MONGREL////JON McCLURE////DECEMBER 2008
I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt this burning yearning deep down inside, for quite some time for a new and exciting act to burst onto the scene. Until recently I had no idea where it was going to come from…but then all out of the blue and like a clean crisp slap to my podgy face the ‘Mongrel’ album dropped right in front of me. Let me tell ya people, you’d best be ready, ‘cause in the not too distant future it will drop for you too and it’ll drop big – a lot like a ton of bricks. With this level of intensity and freshness, its gonna be hard for you to ignore this brilliant fusion of Hip Hop and Indie rock, glazed to perfection with a splash of Dub. Ok, maybe I’m not making this clear enough? How’s about you get yourself a king-size idea, sprinkle in a bit of Babyshambles, then mix it up with a current and an Ex-Arctic Monkey. Then blend all this together with a selection of the finest up-n-coming UK Street commentators and MC’s. Finally, roll your parcel together and galvanise with a secular thinking Reverend along-side one of his merry makers. From here, you’ll find that you’ve got yourself a brilliantly constructed melting pot of ideas, which can be ingested and understood at your own, relaxed pace. So all that’s left is for the Reverend (John McClure) to introduce his Mongrel to us, an adoring congregation….
First and foremost, with this indie super group, how did you all get together and why is Mongrel such a departure in sound from how you all got established in your original bands?
We did some recording for a charity called Bottle Top. There was Drew (Babyshambles’ guitarist), Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys’ drummer) and Andy Nicholson (ex Arctic Monkeys’ bassist), Joe Moscow (Reverend and the Makers’ keyboardist) and myself. We enjoyed playing together so much we decided to take it further and do a project together. You know the way I came out, in a wave of bands such as The Enemy, The Twang and Pigeon Detectives. Respect to them all and everything, but I didn’t want to be churning out my albums. To cut a long story short, I was managed by the people who looked after the Arctic Monkeys as well, thus expected to perform in a certain way, i.e. by being a pop star, which was something I felt very uncomfortable with. I was asked to go on the David Letterman Show, which despite the fact it would make a lot of money for me and the people who sit in offices all day ordering us around, it weren’t me, it just weren’t me. So I booked a gig in Lebanon and got all me Mongrel people together. I have a love for UK Hip Hop. I really feel it’s been completely ignored in the last twenty years. It’s nearly been written out of the narrative of British musical history. For instance with Gabba, Jungle, Dubstep, Hip Hop, Drum ‘n’ Bass and Grime, the MC has been there and done all that. But what’s Rock given us? Britpop – which looks to the Sixties for its inspiration. The New Rock Revolution looks to the late seventies and early eighties, and New Rave, which is just a fucking abomination in my book. None of the bands involved with it sound anything like a rave. I feel that really crucially the British MC has been ignored. I have to ask myself the question, why have I never seen Roots Manuva on the front of the NME, or Skinnyman? I really feel these people have been written out of the narrative. So for me, it’s important to fuse that. Also, I’ve just done a Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry song with Adrian Sherwood – from On-you-sound. He’s a bit of a legend within the Dub world so I got him in to Dub it up. It’s a real fusion of sounds. In my mind, it’s what living in Britain in 2008 sounds like.
So why the name ‘Mongrel’?
It’s owing to the mixed ethnicity of the people involved. Me and Drew have Irish backgrounds, Lowkey the rapper is half Iraqi, the girls are Jamaican. We are a real fusion of ethnicities and sounds. It is what it says on the tin really. It is a Mongrel. Mongrel is seen as dirty word – you’re not considered as a thoroughbred. But I would say ‘Mongrel’ is brilliant man, it’s like cooking with a mixture of flavours. I think as a word it should have positive connotations.
Can you tell us about the musical change in direction and how you got Lowkey and the other MCs involved?
I listen to a lot of Dub and Ragga and Hip Hop as well. I had a load of ideas for songs like this that wouldn’t have fitted into Reverend & the Makers, especially with what we’ve done with the new album – it’s massive and kinda mad sounding psychedelic affair. I just thought I was going to have to do something with these songs ‘cause they are really good. I’ve been into a rapper for a while call Kalashnikov and the guy who managed him gave me Lowkey’s CD. I was just like “Wow!”, for me being passionately against the War for a number of years now, hearing a British/ Iraqi saying these things, which no-one else in popular music but me has said. Literally since 9/11, with the exception of Lily Allen and M.I.A., I am the only person to have commented on our country’s foreign policy in terms of new artists coming up, so apart from people like Ian Brown, Damon (Albarn), D from Massive Attack, who are all good guys, they are all wicked, but they are established, so they had less to risk. For a new artist such as Lowkey saying things like ‘I’m a Bushwacking Bush-killer’ is pretty militant, I thought ‘yep, I’ll have a bit of that pal’. He had a few numbers already together which I wrote hooks and chorus’ for and then we pulled in some scene veterans, people like Skinnyman and Kaiser, and we got some new ones in as well like Tor and Mike Rice who is a seventeen year old Iranian kid from Margate, who is just pure fire. It was a chance for me to pull in all the different strands of my brain. I’d been in Africa recently with Damon Albarn doing the Africa Express thing. He introduced me to a guy called Bassekou Kouyate, who is a musician from Mali who plays an instrument called the Ngoni, which is a three stringed type of thing – he was involved. It’s good to mix things up man, to keep things interesting.
