Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
Karren Ablaze! launched the long awaited issue 11 of her fanzine Ablaze! at last year’s Louder Than Words festival, where she also talked about self publishing with Route‘s Ian Daley and Ignite‘s Steve Pottinger, and about Riot Grrrl with Julia Downes.
I hadn’t seen Karren for fifteen years, so it was great to see her at the festival and hang out a bit. Following on from this meeting, I interviewed Karren via the phone in early December. We talked about fanzines and fanzine culture, Riot Grrrl, the internet, isolation, austerity and the anti austerity fightback, amongst other things.
My write up of my conversation with Karren has just been published over on The F-Word site and I’m really pleased with how well it’s turned out. One of the many reasons why I love writing for The F-Word is that they treat their writers well, and they always make articles look amazing.
It helped that Karren supplied with with some high quality scans of Ablaze! to illustrate the piece, and I really recommend that you buy Ablaze! 11 as it is fantastic.
I met Bob Follen at last months Louder Than Words literary festival in Manchester. Bob is an artist and model maker who creates imaginative and innovative portraits and cardboard models. At the festival, he was selling a selection of portraits and cards, including a number of his ‘one word missing’ series of portraits. I really enjoyed talking to Bob, and asked if he would mind being interviewed for Too Late For Cake. We had planned to do an interview on the Sunday but, for various reasons, there wasn’t time so an email Q&A was arranged instead…
When did you start Bob Art Models and what made you start creating art?
Bob Art Models started on January 1st 2014. Although, I had previous model-making and artistic training. I was schooled in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, then studied at colleges in both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, finally after 7 years, graduated with an BA (with Hons) Degree in Model Design in 2003. Although “normal” jobs followed after the training, it was something I never fully left alone, and would draw and make things when I felt the urge.
The initial model made from cardboard was just a little building front/panel, which had a design drawn onto it and was cut with scalpels pressed and raised, depending on the architectural design. The miniaturised “Building Front” idea, was really about appreciating where you live, and is also about trying to bringing the outside in. All the card used (to date), is from old removing boxes dating from when my other half and I relocated from London to Todmorden, right before Christmas 2013.
Even now it would seem an awful waste to throw out that much cardboard. Cardboard is very friendly model-wise. When not being used as models, it’s being cut up for sign-age, or as dividers in storage boxes.
Did you begin making cardboard models before drawing and painting your portraits?
Initially the models were first. I’ve never ever really for some reason felt comfortable being classed as a painter or artist, even though I did a lot of art training. I think I may have been more subconsciously excited by concept and the problem solving of “how to make something from nothing” with very little cost involved. When Bob Art Models was formed as time progressed, I was painting more and more. And adding in finer details on the Building Fronts or in the Portraits. My hand steadied pretty earlier on. Like with most things in life, the more you exercise the muscles needed, the better you become.
Who has been your favourite subject to draw and paint?
That’s a difficult one. I do a bit of information research especially image research for all of the subjects. I like painting someone who has quite a few really interesting facts about him or her. With someone like Rik Mayall, I really wanted to get it right, because of the amount of inspiration and fun he dished out, to an awful lot of people. A enormous talent gone far far too soon.
Do any of your subjects own their portraits?
A good few do! John Lydon, David Gilmour (& Polly Samson) Jarvis Cocker, Robert Wyatt, Mark E Smith, Wilko Johnson, Peter Gabriel, Jimmy Page, Graham Fellowes, Robyn Hitchcock, Dr Brian May and a couple more….! Although, most only own a reproduction, as in Cards and the occasionally large print. I try not to think about the giants who might have seen the works. One chap came to see my work in Todmorden (via a gallery in Chiswick), he said he was a good friend of Peter Blake. And that he thought Mr Blake would really like my take on his relatively well known “Sgt Pepper” sleeve! Eek!
How did the collaboration with Louder Than Words come about?
Last year (2014) I painted a portrait of Robert Wyatt, and noticed via the web that author Marcus O’Dair had written a book in collaboration with My Wyatt, and that there was to be a series of talks about the book. One of which was happening in Manchester (at The Palace Hotel). I discovered the Louder Than Words Festival website, and purchased my tickets. Having chatted with Marcus on Twitter, we got to chat on the day. As I left I thought, someone from the Festival should really see the “One Word Missing” portraits, something about them seemed pretty relevant. The image is perhaps seen as Louder Than Words…etc! Getting an email address, I sent a message over and a meeting with Dr Jill was set up, and felt very lucky to have been given the opportunity and the encouragement, and the belief.
You relocated from London to Todmorden, what do you like best about Todmorden?
