Soul Mining 30th Anniversary Event – Matt Johnson Q&A, Rough Trade East
Well darn if the Mint isn’t getting all musical this year, in contrast to the usual movie related mayhem which is mustered by the Menagerie. After three gigs in fairly quick succession in the spring I have a clutch of musical interludes programmed for the Autumn, but before then a rather more special event occurred over in Brick Lane on a rain sodden Monday night – how apt. When I was a nipper my musical obsession almost equalled my movie adoration, like any self-respecting teenager I’d spend a fair chuck of pocket money on albums and singles of my favourite bands, it was a very serious, almost obsessional business as I’m sure it remains for many today, and when the opportunity to actually attend gigs occurred I seized the opportunity with the frenzied energy of Mark E. Smith’s whizz dealer. Almost twenty five years ago to the month I was incandescently excited to see The The at the Brixton Academy, my first ever ‘proper’ concert (there had been some previous shoegazing and indie carnage at the local nightclub in the town where I grew up), the lead songwriter and musician behind the revolving band being Matt Johnson. He was the architect in chief of three of the seminal albums of my youth including 1983’s Soul Mining, the MTV friendly Infected and his first released album Burning Blue Soul which remains my favourite collection of musical seduction to this very day. I was a massive fan and collected vinyl copies of singles, 12” remixes, alternate Spanish imports or green/blue/yellow vinyl imprints of his entire chaotic oeuvre, like seeking out the alternate cut of some Belgian slasher movie from 1974 with twelve extra seconds of footage it’s a very male pursuit of obsessive acquisition, so the opportunity to meet the man in the flesh at a Q&A to celebrate the release of this anniversary box-set was an essential investment.
How do you pigeon-hole The The’s music? Well, you can’t which is one of its immediate strengths, a common reference which seems to have found some cultural purchase is ‘existential blues’ with a post-punk, neo-electronica slant, as it arrived in the early eighties his work evolved into combining the personal with the political, particularly in the rather contemporarily prescient observations on 1989’s terribly titled Mind Bomb. But we were here to concentrate on the earlier work, including the chart friendly oscillations of This Is The Day;
Watching this horrendously dated video always makes me smirk. The extensive chat with Matt was compered by the similarly huge fan DJ Food over at Rough Trade East Records, it was as lengthy and trainspottingly detailed to make Mojo reading muso’s proud, delving into the detailed history of Johnson’s career prior to the album before moving sequentially through each of the albums seven tracks, including a discussion of the rather controversial decision by some American A&R imbeciles to tack this on to the carefully considered track listing;
Among many other asides Johnson made the point that in these current days of ipods and ‘shuffle’ instructions the art of designing an album as an album, with specific track placements designed holistically to generate an overall musical theme or feel (what do you open or close with? What’s the first track of the second side of the album once you’ve flipped it over on the turntable? How do you shift between love songs and ballads among the more rockly, dance influenced tracks?) has been mournfully lost, so the decision to include Perfect on the US imprint of the album made him furious – hey, I said this was going to be specialised OK? He revealed the gasp inducing revelation that Tom Waits was seriously interested in producing Infected but personal issues prevented this incredible collaboration from yielding fruit, and it was also amusing to discover that Soul Mining is arguably the UK’s first ecstasy album as that was the exhilarating narcotic of choice rushing through the London musical scene at the time, a good five or six years before our emerald isles baleric activated Summer of Love peaked later in the Thatcherite decade. Overall it was a fine overview of the album and its production, nothing particularly new for us ancient fans but still great to hear it all straight from the horses mouth as it were;
After picking up my copy of the album – probably the first piece of vinyl I’ve brought in at least fifteen years which is another sobering thought – I approached the great man for the post Q&A signing, clutching my copy of the new boxed set firmly to my chest. He looked at me and exclaimed ‘It’s John isn’t it?’ to which I responded in a flabbergasted wheeze ‘Wha, eh, but how did you know that?’ I spluttered, before he smiled, gestured to my chest from which my work pass (including my predominantly displayed name) was petulantly levitating. Yeah, real fucking funny messing with a fans head Matt, but at least it goes to show he does have a ‘sense’ of humour other than the depressive political agitator presented in the media…….
The exciting news for fans is that Matt has broken out all the historical material from the archives, he has assembled all the original pressings and recordings of his long extant first couple of albums Spirits and The Pornography Of Despair, and he does have plans to rearrange them and get them out into the digital and provide a modest circulation run for fans – literal music to my ears. It was also faintly exasperating to hear that not only is the unreleased late nineties album Gunsluts still lurking in release hell but he also completed another fucking album which remains obscured and unheard, I think he referenced it as Karmic Revolution or something (hey, quit laughing, album titles were never his strong point OK?) and he might (and I stress the might) have another vocal album in him away from the soundtracks he has been producing recently (incidentally Hyena which is directed by his brother and which he scored has been getting some strong buzz from it’s Edinburgh Film Festival preview last week). So in the final stretch of this post as we approach the ‘repeat to fade’ algorhtym can I just implore this – pull your bloody finger Johnson, evade the sunshine and hit those bloody mixing desks.. Until then we’ll just have to rely on the magnificent music we can get our ears around, including this proto-house / techno track which remains one of my all-time favourite groovers – enjoy;