Anthony Reynolds in conversation with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartisde
AR: Hi, is this Green?
GG: Yes. Hi.
AR: Hello. This is Anthony.
GG: Hi, how are you?
AR: Not too good actually. How are you?
GG: Oh..err..Not too good actually.
AR: Oh. What’s up?
GG: What’s up with you?
AR: I’ve done my back in. It’s like an anxiety thing I think…I’ve had some bad news in the last week and it’s gone to me back. I can’t really walk….apparently this kind of thing happens occasionally…
GG: Oh…dear…um...Are you sure you’re up to this?
AR: Oh yeah, I’m fine…what’s up with you?
GG: Oh, I’m in some kind of state where a battle between a hangover and a virus is taking place…(Door bell rings)…Oh hang on…
AR: Jeez..what a combo…
GG: Yeah..hang on I’ve just gotta answer the front door…
AR : That’s cool...I’ll hang on.
(Green lets someone in)
GG: I’m gonna run up the back garden now where its quiet…
AR: Hmm…A virus and a hangover…one of the worst afflictions that I suffer from is hayfever and hangover combined…
GG: Oh yeah? I get hayfever too…although not as bad as I used to. Don’t you take…stuff for it?
AR: Yeah I do but…people respond to treatment differently…it doesn’t always work…
GG : I was like that as kid. In fact, I …it was annoying…I used to get it so badly that …do you remember that they once decided that they had a cure for Hayfever?
AR: Oh yes, I had an experience of this.
GG: They used to give injections and I had to go to the Gwent hospital in Newport every Saturday morning –imagine this when you’re a kid – you think you’re gonna get to the weekend and it’ll be yours but you had to go up to the hospital. This went on for months, every Saturday morning, I’d go up for an injection. Ach! And it never worked. It was supposed to get you ready for the next summer and you weren’t supposed to get hayfever for the next summer. And I did that two winters running. What a waste of time.
AR: I had exactly the same experience. I had to go to my GP and it was as you say, horrible. What little kid wants a needle in his arm? There’s a joke there somewhere…anyway…the doctors…they just stopped suddenly. Some kid fell over and sprouted fur all of a sudden and it was like ‘Oh we’re e gonna stop this now, please don’t tell anyone’…
AR: But the bugger with hayfever is that every year I forget that I suffer from it. So I kind of wade into the beautiful blooming summer and then I notice I’m sneezing and my eyes are aflame…and its like ‘Oh yeah, I don’t belong in this season’...all over again.
GG: I used to take ant-histamines and they would really knock you out.
AR: I always ask specifically for the drowsy Anti histamines, ‘cos I like being doped up.
GG: Yeah…doped up…That reminds me I was talking to Mark Radcliffe the other day and he’d come from a John Clooper Clarke and one of the ex members of the Fall…they are doing gigs as a duo at the moment. And they’re both ex junkies and on the rider for the gig they have a bottle of Scotch each and two bottles of Benylin cough syrup each. And Radcliffe said he went into the dressing room and the ex Fall guy was appalled…and he was going…’Non fooking drowsy! Non-fucking drowsy! How could they give two fookin’ Ex Junkies non drowsy Beneylin’! Which I thought was good.
AR: (laughs) Ahh...Yes…The eternal dilemma…the difference between day and night nurse…
GG: Yes, well, you know…
AR: You know about Ray Charles? When he was off heroin and he came up with this…he was like a chemist…he came up with this concoction...which was...Like…Brandy, mixed with Nicotine and really sugary coffees. And it enabled him to work because he said it had a similar effect on him as Junk.
AR: So you’re in Dalston right now?
GG: Yeah I am actually. I’m out in the back garden looking up at the sky. Beautiful day…where are you?
AR: I’m in Shropshire.
GG: Oh really? What ya doing there?
AR: Ah, well. Actually. We lived in Dalston. We lived on Dalston Lane for years.
GG: Oh did you? Interesting…
AR: Yeah…above a white Rasta who owned a patent on hair-restorer.
