Monthly Archives: February 2010

ST. ANDREW OF BEDROOM ROCK Andy Partridge (Pt. 2)

More of our
free-association tango with the XTC/Dukes of Stratosphear auteur.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Editor’s note: we
continue our conversation with good man Andy Partridge, who as we pointed out
in part one of the BLURT interview, will hold forth, unfiltered, on freaks (and
freak magnetism), Nigel moments, unsexy heavy metal, crap rap, Grandpa
Partridge’s war wounds, religion, comic books, and why he hates concerts. Among
many topics – not to mention that massive Dukes of Stratosphear box set.

 

FOOD OF THE GODS

Partridge once had an enormous comic book collection, but it
met an untimely end when mice infested his apartment above an old shop. “I was
away on tour a lot,” he recalls, “and [the mice] ate through stacks of comics,
the Mylar bags and everything. That was a real heartbreak.” Partridge figured
if he couldn’t keep his comics safe and in mint condition, he’d sell them. “I
let ‘em go for a song, which is a shame, because now my son’s an animator and
it would’ve been great to give him such a great comic collection for
reference.”

 

ANDY WHORE-HOL

XTC fans know Partridge’s affinity toward visual art, and
that he’s served as his own art director on XTC releases, including the Dukes
box set. “I love doing all that stuff. That’s a big thrill for me… to try to do
as much of the artwork. I’m a real packaging slut, I tell ya.” He’s rather
proud of the orange (and blue limited-edition) double-disc packaging for the
eponymous debut of Monstrance (Partridge with former XTC keyboard player Barry
Andrews and drummer Martyn Baker, who played with Andrews in Shriekback) CD. “I
think it looks like an art object, you know?” He also enjoyed creating the
book-ish digipak for The Lowdown, the
debut release of another side project, Orpheus
(with Slapp Happy’s Peter Blegvad). “Orpheus was fun to do; I like the silvered
ink on dark brown-it makes it look like old photographic stock, the nitrate
type thing on old photographs. It was good fun building the collages. Peter and
I built them on the glass plate of his scanner with just stuff out of the
garden and bits of paper and stationery and stuff like that.”

 

CHECK OUT THAT BOX

Naturally the Dukes box, what with the puzzle, shirt, Dukes
Dollars, and fuzzy velvet box, was good fun for Partridge to design. “Yeah,
it’s the kind of thing, if the Ape label loses money, at least I’ll be able to
move into the box! That was a blast. It’s nice; it looks like a sort of
psychedelic funeral parlor. [laughs] It’s that color, the dark purple and the
kind of ornate, Victorian-looking stuff on it. It reminds me of a sexy funeral
parlor. Does such a thing exist? Die Filthily! Randy’s Mourning Glory Emporium!

 

            “It was
meant to be something you’d use to keep something precious. Or even
chocolates-“eat me, please” and blow-your-mind kind of thing. And also a little
referential to that gloriously daft, late psychedelic record Odessa by the Bee Gees. Again, it’s meant to evoke the late-60s because that’s really
the whole Dukes thing. If it doesn’t make you feel that it’s historically accurate,
it hasn’t done its job, I don’t think.”

 

ALL THAT RAP JAZZ

The purple velvet on the Dukes box also gives off a pimp
vibe-Bishop Don Magic Juan comes to mind, although his hue of choice is green.
“Who’s Bishop Don?” Told BDMJ is a pimp “spiritual advisor” to Snoop Dogg,
Partridge says he’s not a fan-of Snoop or hip-hop.

 

“It’s a world I know little of,
young fellow! I don’t really revolve in those R&B, rappy circles much.
Although I have to admit – begrudgingly – that the hip-hop and rap stuff is probably
the only new-ish musical sensation in
the last twenty years.” This prop comes at the expense of current indie rock
bands, which sound derivative to Partridge, “like they’re straight out of
1974.”

 

            As for
Snoop, et al? “[Snoop Dogg] seems to rub me up the wrong way; I can’t tell you
why.” And its message and image of gangsta/bling rap-“the sort of stuff you say
on the playground when you’re six years old-that draws Partridge’s ire: “‘I’m
gonna kill you and I’m gonna shoot you and your mum and your girlfriends and
everything, and I’m gonna fill you full of holes!’ Then you rewrite it as Straight Outta Compton and away you go.
It just seems kinda childish to me.

 

            “I don’t
think there’s any nobility to rap, whereas there’s fantastic nobility to a lot of jazz, a real sense of nobly
searching for new ways of doing things. Jazz is America’s greatest gift to the
world. Forget Coca-Cola, forget blue jeans… And hey-a lot of people making jazz
are poor and black, but their boasting comes through the music, not literal
‘I’m gonna shoot your ass’ type stuff.”

 

DISNEY POP: NOT AS
BAD AS METAL?

“Yeah, you gotta let them make their own mistakes and
discoveries,” Partridge said when the subject of kids being force-fed crap
tween-pop like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. That’s all he had to say
about Disney’s musical transgressions. Heavy metal’s what really drives him
nuts.

 

“Somebody said, ‘Heavy metal took
the sex out of rock.’ And it’s true. ‘I’m a zombie and I’m gonna eat your
soul!’ and ‘Welcome to Hell!’ Come on! Come fucking on! The dog fart vocal, and the ‘spawn of Satan’? Oh, fuck off.
It’s just really wanky, teenage kid music. You just know it’s made by virgins for virgins. They drained every last drop
of sex out of rock n’ roll with all this talk of blood and visceral decay and
zombie flesh rotting. You know, [imitates
mumbly, mush-mouthed metal singer
]! Jesus Christ. They all sing like some
sort of fucking villains from Scooby-Doo.
‘Look out, here comes Carrot-Man!’ [more
metal mimicry
] I don’t know how you’re going to write that out, by the
way.”

 

COCKERNEE ENVY

The Dukes song “You’re A Good Man Albert Brown (Curse You
Red Barrel)” was an attempt to write “one of those fluent cockernee [Note: Cockney rhyming slang], knees-up,
kind of pub psychedelia songs.” The danceable strain of psych, says Partridge,
seemed to be getting a grip in England
in the late ‘60s. “Really, the Kinks were to blame for that, with “Dedicated
Follower of Fashion,” and then the Stones caught it [sings “Something Happened
to Me Yesterday”]. They really wanted to be the Kinks at a certain point. And
also the Small Faces had a lot of ‘how’s your father’ cockernee [psych songs].

 

GER-SCHPLODEN:
PARTRIDGE’S BIG BANG

The lyrics to “Albert Brown” are a mishmash of the true
story of Partridge’s paternal grandfather Albert and Elsie Brown, the nurse who
nursed Grandpa Partridge back to health after he was wounded in the trenches in
the first World War-and later became Partridge’s grandmother. The song title
combines their names and checks Red Barrel-“this appalling beer that was everywhere in England in the ‘60s and ‘70s”-in
the parenthetical.

 

            “It’s
really quite truthful and factual,” says Partridge, “which is unusual for the
Dukes.” Albert Partridge, he tells, was due to field-test the then-new secret
weapon-the tank-that afternoon. During combat that morning, Albert was manning
the machine gun, and a shell landed near him. “It blew every tooth out of his
head but one, strangely enough.”

 

Partridge says “It would be nice to
meet the German that shot the shell that exploded and blew my granddad’s face
apart… If that German hadn’t fired that shell, I wouldn’t be here now. So I’m
shaking him by the hand, somewhere in a heavenly realm. Danke schoen, mein
freund, for ze ger-schellen, explody, ger-schpunken… plunken. Whatever.
Ger-schploden? There’s probably a long word with about fifty letters in it that
describes that action.”

 

SHEPHERD’S PIE: YOUR
NIGEL MOMENT

Although XTC mate Colin Moulding wrote “Making Plans for
Nigel,” Partridge identifies with the song’s central theme. “It happened to me.
I’m sure every parent has this thing, where you plan for your child’s future…
he’s gonna be an accountant or a furniture salesman or usually [something to do
with] the parents’ interests and backgrounds. They do everything to steer you
and guide you into that sort of world.”

 

He calls the realization that you
want something other than what your parents plan a “Nigel moment.” Partridge’s
went thusly.

 

“Once I’d seen the Monkees on TV,
and I’d seen A Hard Day’s Night and Help! at the cinema, that was it. ‘Wow,
this is how you get girls-and it looks easy! You get nice clothes and you live
together with your friends in a house. And writing songs can’t be difficult,
can it? Yeah, that’s the job for me.’ And suddenly I forgot all about wanting
to be a policeman or joining the Navy like my father.”

 

OF SHORTS AND
SHRIEKS: IS THERE A CORRELATION?

Partridge wasn’t sure of everything at that 1964 screening of A Hard
Day’s Night
. “I think I was in short trousers at the time,” he recalls,
“and I remember feeling very torn. All the girls are screaming, and I thought
‘Are boys supposed to scream?’ I didn’t scream, but I felt very confused.
Should I be screaming? Is that the etiquette? Does one scream? Are you supposed
to have long trousers on to scream? Because it means something different if you
scream and you’re in shorts.”

 

FUCK A CONCERT

“I can’t stand concerts; I hate going to concerts. I always
have.” Such a strange admission for a musician, but Partridge makes sense of it
– after all, he is St. Andrew of Bedroom Rock (Or Whatever You Want to Call
It).

