Maxwell Jay graduated from
Brighton University in 2000 with a degree in painting. In the
aftermath of two hugely unsuccessful solo shows of paintings
depicting the heads of dead pigs, he ran away to Scotland in
2002. He spent half of that year in Edinburgh painting, writing
and being unemployed. Between then and now he’s nearly been
married, and has worked in a variety of dead-end jobs. After
giving infrequent readings over the last year, he’s considering
taking his mobile freak show to the stage on a more regular
basis in the future.
Over the previous five years,
Mr Jenkins on the BBC and seen him in performance and, wishing to find out
more about his modus, contacted the musician
for an interview.
This is the complete transcript with Billy
Jenkins, that took place on the 19th
May 2004, in the garden of the
home in Lewisham,SE4 that
Billy lived - with his
partner Jill, her father, Richard and Teddy the Cat. And a pregnant
MJ: Should be alright, picks up everything.
BJ: So do you want to check that the volumes all right? That it could be heard?
MJ: Should be alright, erm, been testing it out. Haven’t had it long.
MJ: But it’s pretty good.
BJ: (quietly) I’ll just sit down. How old are you Max?
MJ: I’m twenty-six.
BJ: Did you go to college or anything or...
MJ: Yeah I went to, well, when I studied, I was down in Brighton. Doing uh…doing painting.
BJ: What fine art or…
MJ: Yeah. Which was a really bad business decision looking back (laughs).
BJ: Three or four years?
BJ: Foundation and…
MJ: Foundation and on to do the, the BA. ‘Cos, there’s a course up in um. There’s a course in, er, Berlin actually. Really good idea. Where they have a four year course, a four year degree. Which is three years fine art, and the last year, you choose to do carpentry, uh, chippy, sparky, er…
MJ: Yeah, so if still can’t make it as an artist, then you’ve got a trade.
BJ: Plumbers, they’re the ones ain’t they?
MJ: (Rifling through papers) Few notes. These are just various things I’ve been looking at over the last. Just um, background stuff on you, things like that. But yeah, it’s just to cross reference really.
BJ: You’re quite at liberty to say, “Billy, shut up. You’re not answering the question.” ‘Cause I’m rather. I get like, just come up with the old same old soundbytes. And I think, what you want is not what. You know, all the soundbytes that are on the web-sites.
MJ: Yeah, yeah.
BJ: So if you say, “Heard that, done that.” Just (laughs).
MJ: Well, I mean, one of the things I’ll try not to do is, um, I don’t want to fall into the trap of, sort of, asking you questions about, oh, so tell me about you’re your music, so tell me about your career. ‘Cause I mean, obviously, that’s going to be, I mean, for a column, I don’t want to do the same columns that I’ve read. In other words, I don’t want to sort of write about, you know. I don’t want to get too involved with talking about something like jazz.
BJ: Ooh, no.
MJ: Because I think that could go on for…a long time.
BJ: It could get, it could get a bit rude.
MJ: But I’m quite interested in, um, because when I first picked up on your music (sniff) was back in nineteen ninety-nine. I believe at the time, although I could be wrong, I probably am. But the main thing that was around than was, the, the “Suburbia” album.
BJ: Right, yeah.
MJ: And I picked up a copy of that. And then, when I…I went off and did a few things, then came back. Next thing I knew you did, uh, gig at the uh. It was like a life drawing gig.
BJ: Oh, the Royal College. Royal College Of Art?
MJ: Yeah, that, which was interesting.
BJ: Yeah, with [saxophonist] Alan [Wilkinson].
MJ: I really liked that. The next band, sort of, set-up I heard was, um, down at the…um.
BJ: Sorry… that’s a squirrel. You’re not scared of them are you?
MJ: No, no, no, no. Been attacked by many a squirrel. Have you got ‘em tamed?
BJ: Not really, no. It’s a very pregnant squirrel. It’s got nipples. It’s quite interesting.
MJ: So, fourteenth of Feb. this year. The performance at the Royal Festival Hall. In the foyer there.
BJ: Yeah, yeah.
MJ: And it was, um, ‘cos I’d heard you on the radio before going away. I went away on holiday for three months. I heard you on the radio, it’s BBC R3 again. Playing very, um, it was almost as if like the, the basic um, sort of structure. Or the skeleton of your work was pared down.
BJ: Was that solo at all?
MJ: No, it was the Blues Collective.
BJ: Oh, with the,
with the yeah.
MJ: It was on Radio Three.
BJ: David Thomas.
MJ: It was, yeah. It was part of something. You were doing about three or four tunes.
BJ: That’s right. Yep, yeah, yeah.
MJ: So I came back and thought, ‘well I’ve got to try and find out where you are live.’ Sort of thing. ‘Cause, obviously, this is another question, but, the um, the, the, the kind of musical stuff is, um, sort of musical tradition and performance tradition Blues tradition. And stuff like that. Is just a very kind of, um. I mean even sort of church type stuff, you know. Hymns and things, you know. Really getting involved with the audience. There is a lot of interaction in your performance. But that’s a bit further down the line. I s’pose, so yeah, I mean. For me it was quite interesting to hear that you had sort of changed from the um. Because I felt like, the “Suburbia”, there was a lot of, a lot of stuff on that album. A lot of stuff that was really interesting. Classical piece.
BJ: Yeah, “Silence…”, string quartet.
MJ: (phone ringing in background) I enjoyed that. Um, so it was, it was, interesting and, er, sort of surprising. I wanted to pursue it to find out why the decision was made to sort of go back to, kind of. I say Blues, but obviously first and foremost, you’re a musician.
BJ: …I play the Blues…
MJ: And the Blues is a, is a, is a, is sort of almost like a, like the root of twentieth century music really, well it’s one of them. (bird sings loudly in the background) So, I’ve always felt in your music as though you’ve always had that, um, inclination or impulse to, almost, be like a, sort of dissect.
BJ: S’like doing a gig this ain’t it? (laughs) For you, yeah, not for me.
MJ: Yeah, it is…
BJ: (laughs) Sorry…yeah, but.
MJ: You’ve always, sort of taken, um, things apart to, to like, move stones, saying “look what’s under there”.
MJ: In the actual, in a tune. And the whole band falls, and you’ll think they’re falling to pieces, then they’ll go into something else. Now it’ll be Chuck Berry one minute, next minute, it’ll all stop and you’ll start talking about something. And it’ll start up again. And it’ll be this sort of, um, very sort of experimental, kind of uh. I just think of Cecil Taylor’s piano stuff,
MJ: Going off into
nowhere, and suddenly maybe a bit of…
BJ: But it all makes sense dun it?
MJ: Yeah, it all makes sense because it’s, because it’s obviously linked to that, that central, uh.
BJ: Have you written about any other artists about a similar subject?
MJ: Well, the stuff I write normally is um, I suppose, closely related to…um, sort of archetypal situations, events, characters and things like that. The work that I do normally is um, maybe like um, sort of, just like literal blues. (laughs) It’s not kind of musical in a musical sense. I mean I’ve always liked Blues since I was ten or something like that.
BJ: Do you play as well?
MJ: Yeah, I do.
MJ: I play a bit of harmonica, a bit of guitar, bit of trumpet. Anything to annoy people really. Trumpet, sadly wasn’t that annoying. To most people.
BJ: No, it’s too melodic.
MJ: Yeah. Guitar was the one thing that you could make such a noise with it. I think that’s why I learned to play it in the first place. Being bad. (both laugh). Being bad at playing guitar. Then of course you get slightly more competent, and the more competent you get the worse you want to sound.
MJ: I always felt that I always wanted play. Because I’ve always been interested in um, like exploration of uh, anything like an instrument like that. It’s a bit like Derek Bailey.
BJ: Do you still paint, draw?
MJ: Yeah, I still do all that. Just uh, it all seems to sort of come from the same place really.
BJ: Well, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet at the minute about, uh. I always get inspired by visual art, although I don’t understand it I can talk about it. And always been interested in aural art, and what’s the difference, you know? And, it’s the application that’s the important thing, the medium. ‘Specially today, the medium can be anything. It’s the coming to it that’s the issue. Or the artistic eye or the ear. And we discovered this painter. I’d been in a bad mood all weekend, and so there’s this little art book, you know, a to z or artists. Carl Weight. No, Carel Weight. You come across it?
MJ: Carel Weight.
BJ: Died in ’97, um. Painted, most of his stuff was suburban south London suburban scenes. Um, often with a man running through it. And he was described as the Alfred Hitchcock of the art world. I’m quite exited, (walks off on gravel towards house) I’ll bring it out (walks back on gravel). At the very end I was actually looking for offshoots of, who was the guy who, ‘cos it, I read a Hopper preview, ‘cos I like him a most people do, um.
MJ: Yes, I was going to say about Hopper as well.
nostalgically) In fact I got sent, like, this one up on the wall
by this jazz promoter, he said, the guys sitting outside his
store, he’s put in the background, he said, “I think he likes
BJ: Lookin’ really miserable. (shows me example of Carel Weight from ‘A to Z of Art’)
MJ: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know this one. And she’s um…done some weird…some really weird stuff.
BJ: So is it a big picture, small picture
MJ: These are quite big I think. Thirty by forty inches so… they’re a fair size.
BJ: I think it’s quite good. So what is obviously the thing is that he’s capturing south London. Suburban imagery. Which is obviously what I like doing. It’s actuality and um, literalism, that I’m very keen on, ‘cause.
MJ: When you say “literalism”
BJ: Well, you know like people say, oh you’re um (quietly) …oh what was the thing the other day…um, ‘you take things too seriously’ people say, and I don’t take things too seriously. But because of this whole parallel mythical world that’s been created over the last hundred years of um, documentation. Film, celluloid. Radio. Television. There’s a parallel artificiality existing. And I don’t actually go for that much.
MJ: (franticly studying notes) You mean by that, I’ve heard you talk about that in a previous interview about the, sort of, um, glammed-up renditions of things. Things becoming a mock version of themselves. The disneyfication of things like that you know?
BJ: Hmm, Hmm. Uh and I think it’s half, people lose the, the, the sense of true perspective.
BJ: By being totally infatuated, for example: with the current entertaining issues the Gibson film, the Jesus film, for example.
MJ: Yeah, ‘The
Passion Of Christ’ yeah.
BJ: Um. The whole things conjecture anyway. Um, it’s civilisations oldest running gag in a storybook. Throw in another issue that the fact that he’s (Gibson) a serious Christian, yet up to now he’s made films which glorify violence. Make light of violence etc,. etc. And, so it actually opens up a few things we’re talking about. Facts. Factuality. And I find a lot more pleasure to existence. Therefore if I’m watching a film, I find it more interesting those with me watching it. And that is a…
MJ: The people you’re actually watching the film with rather than the film itself?
