The Jazz Butcher
The Jazz Butcher Press The Splatter Effect
June, 1994
Interview w/Conspirator: Pat Fish
The Splatter Effect (New Brunswick, NJ, USA)
June, 1994
Credit: Spiros P. Ballas II & Dennis Sweeney

It's only fitting that an interview with a band that started for all intents and purposes by accident was also initiated by weird circumstances. Technical and scheduling difficulties lead me to have the following conversation with Pat Fish , The Jazz Butcher, but the initial inspiration as well as the base set of questions came from fellow TSE writer Dennis Sweeney.

However, it's not as if I haven't been familiar with and, more importantly, fond of The Jazz Butcher before any idea of this interview blossomed as it did. I really dig what they've done. I've been taken in for the whole ride, from the early wackiness of Bloody Nonsense to the floating-like feel on Waiting For The Love Bus. The `Jazz Butcher' imprint, if you will, has come to symbolize quality for me and if you trust my era and music sense, please pay attention to the following.

But how about some history first? The Conspiracy was started in Northampton in 1983 by Pat Fish, an Oxford philosophy graduate, and it's been in his charge since, making a total of nine studio records and a couple of live recordings as well. And though throughout the globe you'll find their material licensed to various labels (in America it's been Big Time, Relativity, Sky, and now Tristar Music, among others) they've really only been signed to two labels: at first Glass Records (1983 to 1986) and then Creation Records (1988 to present), both based in their home country of England. [Those of you interested in the Glass recordings can anticipate their re-release here in the States in the coming months by Fire/Restless Records.]

Fish has always had a fluid line-up of members, mostly using his friends who shared a similar enthusiasm for music making, like various members of Love And Rockets, The Blue Aeroplanes, and Spacemen 3. For more details on all of this, please read on.

TSE- Waiting For The Love Bus is your first record billed as "The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy" since `86's Distressed Gentlefolk. What motivated you to bring back the "Conspiracy" to the band's title and what, if anything does it signify?

Pat Fish- We could have easily called it "The Jazz Butcher Group" of "The Jazz Butcher And His Mates" or a hundred things, you know? But "group" and "band" and all those words, who is that? That's the four guys you see on the stage, isn't it? When ever you see us live, there are probably about seven people at least actually out there working [road crew, too] and there are more people shut in offices organizing and so forth, so it's ["Conspiracy"] just a bit more honest than "band". When we tour, we do get a stable line-up, but most of the time there are loads of people who can say they're in the group. It just encompasses our very loose way of working. Why it's come back at this point is that the new record was made by a band that was a touring band, and given that we thought of ourselves that way - we felt particularly `bandy' - we made that the name of the group. But there's no great particular reason; Cult Of The Basement could have been a "Conspiracy" album. That was a touring band making a record, but sometimes they're not. Condition Blue, that was me an a bunch of pals - off of "Conspiracy" if you like - but it was basically a Pat solo album.

I always felt the name "The Jazz Butcher" has confused the general public.

Like a fuckin' straightjacket, yeah.

[Laughing] Sure, your music is occasionally jazzy, but you're hadly a musical butcher. How much trouble, if any, has the name been for you?

Huge amounts of trouble! It began way, way, way, way back, when I started making the tapes alone at home on a cassette player. One of the first things was called Zombie Love , which was basically about the joys of intimate relationships with those long dead. Well, you know, I wasn't about to put my name on this. [He laughs.] They were just silly little tapes, but I did send them out to four friends, one of whom said, "Ooo, I'm starting a label; why don't we make a record?" Well, you know? Does the Pope shit in the woods? All young men want to make records, so I said, "Yeah sure." And it comes out as a "Jazz Butcher" record. It was never meant to be a public name. It was kind of a laugh on the tape, you know? Yes, it's caused rakes of confusion, but the simple answer I normally give when people ask about it is, "We don't play jazz and we don't eat meat." [We laugh.] If I had known when I made that first album... I had no idea that I'd ever do gigs or anything, you know? I just thought I'd make this silly little album, we'll sell a 1000 copies or so and maybe next year when I get my holiday from work, I can make another one. Some young folks like to go to Spain for their holidays. Well, me, I thought it would be nice to go to a recording studio. But I never really thought much of it other than that I thought "The Jazz Butcher" was good because it's anonymous, a crack in the margins. It never occurred to me that there would be six week tours of foreign countries where people would be coming and see your face going, "You're The Jazz Butcher!" I was taken by surprise by it. When I moved from my first label, Glass, to Creation Records in '87, I said to Alan McGee, "Look, why don't we change the name now?" He was like, "You can't do that, Pat. You can't. All those people in America won't know who you are; they know who The Jazz Butcher is." So he sort of beat me back into doing it. And here I still am, but these days I'm feeling very, very restricted by the name. People have come to expect a certain way of doing things.

