After our first meeting on Suits (click HERE to read that feature) it was obvious that we needed to catch up with Micko again and we did just that in January of 2021. The lockdown was in full force so we sat down and shot the breeze for well over an hour and here are the results. We talk all and everything and now with lockdown looking to be a thing of the past (maybe?!) and Micko and the Mellotronics about to release a new video for "Sick and Tired" what better time to share this with you all,
Micko Westmoreland "Velvet Pigeon"
Micko Westmoreland ; Hi Darren. How are you?
Hey Micko I’m fine how are you?
M.W ; Good, good not bad at all. Good.
So finally we speak after all this time
M . W ; Yes a crazy time. You have a Midlands accent haven’t you? A Nottingham accent right?
Yes that’s where I’m from.
M . W ; Yes, I used to go to the Trent Poly at the very, very end of the eighties for about a year
M . W ; But I got kicked out before the end of the term.
Haha. Well there were always loads of bands on there weren’t there?
M . W ; Yeah the guy who did the Monday nights was fantastic he got like the Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays you name it Everybody WOW!
M .W ; Yeah it was mad , apparently with the Happy Mondays they just turned up with these really “heavy” looking blokes and all the students who ran the security and stuff were like, “Hi were doing the security for the event” and these guys just opened a case and it just had loads of guns in it!
M . W ; They didn’t say a word they just looked at the artillery!
Jesus, I have been to Manchester quite a few times but for me I always feel there is an air of menace to place, it never really clicked with me
M . W ; Right, there was the Afflects Palace and stuff like that, that was a second hand clothing emporium in the late eighties similar to the Kensington Market one, you know there were these certain little enclaves which were part of an alternative culture.
M . W ; That just seems to have expanded out and become just totally the norm now, it is mainstream now
M . W ; But you remember back in the day it was all these particular places that kind of understood and everywhere else just didn’t you know
Well we will get onto this later but I think back in the day you had to earn your image, you just couldn’t buy a look straight of the peg.
M . W ; Absolutely. I remember before the first Tim Burton “Batman” movie came out I had a mate that used to work in a fancy dress hire out store and she nicked me like a Batman emblem off a costume and I sewed it onto a T Shirt and I sprayed my own Dr. Marten boots silver because you just couldn’t get them in different colours back then. Nowadays silver docs and a batman t shirt every second person has them now.
Yeah ha-ha people nip to Tesco in that stuff now
M . W ; The liberalisation is wonderful but at the same time you know. And you grew old at a certain age and that really was it!
M . W ; It was like twenty, twenty-seven..
And you were fucked
M . W ; And that was it and you were transferred from any young persons clothes into a tweed jacket or something you know a geography teacher look.
Yes so maybe in hindsight it is a good thing that has become more normal. You know I not saying everyone would look good in a dress but they should be given the opportunity to wear a dress.
M . W ; Exactly! If they enjoy then yeah, good luck to them. There is this thing in culture that pertaining to looking cool etc. immaculately maintained facial hair etc. but each to their own yano it is difficult to make judgements about people, you have got to remember that that the guy walking down the street with a bald head and a big grey beard who you think you could just not identify with is the one who took a tab of acid and saw Jimi Hendrix in 1967
M . W ; You have to be careful about making generalizations about people because you can just be so wrong
Oh yes most definitely. Well looking like I do I don’t get that much hassle, but there was a time were you would get hassle on a daily basis but for me I just don’t get why people care that much to make a comment or what not just get on with what you are doing yano I just don’t get it.
M . W ; Well there are mobile phones for people to look at now and there just wasn’t back then I guess and if anyone does anything that doesn’t interfere with anyone else what is the problem, unless they want to be interfered with that is. I remember back in Leeds in the eighties there was this thing called the “Tetley Bitter Man” and they would go around in these clans dressed in stonewashed jeans, white socks and these interchangeable Topman shirts, that was usually bright green or bright orange and you would literally have to run through the town centre because if you were running they wouldn’t pay as much attention to you, because if you were just walking you were just a slow moving target for them.
Yes, the country over the all in the same uniform with the same outfit and same mentality.
M . W ; Yes and you were a target and that was when we were not looking particularly extreme either, they just register something other in you
Yes they just don’t understand. I remember going to see Wrathchild in Sutton in Ashfield, which is like Tetley Bitter Man’s rougher uncle as a place. Anyway it was when PVC and big blond hair was rigor du jour and I had to walk from the working men’s club they had just played right into the centre of the town to get a cab but I escaped and I can only think that I just didn’t register with them they just though I was a girl or something ha-ha, anyhow I escaped. So we are into the New Year but still in this lockdown whatever it is for people the world over. What can you do?
M . W ; Not much actually. I’m gazing out of the window at the moment and just looking up the road and there has been a considerable amount of time doing that in the last nine months but then pre lockdown I was kinda just doing the same. I’ve always been that curtain twitcher
Well you got to be aware of your surroundings haven’t you? I am sick of hearing, “I’m bored I want to go back to work…” etc. it’s like they just can’t function without the outside world…
M .W ; I know but try being dead and coping with that as apposed to being bored yano.
I didn’t take much notice of the news piece but people were going in and filming hospitals with no one in them and they are saying its all a hoax and all this, yano at this point we have had something like seventy thousand people die from this….
M . W ; Yes it’s really bonkers actually, there is a certain personality type that wants to project into a alternative universe of events and because there are these algorithms that tend to put people into echo chambers with people that agree with them. There is like a compound of enforcement of an idea and then that suddenly becomes some sort of reality were it resonates.
M . W ; and it doesn’t have any play of what actually happened, I mean I think as well it is some sort of phenomenon were they forget that decisions are made in context and people just wipe away context all the time
M . W ; I think hang on that happened then because of these particular set of reasons and it just made sense at the time. People just come in with a charged thought of what things are without having processed anything beforehand
I think what it is, back in the sixties they would call this train of thought “cults” and now with all the social media etc.. it is back to cult of personality again.
