#17, NOVEMBER 2004



President Massey is Home Safe and Well

by Chris Sienko

"Straight Outta Rampton was the best psych album of 2000. Too bad nobody heard it." - Russ Waterhouse, DroneOn mailing list

The Ceramic 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.

On their 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 album, entitled
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."

Simon 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).

What 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?

Simon: 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.

When 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.

Simon: 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.

In 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?

Simon: 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.

Have 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).

Simon: 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.

On 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?

Simon: 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.

What 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?

pStan: 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’.

Could 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?

pStan: 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.

On 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?

pStan: 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 Dog.
      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.

In 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?

pStan: 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.

Listening 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?

pStan: 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.

There 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?

pStan: 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 . . .)

How did Blender magazine discover you?

Simon: 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’ or something.

Any 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 any hope?

Simon: 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.

pStan: 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.”


Interview with Ging Shi-ite (pictured), Ceramic Hobs drummer, by Simon Harris.


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.


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 . . .


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 same time.


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.


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.


Live and let live.


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.