Q1 : Tell me about your first and your most recent bands?
My first band was called “Solaris”, it was me, my cousin Mark Sanderson and his friend Mark Spybey – we were aged about 13.
Unlike the rather swish rock groups 12 and 13 year olds play in now, no doubt schooled by their rock-literate parents, we were musically inept and had no real instruments.
We just used my Dad’s piano, a tatty acoustic guitar and an ancient Boy’s Brigade drum plus radios, tape recorders and a stylophone. We were basically playing free improv – albeit influenced by Krautrock and Hawkwind.
The three of us met up again last year and it was rather lovely, and we’re hoping to actually record something this summer! I’ve still got the first cassette, and, astonishingly, a label has expressed an interest in releasing it, so soon the world could delight in our squeaky adolescent voices and ramshackle non-musicianship.
I suppose my most recent band is “64 Bit” which is trio with Kev Hopper on electric bass and Ian R Watson on trumpet, I play melodeon (button accordion) and electronics. We improvise too, which doesn’t suggest a lot of progress over 35 years.
For good measure I also play in a group called The Mixed Porter Band, a load of squeezeboxers, fiddlers and percussionists doing traditional English tunes – we play in pubs and ceilidhs and that. It’s good fun, and beer is involved.
Q2: Julian Cope described you as ‘The Post Punk Peter Hammill.‘ Was that a compliment or an insult?
I thought it was very nice of him! He was talking about me as an 18 year old – so I guess he’s referring to the perhaps over-serious and intense young man I was then (come on, you remember!)
Hammill’s never actually been an influence, even though I knew the song “Scorched Earth” from Fluff Freeman’s show in the mid ‘70s. Lately I’ve come to enjoy his music a bit more, but I still find his choirboy to snarling rocker voice a bit, well, daft. But compliment I reckon – came right out of the blue too…I haven’t listen to Julian’s music for decades, but his website is a real goldmine of interesting stuff.
Q3: Didn’t a breakfast TV show once invite you to go on and play with toys?
Yeah! Back in the Mid 90s when Ticklish were just starting, I used to play a big collection of toys, which I’d amplify and process. It was very John Cage and abstract.
Anyway, some researcher on the Big Breakfast heard about us and booked us to appear with Chris Evans, and he clearly thought that we’d be doing funny tunes with quacking ducks or something.
Almost as an afterthought he asked to hear a recording, and a motorbike courier was sent round to pick up a demo from my house. We never heard another thing!
I just wish I’d been there to see their faces when they actually played the tape. We used to claim we were “banned from The Big Breakfast” after that- it made good copy.
Q4: You played the Berlin Jazz Festival. Did you take lots of heroin? And die?
Yes. And I don’t recommend it – the heroin and dying bit anyway, not big or clever.
Actually, this was probably the acme of my avant garde career. It was another toy gig in a trio with Steve Beresford and Anna Homler – I’m not sure it was what the promoters wanted, but the audience seemed to like it.
Most embarrassing bit was just before the gig I was told that Guy Klucevsek (easily the world’s greatest avant garde accordion virtuoso – admittedly a niche area, but still) was coming to watch me play accordion. I’d only been playing for about a year on a klunky little toy one knocking out a few hamfisted chords. Let’s just say he didn’t come backstage to congratulate me – I assume he felt his position was safe….
Q5: You’ve played with Simon Fisher -Turner who was famously handcuffed to Robert Mitchum during the making of Micheal Winner’s The Big Sleep. How did you meet him? What’s he like?
Simon auditioned me for a group to play backing Blixa Bargeld at a gig at Nick Cave’s Meltdown. He’d heard about the toy stuff (again! Is it any wonder the gigs have dried up now that I’ve dropped playing toys?) and he came to my house in Hither Green to chat to me – we sat in our garden in glorious sunshine for about an hour chatting about all kinds of music – he looked at the gear I used, and I got the gig without playing a note.
