I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix’ – Allen Ginsberg, Howl.
MEMO FROM THE BLOODSPORTS DESK. Well readers, you have to admit, any cataract-clouded eagle’s-eye slomo tracking shot round the modern Blighted Kingdom would reveal complete disarray. The Spectred Isle is run by criminally insane Tory criminals, corporate land-rapers, lunatics, conmen and idiots, with the tragic cries of the disabled they are murdering by benefit sanctions pogroms ringing in their ecstatic ears. Ghost town High Streets with Specials soundtracks blow with tumbleweed and pennyshop decay, as communities and shops are sucked away online. Teens studiously work on future scoliosis diagnoses, staggering round in phone-lit reality-avoidance cocoons to block everybody but nonexistent online friends out. Newspapers and websites scaremonger about stockpiling food and medicines, as those reliant on life-maintaining drugs cower in could-be-future-catastrophe fear. The Reds are back under the beds bugging us again, and their citizens are supposedly dying like flies on the propaganda-postcard London streets. The parasite royals amp up their transatlantic franchise-extension bid with a con wedding to an image-updating commoner. Television bids us watch drooling nonentities bake a cake, as one-size-fits-every-country American superhero films drain brains in expensive soulfree cineplexes. Muddle-brained middle class media morons suck up and regurgitate American cultural political and ideological idiocies in acknowledgement that this side of the Atlantic has become America Lite ™ without even noticing it. Anti-government pages disappear in the middle of the hot electronic Facebook night. Pop stars erect anti-homeless railings outside their population-bought mansions to stop the suffering proles from getting too comfortable and close. Child poverty soars and roars past Dickensian levels, and starved-small-belly choruses of Food Glorious Food ring out from every depleted foodbank from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Food prices slowly creep up, and the man in the silent no-commerce street begins to notice that his Aldi breakfast pack is costing more and more all the time. The most disgustingly morbidly obese generation in UK history whines online about body-shaming as it queues up at Pizza Hut for more all-you-can-puke slow suicide, whilst the NHS that will treat them is sold off to be vulture-picked for profit by our ruinous stateside descendants. The volume on immigrant-hating-and-baiting news stories is turned up past sanity-distorting levels. Knife and gun crime in England rise and the media screams bloody race murder, ignoring the 20,000 fewer cops on the divide-and-conquer streets there since 2010 under Conservative cunt cuts. Enoch Powell is constantly invoked in the comments section of racialised news stories, and how’s your cultural enrichment working out for you now? The radio plays nondescript, lobe-strafing, lobotomising dance music made by a handful of shitsounds puppeteers and auto-tuned fake-voice pimpers. Deal-or-no-deal conflicting Brexit lies, idiocies, fallacies, scare stories, inaccuracies and lunacies rain down on us from a mendacious media machine daily. The rich, won’t-be-affected vermin who kicked European Disunion into motion laugh and rub their hands in sadistic, future-tax-avoiding glee. Stagnant wages and zero-hour contracts earthquake-shake under getting-poorer people, constantly threatening to dump them into the street and destruction. Theresa May trots like the power-crazed, glazed-eyes freak that she is alongside Trump, or dances spastically in South Africa, trying to sell off the island’s chlorine-washed, abuse-loosened arse to any highest bidder. Young tongues cluck and stutter in frozen censorious fear, as universities ape the worst excesses of North American million-gender pronoun-pushing madness. The political disloyal opposition groans under self-inflicted New Labour pains, tearing itself apart in ludicrous, insane, idiocy-manufactured anti-Semitism and identity politics self-mutilation sprees. In the midst of a psychotic spasm, isolationist England withdraws into a fortress built by xenophobic nature for herself, against other-race infection and the hand of civil war. In Scotland, where I am, the lying mainstream unionist media feeds the country daily contorted distortions of itself, trying to talk us down from a second-independence-referendum springboard. They know full well the damage that would be done to the Westminster parasitism of Scottish resources, and the huge blow to English coffers that would entail upon us breaking free of our colonialist oppressor.
Sound pretty grim, eh?
Well, aye, if you put it like all that, I suppose so.
However, there are rays of light blazingly razing the UK-tunnel dark, raising hopes and bars and spirits.
Idles are one of these rays.
The Bristol-spawned quintet became ‘overnight’ successes in the sixth year of their previously-indie-also-rans career with last year’s blistering damn-the-torpedoes songblastBrutalism. It showcased a tight, punky soundswarm headed by an angry, depressed, manic man screaming fractured, no-tomorrow anthems of rage and despair and black humour.
And it struck a raw nerve and chord.
“Those who have suffered understand suffering
And thereby extend their hand
The storm that brings harm also makes fertile”
– Patti Smith, Rock N Roll Nigger.
Almost instantly, Idles became one of those most fascinating (and slightly frightening) entities, a Cult Band. They have a Facebook page where their fans (including a large middle aged contingent, experiencing a second pogoing youth alongside their embarrassed aw-mum-no-please kids), called the AF Gang (guess what the acronym stands for) have created an online, self-helping community for those in their numbers who may be mentally or emotionally troubled. Their band-minted tribal motto is “All is love.” That’s pretty self-explanatory.
The therapeutic thread running through the fanbase is exactly what singer Joe Talbot is looking for, and trying to set up. In an era of divide and conquer, he wants people to connect, to communicate, to unite and reconstruct. This befits his past career as a carer, and his looking after his bedbound mother for years. It’s a fascinating extension of personal history (the singer was addicted to drugs and alcohol) extended into art and burgeoning artbuzzing community.
I mean, have heard of music used as therapy before (dabbled with it myself a few times over the years), but never with this dimension built specifically into a band’s work and worldview. And Talbot is no sniffy dilettante, this is all for real. His WhatsApp tagline is ‘Here to help.’ He has been in counselling for tragedies and pain he has endured in his life, found it helpful, and is trying to extend that calm and perseverance-won equilibrium directly into the band’s fans, and into the tainted British mainstream as well. Long live the new artflesh! This humanist approach saturates the second Idles album, released at the end of last August, Joy as an Act of Resistance. The twelve-song collection is named after an old Huffington Post story about a black American teenager shot by an off-duty customs agent, and refers to joyful, painkilling dancing at the child’s funeral. Talbot read the headline and liked it as a statement (of intent) so much he slightly paraphrased it (the original is ‘When Joy is an Act of Resistance’) and named their second album after it.
“To strike out is what we have all dreamed of but none of the old targets will do, ergo a decade that looks like a mule’s trough to me, but we all sup at it and oh how they drone in discontent, no yelps or yowls or yaps to be heard. In the time of hedonist fascism nobody dares scream or judge what is so pathetically suspended in mid-air, which is life itself – nobody till now, that is. Meaning that if you aren’t mad you’re crazy – we are being eaten body and soul and no one is fighting. In fact practically no one sees it, but if you listen to the poets you will hear, and vomit up your rage.” – Lester Bangs, Death Means Never Having to Say You’re Incomplete.
So is the new album any good? Absolutely. Much more openly political than its predecessor, it’s an exploding fireworks factory of a recording, songs screaming out of its depths like multicolour rockets aimed at a cowering moon, Catherine wheels of emotion, sparklers of humour, happy-face-illuminating peonies, Roman candles of sarcasm, falling leaves of anger, firecracker resilience in the face of oppression and madness and hatred. I’m not really going to go into the whole album-dissection-analysis thing too much. I mean, who cares what my opinion really is, except for me? Why should I be your guide to the multitude of choices in this tasty sonic chocolate box? There are a million reviews of it online. Go read one; I know I haven’t.
Anyway. Sidebacktracked, whit wis ah talking aboot…oh aye. Therapy, pain seizure, old pathology door closure, growing gleams in newly healed eyes. This is a personal-is-political album aimed straight at the modern UK, a protestation and a provocation and a trailblazer panacea attempt. It might occasionally get a bit too kumbayesque for me, in the songs (both directed at fragile fans) Television, and Cry To Me, but I am not the demographic they are aimed at, so it hardly matters.
