Billy Jenkins with the Fun Horns of Berlin

The Dick Ward interview

In 1996, as part of the press pack, local journalist Dick Ward asked Billy Jenkins what East/West is all about.

    dw : I really like The Carpenters. Why is your version of 'Close To You,' so...er, to be frank - pretty crap?

  bj :  Listen. You're born and raised (most of the time) in one spot. You only know and thus accept your immediate environment. Then some bastard ruins the idyll by a) making you aware of the clock and b) teaching you to read and write.

So, if you have a choice, you attempt to remain ignorant or accept that some form of education will be to your advantage. But the truth is, naive or not, you'll just get shafted anyway - which I find hugely humorous. I think it's called 'life'.....

  dw :     Could you answer my question please?  

bj :        In the general scheme of things, questioning the interpretation of a Bacharach/David song borders on the edge of farce, but as you press me..... Here we have some English musicians - who were one day going about their profession you know, making people dance, smile, cry - usual mucky music stuff when an arts outreach dude in Berlin (or to be precise the old East Berlin) by the name of Wolf-Peter Stiftel whose brief was to 'culturally outreach' with other countries thought - 'Mmmm, those crazy Fun Horns of Berlin should work with the thrashy trashy whatever Englisher guitarist dude...' So he sat down with my coordinator Oliver Weindling and they mapped out a way forward.  

            Now in as good as twenty five years of professional music activities I've heard and seen many horrendous 'cultural collaborations'. Collaborations born in the boardroom by arts administrators who are not certainly artistic.

Fire cannot be made by selecting two pieces of wood. It's how they rub against each other...

dw :  Oh I see, the analogy of wood - hence The Carpenters...?

bj :        Er....I hadn't thought of that one, Dick, I must say.  

Listen. Some English dudes, some East German dudes. Fortunately we all speak music.  So you've got some raised in capitalism, some in communism. Both ideologies are systems - within which the person operates. The 'successful' person is the one who works the system well - but one does that at the expense of individualism. Compromise. And of course those little short cuts like deception, lyin', cheatin' and two- faced underhand stuff.....               So we get thrown all together in a studio for the first time. If you got ' Close To You' sweet as a sugar substitute slimming aid that would be 'playing the system' - lyin' an' cheatin' and stuff. So as I don't lie much ou got '(Not) Close To You'....  

dw :     With hindsight, do you have any other thoughts about The Carpenters?

  bj :        Yes. If Mama Cass had invited Karen Carpenter to dinner more often they might both be alive today.  

dw :     So you start East/West badly. But does it actually get, er, 'better?'

  bj :        Listen, if you're stuck with something you learn to cope with it. You make the best of what you can, but to be frank sudden nationalistic changes (and don't forget all of Germany is very regionalised) are really quite a pisser.

              You got the presumed poor cousins from the East who for years corresponded with their more presumed affluent relations in the West. Suddenly, the worst thing imaginable happens, They are free to meet. But all of a sudden the Western side don't want to know their less wealthy relations. This is happening to many families....

dw :     Ahh, I think I'm getting the picture now. Two societies Not Close Together (so to speak). Then the Wall Comes Down, people start to Wander, and the little Trabants head west. You meet in a suitable social spot, like a restaurant or something and realise that you're only human for flip's sake so you all start grooving together at the Club Reunification disco, then you all get rat-arsed together and plan optimistically the Hopes for the future. But then come the Fears of inevitable manipulation by some form of stratagem or system - which will ultimately affect one's children. And then.....and then you sing 'What A wonderful World' ironically.....

bj :        No, that's how I normally sing.

  dw :     Well, I must say at that point I lose the plot again.

bj :        That's because it's finished.  

dw :     Er, forgive me if I'm wrong, there's a huge classical medley which, if you don't mind me saying, is more 'Hooked On Drugs' than 'Hooked On Classics'.....

bj :        We can only observe and comment on such social upheaval from our position as musicians. The manipulation of the Muse by administrators mirrors   the control of people by politicians. It would be stupid to think that art and music in this case is a greater issue than social reality. We can only contribute to the debate. Therefore, having musically illustrated the coming together (and speaking as a reluctant small town boy closet xenophobe, I feel the VOGC/Fun Horns a rather triumphal coming together) of two different cultures, it is only right that we put this into a context that we fully understand by adding, in effect, an alternative - yet parallel - conclusion.

dw : But the conclusion appears that you end up er.., 'somewhat distressed.'

  bj :        Artistry tramples over the frame it inhabits.                        Left to it's own devices the 'carrier' can learn to cope with it. When the Muse must be forced through financial necessity it can do terrible things to your mind, your health - not nice for those Close to You (there, I said it again!).

            And when the Muse is forced, what do we get? Competence. But the sad fact is, when one is manipulated or sucked into capital or state dependency, competence becomes a recognisable baby blanket - individuality is seen as a threat. But I've met many, many musicians and music business people and do you know, I can't think of one that could be considered a 'threat' to society - except, perhaps, those who mistake their competence for artistry!  

dw : But to me, it sounds like you can all play, but you're 'mucking about.'

  bj :        You like the Carpenters, Dick. You probably have a disposable income. You can leave your work, come home and relax. You have weekends off. You can afford those strange things they call 'holidays.' To you art is by necessity something 'nice' - a pleasure. You have your 'shit' at work (for which you put up with to receive your wages). You probably believe in God and dismiss natural and manmade calamities as anything other than what they are. You are the one who learnt to tell the time and to read and write - and you still can and still are.  

            The artist never leaves work. We carry it all the time. And after maybe nine hours of shaken around travelling, little but fast food, indifferent coffee that exasperates the mouth ulcers and worn car seats that chafe your piles caused by years of stressful arrival-time-restricted travel one picks up your instrument. Are you gonna hear dross? No - you're gonna hear joy. Triumph over adversity. Not mucking about. It's the joy of living, the joy of surviving, Dick.  

dw :     Do you think I could learn to like 'East/West?'  

bj :        It's powerful music, Dick. You don't hear much 'unadulterated music these days. There's so much noise today the ear has to shut off - which is why most popular music is so bland, otherwise the assault on the senses would be too much. But give it a chance. For fuck's sake - scientologists use The Hubbard (registered) Super VII E-Meter (trademark) with electrodes and stuff. To 'improve' your life!?  Give yourself to this music and I assure you that regular concentrated doses will rid you of 'soul-searching,' 'life-enhancement' and give you a healthy disregard for religious mumbo-jumboism.  

dw : But you sound just like all the others - 'Buy My Product'...

  bj :        Do I? That's great! Maybe at last I'm learning to sell in the market place. So, Dick. Now that I've given you a load of verbal bollocks - as a journalist, where are you going to sell it, eh?  

dw :     So we're just like all the others?

bj :        Yup, human and first thing in the morning we all smell funny.  

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