Tag Archives: Sex Pistols

INTERVIEW WITH COMRADE X

Hitting home with the force of a police raid on a late night lock-in at the dodgiest South London boozer Comrade X emerges from the rubble of political failure, X Factor and wall to wall mediocrity to raise a pint of Guinness to the spirit of 1977!
Over the last couple of years it has been our pleasure to make the acquaintance of a good few people, who we are extremely proud to say, have become part of the extended London Celtic Punks family. If you have attended a London Celtic Punks gig over the last few years then I am sure you will have witnessed our auld mucker Comrade X starting off proceedings by kicking up a storm with his own unique brand of acoustic-punk. Best described as “one geezer, one guitar, three chords and the truth” and, my own favourite, “Woody Guthrie meets Oi!” he’s just an ordinary bloke with an acoustic guitar and the truth to tell. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about what he does, but what does he think on the important matters of the day? We asked yer man a few questions over a few pints of stout so read on and find out…
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Now Comrade X has been around on the music scene a lot longer than any of us have been so we thought we’d give him a chance to fill us in (not literally!) and give us the benefit of his knowledge. Now there may be a small handful of people reading this who are not aware of your contribution to the world of alternative music so want to enlighten them? What started your interest in music and how long you been playing and what bands you been involved in up to now? I was 14 when the Pistols appeared on Bill Grundy and it just blew me away. Till that point I was wearing tank tops, Oxford Bags and DM’s and fancied myself as a boot boy with an aspiration to be a face on the Shed End at Chelsea. After Grundy I wanted to know more about these punks. I bought New Rose when it came out and that was that – but it was really the first Clash album that shifted everything for me. After that I bought a guitar out of a junk shop in Leatherhead and started rehearsing with my first band Discipline at the Cabin Club down on Longmead Estate in Epsom. That would have been some time in 1977. We had guitars that chopped your fingers off and 5 watt Woolworths’ practice amps – we were dire but a fire had been lit. 

Comrade1Like most Londoners there’s more than just a drop of Celtic blood coursing through your veins. Do you think that has effected or contributed to how you play or why you play or your beliefs? Well, my grandad was from Kilkenny and arrived in Liverpool sometime in the 1890’s before heading to the East End. Of course I never knew him – he was dead by the time my dad was ten years old and he was orphaned and bought up by his older sister. The family name was changed by my grandad and I only know what my dad and his older brothers told me. Grandad sang rebel songs in pubs around Stepney and his favourite was Bold Robert Emmett so I was told. I think there’s a fair drop of that spirit in what I do. What? Singing rebel songs in a pub? I’d say so!!
Having been in bands and played solo yourself which figures or bands do you think have been the important links between the past and the present and folk/celtic/traditional music and punk/rock music? Biggest influence on me is Joe Strummer – his catalogue from the 101ers to the Mescaleros stands the test of time. The Mescaleros picked up some of Joe’s Celtic connections back to his own Scottish roots. He also introduced a lot of us to Woody Guthrie and through that Leadbelly and some of that deep roots Americana which of course all tracks back through the Celtic immigrant trail. I remember seeing the Pogues in their early days and for loads of us with an Irish/punk background lots of bits started dropping into place. Great to see new bands tipping their hat to that pioneering work by the Pogues and the Men They Couldn’t Hang. The Lagan are the tops for me, that might be a Surrey thing, but they are run close by outfits like Matilda’s Scoundrels and Black Water County. Steve Earle deserves a nod here as well – I was lucky enough to get to work with him a few years back. Top fella
 How you find the London Irish scene these days? Obviously the old community has shrunk and the new arrivals seem, to me anyway, not to be interested in Irish music. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. I certainly hope so. Is there still a community out there? So many pubs have closed or changed and communities are much more dissipated. I’m from Epsom where there used to be five big mental hospitals and they were staffed throughout by Irish immigrants working alongside colleagues from across the Commonwealth. My dad worked his way up to managing and inspecting the quality of those NHS services. Those hospitals have all closed but the social clubs in those places were something else. The sense of community was massive. The loss of those big centres of employment has had an inevitable impact.

As I say you’ve been performing for a hell of a long time in bands and now as a solo act but it has been said (and I am in agreement) that being a solo artist is the hardest thing to do. Just yourself on the stage and nowhere to hide. What does it take to be a solo performer. I would say big nuts and a big ego but obviously that’s not right for everyone! Yep, nowhere to hide! That is a bit of a downside but on the upside there’s no one to row with other than yourself and the odd sound man who thinks that every solo artist with a guitar should sound like Cat Stevens.

What bands are you listening to at the moment? Do you follow celtic-punk at all. Any bands out of the scene that you like? I’ve already bigged up The Lagan, Matilda’s Scoundrels and Black Water County but I can add to that Mick O’Toole and of course the old troopers Neck who I’ve know since time began. I pick up loads of stuff from your recommendations from around the globe and I think that the Irish influenced punk/folk scene is healthy as fuck – cant wait to see the Cundeez down in Brixton as well.

