Interview: Ian Glasper
Its an impressive CV: bassist in DECADENCE WITHIN, STAMPIN GROUND and, for a brief period, FLUX OF PINK INDIANS; founder of Blackfish Records; contributor to Terrorizer magazine; compiler and author of Burning Britain, The Day The Country Died and Trapped In A Scene - the comprehensive and definitive three-volume account of UK Punk and Hardcore in the 1980s published via Cherry Red. Ian Glasper is the owner of that CV and is a man who has put a lot of time, dedication and commitment into this thing we know as Punk Rock. With a fourth book on the horizon, this is what he had to say.
..Can you tell us of your earliest music memory? What were you listening to before Punk?
..Ian) Wow, my very first musical memory would probably be something like the ROLLING STONES, which my mum and dad would play all the time when I was a kid - might explain why Paint It Black is still one of my favourite songs! I also remember those horrible comedy records that you play a lot when you're a kid, like King Of The Cops! My first proper musical memories just prior to falling head over heels with Punk Rock, apart from all the disco shit that was rampant at the time, would be something like Runaway Boys by the STRAY CATS... I was eased into hardcore Punk by SQUEEZE and BLONDIE and the ANTZ. The ANTZ were the first proper band I saw live, on the Kings Of The Wild Frontier tour. I was inducted into Punk by my cousin Mobs and various mates, who quickly weaned me from UK SUBS to DISCHARGE!
..You recently completed your trilogy of books analysing the bands and labels of the 80s UK Punk scene. What inspired you to undertake such a massive task? Did you use any other books as a form of blueprint for what you wanted to achieve?
..Ian) The whole inspiration - apart from being sent endless books about the PISTOLS to review in Record Collector and thinking to myself, "When will someone write a book about REAL Punk music?" - was from Steve Blush's American Hardcore book. I wanted to dissect the UK's Eighties Punk scene just like he did with USHC. It seemed a very concise logical way to tackle such a massive subject.
..Was the original plan to do three volumes, or did it burgeon from a single idea to document one scene?
..Ian) It was only going to be one book originally, and would have included all the Anarcho bands alongside GBH, EXPLOITED, and DISCHARGE etc. but it soon became apparent it was going to be too much for one volume, so I hatched the idea of the trilogy probably about three-quarters of the way through the first book. It made sense to split some of those bands up, but the main consideration was just the size and price of the book if I'd kept it as one volume... no Punks I knew would be able to afford it anyway!
..How did Cherry Red get involved? How much influence did they have on the final aesthetic style of the books? I note there are subtle changes between each volume, rather than a formatted layout thats common to all three.
..Ian) Cherry Red was the obvious choice of publisher as it was willing to grant me virtually 100% artistic control and had a very solid understanding of the music I was writing about. I met with several publishers quite early on, long before the first book was published, and Cherry Red was by far the most supportive and helpful. I work closely with the design people when the book gets laid out etc. and have lots of input - for example I initially sent in rough designs for all three covers - front and back - and Cherry Red just got its art department to refine and tweak them until we were all happy with the finished look. I write the 'blurbs' for the back covers, I proof-read them myself, alongside Cherry Red's own proof-readers... I'm too possessive of the work to just hand it over and get on with the next book. I try to see it through to the very very end.
..Its interesting to see how each book increased in page count as the series progressed. Did the publication of each book lead to new contacts for the next? Did any contacts appear after the publication of their relevant volume? Given hindsight and all that you learned throughout the writing of the books, do you look back at Burning Britain and see things you would now change?
..Ian) Well, the fourth book looks set to be the biggest yet, so the increase in pages with each one you noted is certainly true! And yes, unfortunately, several people came out of the woodwork too late for inclusion, and several amazing pictures turned up days too late etc etc. Yes, Burning Britain could have been better - specifically I wanted Wattie and Big John from The EXPLOITED in there, but couldn't get either of them in time (and not for want of trying, believe me!) Looking back it would have been nice to have had Gabba and Chaos quoted in the CHAOS UK chapter too... but that's hindsight for ya! Once you're past deadline you're letting a lot of people down, including all the other bands in the book waiting patiently for it to come out, so you have to make the call to go without some of these people.
..How did you amass the information in the books? You use a lot of quotes for each band - did you contact the bands via email, or did you travel all over the country doing face-to-face interviews?
..Ian) I've used e-mail more and more, but still try to get a good percentage of face-to-face interviews in each book, as they really bring a great feel to the anecdotes etc. I've covered a lot of miles doing the interviews for the first three books, and I'm just starting the travelling cycle for book # 4 as we speak!
