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Anthony Strutt - 1962-2018: An Appreciation

  by John Clarkson

published: 29 / 6 / 2018

Anthony Strutt - 1962-2018: An Appreciation


Editor John Clarkson reflects on the music writing and his own friendship with our long-term writer Anthony Strutt, who died on March 25th after a lengthy battle with cancer.

What I will always remember best about Anthony Strutt is his enormous energy. It was Baptiste that brought Anthony to Pennyblackmusic in November 2000. They were a London based Go-Betweens/Velvet Underground-influenced guitar band of the late 90's and early 00's. In those early days of the site, we also ran an online record shop and, while we never traded in huge amounts, Baptiste’s then two singles to date, 1999’s ‘A New Career in a New Town’ and that year’s ‘The Quiet Times’( both of which had been released in 7” vinyl only editions of 500), had been selling well for us. Pennyblackmusic was one of the few places other than at gigs where they were available and we must have sold at least twenty or thirty copies of each. I arranged to set up a phone interview from where I live in Edinburgh with their front man and main songwriter, Wayne Gooderham. I was still relatively new to interviewing and very much trying to find my way there. Whenever I was about to do an interview, however obscure or little-known the band (and most of the bands we spoke to at that stage weren’t well-known), I would always, as much as anything to heighten my own confidence, put in a lot of research. Like many small indie bands, Baptiste had an extensive press page on their website, in which they linked to every article - each record or live review - that had ever been published about them. They had from what I recall only done one other interview at that stage, with a London-based print fanzine called 'Independent Underground Sound'. The interview was unavailable on the Baptiste website, but it provided an email address for its editor, Anthony Strutt. I fired an email off to him, asking if I could buy a copy, explaining that I was about to interview them and leaving my phone number. A couple of nights later the phone rang and it was Anthony. He had sold out of all the copies of the edition in which the interview had appeared but he was able to tell me a lot about Baptiste. We were on the phone for about half-an-hour that evening and he also spoke about 'Independent Underground Sound' and I told him about Pennyblackmusic and just, as the conversation was winding down and I was thanking him for his help, he offered to write for us He did not have a home computer at that stage but took my address down and said that he would send something in the post that I could then type up. About two weeks later a package arrived in the mail with a live review of a solo show by Isobel Campbell, who had recently left Belle and Sebastian and some record reviews. It was the start of a friendship which would extend over the next seventeen years. I met Anthony for the first time three months later in February 2001 on one of my regular trips to London to see our webmaster Richard Banks and Neil Landowski, who also helped to manage things at Pennyblackmusic at the time. We had kept in touch in the meantime by phone and also email, in which in those days before smartphones Anthony would check in on two or three times a week at his local internet café in Blackheath where he had gone to secondary school and had returned to live after spending some time based in other parts of London. We met outside a pub in Waterloo near where Anthony was working at the time and I remember having a very animated, slightly drunken conversation with him in its main bar. He could be very funny and always had an arsenal of good stories about the bands and musicians that he had encountered and followed over the years. There are two in particular which I remember from that first afternoon together. The first was about how he had struck up a friendship with the Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Ian McNabb and his then band the Icicle Works at a gig on a boat, literally a ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’. Anthony would remain a huge fan of Ian, (interviewing him three times for Pennyblackmusic) and ‘Hollow Horse’, the opening track from the Icicle Works’ 1985 second album ‘The Small Price of a Bicycle’, was one of the songs that was played at his funeral in Leicester on April 16th. The second story was about how the young Anthony had fallen for Chrissie Hynde and the ill-fated first line-up of the Pretenders of Martin Chambers, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, the band about which Billy Connolly had once darkly joked “nobody leaves”. When they announced a UK tour, Anthony booked himself a fortnight off work and a ticket for every show. By the time it had got to the third night he had seen it all, the same sets with the same running order and Hynde’s same in-between song patter at exactly the same point each night. It would continue that way for the rest of the two weeks. Anthony, however, never lost his admiration or respect for the Pretenders in what was nearly a forty-year love affair, putting it down to experience and something that a lot of young bands do on their early tours. He would go on to write about several other Pretenders’ gigs over the years and Chrissie’s 2014 solo album, ‘Stockholm’, was his Album of the Year. It would not be an over-statement to say that Anthony was possibly the most passionate, single-minded individual I have ever met when it came to music. In many ways, music defined him. Born in July 1962 in Plaistow, he had caught punk. He loved the Sex Pistols but found less inspiring many of the other bands of the genre. His prime early musical love was for the Beatles. It was a passion that he would carry for the rest of his life. He met Paul McCartney on several occasions, and as he told our Chicago-based writer Lisa Torem with fierce loyalty on a night out for Pennyblackmusic staff in London a few years ago, he had decided never to "visit or forgive New York as that was where John was shot". When punk mutated in the late 1970s into its more melodic counterpart of new wave, he found that much more to his taste. Devo were another early passion and from them he moved on to become a fan of indie