Hubris: John Doran On Spoken Word LP Feat. BSP, Perc & More

To accompany his book Jolly Lad, John Doran recorded tracks of spoken word and racket with British Sea Power, Perc, Nicky Wire, Arabrot, Karin Park and Nik Void of Factory Floor. He explains the story and we've tracks streaming here

The Quietus Phonographic Corporation’s latest release is an album featuring some of our favourite contemporary musicians mangling and wrangling tQ co-editor John Doran’s words from his new book, Jolly Lad. Those involved in the record are: Abi and Neil from British Sea Power, Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers and Loz Williams, Perc, Arabrot and Karin Park, and Nik Void from Factory Floor and Carter Tutti Void. You can hear excerpts below and stay tuned to tQ for news of more ways to hear the music. The record can be purchased from Norman Records, The Drift, Totnes and Rough Trade and digitally from iTunes. Below, John puts together some background to the release.

I think I can trace the genesis of HUBRIS back as far as 21 years ago.

In 1994, about ten years into my chequered relationship with narcotics, either the drugs had gone bad or my ability to cope with them had. Either way I was often to be found lying in bed in the small hours of the morning in my basement flat in Longsight, Manchester, shaking with fear and unable to sleep. Due to psychological problems and severe comedowns I had become convinced there were ghosts on the road outside. There were spectres travelling all over Greater Manchester on buses and during this time, it felt like there was only one thing keeping me sane (I didn’t know what diazepam was back then).

I had a C90 cassette taped from Radio 4, made up of lots of different broadcasts of the Shipping Forecast. The rich and reassuring RP accent of the presenter talking about the conditions off the coast of Britain felt like it was the only thing tethering me to reality and calming my fevered ecstasy, LSD and amphetamine smashed brain. But after a while the idea of the Shipping Forecast and the idea of ghosts on buses became warped into one single obsession.

After my publisher Mark Pilkington, from Strange Attractor Press, suggested I do some audio to go along with my book Jolly Lad – I was finally able to articulate this strange fear I’d been in the grip of two decades earlier.

I wrote a short piece called ‘Area Forecast’, recorded myself talking about spectres haunting the bus routes of Hackney and sent the WAV up to Abi Fry and Neil Hamilton Wilkinson of British Sea Power up on the Isle Of Skye – who graciously didn’t laugh at my presumptuous request that we collaborate on a track together. They added some suitably haunting music to the reading and messed about with my voice so it sounded like a radio transmission drifting in to shore over choppy seas. This was the first finished piece I got back from the many musicians who were collaborating with me and it really helped to put my mind at rest that the idea of combining spoken word and music wasn’t necessarily a fool’s errand (for me). Not only was it such a thrill to get to work with members of one of my favourite rock bands but the music they’d made was really exciting to listen to. It made me think of the dead sailors of Llareggub, who Dylan Thomas portrayed striding out of the sea in their Sunday best in Under Milk Wood.

The track ‘The Guardian’ has a much more recent genesis. I was staying at my mate John Tatlock’s flat in Manchester late last year and ended up too traumatised to sleep after watching an entire series of Walking Dead in one sitting. This, and extreme irritation with the then briefly popular televisual misogynist nob rash Dapper Laughs, left me in a state of no little psychic discombobulation. Coincidentally, the day before I’d been at a photo shoot with tQ photography machine Al Overdrive in Abney Park Cemetery. A man walking his dog asked me if I knew whose grave I was standing next to and when I admitted ignorance he told me it belonged to William Calcraft, who, it turned out, was Britain’s most prolific executioner. Calcraft used to favour the controversial short drop method which often didn’t snap the neck of the poor soul who was to be despatched, meaning the hangman often ended up sitting on the shoulders of the condemned and jumping up and down in order to break the neck… much to the delight of the gathered crowds. Calcraft was extremely popular and would be paid a lot of money to carry out hangings. If he came to your town he would bring a lot of trade as well as the tens of thousands who would flock to one of his executions. He loved his work and carried on working full time until well past retirement age.

