Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. Jason Williams interviews Foxtrot Echo
This is an interview that first appeared Just Glittering 5 - the precursor to Idwal Fisher - a lot of years ago. I've been digging around, dusting off shelves, making space, taking time to find myself again. I found these discs with all the zine info on them. Some of it needs to be seen again. Some of it is best left behind.
You saw Coum perform before you joined?
Well I didn't know who they were and I went to this gig when I was at art school in Bradford and it was with Hawkwind top of the bill and most of the bands playing were boring twelve bar blues cliché type bands, I was yawning and suddenly this band came on stage that was absolutely bizarre. They were all wearing orange pvc capes and the drummer had this enormous double drum kit and it had a sun shade over it, and there was this very long legged school girl, and a dog and it just seamed extraordinary, they went into these strange songs that I don't know how to describe really, but they were sort of slightly reminiscent of Captain Beefheart. There was a long drum solo and it was all just fascinating. In time honoured fashion after the concert finished I went up to the stage and said "I am very interested in what you're doing, perhaps we can get you on at the college". Because I thought this is more like it, something a bit avant garde, more genuinely progressive or exploratory. And so we started corresponding, we exchanged addresses. They called that gig 'Edna and the Great Surfers' and they issued a postcard afterwards, part of the postal art phase. Edna was a photograph from a lonely hearts club or pen pals section, she looked about 70 and she was a lift attendant, and she was from Bradford so that was the connection you see. The surfing I think it was Spydee who had some obsession with the Silver Surfer at the time that was the other part. Anyway, so we started corresponding and I did actually arrange a gig for them to come and play college although it wasn't actually at the college as there was nowhere for them to play, there were hardly any facilities. I was doing film, TV, and theatre there. Various things happened there that were quite interesting in the history of things… but anyway the gig I did set up was another particularly odd one. We had a joint arrangement with the Bradford Afro Club which was all West Indians; there was a great black girl on the course. She was like the mediator, so they ended up playing at the Afro Club. By which time all the rest of the band had left apart from Genesis and Cosey. So they arrived and it was quite a bizarre evening as you can imagine. He did a long drum solo which was slightly related to the west Indian/African interest but he was dribbling and spitting, sort of proto punk behaviour, but Genesis was very engaging as he always was. He was talking to all the people; it was a mixture of a few white art students and lots of West Indians. I was saying "why don't you do this", and suggesting all sorts of ideas and they said "well, why don't you come and see us in Hull?"
I suppose as other members had dropped out……
Yes, when I saw them I think it was the last gig where they were all together? They were all fairly wayward characters anyway. The lead guitarist was about 14 or 15, Brook. He was a juvenile delinquent and then there was Spydee who was the old friend of Genesis' from public school. I think it was just those two then with Genesis and Cosey but they had left, I think Spydee had moved away to another part of the country. I did meet Brook a couple of times but he wasn't any longer in the group. I went to see them in Hull and I was contributing ideas and they just said "well why don't you join us" so then the group was basically us three, and also Cosey's childhood friend the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull. He was involved. So for about, I don't know nine months or a year it was just the four of us then Fizzy Peat arrived, he was always around, people sort of came into the group sometimes, if they showed a lot of interest, were original characters, then they got incorporated. There were still other people from the old group as well, because it would vary, each performance would be a different combination. They'd been other people like Ray Harvey a half black guy who was basically an aggressive criminal, but he'd sing in a very strong forceful way, he'd been in the band, but he was in jail. He was such a dangerous personality. I think he just went off on another track, another one that just disappeared. There was Doctor Timothy Poston who was a mathematics don at Cambridge, involved in "Catastrophe Theory" which is like the straw that broke the camels back or just before a dam bursts…pressures involved in a situation, and then it changes dramatically. You could define that there were actually patterns and it wasn't just physical things like objects that might break but they reckoned you could apply it to social and political situations, probably even into personal relationships between people. Just as something looks like it's not going to change at all, the pressures build within it then suddenly it changes.
That's similar to some theories in music. John Cage…
So there was quite an intellectual basis to some of the ideas that were being discussed within Coum. You had everybody from people that couldn't read and write, people like the criminal underclass to people that were right at the highest intellectual level. When I first met Timothy Poston he was a visiting professor at
a University abroad.
What was the common ground…?
