Massey is Home Safe and Well
Outta Rampton was the best psych album of 2000. Too
bad nobody heard it." - Russ Waterhouse, DroneOn
Hobs, much like the police during the ’68
Democratic convention in Chicago, are not here to
create disorder, but to preserve disorder. Maybe even
canonize disorder. It’s punk rock, more or less, with
a density of sounds/layers more akin to To Live and
Shave In L.A. (who they shared a split single with
some years ago). Their records come at you in so many
fragments, overstuffed with so much arcana and
personal mythology, it’s like absorbing 2000 years of
history of a newly discovered country in 68 minutes.
You can spend years sifting through layers, getting
snagged by mountains of pop hooks, and memorizing
samples, but it’s still just as puzzling and new/fresh
as it was the first time you heard it.
first two CDs, Psychiatric Underground and Straight
Outta Rampton (Pumf Records,
owned and operated by Hobs member pStan Batcow), the group
read the riot act to the UK mental health system, which has
detained several of the band members at one time or another
over the past two decades. Although often humorous in execution,
these two records' lyrics contain more bile and venom toward
"The System" than the last two decades of all-ages
punk rock shows everywhere! But then there’s the new
Shergar is Home Safe and Well. Sweeter in tone, yet
more baffling than everything that’s come before (and
I mean EVERYTHING, not just their own discography), it contains
native american healing chants, Freemasonic beheadings, and
the stench of great Cthulu. Only three or four years of constant
immersion will prove whether it’s every bit the classic
as "Straight Outta Rampton."
Morris is the founder of the Ceramic Hobs. pStan Batcow is
one of the earliest members as well, and as mentioned, runs
Pumf Records, the primary supplier of Hobs recordings. Each
answered the question(s) most appropriate to their own areas
of specialty/interest. (Note: it might be worth your time,
if you haven’t already, to hunt down a copy of issue
#9 of Muckraker magazine, which also contains a great interview
with the Ceramic Hobs. A lot of the more general "how
did you get started?"/"What’s it all about"
questions are asked there. This interview presupposes those
questions and answers and builds on from there).
is the connection between the Hobs and Shergar, the racehorse
that was kidnapped in 1983? What about Shergar's story made
you want to use that as the title of the new album? Any thoughts
of turning the subject matter into a theatrical stage production?
The important thing to realise about Shergar is that the horse
will NEVER be home safe and well. In Britain and Ireland the
name Shergar has become a kind of jokey byword for something
missing and never to be found. According to a recent TV documentary
(shown on UK TV the same week as our album arrived back from
the pressing plant) the kidnappers injured the horse somehow,
had to shoot it and gave up the operation as a bad job. The
title is instantly funny/silly to people in the UK. But I’ve
always been interested in the idea of alternate dimensions
and I was thinking about a universe next door where SHERGAR
IS HOME SAFE AND WELL was a newspaper headline in 1983. To
some extent the world of the Ceramic Hobs is so hermetic,
self-referential and self-enclosed that it seems like an alternate
dimension anyway. I was also trying to obliquely address the
question of where creativity comes from. I’ve often
been puzzled when trying to ascertain the source of so-called
‘flashes of inspiration’ and social and psychoanalytical
approaches didn’t seem to adequately explain matters.
I came to the conclusion that there ARE other worlds than
this and that there are extraterrestrial entities of some
sort which can contact us or be channelled. The title also
implies a subversion of linear time which I think is linked
with contact with the beings. Much of this worldview is basically
gnostic, and it largely comes from attempting to understand
my three schizophrenic attacks (in 1988, 1989 and 1996) which
included information overload for periods of up to a week,
with no way for my cognitive faculties to keep up with the
constant blasts of gnosis. If a theatrical stage production
of the Shergar story was done, I’d rather it was like
a Viennese Actionist event than an Andrew Lloyd Webber thing.
Then we’d put the horses head into someone’s bed
while they were asleep. And stuff.
happened mentally/ideologically between the liner notes "the
human race is disgusting...fucking pigs! I'm going to piss
on you all" (from "Rampton") to "Thanks
to evolution, without whom none of us would be here"
(from "Shergar")? It seems like a softening of the
Hobs' stance on humanity.
