Blyth Power

“I THINK a lot of people might come expecting something like the Mob.”

“The thing is, a lot of people come to see us in London who I never saw at a Mob gig. And nobody came to see Zounds in any case.”

“Out of London, it’s still very strange to people. In London we’ve had whole places dancing. People are even getting special dances together to cope with the slow ones ..”

It’s not like Blyth Power avoid talking about the past. They’re quite ready to talk about the past, even if you ask them direct questions like, how much is your popularity to do with the Mob? They’re not afraid of it. They just think that what they’re doing now is a lot more important and interesting. I’m inclined to agree with them.

Josef: “At Adam & Eve’s in Leeds, they put ‘ex-Mob’ on the posters and a lot of people walked out when we didn’t play Mob songs.”

Andy: “That happened in Doncaster as well. There was about 10 people and the hall was massive. There was a skinhead sitting at the front who obviously loved the Mob and he sat there through the set and halfway through he just got up and walked out. That was the past walking out.”

If it was, it was a past that includes involvement with two very important bands in the shape of Zounds and the Mob. Josef Porta played drums for both of them (and Null & Void too for a time, but that’s another story). Curtis Youe played bass in the Mob. Neil Keenan played guitar in Faction. Andy Morgan used to manage Omega Tribe. Sarah Lewington was involved in Zounds and then the Mob from the early days.

An impressive pedigree? I suppose so, if you’re interested in pedigrees. I’m more interested in Blyth Power.

Blyth Power are a vocal band. The music seems to play more of a supporting role to the words much more than with other bands. At the same time, the drums are more than mere providers of rhythm. They become instruments in their own right, if you see what I mean. In a way it’s a pity because it doesn’t leave much for the bass and the guitar to do.

They provide a curious but attractive mechanical, repetitive quality which together with Josef’s soaring west country choirister vocals, and Sarah and Andy’s sweet and pure backing vocals, gives me an impression of a bunch of tipsy medieval musicians playing what they, not the king, really want to hear.

Anyone who buys their A Little Touch Of Harry In The Night demo also gets an intriguing little booklet with the lyrics and some other stuff too. What’s that all about?

Josef: “Throughout the lyrics, I’m aiming at a kind of flowing prose rather than clarity of meaning. They’re all about something but it may not be immediately apparent because I cloaked it in something obscure.”

Andy: “It’s not as if there’s going to be an elite created, because half the people in the band don’t know what the fuck Josef is on about either. I mean, I don’t.”

Josef: “They’re not written from the point of view of being a ‘message’ to anyone. They’re just pieces of music and the words are part of the whole thing.”

Sean from Wot: “People can have their own ideas about what the song is about. Then they’re actually thinking instead of just accepting.”

Andy: “It’s like Mark E Smith from the Fall, someone who I really admire a lot. I reckon he’s got the same ideas. You can listen to a lot of his songs and you don’t know what the fuck he’s on about. Then little bits, little phrases jump out at you. I thin k that’s a really good effect. I like songs that keep you guessing for a long time.”

Josef: “I could never write words like ‘Fuck the system’ or ‘Smash the state’. People write lines like that and then think to themselves, what rhymes with ‘state’?”

Andy: “Gate?”

Josef: “Yeah, gate. ‘Don’t just sit on the gate!’ It might have clarity of meaning but lyrics like that really grate on me and I couldn’t sing them. They’re shit.”

Did you have to make an effort not to be too self-indulgent?

Josef: “The booklet’s not an attempt to get a message across. It’s just a story to sit down and read.”

Sarah: “Murder on the Orient Express!”

Josef: “It’s about things I’m interested in because I wrote it. Maybe it is self-indulgent but people don’t have to read it.”

Sarah: “You know people will though, Josef.”

Josef: “Fuck ‘em, then!”

Do you have to explain your lyrics to people?

Josef: “If people ask, I don’t mind explaining.”

Andy: “Go on Josef, explain yourself.”

Sarah: “But that’s a one to one thing though ..”

Josef: “I don’t feel I have to explain myself. If I don’t feel like explaining the lyrics, I won’t.”