..Im guessing that, even though the books are in-depth accounts, you must have a lot of material left over. How much editing was done? Would you ever consider - even in a limited run - doing a kinda Glasper Files - The Outtakes of your favourite unused pieces?
..Ian) Mmm, I've waved goodbye to two hard drives since Burning Britain, and I'm not the most organised person when it comes to backing files up and stuff, so I'm not sure how many out-takes there are in existence these days... nice thought though! I had to edit down the interviews HEAVILY - I had 50,000 words just off Penny and Steve Igs (CRASS) - so there would have been a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor... I do have a pile of discs on my shelf that probably need opening and archiving properly.
..How come POISON GIRLS wasnt in The Day The Country Died? I read that you couldnt contact Vi Subversa - did you not consider even just a chapter overlooking the bands career? And what of some of the Oi!/Skinhead orientated bands - Im thinking mainly of THE OPPRESSED not being in Burning Britain while 4-SKINS was?
..Ian) Well, I freely admit that these books aren't perfect, and I agree The Day The Country Died would really have benefitted from an interview with Vi, but I had several people trying to reach her in Spain, and she wasn't that fussed about doing it, so it didn't happen in time. Likewise with The OPPRESSED, although they actually told me they couldn't be bothered to do the interview, which I was quite disappointed about really, seeing as they had such a positive message. I did feel with POISON GIRLS though that so many bands referenced them in the book anyway, you had a good feeling of their importance to the overall structure of the scene, and I included quotes about them, several pictures, a discography etc.
..I know labelling a band is always open to conjecture, but how did you define what band went into what book? While its obvious GBH should be in Burning Britain, CONFLICT in The Day The Country Died and RIPCORD in Trapped In A Scene, a band like INSTIGATORS could easily have been in Trapped In A Scene as well as The Day The Country Died - a double post even could have been feasible - and the same could be said of Irelands PARANOID VISIONS. Likewise OI POLLOI could be in either of the first two, as could PARTISANS and NO CHOICE.
..Ian) I've had this debate with people all over the place whenever we talk about the books, and I always say that as long as a band went in one of the three volumes, and their story was properly documented for posterity's sake, then I'd achieved my goal. I'm more concerned about the bands that didn't go in, like INFA RIOT, DEATH THREAT and POTENTIAL THREAT - all three of which couldn't be contacted in time.
..Good point about INFA RIOT - I totally forgot them also! Have you faced any criticism for including bands/ people with slightly questionable politics? Im thinking mainly of THE GONADS and 4-SKINS along with John Cato of ADMIT YOURE SHIT. Did you debate before going to print whether to include such inflammatory and retrogressive opinion? What about bands that you didnt necessarily like - there had to be some! Any chance you can name them? Ill proffer that I always thought NAPALM DEATH was a load of shite!!
..Ian) A few people raised an eyebrow or two, but I wasn't really interested in pretending these people never existed. They all played a part in shaping the scene, for better or for worse. There have been bands in all three volumes that I didn't really enjoy musically, but I've always tried to be very objective and give kudos where deserved if these bands have worked hard for the benefit of the scene. NAPALM DEATH is certainly an acquired taste, but I happen to love Scum (the fact that I saw those songs played live at the Mermaid hundreds of times might help account for my perspective) and there's no denying how influential they've been. As for John Cato, he's an interesting character, very intelligent and charismatic, and AYS were awesome, so there was no way I was going to write them out of the scene, regardless of John's politics. I credit the readers with enough intelligence to read about a differing political view to their own and make a sound judgement for themselves about what's right or wrong.
..Did any of those who you interviewed come over much better than you expected - larger than life even? Likewise, was anyone a let down? And were there any surprises about what some of those people have gone onto do with their lives? Are you sitting on any revelations that were just too juicy to go into the books?? C'mon Ian - dish the dirt!!
..Ian) I think one of ULTRA-VIOLENCE is now a solicitor, which is kinda ironic, given the name of the band and that their single was called Crime For Revenge, but basically any revelations I had, I put in the books! Probably the most shocking story was the one about the GENERIC singer... and if anyone doesn't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to go buy the book now, won't you? Ha!
No one really let me down, to be honest - once I got them talking, they generally wanted to contribute the best they could... after all, most of these bands will never have another book written about them, will they? I probably remember the following interviews most fondly though: TEST TUBE BABIES, CRASS, HERESY, DIRT, CONFLICT, GBH, SONS OF BAD BREATH (my sides are still hurting from that one!), ICONS OF FILTH... loads more too... talking of the ICONS... you asked about regrets earlier, and it would have been fantastic to have had Stig's opinions in the book, and we actually had a meeting scheduled, but it wasn't to be... thankfully his spirit still lives on in those awesome lyrics he wrote.
