Jonny and Jim are stalwarts of the British punk scene: the former heading up the Filaments and Suicide Bid, and the latter as the protagonist of the Freak Union. Since the untimely demise of Freaks Union and The Filaments Jonny has continued playing his own brand of soulful protest music on his acoustic, and Jimbo has taken up the banjo, now playing under the respective monikers of Jonny One-Lung and Jim Sorrow. This interview was conducted after the live recording of a forthcoming acoustic-punk release on Pink Rizla Records.
LH: To tell you the truth, I personally don’t know why either of your bands split up?
Jonny One-Lung: The Filaments split up because I moved to America. That was basically it.
LH: Was everyone else in the band happy about that, or did you have to run away to America to avoid facing their disappointment?
Jon: We were ready to keep going and didn’t really want to break up. We’ve done about six ‘last ever’ shows since I’ve been back! We weren’t quite ready to call it a day when we did, but [sings] ‘when a man, loves a woman…’
LH: So that’s why you ran off to the States?
Jon: Well, what other reason?
LH: What’s it like on the other side of the pond? How was the transition?
Jon: The transition was very smooth…it’s all a big novelty at first, isn’t it? You’re happy to be somewhere a bit different, and everyone thinks you’re exotic and its all fun and games, but the novelty has now worn off, and I do miss home quite a lot. You start noticing little things. I stopped following the football about twelve years ago, but now I’m craving to see a match. Bizarre stuff like that reminds you of home.
LH: How about you Jim, why did The Freaks Union split up?
Jim Sorrow: A lot of reasons, similar things really.
LH: What, you fell in love and moved to the US when everyone else wanted to keep at it?
Jim: Well it’s similar because Jim moved to America. He got offered a chance to go to a college he wanted to when he first joined the band, and he’d given us six years when he got offered the place and none of us wanted to say ‘don’t go to America and go to a shit-hot college!’. At the same time we’d all been getting frustrated, it just became really difficult for us. We’d give up everything for the band and seemed to hit this ‘brick wall’ where we were touring the same circuit and couldn’t seem to get any further. I think we were a bit disillusioned with the music industry at that time as well, because we didn’t seem to know what we wanted, we just knew that we couldn’t afford to carry on the way we were. You tend to think that when you’re in a band you’ve got freedom, and everything’s your own choice, and you’re living on the road, but you can’t do anything with your life – your whole social life, your personal life, any opportunities you get outside of your band, when you become a full-time band, goes out the window, and Stew started teaching, and got offered a really good job, and he couldn’t turn that down. I think it kicked us all up the arse to go ‘we love playing in the band, we don’t want to split up – we’re all best mates, even right to the end gig, which was quite an emotional one – but we just couldn’t do anymore, where we were. There was no money behind us. We were getting opportunities taken away from us because we didn’t have the right support. We have certain contacts, but there’s only limitations with the contacts you’ve got if you don’t work with certain management and certain labels, and I pretty much lost my own hope with it because of that, because I figured, if you’re a good band you should be able to get some work, and not because you know the right fucking people!
LH: I imagine there’s always a certain type of person who doesn’t find the idea of being in a full-time band appealing…how has finding that work/life balance been for you of late?
Jim: I feel a lot better now because I’ve been able to go back to college and start a degree this year, and I get to still tour and see friends. I think that’s why we wanted to do this tour, wasn’t it Jon? You were coming back and we just looked at the diary didn’t we? We were like ‘July looks good, let’s get this tour sorted out’ and it’s been great because me and Jonny did that much touring with The Filaments, and there was a famous ‘outside of Dominoes Pizza situation’ with me and Jonny, and that was it…for life innit?
LH: You can’t say something like that without elaborating!
Jim: It weren’t nothing sexual!
Jim: We became blood brothers that night. We got the knife out and gave each other a little cut didn’t we?
Jon: Over a cheese pizza!
LH: Was there any garlic and herb dip involved?
