The Ratmen Cometh… an interview with Steve Ely

Ely_0067 copy (3)The novel Ratmen by Steve Ely was published by Blackheath Books in June 2012 but has so far failed to attract the attention it fully deserves. It’s a compelling book and a fascinating study of extremism and seduction. It will get into your bones and make you reassess your feelings about rats. It’s currently my recommended read. Below is my interview with Steve.

 

The man (and later the boy) in Ratmen has a very hostile view of rats, what’s your opinion of the ‘nail-clawed nemesis’?

 

I fear and hate them.  Although I know they’re ‘just mammals’.  Partly this is due to their sinister appearance — greasy fur, scaly tail, orange incisors, beady black eye, bristling whiskers.  Partly  it’s their demeanour; a strange combination of the furtive and skulking with the brazen, defiant and flaunting — when I had an infestation in my garden (the origin of Ratmen) I’d see them dining in broad daylight under the bird-feeders, sitting up and cleaning their paws, giving me eye contact through the kitchen window — as well as slinking around under bushes and along fences, darting away at the slightest sound or movement.  Partly, it is the baggage of supernatural, mythic and folkloric horror rats carry as plague carriers, hovel infesters, food soilers and bone-biters.  Mostly, I think, it is atavistic and instinctive —  in the way tame meerkats (for example) that have never experienced an eagle will run for cover when they see an eagle’s shadow on the rocks, whilst completely ignoring the shadows of storks and geese, similarly large birds — the fear is somehow hard-wired into them.  I once inadvertently ‘tickled’ a brown rat (not a water vole) when feeling for trout under the overhanging earth-bank of a small South Yorkshire stream.  The panic I felt in that instant was almost hysterical.  I suppose I intuit that humankind is somehow bound to the rat — maybe as rivals for the Earth.  On the other hand, rats are just mammals.

 

Why don’t you give Man and Boy names?

 

Several reasons.  Firstly, they’re up to no good and I didn’t want to rat them out (pun intended).   Secondly, I wanted to avoid any form of characterisation that might facilitate ‘familiarity’ on the reader’s part (I also avoided describing their physical appearance as far as possible) in order to maintain a distance that would make absolutely clear the characters’  representative, everyman status.   Thirdly, I wanted to focus exclusively on the developing relationship between the two in the context of the theme; that’s how the ‘plot’ develops and how the themes reveal.  To make them real people — maverick loners with complex personal lives, extensive jazz collections and a love of single Malt whisky — would detract.  It would also bore and provoke me, as it does when I encounter ‘fully rounded’ characters like that.  As the book developed in the writing, I also thought the device added to the conspiratorial metaphysical mystique of the book.  Ratmen is more a fable or parable than a modern novel.  The methods of characterisation used are those used by the authors of the Hebrew Bible — or Elmore Leonard — everything emerges from what the characters say, think and do.

 

Although it is third-person, it is limited to the boy’s POV. Were you tempted to write it in first-person at any point?

 

No.  That might have seduced me into the whole inner-life of the boy and I’m not primarily interested in that.  Third person gives greater authorial freedom — omniscience, I suppose — even if he strives to efface it.  First person voice makes characters into tyrants.  (I don’t even use first person pronouns much in my poetry.)  In Ted Hughes’s introduction to his ferocious translation of Seneca’s Oedipus, he writes that he aimed for ‘a text […] in its plainest, bluntest form [with characters] more primitive than aboriginals […] a spider people, scuttling among hot stones’.  Hughes was interested in the ritual possibilities of his work, which was written to be performed by Peter Brook’s experimental theatre.  The Man and the Boy needed a little more flesh on their bones than that, but I was never tempted to let the Boy tell the story, in his voice.  That would’ve been too holistic.  In Ratmen, the author was content to allow the narrator to tell the story from selected and manipulated aspects of the Boy’s point-of-view — because the boy’s point-of-view — that of the seductee, (my tagline for Ratmen is that it is ‘a parable about the seductions of extremism’) — is instrumentally key to the theme and content of the book.

 

We learn from the man that there are no rats in the Bible. His explanation for this is very interesting. Do you want to expound a bit more about that?

 

Biologists tell us that black rats originated in tropical Asia and spread around the world along human trade routes.  By the 14th century they were probably in the Holy Land.  They arrived in England in 1349, at Melcombe Regis (Weymouth) bringing the Black Death.  They were the only rat in Britain until the mid-eighteenth century, when the bigger and more aggressive brown rat arrived.  The brown rat was originally a central Asiatic species and like many steppe creatures, is irruptive — they migrate en masse when population pressure becomes intense.  There are eighteenth century reports from Russia of armies of rats heading west, swimming rivers.  Brown rats too travelled around the world via ships and trade routes.  Their arrival in Britain coincided with the three century cold snap (very roughly 1600-1900) that saw ice fairs on the Thames and which all but killed off the tropical black rat, reducing it to a few warehouses in port cities.  The brown rat was used to the cold and simply took over.  Larger and more aggressive, it almost contributed to the black rat’s demise by forcing it out.

 

Getting back to the question … I’m certain that there are no rats in the Bible (the word sometimes mistranslated as ‘rat’ is akbar — ‘mouse’).  This is almost certainly because there were no rats in the Middle East at the time the Bible was written.  The Man sees conspiracy in this.  The black rat arrives on the scene (from tropical east Asia? From space?  Via the agency of some  occult hand? From nowhere?) bringing plague — a deliberate attempt to wipe out the human race.  When cold threatens to kill the black rat in Europe — behold, a second front is opened by means of the cold-resistant, bigger, more powerful, more aggressive  brown rat — which is just as effective as a plague carrier and more devastating as a spoiler and devourer.  Rattus norvegicus is theV2 of the rat arms race.

 

A rat dies from warfarin by bleeding from its internal organs. The man believes that ebola is ‘rat revenge’. How so?