Todmorden is like most places in the UK, put down a bit, but it is definitely home to some very good hard-working businesses, and people. Sure, it may rain a bit more than anywhere else in the Calder Valley (occasionally feels like 99% of the year), but since setting up Bob Art Models in “Tod” I find myself believing in the following phrase “Ask yourself what you can do for town, and not what your town can do for you”. If you have that mentality, then you can achieve a lot. Tod, has all the basic good access requirements of a town, shops, libraries, train station, buses. It’s very lucky really. I’m originally from the Fens, and long before I appeared on the scene, Dr Beeching put an end to a large amount of train stations around there. So from an early age I got to know what a place is like when it has limited information and access to other places.
Do you have any events and appearances coming up in the next few months?
Oohh! There are one of or two mooted plans, but the only concrete happenings so far are:
16th December – Benevolent Fund Stall, Deans Gate, Manchester
“TheBobArtGrotto” – Pop-Up Market Stall Residency – Brook Street, Indoor Market, Todmorden. 4 days a week, 10am – 5pm, making and selling pieces live. (Have previously done this over a 3 month period in another space inside the indoor market. It’s pretty hard going, but people get used to you being there…appreciate it, support it…and eventually the word spreads, and people flock in from far and wide.)
I think from a financial perspective it’s far better for me to be the one selling my wares than relying on another system. It’s also very good because people get to chat directly to the person responsible for producing the work.
You can contact Bob via Facebook and via Twitter @bobfollen
All art enquiries and commissions to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
All images copyright Bob Follen, Bob Art Models.
The Shrieking Violet is a perfect example of everything that is good about Manchester. So it was with a great deal of sadness that I heard that editor Natalie Bradbury might not be continuing her zine for much longer.
Natalie recently contributed an article on the history of the little known white poppy, the pacifist alternative to the more well known red poppy, to the Working Class Movement Library’s blog. You can read her article here.
In the light of these recent developments, I decided that an invitation to interview Natalie was long overdue.
When did you start the Shrieking Violet and why?
The Shrieking Violet started in summer 2009 – the first issue came out on August 1 of that year. At the time I had been unemployed for several months after finishing an NCTJ course in newspaper journalism, and I was struggling to even get work experience at local newspapers as there were widespread redundancies at that time – it was a very bad time to try and get into newspaper journalism! I was becoming increasingly frustrated and disillusioned, but decided to put some of the skills I’d learnt during my course, such as page layout, to good use, and to turn being unemployed to my advantage and use that time to do something productive.
I was also doing a lot of writing on my blog, also called the Shrieking Violet, at the time. When I started it I never thought that anyone might read it, but as more people started reading it I became frustrated by the limitations of the blog format and wanted to make a finished product that came off the screen and involved more people, and could be picked up physically by different people who might not necessarily know about my blog.
Why did you choose to do both an online version and a paper version? How was the paper copy distributed?
I’ve always been too lazy to lay out my zine by hand and cut and paste text and pictures in the traditional way. From the start I designed Shrieking Violet digitally using a design package, then created a PDF which I printed and took to a 2p photocopier shop to reproduce. As I had already made a PDF, it seemed logical to put it online for people to download and print themselves at home if they wished (or just read it on the screen if they preferred). A friend later told me about the PDF hosting site Issuu, which enablea readers to flick though the pages of a PDF online as they would a magazine.
I made between 50 and 70 free paper copies of each issue, which is a tiny number really – especially when you consider that online views on Issuu stand at around 2,000 for each edition! Nevertheless, I think it’s important that there is a choice of either reading online or on paper. I advertise each issue on my blog, with links to both the download version and a list of places where a paper copy can be picked up; typically cafes, bars and other creative and social spaces around Manchester city centre. On my blog, I also invite people to email me if they want me to send them a copy in the post.
Are fanzines about places more common these days do you think? (as opposed to fanzines about music, or football)
There are a lot of magazines and fanzines which seem concerned with urbanism, architecture and cities these days, and topics related to these such as regeneration and the creative economy, whether they are based in Sheffield or Liverpool, Manchester or London. Something I have noticed is that there are a lot of zines made by collectives – for example, people on the same course at university, or a group of graduates who have studied together and have that geographical location in common. Naturally, they look to what’s around them for inspiration. There are still a lot of music zines/self-published music magazines around. Football zines I know less about – although I have read FC United of Manchester’s fanzine, which is quite political and is not actually that football (or even Manchester)-orientated!
What inspired the Zinefests at Victoria Baths?