But your music, especially on your earlier records, is very eclectic, so how has it become limited?

It's more a question of the presentation of the live format. People think, "Oh, `Jazz Butcher', yeah that's that punk rock group with two guitars, drum kit and a bass" and sometimes you'd like to do something different, you know? We've been doing a few acoustic gigs around here. Not the sort of unplugged thing, but just smaller scale to enable you to play in a smaller room if you get the chance. It's very, very free! And in a way it's more rockin' than the whole band, because you don't have all the arrangements and complicated drums... I mean look at Jonathan Richman. He can go out, just a bloke, and he can take his guitar off and he can sing and still 200 people will think it's great. If he was still called "The Modern Lovers" he'd have a problem doing that. Although "The Jazz Butcher" is quite clearly a singular name, I think people associate it with a full rock band, which is great. I love rockin', but there are other things you can do as well. I just feel constrained by that, but I'm just talking about the live show; I feel I can do what I like in the studio.

But isn't it just a matter of dictating to the public what you're going to present? If you say, "The Jazz Butcher live can be almost anything" then they'll come to expect that. Wouldn't they?

They will in an ideal world, where promoters care as much about what they're putting on as the people who are playing it. But in a way, you know, you can't blame these guys. You get some guy in Phoenix, Arizona or in some small town in Spain and an agent phones him and says, "Hey, do you want The Jazz Butcher? They're coming your way. They got a night off; they'll play your club cheap." And they'll go, "Oh, The Jazz Butcher, that's that band from England. Ain't they?" And the agent who knows you just goes, "Yeah, that's right." And so it spreads. People can be lazy. We did gigs in France a few years ago - Alex Green , the sax player, and myself - as a duo. And though it had `acoustic' or `solo performance' or something like that written on the posters we gave them, a lot of promoters didn't pass on the message so a lot of people expected a band. But even when it was written on the posters, they were going, "So, where are the drums?" You'd be surprised how conservative a rock audience can be. The larger number of people you get in the same place the greater the overall intelligence goes DOWN. [I laugh.] Look at the Nuremburg riots, my friend - a lot of people, not very smart. A lot of rock audiences go, put their hands in the air, they clap at the beginning of songs because they recognize them. Well who are they clapping for? Themselves? It's just a big DUMB ritual. We're much more interested in trying to get through, to really talk to people, to really give them a blow to their heads and say "Listen to this shit! It's not just some wacky English guy doing a Robyn Hitchcock. It's all real life. Listen to the music; we like it a lot!" You know? The fuckin' nerve to someone who's been on the road for ten years, but who's to blame for that? Sometimes, you'll find that if you do things, like sit down with an acoustic guitar and no drum kit, because people see that it looks different they may switch off the rock ritual and start to listen, than you get more rewards [as a performer.] Sometimes if you turn up on a stage - even if you're doing really good shit - if you got a drum kit and standing-up people with electric guitars. What's peoples frame of reference for that? They've seen The Who do that. They've seen Nirvana do that. You know... [sighs, with a laugh]... we ain't in competition with that kind of stuff. That ain't what we do. I like to be rockin', but I don't want to be ROCK.

You had mentioned before that when you go on holiday, instead of like most people who go to Spain, you prefer going into a recording studio. What about music makes you want to do that?

[Hesitating for a moment] It's a satisfaction similar to the kind you might get by playing squash or making love or driving a car very fast around a racetrack. It's the actual physical and mental act together of doing something and cooperating and moving of sounds.

How did you find this out?