M . W ; there is just an appetite for something like the news, it is just put out there and again with little processing from people. Say with the outbreak of the pandemic, the escalators just moved too fast for people to have ANY real sort of understanding as to what happened the first time around with it, we got a breather and then it started again. I wonder when the public enquiry and investigation come out in two and half years time, “well you knew that and you didn’t know this” and there is always a resurgence of this thought that someone is to blame.
Yes there is just a wall of this “stuff” and most of it is nonsense most of the time but there is still the appetite for it.
M . W ; I mean just think of a song that doesn’t kick in with the drums or the vocals after like twelve seconds you are losing a massive part of your audience there and there is a conservatism that comes with that, “I just haven’t got the patience with that” sort of thing. Case in point is “Velvet Goldmine”, I occasionally stumble into these Velvet Goldmine threads where people are talking about the film and offering opinions.
Oh god yeah
M . W ; There was one that I read, “I have put that on my hard drive and it is one hundred and thirteen minutes long, do you think I have time for that?!” Hang on you have made a whole valuation of this piece of work just on it’s running time, you just can’t, well you can, you can’t make those sorts of comments it’s just daft
It is daft and it is just that mentality of both young and old but there is just TOO much out there and they don’t have to work for it, find it or save up to get it
M . W ; Funnily enough I have a friend who is Brazilian and he is really into early eighties music, Joy Division, New Order The smiths all this sort of stuff and he came over to London in the nineties and I remember saying to him, “How did you get to know about all this stuff?” He said, “oh we used to listen to Radio Luxembourg and they had a abridged version of the John Peel show on there and we used to listen to that every week”. There was one independent record shop in the whole of Brazil in San Paulo where he was from and all vinyl would come in as imports to the shop but they were too expensive to buy but the storeowner used to copy them to cassette and he used to buy the cassettes. The work that had to be done just to find out about this music it’s mad really. It was the same as when I was doing the Bowling green stuff all the cash went on technology and then when I started to filter in guitar work it wasn’t that easy because you had to sample it all and you would have to go down to milliseconds, you know you would have like twenty four seconds sampling time per one thousand and you would have to literally file everything down to the wire or you would just run out of time in next to no time. So to record a guitar I remember Mike Gibson who was out of The Godfathers used to lend me his guitar and a sixties guitar amp and their lighting engineer had a really nice mic and he was in Camberwell and geographically they are just miles away, one’s like north east London the other south west or whatever. Its just miles away, the whole trip in fact used to take me like eighty-five minutes
M . W ; yeah for like a microphone, but it was so important to me to get it right and I had to put all the work in do something as simple as recording a guitar. You really had to work for that stuff.
Well yes because if it resonates with you it can’t help but do the same for other people so that is the pay off right there. O.k. so in our first interview we did touch on some of the songs that are on your debut full release “Half Dove Half Pigeon” so before we get into that let’s go into how you got back to using the guitar as your writing instrument again?
M . W ; Well guitar was my first instrument and I think I told you that story about my Mother getting me a guitar from an auction for seventeen pounds or something.
M . W ; You know there was a massive explosion of technology and the “bedroom musician” was the thing and it was terribly exciting to make psychedelic dance music at that time and I have always seen how looking for transgressions in doing things and at that point it just seemed really interesting. I mean I would look for the most nuts stuff that I could possibly find basically and I would make these really complicated sandwiches of music if you like
M . W ; that was my headspace really at that point. Interesting being in Velvet Goldmine because you know there was a glam look there and yet I was doing this kind of crazy psychedelic drum and bass thing and it all just didn’t fit. I was earning my stirpes if you like
Well one thing leads to another
M . W ; Indeed you know it’s just I always think that having something to say and looking for a degree of originality in what you’re doing, it marks out an “artist” you know. You only have to go to any rehearsal room to see phenomenal stuff. You know you will get some Japanese thrash metal band and you will hear the guitar work that is just off the charts but you just can’t find a song there or a decent hook. So it becomes a thing of where you place your intention and what you think is important, it’s not a criticism of that genre if that is your bag, then fine run with it. It’s like the Eddie Van Halen thing he could do these incredible things on the guitar, just mind boggling but then you think is the guitar serving the song? Has something been left behind? Those preferences are the kind of things that govern my thinking whilst writing anyway.
M . W ; Then you get something like Kraftwerk, I remember getting majorly into them around eighty five and it was that thing were you check the equipment, you know you stare at the recording revolving around and you make sure that is what your are actually hearing. Is it on the right speed etc. Tracks like ‘numbers’ I really found profoundly startling. For me they broke down the conventionality of “this the verse is this the chorus” and I think with writing you are just looking for some connectivity with the chord change or the story, it doesn’t have to be conservative but, you’ve got to ask yourself what reason does this piece of music have to be here. Why are the verses like this because you have to move forward with the piece and make it interesting.
Yes indeed. Ok so did you have the ideas for the songs already and it was just that they lent themselves to the guitar from the start?
M . W ; Yes it was my first writing instrument, the guitar really. I mean I play keyboards, well I tried to teach myself keyboards for a long time with varying degrees of success, I mean I can play and I understand chords but I wouldn’t be confident enough to stride up to the old joanna in a pub banging out a medley of hits.
M . W ; It was just easier for me to do it that way. Also as well at certain points you do go back to what you first loved and the guitar was my first moment of musical glory so at a certain point it was just right to return to that.
And also totally the opposite to all the technology you had been using almost a clearing of the decks for you I suppose?