Jim: Yeah, we rubbed it in the wound to make it more manly, didn’t we? Get the butter in there! It was really cool because I wanted to hook-up with Jonny anyway, and we’re both obviously now solo MySpacers, and this is a way we could rip-off the nation. Initially it was going to be a bit of a ‘bigger’ idea, you were going to try and get a band and that.
Jon: Yeah, I was going to try and get some people to play, but laziness prevailed.
Jim: It’s been – probably – the least stressful tour that any of us have ever been on.
Jon: Anyone else wouldn’t have fitted in me Mum’s fiesta anyway!
Jim: No, but it’s been great – hasn’t it? – because it’s been a grown-ups tour. You aint got none of that childish excitement of touring and the little tantrums that come with it.
LH: You’ve just spoiled my next question! Given what you’ve both said this evening, it’s apparent you feel a lot older and wiser, but do you necessarily feel more grown-up?
Jim: Yeah, I do.
Jon: Yeah, I do. For the first time in my life I’ve got some responsibility. I left school and we started doing The Filaments as much as we could and then just did routine jobs between doing tours and that – absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. I had a couple of houses, lost them, and moved back to me Mum’s. Now I’ve got a decent flat, a responsible job – I’m doing nursing out in America and that. I can’t be stupid there; when you come home you do feel a lot more grown-up.
Jim: It’s like seeing life in a different way because you can be irresponsible when you’re younger. We’ve been trying to keep out of bad habits on this tour, as grown-ups but…
Jon: …You haven’t been doing so well!
Jim: I aint actually, I’ve got back to me old habits.
LH: When you’re sitting in the car do you like having a good moan?
Jim: We keep turning the radio off when we hear certain songs that piss us off, and we’ve both had our little rants haven’t we?
LH: What radio station is currently reflecting your grown-up status? Radio 2? Radio 4?
Jon: Radio 1, but mostly we’ve been going for regional stations where you get the oldies.
Jim: It’s was a real good experience when we were tired on the long drive to Newcastle, wasn’t it?
LH: It should be Century FM for Newcastle.
Jim: Well basically, Bob Marley came on and we both perked up straight away, we were chilled out. I think we both know the score with touring and it’s become really easy because you know the drill, nothing needs to be said, you’re just out there, it’s easy, you know?
LH: Who’s the scariest older-driver then?
Jon: Well I wish there was a choice to be made!
LH: Here it comes!
Jim: I sit drunk on the side entertaining Jon while he’s tiredly driving.
Jon: There’s nothing better when you’re knackered; driving down the motorway with an excitable Jimbo on your shoulder.
Jim: But even when it’s a morning and we’re driving, and we’re not our normal selves, a can of coke or something and I’m running away on myself!
Jon: It’s not easy.
Jim: You have actually been trying to keep me on the fruit, and on the straight and narrow aint ya? We’ve had a couple of lover’s tiffs on the way. Little tantrums in the morning; who’s going to do the washing up, who’s going to get the eggs? How we’re going to make the eggs, and that? Jon makes better eggs than me, and I do the drying while he does the washing-up, but we’re trying to get past those problems. We don’t want to fall out halfway through the tour. We’re doing alright, we aint had any major ‘divorce’ situations yet.
LH: What degree are you starting this year then Jimbo?
Jim: It’s going to be English in creative writing because I wanted to do a degree. It’s one thing I missed out on from being in a band, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do – and I thought ‘what do I like doing?’ – I like writing, and I like reading so I thought that’s an obvious choice because there’s no point doing a degree in something I’m not going to enjoy because my attention span is pretty low. If I’m focussed on something I’ll stick at it, so there’s no point in doing something geared at a major career because I just wouldn’t stick at it. There’s been a couple of times at my college course when I’ve had to stop myself drinking because I’ve just ended up in these little sulks, thinking I can’t do it. Then I got my head out of my arse and said ‘you’re a fucking adult, sort your head out and get your essays done!’
LH: Have you done any writing for zines or owt?
