.:.THIS IS NOT PARADISE.:.
Part Two of a Face-to-face Interview with Death in June
by David Tonkin
For our second meeting we arrange to rendezvous at another National Park in the foot-hills of Adelaide, situated in an area that I grew up and lived in for over twenty years. It’s like coming home, and a happy confluence of my personal and musical maturation. We sit on a bench alongside a lake where ducks meander, easing into a conversation around Douglas’ habit of collecting and archiving the minutiae of Death in June activity.
Heathen Harvest: I’ve always had the impression that you’ve archived a lot of your work over the years. You make it sound like you’ve got some sort of dank room upstairs.
Douglas P.: Yeah, it’s two attics upstairs, full of boxes with things that haven’t been looked at in years, since they were put there!
HH: So that’s for your own personal use I suppose? The intention was never to have a public record of sorts?
DP: Oh god no. No, I’m not like Gen [P-Orridge] who’s given all the Throbbing Gristle stuff to whoever. He can sell all that to all those gullible arty types! I can’t be bothered for a start and I don’t think they’re that gullible about me or Death in June anyway. This will be for my own personal archives. I mean I have big tea chest-sized boxes of fan mail from the very early days, where people would type on silver foil paper so it’s just embossed. And I can’t bring myself to throw them away even though it’s taking up a lot of room, and it’s covered in dead ants and cobwebs and things.
Or invites to the funerals of people who were quite famous. Or, just really nice things. Or, quite creepy things, like people who think you’re really just the best thing since sliced bread. You see how it changes, and you get the letter that’s saying they’re going to destroy you or something like that. I kept one in particular from one person who’s still around. I remember other fans and suddenly you get a death threat from them… but they just disappear down the drain wherever I’m reading them. The last time I was really looking at physical post was when I was in the UK: going up to BM June and coming back on the Tube to where I had my flat or a hotel. I already knew while I was going through it on the Tube, if it was really nasty it was going in the bin. You don’t take it home with you.
HH: What is it about Death in June that attracts that sort of fanaticism? Or is it that you just happen to be in the public eye?
DP: I think anyone in the public eye would get a certain amount of that anyway. Even today I was looking at some of the adverts that have appeared for the new European tour.
HH: The one with the EU stars?
DP: Yeah, and someone’s already said something snidey about it. But I thought ‘that’s good, that’s really going to work’. But they can’t resist. It’s really them saying ‘I wish I’d fucking thought of that first’, you know, really mealy-mouthed. If I met them in person I’d bitch-slap them. I’ll get around to deleting that comment. We have a really heavy hand on the delete button on Facebook and other things. We’re always monitoring it to make sure someone doesn’t hijack the public sites. It has to be like that, otherwise it would descend into a lot of the crap on Farcebook, which is what it is. 76,000+ people: they’re not all going to be sane people.
HH: You seem to have a similarly tight control over…
HH: Well yeah, that’s my point.
DP: It has to be that way.
HH: Yeah, it has to be that way, but I’m sure it’s for more than those sorts of reasons. I wondered if there were similarities with producers like Joe Meek and Phil Spector. You know, they had a very singular vision and didn’t want to compromise whatsoever. And going back to your comments from the last time we met: I asked about collaborators and you made it sound like they were—not so much hired guns—but they were brought in for very specific purposes.
DP: Yeah they were over the time. It wouldn’t be like they were mates so let’s get them in. That’s not how it works. Not interested. That’s a hobby. I’ve never been interested in hobbies, never have been.
HH: That’s something I’ve always admired about you. You’re someone who will always live according to your own Will, regardless of what impact it might have on other people. And I’m sure you’ve made plenty of enemies along the way, whether it be by your design, or otherwise. But you wouldn’t have it otherwise I’m sure.
DP: No. You wouldn’t survive otherwise. In the rarified air of what I do and what a lot of artists do, you’ve got to have that total belief and total commitment. Otherwise you’ll end up washing dishes. And there’s no point in any other approach. And everyone I’ve ever met who has been successful in one way or another, they’ve all got that about them. They were all willing to take that leap of faith in themselves, regardless of how dodgy the outcome could have possibly been.