The first zine fair I ever want to was at Urbis in Manchester in August 2008. As well as having stalls, I remember that Bob Dickinson did a talk about making a radio documentary about zines, presented by Jarvis Cocker, and there was a ‘psychogeography’ walk around the area led by the Loiterers Resistance Movement.
I volunteered at Victoria Baths for a while on the oral history stall. One day I was sitting in the cafe folding piles of copies of the Shrieking Violet and Alison Kershaw, the arts co-ordinator at Victoria Baths, suggested running a zine fair in the space; so the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention was born. It’s a brilliant space to work in. I was keen that the event should be far more than just a market for buying and selling, and offer activities that anyone could get involved in. I loved being able to draw on the history of the building and the wealth of resources in the Victoria Baths archive, which encompasses pictures and objects relating to the building’s history as well as thousands of donated memories, to encourage people to make their own swimming-inspired zines on the day. On the day of the Fanzine Convention, Future Everything had a Maker faire in the main sports hall below, so Fanzine Convention stallholders spread out around the balcony of that space, looking over the technological contraptions at the fair below. Smaller rooms upstairs, comprising the flat where Victoria Baths’ superintendent used to live, just off the balcony space, were perfect for fanzine talks, film screenings and workshops.
Could you write a little about the Manchester Modernist Society and their heroines project?
The Manchester’s Modernist Heroines project was a collaboration between the Shrieking Violet, Manchester Modernist Society and the Loiterers Resistance Movement which took place in March 2011. It celebrated ten overlooked women in fields ranging from architecture to aviation via art, psychology, archaeology, family planning and journalism. We placed a call out for modern-day women to produce responses to each of the ten women, which formed the basis of a publication, compiled by myself, and walks around Manchester led by the Loiterers Resistance Movement. The responses were received in the form of articles, poetry, images and concepts for performances.
Manchester has a long history of feminist activism, but many of its key figures are now forgotten, who are your favourites and why?
It’s not specifically a Manchester organisation, as there were and continue to be branches all over the country, but I am really interested in the Co-operative Women’s Guild, a campaigning organisation which was founded in 1883 to provide education to its members, primarily working class women, and give them more of a voice both in co-operative societies and within society. Manchester has a long association with the co-operative movement, and I have been researching a co-operative women’s journal called Woman’s Outlook which was published by the Manchester-based Co-operative Press between 1919 and 1967. Outlook was a curious mixture of the domestic and the political, recognising the importance of both to women’s lives; it urged its readers to get involved in political campaigns, for example for women’s representation in parliament, equal pay and peace and disarmament, but also provided practical advice such as recipes, dress-making patterns and child-rearing tips. I will be doing a talk at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum on Thursday 21 March 2013 entitled ‘Woman’s Outlook: a surprisingly modern magazine?’.
As a journalist, one of my favourite women in Manchester’s history is Mary Stott (one of our Modernist Heroines). She edited several co-operative publications over the years, including Woman’s Outlook, before she became editor of the Guardian’s woman page, for which she is best known. As editor of both Woman’s Outlook and the Guardian woman’s page, Stott really involved women in the publications, encouraging them to write in and share their stories. Whilst Stott was initially reluctant to solely focus on women’s issues, preferring to be taken seriously as a journalist who could tackle hard news just as well as men, she succeeded in creating a ‘community of readers’ and ensuring content reflected their lives and what was important to them. Stott’s autobiography, Forgetting’s No Excuse, is well worth a read.
Why do you think Manchester has such a historical culture of feminist activism?
Manchester is often called the ‘first modern city’, reflecting its rapid industralisation and expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries. This new way of living and working created rampant inequalities, with a huge gulf between the richest in society – those with power – and the rest, the working classes, who laboured in terrible conditions to make the few rich. A lot of the historic feminist activist figures I have come across were concerned with addressing some of these inequalities on a practical level by improving people’s living conditions, and empowering them by offering access to education. Women were already fired by with the injustice of what they saw around them, and also realised the powerlessness of their own situation in society – being unable to vote, to own property, to work, etc, and wanted to do something about it, to be able to make a difference. If you want to know more, I highly recommend making contact with Manchester historian Michael Herbert, and going on one of his Women’s History walks around Manchester, which covers women active in the suffrage, socialist, trade union and co-operative movements. He has also just written a book called Up Then, Brave Women.
What do you think the legacy of that activism is?
Feminism is, of course, still highly relevant today, and there are still battles to be fought not just over women’s status and their value in society but how women are perceived socially and culturally. I’m inspired by the ongoing work of a new generation of feminists in Manchester, from groups like the Riveters at Manchester University who work to raise awareness of issues affecting women within the university, the city and in society in creative, inclusive and engaging ways, to other collectives such as Manchester Women’s Design Group, who do interesting work around women and the city, for example by exploring women’s emotional relationships with different public spaces in Manchester.
