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INTERVIEW

THE JAZZ BUTCHER CONSPIRACY

By Alex Green

When writing about The Jazz Butcher (a.k.a. Pat Fish) I’m always tempted to lapse into the kind of adorational hyperbole and literary invention normally reserved for epic novels where a charismatic and mysterious character arrives out of nowhere and changes the course of events. But that’s what did happen, I tell you—suddenly when I was sixteen I was holding a copy of the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy’s Distressed Gentlefolk and life would never really be the same. The songs had a swing and a sway and they had heart and a sense of humor and they were literate and romantic and smart and cheeky and I could go on for hours about what they meant to me at that point (and still mean to me now), but I shall do my best to avoid that kind of gushing. Often when one is talking about someone else’s biography they’re really talking about their own and that’s the last thing I want to do. And because I wasn’t there and have no idea as to what the facts are about his adolescent beginnings, for the ancillary and decidedly expurgated biographical information, let’s go to the man himself. On his MySpace page, Pat Fish writes of his origins: “I come from the 20th Century. I was born in West London at the end of the fifties, and I swear that things really were in black and white back then. As a small boy with a love for Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, I remember seeing Doctor Who and the Beatles for the first time the same rainy Saturday afternoon in 1963. I remember getting into a terrible tangle trying to sing along with "Good Morning Tokyo", the deceptively simple-sounding theme tune to the 1964 Olympics. As I grew a little older I was exposed to the full impact of the Beatles, the Pink Floyd, the Avengers and the Prisoner. I was also introduced to the work of my softly-spoken, charming "Uncle" Terry. He turned out to be Terence Fisher, director of Hammer studio horror pictures. Listen, pal. I was a goth before you were a goth. Believe me...After a series of largely unsuitable educational entanglements I moved to Northampton NN1 and took a job working as a legal secretary. In 1983, thanks to the kindness and reckless A&R policies of Dave and Julia Barker at Glass Records, I issued my first album. Like a big idiot I called it "The Jazz Butcher in Bath of Bacon". For over 20 years now I have been saying "We don't play jazz and we don't eat meat". Over and over again like a flapping zombie. Well, you get what you deserve…”

And now here’s what I do know: Over the last three decades the Jazz Butcher has consistently put out some of the most intelligent, inventive, hilarious, moving and brilliant music ever recorded by any mortal. I know that might sound excessive, but this is a guy whose canon is worthy of this kind of lionization. How many albums, you ask? Ten-- and that doesn’t even count compilations or E.P.s or live albums (of which there are many). I suppose the next question would be where you should start—at the beginning with Bath Of Bacon, in the middle with Condition Blue or with the band’s last studio album Rotten Soul. Although when it comes to this sort of thing I’ve always been somewhat of a linear purist, I think with The Jazz Butcher, you can jump in anywhere, because while most bands start thin and tentative, The Jazz Butcher seems to have sprung fully formed, his obsessions intact, his observations fresh, his melodies inescapable. In other words, you’re always going to feel invited. (Although, I feel I must add that I think you should buy everything he’s ever done.) Musically you’ve got post punk and rock and roll and folk with dashes of dance and electronica and you might think of the Modern Lovers or the Velvet Underground or Spacemen 3 or the Television Personalities and that would probably be fine with Mr. Fish. Lyrically he’s wry and wise and but he can also be heartbreakingly sad. He can write a positively frenetic, altogether strange number (“Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present”) and in the next instant he can leave you devastated by the kind of wrenching ballad (“Angels”) that makes you realize you blew it with the girl and the night shall remain a place where she won’t be ever again.

Yes, it does happen that fast.

But to leave it at that description alone, falls short, embarrassingly short, and for a man whose oeuvre contains hundreds of songs—maybe even thousands—that summation fails to capture just what it is that he does. In the same way you wouldn’t describe Roger Federer as a guy who hits a decent tennis ball, or the universe as being kind of big, you can’t just call The Jazz Butcher a singer/songwriter from England. He’s an extraordinary, singular talent, who writes songs that last. And let’s talk about those songs: Kittens pop up (“Love Kittens”) pin-ups are conjured to make a metaphorical point (“Just Like Bettie Page”) slain Prime Ministers are toasted (“Olof Palme”) dead movie stars are brought back to life (“Peter Lorre”) songs are covered (“Roadrunner”, “Sweet Jane”) and hearts are blasted asunder under the watchful eye of a knowing ballad (“Cit Of Night”). But that doesn’t even scratch the surface, because we haven’t said anything about the zombies and big old winds and Hungarian love songs and ghosts and penguins and girls who keep goldfish and girls on drugs and girls that say yes and girls that go and never come back. It’s a whole universe of things that the Jazz Butcher sings about and for some strange reason that world hit me in a way that nothing has ever hit me before: not Stipe’s melodic mumblings about trains or Westerberg’s sublime lonely howl or Morrissey’s glorious gloom can touch the caretaker cabaret of The Jazz Butcher. The Jazz Butcher is an animist, an observational genius who knows that you can put into a pop song whatever you choose. Alongside his trusty guitarist (the marvelous Max Eider) and a revolving cast of musicians—some from Bauhaus, one from The Woodentops, a few from The Blue Aeroplanes, to name a few—The Butcher has a body of work that is worthy of being mentioned in the same hallowed halls as any great you choose.

This was supposed to be an introduction, not a coronation. So now we’re all embarrassed. Just trust me about The Jazz Butcher. It’s never too late to get on the bus.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—we’re proud as hell to have him to The Carousel. Read on.

Caught In The Carousel: What I've always found so striking about the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy is on those early records the band's identity seemed so fully formed, the aesthetic almost instant. That's no small feat for such a young band--what was the key to that artistic self-possession?

Pat Fish: Well, we weren't that young, compared to a lot of people. I was already 24 when we started making the first record. Max Eider (guitar) and I had known each other for quite a few years. We had become disillusioned with pretty much the same things and taken refuge in a few--primarily 1960's--things that we both admired.

Musically, once Max adopted that loungey guitar style of his, it provided a definite, identifiable sonic hook, as it were. My ability on all the instruments was extremely rudimentary, so at least that compelled me to keep things simple. The first line-up was pretty gang-minded. I'd say that the NN1 end (David and me) tended to provide the theoretical end of the aesthetic, whereas the Londoners (Max and Owen) actually had the chops. And the Triumph Vitesse convertible. Important, too, to credit D. Elvis Barker of Glass Records for corralling such a pack of foppish shitheids and building some kind of a mythology around them. Not to say that he was Malcolm McClaren or anything, but he was very astute in feeding us new music and cultural references that he knew would push our buttons. Uh...we didn't really notice any of that at the time...

CITC: The Jazz Butcher seemed to be almost like a separate identity from Pat Fish--did you find a certain freedom in operating under a persona? I don't mean in an Alice Cooper kind of way, but did you intend for people not to confuse you with him?

PF: Very early on, I recorded rudimentary versions of the “Jazz Butcher Theme” and “Zombie Love” on a cassette player at home. I didn’t really want to get myself linked with a tune about having sex with dead people, so I decided to attribute this woeful behaviour to the Jazz Butcher character. Quite a lot like Alice Cooper, really, although I’d always imagined JB more as an enormous soul man type of guy. His theme tune totally lifts Wilson Pickett’s “Land Of A Thousand Dances,” for example, and “Sex Engine” is just a hideous, unfinished take on the Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger”. The initial cassette was in a run of four. One went to my mate John Silver, with whom I had been in a band. One went to a man called Terence Walpole, who is a mad lunatic of my acquaintance. One went to Mike Alway, then at Cherry Red Records, because I thought it might make him laugh. The fourth went to D. Elvis Barker at Glass Records, because he was about the only person I knew who had a record label. Scarcely credibly, for the cassette was shit, Alway wrote back by hand, demanding more. Then Barker phoned up and asked if I wanted to do a single. I was more than astonished. When young ‘uns come and say, “Uncle Pat, you’ve had the odd record deal. How do we go about getting one?” I always have to tell them that I have no idea.

Even when we were recording the first album, I had no idea that anyone would ever really know the identity of the Jazz Butcher. I had always liked the idea of sniping away from the margins without anybody quite knowing where this shit was coming from. It was not to be, however. A combination of encouragement from D. Elvis Barker and our own youthful susceptibility to the possibility of free drink soon led Eider and me out into the Black Lion, if not the public eye. When the album came out with pictures of me on it, all was lost. Of course, these days I’ve just about got what I wanted. Sniping, unpaid, from the margins while people wonder where this shit is coming from. Ah, turned out all right in the end, then.

CITC: One of the most distinguishing and endearing characteristics about the band was the interplay between you and Max. You would say, "Take a look at Max" and then Max would give us a look or "Everyone except Max--he's playing guitar"--and Max would follow that comment immediately with a solo. Talking about the guitarist before he plays seems rooted in the musical traditions of the blues or swing. Where did this penchant for announcing what was going to happen next in a song come from?