HH: Yep. I’ve learned from my own previous mistakes what it means to compromise, even just in things like the cover artwork or something like that. I’ve got regrets, and I’ve moved on and made peace with myself, but in hindsight I wished I hadn’t been in so much of a hurry to get something out.
DP: It’s only too easy to fall foul of that and have other people take control of your project because they might have ideas. And sometimes the ideas might be good, but I have to say if I’d varied my ideas they would never have worked. And I really resent it, and know it when someone is trying to sidle up beside you and say ‘ah, but if you do it this way…’. And I’m just thinking ‘what the fuck would you know, really? [laughs] You’re just trying to get a bit of the sunshine that’s emanating from me.’ And I’ve had it quite recently: the shit hit the fan, I’m not working with that person now.
HH: Yeah, right. So how many years has it been now?
DP: Thirty-three years, almost.
HH: So to further that conversation, age hasn’t softened you in any respect then. I suspect possibly even the opposite. Are you digging your heels in even harder now?
DP: I think you have to. It’s that way of life anyway, but you realise the further out you are there’s definitely no turning back. Those days are long, long gone. And of course you’re in the twilight of your existence life-wise and career-wise in many ways. That’s why you have to make sure everything is in place now, and that’s going quite well.
I saw this review from the last tour we did in America, in Texas. And I saw it as we were walking to the Empire State Building, on the last day we were in America, in June. We went into a French restaurant to have a bite to eat and I was shown it there. And it was really quite a schizo review where it was really taking snipes at me and the group. But it was also saying it was really quite good. One of the things that the reviewer failed to understand was when he or she was saying everything that was on stage you would find in a school class, that this was nothing special… they missed the point of it because that was how it was supposed to be. I wanted to strip it back so anyone could go out and form a group without big synthesizer banks or Marshall amps. It was a return to my punk roots, as I think I mentioned earlier. And I thought ‘you’ve missed the point completely of Death in June: that you can do it still and still be—I think—pretty good.’
They admitted the songs were pretty good, and you don’t need that complicated, financially out of reach approach. I think that’s crept back in, where it’s almost like the punk days didn’t exist. People are returning to ‘the group’ which I find boring. One of the best things I’ve seen on TV is Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) sitting alone on the side of the stage with Russell Brand, and he does some weird things on the guitar and that just says like ‘fuck you’. I mean, if I see U2 it just makes me want to destroy the TV set.
HH: Oh god, yeah.
DP: Like that whole thing about their album being free. It’s gotten so bad they can’t even give their fucking stuff away.
HH: People started to refer to it as the ‘U2 virus’.
DP: I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but they’ve got images of The Ramones and latter-period Clash superimposed on their bodies. And it ends with [dramatic voice] ‘The Edge’ smashing his guitar. And I thought ‘fuck off’. It’s 2014 and not 1964, and it’s not being done in some kind of iconoclastic anti-material way that Pete Townsend or Jimi Hendrix used to do. It’s being done by a multi-millionaire to whom it doesn’t mean a thing!
HH: Yep. U2 personify everything I hate about ‘the rock band’ I think.
DP: So that sort of thing has crept back in as all pervasive I think: the whole pop group thing… no, it’s boring. I’ve seen the full Spiritual Front with a 20-piece orchestra. And that’s great, but I’ve seen Simone on his own with just an acoustic guitar and that’s brilliant too.
HH: But there are certain circles where people try to take that DIY punk aesthetic to its natural conclusion, and in doing so they’re doing exactly the opposite. They end up being the rock gods they’re supposed to be railing against. By having a very limited setup and doing the sorts of things that are expected of a particular genre.
DP: I can’t really see that sort of genre existing as a thing anymore. That’s just a mockery, you know? My eyes would glaze over. You know, a new punk group? You’re decades too late, mate!