Jim: I don’t do any published writing, I just write for myself, but this year’s been a lot about confidence, because I did an access course and I lost a lot of confidence with various situations with my life. Even my music and everything, and I just didn’t want to do anything, and it’s been picking up for the last year and a half, just getting back to what I do best. It’s really difficult when things go wrong in your life because you end up in a situation where you’re lost in a problem and you forget what you actually can do and what you’re capable of. Certain people around can drag you down.
LH: So what else are you looking forward to in the future, now you’ve recovered a sense of what you want from the present?
Jim: I want to do a lot more travelling, I want to get out. I’ve been talking about it for a while, just moving out of Hull and somewhere else because I’ve got no ties there – that pretty much all fell apart a year and a half, two years ago – so I’ve got this itch to move somewhere now, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time, only Freaks Union kept me in Hull, my past relationship kept me in Hull. Both of them don’t exist no more so I’ve got no reason to stay in Hull. I don’t dislike the place, but I’ve lived there all my life and Freaks Union was always a chance for me to escape.
LH: Where would you go, if you could go anywhere?
Jim: I ain’t really thought that far. I’ll go see Jonny I think, but I’ve definitely gotta go south after. I just want to see where the wind takes me because I’m at this point in my life now – I’ve been so focussed on Freaks for ten years. I used to do all the organising and everything, that’s been my baby and my heart for so many years that when it all fell apart it brought a lot of issues out in my life, and it made me realise my own direction was upon four other people as well, and I had a little bit of bitterness toward it but it’s not their fault that they had a better option really, and it’s not my fault that I was so into the band. I had to let that go, before it turned me into a monster.
LH: And you’ve also got to realise there are certain agendas in the music industry that are never going to change.
Jim: We gave it our best shot, we couldn’t do nothing else, it was as simple as that. I think my bitterness mainly came from watching some bands that I didn’t always think deserved the chances that maybe we should have got, but then you can look at the other side of it and say we actually got more chances than a lot of bands do. You’ve got to try and look at the positive element of what you’ve achieved out of your music, or your art, rather than look at the negative, and that whole sort of fame structure – even someone like myself got sucked into that trap for a bit, you know, ‘I will make a living out of me music’ and you realistically don’t. Very rarely a band will make money out of music. Even on a major label you get fucked around, you just become a puppet, don’t ya?
LH: And we’ve got Cliff Richard complaining about his pension in the press at the minute, campaigning for an extension of the copyright term in sound recordings. The major labels would like to see copyright term in these recordings extended from the current position of 50 years, to 95 years to bring it in line with…
Jim: Their life expectancy!
LH: And the current term in American recordings, but this isn’t the artist’s copyright. The vast majority of copyrights in recordings are owned by their labels, and in the face of economic evidence to prove the royalties they’ll continue to receive from such an extension are minimal, they’re serving as puppets for the labels when they say they’re worried about their retirement fund.
Jim: It’s because the whole major label thing is having a panic at the moment. There’s a lot of collapsing going on because of the Internet and that, and I think we’re going to see a major change in the next few years because of that, I think it’s all going to fall apart. We’re in that generation now of the iPod, and band members don’t have faces no more because most kids can have 2,000 tracks on a little white box and they don’t even know what the bands look like, or are listening to, or read the lyrics. It’s a bit of a clichéd thing to say but anyone who likes to listen to music likes to have a record in their hand. I like to read everything inside a cover and study the band I’m listening to, I want to know everything about them. It’s like people only wearing t-shirts to look cool, when I only wear t-shirts of bands that are my friends, or bands that I respect for the right reasons. I won’t wear a t-shirt unless it means something to me. You question the politics of the patches or the t-shirts they’re wearing and they can’t answer your questions. They’re just doing it because it’s a statement that their mates are doing, and they’re all doing, and none of them are actually following any of these statements through the door. The punk scene’s quite a weird one for that because there are some fantastic people doing a lot of great things, and it seems like the people that are critical in the punk scene are the ones that actually do the least.