Well I think Genesis created this environment. He was always very pro-active, dressed in an unusual way always talking to everyone, he became a local character, he was very articulate and he…
Of course. In those days it was slightly trendy, anyone who was very arty and a bit weird in the late 60’s, '70, '71 had a romantic allure to them because they were unusual. Not much, I don't think particularly, happened in Hull. So he became a local character, you got young people, like Fizzy Peat, I don't know if he met them at a gig or had just seen them in the street but they'd come round and call. You ended up with people from different backgrounds. Dr Timothy Poston was at Hull University at first before he went to Cambridge so that's where Genesis met him, obviously he had something in common, interests in avant garde music, he was quite a lot older, but there were all sorts of people drawn in and that's what I liked about it. It wasn't all one very narrow social grouping of middle class people or whatever. I loved the idea that it was a real wide range of people.
You said you were influenced by the Merry Pranksters?
Ah, yes, well Genesis had read that book by Tom Wolfe about them as well. We were all into the idea of a common project. In some ways it was like a gang. I find that very attractive and there are similarities with a criminal gang especially if you're doing Dadaist or anti art things, trying to break new barriers.
Did you get in much trouble?
There were a few controversial scenes. Obviously some of the things we did were very provocative. Members of the group went into jail but not normally for artistic reasons … well I don't know. You could say part of their art was their crime. The Reverend Cheese Wire Maull was a very interesting character, he was a natural musician he could play any instrument, pick it up and within an hour get a tune out of it. He could play the guitar quite well and he had this amazing imagination, he didn't have particularly advanced schooling but he was naturally very creative. He used to assemble construction kits in another way, rather than follow the instructions he used it like sculpture, just because something amused him. But he financed his existence really by burglary and various jobs. We'd do gigs and he'd disappear off afterwards and he'd acquire various things some of which were used in the group of course. He'd steal instruments or type writers. Every now and again there was a panic when he did get arrested and Gen and Cosey had to get rid of them … this is blowing the gaff now … but I remember them having to dismember a typewriter or something and put it down the drain into the sewer, you know, at midnight.
Were there any common groups at the time … Welfare State? Jeff Nutall? Diz Willis?
Yeah, well that was another link with Bradford because the course I was on at the Bradford school of art was run by a guy called Albert Hunt. He was a media figure at the time. He was always on BBC2. He had this political theatre group that was really influenced by Bertolt Brecht. One of their most famous productions was "John Fords Cuban Missile Crisis" which was telling the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis but as if it had been a John Ford western. You know they mixed genres. Basically I think the course was to back up his theatre group. Related to that was the Welfare State. Some of the people in that had been in his theatre group. That was based in Leeds. So there was lots of activity, and Jeff Nuttall was a lecturer at the college as well, he was involved with performance art. They were quite stimulating times. I didn't know Diz Willis? Jeff Nuttall's daughter was on my course; Jeff Nutall was an inspiration at the time. He was quite a figure in the whole psychedelic scene in London in the sixties and he wrote the book "Bomb Culture". But we didn't really integrate with others very much.
Bands you played with?
Supporting Hawkwind was the biggest "rock" moment as such. John Peel played Coum tracks on his Radio One show. There was quite a lot of music involved in Coum but now when it's discussed or in exhibitions Genesis and Cosey, particularly Genesis emphasise the more extreme visceral later performance art, which was influenced really by the Vienna Aktionists. Otto Muhl etc...
Yes. In the earlier days some aspects were quite whimsical a little bit softer, very much more English.
Like Syd Barrett, a more lyrical quality?
It was a combination of different things. We were all influenced by the Americans that were interesting. Genesis and I both obviously liked the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground and had been into them, that's what we had in common. You'd have these reference points. We'd both been into them right from the first records even before they were particularly well known. I liked anything odd that I heard on the radio even when I was younger I used to twiddle the radio dial and find radio Morocco or some Russian station.
And the short wave whistling?
Oh yes, I loved all the feedback in fact we did a whole tape of some of the marvellous frequencies all the Morse code and everything swirling around. I could listen to that for hours.
I remember when you could listen to the police on the radio.
Well that's where my name came from; Foxtrot Echo was a police car. Messages came through on the P.A. system.
You had a radio plugged in?
No, not deliberately. It used to pick it up. It often does…
Like Spinal Tap?
Signals used to come out of the most unlikely things I thought it was a sign, that's good. I liked the idea of having a coded signal as a name.
What do you mean a sign?
Nowadays they say shamanistic journeys, a coincidence, synchronicity and all that.
A happy accident, so there were the three of you as a fully functioning Coum…
I joined and then there was The Reverend Cheese Wire Maull who did a few gigs but sometimes you see we did a performance that might have just been us in the room. Some of the list in "Wreckers of Civilisation" is just interaction between three people, or might have been a recording. Sometimes it was a theatrical performance, sometimes something in the street other times it might just be us interacting in some sort of way.
Did you think the Wreckers book was absurdly reverent to what must have seemed like silly ephemeral fun at the time?
