Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Socialism's Records Of The Year, 2006

It's that time of year, everyone is publishing endless lists of what their favourite this or that was this year... well, here at Socialism Towers we aren't any different - we got a load of people who've worked for the rag over the last issue or two to scribble down their favourite records of 2006 (and, in a few cases, their least favourite). So here then, are the Socialism Records Of The Year - good to see there is so much disagreement among our contributors. Also, good to see CSS featuring so many times - in no way did our bullying tactics influence opinion...

James Oldham
1. Grinderman “No Pussy Blues” (well, it’s on myspace already)
2. The View “Wasted Little DJ’s”
3. These New Puritans “Pluvial” EP

1. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Show Your Bones”
2. Cat Power “The Greatest”
3. Jenny Lewis “Rabbit Fur Coat”
4. Midlake “The Trails Of Van Occupather”

Nicky Wire
Best Singles:
Take That "Patience"
My Chemical Romance "The Black Parade"
Kasabian "Empire"

Various Artists “CD86”
Mogwai “Mr Beast”

And the worst…
Bob Dylan “Modern Times
The Raconteurs “Broken Toy Soldiers”
Arctic Monkeys “When I Am Cleaning Windows (ee by gum)”

Jon Savage
The Raconteurs “Steady As She Goes”
Gnarls Barkley “Crazy”

Kompakt “Total 7” compilation
Six Organs Of Admittance “Sun Awakens”
Trentemoller “The Last Resort”
Arctic Monkeys “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”
Brightblack Morning Light “Brightblack Morning Light”

1. Hot Chip "The Warning"
2. Midlake "The Trials Of Van Occupanther"
3. Joanna Newsom "Ys"
4. Sibylle Baier "Colour Green"
5. Studio"West Coast"

songs (in no order and most of them are not singles):
Dr Dog "Ain't It Strange"
Tilly And The Wall "Lost Girls"
Midlake "Van Occupanther"
Loney Dear "The City, The Airport"
Yo La Tengo "Mr Tough"
Sibylle Baier "Tonight"
Hot Chip "Look After Me"
Albert Hammond Jr "Scared"
CFTPA "Scattered Pearls"

Andy Capper
1. Clipse “Hell Hath No Fury”
2. Fucked Up “Hidden World”
3. The La’s “Live At The BBC”

Marc Jones
Gruff Rhys “Candylion”
Peter, Bjorn & John “Young Folks”
Primal Scream “Country Girl”
Muse “Supermassive Black Hole”
The Raconteurs “Steady As She Goes”

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan “Ballad Of The Broken Seas”
Nicky Wire “I Killed The Zeitgeist”
Kasabian “Empire”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Show Your Bones”

Ted Kessler
Gnarls Barkley “Crazy”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Gold Lion”
Lupe Fiasco “Kick, Push”

Burial “Burial”
TV On The Radio “Return To Cookie Mountain”
Ghostface “Fishscale (dead heat with Midlake “The Trials Of Van Occupanther”)

Robin Turner
Albums (no particular order)
Richard James “The Seven Sleepers Den”
The Vines “Vision Valley” (most underrated album of the year!!!)
Nicky Wire “I Killed the Zeitgeist”
Juana Molina “Son”

CSS “Alaha”
Robyn “Cobrastyle”
The Good, The Bad & The Queen “Herculean” (took the best part of 20 years but finally I like a record that Damon Albarn has made)
Spank Rock “Bump”
Delia Gonzalez “Relevee (Carl Craig mix)”
anything by The Meatboys

Andres Lokko
1. Studio “West Coast”
2. Ghostface Killah “Fishscale”
3. Scritti Politti “White Bread Black Beer”
4. Jaheim “Ghetto Classics”
5. Josef K “Entomology”

1. LCD Soundsystem “45:33”
2. CSS “Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above”
3. Ne-Yo “So Sick”
4. Shakira & Wyclef “Hip’s Don’t Lie”

Paul Moody
Best records…
The Streets with Pete Doherty “Prangin’ Out” & Keane “Is It Any Wonder” (both proof positive that the drugs DO work)
Muse “Supermassive Black Hole”
Wolfmother “Earth’s Rotation Around The Sun”
CSS “Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above”
Midlake “Roscoe”
The Good The Bad & The Queen “Herculean”
Towers Of London “Air Guitar”

…and the worst:
Gnarls Berkley “Crazy” (music for the closet Moby fan)
Amy Winebar “Rehab” (“I say No No No”)
Anything by Hot Chip (public school boys making dance music – nein danke!)

Biddy Maroney (
1. Okkervill River “Overboard and Down”
2. James Dean Bradfield “The Great Western”
3. Belles Will Ring “The Coldest Heart”
4. Youth Group “Casino Twilight Dogs”
5. Bloody Meridian “Kick Up The Dust”

Andy Kelly
1. Jarvis “Jarvis”
2. Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs - Live At Sunbury (Reissue) (Obviously)
3. The Vines - Vision Valley

1. Jarvis “Cunts Are Still Running The World” (Not really a single, but seriously, come on!)
2. You Am I “It Ain't Funny How We Don't Talk Any More”
3. Gob Bluth and Franklin “It Ain't Easy Being White”

Nick Dewey
M Ward “Post-War”
Cat Power "The Greatest"
The Vines “Vision Valley”

Midlake "Roscoe"
El Perro Del Mar "God Knows (You've Gotta Give To Get)”
Muse {"Knights Of Cydonia"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Socialism Art Market @ Everything Must Go, Sat. 16th December

At Everything Must Go, Sat. 16th December from 1pm... 14 Soho Street, London, W1

For one Saturday only in December, the Heavenly Social’s blink and you’ve missed it venue, Everything Must Go, will host the Socialism Art Market, a one-off one-stop Christmas shop in conjunction with Socialism magazine. We’ve invited loads of our friends to set up shop, offering the kind of things you might like to buy for your typically hard to buy for mates and relatives. The market will feature music, toys, clothes, artwork, photography and a vast selection of drinks for when you’re trying to decide. The market will be a cash only event, there is a cashpoint in the venue and several within a few yards on nearby Oxford Street.

Representing at the Socialism Art Market will be:

Rough Trade shop (rough trade shop (selling their top 100 albums of the year plus assorted box sets, t shirts and present material as well as hosting some surprise 'instore' performances -… limited edition toys designed by Pete Fowler/Monsterism ( - including the Magic Numbers figures, highlighted by The Observer as one of the 50 best Christmas presents around)… artworks from Aquarium gallery (home to, among others, Jimmy Caughty & Jamie Reid & Bama Lama gallery (including ltd edition silk-screen prints by Ski Williams of everyone from Johnny Cash to King Tubby)… new clothing & one off samples from One True Saxon ( and one-off fashion accessories made out of vintage reclaimed and recycled materials by Hooky Gear (… bespoke jewelry by Susie Lloyd ( and free backissues of Socialism ( - we had to plug ourselves somehow!!)

and a cast of up and coming artists, photographers, fashion and jewellery designers – full details will be listed on

There will also be food on sale, including the finest pies in the country from Square Pie ( -"the best pies in London" Time Out), luxury Christmas puddings from Crisis (in aid of homeless – these are take home puddings!!!) plus Somerset cider, real ale and the fully stocked Everything Must Go bar.

Music throughout the day will be provided by the Heavenly Jukebox, Rough Trade & Can’t Mix, Won’t Mix Allstars.

Entry is free, although we’d like to encourage anyone who comes down to make some kind of donation to Crisis.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bill Drummond & Stewart Home "A Distant Shore"

Earlier this year Bill Drummond contacted Socialism expressing an interest in undertaking a conversation for the magazine in the vein of the discussion between the artist Jeremy Deller and Nicky Wire from The Manic Street Preachers in issue 3. Naturally, we were delighted to agree. As manager of Echo And The Bunnymen, founder of the KLF and author of the acclaimed novels '45' and, with Mark Manning, superlative black literature 'Bad Wisdom' and 'The Wild Highway', he is as close to a hero as Socialism likes to admit. What follows then is the transcript of the meeting which took place between Bill and the author Stewart Home at Shingle Street in Suffolk earlier this year, conducted exclusively for Socialism. It touches on themes ranging from The Sex Pistols to Shaespeare to the proposed Nazi invasion of the UK, and concludes with a frank and artistically shocking discussion of parenthood. (This is the full transcript, an edited version is printed in Socialism Issue 4, which is out now).