MJ: You’re obviously more engaged with the people. Because obviously you can’t be more engaged with a film as you can be with another person.
BJ: Yeah, and the obvious uh, conclusion to that is pornography. You know, um, direct contact with another person is a lot more real than (does wanking movement with right hand) (laughs)
BJ: It’s okay when you’re growing up. It was proved when we played bowls, Jill and meself, up the bowls club. It was the great local derby last year; it was really heavy vibes. And a streaker came on the green. And no one (laughs) no one took any notice.
BJ: And I was just leaving, I wasn’t playing. And I said to a mate, I said, “they’ve seen it all before haven’t they”, (high pitched)“No they haven’t”, but it was truth, they had. They’ve been through all that, you know.
MJ: Surprised by very little.
MJ: I was interested by something else you were saying about, um…about playing Blues. And it was, I didn’t actually hear what it was the interviewer was actually saying to you it was just your answer…
BJ: Was this on radio three again?
MJ: Yeah. It was, you were saying, I think it was along the lines of, can an Englishman play the blues? Or something like that. And that obviously it, and it’s a, it’s a. It’s quite a provocative question anyway. But um, I think you said something along the lines of um…
BJ: Did I quote the Ger, about playing in a Vienna nightclub? Drunk Austrian coming up saying… I hate people coming up pissed…, you’ve finished a gig and everything. He said, “there really is a British Blues sound,” I said, “Okay, you can keep talking then.” He just sort of, went on. Coming from, ‘cause you know, mainland Europe looks to England for popular music and England looks to America sort of thing you know.
BJ: We’re halfway to America so we’re okay for pop and rock. It just seems a, I mean he’s obviously mid-forties, said there is a British Blues sound. I guess there is.
MJ: How would you describe that British Blues sound? If you were pushed to describe it?
MJ: Pretty boring question, but I mean.
BJ: Pretty boring answer (laughs), a lot of it’s very turgid. And earnest. And reverential. Which is not very, it’s imitatory. I’m very pleased that um, It helped raise the awareness of, of black artistry in America, when it went back. But (laughs) as a kid I preferred the American stuff. Because they also had a better sense of communication, you’ve got the show business tradition.
BJ: And it’s nicely
ironic (laughs) that we’ve really got into ‘Celebrity Let Me Out
Of Here’. We even have been watching it on I-T-V-2 afterwards.
I’m fascinated at, for all that filming, you’d only get actually
not get not much. ‘Cos they’d edit out all the, anything
contentious and libellous. And then those one or two that
actually come up with one or two key stories which would then
come out in the newspapers the next day. And then old Johnny
Rotten said, “It’s all, it’s all musical, the sex pistols” And
I’m so glad he said that, ‘cause I’ve always been saying that
but, course you don’t say that, you know.
MJ: (laughs) Yeah. When you say it’s all musical.
BJ: Popular entertainment isn’t it.
BJ: But you don’t pretend it is, you pretend it’s right on and er,
MJ: Can get too serious about it?
BJ: Well, I suppose you have to because (coughs) you have to capture you’re peer audience. And Zappa was the master of that. He would make sure that the adolescents become besotted with Zappa, once. Like those you grow up with you tend to stick with ‘em. And a rather cynical marketing ploy actually.
MJ: I was actually, I was going to talk to you about Zappa. I s’pose, without making too much of a comparison. But have people compared, or made comparisons before.
BJ: They did. But not so much now.
MJ: Because you do the more kind of um, I say blues rooted stuff.
BJ: No, I think they just. There’s loads of comparisons now, have you seen them? On the web there’s hundred and forty comparisons we’ve found.
BJ: I mean, it’s a
really funny list. Very funny. And the Penguin Guide to Jazz
says I could be the more important figure, (laughs) which is
very sweet. But I, it, er, Zappa is not a soul artist, you know,
he wanted to, he really admired the Blues and the Soul guys but,
and the R&B, but he couldn’t play that. He was a master,
master craftsman no doubt, you know. And ah, second to none in
technical brilliance. But I kind of left it all behind in his
fifth album. And I was about fifteen, sixteen and sold the
records to buy me passport. Thought well…
BJ: And I left it at that.
MJ: That was…his fifth album that would be…
BJ: ‘Burnt Weeny Sandwich.’
MJ: ‘Burnt Weeny Sandwich.’ I was thinking of ‘Chungas Revenge’ or something like that.
BJ: Didn’t even get that far (laughs), I think I may have borrowed it off a mate.
MJ: So where, I mean, so you would say that.
BJ: I’ve left behind satire as well.
MJ: Yeah. Because that’s obviously a really strong, has been a really strong.
BJ: Isn’t really, I mean, people think it’s funny.
MJ: Your use of parody, or something. Can sometimes drift into satire.
BJ: Dabbled a bit in the seventies, with the rock band. With Burlesque. Did it with Trimmer and Jenkins on the alternative comedy circuit, but that ended in 1982.
MJ: Was that with the, the um…Comic Strip?
BJ: Yes, I can, I can tell you that Robin Williams has very bad B.O. And he came and did a gig at the Comic Strip, course, we’re just musicians we all, we’d never talk to anyone, we’d just sit there practising. And he was in the dressing room and the smell, absolutely stunk.
BJ: Brilliant, hairy bloke as well.
MJ: Yeah, he is.
BJ: I never liked him anyway. But I, I think ‘cos then the first ‘Voice of God’ um, can you understand about that Plato, the voice of the people was the voice of God.
BJ: And I though that it was a long name and it would get up peoples noses. You occasionally get people phoning up to ask what time the gospel choir sings.
BJ: And maybe I lost a lot of potential audience because people thought it was religious. But, bit too late to change that now. Um, but the first album ‘Sounds like Bromley’…wasn’t really satire on it. Council offices, loosely based on ‘What’s Going On’, by Marvin Gaye (laughs). You know, beaurocracy. And you could say it was slightly a pastiche of lounge music. Yeah, pastiche I’ll accept but not sat, not satire. Unless one get’s hold of Viz, keep up taking the mickey out of people and all that.
MJ: So there is a, there is a strong. I mean there’s obviously a strong uh, sense of comedy in your actual own personal performance with the Blues Collective. I, uh, saw you at, um, ah, the QEH, bumping into mic’s and sort of ah, announcing the guitar player as Queen Victoria and stuff like that.
BJ: Hmm, well he
look’s like her.
MJ: Eventually there was a long list of people that you’re guitar player looked like.
BJ: Well, it’s all down to, um, the joy of public, ‘cos I’m, don’t like performing.
MJ: Don’t like performing?
BJ: Not really (laughs), no. Just do it as a job and I’ve done it since I was a kid. By the time I was twenty-one, I spent, been on the road, sort of, from age fifteen to twenty-one, pretty non-stop. And, just pretty tired of it. So, it’s like, we might go with the rhythm section and go and play in the local pub tonight. But it’s like, oh god have we got to go out?
MJ: Oh, really, it’s getting…
BJ: I don’t really enjoy going into public situations. So I just go and face it, and that’s part of the joy of, the fun of it, I think.
MJ: It’s almost the extreme opposite. It breaks you out of the feeling of not wanting to do it. Sort of just throw yourself into it.
BJ: I do it to earn money. But at the same time I, I would never take money under false pretences (laughs).
MJ: No, no.
BJ: But there’s nothing more enjoyable, I mean that, no one turned up to rehearse that gig (QEH 14th Feb 2004 2p.m.). So, I never played with a saxop, a girl saxophonist before in my life. I’d done function gigs with Mark [Bassey] on trombone.
MJ: The guy from Brighton.
BJ: Yep, he’s um. Jason [Yarde] , he’s done one Blues gig. But that was back two, three years ago. Um.
MJ: I must admit there did seem to be a bit of a distance between the horn section.
BJ: Well, I was a bit cross. Because they were supposed to be there at ten thirty to be told what was going on. So, no one materialised. Which, oh, doesn’t matter, s’just weird innit. Yeah, ‘cos, I don’t think they quite realised the intensity of the performance. Which, if you’re not aware of that, you’re always a couple of bars behind, couple of beats behind.
MJ: Is it, I mean, how rehearsed is that.
BJ: Well, it wasn’t was it (laughs). I saw Janie [Lee Grace] about a month before, so I went to her house and ran through the pieces. She’s amazing, ‘cos she’s, she’s Christian (laughs exasperated) and you know she does Radio Two with Steve Wright. Which is brilliant because she’s really into what I do. And just the right type. And, er, we played at her wedding, ‘cos she wanted the Blues Collective at her wedding. I said, “what do you want us to play Janie?” And she says, “Oh, ‘Pissed of Roy;’ and ‘I hate Dogs’.
BJ: And, er, she’s a real old trooper Janie, and she actually threw me because she was so on the case.
BJ: She’d done her homework.
MJ: Yeah, she did seem a lot more together with the band than the, well, I say the horn section. But there were some bars where they were (laughs), really hanging on there.
BJ: Yeah, it’s very funny. I like that danger though.
MJ: Yeah. Well I remember seeing you again uh, down at the er, near Baker Street, some college. Was it the Royal College Of Music? Doing a presentation evening for a group of, ah.
MJ: Er, graduates yeh.
BJ: Oh yeah, was that in “Entertainment USA”, last year?
BJ: Oh yeah that was a nice show.
MJ: That was dangerous, I thought.
MJ: There was a lot, obviously, there was a lot um.
BJ: And I’d kept it dangerous, ‘cause we’d had three or four workshops.
BJ: And at the same time, I re-jigged everything for the actual gig. And, er, I just did one recently actually, this years. And so I said to them, you know I’ll, we did a thing about cars and transport and roads. And I said I’ll be sticking a twig in the wheels to trip you up all the time.
MJ: Yeah. So, it keeps the musicians on edge.
BJ: Yeah, absolutely. It’s very important because the jobs are disappearing because of bastards like you on the comedy circuit.
BJ: Yer two hundred pound, ah, two hundred pound for twenty minutes at Jongleurs (deep sigh).
BJ: You know, I, you know four of us, would, we’d probably go an ‘undred mile gig to earn fifty quid each. An’ be grateful.
BJ: Did a comedy thing couple of years ago, Leicester. Comedy festival. Somehow we managed to get the Blues Collective booked into the Phoenix. Best part of the festival, it was like. An’ they said, oh “could you come do a, a press launch?” Something like, you do a ten minute spot and get an ‘undred quid and a first class train ticket. Other than that you get back and it’s too late. And this girl was on before a local poet, it was at the Jongleurs in Leicester. (plane roars overhead) And she did a poem about, she just said a name and everyone laughed. I said “Ian Beale, who’s that? ‘Cause I wouldn’t let my kids watch Eastenders, ‘cause they, no one swears in it, it’s not like real life.
