Friday, 29 January 2016

INTERVIEW WITH A SYRIAN LOVE STORY FILMMAKER SEAN MCALLISTER


“One of the most brave and powerful filmmakers around.” Michael Moore

With A Syrian Love Story nominated for Outstanding Debut at the 2016 BAFTAS for himself as director/producer and Elum Shakerifar as producer,  for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards, and for Best Documentary at the Berlin Peace Awards, plus having won the Grand Jury Prize at Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival 2015, Sean McAllister is once again getting the recognition he deserves as one of the finest documentary filmmakers the world has ever seen. 



I first met Sean a decade ago in the bar of the Novotel hotel in Sheffield during Sheff Doc/Fest where he was showing The Liberace of Baghdad shortly before winning the Sundance award for Best World Documentary 2005. I knew I was in the presence of a singular person, not only is his filmmaking honest, raw, probing and revelatory, but as a person (as anyone who has met him will testify) he is one of life’s characters, someone who once met you will never forget. 


I interviewed Sean twice after that, once in 2008 about his multi award-winning film, Japan, A Story of Love and Hate, and once in 2012 about another of his multi award-winning films, The Reluctant Revolutionary

With The Guardian giving A Syrian Love Story a five star rating and its film critic Peter Bradshaw hailing the film as the third best feature film of 2015 as well as winning Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Grand Jury Prize, A Syrian Love Story is shaping up to be McAllister’s most successful documentary yet.


I remember Sean visiting Syria time and time again before the war broke out, falling in love with the country and spending five years finding and then filming what was to become A Syrian Love Story. Ahead of his time as always, Sean instinctively knew that something was brewing out there, and he was determined to be around to see what would happen when the pot boiled over. On an undercover assignment for Channel 4 news, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Syrian secret services, where he spent five days in jail, often being forced to hear the cries of prisoners being tortured around him. You can see the BBC news report here:


Sean escaped unscathed and here, a fortnight before the BAFTAs, Sean talks about making A Syrian Love Story and touring the world showing it to constantly packed out cinemas.

Storyville's Nick Fraser and Sean's father Joe at a BFI screening, 2015.


You spent years trying to find a story in Syria, and, frustratingly, you were turned down by commissioning editor after commissioning editor who claimed that “No-one’s interested in Syria.”...

True, although Nick Fraser to his credit did eventually commission a film about Syria. It was a great story about a gay restaurant owner I'd met near Homs, but when I went to film him he got scared and pulled out. By which time the BBC money was in the bank and I was too broke to tell them the truth. The great thing about Nick and why he is unique in this business is that he takes the same risks as we filmmakers take and then he leaves you alone. So I spent the next three months looking for another story. I met Amer and started filming but there seemed no chance of getting Ragda out of prison. At the same time two different people who didn't know each other told me of this man they'd met who was a great "Sean character" - problem was he wasn't in Syria, he was in Yemen!



The Arab Spring had started but it seemed impossible to go to Syria. I'd left the UK for three weeks and came home after four months for Christmas with no film. My eternally supportive wife Ruth wasn't happy! So over Christmas I got in touch with Kais and as a tour guide he managed to get me a visa to Yemen. After Christmas I followed my gut instinct and went there. Everyone else was going to Libya.  I made The Reluctant Revolutionary without telling Nick Fraser - then whilst still in Yemen I heard that protests had broken out in Syria and Amer and his 14 year old son Kaka had been arrested held for a day. I flew home, handed my rushes to the editor and flew straight to Damascus on a tourist visa. No camera. I bought one in the Sony shop there. I continued filming the Amer film (which was to become A Syrian Love Story) while editing the Yemen film (The Reluctant Revolutionary.)



I remember Nick saying in the edit suite, "I usually have to ask how your story has changed, but on this occasion I have to ask, "Where in the world are we?"" I told him Yemen and he told me to play the movie. And he loved it. He has since said he loves commissioning me because he enjoys the surprise of what he's going to get.



What are the most important things you’ve learnt whilst touring with the film all over the world?

I've learnt that people really care about this refugee crisis and when given something deep and meaningful to engage people do go and support such films. It's been amazing

How have the film’s subjects, Ragdha, Amer, Bob and Kaka dealt with the film’s success?

 The family love the film’s success. For so long they felt as if the film was never going to be seen anywhere. Now Amer is with me whenever possible. Ragda, less so, although she was with me for a couple of days in Istanbul and loved it.


