Incendiary interview Faris Badwan of The Horrors

I had a stop talking card I used to give to people. That usually elicited a certain response!

 

It’s a long walk to the Lloyd hotel from Amsterdam central station. A tidy step of 20 minutes or so, and made all the worse in the rain. The hotel itself is a strange old place; it’s been (according to my informant) a hospital, a correction house, a deportation centre, and a Nazi jail. The building boasts a reputation for possessing strange, unwelcoming atmospheres. Not the sort of place you’d pick for a hotel.

And the place in that hotel where I am about to interview Faris Badwan from the Horrors isn’t somewhere that suggests conviviality. It’s a small open “waiting space” with two chairs and a table, placed at the head of a corridor; one that was positioned at the end of another, more sinister corridor, and surrounded by rooms; some of which were being aggressively hoovered and cleaned by the staff. The sort of place you’d expect to see Nurse Ratched wandering around.   

Faris is sat in this contested space, a whole set of interviews behind him and now waiting for me, doodling in a small notebook. He must feel this weird atmosphere too. He doesn’t look up. I say hello and turn on my recorder. 

F: That’s not the sort of accent I’d expect to hear today. Where are you from then?

IN: I lived in a place called Accrington, in Lancashire.

F: Accrington Stanley.

IN: Indeed, they play right across from my parents’ house, the Crown Ground. I used to go watch them quite a lot, between watching Newcastle. I like that level of football – when it doesn’t really matter. 

F: It’s a bit different now though because they had Francis Jeffers last season? And James Beattie?

IN: They had a whole range of players there, and Beattie’s now manager.  I think he funds them a bit from his own pocket.

F: Doesn’t he still play?

IN: I think he’s still player manager. He’s from Blackburn isn’t he, a local lad.

F: I support Blackburn.

IN: Do you? I used to go down there years and years ago with friends when it was a knackered old ground with pigeons shitting on your head from the old stand. It was grim.

F: Pretty grim. It’s still pretty grim to be honest, Blackburn. I got off the train at Preston once and it was like... (shakes head) unbelievable.  I mean, there were about 60 people being held back by the police, and vomit everywhere. I’d never seen anything like it.

IN: Lancashire’s a funny old county. When you go back you realise how... punchy it is as a county.

(Both laugh)

F: Absolutely yeah.

IN: A different kind of mentality to other parts of England, somehow...

F: I agree. Absolutely.

IN: I’ll tell you a story about that. I wasn’t really the sort who fitted in in Accrington (laughs) and when I came back from University I remember going into my local and someone said to me, (adopts the Acc brogue) “Whur’ve yoow bin?” And I said, “London”, and they said, “What’s tha bin doowin thurr? Ploomin? Plasterin?”

(Both laugh)

F: It is weird!

IN: So when did you start supporting Blackburn then?

F: When I was six, which was in 1993. And I had a Kevin Gallacher football sticker. And my favourite players at the time were Tim Flowers and Colin Hendry. And everyone a t school supported Man United. And I think it was kind of.... ‘cos you know the season before they won it was kind of...  of course they came pretty close... I guess I liked the fact I could support someone who was in direct competition with everyone else!

(Both laugh)

...It was mainly because of Colin Hendry. (Silence)  But yeah... since then I’ve found out that maybe he’s not the sort of hero I though he was.

IN: He’s an interesting guy isn’t he? Done some interesting things. But it’s a very funny club at the moment what with the owners...     

F: I don’t know. He was a great player though.

IN: I used to watch him when he was first there. In between watching Stanley and going back up to Newcastle, my friends would take me to Rovers. I think I first went about 1977 or 1978; saw Miller, Brotherstone, Garner, and later Ardilles, Barker and Archibald. But that was a weird time to watch football because of all these running fights... You’d see these kids with their flick haircuts and adidas trainers... You sort of got to know who to avoid.

F: That was really central to everything wasn’t it? All connected?

