Guest Column – How I accidentally made a spoken word album with Manic Street Preachers & more

Guest Column – How I accidentally made a spoken word album with Manic Street Preachers & more
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John-DoranJohn Doran, editor of one of Q's favourite music sites Thequietus.com, hadn’t really done much of creative note during his 43 years on this planet... until recently when he suddenly decided to publish a memoir, Jolly Lad, release a CD, put out a completely different vinyl LP, join a rock band and go on a 31 date reading tour round the UK – all in the same month! In a guest column for Q he explains how the likes of Nicky Wire led him to accidentally combine spoken word with music… Plus listen to an exclusive preview of his track with the Manic Street Preachers' bassist.

Do you remember Ultravox playing at Live AID? I do. It was weird wasn’t it? Two billion people across the globe in 1985 watching a band who only months previously wouldn’t have been able to fill the George Roby, playing Reap The Wild Wind and One Small Day to a large percentage of every single human being alive… Utterly fucking bizarre. Surely the slot should have gone to a bona fide popular act of the day such as Go West, Hipsway or Paul Hardcastle. Do you think if Midge Ure hadn’t written half of Do They Know It’s Christmas? his band would have got the call? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have done, but then, who can blame him for insisting on a juicy slot on the Wembley line-up? I genuinely don’t.

I don’t know if I’m being entirely fair to myself by comparing this incident of self-indulgence to the fact that I’ve just released a low-key spoken word LP (given its limited appeal and availability: there are only 300 copies pressed up). It features a couple of short stories and some extracts from my book Jolly Lad - a memoir about alcoholism and depression - with musical backing from Nicky Wire from Manic Street Preachers, Nik Void from Factory Floor, Abi and Neil from British Sea Power, the Norwegian noise rock band Ararbrot and industrial techno producer Perc. However I just wanted to acknowledge that maybe being the editor of a moderately successful website, The Quietus, did put me in a bit of a favourable position in some respects when it came to releasing my first album. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I certainly got to indulge myself on this project and that is reflected in the album title, HUBRIS… and by the fact it’s released on my own record label the Quietus Phonographic Corporation (tQPC).

However, in my defence, there was no plan… it came about in as haphazard a way as pretty much everything my learned co-pilot and friend Luke Turner [The Quietus associate editor and Q contributor] and I have done over the eight year history of the website. For example my first excursion into combining spoken word with music came about due to narcotic induced idiocy rather than any kind of Machiavellian plan.

Several years ago while at an extreme music festival in Birmingham I ran into Jimmy The Saint - my procurer friend with the gold tooth who drives an embellished Honda Civic - who offered me a dab from his bag of "energising crystals". Ignoring his stern warning about the strength of his product I tipped the whole lot into my mouth and asked him: “MDMA?” Only to hear the terrifying reply: “No. My mate Steve makes it in his caravan.” At some point during the next three days that I spent awake, drenched in sweat, convinced that I was trapped in a pinball machine, I went to see the space rock band GNOD. They all looked like characters from Mad Max 2 and behind them on stage I could see a giant black hole spiralling away malevolently. I approached Paddy Shine from the band after the show and informed him in quite a panic ridden way that I needed to join GNOD and read poetry out about black holes over their music. Instead of laughing at me or telling me to fuck off, he simply said, “Yeah, why not? Do it… just come up to Salford one weekend and we’ll give it a go.” And eventually that’s exactly what happened. (The track Lacerated Sky appears on the CD that comes with the hardback edition of Jolly Lad.)

But when it came to the record HUBRIS which came out on vinyl and digital download this week - it was really other people who took the lead. Take the track Gun Lore for example. In 2013, my friend Kjetil Nernes from Arabrot asked me to contribute sleeve notes to his Murder As Art EP. Because we’re both big fans of Steve Albini’s caustic vignettes from the liner notes of the Big Black LPs Atomizer and Songs About Fucking, I told him that I’d go one better and write a short story about a man tattooing himself.

I was made up. It was to be my first ever published piece of fiction. I thought I’d buy a copy of the EP and send it to my mum. However when I saw the striking artwork Johannes Høie had produced for the release of what appeared to be female paramilitary soldiers in balaclavas with exposed breasts goose-stepping across clouds in heaven with automatic weapons - and erect penises - I decided that maybe I would wait until I’d published my second short story before showing my mother.

A few months later Kjetil persuaded me to record myself reading the story out and send him the WAV. In 2014, while undergoing harsh and invasive treatment for throat cancer, he and his girlfriend – the Swedish musician Karin Park – set the piece to music. The results are really intense and, to me, overwhelming. The idea of a vinyl release started to form.

But in the case of the track above, Marguerita Time, recorded with the assistance of Nicky Wire and Loz Williams, things panned out so simply, that I still can’t quite believe that it actually happened. Last year I was interviewing the Manics’ bassist and spokesperson for a Noisey film. While chatting afterwards, Wire asked me what I was up to and I said I had a little spoken word and music project on the go and without pause he said: “I’ll be involved.” (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s a lovely man Nicky Wire - he’ll probably have to be really rude about Reading Festival, the bass player from Blur and Ed Sheeran now just to re-establish his punk rock credentials. But in a punishing year of Holy Bible concerts all over the world, I’m pretty sure he had more important things to be getting on with than setting my daft words to music.)

So there you have it… I got to be on a track with Nicky Wire… And I’m not really sure what it means in the bigger scheme of things but when he emailed me the file and I played it back for the first time, in my head all I could see was tens of thousands of people at Wembley clapping along in unison with Vienna... and it didn’t even matter to me that the imaginary crowd were clearly just killing time until U2 and Queen came on. John Doran @theQuietus

HUBRIS is out now physically via Normanrecords.com or can be downloaded via iTunes.