The song Samaritans fares better. The band had a pre-release, twelve-piece art exhibition in London last August, with the proceeds from the sold artworks going to the Samaritans. That is called putting your (audience’s) money where your mouth is, and is surely a large part of the reason that a band who would seem, on the surface, to be of only cult-level status – ranting and screaming vocals, angry buzzing guitars, sanity-sodomising demons combated, geysers of coagulated rage spewed down into a flinching scumchoked gutter – are doing so very well over the last few months.
Their positive energy is, quite simply, contagious, virus-scanner sonics gone viral. They are putting out a positive energy and message that people obviously want to hear and see in a contemporary band. I saw them live last April, on the 17th, when I did this interview, and it was the best live gig I have ever seen. There was an incredible energy and joy and anger-and-madness-release in the room; bodies were flying, but nobody got hurt, really. Well, nobody much except for me – I was black and blue for two weeks after it, and had to (po)go to the hospital to get X-rayed to make sure I hadn’t broken any ribs. I hadn’t, but they certainly were painful as Hell. My own fault for being so bloody stupid in middle age, really. But I don’t regret a fucking thing.
Idles are a fucked-island lightning rod, a catharsis, a mental and emotional pain tsunami earth. I mean, look at the excellent, joyous-shouted-chorus, bookending songs Danny Nedelko (about the Bristol-based Ukrainian singer of the band Heavy Lungs) and Great, both of which literally spell out (Talbot is fond of spelling out words in songs; as he put it in a Facebook message to me, “Spelling things out is something botched in my brain that just says ‘you haven’t got a fucking clue what makes a song so laugh it off with a celebratory spelling bit, songs love that.”) home truths about humans from all round the world and round the block.
I confess, Danny Nedelko made me cry – I have been an immigrant twice in my life, and the depth of simple good feeling and love towards the man (chanting his name in joyous celebration) and immigrants in general, I find deeply affecting. I mean, honestly – since 9/11/2001 we’ve had this whole Muslim/brown people demonisation thing, America fucking all our minds and peace to death, people roaring at each other online, the odd blowback-for-Tory-foreign-policy terror attack in England fanning the ever-fertile destructive and restrictive flames of hate. So taking both sides by the hand, hated and hater, black and white, natural-born and immigrant, to bring them together…is quite simply what we fucking need to hear right now!
17 years. 17 years of keep-your-eyes-off-the-1%, divide-and-conquer madness. 17 fucking years. Talk about painful, and draining, and depressing, and crushing. We’ve got no more energy left for screaming at each other in caustic echo chambers of idiocy and sanity-and-dignity death. Let’s move the fuck on, people! Immigrants are here, they’re never going away, and people need to stop pouting and recognise this and think of ways to be constructive, instead of dark muttering aboot darkies and Poles and such tiresome, stupid shit. One thing about Idles – they are a very intelligent group of men, and there’s real thought behind what they are doing. It’s about fucking time that somebody started celebrating people and joy and life again, and this album is a strong attempt to do that in a meaningful way.
Which in itself is laudable, but think about this: Joseph Talbot lost his mother and, tragically, his daughter in childbirth, in short order. He made emotionally excoriating art out of these devastating events (the deeply uncomfortable-making song June on the new album details his daughter Agatha’s stillbirth in June last year), has not let them destroy him, and still maintains a positive attitude with a fucking impish grin plastered over his unshaven laconic features. I find that inspirational, and have a great deal of respect for such strength in the very public (as he has chosen to make the events) face of such cruel, potentially all-numbing horrors. An American correlation to his mental health mission would be the Punk Heart Project, a mental health charity for punks (with a Facebook page) run by John ‘Jughead’ Pierson of acoustic pop-punk band Even in Blackouts. Because of course things are just as bad, if not worse, in America right now. We’re all in being out of it together.
Talbot interests me because of his aesthetic and wordwork, and clear interest in taking writing seriously. His lyrics veer from confessional (June) to anti-social realist (Exeter) to imagistic and non-sequitur-slinging (Rottweiler), sometimes nearly all in the same song. Despite name-checking painters like Caravaggio and Francis Bacon, he will, in a spirit of equal opportunities magpie-theft, irreverently paraphrase or lift quotes from sources as disparate as feminism (Margaret Atwood), literature (Ernest Hemingway), poetry (Dylan Thomas) popular artists (Katy Perry, Nirvana, The Beatles, Nancy Sinatra), and eh…Jedi Masters (Yoda). No, seriously. “Steal everything in sight,” as William S Burroughs put it.
Rewriting and satirising popular lyrics is no doubt how many a teenage schoolboy-cum-eventual-songwriter started to feel and find his lyric-writing chops; it’s just that Talbot has never stopped, that’s all, and vastly widened his sometimes-unpalatable representational palette at the same time. Personally, I like it best when he’s just being a dirty, wide wee hing-oot cunt on songs like the delightfully-titled Never Fight a Man With a Perm (“I said I got a penchant for smokes and kicking douches in the mouth/Sadly for you my last cigarette’s gone out.”) and Gram Rock (“I’m sorry your grandad’s dead/lovely spread!” – a lyric that made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it). But that’s just me, really.
The apex of the writing on Joy as an Act of Resistance is, to me, the first song, Colossus. In it, Talbot sketches out the major themes of his work: depression, mental illness, self-destructive behavior and repentance thereof, and making your father worry about you, in a sort of litany of greatest self-hits. He then likens himself to a slew of kitsch, physically fit, violent or dancing popular culture figures (Stone Cold Steve Austin, Fred Astaire, Evel Knievel, Ted DeBiase, with a sprinkling of Jesus thrown in) until crash landing at the song’s end in a jumbled, bruised, fused heap, inwardly melding English homegrown violence and homosexuality and anti-glamour in Reggie Kray, the bisexual 60s London gangster. It’s a mightily strange concoction, but gives us an idea of the eclectic vectors and trajectories of what are to come for the rest of the running time. The singer proclaims himself “tender, violent, and queer,” which could be the whole blood-and-snotters-flecked album’s motto.
But Talbot is not the only person on this musically excellent record, and he would be nothing without the other four electric mayhem-slinging members, as they all get clockwork orange-juiced from each other when they’re onstage, joyful violence singing in the tingling air as they hop and skip and jump and flutter and prowl in mostly unpredictable patter patterns (though they do have anarchaotic schtick they repeat from gig to gig, so it’s not quite as random as it first appears:
Lead guitartist Mark Bowen (no relation to Jim, I don’t think) twists in manic tornadoes of humourous kinetic loops and he tears into his instrument, balancing it on his head, pretending to chuck it into the audience, often clad in rank manky scants (thanks for not wearing them in Glasgow, Mr. Bowen!), bouncing off Talbot, often ending up in the crowd playing to them.
Rhythm guitarist Lee Kiernan looks like somebody transplanted a time-travelling 90s Sub Pop grunge band member a quarter-century into the future and then set him free to bend over and bash his guitar, long hair flying in brown flags blown by the soundwaves he is generating. He often ends up in the crowd serenading ecstatic fans too.
The bass player, genial, gentle giant Adam Devonshire, stands rooted to the spot like a bald, bearded oak tree, a doomed anchor of attempted calm in a songstorm freestyle-for-all, shouting randomly unintelligible things, threats, treats, beats, batshit, alien-worshipping reveries, who knows.
Amiable, excellent and extremely powerful drummer Jon Beavis batters his skins with such force that his glasses continually threaten to fly off his face, like a confused nerd getting shagged behind the high school bike sheds and wondering what the literal fuck is going on.
And then you have Talbot, an incredibly dynamic performer, and absolutely one of the angriest men I have ever seen. At the start of the gig he takes to the stage alone, pacing and prowling up and down, back and forth, in and out of the room mentally, sizing the audience up. “Like a boxer!” as somebody behind me shouted in Glasgow. Then the rest of the band come on, kiss each other…mild audience muttering…and they’re off to the races. Smiles, grimaces and laughs fight for airtime on the singer’s sweaty features. He jokes, screams, wows, howls, scowls, yowls, grabs a floor-lying Bowen’s shoes off his and pretends to throw them into the audience, primal screams some random non-sequitur, somehow manages to avoid having the veins in his head burst and spray the sweatsoaked bouncing awed audience in passion-overheated blood, breaks brains and hearts, runs on the spot, goes for miles, takes it all on the chin and manages to keep even a Glasgow audience good-natured, which is an amazing fucking feat in itself.
