TONY WAKEFORD BROWN BOOK INTERVIEW
This interview with Tony Wakeford will appear in the English-language edition of The Brown Book (about Death In June, Sol Invictus and Mother Destruction) by JEAN LOUIS VAXELAIRE.
Jean reports (November 1995) delays with arranging other interviews for this forthcoming book. The Sol chapters are almost finished and if all goes well he hopes to publish in February/March 1996. The French edition, meanwhile, is available from Camion Blanc, 6 rue du Cheval Blanc, F-54000 Nancy, France. ISBN: 2-910196-02-X.
Jean is also working on a fanzine which will be mostly about World Serpent and related bands. The first issue will have interviews with Michael Cashmore, Skullflower, Ordo Equitum Solis, and Somewhere In Europe. There will also be an article about Edward Ka-Spell of Legendary Pink Dots. On a wider note there will be an interview with Tony Wakeford about literature, with Enrico Chiarparin about the arts, and a review of Jarman’s Blue etc. We have asked Jean to supply further details and will publish them here as soon as possible.
TW: It has been my policy not to answer questions with regard to Crisis and Death In June. After all with regard to my involvement in Death In June and even more so with Crisis we are talking about the distant past. As my work since 1988 has revolved around Sol Invictus and various solo projects, it is these I have preferred to talk about. But as this interview allows me the chance to answer these question hopefully for once and for all I have decided to comply with the author’s humble request. A kind heart and generous nature being among my many virtues!
The beginning of Crisis: How did you meet all the musicians?
TW: I formed Crisis with Doug around 1976. We had first met on a coach going up to a demonstration in London. No doubt showing solidarity with some hapless bunch of peasants in revolt against a vicious and no doubt badly dressed military junta. I had gone through a musical baptism of fire with a number of undeniably awful groups who are rightfully and thankfully steeped in deserved obscurity. As for the rest of Crisis they seemed to come out of the “Punk Scene” that was emerging at that time. I was going to appalling Punk clubs in London which seemed to be run entirely for the benefit of their East London gangster owners. We were even managed for a while by one such person, who, at a later date long after our non productive business relationship had come to end, allegedly ended up dead with his genitals stuffed in his mouth. Such is the cut and thrust of modern commerce!
How did you meet Patrick? Were you happy at the end of Crisis, were your relationships with the rest of the band good?
TW: I met Patrick at one of our concerts. Even in those days 6 foot 2 inch peroxide blonds with busts of Hitler attached to their leather jackets stood out. I hasten to add that this was worn as more a statement of fashion then politics. As Crisis stuttered to its end I started playing with a band he had with Richard Butler (who later joined DIJ for five minutes) called “The Runners from 84” which did not result in any earth shaking classics. We did one concert and then Pat became part of DIJ. I cannot say the concept of happiness was prevalent with anybody at the end of Crisis. A lot of people at the time thought if we had stuck together for another 6 months we would have been signed up. Who knows! Who cares! By the end the band had split into various factions. As Doug (especially) and me did all the work it just ended when Luke (the Drummer) got a job with Theatre of Hate and me and Doug walked off into the great blue yonder.
How did the idea of creating Death In June come about? What was it like working in Death In June? Was Death In June a reaction against what went before?
TW: The whole look and the name of the Group was down to Doug and to his credit. As for working together. Considering the group was made up of manic depressive psychopaths I suppose it could have been a lot worse. A number of rehearsals seemed to consist of us staring at each other in miserable silence. Then again when we were all in a reasonable mood it could be very constructive and creative. I don’t remember DIJ being a post-punk plot or conspiracy but I think at least subconsciously it was a reaction against what we had gone through before. The whole benefit circuit and the clenched fist cliches and slogans. Douglas told me that G.Travis, W. Bennett or “a group of maoists in Paris” could answer about your departure more accurately then he could.
If it’s not a personal subject could you explain what’s the meaning of his answer?