What effect has the film had on their lives?
Clearly the kids (Bob and Kaka) have new lives in France now. Without the film they wouldn't be there. Many of their friends are dead, others are stuck in refugee camps around the world.
On another level Amer and Ragda lost each other but the film has brought them back together as comrades to talk to audiences around the world about the issues close to their heart.



What effect has the demands of promoting the film had on your own life?

Having three teenage myself, being away from home is a constant struggle. One of the hardest things for me in making the film and films generally is the time away from my own kids. I think they pay a price. Especially my eldest son, George, who recently left home at the tender age of 17, for which I feel a bit responsible. But we are talking now and I hope he will come home again. Anyway I was so proud to see his lead role in the Devils doing a full on Ollie Reed role and magnificent performance. It was West End quality never mind Brit school. I was so proud of him, wonderful stuff. 

George doing an Ollie...

Negotiating my family situation is always hard but also touring is rigorous in other ways, for example keeping fresh with a different audience night after night, all who ask similar questions, but I love meeting people and seeing their different reactions. Like tonight it plays in Jerusalem and tomorrow in Ramallah where I've just had the most wonderful Palestinian breakfast although it's winter now and freezing cold...

You're vegetarian, right?


Yes, and since trying your husband Brian's wonderful home made vegan cheese I've been making vegan cheese myself, and am keen to go vegan. Enjoying your Nirvanosh vegan recipe blog by the way and spreading the word!

Vegetarian Sean having breakfast in Jerusalem.

How demanding was it starting off without distribution and having to organise independent distribution?

Very demanding and we were learning as we went. But distribution is Elhum's passion. She produced the film with me and is great at distribution. She steered it all masterfully although it meant many sleepless nights. I think the BFI are very impressed with the results. Especially for awards like BAFTA where you need to get DVDs to 6000 members - only big films with big distribution can afford the 20k it costs - we could only send links and do screenings wherever possible to get BAFTA members along. But we did it in the end.

Sean and Elhum.


What ended up happening with distribution? Did you eventually get mainstream distribution and how? 

No we didn't get picked up by anyone. They saw it as an uphill struggle, and it is, but we made it work by attending the films with Q&As and holding targeted screenings aimed at specific audiences, not trying to go on general release nationally and compete with mainstream movies.




How has being imprisoned in Syria and hearing other people being tortured affected you since?

 I think of it from time to time. I don't like enclosed spaces anymore and even found IMAX Star Wars in 3D too claustrophobic. I don't like noisy atmospheres I feel I can’t escape from either. Or maybe Star Wars was just a pointless crap movie, I dunno. I think these things have a subliminal effect on us and affect us from time to time when we’re least expecting it...

What are your feelings generally about Syria now?

 I'm generally sad for Syria that our inaction has deepened the problem there, not made it any easier for us to solve but harder. Standing by and allowing Bashar to butcher his people ignoring the barrel bombing of them every day by his forces and instead only showing what Isis are doing there. We now need to find a way to make safety zones inside Syria to protect the people and stop them having to flee.




How are your plans going to make a documentary about your hometown of Hull?

I'm moving more into that head space. I'd been resisting it I think but I can see the money is there and the appetite for BFI BBC co-produced film for cinema is the intention to be delivered sometime in the 2017 year of city of culture activities. Not sure what or who it will be about though. But I guess another story of love and hate, but from Hull this time!

Sean and Amer in Warsaw

What’s the stupidest question you’ve been asked during a Q&A?
I did a screening in the Jewish centre in north London. A little old lady disarmed me with the first question there asking how the subjects can afford computers and mobile phones if they are supposed to be refugees. I made a mistake in the way I responded.  I got angry and refused to answer her but an Israeli insisted I answer. It was just insulting to me. But I don't think she meant it to be. I then brought Amer up on Skype and they asked him why he left his homeland in the first place. He laughed and answered because some people came and stole his land when he was 3 and since then he has been a refugee all his life. He got them back for me. I stormed out wishing I'd never shown the film there at all.

“Sean McAllister makes filming look easy.” BBC Storyville's Nick Fraser



What’s the funniest thing that's happened whilst touring the film?

I remember Amer’s face when we'd lost the car after a night’s drinking in York after the screening there and he was just jaw-dropped looking at girls littering the streets, drunk, shouting and vomiting. He'd never seen anything like it and to him it seemed like another kind of war zone. Then waking up next to him as I've done on so many occasions in the 5 years making the film and seeing him asleep next to me in the car in a York car park - it was funny that the guy I used to wake up next to in Tartous all those years before was now in my homeland with me sleeping rough as we'd always done. Nothing had changed!


