In Sheffield on Friday 8th May The Quietus’ founder and editor John Doran will be rolling into town as part of his UK-wide book tour, reading extracts from his debut book Jolly Lad. The book is “is a memoir about the recovery from alcoholism, habitual drug use and mental illness. It is also about the healing power of music, how memory defines us, the redemption offered by fatherhood and what it means to be working class”.
John is touring with the Grammy Award-Winning Arabrot on all dates but joining him as part of this date is Adrian and Dean of the Eccentronic Research Council (whose superb latest album we gave 9/10 in the last issue) and Keeley Forsyth, who plays eerie harmonium folk with the ERC and is set to release her debut recordings later this month.
The collaboration between John and the ERC is a completely one-off experience, with Adrian and Dean performing unique music created especially for the evening. They will even be playing with the Human League’s original synthesisers as part of the collaboration. Sheffield also acts as a focus in some parts of John’s book, so with this in mind we had a chat with him and the ERC about the event, Sheffield and asked them to knock us together a Sheffield-centric playlist too.
When asked of some of his strongest memories of Sheffield over the years, Doran tells me: “One that sticks in my mind is this… I used to live in a squat in Hull with someone called Andy Kirkpatrick who moved to Sheffield and became one of the world’s most famous winter alpinists. He also writes books and gives lectures. Back in 2001 he asked me to support him when he was giving a lecture to a Christian mountain climbers association. My nerves were terrible so I drank loads of cans of Special Brew and took loads of valium. As soon as I got on stage my adrenaline subsided and I was just so fucked I couldn’t speak properly. I was pouring beer on my shoes and I even fell off the stage at one point. There were people booing and everything. And then, for reasons I can no longer remember, I got back on stage an hour after that and started all over again. People were twice as angry the second time around. And that’s the level of professionalism I’ll be bringing with me to the Picture House Social in Sheffield, I hope.”
Doran’s book was initially commissioned based on his MENK column for VICE, in which he was initially supposed to write about anything but music, however being the head that he is the final result – which in the end became a fresh re-write from scratch – is teeming with music and even comes with an accompanying CD, featuring original music from the likes of the Manic Street Preachers, British Sea Power, Teeth of the Sea, GNOD, the ERC and more. Is there any artists in an ideal world Doran would have like to have added to this list, I enquire. “I guess my ultimate choice would be SunnO))) because I’ve always wanted to don the robes,” he says. “I still would love to write some lyrics for Fat White Family, not that they need my lyrics, just because it’s wish fulfilment and then maybe someone like Cyclobe or Nurse With Wound – beyond that we’re getting into gold territory… Eno, Aphex Twin, The Bad Seeds.”
The ERC initially approached John to work with them, as he tells me, “Adrian and Dean were kind enough to ask me to collaborate with them first on their amazing cassette-only The Dream Catcher Tape project, so there was history. Simply, they’re a brilliant band. One of the best groups in the UK today and their music is custom built to be heard with spoken word so there could barely be a better group to perform with in Sheffield. They’re great people, the ERC – Maxine as well.” Adrian Flanagan of the ERC recalls his attraction to Doran’s work, saying: “I just love hearing dour, sour, bitter, lightweight northerners, chatting down a mic over our music. In all seriousness, John’s a great writer, a proper writer, whose existence will exceed itself.”
Sheffield has recently been celebrated by BBC Radio 6Music in a series of programmes dedicated to the city, although the approach was notably retrospective and rather antiquated, to say the least. I ask Flanagan if he were in charge, what sort of programme could we have expected from him? “I’d find it hard to programme an event celebrating Sheffield’s past as I’m always looking to the future. What I’d want to broadcast wouldn’t suit the remit of a commercial media. To be honest, I’m only really interested in the Sheffield now. I’ve seen it all before with Manchester with the Madchester scene, people still harping on about some 30 year old indie twonk with a James Brown beat – move on, let someone else get a look in. It’s not the bands’ fault, it’s the ageing fan, journalist or DJ reliving their youths, remembering the time they necked a load of pills and shat themselves on the dance floor of the hacienda. These people smother out the really interesting stuff from having its rightful platform. Almost all the stuff that I love in Sheffield or that excites me musically here, doesn’t happen in a mainstream city centre venue, isn’t brought to me by mainstream faux indie media; it’s all word of mouth, D.I.Y and it’s almost always an unadulterated wondrous flight of discovery. I think the people who happily exist out on the fringes, are always the ones to watch. I know where they all are and I wouldn’t want to ruin that personal salvation by feeding such delicate information to people who can’t even be arsed, in reality, stepping out of their own comfort Zones. However, If I had a gun held to my head and had to organise an event to celebrate Sheffield past then I would have to have the Sheffield-based outsider artist and musical entertainer, Stuart Faulkner, sat astride a donkey playing his organ, singing 50 years of Sheffield ‘hits’ for a full 24 hours whilst a giant wicker man effigy of that turncoat bastard, Nick Clegg, burned behind him.”
