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tasty 16 - interviews

- Billy Bragg
-
British Sea Power
-
Chris TT
-
Comet Gain
-
The Icicles

 

 

Billy Bragg

Possibly only one figure emerged from the ill-fated Red Wedge grouping of the 1980s with any credibility intact, and that was Billy Bragg. When Red Wedge disbanded after the disastrous 1987 Labour defeat Bragg has kept plugging away, attaching himself to various campaigns down the years.  He’s played anti-Poll Tax gigs, been involved with the Anti-Nazi League and the latest to benefit from his patronage has the TUC’s Living Wage Campaign. 

Bragg is also marking the Jubilee by releasing a single - ‘Bring Down the Union Jack’, with all profits from the single (released over three marketing-gone-crazy cd singles) going towards the Living Wage Campaign. Fine, you may think, bravo even. But beneath the air of subversion lies a worrying side to the Bard of Barking. The cover to his new single features a montage of graphics that symbolise the breaking up of the Union flag to reveal a predominant St George’s Cross.  At the beginning of the 1990’s Morrissey similarly flirted with such imagery and became such a pariah in this country that he has since fled to live in Los Angeles. Bragg thinks he can get away with it, because he can explain himself, 

“This is all about the politics of identity. It’s an issue of Englishness. I don’t want to fall into the same trap as Morrissey when he wrote songs like ‘National Front Disco’ he made the error of not explaining himself, and it’s his bloody fault that he got treated like he did.” 

And then Bragg makes his first stab at explaining his seemingly left nationalism. 

“It’s all about reclaiming the notion of Englishness from the fascists,” he says, reiterating a somewhat tired theme. “I am a patriot. But it’s a patriotism based of reason - it’s not based on thinking England is better than any other country.” 

“I believe that by celebrating the true Englishness this country has generated over the years, then, and only then, can we have multiculturalism. Scotland has managed to start this process, but that’s not yet perfect. I AM an internationalist, but I think that we need to start focusing on local issues to weed out fascism from our country. The Left has quietly tip-toed around the notion of Englishness for too long, and this has let the fascists in.” 

The reasoning behind this is worrying. Yes, the Left has failed the working class, and has failed to challenge the fascist groupings successfully, but surely the main blame should lay squarely at the neo-liberalism and official anti-racist double standards of Europe’s social democratic parties? There can be no denying that the rise to power of huge swathes of social democracy since the disintegration of the USSR has led to a polarisation of views and reactionary politics is winning out at present. Bragg’s Labour Party are as guilty as anyone on the Left - in fact, even more so. 

Still, he continues the theme.  

“Let’s look at multiculturism in an English context. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s take a look at the English national football team to see how it can work - you’ve got Sol Campbell, Emile Heskey and Ashley Cole in there. Take a look at the English cricket team who are led by Nasser Hussain. These are great examples of where Englishness and multiculturism have met and have been successful. If we keep the United Kingdom or Great Britain - call it what you will, I think all we can do is fuel the fire of the fascists - Britain, for me, will always be associated with the Empire and I see it as mono-cultural.” 

It’s odd that Bragg throughout explaining himself talks only of his ideas and does not once relate them to the struggle of the working class, only to getting rid of the fascists. I expect Britain’s bourgeois parties want rid of the BNP and the National Front. It’s okay being anti-fascist, it seems, but let’s not mention solutions for the working class eh? 

The Labour Party of 2002 is, it goes without saying fundamentally different from the one that Bragg helped fight the 1987 General Election. I ask Bragg if he suffers from guilt by association at all. 

“What you have to understand is that the Labour Party at the time was anti-capitalist - it was the party of organised labour, it was in favour of the overthrow of the capitalist system. We genuinely believed we could overthrow the Thatcher government,” he says. “That’s all gone now. Three to four years ago, 20-year olds didn’t understand what it meant to rebel against something - but I think things are changing , that’s why I’m releasing this single.” 

