ANDY BLADE interviewed: “It’s the world that’s fucked up, not me. I am probably a genius”
Andy Blade Interviewed by Ged Babey about ‘marketing suicide’, exclusivity, being the ‘Chris Morris of Rock’, and his trilogy of provocative albums. And how post-breakdown, divorce and bankruptcy his only asset is himself.
For many, Andy Blade is frozen in time. He’s forever the ratty 16 year old punk at the Roxy in 1977 stabbing a pigs head with a penknife after singing ‘No Brains’.
The former Lena Zavaroni of Punk (or Macualy Culkin if that’s a reference too distant for you) has long since grown up, wrote a great autobiography ten years back and has nearly finished a second version.
Forty years on, he barely registers in the public’s consciousness despite being probably the most provocative songwriter in the UK, now with a trilogy of home-recorded albums to his name; Life-Affirming Songs For Those with a Bad Attitude (2008) Lets Burn the Internet Down (2010) and Plastic Penny and the Strange Wooden Horse, which came out at the end of 2016.
His songs are are about kidnapped children, media whores, police ‘honey-traps’, incompetent jihadi’s, the dark side of celebrity, religion, euthanasia and madness.
He music is a strange brew of bedroom psychedelia and pop more influenced by his heroes like Sparks and Zappa than punk. There’s a hint of Only Ones and in places Luke Haines/the Auteurs. He plays everything himself and produces it all mixing up great glam riffs and electronic drums. One of his biggest fans is Lawrence from Go-Kart Mozart ( Denim, Felt etc) It’s as a lyricist that he really is out on his own.
The former lost-boy of Punk Rock is an under-the-radar genius as a songwriter who should be up there with the likes of Morrissey, Nick Cave and Luke Haines; A go-to post-everything cultural guru, iconoclast and commentator. He is the Chris Morris of Rock’n’roll in that he has more in common with comedy ground-breakers like Morris and Stewart Lee than his punk contemporaries. ( There are parallels with earlier satirists too; Joe Orton – (Mrs Kent) and Peter Cook in Bedazzled ( Contract)… )
As a couple of examples, his song Oliver Stone is about the (fictitious/surreal) time the Hollywood director came to stay with him. “He’s taken over the kitchen / now he calls it the script-room/ Well, I wouldn’t mind / If he gave me some lines”.
Another song called ‘Shame’ deals with the death of a, possibly Australian, pop-star by auto-erotic asphyxiation. The first verse is sung from the point of view of the victims spirit hanging around the scene whilst the cops rummage around. And the second verse from a narrators viewpoint has the classic line. “There’s more than just egg on your face / and your friends will be taking the piss / You just loved to take risks”.
Maybe it is his straight-faced, vicious and sarcastic delivery that make them, but no-one else is writing songs like this any more. That’s not to mention songs about shit jihadi’s and moving to Raqqa.
The latest album is dedicated to ‘the death of Freedom of Speech’.
Blade is nowhere near as well known or as appreciated as he should be. but he is a one-off. Intelligent, provocative, yet part fuck-up, part fuckin’ genius. (I told him I intended putting that in the introduction to this interview, maybe as the headline… which maybe wasn’t my best idea ever)
I’d rather you put ‘fucked up’ than fuck-up. Makes it sound more transitory, temporary thing rather than a permanent condition. I thought you were more Lester Bangs not the fuckin’ Katie Hopkins of rock criticism Ged.
You don’t dispute being a genius though?
It’s the world that’s fucked up, not me. I probably am a genius. A fucked genius.
All the best people are fuck-ups though. Je Suis a Fuck-up. I’m using it like hippies used the word ‘freak’, in a ‘positive way (Blade can hear me back-pedaling)
I’m all for fuck up’s myself, most of my heroes are in one way or another, I suppose it’s because I’ve learned over the past three years how fragile we all really are, and by all accounts, I should have floundered long ago, but instead I feel empowered for probably the first time ever. When I was right in the pits, a mate said ‘you are your own asset, you’re lucky’, which pissed me off at the time, but it stuck with me with…and so I guess I don’t want to be a ‘fuck up’ even in the way you mean, even though I am…probably! Also, it’s far easier to go proclaiming yourself a fuck up, and being able to laugh properly, when you’re sitting on millions of pounds of royalties in the bank….
As Joe Whyte told us in his Louder Than War review of the latest album it is Blades post-divorce, post-bankruptcy, post-breakdown album and now, although very positive again, he’s committing commercial, or rather marketing suicide.
You won’t find his Plastic Penny and the Strange Wooden Horse album (Vinyl or CD only) in most high street shops, available online to download. He has stubbornly in an act of self-sabotage and marketing suicide made it as hard to get hold of as possible.
I refused two label’s offer to manufacture and retail the new album, eschewed the use of a distributor, or an expensive, up-their arse PR company with their 3k rip off for ‘assistance’ – and decided to do it all myself – making it available from just one main point of sale – (plus a few groovy, hand picked record stores). It sounds like a sure way to fail I know.
But, for fucks sake why?
