JOHN ROBB INTERVIEW
John Robb is a legendary figure in punk-rock circles, having been at the forefront of making some fantastic music since the age of sixteen when he co-founded The Membranes in Blackpool.
Since then, John has been involved in all manner of interesting projects – and not always ones that have been music-orientated. For a start, he’s a very well-known author who has written some mesmerising books, his take on The Nineties a classic piece of culture-soaked writing that really does have to be read.
John, however, is surely best-known as the singer with popular punk-rock band Goldblade who have released high-octane records such as Hometurf, Drop the Bomb and Do U Believe In The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll?
In this exclusive interview with John, the humbled Steve Rudd gets up to speed…
Hi, John. How are you and the rest of the band?
We’re good, brother. Gigs have been going really well. Also, playing a few festivals has really helped. It’s got the word out about the band. There’s still a lot of work to do, but word of mouth is definitely making a difference. There seems to be an excitement out there about the upcoming album; people keep asking when it’s out.
And the album is really good. Normally, you wish you had done better with a new album, but this time it sounds right. I put it on when they all arrived and was jumping round the room. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
Indeed. Rebel Songs is one of Goldblade’s most revered releases to date…
The album is much more concise. It’s everything that we really do well. Twelve uplifting, powerful songs with great sing-along choruses. The songs are catchy, and the playing on them is spot-on. The guitars sound fantastic. The album is much more political.
Goldblade has long been a band that isn’t afraid to go and play in far-flung places around the world. Where have you guys had the most fun and the craziest adventures whilst on the proverbial road?
The international punk-rock scene has its tentacles everywhere. We have played some amazing gigs abroad. I guess Russia is the one. We have played massive festivals and in stadiums over there, had thousands of kids in the mosh-pit going crazy, and even got recognised on the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow!
We had to calm down their security forces a couple of time as they piled into the crowd and caused a load of grief. The kids and punks are great over there; they have so much energy and optimism. Russia is changing fast, and sometimes ‘the old guard’ are getting a bit uncomfortable with it. Being on the road, you meet a lot of people – it’s a great way to get to know a city, hang out all night, rush round the museums, check out the stone circles, try and grab everything, cram it into your head, meet everybody, see everything, and play the gig as well…
Do you think the UK music presses take enough notice of you and your music?
We got press attention when we started, but the system is about new bands and mega-bands. No-one else gets a look in. It’s not just our problem. Also, most media is run by indie music-lovers, so you will always get told The Strokes are the most important band in the world when they can’t even get a quarter as many people as, let’s say, System Of A Down. It’s a weird, lopsided view of what goes on.
On the other hand, everything carries on with or without the music press. Bands like The Levellers and New Model Army or The Stranglers hardly struggle for people going to see them, despite being ignored by the media. NME is about new bands: post-Strokes bands who come from New York, and we don’t really fit in with that. I know some of the people there, and I think the editor has done a good job turning the paper round. I think we should get more press-space because we have something good to say, and we have had our influence over several bands who are big these days.
Given the ethos of Rebel Songs, does it transpire that you guys are all rebels at heart?
Of course! We also understand the inherent contradictions in being a rock n roll rebel. We hold onto some sort of idealism, and at any opportunity we sneer at corporate culture, the way they have sucked the soul out of contemporary life, the way that councils will spend a fortune bleating on about fly-posting whilst not giving a fu*k about, let’s say, Manchester having one of the most traffic-polluted city centres in Europe, the way that they run the city centres for rich outsiders in yuppie flats and no-one else.
When you aren’t recording or touring with Goldblade, you’re writing. How do you find the time to juggle both your music career and your spurts of writing?
I get up and get on with it. I like writing and I like rocking, it’s all one and the same, it’s all about expression. There is no time to waste. I’d rather do this creative stuff than sit in the pub.
Your expansive retrospective about the Nineties was a non-fiction masterpiece which exhilaratingly covered all manner of culturally significant topics. Do you remember the decade well?
Thanks for your kind words. People kept saying that the Nineties was a decade where nothing happened, but I could have sworn there was a lot going down in the decade, so I wrote it all down and made it into a book.
So much went on that I could hardly fit it into the book, and could have done with a book twice as big. I was quite fascinated by all the contradictory pop cultures all running at the same time. It’s not as easy to define as the Sixties and the Seventies, and – for me – that makes it better. The same sort of thing has continued now: there is no easily definable pop zeitgeist moment anymore, and I like that. Whatever music scene you want is out there and is rudely healthy.
Is playing live still the ultimate adrenaline rush for you, or are you immune to it now?
Hitting the stage is still the ultimate adrenaline rush. It’s a great feeling, an amazing feeling, and – with the kind of music we have – a perfect feeling.
Do you have any comment to make about the current punk-rock scene in the UK?
There are great bands all over. We get to play with so many good groups. When we started, there were support bands who were influenced by Britpop because no-one as really playing our kind of music, but now they all play punk-rock influenced music. It has become the folk music of the small towns!
How do you feel about the fact that the classic Goldblade anthem Strictly Hardcore has been covered by so many other up-and-coming bands?
It’s an honour that anyone can be bothered to learn your song.
So what have we got to look forward to from you guys in the near future?
Some adrenalized, wild-gig action! See you down the front, or on the stage! Check out our website at www.goldblade.com
(Questions by Steve Rudd; Answers by John Robb)
Steve Rudd’s first book – published by ‘Valley Press’ – is available here