There is definitely something beautiful and poignant about a man who suffered from having club feet in his childhood (“They laugh at me when I run,” he declares in the showstopper-starter Colossus) dancing about like Fred Astaire, freed from physical impediment, mental and emotional inertia, finally making it to where he and the band had wanted to be all along, and just, finally, fully fucking deserving of it. And with no real fucking clue how they did it whatsoever.
Without being quasi-mystical or even really sentimental about it (anybody who knows me knows I am neither), it’s almost like this extremely amiable person has been given a kind of existential compensation in the band’s recent skyrocketing success for all the shit he has been through and not let drag him under, whilst staying kind to others at the same time. It’s this that convinces me of this band’s truth in the face of smirking, they’re-hipster accusers. They’re bleeding by example. This is not a drill. This is not being faked. This is all, confused and joyous and angry and sad and depressed, coming straight from the heated heart and guts of all five rockingstars in this excellent band.
Talbot truly is a study in contradictions. He’s the angriest singer I have ever seen, channeling precise, clipped blocks of frightening rage and madness, spitting machine gun invective, but there’s no rancour in his delivery. He’s a therapy-and-self-defused pained addictive-personality who’s been through Hell and kept on smiling, creating who-knows personal art out of it all. He whipped up a relatable-band frenzy from basically nothing in no time at all if you don’t count the years before the Brutalism. Idles would say they’re not a punk band, and that’s got elements of truth in it – they have wee touches of indie and industrial and psychobilly in the pick-and-mix too – but at heart they’re from that direct English gobslinger lineage. It’s hilarious that going against the grain punkwise is now being human, and humanitarian, and community-minded, as opposed to the genre’s early, fuck-you-all punk aesthetic. Just shows how things go fool circle, and how fucked up things are in the 21st century, that caring and community and making people feel things are considered daring and potentially dangerous; depressing comedy indeed.
Talbot has removed that self-destructive 20th century attitude that tripped up so many punks in the last forty years…and is having fun with it all. It’s a brilliant inversion and subversion of the traditional fuck-you-I’m-killing-myself-so-go-away, punk panto dame paradigm, sober and happy, subtle and yet not subtle at all, right in your face, and a central tenet of the band’s gleefully anarchic aesthetic. Idles are a smoke cloud after a self-immolating drug and alcohol and pain crash, the echoing hollow of a self-murdered explosion. Normally I would be somewhat dubious about this phenomenon, and I do have my own thoughts about some things, but ultimately…I just can’t be cynical. It’s too real, right there, right here, right now.
I may come to regret that almost-naïve-seeming sentiment at some point in the who-fucking–cares future, but right now it’s the way I see things. Long as the band don’t start selling Kool-Aid and moving the fans with them to a special compound in Guyana, I’m fine. I am chuckling here. The singer sort of reminds me slightly of a vague cross between Morrissey and Richey Manic, two artists from cult bands with…interesting fans. Talbot has the highbrow artistic aesthetic appreciation of Manic (without the self-mutilation or high cheekbones), and the camp, witty, waspish bisex sensibility (he makes no bones about his manfucking – and why should he?) that the now-boring-racist Moaner of Manchester had. Dripping artistic erudition and pretension, yet with pretension-pricking, self-deprecating humour, he’s certainly unique on the British music scene, that’s for sure.
Idles are starting to make it notoriously B.I.G. right now. In recent weeks they’ve been inRolling Stone magazine, on ITV talking about men’s mental health (they want to make it okay for men to talk about their feelings), on the nationwide-syndicated National Public Radio (NPR) in America (though I’ve genuinely been on there too, so maybe that’s no big thing – laughing here), on major magazine and newspaper covers, London is flyposted with their new album cover, the sizzle-and-glam sharks are circling…and they better watch out. It’s too easy to go from cause du jour to whore du jour in a few easy mistimed media dance steps. It all remains to be seen whether they can resist the dulcet sirensong allure of, well, vapid media shite. Given the eccentric, interesting, bulletproof-shellshocked personalities involved, I think they will negotiate the headspinner pretty-colours black hole fairly easily. Least I hope they will.
I mean, let’s not be too naïve here – the band is a professional depression confessional, with any amount of deluxe versions of the vinyl for the albums, a range of teeshirts, tote bags, handfed donkey snacks, etc (alright, so I made that last one up)(gap in the heehaw-feeding market there, guys!). They have been ecstatically gladhanding the transatlantic music industry since Brutalism came out in April last year, their rapid ascent due in no small part to the patronage of BBC Radio 6 DJ Steve Lamacq, and they have made a lot of friends on both sides of the Atlantic and mainland Europe. They know what the Hell they’re doing, they’ve been a unit for seven years already; they’re no flash-in-the-pain amateurs.
Keeping that joyful enthusiasm might prove hard, but right now they’re knocking every single fucking gig they play anywhere, anytime, out of the park, with their energy and madness and fun. They’re a band who actually clearly enjoy playing, a rare thing these days, with character and style and goofocity and fuck-you virtuosity, velocity, rapture, velocirapture, eating dinosaur brains and old modes of representation and communication. And long may it continue, in healing sickness and in rude health, til deaf us do part. Joseph Talbot, professional artistic carer, and his merry band of enabling pranksters, will continue to roam round the world giving mental and emotional sonic meds prompt to the needy, and look after and provide succor the dispossessed. But, as carers write in their client’s care plan, when they don’t need to do anything else for them that visit…
No further service required.
(Quick pre creature feature note. I interviewed Joseph Talbot in a pub in Glasgow across the road from the venue Idles played that night, the G2 in Sauchiehall Street. The road was being worked on outside the pub for a long stretch, and orange barriers were up to stop people walking on and crossing the road. Talbot saw the pub and jumped one barrier on the far side of the road. He then jumped the barrier outside the pub…and slipped, nearly landing smack-dab on his face on the pavement. Oh fuck, he’d deid, ah’vc kilt the cunt afore the gig, the fans’ll hate me, I mused, laughing as he entered the front door and I beckoned him over. Tatscratched, he was wearing a blue woollen hat and looked like nothing so much as a bohemian Irish navvy, though I don’t mean that insultingly. He was slightly smaller in size than I had thought he would be, but I realised that is only because when he’s on stage he projects a huge self-image of, indeed, a Colossus. He exuded a quiet, sparking, ready-to-crackle restless energy, and was an extremely engaging, intelligent, funny, and interesting conversationalist. Because of when the interview was done, it mostly concerns Brutalism,but references to the new album creep in here and there, through seeing the songs online beforehand in live footage)
Diabolique: You clearly take writing seriously.
Diabolique: You’ve got an Allen Ginsberg tattoo… (one of the 1950s-era-minted Beat Poets, whose ranks included William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac – Graham)
Talbot: Umm…I take reading seriously. I try not to take writing seriously, because, like you said, I dunno what I’m doing (I had said to the singer just before the interview that he didn’t know what he was doing, and that I liked that – Graham) so I just write whatever comes out, I do it all in one sitting. I don’t like to take it seriously. I take reading serious, and take being in an audience serious. I don’t fucking jump about or mosh, I watch what it’s about, I nod my head and then I leave. So being an audience member I take seriously.
Diabolique: That’s interesting, I mean, you’ve got (tattoos of) Ginsberg and Frida Kahlo (famous Mexican female artist – Graham), and they’re both kind of icons of artistic religious suffering…
Diabolique: I mean, is that what appeals to you, that sort of thing?
Talbot: Yep. I mean, I think the bravery of Ginsberg, or maybe the stupidity of Ginsberg, I dunno, one of the two, or maybe both, is what’s so beautiful about Ginsberg. I mean, the first time I read Howl (Ginsberg’s famous 1956 obscenity-prosecuted prose poem that, along with the novels On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs, is regarded as one of the transgressive triptych of late 50s artworks that ignited the Beat Generation literary movement – Graham) it just, like…it ignited something in me that I didn’t realise was there. You know like…like…you know you get an affinity with people that you don’t know cos you read their stuff or you watch their films or you hear their song…and you just think fuck yeah, that’s what I want, that’s what I needed. You know like when you hear a band for the first time and you didn’t realise there was a gap there-
Talbot: -And you’re like “Fuck, that’s what that gap was, that’s what I wanted to hear, and I’ve been waiting fucking ages for it.” Like yesterday I heard a band Bambara’s new album for the first time and I was just “fucking, I missed that, I didn’t know I missed it,” and that’s what happened with me and Ginsberg. I think a lot of people get that with On the Road and that kind of romanticism with travelling and being away. I never wanted to go away and escape in that sense, I wanted to escape with smashing up what I had in front of me and just being with my mates. And I think he does that beautifully, and he celebrates the love for himself and his friends and it’s debauched and works really well.