But since I moved here, Jill’s dad watches it, so I started watching it, occasionally. When I’m bored. But I don’t know if (sigh), oh Jesus what am I gonna do? So um, ‘cause I don’t want to do comedy anyway so just do it for an ‘undred quid, you know. Plug the gig. But somehow just by walking out on stage and falling over people started laughing. When I did do the actual Blues gig I walked said, “Right so who’s here for the comedy?” (laughs) and I said, “And who’s here for the Blues?” (laughs). No one said anything. Good gig.
MJ: At the end of the day, I mean, what works for me anyway is the uh, is the musicianship and that’s the way, and it’s the musicians that you choose.
MJ: And it’s the combination of the musicians that you put together, ah. Interesting that you’ve got another guitarist with you as well. Um.
BJ: He’s [Richard Bolton] currently gonna take a full time post teaching.
MJ: He play’s cello as well doesn’t he?
BJ: Mmm. Good. In September, he’s accepted a full-time teaching post, ‘cos…it’s a regular income that’s all. Bit sad really.
MJ: So, does that mean that he can’t play with..?
BJ: Hardly yeah, he’ll be in High Wycombe teaching.
MJ: Oh, right.
BJ: S’no problem. S’just strange. Still. He’s got young kids, and it’s regular income. I don’t mind, ‘cos it’s the longest I’ve ever held anything together.
MJ: How long have the Blues Collective been going now then?
BJ: Well, it’s ’95 it started with Mike and Thad. And then Dylan came on board, in the next year, ’96 or ’97. But it’s a lovely unit, I like the, the, I don’t know if you’ve read about the three chords of the Blues? And it’s like your washing line and you can hang your improvisations off it. Everyone can follow the line. (plane rumbles overhead) I’m working with a very straight Blues guy who, he does a lot of open tunings. So every Wednesday we have a coffee and just play, talk, play. And I’m finding it very useful. ‘Cause when you’re band leader, no one books you for gigs much. So it’s nice just to play, you know?
MJ: Do you find the uh, I was going to ask you, one of the bigger questions I was going to ask you was when you, ‘cause obviously you said you’re band leader you um, does ah… does your um, does your work start from the end of a pencil?
BJ: Yep. Tried Sibelius a couple of weeks ago and just, I just couldn’t do it.
MJ: You tried?
BJ: Sibelius, no, no. Um! No, often you thumb pick, you know, on your, on your guitar.
BJ: I’m a bit lost at the minute because no one’s buying any…records and… you’ve got to spend so much to market it, it’s totally inproportion to the market. Nobody seems to sit and listen to records anymore. I don’t know if you do but…
MJ: Well, I do yeah.
BJ: You’re the only one I’ve met that does (laughs). It’s a ah, different, different trends…
MJ (interrupting): Do you mean vinyl?
BJ: Eh, no, sound, you know. Music, re, people tend to have music to do other things to.
BJ: An’ I, er, don’t like that. You know I do, I’ve got so much I’m supposed to listen to, people want me to hear things, listen to this, oh you’ll like this Billy. I can’t sit there and suck it in, I’m.
MJ: I know, I can never listen to it. I’ve got friends who always send me stuff. You know, like, this is, er. Couple of days ago, bloke paid me the compliment of saying, “’ere, this is a Syd Barrett album you’ll love, just when he lost it. I think you’ll find something in it you’ll identify with. That’s on the shelf, gathering dust. (laughs) Haven’t listened to it. You know, it’s just, it’s difficult unless you’re not on the, your, your, obviously your minds working on a certain way and at a certain time you’ll be listening to something in particular. I mean I’m interested in, sort of, I don’t know how to describe it any other way than to say ‘airy music’.
BJ: Double e, r-r-i-e?
MJ: No, like air.
MJ: Spacial music like um, like Webern, I really like Anton Webern at the moment.
BJ: Hmm, it was my word, my last music, last years solo album I done, I kept saying, “I want to hear the air”. You know, butted right up to the start I said, “No, you know, I want to hear the down stroke, I want to anticipate the down stroke of the hand.
MJ: ’Cos it, ah, to actually listen to, it actually sort of carries you along the tune, because the space sort of sucks you in. And then, sort of, it’s like, it’s like ah, without trying to sound to…poetic…um, it’s that call and response thing again. And the response could be silence and the call could be silence, as long as there is some call or response. You know, I quite like that about Webern. Only really been listening to him for the last month or so.
BJ: Right, I’m not familiar with him.
MJ: It’s kind of
like, uh, I’ve always liked Messian and Stravinsky as well. Not
really, er, not really a Rimsky-Korsikoff fan. I just find it
quite dense. But Stravinsky I like because, I just think it’s
MJ: I just think it’s really, really mad music.
BJ: It’s funny, I’ve turned against it. I’m not a great classical listener atall. I turned against Stravinsky because of his political beliefs.
MJ: Oh, right.
BJ: He was a bit right wing wasn’t he?
MJ: I don’t know, I don’t really know much about him as a, as a, as a person.
BJ: I was really upset because I just found out that John Lee Hooker was a Jehovah’s Witness.
MJ: (laughs) You’re kidding?
BJ: (laughs) No, that’s, that’s, that is frightening innit?
MJ: Ah! I spent two years listening to John Lee Hooker.
BJ: (laughing) It’s really depressing.
MJ: You’ve just created a black spot in my memory Billy. (laughs)
BJ: I know it’s ‘orrible. (laughs)
MJ: (laughs) Imagine him turning up at your doorstep! (laughing)
BJ: (does John Lee Hooker ho-ho ho, lip flapping)
BJ: I only listen if I’m working on something, related to, referencing and cross-referencing. Arrangements, recording sound. I don’t listen for pleasure, it’s not possible.
MJ: When you say it’s not possible to listen for pleasure. I mean.
BJ: ‘Cos you’re analysing everything that you hear.
BJ: Found out that certain friends of mine are really frightened of putting music on when I’m around, ‘cause they know it will upset me or make me go into something like, ‘what reverb was that they used?’ That’s the price you pay I suppose.
MJ: I think possibly the most upsetting thing for you recently that came out would have been the BBC4 documentary called “The Blues”.
BJ: I’ve been watching it, yea.
MJ: On it they got, what was it…Leonard Chess and Chuck D.
BJ: Well, I watched a bit of it. It seemed like quite an interesting one compared to the others, have you seen them?
MJ: Yeah, I’ve seen, I’ve seen the others, but, it, some of the others but didn’t they have (laughs) Clint Eastwood on one of them?
BJ: Piano Blues. But that was all right ‘cause they had archive footage.
MJ: (agreeing) They had archive footage.
BJ: The British one was, bit, bit surreal. But, Charlie up the road is a good old friend of [film director] Mike Figgis, and he said he does that, he gets into something and he get wrong and gets stick. But all I can say is that Lulu and Tom Jones could actually make really good Blues shouter records.
BJ: ‘Cos…Tom’s ‘orrible en he.
BJ: Yes,' I’m A Man', he could do all that stuff and mean it, 'I want to knob you and all that'.
MJ: Yeah (laughing)
BJ: He’d do it well.
MJ: Yeah. What did you think of that, that cross-reference with the Hip-Hop?
BJ: I only caught the last…twenty minutes but actually seemed a rather enjoyable film.
MJ: Yeah, it was, yeah.
BJ: I don’t know much about…Jill works for a London poetry group. Fascinated with words. We’re wondering that. And she was listening to the radio yesterday, or Sunday. Who was that Jill? Had that Hip-Hop, Michael Rosen…
Jill: (singing) Hip and Hop and Hip and Hop and a, Michael Rosen. Was finding out about the language. Hip-Hop is apparently something that came from SugarHill, I don’t.
MJ: That’s right, yeah, it was.
Jill: (singing) And a Hip and a Hop
MJ: Yeah that was the SugarHill Gang (from “Rappers Paradise”).
Jill: SugarHill gang that was it.
BJ: Was that at the SugarHill Studios?
BJ: (Jill in background) That’s where Caroline, that’s where my sister’s doing some voiceovers. Houston.
MJ: That’s what?
BJ: In Houston.
MJ: Um, no, you might be right actually.
BJ: Think so. So me sisters suddenly come to life aged…fifty. Fifty, I think. And doing PR for a, a, a local orchestra, amateur orchestra, and suddenly she’s on radio and she’s been picked up by Hip-Hop artists, and saying “I’ve gotta go to this SugarHill studios to do a voiceover. Recite the Lord’s prayer and stuff for Hip-Hop artists. Um, I don’t know, um, Max, I don’t know if the parallel to the Blues and Hip-Hop.
MJ: Um, it’s, um, it was either Leonard Chess or some other guy, some Bluesman on the programme said that he though, he felt as though Hip-Hop and the Blues were distant cousins.
BJ: It’s, ah, parallel monotonoies.
MJ: (laughs). But obviously, er, sort of, what I wanted to sort of, or what I wanted to concentrate on was the, or what both have in common, that’s the storytelling aspect. That’s just in a lyrical sense obviously.
MJ: But um, yeah it
would seem that, I mean, you see a lot of, like, Hip-Hop album
covers and you’ve got like a guy with gold chains and lying
across a Cadillac, not that much difference with Muddy Waters.
BJ: No, that’s right.
MJ: Stuff like that.
So you do see the parallels. But I suppose with Muddy, that was
(laughs nervously) part of his deal really but. Like Johnny
“Guitar” Watson had that similar sort of thing.
BJ: Absolutely, yeah. He was a good friend of Zappa’s wasn’t he?
BJ: So uh.
MJ: I wasn’t going to bring up Johnny “Guitar” Watson as any sort of comparison but he, in a, in a sort of, in a sort of base way you could say it, because the things that he would, he was talking about were obviously, you know the same way that you’d be talking about, um, it would be like saying, making the (Edward) Hopper comparison with that painting (Carel Weight). It’s a completely different world far removed. But it still has that kind of…localised energy.
BJ: Subject matter is the issue here, because I’m not, I’m just a quiet, shy bloke from suburbia, you know. I’m not giving it all out, 'hello baby' and all that. I quickly realised that, uh, I can’t sing…sexy…masculine lyrics. It’s not me. It’s just not my thing. So as long as you can find the right subject matter, which is truly you. See (in mock reminiscence), I never persued publishing, why I, I should write songs for other people. That way I don’t have to get on performing every night. And I can get some money back and stuff.
MJ: It that something that’s been an option in the past?
BJ: Nah. No, I’ve never really thought about it. ‘Cause it’s not too compulsive, you just gotta get and do something, you know. Do it, explore it, chuck it away and find something else to do, to pull apart.
BJ: It’s getting harder, ‘cause it’s very hard to find any money to fund anything. ‘Cos things like, “Suburbia”, that was written for Polygram.