TW: Well, to be honest it is rather a touchy subject. And a subject and period I would rather forget about. We have always been plagued by rumour mongers and stirrers. People who have grudges but can only attempt to get there own back in a cowardly way. Some rumours were total fantasy and to be fair some had elements of truth to them. But If you listen to some people’s rumours I was the leader of “Aryan Storm-troopers against baby seals”. In reality I had become interested in the occult especially runes and I admit I also flirted with some rather less respectable and sensible things. I see it now as an education of sorts. Never get involved with politics be it Left, Right or Centre. Mind you I should have know that instinctively. I like to put it down to a sweet and other-worldly naivety. In reality though it was closer to a form of negative self-destruction. And with that, the subject is closed!
You started to play with Current 93. How did that come about?
TW: With Current 93 I received a phone call out of the blue from Tibet. It seemed he was looking for somewhere to stay and by accident or destiny I had a spare room. I must say on his first day he managed to destroy the phone and flood the bathroom but things got better from then on! I think we both enjoyed that period well enough. There was a number of good parties during his stay. The photos of which will remain in a Swiss bank vault. As he was living in my flat it just evolved that I started coming along to recording sessions. I think “Imperium” was the first session I was on. I played some bass and keyboards. It was enjoyable for me but I think Tibet was quite ill at the time and worried about it. Which, comes out in the mood of the recordings.
Why did you form Sol? Was it a real need to create or something else? Douglas said he wanted you to leave DIJ because you did not want to experiment with new things? But never the less Sol’s music was quite different to the material you wrote for DIJ. Was it your intention that Sol’s music would be more acoustic? If you had stayed in DIJ what path would it have taken?
TW: With Sol it was the result of coming out of a tunnel of disillusionment and depression. I just woke up one day and realised I was going nowhere fast. I had been suffering up until then, as I have mentioned, from an element of self-destructiveness in my character. After I had departed DIJ and after the initial shock. I still continued to write. It just seemed pointless not to do anything with the songs. After all it’s about the only thing I am any good at. So I started thinking about recording again. I had always played bass which is probably not the best instrument for writing songs especially not in the direction I wanted to go. So I just went in to town and bought an acoustic guitar and taught myself. Because I had always played bass I played the acoustic more like that. Single notes rather than chords. In fact I still do not know any proper chords as many no doubt can hear. Sorry! As for not wanting to experiment with DIJ. Well, I was singing (which I really hated) and playing bass and I did write quite a lot of the material while I was a member. I am sure there’s some truth to what Doug said. I am not the most innovative and avant-garde musician in the cosmos. As I learnt guitar on an acoustic it evolved into the sound. I never planned and never have planned to sound or not sound like anyone else. I cannot say what would have happened had I remained in DIJ. Something dreadful probably. Looking back now it was inevitable that the group as it was would implode. The fact that Pat also departed quite soon after says a lot, I think. We were all destined to do our own thing. To quote the old cliche ,”Too many cooks….” Although I have to admit it was something of a blow at the time. In hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened to me and to all of us.
I have heard you have worked with Douglas a few years ago but that you were not satisfied with the results. When have you worked with him? Have you got another project with him?
TW: This is yet another of these myths with no basis in fact. The only times I worked with Doug was (if my memory serves me well) in Current 93 and with NON. I played bass on one track when the recording of “Music, Martinis…” started in Japan. I always thought it was very good of them to give me a full credit considering the small amount I contributed to it. I have no idea where these weird and wonderful rumours come from. I am sure there is some nut in a attic somewhere making them up. Needles to say neither I nor Doug have any dates pencilled in our diaries for “another project”.
What do you think of the several DIJ releases on EYAS MEDIA? Are you still in touch with Patrick?
TW: Well, to be honest I cannot say they fill me with joy. Considering the amount of me that’s on “Oh How We Laughed” it would have been nice to have been consulted before it came out. I was not informed let alone asked how I felt about it. As for money….! The cassettes of the “Archive” material could have looked better. I think the image of DIJ deserved and deserves better then that. Maybe I am just being bitchy but it just seems like harking back to the past. Pat is really talented and I think he could have put his talents to better use. But this is just my opinion and no more valid then anyone else’s. I am sure Patrick’s got his own opinion on this. And it is all such a long time ago. It’s the present and future that concerns me. I wish Pat well but we are not in contact and I cannot really see that changing.
