Q MAV­ER­ICK: LUKE HAINES

Brit­pop sur­vivor. Brit­pop de­nouncer. Satirist. Con­cep­tu­al­ist. Loose can­non… David Ca­vanagh spends qual­ity pub time with former Au­teurs and Black Box Recorder leader, Luke Haines, min­ing for old-fash­ioned in­ter­view gold.

Q (UK) - - Contents -

“I’m a gin­ger, I fight back,” says indie rock’s an­gri­est man. And who are we to ar­gue?

It’s a mono­lithic con­crete box, one of those cryptic con­struc­tions that are known as street fur­ni­ture. It stands on a patch of grass in front of a mod­ernist tower block in Lon­don’s High­gate Road, and there’s a door in it, to which very few peo­ple have a key. “It’s a Cold War bunker,” Luke Haines ex­plains. “They built it in the 1950s when they were ter­ri­fied of a nu­clear war. It was the main con­trol cen­tre for North Lon­don, so if it kicked off big-time, this is where all the top peo­ple would have come.” To­day, most Lon­don­ers prob­a­bly walk past the long-dis­used shel­ter with­out giv­ing it a sec­ond thought. But not Haines. He wrote a con­cept al­bum about it. Bri­tish Nu­clear Bunkers, from 2015, com­bined two of his pas­sions – nu­clear bunkers and vin­tage syn­the­siz­ers – to cre­ate an al­bum that had strong over­tones of Kraftwerk’s Ra­dioAc­tiv­ity while be­ing some­what bleaker and more para­noid than Haines’s usual work. It was re­leased, as are most of his records, by the vet­eran indie la­bel Cherry Red. “When it came out,” he says, “I went to din­ner at the House Of Lords – this gets weird – with Iain McNay [ Cherry Red’s chair­man], Arthur Brown and Jah Wob­ble. Iain made a speech about each of us, say­ing:

“Rock’n’roll is meant to be fun. I’m 50. I’ve got two kids. I get to make the records I like. I have a record com­pany that puts them out eight weeks af­ter I de­liver them. All I’ve done is cut out the bit where I’m 25 and tak­ing ev­ery­thing too se­ri­ously.”

‘This is Jah Wob­ble, who used to be the bassist in Pub­lic Im­age. This is Arthur Brown, the god of hell­fire.’ Then he turned to me and said, ‘And this is Luke Haines, whose new al­bum I hate.’” We in­spect the bunker from var­i­ous angles, then gaze up at the tower block be­hind it. Haines won­ders if it was built “as bal­last”. The res­i­dents of the flats would have watched from their bal­conies, puz­zled and per­haps a bit fright­ened, as smartly-dressed peo­ple ar­rived in fleets of taxis and ducked hur­riedly through a door­way in an omi­nous­look­ing con­crete lump. On the al­bum, Haines can be heard ham­mer­ing at the bunker’s locked door. Later, in a mo­ment of crazy serendip­ity, he met the Mayor Of Cam­den at a party, who gave him a set of keys.

Brit­pop sur­vivor. Brit­pop de­nouncer. Satirist. Con­cep­tu­al­ist. Loose can­non. Gonzo cook­ery writer. Ex­pert on Ger­man ter­ror­ist groups and all-round 1970s cul­tural sponge. If you had to de­sign a vi­able amal­gam of Chris Mor­ris, Ju­lian Cope, David Peace, Lawrence from Go-Kart Mozart, Gor­don Ram­say and The Res­i­dents, you might very well come up with Luke Michael Haines. In the ’ 90s he was the leader of The Au­teurs, a band that sang of glam­our and horror and missed out on the 1993 Mer­cury Prize by one vote. Be­tween 1998 and 2003 he was a mem­ber of Black Box Recorder, a trio of pop sub­ver­sives prone to writ­ing songs about sex­u­ally cu­ri­ous 11- year-olds and women trapped in car wreck­ages. Haines, smartly-suited and per­ox­ided, ap­peared on Top Of The Pops the week that Black Box Recorder’s The Facts Of Life made the Top 20 in 2000. Depend­ing on how you view his ca­reer, it was ei­ther his break­through hit or his last brush with fame. “I don’t have an agenda, par­tic­u­larly,” says Haines, a solo artist for the last 15 years. “My at­ti­tude is I can do what I want.” His lo­cal pub, where we’re now sit­ting, is a spit-and­saw­dust boozer with a pi­anist and “cash only” signs on the walls. He’s greeted as he walks in, cut­ting a jovial fig­ure in a straw fe­dora, look­ing like a cricket-lov­ing cleric in a Gra­ham Greene novel with per­haps a dash of the dis­so­lute traitor in The Fall’s Mar­quis Cha-Cha. There’s a com­mon con­cep­tion about Haines that he must be a jaun­diced, em­bit­tered soul now that his al­bums no longer chart. There doesn’t seem to be much truth in it. He looks hap­pier, cer­tainly, than he did in The Au­teurs. When he re­moves his spec­ta­cles and places them next to his pint of cider, you no­tice the pink­ish lenses. Haines, a mis­an­thrope? Why, he lit­er­ally sees the world through rose-tinted glasses. “Rock’n’roll is meant to be fun,” he ar­gues. “I mean, I’m hav­ing fun. I’m 50 years old. I’ve got two kids. I get to make the records I like. I have a record com­pany that puts them out eight weeks af­ter I de­liver them. Y’know, when you’re 15, you as­pire to that kind of stuff. All I’ve done is cut out the

