Monday, 30 November 2015

'Exposing Cover-Ups'- one-off discussion at The Lit and Phil, Newcastle on 11/12/15


I'm excited to be chairing a one-off event in which two very influential whistle-blowers discuss their experiences. Dr. David Drew was an NHS paediatrician who made the headlines after being sacked having raised concerns about the care of children at his hospital. Paul Moore, author of recent bestseller ‘Crash Bank Wallop’, was Head of Group Regulatory Risk at the Halifax Bank Of Scotland who was sacked after uncovering mis-selling and unfair sales tactics at the bank. Both their stories have hit the headlines and become subject of huge media discussion in recent times on the BBC, Radio 2, Sky News and more. In this interactive event both will discuss their stories and engage in interactive discussions to shed new light on how we can expose the kind of cover-ups that affected them. As the editor of Paul's book I'm looking forward to discussing this issue in some detail. 

Advance tickets recommended- 
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Friday, 30 October 2015

'Nostalgia, Nylon and Abandoned Futures'. Different Class Turns Twenty


'And the world outside this room has also assumed a familiar shape / The same events shuffled in a slightly different order / Each day / Just like a modern shopping centre'

I was surprised today to see that Pulp’s Different Class was about to turn twenty. Surprised, because it marked for me my entry into music. Since discovering that album I haven’t just found music a refuge. I’ve written music, reviewed it, and most recently have written about it, and this album, with its shabby mysticism and splenetic eviscerations of other peoples lives, was the start of all that.

People talk of the glamorous, alien quality of Ziggy Stardust, and I think the most seductive visions in art are ones which we recognise, when we squint. The cover of Ziggy is part of its appeal because its recognisable- it could be the local town hall. It entrances us because we think that with the right attitude and makeup this album could usher us into a utopia for the night. We open the album and in so doing slip into a romantic, glamorous new land. So it was for me with Different Class. Some journalists lack appreciation for Pulp when they talk vaguely of their ‘depressed urban vignettes’. What made Pulp so potent for me was that glamour was mixed in with low-rent reality in a way that was deliciously potent.  


In the late nineties a friend had the Different Class poster on his wall, and as a fifteen-year-old that poster, with its snapshots of black and white band members against coloured reality, hit hard. I identified with that feeling of being intrinsically different, yet trapped in a setting as each band member was in those picture. Steve Mackey looked louche and Wildean (I hadn't yet learnt of how he calmly stole Alex James' girlfriend). Candida Doyle like the wise older sister I never had. The pictures showed Jarvis, left behind on a school trip, and in an evocative café with sullen company. All scenes that I recognised and aspired to. The caption, underneath, seems needy and pleading now but at the time felt earnest and heartfelt:

‘Please understand. We don’t want no trouble. We just want the right to be different. That’s all.’


For an odd kid who believed he might be odd because he was creative, but who hadn’t ever created anything this album was manna from a strange, strange land. The friend taped me the album but didn’t bother to write the tracklisting on it. He was far too cool for that. So I made the song titles up. I’m too embarrassed to admit what titles were but I’ll give one example. On a song I would later learn to be called ‘I Spy’ the bitter, revenge-seeking Jarvis sings ‘I know how your mind works / I have studied.’ Being from the Isle Of Wight I didn’t understand the Sheffield accent, and so recorded the song title on my own inlay card as ‘Studded’. Thinking it was some obscure reference to Jarvis perhaps decorating his own leather jacket.


This album was a calling card for The Outsiders, and given that it was released in an era when we still had to strive to get a record, and when a friends record was our record by proxy, that striving made it seem all the more precious. I played that tape to death. I couldn't believe how well the band evoked the low panic of luxury interiors, the pulverising grind of the working week and the anger of frustrated passion. I was yet to experience being needlessly crushed by people in power, and though I felt anger Jarvis captured and anticipated it in a way that was thrilling. In I Spy he sang 'your minds are just the same as mine / except that you are clever swines / you never let your mask slip / you never admit to it / you're never hurried.' It would be years before I really understood what that meant but still, it seemed like he was tutoring me in the cruel ways of the world. From the clarion call of Mis-shapes to the Berlin era Bowie introduction to F.E.E.L.I.N.G. C.A.L.L.E.D. L.O.V.E. it wormed its way into my under-developed heart. I listened to that intro again and again, discovering new layers and textures within a song that tinkled with Horror film pianos, and clattered with distant urban trauma. I imagined Cocker seizing his moment in the studio, putting his all into the centrepiece of an album that would soon allow him to make his mark on the world. 



It wasn’t just a calling card to a seam of life I knew to be true- grubbier, sexier, darker, more ambitious than anyone would let on. No, this album actually opened a new seam of reality for me. In which arty young people in vintage clothing pottered meaningfully around in formica topped cafes, savouring hot drinks gone cold and lamenting lost futures. A world in which our lives were lived in pursuit of doomed urban romances. Where women sulked at sodium skylines, tapping at Malboro cigarette, and men plotted in dark corners of lowlit bars. It was now, it was the future. I studied the sleeve notes, lyrics, and listened to the songs so much that it became part of my inner world. Different Class was my manifesto, and it was exquisite to learn that I wasn’t alone.


