the letter.
But today’s favourite: In the Summer of 1989 Pete Astor and I decided to do a brief German tour, performing solo sets and going by train. We tooled ourselves up with rail passes and a timetable, arranged with the venues to have amps waiting for us on arrival and climbed aboard the train with our bags and our Telecasters. Of course, on arrival at the first show we were met by the German tour manager that our agent had laid on to take care of us. He had his Mercedes, all ready to transport us around the country in style, but we, of course, had our rail tickets. For three or four days he dutifully loaded the Telecasters into the back of his car and drove them to the next venue while Pete and I whiled away the trip in the dining car of an excellent German train. Occasionally we would admit to some embarrassment about the situation, with this poor man driving alone around the nation with nothing for company except two guitars in the boot. In due course we made it to Hamburg on the hottest day of the year. We did radio and wandered down to the venue. As I came in I found our tour manager in conversation with a man who turned out to be his boss, the man from the agency. I know a bit of German and it became clear to me that the tour manager was explaining to his boss that we never actually traveled with him and that he felt a bit surplus to requirements. The boss was coming across a bit uncertain about this and was effectively asking, “Are you really sure about these guys? Will they really be able to cope without you?” Our tour manager replied “Ja. Sie sind echte Profis.” “They’re real pros.” Damn, was I happy about that. Still makes me smile now.
Footnote: The tour manager was duly taken off the Astor/Fish Railroad Revue. Practically the next night, in Dortmund, we were kidnapped on the orders of some girls from the record company, and taken in the middle of the night to a bizarre Alpine style cottage in a village in the middle of nowhere. We did, however, manage to disentangle ourselves and flee back to the hotel by the station where we were supposed to be in the first place. But it does just go to show…
Illuminate was recorded in Northampton, hence all that stuff about Abington Square on the sleeve notes. The studio is a proper 24-track job, but they gave us a good rate, so we had plenty of time and the convenience of being able to walk to work from my house.
The generation of the basic touring band which made Illuminate was quite radically different from what had gone before, with Gabriel “The Bishop” Turner on the drums and Northampton-based lead guitarist Dave Henderson. On the other hand, Dooj on the bass was a veteran of the band since 1991 and had played on Love Bus, and we roped in the Alexes (Green and Lee) to add a bit of the old conceptual continuity. Of course, the biggest dollop of conceptual continuity on this record was having Dave J. around to mix it. Having moved to America, Dave was temporarily back in Northampton, trying to sell his house. He threw himself back into the local scene with a vengeance, which included mixing this LP. Dave wasn’t around for the actual recordings, so I took the MD role there, then took very much of a back seat for the mixing, leaving Dave to do his magic.
When he played me the mix of “Scarlett,” he told me that he had left the guide vocal completely “flat” and un-effected. The sweetheart! There is one other respect in which these records differ from previous output: thanks to Sony taking control of Creation’s foreign affairs, we were marginalised in the very territories where we were normally (in our own, limited way) successful. I remember a woman phoning from Sony in Canada, telling me that Love Bus was selling ever so well there. The figure that she gave me was something like one percent of what we would normally have sold in that territory on our old deal with Polygram there.
The JBC certainly did seem to attract a lot of attention for doing drinking songs. When first I met Robyn Hitchcock, in his dressing room at a Northampton venue in 1987, he said to me, quite out of the blue: “All your songs are about going down the pub, aren’t they?” Cheeky wastrel. I had been listening a great deal to his I Often Dream of Trains album, which apparently he recorded at a time when he had been seriously ill. It’s pretty clear from the record that he had mortality on his mind, and at times he seems to rail against the entire organic structure of the universe. So, rather than thump him, which would have been a bit rude, seeing as he was a visitor to Northampton and all, I did my best by suggesting to him that all his bleeding tunes seemed to be about the state of his insides. Happy days, indeed! Considering that he really had been at death’s door, with a condition that had nothing whatsoever to do with drink or drugs and everything to do with some bizarre tropical parasite (well, it would be, wouldn’t it?), I thought he took it all very well. But you see what I mean? We write about girls and politics and animals and drugs and monsters and all that rock n’ roll shit, and all that anyone notices--even an eagle-eyed pop detective like Mr. Hitchcock--is that we write songs about going down the pub.