..What was the biggest obstacle you faced while writing the books? Did you ever get to the stage where you were almost ready to quit?
..Ian) The biggest obstacle is actually starting each volume - it's a huge commitment to set out on the task ahead, chasing up 100+ bands and writing/editing 300,000+ words... once the first paragraph is done though, it feels like you've started a snowball rolling, and it gets a little easier... you still have days - sometimes weeks! - where you can't face another evening on the keyboard (you just want to watch a film, godammit!) but you have to make sure you do something to forward the progress of the book - even if it's just chase up a correct caption for a photo or something! - every single day to maintain momentum.
..The Day The Country Died was accompanied by a documentary DVD (review here), compiled by TOXIC WASTEs Roy Wallace. What was your involvement in that, besides being an interviewee?
..Ian) Not much really, that was Roy's baby, I just helped and encouraged him as much as I could. It turned out pretty good though, right?
..What about the Trapped In A Scene CD? Was that your track listing? Im surprised that it omits SNUFF and disappointed theres no JOYCE MCKINNEY EXPERIENCE. How did you decide what was going to be included?
..Ian) Yes, mate, that's my tracklisting - I tried to include as much stuff as I could that was either unreleased, or never on CD before, but there were time restrictions, of course, and even a few copyright red tapes getting in the way... I wanted to give a good general overview of the scene, with some classic stuff for newcomers and some rarities for veterans... I'm still pretty pleased with it, but like we said earlier, hindsight is never a comfort, is it?
..Hah - totally - hindsight can suck! Coming off the books, how did your involvement with music writing occur? Did you start off as a zine writer/ editor? Im assuming you must have had some kind of experience as you are a regular contributor to Terrorizer. How did you start writing for them - and what do you contribute to those who may not have seen the mag?
..Ian) I started doing my own zine, Little Things Please Little Minds, back in the mid s, but that was only five issues and with a limited print run of about 500... then I landed the job with Terrorizer, mainly cos the editor at the time, Rob Clymo, ran a distro as well and I was always buying obscure shit off him and talking his ear off about Hardcore when I rang up to see if it had come in yet, so he asked me to write a Hardcore column for him, and I've been contributing ever since (201 issues and counting!)... I also did time reviewing for Record Collector, which stood me in good stead when approaching Cherry Red with Burning Britain - I had some credibility as a Punk historian from my time on Record Collector, haha!
..Youve also played in many bands, I guess most notably DECADENCE WITHIN and STAMPIN GROUND. What changes have you noticed between the days of DECADENCE WITHIN and that of today?
..Ian) Well, back when DECADENCE WITHIN were about, and even to an extent STAMPIN GROUND, there was a definite 'path' to follow, which was: practise your ass off, do some local gigs, record a demo, send it round to every fanzine out there, play further afield, do a 7", do a UK tour or two (the first one in a car, then graduating to a van!), do another 7", get your ass out to Europe, do an album... etc etc
..I remember that well!
..Ian) It involved lots of gigging, lots of exchange gigs, lots of time writing letters and making calls (from the phone box at the end of the road! pumping in 2 pence coins!)... nowadays it seems most bands record themselves and stick the songs up on MySpace, YouTube and Facebook and miss out all the hard work/fun stuff! But I don't want to come across all "These kids these days don't know their born etc.!" Even if they don't!
..Youve also had a spell as bassist in FLUX OF PINK INDIANS. How did that come about - any stories to tell from playing the Feeding Of The 5,000 shows that Steve Ignorant put on?
..Ian) FLUX... was kind of a dream come true, because I was/am such a fan of that band. I said to Colsk and Kevin back when I interviewed them for the book, "If you ever get back together, I know all your songs...!" Never really thinking I'd get a call from Kev a few years later, haha! As for the Feeding... gig, it got a lot of bad press from the scene police, but there was a lot of positive energy generated by that weekend, and I for one am very glad I was a small part of it.
..I believe you were in STAMPIN GROUND when the band supported Iron Maiden at the Castle Donington Monsters Of Rock festival - that true? Were there lots of Spinal Tap moments??!! What differences were there between this kind of Metal extravaganza and that of Ignorants Feeding... Shows?
..Ian) Yes, I played Castle Donington with Iron Maiden - that was actually my last show with STAMPIN GROUND, so quite a gig to go out on! We were on the main stage too, in front of 50,000 people, so it was a real Bad News moment! As for differences with the Feeding... show... uh, you didn't get a lift in a minibus from your dressing room to the stage at the Shepherd Bush Empire! But the catering was WAY better at Steve's gig - they'd actually heard of a vegetarian diet! No one bitched and moaned about the Download gig either... go figure!