HH: Yep. We talked about the lengthy stretch of time. Have you noticed a change in the common makeup of the Death in June audience, if there was ever such a thing? You would have seen different types of people come and go at the gigs. Are there fewer Doc Marten boots and…
DP: …not really [laughs]. Although I can see in Europe and certainly in America there’s a younger audience who weren’t even born when Death in June started, let alone when Crisis started. And that’s good. It’s been really fascinating to see how that has happened. But of course you’re still getting people like in New York last time. Someone came up to me before the show, who was wandering around because they worked at the venue or something and said ‘I saw you with Current 93 in 1990 or something, at this old Georgian house in London’. And she was so specific she obviously was there. So I thought that was quite interesting. And she was excited because this was the first time she’d seen Death in June in all those years, and she’d come back to America, and we don’t play there very often, et cetera.
So there are definitely people around who have been there since the very beginning; certainly when we play in London and in Germany. But most of the older German fans or European fans really emanate from the …Symbols Shatter period: the early ‘90s. Not too many go back beyond that. I mean I don’t interact too much anymore because I’m just too busy and it’s not appropriate for me these days to go walking through the audience. I do occasionally, but it’s not in my best interests a lot of the time. And it’s against the contract and things like that; they’re a lot more controlling with your personal safety because they’re liable with insurance or whatever. Especially in America: you can’t just wander out like it’s all carefree and gay. But I occasionally do, especially in London. It’s just to get a feeling for it, but you get hassled; you can’t wander too far and get photographs and whatnot. So it’s okay, but it stops you doing what you were going out to do. If you can do it without being seen, fine, but as soon as you get seen you have to kind of retreat to what you’ve got to do. Because you’ve got a job to do that night. I’m not saying I’m usually like that, but this is what happens.
HH: Yep, you’re just being realistic about it. But let’s pick up on that: this idea about sneaking out. I wanted to ask you about camouflage and its use in the aesthetic of Death in June. Because I know you’ve had an interest in collecting it since you were a kid, haven’t you?
DP: Yeah, the first thing I did with my paper round money when I was 12 or 13 was go and buy a Wehrmacht tunic: a summer tunic with blood down one of its arms!
HH: Right! But quite apart from the aesthetic attraction to it do you think there are comparisons to be made with psychic subterfuge?
HH: For someone like yourself, in the public eye… you’re playing with peoples’ expectations and you’re a fairly private sort of guy on the whole. And you have to sort of manipulate all of that to a degree.
DP: Well, I choose my friends—who are few and far between—very carefully. But the right people who have come into my life over the years, I’ve been very blessed with. So I’m very lucky with that. But also the wrong people have come into my life too. And that unfortunately has tainted my approach in recent years because I’m very, very careful about it. You know, today’s great collaborator and ‘friend’ can become tomorrow’s absolute shithead. So that’s changed me quite a lot. But the people who have been in my life tend to stay in my life for a long time. And I’m really happy with that and I can rely on those people.
HH: And what about “The Grass is Always Browner”—what happened to that project?
DP: That was just done as a facetious response to someone who claimed to be so left wing—and he caused some problems for Death in June in Germany—where in fact it was revealed he was in the Waffen SS! The Frundsberg Division. And I just thought I could play with the whole thing. And The Tin Drum had actually been one of my favourite films, based on his book. It was just me playing with words. Just one of those moments where suddenly it becomes easy. Just do this and see what people make of it. It was mocking someone who had set themselves up on a high moral platform. I mean, he fought till Hitler’s birthday in 1945: the day he was taken from the frontline was the 20th of April, when he was wounded. So Günter Grass was a last-ditch defender of the Reich! Then became a last-ditch defender of whatever left-wing new republic he wanted in Germany.
HH: For some reason at the time I thought it was… the fact that you had called for peoples’ interpretations—and I actually ended up doing an industrial version which I don’t think I ever sent you—I thought it was supposed to be some sort of accumulation of energy from various people. And you were doing it for some very specific purpose. But I guess that wasn’t the case at all.
DP: No, I was just having fun. Considering the grief I’d been through in Germany! It was just throwaway stuff. One of those times where I write the words really quickly. Like that song I did that everyone loves and I just think ‘that was a drunk Saturday afternoon’. I don’t give it any credence whatsoever—that was me being pissed off looking out the window in London! What’s that song called again? It’s the one I did trying to sound like John Lennon… the Death in June Christmas song…[‘Unconditional Armistice’]
HH: That doesn’t make it any less valid, surely.