Comrade2There’s always been a big debate about celtic-punk and whether or not it is cultural appropriation and politically correct for non-Irish bands singing about the Irish getting pissed and fighting and pubs and what have you. Personally I love it. The idea of the likes of Indonesian or Brazilian bands getting into The Dubliners and The Wolfe Tones after listening to the Dropkick Murphys. I mean its not like The Dubliners ever wrote a song about getting pissed is it? I think its just a case of snobbery but do you think it’s ok? I agree. I’m sick of being told what is and what isn’t acceptable and until everything is narrowed down to a tiny spec. I like covering Holy Spook by the Popes – “…I wrecked my life on whisky, bad wives, taking pills and cursing…”. That’s just the blues mate and it doesn’t belong to anyone. This “cultural appropriation” stuff is just more hand-wringing, liberal bollocks.

Now London Celtic Punks have always had the by-line of ‘Folk Punk Football’ and football is very dear to your heart as we know. Obviously the modern game is shite and the only real football fans are to be found in the lower divisions and non-league. That about right? ha ha – no, you are completely wrong and modern football, as invented by Sky TV, is brilliant! What’s the matter with you?
How long you been going to Sutton United? Do you think supporting a team that has never really won anything has made you a better person? Does learning the value of defeat and pride in losing but trying your hardest teach you something that is missing in the Premiership or even society? I’ve been going to Sutton since the early seventies. My old man took me down there to try and wean me off Chelsea and a career as a hooligan. He wasn’t totally successful but I always kept a link with the U’s. About ten years ago I jacked in the Chelsea season ticket and now it’s Sutton home and away. I love it. I meet loads of old punks who see the connection with those old values in the non league game. Never won anything? We won the bloody league last season! And did I ever tell you about the time we beat Coventry City in the FA Cup? 
As well as football you are heavily involved in promoting trade unionism. The decline of the unions is a terrible thing but what do you think can be done to reverse that trend. My own union is a waste of space and I may as well throw my money down a drain but as a good friend of mine (a Scouser of course!) once said joining a union is like having house insurance you don’t expect the house to burn down tomorrow but what do you do if it does. I got involved in NUPE in the early eighties when I lost my job as a sparky and took a job as hospital porter. Brilliant days and we were solid as a rock before everything was ripped apart and privatised. You’ve got to have that strength in the workplace or you’ve got nothing.
With so much music in your life. What are your happiest memories of playing. The best gig or best people… Tolpuddle main stage last week was one of my best ever gigs. Strummercamp and that night at the Water Rats with you lot, Anto Morra and Pogue Traders is up there as well. The rest is just a blur of fast living. 
Comrade4Right you have hinted at this every now and then on stage so lets get the full unabridged story out of you now. How did you manage to get Neck’s anti-racist single ‘Every Bodies Welcome To The Hooley’ into the national charts? Ha, that really was the wide boys revenge mate. I pulled in favours with every journo I know and got the band on BBC prime time TV and radio and we had people targeting the record shops that used to file returns for the official chart. It was some proper old spivery and I am rightly proud of it.
What’s the immediate future hold for Comrade X. Any gigs/ festivals we should be looking out for you at? What about recordings. Ain’t it time you got something down on disc… or vinyl’s coming back you know? I’ve got a mate up in Luton who has built an analogue studio and I’ll be doing some recording up there in the autumn – some great shows coming up very shortly with you lot and the Veg Bar, The Lagan at the Fighting Cocks and Undercover Festival. And I will be helping my old mate Noel Martin from Menace with his bands 40th anniversary bash at the 100 Club. I’m enjoying myself and you can tune in through the Comrade X Facebook page.
 

Thanks Comrade for taking the time to answer a few questions. It’s a privilege to include you as a member of the London Celtic Punks crew and work with you over the last few years, so here’s to many many more!
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You can catch Comrade X playing live at our next London Celtic Punks gig later this year on Saturday 3rd September on home territory in South London. He will be supporting Dundee based bagpipe punk band THE CUNDEEz on their London debut gig. All starts at 7-30pm sharp and costs just a fiver on the door. You can check out the Facebook event here to find out all the details of the venue and the other support bands or go to our What’s On- Upcoming Gigs & Events here.
Contact Comrade X

BOOK REVIEW: IRISH BLOOD, ENGLISH HEART: SECOND GENERATION IRISH MUSICIANS IN ENGLAND

By Donal Fallon

Irish blood, English heart: second generation Irish musicians in EnglandSeán Campbell(Cork University Press, €39)ISBN 9781859184615

Irish blood, English heart: second generation Irish musicians in England by Seán Campbell (Cork University Press, €39)ISBN 9781859184615

