In conversation with Kirk Brandon…
As Theatre of Hate release ‘Kinshi’ – their first new material in nearly 20yrs, Cherry Red Records have released a Deluxe edition of the bands 1982 studio debut ‘Westworld’ – despite the 34yr separation both albums are intrinsically linked.
‘Westworld’ showed how Theatre of Hate had via a sting of earlier indie hit singles blazed their own distinct trail; outsiders to an outsider scene.
‘Kinshi’ – the Japanese word for ‘forbidden’ continues in this rich vein, less abrasive, yet still out there, forging new paths for founder Kirk Brandon and his reformed band.
On the eve of the ‘Westworld’ reissue, and at the conclusion of a triumphant ‘Kinshi’ release tour, which myself and LTW’s John Robb caught in Manchester (LTW Review); we caught up Brandon, shock of blond hair still intact, and more importantly with a voice as strong and as rich as ever.
LTW: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions; looking at your schedule I’m surprised you have any time!
You are currently active with your solo Akoustic project, Spear of Destiny, Dead Men Walking, and perhaps priority wise at this point Theatre Of Hate – Is that level of work important to you, what motivates you to work so hard, a Victorian work ethic impressed upon you by family perhaps?
Kirk Brandon: Yes, after I came back from the Boer War I realised there wasn’t as much time as I thought there was!!
LTW: The thought of you in khaki and a pith helmet – perhaps that should been the ‘Kinshi’ album cover; where did the Samurai design come from, is their status as ‘Warrior Class’ significant to you and the band?
KB: I have been influenced by Kurosawa films since early teenage years.
In 1876 the Govt of Japan banned the wearing of swords in public. It signalled the end of the Samurai lifestyle to many. The ethos and spirit, it is believed, is retained in the various Martial Arts of Japan. Ronin were masterless Samurai that roamed the countryside and cities, tragic and doomed in many cases. It’s not hard to identify with them. I did as a young teenager. It looked somehow ‘glamorous’.
LTW: As we have just demonstrated you like to keep busy, within the last 6wks there have been two separate ToH releases; the brand new and frankly stunning ‘Kinshi’ album, and the ‘Westworld’ box set via Cherry Red Records.
KB: To be honest, it has all coincided to come at once. There was no plan to put it all together. Musicians and peoples timetables somehow ensured it played out virtually continuously. Having said that, I am grateful to be allowed the time to do it all.
It makes my life interesting and there are certain challenges involved personally.
KB: Really glad you like ‘Kinshi’…its was long time coming! I hope it demonstrates the power and musicality of the band members. The lyrics are dare I say it, ‘interesting’…. A wide range of stuff in there. Its not The Beatles in 1963 for sure!
As for the ‘Westworld’ Box Set…am genuinely proud that finally it has come out on CD in a really well packaged way. It is too important to not have. It confounded people at the time perhaps, but with hindsight was so ahead of what was to come. The entire audio landscape constructed by Mick Jones was and still is, brilliant. Unreservedly.
LTW: If we separate the two; apparently ‘Kinshi’ took 8yrs to complete – how come so long??
KB: Stanley Stammers lives in America and John Lennard lives in Canada so, it was whenever they came over and TOH played shows that we could get together and play/record. For a very long time it looked like it would never happen but in the end we managed to pull it together in the last period. Sending stuff over the web is ok, but I can achieve more standing in a room with Stanley for 10 minutes than a lifetime of emailed stuff.
LTW: Lyrically though the themes must have altered, having heard the album a couple of times and seen it performed live I am aware that tracks like ‘Mr Mandacity’ refer to Donald Trump, clearly he was present many years ago but his influence, certainly upon Europe was limited – was it difficult updating lyrics to tracks that were formed so many years back?
KB: ‘Mr Mendacity’ was in fact written about someone else, who shall remain nameless.
LTW: A political figure, or an individual known to you personally, I’m digging for dirt here!!
KB: Someone who has found himself in a place he doesn’t wish to be. Nameless Man.
When doing the booklet to go with the album we were searching for appropriate photographs/images. Mr Trump, bar perhaps two or three words, exactly fitted the lyrics content and meaning; The winning game show President given twice the amount of publicity his opposition was given. The media is insatiable, Pavlov’s dogs.
They helped create the monster in a major way. They can’t help themselves. The more outrageous the statement the more they thrilled. A very strange world we have woken up to.