His optimism is touching, if ridiculously off the mark. The Labour Party has never been anti-capitalist in the truest sense of the word, and it certainly wasn’t in 1987 with Kinnock steering it every-rightwards. Blair has been quoted as saying that New Labour today wouldn’t have happened without Kinnock taking power after the 1983 General Election. Indeed, Kinnock was seen as a scab throughout many workers’ disputes in the 1980s, quite why Billy Bragg paints him as Lenin’s long lost great grandson is a mystery.  

It’s obvious that Billy Bragg still has illusions in the Labour Party, and as long as they are in power he will believe things can change for the better. When the Labour Party is in opposition  he will lurch to the left. But what about the Socialist Alliance

“I think the Socialist Alliance has a problem in that it’s not capable of winning any seats, under proportional representation they might do better. However, if you ask me about the politics of the Labour Party I wouldn’t be able to help you. They’re all things to all people aren’t they?” 

But not in a literal sense of course.... 

And so onto the Jubilee. Discounting the musical side of the single (a strummed torch song), Bragg equates his new found ‘political identity’ ideology with the monarchy. He argues that political ideology in society has disappeared and that the monarchy are as much to blame as anyone. Yet, unbelievably, he doesn’t want to see the monarchy abolished. 

“’Take Down the Union Flag’ is aimed at instilling an ideological content into society again. The Royals have this power to sign treaties and the power of the Privy Council. Do you know that Graham Allen MP stood up in the House of Commons the other day and asked whether the Civil Service could draw up a list of the prerogative powers of the Royal Family. He was told that it would be too expensive to do this. Everyone would have you believe that the Government has all the power in this land. That’s bollocks, it all goes back to the Queen.” 

Quite possibly true, but throughout our conversation Bragg follows up a reasonably sane statement with a complete contradiction. 

“That said, I don’t want to abolish the monarchy, I think people should have the right to their obsessions. I don’t like Coronation Street, but I wouldn’t want it banned.” 

Not only is this debasing the actual politics behind everything that the monarchy and the establishment stand for, it is also deeply anti-working class and patronising in the extreme. He goes on to qualify this view by saying, “I’m looking forward to the World Cup, not the Jubilee. What I want to see is a monarchy that lives its life outside mainstream society, like in Canada, where the Queen may be on the stamps, but she’s not part of everyday life.” 

I find it astonishing that someone who many on the left hold up as a musical hero can say this. He does say that he wants the civil list abolished, he wants to see Buckingham Palace and the millions of acres of land owned by the Royals opened up to the public, but he’s quite happy to let them carrying on living their undemocratic, privileged lives.  

Bragg has a cannon of fine work - most recently, in collaboration with the US band Wilco, where he put music to two albums worth of Woody Guthrie songs. Yet it seems here is a man who is disillusioned by socialism too. Maybe he’s been touched by the hand of Blair more than he’d care to admit when he says finally, “What I want is a compassionate society. I think we can build socialism through accountability. Yes, we can build it around philosophers such as Marx, but that language is dead, we need new ideas and a new ideology.”

 

British Sea Power

Take it from me - any band that messes with naval imagery is worth listening to. Look, I can’t quite think of anyone else apart from British Sea Power at the moment, but these boys are as a good a start as any. They play with stuffed herons on their amps for flip’s sake. Do you need any further encouragement? They also make the most wonderful, languid rock music since Ride. Listen and shriek...... 

Can you give me some history about how the band met?
Yan, Hamilton and Wood all come from Kendal in the Beautiful Lake District and Yan and Hamilton are brothers. Noble is from west Yorkshire. Yan met Noble in Reading where they washed and dried pots together in the University Canteen. Wood and Hamilton were called upon to complete the band.

What did you set out to achieve with BSP?
We want to engage, entertain and enlighten folk. We seem to work on an abstract level and like any artform, once it has been explained it loses its charm so we don’t want to spell it out. Achievement to us would be a plaque on a bench overlooking a forest glade with the words "in loving memory of Yan, Hamilton, Wood and Noble" inscribed on it.

