Andy Wood Takeover Week on MPT continues with an interview with the ever garrulous Edinburgh School for the Deaf.
For me anyway, Saint Jude’s Infirmary will always be one of the great ‘lost’ Scottish bands of all time. Over two albums, a handful of singles and loads of memorable gigs I’d followed them. After they imploded messily shortly after the release of the ominously titled second album This Has Been The Death Of Us I was pretty gutted. However, the album was a pretty substantial epitaph and I did enjoy the utter privilege of singing on the gorgeous ‘The Church Of John Coltrane’ when a slimmed down Saint Jude’s Infirmary played one of their last gigs. It was a hugely proud moment for me and a poignant one as well knowing that I’d probably never hear the song played live again.
I guess I was in some form of denial or even grieving as Grant forwarded some Deserters Deserve Death material, his and sister Ashley’s new project. I have to confess that, while liking it a lot, I never paid it the attention that it deserved. However, by a strange quirk of fate, I was asked, firstly to recommend some bands who may like to play in Perth for former Creation head-honcho Alan McGee, then, to recommend any Edinburgh bands who might fit in with a Dylan night at the Liquid Rooms. In the first instance I didn’t make it to Perth for the gig. Fortunately Deserters Deserve Death did. Not only did they wow Mr. McGee but they came away with a firm commitment from Bubblegum Records to release their debut album.
Edinburgh School for the Deaf then played a short set at the Dylan event and unleashed an original song along with a cover (a version of ‘The Man In The Long Black Coat’ sung by former Infirmary in-patient Mark Francis) which pretty much blew me away. As I was promoting my first live gig since that fateful visit of Saint Jude’s Infirmary, putting on Vic Godard & Subway Sect Mike and I pretty much immediately thought, yeah, we’ve got to get this band on the bill. On a cold, March evening they electrified the room with their blistering sound and hyperactive, intense stage show. To put it simply, they were amazing. On a night when Vic Godard played a blindingly wonderful set as well, to open the show and still have people talking about it for ages afterwards was no mean feat.
In order to promote the debut album, New Youth Bible, we brought Edinburgh School for the Deaf back to Dundee, not this time as the opening act, but as headliners in their own right. This time around it was even better, although tempered by the sad news that guitarist/vocalist Keiran Naughton was departing for the big smoke after a further set of dates including gigs in Birmingham and London.
New Youth Bible was one of my favourite albums of 2011, still is. It’s a fantastic set of songs, moods and ideas. From the blisteringly epic opener, ‘Of Scottish Blood And Sympathies’ to the closer ‘.’, it’s an album brimming with great songs and ideas. In my mind anyway, if this record had come out on a bigger label with a bit of clout it would have been even more widely acclaimed than it was. That said, it got a warm reception and Bubblegum Records have to be applauded for doing a fine job of getting the album out there.
Since last year the line-up has changed a bit but the quality of the song writing, performance and the passion of Edinburgh School for the Deaf remains undimmed. I’m thoroughly looking forward to seeing what the next chapter for the band holds with a new single due out soon and work having begun on a second album. I just hope that if they pick a prophetic title for the album it reads more like This Has Been The Making Of Us.
In the mean time here’s an interview / philosophy lesson from Edinburgh School for the Deaf.
2011 was quite an exciting and tumultuous year for Edinburgh School for the Deaf. How do you feel about the year that was? What were the highlights and low points?
Aggie: Well, I wasn’t really in the band then, I was with the band, I have always been with the band. If you hang around for long enough they just take you on – a hearing impaired Polish refugee. The highlight was I guess receiving the physical copy of the album and seeing the cover which I kind of created. This lovely mint green colour turned pinkish [Mine is a lovely mint green] and I made a typo calling us Edinburgh School for the Death. Deaf and mint is much better than dead and pink.
The band has gone through a few changes since you last played in Dundee in June last year. Could you tell us a bit about this and how it affected the band?
Alex: Haircuts are even cooler than before except for that guy who joined with the fruity perm.
Jamie: I had to play mother when dishing out the tea / beer / vodkabsinthe.
In the current climate, how difficult is it for a band to survive without backing? How does a fairly new band surmount these problems and are there positives to be drawn from your experience as well?
Alex: I don’t think it is difficult to survive, survive sounds quite intense, but you can still be in a band and have fun, you just can’t really make money and reach people as easily.
Alex, Grant, you both played in The Young Spooks. What is happening with that band?
Grant: Opus Dei sent Calvin back in time to Florence to destroy the Renaissance. He got wind of the intrigues, lay down his rifle, packed up his smock and returned. Dan Brown has optioned the rights for the novelisation. We hope to have something resembling a suicide note out in the summer.
Alex: Releasing a double disc CD, featuring on Now That’s What I Call Music 87.
Edinburgh School for the Deaf (and The Young Spooks and previously Saint Jude’s Infirmary), while being sonically different, share a sense of being a gang, of having a shared purpose and set of aesthetics. Do you feel this is an accurate observation and how important is it for bands to be more than just about the music?
