ALM. Hi, I see that Riot 77 is only coming out once a year lately. Does it depend if you get all the content/interviews on time or because more issues would be too much work?
R 77. When I started work on the fanzine in 1999 I had a loose intention to publish two issues per year. It seemed sustainable and manageable when offset against other commitments in my life. That said, I didn't want to get too hung up on deadlines and wind up publishing something for the sake of making that deadline. The crucial aspect for me is that each issue comes out once I'm happy with it and feel there is sufficient content there to warrant publication. I don't force anything and only interview subjects I have a legitimate interest in. A consequence of this can sometimes be that publishing dates are pushed back a little further than I would like. I do feel, for better or worse, that I've set a certain standard with the fanzine and aim to make each issue an improvement on the last. This takes time.
ALM. Most of the bands that appear in Riot 77 fanzine are old (from the 70/80’s) plus some of the 90’s as well but there are not too many contemporary or new bands. How do you decide the content of each issue and what criteria do you follow to decide who is going to be on the front cover? Have you ever been short of interviews?
R 77. It's not something I take into account at all and like to believe the fanzine transcends all that. You can't put a sell-by date on good music or ideas. I would never decide to run an interview on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. I'm aware that other fanzines do consider such quotas, but for me it would feel conceited and restrictive. I look for a number of things in interviewees before I approach them. I don't necessarily need to agree with their point of view; in fact it’s probably more interesting if I don't. But there does need to be something there that arouses interest in me and sets them apart from the flock. It's not enough to simply be fanatical about a band as this doesn't have much bearing on whether or not they will make for good interview material. Some of my favorite bands don't have a whole lot to say outside of what's already in their songs and music and that's fine, but I don't think I need to include an interview with them in the fanzine. I've covered a wide spectrum over the years including Christians (Wanda Jackson, JD Wilkes), Communists (Mensi, Roddy Moreno), Israelites (Dick Manitoba), Imperialists (Ramones, Vandals), Queer (Kid Congo, Christy Road), Unionists (Rudi, The Outcasts) yet this wasn't what motivated me to include them. Punk Rock by its nature is a broad church and I'm not that interested in “subcultures of subcultures”. If somebody has an interesting story to tell and I can identify with them on a certain level then I'm curious to find out more and this ultimately will direct my decisions on who to include.
As far as the covers goes, I shoot most of the photos in the fanzine myself and have done so since day one, so ideally I get a strong interview with a nice photo to accompany it and that will likely decide the cover. Sometimes I do struggle to fit the two together and if you look at the cover of issue #4 for example it’s a shot of The Spitzz just because I loved how that photo turned out when I developed it and thought it would make a great cover, despite no interview of the band contained within. My favorite cover is probably #16 with Eric Davidson from the New Bomb Turks. It was shot in the bathroom of Bar Great Harry in Brooklyn and to me exudes Punk Rock. I still love it and Eric knew exactly how to position himself in front of a camera. Turned out the interview with him is pretty good too! I'm also fond of the Glen E Friedman cover from issue #15. Can't say I've ever been short of interviews.
ALM. Do you have plans to reissue past R77 issues or even collect them in a book? What about putting all the numbers available to read on the internet? Will we see some day a Riot 77 Facebook or Twitter or website?
R 77. No, I do one print run and one print run only. Once they're gone, they're gone. The idea of publishing an anthology of sorts is interesting and something I've seen done quite well with other fanzines, though these tend to be larger-scale publications like Bomp!, Punk Planet, Razorcake, Seconds etc. Who knows!
I'm not the Internet's biggest sympathizer and rarely use it for research etc. I think certain sections of people would be surprised by just how much isn't available on line. It’s more interesting for me to trawl back through old copies of fanzines from years past as a means to retrieve information, as it’s generally this kind of stuff that leads to questions bands haven't been asked many times over.
I'm not on Facebook or Twitter (though the fanzine does have a page, moderated by a European distributor). I always found it weird how MaximumRocknRoll and others who've consistently advocated an anti-major label and anti-corporate stance were so quick to embrace Twitter and Facebook. I don't see how the business practices of Zuckerberg are any greater than those of Murdoch. I kind of hoped Punk would come up with an alternative to Facebook/Twitter in the same way it did to major labels, distributors, promoters and chain stores.
ALM. I remember reading some concert reviews from different places (Canada, London…) apart from Ireland. Is it difficult to see some bands in Dublin? How do you arrange interviews with the bands (through bands, booking agents, etc? Have you found problems eg bands not showing up, not being motivated, etc.
