Interview with Malcolm Eden Part 2
published: 13 /
Now the band started to feel that they couldn't achieve much more, and a split up was not very far away. But despite this, they released what was to be their last album in April 1990, 'Banking, Violen
Now the band started to feel that they couldn't achieve much more, and a split up was not very far away. But despite this, they released what was to be their last album in April 1990, 'Banking, Violence And The Inner Life Today'. By this time the band had also been joined by Laetitia Sadier, a fan that had hooked up with Tim during a tour in France. They became a couple, and she got to sing in his band. On 'Banking, Violence… the production was even more polished, but this time they made a better job out of it. Kevin Harris, in co-operation with the band, managed to create a sound that fitted their songs perfectly. The album also found the band taking a big step with their songwriting. The songs developed very long titles (such as 'I'm In The Side Of Mankind As Much As The Next Man; and 'Tomorrow The Stock Exchange Will Be The Human Race') and they also had longer durations. Many of the songs are more than four minutes long, which was very rare in the early days of the band. McCarthy's last single, 'Get A Knife Between Your Teeth', is also featured on the album and it is a song that has a production that is very characteristic of the period. This was a time when Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses were very popular, and McCarthyjoined the Madchester-wave for this one song only, with baggy drums, wah-wah guitars and everything else that was part of the scene. Maybe it was a attempt at a hit single, maybe not. It didn't turn out very well though, and shortly afterwards, after a final gig at the London School of Economics (something that according to Malcolm was just a coincidence), the band decided to quit.
Tim and Laetitia formed Stereolab, and also started their own label, Duophonic, a label that as well as nearly all Stereolab's records also released two records (one 7" single, and a 10" minialbum) by Herzfeld. Behind that pseudonym was none other than Malcolm Eden.
"If possible, Herzfeld's records were even more badly recorded than McCarthy's records. I tried to use keyboards as well as guitars. They weren't very dance-orientated however. It wasn't that different from McCarthy."
When you read about McCarthy's split-up, it always says that they were tired of being ignored, but that isn't the full story, according to Malcolm:
"I think the others would have carried on a bit longer. I didn't want to though. I had the impression at the time that we'd reached a plateau in terms of audience and our songs, and we weren't advancing. We could naturally have carried on, repeating ourselves over and over again, but that would have been terrible, Plus, although there weren't any tensions between us, the fact that Laetitia had more or less joined the group for the last tour did break up our former cohesion a little bit."
"I'm glad we stopped when we did. I think pop music is basically for young people and not for fifty-year-olds. I know some fifty-year-olds do carry on, but it's hardly ever a good idea."
There was a rumour on the Internet that Malcolm had become a gardener in Paris after the split, but he says it's just a joke made up by Tim. He has in fact never gardened in his life. What John and Gary did after the split isn't part of the story, but Malcolm says that he only has contact with John, who he meets a couple of times a year. He hasn't seen Tim and Gary for five years. John works at the music publisher BMG in London, and he thinks Gary works at a book publisher, and as far as he knows they don't play music anymore.
There are actually two McCarthy songs recorded during the 'Banking, Violence…'-sessions, but they were never mixed, and therefore never released.
"John and Tim thought they weren't good enough to go on the compilation ['That's All Very Well But…', released by Cherry Red in 1996]. One was called 'Who Will Rid Me Of These Turbulent Proles?' I was really pleased with it. It was one of my best lyrics. It's recorded but not mixed unfortunately, so it's a bit rough. The other was a joke disco song that Tim did. It's called 'You Had To Go And Open Your Big Mouth'. Laetitia sings a few lines on it. We had very long titles towards the end. It's in a fairly rough condition too."
Some people thinks that bands like The Manic Street Preachers have taken over McCarthy's place in pop music, so I had to ask Malcolm what he thinks of them.
"I'm afraid I don't know the Manic Street Preachers very well, although I've heard the two songs 'Charles Windsor' and 'We Are All Bourgeois Now') of ours they've done, of course. I can't see too many groups with the same kind of attitude as ours. But perhaps I just don't know them."
He also tells me that hardly ever buys records nowadays, and that music has lost it's meaning for him.
"I buy classical records sometimes. I like Bach very much. My wife bought the last Madonna album, so I had to listen to that quite a lot."
Instead, Malcolm says that the lyrics remain the most important to him, and he tells me that he has written a book that hopefully will be out on 2002.
"The book is about a woman who discovers an unusual amount of dog mess all over the town where she lives. She spends the book trying to find out why there's so much of it and where it's all coming from. This was partly inspired by life in Paris, which is certainly the dog mess capital of the world, although naturally they don't mention this in the guide books."
He is also writing a second one right now. But what authors does he admire?
"I like Bertholt Brecht, Jaroslav Hasek, Karl Marx, Shakespeare and Diderot a lot."
He also says that he sadly doesn't have any outflow for his views except his books.
Speaking of the views, are they the same as they were 15 years ago?
"Yes. Although I try to develop my opinions in interaction with what is going on around me. It would be foolish to carry on repeating what was said fifteen years ago, since the world has moved on. I don't know if you have extreme left-wing parties in Sweden, but the mistake they make in France and Britain is to carry on repeating the old line, as if the world hadn't changed out of recognition in the meantime."
"I think today the most important thing is to stand up for politics in a general sense - the idea that people can change the world. I have nothing in common with the people who demonstrated in Seattle, for instance. I don't think they want to kick the world forwards, but kick it backwards. They're not really in favour of progress or reason. Quite the contrary. If I wrote songs today they would be taking the piss out of homeopathy, environmentalist doom-mongering, animal rights, and standing up for reason and the human race."
In the lyrics Malcolm wrote for McCarthy he often spoke of the subject of anti-capitalism, and in one song he almost goes too far. The song is called 'Use A Bank I'd Rather Die' and is available on the 'Banking, Violence…' album. There he sings "We won't use cash, no, no, no / we let no cash soil our hands" and that he would rather give his money to charity. This made me a little curious; did Malcolm live and learn, or was he just acting?
"Almost all of the McCarthy songs are sung by a "character", like a character in a play. I often don't agree with the sentiments expressed in the song, quite the reverse. This is the case for 'Use A Bank I'd Rather Die'. People sometimes used to accuse us of compromising. They assumed that anyone with political principles can't possibly compromise at any time. Which I don't agree with at all. If your general position is advanced by a compromise, then it can be a good thing. This is more or less what that song is about. I think the character in the song refuses all compromise and ends up in all kinds of hopeless contradictions."
But what did you do with the money you earned?
"We didn't get very much I'm afraid. We all signed on the dole and used the McCarthy money to buy books and records and so on. We never got any advances from anyone. But I still get a little bit of money today, because Cherry Red re-released all our albums. But as you might imagine, this isn't much. The money we should get from The Manic Street Preachers' cover will certainly be a lot more than anything from our own records."
Finally I asked Malcolm if he ever listens to McCarthy nowadays.
"Not very often. When I do listen though, I sometimes wince, and say to myself "We could have done that better" or "We should have changed that bit". But I also think some of the songs, with all their faults, are quite exciting. They sometimes make me laugh too, when I hear a funny line that I've forgotten about."
And a reunion seems very unlikely…
"This is a highly unlikely scenario, I think you'll agree. I think it's a bit sad when old groups get back together. The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Beatles, etc. People do these reunions either for money or else to relive their lost youth, I should say. Either way it's a bit pathetic."
Well, a McCarthy reunion seem a bit unlikely, I'll have to agree. And unnecessary. The band recorded three wonderful albums and a bunch of brilliant singles during their lifetime, and I think I can cope with that. But maybe my neighbours would like to hear something new…