 

            “I had the
chance to see the Beatles live or Hendrix live. I’ve seen dozens of bands as a
teenager and in my twenties. I have never been really satisfied. I prefer getting the record on and putting on my
headphones and just disappearing inside of my own world. I don’t want to be
with a load of sweaty people yelling and waving lighters or throwing cans of
beer and stuff.

“I used to see bands and think,
‘No, you’re out of tune’ or ‘[scoffs] You can that a light show? That’s shit’
or ‘You dressed really poorly. I
wouldn’t come on stage wearing that
or ‘This music’s rotten. I could write a better song than that.’ I was always far
too critical. So many bands I’ve walked out on because they’ve not satisfied
me. But that’s kinda part of the drive of wanting to do it yourself. You think,
‘Oh I can do better than this, and I’m gonna.'”

 

OPIATE-FREE KIDS

Religion is a pet peeve of Partridge’s. It came up when
discussing religious reactions to “Pink Thing,” an ambiguously written song
that Partridge confirmed in the Fuzzy
Warbles Volume 6
liners is about his son and not his penis, although the
double-entendres are intentional. An excerpt of his explanation:

 

            “…You want so badly to write about your kids,
it’s natural, but it seems too easy to fall into the sickly greeting cards
world overpopulated by flatulent but well-meaning fathers. So I thought I’d
write about Harry in a way that was utterly unmistakable with thinly disguised
filth. … Of course, being more of an upright member of society these days, if I
spot a D.E. in my lyrics I whip it out immediately
.”

 

            So the
suggestion that pious acquaintances freaked out about lyrics like “Pink thing,
spit in my eye/I’d love you for it” probably pushed a button, eliciting this
reaction from the devoted father and unapologetic lyricist and general no-shit
guy:

 

“You know I think there should be a
campaign started-children should not be exposed to any religious upbringing.
They should be legally allowed to choose their own religion when they become
legally an adult. Not to have it put on to them in any way. If they ask
questions, like every kid does, and you feel you must give a religious answer,
then that’s fine. But the squeezing of kids into this mold, I think, is really
wrong-whatever the religion. It’s the sole reason that religion perpetuates, is
through forcing it on to your children … They’re trying to baptize that spunk
before you’re even conceived.”

 

 

 

ST. ANDREW OF BEDROOM ROCK Andy Partridge (Pt. 1)

Free-association time
with the XTC/Dukes of Stratosphear auteur.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

It’s no accident that Andy Partridge’s discography – all
those XTC and solo/side band  albums,
including the nine-disc rarities set Fuzzy
Warbles
– looks bottomless. The guy has a lot on his mind, and therefore
much to say. Get him on the phone, despite his reputation for granting scant
interviews, and you’ll see it’s true.

 

Though the occasion was the release of The Complete and Utter Dukes, a posh box set collecting both albums by XTC’s ‘60s-psych alter ego the
Dukes of the Stratosphear on 180-gram vinyl (along with a Dukes single,
T-shirt, Dukes Dollars, and a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle), Partridge went long for
Blurt and discussed all manner of
things. Usually, it had to do with his music, but often he veered delightfully
off-course. Just a taste of the topics covered: freaks (and freak magnetism),
Nigel moments, unsexy heavy metal, crap rap, Grandpa Partridge’s war wounds, religion,
comic books, and why he hates concerts.

 

For the uninitiated, in the hope they might continue reading
and be moved to look into XTC, we’ve condensed Partridge’s epic answers into
(in some cases, relatively) bite-sized, easily digestible blurbs.

 

What follows is part one of our conversation, and as you
might imagine, part two of our conversation follows, logically enough,
tomorrow. Thank you, and good night.

 

***

 

WOT’S IN A NAME?

A notorious scamp, Partridge asks the first question, poking
fun at his interviewer’s name. “How’d you get a name like that? You know the
connotation [for ‘randy’] in England,
don’t you? Do you live up to your name? [laughs]
Can you imagine an English gentleman called ‘Lord Horny Smythe’?”

            Finally, he
relents-and points his scathing wit toward himself. 

 

“It’s better than my name. I always
hated it. ‘Andrew’ sounded like some child had dropped an ice cream on the
sidewalk and it was melting. To me, that’s the picture it kinda conjures up.
Actually, I got called Andrew because the nickname for the British Royal Navy
is ‘The Andrew.’ But it sounds so wet and accidental. There you go, there’s my
personality all in one!”

 

SINGAPORE STRINGS

Like any budding rocker, Partridge spent hours locked in his
room making a racket he hoped would be the big sound. He captures this scene in
a song on the Fuzzy Warbles set
called “Sonic Boom.”

 

“That was just about me as a
teenager getting into my bedroom with my cheap guitar,” he says. “My parents
would be out and I’d turn my little cruddy 40-watt amplifier full up. I’d
really make the house shake! Of course the neighbors would complain and I’d get
in trouble, but it was such a great feeling to plug in my cruddy little East
German amplifier and this Singaporean guitar and just go rrrrraaaaaaa!

 

I, LODESTONE

XTC’s music is peopled with freaks, geeks and weirdos. Is
Andy Partridge a freak magnet? “No, I’m pretty normal. I’m more of a nerd
magnet… All these kids making music in their bedrooms, I seem to be the patron
saint of that. I’m St. Andrew of Bedroom Rock or whatever you want to call it.”

 

So are the aforementioned misfits
caricatures? Amalgams of people he’s met in his travels? Maybe a little, but
“most songs that I’ve ever written, if I go back and analyze them, even though
I might be referring to “he” or “she” or “them” or “they,” it’s usually me that
I’m talking about, some facet of my personality. When you put this mask on and
you [hide behind pronouns], you feel more comfortable about singing about
yourself. That’s a common trick, though.”

 

JACKIE WHOA

One character that’s definitely not Partridge pops up in a
Dukes song, “Have You Seen Jackie?” The tune was originally called “Have You
Seen Sydney? – referencing legendary strange-ling Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd,
but Partridge, feeling the Syd reference would be lost under the assumption he
meant Sydney, Australia, changed it. Not that the
lyrics lead us to believe otherwise.

 

“[It’s about] Arnold Lane, this
pervert who steals women’s underwear off of washing lines. I thought that was a
typical British, dopey, psychedelic thing to sing about, these malfunctioning
people. Jesus Christ! The most
enormous WASP I’ve ever seen in my life – that’s not part of the lyric; it
really is the biggest WASP I’ve ever seen-has now come out from being asleep,
or hidden away somewhere, and he’s just freaking me out. That’s not natural!
That shouldn’t even fly! Like, you know what I mean? That is not aerodynamic.”

 

Partridge carries on:

 

“Jesus, where’s it gone? Well as
long as it hasn’t landed on me. God, it was horrible.
It was like a slipper attacking the light bulb. It was… Wow. Nightmare
interlude over.”

 

            With the
Lang/Jackie character, Partridge went one further and had he/she dress in the
ladies’ garments. “You’re not [supposed to be] sure whether it’s a boy or a
girl, so I needed a two-syllable pansexual name. I went with ‘Jackie’ and sang
all the sexes mixed up in the song. I just wanted to do the typical song that
bands would’ve sung about, trying to be deep and meaningful, in 1967.”

 

            The
eccentric character, as well as the psychedelic sound the Dukes shot for,
presented a creative challenge for Partridge, writing out of context as a Duke
instead of within XTC. “The thing with these pastiche things, you have to get
under the skin of it and [ask yourself], What would they write about? How would
they write? What sort of words would they use? How’s the music gonna sound?
It’s like a musical acting role.”

 

KEEP IT SIMPLE,
STUPID

XTC’s sweet, lovesick hit “The Mayor of Simpleton” got
slagged in some quarters as a rewrite of Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” The
similarity is striking: Cooke’s song says “Don’t know much about history/don’t
know much biology… but I don know that I love you” while Partridge’s simpleton
says “Never been near a university/Never took a paper or a learned degree…/but
I know one thing/and that’s I love you.” Partridge, however, rejects the
criticism.

 

“It wasn’t really my era; I wasn’t
into rock n’ roll, as such. As a kid, while rock n’ roll was happening, you
couldn’t hear it on British radio. All you could hear that was any good, to my
kid brain, was novelty records. Which is what psychedelia was, I guess. Novelty
records with adults in mind.”

 

            As with
most of Partridge’s songs, “Mayor of Simpleton” has a deeper meaning than some
dim bulb baring his soul. “I’m trying to say that people can value learning as
much as they can value a morbid approach from the heart. It’s all valuable.
Don’t put down learning and don’t put down the people that haven’t learned and
do it from their heart.”

 

PSYCHEDELIC
TRIP(TYCH): THE BEATLES

In detailing the origin of the Dukes song “Brainiac’s
Daughter,” Partridge paints a triptych of Beatles psychedelia, which he sees as
split into three camps, according to songwriter.

 

John Lennon

“Lennon very much draws on Alice in Wonderland and Edward Lear, and it’s a sort of a slightly
evil, malevolent Victorian drawing room thing.”

 

George Harrison

“George Harrison psychedelia is this sort of glorious mess
of Indian-esque scales and lots of spun-in or sped-up sounds.”