Sean in the speaker's chair, House of Commons.

“My duty as a filmmaker is to get beyond the performance” Sean McAllister


N.B. Some links and pics sourced from seanmcallister.com, thanks to webmaster Kevin Rudeforth, subject of Sean's first film Working for the Enemy which if you haven't seen yet is well worth seeing. Sean's mates stick with him...



Friday, 15 January 2016

INTERVIEW WITH VEGAN SIDEKICK

"It is something deep inside me that opposes injustice, exploitation, sadism, cruelty and suffering. It's simple to me, that I don't want anybody to suffer, and these animals are among the most vulnerable victims." - Vegan Sidekick



As of the time of writing, January 2016, veganism is in its embryonic stage of going mainstream in the Western world after years of being derided as a cultish movement for freaks and nutjobs.

It is often artists who bring about widespread social change and the vegan cause is no exception. Satirical cartoonist Vegan Sidekick has inspired and educated thousands of people to stop funding animal abuse through consuming animal products. His Facebook page is becoming exponentially more popular, shooting to almost 85,000 likes in only a couple of years.

It took 400 years to persuade America that black people were deserving of equal rights and not inferior beings to be used as slaves. It took 400 years until women were given the right to vote. The queer movement is still in its infancy. And the majority of society's attitude towards speciesism is still stuck in the Middle Ages.

Certain species, such as dolphins, lions and bees, stir up defensive behaviour in many people, but due to speciesism most people still do not care about the suffering of the billions of animals murdered every year in what is euphemistically called "animal agriculture." Pigs, sheep, cows, ducks and geese are routinely abused, tortured and murdered by the billion whilst society turns a blind eye and makes excuses.


Vegan Sidekick is single-handedly doing more to fight speciesism and campaign for animal rights through his cutting and brilliant satirical work than any other artist on the planet. I interviewed him recently exclusively for Into View.

How did you come to be a vegan?



I had been vegetarian since I was a child, ever since I learned what meat was. Over time, I just gave more and more thought to the idea of "owning" animals, and using them in whatever way seemed unreasonable to me. When I started at university I was buying milk and cheese etc for myself, and I realised how totally unnecessary it was. Looking at entire food stores with so many options, and I was specifically buying stuff which required exploitation of animals. So I stopped buying it. I never met a vegan, and I didn't have it explained to me that males are a byproduct and get killed in the egg and dairy industries, and that their sisters get killed when their production is less profitable. Now that I know that, it's one of the first things I tell vegetarians, as surely they cannot support that.

How did you start making comics? Had you been producing art prior to the Vegan Sidekick comics?



I began the page as a more informative project, trying to get across to other vegans how you can respond to typical arguments etc and I made videos and graphics relating to that. But as I made more memes, I noticed that the ones with a little humour did better, so I continued in that way and it just expanded into what it is now. I have always produced art since I was little, it is what I studied at college and university, and it's what I do for a living as a graphic designer.

How do you draw your comics? What software do you use and how long does it take you on average to produce one? 



I draw them with a graphics tablet and stylus using Adobe Photoshop. Most of the comics might take about ten minutes to draw. Others take a bit longer if they're more complex pieces like the wall of excuses, or the "I love animals" pieces that I do from time to time.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your comics? 



It is basically from my experiences of talking to people, and hearing what they consider to be justifications for harming animals. I also spend a lot of time in the day just trying to think of ways to get it across in an interesting manner to make people say "Hmm, I've never thought of it like that before". A lot of that is done by trying to view the entire planet and what we're doing from an outside perspective. If you hadn't been brought up with animal agriculture being the norm, then it surely would seem horrendous (which it is). Many people dismiss it as "just how it is" without really considering what they're advocating, and that it's so unnecessary.  Spelling it out, talking about meat as a dead body, talking about animal slaughter as stabbing animals, and holding people accountable for the results of the egg and dairy industries, is something that I feel is very important to get people to put two and two together. So much of non-vegan vocabulary hides the reality of what they support.

You've produced a handy guide to which I regularly refer when talking to non-vegans, listing all the common defenses that they use for eating meat and cheese and consuming other animal products. How did you compile this guide? Do you find that people refer to it and use it?




I compiled it after spending so much time in the same conversations over and over again as a result of so many people being drawn to the page. I realised that it wasn't only myself facing this Groundhog Day phenomenon, and that a guide would aid everyone for copying and pasting, along with perhaps educating vegans on what to even say, and indeed non-vegans to just look through without me having to type it every time. I know that people use it, I even see them copy from it and direct others to it. And I think that some of what I am saying has influenced how people approach these conversations in the first place.