Diabolique: Well, if (Ginsberg) hadn’t been corresponding with Burroughs there would have been no Naked Lunch (much of that book was written in routines sent to Ginsberg from Tangier in North Africa by the damaged junkie genius after he fled there after shooting his wife in the head in Mexico – Graham) and my life would have been completely different – perhaps much better! (I laugh) No, it’s interesting. I was sitting last night – and you don’t have a big back catalogue so far, really-
Talbot: No, no.
Diabolique: I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not like you’re just pumping out shit, commercial ‘product’…
Talbot: It’s funny you say that, we’ve got a huge back catalogue, it’s just that no-one’s ‘eard it cos it’s shit. (He’s referring here to a large number of songs unreleased by the band since their 2011 inception – Graham)
Diabolique: The EPS that you put out, there was Meat, there was Welcome, there was aMeta-EP, remixes-
Talbot: Yeah, but that’s not ours, though, is it.
Diabolique: The first song I came across of yours was Thieves from 2011…
Diabolique: See that’s what gets me, is that you’ve been hailed as this big political band, right-
Talbot: (Nods) Um-hum.
Diabolique: -But there’s been a level of political, kind of, disengagement. That song’s going “First to the left, then to the right, shake it to the left, shake it to the right,” but there’s a kind of disengaged, detached cynicism about politics.
Talbot: Yeah, that in, um, the coalition. I was fucking furious, I was livid. I didn’t vote for the fucking Liberal Democrats. (Chuckles) No offence to people who voted for them cos my mate did. What they gonna do? They (getting animated and angry) promise you shit they’ve got no control over, no fucking clue, they just promise you shit they won’t stick to. And this was when the Tories were gonna be in there chewing them apart behind closed doors. They’ll be fucking laughing in their face in the House of Commons, you just won’t see it. They’ll be their fucking lapdogs in a week. And they’re like no, no. So that’s what that song was.
Diabolique: You wanting a drink, by the way? (Only been sitting there for five minutes already! Ever the gracious interviewer/host – Graham)
Talbot: No, no, I’ve had my diet coffee. Actually, I’ll get a pint of water, be right back.
Diabolique: Take your time.
(Unidentified background sonic noodlings and meldings from the jukey and telly and other punters on the recording)
Diabolique: So there’s that level of political…well, you obviously weren’t disengaged, cos you were fucking angry about it. But that song is just like milquetoast Liberal Democrat shit wishy-washy nothing. Then you have…Brutalism has a couple of songs that are political, but you’ve never really been explicitly political.
Diabolique: I mean, like that…”The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich,” (from the great song Mother – Graham) was that something that somebody said to you?
Talbot: Nah, it’s an observation on my mum, really, it’s a criticism of the way my mum was living her life. It wasn’t like a mantra, it was like…what you gonna do, like…she was working for the tax office. Then she had a heart attack and a mini-stroke, then got a job as a manager at Tesco’s. And then…had a major stroke, she was a vegetable for years. So it was more like…what you gonna do, you either live your life trying to get rich to make my life comfortable as a son, you know…you…(hesitating) just fucking…live your life in a cyclical behavior. Counting out your weeks, looking forward to the weekend, your two weeks off per year…and you wake up when you’re sixty with a fucking droopy facethinking “Where’s my life gone? It’s bullshit.” So I mean, there’s ways of looking at it, it was a criticism of my mum just working herself to death, and it’s also an expression of the idea that if you really wanna change things, you’ve just got to investigate life, go beyond Facebook, do some research, and go out and meet people. Or get a job that pays well and then do something with that, do something with the money and invest back into your community, things like that. Like I said, I don’t the way people have adopted it as a puerile fucking “Fuck the Tories” or something like that. (Sighing wearily) Oh, yeah, good one.
Diabolique: Cos there’s an ambiguity to that line-
Talbot: (Regarding me slightly incredulously, as if I have said the most obvious thing in the world) There’s an ambiguity to every fucking line I sing.
Diabolique: I was just gonnae say that, there is, there really is. It occurred to me last night when I was looking at the lyrics that I could see online, that you have a core set of concerns that you write about lyrically. To me, you’re talking about…you say you were a drug addict, right? You did say that. By the way, there’s certain things I would only talk to you about because you’re articulated them in public before,
Diabolique: You talk about being a drug addict. Family seems to come into your stuff a lot, because you sing about your mother, and your father comes into things a lot, you know? It occurred to me that another thread running through your stuff is a kind of guilt and shame about the way that your actions have impacted upon your parents.
Diabolique: You’re talking right from the start about…I forgot my notes…in one of the early songs, Germany, you talk about being into laudanum, so you’re talking aboot drug use, and it’s much the same as Date Night (a song from Brutalism aboot crap, drug-wasted sex – Graham). So you’ve got getting wasted on drugs to avoid interpersonal relationships, sexual problems, whatever, really. The thing is now, your singing on…ah…it’s not Colossus…I mean, in Colossus you’re singing “I am my father’s son, his shadow weights a ton.”
Diabolique: And your father appears in the video for The Idles Chant, shaving your head, which could actually have a religious connotation to it-(seeing as how the song is inspired by the old band The Monks, who used to shave their own heads, there’s nothing like stating the bloody obvious – Graham)
Talbot: Yeah, it does.
Diabolique: -As a monk. And he also helped you do the cover for the album.
Diabolique: And then in that new song Samaritans you’re talking aboot “Sticking myself full of pins” which obviously could be heroin.
Diabolique: Isn’t it? Okay, that’s fine, I’m taking a certain thing from it, it’s open to interpretation.
Talbot: Yeah, it’s a metaphor for destruction, and also ta’oos (he pronounces it ‘ta’oos,’ without the ‘tt’ in the middle – Graham).
Diabolique: Oh aye, right.
Talbot: It didn’t start off with ta’oos, but my work can start off without realising what it means. So what I meant by that was just like, fucking…hating myself, so I use that violent image of somebody hurting themselves, or sticking something in their arm, using that as a metaphor for how I hated myself, and how I treated myself with drugs and alcohol, getting fucked.
Diabolique: So are you totally sober now?
Talbot: Yeah yeah, I mean, I haven’t given up booze forever, I’ve got to wait until I can drink properly again, cos I’m a cunt (on booze).
Diabolique: I know that feeling upon occasion. What does your father think of your work? I mean, he obviously wants to be involved with your work, he has been involved with it, (on the cover of Brutalism, which Talbot and his father designed as an art installation memorialising the loss of a wife and mother– Graham) , I’m sure that was an excellent family moment, the cover.
Diabolique: That’s a fucking great cover by the way.
Talbot: Thank you.
Diabolique: There’s a lot of depth to it, it’s almost like a shrine that you and your father have for your mother. So what does he think of your work in general? He give you any input? Feedback?
Talbot: Yeah yeah yeah, I mean first and foremost he loves the fact that I’m creative, and learning my stuff, and being able to do it as a living. He’s been an artist all his life. Obviously he had to work as a teacher, yeah, he was in art school in Glasgow.
Diabolique: He’s a sculptor. “My old man’s a dustman, he’s a sculptor by his trade.” (from the song Rachel Khoo – Graham)
Diabolique: I’m just curious, were you raised religious at all?
Talbot: Ummm…my stepdad and my mum went to church, yeah. And I like, always struggled with religion, thought it was weird.
Diabolique: It is. What strikes me is that there’s a very confessional aspect to your work.
Talbot: Yeah yeah yeah, it’s because I lived a very secluded life, away from myself and everyone I knew, especially my dad, I didn’t want my dad knowing I was a fucking…scumbag. I didn’t want him worried about me, because he was in Cardiff and I was in Bristol looking after my old dear five days a week and then coming to Bristol on the weekend, before she got ill with kidney disease. So I’d be with my mates having a good time, but they didn’t realise how fucking messed up I was, I didn’t want to show my dad what I was like, or my mum, before she died. So I was just juggling that life.
