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Gallon Drunk - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 31 / 7 / 2008

Gallon Drunk - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Gallon Drunk's Terry Edwards about his musical interpretation of Derek Raymond's brutal crime novel, 'I Was Dora Suarez', which recorded with Raymond and his bandmate James Johnstone in 1993, has just been reissued on CD

When the crime novelist Derek Raymond presented 'I Was Dora Suarez' to Dan Franklin, his agent at the publisher's Secker and Warburg, Franklin was so repulsed by its contents that he was phsyically sick. 'I Was Dora Suarez' is the fourth book in Raymond's 'Factory Series' about an unnamed detective sergeant at the London Metropolitan Police's imaginary Department of Unexplained Deaths, which, also known as A14, specialises in lowlife murders. The most brutal of all the books in the colourful, but often controversial Raymond's career, it opens with the savage double murder of a beautiful prostitute, Dora Suarez, and her 86 year old friend and landlady, Betty Christie, by a maniac killer, who then proceeds to defile Suarez's body. Raymond was delighted by Franklin's reaction, who, despite having already published the previous three books in the series, refused to put it out. It had, however, been a harrowing experience for the author to write, pushing him, as he focused intensely on its horrors during the eighteen month period it took to write it, to the point of breakdown, and contributing to the break-up of his fifth marriage. He, however, returned to it in 1993, three years after its publication when he recorded a musical interpretation of it with James Johnstone and Terry Edwards from the indie rock band, Gallon Drunk. The soundtrack for 'I Was Dora Suarez' merges the plummy vocals of former Etonian Raymond, who died a year later in 1994 of cancer aged 63, with the spooky industrial drones of Johnstone (guitar, organ, piano, percussion) and Edwards (saxophone, organ, piano percussion). Fifteen years after it originally came out, the 'I Was Dora Suarez' soundtrack has just been re-released on Edwards' Sartorial Records, with an extra track, 'Roatta'. The new track tells of the murder of a seedy club owner Felix Roatta who has the top of his head blown off by a shotgun on the same night as the other murders. In the book this linked third murder eventually leads Raymond's increasingly unhinged detective at the book's conclusion to a vicious and bloody confrontation with the killer. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Terry Edwards a few days after he and Johnstone had performed in a new interpretation extracts from 'I Was Dora Suarez' at a London show. PB : The original idea for the ‘I Was Dora Suarez’ album came not from yourself but Geoff Cox. Who is he ? TE : Geoff used to work in the offices alongside Clawfist which was Gallon Drunk’s original label. He has some connections with the industrial band, Current ’93, but on music rather than on visuals. He suggested the idea initially to Nick Browne, who looks after Clawfist. Personally I had not read any of his novels at that time, so it was a matter of getting hold of some of the books and discovering who this chap Derek Raymond was. PB : Of all Derek Raymond’s books, it is the most savage and graphic. Why did you decide to adapt that one to music ? TE : Again that was Geoff’s decision. At the time it was the most current of his books. It was published in 1990 and we recorded the album three years later. It was also the fourth in ‘The Factory Series’. It seemed to really distil a lot of the ideas in the previous books and was the kind of essence really of that idea of the nameless detective. PB : How easy was it to get Derek Raymond involved ? TE : He was very keen to do it. Like all of us we didn’t know what we were going to come up with, but he just liked the idea of having a punt on it. I think that was the kind of person he was really (Laughs). We met him before we began recording it just to discuss what we were going to do, but he didn’t have any input into the music and we weren’t there when he did his voiceover. Voiceover is the wrong expression really because his vocal was done before the music. We recorded the music to his reading. PB : Was it him that decided which texts from the book he was going to use ? TE : That was between him and Geoff. Geoff acted as a kind of editor. PB : It is a terrifying, very traumatic book. A lot of the music on the album is very eerie and creepy. There are lots of passages of ragged beauty in it, but much of it is industrial, discordant and tense in sound. Were you simply trying to capture the mentality of the Factory novels by making the music like that ? TE : Yes, definitely. As it is one of the earliest spoken word/soundtrack pieces we were a little in the dark about how to do it. We tried, however, not to do any themes, “the detective enters the room” or whatever, and having a tune which represents him, and again the same with the killer. We didn’t go along those lines. We did try, however, to convey this idea of a hidden menace. The opening piece, ‘Empire Gate’, for example, is about those two brutal murders in Betty Carstairs’ house and the idea the music was trying to get across was that you’re not safe in your home. PB : Was