Archive for April, 2008

MAP OF AFRICA

Posted in MAP OF AFRICA, Soul/Disco on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

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Map of Africa’s debut album was released on a minutely small Brooklyn record label called Whatever We Want, who have also released singles by Quiet Village Project, Bobbie Marie, Godsy, and Otterman Empire. I would not be surprised nor proud if you had never heard of any of them, or only knew Map of Africa via their affiliations (Thomas Bullock of hairy disco DJs Rub ’N Tug; DJ Harvey). I bring it up because Map of Africa sounds—or at least aspires to sound—like Foghat with a less pronounced cock.

And Thin Lizzy and some Pink Floyd and Steppenwolf and a mellower Grand Funk; and “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” reminds me of a little song by forgotten heroes Ram Jam called “Black Betty”, which you would probably never hear on the five o’ clock free ride or any other variety of “rock block,” probably because it’s too interesting.

The moral battle here doesn’t pit retro against contemporary. Some of the best “retro” artists do history the justice of introducing people to obscured catalogs: the Ghost Box label to library music; Lindstrom to e-z disco-psych oddities; Wu house producer RZA to shadowed late-60s and ’70s soul. Map of Africa—really, my fingers keep reaching to write Ram Jam, it’s that frustrating—are only interested in a history we’re already intimately familiar with and probably bored of, complete with yawning blues-rock solos and casually racist pillow talk (“We’re gonna make a map of Africa… and speak the native tongue”; I don’t shoot fish in barrels).

Sometimes they get somewhere interesting (“Ely Cathedral” or the haunting weirdness of “Plastic Surgery”), but they always sound a little disingenuous, a turn-off compounded by their commitment to stupidity. (Not even with a severely debased sense of irony could I accept the chorus “I love your freaky ways” from a white guy with a guitar; not even if he was singing it for charity, not even if he was singing it to a spouse who perished in a fire.)

Am I supposed to appreciate this sound being reclaimed by the youth? Is this meta-ironic sabotage? I have no idea. I’m also not interested! Even if you toss out the entire possibility that they’re posturing, Map of Africa is not a great record. It is, however, an oddly compelling one, historically speaking: 2007, the year our filters failed, the year that rescuing the past felt so damn cool and easy that we stopped wondering why it’d gone under in the first place.

click below to listen

MAP OF AFRICA – Map Of Africa

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BASQUIAT (The informal history)

Posted in Art (The Painting Kind), BASQUIAT on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

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Introduction

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother. At an early age, he showed a precocious talent for drawing, and his mother enrolled him as a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum when he was six. Basquiat first gained notoriety as a teenage graffiti poet and musician. By 1981, at the age of twenty, he had turned from spraying graffiti on the walls of buildings in Lower Manhattan to selling paintings in SoHo galleries, rapidly becoming one of the most accomplished artists of his generation. Astute collectors began buying his art, and his gallery shows sold out. Critics noted the originality of his work, its emotional depth, unique iconography, and formal strengths in color, composition, and drawing. By 1985, he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as the epitome of the hot, young artist in a booming market. Tragically, Basquiat began using heroin and died of a drug overdose when he was just twenty-seven years old.

From Street to Studio

Basquiat once told an interviewer, “Since I was seventeen, I thought I might be a star.” As a teenager, he plunged into the emerging eighties art scene. He met artists and celebrities at the Mudd Club; appeared on Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, a television show about the downtown scene; and starred in a low-budget film, Downtown 81 (New York Beat), based on his own life. All the time, he was also making art: hitting downtown Manhattan buildings with spray-painted aphorisms, selling hand-painted T-shirts and collages on the streets, and making drawings. His big break came in 1980, when critics singled out his work at the Times Square Show, an exhibition showcasing young New York artists. He finally got a studio in 1981, when his first New York dealer, Annina Nosei, invited him to paint in the basement of her gallery.

Until then, he had little money to buy supplies, so he painted on window frames, cabinet doors, even football helmets—whatever he could find. After Basquiat began to make money, the quality of his art materials improved. Even so, throughout his career he often chose to paint on rough, handmade supports and intentionally pursued the awkward look of outsider art

Becoming a Professional Artist

By 1982, at the remarkably young age of twenty-one, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a successful professional artist, living from the sale of his work. In what might be compared to a musician’s winning multiple Grammy awards in a single year, he mounted six acclaimed solo shows in 1982, in New York, Los Angeles, Zurich, Rome, and Rotterdam. That same year, he became the youngest artist ever to be included in Documenta, a major international contemporary art exhibition held every five years in Germany. And when Basquiat exhibited at the Fun Gallery, in the East Village, critics praised his exceptional talent and originality.
Along with his meteoric commercial success, 1982 was also Basquiat’s most prolific year as an artist: at least two hundred of his paintings bear that date, including many of his finest. The early 1980s witnessed a revival of

Expressionist figure painting in art, and Basquiat’s works from 1981 had already established him as a key player in that movement. A new breed of artists had emerged, one that was impatient with the austere rigors of so-called high modernism and eager to reform art by making recognizable images about contemporary life in the Expressionist style of early modernism from decades before. Their success with collectors grown flush from the booming economy encouraged more artists and broader experimentation. Basquiat’s ambitious works of 1982, with their evocative use of text, collage, and an ever-widening range of references, demonstrate his growing intellectual ambition while recalling the exhilarating spirit of the time.

Basquiat’s paintings from these years often revolve around single, heroic, black, male figures. In these images, the head is a central focus, topped by crowns and halos. Here, Basquiat explores the intellect, creativity, and emotional complexity of his human hero.

Crowns, Halos, and Heroes

The crown was Basquiat’s signature motif. In some paintings, the crowns top nameless, generic figures. But more often, Basquiat crowned his heroes. These included renowned jazz musicians, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and celebrated athletes, among them Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), and Hank Aaron. Like the royal titles that famous African American musicians have sometimes adopted as nicknames—such as Duke Ellington or Count Basie—Basquiat used crowns, as well as halos, to ennoble his icons.

In his unusual “portraits” of his heroes, Basquiat made almost no effort to paint his subjects with recognizable facial features. Often he merely named the person on the canvas or in the painting’s title. Perhaps he sought to invest his art with a votive presence, without relying on a direct visual likeness. The crown and the halo—the abstract symbols of honor—are all that are really necessary. Basquiat’s use of the halo, however, cannot help but remind us that in the modern world, art is no longer primarily dedicated to the service of religious worship.

Words

Basquiat started his career as a graffiti writer, signing his work SAMO© (for “same old, same old” or “same old shit”). But while his contemporaries sprayed colorful pictorial symbols and tags all over New York, the teenaged Basquiat addressed the public in enigmatic sentences sprayed in a plain script, such as “SAMO© AS AN END TO MINDWASH RELIGION, NOWHERE POLITICS, AND BOGUS PHILOSOPHY” and “PLUSH SAFE HE THINK / SAMO©.” As a professional visual artist, Basquiat made language an increasingly important feature of his work. In some cases, words fill the entire canvas, leaving no room for images.
Basquiat used words to elaborate his themes, adding layers of verbal complication to his pictorial ideas. Sometimes, following a Surrealist or stream-of-consciousness technique, he built up running lists or diagrams of related thoughts. Often, he repeated the same words over and over again, achieving an almost hypnotic effect.

Basquiat’s words also serve a more strictly compositional function, playing a key role in the graphic construction of a painting. He was not the only artist using words in paintings during the 1980s, but he was perhaps the most successful at integrating text and picture into a dynamic whole. In Basquiat’s works, there is an especially harmonious affinity among written, drawn, and painted marks that have all clearly been made by the same hand.

Basquiat and Modernism

Despite a brief career of less than a decade, Basquiat is a crucial figure in the story of modern art. He was perhaps the last major painter of the twentieth century to pursue a key aspect of the visual language invented by some of the century’s first great artists, including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, the German Expressionists, and others. These modern painters had turned to nontraditional sources—African art, as well as the art of children, the insane, and the untrained—for new ideas that would make their own work more direct, powerful, and expressive.

Working eighty years later, and inspired by his own heritage, Basquiat not only contributed to this modern tradition but also transcended it. That is, he understood not only the African-influenced work of his predecessors from the beginning of the century, but also the state of contemporary art as his own generation had found it: austere, cerebral, exclusive, and detached from everyday life. Like many artists of the so-called postmodernist years, he was to a certain extent a revivalist in his effort to make art more immediately relevant to a larger public. But Basquiat was unique among his fellow artists of the 1980s for avoiding nostalgia, imitation, and irony in his attempt to provide a once revolutionary but now outmoded modernist pictorial language with a brilliant final voice.

Photocopy and Collage

Basquiat began many paintings by pasting his own drawings—or photocopies of them—onto the canvas. Some of the drawings are spare, economical meditations, distilling an idea into the meanderings of line. Others are dense with deposits of marks and words. The collage ground they created gave Basquiat a surface to which he responded with painted imagery. The collage technique produced dense and complex surfaces in his paintings.

They recall the artist’s urban milieu—outdoor walls layered with posters, paint, dirt, and graffiti that he encountered every day in New York City. They are also reminiscent of Cubist collage, though rather than integrate visual materials from the outside world, such as signs and newspapers, as Picasso and Braque generally did, Basquiat used copies of his own works as collage elements, reaffirming the authority of his own controlling hand in his closed universe of marks.

Works from 1983

Basquiat reached full maturity as an artist in about 1983, when he was twenty-two years old. Encouraged by success and optimistic about his life, he made paintings that year that are among the strongest and most complex of any in the twentieth century. This was also the year he was included in the Whitney Biennial, a prestigious exhibition of contemporary art. His girlfriend at the time, Paige Powell, introduced him to her boss, Andy Warhol, who soon became Basquiat’s closest friend.

It was also in 1983 that a young, black graffiti artist named Michael Stewart died in suspicious circumstances while in police custody. Having once practiced graffiti himself, Basquiat realized that he could have suffered the same fate. Like many New Yorkers, he was deeply affected by the incident. Subsequently, his work began to explore themes drawn from the African Diaspora more fully, specifically the African experience in America.

An interviewer asked Basquiat in 1983 if there was anger in his work. “It’s about 80% anger,” he replied. The interviewer continued, “But there’s also humor.” To which Basquiat answered, “People laugh when you fall on your ass. What’s humor?”

Music

Music was intensely important to Basquiat. As a teenager, he co-founded an art band called Gray that mixed ska and punk with “noise muzik.” He also performed in Deborah Harry’s video for the song “Rapture,” and produced his own record, “Beat Bop,” now recognized as an early hip-hop classic. He was close friends with the hip-hop impresario and first MTV veejay Fab 5 Freddy, and he briefly dated Madonna.

