Photo: British Amazon Author & Punk Rock Enthusiast Paul Matts
Center Stage host Mick Rose here, and living the Ages-Old-Adage "No Rest for the Wicked" ... while hoping tonight's performance doesn't turn into a case of "Only the Good Die Young." On that note, I'll turn the spotlight on Paul Matts, who's gotta be counting his blessings right about now. Paul boldly made the voyage from England and agreed to play 6 STABS with psychotic crime writer Jesse Rawlins. But "Heels" tore a shoulder muscle playing this twisted game of hers Sunday night: and she's more heavily sedated than The Ramones at their "highest." Getting this party started before that high wears off "sounds like a plan." Cheers folks!
Hi Paul. You live and write in Leicester, England. I first discovered your work at Brit Grit author Paul D. Brazill’s eclectic Punk Noir Magazine (PNM). How and when did you discover PNM—and when did your work first appear there?
I first discovered Punk Noir Magazine about a year or so ago, Jesse. A mate had told me about author Paul D. Brazill’s work—and I read his book A Case of Noir, amongst others. Superb. I then investigated him a little further and came across Punk Noir, which is his cultural magazine.
I soon realized it was a quite an eclectic mix: short stories, flash fiction, poetry, reviews, and other features related to films and music. I love it. Paul is helpful and encouraging, and I’m in awe how he finds the time to run Punk Noir and yet remain such a prolific, quality writer.
My short story “Revenge Can Be Sweet” appeared there in January 2019. I’ve had several pieces appear in PNM since, and I’m proud of that.
You write both non-fiction and fiction—and often draw heavily from your love of punk rock music and your experiences both as a night club owner and a band promoter, as well as a musician. In fact your first novel DONNY JACKAL just released. Described as an English coming of age tale, this adventure’s set in 1978 and revolves around mesmerized teenager Donny Jackson: a punk rock star wannabe living in the English suburbs—three long hours south of London—where the punk scene action thrives.
Care to share how your love affair with punk rock evolved, Paul? And led you to eventually own and run The Attik night club in Leicester City center for eight years?
The seed of my love for punk rock music, and later for the punk scene, came when I was a kid, about eight or nine years old. I remember the headlines in the newspapers and on the television relating to the Sex Pistols. Basically, they were threatening mankind’s very existence, if you believed what some people were saying at the time. Obviously, that was intriguing. I had no solid idea, aged eight or nine, who they really were, but I found the whole thing very exciting. Then I discovered the music of the Pistols. Loud, loud guitars. Words I could sing along to.
As I got a couple of years older I started watching Top of the Pops on television and at that time, punk and new wave bands were making regular appearances so I got to see them. I would then track down shows that were playing this new music on Radio One—the UK’s prime radio station at the time. I started recording stuff off the radio and basically, that’s when my love of music generally, and not just punk music, grew.
When I got some cash of my own, whether it be through pocket money or cash earnt from delivering newspapers, it went on records. I used to ask for records for birthday and Christmas presents. The first band I really got into were The Clash. I can still remember my Mum getting me their albums from a local superstore, and my Dad ridiculing the song titles. Mum liked their rock n’ roll elements, though! They had a major impact on me and introduced me to a wide range of musical styles and way of thinking. As I searched more I realized Punk had a DIY ‘can-do’ attitude, ranging from the music itself, where anything could indeed go, to the clothes and everything else.
I guess this positive approach influenced me in opening ‘The Attik’ club and venue in 2000. Anyone who opens an underground music haunt must have this positive, ‘can-do’ approach to life. Either that or they must have something seriously wrong with them! Everything seems to be against you a lot of the time … councils, licenses, breweries, big corporate competitors. But you just do it and go with the ideal. We based it on the kind of sounds one may hear on the John Peel show. Music from the cupboards, from the bedrooms, from the obscure corners of society.
Punk rock and its associated genres ... especially post-punk and hardcore … were popular and had a definite scene at The Attik. Rockabilly, Ska and Reggae. We had them all covered. Various non-commercial forms of dance music were part of our scene. You know, Rave Culture material, Drum n Bass, Hip-hop, Hardcore and Deep house. We also had a healthy electronic music scene, too. Some of our best nights were Electro nights.
Being part of the Punk network was something I very much enjoyed. The camaraderie, working together, supporting each other. The Attik was a drop-off for touring bands. Lots of colourful characters, new bands, established bands, local bands. Local DJs. Guest DJs too. We had two floors: one for live sets, the other a bar area. It had a nice, sweaty, tight atmosphere and more than once had CBGBs mentioned by way of comparison. Maybe because of the toilets.
It finally closed its doors in 2007. The finances no longer added up and I made the very difficult decision to step away.
My short story ‘Revenge Can Be Sweet’ was based on a night at The Attik. It’s a fictitious tale of revenge being obtained in a subtle, underhand, way. With devastating consequences, and mates looking out for each other. A punk rock show featuring English ska/ street punk band The Filaments, provides the backdrop for the story.
I played guitar and bass in a few bands prior to opening the Attik. I guess the most notable was The Incurables, who released an album called Fade in the late 1990s. You can track it down on Spotify. I wrote and co-wrote quite a few tracks on it. They weren’t a punk band, more a contemporary pop act in a similar vein to The Sundays.
People tend to equate two key topics with rock stars: sex and drugs. DONNY JACKAL launches with the unexpected news that the lead singer for Crack Mass—the most notable punk band in Donny’s hometown Oldtown is dead—presumably from a drug overdose.
