Do you believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll? – John Robb – Lakeside Arts, Nottingham

Do you believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll? – John Robb – Lakeside Arts, Nottingham

Music writer and witness to cultural history John Robb brings his tour for new book Do You Believe In The Power of Rock N Roll to Nottingham, in conversation with musician (Cable, Hudson Super Six, GodNo!, The Incomprehensible Static, Electric Pets) and co-founder of ethical label Reckless Yes Pete Darrington.

John Robb’s rock ‘n’ roll odyssey

John Robb on stage in Nottingham with album covers displayed on a screen behind himSpace, dinosaurs, and rock ‘n’roll. Touring his latest book (Do You Believe In The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll?, Unbound, 2023) musician, writer, and cultural icon John Robb tonight takes us along on his journey including growing up in 1970’s Blackpool and experiencing the high-octane thrill of punk, working out how to be in a band by forming Membranes, and how to write about music with fanzine Rox.

He tells us of being the first writer in the UK to cover the then unknown Nirvana, of accidentally arriving in East Berlin the night the wall came down, of working with other legendary music folk including poignant recollections of Steve Albini and Poly Styrene, of the experience of being DIY and part of a collective that just made music happen regardless of money or industry support.

Robb touched on different scenes including glam, punk, post-punk, and goth (acknowledging these were mainly labels applied retrospectively for journalistic convenience) with the obsessional knowledge and passion each of us here tonight recognise in ourselves.

Tonight is really an open love letter to music, creativity, identity, and connections (and I’m sure the book this tour promotes is in a similar vein). Robb’s fast-paced trip through the last half-decade of music is joyous and uplifting because of the passion behind it. He shares other passions too – space, quantum physics and dinosaurs among them – and somehow forms a Venn Diagram where these become one with music.

A raconteur John has the audience nodding, laughing, and (in my case at least) pulled forward in my seat as the power of rock n roll took hold. For some this will be part nostalgia for scenes and artists gone by, for others a glimpse behind the curtain at culturally significant moments Robb witnessed first hand, and for me it was a timely reminder of what I love about music (as it goes in Almost Famous, ‘to begin with, everything’) and that even when you feel you don’t belong we are all connected.

 

 

Signature tune: in conversation with Pete Darrington

John Robb and Pete Darrington seated on stage in conversation with each other in NottinghamThe second half of the show sees John in conversation with a different musician at every stop, and tonight in Nottingham it is Pete Darrington.

Now co-founder of ethical record label Reckless Yes, and bassist with Electric Pets Darrington has also recorded music as a DIY surf-rock inspired instrumental outfit (The Incomprehensible Static), as leader of post-rock noisniks GodNo!, and in bluespunkrockmetal band The Hudson Super 6. Tonight the conversation focuses much on his time as bassist in ’90s indie rock band Cable.

Cable were alluded to in the first half, where John recounted the tale of producing their first album (1996’s Down-lift the Up-trodden) and ending up the ‘adult in the room’ as a drunken fight broke out between the band and Oasis. They were in a nearby studio recording What’s The Story (Morning Glory)? and after food fights, punches being thrown, and Cable being dragged home the incident triggered another fight between Noel and Liam Gallagher and the first significant break-up of Oasis.

Cable, this unknown band of indie nerds from Derby, accidentally ignited a music culture moment.

Darrington also conjured up the pre-internet era experience of being an indie musician for us. He shared of falling in love with music through his older brother’s record collection, and being given 10 pences to put in the jukebox of the pub to keep him occupied while his dad had a drink with the local football team he managed. Of going to university with the sole intention of finding a band, ending up in Cable and their first play on John Peel as well as their subsequent Peel sessions (and having that debut album played in full on the show in its week of release). He recounted being signed by Korda Marshall to Infectious Records, of touring and playing with bands he’d loved as a teen, having Cable’s music feature on a Sprite ad, recording their 3 albums, and ending up having the rock ‘n’ roll dream shattered in court.

For in the end, Cable split up as a result of a court case with their first manager. They’d had a good run by that point making 3 remarkable and important albums, building on their American indie rock influences to move in a more experimental math rock direction and creating cult-like influence over the next generation of bands. Perhaps they would have fizzled out anyway, but it’s disappointing we didn’t get to find out due corporeal interference.

The circle was squared with Darrington sharing how his experience of being signed to a major label and as a DIY musician came together to influence how the record label he co-founded, Reckless Yes, worked. Inspired by iconic labels such as Sub Pop and Sarah Records fans trusted the curation of a roster they were willing to take a chance on, discovering something new.

It was about nurturing those connections between artists and fans, building a home for those who struggle to find a way in the music industry because they aren’t middle class white men. It was about collective effort and a label which felt privileged to be trusted with someone else’s art, and didn’t exist just to profit from their creativity. For Pete the label is the result of the good and bad experiences he had as a signed artist.

Do you believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll?

I’ve not had a chance to read Do You Believe In Rock ‘n’ Roll? as yet but I’m sure it retells the stories we heard tonight and many, many more. John Robb has retained the heady blend of naivety, curiosity, and creativity that pulled so many of us toward music initially. It brings his boundless enthusiasm together with his being a cultural participant and witness over the last 40 plus years in a wonderfully companionable set.

We’ve heard the stories he’s gathered so far, tied together by his personal timeline of music discovery and adventure. Some of which we may resonate with, some of which retains the exotic ‘otherness’ of creators. We might not all have had Dinosaur Jr record a video in our garden, or been in the orbit of an Oasis break-up, or spent 5 days in a sweltering New York apartment with Nirvana and Tad. But we have all loved music, been excited and obsessed by it.

And that’s at the heart of the evening: connection and the recognition of a shared feeling music (not even necessarily the same music) ignited in each of us. We are all connected by it, and each of the stories we’ve lived is the power of rock ‘n’ roll.

~

Do You Believe In The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll? by John Robb is available now via usual retailers or direct from the Membranes bandcamp page.

Find John Robb: Facebook | Instagram | Louder Than War

Find Electric Pets: Facebook | Instagram | Spotify | Bandcamp

Find Reckless Yes: Reckless Yes | Spotify label sampler | Bandcamp

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Disclaimer: As well as being Popoptica Sarah Lay co-founded independent record label Reckless Yes with Pete Darrington, and is a former editor of John Robb’s Louder Than War website.

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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