# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Simon Williams - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 8 / 11 / 2022

Simon Williams - Interview

Simon Williams, who is the owner of the long-standing indie label Fierce Panda Records, has just published a book, ‘1-2 Cut Your Hair’, about Croydon-based punks, Johnny Moped. Both the name of the group and the moniker of their fragile and eccentric frontman Paul Halford, Johnny Moped has proved a ramshackle but surprisingly durable force in punk. Williams’ affectionate, detailed book takes the band from its beginnings in the early 1970s , where it went through various line-ups, which included amongst its members at different points Captain Sensible and Chrissie Hynde, and several change names before it settled on Johnny Moped. Their debut album ‘Cycedelic’ was released in 1978, but the group soon fell apart. A second album ‘In Search Of Xerxes’ (1991), named in tribute to their long-lost saxophonist, was recorded, but it remains the subject of debate whether it was actually released. Further long periods of inactivity followed, but a film documentary, ‘Basically, Johnny Moped’, directed by Captain Sensible’s son, Fred Burns, renewed interest in the band, and they went on to record another two albums, ‘It’s a Real Cool Baby’ (2016) and ‘Lurrigate Your Mind’ (2018) as well as tour Europe for the first time. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Simon Williams about ‘!-2 Cut Your Hair’. PB: Johnny Moped have always been from the start an ‘outsiders’ band’ in punk circles. Was that a major appeal of writing about them? SIMON WILLIAMS: It definitely made it more attractive, hearing old friends enthuse about them in a way they never did about The Clash or the Pistols because they were such a curio. I love the fact that in books about The Roxy or even in 'England's Dreaming', pages not lacking in references to goofballs and eccentrics, Johnny is labelled as an 'oddity'. High praise indeed. PB: Johnny Moped are a band often heard about rather than heard. Can you remember when you first discovered them? SW: I'm not sure if anyone 'discovers' the Mopeds. They basically just ambush you when you're least expecting it. When they were rocking at The Roxy I was starting grown up school listening to ELO, so my entry point was definitely not at the peak of their so-called career. I'd heard the name kicking about over the years but the 'Basically, Johnny Moped' documentary was the first time I'd ever fully appreciated the utter madness in the story. PB: You say about Fred Burns’ documentary ‘Basically, Johnny Moped’ that it has “a calming empathy with its more eccentric subjects. People who could quite feasibly be mocked for their obsessions and pastimes are presented in such a comforting way that the patently absurd becomes gently normal.” Were you aiming to achieve something similar in writing ‘1-2 Cut Your Hair’? SW: Definitely - there was no point in spending 80,000 words saying that Johnny is a nutjob and take the piss out of everything. You had to be more nuanced than that, and Fred captured that sympathetic spirit so brilliantly there was no need for me to mess with it, so I just carried on the theme with all the new boys in the band as they joined up in the '90s and '00s and a new generation of Moped myths were created. Pretty much all the book reviews have picked up on that underlying empathy, which is really pleasing. PB: In what ways do you think you have expanded upon what Fred already had achieved in his film? SW: The main thing is that, the odd bit of footage from a modern pub live show aside, the film pretty much ends at the end of the '80s. I cover all that period but then have to piece together the gaping missing bits of the jigsaw from 'The Search For Xerxes' album in 1990 / 91 to where they are now, which was thirty years of mystery, chaos and more mystery. It's very curious writing about a band when that band isn't actually doing anything for sixteen years at a time. It makes things...interesting. PB: You say in the book that you were often given varying accounts of events because people’s memories of them were so different. Was that one of the most difficult things about writing this book in working out what had really happened? SW: I don't think it's necessarily a tick we can solely attribute to the wayward Mopeds - every band has different personal takes as to what happened to each member at any one time a long time ago. I just think that, much like everything else in their story, the Mopeds' memories are more...Moped-like. We plough in pretty early with three entirely different recollections of what happened with the 'Darling, Let's Have Another Baby' single, and then you're off, holding onto the bootstraps of reality. By the time you're reporting on three different versions of Johnny's stint on the fruit & veg aisle of Croydon ASDA it's become an entirely normal part of the literary process. It adds to the fun. PB: Johnny comes across by nature as quite an elusive character. You did several interviews with him, mainly in the pub at tea-time. How easy was it engaging him in the process of this book? SW: In a way, I'm sad to say it was a painless process - Ian at Damaged Goods set up all the interviews and there was always a Rock'n'Roll Robot or some such around to escort Johnny to the appointed pub at the appointed time. Shame, because the best footage Fred Burns got was by total accident, when he arranged to meet Johnny for some filming and Johnny didn't turn up, so Fred had to go round his house and ended up getting some incredible footage of Johnny duetting with Brenda, his missus, in their living room. I think Johnny quite liked the book experience though. Getting free cider to sit in the pub and talk about yourself? Worse ways to spend an afternoon, I reckon. PB: The group went through an extended dark period after the commercial failure of the first album ‘Cycledelic’ which saw it largely off the road for many years and the suicide of late 70’s bassist Fred Berk. Yet all its members and ex-members, including people like Xerxes who have not been in the group for almost fifty years, clearly have immense affection for it. Why do you think that is? SW: There's definitely an element of Stockholm Syndrome, or in the Mopeds' case, Croydon Syndrome, where you can run but you can never leave. The weird thing I found with the book is that if you thought that the likes of Captain Sensible and Xerxes were mugging it up for the documentary cameras then their love for Moped is simply magnified by the book interviews - they're incredibly sincere and utterly baffled that Johnny didn't end up presenting some primetime TV quiz show. Somehow, the fact that he didn't ever become the next Bruce Forsyth only adds to their admiration of him. PB: Damaged Goods who are publishing ‘1-2 Cut Your Hair’ are re-releasing Johnny Moped’s long lost second album, ‘The Search for Xerxes’. Has that come about directly because of this book? SW: It might have been a knock on effect from the book, but then again it seems like a lot of things which happen to Johnny Moped happen in an accidental, knocking-on kind of way, so I wouldn't be bold enough to say this was part of any coherent long-term plan. Inevitably, in the book there are totally conflicting stories about whether or not 'The Search For Xerxes' was ever for sale in HMV or actually ever released at all. PB: What three songs would you recommend for a new fan trying to get into Johnny Moped? SW: 'Darling, Let's Have Another Baby', of course, for the berserk pop vibes. 'Hard Lovin' Man' for the raw Roxy vibes. And 'Living In A Dream World' from a couple of years back because it's ace. PB: You’ve also got a second book ‘Pandamonium! How Not to Run a Record Label’ coming out in early September about your experiences running Fierce Panda. How easy has it been maintaining the label while working on these two books? Now that you have done two books, do you have plans for other books? SW: Luckily most of the writing has taken place in lockdown, so the label was pretty low maintenance, what with no gigs going on. Interestingly both books shamelessly reference the Electric Light Ochestra. The next book is going to be all about crisps, because people bloody well love them almost as much as Captain Sensible loves the Mopeds. PB: Thank you.

Article Links:-

Band Links:-

Play in YouTube:-

Picture Gallery:-
Simon Williams - Interview

Simon Williams - Interview

Simon Williams - Interview

Post A Comment

your name
ie London, UK
Check box to submit

Pennyblackmusic Regular Contributors