IN: Oh yeah. And music was weirdly interconnected in there too. I remember this club called Raiders in Preston. I remember going there, what 1985 or 1986... And as soon as you saw a certain kind of person, normally with a New Order tee-shirt on, or a scarf round their face, you thought “oh shit”.

F: Really?

IN: Loads of their fans seemed to be hooligans! There were weird band signifiers at the time. I was a lot more tribal then, different fault lines. Luckily all that world’s gone now.

F: Unless you’re a Millwall fan I guess. It’s a different time. But yeah... But I think some of them kind of cling onto it a bit don’t they.

IN: There’s a lot of that about at the moment. That whole cultural renovation of that era now, that the 80s underbelly is a space that all sorts of people are staking cultural claims to. And loads of different interpretations of what happened... All these football hooligan books around And I think, hang on a minute lads; you were just a bunch of nasty thugs, and often racist! You weren’t nice or respectable! They try to validate it through the music or the clothes. It was just about violence.

F: Yeah. It’s just a way of belonging I guess. Have you read that book about Robin Friday? I’ve just been given it and I’ve not had a chance to read it yet. It looks great, read the back cover, but that’s been it.

IN: He was some character... I read a lot of books about football but since living here I like reading up on German and Dutch football. There’s a great book called “Tor”, by Uli Hesse. Some of the stuff in that is great, early club cultures and scandals. You should look that up, as well as a book called “Brilliant Orange” by David Miller.

 (An aside. Round this point, the cleaning becomes more and more aggressive; a barrage of indiscriminate clashes and bangs start to inveigle their way into the atmosphere. Instruments and furniture are bashed, the cleaners stomp about. I can’t say that it doesn’t unsettle us, because it does. We pretend to ignore it.)

IN: I should start asking you about your record.

(Faris looks up and stares at me.)

F: I’d like to evade that... (Laughs quietly)

IN: You’d like to evade the record?

F: Well I’d like to evade talking about music for as long as possible.

IN: Then we’ll talk about football then! It doesn’t bother me.

F: I didn’t think that would be so... erm... simple.

IN: I might slip the odd question in about it along the way. See if you can catch me then.

F:  My uncle used to play for Hull. Well only for a short time, he was in the youth team whatever but then he played in Hong  Kong for erm... what was the name... maybe Happy Valley or something ... no wait...  Sunshine or something. I dunno. You know, that’d be interesting to find out. You can’t find out anything about Hong Kong clubs. Because they change names all the time and they don’t have much interest in their histories... And that’s really strange because a lot of Asian societies are really militant about their data. Even moreso than Western societies. But it’s hard to find stuff out about his time.

IN: Did he play before the transfer, from British rule to Chinese?

F: I think he was there while it was still British

IN: A lot of Dutch clubs disappeared after the Second World War, some for obvious reasons. Some of the Jewish clubs... But it’s still weird to see all these old club names... Wilhemina Vooruit for example... and how allegiances change now. Ajax is seen as a “Jewish” club now. And that’s part of their culture, probably moreso than at any time in their culture if you are to believe certain sources.     

F: I think it’s funny how Spurs supporters call themselves Yids; and a lot of their own fans don’t like it.

IN: A lot of football was always tribal, and a bit military, I once had this notion that it was all interlinked. You know, you’d come from an area, or set of streets, you’d be a Catholic or Protestant, you’d support a certain club, and join a certain regiment. I mean you have these weird allegiances.  

(At this point the fucking hovering is getting a bit too aggressive. I mean you are hoovering a room and you see two people having a conversation. Why is the fucking room door open? Why?)

F: It is weird. It’s not something I identify with I guess. I guess the gang mentality thing was always something that I thought wasn’t cool, you know, this is where I’m from, this is what I’m going to do, I mean that’s something that I think is.... strange...

....

...You know, the idea that you know where you’re going before you begin. That’s weird

IN: It’s a safety thing.

F: But to me the idea of that is terrifying, you know there’s no element of discovery, is really erm... bizarre. It’d be so claustrophobic to live like that.