 

Warfarin is the most widely used rat poison.  It works by thinning the blood (warfarin is also used with human heart patients with hardened arteries and similar problems, to aid circulation) to such an extent that the rat begins to bleed internally, producing symptoms akin to drunkenness (the last warfarin-poisoned rat of my own infestation staggered out from under the shed and wobbled all over the lawn like a wino before I did her in with my rat-stick) before the rat eventually dies.   So rats poisoned with warfarin bleed to death from the inside.  This is very similar to the way Ebola kills humans — a death from Ebola (as with Hanta, Lassa, Marburg) involves massive internal haemorrhaging and victims are often found with blood seeping from eyes, ears, pores.  Rats are likely vectors of Ebola in Western Africa.  So Ebola is rat-revenge; poetic justice served cold from our scaly-tailed nemesis.  Incidentally, warfarin is becoming increasingly less effective as a rat poison.  There are populations of rats all over the world that have developed immunity.  One of these is in Yorkshire.  Within a few decades it is likely that all rats will be immune to warfarin.  In the late 19th century the most effective rat poison on the market was red squill; however, by around 1920, was not able to kill even a week old baby rat, and the poison became obsolete.  New, more virulent poisons, such as brodifacoum, and phostoxin have recently been developed to kill rats.  Both sides are engaged in the arms race.

 

 

 

Which do you think is the most destructive, man or rat?

 

Man, without question.  Or, more precisely, industrial-capitalist-growth-greedy-ruling class man.   Rat are nothing without their aiders and abettors.  But I didn’t want to get into that comparison overtly.  Gunter Grass has already written that book.  I quote him in one of the epigraphs to the book, spoken by a giant, post-apocalyptic she-rat.   ‘Wherever there has been talk of exterminating rats, others, who were not rats, have been exterminated. (Gunter Grass, The Rat)

 

On one level the book is about how obsession can infect people. On another level it is about a cosmic battle. What do you want your reader to go away thinking about?

 

First of all, I want them to want to believe.  I want readers to be compelled by the book and want to take it seriously as if it was true — as certain people did/do with other manuals of extremism such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Encyclopedia of the Afghan Jihad or The Turner Diaries.  As I was writing Ratmen, I was engaging in my own back-garden anti-rat struggle which informed the book as the book informed the struggle.  In the heat of obsession and battle I found myself half-believing (or wanting to believe) that the Man’s crazed cosmology was true and I even began to act and speak as if it was.  In writing about the seductions of extremism, I had seduced myself.    In talking about the seduction of extremism, I’m not talking about brainwashing.  To become extreme requires agencyThe Boy wanted it, just as I did. In my unpublished poem-sequence Werewolf, I explore similar themes — how could ‘ordinary men’ (to use Christopher Browning’s phrase) willingly and enthusiastically take active roles in committing genocide in Turkey, Nazi Europe and Rwanda, for example?  It’s do with fear, ambition and the quest for meaning.  Given the right combination of circumstances, many (most? all?) of us would wallow in horrors.

 

Ratmen become vegetarians because ‘it’s where the logic leads’. Can you explain this?

 

In the book, the rat becomes a cypher or symbol of predatory, competitive, destructive ‘devil take the hindmost’ capitalism.  The Man tells the Boy of the true — caring, naturing — spirit of humankind and how cruelty and selfishness has somehow entered human society and culture via the malign agency of the rat — ‘the spirit of cruelty comes from the rat’.   In combating rats, ratmen must reject rapacious capitalist society and the spirit of the rat from which it stems.   So they vow not to harm other sentient creatures (except rats), which leads to asceticism and vegetarianism.

 

The book moves from a social realist world to something more fantastical. Did you always know where the story was going?

 

Yes.  The book arose from the above-mentioned rat infestation in my garden, which saw me spend over two years exterminating rats by trap, poison, air-rifle, drowning and rat-stick.  My genodical approach to rats (characterised by urgency, fascination, fear and a minor theme of hysteria), when contrasted to my benign attitude to all other animals — got me thinking.  I’d been writing poetry about extremism — US prison gangs, Muslim extremists, murderers, the US racist right and the Militia movement, various conspiracy theories — since 2005, and I’d developed a theory of my own: people drawn to extremism generally fall into two main types.

 

  • Intelligent people (often ‘mathematically’ or instrumentally intelligent, like the 9/11 bombers (largely engineers and techicians), but who are nevertheless not quite mentally flexible enough to develop independent, self-critical reasoning in the regions of value and meaning, or to accept ambiguity as part of the human condition (2 +2 =4 and ‘the truth’ = ‘the truth’). These second-rate intelligences are often attracted to compelling and satisfying narratives/solutions that provide absolute security by ‘giving the answers’, which they accept lock, stock and become ‘true believers’.  Muhammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 bombers is a classic example of this type, as to varying degrees, are religious fundamentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Socialist Workers, certain species of environmentalist and Tea Party types in the US.  The Man is of this type.
  • Highly intelligent people, who to some extent understand what they’re opting into is questionable, but allow themselves to be seduced because they want to belong/believe due to peculiarities of the their psychology, or to do with fear and ambition. For these types, extremist world-views and actions bring glamour, meaning, purpose, nobility and a sense of superiority.  At a deep level they know their extremism is at least questionable, but they commit to it anyway.   The Baader-Meinhof Gang and some of Charles Manson’s groupies fall into this type, as does The Boy.

 

Ratmen is about the process of seduction — how the man seduces and how the boy participates in his own seduction.  The denouement is over-the-top, unbelievable (or strangely believable), horror, or science fiction, unlikely and absurd.    Yet the highly intelligent, precocious and cultured Boy embraces the absurdity in an awed, profound and humble spirit.  From this point he is no longer ‘normal’.  He belongs.  He believes.  His values have been transformed and he is now capable of anything.  Jihadi John was once an A* GCSE student in Birmingham.  Now he saws people’s heads off on YouTube — the core sacrament of his profound and noble cause —  how did that happen?  He was seduced, and he wanted to be seduced.  It made him whole.

 

You write both poetry and prose. Which do you prefer?  Which do you find the easier?

