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Tome On The Range

Across The Evening Sky: Bill Drummond On Mick Houghton
The Quietus , August 3rd, 2019 10:07

Six days ago, Bill Drummond interviewed Mick Houghton at an event in Walthamstow to promote Houghton's new book Fried & Justified. The following morning, Drummond felt a pang of regret…

Photo courtesy: Gordon Watt

Last night…

Well not your last night while you are reading this but… The last night before I was writing this.

Last night I did one of my Forty Minute Interviews. I was interviewing Mick Houghton live in front of a paying audience in Walthamstow – that’s near London.

It was an event to promote Mick Houghton’s new book Fried & Justified. A book that I am implicated in. Also a book that I wrote the preface for. Or was it the introduction?

Mick Houghton and I have had forty years of working together in different ways and in different capacities. We have had thousands of conversations. We have watched each other tumble and fall. We have watched each other rise and shine. And we have watched each other age. It comes to us all. Even you.

The music of the present, has become the music of past. The distant past.

And for the record, our official relationship was one where Mick did the PR for many of the things that I had also been working on. From the first Echo & Bunnymen album in 1980 to the publication of the novel 2023 by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu in 2017.

This morning I woke up and felt I had completely failed Mick. And there was nothing I could do to change that. Last night was a one off. And I had fucked it.

The way I had planned it was that I would kick off by reading my introduction or preface to Fried & Justified to the paying customers. I did this. The lines flowed. And I didn’t stumble. And then I sat down beside Mick to start the Forty Minute Interview. There were four questions that I had prepared. I was hoping that each of these four questions and their answers would evolve and twist.

The first of these four questions was one that had been made public by myself as part of the vague publicity for the event. This was that question:

“If you were instructed by a higher power to murder one of your former clients, which one would it be?”

Mick had a prepared answer. And his answer entertained. The audience were still with us.

Before I was to ask the second question, I had prepared things so our host for the evening would play 'Past, Present & Future' by The Shangri-Las over the house PA. This was done. And as it played I closed my eyes and I listened, like I had never listened to this song before.

Then before I asked the second question I gave my preamble. And now I will quote from the words that I had written in my notes earlier in the day:

“Mick Houghton and I are now men in the second half of our 60s. Thus we have a lot more past than we have future. Most of you here this evening are here because of our past. I don’t think it would be over presumptuous of me to assume that you judge us for our past, not our present, or possible future. Whereas I have very little interest in my past. It is why I stopped doing interviews, as the questions always seemed to be based on my past.”

I knew this would piss off a whole chunk of the audience. Understandably so. They had given up an evening of their lives, and paid good money to be here. They would want answers to questions and questions for answers, that had been to do with our public working lives. Our past. Their past. The communal past.

But instead I was doing a Dylan. As in when Bob Dylan turns up and doesn’t give a shit for what the paying public might want and delivers a half arsed set of below standard covers of his own back catalogue and a load of songs that would have never made Highway 61 Revisited in the first place.

But instead I was there to make my stand against the past. My personal war against the past. Just like the Shangri-Las said:

That will never happen again

My second question for Mick was:

“If you could trade in the past forty years, thus including the twenty years covered in this book, for a future forty years. And they being healthy years – what would you do with that time?”

Mick rose to the challenge. He told us being a writer of books was all he ever really wanted to be. He gave us the pitch for a rock ‘n’ roll spy novel set in the USSR. Or I think that is what he was doing. But while he was answering the question I was becoming aware of the film camera on a tripod at the back of the room, that was filming all of this. And I did not like this at all. For me what we were doing was not only not about the past, it was not about a future looking back at the past, I wanted this to be only about now. As in the present. As in Mick and me in this room talking about things the way we had always talked about things. I didn’t want this evening to be all about future free content. Or used to promote something that… And I wanted to smash up the camera now. And… Anyway I tried to suppress my anger. “Be professional Bill.” I could hear the voice in my head say. “Don’t be a wanker.”

So it was to question three. And this was it:

“If I was given today the job as Minister for the Arts by Boris Johnson, I would ban any band from re-forming. What law would you like to bring in concerning music?”

Mick wanted to understandably ban all music festivals. I guess for both of us, music festivals have become the scourge of modern music consumption. And how music festivals in so many ways rely on the names of has-beens to sell their tickets. And for those has-beens to make a living playing those festivals. Look I know this is not the case with all festivals – but you know what I mean?

But this is where I felt like Mick and I were slipping into two old codgers on the park bench. Trotting out our half-baked prejudices against the modern world. And all the while the folk behind the bar were chatting about something else altogether and not hanging off our every word. And I was soon proclaiming that I would ban any radio station playing any music that was more than a year old.

It was then that the voice of a dissenter in the audience could be heard. He was trying to argue the case that one of the most important values that music can have, is the way it can capture and celebrate our emotions about other times in our lives. And it isn’t all about the now and the new and the…

And I knew he was right.

And I knew that my fourth and final question to Mick was all about that.

I explained to the audience that his previous book was a biography of the greatest English singer ever – Sandy Denny.

Mick and I were in agreement about this fact.

Sandy Denny had been the lead singer on three albums by Fairport Convention. All of these albums had been released in the same year – 1969.

My question to Mick was:

If you had to choose from What We Did On Our Holidays or Unhalfbricking or Liege & Lief, which one would you keep.

Mick chose Unhalfbricking. Which is also the one that I would have chosen.

And we spoke about its qualities. And how Fairport Convention had managed to release three classic albums in one year.

But more importantly for me, we were talking about music that had nothing to do with anything we had ever worked on. And music that had never been particularly deified by those that might be interested in the music that we had jointly worked on. I indulged in the thought that maybe 99% of the audience there last night would not be able to name one Fairport Convention album even if a gun was put to their heads. And the 1% that could would probably hate the whole idea of Fairport Convention.

Then I turned to the man who had challenged me about the role music can have to ‘capture and celebrate our emotions about other times in our lives’. And I said to him how he was not only right, but I was going to celebrate that fact right now, by asking our host to play 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes' from the Unhalfbricking album. But before it played I told the audience that this was the track that I wanted played as my coffin goes into the furnace.

I closed my eyes. 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes' was played. I held back the tears. And the emotions.

But after the track came to an end, I was in no state to say anything else. I forgot about telling the audience that I hoped they would find Fried & Justified as brilliant as I had.

And I had forgot to thank Mick for everything over these past four decades. Thus me waking up this morning feeling shit. And me wanting to write these words as some sort of recompense.

You know music exists for all sorts of reasons at every stage of your life. Celebrate all those all sorts of reasons.

Thank you Mick.

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?

Fried & Justified by Mick Houghton is published by Faber

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