Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Live: Tav Falco and His Panther Burns at The Runaway, 9/21

Rock ’n’ roll is a sound and it is a style, and Tav Falco’s been straddling both since the late 1970s.

The latest version of Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, on a cross country tour, stopped at The Runaway in DC for a midweek show that was strangely mesmerizing and altogether rocking thanks largely to his straight-outta-Rome backing trio led by Mario Monterosso. At 77, Falco doesn’t look all that different than he did when Alex Chilton joined forces with him to form Panther Burns back in Memphis. Minus his pencil mustache, he’s maintained his black pompadour, and certainly his style.

With only a subtle croon, he does a lot with his moves, taking the stage with maracas—that forgotten engine of old Bo Diddley songs—before slowly putting on his Hofner guitar to add rhythm to the stinging lead that Monterosso had already nailed down (the length of time it took him to get the guitar over his head and adjusted was the only giveaway to his advancing age).

There’s a lot to be said about the guy’s taste. Panther Burns got its name after a legendary cat set afire on a Southern plantation, and the band has similarly mined the swampy and mysterious sounds of the American South for its inspiration.

There was so much ground to cover, Falco played exactly nothing from his latest release, the 2021 EP “Club Car Zodiac” on ORG Music. Instead he dived into his story about a New Orleans voodoo queen and his version of the classic bolero “Sway” before the somewhat surprising, straight ahead version of the Honeycombs’ 1964 chart topper “Have I the Right?” with a 1-2-3-4 countdown right from the Ramones. Then, as if another inspired turn of a jukebox, over to the 1950s country standard “He’ll Have to Go,” before his own throbbing tune of existential anguish, as he described it, “Born Too Late.”

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TVD Live: The Decemberists with
Jake Xerxes Fussell
at Wolf Trap, 8/24

The Decemberists, the charming chamber folk-rock band from out of Portlandia, became famous for live performances as elaborate and detailed as their ornate songs, staging obscure battles or sea scenes with sudden appearances by man-eating whales into their shows.

There was none of that Wednesday as the band took the stage at Wolf Trap in Virginia, two years after they were originally supposed to play there, during the time when everything disappeared. The title of the current excursion, “Arise from the Bunkers! 2022” was just about the most florid part of the tour. It was enough to be present, at long last, alive and performing before thousands of fans in the Virginia woods, even as they have given up for now the costumed accessories or even the notion of promoting any particular release — I’ll Be Your Girl, their eighth full length album, came out a full four years ago now.

But certainly the audience had no complaints about their straightforward approach to their solid, 17-song, 105 minute show. The band has been sprinkling its sets this summer with selections from throughout its career (though sadly, nothing from 2015’s What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World). “Hope you like the old ones,” said frontman Colin Meloy, as keyboardist Jenny Conlee strapped on her accordion and Chris Funk sat down to the pedal steel guitar for “Shiny,” the oldest song from their repertoire, from an an album that was mostly demos before they had a full recording contract. They followed it, though, with a new song, about meeting someone at a burial ground.

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TVD Live: Elvis Costello with Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets at Wolf Trap, 8/18

It’s gratifying to have any Elvis Costello concert come around after two years of pandemic postponements. But the one that finally took the stage at Wolf Trap in Virginia last week had the added advantage of being opened by Nick Lowe, his longtime colleague, producer, and influencer.

It was a version of  “Surrender to the Rhythm” originated by Lowe’s old band Brinsley Schwarz that was playing as Costello appeared on stage. Costello’s version came on his latest recording, marking 50 years since he and a friend recording under the name Rusty tried to release a record of such covers they did at the time.

Costello told a story about approaching Lowe back then as fans and hopefuls and being shooed off. Eventually Lowe would produce six Costello albums, play bass on a dozen of his songs, and otherwise cross paths through the years.