bit where I’m 25 and tak­ing ev­ery­thing too fuck­ing se­ri­ously.” His most re­cent al­bum, I Some­times Dream Of Glue, il­lus­trates how the small­est germ of an idea can take hold in Haines’s mind, and be ma­nip­u­lated into a uni­verse of star­tling, far-fetched in­ven­tion. He and his girl­friend were sup­posed to go on hol­i­day to Ice­land, but some­how got down­sized to a day trip to Southend. When Haines saw the photos, there was one of him scowl­ing in a car­riage on the Southend Pier minia­ture rail­way. He wrote a faintly creepy song called An­gry Man On Small Train. This, in turn, in­spired the al­bum’s wider con­cept, the Bal­lar­dian and Swif­tian idea of a race of tiny hu­mans liv­ing in an Air­fix model town sit­u­ated un­der a West Lon­don mo­tor­way bridge. None of them is taller than two-anda-half inches in height. All of them are ad­dicted to sex and glue. “It’s my Brexit al­bum,” says Haines. “Small peo­ple with small minds. Nasty lit­tle peo­ple liv­ing nasty lit­tle lives. But no­body spot­ted it ex­cept for this one guy in Rus­sia. I put his review in Google Trans­late and it said: ‘Luke Haines’s Brexit al­bum.’ I couldn’t be­lieve he’d got it. Ev­ery­one else’s re­views were go­ing, ‘Oh, he’s writ­ing about his di­vorce.’ No, no, no! It took a guy in Rus­sia to grasp the con­cept.” When the staff at Cherry Red ask Haines what his next con­cept will be (as they of­ten do, ap­par­ently), he replies that he doesn’t know yet but they’ll be the first to find out. Freqs (pro­nounced “freaks”), the al­bum that pre­ceded I Some­times Dream Of Glue, was con­ceived when Haines tried to copy­right a mu­si­cal fre­quency (“never been done be­fore”) and record an al­bum on Moog and Korg syn­the­siz­ers that was based around that fre­quency. “It was very niche,” he says. “I came up with the con­cept of a ru­ined air­port where there were no flights. An air­port that peo­ple could en­ter but couldn’t leave. It was my other Brexit al­bum.” Rather than present Freqs to Cherry Red – since it was even bleaker and had fewer songs on it than Bri­tish Nu­clear Bunkers, which Cherry Red had hated – Haines of­fered the al­bum to Elec­tronic Sound mag­a­zine, who loved it. “They pressed up 20,000 copies and gave it away free with the next is­sue. Tech­ni­cally, it’s my high­est-sell­ing solo al­bum to date.” Be­fore that, in 2015, he’d re­leased Ad­ven­tures In De­men­tia: A Mi­cro-Opera, the story of a man who works as a Mark E Smith im­per­son­ator. One day, on a car­a­van­ning week­end in Shoe­bury­ness, the Mark E Smith im­per­son­ator has a su­per­nat­u­ral en­counter with Ian Stu­art ( 1957–1993), the de­ceased neo-Nazi front­man of the con­tro­ver­sial white-su­prem­a­cist punk band Skrew­driver. “Very niche,” Haines ad­mits. “That started when I got a call from an artist friend of mine, Scott King, who said, ‘I’ve been given a Ger­man Arts Coun­cil grant to write an opera. All I’ve got so far is Mark E Smith crash­ing into Ian Stu­art’s car. Are you in?’ I said, ‘Of course I’m fuck­ing in.’ We went on to per­form it at the Berlin Fes­ti­val with a fake Mark E Smith, a skin­head cov­ered in blood and a load of Turk­ish trans­ves­tites danc­ing to Earl Bru­tus. Two nights, to 200 Ber­lin­ers who didn’t un­der­stand any of the ref­er­ences. Ut­terly baf­fled. It fin­ished with us all chant­ing, ‘David Bad­diel, David Bad­diel’ while a back­drop showed all of the worst events in world his­tory. Then there was to­tal si­lence, and then this.” His hands make the sound of a sin­gle per­son ap­plaud­ing very hes­i­tantly.

