Why young people have a right to an opinion on the Thatcher years

I was under two months old when John Major’s Conservative Party won the 1992 general election.  Of course, that possessive apostrophe may seem out of place to many.  The party may have been Major’s in name, but the spirit of Margaret Thatcher hung over the Conservative Party throughout his premiership.  It is often remarked that the so-called ‘Thatcherite’ ideology had more subscribers within the party after she had resigned as leader than during her reign, as those who had been inspired by her entered government.  Indeed, this Thatcherite tendency among Conservative MPs is just as prevalent today, if not more so.

There are some who would argue that I have no right to remark upon the Thatcher years, having not been alive to see them.  Regularly in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death this week, a variation of this argument has been howled on the internet, in the media, or simply in conversation.  Owen Jones, one of the brightest young thinkers of the left and author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class was confronted with this argument on Twitter, and his pithy response highlighted the absurdity of this line of thinking: “You are so right!  And what about all those historians going on about Tudor England? What do they know!”. 

Aside from the ridiculous view that an opinion on historical events is only valid if one lived through those events, the reason young people deserve to be able to judge the Thatcher years is that it is us who are still facing the consequences of the things she did when in power.  That’s not to suggest that we have a more legitimate right to be heard than those that were around in the 1980s, of course, but it is to say that we should not be excluded from the debate. 

I am due to graduate from university in July and will be looking for employment, for example.  Unfortunately, in contrast to the past when employers used to chase recent graduates, there aren’t an awful lot of jobs to be filled due to the economic recession Britain is embroiled in – a direct result of the financial deregulation that Thatcher enacted.  Of course, the right try to argue that the recession was a result of “reckless spending” by the last Labour government.  For sure, neither Tony Blair’s administration nor Gordon Brown’s were fiscally responsible but more for a different reason entirely – they failed to adequately regulate the markets and so the banks took more and more risks, gave out loans to people who had no chance of being able to pay them back, and spent enormous amounts of money on reckless gambling through obscure financial mechanisms such as ‘derivatives’ and the like.  Brown’s claim that he had ended ‘boom and bust’ was an absurdly hubristic claim that was eventually revealed to be as ridiculous as his claim to be an Arctic Monkeys fan (he later admitted he couldn’t name a single song of theirs).  The economic ‘growth’ of the previous decade was revealed to be built largely from private debt. 

Similarly, if I manage to find a job, someday I might start to think about getting a foot on the property ladder.  Easier said than done – Thatcher’s sell-off of council houses under the ‘right-to-buy’ scheme and her insistence that local authorities would not be allowed to reinvest the money into more affordable homes was the cause of the housing crisis we are now experiencing.  Only space prevents me from detailing more examples of the problems stored up for my generation by Thatcher’s actions.

So forgive me for feeling it is not out of place for my voice to be heard in the debate around Thatcher’s death.  This is particularly true as it is important to counteract the right’s narrative of her legacy, whether we were alive at the time or not.  A common view I saw on social media in the aftermath of her death was that we should all leave this poor little old lady alone and allow her family to grieve.  This is a perfectly just argument in relation to some of the more puerile comments that have been made in recent days.  I also believe that we should not celebrate the death of any human being (though I must admit I find it harder to be angry at the celebrations emanating from those who had their lives directly blighted by her policies, such as the miners beaten at Orgreave).  But, as has been argued elsewhere, censoring any criticism of Thatcher’s political acts leaves the right to define the narrative of her time in government.  I have seen this articulated no more eloquently than by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, and I feel it worth quoting the key thrust of his argument here:  “Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death.  When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms”.

I feel that this is particularly true of the politically engaged younger generation.  In this era of political disillusionment, one’s Facebook homepage is seldom dominated by political debate and yet that is exactly what happened in the wake of Thatcher’s death.  So to view comments about her ‘saving’ the country and the like (a perfectly legitimate opinion, of course, albeit one I disagree with), and to leave it unchallenged leads to the “propagandistic whitewash” that Greenwald writes of.  Why should the left leave the debate entirely to the right, merely because someone has died?  So long as the line between taste and decency is not crossed, it would be irresponsible not to highlight the facets of her time in power that might leave some to reappraise their view of her – her callousness in dealing with the unions (and the miners in particular); her denunciation of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress as a “terrorist organisation”; her support for General Pinochet’s murderous dictatorship in Chile; her patchy (to put it kindly) record on gay rights and women’s rights, and so on.  I don’t remember (elements of) the right being quite so keen on respecting the dead when Hugo Chavez passed away recently, nor, I’m sure, will they when, say, Tony Benn or Dennis Skinner do so.

In the days since Thatcher’s death I have felt some of how I imagine it would have been like to be politically engaged during her years in power, with the polarisation between left and right clear for all to see.  It reflects rather badly on today’s politics where apathy rules the day.  Make no mistake, the present government is even further to the right than Thatcher, dressing up their ideological dismantling of the welfare state by talking of the need to ‘get our house in order’ and sort out the national debt – ignoring the fact that their austerity policies are doing entirely the opposite.  So if Thatcher’s death gets people to start to debate politics then all the better – perhaps then we might see more people start to care about the destruction today’s government is wreaking.  Things like the creeping privatisation of the NHS – an element of the welfare state even Thatcher didn’t dare touch.  Like the re-writing of the education curriculum by a man who wants children to learn facts by rote, despite all the evidence that this can put children off education for life – provoking even the moderate ATL trade union to launch a strike, the first time headteachers in this union have ever done so.  Or like the disgusting rhetoric of David Cameron and George Osborne doing their best to adopt a ‘divide and rule’ strategy, turning those in work (‘strivers’) against the so-called ‘skivers’ – when in reality most people on benefits are in work and need the meagre wages they are paid by the private sector topped up so they can afford to live; and those who are not in work are mostly unemployed not because they want to live a life ‘leaching’ off taxpayers but because there are no jobs to be had.  Even the disabled can’t escape – see the changes being brought in to disability benefit that will force many into destitution.