SH: Okay, here we go, it’s the 24 of November 2005 and this is Bill Drummond and Stewart Home having a conversation in Suffolk. So Bill, today I took you to one of my favourite places in England which is Shingle Street and I guess what appeals to me about Shingle Street as a place to get away from the city is the interface between the land and the water. Physically, geologically, Shingle Street is a huge bank of shingle at the end of a shingle spur that comes down from Aldburgh, with shifting shingle islands in the sea, and it’s very different to the kind of environment I’m attracted to in Scotland where you see the effect of man on the mountains…
BD: Man on the mountains?
SH: Yeah, because man puts sheep on the mountains and defoliates them…
BD: Yeah, yeah.
SH: Which acts as a reminder of human intervention on the landscape and the whole way the notion of the rural is constructed, particularly in the British Isles, because we live in a completely man-made environment. In order for the cities to develop you had to have the industrialisation of rural areas first to free up the population from agriculture prior to the creation of the cities…
BD: Hmmm.
SH: The rural landscape is very much an industrial landscape but I guess I’m forever searching for landscapes that aren’t so man-made, and where we went today, the sea shifting the shingle around has a real effect on Shingle Street as a place, with the make up of the land feeling less humanly controlled, in contrast to many other so called rural areas.
BD: So you’re saying that for you, that is where nature is more dominant over the effects of man, more than man effects it.
SH: I don’t know if nature effects man more than man effects nature, and I don’t know that I’d necessarily want the split between the two, but what I’m saying is there’s not the level of human control over the environment that you might see in other areas where you don’t have that interface between the land and the sea, in this case with the shingle, or in The Wash where you’ve got mudflats. This is the kind of rural landscape that appeals to me, where you see the land being obliterated by the sea.
BD: So its sort of, I’m going to come back to the shingle and talk about that, but then its appeal to you must be the same as the idea of the flow country in Ross and Cromartry in the top bit of Scotland, where it’s supposed to be the only part of Scotland that is still untouched by what you’re talking about, putting the sheep in the mountains or putting stone walls across everything…
SH: Or covering it in pine forests…
BD: It’s not quite the same…
SH: But I like the fact that Shingle Street is an environment that isn’t entirely dominated by man in the way that other landscapes are.
BD: It’s in a state of flux.
SH: I like the flux, which I guess in some ways reflects what I like about the city. I like the movement and flux of the city, the constant rebuilding and changing.
BD: One of the things I love about shingle banks, you can get to a 100 yards or so from the sea but between you and it is this huge shingle bank that you have to scramble up first and then you see the sea below you sweeping out to the horizon, but the first thing I noticed when we got to the top of the shingle bank was what looked like the back of a whale. But then you explained it was…
SH: What you have is a series of shifting shingle islands, so from the shingle spur that extends all the way down from Alburgh to Orford, the shingle is just pushed around by the sea, so the interface between the shore and the sea is constantly changing, you have these small islands of shingle that get moved around within the sea, so today the sea was high or the islands were low, sometimes they stick out of the water a bit more than they did today. I guess the tide was probably up when we got there.
BD: It would be no good for seals there because it’s moving too fast, have you ever been down there and seen a seal?
SH: I’ve never seen a seal down there, I don’t know that there are any down there, I think they prefer rocks.
BD: Up further round other bits of Suffolk and Norfolk you can see a lot of seals and they come up onto the shingle but it has to be more stable than that.
SH: I think because you’ve got a river estuary coming down to the sea, to swim there is very difficult, the currents are very strong.
BD: Maybe it’s just too fast flowing for them.
SH: It’s very fast. Maybe you do get seals but I’ve never seen them, I’m not aware of them. You do get incredible cabbage like shingle plants that we were eating.
BD: And you said were very rare after I’d started ripping them up and said it looks like cabbage let’s have a go on it.
SH: Yeah, but you weren’t to know that they were rare.
BD: No. (laughs). You mentioned the mudflats in The Wash, now I’ve always had a big thing for mudflats, it’s partly because where I grew up in Scotland we were always made very very wary of the quicksands, the sinking sands in the estuary near where I lived Wigtown Bay, Solway Firth, because we’d been warned about the quicksands we were drawn to walk out onto these mudflats.
SH: I just love the changing nature of them, the fact that the tides can sweep in and that they are dangerous. I used a lot of imagery in my early fiction to do with mudflats, relating them to sex. Describing people as being out on the mudflat when they were having sex, or they were beating out the primitive rhythm of the swamps.
BD: Which book was that?
SH: Pure Mania in particular and some of the early short stories, talking about mudflats and using them as a sexual metaphor.
BD: I’m sorry…
SH: You probably didn’t read that one.
BD: Was that one of the skinhead ones?
SH: It was an eco-vegan punk band in Pure Mania, my first novel published by Polygon in 1989, and you’d find the same thing in the stories from a few years before that. I’d take this metaphor I’d found in a James Moffatt book, who a lot of people best know as Richard Allen but he wrote under a lot of names, his real name was James Moffatt, it probably was in one of the Richard Allen books where he’d talk about how the characters having sex were no longer in control of themselves, the DNA had taken over. I was very interested in extending that metaphor, with all these descriptions like they were no longer in control of their bodies, DNA codes were being scrambled and unscrambled across the muscular structure of their bulks, they had memories of the first star exploding, they were the first amphibians to crawl from the sea and feel the warmth of the sun on their backs, they were out on the mudflats. That was a kind of refrain. I was interested in taking underdeveloped metaphors from pulp fiction and then developing them in a particularly absurd manner. Mudflats had a real appeal for me in regard to this. There was this wonderful literary critic Liz Young who died about four years ago, after she reviewed Pure Mania she became a good friend of mine, she met me around the time the book was coming out and she said to me: ‘do you think of mudflats when you’re having sex?’ (laughs). Which was great. So mudflats really appeal to me in various ways. And the shingle appeals as a really unstable interface between the water and the land. I love it in the western highlands where you have the granite and the sea and the sky but the shifting nature of shingle and mudflats I’m really drawn to.
BD: On a really course level, mudflats, mudflaps, it sounds like pissflaps, do you mind that association?
SH: Its fine, whatever association anyone makes. Nature red in tooth and claw, as well as yellow and brown, piss and shit! When some people think of the rural they think of bucolic Suffolk countryside, that Essex/Suffolk border as depicted in Constable.
BD: The Haywain.
SH: At the same time that was being painted you’ve got all these rural riots going off, so Constable is this kind of propaganda for the countryside as idyll.
BD: To be fair to Constable I’m sure he never thought his stuff was going to be taken up in the way that you’re implying. I’m sure there’s a lot more to him…
SH: I don’t know, I’ve only looked at the pictures…
BD: Okay.
SH: I haven’t looked into his background.
BD: You haven’t just looked at the pictures. What happens as soon as you see a picture you see it in a context, so it’s everything else that goes on around it.
SH: Sure. But I’ve never looked into Constable’s life, I’ve been to some of those towns and villages, Clare, Long Melford, Manningtree. The Essex/Suffolk border is really beautiful, you come up from London and it’s just London suburbia all the way to Chelmsford, it gets a bit nicer when you’re coming up towards Colchester, but the really great part is once you’re past Colchester, when you get to Manningtree, which of course has its horrific associations with witchhunting. I don’t know if you’ve been to Manningtree.
BD: All I know about Manningtree is the train stop.
SH: It’s a curious town, around which all that beautiful countryside starts and if you go inland a little bit you’ve got Constable country basically. So Shingle Street is also in Suffolk but a little bit away from all that.
BD: One of the things I do find interesting about Suffolk is the pink houses. Do you know why they were pink?
SH: No.
BD: Originally, for the people who are reading this, if you were to come to Suffolk you’d notice that a lot of the rural houses, a lot of the farm houses, are pink, and originally it was whitewash which they’d put bulls blood in it for whatever reason. Actually I only know this via Gimpo whose a mate, and maybe he’s completely wrong, but I think he seemed to know what he was talking about. I think they used to put bulls blood in, but nowadays its just people painting their houses pink. The other thing I was going to say, after you’ve left Manningtree, between Manningtree and Ipswich, I love it when you cross the mudflats, the train goes…
SH: Over the estuary…
BD: And I’m always thinking is the tide going to be in? Is the tide going to be out? It doesn’t matter, I love it if the tide is in or out, but just crossing the estuary is always great. If the tide’s out the birds are there doing their stuff on the mudflats.
SH: The tide was out today when I came up from London. I was doing exactly the same thing, looking out of the window, seeing how the estuary looked. Then you get to Ipswich, which is not the most beautiful town in Suffolk.
BD: I can’t comment on Ipswich, I’ve spent maybe two days there, no I’ve spent more because I did some work with the band called Extreme Noise Terror and they’ve from Ipswich.
SH: Apparently there’s an incredible techno scene in Ipswich.
BD: Is there?
SH: So I’m told, I don’t know it.
BD: Nowadays?
SH: A few years ago I think.
BD: Because when Extreme Noise Terror where there it was hardcore, that’s what it’s called?
SH: Yeah, hardcore.
BD: Metal?
SH: Noise crossover.
BD: Yeah.
SH: I like Ipswich harbour, you can walk around the harbour at Ipswich and that’s nice but the town centre is kind of contained by that ring road system around it. But I think it’s good to go to Ipswich to get an overall view of Suffolk in contrast to places like Long Melford or Thorpeness with its faux Elizabethan houses.
BD: I think Thorpeness is fantastic.
SH: I like Thorpeness.
BD: It’s fantastic, for the readers again, Thorpeness is this town, well not town, village, built about 1920 as a resort town with a train that came all the way from London, and all these houses none of them look real, they’ve all come from the less than fevered imagination of some architect or someone. This right?
SH: That’s correct.
BD: That’s what it looks like?
SH: Yeah.
BD: It is also fake fake timber-framed houses. But there’s something weird and strange which is very attractive.
SH: It feels like the set from The Prisoner but it looks very different.
BD: That was in my head and I was trying to come out with it and I couldn’t remember and I was thinking a place in North Wales where they filmed The Prisoner, I know it's not really like that but its got that fakeness to it.
SH: It’s got the fakeness.
BD: Kind of a weird, you know like we were talking earlier about sixties TV programmes, it has that kind of other-worldly, you’ve entered some strange place. There’s a water tower clad with a kind of house on top of it.
SH: It’s called The House in the Clouds. I know the one you mean, and the windmill as well. I like Thorpeness but it’s definitely faux.
BD: Of course its totally faux but what’s even better, you can walk out of it and there’ s Thorpeness Power Station and that’s got a vibe to it, that you’re right beside a power station. I’ve always been drawn to nuclear power stations.
SH: Same as me.
BD: So do you know Dounreay?
SH: I’ve been to Dounreay, the one by Thurso in Sutherland.
BD: Yeah. I always like the idea that they stick the nuclear power stations away from the big conurbations.
SH: Its modernity manifesting itself in what’s meant to be a beautiful rural setting. The one wer’e closest to now being Sizewell, just outside of Leiston, which is another beautiful building. I don’t know about the radiation dangers (laughs). They sometimes give off an incredible noise as well.
BD: Do they?
SH: Sometimes I hear this electronic hum.
BD: What we haven’t got here, we haven’t got today, we’ve not been able to look out to sea to wind farms. A bit further up the coast, at Lowestoft I think, there’s one you can see there.
SH: I haven’t been to Lowestoft for quite a long time.
BD: Have you ever enjoyed looking out to sea to wind farms?