M . W ; Yeah but I think the thing is the technology changed and this new recording came in and it just became a lot easier to do things, it wasn’t that thing of just having twenty four seconds to pack your entire digital audio into, the guitars, the breakbeats and it just became much more expensive but, things were just a lot more available to you, you could record a lot easier it sounded really good. You know up until that mid nineties point you had to be in a studio which was phenomenally expensive and they had all this equipment that was so expensive and of course we didn’t have that we just used what was available to us at the time and I have said before never has so much music been made from one megabyte, on an Atari ST
M . W ; I mean there is more technology going on in a mobile phone now. I mean I was on a bus once and I hear some kids talking and that was when I knew that the selling of music was bust really. One kid went to another, “Oh I like your phone” and he said, “Yeah you can get ten thousand mp3s in it” and I just thought, “crumbs”!
You heathens, ha-ha I mean it had to change because we were all just making money for the machine. CDs were expensive because they said they cost a lot to make, then years later it turns out they cost like twenty pence to make and they were still charging up to fifteen pounds for one
M . W ; yes things had to change. I mean streaming is the way most people consume music now, like eighty per cent of the whole thing. I mean it has gone up dramatically over the past year what with lock down, so people have been getting into music a lot more.
Well that change only be a good thing and people are buying vinyl again but I wonder how much of it just because it is a commodity as apposed to being something you listen to and devour until the next release comes along?
M . W ; Well there are statistics you know that forty per cent don’t violate the packaging and twenty per cent don’t even have a record player it is just an object to some but at least they are buying it just the same. The music does sound great on vinyl there is no doubt in that and it has legs and it has lasted and won the test of time. Also people are producing this fantastic artwork to go along with it and it is great to have that, there is some engagement whilst you are listening. The time of maybe reading the lyric sheet whilst on your bed at home are by enlarge gone or certainly being done by a much smaller minority
M . W ; The fact that people do want to discover more about a band other than just looking at it on the internet do so through looking at the record and that gives it more gravitas meaning they have to work to find out more and it requires effort
Yes bottom line, effort as we were saying at the top of the conversation. I think yano a lot of music has almost become some sort of mainstream muzak to a point because you can listen on whatever device and a lot of times it is just in the background and I think a lot of the mainstream music is made as such
M . W ; yes make a playlist and it almost becomes like Laura Ashley wallpaper in the background.
Absolutely, great quote I like that
M . W ; And it is endless like an unending news feed you can just look and shuffle for eternity or until the batteries wear out. It doesn’t draw you to an artist and what that artist wants you to listen to and in some cases what order they want you to listen to the work in. There is a Prince CD that has no track identities on it can’t remember which, but you just press play and it rolls in that order. David lynch is another case in point were you know he wasn’t doing DVD commentaries because he wants mystery and he wants the listener or viewer to engage in that mystery he doesn’t want it to be deconstructed and I do kind of understand that.
M . W ; You know, ”this is how we did this…” and that is an interesting thing and point but sometimes when you do something or see something you just want it to remain intact and it just doesn’t need to be decoded
Well yes my better half loves the old films and she will not watch any documentary or insight into any of them because they were of a time and hold memories of watching them and it is what she wants it to be and I think that applies to records to a certain point too
M . W ; Films also can plant certain memories of particular eras. Case in point I was just watching some super eight movies from when I was a kid because I had a load of them transferred over an you watched them when you were like seven but the film was of you when you were like three and you have a vague recollection of it but it almost becomes a memory imprint that transfers from the super eight footage. That is why it is a standard technique in film that when they want to cut to a memory they will often use low grade super eight footage.
Funny all these multi million dollar films cut to low quality footage shot in somebodies back garden with a super eight camera amazing really.
M . W ; There is a certain mentality that thinks everyone has a certain distain in the eyes of others but they are quite happy to be familiar with their own in their own realm, you like your own sentimentality but you resist the sentimentality of others.
Yep, Morrisey anybody? I don’t know if you have seen but on the last tour or whatever he was selling his favourite albums by other artists signed by him and charging two hundred dollars a time, wtf! A great business man but…
M . W ; I think the thing with Morrissey is though I mean he does sort of outrage he fanbase with a lot of his politics
He is very right wing apparently isn’t he?
M . W ; Well this is the thing he did write “Bigmouth Strikes Again” back in eighty five and he did spell it out and write it in large and it was one of his biggest hits, he was, “I am going to open my mouth but you may not like it”..
True, however enough of Morrisey let us get back to you and the Mellotronics
M .W ; Yes so I sent you a copy of the vinyl album in the post
Yes you did, wonderful record.
M . W ; Do you have a favourite track or such like?
Yes but before we get to the track by track let us talk a little about guitars. We touched on that’s how you wrote the record but do you really like guitars do you have an affinity with them at all I mean do you collect them?
M . W ; I do have quite a lot of guitars it has to be said, I have fifteen guitars. Are they all the unusual ones?
M . W ; No they are all the same just in slightly different colours
HAHA well maybe that is the dandy in you?
M . W ; No it is the opposite really all my guitars do different things. It really is the totally opposite as much variety as possible. When I get with John (Klein, Mellotronics guitar player) we have two absolutely dedicated subjects that we are obsessed with, guitars and music technology so we can endlessly rap about that stuff and just see us a week on Tuesday basically
Well that is great and probably why you gel so well on the record
M . W ; Well I mean John is a staggering player. I mean in a way when he was in the Banshees (Siouxsie and) it was just not the time for the guitar in the late 80s and a lot of people think there is no guitar on that stuff when actually there is loads it was played a maverick and unconventional way that it seems almost like keyboards and he did a hell of a lot of interesting stuff and he is very innovative and comes out with very unusual choices
How did you meet him?
