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JEREMY GLUCK INTERVIEW BY ENCOULE

 

Barrakudos!

Jean Encoule talks to former Barracuda, Jeremy Gluck, about a life in music, and the inexorable passage of time:

JE - What are your fondest memories of growing up in Ottawa?

 

JG - My childhood and youth were set in the Sixties and early Seventies, and it may as well be five hundred years ago, the world is so different now. Ottawa at that time was small – maybe a quarter million – and mostly beautiful. I miss the snow, the real seasons and sense of wellbeing. I can’t summon a lot on this on the fly, but I go into great detail about it in my memoir, “Victim of Dreams”, out in paperback format shortly

Check it out here:Victim of Dreams

JE - Were your parents artistic: did they pass on any particular talents - or have influential record collections?

 

JG - My mother was a great wit and had the makings of a great writer. Her father had aspirations to be a singer and even made some old 78 lacquers, demos I suppose. My parents were very cultured; my father loved classical music and they both loved great art and literature, and read voraciously. Mine was not a rugged colonial upbringing. I went to the art gallery and used bookshops. Hewing timber was a rarity.


JE - Did radio play any part in your musical education?

JG - Yes, it was an enormous influence. You can’t imagine now how important it was then, it would seem sentimental to get into it. There were some good local stations, like CFRA, that played the Top 40 – I remember calling them like crazy in hope of my “Bang-a-Gong” request hitting paydirt. But the best was on FM. The night my top FM DJ played all of ‘Quadrophenia’ days before its release was one of many highlights. At night through the crystal clear winter skies I could tune in dozens of American stations, and discovered a lot of music and madness that way. Radio is magic: the first time I heard a record of mine on radio (John Peel show!), it was an epiphany. Now, it isn’t as big a deal, but net radio is a growing force, and really exciting in its potential.

JE - Who would you regard as your musical mentor, and what sounds did they introduce you to?

 

JG - Without doubt, my older brother, David, was my musical mentor. He’s seven years my senior and was a real kid of the Sixties. He saw the greats – Hendrix, The Who, you name it – and I grew up aware of not only the hits, but also stuff like the Mothers, The Seeds and much else weird and worthwhile.

 

JE - What was the local teen scene in Ottawa like during the early 70s?

 

JG - I recall a high school dance featuring a band called “Bolt Upright and the Erections” who were trading on the “American Graffiti”/“Happy Days” 50s revival of the time. In Ottawa, there were two good venues, The Civic Centre, a hockey barn that doubled as the local rock arena, and the new NAC Opera House, that boasted perfect acoustics. I saw many, many great bands in those two places: Springsteen, The Faces, Bowie. And there were the usual local acts, and Canadian stars, like Murray McLauchlan and Michel Pagliaro, who were world-class. Country music is huge in Canada, too. I was off on my own trip pretty much, and didn’t interlock with the herd.

 

JE - During the microphone-substitute-mirror-in-the-bedroom- stage, which particular vocalist did you dream of becoming?

 

JG - Foremost, Iggy. 

 

JE - Much is now made of the proto-punk landscape that eventually informed Ye Olde English Punk Rock this side of the pond, how did things look from a Canadian perspective during the mid 70s - where you hip to the NYC & Cleveland scenes - or the Australian shenanigans of Radio Birdman or the Saints??

 

JG - Everything happened by virtue of deletions, albums budget-priced due to poor sales. In my teens record stores had tons of amazing deletions. I got The Stooges albums for a few bucks each, ditto MC5; the list is endless. I was aware of some stuff, like the seminal BOMP! singles. I loved The Raspberries, so, yes, I knew Cleveland, and later on Pezband came from there, another classic power pop outfit. I didn’t get into The Saints and Birdman until I hit London. Robin and I were in Berwick Street Market and met Deniz Tek and went to see Birdman and the Groovies. Now that was a gig.

 

JE - What first hipped you to the breaking insurrection on the streets of the UK?

 

JG - The highlight of my teen week was getting NME and Melody Maker from my local WH Smith, it would arrive midweek and I would devour my ration of what was really happening. I tracked the appearance and growth of punk through those pages, and became very excited because I’d assumed the explosion of the Sixties was a missed train for me, but here it was: evidence that a new scene was coming, and I was the right age for it . . . and I wasn’t going to miss it.


