‘Random’ Jon Poole – Interview
Where do you begin when you interview someone with such a varied career as ‘Random’ Jon Poole? Cardiacs obsessives would want to know EVERYTHING; Wildhearts fans would have their own questions; God Damn Whores followers may be the select few (myself included). I’m going with my instinct, and will start at the beginning…
Louder Than War: So, the youngest of six siblings, all of whom are musical, some extremely talented. No pressure then?! Did you inherit these skills from your parents? It sounds like it was an encouraging environment.
Random Jon Poole: My Dad (no longer with us) spent all his spare time (when he wasn’t working) arranging music and leading his own band. He was mainly into jazz (big band,trad and later 50s stuff). My mum used to sing in this band. My oldest sister spends all her spare time playing trombone together with her husband in a jazz band playing original stuff. The next brother down (no longer with us) played drums in my Dad’s band. The next brother down has a lot of success as a highly respected session bass player and gives Jaco Pastorious a run for his money playing really fast with his fingers, every note clear as if sequenced. The next sister down isn’t a musician and likes Take That. The next brother down is a great bass player in his spare time and still finds new and different slap-bass techniques.
Although through the course of the 70s as a toddler I was exposed to many forms of music, the main influence was black jazz/fusion/funk.
I started watching Top Of The Pops in the late 70s and really liked the funk/disco stuff that was emerging. The first band I liked was Chic( my first single being ‘Good Times’ when I was 9 yrs old. No wonder I ended up being a bass player!) Then I moved onto other bands of a similar nature like Brothers Johnson, Heatwave, Earth Wind And Fire, Jacksons etc.
I’d already decided at this age that I wanted to be a bass player but being the youngest I feared I may be accused of copying my older brothers so I decided that I’d be a guitarist as I really liked Nile Rodger’s chunky style in Chic and also by then I’d got into The Police and found Andy Summers’ playing intriguing and space-age!
I didn’t get my first (acoustic) guitar for another two years so spent those two years studying every detail on the records I’d bought. I was able to hear every single instrument and walked around the playground asking bemused toddlers if they’d ‘checked out the rhythm guitar on the breakdown section of the album version of ‘Good Times’?’ not realising that maybe not every kid in school was listening to the finer details of the latest chart hits let alone buying albums! It wasn’t until some years later that I was astonished to discover that the majority of people just didn’t hear what was going on in their favourite songs.
By the time I’d got my first guitar, it was time to knuckle down and listen to all these records and figure out how to play all the songs I’d got to know so well. Over the next couple of years I’d move onto drums, bass and keyboards with a view to being a multi-instrumentalist, never playing live but making solo albums. I had a double cassette player that enabled me to overdub so started making my solo cassette albums (complete with covers/ltd edition of 1!) from the age of 13.
I felt enormous pressure to impress my bass-playing brothers who I looked up to as cool and talented. They were encouraging but also they wouldn’t let me get away with shit laziness. I was always pushed to get better. Playing as well as I possibly could was the only option at that point. Like other members of my family I did a stint in my Dad’s band which must’ve help to shape me.
It wasn’t until later when I discovered punk/new wave that I realised that there was something great about the rough edges too. This probably didn’t sit so well with the rest of my family who had no time for punk but I do believe it served me well for what I ended up doing later on in life.
I was also listening to the early 80s pop/synth pop music of the time and clearly have picked up a lot from this period.
I don’t think there’s any right or wrong with music but I do believe that the more varied styles you listen to and absorb, the more you can apply these styles to your own music and ultimately have a more interesting and varied style of your own. Someone who follows me on Facebook recently slagged me off for having a shit taste in music yet he likes what I do. Does he not realise that the only reason my stuff sounds like it does is because I’ve listened to all that ‘shit music’? I’ve no time for the blinkered vision brigade. Fuck ’em.
In short, yes there was pressure coming from a musical family but I think it’s served me well in terms of making me work harder at my playing. I am also glad that I broke away and followed my own route via music that may not have been so technically proficient but had immense character and soul (the real meaning of the word) and made my own music the odd thing it is today.
Yeah, I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out and wouldn’t change any of it.
Your first main band, Ad Nauseam, brought you to the attention of Cardiacs. Your “relentless pestering” (if we can believe Wikipedia) talked you into Tim Smith’s merry band. This could be a long story, but, in brief, what stands out strongest in your memory from this time? Was it an ‘I must be dreaming’ moment?
Yeah, me and Bob Leith, my right – hand man in Ad Nauseam, were massive Cardiacs fans and used to follow them around on tour. I did say ‘relentless pestering’ in an interview once but in reality we gave Dominic Luckman (Cardiacs drummer) a tape of our stuff because we’d got talking to him when their manager invited us into the venue to watch Cardiacs soundcheck and we realised we shared similar musical interests and figured he may like our stuff. He ended up loving it and we couldn’t believe it when Dominic actually phoned us up to tell us how much he’d enjoyed it and how he’d played it to the rest of the band and they’d loved it too.