AR: Ironically he was bald…We used to get his mail and it would consist of coupons that guys had cut out of the back of Sunday papers for this elixir. And they’d include cash or a cheque…so basically he was a playboy. And it literally just did us in, him playing heavy dub from about 5pm until four in the morning…and there was shootings going on and stuff, outside our front door…this was about 5 years ago…
GG: (Laughs). How is it there?
AR: Its very different to Dalston. We back onto a farm so there’s little of neighbours…pretty rural…
GG: Yeah, well, I only moved to Usk. A cottage there. But yeah I know what its like to live rurally…
AR: I read about your life in Usk and I thought ‘gee, that’s similar to me except I don’t get the PRS’.
GG: Oh right. (Laughs).
AR: So it gets a bit hairy…but err, this is great for you. Its ‘everything you ever wanted to know about Anthony Reynolds but…’ kind of interview.
GG: (Laughs) Yeah, right…well, if you live really simply…all I ever did was go up the pub and buy music. I didn’t bother wasting money on food or anything.
AR: So in these pubs…do you get on with farmers then? ‘Cos I’ve tried…
AR: Yeah. Didn’t you get friendly with farmers in the local pubs up there?
GG: Oh, yes. I got on surprisingly well with them actually…they were good lads.
AR: I find them really pro-hunting, right wing…
GG: Oh right…yes…well…I don’t know what kind of farm…maybe the guys I mean are the guys who worked on the farms. Not owned them. I don’t think I knew land-owning farmers. I never hung with any squires.
AR: Anyhoo. Your latest album, ‘White bread black beer’…that’s the first ...That’s my introduction to your work.
GG: Oh really, that’s interesting.
AR: And I don’t want to embarrass you but it blew my balls off.
GG: Gosh. (Silence) I guess that’s good?
AR: I guess that must be interesting for you because…when I got into it, I thought ‘Well I remember this guy vaguely…’- ‘cos you can’t be fans of everyone, as you know…I had some awareness of Scritti Politti…but then...I was worried, ‘cos the older I get I worry that I wont be as open to having my balls blown off by new music…I’m kind of secretly worried that I’ll lose my passion for new music. Do you know what I mean?
GG: I do. And I haven’t lost my passion for music. And it’d be fucking awful the day that it does go. You know, when you no longer get excited about something or want to check something new out. But I guess there’s a lot of people my age that still listen to music but kind of…I don’t know …they just don’t go looking for anything new. You know what I mean?
AR: I think a lot of my favourite records are also linked to a particular phase in my life…and the better of those records can transcend that association –that’s not the sole reason for listening to them. But then you don’t want to think that you’re ever gonna be at a point in your life where its arrested…
AR: It was great; it was like ‘I’m not dead’!
GG: (laughs) That’s fantastic.
AR: My mate, George sent it to me and then I got it on vinyl and stuff…and err…
GG: Oh yeah, it would be weird. I haven’t listened to it since I made it so…see, we’re off to America in a couple of weeks and I’ve a horrible feeling that people in America will want…I’ve never played live in America – And people will shout out for old songs. Which is…errr…I never know how to feel about that; whether you should oblige the people by playing a few or a lot. But anyway, we decided as a band that we’d have a listen to Perfect way tomorrow…
AR: That was a hit in America, right?
GG: That was the one big hit-Pop hit anyway – in America, so…
AR: You even did it on the Dick Clarke show, right?
GG: Yeah. American bandstand, that’s right. A lot of madness. That’s when it started to go pear shaped for me. I can remember that vey day that it was..’Hang on this is not really the right line of work for me’, that’s what I thought. From that point in time ‘till I was back in Usk a few years later…it just felt wrong. I thought I’d enjoy being a pop star and I was messing around with ‘Pop music’ but I wasn’t really, I was just a bit of product.
AR: It must be weird. If you’re talking to someone who’s so obviously…for want of a better word, a ‘twat’..and treating you like a commodity ‘Get this guy on and get him off’ it must be difficult to temper your reaction. ‘Cos I guess you don’t want to to be rude to these people…
GG: Oh, I was always concerned with being ‘Nice’, I just wanted to please these people. When you’re brought up to be polite and deferential and always be…it doesn’t take many months of…We had to do lots of American television and it was lots of chat show type things. We weren’t playing live so they said ‘well then you can do all this telly and radio instead’. And after a few months of it you really end up hating yourself deeply, I think. You hate everybody around you and you hate yourself for talking so much bullshit. You try not to but you end up doing it.