What is the most stupid thing that anyone has ever said on your page, can you remember?





Many to choose from.

"What about microorganisms?"

"Killing is part of life, you can kill my entire family and me if you want, as long as you found a use for our bodies"

"Plants create oxygen, and animals use it up. So by killing plants rather than animals, you are causing the world to run out of oxygen."

"Rape is a choice. I'm not trying to justify rape, I'm just saying, raping someone is a choice, as is eating meat."

"Giraffes would run factory farms if they could."


"I don't see a distinction between a mammal and a skin cell"


"Until the 1990s, marital rape is legal. You can campaign against these things as much as you like, but it is a person's right to act within the law"


"It is a person's right to kill animals. You are violating the rights of others to try to stop us killing animals"


"I would bet that the cows that I eat had a much better life than the cows that you don't eat"


"If cows produce methane which is harmful to the environment, then surely it makes sense to kill them"


"Eating meat is a matter of survival. Don't tell me that we don't need meat to survive, I know that, I'm not an idiot"

And what is the nicest thing anyone has ever said on the page?



I can't really decide that one. So many people have said that they love or adore me, and that my work means so much to them. Several people say that the comics are the first thing they look for every day when they wake up. One thing that is clear from a lot of people is that they feel very alone. They might be the only vegan in their area and they are made to feel like a freak. As well as giving them comebacks and a logical method or arguing, the comics remind them that they are sane, and it is the world that is so fucked up.

Veganuary has been more popular than ever this year and there are articles regularly appearing in the mainstream media about veganism. When I first discovered your Facebook page it had less than 5,000 followers. Now, less than two years later it has over 84,000 followers, and your Intagram page is growing exponentially and suddenly has almost 84,000 followers. Do you think veganism is finally going to go mainstream, and that vegans will stop being regarded with derision and suspicion by most people?



It is very hard to say. Veganism is definitely becoming more popular and is slightly better understood by the general public. However, we are still a tiny minority, so it's very early to say that it will become mainstream. Personally, I don't see any reason why not. I think that despite the many flaws that humans seem to have, society in general is becoming more civilized over time (some societies slower than others, and depending on who is in power at any given moment...). I think that over time, animal rights will be taken more seriously, and of course, that means not exploiting and killing them (veganism). It is a very slow process however.

Although your page is incredibly popular with more people liking it every day and constant positive feedback from thousands of fans - your images now regularly attract more than 2k likes - almost every day a troll will appear seemingly only to argue with you and cause disruption, or some idiot will appear saying ludicrous things to justify eating animals. How do you deal with them and does it ever get you down?


I experiment all the time, in terms of what could be effective in getting a troll to rethink what they're doing, getting them to rethink how they perceive vegans, and also preserving my sanity. I go through phases of ignoring comments altogether. I often block trolls immediately if they are posting images of meat or hunted animals, because they are clearly there for no other reason than to upset us and get a laugh out of it. I don't know what the answer is really, everyone is different.


Some trolls might not be malicious, rather, they think it is all in good fun and they can sometimes react well if you say "Look, vegans just want to avoid harming animals, why are you so against that?". But some really are just arseholes, and the best thing I can consider is ignoring or blocking them. Immediate trolls like that don't get me down. But sometimes these pseudo-intellectual types piss me off when they are just hopping from foot to foot with justifications, changing their argument as they are proved wrong again and again... They want to appear legitimate, like they have a genuine interest in debate, but when it comes down to it, there is literally nothing that anyone could say in a debate that would talk them down from bacon. Sometimes I wonder if they go through these conversations to validate it to themselves more than anything.


But the best you can do is calmly respond, and wait for them to inevitably either freak out, insult you, choose nihilism, or say "Plants tho".

These conversations aren't about them becoming vegan at that moment. They won't like being proven wrong or selfish. But they may go away and think about it later. That process is pretty tiresome to me so I am more inclined not to get involved. 99% of people who contact me to say they've gone vegan because of me, are people that I have never said a word to. My comics do the job, so spending hours in the comments is perhaps a trivial use of my time comparatively.



For one of the most important satirical artists of our time, you're very modest. Do you sometimes find it hard to take in the relatively sudden and enormous impact you're having on stopping animal cruelty the world over through your art?



Well I find it hard to even accept the phrasing of the question! I certainly have not taken in the impact I have made, and I doubt I ever will. Meeting people at Vegfest really opened my eyes, with them wanting me to sign books and have their photo taken with me...