Everybody has to be somewhere, and musicians, more often than not, are in a bar. Bars sell drink. It is incredible, to my mind, that there are not millions of drinking songs being released every year. I suspect that it is a sinister, Lutheran influence on mainstream attitudes that is behind this bizarre situation in which people drink all the time and yet do not sing about it. Hold on for a massive digression as I try to illustrate what I mean:
In 1990 I watched an episode of “Family Feud” on T.V. in Seattle. It was interesting, because the “families” were, in fact, teams from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army. You know the score with this: they survey a bunch of punters about a number of questions, then the contestants have to guess the answers that polled best among the punters. Both teams were, unsurprisingly, significantly smarter than the average “real” family and I was really enjoying sitting in my little motel room, getting high in the afternoon, as I watched the smiling, intelligent face of the United States armed forces at play. There was this one question, however, that was causing the teams all kinds of problems: “Where would you be most ashamed to be seen?” They soon nailed the Number One answer: “On the toilet.” One by one they worked out nearly all the other answers, but the Number Two answer eluded the teams completely. Eventually the host was obliged to reveal the Number Two answer, and my jaw fell open, as did the jaws of all those nice servicemen and women on the show. Because the Number Two answer was: “In a bar.” At once you see the gulf (no pun intended) between men and women who routinely train, travel and solve problems, by force if necessary, and people for whom excitement is attending free game-show screenings in air-conditioned studios in the afternoon, and danger both moral and medical lurks menacingly in every branch of Starbuck’s.
Oddly enough, Martin Luther himself came from Germany, a country where even in these sad, cowed times, grown men and women drink openly on the street in broad daylight and nobody pays any attention; a country where beer and hard liquor are available in any gas station along the Autobahn and on the platform of almost any railway or U-Bahn station; a country where the concept of “closing time” is understood in a deeply subjective way; my kind of country! The Germans do not fear themselves when they drink, and thus, when they drink, they are nothing to fear. They have loads of songs about drinking. I have seen hundreds of happy Germans, pished out of their minds, sitting on great long benches with umpteen pints of beer, singing their heads off and leaping up and down off the bench with the music, loud as you like and completely off their handsome faces. Men, women, young, old, rich, poor, complete strangers, all singing together and making a terminal row. Then at one o’clock in the morning, when the bar shut down, they all quietly got up and went on their way. Not a glass smashed, not a single shouty confrontation. Some British people might start making cracks about “order” round about now, but I don’t see this as some creepy tendency to “order.” I see it as civilised. Drinking and getting high are part of life and to deny or repress that part of life leads to an unnatural situation, where ordinary everyday pleasure is regarded with something that seems akin to self-loathing. There certainly seems to be more than an element of self-loathing behind the Scandinavian model of drink control, so clearly attractive to the Alpha Course clowns who currently infest our political class in the U.K. I personally believe that this model leads to worse behaviour than the German model. I believe this because with my own eyes I have seen the Germans on the lash, as described above, and I have also seen a hairy Swedish man standing knee deep in snow in a car park at two in the morning, kicking a bicycle to death with no thought for the state of his foot come the dawn. I have stepped over the Scandinavian drink-tourists prone upon the streets of Lubeck, and been harassed by vodka-crazed Norwegian teenagers on a train from Denmark to Germany. As soon as they are freed from their native state alcohol repression where piss-poor lager costs a tenner a pint, and land in Germany with its sensible drink prices, these Scandinavian people go drink mental. Of course, they have nothing like the necessary experience to handle a massive binge like that, so they stumble and fall, they puke and they mewl, and I know this for I have seen it. No doubt the experience actually re-enforces their misguided view that drinking makes people go bad. (“Some people say alcohol makes you less lucid/And I think that’s true, if you’re kinda stupid.”--Lou Reed.)
It’s very similar with Brits abroad, of course. While not as repressive as in Scandinavia, U.K. liquor prices are still dramatically higher than in the rest of Europe. So inevitably some people are going to make pigs of themselves.
