Author Archives: Keith Cameron

About Keith Cameron

I am a journalist and author.

Remembering Grant Hart

Hüsker Dü

Reading the obituaries of Grant Hart, one detail kept leaping out at me: he was just 56.

I thought back to when I first saw him, playing with Hüsker Dü at Edinburgh University on March 14, 1986. Grant was about to turn 25. I, meanwhile, was three months into my 21st year. Time foreshortens as we get older, but I couldn’t then begin to rationalise our age-difference as ‘merely’ four and a bit years. Because Grant Hart had already done so much with his life. He seemed made of different stuff.

At that point in 1986, Hüsker Dü were redefining rock music. Seeing them that night was truly life-changing for me, and so much of that energy came from Grant, a gyroscopic force of limbs and air, with a giddy, open voice that surfed above the tumult created by the band. While Bob Mould resembled a tensed-up man on the brink and Greg Norton his leaping, smiley good-cop foil, Grant wore a kind of seraphic countenance. Watching them was draining, transcendent, and fun.

Afterwards, I saw Grant sitting on a stone bench beneath the student union’s domed roof, the same spot where I would often drink a mug of tea and read the week’s music papers. He was chatting to people, and I noticed that Hüsker Dü’s energy core had been playing drums barefoot. For some reason, I burst out laughing. He looked at me and laughed back. No other words were necessary.

I had the good fortune to meet and talk with Grant many times in subsequent years, thanks to writing assignments for Sounds, then NME and latterly MOJO. He was always charming and provocative, with a formidable polymath’s intellect and a waspish sense of humour, particularly with regard to Bob Mould, his erstwhile creative partner in Hüsker Dü. Shortly before the release of his debut solo album Intolerance in 1989, having just arrived in London after travelling from the US on the QE2, Grant met me at the bar of the Columbia Hotel in Bayswater. Announcing that this establishment served his own personal brand of Scotch, he pointed to a bottle of Grant’s whisky, then elbowed me in the ribs.

“That’s something Bob doesn’t have,” he winked. “You don’t see too many bottles of Bob’s!”

Several years later, he invited me to share a small joint outside a Chinese restaurant in Hamburg. It was a sunny afternoon, Grant was playing a show that night and then we were to do an interview. Believing I had survived the journalist’s cardinal error of partaking in psychoactive substances with an interviewee, I attempted to order from the menu – only to discover I had lost the power of speech. I looked up to see Grant in the grip of a giggling seizure. He couldn’t speak either.

As this episode proved, Grant Hart was a dangerous man, but one who gave his gifts freely, be they song or conversation or time. That night in Hamburg, after a glorious solo performance, we talked until the wee hours. He answered all my questions, and asked plenty more of his own.

I last saw him in London in 2013, on the street outside the small venue he’d just played. He looked gaunt compared to our previous meetings, and I knew had been through some tough times, but his voice was strong and that mind was as restless as ever. Earlier, I interviewed him for MOJO’s Rock’n’Roll Confidential feature. He was justifiably proud of his new album The Argument, inspired by an unpublished treatment of Milton’s Paradise Lost by William S Burroughs – a feat of artistic derring-do only Grant would dare attempt, let alone pull off – and during our typically wide-ranging conversation he recounted escaping from the fire which had destroyed his home in South Saint Paul, talked about his connoisseur’s love of vintage cars and planes, and reminisced about his friendship with Burroughs.

“He made the observation once: ‘How come you’re the only guy that comes around me and will tell me jokes?’ I’d notice that a lot of people put on their costume when they’re around certain great people. They don’t want to make a fool of themselves. But that was something I would gladly do! At all times of my life.”

He also talked happily about his often difficult relationship with Bob Mould, that was now entering a more conciliatory phase, leading ultimately to the long-overdue opening up of the Hüsker Dü archive.

“We’re going to undo this terrible knot,” he told me.

Tragically, Grant didn’t live to hold the first fruits of that endeavour, the Savage Young Dü box set that’s due for release in early November 2017. Nor indeed the new music he was working on until the end. If anything good comes from this sadness, it will be that more people can enjoy the music of this remarkable man.

The last question I ever asked Grant Hart was as per the format of MOJO’s Rock’n’Roll Confidential: “Tell us something you’ve never told an interviewer before.” To which he shot straight back with a smile: “Well, this has been a very satisfying experience!”

Thank you Grant. The pleasure was all mine.

