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Thursday, 21 May 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Chris Gordon (Baby Chaos/Deckard) Interview - 8/12/04

Further to my previous Throwback Thursday post, I've since located the interview I did with lead singer/chief songwriter of Baby Chaos, Chris Gordon. This interview originally published on the sadly defunct whisperinandhollerin website. I reproduce it here in full for your reading pleasure. Please be aware that Baby Chaos have a new album coming out soon, and will be on tour with The Wildhearts in September, all of which is awesome news. Enjoy.

I meet Chris Gordon, lead singer and guitarist with the superb Deckard, as he arrives at The Astoria. After we’ve been introduced and shake hands, he leads me backstage, up a long, echoing staircase (giving me a mild Spinal Tap flashback) and into the Deckard dressing room. He offers me a drink, and patiently waits while I sit and faff about with the leads of my Minidisk player / recorder. In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess to being a bit nervous and star-struck, so this process takes a little longer than it should, which leads to further blushing and mumbled apologies on my part, all of which Chris manages very politely to ignore. Why star-struck? Deckard after all is the same band that used to be called Baby Chaos, who for a period of time when I was 18 was pretty much the coolest thing on my radar. The two albums they recorded in that period remain firm favorites of mine (in fact, I’d hunted them both down on Amazon about 6 months ago on CD, my tapes having long since given up the ghost) and since I found out that my debut interview for this illustrious site was going to be talking to this guy, my mood has swung between sky-high elation and the kind of nervousness normally reserved for people who live in countries that still have the draft.

All of which is by way of saying I’m very grateful indeed that my subject was Chris, because he was a delight to talk to. Friendly, soft but clearly spoken with a distinct but not thick Scottish accent, he answers each of my questions thoughtfully and fully, and with a real generosity towards my at times fumbling amaturity (a word I just made up and am very proud of).

W&H: So, last time you spoke to us [in March 2004] you said that you were looking to get a new album done in the next 6 months, and that the album had a theme…

CG: For the album after ‘Dreams [of Dynamite and Divinity’, Deckard’s second album]?

W&H: Yeah.

CG: Right, yeah, we’re actually just going to start recording it immediately after this tour.

W&H: So the writing’s all done?

CG: Well, I was thinking about that in the van on the way down because, there was… I was just trying to collate all the songs we have and I kinda thought oh, shit, maybe we’ve not got as many as we thought… but then I was thinking ah, there are ones that kind of popped up that were like ‘ah, yeah, we could do something with that’ so, pretty much… although we set a challenge to Bobby [Dunn, Bass & Keyboards] and Grant [McFarlane, guitar and backing vocals] on the way down that they both have to contribute a song or at least like the embryonic stage of a song for this album as well… which could be a laugh. ‘Cos it’s been a while, it’s been like way back, since the early days since one of them took a totally active part in the creation of a song so… should be interesting.

W&H: So do they have widely different influences from you then?

CG: No, it’s just ‘cause I was a little dictator so they just… and they were happy with what I was dictating so… so it was more like that.

W&H: So now you’re wanting them to get involved more?

CG: Well, I just thought, I was thinking ‘how many songs have we got? Fuck it, if they can come up with some ideas’, and Grant’s always writing wee bits and bobs and all that but he’s just never really… In the whole time we’ve been Deckard, it’s only recently when we’ve been doing this album that we actually, we’re creating the songs in the rehearsal room, or just when we were jamming… Although I had the ideas for the songs, a lot of the riffs and stuff like that were happening in the rehearsal room, so… Before that, it was mainly 4 track stuff, and then people would add wee things to it, and the song would be kind of created, y’know, out with the live situation, so… but with this one, we’ve gone back to the Baby Chaos feel of doing things.

W&H: So is there more stuff coming from jams?

CG: Um, yeah, I mean, it’s like the songs were kind of there, but the arrangement around the songs has come out of jamming around with the ideas in the rehearsal room, which was… We had, at the beginning of this year we had one really great rehearsal for about six hours were we just jammed tons of riffs out and it was fucking great stuff so…

W&H: Let’s talk a little bit about this tour. Have you toured with the Wildhearts before?

CG: About 10 years ago it was, yeah. It was… the first proper tour we’d ever done was with The Wildhearts. We’d done wee scrapes and scraps of touring before, but that was our first big production tour we’d ever done.

W&H: ‘94, that was the year Safe Sex [‘Safe Sex, Designer Drugs and the Death of Rock and Roll’, Baby Chaos’ outstanding debut] came out, right?

CG: Yeah. I think it was like April of that year, yeah.