So many people call me a celebrity and I try to talk them out of it, but have to give up because people are just so into what I'm doing, so in their eyes I am a celebrity. From my perspective, I'm just a guy who is sick of how the world works, and a lot of people are feeling the same way, so I guess the comics are a way for everyone to express this frustration.

Both the Facebook and Instagram pages have over 80,000 followers now. I can't even imagine what that many people would look like in a crowd, and the Facebook page reaches easily 500,000 people a week in terms of image views etc... I don't think the human mind is equipped for it really. I just keep doing what I'm doing, and don't worry about it. We should all do what we can, and I'll try to make the best of this opportunity that I have.

When did you start weight-lifting? Are people surprised to discover that you lift weights as a vegan?


I used to be pretty overweight in my teens, and I got into fitness when I was 17, and I've done it on and off ever since. When I am in decent shape, people are surprised that I am vegan and say "Well you don't look vegan...".

I've often given training and diet advice to people, including non-vegans.  There are some really good examples of vegan bodybuilders and fitness people now, I'm just a guy who draws comics and tries to stay healthy and active.  (For anyone interested these are all worth looking up: Max Seabrook, Josseline Nayad Jeria, Ed Bauer, Chakabars Clarke, Jessica Ortiz, Ed Goins, Robert Cheeke, Mindy Collette, Derek Tresize, Patrik Baboumian, Kelly Schlegel, Paul Kerton, Simone Collins and Torre Washington.)

What do you do to relax?



I like having long baths, or watching some TV shows that I enjoy like Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Sopranos etc. Stuff I've watched a million times so I can just zone out and get comfy. I also enjoy ASMR, and it's cool that it is becoming recognised and that there is a nice community around it now. I'll often stick a video on and just take a nap.

Do you care for any companion animals? Many people ask what vegans do to feed the animals in their care. What advice would you give?



My partner rescues a lot of injured or unwanted animals, and any that can't be released into the wild end up staying. Regarding feeding carnivorous animals, I recommend doing your own research. It is an area which causes massive rows between vegans. Nobody wants to support animal agriculture. But if someone thinks that feeding their animal a plant-based diet would harm them, then they'd say they would do what was necessary for their animal which is part of their family. The reason people argue so strongly is because we all love animals and we're doing what we consider is best.

From my own research and reading a bunch of articles over the years, it seems like dogs can very easily be fed a plant-based diet. Cats have some requirements which must be met to avoid certain hazards, but it can still be done. One of the main things that cats need is taurine. This doesn't have to come from animals, and indeed, most meat-based cat foods have taurine added to them anyway.


Of the cats we've got living with us, three have chronic health conditions which require specific food, and there is no plant-based alternative that we know of. The other two cats are healthy, and are fed a plant-based diet, and there have been no problems so far.


My primary advice regarding companion animals is to adopt from a shelter or sanctuary, and never support a breeder. There are too many of these animals needing homes and being neglected, and shelters are constantly overrun, and if they're fed animal products, then of course this funds animal agriculture. So the first step is to control the breeding.

There are people who would say "If you're vegan, don't adopt a cat, then".  That might seem like reasonable advice, but those cats are going to exist in shelters either way. If they're in a shelter, they'll be fed meat, that's a fact. So whether it is the shelter doing it, or you doing it, doesn't actually change how much money the meat industry gets.


So really, it is just your own accountability that you're removing, you aren't actually changing the numbers. To actually alter the numbers, you'd have to kill all carnivorous companion animals, which the majority of vegans would object to (although I have met people who advocate this).

The remaining alternative is to release all carnivorous companion animals into "the wild" and let nature take its course. The trouble with that is, they are not a natural breed, and releasing millions of animals into an ecosystem will surely cause all kinds of problems.

So I don't know what the solution is for the animals which exist today - I can only advise that people stop breeding them, then we won't have this dilemma in future.

Why are non-vegans obsessed with bacon, routinely using it to justify their eating habits?



I think it has become part of this strange culture of being proud to be unhealthy. Obviously, bacon is fatty and salty, so I assume that is the physical appeal of it. But it has become a perpetuated meme in itself. It seems to be cool to indulge in clearly unhealthy food, like it is macho to have no regard for your own health. I don't really know what else to say, you won't get any sense out of the people who go on about it.

What are your hopes for animal welfare over the next 50 years or so? Do you think there will ever be a time when animals will be treated as equals to humans and not enslaved, tortured and murdered for our pleasure?



Well my hopes are, everyone goes vegan tomorrow. But realistically, I hope we see a steady increase in intelligent, logical people standing up and pointing out the problems with farming animals, to educate people, get rid of these excuses, and change how people perceive animals.

