Green in the TimeOut

Green in green with catAn interview by John Lewis with Green in the London TimeOut. There is also a short review on White Bread Black Beer.

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Scritti Politti: Interview
Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside tells Time Out about his colourful journey from post-punk squat-dweller to ’80s R&B technician to Hackney ‘pub rocker’, and how he learned to play live again

As an adolescent, Green was obsessed with folk…

‘At school, I used to go to a folk club in the Newport docks area. Martin Carthy was my hero. He’s a seriously funky guitarist! At art college in Leeds, I followed Carthy around the country. I was once stranded in the middle of nowhere after one of his gigs, and Martin and Norma went completely out of their way to give me a lift home, which was lovely of them.’

He liked the way that old men urinated at folk clubs…

‘They had a way of holding their cocks while they were pissing. I found that fascinating. I wrote a lyric about it on the first album. “He held it like a cigarette/ Behind a squaddie’s back/He held it so he hid its length/And so he hid its lack.”’

He lived in a Camden Town squat…

‘It was an open house on Carol Street. There were a lot of people squatting there: Dutch anarchists, public schoolboys from Brighton, artists, musicians. We put our address on the first Scritti singles, so people who bought it would just turn up and hang out. It was extraordinary, but very exhausting.’

He once took Robert Wyatt to a Clash gig…

‘I think he was initally sceptical about punk, but was impressed by that Clash show. Many years earlier, I remember being shocked when John Peel, on his radio show, told us that Robert Wyatt had been paralysed in a fall. He gave an address to write to. I wrote a fan letter to cheer him up: “My friends at school think that the drummer in the Mahavishnu Orchestra is better than you but they’re talking rubbish! You’re the best!” When I got to know Robert through working with him, I was round his house in Twickenham and I mentioned that I’d written to him in hospital. He went into the next room and brought back an old shoe-box which had my letter in it!’

He once entered a competition in Smash Hits…

‘It was for a Tommy Boy hat. I rushed off early and sent off my entry, thinking that everybody on earth would want one. In the end, I was the only person who entered the competition. I still have it now. It’s a white acrylic beanie, about a foot tall, with black nylon breakdancers on the side. I still treasure it.’

He got into a correspondence with a philosophy professor…

‘I did a questionnaire for a teenage girls’ mag and was asked, “Who would you most like to receive a letter from?” I answered, maybe too honestly, a professor at Cardiff University called Christopher Norris. I said that his book “Reclaiming Truth” was a contribution to the critique of cultural relativism that I would heartily recommend to all readers. Which is true, by the way. And, blow me, his teenage daughter just happened to read it and ran to her father’s study to say, “Daddy! A pop star wants you to write him a letter!” I ended up having a pizza with him in Cardiff. He was a frightfully clever man.’

Miles Davis used to ring him up…

‘He recorded a version of “Perfect Way” and guested on “Oh Patti”. When I was living in Islington in the late ’80s, he’d call me up in the middle of the night, which was rather surreal. He invited me to his apartment once and asked me to have one of his paintings. I worried about it for a minute – what if I picked the wrong one? – then changed the subject. Which was a bit stupid of me. I could have had a Miles Davis painting hanging in my flat!’

Scritti Politti were asked to support The Clash…

‘This was 1977, just after my life had been changed by seeing the Clash and the Pistols and the Damned on tour in Leeds. We declined because we only had three songs! We ended up supporting pretty much everyone else at the time: The Pop Group, Gang Of Four, Echo And The Bunnymen, Slits, Cabaret Voltaire, Red Crayola, Swell Maps. I also played drums in a gig with Daniel Miller on guitar… Scritti also played with Joy Division several times. I had a very long conversation with Ian Curtis not long before he died. He didn’t strike me as a particularly happy man at the time, which won’t surprise you. But he was very thoughtful.’

He stopped playing live because he’d get panic attacks…

‘The day of a gig I’d wake up shaking, sweating, getting stomach cramps, vomiting. As I started playing two gigs a week, it became almost a permanent state of paralysis. One night, after supporting Gang Of Four, I collapsed and was taken to hospital. I thought it was a heart attack. That’s when I stopped playing live. Only much later did I realise it was an anxiety problem. I did have some cognitive behavioural therapy, which was interesting, if not that useful.’

He’s started playing live again…

‘You get less anxious with age. What’s the worst that can happen? Even if it all goes tits up – and it has – the pleasure of making music always outweighs the anxiety. My band are all friends from my local pub in Hackney, which is great.’

His new album is called ‘White Bread, Black Beer’…

‘Why? It’s pretty much all I live on – Guinness and a lovely, soft, gooey, terribly-bad-for-you white bread from the local Turkish bakery. It’s also a reference to when I worked with all these R&B musicians in New York in the ’80s – if you played something they didn’t like they’d frown and say, “Oh man, that’s so white-bread”. Meaning that it came from that “white” pop culture which is seen as largely voided of nutrition, substance, goodness, or indeed “soul”. And that definitely got my antennae going, because I’m mistrustful of “soul” and I very much like white, processed pop music. Which, in a way, is what this album celebrates.’

John Lewis, Tue May 30

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