JE - You arrived on these shores in 1977, aged 18, just as  punk was being subverted by fiscal policy. How did you find it, and did it differ from what you'd expected to find?

 

JG - It was exactly what I wanted find: dozens of bands every night of the week, and everybody under 20 either in, forming, or switching bands. I stayed a few months the first time I came over and spent six weeks in London gorging on music, I have a list somewhere of the bands I saw: The Saints, Gen X, Eater, it goes on and on, bands big and small.

JE - Before long, you'd met Robin Wills and formed The Barracudas - what are your recollections of that fateful meeting and the group's early days.?

 

JG - I was at the Speakeasy in Soho late one night watching a Canadian band, Dead Fingers Talk, run through their set. The Unwanted were also on the bill; Robin had been playing with them and overheard me yakking to some woman about The Seeds. We were soon ranting and raving about our shared - and at that time, still niche - interests. A day or two later, I went to the 'burbs where Robin was living with his folks, and he introduced me to his extraordinary record collection. At that time I was on holiday and eventually went back to a job in a Toronto real estate place. After six months and some correspondence with Robin I jacked it in and headed back to London. We started our band right away, and even played The Roxy in its twilight days. We played some basic punk-pop, surf covers, Stooges and Groovies. It was so much fun it is hard to describe except deliriously. 


JE - I'm guessing a shared love of 'Nuggets' was involved somewhere . . . but what were the main influence ingredients in The Barracudas melting pot?

 

JG - Robin’s collection of early “Pebbles” compilations hipped me to the post-“Nuggets” garage revival that The Barracudas dropped into. We shared a love of The Beach Boys, garage punk and power pop. We loved the stupid, the obscure and the unsung . . . and the Flamin’ Groovies! Over time at Robin’s behest we got into folk-rock and some psychedelia, though I always leaned more to the purer rock’n’roll sound. I prided myself on my authentic Standells vocals.

 

JE - The Barracudas enjoyed hit single success and TOTPs appearances, what were the high and low points of those heady days?

 

JG - “…hit single success,” would be in reference to our UK Top 40 (i.e #37) hit “Summer Fun”? I suppose it was best before it got better, in the sense that the build-up to signing to EMI was full of label interest, and positive press, and fun, some of which did actually occur in the summers of 1979 and 1980. Once we got what we wanted it all got sticky and tricky. We were really out of our depth and had crap management, the latter proving fatal. We probably signed with the wrong label – Sire would have been a better choice – we did a dumb publishing deal and then our idiot manager (sic) did everything wrong he could, the useless slob. Having said which, personally it was a surreal achievement, I mean not more than a few years earlier I was in my rec room in Ottawa blasting ‘Ramones Leave Home’ and dreaming rock’n’roll dreams.


JE - The wheels fell off The Barracudas in the early 80s - I know breaking up is hard to do, but can you talk us through the fallout?

 

JG - And now I have no manager to blame, but myself plenty. I became impatient, and meanwhile Robin and Chris (ex-Flamin’ Groovies-turned-Barracuda) wanted a milder direction than I did, I was listening to ‘Too Tough To Die’ (Ramones’ hardcore album, genre-splinter fans), I was hearing dumb bands wasting great production on songs we could outwrite. It all got lost in translation and we split, a great waste, but there it is. The comfort resides in the persistence of the popularity of the band, which grows and grows. A major UK indie is planning to reissue our indie back catalogue and airplay continues at a reasonable pitch. 

 

JE - You began a parallel journalistic career with Sounds in 1977 when the paper was at the height of it's powers, what are your memories of punk's golden era from 'the other side of the desk', so to speak?

 

JG - I started writing for fanzines when I was fifteen or so. I wrote for a classic NY ‘zine, Silver Train, and one from Montreal, Teenage News. I’d always written and written from childhood, so naturally, as a devoted reader of the rock press – and remember that in those days it included talents like Lester Bangs and Nick Kent – I wanted to write rock. Through some connection I forget, I hooked up in London with a SOUNDS writer, Pete Silverton, and through him, with Vivienne Goldman, and was soon freelancing for SOUNDS. I felt duplicitous writing and playing, so I called myself Ralph Traitor, and had a good time working both sides of the street. I did some crap – 999, The Motors – but I got some gold, too: Gen X, The Rezillos, and so on, and I also managed to wrangle a big feature on Canadian punk into a UK music weekly, which I think nobody else came close to doing. Later on I did some cool stuff like a big feature on ‘Trash’ music. I never stopped writing on music, and lately have interviewed Marty Thau for Bucketful of Brains. The highlight of my music writing has been interviewing Brian Wilson: it was surreal, and a treasure in every way to meet him.