It was Lowe’s ringing “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding?” that was the climax of the rewarding show with the two trading its memorable, ever-timely verses. Lowe had come back on stage (in a third dashing outfit) to duet on “Indoor Fireworks,” a Costello song that Lowe had released a year before its author did on The King of America. Frankly their harmonies weren’t great, but it was almost touching to see the two together on stage making an effort.

Costello’s headlining set was a freewheeling one for the huge crowd (who looked to be averaging the singer’s age, which turns 68 this week). As such, they wanted to hear songs that ignited his aggressively creative career. They were rewarded with the frequent concert-starter “Accidents will Happen” (likely because of its irresistible opening line, “I just don’t know where to begin”). But also “Green Shirt” and, before long, “Mystery Dance.” In between, he’d fit in songs from this century that few seemed very familiar with, such as “Hetty O’Hara’s Confidential” and “Either Side of the Same Town.”

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Victor DeLorenzo,
The TVD Interview

PHOTO: NINA FERNANDEZ | Hatched via email between musicians, the new trio Night Crickets comprise the talents of Violent Femmes co-founder Victor DeLorenzo, David J of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, and multi-instrumentalist Darwin Meiners. Their debut release A Free Society, released earlier this year on CD has just been issued on vinyl this summer by Omnivore Records. From his studio in Milwaukee, DeLorenzo talked about the collaboration, his experimental drum approaches, the split with Violent Femmes, and the drum pattern that captured the world.

How did Night Crickets come to be?

In 2013 my band Violent Femmes played the Coachella Music & Arts Festival in California and backstage, I came across Darwin Meiners. It turned out that not only was he a fellow musician, but also was the manager of David J of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets.

I didn’t really know that much about Bauhaus or Love and Rockets other than maybe the one or two hits that Love and Rockets had. But I got on well with Darwin and stayed in touch. And then two holiday seasons ago, he got in touch with me and asked me if I would be willing to create some drum tracks for him that he could write some music to. So I said, yeah, that sounds like a great idea because as a matter of fact, I own a recording studio here in Milwaukee and I’ve had this studio for over 30 years.

From time to time, when I had a great drum setup going, I would just record wild drum tracks just to some kind of click track or some kind of drum track, and I would just store them away to be able to use in the future for different music projects.

So I told Darwin I had some of these already recorded and that, if he wanted, I could create some new ones for him too. So I did that, but when I got to the point where I sent him some stuff, I said, what about the idea of maybe seeing if David would want to be involved in this and maybe we could create some stuff together, what do you think about that?

And Darwin went to David and got back to me and said, “It sounds like a great idea.” So that just started us on our kismet way of putting together some music that eventually became this full length record.

Is it unusual to start songs with drum tracks?

I think for some people, it’s just another way of recording. Because I’ve been in the business so long, I’ve learned to record music from many different ideas at the onset. Whether it’s just the drum track, or it’s the guitar track that’s recorded to a click track, or what have you. Or maybe just starting with a lyric and building from there. So I don’t look at recording music as being a one way process. I’ve got many different ideas in my arsenal.

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Creem is Risen: The Unlikely Return of America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine

Brash, messy, and super opinionated, Creem magazine came out of Detroit as an edgier alternative to the more staid rock magazines of the ’70s. The first showcase for writers from Dave Marsh to Lester Bangs, it covered the era in a manner that was always entertaining. And the acts they covered seemed to dig it as well.

Gone for more than three decades, its memory was revived in the 2020 documentary Creem: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine. Since then, the entire 224-issue archive of the magazine has been put online, a digital Creem site has been posting new stories, and in September, beyond all expectations, a revived Creem will be back in print for  subscribers.

“It never should have gone away,” says John Martin, the former Vice publisher who serves as CEO of the new Creem.  “It went away and it was the champion of rock ’n’ roll. Then look what happened. Culturally we got obsessed with the idea that rock ’n’ roll is dead. That’s not true—it’s not true at all.

