John Robb interview
John Robb gets about a bit.
Perhaps best known for his music writing (Punk Rock: an Oral History; The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City) he still manages to find time to front the furious Goldblade and recently reconvened with his ex-colleagues in 80s indie legends The Membranes for an appearance at All Tomorrow's Parties. The re-union co-incided with the publication of his most recent tome, Death To Trad Rock, a massive retrospective detailing the underground post-punk/indie/shambling scene so beloved of Radio 1 DJ John Peel.
We caught up with John to catch his latest testimonial.
Please introduce yourself for the benefit of The Music Fix massive.
I am brother John Robb, the mob orator and lead singer with Goldblade, the firebrand punk rock soul power crew from Manchester, England.
What's your earliest musical memory?
The Rolling Stones on Top of the Pops in 1969, they seemed very cool to an 8 year old! Within a few years Top of the Pops was my life every week: great new bands were popping up. Punk rock made sense of all this. A big one for me was the New York Dolls on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973. I was 12 and I didn't have a clue who they were and couldn't find out because there was no internet in those days!
Did you have a defining musical moment, one where you knew music was going to be your life?
Punk rock. When the Sex Pistols came on the scene you just knew what you had to do with your life.
What is it you like best about being in Goldblade?
I like the music and I love playing live. Being on stage is the closest you get to freedom in this world. The adrenaline rush is amazing. I also love the community and hanging out with the people who come to our shows afterwards. It's great writing songs and it's great being in a band - even all the grind. It's living the dream. I always wanted to play music and I've done it for years and it still rocks!
Tell us a little about your recent book, 'Death To Trad Rock'. Bands like A Witness, Bogshed ... they've been terribly overlooked in recent years.
I was right in the middle of that scene with my band The Membranes and it seemed logical to document it all. It was a great scene - lots of bizarre bands who really went out on a limb. In that universe Captain Beefheart was the god and punk rock was the fuel. It had its own culture and its own sense of style and its own sense of purpose, perfect for writing a book about.
I wanted people to know about that scene. It's perhaps the most extreme scene that ever happened in the UK in terms of where the bands took the music and the way that people really didn't give a fuck about having a career. It was about making music on your own terms.
Were you pleased that so many people were looking forward to seeing The Membranes together again at ATP? What prompted the reunion?
It's nice that people were as excited as I was! I've had loads of cool emails. My Bloody Valentine asked us to do it and it seemed like a great idea to play something different.
How would you describe Goldblade's recent single, 'Riot! Riot!, to us?
It's a rabble rousing anthemic song, the sort of song that accompanies all good riots but the words are anti violence and are about the resigned moment when you realise there is no alternative. It's got big chorus and it's already been on a film' (Green Street 2) which has made the track really well known in Germany which is why it came out as a single.
What's changed between now and the early 80s in terms of protest music? The country's at war, youth unemployment is at record levels ... We don't really see that reflected in popular music.
I think it's still there in music. Don't forget how bland the mainstream was in the 80s. I think the impact of politics in pop has lessened: people switch of because they hear it all the time. They shouldn't, but I think people feel that politics doesn't affect them and instead have become obsessed with celeb culture or football - which is celeb culture for blokes! The debate still continues though and I would bet that there are as many bands saying political stuff. Even in the punk days there wasn't as much political music as people think...
Are there any new acts you've been particularly impressed with?
Great new band in Manchester called Dirty North, kinda Arctic Monkeys with a big dollop of reggae and a bit of rapping. Great songs and great tunes. Check out their MySpace. Also another great band called 1913. They have a real Joy Division/Chameleons vibe about them. Middle Finger Salute are a great new punk band from Manchester.
What's next for Goldblade?
Tour! Tour! Tour! And what Joe Strummer once said: the three R's - write, rehearse and record!
Do you believe in the power of rock 'n' roll?!
Membranes pics by Steven Burnett.