 

Paul McCartney

“McCartney psychedelia is probably banana fingers piano, inevitably a ukulele in the background.
And probably bubbles. He’s singing it, or he’s done it for Ringo to sing.”

 

With “Brainiac’s Daughter,” Partridge worked
McCartney-style, using the titular supervillain from Superman comics as inspiration. “I was a big comic collector in my
teens and twenties-American comics. I had a huge collection of Marvel and DC
and all the other brands, Dell and Harvey
and all that stuff. I thought, ‘Let’s do a song about another unusual
character.’ Brainiac didn’t have a daughter, but I liked this idea of a woman
with green skin and lights on her head just like her dad, doing goofy stuff.

 

            “A little
while later, I was on a signing jaunt, one of those meet-and-greet types of
things, in New York.
A couple of guys came up to the desk and showed me some pictures. They’d turned
Brainiac’s Daughter into a real character and, in honor, they called her XTC.
Being a big comics fan, that was a real thrill that somebody liked [my song]
enough to create a real comics character.”

 

To be continued… keep
your eyes peeled for part two, tomorrow.

 

SOUL PUNK FOR YOUNG SOULS Cold War Kids

A brief encounter with
vocalist Nathan Willet, discussing his band’s recent EP and their plans for the
future.

 

BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

 

The number of artists melding blues, rock, pop and soul into
one is on the rise. However, many musicians merely reenact sounds from our
musical past and often remain in the confines of this paradigm. Enter California’s Cold War
Kids: they have manipulated this fine equation to create a sound all their own,
injecting a jolt of adrenaline into this evolving genre.

 

En route to Anchorage,
Alaska, the last stop of Cold War
Kids’ short tour in support of their latest EP Behave Yourself, lead singer Nathan Willet took a few moments in
between flights to chat. So while sitting in an airport amongst crying children
and chattering passengers Willet discussed future plans for the Kids – Willet,
guitarist Jonathan Russell, bassist Matt Maust, drummer Matt Aveiro – and the
recent release of Behave.

 

However you’d like to define “success” it is fair to say
Cold War Kids is on the cusp of it. When the Kids formed six years ago, they
did not put the cart before the horse with delusions of grandeur. “We didn’t
really know what our hopes were from the beginning.” Willet says, adding, “All
we knew is that we liked the kind of music we were playing. Now we’ve kind of
come into success and found our place, it’s very much what we’ve hoped for.”

 

Humbled by the experience, Willet admits, “I’m always amazed
– especially with this last record – that people know all the words, even to
the old recordings. It feels good, it’s incredible, it really blows me away.
Over the last four years of touring it keeps growing and it’s really great.”
However, from the other side of the mic, it is easy to see why spectators become
enamored by the Kids; one live performance and they will reform naysayers and
recruit new fans. (After having personally witnessed Cold War Kids in action, I
can say this with assurance. Before the show began a security guard approached
and asked, “What kind of music do they do?” After their sweltering performance
I had to ask for his thoughts: with a shrug and smile the bouncer admitted, “Oh
yeah, they were good.”)

 

And three EPs and two LPs later, Cold War Kids compositions improve
with each release. A bridge between Loyal
to Loyalty
and their upcoming third LP, Behave is a collection of songs that did not make it onto the sophomore release. One
listen to the short, four track EP it’s clear that these songs were not cut due
to an inferior sound. “The last record had a darker, broodier sound,” Willet explains.
“These songs are more uplifting… lighter, so we re-recorded them and released
them on their own so that people would have a different ‘feel’ before the next
album.” Indeed a “lighter” affair, Behave
Yourself
triggers that happy place in your sonic pleasure center. However,
Cold War Kids’ music has always incorporated an upbeat tone even when a sense
of foreboding lingers; the key to this juxtaposition, Willet’s lyrics.

 

Whether a contemplative pessimist in “Something is Not Right
With Me,” a lovelorn woman in “Every Man I Fall For,” or a thieving church-goer
in “Passing the Hat,” Willet is known for weaving creative, narrative-styled
words that unveil troublesome tales from unique perspectives. But since the
band wants to explore new terrain for their upcoming third LP, this may change…
perhaps. Willet chuckles as he stammers, “You know, I don’t know yet. I do know
that [the lyrics] will be more personal and less narrative…maybe.”

 

Well, possibly it’s too soon to make a definitive decision
on the future creative process. Yet, one thing is certain: for the first time
the Kids will be working with a producer throughout the entire process of album
creation. Jacquire King, talented mixer to musicians such as Tom Waits, Josh
Ritter, Buddy Guy and more, will add Cold War Kids to his roster. “This is the
first time we’ve worked with someone who has a say in the songwriting and helps
to shape how things are going to sound. It’s going to be a great experience, having
his wisdom,” Willet says. “The old recordings were quick and fun, not a lot of
overdub. This recording will be a much more lush arrangement. I think that this
is the first time we have a high expectation for people to really respond to a
record.”

 

And with the upcoming LP hopefully the Kids will achieve
their ambitions. Fans will have faith; the Kids have every element to make this
dream a reality – great music, unique lyrics, and a memorable live show.
Willet, clearly, has confidence in his and his bandmates’ abilities when he
observes, “I think we are incredibly unique as a band especially compared to
the mainstream world. I think that our qualities, combining soul and punk, are
unique to people and we are forging ground on a musical category that no one is
really doing right now.”

 

Worth noting, too, is the humanitarian side of the band: Cold
War Kids let a portion of their recent ticket sales aid those in Haiti –
in addition to a benefit concert recently performed in NYC. Also, they continually raise awareness for Water Wells for Africa. Says
Willet, “When we were on tour with Death Cab for Cutie we did a running [competition]
where we raised money for [the organization].”

 

Once back in the sunny hills of California, Willet and the Cold War Kids will
soon begin work on the third album. So, on this cold day, resting in an airport
before taking off for Alaska,
Willet gets one final question from BLURT: If you could choose five words to
describe your band, what would they be?

 

Willet’s response after a moment of deliberation: “Soul punk
for young souls.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Matt Wignall]

 

RENAISSANCE MEN Midlake

The Denton group makes
expansive music for introverts.

 

BY MARK KEMP

 

Tim Smith never gave rock a second thought.
He was a serious jazz saxophonist who spent his Eighties childhood in San
Antonio holed up at home rehearsing scales while other kids were playing
outside together, mimicking Michael Jackson moves. Smith missed hair metal and
he missed grunge. Even a country music-loving high school girlfriend couldn’t
pull him away from his horn. Then, during his last year of college at North
Texas School of Music in Denton,
he discovered Radiohead.

 

The band changed his life. Smith said goodbye
to jazz and hello to indie rock. He picked up a guitar, started listening to
groups he’d never heard of, and he joined Midlake, whose folk-pop single
“Roscoe,” from its 2006 album The Trials
of Van Occupanther,
created quite the buzz among the back-to-nature
indie-rock set. It took a while for Midlake to get to that sound. After
listening obsessively to Radiohead for a year, Smith discovered Clinic and the
Flaming Lips, and flirted with a fuzzier, more psychedelic indie sound on
Midlake’s earliest releases. But further research and discussions with friends
led him deeper into the rock canon, to classic albums he’d missed growing up –
the Seventies pop of Fleetwood Mac and progressive folk-rock of Jethro Tull and
the Fairport Convention. It was there that he found his muse.

 

“I have a tendency to be nostalgic about
things,” Smith says in the same soft voice he uses in his songs. He’s sitting
on a space heater backstage before a show at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, North
Carolina, his rustic beard and light brown V-neck
sweater blending perfectly with the city’s mountain-hippie vibe. “I’m not
really into a lot of modern things or the mindset of instant gratification or
grabbing people’s attention right now. I’m always asking, ‘Where is the
substance?’ I look back and I see paintings from the Medieval or Renaissance
periods and I really get into that kind of mindset.”

 

An avid reader of classic literature and
philosophy – Goethe is a favorite – Smith likes the mix of old and contemporary
instruments and melodies with philosophical themes on albums like Tull’s Aqualung. In “Acts of Man,” from
Midlake’s latest release The Courage of
Others
, classical-sounding acoustic guitar blends with a feathery flute,
recalling the gentler moments of such Tull songs as “Living in the Past.”
Smith’s lyrics are just as evocative. “Roscoe” found him musing in a gentle,
wistful tenor on what life might be like if he’d been born in an another era.

 

When he joined Midlake in 1999, the band’s
sound couldn’t have been more different. “At that time, the accepted form of
rock to be playing if you were a music geek at a jazz school was funk,” says
drummer McKenzie Smith (no relation), who formed the group with fellow jazz
students Paul Alexander on bass and Eric Nichelson on guitar. But with Smith’s
voracious appetite for discovering more and more of the rock albums he’d never
heard as a child, he quickly became Midway’s leader. He refuses to bring in
outside producers to help with the band’s sound, which has meant long delays
between albums. “Tim knows what he is after,” says Simon Raymonde, the former
Cocteau Twins bassist who heads Midway’s record label Bella Union. “I get it,
and I don’t care how long he takes, as long as he keeps making music as
affecting as this. Few bands possess the ability to move me to tears, but
Midlake do, repeatedly.”

