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Metronome Sessions

John Doran

2 May 15 words: Paul Klotschkow
The Quietus co-founder and Editor is taking his memoir on the road as part of a spoken word tour. An English Trip is taking in 31 cities including Nottingham on 12 May
John Doran Jolly Lad

Kjetil Nernes (left) and John Doran (right) are hitting the road together for An English Trip

Hi John, what have you been up to today?
Hello. Well, it’s only 6.52am but I got up an hour ago. I can’t sleep because of anxiety about the tour and the live dates. It’s reaching some kind of crescendo at the moment. I’ve built a feature on Super Furry Animals for my website The Quietus and now I'm answering these questions while drinking mint tea.

An English Trip is taking in 31 cities. It looks like a mammoth undertaking. Firstly, are you regretting booking so many dates? Secondly, why did you pick Nottingham as one of the places you wanted to visit - does it hold any particular significance to you at all?
Well, the original plan was to do two months. It was utterly insane. I came up with the idea while in a manic phase – I have the common or garden variety of bi-polar disorder. Normally, I have these ideas, like militant urban bee keeping or walking twice in a loop round the coast of Britain or setting up  a pirate radio station in the front room and I think about them for weeks and then just forget them. This one took root for some reason though. I don’t regret all of the dates but some of them include venues that are big beyond my comfort zone or are in places that I’m finding difficult to promote. I like Nottingham – I’ve got mates who live here. Originally I wanted to put on a night with my pal the film maker Jeanie Finlay who lives here but she’s busy with her amazing new feature Orion. It was her who hooked me up with the Broadway cinema though.

One of the reasons why you are undertaking this tour is because you want to experience what it’s like for a band book a tour and then go out on the road. Why is that something that is important to you?
Brendan Behan said the critic is like the eunuch at the orgy and I guess after twelve years of being a music writer I wanted to see what the shoe was like on the other foot. I don’t mean I want to sleep with loads of groupies and take heroin, it’s more like I want to understand why more young bands don’t book and promote their own extensive tours, playing in non-standard venues. But I already know the answer: it’s fucking impossible, costs too much money and the worry will thrust you into an early grave. And even if it’s highly unlikely to happen – I wanted to give Cosmo Jarvis, Foxygen and Los Campensinos! and all the other bands I’ve slagged off over the years the notional chance to turn up and pelt me with rotten fruit while shouting: “Your stage presence lacks vigor and your metaphors are overextended!”

Why did you decide to do your readings with musical accompaniment?
Well, Kjetil Nernes – aka the Norwegian noise rock artist Arabrot – is not only a good friend but he’s mellow and positive so will keep me from losing the plot and he’s been in a touring band for the last sixteen years and knows the ropes. To be honest it was partially his idea and from that moment on he just encouraged my mania instead of telling me to take some medication, like most of my friends would. Jeanie said I should go from town to town on the train meeting people and having adventures but I’m really misanthropic and hate talking to strangers, so that idea kind of withered on the vine.

There’s also an accompanying spoken word album. How did you persuade the musicians that feature on that to take part?
That was the most simple part of the project to be honest. I didn’t even ask Nicky Wire, he just offered during an interview. Lovely man. The first band I approached was GNOD several years ago. I was at a festival in Birmingham and I was in a highly advanced state of psychic discombobulation while watching them play live. They all looked like characters from Mad Max 2 and there was a huge black hole spinning behind them on stage. I went up to them afterwards and started going on about joining them to read poetry about black holes. And instead of laughing at me like anyone sensible would have done, they just said, “Yeah man, come up to Manchester and do it.” But as ridiculous as the situation was, the seed was sewn. And then with Arabrot, Kjetil had asked me to write the sleeve notes to one of his EPs (Murder As Art) a few years ago, so I wrote him a short story about a man tattooing himself. Kjetil then asked me to record myself reading it out and he ended up adding music to it while he was being treated for throat cancer in hospital. What he did with the piece is extremely powerful. So the whole spoken word aspect has been rolling along smoothly for some time.

John Doran Jolly Lad

Jolly Lad by John Doran

Do you find it difficult to stay away from drinks and drugs now that you are sober? Is something like writing a distraction from or a replacement for them?
With drink, no, not at all. It’s become second nature not to drink – although it was extremely difficult at first. But you do have to keep on reminding yourself that you’re not cured – that there’s no ultimate cure – just so you don’t become complacent and I do think about drinking at moments of extreme stress but it’s become second nature. With drugs it’s still a work in progress but I’m getting there. Doing this book was very specifically a replacement for drugs and what happened during the writing stage was it was so stressful that it just made me want to take drugs even more but now that it’s done, touch wood, it seems to have done the trick. I’m hoping to use going to the gym as the next thing I get obsessed with though, so I look like one of Manowar by the time I turn fifty.