I became disciples of Pulp, and when they returned a few years later with Help The Aged I even pored over the b-sides- the laundromats and seventies blinds described within giving my own crepuscular urban hinterland new details for me to settle into. When TV programs about the 100 Greatest Albums Ever mentioned Different Class I privately cheered, because it felt like we freaks were in the citadel, if not storming it. When a review of This Is Hardcore mentioned that ‘it would always be difficult following an album as drop-dead genius as Different Class’ I hurrahed internally again, because it meant I had got (in both senses) a work of genius. Different Class portrayed a future more accurately than I would sometimes like to admit. Pulp’s songs, and in particular some of their sorely underrated b-sides (from ‘Deep Fried In Kelvin’ to ‘Seconds’ and ‘We Are The Boyz’) all were shrinkwrapped worlds of despair and lust, illuminated by sepia-tone streetlight.

Like all great works of art it feels more mine than anyone else’s, and its genius lies in the fact that I am sure many others feel the same.

An Unpublished Chapter from How I Left The National Grid: A Walk Into Manchester

When my novel, How I Left The National Grid, was accepted for publication a scene that I considered important didn't make it into the book for contractual reasons.
In it, the journalist Sam walks from the Hulme Estate, along the side of the motorway and into the heart of Manchester. It’s a perilous journey that I took myself on a wet Manchester afternoon to research this chapter. Two characters, both trying to ‘find’ the vanished singer Robert Wardner in their different ways, undertake a journey that takes them past the historical layers of the city. Their conversation covers topics as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Margaret Thatcher, Brutalist architecture, the history of the synth and New Order.

I’ve mentioned this scene in a few talks and lectures, and having had very kind feedback for it from some of the post-punk musicians I interviewed whilst working on the book I thought this might be the place for it-

13

The morning sky was the kind that Sam could imagine behind Alpine mountains. But as they drove towards Hulme it was concrete, instead of snow, which was in abundance all around them.
Sam had visited the Hulme Crescents for a party as a student, and he remembered the locked state of mind that the concrete bunkers provoked. The occasional stray dog and the unyielding presence of the high-rise buildings made his body tighten. What would he ask Simon? Why, after a lifetime of admiration, had this opportunity arisen when he was on a comedown, after two hours sleep?
Bonny indicated right.
‘You look like you had a heavy night.’
‘Couldn’t get a bus back to my car until 6am. Was half-asleep driving here.’
‘Jesus. Well, afraid it is your best chance. Did you find it ok?’
‘Yeah.’ Sam didn’t have the strength to elaborate.
‘Simon has always lived in Hulme, on pretty much the same estate. It’s one of the few that has never been torn down.’ Bonny signalled left at a sign reading ‘Hornchurch Court’. She parked in front of the blue doors of a tower block.
Sam looked up at the pale pink façade, which echoed the faint colour of blossoms on trees nearby. They had weakly begun to bloom, in defiance of all the surrounding concrete.
‘I feel a bit like I’m ambushing him, turning up at his house like this,’ Sam said, rummaging for the dictaphone. He felt a tightness grip his shoulders, a sensation he hadn’t felt since just after his breakdown. A wave of tiredness hit him, laced with a hint of paranoia. It made him want to put his head on the dashboard. Not now, he thought. Please.
He decided to start recording, carefully easing the whirring device on top of his belongings, covering it with just the flap of the satchel. ‘Does he have any idea that I’m coming?’
Bonny checked the contents of her carrier bag. ‘I don’t know what you’re going to get. I should warn you. He might get nasty if he does feel ambushed.’
‘I’m about to meet one of my heroes and he might be about to chin me. Great.’ 
Bonny’s fur coat was a strong splash of colour against the exhausted backdrop. As she led Sam to the building he made out a hunched man in a long grey overcoat, carefully locking a battered red door. Overhead someone looked down on them before turning inside. Sam had the sense that a trap was about to be sprung.
‘Simon,’ Bonny said, her tone sharp.
The man turned. Sam saw him squint at Bonny, puffing the stub of an unfiltered cigarette between his lips.
It was only as they drew close that Sam saw traces of the guitarist from the old band photos. It was in the jut of his craggy features, in the way he shrank into himself when addressed.
‘In the nick of time, I see,’ he growled.
‘I’m honoured to meet you,’ Sam said.
He didn’t respond. ‘Oh,’ he said, looking down at Bonny’s carrier. ‘You got my past in a Morrison’s bag then I see?’
The dry, Mancunian lilt made Sam want to laugh.
‘I would love to hear the contents of that bag,’ was all Sam could offer. A splinter of sunlight caught his eye. As Sam opened his mouth he felt a puff of dry air release from it, and felt dizzy. Stand up straight, he told himself. 
Simon raised his eyebrows. ‘The contents of that bag mean nothing more to me right now than another ten weeks’ graft.’
‘This is the writer I told you about,’ Bonny said. ‘He’s doing a book on The National Grid.’
Simon suddenly stiffened and looked intensely at Sam. For the first time Sam noticed the blue fleck of his eyes.
He scrutinized Sam. ‘You look like I feel.’
‘Don’t say that. He’s having a bad time as it is. He’s already received death threats from people saying Wardner shouldn’t be hassled.’
‘Really?’ His voice raised, almost to a bark. ‘And you responded to that advice by turning up on my doorstep?’
The accusation was loud enough to send a pulse of pain around Sam’s shoulders. For a moment he couldn’t move his arms. As he stood, rooted, a vein bulged in Simon’s forehead.
Sam exchanged glances with Bonny, but decided he was on his own. Slowly, his lips began to shape words. ‘I thought you might be able to tell me if the threats are worth taking seriously. Of course, if they’re from Robert…’
‘You’d take notice then, would you? Even if it meant losing a pay cheque?’
‘Of course,’ Sam said. ‘There are easier ways to make money.’
‘It shows how much he cares about the band, Simon. Enough to warrant a few moments of your time, at least,’ Bonny said.
‘Ta for these Bon. I’m off now into an airless vault that I won’t be allowed out of until I’ve gone insane. See you both anon.’
 ‘Hang on Simon,’ she said, rushing forward and taking his arm.
‘What is it Bon? I’m fuckin’ late as it is.’
She smiled. ‘I know. It’s just- this man has travelled a long way on the off-chance you could offer him a few words. He’s a huge fan.’
Simon looked back at him.
‘He’s a hack.’
Sam looked down.
‘And right now you need their support,’ Bonny said. ‘Remember what we talked about?’
Simon straightened, and Sam wondered if he was going to chin his former manager right there on the asphalt. Bonny returned the stare, making it more penetrating. Sam could suddenly see how powerful a presence she must have been, still was. He imagined her locked in board-rooms, fighting to the death for contractual points.
Simon met her eye, the two of them in a silent face-off. Bonny’s jaw clenched.
 ‘Alright.’ he said. ‘You win, Bon. I walk down the side of the Mancunian Way and follow it into the Northern Quarter.’
‘I don’t know why you have to walk down the side of motorways,’ Bonny said. ‘It must be awful. Do you think you’ll get much work done if you’re dead Simon?’
‘You can’t ride everywhere in a car, Bonny. You do that and you start believing in the shop front. You know what I mean by the shop front, don’t you Sam? Capitalism smothers the past with it, layer by layer.’
‘Yeah, I think I do know what you mean,’ Sam said.
‘I’ll leave you both to it,’ Bonny said, with a smile.

