Interview with Richard Sanderson
Some of you will not have heard of my friend Richard Sanderson. We've known each other for over 30 years, growing up In the North East of England. Richard is a cousin of my best pal, Mark Sanderson. We used to hang out when Richard visited his family. Over the years, we would share our record collections and go to concerts together. Richard, Mark and I (with Richards Dad) went to see our first ever concert together In Middlesbrough Town Hall In 1975 by a new and upcoming band called Kraftwerk. I can remember us seeing XTC, Magazine and many other bands. We were also in our first ever band together, Solaris (Jah Wobble has since nicked the name). We then branched out into slightly different directions (I joined the school cover band) before meeting up again at the tail end of punk to form Drop. I left before Drop started to get attention. I think they were a fantastic band. Richard and I parted company for several years whilst I went away to College. Richard busied himself with a succession of Middlesbrough based bands. We properly met up again in about 1984. Richard was playing solo gigs under the name The Euphoria Case and was putting together a band. I had started to play the drums again and I joined the band, which already had a drummer, Ronnie Burke so we decided to have two drummers. In little more than six months I think we developed into a really tight band, playing loads of gigs, making a demo and attracting interest from record companies. Richard then 'quit', which was a bit of a problem for us as he sang, played guitar, wrote the songs and we rehearsed at his long suffering parents house! Even now I shudder to think about how horrible it must have been for them, year after year enduring our music. I have absolute confidence that The Euphoria Case would have been huge.
Richard moved to London to train as a Teacher. The rest of us continued for a while in various guises. Richard started to make music again. We then began to send each other little taped letters, using Dictaphones and in 1992 got together in London and did two recording sessions. I then moved to Canada.
Richard became increasingly interested in free improvised music and, we developed similar preoccupations in continental isolation from each other.
We both started to use toys in our music for example. He is a mainstay of the scene in London and has worked with all sorts of people, in a bewildering array of projects.
When Richard says something, he most certainly means it. I love his honesty, even after we've clashed swords everything always feels all right between us.
You can check out his website:
We hope to release something together soon on Invisible Records. If things work out, we hope to also play some shows together.
Over to Richard, in dialogue with me.
Mark: Why do you want to make music?
Richard: It's the easiest way to get to hear the sort of music I like!
Seriously though, if I could have my time again, I wouldn't be a musician, I'd be a scientist of some sort - do something useful. These days I find I have to force myself to be creative; I suspect that if I wasn't offered gigs and stuff, I'd probably just stop. I strongly disagree with the concept of the artist who's compelled to create.
Mark: I know what you mean and I agree with your latter point. I feel wholly suspicious of those who claim creative martyrdom. I decide to create in the same way that I decide to do other things. Variable factors include things like motivation, incentives and relationships. There are dynamic factors, that affect engagement in activity. What surprises (and impresses) me about you Richard, is that you've persisted longer than most and have obviously done so because of a drive or passion for what you do. I have met many young musicians in the USA who want to 'make it' as musicians but are seemingly not willing to play live, nor to accept gigs in small venues for little or no money, nor to deal with record companies that don't meet their expectations.
Mark: What would you advise these people?
Richard: I would point out that it's actually a lot easier to do things for yourself than people would imagine. You've got to realise that there's a whole industry out there which feeds off the desire to succeed in music, and in most cases it's a terrible rip off. The most obvious examples being venues where at best you'll be treated with contempt by jaded sound-men, at worst its "pay to play". This is how I would put on a gig today- 1) book a back room of a pub- one which they'll let you have for free in exchange for a few beer drinking punters 2) get your advertising out to the listings mags in good time 3) Photocopy hundreds of groovy fliers and take them to every decent like-minded gig in town, leave them on workmates desks etc 4) email everyone in your address book 5) Get a mate to do the door 6) Play acoustically, or link up a minimixer to a small hi-fi 7) Welcome everybody that comes to your gig personally 8) Play a blinding gig. Your only outlay will be the fliers - and if you use a lot of gear, transport. If you don't make a profit after that....go back to mailing out CDRs to Polygram.
Mark: Tell the kids why Nirvana were so uncommonly un-cool to claim that they broke punk rock...
Richard: Did they? Oh dear... It's like saying "we brought the underground over-ground," nothing to be proud of. It's difficult to care about this...Nirvana weren't so bad- good lyrics, great voice- it was all those horrid sub-metal bands that came in their wake that were truly dreadful, they were about as "punk" as The Knack.
Mark: Oh yes my friend, they or their record company said it. Maybe Kurt would have been too smart to have said it but those in the generation(s) below us, seemed to swallow it. I've had many an argument with people in the States about this. Richard, tell me what punk did for music in the UK and more specifically, for you. Did it have a wider social or political impact?
Richard: For a few months it polarised everything (or at least it seemed like that to me at the time (I was 16), you were either part of it, or a boring old fart. I think that kind of choice is important in those early opinion-forming days! That kind of attitude still exists with a lot of people in England, especially politically, that everything can be split into black and white, right and wrong, left and right. It's nonsense of course, but you can understand the appeal. The more obvious thing is that it instilled a sense of do-it -yourself which still lives with me now. Musically- I'm not so convinced now- all the punk groups I really liked- The Fall and Wire for example, were fairly obviously listening to "head music" in the mid-seventies, whereas the dull groups were into r&b and Bowie.
Mark: If you were to describe Middlesbrough to someone from Tucson, Arizona, what would you say?
Richard: It's a concentrated version of Pittsburgh. Lots of disused and extraordinary industrial architecture (See Bernd & Hilla Becher). It's tough, full of "Men's men". At night it has an amazing crystalline beauty and a low level humming drone. It's close to the sea and the very wonderful North Yorkshire moors.