 

Poetry, by a mile.  When I’m in the zone, I find that I enjoy the process of writing poetry and I actually look forward to composing at my desk.  Accordingly, I’m prolific.  I’ve written two and a half books of poetry this year and there are ten book-length projects on my to-do list.  Often my main issue is to find ways to stop writing poetry, to find time to read, go birdwatching or whatever .   I rarely enjoy writing creative prose (as opposed to analytical or expository prose, which I can do quite fluently).  For me, it’s a chore to sit down and write a novel, or even a short-story, whacking out 2000 words a day, or whatever.  I’ve started six novels and finished only two.  I abandon my novels because I become uninterested in them.  For example, I started a novel in September which, 14,000 words in, is ‘on hiatus’ because I got to a stage where it was too much of a schlep to write it.  In contrast, during the last ten years I’ve consciously started six books of poetry (I always write books of poems, as opposed to stand-alone poems which I then arrange into a ‘collection’) but ended up writing eleven (almost all unpublished as yet).  With Ratmen it was different.  I was seduced (there’s that word again) by my theme and content and became very enthusiastic about it.  I also simplified the plot into episodes to make it easier to write (during the school holidays).  My other finished novel (San Benito Brother ) is a fictionalised account of the prison race wars in the California Prison System in the 1970s.  It’s twice as long as Ratmen, with an ensemble cast of characters and labyrinthine plotting.  Extreme sex, violence racism and drug abuse.  I was really into that as well, so I suppose that’s why I managed to finish it.  Looking back, in its exploration of extremism, SBB  is probably a direct precursor of Ratmen.  I suppose I can only write when I’m really interested in something.  And most of my obsessions are handled through poetry.

 

Well let’s hope that SBB gets published soon as I’m eager to read it. In the meantime, you can buy Ratmen here (and I urge you to do so): http://www.blackheathbooks.org.uk/46.html

 

 

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URGE FOR NIGEL: an interview with Nigel Blackwell of Half Man Half Biscuit

bloodlustNigel Blackwell of Half Man Half Biscuit fame is an elusive figure in popular music, who has spent many years avoiding interviewers from many prestigious publications, so I feel very honoured that he was happy to answer the questions I had after listening to the latest album Urge For Offal. It’s as good as anything the band have done and if you haven’t listened to them for a while, it’s a great introduction to where they are now.

Right, first question: there’s a touch of John Shuttleworth on the new album. I’m thinking of the line about the beach having a ‘blue flag status’. How do you feel about that comparison?

John Shuttleworth – I must own, I haven’t really listened too much as I’m not particularly an avid radio listener but I did like Jilted John of course.

Urge For Offal has just made the Top 40 album charts. Are you worried you might become successful?

Not in the least. I would honestly be delighted to sell truckloads of records and make enough money to buy a kitchen for the house.

Why do you turn down so many interviews? Don’t you want to sell records?

I don’t mind doing the odd interview but I’m not one for doing them regularly as the nature of the beast often results in me repeating myself and boring people. Nothing against them per se though I’m not always e-mail/telephone accessible either which can prove problematic for both parties. I do definitely want to sell records though!

There’s a song on the album called ‘Baguette Dilemma For The Booker Prize Guy’. Do you read the Booker Prize winners? And if so, are there any that you rate? Or would you say, overall that they are overrated?

I’m fairly certain I’ve not read any Booker prize winners but that’s not a conscious decision. They’re probably very good. I wouldn’t know. I certainly couldn’t name any off the top of my head with confidence.

Who are your favourite lyricists and why?

I like all of ’em! All the really good ones especially.

There has been a lot of speculation about who Adam Boyle is. Some people think it is a reference to Alex James, others think it is Noel Gallagher. I assume it is actually an amalgam of a number of now aging ex-ladrock guitarists. Does this kind of speculation amuse you? Do you do it to wind people up?

Adam Boyle is simply a made up character who never actually got further than the rehearsal room. Alex James was not in a ‘ladrock’ band I would argue (more to Blur than that I feel) and I’ve got a lot of time for Noel Gallagher. I reckon he’d be good company on a long train journey. Oasis however, were responsible for lads hitherto uninterested in guitar music getting a bit excited and ‘having a dabble themselves’. That’s where Adam Boyle comes from. Oasis are not directly to blame, people can be astoundingly snobby towards them. In the last few years of course, young Boyle (about 38-45-ish actually) has realised he’s not getting anywhere with his own group and has collected around himself a broader cross section of pals one of whom has perhaps lent him The Wicker Man, another of whom has maybe passed on a Mumford and Sons CD to him along with a CAMRA newsletter. And y’know, good luck to the feller, life’s too short etc (I’m just here to gently chide!) p.s. while we’re here, our song ‘Shit Arm Bad Tattoo’ is most definitely NOT about Pete Docherty either! I can see how it would appear so in hindsight but I’d never set eyes on their album sleeve when I wrote the song – I’ve heard perhaps TWO Libertines songs in my life and liked what I heard. Fat bass players in local heavy metal outfits with no biceps and cap-sleeved t-shirts is SPECIFICALLY who the TITLE of the song is about. The lyric of the song doesn’t really have much to do with the title in actual fact. Apart from the chorus obviously! If it was about Pete Docherty I would mention him by name. He seems ok to me. He hasn’t got a shit arm either as far as I can make out, having just this minute ‘google-imaged’ him

The music has changed over the years, opening out to include influences beyond the ken of rock. Who are the bands/artists that have influenced this development?

I have honestly not noticed this so cannot answer without sounding like I’m making something up.

BBC 6 have been a strong advocate of HMHB. Before that it was John Peel and Andy Kershaw. But other than that, it’s hard to hear your music. Why do you think other DJs and stations are so reluctant to play you?

I’m not aware of that if truth be known. I’m happy enough with the exposure we get.

How do you see the relationship between poetry and lyric writing?

I haven’t thought about it. I don’t read that much poetry and lyrics don’t matter that much to me in a song. It’s the music that matters mostly I feel.

Have you ever been tempted to extend your writing to other forms such as novel writing or short fiction?

Not at all. Too many bike rides to go on and books by other people to read.

You’ve had a long relationship with your label boss, Geoff Davis. What do you attribute to the success of this relationship?

He can organize all the stuff that we could never hope to do or indeed wish to do. He’s also a one-off and has a superb speaking voice. He should be narrating Howard Hawks documentaries on BBC 2.

What keeps the wolf from the door the most, is it the live gigs or the album sales?

The wolf is prowling constantly I’m afraid but that’s probably good for the soul I imagine.

Why don’t women like HMHB?

They do! There’s a lady in Saundersfoot!  (I definitely see females in our audience – the songs aren’t all “Jonah Barrington gave me his Harrington” type of stuff. There’s a whole heap o’heartache for the lassies….

Finally, I’d like to share a nightmare with you, Nigel. I woke up at 4.30am the other morning after a bad dream. I dreamed that I’d been to a Half Man Half Biscuit museum. The first room was a library of all the books that had been referred to in your lyrics. The second room was a record shop and all the records were those that had been referred to. The next room was full of TVs playing excerpts from television shows that had been referenced. In the final room was a souvenir shop. It was cluttered and as I travelled through, it became more and more narrow, down a twisting staircase and down a narrow corridor, that I had to squeeze through. I started to panic as I realised I was getting further and further underground. When I woke up I had palpitations, I was sweating and shaking. I had to think calming thoughts. I pictured Nick Cave in an open necked shirt and I fixated on the stripes on the back of his collar. This was the only way I could find peace of mind. What do you fixate on to find peace of mind?