‘What do you think of our city in the sky then Sam? The council demolished nearly all of it in one of their fits of regeneration.’
Sam struggled to keep at Simon’s side. Adrenaline had now burst through the fug of tiredness.
‘I came to a party here once, before it was changed.’
‘They called it ‘modular living,’’ Simon said, gesturing around himself as the estates uncoiled. ‘All these walkways suspended above the ground, like something out of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. ‘We’ll be living in the future,’ they said. Well, we were left stuck at the terminus.’
They squirmed their way through a gap in the hedges and walked down onto the gantry leading to the Mancunian Way. The world opened into one great screaming chasm. Cars roared past, a white noise that tore at Sam’s ears. He steadied himself against the onslaught, resisting the need to stand still and grip onto a rail.
‘You alright?’
‘Champion.’
‘We were force-fed dreams by the government housing office,’ Simon continued, his voice shouting over the din. ‘They piped them through our letterboxes. This shopping centre, St Peter’s Way, opened when we were kids and we thought that was what shops would be like. Gleaming, clean surfaces. So different to the shitty off-licences we were used to.’
‘Right.’
‘You don’t just get mugged here. They take the shirt off your bank and make you thank them as they leave.’
Simon broke into a jog as they found their way onto the sliver of green at the side of the motorway. Sam was conscious of how their thin strip of safety could be rendered useless by one stray vehicle. He stopped and pointed out a nearby brutalist tower block, stamped on the horizon.
‘You see those gangways?’ Simon asked. ‘They were supposed to give their occupants privacy, but they were an ideal place for muggings to take place.’
He carried on walking, forced close to the edge. A car roared past, plastering Sam with the contents of a puddle. Let’s hope it didn’t reach the Dictaphone, he thought.
‘Concrete acts like a mirror, Sam,’ Simon continued. ‘It draws out all the worms in your psyche.’
‘Then why do you still live here?’ Sam shouted.
‘It’s that thing, what do you call it?’ The rhythm of their walking was now synched with the endless heave of passing traffic. ‘The Stockholm Syndrome. Eventually you come to love your prison. That was why Robert and I started doing these city walks. We were looking for the future we’d been promised.’
‘Where?’
‘Rob and I would watch these modern palaces get built on razed sites.  We were looking for the future. Rob was convinced certain places were portals into the meaning of the city.’
 ‘I think I’m with you.’
‘Yeah? Well when we didn’t find the future there we started making our own.’
‘I can’t see the link to music at all.’
‘But there is one, Sam. The ring roads of Manchester are full of these decrepit sites.  Abandoned when the money for the latest scheme ran out. We reacted to this desolation in music. Our visions for the future went into these songs.’
‘Must have been a good way to get to know each other?’
Simon laughed. Sam just caught evidence of a smoker’s cough. ‘Yeah. We weren’t smart enough to study architecture but we could push keys on a keyboard. Build a world by doing that.’
They pressed on, Sam fearing for his life. Silvery-grey buildings began to emerge out of the skyline as they walked. Sam was relieved to think they might be coming to the end of the motorway. Ahead he saw a walkway, leading up to a bridge. He took a deep breath, aware that he was letting in smog from centuries of industry.
‘How did it begin?’
‘Well, Robert used to mention these notebooks he had. You know, a working-class kid isn’t going to go around saying, ‘I’ve got a notebook with some poems in it,’ people will kick your head in. One day I said, ‘Let’s take a look.’ The next morning we were walking round the Arndale Centre when the idea for The National Grid sound came to me.’
‘What happened?’
‘They couldn’t afford decent P.A.’s in these shopping centres, right. One day they tried playing some shite pop number and it distorted through the speakers. Because the walls were new the sound bounced back onto itself. And I was standing there and listening to this weird blend of pop, distortion and reverb. Something went off in my head.’
‘So that led to your sound?’
‘Yeah. This studio in Moss Side was closing and I went down there. Started messing around with a Mini-Moog keyboard. When I turned it on it shook the fuckin’ walls. I heard that Arndale Centre sound in my head again. After two solid days of messing about I found three notes that recreated that sound. That was the foundation for “Tomorrow’s Sect”.’
‘Did you think “I’ve written a hit single”?’
‘No. I just thought I was going fuckin’ mad.’
‘How did Robert react when he heard it?’
‘It was the chorus line which first fitted. You know, “We are tomorrow’s sect”. When he sang that in the right place he jumped up. Kept singing it. By the end of the evening we had fleshed out a song.’
‘Wow.’
‘After that, we became addicted to it. The room might have been freezing, we might have had to kick the bass amp to get it going, but we’d persevere. Find a note we could live in, and build a song from there.’
‘Was it hard to get signed from that point?’
‘It didn’t help that our gigs were a shambles. All Rob ever cared about were ideas. He had this character, Clive Douglas. A power plant worker surrounded by a bank of dials. Rob set up the stage as if it was his booth. With a chair and a yukka plant. Over his head, a giant portrait of Thatcher.’
‘Bet the kids loved that.’
‘So the lights would go up, and they’d see Maggie’s face, start booing. Rob would come on, sit at the booth in character, all glasses and black eyes. Then he’d pull a blowtorch out from under his chair and torch the portrait.’
‘That’s insane.’
‘Yeah. This isn’t at the back room in the Tate Modern either. This is Hulme Town Hall, where only one fire extinguisher had any life left in it.’
‘So the real losers were the fire service.’
Simon laughed.‘We were idiots. Bonny had to put out the flames with her fur coat.’
‘She must have loved that.’