“That’s the central thesis of why we should bring Creem back,” he says, “because we need to embrace that rock ’n’ roll community that’s been micro-niched and sub-genred to pieces over the last 30 years. We know that Creem is the brand to do that.”

Martin bemoans the state of rock journalism over the past 15 years when “the impish, funny tone of voice has been lost from music writing. It’s felt very academic, it’s felt very stale, and writing to offend no one and give your opinion to the lowest common denominator, broadest group, because that’s how you get the most clicks.

“What Creem invented—really opinionated music journalism—the time was right to bring that back,” he says. “Because when was the last time you had a good time and laughed while you were reading about music? Probably an old issue of Creem.

Already the online Creem content has caused some waves. A review of an Imagine Dragons record was written without listening to it, for one. And there was a long interview with John Hinckley, who before he turned to a music career, was notorious for firing a gun at Ronald Reagan. “The headlines write themselves on that one, obviously,” he says.

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TVD Live: Nicole Atkins at the Hamilton, 7/10

Nicole Atkins is the kind of performer who is not only bursting with song ideas, she could also go any number of directions in her musical approach, from folk and pop to soul and rock with a little jazz thrown in as well. During the pandemic, she released a jazzy version of her previous Italian Ice as a way to serve fans and keep her career alive when the pandemic prevented touring.

There was a grand piano on the stage at The Hamilton in Washington, DC, where she concluded her latest tour last weekend, but its cover stayed on it; Atkins preferred to rock out the songs’ original versions with her four-piece band, augmented by the occasional backing vocals of Levi, who also served as opening act.

The tiny and mightily-voiced Atkins brings Lea Michele to mind, and if that singer ever tires of her recently announced gig fronting Broadway’s revival of Funny Girl, this versatile vocalist has the spunk and pipes to fulfill it. As if to remind us, she made sure to mention at the end of one of her songs, “AM Gold,” that it had a Barbra Streisand reference in its refrain, “People needin’ people.” But that’s about as close to pop she got in a set that otherwise moved to harder rock and at one point, dance (“Fire up that disco ball if you can,” she called out before “Domino”).

The Jersey girl opened with a tune named after her hometown there, “Neptune City,” but by the end of the show was was taunting onetime neighbor Southside Johnny, whom she called a grump and is apparently in a competition for creating the better “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” anthem. As such, she capped her “In the Splinters” by calling out, “Eat it, Southside Johnny!”

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TVD Live: Sarah Borges at Pearl Street Warehouse, 6/28

PHOTO: LIZ LINDER | Listeners literally place performers on pedestals, onto elevated stages and spotlights. So it was a little shocking to hear Sarah Borges say during her free-wheeling show at the Pearl Street Warehouse last week that she had spent some of the pandemic as a truck driver.

She couldn’t tour, and the clubs were all closed and she needed the dough. So why not? After all, she was pictured on the cover of her 2013 album, Radio Sweetheart, at the wheel of a T Bird. And being a songwriter who is always on the ball, she came up with a song about her part time duties, “She’s a Trucker.”

Whether songs come easily to Borges or not, they are certainly received easily. The Pearl Street show with a solid band led by her guitarist and producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, sounded great, had plenty of vigor, and with Borges’ droll delivery between songs, was thoroughly entertaining.

She’s got an enervating wail to her songs that draws you in, and a sassy style that makes everything seem to swing. Her guitar may be as much an accessory as her party dress, but why try soloing when you’ve got an ace like Roscoe in the house?

A member of the Blackhearts for Joan Jett, Ambel went on to co-found the Del-Lords before becoming an all around producer and guitarist for any number of artists from the Bottle Rockets to Emmylou Harris. He’s found a natural home playing with and for Borges though. And, dressed all white from bowler hat and coat to guitar and amp, looking like a tobacco tycoon, he played a few songs from his latest, You Asked for It – The Shut In Singles Series.

