Friday, 29 December 2017


(by Kieran and Andrew Darlington,
with art by Tamsin Darlington

Herne is the boy who lives next door,
he told me of the things he saw
as he climbed the stairs to the upper floor,
he found the alien who lived in his loft
which collects all the things you think you’ve lost,
it has three heads, warm and blobby and soft,
each head has ten eyes that glow at night
they wink like bugs to give x-ray sight
it chews holes in the wall like a big termite
to watch the pigeons who nest in the eaves
to see the squirrels who dart through the leaves
and the mice who thieve its alien cheese,
Herne says each head has ten hands
to work with springs, screws and elastic bands
which it gathered while travelling distant lands,
but now it was hiding in strange disguise,
as a book or a box or a pile of dead flies,
it eats fish-fingers and custard and booger-pies,
has scales and feathers, and a coiled lizard tongue
that uncoils forever its unbelievably long
to suck up spaghetti and sometimes meringue,
each hand has ten fingers that wriggle like eels
to collect smelly socks and bicycle wheels,
and can fix broken clocks whenever it feels,
Herne is the boy who lives next door,
he told me of all the things that he saw
even though its not living there any more
it was hiding in his attic-loft
with three heads, warm and slimy and soft,
but it’s now flown back to its home aloft,
to a moon the wrong side of the alien skies,
and I’m sure it comes as no surprise
that sometimes… I think that Herne tells lies

Thursday, 28 December 2017



Looking back on these pieces from the perspective 
of almost-2018. This is what I was doing in 1985. 
I liked Long Ryders. Sid Griffin was an easy guy 
to talk with. But a C60, or even one thirty-minute 
side of a C60 yields far more dialogue than is required 
for one interview piece. So I split it into two full features, 
for two publications, mixing and sometimes overlapping 
elements. The unedited bits left over – including the 
interesting false starts and bloopers are then used for a fanzine. 
There are plenty of fanzines around. No problem apportioning 
them somewhere. Each interview I do, and there are plenty 
of them, operates on this principle. The other thing that strikes me 
now – reading the pieces back, is that rather than go for a 
straight question-answer format, I prefer to set up some kind of 
dialogue. Here, it is predicated on the idea of a kind of musical 
evolution. After Punk, New Wave, and the emergence of electronic 
groups such as Human League… where do Long Ryders revivalist 
tendencies fit into that evolutionary process?

With 2018 hindsight, it’s obvious that this is a false premise. 
There was no evolution. Just as Jazz was the dominant music of 
the first half of he twentieth-century, so Rock was the dominant 
music-form of its second half. The 1990s, in the UK at least, 
was Brit-Pop, when Indie went overground, a gorgeous final 
flowering of everything from Beat Groups, Mod, Psychedelic whimsy, 
Freak-beat, and Garage-Band, tightened and edited by Punk sharpness. 
Maybe Long Ryders were an advance tremor or that? 
Maybe not. But its fun to speculate… 

An interview with the Long Ryders 

Sid Griffin takes a long pull on his whiskey sour. ‘“Sweet Jane”?’ He lounges across the counter picking critically at his burger and chips.

Tom Stevens slopes his ‘Daily Mirror’ down, cocks his head to the ponderous riffs of support-band New Age sound-checking on the Club stage beneath, and nods. ‘“Sweet Jane”.’

Griffin turns to me. ‘Won’t be long now,’ he indicates my cassette machine, ‘when they finish the sound-check we’ll do the interview.’ The riffs start up, stop, then start again interminably.

Meanwhile, Tom Stevens points out the ‘Daily Mirror’ topless page.5 pin-up, ‘see this? – WOW! – if this were a paper in the States, they’d have a picture of a shooting or something instead!’ We get into a disquisition on censorship, the hypocrisy of f*** and c*** in the text, to which every reader automatically supplies their own –uck and –unt. The Whitehousian euphemism that confuses the word with the deed. The fear of catching AIDS from newsprint. ‘If I had kids’ opines Tom earnestly, ‘I’d sooner they watch videos of people fucking than snuff splatter movies.’

Sid Griffin cuts in. ‘“1970”? They’re doing “1970” off the Stooges ‘Funhouse’ album, aren’t they?’ A tactile pause… then Tom nods, ‘yeah, “1970”.’

This is Long Ryders, prior to their gig at the Leeds ‘Warehouse’ Club, on Somers Street. A band named for the 1980 Walter Hill Western movie ‘The Long Riders’, with Stacy Keach as outlaw Frank James. The ‘y’ is a nod at the Byrds. After years of Techno-Pop and Electro-Dance, this is the revenge of the American guitar. The sound of the ‘Paisley Underground’ from Los Angles… now run riot clear across Europe on its debut pioneering tour. The Long Ryders are: Sid Griffin (sideburns, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Tom Stevens (basin-cut hair, bass, vocals), Greg Sowders (drums, percussion), and Stephen McCarthy (guitar, steel guitar, vocals, autoharp).

You might’ve seen them on the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ special on the American renaissance – or live at ‘Dingwalls’ or the Harlesden ‘Mean Fiddler’ – where they encore with Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge A Book”. You’ll have heard – or heard of, their ‘Native Sons’ (1984, Diablo/ Zippo Records) album featuring their near-charting single “I Had A Dream”, plus first-line ground-breakers such as “Wreck Of The 809”, and “Ivory Towers”. It was preceded by a USA-only EP “10-5-6” produced by Earle Mankey, for Indie Frontier label, which subsequently makes the UK charts on import-strength alone!

The Long Ryders made the cover of ‘New Musical Express’, and ‘recall Buffalo Springfield’s buckskin hippie visions and the country-rock fusions of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, cranked up for the eighties’ quoth ‘Melody Maker’. Although Robyn Hitchcock told me they were ‘just a Pub-Rock band’. Whatever, evolved out of the Sid Griffin-Shelley Ganz band the Unclaimed – the Long Ryders are HOT!!!

But now the New Age sound-check is complete. Griffin indicates we should begin – ‘let’s DO it!’ I switch the tape machine to ‘record’…

SID GRIFFIN: Make sure it works, you might want to use this. I think for an interview you should have one, maybe two members of the band, and that’s it. I find that whenever three or four of us show up we all tend to talk at the same time and you don’t get anywhere. Also you say ‘did you like so-and-so?’ and one guy says ‘yes’, one guy says ‘no’, and another guy says ‘oh, I thought it was marvellous’. So it’s like… what sort of answer is that?

ANDREW DARLINGTON: You founded the Long Ryders?

SG: Yes, that’s true.

AD: Prior to that you wrote a biography of former Byrds-Flying Burrito Brothers member Gram Parsons, who influenced the growth of Country-Rock significantly prior to his sudden death in September 1973.

SG: Yeah, the book’ll be out in the UK in about two months time (‘Gram Parsons: A Music Biography’, Sierra Books, 1985), a biography of Gram Parsons, and it looks REAL good. It’s got unpublished interviews with him and a lot of photos no-one’s ever seen. Gram talking to Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman, Peter Fonda, and all those other guys. It looks real good, I’m real proud of it.

AD: Is it true that you resent Long Ryders being tagged a ‘revivalist’ band?

SG: Yes I do. If you wanna talk about influences – which you invariably do in an interview (is this taping pretty well, d’ya think? There’s not gonna be too much noise in the background…?), speaking of influence, it’s like, Gram Parsons and all that, OK, that’s fair, but I’m as heavily influenced by that first Clash album and the Sex Pistols album as any record ever made! I love Gene Clark (of the Byrds, who adds guest-vocals on the “Ivory Towers” track on ‘Native Sons’), but Gene Clark is no more an influence than John Lydon is, you know? Johnny Rotten. So there you go.

AD: I’ve heard a lot of the so-called Psychedelic revival bands, and not been too impressed.

SG: I’m not either, frankly.

AD: But “I Had A Dream” has an original power that transcends the genre.

SG: Yeah, that’s the type of stuff we like.

AD: But there’s the odd situation in the States now where John Fogerty comes back after a ten-year absence with an album pretty-much identical to his Creedence Clearwater Revival stuff (‘Centerfield’, January 1985)…

SG: Yeah, it’s done real well. Is it doing well over here?

AD: Not as well as it is in the States where it’s no.1, and where it still seems to be contemporary.

SG: Which I like.

AD: But doesn’t that mean that nothing significant has changed over there in that ten-year period?

SG: It’s a good point you’re making. In England people always say ‘you’re bringing the guitar back’. Well, we’re not bringing the guitar back from anywhere – ‘cos it didn’t GO anywhere in my country! And there’s this attitude sometimes in Britain to throw out the baby with the bathwater. And it’s like – the guitar never went anywhere. The people I listen to are Muddy Waters and Hank Williams, stuff like that, and Howlin’ Wolf. The heroes I had as a little boy, and still have now. The Byrds or whatever. The guitar never went anywhere, you know? There’s NOTHING wrong with the guitar – THAT’S what I’m saying. I’m not saying it’s gonna feed the Ethiopians. And I’m not saying that by people in the Pop charts playing or not playing the guitar, it’s gonna help the British Miners. I’m not naïve. I’m just saying there’s nothing wrong with it – it’s a great instrument as it is.

AD: I once interviewed Country Joe McDonald (of sixties psychedelic group Country Joe And The Fish)…

SG: Ha! He’s got a good heart.

AD: But he said that when they made their albums in 1967 they were using what was then state-of-the-art technology. If synths and Fairlights had been available then, they’d have used them.

SG: I see his point. I’m on Country Joe’s side. I admit we don’t use synthesisers, we put ‘em on one track – and took ‘em off. To me it just sounded stupid. It was not our bag. We put them on “Too Close To The Light” – which is on the ‘Native Sons’ album. It was just like an American coming over to England and he wants to fit in so he uses an English accent. Do you know what I mean? It was a complete affectation.

AD: You must be very happy with the response you’ve had to the album.