Many of the ‘statements’ on Hobs records are somewhat
hysterical in tone and are supposed to be read or heard with
one eyebrow raised, like Roger Moore. Face value is certainly
not at a premium here. We're interested in the area where
you're not sure whether something is funny or serious, or
both. Many of our texts and lyrics are appropriated and recontextualised
from other sources, and the ‘Rampton’ statement
to which you refer is a case in point. The Ceramic Hobs have
nothing against humanity or any other conscious entities in
this or any universe, although we do recognise that an extensive
culling of humans may be of benefit. And an outright ban on
human reproduction for a while.
the interview in Muckraker #9, you stated the psychosis and
negativity in your music had been purged after "Psychiatric
Underground." However, the following release, "Straight
Outta Rampton," seems more interested in derangement,
social conditioning and rampant negativity than ever. Did
your intentions shift, or did you just need to get a bit more
out of your system?
I'm not sure I’d agree that ‘Rampton’ is
more ‘negative’ than ‘Psychiatric Underground’.
There are a lot more laughs on the second album, and where
there’s humour - even the blackest of humour –
there’s hope. I don't necessarily think derangement
is a bad thing; there can be joyous derangement of the senses,
the loss of ego experienced in intoxication, sexuality or
dancing for instance. Social conditioning is something which
any thinking person has to acknowledge and address, and sadly
it’s especially pertinent for those of us who are survivors
of the psychiatric system.
there been any repercussions to the "Osama Bin Laden/Saddam
Hussein, we salute you" lyrics on "Islam Uber Alles"(from
Straight Outta Rampton)? These lyrics were written years before
the average person on the street was even familiar with them
(Bin Laden especially).
You might notice that I say ‘Omasa’ not Osama
- the newspapers back in ’98 or so referred to him as
Omasa Bin Laden. No, there have been no repercussions beyond
people either laughing at it or thinking it’s not really
funny, as is their wont. The title ‘Islam Uber Alles’
and some of the lyrics were first featured on a Smell &
Quim record (‘Meat/Pregnant Asian Special’). The
bulk of the lyrics - the stuff about ‘Libya, Libya,
land of the free’ - were first written and performed
back in the eighties by Stewart Home. So almost the entire
lyrical content is plagiarised, like many of our other songs.
It’s another lyric where even we’re not sure how
to react to it. We are so obscure a concern, culturally speaking,
that I can’t imagine us ever getting into trouble for
our work. We did a song ‘Make Mine A Large One’
which accused local Freemasons in Blackpool of murdering a
young boy in a real case where a decapitated torso was found
in a bin - his head was never found and in my scenario they
used the head in arcane and sinister rituals. Mad Pride made
a video for the song. There was no real reaction or publicity
to that either. Maybe there’s a bulging secret government
file on our activities, but I doubt it . . .I’d be very
flattered if there was. There is something connected with
the Shergar album which we don't want to see in print - a
detail which would ensure national tabloid notoriety if it
got into the hands of a muckraking journalist. It’s
nice to be able to get away with this stuff really.
pretty much all of your digital recordings to this point,
especially "Of the Tin City: Live at Mad Pride,"
you have mentioned the Mad Pride movement, a social movement
in Britain, as you say in the Muckraker interview, "comparable
to the black and gay rights movements" aiming to bring
about more humane conditions for patients of UK mental hospitals.
Has progress been made in the UK as a result of Mad Pride?
What changes have been made as a result of your collective
efforts, and what still needs to be done?
Mad Pride has promoted many gigs, some of which felt like
quite wonderful temporary autonomous zones for schizos and
their friends. There have been books, CDs, videos and websites
produced, contacts made with survivor groups around the world
and various acts of civil disobedience and direct action against
pharmaceutical companies and their front organisations. On
one level all this has been successful in that a lot of it’s
been fun and quite a few individuals have felt more confident
about their identities as ‘mad’ people. On the
other hand there has been a high number of suicides amongst
those involved with the movement and it’s proved to
be exhausting and emotionally troubling work for many. And
very little has changed in institutional psychiatry; it’s
like a monolith and we’re chipping away at it with a
tiny fork. What needs to be done - and I must stress that
this is only my opinion - is that we must realise that psychiatry
cannot be reformed, only destroyed. People should stop attempting
to reform the system from within. The system has a malevolent
lifeforce of its own and will change them if they try that.