No Comment. Nigel Blackwell has left the building.

The album is available directly from Probe Plus records http://www.probeplus-store.co.uk/

For tour dates, click here: http://www.chrisrand.com/hmhb/breaking-news/

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YOU CAN DRUM BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE. TIMING IS EVERYTHING. A MEMOIR BY SIMON WOLSTENCROFT

simon wolstencroftsimon wolstencroft2

I’ve just read Simon Wolstencroft’s memoir, You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, a PDF pre-published version. It’s a really enjoyable read about the many near-mythical figures of the Manchester music scene: Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Ian Brown, John Squires, and of course Mark E Smith. Simon was drummer in The Fall for eleven years, spending more time in the group than practically any other musician (with the exception of Steven Hanley – nineteen years – and Craig Scanlon – sixteen years). After which, he left of his own accord, unlike the many who were sacked. I met him at a Sleaford Mods gig two weeks ago and he asked me if I’d like to interview him. Of course, I said. We meet in the beer garden of the Britons Protection pub in Manchester on Tuesday 20th September. It’s over twenty years since I’ve been in. It hasn’t changed a bit. I find Simon in the beer garden drinking lager and smoking. I introduce myself.

First question. Why now?
Because, over the years, people have said to me, Si, you’ve had a really interesting life, why don’t you write a book about it? Yeah, right, right. Then I was watching Mastermind and the question was, who played drums on the first ever Smiths recording? and they got my name right and I thought, this might be the time to do it.
There are a lot of rock biographies out at the moment [as I type Steve Hanley’s has just been reviewed in The Guardian].
It’s unbelievable, everyone’s got one. Have you got one out?
I’ve got to form a band first.
The first 250 copies of the book, we’re putting a CD together. Ian Brown, doing ‘Billie Jean’, which we recorded as a B side back in 2000 and ‘Free Range’ hopefully.
You’ve got rights for that haven’t you?
Yeah, fifty fifty. I’ve had no money for it for years though.
That’s the only non-cover by The Fall that got into the top 40 isn’t it?

Yeah.

Why do you think the covers have done better than the original material?

I don’t know really. ‘Victoria’ I thought would have done better because they played it on Eastenders, in the cafe.
Radio 6 regularly play, ‘Victoria’, ‘Mr Pharmacist’ and ‘Ghost In My House’.

‘Hit The North’ they still play.

They do, occasionally, but it’s mainly the covers. ‘Mr Pharmacist’ they play virtually every day. It winds me up a bit. Why can’t they play original material? I guess they’re just more popular.
They’re the ones that stick out, aren’t they?

A lot of people think that ‘Mr Pharmacist’ was written by the band, don’t they?

Yeah, they do. It’s The Other Half, int it. It’s one of my favourite ones that I played on that. Not just because it was in Abbey Road. You know, the sound was fantastic. You get a good vibe off the place. Maybe because of all the wood.

The video is the one with Leigh Bowery with polka dots painted all over him.

I don’t think I’m in that.

I thought you were?

I don’t remember. I was strung out at the time. I was smoking gear for a long time.

[I checked later, in fact, strangely, unaccountably, Simon isn’t in the video.]

Did you keep it quiet?

Yeah, I did.

Did Mark know?

Eventually, he came out and asked me. Simon, have you been taking heroin? I said, what is this, the Spanish Inquisition? He started laughing. I didn’t admit it. Why should I? He’s not my school teacher. I never said to him, you’re drinking too much. Though I did say to him at the end, people are laughing at you, Mark. You’re going on stage, making a fool of yourself. He said, so fucking what. If I fart into the microphone people will buy it.

That sounds like a lot of the recent gigs of theirs I’ve been to.

More often than not, he’d fuck it up. He’d go off for ten minutes, as you know, and not come back. We’d be like, where the fuck is he?

What was he doing?

Just sat in his room. But he thought he was entitled to do that. I suppose he is. They’re paying to come and see him.

They’re not paying for him to sit in the dressing room though, are they?

It was funny when people came backstage. The atmosphere, you could cut it with a knife.

You’ve had a few battles with him, haven’t you?

A few. Justifiably. I had to give him a good hiding in Athens.

About your mum?

Yeah, terrible int it. It was only three days since she died. He’s got this thing, he worked on the docks, but he wasn’t a docker. He worked in an office.

He’s often been cited about his belief in the protestant work ethic. But he doesn’t always display it himself, does he?

No he doesn’t.

He’s a bit of a slacker, really.

Ha! He likes to think he runs the band like that. Thing is, he was paying our wages.

And he set up a pension for you. That made me laugh that.

Yeah, he got us all in with Rothschilds. Took us for a medical. If I’d kept paying into it I could have retired by now.

What do you think of his recent stuff?

There’s nothing that I think, that’s brilliant that. Not since that Corsa advert.

‘Touch Sensitive’?

Yeah, I thought that was brilliant.

I’ve not really liked anything since Fall Heads Roll. His voice has gone all phlegmy.

There’s no singing, like ‘Edinburgh Man’. When he came up with that, he put some real emotion into it.

I thought it was funny you saying you didn’t join The Smiths because you didn’t like Morrissey’s voice, because Mark’s voice isn’t exactly soothing.

Well, it wasn’t just his voice, it was the whole dour image.

The raincoat and all that?

Yeah. I was into jazz funk so was Andy Rourke. Obviously Johnny and Andy were mates for years. It didn’t surprise me that they hooked up again.

What did you feel about all the court stuff with Morrissey and Marr?

I thought Mike [Joyce] was good for taking it on. That drummer out of Oasis settled out of court.

Andy took a settlement didn’t he?

Andy took a measly pay-off. hundred grand or something.

Because Joyce got a big sum?

Supposed to be about a million. I thought, good on you Mike. But at the time I was very friendly with Johnny. But I don’t see him much now. He moved to America to work with Modest Mouse.
Do you like his solo stuff?

Some of it. I’ve seen The Healers and his new outfit a couple of times. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best guitarist of my generation. I think his son Nile’s band is a lot more interesting though. They’re called Man Made. Nile really is a ‘chip off the old block’.