SG: It’s opened up a lot of doors for us. It’s enabled us to come to England and Europe. The gigs in the States are getting a lot better, y’know – we used to play some REAL DIVES, I’m not complaining… I’m not saying… I know. It’s like Gene Clark said, if you don’t think you’re gonna play dives when you start out then you’re a DOPE. Y’know, you’re pretty naïve. And me and the fellers, we knew we were going to play some rough spots, and now, thank g-o-d, we can play places where we don’t look like we’re going to get the shit beat out of us on the way out the door. You know what I’m saying? We used to play some places full of… like, drunk Americans looking for a fight ‘cos they couldn’t pick up a woman that night! So, y’know, we’re playing better places now, and that’s good. We owe all that to ‘Native Sons’, and I’m very proud of that. It looks like when we get back to the States we’ll be on a ‘quote-unquote’ major label. So… y’know, ‘Native Sons’ may be rereleased, they’re talking about it – on a major label, with a new mix.

AD: How does the song-writing quota break down within Long Ryders?

SG: Sometimes Stephen and I write together. It’s usually Stephen or I who bring a song in, then we all work on it. Both Tom Stevens and Greg Sowders contribute to songs on ‘Native Sons’, but by and large it’s McCarthy and myself who do the lion’s share of the song-writing. I find it hard to collaborate with people, so when I bring in a song it’s – like, eighty-percent complete, and then I let them have a whack at it. But I find it hard to sit down with someone else and do a fifty-fifty job on a song. It’s worse the more people you involve. It’s not so bad maybe with one other person, but when you start getting three or four guys in there, then all you have is three or four guys who want the line to read three or four different ways. It doesn’t make any sense.

AD: Bands are increasingly using the studio as a compositional tool, to ‘layer’ songs and evolve them in that way.

SG: We can’t afford that type of experimentation. I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong. I have a tendency to shy away from it. I don’t think that’s our bag. When you do that, you know – Andy, the band tend to get up on stage and have a lot of tunes that are STUDIO tunes, and they’re kinda difficult to play live.

AD: The Revox backing-tape syndrome?

SG: Exactly. You know what I was saying about one of our gigs, where some Punk fellows jumped on stage and started shouting into the microphone? Well, I really believe live performance IS a LIVE performance, and the studio is something COMPLETELY different. And I like – like that night in, er – (you got any tape left in this thing…?) – last night in Manchester a guy took his pants off on the balcony and hung his moon – his fanny, over the balcony. And it was just a great moment. It was just – I admit, I admit it was childish, it was juvenile, it was infantile, but on the other hand, in terms of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it was a funny moment. Even women were laughing. It was just a funny moment. That type of warmth is so hard to find in life. How could you put THAT on tape!!!

THE LONG RYDERS, the great American renaissance, the Revenge of the American Guitar – or just a reassertion of traditional Rock values? Draw your own conclusions… but hear them first…


1980 – ‘The Unclaimed’ by The Unclaimed (US EP, Moxie Records M1036), pre-Long Ryders band, with two Sid Griffin songs, ‘Time To Time’ and ‘Deposition Central (The Acid Song)’ and two by Shelley Ganz, ‘Run From Home’ and ‘The Sorrow’

1983 – ‘10-5-60’ (EP, PVC Records PVCM 501) with ‘Join My Gang’ (Griffin), ‘I Don’t Care What’s Right, I Don’t Care What’s Wrong’ (Des Brewer and Steve McCarthy), ’10-5-60’ (Barry Shank and Griffin), ‘And She Rides’ (Sowders and Griffin), ‘Born To Believe In You’ (Griffin). Features bass-player Des Brewer. These five tracks later added to expanded 2011 edition of ‘Native Sons’ (Prima SID 024)

1984 – ‘Native Sons’ (US Frontier, UK Zippo ZONG 003) with side one: ‘Final Wild Son’ (Griffin and McCarthy), ‘Still Get By’ (McCarthy), ‘Ivory Tower’ (Barry Shank, guest backing vocals by Gene Clark), ‘Run Dusty Run’ (Sowders and Griffin), ‘(Sweet) Mental Revenge’ (Mel Tillis, steel guitar by Dave Pearlman), ‘Fair Game’ (Griffin and McCarthy). Side two: ‘Tell It To The Judge On Sunday’ (Griffin, saxophone by Phil Kenzi), ‘Wreck Of The 809’ (McCarthy and Stevens), ‘Too Close To The Light’ (Sowders, Griffin, McCarthy, Stevens), ‘Never Got To Meet The Mom’ (Griffin), ‘I Had A Dream’ (McCarthy). Reviewed as ‘a modern American classic’ (Melody Maker)

1985 – ‘I Had A Dream’ c/w ‘Too Close To The Light (Buckskin Mix)’ (Zippo 45-2)

1985 – ‘The Lost Weekend’ by Danny & Dusty (1985, Zippo ZONG007) guest session on a duo album by Dan Stuart of Green On Red, and Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate

1985 – ‘State Of Our Union’ (Island ILPS 9802) with side one: ‘Looking For Lewis And Clark’ (Griffin), ‘Lights Of Downtown’ (McCarthy), ‘WDIA’ (Griffin and McCarthy, with Pedal Steel by Vic Collins, plus Snake Davis And His Longhorns), ‘Mason-Dixon Line’ (McCarthy), ‘Here Comes That Train Again’ (McCarthy), ‘Years Long Ago’ (Stevens). Side two: ‘Good Times Tomorrow, Hard Times Today’ (Griffin), ‘Two Kinds Of Love’ (Griffin), ‘You Just Can’t Ride The Boxcars Anymore’ (Stevens), ‘Capturing The Flag’ (Sowders, Griffin, McCarthy, Stevens, Birch), ‘State Of My Union’ (Sowders and Griffin)

5 October 1985 - ‘Looking For Lewis And Clark’ c/w ‘Child Bride’ (Sowders and McCarthy) (Island IS 237) UK no.59, also as 10” EP with ‘Southside Of The Story’ and ‘If I Were A Bramble And You Were A Rose’

1987 – ‘Two Fisted Tales’ (Island ILPS 9869) with side one: ‘Gunslinger Man’, ‘I Want You Bad’, ‘A Stitch In Time’, ‘The Light Gets In The Way’, ‘Prairie Fire’, ‘Baby’s In Toyland’. Side two: ‘Long Story Short’, ‘Man Of Misery’, ‘Harriet Tubman’s Gonna Carry Me Home’, ‘For The Rest Of My Days’, ‘Spectacular Fall’

1987 – ‘I Want You Bad’ (Terry Adams) c/w ‘Ring Bells’ (Griffin) (Island IS 330)

1989 – ‘Metallic BO’ (Overground OVER16) edited from 89-minute bootleg C90 tape with radio dialogue, covers ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ (Thirteenth Floor Elevators), ‘Route 66’, ‘Brand New Heartache’ (Everly Brothers song covered by Gram Parsons on his ‘Sleepless Nights’ LP), ‘Prisoners Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (Neil Young), ‘Dirty Old Town’ (Ewan McColl), ‘Billy Jean’ (Michael Jackson), ‘Circle ‘Round The Sun’, ‘Six Days On The Road’ (country song with multiple covers, including the Flying Burrito Brothers), ‘Anarchy In The UK’ (Sex Pistols), ‘Masters Of War’ (Bob Dylan), ‘Sandwich Man’ (Stephen McCarthy), ‘Blues Theme’ (Davie Allan And The Arrows), ‘PIL Theme’ (Public Image Ltd), ‘I Shall Be Released’ (Dylan)

1994 – ‘BBC Radio One Live In Concert’ (Windsong WINCD 058) with, recorded live at Mayfair Club, Newcastle 1987-06-03, ‘Prairie Fire’, ‘A Stitch In Time’, ‘Harriet Tubman’s Going To Carry Me Home’, ‘I Want You Bad’, ‘I Had A Dream’, ‘You Just Can’t Ride The Boxcars Anymore’, ‘Gunslinger Man’, ‘Looking For Lewis And Clark’ and recorded live at Rendezvous Club, Chester 1985-10-15, ‘Ivory Tower’, ‘Final Wild Son’, ‘State Of My Union’, ‘Lights Of My Downtown’

Sid Griffin (born 18 September 1955) went on to record
solo, and as part of the Coal Porters

Long Ryders: Live In Leeds


A gig review/ interview 
at the ‘Warehouse Club’, Leeds 

The Long Ryders play a four-dimensional music for both ears. Sid Griffin sound-checks on stage with tall dark Stephen McCarthy while their guitars are balanced out at the control desk. The mike-stand judders, sways and wavers precariously between them, nodding in sympathetic vibrations as they move – Griffin notices the action and tests it, shaking first one leg, noting the answering degree of mike-quivers closely, then both legs. ‘Hey’ he announces, ‘I can’t do my Elvis, but I CAN do a Gene Vincent with the bad leg!’ Bass-player Tom Stevens, in Brian Jones floppy fringe and red-patch lumberjack jacket, grins contagiously.

‘Both of you together’ instructs the guy at the sound-mixer. ‘E-chord’ suggests Sid. And they break into an impromptu rag-out around the instrumental break of Stephen’s “I Had A Dream”, guitar-lines cutting like a flame-thrower through butter, clean and pure as full-strength adrenalin. Then, joined by drummer Greg Sowders, the band work through into “Time Is Tight” which sounds oddly lobotomised without the Booker T organ, then John Fogerty’s rip-roaring “Almost Saturday Night”, guitars running like brittle quicksilver across the stage, sharp, exciting, exhilarating – add your own adjectives, the UK music-press have already had a field-day with theirs, clichés flying faster’n the angry buzz of Rickenbacker’s on heat. Paisley Underground, Byrds revivalists, psychedelicatessens, the revenge of the American guitar. And at the centre of it all, four wastrels from LA, the Long Ryders, an album called ‘Native Sons’ (Diablo, 1984), and a USA-only EP called “10:5:60” (PVC, 1983) that’s made the charts here on import-strength alone! The prestigious Bob Harris BBC2 TV-show ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ gave the video for their near-charting single “I Had A Dream” screen-time an unprecedented two weeks running – and, in justice, it IS just about the best guitar-trafficking Rock anthem since the Flamin’ Groovies ‘Shook Some Action’.

