I first heard ‘My Generation’ when I was 10 years old and vividly remember that it caused me to run around the house screaming my head off and refusing to ‘behave myself’; that and watching Keith Moon on Ready Steady Go – the sound and sights of musical anarchy was a completely life changing moment. Fast forward through the Who’s variable catalogue to Quadrophenia, released when I was 17 and the perfect soundtrack to teenage boy angst. The record remains my favourite rock album of all time – with its combination of beauty and violence – the most (and perhaps only) successful marrying of rock and classical music sounds. Like all my favourite records, I keep it for special occasions so as not to wear out its magical powers. It still retains plenty of these for me.
While so much rock music has blues melodies at its roots, my (and other past and present NMA members) have a powerful sense of folk melodies in us. Whether this is inherited or learned or chosen I don’t really care. I used to go on these camps when I was 14-15 which were a mixture of middle-class and care home kids sent out to into the wild to learn to build fires with one match and such like. It was also where I started smoking cigarettes, smoking dope, snogging girls and strumming my first guitar chords and built into it somewhere was the romance of singing around a fire. I think this is the very basis and perhaps starting point of all human culture and basically what we still do every night with NMA.
I actually now find a lot of English folk music a bit twee – but I still love American folk and I was not entirely surprised to find that the most played person on my ipod is Gillian Welch. Another current fave is Alela Diane who has an amazingly strong and fearless voice. Of course there’s also Neil Young, now finally acknowledged to be a great genius, Springsteen’s solo stuff like “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” and any amount of Americana which would bring me to…
I was too young to be a hippy, but as a result of having older brothers and sisters and a vivid imagination, I took in much of the wild romance of that era. My mum says if she was ever going anywhere in the car I wanted to be going too. I started hitch-hiking when I was about 15 and, at 19, spent four months alone on the road in America having a predictably bizarre set of adventures. A few years later I drove a van to in a convoy to Pakistan – through Iran, Afghanistan etc working for some Bradford Mafiosi gang and I’ve gone on craving and having road adventures ever since. Even after thirty years on the road with the band, I still think it’s romantic to eat rubbish food in some godforsaken roadhouse at 3am by the side of an empty motorway in the back end of Poland with truckers and prostitutes. Really. Honestly I do. I hate being in any one place for more than a couple of weeks at a time. I once gave a ride to a hobo in the wilds of a Canadian winter who told me that he was finally thinking of ‘settling down’. He then told me he was 74. So I guess I have at least another 20 years of this addiction to play out.
My early childhood was spent dial changing between Radio Caroline and it’s clone, Radio London, spinning pop music from ‘pirate’ ships in the North Sea. And ringing out seemingly louder and more vivid than anything else were the endless Motown masterpieces – the high point of all human culture – a hybrid of gospel, blues and classical music and all underpinned by the greatest musician of all time – James Jamerson. OK, so there are those who will always argue for Atlantic Soul being ‘the real thing’ and it’s true that if God has a voice it will sound very like Aretha Franklin’s, but for me the golden age of Motown remains king, from the first Holland, Dozier, Holland compositions to Norman Whitfield’s masterpiece “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. And when in the mid 1970s I moved to Bradford, I quickly fell in love with the whole Northern Soul scene – which was basically a stream of copies of Motown’s finest, made cheaply but filled with spirit and great for dancing to. I remember when ‘rave’ hit 15 years later, people talked about this ‘new phenomenon’ of all-night dancing and pill popping rather than drinking but of course it had all been going on for years. The only difference was that at Wigan Casino it was cool to be a good dancer moving with effortless grace to a classic tune while, with ecstasy, no one really noticed or cared how ‘good’ anything actually was.
In January 1979, I met Joolz in a cheap Bradford night-club which had various pretentious names but was universally known as Slaggers. I think she asked me to dance. It wasn’t until we were outside into a freezing cold night that it was apparent that she really did have blue hair and a punk-style boilersuit. We then walked around the frost-bound empty city for five hours talking about poetry, sex, god, music, death. Thirty-one years later, this conversation continues. If not for that chance meeting, there would certainly have been no New Model Army and possibly not a host of other famously creative people who came out of the house we set up together a few months later. A creative (and occasionally destructive) powerhouse of extreme proportions, she has been a successful poet, artist, tattooist, band-manager, novelist and above all, someone who makes things happen.
Light and Water
Sometimes I find myself just staring at clouds, sunsets, waves – the endless interplay of light and water. Everything in the World is changing all the time but every creature perceives time in a different way. So some things are moving too fast for us to take in (I mean - how the hell do bats do echo location while flying at that speed?) and some things too slow (seasons, mountains, tectonic plates). But the play of light and water happens in a time scale that we can witness. It honestly fills me with a sense of wonder and that most unfashionable of words, joy, again and again - like the heart-stopping moments of my favourite bits of my favourite songs – which of course brings me back to music, where we started.