W&H: So this is a bit of a blast from the past for you guys?

CG: (smiles) Aye, absolutely.

W&H: So you get on well with those guys?

CG: Yeah, well that’s why… I mean, Ginger asked us to do it, ‘cause I’d been away doing a few of his acoustic gigs, playing with him on a couple of those and after that he was like ‘I want to try and get you guys to do the support on the tour in December’ I was like, ‘nice one, we’ll be bang up for it!’ so… I think as well, I think he asked a few years ago if we could do a tour with him but I was right busy with this other project I was working on, so we just couldn’t fit it in, and we had no way of funding it either… not that we actually have any way of funding this either… except for selling merchandise (laughs) so you must buy a t-shirt! (chuckles)

W&H: So, what sort of music have you been listening to lately? Bands, albums, whatever?

CG: Erm, not much to be honest. The way I kind of make a living these days is by producing, so it’s more, like, the bands that I’m working with that I listen to, and then wee bits and bobs as references. If I think something’s relevant to what they’re doing I’ll give it a wee listen, but it’s more just like a half a song just to get a feel.

W&H: OK, well, give them a plug, who have you been working with lately?

CG: A band called TeraDiablo… erm, there’s a band called The Endrick Brothers, but their album’s not quite out yet, and the TeraDiablo album’s kind of stalled as well, but… and there’s another band that’s coming out soon called Ludovico, they’ll be coming out next year with their first single… What else? Dead Fly Buchowski. They’re on Beggars Banquet, so they’ll have stuff coming out in the new year as well, so… It’s a lot of things I’ve been working on for a few years, just random things, and a lot of them have gone on to get deals and stuff like that… ‘Cause it was just me cutting my teeth, doing favors for friends and stuff like that, or doing demos, but a lot of good’s come of it.

As regards to what sort of music I’ve been liking… I went to see …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead the other night which was fucking amazing, it was their first gig back in Britain I think in a couple of years, and it was in King Tut’s in Glasgow, and it was just like ‘Aww, yes’ , absolutely fucking astonishing! And I loved their last album as well, it was a fucking amazing album. I worked at a pub for a long time, and it’d be working during the day, so it’d just be stuff on the jukebox, and eventually your interest would be piqued and you’d go ‘what is that? Oh, Trail of Dead, aye, that‘s quality…’ I did the same thing with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs as well, I thought The Yeah Yeah Yeahs sucked, I heard the first single, thought ‘ah, that’s rubbish’ , and then I kept hearing it in the pub and I thought it was PJ Harvey, eventually I discovered it was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I went ‘oh right, I do like them then!’ (laughs).

W&H: So what plans do you have for 2005? What’s the next 12 months see ahead for you and Deckard? The album presumably?

CG: Aye, well, we’re going to start work on that, and hopefully, I mean the last one, it was recorded over a period of about 2 years so this one, it’s not going to take that long, it kinda… we were just talking about it in the van on the way down, we’d like to get it done by next autumn. But I have this other project ongoing as well, and something’s going to be happening with that in the new year so it kinda depends on the schedule with that. And then for me personally, just working with more bands and stuff like that, there’s a wee label started in Glasgow that is giving us a lot of work producer-wise, for me and a partner who’s involved in this other project I was talking about… So, for Deckard, I think after this tour we’re going to cool our jets for a while, and maybe do some other stuff in February, just a London and Glasgow thing.

Just, we’ll see what the kinda feeling is and the reaction is to this tour… Cause I think, there’s a lot of people like yourself don’t know about the Baby Chaos and Deckard connection, and that’s something that we really want to use this tour to get across, you know, to maybe… It’s ideal, maybe old fans of The Wildhearts who first discovered the band ten years ago and had a passing interest in what was going on with us, so we want to try and reconnect with some of them. Because we keep coming across people that are just like ‘Ah yeah, I remember Baby Chaos, I had no idea you were still going!’ you know, exactly like yourself, so… And I mean, the reason for that is that as Deckard the first year we had was in America, and the deal didn’t come to much in the end. It looked like a great deal, looked rosy as fuck and then, it just didn’t turn out in the end. And then that first album wasn’t released over here, it was just on import…

W&H: "Stereodreamscene"?

CG: Yeah, so this second album which we just self financed is the first attempt at promoting Deckard and because it’s self financed, we don’t… We have enough money to like pay press people to try and get reviews and all that, but not enough money to pay for full page adverts and all that blast. So it’s still at a very embryonic stage, you know…

W&H: Still a bit word of mouth then?

CG: Yeah, very much word of mouth and like websites like your own and stuff like that.

