“The Art Of Driving” By Black Box Recorder.
“Something About You Girl” By John Moore & The Expressway.
When Pete Wylie heard of plans to erect a statue in Liverpool as a tribute to John Moore I’d imagine he flew into an apoplectic rage. “What’s he ever done for de music scene in de Poool eh lah ? And worra about me like ? Where’s my bleedin’ statue eh, like !?” Much to Pete’s relief the John Moore statue in question was of Littlewoods Pools magnet Sir John Moores , not John Moore (deep breath) former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer/guitarist, solo artist, founding member of Black Box Recorder, journalist , importer of absinthe, musical saw player, sometime studio member of Art Brut, Guardian columnist and all round bon viveur. (Phew!) John Moore has had what one might call a very interesting musical career, and in his youth had the sort of self belief that at times made the aforementioned Mr Wylie appear to be a modest, retiring, even shy, shrinking violet. John’s career started around 1985 when he dropped out of college to take the place of Bobby Gillespie as drummer with the legendary Jesus and Mary Chain. When the Mary Chain used a drum machine for “Darklands” Moore switched to rhythm guitar, but in 1988 after a few years with the Reid brothers he left the band, ready to make his own way and take on the world, armed with his guitar, huge hair and alarmingly tight leather trousers “John Moore And The Expressway” was born…..
This was the big time, with a major label and no expense spared as John was to be launched as the “Next Big Thing” and become a global brand, people around the world from Brighton to Bombay would weep with joy at the mention of his name…..well, that was the plan. His first two albums were “Massive budget, shareholders nightmares” the first recorded at Electric Ladyland studios in New York when John was based in England , the second recorded at Air Studios in England when John had moved to New York ! As John recalls;” I would have had to sell millions just to recoup the hotel bills. I had the same backing singers as the Rolling Stones, top of the range session players, a string quartet, and Polygram executives flying in and out to check on progress and swoon at playbacks. Somewhere amongst this perfect boys own rock’n’roll fantasy, there were supposed to be some hit songs – great big smashes that would justify the expense and propel me into the super-league. Well there weren’t. Not one. Not even a sniff!” Sadly for the record label the musical landscape was a changing and Acid House was about to cause a mini revolution within the industry, “Acid House Killed Rock N Roll” as the Space Monkeys once sang or to quote John “a man dressed like Edward Scissorhands, sounding like a prototype Robbie Williams impersonating Alan Vega was surplus to requirements.”
John is refreshingly honest about his early output and warns it should be approached with extreme caution. He describes the recent decision to put his back catalogue on I-tunes thus “–”What to do with these…um…documents? Bin them and hope nobody ever mentions them again…or re-visit the past, post them on I-Tunes and perch upon the village fete ducking stool for any curious late-night drunks to knock me into the water…at 79p a throw. (Like the consummate whore I am) I’ve plumped for the I-Tunes option. Even though many of the songs are cringe-worthy, there are a few diamonds among the car crashes, and perhaps the odd semi-precious stone- you could do worse than downloading my early back catalogue…not sure how much worse though.”
After managing to avoid global superstardom John returned to England and formed the minimalist trio Revolution 9 unfortunately minimalist trios were about as popular as Michael Jackson at a crèche, as something called “grunge” was doing battle with “Britpop.“ They released an album “You Might As Well Live” which was popular with the critics but pretty much ignored by a public who seemed intent on either speaking in “mockney” (the official language of “Britpop”) or growing facial hair, washing infrequently and listening to tortured American “poets” spew their inner demons across the airwaves. Whilst touring in The Czech Republic, Moore discovered Absinthe. It certainly hit the spot and when he had rediscovered his sight he convinced the distiller that he be allowed to import it, Moore set up a company called Green Bohemia, on this occasion his timing was spot on and he did rather well out of the Millennium Absinthe craze. Meanwhile back on planet pop the amazing Black Box Recorder – the group he founded with Luke Haines and (his now ex-wife) Sarah Nixey, went top twenty with “The Facts Of Life.” In 2006, twenty years after appearing on Top of the Pops, Moore was back there again, becoming possibly the only person who has appeared on TOTP’s, Newsnight and University Challenge. There is talk of Black Box recorder doing more work in the future, meanwhile Moore has played saw on both Art Brut albums most notably on “Direct Hit” he also writes for the Guardian newspaper and is sports editor for “The Idler.” His latest album “Floral Tributes” is available on I-Tunes. I spoke to John and tried to get him to overcome his shyness and gently coaxed him into speaking about his career…
VP: How did you meet the Reid Brothers and thereby become a member of the JAMC? Was joining a band always an ambition?