I quite like that new single [‘Easy Money’].

Do you? I heard it on Radio 2 today. It’s a grower. I’m dead glad for him. I’ve seen him a couple of times over the last few years. He’s dead happy.

He’s completely clean now isn’t he?

Yeah, he gave up everything years ago. In fact, the only time I see him now is when he’s running to his Mother’s from one of his houses, through Altrincham.

[Looking at the cigarette packet and the pint of lager] so you’ve not gone that way yourself then?

No, not yet. A lot of my mates have though. Andy Rourke has stopped smoking.

Marr looks better than ever.

I know, must be all that clean living.

Are you still in touch with Ian Brown?

Yeah, he’s been totally helpful with me. He’s got a brilliant memory.

Have you used him to fill in some of the gaps?

The early years, definitely.

I like his solo stuff.

I know yeah, I was lucky enough to play on Golden Greats. Not all of it. About five tracks.

In a way, I thought reforming The Stone Roses was a backward step.

Well, maybe not for the younger generation. It wasn’t just old geysers like me at the comeback shows, though I wouldn’t hold your breath if your waiting for a follow up to The Second Coming. Having said that, no way did I think they would get back together in the first place. So what do I know? I’m sure Ian will continue to come up with the goods, with his solo stuff, though.

I really like where that’s going. That driving drum beat, a bit military. Marching music.

Yeah, with the trumpets.

And that tabla player.

Inder?

Yeah, that’s the guy.

He’s a good mate of mine. Inder Goldfinger.

What’s your relationship with Mark like these days?

Mark E Smith? I don’t see him socially but I bumped into him last January and he was fine with me. I’d just joined Big Unit, who supported The Fall, and he said, you better watch it with them Simon. Keep your receipts. He was absolutely right, because I’ve earned fuck all. We’re waiting for the stuff we’ve done with Rowetta to come out.

Out of The Happy Mondays?

Yeah, and Peter Hook on bass. With the string section from Downton Abbey. Ripped off wholesale. It sounds good. It’s a love song: ‘Cross My Heart, Hope To Die’.

When’s it coming out?

Good question. We’re waiting for the video to be ready. As soon as it is ready we can put it out.

What about the book, when’s that coming out?

November the 13th. The launch is at Crack Gallery, Hilton Street. Just off Stevenson Square.

It’s a good title, You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide. The drumming reference is obvious but why ‘hide’?

Because a) if you’re a drummer you can’t hide. If you’re shit everybody knows about it. B) you can’t hide from life. Drug habits, the affairs, eventually it comes out.

Who’s publishing the book?

Strata Books. They’ve only been going a couple of years. Started by an A and R man for Chrysalis and EMI. He only does books about musicians.

What will the launch entail?

I intend to do a Q and A. I’m going to book a new band called Nude to play after.

What do you think of Morrissey’s autobiography?

Not enough about The Smiths themselves, too much about his upbringing. I’ve read it all before because obviously I’ve been in quite a few Smiths books, and Roses books.

The court case features heavily.

He drives a gold Porsche.

Does he really? He doesn’t?!

It’s the James Dean thing, I think.

You got to like The Smiths in the end.

Yeah, I did. By the time they got to The Queen Is Dead, the quality.

Because you said that The Smiths were in a different league to The Fall.

Yeah, they were.

Do you think The Smiths were a better band?

Yeah, musically. Half the time it was understanding Mark E Smith’s lyrics.

That’s all part of the fun.

Middle Class Revolt, I understood where he was coming from. Because we had people working for the group with ponytails and designer glasses. You know, trendy ones.

He reminds me of William Burroughs. That cut-up technique. They have the same psychopathology too. I got into The Fall pretty much when you joined. I used to go to The Venue next to the Hacienda and the first time I went they were playing ‘Big New Prinz’ which had just come out. I can’t remember the DJ’s name now.

Did he have a quiff?

Yeah.

That’s Tin Tin.

He used to always play ‘Swerve’ by Dubsex.

Yeah, that’s him. They had an album out called Posh and I’m on the cover. I still see a couple of the lads. They were a bit too speedy for me. I know we played fast stuff in The Fall most of the time, so I never got to play my own style like I can now. I can play what I want, but back then it was, no, play it like this.

Are you still in touch with Brix?

Yeah. Steve [Hanley] had a book launch in July. She came up from London. She married Philip Start, the multi-millionaire rag trade king. She’s got her own shop, a boutique. Nice gear as well. She’s great. Hopefully she’ll come up to this one of mine.

Why here anyway? Why Britons Protection?

I used to come here with Mark. Mark brought me in here first.

I know you are in it, but have you read The Fallen by Dave Simpson?

Yeah, it’s a good book. I meant to send him the PDF of this one. I’ll do that soon.

As you know, he interviews former members of The Fall, and what comes out of that is this consistent pattern of people thinking they are what makes The Fall great and leaving to form a new band only for that band to go nowhere.

It’s not easy.

What is it about Mark though, he’s not a musician, he’s not a great singer, his lyrics don’t always make sense.

He’s got a persona. People like to laugh along with him sometimes. I think his best work is just when he’s being interviewed.

It was often why I’d buy the NME in the eighties and nineties. To read his interviews.

They were funny weren’t they?

Yeah, but by the time I got to interview him in 2009 for the Huddersfield Literature Festival he seemed to have lost some of his former sharpness. He still had it but, you know, not as much. He turned up three hours early for the interview.

That’s alarming.

I thought, what am I going to do with him for three hours?

He admits it himself, he was drinking too much.

Speed and alcohol is a bad combination. The speed just encourages you to drink more.

It’s a vicious circle.

It seems like, out of all the members of The Fall, you’ve had the most stable relationship with him. I know you’ve had a couple of punch-ups, but overall, you seem to get on.

I did have it good for a few years, but it was when Brix left. She kept him on the straight and narrow. She’s a strong character, Brix.

What did you think of Marcia?

I love Marcia, yeah.

Because she was sacked abruptly, along with Martin [Bramah]. You speculate why that was. [they had started seeing each other at the time].

He said, we’ve got to get rid of them two. Fucking doing my head in.

Was he jealous?

I think he might have been, because he wasn’t getting his end away.

Was he paranoid?

Yeah. Speed psychosis. But I’ve had some good laughs with Mark and he was dead good to my mum. Did your interview go ok once you’d broken the ice?

