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MELODY MAKER (17 Sep 1994) IPC

MELODY MAKER (17 Sep 1994)
From Ned Raggett's Web Locale

Taylor Parkes Interviews S*M*A*S*H

Melody Maker, September 17, 1994

Okay, here it is -- for those who like to play the context game, this was the cover story that week, along with a plug for Noel Gallagher's entry in 'Rebellious Jukebox' and a note about REM tour dates. Number one single -- Whigfield, "Saturday Night," new entry. Number one album -- Oasis, Definitely Maybe, second week in a row. In indie chart land, "Wilmot" by the Sabres of Paradise and, again, Definitely Maybe. In America, Boyz II Men own it all with "I'll Make Love to You" and II.


You're The One For Me, Fatwa

Now I know how Salman Rushdie feels. A few months ago, I reviewed S*M*A*S*H's mini-LP, a collection of early singles and B-sides. Mildly irritated by the way the press had so far lionized the emergent 'New Wave of New Wave' (the weeklies' schoolboy-punk cliches and absurd 'right on!' condescension, the 'style' magazines' gleeful championing of the fact that today's kids were so disaffected and disenfranchised that they could afford to spend £35 on a Seventies Adidas T-shirt from Kensington Market), I suggested that maybe wasn't, in fact, any kind of 'authentic youth movement,' rather a press-arranged pantomime centred on a few aging, shit pub-rockers. And that only S*M*A*S*H's "Lady Love Your Cunt" was really worth a shit, being a fine, funny, though confused pop record.

That was all, really.

It was just another review.

The following week, the band played a Melody Maker-sponsored gig at The Marquee. I was out windsurfing or something but, apparently, fans brought along copies of the review, which they then proceeded to set on fire. One chap with rather too much time on his hands even took it upon himself to construct a banner reading "TAYLOR PARKES -- ENEMY OF S*M*A*S*H", and wove it throughout the set.

Halfway through the gig, a notoriously stupid fanzine writer bounded onstage calling for all the S*M*A*S*H fans to seek out the evil cunt and duff him (ie, me) up. One journalist chum of the band muttered darkly to a friend of mine that "I'd better watch myself."

Yikes. Never thought having an opinion could get you into so much trouble.

Five months later, I am asked whether I'd like to interview the boys at Ed's Welwyn Garden City flat, go toe to toe, be a bit confrontational, wind them up a bit.


Home is Where the Bloody Great Baseball Bat Is

Welwyn Garden City is half-an-hour's drive from North London. The 'other music paper' recently sent their thrusting young NWONW correspondent up here to interview S*M*A*S*H: he wrote the place up as a kind of suburban East Berlin -- all concrete and crime and glue-sniffing kids out cruising in stolen Cortinas. The local paper were, apparently, incensed, and began a series of articles on what an ace place the Garden City is to bring up your kids ("Which it is," says drummer Rob, a father of four. "I must admit, I laughed when I read all that stuff about urban deprivation").

Ed S*M*A*S*H lives in a pokey but clean block of Housing Association flats some way from the town center. We tap gingerly on the front door. He answers, looks us up and down, and lets us in silently. A bloody great baseball bat nestles in the corner.

Ed S*M*A*S*H has cheekbones like unclipped safety pins, and is handsome in a speedfreak sort of way. He looks creepily oral -- it's though, at any second, his pink pouting lips might part to release a hideous, slithering foot-long viper of a tongue, with which he will proceed to lick his bobbing, rolling bingo-ball eyes. One of those faces.

Salv, the bassist, is slightly friendlier. Once swarthy and statuesque, Salv has recently cropped and bleached his hair, and now looks rather sweet. Rob's wife has just had twin baby girls, so at least he's in high spirits; he grins cheerily, shakes my hand enthusiastically, makes me a cup of coffee and engages me in a chin-wag about the new Manic Street Preachers album (unsurprisingly, he admires the Manics, but has a problem with Nicky Wire -- though not half as big a problem as The Wire has with S*M*A*S*H).

Nonetheless, as Tom Sheehan sets up his lamps and lenses, I can't help but notice a few funny looks coming my way -- I duck into the bathroom and glance at my list of questions. It strikes me that it might be a good idea not to ask 60 percent of them.

Stepping back into the front room, I come face to face with Ed; he's holding the baseball bat above his head and leering. Oh no! Oh god! (HE WANTS TO) KILL SOMEBODY! HE'S GOING TO S*M*A*S*H MY FACE IN!!! Heeeelllp!!!

"That's great," chirps Sheehan, snapping away happily. "Now let's get some of all three of you."

Hmm. I light up my 16th cigarette of the day and decide to have a sit down.

Round One: Hack Attack

"It wasn't your review that rattled us so much," says Rob, diplomatically, "as the standfirst, saying 'Taylor Parkes investigates,' you know, which implies that these are the facts -- when really it was just your opinion. I mean, it's a lie to say we're some kind of press darlings -- half of what's been written about us has been unfavourable."


"Did you see the Daily Star?" pipes up Salv. "They said we'd been chased by 100 knife-wielding skinheads in Holland. We'd never even been to Holland at the time! In fact, we were going there the next day, and we were worried that someone might have heard about it, and they'd all be there waiting for us. There's always the danger that people will read the stuff you lot write and take it seriously."