AR: Did you ever consider getting fucked up and doing it?
GG: Oh yeah, I tried that. There was plenty of um, a fair bit of substance and alcohol abuse to get you through some of that time and that certainly didn’t help in the long run. You can become badly unstuck. I remember doing some radio sessions –even here in the UK and being too fucked up to actually do them. But anyway that’s all, happily, consigned to the past.
AR: that leads me to your new album. I’m someone with no prior knowledge of you and your work but one of the things that struck me…
GG: Oh really? (Laughs)
AR: Oh no, she liked it but its like ‘Oh this one again’? You know? Its like, ‘we’re cooking –let’s put this on’. ‘We’re drinking scotch in the garden –lets put this on’…
So I was listening to it a lot before I looked at the lyrics and one of my first impressions was ’this sounds like a record made by someone who is a bit of a booze hound’ There’s a fantastic line in one of the songs that says - well, I thought it said ‘Racking in the kitchen…’ And I was kind of disappointed when I looked at the lyrics and it said ‘Rockin’’.
GG: Oh! Sorry about that.
AR: That asides, is it a true perception or am I completely off the page?
GG: No, no, there are tons of references to…there’s a lot of …you don’t realise because you write them at a song at a time and then you come back and…I remember I had to write them out for Rough Trade and thinking ‘Fuck me’ there’s a lot of recurring themes of erm…a lot of alcohol, there’s a lot of references to ‘father’s’… which I hadn’t realised I’d done…there’s a lot of obviously…stuff going on in one’s subconscious. So it’s interesting to look at the lyrics and think : ‘Blimey’.
AR: Sure…some of the lyrics seemed so graphic to me. Like almost as if…it had reached a point where it was ‘Stop drinking or else’ - in terms of your health.
AR: You don’t have to talk about any of this stuff…
GG: No, No..its fine. What would be the best thing to say about that. Hmm. It’s certainly a question that’s crossed my mind. Put it that way. And you will gather that since I’m talking to you with a hangover and a virus, I am still enjoying my Beer to the full!
I guess one thing I have down is like, when we play live or anything …and we haven’t done much touring but we’ve done some and Japan and stuff…and I just do all of those tours completely sober. There’s no way I can be …it’s the only way I can doit, do you know what I mean?
AR: That’s really interesting…I’ve toured quite a bit and what I love about touring is that I can get utterly fucked up and still sing. And I never forget the words. It’s a great job, You sit in a bus listening to music with buddies drinking and then as long as you can get through an hour at night…And no matter how moshed, I’d never seem to forget the lyrics.
GG: In tune?
AR: Not necessarily…
GG : Its like, on tour and shit…it’s the hangovers and fucking …you know what I mean? I just didn’t want to feel that grotty anymore.
AR: I guess as one gets older too…its harder…
AR: Are you like James brown? Are the other guys not allowed to drink?
GG: Oh no, everyone can…and they do! Believe me. My band likes to party, so…
AR: Sure. Its..Some people would know that but wouldn’t act on it.
GG: Fortunately I’ve got enough self-discipline to hold that together so I’m alright.
AR: I imagine it must be really exciting for those guys, going around the world in those conditions. It must be brilliant.
GG: Yeah, we had a band meeting in the pub last night and we had a talk abut this upcoming American tour in which we get to support Brian Wilson and go all over America and none of them have ever been. So, they are really stoked about it, yeah.
AR: Going back to lyrics, I read an interview where you said that introspection and looking back on things didn’t serve you well. I would have thought that these traits would be prerequisites for any songwriter.
GG: Ahh. I guess what I mean is that I don’t do it in the course of Ordinary life. I never ever think about the past and I got a stinking memory anyway. I don’t like to think about the past. I never have, I remember as a kid memories would come into your head and they would be almost physically painful. So, you learned to be actively forgetful and not think about the past. Its become a habit…there’s either stuff in your past that was painful and you didn’t want to remember it or there was things in your past that were good so you’d be sad that they had gone.