Can you tell me what interests you in magic? As I do not think your experiences involve Satanism, goats, long tunics and animal sacrifice, can you explain what magic can bring to you?
TW: Well at present I have next to no interest in magic as such. Especially if you mean the “Occult Scene”. In fact I can quite understand why chickens and goats are so popular in rituals. They are more interesting and have a lot more going for them then many of the idiots dancing round them in circles. I just wish the chickens and goats would get together and start sacrificing the magicians. The world I am sure would be a happier place! As I have said before when asked, depending on my mood, magic can be very important or meaningless. To me it’s something you either do or you don’t do. I leave it to others (and there are plenty) to spout their opinions.
Douglas, Patrick and Tibet and you are all talking of runes and Nordic mythology. Its quite strange you are all interested in it.
TW: There is a strange synchronicity that sometimes happens. People often pick up on things independently. My interest in runes started just as DIJ formed. I remember going to a rehearsal with a life rune badge on. Although my knowledge then was not exactly impressive. Not that it is now I hasten to add. Later I got involved in Viking reenactment which involved dressing up and hitting each other with axes. It sounds juvenile, but was a lot of fun. It also involved a lot more then that. Obviously, the runes in particular and paganism in general were all part of it.
Gareth Smith who played on your first LP strangely disappeared. What happened to him?
TW: Well, after he had left I erased what he had done (which was not a lot) in a fit of pique. He got involved in things I did not want to be connected to. He was offered a choice. He decided this outside interest was more important then Sol which is fair enough. But we parted company. End of story. There is no shallow grave in a wood containing his remains.
After the release of your first LP on LAYLAH, the second was also planned for release on the same label. What happened? In the lyrics of “Lex Talionis”, you said : ” The World is full of Gods and Beasts ” What does this mean? who are the Gods and Beasts?
TW: I am a little old fashioned in that when I release a record and it sells a reasonable amount I like to get paid. This was an alien concept to LAYLAH as it is to many record companies. As for “Gods & Beasts”. Just look around. There are those who try and create and seek to rise above the mediocre. There are also those who sink not just into mediocrity but into a brutalized and brutalizing anti-culture.They are everywhere. They are walking death and the nemesis of any hope.
Why has the song “Reynardine” disappeared from the “Lex Talionis” CD?
TW: When it came to putting “Lex” on to CD I thought it would be a chance to alter and hopefully improve certain things. So I re-mixed the album and when I discovered some words of a traditional folk song they just seemed to fit. This was also the CD that saw me using the talents of Denis Blackham (the king of the “cross fade”) at Porky’s. As for the years between “Against The Modern World” and “Lex”. It just took a long time. A number of the tracks were re-mixed ad nauseam. And I must say Tibet gave me some useful advice. At one stage it could have easily turned out a terrible mess. I think I must have re-mixed “Tooth And Claw” around five times before it came out ok. Never again!
In Japan you played with NON and you were also one of Boyd Rice’s friends on “Music,Martinis…”, but as far as I know you did not write any music for these projects. What was your exact part? Do you agree with Boyd’s lyrics…?
TW: With NON playing Live I was just second drummer on the left. I enjoyed it and think I managed to keep time ok. Boyd used some old lyrics of mine that he liked. He changed them slightly. And of course I played the bass on one track on “Music,Martinis…” which I was more than happy to do. I think it’s a great album. Not that that’s due to me. Boyd has a brilliant sense of humour and although I have not seen him for quite a while I like him very much. I cannot say I agree with everything he says or supposedly gets up to. But so what?
I have heard that in 1992 there was a NON project in Amiens in which you should have been involved. And that on the same day you would also have played old DIJ songs with Douglas and James Mannox.Why did this project never happen and does the idea of playing songs from “The guilty have no pride” still interest you?