I don't know. I can remember when I was six years old and hearing something on the radio, like Tom Jones or something, and realizing instinctively that this rhythm thing was going around and around - I could just feel it. I could remember even hearing... There was this kind of music that was very popular in the early `60's where you would have huge choirs singing pop songs with very little instrumentation. Someone who did this I think was the Mike [he struggles a second with the name] Sams Singers who sang "Would you like to riiiiiide/In my beautiful, my beautiful/Ba" - wait for it - "Looooon", you know? And when they hit that part, "Ba [pause] Loooon" I became aware that although I was six and wearing short pants, I was kind of squirming with embarrassment. So early on I realized that this shit could effect me in such a spinal manor. But I wouldn't call myself a `musician' because I haven't got the fingers or the skills and probably not even the sensitivity to do it properly, but I noticed that it effects me and I'm constantly messing with it to see what I can do. I have surrounded myself with very good musicians which is how I can get away with it, I guess. [We laugh.]

Now how did you fall into that group?

Lord [he sighs in confusion] I don't know. The band as it started, when it became a band after a year of making records and gigs were coming, we were just a bunch of friends. We literally found Jones, the original drummer, in the guitar player's flat one day. We just fell together, but broke up because after two years we realized we made no ground rules and had no idea about what we were doing - we went from playing a pub in Northampton to playing The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood and our friendships were getting strained; two years of free spirits for guys who weren't able to afford it before and you can't help but get a bit weird. The next band that got together was totally different. We found the bass player through an advert and the rest were people who had been out with the first group as guests, but I really didn't know them. So we laid down the ground rules, which was a really great laugh. It's one thing you don't think about when you have a new band and go on tour but one of the great pleasures is all sitting around in a bar one night getting off your face and writing The Law. We did it. Like a little fuckin' political meeting, but it helped the following two, two and a half years. But now as we're assembling a band, it's like after five years of being on the road, meeting people and other bands, we're at the stage of just choosing from a whole lot of people. A lot of people in bands, I know them as friends because I like their bands. I was constantly going to their gigs. And several years ago, it was quite possible that they knew me because of my records and they weren't making records yet, but they may now be making records and are even more world famous than me. [He laughs.] Which is really quite cool, actually. That has happened. Like the Spacemen 3 kind of alliance. I got their record deal with Glass initially and like, they only had about eight fans, you know what I mean? There was me, another bloke who ended up in the band and is now in Spiritualized... Hundreds and thousands of people know more about Spacemen 3, Spectrum and Spiritualized than of The Jazz Butcher, but I'm still going to play on Spectrum records, you know what I mean? It is like with The Blue Aeroplanes - they were this indie band that played toilets, that I thought were great and we hung out. I didn't have any influence on their career - they did it all themselves with their own talent - but like at one time you know them and they're that little band from Bristol and the next time you see them it's like, my mates, the pop stars from Bristol. You make your special friends and maybe they like your records and say, "Can I come and play on it?" Alex Lee who's been in The Blue Aeroplanes for years and is in Strangelove now, he would like badger us. We'd go into the studio and we would have guitar players there but he'd phone us going "Come on, come on!" And it's like, "Of course mate. You'd be an ornament to our recording." We try to run it a little bit like a gentlemen's club, I suppose, but ladies can join too. We have ladies on some records and we have a lady manager.

You already touched upon this, but let me formally ask this question the way it was given to me. It seems for a while The Jazz Butcher gained a reputation as the world's greatest purveyor of modern drinking songs. [Pat snickers.] And some feel that the old Jazz Butcher was one of the great party bands of all times. Do you still like to down your share of pints?

That's a fair question, but I think people in America are more interested about that because there are more taboo SHIT regarding drink. In a country like Spain, or somewhere like that, the kids will be with the parents at ten o'clock at night at the dinner table drinking wine, you know? It doesn't matter when you have that first horrible night with drink and it doesn't matter what age you are. The first time that you drink too much and really fuck up, you can be fifteen or thirty, it really doesn't matter, because you're still going to make a big fool of yourself whatever age of experience you've got. I'd say let them get it out of the way when they're young. Drinking can be a severe problem to people. It's been a fair old problem to members of our band at times - me included - but nothing life threatening, or even brain threatening, but quite bad enough, thanks. But I personally love beer. I am about beer the way some people are about wine. I'm a right fuckin' weirdo about it. It's like angels dancing on your tongue, my friend. [We laugh.] So, yeah, we used to like to drink and we still do, but I think a lot of that was blown out of proportion. Not many rock and roll bands do write songs about it, but when I stared writing those types of songs, I did a huge burst in a row. Drinking is a part of life. A lot of your social events, in this country, anyway, happen in bars; you see bands in bars, you meet people in bars, and you even do interviews in bars. Most classical musicians did a couple of drinking songs. Most jazz vocalists would have a couple of drinking songs and a couple of druggin' songs as well. So I don't see any reason not to, but I think the only reason we get a rep for it, is the fact that most groups are too far up their asses or too far into their own image to even contemplate singing about something as everyday as that. We DO sing about the everyday! Although I respect Robyn Hitchcock for what he does, I really resent comparisons with him because he uses his imagination a lot. A lot of our stuff I can imagine Americans listening to and thinking, "Wow, wacky ol' Pat; what a wacky imagination. He must take loads of drugs!" And yet, whatever my intake, the actual subject matter is, in the region of 77%, pure reality. I may fuck with the grammar a little bit. I may put two points of view in the same three minute song. I may do a tune of tricks, but a record is going to last you what, a year, eighteen months before there is another chance? So I try and make the words... They don't have to reveal themselves on the first shot. They don't have to be, "Baby, baby, baby, going to fuck you all night." They might actually say the same thing but it's like, "hey, let's dig through it." They aren't word puzzles. They aren't word games. I'm just trying to write something that is worth listening to over and over and over again.

