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JOH ROBB: AHOY SHIP MATES I'M WITH JOHN ROBB FROM GOLDBLADE! INTERVIEW BY MEL

A busier, more energetic man, you couldn't find, as when he’s not writing songs or singing his heart out for his band Goldblade he is writing a best-seller on Punk, or appearing on TV programmes talking about music culture, or he could be doing his journalist bit for a music magazine. John was responsible for coining the 'Britpop' name and also the first person to interview the band Nirvana way back in the 80's.

"Goldblade were formed in 1996 by ex-Membranes front man John Robb. Maintaining the swagger and sharp edge, Goldblade have incessantly toured the world on the back of their last album, 'Rebel Songs'; their best selling album yet. In the last 12 months Goldblade have been tearing it up at huge festivals across the planet and on big punk tours. Their sweatshod adrenalised live show has built them a powerhouse reputation on the international punk rock circuit. In a blur of sharp threads, fierce quiffs and phat shoes, Goldblade have taken the maxim that rock 'n' roll is a physical thing to its Olympian limits. This is truly a revolution of everyday life! " taken from Goldblades Myspace [I couldn't have said it better].

He is a man of many talents, good looking and a nice guy to boot. The women love him to…let’s find out why!

Hi John I'm currently working my way through your vast tome of a book 'Punk Rock: An Oral History' it's riveting stuff and actually made me recall a few things I'd forgotten about in this period of wild abandon. 

So I guess this leaves me wanting to ask more about your book, so let’s start.

Mel - The book is one of the best you can possibly read on the punk scene, with interviews from everyone and anyone from the scene, and gives little never before told stories by musicians.

How long did it take you to put together all the interviews and finish the book? There must have been a time you thought it would never be finished with the amount of stuff at your fingertips.

John - It took forever! The book is about one tenth of what I got from the interviews. If I ever had the time and patience I would transcribe the whole lot and put it up on a website, but I famously don’t have much time and I certainly don’t have any patience!

I’m doing a similar book on Manchester at the moment and that is just like the punk book - loads of bleeding writing and no sign of an ending, for some insane reason I’m also doing a book on the eighties underground I was involved in with the membranes along with other bands like A Witness, Bogshed, Three Johns etc.

The punk book was great to do, when I interviewed all the people for it, it was great that they were still so engaged with punk and music and were still creating and still excited by it.  I like the naivety of their stories, the new York scene book, ‘Please kill me’ is a cool rock n roll book about drugs and craziness and my book is about people skiving school and getting really into music. The American scene was great but far more cynical, whereas the UK scene was so much more innocent. When you look at the pistols on Bill Grundy now they sound like naughty boys on a school trip more than the Antichrist who have come to destroy society and in a weird way this makes British punk stronger because it was real and it wasn’t contrived in any way at all. There were plenty of times when I thought I would never finish the book- it felt like endless homework, thank fuck it was a topic that I was really into!

Mel – What is the best time you had whilst writing the book and interviewing people?

John - Finishing the book was a good time, although doing all the interviews was great, transcribing them was a real drag though!

Mel – Your book has left me wanting to read more…I believe another one  is currently taking shape about the Manchester music scene, could you tell us more about this and when it’s due to be released. Do you have any more plans after this one is completed?

John - Sort of answered this above, but nearly finished the eighties underground scene book and well on the way with the Manchester one. The Manchester one interviews everyone you would expect in it. It's a cool book, like you would expect with such opinionated characters there’s some great stuff in there.    Punk and Manchester are oddly similar subjects, the people seem quite similar in their idiosyncratic attitude to making music, there’s a real fuck you like it or lump it attitude to what they do. Manchester seems to always be producing these great characters who make music on their own terms and that’s what makes the scene so endlessly fascinating.                                     

Photo by Chris Bury

Mel – I have yet to read your book ‘what the fuck was all that about’ discussing the music scene in the 90’s, so I need to ask, just what is your opinion of this period of music? I know you weren’t too enamoured with the new romantic scene, was this music you didn’t like or the clothes or both? You’d make a good pirate with a frilly shirt ;-)

John - I don’t have a problem with the frilly shirts, it was mostly the lumpy bumpy people inside them! Sometimes I think 'Gold' by Spandau ballet was the worst record by the worst looking group ever released! This was a time of Thatcherites and Thatcher Pop, which wasn't that great, was it! on the other hand Adam Ant managed to go total pop with Kings of the wild frontier, that was a genius record which I still love and he looked good at that time.          

I really liked Bow Wow Wow and some other bands as well so there were some high points, the underground scene was great as well, with the second wave of punk, crass, two tone and post punk all doing great stuff, I don’t hate the eighties just the mainstream! The bands I'm writing about in Death To Trad Rock- my book about the eighties underground shows that there was thriving underground scene in the UK at the time.