it an album that took a long time to record ? TE : It is actually quite a long album. PB : Even without the extra track, it is a good 65 minutes. TE : I am really glad that we got that extra track, ‘Roatta’, on it. At first it was made for vinyl as well as CD and the constraints of timing with that meant that we had to leave it off the original album. It was a little lopsided as a result as only the women are murdered in it until the final denouncement. It made more sense in terms of the story to have Roatta’s murder in it as well and in regard to the plot such as it is. With regard to recording it, I think we were in the studio itself just probably for ten days, but James and I did quite a bit of work both independently of each other before we started recording it. There is a piece of music by Chopin which we used and which I had to program. As I still can’t play the bloody thing on the piano (Laughs), I did have to program that. James also did a lot of the drones together for ‘Empire Gate’. He constructed the shape and form of that . There were other times, however, in which we had a vaguer form, and in which we would both improvise and play at the same time. Then we would edit that if need be. As we both come from background of being in bands, rather than composing in solitude, we much preferred to be in the studio together making noises. When you hear percussion noises or whatever it was often the two of us there doing it. It was safety in numbers I guess (Laughs). PB : When Derek Raymond was writing ‘I Was Dora Suarez’ it had a devastating emotional effect on him. Did he say much about that ? TE : He certainly did in his autobiography, ‘The Hidden Files’. He became in many respects totally separate from the rest of the world. James and I both wrote sleeve notes for the reissue. Initially I thought that it was a very odd book because the plot doesn’t hang together, and, as I said on the sleeve notes, I think not just the killer and the detective, but also at the time he wrote it Derek Raymond was also somewhat unhinged. There is a grip on reality that isn’t there. As an author you would imagine that you would want your plot to hang together. PB : How much time did you spend with him ? TE : Socially quite a bit around the time. Not all of that that can be remembered because he would drink us under the table (Laughs). We met up with him in what he called “The Office”, ‘The Coach and Horses’ in Soho and we got on very well straightaway, despite there being a big age gap between us. PB : What do you remember about him as an individual ? TE : He could be very charming. There was a documentary made about him when he was writing ‘Dora Suarez’, and he was pretty bombastic in that, but I think that was for the camera. Once he was among friends over a pint, he would be as opinionated as anyone would wish him to be. He would perform to the couple of people around the table rather than the entire bar. PB : The original album was released on Clawfish. It has now been released on youe own label, Sartorial Records. Why have you decided to re-release it now ? TE : We got the rights back a while ago. I reissued the first three Gallon Drunk albums last year. It made sense to put ‘I Was Dora Suarez’ as well as it is the next album we did chronologically. There also seems to be an increased interest in Derek Raymond’s work at the moment, so I guess the zeitgeist was with us, but the main reason for putting it out was to make complete all our early recordings. PB : At the time of the original release you did a one off show with Derek at the National Film Theatre in London. That was actually the first gig ever to take place in the NFT. What do you remember about that ? TE : They showed the documentary about Derek. There were a couple of Gallon Drunk videos shown as well. There was a short performance by the band with Derek and also a question and answer session with him. It bridged the gap between what they would usually do at the NFT, which is screen something and then do a Q and A thing , and a regular live music event. PB : You have just done a similar event at the Horse Hospital in London. Who did you get to do the spoken word part in Derek Raymond’s place ? TE : We got the actor Richard Strange to do it. I have known him on and off for years anyway. He was in a pre punk band called the Doctors of Madness, and I have worked with him since then on ‘The Black Rider’, which was the Tom Waits/William Burroughs piece directed by Robert Wilson, and which was revived about four years ago. He performed in that and he seemed to be a good choice of actor to do it. I wanted to have an actor than a writer. PB : Why was that ? TE : The writing on ‘ I Was Dora Suarez’ is very personal. I think that it is better to bring it off the page. There is no point in trying to recreate the record. We could have used a tape of Derek Raymond’s voice, and played the music, but you might as well just have bought the record if we were going to do that. Judging by the reaction we had on the evening we made the right choice. PB : Will there be other performances of it or is that it ? TE : I certainly hope so. We’re keen to do something else. I think we are going to see if we can try and do it at one or two literary festivals. PB : Thank you.

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