How would you describe the relationship between Manchester and Salford?
Manchester and Salford are two neighbouring cities, separated by the River Irwell. To me they are quite different in that, whilst Manchester is quite compact as a city and has a clearly defined centre with all the facilities and attractions you’d expect, I think of Salford as being more as a collection of smaller towns and villages (each with their own attractions – see the awe-inspiring Manchester Ship Canal and Barton Aqueduct, canal-side folly Monton lighthouse, Eccles Wurlitzer museum, the bright orange Bridgewater Canal at Worsley, Clifton Country Park, etc!) than a city in itself, as it has no real focal point. There are several really great places just over the Salford border, within easy walking distance of Manchester city centre – alternative arts and music complex Islington Mill, Salford Art Gallery/Peel Park, the amazing social/people’s history resources in the Working Class Movement Library, Salford University and the Medieval magnificence of Ordsall Hall – but as a whole I think it’s a bit underexplored by Mancunians. Salford Quays, now home to BBC North as well as the Lowry theatre and arts centre and Imperial War Museum North, is a bit further out, but within reach of Manchester by tram and bus. The Quays is also doing its bit to attract people into Salford, but I very rarely go there as to me it feels like a bit of an island with a strange atmosphere, detached from the rest of the city – it is, let’s face it, perfectly possible to get the tram in and out of Salford Quays without registering that it is surrounded by some of Britain’s most deprived communities.
What are you planning to do next?
I’m going back to university in the New Year, so I’ll be a student again, which is both exciting and scary so I’ll have to see what that new challenges and experiences that throws up … !
In the course of the past year and a half, I have spent a lot of time researching, writing, and editing a six part series for the F-Word website on the subject of Women and Punk. In the course of my research, I sent an email questionnaire to the author Zoe Street Howe, concerning her book ‘Typical Girls? The Story of The Slits’. We are more or less the same age, and yet we come from very different backgrounds and have had very different introductions to, and relationships with, punk. A number of similar age friends are also into punk, and over the past year as the series has appeared people have talked to me about their relationship with punk, or have emailed me about it, suggesting that no one story is the same. One theme that has cropped up a lot is the idea of local first generation punks informally ‘adopting’ and generally influencing (in a friendly, non sinister way I hasten to add…) interested members of the post punk generation; a sort of punk apprenticeship on the streets, and in the gigs, of various small towns or big cities, if you will. I had a number of such guides as I was growing up, not just from the seventies punk scene, but also from the eighties twee scene, from the eighties goth scene, and from riot grrrl. They tended to be generous without being controlling, influential without being didactic, and I got a lot out of that.
During the research period I found myself thinking more and more about my own relationship with punk, and how it is probably a very atypical one, for this reason I decided to seek other perspectives on it. I turned to my friends Sara Shepherd and David Wilkinson, two PHD students working on two very different, punk related, research topics in two very different subject areas – Sociology and English. Sara was born in 1975, David in 1984. I started the interview, as I did with my other interviewees, by asking them to tell me when they first discovered punk, how old they were, and what the circumstances were.
Sara struggled with this, “I don’t know, is the answer to that.” She tried again, “It was a very roundabout thing.” She explained that, like me, she “knew what the cartoon image of punk was from Sid Snot, on the Kenny Everett Show, and from my parents talking about that kind of end of punk, but in terms of music, it was very roundabout, and I guess, from listening to John Peel, from being about nine onwards, [I] would’ve been listening to what would now be known as punk, or post punk, but I wouldn’t’ve realised it at the time, until much, much later.”
David, like me and Sara, had come to punk via a roundabout route “It depends on what discovering entails, about whether it’s when you first encountered it culturally, or whether when you discovered it as something that you enjoyed.” He added “the same as Sara in terms of cartoon images of punk in the media, but obviously in my case, being a bit younger, they weren’t fresh; they were even more caricatured by that point, cos it’d been longer, so it’d just be studded leather jackets and bright green Mohicans, and that would be it. My parents told me, if I asked about them, and maybe I was vaguely aware of the Sex Pistols from being about… 10,11, starting to ask questions on music, but not really getting into it til about 13 or 14, and at 13 or 14 I got into American, Californian bands like The Offspring, and obviously that was an offshoot of a different kind of punk, and through that, I then worked my way back to the original stuff.”