BJ: With Richard Cook, the ex-editor of “Wire” and the co-editor of the penguin guide to jazz on CD. He was a&r, jazz a&r for a while. We, we soon worked out that he’d invited practically every, everyone into his office at different times saying, “I want to sign you.” Not saying, I mean, he meant well but it, it turned out that he, he, he didn’t have any authority to sign anyone.
BJ: So I had a
meeting with them, I said look okay, well I’ll come up with
something which I’ll set it in the sixties. Because there’s
material there which might appeal to a younger audience. Twangy
guitars, Beatles stuff. And that’ll make good music for you to
market and sell to your superior bosses or line managers and all
that. Took about two days and we came up with “Suburbia”, and,
looked through an old shelf and looked and found some old sketch
books, some old sketches, which I think one of those I wrote in
1973, I think but… ‘ The Unknown Car Across Your Drive.” I was,
and I was listening, heavily listening to Jazz-Rock, Weather
Report, and “Return To Forever”, or something.
But I had to wait for the right time to, to use it. And that was the right time. That was, that was seven years later, and then somehow, managed to get a bit of money to record it and it, it took a long time. I’m talkin’ much bloody heart. The trend of, um, arts funding in this country is very biased against…indigenous, white male. Five figure sums to decide whether Billy Boy’s gonna starve, good luck to him.
MJ: I’ve had two experiences with them. Neither of them very positive.
BJ: What on the visual side or?
MJ: Yeah…pretty nightmare. I think on a certain occasion they forgot about it for three months. But it’s not the worst story I’ve heard.
BJ: And, do you know Resonance FM? The radio station?
BJ: Which is pretty good, ‘cause it’s sort of leftfield, there’s a link on me web-site to it. ‘Cause, it’s pretty, it’s an open station, you can kind of do pretty, what you want; within the restrictions of the broadcasting authority. But they ran a workshop for applying for a lottery grant up to five grand, he [the organiser] said, “The first thing I‘m going to say is not feel that you’re taking money to apply for this, he said, he said because every application costs four thousand seven hundred quid to process.” So he said “Don’t feel any guilt in applying.”
MJ: That’s unbelievable.
BJ: Isn’t it. That’s what I don’t understand, why don’t, why don’t they just say look, put a lump sum aside for builders, architects, you know, redesigning the Royal Festival Hall kind da-di-da, not hundreds of premise’s that serve to put artists to perform, in any way. You are going to get your money for your performance but it’s got to be for educational purposes. It’s a bit, just, it’s frustrating.
MJ: It’s prescribed, in a way. Like, um, get as much out of you as possible. Bit like a public service (laughs).
BJ: Well, yeah, but get as much out of you as possible but at the same time frustrating your actual creativity. Blunting it. Find it a bit…sad.
MJ: Yeah. So you’ve got, you’ve got some new stuff coming out. You said in yer, your e-mail.
BJ: Yep. I can give you a DVD, but the solo album’s no ready yet, but.
MJ: Okay. Well I’m gonna do a, I’d be more than happy to do a review of that as well.
BJ: That’d be nice, yeah. ‘Cos, I mean, in a way it’s like, ‘cos the depth of putting it onto…video, you, you pixelate it and there it’s gone.
MJ: But it is really interesting when you told me about that ‘cos your performance, um, like I don’t know how you performed things like, things like…tunes off “Suburbia”, or like, “Still Sounds Like Bromley”. ‘Cos I don’t, I can’t, I just can’t imagine it in my mind how you did (performed) it.
BJ: (scrunching off on gravel into garage to retrieve score for “Suburbia”) Hang on for a second.
Plane rumbles overhead. Birds singing, trees blow in slight breeze.
MJ: (ruffles papers together nervously)
BJ: (scrunching back from garage, replies to Jill, “I’ll give him the chart!”) Look, that’s just a simple, do you read music?
MJ: (embarrassed) I don’t actually, well, very badly.
BJ: But a lot of these. Well me hand hurts actually these days. In fact, I just had a project, (laughs) little commission, but I refused to write music, I says, ‘cause me hand hurts. It’s true.
MJ: What’s happened to it?
BJ: (grumbles)…But often I would, um, (scrunches across gravel, back to seat) this is just to give you a guide, so that would have been that…(BJ indicates to written guides to performance, elaborating later)
MJ: Something like “Hello, I’m Your Next Door Neighbour”.
BJ: Well, that’s totally just, (laughs) that’s all they had!
BJ: (reading) Dave
Ramm walks on stage, says, “Hello, I’m Your Next Door
Cue bedlam as directed, interspersing ensemble silence whilst Dave Ramm does some DIY. So I’m just conducting it. Got these hand signals that I use.
MJ: Yeah, I’ve noticed the, the patting on the back of the neck and stuff like that…
BJ: Yeah, that’s backups.
MJ: Three’s and the...
BJ: Yeah, four’s. ‘Cos a lot of the Blues I just, shift up to four (bpm) when I fancy it, you know, I. Um, (points index finger to nose) the bridge. And I, I like the audience to know that because um, they know weather it’s going to cock up or not, if something’s coming or not, you know.
MJ: Hmm. Nothing, nothing, nothing’s too hidden is it, in the…
BJ: It’s honest.
MJ: Performances, not even the, there’s no uh, and even the uh, loosely say, styles of music which, which are on display, you know, none of, none of the, er, influences or facets in those musics is, sort of, hidden. Or the orchestration, is hidden, it’s all quite open and bare really isn’t it?
BJ: I suppose so, well it’s, it’s plainly apparent.
MJ: Yeah, yeah.
BJ: (quietly back to garage) Don’t know if that’s a compliment or not.
MJ: (biting lip)
BJ: (crunching back with new score) That’s pretty much obvious that one because it’s, it’s just a score for four parts. But even then look, that set’s the template and then ad libbing context, neurotic, neurotic…Oh! Necrotic. Necrotic! Go back to sleep, what was that noise? Was it the car? Um, I think I remember mixing it at Tony’s, um, at his house, and I think one of his kids slammed the door shut. Right, we’ll stick that in.
MJ: And there was the smoke alarms as well. In the…in the background.
BJ: Ah, now there,
that’s clever that ‘cos that’s amazing ‘cos I said to Tony,
“Have you got”, ‘cause I was gonna butt that into “Suburbia”,
“Have you got an alarm clock?” And it, the one he had actually,
not only was it the same right key, but the right tempo.
MJ: (laughing) That was good that it worked…
Plane roars overhead.
BJ: It’s like when we did “Entertainment USA” album in ninety…two I think it was. It was during the Iranian, arms to Iran, er…controversy. And I said, okay, we’ll, ‘cos we’re sort of projecting our thoughts on America over there. And the presumed knowledge of this place. So I says, “Let’s get the transistor radio on.” And at the end of the Oliver North, it just happened to be at the end of the play, some bloke says (like Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling) “Who’s, what are you, what are you worried about. There’s nothing to worry about for another two or th, two years!” Which is exactly what it, ‘cos it actually took two years for it to break. I love things like that. This is my last, (in feigned pretentious voice) my last…work. (reading) Drum machine plays the battle march of consumerism. Piece for six drum-kits. S’like a twenty-three minute… thug! One of the nicest juxtapositions in my life is doing the premiere of this, the idea was to take…mus, drummers as musicians back into the, into when they were kicked out of the disco’s. So we premiered it in a Birmingham discotechque, at, about…midnight. And it’s the first time I’d been in a nightclub like that, I though it was rather like a youth club, quite intriguing, you know?
BJ: So, we did, directed that, ah, and then two days later I was playing improvised classical guitar at my Mum’s funeral, so, what a lovely juxtaposition. And it’s, I kind of looked at a hundred years of drum styles, you know, going through different, but that was the last piece I really scored. Hmm, five years ago. There’s some sixties, seventies, eighties. I mean, I love sort of writing stuff out I mean, it, well I don’t actually do it but…writing it out so it’s legible, fitting it all in. I say, I tried Sibeluis but I, it’s, intense. But often you will write in, (showing MJ on written score) go “Nuts” for two bars, go “Nuts”. “Stand Up”, six beats, six of ‘em. So it’s worked out, I tried to get this kid to film it (sniff). It was, imagine splitting the screen into six and you’ve got six hands doing the same thing. It’s, it’s all choreographed.
BJ: But okay, he’d be fumbling with. If he was young, maybe it would have been fun. Never happens.
MJ: So, is the new stuff that your working on now, I noticed the drum kit in the garage there. It is, is it more percussive?
MJ: It’s not.
BJ: No, its just solo, its just solo acoustic guitar. And that’s classic kitchen sink scenario. Pete, whose drum kit that is, he bought loads of um, sorry Jill.
Jill: I’m making tea,
do you want one?
MJ: I’m all right with the juice thanks.
Jill: So you will have one?
MJ: No, I’m okay.
Jill: You are okay.
MJ: It’s fine.
(Jill crunches off to house to make the tea, plane rumbles overhead)
BJ: Pete [Bennett], um, bought um. Oh no, no, ‘cause I left my family a couple of years ago (makes popping sound with tongue), ran away to Jill, uh, just down the hill and er, I’ve got twins and they’re… nineteen or eighteen. I thought, ‘Well they’ve reached eighteen, what I’ll do, they’ve gotta stand on they’re own.’ And we’ve had the roof rebuilt and then er, I went round and my mate Pete had this sort of digital recorder that cost more than the roof (laughs). Which I thought, that’s fascinating. And I happened to pop round and he said, “I’m doing a bit of” and we got into the old, ‘cause he’s a musician and ah, and he tried all the old drum machines, but it’s not right. Uh, and I popped round to do a bit of acoustic stuff and, six months later he said oh, “Bill that was really nice, can I master it up?” I said “Well no, no point.” And he’s got a really lovely home made guitar in his house; it’s one of these hand made things called a ‘Lucas’. And I said, “No, let’s just make an album with that.” So, what I’ve kind of done is reverted to a mid-life bloodfest and looked at the situation. Of, moving away from the family on the one hand and also the loss of live opportunities…and the pointlessness of the musician. As was the drum machine, the drum machine plays the battle march of consumerism.
BJ: Um, fortunately
drummers are back in and disco, the seventies disco sound is
really musical. And, and I’ve reached a new plateau of
contentment with all these people like Jamie Cullum, Ant and
Dec, I call him. He’s a lovely guy, um, and all these Nora
Jones'es and of course people want singers. People want
BJ: So. BUT, there’s also that, back to this issue of this presumed parallel world of tech, of communications and the use of compression in broadcasting. Which I keep going on about.
MJ: It’s, um, big lumps, it hollows out anything.
MJ: It’s quite scary actually.