PF: Well, it’s certainly right that in the early eighties I was listening to a lot of old jump jive type stuff. Slim Gaillard was, and remains, a favourite, and we often used to go and see Raymondo Gelato and his Chevalier Brothers. Also I was listening to a lot of old soul records, where that sort of thing happens quite a lot. The chief single impetus, however, came on the night that John Lennon was shot. Our friend The Antichrist (who now works—inevitably--in the world of advertising) had organised a wee cabaret evening. At one point he was singing his tune “Rough But Ready,” accompanied by Eider on guitar. As the instrumental break came up, he calmly drawled: “Take it, Max!”

This was a remarkable moment, not least because up until that very point, nobody had ever called the guitarist “Max”!

CITC: The JBC's output between 1983 and 1986 is rather prolific--albums, singles, compilations, mini-albums, a live album, etc. You couldn't be stopped! Was this a sudden creative burst, or had you been writing songs for years that were able to find homes with the JBC?

PF: I only started trying to write songs at the end of 1981. The first ones were “South America” and “Partytime.” Yes, quite an upward curve between Attempt # 1 and Attempt # 2, I agree. At the end of 1981 I moved briefly to a village in Northamptonshire. I didn’t know anybody there and I didn’t have any money, but I did have this old Amstrad twin deck cassette player where, thanks to a truly life-changing design oversight, you could make primitive and very hissy overdubs. You see, the internal microphones stayed open while you were copying a tape from one deck to the other. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be like that, but it suited me just fine. As I taught myself to play guitar, I also taught myself how to make the most of primitive music skills by arranging simple shit together on tape. Using an electric bar fire as a drum kit (you get a great spring reverb on the “snare” from the heating elements inside), a nylon string guitar liberated from the Royal Navy, a tenor sax and a glockenspiel, I embarked on a period of learning/writing that provided the raw material for all of Bath and about 35% of Scandal. From the Summer of 1982 Max and I were playing the occasional gig. I was living in town by then, and working for a small town lawyer. I even had the beginnings of a social life, but still the home recording experiments would continue after work at my apartment in Birchfield Road.

CITC: How long did this remain a part of your creative process?

PF: I carried on using cassette recorders for home recording right up to and including the demos for Fishcotheque, recorded in 1987. In 1988 I took my money from the summer’s American tour and strode into the local music store to buy a Tascam Porta-One four-track. I paid cash. I didn’t get a discount. Those people no longer have that shop, he reported darkly. It’s fair to say that, once your band starts to go out and gig a lot, there isn’t so much opportunity to write. Me, I like to have vast periods of total inertia and tedium build up before I even start to think about writing. Not so easy when you’re on tour. On the other hand, you do get to see and hear some remarkable things and write them down in your notebook for further consideration at a later hour. Americans often like to compare me with Robyn Hitchcock. I like to tell them that Hitchcock has an imagination, whereas I simply pop over to their ludicrous country, take a few notes, stick a tune underneath and sell it back to them. Once the touring got underway, for a number of reasons I moved into my late grandfather’s flat on top of my parents’ house in a village. This at least meant that I would have long periods of peace and quiet in which to write between the madness. At the time I switched to Creation, I moved to where I live now, right in the middle of NN1. Because of the location I spend a lot of time acting as an unofficial drop-in centre, but I’ve still managed to write 6 JBC albums, one for Sumosonic and an album’s worth of material for my band Wilson over that time.

CITC: Do you write every day?

PF: I certainly don’t try to write every day (I bet I should). I don’t even play guitar every day, though I usually do. I’m still writing these days, though I have no way of knowing whether any of it is any good.

CITC: I've read that you weren't so pleased with Distressed Gentlefolk. I've claimed on more than one occasion that it's my favorite album of all time--from "Falling In Love" to “Angels," it always struck me as perfectly seamless. What was the mood of the band at that time?

PF: There is a big old divide about this album. You are in with Alan McGee and the Americans here, whereas ask any German and you will be told, “This is a very bed elbum.” To be honest, it puts me out a bit when Germans say things like that. For one thing, they’re normally so nice to me. For another, I don’t think it’s diabolical, but it’s fair to say that I do have…uh…issues with it. Since we had recorded Sex & Travel with him, John A. Rivers had moved with the spirit of the age and enthusiastically embraced The Digital. The reverb was digital (courtesy of Lexicon) and the tape was--shockingly to my youthful and bleary eyes--Betamax. Yes, John recorded the album on Betamax. Not, perhaps, exactly at one with the grimy punk rock adventures that we had been enjoying on or near the Red Bus since last we recorded with him. Frankly, our own Doherty-like delusions aside, I do think that John went more than a little overboard with the ‘verb. That snare drum on “Angels”; Jonesy hits it, the Lexicon kicks in…you’ve got time to put the kettle on, pop to the shop up the road for sugar and fags, come back, make a lovely cup of tea, open your fags, light one up…that fecking snare reverb is still going!

I had, frankly, squandered a couple of potentially good songs already with the Conspiracy EP. Max and I had been dispatched to the countryside to make demos for Distressed Gentlefolk. It’s true that we got “Angels” down in prototype, but we also got completely carried away and put out our lo-fi rantings as an EP. Hey, it sold really well and there were only two of us splitting the money! That, however, meant that a lot of tunes that could have gone on the album didn’t; and I think that there are a few moments on the album where it really does betray a shortage of quality material. In addition, there were certain really ambitious ideas that simply weren’t coming off in the studio. “Hungarian Love Song” should probably have been a b-side. “Buffalo Shame” fell over on its enormous, shaggy rump. “Nothing Special,” intended as an essay in straight-ahead vodka-blinded misanthropy and rage, ends up with an intro that sounds like Elvis Costello’s godawful “Oliver’s Army.” What’s that all about? The mood of the band was funny. We were feeling quite ambitious about the record, but I think ultimately that only encouraged John Rivers to overdo the proggy aspect of things. The record should have been warmer and more rocking. Max was probably the most enthusiastic at the time. Owen and I were on a fitness kick that resulted in his hurting his stomach and my driving a rowing boat into the bank of the boating pond. Graham (bass guitar) was effectively missing in action. He struggled a bit to keep up with the pace of recording, so I ended up dubbing some of the bass on myself. We had all been touring frantically for about 18 months, recording in the breaks. Max, Owen (drums) and I were tired but we were buzzing. I think poor old Graham was just tired. We all enjoyed ourselves over the session, but almost as soon as I got the tape home I thought that something was wrong here. I just think the record sounds a bit tired and drained and I don’t think the “bleached” digital clarity helps with that. I think there could have been some better songs on it. I think somebody should have kicked my arse about that, really. But we were cocky. Halfway through the recording session, D. Elvis Barker told us that we would be going on tour to America. Graham wanted to know if he could rent a motorcycle and follow the tour bus around. It was at this exact point that I realised that we had already lost him to a parallel universe.

CITC: And what of the song “South America?”

PF: “South America” was a deliberate insult to CD buyers; an extra track that was extra crap. Well, these were the days when “CD” meant Brothers in Arms to the likes of me. We knew people needed an extra track or two because they were paying more, but we still hated the idea of a CD as somehow being “better” than a record. History has, of course, proved that a CD is not better than a record. So I may be poor and derided and have no teeth, but Ha! Ha! Ha! regardless.

CITC: Was the progression from Distressed Gentlefolk to Fishcotheque a tough one, with the departure of Eider?

PF: Not really, no. Kizzy was already around. He lived with Max and Owen, he came on tour as a guitar tech and he knew how to play the stuff. After all, Max was there to show him it. After Max’s departure, it seemed completely logical for Kiz to step in as guitarist. It took a while to find a suitable rhythm section, but that wasn’t a problem on the record, as we had Dave and Dave from the Weather Prophets to take care of that for us. I was thrilled to bits about that, by the way. I had had a good year to write new stuff, and I was feeling quite free to write whatever I wanted. Having Alan McGee and Creation behind me did a lot for my confidence, too.

CITC: In terms of your songwriting, you seem to have mastered the difficult balance between happiness and melancholy—or even tragedy and comedy. For example, on Distressed Gentlefolk, "Angels" positively aches, while "Domestic Animal" is seemingly rather lighthearted. Has this ever presented a difficulty when sequencing an album?