DP: Oh it does, because I didn’t have to go through blood, sweat, and tears! [laughter]. And I’m not the only one who thinks this. I remember reading interviews with really famous musicians where they’re saying ‘oh yeah, this is a throwaway’. And you think ‘that’s a really great song!’ Like ‘Eight Days a Week’, for example, that John Lennon wrote for The Beatles. I absolutely love it, it’s a great song, and he said he did it without even thinking about it.
HH: It’s a bit like… as much as I hate pop music these days, it’s easy to dismiss so much of it as being written on the back of an envelope. But so much goes into it! Even if it’s not the people presenting it themselves, so much work goes into making it exactly what it was intended to be. I think people dismiss the work that goes into that stuff.
DP: Well I fully appreciate it. I remember one song on …Symbols Shatter that just wasn’t working. So I just added this drumbeat and it [snaps fingers] took it off into another direction. It really transformed it. You really need to think about those things. They’re equally as important as the initial song-writing process.
HH: And how about showmanship and performance?
DP: I just stand there don’t I?! [laughs] Hide behind the camo.
HH: Well, I guess to a point, but even if you do strip it back like you were saying before there’s a particular theatre that you bring to it.
DP: Yeah, this is ‘good cabaret’ not ‘Ute Lemper cabaret’.
HH: I thought you liked Ute Lemper!
DP: No! What a red bitch! [laughter] She’s such a fucking Communist cliché. She deserves to be in a ditch or canal with Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, that’s all I can say! No, her interviews are loathsome. And there’s so much more to cabaret than the same old Bertold Brecht and all that crap. I’m so pleased with the accordion thing because finally we’ve got a new version of cabaret instead of this usual clichéd Weimar left-wing crap! So it’s me being the MC of the evening, if that’s what the showmanship is. ‘Neo-Kabaret’.
HH: I think the last North American tour you were quite specific about relying less on the trappings like the flags and the banners, and even the mask to some extent.
DP: No, no. We had special backdrops made for America. I’m actually just doing special backdrops for the next European tour. No, that’s very important: symbols. I mean, that’s what’s important with Death in June. And people have tried to steal those flags to sell them. In fact there are bootlegs of them for sale on eBay. Symbols are very important and I still use the mask. The mask is at every performance, for sure. Where did you get that impression?
HH: I think it might have been a discussion we had once leading up to one of your tours, where you kicked it off in Adelaide in 2005.
DP: Oh, that was terrible.
HH: Well I guess you had less of an opportunity to present it in the way you would have wanted to.
DP: I would have still had the mask there, and the banner.
HH: Yeah sure. It was the gig where I had the pig mask…
DP: …and the stick and the leather. Yeah, that was all part of it. And believe me, it’s so boring just watching someone behind a fucking laptop. If you’re lucky in Europe you’ll get someone behind a laptop with a balaclava on! I mean, give it a break! That’s just pressing the fucking start button, surely. You may as well not be behind the laptop for a start.
HH: Yeah, I’ve been guilty of that, but I’ve dispensed with the laptop altogether in my own live sets.
DP: Or, put something in front of the laptop!
HH: Yeah, I know people who hide them inside boxes and stuff, so at least it makes it look like they’re doing something in there. And a lot of the time you are doing something but it doesn’t make it very interesting to look at.
DP: Volume up, volume down! [laughter]
HH: So about symbols, and more broadly, omens and coincidences: they…
DP: …happen all the time. Constantly.
HH: You obviously pay a great deal of attention to them.
DP: Happened even going to the last interview, driving to see you.
HH: Something happened on the way?
DP: Yeah, just driving and you see… [claps], oh right, that’s good. Didn’t see too much today! [laughter]
HH: So everything happens for a reason then?
DP: Well, like the song says…
HH: Yep. Now what about ‘many enemies bring much honour’?
DP: Well that’s really reverting back to sticking to your course. So if you’re intransigent and just determined it’s bound to happen.
HH: Yep. Do you enjoy having people left behind in your wake?
