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Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 09:37 UK
John Robb on Punk Rock and Roll
John Robb
John Robb remembers life as a punk rocker in Blackpool

He discovered Nirvana, has toured the world with bands since 16 and is the ultimate authority on punk rock.

Singer, music journalist and author John Robb was born in Fleetwood grew up in Blackpool and now lives in Manchester.

He tells BBC Lancashire about his old stomping ground, life as a young rocker and the second generation of punk rock.

"Growing up in Blackpool is different from growing up anywhere else," said John.

"It certainly gives you a unique perspective on life; like being wet a lot of the time of the year and how summer was a strange time when the streets were full of bog-eyed drunks and you weren't allowed into any pubs in case your punk rock attire was a bit much for the sensitive tastes of the aesthetes that flocked to the town."

It was a revelation when he discovered the punk movement in the music Press. "Just from seeing the pictures of the bands, you knew what they sounded like; something that I and lots of other people wanted so badly. We knew they would sound young, sexy, angry and with loads of attitude and a bit different from the endless denim of most mid Seventies bands."


We could sense an escape route from a really dull life that was mapped out in front of us and we seized it with open arms.
John Robb

He added: "We missed the Sixties and the Beatles and although Marc Bolan was truly a god we needed something of our own - and here it was! We could sense an escape route from a really dull life that was mapped out in front of us and we seized it with open arms."

He wanted to be part of this new wave of music. "The greatest thing about punk was that it was DIY and the idea that anyone could create art so we jumped in feet first and found the water very inviting!"

He formed a band with his friends at 16 while at Blackpool Sixth Form College in 1977. The Membranes played one of their first ever gigs in what is now the Tache, the resort's lively alternative rock venue. "We plugged in all fresh faced and youthfully keen and played totally out of tune and out of time. It was quite magical."

His new-found love wasn't appreciated by everyone. Although the punk scene was quite big in Blackpool, the only pub to welcome him and his peers was the Criterion on Topping Street. That was until it changed its policy in about 1981 and they all went to the Blue Room on Church Street instead.

He recalls being assaulted in the streets and being chucked out of pubs for having short hair, big boots and for having trousers that weren't flapping flares. Instead, the punk rock stalwart and chums bought their clothes from Oxfam and cut their hair with a knife and fork!

But it was water off a punk's back. "Every week a brilliant seven inch single would come out and we were in love with life. We had punk rock to keep us company."

He also remembers nights of "endless tea, John Peel and playing guitars nose to nose whilst writing songs".

The Membranes
The Membranes toured the world for much of the 80s

The Membranes went on to capture the attention of legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ Peel who championed the noisy, high-energy outfit after hearing Flexible Membrane in 1980. They built up a staunch fan base and spent most of the 80s travelling the world touring. The band took a break in 1990 but John Robb is still touring today with critically acclaimed Goldblade which he co-founded in 1994.

He is relishing it as much as he did in his teens. "Playing round the world is fantastic fun. There's nothing better than getting paid good money to go and show off in a city you have never heard of."

Where does he get his alternative music tendencies from? It certainly wasn't from his parents: his father didn't even like pop. He was into classical music although John says he never discouraged him from punk rock. "He was quite liberal about all the punk rock stuff without having to understand it.

"A couple of years ago my parents came to see us play which is amazing when you consider at the time my father was 87!" said John proudly.

When fronting The Membranes he set up a fanzine 'The Rox' and started to write for music publications. He is seen as one of the leading authorities on music: he was credited with doing the first ever interview with Nirvana, coining the phrase 'Britpop' and the first journalist to chart the Madchester scene.

He worked on Zigzag in the early 80s and then Sounds magazine as well as writing for NME and Melody Maker and broadsheets such as the Guardian and the Sunday Times.

While at Sounds magazine he travelled to the States in 1989 after hearing a single from the then unknown Nirvana. He was struck by the band's sound and especially with Kurt's voice which reminded him of John Lennon. "I made it Single of the Week and we interviewed Kurt Cobain in New York and we all stayed in the same flat.

"We all slept in this tiny room - with no air con - and it was really hot and my photographer got run over by a bus! It didn't bother him much. Press photographers are a mad crowd."

Sounds - which used to sell 60,000 copies a week before it was closed in 1992 - was the late Cobain's favourite magazine and he wore the Sounds t-shirt with pride on tour. "He liked it because it was more down to earth and about the music and not about all rubbish that went around music."

John explained the secret of the magazine's success. "It totally reflected the freelancers' music tastes. It wasn't led by market research and it was never scared to go where instinct led; that's why we covered Manchester first and Nirvana first."

From young bands releasing their first record to legends like Ozzy Osbourne, The Roses, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Oasis, Nirvana, Phil Collins - John Robb has interviewed hundreds of bands all over the world.

So who's the coolest band he's interviewed? "To be honest all the interviews have been good for different reasons. The Manic Street Preachers were brilliant talkers when they first started; they had a real battle plan and talked it up brilliantly. The Stone Roses had a sense of legend about them, Fugazi were always direct and certain of what they were trying to do, Johnny Rotten was funny and contradictory, Joe Strummer heartfelt and Kurt Cobain was very introverted but also very sure of what he wanted."

A familiar face as a TV commentator on music for shows such as 'I Love the 60s/70s/80s/90s', he has also penned several books on the history of punk rock music to the rise of Madchester and biographies on The Stone Roses and The Charlatans. As with the rise of punk rock, John was in the thick of Madchester revolution.

Do you live a rock and roll life? Musically - yes! I go out a lot and I listen to loads of music but I don't really have much interest in backstage/rock star/drink and drugs stuff. It's never really interested me a lot
What do you get the biggest buzz from: performing, writing, going to gigs or TV work? It's all great. I can't believe how lucky I am!
Any bands you're currently excited about? Dirty North, Middle Finger Salute, Guilty Pleasure, Mike Garry, Ugly, The Horrors, all the digital pirate stations I can find on my iphone that play reggae and dubstep
Describe yourself in a sentence...a lover of nature and vegan soul power brotherhood hooligan blues punk rock preacherman!

So what was it like to be part of it? "It was thrilling time with great music and characters. I saw it all and was interested to see what a youthquake actually looked like from the centre."

His new book "Death To Trad Rock" charts the history of the UK underground scene of the late Eighties. Among the 45 bands featured is his old band The Membranes who are re-forming for the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in Minehead late in 2009. When hosts My Bloody Valentine - who used to support the Membranes in their heyday - invited them to join them they couldn't resist.

He may live in Manchester now but Blackpool is still in his heart and it infuriates him when people knock it. He wrote the sentimental yet scathing 'Tatty Seaside Town' about moving away from his hometown.

He's currently working on a project with Blackpool Council promoting to get the message across that there is 'more to the Pool than stag parties'.

He goes back every year to his college to judge the 'Battle of the Bands' competition - even though they kicked him out 30 years ago.

John Robb said: "I love Blackpool. It's where I'm from and it still means a lot to me. The seaside town faded grandeur always sets my heart racing and I still get cheesed off when people run down the place."




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