While behind them, oblivious to the sound-around audials, a Punky girl-roadie positions stage furniture, an Elvis poster – a late-seventies Hawaiian oddity rather than a more appropriate early rocker, and two amp-draping ads for ‘RED-MAN CHEWING TOBACCO – IN FOIL POUCHES’. Some defiant Amerikana in a foreign land.

Perhaps the Long Ryders have a sponsorship deal with ‘Red-Man’ tobacco?

Later, Griffin’s sat on stage, carefully gaffa-taping the back of his guitar for some musicianly esoteric reason. He’s tall – rangy I think’s the word, with l-o-n-g white denim pants, pointed-toe boots and a ‘Sin City’ jacket-top, shaggy shoulder-length hair, sideburns down to… here, and jet-lagged rings under his eyes.

So, what kind of reaction have you been getting on this tour, Sid? ‘In the United Kingdom it’s been amazing, in fact really – in Europe, it’s been amazing’ he comments laconically. ‘We’ve sold out Clubs, and I MEAN we’ve sold them out. In the States they have a Gentleman that walks around, called the Fire Marshal. And he inspects rooms to make sure there’s enough fire exits and that only a certain amount of people can go in so if a fire breaks out, or a bomb goes off, they aren’t all killed because there aren’t enough exits. We’ve played places in the UK that have been so crowded that if the Building Inspector or the Fire Marshal had been there there’d be no way the show would go on. He’d have stopped it right there. And – that’s good, in a way. I’m very proud we can pack it, and I MEAN pack it. I mean sardine-pack some joints! I’m very pleased with that. This is what we wanted. In Nottingham in particular, it got to frightening proportions. I mean, it was so crowded. I’d NEVER been claustrophobic in my life till that night. It was almost frightening. It was just like – I think, the joint holded five-hundred people and we had seven-fifty or eight-hundred in there. But that’s a lot better than ten people showing up!’

We do have Fire Marshals over here, I point out. He laughs, ‘hey, if they’d have seen it last night, and in Nottingham three nights ago – or was it two nights ago? They would not have allowed the show to continue.’ Further – not only do we have Fire Inspectors, but Leeds Council attempted to impose a legal decibel-limit on the volume Club-bands could play. ‘I didn’t know that’ he muses. ‘I don’t know how loud we are at all. I’ve never understood how loud we are at all. Usually on stage it’s not that loud. Tom Winston does our sound, he’s a Welshman, so the sound’s usually under control. I don’t really know about that, I certainly have no interest in being like Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin. A lot of kids in the States – young boys fourteen and fifteen, seem to think the louder the band is, the more macho or more ballsy they are. It means they’re LOUD, it doesn’t mean they’re BETTER. When you get that loud it’s like a Concorde plane taking off. There’s no real subtlety to it. It’s just one big fist coming at you.’

By now, the support band – New Age, are tuning in with the familiar ponderous “Sweet Jane” riff. They’re a depressingly regulation line-up of disparate black leather, porcupine hair and ear-studs. The punky girl-Roadie says they come from – she thinks, Middlesbrough. She likes them a lot, gives me a New Age button-badge, which I promptly lose. Their orthodox post-punk image of what constitutes a ‘new age’ contrasts pretty neatly with the Long Ryders. The Ryders are musicians rooted in longer Rock traditions. So I ask Griffin about HIS policy on cover-versions.

He grins. ‘We JAM – as most crummy American bands do, on a buncha songs during sound-checks, like you heard “Almost Saturday Night”. If we’re really bored and sick of our own material we might throw one into the set or use it as an encore, but that’s pretty rare y’know. I mean, we’ve got some damn good songs in the set, songs that I’m very very proud of that aren’t even on a record yet. And I want you all to hear them. Because I need to know if they’re any good. So if we play them and no-one at Nottingham, Durham, Leeds or Manchester applauds, we know they’re not any good, don’t we? So we don’t put them on the next record. We do three cover versions as part of the set, but apart from that, playing cover versions is NOT where it’s at for me…’

Later, the Long Ryders turn in a dazzling set that fully justifies Press expectations. They synthesise all the diverse energies of Rock’s various phases, its actions and reactions, progressions and regressions, licks and predilections, laundering them all clean and new. Tommy’s fringe even gets to look more Dee Dee Ramone than Brian Jones. As the gig develops, they do a clutch of covers – Flamin’ Groovies “I Can’t Hide”, Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War” and “Highway 61 Revisited”, offset by a whole range of new unrecorded songs – “State Of My Union”, “South Side Of The Story”, buttressed by high-octane stand-outs from ‘Native Sons’ that already sound like classics to these ears, Stephen and Tom’s “Wreck Of The 809”, Stephen’s “Still Get By”, and “I Had A Dream”. Their onstage kineticism ties in all the loose ends and resolves all the contradictions. They draw on the past, but deliver it up revitalised into what can only be 1985.

Four-dimensional music for both ears.

Interview: LONG RYDERS


An interview with the Long Ryders

It all gets confusing…

I mean, John Fogerty goes away for ten years, comes back with basically the same sound, and slots into 1985 as seamlessly as he did into 1975. You can read that reassuring continuity – talent will out, Old Fart’s revenge. Or you can read it that nothing significant’s happened through the intervening decade. All that spit ‘n’ vomit New Wave warring, Year Zero Manifestos, Fairlight state-of-the-art fantasias, digital/synth/Linndrum hi-tech progression’s come to… what? The Old Man Down The Road? Rock ‘n’ Roll Girls?

All this heavy introspection is prompted by the Long Ryders sound-check play-in of Fogerty’s rip-roaring “Almost Saturday Night” (from his 1975 ‘John Fogerty’ album), guitars running like glittering shrapnel across the stage, sharp, exciting, exhilarating – add your own adjectives, the UK music-press have already had a field-day with theirs, clichés flying faster’n the angry buzz of Rickenbacker’s on heat. Paisley Underground, Byrds revivalists, psychedelicatessens, new-Rockism. ‘AllMusic’ even calls them ‘cowpunk’. And at the centre of it all, four wastrels from LA, the Long Ryders, an album called ‘Native Sons’ (Diablo, 1984), and a near-charting single called “I Had A Dream” that’s just about the best guitar-trafficking Rock anthem since the Flamin’ Groovies ‘Shook Some Action’. It’s about time someone took a semi-detached look at the images, and reality behind them.

Sid Griffin’s sat on stage now, carefully gaffa-taping the back of his guitar for some musicianly esoteric reason. He’s tall – rangy I think’s the word, with l-o-n-g white denim pants, pointed-toe boots and a ‘Sin City’ jacket-top, shaggy shoulder-length hair, sideburns down to… here, and jet-lagged rings under his eyes.

The Long Ryders – ‘we’re young men, you gotta understand. We may LOOK old – ‘cos I haven’t been home in two months, you know what I mean? I got bags under my eyes and all that. But I’m the oldest guy, and I’m twenty-six. Just six months ago people thought we were an up-and-coming band. Now they think we’re ready to – I don’t know what, storm the Bastille or something. We’re getting a lot of contracts waved in our faces. Suppose we’re at the point in time where people, in twenty years time, will complain that we made the wrong decisions.’ He grins good-naturedly. Adopts a stoned-dumb accent protesting ‘HEY, I NEVER GOT ANY MONEY!’ Then pauses for a moment, readjusting back to straight-man role. ‘That’s where we are now. It’s frightening in a way, but I’m glad, it’s what we wanted. But I will say this – we’re only confused because things are happening quickly to us in a positive manner. We’re NOT confused because we’re STOOOPID! Just that suddenly, it’s HERE WE GO…!’

--- 0 --- 

Sid Griffin, from St Matthews, Kentucky, tries out on stage with tall dark Virginian Stephen McCarthy while their guitars are balanced out at the control-desk. The mike-stand wavers precariously between them, nodding and swaying in sympathetic vibrations as they move. Griffin notices the action, and tests it, shaking first one leg, noting the answering degree of mike-quiver closely, then both legs. ‘Hey’ he announces, ‘I can’t do my Elvis, but I CAN do a Gene Vincent with the bad leg!’

Bass-player Tom Stevens, in Brian Jones fringe and red-patch lumberjack jacket, grins contagiously. He claims some seventy-eighty parts Irish ancestry, talks excitedly of seeing Europe flash by ‘from the back of a van, Castles and things, looks REAL nice.’ Of a twenty-four-hour break in Paris spent catching up on sleep, and a projected detour to Berlin – ‘to see the wall, and just to… like, talk to the people,’ which fell through due to schedule restrictions. He expresses concern about ‘Irish Jokes’ in the UK. I counter his concern with ‘but aren’t there Polish jokes in the States?’ ‘Oh sure, but they’re just a bit of fun, they don’t mean anything against Polish people.’ Same with Irish jokes in England. The best Irish Jokes are told by Irish comedians. He looks relieved.

Simultaneously, ‘both of you together’ says the guy at the sound-mixer. ‘E-chord’ says Sid. And they break into an impromptu rag-out of “I Had A Dream” cutting like a laser through body-tissue, as clean and pure as morning sunshine over the desert…

While behind them, oblivious to the aurals, a Punky girl-Roadie positions stage furniture, an Elvis Presley poster – a late-seventies Hawaiian oddity rather than a more insurrectionary early Rocker, and two amp-draping ads for ‘RED-MAN CHEWING TOBACCO – IN FOIL POUCHES’. Perhaps the Long Ryders have a sponsorship deal with ‘Red-Man’, I suggest? Tom grins indulgently, ‘naw, it’s just the picture of the Indian Chief we like. I’ll tell you – what we really want is a regular Wooden Indian, you know? Like you used to get outside storefronts. This is just our Bargain Basement version of the Wooden Indian…’

--- 0 --- 

The Los Angeles-based Long Ryders were ‘formed by a guy named Barry Shank, that’s S-H-A-N-K, and me,’ as Sid Griffin tells the tale. ‘We left a band called the Unclaimed and we did this. We found Greg first (drummer Greg Sowders, ex-Box Boys), and then Stephen (McCarthy). Then – er, Barry left to get married and all this other stuff, and we got Tom Stevens on bass guitar.’ He neglects to list now-Dream Syndicate Steve Wynn’s brief Ryder-hood crammed in between Barry and Tom. And that the band-name is a corruption of the 1980 Walter Hill Western movie ‘The Long Riders’. ‘So we’ve been going about two-and-a-half – I guess nearer three years now.’ Griffin has a background in writing – ‘I went to journalism school, and even have a degree in it. A fat lot of good THAT does me! – sitting in a Night Club playing Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ and he even authored a definitive life of the late ‘Grievous Angel’ Gram Parsons (‘Gram Parsons: A Music Biography’, Sierra Books, 1985).