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TVD Live: Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway at The Birchmere, 6/27

Oftentimes artists will say they’re glad to be at a place. But Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway were clearly delighted to be making their debut at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, in between some festival gigs.

This, after all, was a hallowed ground for Mid-Atlantic bluegrass, where generations of stars have performed over the storied club’s half century, and local bluegrass superstars the Seldom Scene established an early residency and has been associated with the place ever since.

Tuttle likely knew The Birchmere name as a child, listening to records and learning flatpicking, cross picking, and clawhammer guitar styles from her music teaching father. Those lessons were successful enough to have her become the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s guitar player of the year award five years ago—which she went on to win for a second consecutive year.

Still in her 20s, Tuttle wasn’t yet married to bluegrass traditions. She played in other people’s bands and wrote, sang, and recorded her own original material (as well as playing covers of others). The first time she headlined at The Birchmere, a year ago, she played solo, doing a lot of that material.

But her return to the bluegrass fold with a new album and a similarly accomplished young band made The Birchmere premiere of Tuttle and Golden Highway a special high point—for her and the audience. More than half her set came from the group’s debut album that came out this year, Crooked Tree. And like a traditional bluegrass group, the quintet lined up across the stage and burned through the material while each took their own impressive solos.

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TVD Live: Jason Isbell, Sheryl Crow, and Waxahatchee at Wolf Trap, 6/17

Bundling acts together for summer tours doesn’t just provide entertainment value, it also allows fans of one act to be introduced (or reintroduced) to acts they might otherwise not have bought a ticket for—and being pleasantly surprised as a result.

At first look, the Americana stardom of critics’ favorite Jason Isbell might not need a second act to bolster sales. Indeed, he’s drawn large crowds on his own across the country—including Wolf Trap, just last fall, where this month he was back again for two nights.

Yet for all his success, he hasn’t had a fraction of the radio play, sales, or widespread pop dominance of Sheryl Crow—whose fans in turn may or may not be aware of his deft songs. Sharing a bill on a tremendous summer night at the wooded Virginia venue and showed how much they have in common, with great bands and sharp songwriting.

Fans of Isbell would be reminded how many of Crow’s songs they already knew by heart and may have forgotten; and those who came for her hits were open and fair minded enough to hear what the fuss about Isbell was all about, maybe for the first time.

The double bill was more than a Machiavellian promoters’ idea; the two had worked together on Crow’s last album, Threads, on a remake of Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken” that they reproduced on stage, trading verses and guitar licks.

Crow professed to love everything about Isbell’s music and his politics—though that didn’t come up at all from either artist, particularly. Isbell, for his part, said he’d never had a more fun tour than the one with Crow and opener Waxahatchee, which was already winding up after just seven dates up the Atlantic coast. (Really? Never?)

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TVD Live: Belle & Sebastian, Japanese Breakfast, Los Bitchos
at Wolf Trap, 6/15

PHOTO: HOLLIE FERNANDO | Two summers of canceled or delayed concert tours due to Covid has not only resulted in a pent-up desire among music fans to get out and enjoy, but caused a big pile-up of top acts sharing bills in order to fit in all the season’s dates. There’d be no reason that, say, Belle & Sebastian and Japanese Breakfast couldn’t headline their own tours. But here they were together on a splendid outdoor bill at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in the woods of Virginia on an evening kicked off by the sharp, grooving instrumentals of the London band Los Bitchos.

Belle & Sebastian, for one, was a band so anxious to perform they’ve been picking things from all over their career, doing multiple songs from six different albums in addition to only a couple from their latest, A Bit of Previous, that they had to record at home in Glasgow instead of Los Angeles because of travel restrictions. So giddy did they seem at performing, frontman Stuart Murdoch ended up dancing atop an upright piano at the end of “I’m a Cuckoo.” “How did I get up here?” he wondered at its end.

Every night’s set has been different from the last as they spin through their rich catalog. And as spontaneous as it all seemed, there was a definite plan in action as half its members—there are up to eight on stage this time—moved to different instruments for each selection.