Well, we weren't terribly po-faced at the time. I felt Genesis got more and more serious, he was a bit more playful and easier going at the start. Obviously he was the driving force that was part of the problem in the end because he was getting more autocratic. It was more co-operative in some ways as everyone made more of a contribution in the earlier days. He would embrace other people's ideas, but he got certain a direction after a while that he wanted to pursue. And he was quite forceful about it in a way. We didn't ever fall out.
You just touched on something Gen is often accused of…
What stealing! Ha-ha. Well don't they say "genius steals" There's an expression isn't there?
Well you mentioned you introduced the "Nazi interest" that went on to be so important with TG.
Well yeah, it was definitely me that introduced that. Yes, I think I can claim that I initiated it. I know Genesis was interested in a lot but I can prove it I've got all the letters. I was just fascinated by lots of Nazi design really and ways of approaching things. It wasn't that I was fascist at all. None of us were. We couldn't be. We'd of all been exterminated in Nazi Germany. We were all social deviants. But there was some power to it that was interesting to experiment with and of course it had a lot of associations with an audience of that generation. It wasn't historical at the time a lot of people had experienced its influence in some way. It was quite beguiling and fascinating but you had to watch you didn't use it in too much of a gratuitous or superficial way.
You'd be getting towards the time when you'd attract skinheads?
Yeah, there were a few. Skinheads didn't mind Coum. Even in the early phase of skinheads, the original ones. Because I think it was quite confrontational. That was the interesting thing even though people didn't have a lot in common, people sensed an energy.
How did people react?
If you are an "avant garde art group" most of the people coming are going be from a student background, you don't surprise them. We did a few festivals where anybody could come. And that would be slightly different. People seemed to relate to the bizarreness of it and the stroppiness. Although some of the things we were involved in had an intellectual aspect to it we always used to go out of our way to break down barriers. Most members of the group had no formal art training, in fact I was the only one. I'm not mentioned in Wreckers of Civilisation because that slightly complicates the issue. I think Genesis likes to pretend it was the birth of Venus or something; it just came out of the foam. But there were direct influences of the art world. It wasn't being too pretentious about it or contrived, but it wasn't all naive art.
There are a lot of outsider artists these days that have been to Art College…
Ha-ha. I mean that's one of the things about Coum that I really liked, and I still stand by it now, find it really important is that we used to approach situations and if we found something, we chose it to be art. Then it was. It's like Duchamp's ideas. I like people being artists without knowing they are artists. Someone like Fizzy Peat, he had his own personal culture his own view point and he'd express it in the way he behaved it wasn't just how he drew. His life was an artwork without it being so formally. Some people would say an eccentric but that in itself was fascinating.
You'd just put him in a room…
He was a found performance artist, you didn't have to teach him, he just was himself. This also created some interesting things because he was being genuine. He might be very fanciful or very extraordinary, he had his own obsessions. Some people said he was bordering on madness but he was powerful and real. He wasn't pretending to do it. He was being that person. So as I said ordinary people sometimes sensed that. We weren't always pontificating or being patronising in the way we were doing things.
Sounds like fun.
Oh yes certainly. Sometimes we'd go out of our way to baffle people as well, because that was part of the journey. We didn't want to be predictable at all.
Tell us about the 3333 ways to Coum?
It was based on the Buddhist idea of the million and one names of God. Obviously that would be very ambitious, but initially that was the idea to keep on finding definitions or things that expressed the idea of what Coum could be about. Or what people would associate with it. Multi-dimensional in association anyway. And the first one was 1001 ways to Coum. I've got it here copyright 1971 and the first entry is coum is 1 - Coum are fab and kinky. Which was their slogan. Various people thought of the ideas. Of course Genesis came up with a lot in the initial stages but Dr Timothy Postern…most people, Cosey, in fact everybody thought of something. Some of them were completely throwaway things and others are quite good. ‘256 - Coum negate pornography’. Probably somewhere further along it will say the exact opposite. Some entries are quite simple … ‘Coum are a clumsy pantomime’, ‘Coum are fab and slinky’? There were all sorts of ideas. It was like playing with those teenage magazine ideas, slogans and things. Like you get on badges. But also other concepts … ‘Coum are obscene and not heard’ … talking of the stickers, ‘Coum guarantee disappointment’. That was one of my slogans. The one thing we could always guarantee was that people would be disappointed. So I did this sticker with the idea of the seal, "the guarantee of disappointment" like you used to get with H.P. agreements or warranties on household goods. If people started to argue with us afterwards we'd place a sticker on them … ‘Coum cannot play there instruments’. People used to be baffled by that. They thought how can you go onstage and actually be proud of the fact that you cannot play your instruments. We used to think it was quite a courageous thing to do because people do get quite irate. Obviously, we weren't encumbered by actually having to play a tune. We'd make sounds with them that perhaps a conventional musician wouldn't! Then we used to use them as sound generators and it did often create some interesting results. So anyway 3333 ways to Coum is not mentioned in the Wreckers book, but I think it was it was one of the more interesting concepts.