I offer to buy him a drink. He asks for Whisky Sour.

Picking up on that Gram Parsons angle, reinforced by former-Byrd Gene Clark guesting on the “Ivory Towers” cut on ‘Native Sons’, ignited by that magic Rickenbacker jingle-jangle, it all fuels the ‘revivalist’ tag he claims to resent. ‘You’ve got to understand that WE don’t consider ourselves reviving ANYTHING,’ he delivers with some considerable vehemence, ‘and I think when people see the show it’ll make a bit more sense. I mean, by god – we’re as influenced by that first Clash album and the Sex Pistols album as any records ever made. We don’t have spiky hair and all that, we just take their energy and their attitude, and put it on Country-Rockish music. A straight Country musician would probably be appalled – he’d say ‘ah, the songs are too fast, there’s too much energy, blah blah blah,’ and the Punk would think ‘ah well, they do all these Merle Haggard-George Jones licks.’ And they’re both right. That’s the secret of our formula, a sort of souped-up Country Rock. We don’t play any Gram Parsons songs because people would expect us to – and when you do what people expect, you’re DEAD. I love Gene Clark, but he’s no more an influence than John Lydon is, you know? I don’t really dig most of the revivalist acts. There’s been one or two in the States I like – the Chesterfield Kings in New York. Other than that it seems pointless. I mean – it’s 1985. We’ve got our own problems in 1985. I don’t need to sing about the problems of 1966.’

It’s getting less confusing already, with New Wave spit ‘n’ vomit neatly catalysed into the formula. But the nagging doubt about the John Fogerty equation remains. ‘It’s a good point you’re making’ muses Sid. ‘I really like that point.’ Then sets out to dismember the point in a well-argued blue-streak fast-accented sales spiel. He can talk that talk, and then some.

‘I can’t speak for the Irish, but in England they always go ‘you’re bringing the guitar back’. Well, we’re not bringing the guitar back from anywhere, ‘cos it didn’t GO anywhere in my country. We like keyboards and synthesisers ‘n’ all that. Technology SHOULD move forward. Music SHOULD move forward. I’m all for the twenty-first century, but on the other hand, that doesn’t mean the guitar’s obsolete. It’s like, if a new style of woman’s hair or dress comes in, that doesn’t make a 1961 photograph of Marilyn Monroe any less attractive to me. She’s still pretty. That photograph will be of a beautiful woman in the year 2010, I don’t care what women dress like in that year. I’ve listened to the guitar probably every day of my life, so I don’t consider we’re reviving anything, ‘cos where did it go? It didn’t go anywhere. In England and Ireland you just get to see REO Speedwagon, Journey, stuff like that, and they ARE horrible, I admit it. I admit they’re horrible – so no wonder you guys think the guitar’s obsolete and it’s terrible, those bands PLAY it terrible. But it’s like, what do you know of American food? Most people know McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Well, I’m from Kentucky, and the worst thing we’ve got is Kentucky Fried Chicken. So, I mean, you know what I’m saying? Of course people think the guitar went away – all they know is McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken! THAT’S what I’m saying.’

Two down. One to go. Hi-Tech, Sid? ‘There’s a lot of revivalist bands that you and I could name that would never use state-of-the-art stuff – ‘cos they wanna get the sound of yesteryear’ he argues carefully. ‘But we’re not like that. We recorded our album in A&M’s Los Angeles studios. State-of-the-art studios – where they did the charity single “We Are The World”, not a very good record, actually, but it’s got its heart in the right place! We recorded ‘Native Sons’ there last year during the Los Angeles Olympics (July-August 1984), we got it for cost ‘cos no-one wanted to be in the studios during the Olympics. It was recorded very quickly too’ he laughs. ‘‘Cos we didn’t have any money! So we’d rehearse a batch of songs like fiends, go in and record them, come back, rehearse some more, record them and get to hell out! And I think it’s a good record. I don’t think it’s the greatest record ever made, but it’s a damn good record. You SHOULD use state-of-the-art equipment. I don’t see any advantages in using BROKEN-DOWN equipment. I admit we didn’t use synthesisers. We put ‘em on one track – on the band-composition “Too Close To The Light” which is on the ‘Native Sons’ album, but to me it just sounded stooopid. It was a complete affectation. It was not our bag. It was bullshit. So we took them off. It was wrong, it was wrong…,’ a pause.

‘The Human League have put out a couple of good songs. I read some Phil Oakey interviews, he’s a talented guy, but he’s now using a guitar isn’t he? Four or five years ago he was keyboards-keyboards. Now he’s using Sly Stone riffs, lots of bass guitar, and some funky soul rhythms like chunka chunka chunka chunka. The guy’s eating his own words. There’s NOTHING wrong with guitar.’

--- 0 --- 

The Long Ryders on stage turn in a dazzling set that fully justifies the verbals. They synthesise – no pun, all the diverse energies of Rock’s various phases, its action and reactions, progressions and regressions, licks and predilections, launders them all clean and shiny-new. Suddenly it’s not confusing at all. They draw on the past, sure, but deliver it up revitalised into what can only be 1985.

‘Last night in Manchester’ confides Griffin before we close, ‘a guy took his pants off on the balcony and hung his moon – his fanny, over the balcony. And it was just a great moment. I admit, I admit it was childish, it was juvenile, it was infantile, but on the other hand – in terms of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it was a funny moment. That type of warmth is so hard to find. How could you put THAT on a Revox tape? You can have a guy do that live and it’s a scream. I don’t want people to think we’re some stoopid show that they have to stare at, and applaud politely at the end of each number. I LIKE people shouting, I LIKE people grabbing the mike, I LIKE people applauding and throwing their coats in the air, and all that. I think human expression is… well, there’s not enough of it for one! Society doesn’t WANT you to take your pants off!!!’

Nothing confusing about THAT…

As I’m walking towards the out-door afterwards, Sid Griffin yells across the dance-floor ‘thanks for the Whisky Sour.’ No problem. The Long Ryders deliver good value.

Thursday, 21 December 2017



 Was this David Baddiel and Rob Newman tour the moment 
 when Stand-Up Comedy became the New Rock ‘n’ Roll? 
This duo tour culminates in a sold-out Wembley Arena gig 
 in which they play to a 12,000 capacity audience. 
 The two part company immediately after… 

 Gig Review of: 
at ‘Sheffield City Hall’ (1993)

 You know that ‘Mary Whitehouse Experience’? You liked that, you did. That was your favourite TV programme, that was… 

‘Do you ever feel you want to shag an actress?’ yells a female voice from the audience.

‘Can I see your Equity Card?’ retaliates Rob Newman quicker than I can write it.

If Benny Elton is passé, and Benny Hill is passed on, then this is where nineties comedy is happening. The first ‘Hairy Whitemouse Experience’ goes out on BBC Radio One 10 March 1989 as a sound-only half-hour of Stanley Knife satire and amphetamine stand-up psychodramas. Four series later, it transfers to BBC2-TV – 3 October 1990, in time for a Gulf War censorship wrangle and slickly sick gags so well targeted that the Scuds don’t stand a chance. With Steve Punt and Hugh ‘Milky Milky’ Dennis (former Jasper Carrott/ Phil Cool scriptwriters), the second series ditches the radio ‘scars’ to better crack the televisual medium. But, while it’s still dangerously venom-tipped, with dark eruptions of the hard sharp and fast, it shoves scatterings of the scatological at the expense of the topical, and seems to have moved a few stalls downmarket.

So, Say Kids, what time is it?

It’s time for… it’s time for… David Baddiel and Rob Newman’s forty-date national tour.

And any doubts about quality-slippage get well-stomped. Anarchic and spontaneous, they also achieve some depth, some pain, and an oblique intelligence with the advantage of the richer, more fulsome vocabulary the idiot box denies them. The stage is largely bare, but – when it’s down to strict verbals, they’re well up to it. In separate sequences, Mrs Whitehouse’s bastard sons assemble distinct personal identities, united only by their black neuroses and exploitation of post-adolescent uncertainty. Rob Newman draws from – what he quotes Anthony Hopkins as calling, ‘debts of rage’, aiming his ‘irrational anger’ with sniper’s accuracy at anything and everything he despises, from the charity Fred-Aid to Heathcote Williams’ epic eco-poem ‘Whale Nation’, interrupting it only long enough to do a spot-on Cure send-up – Robert Smith with lipstick applied by Stevie Wonder whining ‘riding along on the crest of a wave’, followed by a burst of strobes to ‘flush out the epileptics’.

Meanwhile, David Baddiel develops his manic-depressive ‘anxiety’ which can be existential, sexual or racial – at school, he was beaten up twice, first for being a Jew, then for being a ‘Paki’. He slouches, like a dog’s beanbag, while unravelling uncomfortably articulate mockery well beyond TVs event horizon, sometimes so close to the taste fragmentation point that the laughter comes nervously premature. He begins with a serious point, ‘we recently had our first drive-by shooting…’ which gets a huge laugh before he’s even begun the related comic observations. Something even he protests! But he’s educational too. Did you know that ‘felching’ is ‘sucking your own semen from your lover’s anus’? No, I didn’t either, but he develops a routine around just that. A routine that’s not aimed at the faint of heart, and one that’s delivered with the fixed downbeat expression of a man who has to pay a forfeit by fucking Veronica Dribblethwaite.