The nineties was the same, the underground was great but there also seemed to be quite a lot of great mainstream stuff like Nirvana and The Prodigy - amazing when they got to number one worldwide with 'Firestarter', the Manchester thing was good and early acid house was great when no-one had a handle on what it was all about and there was a great punk revival which was thrilling.

I think now the underground and the mainstream are so blurred that no-one can tell any more, underground bands can be bigger than chart bands, mainstream pop is just one part of a fractured scene and not the dominating force it once was and that’s a good thing because when you let the accountants and record labels decide what you are listening to you are living in Simon Cowell world and that’s a world without any fun at all!

Mel – Let's go back to your books, out of all the books you have written which are you most proud of and why?

John - The punk one because that’s my roots, it was really interesting to do as well, there are some really interesting stories. I liked the way everything contradicted just like punk was at the time - everyone had a different version of what happened and no-one agreed, in fact most of the time you couldn’t agree with yourself!

Mel – Let’s spirit you back to 1977 as you did with your interviewees, what were you like as a teenager then? How did you get into punk? Was there a scene in sunny Blackpool or did you travel to Manchester and Liverpool for gigs If so did you visit my old haunt ‘Eric’s?

John - There was a punk scene in Blackpool, quite a big one in fact, even in 1976 there was a small punk club in the town but I was only 14/15 then so I never went to it. Blackpool was a big northern soul town, at school there was loads of northern soulies practising their steps in the playground and the northern soul look was big in town.

I was more into glam rock before punk really, but punk was what got me deeper into music, in the late seventies there was a big scene of bands in town with factory bands like Section 25 and Tunnel Vision and second wave punk bands like One Way System and The Fits and somewhere in the middle was my band The Membranes. We were a punk band but we had our sound, we were into heavy bass and discordant guitars. I’m doing a book on that scene now - the noisy mid eighties scene that The Membranes were in with Three Johns, Bogshed, Nightingales, A Witness, etc. Its a bit of a massive book 160 000 words out on cherry red early next year.

We used to go to gigs in Manchester when we eventually had a friend who could drive, you have to remember that we were 60 miles away! We went to Liverpool for some things but more to Manchester, we were so young that we didn’t know anyone who could drive let alone had a car. I was a bratty thrilled by life buzzing 16 year old - so not much has changed there! I was totally blown over by this music and thrilled at the way you could join in and make it as well. DIY was the best thing about punk, there was a punk scene in Blackpool, we had our fanzine, ‘Rox’ and loads of bands to write about from the great Section 25 who were on factory to second wave punk bands like The Fits whose ‘Tears Of A Nation' is still one of my favourite punk singles and One Way System.

Photo by Adrian Cowan 

I went to Liverpool in 78/79 for some gigs but it was a lot more insular than Manchester and you really felt like an outsider there, saw some great gigs in the post punk period though like Gang Of Four, The Fall, Bunnymen, The Cramps etc. Liverpool always had these amazing looking punks - older than everyone else but with amazing clothes, these people really looked like they lived it, really extreme, the first Mohican was from Liverpool wasn’t it??? I remember going to probe records and everyone being wary of Pete burns because he would sneer at whatever record or fanzine you bought! I had to buy everyone’s records for them because they were soo scared to go the counter, they gave me their money and their records and I did the purchasing!

Mel – I'm not so sure about the Mohican hair do, maybe our readers know? Do you have a special song from the early day’s which means a lot to you, one which gave you inspiration to follow your dream? Who was the first band to leave a lasting impression on you as a teenage punk?

John - I love hundreds of songs from the time, The Stranglers were always big with us, their dark psychedelic take on punk made to our magic mushroom heads! 'Spiral Scratch' was great for DIY inspiration, The Clash, The Pistols and The Damned were just great, The Clash for passion, The Heartbreakers for sleaze, Crass were amazing - so much information on one record! The Cramps and The Ramones were amazing and Adam and The Ants, this list could go on and on ! That really is an impossible question!

Mel – Yea I'm glad no one asked me that question hehehe. Later you worked for the likes of Sounds music paper, and ZigZag magazine, could you recall your best or favourite review or interview? You also wrote a fanzine called ‘The Rox’ can you tell us about that?

John - We started Rox because someone brought a copy of Sniffing Glue to school and we suddenly realised that you can make your own media and you didn’t have to accept what was in the music press which I had been reading avidly since I was 12.  We didn’t have a clue what we were doing but we learned fast! The fanzines were such a key part of the punk rhetoric weren't they! I’ve interviewed nearly everyone from punk and post punk and to be honest they have all been really good, very few duff interviews. The fanzine lasted ten years and by the mid eighties it was one of the more influential fanzines on the scene with a certain style that was a help to many other fanzines, it was hard work writing, printing and selling the damn thing so in the end it was easier to be  a freelance writer!