DP: No, I don’t even think about it. I just think that’s their destiny, that’s their choice. I mean, they always have a way of acting. You know, when people change on the circumference of a sixpence they weren’t all that sincere all along. A lot of people want to get involved with you because they want to share the limelight. It still fucking happens. Even people from the past: last year, very annoying, suddenly inviting themselves along when they weren’t welcome. Or, at least, they should have been talking to me first before making public statements. I really don’t like that, it’s like ‘where did this come from’?
And when they get put on the spot they have a hissy fit about it. No, it’s called respect. You can’t get away with stuff like that. That’s just you trying to jump on my bandwagon again.
HH: Yep. And how are your other artistic pursuits going? I think you’re a keen photographer.
DP: I was looking just yesterday at zillions of photographs taken on recent trips. I’ve got something like 17,000 on my computer. That’s one of the reasons the computer’s not working very well. You know, you’re always on the lookout for the next album sleeve or next promo shot. That’s the way I am, but I have to be in the right frame of mind. My partner and I will go out, set up the gear and click away. Actually I’m thinking of upgrading my cameras again.
HH: So all the photos you take have that intention?
DP: Oh, unless we’re in a nice beer garden in the Bavarian Alps or something we take snaps like that [laughs]. But even then… we were in the Eifel Tower last year having a meal, and the photographer was sort of ignoring the two blokes sitting together. He was going around to the others, and in fact I noticed he was ignoring the two women sitting together too. And I called him over in the end; I got fed up. And I’d carried my mask with me. It was a highfalutin restaurant on the Eifel Tower and it was blowing a storm. We went up to the top where it was really windy—it was brilliant—but by the time we got to the restaurant we looked completely disheveled. We stood at the entrance and they said, ‘are you sure you want to come in, sir?’ And we said, ‘yes’! ‘Have you looked at our menu, sir?’ We looked at the menu again, although we’d looked at it before, and said, ‘yeah’. They couldn’t believe we could afford it. Anyway, we got in and they were all around us like flies. Someone to take our coats, someone to pour us water, it was just like millions of people. And then we got ignored once we’d put the order in.
So I called the guy over and said we want you to take some photos. Then I quickly grabbed the mask, put it on, pulled over the hood that I had on the anorak I was wearing. And we did a Death in June shoot in this highfalutin restaurant. And he really got into it! Suddenly it wasn’t just taking pictures of the two queers sitting together, it was like ‘oh, we’ve got something to do’! And we bought almost all of them off him. They weren’t bad, and they ended up on the internet because there was someone saying I’d been banned from Paris. But here it was saying in the bottom right hand corner ‘Eifel Tower’ and the date and so forth.
I couldn’t resist when I went up there. You get searched at the beginning anyway because security’s very tight. ‘What is this for, sir?’ ‘Oh, it’s a carnival mask I just bought earlier’. They were thinking, ‘what are you taking this mask up for?’ I had to say I bought it at a marketplace earlier. So we got through security and went up, and the weather was just mental when we got to the top. I don’t think we ended up taking very many pictures in the storm, but I thought we got this far, we’ve got to push it a bit further.
And the lesbians got seen to after too, they got their pictures taken. But I think they didn’t have a mask with them so it wasn’t quite as enjoyable for him! It wasn’t quite the arty moment he wanted. There were all the other boring couples or the boring families all together. Boy, did they zoom in on us when Mr. Death in June appeared [laughter]. So that was a good moment. We’re always thinking about stuff like that.
HH: Did you end up finding out what happened to Occidental Martyr?
DP: No, he disappeared, just completely disappeared off the face of the earth. The last thing I heard was in 2006 when he’d done a radio interview. It could have been a repeat from sometime before because he’d done radio interviews.
HH: For his acting work?
DP: No, for Esperanto. No he just went—I had that weird message which sounded like he was being taken away somewhere. It was like, ‘I won’t be seeing you for a while’, and that was it. The phone went dead. It was really kind of noisy, and that was it. Very strange.
HH: Yeah. And how did you end up being in touch with him in the first place?
DP: Met in a mirror.
HH: A mirror?
DP: Mm, I was looking in a mirror, in the city. And he came along and started looking at me in the mirror too. It was really weird. And then we chatted. It was like this apparition came out from one side and we started talking. It was literally, we met in a mirror. I’ll always remember that, very strange.
