Interview by Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers
For fans of the history of pop, punk and the Stone Roses, Harrogate’s famous Festival Spiegeltent has a fascinating event coming up on Friday, June 7 at 7pm.
Renowned music author, radio presenter, musician and blogger John Robb is giving a talk in this luxurious, hand-sewn Edwardian-era pavilion at Crescent Gardens.
The man who first coined the term ‘Britpop’, Robb is also Harrogate International Festival Fringe curator for 2014.
I asked him six questions in the build-up to the show.
Here is the full text of what he said:
1. Why get involved in Harrogate International Festival Fringe? What’s your role?
“They got in touch with me about hosting the Spiegel stage but it was too short notice so I will do that next year as I have loads of ideas for getting some really interesting stuff for next year.
I know a lot of people who do some great stuff which would make a really good event. So this year we decided I would do an evening with type of thing, maybe introduce some people and also do a talk, a spoken word type event where I will talk through stuff from my upcoming autobiography called Punk Rock Ruined My life- tales from the punk rock frontline and the search for something in pop culture.
The talk will be about growing up with punk in Blackpool and all my adventures since then in my bands as we toured the world and also as a big music writer doing things like being the first person to interview the Stone Roses and Nirvana, inventing the term Britpop and all the mad things that went around that.
It will look a what went on then and what goes on now. The great gigs, the great bands and just getting really inside knowledge of how it all works as I was on my decades long quest for the truth at the heart of rock n roll!
There will be stuff about the Justice for the 96 tour last year when I went on the road with mick Jones from the Clash and also the Farm singing Clash songs for the Hillsborough 96 and about my current band Goldblade who new album is the critically acclaimed The Terror Of Modern Life as well as my old band the Membranes who we reformed recently for interesting gigs like the one we are planning in July in Manchester called ‘The Universe: Explained’ where we will get the head of the Higgs Boson Project onto stage for an in conversation, we will conduct science experiments and then play a gig at the end along with a specially made film about the universe...this gig will be amazing a nod it came about when I met the head of the Higgs Boson Project when I was was doing a talk there about punk and DIY culture...he explained the whole beginning and the end of the universe to me over dinner and how it all ends in eternal white light which brought up all kind of mind bowling questions of religion and science which I will also talk about in Harrogate! This is a talk that will have a lot of tangents! Like my life...”
2. You’re well-known for writing with passion about music and culture in your books and your blog Louder than War. What to you think of the maintream printed publications like Q and the old-timers’ ones such as Mojo, Uncut?
“I’ve always liked Mojo...they can make bands you have no interest in interesting because of the way it is written...what is great about modern music media though is that you don’t have to conform to the history of rock anymore...there is a received history that misses out many great bands and its like an editing of rock history and the Internet means u can write about things ina different way which is what we do at Louder Than War, we don’t believe in guilty pleasures and we don’t see music in hipster terms, we wrote on instinct.
The Internet is the key medium now in much, which makes sense as music culture was always driven by technology...at one time the vinyl single was cutting edge technology and not an antique like it is now!”
3. As a founder member of The Membranes and Goldblade what is it about punk which retains its relevance for you nearly 35 years after it became such a force in British society?
“Punk is everywhere and nowhere, it changed so much in UK culture and yet remains invisible. There is a snag isted version of punk that is sometimes allowed o to the BBC...we like to called it documentary punk- great bands but not the whole story. You will always get to hear the Clash who I live but rarely the Stranglers- who made great records and were arguably more influential and you will never get Crass on ‘alternative radio’. Punk got turned into indie which is shorthand for independent but not independent in any way! A lifestyle choice of watered down sixties guitar music...punk still has a meaning and it’s cry of freedom remains attractive.”
4. From the books you’ve written, is it fair to say you think Britain hasn’t produced any great music since the Stone Roses?
“Not at all, when the Roses were massive people were saying the same thing, claiming there had been no great bands since punk, and in the punk era people went On about the sixties, the Artic Monkeys are a great band who are the same size as the Roses without the cultural impact but the Roses impact is blurred by being part of the post acid house fallout when culture was changing anyway and they were smart enough to understand those changes.
Of course Simon Cowell creates problems by changing what the perception of music is to people and its harder and harder to get mainstream attention these days. We still have huge bands like Coldplay who actually broke America where the Roses remain a cult band, of course I’m not a fan but you can’t say that them and Mumford and Sons have been flops even if they are not great...there we also loads of great smaller bands.”
5. Do you think of yourself as an outsider in music journalism and, to an extent, in society as a whole?
“I don’t flow the pack but I’m not sure about being an outsider!
6. Are punk and nostalgia mutually incompatible? Is Britain a gigantic history park?
“Sometimes that can happen but it depends on which version of punk you are talking about, there is a theme park version and also a lot of other versions! There is an element of nostril just because its been around so long and that’s common for all pop culture. Wen you are doing it , it never feels nostlagic though!”