‘So about then she starts saying ‘Let me take hold of this situation’. She organised a showcase and three record company execs travelled to Moss Side in their Bentleys. Shite idea. We charged through “Commuter” and two other tracks. And afterwards these three men in Arthur Daley coats croaked, “Can you give us a sec?” and all slunk outside. We were bricking it. Then they came back in and said, “Can you play those songs again?’’.’
‘Jesus.’
‘It was a knife-edge. They say yes, we’ve got a crack at a career. They say no, and it’s the Marmite factory.’
‘You had your backs against the wall.’
‘And it was then, for the first time ever, that Robert started to perform. All of a sudden, in every moment, there was this intensity. You felt like he could crush the mike with his hands. I looked at the reaction and realized we were either going to get signed, or sectioned.’
‘And then both happened?’
‘Right, here we are.’
Sam was glad when Simon pointed out the narrow walkway up to a bridge.  The raw threat of the motorway eased a little as they traversed it, the fragile walkway leading to a road lined with redbrick mills. In the distance he could see the impassive gaze of multi-coloured skyscrapers.
‘Were you angry young men then?’
‘Yes. Any man with an ounce of intelligence in his nut should be furious at the world in his twenties. There was no way we could have relied on Thatcher to educate us about art. The main thing with The National Grid was that we taught ourselves. For two lads from the Charles Barry Estate to go abroad and perform was unbelievable.’
The flaring nerve of the motorway had now given way to a strange hinterland. Simon guided Sam through dark brick tunnels. He half-expected to see silhouettes of a waiting gang at the end of them. As he emerged back into the daylight he saw that on a grass bank discarded coffee cups had been carefully pushed on the end of every branch of a large bush. A strange lattice of polyester. Who would do that?
This might be my only chance to save the book, he thought. ‘I was hoping we would get on to Robert,’ he said.
Simon’s gaze snapped to meet Sam’s. ‘We’ve been talkin’ about him the whole time.’
They were greeted by the sound of a lone saxophonist in a Rastafarian hat, playing long notes over a grey canal. As they rounded him Sam tried to exchange a quizzical look with Simon, who resisted it.
The two of them crossed onto Great Ancoats Street. Lurid billboards, some peeling, boomed out at them. The apartment blocks overhead were part appliance packaging and part Lego set. Here, for the first time, Sam could see the synths in New Order songs rendered in architecture. These buildings had the same fragile texture of those faltering notes. Shimmering phases of music, converted into temporary phases of housing.
‘Okay,’ Sam said. ‘I see what you mean. But we also haven’t talked about him much at all.’
‘In what way?’
‘About where he really went when he vanished. About the band’s plans?’
‘Plans?’
Simon led them through a series of alleyways and up some stone steps, into the Northern Quarter. He sat down on a bench, Sam tentatively joining him. Simon rifled through his pockets for something, then gave up.
‘It’s Rob who decides our future, not me.’
‘But I assumed you would know something?’
‘I hear what I’m doing through the music press before I’ve even decided it.’
‘Why did you tell the press he was still alive? He was missing, presumed dead. I get the impression he wouldn’t have minded staying that way?’
‘I didn’t tell the press anything. Who do I know?’
‘So how did they find out?’
Simon exhaled, hard. ‘Theo hangs out with that lot in London. He went down there as soon as they’d have him. I probably shouldn’t have told him I’d heard from Robert.’
‘So are you the only one who’s seen him alive?’
‘Think so. One day I came home and the wife told me Robert had called. I thought it was a wind up, but two hours later he called again. Couldn’t keep it to myself.’
‘Do you know where he’d been?’
‘I’d ask him, and he’d say ‘What, do you want to sell your story?’ So I’d leave it.’
‘Where do you think he went?’
Simon sat bolt upright. ‘Well, I don’t buy that old cock and bull story about him stealing away to Amsterdam. I don’t know where that came from. Probably Bonny, making myths. Imagining him buying saucy postcards on the seafront. I reckon him and Frankie fell out, and he did his own thing. Robert would not have got that far by himself.’
‘He stayed hidden for twenty five years.’
‘Yeah but he was better then. Every now and again, sometimes late at night, I get calls and it’s him.
‘What does he talk about?’
Simon sighed. ‘The past, where we went wrong. A few weeks ago I got a call and he just said, ‘I’m coming over tomorrow’. My wife was absolutely amazed to come home from a shift at the canteen and see Rob sat on the wall outside.’
‘And what did he want?’
‘To finish the record. We set some dates. He says he might make it, but I’m not convinced.’
‘So do you think he might be coming to the studio today?’
It dawned on Sam that he might, at that moment, be only a few yards from Wardner.
‘Nah.’ Simon’s eyes were cool. ‘Not today. He’ll want me to get going. If he involves himself at all it’ll be in the later stages.’
‘Could he perform again?’
‘That’s what Theo wants. He’s gagging for it. But I think- one step at a time.’
‘Okay,’ Sam felt charged now by the drive to push further. ‘So do you think an interview with Robert might be possible?’
‘Why? So you can all gossip about the bags under his eyes?’
‘No. I want to give fans the answers to the questions they’ve been dying to ask.’
Simon looked at Sam.‘But is that what you’re really after?’
‘It would mean a lot to me personally. To be honest it would…put my life back on track.’
‘That’s too much pressure to put on his fragile shoulders.’
It’s not going to happen, Sam thought. I’ve failed Elsa again. ‘Maybe you and I could stay in touch and you can let me know if he says yes?’
Simon paused. ‘Okay. But right now, I’m not going to rock the boat. Finishing the record is enough. I want to get him back into the rehearsal room. See what’s been going on in that head of his.’
‘Sure.’
‘Finally,’ Simon whispered, drawing a cigarette from within his grey coat. ‘I knew there was one in there. Right, this I where I leave you.’
 ‘You don’t…you don’t think it’d be me worth coming along to see if Robert turns up?’
‘No, I don’t. Right Sam, I’m off.’