M . W ; Well he was just on the bill basically. We were the support act and he was playing in this kind of art project that were doing a riff on J. G Ballard. My ears pricked up when I saw he had a slot on the bill and he just came up to me and asked if he could borrow my amp and I said, “of course” and then I gave him a copy of my previous album (Yours Etc A B C) on vinyl and then the next day, I think he contacted me or the other way around and he was like, “how did you do the record?” and this is what happens when you are both doing a similar thing and you are both producers, and he obviously liked what he heard and it just went on from there really.
So then you clicked and just geek out on pick up talk haha?
M . W ; Haha. Well we first met up in Camden after some Facebook talk or whatever and I had just finished “Noisy Neighbours”
Oh right that was already there at this point?
M . W ; Yes. So I said “I’ve got this track “Noisy Neighbours” that I’ve just done and I’ll send it across to you” and then he said, “yes that sounds interesting”. So I sent it across and he gave it a “turbo charge” and he sent it back over and I was just like, “WOW! This is brilliant”. The song came from an idea but then John brings his special ingredients. He is a star and it was just great fun to record together because we do spark off one another.
So a little more about John, I think he was in specimen as well wasn’t he anything else at all?
M . W ; He has just had loads and loads of projects. He has worked on just all kinds of stuff.
Was he successful to a degree with it all?
M . W ; Well as a guitarist he has played with XTC, played with Sinead O’Connor, worked with Thomas Dolby he really does have a CV! So for us we were lucky to have this rock star hiding in plain sight, he played on the lollapalooza tour, played the Royal Albert Hall, supported Bowie on a couple of dates
M . W ; Yes
A very nice addition to your project. Ok moving on “Psychedelic Shirt” that was an early track that we spoke about before but since then you have made a video for it. Can we go a little into that being as it a very stylistic video to say the least
Click HERE to see the "Psychedelic Shirt" video on you tube
M . W ; The video was during the first lockdown and a school friend, Peter, one of my oldest friends did all the cartoon drawings that we used in the video and then Ashley Jones, who we worked with exclusively because we just get on so well together and he animated and directed and kind of worked out a narrative and Peter did the artwork to accompany it. Pete is brilliant he had this fanzine back in the day were you made photocopied versions to sell for like six pence a time. The fanzine was called “Peter” and he was in like a parallel universe that he put himself him and he would just make up characters to go with it.
Fanzines that is another lost art isn’t it? Well I guess websites are the new fanzines?
M . W ; Well Peter is still knocking around but you just don’t get the currency for it now.
No you don’t no.
M .W ; But yeah we were really, really pleased with the video
Yes it is excellent
M . W ; It does truly illustrate the song and that is the thing with “Noisy Neighbours” also that you can really draw out the things that you are touching upon in the lyrics which otherwise might be lost to a casual listen but when see it visually occurring it hits home a bit more. The same with “The Finger” video with Paul Putner who was a mate of Kevin Eldon’s who I know quite well and Paul came in and did this really excellent take on a kind of Brexiter, estate agent type who stumbles into world that he doesn’t really understand. In fact you get to actually like him more progressively as the song rolls y’know
And he gets to like himself a bit more too in the video
M . W ; Well this is thing with prejudice because it comes about from lack of experience
Yes, ignorance, just a lack of understanding
M . W ; When in fact if you are prepared to engage be more flexible and come out of your comfort zone then you can have a common experience and then you just think, “Well that’s fine”
M . W ; there is no issue No none at all.
Ok next track I want to talk about is “Imelda”. I just noted down “gothic B52’s”. The chorus with the high “Imelda” vocal line made me think of the B52’s but much darker. Do you have a thing for broken women at all?
M . W ; There are always lots of ideas in the pot for lots of different things and who knows what surfaces at what point. I think the thing with Imelda Marcos was just like she seems like a pre-Trump character that has no moral centre and very self-oriented within the grangerizing of herself and total ruthless with it and basically I downloaded the Wikipedia page about her and the song is just written from her story
The low points
M . W ; Yes and the high points. I mean is it moral? Maybe there is a silent moral tale in there that in actual fact you can only get away with things for so long and then consequence has to rear its head at some point.
Ok “Sick and Tired” the next track was this just a narrative of the time we find ourselves in (lockdown) and just the state and feeling of the country as a whole or was it something else?
M . W ; Well in fact “Sick and Tired” was the first song I wrote for the record and our current release with accompanying video.
click HERE to watch the "Sick and Tired" video on you tube
Oh! Was it really?
M . W ; Yes it was and at the time it was really a breakthrough for me because I realized that I could take each verse as being a different point of view; you, he, she, we, they. So it has different voicing about different situations through out but it also has a commonality in that it starts with something very, very petty that she is at a jamboree and he is being spied upon whilst hanging washing out on the line and then it moves onto the guy who was fed up with his next door neighbour leaving grass cuttings etc and bad gardening and then the quite interesting, I think, take on the door bell being rung and deliveries. You can’t go to the shops but you are still complaining at the time frame in which it arrives.
It seems like the frustration of the people in the song or your frustration at the people in the song?
M . W ; I think the thing was that I really wanted to build it to something that went from the trivial to something that was quite real and I remember a time in the early nineties when I was living in New York and I remember I gave some money to an homeless person outside my apartment building and as I did a guy said to me, “why have you just done that?” and I said, “because he has nothing to eat” and he goes, “don’t you know I have to walk past that everyday in order to get to my apartment” and I said to him, “Well that maybe a problem for you but think about his predicament, his life and his circumstance y’know. If you had to swap places with that person then you would see your relative complaint for being as ridiculous as it is”. So the idea was that it went from the trivial to something really quite serious but, it also chimed in in the chorus which was asking questions to each that in fact inside each of these complaints how much does it really effect me. It isn’t to invalidate the act of the complaint of course it isn’t but what it is actually to put that mirror up to yourself as you ask a complaint how much of this is “my” stuff and how much of it is “there” stuff and how much effect does it actually have on me. So in fact if you do an act of generosity to someone who really doesn’t expect it really is a revelation to them and there is a good chance that they will re- evaluate. When something totally unexpected happens it really does challenge all your notions and your judgements
Shakes your foundations sure
M . W ; I mean people are making judgements all the time and you have to remind yourself that most of the time they are completely wrong and sometimes your own judgements are wrong also so y’know give people the benefit of the doubt.