Andy: “One thing that’s really interesting to us is whether it’ll appeal to people in France and Germany, where the lyrics will be completely incomprehensible. There was this German bloke at one of our London gigs and he said he really liked it. He couldn’t really speak English at all and I said, does it mean anything to you? And he said, no, I don’t care. I just listen to it.”

We move onto talking about individual songs. In Smoke From Cromwell’s Time, you seem to be comparing Christ to Charlie Chaplin ..

Josef: “I suppose, in a way. Each verse is about something different, people like Elvis Presley. I read this hilarious cartoon about these people who kidnapped Charlie Chaplin’s body. The title comes from a short story of the same name by Joan Eicker – it’s a children’s story about an antique shop where they’ve got this big chest in with gun-smoke in from the time of the civil war.”

Sarah: “And when it gets opened, it’s still got all this gun smoke in it.”

Andy: “When I first read it, I thought it was about Irish freedom fighters. Smoke From Cromwell’s Time – he’s always on about him, Cromwell.”

Josef: “Cromwell is just such a good word to say. Cromwell!”

Andy: “He’s been dedicating it to New Model Army recently.”

Josef: “That’s cos I read an interview with them and I mildly disapprove of them. They go around and they’ve got all these swords and Roundhead helmets on their T-shirts. Why? What’ve they got to do with it? I could never wear a badge for something I wasn’t involved with. I could wear a British Railways badge because I feel involved with that ..”

Everyone cracks up.

Josef: “No, seriously. New Model Army have this big puritan image ..”

But they smoke and drink like fish.

Josef: “Right, and they probably gig on Sunday. It’s just an image.”

Christianity rears its ugly head on Under The Sea Wind, where it’s equated with the plague. Do you still feel as strongly?

Josef: “I wrote it about four years ago. I suppose my feelings about what the song means have changed a bit. I was on a heavy anti-Christian trip.”

Andy: “Listening to Josef’s lyrics, I get the feeling of putting myself in the boots of various people throughout history. Like in that one, you always get taught that St Augustine brought Christianity and everyone went, wow! Amazing! Whereas there must have been people who said, what is this guy talking about? After a bit everybody got used to it but it wasn’t anything like the stories of instant conversion.”

Josef: “What happened with Christianity, you could also is happening with anarcho-pacifism or veganism or whatever. At first it was a big thing, but it’s become acceptable now.”

All that stuff is a bit less harmful that Christianity though.

Sarah: “Christians wouldn’t agree with you there.”

Josef: “Everyone who calls themselves a Christian probably has a different view of Christianity. And people who are vegans, they don’t go on about it. You don’t know they’re vegans until you serve them something up and they can’t eat it. The people who let you know usually last about two weeks.”

Sarah: “I used to be a vegan for a long time and lived in this squat in London with 13 other people. The house split into two factions, the vegans and the vegetarians. We’d say that the vegetarians were being unfair by cooking meals with cheese in, since we only had one communal meal and one kitchen.

“And the vegetarians said that the vegans were stuck-up, self-righteous gits, which in some cases we were. But then again, they went out of their way to annoy the vegans, they went-” she holds up an imaginary piece of cheese and points before spitefully saying – “cheese!

“The whole place fell apart because of an argument about diet. And nobody cared about the place, and everyone moved out, and the whole place burned down ..”

So why was the band named after a diesel engine?

Sarah: “The train itself is actually named after Blyth Power station.”

Andy: “I really want to see Blyth Power station, it’d be great.”

Josef: “I suppose we could call ourselves the Flying Scotsman.”

Dallas: “Ivor and the Engines.”

Josef: “The name had a really nice feel to it, and I managed to make up some sort of justification for it.”

Dallas: “Blithe just means happy, doesn’t it?”

Josef: “Yeah, it means happy. Happy power! It’s just the idea that power isn’t necessarily evil. You know, you exercise power and authority over people when you tell them not to piss in the corner of your squat. That’s not bad though, that’s just common sense.”

And a smart comment to finish with? Josef looks like he’s been waiting for this one all night.

“Just say, we’re getting there ..”

[This interview was first published in Airstrip Three fanzine in late 1985]

See also interviews with the Mob and Crow People and a piece on The Curse of Zounds. You can read Josef’s thoughts on the early days of Blyth Power here

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