When Basquiat turned his energies to painting full time, music became a subject in his art. Jazz musicians and singers—among them Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billie Holiday, and Fats Waller—figured prominently in his paintings from 1983 to 1985. He especially loved bebop, a style that originated in the 1940s and emphasized free, rhythmic improvisation. One of its leading innovators, Charlie Parker, was Basquiat’s most cherished cultural icon.

With its combination of music, dynamic wordplay, performance, and graffiti writing, Basquiat’s art embodied the hip-hop movement during its infancy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of those who knew him have spoken of Basquiat’s ability to soak up information, and in true hip-hop fashion, he incorporated what he needed: his pop poetry evokes the emcee. The lists of words—cut, pasted, recycled, and repeated—function like beats, controlling the composition. And Basquiat approached the process of making art like a deejay: culling text, symbols, imagery, and styles from disparate sources and mixing them into something completely original.

MAURICE FULTON (Interview)

Posted in Interviews, MAURICE FULTON on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

RBMA: »This is Maurice Fulton, he lives in Sheffield currently, he has lived everywhere else in this world, please give him a warm welcome (applause). So Maurice, before we start doing our little bit of hands-on session, we should maybe talk a bit about where you’re coming from musically and what were your formative experiences in the world of merry music.«

Maurice Fulton: »Musically I come from Funk.«

RBMA: »Funk as in Parliament, George Clinton«

Maurice Fulton: »George Clinton, Funkadelic. (to participants)I don’t know if you’re all familiar with Parliament/Funkadelic. Yes? Especially Funkadelic. It’s what got me into music, period.«

RBMA: »What’s the difference between Funkadelic and Parliament?«

Maurice Fulton: »Funkadelic was more Rock, hard Rock, and Parliament was like Soul, with a lot of horns. First record I ever bought was a Funkadelic record, ‘Let’s Take It To The Stage’, I don’t know if you’re all familiar with that record? That’s like my favourite record on this planet.«

RBMA: »Do you have it with you, maybe?«

Maurice Fulton: »I have one song in CD, it’s called ‘Better By The Pound’, it’s a dance record.«

RBMA: »Well, maybe we should just play it for a bit?«

Maurice Fulton: »Ok, you can still talk while I find it.«

RBMA: »What was the next step from Funkadelic? You started collecting records then?«

Maurice Fulton: »My brother was into music, a lot of stuff, a lot of R&B stuff, but mostly Funkadelic was on rotation.«

RBMA: »You were abusing your brothers record collection?«

Maurice Fulton: »Oh yes. Every chance I got whilst he wasn’t home.«

RBMA: »What time was this?«

Maurice Fulton: »I guess the mid-70’s?«

RBMA: »And you were a DJ too then, right?«

Maurice Fulton: »I started in the early 80’s. I pretty much had two turntables but they weren’t Technics or anything with pitch, they were Fisher, I don’t know if you’re all familiar with that brand? You could stack 45’s on top and it had three speeds, 33, 45 and 78. It was a wooden thing and I had two of them with no pitch and it was pretty interesting because you can get creative when you don’t have the usual tools.«

RBMA: »So you had to use your hands a lot of the time?«

Maurice Fulton: »Oh yes. That’s how I learnt how to touch the label to make it slow down and get certain different sounds if you touch it a little but hard and get that ‘brrr’. Love that. And that’s basically how I started, and just practiced, constantly practiced because with that equipment I couldn’t do too much and when I had my friends come over they all laughed at me because of y equipment. Now they understand why, you know? But I just practiced for a whole year, scratching and cutting. And I got good.«

RBMA: »And do you remember the first party you played?«

Maurice Fulton: »Yes. It was a waistline party in Baltimore. What I mean by a waistline party is that you pay your measurements when you go to the door. The guy has a tape measure and he measures your waist and if you were thin you paid little money.«

RBMA: »So you’d better be a skinny dude if you want to go to a waistline party?«

Maurice Fulton: »No, we always liked the big ones, because they partied.«

RBMA: »They’d paid a lot of money to party?«

Maurice Fulton: »Well, not if we liked you. You could come in free (laughs). That was the first party and it was a good party.«

RBMA: »And your name back then as a DJ?«

Maurice Fulton: »I used to call myself Dr. Scratch. Don’t ask me where it came from, I don’t know, but I just thought it sounded good.«

RBMA: »I have distracted you from looking for that Funkadelic tune.«

Maurice Fulton: »That’s right, sorry (searches through CD case). Just to show you, I’m going through all these CD’s. There’s a lot of CD’s here. This is my set, my DJ set, because I don’t play vinyl. I’m not a vinyl hater, I love vinyl, but when you travel it gets expensive for extra luggage and I like to carry a whole lot of records and I found this to be the cheapest way, just to carry CD’s. And plus they sound better, to me. CD’s don’t scratch. You don’t hear pops on CD’s.«

RBMA: »Its usually the argument of vinyl that it sounds so good?«

Maurice Fulton: »I love digital. I thank God for digital. It’s in here somewhere, let’s see.«

RBMA: »With vinyl you could look for the sleeve now?«

Maurice Fulton: »Yeah, it would be bigger and I could see it bigger, but my hand writing is atrocious so it’d take me some time. But I know it’s here. I don’t think I brought it with me, sorry.«

RBMA: »So, no Funkadelic now, but from Baltimore and Dr. Scratch to New York, right? You were influenced by what was happening in that – whatever you want to call it – New York dance culture thing?«

Maurice Fulton: »When I first moved to New York I think the biggest thing was Masters At Work, they were ruling New York and that sound…«

RBMA: »Early 90’s then?«

Maurice Fulton: »Yeah. It got me interested to go to the clubs and see what was happening and I think the Sound Factory bar and Shelter was big at that time. I started going, started dancing, started partying, good move.«

RBMA: »You started to produce then yourself or you were already a producer by then?«

Maurice Fulton: »I was already a producer because I’d worked with the Basement Boys which is a production team, three people. I felt that I was being not held back but I was losing creativity because I was only doing one style of music.«

RBMA: »They were very much into that garage/vocal kind of thing?«

Maurice Fulton: »And I wanted to do more, I wanted to do all types of music, so that’s why I went to New York and discovered it.«

RBMA: »So maybe we should play some of your tracks right now to give people an idea of what Maurice Fulton is about?«

Maurice Fulton: »OK. Before I play this track, let me just explain something. I do many different types of music and what I’m going to play you is the new MU, which is a song that’s called ‘No More Fake Tits’.«

(music: MU ‘No More Fake Tits’)

RBMA: »MU is actually your wife, right? And you’re doing this project together and it went from Punk to Country now.«

Maurice Fulton: »Well not only Country, it’s a lot more other stuff, we do all types of music but the main influence is Punk. There’s another track I wanted to play. Kathy Diamond. I wanted to do a different style of music.«

(music: Kathy Diamond ‘Over’)

RBMA: »So you like to work with vocalists?«

Maurice Fulton: »Yes. Vocalists, bands, MC’s, country stars, everybody.«

Participant: »(Inaudible)«

Maurice Fulton: »Yes, if they sound good, yes.«

Participant: »Did you remix an artist you don’t like?«

Maurice Fulton: »I never did that, if I don’t like the song or the artist I don’t bother at all because I have to be inspired to do the mix«

Participant: »What is different in the creation process where you’re remixing than your own track.«

Maurice Fulton: »It’s the same. When I remix it’s literally me having to do another track to fit the vocals, so it’s the same process, you know, sit down, smoke, get the keyboards, maybe hire a drummer or program it myself, smoke, mix it down, put it on CD, smoke, listen to it, then send it off.«

RBMA: »No smoking before sending it off?«

Maurice Fulton: »Oh no, I have to go to the mail to send it off. You don’t want to be stoned to do that (laughter/ applause).«

RBMA: »Taking about being inspired form the original artist to do a remix you can be inspired by something you dislike also, right?«

Maurice Fulton: »Yeah, like Britney. But I used that for my own tracks. I wouldn’t use it for other peoples mixes because they would get mad at me if I took a reference from Britney Spears.«

RBMA: »You never thought about one of the tracks you remixed, ‘Oh, it’s utter shite but I can make it sound nice?’«

Maurice Fulton: »No. If it doesn’t make me move inside my chair, and wiggle my butt, then no way.«

Participant: »You said your main influence was Punk. Punk was your main influence?«

Maurice Fulton: »That’s what I’m doing right now, I have phases that I go through, sometimes I go through a Hip Hop phase, Gospel House, ear-bleeding Trance, Hip Hop, Country and now I’m into Punk.«

Participant: »Punk the sound of Punk music or the way of working?»

Maurice Fulton: »Well, matter of fact I have a Punk track here. It’s a new one from MU’s LP, let me find it first. Song is titled ‘You Look Good And They Don’t’.«

(music: MU ‘You Look Good And They Don’t’)

RBMA: »That’s pretty far out there?«

Maurice Fulton: »Punk.«

RBMA: »How hard is it to work with someone who you’re married to? A lot of fights during the process?«

Maurice Fulton: »No, its easy. I do the lyrics first, then I imagine what it’ll sound like with music and then I put the music to it, then I ask MU just to… I’ll go over with her how it should be sung and just record and there you have it. It’s real easy to work with MU.«

RBMA: »So she’s never into the process of actually making that track with you?«

Maurice Fulton: »(laughter) Oh no. She’s off reading ‘OK Magazine’ or ‘Heat Magazine’ or what is it you have here, ‘NW?’, ‘Next Week’? I picked that up yesterday because I’m getting into the junk magazine thing, the ‘Heat’ and ‘OK’, I find it interesting.«

RBMA: »I never saw that. Ben might know it?«

Participant: »(Inaudible)«

Maurice Fulton: »Is it real cheesy?«

Participant: »(Inaudible)«

RBMA: »Any more questions? Marsha?«

Participant: »I was just wondering, that Syclops track ‘Mom, The Video Broke’. Do you have it on you?«

Maurice Fulton: »Do I have it on me? No, I’m sorry. It’s been… that’s a pretty old track. I’m so sorry. I should be punished.«

Participant: »I’ll punish you later.«

Maurice Fulton: »Ok.«

Participant: »Hi. Can you play the ‘Paris Hilton’ track? Where did you get the… with all those samples and stuff, it’s so random? Where did you get the chick?«

Maurice Fulton: »There’s no samples, that’s MU.«

Participant: »Is it? That’s awesome.«

Maurice Fulton: »I wanted to do the (makes noise) because I haven’t heard it in a dance record.«

Participant: »I just love it. It’s so good.«

Maurice Fulton: »I know I have it somewhere. The making of that record, I wanted to create something to make people dance and laugh at the same time, while they’re dancing. When someone told me that they’d never laughed so hard and danced at the same time it was a big compliment to me. It’s a really big compliment. I think dance songs, you should have fun and laugh and have a good time, while listening to the song.

