By Sean Egan
In the early 1980s, Kirk Brandon was on the verge of being the next big thing. As the leader of post-punk combo Theatre Of Hate, he hit the top 40 with the haunting single ‘Do You Believe In The Westworld’. His blonde good looks (featured on a memorable James Dean-esque NME cover) and operatic vocal abilities were no hindrance either. Theatre Of Hate split up after just one album (‘Westworld’) but Brandon took his trusty bassist Stan Stammers into Spear Of Destiny, who released a series of fine albums in ‘Grapes Of Wrath’, ‘One Eyed Jacks’ and ‘World Service’. ‘One Eyed Jacks’ is even considered a classic by many.
Brandon has experienced setbacks in the recent past through illness and a failed libel action against Boy George (who claimed they had had an affair) but is currently going through one of his most active periods for many years, with a best-of about to be released, a new studio album in the can, a box-set on the horizon and a tour by the current line-up of Spear Of Destiny due in November.
Q: THEATRE OF HATE WERE TIPPED AS THE NEXT BIG THING
IN THE EARLY ‘80S. DID YOU ENVISAGE YOURSELVES AS BECOMING AS BIG
AS THE CLASH?
A: “Truth be known, I don't think we envisaged anything. I think we literally were rebels without a brain. Mick Jones produced ‘Westworld’ and we went on tour with The Clash. The Clash is punk rock, I guess. We were like way further left-field than that. Even more left-field than Joy Division I think.”
Q: ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE WESTWORLD’ WAS A BONA FIDE
A: “Unfortunately, it ended up a rip-off. The company had all the money, Stiff Records, and they walked off into the sunset with it. It sold hundreds of thousands here in the UK, and Germany and Canada. Standard kind of thing at the time but you live and learn.”.
Q: THAT SONG WAS AN ANTI-NUCLEAR WEAPON PARABLE.
DO YOU THINK IT'S BECOME A BIT DATED DUE TO THE COLD WAR ENDING?
A: “I do feel it is relevant. A lot of people say today, ‘Any day now someone's gonna use ‘Do You Believe In The Westworld’ on a news programme or a current affairs kind of thing’ because it’s one hell of a statement: Do you believe in the Westworld? Especially after the 9/11 thing which has brought the western world sharply into focus, as opposed to ‘We’re all over here in the West having a wonderful time’ and the other two thirds of the world are struggling in some kind of slavery or just simply starving. I just think that it’s one hell of a fragile place and peoples grip on what the Westworld is today is far less secure than it was twenty years ago. You're now at the point where someone could fly a plane into Canary Wharf.”
Q: SOME PEOPLE WERE DISAPPOINTED BY MICK JONES’ PRODUCTION
ON THE THEATRE OF HATE ALBUM. WAS IT A MISTAKE TO USE HIM?
A: “I said it then, I stand by it today: Mick’s a genius. If you listen to the 12-inch dubs that we did, with all the film track stuff, backward drum loops, all the rest of it, and then put it in its context, which is 1982, ’83, it’s way ahead. No-one was doing that. It could have been a lot harder but it evolved as it evolved on the day and [if] it wasn't as hard and aggressive as it was live, well I regret that but that’s my only regret because what was done was out of this world.”
Q: IT SEEMS THAT ON THE VERY VERGE OF SUCCESS YOU SPLIT
THE BAND UP. WHY THE DECISION TO DO THAT?
A: “This is really difficult for me to talk about but it started as five guys playing this crazy music but by the end of the band, which was under two years, [it had gone] from having a jar of ale straight through to heroin. Poor old Nigel Preston, who went to play with Billy in The Cult for a while, subsequently died from it, which is heartbreaking. There were [also] some issues with management. Really, what we should have done is just taken a year off [so] people could go and sort out their lives and just get away from it all because it was a madhouse. There’s people outside my door every night. I couldn’t walk down the street. From being absolutely nowhere I was on TV shows and the covers of newspapers. That was quite hard to deal with. I was only 25.”
Q: ONE EYED JACKS IS CONSIDERED BY A LOT OF KIRK BRANDON
FANS TO BE YOUR MASTERPIECE. WHAT WAS THE RECORDING PROCESS LIKE?
A: “It was done under strange circumstances. The guy that was meant to be producing it was just out somewhere, powder all over his face, out of his mind. The engineer basically carried the album. It was a site under construction all the time, although I have to say I really did enjoy this site under construction.”
Q: ONE OF THAT ALBUMS HIGHLIGHTS IS ‘YOUNG MEN’, AN
ANTI-WAR ANTHEM, BUT IS WAR SOMETIMES JUSTIFIED, AS WHEN HITLER WAS RAMPANT?
A: “I don't think there was any option on that. England was the only country which took the high moral ground and declared war on him and attacked.”
Q: WHAT INSPIRED ‘PLAYGROUND OF THE RICH’, FROM THE
A: “We did a tour of Poland and Yugoslavia – where I wrote that song – and people were so poor. Unbelievably poor. I don't suppose many people know this but the cover of ‘Westworld’ is a paramilitary Lech Walensa smashing a red flag. That was the whole idea of it. You’re sort of having a go at the dictatorship of Russia. That's the first time I’ve been anywhere that was really that poor overall. ‘Playground Of The Rich’ is very poignant and its finger’s right on it. It’s an aria to that young couple: she's washing dishes while he’s cleaning toilets, just trying to eke out some kind of living out there.”