W&H: So, what’s your favorite thing about being in Deckard?

CG: Well, I mean, I think the reason that we’re all still in Deckard and still trying to do it is just the enduring friendship that we have. It’s more than…more than the music even. I mean, if the guys weren’t into the music still, and I wasn’t like coming up with the goods song-wise, then it wouldn’t be happening, but I think, even with that, like, that fact that everyone’s still willing to take time out from their busy lives and still try and make this happen… or just, not even a case of ‘make it happen’ , but just still go out there and do it for the love of doing it is a real testimony to our total enduring friendship. Because we’ve been through… we’ve had a lot of knocks as a band, in a kind of business sense, y’know? And there were definitely points where I think a few people were like ‘Ah fuck, fuck this, that’s enough, that’s fucking three times, that’s fucking enough’, but I think it’s just the friendship and the music that kept it all going… that sounds really wet (smiles), but it’s the truth.

W&H: For me, the frustration is we get these great British bands, with these great sounds, and I think you guys with your song writing are fantastic, and I love what you’ve done, and you can’t get the promotion, you can’t get to the next level…

CG: Well, you’re just battling against fashion though y’know? And, the NME, god bless it for all the great bands it has introduced, is a bit of a fashion mag, and to some extent always has been. So, there’s always going to be maverick bands like, y’know, The Pixies or something like that who come along and look like nothing on earth, but just fucking were so great that people went for it, but… you know, I mean it would be great to just bust that old hoodoo of a band… that preconception people have of a band looking like a band and just say it doesn’t fucking matter what it looks like, it’s the conviction that they play with, and obviously like above all else the music that they play. Having said that, I’ve been to see plenty of local bands that look like shit and you’re just like ‘Na forget it!’ (grins) So this … but… even with that, I think it’s just down to … there’s no conviction there, y’know, they maybe can play and the songs sound great but there’s just no conviction in the way they’re doing it.

W&H: What song have you written that you’re most proud of?

(long pause)

W&H: Just today. (smiles) What’s today’s favourite?

CG: Today? (laughs) Well, we were just… this new project I was talking about is a thing called Beef Music, and we were doing a playback of some of that stuff yesterday, just to sort out some… well, hopefully to sort out a publishing deal for it, and I was listening back to that and just loving some of that, but that’s just because that’s what I was that‘s what I was listening to yesterday (laughs) …so there’s a couple of songs off of that I just think, there’s nothing I could change about them that would make it any… y’know, they’re just perfect, I think. So, one called "Operated On", one called "Lick Black Gold", so, there you go.

Back in the Baby Chaos days, the one I was really proud of was ‘Mental Bruising For Beginners’ .[from their criminally underrated second album Love Your Self Abuse, which you don’t own but really should.] Because it just started as a wee scrap of an idea, it was like a half done song, and then, I think it was our A&R guy at the time, he was like ‘hey, why don’t you make that into a bit of an epic?’ And I was like ‘Yeah, why don’t I?’ (laughs) So we added on this whole fucking end section and we used to like, y’know, when we first started playing it live it was just this total fucking epic song. So I was quite proud of that at the time. And occasionally when you listen back to stuff you think ‘ah yeah, that was quality!’ (laughs)

W&H: What’s your favorite or best live experience?

CG: Erm… God, someone was asking me this the other day… They’re like random gigs that just happen. There’s one… probably back in ‘94 it was as well, with… it think it was like with The Inspiral Carpets or something like that, in a tent in Preston (smiling), some Heineken festival (at Avenham Park - trivia Ed), and it was just one of those gigs, it was raining outside and all that but the fucking…the atmosphere and everything and just the way we played was perfect, it was just one of those optimum moments.

At this point a band member comes in to discuss the move in stage time (forward 20 minutes - a travesty that I complain about at some length and with much justification in the review): apparently this means one of their friends or family can’t attend. This news is greeted with sympathetic stoicism, and I was struck by just how matter-of-fact and professional these guys are in the face of petty adversity.

W&H: So, as a singer, do you have any voice care or warm up tips for aspiring singers out there? Anything you avoid, booze, cigarettes, or…?