Mudhoney Book Competition

Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle

The UK cover, with contact sheet images from a 1991 NME photo shoot by Steve Double.

Mudhoney have just completed a very successful four-week tour of Europe (plus a dip of the toe into Asia via Istanbul). When I hooked up with them in London, Mark, Guy, Dan and Steve kindly signed three copies of my book Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle. In an outbreak of unseemly generosity, I’m now going to give away these prized items, fittingly enough as prizes in a competition. In order to win win win, all you need to do is correctly answer the following three questions.

1. As the title of the book suggests, Mudhoney are from Seattle. But bassist Guy Maddison originally hails from Australia. Did he grow up in:
a) Sydney? b) Warracknabeal? c) Perth?

2. Original Mudhoney bassist Matt Lukin left the band in the late ’90s. What is his current profession:
a) carpenter? b) hairdresser? c) lawyer?

3. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm has also sung for a reformed version of which legendary ’60s band:
a) The Doors? b) The Stooges? c) The MC5?

Email your answers to

Entries close at 6pm (BST) on Friday June 19.

Here’s proof that the guys really did sign the book.

Mudhoney: The Signed And The Fury

Yes, it’s the US edition. So some of the spelling is a bit wacky.

Pearl Jam: previously unpublished interview

Pearl Jam: (l-r) Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Matt Cameron, Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder.

Pearl Jam: (l-r) Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Matt Cameron, Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder.

One happy by-product of writing my Mudhoney book was digging into that band’s shared history with Pearl Jam, which goes all the way back to the mid-’80s when Mark Arm and Steve Turner were in Green River with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard. During the course of my research, Jeff generously gave me an interview. Not only did he provide a vivid depiction of the pre-boom years Seattle scene, it was clear that although their bands operate at very different commercial levels, both Mudhoney and Pearl Jam have lasted more than 20 years for the same basic reasons: comradeship and integrity. Talking to Jeff was a real joy. It also prompted me to reflect upon just how I’d learned to stop worrying and love Pearl Jam.

I first saw them play in 1991 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago: they were opening for Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a line-up I always cite to rebut the notion that music journalism is a cushy number. At that point, Pearl Jam overdid everything that could be guaranteed to offend my aesthetic prejudices, be it the inflated hair or the guitar histrionics, or simply Eddie Vedder’s sleeve-worn sincerity. Doubtless I was influenced by simplistic assessments of the post-Green River settlement: essentially, that Mudhoney were the pure-hearted punk rockers and Pearl Jam, via Mother Love Bone, were tools of The Man. Seeing two London gigs in 1992, as Ten-mania surged with that damn Jeremy video implanted on MTV, didn’t soften my view.

A couple of years later, certainly by the time of Vitalogy, Pearl Jam were a different animal – ragged sonics, media blackout, short hair – and I wish I’d seen them play live circa 1994/95. I did see them backing Neil Young at the Reading Festival, which was great but I gave most of the credit there to Neil Young. Essentially when I was paying attention, Pearl Jam weren’t really talking my language, and a little later, when they clearly were talking my language, I wasn’t paying attention.

Anyhow, the more perversely obtuse records they released, like No Code [1996] and Yield [1998], the more interested I became. Anyone who writes a song inspired by Mudhoney’s Matt Lukin is obviously one of the good guys. Waging war against Ticketmaster or inviting fans to bootleg your own shows are hardly the acts of corporate greedheads. Nor is regularly taking Mudhoney on tour as your opening band. In 2000 they even had The Monkeywrench, Mark Arm and Steve Turner’s side project,  playing arenas in Europe. By now I was cheering them on. Yet it wasn’t until hearing 2006’s ‘Avocado’ album that I truly felt compelled to see Pearl Jam again. With that album it seemed as if they’d finally reached a comfortable accommodation between their questing aspirations and ingrained commercial instincts. This was that rare beast: a big occasion band who never lost the human touch, with deep roots and maverick tendencies, precision driven but whimsical, endearingly off-the-cuff.

On July 19, 2013 I was lucky enough to see Pearl Jam play to 40,000 people at Wrigley Field in Chicago, one of the most remarkable rock shows I’ve ever witnessed. The unscripted drama of a two-hour thunderstorm interruption seemed to both heighten the band’s intensity and loosen their limbs. You didn’t have to be a baseball nut to sense the emotion when 82-year-old ‘Mr Cub’ Ernie Banks was led on-stage at his old home ground by Eddie to join in with All The Way, Ed Ved’s self-made Chicago Cubs anthem. As one fan’s T-shirt proclaimed, “It doesn’t get Eddie Vedder than this”.

