John Robb is an English music journalist and lead singer of the Membranes. Robb also writes for and runs Louder Than War. He has written several books on music and makes media appearances as a music commentator. He writes for newspapers such as The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Independent, several websites, The Big Issue and magazines in Turkey, Algeria, America, Russia, and Brazil plus appearing on Channel Four etc… He was involved in compering Justice Tonight: In Aid of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. It is hard for me to cover the sheer volume of input this man has had towards the music industry.
John Robbs has written an extensive volume of books covering the subject of music. His writing is insanely brilliant. He is constantly interviewing and writing about musicians and the music industry. This was a real pleasure for me to interview such a legend in the music industry. He has the most incredible presence on the stage and conducted many insightful interviews from The Manic Street Preachers to being the first Music journalist to interview Nirvana.
His books include: The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996/Punk Rock Oral History /The Stone Roses and The Resurrection of British Pop/ Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization/Death to Trad Rock: The Post-Punk Scene 1982-87/ The Charlatans : We Are Rock/ Manchester music city 1976-1996: Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Fall, New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis,…/ The Stone Roses And The Resurrection of British Pop/ The Nineties: What the F–k Was That All About?
With regards to the interview in general I was blown away by John’s raw honesty towards some of the questions. I feel he is a man with a huge heart and radiates such warm expressive open views of the world and goes it with energetic grace and charm. He is also a true grafter!
What I got from interviewing Robb is his idea that bands from provisional places are a hub for musical creativity that allows freedom and raw expression without the concern of being compared to bigger names in a city such as London and great bands do not have to come from places such as Manchester and London
Another main thing I got from this interview was Robb’s idea of the notion of lyrics …Robb’s feeling that lyrics often do not get heard as it is the beat and repeats that stay resonant with the listener. Therefore, he states that lyrics are not that important.
When and where did you start playing music?
I started by being influenced by glam and first played in Blackpool it was a DIY mix of anything goes.
Punk is inclusive of and is a fusion of classes. Anyone can do it. There is no right or wrong.. Anyone can make something out of nothing…. anyone can play music … I was not classically trained to play a chord. I did not know how to play chords. I never had training no training comes so my music came out of thin air. It was sort of like DIY.
What got you into music?
I tuned into Top of The Pops. I also loved Glam Rock in the 70’S. There can be a snobbery connected to music. Here was a snobbery connected to Glam rock, but I loved it and Noddy Holder was Slade voice had brilliant and was also a lovely modest man and very unstated.
What makes you tick?
Ideas and the universe …………. mind-blowing wonder and confusion. I am a passive observer of ideas.
What triggers you to create a new song?
Working out the illogical / reflecting on your chaos backwards / reflect on your won chaos /psychedelic explanation Universe …mind-blowing /. Art can be a psychedelic experience. Music like Art creates wonder and confusion. What makes me tick requires working out the illogical. There are so many different versions of reason.
Is there a common thread in your taste of music?
There is not any. I have no logic to it.
Do you think odd or a sod?
Laughter – Both as both are brilliant!
What are you working on now?
I am currently writing two books as I have more time now as, before lockdown, I was always on the road before lockdown. I feel now I have more time to be creative. I am writing an autobiography plus a Surreal novel on the power of sense. I am enjoying having the time to write.
How has the pandemic affected your creativity?
I have had more time as previously been with regards to being productive as I do not have to organise bands etc… – write songs/books. I can work well on my own, some people find it hard but I am good at working on my own. It has been a time of reflecting on my own chaos.
Where do you think the music industry is going?
It now has a presence of more screen-based / for example Tokyo to the UK. More effective on licencing and copyrights. There is also now things like photographs that make money with music. There is a difficulty for musicians to make money due to steaming, streaming can be a nightmare for musicians. Some musicians find they can make money out of being paid for photos- – so the ball has shifted.
What importance do lyrics play in music?
People do not really listen to lyrics – most people don’t care / sometimes it’s the sound -the texture of the music that is more important – maybe sometimes it’s down to the sound of the voice. People tend to identify with the conventional – words that resonant –words that repeat themselves – a chorus – like Bruce Spring Steins Born in the USA. Why do we have to make something out of something – to find a reason – logic. Cave painters – did have to explain themselves? Rather others must work out the illogical.
What made you decide to also be a music journalist?
I set up a Fanzine at school. It was a music paper. Photocopying etc I was age 16 I had no training this was the power of Punk you did not need permission it was very DIY where anything goes.
Who was the person/band you enjoyed interviewing most?
It was the Manic Street Preachers they came from a small town like himself they had raw honest energy in themselves almost a naivety there stood out. Peter Hook was another person that was one of my favourites to interview.
Time management – How do you divide your time?
Irrelevant – rolling…. buzzing – I do not stop … I have a high state of flux/chaos rolled into one – I am a passive observer of ideas with a high state of mind. When writing …. do not start at the beginning – start in the middle – go back to the beginning – never start with the first paragraph – do not write the first line- time bends and curves.
What is the common thread between the musicians you have interviewed that have made them successful?
Determination / hard graft /belief you have some music magic
What do you think makes someone successful?
Charisma/determination/ talent but at the same time you can fake talent – therefore there is no real magic formula …… look at footballer’s wife’s they are famous!
How would you like to see music been delivered at schools?
Music should be made central to culture and should be an Inclusive fusion in schools.
If you were Prime minister what would change or develop in the Arts?
I would set up an ‘Amnesty Gear’ – whereby the older generation of musicians that have instruments lying around who could contribute to the school’s music department to support young people. I would make the Arts more central. The government takes advantage of the Arts yet does not support them.