and alternative rock groups including the Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, REM and the Cure, the latter two of whom he travelled to mainland Europe to see their gigs. Creation Records, especially in its earliest years, also had a huge effect on him. He attended some of the legendary club nights organised by its owner Alan McGee and befriending McGee interviewed him four times for Pennyblackmusic. Creation Records bands such as the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, the Loft, the Telescopes, Ride and the early Primal Scream were amongst his favourite groups, and he had a particular love for Slowdive and their shoegazing signing of the early 90s. He interviewed all five of its members - Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, Christian Savill, Nick Chaplin and Simon Scott – individually for this site, as well as Halstead and Goswell’s offshoot band Mojave 3 and when Slowdive reformed after a nineteen-year absence in 2014 spoke to them a further two times. Their song, ‘Celia’s Dream’, from their 1991 debut album, ‘Just for a Dream’, was another of the songs played at Anthony’s funeral. Partially because of the 60’s influence of that label, he also became a fan of 60’s acts such as the Doors, Love, Neil Young and various psychedelic bands including the Seeds, whose singer Sky Saxon did what transpired to be sadly his last ever interview with Anthony three months before his sudden death in 2009. Anthony had been a fanzine writer off and on for over twenty years by the time we met him, and started out in the early 1980s by writing for a tribute fanzine to the Wings guitarist, Denny Laine. He then went on to write for various other fanzines, before finally deciding to go solo in 1997 with ‘Independent Underground Sound’, which he wrote entirely himself. His motivation for doing so, as he explained to our magazine, when we offered to take a few copies to sell through the site, was both to profile new bands, particularly, though not exclusively, in the London area and also to have "the opportunity to meet some of the people that I grew up with". Anthony arrived at Pennyblackmusic at exactly the right time. He encouraged us to up our game. In all honesty we would never have got as far as we have done without his support and guidance. I remember him telling me, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get". It was an important lesson and one that I have never forgotten. I bought both the sixth and seventh and final editions of ‘Independent Underground Sound’ and still have a copy of the last one. It was both a rudimentary and also an ambitious publication, rudimentary because Anthony would type it up on an old word processor and then take it down to the printers to print off and ambitious because of the high content of each edition, which ran to at least fifty pages and Anthony would sell it at gigs and from the counter of various London record shops. Interviews in those last two editions included Anthony Harding, the drummer with Hefner, the American Music Club’s Mark Eitzel, Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh, Strangelove’s Patrick Duff, Thrum’s Monica Queen, Lupine Howl, the Chameleons, the Jesus and Mary Chain’s William Reid, Spiritualized drummer Damon Reece, Inspiral Carpets’ front man Tom Hingley and Robyn Hitchcock’s then reformed the Soft Boys. These might not have all been household names but they are huge names in indie and alternative rock circles. Each edition of ‘Independent Underground Sound’ also included several pages of live reviews and CD reviews. In early 2002 Anthony decided to close ‘Independent Underground Sound’, choosing to focus instead on writing for Pennyblackmusic and briefly another online music magazine. There was some duplication with a couple of articles and the other publication’s editor gave Anthony an ultimatum, them or us. Despite the other magazine having probably the higher profile, Anthony, with a loyalty that I have never again forgotten, threw in his lot entirely with Pennyblackmusic. Over the years he wrote for Pennyblackmusic, he carried on with the same manifesto that he had established at ‘Independent Underground Sound’. He championed, as Pennyblackmusic had also been doing, under-acknowledged indie bands who he felt deserved a voice such as Pinkshinyultrablast, Chorusgirl, the Butterflies of Love, Spectres, Children of Leir, Mammoth Penguins and the Workhouse. As he encouraged us to do too, he also interviewed more established and influential names, including Peter Hook, Starsailor, Gene, the Raveonettes, Steve Wynn, Echo & The Bunnymen, the Primitives, Amelia Fletcher, Black Box Recorder, the Magic Numbers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Miracle Legion. As Ben Howarth, one of our long-time writers noted after the news broke of his death, “If you go through the list of all the bands he interviewed, it’s pretty much a who's who of the UK indie scene. You could always, however, trust his recommendation on an unknown band too". Anthony came from a very working class background. He had left school at sixteen, as far as I could tell because it had been expected of him and had started on a lengthy career in catering which only finally ended when his ill-health forced him to take early retirement last year. He may not have had a degree in English Literature or Journalism as some of our other writers do but he had an edge in three other ways. There was firstly his knowledge. It was second-to-none. He absorbed facts like a sponge, getting his information from radio, magazines and talking first-hand to bands and other fans at gigs and outside stage doors where, a keen autograph collector, he would sometimes queue for hours. A night out with Anthony was always an educational experience. You always came away with a multiple of facts. He was also the first to know anything. I learned about the deaths of Bowie, Lou Reed (who we had seen together at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2007 on his ‘Berlin’ tour), the Eagles’ Glenn Frey and Black’s Colin Vearncombe (both of whom Pennyblackmusic had interviewed a couple of years before) and John Peel, all from Anthony. With the former it was by text and in the case of Peel it was with a phone call from Anthony just as I was leaving work asking what the site was going