JM: It was certain that I’d waste my life in a band from a very early age – perhaps it was seeing Peter Noone in Pantomime at the age six, Muddy Waters at thirteen…you get the picture. I used to send away for the now defunct Bells Guitar catalogue, and salivate – I was too young for anything more than salivation, over electric guitars…black and white pages of early nineteen seventies six string porn. By the time I met the Reid Brothers and Douglas Hart – whose importance to the Mary Chain must not be underestimated, I’d moved up to London – on the pretext of studying for a degree in Social Sciences – which I had no intention of pursuing. We first came face to face at the Scala Cinema at King’s Cross, at a screening of “Entertaining Mr Sloane.” Sloane is Orton’s finest creation, an amoral, leather-clad murderer who inveigles his way into a household, seduces the brother and sister, kills the father, then ends up trapped and owned by them. I’m not drawing any parallels here except to say that although from opposite ends of the country, we shared some rather specialist cinematic and musical tastes.
VP: Despite what “wikipedia” might say, you’ve said you didn’t actually play on “Some Candy Talking”; do you feature on any recorded Mary Chain material?
JM: If Wikepedia says I played on it, then I must have…except I didn’t. My drumming was strictly a live affair…and I was bloody awful at it. I only became a drummer because my favourite band needed a drummer. I would have become a trombone player had there been a vacancy.
VP: What was behind your decision to leave the band and how did the huge “Expressway” record deal transpire?
JM: Very cleverly, you have answered part one of this question with part two. Being in the JAMC was great, but my role was utterly limited – a fifth wheel. They did not need any more songwriters. Once I’d seen how it all worked, I was extremely eager to try it out myself, but was a bit shocked to be taken so seriously and so quickly. Perhaps the postal service was more efficient back then, but within twenty-four hours of sending out a three song demo, EMI and Island were in touch, and so began a six month feeding frenzy of majors, managers, more demoing, lawyers, limos and yes, a rather generous recording and publishing deal.
VP: So where did the Expressway go wrong? Any big regrets about this period of your career? (The faux American accent perhaps?)
JM: Well, dropping Fist-F*ck from the name might have been seen as the beginning of a long series of compromises. Going with a rawk producer rather than Man Parrish who I’d originally wanted – he produced Male Stripper by Man To Man. I’d wanted a noisy hi NRG record, but then again, I quite like the way the first album sounded…and I got to do it at Electric Lady In NY and live at the Chelsea Hotel, so apart from the fact that it didn’t sell and was panned by our revered musical hackerati, it was something of a personal wish fulfilment. Another big mistake…in terms of career advancement, was announcing to Polydor that I had no intention of coming back to England – not a great way to treat your paymasters. Luckily, Polygram US took over my contract so I had a couple more years of utter indulgence.
The faux American accent – unfortunate though it was, was actually not faux – just not quite resisted enough. I lived in NYC for three years, had American girlfriends, an American wife ( not at the same time ), manager, band…it slipped in, and of course, surrounded by Uncle Sam’s speech impaired citizens, there was no one to correct me. Also, at the time, I was quite convinced that it was only a matter of time before I’d be playing shows on other planets, so to be so parochial about vowel sounds seemed a little short-sighted. Of course, since those dreadful sound crimes, I have gone to extraordinary lengths to make amends…my vowels are so sharp these days that they could slice a man in two…which is quite useful with all this knife crime.
VP: In the past it could be said that you’ve fallen victim to the transient, fickle nature of the music bizz and its fads, did you bear any animosity towards the likes of acid house and grunge? For example did you have any dark thoughts involving a wish to wipe that vacuous grin off the acid house simile?
JM: I certainly was wrong place wrong time – I might as well have started a band of Rockin’ Rabbis in 1939 Germany . Of course, I managed to do it again with my next band Revolution 9. As grunge gave way to Brit Pop, we were a three-piece, guitar, cello, percussion, performing the saddest quietest songs…Somewhere, an Expressway B-Side to the single “Meltdown,” is an ultra expensive acid house remix – utter unbelievable bollocks, with all the dumb acid house trimmings, and the only part from the original track, a girl backing singer, saying the word ‘Meltdown’.