So, yes, those of us not born in Thatcher’s era deserve to have our voices heard.  As the political commentator Jonathan Freedland argued:  “…this debate over how to remember Margaret Thatcher… is not about the past.  It is a contest over Britain’s present and future”.  If the young don’t deserve to be a part of that debate then something is seriously amiss.   

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Interview with Gary Jarman from The Cribs

Cribs_9632A-300x204

First published in March 2013 in ‘The Ripple’, the University of Leicester student magazine, http://the-ripple.co.uk/2013/03/15/the-cribs-interview/:

Words: Aidan Rylatt. Interview: Aidan Rylatt and Alexander French.

The Cribs, since emerging with their debut album in 2004, have gradually become one of the best and most loved British guitar bands around. With five albums to their name and a greatest hits collection, Payola, having been released at the beginning of March, The Cribs are bigger than ever before. Of course, for a band as principled and idealistic as The Cribs, this presents problems in its own right – opposition to the commercialisation of music has been an abiding motif of their message to fans. The Ripple phoned lead-singer/bassist Gary Jarman at his home in Portland, USA to get his thoughts on where The Cribs stand after a decade of existence as a band.

In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, the band’s fifth and latest album, has been a talking point partly because it is the first to be recorded by the classic three-piece Cribs line-up – consisting of Gary and his brothers Ryan (singer/guitarist), and Ross (drummer) – since the departure of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr after just one album as part of the band (2009’s Ignore the Ignorant). Asked about the reaction to the record Jarman was enthusiastic, saying how happy he was with the critical reception and that it had entered the Top 10 of the charts. It soon became apparent, however, that one of the most positive aspects of the new album for him was returning to the three-piece line-up.

Did the recording process feel different as a three-piece again? “We never used to think that – when people used to ask when Johnny was in the band, “Was it weird making this record?”, we’d be like, “No, it was just like any other record.” But actually, once Johnny left, the writing of this record felt exactly like when the band first started. So I think really, what it did was to just add context to what the fourth record was, which was a collaboration record, really.

“Writing this record, it was really fast and really fun; we did a lot of it in my basement in Portland and we did some of it in Ross’s garage in Wakefield [the band’s Yorkshire hometown], and I think that just that element of writing and recording at home has always been what we enjoy the most. I like the idea of, rather than going somewhere like a studio specifically to work, I like the idea of, you all hang out together and you play when you feel like it. Between me and my brothers we’d decided we wanted to go back to something a bit more raw, but with Johnny in the band we had to allow for his vision too. He works quite differently to me and my brothers, he’s less about doing things live and more about building things up, so it felt like a very different process”.

It also quickly becomes clear that the departure of Marr re-cemented Jarman’s sense of his place in the band. He often seems to be choosing his words carefully and is clear to emphasise that he enjoyed having Marr in the band and respects him as a friend and musician – but, still, the abiding impression was that he felt liberated by the return to The Cribs as a Jarman-only line-up. His answer to a question on how the live set-up differs now is hugely revealing: “It actually has the greatest impact on me because when Johnny was in the band Ryan was set-up in the middle of the stage… [so] Ryan had this new dynamic with Johnny, which I didn’t have, because I was over on stage-left and there was Ryan between me and Johnny.

“Obviously Johnny got a lot of attention and Ryan gets the majority of the attention in the band anyway, and so for me it was such a weird situation as the lead-singer – which I am the lead-singer on at least half the tracks when we play live – I was seen as almost an auxiliary member at that point. My ego doesn’t give a shit about that, it’s more just… now that Johnny’s not there it kind-of makes more sense because I have that dynamic with my brother again. I also have, for want of a better word, my ‘status’ back within the band – I’m the singer again. With Johnny getting a lot of attention and Ryan getting a lot of attention, if I’d have been really going for it on stage it would have looked like I was a desperate child looking for attention. I felt really uncomfortable about that and because I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to get attention, I became very receptive on those tours… now it’s sort-of freed me up to be myself again a bit”.

Speaking with Jarman, it is apparent that he’s not your average rock star – more thoughtful, more erudite, and more principled than most. Johnny Marr himself recently spoke of his anger at the political apathy of today’s musicians and this is perfectly in keeping with his status as an ex-member of The Cribs. In today’s “we don’t feel qualified to talk about that sort-of thing” timidity of bands, the Jarman brothers stand apart as a band with clear principles – as well as their anti-commercialism, they have regularly spoken out on feminist issues. Asked about this, Jarman is keen to emphasise that party politics is not something the band are keen to involve themselves with. “Our politics are more to do with our ethics really. It was hard for us, particularly when the third record (Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever) came out really, and we started to cross-over. Because the style of music that we were associated with had become so commercially viable at that point, I think that we picked up a lot of fans who were…..”. At this point Jarman trails off, perhaps keen not to be seen to be criticising fans of the band, but when he elaborates, his discomfort at the views of some of the fans gained as the band has become more commercially successful is evident.

 “But my issue, and I think this was an issue for all of us too, was to do with the fact that the genre, whatever the pigeonhole was, had become more commercially viable and I found you started getting people in at the gigs who were the sort of people that we felt we didn’t have a great deal in common with. We toured with a lot of all-female bands and stuff like that and I would sometimes see displays of sexism or chauvinism towards them from factions of the audience, people who wanted to show up to our gigs and get drunk and slam-dance.