Diabolique: Jesus, that’s a difficult, difficult…I mean, trying to maintain a mask there, of normality. Here’s how I see the trajectory of what you have done, right? You start off, you’re writing about taking drugs, laudanum, crap like that, and it’s all very solipsistic, like you’re not really talking to people, it’s being critical or talking about something. Then the first song where you use humour you’re fucking lightening up a little bit. And then, on Brutalism, you’re becoming more human, you’re using popular cultural references, you’re having a fucking laugh. And now…to me it’s like getting away from the epicentre of pain and tragedy to become a normal fucking human being again.
Diabolique: I read an interview with you online last February. It seems to me that you almost perceive your performances and your relationship to the audience as almost a mass therapy session.
Talbot: Yeah, but not knowingly. One thing I keep trying to maintain, and to explain to people, is that the best way I can perform is not for everyone, some people need to be rehearsed, there’s music to learn, it’s not just their catharsis, it’s not their writing, whatever. It’s no criticism towards how any other cunt does it. My other point is, the best way for me to do it, to prepare is to be unprepared. I don’t want to go out there and fucking know what I’m doing. And what I realise is that it’s a bit like when you’re driving, and you kind of come to after about half an hour of driving and you’re “I haven’t paid fucking attention to the road one bit.” You obviously are, but you’re automatic, and I don’t want to think about a song , I just want to think about…nothing.
Diabolique: That comes through very, very clearly, because obviously the band feed off your energy, right-
Diabolique: -And that energy’s chaotic, and it’s joyful, and it’s celebratory-
Diabolique: ‘And it’s anarchic, right, and they’re just “PING PING PING!” (miming a pinball bouncing around with my hand – Graham), you’re all over that fucking stage. It’s refreshing and pure to see that, because you’re obviously…you’re feeling things, you’re making the audience feel things, and you seem to invoke quite a violent reaction in the audience.
Talbot: Well, I mean, I, uh…yeah. Unlike on this tour, cos it’s like small towns, you get as lot more like what I grew up in, what Exeter’s about (a song bristling and dripping with homophobic murder and violence – Graham) which is just impotent…rage from frustrated, bored young men bring fucking…they’re just stuck in their little fucking shop window, you know what I mean?
Diabolique: Oh yeah.
Talbot: And I’m just like “Fucking Hell, I hadn’t realised how fucking…mundane life can be in your little lives, in your little towns.” Cos that’s where I was, and you can see there’s a bit more anger in the audiences than where we’ve been playing to normally. And I don’t enjoy it, in the sense that someone at the front to feel like they’ve gotta move because some cunt’s throwing elbows everywhere. That’s not what I’m into. So I’ve noticed that a bit more, but, yeah, as a general thing I think that violence is something that’s really underused as a vehicle. Because violence isn’t necessarily smashing shop windows in, or punching someone, punching Nazis, you can violently do things with beauty and joy and you can be violently happy. It’s like, you can grieve violently, you can scream to whatever it is you think is up there, you don’t have to sit patiently eating cucumber sandwiches, know what I mean?
Diabolique: Art is violent. To me, there’s points on that album where your words just coalesce into a scream, and it’s like that scream has taken that level of – it’s not like you’re inarticulate, cos you’re a very articulate person – taken that articulacy to a certain next level where’s it just like a fucking sonic boom. It just lifts off into a different realm of communication.
Diabolique: Because your vocal performance on that album is one of the most expressive I have ever heard in my entire life.
Talbot: Thank you.
Diabolique: I’m an auld jaded bastirt, but it’s so…it’s not even method, it’s…you arethere at those fucking moments.
Talbot: Going back to what you were saying, we’re more human, it’s an interesting point, or that I was more human, but I think…humour…I relaxed into it, I stopped thinking what I was writing and just laughed at the pages, I just said “I wanna make my mates laugh.” Cos that’s what I wanna do, I wanna be loved, I wanna show my mates shit that’ll make them laugh. And life is tragic, it’s fucking bullshit, the randomness of life is just so fucking catastrophic, people haven’t got a fucking clue what’s round the corner. And if they did, they wouldn’t go outside, fucking no way. And I think to laugh at that is a beautiful thing, especially the Celts, you’ve got it, you’ve got that fucking, like, humour where you can just like…like the funeral scene in (Peter Mullan film) Tyrannosaur, I love that scene,
Diabolique: I’ve never seen Tyrannosaur.
Talbot: Oh mate, mate, fucking watch that film.
Diabolique: The Scots have a really dark humour-
Talbot: Yeah yeah yeah.
Diabolique: -It’s a really violent humour. A perfect example of that is that guy recently, I can’t remember his first name, (Mark) Meechan, he taught his dog to do the Nazi salute…did you see that?
Talbot: (Laughing uproariously) No!
Diabolique: Well this is funny but it’s also not, because there’s-
Talbot: (Still laughing) Fucking ‘ell…
Diabolique: There’s this guy, a Scottish guy, and he says “Ma girlfriend’s dug’s a pug and ah hate it cos it’s the cutest thing ivir, so ah jist thought ah’d jist turn it intae the most nihilistic, vile, horrible thing that ah could think of, a Nazi,” right? So he’s obviously trained this dog to do a Nazi salute, and he’ll say “We gonnae go gas the Jews!” and the dog’s like (I do a small, quick, comedic Nazi salute – Graham) and you’re thinking “Fucking Hell.” But the dog’s sitting watching Triumph of the Will (a 1935 Leni Riefenstahl Nazi propaganda film – Graham) and it’s ludicrous, it’s beyond surrealism, it’s really vicious Scottish humour.
Talbot: (Slightly hesitantly) Yeah…
Diabolique: And I was laughing, but I was also appalled, but here’s the coda, right? He said he’d made that video for eight of his friends and it somehow went viral. Three million people watched it, right? Nobody complained, not one complaint. Police Scotland went and found a representative of the Jewish community to be offended by that, and to go into court against it. That man is now being prosecuted for a fucking hate crime.
Talbot: That’s fucking retarded.
Diabolique: It’s fucking stupid.
Talbot: I feel like it’s funny, I get that kind of humour, but there’s three things you need a licence for: driving, drinking, and humour.
Diabolique: (Laughing) Good point.
Talbot: I think that the joke in the right person’s hands, any situation in the right person’s hands is fucking hilarious. I remember being back at home and mates making jokes about Princess Di. And I’m like “That’s someone’s mum, mate, you’re a fucking idiot.” But when, uh…he’s Scottish as well, the guy with the ginger beard…
Diabolique: Frankie Boyle.
Talbot: When he says shit like that, I’m on the floor. You can’t just say something offensive and it’s immediately funny-
Talbot: -That’s just not how it works. You take a situation and you pick out the fucking ridiculousness of it, the bizarrety of shit is everywhere. Like drive-through pharmacies in America, shit like that. And obviously we see the world…you’ve got to see the world where other people aren’t offended by the offensive, that’s all it is. And, like, people who find Frankie Boyle funny are just dullards.
Diabolique: Some of his stuff I find funny. You know what, actually, his stand-up comedy is shit-
Talbot: Is it?
Diabolique: -It’s awful, it’s all just rape jokes and child abuse jokes, you’re starting to pick up a vibe, you’re thinking “Why is he talking about that sort of specific stuff.” But aside from that, I think as a political incisive-
Diabolique: -sharp, poetic commentator-
Diabolique: -That’s where his forte is, not making fucking rape jokes. That’s a pile of shit, right, audience-pandering fucking nonsense.
Talbot: Yeah. I mean, I haven’t seen his stand-up. I’ve just seen him on that fucking compilation of his shit on…what’s that awful pun programme…
Diabolique: Have I Got News For You? No, that’s no-
Talbot: Mock the Week.
Diabolique: Aye, that’s right.
Talbot: I mean, I don’t watch it. And I’ve read his stuff about like the queen and that and it’s on point, I mean rape jokes, I’ve got friends who’ve been raped multiple times. But, saying that, there probably are rape jokes I would laugh at. But it’s through like…ah fucking ‘ell…it’s not funny. Child abuse ain’t funny.