Together, the Whitehouse boys extend their TV characters and situations – the two musty old debating Professors, Edward Colander-hands, and Newman’s ‘Ray’ who is cursed so his every utterance sounds like an ironic put-down. ‘Oh Boo-Hoo-Hoo, wasn’t it sad about Benny Hill… and Frankie Howerd.’ And, already, the first slight hint of each sketch provokes the kind of instant audience recognition factor that, previously, could only be claimed by the latter-day Pythons. While, in the foyer, a Rock Star-cum-Sex Object turn-over of ‘Barely Gobshite Experience’ videos, books and tour T-shirts feed the post-Smiths Indie generation that Rob and David seem to have inherited. 

As the two debating Professors might say, ‘this was your favourite gig, this was. You liked this one, you did…’

Wednesday, 20 December 2017



 Book Review of: 
(Jonathan Cape - £9.95 – October 1982 – 
464pp ISBN-10-0224020684) 

Just two decades, brags this book, belong exclusively to youth – the thirties and the sixties. And, published at a time staked out emphatically by the grey geriatric power fantasies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Yuri Andropov there’s understandably a tendency to get a stiff neck from over-the-shoulder nostalgic glancings. Yet there’s sufficiently thick veins of allusion and allegory hefted together into this book to make it a pure depth-charge genotype of an era. Edie Sedgwick’s confused ‘poor little rich girl’ rejection of her privilege, her frantic ‘chemical cycle’ involvement with the Andy Warhol Factory art-porn fringe lunacy, and her drug-death in 1971 all conform so clear to stereotype that she dictates the perfect script for a ‘Swinging Sixties’ movie. You can probably guess the cast yourself. Her tale is both sufficiently anonymous for it to be generalised, yet specific enough to be an archivist’s dream. A potential enforced by the technique of constructing her life through gossip-column style quotes laid out under a starry punctuation of celebrity names. Those quoted or referred to in that bold type includes Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Bob Neuwirth, Mick Jagger, Gerard Malanga, Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol himself, and it goes on…

Like Patty Hearst, Edith Minturn ‘Edie’ Sedgwick (20 April 1943) was a debutante born into wealth and secure conservative placidity, life mapped out ahead in predetermined traditional blue-blood blueprints. And like Patty Hearst, she ditched it all through a bizarre combination of rebellious boredom and class guilt to flirt with the outer limits of weirdo decadence. There’s a strong element of spoilt brat – something of trading conformist father figures for new equally repressive and lethally destructive underground-model father figures. Trendy slumming until your fingers burn. But few burned more brightly that Edie, permanently addicted to the adrenalin rush of ‘cruising in on death,’ as described by that other Warhol protégé, Lou Reed. Edie did soft-core skin-flicks, she did LSD while driving her Mercedes, she ran naked down Park Avenue high on a speed-heroin-coke cocktail, she was anorexic and had an aborted pregnancy while in psychiatric care. She’s photographed in the New York ‘Scene’ Disco with Mick Jagger. And Bob Dylan ‘liked Edie because she was one of the few people who could stand up against his weird little numbers. He was always in an adversary relationship with women. He tested people, but respected Edie’s spirit, and her strength in being able to deal with him, and that she didn’t wither. They say he wrote “Just Like A Woman” about Edie.’

Yet she remains more a symbol than a person. She’s the offstage figure they all refer to as the catalyst or extension of their own excess. To Warhol she’s a blank image to replicate in endless identical silk-screens – like Monroe. To Dylan she’s a song subject. To Jagger an early prototype Jerry Hall, selected as visual accessory. The fact that she died at twenty-eight (16 November 1971) neatly encapsulates her into her period. The girl on fire. It makes what she represents clearer, and the conclusions that bit more conclusive. Dylan converts to Christianity, ‘Tanya’ Hearst marries her bodyguard and opts for cosy domesticity, Jagger devolves into parody and Warhol into mere fame. But Edie is still here. Still burning.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Gig Review: LINDISFARNE in Leeds

Gig Review of: 
 sponsored by ‘Radio Aire’ 
at ‘The Queens Hall’ Leeds 
(December 1983) 

The Jam Beat Surrendered, and split up, but the celebrity process is inexorable. John Lydon will always be a Sex Pistol. Just as Paul McCartney will always be a Beatle. Fight he may, but Paul Weller will always drag that Jam corpse around too, like it or not. It must have been logic somewhere along those lines – catalysed by cash deficiency, that led to Lindisfarne’s reformation a year or so back.

On stage in this Leeds exhibition hall, a cavernous converted tram-shed with acoustic echo-trap that loused up a couple of ‘Futurama’s, they look less hairy than I remember, a stripped-down format of shirt-sleeves, trimmed beards, some clean partings and cleaner harmonies. They carry a weight of ghosts, and they parade them intact. “Meet Me On The Corner” was the “Come On Eileen” of the 1970s dope-smoking set. Then there’s “Lady Eleanor” with its jangling mandolin shading, and the anthemic “Fog On The Tyne” which derails potential sing-alongs with a fast choppy Bo Diddley riffing. There’s some synth sleight of hand but the reference points shaping up their relaxed tightness remains Ray Jackson’s jaunty swaggering harmonica and Alan Hull’s broad Geordie elocution. All wrapped around the brand of electric Folk-Rock they served up at the Nostell Priory and Cambridge Festivals. And at the Wakefield ‘Pussycat Club’ where I saw them supporting ex-Byrd Gene Clark… or was he supporting them?

And if the interminable “We Can Swing Together” takes on embarrassing aspects of a Pantomime Community Song spot, they grab themselves back from the brink of aspic scampi-and-chips-belt preservation with a shot of contemporary stuff. They may have surrendered to the inexorable – and lucrative, nostalgia process, but they pass some considerable voltage through the memory corpse they drag around with them in the lethal political violence of “Cruising To Disaster’ – with satiric lyrics running ‘the White House up on Capitol Hill, a fortress to freedom, with a licence to kill’, from their ‘Sleepless Nights’ (1982) album, and the melodic 1978 on-the-road air-time hit “Run For Home”. The dramatic rejections and role tantrums have now been replaced by a peaceful co-existence with their past. Perhaps that’s a more viable route to travel?

Albums: ALAN HULL 'Phantoms'

Album Review of: 
(Market Square MSMCD146) 

The hell-bound train has many precedents in Blues history, as the freight-train does for Woody Guthrie’s hobo-Folk tradition. But just maybe Alan Hull is referencing a more modern privatised network when he writes ‘I live my life like a railroad’ – frustratingly unpredictable, frequently late, and prone to catastrophic crashes? Perhaps not, seeing as Alan died in 1995. But while there may have been more profound writers than Alan, and technically better guitar-pickers with finer voices than his – he had few equals from the start in the ragged amiable self-mythology that illuminated everything he did. In his songs he was the stumblebum down-at-heel poet shining through an amiable mildly-intoxicated slur.

This is a spatchcock of an album made up of two vinyl LP’s, Alan’s solo ‘Phantoms’ (1979), and his Radiators band’s ‘Isn’t It Strange’ (1977), spliced together to cut out the original track-duplication and cut in five previously unissued 1975 demos. So that the strings on “I Wish You Well” are offset by the four harder electric Radiators tracks, and Lesley Duncan, Ray Laidlaw, Pete Kirtley, and Rab Noakes are all lurking somewhere in the mix. While there’s little that’s indispensable here, there’s nothing that’s not imbued with his personable spark either. The two versions of the stand-out “A Walk In The Sea” survive into a Lindisfarne afterlife, clear down to the knowing slang of ‘I like to be on me own’, and the jokey white-reggae of “Madmen and Loonies” which pairs Eric and Ernie and Batman and Robin with the album’s original label-boss, Rocket’s Elton and Bernie.

 Dylanologists will delve into his ‘so you wanna be a rock ‘n’ roll star’ music industry satire “Corporation Rock”, hunting for clues. Surely the sold-out ‘household name’ – ‘like some kind of washing-up liquid’, can’t be the Zim? despite the lyrical hints at ‘Gates Of Eden’. Hey, don’t think twice, it’s alright. He goes on to reference his own battered history too, with ‘I got the fog on the Tyne’ (in “Anywhere Is Everywhere”), book-ending its commercial high with ‘sometimes I think it’s a joke, but the rules weren’t explained’ (in “Somewhere Out There”). For Alan, the highs were pretty low, but the lows could be more fun anyway, the strange contours of his kamikaze disregard for careerist aspirations smoothed out by a tendency to engaging fuck-ups and a stoned urban romanticism of pleasingly blurred surrealist pipedreams. The real phantoms here are his mythic hung-over dealers and DHSS wastrels, the beat-up Beat-bards and ho-hoper anarcho non-activists hunched in against the Tyneside chill. And the train that always takes him home.

Live: ALAN HULL in Wakefield

Gig Review of: 
and BLACKSTONE EDGE (Unplugged) 
at ‘The Spectre Folk Club’, Wakefield 

‘It’s nice having hair when you’re fifty’ he says, scruffing his fringe into a sub-Mohawk spray. For the first few numbers the spotlights don’t work, so Alan Hull is reduced to a hook-nosed shaggy-bearded cameo by poor backlighting. And he starts with “Money Game”, a song with an odd word-heavy construction where phrases curve and die. It dates from his ‘Pipedream’ (1973) debut solo album – the one with the René Magritte cover-art, so it hits the nostalgia circuits at the back of your head. Then he goes from “Poor Old Ireland’ (from Lindisfarne’s ‘Dingly Dell’, 1972) through to “When The Gun Goes Down” (1996) which runs ‘call me romantic, call me a clown’. And already it seems he’s probably located at some point midway between those two self-definitions.

At first it’s difficult to judge exactly what he does do, or why we are here to witness it. Lindisfarne? A fistful of catchy Folk ‘n’ Rolls in bursts of prominence scattered across the last two-and-a-half decades. Is that it? He looks fairly ordinary in his shapeless pale blue open-necked shirt hung out over white pants. But yes, the songs are good, even in shaggy-bearded cameo. He’s there watching Blackstone Edge before his set begins. You can see him from the corner of your eye, leaning close into the big ‘Judge Dredd’ pinball machine. Katye Grady wears a long blue William Morris-print dress and sings “Polly Parker” and the Fairport’s “Raven” clear and high. Robin Kershaw joins her for a ponderously slow “I Know Where I’m Going” and “Friends” from their ‘Gypsy’ CD (Granite GRACD001, 1995), recorded at the Fairport’s Woodworm Studios, where they’re backed-up by Tony And Penny. But it’s powerfully strong even in tonight’s stripped-down intimacy of a music-room over a Wakefield pub.