After the storm: the late Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks and Eddie Vedder, Wrigley Field, July 19, 2013.

After the storm: Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks and Eddie Vedder, Wrigley Field, July 19, 2013.

From here on, I’m a lifer. Not Ten Club fanatical, but put it this way: the next time Mudhoney’s schedule permits them to accept what Jeff Ament insists is practically a permanent invitation for them to tour with PJ, then I’m there. And I can’t think of any other band that would possess me to drive to the GPS deadzone that is the Milton Keynes Bowl. There I was, however, in July 2014, eyeing up the merch, getting twitchy every time Mike McCready began loitering around the 20th fret, and scouring my PJ Stat Tracker app to assess the chances of hearing an obscuro fave like You Are or All Night alongside bankers like Even Flow and Corduroy. Hopes were high – after all, I’d interviewed Stone Gossard a week earlier and asked him to put a word in. Obviously Ed Ved had other ideas. But what the hell? Now I’m a Pearl Jam fan means there’s always a next time.

Stone and I spoke for 20 minutes on July 5, 2014, a few hours before Pearl Jam played the Rock Werchter Festival in Belgium. Here’s the interview, published in full for the first time.

Green River formed in the summer of 1984, which means that, via Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, you and Jeff have been playing in bands together almost continuously for 30 years. Does the motivation for doing this remain the same?

“I think so! We talk about it all the time, our excitement level for writing music and still discovering things about an instrument or coming up with a riff that’s different than anything we’ve written before. Or coming up with a lyric, or understanding how pop music works and why it’s this endless mystery of simplicity: these same chords, there’s only a handful of chords, 12 or something, with variations… why is it that still even today there’s things that come out and just sound so fucking cool?! It still strikes you and it still makes you get excited about that process. Talking about the 30 years anniversary of Green River: I probably started playing guitar only six months before I was in Green River, so really, ‘get an instrument and start doing something with it’ has always been what we did. We’re never gonna understand music from a virtuoso point of view, and there’s wonderful things about that… the best players are people that can understand the simplicity and the complexity at the same time. But I think that for two guys like Jeff and I who don’t really have this massive musical talent but who are excited about art and the process of stumbling on and discovering things just by the nature of finding your own little voice and your own little style that grows into something, it’s still fascinates us and it still motivates us.

“Pearl Jam feels as good or better now than it’s ever felt because we’ve stayed with our original intent in terms of doing things as a band, trying to share as much as we can, believing that even if you aren’t at your peak of songwriting prowess that you can get better and you can find your style over time. All those things are still holding true. We look at each now onstage and we’re like, This is amazing – how is it possible that young fans are still getting turned on to the band and they’re digging through the catalogue and finding things they like, or even for us to be able to go back and play songs that were written 10 or 15 or 20 years ago that we’ve still never played live? There’s a lot of opportunity for renewal and discovery.”

You’re all strong individuals who don’t always agree on what to do or how to do it, yet the band has survived. Presumably you’ve learnt how to work as a collective?

“I think so, and it’s not always the same dynamic. It shifts and people’s potentials grow. There’s an alchemy to it that you’re not going to fully ever understand and so you have to trust in this inaccurate process of going in every day when you’re gonna do something or play a show and say OK, I’m gonna put my faith in the big picture and I’ll make a suggestion when it’s helpful. You have to know when to say something and know when to just keep your mouth shut. That’s the ideal: finding that balance. But the long term is that if everybody is at least attempting that, generally speaking – and it’s never perfect – but if there’s general attempts towards it then over the long haul you do actually get better and develop a language that is your own band’s creation. That’s what’s happened. We stuck around long enough that we actually were able to reap the benefits of having this long relationship with each other and to have perspective on it now to be able to really enjoy it and say, I’m glad we stuck around.”