That works both ways. I've read favourable stuff that would prejudice me against you straight away. All this Rik-from-"The-Young-Ones" shit: "Three wild rebels scaring the shit out of the Cabinet..." Do you really want to be seen as cartoon characters?

"Well, if it makes people come to a gig just to shout 'wankers,' then they might understand us better when they leave," offers Salv.

It won't do that. It'll make sure people think you're twats and never go to see you.

"Yeah, all right," says Rob, "some of that stuff's laughable. But, if you read the press in such depth that you'd read an interview with a band you don't like, then presumably you know the press well enough to take what they say with a pinch of salt."

Not if it's backed up earnest quotes from you saying pretty much the same thing.

"What's wrong with being cartoon characters anyway?" butts in Salv, helpfully. "Beavis and Butthead are my heroes!"

Ed starts talking.

The other two shut up immediately.

"Why would anyone want to write about pop music anyway? I've never understood what inspires you people."

Oh, I dunno. A desire to create a climate in which great pop can be more easily accepted, I suppose. Maybe you want to plant a few ideas in people's heads, become an Ambassador Of Context -- maybe you just care about pop so much that you want to get in there, get your hands dirty.

"But you can piss people off. When we played the Marquee, the kids who got pissed off about your review were the hardcore who'd followed us from day one, and took that really fucking personally."

Sad bastards.

"But they did something about it, they jumped onstage and said their bit, which I'm not gonna complain about -- the stage is there for everyone, and we've always encouraged people to do things like that."

What if people jump onstage and start talking shit?

"Everyone's got an opinion."

Precisely. As soon as you put your music in front of the public, you lose all control over it. Fans, enemies, critics -- anyone can say whatever the fuck they like about it. S*M*A*S*H -- in the business of communicating ideas themselves, and the victims of censorship on more than one occasion -- should know that better than anyone.

Round Two: The Price of F*E*M*M*E

A lot of girls I know laughed when they heard "Lady Love Your Cunt."


Yes. And they laughed even harder when they found out that there was a song on your new LP called "Oh! Ovary."

"Because they thought that words like 'cunt' weren't ours to reclaim?" asked a frowning Salv.

I think they just thought it sounded a bit silly. The general attitude was, "Have these people got any female friends?"

Ed scowls. "Well, instead of just laughing, they should have come and had a chat to us about it, after a gig or something."

I don't think they were all that bothered, actually.

Rob's laughing. "I knew you'd get stick for this, Ed!"

"Did you?"

"I'm glad he has," mutters Salv.

"An Asian girl came to see us once," continues Ed, "wearing a T-shirt she'd made herself that said, 'LADY LOVE YOUR CUNT.' She had a big pair of tits" -- yes, those are his exact words -- "with the word 'cunt' written across them. This is an Asian girl, walking the streets of North London! So it's obviously got through to some people!"

"But we've never considered ourselves part of some battle of the sexes," says Rob.

But those titles are so upfront, so attention-seeking.

"But they proved that we were doing things our way. Because, if you were thinking from a music biz point of view, you'd say, 'Don't call it THAT!'"

No, you'd say, "DO call it that!" "Lady Love" was your second single, it was never going to be a Top 10 hit -- using the word 'cunt' didn't hinder you at all, it just got you some free publicity.

Rob: "But words like 'cunt,' 'cock,' 'tit,' they're part of everyone's vocabulary. I don't think anyone's really offended."

It's certainly less offensive that deliberately using some word other than 'cunt' when 'cunt' is what you mean.

"I'm not carefully about swearing in front of my kids," says Rob.

"If you're shielded from it, you end up behind the bike sheds going, 'Cunt!' 'Shit!' 'Cunt!'" says Ed, bafflingly.

"When he was nine, my brother swore as much as he could," says Salv, "and now he never swears. So it might even turn you against swearing."


Ed: "We weren't just using the word for the sake of it. It's the title of a Germaine Greer essay so, if anything, we were using Germaine Greer."

So what's "Oh! Ovary" about then, Ed?

"Well, umm...I think it's a confused song."


"See, I always wanted to write a song with a girl's name in it, like all those Lou Reed songs -- "Candy Says," "Lisa Says" -- but I didn't know any transvestites like Lou Reed did. And what fucking name do you choose?"

So you chose "Ovary."

"Yeah. It's about contraception, too: I went out with this girl once, and we were using Durex, and I'm glad we did, cos otherwise there'd be a split family there now. And...umm...well, I think it's a confused song."

Salv: "There's a line, 'There's a great big hole in here where you used to be' -- it's like, we're the same, but we're different as well."

That's pretty confused.

Ed: "There's some gross bits, too: 'Ovary, I'm banging on your walls/Like hundreds of me before.'"

Salv: "Poetry, mate. Fucking poetry."

Rob: "What I like about Ed's lyrics is that you can interpret them any way you want."

Ed: "I was thinking about that Woody Allen film where he plays a sperm."


