Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"We're a celebration of everything - except life!"

Part three of our week-long Tony Ogden/World of Twist memorial: an interview with the band by me that appeared November 2 1991 in Melody Maker. It's mostly with guitarist Gordon King (Ogden's songwriting partner) and drummer Nick Sanderson, but the singer turned up near the end to make a few comments.


"When I went to see Hawkwind as a 14 year old kid," recalls Gordon King. World Of Twist's guitarist, "I was awestruck. I thought 'where the fuck do they live, what kind of people are they?!' I was fascinated. Seeing Nik Turner walking around with someone's head on a axe, behaving like a twat, or Bob Calvert narrating some of his drivel - I just thought it was a really heavy trip. 10 years later, you listen and you have a really good laugh."

That's as good an evocation of the confused drives behind 'kitschadelia' as you'll get. Kitschadelia is what happens when an aspiration to the monumentalism of pre-punk, is checked by post-punk irony. Seen through the primal gaze of the quintessential pop kid, The Sweet's plastic insurrection, Gary Glitter's barbarian bubblegum, Marc Bolan shrouded in Top Of The Pop's cheapo purple haze effects, were truly apocalyptic, genuinely alien. In retrospect, you have to laugh at the crass sensationalism, the naff, over-stated effects; at the time, your eyes were blown.

World Of Twist aren't alone in hankering for the lost innocence of what Nik Cohn called SUPERPOP. There's St Etienne, with their dreams of gold lame, limousines, and a Phil Spectoresque empire of puppet-proteges. There's Teenage Fanclub, whose Bandwagonesque is virtually a concept album about Seventies glam'n'metal. In the States, Urge Overkill's ironic-yet-awesome anthems like "The Kids Are Insane"
resurrect the stadium rock of their adolescence. Partly, bands are playing with the idea of superstardom, as a way of coming to terms with the insignificance of being a rock band in 1991. Partly, it's a genuine envy of the days when rock was titanic, hysteria-inducing, before punk demystified the process, enabled/obliged us to see through the spectacle.

"The finest age you go can through with pop is when you're thirteen," avers drummer Nick Sanderson. "It's all totally fresh, you're so obsessed."

"You can be so snobby about everything," adds Gordon. "You can be at school and everyone's into Gary Glitter and Slade - which I did like, I admit - but I'd sneer and say 'I like progressive'. I had long hair, an Afghan coat and a gas mask bag. I was three years ahead of my contemporaries, and hated by everyone. I didn't have a girlfriend til I was 18! You forget that that still goes on - there's probably some 13 year old kid with the modern equivalent of a gas mask bag with World Of Twist's logo on it, and he's sneering at the kids who like Carter".

Like Gordon, Nick was obsessed with Genesis, Bowie, Roxy Music, Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator. "If I'd known then, aged 13, that one day I'd be doing an interview with Melody Maker, the progressive paper, I'd have cried tears of absolute joy. It was my first music paper."

Gordon: "It's got the best name as well. Born in a different era. But I've got to pick you up on one thing, Simon - Melody Maker seems to have dropped the folk rock coverage. Why is that? There was some lovely, lovely bands on that scene. What happened to Gryphon?"

From their unlikely beginning as prog rock fiends, Nick and Gordon moved on to Northern Soul - all nighters, spending forty quid on rare singles. Then came punk. "When punk happened, I had to hide half my albums when people came round," remembers Gordon. "All the prog stuff."

Nick: "You had to rewrite history. It was very Stalinist. Me, I had to put all my albums at the back of the collection, make out I didn't listen to music."

Gordon: "During punk, the band that finally drove my dad into a fit of rage was XTC on So It Goes - the most innocuous of the lot. All his pent-up fury went on them".

Perhaps the most long-lasting effect of punk was irony; after the Pistols, you could never quite return to the life- and-death seriousness of imagining rock as a world-changing force. In some ways, the spirit of punk lives largest and most visible in Vic Reeves, who's as much a part of the kitschadelic sensibility as any of the bands. As it happens, Gordon's turn of phrase (lots of arch expressions like "super", "hopping mad", "slap-up nosh") is tres Vic.