“It really bothered me and the reason why it bothered me was because it was so far away from where we came from which was a very all-inclusive scene where that wasn’t even a consideration. So it seemed like such a regressive thing. You’re now playing bigger venues and you’re struggling with the idea that you couldn’t necessarily take bands on tour with you that you really liked because you were scared of what they might be exposed to. That doesn’t go away but that’s just the way that it is and it took a few of my friends who’ve been in bands for years out here [in Portland] to help me contextualise that. You do feel a degree of guilt and responsibility as if you’ve brought it on by your actions and that somehow we’d started to attract that yobbish element. The thing that we always tried to give off was a very different message to that. Even with a lot of the songs from the third record, they’re quite self-explanatory”.

Asked whether he felt that some of the band’s songs were misunderstood by fans, Jarman replies with a clear, “Definitely – and I’m not trying to paint myself as a protest singer because I’m not but there’s a certain degree of irony, like with the sort of audience I was talking about before, that would heckle a band like The Slits [which happened when the all-female punk/reggae group supported The Cribs on a 2009 tour], and then we would come out and play [2007 single] ‘Men’s Needs’ and have a chorus of these people singing, “Men’s needs are lost on me”. And you’re just like, I don’t think you have necessarily paid a great deal of attention to what you’re singing right now, you know? But the perversity of that’s kind-of entertaining in a way. It’s better than it being mundane I suppose. It keeps us from being complacent”.

These progressive principles have also impacted on the band’s sound – initially their anti-commercialism fed into their determination to record albums in as lo-fi a manner as possible. It has been remarked before that in terms of production the self-titled first album, though great in its own right, sounded a bit like it was recorded in a tin can. It was only with second album The New Fellas, and, particularly, third album Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, that their sound became more accessible. This was actually as much to do with their choice of producers than anything else.

The New Fellas, for example, was produced by Edwyn Collins, ex-lead-singer of Orange Juice: “He was the first person that ever tried to produce us really, and he was very much the first person who tried to make us believe that we could do more than just be a lo-fi band, because a lot of the scene that we came from and a lot of the bands that we looked up to were actually very obscure and on quite an underground and small level really. So Edwyn was the first person who tried to make us realise that it’s not too bad to look outside that, because his band Orange Juice, they came from that world, and then he went on to have some kind of crossover success”.

This progression continued on Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, which was produced by Franz Ferdinand lead-singer Alex Kapranos: “He took it further because he’s had massive mainstream success, and Alex had a great deal of belief in the band, he really loved the band and he wanted us to have the same sort of mainstream success as what he had. We toured America together, and he really liked some of the new stuff, and he liked some of the old songs. I don’t really like saying it because it makes it sound like you’re blowing your own trumpet, but he just thought we were a good pop band that hid behind noise a lot of the time, and so he tried to peel away those layers a little bit and let the songs shine through”.

Since then, The Cribs have developed into one of Britain’s best bands and In the Belly of the Brazen Bull proves that they’re just as relevant today as they ever have been. Asked to reflect on their discography, Jarman selects their debut as the one he’s most proud of, “because for me it felt like the most perfectly realised record. When we made the first record, we made exactly the record we wanted to make at the time. I feel like the second record is the one that the fans like the best and I know the third record is probably the one that’s most popular, it sold the most, but to me it’s possibly my least favourite because of that. I just got so used to the songs at that point”. But, he decides, “the new one’s my favourite one. I always feel like the new one’s the best because otherwise I wouldn’t keep doing it”.

Asked for any memories of playing in Leicester, Jarman brought up the now-defunct venue the Charlotte, and revealed that the band once shot footage for a video there. The band’s set at the O2 Academy shortly after we spoke epitomised the appeal of The Cribs, full of the band’s trademark energy, passion, and, of course, fantastic songs. That they are now a band so established that they have just released a greatest hits is a fact to warm the hearts of those who still want their favourite bands to be something they can believe in. Long live The Cribs.

 

Interview with Peter Hook

Image by Mark McNulty

First published 14/11/12 on http://the-ripple.co.uk/2012/11/14/the-ripple-interviews-peter-hook/. Interview carried out with Alexander French:

Peter Hook was the bassist in seminal post-punk band Joy Division. Following the tragic suicide of singer Ian Curtis in 1980, the remaining band members formed New Order, who Hook parted ways with in 2006. Now touring as Peter Hook and the Light, he has recently published a fascinating memoir of his Joy Division years entitled Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, and will perform the band’s debut album Unknown Pleasures in its entirety at Leicester’s O2 Academy on November 26th.

 

 

What inspired you to write your new Joy Division memoir?

 

Well, I’d written one book before about the Haçienda [the famous Manchester nightclub owned by Factory Records and kept afloat through money earned by New Order] so I sort of knew what I was doing.  And then I read the last book written by somebody about Joy Division and it struck me that everybody who was writing books about Joy Division wasn’t there.  So I got that ‘light bulb’ moment and I thought, “Right, I’ll do one!”  I thought at first, “it can’t be that hard, it was only two-and-a-half years.” I just thought I’d knock it off in a couple of days.  It actually took two years and sixty-five re-writes, but compared to the Haçienda [book] which took three years and eighty-five re-writes, I’m getting better!

 

Was a large part of writing the book an effort to dispel some of the myths around Joy Division, and Ian Curtis particularly?

 

Myths are very important to people and, in a way, that mythology around it does affect you.  It makes it all the more exciting, and I think it did help in giving it a mystique which has then been compounded by how great the music is.  It’s all very well having a mystique and a myth, but you’ve got to have great music. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Nirvana; you can’t name anyone who’s got the myth, died young, but had shit music.  It has to be a combination.  So because we threw ourselves into New Order so deeply – mainly, I think, to hide from the grief of Joy Division – it enabled New Order to become a fantastic group as well because it had your complete and utter attention. It also meant that because you were ignoring Joy Division, you wouldn’t let the myth get in the way of the adventure.

 

I get a sense that with Ian, he was ‘one of the lads’ as opposed to this overt intellectual that he’s portrayed as.