I think that as more people become vegan, it will inevitably lead to a tipping point in societies around the world where it just becomes socially unacceptable to harm animals. Just as we still have massive amounts of racism, sexism and homophobia - it is as least understood to be unreasonable as a rule of our society (at least here in Britain), and not tolerated, which is how harming animals will end up. No idea when that will come about. But all these documentaries like Cowspiracy, Vegucated and Earthlings are so readily available that education can spread rapidly, if people are willing to open their eyes.


Veganism to me is just a logical practice.  We know that we can avoid harming animals, and so it doesn't make sense to choose anything else.   One large aspect of veganism is a plant-based diet which more and more people are adopting.  Whether they're doing that for health, environmental, spiritual or religious reasons, I think it is a good thing to do. But as a vegan it is 100% about ethics and it is acknowledging that animals are not our property.

It is something deep inside me that opposes injustice, exploitation, sadism, cruelty and suffering. It's simple to me, that I don't want anybody to suffer, and these animals are among the most vulnerable victims. When you see so many healthy athletes out there doing well on a plant-based diet, and as I know first hand how easy it is and inexpensive, there really is no excuse that I'll hear in modern society.

If you're not vegan already, you can find help on any vegan page, or google for vegan recipes and ideas, it's easier than ever before.  Cheers for reading.

***


You can see Vegan Sidekick being interviewed below, there are more interviews with him on YouTube and some on his YouTube video channel too.




Thursday, 31 May 2012

Interview with Carl Puttnam of CUD, one of Leeds' shining lights.



CUD are not only known for the fact John Peel loved them, but also because they are one of those bands that deserved enormous commercial success, but due to dreadful handling of them by a mainly stupid music industry and despite extensive touring involving hundreds of live dates in the UK and abroad,  they never found it. But they have also never been forgotten by those people who loved and still love their music, like me.

The first time I heard Rich and Strange I nearly crapped myself with joy. Twenty years later I still think it's one of the most perfect pop songs ever. Everything works, melody, lyrics, performance, that fantastic guitar riff and Carl Puttnam's gorgeous, sonorous vocals which many compare quite justifiably to Tom Jones.



More CUD videos on the CUD YouTube channel.

Above: Carl in Andalucian port Cadiz.

To coincide with their 2012 Summer Tour, I recently spoke to Carl:

Jude:
How did you feel when you got your first Peel session?

Carl: I was unexpectedly cool when John Walters rang me up to offer us a session. He said he needed to know within the hour and I said can I call you back? The band were all on their way round for a rehearsal in my cellar, and rather then tell them one at a time, I waited for them all to arrive, and then told them all at once. This sudden attack of "cool", was so uncharacteristic , they didn't believe me, and it was only when I rang John back to say we couldn't do it, that they figured I was telling the truth and relented.

From William Potter's CUD History1987:


16th June: Maida Vale, a maze of corridors, cheap BBC restaurants, and snobbish orchestras. The first Peel session with Dale (Mott the Hoople) Griffin producing. We have no cymbals. It's a basic set up of instruments that won't stay in tune, found drums and less than an album's worth of songs to choose from.
We go for 'You're The Boss', 'Mind the Gap' (about Carl's home of East London/Essex where Carl left and William would move to), 'Don't Bank On It' and crowd pleaser, 'You Sexy Thing', and why not!
Suddenly our basic sound wasmade to sound like a snow plough. Mike drove the van back to Leeds straight after. We got back at 3am, shattered but ecstatic.

We pestered Radio One to put the session out before the end of June so we could get PRS royalties in October. We wanted to spend them on a single.





Jude: What was John Peel like and what memories have you got from the sessions?

Carl: Loads of people ask what was it like meeting him when you play sessions, but the truth is that you record it at an empty Maida Vale on a Sunday afternoon, when John Peel is having a day off. I did meet him on a number of occasions though, and he was a funny sort. Very much the awe-struck fan on occasion and then sometimes cold and aloof. He was very kind to us. I'm not sure that I entirely agree with his "canonisation". The way the media ganged up on the musician who wasn't so besotted by his memory, despite that same media's ignorance of John while he was alive, and the way that the Beeb use his memory.(Jude: Whatever else, the Beeb John Peel page has not been updated since 2007.)

Jude: What inspired you to return to gigging in 2006 more than a decade after the band split up in '95?

Carl: Just the reissue projects that sprang up really, and then, of course, we realised how much we all enjoyed each other and playing.