Participant: »I just love it. It’s so good.«

Maurice Fulton: »I know I have it somewhere. The making of that record, I wanted to create something to make people dance and laugh at the same time, while they’re dancing. When someone told me that they’d never laughed so hard and danced at the same time it was a big compliment to me. It’s a really big compliment. I think dance songs, you should have fun and laugh and have a good time, while listening to the song.«

RBMA: »So why did you cal it ‘Paris Hilton’?«

Maurice Fulton: »It sounded nice, because when I was recording the ‘shake your body, body, move your body, body, dance your body, body’ I had a writers’ block, what should go after dance your body, body? Paris Hilton!«

RBMA: »So you like her movies also?«

Maurice Fulton: »No, she was on TV too much, there was an overload of Paris Hilton one time, I just thought, why not just do a song?«

(music: Maurice Fulton ‘Paris Hilton’)

RBMA: »So House music from Chicago is also a pretty big influence on you, rhythmically?«

Maurice Fulton: »Oh yeah. Adonis. Marshall Jefferson, Lil’ Louis, stuff to shake your booty.«

RBMA: »And what is the new music you can draw inspiration from? Except for Britney Spears now?«

Maurice Fulton: »It’s tough with dance music but with other types of music, I like Neil, the R’n B artist, I like Jay-Z, I like Letoya, the girl that used to be in Destiny’s Child that got kicked out. She has a solo [album], I like her.«

RBMA: »Dance music sounds pretty stale to you these days?«

Maurice Fulton: »Not all. I like the Idjut Boys, I like Theo Parrish, Lindstrom, all I can think of right now.«

RBMA: »Any more questions?«

Participant: »You just managed the culture shock that hit you when you moved to Sheffield? Does it matter where you are for your music?«

Maurice Fulton: »No, not at all, unless you made music outside it doesn’t matter. In the house it doesn’t matter.«

RBMA: »In a forest? Next to the sheep?«

Maurice Fulton: »It would matter, yes. Then you would have sheep influence. It really doesn’t matter were you’re at in the world, as long as you have an electric cord and some speakers you can do it anywhere.«

RBMA: »You proved that. You moved…«

Maurice Fulton: »A lot of different places. As long as you have an electric cord, speakers, it’s all good.«

RBMA: »And your favourite place in the world?«

Maurice Fulton: »New York. It’d have to be New York. I’ve never seen a city with so many different cultures and different people from other countries in one city. Plus it stays open all night. It doesn’t close. I love that.«

RBMA: »So why not move back there?«

Maurice Fulton: »The party scene is not exciting as it is in England, there’s a lot of clubs happening in England. Most of the clubs in New York are very pop so that doesn’t appeal to me.«

RBMA: »So you would have to play Britney Spears then?«

Maurice Fulton: »Yes I would, in heavy rotation.«

RBMA: »No other questions? They don’t want you to go smoking, that’s’ what it is.«

Participant: »Could you tell us how you mix your own track? What are your tips for mixing?«
Maurice Fulton: »That’s easy. Alright. I take each instrument and try to add a little bit of maybe EQ, maybe delay or maybe anything, but it takes…«

Participant: »You use your laptop?«

Maurice Fulton: »For mixdown, yes. It’s mostly plug-in’s, the effect plug-in’s, and my favourite one would have to be the Ni-Spektral delay, the Native Instruments one, this baby here. This is like my favourite delay, ever invented by man. Or woman. Whoever invented it I bless them. I hope that answers your question. Any more?«

Participant: »How important is it to have a different name for each sound you do?«

Maurice Fulton: »I’m not concerned about the name, you mean the artist name?«

Participant: »Like an artist will have five different sounds under five names and I’d like to hear an artist come out and say: “Fuck you, I do lots of different stuff.”«

Maurice Fulton: »Well, I don’t know too many people who do that, that change their name every time they do a different production. I work with bands and I call themselves something different, but I’m still Maurice Fulton. Producer.«

RBMA: »But you still like use monikers, right?«

Maurice Fulton: »No, I have bands, they’re bands. Like most people think Cyclops is me, its not. It’s a band that I produce that the press just keep thinking that it’s me. That’s why I don’t really talk to the press much.«

RBMA: »You don’t like interviews, right?«

Maurice Fulton: »Not at all, not at all, I get sick of hearing who, what, where, when, why, how come? I’m sick of that.«

RBMA: »Then I have the cure for you. Thank you very much.«

click below to listen

MAURICE FULTON – Revenge Of The Orange

WAS (Not) WAS (Interview)

Posted in Interviews, WAS (Not) WAS on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

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The Was (Not Was) story began in Oak Park, where Donald Fagenson and David Weiss were born seven weeks apart in the autumn of 1952. Don’s parents were high school educators, and David’s parents were entertainers. Through the ’50s, David’s father Rube Weiss played Shoutin’ Shorty Hogan, the sidekick on Soupy Sales’ late night TV show.

Fagenson and Weiss met at Oak Park’s Clinton Junior High in eighth grade when they both got in trouble in gym class. They became fast friends and partners in high jinks. They adopted wacky names — Don was Nivarden Maverse and David was Ferguson Webster. They published a newspaper, started a comedy troupe and wrote poetry. And, since the age of 12, they’ve been writing songs together.

Much of the twisted Was (Not Was) worldview was hatched in the basement of David’s parents’ home — a space they dubbed the Humor Prison. It was there that early Was (Not Was) songs like         “Wheel Me Out” were concocted.

“We had some chemical intake that helped us not move, so we felt unmotivated to get out, hence the prison,” Don says. “We were not physically or mentally motivated to get up to go to school or go home or go to sleep. But unlike other prisons, we had a good time. We were high. We were laughing all the time. We were kind of stuck there, but it was a good place to be stuck.”

In the midst of all this, Don and David found themselves immersed in the electric Detroit counterculture of the time, kicking out the jams and wanting to be somebody’s dog.

“When Kick Out the Jams came out, we used to stop our cars and pound the shit out of the dashboards of our Chevys, probably losing our weed in the meantime, falling to the floor, because it really was this breakthrough moment,” David says. “It wasn’t just music. There was something in there; it was a clarion call to your political conscience, to your loins.”

One of their teachers was White Panther Party leader John Sinclair, whom both men frequently cite as an influence.

“John Sinclair was our arbiter of cool. If you were in Detroit at that time and at the right age, which we were, he was as important as John Lennon or Allen Ginsberg or any of these guys,” Don says. “In fact, he was more important because he was present. You didn’t really bump into John Lennon at the Love-In on Belle Isle. But Sinclair was there. I feel like we’re real good students of his.”

While he has long been based in Los Angeles, David says he still carries a Detroit mind-set. “I think Detroit was always this restless hotbed, whether it was those hard bop dudes of the ’50s blowing their asses off, or the punk stirrings of Wayne and Iggy and Alice, or George Clinton keeping it raw and elemental. I don’t have to sell anybody, but what a great place to grow up, and, I’ll tell you the truth, L.A. is the opposite.

It is a great place to retire and forget you ever felt that primal feeling before. It’s like you wind up with a better tennis and golf game out here. But you forget that you live in the real world. And in Detroit, you are not allowed to forget it. Between the society, the culture and the weather, you are reminded that you live in a tough-ass world and the art that came out of it was armadillo-hided.”

The influence of those days remains huge for them, Don says. And it’s not merely an influence on a musical level. “It’s a major thing. Let’s just take it to the lowest political common denominator and consider it an expression of teenage rebellion. That was a pretty concrete thing. I think it’s affected everything that has subsequently happened to me. There was really something about that that said, ‘Don’t let ’em beat you. Don’t let the bastards get you down.’ It became criminal to think of yourself as giving in to that kind of work ethic that was designed to kill the human spirit. And I’m grateful to them for that.

“And that came along with an elevated political consciousness that maybe people weren’t being told the truth in this country. There’s a certain disdain and a cynicism towards anything that runs from authority figures from the White House to Fox News. It’s a pretty strong force, and I attribute that to coming out of that milieu, definitely.”

After graduating from Oak Park High School in 1970, Don and David went to the University of Michigan. Don bailed after a year, got married and began playing bass on the jazz circuit around Detroit. He also spent some time with the early Detroit punk band the Traitors and had begun producing artists like the Pigs and Mark J. Norton.

David graduated and began a career in journalism, taking a job as an investigative reporter at Sinclair’s Detroit Sun newspaper before moving to Los Angeles to a job as a jazz critic at the Herald Examiner.

Even though they were separated, David and Don continued their friendship — and songwriting — through long phone calls. David emerged as the lyricist and Don as the composer and production wizard.

“So we share duties still, you know, I am the medulla to his neocortex or something, I am more likely the amygdula, the seat of the emotions and rage and he is the cerebral, cooler-headed, finish carpenter,” David says.

As the ’70s drew to a close, things were bleak for Don. He was playing bass in a cocktail lounge and had a day job servicing copy machines.

“That’s truly when he hit the wall,” David says. “He still couldn’t make ends meet. He called me and said ‘Listen, come home and make a couple of records or I’m going to rob this dry cleaners where I picked out a particularly vulnerable teenage girl who’s working the register.”

David began shuttling between Los Angeles and Detroit. The first Was (Not Was) lineup was assembled in 1980 and featured ex-MC5 gunslinger Wayne Kramer. Don’s production skills got a boost under the mentorship of Jack Tann, who had a relationship with a studio called Sound Suite on McNichols between Greenfield and Schaefer.

“Through Jack, I was able to get in there,” Don says. “I had a key to the studio, and from midnight on I could go in and do whatever I wanted in there.”

One night, Don was messing around, learning how to work a studio, when he first encountered the flamboyant Sweet Pea Atkinson, whose band Energy rehearsed next door.

“He was a live motherfucking wire,” Don says. “The first time I laid eyes on him, he was dressed from head to toe in orange, and not just orange, but a matching shade of orange — socks, shoes, hat, suit, everything. It was about two in the morning and I walked out of the control room, which I kept cold and dark and smoky. Just walking into the light to get a cup of coffee was a big optical readjustment. And there, standing right under the brightest light was this vision in orange.

“Sweet Pea favored these diet pills, I’m sure just amphetamines,” he continues. “I’m not sure what therapeutic excuse he came up with. He’s pretty flamboyant to begin with, but high on speed at two in the morning, he was just a trip. I’d never met a cat like that.”

Atkinson grew up in Oberlin, Ohio. In 1966, when he was 18, he couldn’t find a job and wasn’t getting along with his father. So when a friend called and told him he should move to Detroit, he came. He got a job with Chrysler, working in the Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle plant for 11 years. Once he met Don, he started spending nights in the dark, cold and smoky Sound Suite studio.