Indeed. Ok “Good Friend” the next one and I think this is my favourite track actually
M . W ; Oh is it?
Yes “king without a kingdom” is a great line and the lyric overall is really quite vitriolic I think?
M . W ; Yes you know the track by in large is a letter better not sent to a friend. The thing is with relationships sometimes that they either move forward or backwards or they stay more or less the same and occasionally you get to a point were you just think this relationship has been in reverse for so long and in fact being here is not a good experience. So it was about the end of a friendship basically and there were exasperations and I just interjected them into the song and it just worked out and ended up getting on the record. It was one of those things, the demo version was in fact a lot slower.
Oh was it?
M . W ; Yes and I sent it across to John and said, “I’ve got this song and I’m not sure if it is any good really and he said, “Leave it with me”. So John upped the BPM.
Yes possibly one of more “glam” sounding tracks on the record
M . W ; Oh you think so? Yeah I think so M . W ; Well for me “Halcyon Days” is the glamiest track on there
More on that later. Ok let us speak a little about the track “The Now”. Is it just me or is it again just a view of what we are going through at this point?
M . W ; It’s a little more about self reflection and spending time on the scene and within that preoccupation you do lose this sense of “the now” and the almost immediate pleasures. The thing about suffering from depression is, I mean it is a terrible affliction or course but at a certain point in your life unless you are really able to kind of catch yourself and establish some context over your experiences you kind of expire at some point, like the first kid to die from your home town y’know, your first good friend
M . W ; Yes reflect upon your own mortality. So “The Now” was very much this thing about, not to mastermind control at all but you do wish to be able to be in control of certain things but you do see this social aspartic sensibility with people that are just lost in the scene. So again “The Now” was very much at that point of personal assessment about were you actually are.
Yes you are on your own path and you are happy with that
M . W ; Your are talking about happiness ha-ha what’s that? David Lynch says, “Happiness makes people puke” and it shouldn’t it really shouldn’t and then the argument comes, “well what is happiness anyway”. Well happiness is possibly the notion of being contented and blessed with certain things.
M . W ; Just maybe having a more optimistic perspective on things because the thing about optimism is that it is infectious
M . W ; In every interaction you come across on your personal journey they like it and it is something you can trust and that trust really reflects back on your own existence as well just enjoying the country route and the country route is for me not being hardwired for the motorway you are just on there all day long.
Just as an aside did you watch any of the latest “Wurzel Gummidge” things on tv at all? The filming is all about just that, taking the time to take in the little country lanes you used to go down as a child and it just brings back good memories. It isn’t for children but it is child friendly and I didn’t expect it but it is just a real feel good thing that you have either forgotten or it has just got lost in the mundanity of day to day life.
M . W ; Yes those adventures and you can take that sensibility I mean that is the wonderful thing with me being quite a new father y’know I experience things through my son’s eyes and it is really fantastic to see immersion in play and you realize you have the capacity to be like that too.
M . W ; It is a revelation particularly when you are creative. It’s just the joy of making things and it rubs off on people and that’s why they enjoy it too. If you look at some of Bowie’s really early performances when Ziggy was hatched and fully formed how much enjoyment he got from those performances
Oh yes. He said that, ”he plays a part but he believes in that part right the way down the line and plays it for all it is worth” and I think that is why he connected because people just co joined and went along with him and the character.
M .W ; and he was just loving the act or performance as well. I mean I am all for y’know enjoying it and if you don’t like it that’s ok but I am performing for those who do like it, it’s kind of simplistic because if I like it then other people are going to like it too philosophy
The only philosophy really. Ok last track which we touched on briefly before “Halcyon Days” it is almost you looking back on your career and as you are quite happy with it all and you are happy to leave it behind and move on to the next thing almost and it is the last track on the record was that the idea behind it?
M . W ; The thing is that there is almost a prejudice about yano ,”this is self referential “ but ultimately everything is self referential because it is just kind of what you have experienced.
M . W ; So in any case it is just your path and what you are interested in really it is not so much about the subject matter or the way you do things its just a level of interest that you show and express. So I think a lot of stuff for me will always try and go back through things that have happened, sounds like a contradiction to “The Now” subject matter but if you like it is the constituent ingredient. The evolvement of one’s personality. So no I think there will be more reflections on things but yes a kind of resume of sorts but the thing is is that it has to have something within it’s content which is relevant to other people.
It can’t be too personalized no
M . W ; If it doesn’t go broader or have any bigger reference how can you expect other people to engage in it, identify with it. The things is about “Halcyon Days” I that it did have this great identifier that it was all about really enjoying yourself and having a great time which is what happened when I went to New York. I went to be the busboy at Banditos West that’s were Madonna used to work in the eighties, I had to get there by eleven o’clock and I checked out at five o’clock. All I had to do was set up the work stations and make sure they had clean knives and forks, serviettes and tomato sauce and with that I was able to go out all night and just about pay the rent as a result. I was there with my brother (Wash Westmoreland. Mr BBC quoter in Velvet Goldmine) at the time and we had an extraordinary time and for me it did have this “All The Young Dudes” “all You Pretty Things” vibe to it. It was a period in my life were we were part of the scene and we were the coming revolution, not that that was on our minds at all it just wasn’t important
What was the scene in New York at that time?