Kick out the Jam: Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard joined by Mudhoney's Mark Arm and (obscured) Steve Turner for PJ's 20th anniversary, 2011. Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Kick out the Jam: Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard joined by Mudhoney’s Mark Arm and (obscured) Steve Turner for PJ’s 20th anniversary, 2011. Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Like any long-term relationship, it’s had its ups and downs…

“Absolutely. And there might not even be anything going on at a certain period of a band’s existence, but somebody just wakes up and goes, ‘I’m gonna change…’ Glorious things can come out of somebody saying, ‘I’m not gonna put myself in this process any more, I’m gonna choose a different process.’ There’s nothing wrong with that. But our particular band has been stubbornly persistent at just saying: ‘Nope, we’re gonna keep doing it.’ And there’s been times when that has probably not benefited us. There’s been times when we’ve been stagnant and times where it would have been nice to have somebody come in and break the thing open and say, ‘No, try it this way’ – where we were incapable of doing that. But I think in the long run our persistence and stubbornness paid off in the sense that now I think we’re better at challenging ourselves internally. Going back in time and thinking about songs that I hated – ‘Oh, this song’s not a Pearl Jam song’ – and then just loving it 10 years later and going, ‘God, I was just in a shit mood, because I wasn’t in charge of some particular track or it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to’. I had a predisposed notion about how I felt about it. Everybody in the band has gone through moments like that, where they’re like, ‘I’m not happy right now.’ But, you can’t be happy every day! And anyone that’s ever tried to put a new band together knows you’re going to run into a whole new set of personalities and whole new set of problems, and anyone that thinks they can just go out and do it by themselves and have that same momentum is… Y’know, Ed’s as good as anyone at generating that energy by himself, he’ll go out and do solo shows, but I think at some point during those tours he’s like, ‘Ahh, I’m excited to be getting back to my band,’ just because those faces and the support that he gets and the energy he gets from the history of it and the song catalogue and the crowd’s response to it, is all still evident.”

With hindsight, No Code, a confounding record at the time, seems pivotal to the development of the band we see now.

“Yeah. I think Vitalogy for sure was a period of time where Ed really developed even more and took more control of the songwriting. The simplicity of that record, we just broke it down to its bare essentials. We’d just made Vs, and I was like, This is it, this is the prototype of how we’re going to be as a band, I understand how this is supposed to work. And suddenly Vitalogy was very different from that. Much less articulated with the guitars and much more simplistic. I was worried about that. And that record had a complete life of its own. And then, Dave Abbruzzese not being in the band and having a brand new drummer [Jack Irons]… Your drummer is so fundamental to how you interact with each other, we were learning a whole new language and we were still playing fast and loose in the studio, we didn’t spend a lot of time on takes or arrangement, and No Code really reflects that. To some degree Vitalogy too. We didn’t over-play that stuff before we went out! And maybe some of those takes aren’t as good as they could have been. But in retrospect, it has a rawness that makes you go, ‘OK – that doesn’t sound like they’re spending eight months at Versailles at some studio, over-doing things and spending a bunch of money because they’re rock stars.’ So I agree, I think that No Code is pivotal, and there was new territory that we opened up in that record. I think Jack Irons is a key ingredient to how that record developed, for sure, his personality.”

PJ circa No Code, with Jack Irons (second right).

PJ circa No Code, with Jack Irons (second right).

Do you need to have processes in place to ensure you don’t go through the motions, be it touring or making a record?

“I think so, and I think those processes are: touring is never going to be something that we do all year long. Our tours are three to four weeks maximum and maybe we do at the most three of those in a year. So in the grand scheme of things, if you’re touring 12, 14 weeks out of a 52 week year, compared to most situations you’re still getting a long time at home to refuel and do things. That would be a touring year. We continue to talk about how we’d wanna go about recording, how we wanna change it up… A way of approaching a record that is different. It’s been proven to us that we can take chances and it works out in the long run, even if in the short run it doesn’t feel quite like we achieved what we want it to. And I think that we’re confident that the nature of our band and the nature of our relationship with our fans is pretty secure at this point. They’re gonna appreciate us taking some chances and I think we’ve gotta follow through on that and do it, and not make the same records. We’ve gotta keep trying to do something different. It gets more challenging the older you get, because the longer you’ve been doing a process the harder it is to say let’s do it totally differently – let’s break it, what can we do to throw ourselves into a new dynamic. When do you make your Emotional Rescue, y’know?! You think of records that were weird departures that were maybe even frustrating to listen to as a Stones fan, but you listen to it now and it’s like, God, Emotional Rescue! Records that were maybe challenging but in the long run they do something for you, like Achtung Baby or something like that, where they shift gears in a way that’s dramatic.”

Are setlists a group effort?