The manic Murdoch served as frontman for nearly every tune, though Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson each took lead exactly once (not counting Jackson’s impromptu salute to the state with a verse of The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia”). And while the kaleidoscopic films and projections behind them seemed to fit each song, it was clear that the visuals could accompany just about any song they could try.

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TVD Live: The John
Doe Folk Trio at Jammin’ Java, 6/14

If you didn’t know he was a central figure of the LA punk scene, you’d think John Doe might have leapfrogged straight from the dusty circuit of 1940s country-western. In the inaugural set of The John Doe Folk Trio at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA, the lanky entertainer sported a classic cowboy shirt, sang behind a vintage microphone, and strummed a retro-style wooden guitar, backed by a standup bass and a drummer.

His songs, too, told of a yearning of a bygone America, with job struggles, pain, and death. It was the first stop of the tour following the release of his latest effort Fables in a Foreign Land that was borne of the Covid shutdown that also was a throwback to the pandemic of a century ago.

And the songs of the new Fables in a Foreign Land are all consciously set in the 1890s, a time before planes, phones, video, and internet further complicated and blurred life or death issues. But the new set of tunes weren’t so different from the songs he’s put out on his half dozen earlier solo efforts, such that the opening “The Losing Kind” went easily into the new “Never Coming Back” or even “Burning House of Love,” one of four X songs thrown into the setlist.

Behind the electricity and drive, a lot of the fierce, thundering songs of that seminal punk band were super-charged folk songs that fit into the continuity of the American songbook. Some of his new material grew out of fondly remembered songs from his childhood, such that the sagebrush saga of “Sierra Peaks” became the strange milieu of “The Cowboy and the Hot Air Balloon.”

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TVD Live: Laurie Anderson Presents
Lou Reed’s Drones at
the Hirshhorn, 6/3

More than a half century ago Lou Reed would end the sparsely attended shows by the Velvet Underground by leaning their buzzing guitars against the amps, allowing the pulsing waves of feedback to continue long after the band had left the stage. Nine years after Lou left this mortal coil for good, he would likely be pleased to know his guitars and amps are still churning out that feedback.

In the sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn Museum in DC one hot Friday this month, a dozen of his amps, some of them out of cases with “Lou Reed Sister Ray Enterprises Inc.” stickers still on them, were arranged in a circle on the grass, between a couple of contemporary sculptures.

In front of each amp was one of Reed’s own guitars that he had used over the years until his death in 2013, each one turned on and tilted toward the speaker. Where once the guitars rang with “Vicious,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” and “Dirty Boulevard,” were now emitting low hums in various frequencies.

Presiding over the noise was Reed’s own longtime guitar tech Stewart Hurwood, in a T-shirt emblazoned with the familiar image of his onetime boss from the 1972 Transformer album. Hurwood, his hair an explosion of greying curls, would turn a knob here, shake a guitar there, or gently bang the body of a guitar against the ground to conjure more up noise.

Presented under the name “Lou Reed’s Drones,” it was a project of the rocker’s widow Laurie Anderson, in conjunction with the large survey of her art currently on display inside the Hirshhorn, the Smithsonian’s contemporary art museum. The elfin artist herself was tucked away in another corner of the sculpture garden, under a pine tree’s shade, adding her electronic violin and loops to the undergirding drone.

Completing the experimental improvisations in the opposite end of the garden, Karou Wanatabe, a member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silkroad, punctuated the sound with all manner of percussion as well as occasional flute. Initially exciting in its abstract way, filling the summer afternoon with notes as challenging as the surrounding art, the event also lived up to its name by droning on, largely formlessly, for four full hours nonstop.

On a hot afternoon, it was a lot.

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John Doe,
The TVD Interview

Singer, songwriter, author, and actor John Doe balances his busy summer playing with his pioneering punk band X, but also the inaugural tour of the John Doe Trio, on the heels of his latest album Fables in a Foreign Land, just out on Fat Possum Records.