Mark: I can see why Cleveland Ohio was named after Cleveland (in the U.K., where Richard and I are from). I love Cleveland and Pittsburgh, partly for this reason.
Mark: So what impact might this kind of (once) industrial landscape have on the music that is created?
Richard: It's tempting to say that that's why I enjoy a good drone! But I doubt it would be true...Cleveland's a very tough place (too tough for softy like me) and that was certainly reflected in the fact that heavy metal and idiot punk were very popular, and these days I gather Techno is huge there. Of course traditional music, such as that to accompany longsword dancing was directly related to the ironstone mining tradition and there are loads of industrial (in the true sense) folks songs and songs about "bonny fisher lads" from the area. Wonderful stuff, if a somewhat minority interest these days. The Redcar Sword dancers are great though and still performing.
Mark: Morrissey once famously said, "Reggae is vile." He's now signed to and scouting for a reggae label. Comment.
Richard: He's since (rather disingenuously) said that he was joking and nobody got it. The terrible thing is I agreed with him at the time, and I suspect his flippancy caused more damage than he imagined. We were both completely wrong, and we're both allowed to change our minds. I love 70's roots reggae now- especially toasters like U-Roy.
Mark: I'm not gloating by the way! I have way too many musical skeletons in my closet.
Mark: Whom would you rather meet and why, Samuel Beckett, Tommy Cooper, George Best, Trotsky, Norman Wisdom.
Richard: Tommy Cooper- I suspect he would have been very amusing company and would have enjoyed a pint or two of real ale. George Best and Trotsky would be crashing bores. You could probably have a good chat about Beckett with Norman Wisdom- which would be preferable to chatting to Beckett himself whom I imagine to be a touchy old crow.
Mark: I'm interested in all of these people, for their vulnerabilities as much as what they actually did. Cooper made a career out of being a buffoon, something I greatly admire. Best was a genius, and his sordid spiral into alcohol hell was nothing but pitiful. Trotsky liked cats and rabbits I gather. Funny to think of him saying sweet nothings in a rabbit's ear. Beckett was a monumental grouch and I love his darkness enveloped in a sense of humour that Vic Reeves would be proud of. Norman Wisdom was designed to make people feel sad.
Mark: I know you have a penchant for lists, who would you like to add to this list and why?
Richard: Claire Rayner- a terrific woman, and a superb and active atheist (she recently came out of a near death experience and very proudly announced she'd seen no tunnels or lights- top girl!)
Kev Hopper- of Ticklish and (once) Stump. A very good friend and amazing musician- and always up for an intelligent argument.
Carl Sagan- Astronomer, I never took any notice of "Cosmos" when it was on the telly, but I picked up his book "The Demon Haunted World; Science as a Beacon in the Dark" in Oxfam after he died and it changed my life.
Polly Toynbee- A great humanist, and true hero of the soft left! I'm afraid for me sensible is sexy these days!
Add Richard Dawkins, Martin Carthy, Nick Cohen, JG Ballard and Beethoven and I'd be happy. Although I doubt whether Beethoven would get on with all the atheists in the room, but he was a cantankerous bugger anyway by all accounts.
Mark: Sooty or Sweep? You decide. (Note to North American readers: Sooty and Sweep were a pair of glove puppets, a TV show that was immensely popular when Richard and I were young. Sooty said nothing but was a greasy little butter wouldn't melt in your mouth kind of angel-cake. Sweep was a dog who spoke like one of those squeezy doggy toys. He was always getting himself into trouble. There are a gazillion web sites about Sooty and Sweep.
Richard: Sweep, I've always liked the underdog. And let's not forget his contribution to free jazz and improvised music in the 1970's. (Will Sooty and Sweep mean anything to your American readers?)
Mark: Can long hair be forgiven?
Richard: No- it's the most rubbish, lazy shorthand for "counter-culture" there is. I look at pictures of jamming bands like Jackie O MF or Godspeed You! Black Emperor and I think "you can't be bothered"....
Mark: If you were to have a thirty-minute long, one on one meeting with George Bush, what would be on your agenda?
Richard: I'd rather not be there, as I don't imagine we'd get on. But if I must, I imagine The Environment would be pretty high. I'd also like to point out that the only reason he's still President is that he was lucky enough to cross the path of someone who was an even loonier, bigger mass murdering religious zealot than he is.
Mark: Ditto, times two.
Mark: One line comments please on:
They should re-issue the album at mid price. Possibly better than the Beatles.
I loathe all sport, but especially football and its fans (present company excepted!)- many a night ruined by loud aggressive boorish males into football...ugh!
For cartoon intellectuals with too much time on their hands. Horrible.
Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
Brilliant examples of the unique humour of the North East. See also "Viz"...
Never been! Birthplace of such essential characters as Ronnie Burke, Paul Brazil and Jeff Butterfield.
(Mark: All are musicians from Hartlepool that have worked with Richard)
Only solid body electrics count. More than one effect pedal is unnecessary and ostentatious.
A wonderful composer and person. Converted me to the accordion.
"Trainspotting" is great, but has been overdone. Read James Kelman who taught him everything he knows and is better.
The News of the World
Horrible, but not as horrible and evil as the Daily Mail.
I do love cats. Haven't got one though...nor will I get one. Other peoples' moggies will do me.
A beautiful thing. I used to walk across it, which was amazing, until they stopped you doing it.
A great English musician- knew his folk too.
Mark: What stops you from sleeping at night?
Richard: The nagging suspicion that I've behaved like an offensively rude idiot whilst drunk. People who believe in pseudo-science, UFO's etc also worry me greatly.
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