A couple of weeks ago I talked to author Zoe Howe about her new Jesus and Mary Chain Official Biography “Barbed Wire Kisses” which is being released this month, and is the first ever account of the band, some thirty years after their 1984 debut single “Upside Down”.
Rock’s annals have a long history of quarrelling brothers, from the petty squabbles of the Gallaghers over who has the biggest eyebrows, to the blazing rows of Chris and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes, not to mention those real hellraisers, the Jonas brothers. But what about William and Jim Reid of Jesus and Mary Chain? Early gigs had Jesus and Mary Chain dubbed “The New Sex Pistols” by the tabloids whilst an infamous 1985 gig at North London Polytechnic resulted in scenes of crowd violence, and the cancellation of later gigs by concerned venue owners.
In her new book, author Zoe Howe reveals that despite their notoriety and reputation for violence at their gigs, they’re actually “very funny”. Can she really be talking about the Reid Brothers? A band that was “only happy when it rains”…?
You have written an account of the band, “Barbed Wire Kisses” with almost everyone being cooperative! What’s the story behind how the book came about?
Zoe: “They’ve been really brilliant. I knew John Moore, he was a mate, and a Mary Chain (he was the drummer who succeeded Bobby Gillespie): he once taught me how to play a musical saw. You put it between your legs and play it with a bow!”
“He’s a lovely guy, so I got in touch with John who got in touch with Jim (Reid) who was up for it – which was amazing. William… not so much – despite Jim’s prompts. But everybody else is involved, including Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee, and Douglas Hart. They’ve been brilliant to work with.
“Amazingly it’s the first time anyone has written a major biography on Jesus and Mary Chain which I found quite strange. And by happy accident it is the anniversary of their first single in 1984 – so it was time really, with 99 percent of the people involved talking about it. They’re not known for being the most talkative of people generally, so I got lucky with that.”
JAMC had a very “Goth” look…
“Mary Chain really hate being called Goths: “Yeah, we wore black, but that doesn’t mean were Goths”. They’re very funny guys and they have great memories. It’s a dark humour, but they are funny. Jim Reid was so open, looking back with candour and was quite philosophical about things.”
And how do they feel looking back at what was quite a turbulent history?
Zoe: “It’s hard to say, because they’re so enigmatic and even though it’s different now, they’re talking to me, they’re all a lot older – there’s still an aura around them…I think that’s there within the band as well – a bit like “what’s going on?”
“I think the Jesus and Mary Chain are more fun than people give them credit for, and what’s interesting about them is that they said “Everyone thought we were really worthy and indie, but we just wanted to be on the cover of Smash Hits! We wanted to be on Top of the Pops!” And they did go on the cover of Smash Hits a couple of times and they were on Top of the Pops on one disastrous occasion and were never allowed back (legend has it they got drunk in the Blue Peter garden). Because they had this reputation that preceded them and, yes they did smash stuff up at gigs, but when it came down to it, they got drunk mostly because they were very nervous and extremely shy.”
“They all wanted to be on the cover of Smash Hits. They all grew up with pop, loved pop, going back to sixties stuff, girl groups. They wanted to be like Marc Bolan, they wanted to be pop stars. Jim said “I don’t want to be wearing a Fair Isles cardigan playing in front of three mates in a pub! I want to be like Marc Bolan!” They are a band of contradictions. Everything about them is contradictory….
Jesus and Mary Chain are back on tour later this year and will play Psychocandy in full on three UK dates at London’s Troxy on 19 November, Manchester Academy on 20 November, and Glasgow Barrowlands on 21 November 2014.