LTW: I’m particularly struck with the how ‘Kinshi’ sounds current and yet effortlessly arcs back to the ‘Westworld’ period – was that something you and the band were keen to achieve or was it a more organic process?
KB: This was entirely an organic process excepting one thing. I have a ton of riffs or themes stored on my phone. The vast majority do not suit TOH but occasionally a black diamond is there that does. If it does hark bark to the original recordings then I’m glad, so thank you again on that.
LTW: The mood of the album is somewhat melancholic, the heavy reliance on John-Boy’s saxophone at times gives the entire album a mournful feel – that said having seen it played live its less evident.
KB: Melancholia, the 8th deadly sin…..Written on one of the two statues at the gates to Bedlam… ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Madness’….somewhere therein lies creativity perhaps.
Perhaps not, I for one can’t comfortably say. It wasn’t designed as to be melancholic I have to say, but there is definitely an element of that in it. I wouldn’t deny it. After such a passage of years and experiences it would be hard to evade that, and live in the perpetual happiness of youth. I’m being ironic of course. Playing live and the excitement of the band kind of banishes that aspect from it, in our defence.
LTW: It seems obvious to ask, but what are you hoping for from the album; clearly a million seller, licenced across the globe etc – I think it’s a fantastic album, that demonstrates the essence of ToH and the strengths of the band, it’s an album that has the capability to reignite ToH in the wider public consciousness.
KB: Somehow in the current strange climate of the world, Theatre of Hate re emerging seems apt. These are stranger times than any of us imagined there ever would be.
Some religious people want to take us back to the 7th century, someone from The Simpsons is President Elect of the divided nation of America, people no longer trust the judgement of their ‘betters’….a perfect time for an album like this!
I hope that the music can reach people who enjoy music for music’s sake. It, the music, ‘Kinshi’ or Theatre of Hate as a whole was never designed to be mainstream or fit into someone’s programming.
We did it because we wanted to do it.
We made an album of our own broken images.
LTW: ‘Kinshi’ was produced and mixed by Christophe Bride, who did the same with Spear’s ‘31’ album up here in Manchester – how did that partnership come about?
KB: It’s so long now, I can’t actually remember. We produced the two ‘Folkgrinder’ albums together too. Great songs done by an artist unknown outside of London, Koozie Johns.
LTW: Talking of public consciousness, your celebrity fan Jeremy Vine – has he had a copy yet? Even if he has I can’t see him playing anything on his show – his bosses won’t allow anything that might upset the norm.
KB: If he hasn’t had it already; he shortly will. Jeremy is a discerning music person, but I’m sure his various producers would not be inclined to put Theatre of Hate on their afternoon programming. That said, the fact he likes what we do is an enormous tip of the hat!
LTW: But surely you find that sort of thing frustrating, a prominent national DJ declares ToH to be his favourite band but for undefined reasons fails to play your music.
KB: I cannot hold him responsible for what his producers decide for him to play. I don’t think he really has a say in it. Period.
It has been fun to see him on occasion…..Jeremy is a very tall guy and it has been great to have seen the very recognisable Mr Vine at a show or two.
LTW: The reissue of ‘Westworld’ is long overdue, I guess the fact that Cherry Red have chosen to put it out at the same time as ‘Kinshi’ shows their belief in ‘Kinshi’ and how they clearly believe it will translate to an interest in the bands back catalogue; that must be encouraging and goes some way to validating your own belief in the material even after all these years.
KB: I agree with what you have said wholeheartedly. People who are ‘music people’ know their music history and the relevance of things. So, it is great that it all ties in together at the same time. A great boost going out somewhere into peoples consciousness, out there in real music land.
LTW: Cherry Red have done a nice job, that said a vinyl pressing would have been a nice addition! The Bonus tracks on the ‘Westworld’ album include dub versions of ‘Westworld’ and ‘Propaganda’…I’d not heard them for a while – neat to include them, particularly with a Dub version of ‘Kinshi’ coming with the vinyl pressing; Dub is clearly something that’s important to the band, where does that stem from?
KB: A vinyl edition has been loosely talked about, we shall see.
Dub versions were something Mick Jones was very into, and what he did was obviously ground breaking. To include a few of Mick’s dubs is to show how far ahead he was. Everyone copied what he did. So many record producers over the years, have personally told me this. Someone listened out there that’s for sure.