“Ed does the setlist in general. He’s the one who’s trying to link stories together. He’s the one who’s most closely interacting with the audience. He has the best feel for that particular task. But he will always bring in a rough setlist and then we’ll probably pull one or two things out, add one or two things. Then through the night, he always changes a song, at least one a night, and then we always add one or two more in different spots. And I think he’s got even better at it. It’s finding that balance of, for lack of a better word, songs that are surefire songs that everybody knows versus obscure tracks that maybe a quarter of the audience is gonna go crazy for and another quarter might go, ‘I’ve never heard this before, what’s it all about?’ Being a concertgoer, I know the feeling of going to a show and expecting to hear a certain song and not hearing it, and feeling, ‘Damn…’, but also being turned onto a new track that I had never heard before. And with our fans, because there is a big desire to hear obscure tracks, even if you don’t know the song you can look around and get energised by people going, ‘Ohmigod they haven’t played this song in six years!’ Or, ‘They really fucked that up in the second verse but it was kinda funny…’ So it’s become part of our language.”

Do you ever look at Eddie’s setlist and go ‘huh?!’

“The setlist gets produced sometimes five minutes before the set and there’ll be two songs that we haven’t played, of the songs we rehearsed… we have five rehearsals before we go out and we rehearsed 50 songs and it’s not one of those 50 songs. And you’re like, OK… I can do this. Or, you’re like, Let’s skip that one today, let’s play it at soundcheck and then we’ll play it tomorrow. He’s very flexible. But you want to pick and choose your battles, and I think arguing about a setlist is one of the things you could do every day if you wanted to. What you don’t play today, you’ll play two days from now. Just buckle your seatbelt and shut up.”

Do you have any pre-show rituals? Group prayers…?

“We try to at least shake hands with each other before we go out on-stage and say, ‘Hey mate, have a good one!’ I think that’s one of the things as you get older, once you’re out on-stage, the gods decide what’s gonna happen. Go out there with good energy for your fellow bandmates and that’s about the best thing you can do. We’ve had plenty of shows where we’ve given each other big hugs and smiles, then walked out and sucked. It’s not gonna help.”

"Hmm, I wonder if they'll do Dirty Frank…”: me soaking up the pre-match atmosphere at Wrigley Field.

“I wonder if they’ll do Dirty Frank…”: me soaking up the pre-match atmosphere at Wrigley Field.

Of Manic Street Preachers, Skids and Simple Minds

It’s a week until the release of Futurology, the brilliant, revelatory new Manic Street Preachers album. I’ve been excited about this record ever since August 2013, when I went to Newport to interview Nicky Wire about Rewind The Film, still a month away from release. After we’d finished our official business, Nicky asked if I fancied hearing a couple of the songs from the next new Manics record. So I was treated to high volume playbacks of Europa Geht Durch Mich and The Next Jet To Leave Moscow.

These two songs immediately placed the as-yet-untitled Futurology in very different territory to the contemplative, primarily acoustic Rewind The Film, where its authors felt assailed by the doubts and depredations of middle-age. A militaristic diskostompf, Europa Geht Durch Mich (“Europe passes through me”) felt like a reinvigoration, a rallying cry – a new beginning.

I was tickled by its opening lyric – “Europe had a language problem” – because it’s an only slightly adapted quote from Simple Minds’ mighty I Travel. Much of the pre-release chatter around Futurology concerns its Simple Minds influence. If the Manics’ love of Simple Minds seems curious that’s partly because it was never cool to like Simple Minds, not even amid the post-punk ferment when their prog-curious Kraut-grooves were more radical than many cared to admit, and certainly not after effecting their enormodome reinvention for the American market, a process that began with 1985’s Don’t You (Forget About Me).

But ‘cool’ has never been part of the Manics’ lexicon: one function of band’s iconoclastic reflex (exhibit A: “I laughed when Lennon got shot”) is the elevation of their own heroes over whatever the prevailing critical consensus deems acceptable. When I first interviewed them, in 1994, shortly before the release of The Holy Bible, it was clear that the blustery hard rock of their first two albums had been something of a Trojan Horse by which to storm the mainstream. The Holy Bible was terse and claustrophobic – a stunning shift in emphasis. I walked into a photographer’s studio to meet the band and was assailed by the Manics’ new sonic manifesto issuing forth from a ghetto blaster: featuring, among others, Magazine, Public Image Ltd, Joy Division, Berlin-era David Bowie, Wire and, most strikingly, Simple Minds and the Skids (another group of working-class Scots liberated by punk and balancing pretension with pop genius). There was a visual clue on The Holy Bible‘s sleeve: the typography aped the Minds’ Empires And Dance in its use of the Cyrillic reversed ‘R’.