Diabolique: No, but like you said there’s jokes you might laugh at-
Talbot: You can’t help but laugh. And then you think it out and you’re like “Come on mate.”
Diabolique: Nah, it isnae funny, I agree with you. That’s why, his stand-up, I’m just like “Something’s wrong here.” And it’s not even a matter of button-pushing, it just makes you want to go and take a shower-
Diabolique: And that’s professional entertainment, and you’re thinking “There’s something a bit wrong with this man’s head.”
Talbot: I’m gonna hafta watch it now. You’ve made me (laughing) want to watch it to see what it’s about, cos you know, that…I’m with you, a hundred percent. I think that when something catastrophic happens you lose your mum, or your mate dies, or whatever, you wanna sort the wheat from the chaff, you want to get the cunts out of your life. And the other thing is, you’ve found this new-found confidence in your fallibility; you ain’t ‘ere for long, so why waste your time, just be yourself. I’m just gonna write what I find funny and, without being preachy, it’s laugh or cry, innit?
Diabolique: Definitely. You know what line I love? It’s “No way, no way/we never shall decay,” (from the superb depression exploration 1049 Gothko – Graham) it’s like The Impossibility of Death in the – what’s that old Damien fucking…whateverheis, the shark, The Inability of the Human Mind to Grasp the Possibility of Death (the artwork I am so eloquently scrambling to recall is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst, an artwork comprising of a stuffed shark in a tank – Graham).
Talbot: (No idea what I am talking aboot) Mmmm.
Diabolique: But that was a good fucking lyric. I liked the one that was in, eh…ah, I fucking had it written doon, I deleted my fucking notes unfortunately, but it was in, eh…the…first song that you did, and it was “Go into the cold wind blind,” and I liked that phrase. There was another couple of phrases I liked-
Talbot: (Trying to recall song title) Umm…umm…
Diabolique: Was it 26/27?
Talbot: (Clapping hands) Yes!
Diabolique: I liked that one. You’ve got rhyming couplets, and at the end it’s more kind of freeform poetry. And I’m thinking that is difficult, because your lyrics seem to evolve from a kind of more poetic prose snapshot standpoint into more of a popcult flow.
Diabolique: You know what I mean? Because you’re not trying to write poetry to put to music, you’re trying to write fucking lyrics to put to music. So that’s how it’s evolving, as I see it.
Talbot: Mmm. It’s interesting, the…evolution that I’m going through is like…I’m being fed back feedback as I learn all the time, cos people give me praise or criticism either way. I mean, praise is a lot more cancerous than criticism, cos you’re like…you want to please them more, and that’s the worst thing you can do. I don’t want to get into that thing of “Oh I really like that, I wanna do that again.” It’s bullshit. Cos then you just get boring and you’re just writing for somebody else. And that’s exactly when I stopped being shit, and started being a lot more confident and a lot more happy, is when I stopped writing for anybody else. So second album, scrap loads of stuff for a start. Cos I was writing it and I’m thinking “Hold on, what the fuck am I doing?” So it is a double-edged sword, cos what I’ve done is I’ve written consciously about being conscious. But you can’t ignore that, you can’t ignore the second album. So like I’ve gone in know that I know-
Diabolique: That’s a delicate fucking balancing act.
Talbot: -Yeah, I really enjoy it. Cos I’ve just gone in obvious and childlike. I’ve just gone in super-simple, and like “This is that,” getting rid of it, and then I move on.
Diabolique: So you’re taking the fat from what you perceive to have been your previous lyrical positioning or tropes, threads, themes. I’m very interested to see what your next lyrics will be like.
Talbot: Imagine an eight-year-old conscious of the fact that they’re being watched. I just wanted to be as naïve and infantile as possible with the things that I ‘ad so it’s out my system, just unintellectualising it and just being like (slaps table) that’s what I feel, (slaps table) that’s what’s on the paper, it’s written down (slaps table), I’m cracking on. Because in the third album I want to go into the darker realms of abstract thought, the other side, so like pure structure, and like this is what the song’s about, so you write that song (slaps table), move on. And this is like just going with whatever colours are in my head.
Diabolique: You know, it’s interesting you mention the colours in your head, because you’ve got a couple of lyrics…one is…eh…it’s in fucking Benzocaine…
Talbot: “Boredom creeps in jade.”
Diabolique: “Boredom creeps in jade.” Now you mention painters a lot. What did you study in university, I’m curious to know.
Diabolique: Film. You mention a lot of painters, especially interviews, and you’re obviously very well read. You’ve taught yourself about painting, you’re talking about Caravaggio and Francis Bacon. You obviously have these sort of high brow things, but you’re also able to satirise that or just throw it to the side and just have a fucking laugh which makes it a lot more palatable. You’re not getting sniffy and arty-farty aboot it. OK. J.G. Ballard always said “My writing is the writing of a frustrated painter, if I could paint I wouldnae write.”
Diabolique: Now if you were a painter, who would you be, or what style would you use?
Talbot: (Instantly) Rauschenberg. I mean, that kind of mixed-media, blotchy…
Diabolique: Is that him with the kind of blow-ups of things?
Talbot: No, no, no-
Diabolique: Bob Rauschenberg, I know the name-
Talbot: It’s John Rauschenberg I think, something like that-
Diabolique: Is it John, sorry.
Talbot: Let me have a look. (Goes to phone and starts looking)
Diabolique: Cos Burroughs talks aboot him… (in the intro to The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard – Graham)
Talbot: Rauschenberg is one of my favourites. But it’s interesting, you said something – Robert Rauschenberg! Bob! (Chuckles ruefully) Yeah. Yeah, there you go. (Passes me the phone to look at some artworks and I nod and grunt sagely, like I even know what the fuck I’m looking at – Graham) I just really like…he does these cardboard boxes where he just unravels them and sticks them to the wall.
Diabolique: (About image presented) That looks like the wall in a pub punk…punk pub, an accumulation of history and imagery…
Talbot: Yeah. I like that kind of haphazard, naïve, stick-it-on, that’s my day today, move on, beautiful colours. I mean the thing is, the best way for me to enjoy art, whether it’s Caravaggio, or Rauschenberg, or whatever, like…I’ll go through an exhibition really quick. I got no patience, I’m not standing about staring at paintings for five hours, I’ll get engulfed in it for a couple of seconds, I love it, and I move on. I just love beautiful things, and I don’t even have to intellectualise Caravaggio, It’s obvious, he’s an obvious painter – very light, very dark, violent images that are stunning to look at and cover a very complex theme. You’re looking at it and…I get emotion quickly. So I don’t like to over-intelellectualise things like that that I enjoy.
Diabolique: It sounds to me like there’s a correlation between the way that you’re writing now, and the way that you just described his work.
Diabolique: I’m always interested in that sort of thing, I like just throwing down words, just throw down millions of images. I’ve done that a couple of times with women I’ve been out with, just send them something – don’t intellectualise it at all, really just coming from that kind of Kerouac first, fucking…just one-beat inspiration basically. It becomes difficult…as you get older, you’ve got fucking…more to lose, you’ve got to lose so much more to maintain some sort of…fucking artistic focus, man, it’s difficult as fuck.
Talbot: Mmmmm. I had massive distractions with the second album, like, you’ve got something to compare it to, and you don’t wanna write like that, you don’t wanna focus on the past when you’re remaking shit. So when I got over that, my daughter died which was a massive influence on it cos, again, it just gave me the kick up the arse I needed. Do you know what I mean?
Diabolique: Well you didn’t need that, man.
Talbot: No, oh no, no, no.
Diabolique: I know what you mean-
Talbot: No, definitely didn’t need it, I mean, I would have been a lot better if she didn’t die but, y’know (sighing), such is life.
Diabolique: You’re actually making your own work very difficult, because five years down the line from now you won’t want to go back to these albums to listen to them, because you’ll get that raw black burst of pain and emotion and chaos. Well you might find it therapeutic to have that map of your own pain and how it evolved, or devolved, into some kind of artistic thread. But…
Talbot: I think it would only be painful to go back if you haven’t healed.
