Incendiary interview Gravenhurst part 1

Incendiary interview Gravenhurst


Nick Talbot (aka Gravenhurst) is an instantly likeable man, whose mix of amiability and incoherent rage against the idiocies of the world around him puts me in mind of Kingsley Amis’s character “Lucky Jim” Dixon. But, of course, in the best way possible. We are sat on a trestle table, backstage at Haldern pop festival. We have 15 minutes designated. Somehow, given Nick’s erudite rants and my rambling questioning, I know this time-slot isn’t going to be kept…


We begin by wondering about the rules imposed by festival organisers and music bizz people… or rather Nick rants about various iniquities imposed on him by festival organisers, namely carrying beer glasses in designated areas…


IN: I wonder whether this rule making is the modern Western world at its apex. Money (copious amounts of) plus having little else to do (in the sense of actually having anything meaningful to do), has led to idiocy, and that idiocy is framed in rules… Still, let’s start. Gravenhurst, one of Britain’s greatest talents…


NT: What did you say? What’s “greatest talents”?


IN: Britain’s.


NT: I thought you said Bristol’s…


IN: I couldn’t artistically psycho-map Bristol for you so I had to be vague.


NT: I couldn’t even claim that much, definitely not. Anyway, sorry!


IN: No, I’d be interested to hear what you have to say of what is perceived to be Bristol’s talent. Immediately people will think of, say, Banksy?


NT: I wouldn’t include him, I think he’s awful. As regards music, I’d say a resurgence of lo-fi stuff given the likes of Flying Saucer Attack and a resurgence of bass music recently with dub step. Bristol is really the capital of dub step... The Tectonic label ( being based there, I’ve got to know those guys a bit. A lot of bass music… Joker, ( he’s really young, about twenty. Bass music has obviously been really big in Bristol and there’s been a real second coming, ten years later, and at half the speed! The bpm is about 140…


IN: I was going to ask you about your music; there’s always a sense of the glorious about your songs, you always seem to be looking to attain something. Why is that?


NT: Glad you’ve given that me as a question rather than me trying to give that as an answer! I did an interview earlier on when someone asked ‘what are you trying to say in your songs’ which is a difficult! One of the things I try and achieve with the lyrics is to get a sense of mystery, a sense of otherworldliness, and I like it if I’m not entirely sure what the song really means… I can have a good idea of what the song’s about then that’s enough. I do start writing a song not knowing what it’s about. I’ll have a couple of symbols, chuck two symbols, or words together, see if they fit and work it from there. Out of that will come some kind of theme that matters to human beings, well… hopefully.


The erm… the reason that that way of working’s important to me, I’m not entirely sure. I think there is some kind of escapism but I’d like to think that it’s more about trying to construct something from nothing. If you’re a painter and you paint landscapes of something that doesn’t exist… I’m not a big Salvador Dali fan but he painted coherent mind-maps. It’s his world, you know? I like to do similar with my lyrics. Try and make them somehow coherent and then people know it’s one of my songs. I like that idea of creating something from nothing, and you can do that with words. A word on its own has a limited meaning. You can whack it next to another word and from this couplet springs an idea.


IN: This idea of something from nothing. I remember reading about bands I’d never heard of and imagining what they sounded like. I always liked the (then prevalent) idea of bands aping another band based on what they’d read rather than what they’d heard, because that kind of ignorance is the wellspring of true creation. Sadly that’s gone. Things are too defined, and too accessible.


NT: There is a lot of music around that is fetishizing a lost innocence of folk music. There is a worrying preponderance of beards in folk music; there are a lot of beards and lumberjack shirts


IN: And a lot of re-enacting the fucking Wickerman. Are we heading to an eighteenth century style stylizing of music? A sort of never-ending perriwiggery, playing with a pre-prescribed idea of what music should be?


And I see you wear a Sonic Youth tee…


NT: The British press is particularly in love with a certain idea of Americana; it has been for far too long. They love it when American and Canadian bands turn up with beards and lumberjack shirts on. There’s a rose tinted spectacled view of Americana in our press… And a lot of the new kind of folk sounds, the acid-folk, the weird folk that’s been in Wire magazine, there’s nothing wrong with it… nothing wrong with escapism, and a lot of them want to go back to a simpler way of living where there are fewer things to deal with, and yes, it’s understandable because the modern world is a complete head-fuck…. But in terms of music?


Does any progress really matter? I’m not entirely sure it does, but one thing I am sure of, (which ties into the art ideas we were talking about) is when you look at old Can records, there’s a tie-in, a similar sensibility with the artwork on the cover of Philip K Dick novels, drawing on an idea that was really ‘out there’. And sadly, really new is really un-cool these days. I mean, being optimistic in the future, and having idealism about things that are out there... No one has any sense of wonder about it anymore. I love those Popol Vuh covers…


IN: Florian Fricke! Good man! I love those Krautrock covers, they always try to escape to somewhere exciting and new. You look at the Amon Düül 2 and the Cosmic Jokers covers with all the space imagery. Back in the 70’s bands try to get out of the planet… You know, there’s an E.M. Forster short story where intelligent people are cocooned in spaceships above the earth, speaking to their friends through tubes, about such desiccated subjects as “Australian music in the 20th century” and I thought, you know, that’s an Edwardian idea of the internet. That’s exactly what is going on now…

How shit is that?


NT: People have been saying this for a long time, but this idea… that people want to go back to the primeval forest, the woods, and they’re making music with sleigh bells singing about the fucking Iliad and that is what is doing well musically, and people are loving it, but if you look at it from the outside you have to wonder what is going on here? What is going on culturally?


IN: Do you think this is just what the audience wants?


NT: Well, the bands are part of this as well aren’t they? I don’t know. Audiences don’t expect very much for very long. They expect one record, and they don’t expect much after that but to be honest they have a point, don’t they! (Laughter)


For part two, where Nick talks about Peter Kember & the merits of psychogeography, click here.