Unable to sleep, lying on John Tatlock’s couch, head buzzing full of zombies having their heads blown off, Uni-lad envoys for rape culture and too much coffee, I started having a torrid daydream… It was about a modern day Calcraft – an unemployed butcher who had lost his job at Smithfields who was forced to live in a condemned and near empty block of flats because of rising London rents – and his plans to leave a bequest for London. After throwing in a respectful nod to Michel Foucault’s 1975 chortle-fest Discipline And Punish: The Birth Of The Prison, by the time the sun came up the next day I was left with a short story that, if nothing else, made me feel quite nauseated and unhappy.

Given the punishing nature of the text I aimed about as high as I could and luckily for me, Mr Ali ‘Perc’ Wells, agreed to the commission – which came with the simple instructions: "Make this story very tense via nefarious sonic means." And the track he turned in really ratchets up the revulsion and clammy panic to horrific levels. I love this track but I don’t think it’s going to be cropping up in anyone’s Fabric Live or Boiler Room set any time soon. However I’m getting a 24 bit WAV out to Jamie xx as we speak, so fingers crossed.

Probably the most straightforward to sort out track was the one featuring a member of the Manic Street Preachers. I was interviewing Nicky Wire for NOISEY last year. After the interview he asked me what I was up to. I said, "I’ve got a spoken word project on the go." And without pause he replied, "I’ll be involved." And that was that. Whether you think I’m duty bound to say it or not, I’m happy to report that Nicky Wire is either a dastardly conniving bastard who has completely pulled the wool over my eyes due to being a sociopath or he is genuinely one of the nicest musicians I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years. I’m sure, during the run up to a worldwide series of Holy Bible concerts, he had more pressing stuff to be getting on with than contributing to my mid-life crisis but he still found time – along with his pal Loz Williams – to make a track entitled ‘Margeurita Time’ for HUBRIS. "The Manic Street Preachers", as Father Ted would no doubt have said: "A great bunch of lads."

The person who had the most fun with the project was Nik Void from Factory Floor and Carter Tutti Void. I remember getting an email from her asking if she could "mess about" with the recording I’d sent her and I said I’d be happy if she did. Because of this I gave the entire inner sleeve of the vinyl over to Nik where she explains her process thoroughly but the gist of it is this… I recorded her a track called ‘Sprial Arms’ and then, hearing a tempo in my diction, she recorded a series of synthesized clicks, whirrs and drones that corresponded to the pronunciation of the spoken word. Then she removed my vocal track and filmed herself mouthing the words and added the electronic score. So essentially what she gave me was a film that didn’t feature me. What a brilliant idea from a true artist. The soundtrack is included on the record as well as some stills from the film.

The collaboration that has the most personal resonance for me is opening track ‘Gun Lore’. A couple of years ago my friend Kjetil Nernes from the Norwegian noise rock group Arabrot asked me to contribute sleeve notes to his Murder As Art EP. Inspired by Steve Albini’s caustic vignettes from the liner notes of Atomizer and Songs About Fucking, I wrote him a short story about a man tattooing himself.

I was made up. It was to be my first ever published piece of fiction. I thought I’d buy a copy of the EP and send it to my mum. However when I saw the striking artwork Johannes Høie of what appeared to be female paramilitary soldiers in balaclavas with exposed breasts goose-stepping across clouds in heaven with automatic weapons – and erect penises – I decided that maybe I would wait until I’d published my second short story before showing my mother.  

A few months later Kjetil persuaded me to record myself reading the story out. In 2014, while undergoing harsh and invasive treatment for throat cancer, he and his girlfriend – the Swedish musician Karin Park – set the piece to music. I think the piece of audio he made is simply stunning. I was at a very low ebb with mental health difficulties when I got the track back and I recall vividly that it made a very deep impact upon me. I remember sending the WAV to m’learned colleague Luke Turner who was at the time also deep in the slough of despond. His response was succinct and bleakly funny: "This is making me want to kill myself. I can imagine buying it on vinyl. We should put it out."

And here we are.

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