IN: True, but then people were brought up in claustrophobic atmospheres, terraced houses, all of that.

F: Yeah but, to me, if you’re brought up like that, you’d want to escape even more!  Cos, I mean.... I mean... my dad is from Palestine and he... and it was like that whole thing. He realised that if he was to do anything worthwhile he’d have to get out of there. And my mum was from Hull, and I guess that was similar. But it’s interesting how members of her family are different and that her brothers, the one who played in Hong Kong he never wanted to leave Hull and he’s still there. It’s just interesting how it splits up; some people want to leave and some people desperately don’t.

IN: I used to get that... Why do you want to leave Accrington? (Laughs) It’s a strange thing about identity. You do see things differently when you live in another country. You act differently in both, too. You probably get that when you’re on the road.

F: Yeah definitely I think it’s quite dramatically different the way people are, here. I mean they’re knid of uhm.... pretty funny actually... the guy as I checked into reception; the guy behind the desk. He saw my name and he started laughing and I thought that was really funny 'cos you wouldn’t get that in Britain. But yeah, someone like Mark E Smith is such a weird anomaly because he still lives in Salford, but he’s such a complete alien. And his world is one that is completely one that is not anything....

(An aside. I had a bunch of old City Funs (Manchester fanzines) from 1980 with me. I was showing them to a pal, and had them on the chair side, on the top of my bag. I think Faris had seen them, but I just can’t be sure. Still, there was an ad in one for the single "How I Wrote Elastic Man". The thing is I hadn’t opened them up and showed them to anyone yet. But I was thinking of The Fall just before the interview. Hmmm.)

... I mean his idea of Manchester. Although he always completely rejects it and looks to wind it up... I mean he always goes on about why Liverpool’s better than Manchester (laughs) But Manchester’s so central to him; but it’s like Manchester from another dimension.

 IN: No I think you’re right. Things like the cover of This Nation’s Saving Grace you realise how that cover is psychically oriented and how psychic Mark E Smith is, I think.

F: Why do you think he’s psychic?  Do you think he is just incredibly sensitive or do you think he has weird perceptions?

IN: I think he has weird perceptions. I’ve met him a number of times, and I think he is definitely a man of some weird power and you don’t cross it.

F: Yeah. What else?

IN: I think he has this weird ability to control situations where others would not be able to handle it. And maybe there’s something about him not being a musician and working in a musicians’ environment and controlling people in a way others can’t do.

F: I suppose now... I mean I don’t know him outside of his work; but I imagine he’s not even there... it’s like the albums are being made for him. I don’t mean made apart from him that he’s got nothing to do with them, but they’re, these records, they’re trying to get inside his head or, or something. It’s just.... weird.

IN: Yeah.... I suppose he’s become a product of himself in a way.

F: I don’t really mean that in a negative way!

IN: No I don’t think you do! I think he’s very shamanistic. He’s like a Loki figure you know, and able to sort of...

(Faris snaps his fingers and looks up)

F: You know that was one of my favourite myths. When I was a kid, the Loki one. The fact that he could change that was... special. I was always into myths far more than superheroes.

IN: Me too I always liked those Nordic ones, Loki and Thor.

F: Beowulf too.

IN: Actually, talking of MES, I’ll show you something (I grab my old City Funs)

F: Cos with erm... with him, when he predicted with Powder Keg when he predicted the riots or whatever, I thought that was really cool. But then I read... the reason I called the Horrors song New Ice Age was because I read an interview with him where he said what people need is a new Ice Age to shake things up. And I thought it was kind of... it was a number of years before the recession. I dunno. I like the idea of that being what he was referring to.

IN: I think he’s a real poet. I told that once and he told me to fuck off. But I do think it.

F: What’s that quote about “more ideas on a Fall sleeve than a whole Echo and The Bunnymen record”? Whose quote is that?

IN: I remember that but I can’t remember who said it! Julian Cope probably! (Laughs) 

F: It’s a little bit harsh on the Bunnymen as I do really like the Bunnymen, but there are a huge amount of ideas on Fall sleeves.  There were the band for me when I was 17.