 

Smith’s biggest obstacle may be the very
shyness that allowed him to sit alone and master the saxophone when he was a
kid. In the brooding title track of the new album, he sings, “I will never have
the courage of others, I will not approach you at all … I was always taught
to worry about things.”

 

He explains: “You know, you see people all the
time doing things that you feel like you couldn’t do, and you can’t imagine how
they’re able to do it – how can a person talk like that or say something that?
– whether it’s good or bad. I certainly feel that way sometimes and I’m sure a
lot of other people feel that way, too.”

 

He cracks a hint of a smile. “I mean, I might
be a little bit more introverted than a lot of people.”

 

 

The next leg of Midlake’s North American tour starts March 1 in Tucson. Go to their
official website for tour dates and more. See the video for “Acts of Man,” from
the new album, below.

YouTube Preview Image

[Photo Credit: Jon Beck]

 

 

UNIVERSAL TRUTHS AND PSYCHOS Eugene Mirman

The alternative comedian wants to help you help you.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Eugene Mirman is the Oracle, the omnipotent, omniscient,
omnisexual alternative comedian. In other words, exactly the type of guy who should write a self-help book. Carnegie?
Covey? Eugene
proves them all miserable hacks with his first book, The Will to Whatevs (Harper Perennial). In the pages of this
weighty tome are insights and answers to every vexing situation one can come
across in this life, provided “one” is not a baby. “Babies can’t read,” Eugene
writes. “And they can’t plan ahead.”

 

 

Backstage Etiquette

In the chapter called “The Fifty N’s of Nightlife,” Eugene
recommends making a fake press pass from some rock magazine like BLURT’s previous incarnation, Harp. But what to do when you’re behind
the velvet rope? Say you’re backstage after a Guided by Voices show, and very
high (on weed). There’s a deli tray, and the band has called out for pizza. Is
it okay to enjoy the meats and cheeses, even if they offer? ‘Cause I saw some
guys decimate GBVs victuals one night. “If it’s been abandoned, sure.
Otherwise, nobody wants a stranger eating their food. If they offer, yeah – If
Aerosmith doesn’t want me eating their cold cuts, then they shouldn’t suggest
it… They ate all of Guided by Voices’
food
? [laughing] Basically, I
recommend not being insanely high and having a sense of manners.”

 

 

Spoof Medicine

Although The Will to
Whatevs
is comedy, is there some aspect of it that would actually help someone?
“The stuff in it that’s clearly a lie is something people shouldn’t do. The
thing is, all self-help books basically tell you, ‘Okay, be confident and try
something! Don’t stay home and cry!’ So I feel like if anybody read [my book]
and said, ‘I’m gonna go write a song’ or start a band, then that’s fine.”

 

 

Use Science to Blow
Away the World

In the book, Eugene says to do what Einstein did-which he
regrets not doing-and blow the world away with genius scientific breakthroughs.
“I’d highly recommend that.” But isn’t he now, with this book, making genius observations
in the area of social science? “

[laughs] Yes, I’m
now doing what I should’ve done in high school, which was write a self-help
book.”

 

 

Letting Go of the
Past

The book uses aspects of Eugene’s life to teach a few
serious lessons about self-worth, anxiety and letting go of the past. Namely,
he talks about being both the little Russian immigrant and the new kid in
school, and how it once prompted a classmate to set Eugene’s hair ablaze. How
do you let go of something like that? “It’s not great, getting your hair set on
fire. How do you let go of the past? You have to like yourself… and move on. Join
a club or do a fun activity, practice guitar. Do something that makes you feel
good about yourself. Yeah, people do horrible things. But are you gonna be mad
at a nine-year-old forever? You big baby. That’s what I say to them. Kids are
like tiny soldiers that are trained to commit atrocities against each other.”
[It should be noted that, years later, Eugene’s
classmate included this incident on his Alcoholics Anonymous amends-making
list.]

 

 

Bonus: Eugene’s Financial Tips
For These Troubled Economic Times

 

1: Start a business that generates money on the side. Maybe involve Google Ads.

 

2: Don’t go out to eat as much.

 

3: And when you buy food, only buy cheap string beans.

 

 

Follow Eugene Mirman
on Twitter. Seriously. No, really. You think it’s easy being hilarious in 140
characters or less? We’ve been following him for ages now. You’ll be glad you did.
Dig it: http://twitter.com/EugeneMirman

 

DON’T CRUSH THAT DWARF Chris Knox

Sidelined by a recent
stroke, the Tall Dwarfs frontman still casts a huge shadow, as evidenced by a
tribute album released next week.

 

BY
JUD COST

 

Chris
Knox, a man whose outrageous onstage antics and insatiable lust for life are
almost as legendary in his New
Zealand homeland as the music he’s created
during a fertile 30-year career, is currently recuperating in a rehabilitation
hospital after suffering a stroke on June 11 of last year.

 

As
is the case with most stroke victims, no one can predict how complete the
recovery will be. Barbara Ward, Knox’s longtime domestic partner, was upbeat
two months after the stroke, speaking from the couple’s Auckland home: “As they say, every day is
a new day. So, yeah, we’re hopeful.” Old friend Martin Phillipps of
Kiwi-rock icons the Chills adds, “If anyone can recover from a thing like
that it will be Chris because he’s just so determined.”

 

By
that point work had already begun on a Chris Knox tribute album to help defray
medical expenses. Called, cheekily and fittingly enough, Stroke, the record features contributions from David Kilgour of the
Clean, the Bats, the Chills, Graeme Downes of the Verlaines, Portastatic, Yo La
Tengo, Will Oldham, Jeff Mangum, Lou Barlow, the Mountain Goats, Jay Reatard
and Bill Callahan, as well as Alec Bathgate, Knox’s co-conspirator in revered
Kiwi-rock duo the Tall Dwarfs – and a track from the Dwarfs themselves. (Knox,
left, and Bathgate are pictured in the photo at the top of the page.)

 

The
album came out last year in New Zealand
and will be issued in slightly expanded format (36 songs across two discs) next
week in the U.S.
by Merge Records.

 

Although
he’d been writing songs since he was a pimply teenager, screaming them out at
the top of his lungs while seated at a piano, Chris Knox didn’t actually join a
rock band until 1977, when he was already an old geezer of 25.  That’s when Bathgate and Mike Dooley, two
18-year-old kids thinking about forming a band, entered the Dunedin record shop
where Knox had just created a display case for the first punk single to invade
New Zealand, “Neat, Neat, Neat” by the Damned. “I could write
songs, so by definition I became the singer for the Enemy,” Knox told this
writer, during a 2005 interview.

 

The
Enemy became New Zealand’s
Ramones, its Sex Pistols, the band other kids used as a template to create
their own punk/new wave outfits. Inspired by the shocking onstage behavior of
Iggy Pop, Knox went to great lengths to keep a night with the Enemy burning
like a hot wire imbedded in the brain.

 

“Shaving
cream, rolls of tape, plastic sacks, old tin foil, I’d put on anything that was
handy, just for a bit of attention,” Knox said. “The Enemy had a song
called ‘Iggy Told Me,’ and one day it occurred to me to have a hack at myself
with broken glass. Blood was produced and it made a big impression. Hygiene
wasn’t really big in the late ’70s.”

 

Knox
got a rabid crowd reaction from such antics, especially the first night the
Enemy played a pub in Auckland.
“There was a table of Pacific Islanders up front,” he said.
“When I sliced myself right under their noses, one of them grabbed me and
sucked the blood right off my arm, just gobbled it up. I thought that was
great: ‘These people understand me.'”

 

Robert
Scott, who went on to play bass for the Clean and start his own combo, the
Bats, received his live-music baptism courtesy of the Enemy. “That was a
real eye-opener,” says Scott. “I remember thinking, ‘Ooo, is this what live music’s supposed to
be like?'” Scott recalls Knox hiding behind a curtain at a Clean show,
pulling away drummer Hamish Kilgour’s kick pedal. Then there was the time when
Knox was touring with the Clean as a solo act. “He was being silly on the
plane,” says Scott, “trying to make us all laugh, and it turned into
him having an epileptic fit.”

 

Martin
Phillipps saw the Enemy twice. “I thought Chris was quite frightening, and
he didn’t even cut himself up when I saw him,” says Phillipps. “He
looked like some sort of mental patient who’d got out for the weekend.”
Phillipps also witnessed Knox’s fragile side when they were both guest artists
on a 1982 session with the Clean. While the band was recording “Getting
Older” in Auckland,
Knox had an epileptic seizure. “That’s why he sings on the first two
choruses of that song and not the third,” says Phillipps.

 

Too
young to have seen the Enemy, Graeme Downes, who later fronted the Verlaines in
Dunedin, did experience Knox’s second band, Toy Love, a group heavily
influenced by Howard DeVoto’s tenure in both the early Buzzcocks and Magazine.
“Chris was very animated, demonic as hell with eyes bulging and a blank
stare,” says Downes. It’s unanimous among his musical peers, however, that
Knox, though at times frankly critical of their work, was always there with a
helpful word. “I had tried to play the guitar before,” recalls the
Clean’s David Kilgour. “He certainly encouraged me, convinced me that I
could do this.”