PF: There is a term within the JBC: “Art Misery Ballad.” You do rather have to keep them apart. At the start of this century the JBC (Eider, Jones, Valentine, me) would play a set that would often include Max’s “Diamorphine” and my “Sister Death.” These became known as “The Twin Towers of Misery and Despair.” We felt obliged to keep them away from each other for the sake of the poor, long-suffering punter. Odd that you should pick on “Domestic Animal” as lighthearted; it just goes to show to what extent that album failed to convey its intended effects. “Domestic Animal” is supposed to be well disassociated--flapping tragic really. I know how those squeaky crocodiles might make people think otherwise, though. I guess it’s just me that finds the cry of a little, squeaky plastic crocodile absolutely fucking heartbreaking. Still, album sequencing can be a shitter. I was never really crazy about following “Daycare Nation” with “My Zeppelin” on Cult Of the Basement. Mind you, everything gotta be somewhere. We did have a mental time sequencing that one. We had a huge map of all the little pieces of music on the wall. At the top it read: “Smile.”

CITC: How did the revolving cast of alums who were in the JBC inform the sound of the band--was it always like starting over when someone new came to the fold?

PF: Nearly everybody who has played in or with the band has brought an enormous amount to the party. Even conversation on the bus or in the pub can lead to all sorts of ideas. It’s not really the culture of the JBC for people just to play their instrument and go home to the wife and kids. People tend to get involved in all sorts of ways. Of course, occasionally you get one who doesn’t quite fit. I already mentioned Graham: as Owen said to me one day, “He’s been in the band for a year now and I feel like I know him less well than when first we met.” Of course, Graham didn’t stay in the band for long after that. But there have only been one or two people like that and I won’t name and shame.

Perhaps, though, it’s fair to give a big-up to the most influential ones: Max, self-evidently; Rolo, an inspiration at the very start; David J. for showing us all how to do it; Paul Mulreany, so much more than just “the drummer”; Richard Formby, sonic magician and a pool of light and calm and beauty on an ugly bus; Gabriel “The Bishop” Turner, another guitar-playing drummer and power-crazed programming pioneer. The guest contributions of Alex Lee and Kevin Haskins have both been crucial to certain records, and they are two of the loveliest men you could hope to meet. I think it’s fair to say that it does feel a little bit like “starting over” sometimes, mostly if you have a change of drummer, because a drummer is so central and important to a band. Until the drummer’s locked in, you’re not really going anywhere. But it’s always been a pleasure. It’s unbelievably obvious, but so many people fail to remember it: why work with people you don’t like?

CITC: Big Planet Scarey Planet and Cult of the Basement were marvelous, but nothing could prepare me for the emotional devastation of Condition Blue. How does that one hold up for you? It seems intensely personal—

PF: I like the record a lot. The initial sessions saw Paul Mulreany, Joe Allen, Alex Lee and me putting down the backing tracks live. We had it set up so that we could all play in the room together. I had just had my head kicked in by a very large gentleman in the West End the night before and my face was covered in cuts and bruises. Joe, the bassist, I had never met before, so he sure got an interesting first impression. We all knew the songs a little bit from home recordings I had sent around, with helpful notes like: “’Girls Say Yes’--This is TOTAL CORNFLAKES.” So the four of us pretty much just sat down in this little room and played and played and played. All the backing tracks for the record were done in 3 or 4 days, a lot of the versions are first takes. We figured at the time that the lengthy bouts of one-chord jamming at the end of a lot of the numbers would be edited or faded when it came time to mix. So we rather indulged ourselves. It was absolutely magic. Mulreany was on the form of his lifetime, and Lix and Joe were just as good. Many years later, Joe (I think it was Joe) said to me of that session. “Yes, four desperate men in one room, each so desperate that he completely failed to notice the state of the others.” So we played and played and played, and in the long run it almost certainly helped us to feel less desperate. That is one thing that I like about the record.

I also like the fact that, along with Cult of the Basement, it will shortly be appearing on I-Tunes, where it can make money for me. Plug.

CITC: Tell us about “Shirley MacLaine”—

PF: “Shirley MacLaine” features a live guitar duel between Alex Lee and Richard Formby. I was there when it took place; as good as seeing the VU at that psychiatrists’ convention. Lix was standing on the producer’s chair, one of those big modern things with wheels on. He wanted the engineer to hurry up and run the tape because he’d just done about half a pint of amyl nitrate. Richard was leaning up against the fireplace, smoking something that looked like it should belong to Bob Marley. The tape rolled. Fucking mayhem! I really liked that studio, Raven. Out in the middle of nowhere (Jonny Mattock infamously used to play drums for the Perfect Disaster on the lawn, and I myself was forced to perform the vocal for “Girl Go” on the same lawn at two in the morning in January and it was bloody cold and that way they finally got me to sing the thing properly, in one take, funnily enough. Did I mention they had taken my shirt away?).

This was also the first JBC album where I was the only thing in the building that approximated to a “producer”. At long last I had complete, hands-on control of the entire mixing operation. And when that day dawned, when there were truly no more overdubs with which to procrastinate, when the engineer was re-routing the desk and breaking out the reels of tape, I was flapping terrified. I spent an hour or so playing chicken with the traffic on the main road on one of the studio bikes and when, by about four o’clock, I had, despite my best efforts, failed to be crushed by a speeding potato lorry, I figured I might as well give things a go. At which point I must offer special credit to the studio engineer, Tim Burrell, who had fully grasped my state of mind and, being the big Julian Cope fan that he is, played the role of Donald Ross Skinner even better than the desperate situation demanded. While allowing me to believe at all times that I was in full, Phil Spector control, he very quietly steered the recordings towards some kind of coherence and professionalism. It was beyond a pleasure working with Tim on those mixes, it really was. In the end, of course, we left the jammy bits on at the ends of the tunes. We just had so much fun playing them that we figured that would come through on the record. Also, we felt that we had really caught the nature of how we sounded live, something which previous album productions had pretty spectacularly failed to do. So I like that, and I thought it was worth making the most of it. This had the side effect of really pissing off the dumber portions of our North American following, the ones who would shout for “The Devil is my Friend” all the way through “Susie” or something, so I like that aspect of it, too. You know, some people reckon it’s their band and you just play in it. I really felt that the whole Condition Blue episode served to remind people that we did have the right to make the music we wanted.

CITC: How has it aged since its release?

PF: Looking back, I think it holds up pretty well. The music seems kind of “timeless” (despite Mulreany’s best efforts!) and I’m a bit taken aback at some of the lyrics now. I didn’t notice at the time how bitter I was coming across. There are a couple of quite cheap shots in there, which might have benefited from a little judicious editing. But it is what it is and I can still enjoy listening to it. Over the years, a lot of the initial hostility to Condition Blue has waned. I get a few people writing in and saying that they “get it” now. I think perhaps that I ought to feel sorry for these people. I mean, what has happened to them that they now “get it”?

CITC: Didn’t a lot of pain go into the writing of that album?

PF: Yes, a lot of pain went into writing it, but, as I’m sure you see, a lot of pleasure came out of making it. And for a moment back there, I actually knew how it felt to be Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics. You can’t really say fairer than that, can you?

CITC: I remember back in '88 you told me that one should never meet their heroes because they'd certainly have it in for them. That being said, playing alongside people you admire like Jonathan Richman or R.E.M. must have been intimidating—

PF: Yes, Jonathan Richman is a little intimidating. He is expert in the martial arts, for a start. Given the way that he comes across as so childlike in his work, I think that he has, over the years, met one or two promoters who have thought him fair game for a bit if a scam, and more than a few journalists who have patronised the arse off him. And it’s fair to say that in real life Mister Richman does not suffer this kind of thing without standing up for himself. In 1984 he had famously terrorised a room full of indie music journalists at a London press conference. We met him in 1985 and we showed him plenty of respect. This wasn’t unnatural, because we really liked him. In return he gave us things.

It began with the beer. His dressing room was next door to ours, and in he came with a case of Holsten in which he, of course, had no interest. We did. We offered him things, but he didn’t really want anything. Later he came and gave us a load of food that he didn’t want. Then he brought us something else. It went on and on and we warmed to him a great deal. This, remember, was 1985, at the height of Ronald Reagan’s voodoo economics, and here it was: the trickle-down effect in full…well, effect. As pasty-faced callow would-be socialists we were confused at our delight. After his performance Jonathan was given a huge sticky chocolate cake by a girl fan who had obviously been thinking hard about what she could give Jonathan that he might actually want. As soon as the dear girl was out the door, Jonathan was back in our dressing room, donating the cake! He is intimidating, but he is a gentleman and, frankly, good to be around.