AR: I thought the lyrics on ‘White bread…’were close to poetry. I hope you don’t take that as an insult.
GG: Oh no, not at all.
AR: And the lyrics also served the melody so well and I loved the references to the month of ‘June’. So, sometimes it’d be like ‘Hmm..This is lovely, esoteric, and poetical’ and then you’d hear something as plain as ‘The end of June’. It’s a lovely juxtaposition I suppose…of…
GG: The specific and the abstract.
AR: Yeah. And it really did it for me.
Heres a specific mention of ‘fairwater’ in one of the songs. Is that in Cardiff?
GG: No, I was referring to the fairwater of Cymbryan.
AR: Its funny, I’m from Cardiff but I don’t know much about Wales.
GG: You never travelled much in Wales?
AR: No, not at all.
GG: Thas interesting.
AR: I’ve travelled a lot but never in Wales…and I still hate going back to Cardiff…
GG: I used to hate going back to Wales too…even the prospect was very depressing for some reason. And my mates that never left…you know what I mean? People who now live in the houses that their parents lived in. You know, people who never left Newport or whatever. It used to depress me but now I really like going back.
AR: With Cardiff, I’ve had very little emotional life there since Ive left, so walking old streets…its like I’m back in time…stuck forever in the month I left and in 1993…real depressing…
GG: I can dig that. But I’ve still got some family there…We’re all gonna play the point in Cardiff in November and they’re all gonna turn up and cheer me on or not.
AR: What do your family think of this record?
GG: I dunno really…I think they like it! (Laughs) I think…I dunno who’s coming to the gig. (Welsh voice): My auntie Monica!…and a few of the other people who live down in Cardiff. Yeah…they’ve been…they came when we played the Haye on Wye festival. A bunch of people turned up for that, old and young. Nice to see them, old and young; the extended family. Pretty cheerful for me.
AR: Was your mum there?
AR: I’d be embarrassed …
GG: Its alright, as long as you don’t look at ‘em on stage. Look into the blinding lights, that are my technique.
AR: Lets talk about sloth. I think that smoking a spliff, drinking Budvar and watching TV all day is a talent. Have you got that talent?
GG: I do have an incredible ability to do nothing. I’ve gone 50 years without ever having a proper job and spent a lot of that time doing absolutely nothing except maybe reading books and going to the pub. And I can happily sustain that for my remaining years without …the only thing is the occasional bout of boredom and that’s best alleviated either by making some music or getting off your face. And that’s possibly…if anyone were to say ‘What’s your singular achievement’, I suppose it was to manage to get through life without doing a proper job.
AR: Do you ever think though that this ‘downtime’ is still, on some level…you’re still moving toward work…? Like, you’re accumulating things, filing things away…so you’re never really not working. You know what I mean?
GG: Hmm. Are you justifying it to yourself then? Doing nohing? It doesn’t need any justification in my book. I guess as long as at some point you feel that you want to get off your arse and do something it seems to me that if work is only some months out of a year and you can get away with it, that’s all right. Its perfectly acceptable isn’t it?
AR: I guess it relates to money doesn’t it?
GG: Yes, that’s true. But the key thing is not to be aquisitive about money. If you’re content to have just enough to pay the rent and keep the wolf from the door and you don’t think about the future – which is something else I don’t do. I’ve made no provisions for my future whatsoever. If you just sort of…just don’t think about it and it seems quite easy to live cheaply and simply.
AR: When you kind of ‘retired’ then, and lived in Usk, what did you live off? Was it royalties from your 80’s work?
GG: Yeah. There would always be, much to my amazement just enough. But also, back when I left Roughtrade and signed to the majors, I made sure that I did split world deals and split world publishing deals and I had very good lawyers and managers who really got me an awful lot of good deals. And it was as a consequence of being given silly amounts of money that was sloshing around in the 80’s. Between that and royalties…it kept me going for a very long time.