“I was gonna say actually,” added Sara, “from what David was saying, that I discovered The Fall and The Smiths through John Peel, and obviously The Fall are seen as, you know, a second generation, immediately post punk. For me, the experience of then getting into punk bands, as such, after that… For a long, long time, until I was possibly in my early twenties, it was very much focused on local bands – Manchester and North West bands – so from The Fall, it would’ve gone onto Buzzcocks, because reading the music press, I was led to…” she trails off, then changes tack. “Obviously, listening to Peel, my first experience of anything that would be deemed post punk was indie, what was indie music, at that point, and then I worked backwards, having read that Buzzcocks were such a massive influence, you know, and basically created what we now know as indie, or the indie single. But for a long, long time my only experience of punk was The Fall, Buzzcocks, bands local… It was only really quite late on in my early twenties that I would even consider listening to anything like the Pistols or the Clash, because, to me, it felt strangely disloyal. I had a natural antipathy towards bands from London, which I obviously don’t anymore.”
“I had a more mixed approach to it,” said David, “Because I discovered it aged 13 or 14 but I wasn’t really making distinctions, and I was part of the mosher subculture [post-grunge], which has since evolved, I think, into maybe emo, and the approach to music within that subculture was very pick’n’mix, so you’d get lots of contemporary, like I say, American bands, but then you would also have that mixed in with Pistols, and the Clash, and really the more well known British punk bands, and the post-punk stuff was not something that… even though I got the feeling that at the time, maybe, it was all seen as one thing, it was all those sort of bands [that] I didn’t discover until I was about 18, when it all started to come back into fashion again.”
“What’s interesting, to me,” said Sara, “is that a band like Echo and the Bunnymen would now be seen as your classic post-punk group, as you will remember, they were on ‘Top Of The Pops’, I just saw them as a pop group, and really liked them when I was a kid, and, you know, just with them as one example, I must’ve been listening to so much that was deemed post punk, as a kid, but cos it was in ‘Smash Hits’, and on ‘Top Of The Pops’, didn’t even think about it in those terms, probably never did actually.”
I asked them if they had any friends at the time who were into punk, or if they had brothers or sisters who were into punk?
“I was an only child ‘til I was 10,” explained Sara, adding that she had uncles who “were into things like Roxy and Bowie, and Northern Soul, and Captain Beefheart, but no, none of them were at the age where they would’ve been into punk, so I didn’t have anything. My dad was John Peel!” she laughs.
“My parents,” began David, “I didn’t really get anything punk from, because, as they like to say, they switched off music sometime in the late seventies, maybe in preparation for having me, and then the 80’s were just foreign lands to them.” He explained, “I mean, they liked sort’ve pre-punk, like David Bowie, and maybe some Northern Soul and R’N’B type stuff that would’ve fed it in one direction, and my dad liked heavy rock, and metal, in the first wave of it, in the early seventies. But, really, all my friends were into the dreadful chart music of the mid to late nineties, and it was only when I made friends with a girl from a different school, who was part of an outcropping of the mosher subculture within her school, cos mine, it was completely absent in my school, that I actually discovered anything like that at all. And then I suddenly realised that my best friend was into it as well, but it was something we’d never talked about, and now, all of a sudden, we could talk about it together.”
When I asked them what it was about punk that attracted them, I was met with a deathly silence and agonized expressions.
“I think the punk moment, as such, became more important as I became more disillusioned with contemporary music,” managed Sara. She added “It functioned as some kind’ve alternative to…” she trailed off, then tried again, “It functioned as some kind of symbol of what was good, and what could be good, for music.” She explained, “I think, also, with me, it was getting into my twenties and getting to know, and being friends with, a lot of people who were around at the time of punk, was quite important to me, being given a real, proper perspective, rather than a skewed retrospective perspective. It was really important that I knew people that were around at the time, and felt like I was getting a really privileged insight into it, and that’s when it became quite illuminated for me.” She concluded, “In simple terms, I was the weirdo at school, I was the school weirdo, so, it’s the natural place, isn’t it?” she laughs.
“Pretty much the same,” admits David, “for me, it was the outlaw image, those strains of punk that attracted me. Because at first I felt like I was the only one, and then I felt like it was me and my few friends against the world. And we were into other types of music that had that kind of imagery as well, and sounds, and punk just happened to be one of them. And that, initially, through my teens, was what attracted me to it, but then when I went to university, and I started to get into other things, like avant garde art, and politics, I started to do a bit of reading, and realised that some strains of punk had been fed by that as well, and that became really interesting to me. It became dear to my heart in another way because it was linked to other things I liked, in this really enjoyable, cultural way.” He added “In terms of finding more and more out about music as well, it’s a reference point, isn’t it? It’s something that’s a line in the sand, and the more you learn about music, the more you realise that it’s a very blurred line, but, all the same, it is one.”