HH: I miss his voice, from the stuff you did together.
DP: Yeah, very distinctive. And it was phenomenally successful. I can’t believe how many thousands that sold. It did very, very well.
HH: The ‘Death in June Presents…’?
DP: Yeah, Occidental Martyr did really well on 10” vinyl and CD. It was one of the ones that was going to be re-pressed when all the problems happened with World Serpent Distribution. It was one of the things I remember having a shouting match about on the telephone. My partner walked away to the garden, almost ran away. That was it. It was the final straw. They were late with payments and they wanted to repress that.
HH: So, after that, you took back control of the back catalogue.
DP: Over the years, yeah.
HH: You gave some of it away that you didn’t want to be involved in, you re-released stuff to give it the respect I suppose you wanted it to get.
DP: Well, it’s not respect. It has to be there, it sells. It’s like I was told by, in fact, people at World Serpent decades ago. It’s like a photographer: his bread and butter mainly is doing wedding photography, but he’ll sometimes get away with doing nice arty projects or, a war zone. A musician’s bread and butter is his back catalogue. You can’t afford to not have it because it’s perpetually ticking over and selling. That’s what puts food on your plate and a roof over your head.
It’s like a new album, it’s got to be kept in circulation. There’s been snidey comments about that: ‘oh, he’s always putting it out’. Well what the fuck do you expect me to do? It’s like a shoe shop that sells out of shoes. You don’t not restock! [laughter]
HH: Especially the shoes that sell the best!
DP: I can’t believe how stupid some people are. The low-level they will descend to, to try and snipe at you. ‘He’s always re-releasing his back catalogue’. It gets re-released because that’s what happens! That’s the music business. It’s like if a light bulb blows in your house, you don’t say ‘that’s that then’!
HH: It was a nice light bulb!
DP: Idiots. I sometimes think the level of criticism is so beneath contempt it’s just laughable.
HH: So what’s up next for a re-release? You just re-released ‘The Guilty Have No Pride’.
DP: Yeah. Unfortunately it took longer than expected to get out. It should have been out for the 30th anniversary last year  but it came out this year. There are three more titles I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. Unfortunately the 30th anniversary of Burial won’t be out this year, I only got notification recently that it’s just physically impossible at present. That will come out next year . But the 25th anniversary editions of The Corn Years compilation—which will be the first time on vinyl—and The Wall of Sacrifice, which will now be a double album, will be out soon. There are three extra tracks that were re-recorded in 2005/2006 that have been added to The Wall of Sacrifice. So, the vinyl back catalogue is constantly being worked on.
There are offers for all the other things as well. There are even offers for another edition of Nada!, and Nada Plus! came out three or four years ago and was done really well, but now people are headhunting me for another version.
HH: And the re-releases on vinyl—the format itself—has that given you the opportunity to revisit some of the artwork and do something special you might not have been able to do otherwise with the CD releases?
DP: A little bit. The Corn Years looks slightly different but that was iconic in the way that I used that camouflage, which started making people wear that camouflage to shows. We’d been wearing that since 1984, and The Corn Years came out in ’89, five years later. But I think seeing that on the racks in shops, coinciding with that camouflage being made more widely available—it had been sold off in militaria shops—made people come along to shows dressed in that. And still do! So that stays the same. I’ve re-jigged bits of it because there’s always new things to put on and make it different from the CDs, yeah.
Unless they’re specific, which one company is, saying it’s got to be exactly the same. That’s their whole modus operandi. It’s like with Burial: they’ve found a place that will replicate the special quilted texture of the board. It’s going to cost a lot to do. I don’t know if you’ve got the Burial album, but when it first came out it had a really quilted texture board. In fact, when the record sleeve was shrink wrapped it was like a pillow. I remember taking delivery of the initial 4000 that came to Rough Trade one day. They were so wobbly! Brilliant looking but the bumps in it… I don’t know if you’ve ever had them in this country but they reminded me of the sort of quilted coverings of a hot water bottle you would get as a child during the Winter in England. So you don’t burn yourself on the rubber they had a quilted cover.
