Caught any of the seemingly never ending series of Top 100 shows on Channel 4? If you have then chances are you've already come across John Robb. Sharp-dressed, chisel-featured, firing off sound bites on the music spectrum from the Sex Pistols to the Spice Girls. TV punditry for this renaissance man punk of rock, is but one string to his bow. As a writer Blackpool born Robb has inked the black stuff for NME and the now sadly defunct Sounds. He's also penned what many consider to be the definitive account of the rise of The Stone Roses plus a highly readable guide to the bleak musical and cultural landscape that was the 90's. But Robb's burning passion has always been punk rock. Back in the early 80's Robb learnt his trade with off-the-wall indie noise oiks The Membranes. Today, as the charismatic and energetic front man, Robb is the catalyst in punk rock combo Goldblade. With a rabble-rousing new LP 'Rebel Songs' out on Captain Oi records and an extensive touring schedule Goldblade look set for a very very busy 2005. I managed to grab a few words with one of punk's most down-to-earth and affable characters. It's Friday the 13th and I'm sat pre-album launch gig in a Manchester bar.....

PB : John Robb - how the Devil are you?

JR : I'm really fucking good. It's really ironic you say 'devil' and we're playing Satan's Hollow tonight!

PB : The latest LP. Shall we start with that? Are you pleased with the way it's all turned out?

JR : It's the best one. I know you're supposed to say that so everyone goes out and buys your record and all that bollocks, but it is the best one. It's the one I've taken home and listened to over and over again. And I actually listen to it as a fan and think wow this sounds fantastic.

PB : How did you hook-up with Captain Oi?

JR : They saw us play at 'Holidays in the Sun' [punk festival] about two years ago and rang us up and said if we ever needed a record deal they'd put us out. Brian at TSB is really good but it's a really small operation. Captain Oi's a world-wide operation and they're a fantastic label. They've got every nook and cranny that distributes or stocks a punk rock record covered and we're in there. For the first time ever we've got all our records in all the right places. Ultimate, who put out previous records. did the job but they didn't get our records into the punk shops.

PB : The LP's got a real live feel to it hasn't it?

JR : The sound on it's really good. It cost £2,000 to record it. It sounds like a massive £50k job. You could put it up next to Green Day and it wouldn't sound massively less polished.

PB : To me it sounds like it has more of an Oi influence compared with previous LPs.

JR : People always say Oi and I'm not knocking Oi because I like some Oi bands, but the groups are a bit too close to each other in that genre. With us there's quite a bit of The Ramones, The Clash, Rancid and even Green Day in the mix. Even a bit of Captain Beefheart.

PB : And even a bit of Jazz?

JR : A little bit. That's more of the [Dead] Kennedys influence. But I'm not saying we're not an Oi band because were embarrassed about it. We're more of a punk rock band. We're not a street band and I don't come from the ghetto - I'm not a street-punk person. We're a punk rock band and we're proud of our punk rock roots and heritage.

PB : Overall though it's a much harder LP than say 'Home Turf' your first LP isn't it?

JR : The first album wasn't recorded right. A bit too polished. The new LP has songs with great choruses that people can sing along to but with complex verses. People often miss the verses. One review of the album said "it's a great album but the lyrics are very simplistic". I thought that was quite funny because although the choruses are quite simplistic, and you can take it at a dumb level, if you want to dig a little deeper there's plenty in there.

PB : There's a strong anti-war sentiment on a couple of tunes and 'Everything is Porn' even hints at environmental issues doesn't it?

JR : It's a bit like everything in modern culture is like that. I'm not against pornography but I think everything is sold in a pornographic way. You know - celebrity culture, everyone want's to be a star without having a reason to be there. It's like that programme about Posh Spice last night. It's a bit tragic really isn't it? They want to be famous so they can be rude to people. What's the point in that - it all seems a bit dull doesn't it?

PB : What's your favourite song off the new LP?

JR : It changes all the time. 'Sick World' is my favourite today. We've just been rehearsing it this afternoon and it sounds ace. I like 'Psycho' because it's such a good calling card. The first time we played it, it was at a stadium in Russia and there was about 15,000 people there all singing along.

PB : What's on the immediate horizon now for Goldblade?

JR : We're touring this album for 18 months. It takes a long time to get the word out.

PB : Where's that going to take you to?

JR : We've got a tour of America in the Autumn. We'll do more festivals - we're going to do Prague again. There's festivals in Britain and then there's more club dates. Then it's back out to Russia, Germany's getting talked about, loads of stuff. It's a world-wide scene - you can even get to South America and Japan.

PB : Didn't you go to Argentina last year?

JR : No, it never came off but the contact's still there. It'll come off in the end.

PB : Any other countries you'd like to tour?

JR : Uzbekistan! When we played Moscow somebody there wants to get us gigs in all these sorts of countries down there. At one stage Armenia was talked about but they said it might be a little heavy so they advised against going there. It's a world-wide scene though. I write to a Crass-style punk band in Nepal. You don't get indie bands there but you get a punk band!