 

Fast
becoming a hot item in New Zealand,
and recently signed to a management deal with Michael Browning who’d helped
turn AC/DC into big stars, Toy Love made an abortive attempt to conquer Australia in
1980. “We expected we’d be hugely popular there too, and of course we
weren’t,” said Knox. “We got pretty bitter and twisted about
it.” Toy Love’s goodbye raspberry to the land down under was Bathgate’s
gig poster depicting a spread-eagled sheep being fucked from behind by an
Aussie stockman.

 

Back
in their homeland in late 1980, Toy Love decided to call it a day. Knox and
Bathgate, still good friends through all the ups and downs of the Enemy and Toy
Love, stripped their music to the bone and paired up as Tall Dwarfs. “It
wasn’t really that much of a conscious effort,” said Knox. “My
grandmother died and left me some money.” He used the cash to buy a TEAC
4-track tape recorder and began cutting material with Bathgate which turned
into Three Songs, Tall Dwarfs’ 1981
debut EP.

 

“We’d
always loved that 1965-68 period of pop and rock where everybody was just
exploding with weird ideas, using different instruments and getting away with
it,” said Knox. They were well on their way to becoming, as he put it,
“two aging punks with guitars.” During their almost three-decade
career, Tall Dwarfs would cast a lo-fi spell over U.S. indie-rockers from Yo La
Tengo and Pavement to  Smog and Neutral
Milk Hotel; perversely, had it not been for the intervention of Knox’s stroke,
the Dwarfs might have been exposed to an entire new generation, as they’d been
tapped to open for a series of shows for MGMT in June. (During periods of
Dwarfs inactivity, Knox has also kept busy, most recently forming Chris Knox
& the Nothing.)

 

In
all the time they’ve played together, Knox and Bathgate have crossed swords
only once, right after their band’s drummer was arrested for stealing a
watermelon from a market on Christmas Eve, 1978. “We’d been drinking quite
a bit, driving around in our black van with ‘The Enemy’ painted on the
side,” says Bathgate. “Chris and I stumbled back to our place, argued
about something and ended up rolling around on the footpath, punching each
other. I woke up on Christmas day with a graze down the side of my face and a
black eye.”

 

Both
Knox and Bathgate have developed an unusually clear vision of the future of
their working arrangement, unlike most aggregations that aren’t too sure what
they’re having for lunch. “When we see old fucks like the Stooges and the
Monks getting back together, and doing it properly, why shouldn’t we keep on
going?” said Knox. “We’re still going to like each other when we’re
in our seventies and eighties. I see no reason to stop inflicting ourselves on
our diminishing audience.”

 

In
2005, Bathgate said he once thought Tall Dwarfs would be “a short-term
relationship.” But, he added, “I remember Chris saying to somebody that we’ll
keep doing this until one of us dies, and thinking, ‘Hmmm.’ But now I can see
it’s probably the truth.”

 

***

 

Hard Knox & Durty Sox: A Chris Knox
Sampler

 

The music of
Chris Knox is a return to those days when you walked into the dorm room of the
class joker, never knowing whether he had a pail of water suspended above the
door jamb to give you a thorough dousing. The added bonus to every record Knox
has done is the wonderfully scatological band artwork, from Tall Dwarfs
depicted as a two-headed, George Romero-worthy zombie to the Toy Love logo that
consisted of a severed penis and scrotum. Here’s a splattering of Knox’s best.

 

Toy Love Cuts (Flying Nun, 2005 2CD posthumous compilation): After a couple of aspirin and a
bloody Mary, Toy Love turned the throbbing punk hangover of the Enemy into a
Howard DeVoto love fest that found common ground between the Buzzcocks’
“Breakdown” and Magazine’s “Shot By Both Sides.”

 

Tall Dwarfs Hello
Cruel World
(Flying Nun, 1988): For years the Kiwi record industry
conspired to prevent the Dwarfs from recording an album, employing the
rarely-used “EPs Only” statute. This is a catch-all of those brill
early shorties: Three Songs, Louis Takes His Daily Dip, Canned Music and Slugbucketthairybreathmonster.

 

Chris Knox Songs
Of You & Me
(Flying Nun, 1995): From Knox as a Sinatra-style crooner
with a dishpan and a spoon in place of Nelson Riddle’s arrangements to
vest-pocket reggae fueled by speed instead of ganja, the square dartboard on
the cover tells you plenty.

 

Tall Dwarfs Fork
Songs
(Flying Nun, 1987): From jangling R.E.M.-like folk-rock to menacing,
Appalachian murder ballads predating the Violent Femmes and perfumed love
elegies that might have influenced the cemetery-rock of Green Pajamas’ Jeff
Kelly.

 

Chris Knox & the Nothing Same (Amajooo, 2005): One of Knox’s most recent efforts is the least lo-fi record of
his career (can that really be stereo?). CK&N begins with a backing passage
that brandishes both “A Day In The Life” strings and “Penny Lane”-style
baroque trumpet. [JC]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A MANCHESTER SITUATIONAL Durutti Column (Pt. 2)

More of the band’s remembrance of the late Tony
Wilson.

 

BY WILSON NEATE

 

Ed. note: we continue our
interview with Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly and Bruce Mitchell, in which they
discuss the late Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson, to whom they recently
paid tribute via the
A Paean to Wilson concert
and album. Go here to read part one
of the interview.
 The A Paean to Wilson album, released by the Kooky U.K. label, is available in the U.S. via Darla Distribution. In addition,
Reilly and Durutti Column pianist Poppy Morgan recently performed a haunting excerpt
from the work on the BBC’s “The Review Show”; it’s viewable at this YouTube link.

 

 

 

BLURT: Do you know if Tony Wilson
had a favorite Durutti Column track or album?

 

REILLY: I
have no idea…. I think he liked “Sketch for Summer” [from The Return of the Durutti Column].
Actually, I know he liked that because he told me so, but he had a kind of
tacit approval of any of the instrumental things I did. With the exception of
“The Missing Boy” [from LC],
he didn’t like any of the songs that I sang on because the lyrics were very
poor and my voice is very weak — and he made no pretence of liking the singing
or the lyrical content, which is why I’ve made this album. So I think this
might be the only album since the very first album that Tony would have liked.

 

What’s your fondest memory of
him?

 

REILLY:
I wouldn’t be able to pick out just one; there are so many. Bruce and I have so
many memories of him. He was so unusual and so fascinating as a character. He
was a real character, a real individual. You don’t meet people like Tony every
day. He was extremely engaging. There are lots of small things, though. Like,
he had a dog. His partner Yvette [Livesey] bought him a dog, a huge dog — a
huge Great Dane, I think — and I forget what the dog’s real name was.* Tony
used to have to try and catch this dog all the time. It was a bit stupid, this
dog: it was wild and it would run about and escape — every time he took it for
a walk, it would just run off. So I have this great memory of Tony running
after this dog shouting, “Come back, dickhead!” [laughs] That’s just one memory, but there are hundreds of them.

 

*It was a Weimaraner named
William

 

What do you think his broader
legacy is?

 

MITCHELL:
The inspiring thing, really, was the guy’s positivity. He was the most positive
man I ever met in my life. It had a profound effect on the way I run my life
and the way I run my business as well. If something were to go wrong and
everybody were to be in dismay around something going wrong in a major way, he
would immediately find a positive way of interpreting it: either by direction
— what he was going to do — or if he couldn’t do anything, he would equate it
to a piece of Proustian philosophy almost immediately. So, the guy’s
positivity…. And, of course, his legacy is very, very profound in the
northwest of England. People used to work at really disliking him because his
manner in his broadcasts and in his business meetings was, as they used to say,
“arrogant,” but now they agree with him. When he used to argue his
points, he would sometimes say, “You should listen to me, I’m right. I
haven’t been wrong since August 1968.” [laughs] And when he made these pronouncements — and sometimes they
were in press releases — people would complain about his attitude, but
whatever he said nearly always came true. And he took great satisfaction in
being able to say, “You see, I was right.”

 

REILLY:
It’s hard to say. There can’t be very many people in the northwest of England
who don’t know who Tony Wilson was or who didn’t know who he was when he was
alive. His influence was enormous. The thing is, a lot of what he did provoked
people; it provoked a reaction from people, whether that was a good reaction or
people disagreeing with him. He would always elicit some kind of gut reaction
from people. I think that many of the things he said were outrageous. He
predicted many of the things that happened, way before anybody else had even
spotted it — like the rise of compact discs. When we were in Japan once, he
took me to a pressing plant and let me hear one of the first, early CDs, and
this was when it was in its infancy. And he said, “This is going to take
over, and it’s going to be much more important than vinyl, very quickly.”
And I didn’t believe him and nobody else did, and of course he was right. It
was the same with the Haçienda. When the Haçienda was
losing thousands every single week and they were plowing money into it week
after week after week, even his business associates and the accountants and
everybody, including me, we were all saying, “You should pull out now;
this is just crazy.” But he was determined. He just said, “This is
going to be one of the most famous nightclubs in the world — and one of the
best.” And, of course, he was right again. He was right so often. And that
meant that even the people who had been scornful of Wilson, they ended up going
to the Haçienda. It was his vision — along
with Rob Gretton, New Order’s manager — but it was really Tony that made
things happen. Bruce was describing his positivity. That’s really where it came
from. He drove things through thick and thin and through all the worst trouble
you could imagine. He made it happen. He was so determined and so positive that
these good things would actually occur, and he just made stuff happen all the
time. You speak to anyone in Manchester as they’re going past where the Haçienda used to be and they’ll immediately say, “Oh that’s
where the Haçienda was.” And everywhere
you went in the world, as soon as you said you were from Manchester, people
would say, “Oh, Manchester United and the Haçienda.” It was as famous as that. It’s not a particularly
good answer to your question, but his impact in the Northwest, especially, was
incalculable. Enormous.