To my mind, to blame the low prices and long drinking hours in Europe is to miss the point completely. In countries like Spain, Germany, Italy and France, people are brought up around drinking. There is no shame in it. Yes, people will occasionally get drunk and out of order, but they won’t wallow in unconsummated shame, blaming the stuff in the bottle. They will acknowledge, sensibly enough, that they behaved stupidly with something that is, actually, a poison. If the Scandinavian/U.K./U.S. model inculcates the idea that there is no pleasure to be had from drinking, then it must acknowledge that people will end up in a state of mind where they do not derive any pleasure from drinking. So these people don’t understand how to derive pleasure from enjoying a drink. In fact, in the U.K. at least, many of them will simply drink whichever piss-poor chemically-brewed fake pilsner has shown the best adverts on TV early that evening. The trouble is, of course, that they still get drunk. In fact, if you train people to deny the pleasure in drinking, then you end up with people who believe that the only purpose of drinking is to get drunk. “Hurry up, Harry, get another round in before this place closes.” “Come on Lars, let’s spend the weekend on the ferry to Germany, throwing up.” Then your repressive licensing hours regime means that everybody spills out, drunk and dissatisfied, onto the street at exactly the same time. You really couldn’t organise it better than that if you were planning a cull of young, working-class males, could you?
Of course, since the licensing laws in the U.K. have been relaxed, levels of street violence have fallen significantly. Well, of course they have. There were certainly a lot of people in public positions in Northampton who railed against the licensing extension, prophesying that it would send crime skyrocketing. Now that they have been proved completely and utterly wrong, I suspect that we would still be unwise to put everything on hold while we waited for them to admit as much. Something that I find interesting about all this is that the vast majority of bars in town which extended their opening hours opted for an extension of only one or two hours; yet this has been enough to make a significant difference to the safety of the town’s streets and also to the simple pleasure of being able to drink when you want to, rather than being forced into a mad rush. It has, in short, made the town a better place to live. Here--in microcosm--we see the triumph of the German/European model of civilised public drinking. I feel a song coming on…
Of course, back in the fifties, British people didn’t fear drinking. No, once they’d enjoyed a nice gin and tonic after work, they would go and get their fear in the same place that they got their thrills, their music and their romance: the picture house. Very shortly before I was born, Hammer pictures outraged critics and delighted terrified punters with Horror of Frankenstein. By the time that I was lying, tripping and drooling, in my pram, Hammer had scored a sensational hit with the follow-up, the version of Dracula that introduced Christopher Lee to the role. Both pictures were directed by Terence Fisher, who happened to drink in the same bar as my grandfather and parents. As I grew old enough to talk to, I knew him as “Uncle Terry.” I saw a picture of Uncle Terry in the latest issue of Fortean Times. He looks almost exactly as I remember him. He was a gentle, kindly man and he used to make me laugh like a drain. I was very fond of Uncle Terry. My parents moved away from west London, so we didn’t see so much of Uncle Terry then. One evening when I was perhaps six-years-old, my mum said to me: “Ooh, one of Uncle Terry’s pictures is on the telly tonight? Do you want to stay up and watch it with me?” Well, here I am in this scary place in the country somewhere up the M1 and in my six-year-old mind Uncle Terry is a warm memory of happier times around my granddad’s bungalow at the bottom of Strawberry Hill. Of course I want to see his picture. My mum, bless her, was an intelligent woman, who worked in the very male world of financial journalism and many other areas without once complaining or doing anything other than getting on with the job. She smoked and drank all the time she was pregnant with me and, thank God, she had the sense to turn down the marvelous new miracle drug Thalidomide that she was offered by the doctor. But somewhere in that powerful brain of hers she had completely failed to make the connection between scary house in the country, six-year-old boy and—uh--"Dracula.”
And so at an age when most of my schoolyard chums were enjoying Blue Peter or Batman or those little war comics they used to have, I became a horror movie buff. A Terry Fisher movie was good for staying up late, for a start, and there were always comical interludes with the likes of Miles Malleson or even Bernard Cribbins, in which I could actually feel Uncle Terry’s sense of humour on that sort of deep, trippy emotional level that kids have, almost as though he were there. Obviously a lot of the film would be lost on me, especially the more sensational aspects, probably, for my kiddie mind tended to be predominantly concerned with narrative, but I soon grew able to tell the good from the bad from the ugly. I was rarely terrified. I was, after all, a first generation, first show of first series Doctor Who viewer, fearless before Dalek and Undead alike. I suppose today some clown would try to prosecute my mum for child cruelty or something like that. To these people I say: Bollocks. I’d rather be exposed to this deeply camp and rather improbable variety of fear than the grindingly mendacious, divisive and poisonous fear that you peddle in the name of “security” or “freedom.”