R 77. These days most bands tend to include Dublin on their itinerary at some point, though it wasn't always that way. I do try and get away as often as time permits. Since the '90's I've been going over to the States three or four times a year, primarily for gigs and record shopping, but I've always liked the American counterculture generally and enjoy spending time there. Since I was a kid and started reading entry level stuff by Nelson Algren, Bukowski, Henry Miller, Burroughs etc. the lifestyles portrayed in these books seemed to fit with a soundtrack of Punk Rock, Bebop, Rockabilly and Soul music from the country. These days unfortunately, just like everywhere else, there is so much gentrification going on there, (not just in the urban areas, but also in many of the smaller towns) that it feels like a different place to what I used to know. There's still cool stuff happening, but you gotta dig deeper and deeper each time.
I've built up a reliable network of contacts down the years which generally allows me access to (almost) any band I am interested in. It's nice to review and interview on foreign soil; it gives a different perspective on things. There've been a few situations where people haven't been motivated, but probably not as many as you might think. I found that used to happen more when bands had entire days of press lined up by their agents, putting themselves on autopilot as a result. For that reason I now try to avoid scenarios where other interviews are scheduled to take place on the same day. I like to interview everybody face to face, but in the event that it isn't impossible I'll resort to a phone interview as a second preference. Darren Russell is the only person I can recall not turning up to a prearranged interview.
ALM. Which bands haven’t appeared yet on the zine you would like to interview? Are there some old school NI Punk bands that still haven’t been interviewed in your zine (I think at least the most well-known have appeared)?
R 77. As far as Northern Irish Punk goes I'd like to do something with Protex and perhaps Ex-Producers some time. Elsewhere I've had a lifelong interest in interviewing Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry, though I suspect it would be difficult to cover any new ground with either of them and I'm also not so sure it would work in a fanzine context. Outside of that I don't think too far ahead in terms of who I'd like to include, but at the moment Thee Midniters, Alice Bag, Walter Lure, Johnny Moped and the Flamin' Groovies are all on the shortlist.
ALM. I like Ruefrex and all that I have read about them have said that they weren’t just a sectarian band and they even received attacks from people because of their religious background. I think that you don’t really agree with that opinion, do you? What do you think about this band, both musically and their beliefs?
R 77. I'm not sure what to make of the Ruefrex to be honest. I always found “Wild Colonial Boy” irksome; the lyrics do seem to exert a certain sectarian bias. I interpret them as anti-Republican and condemning those in the Unites States for fund-raising on behalf of the civil rights movement in Ireland. The north of Ireland at the time was an apartheid state, where equal access to jobs, housing, policing, political representation etc. did not apply. Parallels could be drawn between the situation up there and those facing similar fates in the Basque Country, Palestine, South Africa etc. I don't accept the Ruefrex view that Protestant culture was under threat as a consequence of the civil rights campaign; it was simply a case of those with the upper hand refusing to relinquish power.
On a wider point, I believe it was a cop-out for northern Irish Punk bands to say they were neutral and remain on the sidelines during the conflict – there comes a time when sitting on the fence is not an option and this was one such time. Punk Rock should have been at the forefront of the struggle in the same way it was with Thatcherism and the Miners Strike, Reaganomics and South African Apartheid. Interestingly it took British Punk bands like Angelic Upstarts and Blaggers ITA to do what the northern Punk bands should have been doing.
ALM. I love Stiff Little Fingers and I like Jim Reilly and Henry Cluney too, but I can’t really understand why they started XSLF… What do you think about XSLF, Henry Cluney and the way he got sacked from SLF after his well-known animosity with Jake Burns?
R 77. I still haven't seen XSLF, despite them playing Dublin on more than a handful of occasions. The dates have always clashed with other commitments. I've heard consistently positive reports on their gigs though and would like to see for myself. Jim Reilly was my favorite S.L.F. drummer and you can't really go wrong with the first three LPs, so I imagine they must be worth seeing at least once. I don't know the full detail of the Henry Cluney/Jake Burns fallout, only what I've heard from third parties. Jake does tend to get a hard time for his relations with people and I'm not sure it’s entirely warranted. I still go see the current line-up of S.L.F. with Ali McMordie back in the band and their live show is powerful.
ALM. I agreed with your opinion about right wing bands like Condemned 84 and the likes, but I was very surprised to read an interview of Sheer Terror in your last issue (It was very interesting though). I already knew about the “odd” American context (black skins or Jewish people listening to RAC, etc) and in England nazi boneheads have even been seen in ska gigs. What do you think about the whole right wing skinhead scene and that they are calling themselves “non political”? Is there the same problem in Dublin or Ireland?