Q: ONE EYED JACKS GOT SOME GOOD REVIEWS BUT WHEN IT
CAME OUT, THERE WAS AN INFAMOUS INTERVIEW IN THE NME WHERE YOU ALLEGEDLY
THREATENED THE INTERVIEWER WITH VIOLENCE AND SUPPOSEDLY MADE ANTI-SEMETIC
REMARKS. DO YOU THINK THAT JEOPARDIZED ITS CHANCES TO SOME EXTENT?
A: “I put the bad publicity from that honestly at the feet of the editors of the NME. They wanted a bogeyman and they sent that guy Amrik Rai. He came in and he had a very strange attitude. I thought, ‘Okay, maybe he's just a bit of a weirdo. Being weird's not a crime, that’s fine’. And he sat there and he just launched straight into some kind of hypothetical situation about the SS and I said, ‘Hold it, man, hold it. What’s going on here?’ Also, I've seen a lot of cameras over the years but [his] cameraman was the first I’d ever seen that never stopped. What I should have done really is just said, ‘Look mate, you’re a fucking idiot and the job you’ve been sent to do here is disgusting so just leave’. Instead we sat and we talked to the guy for twenty minutes, half an hour. They put things in there that weren’t true anyway. It was News Of The World type journalism. The self-same journalism that paper was meant to despise.”
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE ALLEGATION IN THE INTERVIEW THAT
YOU MADE ANTI-SEMITIC REMARKS ABOUT THE ALBUM’S PRODUCER?
A: “I never actually said that. I never said that.”
Q: DID YOU THINK OF SUING THEM?
A: “Yeah, we did and I was advised against it by Compton Carr who were my solicitors at the time. Which in retrospect was incredibly stupid because it caused so much trouble that in reality we just should have sued them.. In reality, we would have won.. When I was really ill with Reiter’s Syndrome – I didn’t walk for like twelve, fourteen months – they put in the NME that Kirk Brandon had AIDS. That was not very nice for my family.”
Q: YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH VARIOUS PERMUTATIONS OF SPEAR
OF DESTINY SINCE. DO YOU THINK YOU’LL EVER ARRIVE AT A LINE-UP THAT
YOU’RE HAPPY WITH?
A: “Most bands of the time were changing personnel all the time. Mine was no different. I‘ve had this band I've got now for about two years. People say, ‘it’s the best band you actually ever had’. I actually think that’s right. A bit of an eclectic mix. It’s basically a rock band but everyone’s got off- the-wall ideas.”
Q: YOU’VE JUST RELEASED A BEST-OF CALLED ‘ANTHOLOGY’,
PARTLY COMPRISED OF ORIGINAL RECORDINGS AND PARTLY NEWER RECORDINGS OF
OLDER SONGS. WHY DID YOU OPT FOR THAT FORMAT?
A: “Some of the stuff is original takes from the albums at the time but I wasn’t very happy with a lot of the sounds and the mixes and the way they were done. I did a solo album called ‘Dutch Masters’ and there’s that version of ‘Young Men’ on it and I actually prefer that version of ‘Young Men’ to any other version. I said, ‘Well, let’s go for the best versions that I can possibly get my hands on’. I'm really happy with that ‘Anthology’. You've got stuff from all the periods there.”
Q: RUMOUR IS YOU PLAN A 4-CD BOX SET OF YOUR CAREER?
A: “We’re doing a deal with Sony and we’re going to be bringing it out in the new year, I hope. None of that CBS period – ‘Grapes Of Wrath’, ‘One Eyed Jacks’, ‘World Service’ – [has been on CD]. I don't know the format it’s going to come out in, single albums or doubles or triples. There’s three albums there that you can't buy and Virgin have deleted ‘The Price’ album.”
Q: WHAT ABOUT NEW MATERIAL?
A: “I've just done an album called ‘Morning Star’. We’re gonna have some copies November on our tour. I think ‘Morning Star’ is a benchmark for me. It’s a lot more personalised and I’ve never done a personalised album. I always used to think that talking about yourself and how you feel is gratuitous: poor little dear. It’s coming out January 6th.”
Q: YOU’RE CURRENTLY TOURING WITH BELINDA CARLISLE,
WHICH SEEMS A VERY STRANGE COMBINATION. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
A: “Jack Gray, the agent, knows my agent Liam quite well and Glenn Tilbrook dropped out and he just said, ‘Would Kirk consider doing it?’ and Liam called me up and said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ I said, ‘Oh what the hell, why not?’ I wasn't doing anything else this month’.”
Q: YOUR MUSIC HAS VERY RARELY BEEN ANYTHING APPROACHING
CONVENTIONAL ROCK. DO YOU TRY TO AVOID THAT?
A: “That sort of Beatles way of writing – v-c-v-c-middle-eight-c-out – that to me is just awful. I always try and makes things different all the time. Stuff has to be different otherwise I lose interest in it. Right up to today, where I detune the guitar and learn to play again. I just got physically bored with playing the same old shapes so I had to teach myself guitar again almost, this tuning I got. It makes you think differently. You have to move it on.”
Anthology is out on Eastersnow on November 11th
Spear Of Destiny are touring the UK from November 11th – 26th
Morning Star appears in January 2003
Post your Kirk Brandon reviews / comments on the Message Board