 

Well we were all portrayed as overt intellectuals, that’s the scary thing.  It was quite odd to switch off from Joy Division, as we did, so completely when Ian died, and then just leave it to become bigger at its own pace.  We never did anything to fuel the myth.  And after Still [1981 Joy Division compilation album], which we put out to clean up the tracks which we’d not put on a record, there was nothing for years to do with Joy Division, by the record company or by the band.  We really did just dump it, you know?  And it’s weird, but it worked for New Order without a doubt.

 

How seamless would you say the transition from Joy Division to New Order was? In the past you’ve spoken about it and said you all just assumed you’d carry on.  Was it that simple?

 

It was very nice and well-handled in that we all knew we didn’t want to go back to work – [adopts American accent] for ‘the man’ – we wanted to work for ourselves and we were enjoying being creative and the whole thing about being in a group.  But the cruel thing was that we’d just got to the point in Joy Division where everything was coming our way.  You know, the things you’ve longed for: success; journalistic appreciation; Top of the Pops…  And then it’s taken off you.  It was a very cruel way it happened – obviously it was worse for Ian than it was for us, ‘cause at least we’ve been able to enjoy the trappings of the success of Joy Division in our later years, whereas Ian never had anything.  Unless you believe he’s sat there on God’s right hand, which I like to think he is.  He didn’t get anything from it; it’s very, very sad, actually, considering he was the most believing that we were gonna do it.  We all had a tremendous passion, but he was the one that was convinced we were gonna be a success, and convinced you that you were going to be a success.  He was the one that had that ultimate belief.

 

Did you find it a difficult process when writing your book to be mulling over the Joy Division years again, having not thought about it in the immediate aftermath?

 

No, I mean, you do think about it, it’s just that you didn’t have anything to do with it.  You know, it’s still with you, we still talked about it in New Order, but we didn’t reform as Joy Division or we didn’t go out playing the music or anything.  You just let the record company distribute the records, you didn’t do any promotion for it or anything, just let it grow at its own pace.  There was a tremendous guilt at the time because of what happened to Ian, because we didn’t stop it, and the fact that we were party to it because we let it carry on, and the fact that with hindsight it was bleeding obvious what was going to happen.  But you were only 22/23, you didn’t know your arse from your elbow.  You’re not as educated or as worldly in any way, the way that people are these days, but you do have a sort of get-out clause. But writing the book made me feel a bit helpless again, a bit frustrated from that point of view.

 

What inspired you to start touring Joy Division’s music as Peter Hook and the Light?

 

It was quite easy, actually.  Once New Order split up in 2006 and I was outside [the band], I thought, why don’t we celebrate anything to do with Joy Division?  It’s fucking weird!  Joy Division’s work was being cited as many influences in very current bands – people are always dropping the name, from Arcade Fire to Editors to White Lies, loads of people – and I thought, I’ve never celebrated it!  And then I got offered an actual big celebration to be involved with in Macclesfield. They came up with this idea of doing a tribute gig at Macclesfield Town Football Club, where we had a backing band which I suppose you would say would be the start of The Light.  But funnily enough, Stephen Morris [Joy Division/New Order drummer] was playing, so that was weird, considering the animosity between us now. The idea was to get all Manchester singers coming to sing a Joy Division song with a backing band, for charity.  And then it all fell through and I thought,
“Oh bollocks!”  But now I’ve got my own club in Manchester called the Factory, and I thought, “Sod it, I’ll do it again.”  Then I read an interview with [Primal Scream singer] Bobby Gillespie where he was talking about [last year’s tour of their 1991 album] Screamadelica, and he was saying that he was really looking forward to doing the album in full because it had certain tracks on it that he didn’t like at the time but he loves now.  And I thought, “Shit that’s like Unknown Pleasures… that’s what I’ll do with Unknown Pleasures.” 

 

Which songs from Unknown Pleasures did you not like at the time, which you now appreciate?

 

It was ‘Candidate’ and ‘I Remember Nothing’ – primarily those two. I thought they were OK when we did ‘em, and because I didn’t listen to the record, it was only when I came to listen to it properly I realised what fucking great music it is.  Those two tracks in particular are fantastic, so I must thank Bobby for inspiring me to do that.

 

Was there anything on second album Closer that was the same?

 

Well, Closer was an odd LP because we finished it and then Ian died a month later, so we never really got to explore the songs on it and we never got to play them.  Getting Closer back, to be honest with you, was far more enjoyable than getting Unknown Pleasures back, ‘cause I’ve actually played a lot of those songs.  You know what, I don’t care what them two pricks say who used to be in the band, it’s so wonderful to hear the band pick up with ‘The Eternal’ and ‘Passover’ – it really made my heart go to be able to play those songs again… After 30 years it was mind-blowing, it really was wonderful.

 

How are you finding the role of being the frontman?

 

It’s tough.  Stepping into Ian’s shoes, as I did – I had a couple of people lined up to do it but they got scared off by the internet terrorists. It was Rowetta [Satchell, Happy Mondays backing singer], who said to me, “You’re gonna have to do it”. Luckily for me, my son plays bass – he’s the same age exactly as I was when I was in Joy Division which is pretty weird.  I was 21 when we played Unknown Pleasures, 22 when we did Closer, 23 when we did Still.  It sent shivers down my spine on stage, I’ll tell you.  So he did that [played bass] and I went to sing.  In a funny way it makes me happier because if you’d brought in somebody else to sing it, you’re getting into that really weird thing for a band which is tribute territory.  If I’d have brought a singer in I think it’d have felt more like a tribute band than it did by me doing it.  But I was terrified, for the first six months I could not enjoy it. I was just so frightened of what people would think and how they’d react, whether they’d like it or not. It took me six months, about thirty gigs, to get to the point where I enjoyed it. 

