Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Band of Holy Joy/Test Department

We've enthused about The Band of Holy Joy here before, arguably the best band to come out of New Cross in the 1980s. Good to see they are busy again - in fact they are doing a cabaret/theatre piece, Troubled Sleep, at Chat's Palace in Hackney this week (5 December). Good too to see BoHJ singer Johny Brown getting a four page profile in The Wire magazine (December 2008), expounding on influences including Brecht, Behan and Burroughs.

Brown now lives in Stoke Newington, but in the interview he recalls that in the 1980s 'we were rooted in New Cross. Test Department and [UK comedian] Vic Reeves, they were our peers'. In the mid-1980s, he was sharing a house in Nettleton Road with another band, Test Department, who he compares with BoHJ; 'Test Department were incredibly masculine ... and we were extremely feminine. We were about romance, about a Britain that was fading away, contrasted with a reality that was quite dark. But there was definitely a spirit shared. Test Department were polemic where we were quite poetic, personal, romantic, the way we saw things. But then again, personal is political. They were out on tour with the miners during the strike, and you can't get more personal than people's lives being affected like that... It was totally opposite to Test Department, who were in training upstairs being militant. We were downstairs on drugs writing these really weird dirges. It was chalk and cheese'.

In terms of the local scene, Brown remembers 'there was lots of cheap housing in New Cross then, lots of squats and housing association houses, and there was Goldsmiths College too. [Test Department's] Angus was top boy at Goldsmiths, so it was mix of squatters, students, genius guys and general misfits. Vic Reeves was a very informed guy, with this art background and he was a really brilliant musician, very much an improvisor, working with people like Steve Beresford way before he made his hit record. The very first music I made when I came to London was with Brett [Turnbull film maker], Vic Reeves and his girlfriend Lucie Russell, and a guy called George on saxophone. We used to do this beautiful free rolling stuff with this cheap and nasty yellow and black plastic Wasp synthesizer. Of course everybody eventually moved away'.

(Thanks to John at Uncarved for letting me know about this article)

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