They found a place that will do it. It’s going to be expensive, but that company, Drastic Plastic, tend to want exactly the same thing as was originally issued. And they go out and find original copies and work from them. I was very happy with the re-issue of The Guilty Have No Pride. They did a really good job. Mucked around with the logos and things and made it still in the same theme, but up to date.
HH: Now what about the upcoming European and American tours? Anything different planned there?
DP: Well John (Murphy) won’t be with us. He’s ill and I think the touring is tiring him out, and the travelling of course.
HH: He’s doing a lot of his own stuff with Last Dominion Lost at the moment, and a couple of other projects.
DP: Yeah, I found out by chance he’s working with Nikolas Schreck. All these people I used to work with are now working with each other. It’s like a career opportunity or job agency! [laughs]
HH: So is that going to change the percussion?
DP: Yeah, I think in some places. We haven’t finalised the dates yet, but in places where we were playing in last May/June I probably won’t do the percussion. I’m just going to keep it much more ‘neofolk’ or ‘neo-kabaret’. I’m going to try and do more stuff with Miro (Snejdr) on the accordion and piano, then it’s back to the Balladeer of Doom with me on guitar [laughs], depressing everyone.
I’ve actually been thinking recently why I’ve had a very strange year emotionally. And it’s dawned on me that I’m playing the guitar and playing all the songs I could possibly play. And trying to bring new ones in that I haven’t played live for years, or ever… it’s singing this stuff, it’s doing this stuff. After a while it must have an effect on you. And of course it’s re-jigging memories of why you wrote certain things. I’m not playing any of the throwaways done on a drunk Saturday afternoon.
Another reason why I think it’s got to come to an end… when everything ends on the 20th December in Italy—which is I think the last show of the Giddy Carousel Tour—I’m going to take time off. In fact, this morning I was dealing with my French promoters and they suggested shows in May. It was always going to be on the cards I was going to back in Europe in April/May, and there are offers from other countries there. But, I’m thinking we’ll get these two tours out the way and then I’ll reevaluate. Otherwise I’ll say to them it would be better to look at the end of next year . Then I’ll do as many together as possible and hit it on the head because I would really like to concentrate more—after I get back from Europe and rested—on trying to record the new material I’ve been writing which I told you about during the last meeting, and start getting a new album together. The working title of which is What Will Become of Us? And try to get it out in 2016 when I’ll be 60 years old.
HH: That will be the swan song, is that what you mean?
DP: Oh, I’ll be pleased if it even comes out. I’ve only done the music so far—the basic chords—and there are certain songs, as I said in the last interview, that could lay the cornerstones of a good album. I’ve written six or seven songs, three of which, when I start playing them I can’t get them out of my head for the rest of the day when I put the guitar down. They’ve got that earworm effect already. But of course it depends on the lyrics, which is the most difficult thing, and making sure they’re really, really good. If I never do a new album; I’m really pleased with Peaceful Snow and The Snow Bunker Tapes. I’m ecstatic the way they came out.
And in fact I heard, by chance, someone sent me a disco mix of ‘A Nausea’, I think it is, that Miro’s done. He doesn’t send them to me directly, I think he’s too embarrassed to send it, like I’m ‘the employer’. You know, ‘this is what I’m doing in my spare time!’ [laughs]. ‘Why aren’t you concentrating on your accordion playing?!’ But it was really good, and I thought if he’d had the proper tapes so he can separate the vocals more, this is a club hit. Like ‘Little Black Angel’ became, or something like that. I’ll have a word with him, who knows what’s in store, maybe we could work on something like that. I could perhaps arrange for the vocals of Peaceful Snow to be sent to him so he could work at his leisure in Dirty Martini Studios. Or wherever he chooses to work now. He seems to be a bit of an itinerant. I think he’s thinking of moving to America.
HH: Where is he now then?
DP: He’s now based in London. He left Slovakia and he’s now based in London. But when he was in America he seemed to be quite smitten with it. As he’s only 32 I said he’d better make up his mind soon. Time is ticking, if you’re going to make a new life somewhere like that.
So that’s the basic plan. I’ll see what happens with the next two tours, which are going to be exhausting.