VP: On to the Absinthe years I’ve actually never tried it myself, I was frightened off after hearing hysterical stories that a single solitary drop could render me unconscious or that such would be my vulnerability , I may fall victim to predatory females. What was it you liked about absinthe and is there a safe way to drink it. ?
JM: I wouldn’t touch it now – even aniseed toothpaste gives me a hangover. The Absinthe years were very messy, but coincided with BBR’s success, so messy with very good suits. My dry cleaning bills were enormous. At the time, I loved absinthe for its sense of doomed grandeur, the luxury of life wilfully tossed away…I’ve just remembered a dream I had while drinking it, involving Leonard Cohen, an elderly paraplegic lady and some chickens. No, there is no safe way to drink it.
VP: As you’ve mentioned Black Box Recorder , the group you formed with Luke Haines and Sarah Nixey, how did that set up come about, had you known each other prior to setting up the group?
JM: We all met up while helping out a mutual friend’s band. Somehow, Luke and I had been roped in to help out, and Sarah was the backing singer – her voice was unbelievable. The three of us all got along splendidly. Luke and I were a couple of cynical misfits, and soon became good friends. Then like the c*nts we are, we stole Sarah and formed our own band.
VP: Black Box Recorder teamed up with Eddie Argos and Keith Totps last year and released a Christmas single “Christmas No 1” are there any plans for more Black Box Recorder activity in the future?
JM: When it’s time to pay for our nursing home fees we’ll probably do something. We met up recently to discus a new record – I’d written a song about a middle aged woman with cancer – sort of female seasons in the sun, except she was celebrating having an outdoor Jacuzzi. Luke had written something about the Russian revolution, We changed the subject pretty quickly and got hammered instead.
VP: The saw? I can’t pretend to know much about it…. is this actually a saw similar to one used for woodwork? What prompted you to start playing it and indeed how is it played?
JM: It is a humble wood severing appliance. I think I’ll make a how to play video and post it on youtube…unless I can milk a DVD out of it. Perhaps I should produce gardening and cookery book and a range of clothing as well. You grasp it between your knees, teeth facing inward, you push it with finger and thumb into an S shape, and then you bow it – preferably with a cello bow.
VP: Given you’re own ambivalence to your early output, what would you say was your favourite John Moore and The Expressway tune, and which one, if any, do you wish you could disown?
JM: I couldn’t disown any of them. The very worst of them can be quite therapeutic – either as a tool to induce laughter, or to diminish the ego. I was quite embarrassed by them for years, the big hair… the rock’n’roll posturing, etc. Now I’ve come to enjoy them again, or at least accept them – and I like the 23 year old John Moore who was having the time of his life making them. I might have advised him to tone it down a little, get a haircut and perhaps write some better songs, but he’d have wrapped his guitar around my head…and apologized of course. There is one video of The Expressway on YouTube, but two more exist – which I don’t have. A video for “Something About You Girl”, complete with a supermodel in a wedding dress, and “Meltdown,” which has a naked lady in a gas mask.
VP: You’ve recently released “Floral Tributes”. How would you describe your music today?
JM: Released is too strong a word. Made available on iTunes, but there is no CD or vinyl. Floral Tributes is pretty much -although not quite everything except BBR, Revolution 9 and The Expressway. Nearly all done at home, just me, solitary, very quiet, very late, very damaged. I would describe my music today as evolving.
VP: Finally how would you sum up your career in succinct media friendly sound bites?
JM: The Road Of Excess Leads To The Palace Of Wisdom, Too Much Too Soon, There’s No Place Like Home Toto, There’s No Place Like Home.
At the conclusion of the interview I mentioned in passing to John, that in ’89 I thought he was definately going to be the next big thing, to which he replied “I’m still convinced I’m going to be the next big thing…it is taking a while though.” All hail Moore!
Itunes Links to John’s Albums
Half Awake by John Moore
You Might as Well Live by Revolution9
Now that your lover has gone by Revolution9
Distortion by John Moore
Expressway Rising by John Moore and the Expressway
Wallpapers (Click Thumbnails For Large Versions)
“Out Of My Mind” By John Moore & The Expressway
“The Art Of Driving” By Black Box Recorder
“The Facts Of Life ” By Black Box Recorder
“England Made Me” By Black Box Recorder
“Child Psychology” By Black Box Recorder
Thanks To Robb Dobbs