TW: I heard these rumours too. I think there was some idea going about that this might happen. Needless to say nothing did. To be honest the idea of playing old “DIJ” tracks does not really interest me any more than I should think it does Doug. I have re-recorded a couple of old DIJ songs that I wrote but that’s different to going on stage and doing the old numbers.
You have recorded an LP with Steven Stapleton which is quite different to Sol. Why did you record this LP and do you think you will record again with him? On which NWW records did you collaborate? Are there other people you would like to work with on a similar project? You have written music for Current 93 in the past but it seems this collaboration has ended. Why have you not played with Tibet again?
TW: I very much enjoyed recording with Steve. The idea came about when both I and Steve were working with Tibet at IPS in York. We were working on “Crooked Crosses”. “Selfish Shellfish” was good for me as I can be mind numbingly traditional when it comes to recording. Something you cannot accuse Steve of. It is not the greatest seller. Indeed I think quite a few got returned when it first came out. Too weird for some Sol people and too traditional for the NWW beardie weirdies. But I think it has become more accepted as time has gone by. I played bass and sang on “I Am The Poison” and my plodding bass can be heard on “Coloorta Moon”. There are no plans to work together again. I have not seen Steve for years which is a pity but he seems happy in his Irish idyll. Good luck to him. I have always had a perverse desire to do a album with Karl Blake. We could call it “Music, Dandelion and Burdock and Misogyny”. Karl is a notorious non-drinker. Seriously, I do not have any plans at present. There was a stage when everybody seemed to be playing on each other’s records and certainly all the groups at least appeared more connected. I remember getting a letter asking if we all lived together in one big house!!!! God forbid. A recipe for mass murder and suicide if there ever was! Of course there are things that connect us and I enjoy very much what the other groups do. But we are all separate and on our own paths. I like Sol to have its own identity. When Tibet moved out of chez Wakeford it was obvious that he would work with other people. He now uses James Cashmore who is a very good musician even if he does come from Birmingham.
Why did you use Karl Blake as a bassist when he is a singer and guitarist with Shock Headed Peters? You have said you hate singing, have you ever thought of getting someone else to sing your songs or are your songs too personal to be interpreted by someone else? The lineup is often changing: how do you choose the people that play for you?
TW: Why did I use Karl Blake? I often wonder. I like Karl very much and thought “Not Born Beautiful” was an excellent and underrated work. I actually played in one of Karl’s projects “British Racing Green” for a while. But as anyone knows who has had the dubious honour of playing in one of HIS bands he turns into a Stalinist dictator. If you’re five minutes late for a rehearsal you find yourself breaking stones in the Blakey gulag. Anyway, I like working with Karl when he is under my benign and enlightened dictatorship. He has been away for a while studying. Thanks to the generosity of taxpayers such as myself. This happily has now come to an end so I hope to get some of my squandered money back through future recording. I did until recently hate singing. But I think I have improved a little so it is not quite such an onerous task as it was. In the past of course others have sung my songs. But I have to admit I did feel a little uncomfortable about it. That is no reflection on Ian who sang in Sol. I would have felt the same whoever it was. Now that the words are probably more personal I cannot see anyone else singing them. Actually the line-up has stayed the same for quite a while. I met Nick Hall when I was involved in magic but did not hold this against him. David of course has had a long connection with Karl and now of course also has his solo work. Sarah has been in Sol for a long time and I must say I find it hard to imagine Sol without a cello. I think the line-up is fairly permanent. The basis is Sarah, David and Karl and when I desire the sound of live drums beaten at great volume, Nick.
Your music is typically English but it seems that the UK is the country where you sell the least amount of records. How do you explain this paradox?
TW: Well, there are plenty of things that I used to think were “typically English” that are now out of fashion. Good manners for instance. All the groups sell more abroad then they do at home. I suppose I could spend days trying to analyze why this is. I just put it down to the abyss of ugliness and stupidity that this country seems happily to be sliding into. So there!
Whose voices are on the beginnings of “Gold Is King” and “La Croix”? Until recently you have not printed the lyrics on your sleaves. Why is this?