Diabolique: That’s very true. Right, two separate things, right, but it actually comes back to what we were just talking aboot. What’s the difference between catharsis, or exacerbation, having to sing this material for fucking years?
Talbot: (Pausing for a few seconds) Ummm…I think the difference is, for me, it’s different for everyone, but for me the difference is I’m just really short-sighted and mindful about what’s going on every day. I’m not there thinking about the big picture anymore. I was in counselling, it helped me loads. I don’t carry the weight of everything that’s happened on my shoulder all the time, I’ve just got what’s in front of me today. I just make life into bitesize chunks, piece of piss. You’re not ignorant to what’s happened before, but you realise that you can’t solve everything in one go. So you just do what you’ve gotta do, write a list the night before, then crack on. For me catharsis used to be one big explosion and that’s what Brutalism is, but now I realise that if you carry that fucking shit with you all the time, you’d be weighed down. That’s literally how it is.
Diabolique: Yeah, you can’t carry the weight of your own internal damage on your shoulders.
Diabolique: I find, with writing, I’ve got, and I’m not gonna be pretentious or wanky about it, but I’ve got a big world of pain I can dip into, anger and madness-
Talbot: Mmmm. Yeah.
Diabolique: But you stay away from that unless you’re specifically trying to channel it inone direction for specific short periods of time, just to fucking blast it out-
Diabolique: Then you step away from it. You’ve got that certain…perceptive perspective, you get the fuck past it all. Sometimes you just don’t want to get out of your bed, man, life just kicks your fucking face in so badly you think why, why should I even get out of my bed, you know?
Talbot: Yeah, absolutely. I think, umm…yeah. I think for me that the difference with catharsis is that it’s an ongoing thing, you’ve always got something to let go. Every day gives you something new, and it’s just about implementing the idea of fluidity and not just time is…a cycle, it ain’t just this linear thing, and you’ve got this big bag of shit, just put the bag down and let it go in parts. Put it all out in front of you, recompartmentalise, and figure out how it’s gonna affect today. So I just think, I try to be nicer to myself, realise that I can’t be responsible for all of it.
Diabolique: You can’t. The things that have happened to you in your life…it’s a question I was going to ask you. As I said, there’s a lot in your work about guilt your actions and the effect on your family, how it might have worried them. I mean, you talk about how your parents didn’t know that much, but you’re singing “I should have been a better son.” You sing, on the first song on Brutalism…ummm, don’t tell me, my brain is fucking fried as usual, man…
Talbot: The first song?
Diabolique: Heel/Heal. You’re singing, like…you know that you’ve got to go down this path to come to heel, you know, to heal yourself, but you still can’t quite accept it. Did it seem like some sort of ultimate sick joke to think that you were going to go down this family path, you were expecting it, then it was taken away from you?
Diabolique: You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.
Talbot: No, no. I just think, again (sighing), it’s just like whenever I do…if I can have children, I ain’t gonna do it like…I ain’t gonna have a Bovis home, I’m gonna break the mould. I ain’t gonna have kids like other people have kids, otherwise I won’t have fucking kids. I ain’t gonna earn a house like other people earn a house, I ain’t gonna have a job like other people have a job, I’m gonna do it my way. I certainly don’t wanna fucking live my life like the person in Heel/Heal. You can heal yourself without heeling like a (sneering) fucking dog.
Diabolique: I’m gonna ask you two more questions, we can leave it on that, I’m not gonna keep you forever.
Talbot: Ah, cool man. Can I see this.
Diabolique: What, this? (See photo – Graham) That’s Weng Weng’s head. That is a Filipino-
Talbot: Weng Weng! The little guy!
Diabolique: Yep. Have you seen the documentary about him, The Search For Weng Weng?
Diabolique: The guy who made the documentary, Andrew Leavold, a good friend of mine, was across last August (2017), sleeping on a lilo – a fucking blow-up mattress in my parents’ house, which was stripped to the fucking bone. In the documentary he becomes obsessed with Weng Weng – I got this off him last August when he was across from Australia and we went down to Manchester. It was a bobblehead, I put it in my pocket, went to get some petrol, forgot it was there, smashed on the fucking ground. So I’m gonna get a photograph of you with that, cos I send them to Andrew – sometimes I get tasty young birds to do it…
Talbot: (Laughing knowingly) Ah, yeah…
Diabolique: Anyway, we were talking about women there. It’s obvious, in a certain way, you’re a bit like…Morrissey did not respect gender, was very fluid with his boundaries-
Diabolique: -If you listen to songs like These Things Take Time it’s basically him getting fucked up the arse in a disused railway line, but it wasn’t clear at the time. You had to be quite coded, back then, you know?
Diabolique: But you are quite up-front that you are not interested in masculinity…”Masculinity is a mask that’s wearing me.” That acceptance of the feminisation of the Western psyche is very contemporary. Some people are going a little bit overboard, I think. But you don’t bother about that, right. There’s an element there that’s saying something about your sexuality – have you struggled with something like that, no?
Talbot: (Flatly, immediately) Never struggled. My parents were very good about being, like, very black-and-white about sexuality: you love someone, or you don’t love someone, but you’re attracted to them, male or female, that’s kind of what gay or straight is, but you just know when you know, you fall in love with some people and you won’t others.
Diabolique: That’s true.
Talbot: And I just never felt pressure to be straight. So there was never any…obviously in Exeter…
Diabolqiue: “He punched himself in the face to prove he wasn’t gay.”
Talbot: Yep. But that’s just small towns, innit?
Diabolique: Fucking Hell, yeah. Your audiences seem pretty evenly split, male-female.
Diabolique: Ummm…what kind of reaction have you had from women about your work, and your aesthetic in general?
Talbot: (Confused by the mention of ‘work’ in the question) Eh, as a carer? What do you mean…?
Diabolique: No, no…you worked as a carer?
Talbot: I was, until about two months ago, then I handed in my notice cos I’m never in.
Diabolique: I’ve worked as a carer as well, I was working in a nursing home a couple of weeks ago.
Talbot: You mean work as in…
Diabolique: Your wordwork, your sound explosions.
Talbot: Ummm… I think…a lot of men (in transcribing, I realised he had misheard me and thought I was asking about men – shows you how observant I was at the time – Graham) invest their energies into my work because there’s a sense of masculinity in my voice and my stature, like I’m a dumpy, square-framed bloke who doesn’t shave that often…do you know what I mean? So you get these kind of like blokey blokes being all bolshy at shows and that. But lyrically, and in the way we present ourselves, we more often than not kiss each other at the start of shows as a goodwill gesture to each other, and you can hear the murmurations, you know…(mimes men mumbling in confusion as I laugh – Graham) And like…you’ve just got to break it down. I mean, I think the Orwellian obviousness of my lyrics means that people know they’re welcome at our shows, whoever they are. I try to do what I said earlier in this chat, take every day as it comes, and take every audience as it comes. Bristol is a great place of liberal thinking, in the natural sense of the word, where gentrification might occur, but the homeless people in that area aren’t kicked out, they’re kept safe and warm in the community. People don’t look down their nose at homeless people getting shitfaced at eleven in the morning, they’re like “Mate, y’alright?” Everyone chats to each other, difference is celebrated, the rich aren’t, fucking…the most fucking important people on that pavement. And cultures, because it’s a slave town, right, cultures and difference are celebrated, and I think that’s ingrained enough in the band because we wanted to try loads of shit out. So with that in mind I’m just trying to keep an open mind as each day comes, and show that plurality and fluidity in who you are is paramount to enjoying yourself. Soon as you start trying to live the life of a ‘straight-white-man’…you’re fucked, you’re bored. And it’s just about, you know…whatever you fucking want. Within your means, obviously, I’m never gonna be a pilot, but I don’t wannabe (chuckling), luckily. Otherwise I’d be fucked, cos I’ve got no eyesight and I don’t like heights! I think that…everything like that…like you say, there’s a violent joy to our shows, and I just wanna celebrate life, cos…and life is a lot of fucking things, it’s not just what I enjoy, or what I believe. I want Tories to be able to come to my show and feel safe – not in their vote, in what they believe in, but that’s a discussion, that’s not a “Fuck you, you racist cunt,” that’s a “Why have you done that?” I want people to feel they can come to our shows as a conversation and a celebration.