Jude: The Rich and Strange cover was one of your pieces from your time on your uncompleted degree at Leeds Poly. How do you feel about the irony of that image then being plastered all over Leeds Poly on posters?

Carl: That is something I never thought about before, but will now be my number one gloat.

Jude: Why did you drop out of your fine art degree at Leeds Poly?

Carl: I met a woman who taught Fine Art at Bradford College, who convinced me that passing wasn't all that important. I had completed all my work, I just didnt get my thesis typed-up and handed in. I kind of wish I had these days. And, I'm sure that my inspiration got her degree.

Jude: Have Beefheart and Zappa influenced your work? And what about Serge Gainsbourg?

Carl: Neither Beefheart or Zappa exert an influence over Cud's music, though we all enjoyed Beefheart at the time and Zappa more recently. Serge used to provide intro music for a long time around 1990-1991. But my colleagues hated it in the tourbus. A lot of French literature and cinema makes it into my lyrics.
Isabelle Adjani obviously. Andre GideLeos Carax are all big influences. It's only while rehearsing for this tour that I realised how many songs nod to Gide.


Jude: CUD are renowned for their audience stage invasions. Can you tell us a bit about them?

Carl: We love them. We hate them.

Jude: Have increased security measures over the past decade or so put a damper on this?

Carl: It's all a little more ordinary, so yes. Funny though, we played in Bradford many moons ago and the security were wee fellows, so we gave them warnings about what to expect. "Don't worry about us" they said. Midway through the set and they were packing up, dismantling the monitors which they knew they couldn't protect. HaHa.

Jude: What was it like supporting The Pixies on tour?

Carl: A surprise firstly. They were very nice to us. Always watched us soundcheck and then watched us play from stageside, which felt very complementary. Each musician seemed to be checking out the moves and play of their peer.

Jude: The Pixies' Brixton Academy gig turned out to be their last gig for a decade. What are your memories of that night?

Carl:  We never played with them that night, but watched them as guests.

Back stage, lined up waiting for an audience with the Pixies was a huge queue of rather famous liggers. When some usher came out of the Pixies' dressing room to ask "Are the Cud here? The Pixies would like Cud to visit their dressing room" all the liggers turned towards us, sneering. So we were ushered in and enjoyed The Pixies' renewed aquaintance...my girlfriend's brother was enjoying looking at Kim, when she came over and told him "You got a problem?" I had to intervene, telling her that he was with me.

Jude:What was recording the (never aired) pilot for the Vic and Bob show, ‘Popadoodledandy’ like?



Carl: William couldn't do it, so we drafted in a replacement; Jessica. Six foot tall half japanese and very attractive. Vic and Bob were "in character" all day, or at least that's how it seemed, which made them funny and infuriating by turns. I'm rubbish on telly, which they seemed to like. My woodenness was exactly what they were after. We often spent nights out with Bob. We'd bump into him at a club and share cabs. He is the "nicer one" by common wisdom.

Jude: You were writing a novel, did you ever finish it?

Carl: It is finished. A group of friends got together to write a series of Richard Allen style novels. Each novel revolving about a present day youth "cult" fictional or otherwise. Mine was set in Leeds 6 around the travails of a group of rather well-off students bent on a music career. Easy target really.



Jude: William writes on his history of CUD "2 Dec 1993 A&M Xmas party. Sting shows up but hides in the ‘Star Bar’, where we’re not invited." What do you think about that?

Carl: I think William's having a wee jest. The "Star Bar" was mostly empty but for Sting and Bryan Adams.

Jude: And what do you think about your time with A&M generally?

Carl: We were signed by the MD who promptly left for another company, leaving us with an A&R who hardly understood us and barely liked us both musically and personally, so, while I enjoyed most of our time with the major, it was often quite frustrating artistically and commercially.



Jude: What was it like working with the legendary Sandie Shaw?

Carl: Far from legendary. She is very nice, but a complete fruitcake. That will sound unkind and is unfair. She was fun and full of stories, which I oughtn't repeat and had an irreverent attitude to industry and management of which I was jealous as our bad didn't.


From William Potter's CUD History 1993:

10 Feb
We’re set up in Ray Davies’ Konk Studios, a bit of a maze, and chilly. We put on a loop of the Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ then record Steve’s drums along with it. Then I put down a basic bass part to give it structure. It sounds terrible so we replace it with a guitar loop and guide vocal. Sandie arrives and is lively and fun, easy to get on with. Turns out she’s teaching now and asked her students if they’d heard of CUD. When she got a positive response, then she agreed to the session. Carl has a great time gassing with her between vocal takes.
The harmonies agreed on push Sandie into a higher range than she’s used to while Carl is singing lower.
It’s a very long, drawn-out day, with photos and video needing to be taken for the project’s publicity. At one point Sandie gets irritated by constant postponements and retreats for a 10-minute mantra meditation.