“They used to call me at three in the morning and say, ‘I’ll meet you outside,’” Sweet Pea says. “I’d say, ‘My car won’t start,’ and they’d say, ‘We’ll come get you.’ I couldn’t even lie my way out of it.”

The band was signed to Ze Records after submitting a demo tape, along with a letter from David under the auspices of his job as the jazz critic of the Herald Examiner, a job he continued to hold for a couple of years after Was (Not Was) began. The first single, “Wheel Me Out,” hit on European dance floors, which is a surprise considering how bent the song is.

For the recording of the band’s self-titled debut, the lineup grew to include saxophonist David McMurray. McMurray played around Detroit with a funk group called Midnight Sky and an avant-garde unit called Griot Galaxy. He met Don after a couple of his bandmates were called in to do sessions for what became the first Was (Not Was) album.

“When I got called to do the first session, when he played me the music, he only played the drums and the bass,” McMurray says, adding that Don told him to “Just solo. Just go crazy.”
So McMurray also became part of those overnight sessions at Sound Suite.

“We’d start sessions at midnight, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” McMurray says.
Don would play funky bass lines and drum loops and tell McMurray to find his place in the mix.

“Don would say, ‘Don’t play funk. Think like Ornette Coleman, think the other side of it.’ That, for me, was like freedom, freedom to play the way I wanted to play,” McMurray says.

Because McMurray was playing to instrumental tracks, he wasn’t aware of the lyrical content until the record was done.

“I was shocked. But I loved it. [David] was making a statement,” McMurray says. “He was adding something real to the project. I felt like this is something important. The music is making a statement and the lyrics are making a statement.”

The debut record included “Out Come the Freaks,” a bent dance manifesto so important in the band’s canon that it was rerecorded for three of its four albums. “Tell Me That I’m Dreaming” featured a Burroughs-inspired cut-up of one of Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union speeches. But when Sweet Pea was presented with “Out Come the Freaks,” he objected to the lyrics.

“I hated that song. I said, ‘I’m not singing that crazy shit,’” Sweet Pea says. “You know how macho you can be. They want you to sing something silly, and you say, ‘What would my friends say if I sang, “Woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks?” or “Little Michael on his motorcycle, with leather pants and a leather brain?”’

“Sometimes you wonder, ‘What the hell is that man thinking about?’”
Sweet Pea’s objection led to the recruitment of ex-O’Jays singer Sir Harry Bowens, who came for the session and stayed.

Another late-night studio encounter introduced Was (Not Was) to a young guitarist from the northwest side of Detroit named Randy Jacobs. Jacobs — “a funk fascist” in David’s words — began playing guitar when he was 13. By the time he was 15, he began working with Detroit artists and producers such as Sylvia Moy, Barrett Strong and Don Davis. Later, he hooked up with ex-Miles Davis bassist Michael Henderson and co-wrote “Wide Receiver,” which was a Top 5 Billboard R&B hit in 1980.

“We met in the studio. [Don] knew I worked with Michael Henderson. He asked me, ‘How do you get a hit?’ and I was like, ‘Who knows?” Jacobs says. “He asked me would I come back that night and play on a track. After that, I was in.”

That track was “Christmas Time in the Motor City,” a frantic holiday number that reflected the bleak economic realities of the day in Detroit. Jacobs’ addition to the band solidified the funk.

“Before that, the guitar players they were using, like Wayne Kramer and Bruce Nazarian … none of them are what you would call funk players in that regard,” Jacobs says. “I was living and breathing anything by Sly and the Family Stone and Funkadelic.”

The second album, 1983’s Born to Laugh at Tornadoes, is most noteworthy for its series of guest vocalists, including Mel Torme, Ozzy Osbourne and Detroiters Mitch Ryder and Knack frontman Doug Fieger. Label disputes would keep Was (Not Was) from releasing a new album for five years. The band’s unreleased follow-up, Lost in Prehistoric Detroit, was rejected by Geffen in 1984. That dispute continued until the label dropped the band in 1986. Was (Not Was) returned with 1988’s What Up, Dog? on Chrysalis Records. It was the band’s greatest commercial success, with the singles “Spy in the House of Love” and “Walk the Dinosaur.” The latter was an infectious sing-along with a Flintstonesque video that probably got played on MTV way too much. But even that seemingly good-time anthem had a dark side.

“The song’s about nuclear Armageddon,” Jacobs says. “It became a dance because of the video. They connected it with the girls in the little Pebbles and Bam-Bam outfits. All the sudden it became, like, ‘do the mashed potato’ or ‘the twist.’”

Another nuclear-age meditation on What Up, Dog? is “Somewhere in America There’s a Street Named After My Dad,” which Don professes to be his favorite Was (Not Was) song.

“A broader part of that Cold War aesthetic from the ’50s is the World of Tomorrow, how great that was going to be, and how you’re going to have this and that,” Don says. “Of course, none of that shit materialized, but it’s how they made you willing to go fight against the reds. The lyrics to that song are ‘Realizing that the Cold War is over, and World of Tomorrow’s not coming.’ That’s my favorite lyric of David’s.”

They also reworked “Out Come the Freaks,” but this time, when the woodwork squeaks, out come alternating jazz legends and communist revolutionaries: Trotsky, Bud Powell, Che Guevara and Coltrane in a wink to the band’s White Panther roots.

“That’s a John Sinclair ethic for you,” Don says. “He was the bartender mixing that cocktail for us — jazz and revolution.”

McMurray says those were good times for the band. “That’s the first time we went overseas. That’s when everything took off in another direction.”

What Up, Dog? sold around a million copies worldwide. “Spy in the House of Love” reached No. 14 on the Billboard pop chart, and “Walk the Dinosaur” hit No. 7. The band toured extensively in support of it. Surreally, Was (Not Was) ended up on the Club MTV tour with Milli Vanilli, Paula Abdul, Lisa Lisa, Information Society and Tone-Loc. The band’s 1990 follow-up, Are You Okay?, got some chart attention for its reworking of the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” which was a Top 10 hit overseas. The song “I Blew Up the United States” is ghastly prophetic, retaining some of that political fire with lyrics like: “All I did was listen to the fates/I blew up the United States/Now little bits of Texas are floating up in space.”

“I was offended [it] didn’t end up on the post-9/11 list of banned songs,” David says. “ABC once had the foresight to ban us from playing it when we were on the ill-fated Rick Dees late-night talk show. This is pre-Oklahoma City too, and they said, ‘Uh, no, network Standards and Practices said you can’t sing those lines.’ And, you know, now that you look back, I don’t want to consider myself prophetic or anything, but I am glad I wrote that in time, well before any of these events.”

Ultimately, Are You Okay? was a bit of a disappointment, artistically and commercially. As the Cold War drew to a close, Was (Not Was) found itself rudderless.

“I realize I was already kinda going to sleep on the job,” David says. “I actually saw the beginning of the end of Was (Not Was) when we went in to cut that record. Don was by now the ice cream du jour producer of the decade, and our project was one in a series of projects that he was producing. It wasn’t for art’s sake any more; it was just another project. That is where we started our divorce.

“I thought, ‘Shit, we had a good thing going, just had two worldwide Top 10 hits and now we are going to make this record in three weeks, assembly line-style,” he continues. “What happened to the old hanging out and waiting until something funny happened? We were kind of a victim of his success in a way.”

By 1993, the group was essentially defunct, although no grand pronouncement was ever made.

“I like to say we were on hiatus, i.e. we hiat-ed each other,” David says with a chuckle. “Basically it was a division of labor. It was Don riding off into the sunset with Bonnie Raitt, leaving the rest of band standing there. It was like pushing the hold button on the rest of us for about a decade.”

While the split wasn’t extremely acrimonious, David acknowledged he felt cast aside at first.

“For a while, the truth is, I thought we were like an abandoned baby, like how could he?” David says. “It broke the spell of the early romance, but there wasn’t any huge bitterness. Then, it just became a matter of working in different circles.”

Don copped to the fact that it was some of his production work that turned his attention from Was (Not Was).

“One of the reasons we stopped doing it was we were discouraged,” he says. “We handed in a record [to Chrysalis Records] — it was an unfinished record, but it was pretty clear where we were going. And they all said, ‘Well, we don’t hear a “Walk the Dinosaur” on this.’ And that’s all they had to say. I thought it was some of our best songwriting on it.”

Don began comparing his band to others, which is a confidence death knell for any artist.

“I was working with Willie Nelson at the time, and I just remember being knocked out by this guy. I thought, ‘Aw, fuck, man, we’ll never be able to do that. What is the fucking point?’”

Eventually, he realized that the band’s incubation in that high-energy Detroit environment is what made Was (Not Was) such a singular entity.

“It took about four or five years before I was able to realize that, whatever it is Willie Nelson does, he didn’t have the Stooges play at his high school,” Don says. “He never went to the Grande Ballroom. He never heard John Sinclair speak or cared about the Chicago Seven. He didn’t come out of this milieu, and he can’t do what we do.”

During the Was (Not Was) hiatus, A compilation album was released called Hello Dad … I’m In Jail. It featured a version of “Shake Your Head (Let’s Go To Bed)” with Kim Basinger on vocals. That song, David says, was as big a hit in Europe as “Walk the Dinosaur.” Don continued his production work, amassing a mind-boggling resume and taking home the Producer of the Year Grammy in 1994. He frequently used Was (Not Was) members on sessions ranging from Iggy Pop to Bonnie Raitt. He also released an album under the name Orquestra Was in 1997 that featured Was (Not Was) alumni Atkinson, Bowens, McMurray, Luis Resto, Randy Jacobs and Wayne Kramer.

David turned his attention to film, working as music supervisor for An American Werewolf In Paris, The X Files and The Big Tease. In 2001, David and Don worked together for the first time since the Was (Not Was) days, and did the music for a CBS-TV show called The Education Of Max Bickford.McMurray remained in Detroit and has become an in-demand jazz player. He has worked with pianists Bob James and Geri Allen, and leads his own group. He played on the Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge, which Don produced. Jacobs and Sweet Pea worked as session players and formed a band called the Boneshakers and recorded for Virgin Records, performing a lot of the Was (Not Was) material. One song in their act was “I Blew Up the United States.”

“We stopped playing it after 9/11,” Jacobs says. “But, of course, Don and David want to play it.”

While he had an early objection to David’s lyrics, Sweet Pea says he doesn’t care about people’s reactions anymore.

“It don’t bother me. If they don’t like ’em, fuck ’em,” he says.

Jacobs says his time with the band was a formative experience in his life.

“I learned a lot from them. “Through David’s lyrics and from just knowing Don, I learned a lot about how the politics of life works.”

The band re-formed for a one-off gig at the Sundance Film Festival last January to test the waters.

“The magic was still there,” McMurray says. “Everyone was having fun and the songs were sounding good.”