 

JE - Following the break-up of The Barracudas you began a recording project with Eric Debris of the massively under-rated Metal Urbain. How did this come about and what was it like working with Eric?

 

JG - I’ve been lucky to know and work with a number of French artists. This is partly due to links forged in The Barracudas because my co-founder Robin speaks fluent French and knew or knew of many of these types when they hit London. We would gig, hang out . . . stuff like that. I met Eric in ’78, I suppose, when his Dr Mix and the Remix were in London following the release of their debut on Rough Trade. We’d see each other around, and when, at the beginning of ’85, The Barracudas split and I dashed to make a solo release, I asked him to produce it. This very obscure Flicknife release made no impression, but some months later Eric proposed we go to Paris and record demos to pitch to major labels there. We put together a great band, including two of Metal Urbain, Marc Jeffreys from NYC cult band Band of Outsiders, The Diodes’ John Catto, and a few others. The demos didn’t get a deal, and only last year on my ‘Victim of Dreams’ retro release, have they seen the light of day. What goes around comes around, though, and as I write this, I am writing with Marc for eventual recording, and also have Eric remixing a track by my electronic alter ego Datawhore: http://www.tapegerm.com/jamroom/bands/676

which has also attracted a remix by Mick Harvey, and is a constant source of creative adventure. One of the best things about what I do is the opportunity to work with so many gifted people. Eric is in that category; Metal Urbain were genuine pioneers. 

 

JE - You also worked with ex-Swell Maps Nikki Sudden & Epic Soundtracks during the 80s; what are your memories of the sessions?

 

JG - That was a really happy time. I’d known Nikki since ’78 and we had talked many times about doing an album together, we had very similar musical tastes. In ’83 we had attempted some demos with Dave Kusworth and Tyla, but they came to nothing. However, in late ’86 I got a call from Nikki who was in Woodworm (the studio owned by Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention, big heroes of Nikki’s) saying he was there with Epic and Rowland S Howard making an album and did I want to tack on a week and make one with them, too? I said I was doing my hair? No, I said I would be on the first available train! I called Frenchy at Flicknife (he’d released Nikki’s debut solo album) and got the money lined up. Frenchy had some shortcomings, but he loved music, and he didn’t think twice, and even later enticed Jeffrey Lee Pierce with some drug money to do some overdubs. So I ended up in Woodworm for a few sessions with some of the best musicians on the planet. We wrote mostly in the studio, though we did a few songs Nikki and I had written before. I remember arriving and they’d laid down ‘Gallery Wharf’, this gorgeous song of Nikki’s, and I heard the playback in this gorgeous studio . . . it was a wonderful feeling. It was just an amazing experience to work with Rowland, whose guitar playing is remarkable, and also with Epic, whose drumming was equally wild. I’m very proud of the album we made, ‘I Knew Buffalo Bill’, which some say has a pioneering alt.country sound.

 

JE - The tragedy surrounding Swell Maps still resonates to this day, what are your thoughts on the way it all panned out for them?

 

JG - Certainly in the case of Epic, Nikki Sudden’s younger brother, it is particularly tragic. There’s no point lingering on conjecture. Nikki rejected the idea that Epic might have taken his own life and I think all of us who knew him do, too. Whatever happened in the days before he was found dead, what matters is that a very gifted musician died far too young. I was privileged to work with Epic, he was a brilliant and inventive drummer, and also a fine songwriter. In the case of Nikki, who I knew far better, well, as someone observed, it was almost poetic justice that he died of an “enlarged heart”: he was an old school romantic, captivated in equal measure by British imperial history and the Stones. He was one of life’s great characters, never compromised, took admirable control of his business affairs, left a tremendous musical legacy, and is missed by many, many of us. To me, the saddest aspect of the deaths of the brothers is that their parents have been prematurely deprived of their only children and all prospect of grandchildren. When we were recording ‘I Knew Buffalo Bill’ I stayed with Nikki’s parents and they are very kind and sensitive souls, and I can only imagine how they’ve grieved. Nikki was a free spirit, and possibly died as he might have wanted to, in a rock’n’roll town after a gig. But he had so much he wanted to do. As he wrote in a song we recorded: “What’s done can never be put down”. 