Round Three: (I Want to) Kill Somebody

"(I Want to) Kill Somebody" always truck me as rather dumb. Surely you're aware that if someone shot John Major tomorrow, nothing would change?

"That's what the song's raising as well," claims Ed.

Is it?

"Yeah! Imagine John Major as a boy, playing in the sandpit in Brixton with a black kid and an Asian kid, then, 45 years on, he's a racist arsehole. The Tories have been eroding our education system for 15 years."

So what are you saying?

"I'm saying that people are being under-educated so they're not in a position to organise themselves to fight the government. The radical people are gonna have to get more radical soon, or nothing's gonna change."

But the more attempts on politicians' lives, the more riots, the more civil disobedience, the harder they're going to clamp down, so isn't it better to wait and see what happens at the next election?

"Well," says Rob, "it's getting to the point where no one wants to admit they support the Tories because...you just can't anymore! Everyone can see they're all fucking arseholes and they're talking bollocks! And they just don't fucking care about..."

"About humans!" completes Ed!

"Right, about humans. On our last our, we drove all round Britain and, compared to other countries in Europe, it's a fucking shithole. People are starting to realise that -- my father-in-law, he's completely right wing, but his Tory days are over. It's the high-fliers of the Eighties who're now unemployed who're gonna change things. There was never gonna be a working-class revolution in Britain, was there?"

So [ahem] why do you want to destroy the Government, then?

"Ed says it's not that he wants to kill them, it's that he wishes they'd never been alive in the first place," explains Rob.

I see.

"You know," adds Ed, "I wake up in the morning thinking about some Tory nutter, and I wanna kill somebody! And I don't like feeling like that. That's what it's really about. The audacity of these people to put those thoughts in your head in the first place. It's just a matter of what, who, where, why and when. Sort of thing."

I see.

Round Four: I Couldn't Dance With Another

"Have you heard our album?"

Yes. I don't much like it, but I like something about it.


Well, beyond all the murky thrash and embarrassing, John Hegley-like lyrics ("The Gibraltar Three/Caused a lot of problems for the BBC/'Death On the Rock' and political intervention"), there are moments that actually sound quite arresting, quite weird. I particularly like the fact that one song starts with the line, "Bob Dylan sucks my dick"...

"People have said it's good we've left a lot of that so-called punk stuff behind," says Salv.

"I never thought we sounded like the Clash anyway," says Rob. "Why did people compare us? I'll tell you why: because 'Clash' rhymes with 'S*M*A*S*H'."

Could be a bit more to it than that actually, Rob.

"But I wore that 'S*M*A*S*H City Rockers' T-shirt just to piss people off, anyway, after all those comparisons started. It was like, 'You said it, I'll sell it.'"

This is, of course, a brilliant thing to say, but I'm in full flow here and haven't the time to applaud.

One review of "Kill Somebody" said it was pretty ironic to hear you raging against conservatism when you're a three-piece white rock group.

Rob: "Fuck off! Oasis sound 30 years out of date!"

Come on, is that the best you can do?

Ed: "We might have things in common with the Clash, but we've got things in common with Gunshot and Kaliphz, too."

Sure, the Gunshot remix of "Kill Somebody" was great, but it was by Gunshot.

"We can't afford technology!"

You don't need technology to sound original! PiL, Joy Division, Big Black...

"Dub bass isn't that big a breakthrough. Besides, hip hop uses drumbeats and samples that are fucking ancient."

But, in hip hop, the sounds are torn from their context and reassembled to sound completely new -- with you, the guitar goes with the bass goes with the drums.

"If we spent too long fucking around with effects," says Rob, "then the songs would die."

I dunno, perhaps you should just sound a bit looser, a bit less clenched-arsed. The LP is so lo-fi, so dense and dirty, that occasionally it sounds really startling and original by default.

"At our early gigs, we used to have DJs, people playing the fucking didgeridoo, all sorts."

That's fantastic! Why did you stop? See, it's just a matter of surprising people, confounding expectations.

Look, what do you think of "Groove is In the Heart," by Deee-Lite?

All: "Brilliant!"

Because I heard it again last night, and it struck me that maybe S*M*A*S*H's next single should sound like that, with, you know, a video with you dancing in it.


I mean, it would force a lot of people to think for themselves.

Ed: "Yeah..."

And when you think about it, what's the difference between singing, "Groove is in the heart" and singing, "I want to kill somebody"?

Rob: "Well, yeah..."

So, we'll look forward to that, then?

Ed: "Hmmm."

Or perhaps not.

Ed: "Mmm."

S*M*A*S*H, then.

Nice chaps, in fact. Agreeably intense, impeccably idealistic, totally committed.

But I still say this is no time for naivety. I still say idealism must be tempered with a certain focused cynicism. I still think that, to make pop that reflects the age, one must first embrace the age, all its chaos, paranoia, greed, glamour, inauthenticity, technology; its loss of all sense of community, its open, aching emptiness. Which means Manic Street Preachers, 2 Unlimited, Kaliphz, Pulp, Portishead, the new Kylie Minogue single, Ice Cube, Disco Inferno, Saint Etienne.

Not this rabble-rousing rumble. Not this grey, grainy guitar-rock.

Inward is the only way forward.