Well, I made the mistake of showing the John Lydon butter advert first, which he didn’t like. He said, what you showing an advert for butter for? I was using it to ask my first question but I never managed to ask it. I showed a clip from Ideal where he’s playing God.

Yeah, it was great that.

But then everything I asked him about the book-

Renegade you’re talking about?

Yeah, the book had just been released in paperback. I’d say, you say this on page six, and he’d say, I didn’t say that. To everything.

[We have just been joined by Roufie, percussionist in the new band Big Unit and Stuart Bisson-Foster, who helped Simon write the book.]

Roufie: Dave Haslem said the same thing when he interviewed him. He said, Mark, do you want me to buy you a copy of your own book?

Me: Yeah, I was talking to Dave Haslem about that. He’s interviewing John Lydon next, funnily enough.

Simon: They’re great value Mark’s interviews. They’re better than the music.

Me: So you’re not a Fall fan then? Because that’s one of the criteria isn’t it?

Simon: Yeah, you couldn’t be a Fall fan or a proper musician.

Stuart: Yeah, but that was inconsistent though. For example, someone like Simon Rogers. You’ve written loads of plays haven’t you?

Me: Yeah, a few. Stage plays, stuff for Radio 4.

Stuart: I want to turn this manuscript into a screenplay.

Me: My radio producer nearly got me a gig writing something about Mark E Smith for Radio 2. At the time Radio 2 were making these plays based on characters in popular music. I had this idea. Mark E Smith on Twitter. It’s not the real Mark E Smith, it’s someone impersonating him and Mark gets hacked off so he turns detective and eventually tracks him down. Only when he does, he gets a shock, because it’s him. He’s been posting on Twitter without realising. He’s been that off his head.

Simon: That’s good that.

Stuart: Have you heard ‘I Am Mark E Smith’, but Fat White Family?

Me: I’ve not heard that.

Stuart: it goes, ‘I am Mark E Smith, and I have got the paperwork to prove it.’

Me: I like Fat White Family. ‘Touch The Leather’. That’s a good one.

Simon: They’ve got a great sound, dead swampy.

Roufie disappears to get another round in. We talk more about The Fall, the highs and lows which are well documented in Simon’s book. Mark’s friendship with Tony Wilson, his rudeness to Ian Brown, his detestation of Madchester culture, his possible psychic powers, his fear of success. I get the next round in. We talk about cake as sculpture, Mickey Mouse, The Sleaford Mods, the soundtrack for the film Rumblefish. Another round of lagers. Things start to get messy as they do and several hours later I stumble back to the train station somewhat worse for wear.

The book is out on November 13th. It is published by Strata Books. You can buy it here: http://www.stratabooks.co.uk/book/memoir-5/you-can-drum-but-you-cant-hide/

It’s a must for all Fall fans or anyone interested in the Manchester music scene. Sometimes it reads like a soap opera about a dysfunctional family. Sometimes it feels like you’re immersed in a weird cult, but it is a riveting read and a great insight into life on the road with one of the most curmudgeonly men in rock.

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THE MAN OUTSIDE YOUR DOOR

overcoming-fears-5-steps

It’s a lovely sunny spring morning. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, there is blossom on the trees and close by a blackbird sings. You are about to go out of your front door. You can’t wait to greet the day. To breathe the fresh air, to feel human and free. You are clasping the door handle when the phone rings. You reach for the receiver. There’s a voice on the other end. He says he’s your friend. He’s ringing you to tell you there is man stood outside your door. He holds a gun and is pointing it at where you’re about to walk.

You put the phone down, but not before saying thanks. You’re not going out of your house now. You’re not going to enjoy your afternoon. You’re not going to breathe that refreshing air or feel that invigorating breeze against your cheek, but you don’t resent this. In fact, you feel lucky to be alive. And you feel nothing but gratitude to that telephonic Samaritan.
As Freud observed in his essay, Civilization and its Discontents, there is and always has been a complicated symbiosis between personal licence and public prohibition, and the more discontented there are then the more civilization and its prohibitions are validated, and as these prohibitions grow, the more discontent arises. And so on.

There are a lot of social forces at the moment calling for infringements on our civil liberties in order for our safety and general good. Civilization is constantly on the brink of collapse. We are told, in order to be safe, we must surrender our DNA, mobile phone numbers, bank details and other personal information, to the state. In the wake of so many terrorist attacks, child abductions, raping and murdering, it is surely counter to common sense to argue against the logic of this. And yet, that is exactly what I would like to do here.

Have there in fact been so many threats to our safety that we must give up our liberty? In a population of 60 million and growing, I feel we need a sense of perspective here. In fact, we are as safe as we have ever been in our history. Safe from disease, early mortality, conscription, workhouses and forced labour. We are safer than our parents were and safer still than our grandparents. So why are we so afraid? The answer is of course to be found in this newspaper, any newspaper, radio station or television programme.

You’re afraid because they have told you there is a man outside your door? Does he exist or not? You’re not willing to take the chance. You will stay inside and bolt your locks. Today is a very special day: the launch of a brand new TV show called Reality 24:7. It’s a brand new concept and runs round the clock seven days a week. It’s on every one of your 856 channels. The whole world is watching, and this time it is really really real. I kid you not.

originally published in the Telegraph and Argus, Friday March 7th 2008

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The Unstanched Shakespeare

CalibanVampire

I was in the bottom group for English at school (I know) so I wasn’t allowed anywhere near Shakespeare.  Instead of Julius Caesar, we read My Darling, My Hamburger.  It was trash.  A dumb story about school life calculated to appeal to the lowest common denominator and therefore appealing to no one.  Next door, we would hear through the plasterboard walls, our friends in the top class, reciting passages from Julius Caesar, but we couldn’t make out the words, just the rhythm.  It sounded more fun than what we were reading.  But when we spoke to our friends in the top group, they hated Shakespeare as much as we hated My Darling, My Hamburger.  Still, I felt like I was losing out.

 

I left school at sixteen and went to work in a factory.  I hadn’t enjoyed school and the thought of continuing my education filled me with horror.  But by the age of nineteen, I was hungry for literature.  Not My Darling, My Hamburger, but the stuff we weren’t allowed anywhere near.  I enrolled in a night class in A-level English Literature.  There were two Shakespeare plays on the reading list: The Tempest and King Lear.