Hammer shut down in the year that I left school. By then I had seen just about everything that the studio had produced, and much more besides. Apart from my love of football, I was a goth waiting to happen. Around about the time that the JBC started up I had a dream in which I went to this typical Northampton house party with Count Dracula. He was there in this little terraced house with cans of Stella and spliffs on the go, with all his Dracula stuff on and people were acting a little strange around me because he was my mate. "Aw, why did you bring him?" sort of thing. Dracula and I went into the little front room where some stoners were watching T.V. Inevitably, the film on the telly was the Bela Lugosi Dracula. So I sit there on the sofa in this darkened, smoky room watching Dracula…with Dracula. It’s worth mentioning that David J, author of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” is about six months older than me. There must be a whole generation of us around the place: raised on pop music, football (we were seven or eight when England won the World Cup), The Avengers, The Prisoner, Hammer Horror and Monty Python. I wonder what all the other middle aged weirdoes are up to...
In the early days in the U.K. Robin Gibson at Sounds and Mick Mercer at Melody Maker and Zigzag championed the band in a really cool way. We’ve had nice reviews from other writers I admire like Keith Cameron and Dave Kavanagh, who wrote that great big, studious book on Creation Records.
What they used to say about the IRA and the rest of them was simply that if we started to militarise the place or start chipping away at our freedoms and rights just because of a few bombers, “the terrorists would have won.” It was a proper cliché in our media for years. Apparently Tony Blair never happened across it.
I am fairly sure that Blair was blackmailed into the Iraq thing by the U.S.A., probably with threats of massive dis-investment by giant U.S. corporations if he didn’t play ball. Having followed the deeply flawed Thatcherite model of turning London into some pathetic parody of a European Hong Kong, the new Labour people would be terrified of something like that.
We should not be in Iraq and we certainly should not be in Afghanistan. Ask any British military leader. Or any Red Army strategist or soldier. Or read a damn book. Afghanistan is un-invadable. The British really should know better. On at least two previous occasions they have tried to “subdue” Afghanistan and been sent home with their tails between their legs and nasty cuts and bruises all round.
So, anyway, we all voted Labour and we’ve ended up with stupidly rich people paying laughably low taxes (when, that is, they don’t just evade them altogether) and driving their children to school is bloody great 4x4 cars while everybody else is watched by paramilitary, trigger-happy police in case they say something that Blair doesn’t like. We’re fighting two unwinnable wars that have nothing to do with us and which have dragged the reputation of this country through the dirt worldwide, ramping up into the bargain the possibility that some people would now actually be quite agreeable to the idea of attacking us in some way. Terrific!
But what is the alternative? Anyone who is taken in by Cameron and his shiny, caring Conservative Party needs to have their head examined. Actually no, not “examined” exactly, more sort of “held in an iron vice and battered to a fine mulch by skinheads with mallets with big ugly rusty nails poking out of the business end.”
We have a local council election on Thursday. It is only for people to represent this tiny corner of NN1 on the town council, but it’s still politics and I’m still interested. I wrote a blog about the Conservative candidate who sported a little “Vote Blue, Go Green” logo on his leaflet and then went on to explain that his interests included “Formula 1, boating and flying.” Oh, for heaven’s sakes.
The Conservatives labour under this delusion that all they need to make themselves electable again is to refine their “presentation.” That’s what all this “green” crap is about. They are the party of big business, for heaven’s sakes, and it’s not as though they haven’t lied before. For people so obsessed with “presentation” to be so mind-meltingly inept at it does rather suggest to me that it might be better not to vote for the morons.
Just while I’m here…Formula 1--what government on earth that was in any way serious about carbon emissions would tolerate Formula Flapping 1? These people fly around the globe, week in week out. They distort local economies for a few days, then all pile out and pour top quality pollution into the air for hours and hours. Stop Formula 1 (and other motor racing too, why not?) and see those polar bears get happy. That’s what I say.
I know that a lot of people do get pleasure from Formula 1 (must be high on the fumes), but then a lot of people get pleasure from kicking strangers’ heads in in pub car parks, which is--let it be said--frowned upon by the authorities. Hey, all I’m asking for is a little more consistency.
The Labour Candidate promises me that he’s going to get tough on crime. I imagine that this is very bad news for the six or seven teenagers who stand around in the street of an evening.