They should be in the V&A?
Yeah, well Simon Ford is curator of the modern art library at the Victoria and Albert museum and he purchased a load of correspondence that was in a book sale somewhere. I don't know who it was to … I can't remember.
Well, a lot of Genesis' own collection went missing of course, seized by the police. So I don't know if some of this may be unique now. Even these editions, there was only three. It was all hand typed out by him and put together.
Can you remember any eventful gigs?
The one at Kent University was quite an extraordinary one. It was 1972 I think, let me just look it up ... we might as well pin down the actual name … Copyright Breeches, of course. The whole concept of Copyright Breeches had a few layers to it. We used to steal ideas, talk about stealing ideas. Well, not always steal; we'd find them and use them in a new combination. Cross breed. Create mutant forms. Mixing it with something as opposite as possible and seeing what came out of it. Which is quite a creative thing to do. Because we were claiming things as our own we would possibly be sued for breach of copyright so we started discussing all this in the Alien Brain in Hull. That was the name of Genesis' house, an old jam factory. We were talking about Coum stealing things and it being a copyright breach, and I said, we ought to be honest about it and just call things copyright breaches. So it was like a whole performance where we'd be accused of stealing things, possibly ideas. We didn't know if it would be because we made it up as we went along. Genesis had some copyright britches made. The C for copyright as the pattern on these big broad trousers. And there was the book made as well with the bicycle wheel like Marcel Duchamps work on the cover. Published by Beau Geste Press. Now that's another story because that's him! Genesis pretending to be another organisation. When he was typing furiously full time he gave the impression that Coum was a big organisation. Write in the third person things like that. It reminded me of the scene in the film Beau Geste, the foreign legion is defending the fort and all the legionnaires get killed until there is only one left. So that the marauding Arabs don't overwhelm the fort he props up the bodies of his comrades with guns and he runs backwards and forwards behind them firing so it seams like there are more people firing than there is. I used to refer to him as Beau Geste. I addressed letters to him as Beau Geste and he rather liked that idea. But anyway I digress. At Kent University an old friend of mine, Davy Jones, was quite sympathetic, so he promoted the gig. Our advance publicity, our notorious reputation was so effective even before we got there that the university authorities banned us from performing within the university. So the student union, to prove a point, hired this circus tent and put it just outside the perimeter. Now part of the problem was that there was no direct electricity supply. Somebody rather ingeniously took off one of the panels on one of the street lights and wired up a direct link to that. So we did have some power.
The national grid!
Unfortunately half way through the evening. It must have caused some problem, a short circuit or something. Half the City of Canterbury was thrown into darkness because of our performance. The lights went out. It was quite an extraordinary gig because there was the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull with his guitar, this prepared piano, we ordered in advance, altered it a bit on the day. Genesis had his drum kit. My friend Robo Ray. Me and Robo Ray did some tapes; we did some for Coum too. Rather like supermarket jingles, slogans from 1001 ways to Coum, information, we had a xylophone effect and incidental music. It was like Muzak but putting over avant garde ideas in a low key way, like easy listening. Anyway, there was him. Cosey of course and the dog, Tremble. Me, Foxtrot Echo although I think for the evening Genesis pretended that I was from the Gay Liberation Front. Because a guy who was also in Coum, Nicholas Bramble an ex-ballet dancer, very temperamental, for some reason he didn't come and Genesis thought it was such good copy he pretended I was him to the journalist that interviewed him. Because, well, I was wearing mascara, glitter eye make-up and lipstick anyway. I suppose it was quite credible. Genesis did some sort of playl-ette wearing transparent nappies. We were playing improvised music with slogans. Cheese Wire Maull did a Beatles medley and some of his own songs. People shouted things, we shouted back. There was a load of saw dust that was thrown everywhere. I don't know where that came from. I had some feathers… Then of course half way through it all became dark. It became touchy feely. Some people got really confused. It became something of a legend. It was talked about for sometime. Banned again.
Why did you leave Coum?