Buying the first Ramones album on import was probably the most satisfying record purchasing experience I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. By all intents and purposes, it should actually have been a real fucking hassle; trudging up on the tube train from Finchley to Tottenham Court Road just to put a deposit on it and order it from the USA, then having to go back a couple weeks later to actually pay the balance and take it home after its arrived in the mail – but I will never forget that tube journey. Carefully removing the plastic covering, to get at the album cover. Pulling out the vinyl from between its sheets, the wonderful aroma of ‘new record’ in my nostrils as I studied every single word on the sleeve, label and insert. The titles leapt out at me – Beat on The Brat, Judy Is a Punk, 53rd & 3rd – I couldn’t wait to get home to place it carefully on the rubber mat of my Garrard record deck, and place the SP25 stylus upon its grooves and find out what it sounded like.
Today, if I wanted the first Ramones album, or any other album come to that, all I would need to do is click something, pay, and wait a couple days. It sounds ever so convenient, but ever so boring. No record or CD buying ritual has ever been as much fun as the first Ramones album. It was all in the chase…the locating… the hunt… the kill. I think the music fans lot should always be that exciting, which is why, as a reaction to the Internet, easy-peasy age, I want people to work for it, to have to try just a bit harder to own a copy of my new album, The exclusivity of the purchase point is the thing. It is simply NOT AVAILABLE anywhere
Except from Blade himself via his Facebook page (Andy Blade Info) If you hurry, it will be wrapped in a free Eater T shirt. I asked Andy to talk me through the songs on the album. Can you tell me a bit about the songs, the lyrics?
I prefer the listener to take what they want from a song – if it is close to what I had in mind, great, if not…
They do need a bit of explanation though, I’m a fan of yours, I’ve got all your stuff, but some of this album is difficult to fathom.
I hate explaining meanings of songs, I can only describe songs in the actual songs themselves, if you follow, but anyway…
Plastic Penny &The Strange Wooden Horse, the title track, is basically a terribly bad dream. A metaphor – Plastic Penny represents innocence, the ‘strange wooden horse’ is an exit door from the psychotic attention of the ever encroaching, increasingly 1984 environment. The line ‘Time to pick a partner/Didn’t he do well/Looks like Hipster/Just a fucking bell’ – The ‘he’ in question is ‘Big Brother’ masquerading as ‘just another guy’, who having set his sights on the last bastion of remaining innocence (Penny), aims to make her ‘his’ bitch. Big Brother is unaware, however, that Penny is a kick-ass mutha-fucking vixen!
(track 2) Welcome to Raqqa . is based on the premise of a news story of a young. stupid/naive Muslim family from Oxfordshire who, after seeing ISIS propaganda, fall for it, moves to Raqqa for a ‘new life’ on ‘Daddy’s insistence’ which is all bravado and talk – ‘I’m smart, I’m buff and brave…(oh the irony) but scared of burning in Hell’ – The being shit-scared of ‘Hell’ issue being foremost in a Muslim’s mind (at least in my family), which kind of ruins the ‘buff/brave’ bit! ‘Akhi’ is what young Pakistani Muslims call each other, like ‘bro’. End result – last he sees of his family is in a mound of body parts on the back of a truck. – ‘see your family on the back of a truck.’
There is a line in that which seems typical of Blades dark sense of humour, which is blacker than a black cat in a coal bunker, about taking a photo of ‘a head on a stick, it’ll make us laugh , if if don’t make you sick’. It could also be seen as a follow-up to Mi’Amo Jihad from 2008 which foreshadowed Chris Morris’ Four Lions movie in pop-song format.
About You -When you find yourself being moulded/manipulated into the vision someone else has of you, rather than the real you & how quickly we go from being loved to being a pariah.
Funeral Tips for the Filthy Rich- The inspiration behind this is based on a funeral I attended, after the death of the patriarch of a very wealthy family – the wake was more like a wedding reception – every time I went to the loo, there’d be some really drunk, ugly bird in a posh frock committing lewd acts with some banker type in one of those silly, electric bue (or such like) ‘skinny’, hipster suits, sometimes they’d be blatantly fucking in the cubicles. Someone had even punched a hole in the door of one of them – what for I can only guess – , so I scribbled a mate’s phone number under the hole. Apparently he received 10 calls that night!
Locked in- Long-winded: Comment on how our ‘system’/society grabs our teens , and locks them into a deal for life without them being even aware of what is happening. Only the mavericks can sidestep, but then the media paints the maverick as a bad guy, mental case , Son Of Sam – but the Son of Sam figure will set them free!. Short-winded – Metaphorically, it’s how I feel, locked in to this broken, fucked up system.
‘I’m a ghost in the machine and I’ve been locked in ‘ is a brilliant line – which can be interpreted as being about how cyber-life makes you a powerless non-entity just as much as blending into the crowd in real-life. I’m sick of hearing about how technology is the future and oh-so fucking great.
A Message – self explanatory – That feeling you get that no one is listening to you about something VERY important, but the message is being blocked by people, mortgages, things & other distractions.
That includes the best couplet on the album. “I gotta get a message thru / say ‘hi to the gang and a Big Fuck You’ / to all the dicks who got us stuck in the glue” I imagined that was a message to some of your punk peers. No?. Carry on.