As to the fashion aspect of punk, “the approach to music was pick’n’mix, the approach to fashion was as well, and subcultural fashion. You’d just throw anything together, as a teenager, which I suppose was quite punk because as far as I’m led to believe, from people who were there, the few people that I know that were there at the time, say that it was more thrown together than you might be expected to believe.”
“As a woman,” said Sara, “that kind of punk influence is – you know, you probably take it for granted, I suppose – but it’s really important in terms of dressing for yourself, that’s a massive, massive thing.” She added “The more and more you see young girls being styled by ‘Cosmo’ magazine, or whatever, you hang onto that feeling, it’s really important, and that’s why it’s great to see young kids, whether you like new forms of punk or not, the fact that the girls are not dressing for boys, that’s really important that that’s still happening I think.”
“Yeah, I agree with that as well,” said David, “and… in the same way that, I mean, I know it happens to a lesser extent, but boys dress for girls, as well as, being gay, like, the sort’ve crossover between gay and punk subculture, like boys dressing for boys, [and girls dressing for girls] or just dressing for themselves, and I think that’s important too. And I like that, as the world turns more and more towards things that I don’t like, I do still like to see kids just experimenting and looking completely daft, even if they look daft, I prefer it when they look daft, actually, prefer it because it’s not as styled and complete an image, and that’s why I was sad when emo came along, because I do feel like it’s more of an off the peg, high street look.”
Sara’s favourite punk bands, around the time when she first discovered punk, were The Fall, Buzzcocks, and – slightly later – Subway Sect. “Subway Sect were the first first generation punk band that I really, truly, loved” she said, adding “because I think I probably recognised that kind’ve scratchy influence on later indie bands.”
For David it was The Offspring, Blink 182, Green Day, and The Atari’s, also the Sex Pistols and – unusually – Bauhaus “Nobody else knew who they were” he explained, “but I think I read some article about them in ‘Q’ or something like that. I just picked up one of their albums.” He also liked the Clash, and “all the obvious ones really” including Joy Division.
As to their favourite punk bands now, Sara began by very tentatively, and quietly, saying “Mudhoney?” to mass laughter. “That’s not really punk,” she amended, adding that she still really loved Subway Sect and Kleenex.
For David, the discovery of post-punk when he was eighteen had a big impact, and he likes early Fall, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gang Of Four, the Pop Group, and the Slits.
Because my series discusses the extent to which women have been written out of punk history, and are – at last – being written back in, I decided to ask David and Sara how they felt about punk books, and punk films, and the various ways that punk has been represented in both.
“With non fiction, it’s had all the life analysed out of it, hasn’t it?” said Sara, adding, “The non fiction kind of representations don’t seem to bear any resemblance to the reality that has been transmitted to me by people who were there. But that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?”
David had recently read Jon Savage’s ‘England’s Dreaming’, and had enjoyed the esoteric elements of it. “I found that fascinating, and all the background as well, on Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. I think the main problem, which almost goes without saying with that book, is that it’s very Londoncentric, and he knows that, he’s aware of that, and in fact, I think he makes apologies for it, within the book. But because I didn’t know that much about those very early stages of punk, like 1975, and the immediate pre-history, part of it, specific kind of scene figures, I found that really interesting, I did really enjoy that book.” He does have reservations however, “He makes that distinction in that book, doesn’t he? Between the arties and the social realists, and even though he says ‘it’s an artificial distinction’, he said that, partly out of the fault of the music press, and partly the fault of some of the bands themselves, that division grew and grew and grew, then he contributed to that, in a way, because that book was only published in 1991, and punk was still a going concern then, really, like it’s been filtered through other music’s and stuff, and maybe looking at that you would decide whether you were one or the other, without realising you could maybe be both.”
“I’ll just add that, any time I wanna read about punk, or just go back to thinking about it,” said Sara, “[I] just go back to Lester Bangs, actual reviews, records and the gigs, from the time, think that’s gonna be more revealing than anything really, and just more interesting.”
Film wise, David had recently watched Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubilee’, and both had seen the Joy Division film ‘Control’. “I didn’t like the film [‘Control’] at all,” says Sara, “but it felt like it was a truer kind’ve portrayal of the way that real people lived at this point.” She added, “Like David said, the lines were pretty fuzzy, you’d be listening to Bowie, and Northern Soul, but also listening to Iggy, and drawing on more esoteric influences…”
“I didn’t realise that glam rock had such a big influence on it as well,” said David, “not just Bowie and Roxy, but all of it really, even the more laddish stuff did.” He sees ‘Control’ and ‘Jubilee’ as reflecting the distinction marked out by Jon Savage, “’Control’s a bit more social realist, and ‘Jubilee’s arty, and I love ‘Jubilee’! They all hated it at the time, didn’t they? All the people in the ‘punk circle’ said it was crap, because Jarman wasn’t on the inside, and that’s why I get the feeling they were all quite scene-y people, and maybe because Jarman wasn’t on the inside, they automatically rejected it. But I think it reflects some elements of punk very well, like the avant garde influences and the nihilism, that fake nihilism, and some of the fashion as well, I mean Jordan embodies one particular side of punk look.”