IN: It always amazes me the amount of people who are 15-16-17 who really love The Fall. They still have a really young audience in parts.  And yeah there are a lot of old gits like me, but a lot of younger kids really, really understand The Fall.

F: Yeah. I think it’s because it’s evocative it’s almost like erm....

...it plays tricks on your head because you listen to it and you think, did he really mean that? And then you’re having that feeling enough.... enough to realise that it’s a fact.

IN: He puts up these images in a painterly, abstract way sometimes, and that can throw you. And years later you think, argh you mean that don’t you?

F: Yeah!

IN: He’s outside any industry grid. No matter how many times he sits behind his amp and has a pint, he’s still able to do what he wants and that is to be admired.

F: Yeah... I definitely agree.

IN: I’ll show you this; a Fall press release from City Fun (I open out an old City Fun)

F: Oh! That’s on the back of the seven inch, Elastic Man. But part of it is on there

IN: He obviously didn’t like Rough Trade press releases!  He did them himself.

(We ponder the produce of M.E. Smith’s mind. Smith as a “young designer-ah”)

...So who else do you like then apart from The Fall?

F: I suppose what I really like The Fall still, though I haven’t really listened to them for years but it has always stayed with me; and you still read those lyrics and get shit loads of ideas.

...I guess at the moment erm... well... I had this weird thing the other day where I didn’t know what was going on. I’d start recording and I’d get this weird sort of... flash back. And I would feel like I’d started taking drugs and I haven’t ... done it for ages. But I started getting this thing like the beginning stages of acid, and I don’t remember the last time I did take it. And I started listening to... and it made me think about reading history, and I started reading about that kid... Frankie Lymon... the kid who wrote Why Do Fools Fall in Love. And I ended up erm...  listening to that Neil Young record, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. And the live bits of that it’s almost like the Velvets. And then you remember the Velvets were seven years before that. And that’s something I never stop getting amazed by.  Those Velvets records were so early...

IN: The way their sound comes together is just incredible. I don’t know how...   It’s almost like a perennial blank canvas... a perennial attempt to fill in your own description, that whole Richard Hell thing you know...  Something that there’s no corniness in, you never get bored. The second one, White Heat White Light, with the stuff that Cale does on that... what’s that one when he mails himself to his girlfriend...

 (Both together) The Gift!

IN: That’s it. And you think this is just coming in from another planet.

F: I guess the whole erm... Dream Syndicate thing... coming in from another planet was what they were all about. Transmissions... 

IN: The only other bands that are close to the Velvets are the German bands, stuff like Can, Faust Amon Düül... But with the Velvet Underground, it’s real art. I have a friend who describes those records as “high magic”. You have to be careful when you put them on because they’re high magic! (Laughs)

F: That’s good! (Laughs). I mean what I really love about Can is that they’re not...  I mean they are a product of their own environment but then they’re completely a weird product. I guess that’s going back to the Mark E Smith thing again. I guess I’m interested in how the same environment can just create completely different things and it can form aliens as well as pedestrian people.

IN: With Can, they are fearless. Managed by a woman, black American singer, then a Japanese singer, for the time in Germany that’s incredible they don’t care. Their first gig with Michael Mooney shouting upstairs downstairs at the audience till he passes out, I mean... And it was  a “beautiful gig” according to Holger Czukay. (Laughs)

... Trying to think of the stuff I really like, now. I like all the Dutch tape experiment stuff from the early 1970s like Andriessen, and I like all the Dutch bands from the late 70s early 80s, the ULTRA bands, they’re fearless bands.

F: What fits into that then?

IN: Minny Pops, Young Lions, The Ex, Plus Instruments. A lot were from art school and were outside the traditional Dutch music industry. And a lot of them sort of exploited that and made these mad sound collages, as pop. And there were very few real drummers in that scene, just a lot of drum machines. It gave them this exotic, utopian edge.