From which era of music do you take your primal influences?
Music from the last 200 years has a great influence because that's what's most accessible to us. We take some influence from prehistoric times when they used twigs, rocks and natural echo to make some noise and the Shaman would get the party going. Our live shows certainly go that way sometimes. Nobles recalls his first taste of music was his grandad playing 1940 love songs on his hammond organ.

Do you think there's enough style in music at the moment - do you see yourself as spearheading a fight against strokes-inspired scruffiness?
The Strokes may be scruffy lot, but I prefer that to say Westlife’s accountant look. We stand for the right to wear what you like with dignity and tight underpants.

If you could add a fantasy fifth member to BSP who would it be?
Geoff Goddard on piano. Geoff also washed dishes with him in Reading and we got to know about his work with Joe Meek there. He had a remarkable ability to put a lovely tune to anything.

Can BSP usher in a more mariner-friendly music scene?
We hope we can usher in a more open friendly music scene, for example, Yan and Hamiltons 70 odd year old father used to listen to classical music only, now he gets down with Iggy Pop. Captain Birdseye though, thanks to us, is welcome down his local record store.

 

Chris TT

It’s very easy for THOSE people to overlook Chris TT. And you know who those people are don’t you? Yeah, they’re those people who work for NME substitutes, those who think that My Vitriol are the last word in spunky new music, those want a fucking CAREER out of the ‘industry’ - the empty headed, vacuous, the ignorant, those who lack any sense of pop history. Those who rattle on about the Cooper Temple Clause (bless ‘em) and Muse as if they could hold a stubby candle to this man. And I’m not the one who’s being daft....they’re wrong, not me.... 

Why else would tasty step inside the grubby barn that is the Boatrace in Cambridge? The man who looks like a gentler version of Jesus and makes god-like guitar pop is here in the middle of a tour of similar venues up and down the country, and we’ve only been listening to him for a couple of months. We haven’t even heard his first two albums. So much to find out then. 

Chris TT’s last album - his third - was called ‘The 253’ - a magnum opus relying heavily on every day imagery, politics, and, ermm...Dawsons Creek. The 253 is, they say, a London bus route - a mundane thing to make an album about you might think, but, like all the best pop stars, Chris TT sings and writes about what he knows best. Not for him the faux romanticism of Muse or the ridiculous  United States of Wales barroom blues of the Stereophonics. Chris, is, after all, a sub-editor for the Associated Press and runs a record label with his Mum. 

Y’see to tasty, the real glamour in great music comes from not what you want to be, but what you are and what you’re up to NOW. And right NOW we’re sat in a dilapidated beer garden in the middle of Cambridge and it’s getting dark. Truly, it doesn’t come much more glamorous than this. 

The origins of the Chris TT phenomenon lie in a university degree in Popular Music. Not the most rock ‘n roll start for a burgeoning rock god, but a start nonetheless... 

“Yeah, but the course did me no good whatsoever in creative terms to be honest,” he moans. “The only good thing that came out of it was the people I met, who are in the band now, and the unlimited access to recording equipment. But I had guitar lessons and they were a disaster.” 

He seems less than positive, when he says, “I suppose the whole thing was a positive experience...”, hmmm.. 

Indeed, Chris TT is a contradiction. As we find out later in the evening, live he’s not nearly as sugary sweet as his recorded output would have us believe. He’s the anti-pop star, what with his beard, his non-existent dress sense and and his beard - all of this he’s happy (not proud though, there is a difference) to admit. 

“But I’d love to be on Top of the Pops!”, he insists. “I’m pro-music, and so therefore I suppose I align myself with the pop industry. But I don’t want ever to be in a position to give ‘them’ what they want.’ 

Which all sounds like a muddle, but it’s not. It’s fair enough. Chris wants to be able to make music that pleases him, get on TOTP and piss people off. It’s been done before, and if it can be done again, then he’s the man to do it. 