 

You mentioned football; is it
true that, as a boy, you had a trial for Manchester City?

 

REILLY:
Well, I was offered a trial for Manchester City, but I didn’t go and my school
got very annoyed with me. One of my uncles, who was an aficionado, was also
very annoyed — and he’s still annoyed with me — but I knew exactly what I
wanted to do when I was seven years of age. Actually, just as an aside, Johnny
Marr was also offered trials, but I’m not sure for which club, and like me, he
didn’t go either.

 

History might have been very
different. You could have played together.

 

REILLY:
[laughs] Yeah, but my career would
have been over by now, wouldn’t it?

 

So do you support Manchester
City?

 

REILLY:
No, I’m a Manchester United fan. That was something else that Tony felt very
passionate about. He was a very keen Man Utd supporter. He used to take his
kids and go with people to the matches. He just loved it. He loved all sport,
actually. He was a huge fan of sport. He thought it was a fine thing. And I
agree. I think it is.

 

Bruce and Vini, you two have
worked together for almost 30 years now. Could you both articulate the
attraction and the pleasure of that association?

 

MITCHELL:
Oh, the music! He’s always a handful, Vincent Reilly, but no matter what goes
wrong, once he starts playing, it’s all the things that brought Tony to it as
well. So I regard my job as Artist
Support
.

 

REILLY:
How can I answer what the great pleasure of working with Bruce is when he’s
sitting here? [laughs] It’s not a
question of that. It’s more a question of how on earth does Bruce put up with
me? Bruce doesn’t earn money from working with me. You have to understand that.
It’s not financially rewarding.

 

MITCHELL:
I’m a Medici.

 

REILLY:
Yeah, he’s a Medici. Bruce is like a patron. He literally keeps me going on a
daily basis — financially — and he feeds my soul when I’m really down and I’m
fed up. He’s my best friend. It’s that simple. He’s the best friend I’ve ever
had.

 

 

[Pictured in the
photo above, circa late ‘90s:
Vini Reilly, foreground; behind him, L-R, Bruce
Mitchell, Keir Stewart, Tony Wilson
]

 

A MANCHESTER SITUATIONAL Durutti Column (Pt. 1)

Remembering Tony Wilson with Vini Reilly
& Co.

 

BY WILSON NEATE

 

At the end of the film 24
Hour Party People,
Factory Records boss Tony Wilson receives a visitation from God (who is also Tony Wilson, of course). Their
conversation concludes thus:

 

God: Vini Reilly, by the way, is way overdue a revival. You might think about a Greatest Hits.

Tony Wilson: It’s a good idea.

God: It’s good music to chill out to.

Tony Wilson: Yeah, you’re right.

God: I usually am.

 

Notwithstanding questions about
the film’s relationship to reality (about which more below), it was a nice
moment, symbolically underscoring the importance of one of the Factory family’s
less heralded, oldest members: not only were Reilly’s Durutti Column the first
band Wilson booked to play the Factory club night in 1978, but Reilly was also
the first artist to put pen to paper with Factory Records.

 

In its original context of post-punk Manchester, Reilly’s
work with the Durutti Column was strikingly anomalous. The first two albums, The Return of the Durutti Column (1980)
and LC (1981), established Reilly as
an idiosyncratic guitar stylist fashioning his own genre from such diverse
idioms as folk, jazz, flamenco, classical, rock and the avant-garde. With a
filigree touch, he crafted echoing, prismatic textures that were deeply
evocative and affecting. Tony Wilson adored this music.

 

Wilson was an unflagging champion of Reilly’s work and made
no secret of the fact that the Durutti Column were one of his favorite Factory
acts. As Reilly himself puts it, “The Durutti Column was Tony Wilson’s
baby.” He also served as Reilly’s manager, but their relationship went
well beyond business: Reilly considered him a mentor, a father figure and,
above all, a friend.

 

When Wilson died in 2007 at the age of 57, Reilly felt
unable to participate in the numerous tributes and commemorative events
honoring the public accomplishments and cultural legacy of the man known as
“Mr. Manchester.” Instead, he sought a way to celebrate Wilson that
focused not on that larger-than-life media personality but on the person he
knew as a friend. A perfect opportunity arose when Manchester City Council
approached Reilly and commissioned what would become A Paean to Wilson for the Manchester International Festival.

 

The piece was first performed over three nights in July
2009, with the studio album version released on January
24th of this year (fittingly, that date marked the 32nd anniversary
of the founding of Factory Records). Reilly’s objective with A Paean to Wilson was simply to record a
suite of music that he knew the man himself would have appreciated. This
required an entirely instrumental work: Wilson always gave Reilly complete
artistic control, but he had often urged Reilly — who’s not exactly a gifted
vocalist — to refrain from singing on his records. To that end, in the late
’80s Wilson gave him an Akai sampler so he could incorporate others’ voices
instead.

 

Vini Reilly’s collaborator in the Durutti Column since 1981
has been drummer Bruce Mitchell (a long-established figure on the Manchester
music scene, who is also now Reilly’s manager). BLURT talked to the pair about
their new project dedicated to Wilson’s memory. The conversation highlighted
the close and warm relationship among the three — a
connectedness that stands in surprising contrast to Reilly’s ambivalent
relationship with his own music.

 

Tune in tomorrow for part two of this feature. The A Paean to Wilson album, released by the Kooky U.K. label, is available in the U.S. via Darla Distribution. In addition,
Reilly and Durutti Column pianist Poppy Morgan recently performed a haunting excerpt from
the work on the BBC’s “The Review Show”; it’s viewable at this YouTube link.

 

 

***

 

BLURT: Most of us knew Tony
Wilson only via h
is media persona; how did the Tony Wilson you
knew differ from that?

 

REILLY: He differed
enormously. He was the same only in the sense that he was very confident, but
people mistook that confidence for arrogance. He was always being described as
an arrogant person, but, in truth, he was one of the most humble people I’ve
ever met. He would never consider any task too trivial. For example, I remember
that on rainy, muddy nights he’d be there helping carry equipment for our
rehearsals, and on another occasion he was sweeping the floor after everyone
had gone home. He was different [from that public image] in many ways. He was
also very, very sensitive — extremely sensitive — even though he had a smoke
screen of a persona, which was the only possible way he could function in the
face of some of the hard-core, hard-nosed businessmen that he had to deal with.
And also, some of the musicians were very awkward to deal with, so he developed
this persona, which enabled things to just bounce off him. You know, people
would say the most disparaging things about him, and it would be like water off
a duck’s back. He developed that persona over the years to a point where people
thought that really was him, but he was actually a very generous-natured, warm,
lovely human being. People didn’t really perceive him in that way — and I
don’t think he wanted people to perceive him in that way.

 

MITCHELL:
Yes, that persona was a separate thing, as Vini says. It was a stitch-on piece
of work that he enjoyed — the laddishness of it. Nice and abrasive, we
thought. But it’s the way he had to be, don’t you think? With some of the
musicians he had! But he was always stimulating and interesting. He was ever so
curious and shockingly clever. All the time. You know the Kurosawa film, Rashomon? It’s like the Rashomon effect. I’m one of the
“viewers” that liked him a lot: uncompromisingly. Even though he
could be really badly behaved, I would always support anything that Tony did. I
learnt an enormous amount off him. I’m ten years older than Tony, but I would
very often defer to his judgment rather than mine. So I was a solid fan, without
reservations.

 

Do you both remember meeting Tony Wilson for the first
time?

 

REILLY: The first time I met him
was in 1977 when I was in the Nosebleeds, my imitation punk band. We weren’t
really punks, but not many people were. We played in a place called Wythenshawe, which is the biggest council
estate in Europe — quite a tough area. We played in this big building and Tony
was there among all the rough-and-ready young lads of the neighborhood. He was
very cool and we said hello. He said something about my guitar playing — I
don’t remember what he said, but he’d noticed it. And that was the first time I
met him.

 

MITCHELL: We did things with Tony
before he formed Factory. He was a Granada TV broadcaster, as you know, and I
was with a band [Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias] that he helped promote on his
show, and I knew him before that, going back to around 1972, because we ligged
at the same gigs.

 

How accurate was the portrayal of
him in
24 Hour Party People?

 

REILLY:
The film was complete fiction. You know, many of the things that happened in
that film didn’t really happen. And if they did happen, then they were more
extreme than is described in the film. Also, there are many things that
happened that are not in the film, things which are too outrageous to be put in
the film. It would have made the film X-certificate. Everyone was really right out there, you know. So I think it was
sanitized to a certain extent and made into a semi-humorous thing — which I
suppose it was — but looking back, it was also quite extreme as well. I don’t
think the film was meant to be an accurate representation of what actually
happened. And the Tony Wilson is the smoke-screen Wilson, and that’s all you
get in the film.

