Here Goes Nothing
“Here Goes Nothing”, from Robb and the Irregulars, was released on Monday 4th May 2015. It comes as either a regular CD, or as a CD and vinyl LP pairing. This is the first record funded via Kickstarter, and it has been a huge success, with the costs oversubscribed.
- Here Goes Nothing
- Autumn Song
- North By Northeast
- Yellow House
- The Rose and Crown
- Big Man Waiting For His Train
- The Ghost Dance
- The Magic Tonight
Firstly, I think me and the Irregulars are really proud of this album. Ali Gavan, who recorded and mixed most of it, also thinks it is something rather special. That is perhaps more remarkable because it nearly didn’t happen at all. Last autumn, I had all these songs, and they seemed to warrant a band recording. The only thing was, I wondered if making a band album wasn’t a pointless exercise. Apart from a few lovely venues, it has always proved difficult to find gigs and indeed probably also any place in contemporary music where the band fitted. The last two Irregular albums – Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After – sold spectacularly badly. I was taking them round the few folk festivals I got booked at in 2013, and you could see people take one look at the covers and almost visibly recoil at the sight of these surly rocknroll desperadoes on the cover. Too loud for folk music, and too intelligent for rock music – oh, and of course, in both cases, too old, and not famous enough. The band had also expanded with Roger on piano and Linze on saxophone, but everybody also had their own things to do – co-ordinating a successful band getting lots of work is not a problem I’ve ever had, but I bet it’s not half as difficult as co-ordinating a band that gets no gigs and makes no money. So – I nearly didn’t bother.
It was only because individual Irregulars were so positive that we carried on. We had a gig booked at The Hope & Anchor… I don’t like cancelling gigs anyway, so those of us who felt like giving it a bash did the gig, just to see if there was a chance the band still might be a viable proposition. Tim was also feeling like I was, that the frustrations were too many, so declined. I was more than a bit concerned that that would mean I’d be the only guitarist. I know of only one way to cope with that, and that is called a Les Paul. I am not a clever or fast or particularly interesting guitarist, so I need a guitar that when you hit it, it stays hit, so I exhumed the Epiphone Les Paul from the top of the wardrobe in the back boxroom.
I am always grateful when people turn up to gigs, but there should be a particular toast of thanks to the people who came to that gig, cos if they hadn’t, we very likely wouldn’t have carried on. Despite Arv having to use a drumkit that was close to being a collection of cardboard boxes, the gig, the band – it rocked. We found doing the new songs rather than the songs from the previous band albums worked really well for us. Elated by the racket, we decided to carry on, regardless. I had had all sorts of titles for the album… Stories and Noise… The Magic Tonight… but having decided that all those negatives hadn’t changed at all, but didn’t matter at all either, I found myself finding a riff and writing a song called Here Goes Nothing, and that seemed both a good way to kickstart the album, and an appropriate title for it too.
I always knew that the songs, and therefore the album, would be some sort of continuation of the perspective of 2014’s Us and Them album, and the key song that expressed this most clearly was The Magic Tonight. The second verse wanted to make the point that the culture of popular music, the culture of the people, the working class, is being appropriated by the newly confident upper classes. I am sure I am not the only person who finds old-Etonian Frank Turner and his liberal libertarianism fatuous, and his claim that rock and roll is “something simple” both offensively patronising and a complete misunderstanding of rock’n’roll. Indeed, my sons had to restrain me from shouting “toff” at him when Green Day’s Brixton gig was prefaced by Frank bleating about how scared he was when he got his first tattoo. But – who would I use as the antithesis, someone who knew what rock’n’roll meant, someone who lived it, rather than just trying on and buying into the trappings. First choice was obviously Joe Strummer (the Green day gig had been near Joe’s birthday, so Frank had effusively dedicated a song to Joe, then played something crap that had nooooo connection or relevance to Joe, The Clash or to punk at all) – but Joe was also ex-public school, so I then added a long list of names – John Lennon, John Lydon, Bob Marley, Lee Fardon and Grace Petrie – for balance and comprehensive good measure. But that was a bit difficult to sing – so I just settled for Mick Farren. Mick Farren didn’t go to public school, knew exactly what rock’n’roll meant, never compromised his beliefs, was a genius writer and brilliant frontman, and collapsed on stage and died in 2013. His book “Watch Out Kids” just blew my tiny little mind when I bought a second hand copy of it from some old hippy’s junkstall at Sussex University, and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mick by email for Rock’n’Reel. The interview coincided with one of Rock’n’Reel’s regular disappearances before it reinvented itself in the sturdier form of R2, so it was never published. I asked R2 editor Sean if I could include the interview in the website back story of the new album. Being the diamond geezer that he is, Sean said of course, so – before we go any further, here’s Mick Farren, and nothing to lose. Watch out kids!