SH: No I can’t ever recall seeing one, but its something I must do.
BD: You must, it’s a fantastic thing to see. Go to Lowestoft, maybe its Great Yarmouth. So should we carry on talking about the rural or should we move on, now that we’ve established ourselves in the rural? What do you want to say?
SH: I guess Shingle Street, to go back to it, has a number of different reasons for appealing to me because of the history associated with it and again you can see no matter where you go you’re not really getting away from modernity or post-modernity. So among the things we saw at Shingle Street were a couple of Martello Towers, a product of the fear of Napoleonic invasion.
BD: I’ve always loved Martello Tower, ever since I first saw one, they are fantastic things. Do you actually like the physical shape of them?
SH: I love them.
BD: Yet again, for people who may be reading this and don’t know what they look like, they’re about 25 feet, 30 feet, high?
SH: They’re big imposing buildings.
BD: Huge, big, kind of vaguely round in shape and very solid and as Stewart was saying (pause) it sounds like I’m talking to this ficticious audience here. Lost the thread…
SH: Oh well, that’s the way it goes, we should have had a couple of drinks (laughter).
Settle ourselves in.
BD: Shall we switch it off and have a couple of drinks?
SH: No, let’s carry on and get a drink in a minute.
BD: I didn’t know what Martello Towers were. I accidentally came across one and thought what the hell is this? I think it was the one at Aldburgh and I didn’t see any explanation there and then. I thought what’s this for? Why is the building here? When did it get here? Why did this happen? It was sometime later that I learnt it was our major defence against Napoleon invading.
SH: The first little corporal hoping to invade the British Isles.
BD: Down this coast you also get the pill boxes to defend against the second little corporal who was planning to invade.
SH: That’s another reminder of the inescapability of human history. The other amazing thing is the closer you get to Shingle Street, coming up from Liverpool Street in London to Ipswich, out past Woodbridge and the Sutton Ho burial site, the closer you get to Shingle Street the more you’re just going to a dead end, there’s less and less through traffic, you don’t pass through Shingle Street, you decide to go there, but you still can’t escape human history by going there, you’re constantly reminded of it, by the Martello Towers among other things. But the other thing that fascinates me about Shingle Street is that it was taken over by the military during the Second World War, but there’s less evidence of that. In some ways the evidence is negative, for example the pub that used to be at Shingle Street was destroyed when the military were testing the bouncing bombs for the Dam Busters raid I believe, but anyway the pub was blown up in the course of military exercises during the Second World War, so there isn’t a pub there now. The other thing they were trying to test at Shingle Street was flame warfare, where to prevent invasion by the Nazis the British military were trying to develop these weapons that would shoot sheets of flame out of the water. They never perfected it, the roughness of the sea made it difficult, I think in calm conditions it was maybe possible, but the technology was never developed as fully functional. But while this was going on, there was a black propaganda rumour spread by the Special Operations Service about an attempted German invasion at Shingle Street, where the Nazi shook troops were incinerated by flame warfare weapons in the sea. I’m fascinated by the whole history of black propaganda, at which British Intelligence excelled, particularly during World War 2. There are a couple of fantastic books by a guy called Ellic Howe, one called The Black Game about printed fakes made by British Intelligence during World War 2. So for example on the cover of the paperback edition I have of that book there are these German stamps with Himler’s head on. These stamps were posted through neutral territories to try to create a rumour that Himler had these stamps printed up in preparation for a coup in which he’d depose Hitler, so the idea was that rumour would demoralise loyal rank and file Nazis and maybe even create divisions in the Nazi leadership. This was the theory behind it. The other Ellic Howe book in this area is Astrology and Psychological Warfare During World War II. Howe was an expert on print and print techniques, so he was involved in the production of this fake early edition of Nostrodamus, so when you hear people talking about how fantastic Nostrodamus was at prediction, the prophecy people really love is the one in which he predicted Hitler. He calls him Hisler, and the prophecy is about Hisler’s rise and fall, and occult cranks often fall back on this one to prove that prediction works, but that’s not actually a Nostrodamus prediction, it’s British intelligence propaganda. That prediction first appears in this fake early edition of Nostrodamus produced during World War 2, and which was then republished in endless other editions.
BD: (laughs) Was that done to make us feel good and that we were going to beat Hitler?
SH: It was smuggled into Nazi occupied territories to demoralise Hitler’s supporters.
BD: But it works for us too, because it says we will win.
SH: So Shingle Street also has this historical association with this black propaganda rumour about flame warfare…
BD: If it had worked were they going to encircle the whole of the British Isles with the flame defences?
SH: I would have thought it was unfeasible to encircle the whole of the British Isles with these weapons even if they had worked. They’d have probably gone for key stretches of coast.
BD: I know that but it almost sounds like when Regean was getting into the Star Wars thing, it would somehow completely defend the whole of America with these weapons. It sounds like that. We could make this thing that completely defends the whole of Britain.
SH: Exactly, make ourselves invincible. What I also like about going to Shingle Street because I’m interested in black propaganda, I’m not so interested in military history or technology, but I’m really interested in propaganda, and why the British excel at it, being deceitful people I guess if one could take the idea of Britishness seriously, but that’s something I have trouble with. On the one hand at Shingle Street in terms of military history you have the Martello Towers and they’re very solid, and on the other hand you have this invisible history that shapes the place today to do with bomb testing and flame warfare and black propaganda. So because of that hidden history you have no real public amenities, no pub. Shingle Street basically consists of a row of what are now mainly holiday homes. The pub that was there up to the war doesn’t exist because it was demolished…
BD: Bomber Harris decided it shouldn’t be there…
SH: Yeah, and it was never rebuilt. The only public amenities are a telephone box, a post box and a couple of litter bins.
BD: Is this good or bad?
SH: I don’t know.
BD: Do you think the evils of Bomber Harris getting rid of the pub is worse than…
SH: No, I think the firebombing of Dresden was a lot worse. Getting rid of the pub probably discourages too many people from going down there, or as many people as might go there. We had to stop in Woodbridge on the way to get our beans on toast or whatever in a café there. But what I like is that the evidence of the activity there by the military during World War 2 is an absence rather than a presence, which is very different to the very solid, very palpable, nineteenth-century military architecture in terms of the Martello Towers. I like a history that is present because of an absence, I like that about Shingle Street.
BD: I wonder whether a thousand years earlier if the Anglo-Saxons living around here would have had their equivalent defences against the Vikings?
SH: I presume they would have had some kind of defence, it would have been less elaborate…
BD: I wonder if the, what was the word you used, deceit? No.
SH: It is deceit. I wonder why British Intelligence above all other intelligence services excels at it. The trouble with deceitfulness, of course, is that it’s loaded. So if you excel at deceiving other people, then you probably also excel at deceiving yourself, hence all the double agents, Kim Philby and all that stuff. But I think the British are generally considered to be very good at propaganda, and in particular black propaganda.
BD: Is that why in Hollywood films the Englishman, as opposed to the Scottish or the Welsh or the Irish, is so often there as the villain? But not just a straightforward American villain, or Italian American villain, but it’s this more deceitful character…
SH: I guess it’s partly that, but it also has another historical root in the American War of Independence. I guess it’s also an ‘other’, but an alien that isn’t so alien. It’s more scary because it’s closer to the American national stereotype given WASP dominance in the USA.
BD: Okay, if you say it’s in the culture it’s not in the blood, what’s in our culture that makes us better, not better spies, more deceitful and better at black propaganda when we put ourselves over, and on the surface we like to think of ourselves as the most honest of the European nations…
SH: I would have thought the Scandinavians in terms of national stereotyping would have been thought of as more honest than the English. I think it partly goes back to the fact that England was the first industrialised nation, the first to make that all important shift from the formal to the real domination of capital. Which again relates to the rural as an ideological construct, because you don’t just have towns that are industrialised, the entire nation state, the countryside as well as urban areas are industrialised. If you go back to key moments…
BD: The enclosures were totally English…
SH: If you go back to Shakespeare and the literary cannon, the fact that under Elizabeth I you basically had a police state under Walsingham, so that writers couldn’t always come out with a straightforward opinion, take for example Marlowe whose often viewed as developing the modern tragic play, which Shakespeare perfected. So you’re left with the question, what is the real message of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus? There’s the convenient moral ending, but was he actually an atheist? Is the message of Doctor Faustus ultimately atheistical? There’s also with Marlowe the whole question of him being potentially a spy and whatever else. But then there’s the matter of Ben Johnson being imprisoned for co-authoring The Isle of Dogs, a lost play. You couldn’t straightforwardly state your opinions without risk. England had one of the first effectively totalitarian regimes and we now venerate a lot of literature which is not necessarily easy to read outside of the context of that regime, which was constructed precisely so that it could be read in two ways.
BD: So you skipped straight from Shakespeare into Marlowe, but why were you perceiving Shakespeare as propaganda? And is it propaganda for those in power or is it there to undermine those in power?
SH: I think the ambiguity is stronger in Marlowe. Shakespeare appears to be largely propaganda for those in power at the time. But I was just pulling out that whole Elizabethan literary culture, which I don’t want to reduce to Shakespeare, because I think that, for example, Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller is an early picaresque novel that everyone should have read. Shakespeare appears within a cultural context and I don’t want to privilege Shakespeare to the degree that other people might or to the degree to which he was privileged when I studied English at school.
BD: Are you aware of the whole promotional thing that’s going on at the moment trying to make Shakespeare relevant to kids? Sixty Second Shakespeare.
SH: No, I’m not.
BD: There’s a huge huge campaign from the BBC at the moment trying to promote Shakespeare and trying to do with him what they did with the Cantebury Tales a couple of years ago, putting Shakespeare stories in a modern context, and they’re working with schools up and down the land getting children to come up with each of the Shakespeare stories in sixty seconds. So do you think this is good or this is bad?
SH: What people today often forget is that Shakespeare himself was pretty much forgotten in the seventeenth century, he had to be rediscovered. Maybe it would be a good thing to forget him again for a while. He isn’t necessarily this icon he’s sometimes perceived to be. I’d prefer to see him understood in a broader context. So I’d say from how you’re describing this campaign that overall it is bad. I also can’t understand why anyone would read Neville Coghill or whoever’s translation of Chaucer into modern English, because to me a lot of the interest lies in the language, and Middle English is not difficult for a modern English reader to read. If you want to go back and read Anglo-Saxon, that starts getting difficult. But Chaucer is very easy to read.
BD: When I was at school I loved Shakespeare and I was really bad at school, useless at near enough everything, and failed both my English language and literature O-levels, and that’s not some sort of badge of honour, but that didn’t stop myself or my friends loving Shakespeare, and I often look back and ask why did we like this? But we did. Partly because it was hard to understand. It was just a working class school n Corby, on the council estate, but for whatever reason we liked Shakespeare. We liked the word play. Whether it was propaganda or not.