A Lot On My Mind- I wrote this as things were collapsing around me at the start of my ‘break-down’, it tied in with that spy story, the guy in the suitcase, remember? I felt strangely akin to him at the time – like I would be found stuffed into a small space under mysterious circumstances, and become a footnote.
Some Things Better Left Undone- A personal song I almost pulled. How religion can scar people irreparably- written after the dissolution of a long friendship. I told him he needed to raise the bar in his life, as it seemed he was too content with ‘waiting for some average fun’. His head remains buried in the sand.
‘Water Turn Black – Just happens to be my fave Zappa song, and the title seems such an exciting proposition to someone like me, who has lost faith in humanity.
Snub Nosed Cunt – Obviously dedicated to our George, but at the time of writing it, I was on ESA (Employment Support Allowance), the only time I’d ever signed on – after paying into the system for so long, to find that the hoops you must jump through to reclaim just a tiny fraction of it, were too high – it’s a massive betrayal. CUNTS!
Are you still planning a gig on the Gaza strip?
The only reason I intend to play a gig in Gaza is because I promised my Palestinian friend, before he was killed, that I would do that. If it highlights anything, fine, but I’m not big on political statements, particularly the Israel/Palestine issue. Am I happy about other artists playing mainland Israel – no, I think it is hugely insensitive. Am I going to boycott anyone, no. Not that I wouldn’t be all for a two state solution, I am – but I’m too much of a realist to believe the Israeli’s will ever allow it or ever intended it to be that way. The terrible injustice that was Israel usurping Palestine off the map, has been done, there is no reverse gear, only forward – and to think that Palestine, in any shape or form will ever exist again is pure fantasy. Likewise, to think their will ever be peace in the Middle East would be equally as misdirected. It is a real shame.
Do you see your last three albums as a trilogy in which you lay out your ideas about popular culture, media hypocrisy and injustice in no uncertain terms. Obviously all tangled up with your own personal battle to survive and make sense of the fucked up world? Or are they just a bunch of snarky pop songs?
They are a indeed a trilogy, constructed out of necessity – thanks to the world we live in (our society being the REAL ‘fuck up’), from behind which I launch my home made, increasingly more frenzied scuds from, attaching more nails/razor blades etc, as and when necessary.
You’ve re-made re-modeled a couple of Eater songs on Plastic Penny – is that a concession to the old-school-punk audience, you’ve always slated Cider-Punks in the past? Or have you just decided that Eater actually wrote some pretty decent teenage rock’n’roll, which actually is worth resurrecting/updating?
The latter, of course!! I do not make concessions for pissed up fat fucks who live in the past. I aim my scuds at them.
(At a Blade gig some years back a large chap slept all through the set until Andy played an old Eater song, then he woke up, danced like a loon, got on stage and bared his gargantuan arse. Blade prefers a more attentive audience. )
One thing I may not have admitted in the past, is how important to me early Genesis (up until ‘The Lamb’, and definitely before Collins took over) – the idea of English creepy-whimsy has always appealed. The idea of sending out SHORT, English whimsy/creepy, unusual song topic idea’s wrapped up in a lovely tune, is my main objective. I just don’t feel I’ve ever given Peter Gabriel the credit for planting the seeds, via Sparks, The Pistols & Zappa, that made me the stunning success story I am today
One thing I’ve learned about what makes a song or record great is the idea behind it, the flash of inspiration. It sounds simple, but ideas are everything. without a good idea, you’re fucked, and you can apply that to life as a whole.
With musicians, there are two types – those that play well, and enjoy it for the sake of it, and those with the ideas.
The ratio is 100 – 1 I reckon,, maybe much higher – which is why so much shit has clogged it all up, and again with that instant availability thing, new music is just disposable shit largely.
Those hunting for new talent haven’t a clue, which is the blind leading the blind, to somehow con the punters into thinking something is good. People with good ideas tend to be the ones who, er ‘fuck up’. and are only ever accepted when it has been confirmed that they are worth the hassle…
Andy Blade is worth the hassle. If you don’t have his last three albums track them down. Played back-to-back they really are a magnificent, dark, funny, strange, fucked-up ‘journey’. Importantly, with some great tunes and musical invention in them. Last word goes to the man himself.
My measure of success is not the amount of albums sold, or venue size, it’s the opposite. Here is the equation – Amount of years in music business times lack of commercial success = x. The greater the number of years in the business, if a higher number than the gross takings = complete success. It’s scientific, you know
You are mad mate.
Andy Blade Discography (Albums only)
From Planet Pop To The Mental Shop ( Creative Man CMCD 007 1994
Treasure Here (CD, Album) Cherry Red CD BRED 279 2005
Life Affirming Songs For Those With A Bad Attitude Flycatcher Records 2008
Let’s Burn The Internet Down Cherry Red CD BRED 464 2010
Plastic Penny and the Strange Wooden Horse (Flycatcher 2016)
All words and black & white pic Ged Babey (c) 2017
(the group shot at Union Bar, Soho 2009 belongs to the wonderful Johnny Deluxe, probably taken by his friend Sacha)