Post-punk irony is both curse and blessing. Pre-punk, rock stars took themselves seriously to the point of madness.

"We recorded the album at Real World, Peter Gabriel's studio," says Gordon. "And he's a classic case of a man who's lost touch with reality. The title of the studio's so ironic. He was a childhood idol of me and Nick, and we were dead keen to meet him. But he was really shy. Worse thing is, he makes such strenous efforts to stay in contact with the real world. It's almost touching. Like he kept making cups of tea for everybody in the whole room. It's little gestures like that, where he's trying to say 'I am normal'. Yes all went mad, too."

Punk's more immediate effect, though, was to discredit the idea of spectacle, of the performer as superhuman or otherworldly. Apart from a few shamanic, glam-influenced figures like Siouxsie and Adam Ant, the main thrust of punk was demystificatory, icon-oclastic. The first group to break ranks and reinstate the idea of spectacle was The Human League - a big influence on WoT.

"The best gig I've ever seen was Human League at the Lyceum, just before the girls joined. It was just so strange. I used to go all the big, progressive shows - Hawkwind, Genesis, all the dinosaur groups - so I wasn't aware of the irony involved in the League. I just thought, after four years of sweaty pogoing and ordinary blokes onstage, that this was the kind of SHOW I'd secretly always wanted."

In fact, Human League were the first kitschadelic group, the first to go back to yesterday's idea of the future. They even covered Glitter's "Rock'N'Roll". WoT hate "politically motivated pop", bemoan the recent overdose of drab realism, lament the fact that TOTP is a barren zone, devoid of aliens and freaks. Acid house, great as it was/is, has only contributed to the new facelessness. Like the League back in '79, World Of Twist stand almost alone against the resurgence of "ordinary geezer-ism" (Carter, drongo bands, knob-twiddling rave technicians). WoT want to bring back awe, fascination, a gulf between audience and band.

"We're trying to do something a bit larger than what everyone else does. But it's not like we're really arrogant. It's just that, from when I used to go and see bands as a kid, the ones I remember are the really massive groups."

Quality Street, World Of Twist's debut album, sounds larger than life. At the risk of labouring the Human League analogy, I'd say it's a Dare for the Nineties.

"It's the only pop album available, isn't it?" says Nick.

World Of Twist dwell on a most peculiar planet of sound. The album ranges from monumental moog-mantras like "Sons Of The Stage", "The Lights" and "On The Scene", to glutinously saccharine love devotionals like "Jellybaby" and "Speed Wine". The stand-out track, "The Spring", cuts between mock- orchestral lavishness and seriously cosmic trance-rock, while cryptic lyrics conjure an Ecstasy-addled vision of pop
utopia. Bubblegum sitar, corny horn flourishes, Northern soul beats, Dave Gilmour/Loop guitar curlicues, mucoid spurts of synth, aciiied frenzy - it ought to be a mess, but the absurdly motley inputs come together like a dream.

"We're all fired up by such different things, we're too old for that unity thing," says Nick. They're an absurdly motley crew. Visual technician and Catweazle-lookalike Adge's ideal night, says Gordon, would be a rave; "my ideal night would be a Northern Soul all-nighter." Nick's would be a weeekend in pre-glasnost East Germany. He used to be morbidly obessed with the late, unlamented DDR - with the dimly lit drabness, the all-pervading misery, the surly restaurant service. "Everybody wore crap versions of Western clothes, Finnish jeans - they all looked like Mark E. Smith. I went so many times, they wouldn't let me in anymore."

And then there's crooner Tony Ogden, who (according to Gordon) listened to things like MC5 "way back when they weren't cool like they are now", but who is now more enamoured of mid-Sixties pop cabaret like The Honeycombs. "They had very peculiar sound for the time, the vocals were recorded on ten tracks, sped up and slowed down". A jittery, cagey fellow, Tony's contributions to the interview are coded and evasive. Asked where the obsession with sweets (Quality Street, "Sweets", "Jellybaby") comes from, he replies "it's a purely accidental, confectionery connection." Nick adds "'cos, personally, I'm more of a savouries man."

