5 Maddest Interviews - Jamming!
Here, Tony Fletcher reflects on the famous Jamming! fanzine and remembers his 5 Maddest Interviews. The Best of Jamming! is out now!
Tony Fletcher's 5 Maddest Interviews
It takes time and perspective to realize just how crazy some of my formative interview experiences were – often in terms of unmitigated chaos, and sometimes just the sheer incredulity of it all. Typically, musician media interviews are arranged through a publicist, and take place in record company offices or, these days, by phone or video call. The encounters below were all arranged without record company involvement, and were conducted either in recording studios between sessions, or at band flats, and often with several group members present rather than just the usual front man/spokesman, which made for far greater entertainment. Two additional interviews that almost made this list (Mike Scott/Waterboys and Pete Wylie/Wah) even took place at the house I shared in Crystal Palace with my mother, after I had put the artists up for the night when they were in London with nowhere to stay! But young bands weren’t the only ones who let their guard down in the company of teenage fanzine editors; major rock stars did the same thing. Below, five of the maddest encounters of my teens.
5) PETE TOWNSHEND, 1978.
The Who had been “my group” since I was ten, and punk was not about to change that. So when a Jamming! contributor somehow lined up an interview with my absolute idol, Pete Townshend, I was almost beside myself with excitement. So were a couple of my other Who-loving friends, and ultimately, a quartet of us, all just 14-16 years old, took our time taking various buses and trains across south London, arriving, in true schoolboy fashion, an hour late. Graciously, Townshend re-arranged his schedule and gave us a full hour of his time anyway. For most of the subsequent 43 years, I have believed that I was too timid in my questioning, which would have been understandable under the awe-inducing circumstances, but reading back over Issue 6 for the Best of Jamming! compendium, it is almost as if Townshend is dictating a fan’s guide to the group’s history, and even his one descent into swearing was delivered with perfectly good manners, as when defending (yet again!) his infamous line “I hope I die before I get old.”
“My Generation was written while I was in a flat in Belgravia, where all the Embassies are and where all the lords and ladies live. And what I was saying was, rather than be like those lords and ladies and Ambassadors, I’d rather die. And I feel very much the same now. If somebody put me on a rack and said, ‘Listen, either you become like the person you feel is a right cunt or we’ll kill you,’ I’d say, ‘Kill me.’”
4) KILLING JOKE, 1981.
Following an encounter at our printers, Better Badges, where he tried to sell me a Killing Joke white label to make some money on the side, Jaz Coleman invited me to the Ladbroke Grove flat he shared with bass player Youth and guitarist Geordie, “any time.” Myself and Anthony Blampied duly showed up, but on the Sunday morning after the Brixton “Riots”. The London streets were tense as f**k, police everywhere across this “other” West Indian London locale. Bassist Youth (now a globally famous producer initially told us to f**k off; only when Blampied called from a nearby phone box to remind Youth that they had attended school together were we admitted entry. Over a two-part interview, Youth did a good job of reincarnating Sid Vicious’ personality, while front man Jaz, using the f-bomb as noun, adjective, adverb, verb and punctuation, nonetheless proved perfectly prescient talking about the riots, which would soon spread across the country that summer of ‘Ghost Town.’
“I sympathize, right. But look at what’s gonna fucking happen out of that. You see how the television’s portraying it, they’re saying ‘The blacks!’, right? It’s just increasing the fucking racial tension.”
3) THE JAM, 1979.
By the time I interviewed Paul Weller for the second time, I had seemingly, somehow, been welcomed into the group’s inner circle, which allowed me a regular seat in the studio the summer and autumn of 1979 while they recorded Setting Sons. I arranged to interview the whole group rather than just Weller for this second go-round, and the interaction served for a pair of interviews that bobbed back and forth between the unprintably comic and the profoundly serious. The Jam, Weller in particular, had found themselves in the role of spiritual leaders and fashion icons, and we engaged in much discussion over the movement’s rights and wrongs, its fake leaders and messiahs, and what trend would follow next. In-between collective slagging off of Sham 69, The Police, The Boomtown Rats, The Clash and Secret Affair, Weller brought the fashion issue right down to earth with the following statement, which resulted in band and interviewers (three of us this time) collapsing in laughter:
“I’m trying to revive fops and dandies. Basically, all you need is a white laced hankie, which you tuck under your cuff, and you get it out now and then and dab your forehead. It’s quite an inexpensive fad really.”
2) THE DAMNED, 1980.
Having cornered Captain Sensible at a recent gig and complained that The Damned’s record company would not grant our interview request, we were invited to a demo studio behind Crystal Palace’s football ground a few days later, where the Captain and Dave Vanian were recording, of all things, Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit.’ What ensued remains to this day among the funniest few hours of my life, although at the point that Dave Vanian was stubbing out cigarettes on the inside of my tape recorder and chasing my band mate and co-editor of the time, Jeff Carrigan, around the studio, it may not have seemed that way. As per The Jam the previous year, The Damned took regular pot shots at their supposed rivals, especially Gary Numan and The Clash along with the former Sex Pistols (and the British royalty), but The Captain best displayed his ability to do so with grace and joy when he put down my favourite band of all.
“The Jam, they’re just nice suburban lads. Their drummer came up to me once and said, ‘I wish I could die my hair like you but my mum won’t let me.’”
1) PAUL MCCARTNEY, 1982.
Ultimately, for sheer exclusivity, nothing beats the three hours I spent with former Beatle and ongoing international superstar Paul McCartney at AIR Studios in February 1982, as a result of his walking into The Jam’s recording session, which I was attending, on a break from his own Tug Of War sessions. McCartney had barely been heard from since his partner’s John Lennon’s assassination, and though he was just about to finally jump back on the media train, it’s unlikely anyone else – outside of an official biographer – ever got a similar length of time, in private, the two of them sharing a single sofa, and left almost entirely uninterrupted. As with Townsend a few years earlier, much of the interview covered familiar ground, although I was just cocky enough at age 17 to let him know that I was far from a fan of his more recent solo work, prompting his almost charming defence of ‘Mull of Kintyre.’ The longer the interview wore on, the more McCartney let his guard down, and at the end, he lamented his behaviour not only towards the first ex-Beatle, Sutcliffe, but those he had misjudged along the subsequent 20 years.
“Stu was a great guy, a lovely guy, and I didn’t understand him, it’s true. There’s a lot of people in my life I haven’t understood. I’m not the world’s most psychic person. I make a lot of mistakes, and I misread people.”
One of Britain’s best-loved and most successful fanzines, Jamming! documented the musical landscape as it evolved between 1977 and 1986.
Fully illustrated throughout, The Best of Jamming! includes numerous stand-out pieces from the zine’s impressive 36 issue-run. Personal letters from Mark E. Smith, Paul Weller and others appear alongside arts, sports and politics features, poetry and a Foreword by Billy Bragg.