BJ: ‘Cause I had a little bout of taking anti-depressants and…that was much the same. Didn’t like it. I’d rather have all the horrors, the neurotic and the (high pitched) ergh!
MJ: It acts as a sort of ,er, mental compressor.
BJ: I mean, I was doing this residence and I was in this show [on Resonance Radio], about forty-eight weeks, every Sunday. Ah, in sort of, sort ah, opposition, in opposition to Michael Parkinson I did a, 'One-Way Single Parent Family Favourites'.
MJ: (laughing uneasily)
BJ: S’good, was good. But ah, but I don’t, I got really bored of doing it and ah, plus the fact that with the radio authority you have to be very, it’s actually quite strict.
MJ: Quite straight really.
BJ: And, I can’t be
that wacky because you’re reception’s not that good, plus you’ve
got the compression on it. I did discover a Pat Boone heavy
metal album which is brilliant, it’s ah, that was worth it. It’s
a really good album actually. Pat Boone singing covers of Deep
Purple and Nirvana and Alice Cooper.
BJ: But arranged brilliantly.
BJ: And the guys are having a ball, you can tell.
MJ: (sudden coughing fit)
BJ: All the, all the session guys are really kicking ass and laughing and playing…brilliant. (sings), I forget what he sings.
MJ: (laughing and coughing)
BJ: No more Mr. Nice Guy, is that Alice Cooper?
MJ: Um, I’m not too, I’m not too, sort of knowledgeable of Alice Cooper I have to say.
BJ: But I got fed up, I got really fed up with radio as a result.
MJ: Because I’ve always had a big fascination with radio ever since I was a kid as well, always looked, because I’d be able to, sort of, tune in to other countries and I couldn’t believe that. I thought that was amazing. And any, any music I wanted to listen to was right there. I found that was, that was magical.
BJ: Well…[drummer] Steve Argüelles said a brilliant thing when we driving to Swindon one day, he said, he turned and he said “The ‘click’ of the radio doesn’t excite (snaps fingers). Remember when we was young, switching it on would be a thrill...."
BJ: But, just, yeah. I don’t, it’s very interesting the world at the minute, everyone’s in the shit…financially, no one’s got any money.
MJ: (laughing) It’s true.
BJ: Everyone, but
everyone knows that they’ve got no money, it’s just. And I
never, I never judge people who have got money. ‘Cause they have
to spend it and throw it back into the economy anyway. And
anyone who has a go at people for being rich, flauntin’ it,
they’re not they’re…the Beckhams throwing big parties, it’s
‘Cos a lot of subsidiary people get wedged. An’ I was doing a lot of weddings, for about four years. And I really enjoyed it. But then I lost the heart in doing them an’ I thought I’ve got to stop because it’s important to open people’s mind. Okay, it’s very amusing to see a, watch what’s going down. It’s the best reason for doing it.
MJ: You said as well that, um, that the good reason for playing weddings is that…it’s good to play…it’s good to play who aren’t just sitting there nodding.
BJ: Yeah, for people that pay to…
MJ: (interrupting) ‘Cos you can go absolutely nuts in front of people who may or might have, I don’t know, had uh, I don’t know, maybe…uh…a DJ there normally. It’s another reason for the fact that, you know, you’re performing in front of. Is it interesting as well performing in front of, um, ‘cos you’re, you’re material’s never usually based about, um, it’s very sort of, very sort of working, like working blues, stuff. Rather than, um, it’s not sort of lovie stuff. Love Blues or anything like that, so is that, does that make it interesting, that, performing in front of, I mean performing in front of working class people, or…or rather to people who don’t normally see gigs like that. It’s very difficult to say, but I mean um, does the audience you’re playing to obviously…
BJ: Hello Richard!
Richard: Hello there. Alright?
MJ: Hello mate. Yeah not bad mate.
BJ: Jill’s Dad. Landlord.
MJ: (unperturbed) Does the audience you’re playing to, I mean you say you play weddings I mean.
BJ: Well, it wouldn’t be my band for a start. It would be wedding type music.
MJ: Oh, okay.
BJ: But I would certainly have my own, go a bit mad or ah, yeah. I only do the [Ian] Trimmer Jazz Angels. What was it? Cool cocktail, sophisticated or something cool Jazz. His idea of nirvana is to play ‘Girl from Ipanema’ for twenty minutes and he thinks you can get on a sort of spiritual high by doing that. Uh, bless ‘im, uh, and um, it’s, I remember doing a gig at this wedding outside in Essex, and that sort of sets the scene for a start. If it rains we had to go indoors, the room they reluctantly let us into, they’d just had it varnished and it stank of varnish. It was just like, aaw it’s all going wrong. And, we set up and people were dancing and I just thought, “Fuck this!” And I did, like a, heavy metal ‘Tequila’, ‘Tequila’, and I just went mad. (laughs)‘Course, they all just went mad. They all just though, oh what guitar, went…
MJ: (interrupting again whilst laughing) I think I’ve heard you play ‘Tequila’ before and I think I’ve heard you do ah, a, er, version of ‘Girl From Ipanema’ as well.
BJ: Oh, yeh, yeh, yeh. (blackbird sings loudly) Mash it up.
MJ: (amused) What the hell’s going on, sort of thing.
BJ: (Humming ‘Girl From Ipanema’) I think it’s, it’s the war against presumption. And, oh that’s Jazz or…yeah, but no one listens, where nothing, nothi (laughs) for example that was, er, and with Trimmer, we had a late night gig and a friend of his had a ‘hip’ club, allegedly, in a nightclub in Mayfair. Which is really seedy (amused) sort of pick-up joint.
BJ: And we was on about two a.m. And we had to dress like, er, existentialists in black, and played it in the chillout room, play…
BJ: Smooth, cool, background Jazz. I’ve been working with Ollie who runs the Babel Label who was running a function band at the time and I had, previous week, I had done a lunchtime PR launch for a photocopying company and, er, in Covent Garden where they all splashed out and got these celebrities in, they got the, the British lawn tennis team in.
BJ: Like, Tim Henman and…Andrew Castle and Annabel Croft this has been about ten years ago, they weren’t…very good, you know. However they weren’t ever brilliant at, you know, the world stage. And, er, his photocopying to their client and we were there playing trad. Jazz. And I’d noticed this ‘orrible salesman there ‘cos he stood out ‘cos he looked like Donald Sutherland and he had those, those bright red braces and yellow, yellow streaked shirt. And I just had ‘im marked as a pain in the arse. So there we were at this nightclub a week later, and me and (Ian) Trimmer are going, (singing) “every time you go”, so this bloke goes, “’ere you’re from the Eccentrics!” he pipes up out the black, “Play ‘Alexander’s Rag-Time Band!”.
BJ: And I’m like, (whispering) “shut up they’re trying to be sort of, sophisticated.” He was pissed and he kept doing it. No I think that as long as you’re doing honest, I mean I was doing the Barbican Lunchtime…
MJ: With the…
BJ: Blues Collective. Doing our secular, alternative Easter Day celebration, which we did for a couple of years. And then doing a wedding gig at Sunday night with the Jump-Jive band [Kit Packham's One Jump Ahead]…somewhere…Guilford. And we did a Bluesy thing and I just went for it, but it was weird, it’s…light. It’s daylight and it’s on a high stage and all, sort of, guests were around. And I just went for it, and we had several people come up, told me, we really felt that, that was great. I mean ‘cos a lot of musicians do work, do that work begrudgingly, they’re often bitter and twisted, you mustn’t, mustn’t. It’s like saying working on (laughs), those that do the boats are all mad, you know like, working music on a boat, playing with boats is like being in prison. You try to escape and you drown. (laughs). It’s beautiful ennit…(laughs)
MJ: (laughs) Speaking of that. I went to Henley a couple of times, to see like the boats go down the Thames and these great big tuba’s on tiny boats.
BJ: (smiling) Yeah…when I was living at Greenwich, in the studios, with the Oxcentrics. And I had a gig, lunchtime cruise. And I thought, I know what’s gonna happen. Setting off at Putney pier you’ve gotta go from Greenwich, all the way round the south circular to Putney. In the rush hour. I thought, ‘I bet I know where we’re going’. Sure enough, we set off and went right outside my house in Greenwich.
BJ: ‘Cos we was right, right near it. Turn round, all the way back. To be put off, right back at Putney in the rush hour and have to go home again.
MJ: (still cackling)
BJ: That was ‘orrible, ‘cause it was an office party. It was clarinet, guitar and…tuba, so it’s stupid (laughs), just stupid. And we watched the sort of, them all get drunk.
MJ: Were they getting you to do ‘Hot Café’ sort of stuff or something? (laughs)
BJ: Yeah, but at a low budget…version, because there’s hardly any, and the clarinet was the world’s best greatest clarinet, guitar…yeah, it was something like that. And, very sad as the office juniors were all sexually molested in front of everybody. But they had to do it ‘cause it was work, you know.
MJ: It still ticking
BJ: Yep. But I didn’t answer your question.
MJ: (laughs) It’s clear, without trying to sound too rehearsed but it’s clear that…
BJ: (interrupting) No that’s too rehearsed, can you just…say it again?
MJ: (laughs) Just been chatting to you about, about various different experiences you’ve had in your career. It’s clear to me that, it’s, it’s well, very much part of your nature to um, be engaged with, er, storytelling. And, and, sort of, um, and folklore.
BJ: (nonchalantly) Yeah? That’s ‘cause you’re asking me questions, so I’m entertaining you.
BJ: So, it’s down to that.
MJ: (train rattles past) But, I mean with your…I mean with your music as well as your, your music, both tonally and lyrically…it strikes me that…there’s a, there’s both a lyrical and structural narrative.
MJ: The space in the, the space in the um, the pieces. Ah, carry you along. As well as the, as well as the story behind it. Would you, would you agree with that?
BJ: (playing with
stones) Yeah, I don’t quite understand how it works, but you can
find a rhythm for things can’t you. I mean as well, if you look
at it rather than just basic…meter. Somehow, certain patterns,
you see certain patterns, you feel certain patterns and that’s
all it is. (playing with stones) I like to write my music so
it’s flexible so it depends on, if it is, when it’s performed…it
could fit into that moment. The right, the right temperature,
the right acoustics. I probably don’t know if it, one of those
interviews I said this, I, I, I don’t like the fact that we had
a phone call, in fact I hardly, I don’t answer the phone, much.
But the phone could
ring and, and suddenly you’ve got to think about November the
third in Bracknell in a two hundred seater theatre.
BJ: And that’s your budget, and you try and put the right instruments together to suit the situation. I just realised we’re doing the Victoria Embankment exactly a year to the day after we filmed it last year. It’s election day, so that’ll be the angle, you know. Vote Blues Collective, you know.