What influenced you to write a punk rock mystery, Paul? Did you slaughter a bunch of musicians in your youth? And finally conclude the only safe way to “confess” would be to include all the gory details in a novel?
Ha Ha. No, I didn’t slaughter a bunch of musicians … none of that was ever proven! Anyway, Crack Mass’s lead singer Tom Coates may not have died of a drugs-overdose you know …. Or maybe he did? No spoilers, Jesse!
Seriously, the book’s as much a coming of age and kitchen-sink drama as it is anything else. I’ve written another book, still being edited, called Toy Guitars. The character, Donny Jackal, appears in this book too. It’s set in 1980, so two years on from the first book. Donny isn’t the main character in Toy Guitars but his role is important, and I felt the inspiration to turn the story of his own background and opportunity in life into a book of its own. The story sheds light on his relationships with his parents, authority, mates, co-workers and Ali, his girlfriend. Adolescence, really. I enjoy gritty period pieces and having a plot with a few questions in it seemed to be a good idea.
I would like to develop his character even further, really. There’s plenty to go at.
On a more serious note involving “drugs.” Teenagers who wish to either experiment or escpape their emotional pain and problems—and criminals or opportunists who sell drugs—routinely interact both in and around night clubs. Did drug-related activities present any problems for you Paul as a night club owner? And did you have a staff that included bouncers to deal with potential fights and other problems? Or was your clientele in Leicester wondrously well-behaved and copacetic?
Like with most night life, especially that spent down the world’s back streets, drug problems did surface from time to time. With me being both being a licensee and the owner I had really to be vigilant, on behalf of the staff, clientele and myself, really. It’s a responsible position, running a club. The authorities never have to be asked twice to close down a small backstreet venue. Easy target, see.
Our staff, including the security staff, were a decent gang. We’d look out for each other and a mixture of excitable, often drunk people and loud music can occasionally lead to bust ups. You just try and diffuse it. Calm people down. The staff and clientele knew each other through the club, and to be honest it had a family feel at times which made dealing with difficult situations a hell of a lot easier.
It was scary when gangs turned up looking for an individual or two who they knew were inside. If a gang wants to storm the door of a small club, then it’s difficult to repel. We had to be particularly on guard and to be honest if we thought such an incident was on the cards, we’d close the doors.
The cover art for the e-book version of DONNY JACKAL declares, “Opportunities Come at a cost.” We learn in the opening chapter that 19-year-old Donny’s stuck in a dead end job and still living with his parents. But much to Donny’s surprise, opportunity comes a knockin’. The remaining members of Crack Mass invite him to audition as a singer. Hell yeah, hallelujah! What better way to impress his new punk rock girlfriend Ali?
But as local punk rock legends, these dudes ain’t novices to the music scene. And we get the stark impression their motives for approaching Donny stem from secret agendas.
Besides playing in bands and running the Attik, you also spent years as a “promoter.” Are any of the pressures Donny gets exposed to based on real-life situations you experienced yourself—or perhaps witnessed first-hand, Paul?
I used to promote as ‘101 Productions’ in Leicester. Again, punk rock and associated genres. Lots of fun. And tension. There would be financial pressures. Would we get enough through the door to cover the cost of the band and their rider, venue hire? Band riders can stretch to a fair bit of dollar, you know! As a promoter the overall success of the gig rests on your shoulders. You want the band happy and relaxed, the equipment all working, the soundman and venue staff all happy and working efficiently. It needs to run on time. And after all of that, you have your fingers crossed people turn up and all have a blinding night.
Sometimes a gig on the face of it would go well but the band weren’t happy for some reason. Other times the band would be happy but the customers would moan beer prices were too high, the toilets were shit or something. One night, Ed Tudor Pole was playing and all was going well—and from nowhere a huge punch up erupted. He’d invited a local band to play ‘Swords of a Thousand Men’ with him. He was a solo performer at the time, see. Turned out someone had spilt beer all over the bass player’s girlfriend. The bass player jumped down from the stage, layed into the protagonist and all hell broke loose.
Somehow, I came away thinking all of this was my fault. Obviously it wasn’t--I didn’t throw the beer.
As for witnessing pressures, young artists, whether it be new singers, guitar players or whatever, are prone to pressure. They, particularly in punk rock circles, often end up playing in famous bands as a replacement for a legendary band member who has passed away or has moved on. So, they need to step up to the mark. It’s assumed they can play the songs, but they often need to perform a role, someone for the singer to bounce off, for example. The audience has expectations and are often cynical and need to be won over by the new kid.
So, the psychological pressure this alone can put on young performers is immense. And this is without considering the external pressures. Lack of sleep on tour, drugs, drink, poor nutrition and the stress this all places on personal relationships. The punk rock dream has obvious appeals, but the less glamorous side is one I became familiar with as I spent time talking with these band members.
Well, Paul, your DIY punk rock approach to the Writing Life has definitely served you well in a short amount of time. You’ve certainly been head-banging in the mosh pits so-to-speak. I like the way you’ve enthusiastically supported other writers and magazines by reading their books and stories—while also writing book reviews and the like! The Writing Life ain’t always easy. But guess what?
There’s no toilets to clean!
Happy Holidays to you-n-yours, Paul. And good luck to you and Donny Jackal. Muchas Gracias Mick Rose for hosting us. Let me pour you a bourbon, buddy.