by Bob Osborne
Simon's two books on "post punk" - Rip it Up and Start Again and Totally Wired form key pieces of work describing the era in which The Fall emerged. Following the release of the latter volume - which contains a excellent piece with Martin Bramah - R!PTM took the opportunity to contact Simon and seek his views on a number of issues.
1. WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO WRITE THE BOOK?
If you mean Rip It Up and Start Again, it was because it was such an amazingly creative era for music and culture, and one that had been neglected by historians. There had been books on specific bands from that era but nothing that took the big picture view of it as a unified phenomenon. Also it meant a lot to me personally having grown up then, it was a formative thing in terms of setting me on my present path and giving me certain expectations of music. Perhaps unrealistic expectations about how fast moving and change-full music should be!
If you mean Totally Wired, it 's because I did so much research for the first book that only about 10 percent of the stuff I found out got into Rip It Up. So it was tempting to return to the subject and put that good stuff out there, using the interview format for an added human perspective, a stronger sense of these people as charismatic individuals embarking on quite unlikely adventures. I also had a lot of ideas that occurred to me after finishing Rip It Up, or that emerged through doing scores of interviews in the UK, America and also in other countries where Rip It Up was translated, like Germany, France and Italy. The final thing that pushed me to do it was that Rip It Up was so warmly received, it felt like there was an appetite out there to know more about the postpunk era.
I just picked the most interesting interviews that I did for Rip It Up. And also thought about having a good range covering as much of the scope of the book as possible, so there's your classic postpunk figures like Jah Wobble and Ari Up and Green Gartside, and then your synthpop and New Pop people like Edwyn Collins and Phil Oakey, and Goth with Steve Severin and the Big Music/New Psychedelia with Bill Drummond who managed Echo and the Bunnymen. That was another thing, I wanted to have managers and label founders and producers and journalists in there as well as musicians. It was quite tough narrowing it down because I did around 127 interviews for Rip It Up and I selected thirty two for Totally Wired, so a lot of good ones were left out.
The archetypal one would be Public Image Ltd, because that jump John Lydon made from the Pistols to Pil dramatizes the shift from punk to postpunk. But musically in 1978 even as PiL are getting going you already have people moving in a postpunk direction, like Wire, Talking Heads, The Fall and the early Joy Division. Another tricky thing is that some of the key postpunk bands actually existed before punk, such as Devo, Pere Ubu, Cabaret Voltaire and The Residents. We think of them as postpunk because that's when they had any impact but they were working on developing their sounds in the early Seventies!
The Fall are one of the half-dozen key postpunk bands. Yet at the same time almost their own genre, situated somewhere completely apart from all the other postpunk stuff. Their music could be quite primitivist and primal, almost atavistic. They also had the trippy, druggy side, and the mystic, supernatural side -- both of which are somewhat at odds with the dominant vibe of postpunk, which was generally quite hyper-rational and demystified.
Hard to pick a favourite Fall record. Slates might be their most perfect, immaculately condensed statement. Then Hex Enduction Hour, this sprawling, gnarly, dense work of genius, with some of their wildest, most out-there tracks. But I also love that album that has all the early singles on (Fall 77-79, I think it's called -- the first Fall record I bought), stuff like "Repetition", "Fiery Jack" and "Rowche Rumble". I'm also very fond of The Wonderful and Frightening World Of, especially the second side with things like 'Disney's Dream Debased' and 'Slang King' and 'Bug Day'.
....Yeah, there were big differences between the major cities. Liverpool has a completely different vibe to Manchester, for instance. And you're right about the reggae influence in London being really strong. Equally though a lot of the subgenre things crossed geography -- so Cabaret Voltaire were quite close to Factory and Joy Division/New Order, and I think did some work with Eric Random. And the Cabs were also close to Throbbing Gristle down in London. As did Clock DVA, also from Sheffield. So it's important, geography, but not over-riding.
6. THE TONY WILSON LEGACY IS NOW GAINING MOMENTUM WITH A NASCENT SCENE
I actually wrote a piece about the Factory Box Set recently that debunked some of the myths about the label and Wilson. http://reynoldsretro.blogspot.com/2009/03/various-artists-factory-box-set-rhino.html
He was obviously a very important figure and a charismatic dude and great interviewee and talker-upper of his hometown. But I have to say that his A&R record after about 1981 is spotty to put it mildly. After that initial flurry of greatness -- Joy Division/New Order, Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio -- the Factory of the mid-Eighties and onwards is not nearly so impressive. There's Happy Mondays and the early stuff by James, but the rest I can live without, to be honest. And as important as the Hacienda was as a cultural force, that era is not reflected particularly well in the label's output or signings. Instead of taking 808 State or A Guy Called Gerald, they signed Northside. Nuff said.
What's this nascent scene then?
The legacy has survived in the individual careers of specific artists who have kept on keeping on, from Richard H. Kirk of the Cabs to Einsturzende Neubauten to Mark Stewart of the Pop Group to …. a whole bunch of them, basically, who've kept going and kept changing and developing. There's also the influence that the era has in subsequent rock, from things like Radiohead to the post-rock movement to industrial (you could see Nine Inch Nails as a sort of pop Throbbing Gristle) to various American underground rock groups of the 90s and 00s. And above all there was the influence on 90s dance culture and electronic music -- some of the people from the postpunk era would actually resurface in the rave scene, you also had the more general idea of do-it-yourself and release-it-yourself. The whole electronic post-rave culture is driven by small labels. And the spread of the DIY principle in the general across the board sense is probably the largest legacy of postpunk.
I don't know about emerging but I do like that cluster of energy in Brooklyn of bands like Gang Gang Dance, High Place and so forth. Some of them have been around for quite a while though so it's not exactly "emerging".
I am working on a new book but it is a bit hush-hush for now. Should be out in late 2010 and it's about a bunch of things but some of it will be addressing the Noughties as a decade and what actually happened, what defined it as an era.
It wasn't quite a tour -- there were two book events, on in Manchester and one in London. And the night before Manchester I was in Liverpool for something unconnected, a lecture on UK rave culture for the FACT arts organization. So it felt a tiny bit like being on the road, but not really. And it went really well, all three events were well received and very enjoyable. I seem to have relaxed into the role of being the host to these kind of panels to the point where I can enjoy it and have some fun with it. And I was helped by having great participants at the Manchester and London panels. My only regret is that in both cities I meant to tape the proceedings because great stuff always emerges that you never knew about, but in each case I was a bit frazzled at the start and clean forgot to turn my Walkman on.