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Interview: Tony the Interpretive Dancer

18 November 10 interview: Paul Klotschkow
photos: Dom Henry

Antony Hodgkinson drums for Julian Cope, collaborates with a host of Notts bands, flew the flag for Derby Alt-Rock in the mid-90s with Bivouac, and likes to be known these days as ANTRØNHY. Oh, and he got up on stage during the 1992 Reading Festival and danced for his mate’s band - some bloke by the name of Kurt Cobain - and became known as Tony The Interpretive Dancer...

How did you get into drumming?
Let’s just say that I was quite a troubled child and I got into some serious strife. One day I just got sick of the way I was and thought that I need to start drumming. It’s very hard to explain really, it was when I was eighteen. It was therapeutic; when I started drumming, I never got in to trouble again. I found out when I went back to college seven years ago to do Music Technology at Confetti, that I did actually have learning disorders and severe dyslexia and thinking back, that is why I was the way I was.

Why did you start playing the drums?
I'll skirt over this quite quickly: Shall we say that I was quite a troubled child and I got in to some serious strife. One day I just got sick of the way I was and thought that I need to start drumming. It's very hard to explain really, it was when I was eighteen. It was therapeutic; when I started drumming, I never got in to trouble again.

You channelled that negative energy in to drumming...
Exactly. Also, I found out when I went back to college seven years ago at to do an HND in Music Technology at Confetti, who I work for now, that I did actually have learning disorders and severe dyslexia and thinking back, that is why I was the way I was. I think music therapy is extremely important, it’s important to channel them into a creative environment.

Do you have any favourite drummers?
John Bonham. I know it is an obvious one but he is. Apart from my Dad, he is the only hero in my life. It’s his idea. I've realised that the longer I've played music that sometimes I can listen to somebody and get bored by it because somebody is playing in a very predictable style and it becomes pedestrian.

And Bonham live, from footage I've seen of him, he did something different every time. He put these ridiculous fills in and just the imagination behind it is incredible. And he was such a hard hitter as well. Just listen to 'How The West Was Won', it's a quadruple vinyl official bootleg that came out in the early 70s, it is amazing. But drummers, oh god, you know I could go for Jaki Liebezeit from Can, Mac McNeilly from Jesus Lizzard, Tony Allen.

Regarding the band Bivouac, what was it like being in a band in the early to mid 90s. Did it differ to how things are now?
I couldn't really say. The thing is, what I do now I don't really formulate bands, it’s side projects working with the artists I'm normally with. I guess it is harder to get a deal as we did and it’s probably harder to get support or to be able to tour the States for six to eight months. It’s just different times, I guess.

You played in Punish The Atom as well. Any other Notts bands or musicians you've played with?
I've done bits and bobs for people who have needed drumming. I've recently done a session for Paul Yeadon out of Bivouac called The Nation of Shop Keepers. I did stuff for Earth the California Love Dream. Me and Joey from Punish The Atom are working together on a project called Golden Hair, which is a dance project, but quite heavy duty really. Not Gabba or anything like that, just heavy weight. Who else? I can't remember off the top of my head.

You drum in Julian Cope's band now. How did you end up drumming for him?
It was about two or three years ago that I met Julian through a mutual friend called Doggen who plays guitar for Spiritualised. I had known him for a couple of years and he started to do a new project, The Black Sheep Ensemble, and I guess he liked my approach to music.

Is it going well?
Yes, I've just finished one side of the new album. I forget how long it has been sometimes, because it can be quite impromptu when we go to record. I'll go down to Bristol or down to Wiltshire and I'll record something and it'll get spread over two or three albums. What we do is quite improvised. For instance, the last show I did was headlining the Bristol Festival. And he gave me a setlist and there were no songs on it, just who was on stage and times. Obviously I had to ask Julian what he wanted and he said, ”Just have a rhythm like you played in this session or this for the BBC or whatever”. So I just start that to lead them off and then it just improvises from there. It can be extremely boring for a great percentage of people, but I'm kind of down with that, because a lot of the time something quite magical can come from it.

You grew up in Derby, what is your relationship with Nottingham?
I used to be able to see the glow of the Nottingham city lights from where I used to live on top of the hills. It's a bit weird really, I was brought up in the country but I always gravitated towards the city. I think it is the whole 'bright city lights' thing. I moved here when I was sixteen but I used to come to Notts for the humps behind the Broadmarsh, because I used to BMX behind there many moons ago in the late 70s. Notts always seemed to be the big modern close city really. I have left, but I always come back to it. It is my stomping ground and I do like Notts. I think it gets a bad deal musical wise.

So, Nirvana and the Reading Festival… Since the Reading Festival DVD was released the whole 'Tony The Interpretative Dancer' moniker is a bit more popular. What does it feel like having that tag?
It's always been a weird one really. I didn't know that they were releasing that DVD until it was out. I've always been a bit apprehensive looking back on it really as I can be very sceptical about my performances. because I'm just not into myself. The last time that I actually saw Kurt was at that show, I had a tear in my eye at the end when they gave me a credit. It was amazing really. I've had seventeen years of basic anonymity but I quite like that there is that secret history or I've accidently become that. With the press thing I've always been stand-offish, because when Kurt died and what happened, it was horrible and very upsetting: after 1994 and Kurt's death I stopped drumming for nine years because of how it affected me. I got into the more electronic side of things, but I stopped physically playing drums.