 

How have you felt about the feedback to the shows?

 

Well, I’ve not been hit on the head by a bottle – yet.  [Laughs]  So unless you’ve got any other ideas for when I play in Leicester, I take it most people like it and it does seem to go down well.  I like the arty side of it, I like the fact that you’re playing the LP and it’s a different gig.  New Order get up and they just play the greatest hits over and over again, same way we did when we were together.  I just can’t relate to that any more.  Playing the album [Unknown Pleasures] has a feel whereby it’s something different, it’s something more difficult to appreciate so it’s arty, it’s a struggle to do.  I like that people have to concentrate a little bit, you’re not just giving them hit after hit after hit.  You’re saying, “Listen, I want a bit more effort with this”.  Because it’s worth it, the record.  The thing is, I’ve spent my life listening to great LPs, not great tracks.  Now, when I’m on my computer, I listen to great tracks but in those days you listened to great LPs and I think an LP had a different feel, the way it gets you over a period of time.  That’s why I really enjoyed doing it and, I must admit, when I watch New Order performing the greatest hits, that feels like a tribute band.

 

Have you actually been to see New Order in their current incarnation?

 

No, God no.  Only if I’ve got a sniper rifle.  [Laughs]  If you can get me one I’ll go and see them.  Don’t you put as a headline there, “Peter Hook threatens to shoot rest of band.”  [Laughs]  No, I wouldn’t go and see them.  It’s funny really, when a friend of mine went to see them in Berlin he said that there were audible groans at some of the things they were playing and the way they were playing them and, to be honest with you, I just wanted to hear that.  [Laughs]  It’s like that thing with watching your ex go out with somebody else, having a sneaky look through the curtain.  You don’t want them but you don’t want anyone else to have them.

 

You mentioned that you’ve opened the Factory club.  How are you finding that in contrast to the Haçienda? Presumably it’s a bit more financially stable for a start?!

 

Well, it’s not particularly that it’s financially stable, it’s just that the guy running it is emotionally stable!  [Laughs]  My partner is a very successful businessman – he’s got twenty-three clubs in England, so he knows what to do.  It’s a glorious blend of idealism and creativity and realism – which is like life, really.  The Haçienda, it was all idealism and creativity with no regard to realism and if it hadn’t been for New Order and Joy Division with their ever-open wallets, it wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long as it did.  These days you do have to be a lot more realistic because there’s a lot more competition and everything’s a lot more cut-throat.  I can’t say I find that part of it exciting but when you DJ there on a Saturday night… I thought it’d be full of old blokes like me but it’s not, it’s full of really, really young kids who seem to dig the heritage.  When I was a punk it was all about getting rid of the old farts but I’m certainly glad we didn’t do that ‘cause otherwise I wouldn’t be able to DJ, would I?!  Now the young tend to actually show a lot of respect to old musicians.  If you go to see most big DJs, they’re all 40 plus.  Really, you’d think they’d be 20 but they’re not.

 

Do you think that’s a good thing or should young people have less respect?

 

If you’re being really cruel, I suppose it shows lack of ambition in youngsters, that’s what you’d say.  Why do you let these old farts do it, fucking get going, you know what I mean?  There’s sort-of a few coming through now, younger DJs, but it’s a struggle to get to that… the top is still held by Carl Cox, Sasha, John Digweed, Tiësto, Armin van Buuren.  They’re all quite old.  I’m not surprised you have all these older musicians because that’s a different culture but in club culture you’d expect them to be younger.  I mean, I’m going to Brazil tomorrow to DJ, in Sao Paulo – I’m still getting away with it at the ripe-old age of 56.  It’s fucking fantastic! 

 

Reading the memoir, it’s quite clear you’ve got a lot of issues with Bernard Sumner [Joy Division guitarist/New Order lead singer] but there’s also a sense of affection.  Is there any chance, even if you don’t reconvene with him on a professional level, you might reconvene on a personal level?

 

[Sighs]  The sort-of business fracas, which is regardless of the personal fracas… I mean, when I saw that Billboard interview he did the other day, he attacked me on several levels which I found very distasteful and it surprised me after all this time of him having New Order back, that he’s still so angry and bitter about me.  I take it as a great compliment.  It’s fucking proper got under his skin.  It’s like he’s got the prize but he still wants to have a go at you. It’s quite strange.

 

Maybe it shows he cares about you, the fact he’s still so angry?

 

Well, definitely.  Me taking my ball in, it upset him, and when he took his ball in in 1990, when he split the band to go off and do Electronic [Sumner’s first post-New Order band], it was OK then.  When I came to do that in 2006 it was not OK.  I think it’s definitely a bit of, “Don’t do as I do, just do as I say.”  It’s an odd situation to be in but mainly it comes down to business.  I’m not trying to stop them playing as New Order and I’m not trying to stop them using the name.  I’m just unhappy with the way that the business side of our relationship has been worked out and I’m mounting a legal challenge to try and rectify that.  The thing is, you sort of picked the wrong time to ask.  You know when you split up with someone and they’re throwing your stuff out of the window and burning your best shoes – it’s like in that moment somebody asking you, “Will you ever get back with her?” [Laughs]  “NO, SHE’S BURNING MY FUCKING SHOES!”  [Laughs]  “Maybe in a couple of years, when it’s all quietened down,” and that’d be your answer wouldn’t it? If you ask it me in two years when we’ve resolved the legal fracas then I might be able to go, “Well, you never know, I bumped into him the other day, we had a coffee, it was lovely”.

 

Do you have any memories of playing in Leicester, having played here with both Joy Division and New Order?