LTW: Are you still in contact with Mick?
KB: Mick pops up in life once in a blue moon. I still look up to him and his incredible vision for what he did for us with ‘Westworld’. Micks trying to put a bit of community back into West London with his association with the Rotten Hill mob.
LTW: The 2nd disc, the ‘BBC Sessions and Rarities’ – some great stuff on there including a couple of John Peel sessions and a full Top Of The Pops recording – the one when Peel was the host, with his famous “sulky Belgian’s” quip; how important was Peel to the development and progress of the band?
KB: John Peel took notice of us right from the start. He played us on his show on numerous occasions. It certainly brought us to the publics attention, as he did with so many bands of the time. Looking back, TOH was never played on BBC Radio bar John Peel. We were on the ‘banned/non-playable’ notice sent round to the other DJs and radio show producers. The regime was trying to protect itself from the reality going on outside its front door.
LTW: And back to the ‘Vine’ situation – do you see a time when a single DJ will ever become as prominent as Peel; does the lack of a ‘Peel’ have a negative effect on music as a whole?
KB: Yes completely. Music needs another ‘John Peel’. BBC Radio 6 is very good, but we also need an innovator or two. Radio 1 is ridiculous and plays to no one. A load of bumps and clicks and shouts in the khazi is not music, no matter how much they insist it is. If this is control, it’s failing. No one is listening.
LTW: That said you, SoD, and ToH have frankly kept pushing, persevered and perhaps now (hopefully) the rewards will come again…
KB: The reward is still being able to do it. Yep, that’s about as good as it gets.
Yes we are in the ‘Alternative to the Alternative world’ but this is a choice we all have to make. Join the insides of a pinball machine on Radio 1 and the mainstream, or go your own way for your own reasons. There isn’t an option.
LTW: How different do you find the music business nowadays? You are entirely independent – does that create pressures or does it allow you to retain control and therefore quality?
KB: You create your own pressures but ultimately your success or failure is your own affair today. Listen, I’m not 24 and have strings on my arms and am not malleable so, the major company/music industry has no interest. Would I sign up all my rights ‘in perpetuity’ as I did when in my mid twenties like everyone else did ? The answer is and must clearly be, no. It’s your life. Eventually you learn.
LTW: I enjoyed the 3rd Disc ‘Live in Vienna’ – your back catalogue is littered with live, semi official releases; how and why did you pick Vienna?
KB: It was picked on account of its quality primarily, and the great feeling coming from the band. A night at the theatre.
LTW: Once the dust settles on the release of ‘Kinshi’ – what’s next for Kirk Brandon, I personally would like to see you at some of the bigger UK festivals in 2017, and any plans for a follow up to SoD’s ‘31’?
KB: Yes, a festival or two would be great in the summer. Lets see what Santa or Satan brings. ‘I’m heading to Australia in January for a few AkoustiK dates accompanied by Sam Sansbury (cello); we have just released our ‘Cello Suites’ album
LTW: Your remaining tight lipped on a follow up to ‘31’
KB: I am gathering riffs and ideas for a follow up at the moment. It will happen.
LTW: And lastly – you are one of the last men standing from punk/post punk who is yet to write their memoir, could a book be on the horizon – certainly some tales to tell, both good, bad, triumphant and harrowing
KB: The ‘Grimoire’ is 80% done. I will get together with Stanley Stammers and fill in some really interesting parts of Theatre of Hates life. Stanley is ‘Memory Man’ for good reason. He can tell you if you put ketchup on your chips 35 years ago.
LTW: Cheers Kirk, all the best for 2017.
Theatre of Hate have been confirmed as the tour support for the Stiff Little Fingers 40th Anniversary UK Tour during March 2017. Advance tickets are available now.
Dead Men Walking have just released ‘Unofficially Official: DMW Live in Bristol 2016’ – a limited edition CD comprising: Track listing: Something That I Said, Nobody’s Hero, The Price, Love In Vain, Wasted Life, Spirits, Kill The Pain, My Dark Places, Young Men, Silver Lining, Never Take Me Alive, Starring At The Rude Boys, Drinking Again, Do You Believe In The Westworld?, Alternative Ulster, Babylon’s Burning. Available HERE.
Dead Men Walking image courtesy of Bedford Esquires.