The Mob, James Vinciguerra
James Vinciguerra of Total Control talks to Mark Wilson of The Mob
Images by Zephyr Pavey, ZAP, and Toxic Graffiti
James Vinciguerra: The way that the history of British punk is popularly told is a funny thing. When the pre-punk era is talked about, we hear about glam and meat n' potatoes pub rock being the most important precursor, but the existence of bands like Hawkwind, The Pink Fairies and the Free Festival movement is something that is glossed over, perhaps due to the fact that this stuff is "hippie" and to discuss any of those things goes against the myth that punk was the antithesis of hippie. Much has been made of Crass' hippie roots and I'm curious as to whether The Mob come from a similar background of having "stringy hair, wearing afghan coats, burning joss sticks and making peace signs maaann." Or, were you guys punks first that gravitated towards that side of things...
Mark Wilson: We were punks from school on... Me and Graham left in the summer of '77 and we would have to take Curtis out of school if we had a gig. He left two years later. We lived 40 miles from Stonehenge and in June the school would take us to Wimbleton for the tennis. On the way we would pass the stones and couldn't help but notice a couple of hundred (mostly naked) hippies in the adjacent field. I remember being fascinated by the spectacle and thinking quite clearly that the counter-culture was going to be my home.
As soon as I was old enough I'd go there for several weeks each summer. In the meantime, and maybe there, we had met a band called Here and Now who were touring a "floating anarchy" show for free and relying on donations to keep the tour going. We somehow started doing shows with them and toured the UK and Holland on their converted bus. They were also playing with other punk bands, most notably ATV and The Fall. We later stole the idea, and along with Zounds, the Androids of Mu, and the Astronauts amongst others, started touring our own Weird Tales tour. So, I was always a punk, but the hippies had a good thing going on. My gypsy friends now refer to me as Hippy Mark. They think I don't know and it amuses them a lot. Frankly, I couldn't care less. Call me what you like.
JV: What I am struck by is how colorful some of you people were. Crass were not colorful but The Mob definitely sported some color and Rubella Ballet were extremely colorful. I am also struck by the cultural appropriation—people living in teepees and taking fashion cues from Native Americans. Did any of you ever live in a teepee? Mark, you live in a "house made of junk" now, care to explain...
MW: Well, as I mentioned, our influences were not so constrained by the men in black (who, incidentally, behind closed doors are quite a lot more colorful than they like to pretend.) And I pretty sure that in the early 80's we were rebelling against them, as much as we loved and admired them. I've always dressed from head to toe in black, so I have a foot in both camps, but I align myself firmly with the colorful ones.
When I left London in '83, I had become tired of city life and the music business and had dried up creatively. I made myself a teepee and headed to the West Country. I met the mother of my kids and we lived for many years in trailers and on the road one way or another. I now live in a disused quarry/scrapyard just south of Bristol. I converted a building here using recycled materials and I did it all without permission from the authorities. I've had a big battle but I beat them and the place is now legal. We have created a traveler's site for 15 or so other people and we are busy making workshop spaces (none of this is quite legal!) It's a huge and massive project and I went bankrupt halfway through the house-build, but it all looks pretty good today.
JV: Here in Australia, there is a dearth of significant historical sites for those of us of European extraction. What ruins we do have here are neither ancient nor mysterious, but they are reminders of our recent colonial history; a history, which as it continues to play out, hasn't managed to redeem itself. Stonehenge is an interesting place, it is a site that (I imagine) allows people to feel a deep connection to a past that is at once connected to British culture but also completely unrelated and unknowable. It's not surprising the diversity of people that project their beliefs onto the stones, whether it be green anarchists, right wing pagans, or new age folk. Was or is Stonehenge (or any other stone circle) important to The Mob? I have it on some authority that you used to drop acid and lean against the stones... I suppose if Stonehenge isn't appealing you could always just play cricket.
MW: A couple of years ago, and as I always do, when I pass the stones, I pulled over and made a spliff and noticed you could still see the thoroughfares of the old festival, which was crushed by Thatcher 30 years ago. In answer to your question, this is a poem/song I wrote about it that day.
You can still see the tracks in the grass,
of the thousands of ghosts as they pass
As the golden globe goes off to sleep in the west
By that light it was always the best
There's a chill in the air on midsummers ever
There's always a cloud in the sky
The trickle of rain down my back
And the warmth of the fields where we lie
And the pulse that beats out from that stone
I felt a rhythm one night
It wasn't a dream, it's as real as right now
And you tried to steal that from me
I'll never forgive that old hag
Who sent minions, crushed us in our rags
To snuff out our world as it strived to be born
I'd kill her as quick as her scorn
At the top of the track, by the burial mound,
He slipped his hand inside her skirt,
And new life was created, whilst the old folk debated,
The merits of heaven and earth.
So scatter my ashes on Salisbury plain cos We never went home again
JV: Punk in 2015 is traditional, it is codified. One of the redeeming qualities of punk is that the politics are intact and ever-evolving, which gives credibility to the idea that punk stands for something. However, this redeeming quality often highlights what sucks about punk, and that is that in order to have a utopian punk tribe one must build walls high and be incredibly intolerant. Personally, I can't see the sense in shunning people because they fail to use gender neutral pronouns and I definitely can't see see the point in using violence, intimidation, or reductive logic to battle ignorant "right-wing" attitudes.
