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ADAM SHARP: DADDY WAS A PUNK ROCKER  INTERVIEW BY MELANIE SMITH

 
Adam Sharp was born amidst the post punk era in Manchester on August 2nd 1980. His life story was just crying out to be published, and he has gone and done just that in his memoir, ‘Daddy Was a Punk Rocker’. I love books which come at music from a different angle, and without giving away too much here, Adam narrates his story of growing up with parents who were heavily involved in the Manchester music scene. His dad, Colin Sharp (who gave him the title for his book), was indeed a bit of a punk rocker, he was the singer of  The Durutti Column for a while, and Adam became the Godson of the maverick record producer Martin ‘Zero’ Hannett.

Adam now resides in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but his life journey has taken him overseas in a variety of locations, which include Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland, the Channel Islands, the Canary Islands, Mexico, and Nashville. He has been developing his writing over the past five years and this is his first published book. I’m sure it won’t be his last. Within 24 hours of downloading the e-book from Amazon I had completely devoured it. It’s such a well written piece, with lashings of honesty, talking openly about personal experiences, both sad and yet humorous in places. I seriously advise anyone to download this book now, and dare you not to be touched by his story.

MEL: Firstly Adam why did you decide to write the book about your life, and why now?

ADAM: I didn't want to write a book about my life. Not at first. It seemed somewhat narcissistic and presumptuous to think my life was so interesting that I should write a whole book about it. So, originally, I wrote a book about other children of alternative music icons, ones that were actually reasonably well-known – such as the sons and daughters of David Bowie, Ian Curtis, Ian Dury, Jim Kerr, and Bryan Ferry – and I included short stories about my relationship with my own father only as a way to tie them all together, to give the book an on-going narrative.         

I sent the book off to agents and publishers, and the agent I eventually signed with felt the bits about the other children didn't really work – which was 90% of the book! – but the personal snippets about me and my dad had potential, he said, and might work by itself. I guess that gave me the confidence to write about myself at more length and that is when I started writing the memoir.

MEL: How did you start to write, did you record yourself, make notes?

ADAM: I first read a lot of memoirs as research, but I must admit I have always loved novels above all else. So I wanted my book to be built around in-the-moment scenes rather than retrospective discourses, to have all the rising and falling tensions, the narrative shape, that is more common to fiction than memoir and biography.

Before starting to write, I made a lot of notes on exactly how I wanted to craft the book. For instance, I decided to write it in present tense because I wanted it all to come from the point of view I had at the time I was describing, even if that point of view was naive or judgemental or boastful or otherwise flawed. Also, I wanted the writing style to somewhat mirror my voice in the various stages of my development, so in the parts of the book where I am younger I decided to make the sentences short and simple and staccato, and a bit more fluid and sophisticated in the parts where I’m older.    

MEL: How long did it take you to complete?

ADAM: The writing of the first draft came quite quickly, probably no more than two months. There was quite a bit of planning before that though. And I spent a good couple of years editing and rewriting. So probably about three years, all told.      

MEL: It is currently only available on Kindle at Amazon, (I just had to read it on my iphone) but when can we expect this book to be released in a hard copy?

ADAM: The book is indeed just available as an e-book at the moment. I've always been a bit of a Luddite and enjoy complaining about kids these days with their new-fangled technology as much as the next person – none of these Sega Game Mans and worldwide interwebs in my day! – but I've come around to reading books on digital format recently and actually think it's a wonderful development. Having said that, I still love paper-and-ink books, like you, so I'm excited by the thought of being able to hold a hard copy, which should be possible by the end of the year.

MEL: It’s quite graphic at times, but also very honest, and heart-warming actually. How and where did you acquire the knowledge from your early years? [pictured here as a child]

ADAM: Both my mum and dad were incredibly open about their early experiences, perhaps too open sometimes – for example, my mum told me about her heroin addiction, and her attempts to abort me, when I was about 12 – so I already knew quite a lot about my early years. I spoke to my dad many times when first planning the book and he was always willing to talk about all of those things, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it was for him. He always encouraged me to keep writing, even though the book often paints him in a less than flattering light. "The truth will out," he often said.

MEL: Was the process a cathartic experience in any way, or did it open some old wounds up, and occasionally you wasn’t sure if you could carry on writing? Did any anger, embarrassing, awkward, or upsetting moment’s surface during this time?

ADAM: It opened up plenty of old wounds, sure. And there are quite a few things I wrote about that I am embarrassed and ashamed of, for myself and for others, so I had many doubts, not only about writing the book, but about releasing it into the public domain.

