Find out more about Zoë Howe here.
An extraordinary year in many ways. How did it affect you specifically?
Not seeing family has been tough, certain things have definitely taken a toll on the mental health, although I know none of this is specific to me. In many ways though, all of this has made me hunt for and count blessings wherever I can find them, but it’s also made me quite angry, seeing how some people seem to interpret what’s been happening, and how it’s brought out ugly or just stupid sides of human behaviour. However – forgive the cliché – I think the more intense the darkness can get, the brighter the light can glow and we’re seeing the best of humanity as well as the worst.
I do feel quite fortunate in that the lockdown situations didn’t affect me as terribly as it did others (writers will relate to this): between my writing work and generally being in touch with my inner hermit, it was kind of business as usual, although I am pungently aware that this was made eminently easier to deal with by the fact I don’t live alone, or with a demanding brood of kids. It has affected work, of course, in some ways: festival appearances and events can be lifelines for writers, both financially and also in terms of actually seeing other human beings, so all of those were either cancelled or moved online (such as the brilliant Louder than Words festival), although at the same time there has been an uptick in book sales in the publishing industry generally, as people have been turning to books during the pandemic: fantastic on many levels. My husband is a professional musician – all of his work has been moved at least a year away and there has been no government support from that point of view, so I’m very fortunate that I have quite a lot of work that I can do and keep things ticking along. We’ve also been trying to move so that has all been very special. I’m not going to go into all that here, I’m not drunk enough yet.
Where did music fit in during 2020? Does it seem important?
Music is always important, even if the government or people who don’t wish to pay for it don’t appear to think so. We turn to music when life is difficult, we don’t always realise how much we rely on it.
People need to start putting themselves in the position of the artist: imagine if your livelihood is already compromised by streaming services – everyone expects music for free, so musicians rely almost entirely on the live industry to survive. Now that has been taken away temporarily, and what it will look like when it does come back is uncertain. It’s not difficult to do the maths, although often when yet another artist has to make the painful announcement that their tour has been postponed yet again, you still see fans responding grumpily to them, as if it’s some kind of whimsical decision. To some of these fans, it’s just a night out that they were looking forward to that has to be postponed. Yes, that’s annoying, but for the band, or the artist, it’s quite a lot more dramatic than that. It’s their livelihood. A lot of people get it, but a lot of people really don’t.
Perhaps all this will make some people value musicians more, who knows? I see people calling for fans to buy merch and support bands on Bandcamp more as a result, so that’s very positive. We just have to keep reminding people that musicians and artists are humans with lives and families to support, they don’t just exist when you put on your radio or go to the gig. If there’s a song or an album or a memory of a transcendent live show that you turn to like an old friend when things get tough, or just because, think about how you can feasibly support the artist behind it during this period. That way we’ll make sure musicians can keep doing what they’re doing.
If you had to pick one album to sum up this year, what would it be?
Covid 19 Volumes I & II – The Tiger Lillies. Also, the Tiger Lillies song ‘Crack of Doom’ is one I would like to dedicate to Donald Trump.
How have you got through the last 7 or 8 months?
We’ve been getting through it thanks to the following:
Quality time with the cat; watching Frasier, Tremé, Curb Your Enthusiasm; finding things to escape into; going to the woods; listening to WWOZ (independent New Orleans radio) and Cladrite Radio (a New York station playing music from the 20s, 30s, 40s.) I think I love it especially because it has absolutely nothing to do with now.
We’ve also been gorging on Anthony Bourdain’s series. He was such a special, special dude. We need Bourdain energy in 2020 to keep things real – although what he would have made of all this is anyone’s guess. He was a big punk fan and generously supported our film Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché – I always thought that was very cool of him. It makes me sad that he won’t be here to see it, although no doubt he’ll be seeing it from somewhere.
And for fellow supporters of Cliché wondering what’s happening – the film IS coming, it’s looking gorgeous and more will be revealed in due course: these things always take longer than anticipated and it had to be right. We’re all so grateful to everyone for their generosity – and their patience! It will be worth it.
Are you working on any interesting projects?
I’m Soho Radio’s resident ‘rock ’n’ roll witch’, so I’m enjoying making shows for them (The Witching Hour, 11pm-midnight Fridays once a month https://sohoradiolondon.com/schedule/). Continuing on the witchy bent, I’m also working on a non-fiction book called Witchful Thinking which will be coming out with Llewellyn at the end of next year. It’s a kind of semi-humorous handbook for the modern-day wise woman, kind of notes from a personal practice with a little rock ’n’ roll stardust thrown in. We’ve also been going through rough cuts of Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché at the moment, it’s so exciting to see it taking shape. I also must mention that my lovely publisher recently put out a new edition of my first book Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits, which includes an afterword and also a tribute to Ari Up (who passed away ten years ago this year). You can get copies here.
I’m also involved in the upcoming touring Ian Dury art exhibition ‘All Kinds of Naughty’ (Thames Group of Artist), the launch of which has been postponed (because Covid) to March 2021. Artists include Kosmo Vinyl, Sir Peter Blake, Humphrey Ocean, Tad Blower, Peter Knock, Sophy Dury and there’ll be some work of Ian’s too. I’ve chosen a lyric from ‘Plaistow Patricia’ as inspiration for my piece – (although it’s not the lyric most people think it is…).
We’ll be opening at Sophie Parkin’s Stash Gallery in central London. Details and updates here!
It’s really special to be doing this as Ian and the Blockheads are very close to my heart – I’m married to a Blockhead after all! (Dylan Howe was the drummer in the Blockheads for the last few years of Dury’s life and into the 00s.) I spent many happy hours dancing in the wings. The Blockheads also played at our wedding, which was quite tremendous, although Dylan had a deputy for that one. The ‘First Dance’ would have been a bit awkward otherwise.