A lot of songs about are the exhiliration of pop, the thrill of neon-blitzed Saturday Nite, being "on the scene". Does World Of Twist music come out of your life or out of a love of pop?

Tony: "We're a celebration of pop, no doubt about it. We're a celebration of everything - except life! It's a celebration of celebration as well. There's so much celebrating going on, you wouldn't credit it. Serious!"

What's your ambition for World Of Twist, your dream state of total achievement?

"We want to make both the best and the worst record of our time."

* “a Dare for the Nineties” -- erm, not quite. Even if it hadn’t tanked totally in the marketplace, it’s no match for Dare-- the Grid weren't exactly blessed with the Martin Rushent Midas Touch, indeed their botched production gives the record a curiously muted and at times unfocused feel (they should have done it all in mono, sounds more forceful that way apparently). Still the strength of the songs shines through, just about.

**“a purely accidental, confectionery connection”
It fits WoT’s plastic fantastique pop artificieur’s vision-thing, being into all things candytastic and sugar-rushy.... makes sense they would align themselves with the processed, the refined, the non-nutritive/not-good-for-you, the non-wholesome/wholegrain (c.f. Words and Music’s antipathy to the wooden/woodsy) (c.f. Scritti on processed pop/whitebread/sweetness and the criminality thereof)
.... but I’m being naïve, it’s all code for drugs, right? Listening to Quality Street again after all these years, with the benefit of ardkore knowledge, it can seem like half the songs are obliquely hymning E….. even, or especially, the ones that present themselves as love songs ( c.f. Baby D “Let Me Be Your Fantasy”) … I mean who is this “rocket girl” who
takes me to another world” and why is the track called “Speed Wine” when those words don’t appear in the song? (I vaguely recall in the drunken after-interview phase Gordon and Nick telling me what speed wine was and then forgetting). Is it really a flesh-and-blood woman who's ”the queen of my mind” cos she makes him “come alive to the dancey music” in "Jellybaby"? Who in "Lose My Way" melts him "like the snow... ties me like a bow" and has his (straight?) friends worried sick cos he's “acting like a fool” and “she's going to make me lose my way”? And who's the "you" of "On the Scene” who makes "the moon so full/everything's soft like wool”? Even as an near-innocent in those days I could tell what the idyll of "The Spring" was about. But the best songs on the album have lurking behind or even inside the euphoria, hints of darkness... interior shadows that can only be banished by intense doses of artificial illumination... "The Lights" reads ecstastic but the delivery has a ravenous desperation, a precariousness. And then there's this unexpected aside in "Sweets":

"Life is rushing by
And I can feel it leaving
We'll all going to die
And I can't take it baby"

Tony Odgen was from Stockport-- same as Martin Fry and Paul Morley. “The Lights” made me think of the city of pop, the city of light, in Words and Music. (And also, inevitably,"Neon Lights", my favourite K-werk, and maybe the very tune Morley was thinking of when he wrote
there was absolutely nothing wooden about Kraftwerk”.) How much artificial sunshine, how much cultural E-lectricity, how much glam, is required to abolish those grey Northern skies, those lowering moors... and to resist their corollary, the downward drag of depression… ("The Storm": “I've tried a thousand times/To make the sun shine in my mind/But the mind will not be warmed/I can't release it from the storm.”

Intriguing that Morley’s next book (prefigured by this) is apparently about the idea of “North” in British music…. a reckoning with the “real” he’s so often tried to flee, a prodigal son's return to the s(t)olid ground of provincial dreariness he wrote about with such incongruous vividness in Nothing?

For what happened next after Quality Street check here and also here for stuff on the "lost WoT album" that may yet see the light of day, and also these two posts from WoTfanblogger A Hazy Day Today

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