Escape from the bourgoisie / into the fire of a creative life!
This is a true story - and like most stories of early childhood, it has shaped my entire life. I was a kid of about 7 when I was sent to my first boarding school, it was in the countryside of northern Ireland, a place called Holywood – one ‘l’ – and considerably less glamorous than its Californian namesake. My dad was a famous doctor, he was one of the pioneers of chemotherapy, but he died when I was three years old, leaving me and my brother with our mum. As I mentioned we were in Northern Ireland, so somehow the violence of the place came through to my childish imagination and when my mum told me the news I asked her who had shot him...
At 6 years old, I smashed up a car that was left down the road near our house. It is something that gave me a feeling of eternal and unending guilt. I don't know why I did it. My mum, guessing it was me, threatened me with naval college, which her dad - who had been lawless too - had gone to finally get broken down - licked into officer material!
By the age of 11 I was listening to Iron Maiden and Metallica, it was odd to be so into these heavy metal bands, but I felt weirdly relaxed by the music. I think it made me feel less alone. I wasn't listening to it to appear cool, it just genuinely brought me some relief!
At home I made myself a little guitar out of a piece of wood and cardboard, and on it I wrote “Jimi Hendrix”. I was then sent off to another boarding school. Music was the only thing that got me through what was effectively a prison sentence. I began to learn the guitar, at school I stuck out as by now I was really into the sixties counter cultural music, Bob Dylan, The Stones, Donovan. My guitar teacher was called Barry Bishop and I lived for those lessons. At night in the dorms I would just listen to Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland on headphones and dream of getting out. I imagined the centres of creativity like Paris and London and New York as far away places bustling with excitement and creativity. My future as an artist was plotted and planned from the dark dormitories of this famous Scottish public school, it was forged in despair.
Eventually I escaped from what felt like prison (this was the school they sent Prince Charles to – and I know for a fact he felt the same!)
In the summer holidays me and some friends and my big brother used to go down to a music festival in Cork, southern Ireland, called Feile. We saw so many cool bands, like James – (Sit down next to me) and the Levellers… (still one of my favourites!) When I was 18 I took my then girlfriend to see Bob Dylan in Belfast. Bob Dylan. I just couldn't believe I was looking at him. It was strange. But he wasn't amazing. It was amazing he was there, but he wasn't VITAL.. in the way the young Bob had been. Maybe a bit mechanical!
Me and my friends swore that we would make art our whole lives, we wouldn’t let anything stop us. After all that generous over privileged repression it felt like the only way forward. I decided to follow my path and have never stopped. I'm still very proud of my friends too - though most of them have taken more conventional paths towards their lives, they have retained many of the values we cherished so much as kids.
I’m now a musician and filmmaker full time. I can’t say it’s an easy road, but it’s my road, and it’s cool and I am working really hard to make it work.
Anyway, finally I was out and to celebrate I moved to Paris. I tried to write a novel, fell in love, drank and smoked as much as I dared and had the time of my life, while working in McDonalds to support myself. I also took with me a 4 track tape recorder and on that I started to write and record some acoustic songs. After coming home from there, I moved to London and have been making films about history and anarchy, politics of protest, writing songs – some of them protests, some of them about building alternative universes. I believe – like John Lennon – in trying to imagine our way to a better world – and if there’s one thing that unifies my work – it's that. I have to say now I am totally obsessed with the new Leonard Cohen album and also I read a lot of books. I'm very motivated by issues of economics and social justice - and if you stay with me on this list - you will begin to learn more, as I am embarking on my most ambitious project to date - to buy up and then destroy £1000,000 worth of payday debt.
I hope this helps you to get your head slightly around what makes me write, and where I’m coming from with my music. The truth is it’s hard to be an artist – you want to change the world, and bring great things – but often no one wants to hear it. I discovered last Christmas that my mum was ill I decided to stop worrying and making excuses for myself and to get back off my ass and start recording music again. What I knew was that after everything else was done nothing in the world has any purpose for me like creating and sharing music and films.