SH: And the blood and guts as well…
BD: Maybe the blood and guts, but it was just the put downs.
SH: I liked all the archaic swear words: ‘splood’ and ‘zounds’.
BD: Which just didn’t seem to exist elsewhere.
SH: But my experience of Shakespeare at school was very different. Like you I went to school on a large council estate, so in my year there were seven classes, two of whom did O-levels, three of whom took the less academic and less valued CSE, and two of whom were remedial classes for kids considered incapable of taking exams. The remedial classes were basically for the kids from the children’s home and for the Muslim kids who’d moved to the UK as non-English speakers, so they were being taught English. It was pretty extraordinary that although a lot of the Muslim kids were very bright, none of the Muslim boys were in the two top classes, the O-level classes. There was the odd Muslim girl in the O-level classes, but considering about twenty-five percent of the school children but none of the teachers were Muslim, there was blatant discrimination going on against the Muslim pupils, and against the kids from the children’s home. Although I was in the O-level class, the English teacher had hit upon the marvellous idea of doing Associated Examining Board, so this enabled us not to do Shakespeare. After having been streamed into O-levels, alongside the rest of the class I was informed by the English teacher we weren’t doing Shakespeare because we were all too thick to understand it.
BD: (laughs) Well they were wrong.
SH: So obviously the teacher concerned didn’t feel great about working in this particular school, but Shakespeare was a stick to beat us with and a way to make out we were stupid.
BD: But then if you didn’t read Shakespeare at school, when did you do Chaucer? Did you just read it recently?
SH: I left school at sixteen. Everyone did, there wasn’t a Sixth Form in our school at that time. I spent a year on the dole and then I went and did one year A-levels at technical college, so I did English Literature and I loved Chaucer and I can still remember some of it now from doing A-level English.
BD: I’ve never done Chaucer.
SH: So I went on to read off my own bat, more Chaucer, Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, The Peal and all sorts of other stuff…
BD: I’m going to get some wine now.
SH: I’ll just carry on alone.
BD: I won’t be able to hear you.
SH: I was reading these alleged literary classics on the one hand, and on the other I was reading pulp fiction. I guess I decided what I didn’t like was the classic novel, your Charles Dickens, those huge nineteenth-century bourgeois novels starting with stuff like Richardson’s Pamela, that development of a certain subjectivity, so what I did like was Samuel Becket, or Alain Robbe-Grillet or William Burroughs, as well as all the medieval stuff and Mickey Spillane, but the paradigmatic bourgeois nineteenth-century novel I couldn’t stand.
BD: (pouring wine) I haven’t read them so I wouldn’t know, but no, no, no, another thing we all liked at school was Anthony Trollope, and you can’t get more bourgeois and nineteenth-century than that. It was The Warden, I’m getting off the point here, we’re doing the rural issue. Maybe a fundamental difference between you and me is that when I got into the beats and that whole thing it was the Jack Kerouac side. He seemed to embrace the out there world, the world beyond the city limits. But what you’re talking about, the William Burroughs, he’s never celebrating the out there for him it is the city, the urban.
SH: No and I guess through a lot of the punk stuff I liked, even if you want to take the most crass bands from 1977, the Vibrators singing ‘W1 is pretty but you’re a better sight’. The West End of London, West One is pretty but you’re a better sight. Or The Boys Living In The City. Or The Clash singing ‘I’m going to live in the city, even when my house burns down’, I always loved that in Hate & War.
BD: I didn’t listen to the lyrics. There are very few lyrics from all that punk thing that really stuck in my head.
SH: I liked that urban thing, and I liked those New York bands too who were very urban. I guess the Dead Boys were from Cleveland orginally, but urban. I liked The Dictators and The Heartbreakers too.
BD: I thought you were too young for that, that you got into it second wave.
SH: No, I’m not a huge fan of the Sex Pistols, but I got into that strand of music in 1976. I liked Northern Soul, there was a huge Northern Soul obsession in my school. Kids used to go up to Wigan and all that from the south.
BD: I didn’t know that.
SH: It was a huge working class thing around London.
BD: I knew it was a working class thing but I didn’t know it effected southern kids.
SH: That’s why I used the title Tainted Love for my current novel, not because I’m a fan of Soft Cell, not that I have any problem with Mark Almond but he hasn’t exactly got Gloria Jones’s voice.
BD: No.
SH: Mark Almond was a smart man, he picked a great song, but he didn’t make the best version of it, but he had the hit. I had a real attraction to all those old Guy Stevens British Sue label records. I used to pick them up off market stalls for next to nothing. Just getting You Can’t Sit Down by the Phil Upchurch Combo, I don’t know how old I was, maybe thirteen, I just couldn’t believe how good it was, I’d never heard anything like it. I loved it. But the way I got into the punk thing, I quite liked some of the glam bands…
BD: I think we should keep talking about Northern Soul first.
SH: I was just trying to bring it back to where I left off from.
BD: No, no. Northern Soul for me, I just cannot believe how it is still going on. I was at art school when it was kicking in. My generation at art school, they hated progressive rock by then, what 1971, 1972? We were all above progressive rock, we’d all cut our hair, and we were all waiting five years for punk to happen without realising that’s what we were doing. At the same time as this waiting around for punk to happen, they wouldn’t embrace Northern Soul.
SH: That’s sad. I had a lot of problems with punks in the late seventies, because they didn’t think it was cool to like Northern Soul.
BD: Northern Soul is absolutely fantastic. I went to foundation college when I was seventeen, eighteen, in Northampton. There was a great record shop for Northern Soul. It just had rack upon rack upon rack of seven inch singles with labels you’d never heard of or seen before. In my head Major Lance, he was the superstar.
SH: I was younger than you, so what I was hearing probably wasn’t as obscure. Major Lance wasn’t obscure, but there was that whole drive to find the most obscure tune, the most obscure release, that drive towards obscurity that parallels punk in a lot of ways. Like when you went to see the punk bands, you’d go to see them when they played the 100 Club or The Marquee or Notre Dame Hall or The Nashville or The Hope and Anchor or whatever small venue it was, but the minute they started playing larger concert halls you’d just find some other band to go and see. Then disco became the big thing for the less hip kids, the ones that weren’t as much into obscurity as the Northern Soul fanatics.
BD: If we’re going to be totally anal, blokes of a certain age talking about music, about their youth. There’s another thing going on in that early seventies period through to when punk broke that I really really love, coz the Northern Soul was all looking back to records that were maybe made ten years earlier, but the records that were being made then that I really loved were all the TK Records, which was a label from Miami, Betty Wright.
SH: Clean Up Woman.
BD: Yeah.
SH: I remember the first time I heard that, which was because I used to like T. Rex. Marc Bolan was on Capitol Radio or something playing his favourite records, he played Clean Up Woman, I just couldn’t believe it, what a great number.
BD: It was fantastic.
SH: And he married Gloria Jones. The man’s taste was impeccable whatever you think of his releases.
BD: I didn’t know you liked Clean Up Woman. I’m sounding like a muso, but the guitar parts! I went to see her live once, her brother was the MD of the band, they had three guitarists as well as the bass player.
SH: I know this guy, DJ he’s called, he’s actually the son of Lawrence James a pulp novelist who I knew who wrote the Mick Norman Hells Angels books alongside about one hundred and fifty others. DJ has made me these tapes of obscure soul records from his brother’s collection and sometimes he doesn’t know what they are, so there are just question marks on the listings. So I’d say this one’s the Detroit Emeralds and this one’s that. He’d be totally flabbergasted, so I’d say this isn’t obscure, they were doing it on Top Of The Pops when I was a kid, but I love the record. So one of his question mark tracks was Clean Up Woman, so with that one I could even tell him when I first heard it, Marc Bolan spinning it at the height of his fame. Have you heard the Gloria Jones disco version of Get It On?
BD: No.
SH: One of the few credible covers of a T. Rex song.
BD: I do remember from 1969, before Marc Bolan was a pop star, the NME was doing Christmas presents for people, it was Tyrannosaurus Rex then…
SH: The old hippie acoustic songs.
BD: Don’t knock it, it was fantastic. And the NME’s joke Christmas present, it would be the most unlikely thing that Marc Bolan would ever want, was a brass section. Their fictitious Christmas gift to Marc Bolan was a brass section…
SH: But that’s how he got Gloria Jones in T. Rex. He’s was trying to go for that more soulful sound to try to break America…
BD: Within two years he was having brass sections and things within the records. But to move back now to punk, although we haven’t covered the whole of the soul thing.
SH: There’s a lot more to soul than there is to punk.
BD: But what was the first punk record you ever bought?
SH: Depends what you call punk.
BD: Or heard and thought this is what I’ve been waiting for.
SH: That’s exactly what I was saying. The charts in the mid-seventies got pretty tedious, so you were moving over towards these soul records, after 72, 73. I liked the glam thing. I liked The Sweet. Dare I say it, I bought Rock & Roll Parts 1& 2 before it was a hit, Gary Glitter’s first chart success, because I used to listen to Alan Freeman playing the new releases on a Sunday. He played that before it hit the charts. He played that when I was, I dunno, when did that come out? 1972? When I was ten? I was one of the people who turned Gary Glitter into a star, what can you say? The man who according to the Daily Mirror the other day faces death by execution squad for having sex with an underage girl in Vietnam. I liked Mott The Hoople as well.
BD: They weren’t glam.
SH: They were kind of on the edge of it to me. I turned on So It Goes, the old Tony Wilson TV show in 76 to see Mott The Hopple or Mott as I think they were called then, and they had the Sex Pistols on, August 1976, this was their first TV appearance before they had a record out. I wasn’t sure about the sound of the music but I just liked the attitude with Jordan throwing a chair across the stage. One of them had a portrait of Karl Marx either on their guitar or their shirt or something, so I thought that was pretty cool. So that’s when I started buying the music press, and finding out about punk rock and discovering Patti Smith’s Horses. I said started buying the music press, but I used to walk into the shop, fold the music papers up, place them under my arm and walk out without paying. Getting Horses and discovering The Stooges and The Flamin’ Groovies.
BD: Did you like Shake Some Action?
SH: I liked Shake Some Action a lot, but what I really liked was the earlier albums..
BD: When they had long hair?
SH: Yeah, Teenage Head.
BD: I fucking hated that, it wasn’t until Shake Some Action that I liked them.
SH: Do you know that tune Yesterday’s Numbers on Teenage Head?
BD: I do, yeah.
SH: That’s a great tune.
BD: Yeah.
SH: You can’t knock that.
BD: You’re right.
SH: To me that is actually better than Shake Some Action. I saw them when I was supposed to be revising for my O-levels. It was the night before I did my history O-level which I still passed. It was with Radio Birdman supporting, June 1978 I suppose.
BD: I liked the hat. The guitarist used to wear a tram conductor’s hat from San Francisco.
SH: When I was first getting into the punk thing, it was a matter of getting Lou Reed records and Velvets records, because the new groups didn’t have any records out, again it was a matter of going backwards until the new records started coming out.
BD: I remember seeing this picture of Johnny Rotten about two inches high and it was in the Melody Maker. This was in early 76. There was something about his face that made me think, whatever that is, that’s good. But then I went to see them in the autumn of 76, they came to Liverpool and they played and they were just completely shite. I was so disappointed. I wanted them to be something.
SH: I think the records are dreadful, they’re over produced rock records, they’re really dull.
