Interview: John Robb - Goldblade
..Last time I interviewed you things were bleak. Labour was in power and being absolute bastards with illegal wars, PFI, ID cards, etc. Then along came the Tories to remind us that things could still get worse! Despite all the vicious attacks on the poorest in society, the so called opposition are doing fuck all about it - and in the case of workfare actually backing up fascist lunatic IDS. What hope for the future?
..John) You have to hope, if you get bogged down in bitterness and fear you will get beaten! But saying that, times are tough and the world seems to get meaner. This is sort of reflected in the new GOLDBLADE album, The Terror Of Modern Life. There seems to be eternal war, the recession is biting deep and the Tories are picking on the people at the bottom; it's like a rerun of the 70s except the people running the show all seem to be fans of THE CLASH or The Smiths now! We have to get some kind of sense of community and less of the dog eat dog.
What can we as musicians do? We can campaign, make a noise, empower but ultimately there's only so much a Rock n Roll band can do. We can dance about the apocalypse, sing about the end times but we still want people to have a good time when they come to see us. There are things that need to be said but we can't pretend we have the answers for the economic meltdown but we can always say we knew it was coming a long time ago but no-one was listening.
..The new album is very varied; heavy tribal KILLING JOKE style guitars on one song, late 70s white Reggae (a la CLASH) on another and even an almost Prog Rock number at the end Was this what you were aiming for? Any particular influences?
..John) We wanted to make a heavier and darker record; that's just the way we felt at the time but we are still in love with melody so that stayed in there. It's a bit like the late 70s - dark times making for darker records. If you're sensitive to what's going it's going to get reflected in there. We can't pretend it's not happening and make music that fits into the cliched niche of alternative or the comfy world of modern Punk Rock. We just can't compromise our music or our art for anything. Saying that you can still jump around to it, probably even more than before because its more powerful and got more energy than before.
We realise the title track is not for everyone but Punk was always about no compromise. Interestingly enough, it's also a lot of people's favourite track so far... and you can't get more Punk Rock than a song that splits opinion! I guess we will always make varied music because we listen to lots of different music and it all feeds into our creative DNA. We still love our rabble-rousing anthems and they are still on there and we still love post-Punk twists and turns and we still love Reggae and it's all bound to end up on there without any deliberate design.
..What happened to Johnny Skullknuckles? Last I saw he was in THE LEAGUE? Introduce us to his replacement.
..John) He's got his own thing going now which I'm sure will be great. He was in the ANTI NOWHERE LEAGUE and then THE BUSINESS and it just got too complicated trying to fit everything in! He still has the clothes shop with Kathy in Manchester. His replacement is Andy Taylor who we have known since our first album which he engineered and he has worked on most of our records. He has played in bands like Strawberry Blondes and has been a friend of ours for 16 years - seemed an obvious replacement. It's been brilliant to have him in the band; he engineered the new album and did a great job of it whist I had the sort of producer hat on. By producing and engineering it ourselves we got the album to sound the way we wanted, we finally got the bass sound we always wanted - heavy, tough, gnarled and we got all the rough edges in there without making it messy. It's not a safe record and it's not a tame record.
..Tell us about your website Louder Than War. What does it cover?
..John) All music and all pop culture... I'm the boss but we have several editors and loads of writers so it's quite open to what gets covered on there. Obviously Punk and assorted scenes are covered a lot on there and we will write about bands that don't get written about very much or who are beyond fashion. We are all massive music fans so write about whatever moves us - sometimes that can be big bands, sometimes it can even be hip bands! There are no rules and we operate under own own instinct. We will cover new bands and old bands and we sometimes get campaigning for things - like trying to sort out the visa problem for UK musicians going to America where we ended up meeting the American embassy and making some headway with them; or making a series of big gigs supporting the NHS (UK National Health System) maybe happen in July 2013 to celebrate the anniversary of the NHS, although they are not quite confirmed yet. We also release stuff by new bands now and then... It's just a massive extension around the musical narrative that goes on around my life and it's got really big and we run it out of iPhones and iPads as we run up and down the country doing stuff and make no money out of it like lunatics.
..John at Overground Recs said you are planning some big gigs in defence of the NHS. Tell us about that.
..John) Just mentioned that! It's not quite confirmed yet but if it comes of it will be pretty big. The most important thing is to make a big statement, who performs is less important than celebrating a brilliant idea that has been in decay for some time. The NHS is one of the great things about the UK and the people who work there like the nurses are under-paid and under-valued and we want to celebrate them as well.
..Do you think we have reached a new low when people arent even angered about privatisation of that?
..John) People are not happy but they feel powerless and they don't get all the information. For me, as a news junkie, it's not even a political issue; it's a moral and social issue... The question is do we want to look after each other or do we want dog eat dog where the big dogs have already been decided? We have to look after the sick and the old, that's just being human and not being awkward or strange like the Right Wing press want to make out. It shouldn't be revolutionary to care about our fellow travellers, it should be normal. It doesn't make us political and it doesn't make us sloganeering, it's an important part of our lives and we want to celebrate that.
..Hows the book - An Oral History - been doing? Were all the bands really helpful? Was anyone too high n mighty to be involved?
..John) The book keeps going! It's just come out in America and also Germany, Finland, Italy and about to come out in Japan next year, so it's getting a worldwide thing going on. It's great when it's translated into different languages. All the bands were really helpful and no one was unapproachable, even the interviews I didn't get were because I had run out of time trying to get hold of people, or they were in different countries etc... In the end there were 150 interviews in there.