In the recent excellent ‘Why Pamper Life’s Complexities? Essays on the Smiths’, co-edited by Seán Campbell and sociologist Colin Coulter, a recurring theme was the Irish heritage at the heart of the upbringing of members of the band. Those familiar with the politics and ideology of the band’s much-worshipped front man, Morrissey, were undoubtedly not surprised by a letter from the singer which appeared in Hot Press magazine just prior to the recent royal visit to Ireland. ‘The queen also has the power to give back the six counties to the Irish people, allowing Ireland to be a nation once again’, he wrote, in a letter that lambasted the institution of monarchy. He is one of many English-born musicians of Irish lineage to do so. Who could forget the reaction to Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s respective singles on ‘the Irish question’? It is fitting that Seán Campbell’s most recent work, Irish blood, English heart, should take its title from a song of Morrissey’s. When he opened that song with the words ‘Irish blood, English heart, this I’m made of’, he perfectly captured the dual identity of many in Britain. As Campbell notes in his prologue to the work, the book’s title serves to ‘invoke the dilemma faced by second-generation Irish people, many of whom locate themselves as “half-and-half”’.

One finds a generation who felt neither British nor Irish, unsurprising in the political and social context of the period under examination, which is 1980s Britain. Johnny Marr of the Smith is quoted as saying, ‘I feel absolutely nothing when I see the Union Jack, except repulsion . . . and I don’t feel Irish either. I’m Mancunian-Irish.’ The work focuses on three musical acts, analysing three very distinct styles, personas and backgrounds: the Smiths of Manchester; Kevin Rowland’s Dexy’s Midnight Runners from the Midlands; and the infamous London-Irish punks, the Pogues. Other high-profile figures of Irish lineage are mentioned, such as John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten. As an examination of British society in the period, the work provides excellent sociological insight into how the children of Irish migrants saw themselves fitting into, or not fitting into, British life. Shane MacGowan of the Pogues was of the belief that the second-generation Irish of late 1970s London had been ‘split down the middle, really heavily’, with one set of youngsters unashamedly Irish in outlook and culture, while others merely wanted to fit in to the native youth culture. Questions are raised around issues of assimilation or lack thereof, and it is clear that an overwhelming sense of ‘in-betweenness’ existed. As Campbell notes, terms and labels like ‘plastic Paddy’ became derisive allusions to the ‘perceived inauthenticity’ of the second-generation Irish. The second generation knew that they were very different from their parents and the native Irish. One of the strong points of Campbell’s work is his multidisciplinary approach and sources, and in a 1987 social geography essay on the Irish in London he finds a quote which perhaps best sums up the mentality of this second generation, alien to both the English and Irish: ‘Of course we know and enjoy Ireland, but London is our home, our city. We can’t recreate a lost Ireland in the middle of 1980s London.’ The book brings political events of the period into context wonderfully, showing the emergence of strong anti-Irish feeling among sections of British society in response to the rise of paramilitary activity in Britain and Northern Ireland. As Philip Chevron of the Pogues would note, ‘the only politics that counted in the London-Irish scene were the politics of being Irish in a place that was innately racist towards the Irish’. Following campaigns from red-top tabloids, and the implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in the wake of the Birmingham bombing, for a period it appeared that the Irish community as a whole was seen as suspect. As one critic noted of Kevin Rowland’s attempts to ‘reconcile himself with his Irish roots’ on the band’s classic ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ record, such out-and-out assertions of Irish pride or patriotism were ‘perceived in England as tantamount to wearing a balaclava and carrying a machine gun’.

Campbell has made great use of the archives of many influential music magazines, like Uncut, NME, Hot Press, Q, Melody Maker and other publications to the fore of youth and musical subculture in the UK and Ireland. It is within the pages of a much less mainstream publication, Sinn Féin’s An Phoblacht, that Campbell unearths a gem in the form of that publication’s praise for the Smiths: ‘With names like that who could doubt their antecedents?’ For a band often considered quintessentially British by many musical critics, Johnny Marr’s claim that ‘The IRA wanted to get up and make some speeches before we went on’ during a tour of the North is a surreal insight into how their anti-establishment ethos was viewed by some republicans at home. Migrant experience and feelings of alienation come to the fore in this work, a highly valuable study of the Irish diaspora and the often forgotten ‘second generation’ in England. The book makes a strong and welcome contribution to cultural history and popular musical history, of course, but it triumphs within the field of Irish studies. It is perhaps a quote from Q magazine’s ‘100 Greatest British Albums’ special in 2000 that best captured the unusual nature of the Irish community. Including the Pogues among those featured, Q noted that ‘being white of skin and Western European of culture, Britain’s Irish are the invisible immigrants’. When confronted by Melody Maker in 1985 on his Irish ethnicity, in response to the interviewer’s noting that ‘you were born in England’, Kevin Rowland retorted that ‘just because you were born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse’. Irish blood, English heart is a study of just some of the talented young musicians who emerged out of Britain’s largest migrant community yet lacked a clear sense of identity themselves. This sense of alienation and ‘in-betweenness’ was to prove central to the work, and appeal, of these great musicians.

Donal Fallon is one of the editors of the great blog ‘Come Here To Me’, a blog of Dublin life and culture. Literally tons to read so don’t delay and get your ass over to the site now. I cannot stress that enough, alright… http://comeheretome.com/.

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