BD: Absolutely. I saw this picture, I thought they were going to be something, and they weren’t it. At least what I saw was this completely crap band playing, and there’s something good about that. When the records came out they were just as you said these over produced rock records.
SH: You can contrast that to the greatness of the first Clash album. The cover of Police and Thieves is abysmal but other than that the first Clash album is brilliant because it sounds like its not produced but you start listening to what Mick Jones is doing on the guitar and he’s actually spent a lot of time working all that out. But they manage to make it sound on first impression lie it’s just thrown together and completely unproduced.
BD: Because I don’t listen to any lyrics, I like the first two Damned singles.
SH: I thought the Damned with Brian James were brilliant.
BD: New Rose and Neat, Neat, Neat. I don’t know which one came first.
SH: It was New Rose with Help on the B-side, and then Neat, Neat, Neat.
BD: For me those two records captured that kind of energy. Have we done punk now?
SH: We’re done punk, we can forget about it.
BD: I was going to ask you about you and punk? When did you decide you should be a singer?
SH: I always wanted to be a singer, at least since I first saw Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops, but my voice is shit so…
BD: A punk singer.
SH: I started off playing bass, the first band I played in that actually gigged was a band called The Molotovs, which was 79 and it was a ska revival band. I’d got a cheap electric guitar in 78, I was learning the guitar and then this guy I knew Sniff who’d been in this punk band called Revolt, who’d split up and he was forming a new band, he said do you wanna be my bass player. I said I’ve never played bass and I don’t have a bass. Sniff said no problem, I’ll show you want to play and you can use my bass. So I was in this ska band to start with.
BD: So you’re like Sid Vicious out of the Pistols.
SH: Although I’m not the world’s greatest musician, I think I was a little better than Sid. It was frustrating, I was playing bass and I wasn’t getting enough attention. Then I formed a new band, and I wanted this 77 style punk band, although we’d got into 1980 and that wasn’t fashionable. I’d wanted to have a punk band since 76, 77, so I wanted that brickwall punk sound. So we started off doing that. Original songs and covers of stuff like Gloria, but mainly original songs with my stupid 77 lyrics. But then I ended up switching into another band and playing guitar because I always thought I didn’t get enough attention playing bass. It didn’t sattisfy my level of egotism.
BD: It depends if you wanna be Paul Simenon in The Clash, and you want to be the one that all the girls go for.
SH: I had perfected that thing of slamming out chords on the bass so you could do those Pete Townsend windmill arm swings, but I thought I really want to do this on the guitar. My problem was I could play rhythm guitar okay but I was never going to be a great lead guitarist. When I stopped playing rhythm and started playing lead I just put everything together backwards. It seemed to sound vaguely alright but it was completely wrong at the same time.
BD: So you weren’t the singer?
SH: I never got to be the singer.
BD: I just assumed that because you went on to become a writer and it was all about ideas and stuff.
SH: I used to write the song lyrics a lot of the time in the bands, I didn’t sing them. I was doing the back up vocals. When I recorded the CD of my old punk songs in 1996, some of which date back to 79, I sang them then. That was because the guys I did it with from a garage revival band who liked my songs, they took me into the studio they used and said I had to sing. They’d heard an old live tape of one of my bands and said your songs are hilarious you have to record them properly. They said come into Toe-Rag where we record and we’ll just lay them down. I replied I haven’t played guitar for about seven years. They said that’s no problem, we’ve got a guitar. They lent me this very expensive semi-acoustic Gibson, which I didn’t particularly like because I couldn’t get the sound I wanted with it. So I ended up looking in a music shop window, and there was this electric blue and very cheap secondhand Strat copy, which is what you need with a 100 Watt HH combo to get that 77 punk sound. It’s just perfect. Startocasters are great, but a good cheap copy is just right, I love them. So I bought this guitar and it was like thirty quid or something ridiculous, so I bought a used guitar and we did four rehearsals and went into the studio. I got a few blisters on my fingers, but it soon comes back because three chord thud isn’t difficult to play. The guys I did it with said you have to sing. I’d wanted to put it out as The Teenage Pricks. I’d wanted to use that name for a long time. This band I’d had in the eighties I’d wanted to call The Teenage Pricks, but the girl who sang said we’re not teenager and we’re not all pricks. So she wouldn’t let me use it then. She called herself Dolly Zippy and both her brother’s were professional musicians. She had a really good voice but wasn’t confident about putting songs together. So I’d write these songs and show her how to sing them, so she’d sing them with a really strong voice but to my completely ridiculous limitations. So when I went and sang the songs myself in the mid-nineties, I thought this is my chance to use the name Teenage Pricks. But the guys I did it with persuaded me I was known as a writer so it was better to do it under my own name. Originally the CD was to be called The Teenage Pricks Come In Your Face. I never got to use the name Teenage Pricks but I always wanted to.
BD: That would have been good. Before me and my friends formed my first band, I had a few fantasy bands and my first punk fantasy band was called Eva Braun and Her Boyfriends.
SH: Hitler’s girlfriend.
BD: Was it just Eva and Her Boyfriends? It was basically that, of course, it was just a joke name.
SH: I wanted to be able to sing like Aretha Franklin or even Ann Peebles, I was always distraught that I couldn’t sound like a female soul diva.
BD: Something else that you said, so I’ve got to get this anecdote in. I remember being totally disappointed by the Pistols, and wanted to really like them. Then The Clash, I was up in Liverpool then, and Eric’s Club was the club that I used to go to. The Clash, it was the 5th of May 77, the punk thing was happening before I saw The Clash. The Clash come on stage and I was hating them. It was the clothes they were wearing, I just thought this is all made up. One of them had all red on, one of them had all white on. Then the light, bam! These huge lights coming on. Then they started and I loved it, I thought it was fantastic. You were saying they were crap live, that night they were fantastic. This is going to sound totally pretentious but it was a spiritual experience. It was almost in that white light, and in their sound, and in their crap clothes, I was seeing this white light and thinking this is it, God is speaking to me, it’s almost that sort of vibe. In the pub afterwards, some friends of mine who were in a band called Deaf School, they were off to America to tour and hiring equipment over there. Two of my friends were their road crew, and Clive who was friend of ours who was the guitarist in Deaf School said why don’t you lot form a band? You use our equipment and form a band. So we decided to form a band that night. My beginning, seeing The Clash that night, and I’d learnt to play guitar when I was fifteen or something, but that was the first night of thinking yep we’re going to do this. And then it could have been 83, 84, I saw The Clash, I was managing Echo and the Bunnymen and I was staying in New York at the Gramercy Park Hotel, where The Clash were also staying. I’d become friends with Bernie Rhodes who was their evil manager. Sort of friends, he was just somebody I knew but he’d always talk to me. And they were doing a series of nights, and The Clash by then had become quite big in America. They’d supported The Who on some big tour, and were breaking America. They were doing this series of nights at this big night club called Bonds, I think it was Bonds. Night after night after night. And I went along and they were just the most dreadful, boring, they’d discovered dope, they were just smoking dope all the time and the whole reggae thing had just completely taken over. It was just horrible. That night I got taken by a record company person to a black gay club called Gayrage or something, and it was totally New York decadent gay black over the top, big piles of fruit everywhere, these kind of weird lights, and Chakakhan came on and she did a PA and I’d never heard of this idea of somebody just getting on stage and singing to the backing track. And it was so much more exciting, there was so much more electricity, so much more everything, all these black gays going completely wild, than The Clash had. I just thought its all over, all that. It wasn’t even as late as that. It wasn’t even 83, it must have been 81 or 82. I just thought forget rock music. That for me was the night that I went back to that pre-punk thing that I was into.
SH: Northern soul.
BD: Thinking it’s gone and I’ve got to get out of this. I was the only white guy in there, and I don’t know if I was the only straight bloke in the place. It was equally as strong a moment as when I first saw The Clash. That’s the point I’m trying to make. Then I’m seeing The Clash for the second time and it was just rubbish, it was as rubbish as all the rubbish punk was supposedly against, the ELPs and the Yes prog bands before punk.
SH: I hated The Clash when they went into that mainstream rock mode. I just liked the first album. I didn’t think they were that good live. I went to see the Manic Street Preachers at some point when they were still playing in pubs, you read in the NME its like going to see The Clash for the first time. I thought actually going to see The Clash for the first time wasn’t that great but I could get what they were saying. So I went to see the Manics in The Richmond in Brighton, I can’t remember what date it was, I came out and I thought metaphorically, although it wasn’t as good, it was more like going to see 999 for the tenth time.
BD: You haven’t seen 999 more than one time have you?
SH: I saw them loads of times because you just used to go and see whatever bands were playing.
BD: That’s terrible.
SH: It’s not because you liked them, it was just because everyone went. It was about the scene, it wasn’t about the band.
BD: But 999 it took just one time to see them, you knew these guys were from a different generation, they really wanted to be proper rock people from the generation before. And it just didn’t happen for them so they were trying to do it punk.
SH: Sure, but they’d be on all these multi-punk band gigs, so you’d just go.
BD: At least with Charlie Harper…
SH: He was hilarious…
BD: Right, he was from something else (laughs)…
SH: He was a hairdresser, interested in young girls, a touch of the Gary Glitters.
BD: He was great, Live In A Car.
SH: B1C, which was the old dole form. Warhead, (I Wanna Be) Teenage. I saw the UK Subs loads of times. I can remember some riots at their gigs, huge plate glass windows getting smashed in.
BD: The UK Subs were loads better than 999. In my head 999 were just kinda a record company version of something, we can take this and even the American kids can like it.
SH: I’d see a lot of bands that I didn’t necessarily like that much in the late seventies because it was just a scene. Of course I’d go and see bands I liked but because of the way the whole billing thing worked, you might be going to see the support band. Or you’d have that thing, it was at The Roundhouse and then they moved it to The Lyceum, the Sunday night punk gigs and there’d be like three or four or five bands.
BD: I’ve gotta go for a piss now, shall we just leave it running?
SH: We’ll just leave it running, I’ll keep talking. So you’d see all sorts of bands who you might not think much about at the time but later on people would be going wow you saw them! I saw, and I think it was on one of those Lyceum gigs, I saw Destroy All Monsters around the time Cherry Red released You’re Gonna Die backed with Bored. You had Ron and Scott Ashton out of The Stooges in the band, I’m not sure if Mike Kelly whose now famous as an artist was still in the band at the time. But now there are people who just can’t believe I saw Destroy All Monsters 25 years-ago. Not that many people were interested then. You know, it would be Wire one night and UK Subs the next. But now I get that reaction from young kids that I gave in the seventies when someone told me they’d seen the Velvets or the Stooges. When I was 15 and I met some older American who’d seen those bands I’d go oh wow, what was it like? And now I’m getting that reaction about bands I used to see when I was a kid. You mention that you used to go and see Wire back in the seventies. So you get these twenty year olds saying what was it like? It was just another night out, coz I used to go four gigs and week and you’d see who knows how many bands, because they’d always be at least two on the bill and sometimes there’d be five or more.
BD: Are Wire considered a cool band now?