..Do you think Punk has come full circle again? Back in the days of 76, bands toured the country playing to minuscule audiences that were a tiny fraction of that of covers bands. Today, we have people spouting off on Facebook what great Punks they were in the 80s yet never going to see any new bands. What gives?
..John) You can't repeat the impact of 1977. That was a quirk of history but that doesn't negate the power of the music now. A lot of the old bands still sound great and there are a lot of really good new bands as well. It's a folk music for these times - a real folk music that relates to the people who get it lives. People are welcome to relate to the music in any way that they want. If they prefer spending time on Facebook reminiscing then that's OK. Obviously if you are in a band you would welcome getting to a certain level just to make life easier and get more time to concentrate on being creative but if that doesn't happen then that's the way it is; it doesn't change how you write songs. This music has to be made and has to be released and we try and persuade people to like it.
..I think society as a whole has gone back decades. Not just the Tories trying to take us back to Victorian times but the general public lapping up everything the media throws at them, from Royal worship to all the divide and rule stuff about immigrants and benefit scroungers and this time there is no CLASH or PISTOLS or SPECIALS that ordinary kids can learn something from.
..John) You are right in a sense but I think at any time we could have been cynical about the establishment and their motives, and that would have been true in any decade. People complain about X Factor but New Faces and Opportunity Knocks were even bigger! The media has got crueller and as the recession bites deeper they are finding scapegoats. I don't think the general public lap everything up all the time, maybe they feel fed up and just want to escape and hope for the best. Weirdly, one of the songs on the album, 'Someone Stole My Brain' is about this. Sometimes it does seem that there are no obvious bands dealing in what's going on, but when you start looking, social comment is everywhere in music with people like Plan B carrying the mantle these days, even if its music you can't relate to there is still a message there.
..Some working class people somehow believe that UKIP are the answer if they happened to be reading this what would you say to them?
..John) I would say I understand their anger but not their solution. I can see how the truth can be bent round and people's emotions toyed with. People are scared of losing their jobs and are being told that they are losing their culture but one of the great things about the UK is that the culture is such a mish mash of other cultures from the potato coming from America to our mixed up language - it's too late to try and be 'pure' now whatever that means. Most people in the UK don't feel the way that UKIP or the Daily Mail hopes they do though and even if they feel fearful they can see the bigger picture. Saying that the people with the money should invest in the people in the forgotten towns, there's great potential in these places and its tragic that lives are broken because there is no genuine work despite what the right wing press or the Tories claim; the people trapped in these places are not 'welfare scrounges' they just don't get any opportunities. UKIP are the political equivalent of the Major in Fawlty Towers: normally they would be a joke but they are getting votes because people are looking for false prophets in these strange times. We kind of touch on this on a song from the new album called The Shaman Are Coming.
..How did you get the tour with The Misfits? Was it pay to play? DIRTBOX DISCO are fucking fantastic - you seen em prior to the tour?
..John) We love DIRTBOX DISCO. Obviously their gimmicks and madness is amusing but they also write really good Punk Rock songs and are going to be one of the big bands on the scene and power to them. We got the MISFITS tour because the promoter asked us to play four dates on it and so far we have done one date in Leeds and we had a great night. There was a good mosh pit and loads of people, who had not seen us before, coming up to chat afterwards.
..You played Brazil. I remember a Ross Kemp documentary where his bank account got raided just because he paid for petrol with his card! Hope you had better luck?
..John) We nearly played Brazil but it got postponed again!
..Also Russia - fuck!! I hope Putin didnt hear about it! What was that like? Was there mass support for PUSSY RIOT or are people too scared to make their views known?
..John) It's three years since we have been to Russia so it was before PUSSY RIOT. I'd imagine, and also from speaking to people over there, that they are not that well supported but initially the SEX PISTOLS were not that well supported in the UK were they? People misunderstand PUSSY RIOT and think that they are some sort of band; but they are a provocative art statement trying to make a point. There is a great film about them coming out in June which I chaired an event on in January. We played Russia three times and it was great for gigs, there is a huge Punk Rock scene out there, we supported a Russian Punk band in a stadium and there were 20,000 people; there is so much energy in the country. Did you know that Putin is a Beatles fan? Makes me wonder that! Was he a Lennon fan? Would he ban Lennon? It's all very confusing isn't it!?
..You also were the first band to play Algeria for 25 years which is not surprising when you hear tales like I read about in MRR of a bloke from a band importing "blasphemous" records from Japan then being called into customs for an interview - apparently he woulda got jail but they addressed the box slightly wrongly! Tell us about that.
..John) We were in Algeria for 18 hours so we couldn't form a direct opinion of the country but it was a mad weekend. On the Thursday I got the train to London to get the visas for the band and the embassy fucked them up. So I got the train back and flew out on Friday to play a gig in Dublin. At one in the morning the promoter, this brilliant woman called Amina, rang to say that she had got the Algerian government to open the embassy specially on Saturday morning so we could get our visas. We got the 5am plane from Dublin to London, I picked up the visas and then went to the airport and flew to Algeria. The airplane company lost our guitar and after loads of hassle we went straight to the venue and we were starving. They had a plate of nuts, 4 figs and one bottle of water on the rider! We then went on stage and played one of the greatest gigs we have ever done with the whole place going crazy - people knew our songs from YouTube so they were singing along. Amina gave us a late night guided tour round the city and we saw all the amazing wide French style streets and cops on every corner with machine guns. We then went back to the hotel and flew home. On Sunday night I thought I had dreamt the whole weekend!