PB : It's certainly been very durable as a musical movement hasn't it?

JR : Yeah, because it's the ultimate music of rebellion isn't it? If you still feel something - if you still feel the energy or anger or there's still some life about you, you go towards punk rock. You don't want to go and see the Flaming Lips - that's the music of indie types who've got really good jobs now. But I don't knock 'em for going. I saw the Flaming Lips in 1988 and they were really good then. Psychedelic punk it was. But when I saw them recently it was really boring - it was like Yes. It just wasn't my kind of thing at all. It just went wooosh, straight over my head.

PB : If you could pick a band to tour with who would it be?

JR : Current bands? We'd love to tour with Rancid because I really like the records and also their audience would like our music. Morrissey likes us. I sent him some [Goldblade] records. He played Manchester Arena and after the gig there was a party in the hotel. There were 200 people in there. Morrissey doesn't go to parties, but at three in the morning the room went really quiet, and in walked Morrissey. It was his birthday so they were going to give him a birthday cake. He walked all the way across the room, comes up to me and goes "I'm really please to meet you" and then walked past, got his birthday cake and walked straight out. And Emma [John's girlfriend] is going "Where do you know him?." And I'm going "Well, I don't!" A week later his agent via his manager sent me an e-mail saying Morrissey says thank you very much for the albums and that he really likes them. I wasn't so surprised as Morrissey was a punk rocker. He's into some of the groups that I was into when I was young.

PB : So could we see Goldblade on tour with Morrissey then?

JR : Well I think that would be great! All those Mexican rockabillies love Morrissey.

PB : You've played with a lot of the old punk bands who are still going - The Stranglers, The Undertones, The Dead Kennedys - the list goes on. Is it all just a nostalgia trip or is there something more to it ?

JR : I think it is for some people. It hits me on different levels. Of course it's nostalgic. But at the same time a band can still have a valid edge to what they are doing. I mean, you stand there and watch The Stranglers and they still feel like a real band. I think that's because of people like Baz Warne going in there and putting fire back into the group. And you still wouldn't fuck with JJ Burnel. If you squared up to JJ in a fight would you be saying it's a nostalgia trip?

PB : Erm, no, you're right, I wouldn't!

JR : He's six Dan black-belt at Karate and that's as high as you get. It's only The Master who's higher. JJ's a really good bloke as well. I won't have a word said against The Stranglers. I was a massive Stranglers fan as a kid and that's when I learned about bands that you're not allowed to like. "You can't like them" and I'm like "Erm right, where's the rules!" I like the Clash, I like the Pistols and I like the Stranglers. They were the biggest band apart from the Pistols.

PB : And they could actually play their instruments!

JR : True, but they had the aggression of punk and they sang songs that fitted into the punk idiom as well. We knew they were old and we didn't give a shit. They looked fantastic and they sounded fantastic.

PB : But to some extent they were the outsiders of punk weren't they?.

JR : When I first started out I was in Blackpool, totally on the outside. That's why I identified with the Stranglers I guess. We were into punk, magic mushrooms and being outsiders. So who else are you going to listen to with that combination?

PB : You draw a fairly punky crowd don't you?

JR : Punk rock is our roots. And I'm not embarassed about that at all. In this country's culture you're meant to be embarassed about being a punk. Sometimes people say "Oh, that band sounds shit. They sound like the UK Subs." But that sounds good to me. The UK Subs are one of the great British rock'n'roll bands. I mean, you go to a Subs concert and there's Charlie Harper - a man whose music runs through his veins. The Subs play a gig and he's on the T-shirt stall, chatting to the guys that have come to the gig and hanging out. We played a gig with him in Edinburgh about two months ago and he sat in the bar having a drink watching all the bands. Then he gets on up stage, plays a kick-ass set and is out with the crowd again afterwards.

PB : How old's Charlie Harper now?

JR : He's 60 and he still looks exactly the same. You see, with punk rock there's no rules. Where does it say that you've got to stop when you're 25? What you're going to do when you're 25 - watch telly all the time?

PB : Will you be treading the boards at 60?

JR : I do this because I like doing it - if I didn't like doing it I would stop. That's the reason to stop doing it. If it became a chore, if I didn't get off on it any more I'd but out. It's nothing to do with anyone else, what I do. I'm not having any fashionistas telling me what to do. I don't like fashion - I like clothes and I like style but I can't stand fashion - it's other people telling you what to do, isn't it ?

PB : Just coming back to your live shows. One thing that struck me the first time I saw Goldblade was how much you identified with your audience.

JR : We want to be a people's band and we believe in that. Not because it's anything earnest or right on, but because it's more fun. You play a gig and it's a great night out. You get paid to show off to people and then you get to hang out with them afterwards. That's what we do. We're not big stars or anything. It's very important to be with your crowd. When we first started out we got a lot of people checking us out, more the NME type of people, to see if we were hip or not. But now because we play a lot of punk gigs the punk crowd come and see us and they know what we're about. It's a self-supporting self-sufficient scene. That's what is so fantastic about it - it goes beyond fashion. We don't have to rely on the whims of Hoxton whether we're going to be hip or not. We don't get on Radio 1 and we don't get in the NME but it doesn't invalidate us as a band.