THE POP GROUP

Posted in Post Punk, THE POP GROUP on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

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When The Pop Group first came onto the scene in late 1978 they were being hailed in the UK press as one of the saviours of rock and roll, and with good reason as the group’s music made almost everything being created at the time seem old hat over night. The Pop Group’s debut single “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” released in 1979 was an instant classic and one of the landmark recordings of the 1970’s, it was a seething tense piece of aggressive funk/punk/dub/free jazz that demanded attention.

It sounded like nothing in the world at the time of it’s release and gave me the same feeling as when I heard Public Image Ltd.’s first single, it seemed to hint at endless possibilties for rock and roll. The B side “3:38” should also mentioned this was a pulverizing dose of mind-numbing dub that seemed to look ahead to Pop Group lead singer Mark Stewart’s trailblazing work in the 80’s with Mafia. A CD re-issue of “Y” in 1996 strangely omitted this great track from the release, WHY?

Anyway the original release of “Y” opened with a stick of dynamite called “Thief of Fire” which was the group at it’s best, this is a blistering ride through the bushes of Viet-Nam highlighted by Simon Underwood’s funk/dub bass playing, the twin Beefheart guitar attack of Gareth Sager and John Waddington, and Mark Stewart’s shrieking “my face is on fire” vocals, Sager also provides some squealing saxophone in the song’s mid section.

I remember a Melody Maker piece on the group around the time of the release of this album where the band admitted to listening to loads of King Tubby and Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” while they recorded the album, which makes perfect sense.

The next track on the album is a very experimental piece called “Snow Girl” which is driven by some Cecil Taylor type piano, shotgun blasts of guitar from Waddington and Sager and gutwrenching bass slaps by Underwood, Stewart provides a bizarre but strangely catchy vocal.

The next track is the truly frightening “Blood Money” which is a nightmare soundscape where Stewart screams bloody murder in the background, he seems to be screaming about spiders being all over his chest, he sounds like Damo Suzuki on that track on Can’s “Tago Mago” where Damo seems like he’s being tortured, the music on “Blood Money” is thrilling it’s a real meltdown of all the instruments into one, Gareth Sager plays some sax lines that sound like the bagpipe wizard Rufus Harley.

“We Are Time” is my favorite track on the record and comes at you like a commando raid on your brain, this track is truly terrifying and singer Stewart sounds like he is coming out of his own skin, the guitar playing by Sager and Waddington is dazzling. The group then throws you a big league curveball called “The Savage Sea” this one opens with an almost melodic piano and it could almost be a Pop Group ballad!, Stewart is a little more restrained on this number, I think the piano part was nicked by The Teardrop Explodes on their great B-side “Window Shopping For A New Crown Of Thorns” and The Pop Group’s influence can also be felt on the Teardrops other freakout B-side “Strange House In The Snow”.

“Words Disobey Me” is another wildly experimental piece in the style of “Blood Money”. “Don’t Call Me Pain” opens with a sax riff that sounds like it is being played by Traffic’s Chris Wood, on this one Stewart screams “Don’t Call Me Pain, My Name Is Mystery” and who am I to doubt him, the song is wrapped up with a fine free jazz baching track. With “The Boys From Brazil” it’s back to free jazz territory, again Sager’s sax reminds one of Chris Wood while Underwood plays a great funky bass riff, the guitars collide with each other at the end and it is just plain awesome.

The record finishes with a stripped down dirge called “Don’t Sell Your Dreams” where Stewart sounds totally spent and on the verge of collapse, the musical backing is superb, full of space and it reminds me of the Pharoah Sanders group on “Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt” the guitar playing is full on Sonny Sharrock!, the record then just fades quietly into oblivion leaving you feeling totally drained.

After playing “Y” you wonder how the group ever hoped to top it, they never did, but their second album was great as well but just not as good as “Y”, few albums are. The Pop Group finished in 1981 and splintered into groups like Rip, Rig and Panic, The New Age Steppers and most importantly Mark Stewart and Mafia, Stewart really carried the flame from the original Pop Group and much of his work with Mafia is on par with the best of The Pop Group yet his records have been totally ignored.

“Y” is the best place to start to get to know the music of Mark Stewart and company, in my opinion it’s one of the most original and inspiring records ever made.

GLENN O’BRIAN’S TV PARTY ( A tv show that’s a party)

Posted in GLENN O' BRIAN'S TV PARTY, Tv and Video on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

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THE TV PARTY STORY
By Glenn O’Brien

In 1978, I was writing a column called Glenn O’Brien’s BEAT for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. I was also contributing to High Times, art magazines and foreign music magazines. I had no ambition to write for the square press, I had already been through Rolling Stone and Esquire and Playboy and I was trying to do something more artistic.

It wasn’t hard to make a living as a freelance writer then. My apartment on St. Mark’s Place cost $100 a month, and I was able to pay my rent by selling unwanted review albums to St. Mark’s Records. I had a white Toyota Corolla, with out of state plates and no insurance. Every night I drove around town, hitting all the clubs. I got in and drank for free. The Mudd Club was my living room. Danceteria was my rec room. I was the Damon Runyan/Walter Winchell/Ed Sullivan of the new wave scene.

One day in ’78 I ran into Coca Crystal, a woman I knew from High Times who hosted a public access cable show called “If I Can’t Dance You Can Keep Your Revolution” (after an Emma Goldman quote.) Coca’s show featured Yipees and bohemian characters, like Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs. They smoked pot on air and talked about anarchy. Coca asked me to come on her show and I said sure.

Coca’s show was fun but I didn’t think anything about it until the
next day. I was on the subway and strangers came up to me and said
“Hey, I saw you on TV last night.” Others accosted me on the street. I thought, “My God, people are watching this stuff!”
Public Access programming had been going for a few years. It was a
part of New York City’s agreement with the cable companies. In
exchange for their monopolies the city’s two cable companies had to
provide the public with access to programming. In other words, they
had to let amateurs have television shows. Amazingly, with no money, you could have a show with a potentially huge audience of Manhattan cable subscribers.

I went over to Manhattan Cable and signed up for a time slot. You
could pre-record your show or you could do it live from E.T.C.
studios, like Coca did. That’s what I wanted to do. Live television. That’s the way TV was when I was a kid. It was exciting. Anything could happen. I remember watching Playhouse 90 and the U.S. Steel Hour in the fifties and a set might fall over, or someone would blow a line badly or a stagehand would accidentally walk in front of the camera with a ladder. I saw prizefighter Benny “Kid” Paret killed in the ring live on TV on April 3, 1962 when I was fifteen years old and Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed live on TV on November 24th, 1963. I knew live was where it’s at.

E.T.C. Studios was run by an interesting fellow named Jim Chladek. Jim was a school teachery kind of guy: idealistic, nerdy, controlling, and easily annoyed but basically a humanist who was remarkably tolerant, considering the weirdoes who used his facilities. He reminded me of Mister Rogers and he treated us like children. For about $60 one could use his black and white studio for an hour and broadcast live. To make a tape of it ran you another $20 or so. The studio had three cameras, one of them usually out of focus, and numerous microphones, at least half of which were broken. It would have been difficult for real technicians to produce a visible, audible show here, and we weren’t technicians.

It didn’t matter. My first real job in New York was working for Andy Warhol. He was my mentor. I was a great fan of his movies and I liked the “bad” camerawork. Somehow the lack of technical slickness heightened the realism and impact of the films. So as long as TV Party looked and sounded as good as Andy’s “Nude Restaurant,” I was happy.

The TV Party gang came together spontaneously. My best friends were
Chris Stein, the guitarist of Blondie, Edo Bertoglio, a photographer, with whom I collaborated on many magazine jobs (and later on the film Downtown 81,) and the film director Amos Poe. Edo became a cameraman. Amos became the director. Chris became the show’s co-host. Chris and I had a lot of things in common: friends, music, art, drugs and delinquency. We were serious pot heads and we were always trading buds and talking big ideas. Blondie was on the rise. They had recorded the album “Parallel Lines” over the summer of ’78, and were starting to hit it big. That album eventually sold more than 20 million copies. The year 1979 saw their first number one hit “Heart of Glass.”

There was a lot more to Chris than one saw on stage with Blondie. He was (and is) a total wacky genius, brimming with ideas. When he wasn’t working on Blondie he was producing acts like Walter Steding, Gun Club, James White and the Blacks, Tav Falco and Panther Burns, and Iggy Pop. Chris saw TV Party as a perfect forum, and like me, he thought we could use it to take over show biz. Chris was the resident expert on cable TV. His idea of a good time was laying in bed smoking giant reefers and watching “Tele-Psychic” on Channel D. He saw the possibilities that existed outside the straightjacket of the networks. We were just a little early and a little out there. But TV Party was a great forum for Chris’s expansive mind, droll personality and extra dry wit. I think it helped him vent a lot of the frustrations he had with management and big record companies. If I was Johnny Carson, Chris was Ed McMahon, although we were a lot hipper than Johnny and Ed.

Amos Poe had made such films as “Blank Generation,” “Unmade Beds,” and “The Foreigner.” We shared a certain sensibility (e.g. a love of Godard, pot and borscht belt humor) and so Amos just became the
regular director of the show. From his seat in the control room he
talked to the camera operators and told them what to do. He told them to shoot our feet, or the person who wasn’t talking. Then he would push the control panel buttons, switching cameras in time with the music, or go nuts on the fader, putting images on top of one another. Sometimes it looked more like a light show from the Fillmore than a TV show.

After every show I would yell at Amos. “What were you thinking?” Then we would have a drink and forget about it. A lovely guy named Chris Randall, who seemed to just show up one night out of nowhere, became our regular soundman. I don’t know what became him but he did a heroic job considering the abysmal technical conditions of the studio, and although he wasn’t from our crowd, somehow he understood our twisted sensibilities.

There was a rotating pool of camera people, including Edo, my then
girlfriend Barbara Egan, Kirsten Bates, Lisa Rosen, Fab Five Freddy, Maripol, Betsy Sussler, Diego Cortez and Johanna Heer. When Amos couldn’t make it Betsy, Kirsten or Barbara filled in as director. Debbie Harry directed one show, Kate Simon another. People would protest “I don’t know how!” and I’d say, “Good!” It was all unplanned, basically. Each week we had two or three minutes to get in the studio after the previous show and get going. Sometimes we had a theme. Usually we just winged it.

We followed some wacky shows on the Manhattan Cable lineup including John Wallowitch, a show tunes maven who played campy piano bar favorites and The Robin Byrd Show, a porno talk show which was one of the best things that ever happened to us. We inherited a large audience from Robin. I suspect many of our viewers had lingering erections, which might explain some of the phone calls we received.