LH: Do you think that in the next ten years, with the next generation of Internet-savvy kids, we’ll see a shift towards bands that self-promote online – who make their own records and distribute them using the Internet – actually achieving the money and recognition they deserve independent of intermediaries in the music industry?
Jon: I don’t think so, because the majority of 15-year-old kids are still buying their ‘Kerrang!’s and all those other magazines and that’s where they find out about their music.
LH: But a lot of them don’t, when they can just go on the Internet, and MySpace and do it for themselves.
Jim: I think somehow the corporations will get control of it again.
LH: Oh, they already do have control of it. Rupert Murdoch has MySpace and advertising on the Internet generally is so pervasive.
Jon: What you were saying about kids going and finding bands on MySpace, I was having this conversation with Jim the other day. A lot of bands get popular because they’re sold as this whole product of what is cool and the moment and what is big. When you have big magazines that people read, like Kerrang!, that take these things and say this is a really cool band then that’s when you get the real numbers involved which make a band a big deal.
Jim: I think music’s definitely going to become more threatening again. I’ve certainly seen a lot more house gigs turning up again because you haven’t really got the squatter element anymore, and because of all this self-promotion. You can see what’s going to happen as venues get closed down and kids have got nowhere to go because when you’ve got the Carling Academies and the Barflies only promoting bands that have got money behind them and the local bands don’t get the chance to play, all it’s going to do is create a lot more angry music. If anything, it’s going to make any street music, of any style, a lot stronger when your music goes stale – like when punk went stale for a while because it became too easy to do it. Anybody can wear a mohican, you can see that on stage. I used to watch bands and you could just tell by looking at the band’s eyes if they mean it or not. You get a band looking all the part, they’re shit-hot, they’ve got the fucking bright hawks spot-on, and you’re just looking at them going ‘mate, you don’t give a fuck! You actually don’t care what you’re singing about’ and I think that’s going to tear with all the law changes and label shifts. I think it’s going to push things back underground and a lot more collectives should hopefully get together through it as well. It’s certainly happening because I see a lot of frustration from people who do, actually, care about music.
LH: A lot of people I know, particularly in the zine community, see the Internet as a larger-scale model for intra-movement communication than fanzines were back in the day. Now you can book your own tours through gig-swaps on MySpace, whereas once you would have had to either write to people through fanzines, or get a booking agency to do it for you.
Jon: But you’re bringing fads in on a larger scale too, and fads come and go. The reason that fads come and go is because you’ve got that whole media thing backing it up. If you’re talking about making bands big for a DIY scene, I just can’t see that happening, even if it’s totally accessible without that mass-media push behind it.
LH: The paradigmatic example the ‘industry’ like to hold up is the claim that the Arctic Monkeys got a no. 1 record by pushing it themselves on MySpace, but I have my own reservations as to whether they actually did?
Jim: I think that was a set-up by the music industry.
Jon: Didn’t Lily Allen do a similar thing?
Jim: I think that was the way the music industry was trying to get back on it; by sneaking that one in. I think, personally, that the Arctic Monkeys were a good year signed to a major label and it was all a big conspiracy. If you get a major label saying we found a band on MySpace, it’s getting every band on MySpace going ‘we need to get hits now, we need to get labels interested because the Arctic Monkeys got signed off their MySpace!’. I think it was a fucking load of shit, and a way of the major companies getting back control. I think they’re a bit lost at the moment. They’re experimenting with ways of getting the power back.
LH: And they’ve been experimenting with the DIY scene…
Jim: …But they haven’t been signing proper DIY bands. You look at the Arctic Monkeys. Yeah, the first album had a lot of interesting sounds to it, but why is it that the bands nowadays, that are the big bands, have no image, have no personality? You might be a bit of a cheeky Sheffield boy on the songs, but every time I see a picture of the Arctic Monkeys I think ‘that’s just like every chav indie kid I see in every club’. They don’t look like a band that are going to change the world. You don’t get bands with ten albums out anymore, or bands that are looking like a rock band, and maybe that’s just a change in the times maybe we’re past the time now where we look at someone like that person’s a god on stage? Bands seem to now be ‘eh, I’m one of you guys!’ I always enjoy seeing a band that looks like a band; it’s part of their show, it’s part of the whole thing, it’s like going to a circus or something like that, you want to see someone dressed up, and doing the thing, but that’s just my opinion on that. If you’re paying a lot of money to see a band, you want to see the real deal, not some chavy kids.