 

A Paean to Wilson celebrates Tony Wilson the friend, not the public figure. What were you aiming to convey in the
music?

 

REILLY:
Well, when you start to make a piece of music, you don’t really have specific
aims. It’s not that cerebral. It’s not an intellectual process or anything.
It’s all totally intuitive or instinctive. All I knew was that I wanted to do
an album of music where I didn’t sing, because all the time Tony managed me, he
tried to stop me from singing and wanted me to concentrate on playing music and
writing music. So, if the album had any aim at all, the only aim was to do
instrumental music. That was because when he was very poorly, very ill, I sent
him a demo of an instrumental piece — just something to chill out to, to relax
to — and he was very pleased with that. He liked it; he appreciated it. We had
a running joke of text messages where he would say, “Come and play the
Spanish guitar for me,” and I’d say, “Yeah, OK, when?” and I was
supposed to do it. And then at the end of it all, he’d just put, “But
promise: no singing!” And that carried on right up to the end. It was a
kind of jokey thing, but he did really prefer it when I didn’t sing and just
played. So that was really the only aim of the album: to do instrumental music
and use samples, rather than my own voice. I can’t even hear the album any
more, I can’t bear to listen to it, so I don’t know whether it’s achieved
anything at all. For all of us — me, Bruce and Keir [Stewart, Durutti Column
bassist], who produced the album — it was our
way of paying tribute and celebrating the fact that we knew Tony and that he
was such a fantastic guy to have in your life. He was almost like a father
figure to me. I was also very frightened of him, in the way that you’re a bit
scared of your dad. It was a bit like that with him. [laughs]

 

MITCHELL:
Vini says he was in fear of Wilson — it’s bollocks! They used to have big
knock-down fights! [laughs]

 

You say you can’t bear to listen
to the new album, Vini. Why is that?

 

REILLY:
Well, I can’t bear to listen to any of the albums that I’ve ever done. They all
sound so inept and stupid. And this one’s supposed to mean something, but I
don’t think it captures anything at all. But it’s not as bad as some of the
albums I’ve made.

 

You’ve often said that you don’t
like your own records. You enjoy the process of creating them but once they’re
gone, you’re already moving forward. I think you’ve said elsewhere that 2006’s
Keep Breathing was the only one you’d actually
give a passing grade: what about
Paean to Wilson? What grade does it get?

 

REILLY:
Well, if the pass mark is 45%, I think Keep
Breathing
got that. I think this one maybe gets 50%.

 

This is probably a stupid
question, but was making this particular music at all a therapeutic process?

 

REILLY:
Yeah. That’s part of the way any musician lives their life. Everything that
happens in your life is reflected in the music you write and the music you
play, in one way or another. So, yeah, it was.

 

Your work draws directly from
your experience and often seems intimately connected to friends: many of your
song titles include friends’ names. But even given the fact that your music has
generally been very personal in its inspiration, was this album more difficult
to make than most?

 

REILLY:
No, not really. It was actually very easy to make. We made it in about a week.
What was different about this album was that rather than be my usual
megalomaniacal, egocentric self — doing everything myself and being in charge
— I took a step back, and Bruce and Keir were a lot more involved in this
album. They were very directly involved. I think that has given the music a
wider scope, and it’s a bit more interesting than it would have been had I not
done that.

 

A Paean to Wilson premiered in July 2009 at the Manchester
International Festival. Was it originally conceived simply as a live
performance, with the album coming later?

 

REILLY:
Yeah, it was commissioned by the Manchester City Council. The thing is, when
Tony died everyone was doing something, and Manchester was full of things that
were happening, celebrating his life and so forth. There were many events in
honor of Tony, but I didn’t feel that it was right for me, that it was
appropriate for me to attend them. I’d just lost a friend — one of the best
friends I’ve ever had — and I was very affected by it, and I didn’t feel like
doing anything public about it. It’s a very personal experience when you lose
someone you love; you have to go through a grieving process, obviously, and I
wasn’t ready. But when I was asked to do this commission, the timing was right
and I did feel ready to do something. I wanted to do something that Tony would
like. It’s as simple as that, you know.

 

Were those initial performances
especially emotional experiences?

 

REILLY:
Yeah, we did three nights consecutively in Manchester, and they all meant
something.

 

The album before A Paean to Wilson, 2009’s Love in the Time of Recession, opens with a
track called “In Memory of Anthony,” on which you sing about him. So,
despite his feelings about your voice, did you feel the need for one tribute
song with lyrics?

 

REILLY:
Sort of. But that was a kind of botched attempt, really. It was a failure. It
didn’t achieve anything. So I dismissed that immediately.

 

In what sense do you think it was
a failure?

 

REILLY:
Well, musically and lyrically. You just can’t capture those sorts of emotions
with schoolboy poetry, which is what my lyrics are like.

 

I’ve heard you say that about
your lyrics before. Don’t you think you’re being too harsh on yourself?

 

REILLY:
No, not at all. There’s poetry and there’s nonsense, garbage. I’m not a
lyricist, and I never will be. I’m not good with words. The written word is
difficult for me, and I’m not a natural poet or anything.

 

The album begins with a looped
sample of Tony Wilson asking, “Is this an art form, or are you just a technician?”
That’s a quintessential Wilsonism. What can you tell me about the source of
that sample?

 

REILLY:
That was from one of Tony’s early broadcasts. Bruce had an archive of Tony’s
public appearances and so forth, and that’s from one of Tony’s very early
Granada TV programs. It’s actually an extract from an interview with Martin
Hannett that Tony did. It was an example of Tony’s technique of interviewing
people, because he knew that it was a kind of dumb question when he asked it,
but he didn’t mind asking the dumb questions because he knew they would provoke
a real reaction from the interviewee. And in this case it was Martin, and he
knew that Martin would find that a very funny, crazy question. He knew that
Martin would react in some way and that it would be good television. He knew
what made a good interviewer. That was one of his skills. So that’s why we used
that sample. There’s another Tony sample at the end of the album, on the track “How
Unbelievable,” again sourced by Bruce. It’s from his last public
appearance when he was very poorly, but he still managed to do it. He was
ranting about the divide between the rich and the poor. It really is very Tony.

 

You use several vocal samples on
the record — most memorably, some bits from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going
On” on the tracks “Brother” and “The Truth.” Did you
choose the samples with Tony Wilson in mind? Were they from songs you knew he
liked?

 

REILLY:
No, we just thought they were very musical samples. I always have a collection
of samples that I gather from various strange sources. The Marvin Gaye one was
a very direct lift from the song itself, which is unusual — usually, I find
samples which are a little bit more obscure. Keir, the producer, and myself
found that Marvin’s voice was just so simpatico with the feel of the music. And
also it was in the right key — if you don’t have to mess about with shifting
keys and stuff, it just makes it easier. But it’s very random, really. There’s
no great plan or anything to making these albums. [laughs]

 

On this album you rework some
previously released tracks. “Catos Revisited” returns to “Catos
con Guantes,” and “Duet with Piano” incorporates an element of
“Royal Infirmary.” Was there any specific motivation for doing that?

 

REILLY:
Well, when I recorded the “Royal Infirmary” track the first time
around, it was on Circuses and Bread,
a particularly bad album. And it seemed to me that, from that album, that was
the only riff, the only little piece of sunshine on the album that was worth
remembering. So having dismissed the entire album, it was nice to rescue the
one tiny little chord sequence that I did like. I just thought I didn’t use it
well the first time, so I tried to use it a bit better this time.

 

To be continued.

 

[Pictured above: Tony Wilson (L) and Vini
Reilly
]

 

 

 

 

 

IRATE LOOKS AT FIFTY Henry Rollins

The
erstwhile
Black Flag leader and moral
compass follower
braces for a big
birthday
and with a tour starting this week, another
go at the global stage. 

 

BY
PATRICK FLANARY

 

The
owners pleaded with the local punks to not show up early.

 

Yet
it was now up to the Tampa club to steer this collision course of a schedule,
one that paired a theatrical production with a hardcore show on the same stage
on the same night. Eight o’clock: The
Diary of Anne Frank
. Eleven o’clock: West Coast punk band Black Flag. All
is well until the tension finally shatters halfway through the group’s third
song, when a fan strikes the band’s roadie with a hammer.

 

The
25-year-old singer, eager to quell the excitement, dives into the mob of
rioters and returns the gesture with a fist. “Doesn’t that concrete feel good on your head,” Henry Rollins
heckles as he returns to the stage. The meeting of mohawks and mosh pits that
unseasonably cold Florida night in 1986 would set in motion the end of the
reign for underground punk kings Black Flag. The tour would be their last.

 

Decades
and worlds apart from his days as a bloodthirsty youth, Rollins remains robust
and, at 49, bloodthirsty as ever. He’s just a bit more forgiving now. When
Rollins reaches out to touch someone, it’s usually with a helping hand in a
foreign land. Rollins trots the globe, photographing corpses on the streets of
New Delhi, camping in the Sahara and watching New Year’s fireworks explode over
Senegal. “What I’m after is perspective,” he says. Perspective
reveals itself to Rollins in chilling forms
– it’s
meant searching for a bottle of clean water in Africa. Other times it’s
involved roaming entire cities devoid of traffic lights. 