 

Yeah, De Montfort Hall.  Our lighting guy’s from Leicester so I know it quite well to be honest.  I like the accent.  [Laughs]  We always take the piss out of him for his accent.  That’s what you do when you’re from Manchester and it’s quite funny.  So yeah, I do remember it quite fondly.  I mean, we did some great English gigs in those days because you never had the choice.  As soon as New Order got the choice we fucked off to America and we hardly played in England at all.  But in those days you used to play a lot of places, like the Blue Note in Derby, and Rock City in Nottingham.  I love playing, I always have done.  It’s always been an absolute pleasure to me that I’ve never had to have a proper job in thirty-four years, it’s been such a blessing, and I can get out and fucking troll around on stage, even now at 56 without embarrassing myself – hopefully.  So no, I do remember them [the gigs] all very fondly.  I’m looking forward, actually, to doing the New Order book from that point of view, being able to relive that time, which was wonderful.  It was a struggle at first, when we first started as New Order, but in the middle there was a real sense of achievement that we’d sort of managed to put Joy Division to one side and get on with it, and create a new style of music as well.  That unique cross between rock and dance purely came about because Barney [Sumner] wanted to go dance-y and I wanted us to stay rock-y – and there you go, whole new genre.

 

In New Order or Joy Division, what bassline are you most proud of having written?

 

It changes but generally, my best one for dexterity – there’s a big word for me at this time of day – is ‘Twenty Four Hours’.  ‘She’s Lost Control’ not far behind, actually.  Great, great bassline, that one.  I did some crackers in Joy Division, I must admit!

Review of The Cribs at Leicester O2 Academy, 01/11/12

First published 03/11/12 on http://soundblab.com/content/content/view/id/4875/preview/1:

Of all the bands in the world, reflecting on the career of The Cribs is perhaps the most heart-warming. It is slightly odd to consider that the Jarman brothers have now been a band for over 10 years and that this tour was in support of their fifth album – which is certainly not intended as an insult. It’s not that it’s hard to believe The Cribs had enough in them to make it this far, quite the opposite. It’s more that it’s odd to consider them a band on their fifth album because they’re the complete opposite of the kind of careerist band who by their fifth album are making dull versions of their debut over and over again. While bands like, say, Razorlight always seemed to want to be as big as U2 so much it was slightly embarrassing, The Cribs always seemed happy to be a cult band, inspired by the lo-fi riot grrrl scene and utterly unconcerned with passing musical fads.

Ironically, it’s this approach which has helped them become as big a band as they are today. The greatest bands in the world treat their fans well and make you feel proud, above all, to call yourself a fan. Following The Cribs through their career has always felt like being part of an exclusive club – ‘if you like The Cribs, you must be alright’ sort-of thing.

Of course, the caveat to all that is that a good attitude alone never got a band anywhere. What The Cribs have consistently done, no matter how lo-fi the sound (mainly on their first two albums), is write fantastic songs with hooks and melodies so catchy they could have been recorded on cassette, buried under the sea for 20 years, exhumed and still sound like the greatest lost pop songs of all time.

Things really began to move for the band with third album Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. Gary Jarman recently explained that Alex Kapranos (lead-singer of Franz Ferdinand and Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever ‘s producer) tried to polish up their sound because he regarded them as such a good band they deserved the success he had achieved with Franz Ferdinand – a tactic which paid off. Lead single ‘Men’s Needs’ was their first big crossover hit and you know the rest – the album with Johnny Marr, his subsequent departure, and then this year’s In the Belly of the Brazen Bull and a return to the classic Cribs line-up of the three Jarman brothers. It says a lot about The Cribs that there was widespread relief from many fans when Marr left the group. Ignore the Ignorant was a good album and Marr is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists of all time, but The Cribs are at their best when it’s the three Jarmans against the world.

They open tonight with the none-more raucous ‘Come On, Be a No-One’ (considering its chorus contains a part which simply sounds like a drunk man shouting “whaaaaaaaaaaaaay”, it’s bloody catchy), and from then on they show once again how phenomenally good a live band they are. ‘You Were Always the One’, one of the first album’s best songs, is an early highlight but it’s ‘I’m a Realist’ which prompts the first mass sing-a-long of the night. Mind you, by this point Ross has already played his drums while standing on them for the duration of ‘Jaded Youth’ and there’s been crowd-surfing a-plenty, which tells you all you need to know about the energy of a Cribs gig.

One of the highlights of the night is ‘It Was Only Love’ (regarded by this writer as The Cribs’ most underrated song), which mainly consists of just Ryan and his guitar and proved The Cribs are just as good when they let the energy levels drop. ‘Be Safe’ has steadily become a live highlight too – the moment when Lee Ranaldo’s spoken-word verses give way to the chorus never fails to prompt a crowd to bawl along.

The Cribs don’t play encores (and all credit to them for not bothering with what became a gimmick a long, long time ago), so we get a choice between ‘Don’t You Want to Be Relevant?’ and ‘We Were Aborted’, with the latter winning out, then ‘The Wrong Way to Be’ and ‘City of Bugs’ and then they’re gone – another gig, another night where they endear themselves ever more to their fans.

Two more observations/thoughts about The Cribs which explain a lot: The first is that Gary sports a Free Pussy Riot t-shirt throughout the gig tonight. Not so odd, you might think; plenty of bands have come out in support of the Russian anti-Putin protestors. But where some artists give off the impression that they regard showing support for Pussy Riot as something that will reflect well on themselves (we’re looking at you Madonna), Gary keeps his T-shirt tucked underneath a long-sleeved shirt and doesn’t draw attention to it. It’s enough that it’s there because the one thing The Cribs could never be accused of is not caring and fanfare just isn’t the Jarman way.

