Paul Holt: 17 Years of Sonic Mayhem / Palookas Reissue ‘Gift’ & ‘Hit The Bottle’ Albums as ‘The Dirty Dozen’
Before Hackney Council clamped down on fly posting in their Olympic clean up, it was common to see scrawled, biro-art posters, individualising lamp posts, brightening derelict premises and advertising the numerous musical projects of one of north London’s sonic pioneers. Always brash but self effacing, and always brilliantly funny in a gruff, hard stare, suffer-no-fools way, they were not unlike their creator, local resident of 20 odd years, Paul Holt.
Born in Highbury and raised in Essex, he returned to Stoke Newington by way of family connections in the early 80’s and co-formed Palookas. A band who’s musical history included the legendary Swell Maps and Television Personalities. An uncompromising 5 piece who carved their own niche in the alternative scene, releasing 4 singles and 4 albums between ’85 and ’91 and touring with contemporaries that included New Model Army, The Membranes and Pulp. Shunning the UK outside of London, but heading to Europe, where there and especially in Germany, their gothic-tinged, driving, post punk was embraced. Going their separate ways in 1991, the band finally achieved some sort of posthumous international glory when Kurt Cobain cited a certain Mr Holt’s guitar sound as an influence on Nirvana.
After the break up Paul stayed on in the area, then known mainly for its bent coppers, cheap rent and late drinking, eventually taking up residence in a back-alley garage, amassing a collection of musical equipment, tape machines and songs. Ignoring leaking roofs, heaterless winters and baking summers in order to pursue his own music. And there he stayed, for 17 years.
I visited the place a few days after seeing him come face to face with one of his former contemporaries, John Robb, at a Membranes reunion gig in Islington. The difference in the twists and turns their lives have taken over 25 years was apparent, one a successful journalist and TV pundit, the other still honing down the sonic masterplan he hatched in an N16 bedsit in 1985. Paul showed me round this legendary home of all night jams and sessions, telling me that he was about to be evicted, as the local gastro pub was building yuppie flats on the site. Great – if you wanna raise a nuclear family on an advertising exec. budget. But if you wanna make music, proper rock ‘n’ roll, you’ve got to live like an artist. In thee garage – traditional home of the kick-out jams – home comforts give way to essentials: a vast accumulation of mouldy vinyl, where Capital Letters rub shoulders with Atomic Rooster, The Bad Seeds, acid house, Scritty Politty, Gang Of 4, PIL, The Ruts, Madchester and Faust. Drum kits take the place of coffee tables, amps are easy chairs, guitars ornament amongst tapes, cdr’s, effects pedals, spilling ash trays and empty bottles…
A typical day back then would begin, in his own words, late, in the local with a few beers, followed by more beers, copious amounts of herbal and chemical stimulants, and then, at some point in the small hours, the assembled circus of musicians, entourage, refugees and revellers would decant to the studio, to record all night. Powered by the so-solid drumming of Simon Pearson and the dubbed-up bass of Malcolm Joseph, who’s day jobs have included Spiritualised and Grace Jones respectively, but who were attracted from the bright lights to the explosion of ideas that is Paul’s songwriting, and the freedom of sonic experimentation – or just the freedom. Eventually these endless jams morphed into first the cheekily named John Paul Holt III and more recently, The Paralyticos.
A classic post punk sound prevails throughout all Paul’s music, with vocals (not always his – he often works with other singers, from Thai crooner Robby Chan to local rappers) ”â snippets of conversation/truisms/sarcasm culled from the lower leagues of society, day jobs on building sites, hours spent either observing or partaking in the local pubs – sometimes gruff, sometimes wrong footing everyone with gentleness, charm, and melody.
Ambition beyond the self defeatism of the music world, a refusal or an inability to compromise and the sheer restlessness of having so many songwriting ideas in one head, have seen his bands gig relentlessly, each building a fierce live reputation. A notable high point being The Paralyticos concert in Dalston’s Rio Cinema, self funded, filmed live and released on the internet – well before it was trendy to do so – and, a seemingly endless output of new tracks…
Finally forced out of his studio by the gentrification, Paul is straight and sober and bounding with energy. Talking about recording new Paralyticos material at Audio Underground and, with the latest project, he brings us full circle; the re-release of Palookas acclaimed first and second albums ‘Gift’ and ‘Hit The Bottle’, remixed and remastered from the original tapes. There’s even talk of a reunion and judging by the way contemporary sounds have caught up with the reissued songs on ‘The Dirty Dozen’, it will be welcomed. Maybe this time round they wont have to travel to central Europe to collect their dues.