Street punk veterans GBH are heading Down Under for the first time in six years, so of course Sentinel Daily wanted a chat with them...
The tyranny of distance. It not only tyrannizes by the sheer weight of kilometers that this earth can put between two people hoping to communicate; it also confounds confused old men like me by its meddling with the international dateline and one’s conception of what the actual date is elsewhere in the world at any given time. Now, whilst this may be of assistance in some areas of international activity – any seasoned, not to say desperate, boozer will nod sagely at eleven in the morning before cracking open a stubby and informing you that it’s ‘five o’clock somewhere’ – it’s less helpful when two men with a combined age of around 100 get together to try and conduct an interview.
We failed miserably in our first attempt, confusion reigning, but here we are, twenty four hours later, me and Colin Abrahall, vocalist of Britpunk titans GBH, ready to chat about the band’s upcoming tour of the antipodes…
A tour of the antipodes eh? I first saw GBH at the Klub Foot in a pub called The Clarendon in Hammersmith in London in 1986. “That sounds about right!”
I never thought, thirty years later, I’d be interviewing you as you prepared to come to Australia. How long did you think the band was going to last back then? You’d already been going a few years by 1986 but did you think it was going to become a life’s work? “No. We never really thought about the future that much. We never looked beyond the next week, the next tour, the next single, or whatever. You just keep that mindset and then thirty years later you stop and look back and say ‘wow! We did all that!’ Ignorance is bliss!”
Do you approach anything differently now? Have you developed ways to make touring easier on a body that’s thirty years older? “Yes. You refine the way you go about things. You learn to avoid the dodgy promoters who you’ve used before and they’ve let you down, you don’t use them again”.
So you live and learn. “Yep. You live and learn”.
Over the past few years you’ve played an awful lot of festivals, but punk in essence is a sweaty club medium – do you prefer playing the clubs? “It is a sweaty club medium. But I do like both, although I do prefer the audience to be close to me. At some festivals we’ve played we’ve been about a hundred yards away from them! We are a band that needs the audience, and I suspect the audience likes to be closer to the band too. So yes, you can’t beat a sweaty club”.
That being said, would you change the way you present the music – which is admittedly pretty forceful as it is – to project it across those bigger distances? “There’s not a lot we can do – We always play as hard and as fast as we can and after that I guess it’s down to the sound engineers and the lighting guys to make us look good”.
You came to Australia not so long ago (in 2010 in support of the excellently-titled Perfume and Piss elpee) – how did you find the audiences down under? Is a punk a punk wherever you happen to find him or her? Or are there marked differences? “No, everyone’s basically the same. Although the Japanese are probably the politest. They’ll be going absolutely crazy, but then as soon as you finish the song they stop, there’s just dead silence. It’s their nature to be polite but it’s like they are stopping so you can carry on playing! Whereas American audiences are just crazy the whole time”.
I guess punk in itself is quite antithetical to Japanese culture, whereas elsewhere it’s become accepted as a way of life? “Yes, but it has become a lifestyle there, there are quite a few bands who live it onstage and offstage”.
We often used to wonder that about death metal bands – when the vocalist was in the chip shop afterwards did he order his cod and chips in that same onstage voice? “No, they take their wigs off and they are really accountants in their daily lives”.
Sounds feasible, and actually not too far from the truth in certain cases! And talking of accountants, how do you find the current music-making environment? I’m guessing touring is the only way you really make any money these days? “Yes. But we’ve always toured all the time anyway. Record sales are down, but we’ve always earned our money being a live band. Everyone else is just coming over to our side now!”
With that being as it is, is that why you don’t put out many records any more? Is it just not worth it? “No, we’re just lazy! We self-manage, so we don’t have anyone breathing down our necks saying ‘you’ve gotta do this! Or ‘you’ve gotta do that!’ We’ve had managers in the past and just rebelled against them – probably to our own detriment at times. But we like who we are now, and we decide what we want to do. If we have an offer come in we’ll have a think about it. But we don’t have anyone saying ‘we need an album by next year!’’
And as you say, if you don’t need an album to be able to tour then why bother? “Yes, that’s true as well”.
But that’s as maybe, and I’m going to press this question in a more direct way – have you got any new material in the pipeline? “Yes, we’ve got a whole new album ready”.
So you’re just waiting for that offer? “Well, we’re really more waiting for the right time, which hopefully will be this year, but it’s really just fitting it in around the touring”.
Well, that gives us something else to look forward to besides the tour! Will you be featuring elements from all the eras of GBH when you come down under? “We’ll be playing the whole of (1981’s) Leather, Bristles, Studs And Acne, and then all the seven inch singles, plus b-sides, that we did on Clay Records”.
In chronological order I hope? “In chronological order, yes. And then when we’ve done thst we’ll thrown in whatever’s left. We’ve just started playing a new song that will be on the new album, so we’ll be covering all the bases”.
Fantastic. I’m now even more excited than I was before. What’s your favourite GBH song, do you think? “Oh, blimey… I’ve probably got a favourite one to play live and a favourite one just to listen to, but I’ll say just for the sake of argument Malice in Wonderland. But we don’t play that live. Well. We haven’t for a few years”.
Well, whatever you play we’ll be looking forward to hearing it in down here in Canberra. “We’ve never been to Canberra.”
Not many people have. But that’s all set to change next month!
GBH Australian/NZ Tour 2016
24th Rosemount, Perth Australia
25th Enigma, Adelaide Australia
26th The Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne Australia
27th Crowbar, Brisbane Australia
28th Factory Floor, Sydney Australia
2nd Transit Bar, Canberra Australia
4th Kings Arms, Auckland, New Zealand
5th Bodega, Wellington, New Zealand
Tickets on sale Now
go to www.thedrunkpromoter.com for tix/info