LH: Having seen a lot of bands before they’ve made it big, for a reasonable price, paying good money to see them now, £18, £20 a ticket just isn’t a prospect, unless you want to associate with all the posers with the expendable cash to do so?
Jim: There’s been two Kaiser Chiefs records on the radio today, and when I listen to them, you can’t help not tap your foot to them, but lyrically they’re terrible! If I read their lyrics, it’s not poetic, it’s not saying owt, it’s obvious anthems for the idiots. Let’s have a riot, let’s sing Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, let’s sing a song about love, let’s sing a song about drugs, and Arctic Monkeys do the same. Let’s sing a song about eh’up on the streets! It’s the same with that song at the minute about the big ladies that Jon and me absolutely hate! That’s going to be on at every fucking birthday party, christening, wedding, it’s going to be like the Mavericks ‘Dance the night away!’ I’ve been to plenty of them dos and seen that song that gets them all up. ‘Come on Eileen, let’s ave a little dance to this one, we’re big girls aren’t we, c’mon!’ It’s crazy and it’s the same, but it’s safe protest music in a way. Every larger lout in the fucking country is going to listen to Kaiser Chiefs because it involves drinking and being a lad. If I wrote lyrics like that I’d chop my hands off so I couldn’t write again, I really would, but I could only chop one off. Someone else would have to chop the other one off and I’ll just be stumping around going ‘I’m disappointed with me lyrics’.
Jim: Don’t quote me on that one.
LH: So how’s living in the states affected you musically Jonny? Started any new projects?
Jon: I really have not very much time on my hands out there with me school, it takes up the majority of my time, but I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Stockyard Stoics?
Jon: Me and Joe do an acoustic thing together. We play half my songs, half his songs and we duet them all. Because the Stoics have now split we’re talking about getting all the old guys from the Stoics, plus myself, together for a new band in September, so that’s the plan.
LH: Surely touring America would be a huge commitment though?
Jon. At first we’d probably just be getting together and trying to make a record and play Philadelphia and New York. In Nursing, if you do agency work, you can pick your days so I’d want to do six months on six months off, then we could perhaps tour for the rest of the time. It’s all possible, and I don’t consider myself about to quit music just because I’m trying to find myself a worthwhile job to do at the same time, I want to find that balance.
LH: Are there any Philadelphia label or bands we should check out the MySpace pages of?
Jon: Err, no.
Jon: Actually, you should check out my friend Justin, who is /ukebox on the old MySpace. He plays punk rock on a ukulele, and I think Paint It Black are from Philadelphia. Philadelphia is very big thrashy sort of punk scene and that’s not really my cup of tea so I’ve no idea of any of the names of the bands that I’ve actually been to see out there. Most of them are loud and fast. Some of them are good.
LH: Is there a different vibe at shows in America?
Jon: I think that punks are punks are punks wherever you are in the world, and the communities seem pretty similar over there as they are over here, and it’s the one part of the community over there you can translate straight across. You go over and say I’m a punk and you hang out at the punk house and suddenly you’ve made loads of friends. I’d say it’s a fairly similar vibe. There’s probably more DIY out there. Over there you find that the DIY scene, and the more commercial scene don’t mix at all. In England there are more DIY bands I think, playing with the bigger bands that don’t really do things on a DIY level. The Household Name bands for example, they’re sorta mid-level, not really doing things DIY. They have a label behind them, they have a booking agent behind them, playing mainly venues and commercial shows and then you have bands like…Inner Terrestrials spring to mind, they organise and play a lot of squat shows, but the two sorts of bands, you can find them on tour together at any one time. Out there you have the DIY bands, and they play all the basement shows and there’s a real sense of punk community, and then you have the other groups of bands who play the venue shows and the two don’t really seem to cross, even in the space of one city. Mentioning the Stockyard Stoics again; they play the DIY scene in New York, yet they say they don’t know any of the other punk bands who play the venue circuit. If you think of London, anyone in a band knows everyone else in a band in London, but it’s just not the case out there.
