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Baker's Dozen

Survival Songs: John Grant's Baker's Dozen
Barnaby Smith , September 8th, 2021 09:05

John Grant takes tQ through the 13 albums that have defined his life and guided him through tough times, from the beauty of Fad Gadget to the joy of Bernard Fevre, via Ennio Morricone, Kate Bush and more


Fad Gadget – Under the Flag

This came into my life because I was hanging out with this guy named Rick, who was kind of the centre of the universe to me. He had all these records that I wasn’t allowed to buy, or didn’t have the money to buy, but somehow he could get his hands on them. This was 1985 or 86. There’s a song on this album called ‘Love Parasite’ which is one of my favourites of all time. I love Frank Tovey and I love Fad Gadget. Fireside Favourites is more my current favourite, but this one was the beginning of my Fad Gadget obsession. The first song, ‘Under the Flag I’, is incredible; it’s all about the synth sounds, going in an industrial direction a little bit. The album represents hanging out with Rick, but also being out in the countryside at my parents’ place trying to play the bassline to ‘Love Parasite’ on the piano. It meant this new world of new wavers with mohawks, these beautiful boys with really long straight hair down to their chin at the front and brushed to the side, covering one eye, and short at the back. That was the height of beauty for me. It still is.

What was happening for you at the time you discovered this?

Things were going really wrong for me at that time. My parents were angry and disappointed with me. I was realising I was gay. I had been trying really hard to be vigilant about every aspect of my life: how I spoke, how I looked, but I was starting not to give a fuck, because I loved the new wave thing. My parents wanted me to dress like I was going to church, or like a preppy boy – those nice-looking boys in polo shirts. It’s funny, I just bought three polo shirts the other day – I don’t know if it was for my parents or for those lacrosse players that I wanted to have sex with when I was in school.

The whole world was disgusted by me. Everybody knew I was gay, which made me really angry, because I was like, “What is it that I’m doing that makes you think you know this most intimate thing about me?” You’re obviously a fucking faggot, look at you. You’re not masculine, you’re not a man, you dress wrong. You walk like a faggot, talk like a faggot, smile like a faggot. It was like that all the time. And then at home it was from a religious perspective: they knew what was going on, but it was never spoken about. But they could see I was going off the rails, and forced me to see some Christian psychologist. The world was so fucking ugly to me at that point, so that’s the backdrop to this music. It meant survival for me. I believed my parents and what I was being told. I was told that what I was turning into would separate me from God, from my family, from society, forever – and it was something I was doing on purpose. I can’t explain how real that was, and how terrifying. These days people are like, “Oh my God what the fuck is wrong with you? Chill out, get over it, that was so long ago.” I realise my story doesn’t matter, but it does matter in the context of me.

And in the context of your music.

Exactly. And I still didn’t expect anybody to give a shit, it was just my way of having a voice. Fine, if you think it’s too personal, or you think it’s embarrassing – I don’t care. Because I couldn’t say anything about anything for a long time. I was hyper-vigilant about making sure in every millisecond of my life that I didn’t give myself away, or move the wrong way or talk the wrong way, or use the wrong word or be interested in the wrong thing. And I’m not whining at you, I’m just observing how it was. So this music was otherworldly, quite literally.