“’Rudeboy’, the Clash film, really nails it I think” said Sara, “You know, the idea that the kid that’s kind’ve following them around, they have to have a little word with him because he makes racist comments about the audience, and the crowd. I really love that because, you know, this idea that suddenly everybody was very right on and race relations were all hunky dory and all that, and it obviously wasn’t the case.”
“People have become obsessed with Joy Division, haven’t they?” said David, “There’s been about four films about…” he suddenly broke off, adding “Oh, what about ’24 Hour Party People’?”
“Well I thought it was terrific,” said Sara, “Cos it sets itself up as adding to the myth rather than trying to dispel it, and I thought that was the point actually, that’s the great point about punk and Manchester.”
Isn’t there something slightly absurd about having Alan Partridge [Steve Coogan] play [Tony Wilson]…?
“But also strangely accurate!” laughed David. He went on to mention Joy Division, and how important the band have been to him over the years. “Because in a way there’s something very outsider-y about punk, I think, in a way that a lot of other subcultures are about belonging, somehow punk’s almost like a community, it doesn’t belong, and that’s why I like Joy Division.” He continued “Maybe it was just Ian [Curtis], and not the others, but they don’t sound like they belong anywhere, it’s very cold and distant, they do a good job of matching how you feel, every now and again.”
Both David and I have grown up in Stockport and, in a weird way, could almost adopt Joy Division as one of our local bands. The bands first album, ‘Unknown Pleasures’, was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, on Higher Hillgate, near the record and clothes shops me, my sister, and step cousin, used to shop at when we were into grunge. Similarly, Ian Curtis lived in Macclesfield (where my step cousin used to live and I used to work) and is buried there, their biggest champion within the music press at the time was Paul Morley, a Stockport boy, and when Tony Wilson died a few years ago, I found out through reading his obituary in the local paper that he had grown up in Marple.
“They’re very psychogeographical, Joy Division,” said David, “’Day Of The Lords’ I always think of Stockport, and all the post war, sixties and seventies council buildings, and I think it’s ‘Disorder’ that I always think of, sitting waiting for the bus back from Manchester, in the middle of the night after clubbing, going back to Stockport, in the rain.”
When I asked them how they felt about the way punk has been embraced by academia, they both laughed. Eventually, Sara asked David, “Shall we just put out heads in our hands and just cry?”
“Weep, yeah…” was his response.
Sara confessed to feeling “Horrified,” whilst wearing an expression that shared elements of horror and sheepishness. “But… you know, I’m completely involved…” she turned to David, “you were talking about Joy Division, I was thinking, I feel like all the life has been knocked out of their records for me, over the years: They’re not even my pet band or anything, but The Fall, definitely. I very rarely listen to The Fall anymore, and they’re my favourite band of all time.” She sighed, “Where to start? Can I just say ‘Dick Hebdige’ then just… end.” Despite herself, she continued, “The idea that you should just isolate popular cultural moments, set them in aspic, and they’re safe, and then fetishise them.” She added, “You’d be more interesting to analyse the analysis, that’s more telling now, I think. Because I think all the meat has been picked off the bones and I don’t know that there’s anything more to say.” She concluded, “I think it’s really sad, it makes me really unhappy, but it probably says more about me than it does about mainstream.”
“I used to be wide eyed, optimistic, and iconoclastic about writing about popular music in academia” said David, “I wrote my best piece of work, which was my undergraduate dissertation, on the links between post punk and the avant garde, because at that point Simon Reynolds’s book [‘Rip It Up And Start Again’] hadn’t come out, and the only thing was Greil Marcus, ‘Lipstick Traces’, which was one good source.” He added “But it’s very American, it’s very freewheelin’, free association, and I wanted something a bit more rigorous, and Marxist maybe, and kind’ve linking it to the situation, and I sort’ve wrote this great manifesto, and it was full of me, it was very personal, about how the links between post punk and the avant garde live on in certain popular music, how they manifested themselves back then, what that could do for people if they let it, and where it could possibly lead. In itself it’s maybe not that significant, but it can take you to places that are significant, and it can take the world to places that are significant. And I still half believe that, on good days, but not as much anymore.” He became disillusioned when he realised just “how much more complicated things are than I thought they were.”