Diabolique: Do you…(laughing) do you get a lot ay Tories?
Talbot: But then again, that’s because of the aesthetic. They think I’m a “Fuck you, you Tory cunt,” whereas actually I’m a “Fuck your beliefs, but let’s talk about it.”
Diabolique: You do come across as very communicative. You talk to cunts.
Talbot: Yeah yeah yeah.
Diabolique: You come across as being quite open, you’re a very (coughing), excuse me, human person. When I first wrote to you (on Facebook – I just had several beers, listened toBrutalism and just rattled down whatever came to mind as I did in the form of a stream-of-consciousness prose poem – Graham), I was shitfaced, right, I just rattled down my mad fucking shit, right-
Talbot: I really enjoyed that…monologue. (Chuckling)
Diabolique: Moanologue! (Laughing) If I was you, I would have said “Who’s this drunk fucking idiot?”
Talbot: No, it wasn’t shit writing, it wasn’t shit thoughts. I really agree with everything you said – I disagree with some of it, like I’m sure you did, I do. I disagree with what I say, and I’m a hypocrite sometimes. Like I said, shit changes all the time, and what I don’t want is to set myself in any boundaries in what I do, I’m certainly not gonna do that with other people. But there is a black-and-white – I do disagree with our government and what they stand for. But how we get there is fluid. I’m not a straight, down-the-line socialist because I can’t live like that and get to where I wanna be. I’ve got to work within my means. That’s not fucking bullshit, me giving myself a get-out clause, like I’m not gonna start driving a Land Rover, do you know what I mean?
Diabolique: I read an interesting article the other day – I read all the time, I’m a fucking hermit-
Talbot: See I don’t, I don’t read, I can’t fucking concentrate.
Diabolique: I just absorb information all the time.
Talbot: I can tell. Like you keep sending me shit, and I’m like, I will…
Diabolique: This article was from America in 2016, talking about the kind of liberal smugness, right, how they regard the opposition as “They’re just a bunch of fucking rednecks,” talking about how The Daily Show had been the apex of that, sneering down the nose. And it really…it isn’t helpful-
Diabolique: -And it has calcified American political discourse. Really this dichotomy has come across the Atlantic, since 2001, the demonisation of Muslims and that. They’ve managed for a long time- (Shift foot under table and accidentally brush Talbot’s – Graham) Sorry, not playing footsy-
Talbot: Not yet. (Laughing) Yeah yeah yeah.
Diabolique: -9/11 happened and it’s like “Get the Muslim guy, he’s the fucking scapegoat this time.” And then everybody started shouting at everybody on the internet. And it’s calcified now to the point where if I say something online it’s like “Shut up you commie liberal fag.” “Well actually I’m not. I’m not apolitical, it’s impossible to be apolitical, but I don’t subscribe to your little left-right dichotomy. I fucking…hate some things that you probably hate, I like some things that you probably like. I’m not a pure right-left wing person, I try to be as fluid as possible.” Growing up, my views were pretty liberal. I understand that a lot of good stuff comes from gay culture, and black culture and that, and I’ve been right into that sort of stuff. But now I just feel like my views are antiquated, antediluvian, because you have these hardcore extremists now. But they’re like…that’s a religious tradition, really, and it’s come across the Atlantic now as well, and it’s replicating itself in the tones and tenors on our streets.
Talbot: Yeah. It’s got to stop. There’s nothing liberal about shutting someone down, going “Fucking…you’re a racist.” That’s not thinking like a liberal, mate, you’re just being fascististic. “You’re this, fuck you, get out my ‘ouse.” Aw cool. What’s that gonna do, you cunt? You don’t change the infrastructure of a nation by shutting down half, well more than half, because they’re scared and fucking poor, and marginalised, and stuck on top of each other in a fucking high rise, and then go “You fucking cunt, you voted for change.” Course they did mate, they’re not going out having a fucking nice coffee twice a day in their nice media job. It’s nice to feel like a fucking liberal when you’re comfortable, but when you’re told that the reason why you’re in that fucking situation, that shit situation, your kids are in a shit situation because there’s loads of immigrants coming over, and that’s all you see, and all you hear…you’re gonna believe it, and you’re gonna want to get ‘em out. It’s about opening up dialogues, and learning about individuals, celebrating differences, but also cutting out the lying cunts at the top.
Diabolique: To be perfectly honest, I’m kinda scared of England right now, that kind of real hardcore shift to the right. And that thing with Syria? “Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s illegal? What’s that, we do what we want.” That’s a dictatorship. Theresa May is insane, Boris Johnson…they’re all insane.
Talbot: (In weary disgust) Boris Johnson is a fucking…
Diabolique: Oh, he’s a dick. They’re all hanging off of Trump’s arse as well.
Talbot: And what the fuck is that? I thought that was opening up…I mean, can you imagine the conversations they’re having in the House of Commons? You’re literally holding hands with Trump, you mad cunt. (Laughing incredulously) Wh…what are you doing? What are you doing? Like picking a fight with Russia, mate…
(The Pogues come on the jukey singing the classic Sally MacLennane, making me tell the interviewee to be quiet as I poorly sing along. Talbot watches me in bemusement, grinning. There then follows a rambling discourse from me on Shane MacGowan, brilliant lyricism, and playing banjo music in the car with the windows open in black areas of Chicago, where I lived – Graham)
Diabolique: OK, last question. Who are your favourite lyricists, and why?
Talbot: (Pensive) Favourite lyricists…Biggie Smalls. I love his flow and the very, very rhythmic nature of the way he delivers his lyrics. But for imagery and colour and strokes…we use sort of abstract strokes, that’s how I see what I do, same thing, I’ve explained it the same way. I just try and paint more broad abstract strokes. It’s funny you said that, it’s cool. But I know there’s someone whose lyrics really blow me away, this one person really, and I just can’t remember who it is, someone asked me who my favourite lyricist was…
Diabolique: Rapper, or…
Talbot: Nah. Rap’s good for, kind of like…it’s like having a cake, you know, it’s nice, but…
Diabolique: It’s a nice place to listen to and visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Talbot: Exactly. And there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist in the arts, I don’t think. If you put yourself out into the public you should be appreciated by anyone who’s listening.
Diabolique: That’s true.
Talbot: Rap, Biggie Smalls is one of my favourites cos of the way…it’s a tribal thing, the rhythm of it, the way his voice sounds…you can feel it on your palate. But no, there’s somebody who does tight lyrics and…(in exasperation) fucking Hell…
Diabolique: Contemporary? What genre is it?
Talbot: Nah, not contemporary. I always look at Leonard Cohen as…the opposite end of what I’ll ever do, and I like that. I love the lyrics to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, I think that’s one of my favourite albums…that is my favourite album.
Diabolique: You should read Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, he does an amazing piece on Astral Weeks.
Talbot: Oh really?
Diabolique: I’ll see if I can find it online, just that one thing, even, I’ll send it to you.
Talbot: Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah, please do. Yeah. Lester Bangs was a great character.
Diabolique: Fucking amazing.
Talbot: (Still agitatedly cogitating over that lyricist he can’t remember) Fuck…
Diabolique: What do they sing aboot?
Talbot: I dunno…if it’s something that’s there, right about there…(points to head)
Diabolique: Stab you in the head with a pen and see if we can schlock therapy you…
Talbot: (Laughing) Yeah, fucking…lyricists…you know what, I don’t listen to lyrics as much as I do the beat and the bassline.
Talbot: The rhythm section’s always my favourite thing.
Diabolique: Do you write lyrics first or do you write the music first?
Talbot: We write the music first. And then I go away and I listen to the music about 200, 300, 400 times, until the words and that pop in my head. Cos I don’t want to sit there and think “I’ll write this song about that,” I can’t do that, I wait until like a phrase will come to me and I’ll be like, “That’s it,” I’ll write it, and then once I start it I finish it in one sitting.
Diabolique: Kind of like that bit in 8 Mile where he’s sitting on the bus writing on those mad fucking scraps of paper. OK, I think we’ll just leave it at that, right. Now…
I’m’ with you in Rockland
where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls collapse O skinny legions run outside O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here O victory forget your underwear we’re free’
– Allen Ginsberg, Howl.