M . W ; It was very much the “Drag” scene in the East Village. It is kind of interesting that Ru Paul was around but she wasn’t the biggest drag queen in New York. I mean she was big don’t get me wrong. She was one of the top seven names that were banded around but she wasn’t the multi million dollar industry at that time and there was some really phenomenal talent going down at the cabaret and the other shows were just really creative and it being New York it had that “Walk On The Wildside” vibe to it just “do what you want” y’know.
Yeah “nobody cares what you, be yourself to death” as Bowie once sang. (“Shinning Star”)
M . W ; I remember when I came back from New York, ha-ha, I didn’t have anywhere to live and I had a mate who said, “I’m up in Finchley it's miles away but you can crash here for a while” and I remember going out one night in white high heeled boots and really being glared at. In New York you will get a seventy five year old man saying, “hey man I really like your shoes”.
A different mindset isn’t it
M . W ; It’s all Quentin Crisp isn’t it you know the alternative Queen’s speech he was, “what are you doing in the U.K. get your plane ticket, preferably one way and leave and join me in New York”. Interestingly on a Friday night I watched “The Naked Civil Servant” film with John hurt playing Quentin and the next night I was in The East Village and Quentin was in a store buying some cigarettes and I’m like, “Hi Quentin I saw you on TV last night in the Naked Civil Servant” and he was lovely and very affable and then when he walked out of the store and down the street I remember coming out of the same store and seeing his silhouette walking down the street and all the one way traffic moving in the opposite direction to him. Just a beautiful perfect image.
I think Quentin was New York even though he was British, you know all the decadent side of it all
M . W ; I suppose if you are English and you are coming at it from a tourist perspective but I think it is time to rephrase that “it comes from another culture”. There is obviously a tie between Anglo and American because we both love each other’s cultures but you are not completely in it so there is an aspect of being “other” in a culture that celebrates another nation.
Sounds like a fantastic time I am sure it isn’t like that now. Have you been to New York recently at all?
M . W ; I haven’t been for a good while actually I would really like to go back, I haven’t been for fifteen years or something like that. I mean my brother has a daughter who lives in New York so that is a good excuse to go over there and yes I would love to go back.
Where does your brother live then in New York still?
M . W ; He lives in LA.
Does he still do all the film work?
M . W ; Oh yes absolutely my brother has really become quite successful he had his like critical moment in 2015 were Julie Ann Moore won an Oscar for best actress.
Did he do a film with Debbie Harry too?
M . W ; “The Fluffer” that was in 2002 or something like that. I t was a really interesting snapshot on the porn industry and it’s got Debbie Harry in it so what’s not to like
M . W ; She is a lesbian strip joint manageress. You can pick it up on eBay for like two quid but then if you look hard enough you can find anything for two quid on eBay.
Do you go and see your brother very often?
M . W ; Yeah, yeah when I can the last time was probably three years ago.
Oh so not too long ago
M . W ; If you can get over it is a motorway city and everybody is in showbiz you will be fine but there are certain things you have to suspend your disbelief but I did go back and I actually quite like it. The thing is if you are into film it is the place to be. You know you go to the dentist and in the waiting room there is this massive framed picture of Marilyn Monroe or Bette Davis then on the other wall there is Humphrey Bogart then you go to the vegetable market and there is this really ornate tapestry of someone from a film in the twenties they are totally obsessed and you can see why people want to live there. Also it is such a beautiful place.
It is yes, I have been once.
M . W ; Perfect weather three hundred days a year. My brother said that he had this really “Leeds” moment there when he was in a supermarket the other day. When they were playing “Love Shack” by the B52’s and literally everybody in there just started dancing and he just thought, “this wouldn’t happen in Leeds?!”
HAHAHA No I don’t suppose it would ha-ha. So those are the tracks discussed and you are obviously very happy with the record and there has been some really great reviews can you tell us what the sales have been like?
M . W ; Oh just too early to say really at this point. I think the thing is that a lot of people have got to hear the record and know about it and it has been a very positive response but the whole album was to put the Mellotronics “on the block” really and I feel that we have done that and people are interested and it is just a case of getting through the other side of this pandemic and getting out and getting playing again and I am sure there will be plenty of people wanting to come and see us after that record.
Oh definitely. So you are obviously going to continue. Will the next record be a similar sort of affair or are you looking to change it up any?
M . W ; Well you never can tell. The thing is we are very eclectic as it is so who knows. I think there is a genre there and we know what we like and it is just a case of developing out from that point but I don’t think we would be looking to re boot and change style or whatever it will only be our second album but, lets just get together again and see what happens basically. I mean we have a little of a road map to what the interests are and there is a development from that within our ideas that maybe we might just be a little more focussed on certain other areas and as I say it is work in progress at the moment.
Well as a first album it is a very fine first manifesto for sure
M . W ; Well thank you very much
Yes and it does touch a lot of musical bases, apart from the glam thing but there is also, mentioning Debbie Harry, there is that New York post punk edge to it, early eighties, cod Reggae and an almost Dixieland break in the track “The Fear”
M . W ; Are we taking about the Terry Edwards horn break in “The Fear”, yes I mean that was quite a difficult song to write. I am very good friends with the psychologist (Georg Eifert) who wrote one of the modern major therapy books and a lot of the ideas connected to that song came from there. It was one of things, words are very important to me and when you are trying to distil a set of ideas and at the same time try not to preach and not to patronise it really is quite a delicate line
Oh yes, a razors edge
M . W ; You can write the gist of the song quite quickly but nuancing it can literally take months and sometimes the song can change at the eleventh hour as well. It’s not a Bowie process of just kind of weeding things out and finding creative alternatives from things that are pre written it is for me very much about chiselling. Not to the point that its “custard pie in the face” because as I say never under estimate the intelligence of the people who are listening to the music and if you do not they will really thank you for it. It is open ended in the terms that it is a set of ideas that you can really dig into if you wish but you don’t have to it isn’t critical to enjoying it. Looking at music you enjoy it for your own reasons and add your own attachments to it and that is completely as valid as the words themselves.