Fab Five Freddy was a student at Medgar Evers College when he called me up and told me he was a fan. He wanted to meet me. I wasn’t too sure about this, but finally I decided to meet him. He was very smart and knowledgeable and ambitious. He was so ambitious I suspected him briefly when my Rolodex disappeared. Fred trained on TV Party. He went from being a self-conscious cameraman, (his first on camera moments remind me of stammering, tongue-tied Ralph Kramden going on TV on the “Honeymooners”) to the slick emcee of the shiny hip-hop world which was the light at the end of the next tunnel.

Sometimes Chris went on the road with Blondie and he would call in
from Singapore or Vegas, or he would send us remote video segments,
usually Debbie baffling unsuspecting citizens of far away places.
Debbie too was a loyal member of the TV Party gang, but as Chris’s
girlfriend and roommate she was always reserved about her role. It was Chris’s show. In Blondie she got all the attention, so I think that she liked being a little behind the scenes on TV Party. She was often in the control room with Amos, distracting him from his job.

Our Doc Severinsen was Walter “Doc” Steding. Walter was a violinist
who played the downtown clubs as a one-man band, opening for groups
like Blondie, Suicide and the Dead Boys. I met him through his job at the Warhol Factory. Walter was Andy’s painting assistant and general handyman. Everyone else at the Factory dressed in chic jackets and ties. Walter wore an industrial gray Dickies work shirt with a gas station type name patch on it-Walter-and matching gray workpants and hat. He looked like a janitor. And he sort of was. He was the one guy at the Factory who could do the physical jobs, plus stretch canvas and work with Andy as a painting assistant.

Andy loved Walter like a son, an annoying son. Walter was very cute, polite, well mannered, capable and talented, both as a visual artist and as a musician. He had a lot in common with Andy. They were both from lower middle class immigrant families that lived outside Pittsburg. They were both extraordinary draftsmen. And they were both incredibly indirect, coy, perverse, passive aggressive and cryptic. I think theirs was a true love/hate relationship.

Andy admired Walter enough to become his manager, his first venture of that sort since the Velvet Underground. Andy produced Walter’s music videos and did his record covers and gave him support, but he was constantly vexed by Walter and he fired him periodically for being difficult. (He would rehire him promptly.) I think Andy was annoyed by Walter’s peasant stubbornness, which mirrored his own.

I knew immediately that I wanted Walter to be the leader of the TV
Party Orchestra. He had an encyclopedic wealth of obscure knowledge
and a delightfully unpredictable spontaneity. Walter brought in the
other regular orchestra member, Lenny Ferrari. Lenny was a great
drummer, but an even greater personality–a truly funny guy who could perform “bad” magic as the entertainer “Luigi Ciccolini” or come up with a genius costume on 24 hours notice. Because ETC Studios didn’t allow real drums, Lenny invented the TV Party drum kit, which consisted of a music stand, small cymbals and the New Yorker Magazine.

Other TV Party orchestra members were less permanent. Sometimes
members of Walter’s band, The Dragon People, joined in, like the
beautiful bassist Katherine Ruby. Tim Wright was pretty regular on the show, with or without the band. The genius bassist of DNA, Tim could take a toothbrush or a typewriter and turn it into a virtuoso
instrument. He was also part of the TV Party brain trust. Tim was one of my closest pals and he had a magical way of thinking. He was the shaman of the show. Another regular guest was John Lurie, the sax playing leader of the Lounge Lizards who was also an underground film star and downtown heart throb. John would come on the show and played a beautiful solo and then leave shaking his head. We were never sure if he was insulted, horrified or had to go somewhere.

Later TV Party shows feature the great Robert Aaron, now the musical director of Wyclef Jean’s band. Robert was my friend and next door neighbor. He could play any instrument, from guitar, piano and sax to shakuhachi, pocket trumpet and oboe. He came out of salsa and Haitian music, hooked up with Blondie and Chic and has since played with everyone from Paul Simon to the WuTang Clan. Robert would amuse us by breaking into Haitian patois with taxi drivers and Wolof with street vendors.

I met Robert Fripp interviewing him for Interview and he wound up a TV Party regular. One of our best shows was a phone-in jam, where you could call up and sing with the TV Party Orchestra featuring Fripp. He took the abstract psychedelic jam style of the band to another level. In talk segments Robert lent decorum, politesse and dignity to the proceedings that made them seem even more absurd.

Richard Sohl was a great friend. In real life, the keyboard player of the Patti Smith Group, on TV Party he was our Telephone Operator
(inspired by Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine,) as well as our unofficial
fashion editor. With his sharp wit, a quality underutilized in his
role with Patti, Richard loved to answer the phone and was hilarious. He was also always the prettiest girl on the Halloween Show. Richard brought in friends like supermodel Teri Toye, who became a semi-regular, and photographer Steven Meisel.

Lisa Rosen was a fashion model and general star of the scene. She was young but her exploits were already part of the lower Manhattan oral history. Lisa became one of the regular camera operators, but she also something like an assistant guest host because she felt free to ask questions or crack wise from behind the camera. Her favorite lines were “How big is it.” Or “How late was she?” Or “How high was he?”

Kate Simon was a great photographer and a spirited adventurer who
often collaborated with me on projects. Kate was good behind the
camera and great in front of it, and she always brought interesting
people to the show. She had lived in London and knew the scene there, so she became the TV Party British ambassador, hooking us up with people like the Clash.

We had numerous artist guests, like Chris Burden, John Feckner and
Peter Fend, who was a semi-regular. Peter Fend is a brilliant
geopolitical theorist and one of the most long-winded humans on the
planet. I enjoyed torturing viewers by letting Peter ramble on way
beyond the tolerance of anyone. The audience was always eye rolling
and moaning before I told the band to take it away and gave Peter “the hook.”

I met Jean-Michel Basquiat when I was writing an article on graffiti. I loved the SAMO© graffiti that was all over downtown and when I met him, I loved him too. He was absolutely great—soulful, brilliant, funny, rebellious. I immediately invited him on to TV Party. He came on that week and never left. Sometimes he got in front of the cameras, sometimes he ran a camera, but he really loved running the character generator in the control room. On the shows that have writing running across the screen, that’s him improvising poetry on top of the live action. On the night of the Heavy Metal show Jim Chladek had just gotten a pristine piece of seamless paper for a backdrop and Jean-Michel wrote on it in magic marker: “MOCK PENIS ENVY.” Chladek was horrified and we had to pay for the seamless. I wish I had kept it. God knows how much it would be worth today. It didn’t surprise me when Jean-Michel made it to the top of the art world. I expected it. Aside from posters for his band Gray, I think his only “commercial art” was the posters and credits he did for TV Party. He always did a poster for our nightclub shows. Cheap.

Sometimes, to pay the studio costs, we would do shows in clubs and get the proceeds from the door. We did a few shows at Hurrah, in color with broadcast quality equipment. A fellow named Peter Frank whose family was in the garbage business was going to help us take the show big time. The shows looked great but there was some disagreement. I can’t even remember what it was about, but pretty soon were back to the studio in black and white. We did a disastrous show at the Peppermint Lounge. Who knew that people wouldn’t come out to a club for “Savage Easter?” We did “TV Dinner Party” at Mickey Ruskin’s hipster hangout One University with guests like David Byrne and Robbie Coltrane but the sound was even worse than in the studio. We did a “Psychedelic Show” at Danceteria. It was pretty spectacular, even more disorienting than usual being in living color. It was so disorienting that we seem to have lost the tapes.

We did several very successful shows at the Mudd Club, which was whereyou could find most of the TV Party gang after the show. My pal Steve Mass owned the club and he let us earn some money to pay for our TV studio habit. If you look closely at the Mudd Club show where Debbie sings “The Tide Is High” for the first time you can see a teenage Vinnie Gallo in the front row of the audience. The Heavy Metal Show at Mudd, which is missing, was probably the most spectacular of them all. We had at least a dozen guitarists on stage, playing heavy rock, plus Charles Rocket and his Marshall amped feedback accordion. That show was done before Glenn Branca organized his guitar symphony with a similar instrumentation at the Mudd Club. I think we played the longest version of “Smoke On the Water” in history, and our take on “Whole Lotta Love” was absolutely lethal.

Charles Rocket was a latter day regular on TV Party. He was a member of the cast of Saturday Night Live on NBC and he became friendly with Chris and Debbie when Blondie did the show. When Rocket was thrown off the show for saying “fuck” live on national television, TV Party took him in, at a 100% pay cut.

David Walter McDermott was a regular guest. I had met David several
years before TV Party, when I was living on the Upper West Side. He
and his friends who called themselves “The Salon D’Art Society” made a great show of living in the nineteenth century. They went without phones and electricity and wore wing collars. David was brilliant. His demonstration of the historical changes in singing technique, and his “homosexual minute” are among my favorite highlights. Not long after his TV Party appearances David became a star of the New Wave Vaudeville at Irving Plaza, and not long after that he embarked on a very successful career in painting and photography with his partner Peter McGough. It is unfortunate that he hasn’t made more television appearances, perhaps because electricity is involved.

Fred Schneider of the B-52s was one of our most frequent guests. Fred could always be counted on for a wretched joke or a freeze-dried bon mot. He always seemed simultaneously cool and flustered. Another member of the TV Party gang was Bobby Grossman. Bobby was the official photographer, the unofficial jester and taster. He was always sitting on the floor snapping pictures of the show, and he rarely missed one. Bobby had a great comic quality. He didn’t say much; he was sort of our Harpo. We were never quite sure if there
was film in Bobby’s camera, but it turned out there was.

TV Party wasn’t based on the Johnny Carson type talk show as much as it was based on Hugh Hefner’s shows. Hef’s Playboy’s Penthouse
premiered in 1960 and Playboy After Dark appeared in 1969. The format of both shows was a sophisticated cocktail party, not a desk and sofa set up. It was a fantasy of being at a super-hip, super exclusive jet set party. Hef wore a tux and there were always vixens aplenty on set as well as groovy guests like Sara Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Lenny Bruce.

I loved the concept, compared to the stiff format of the Tonight Show. TV Party was Playboy Penthouse twenty years later and with no money. But TV Party was meant to be much more than a regular old talk show. It was meant to be art and it was also meant to be a political party. That’s why you see all of those pictures of Lenin and Engels and Marx and Stalin and Mao hanging on the walls. We were doing “socialist realist TV.”

“TV Party is the show that’s a cocktail party but which could also be a political party.” That was the slogan. My idea was that socialism meant going out every night, and that social action started with socializing. I think we were trying to inject a sort of tribal element into things. That’s what happens when you smoke reefers and read Marshall McLuhan. I was also reading a lot of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, not to mention Milton Berle and Henny Youngman. I thought we could do subliminal politics as absurdist comedy. I actually did believe in anarchy, as the peaceful society that comes after “the withering away of the state.” I thought withering away the state sounded like fun, so we made fun of the state every chance we got.