to do about it. Secondly, what you saw with Anthony was what you got. There was a refreshing lack of pretension to him, a matter-of-fact honesty. He knew what he liked and what he didn’t like and he was never afraid to tell you so. As Dan Cressey, who is also another of our London-based long-term writers, recalled after hearing of his death: “Anthony would just straight up tell me if he thought I was wrong, if I said something about music he didn't agree with. It is a valuable talent in a journalist, and a valuable trait in a friend". Alongside his knowledge, he brought an earthiness to his writing and people reading it knew that they could trust him. Thirdly and finally, there was his interviewing. He could do a decent record or live review but his real talent lay in interviews. He excelled at them. He was never frightened to ask a difficult or potentially awkward question but at the same time interviews with him were always relaxed, intimate occasions. Beth Arzy, from Trembling Blue Stars whom Anthony interviewed with her band mate and partner Bobby Wratten, recalled amongst the online tributes after his death that “being interviewed by Anthony was like going down to the pub for a drink with a really good friend". Other musicians remembered him with a similar affection. He became our most prolific writer, contributing over the years a massive 1,550 articles to Pennyblackmusic. For the first couple of years he continued mailing his interviews and reviews in by post and then, after he bought his first computer, via email. He had such an energy and enthusiasm for writing that there was a time when it seemed every time that I opened my inbox there was another article from Anthony. In October 2006 he met through online dating, Celia Gough. He had been married before for a few years in the 1980s and in the time since I had known him had a few other shorter-term girlfriends. It became quickly apparent to his friends that Celia was becoming of increasing importance to him. Celia was the best thing that that had ever happened to Anthony. She encouraged his musical interests but was able to give him much more beyond this. Anthony’s own relations were scattered as far away as the Shetland Isles. Celia had four grown-up sons and Anthony found himself part of a ready-made family and eventually both a proud stepfather and grandfather. They also adopted two cats, Bill and Annie, whom he adored. Without Celia’s calm and strong support, he certainly would not have coped as well as he did with what was a progressive and savage illness. Anthony started spending more time in Leicester where Celia was based. For some years, as Dave Toynton, his best friend and for two years another Pennyblackmusic writer, remembered in his funeral address, he kept National Express in virtual business travelling up to see her. In November 2011 he left London to move in with Celia. They married the day before his 52nd birthday in July 2014. In what was a particularly vicious blow of fate, he was diagnosed three months later with T4 prostate cancer. The cancer had spread to his kidney and pelvis, as well as 90% of his prostate and, while his doctors could contain it for it a while, he was told then that he was terminally ill. He dealt with his illness bravely, with typical matter-of-factness and an often darkly witty gallows humour. Despite often being in a lot of pain, he kept writing throughout for Pennyblackmusic, and completed what I felt was some of his best ever work for the site. There was a feature on Bowie’s final album ‘Blackstar’ – Anthony’s Album of the Year in 2016 – in which he acknowledged his own illness and that was as poignant as it was almost unbearably moving. In the summer of 2016 he travelled through to Coventry from Leicester, taking Celia with him backstage to interview Love guitarist Johnny Echols, stunning the veteran Echols with the detail of his knowledge. Echols afterwards said that it was one of the best interviews that he had ever done. It was the first interview that Anthony had done in a while. “I have still got it", he told me on email. As far as I was concerned, he had never lost it. There was also an obituary that Anthony wrote about another of his musical heroes, Leonard Cohen, after his passing in November 2016 which won him a lot of acclaim from Cohen’s fans. His last article, a review of an imaginary new soundtrack for Roman Polanski’s psychological horror film ‘The Tenant’ by the Swedish experimental group Death and Vanilla, was published a month before his death. If I have one abiding memory of Anthony above all, it is of going to see the Who with him at the first Hyde Park Calling Festival in London in July 2005. A few Pennyblackmusic members had clubbed together to buy him a ticket for his birthday. It was a far better present than the disco ball, which we had bought him the year before (which had undoubtedly ended up on eBay where he would buy and sell CDs and vinyl and autographed items) and he was delighted. He hurled himself down the front when the support band Primal Scream came on in a side tent, reappearing an hour later drenched in sweat. Shortly before the Who were due on stage, he disappeared again towards the front while the rest of our party stayed back, telling us that he would meet us at the end. It was a long, brilliant but exhausting two-and-a-half hour set at the end of a long, hot day involving much standing. Hangovers had started to kick in some cases. As a whole, we were tired and starting to get grumpy with ourselves and each other and then Anthony came back, buzzed-up, ecstatic, having had the time of his life, ready clearly to do it all over again. He brought the same passion and energy to everything he had to do with music. The music world has lost one of its greatest enthusiasts. Pennyblackmusic has lost one of its principal members and a guiding light. John Clarkson would like to extend thanks to Celia Gough-Strutt for her help with writing this article.

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Vinyl Stories (2017)
Anthony Strutt - Vinyl Stories
In 'Vinyl Stories' Dave Goodwin talks to Anthony Strutt, one of Pennyblackmusic's oldest writers, about his favourite vinyl records, which include LPs by the Doors, the Pretenders, the Smiths, the Cure and the Beatles

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