AR: I was listening to ‘Cupid and Psyche’ for the first time the other month and I was looking at the credits and I thought that must have been an incredibly expensive record to make.
GG: Yeah, it was very expensive to make…
AR: So to even recoup on that is quite an achievement.
GG: Yeah well, I guess, slowly it must have sold enough copies around the world to keep me afloat. And it’s still true today, to my amazement. You know, you get a cheque from a publisher every now and then and you think ‘Christ –That’s alright then. That’s another 6 months looked after! And as long as you don’t look beyond that, it’s alright. But if you look beyond that and think ‘ How the fuck am I going to live in ten years time’ you may freak out…but I don’t even think about it.
AR: Well…I didn’t think I’d even live this long to be honest…that I did is now all blowing up in my face…
GG: (laughs)…Things get better as you get older, I reckon. That’s my experience, much to my amazement.
AR: Going back to my ‘Perfect way’ experience. When Miles covered that, were you a fan of his at the time?
GG: I had gone through a phase of listening to him when I was an art student but I hadn’t listened to him in a long time. When I got to meet him, because I knew my memory was so bad I made sure that on the occasions I went to meet him in his apartment in new York or went into the studio with him, I made sure that when I went back to my own apartment I would write it all down. And I found one of the notebooks up in the attic not so long ago. What I found was an account of the trip to visit him in his flat and I wrote down absolutely every detail of what we talked about, what we listened to, what people were wearing what he said, what I said…its quite amazing reading. It’s only about three or four pages long.
AR: have you considered publishing it?
GG; Erm…I’ll look into it. I’ve got film of him too, video of him me and Dave (Gamson) working in the studio together. No one has ever seen that. I know the BBC wanted it a few years ago.
AR: That would have been the ‘provision’ album sessions, right?
GG: Yeah, it was interesting. I did spend quite a bit of time with him. He used to phone me a lot.
AR: its refreshing you haven’t done an impression of his voice during the telling of all this. Almost anyone who ever-met Miles seems to do their impression of him…So that’s pretty cool that you didn’t, I think.
GG: No, on this occasion I won’t do the voice. But then of course the bugger died. And that was a shame. But it was amazing to find these notebooks.
AR: There’s a guy I’m in touch with who wrote a book called ‘last miles’ which kinda deals with his last decade.
GG: Oh really? Interesting. I should go and dig ‘em out actually –see if my notes really do stand up to…if anyone is interested in reading them.
AR: I think a lot of his final works –‘Tutu’ in particular –have transcended their era now. I think maybe at the time a lot of people heard it as Miles trying to be hip and down with MTV or whatever, but I think it’s beyond that now.
GG: yeah, I remember being at his place and he was still very actively interested in music and very discerning and listened to a lot. Including his own stuff. I remember he had a whole wall of recordings of himself playing live in various places and he would go very specifically to find one gig say that he did in Germany 18 months earlier where he’d played something that he particularly liked. And he’s play it for us. And that showed someone who really did know where he was at. A lot of people thought he had lost it but not at all. He was also very into hip-hop and listening to himself very critically…
AR: What did you think of the Hip hop album he did?
GG: I haven’t heard it in such a long time I don’t know if it stands up…what was it called again?
AR: Ach…I can’t remember…some kind of pun…
GG: ‘Hip-bop’ or something?
AR: Something like that. I thought the raps were a bit lame on it but everything else was…ok.
GG: I’ll have to go back and check it out.
AR: The raps were just mostly bigging up miles but in a really lame way…’Miles with the horn/Sharper than a thorn…Actually that’s probably better than the actual rhymes on there…
GG: They were pretty cringeworthy on the rhyming front, huh?
AR: Did Miles seek you out?
GG: yeah he did actually. I didn’t…I made no effort. He rang me first and kept on ringing…when I got back to London he’d ring me at odd times of the night and day and talk about working together and asked me to write stuff…Strange.
AR: Did you ever figure out why he was drawn to you? I can imagine, after hearing Cupid and psyche album that he loved the production of it as much as anything. ‘Cos he was a very progressive …person.