11 Feb
I lay down a superior bassline. More guitar and vocals are added before a mix we’re happy with is prepared in time for Sandie’s return, this time with her daughter. They try to work out which Monty Python member I resemble. (I fear it is Eric Idle.)




12 Feb
Does our version of ‘Gimme Shelter’ really sound like The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘This Corrosion’?!


24 Feb
Steve has to go to hospital with a pain in his lower leg. It turns out to be a tendon problem he has to rest for a week. And, so do the rest of us. (Well, I’m always working on the Space CUDet fanzines...)


3 Mar
London, ‘Gimme Shelter’ launch at Camden Parkway cinema. Sandie is there, in a shirt Morrissey gave her. There are lots of TV interviews to do, especially for Carl and Sandie. She says how much she enjoyed the recording and finished track. I declined the offer of joining her for a Buddhist Introductory session, opting for boozing at the Good Mixer.


Jude: A fan from Garforth invited you all to tea once, what was that like?

Carl: It was very nice and very strange. We were far from famous but being treated like Boys Inc or JLS or something. Incidentally, it was around that time that we recorded a message for a girl in a coma. She was about 14-16 and had meningitis. Obviously we weren't the reason she got better, I think modern medicine had a hand. I think Will still knows her.



Jude: Did any of you get some of the CUD embroidered boxers on the cover of Once Again?

Carl: Funny you should ask. I have no idea where they went. Steve most likely.

Jude: Would you think about putting CUD underpants into production for fans to buy?

Carl: We did socks, pillow cases and windscreen banners, so maybe.



Jude: You and William have both had Megablocks characters named after you in Judge Dredd. How did that come about?

Carl: I dont know, but it's good isn't it?

Jude:  You have a vineyard in France, how did you acquire it and are you producing wine from it?

Carl:  My Brother in law (sort of) and I own it. It cost us peanuts.We have vines on the lower parts and olives on the steeper slopes. The wine is red, we don't know what variety, but strong, dark and tannic with aroma of raspberry. It was all obsolete land before we got it. We just cleared it up and let whatever was growing there carry on growing. Grapes, olives, thyme and a whole load of fruit trees.

Jude: Do you speak French?

Carl:  Bonjour.I get by. And when I am around for a while get pretty comfortable.



Jude: You got into a spat with Primal Scream over a drum at Futurama...what happened? Is Bobbie Gillespie as much of an arse as he's often portrayed in the press?

Carl: We'd already had a number of unfortunate mishaps with "the Scream". Following one incident, a message arrived in Leeds telling me to hi-tail it out of town, cos "the Scream" were coming to get me.
I laughed.

At Futurama, it was another misunderstanding that escalated into anger, because of this ongoing thing. I'd like to say it was all their fault, but who knows? To be fair to Bobbie, it was always the rest of the band, "TH" Robert and the roadies, and their threats were as comic book as their music.

Jude: Have you ever met Martin Bedford, the Sheffield artist and legendary Leadmill poster designer who seems to have met every notable musician on the planet?

Carl: No. Who He? Maybe I'm just not that notable (well you never know.)

Jude: Yes you are. Anyway, he's the subject of my next Into View, he's got an exhibition on at the moment in Sheffield's Porter Brook Gallery.

Finally, a question from a recent live online interview by CUD with their fans on Facebook.

On the set of Rich and Strange video shoot

Mark Stubley: What's your views on the whole download culture for music these days? Is it making music a worthless disposable product? Or a great way to get new music to an audience?

Carl: It's a bit of both for me. I'm sad in some ways that your super rare record is just a download away. I used to enjoy the crazy collector's thrill of finding rare stuff. I dont believe it's killing the business though. The people who kill the music business are the business. They mostly hate music, hate musicians and hate punters. Just look at your 'Istory...




A final bit of trivia, CUD as footballers for NME's 70s themed Xmas 1992 issue. After the shoot all the NME journos ligged along with the band back to the Columbia Hotel, which is a bit like a London version of New York's Chelsea Hotel, where in the early 80s I used to hang out (in the Columbia, not the Chelsea) with my then boyfriend Roddy Frame.


CUD as footballers for NME's 70s themed Xmas 1992 issue.