Just as an aside do you come up with all the rough ideas of the songs and then send it to John? Does it work like that?
M . W ; I spend all my time thinking about the lyrics and a lot of the instrumentation and arrangement is John’s thing. I will demo a track say but it won’t necessarily turn up like that verbatim on the final record sometimes it does sometimes it doesn’t. There is always this thing about abridging things, a different chord sequence, a different chord change where it is needed so I think the thing about writing is that everybody plays a part and I think that is the problem with the music industry because ok someone comes up with a song right but it changes so much with so much input into it and this is why a band is greater than the sum of its parts and this is why bands fall out as well because basically if you have a record that goes the writer gets all the money and then somebody who came up with a unique bass line gets nothing. The song grows into what it is known through the nuances that are added. So there is musical writing that plays a really important part, it’s the Mick Ronson roll isn’t it?
M . W ; Bowie came up with the song and the chord changes but would the records be quite as magnificent without having those little additions to them? You really have to be very sensitive to everybody’s contribution in the band because they love it and they put their soul into it then the success is shared fully with the whole band.
Perfectly put. Ok so that is the record done and we have touched slightly on gigging but can you tell us a favourite gig of yours as both artist and punter?
M . W ; Well I went to the The Smiths in 1985 on the “Queen Is Dead” tour at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on Johnny Marr’s birthday so that was a really good gig. In terms of our own gigs, well we have got it to a level in terms of how we play together but for me I think it is allowing yourself to enjoy it more, that we touched on slightly before in terms of not being particularly nervous about going on stage. You know we care about a reception it would be dishonest to say that we don’t
Do you still get nervous?
M . W ; Well I think the best way to channel nerves is to see it as being exciting, because if you do you can draw on that as your energy source and as such the performance is going to be interesting. The thing about nerves is nobody in the audience wants you to be nervous they just want you to play.
They just want to be entertained
M . W ; The thing is that sometimes when you begin you know, this is why invariably you pick a song that you are comfortable with say for instance vocal wise. People forget that behind the scenes certain tracks are pitched in area that are more comfortable for the voice than others and only singers know that which also is when there is often cover versions done by people they will change the key signature of the original song just to fit the singers voice, so we always start with something that fits really well and go from that point because then if it goes a bit wrong it is only going to be a bit where as if you start with something that is quite tricky and then it can go badly wrong.
The wheels fall off. Have you got a far as sorting a set list out?
M . W ; Yeah we did do but we will just wait to see what happens. I mean when we get back we will be able to play quite a lot of the album, I don’t think there is a track we couldn’t play even if it is an abridged version or whatever. We text all the time but we haven’t played together for a while so we will just wait until we get back into gear with it all. We were in a good place when we parked it and we will see how everybody feels when we get back in touch
Well yeah you have done great ground work and if there is any positive side to the lockdowns it is there and as such people will see it because they are actively looking for music and entertainment more so now I think
M . W ; Yes people are entertaining themselves with music and just much more stuff online and that we touched on at the start of the conversation about sales and such.
Yes and the album is a great product, the artwork is great and it is just a quality product it really is. Do you want to go into what budget you had for it at all?
M . W ; Well I say I am on the bottom rung of high end!
HAHAHA Love it, love it!
M . W ; I managed to clammer on to the bottom rung of high end. We were just working with really good people and we worked within a budget and we were able to do it without too much trouble. The thing I really enjoyed with the sleeve was I saw the artwork of Twinkle Troughton at a show at a friends gallery, a friend called Terry Tyne and I saw the Elvis Pigeonator, which is the pigeon with the Elvis quiff and I absolutely adored it on so many different levels, I won’t go into each level ha-ha and I contacted the artist and I said, “have you got anymore pictures of birds?” and she said, “yeah I’ve got quite a few” and then I found the dove with the gnarled foot and I just thought that would make a great front cover It is not completely obvious either is it when you see it.
It is a very fine looking bird and a very dramatic looking cover and almost has a gothic tone to it and it is not until you look at the cover more the gnarled foot becomes apparent.
M . W ; Well I walk with a limp, I have a strange condition and for it me it was just like “SNAP!” I am no dove I have more sensibility to the pigeon. When I found those two pictures I just thought, “ok” and the things about doves is that they are actually really industrious birds they just have bad PR. All the pigeons from Camden Town make there way up to Hampstead haha.
Yes they would all be having cream teas haha.
Talking of London, you grew up in Leeds so how did you end up in London?
M . W ; It was college basically. I was in Brighton originally for a practice course and it was just bad timing really. I didn’t like the course and it was just time to jump ship and I applied to the London Institute, LCP it was at the time, for a video course and I in fact moved out of high art and into video and I got there and everybody was miserable and I’m like, “have I made the right decision?” then I am hanging out with Kraftwerk so it was a really seminal moment for me that is you are really into something and you just follow it no matter how ludicrous you will get some kind of reward at the end of it.
Anything is possible
M . W ; Well if you go from that perspective you know you might end up a bit of the way down the ladder but the thing is at least you will be on the ladder, the bottom rung of high end. HAHA.
So we can’t be here and not touch on Jack Fairy and Velvet Goldmine
M . W ; That old chestnut!
A glam one at that though. You went through all these processes whilst you were filming and you only listened to glam rock. Is there any band or artists that resonated with you then and still are with you today?
M . W ; Well the key sort of pivotal song was “All The Young Dudes” the song I auditioned to on the VHS tape, a lot of the Bolan stuff was going down and even more sort of stuff like the tabloid glam, The Sweet etc.. was just brilliant as well
OH! We all love The Sweet
M . W ; Went as far as Slade who were completely fine a lot of reading too and going out and partying I was having the time of my life and that was the instruction.