This quack branch of medicine has a history of unparalleled
disgrace and utter failure in its stated aims, even in context
with the rest of Western medicine and all its flaws. I am
always happy to hear of attacks on psychiatrists and their
friends, up to and including murder, and acts of arson on
institutions. I sometimes feel ashamed that I don’t
have the guts to do this sort of thing myself. These feelings
have made me more aware of how the attitudes of terrorists
must develop - like the goddess Nemesis, their atrocities
are rooted in a desire for justice.
is the status of Hobs' mainstay Steven "President"
Massey? Last I heard, he had been detained in a mental hospital
with little chance of release. Anybody else in the band currently
being chased by the long (mental) arm of the law?
President Massey, AKA Smackwater (or ‘Salty’)
Jack, went into the psychiatric unit in Blackpool in 2000,
after a few weeks of mental confusion. He should have been
in there no more than 28 days. However, he was quickly transferred
to their secure unit after getting physically abusive towards
staff on a couple of occasions – sounds like he was
a bit over-zealous about the staff’s intentions towards
a fellow inpatient, whom they were restraining; Salty Jack
thought that they were attacking her and went to her defence.
After about a year of being stuck in there, during which time
he began to refuse to see us (other members of the Ceramic
Hobs) or most members of his family, he was transferred to
a similar secure unit about twenty miles away, where he was
supposed to be getting more staff support. This wasn’t
the case, as for the next two years or so he spent about 23
hours a day in his (tiny) room, seeing and socialising with
virtually no-one. Early in 2004 he was transferred to Liverpool’s
Ashworth Hospital, a high-security mental institution more
like a prison (where Moors Murderer Ian Brady is still being
held). The Hobs felt this to be a shattering blow, and a virtual
guarantee that he wouldn’t be out of the psychiatric
system for many years to come. However this might have been
a good move, as reports are trickling back that he’s
now much more ‘out of his shell’, socialising
with other people and playing sports outside etc. He’s
now accepting visits from his family and sending messages
back to us. It’s also been mentioned that he could well
be getting transferred out of there within twelve months .
. . which would be fucking great, but let’s not blindly
believe what we’re being told by those who run the system.
‘All psychiatrists are bastards’.
you tell us what Fes Parker is up to? After the "Combined
Possibilities" and "Standing On The Shoulders of
Saints" albums, there was a bit of prominence for Mr.
Parker, but it doesn't seem like anything has been heard of
him since then. Any chance for future recordings? Is he still
living the rock n' roll lifestyle?
Fes is, indeed, living the lifestyle – he’s played
gigs on the same bill as the Hobs on a couple of occasions
in the last year, and is still releasing albums on his own
Pressupable Recordings label. This man has been performing
and recording since about 1978, there’s no reason to
suggest that he’ll give up yet. His discography to date:
Combined Possibilities (1997), Standing On The Shoulders of
Saints (1999), In the Year 2001 One in Four of the World’s
Population will be Elvis Impersonators (2001), Unexpected
Dobber (2002) and most recently Va Va (2003). Contact could
probably be made and CDs obtained c/o Pumf Records.
your recent 7" titled "Shaolin Master," there
resides a B-side, titled "Blackpool Transport,"
in which you pay homage (via samples) to over 20 bands from
your hometown of Blackpool. Could you pick out, say, five
favorites out of the list of bands from your fair city and
give us a few words about each of them?
OK, why not. Sign Language were an excellent band (working
in a Joy Division / Killing Joke area) from the early 1980s,
who were awesome live and incredibly energetic. They released
an album on Pumf in 1985.
Phantom Creeps were the garage
/ trash / slightly rockabilly band in whom Uberpope Raptor
Ramjet, the then Ceramic Hobs bassist, also played bass. They
rocked. Still currently playing in a mutated form as Razor
Vee VV were just Vee VV. They
played gigs throughout the UK during the 1980s (and ventured
into mainland Europe, if memory serves me correctly). Most
unjustly they seemed to be largely ignored by music press
and record companies alike.
The People’s Temple were
an experimental trio who created some unique recordings, an
album’s worth of which was also released on Pumf in
1985. One of the three, akin to members of the Hobs, ended
up as a survivor of the UK psychiatric system and is still
living in Blackpool.
The Fits were Blackpool’s
premier punk band, and arguably the group who get the most
recognition outside the town. They featured in national music
magazines on many occasions and made the independent chart
listings with several of their record releases.
the liner notes to "Shergar," you show something
like 11 members of the Ceramic Hobs, to say nothing of all
the guest spots. Are all of these "full" members,
or are some on the tenure track? Would it be giving too much
away if you told us a bit about who does what in the band?
