JD Meatyard brings his brilliantly scratchy, straight talking politico-personal musical prose to Liverpool this Saturday 29th July.
“A right wing heart is made of stone, and no soul.”
As John Donaldson he clambered to a level of fame as the pivot of Calvin Party, previously Levellers 5, a band beloved by John Peel and highly influential across this isle. The Lancashire band released uncompromising albums throughout the 90s and 00s but Peel’s unfaltering belief in them didn’t translate into the success they deserved. Their repeated Festive 50 entries has been emulated by John as a solo artist and now signed to Liverpool’s own Probe Plus, home of their oft tour mates Half Man Half Biscuit, he has released a series of stripped down, socially aware, angry, reflective and classic albums.
His latest album, Collectivise, is another stunning collection. Released on June 8th we asked John how significant the release date was.
“The launch show was booked before the election was called, once called the gig morphed into something else – clearly so as each artist, and the audience, let their feelings be known… a very long night at Fred’s Alehouse in Levenshulme (great place) watching the results come in was had…”
Is there anything you would change about the tone now?
“No. I’m more satisfied with this album than any other i’ve released. I’m very proud of it – to be clear, there’s some things i’d change (as with all recordings) maybe i’d split the grouping of the 3 or 4 darker songs … but, no… overall, given the backdrop to the recording – no I take that back, because of the background to the recording it is, I think (others to) that its a signature album. Hey, I could have made a more easy listening album… but why would I do that?”
How would you describe the range of emotions and themes on the album?
“The tone, emotions of the album quite simply reflect the moment. I can’t recall such dark times, Brexit energising the haters – abuse commonplace on the streets – Trump FFS, the constant bombing of syria and the rest. Added to this, personally it was the was the darkest of times, the recordings took place days after a very real family tragedy… each song then became sort of ‘loaded’ with another layer of significance as the ‘performance’ was recorded…. a line in a song about one thing written months before became drenched in this other reality… oh fk, this reads rather theatrical, its true though… … I’m surprised the joy in ‘Ubu @ Erics’ and ‘Those Were the Days’ managed to be captured in the studio (btw great work from producer Ben Turner).
“It was fashionable at some point to be ‘political’ but no longer…though lately we’ve got Cabbage, Sleaford … I dont know, I guess the songs reflect a person’s interests, no? If your zest for life is sparked by a shopping mall then on ye go – write those songs… we’ve been increasingly guided down the ‘society of the spectacle’ route…we buy the sizzle, not the steak – ergo ed sheeren, taylor swift n the like – its a flatline formulaic sound for a flatlining audience. There’s little or no interest in socially grounded work, in fact i’d go further, there’s occasionally very real anger at gigs for those who dare ripple the flatline with a ‘political’ tune… I’ve seen them head for the doors ha ha.”
Where do you see your place in the hall of musical social commentary?
“Mmmm in the foyer of the hall trying to get in… I’ve contacted a few of the current ‘social commentator’ stars and never received a word in reply. I know my place.”
Does living abroad influence the more reflective tracks?
“I think so… I get angry as ever, frustrated for friends and family as the Murdoch press and Daily Mail pollute popular consciousness. I love getting back for gigs, family n stuff… A Fopp and a News From Nowhere should should be in every town in the world!”
What does the title track of Collectivise tell us about your current view of politics?
“It was a crazy period leading up to the election, the more that JC progressed the less convinced I was of the song… but overall I stand by its story… we have a history of ‘democracy’ that has a back story of massacres and occupations and a planet stripped of much of its goodness… a democracy of corporate business first, people very much second. The song does close on the optimistic repeated chorus – if we ALL get together we can make change … thanks to a hero of mine – Eugene Debs – for some of the refrain. I get the feeling that things are changing as people are now less reliant on the gutter press for their info… and anything artists can do to help we should… there’s a drip feed of info that the elite don’t want… musicians can be a part of this change for the better, for sure. Though Morrisey and Radiohead taking the Israeli $$$ is disheartening.”
Some People feels very different in tone to any political song I’ve heard before. How would you describe it?
“Ha, aye, it is. It was a lyric thing highlighting a basic truth – that obnoxious people who thrill at the killing of a fox are the same people that piss their pants laughing at the killing of an elephant and are the same people that think poor people are poor because they dont work hard enough… its a cluster thing… the song simply plays it all out – a right wing heart is made of stone, and no soul. The banging soundtrack IS a defiant snear at such people… a mocking of their detached, elitist arrogance.”
What does the ‘loved by John Peel’ label provide and how has that changed since he has gone?
“Well, losing Peelie was so sad for all of us at the margins. Certainly Peel’s endorsement opened many doors at the time – doors very firmly shut now. So, now, it means less, of course it does, I’ll always be happy at my ‘festive 50’s’ and Peel sessions and for those in the know it still has some resonance. 6 musics Gideon Coe supports JDM along with many indie radio shows, Sonic Diary, Mog’s ‘Standing in the Shadow’s of Lev’, On The Wire, and more.”
Who would you invite to a living room gig, (spacey terrace)?
“eugene debs,howard zinn, jesse statman, gary ward, andrea dworkin, guy debord, frantz fanon, diane arbus, max, dick gaughan, kim deal, jean luc godard, john peel, woody guthrie, my da, shane mcgowan n the pogues, martin scorcese, ken loach, emory douglas,Tamsin A, mohamed ali, bob marley, michael mcneil, JC, naomi klein, brendan behan, patti smith, john pilger, hazel winter, shosh, roger eagle, jim jarmusch… i’ve a big living room…”
What can we expect at the Liverpool gig?
“Well, a performance, celebration of much that isn’t the norm… all that stuff that so many people of the same stripe often ignore…s’funny how so many of us lefties favourite band might be Genesis circa 1974… many read, watch stuff of great credibility but when it comes to music they default into their student day faves… music, it seems to them is only for entertainment, don’t ruin it by introducing deep song!”
There’s a time and place for deep metaphor/ allegory in creativity… but when the world’s in such a bad place there’s a need for straight talk – surely? I dont want to point the finger at non politico bands… i really dont care, each to their own, i do what I do…just leave me alone.
JD Meatyard will be playing at Don’t Drop The Dumbulls, Liverpool’s premier night club/place to go on Saturday July 29th. It is the last night of the always wonderful Howl At The Moon gigs, so don’t miss it.