SH: They seem to be, they seem to be one of the ones that most impress young indie kids when I talk to them about what I used to go and see in the seventies. When you say I used to go and see Ultravox before they had hits and John Foxx was the singer, I never saw them with Midge Ure, young kids aren’t so impressed. I’d go and see anything. I went to see The Fall. I remember seeing The Fall when Bingo Masters Break Out came out, they were at The Marquee with a bunch of fans, and I thought they were absolutely awful. Then I saw them about a year later at The Lyceum, they played with Stiff Little Fingers, probably 1979, billed as ‘the gig of the century ‘,and the audience hated them because the audience was there to see Stiff Little Fingers, and The Fall were just absolutely marvellous because they dragged out Repetition to annoy the audience. Living around London you’d just see so many bands because you could just go into the centre of town, and you might go to The Marquee and that would finish by 11pm, and then you could go up to The Music Machine, which became the Camden Palace in the eighties, or The Global Village under the arches at Charing Cross which became Heaven, and at those places the main band came on a midnight, so you could catch two shows in two different venue in one night.
BD: Do we just sound like men of a certain age talking about our punk glory days?
SH: Yeah. But it wasn’t just music. In London the other thing you did was go to the Scala.
BD: (laughs) You’re not going to listen to me, you’re just going to carry on.
SH: (laughs). No, not just punk, it’s also about all that film culture, that’s what I’m talking about.
BD: Yeah, of course.
SH: The Scala was originally on Tottenham Street off Tottenham Court Road, so if you were on that route between Soho and Camden it was kind of on the way. You had the all nighters there, and you had a lot of punks who’d go to there.
BD: Obviously you’re right. Coz me living in Liverpool and being in a band that rehearsed at Eric’s, and I used to work on stage security at Eric’s, and do the maintenance, like if they needed a wall knocking down, because I used to work on building sites, so I do that, I’d do the get ins, I saw every sodding band that went through, so I saw them as many times. Actually I’ll only have seen 999 once. I would see everybody and do the stage security or do the whatever it was. Why was I saying this, what’s the point?
SH: It’s just like a scene, a thing you do, you might see a band that you don’t even like that much quite a few times because you’re mates went to see that band and because it was in this multi-band format. For example, I didn’t like the Au Pairs, but I saw them quite a few times, or The Delta 5, or a lot of those bands that I thought appealed to middle-class rock critics, whereas you’d see a band like Adam and the Ants when they were a hardcore punk band, who I used to absolutely love, and these middle class critics would accuse them of being fascists and Nazis. I’d think this was utterly bizarre because you had this band with a drummer Dave Barbie who was half-African and half-Jewish, and a singer whose at least partly Romany, but the fact of the matter was they were working class, and worse than that they had aspirations to a certain cultural significance, Adam had been to art school and whatever. They just didn’t have the right attitude and all those horrible middle-class music critics just used to slam them.
BD: Because I’m that much older than you, I suppose it’s the same then as all the festivals I went to. Late sixties and early seventies, so I would see all of those bands on all the bills, see them time and time again. So now I can look back, you know how you were saying about how young people might be impressed by you having seen Wire. Actually the band I was in was called Big In Japan, the only band fight we ever had between one band and another was with Wire. We were supporting them but they pissed us off about something, so we just shoved them all down the stairs, even though we were like girl front singer and two of us were gay, we just thought they were a bunch of nancy boys. They were far straighter sexually as a band than we were but we just kicked them all down the stairs.
SH: I thought they were hilarious because it was like people thought there was some really big intellectual thing going on, and it was just this huge joke for them.
BD I don’t know what they sounded like. I just know we had this fight with them, we were throwing chairs at them. Before that when I was a lot younger and I was going to festivals in the late sixties, early seventies, I would see all those things. So now the fact that I’ve seen Jimi Hendrix, and he was shit, I’ve seen The Doors and they were shit.
SH: This friend of mine was telling me about going to see The Doors, a guy called George whose originally from Footdee in Aberdeen, the harbour area. He was down in London, part of the time just living in The Arts Lab and stuff like that, living on the street, and he went to see The Doors, he was totally tripped out.
BD: What at The Roundhouse?
SH: At The Roundhouse, two shows, so he went to both shows, and it was like he enjoyed the first show but the second show was exactly the same and he was thinking this is just completely shite, they’re doing exactly the same show.
BD: Yeah (laughs) they’re just cabaret. I didn’t see that show, there were some lads in the year above me who went down to see them at The Roundhouse, but I didn’t see them till the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 which was just before he went off to Paris to die. That’s where I saw Jimi Hendrix, and he was shtie as well.
SH: It’s just odd talking to younger kids who might be obsessed with whatever, and you’ve realised when you’ve got a bit older that actually you’re a certain age and you lived through a certain time and you saw what you saw because you lived in a certain place. So I was kinda lucky being around London because you could see more there. But it wasn’t so extraordinary.
BD: (picking up ringing phone) Sam, Sam. Fine, fine. So Ben told me the score and he told me about five… (voice trails off as Drummond walks out of room).
SH: So we seem to have moved a long way from the rural but I guess it’s because I can only understand the rural in relation to the urban. I don’t think you can differentiate between the two things. But at the same time with all that rock culture, you see it consumed in all sorts of environments, including so called rural environments. If you visit or live in a house out in the country you might very well find records that are very much the product of an urban environment because there is no longer any real distinction between the countryside and the city, if there ever was. (Drummond returns) So we’ve got the effects of technology going on here with the mobiles going off, and Bill’s just going to plug his back in to recharge the battery. I guess we’re trying to talk about the rural but we keep coming back to the urban.
BD: Okay, we’re gonna go to the rural, we’re gonna forget all about this rock and roll, we’re not Mojo.
SH: Its sad isn’t it but when you’re at the train station going somewhere and you want to buy a magazine or a book to read…
BD: You don’t buy Mojo do you?
SH: Sometimes.
BD: (laughs) You mustn’t do that, you must never read these things. That’s bad.
SH: You see the free CD on the front and…
BD: No! No!
SH: …you see one track on there you like and don’t have, so you think I hope its not some dodgy live recording.
BD: (laughs) I want to get back to the rural. I want to get back to when you where saying William Burroughs and I’m going Jack Kerouac, and from Jack Kerouac I go Jack London, do you know Jack London?
SH: Yeah.
BD: Late nineteenth-century. Then Ken Kesey…
SH: I met Ken Kesey, I did a reading with him, in fact weren’t you…
BD: I was there!
SH: He was totally nuts. He was with Ken Babs, they couldn’t focus on anything. Did you actually read that night, because I remember that I went out, it was in Filthy MacNasties, and Paul Smith had organised the reading because he’d done the King Mob CDs, and the place was completely surrounded by hippie, Ken Babs, Ken Kesey, Merry Prankster fans. I went out and just got all this abuse, and I was actually banned from reading in the pub. The landlord was having some business meeting upstairs or something, and the hippies hated me and they noisily expressed their hate towards me, and I expressed mine back but louder because I had a microphone and a PA. I had a great time, I really enjoyed it.
BD: Good.
SH: Then Iain Sinclair wouldn’t go on because of the antagonism between the audience and the readers, so Babs and Kesey went on.
BD: They were rubbish. The hippies were rubbish, Ken Kesey was rubbish. The thing I was wanting to get to, Sometimes A Great Notion, which was one of his books, was for some reason my favourite all time book. I don’t know why, I look back and think why was that then. But that was totally about the rural, and to go back to Ted Hughes, which obviously you’ll just think is some middle-class twaddle from up north.
SH: (laughs) I’m not a fan of Ted Hughes.
BD: When I discovered Ted Hughes at some point in my twenties when punk was happening, that’s when I discovered Ted Hughes, so when you were getting into all these punk lyrics about the inner city environment, I discovered Ted Hughes and I just thought this is fantastic. I’d never read poetry, never been interested in poetry, but Ted Hughes’s poetry was all about the rural, it wasn’t about the human condition, it wasn’t about relationships…
SH: I preferred Spike Hawkins, which goes back to Liverpool. Do you know Pig Poem and stuff like that?
BD: Who? What?
SH: Spike Hawkins.
BD: What’s that?
SH: Underground poet from the sixties who did all these crazy surreal poems like Pig Poem: ‘Pig get into the strainer, pig get into the strainer, I must have my pig tea’
BD: What’s that got to do with Ted Hughes?
SH: Ted Hughes would do poems about animals including pigs probably…
BD: He did do pigs.
SH: Because when you say Ted Hughes the word ‘pig’ comes into my mind. I’ve read him but not since I was teenage and I didn’t like it.
BD: Were you made to read it at school?
SH: I can’t remember why I read it, I used to read a lot of things. I used to read six, seven, eight nine, ten books a week. For my own interest when I was teenage I used to read a hell of a lot, as well as going to see a lot of rock and roll bands. Pig is my immediate verbal association with Ted Hughes.
BD: I just loved it. I know it stinks of becoming, what did he become, you know when you write poems for the Queen?
SH: Poet Laureate. The sort of person who should be executed by the Committee For Public Safety.
BD: Of course. But for me as much as I spent my teenage years on the council estate in Corby, I spent as much time as I could outside in the country. Ted Hughes seemed to relate to animals and the rural in a way that I related to it, and it seemed to be modern.
SH: You know this also brings up images of an inflatable pig above Battersea Power Station.
BD: Why?
SH: Dunno, it’s the pig!
BD: (laughs) That’s terrible. That is when Pink Floyd were completely shite. Now Ummagumma, have you ever listened to Ummagumma?
SH: Yeah, and I like the early stuff with Syd Barrett. I really love Intersteller Overdrive…
BD: And the first Roger Waters stuff is great as well.
SH: I’m not knocking it, I like the soundtrack for More and that period. I’m not knocking films about junkies high-tailing it to Ibiza.
BD: And the other one Obscured By Clouds, have you ever seen that film?
SH: I know the soundtrack, I haven’t seen the film.
BD: French hippies.
SH: I haven’t seen the film.
BD: That’s rural, set in the jungles of Papa New Guinea.
SH: Oh wow!
BD: Have we lost the thread now?
SH: That could be like Cannibal Holocaust or something.
BD: Pardon?
SH: Cannibal Holocaust, do you know that Italian movie?
BD: No.
SH: Which was one of the centrepieces of the video nasty debate alongside I Spit On Your Grave. The Green Inferno, the Amazon.
BD: No.
SH: New Guinea is another favoured location for zombie and cannibal movies. It’s a speciality of Italian horror cinema of the seventies and eighties.
BD: Okay, I’m going to attempt to move forward now. The future. One of the vague things we’ve got in common, we maybe don’t have that much in common, we’ve both been involved in music in some way, and the written word, although I’ve never attempted to write a novel, I do write. We’ve both been involved in the contemporary art thing. Twenty years from now what should be happening in the contemporary arts? No, what should we be doing in twenty years time, what should you be doing and what should I be doing in twenty years time?
SH: It’s hard to say because it depends on what’s going on around us.
BD: I know it’s hard to say that’s why I’m posing the question.
SH: I should still be doing the shit that I’m doing, what I’d like to see is a greater diversity of cultural production. If you look at the art world what’s going on now and what was going on say ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago, I think you can see as much good work in the contemporary visual art world as twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Because it’s a very feudal sector of the cultural industry, patronage, private galleries and it’s very elitist because a lot of the work is produced for a very small audience. Whereas if you look at what’s happening in film or publishing there’s less and less choice, there’s fewer and fewer titles stocked in the bookshops. What the industry is looking for is best-sellers. What all the publishers are trying to do is copy the style of the latest best-seller. You’ve also got this Hollywoodisation of film. What I hope will happen within a lot less than twenty years is that people will be really sick of this…