There are currently six performing members of the band:
Buzz the Jerk – bass guitar and incoherent babbling
Ging Shi-ite – drums and placatory influence
Kate Fear – keyboard and reading aloud
pStan Batcow – six string guitar and blood
RooH – six string guitar and severe understatement
Simon Harris – vocals and virulent abuse
Other people are seen as full members of the band (Jane, as
an example, who has contributed to recordings on many occasions)
despite not wishing to perform, with others participating
or contributing sporadically as and when they are available
/ see fit / are asked. Other persons will become a member
of the Hobs during a performance, join in and do their bit,
and leave immediately.
to "Psychiatric Underground" and "Straight
Outta Rampton" endless times, I was under the impression
that some sort of computer editing software had been used
in the layering and creation of these songs, but pStan assures
me that the process is entirely analogue (as in 4-track).
Care to tell us a bit about what's involved in making the
Ceramic Hobs "sound"? How do you know when a track
has achieved maximum density?
There are only one or two tiny computerised sections on ‘Rampton’
– in fact, the only one that immediately springs to
mind without listening back to the whole album is the reverse
crescendo intro to Amateur Cops, which was manipulated as
a stereo sound fragment and then digitally stitched into place.
Both the aforementioned albums were digitally mastered, but
the tracks were simply compiled onto a master disc for cloning
at the pressing plant. No other digital wizardry is evident.
Over some fifteen or twenty years the studio used by the Hobs
has evolved and grown whenever items of recording / processing
equipment have been at the right time / right place / right
price, and having to use what has been available rather than
what would have done the job exactly as wanted has pushed
us to get the best out of the equipment, sometimes getting
unexpected results or coming up with effects that shouldn’t
have been possible. The four-track had grown to 8-track (analogue,
tape) for most of ‘Rampton’, but the process remained
the same – endless reruns, tweaks, many hands on mixing
desk buttons simultaneously etc. As for a track achieving
maximum density, I’m not sure this ever happens . .
. but there comes a time when there are so many sounds struggling
to be heard over the other sounds, that you can only conceivably
add seven more. And an owl.
are a number of (willing?) guest participants on this disc,
as opposed to the barrage of found samples on "Rampton."
Was this conceived specifically as an "all-star"
recording, or did it just turn out that way over time?
There were a large number of requested submissions on ‘Rampton’,
though we did use a large number of found sounds also –
similarly with ‘Shergar’ there were a large number
of requested submissions / guest participants, and we also
used a large number of found sounds . . . we perhaps weren’t
as anal in listing all sources this time, though. (‘All-star’?
Hmmmmmmm . . .)
did Blender magazine discover you?
Their British correspondent knew someone I knew, and was looking
for someone to write about in a filler piece. We’ve
been featured in mainstream magazines a number of times -
Q, Mojo, Bizarre, Record Collector, Select - and briefly on
national TV - often in the context of being a novelty act
who are all mad. I do quite enjoy this patronising treatment
really - there have been so many crap rock bands who’ve
pretended to be insane/wild/crazy etc. that it’s pretty
funny for us to do it for real. It seems that with the Shergar
album we’re back down to the underground where we belong,
as there’s been no corporate coverage to date. I guess
there would have been if we’d called it ‘Carry
On Schizophrenia’ or ‘Honey I Lost My Marbles’
final words about the state of the world we live in circa
"Shergar is Home Safe and Well" versus the world
circa "Straight Outta Rampton"? The album feels
very prescient to me now in light of world politics of the
past few years. Are things progressing as you imagined? Are
those who don't support social peace doing their job? Is there
On September 11th 2001 Fes Parker phoned me up laughing to
tell me to turn on the TV . . . I was soon laughing and exhilarated
myself. I think a lot of people, if they were honest with
themselves, found the events tremendously exciting. What seems
initially apocalyptic is often a harbinger of transformation.
(During the 70s Father Yod and his followers apparently predicted
September 2001 as the date for the beginning of the Age of
Aquarius). There may be some tough times for the human race
coming - I think a culling is certainly overdue, but I for
one can think of many more unpleasant ways to die than in
a terrorist attack. It’s pretty unpleasant to die in
a hospital of too much rich living, as most of us in Europe
and North America do. With the idea of transformation in mind,
I find the current world situation much more hopeful than
it was a few years ago. Not supporting social peace is as
necessary as supporting social peace, one implies the other.
While I have this ridiculous opportunity to sermonise, I’d
like to suggest that readers looking for meaning and hope
in the world could read the Tao Te Ching and the book of Ecclesiastes,
both of which contain words of great sanity and warmth and
are as relevant today as they were many centuries ago.