By chance--and a spectacularly good bit of booking by someone at Warwick University--we met R.E.M. the very same evening. We came off after our set, which had been rocking, and as soon as we were off the stage we were buttonholed by two young American guys. I was chatting with them about how bloody brilliant the JBC were and wondering why the little skinhead one looked so familiar. At some point my mind dubbed a mop of hair on top of his head and it began to dawn on me; “Are you…uh…is your name Michael?” Yes, the other one was Bucky. To be honest, they weren’t really heroes to us at the time. We were aware of them as being an up-and-coming U.S. band. My flatmate had one of their singles. They really were only just on our radar, but they took to us in quite a big way. Michael Stipe went on MTV and said that we were his favourite U.K. band, which must have helped us sell some tickets here and there. They sent us each a copy of their record. To be honest, I think we flogged them for beer money. I’ve run into Peter Buck a few times over the years (often there’s a Robyn Hitchcock connection) and he has always struck me as a really sincere, down-to-earth geezer. If you like beer and guitars, he’s yer pal, and I find that very refreshing. He certainly doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would mind me flogging one of his albums for beer money. I once said to Peter Buck: “You’ve got the easiest job in the world, you.” He did not argue. In 1993 I was asked to open for John Cale at the Forum. Now, that was scary. But I shook him by the hand and got away quick. He seemed really big, which is odd, because most pop stars look really small in the flesh, I find, especially Siouxsie and the Banshees. They’re tiny. Cale filled the little backstage corridor, I swear. I saw him onstage in Northampton just a couple of months ago. He’s really not that big. Spooky! He was incidentally, blinding: the best I’ve ever seen him.

CITC: You mentioned the Germans earlier--they adored you early on in your career; hence, the Hamburg live album. Was it hard to predict how certain countries would take to you? I saw you in S.F. four times and the affection my fellow Bay Area-ites had for you was obvious!

PF: We were constantly astonished that anybody took us remotely seriously or liked what we were doing. I remember being woken up by a phone call telling me that we were going to play in Spain and thinking “In the Devil’s name, why?” Here’s an astonishing thing that we discovered: you cannot go wrong by taking the national folk music of a nation and subjecting it to cheap, cruel and unyielding parody. Our first inkling of this came in April 1985 in a place called Linz in Austria. The club where we were playing had printed in its programme a review of A Scandal in Bohemia. Of “My Desert” the reviewer wrote: “it’s like an Alpine hunting song and it gives you goose-bumps.” This caused amusement among us, but the song wasn’t in our live set at the time, so the full impact of this was yet to be felt. In February 1986 we were in the dressing room before the first show of our first French tour. We had done one particularly successful festival appearance the previous December and the French press reckoned we were kinda hot, so in this provincial university hall there were about 500 French kids ready and waiting to see what all the fuss was about. At which point some joker went “Let’s play ‘La Mer’!”

Not wishing to shuffle off this mortal coil in a hail of coins in an obscure part of Normandy, I give it the full Dubya and veto this insane suggestion. The show goes well, however, and as the French People shout for an encore, the question of “La Mer” is raised again. We do know how to play the song, so for a laugh we go out and do it. The place goes fucking Edgar Wallace Donuts.

In February 1987 Alex Green and I are on stage at the Little Rex club in Paris. In scenes reminiscent of the Jonathan Richman live album with its umpteen reprises of “Ice Cream Man,” we are called back to the stage to perform “La Mer” something like five times in a row. In 1988 a French band called The Little Rabbits records a cover of “La Mer” and has a sort of indie hit with it. Then other French bands cover it. The stupid wee song is still earning me about two to three hundred pounds a year, 25 years after it was first recorded. Then, of course, there is the question of “The Devil is my Friend.” It was recorded as an extra bonus track on the b-side of a twelve inch single. When Dave Barker came up to the studio and heard that we had recorded it, he went “Well, that’s stupid.” We were unable to deny this at the time.

Then we went across the Atlantic. Everywhere we went people would holler for the shit country song. People even played the stupid bloody thing on the radio. In 1988 the JBC come back onstage for a bit of an encore at Barriemore’s Theatre in Ottawa. Tragically, we are all wearing matching tee shirts with the Jazz Porker on them (the reason for this escapes me now). We stand, helpless, our instruments just hanging there, while eight hundred lusty Canadian voices chant endlessly: “THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND! THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND! THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND! THE DEVIL IS MY FRIEND!”

It was actually scary. I just thought how funny it would be if some right-wing Christian type had happened to wander in and see what was going on in there. Honestly, it was like Iron Maiden and all the Hammer movies you’ve ever seen all mixed up in this big old Victorian theatre with these four pasty idiots just standing there under the lights on the stage in these stupid fucking tee shirts, surely the campest, most inappropriate Satanic cult leaders of all time. It was mind-blowing. So there you go. Nobody ever went broke taking the piss out of the host nation’s music. Who knew?

CITC: How have you managed to maintain friendships in this business?

PF: Well, when you’re constantly traveling around and not getting enough sleep because you’re staying up all night in noisy clubs gorging yourself on free drink and drugs with interesting women, you can get a little irritable. People are more tired than they think they are and sometimes things do get nasty. But for the most part it’s nothing worse than you’d see in a football team dressing room. There are a number of ways of dealing with this stuff. None of them were known to the first generation of the JBC, because we had just wandered into this life without any idea of what was going to happen to us. I think we did pretty well to go two years of endless touring before we exploded. In 1997 Max said to me that back in the day he had had no idea of how much stuff I was doing for the band off the stage. It was only when he had to promote his own album that he began to realise that an interview schedule was not actually an ego massage but an unrelenting programme of answering the same stupid questions from provincial journalists who wouldn’t actually know you if you sat in their laps and fed them candied almonds.

But back in the day, of course, all he could see was me swanning off in a car with some bird from the record company. The second line-up was specifically assembled as a band. We didn’t know each other that well, at first. After about 3 weeks on the road in the UK (with the ‘Minks) and in France, we sat down one night in a hotel room and we came up with the Rennes Accord. Effectively, this laid out all sorts of useful rules about what did and what didn’t constitute acceptable behaviour and what appalling sanctions should befall transgressors. For the remainder of the tour, this code was ruthlessly enforced, chiefly by current NME Roadie of The Year, Steve Molloy (known these days simply as Fatty). His brutal regime of headslaps and suchlike caused Mulreany to speculate one afternoon: “The bus, man. It’s like Romford on wheels…no, no it’s not…it’s like PRISON!” We were all delighted. “Hi dad! I’m in jail! I LIKE IT HERE!” At the end of that tour I was describing some of the more colourful outbreaks of carnage to my pal Sonic Boom. His verdict? “It sounds like hell.” “Naaaaah,” I replied, “It was brilliant.”

Most people who have ever done this for any length of time do realize, sooner or later, that what happens when band members fall out is not so important. Everyone understands that people on tour are not at their most rational. To be honest, I prefer someone who just goes all-out mental now and again to some of the other coping strategies which some people adopt. And, as Alan McGee so rightly wrote: “Any time one of my whining pop stars phones me up from tour to complain about how dreadful it all is, I ask them if they’d prefer to be working down a mine.” I haven’t stayed friends with everybody. Only the ones I like. But that is most of them.

CITC: What is your proudest professional moment?

PF: Tempting just to put “too many to relate,” but I suppose that would be to disrespect your grammar. After all, there can be only one.

Off the top of my head…in third place: Summer of 1986, first trip to the U.S.A.: singing “Sweet Jane” in the Cat Club, New York, knowing that Lou Reed was playing literally a couple of blocks away at the same time. The runner-up: Playing the Italian Young Communists Festival 1986 to about 30,000 people in the big old square overlooking the Bay of Naples, and playing it well. As we went on stage, our agent Mario said, “One good word for Gorbachev, one good word for Maradona.” I followed his advice to the letter.

But today’s favourite: In the Summer of 1989 Pete Astor and I decided to do a brief German tour, performing solo sets and going by train. We tooled ourselves up with rail passes and a timetable, arranged with the venues to have amps waiting for us on arrival and climbed aboard the train with our bags and our Telecasters. Of course, on arrival at the first show we were met by the German tour manager that our agent had laid on to take care of us. He had his Mercedes, all ready to transport us around the country in style, but we, of course, had our rail tickets. For three or four days he dutifully loaded the Telecasters into the back of his car and drove them to the next venue while Pete and I whiled away the trip in the dining car of an excellent German train. Occasionally we would admit to some embarrassment about the situation, with this poor man driving alone around the nation with nothing for company except two guitars in the boot. In due course we made it to Hamburg on the hottest day of the year. We did radio and wandered down to the venue. As I came in I found our tour manager in conversation with a man who turned out to be his boss, the man from the agency. I know a bit of German and it became clear to me that the tour manager was explaining to his boss that we never actually traveled with him and that he felt a bit surplus to requirements. The boss was coming across a bit uncertain about this and was effectively asking, “Are you really sure about these guys? Will they really be able to cope without you?” Our tour manager replied “Ja. Sie sind echte Profis.” “They’re real pros.” Damn, was I happy about that. Still makes me smile now.