Secondly, this writer (purely in the name of research, of course) has attended a number of nights out at the O2 Academy over the last couple of years and seen guest DJs a-plenty. Whether it be Ellie Goulding, Greg James, or whoever else had something to plug that month, they all played exactly the same songs as the regular DJs do week in, week out: ‘Mr Brightside’ and ‘Chelsea Dagger’ for the 500th time, until you start to wonder whether it’s even worth bothering with anymore.

The one exception was Ryan Jarman, who played stuff like The Ramones’ ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’, Nirvana and the least obvious (but no less brilliant) Franz Ferdinand song imaginable, suggesting he was there because he liked playing great music to people, not because he wanted to shift a few more copies of an album and pull a student. Fiercely uncompromising and completely brilliant, here’s to the next decade for The Cribs. We’re lucky to have them.

Review of ‘The Vaccines Come of Age’ by The Vaccines

First published in October 2012 in ‘The Ripple’, the University fo Leicester’s student magazine, http://the-ripple.co.uk/2012/10/09/review-the-vaccines-come-of-age-by-the-vaccines/:

It is an undisputable fact that The Vaccines have become one of Britain’s biggest guitar bands – indeed, ‘The Vaccines Come of Age’ sailed into the charts at No.1 – and yet the suspicion remains that The Vaccines have yet to fully justify the position they find themselves in.  ‘…Come of Age’ is not the album that addresses those concerns.

Debut album ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ was remarkable mainly for the hype it generated.  Although it was a good album, a cursory glance at the NME at any point since its release could have given off the impression that it could relax in the company of debuts like ‘Unknown Pleasures’, ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Is This It’ which, to this writer at least, seems like hype taken to its logical conclusion.

Which is a shame because although it wasn’t the kind of album that served notice of a new gang in town ready to re-shape rock ‘n’ roll in their image, most albums aren’t.  An album doesn’t have to be a generation-changer to be enjoyed, but when a band is being promoted like they’re capable of being this generation’s Clash/Smiths/whoever then it’s always going to be underwhelming to discover they’re another Strokes-indebted group with some catchy tunes but little originality.  Perhaps it’s a reflection on the paucity of genuinely exciting guitar bands to emerge since the Arctic Monkeys that The Vaccines have been thrust forward as the latest big deal.

Comeback single ‘No Hope’ appeared to confirm doubts about The Vaccines – workmanlike and unremarkable, it sounded like an aural shrug and a “this’ll do”.  There’s plenty more to support this version of The Vaccines, from ‘Teenage Icon’, let down by a lazy chorus, to ‘Aftershave Ocean’, which sounds like it could have been slipped onto The Strokes’ recent ‘Angles’ (or lead-singer Julian Casablancas’ solo album) without even the New Yorkers themselves noticing it wasn’t something they’d knocked out a few months back.  And let’s face it, if you’re going to rip-off The Strokes, you should at least rip off ‘Is This It’.

But it would be unfair to stick solely to the conclusion that The Vaccines are an over-hyped, derivative blank when there’s also evidence here to suggest otherwise.  ‘All In Vein’ is a joyful romp that is the first song on ‘…Come of Age’ that comes close to justifying the hype.  ‘Ghost Town’ follows and is even better – tight, punchy, race-a-long verses propelled forward by Arni Hjörvar’s bass, it sounds like it came straight from the 50s and is the best thing here. 

The biggest stride forward in The Vaccines sound comes from Freddie Cowan’s guitar work.  The aforementioned criticism of ‘Aftershave Ocean’ as being a little too Strokes-a-like could be countered with the fact that it at least shows Cowan to be easily as talented a guitarist as The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jnr.  A blistering solo half-way in makes it clear why Graham Coxon has felt moved to declare that he sees Cowan as a successor in the lineage of talented lead guitarists that he himself joined in the 90s.  Cowan’s guitar is the best thing about at least six of the songs here, in particular ‘Weirdo’ and ‘I Wish I Was a Girl’.  This prompts the thought that album three might gain significantly from allowing Cowan more scope to work songs around his guitar work – a little more experimentation might allow for comparisons with The Strokes to make way for acknowledgement of a band to take seriously in their own right.

There’s evidence to support both schools of thought on The Vaccines on ‘…Come of Age’ then, but for now they still have some convincing to do.  There’s plenty of decent bands that sound a bit like The Strokes (The Soft Pack and Howler to name but two), but very few that come close to reviving guitar music from a creative slumber in the way that The Strokes managed.  For now, evidence that The Vaccines are capable of this isn’t entirely convincing – perhaps the hype will have died down enough by album three for them to prove otherwise.

Review of Leeds Festival 2012

First published in October 2012 in ‘The Ripple’, the University of Leicester’s student magazine:

Leeds Festival (along with its older cousin, Reading): a vision of what the country would be like if it were populated solely by those between the ages of 16 and their mid-20s.  A place where it’s not uncommon to see someone passed out in a pile of mud at midday, where shouting “BUTT SCRATCHER” at the top of your voice is considered the height of comedic prowess, and where most seem to adopt the view that ‘if it doesn’t move, you can probably piss on it’.  But while it may not have the sophistication of your Glastonbury’s and your Bestival’s, it never fails to thrill.

While Foo Fighters did their polished rock/nicest-guy-in-music thing over on the Main Stage on Friday night, Justice treated those gathered in the NME/Radio One tent to a different show entirely – from behind a wall of speakers and lights they showed off what has become one of the most impressive dance shows around.  With their distinctive cross symbol centre stage, the lighting, coupled with teasing flashes of the much-loved ‘We Are Your Friends’ interspersed throughout, restored attention levels on the few occasions the set began to meander.  Gimmicks weren’t required, however, when the Frenchmen called upon the likes of ‘DVNO’, ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ and ‘Civilization’.  It’s safe to say dance is safe with the newest French duo in possession of killer tunes and a knack for beguiling stage shows.