Over the next few months we got to know the rest of the band but we always tried not to hassle them. If we were in the pub before a gig and they came in we’d always wait for them to come to us as we were in constant fear of blowing it! (Whatever ‘it’ was!)
In short, Bic left at the same time Ad Nauseam became a live band doing gigs and stuff and Tim came to the first gig we did and I asked him a few days later if I could join. He let me stew for a few days, called me and pretended that he wanted me to join but that there was no way his brother, Jim was gonna be in a band with a bloke who wore eye-liner and then said ‘not really, come to London and meet me in the ‘Spice of life’ opposite ‘Les Miserables’ and let’s have a chat.’
I couldn’t believe that I was gonna join my favourite band aged 21. We hit it off straight away. Tim was instantly loveable and although I was still massively star-struck I really felt I’d met a friend for life. I can’t ever remember feeling as high as I did during that initial period. It was a very special time.
While Cardiacs always sound like Cardiacs, your contribution really changed their sound and had a lasting legacy when Kavus Torabi took on the mantle when you left. Looking back, which is your favourite Cardiacs song that you recorded? Do you have a favourite Cardiacs album?
It was after two years of gigs that I first recorded with Cardiacs. Me and Tim had become very close and were clearly on the same page musically. We also laughed at the same stuff. He was very gracious in letting me have a large input into what Cardiacs became later on and ‘Sing To God’ became a labour of love.
People often think that I did my songs and he did his but that isn’t true. He’d come up with amazing stuff on mine and I’d be given one of his songs and it’d be just drums and an organ playing some chords and a melody and he’d tell me to come up with guitar and bass riffs. It was a great collaboration and I’m pretty sure he’d never given anyone the freedom he gave me at that point which I’m eternally grateful to him for. It was an absolute honour to work alongside him and I learnt so much.
It’s impossible to pick a favourite song that I recorded with the band but I do get a massive wave of nostalgia whenever I hear ‘Odd Even’ which seems a weird one to pick but it’s just got the summer of love ’95 written all over it and brings back the feeling of the era.
We had such an amazing time recording ‘Sing To God’ that summer in Jim’s country abode. It was recording during the week then open-air camping party at the weekend where all our mates would come over and we’d all get off our mash on ecstasy pipes. We were all proper loved up.
My favourite Cardiacs album when I was in the band is a no-brainer(there were only two!): Sing To God. My favourite as a fan has always been ‘On land and in the sea’. Brings back great memories of following the band around in a tiny car with Bob Leith.
Seven years on from the debut, there’s finally a new God Damn Whores album! Having reviewed it, and played it to death, I can confirm that it’s a cracker. Alongside this, you released your first solo, self-titled album, both via Pledge Music. Is it true that Ginger Wildheart more or less dragged you out of semi-retirement to make this happen?
Thank you, I appreciate it.
Ha! Ha! ‘Dragged out of semi-retirement!’ Well, that’s a fairly typical melodramatic statement from me but it’s pretty much the truth. I’d got a little disillusioned with playing in a band for a while and felt like people were getting bored of me and my bullshit. I’d read more than enough scathing comments about me on forums etc and thought I’d be better off taking myself out of the equation as it was making me really unhappy at the time.
I came back for brief performances at a couple of Ginger’s birthday shows and was surprised by the positive response/cheers I’d got from the audience but it wasn’t enough to make me want to come back. It just felt like that typical British thing of people becoming curious due to my mysterious vanishing act. I hadn’t done anything to be mysterious. I was just really bored with it.
I continued in this time to record music which is when these albums came about. I’d intended to get them out at some point, somehow but didn’t really know how to. I certainly didn’t think anyone would be interested.
Then I became a dad and working 9-5 became even more important to me. Around this time I watched a documentary about Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane out of The New York Dolls that showed him in retirement doing his strange jobs and thought ‘that’s me!’ In fact I think Ginger put me onto that film as he’d thought the same thing.
A few years passed, then Ginger contacted me and asked if I wanted to do an acoustic tour with him. I decided that the time felt right and that an acoustic tour would be a low pressure thing I could do by taking holiday time from work. The plan was to then go back to the 9-5 after having a laugh from a couple of weeks. Then while I was out on tour Ginger asked me if I wanted to do a tour in December with the solo band and without thinking I said ‘yes’ then wondered where that ‘yes’ had come from. It was too much of a natural reaction to ignore so I just went with it.
A few weeks later while I was back at the 9-5 I was chatting to some people at work about this Pledge campaign that Ginger had launched with his manager, Gav McCaughey that I’d read about online. It just seemed like the most punk DIY thing I’d heard about in years and I was very proud of Ginger for the immediate success he was having with it and felt his years of being very hands-on, particularly online, with his fans had paid off and he was getting the recognition he deserved.