But I get really cross, I mean, I did one May day, last May in
Stratford in, you know, seven and half million investment. Super
new arts centre, so…you get the professional PR person
that does the shit didley, you write them the copy, give it to
them. They just re-jig it, hardly at all, and then they don’t
do any following up. And I said look, I gave them some angles
and that’s it, it’s gonna be, “May day May day!”. ‘Cause they,
eh, they try to have the anarchists…do last year. So that’s
your angle, you know, er, anarchy, er, we’re gonna create a
new anarchy in the east-end of London. The message is here.
And here’s some tanned lines to sell, you know, did you know that Zoë Ball is a fan of mine? Blah-di-blah. And Norman Cook’s blah-di-blah, other names, ‘course they did bugger all ‘cause they can’t be arsed because they’re getting paid anyway. Except someone took my e-mail, mailing list and put it in there. So um, it just makes sense to have a narrative. I don’t understand, certain, I suppose like, you’re talking about certain colours…represent certain things. Certain keys can represent certain things.
MJ: Yeah. I mean, it’s obviously, it’s obviously not. To, to, to continue to produce interesting music as you do. I suppose you don’t really have a clear idea of what it is your gonna do next. ‘Cause if, if you did…obviously it wouldn’t be interesting. It does seem sometimes.
BJ: No, you get a feel, you grab, you grab, it’s like, sort of getting into another record, which will be that selection, and I’ll have more than enough. And that will give me enough to work out the right collection. Er, within that, you’d have the instrumentation. Uh, probably overall you’ll have concept, ah, or sometimes you, you, you, you do stuff. I don’t really compose much of it ‘cos there’s no reason at the minute.
BJ: (laughs) Like, you know, like, the last few pieces I’ve written have been about wanting to stay here. And iso, the joys of isolation.
BJ: (police siren screams nearby) And not travelling. So it’s getting a bit repetitive at the minute. But somehow with that instrumentation use, you think well, if I pitch it in that key, for example: guitar, you say take a C sharp.
BJ: There’s something very special about a C sharp, because the flex of the string, you know, the forth fret. If you’re up to D, you’ve got your open D next door. You’ve got no open strings really, except the E becomes the sub-dominant. At the bottom. No it doesn’t. It leads up to the sub-dominant. It’s the third ennit? No it’s a flattened third, what am I talking about? Or, the, it’s, you know get saxo, saxoph, sax’s in certain keys set. Voices in…keys that they’re not hap, familiar with, and use that. Put the bad trumpet player with the good trumpet player and get a lovely crack, cracking sound, you know.
MJ: Yep, yeah.
Child shouts “Mummy!”
BJ: ‘Cause I, ‘cos I
was watching, ah, John…go through the motions. Elton John go
through the motions.
Now he’s got an open prison sentence hasn’t he, to go to Los Vegas for, two weeks is it? Forty-eight nights a year he must make his. So I get, more, more a feeling of emotion from actually out of listening to a baby crying…than Elton John.
BJ: D’ya, d’you want.
MJ: Hmm, yeah.
BJ: Get some lovely songs on that. The thought of having to read through that.
Richard: (interrupting) Old Teddy won’t get these tiny little bits, but he manages it. Always on the chair.
Richard: Yeah, grains are so small…
Jill: Richard this is Max.
MJ: (introducing) Max.
Richard: Hello Max.
MJ: Pleased to me you.
Richard: How are you?
MJ: Nice to meet you.
Richard: Nice to see you.
BJ: Yeah, but it’s what’s on ‘em, that’s. I found some of his stuff on it.
Jill: This’ll make interesting examples of…
Richard: Stuff on it?
Richard: You wouldn’t think they would stay in the puss’s paw, ‘cause they’re so small.
BJ: He went upstairs.
Richard: He keeps them until he jumps up on the chair then he gets rid of them.
BJ: Well, he was rolling, lying on your bedroom yesterday and he rolled over and some fell out of his belly!
Richard: (laughs heartily)
Richard: Wasn’t a…kitten was it?
Jill: It’s gone.
BJ: So, it’s good that somehow you get the right musicians to become the right components of the pieces.
BJ: Ah, when you got people like the Blues Collective, they always surprise me with the fresh initiatives they can bring to something. And they’re not true, you might say, Blues players are they, they’re too…schooled.
MJ: Hm. Yeah.
BJ: So that brings out a certain friction in the…good stuff. ‘Cause when I try using the straight players they don’t quite, sort of, come to life. They’re a bit lost…
BJ: Two-dimensional. In the other way, like, for example In, Ingrid [Laubrock] was it? The saxophonist.
BJ: She was too cerebral for the Blues. Don’t, don’t take, ‘cause you can get too cerebral about the Blues. ‘Cause Jason [Yarde]’s (alto sax QEH 14th February 2004) kind of got it, he’s a miserable git. And Mark [Bassey] (Trombone QEH 14th February 2004) actually.
MJ: The trom, the trombone was, I thought, was the most integrated of the horns.
BJ: Yeah an’ he’s, he’s the probably the worldly wisest of ‘em, he’s a lot older than the pair of them.
MJ: He wasn’t afraid of that…rasping, really go for it, sort of fitted in.
BJ: (phone ringing) Yeah, that’s right, he orchestrates like, for [BBC] Radio Two’s big band. Uh, I remember doing a, doing a cocktail party gig with him when we were on a walkway. It’s a real posh, big knobs do it’s on the walkway. (laughs) I remember him letting off, letting his spit out (of the trombone).
MJ: (wheezing laugh)
Richard: Don’t sit down Billy, Jim Howard on the phone.
Jill: I’ll go. I’ll tell him you’re…
Jill: It’s all right Bill, I’ll go…
BJ: Yeah. Tell him he’s a bit late in his PR, Jill! We know all about it. Kineticism is the key word. We don’t talk about a lot. Creating that, ch! (makes spark sound with teeth). But then you have to somehow create that ch! (Ambulance siren wails in distance) When it’s been put on record, so that kineticism will double for the listener. So, you might listen to it and go, oh yeah, check that out, good. And I try and keep all the rough edges and don’t compress things down too much. So the little egdes, the interesting bits, get slapped on the pad, the metal, the wood. And like you say, the air.
MJ: Yeah. Do you, um, have a strong interest in doing, um, like er, not so, not so much sort of narrative, but sort of urm, got, like you said; putting the bad trumpet player with the good trumpet player. In doing that you characterise both? Is that, I mean obviously, you’re saying about putting the musicians together to create a friction. You also, kind of like, in the same as in your music you kind of like um, you’re sort of fusing a lot of, sort of, things together. So, ah, ah, by doing that you’re also almost isolate the two. Sort of bring out their own characters. In, in certain pieces of music, or, or…lot’s of pieces of music that you’ve written, which I think comes to the forefront, which is something that, you know, that will throw you, take you back a little bit. Is that, is that, is that a, sort of conscious thing. I mean, I know…
BJ: (interrupting, mercifully) Possibly, or sometimes it evolves during the recording process.
BJ: Just pick up on something that someone’s done and go and do it. So in a way, it is um, there’s, there’s areas of; again visual art. When we were laying down “Motorway at Night”. Don’t know if you’ve heard that one have you?
MJ: What’s that?
BJ: “Motorway at Night”?
BJ: The album in
nineteen eighty-eight which, which…’undred and sixty beats a
minute for forty minutes which was cut in two. Two, fourteen or
fifteen musicians, and it would start, true Jackson Pollock, as
I said. It, it, it was um…a sort of collective improvisation
over a beat.
But at the same time it wasn’t, I kind of, had it all pre-planned and directed it. Ah…two drummers, two guitarists chattering away, three or four horns, percussionist, string section…which was put on later but I knew that was going on there…Um, so your setting up a Jackson Pollock-esque, continuous piece of work. When you’re recording you know what you wanna hear. But then you might hear…someone else. And on one of the albums, True Love Collection.
BJ: Ah…s’ 'Dancing In The Street', Dave Ramm the old keyboard player was playing this really quite crap outro on his organ of block chords. And, but there was something really exiting about it so I, so I made him orchestrate it for horn section. And so it just becomes that completely mad…but then I decided I had marching drums coming out of that, (laughs) sounding very bombastic and martial. Mad. So it’s always an ongoing process.
MJ: And so did the, find it, I just find it really, really interesting that, it’s the it’s the um…to me like the combination of…
BJ: (reaching for notes) I wanna read this. See what he’s peeled off. S’this off a web-site?
MJ: (whilst BJ reads printed notes) Yeah, there’s a few things off web-sites, and a few things that I’ve written down. Few notes. But um, when you fuse together all, all these really kind of influential ah, s…s…I suppose styles and structures. You kind of balance it out with um, lyrically with er, with, with, with sort of, sort of extraordinary tales of the ordinary. You know, sort of, it has a way of kind of, um, creating like an equilibrium. It, it sort of, it brings the whole this, it, it sort of grounds it. D’you see what I mean? It sort of grounds it and I think the, it’s that, I mean certainly is that one of the reasons why you did decide to do, uh, more, uh, Blues stuff? Because it’s got this, in it, in it’s nature it’s got this kind of, ‘s a very sort of, ahm, sort of ah, I don’t know if stoic’s the right word? But you can, you can sort of, you can take it as a sort of, sort of, sort of, thing. It’s very malleable; you can go anywhere with it.
BJ: Yes. It’s my vehicle for mid-life cruising.
BJ: Ahm, I can’t answer what you said, ‘cause I was. Is that Richard Russell’s amazing, the guy that writes sometimes on the web-zine.
BJ: He’s, he’ a classical composer.
MJ: Oh, yeah.
BJ: I feel quite an awful. He’s done written about three sss, symphonies, but he’s not worried about hearing them.
BJ: Incredibly intelligent guy.
MJ: Bit like that with my paintings, or, or my writing. Not, not my writing so much. I (laughs) like to see my writing published.
BJ: That’s just you’re way of making a…
MJ: Bread and butter.
BJ: Small income.
MJ: But the painting uh, I either do a painting, if I do a painting. If I sell it, it doesn’t make sense, it’s like, what’s that about? Selling. Selling that?
BJ: Ah, ‘cause we were discussing this about exhibiting. How do you feel about exhibiting?
MJ: Uh, it’s kinda like walking in to a room with your pants down.
BJ: See? ‘Cause
Jill: What do you mean, “See?”
MJ: Knowing that no one will see anything.
BJ: No, didn’t I say that I know, painters that know. But I’ve met painters that hate to exhibit and they weren’t sure about that.
Jill: No, you were specific about doing them…
MJ: You’ve got to be careful with things like that, I mean I’ve, I thought about saying it to people before, “Oh no, I’m not going to go down to the private view and things like that. But the, the sort of reputation that you get instantly for not turning up at your own first private view…is, is, it’s just…
BJ: What, you must, you mustn’t turn up or?