 

The Tempest

 

The very first class I went to we read the first scene of The Tempest.  It’s the famous storm scene and I remember coming across the line describing the ship as being ‘as leaky as an unstanched wench’.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  We discussed its meaning.  Could it mean, as leaky as a woman who was menstruating, or could it mean as leaky as a prostitute who had been with many men?  My mind boggled.  I was knocked sideways.  I had thought Shakespeare was ‘posh’; full of ornate, decorous language.  I had no idea he could be so bawdy and coarse.  Later in the play, I fell in love with Caliban.  Here was a reviled monster, who could utter such exquisite language as this:

When thou camest first,
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in’t, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee
And show’d thee all the qualities o’ the isle. (1.2.3)

 

Or even better: 

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, 
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again (3.2.18)

 

I was practically in tears (my eyes are welling now as I read it again).  We argued a lot in that class.  Some of the students accused him of being a rapist and were on Prospero’s side.  But I was firmly on Caliban’s side and I could not see the fairness in the counter-argument.  It was a valuable lesson.

 

King Lear

 

Later we read King Lear.  If anything, this impressed me even more.  I fell in love again.  This time with Edmund:

Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got ‘tween asleep and wake? Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word,–legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

 

Every word rang true.

 

After that I was hooked.  I don’t know if I’d be so crackers about Shakespeare if I had been made to read him at the age of twelve or thirteen.  I think being in the bottom class may have just done me a favour.

This blog was originally written for The University of Huddersfield here.

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NICHOLAS ROYLE ON FIRST NOVEL AND THE FAILURE TO ACQUIRE A HERMAN MILLER CHAIR

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either…                                                              or

First Novel is not the first novel by Nicholas Royle. First Novel is the seventh novel by Nicholas Royle. The protagonist is a novelist called Paul Kinder who teaches Creative Writing in Manchester. Nicholas Royle is a novelist who teaches Creative Writing in Manchester. Paul Kinder is fascinated by first novels. Nicholas Royle is fascinated by first novels. Paul Kinder is friends with novelist and short story writer, Elizabeth Baines. Nicholas Royle is friends with novelist and short story writer, Elizabeth Baines. Paul Kinder has a fascination with the uncanny. Nicholas Royle has a fascination with the uncanny. In other words, First Novel is very much in danger of disappearing up its own arsehole. It is in danger of being branded a ‘post-modernist novel’. It is in danger of being labelled ‘metafictional’. To its very great credit, it transcends all of these things. It is a gripping thriller, beautifully crafted, full of flair and originality. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

The book deliberately invites comparisons. To what extent are you Paul Kinder?

• Ever since I started writing fiction, 30 years ago, my practice has been, in many cases, to write from personal experience and at some point in the narrative to apply a subtle twist that takes the storyline beyond my own experience. It entertains me – as it can sometimes alarm friends and family – that I do not make it obvious at what point this twist occurs. While the details of Paul Kinder’s narrative – and the circumstances of his life – differ from mine in various respects, I feel, nevertheless, a certain closeness to him. In many ways his story is my story.

The book starts with Paul meticulously taking apart a Kindle device and then putting it in the bin. What is your opinion of electronic books?

• I think my opinion of them is quite clearly expressed in the opening scene of the novel. They’re kind of handy if you’re going on holiday or reading a thousand stories entered for a competition you might be judging, but they don’t look great on bookshelves, you can’t lend them out or smell them or idly stroke their covers.

We have both done something in our writing, that some may feel blurs the line between fact and fiction. We have both put people we know into our stories. Why did you decide to include Elizabeth Baines and what does she think about the inclusion?

• I like to use real places in my fiction. The streets and footpaths and architectural landmarks of south Manchester play an important part in First Novel. Why draw the line there? Why not use real people as well? Well, because people are not buildings, you might say. They have their own private lives. But then so do buildings. OK, but surely only a psychopath would fail to distinguish between people and buildings? Really? If I’m writing a novel about a writer who lives in a suburb of south Manchester, it would seem perverse to me not to include one or two real writers who live in or around that same suburb. For me it adds authenticity. Far from jolting the reader out of the story, I believe it helps with regard to verisimilitude. Plus, it adds spice and fun and mischief. I would love to appear in somebody else’s fiction. I included the Belgian film director Harry Kümel in my novel Antwerp. Since he would briefly be a murder suspect I thought it would be best to seek his approval, which he was happy to give (he liked the end product, too, he said). I admit I didn’t ask Elizabeth Baines to approve her walk-on part (in just two scenes, I think), but then seeing as her real name isn’t actually Elizabeth Baines, I didn’t see why I needed to. Some of her friends, however, thought it outrageous.

When writers write about writing, they are sometimes accused of running out of ideas. What is your response to this?

• Bollocks. Did anyone complain that Billy Wilder had run out of ideas when he made Sunset Boulevard? David Lynch/Mulholland Drive. Man Bites Dog. Blow Out. Barton Fink. Adaptation. Etc.

In fact, the book isn’t really about writing, the plot is a rather dark and the tone, clinical, slightly sinister. It soon turns into a page turning thriller. What made you want to write the story?

• I tend to write about what’s going on in my life, not always in the most obvious way, often very obliquely. I’d moved from London to Manchester, was teaching creative writing and feeling somewhat alienated. I found myself walking by the river, thinking about life and death. There was the Stockport Pyramid, rising up from the most mundane surroundings. I had a student whose name I could never remember because both parts of it could be either a first name or a second name, which tied in with a problem I’d had for years about confusing east and west and not knowing whether certain famous people were alive or dead. A working title came to me – Either Or. It remained the title until my agent read the novel and said he thought I should change the title to First Novel, a suggestion I enthusiastically followed.

What do you want your reader to go away thinking about?

• That is a very difficult question. If I say I want them to go away thinking it was a brilliant novel and I must be a really clever guy, it makes me seem rather vain. If I say I don’t really care what they think, it makes me appear aloof and superior. I think the honest answer is, it had never occurred to me that they should go away thinking anything in particular. Which is not to say I never think about readers, or care about them. I do, a lot and enormously, respectively. Obviously I want people to like it, and not only for selfish reasons. I know what it’s like to read a 300-page novel and feel you’ve been wasting your time. I’ve done it often. You want that time back and you know you’re not going to get it back. So I hope not too many readers go away thinking that.

Are you worried your students will read it and get ideas?