A few days later I got the call asking if I’d like to play on the Pledge album. Again, I blurted out ‘yes’ again and realised I’d adopted a new, healthy ‘worry about it later’ way of thinking that seemed to be working out well for me. I left my job and went back to being a full time musician again aged 41.
I had such a huge respect for Ginger’s fans for funding this project up front and very quickly decided that I’d put as much of my heart and soul into the project as I could as I felt it was the least I could do for people who were willing to put themselves on the line for us. As it happened, everyone involved in the project felt the same and I feel we all created something quite special together which I’m still very proud of.
When it was suggested to me that I should perhaps put out my albums via Pledge my initial thoughts were ‘well, it probably won’t do that well and may not even hit the 100% target but what have I got to lose?’ If it did work out then people would finally get to hear this stuff. My biggest fear was that no one ever would.
So my campaign got launched and I was amazed and delighted by the positive response. I couldn’t believe anyone would have any interest in my funny stuff. I really enjoyed the fact that myself and the fans were all in it together and particularly enjoyed listening to the album for the first time online with everyone commenting on twitter.
I felt like all the paranoia I’d experienced from stupidly reading arsehole comments on forums a few years back was just that… paranoia. There’ll always be nay-sayers but the positivity and love shown by the people who pledged on my albums will always mean so much to me. As corny as it sounds it went from being ‘them and us’ to just ‘us’ overnight. If ever there’s a day I take it for granted then everyone please just kick me in the bollocks twenty times each and call me a stain.
But in short, I do feel I owe so much to Ginger and Gav for getting me playing again and also showing me a new way to survive in what can be a very tough business and I am eternally grateful to them for this.
Will your busy schedule allow for some God Damn Whores dates? These are songs that deserve to be heard in a sweaty club.
At this moment in time I am very busy, mainly with Ginger-related activity and any time I do get to myself is spent with my family. Also, I really enjoy the writing/recording process and can see myself at some point becoming that recording-only artist that I dreamt of becoming as a child.
Maybe we’ll do something live again at some point but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. If Jase, Denzel,Chris and myself all lived in the same area and were able to rehearse on a weekly basis then maybe that’d be easier but we sadly live miles away from each other.
Maybe I should form a local band. Maybe do a few covers?
Your solo album is quite difficult to describe (I know; I’m trying to review it!). It is as varied as anyone who knows your work would expect. Alright, this is a cop-out; how would YOU describe it?
Aarrggghhh!!! It’s THAT question!! How about ‘music to eat raisins to’?
Am I right in thinking that Givvi Flynn’s vocal contributions are your personal highlights of your solo album? She seems to bring something special to the songs. I realised her voice was outstanding when I heard her sing at Ginger Wildheart’s gig at Bedford Esquires. Quite a surreal night, that.
I’d got to know Givvi and her husband, Percy from chatting to them at Wildhearts gigs. Every now and then you’ll meet certain fans that you click with and become friends with, and that was Givvi and Percy.
Ginger, Hot Steve and myself did this mental gig in Rugely where I took off my clothes and drank my own piss out of a woman’s shoe and in the interval (we did two sets) I bumped into Givvi at the bar. If I remember this rightly I said to her, ‘What can YOU do?’
‘I’ve heard she can sing’ shouted an anonymous voice from somewhere in the bar. Then the whole bar started chanting ‘Sing! Sing! Sing! Sing!’
When it came to the 2nd of our two sets Givvi was invited onto the stage to sing ”Unlucky In Love’ from the Clam Abuse album. We were amazed by how great she was and I remembered this later when I was putting vocals on my strange album. I just thought that some really slick-sounding female vocals would really sit well against my ‘low-grade warble’ so I got together a bunch of vocal arrangements and Givvi came over and recorded the lot in one weekend.
She was very versatile and could sing in a range of different styles. I got talking to Wildhearts drummer, Ritch Battersby recently about her contributions that Ritch had really enjoyed on hearing the album and I explained to him how I’d asked her to sing like a black girl on a few parts of the album and having never met Givvi he was amazed that she was actually white!
I was already very happy with how the album was turning out but when Givvi’s vocals went down it turned into the creature it is and her contribution makes the album a pleasure for me to listen to as opposed to a busman’s holiday. I had actually wanted to make an album that I’d enjoy drunkenly listening to and that’s what I ended up with. Expect to hear lots more of her on part two!
Finally, I’ve been asked to include a ‘for the fans’ question. So, which are your favourite biscuits?
I have a very minimalist taste in biscuits. It can only ever be digestives.
Interview by Martin Haslam. Find more by Martin on Louder Than War.