Then THEY watch as Alan Hull does “Walk In The Sea”, a lyrically Paul Simonesque ‘Play For Today’, and the Lindisfarne hit-ette “Tear It Down”. It’s around this point in his set that things begin to fall into place. Alan – with back-up from Dave, wears his North-East roots light, but indelibly. And when he sings ‘one day the machine might turn on’ you know which streets he’s walking. The lighting has been adjusted now. So sharp you can even see the fingerprint smudges on the black veneer of his guitar. And he’s singing ‘the trouble with your vision is keeping it straight’ from his live ‘Back To Basics’ (1994) set cut at the Mean Fiddler on Charing Cross Road. And when he gets to the stoned surrealism of “Lady Eleanor” – a ‘belly-dancing beauty with a power-driven saw’, it begins to clarify further. It’s still difficult to label exactly what he does, or why it works. Because it’s not magic, that would imply some sort of trickery. It’s not even down to skill, because that seems like it’s learned. What he has is the kind of easy ability you don’t see often. It’s related in some way to his connection with our shared reality.

He can do “Winter Comes Howling In”, and contrast it with “Day Of The Jackal” – an oddly disturbing terrorist diatribe that goes ‘I’m only twelve years old, but I know how to shoot’. Then switch moods equally effortlessly with the sing-along sexism of “Country Gentleman’s Wife”. The audience is small, but beautifully informed. And by the time he’s confiding Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne studio secrets from the session that yielded them a joint no.2 hit in October 1990, we all listen. The ordinary is still there. But now it’s illuminated. That’s what he does. That’s why we are here to see it.

Of course he closes with the Dope Dealer mythology of “Meet Me On The Corner”, “Run For Home” – ‘this is me life-story’ he confided, and a “Fog On The Tyne” so ludicrously stylised and audience participatory that it’s a joy. Then an ice-clean “Clear White Light”. Everyone knows the words. But by now, that’s just an added bonus.

James Alan Hull: 20 February 1954-17 November 1995

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Poem: 'THIS IS ME'


This is me rising at dawn,
this is me scratching lethargically,
this is me drinking coffee,
this is me removing the
circular inspection panel
from the top of my head.
This is me poking about inside
with bloody grey fingers,
this is me extracting a memory,
holding it between thumb & forefinger
in slight distaste.
This is me resealing
the inspection panel.
This is me enclosing the
memory in an envelope.
This is me posting the letter
in this hazy hung-over morning,
hoping it’ll reach you,
to remove the mask,
to remove the face
beneath the mask,
and leave it

Interview: Mike Scott Of The Waterboys


 The Waterboys story, with narration from 
 previously unpublished interview material with Mike Scott


Do you believe in Rock ‘n’ Roll? Can music save your mortal soul? Mike Scott, angel-headed hipster of the upwardly-mobile Waterboys denies it. But everything he does on stage and record denies his denial. With his heroes he’s DISCriminating. All his inputs and references predate Hip-Hop/Electro. At the Sheffield ‘Leadmill’, drenched in aquarium-green spots this Scot called Mike with sweat-damp watch-springs of hair comes on very much like THE Rock Star for the early nineties. He fields a trick or three, a tune or four, and the art of looting the Rock style-hypermarket to maximum effect.

He wears his shirt smock-wise over leather pants, with a spotted tie loose-drawn, and just s hint of Jagger-lips to set it all off. ‘You remember Patti Smith? She knew how to write a good song,’ and he proves it by delivering “Dancing Barefoot”, illustrating the lyrics with neat hand-gestures, riding a ‘Big Music’, a sound density of hideous strength. But Scott’s own lyrics also burn on both page and stage. They get ignited by the kind of effortless aggression of full-tilt stadium boogie electrified by hard edges and brittle guitar runs.

He’s got all angles covered…

On the dressing-room door there’s some felt-tip self-graffiti’d promo from Age Of Chance, with a voluptuously smudged lipstick-printed “Kiss”. But Scott’s winding down with a vodka and coke. Looks to me like a street-boy from a French magazine ad, like he should be smoking Gitanes. And the interview… should I aim for a direct ‘Confessions Of A Pop Performer’ piece? Something confrontational? But instead it comes out ‘…hey! I like those boots!’ They’re pointed-toe, lots of buckles, they’re very…

‘…very Rock ‘n’ Roll?’ Scott offers helpfully.

Yes, I guess that’s the word.

‘They are a bit, yeah.’ He extends a foot, inviting appraisal, turns it left, then right. ‘They go with the trousers. They’re new boots. They won’t look as good as this in a month’s time!’

--- 0 --- 

First time I heard his name, Mike Scott was submitting poems to my arts fanzine – ‘Ludds Mill’. I published one called “Kick It Over” – ‘in the megastores, where the grey people buy/ through the muzak haze, a girl wonders why/ education is slashed and benefits slump/ while prices rocket and violence jumps/ KICK IT OVER!!!’ At the time he was a member of Another Pretty Face, an Edinburgh four-piece formed in 1979. They took their name from a line in the Tony Parsons-Julie Burchill Rock-obituary text ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’ (Faber, 1978), and they issued a single on New Pleasures in May. “All The Boys Love Carrie” has strong lyrics after the style of Liverpool poet Dave Ward, with guest sax overlay by William Mysterious.

‘With my old group – Another Pretty Face, when I used to go on stage in those early days we were so proud to be there we were just all so switched on, it was like really, GREAT. We were all so confident, really proud and everything. We’d strut around the stage like headless chickens.’

Cut at Barclay Towers in Edinburgh, the single was pressed up in two batches of 1,000 and 5,000, and led inevitably to bigger things. ‘I had a brief flirtation with Virgin Records’ he tells me. This took the form of a hard attacking single “Whatever Happened To The West”, the slower B-side “Goodbye 1970s” sounding even more impressive to these ears with an intricate sax/piano conversation. But album sessions with producer Alan Mair – of the Only Ones, were rejected by Virgin as ‘not commercially acceptable’.

‘They rejected them’ he admits ruefully, ‘not all that unwisely. They were a bit… pretentious. Not as good as they should have been.’ There were eighteen recorded tracks on the tape, featuring a very good “Heart Of Darkness” and “Witness”. Another song – “Graduation Day”, runs ‘and you’re all so blithe and classless and free/ boys who mainline at night have got their best suits on/ Mick has had his teeth fixed, Keith has had a wash/ John talks loud but he can’t make sense…’ The sixties Rock Tsar inputs are obvious. He confesses the influence of ‘the Beatles and the Stones’.

The sixties…? ‘Because it’s sixties doesn’t mean it’s BAD. The sixties were pretty GOOD!’

But – for Another Pretty Face, the watershed from seventies into eighties was not so good. With sidekick John Caldwell – later of the Collector, Mike retreated to Edinburgh playing a mass of gigs, including some with Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers. But the failed Virgin link-up had taken the group’s heart, and its days were numbered. Mile told ‘Jamming’ magazine ‘in APF there was far too much energy expended in trying to do idealistically sound things all the time, like playing gigs that under-eighteens could get into, playing gigs that didn’t cost much to get into, playing gigs with no Bar and selling Fanzines at the door.’

Scott grew up in Ayr, and his Scots accent remains pronounced as he explains to me ‘I had a year and a half – two years, off the road between that group and this one. And in that two years I must have got a lot smarter or something, ‘cos now I’m not nearly as confident. I’m much more aware of the pitfalls.’ With APF ‘we did fifteen gigs in London, and then split.’ In toto there’d been four singles and a cassette from Another Pretty Face, plus a single as DNV – a temporary group also known as the Bootlegs, and one recorded as Funhouse. They’d also worked with producer Hugh Jones.

But next? ‘Me and Kevin (Wilkinson – drums) and Anthony (Thistlethwaite – sax), had a group called The Red And Black. We did two gigs. That group was a bit ‘loose’. But that was the last time I played on stage… before the Waterboys.’


May 1979 – “All The Boys Love Carrie” c/w “That Not Enough” (New Pleasures Z1) Mike Scott (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), John Caldwell (lead guitar), Jim Geddes (bass), ‘Crigg’ Ian Walter Greig (drums)

1979 – “Death In Venice” c/w “Mafia” + “Goodbye 1970s” as by DNV (New Pleasures Z2), all Mike Scott compositions

February 1980 – “Whatever Happened To The West” c/w “Goodbye 1970s” (Virgin VS 320)

December 1980 – “Only Heroes Live Forever” c/w “Heaven Gets Closer Every Day” (Chicken Jazz JAZZ 1) Producer, Alan Mair. With Mike Scott (vocals), John Caldwell (guitar), Willie Kirkwood (bass), Chic McLaughlin (drums)

April 1981 – “Soul To Soul” c/w “A Woman’s Place” + “God On The Screen” (Chicken Jazz JAZZ 3) with Adrian Johnston (drums on B-side tracks), Ally Donaldson (sax on A-side), Mike Scott (vocals, violin, keyboards), Kirkwood, Caldwell, McLaughlin

1981 – ‘I’m Sorry That I Beat You, I’m Sorry That I Screamed, But For A Moment There I Really Lost Control’ (cassette album, Chicken Jazz ) with “This Could Be Hell”, “My Darkest Hour”, Lightning That Strikes Twice”, “Graduation Day”, “Another Kind Of Circus”, “Out Of Control”, “Only Heroes Live Forever”, “All The Boys Love Carrie”

--- 0 --- 

The Patti Smith connection/preoccupation is an obvious follow-on. ‘I saw her do a poetry reading in Edinburgh in 1978,’ he sounds wistful. ‘She was fantastic, everything that she did. When she was in Edinburgh she had a piano – no microphone or anything, just this upright piano. And she did “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” – the Smokey Robinson song, and a few of her own songs that never came out on record – ever. All those lovely obscure songs.’ Then, more brightly, ‘I’ve got ‘em all on tape.’