How I Left The National Grid can be bought from here-



Sunday, 2 August 2015

'The Vast Majority Of People Are Content To Be Apathetic’: A Chat With The Chapman Family Singer Kingsley Chapman


In February 2015, on the release of my recent novel about post-punk How I Left The National Grid I had an extended conversation with Kingsley Chapman on this nebulous and multi-pronged subject. At the time he was not speaking publicly about forming a new band following the split of The Chapman Family, though interestingly this issue is dangled towards the end of the conversation. It was soon after that I asked Kingsley if he would play at the launch party of the book, and he agreed. In my novel the main character, Robert Wardner, strangles himself with a mike lead onstage and there was some discussion at the time about the fact that Kingsley used to do this too- a connection I hadn't quite made. On the night of the launch Kingsley resurrected that act during his set- which left me with conflicted feelings that him and I kicked about backstage afterwards. Happily, his band, ‘Kingsley Chapman and The Murder’ have since recorded an excellent first single on Too Pure, ‘Lovers’, which was recently released (see links below).

A brief excerpt of this conversation was published by Narc Magazine in February, but I see no reason why I can’t now publish the whole thing here. I don't think Kingsley has ever elucidated in detail the breakdown of his band and the matters he contended with around that time, and I think its a subject worth exposing here.

GM: I think what I found most exciting about The Chapman Family, was a sense of this music being created out of sheer will. I remember reading an interview where you said ‘since the band started I’ve learnt to play.’ Does that foster a tighter bond between the band, if to some degree you’re learning together?

KC: I started the band because everything I was seeing and hearing was impossibly dull and/or worthy. The Libertines flame had flickered and The Strokes had pretty much burnt out by the mid 00s and at every gig I went to there were bands singing in mockney accents just like Carl and Pete regardless of what area of the country they came from. When north eastern bands start singing like they were born within the Bow Bells you know there's a problem. There were pork pie hats and Breton shirts aplenty and the two lad singers - there were always two lad singers - would battle over the centre mic and sing songs about nightclub dance floors whilst trying to put across some sort of hackneyed illusion of pseudo heroin chic. Here comes a twee ballad that apes Wordsworth, here comes an uptempo shambolic song about getting off your tits in a squat that you've never lived in, here comes a song with a girls name in the title etc etc. It was all the fucking same. 