Footnote: The tour manager was duly taken off the Astor/Fish Railroad Revue. Practically the next night, in Dortmund, we were kidnapped on the orders of some girls from the record company, and taken in the middle of the night to a bizarre Alpine style cottage in a village in the middle of nowhere. We did, however, manage to disentangle ourselves and flee back to the hotel by the station where we were supposed to be in the first place. But it does just go to show…

CITC: How did Waiting For The Love Bus and Illuminate differ from previous JBC albums?

PF: It was never going to be easy to follow Condition Blue. The decision to record at Richard Formby’s studio in Leeds was made for two reasons: first, I wanted to keep the same kind of production control that I had had on Condition Blue, and obviously working with Richard was one guaranteed way to achieve this; second, because Richard’s studio at the time was only 16-track, it was about half the price of our usual 24-track facilities, which meant that we could take twice as long on the record for the same amount of money. Plus, of course, it’s an absolute pleasure to work with Richard in his big, airy studio that looks out over the centre of Leeds. As the recordings went on, it emerged that this record would be a little bit “beyond”; still sounding like the JBC, but sort of bleached out and distant. Lyrically, “Ghosts” was the key tune. The taxman had just found me after several years and invisibility really had its attractions at the time. Musically, it’s “Rosemary Davis’ World of Sound” that really gives the keynote to the record. That said, things like “Bakersfield” and “President Chang” could be really, really fierce on stage.

Illuminate was recorded in Northampton, hence all that stuff about Abington Square on the sleeve notes. The studio is a proper 24-track job, but they gave us a good rate, so we had plenty of time and the convenience of being able to walk to work from my house.

The generation of the basic touring band which made Illuminate was quite radically different from what had gone before, with Gabriel “The Bishop” Turner on the drums and Northampton-based lead guitarist Dave Henderson. On the other hand, Dooj on the bass was a veteran of the band since 1991 and had played on Love Bus, and we roped in the Alexes (Green and Lee) to add a bit of the old conceptual continuity. Of course, the biggest dollop of conceptual continuity on this record was having Dave J. around to mix it. Having moved to America, Dave was temporarily back in Northampton, trying to sell his house. He threw himself back into the local scene with a vengeance, which included mixing this LP. Dave wasn’t around for the actual recordings, so I took the MD role there, then took very much of a back seat for the mixing, leaving Dave to do his magic.

When he played me the mix of “Scarlett,” he told me that he had left the guide vocal completely “flat” and un-effected. The sweetheart! There is one other respect in which these records differ from previous output: thanks to Sony taking control of Creation’s foreign affairs, we were marginalised in the very territories where we were normally (in our own, limited way) successful. I remember a woman phoning from Sony in Canada, telling me that Love Bus was selling ever so well there. The figure that she gave me was something like one percent of what we would normally have sold in that territory on our old deal with Polygram there.

CITC: What was it like to come together again and record Rotten Soul?

PF: As Max says in his sleeve notes, the record was made “on the cheap,” with a budget that represented about 10% of what we spent on Basement or Condition Blue. That’s why we decided to record the thing at Peter Crouch’s house. He’d been making some lovely demo recordings on a digital 16-track machine, and we figured that we would be able to do the same. The sessions were lots of fun. There were no egos or arguments, but we had an awful lot of trouble with the equipment. The computer really didn’t want to sync up with the digital recorder. Despite our best efforts, you can still hear moments like the breakdown on “Call Me” where everything goes flappy. We also had seven shades of trouble trying to EQ the mixes, as the digital recorder would only show you a display for one track at a time. To a man used to sprawling all over a big desk, tweaking the EQ of several different tracks sympathetically, this represented a giant nuisance. There would be no help from Crouchy on the mixing either, for he had already gone back to his day job at British Airways, so I just had to muddle through with a piece of equipment that I hardly knew or understood. Just to complete the tale of sonic woe, we were all on tour in the U.S.A. when the thing was mastered, so we had no chance to tweak things there either. Still, there’s a couple of decent songs on there, a couple of decent performances and even one or two more-or-less successful mixes. Not bad for a record made in somebody’s house by a pack of drunks. On the other hand, the finished record was hardly the hammer-blow of bitter self-justification that we had been aiming for.

CITC: As a career, rock and roll lacks a pension and job security—did this ever worry you?

PF: “Health Insurance”–what a fatuous concept! I was born and raised in the Welfare State, thank you very much, where health provision is legally defined as being free of charge at the point of use, dependent upon the patient’s need, rather than his or her ability to pay. “Health Insurance”: what a fecking nightmarish phrase! “Blackmail” might be a shorter, pithier way of putting it. When I signed up with Creation, Alan McGee actually gave me my “pension”: Creation had pressed 24 copies of the Mary Chain’s first single, “Upside Down” on twelve-inch. Only the seven-inch was ever released. I can remember Alan handing me a white label of the twelve-inch at about two o’clock in the morning, saying, “There you go, Pat. There’s your pension.” In 1991 I sold my pension to buy a train ticket to London. The hippie in the shop gave me £40:00 for it. It is a constant worry that there is no security in this game when you get old. But this is not a game for pussies. If you want a pension and shit, go and sit in an office for eight hours a day for the rest of your able-bodied life. Even then, you can’t be sure that your boss will not have siphoned off all the pension funds long before you retire. All you can really do is try to write shit that will last. That’s your only hope of a pension, really. On the other hand, if you like doing this stuff, why not just keep doing it? They try to make you “retire” all the time in this game. All you can do is keep on keeping on.

CITC: What is the current state of the JBC back catalog? Will it all be available on ITUNES? I know that people spend massive amounts on out of print JBC albums--will those ever get back into circulation?

PF: I believe that the Glass stuff (the first 4 albums) is now available on I-Tunes. I think that Cherry Red are behind it. I’m putting up Cult of the Basement and Condition Blue (via Setanta Records) very soon. Since there was never any paper contract between me and Creation (Yes! The last punk rock record deal!), and since the records have long since been in profit, Sony have no claim on these records, so I’m free to do the deal. Hey, Sony probably aren’t even aware that the records exist. I think the era of people paying $100=00 for Bath of Bacon on E-Bay has gone now. Vinyl Japan re-released a lot of the Glass stuff in 2001, and now you can download a lot of the stuff, so I think that the inflation in the second-hand JBC market has abated fairly radically in the last few years. It was getting really silly there for a moment, though. Instead of the fans making the band rich, it ended up with the band making the fans rich as they sold off their old vinyl for mad prices. You see, we never really understood this business…

CITC: There's a lot of recurring iconography in your songs--animals, drinking, vampires; I remember in grad school the poet Greg Orr telling me that he thought the person who knows what interests them is the luckiest person around. I know this is bordering on asking you to psychoanalyze yourself, but do you have any idea why you choose the subjects you do when you write? How do they help tell the story?

PF: Well, animals, drinking and vampires all played a major part in my upbringing.

I’ve always really liked animals, and in 1985 I finally made the connection that if you like somebody, you really shouldn’t ought to herd them into death camps and eat the remains. My good friend Turkish George is a vegan and he reckons that as long as people continue to go around consuming the blood of traumatised beasts, belligerent and pointless conflict will be unending. He can wax very lyrical on this theme, most memorably one night when a bunch of the NN1 beat elite were there, high as you like, to hear his beautiful, rich voice intoning this message of doom while, in the background, a lengthy, brooding instrumental passage on a latter-day, crack-raddled Temptations album ground on, providing the perfect backing track. A couple of days later we recorded George reading out various bits of Moroccan poetry, Burroughs one-liners and Lee Perry rants. Then we dubbed them onto some Wilson backing tracks, which led, eventually to “Istanbul Connection,” which you can enjoy--and, indeed, download for free--at www.myspace.com/wilsondub.

The JBC certainly did seem to attract a lot of attention for doing drinking songs. When first I met Robyn Hitchcock, in his dressing room at a Northampton venue in 1987, he said to me, quite out of the blue: “All your songs are about going down the pub, aren’t they?” Cheeky wastrel. I had been listening a great deal to his I Often Dream of Trains album, which apparently he recorded at a time when he had been seriously ill. It’s pretty clear from the record that he had mortality on his mind, and at times he seems to rail against the entire organic structure of the universe. So, rather than thump him, which would have been a bit rude, seeing as he was a visitor to Northampton and all, I did my best by suggesting to him that all his bleeding tunes seemed to be about the state of his insides. Happy days, indeed! Considering that he really had been at death’s door, with a condition that had nothing whatsoever to do with drink or drugs and everything to do with some bizarre tropical parasite (well, it would be, wouldn’t it?), I thought he took it all very well. But you see what I mean? We write about girls and politics and animals and drugs and monsters and all that rock n’ roll shit, and all that anyone notices--even an eagle-eyed pop detective like Mr. Hitchcock--is that we write songs about going down the pub.