Luke Haines emerged from art col­leges, clas­si­cal gui­tar lessons and a glam-rock child­hood in south­ern English towns like Wal­tonOn-Thames (Sur­rey) and Emsworth (Hamp­shire). Mov­ing to Lon­don in the mid-’ 80s, he spent five years play­ing gui­tar in an indie band, The Ser­vants, who ap­peared on the C86 cas­sette. In a sense, Haines’s life has taken him full cir­cle – back to the indie la­bels, back to the un­der­ground, away from the pres­sure and the glare. The aber­ra­tion, as he im­plied ear­lier, was the part in the mid­dle, the part where the pres­sure got to him, which is why he doesn’t want it com­ing back. “When we started out,” Haines once said of his acclaimed group The Au­teurs, “we were my dream band. Dead ropey. Very con­fronta­tional. We were not en­ter­tain­ment.” The Au­teurs toured with Suede, recorded an ex­cel­lent de­but al­bum (New Wave), ruf­fled feath­ers, lobbed a few well-aimed mis­siles from the side­lines and made sur­pris­ingly good money from their deal with Vir­gin Records. At one point, Haines had two houses. It’s not a time he likes to dwell on. “I saw the world very dif­fer­ently back then,” he says. “I was pretty an­gry and cyn­i­cal. I was torn be­tween want­ing the band to do well and be­ing very un­sure of the world we were get­ting into.” The break­ing point – lit­er­ally – came when Haines fell off a wall in Spain, or per­haps jumped from it, and smashed both an­kles. He was un­able to walk for three months. When The Au­teurs re­turned in 1996 with the Steve Al­binipro­duced LP Af­ter Mur­der Park, some­thing pro­foundly grisly had hap­pened to Haines’s writ­ing. His songs had been in­fil­trated by miss­ing chil­dren and dead bod­ies. “It’s a claus­tro­pho­bic al­bum with a high body count,” he nods. “I wouldn’t write a song like Un­solved Child Mur­der now.” But the bod­ies, in 1996, con­tin­ued to pile up, be­cause Haines’s next re­lease – a side-project mi­nus the other Au­teurs – was a con­cept al­bum about the Baader-Mein­hof Gang, the ter­ror group that had blitzed its way through 1970s West Ger­many, kid­nap­ping bankers and blow­ing up em­bassies. “That would seem a bit provoca­tive now, but I had to do it,” he says care­fully. “It felt like an im­por­tant ex­per­i­ment to try. The thought that it might of­fend peo­ple didn’t oc­cur to me. And any­way,” he smirks, “dif­fer­ent times, weren’t they? Ter­ror­ism was a dif­fer­ent game in those days. It was all about phon­ing up and leav­ing a bomb warn­ing. They were gen­tle­men.” Haines’s work is a lot less mur­der-ob­sessed and ter­ror­ism­fix­ated now, but he’s still one of the most an­ar­chic con­cep­tu­al­ists in mu­sic. Rock And Roll An­i­mals, in 2013, was his long-awaited chil­dren’s al­bum, fea­tur­ing cud­dly crea­tures such as a bad­ger named Nick Lowe. If that sounds twee, it wasn’t. The other an­thro­po­mor­phic char­ac­ters in the story were leather-clad rock­a­billy nut­ter Gene Vin­cent (a cat) and Sham 69’ s Jimmy Pursey (a fox), while Ju­lia Davis, Bri­tain’s darkest sit­com writer, pro­vided the al­bum’s nar­ra­tion. As for Haines him­self, he re­mains an awk­ward, at times hos­tile out­sider who has no in­ter­est in com­ing in from the cold. Since set­tling some old scores with his 2009 mem­oir Bad Vibes: Brit­pop And My Part In Its Down­fall, he’s gone to war with var­i­ous en­e­mies on so­cial me­dia, and so deep is his con­tempt for mu­sic jour­nal­ists that he was banned from Twit­ter in May af­ter urg­ing a reviewer of a Black Box Recorder boxset to com­mit sui­cide. “I’ll de­fend the work ev­ery time,” he says de­fi­antly. “I’ve got no one else to de­fend it, have I? I’ll get ’em up against the wall by the throat if I have to. I’m a gin­ger. I fight back. I come from a fam­ily of war­mon­gers. My grandad fought in three wars. I once asked him, when I was about 11, ‘How many peo­ple did you kill?’ He said, ‘Not enough.’” Haines re­turned to Twit­ter in June af­ter his month-long ban (“I’m back, mutha­fuckas”), pro­fane and un­re­pen­tant, hav­ing deleted noth­ing.