I'd been a shameless indie kid for years by this point, an absolute stereotype: going to Leeds Festival every year but never watching a headliner, believing every word that the NME said, only liking bands before my friends liked bands, that sort of thing. I had three Hot Hot Heat records but by about 2005 I was utterly broken. Me and Paul (the guitarist whose bungalow loft I lived in) were going to these shows week in week out but they were just blurring into nothingness. Music to us was supposed to be about excitement and a rush but all we were seeing were posers who were using being in a band to break into children’s TV presenting or Hollyoaks. It was about as dangerous as cold mushy peas. We decided to start a band that we'd think would be exciting to be in and exciting to watch.

There's nothing more tedious than watching a band of highly skilled musicians playing together. One of our rules from the start was that we'd never have any guitar solos. It sounds ridiculous but I honestly can't see how not being able to play an instrument should hold you back from being a musician. I wanted the "music" to be primal, rooted in passion and anger and if the best way of doing that was to smash a telecaster onto your forehead or to rip all of the frets out of a guitar and rub it over the floor then so be it. As time went on and we did learn to play we probably lost some of that opening rush. We developed and at points almost became professional. It could even be argued that by getting better at what we were doing contributed to our downfall.

We felt we were different because we were reactionary and playing on purely emotional terms. We were occasionally unlistenable and unwatchable but that was all part of the ethic - only two reactions were valid, either good or bad. We wanted people to either really love us or really hate us, we never wanted the middle ground. There's nothing worse than sweating blood in a show only to ask someone's opinion of it at the end for them to say "it was OK." I wanted people to either hit us or hug us. It's the vitriol that I remember most - getting bottled for half an hour at Newcastle's Evolution Festival in 2009 was a highlight. We were first on the main stage and people were getting so angry with us that they were throwing their lunch at us along with coins and shoes. It was magnificent.

GM: I ask because the band came across as very ‘post-punk’ to me. That is, using a DIY attitude to make music, but at the same time putting across focused, intelligent ideas. How much were post-punk bands influential to your work?

KC: I'm a firm believer in (to misquote the comedian Lenny Bruce) that you should be influenced by every second of your waking hour. Every band I've ever seen, every article I've ever read, every book, every time I've acted like a prick, every news article on a war in a far off place, every cat stuck up a tree etc. It's all important. Our DIY attitude was pretty intense. I'd write endless hand written letters to indie DJs like Steve Lamacq and John Kennedy informing them about our gigs and how rubbish the music scene was; I painted hundreds of brightly coloured slogan t-shirts to throw out at gigs and festivals so that we could push the illusion to people that we were bigger than what we were. We tried to produce everything to our own specifications from music to videos to photography and if anyone else tried to mess with what we perceived as our image we'd get insanely protective. I'd always wanted a gang mentality for the band but we took it to extremes - we wouldn't let anyone in and we hardly ever made friends despite the fact that in reality we were four of the most polite and genuine people you'd ever meet. We were terrifyingly paranoid. To be fair it was done this way partly due to our dire financial situation - we simply couldn't afford designers and photographers - but mostly it was done like this as we wanted to stay in control and attempt to innovate in whatever way we could. 

We didn't want to do things like everyone else. We didn't want to send a faceless CDR to a record company with a beautifully typed covering letter and a glossy photo. Our scribbled notes were covered in coffee, beer stains and swearing and our photos were battered Polaroids of the industrial Teesside landscape. I think people like Lamacq bought into it as it reminded him of the Ghost of Indie Past. We were fiercely independent, frustratingly so in fact - we saw everything as selling out. In the early years we shunned help, regardless of the workload we were giving ourselves as we didn't really want anyone to assist us. We thought they'd ruin our little dark utopia. When we eventually got management and PR people involved we pretty much drove everyone around us insane. In our heads they didn't know who we were, they didn't understand the songs, they couldn't understand our accents, they didn't understand us, they were all idiots (...they weren't though, they were just trying to do their jobs). We were northern, confrontational and bolshy and we always tried to stick to our guns. Those southerners just didn't get it...so we thought. We would argue with them all the time. It got to a point in 2009 and 2010 where I was spending more time arguing in emails than doing anything useful like writing songs for our debut album or trying to learn how to play. It drove me quite mad.

GM: On the subject of post-punk, The Chapman Family seemed to use some of the tools of the post-punk movement. For instance, the letter in Artrocker that started ‘The country is in ruins’ seemed to be a manifesto. Was the use of such ‘tools’ just the way you decided to communicate, or were you conscious of other bands (e.g. The Manics) who used these methods?

KC: It wasn't a completely conscious move but the Manics influence was there from the start. For me personally it's impossible not to be swayed by a band who were at various points the most dangerous and exciting band in Britain. Magazines and radio would try and push this angle as it was an easy way into our world. We wouldn't complain though and if that meant me and Pop doing numerous "Richey and Nicky" style promo shots and interviews then so be it. Pop would be the hyperactive cool aggressive character who was never shy of an opinion and I'd sit in the background waiting to make a witty pun or moan on about how the music industry/Country/Government/Olympics/Royal Family were fucked up. I would write blog after blog ranting and raving about whatever took my fancy. There was definitely a personal agenda to make us seem active, reactionary and angry but it wasn't forced - I've never written anything in a blog or said something in an interview that I wouldn't say to someone in a pub.