The man who helped write “Los Angeles” and  personified the punk scene there (chronicling its rise in a pair of books, Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World) has been living in Austin for the past five years or so where he met the players in his trio, bassist Kevin Smith of Willie Nelson’s band and drummer Conrad Choucroun.

Doe’s new songs reflect collaborations with Terry Allen (“Never Coming Back”), Shirley Manson of Garbage, longtime writing partner Exene Cervenka (“Destroying Angels”), and Louie Perez of Los Lobos (“El Romance-O”). The tunes coalesce not just in their folky, back-to-basics style, but with their surprising 19th century setting—they all take place in the pre-industrial 1890s.

We talked to Doe just before his tour, which kicked off in Virginia.

What brought you to Texas and how has it changed your point of view, if it has?

I would say if it wasn’t for living in Texas, this record wouldn’t have been made. Because it was all created on Kevin Smith’s back patio without amps, and without PAs, and just sitting out there singing and playing. Also, some of the images, especially for down South, were written here. All the songs were written here, and any artist reacts to their surroundings.

Did you meet Smith there, or did you know him before?

We did meet here, but it’s been maybe eight years or so. We kind of hit it off from the beginning. He was a fan of X, but I’m a fan of rockabilly bass players. It pushed him and Conrad in a different role because I’m not a great guitar player. So they had space and the need to get into more melody, which is the great advantage of a trio.

I imagine the pandemic shutdown gave you the time to develop this.

Yeah. I called up Kevin in April 2020, and said, “Willie is not doing anything, right?” And he says no, he’s not. I said, “Well me neither,” because X wasn’t touring, so I asked him if I could come over just for the hell of it. And he said, absolutely, come on. And then onward came a month or so later. We worked for about a year and a half. Other songs would come along and we’d work on that. We’d play covers and see what was similar to the cover that we played and what we were playing now. We just got to know each other musically.

Did the pandemic affect the songwriting, too?

Not directly, did it influence the content.  But afterward I realized that there was a lot of loneliness and isolation which were definitely in play in the last couple of years. It allowed Kevin, Conrad and I to sit on Kevin’s back porch and figure out how we wanted this to sound. And I give them all the credit in the world for understanding that and having the ability to keep it in that world. It’s such a gift.

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Record Store Day is Now a Book as Well

Marking just its 15th anniversary, Record Store Day is now an established enough cultural event to warrant its own book. Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century (Rare Bird, $20) by Larry Jaffee tells the tale of the triumph of vinyl as music’s hard copy of choice in part because of the annual day that calls attention to the mom and pop stores that have been the mainstays of the record business, and to celebrate the format that has not only just survived but is recently thriving.

In it, Jaffee recounts the rise of vinyl sales in recent years, concurrent with the increasing embrace of Record Store Day, including testimonials from a number of artists to the vinyl format and their formative years hanging out in such cherished places. “The timing was good,” Jaffe says in an interview. “I think it was better they waited until 15 years as opposed to ten, because the story is so much better at this point and had this really unusual arc to it in the sense that the pandemic changed the game for a lot of stores especially, and labels.”

“Nobody knew how much effect being closed for four months, for example, would have,” Jaffe says. “What it did was to force certain stores who wouldn’t have done e-commerce to get up to speed on doing online sales. One of the great things also was how the industry shared information on best practices to keep everyone safe.”

It was also in recent years that vinyl re-emerged as music’s top physical object after years of being dominated by the compact disc. Jaffee had been commissioned to write the book by Record Store Day co-founder Michael Kurtz after covering the vinyl resurgence for a number of publications. He traces its beginnings to a 2007 conference of three major independent record store coalitions that had been “friendly rivals” before.