Yes the whole resume
M . W ; You can’t come with experience of an actor but what you can do is live a little bit like a rock star!
Well that’s who you were basically
M . W ; The thing that is great about glam is it is fictitious music medium it is projecting into a fantasy version of events
M . W ; Now to a certain degree film is that also it is a completely artificial construct that glam is and when it runs on a complete parallel that is the thing that I think is wonderful about Velvet Goldmine it is that natural extension of that idea, it is a parallel universe that is already creating a diversion of itself. Maxwell Demon was Brian Eno’s band at art school y’know it’s all history that has been intermeshed and woven into the fabric of the film.
Oh I didn’t know that Maxwell Demon was Eno’s band
M . W ; Indeed but as I say Todd (Haynes) is a really forensic studier of any subject matter that he engages in and there are references and lineages to that subject through out his writing. I mean Velvet Goldmine is a marvel it really is. I mean I make a point of only seeing the movie when it is projected now. I went to see it about two years ago now with John (Klein) actually and I was like, “I missed that bit completely” there were little vignettes that are so dense and packed full of this really enchanting information that in fact we can all find new things in it.
And it is dark also for all of its glitter there is a real dark undertone to it really
M . W ; Absolutely yes there is that pile of cocaine in corner isn’t there?!
HAHAH best not to mention that
M . W ; I think also that Toni, Toni Collette is really the emotional centre of the film. That character is just really personally relaying her experience and it is so important to how you feel about the film. There was also a thing were Todd really got about understanding the relationship between the fan and the star and that’s why generation after generation of new fans get it because it captures this hormonal excitement of being a teenager and experiencing sexuality and that connection to music
Well definitely it is just timeless stuff
M . W ; It’s really clever y’know Jonathan Rhys Meyers, he is not the most likeable character within the movie by a long stretch but it isn’t bio pic territory you just don’t see them as being bad. There was a connection to Bowie’s look or Bowie’s ambition at that time but it doesn’t spoil the pudding as such. John is great in it great but he is not playing David Bowie.
I think what may have turned a lot of people off it was that it was quite “gay” in certain parts.
M . W ; Oh absolutely
And I think that wasn’t middle America mainstream territory. I think it is quintessentially British really even though it was an American directing it
M . W ; Todd is just so unique it really isn’t about from where you are from and what you have experienced. He is a twenty four hour raconteur and he just really fell in love with the music and that really comes across in the movie
And that is where all things should start with the music
M . W ; Yes if you like the film or just like the soundtrack
Yes love them both actually
M . W ; The soundtrack was a meeting of the minds with a lot of the nineties artists
Yes there was it was just passing on the torch on to a new generation much like when Marc Bolan said to the Johnny Thunders about the New York Dolls, “I am passing the glam flag on to you”
M . W ; Yes and Iggy got the Stooges back together after Velvet Goldmine they got together and performed very shortly after the film.
Talent will out as they say. One last thing when you were playing Jack was there one outfit that you thought, “no that is just too far” or did you just go with the flow?
M . W ; well I mean Sandy Powers is remarkable costumer. She can look at you and she can sculpt an outfit, costume for you from a glance quite literally and everything that was couture and made for the character with the smallest of adjustments to them just fitted like a glove. I went down there with my beard and she was like, “that’s good for you err but not for Jack” and I’m like, “err okkayyy” and she of course was completely and utterly right. I mean some of the best outfits, we did some more shots but they didn’t make it into the cut and that was at the “Death Of Glitter” show at the end of the film and I had thigh high boots and leather knickers and a top hat looking knock out and I remember walking to the stage and the production team just stopped! It was pretty stressful actually because you just couldn’t see much back there but when the lights hit the glitter it was a traffic stopper. Also as well there was another thing, I am tempted to find out the photos out but I actually haven’t done it yet. They actually shot a scene of Jack Fairy posing as a statue of Saint Sebastian and it was to be in the scene where they are doing a photo shoot in an Italian garden about a third of the way through the film
M . W ; Well that was originally going to start with a pan away from Jack on the plinth dressed as Saint Sebastian and I was just going to be in my pants, so I had six months of going down the gym, but they didn’t shoot because the make up was wrong and they said, “were not going to shoot this today we will move this to the end of the shoot”. So the day came and we shot it and as I was a big Kraftwerk fan and the very same day they were playing tribal gathering and I couldn’t go to see them because I am doing this Goldmine shoot and in the end they just didn’t end up shooting it. I will find the photos but it is a case of putting yourself on social media in your pants!
It does yeah
M . W ; well that’s were I have some reservations about it
Well we could have one for the site an exclusive, do a treatment or something on it so it just looks right
M . W ; Just do a slong photo, you know a giant Swiss roll down there
We will do something like that it will be great
M . W ; There is plenty to be proud about, don’t worry there Darren ha-ha
That’s ok then haha
M . W ; You won’t have to enhance anything haha
Ok let’s wrap up you don’t have any plans like nobody does because of the pandemic but let’s go into what music you are listening to at the moment
M . W ; Well when people ask that I think well what have I played over the last three days, let me go to the music room and see. The Only Ones first album that was today and a compilation of The Monkees, “Harvest” by Neil Young perfect lockdown music was played and the last music I bought was, I’m going through Scott Walker another Neil Young album, a Miles Davis album which was “Round About Midnight” and those arrived over the last week.
Perfect to end on “Round About Midnight”. Ok Micko I think we are all done for today, thanks again and onward and upward
M . W ; Thanks Darren it has been really nice to talk to you
And to you to it was a joy.
Interview conducted by telephone on Saturday 9th January 2021.
Photographs courtesy of Micko and the Suits vaults.