INTERVIEW with award-winning author/journalist JON SAVAGE ("1966," "England's Dreaming" and all the cool Ace Records compilations he has curated like "1972-1976")
our copies are in a glass box marked BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF MUSICAL EMERGENCY
Jon Savage is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and writer. Savage started writing as Punk Rock was spreading throughout his native England. As Punk and its D.I.Y. aesthetic spread, Savage moved from fanzines to major music periodicals. Beginning in 1991 with "England's Dreaming," Savage began to assemble the history of artists he saw as influential around the social and actual history of the nation. At the same time, Savage also began curating CDs that acted as companions and resources to accompany his works. His recent Faber & Faber book "1966: The Year The Decade Exploded" (reviewed above) is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the history of Pop Music. The release he assembled to expand on it has since been joined by a series of Ace Records double CDs that are some of the most necessary compilations of the last ten years. His latest Ace release "1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come" (also reviewed above) is an accurate glimpse at society in the Seventies and the myriad of changes underway.
T-BONE'S RECORDS: You started your career in journalism as Punk was rising up in England. What was the transition like from writing for your fanzine to writing for Sounds magazine, one of the big three in England?
JON SAVAGE: It was surprisingly smooth. The punk scene was very small in 1976 and I met Dave Fudger from Sounds at a Clash show in October 1976. Six months later that contact brought me into Sounds - where I stayed for eighteen months.
T-BONE's: Of today's music what do you listen to? Are there some newer artists who have impressed you and why?
JON: My default position is modern electronic music. Kompakt, Richie Hawtin, and Four Tet, that kind of thing.
T-BONE'S: What is it like to curate these CDs - you have a definite touch and the ability to blend the familiar with the completely unknown. Are you constantly scrambling to add/subtract and even finding records in the vault that surprise you?
JON: The CDs originate as playlists. In those playlists, around half or a little more are records I actually knew and liked during the period in question. Then there’s the fill-in over the years. I started buying 60’s singles in the early seventies, at Rock On and junk shops, etc, and have continued buying ever since. That’s another quarter. Then there are the ones that I’ve found recently while researching and exploring or the ones that we have to select because another has dropped out or is unavailable at the last minute.
Dana Gillespie - Andy Warhol (Dutch TV VPRO 1974) found on Jon Savage's curated Ace Records compilation 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come.
T-BONE'S: On the 1965 comp, you really stretch the boundaries to include this wealth of music. I know that in the book "1966," you point out that fantastic records were not just dropping weekly - but daily. And the radio fueled the excitement of hearing these songs and racing to the record store to pick up the 45. However, when you find a record like "Leaving Here" by the Birds, or The Uglys' "A Quiet Explosion," when you find THAT record, do you automatically know where it is going to fit into your running order to send it to the stratosphere?
JON: No, but they always seem to fit. The CDs are basically arranged chronologically. It’s fairly strict. I bought "Leaving Here" from the Rock On stall in 1974. "Foolish Woman" I heard in 1978 on a tape given to me by Gene Sculatti. During Punk, I was listening to and buying a lot of what is now called Garage Punk: ? and the Mysterians, 13th Floor Elevators, the Seeds, etc. "Nuggets" paved the way.
T-BONE'S: What are the biggest "surprise" records you stumbled on so far? And are there some you would like to name that were left on the cutting room floor?
JON: The big surprise on the new one was Faust’s "So Far." I had the single but rarely played it - it’s really great. Always some are left on the cutting room floor, usually because licensing is impossible. We were very surprised to get John Lennon on the new one, as you never get the Beatles as the Beatles. Nor the Rolling Stones. Nor anything to do with Eric Clapton for some reason. On "1968" I wanted "The Skies Above" - the Equals’ psych move - but we couldn’t get it. On the new one, I wanted "I’m Stranded" by the Saints but we couldn’t get that. Also, it would have been nice to get some Bowie. Licensing is very hard because of the time that it takes and the difficultly that sometimes exists in finding the rights holders. I should thank here Liz Buckley at Ace, who does an amazing job of licensing these tracks. Also, I should thank Mick Patrick, who handles the production in general. Both are brilliant colleagues.
T-BONE'S: The Dana Gillespie cover of David Bowie illustrates his importance to that period. Did you remember him to be inescapable? And isn't it interesting how his music almost overnight became sort of a "Pop standard?"
JON: Yes inescapable. "Hunky Dory," "Ziggy Stardust," and "Aladdin Sane." Not so much "Diamond Dogs" and then "Station to Station" and the Berlin trilogy.
T-BONE'S: In previous years, you have summarized one year on two discs. However, the new Ace collection carries us from 1972-1976. So, four years that the hippie movement fade, Pub Rock rise, and Punk Rock take root. As you sift through all this material, are you also diving into old Youtube files of performances and found pieces of music journalism?
JON: Not really. Much of it is in my own head because I lived through it. The picture research is always fun. In this period I had a look at the fanzines I mention in the text: Who Put The Bomp, Bam Balam, etc. It was a very activist critical culture in the early to mid-1970s. I look through Youtube afterward to tweet about the comp.
T-BONE'S: I'm thrilled to see The Count Bishops on the new one. How important are these sort of "subgenre" records to the shift in attitude and even tolerance of the larger movements above (say Punk Rock)
JON: Very important. They’re the ones that get forgotten about. Another couple I would have liked to have included from 1976 are "Crazy Kids" by Trevor White (ex Jook, Sparks) and "Caravan Man" by Lew Lewis. The whole point of the comp was to avoid the standard Pre-Punk narrative, i.e. that everything from that period has to be seen through the prism of what happened in later 1976 and 1977. That’s just historically inaccurate. We knew something was going to happen but what it was was still up for grabs. The Ramones made a huge difference. That was it.
The Count Bishops - Train Train found on Jon Savage's curated Ace Records compilation 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come.
T-BONE'S: I'm guessing you are a big Byrds fan (as am I) because it seems like every collection has a Byrds song. The group went through members constantly and shifted their sound. Do you think they were trying to impress themselves upon the listening public while staying out of the mainstream?
JON: I think a lot of the time they were playing catch up from their 1965 success. And they saw themselves progressing like the Beatles. It was an artistic as well as a commercial vision.
T-BONE'S: Would you ever do a "genre" record? What would be one you would like to do if so
JON: Psychedelic instrumentals.
T-BONE'S: How much of the social history of this period plays into the music? You had an economic rollercoaster under Heath and then the dreaded three-day workweek. It is safe to say that most of this music provided some kind of escape?
JON: The first disc is the escape. The second disc is the engagement with reality.
T-BONE'S: What's next for you Jon? A new book, maybe another compilation?
JON: A new book yes, details not yet to be revealed, and a new comp on Ace: 1977-79 including reggae, Dub, Punk, post-punk, and electronic music.
Jonathan Richman - Roadrunner found on Jon Savage's curated Ace Records compilation 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come.
Huge thanks to Jon Savage for his insight in this interview, as well as his publishers Faber & Faber and the source of his compilations, Ace Records. For more on Jon Savage, follow him on Twitter at jonsavage1966 and pick up one of his award-winning books or compilations from T-BONES.
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