Disengage. I don't think you actually leave. Although Coum hasn't continued in an obvious sense. A lot of the individuals have carried on, live like it. That was part of the concept. Once you became a member you carried on whether it was formally described or not. You were still doing things in your own world or your own experience that still carried on a lot of the ideas. Coum didn't carry on in a formal sense for much longer after I left anyway. The exhibition at the ICA was not long after I left, then after that Throbbing Gristle was born. There was a direct interrelationship between one and the other really, the only person in TG that wasn't in Coum was Chris Carter and he was on the periphery of Coum in the last days anyway. John Lacey who was the son of Bruce Lacey of course, he was in Coum and John Lacey was Chris Carters best friend. That how he got involved.
Sleazy was in Coum when you were?
He was in it the last year and a half or so. We did a few gigs together. He was into gay porn and did civil defence exercises, where people would pretend to be injured. He knew how to simulate all sorts of terrible wounds cosmetically. And that was another interest that Genesis found very fascinating, he was moving more towards the hard-line things. He was getting more and more serious about Charles Manson. We read The Family by Ed Saunders when it came out. Ed Saunders of the Fugs. Who were also an influence on Coum.
The Reverend Cheese Wire Maull had a two year sentence, so he was obviously out of the action. Biggles, who did the driving most of the time, but was also in a few actions, myself and Fizzy Peat. Well we all found ourselves doing less and less. Genesis, Sleazy and Cosey all did things together, just the three of them really. Then eventually Chris Carter came on the scene. In the last years we didn't do much music really, it was all performance art. It wasn't dropped completely. Ironically I was always more interested in the music. I was interested in the art as well, but I liked the variety. I didn't like it to be just performance I liked other aspects as well. Because when I joined them they were a sort of anti-rock group. It leap-frogged, if we could have afforded the equipment we'd have been doing Throbbing Gristle like stuff probably in 1973. We didn't know anybody at the time who could actually construct it, so Chris Carter filled in that gap. Also I think the other thing about TG was with Coum it was such a wide concept people couldn't really grasp it. You know one week it would be letters, or postcards then the next week it would be a rock group, another week artworks. It was more like a movement. Where as Throbbing Gristle was easier to market and direct with in the notion of the rock business. The band you know. It was easier to package and it was easier to comprehend. Sleazy came from a rock associated background because he was the photographer for Hypnosis. He did the cover for Pink Floyds 'Wish You Were Here' album. It was more professional with his approach really.
So you moved on and worked with Cornelius Cardew?
No. I worked with him before. Well I'd just joined Coum, and what I learnt with him came in very useful. He had a rigorous formal musical training. Certain things like discipline we used to occasionally introduce into performances. Although it was improvised and freeform we'd try to give it a structure so it wasn't quite as random as people might have thought.
Did he use graphic scores?
Yeah, I rather like that, coming from a visual arts background. Trying to express things in sound that you also had a physical picture of. The piece I recorded with my friend Robo Ray was called Pulsar. We used treated sounds on a regular beat directly influenced by Cornelius Cardew. It was just a simple idea but what we did was our own expression of it. Layers and layers, 14, 15 quite a few and it was stereo. Just different sounds on a reel to reel.
You took the first nude of Cosey?
Oh yes. Well, I did take the first nude photographs of Cosey in 1972 I think it was, for a Men Only competition. It was the first time she took her clothes off and had her photograph taken. Which lead to quite a career, obviously. They were sent off to Men Only. They didn't get anywhere. I'm not saying they were fantastically brilliant photos or anything, but I think they were a bit too creative for a top shelf magazine. I thought they had a slight erotic quality but they were a bit too avant garde. She went on to try again and did other things. I took photographs with in Coum anyway. A lot of the photos I took were kept in the group archives so I don't have copies. In one performance my part was 'the photographer' it was part of the performance but I was actually taking photographs as well.
What have you done since Coum?
I carried on doing photography afterwards. I've done various musical things here and there, but I haven't been continuously active.
You did light shows?
I did do light shows before and I have done those in the last 15 years. Some of the old equipment I used again, revived it, re-approached it. I devised one or two original techniques which I started to use again. Actually made things, they weren't like the clichéd approach. We made prepared slides and had all sorts of effects, modified things, as well as all sorts of collaged images.
Who are you still in contact with?
In the last 4 or 5 years I've re-established contact with Cosey and Fizzy Peat, who lives in Eastbourne of course, amazingly. He became Lilly Savages dresser at one point; he's a psychiatric nurse now. He's a very sympathetic character, he's a great original.
How do you feel about Genesis' transformation into sideshow freak?
Transsexual? Well, he was always trying to think of something different, provoke people.
Have you seen the photos?
No. (I describe them) He's quite a showman anyway, some of these things he's been pretending…
Well he's gone through with it now.