But I was very fortunate to have a few people read early versions of the book who identified with certain parts of it, usually the bits I was most hesitant about including, and they told me that it helped them resolve issues they had over similar experiences of their own. I suppose that gave me the resolve to put it out there despite my reservations. And the writing of it was immensely cathartic, as you suggested, so I got plenty out of it too – I'm not claiming my motives were entirely selfless or anything.

MEL: Andrew your teddy bear was a big feature in your story, and your lifelong companion throughout your childhood – is he still around and what state is he in today?

ADAM: Andrew is still around! When I left Australia two and a half years ago to go travelling, ultimately ending up back home in England, I left him with a friend for safekeeping. I've actually just been reunited with him this week – there was lots of crying, all on his part though, I assure you. The friend I just mentioned has a business making T-shirts for dogs and she made Andrew a punk outfit when I was first writing the book. The plan was for him to be on the front cover but I decided against it in the end because he wouldn’t have appreciated being thrust into the limelight – he’s very modest like that, even though he is still a very handsome bear, despite his advancing years.

MEL: There were occasions in your life when you were an angry young man, and quite justified too. To get though those bad times you got lost in a fantasy world. What do you think stopped you from going down the same path as your parents and being driven into a battle with drugs and alcohol?

ADAM: I was very angry for a long time, and not particularly pleasant to be around. But I've been very fortunate to never have had to battle with alcohol or drug addiction, as my parents did. I can be obsessive though, and probably do have addictive personality traits, but luckily I've always been able to either manage them or channel them into much less destructive areas, such as being addicted to writing or chocolate or making lists – none of which are quite as serious as having a dependency on heroin, obviously.

MEL: Looking at this photo of your parents at their wedding, your Mum looks like she might be pregnant – was this with you?

ADAM: My mum was indeed pregnant - in fact, I was born later that week. If they hadn’t got married before I was born I would have been taken away and put into care because my mum was a registered addict, having spent time in prison for heroin possession, and would have been considered unfit to look after me as a "single mother." My dad insisted on the wedding and only managed to convince her at the last-minute so it was a hastily arranged affair at a registry office with only a handful of people there (Martin Hannett was the best man I think).

MEL: I love the way you narrate the story of your life, did you include everything you wanted to or did you have to leave anything out?

ADAM: When I was planning the book I sat down and listed every room I could remember being in, every person I could remember having met or known, and every event I could remember experiencing. I’m making the whole process sound scientific and lacking in spontaneity, aren’t I? Anyway, I then made a kind of graph of the shape I wanted the book to have, peaks and troughs of tension, undulating but steadily rising, and I picked out only the events and people to write about that would hopefully allow me to achieve that.

So I left quite a lot out, stuff that didn’t fit in with the desired shape of the narrative or contribute to the underlying themes I wanted to explore. There are many lovely people, who have been very important to my life that I didn't mention at all because doing so wouldn’t have added anything to the story in terms of maintaining tension and readability and whatnot. And it’s good to have some material left for future books.

MEL: Colin Sharp, your father, [pictured here singing with The Duritti Column in 1978] was good friends with the record producer Martin Hannett aka Zero, and known as the ‘creator of the Manchester sound’ (your dad also wrote his biography – ‘Who Killed Martin Hannett? – the story of Manchester’s musical genius’). He became your Godfather, do you remember him at all – what tales did your dad give you about him?

ADAM: I don't remember him sadly. Martin and my father drifted apart when I was very young and they hadn’t seen each other for many years when Martin died. I have spoken to Martin's son several times though and he is great.

The main tale I remember my dad telling me, and one of the ones he was most proud of, was how he was the first ever person – outside of those involved in making it – to listen to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. As soon as he'd finished mastering the album, Martin went to see my dad and they listened to it for the first time together. If you are interested to know what my dad said to Martin after the album had finished playing then you will have to go read his book!

MEL: What stories did your father [pictured above with Adam circa 1996] tell you about the punk and post punk scene in Manchester? Perhaps there is one or two which you couldn’t fit into the book which you could tell us (maybe some short quotes)?

ADAM: My dad wrote a great piece on Tony Wilson (Factory Records founder) soon after he died, which includes a really nice anecdote. Instead of me clumsily paraphrasing it I'll just provide you with the article so you can read it in his words.

I've spent the last two years writing "Who Killed Martin Hannett?" and in some ways it has been like living with the ghosts of Martin, Ian Curtis, Cowboy Dave and my dead wife Martine. I knew Tony was ill, but he was encouraging and enthusiastic and gave me the quote which is on the cover of my book as well as some lovely Martin anecdotes which I used in the book.