Empires And Dance

The Holy Bible

(Though not the ‘N’s, which E&D also flipped. I’ve always wondered why the Manics didn’t flip the ‘N’s too.)

All of which is evident on the bold panoramas and electro pulses of Futurology. In particular, I hear echoes of the Skids’ dense, melody-saturated 1979 album Days In Europa, most obviously on The Next Jet To Leave Moscow, which has a beautiful liquid guitar solo worthy of Stuart Adamson, or his hero Bill Nelson, the Be-Bop Deluxe guitarist who produced Days In Europa. Also, the song opens with the same chattering drum machine of the Skids’ Charade. I’d forgotten about this hilarious video, like Roxy Music meets Devo. What a great band the Skids were.

But it’s the visionary scope of Simple Minds that recurs most prominently. The template for instrumental Dreaming A City (Hughesovka) is Theme For Great Cities, the cinematic opener from 1981’s Sister Feelings Call. At their peak, Simple Minds were all about the liberating possibilities of movement and the promise of the journey – as Wire [the band] once put it, “Displaying an interest in forward propulsion” – and I think the Manics evoke that optimistic spirit in Futurology.

A couple of years ago I wrote a feature for MOJO about Simple Minds and needed a contemporary endorsement. Cue James Dean Bradfield, declaring them “just about them most amazing, experimental, powerful band that Britain’s ever produced”. The MOJO piece coincided with a tour by the current version of Simple Minds, which features just Charlie Burchill and Jim Kerr from the original line-up, plus Mel Gaynor, the drummer who joined in 1982. I met the pair in Glasgow; both were hugely entertaining and convivial company, full of indiscreet revelations. Over dinner, tongue somewhat in cheek, Jim said their motivations as 16-year-olds were “making music and wanting to travel”. He later elaborated that a year after leaving school he and Charlie hitchhiked from Glasgow to London intending to see the Sex Pistols, but wound up staying on the road when the lorry driver who’d given them a lift said he was going to Paris. “Back then you could get a passport in the Post Office,” said Kerr. “So we went, well let’s go to Paris, and then let’s go to Munich and then let’s go to Milan… Every border we crossed just gave us a sense of some sort of emancipation.”

Separately, I also spoke to the other three original members of Simple Minds: Derek Forbes, Mick MacNeil and Brian McGee. Despite the contentious issues that may divide them (an attempted 2008 reunion collapsed amid business squabbles), it was obvious that all still felt deeply connected to the band and were proud of its ongoing legacy.

The 2012 Simple Minds tour was built around a concept whereby the band would play five songs from each of the first five albums: the classic canon as acknowledged by hardcore fans, before what critical favour they had evaporated. Interestingly, however, James deviated from that received wisdom and nominated 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain alongside its predecessors. I saw the Minds for the first time on the Sparkle In The Rain tour and thought they were wonderful, but I was kicking myself for not having been able to catch them a few years earlier, when founder member Brian McGee was the drummer. Indeed, I guess what I really wished was to have seen them when they still looked like this…

Yet James pointed me to footage of a 1984 show from Dortmund, when powerhouse Mel Gaynor was behind the kit and the collective energy was bulking up to assault the world’s stadia, while still retaining the experimental urges that gave the band an ambiguous quality. “That’s when I think they reached their utter apex,” said James. “Where they’ve still got the pretension, there’s still a miscommunication with the audience through their own ambition. The audience don’t know what it’s about so there’s an air of mystery about it.”

The Dortmund performance is thunderous – the arena seems to quake in submission. But recently I found this footage from the same period, which is just as thrilling in spite of the Minds playing to a small audience for a television programme (BBC’s Oxford Roadshow). Every member of Simple Minds was a master of his craft – JDB rightly singled out bassist Derek Forbes and keyboardist Mick MacNeil for special mention – but here it’s guitar hero Charlie Burchill who surpasses himself. “Dynamite!” as the man himself would say.