Despite the over-analysed state of punk, in many ways, we all felt that there were still neglected areas. In addition to the neglect of the female punk experience, we also feel that American hardcore is sorely neglected, and also the links between punk and the gay scene. Derek Jarman, argues David, represents the link to a certain extent in ‘Jubiliee’, while Jon Savage and John Gill [in ‘Queer Noises’] have both written about the gay male experience, but this aspect is still very, very marginal.
“I didn’t know that Pete Shelley was gay,” says David.
I didn’t, I reply, not for a long time.
“Up until finding out about ‘Homosapiens,’“ says David, “the single that he did after the Buzzcocks, which was only about, like, about five years ago. I’d known about the Buzzcocks for ten or twelve years, and just had no idea whatsoever. It’s never written about, it’s never talked about.”
We discussed Morrissey for a bit, before David asked, “What about gay women in punk?”
I explained at this point that I’d made a brief, largely abortive, attempt to discuss this area with a couple of my interviewees, but had given up after that, partly because I’d had to drop questions with all my interviewees due to time constraints, partly because of the reaction I’d had: Puzzled, ranging through to baffled. “It’s a similar issue to the way that women’s role in punk has been marginalised,” said Sara, adding “It’s pretty pertinent to Manchester.” Both Jon Savage’s ‘The England’s Dreaming Tapes’, and an appearance he made with Liz Naylor in early 2010 at a night of discussion, film, and music at the Deaf Institute on the theme of the gay scene and the music scene in Manchester, would seem to back this up. I’m also reminded of Nicholas Blincoe’s novel ‘Manchester Slingback,’ which takes place amongst the echelons of the punk and gay scene in Manchester in the late seventies. We would have all said more, but the tape stopped, and we then moved on to discussing the legacy of what all my interviewees had referred to: the asexual nature of punk.
“I was thinking about the way that punk directly fed into the idea of eighties indie being asexual,” says Sara, “and also, it was freedom to have friends of the opposite sex, platonic friends of the opposite sex, that surely comes from punk, and that’s a massively important thing that, presumably, is still hopefully, there’s still some kind of influence there.” She added that “it does turn into a bit of a twee fest, Belle and Sebastian, becomes its own fetish, doesn’t it? It’s not liberating anymore.”
“I’m really glad you said that,” says David, “because I’ve only ever seen the negative side of that asexual lineage, which runs through punk and eighties indie, because all my friends and I were into looking like that for a while, behaving like that, and I never kind’ve discovered myself in terms of fancying people, I always fancied people that were completely outside of my circle, because they were forbidden fruit!” we all laughed at this, “So I could never have them! Because everyone in my circle – you’d never think of them that way, so I only ever saw the negative side of it. But, like you say, there is a positive, in that you can kind’ve have cross gender friendships without people going ‘ooh’ and stuff, and exist in a world without regret or the pressure to deal with anything related to relationships, or sex really.”
When I asked them where they saw the influence of punk today, there was a long, deathly silence. “In Topshop!” said Sara, at last, adding, in relation to the voxpops, “We saw it all over Afflecks Palace yesterday,” and we discussed the baffling array of punk influenced fashion we’d seen, up to and including the shop selling Plasmatics handbags, Blondie babygro’s, and child sized Bowie t-shirts. “It’s the CD ‘Punk Rock Baby’ isn’t it?” said Sara, “You know, lullaby versions of ‘White Riot’, all very nice isn’t it?”
David chipped in at this point, “And even ‘Nouvelle Vague’, even though I might quite like some of the bossa nova versions, my party line is that I hate it, it violates punk”
Fashionwise, “It’s nothing but brief experiments in looks” said David, “cos as we said before, that can feel exhilarating, to look different from other people and to not care that you don’t fit in, but when its just part of the kind of horrible, freemarket, smorgasbord of you’re entitled to everything you want, you don’t have to give a shit about anything else, and punks a part of that, it’s just very sad really, very sad.” He adds, “I mean, I’m not completely miserable about it, just don’t seem a bit too obviously inspired by it, though obviously the weirdo’s at school, it’s still feeding through them.”
Sara adds, “It’s so easy now, so conveniently packaged, and… it’s not an alternative. But maybe it is? I don’t know, but there’s a packaged version that can be taken straight off the peg.” The sheer frustration is evident as she cries, “There’s no pain involved! And that’s not right…”
This interview was conducted at The Social in what was then still URBIS, on 22nd November 2009