Lastly, what can people expect from the collaboration? “Blood, guts and semen. And that’s just from Doran.” Comes Flanagan’s response, while Doran offers, “An augury of bones, a list of radical ghosts haunting Sheffield bus routes and much rhythmical shouting about Thatcher, Threads and chicken shish.”
JOHN DORAN’S SHEFFIELD PLAYLIST
Clock DVA – 4 Hours
My brilliant English teacher in college Stephen Sunderland taped me this. I think he wanted to wean me off Sisters Of Mercy and The Cure and get me into cooler underground music. But he was more of an influence on my writing really. Cool guy.
The Human League – The Black Hit Of Space
We’re using some of Martyn Ware’s original analogue gear during the show. This is so exciting I’m in danger of spraying the inside of my own boxers.
Heaven 17 – Play To Win
When I sagged off school I used to ride the Mersey Ferry all day listening to Penthouse And Pavement on my walkman, drinking Thunderbird Blue and thinking about Threads.
Cabaret Voltaire – Johnny Yes/No
I could have picked almost anything by the Cabs. All time heroes. This is one of their most overlooked LPs though, the soundtrack to an amazingly dark, psychedelic, neo-noir short.
Mark Fell – Periodic Orbits Of A Dynamic System Related To A Knot
I know Mark’s from Rotherham but everyone associates him with Sheffield and has done for decades. It’s not like I sit at home thinking, “Yeah, I’ve got to stick some Fell on the stereo and rock out!” He makes very experimental sound art, I guess you’d call it but meeting him helped clarify some of my thinking about music especially about the purpose of music and as such he was an important influence on Jolly Lad.
BONUS TRACK: The Moonlandingz – May In Me Lyfe
Who are these noisy miscreants?! Ban this sick psych rock, synth bastard filth NOW!
DEAN HONER OF THE ERC PICKS HIS TOP 10 SHEFFIELD TRACKS
The Human league – WXJL Tonight
There are numerous songs on Travelogue and Reproduction that were so ground breaking and beautiful. This is one of the best. Pure analogue electronics. Great song. Great noises. Great Philip.
Clock DVA – 4 Hours
Primitive voodoo funk, scary yet uplifting. This was a great Limit Club [old Sheffield night club] record. Charlie Collins unhinged saxophone is genius.
Heaven 17 – (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang
Another bonkers tune from underground synth experimentalists trying to make pop music. Of course they succeeded with the great Penthouse and Pavement album.
Cabaret Voltaire – A Touch of Evil
Kirky and Mal were so far ahead of everyone else. All Sheffield electronic music can be traced back to the Cabs.
I bought Red Mecca after a friend played me Nag Nag Nag. I distinctly remember laying in bed in the dark and being quite freaked out by this track. It made me hallucinate.
ABC – Tears Are Not Enough
Just before the Trevor Horn era. This was a very exciting white boy punk funk record. 1981 was an amazing year for Sheffield pop music.
Cabaret Voltaire – Sensoria
A later track, which was very funky, very cut up. Great riffs. Amazing video from Pete Care. Still ahead of the curve. Another great Limit tune.
Dig VS Drill – Cranking Up Religion
I saw this band in London, they had one of their mates crucified on a cross at the back of the stage through the entire set. Pulp were the support band. They released a track called ‘Cranking Up Religion’ which had a picture of a priest injecting on the cover. To get into one of their gigs I had to cross a picket line of priests and church members. John Nichols played synths and drum machines that he had made in his kitchen. Ogy McGrath was a full on motor mouth agitator. Every gig was an event. Something extraordinary usually happened. Possibly the greatest band of all time.
Testone – Sweet Exorcist
The tune that gave us the Bleep. Minimal genius from Parrot and Kirky. This plus The Forgemasters ‘Track With No Name’ and LFO – ‘LFO’ established a little Sheffield label called Warp. These records still sound fresh and futuristic.
Pulp – Babies
This is a great song. Released on Sheffield’s Gift Records. It seemed to fit in nicely with all the excitement that Warp were generating. Yeah, it is full of bleepy weirdos but Sheffield can still do great pop music too.
Add N to X – King Wasp
From the On The Wires of Our Nerves album. Not strictly Sheffield but the album was recorded in my bedroom in Nether Edge and Barry 7 was a Psalter Lane art student. Another fantastic band of unique mavericks, they introduced me to some very obscure electronic music from the 60’s and 70’s and fed my synth fetish.