For you, what has inspired your contributions to the Mongrel project?
If an alien was to descend to earth and go straight into Zavvi to by all the CDs that have come out in the last seven years, they would have no idea what’s been going on regarding our true cultural output. That’s one inspiration for me – to try and change that. Secondly I have felt deeply wronged by certain sections of the press and still do really. The press control the mind of the people and when you think that around 70% of the press are white middle class males (not that there’s anything wrong with that – but there needs to be a balance). If you come from the North, or if you are Black or Asian, you are immediately put into a stereotype. For instance if I was to say ‘Fucking’, it would be written ‘Fookin’. I don’t speak like that, so I felt deeply wronged because I kinda kicked off the whole Sheffield scene thing, but then got raped and dragged over the coals by the national press as Arctic Monkeys’ best friend, or this band’s best friend. Now I am friends with the Arctic Monkeys, but there is no way they would turn down the chance to go on Letterman to play Lebanon instead – do you understand what I’m saying? I thought I’ve got to rectify this. You let them kinda people push you around. Effectively all they are is Nathan Barley types from Hoxton. You let them push you around and tell you what to do or you think your career will just nose dive. But you can stand up and say “Fuck Off, Fuck Off, Fuck Off”, and let them know you can’t push me around ‘cause I’m too big for that. I’m not gonna have it. If you push me around I’m gonna push you back. I’m gonna question why you’ve not got any Black or Asian journalists. We need a resurgence of the periphery in this country; we need to take the power back out of this London-centric news world. People from News International and the Daily Mail telling people how to think. I see an alliance of all the people in the peripheries (and I’m not anti-London by the way, I love London). There are certain people in London who only want to fucking promote their friends from Shoreditch or wherever and inflict it on the rest of us. But that ain’t the way things are man, it’s not the reality of the situation, so you end up with a distortion. To give you an example of how they distort things, I’m going to Venezuela to do a thing with Hugo Chavez (their president). Go to YouTube and look up ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’ which is a film in eight parts. Two Irish kids went over there and made it. It’s basically a resume of Hugo Chavez. He is the President and he has effectively given all the oil money back to the people of Venezuela. He runs a TV show every week celled El Presidente and literally puts millions of pounds back to the people on it. Venezuelan culture is exploding because of Chavez, but if you read the papers over here, he’s a dictator, or he’s this or that, but he’s not. Just because the people who own the papers might be best friends with the people from the Oil companies, suddenly he’s a dictator. When Israel invaded Lebanon the only agency to close down in protest was Venezuelan. When America invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, Chavez went into the UN in front of the entire world and said ‘the Devil has been in the room, you can smell the sulphur’ – that takes bottle. The reason I identify with Chavez is essentially the man is trying to do something good, but he’s demonised as something else by the press. On a very different scale I think that’s me man. I’m trying to do a good thing. I organise Love Music / Hate Racism – I got 6000 there to stand up against the BNP. I was getting death threats, but I still do it. I’ve got people terrorising my parents, ringing them up giving them all kinds of grief, but I still do it. I tell you what, lets put The Killers on the front cover. Let’s promote The Wombats or even talk about the next Les Dennis single. They never put people who are trying to deal in real life on there… so that’s my other inspiration.
There are a plethora of sounds to be heard with this project, so I wondered who the collective would site as influences?
I think The Clash were an overwhelming influence on us. Bob Marley as well for that attitude of the music and Damian as well. I went out to Jamaica in January and hung out with him. The subject matter on his album ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ was also a big influence for us. There is a rapper from America called Immortal Technique. From the Dub side of things Lee Perry is a big deal, also Augustus Pablo. All those people on a sonic level were big influences…
Can i ask where you all currently stand with your main bands as i believe you’ve been also been recently involved in some social awareness projects?