Mel – I hope we are half as successful as your fanzine was. Why do you think Punk music is still alive today and more popular than it was 30 years ago?

John - I think it’s the ultimate rebel music, I think if your smart and young you can quickly tell that the music that the music press tries to sell you is not quite what it seems and if you scrape a little under the surface there is a strong music scene that provides a sense of community as well as excitement.

I'm not knocking big bands there are some stadium bands who are really good and some of them are punk rooted bands. I just think that if you are 16 its assumed what you should be listening to, the radio will do loads of market research and decide what you are going to listen to and they will nearly always decide against playing punk bands because the music is still too noisy for them, it makes me laugh when you see so called alternative DJ’s cower when a slightly louder than normal guitar come blasting out of the speakers, their idea of alternative is the Killers! These so-called alternative radio stations are mostly a joke they should have their licences taken away from them and given to someone else because  when they applied for the alternative licence they were basically lying to get it, Coldplay are not alternative are they? I don’t hate Coldplay, I don’t really care about them very much at all, they are mainstream and not something you want to hear every twenty minutes on a show that claims its alternative, even BBC 6 doesn’t really play much punk stuff apart from the odd tune from thirty years ago, they play some good stuff but they still lock out loads of new punk bands, why? We want our share as The Ramones once sang ‘We Want The Airwaves!’ why should our music be discriminated against? Why do we have to assume that we can’t get played on the radio? Who decides what’s right to listen to? It’s really really stupid and the public are the ones who are getting conned.

Mel – Oh yea I hear what your saying totally, music has gone very safe once more. Do you still go and see bands play live gigs and if so who?

John - When I'm not bogged down writing books or if I'm not on tour I go and see bands all the time. I live in Hulme in Manchester, right behind the University so I'm well placed to see bands, it only takes me about ten minutes when I hop on my pushbike to get down to a gig. I see new bands, legendary bands, old bands, all styles all music, its great!

Mel – Did you go to any of the Sex Pistols reunion gigs? If so what was your opinion as they received mixed reviews!

John - They were brilliant in Manchester, they sounded fantastic. Steve Jones guitar was awesome, and Rotten was really entertaining, it must have been the biggest mosh pit I’ve ever seen in my life. I guess the reviews were written before the people went to the gigs, loads of them were slagging off the audience for being old which is weird because when you get a band the media like The Fall or The Pixies no-one mentions how old their audience is and their audiences are, if anything, older than The Pistols crowd. The Pistols audience had loads of young kids in it as well as the oldies, some people had  a problem with the ticket prices and choice of venue but these days the pistols are a classic British band like the stones, they are not a punk band and that may be the crux of the whole problem.

Photo by Chris Bury

Mel – A question for all the women out there….how do you manage to keep yourself in such good shape, lot’s of energy and stamina and do you have a woman in every port, are you a flirt? (That was one question a certain male friend of yours asked lol)

John - I look after myself! I've done the mad stuff, I've done the drugs and that stuff but I got bored of it years ago, it got in the way of everything else. I like running it chills me out, I like the weights and I do a bit of stretching, it all makes you feel amazing! I'm glad it’s appreciated ha ha ha. I’m a loyal old dog and have one girl in one port!

Mel – Well that's great to hear John! Now I bet you were, to coin an old saying, ‘proud as punch’ to present an award at your former high school in recent years – what kind of pupil were you?

John - It was quite amusing to go back to the school where I got thrown out in the last week to give an award, it was weird gong back, everything looked and smelled the same, just it looked smaller, the weird thing was not one member of staff was left from when I was there which suddenly makes you feel old ha ha ha. It was a music award and I go every year now and do a talk and listen to the bands that they are training up at the music centre at the sixth form which is quite ironic because when I was there they didn’t really encourage that kind of thing. I think its odd now that you can go to school and get taught how to be in a punk band, is that good or bad? I don’t know! There’s some good things about it for sure but it also seems to be a contradiction!

Mel – I believe you produced a number of bands in the mid 90’s as well as other stuff…can you tell us a little more?

John - Yeah, I produced Cornershop's first album and Therapy and loads of noisy smaller bands. I did it for about two years then got burned out – its very hard work, all that endless noise and endless all nighters in the studio! I still do it now and then, you want a raw real live big sound then email me!

Mel – Wow you’ve also been appointed Professor of Popular Culture at Salford University in 2008 as well as being on the board of The Manchester Dance Academy – how did all this come about, it’s such an honour? 

