All your questions answered

McCarthy in Too Much Hanky Pantry

From the deliberately saccharine sweetness of ‘An MP speaks’ to the Byrdsian jangle and drone of ‘Write to your MP today’, McCarthy held firm conceptually.  Across their three LPs and nine singles or EPs, the music jangled and the words jarred.  And then that was that, the concept perhaps inevitably exhausted.  Malcolm Eden resurfaced briefly as Herzfeld while Tim Gane and Lætitia Sadier went on to form Stereolab, staying true to McCarthy’s melodic foundations but introducing Germanic rhythmic influences and a more abstract lyrical palette.  Which is not to say that McCarthy did not progress, for they were always trying out new settings and subjects.

For the second issue of my fanzine, before the release of I am a wallet, Malcolm sent me three sides of foolscap in answer to some deliberately vague prompts – you could hardly call them questions.  All I gave my readers of this was half an A4 page.  Twenty-one years later, it’s time to put this injustice right and, for the benefit of McCarthy fans and anyone who happens to be researching eighties indie-pop and left-wing militancy, reveal more of the contents of that ‘interview’.  In contrast to their image, the letter found them in light-hearted mode.

‘Thank you for your note.  Tim did buy your fanzine at the Razorcuts gig, so we’d read it before.  I’m glad you liked ‘Something wrong somewhere’.  Maybe you think, like some people we’ve met, that everything we do afterwards is a falling off.  It’s unfortunate that a song we wrote in 1966 in two minutes should be praised so highly.

Here are our loves and hates:-

GARY (he refuses to say which he loves or hates.  But he will say that 5 are likes, 5 are dislikes, and 5 depend on his mood.  What a difficult boy.): McCarthy, White Rabbit, Dogmatism, 1969, Blood simple, Jane, John, Malcolm, Tim, money, success, peanut butter, adverts, Five Star.

MALCOLM (Loves): Shelley, Bob Dylan, Samuel Beckett, Marx, Lenin, Freud, Joe Orton, Primal Scream, Shakespeare, The importance of being Earnest, the RCP, Cubism, Trotsky, Liz Fraser’s singing, ‘Panic’.

(Hates) Religion, mystification, bad P.A.s, moral panics, pop stars, landlords.

JOHN: (Loves): With the Beatles, The Jam: A beat concerto, William H. Cosby (comedian, dancer, doctor), the United States of America (the country), the Temptations, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, J.D. Salinger, Colin MacInnes, Harpo Marx, Stephen King.

(Hates): White rock historians (the Presley, Beatles, Velvets, Joy Division theory), Jean-Luc Godard, designer violence (i.e. films Gary likes).

TIM: (Loves): The Byrds, David Lynch films, existentialism, Syd Barrett, Pop Art and art pop, ALF, Richard Dadd, absurdism, illogic and surreality, Dylan’s 3 electric LPs 1965-66, 1960s Rolling Stones and Beatles, green suede jackets, criminal history, Josef K, Felt, Primal Scream, Terry Thomas, Peter Cook, Psychocandy.

(Hates): work, rationality, computers, illness, logic and practicality, justifying your own actions, triviality, predictability, patriotism, insurance, meat, flares, bad haircuts, exercise, (most) comedians, religion, reactionaries, conservatism.

Q. ‘Sometimes bitter words’: [Malcolm] I don’t feel in the least bit bitter as a person, in fact I’m quite optimistic generally.  But there are a lot of ideas, viewpoints and arguments around that I object to strenuously, and in many of our lyrics I’m trying to combat them, ridicule them, do them down.  The nastiness of the lyrics isn’t I think attributable to me, to my being a horrible person, but to the nastiness of bourgeois, reactionary ideas.

Q. ‘Red sleeping beauty’: [Malcolm] The chords are E and A, and the odd F.  It’s a very old song, two or three years old.  It’s the only one of our old songs that we are willing to play nowadays, we’re sick to death of the others.  I was reasonably happy with the way the song turned out on the record.  The only thing is that, being on an independent label, we can’t afford to record in a very good studio.  We’re not intending to bung synthesizers and horn sections on our records if we signed to a major, but the overall sound of an expensive studio improves the quality of the record dramatically.  I think the songs we recorded in the BBC studios (the John Peel session) came out much better than anything we’ve done before or since, simply because they were better studios.  Those songs sound more or less how I imagined our songs should sound, whereas the songs on ‘Red sleeping beauty’ and on the next 12” [‘Frans Hals’], although fab, were not exactly as I’d imagined them.

Q. ‘Gary’s drumming’: [Gary] I have found drumming to be a singularly unrewarding pastime, mainly because songwriters in general think drummer = lobotomy.  However I must admit that nature has seen fit to bless most drummers with a below average intelligence just as it blesses guitarists and songwriters with an above average ego, and bassists with a very average style of dressing.  Anyhow for influences I cite Cesare Borgia on ‘Red sleeping beauty’ and Ruth Ellis on the forthcoming ‘Frans Hals’.

Q. ‘Big live sound’ [Tim] None of us weigh more than ten stone.

Q. ‘Wolfhounds’ [Tim] Currently recording their first LP for Decca.  ‘More songs about shrikes and warblers’.  A savage exposé of trash ornithology produced by former Tweets’ (‘The birdy song’) bassist. (True!)  ‘… makes the Byrds sound like the Eagles.’

Q. ‘Next’: [Malcolm] John buys all his jumpers there.  That’s a fact.

[Malcolm] The gigs you’ve seen us at we think were awful I should warn you.  Every ten years we deliver a stunning performance.

Barking is ugly ugly ugly.  We attended Billy Bragg’s school.  And the Tremeloes’.  Not at the same time of course.  It is a miracle that such a nice bunch of lads should have been produced by such a rat hole.  (The Tremeloes I mean.)’


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