GG: Yeah. He was interesting and he told me that as far as his interest in me and my work went, he liked the attention to detail and the whole approach to vocals and melody reminded him of some Latin American music that had interested him years before. I can’t remember the names of the singers but that kind of non-ornamented non-vibrato…in a way that like, I guess he played very often. So yeah we had some interesting discussions about that kind of stuff.
AR: Ok. I’m just gonna make a jump here…you have a problem with Eddie Mare? (BBC Radio 4 news presenter)
GG: Yeah I do! He drives me mad! He annoys the fuck out of me. He used to do a news thing on radio 4 on a weekend morning…’Broadcasting house’ it was called and he was just…Oh man, don’t get me started on Eddie Mare. He’s too fucking flippant. He’s too smug. He should be on commercial radio doing a phone in or whatever…he can’t make up his mind if he wants to be John Humphries or Jimmy Saville…and he’s equal to neither of them! (Laughs) I don’t know what I’m talking about now.
AR: Cats. You got any cats?
GG: Yeah I’m stroking a cat as I’m speaking to you. Ollie. He’s not likely to purr on request…(To cat) : ‘you gonna’ purr Ollie?’
AR: You have a garden in Daslston then?
GG: Yeah…it’s a complete fucking mess…I’m stood out in it now…the lawn is..It’s been so badly neglected…it’s a disgrace. The wall between our garden and next doors blew down on Christmas day and I got some people round to give a quote to put the wall back up and its 2 grand! So as a consequence it’s still collapsed.
AR: You into gardening? As you enter your twilight years?
GG: Twilight? You bastard! Erm. I could imagine getting into gardening and looking at this garden now it’s about time I did. It’s a disgrace. You into gardening?
AR: Ummm..Well when I was in Dalston I used to fantasise about it and even looked at some allotments…and yet now we have a garden that’s almost half an acre and that’s pretty big for a garden but …I once bought about ten packets of seeds and just flung ‘em about figuring something would sprout but little did, surprisingly.
GG: Oh, I used to love Derek Bailey…
AR: He died last Christmas. And he lived in Hackney too and reading about him and listening to you makes Hackney seem attractive to me now…
GG: Hackney is great at the moment. I’ve recruited all my band from the local pub. Just bumped into them the way you do.
AR: And they all came up to scratch musically?
GG: Yeah…I mean I wasn’t going after great musicians I was looking for nice people. If I was gonna play live then it was more important to have people around you that you liked and that you wanted to hang with than people who were great musicians…but yeah, it’s a fantastic band. I met them all individually in The Prince George.
AR: It sounds as if you’re describing Greenwich Village…
GG: There’s tons of interesting people around…at the moment you can’t throw a brick in Dalston without it hitting a musician or writer or …which is cool.
AR: I guess it’s about mindset. Even though when I lived in Dalston I was making a lot of music the place was totally oppressive to me, the architecture…everything.
GG: Yeah. There’s a lot of fun. Places just opening like ‘bargain’s boudoir’, and this venue under a Turkish café in Kingsland road that puts on really weird gigs…its really happening…Hackney is happening –to use a ‘hackneyed’ expression.
But I love it here.
AR: I’m gonna wind this up now. What are you doing today?
GG: Today I’m putting together my studio in the back room. Me and my engineer are going to rebuild it ‘cos it had ben pulled down to go on tour. So today is rebuild the studio day and then get an n early night because I’ve gotta be in the American embassy tomorrow at 7-30 in the morning for my Visa. ‘Cos I’m off the states soon.
AR: Ok, I’ll let you get on with your life.
GG: Alright mate. I hope your back gets better.
AR: Sure, thanks. I may be doing another piece on you for a really cool American magazine called Stop Smiling…and the idea is that you show me around Hackney, you know your favourite places and that.
GG: Oh that’d be cool – do still fancy doing it?
AR: Absolutely but it wouldn’t be till December maybe.
GG: I’m up for that anytime.
GG: You’ve got my number so give me a bell anytime and we can have fun doing that.
AR: Alright. Thanks so much for your time.
GG: Yeah, cheers dude, I enjoyed it. Give us a bell…