And I think you've been quite successful.

Well, cheers. [He's distracted by his cat, meowing loudly in the room next to him.] But drinking, yeah, we do it and we sing about it very occasionally. However, I have learned to an extent not to do those tunes. I have found myself forced, certainly on my last American tour when I was not in a social mood anyway because I was having a lot of trouble in my life, the band was sounding great - I loved that band - but we literally were doing a lot of what we call the `art misery' numbers. And one could see the frat-pack guys who loved the drinking songs getting blown [pissed] off, but, then again, you can see other people down there with their eyes shut, just having some kind of, like, `experience' that they will not get at most rock bands' concerts and that's what we were selling to an extent. If we do drive away a couple of the guys screaming out, "Play The Devil Is My Friend !", who cares? That was like the third song, the throwaway track on a twelve-inch single in 1985 and, like all jokes, it's only funny a couple of times. [We laugh.] I think what I should do is write some new jokes, but the thing is with The Jazz Butcher getting ever more so like... I have to explain it to people with an American viewpoint, a Canadian viewpoint, a Japanese viewpoint, a German viewpoint and sometimes I have to explain them even in foreign languages. When they find out I can speak a bit of these tongues, it's a big deal and they put me on the radio. So I've gotten to think about this a lot and I guess I've gotten a bit cagey about lettin' people think we're a comedy act, you know? I have this whole bank of recordings of imaginary bands. Like lately I've been working on a project by an imaginary artist called `Mister Blagdon', [he starts laughing while continuing to speak] and he's been dead for a hundred years and all he plays on these tapes is a harmonium. No backing, no words, just the harmonium. And he plays things like the Alfred Hitchcock Theme and death marches and shit like that. I took about ten minutes to record each song. It's music for the dead by the dead. Yeah, I got a stupid sense of humor, but by doing projects like that I can keep it out of the way of interviews like this. [We laugh.] It's difficult enough to have to explain your more noble instincts, without having to start explaining jokes that you made up when you were drunk in 1985. So you see why it's sometimes necessary to blow them off so that they notice that I'm actually playing guitar as well. I'm really proud of the guitar playing on our records and it never gets talked about. It's the same with Robyn Hitchcock. His guitar playing is fabulous. When I heard tapes of The Egyptians, I thought there were two guitarists, but when I finally saw the band and there was only one AND he was singing at the same time! Whatever you think of the guy as a writer, and I'm kind of undecided about that, as a fuckin' guitar player he's great! And no one ever talks about that.

Your first couple of records were filled with many forays into different styles of music, but your last two seemed more focused, limited to a particular sound. Had this been a conscious decision?

I don't know. When we first began we didn't know much about it. We'd be running around the studio like, "Oooo, what's this for? What's this do?" And, basically no one told us [he snickers] that we only had to play one kind of music. If I wrote something that sounded a bit country, then being good musicians, they'd all get together and knock it out in a country style. Also, we didn't actually form for commercial motives. It was more by accident, so we felt free to fuck around with stuff. Later on, I think what happened is that I just spent more time in studios and learned how to use the studio. Of course, there are sounds on particularly likes. I guess Cult Of The Basement, Cult Of The Basement and this one all have a fairly consistent sort of sound of writing and a way the writing matches up with the sound and yeah I think I'm quite pleased about that as it shows I'm not just a fuckin' musical impressionist.
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