Alex: Yes, it is very important. That study in the 70s showed that is true, people like the music, lyrics and the idea of the band (ideals, clothes, hair, etc). It is all part of communicating. Sometimes it can across as having other motives but people are quite smart and can tell if people are being kind of phoney. I think we are sincere.
Grant: If you fall in love with someone, really fall in love, then you fall in love completely with every fibre, every flaw and every neurotic idiosyncrasy within them. Their hair, their shoes, their bookshelf, the way they eat their cereal… It should be the same with a band. Your love should be all consuming.
I have always clung to the naïve teenage dictate that a band should be the last gang in town. Forgive me for collapsing into semantics, but Rock and Roll is essentially a teenage narrative. Things that are important to adolescents such as fashion, image, politics are refracted through the prism of four people banging instruments and projected as a great, vital, disposable art.
When I ramble on about the teenager I’m not referring to any numerical value or indeed the consumer dreamt up by some Madison Avenue advertising executive in 1951. I refer more to the notion of being on the cusp, on the brink of something fearful, bigger, blander, less beautiful – adulthood / the straight world. In this respect Vic Godard can be seen to exert much more of a ‘youthful’ presence in his art than any of the annual churn of faux-rebellious NME urchins will ever do.
In the past we’ve discussed how important music was to us as teenagers in helping develop a view of the world as an individual trying to make sense of their potential place in the world. Do you feel that it can still play this role and does it still have an important part to play as adults, as we get older?
Grant: Most popular music, indeed most popular culture remains in pagan awe of youth. It prostrates itself before it; it commits whatever sacrifice it can to this false god. Youth is a brute power before which all else must pay reverence.
Nowhere is this truer than in music. Rock and Roll is inherently a young persons medium. It is trashily, naively nihilistic as only the young can really be. It is the elucidation of repressed desire (which in more permissive society the young now have less of, ergo the decline of the form).
Older people who are into music are usually into the music of their formative years, it is the thread through which they reach back to the excitement and newness of youth. They are by definition sentimental. There is nothing wrong with sentimentality; it is indeed a much maligned emotion. If you break it down to the Latin meaning, it will break your heart. The Greeks understood it – The Iliad, The Odyessy, Sinbad the Sailor, Demis Roussos.
However, it’s a decent rule of thumb that the older you get, the softer you get – Mark E. Smith and Jim Mclean excepted. It takes discipline above everything else – above inspiration, romance, talent, technique to grow old and to keep making relevant music. You have to keep hungry, keep lean, keep wild-eyed. The certainty and confidence of youth all too soon dissipates into the discombobulated, swaying loss of faith of your late twenties and beyond… where real life becomes more intrusive in all of its banal demands and malign little disappointments.
Sorry, I’m rambling. What does music mean to me? It remains the flag that I have chosen, it is the meaningless battlefield on which I have despatched my youth. What can we say? Age is like stupidity it doesn’t keep count. There are plenty of dead-eyed passionless, conformist 21 years olds holding a guitar and sneering into the middle-distance with their gormless, featureless, goldfish pouting pusses. Music still moves me; it fills me with a careless, hopeful elation. It’s invisible Esperanto speaks to me in ways that other ‘higher’ art forms distinctly fail to do.
And of course it does help to run with younger, hungrier, more blood thirsty wolves such as Messrs. Aggie, Alex and Miko.
Alex: I think it has been very important for me; I haven’t been an adult for very long so I can’t really say.
Jamie : Music matter when music matters, trite but pointing at the truth. To me it’s always been the great enigma. How something that you listen to only, engages you completely. You don’t consume anything yet it changes mental states and more. Do I invoke Godwin’s law if I mention John Peel?
In calling your debut album New Youth Bible I got a sense that you were trying to articulate the role of music beyond the stereotypical idea of youth or teenage. Did you see the album as a call to arms?
Jamie: I wanted it to be prophetic, self-perpetuating. I wanted someone to pick it up and change their outlook, or, better still, think “I can destroy this band with the songs I write”. I want more destroyers and fewer careerists in the world.
Grant: There was really just nothing happening in Edinburgh that moved us – there was just bloodless, meandering experimental noise at one end of the spectrum and insipid, hipster folk at the other. A truly, truly awful state of affairs.
I’ve always got the sense that you are romantics, trying to bring about a better world in your music. How do you feel about that? Is there still a place for romantics and idealists?
Jamie: Always, always, always shroud things in romantic terms and you can get away with anything.
Alex: Very true. I am very romantic although I think Aggie and Grant saw me on a date in a chippy once!
Grant: To be fair on Alex, he was wearing a nice suit, and had secured a couple of stools by the window and the chippy was in Bruntsfield… and from the bus it looked like he had stretched to a supper so that’s a wee bit swankier than it sounds!