..You are still playing in a speed Metal band - SUICIDE WATCH I believe. Given your affinity with Metal, what are your views on the fabled Metal - Punk division that used to exist? In your opinion, in what ways has this changed since the UK82/ Anarcho Punk days and that of today?
..Ian) I come from a small town, so everyone from the different subcultures kinda got along - Punks, Skins, Metallers, Mods... and even most of the old Punks liked MOTORHEAD and Iron Maiden anyway. I was hooked on Thrash Metal from the moment I heard Slayer and Metallica, to be honest, and bands like Voi Vod and Vio-lence just clinched the deal for me. I loved all the crossover shit as well, so there was no Punk/Metal divide for me personally. People used to moan about the dumb lyrics in Metal, but bands like Nuclear Assault and Sacred Reich had BETTER lyrics than bands like the ADICTS and STENCH by a blue mile! We used to laugh at the poodle hair and make-up, of course, but not to the extent we were going around killing posers! I'm not in SUICIDE WATCH any longer anyway, I left after the second album, but I'm still good friends with those guys - they have a new MCD out right now called The Culling Of Humanity...
..What happened to Blackfish Records? I recall that excellent INSTIGATORS retrospective of the first two albums - any other notable releases? You got much of the back catalogue stashed away in the loft?
..Ian) I started the label in 1998 and knocked it on the head (to concentrate on these books actually...) in 2003. During that time I did 20 CD releases... from a Punk perspective, I did that INSTIGATORS reissue you mentioned, a SUBHUMANS tribute, a CONFLICT tribute, the POA album, Fear Of War... the rest of it was more Hardcore (KNUCKLEDUST, VOORHEES) or Metalcore (Decimate, Underule, etc.) It was fun while it lasted - and I got out just before I started losing loadsa money, haha! That INSTIGATORS CD was a real drain on resources, for starters, I spent way too much on remastering from original tapes and extravagant packaging etc.
..Well Ian, I for one appreciate your efforts on that. Coming off music, what are your thoughts on the rather strange Conservative-Liberal government that currently rules the UK? Do you see a return to the dark days of Thatcher?
..Ian) At risk of coming over as apathetic, it's a case of "Same shit, different way..." Hopefully it won't get as bad as under Maggie, and if it does let's hope there will be another HUNG parliament! :-)
..Ill second that! Ive just been reading about the Department of Health decision to place the likes of McDonalds, KFC and Pepsi at the heart of writing government policy on such issues as obesity and diet-related disease. Thoughts?
..Ian) That's kinda like asking Peter Sutcliffe for his opinion on women's rights.
..Haha!!! If you could change one thing about British society/ culture, what would it be and why?
..Ian) It would be nice to live in a society free of petty prejudice.
..A fun question: you are stuck on a desert island with Wattie of the EXPLOITED and Animal from ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE; Steve Ignorant of CRASS and Colin Jerwood of CONFLICT; the SKUM DRIBBLURZZZ; and HENRY ROLLINS and Jack Grisham (TSOL). Which pairs would be the first to have a fight; which pair would you spend most of your time with and which pair would win a Survivor style survival-of-the-fittest competition?
..Ian) I'd probably hang out with Steve and Colin, seeing as I know them and have a bit in common... but I'd be looking over at Henry and Jack longingly, cos I'm a big fan of both TSOL and BLACK FLAG. I think Henry and Wattie would go at it first - didn't Wattie shoot at Henry from the side of the stage when BLACK FLAG first played London? Henry and Jack would win the fight though, probably hands-down with some high school wrestling skills.
..I assume you do not make you living from writing and playing music... What pays the bills and feeds your family? And thinking about that, just how did you find time to balance a family, a full-time job, playing in bands AND writing the three books?
..Ian) I'm a regional operations manager for a transport company; I do a lot of driving, visiting depots, seeing drivers, analysing tachographs, resolving incidents, looking at stock issues and H&S stuff... it's something different every day, which is important for me, as I get bored easily. Finding time to do everything isn't easy though, which is why I had to really tone down the band activity so I could spend some decent time with our kids.
..So, whats next in the life of Ian Glasper? I believe you are starting work on a book/ set of books looking at 90s UK Punk - how's that progressing? What about musically?
..Ian) Book #4 is shaping up, and I hope to get it out late 2011. The current musical squeeze is BETRAYED BY MANY, who may or may not get round to recording a MCD in 2011. We're kinda lazy, and we've definitely lost the drive for world domination that kept STAMPIN GROUND on the road for 100+ gigs a year. I think I've done 10 gigs this year? We're pacing ourselves...
..Anything you wish to add?
..Ian) You're kidding, right? :-) Just thanks for the support, much appreciated! Be excellent to each other!