My confession that I also have Patti Smith live poetry tapes (1978, ‘Köln Reading’) grabs his interest, and before the evening’s done we’ve worked out some furtive trading arrangements. But first, pursuing the Patti Smith theme – didn’t the Waterboys spend time in New York with Patti’s bassist Lenny Kaye? Didn’t he produce some aborted session for the first album (‘The Waterboys’, July 1983)?

‘Yes, he did. I love his guitar playing, and wanted to co-produce myself with him, sort of match my songs with his ‘Patti Smith Group’ feel. But my record company, Ensign, came between us, and turned it into HIM producing ME. He played bass on the sessions and supplied the drummer from his own ‘Lenny Kaye Connection’ group. We spent three days rehearsing and four days in the studio. Because he was producing he was telling me ‘you’re playing too much guitar, Mike,’ or ‘you’re playing too much piano. Cool it down. Let’s make this one sound like the Rolling Stones.’ But I think, you must beware of that. We did a song called “Bury My Heart” and he tried to make it sound like the Stones, and it just… didn’t work. He was a great guy. It was great being with him for the pleasure – but for the WORK, it was no good at all. I would have been much better doing it myself. Maybe if I’d been producing, using Lenny on guitar – for INSPIRATION in other words, it would’ve been better.’

Did any recorded work come out of the Lenny Kaye sessions? ‘There’s four tracks, “Bury My Heart”, ‘Savage Earth Heart” – do you know that song?, “Girl In The Swing” and “It Should Have Been You”. But we didn’t release those versions. The versions that are on the records are my demo’s that they let us do ourselves. The stuff we did with Lenny remains on a cassette tape in my room, ‘cos it was really sluttish. Didn’t work at all. The sounds were appalling.’

Did you get any interesting stories about Patti Smith?

‘From him? I don’t think so. We talked a lot, but about Patti Smith…? I’m trying to think. The thing that always intrigued me most was what songs they played. That’s what I was interested in. And I was asking Lenny when did they first play “Redondo Beach”, when did they first play “My Mafia” – the reggae song, things like that. I thought Lenny could teach me some of the songs. It’s fascinating all that…’

…all that junkyard angels stuff, liner notes, matrix numbers?

‘Yeah. Reading the run-out grooves.’

--- 0 --- 

The Waterboys started live work in February 1984, and that was after eighteen-months without setting foot on stage. Also, the Waterboys’ line-up had shed Another Pretty Face’s strong regional base. ‘Everybody came from all over the place. Edinburgh is only one-fifth of our locations!’ But press-word on Waterboys came slightly before that live debut. ‘Melody Maker’ made the group’s first release – “A Girl Called Johnny”, it’s ‘Single Of The Week’, praising it thus, ‘there’s an invigorating instability in their approach to Rock ‘n’ Roll, (an) insistent verve, an intimidating sax penetrates the action with unfaltering belligerence, and Mr Scott delivers his unlikely reminiscences with a riveting manic edge’ (19 April 1983). The record was produced by Rupert Hine and issued through Scott’s own Chicken Jazz label. Mike claimed Patti Smith as inspiration behind the lyric – ‘I remember a girl called Johnny, black as hell, white as a ghost/ Don’t talk of life or death, she’d say, I’ve had enough of both.’

He’d actually met Patti Smith in April 1978 at the London Portobello Hotel, ‘I was staying there as a fan, and I met Patti there. She was always really good to all the kids who used to follow her around. I was just one of them’ (to ‘Hot Press’). Elsewhere, in his first major press interview, he explained further, ‘there’s a line about a girl called Johnny in one of her songs, called “Redondo Beach”’ he told Colin Irwin (‘Melody Maker’ 14 May 1983). ‘And I heard a tape she’d done and noticed that Johnny is a hero or heroine on lots of her early songs. So I thought I’d make HER Johnny!’

Yet, as that majestic first single emerged, the band didn’t properly exist, ‘Anthony (Thistlethwaite) was on it, playing sax. There was just the two of us. Kevin (Wilkinson) came later.’

I mention noticing a musicians’ ad placed in ‘New Musical Express’ at the time, recruiting for Waterboys. Scott laughs, ‘he (Kevin?) answered that advert. We got a LOT of guitar players coming around!’

The follow-up single – “December”, came through a Chicken Jazz hook-up with the more major-league Ensign. ‘Big acoustic anatomy of melancholy’ said ‘New Musical Express’, ‘too long and involved for a single, but nice all the same.’

Both singles got sucked onto ‘The Waterboys’ album alongside “The Three-Day Man”, “I Will Not Follow”, “It Should Have Been You”, “The Girl In The Swing” and “Savage Earth Heart”. Following the release of the album, came the promotion. He explained it as a strategy of ‘taking my troops into the territory of the brain’ (‘Hot Press’).

‘We did a European tour supporting the Pretenders’ he elaborates for me. ‘We got a little bit of experience there. We did all over Europe, and Ireland. We had a really good time in Ireland. We’ve been ‘worked-in’.’


March 1983 – “A Girl Called Johnny” c/w “Ready For The Monkey House” + “Somebody Might Wave Back” and “Out Of Control” (Chicken Jazz 12” only, JAZZ CJJ1)

July 1983 – ‘The Waterboys’ vinyl LP (Ensign 1) with “December”, “A Girl Called Johnny”, “The Three-Day Man”, “Gala”, “I Will Not Follow”, “It Should Have Been You”, “The Girl In The Swing”, “Savage Earth Heart” Re-issued Ensign CHEN2 in August 1986, then expanded edition 2002 with “Gala (Unedited)”, “Where Are You Now When I Need You?”, “Something Fantastic”, “Ready For The Monkeyhouse”, “Another Kind Of Circus”, “A Boy In Black Leather”, “December (original eight-track mix)”, and “Jack Of Diamonds”

September 1983 – “December” c/w “Where Are You Now When I Need You” (plus “The Three-Day Man” and “Red Army Blues” on the 12” edition) (Ensign ENY 506)

March 1984 – “The Big Music” c/w “The Earth Only Endures” (plus “Bury My Heart” on the 12” edition) (Ensign ENY 508)

May 1984 – ‘The Waterboys’ (US-only mini-LP, Ensign/ Island IM 1017) with “A Girl Called Johnny”, “I Will Not Follow”, “It Should Have Been You”, “December” and “Savage Earth Heart”

June 1984 – ‘A Pagan Place’ (Ensign ENCL3) with “Church Not Made With Hands”, “All The Things She Gave Me”, “The Thrill Is Gone”, “Rags”, “Somebody Might Wave Back”, “The Big Music”, “Red Army Blues”, “A Pagan Place”. Plus bonus tracks on the extended reissue “All The Things She Gave Me (Unedited)”, “The Thrill Is Gone (Unedited)”, “Some Of My Best Friends Are Trains”, “The Late Train To Heaven (Rockfield Mix)”, “Love That Kills” instrumental, “The Madness Is Here Again”, “Cathy” written by Nikki Sudden, “Down Through The Dark Streets”

--- 0 --- 

FLASHBACK TWO: The Waterboys are midway through a long-distance drag around this once-green and pleasant. They took in a gig at the CND Glastonbury Festival – an event redolent of antique Hippie mysticism, then – fresh from the Continental jaunt with the Pretenders, they go on to play scorching tours with U2 and Simple Minds.

You must enjoy touring, Mike?

‘When you play six gigs there’s bound to be two really good ones. Tonight was absolutely REAL. It’s always real – but sometimes it’s… less real. Like the gig tonight, I felt that here it was fine. But last night in Preston, that was a really BAD gig. When I went on I was – not nervous, but not confident at all. Because it was a Disco, and the audience was there to dance to Frankie Goes To Hollywood.’

Scott’s ill at ease with Disco, and he bad-mouths local muso’s the Thompson Twins from the Sheffield stage. Prefacing a number with a dedication to ‘fuck their shitty smell’, and tail-ending the song with ‘I think we just BURIED the cunts!’ It’s delivered with a teasing arrogance, and an antagonism that’s not entirely artificial. His thesis is the antithesis of Electro-Pop game-playing.

That can be a risky strategy, I suggest – to build up a kind of antagonism with the audience.

He grins broadly, disarmingly. ‘I didn’t REALLY intend it to be.’

From Another Pretty Face…?

So was the reference to the Thompson Twins wise, Mike?, particularly to a Sheffield audience?

‘I DO hate the Thompson Twins’ he answers, quite reasonably. ‘Are they REALLY from Sheffield?’

They’re from Chesterfield, which is just down the road. They used to play with the Human League in pubs here, Tom Bailey used to teach in Sheffield. ‘Oh no!!! THE THOMPSON TWINS ARE FROM SHEFFIELD! That’s like slagging Lindisfarne in Newcastle!’

A voice from ‘John Clash’ squatting next to him, ‘but they’re still a bunch of fuckin’ cunts.’

Scott nods sagely. ‘They are.’

--- 0 --- 

For the ‘A Pagan Place’ (1984) album ‘the songs were written over about two years. Really they were… “The Big Music”, “A Pagan Place” itself, and “Rags” are all from the same time. All the others were written in 1982. A long time ago.’

And for the results – was he pleased with the way the album turned out? ‘I think so. I’m not pleased with some of the tracks. There’s a few I don’t like. The first track –“Rags”, is a bad mix.’

‘New Musical Express’ called the album ‘a most convincing blend of youth and mastery, of sky-rocket rush and sacred conviction’, commending its ‘promethean sweep’ (11 August 1984). ‘Melody Maker’ wrote of Roddy Lorimer’s ‘incisive trumpet breaking the surface of the music with a flourish as bright as gleaming chrome’ (2 June). While less specifically, Helen Fitzgerald claims Mike Scott’s ‘songs are gift-wrapped and stamped ‘deep and meaningful’, and sometimes, they really ARE’ (‘Melody Maker’ 24 November 1984).