CITC: And you certainly aren’t the only ones…

PF: It might have escaped the attention of the 500 tousle-haired, corduroy-trousered indie chin-strokers making the scene back in the day, but songs about drinking had actually been around before we started singing them in 1983; since the dawn of civilisation, to be exact. Drinking was a huge element in our lives at the time. You may have noticed that musicians tend to play in bars; or theatres with bars; or college halls with bars. Musicians work in bars. When they are not at work they hang out in bars. They do this because, seeing as they are in Barcelona, they can’t just go home and make a sandwich.

Everybody has to be somewhere, and musicians, more often than not, are in a bar. Bars sell drink. It is incredible, to my mind, that there are not millions of drinking songs being released every year. I suspect that it is a sinister, Lutheran influence on mainstream attitudes that is behind this bizarre situation in which people drink all the time and yet do not sing about it. Hold on for a massive digression as I try to illustrate what I mean:

In 1990 I watched an episode of “Family Feud” on T.V. in Seattle. It was interesting, because the “families” were, in fact, teams from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army. You know the score with this: they survey a bunch of punters about a number of questions, then the contestants have to guess the answers that polled best among the punters. Both teams were, unsurprisingly, significantly smarter than the average “real” family and I was really enjoying sitting in my little motel room, getting high in the afternoon, as I watched the smiling, intelligent face of the United States armed forces at play. There was this one question, however, that was causing the teams all kinds of problems: “Where would you be most ashamed to be seen?” They soon nailed the Number One answer: “On the toilet.” One by one they worked out nearly all the other answers, but the Number Two answer eluded the teams completely. Eventually the host was obliged to reveal the Number Two answer, and my jaw fell open, as did the jaws of all those nice servicemen and women on the show. Because the Number Two answer was: “In a bar.” At once you see the gulf (no pun intended) between men and women who routinely train, travel and solve problems, by force if necessary, and people for whom excitement is attending free game-show screenings in air-conditioned studios in the afternoon, and danger both moral and medical lurks menacingly in every branch of Starbuck’s.

Oddly enough, Martin Luther himself came from Germany, a country where even in these sad, cowed times, grown men and women drink openly on the street in broad daylight and nobody pays any attention; a country where beer and hard liquor are available in any gas station along the Autobahn and on the platform of almost any railway or U-Bahn station; a country where the concept of “closing time” is understood in a deeply subjective way; my kind of country! The Germans do not fear themselves when they drink, and thus, when they drink, they are nothing to fear. They have loads of songs about drinking. I have seen hundreds of happy Germans, pished out of their minds, sitting on great long benches with umpteen pints of beer, singing their heads off and leaping up and down off the bench with the music, loud as you like and completely off their handsome faces. Men, women, young, old, rich, poor, complete strangers, all singing together and making a terminal row. Then at one o’clock in the morning, when the bar shut down, they all quietly got up and went on their way. Not a glass smashed, not a single shouty confrontation.

Some British people might start making cracks about “order” round about now, but I don’t see this as some creepy tendency to “order.” I see it as civilised. Drinking and getting high are part of life and to deny or repress that part of life leads to an unnatural situation, where ordinary everyday pleasure is regarded with something that seems akin to self-loathing. There certainly seems to be more than an element of self-loathing behind the Scandinavian model of drink control, so clearly attractive to the Alpha Course clowns who currently infest our political class in the U.K. I personally believe that this model leads to worse behaviour than the German model. I believe this because with my own eyes I have seen the Germans on the lash, as described above, and I have also seen a hairy Swedish man standing knee deep in snow in a car park at two in the morning, kicking a bicycle to death with no thought for the state of his foot come the dawn. I have stepped over the Scandinavian drink-tourists prone upon the streets of Lubeck, and been harassed by vodka-crazed Norwegian teenagers on a train from Denmark to Germany. As soon as they are freed from their native state alcohol repression where piss-poor lager costs a tenner a pint, and land in Germany with its sensible drink prices, these Scandinavian people go drink mental. Of course, they have nothing like the necessary experience to handle a massive binge like that, so they stumble and fall, they puke and they mewl, and I know this for I have seen it. No doubt the experience actually re-enforces their misguided view that drinking makes people go bad. (“Some people say alcohol makes you less lucid/And I think that’s true, if you’re kinda stupid.”--Lou Reed.)

It’s very similar with Brits abroad, of course. While not as repressive as in Scandinavia, U.K. liquor prices are still dramatically higher than in the rest of Europe. So inevitably some people are going to make pigs of themselves.

To my mind, to blame the low prices and long drinking hours in Europe is to miss the point completely. In countries like Spain, Germany, Italy and France, people are brought up around drinking. There is no shame in it. Yes, people will occasionally get drunk and out of order, but they won’t wallow in unconsummated shame, blaming the stuff in the bottle. They will acknowledge, sensibly enough, that they behaved stupidly with something that is, actually, a poison. If the Scandinavian/U.K./U.S. model inculcates the idea that there is no pleasure to be had from drinking, then it must acknowledge that people will end up in a state of mind where they do not derive any pleasure from drinking. So these people don’t understand how to derive pleasure from enjoying a drink. In fact, in the U.K. at least, many of them will simply drink whichever piss-poor chemically-brewed fake pilsner has shown the best adverts on TV early that evening. The trouble is, of course, that they still get drunk. In fact, if you train people to deny the pleasure in drinking, then you end up with people who believe that the only purpose of drinking is to get drunk. “Hurry up, Harry, get another round in before this place closes.” “Come on Lars, let’s spend the weekend on the ferry to Germany, throwing up.” Then your repressive licensing hours regime means that everybody spills out, drunk and dissatisfied, onto the street at exactly the same time. You really couldn’t organise it better than that if you were planning a cull of young, working-class males, could you?

Of course, since the licensing laws in the U.K. have been relaxed, levels of street violence have fallen significantly. Well, of course they have. There were certainly a lot of people in public positions in Northampton who railed against the licensing extension, prophesying that it would send crime skyrocketing. Now that they have been proved completely and utterly wrong, I suspect that we would still be unwise to put everything on hold while we waited for them to admit as much. Something that I find interesting about all this is that the vast majority of bars in town which extended their opening hours opted for an extension of only one or two hours; yet this has been enough to make a significant difference to the safety of the town’s streets and also to the simple pleasure of being able to drink when you want to, rather than being forced into a mad rush. It has, in short, made the town a better place to live. Here--in microcosm--we see the triumph of the German/European model of civilised public drinking. I feel a song coming on…

Of course, back in the fifties, British people didn’t fear drinking. No, once they’d enjoyed a nice gin and tonic after work, they would go and get their fear in the same place that they got their thrills, their music and their romance: the picture house.

Very shortly before I was born, Hammer pictures outraged critics and delighted terrified punters with Horror of Frankenstein. By the time that I was lying, tripping and drooling, in my pram, Hammer had scored a sensational hit with the follow-up, the version of Dracula that introduced Christopher Lee to the role. Both pictures were directed by Terence Fisher, who happened to drink in the same bar as my grandfather and parents. As I grew old enough to talk to, I knew him as “Uncle Terry.” I saw a picture of Uncle Terry in the latest issue of Fortean Times. He looks almost exactly as I remember him. He was a gentle, kindly man and he used to make me laugh like a drain. I was very fond of Uncle Terry. My parents moved away from west London, so we didn’t see so much of Uncle Terry then. One evening when I was perhaps six-years-old, my mum said to me: “Ooh, one of Uncle Terry’s pictures is on the telly tonight? Do you want to stay up and watch it with me?” Well, here I am in this scary place in the country somewhere up the M1 and in my six-year-old mind Uncle Terry is a warm memory of happier times around my granddad’s bungalow at the bottom of Strawberry Hill. Of course I want to see his picture. My mum, bless her, was an intelligent woman, who worked in the very male world of financial journalism and many other areas without once complaining or doing anything other than getting on with the job. She smoked and drank all the time she was pregnant with me and, thank God, she had the sense to turn down the marvelous new miracle drug Thalidomide that she was offered by the doctor. But somewhere in that powerful brain of hers she had completely failed to make the connection between scary house in the country, six-year-old boy and—uh--"Dracula.”

And so at an age when most of my schoolyard chums were enjoying Blue Peter or Batman or those little war comics they used to have, I became a horror movie buff. A Terry Fisher movie was good for staying up late, for a start, and there were always comical interludes with the likes of Miles Malleson or even Bernard Cribbins, in which I could actually feel Uncle Terry’s sense of humour on that sort of deep, trippy emotional level that kids have, almost as though he were there. Obviously a lot of the film would be lost on me, especially the more sensational aspects, probably, for my kiddie mind tended to be predominantly concerned with narrative, but I soon grew able to tell the good from the bad from the ugly. I was rarely terrified. I was, after all, a first generation, first show of first series Doctor Who viewer, fearless before Dalek and Undead alike. I suppose today some clown would try to prosecute my mum for child cruelty or something like that. To these people I say: Bollocks. I’d rather be exposed to this deeply camp and rather improbable variety of fear than the grindingly mendacious, divisive and poisonous fear that you peddle in the name of “security” or “freedom.”