I decided that I wanted this album to come out as a vinyl. That limits the time, but I think it focuses the mind on what tracks really work well together. I have found in the past that CD albums with more than 10 songs often mean songs get… lost. There is a difference between anthologies, which have the purpose of collecting and recording as much as is possible or necessary, and an album that is a crafted piece of original work. So – we thought about which songs absolutely needed to be included, and which songs then worked well around them. This meant we had an album of 8 tracks. I thought this wasn’t a problem – some of my favourite albums have 8 tracks – Born To Run, Lives in the Balance, and White Light White Heat only has 6 – as long as the 8 tracks formed a cohesive whole. We had 4 tracks that didn’t fit in, partly cos 2 of them featured trains, which seemed to conflict with the track about Roy Chuter, Big Man Waiting for his Train, which we all felt deserved a place on the album. So – the 2 cheerier train tracks – Bella Vita and The Midnight Train -became part of the Kickstarter offers, and the 2 more knees-uppy tracks Cheap and Cheerful and The Top of This Wheel became obvious choices for the Record Store day single. Maybe in the future, if we ever re-issue the album, they should all be included as bonus tracks, but I think the 8 tracks we chose do work really well together, and despite its difficult start, this is an album I am really proud of.
Track by track, without going into too much detail, these are their various backstories.
HERE GOES NOTHING
“A song with Johnny Ramone and Wayne Kramer in it,” said Django Deadman the soundman at the Albert when we soundchecked with this song, “impressive”.
Good, I thought, I hadn’t thought of Johnny Ramone. I like it when my songs do that, get positive responses I hadn’t thought of. This is sort of a song about… relationships, the lunacy and delight and possible destructiveness of attraction…whether it’s interpersonal and sex or subcultural and guitars.
These are the people I think are in this song: Johnny Hallyday and Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane, pretty obviously, then it was going to be Leonard Cohen, but then I changed Lennie’s gender to have a possibly positive gay relationship with Lorraine, because next up was the car crash that was the relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine. Then – of course – it’s the twin guitars of the MC5, Sonic and Wayne, and finally, in a really combustive combination, we imagine a Friday night meeting between Jimmy Osterburg aka Iggy Pop, and Germaine Greer…
I started thinking about the possibility of this song watching the leaves fall from the trees in the skool playground. One of the few benefits of a lifetime spent teechin the nation’s small people is the sharp awareness of how each one of these small people has so much potential, and an equally sharp anger that this potential is so neglected and wasted and disappointed by the self-serving greedy bastards in positions of power and authority.
NORTH BY NORTHEAST
The title comes partly from where the song was written, and partly cos it sounds good, from Shakespeare and Hamlet via Hitchcock. I was fortunate enough to get a gig at The Sage, in Gateshead. This song is largely a collection of impressions from the night I spent there.
There is a longer backstory about how I got there, but essentially I wrote this version of Vincent Van Gogh’s life story when I finally got to Arles. The Yellow House was indeed destroyed by the RAF during the Second World War. Van Gogh’s life story is not just a paradigm of The Struggling Misunderstood Artist, it is also a paradigm of how Society neglects and wastes and disappoints, and in Vincent’s case, literally kills individual creativity and promise. and – of course – me and Vince were both supply teachers in what is now The London Borough of Hounslow…
THE ROSE & CROWN
The Irregulars – thanks to my good mate and living legend Graham Larkbey – got a gig at the very wonderful Rose & Crown in Walthamstow. This song is a record of that – Mick is Mick Appleton, from the Slough posse, Kate is an old friend from London alternative folk and activist circles (e.g. we helped save some woods from being turned into a motorway through resolutely singing at various benefit gigs), and the new kid is of course my son Arv on drums. Thank god for the beer and rock’n’roll…
BIG MAN WAITING FOR HIS TRAIN
This song is a big goodbye hug to an even bigger man.
This is about my friend Roy Chuter, poet, football activist, landlord – you can see him with his dog Kitty on the cover of Us and Them. Our friendship was first really cemented when Roy took me for a drink round various Brighton pubs, pointing out which ones were music venues. Because I said I really liked The Evening Star, he went and arranged my first gig there. And it was lovely that I finally got a gig at The Albert, another pub we went to, when we launched this album. Roy wasn’t there. This song is about Roy’s decision to end his life under a train. A shitty little Tory councillor in Brighton recently complained about how this sort of thing is such an inconvenience to commuters…
Roy’s greatest mate Attila adds some really beautiful eloquent, elegiac violin to this song.
THE GHOST DANCE
This song was inspired by Dave Douglass’s excellent biographical history of the Miners Strike Ghost Dance. As a song it evolved and kept growing, and ended up as a sort of recent history of the working class. It starts with Roger’s music hall piano and ends with Linze’s defiant and exuberant and soulful saxophone fighting its way through the post-punk post-industrial racket. There’s also another literary reference too, with George Orwell’s undefeated proletarian hanging out her washing. There’s Thatch with her shopkeeper morals, and that epitome of parasites Cameron, with his well bred family history of banking, financing wars, William IV’s mistress and slave ownership.
What are we kneeling down for?
THE MAGIC TONIGHT
Think I’ve already covered that one. That’s Roy’s voice you can hear, just before this song starts, from when he was landlord at The Duke of Wellington, Shoreham: “Come on Robb, you got time for one more…”