TW: The voice at the beginning of “Gold Is King” is Ezra Pound and on “La Croix” is Antonin Artaud. Two mad poets. I have a soft spot for mad dead poets. For one thing you don’t have to pay them. Call me old fashioned but that’s just the way I am. For a long time I was quite self conscious about my lyrics. I used to think that people should work them out for themselves. Why should everything be in black and white? Why does everything have to be made easy? But as English is a second language to most of my listeners this was perhaps more then a little unfair. Which is one of the reasons why “The Unconquered Sun” came about.
You have only participated on two various artists CDs, “Sacred War” and “Lamp of the Invisible Light.” Why did you choose these and not other projects you had been offered?
TW: I have to be honest and admit I do not like compilations. I regret having anything on “Sacred War”. Originally it was meant to have Manson on it and in a fit of infantilism I thought it would be fun to be on the same CD. Needless to say he was not on it. Proving at least that he cannot be as mad as they say. So it serves me right for being so juvenile. Willi and Rose are very good friends of mine. So the least I could do is let them have one listenable thing to put out on there label Cthulhu! Seriously, they put a lot of time and effort into the artwork and packaging and I was happy to be on it. I like what we did. I have recorded a track on their new compilation but I cannot see me doing anything on anyone else’s.
What have you done in America?
TW: I have played two solo concerts in New York while suffering from varying degrees of jet lag. Two friends of mine who live there organised the concerts. I like New York which horrifies some of the more precious people who like my work. New York is capitalism’s capital city. It’s a beautiful monster and appeals to my not under developed taste for over indulgence. I like the feel of it. I feel it’s like being in Rome when the Empire fell.
It surprises me that you did not write “La Croix” entirely on your own. Why did you work with David Mellor: why is he present on your solo record? Why was it not a Sol record?
TW: David played piano and organ on the recording and also did an awful lot of pre- and post-production work. I am not a classical musician. I cannot write music. If I am working with a string quartet it is fairly obvious I would need someone like David who speaks and writes their language. Without David’s input “La Croix” would never have happened. Also without the help of Adiaphora it would have been impossible. I consider it, like “Selfish Shellfish”, a departure from my work with Sol. It was a lot more classical in concept and a lot more instrumental. You may disagree. That is up to you.
What was SVL. And why was the first release number 009?
TW: SVL was my first label. When I was kidnapped by “World Serpent” and forced to work for them I needed a new label. Which is when the multinational conglomerate known as “Tursa” reared its head. I chose to number my first release SVL 009 so train spotter type record collectors would search without hope for the first eight releases. Silly but true.
I consider Sol less ambiguous then DIJ. Is it a conscious decision?
TW: Well, Sol is a different group to DIJ. I and DIJ parted company over 12 years ago. So it is not a matter of conscious decisions. Death In June is Doug’s group just as Sol Invictus is mine. Sol represents or attempts to represent my obsessions and desires. It is a vehicle for those obsessions and desires. I do not sit around thinking of Sol in relation to Death in June or anyone else. I just do what I do. I don’t analyze what I do. I dare not. I am miserable enough without that kind of endless introspection.
What is your vision of Europe?
TW: I think vision is perhaps a little overblown for how I at present see things. But I must admit it is one of my obsessions. I feel at home in Europe and have a number of good friends there. But a lot of what is happening does not fill me with enthusiasm. It still seems that people are happy to define themselves with flags and the dead weight of states. They probably always will. I prefer to see Europe as a collection of regions. I think on the whole they are healthier reflections of a people and its culture than the promotion of mainly eighteenth and nineteenth century nation states. This type of nationalism has dragged us into the blood baths of the past. But human nature being what it is means that to many the mob mentality is a more comfortable home. Europe needs to keep the best of it’s past while moving forward but sadly there seems to be a growing nostalgia for all the failed ideologies of the past. The Americanization of European culture (and everybody else’s for that matter) seems to be unstoppable. Perhaps it’s what most people really want! A dollar valium. For me, there are those people I care about and that’s about it. I am a pessimist with regard to the future. Only a fool could be optimistic. Only the village idiot is happy with banality at the door and barbarism on the horizon.
Introductory note updated: 10 December 1995
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