LH: What’s the one thing about America that’s an instant improvement on the UK?
Jon: I don’t want to be clichéd and say the cheap beer. There is…you might have stumped me there. My girlfriend’s there! The people are a lot friendlier and politer over there. Mind you, I’m talking about this from an Essex to London point of view. They’re a lot more friendly and outgoing than people down in that part of the world. Over in America people go out of their way to make conversation. People don’t like that ‘have a nice day’ ‘can I help you’ thing when you walk into a shop, people say that’s really fake, but I actually think it’s a genuine politeness that people in America have.
Jim: I think it’s Jon’s accent. Americans love a southerner. I think if I ever went over there they just wouldn’t understand me. I have a really big problem communicating with American bands that we’ve been touring with. They’re like ‘Jimbo, slow the fuck down man, we can’t understand your English’.
Jon: The other really interesting difference I’ve noticed growing up in England is, because of the big Irish population in America, growing up in England I remember not being exposed to the point of view that the IRA ever had a point. Growing up you’re taught to villainise the IRA, and everyone supports the IRA out there. Even my teachers talk about the occupied territories of Northern Ireland. That’s a very interesting difference, culturally. I never knew anyone who challenged that topic when it was brought up.
LH: What are you both going to do as soon as the tour’s over? To celebrate?
Jim: I’m going to stay with my missus for a week and have some dirty…
LH: …Whoa, and you Jonny?
Jon: I’m making a record. I started a new band a few months ago with one of the guys from The Filaments, and Babar Luck’s coming in to do some stuff, and a couple of other chaps we’ve booked into a studio to do an album, just for the hell of it, but we’ve only got about five rehearsals to write the album and go and record it, so it might be really shit!
Jim: We’re going to try and get a track together at the end of August.
Jon: We’re going to try and record a little split 7”
Jim: Yeah, a split 7” on ‘FUCK YOU!’ records, or something. Me and Jon on the back with a 77-sorta look! We want it to look genuine, we want the kids to appreciate our true punk rock rulebook standards. Me and Jon actually wrote the rulebook for punk rock out on the three-way-dance tour about three years ago didn’t we?
LH: Do you update it?
Jon: Well we were talking about adding a chapter – ‘The Aging Punk’ – weren’t we? With Jim being thirty this year. We did it in chapters; ‘Etiquette’, ‘At The Show’, so now we can add appendix one as you’re getting older.
Jim: We were actually going to put it into a fanzine weren’t we?
Jon: We were going to send it to Last Hours actually, but thought it was better when it was Rancid News!
LH: I think that would have been a good idea, but I also think you did the right thing by not submitting it to Last Hours. As soon as it went to print you’d be inundated with emails from people complaining and whinging about it!
Jim: That would have been beautiful! It was so funny if anyone whinged they would have missed the point. Buying your cider from the shop, if the shopkeeper tells you they don’t sell any you had to flip him the v’s, call him a fucking cunt and head-butt the fridge on exit!
LH: I don’t think you can actually have a rulebook for punk rock, because the last time I went to Morecambe with my mates we slept in a van parked-up outside a church, about 20 minutes down the road from all the chaos, went swimming every morning to use the showers, listened to a bit of Vic Ruggiero or Jonathan Ross while we downed a nice bottle of Rioja, before strolling into town to see The Freaks Union and partake in a bit of light carnage! I remember when we got Dan Five Knuckle to write a DIY guide to touring for us we got loads of emails say ‘what’s this, you get your booking agent to draw up contracts for you, you’re not a punk band, that’s not DIY!’
Jon: It’s not really though, is it? Let’s face it really, that isn’t strictly DIY at all?