There were grumbles in some quarters that Saturday’s Main Stage headliners, The Cure, weren’t suitable for Leeds/Reading.  Considering they were so evidently one of the main influences on a variety of the most notable ‘indie’ bands that have proliferated in the past decade, from Bloc Party to Franz Ferdinand, The Cure remain as relevant as ever.  And, yes, the two-and-a-half hour, 32 song set length is a little on the excessive side, but Robert Smith and co. have written enough classics in their time to excuse them the indulgence to re-visit lesser known numbers. 

After a slightly steady introduction ‘In Between Days’ was the first song to provoke a strong reaction from the crowd.  There then followed a slightly astonishing run of songs that highlighted the breadth of The Cure’s back-catalogue, from the lush melancholia of ‘Pictures of You’ to the shifting, stuttering pop rush of ‘The Caterpillar’; the bouncing, exuberant ‘Lovecats’ to the brooding, eerie new-wave of ‘A Forest’, one of their greatest songs.  Closing with ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, the set may have required a bit of perseverance and patience at times but it was repaid in spades by The Cure, undoubtedly one of the most interesting and intelligent bands to have emerged from the post-punk music scene.

Headlining the Main Stage on the Sunday night were Kasabian, one of our own generation’s biggest success stories.  To characterise Kasabian as ‘lad-rock’ luddites, as many have, is thoroughly misleading.  Granted, a significant part of Kasabian’s fan base are the Fred Perry-sporting blokes who sink eight pints, throw a bottle of warm piss over the crowd in front of them and jump around with their mates to ‘Shoot the Runner’, but this isn’t The Enemy.  Kasabian, and specifically guitarist Serge Pizzorno, have consistently produced interesting music that has also propelled them to becoming one of Britain’s biggest bands – no mean feat in this day and age.  It also helps that Kasabian are an astonishingly good live band, possibly the most certified headliner-worthy band this generation has produced. 

They know it too, and this is a group that thrives on the confidence of knowing how good they are.  ‘Days Are Forgotten’, with its brazen defiance of how much it resembles Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’, opened the set and the pace didn’t relent for the remainder – with the exception of the Neil Armstrong-dedicated ‘Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To’.  ‘Where Did All the Love Go?’ prompted an early sing-a-long – festivals are an entirely different beast to back in the days of Woodstock but no-one told Tom Meighan as he summoned the spirit of the 60s in asking “What ever happened to the youth of this generation?’.  Old favourites like ‘Club Foot’, ‘L.S.F.’ and ‘Empire’ are bellowed back at them, but it’s set-closers ‘Vlad The Impaler’ and ‘Fire’ that showcase why Kasabian are a near-perfect festival headline act.  A suitably raucous ending to a great weekend.

Review of ‘Fragrant World’ by Yeasayer

First published 20/08/12 on http://soundblab.com/content/content/view/id/4746/preview/1:

Brooklyn five-piece Yeasayer first came to attention in 2007 with the release of debut album All Hour Cymbals, which was inspired by psychedelia and Afrobeat.  Whilst such esoteric influences occasionally got in the way of the songs, on the wondrous ‘Sunrise’ and ‘2080’ in particular they showed that they were in possession of a certain pop nous that shined through regardless of their more inaccessible instincts.

Follow-up Odd Blood was even better.  Whilst an entirely different record to their debut the progression felt natural rather than forced.  Where some bands would have been justifiably accused of jumping on a post-MGMT bandwagon, Yeasayer’s embrace of electronics had the air of being simply a new way for them to produce great pop songs.  Partially as a result, Odd Blood felt like a much more coherent record than All Hour Cymbals, and while songs like ‘O.N.E.’ and ‘Ambling Alp’ became cross-over hits, there were also moments like ‘The Children’, which sounded like it was sung by Saruman in a wind tunnel, and ‘Love Me Girl’, which contained enough ideas in five minutes for about eight different songs, that still sounded like great, interesting pop music.

Hopes were high for Fragrant World, then, but for reasons only they can know, Yeasayer seem to have opted for a strategy of self-sabotage.  In the run-up to the release of Fragrant World, the band have been talking up the fact that this would be a more experimental record than Odd Blood.  Unfortunately, where in the past they pursued experimentation but with great melodies attached, frequently on Fragrant World they seem to have forgotten to make the songs go anywhere.  ‘Longevity’, ‘Demon Road’ and ‘Damaged Goods’, for example, aren’t bad songs, but compared to Yeasayer at their frenetic best they sound a bit like the aural equivalent of the band jogging on the spot.

Fragrant World certainly has its moments, though.  The title-track is Yeasayer doing what they do best – odd, intelligent pop.  Similarly, the immersive ‘Henrietta’ is one of the best songs here, and also exemplifies Yeasayer’s occasional knack of making a pop song that does what you’d least expect but still makes sense, slowing down towards its’ end to woozy keyboards, some lovely bass work and Chris Keating’s treated vocals sighing “Oh Henrietta…..” – this is Yeasayer as they should be.  ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’, meanwhile, is the best song on the record – and showcases their impressive ability to write a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on Radio 1 and yet features lyrics like “Let’s make a skeleton in the moonlight” and incomprehensible references to “sentimental violence”, and is, let’s face it, called ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’ – One Direction this ain’t.

This is the frustrating thing about Fragrant World – listening to it, one gets the impression the band found themselves rather startled by the success of Odd Blood’s poppiest moments and have subsequently deliberately tried to make as awkward a record as possible.  But the best thing about Yeasayer is that their catchiest moments have never sounded forced – it’s pop music that hasn’t been stripped of anything interesting or experimental and is all the better for it.  Fragrant World’s highlights show Yeasayer certainly haven’t lost the knack of writing those kind of songs, they just need to become comfortable with the idea of themselves as a pop band – here’s hoping their fourth album will find a band more at ease with the direction they’re heading in.