Is there any hope? - “Have we really got to passively
accept? Exist for yourself. Forget any worries. Life’s
too short to worry. You see, we’re alive, and where
there’s life there’s hope. Yeah . . . there’ll
always be hope.”
with Ging Shi-ite (pictured), Ceramic Hobs drummer, by Simon
YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED WITH THE HOBS FOR A COUPLE OF
YEARS NOW - CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW WE GO ABOUT WRITING SONGS/RECORDING/PLAYING
Simon comes up with a lyric, pStan comes up with a guitar,
and I’m a guitarist myself so I tend to try and bounce
off the rhythm of the guitar but using drums . . . with the
recording of Shergar the drums were the first thing to be
recorded and everything went on top of that. I was given full
artistic licence by the band to come up with my own rhythms,
concentrating on the rhythms of the guitars, trying to interpret
what the guitar was doing with my drums and fit in with the
rest of the sound and especially Simon’s vocals. Doing
gigs is like each of the band having an alter-ego separate
from the run-of-the-mill everyday lives we have, and can be
a major release of frustration about things like psychiatry,
being sectioned etc.
ME AND pSTAN HAVE BEEN DOING THE HOBS FOR YEARS AND YEARS
NOW AND A LOT
OF PEOPLE (ESPECIALLY ROUND BLACKPOOL) THINK WE ARE JUST A
JOKE AND SOME
SORT OF WIND UP - ANY THOUGHTS ON THIS? HOW SERIOUS ARE THE
I don’t really care what other people think of the
band, they’re just jealous because they can’t
do it themselves. As to how serious we are, I don’t
know myself. You can interpret it how you want. If you totally
understand it, you’re just as mad as we are. I do think
it’s constructive, like with the Mad Pride shows giving
people a good half-hour where they can forget all their worries
and we can take their worries on . . .
NOT MANY DRUMMERS IN PSYCHIATRIC ART-PUNK BANDS ARE WAR HEROES.
WOULD YOU CARE TO SAY A FEW WORDS ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES IN
I could talk for hours about this. Basically all the armed
forces are is an excuse to get drunk and indulge in as much
debauchery as possible. I don’t really look on myself
as a war hero, I did my tour of duty during Desert Storm and
when you work hard you play hard. While I was out there I
suppose I had my first experience of depression. Even though
ten years has gone by the situation in Iraq in my opinion
for both sides has not improved any. Anybody who has experienced
war comes back with scars of some kind. My illness (schizophrenia)
was triggered by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while I was
in the Gulf, but it didn’t surface properly until years
later except for the depression I got while I was out there.
I don’t expect anyone that I know to treat me any differently
for being schizophrenic. There are positive aspects to schizophrenia
- insights and understandings and it builds character at the
WHAT’S THE WORST BAND WE’VE PLAYED WITH ON THE
That guy with glasses whose birthday it was in Cleckheaton,
the band who were on before us where he had a white Stratocaster
and threw it across the room totally pissed out of his mind,
they were pretty bad. The poet who took his clothes off in
the gay bar in London who was talking about his bellybutton.
The best band we’ve played with is probably Alternative
TV because they had some hippy Deadhead playing violin for
them and I think me and Simon psyched him out backstage. I
don’t think he knows many schizophrenics.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BAND THE SHI-ITES.
All the Shi-ites were was a way of keeping the music inside
me going. When you sometimes suffer from a mental illness
you lose interest in life and 90% of my life is music. I used
to jam on my guitar with Steve (Saltwater Jack) on drums and
a ludicrously rubbish bass-player. Saying that though I suppose
playing with the bass-player spurred me on more to expand
my musical horizons further.
YEAH I REMEMBER THE BASSIST YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, WHAT
A HEADCASE. HE WAS ABOUT 25 STONE AND PRETENDED TO BE A RIGHT-WING
THUG BUT WAS SECRETLY GAY.
Live and let live.
DOES THE CURRENT BAND LINE-UP IN THE HOBS WORK WELL TOGETHER?
GIVE US A LITTLE DESCRIPTION OF EVERYONE IN THE BAND.
Simon is our leader.
So is pStan. Kate has got promise. RooH is very good, like
me he is a pretty steady guy. Buzz the Jerk likes getting
drunk. Is that alright?
Rock’n’roll innit. Turn it up to eleven.