BD: Hang on, Hollywoodisation of literature you mean.
SH: Of literature and of film. Think of something like Domino, about the actor Laurence Harvey’s daughter Domino Harvey, who became a bail bondswoman and was dead from drugs at the age of thirty-five. This sounds like an interesting subject for a film, a woman who becomes a bounty hunter, but you go and see the movie and its complete shit. I don’t know if you’ve seen Domino?
BD: No.
SH: It came out a month or two ago. But what’s happening with books and film, and probably to a lesser extent music which can escape it to a certain degree. Film entails huge capital investment, books are stitched up in terms of distribution, but I think things have got harder with independent music but there’s a higher mark up on CDs in contrast to books, the profit is greater, which eases the production of a more diverse product. But I don’t think music is great compared to what it used to be. I’m sounding like an old man again.
BD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SH: But even within the contemporary art world where there is still as much good work as twenty or thirty or forty years ago, there is still a problem in that what’s good is now buried by a far greater amount of bad work. The art market and audience for it has expanded, but that expansion has merely served to fuel a boom in bad art. What I’d like to see across the culture industry is a greater diversity and a move away from dominant narratives. I’d like to see a lot more work that is rigorously intellectual and which doesn’t assume the audience is stupid. My assumption is that people who look at my stuff are intelligent. I’m not expecting everybody to be interested in what I do. What I’d like to see is a plurality, more diversity and just for me to carry on Ideally what I’d like to see is a communist revolution, but if that doesn’t happen, if we’re still operating within a capitalist society and culture industry in twenty years time, I’d like to see a push away from corporatisation and the endless closing down of possibilities. Different perspectives and a wide diversity of people doing very different things is what I’d like. I should carry on doing what I’ve been doing but evolve at the same time. It’s often hard to say in advance how the work should evolve.
BD: I’m going stop you here and butt in. You’re in you’re early forties, I’m in my early fifties, so twenty years time, I’m in my early seventies, you’re in your early sixties, do you think anybody’s going to be interested in what we’ll be saying and doing?
SH: It’s very hard to say.
BD: Does it matter?
SH: No.
BD: I know that I’m driven to do what I do. I can’t stop myself, and its one of the things, I’m not trying to bond with you in some huge way here Stewart, I do realise that’s something we kind of share here. We’re both driven to doing things even if the fucking world doesn’t want to know. We’re going to keep pissing in the wind. But there are times when you have to justify it to your family, you have to justify it in some way, but you can’t stop yourself from doing it. I accidentally fell into a certain amount of success, and that gets in the way at times and at other times it seems to… what am I trying to say here? I’m lost now. I do find that interesting, where’s this going? Where’s what we’re doing going? Are we, I don’t know if the ‘we’ just means me and you? Like today, we were saying we’re supposed to document this for the magazine, and so we use a mobile phone with a camera on it, and I think should we be embracing new technology? Is what I’m doing relevant? Or should I just think sod that, and just do what I want to do?
SH: Well it depends on whether the technology enables you to do what you want to do.
BD: Yeah.
SH: I get frustrated, particularly when I’m using a PC to edit film (because they’re so unstable compared to Macs), but I like editing film on computers because it’s a lot less fiddly than chopping it up. Editing super 8 film pisses me off, and the fact that you can do it on a computer greatly pleases me. When you’re running a VHS tape or whatever back and forth on an edit suite, that’s not nearly as easy as doing it on the computer. But what pisses me off is when the computer crashes. But I do like the cleanness of that technology and the fact that it makes life easier when it’s not crashing.
BD: But you’re not on broadband.
SH: No, I’ve still got a dial up account.
BD: Is that some Luddite statement you’re making? Or is it you just can’t afford it right now?
SH: I’ll get a broadband account sometime. What I like is adapting to circumstances. You start of doing something with a goal, but the point of the goal is not to achieve the goal but to have a direction to aim in. You don’t necessarily know where you’re going to end up all the time. You don’t want everything predetermined. For example, the idea that I write a book like I just have called Tainted Love, which is in effect a ghosted autobiography of my mother, that isn’t something I could have predicted. When I started writing novels I was gung ho for writing in the third person. The mistake a lot of people make is that when they start writing fiction they write a roman a clef. The write in the first person and they write what in effect is a thinly fictionalised autobiography. So the idea that I’d end up writing what is in some ways a very personal book about my mother, it’s not something I’d have imagined doing when I wrote my first novel Pure Mania in 1988. In some ways it makes sense, if you think about me writing my mother’s ghosted autobiography as fiction, that’s a pretty strange place to be. But on the surface it looks antithetical to my earlier work. It’s not something that would have occurred to me to do prior to starting work on it towards the end of 2003, I’d evolved to the point where I was ready to do it. Retrospectively it’s very easy to see a kind of logical linear development in anyone’s output of books, what you did you did, but before you get there it’s not necessarily obvious where you’re going. I guess that’s the difference between looking backwards historically, and the uncertainty of being faced with a decision about what you’re going to do. I think history is important, it can help you make those decisions well, but it’s also very different to actually living out your life. I’m interested in you talking about being driven, but when you’re confronted with a choice about what you’re going to do, for example, when you’ve written the books with Zed (Mark Manning), you could have decided to have write about a trip to Tesco but you didn’t. At what point did you decide to go to Finland and go to the lighthouse at the top of the world? How was that determined? What I’m asking is how did you reach that decision?
BD: You’ve just skirted past your new book, which I thought before we started this was what the whole conversation was about, and I’d spend twelve hours talking to you about Tainted Love and what that threw up, and all that. Maybe you think all your books are completely different, but for me Tainted Love was a completely different Stewart Home type of book. It was Stewart Home as a man entering his middle years and looking back, coming to terms with a lot of stuff that’s gone on in your head, which say with 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess, other than the fact that you know Aberdeen, you’d read a load of books and where exploring their ideas, and you knew the stone circles around there, didn’t seem to have much to do with your life. But this was to do with you, it was exploring the pain of being Stewart Home. It also has cross-over potentialities, I’m not saying that’s cynical…
SH: I was confronted with not growing up with my mother and not knowing very much about her, then about five years ago realising I actually knew a lot of people who’d known her who hadn’t realised I was her son, because I had a different name from her. I found myself increasingly fascinated by her…
BD: (phone rings) Hello. (walks away) Okay.
SH: But at the same time as starting to look into my mother’s life, and realising I had the opportunity to do so, because I knew a lot of stuff about the places she’d been. Part of the research into my mother’s life was looking at places she’d worked, like Murray’s Cabaret Club where she’d been part of the group around Christine Keeler, who was at the centre of the Profumo Scandal. Keeler had had an affair with John Profumo, the Tory Minister for War in 1961, at the same time as having some sort of relationship with Eugene Ivanov who was the Soviet Naval attachĂ© in London. When this came out in 63, it was a huge scandal that caused Profumo to resign and also brought down the Conservatives after thirteen years of Tory rule and enabled Harold Wislon’s Labour government to be elected the following year, 1964, with a very small majority. So a part of the research into my mother’s life, which became research for the novel, was reading Keeler’s ghost-written autobiographies, and other ghost-written autobiographies like that of Mandy Rice Davies who was also at the centre of the Profumo Affair, and realising that these ghost-written autobiographies - Keeler has done three - that were written by hack writers, were quite an interesting form, and that my mother who had been dead since 1979 couldn’t actually agree to a ghost-written autobiography but I just felt I’d like to become my mother and explore her life through the form of a fictionalised ghost-written autobiography. (Drummond returns) I was just carrying on while you dealt with that call Bill.
BD: Okay, so you maybe dealt with all this ‘m’ other. Why ‘m’ other? I don’t know if he said this to you while I was out talking to an estate agent, which is a crap thing to admit in a conversation like this but it was what I was doing. The book opens and closes with the introduction and postscript by the fictionalised author where he describes the mother he’s never known as m slash other.
SH: open bracket m close bracket other.
BD: No it wasn’t was it?
SH: It was.
BD: Oh, alright.
SH: (M)other. You have both ‘mother’ and ‘other’ as in ‘the same and the other’.
BD: The what?
SH: It’s po-mo discourse. The ‘other’ is the different, so it’s the different and the same.
BD: Yeah.
SH: I was interested in getting into this quite odd space in relationship to my mother. I was interested in imagining what it was like to be my mother, who was someone I hadn’t known, and I only started to really learn something about her initially through the accident of discovering we’d had friends in common, who didn’t know that I was my mother’s son, and discovering these incredible parallels between our lives, this led me to track down my mother’s brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles, in Newport, south Wales. Newport was where my mother was born in 1944, and where she lived until the age of sixteen in 1960 when she left home to move to London.
BD: So why in Tainted Love do you say she comes from Greenock?
SH: Because I wanted to emphasis that it was fiction, or at least fictionalised, this isn’t an authorised ghost-written autobiography, so to me Greenock has the same relationship to Glasgow as Newport has to Cardiff. They’re both built around docks and close to bigger cities. So I transformed the Welsh into Scottish, but then in both reality and fiction the real family background is Irish. The name O’Sullivan, which is my fictional substitute for my mother’s name, is related to McCarthy and Callaghan in Irish geneology. My mother’s family names are Callaghan on the paternal side and McCarthy on the maternal side. These names are from around Cork in south-west Ireland. There’s a deliberate choice to emphasis the relationship, while at the same time making the change to emphasis the process of fictionalisation. I see writing a book as if it is my mother’s ghost-written autobiography and presenting it as fiction, as more truthful than having someone write an allegedly non-fictional book in the form of a ghosted autobiography.
BD: Absolutely.
SH: I’m dealing with the issue of representation within the book and not saying that what you’re getting is absolute fact. I felt obliged to change certain details to protect the guilty. The very rich and guilty who I couldn’t possibly name, who wouldn’t want to be connected to my mother and who because of the way the libel laws are constructed in the United Kingdom, they are very stringent, and this is a book that is probably of most interest to people in the United Kingdom, given that it’s set in London. This is a book that I’d have had difficulties publishing in any form if I’d placed within it all the information I have about my mother.
BD: For me it’s the best book that you’ve written, and it’s the book that you’ve written that has effected me the most, and that I know is because it’s the book that you’ve poured the most emotion into. It’s not you proving your intellect, but proving all the other things that we as blokes feel the need to prove. It works on a different level, so it’s a very emotional book. That’s the good bit. The negative bit is you’ve picked all easy targets, you’ve picked all the dead ones. I know it’s to do with the libel, its Brian Jones, John Lennon, Alex Trocchi, Colin MacInnes…