• I hope my students will read it. I know some of them have. They’re not short of ideas – or talent, a lot of them. I have found working with MA students an exhilarating and inspiring experience.

There is a long and exhilarating passage (about thirteen pages) towards the end of the book in future tense (is it simple future of future continuous?). Why did you decide to write the passage in this tense?

• No spoilers! I don’t know if it’s simple future or future continuous. I hadn’t planned that section before I got to it. I don’t plan very far ahead, as a rule. I like it to be organic.

Last question, Nick. Do you have a Herman Millar Aeron chair?

• No, dammit! I don’t have 900 quid for a swivel chair. My writing chair came out of a skip. I wrote to Herman Miller when the hardback came out, suggesting they might want to give me a chair, kind of after-the-fact product placement. They didn’t even acknowledge my email.

And that folks, is as valiant an attempt to acquire a Herman Miller chair as you are likely to see this week.

First Novel is available from all good bookshops now.

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MY DESERT ISLAND DISCS

My Desert Island Discs – with notes

smile

‘Smile’ by The Fall

It was 1988 and I was seventeen. All my friends were Smiths fans, and I secretly liked The Smiths, but I wanted my own band. A band that would act as a replacement religion. It was a Friday night and we were queuing to get into The Hacienda as usual. And I was sick of the queue, sick of the rain, sick of the poser knobheads in baggy clothes. And so I suggested we tried somewhere else. We didn’t have to walk far. Next door was a club called The Venue. It was an underground club and as we descended the dark stairs from the street into the belly of the club, I could hear a demonic bassline throb through the floor accompanied by a tribal drumbeat. Over the top of this glorious noise was mad ranting man singing some of the weirdest lyrics I’d ever come across. I was in love. I screwed up my Harrington jacket and flung it into the middle of the dance floor. I had discovered the thing that would be a constant in my life from that moment on. I could have picked so many different Fall tracks, but I suppose this one is the one I play the most. It’s the song I play before I go out at night to pep me up. If anything can give me the energy to get off the desert island, this is it.

 
‘I Loves You Porgy’ by Nina Simone

Music was always playing in my house. My mum loved music. My dad loved music. They played blues, rock and roll, folk and jazz. Christmas Day evening. We have all eaten too much. The grown-ups have drank too much. My dad’s best mate, David, is cadging a fag off my mum. He asks my dad to play it. My dad doesn’t need to ask what. He always asks my dad to play it. Dad reaches into the record cabinet and pulls it out. He slips it out of its cover and places it on the turntable. He lifts the armature and the disc begins to spin. He gently lowers the needle onto the record. The piano starts, a little meander, before Nina Simone starts to sing, ‘I loves you Porgy, don’t let him take me, don’t let him handle me and drive me mad. If you can keep me, I want to stay here with you forever and I’ll be glad.’ No one says a word. We are overcome with the sort of emotion that no one can describe.

 
‘The Message’ by Grand Master Flash

I didn’t have a record player. I had a tape recorder. When this song came out, a friend of mine had the single. I would go round to his house and go into his bedroom. We’d listen to it over and over again. We would enter the song. It was like a film. I begged him to let me borrow it. I think an exchange of money took place. A bribe. I played it on the family record player when everyone was out, a piece of paper on the table, a pencil in one hand. I’d listen to each line, lift the needle and right it down, then repeat it, until I had the whole thing down. Every word. Then I memorised it, until I knew it off-by-heart.

 
‘Mister Garvey’ by Burning Spear (not to be confused with Marcus Garvey)

I didn’t get reggae until I discovered the bong. I was in my late teens. I was stoned. I was in a friend’s house and he was playing reggae. But instead of my usual response, ‘put something else on’. I could feel the bass reverberate through my body, up my spine, right through to my fingers. I got hooked on reggae. Roots reggae and dub reggae. Social Living by Burning Spear was and still is my favourite reggae album. I could have picked any track on this album. Mister Garvey has an hypnotic groove. So smooth, so cool, no fool.

 
‘I Hate You’ by The Monks

I got into The Monks, like so many things, through Mark E Smith. The Fall did a couple of Monks covers on their 1990 album Extricate (including ‘I Hate You’ – although perversely Mark called it ‘Black Monk Theme’). They were an American garage rock band who wore nooses for neck ties and all had tonsures. It was a toss up between this and ‘Shut Up’ (also covered by The Fall on the album ‘Middle Class Revolt’). They were well ahead of their time. Their only album Black Monk Time is one of my favourite albums.

 
I Wanna Be Your Dog by The Stooges

We are back in The Venue on that Friday night some time during 1988. I’ve stopped dancing like a maniac to The Fall and now I’m dancing like a maniac to The Stooges. The Stooges were another band The Venue introduced me to. I love The Stooges, particularly their self-titled first album, which this song is taken from. As soon as that distorted guitar starts and that strange pounding single note piano riff (played by John Cale) you know you are in for the ride of your life. Then Iggy sings, ‘I’m so messed up, I want you here.’ AND he means every word.

 
‘Simpering Blonde Bombshell’ by King of the Slums

‘Oh bugger this for a lark, a night doing moonies with the lads. All my gifts they lie unexpended and the lights in the little houses remind me I’m cold.’ We are back in The Venue again. It wasn’t this song it was a track called ‘Fanciable Headcase’: ‘Little things please little minds, come on then, please mine. You’re not much to look at but look who’s talking… I’m easily led when I’m going nowhere.’ I think it was the screeching violin that first got my attention, the desperation in the lyrics came next. I bought the compilation album Barbarous English Fayre. It is still one of my favourite albums. I was working  in a factory in Newton Heath. I was seventeen. I saw my life stretched out in front of me: it was one of cold, hard industry, grey skies and drizzle. It was bus journeys and chip butties. It was blue overalls and steel toe capped boots. One of the lyrics on the album is ‘I’m stood on the doorstep, the moon’s full on, the roofs are wet. I shin up the drainpipe, the Pennines are in range. I slip back down to my life in this town. My God, I’ll end up breeding whippets.’ My dad used to breed whippets, as did my granddad. I could see Winter Hill from my bedroom window. All I could think of was escape.

 
‘Kill Your Sons’ by Lydia Lunch

It is wrong to call this a cover of the Lou Reed song. What Lydia does to Lou’s song is steal it from him in front of his face, tear it to pieces, re-make it in her own image and fling it back at him, screaming ‘FUCK YOU!’.

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