John - I was presenting an Arts programme that they made for channel M in Manchester and they like people who have done loads of different things and been pretty successful to come in and do lectures and one thing led to another. I'm doing some lectures next year, they are a cool university, the other professor is Johnny Marr- that’s good company he's a cool dude!

Mel – Your TV career is so varied, which kind of things do you prefer to be doing? Can you talk us through the 10 part documentary you filmed for TV on the history of Punk Rock? Can this be bought on DVD?

John - It’s not out on DVD, but you can find the whole thing on Youtube! It was basically a history of punk were I tried to interview everyone I possibly could, we spoke to loads of people who were normally missed out of these things as well as the bigger names like John Lydon, Stranglers, Buzzcocks etc it looks pretty good and there's loads of good stuff in there and hey! I’m not trying to sell you anything because like I say you can go to Youtube and get it for free.

Mel – I believe you have partaken in various DVD’s and filming. Do you have any plans to act in any films, TV or documentaries in the near future?

John - There's always loads of TV ideas going on, sometimes they come off sometimes they don’t! I was acting in a film as well not sure when that’s due out, maybe sometime next year…

Mel – Can you tell our readers which forums and magazines you write for. I believe you wrote articles for our very own delightful Jean Encoule’s TrakMARX.

John - I do columns for Distorted magazine, Big Cheese and write freelance in loads of different places.

Mel – Goldblade have been going strong since the 90’s after ‘The Membranes’ split. Goldblade is a great name, where does it derive from?

John - Its sounds flash and it doesn’t have a ‘The’ in front of it although The Goldblades may just work, mmmm?!

Mel – Hey that sounds quite good, dark and dangerous men! John Your known as one of the best lyricists around at the moment so what do you write about and who inspires you?

John - I write about loads of different things and sometimes several different things in one song. I'm inspired by everything but my head is always full of words and phrases, they keep coming out nonstop. I guess if I give you some songs and what they are about it may help

'Psycho' is about how despite technology we are still living in the same sort of way we did 500 years ago. Saturday night in England is like the 15th century, we still run around only we do it faster and with better technology, there was also a  dig in there about the royal family being German and how weird it was that nationalists love them despite this! And the middle was state of the nation address, all crammed into 2 minutes 40!

'Jukebox generation' is about when people die their songs remain alive floating in the ether, the songs never die and they still have a life. I was listening to 'Blitzkrieg Bop' and thinking how life affirming that still sounded despite the three main players on the song all being dead. You put the track on and somehow they all come back to life again, the song then wanders off into stuff about the great songs and how they make you feel and how they are pop cultures way of letting every generation deal with their blues, because it’s the one culture that we still own and that they have not taken away from us (even though they keep trying!)

'Riot Riot' is about riots we have seen on tour with heavy-handed cops tear gassing people and about whether violence ever helps with the commentator in a quandary about whether to join in or not, ’all great truths end in paradox’ he decides.

'Fighting in the dancehall' is about the euphoria of rock n roll, the sense of freedom and escape of art, it celebrates the no holds barred moments in society where everything is very controlled, those moments at a gig when it goes feral and wild! It also remembers the old dusty dancehalls that were the backbone of British pop culture for years. I was looking down the venues for The Sex Pistols 1976 Anarchy tour and most of them have gone now, taking a chunk of great social history with them when the bulldozers moved in.

'Out of control' is about tearing clothes off and fucking!

'Strictly hardcore' is about punk rock and how it fucks with your head, it celebrates the counter culture, and demands positive action!

'Hairstyle' is about oral sex, the lyrics were so disguised that we managed to get the record played all over daytime radio one and sang the song on CDUK- where they asked to change some words but the wrong words so the songs meaning wasn't changed at all—you had to email them the lyrics as well so they could check there was no swearing in the songs!

Mel – So you’ve been asked to represent the UK for the Eurovision 2009, will you accept?

John - Of course!

Mel – So we'd better gear ourselves up for the Goldblade mainstream revolution ;-).

How’s the tour going so far, now is your chance to plug you new album and extensive tour, tell us all about it John!

John - The Tour is in October so I can't tell you anything yet! The album is called 'Mutiny' 13 punk rock classics

Mel – One final question – What makes a good interview, can you give us some of your tips?

John - I thought that was a good interview, e-mail interviews are bit weird, there’s no rapport and they take fucking ages to answer ha ha ha, a nice rest from typing out my book!

Thanks John it’s been a pleasure, hope the women appreciate your amazing photos I found from Chris Bird and Adrian Cowin. www.adriancowin.com (thanks guys) and good luck with your tour and new album ‘Mutiny’ out now on Amazon or directly on Goldblade’s web site £8.99

http://www.goldblade.com
http://www.myspace.com/15378172