Hammer shut down in the year that I left school. By then I had seen just about everything that the studio had produced, and much more besides. Apart from my love of football, I was a goth waiting to happen. Around about the time that the JBC started up I had a dream in which I went to this typical Northampton house party with Count Dracula. He was there in this little terraced house with cans of Stella and spliffs on the go, with all his Dracula stuff on and people were acting a little strange around me because he was my mate. "Aw, why did you bring him?" sort of thing. Dracula and I went into the little front room where some stoners were watching T.V. Inevitably, the film on the telly was the Bela Lugosi Dracula. So I sit there on the sofa in this darkened, smoky room watching Dracula…with Dracula. It’s worth mentioning that David J, author of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” is about six months older than me. There must be a whole generation of us around the place: raised on pop music, football (we were seven or eight when England won the World Cup), The Avengers, The Prisoner, Hammer Horror and Monty Python. I wonder what all the other middle aged weirdoes are up to...

CITC: Was there ever a moment when you considered walking away from music? If so, what changed your mind?

PF: I quite often walk away from music. I usually go straight to the Racehorse. Some music, to be honest with you, is pretty bloody awful. You were probably hoping for a less literal response, right?

CITC: Well, it’s entirely up to you…

PF: To be honest, if I were to walk away from music, what purpose would it serve? Who would suffer? Not music, that’s for sure; only me, really. Music is one of the few things that I understand at all in this world, so I can’t see why I should ever try to take that away from myself.

CITC: The JBC seemed to avoid the scorn of the English press over the years. What outlets have been most supportive?

PF: Well, we pretty much avoided the U.K. press altogether after a certain point. We got pretty good reviews for the most part in the early years. They were so helpful that we started getting gigs outside the country. I think a lot of people in Britain thought we were making it up about the small successes that we enjoyed in other countries. All I can say to them is: where the hell do you think we were all that time, then? A few particular people have helped the band enormously with their media support: Deirdre O’Donoghue at KCRW, God rest her soul, was hugely influential in our becoming known on the West Coast and Brent Bambury on CBC’s “Brave New Waves” did wonders for us in Canada, and also, thanks to the CBC’s mega-powerful transmitters, all along the Canadian border in America, too. Detroit and Minneapolis are two examples that leap to mind, and so is the small but extremely cool pocket of JBC resistance in God-Fearing Erie, Pennsylvania.

In the early days in the U.K. Robin Gibson at Sounds and Mick Mercer at Melody Maker and Zigzag championed the band in a really cool way. We’ve had nice reviews from other writers I admire like Keith Cameron and Dave Kavanagh, who wrote that great big, studious book on Creation Records.

CITC: Do you read the reviews

PF: I always enjoy reading reviews, good or bad. I’m very vain.

CITC: From "Olof Palme" to "JB V PM" there's a strain of politics that can be found in your body of work. What's your take on the current political situation in England?

PF: To be honest, I’m a bit despairing. The New Labour project has made some things better “on the ground” in the U.K. but it has also been so desperate not to upset the rich that it has presided over a period in which the gap between rich and poor has grown wider; hardly what one would expect from a Labour Government. I would like to see these “billionaires” over which our tabloid press so loves to coo, paying some flapping income tax. What people tend to forget now about the Blair thing is that, prior to 11th September 2001, things might not have been exactly hunky-dory, but the wind was blowing in a fairly civilised direction. Since the White House junta initiated its unwisely-titled “war on terror,” the authoritarian tendencies of our Government have run out of all control: frightened people who had never run so much as a Scout Troop before taking control of the U.K., suddenly paralysed by fear of the unknown and sucked into an ill-advised foreign military adventure of no relevance to U.K. interests whatsoever, snarling terrified at their own people, spying, snitching and behaving as though we had never won the Second World War: shameful stuff. The U.K. was subjected to some 30 years of urban terror by the IRA, much of whose funding, incidentally, came from the United States (“go after states that sponsor terrorism,” was it, Mister Bush?). At one point the IRA blew up the centre of Manchester. The entire bloody town centre! In 1984 they came within a few inches of taking out Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister herself. Yet, even under the leadership of an enraged Thatcher, we didn’t see the ridiculous, racist surveillance society that has installed itself here today. From 1939 to 1945, London was regularly bombed by the German Luftwaffe. My grandma came home one evening just in time to watch a V-1 doodlebug fall from the sky and demolish the flat that she was about to enter. People in America may not be used to being under fire, but British people have had plenty of it, and you know what? We’re really not that flapping bothered. So the nasty little authoritarian thing that is going on right now is profoundly un-British and a lot of people quite rightly don’t care for it.

What they used to say about the IRA and the rest of them was simply that if we started to militarise the place or start chipping away at our freedoms and rights just because of a few bombers, “the terrorists would have won.” It was a proper cliché in our media for years. Apparently Tony Blair never happened across it.

I am fairly sure that Blair was blackmailed into the Iraq thing by the U.S.A., probably with threats of massive dis-investment by giant U.S. corporations if he didn’t play ball. Having followed the deeply flawed Thatcherite model of turning London into some pathetic parody of a European Hong Kong, the new Labour people would be terrified of something like that.

We should not be in Iraq and we certainly should not be in Afghanistan. Ask any British military leader. Or any Red Army strategist or soldier. Or read a damn book. Afghanistan is un-invadable. The British really should know better. On at least two previous occasions they have tried to “subdue” Afghanistan and been sent home with their tails between their legs and nasty cuts and bruises all round.

So, anyway, we all voted Labour and we’ve ended up with stupidly rich people paying laughably low taxes (when, that is, they don’t just evade them altogether) and driving their children to school is bloody great 4x4 cars while everybody else is watched by paramilitary, trigger-happy police in case they say something that Blair doesn’t like. We’re fighting two unwinnable wars that have nothing to do with us and which have dragged the reputation of this country through the dirt worldwide, ramping up into the bargain the possibility that some people would now actually be quite agreeable to the idea of attacking us in some way. Terrific!

But what is the alternative? Anyone who is taken in by Cameron and his shiny, caring Conservative Party needs to have their head examined. Actually no, not “examined” exactly, more sort of “held in an iron vice and battered to a fine mulch by skinheads with mallets with big ugly rusty nails poking out of the business end.”

We have a local council election on Thursday. It is only for people to represent this tiny corner of NN1 on the town council, but it’s still politics and I’m still interested. I wrote a blog about the Conservative candidate who sported a little “Vote Blue, Go Green” logo on his leaflet and then went on to explain that his interests included “Formula 1, boating and flying.” Oh, for heaven’s sakes.

The Conservatives labour under this delusion that all they need to make themselves electable again is to refine their “presentation.” That’s what all this “green” crap is about. They are the party of big business, for heaven’s sakes, and it’s not as though they haven’t lied before. For people so obsessed with “presentation” to be so mind-meltingly inept at it does rather suggest to me that it might be better not to vote for the morons.

Just while I’m here…Formula 1--what government on earth that was in any way serious about carbon emissions would tolerate Formula Flapping 1? These people fly around the globe, week in week out. They distort local economies for a few days, then all pile out and pour top quality pollution into the air for hours and hours. Stop Formula 1 (and other motor racing too, why not?) and see those polar bears get happy. That’s what I say.

I know that a lot of people do get pleasure from Formula 1 (must be high on the fumes), but then a lot of people get pleasure from kicking strangers’ heads in in pub car parks, which is--let it be said--frowned upon by the authorities. Hey, all I’m asking for is a little more consistency.

The Labour Candidate promises me that he’s going to get tough on crime. I imagine that this is very bad news for the six or seven teenagers who stand around in the street of an evening.

God help me, I think I’m going to vote for the Green lady. She only lives round the corner. Vote local.

Bloody hell, has it come to this?

CITC: Can you talk a bit about the origins of the Masters of Budvar?

PF: In November 2003, my friend and neighbour Andy Skank asked me if I would like to play an acoustic night at the Northampton Labour Club. I told him “yes” and duly turned up for something called “Acoustic All Stars.” Andy organises the music at the Labour Club, but this night was the work of another scenester, who had, quite evidently, lost interest in it. It was a moribund affair, whose high point came when a patient from the local mental hospital graced us with a couple of numbers.

So in January 2004, when Andy came and asked me if I would like to take over “Acoustic Allstars,” I said “No.”

