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Swine Interview Kev Sampson 

by Phil Thornton

Swine - Kev, your new book Stars Are Stars returns to roughly the same era as Awaydays (it covers 76-81) - after setting your recent novels in the here and now, why did you choose to return to this momentous period and what is the basic plot of the book? 

KS - It grew out of the whole process of trying to make a film out of Awaydays - more of that later. But returning the era of Thatcher's first term in power had two opposite and equally powerful effects. Firstly, there was the reminder of what a brilliant era that was: musically it was fantastic with everyone from Bowie to The Jam, The Clash, Kraftwerk, Magazine, Wire all hitting top form. But even more so locally - the way football, music and fashion fused into something uniquely Liverpool at the time. It's easy to be misty-eyed about our youth, but the time of Eric's, The Swinging Apple and The Road End was a golden age for Liverpool .

The other big thing that grew out of the Awaydays non-film was realisation of how much I despised that Thatcher regime. So many things came rushing back - it's weird what sticks in the dark recesses of your mind. For example I can remember clearly the way she used to say the word 'prosperity'. It sounded more like proz-bay-ree-tee. I hated her then, and I hate her now, and I decided to get it all down on paper, the Wonder Years and the way she pulled it all apart.

So that's the backdrop - a great sweep of Liverpool 's pre and post-punk culture - and the story is a boy-meets-girl love affair, simple as that. It's about young love and big dreams, and how the shattering reality of Thatcherism obliterated so much young hope.

 

Swine - The book is named after a Bunnymen song - what are your own memories of the music of this era and were you a Bunnymen fan yourself?

KS - My memories of that era are vivid. On the very first page Danny, the main character in the story, comes out of the Virgin shop in Bold Street , Station To Station in hand. It's weird thinking that what is now a multinational conglomerate - the Virgin 'brand' - started out as a collection of little 'head' shops. It was no different to Probe or any other little specialist place. So as the story progresses, Danny starts getting into New Wave bands, going to Eric's and places like that.

As for me, I was desperate for there to be a Liverpool 'scene'. I didn't really get into punk until late 1977, but it disappointed me there was no real Liverpool punk bands - especially with Manchester having the Buzzcocks (and the mighty Slaughter And The Dogs. Possibly the best non-sung contribution on any song, ever: "Hey? Dyoh wanna scrrrrap?!" from Where Have All The Bootboys GOne? Sounds even more Dick Van Dyke doing a Manc accent than Frrrrank Gallagoh).

So obviously I was made up when Zoo Records started up and the likes of Teardrop and The Bunnymen were putting out Made In Liverpool records. I wouldn't have cared if they were shit - but I loved them all the more because they were brilliant. The book takes its title from Stars Are Stars off the first Bunnymen album: "All your dreams are hanging out to dry." There we go. Back to Maggie Thatcher.

 

 

Swine - The book ends with the Toxteth riots and for many people that became the cut-off point when their trust in mainstream politics ended once and for all - the stage was set for the Militant years in Liverpool - what were your feelings about what went on before, during and after the riots and what, if anything, has changed since?

KS - Fuck, that'd take a year to answer properly. Let's put it this way - people will only take so much. In Liverpool 8, the police had been subverting the Suss laws way, way before the Leroy Cooper incident. For anyone who doesn't know what I mean by that, the single key incident that turned simmering resentment in Granby into direct action against the police was the heavy-handed arrest of a well-known local lad. His arrest was witnessed by scores of mates who thought enough was enough. They fought back. I applaud that mentality. The same goes for the Militant era in Liverpool .

It's easy to personalise it and write off all the good that came as a result of Militant's brief stay in power. But prior to John Hamilton and co. receiving a plebiscite from the people of Liverpool, Margaret Thatcher was talking of a city she'd like to see excommunicated from the U.K. She washed her hands of Liverpool , told us to shut up, stop being such "moaning Minnies" and to get on our collective bikes and look for work. It was clear that national government wasn't going to do anything for the city, so Militant did what it was elected to do. It cleared slums.

It borrowed 26 million from a Swiss bank and built 4,000 new council houses. If you'd asked me a few years ago I'd probably have said things were getting better, but I see horrible parallels between the political climate now and how it was about 1977, before the Thatcher bandwagon really got rolling. Let's hope not.  

 

Swine - With all the recent nostalgia for all things 'hooly' with the likes of The Football Factory, The Business and the raft of hooly books, do you ever think the film version of Awaydays will get made or have you given up on that now?

KS - I've more or less given up. It's never been anything less than entertaining, but there's only so many hours I can spend with posh young Oxbridge types, being told the story is 'parochial'. To me, parochial is good. I love The Sopranos because it's parochial. It offers up a great slice of New Jersey that none of us here know anything about.

It's that - its sense of place, the authenticity of its language, the shiny pleated slacks its tubby protagonists wear - that make The Sopranos parochial, and fucking great. Awaydays could have been good, I think. It's a shame, but the world of film is a very odd place, peopled by some pretty odd folk. I prefer to stay amused by them than get myself bitter and twisted but the sad truth is I've pretty well thrown the towel in on that one.

 

Swine - We recently watched your film about the Ibiza scene of the early 90s 'A Short Film About Chilling' again and it was almost religious to witness the original 'balearic' ethos at its zenith before the corporations and the gangsters took over - do you regard this era when you were managing The Farm fondly?

KS - By gum yes! I loved the whole mad ride with The Farm but the early Ibiza period was particularly special. And just back to filmworld, briefly - that Ibiza film shows what can be done with a bit of love and passion and no plummy weirdos asking for more of a cliffhanger at the end of the second act... I hadn't been to Ibiza for a while, but went back summer before last. Obviously it's changed, there are signs of significant wealth wherever you look. But it's still Ibiza . Even an aging cynic like myself got a little tingle at sunset.

 

Swine - The acid house nostalgia circuit is pretty lucrative these days - have you ever been tempted back into the music game or are you content to remain as a writer which is, let's face it, a far more mature but boring way to make a dollar.

KS - I hesitate before blurting this out, but it's the truth so here we go: I've never been interested in making money. Not for the sake of it, anyway. I could no sooner be a full-time band manager than I could be an estate agent, though there's lots and lots of lolly to made in both. Once The Farm folded, I had no interest in managing another band. As things stand right now I'm in the happy position of enjoying the work I do. I can pretty well write whatever I want - though not the script for the award-winning film Awaydays, regretably. 

 

Swine - We really liked your recent piece on Bill Shankly in Esquire. There seems to be a realisation that Shanks died pretty much a broken man and felt that the LFC hierarchy had deserted him as Paisley took the team to greater glory. There's a lot of Shanks sentimentality about these days yet Bill himself wasn't a sentimentalist. How do you think we should  Liverpool fans and the rest of us should remember him?

KS - I think its right that we slightly mythologise Shanks. Although he didn't win as much as other managers, he is the hurricane that swept through Anfield and revolutionised the club, forever. Without him, none of this would have happened.

 

Swine - What are your plans for the future Kev, more books, a film perhaps?

KS - Two immediate aspirations. I'm thinking about a book that in some way brings together some of the elements we were talking about before: the dawning days of Acid House, seen in the context of a time when rampant Thatcherite consumerism started spiraling out of control. Working title is The Lotus Eaters. And I've just started on a brilliant film project. It's the Creation Records story and it's a bit too much like fun at the moment. My immediate problem is finding a way into the story for Shonen Knife. Over.

 

 

 
   
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