SH: I particularly enjoyed writing the Colin MacInnes section.
BD: There are no libel laws there, it wasn’t Paul McCartney’s cock or eyeballs that were injected with heroin.
SH: As far as I know my mother didn’t have anything to do with Paul McCartney. Some people have been substituted for people who would be close but are still alive. Other people are the real people. MacInnes, Trocchi, Lennon, my mother really did have those relationships.
BD: And Michael X?
SH. Yeah, yeah, Michael X the black power leader who was executed in Trinidad in 1975. I think it’s useful to be able to fictionalise and imagine to a degree, as I don’t necessarily know all the ins and outs. But I think that from going around and talking to different people, I know enough. For example the chapter on John Lennon, while I’m not claiming that what I describe in that chapter is exactly what happened between Lennon and my mother, it gives you a reasonable approximation without claiming absolute veracity. One of the things I found curious is that when The Guardian reviewed it the reviewer seemed to be disturbed by the descriptions of Brian Jones and John Lennon.
BD: I read that review and I though what he found disturbing wasn’t disturbing at all. On the other hand, the thing about you and the truth…
SH: That was The Independent On Sunday…
BD: I read them both, so I’m getting them muddled up..
SH: I find it bizarre, John Lennon in particular, some of the publisher who were shown the book also had terrible problems with the chapter on John Lennon and wouldn’t do it because of that. Personally, I’m not a fan of John Lennon, but I would view him as more talented that Brian Jones, for example, I’m not trying to knock John Lennon’s music…
BD: I know you’re not. What I’m talking about is the ease, it almost felt like that first half of the book was as much of you having a go at a preconceived idea of the sixties, using these people and exploiting them for the sake of making a book that’s more talkable about, because it’s name checking them and bringing them in, whereas for me as a reader, it’s the second- half of the book that I found more interesting, and on a personal level it was the second part of the book which is the fictionalised version of your mother on her downward spiral. It’s only then that I can personally start identifying with it from things that I experienced. It’s only from 1969 on that I was experiencing London, and I’m not saying I was part of all those scenes that your mother was part of…
SH: She was incredible. But it’s difficult because I have her address book and there are some extremely famous names in the address book.
BD: So how did you get the address book?
SH: Because my aunty had it.
BD: In Tainted Love, the fictionalised thing, the fictionalised version of you says you found your mother’s diary.
SH: My aunty had my mother’s diary.
BD: So does that exist.
SH: There is a diary. It doesn’t cover the whole period from 1960 to 1979, it covers a later period, the end of the seventies with flash backs to earlier periods in her life. It starts at the beginning of 1977.
BD: The chapter when you’re at the Acklam Hall, the Rock Against Racism gig, I was thinking that’s Stewart, you were in the audience there and you were fantasising that you were in the audience at the same time as your mother.
SH: I was there but I was imagining what my mother would have made of it, because it was just around the corner from where she died in Notting Hill later that year.
BD: So were you in the dressing room with Aswad or whoever it was? Steel Pulse?
SH: It was a reggae band, I can’t remember which one it was. I was at the door of the Acklam Hall throwing beer bottles at the invading Ladbroke Grove skins with other people who’d been in the hall. But I knew people who’d been in the dressing room, who described to me what went on. That’s the one chapter that rather than being based on my mother’s life is entirely based on mine. But what I found extraordinary about my mother’s life when I found out about it, was the way I could have run into her at various places and that was one of them. In 1975 she was squatting in Tottenham Court Road, the buildings at the very bottom of the west side, the building she squatted was knocked down in 1976. She was spending a lot of time hanging around in Soho. I started going up to the west end on my own in 1974 when I was twelve years old. I’d get taken down there all the time as a child, but I started going on my own in 1974. Then in the late-seventies with the punk thing I’d go to Rough Trade, I’d go to the Acklam Hall to these gigs, and I could have run into my mother down there. It was her stomping ground. My mother died when I was seventeen, I didn’t even know what her name was until after I twenty-three, I wasn’t allowed access to the social work records until I was eighteen. So she died three months before I could find out anything about her. So that chapter is based on what happened that night I went to the Acklam Hall, because it is geographically close to my mother, and that was one of the first larger scale riots at a punk gig. But it’s also based on going to a lot of other Rock Against Racism gigs and seeing the attitude of the reggae bands, which I sympathise with completely. I did a bit of roadie work for bands who played Rock Against Racism gigs, so you might turn up for a gig with one member of the band and the equipment and set up. Then there’d be these school teachers who were in the Socialist Workers Party, saying well there’s one free pint of lager for every member of the band but not the roadies. But there’d only be one member of the band, so as the roadie I’d have to pretend to be in the band to get a free drink. Basically Rock Against Racism was a front for the SWP, and they’d actually treat a lot of the people doing benefits for them very badly. I could really sympathise with the attitude of a lot of the reggae bands who played their events, who saw that as a paying gig and the beginnings of reparations for slavery. To go back to Adam and the Ants, the way they were treated was particularly shocking. They did RAR benefits and then got slagged off in Temporary Hoarding the Rock Against Racism fanzine as dodgy. Rock Against Racism did do something to combat ideological fascism and very self-conscious forms of racism, but it also reproduced the racism of the dominant culture in some soft and unconscious ways. Rock Against Racism was meant to look like a broad front, but really it was a way of recruiting people into the SWP. The guys in the reggae bands knew they were being exploited for this, but also that they were needed, so they’d say: ‘if you want a reggae band, you pay the going rate for a reggae band’. So the white punk band would play for maybe ten quid petrol money and maybe go from the south east to Leeds or Cardiff or wherever it was, and the local reggae band who came from down the road would demand a hundred and twenty quid, knowing that they were needed and could be properly paid for being used in this way. I thought that was quite reasonable.
BD: So to go back to the chapter, I assumed it was based on your experience, but you were you also imagining your mother could have been there.
SH: Yeah, I suppose. But the gig with the riot wasn’t the only time I went to the Acklam Hall, I remember seeing bands like The Passions there, not at the riot gig, the band who went on to have one hit with the song I’m In Love With A German Film Star.
BD: Yeah. The book brought up hundreds of things for me, but another thing to challenge you on, one of the bits where I feel the anger of Stewart Home as opposed to the fictionalised part of the book, was when you were dealing with the adoption society. So when the fictionalised version of your mother was looking to have the fictionalised version of you adopted, or not adopted, could she keep the boy, the boy being the fictionalised version of you. Those few months, or few weeks, she had the fictionalised version of you, and just the pressure she was put under…
SH: That was based on research.
BD: So did you go back to these people?
SH: I couldn’t go back to the people because the adoption society doesn’t exist any more, and given their age at the time it’s unlikely they are still alive anyway. What I did was go to the London Metropolitan Archives and look through the annual reports of the adoption society, and the prejudice and other stuff in there is just unbelievable. I’ve also got the adoption society records about my mother, and all the letters they sent her. She was put under that pressure, and I also know from reading her diary and speaking to her friends that giving me up under that pressure was the one thing she really regretted big time in her life.
BD: That’s fair enough, but reading it I just thought this is Stewart’s understandable anger.
SH: Her anger was probably more directed at a certain person around her at the time, who isn’t in the book, than the adoption society. But since that person isn’t in the book, it’s quite reasonable to direct it against the adoption society, because there was pressure from there. It was a combination of pressures. It isn’t just my anger.
BD: Having known you for a few years, for me in one sense that’s the most moving thing, and just to read where you are writing about the fictionalised version of your mother at different points through her adult life thinking about you, or Lloyd the fictionalised version of you.
SH: I have her diary which has stuff about me in it, and I’ve talked to her friends so I know what she had to say to them about me, and I also have the social work records, and for one she delayed signing the adoption papers because I know she didn’t want me adopted, then two I know in 1970 the lies she told to try and get me back when I was eight. I think you can lie for a good reason or a bad reason. I don’t have an unrealistic picture of my mother, she did a lot of junkie scams, and she knew how to lie and hustle as a petty criminal, for a purely monetary gain. But I don’t think the lies she told to the social workers to try to get me back, can be compared in any way to the lies she told for purely financial gain. I think she was very brave and went through a lot of emotional turmoil to lie to the social workers because she wanted to be reunited with me. I have the written and verbal evidence that loosing me was something she never really got over. The whole book is a compromise, it’s a ghosted voice and its meant to be a ghosted voice, so some of the new age religious stuff she got into, I have to write about that in a more sympathetic way than I actually think about it.
BD: I can’t imagine the Stewart Home that I know being into that!
SH: The ghosted voice has to be a compromise with the emphasis being on my mother’s opinions and not my opinions, which will inevitably show through to some degree.
BD: In the novel you allude to Jack Kennedy as possibly being your father, but all the time I knew you knew who your father was, and until today I couldn’t remember whether you knew whether your father was living or not. You know who your father is…
SH: I can’t be one hundred percent certain this person is my father…
BD: Was that to protect him, yourself?
SH: In the end I produced the book I produced because the libel laws force me to protect the guilty.
BD: This is not about you, this is about me, and how I relate to all this. I have a son whose now twenty-two and who I haven’t seen since he was eighteen months old, and who everyday I think about, everyday he’s there in my head. Occasionally I get updates about what’s happening in his life. Occasionally I get sent photographs, I can look at this person and I can see he’s my son. I know people who know him. So in one sense I am that father who you can be railing against. I also know that my son thinks I am the person who walked out on his life, but I didn’t. So for me reading your book, it’s not just voyeurism on your life, or entertainment as a novel, it works in a completely different way, totally personal to me. The guilt, the pain that I carry, so I’m slightly identifying with the mother, but I’m not a woman. The difference between a woman and what she feels for her only child, her only son, is completely different from me who has six children altogether, and being the bastard father.
SH: I didn’t for various reasons get into the most likely candidate for my paternity, but he’s certainly someone who could be portrayed as a complete bastard.
BD: You see I used to think, he may not be my child. But even I can see he’s my child. So I’m not trying to take any of your stuff away here, but when I’m reading Tainted Love that’s another layer that’s going on for me personally.
SH: I know what my mother felt for me, and if there’s a lot of love directed towards you, it’s natural to reciprocate it. I love my mother, I’m not ashamed of her.
BD: I know that, there’s a bit here I can feel jealous of because you’re the son, that’s your mother. Mother son. Son father is rather different. I know there’s a young man out there whose gonna hate me forever. And you’ll love your mother forever.
SH: I really love my mother.
BD: I’m gonna cry now.
SH: I wish she hadn’t died in 1979 when I was seventeen and that I’d got hold of her alive. I’d like to have told her I understood what happened and she didn’t need to feel guilty about it. That I don’t blame her and I know she loved me. That’s the most important thing, she loved me.
BD: Okay, we’ll stop there.