The Re­gent Street Cin­ema has seen live­lier nights in its 170- year his­tory. There are about 18 of us spread out in the stalls for a rare screen­ing of the doc­u­men­tary Art Will Save The World: A Film About Luke Haines. On an evening when 99.6 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Lon­don is watch­ing an Eng­land World Cup game on TV, it’s sort of ap­pro­pri­ate that Luke Haines is some­where else, pre­sent­ing a piece of art. The foot­ball has badly af­fected his ticket sales, but that’s not the point. The point is that the art goes ahead. “I’m unashamedly art-based,” he had said in the pub two nights ear­lier. “I still think like an art-school ponce, even though I was ex­pelled from art school 30 years ago. And in fact, for me, it’s all about how you get there. That’s what art should be about. The jour­ney, not the ar­riv­ing. The fin­ished prod­uct is in­vari­ably a dis­ap­point­ment.” Art Will Save The World is not a dis­ap­point­ment, but it does spend much of its 70- minute length en­joy­ing a re­vi­sion­ist chor­tle at Brit­pop in or­der to por­tray Haines as the move­ment’s most sullen re­fusenik. Which, among other things, he briefly was. Through­out the film, he refers testily to the

other Au­teurs (in­clud­ing his then-girl­friend, Alice) as his fi­nan­cial de­pen­dants. It’s clear that the Haines of 2018 has no de­sire to be the bread­win­ner for a bunch of needy mu­si­cians. But in the cin­ema bar af­ter­wards, as a boy in a white shirt tugs at Haines’s waist – this is Fred, his young son – you sud­denly re­alise what a tricky bal­ance it must be to make a liv­ing, as Haines does, by putting out bizarre, wil­ful, low-sell­ing al­bums about dis­used nu­clear bunkers and mi­nus­cule glue freaks. He still has fi­nan­cial de­pen­dants, and two kids need to be put through school. Such thin mar­gins might ex­plain why Haines oc­ca­sion­ally slams down his glass of red wine and tells the author of a nega­tive review to go and kill him­self. Just be­cause rock’n’roll is fun doesn’t make it a joke. When the next con­cept strikes, and Haines goes into his home stu­dio to start record­ing it, he can be sure of three things. Firstly, there’s no­body to stop him. Se­condly, the con­cept is its own jour­ney. And thirdly, for all his de­mented ad­ven­tures, this is not a hobby.

“I’ll de­fend the work ev­ery time. I’ve got no one else to de­fend it, have I? I’ll get ’em up against the wall by the throat if I have to. I’m a gin­ger. I fight back. I come from a fam­ily of war­mon­gers.”

Brit­pop and his part in its down­fall: (clock­wise from left) Haines on­stage with The Au­teurs, fea­tur­ing then girl­friend, Alice Read­man on bass, Glas­ton­bury, 1993; Haines calls for a pop strike, 2001; Black Box Recorder, fea­tur­ing John Moore, Sarah Nixey and Haines, 2003.

None more black: Haines’s his­tory (from top) The Ser­vants’ Dis­in­ter­est ( 1990); The Au­teurs’ New Wave ( 1993); Black Box Recorder’s The Facts Of Life ( 2000); Haines’s new al­bum I Some­times Dream Of Glue ( 2018).

“Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!”: Luke Haines – the world’s most ter­ri­fy­ing scare­crow.

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