CG: I don’t smoke, so it’s not hard to avoid cigarettes. (smiles) Ah, I don’t really avoid booze, but I think… I think I used to get in trouble because I would get drunk and then sing too loud and then… just not realize how loud I was singing, which can do a lot of damage to your voice, so I used to spangle my voice all the time. And then when we were pre-recording the first Deckard album I got some singing lessons, and just got a bit of perspective on what was going on with it. So they helped. I didn’t go overboard on it, it just taught me exercises and just... taught me to step off a little bit, and not cane the voice all the time. And that helped, I don’t think I’ve had a problem at a gig since then, or just a wee bit, but I used to, back in Baby Chaos days I used to be croaking all the time, and really lacking in confidence about whether I was going to reach the right notes and stuff. So, hopefully, in this week long jaunt that won’t happen. Well, it’s only a fucking half hour set, it shouldn’t happen! (chuckles)

W&H: Does the band have any backstage pre-gig ritual or warm up that you do together?

CG: Erm… no. (laughs)

W&H: OK, dumb question. What about influences? What bands or artist influence you, as a performer or as a songwriter? Or just people you admire?

CG: Yeah. God, I dunno… I mean like I said, that …Trail Of Dead gig the other night was awesome, and I definitely had a listen to their stuff and thought there’s things going on there that I really like. I love the energy of the At The Drive-In albums, and I get the same thing from Rage Against The Machine records as well, just phenomenal playing, y’know, without any frills. Obviously, none of them, with the exception of Trail Of Dead have anything to do with melody, but… (laughs)

W&H: Whereas you’re quite big on melody, aren’t you? It’s a key part of your sound…

CG: Yeah, I think so, but, I guess from that point of view it’s more… I grew up listening to Queen, so I suppose that’s part of it. And then I recognize in other bands like Muse, and stuff like that, I think I recognise the same influences that maybe I was into, which are things like Queen and just… great melody writing. And also a hint of classical stuff as well. I actually did classical guitar as a degree, as a young guy, believe it or not. Hence the long nails! (laughs)

And with that, Chris autographs my copy of Safe Sex, shakes my hand and leads me through the warren-like backstage area to the main stage. I get to meet the other band members and press flesh briefly before witnessing the sound check, which proves to be a thrilling teaser for the main event (see review elsewhere on this site).

On the way home, with my ears still ringing from the show, I sit on the night bus to Lewisham and play back the interview on my Minidisk player. I’m struck again by the honesty, the openness and the sheer bloody integrity of Chris Gordon and Deckard. At first, it’s a little saddening - the fact that these talented, professional, generous musicians haven’t yet broken is surely a complete mystery. But then I remember the show, and start to grin to myself. Because Deckard aren’t willing to give up the ghost just yet, and as long as they keep plugging away, all things are not just possible, but likely. See, I happen to believe that Rock fans know the real thing when they see and hear it, and Deckard are just that. So my sadness gives way to hope, and as I slip on Stereodreamscene and drift back to the gig, it seems to me like it’s only a matter of time before the forces of natural justice and Karma do their thing, and the world is at these guy’s feet.

And I can’t wait to say I told you so.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ginger Wildheart tweeted my latest MLiH article.

Excuse me while I go faint...

Friday, 1 May 2015

6 Days to go... some thoughts on last nights QT 'debate'

I've been a member of the Labour party since 2010. I'm actively campaigning for my outstanding local candidates in Milton Keynes - Andrew Pakes for MK South and Emily Darlington for MK North. I say that upfront, because (unlike certain members of the QT audience last night) I want my background and motivations to be clear.

All that said, what I'm about to put forward is a fact based argument, not a partisan one.

Because there was a hugely significant moment in the Ed Milliband section of the debate last night, were he was asked the 'gotcha' question that Labour have been dogged by for the last five years. He gave a factually correct reply, and was booed by the audience for it. I feel the need to talk about this because I suspect there are voters out there who broadly support Labour's current message on the economy, and/or dislike the notion of additional welfare cuts without any additional taxation for top end earners, but fundamentally feel that Labour cannot be trusted on the economy, because of what happened under the last Labour administration. And I think that in at least some cases, that distrust stems from a misunderstanding of what happened in 2008, what Labour did before and afterwards, and the Tory policies throughout the period. The Tories and Lib Dems have been happy to perpetuate this misconception because it serves their political agenda, but it is at its heart intellectually dishonest, IMO.

So here's what happened: About 7 minutes into his section (around the 37:50 mark on iPlayer) he was asked the following "...really simple question: Do you accept that when Labour was last in power, it overspent?"

His answer: "No I don't, and I know you may not agree with that..."

The audience response was actually worse than booing. People laughed.

The notion that the current state of the UK economy is a result of Labour's overspending in government (exacerbated by yellow and blue politicians repeating the phrase 'Labour's mess' like a mantra for the last five years, and that stupid note) has become accepted wisdom to such a degree that to disagree with it elicits not just anger but contempt, disbelief. Laughter.

And yet Ed was factually correct. Labour didn't overspend in government.