PB : Do you still read the NME?

JR : I've started reading it again. I started reading it in 1972 and I read it all the way up to 1998 so I went way past the age limit for the NME. That Conor McNicolas has done a good job. He's writing for their audience now. He does a very good job writing about the "The" band scene. I really like The Libertines.

PB : The sad thing is that there's little chance of you getting your new LP reviewed in the NME. You're more likely to get into Kerrang aren't you?

JR : Which is actually ridiculous because the readers would really like our music but because there's a vetting thing going on and because we're considered too old we don't get coverage. We do get into Kerrang but we can't get features. You've got to be American to get a feature. Why can't it be just on what you like? We're a kick-ass live band and we've made a great album. That's enough isn't it?

PB : So is there an ageist thing going on?

JR : It's not ageism. It's a definite editorial choice. They think 18 year olds aren't interested. We played a punk festival in Birmingham the other week and half the crowd were about 16 or 17. They went berserk as soon as we hit the stage. People who come and see us are under 20 or over 40.

PB : Carrying on with the media theme, do you make a conscious decision to keep your media career separate from your Goldblade career? Whenever I've seen you on TV you always seem to keep the two things separate.

JR : Yeah, I don't use my media connections to plug the band. They want me to go on TV and talk about other stuff and not wear a Goldblade tee shirt. Obviously it has its benefits because I know the journalists and that's got to be some sort of advantage.

PB : I've heard you've got another book in the pipeline.

JR : Yeah, I'm working on it now. It's absolute hell. It's a spoken-word book about punk rock. It's loads and loads of interviews and the quotes tell the story. I've done about 60 interviews and I've transcribed all the interviews that I've done so far. You try transcribing an interview - it takes fuckin' ages!

PB : Who have you spoken to?

JR : Don Letts. Mick Jones. Jah Wobble. A massive cross section. The Stranglers obviously. The Damned. They were fantastic. Captain Sensible - what a great interviewee! Rat Scabies was good as well. Brian James. Every major punk band. I've just got to get a John Lydon interview sorted out. Souxsie wants to do one but she just keeps forgetting about it but I'll have her done soon.

PB : It's going to be pretty comprehensive by the sounds of it?

JR : Yeah. Oh and there's Ari Up and Polystyrene too. There's a lot of women in it. Yeah, it's going to be fairly comprehensive.

PB : And from the 'front line' so to speak?

JR : Yeah from the people who were there. I loved Jon Savage's book but I don't want to write a book and put any theories afterwards. The thing with Jon Savage's book is that I didn't agree with his take on punk. I thought it was fantastic and I liked his enthusiasm, but people don't think about the juxtaposition between working class music, cut-up collage art and situationalism and think "let's form a band'" People go to and watch The Clash and go "Wow! That's fucking brilliant - I'll go form a band and loads of girls will like me." That's the reason for every single band - that's why Captain Beefheart was in a band.

PB : In Manchester it was The Buzzcocks that had that effect, wasn't it?

JR : I did a fantastic interview with Pete Shelley. He told me a great story about putting the Pistols on. They were going to put them on at Stalybridge first, in some pub, because Howard Devoto used to write a pub rock column for the local paper. It's just really ace homely down-to-earth stories like that. It wasn't, like, the high art end of things. The high art is in there but there's also very normal people doing un-normal things. And that's the beauty of it all.

PB : Which music is currently floating your boat?

JR : Obviously I like The Libertines but that's hardly sticking my neck out is it? I love Rancid, a lot of the American stuff. I like Tiger Army, Necromantics, Horror Pops. A lot of the nu-psychobilly stuff. I follow all that stuff and it's all very good. Also great British bands like Capdown too. They get put in the ska-punk box but they're more like raga-ska. There's all these great sax lines in there - a very original sounding band.

PB : Anyone else?

JR : I saw Ian Hunter last night and that was fucking brilliant. I don't look at music and see it as going forwards or backwards. I just hear it and if I like it then I like it. When you hear an experimental band now they're as conventional as anybody and you know where it came from. I don't hear anything now and go "Wow that's completely original, I just think wow that's fucking amazing."

And with John Robb's approaching stage time rapidly approaching we make our short way back to the venue. There they deliver a high energy 50-minute set of cuts from the new LP and throw in a few old classics such as the anthemic 'Strictly Hardcore', a rousing 'Hometurf' and an encore with 'Black Elvis' for good measure. Everyone laps it up as Robb bonds with the crowd, breaking down the barriers between performer and audience on the rather unusual 360o stage at Satan's Hollow. It's all killer riffs, energy and enthusiasm. But don't take my word for it. Go out and buy 'Rebel Songs' and check Goldblade out live and you'll see for yourselves. And on the way out who should be at the T-shirt stall by the exit? John Robb of course. Thanking each and every person for coming to the gig. He can talk the talk but he also walks the walk......

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