I find the 2000s to be a tremendously interesting period of time as despite all these wonderful toys and devices that we've invented for ourselves like the internet, smartphones, drones, and a million television channels, the vast majority of people are seemingly content to be apathetic. We're being manipulated left right and centre by politicians and the corporate media yet as long as we can afford a craft beer with a retro label or retweet a video of a cat in a non-cat related scenario then we just don't seem to care. There's wars going on and people dying all over the planet and homeless people stacking up on our own doorstep but who gives a fuck about that if there's a possibility that someone might be having real life actual human sex in the Big Brother house? I'd get so many angry messages from people who hated the fact that I bothered to sit down and try and put my feelings across. There's nothing worse than a vacuous pop star with nothing to say and there's nothing wrong with having an opinion. We can't just allow ourselves to sit back and let horror and hypocrisy occur unchallenged - we need to realise that each and every one of our voices and opinions are valid. We were never media trained or had aspirations to become anything other than what we were and I found it really surprising that people were genuinely shocked that we would talk and write in the way we did. It put a hell of a lot of people off the band and was probably largely responsible for why we didn't ever get too big or make any money but that's ok - the people who identified with it became rabid. 

GM: When The Chapman Family were most active, it was a particularly dark time for the North East. The recession was hitting hard and unemployment was high. Did you consciously try to capture your environment in sound, or was it more a personal expression?

I've always said that I think you need to be honest in what you write and where you come from. If I grew up in California then I probably wouldn't be in the mood to write noisy clattering gloomy rock music. Nothing pisses me off more than a Brit singing in a mid-Atlantic accent. If you're from Manchester be a Manc; if you're a Teessider, don't cover it up. I love hearing the little idiosyncrasies in people's voices. I once had someone come up to me after a gig at Camden Barfly who was fascinated with my pronunciation of "bungalow" from one of my lyrics. They were speaking to me as if I was an exotic zoo animal but I didn't mind, we should embrace the fact that we're all different. People should sing in their own voice, their own accent and sing about things they know. It's too easy to spot a fake. I despise careerist indie with all my being. Music should be something that's in your heart, an absolute yearning that you need to express - it's not a fast track to get girls or something to use as a career platform to get exposure in other fields - it's absolutely a dirty primal urge. I love watching bands and seeing people perform and that primal thing...you can tell when they have it, you can see that fire in their eyes as they dominate the stage like they're possessed. We don't need any more ego driven drivel, we've overdosed on it. 

My home is intensely important to me and it goes hand in hand with everything I've ever written or performed. I wanted us to be the sound of rusty run down steel mills and derelict shipyards populated by ghosts. Teesside is a misunderstood industrial nirvana, an ex-colossus that's been abandoned by everyone it had ever loved. The recession hit the north east more than any other part of the country. As a Labour heartland it soon became apparent that we weren't a top priority for David Cameron when he came to power and the cuts when they eventually came hit our region more than most. They made the poorest area of the country even poorer. It was a complete kick in the teeth. On top of that we had the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics to contend with where seemingly the whole nation was ordered to celebrate and be joyous. No one was allowed to disagree. No one was allowed to spoil the party. 

There's no finer portrayal of modern Britain than seeing a queue for a food bank as the Queen floats down the River Thames in a barge made from gold - a barge that we, the people, paid for out of our taxes. What was more frustrating to me was that we all fell into line - we waved our red, white and blue symbols of historic slavery in the street and cheered as tax dodging multimillionaire pop stars pranced about in front of the palace like toadying jesters. At the same time our libraries were being boarded up, our roads weren't getting swept and our sports facilities and parks were getting sold at a knock down price just so the council could balance the books. With all this stuff going on of course it was going to have an effect on what I wrote. Looking back I'm proud that we reacted in the way we did even if it did kill our career stone dead. When we were searching for a new label after getting dropped as our album didn't sell we'd have conversations with industry types who had been told to beware of us as we were quite clearly mad and impossible to control or manage. We weren't, we were just intense.

GM: To what degree did forming and evolving the band shape your own identity?

KC: Regardless of whether we ultimately succeeded or failed, being in the band significantly shifted the direction my life was taking. I was a criminally shy call centre worker with a weird name who would go out at the weekend and waste all his money on whatever he could get his hands on. I've always loved music and going to gigs but I would never have dreamed I'd get to play at Glastonbury and Reading Festivals or fly over to Tokyo to play a single concert in a ten thousand capacity dome. We never started the band to get famous or make it big - getting a gig at our local club was an achievement as far as we were concerned. When things started to steamroller for us between 2008 and 2009 it was almost impossibly exciting, real edge of the seat stuff. We let ourselves get caught up in the hype completely and became pretty uncontrollable. It wasn't an ego thing and we weren't total dicks, we were just rabbits in the headlights and none of us were prepared for it. We were incredibly naive and I know from looking back that I got far too lazy in terms of songwriting, instead becoming more obsessed with where the next free drink was coming from and how many Facebook likes we were getting. I was an emotional void and impossible to get along with on any level either socially or professionally. It was only when we hit rock bottom that I started to clean myself up but by then in terms of a music career it was way too late.