For something that purports to be inclusive and open-minded, it often appears anything but that, and I don't think this is something new, is it?
MW: It's not just punk, but most left-wing thought would much prefer to consume itself than to move forward. It's a crying shame and it's something that empowers the right-wing so much more than they deserve. Because they all fundamentally think the same, they don't have any trouble controlling the rest of us. We, meanwhile, find any tiny excuse to disagree with people that we are fundamentally on the same side as. I fucking hate it, we are the reason they continue to control us. It's as simple as that.
JV: I've met three people who were enthusiastic attendees of gigs that bands such as yours performed at in the early '80s and all three of these people (although fairly dismissive of how idealistic it/they were) are still vegetarian or vegan. Although I am sure you have undergone many, many changes are your core values fundamentally unchanged?
MW: I've got more radical with age. I'm much more convinced now than I've ever been. I've spent a bit of time in "their" world and playing the game. It didn't work for me, and now I feel much better about my choices. And yeah, I stopped eating meat in '81 and I never started again. My kids were all brought up veg and still are and my partner and daughter are vegans. I eat a 99% vegan diet and would go all the way if I wasn't so opposed to rules! I don't like the obsessiveness of some vegans. It's ok mate, "You don't need to tell me about it again, I'm on your side."
JV: Who helms All the Madmen records now and how's it going? In the reissue of the Blyth Power "A Touch of Harry in the Night" that came out a few years ago on Demo Tapes there is a reproduction of a flyer advertising a showcase night featuring artists from All the Madmen and Temple, which is the label that released a lot of Psychic TV records and was run in some capacity by Genesis P-Orridge. Were you friends with those people? Speaking of Blyth Power, are you still in touch with Joseph Porter (who played in The Mob, Zounds, and for the last 30 years has lead Blyth Power)? How is he going?
MW: My good friend Min lived at Gen's house for a while so I sort of know them, but I was never a fan of the music, and I don't much care for theatrical weirdness for the sake of weirdness.
Similarly, I left The Mob at a time when, as I said, I had dried up writing, and Josef was thinking we could do some of his songs. I had no interest whatever in trains... or cricket... or Cromwell's time... It left me stone cold. So, I've never really listened to them at length. We played a show Joseph was at a couple of years back, and I went to shake his hand, but I'd read enough of his ramblings over the years to know that he didn't have any time for me. That's cool with me.
All the Madmen is run from our place, but mostly by Des and Marta and Tess, my daughter. Penguin runs the ATM Facebook presence.
JV: The production of "No Doves Fly Here" is really nice, if only for the gong. I have heard live versions of the song without studio embellishments and it is indeed still a very powerful song. This power dwells in the immense space the song has which is not quite as apparent in the studio version. Would you have preferred it if the record came out without all the extra stuff or does it just not matter at this point?
MW: We recorded the single over two days and thought we had finished it. We even had a test pressing, but Penny went back and played with it and the result is the record everyone knows. The irony of the anarchist control wasn't lost, but as you say it's a great record. We have a little moan about it over the years but if he hadn't done what he did, the course would have been different and I'm happy with what he did, and what it did for us as a band.
Let's face it, I probably wouldn't be sitting here at 54 talking about it if we had never met.
JV: I have heard one of the first gigs you did since getting back together was at the wedding on Jamie Hince (formerly of Blyth Power) and supermodel Kate Moss. Fact or ficton?
MW: As I mentioned earlier, in 2012, and with a half-build illegal house, I went bankrupt. It was the worst time of my life and I didn't sleep for month. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but in the middle of all of this, I get this email. It was from Alison Moshart of the Kills and she was writing to ask if we would consider playing a few songs as her bandmate Jamie was getting married and was a lifelong, huge Mob fan.
I replied that it would be a bit weird for all concerned but if she was to book a venue in London, we would secretly get it filled and then the stag party could drop in for a pint, only to find The Mob on stage... We set about planning it all and at the time we had only done two shows since reforming. And, as London was our adopted home, back in the day, it was a great homecoming event for us and the pet puppies and many others. A few days before the secret gig, I got a call from a mutual friend with a message from Jamie saying would I like to come along to a Kills gig in Bristol. I didn't know him, and it was a mad coincidence but we went along. He was blown away and my kids, who were with me, couldn't believe it at all. I was saying to them that I had only ever been that excited on meeting my hero, Mick Jones, back at early Clash gigs. Anyways, come the day and we are all in the pub and it's rammed, we are in constant contact with Alyson as the stag party makes it way to the pub. Anyway, they show up, followed by paparazzi, and Jamie looks up to see my daughter, Tess, who is checking people in at the door. So, remember now, he's met her a couple of days earlier. So, he's like, What the fuck are you doing here? And then, no! No, no! And she nods and says, yep... He runs in, we start playing, and magic is made. Anyway, amongst his stag party, which includes Rob from Massive Attack, and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, is one Mick Jones! Ex-Clash guitarist. I can't tell the story without tears in my eyes. So, yeah, we played for Kate Moss' husband's stag night. But it was so much more than that! He later came and produced the "Rise Up" single for us. We've had some amazing things happen in the last few years, met some amazing people and been to some amazing places. I still went bust, but this was a great night off from it!