MJ: Well, uh, I think turn up but, you know, maybe…orchestrate the evening to uh, make sure that you never have to turn up to another (laughs).
BJ: So that’s the, does the thought of exhibiting scare the crap out of you then?
MJ: Uh, no it doesn’t
scare me. It’s just, for instance the first exhibition I had
were paintings of pig’s heads. Five paintings of pigs heads,
that I got from my local butcher, now…I’ve always been
interested in things like um, like seventeenth century Spanish
still life. Like Bodegones and stuff like that, like, the
portrait and the inanimate object. The moving and the not
moving. I’ve always been interested in things like that. It a,
um, pictures that, that insinuate movement, in any, in any way.
Like the Carravaggio ‘Taking of Christ’, which is an arrow
basically. It’s going that way (draws arrow in the air). That’s
all it is, and you just think, ‘My God!’
I sat in the Royal Academy looking at this for ages just looking at thins thing just mo, just edge along the wall. Well, it seemed to. But uh, yeah I just painted, it’s when you’re, when you’re up at night at three or four in the morning and you can see the sun come up. And your still painting these bloody pigs head. And then you’re in a gallery, and there’s loads of people coming up to you. It’s like you were saying about causing the friction thing I deliberately got a friend of mine who’s a writer to write something completely fictional about every single piece in that gallery. He, he, wrote that when he met me I was gazing into a butchers shop window in Guatemala. And that I now, I now paint um, life studies of the terminally ill and all sorts of sladerish things about me which I’d given him free reign to do. But what it did do, which was a really good thing about this, is that anybody who came up to talk to me about my paintings would say, “So tell me, tell me about these terminally ill people.”
MJ: And of course, it’s just fun. I would start saying to them, “Well it’s you know, it’s just, it’s just…
Jill: (amused) You can tell them stories and they go and tell these stories, ha ha!
MJ: And it’s just a huge, sort of, falsity (laughs). And the only true thing is the paintings on the wall and there’s nothing to say about them. I can’t say anything about them. I’ve absolutely no idea. What can you say to someone, “Oh, yeah…I spent…a year, up…’till four o’clock in the morning painting pigs heads.” You know, it’s hardly an explanation. It’s like um, you know, do you have Broadmoor’s number? (laughs) You know.
BJ: So what would happen if um, someone says, “I want to buy that collection,” then? And here’s ten thousand quid?
MJ: Well, it’s weird, when I, before I, um, put the exhibition up. ‘Cause I worked on it for a year, and I paint very like um, I really like Velazquez and Carravaggio. Always have, just like that economy of…visual imagery.
BJ: Ah, reference please, that book.
Jill: Velazquez was
the one that, it’s that picture of the dwarfy princess in the
BJ: It’s quite a, sort of, hall …like room.
MJ: It’s weird though, how people will price their work…
Jill: (interrupting, singing correct pronunciation of Velazquez) Vel-ath-geth
MJ: To, to size, yeah. That’s, that’s.
BJ: That’s the wank.
MJ: That’s quite incredible.
BJ: Yea, yeah. That’s right.
MJ: Las Meninas. In fact, I’ve, I’ve gotta go to Madrid soon. ‘Cos I always go over there whenever I can and, sort of, it’s like a, it’s like my Mecca.
Jill: Oh is it?
MJ: (laughs) Which is a really pretentious thing to say.
Jill: No, no, no, not at all.
BJ & MJ: (both talking together, unable to understand either statement)
BJ: Who was that one you went to see? Ca-Carrachi?
Jill: And didn’t he lived a very colourful life?
MJ: He did live a very colourful life, same as Titian. Titian and all his orgies. But it’s, it’s strange, ‘cause I had the new, I had the new, when you’re, when you’re in the world where you’re. It just seems so conflicting when you’re in the world where you’re really passionate about your…music or…your art, you’re doing something, in comparison to anything else, is pretty insane really. I mean, how many other people do you know that sit in garages ‘till four in the morning painting dead pigs heads? I don’t, I didn’t find it pleasant. ‘Cos I’d have to (cough), sort of get them out of the freezer and stuff and it was awful, and leave them there and sort of, let ‘em defrost for a bit, it’s ‘orrible. But I had this thing to do, I thought to myself, I’ve gotta do it, gotta do it for some reason. It’s like Richard Dreyfuss sat at the table carving a mountain out of mash potato. It’s, like, possessed sort of. But something you gotta do.
BJ: Gotta do it.
MJ: And uh, it wasn’t, I mean, pigs heads were just all I could get. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t let me have uh sheep that I was gonna get ‘cause of Goya, ‘cause I really like Goya’s work as well.
MJ: (laughs) In fact, I phoned up an abattoir once and uh, said, “Nah, sorry mate you can’t get hold of any sheep’s head ‘cos of the BSE”, he said, “What I’ll do though, is I’ll tell you where we keep out waste bin and you can come ‘round at three in the morning and have a rummage through, you might be lucky, you might find a dead sheeps head in there.” Thought, ‘Yeah, I might a lot, some other stuff in there!’ Thanks for the tip mate!
MJ: It’s, I phoned the gallery up and said, you know, “It’s getting quite close to the show now. How much does, how much do paintings of dead pigs heads go for?”
BJ: Was this a commercial gallery you were showing at?
MJ: (plane roars
overhead) Well, they became a commercial gallery. The thing is
when they started showing the pigs heads they were trying to
change to be a commercial gallery. So we had…big run-in’s about
that, ‘cause they were, they said “You’ve got to paint something
that’s more…less hard-nosed…It’s got to be more commercial”
Said, “I’ve got an idea, I’ve got an idea. Outside the butchers
shop in my local, my local butchers shop they’ve got this
wonderful tacky, plastic statuette of a, of a pig in a butchers
If I could run past there, nick it at high speed, take that home and paint it. Instead of that, sort of glossy and all that. Dou you reckon that would be less hard nosed?” And this was to a top London gallery as well. They’re stood in front of me, they’d invited me down for an interview. And they were sort of saying, “Oh, yeah. We really like your work but you’ve got to be less hard nosed,” and I came back with that. The guy that had turned me on to them, looked at me and was sort of: no, don’t say that. But why? Why can’t I? You can’t sort of turn ‘round to me and talk about my obsession and say “You’ve got to be less obsessed.” It’s impossible.
Jill: Hm. Hm. Hm.
MJ: It’s just impossible. It’s impossible to put a price on it too. They came up with the price. They said, “Because of the size and because of the way you painted it, that’s all. A grand.
BJ: For each picture?
Jill: So it’s almost like per square inch?
MJ: (laughing) Yeah. It’s weird.
BJ: They took sixty percent?
Jill: How do you value a painting?
BJ: It’s weird, ‘cos
they had that strange ‘Best Of British Sit-coms” on the
telly…which was a bit…one sided, but it raised these various
questions like, it didn’t matter how long…it didn’t matter how
long or short the series was, it still made, the brilliance
was…apparent. You know, for example “Fawlty Towers” was only
twelve episodes, “(Only) Fools and Horses” was…eight ‘undred and
twenty seven or something (laughs).
MJ: (laughs) Yeah.
BJ: Yeah. It’s mad. Mad. So does that mean people make bigger paintings?
MJ: Oh yeah, I mean I’ve, there’s, there’s such a, sort of intricate web of ah, rubbish all with massive price tags on it.
Jill: Oh I’m so…pleased to hear you say that!
MJ: Well, it’s just like everything now, I mean, its, its, it can’t be. No one should be surprised by seeing, I mean like, three years ago I reckon you could walk around. Three, well, I’d say four, to be on the safe side, you could walk around east London, and you could pretty much guarantee that if you went into five or six galleries you’d see big portraits. (laughs) Big portraits were really, really, it’s like, you know, retro’s of Andy Warhol, like, “I’ll do big portraits now, ‘cos it in yer face!” That was the big thing then. ‘Course, I s’pose I could be accused off ripping off Damien Hirst if Damien Hirst hadn’t ripped off somebody else (laughs), in the first place.
Jill: There’s nothing new there, is there.
MJ: No. No it’s not. Oh, I don’t, I think it’s interesting personally. I don’t like it, but I find some, some of his stuff interesting. But I think there’s a lot of stuff around that’s just really, um, hell of a lot of stuff around that’s really, uh, it’s more um, well it’s echoing the fact that the main…the main er…how would you say er…benefactor…Saatchi’s got such a huge media background. Consequently all the art that surrounded by that. That kind of lifestyle, it’s got that kind of, almost like um, it’s going back to the sixties, through advertising and marketing. There’s a sort of, there’s an unhealthy dollop of marketing in art. Huuuge dollop of it, which doesn’t look right. It’s not obsessive enough, it’s not single minded, it’s not, it’s almost not. It’s a crazy thing and it’s going to sound crazy, in a way and (laughing whilst speaking) I’m not the one being interviewed but…
Jill: But we’re going to be writing a very good article about you.
BJ: Yeah. I could sell it.
MJ: It’s almost gotta be like, suicidal in a way. I know it sounds crazy…
Jill: (interrupting) What in order for it to…
MJ: You can’t care what the outcomes gonna be.
MJ: You can’t sort of do it and think, ‘cos I’ve fallen into that trap before, I’ve fallen into that trap before of doing thing ‘cos that’s what I’ve thought that someone else was gonna like. I know I did it when I was young, ‘cause I was, you know, wouldn’t walk past mirrors for years afterwards, just in case I caught a glimpse of this hunched over, wretched person. The Nosferatu of the, sort of, commerical world.
MJ: It’s horrible, I
can’t stand it.
BJ: But… was it a sudden realisation or quick realisation or…
MJ: No, immediate. ‘Cause nothing comes from that, there’s nothing in that. People say do this, I can’t.
MJ: I always get books sent to me, new fiction, review this. Even that, that’s really hard. You can’t do it unless it’s something you wanna do.
MJ: It’s almost as though, you don’t know how to do it. And I’ve been caught in that situation before where I’ve thought. ‘Cause I could paint you (BJ) and it would look like, I could leave it in a room and it will be, sort of like, you’re there. And it won’t be like a photorealist thing. It’ll just have a thing about it. I don’t know, I don’t know how I do it. If someone asks me to do it it’s difficult. Funny thing, portraiture. It’s like if you don’t want to do something, it’s very difficult to do. It’s actually impossible to do it.
BJ: That’s where you do admire the good commercial artists. Be it visual field or, or, aural field.
MJ: Admire them?
BJ: Yeah, if those that do it well. Uh, the top pop producer, not that you might want to listen to what they do, but they, they believe it. And the good commercial, visual artist believes it obviously.
BJ: Like hand turning ‘round quick.
