What was your main musical highlight of 2022?
Probably hearing and seeing Redcar – the compelling new incarnation of Christine and The Queens (disappointingly nothing to do with the seaside town in North Yorkshire). To say it’s a bit like performance art might give the impression that it’s cold and arch – it isn’t: there’s something really visceral and sexy about Redcar. I also love Redcar’s preoccupation with the Archangel Michael – I’m a big fan myself.
Have you gone to any gigs this year? How do you feel about going to live music?
A few, including a magical and very moving show by the Unthanks at Kings Lynn Festival, Penguin Cafe and Sō Percussion & Caroline Shaw (great). But we recently moved to rural Norfolk, so the local sounds are generally owls hooting and hedgehogs sipping the water we put out for them – the best sound ever, by the way. Norwich is about an hour or so away though, and that’s great for gigs; there are some really nice venues in the city.
Can you recommend an album, from any year, that doesn’t get the credit it deserves Can I have two?
(I’m not going to wait for you to say ‘no’, haha!) Both from the Thames Delta during those heady mid-70s – one would be the so-called ‘red boot’ album by Legend (Mickey Jupp and his band) – the songwriting, the playing and Jupp’s voice are just perfection. ‘Lorraine’ is one of my all-time favourite love songs; it’s so gorgeous and has this toughness and tenderness in equal measure, pure magic.
And in honour of Wilko Johnson’s passing, it has to be Malpractice by Dr Feelgood. Down By The Jetty gets much of the love, and it’s a killer debut, but to follow it up with a record like Malpractice just a few months later? They were on fire at that time, all at the top of their game and it was just an embarrassment of riches. There’s some incredible R&B on there and it’s so stripped-back and hard-boiled, they wanted it to sound as close to a live show as possible.
Blondie were very influenced by that record – Chris Stein recently shared the tale (which I think features in Julien Temple film Oil City Confidential but it’s always nice to hear it) that Clem Burke brought Malpractice back to New York after a trip to London, stuck it on the turntable at a loft party in the Bowery – attendees: literally, everyone on the New York scene – and they just played it all night. I mean, behold late 70s Clem Burke and Gary Valentine, the look they are rocking is absolutely Wilko Johnson.
Sidebar: I had a dream about Rik Mayall recently, which reminded me that he had often said he was a great admirer of Wilko – my husband Dylan (Wilko’s drummer) and I were talking about this and started watching all the old episodes of The Young Ones again and oh my god, Rik’s character – the red and black skinny suit, the short hair, the poetry book and the anarchy, the mannerisms and of course that psychotic stare – it’s so Wilko. We know he went to a few early shows, he was clearly taking notes! No greater compliment.
Do you still listen to lots of music? How do you listen to music these days?
I do, I try to listen to a wide range of stuff across various platforms not least because I get really easily set in my ways and just listen to the same stuff that I love over and over again. Songs and books become like old friends whom we love and trust, but thanks to doing the Soho Radio show (‘Rock ’n’ Roll Witch’), I try to open my ears as wide as possible, and I’m finding stuff that might not be new but is new to me – there is so much music to discover it’s almost frightening.
What sort of year have you had yourself?
Workwise it’s been a very busy year – the main thing being that my book with The Jam drummer Rick Buckler –The Jam: 1982 – about the final year of The Jam, has just been published by Omnibus Press – that was great to work on. Rick is a diamond, and as a sometimes drummer, I’m a tremendous admirer of his oeuvre. I also worked with the wondrous Lora Logic on the sleeve notes for her new album Land of Kali and box-set release Logically Yours, which have just come out via Cargo. On another tack, my book Witchful Thinking: The Wise Woman’s Handbook To Creating a Charmed Life came out in the summer via Llewellyn Worldwide, so that’s me officially out of the broom closet.
On a personal level, this year delivered more than its share of sadness as we lost the brilliant Gavin Martin in the Spring, then over the past couple of weeks, Keith Levene and Wilko Johnson: three very special people whom I was fortunate enough to count as much-loved friends, sometime mentors, and, in the cases of Levene and Johnson, sort of lovely, crazy uncle figures. So there’s been a lot to process and reflect on, but I just feel very thankful and privileged to have known them, to have memories to treasure and to have shared the experiences and conversations and affectionate, supportive friendships that we did over the years, because those guys were all beyond amazing.
Any interesting projects in the works? Are you working on another book?
I’m doing a bit of editing – currently working with Pauline Murray (Penetration, Invisible Girls), so watch this space, that will be another Omnibus Press production. I’m also working with the Royal Literary Fund and hoping to do more community-based work with them, using expressive writing in a therapeutic way. It’s hugely rewarding work: words are transformational so it is wonderful to use them in a way that can tangibly help others process stuff and empower themselves. I’m also looking to train as a voluntary adult literacy coach, as that’s something that is close to my heart. It’s easy to take for granted the ability to read, and what that gives us, and how vulnerable and disempowered we would be without it; having known brilliant people who in many cases have struggled with reading and writing because they were let down at school during their formative years, I really am looking forward to helping empower others with those skills, because they are life-changing.
Other than that I’m trying to carve out time away from the screen and the computer keyboard to do more art projects – making art and listening to the Blindboy Podcast – absolute happy place.