With Babyshambles I’m not really sure because Pete is going to record a solo album. I have been doing this and helping Carl Barat record some new stuff and doing the Instigate Debate Project, which is basically a load of questions on a website that people aren’t asking enough, within popular culture. The idea is that a kid gets on there and gets some questions and then finds a celebrity, or a sports star or a politician and asks them one of the questions. They upload their answers on the site, and then we go and play a gig in one of their houses – check it out (www.instigatedebate.com) It’s in its infancy and I will need some bigger people to help me do it, but however Nick Clegg had agreed to do one, so has Gordon Brown and there’s a whole manner of people from the Indie world. If you have a look you’ll find some fascinating answers. So back to the question… Andy was sacked from the Arctic Monkeys. I wanted to take him with me. When the Sheffield thing happened and it all happened for them Andy was the life and soul and spirit of it. When you watch one of your best friends go to one of the lowest points possible from such a high, it’s really fucking hard to watch, especially when you know the guy is talented and that he’s got a big fucking heart. When I wanted someone to lay down some Basement bass Andy was my first port of call. It’s been an absolute pleasure to have him along. He was always the one who went to see the fans and talk up new bands and stuff and he’s an absolute troubadour. If the first Arctic Monkeys album and the Mongrel album are his only contributions to the music of this country then he’s enriched it and for the better, forever in my mind…
How have the most hardcore of your Makers fans reacted to the Mongrel thing?
Yeah, I’m not going to lie to you. I went through some dark times whilst making the Mongrel album. There were times when I took a week out and read ‘when John McClure puts up his continuous peace signs it’s a crassicism that continues to grate’. If it’s crass to put up a peace sign when we are currently at war in two different countries and to get six thousand to do likewise, then we are genuinely, genuinely fucked. I couldn’t understand it. Y’know if you don’t like my music then fair enough, but when you are attacking someone for that… ‘cause I’m so outspoken I tend to get a lot of it now. I’ve had a kid texting me for weeks saying ‘you used to me my ideal, but now your music is fucking shit, you’re a wanker. You got to understand that a lot of our my fans are white working class people, then suddenly I come out with something which is overtly rooted in black culture, overtly political and overtly against the BNP as well. It was made at the time when Johnston got in. We got the Kaiser Chiefs to play and we literally ran the BNP out of Rotherham. A lot of people don’t like that, especially young kids that might have racist parents. So I started getting a lot of abuse, with people ringing up my parents’ house.
There will be a twelve-date tour in February, which kicks off in Norwich. I’ve noticed the tickets for the entire tour are £8 or £10 in London – was this a conscious decision?
Yep I said make them as cheap as possible. I even said I’ll give you the album for FREE if the national press put our Black and Asian MCs on your front covers. They should do ‘cause these guys are fucking genius’. I want as many people as possible to hear Mongrel… it’s my labour of love!
Who is ‘Julian’? And more importantly why are they coming after him?
Ah Julian… he was a guy who used to work for my old management company. He skilfully hid a heroine addiction for over six years. I’ve been around people who’ve been on shit and I could see it in his eyes. I always used to think, ‘he’s just not right’. He’d come back from the toilets all sweaty and shit with his pupils all mashed up and shit. He eventually disappeared, ‘cause he owed a lot of people money and then I saw these kids in a snooker hall, they were like, ‘you know Julian don’t you, ‘cause we are gonna find him and really fuck him up’. I would rather have been Noddy Holder or even Boris Johnson than Julian at this point… that’s how badly they wanted to get him. In fact I’d rather be Jeremy Clarkson than Julian and that’s saying something ‘cause he’s a right wanker. So that’s who Julian is…
‘The 696 Form compels licensees who wish to hold live music events in 21 London Boroughs to report to the police the names, addresses, aliases and telephone numbers of performers, and most worryingly, the likely ethnicity of their audience. Failure to comply could result in fines or imprisonment. We believe this places unnecessary and frankly Orwellian powers in the hands of the Metropolitan Police, an institution that does not have the best record of racial fairness. The 696 form can only serve to deter the staging of live musical events – a positive form of activity in London and all cities – stifle free expression and quite possible penalise certain genres of music and ethnic audiences. It is an intrusion too far’. You guys are actively trying to combat this on your website www.mypsace.com/wearemongrel How has this been going and what sort of response rate have you been getting?
Our petition is the most successful petition on the Downing Street website and all the others have been on there for over a year. We’ve been on there three weeks and we are winning, but we need more people to sign it. The London Met are going to use this for some bad things, make no mistake; it’s already happening and it’ll happen in your neck of the woods before too long – it’s one of those ‘smile people, while we fuck you up the ass’. Not many people even know they’re doing it, yet they can shut down a Dancehall or any Hip Hop event. Imagine you are a sixty year old Irish geezer, who every Wednesday night goes down to his same Irish boozer to play his guitar, when suddenly you can’t do it anymore ‘cause you’ve got to put your name on a form… fuck off.
Finally, you’ve played in Norwich a few times before, what lasting memories do you have of our fine, fine city?
My lasting memory of Norwich apart from playing the Waterfront is going to Norwich with my Auntie Gayle when I was about twelve and she brought me two wrestling figures. One was Rick Flair and the other was the Matador Tito Santana. I remember going to this department store and loving it. That’s Norwich bruv… for me, that’s Norwich!