A couple of months ago I saw the Manic Street Preachers play Cardiff. It was an arena gig, with all the conventions and stratagems rock bands require to make sense of such spaces. But the Manics found ways to mess with the formula, mostly through giving vent to the quirks and obsessions which have driven them from the very beginning – like Nicky Wire quoting Richard Jobson’s preamble to the Skids’ TV Stars (“We do also speak politics to you today-ah!”). The peak moments for me were the Futurology songs – Europa Geht Durch Mich and the title track – signifying a new journey about to begin. The audience weren’t entirely sure what to make of them; which is partly why it felt exciting. Like some sort of emancipation, you could say.

After the show, I talked to James and he pondered the new record’s defiant posture: “There’s a sense in Futurology of not giving in to the relentless sense of pace that overtakes you as an older man: of trying to poke through that confrontational ether of progress and not feel as if you’re going to get left behind, and not feel defeated.”

And the moral of the tale? The greatest bands are the ones whose next move you can’t imagine.

Of Bunnymen and Wild Swans

I’ve written a feature in the June issue of MOJO about Pete De Freitas, the brilliant, inspirational drummer who helped make Echo And The Bunnymen one of the all-time great bands, and who died in a road accident on June 14, 1989, aged just 27.

The MOJO piece was a joy to write. Each person I spoke to – his friends and bandmates, and members of his family – was extremely generous with their time and memories. So many wonderful stories: some inevitably sad, but all of them touching and often very funny. Pete De Freitas seems to have been loved by everyone who ever met him. I wish I’d had time to talk to more people, and I ended up with far more material than I had space to use. Maybe one day I’ll put together a longer version.

During the course of writing the piece, I had the pleasure of talking to Paul Simpson, whose band The Wild Swans played with the Bunnymen many times; their wonderful single Revolutionary Spirit was produced by Pete, who also paid for its recording and played drums on it. “Thank God he did,” said Paul, “because it’s the dynamics of the drumming that give the song its exoskeleton.”

Hearing Revolutionary Spirit now takes me back to 1982 and my 16-year-old self listening to John Peel, when every record felt like a signpost to a new world. Like the Bunnymen, I imagined The Wild Swans were embarked on some noble truth-quest, and as Peel played the record (“Hmm… fades in…”) you sensed this was auspicious music. Both bands were from Liverpool, a city that because of The Beatles and its football teams had a mythic resonance, and this music only enhanced such romantic notions. Even then, I suspected the reality was a lot more mundane, but at that age it’s easy to feel you have nothing but dreams.

Paul reactivated The Wild Swans around 2008 and in 2011 they released an album, The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years. I’m ashamed to say it passed me by originally, but in researching the Pete De Freitas article I bought the beautiful vinyl edition and I thoroughly recommend it. This new version of the band featured a drummer named Steve Beswick, who had played in The Heart Throbs, a late-’80s group that featured Pete’s sisters, Rose and Rachel. Paul told me he wanted him because Beswick had based his playing style on Pete. Paul then recruited Les Pattinson, Echo And The Bunnymen’s bass player, with whom Pete De Freitas had formed such a distinctive and indomitable rhythm section.

The album takes its title from a song Paul released as the B-side of English Electric Lightning, a terrific Wild Swans single from 2009. It evokes the period during 1981-82 when Paul and Pete shared Julian Cope’s old flat together in Liverpool’s Princes Park: all freezing cold bohemian squalor, homemade bongs, listening to The Pop Group and Dr John, and the neighbours complaining about Pete driving his motorbike up three flights of stairs. As Paul says in the song: “I’m tired of living like a degenerate and I’m going to get my act together starting right now… Well, starting tomorrow, because I’ve just found the note Pete has left pinned to his door: ‘Paul, Jake riding up from Bristol tonight, I’ll knock for Mike and Paul on my way home. Ring Ged, Jerry and Hot Knives. Get milk and skins – gear’s in the tin. Love Pete’.”

Thanks to Paul, The Coldest Winter… put me right into their world.

The June issue of MOJO is still available.

Book in the USA – at last!

Six months ago, my book Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle was published in the UK by Omnibus Press. Now the US edition, published by Voyageur Press, is available online and in bookstores. I’m chuffed to bits.

Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle

The UK cover, with contact sheet images from a 1991 NME photo shoot by Steve Double.

There’s no real difference between the US and UK versions, beyond of course the Americanised text (that’s ‘Americanized’, if you’re reading in America). But I know that people in the States have been looking forward to getting hold of the book without shelling out big bucks on import, so I’m glad it’s finally available.

If you want a taste before committing to purchase, SPIN recently ran an extract. It looked awesome, and they also had some very kind things to say.

I’ll have more news on the US publication soon.