Andy persisted, however, and pointed out that he had just bought the club a lovely little PA system and a couple of lights. I thought “all right, I’ll organise a night and see how it goes.” I played and three other “acoustic” acts. It went all right so I did another one the next month. That, too, went well. It was around this time that I made enquiries as to whether the club had to remain “acoustic.” I was told that it didn’t have to stay that way, but to avoid drum & bass music because the guys who run the club have a thing against it. So then I put on Slipstream, who filled the room with noise, but also--crucially--punters. After that, we were away. A couple of months later I put on Rolo from the Woodentops, doing a live DJ set. He played lots of what can only be described as drum and bass music. The old boy who runs the place came up at the end of the night and told me how much he had liked the music.

Well, from that point on, I figured I was winning. I changed the name of the club. I started contacting mates and pulling favours, getting name acts down for a fraction of their regular fee. At the same time, it was still more than the club was giving me, but I figured that everybody has a hobby on which they squander their dough. At least my hobby was running a nightclub--how cool was that?

I have spent literally thousands of pounds on Masters of Budvar. The joke is that we run it for the artists, not the audience. I even managed to get that line on BBC national Radio One when they interviewed me about the club last year. For some reason, which will probably never be explained, we got a rave review in the New York Times once: “If you only go out of London once on your trip to the U.K., make it a trip to Masters of Budvar in Northampton.” I honestly have no idea what that was about.

Our current format is to present two live acts and a superstar DJ. Since I started the superstar DJ thing last year, it’s been a lot of fun. We have mostly local celebrities, though we did have Sonic Boom once recently. Hey, he seems local to me. Andy’s PA is sweet and capable of handling quite complex set-ups. We give the musicians a proper soundcheck and a hot dinner if they’ve come from out of town. We pay them before they go on. Everyone gets paid at Masters of Budvar. It’s a rule. (I am the exception which proves the rule. That’s why you’ll often find me on the bill when an expensive out-of-town band is playing.) We’ve got a good local reputation and a regular crowd of hipsters. Once everything is cleared away, the hardcore will most likely gather back at my place. Sometimes the acoustic guitars come out and two or three more artists will play. My friend Joe Woolley has made a particular habit of this. It’s a brilliant move because all these musicians from out of town hear him under the best possible circumstances (comfy chair, glass of beer) and then go home with fond memories and, as often as not, a CD.

We've hosted acts from Northampton and around, self-evidently, but also acts from London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Southampton, Brighton, Belfast, Berlin, Los Angeles and San Gabriel, Ca.

Since we started Masters of Budvar, loads of other, younger musicians and promoters have started nights at the Labour Club, many of which are really good, but I do jealously guard the “original and best” tag.

People can always keep with events at Masters of Budvar by visiting www.myspace.com/patfish77. Plug.

CITC: My favorite cover you do is "Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh"--it's just sublime. I saw you do it in 1991 and it was just crushingly lovely. I think it's quite simply, a perfect song. Your "Skinheads" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" are also wonderful. What are some of your favorite ones to do?

PF: Right now my favourite acoustic cover versions are “Nature Boy,” “Weed Smoker’s Dream” and “Moon River.” My favourite covers with the laptop are John Cale’s “Thoughtless Kind,” Suicide’s “Che” and David J’s “Stop This City.” I also like to play “Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3.

CITC: Ever thought about a covers album?

PF: A covers album would be awfully good fun, but it probably wouldn’t pay very well, because I’d get no writing money from it, and, to be honest with you, the writing is where the money is.

CITC: Will there be a new JBC record?

PF: Well, I've learned never to say never. Wetlands Reserve, NYC September 1999: the promoters have taken it upon themselves to sell this as the Last JBC Show Ever. We didn't ask them to, but you could see their point of view, given as it was the last show of a reformation tour. In the ladies’ lavatory a girl is heard to ask: "Wow, do you really think this is the last JBC show ever?" A voice replies from inside a stall: "Nah--they've lied before."

Right now, the only record on the horizon is Max Eider's third album (in 20 years--that boy needs to slow down a little). I have no deal at the moment, and no real prospect of getting one, as I have no idea how to do that. I don't yet have the facilities at home to record the way that Max does. So I'm dependent on a studio budget and I can't afford to do that myself.

Nonetheless, I have a lot of new songs and I am vaguely thinking that it would be good to get them on a record one day. Nobody knows, to be honest. You just can't say.

CITC: I told Jim from the Jasmine Minks that I thought the two of you should from some kind of side project supergroup--ever thought about something along these lines?

PF: I’m always up for collaborations with agreeable people. Jim does live quite a long way away from me, though; in another country, in fact. It will be good to see his face when we play together in July.

In 1995 a friend with a bar made me form a supergroup to keep him entertained on a slow Wednesday night. We had me, Mark Refoy (Guitarist: Spacemen 3, Spiritualised, Slipstream, Pet Shop Boys); Tim Harries (Bassist: Eno, Steeleye Span, David Holmes, Katie Melua!) and Jon Mattock (Drummer: Spacemen 3, Spiritualised. Slipstream, Perfect Disaster, The Breeders, Massive Attack). The set was all covers. I remember we did the Velvets’ “Foggy Notion,” Can’s “Mother Sky,” some Plastic Ono Band stuff, “Suzie Q,” “Roadrunner” and a few others. We called ourselves The Undertakers. We only ever did it twice. In a sort of KLF moment, I sold the only cassette of the show for £80=00.

My other band, Wilson, was described by the local radio station as a “Northampton supergroup.” We laughed long and hard. We are, however, a super group, even if I do say it myself.

CITC: "Racheland" is emotionally devastating and contains some of your most frank lyrical confessions ("The man next door is having a nervous breakdown/Sounds like it's me in there"), while the moment in "Angels" when you sing "I wanna hold you in my arms" is true aural longing. Sorry for the preamble, but I'm curious to know if writing about a love gone wrong is something you find therapeutic.

PF: I think that writing about most things is therapeutic.

CITC: If someone shouts for "Racheland" is that a place you'd sometimes rather not visit?

PF: Well, I wouldn’t try to play it if I didn’t have a band or a backing track with me, but that’s just a practical consideration. No one wants to listen to six minutes of a bloke whining over two chords on an acoustic guitar. It’s as though the words don’t really work without the music. Hey, I know nothing about poetry, except that it can be a bit of a nuisance. But, assuming that it’s “on,” I have no problem with playing “Racheland.” In fact, I’d say that I enjoy it.

CITC: How do songs like this fare for you years later?

PF: For the most part, the art-misery jobs seem to stand up fairly well. I still regularly try to wring something out of “Sister Death,” for example, and I played “Angels” as an encore not long ago. “Susie” sounds a bit weak now. Not so bad to listen to, but you don’t necessarily want those words in your mouth at my age. Looks kinda self-pitying, which it wasn’t supposed to be back in the day. It was supposed to be a bit self-critical, but I don’t think my writing powers were up to it.

CITC: Let's talk about women.

PF: Must we?

CITC: Do you find that your heart breaks and soars the same way it did when you were 17?

PF: I hadn’t really thought about this, but, um, yes. Eighteen, anyway.

CITC: You must have some stories!

PF: Man walks into a bar…

Discography

Bath of Bacon (Glass, 1983)

A Scandal In Bohemia (Glass, 1984)

Sex and Travel E.P. (Glass, 1985)

Hamburg (Live) (Rebel/Glass, 1985)

The Gift Of Music—Compilation (Glass, 1985)

Distressed Gentlefolk (Glass/Big Time, 1986)

Bloody Nonsense—Compilation (Big Time, 1986)

Conspiracy E.P. (Glass, 1986)

Big Questions The Gift of Music Volume II (Glass, 1987)

May I E.P. (Glass, 1987)

Fishcotheque (Creation/Relativity, 1988)

Spooky E.P. (Creation, 1988)

Big Planet, Scarey Planet (Creation/Genius 1989)

Cult Of The Basement (Creation/Rough Trade 1990)

Condition Blue (Creation/Sky 1991)

Edward’s Closet Compilation (Creation, 1991)

Unconditional Compilation (PolyGram, 1992)

Western Family Live (Creation, 1993)

Waiting For The Love Bus (Creation/Tri-Star 1993)

Illuminate (Creation 1995)

Draining The Glass (Fire/Nectar Masters, 1996)

Excellent! The Violent Years Compilation (Creation, 1997)

Glorious and Idiotic Live (Vinyl Japan, 2000)

Rotten Soul (Vinyl Japan 2000)

Cake City--Compilation (Vinyl Japan, 2001)

The Jazz Butcher’s Free Lunch--Compilation (Rev-Ola, 2003)

Further Reading:
www.jazzbutcher.com
www.myspace.com/patfish77
www.maxeider.com

The Jazz Butcher’s music can be purchased at ITUNES

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