‘The 253’ is a wonderful soap opera of an album. It’s got songs about the education system, environmental issues, consumerism, hedgehogs and beer. What could be more comprehensive than that? And here’s the next contradiction. Whilst Chris insists his degree didn’t really help him creatively, this album was recorded very cleverly, using every day sounds such as the noble velcro strip as instruments. Traffic noise, excited kids and archived material from his holidays all made it onto the third Chris TT album. This is an album that works on every level of sometimes mundane life, and I find that incredibly thrilling. Find that on the next Travis album and I’ll give you a biscuit. 

He’s also beautifully self-effacing. ‘I’m know I’m never gonna be the next Gareth Gates or Elton John (god forbid!), but I just wanna encourage people to do it anyway. I’m just beginning to earn some money doing this now, and although that’s not what it’s all about, it’s better than doing what I do in the daytime. 

Which is probably what his heroes thought too. Just for the record he lists them as Will Self, Tony Benn, Anthony Gromley, Billy Childish and Yo La Tengo. Contradictory to the last. 

I take Chris up on the Tony Benn issue and give him my standard speech about however much I’d like Benn as my grandad, I think he’s fooling himself, and as the darkness descends we lapse into politics talk as I try with all my might to persuade Chris to join the Socialist Alliance...but it’s getting ridiculously dark now and I can’t see the rest of my questions....so we decide to go inside. 

Later on he plays one of the best gigs I’ve seen in a long while. I love this little hairy ball of contradictions. Soon, you will too....

 

Comet Gain

One of the UK’s most enduring, innovative and downright exciting bands, Comet Gain have  just released another classic album in ‘The Realistes’. See elsewhere in this issue for more on that, for now, read the world according to David Feck, in his own words - the ‘singer with the boys voice’ and Comet Gain mainstay for the last decade. Originally lumped in with the Riot Grrrl movement of the early nineties, the band have managed to outlast fads and now make some of the finest pop music in the worrrrrlllldddd.....

What or who are the Realistes? And are the people pictured on your new album sleeve realistes?
'Realistes' is an illusional concept, a mixture of dadaist rhetoric and situationist daydreamers, if baader-meinhof had no terror in mind only realization of dreams-come-true. An ethic of many things mixing film rebels, drunks, pop art poets, skinny wolves etc. It’s a cloak to wrap around any aspect you feel okay with....a loose coalition of things and possible manifestos all contradicting each other. If you take the situationist stance of society as the spectacle and the enemy of true love and freedom,  then the only thing many can do either than resort to actual anarchy and terrorism is to transcend the spectacle.

There are many ways to do this and realistes is a word and a deed and a thought and an idea ,and any idea that falls outside the logical status quo is subversive in some form. The actual word is loaded because we all think of reality as we know it here and now - comfortable within the spectacle- as the real reality. But it’s not and the more we approach society now and reality on a religious, spiritual and political level by actually seeing them as they REALLY are our current structures make absolutely NO sense and you have that 'oh shit! we're all living in some awful dream created by the few to contain the rampant dreams of the many. its all about perception, creativity, realization and then renewal.

The pictures are of people-they could be realistes .

Riot Grrrl legend and sometime Le Tigre stalwart has contributed to the album. How did working with her come about?
I've been friends with Kathleen for many years ,since the first bikini kill tour of England -we all became buddies and played stuff. Me and Kathleen had a short lived band called Male Slut with one great song -  ‘Tight Pants, Fat Butt' about the difference between English Boys and American girls.. according to Kathleen. When we go to New York we stay with her and vice versa. We play with le Tigre and she was the perfect duet for that particular song (Ripped-Up Suit), although I'm not really sure what she’s singing its sounds like an explosion. God bless you Kathleen.

Comet Gain has just expanded again with the addition of Lefties drummer Chris Applegren. Is this a settled line-up or will you seek to work with  more people in the future?
Why not? There are no rules as to who should be in a band or why. Comet Gain always has and will be a collective of friends around the world and I like to think this is my favourite so far . 