F: Were they seen as weird? I find it... I don’t know if it’s erm... Sometimes when you hear people translated it comes across as square but I don’t know if it’s erm.... I don’t know if it’s just things being lost in translation.

IN: And the idea of The Other. The singer of Minny Pops had a very strong Dutch accent.  And his voice sounds very Orwellian....very Big Brother and that over a futuristic sound. And it can – to foreign ears - sound really something else but I think to Dutch record execs they just thought “this is never going to sell”. Because so much rock music is with English lyrics the nuances in English are something that makes it interesting; so when it becomes set to a standard it gets really boring. That’s why I like the idea of The Other. And why I like 1960s Dutch language pop, cos you’re not really sure of the nuances in the lyrics. The “noise of the language” sounds different. To the beat, and I don’t know whether the language lends itself to the beat or it’s another quality that sits alongside lending another, more multidimensional quality elsewhere. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to go into any hole...

F: You can put anything into a hole.

IN: I suppose if you push it hard enough. Actually, enough of me.

....I really should ask you something about your record shouldn’t I?

(Silence)

IN: I’ll start off by saying I really like it.

F: You have to say that though don’t you.

IN: But I do! I’ll tell you why. Because the drummer’s got this Brian McGhee beat – the first drummer in Simple Minds, on records like Empires and Dance and Sons and Fascination.

F: I’ve never listened to them. There one of those bands that.... with each record I discover a band through being compared to it. And Simple Minds. Obviously I’ve heard of them. But people mention Empires and Dance.

IN: Sons and Fascination as well.

F: I guess the Chameleons were another band I discovered through making records. So now it’s Simple Minds.

(Silence)

IN: The similarities with you and Simple Minds are in the elegance of the beat, and Brian McGhee was always a bit measured in his pace. And the synth washes between you and Simple Minds are similar; Michael McNeil had the same kind of synth washes with all these little arpeggios thrown in. Little Baroque trumpet sounds. Little codas that pick up the melody. And that was very much like you. You can take your time in those records and you can take your time in your records. And that’s why I really like your records. I’m not just saying it. Otherwise I wouldn’t do this interview. Or this press day to be honest.

F: How long have you been doing interviews for?

IN: Over ten years, more.

F: When you used to interview people with a Dictaphone, did you often run out of tape?

IN: Yeah, a lot of times

 F: Yeah...

... And when you listened back was there a lot of fast forwarding?

IN:  You mean me talking a lot? Sometimes yeah. But there again I put it all in as a conversation, so if it’s me yapping a lot then that’s what it is. And the readers make up their own minds. I don’t use this as erm... clay to make a pot. I don’t see the point.

F: Well, no... I mean it’s a lot more enjoyable to read.

IN: If I fuck up it gets scrapped and I tell everyone. I mean I don’t get paid for this, this isn’t my job.

F: What is it for then, is this for like a fanzine? No, that’s not fair, not a fanzine, that belittles it.

IN: A webzine!

(Both laugh. Sadly, the hoover demon is back and is making an infernal racket round us.)

IN: I used to love things similar to this (I pick up City Fun) I like the irreverence in them. I don’t like the idea that I’m some sort of controller to say “you get this amount of text, I get that amount of text”.

F: I do think it’s interesting though... the other side of things, because I mean, erm...  I do spend a lot of time thinking how newspapers work, and how they completely distort...

...

(Cue a long silence, filled with hoovering.)  

...I dunno. I like the idea of it rather of the idea of it being done to me.

IN: Yeah. I don’t like the way journalists work. I don’t consider myself a journalist.

F: What title would you give yourself then?

IN: Ach, a fan. I write a lot but... I don’t know. Rock writer I think. A lot of stuff I use will go into my thesis or my art or something like that. Stuff that keeps me ticking. I don’t like the way that rock journalists and set things up and knock things down for the exercise of doing just that; I think that’s pathetic.

F: Yeah. 

IN: So you’d like to be a journalist?

(Cue a long silence, filled with hoovering.) 

F: No absolutely not.