‘This Is The Sea’ (September 1985) – eighteen months later, is a torrent of gift-wrapped lyrical meaning, a new sophistication and maturity that’s to become even more pronounced – ‘unicorns and cannonballs, palaces and piers/ trumpets towers and tenements, with oceans full of fears/ flags, rags, ferryboats, scimitars and scarves/ every precious dream and vision, underneath the stars…’

But first – a step backwards. We talk some more through influences.

Patti Smith? We’ve done that.

Iggy Pop? ‘An animal. But an intelligent animal!’

And what about Bob Dylan? Scott saw Dylan in Newcastle at St James’ Park, 5 July 1984, and ‘his whole persona and performance, everything about the man, was totally great. He did lots of GOOD old stuff, and seven or eight songs with just an acoustic guitar. He went off-stage and let the bass-player do a number. Then he came back and the band fucked off. He did “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” as the first solo song, and…’

I got temporarily alienated from Bob Dylan during the time he became a born-again Christian, but, according to Scott, ‘he didn’t play any of the songs from the ‘Slow Train Coming’ (1979) or ‘Shot Of Love’ (1981) albums, nothing from that religious sort-of period. He seems to have gone back on that.’

Yes, but Mike, even on Dylan’s subsequent albums – like ‘Infidels’ (1983), on the “Jokerman” track, he’s singing about ‘Leviticus and…’

Scott completes the line for me, ‘…and Deuteronomy. Yes, but it’s GREAT. A great song. Have you ever seen the video? He’s not ramming the religious angle down your throat anymore, he’s not saying YOU MUST READ THE BIBLE. He’s ditched all that stuff years ago.’

And – switching tack, what about Scott’s Scots accent? How does that go down with foreign journalists?

‘I try to speak s-l-o-w-l-y, and make it very c-l-e-a-r. They would say, about “A Pagan Place” – ‘vot is zis song about? Vot is ze Pagan Place, Mike?’ And I have to start to try to explain, in English, to this Dutchman, this well-intentioned Dutchman…’ He throws up his hands in mock-despair.

We laugh it down.

Then, deadpan, I ask ‘what does “A Pagan Place” mean, Mike?’

‘Ah-ha. Do you REALLY mean that…?’ A pause, then ‘it’s just symbolic.’

--- 0 --- 

The Waterboys score their first Top Twenty single (“The Whole Of The Moon”, no.26, 2 November 1985, then no.3 on reissue 13 April 1991, beneath Chesney Hawkes “The One And Only” and James “Sit Down”) from their first Top Twenty album (‘This Is The Sea’) – then drop out to busk around Irish Folk Clubs for two years. Hardly a smart career move, at first glance. Line-ups become confusingly fluid, the group loses Karl Wallinger who quits to form World Party in early 1986 (sticking with Ensign for hits including “Message In The Box”, no.39, June 1990, and “Is It Like Today” no.19, April 1993), and expands by taking in new personnel, including Steve Wickham from Galway, Jay Dee Daugherty, Sharon Shannon etc, and more ethnic, more Celtic influences.

And all the while, press interest – conversely, grows. The Waterboys assume a new legendary status with a mystique fuelled by the l-o-n-g absence, the myths and rumours that emanate from alleged recording sessions as far afield as Boston, Dublin’s Windmill Lane, and San Francisco, and by cassettes and bootlegs of Irish pub and village hall concerts.

And when the album finally arrives – the double set ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ (October 1988), it exceeds all expectations. Mat Smith in ‘Melody Maker’ calls it ‘quite simply the finest album of this, or perhaps any year’. Old heroes live forever, and old influences – the Beatles, jostle with new role-models – Van Morrison, with Scott reading Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” into the run-out grooves of Morrison’s “Sweet Things”. Then there are traditional Irish songs (“When Ye Go Away”), a cod-Country reference to Hank Williams – ‘I don’t care what he did with his women, I don’t care what he did when he drank/ I wanna hear just one note from his lonesome old throat/ anybody here seen Hank?’. And even Gaelic vocalist Tomas McKeown singing Scott’s setting of WB Yeats 1889 poem “The Stolen Child”, all jostling alogside some of Scott’s own most violently well-crafted lyrics, ‘the world’s full of trouble, everybody’s scared/ landlords are frowning, cupboards are bare/ people are scrambling, like dogs for a share/ it’s cruel and it’s hard but it’s nothing compared to what we do to each other’ (“We Will Not Be Lovers”).

‘And yeah’ says Allan Jones, ‘the Waterboys are a glorious vindication of Rock’s maverick sensibilities’ (‘Melody Maker’, 7 January 1989).

--- 0 --- 

Mike Scott is literate. He recalls with obvious pleasure an interview he did with Irish music-paper ‘Hot Press’ that wound up ‘talking about books’. He tries to head our conversation in the same direction. Claims his song “Girl In The Swing” took its title from the 1980 Richard Adams novel (his fourth novel ‘The Girl In A Swing’). And how about other writers? – like, say, William Burroughs? ‘Burroughs has a great voice’ he opines. ‘I’d much rather HEAR him read his stuff than read it myself. Because the voice that I read it with in my brain is not as good as HIS voice.’

And there’s a story behind “Red Army Blues” on the ‘A Pagan Place’ album. ‘There’s a book I read called ‘The Forgotten Soldier’ by Guy Sajer (1965). He was French, from near the German border. So near that when they were short he was conscripted into the German Army! The Germans got pretty short at one point. Anyway, it’s just the story about his life on the Russian Front, and I thought it was pretty good. I’m very interested in the Russian Front for some reason, can’t quite explain why, so I wrote a song about it. But I changed it around, I wrote it from the Russian side, from their point of view – because the Germans were invading THEIR country. The Russians were in the right.’

Then there’s Kurt Vonnegut – he also got caught up confusingly in the war, as a POW blitzed by his own side in the Dresden fire-bombing! ‘I’ve read… no, I’ve SEEN his ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ (1969), and that was my initiation to him – the movie of his book.’

See what I mean? The guy’s literate. His lyrics read like the lyrics of a literate musician. He assembles his songs with care – even lines that, on the surface, seem deceptively simple (‘all these games/ fuck my brain’ on “The Ways Of Men”) are lethally timed to metre and rhyme. They work exactly. Running through the Waterboys back-catalogue track-by-track he casually undersells the devastating “Somebody Might Wave Back” as ‘an optimistic little song’, and still refuses to be drawn too deep into the complexities of “A Pagan Place”. ‘The story itself is all in very basic language’ he protests. ‘It’s just about me, arriving at a place. A mental place. After various adventures. A mental state.’

We play word-games. Is there a religious/anti-religious slant to the use of the word ‘Pagan’? ‘No, no, it’s not specific in that way.’

So ‘Pagan’ is just used for its emotive-evocative value? A ruminative pause. ‘I use the word seriously – as I was telling the audience, I use it seriously and, I think, with respect.’ He fences expertly around definitions, religious allusions can provide ‘a powerful store of imagery’. He mentions Bob Dylan again as an example of same…

Then, ‘Crass have used it too. They had an album title – ‘Stations Of The Crass’ (1979), y’know? It took me a few years before I got the joke there!’

For non-Catholics, the joke is a pun on ‘Stations Of The Cross’. Get it?


October 1985 – “The Whole Of The Moon” c/w “Medicine Jack” (the 12” has “The Whole Of The Moon (full version)”, “The Girl In The Swing (Live)”, plus “Medicine Jack” (Ensign 12ENY 520) no.26 on the chart. Reissue as Ensign ENY 642, when it reaches no.3

September 1985 – ‘This Is The Sea’ (Ensign ENCL5 – reissued as CHEN3 in August 1886) with “Don’t Bang The Drum”, “The Whole Of The Moon”, “Spirit”, “The Pan Within”, “Medicine Bow”, “Old England”, “Be My Enemy”, “Trumpets”, “This Is The Sea”, no.37 on UK album chart

October 1986 – “Medicine Bow (full version)” c/w “Don’t Bang The Drum” + “The Ways Of Men” (West Germany and Holland only, Ensign/Ariola 608-081)

December 1988 – ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ (Ensign Double-LP CHEN 5) with “Fisherman’s Blues”, “We Will Not Be Lovers”, “Strange Boat”, “World Party”, “Sweet Thing” (Van Morrison song), “Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz”, “And A Bang On The Ear”, “Has Anyone Here Seen Hank”, “When Will We Be Married” (Traditional song, adapted), “When Ye Go Away”, “Dunford’s Fancy” (Steve Wickham song), “The Stolen Child” (words by WB Yeats), “This Land Is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie), no.13 on UK album chart

January 1989 – “Fisherman’s Blues” c/w “Lost Highway” (Ensign ENY 621) no.32, reissue as Ensign ENY 645

June 1989 – “And A Bang On The Ear” c/w “The Raggle-Taggle Gipsy (Live at Glasgow ‘Barrowlands’ 1989)” (Ensign/ Chrysalis ENY 624) no.51

May 1993 – “The Return Of Pan” c/w “Karma” + “Mister Powers” and “The Return Of Pan (Demo)” (Geffen GFSTD 42) no.24

July 1993 – “Glastonbury Song” c/w “Chalice Hill” + “Burlington Bertie And Accrington Stanley” and “Corn Circle Symphony” (Geffen GFSTD 49) no.29 Do you believe in Rock ‘n’ Roll? Can the ‘Big Music’ (if not the attendant persona) save your mortal soul? While rejecting the hype-casting of Rock, Mike Scott rejuvenates it, and still works very much in its vital tradition. ‘That’s all I want to do. Play something RAW.’

Patti Smith was totally taken up by the mythologies of Rock. ‘Oh, yes.’

Is that something that’s true of you? ‘No. I think I’m quite free of that. Despite the leather trousers! I’m quite free of that.’

When push gets to shove – even without promiscuous promotion, and despite his denials, Mike Scott is the ideal candidate for hype-casting. He played the Rock role naturally, unconsciously, like a second skin. The Waterboys were, and could have remained a nice little earner.

But Scott aimed higher, and chances are he’s gonna take it a lot further yet.