Will the band will celebrating the Jubilee?
Oh yeah, the Jubilee really changes my life, its the most important day of the year for me and so relevant to EVERY thing I say and do. Where’s my shotgun?

How do your politics manifest themselves in your music?
If you get the music and films and government your generation deserves then the sooner those venal fucks controlling the puppet strings send us hurtling towards there dumb biblical e.n.d Then I'll be cheering. although Gordon Brown’s Socialist Budget seems a shock, and a good one, and about the first sensible act of the century. I remain fucking MASSIVELY suspicious. The alternative is for people to actually think about the world and all the things I mentioned in question 1 and do something about it. Except it won't happen until people are educated in a global scale and perhaps the old hippy idea of acid in the water supply would be a good starting point. We need to evolve really quick or it'll be too late

And so is your music a channel for your frustrations too?
Yes....no a channel for communication and most communication is frustrated. If I didn't do it I'd probably get drunk a lot more.

Do you think that Comet Gain’s time is now?
We don't make records for any 'time' or some false pretensions of fame or acceptance. We are by and large as un-important to the World’s issues and artistic relevance as Madonna losing a toenail...if one person likes our record, and didn't before, then our time has come driving round that corner. Is that all bands care about?

Who gets the Comet Gain pulse racing nowadays?
Clinic, Butterflies of Love, Neon panda, Ray-k-Ray, Pattern, Tyde, Beachwood Sparks, Derek and Clive.

And what’s to come from the House of Comet Gain?
More seven inchers, some compilation tracks some awful drunk shows, Swedish and American tours, cookery book, self help manuals, a video movie, a kiss on the cheek and a smile in the morning.

 

The Icicles - Pure Sugar

Like indie-pop? Like sugar sweet harmonies and songs about hair dye and new dresses? You’ll love the wonderful Icicles, whose debut ep, ‘Pure Sugar’ is out now on Drive-In Records.

What brought you together? A love of indie-pop perhaps?
Daniel: I answered a flyer
Korrie: We were a bit worried about what type of person would answer a  flyer but we didn't know anyone who could play bass. I believe we added the  words "No Heavy Metal Please" is really big letters. Joleen, Gretchen and I  all knew each other from working at a college radio station. Gretchen: It really was particularly music, particularly indie pop.

Your new ep seems to take a lot from 50s/60s US girl groups? There is a  definite sense of 'Leader of the Pack...' in some of the songs. Would you  agree?
Gretchen: Its not necessarily intentional, we do dig the old girl groups,  but they're not our main influence.
Korrie: If anything, I am more influenced by girls in indie pop bands now  like Hilary of Apples in Stereo, Megan of the Salteens, or the girls of  Walker Kong.

How is indie-pop perceived in the US? Do you often feel as though you are  ploughing a lone furrow?
Daniel: Kind of....but without the calouses.
Korrie: We often have to describe ourselves as "Pop not like Britney  Spears" Still, we have certianly had incidents where people did not know  what to expect.
Joleen: At one show in particular the audience was filled with a few biker  types. While we were setting up we kept hearing comments like, "Play us a song little girl". In the end I think we won them over though.
Gretchen: I think we're actually finding that people, when exposed to  indie-pop (even bikers) seem to like it. I mean, how can you not like  indie-pop?

How good does it feel to be able to put out your own record? Have your lives been leading up to this moment!!??
Daniel: Its almost as good as eating chocolate cake
Joleen: We all put a lot of work towards the EP and are very happy to finally hold it in our hands.
Korrie: I can't believe it has finally happened. I guess the next thing is to see if people like it as much as we do.

What are your plans for the Icicles? Is world domination on the agenda?
Gretchen: We are planning a tour, maybe some indie-pop festivals, another  album, followed by world domination of course!
Korrie: If you are a booking agent or someone who book shows email us at
theicicles@hotmail.com We would be happy to come dominate a town near you.