 

JE - ‘Victim Of Dreams' (reviewed elsewhere in the pages of mudKISS) collates your post Barracudas musical explorations . Any significance to the LP's title? Would it be obtuse to assume from it that the 'victim' is your good self and that the 'dreams' are ones of a rock and roll bent?

 

JG - No, in fact. The title ‘Victim of Dreams’ comes from a poem I wrote out of a realisation I had at the peak of five days of extreme depression. I did write a rock’n’roll song on the music theme called ‘The Best Years’, which appears on a Barracudas album. The title is one I am quite taken with, and I’ve used it now for the album and a book as well, it seems to sum something up. A friend admonished me for using the word “victim” but I don’t concern myself with the brand use of the word, which has just flown into and out of what I call “mentaltainment”: the use of the idea of mental illness to escape from oneself. I know who and what I am. My motto is: “I’m fucked up and I’m proud”. Back on subject, the title refers to my, uh, life experience (sucky term . . .) and soldiering through misfortune. But I’ve been very lucky, too. 

 

JE - The album's artwork features paintings from your own studio . . . how long have you been painting, and which string on your considerable bow does it correspond to?

 

JG - I’d like to say Zen archery that would be insufferable! I had some time and space alone about five years ago and I decided to finally attempt to paint. I have no training. I did some work I am very pleased with, including homages to Jerry Lee and a few other heroes, some of my kids, and some abstracts. I went at it for two years and then slipped back into writing and especially music, and now it’s at a kind of overdrive. I may paint again, it’s exciting and a lot of fun.

 

JE - You are also a published author of critical acclaim, and have written extensively on the subject of depression. What can you tell us about your fictional and factual escapades in this regard?

 

JG - In 1988 my first novel, a satire, was published, ‘Necrotrivia vs Skull’:

 

http://www.lulu.com/content/5869949  

 

I’ve just released it in a new digital edition with great graphics by a Birmingham animator named Aston Walker who digs the book. The book was well received but its sequel was put prematurely into paperback and perished. A third novel, ‘The Love Gun’, took me over three years to complete, but the early 90’s was a tough sell and it went nowhere. I continued to write, as ever, but didn’t attempt another book as such until 2007, when I spontaneously found myself writing a memoir of my childhood in Canada linked to later, more difficult times. Entitled ‘Victim of Dreams’ (milked that title, alright!), it contains some of my best writing. I may yet write another novel, I have ideas . . . but nothing solid at the moment. 

 

JE - We understand you have a new band, The Yohawks (named after a Sixties Canadian gang) - tell us about your plans and what they might entail.

 

JG - Umm . . . in Ottawa, in the late 50s/early 60s, there were two gangs, The Squirrels and The Yohawks, that were equivalent to Rockers and Mods. When I lived in Toronto my brother and I imagined forming a band called The Yohawks . . . we did rehearse ‘Rumble’ a few times. So, anyhow . . . I liked that name, and once submitted a fictional review of a Yohawks album . . . sadly, it never ran! I’ve recorded a lot over the years and continue collaborating with bands from Italy and France, but it wasn’t the same as having my own band. About a year ago I wanted to form a new band; it’d been way too long being offstage. I had churned out a lot of music – albums of electronica, various singles and much else – but I wanted to sing live and have that feeling again and perform. I tried at first to resurrect a band I had worked with in London, but it wasn’t happening, so I asked Jeremy Williams, of Superczar, with whom I’ve recorded a lot, to put a line-up together. There’s a terrific band down here called The Death of Chapman Baxter, and Jeremy roped them in and we rehearsed, did a debut in June and it just worked. We’re playing out regular now, at the Dirty Water and other dives, and have recorded a debut single. It’s heavier and noisier than I expected to be playing now, but it’s reconnected me to the big punk grid, and I love it. The Yohawks: are recording a debut single and there will be an album to come featuring various collaborations including with Marc Jeffrey of Band of Outsiders, who we are playing with live, too, at the Dirty Water Club on April 24th.

 
THE YOHAWKS
 
L-R Matt Ellis, Liam Shaolin Wolf,. Ray Boothby, Jez Williams, Jeremy Gluck

Photo credits:

Train photo of JG by Tyron Francis www.tfrancis.co.uk


Jean Encoule – Feb 2009

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