God help me, I think I’m going to vote for the Green lady. She only lives round the corner. Vote local.
Bloody hell, has it come to this?
So in January 2004, when Andy came and asked me if I would like to take over “Acoustic Allstars,” I said “No.”
Andy persisted, however, and pointed out that he had just bought the club a lovely little PA system and a couple of lights. I thought “all right, I’ll organise a night and see how it goes.” I played and three other “acoustic” acts. It went all right so I did another one the next month. That, too, went well. It was around this time that I made enquiries as to whether the club had to remain “acoustic.” I was told that it didn’t have to stay that way, but to avoid drum & bass music because the guys who run the club have a thing against it. So then I put on Slipstream, who filled the room with noise, but also--crucially--punters. After that, we were away. A couple of months later I put on Rolo from the Woodentops, doing a live DJ set. He played lots of what can only be described as drum and bass music. The old boy who runs the place came up at the end of the night and told me how much he had liked the music.
Well, from that point on, I figured I was winning. I changed the name of the club. I started contacting mates and pulling favours, getting name acts down for a fraction of their regular fee. At the same time, it was still more than the club was giving me, but I figured that everybody has a hobby on which they squander their dough. At least my hobby was running a nightclub--how cool was that?
I have spent literally thousands of pounds on Masters of Budvar. The joke is that we run it for the artists, not the audience. I even managed to get that line on BBC national Radio One when they interviewed me about the club last year. For some reason, which will probably never be explained, we got a rave review in the New York Times once: “If you only go out of London once on your trip to the U.K., make it a trip to Masters of Budvar in Northampton.” I honestly have no idea what that was about.
Our current format is to present two live acts and a superstar DJ. Since I started the superstar DJ thing last year, it’s been a lot of fun. We have mostly local celebrities, though we did have Sonic Boom once recently. Hey, he seems local to me. Andy’s PA is sweet and capable of handling quite complex set-ups. We give the musicians a proper soundcheck and a hot dinner if they’ve come from out of town. We pay them before they go on. Everyone gets paid at Masters of Budvar. It’s a rule. (I am the exception which proves the rule. That’s why you’ll often find me on the bill when an expensive out-of-town band is playing.) We’ve got a good local reputation and a regular crowd of hipsters. Once everything is cleared away, the hardcore will most likely gather back at my place. Sometimes the acoustic guitars come out and two or three more artists will play. My friend Joe Woolley has made a particular habit of this. It’s a brilliant move because all these musicians from out of town hear him under the best possible circumstances (comfy chair, glass of beer) and then go home with fond memories and, as often as not, a CD.
We've hosted acts from Northampton and around, self-evidently, but also acts from London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Southampton, Brighton, Belfast, Berlin, Los Angeles and San Gabriel, Ca.
Since we started Masters of Budvar, loads of other, younger musicians and promoters have started nights at the Labour Club, many of which are really good, but I do jealously guard the “original and best” tag.
People can always keep with events at Masters of Budvar by visiting www.myspace.com/patfish77. Plug.
Right now, the only record on the horizon is Max Eider's third album (in 20 years--that boy needs to slow down a little). I have no deal at the moment, and no real prospect of getting one, as I have no idea how to do that. I don't yet have the facilities at home to record the way that Max does. So I'm dependent on a studio budget and I can't afford to do that myself.
Nonetheless, I have a lot of new songs and I am vaguely thinking that it would be good to get them on a record one day. Nobody knows, to be honest. You just can't say.
In 1995 a friend with a bar made me form a supergroup to keep him entertained on a slow Wednesday night. We had me, Mark Refoy (Guitarist: Spacemen 3, Spiritualised, Slipstream, Pet Shop Boys); Tim Harries (Bassist: Eno, Steeleye Span, David Holmes, Katie Melua!) and Jon Mattock (Drummer: Spacemen 3, Spiritualised. Slipstream, Perfect Disaster, The Breeders, Massive Attack). The set was all covers. I remember we did the Velvets’ “Foggy Notion,” Can’s “Mother Sky,” some Plastic Ono Band stuff, “Suzie Q,” “Roadrunner” and a few others. We called ourselves The Undertakers. We only ever did it twice. In a sort of KLF moment, I sold the only cassette of the show for £80.
My other band, Wilson, was described by the local radio station as a “Northampton supergroup.” We laughed long and hard. We are, however, a super group, even if I do say it myself.