I think sometimes we do over romanticise the whole process but it is important not to become cynical. You can see so many bands that are competitive in a negative, vampiric way, who view being in the band as some aspirational, attractive, attributable character trait. Musicians that could as easily be actors, artists, celebrity dart players, baristas (!) or whatever’s.
We believe that there is always a place for outsiders. Be it in the margins, in the hidden folds and dark little cracks where the real magic lies. The band are all romantics. Louchness, faux ennui and irony are all so very dull and uninspiring. We are fantastic fans of Art Brut!
(Foot-note – Not Eddie Argos’, Art Brut – I mean they’re alright but more the outsider art movement.)
At the gigs last year you were playing quite a lot of new songs. Are there plans for a second album soon? If so, how advanced are things with that?
Alex: We are writing new demos for a second album and have lots of good stuff happening surrounding it which is so exciting!
Will it be on Bubblegum Records? How have things worked out with Bubblegum in terms of getting the album the way you wanted it and getting the music out into the world?
Grant: Were not sure what’s going to happen with the next album. However we can confirm that Gary is ace. Bubblegum are fab. Both are on the side of the angels! We owe a debt of gratitude to him and the team.
How did the comedian and writer Stewart Lee come to write about Edinburgh School for the Deaf? How did you feel about his review?
Grant: He came along to a gig we played in London supporting the Jasmine Minks and the Electric Sugar Children. We gave him a CD and forgot about it. It was a pretty surreal hungover breakfast when I came across his piece in the Sunday Times. The review itself was very gracious and erudite, much as the man himself was in person.
Alex: I don’t know, it was a really good review though!
Outside of music, what have been your influences and what are your current inspirations?
Jamie: Bobby Fischer, Eastbound and Down, Salvador Dali, Robin Van Persie and Cervantes.
Grant: Books written by Russians, the French, Jews and homosexuals. The essays of Susan Sontag and the poetry of Osip Mandelson. Glens vodka and Snack-a-jacks.
Alex: I can’t really think just now, the composer and ballet dancer who committed suicide together in Geneva with their son and daughter beside them is always inspirational for me, which sounds a bit strange and maybe sadistic but read the story it’s very romantic in a honest way.
If you were handed a blank cheque and artistic carte blanche describe your ideal Edinburgh School for the Deaf show.
Jamie: I would take that blank cheque and buy back every venue ruthlessly wrestled in the name of so-called progress (read money) from the gig goers of Edinburgh. And then play them all at full volume until the wood split and the glass warped, and everyone who ever saw Oasis and picked up a guitar to write Oasis-like songs ran screaming for the hills to set up a commune
Alex: We would take the show on tour, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife and maybe some other places. Robert Fripp would be on first and do an intense Frippertronics set, Keith Sweat would do a greatest hits set and also he would be good at getting all the ladies to the gig, then we would play a set ending on extended version of ‘Love Is Terminal, people are crying, the Edge is in the crowd and decides to not collaborate with the Kaiser Chiefs and give up guitar and take to his true calling of knitting those funny little hats (I saw an interview with him and Bono he wears his hat for everything except sleeping and this version of power yoga that crosses yoga and blackberry phones, he should go for one of his other talents definitely!)
Grant: Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, a newly sprung floor, vodka literally on tap and a deaf soundman, with heavy hands poised upwards on the faders. The bass would perhaps be more prominent in the mix than usual. Lots of balloons, nibbles and Grubbs Cream Soda. Streamers, big glitterball and strobes everywhere. Everyone would have to wear sunglasses or they wouldn’t get in.
Collaboration has always been an important part of your music, is there anyone that you would dearly love to work with in the future?
Alex: Vini Reilly, Phil Lynott, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads, Mario Balotelli, Keith Sweat, Robin Guthrie, Belinda Butcher, Mike Matthews and Bob Myer, Jim Jarmusch, Jason Becker
Grant: Yoko Ono, The Brothers Reid, Maria Da Fe, Lucilia Do Carmo, Eusebio, Hugo Chavez, Gary Kasparov, Karl Lagerfeld, Milan Kundera, The massed pipes of theRoyal Scot’s Dragoon Guards, Jack Kittel.
How would you like to be remembered?
Jamie: Hazily with an occasional start, as if we had just snuck in the room.
Alex: Nice at heart or excellent at shredding
Grant: Through tinnitus and with affection.
Finally, what does 2012 hold for Edinburgh School for the Deaf, both as a band and as individuals?
Alex:Single, music video, ep, new album and a play. Sofia to be healthy and happy.
Grant: Here! Here! Fingers crossed for a Bio-pic too.
Edinburgh School for the Deaf support Vic Godard and Subway Sect on Sunday 25th March at Beat Generator Live. Also on the bill are Vladimir and the Creeping Ivies. [Tickets] or from Groucho’s.
The band then headline Limbo Live in Edinburgh at the Voooo Rooms on 6th April. [Tickets]
The new line-up perform one of their classics at a past Limbo:
Main Photo by Terjely.