I wouldn't be able to comment on the true nature of his latest modification or latest expression. He used to sometimes dabble in things but he was very convincing. People used to think, even I used to think, when he got into Charles Manson, he's believing in this so much he might even go down a similar path.
Well he did. The Temple of Psychic Youth was his version of a cult?
Oh yes, he was always into the whole concept of cults and manipulating people. That was his genius.
Did you see the NSPCC bill boards that were a child's face morphed into an old ladies face? It looked like Genesis.
Yeah but you wonder sometimes if it's just a coincidence or if somebody in advertising has seen the image before or … I was going to say about Coum generally and TG the continuation … some of the ideas we applied and experimented with have become completely mainstream now. In advertising, manipulation of images on very sophisticated levels. Guerrilla advertising, many tactics. Some were quite original. I think it was a very dynamic group. The audience was so small but we felt at the time that we were doing something very important. And I still believe in it now. In fact the guy who was the director of the Royal Festival Hall, who has now gone onto the U.C.L.A. Los Angeles I think, anyway I met him after Genesis had performed there a couple of years ago. He said why he went out of his way to make it happen was that he felt it was one of the most important things to come out of Britain in that whole period.
Well it was just before the punk explosion…
Yes, well that was more simple really wasn't it? When you're almost by definition existing on so many levels it confuses people so much that they can't grasp it. Yet the influence is there if you analyse it. It's probably more profound ultimately. We used to have conversations in Hull thinking 'what would happen in the future if people looked back on all this?' Fascinating, that now people are looking back, there's been this book and other things … Throbbing Gristle have just released a box set. I was going to tell you about the name. It's mentioned in the book, but as I recall it … in Hull, in the Alien Brain, sitting round and there was the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull, Genesis, Cosey and I. And we were all talking, Lelly, that's the Reverend, was always telling the most amazing stories. He had a naturally poetic, extreme way of expressing things. And he talked about throbbing gristle; he was always talking about throbbing gristle. It was his phrase you know … the male member. He was talking about somebody doing the five knuckle shuffle with his eight inches of throbbing gristle. I think he was talking about me I have to say, so I was that Throbbing Gristle. But in the book it's North Yorkshire slang. But I think it was original to him, Lelly. I don't think it was something that was the vernacular, because he often used to think of very original things to say and describe things as. Genesis loved that, he kept it. He was waiting to call a group that. In a way the image of Coum is just the same image. (Holding up the Coum as dick logo, complete with drip of spunk)
What was the Fluxshoe?
Well Genesis got Coum involved in Fluxshoe. We did a few things associated with it; I remember one particular one in Hastings. I've got the Fluxshoe magazine here and it documents that whole performance.
It was Fluxus?
Yes. It was, as I understand it was the last expression of Fluxus really. We did this action associated with the Victor Musgrave Gallery in Hastings. I believe he was an old surrealist. A minor surrealist, but an English surrealist. There was a national tour, Genesis did a performance in Blackburn. He got the local telephone directory and drilled holes in it, a reference to 'Day in the Life' the song by the Beatles. That exhibition 'Live in you Head' about the performance artists in the 70's that was on at the Whitechapel Gallery a couple of years ago. well, on the catalogue there’s all the names of people associated, some of which were in Fluxus like Yoko Ono and other performers…we’re all mentioned there somewhere, all of Coum, including myself.
Apart from the ICA did Coum have other gallery shows?
Some things were exhibited here and there. I think most of it’s recorded in the book. Genesis sent collages and other works off.
Mail Art was already a network?
Yeah. Genesis picked up on that and because he’s basically literary that’s always been his inspiration. He can express himself very well and it was writing. William Burroughs people like that were major influences on him. He was quite visual too and applied both to his postal art. He opened the School of Global Infantilism which was related to the mail art project as well. People were saying that what we were doing was so infantile, so he made a virtue out of that. We had this rubberstamp of a babies dummy, I’ve got one here…there were four I think, Genesis, Cosey and Myself we all had one. That came out of the early days because he was claiming social security and people kept stamping things. We found this place that could make up rubber stamps, so we thought we’d make up our own slogans and titles. That again was using something mundane and transforming it. Postal Art had lots of other associations, because when I went to America, California in 1974 I met many of the Postal Artists.
You met Monte Cazazza before anyone else?
Genesis had, I think, corresponded once or twice. I met him at this gallery opening of Kent Friedman who was connected to Fluxus. He (Monte) was threatening to blow the place up at the time. He was carrying this riot control rod that gave electric shocks just to liven up the proceedings. I told him all about Coum; we had a good conversation. All evening really and he was into a lot of our ideas. He was looking for a group to get more involved with I think. Eventually he did come over to England and work with them; they’d turned into Throbbing Gristle by then. I met other postal artists…
Well I stayed with Kathy Acker for three days in Haight Ashbury. Her boyfriend at the time was playing saxophone in a band at the Playboy club. We had a very interesting outing to the penthouse of the playboy club, a quite extraordinary clash of cultures.