HH: And they’re back to back, then?
DP: Yeah, I come back here I think for five days, just to basically dump stuff that I won’t be needing in Europe. It’s a different setup from what goes to America. Catch up on sleep then get on a plane. I’ve already got my tickets—I had to, to make sure I get back before Christmas. So I’m lucky, I managed to get a flight that gets me back 9:00 p.m. Christmas Eve. And I’m still working on the tickets to America, which are a bit more complicated, for Miro and myself.
So John will probably be with us throughout the European tour unless something odd goes wrong with whatever’s wrong with him at the moment. He seems to be falling to bits on several levels. But he won’t be with us in America and this will be the last American tour per se. In the future if someone’s offering some private shows…? Because there are some really good places, really good fans in America. It’s a real joy to be there. And they’ve been around for decades, some of these people I’ve known. That tour in 1997 really affected some people out there who went onto form groups. And they’ve never lost their course; they’re still there and doing things that are interesting.
We’d discussed with the booking agent there about doing a Runes and Men Festival USA, like what’s happening this weekend in Germany—it’ll be the third event in Germany, of Runes and Men—which has proved to be a really successful festival and really quite interesting. And it could work in the USA: bring a few European groups out, but mainly they’ve got some really good groups themselves in America, and developing all the time.
I might turn up at that, but it depends what happens after what is staring me right in the face at the moment. It’s best to do that, otherwise I could walk away, and never again. I don’t want to overdo things, I’ve got a lot of other stuff, and I want to catch up on that too. It’s been a really good three years. Keeping with the Rule of Thirds: don’t push it too much.
HH: Well you need to know when to call it quits on certain projects don’t you?
HH: Otherwise ‘The Young Ones’ wouldn’t have been such a good series!
DP: Actually it was weird. I was watching The Meaning of Life last night—Monty Python—and I think Ade Edmonson makes a very brief appearance in it.
HH: Does he?
DP: Yeah, and they would have been going at that time, 1983. And I should have mentioned something about the death of Rik Mayall. When The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents… came on to the television in the UK it changed humour so much for the better. It was so brilliant, so all-pervasive, and it reminded me of the time I was at school during the Monty Python period, and people would come in so influenced the next day by what they’d seen on TV the night before. Especially with The Ministry for Silly Walks and stuff like that: kids walking across the playground really weirded out. The teachers just wondered what the fuck’s going on. It pissed them off because they were just completely not in touch with Monty Python. They didn’t know what we were talking about, it drove them insane. There was that real ‘us and them’ thing. And it was the same thing that happened with The Young Ones, it was brilliant.
HH: I loved how Monty Python brought that absurdity to humour, but I preferred…
DP: The Goodies [laughs]
HH: Absolutely! Yeah, I grew up on ‘The Goodies’! But ‘The Young Ones’, it was so mean, so brutal.
DP: I was working at Rough Trade at the time, and it was the same thing as back at school during the Monty Python period. Because people were mimicking ‘Rik, the People’s Poet’ and stuff like that at Rough Trade’s warehouse. It was surreal. It was a good working atmosphere there anyhow, but it became even better.
It was excellent. The BBC in those days were willing to take risks. They’d been spotted in The Comic Strip and in these other comedy clubs in London. And then of course they got their own series with The Comic Strip Presents… on Channel 4. And I loved those; those kind of mini film things, I thought they were fantastic. Certainly those first few series. It probably petered out a little towards the end. I don’t know if you watched those.
HH: No, not those ones.
DP: You really should, they’re really worth watching, The Comic Strip Presents… Because it’s all the same people, pretty much. But with people like Keith Allen or Peter Richardson thrown in for good measure, who used to occasionally pop up in The Young Ones. Definitely seek out The Comic Strip Presents… It will probably refresh your disillusioned mind as you plummet towards early middle age [laughter].
We chat on the way back to our cars and Douglas asks after my wife who has been unwell. When parting ways at our last interview, I had remarked that he seemed well. I’ve seen him during times of upheaval, but this time he appeared settled and happy. Ever the realist, Douglas responds “happiness is merely the state of being when bad things aren’t happening in your life.”
Heilige! to that.