‘I’m loathe to describe myself as a poet because I’ve studied the form in depth – Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley etc that’s your poets. Me ? I’m just a rhyming gobshite mate. I went to Northumbria University in my 40’s and did a creative writing degree and I started studying and writing poetry. Something just clicked and ended up with me starting Jazz Riot.
Who are Staggerin’ Jon Lee on Lap pedal steel from Byker and I’m not entirely sure where guitarist Stevie G lives these days – near Killingworth somewhere, maybe? and me, I’m a talker based in Ovingham, Northumberland.’
When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ’Around early 89. The first proper band was The Legendary Harley Dread. Three quarters of this combo were sales assistants from Newcastles Grott Guitars. We were influenced by the Stooges, Doors, Stranglers and in my case Guns n Roses.
I’m fascinated by hedonism. ‘Appetite for Destruction’ was an amazing album. I read an article about them once which said that had Dionysus – the Greek God of wine, ritual madness and theatre – been at large in Los Angeles in the mid ‘80s, he would have been a member of GNR. I totally agree with that. They went all bloated and shite after ‘Appetite’ mind, but that’s what inevitably happens when you throw millions of dollars at drug addicts and alcoholics.
I’d estimate that around 90% of our gigs were at The Broken Doll and the Riverside in Newcastle. Our first gig was at the Doll supporting Mega City Four. I tried to conquer my nerves beforehand by getting absolutely lathered on Southern Comfort. The end result being that I went all Iggy Pop for the gig, and can’t remember anything about it. The rest of the band were peeved at the clip I was in but also impressed that I managed to sing all the right words.
We also played there with Penetration’s Pauline Murray. The only other name act we gigged with was ex-Hawkwind guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton. Both at the Doll and the Kasbah in Sunderland. Looking back we were incompetent and awful. But being in a band with your mates in your early twenties is like being pirates innit ? We wore tight leather trousers, abused substances, pulled some lasses and got paid, sometimes’.
Who were your influences in music ? ‘I’m a writer. I’m all about words, my primary influence has to be my dad. I’m the offspring of an Art teacher mother and an English lecturer father. So I’m basically an arty little twat who likes words a lot. Sadly the art gene passed me by. I can’t even draw a decent stick man. But the English bit got me big time.
My parents split up when I was 10 month old and all of my early memories of my Dad involve being in a car with him spouting assorted lyrics and folk songs at me. The first rhyme I can remember committing to memory I was maybe 5 or 6, was by Leonard Cohen and it’s one I still love to this day. ‘I lit a thin green candle to make you jealous of me. But the room just filled up with mosquitoes, they’d heard that my body was free’.
To me that’s a perfect rhyming couplet; it’s unsettling, there’s a sadness there, and it’s quite funny in a dark sort of way. Whenever I meet someone who peddles the tired myth that L.Cohen Esq. makes music to slash your wrists to, I know I’m most likely talking to someone who hasn’t listened to him much and is just recycling an opinion. I find his writing immensely touching and funny as fuck, loaded with humanity and dry as a bone humour.
The second couplet I can remember learning is from Time by David Bowie; ’Time, she flexes like a whore/Falls wanking to the floor’. Which is maybe not the sort of thing one should be reciting to a child still at infant school. But here, that’s my old man for you. He rarely modifies his patter based on the age of the person he’s talking to’.
How did you get involved in music ? ‘I always wanted to be the singer in a band because, to my mind at least, the singer is the one who writes all the lyrics – or he should anyway. The one defining incident that made me want to be in a band was this; Aged 14 me and two other kids were jamming in our school music block one lunchtime – guitar, drums, me singing. The music room had a tiny window which looked onto an area where all the hard kids gathered to smoke. Me and the hard kids did not get along at all. I was bullied a bit at school, not a severe kicking type, but a fair bit of hassle because I was different. Different in a way that’s hard to quantify but I suppose ‘arty little twat’ goes some way to explain my school years.
Anyway our playing quickly attracted the attention of the hard lads and they didn’t like it one little bit. They started screaming abuse and flicking the v’s at the window, and then began spitting on it. After 10 minutes the window was completely covered in hockle. Y’knaa I’d be the first to admit I’m a bit of a wind up merchant and as soon as I saw the posibilty to piss people off – I can remember clear as day thinking ‘Oh aye, I’m fuckin’ having this’.
What were your experiences of recording ‘We recorded one 3 track demo at Newcastle Arts Centre, I can’t remember us sending it out to anyone. ‘Just Say Yes’, Heads Gone Crazy’ and ‘Flesh Starts Creeping’ – yes we had live fast die young lifestyles then. We started recording and drinking at 9.30am. We were mortal by the afternoon. I fell over the mixing desk. The bassist couldn’t nail down his parts.
The engineer sent us to the pub to stop distracting him any further. Years later I found that the engineer took over bass and stood in for him’.
Did you record any TV appearances or film any music videos ? ‘There used to be a video knocking about of us onstage and backstage at the Riverside supporting Mega City Four. We all lost our copies and it’s a real shame because I don’t think there’s any footage of the Riverside backstage area. It would be interesting to see again..anybody got it ?’
Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘My favourite involves the two gigs we done with Hawkwinds Huw Lloyd Langton. A man who had possibly taken one acid trip too many, bless him. After we supported him at the Broken Doll in Newcastle we had a good crack on with him, got on really well.
Then we played with him again in Sunderland about three month later. We got chatting after the gig but it quickly became apparent that he didn’t have the first clue who we were and no memory whatsoever of having met us before. Drugs man – just say no kids’.
What are you doing now and are you still involved in music ? ‘It amuses me that I sang in bands for a few years and got pretty much nowhere. But as soon as I started talking instead I got a bit of recognition. I added music to my words because what I understand is rock n roll and I believe experiences should be shared.
I love coming off stage and hanging out with the same people that played the gig and getting the same buzz of it. I can’t perform at those spoken words nights. I don’t understand that world at all. That’s a very lonely place to be. If you’re going to die on your arse on stage it might as well be with your mates next to you.
To date we’ve opened for John Cooper Clarke, Penetration, TV Smith, Field Music and loads more. We played the International Psychology Conference in Liverpool last year. This year we’re on a real strange festival bill with John Cleese, Gary Lineker, Pussy Riot and Hugh Grant – thinking about it – that line up get’s funnier every time.
When I went to University I couldn’t have dreamt that this is where it would lead. If it all stopped tomorrow I can honestly say I’ve had the very best of times in Jazz Riot’.
Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2018.
ANGELIC UPSTARTS: The Butchers of Bolingbroke, 1st June 2017.
Simon Donald, VIZ: The Toon Show, 1st September 2017.
Steve Straughan, UK SUBS: Beauty & the Bollocks, 1st October 2017.
Steve Kincaide: A Life of Booze, Bands & Buffoonery, 11th January 2018.