MJ: Well, I think, I think a lot of, the, in the art world, a lot of the things that work are praying on people’s interests. And that’s why I like seventeenth century painting, I go back to the seventeenth century and uh, before then. Only because I’m cleaning away the paint layers. ‘Cause I know, I can look at a painting now and know how it was done, like a Rubens or something like that. I could probably tell you where it started and where he’s finished. Because that’s what I was obsessed with. You are it, or sometimes it’s more you than you sometimes. It’s scary, but that’s what has to happen.
BJ: Give us your thoughts on the guy with the, the, Jack, what’s his name? The, the one that sells loads of postcards. Scottish guy. Jack Vanlent…
BJ: D’you know of him?
BJ: No, I’ve gotta…
Jill: (to BJ as he flicks through a to z of art book) I don’t know if he’s in there, he’s very commercial.
BJ: (scrunches off to garage)
Jill: And he’s not very well respected, ‘cause he’s been used on postcards.
BJ: (scrunching back
from garage with postcard) This is the piece, and I, I, I
remember I really liked that when I saw it in Waitrose, he’s big
time now. They say he Britain’s highest (paid) artist. It’s the
old layman’s thing, you can see, you can see all the old
MJ: Hmm. See I’d really say that that was really mechanical. I’d say he could probably chuck out about a hundred of them a week.
BJ: Bet he does.
Jill: Well that’s probably why he’s getting paid so…
MJ: So successful.
MJ: ‘Cause he’s doing so well at it. I find it scary though. I, I, I find it scary when individuals are able to, sort of, do something. It’s almost, sort of, contrary to what is pleasurable. And it appeals to a mass audience. That’s surely, I mean, I always, maybe I’m weird like that, but I like sitting down and listening to Anton Webern, certain feeling you know, when you listen to it it’s almost as though everything peels away and it’s gone and it don’t matter anymore. It’s just so…airy and spacey, there’s just so much there. And it’s, but it’s got all this air in it. Just think, ‘how the hell does that work?’ it’s beyond me and that’s why everything peels away.
BJ: Are you, ah, we’re, we’re ah, fascinated with the different mediums, the visual and aural. D’you…who’s closer to God? The sound person…or the painter?
MJ: It’s the, it’s the, it’s the person. It’s the person, it’s the trad, it’s the language you speak. Because I get this feeling that’s incredible. First time was Beethoven…ah…it was a collection of minuet’s, I’m not sure, but it was just, it just took me away. He’d constructed a piece so that it actually achieved…altitude. And I remember actually sort of…
BJ: How old were you?
MJ: This was six…years ago.
MJ: And was sort of actually lifting out of my seat and I realised that the music was doing it. And that really moved me, and I became conscious of it. Like that Velazquez painting, when I first saw that in Madrid I walked in the room and thought, ‘what are all those people doing in costume?’ Seemed like the room went through. You looked at it more a realised that, no, they don’t look real, they do look real. And it’s like, are they moving or what? And the whole paintings going in a circle. And you’re suddenly catching yourself all the time. You’re doing it because someone’s a genius.
BJ: It’s good that. How big is the work?
MJ: The, Las Meninas one? It’s very big one, it’s um (looks through book), it’s um, really, really big. (looking through ‘a-to-z of art book’) Yeah they said it’s three point one by two point seven meters. ‘Undred and twenty-seven, by an ‘undred and eight inches.
BJ: Which makes it?
MJ: Which makes it probably about…
MJ: Shed-wise (laughs), it’s probably about, one...
End of side one.
MJ: I’ve had trouble getting ‘round to how the cracks appear. But Velazquez is a good example of a tech, real technical person but a lot of his stuff is really impressionistic. Which is why, I find that really appealing in anything. Anything that can have a, anything that can have a deep um, innate, almost innate sense of er, structure and technique and yet had the bravery to have that fluidity about it. I suppose that’s what I like about your music. Is that, it’s got that, it’s got those flurries of um, of, of looseness which is just like, oh, just like cool breeze sort of thing. It’s really nice.
BJ: Except for that down, as you say, under, under, underpinning classical technique.
MJ: It holds it all together. I just, I just find it fascinating how. ‘Cause the reason I was linking it with storytelling was, I just found it fascinating, you know, um, if I get fascinated by something I get really into it.
BJ: ‘Cause you er, so how long’s your um, obsession with performance and stand-up comedy?
MJ: Um, I think it’s been for a while. Been like, I’ve been writing for years. But properly for, maybe, three. Performance I suppose, I’ve always performed, I always played music, played with…weirdo bands before, really weirdo bands before. But like…
BJ: But comedy though, how longs that been going.
MJ: Comedy’s been going…since last Saturday in Brixton. (laughs)
BJ: So it’s you current obsession?
MJ: It’s my current obsession.
Jill: What’s it sort of stand –up?
MJ: It’s not so much stand –up, it’s more kind of like um, d’you get that story I sent ya?
BJ: Ah, yes. We have
a question for you. How can you get fourteen-year-old girls in a
MJ: I dunno. (laughs) That, that was all that was in the trolley. That, that was all that was in the trolley, ‘cause it was just her and pushing around her um, her burden. She couldn’t get anything else in the trolley.
BJ: Is this true. True story?
MJ: Well, it’s true yeah. I’ve seen it loads of times (laughs).
BJ: ‘Cause see, technically, you couldn’t get fourteen-year-old twins in a trolley, having had twins.
MJ: It’s the image, it’s just the image. Like really sort of crammed in there, sort of, can’t fit anything else in.
Jill: It’s really, ooh, it’s really surreal.
MJ: But it’s like, I know, I know people who play like um, a couple of people who play just sort of like…pubs, go ‘round playing Blues from the fifties to the seventies or something like that and it’s, the characters were those guys…
Jill: What, you were doing?
MJ: Bottom's just dropped out and they’ve just sort of, try and find some soul somewhere! So he finds this guy who’s about eighty years old. H-bomb Ferguson is a real guy, obviously.
BJ: D’you know of Stewart
BJ: Do you know Stewart Lee?
MJ: Stewart Lee, no.
BJ: Lee & Herring?
BJ: Might be you’re sort of thing. He wrote the Jerry Springer Opera, and…it’s been on telly. And he’s a stand-up comedian and he’s done his novel and, I dunno. Thought you might know him.
Jill: So what, are you saying that you play this character?
MJ: No, well. I sort of. Well it’s difficult because it all comes down to how you deliver it, present it to people. It can be a great story. But I suppose you can, well, listen to me now, you can hear I’m like, maybe-come-across-as-being-a-little-too-mono-tone-not-going-up-or-down-just-going-out-and-out-and-out and the story ends, thanks very much.
MJ: So I went to Brixton. It was like um, I, loads of Jamaican people. Natural meter in their voice, natural dynamic, and it was like, the perfect place for me to start.
MJ: There, there’s me, sitting (laughs) up on stage, with the greyest story I knew.
BJ: Was it a storytelling or was it a comedy?
MJ: Yeah, it was a storytelling. Storytelling…this was a, this was a performance thing, it was like a slam performance, it’s a, was like lot’s of poetry, music and…reggae and stuff like that. But I’d…had a lot, couple of colourful stories in my pocket which I coulda done. But rather than try, I suppose what you were saying, ‘course, what you were saying about friction, I thought, ‘what’s the greyest story I’ve got? What is the most…sort of, ugly story I’ve got?’ Because frankly, the other performers…were…far…far better looking, far better sounding. Just everything about their performance was better. But I felt like my stories were good, but it wasn’t the point, it didn’t matter. There has to be some kind of delivery there and it has to be good, and I can’t do that, I can’t, I haven’t got a natural meter in my voice so there’s no way I’m going to be able to. (laughs) I can’t just go up there and pretend to have a meter in my voice that’s not there. So I, what I did was, I listen to Woody Allen sometimes, Woody Allen, his stand-up stuff in the late fifties. That conversational tone almost. That’s about as close as I am ever gonna get to including the audience in what I actually say. There’s no way I’m going to be able to…(laughs) inject some kind of faux Caribbean sound.
MJ: So, it’s been, sort of, conversational. That’s about as close as I’d get, I reckon.
BJ: So, the actual stand-up act…is coming.
MJ: I’m gonna, I’m gonna do some later…today.
Jill: Oh are you?
BJ: Where’s that?
MJ: Poetry Café, Betterton Street in Covent Garden.
Jill: Oh right.
MJ: Haven’t done it, haven’t done it…
BJ: Down in the
BJ: Pretty tiny, you know that?
BJ: Which is awkward.
MJ: Yeah it is.
BJ: It’s harder, harder. Does everyone stand up? ‘Cause presumably people just stand up and do it where their standing do they or?
MJ: I dunno.
BJ: I’ve been for a meeting down there but…
MJ: That’d be like um, crabs in the sand, popping up and telling some short story, up and down yeah.
BJ: Uh, is there anything more to, ‘cause we could talk all night.
MJ: Um, I don’t think so. I think, I mean. I was, I was going to ask you about the um, that Buster Keaton soundtrack.
BJ: Yea, yep.
MJ: But, I mean I
think…from what you’ve been telling me about. There’s quite,
it’s sort of evident from what you’ve been telling me about your
processes what would make you, why, why obviously you did that.
But I was gonna ask you just to…sort of expand a little bit on
that Buster Keaton, ‘cos it’s the Huw, er…
BJ: Huw Warren.
MJ: Huw Warren…
MJ & BJ: Piano score.
BJ: I improvised as Buster. I just worked with Buster's…imagery.
BJ: Played to that.
BJ: And I think it works well, I think I don’t like, er, re-scored music for the silent issue, free, free. And I think he’s (Warren) done that just right he’s got enough themes in it.
MJ: (interrupting) So, so it was a live performance?
BJ: Oh yeah.
MJ: You just…do it.
BJ: Be live to it. Uh…yeah, I mean I’ve, I improvise with films anyway, I quite enjoy it.
MJ: Yeah. Jamming along to films.
BJ: Mmm. And it’s
this trick of the eye and ear really, ‘cause…I used to work the
Kino Club, David Leister the filmmaker.
And he’s skilled with putting two or three 16mm films on top of each other at the same time. And a classic example is you’d have a public information…film on how to decorate, superimposed on ah, sixties footage of skyscrapers being demolished. So you’ve got blokes hanging wallpaper and, (does explosion sound with mouth) poow, poow!
MJ: (laughing) Yeah.
BJ: Or having fifties scram, motorcycle scramblings superimposed with amoebas.
BJ: It’s like I say, go, and it’s really important improvising to that. Your eye just picks up on something and, you might hear that sound and pick up on something else. So that’s that.
MJ: Yep. Pretty good.
MJ: That’s great. Thanks very much.
End of interview.