Here are the facts.

In 2008 there was a global financial banking crisis. Every economy in the developed world was hit by it to a greater or lesser degree. The size of the impact had direct correlation with how much your economy depended upon the financial sector for tax receipts. In the UK and US, that was a lot, so the impact was huge. Canada, with a more balanced economy (that is, one where the financial sector was only part of the tax base, not a huge proportion of it) not so bad (though still no fun at all).

Now, you could argue that Labour allowed too much deregulation of the banks to happen, which is what ultimately led to the crisis. Ed Milliband would agree with you on that. He would say, 'we got it wrong on deregulation' - in fact he has, many times. There is an uncomfortable fact that accompanies that, though - the Tories said repeatedly prior to 2008 that deregulation hadn't gone far enough. So were Labour wrong? Yes. Were the Tories even wronger? Oh, my yes. That really matters when you're comparing the two parties for economic competence, IMO.

(This pattern continues throughout the crisis, actually. The Tories opposed the bailout for Northern Rock, for example. Good luck finding an economist now that thinks that would have been a good move.)

But here's the kicker. The Tory/Lib Dem argument is this - 'yeah, but Labour had spent too much before the crisis, so when it hit we were too over-exposed'. There are two massive problems with this argument. The first is that nobody  actually predicted the crisis, so complaining they were spending too much in the face of a disaster nobody could have or did predict is... Well, it's like saying to somebody after their house burns down due to a freak electrical short 'You really shoulda had enough cash saved up to build a new house'. I mean, okay, but nobody actually lives their life like that, so...

The second, biggest problem with this whole 'overspending' argument is that up until the crash the Tories were pledging to keep to Labour's spending plans.

This is hugely important. This matters. Because it gives the lie to every Tory attack you've ever heard about 'Labour overspending' over the last 6 or 7 years. Because if Labour were spending too much prior to the crash, how come the Tories were pledged to keep spending that much, prior to the crash? 

It was never 'Labour's mess'. The crash would have happened whoever was in charge, because the consensus politics at the time was that deregulation was good. And right up to the crash, the Tories were so in favor of Labour's spending that they pledged to maintain it - so the debt would have been the same, too. 

These are the facts, and if you're worried about voting for Labour because of their perceived 'economic incompetence', please just look at the above facts, and please reconsider.

Because there is a major difference between the two parties on the economy - Labour admit where they went wrong, while the Tories are trying to convince us all that austerity is still the right move - even after 5 years of an almost flat-lining economy, and a decline in living standards for all but the spectacularly wealthy. If re-elected, the Tories may balance the books - by eviscerating funding for our most vulnerable (though their anti-growth austerity measures will likely keep wages depressed and the economy stagnant, as it has for the last five years - so, you know, probably not). Labour will balance the books over a longer period, and in a fairer way, by asking those at the top, who have profited even in the midst of the worst crisis we've seen in more than a generation, to contribute more, and by growing the economy.

Labour won't raise your taxes, unless you are a millionaire (and if you are, bluntly, you can afford it).  The Tories, on the other hand, will cut your working tax credit, child benefit, DLA, housing benefit. They will hurt the working poor and middle class, and they will not ask their wealthy doners to pay one penny more in tax.

You may have other reasons not to vote Labour, and I can respect that. But if doubts about economic competence are what are holding you back, please, please reconsider. Labour are not a danger to the economy. The Tories are.


PS - I am currently ostriching on the whole Scotland Thing, because my ignorance of Scottish politics is almost total, but I will say this: If, come Friday 8th May, Labour and the SNP between them hold enough seats to pass a vote of no confidence, given the overlap between their manifestos in any number of areas, I would be amazed if the SNP would force a second election by voting 'no confidence' on a minority Labour administration. And if a political novice like me can figure that out, so can Ed Milliband. He's saying 'no deal with the SNP' because he knows he won't need one, IMO. Which is not to say I wouldn't rather Labour held onto seats in Scotland, because right now I want Labour to be the biggest party when the dust settles, and losing seats north of the border is counterproductive to that cause. But I know some English Labour voters are getting a little freaked about recent pledges, and the above is addressed to them, primarily. Ed doesn't need a deal with the SNP to keep the Tories out, and given that, saying he won't make one is absolutely the right call, IMO, because it neutralizes the shameful, baseless Tory attack that a vote for Ed is a vote for the end of the union and all that bollocks.

EDIT - PPS - And of course after I write all that, I discover an article from late last year in which no less a figure than Mervyn King, former Bank of England governor makes my point for me, in a far more eloquent way.