R 77. I don't buy it for a second. I've seen some of these bands live and there is little doubt who they align themselves with. It's lowest common denominator thinking and ironically saying you're “non-political” is about the most political statement you could make. It means you're not prepared to stand up or speak out when you see something wrong. Apathy is the worst of all and we certainly have our fair share of “non political” skinheads in Dublin, though nothing like you would encounter in England. Grey-zone bands like Frankie Flame, The Business and the Cockney Rejects have played here but always left their Union Jack at home! The likes of Condemned 84, Combat 84, Section 5 etc. have never come over and it’s unlikely they'd have much support if they did. Angelic Upstarts, The Oppressed, Red Alert, Redskins, Los Fastidios, Stage Bottles and others always garnered sizable support when they played in Ireland, which gives some indication of the climate here I think.
I had some prior knowledge of Paulie Bearer's history before interviewing him, but I think he defended his position quite well in that regard. It was a time and place in New York and a lot of it I think went over their heads. I'm not sure American skinheads fully appreciate the context of a lot of the early 80's RAC element in Britain and for many of them it is just about the music and sloganeering. America generally is a lot less politicized than Europe when it comes to skinhead music (at least on the surface).
As an aside, it always intrigued me how Minor Threat could justify “Guilty Of Being White” whereas had Sheer Terror or Agnostic Front penned such a song, people would have been up in arms over it. The fact that Mackaye still defends it today speaks volumes. Have you ever read the 3-way interview in Maximumrocknroll between him, Dave Dictor and Vic Bondi from the 1980's where they discuss race relations? It's quite the eye-opener.
ALM. What do you know about the punk scene of the Spain State/Catalonia/Basque Country? Do you like any bands from there? Are you interested in other NON ENGLISH punk bands (French, Italian, etc).
R 77. I listen to quite a lot of Basque Punk and Radical Rock and have an interest in the BNLM/ETA. I like early to mid 80's French Punk too, particularly the bands who sang in their own language, like Snix, Camera Silens and Skinkorps. Later on I thought the Combat Rock label put out some good records and today UVPR is building a steady roster of solid releases. We got a lot of the Mad Butcher/KOB releases over here from Germany/Italy and I liked the political angle of both labels, not to mention some killer music down the years. I'm always on the lookout for foreign language fanzines as well, despite not being able to read them. Cheri Bibi fanzine is a particular favorite - there's something about the approach and layout of it that always strikes me.
ALM. Brief opinions about these bands:
- Cock Sparrer: Old favorites. Politically ambiguous at times, but musically difficult to beat.
- The current Misfits: I've seen Jerry Only's version of The Misifts a bunch of times and would be lying if I said they weren't fun.
- The Redskins: The antidote to Thatcher's Britain in Punk terms. “Keep On Keeping On” never gets old.
- The Old Firm Casuals: Lars gets a hard time from the skinheads, but I think he's a great songwriter and puts out better Oi! records than half of the bands under that banner today.
- John Lydon: Enjoyed his books. A contrarian who can become a little overbearing at times, but in small doses I like the guy.
- The Exploited: When Punk became a caricature of itself. Always considered The Exploited more of a Thrash band than a Punk band.
- Toy Dolls: Who doesn't like the Toy Dolls?
- Crass: Never liked Crass. There's something to be said for the sentiment, but its how you articulate it that counts. Dogmatic ranting isn't always the best way to reach people and with so much of their music being unlistenable, it really didn't help matters. Penny Rimbaud's spoken word is awful too.
- The current Dead Kennedy's: I only seen them once with Brandon Cruz from Dr Know on vocals. You can't argue with the DK's songbook, but without Jello it's not quite the same.
- Anti-Flag: Anti-capitalism for beginners … and nothing wrong with that!
- The Wolfe Tones: Ooh Ah - Up The RA!
ALM. A non musical question. When I visited Belfast and I went to see the mural walls, I saw one dedicated to two Protestants who fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side against the National side. I read that from the Irish Republicanism there was a bit of “reluctance” at first to support Spanish Republicans because all of the news about “killer reds burning churches, raping nuns, etc”. After some time, that changed when they realised what there was behind each side and what the Spanish Church stood for. Do you know something about the Irish volunteers that fought in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists? How was or how have the relations been between the socialists groups in Ireland referring to the Catholic Church?
R 77. It was split; the Church officially sided with Franco and a few hundred Irish men joined the International Brigade – with a small number of dissident Catholic and Protestant priests amongst their ranks! Recruitment on the Republican side was largely handled by the Communist Party of Ireland and included many IRA volunteers. The likes of Peadair O'Donnell, Frank Ryan and Bob Doyle are commemorated today for the role they played in the Spanish Civil War.
The others, being on the wrong side of history, are not so keen on honoring their legacy! Those who backed Franco can be traced to the current ruling party in Ireland (Fine Gael), which was born out of 1930's Fascism (Blueshirts).
ALM. Last words. Thank you.
R 77. Viva La Quince Brigada!