On the surface The Quietus is a successful and influential website. As someone who is also involved in helping to run an arts and culture website - although on a smaller scale - I wanted to know what are the challenges and difficulties you are faced with on a day-to-day basis and why do you keep doing it?
It’s been very difficult running the site and writing the book at the same time. If given the chance to do the same thing again, I’m not sure if I’d do it. If it wasn’t for the hard work and support of Luke Turner my business partner at tQ I wouldn’t have gotten away with it. The challenges are mainly financial at the moment. After nine solid years of working on the site the progress in how much revenue we generate is frustratingly slow – I really thought we’d have cracked it by now. We both only pay ourselves £12k a year so we can afford to pay at least some of the contributors but it’s not enough – we still aim to pay for everything and are constantly trying new means of getting the cash flowing. However this means I have to do a lot of freelance work to keep my head above water. I’m not moaning… I had tough jobs for years. I worked in factories and pubs for ten years so I know this isn’t a bad place to be in. It really helps you to do an 80 hour week when your job and hobby are one and the same thing. Outside of housework and being a dad I don’t do anything other than my job – it’s just that once in a blue moon my job involves hanging out with Adam Ant or reading a book by Viv Albertine, so it’s hardly like being down a coal mine. During the writing of the book, the long hours have taken a definite toll on my health and I don’t feel very well at the moment but I keep on doing it because of fear. The fear is that I’ll wake up – like the false ending in Nightmare On Elm Street – and be back in the aerosol factory in Hull. Also despite my usual uncertainty about most things in my life I know my site is really good and it’s still a buzz knowing that I’m partially responsible for it. 

I noticed that on some nights of your tour there will be a ‘Krautrock Karaoke’. This sounds amazing. I’m hoping you’ll be taking part in it?
Yeah…My mate Kenichi Iwasa does this. I would have called it something like The Cosmiche Arkestra but then I’m more pretentious than him. He gets together a one off supergroup of musicians and tells them the names of four or five Krautrock songs 24 hours before the gig and they have one day to think about it. The band meets on the night and they have to partially improvise, these lengthy extended jams based on, say, Spoon by Can or Monza by Harmonia. The lack of preparation time means everyone has to be ultra alert and really listening to one another. The times I’ve seen it have been amazing. I’m going to have a Korg Kaoss Pad, a shitty vocoder and a Boss Space Echo pedal for my microphone, so there has been some talk of me joining in on one song… won’t someone think of the poor audience! It’ll be great if all of Belle & Sebastian are in the front row shouting: “Your interpretation of the Brainticket vocal style is wholly inauthentic! Get off!”

Will there be a another book after Jolly Lad?
When I was writing it, I had a really rough time. It was a really bleak affair going over that material time and again. There is a lot more I could say about the years I was drinking and taking drugs and the long periods of mental illness but I won’t put myself through the ringer like that again. It’s not like I’ve written Finnegan’s Wake or solved the cold fusion puzzle… it’s just not worth the grief. Plus it’s not fair on my girlfriend and family. My son has just turned four so he’d be much more aware of the mood in the flat or whatever if I were to go through another nine or ten month period like that. I’m not even married to doing another book but I’m off to pick up the books from the publishers’ this afternoon, so it may be that it’s like getting a tattoo when you immediately want to get another one done. However the book will have to be about something else. I really want to write a book about contemporary England maybe. We’ll see.

Finally, what do you hope readers Jolly Lad will take away from it?
I hope they take away a burning desire to tell all of their friends what an astounding and Earth-shatteringly good writer I am, how they laughed, how they cried, how their lives were changed for the better and how everyone should go straight to the Strange Attractor website and order a copy and to not get it from Amazon because of the tax thing. But really if anyone is buying it because they feel their lifestyle is harming or killing them, then I hope it gives them that little bit of extra inspiration for them to do something about it. It’s not easy but then it’s not impossible either. I’m an average sort of person really and if I can crack it [*crosses both fingers, holds breath and touches wood simultaneously*] then anyone can.

John Doran will be reading extracts from his Jolly Lad memoir alongside live musical accompaniment from Nik Void (Factory Floor) and Kjetil Nernes (Arabrot) as part of his An English Trip book tour at Broadway on Tuesday 12 May 2015. Click here for further information and to book tickets.

Jolly Lad is available to purchase via Strange Attractor

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