How did you first get to meet Nirvana?
An old friend of mine, Russell Warby: He’d moved to Nottingham and was working at a psychedelic club called The Colour Wheel. It is where the toilets are now - you know, the toilets that have been awarded 'Best Toilets'. I’d just been to the Acid Days Festival at Finsbury Park and I had a t-shirt on, Russell went “I've been there”, and we just got on like a house on fire. He had sort of found a gap in the market where he would represent Amphetamine Reptile bands, SST bands, you get the drift. Bands would come over and I would go and pick them up in the splitter if he didn't have a driver. He said one day “I've got some bands coming down they are doing a Lamefest Tour - Mudhoney, Tad and Nirvana” so I just picked them up at the airport and we hung out. They came back and we met up with them again, it was just lads together getting on really well. I think the dancing came out as a dare, “If you want to dance you have to wear women's clothing”. I'm not proud - if I have to wear women's clothing now and again, I will.

When did you first dance with them?
It was around October 1990, Leeds University with Victims Family and L7.

On YouTube there is a bit of Nirvana footage from when they played Nottingham Trent...
Oh yeah? I think I did that one too. I think Everett True was there as well actually. He was trying to do some dancing.

Trying to get in on your space...
Whatever really. God, I didn't know there was footage for that.

When you were up on stage with Nirvana did you have anything planned out?
No, it was all improvised. Just to be weird with it and get lost in it really. Not to look...well, obviously it wouldn't look too professional. I can dance a lot better than that, but that wasn't the point really. It was to be part of the gig and to show that anybody could do it. What has been weird about the DVD that I've found out recently is that the footage was broadcast in front of, like, 65 million people in America.

Going back to Reading ‘92, can you recall what it was like being up on stage?
I don't know what you are trying to say, Paul!

I'm not saying anything...
Well, people have insinuated that I was absolutely wankered! I do remember it quite clearly. When I watched the DVD, as soon as I put it on and Kurt goes on stage and plays the first chords, I actually felt the same surge as I did that night. You know; this is it, full tilt, you are going for it. Amazing. I didn't really drink much, because dancing drunk doesn't really work for me. And obviously nothing else.

Can you remember looking out at the crowd?
What was it? About fifty thousand people? Absolutely amazing. The energy I was getting from the audience sort of jeered me on more. I over did it in the first song and ended up wearing a neck collar for two weeks afterwards because I gave myself whiplash. There were conscious things I went through like: don't slip over, which I didn't. Stay away from Kris, because I had been hit by the bass guitar before when he throws it up. Stay away from Kurt, because I may punch him. I always had images of punching him in the face flailing around. And you know, just feed off Dave, because we just sort of fed off each other.

It's nice that you still have that part in the Nirvana story…
Now, yes. When I used to look at early footage of Led Zep or Sabbath, to me it was a piece of rock history. Or AC/DC at Cleveland when they opened up for Aerosmith, amazing footage. And I was always in awe of stuff like that. And now I am falling in to that bracket myself. That is the great thing about life really, you don't know what is going to happen in the next second or minute. You never know what is going to happen, something will become apparent, don't force it.

What was the atmosphere around the band like at the time?
It was really hyped and really great as I hadn't seen them for ages. I turned up at Reading and I didn’t know where they were and there were obviously rumours that they weren’t going to turn up. Well, I knew they were going to turn up otherwise I wouldn't have gone to Reading in the first place. It was good a great atmosphere, a real punk rock show. I was talking to Dave about it a couple of months ago when I went to see Them Crooked Vultures.

So you are still in touch then?
Yes. I took my son, Darcy, to go and see them. I like to take him to shows and he go to meet Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. He wasn't really that bothered about John Paul Jones, but I was. I'm going to sound like a right 'wavey-davey' character now, but just to get that little bit closer to John Bonham basically. I said to him, “John, I would just like to say thank you so much for your social work that you've done in the past. If it wasn't for Led Zeppelin I would either be dead or in jail now”. I just got to hang out with Dave for three or four hours just chatting as I hadn't seen him for two to three years, because our paths don't cross that often. We were talking about the show, and obviously it was a lot less polished than headliners now. Well, they could probably just about get away with it. But Nirvana, just came out, they stomped on pedals, guitars out of tune. Sorry Kurt, but they were. But that was the whole point of it. I don't play shows to play perfectly or to mimic a record. I do them to go somewhere or for it to be a different experience and feeling.

Have you danced since you last got on stage with Nirvana?
That drum piece 'Crazy Horse' that I have done for Julian, we are doing a film for it and I'm going to be dancing on that. I’ve got a dance piece ready to film. Unfortunately I just have to be a little bit careful about what I do nowadays, which is a shame really, because I really like just doing it.

Do you spend much time in Nottingham?
Sort out. I can be away for eight or nine months of the year but I do come back at weekends and see the children.

What do you like to do when you are in Nottingham to relax?
I like to sunbathe in my trunks in my garden. Or naked if I could. But the last time I did that somebody called the police. I did have a sock over my modesty, but they still called the police - if you don't fucking like it, don't look. I just like to hang out and not doing any music, forcing myself away from it. Then I can get distance and perspective on what I’m doing.

If you had a super power what would it be?
Flight. It would make my life a lot quicker and easier. And it would save on money.

And final words for the LeftLion readers?
I think I might have said everything!

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