Tabloid question…were Gen and Cosey swingers?
Well I don’t know when, ha - but yeah there were some times that were quite free.
Would you ever do music again?
Well I’ve got some unfinished business really…I’ve asked Fizzy Peat if he’ll do something one day. He not an introvert at all, but he’s very oblique when it comes to being pinned down. I went to a Chris and Cosey gig about three years ago at the Union Chapel. I did the photographs for the cover of the album… John Lacey did this performance beforehand it was like the nearest thing to a Coum revival really, John Lacey did his performance art and he got Fizzy Peat and my wife Viv onstage joining in. Chris and Cosey were there and I was there, so that was the nearest to a reunion in a way? I didn’t realise Cosey hadn’t actually seen Fizzy Peat. She’d spoken to him on the phone quite regularly and had the odd letter and things. But they hadn’t actually met for 15 years! Which came as a shock to me.
You meet so many people through art, music and travel…it’s hard to keep up with people?
Yeah. When you’re engaged in a project you obviously all correspond.
Well Genesis didn’t work so he had time.
Yeah. Cosey had to work, she’s always worked. All the time they were in Coum. Firstly she worked as a secretary then she worked as a pornographic model and stripper. She was providing the money. He got the odd art council grant. He did spend time being the editor of a reference book on modern performance art I think it was. That was the only proper job I think he actually had. It’s in Art College libraries, I saw it about 10 years ago.
What name does he use on it?
I think it’s his actual name. Genesis P Orridge. He changed his name by deed poll. Neal Megson died when he became Genesis P Orridge. It’s like metamorphosis.
(The phone rings…when I remember to turn the tape back on we were talking about advertising…)
You could do some great packaging for a Coum LP?
There isn’t one is there? There are these tapes that Chris put onto CD. My tapes, the ones I had. One of which Genesis sent to me. The others I taped myself, gigs and various recordings. There’s probably enough material there to make at least one album. That is good, maybe even a double album, there’s some interesting elements, conversations, whatever, you could edit various pieces and make an interesting multi media mix of it of it all. Even if it was just fragments, that we could re-use.
That would be hard for you to do though wouldn’t it?
Well, I don’t know if there is some dispute. Possibly, I haven’t talked to Cosey recently about it.
No-one wants to put the question?
Well, my feeling is, my interpretation is quite possibly that Genesis has been managing history. He’s defined Coum in a certain way and he wants it to remain like that. Maybe? Possibly? He’s got all these things that have happened since anyway that he has some investment in. But the early days, when he was learning his craft. Fresh to it all. In a way perhaps he doesn’t want people to think he was ever more human in the way he approached things. He likes to have this mythic status you see. He’s definitely got his own view of how it should be perceived. I mean he is a great manipulator and he likes to retrospectively re-write history. I mean I wasn’t mentioned much in the book, not that I’m an egomaniac but… I suppose it’s understandable as I haven’t been around for 20 years.
You contacted Simon Ford after the book came out?
And he was glad people were getting in touch as he realised Gen was trying to control it?
Yeah he did. And also, you know. I’m not going to say it was all my idea but there were some ideas that were definitely mine. And that’s my view point.
And the book hardly mentions you?
They may have remembered things differently, because obviously when it’s your investment in something you tend to remember it more.
I think people would have been interested in the more “hippy days” as well as the visceral stuff.
I didn’t think that was as interesting as some of the other parts quite honestly. I’m not knocking the book because I think generally speaking it’s pretty good. I think some of the individuals involved were significant, I’m not just saying that about my own case. They could have been attended to a bit more. There is an alternative history that could have been written. That’s understandable in some ways because anything that’s got lots of personalities, ideas, can have more dimensions to it than just one view. All sorts of aspects. Feedback. People ask you for more details than you can actually remember. Individuals have selective memories. We were very close you see, for about two or three years I think. At least two years we were like a family. The Family. Ha. They were very sweet as well. Very attentive, partly because there’s this bond when you find somebody that has the same outlook. And at that time you know… Then things got a bit harder, harder and less playful in some ways.