“It was at that conference, the record day concept was green-lit,” Jaffee says. “The funny thing is they waited until the morning of last day to try to get support for this concept and there were only 10 people around, so I did my best to track down each of those people.” Of them, some were still hung over or otherwise recovering from the partying that had gone on the night before. “A few of the principals couldn’t even give exact details of what happened.” he says. “But enough did.”

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Paul Morley,
The TVD Interview

The creation of the Manchester music scene in England can be traced in many ways to one man—a bespectacled TV journalist there named Tony Wilson. His work in signing Joy Division and creating Factory Records inspired dozens of other bands and made the industrial city in the North a kind of beacon for a type of post-punk, industrial sound before he died in 2007 at 57.

Also from Manchester, the writer Paul Morley chronicled the rise of the city’s sounds and the particular character of Wilson over the years for New Musical Express and other publications. More recently, he’s spent 10 years writing the eventual biography, From Manchester to Love: The Life and Opinions of Tony Wilson, which is just now getting a US release this month on Faber Books. We talked via Zoom with Morley from London about the effects one man could have on a city, and culture.

Why did it take a decade to complete the book?

It was something I wanted to get right. I think technically a few years ago I could have finished it.  I wanted more perspective on it, to see how he would develop as a character as times were changing very quickly. The kind of iconoclast that Tony Wilson was in the 20th century—those kinds of figures don’t exist anymore.

I suppose it could have been difficult to know at what point to end the book as well.

That’s right. Because stories continue to change. And also it’s a story about a city, Manchester. And that’s been going through a lot of changes, a lot of  them having to do with Tony’s presence and ambitions. For me the equivalence was the 19th century industrialists who set up the city and are already being forgotten about, apart from the occasional statue. I just wanted to animate that work. Because it’s a story not just about music, it’s about many other things as well.

Did you grow up in Manchester?

Yes. I grew up in Manchester, in a town just a few miles south, Stockport. Manchester consists of a lot of satellite areas if you like. The city center itself is very compact and small. It’s got a lot of resident history.

So I hit my teens in the early 1970s, I was just a bit younger than Wilson. At a time when Manchester seemed to be done as a place; its history seemed over, people like Tony Wilson, oddly enough, kept urging it to reconnect with its industrial heyday.

How did he try to make that happen?  

I think it was simply the fact that he had a knowledge of it. Unlike the people in that area at the time, he was a Cambridge University student, which gave him an immediate difference to the rest of us; he’d been out there, and been out in the world and come back with a very different kind of presence than most Northerners, an intellectual presence, or the presence of a deeper, stranger thinker.

He was very aware of the history of Manchester and the history of things that were firsts: the first computer, first suffragettes, the first library. He felt that we considered ourselves in the North at the edges or margins of the universe, why not put ourselves at the center of the universe. And he had the ambition and energy and the desire to do that.

Of course he was also a great broadcaster, and what happened in the late ’50s and 1960s, a local TV company, Granada, started working out of Manchester, showing that it could be good. And it was very innovative and progressive, and had some of the greatest journalists in the country. It gave a great modern presence to the city in the ’60s as it was declining. Tony ended up there and that fed into the realization that he could make a change. He had a revolutionary sensibility as well, coming out being 18 in 1968, the year of all the great revolutions. And this all sort of coincided.

But it was music that he thought he would do this through?

Yes. The first visit in 1976 of the Sex Pistols to Manchester—that was a great catalyst for him. Not so much the music but their manager Malcolm McLaren, who he identified with as a figure very similar to him. He didn’t do anything specific. You couldn’t say he was a musician or an artist or a designer or a writer, it was this weird thing you have a lot of examples of in rock music, the impresario, the behind the scenes character, like Andrew Loog Oldham or Brian Epstein or Peter Grant—the ones who saw and made the myths. And he was a great myth-maker, so McLaren made him think he could do something. He was very good at broadcasting at Granada television, and he was a local celebrity. But he got bored easily, and he was just at a lull. He was bored and looking for an opportunity to do something else and make things happen.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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