I actually intended to get the TV Party on the ballot and run for
mayor of New York. I figured that once people got in a voting booth
and saw TV Party there they would definitely vote for us. Some people like Democrat and some people like Republican, but everybody loves TV. We went so far as to actually get petition forms. We just never got any signatures. We were sleeping too late. I remember thinking, “If I’m every going to make any money I’m going to have to start getting up before the bank closes.” TV Party was very popular. We were just too much too soon.

We could gauge roughly how many people were watching on a given night when we took telephone calls at the end of the hour. Sometimes the phones would light up as fast as we could hang up, and sometimes we could hang up pretty fast. We were never quite sure who was watching the show, but I was surprised to learn that David Letterman and his producer Robert Morton were. On a couple of occasions Letterman mentioned the show on the air, once saying to Paul Schaeffer “TV Party is the greatest TV show anywhere, ever.” What I didn’t realize until years later was just how popular TV Party was with Manhattan’s high school kids. I don’t know why, what with all the loud music, pot smoking and rudeness.

I guess it was punk TV. We were anti-technique, anti-format, anti-establishment, and anti-anti-establishment. We liked to break all
the rules of good broadcasting. Sometimes we would sit around and say, “Well, what should we do now?” Sometimes we sat there and did nothing. They say “dead air” is the kiss of death in broadcasting, but we liked it. Sometimes we would sit perfectly still like a tape on pause, but it was live.

We thrived on disaster. If people were cool or interesting or intense or sexy I would invite them on the show. Sometimes it didn’t work. The Mutants from San Francisco came on and copped an attitude and wouldn’t leave. I said the show was over and I got the crew and the audience out. We were actually still on the air and snuck back in. I had to pull the same stunt when we couldn’t get rid of Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeill whom I suspected of having ingested a large amount of medicine. He came on with Tom Baker; an old Warhol actor now departed who was once Jim Morrison’s best friend. Tom seemed to have visited the same treatment facility as Legs before the show. Far from being tranquilized, Legs developed that sort of superhuman strength that 300-pound people on angel dust have before the cops stun gun them to death. We couldn’t get him out of the chair. He got a mike cord in his mouth and I was afraid he would be electrocuted, or maybe that he wouldn’t be. In any event the old “show’s over” routine worked again.

In the latter years of TV Party, we managed to get the show on to
local cable in L.A.. It was shown in L.A. for only a half hour,
though, so if you see a show where we’re all yelling “Goodnight
California!” halfway through the show, that’s why. We all thought we would be discovered by Hollywood. The only thing that came of it was Black Flag wrote a song called “TV Party.”

Our four-year run was pretty good by TV standards. We would have liked to keep it going but it wasn’t easy. We had moved into color, which was more expensive, and we might have lost something in the process. I think we all looked better in black and white. To do the show in color I moved it to channel J, which actually cost money to be on but you could have ads. I sold ads to clubs like Danceteria and the Pyramid Club, and to small record companies, but it was a thankless task. Half the time I was supposed to read the ad, like Howard Stern does, and then it would take too long or I would wind up making fun of the advertiser. I wasn’t a good salesman. I needed a producer and a staff.

Meanwhile, the TV Party gang began to have problems. Blondie was
breaking up and Chris was getting sick. Suddenly he was really, really skinny. We didn’t know it, but he had a very rare, genetic disease called pemphigus vulgaris. A disease that was, until rather recently, 99% fatal. Luckily, after a long, long treatment period and recuperation he pulled through, but Blondie didn’t and neither did TV Party.

I had gotten married, and that didn’t make things easier. Walter was trying to go commercial with The Dragon People. Lenny went on the road with Lou Reed and Bob Quine. Lisa moved to Rome. Other people moved away or went to rehab. I was getting itchy with no place to shoot my mouth off, so I started thinking about performing. I learned the 1960 Copacabana act of my favorite rat pack style comedian B.S.Pully. I put on an iridescent sharkskin tuxedo and performed it, very early one morning at Danceteria. David Johansen happened to be in the audience. He came up to me afterward and said he was starting a lounge thing called Buster Poindexter, working every week. Would I be his opening act?

Would I? Sure!

TV PARTY website

DELTA 5 ( Interview )

Posted in DELTA 5, Interviews on April 1, 2008 by bangtheparty

delta5.jpg

“We’re ready when you are,” the Delta 5 confidently sang on their theme song, but apparently the world wasn’t ready for them. Like so many British bands circa 1979-1983, they lasted just long enough to create a small, compact set of lost classics and faded away, almost unnoticed for the entire process. They deserve a better fate.

The Delta 5 (two men, three women) formed in the highly-charged petri dish that was the late-1970’s Leeds, England punk scene. From their first single, the wonderful “Mind Your Own Business,” their sound was defined by an odd two-bass rhythmic thump, a fractured mutant-dance beat, and detached, conversational female vocals. It was a compelling, catchy approach that still sounds fresh. They were contemporaries and friends of the Gang of Four and the Mekons, but where those two bands used their early records for political discourse, Delta 5 were more concerned with the personal.

Their records often hailed mercilessly sarcastic vindictives at ex-lovers (“You,” “Now That You’ve Gone”), nerdy guys (“Mind Your Own Business“) and stalkers (“Telephone”), frequently to hilarious effect. Just as easily, though, they’d come out with a punk-era plea for individuality (“Colour,” “Open Life”) or the quite, sensible theory that “anticipation is so much better” than actually getting what you want. What these all had in common was a palpable, uncomfortable distance between the speaker and the subject, between the way things are and possibilities that may or may not exist. “Delta 5’s songs are about distance from people; they don’t so much try to close these distances as make sense of them,” Greil Marcus suggested in 1980.

After three singles on Rough Trade, Delta 5 toured America and signed to Pre, a subsidiary of Charisma, and recorded See The Whirl in 1981, an album packed with solid tunes (though there are a few throwaway cuts on side 2). The band toured the states once more, and began falling apart upon its return to Leeds. After one final single for Pre, 1982’s “Powerlines/The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,” Delta 5 split up. The project ended, the records fell out of print, and the band members got proper jobs. A familiar story by now?

I’ve long wanted to track down Delta 5 for an interview, and I got my chance when Razor & Tie released Totally Wired last year, a CD compilation of 1980’s-era British dance and post-punk nuggets. Delta 5’s “You” was on this CD, and through the benevolent assistance of executive producer Ruben Cerveza, I was able to get in touch with bassist Ros Allen. Currently a mom and employed in the animation industry, she was keen on answering some questions about her old band and what she’s been up to lately. We conducted the following interview, through the mail. Take it away, Ros.

“… Sorry this is so late but I’ve had the flu. Hope my answers are of some interest (perhaps a cure for insomnia?) When I was reading the copy of Caught In Flux that you sent me, I spotted Stuart Moxham’s name, I think I met him when we both worked at Richard Williams studio, summer 1990. He was in the trace and paint department, and I was in the animation bit. I’ve got an even vaguer memory of borrowing or viewing a bass of his (mine was stolen while on loan to a friend), but I’m not sure. I do know what I was listening to that summer — Dinosaur Jr.’s Bug, the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon, Love’s Forever Changes, Astral Weeks, Jimi Hendrix, and a 12-inch complation of New Order’s “True Faith,” the Fall, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, R.E.M. and U2, among others.

Dick hated us using Walkmans, he thought they spoilt out concentration — “Earth calling Ros, Earth calling Ros, come in Ros” was a common remark. I also remember George Martin coming in to discuss the music for a film with Dick. George Martin! Wow! That was a thrill for me growing up with the Beatles’ music.”

Q: When and how did you first become interested in music? When did you first start playing?

One of my earliest memories is driving along the coast with my dad and singing along to “Please Please Me” by the Beatles – throughout my childhood I loved to sing along to a good tune (and still do), whether it was Burt Bacharach’s “Walk On By” or Bizet or Rogers & Hammerstein. We listened to the radio a lot, and my mum took us to the cinema to see Beatles and Elvis films and all that. My dad played the piano. “You Are My Sunshine if was a favorite of mine and I learnt the cello at school. I used to go to the ice rink where they played a lot of Tamla, Motown, Beach Boys — inspiring stuff. As I got older I listened to pirate radio stations late at night as well as John Peel. I remember my friend dragging me over to her house to listen to “The Murder Mystery” by the Velvet Underground … we were 14 and it was amazing. I swapped some boots for a guitar and tried to play along to my Hendrix records … ambitious, I know. It was easier to follow the bass lines and I managed to stumble through “Hey Joe” and “Manic Depression,” but I was always a closet bassist. It wasn’t until I joined the Mekons that I got a real chance to play in a band.

Q: When and how did Delta 5 form?

Julz and Bethan, who were Mekons girlfriends at the time, decided to form a band and asked me if I’d like to play bass (I’d already left the Mekes supposedly to concentrate on my degree — ho hum!). I thought it might be fun so I did and it was sometimes. We asked Jon Langford to play guitar and Simon Best, who was then the Mekons’s soundman, to play drums. With them we wrote a small set, including “Mind Your Own Business” and “You,” and played a few gigs. Jon was brilliant in the band — he’s a lot of fun and talented with it — but his first commitment was to the Mekons. Fortunately we got Kelvin to play drums (Simon wasn’t right), and through him we got Alan on guitar. They had both been in bands in York. Kelvin had auditioned for the Gang of Four when Hugo left briefly (not for long though), so that’s how we made contact. Jon also did the artwork for the “Mind Your Own Business” and “Anticipation” singles.

Q: Are you from Leeds originally?

No, I’m from Tynemouth, which is or the northeast coast and close to Newcastle. Bryan Ferry, Sting, the Animals. Jimmy Nail and Viz cornic are all from this area.

(Within the next answer, Ros answered several questions of mine at once: “Did the Mekons, Gang of Four and Delta 5 know one another before forming your bands?,” “How supportive was Leeds in terms of music?,” “How would you explain the political-mindedness of the Leeds bands, and did this manifest itself in Delta 5, given that you rarely performed explicitly political songs?” and a question about the Mekons and Delta 5’s early interchangable personnel.)

I went to Leeds to do a Fine Art degree at the university. Most of the Mekons and Jon and Andy from Gang of Four were on the same course, though only Tom (Greenhalgh) and Jon Langford were in my year. Tom, Mark, Kevin, Jon King and Andy Gill had come from the same school and were already friends. We all sort of gravitated toward each other and hung around together. This was in October 1976, and by the following summer the Gang of Four started playing, followed shortly by the Mekons.