He was the same with me 30 years ago when I was briefly the vocalist with his project, Durutti Column: in fact we kinda wrote the lyrics to "No Communication" together. One of my most vivid memories of Tony is when Vinni and I did a gig at the Russell club, just the two of us, Vinni with his wemcopycat sat on a chair and me on the other side of the stage dressed entirely in red, including a red carnation, intoning, chanting, whispering, reading and singing. We were bottled and booed and spat at and Tony came running out and shouted at the hecklers "You're a bunch of philistines" and protectively put one arm around Vinni's slender shoulders and the other around mine and led us off stage to the relative security of the dressing room. "That was fucking magnificent," he told us, "and I love the red carnation."

He was one of the good guys.’ - Colin Sharp

MEL: How is life today, what things are you doing in 2013?

ADAM: Life is good. I returned to England for the first time after nearly ten years abroad and have really enjoyed being back, getting to finally know my half-sisters and spending time with other family members – my granddad and my aunt and uncle in particular.

I've got lots of exciting writing projects planned for 2013. I’m also going to be doing the odd stilt walking performance for the street theatre company I used to work for when I was younger.

MEL: What are you favourite bands, and did your dad’s music tastes rub off on you, are you still listening to Iggy Pop, Rolling Stones and David Bowie?

ADAM: I love listening to anything that sounds a bit like Joy Division basically. For a music snob I'm not actually all that snobby so I’m just as happy to listen to the more popular bands like Editors, Interpol, and the Killers as obscure little groups no-one has ever heard of such as Motorama, computerclub, or the Fatales . . . name-checking those bands totally increased my indie credibility, right?

And my dad's music taste absolutely rubbed off on me – especially Joy Division, of course, OMD, and the Velvet Underground. He introduced me to countless numbers of bands over the years – the Sound, the Comsat Angels, Manicured Noise, the Teardrop Explodes, and so on.

MEL: What’s the best memoir/biography that you have read, and did any particular books inspire your style of writing?

ADAM: My favourite memoir, by far, is This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff, who is a writer I greatly admire.

Novels have had the greatest influence on me though and the writing styles I most aspire to are those of the likes of Richard Yates, Richard Brautigan, Sylvia Plath, Haruki Murakami, John Fante, E.L. Doctorow, and Charles Portis. I have a huge affection for a lot of the greats too, the long-dead Russian and English and French writers, but I'm not going to list any of those for fear of sounding like a pretentious twit – more than I do already anyway.

MEL: You started to write a book about sons and daughters of famous people, who did you speak to and do you think this will ever be finished? Have you ever read Mudkiss friend Zoe Howe’s book, ‘How’s Your Dad – Living in the shadow of a rock star parent?’

ADAM: I started working on that book about eight years ago when I was writing about music for a magazine in Australia. My dad was also writing about music as he was working on Who Killed Martin Hannett? at the time. This got me interested in other children who had followed in their father's footsteps, especially in music, and especially in punk and post-punk music.

I made contact with several Factory Records kids, such as the children of Martin Hannett, Tony Wilson, and Ian Curtis, and I planned to get in touch with a great deal more punk and post-punk progeny had the book found a publisher. I’m not sure if I’ll ever resume work on it. I ended up using a lot of the research for my second book, which is a novel about a punk Svengali and his relationship with his son, so I don’t feel the work I did was wasted. And I looked up Zoe Howe’s book and it seems she covers a lot of the people and themes I intended to address in my book and I'm sure she has done it in a much better way than I ever could, which is great because it's a fascinating topic that deserves to be covered properly.

MEL: And finally I believe you have a couple of new books in the planning, can you talk about them, and when can we expect to see them?

ADAM: The book I just mentioned, my second – which is a kind of fictionalised behind-the-scenes account of the London punk movement – should be out next year and it is called Inherited Filth. My third book, which I'm halfway through writing at the moment, is called On Dirty Slates and it is a novel exploring the permanence of personality, whether our character is innate or whether we can just wipe the slate clean and build a whole new persona from scratch – it's not as dry as it sounds, honest.

Those two books and Daddy Was a Punk Rocker address many of the same themes – importance of parental relationships, the significance of music, the nature of identity, and so on. I intend to bundle them together as a trilogy, which will be called the Dirty Filthy Punk trilogy. I'll update any developments on my website, www.adamsharpbooks.com.

I came so close to making it through the whole interview without shamelessly plugging my website, didn’t I? Oh well.

Many thanks to Adam for this insightful interview and I personally can’t wait to read more of his books. Buy ‘Daddy Was A Punk Rockerhere: 

It's a kind of bitter sweet tale, with characters that leap out of the pages. It's not always an easy read, family attachments held together by threads, with many moments of sadness, anger, disappointment and deep insecurities, but what shines through the whole book is Adam's determination to succeed and leave his demons behind, despite everything life throws at him.” Melanie Smith

Interview by Melanie Smith
Photos provided by Adam Sharp