(Cue a long silence, filled with hoovering.) 

F: But I don’t even know if I’d like to be a fan. It’s as if these things are kind of erm...

....

... Well I guess like the Mark E Smith thing. Incidental things I have never even thought about... that crop up and...

(Cue a long silence, filled with hoovering.) 

I dunno I guess...

(Cue a long silence-going-on-half-time-rub-down-and-orange-break, filled with hoovering.) 

...I have a real problem with concentration when there’s erm... vacuum cleaners.

(Both laugh)

No; I mean we spoke about The Fall... but I am not really a historian because I don’t start thinking about that stuff, because for me it’s always there. And when there’s a reason to talk about it. It appears, but until then it might as well not exist in my head if you know what I mean.

(Silence. I think the bloody cleaner’s broken both of us.)

IN: (Softly) I get what you mean.

F: Yeah... it’s as if every conversation I ever have is like a nose dive. It’s like erm... I dunno the gaps between sentences get longer and longer.

IN: Let’s change tack a bit. You mentioned history; well I’m looking to be a historian. And I’m constantly looking to reappraise the things I know. Because, after a while the nature of time gets in the way of how you think about things you thought you knew. So that’s why, say for this interview, you’ll get the full transcript. Because the way we think about things changes over time.

F: Isn’t it nicer to be uncertain about things though?

IN: Uncertain? Totally. Because the more stuff is published the more uncertain you are. You can’t write a definitive history, you can’t allow an approach only like Weber’s or Adorno’s anymore. The times we live in don’t allow it. We move to quickly for time now. It’s good to be uncertain. And in working out your ideas I think it’s great to realise you can only add one grain of sand to the beach. 

F: Why do you think people are certain now?

IN: I think they pretend to be, people are full of assumptions now.

F: Yeah, absolutely.

IN: People also repeat stuff without thinking.

F: Yeah probably. You definitely get the repeated thing because erm... Have you ever read that book “The Drowned World”? Erm, the repeating thing is weird especially when you witness the moment when you hear something and also the moment when they regurgitate it. I find that interesting, especially how they use it because it’s almost like – maybe I’m being cynical – but there’s something really grotesque about watching someone be erm...

... clumsily manipulative. I don’t know why but maybe that’s...

...erm

I dunno how this is gonna translate.

(Both laugh)

IN: “Long silence” “long silence” “long silence”? I’ll leave it at that!

F: Maybe you could do it as a scrolling scale... show the silences as big gaps on the page. I’ve got a friend, and we got to a certain point in our relationship where I could drop a word into a sentence and he wouldn’t notice.  So I started dropping the word bananas into sentences. And he never picked up on it. It was bizarre. And then I started doing that to a lot of different people and it was insane how often I could say complete nonsense and no one would notice. It honestly made me feel like I was going mad. But maybe I don’t know what that means. I think it’s, yeah. Bizarre. Maybe I just mumble a lot, but then I say to people what did I just say and they say... yeah... 

IN: I’ve started doing that, I drop in words, like I’ve been using daddy-oh a lot recently.

F: Oh what, when they take a word that you’ve used?

IN: Yeah. I do this a few times and then see whether someone uses it. It must be something to do with some old Homo sapiens gene where you copied some clever tribe or group member to find food.

F: But that’s like the best...way. You know I’ve met a lot of managers over the years in the music industry. And the ones who are the most successful are those who adapt their personality. And then...

...And then Oh God... You know, I get trapped in a loop... I realise... It’s like jumping ahead and knowing that the person I’m talking to knows how I’m going to finish my sentence. It’s hard to explain – once you get trapped in a circle.

IN: Like “Yeah”. That word “yeah”.  When people say that all time. That “yeah yeah yeah” thing... They just don’t want to listen, but want to communicate on one level. It’s bloody awful. I’m going to get a card and hold them up and give them to people. Something like “stop saying yeah” (Laughs)  

F: I had a stop talking card I used to give to people. That usually elicited a certain response!

IN: My time is up on that note!