 

“In
Bangladesh, anywhere you go everything seems to be destroyed,” says
Rollins. “I stood at this intersection and
whoa – way
too close for comfort. You say, ‘I’m really glad I wasn’t in that taxi.’ The walking is whatever the
oncoming vehicle will afford you. After a few days, just give me a sidewalk,
man,” he laughs.

 

Back
in his familiar world of concrete, pollution and L.A. traffic following a month
overseas, Henry Rollins returns to his habitat: the American stage. He’ll
perform his first domestic spoken word show of the Frequent Flyer tour Feb. 17 in Solana Beach. 

 

He
may have the ear of the coffee house crowd now, but he still bucks the man
better than anyone. Facing 50, Rollins realizes his post-Black Flag years of
writing poetry and selling it from a van has earned him the right to host
abrasively intimate fireside chats on whatever the hell bothers him. And while
he’s shed much of the brawn he packed on as hardcore’s tattooed frontman,
Rollins’ song remains the same: Fuck Authority.

 

“What
Henry does is present a natural emotional response to the demented
slaughterhouse of a world we live in,” says Jesse Michaels, leader of
defunct punk band Operation Ivy.

 

In
1981 Henry Rollins mirrored a feral Johnny Rotten, a tiger free from his cage
and loose in the recording studio where the thrashing shirtless beefcake often
emerged from the Damaged sessions
bloodied and bruised. It was Henry’s high: no booze, no needles, just the
regular, self-inflicted overdose of self-confrontation. Says Devo cofounder
Gerald Casale, “Henry looked like he could murder you, but he was in fact
a visionary gentle giant.”

 

In
2010 Rollins admits he can’t quit the stage, but guarantees he left his music
career behind in the last millennium.

 

“I
don’t wanna. I don’t wanna do the thing all over again,” says Rollins of
making music. “It’s something I’ve done so many times. I don’t know what
else I can do with peanuts. Artistically, it’s a checked swing. You’re not
risking too much.”

 

The
singer made an exception last year when he slipped into a studio and lent his
throaty voiceover to a friend’s project: the Flaming Lips’ recreation of Pink
Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne remembers how an early-’80s Black Flag show
impacted the Grammy-winning psychedelic group. 

 

“We
saw him in the flesh confront that idea of, ‘I’m going to do my trip and I’m
going to force you to accept it,'” says Coyne. “And seeing him do it,
it changed us. I will always owe that to Henry Rollins.”

 

Still
the physical performer he always was, Rollins keeps his audience at ease by
keeping his feet on the stage at all times. “I’ve learned my knees don’t
have the same get-up-and-go,” he says as he considers his fiftieth
birthday, less than a year away.

 

“Hey,
it’s what happens after you turn 49. I live in Hollywood. I’m surrounded by men
my age who don’t want to believe that.”

 

Henry
Rollins’ spoken word Frequent Flyer Tour starts tomorrow night, Feb. 17, in
California, and runs to April 9 in Wisconsins.
Tour dates and sundry details here.

 

[Photo Credit: Maura Lanahan]

 

COUNTRY SOUL SURVIVOR Larry Jon Wilson

2009’s most unlikely musical comeback is alive ‘n’ kicking.
He’s also on America’s coolest label.

 

BY JIM ALLEN

 

In the ‘70s, when
people like Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, and Billy Joe Shaver were
redefining what it meant to make music in Nashville, bringing a raw edge and an
expressionist’s approach to songwriting, Larry Jon Wilson was right there in
the thick of things. Wilson released four albums on the Monument label (home to
Kristofferson and Shaver) between 1975 and ‘79, mixing his Georgia twang and
deep, papa-bear voice with some greasy Southern R&B grooves. His
woodsmoke-and-whiskey sound earned the admiration of his fellow Music City
mavericks and a cult following, but never translated into much cash-register
action, and Wilson went into semi-retirement in the ‘80s. Three decades on,
he’s finally reemerged, with a self-titled album on Drag City.

 

Augusta, Georgia, -born
Wilson’s extended family was full of farmers, and the summers he spent with
them, working the land, were a formative influence on his songwriting. “I was
more excited about it than people who had to do it every day for a living,” he
says. “There’s nothing earthy or folksy about picking cotton or working on a
farm… there’s no up side to it, that’s survival in its purest form.” Those
same stomping grounds gave a young Wilson plenty of musical inspiration too. He
developed a love of gospel by singing in local churches. “We were in the bigger
city and I sang in that choir,” he recalls, “but I enjoyed going back down the
Ohoopee [River] to the old clapboard churches, where they had no accompaniment.
It was just all vocals. I loved that.”

 

But despite Wilson’s
passion for music, his early life followed another direction. “Polymer
chemistry occupied my life until I was in my mid-thirties,” says the
songwriter, who had established a career as a technical consultant for a
fiberglass company. Things changed when he got his first guitar on his 30th
birthday and began writing songs. Four years later, with a Nashville publishing
deal and record contract lined up, Wilson’s life made a 180-degree turn. “I
turned in the company car and all of those things, and at 34 that’s a pretty
risky thing I suppose,” he says. Nevertheless, Wilson was soon mixing it up
with fellow Combine Music writers like Newbury and Tony Joe White, the latter’s
Louisiana country-soul sound making him and Wilson instant brethren. “I
remember the first time I was ever in Nashville,” Wilson reminisces. “He
[White] and I met at the coffee machine, and he said ‘I heard your demo songs
upstairs. I knew when I first heard you that you had some swamp in you.'” Wilson pauses to chuckle. “And I said, ‘You’re
exactly right!'”

 

Wilson’s debut album,
1975’s New Beginnings, was indeed
bursting with swampy, soulful grooves, bolstered by Memphis-schooled R&B
players like Reggie Young and Bobby Wood. Wilson’s Barry White-buys-Johnny
Cash-a-beer baritone growled out tunes full of local color and common-sense
wisdom, like “Ohoopee River Bottomland,” “Canoochee Revisited,” and “Broomstraw
Philosophers and Scuppernong Wine.”

 

“They’re pretty much
true stories,” says Wilson. “‘Canoochee Revisited’… the first line that I
sing is ‘I hope that I see Kay Simmons there.’ There is a Kay Simmons. She was the doctor’s daughter in this little
country town. What I’ve written is based on things that I’ve seen and done.”
But while it earned him fans among connoisseurs of country-soul and Nashville’s
burgeoning Outlaw movement, the album started a trend of blockbuster reviews
and downscale sales that would be repeated for its successors. In hindsight,
Wilson reckons he just may not have been hungry enough. “I worked very hard. But I never had that hunger. I was already a
success in my eyes, because I was doing the thing that I loved absolutely most
in the world and getting paid a little bit for doing it. So few people get to
do that.” After 1979’s The Sojourner, Wilson exited the
music-biz merry-go-round, abandoning his recording career and drastically
reducing his performance schedule.

 

In the 21st century,
Wilson started getting drawn out of hiding. His songs were included in the
British Country Got Soul compilation
series. Then he was tapped to contribute two new tracks to the Country Soul Revue recording project. 2005 saw
the reissue of ‘70s outlaw-country cinema
verite
documentary Heartworn Highways,
which opens with Wilson laying into “Ohoopee River Bottomland.” Eventually, two
younger singer/songwriters, Jerry DeCicca of The Black Swans and Jeb Loy
Nichols, convinced Wilson to record a new album. Like everything else in his
life, Wilson did it his way: recording live, solo-acoustic in a Perdido Key,
Florida, hotel, singing whatever came to mind while Nichols and DeCicca
captured it all for posterity. A mix of covers – everything from Newbury’s
“Frisco Mabel Joy” to Paul Siebel’s “Louise” – and old and new songs from his
own pen, Larry Jon Wilson finds that
craggy, cavernous voice as captivating as ever. The free-wheeling, no-frills
approach serves Wilson’s sound better than some of the overproduction lavished
on his late-’70s work. Released in the U.K. first, it’s now being delivered
domestically by Drag City.

 

Wilson is
enthusiastic about getting back in the saddle, but remains philosophical. “I
know I’ve been a critics’ darling in the past, but you can’t take that any more
seriously than I would have if they had panned everything I did. I’m a senior person now, in the autumn of the years or
whatever you call it, and I’d rather be downstage than in a damn nursing home.
And I have the great advantage – it’s not like I’m yesterday’s papers, because
I was never today’s papers. I would
hate to be like, ‘Larry Jon Wilson, remember those Number Ones he had?’ and be
trying to keep that bubble
unburst.  I’ll be no different if they
don’t sell a copy, and I’ll be no different if they sell a trillion copies.”

 

But don’t be surprised
if it takes less than 30 years before the next Larry Jon Wilson album appears.

 

There are things I
haven’t done yet,” Wilson announces. “I’m gonna record again, because I don’t
want to part from this vale of tears leaving anything [undone]. That’s what
Townes [Van Zandt] used to call it: ‘LJ,’ he said, ‘there’s some graceful way
out of this vale of tears without hurting anybody.’ And I said ‘No, there’s not. You just have to hang on!’ [laughs] He was the ultimate
mind-screwer, I think.”

 

Wilson, 68, then invokes
the name of another old Nashville running buddy in wryly assessing his odds on
rebuilding a career: “I’m still years younger than Kristofferson, let’s not
forget that!”

 

[Photo Credit: Jim
McGuire]