The Mekons really picked up on the atmosphere of the time of “spontaneous amateurism,” as Mary Harron described it, and formed and played their first gig in about a week! They’d been to see a band at the F Club, which was a popular punk venue, and had managed to get themselves on the bill the following week supporting the Rezillos. They had to get a set together really quickly and as they didn’t have a bass player they asked me; they knew I used to play the cello. That gig went surprisingly well. Bob Last, who was the Rezillos’ tour manager was about to start his own label, Fast Product, and approached the Mekons that night. We recorded “Where Were You?” shortly after in a cottage somewhere and gave Bob a tape of Gang of Four, who did their first single with Fast as well. The Gang of Four, the Mekons and later Delta 5 shared a rehearsal room, equipment, even a homemade PA at first, and did their best to get each other gigs and lead mutual support.

The university, the Polytechnic, and F club and later Roots were all popular venues. Certainly the F club and the Poly gave local bands the chance to play alongside more well-known punk bands. I don’t really know how punk affected the local community as, being a student, I wasn’t part of that community; I was part of clique within the student clique, if that makes any sense. I do know that there was a strong National Front contingent in Leeds, and there was a lot of violence and aggression and a few ugly fights.

I remember a gang trying to disrupt a Mekons gig by goosestepping toward the front of the stage, clearing the dance floor and Seig Heiling at the front of the stage … wankers … I got called a Communist witch by one of them and took it as a compliment. This was a national problem, though, and in response to all this racist aggression Rock Against Racism formed. I think we all felt it was important to support them so we’d do RAR gigs whenever we could — I think anyone with half a brain finds racism abhorrent don’t they? Of course there was also the usual drink-induced aggression as well.

With regards to political – mindedness — the intellectual atmosphere at the Fine Art department was mainly one of radical, left-wing ideology, certainly from the professor and several of the tutors, and that was picked up and developed by Gang of Four. But Delta 5’s members came from more diverse backgrounds, and some were loathe to commit themselves to an obvious political stance (and we were never as intellectual as Gof4). But we definitely stood for equality regardless of race or gender … egalitanism with the odd flash of radicalism and a hefty dollop of wet- liberals. That about sums us up.

Q: Why two bass players?

Because neither of us played guitar and we thought it would make the music more exciting with two different bass sounds, one trebly and funky (Bethan) and one more double-bass-like (me). It definitely enriched the sound of the band. We also had two guitars sometimes as Julz played occasionally. Come to think of it, we doubled up the vocals as well.

Q: Where did the name come from? Did it predate the song?

There was the Mekons, there was the Gang of Four and while we were messing about looking for a name, someone mentioned the Mekong Delta, and as there were five of us, the Delta was added to the 5 and it sounded OK. The song came later.

Q: Your early songs in particular were quite sarcastic examinations of relationships. Were you deliberately trying to “question the love song, ” as Greil Marcus said, or were you just having a laugh?

I think it was a bit of both but you’d have to ask Bethan or Julz, as they wrote most of the lyrics.

Q: How did you get signed to Rough Trade? Did you feel any common ground with the other bands on the label at the time?

Geoff Travis came to see us at a gig somewhere and made an offer to Sue Johnson, our manager, who also worked at Rough Trade and was friends with Bethan. I don’t know who approached who first. Personally I don’t remember striking up any friendships with others on the RT label. I can’t even remember who was on the label.

Q: Where did you play? Who were your favorite bands to play with?

We played all over the U.K., Holland, Belgium, Italy, Finland (with the Slits), and the east and west coasts of the U.S. My favorite bands were the Gang of Four and Pere Ubu — we had a great time touring with them in 1981 — and I also enjoyed supporting the B-52s.

Q: How were your American shows? Did people seem to know who you were? Did you ever play in or around New York?

The American shows were fantastic, especially Hurrah’s and Danceteria in New York and the I-Beam in San Francisco where even the people at the bar were dancing. It was a brilliant atmosphere. They were all well-attended and we got such a good response you’d think we were well-known. We came to the States twice — in the fall of 1980 and the summer of 1981. The first tour was definitely the best. We played New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Hoboken, Albany, Boston, Los Angeles (at the Women’s Building), San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. We made friends with the Bush Tetras in New York and the Beakers in Seattle, and I left my heart in San Francisco! I did most definitely … he was called Jonathan and he played bass in one of our support bands. Rough Trade had just set up a store in San Francisco and Sue had gone over there to help get them set up, and I think she arranged all the West Coast stuff and Ruth Polsky sorted the East Coast gigs.

There was quite a bit of local press interest … I think all the British punk and postpunk bands were really popular at the time. The Buzzcocks, the Fall and Teardrop Explodes were all in New York when we went back the following year. In 1980 we were in New York long enough to stay with friends, generally hang out, go clubbing, shop and have a good time. Some of us stayed with Hilary Jaeger who had a great club on the Lower East Side … I think we played there as well, but I can’t remember the name of it.

Q: How did you sign to PRE? See The Whirl is lavishly produced compared to the singles; was this deliberate?

I can’t remember! I expect the A&R bloke came to see us at a gig. Charisma had recently started an indie-type offshoot of their company and had signed the Scars, who had also been on the Fast label, but it’s all a blur now. I do know we hoped to get more money by signing to PRE and I’m sure that’s how the album was so lavishly produced. Yes, it was a conscious decision because we could afford it and we wanted it to be different than our live gigs.

Q: Is it the Anne Clark, the poet/singer, thanked on back of See The Whirl?

No, it’s not. Anne Clark worked in publishing/accounts at Rough Trade and then Mute. She was a close friend of Bethan’s and Sue’s. I think she helped us with our publishing and accounts, but as I was totally disinterested in all that I can’t give you an accurate answer.

Q: Why did you name the album See The Whirl? Besides the obvious pun, of course.

Christ, why did we? I can’t remember — I think it’s a crap title and I thought so at the time but I was outvoted. It makes me cringe- I don’t think it ever went beyond the obvious pun crap.

Q: Whose idea was the postcard insert?

Again, I don’t know although it had something to do with the dreadful pun of the title. It’s a pretty dull photo. The album artwork’s fairly dire we well. Crap title, crap cover, ask me another.

Q: How did See The Whirl do? Were you well known?

It did reasonably well. I don’t remember any reviews, but I do remember some large (to us) royalty cheques in the first year it came out. Were we popular? We were legends in our own lunch time we had a small following, some constant fans (who I still come across occasionally — very occasionally). We got on the cover of Sounds, which at the time had almost as large a circulation as the NME. I think we were at our most popular when we were signed to Rough Trade. Perhaps we peaked 1980-1981 ? They were certainly my happiest times with the band (that includes recording the album). We were never really credible in the way, say, the Slits are — we weren’t that innovative or hip. I don’t think our music changed people’s lives, but I think a lot of people had fun at our gigs.

Q: What was/is your favorite Delta 5 song? Why?

“Mind Your Own Business” — everything just gelled so well on it. Great bass line, good lyrics, blinding guitar and a cool cover. “Anticipation” for similar reasons, and the marimba track on the album; Alan and Kelvin were just messing about on this marimba when we were in a studio in San Francisco and they just came up with this tune in minutes. It was simple and beautiful — still is.

Q: How did the band break up?

It was a slow process. Bulk was sacked toward the end of 1981 because she’d virtually given up on the band. Jacqui Callis joined and she contributed so much as she’s got a great voice, can play guitar and bass, and also she didn’t play games with people the way Julz did. I can’t remember why Alan left; I think it may have been before Julz went. Then Graeme Haigh from Edinburgh came in on guitar. His style of playing was completely different — he was less accomplished technically, but he came up with some great quirky guitar parts. It was their extra contribution that helped produce the last single.

I think there was a lot of potential there. Unfortunately, Sue, Bethan, and even Jacqui felt that Graeme’s guitar playing wasn’t good enough and they wanted someone more skilled to replace him…I didn’t, and felt really let down when they went ahead and sacked him anyway. The guy who replaced him, who since has become a good friend, was way over the top guitar-hero-posturing and he had to copy Graeme’s guitar parts for this prestigious gig, which was just ridiculous. I left shortly after that, really unhappy with the way things had worked out. Also, Kelvin had left sometime after the last single — I’m not sure why — and we went through a few drummers (a bit like Spinal Tap minus the humour). The day after I left, Delta 5 were dropped by PRE — this would have happened anyway. I don’t think they even knew that I’d gone!

Q: So what have you been doing these past 15-odd years? Do you keep in touch with the other ex-members?

I’ve been animating! I began in the mid-1980’s, working with friends on 16mm and Super 8. Then I went to work for various animation studios, including Disney, Warner Brothers and Richard Williams. Just before I left Disney, I met up with Sally McFall who had been in Ut and we began doing music together — me on bass, her on guitar and vocals — doing arrangements of her songs. We were due to go into the studio to record a demo, but my daughter was born the day before so the session was cancelled which is a shame as I really liked what we were doing. Who knows, maybe one day we could pick up where we left off. Sally has her own band now called Quint and I’ve been on a four-year maternity break, although I’ve recently gone back to doing freelance animation, working from home.

I’ve kept in touch with Bethan and Alan, but Kelvin’s vanished somewhere and Julz has married a policeman and gone off to live in Hong Kong (or Singapore)! Very odd — reverting to type, perhaps, as her dad was a policeman. I’m closest to Jacqui; she was my mate in Leeds before we were in bands. Jacqui’s the only one who’s still writing and performing as far as I know. She was the most talented and imaginative of us all, I think, and she’s written some brilliant songs since Delta 5.

Q: Any chance of the album or singles being rereleased? Are there unreleased tracks or Peel Sessions?

I have no idea. Although the Mekons did some great Peel sessions (I was on the first one), I can’t remember Delta 5 doing any except for a session for another Radio 1 DJ, Richard Skinner (or Dickie Scumbag as the engineers called him!). That’s probably gathering dust on a shelf somewhere at the BBC. We did an unreleased demo of “I’m A Believer” for PRE which I played cello on. It sounded great but too similar to Bananarama (who I think were just getting the fame thing) for the musically-challenged A&R men at PRE to support — creeps!

Q: Do you keep up to date with current music? What are some favorite bands?

Sort of. “Queer” by Garbage was the best single of 1995 for me, followed by Coolio and LV’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and Hole’s “Doll Parts.” My daughter really likes those as well. I like Whale, Pulp, P.J. Harvey, Bjork and Oasis as well. When I’ve been working recently I’ve played Nirvana’s Unplugged In New York constantly — I love it, especially the Vaselines cover.

Q: How did Razor & Tie track you down for Totally Wired ? Have you gotten good response to “You”?

Ruben eventually tracked us down through Performing Rights Society. He sent me some copies of U.S. reviews of Totally Wired and it seems to have had a really positive response — so it should — it’s an excellent compilation, although I think “You” sounds a bit weak compared to the others … not enough bass!

Q: Have you met any rabid Delta 5 fans over the years?

More like “very keen” rather than rabid. Mostly sweet boys, the odd strong ones and some rather poetic fan letters, mainly from Belgium (why? I don’t know!)

click below to listen

DELTA 5 – You