Simon is charming and debonair and totally lovely. I didn’t know he was in “The Big Sleep” or that Michael Winner directed that version! You are an education, Braz.
Q6: When did you get involved in Morris Dancing? Does it damage the car?
Right – Three rules for talking to Morris Dancers-
1. Don’t imagine he hasn’t heard the “I’d try anything once except for incest and morris dancing” quote. (He has, many, many times)
2. Don’t say “it’s just like ‘The Wicker Man’ (it really isn’t – I’ve only met about three morris men out of hundreds who are actual “pagans” and none of those have sacrificed anyone, yet)
3. Don’t make clumsy puns with the car
I got involved about 5 years ago. That’s the easy bit, slightly harder is “why?”
I guess I’ve always been attracted to music and arts outside the mainstream, but these days “the avant garde” is mainstream – look at The Wire (the magazine…or the TV series come to that), or half the gigs at the Festival Hall.
Meanwhile there are these lovely people playing music and dancing outside pubs- sometimes to blank incomprehension, piss-taking or even hostility – more often charming the birds off the trees. Keeping fit, getting your body to move slightly more gracefully, hanging around with interesting people (my side includes bankers, monastery gardeners, professional west-end musicians and the man who’s responsible for public safety if there’s ever a major nuclear incident) and drinking beer. Obviously I was going to have some of that.
Five years later and 2 and half stone lighter, Its becoming clearer that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. My wife, Ruth, does it now too. The kids are doomed!
A good morris joke –
Q- Why was line-dancing invented
A- To give morris dancers something to take the piss out of
Q8: What is Scaledown ? Is it like a Scalextrix?
Scaledown is a monthly performance above The King and Queen pub in London (Where Dylan did his first UK performance interestingly) that I started with the musician Mark Braby. Six acts, each playing for 15 minutes, with 15 minute gaps for socialising between, using minimal gear. Free admission, donations to performers. That’s it.
Basically I’d been putting on experimental gigs for over 10 years and I was heartily sick of it – having to deal with lousy and grumpy soundmen, people trying to get in for nowt, musicians expecting enormous fees etc etc all eliminated immediately. Of course it still became too much for me and I stopped being involved several years ago (having kids helped force that decision) but Mark’s still hanging in.
Scaledown has scaled up a bit, it actually has two great soundmen and a pretty good PA, and has attracted some big names, Vic Godard even played there! I wouldn’t mind scaling down the concept even more, and actually dispensing with the PA altogether, but until I can find a venue I can walk home from, this is unlikely to happen soon. A scalextric would be nice – I’d probably try to find a way to make music with it.
Q9: You’re a Notherner who lives in East London. Do you eat jellied eels and love the Krays?
I live in SOUTH-East London actually, Braz, so we have none of that, being on the “wrong” side of the river.
I’ve been in London for over 25 years now, which I reckon qualifies me as a Londoner, and I still love the place – even though these days I rarely get out of Lewisham (I’m a “Stay-at-home Dad”) so I don’t get to see the iconic sights of London Town Centre- apart from at the top of Hilly Fields, but I feel at home in this neighbourhood. I think my accent’s slipped a bit mind, when I go up North friends imitate me as some kind of Michael Caine, even though my neighbours think I sound like Chris Rea. I have never eaten jellied eels – as Ogden Nash wrote “I like Eels, excepts meals, and the way they feels”…
Q10: Are you more Leslie Crowther, Aleister Crowley or Ice Cream For Crow?
I always thought Leslie Crowther was a bit sinister to be honest, something about the eyebrows. More sinister than that old fraud Crowley, who was most accurately demolished by yourself when you described him as looking like “Benny Hill with a cushion on his head” – I’m a staunch rationalist and like my magic without a “K”. So I guess it’s “Ice Cream For Crow” even though I don’t like the album that much.
Can I have Doc Rowe, Teesside Docks and Doc At The Radar Station instead?