I've met some amazing people and got myself into a whole series of unbelievable scenarios that a grown man with a drink problem from the most deprived area of the country shouldn't really get himself into. Naturally I've also met some utter sharks. When we called time on the band last year and I subsequently had a year of trips to and from the hospital and it was interesting to see who did and who didn't stay in touch. It was a difficult thing to come to terms with that to many of the people I'd worked with over the years I was just a production line product. I was something that needed to be marketed, something that needed its ego stroking every now and then, something that was costing someone a lot of money and something that was disposable when things inevitably went tits up.

GM: Have you been keen to draw a line in the sand, after the band, to put it behind you or was it just about moving on?

There were numerous reasons why we called it a day. I think we all felt we were in danger of becoming an act which just soldiered away in the corner and would be endlessly remembered as a band that had managed to fuck up a few golden opportunities that had come their way back in the 00s. No one would let us forget our past,no one would let us forget our failure. We were in a pretty confused state too. We were trying to write as many songs as possible but they were coming out in a huge jumble: there was a big piano ballad; an industrial rock song; a twee pop singalong; a miserable goth epic; a Roxy Music rip off etc. We were four or five bands battling within the same band and it was getting messy. Our drummer was moving to London to do a music course at Goldsmiths which would have meant recruiting yet another member and once again learning all the old songs so that everyone was up to speed. Maybe it was just me but my spark and enthusiasm was ebbing away. I'd been having severe panic attacks since I was 18 and they flared up again bigger and better than ever before in my latter days as an indie pop star. When we played Bestival in 2012 at the end of the set I collapsed in a heap and had to be taken away in an ambulance. There's nothing worse than seeing an adult male being dragged through a festival site by a security guard dripping wet from sweat, dribbling from his mouth, unable to speak or move as his limbs have seized up whilst dressed like a poor mans Brett Anderson. The panics were happening more frequently through 2012 and 2013 and my doctor seemed unable to help blaming stress for my outbreaks. It turns out that I'd been misdiagnosed by every doctor I'd ever seen since I was a teenager. I needed an operation and a rest. The opportunity came to give the band a fitting finale in the town where we started it so we took it.

I definitely miss the excitement of being in a band. The sheer thrill of our early years was something I'll never forget. it was pure and innocent...and loud and violent. I don't miss the paranoia or the monster than it occasionally made me though.

GM: Would you consider forming another band, or did you say what you wanted to say in The Chapman Family?

If you had asked me two or three months ago I would have said that I'd never form another band, not in a million years. The whole merry-go-round, the politics, the grind really didn't appeal. But I don't know now. I look back on the old band as something that is definitely over and never to be started again but something new? Maybe. I've recently been given the all clear from the doctors and in a way I feel like it's given me a second chance. My body was genuinely falling apart but now I feel like I did about ten years ago when I was pissing and moaning about pointless wanky indie bands in my local club. I feel indestructible again and since the fallout I've lost a few people from my life either intentionally or unintentionally but I've gained some pretty special ones too and they've made me realise that there could be more to life than sitting and moping over past failures. I'd been missing inspiration for what seemed like an eternity and I was probably content to just drift off into nine to five drudgery and anonymity but luckily I've met someone who inspires me beyond words and they make me feel like maybe I'm not quite ready for the knackers yard just yet. I don't really have any unfinished business with anyone specifically but I definitely have a couple of points left to prove. I'm still an angry bastard and I think I have something relevant to say that no one else is bothering to go on about. The band was started with the intention of causing a bit of a ruckus and to ruffle some feathers but in all honesty despite some minor early successes we failed completely. However, the world seems to be filling up again with arrogant peacock strutting careerist arseholes and misogynist lads hell bent on rohypnolling the planet and frankly I can't allow that happen without putting up a fight. 

GM: I ask because it’s my perception, knowing people who loved coming to your shows and owning the records, that the music had a large impact in their lives. Do you have any sense of that sort of a legacy, that you perhaps want to protect at all?

I don't know whether that's for me to say in all honesty. It's incredibly humbling to know that people out there have our logos and lyrics tattooed onto their bodies for instance. When we did our final show in Stockton last year we had people come to see it from all over the country and Europe, not just our hometown. It was horrible to say goodbye to those people, those true sweet lunatic fans, as you felt like you were letting them down but there was no logical way we could carry on; I was getting sicker and the band was getting more frustrated. I still get messages today from young bands who saw us at gigs and are influenced by our attitude and noise which warms the cockles somewhat. We never reinvented the wheel with our music - we didn't try to - but we definitely tried to swim against the tide of what was out there and any band or performer who tries to do that in the current musical climate gets my immediate respect. We have no legacy. We left as much of a legacy to music lovers as the 2012 Olympics did to Middlesbrough. In our ideal scenario we would have been the trigger for a whole new scene where anyone could make a noise if they wanted to, regardless of talent, and the Brit School would have been burned to the ground. We wanted to see a new breed of musician brought up on passion, blood, sweat and tears where anger was the primary motivation, not celebrity. We tried our best but we fucked it up.

Kingsley Chapman and The Murders’ debut single lovers is available here-https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/lovers-single/id1011387215

Guy Mankowski’s novel on post-punk, ‘How I left The National Grid’, is available here-http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Left-The-National-Grid/dp/178279896X