TG had a formula…
Aggressive! There was always the spirit of the times as well. Even Punk was as well wasn’t it, in a different sort of way. Everybody was being very nasty weren’t they? It wasn’t playing games…we used to try and provoke reactions and sometimes we did. In Coum we pretended to be mad or crazed or whatever and see how people would respond. But other times it would be the exact opposite. Not because we were capricious but just because it was exploring different reactions and situations. It was a culture. We had our own constructed culture. Genesis had this idea initially of making things almost like a separate world. His own alphabet, quite grandiose ideas in a way…and he developed it in other ways, the cult aspect later on. That was another project he wanted to realise.
What do you know about the house being raided…?
I only read about it in the newspapers. To be fair to Genesis he did correspond with me. He invited me to some Throbbing Gristle gigs and stuff like that when they played down here. To be honest I didn’t get involved because I’d become a different person really. I still have some loyalty to the whole concept of Coum. But, you know, I met Viv, my wife who was relatively straight. I mentioned it all to her of course, but she wasn’t very impressed. So I thought ‘oh – I’d better down play this really’ because it’s all a bit too outrageous. It genuinely was you know…
What was outrageous?
I didn’t do any slaughtering of animals or anything like that. But we did shows that were basically like sex shows especially the one in Amsterdam. I had this extraordinary phase…did I tell you I was a civil servant? When I came back from America I couldn’t get a job and I needed some money, so I ended up being a civil servant. That’s where I met Viv. I was still in Coum, I remember going on the train up to Goldsmiths College in London after work, I got off work early and we did this performance. It was just me, Cosey and Genesis. They were naked and I was only wearing a leather coat and a Nazi hat and I had a whip and we did this whole action in front of an audience. Then I went back to being a terribly straight civil servant. A double life. And I never told my wife, I don’t know if we were going out then, but I was circling round her. Its funny when you get entranced with a woman, men will do anything to re-arrange their lives. And also, as I said, it had wound down in the last days. Genesis said “we’ll be doing this” and you can be this part and I used to improvise with in it whatever but it was all his concept you see. It was less of a democracy. It was more of a democracy in the early days when we all made a contribution. All our ideas were incorporated and we’d work together and think of it together, it was more co-operative. By the end it was more of a dictatorship. He’d decided that’s what it was going to be and he was pushing Cosey to do various things because that was part of his concept. She’s a strong girl…
She was encouraged to do more and more?
She was game. She was quite shy when I first met her, she hardly spoke and she didn’t do anything much in Coum in the early days. She looked after the house and things, when it came to gigs she was just a presence. She didn’t really do much. She only started doing things as it went on. She had a power because she was a woman and she started to use it in a way, even if it was sexual power that became a really strong influence. I was interested to read that she said she was brought up as a boy almost. She was one woman among 4, 5, 6, 7 men all the time, or in TG just 3 men. There were no other women that got involved, that just ever came up to it. There were strong women here and there but we didn’t seam to encounter any that were that…
She paid a price on a personal level. Her parents, her father in particular were completely outraged with all the things she was doing. He wouldn’t talk to her much even in the days when I was in Coum. And then when she became notorious he never spoke to her ever again. The whole of the rest of his life he didn’t talk to her at all. Her mother died first and she did surreptitiously speak to her like mothers do, but she was frightened of her husband so a lot of the time she didn’t or she’d speak through her sister, sometimes there was a very difficult relationship. Her father only died a couple of years ago and he never spoke to her. That must have been an awful thing. I remember when it was first happening she was quite sad about it; in the 70’s for him to carry on the rest of his life and disown her really. She was a nice girl, a nice woman so that’s a bit inhuman isn’t it? That’s how some people are sometimes. That was a sad thing. I rang her up on her birthday last year, she was quite surprised and a bit guarded on the phone but when she relaxed we were having a normal conversation again. But she’s quite guarded. I know there’s a very nice, a very pleasant side to her, a very sweet side. Perhaps she’s built a fortress around herself.
The pornography maybe affected her but she didn’t go into it for the wrong reasons? She wasn’t…
Coerced. No. Genesis did slightly push her; it wasn’t so much the money. He probably found it vicariously stimulating. But I don’t think she ever did anything she didn’t want to do. I suppose that makes you a bit hardened if you’ve been in that sort of world for a while. Funnily enough when we had a shop in Trafalgar Street, Brighton, I did antiques and my wife period clothes. She said she actually used to walk down that street because she used to go and strip at this pub in Lewes Road; she came down from the station so she must have walked past. Now isn’t that funny, same with Genesis living locally, I never saw him. I’d lived here all the time. I used to think it was fate, if we we’re meant to meet again then we will. I wouldn’t have resisted it or avoided him if I saw him in the street but I still haven’t seen him. Even when he did this gig in London, I didn’t really want to go backstage. I’d like to meet him again. I’m intending to go to this event at Camber Sands. That’ll be interesting. I don’t know if Fizzy will come as well.