With a re-released single, an audiobook memoir, a new Dark Times Radio show, and with his last album ready for Record Store Day, Richard ‘Kid’ Strange has been busy. The pre-punk provocateur that spawned Doctors Of Madness is restless… and dare I say, even nostalgic.
Since we last spoke the world’s changed its course. There’s been lockdowns, pandemics, global movements, unrest. There’s been changes to how we create and engage. So what’s spurring Strange on? And what’s it like looking back, looking forward? As we re-engage with the fierce ‘Make It Stop’, I took the chance to put these questions to him.
Richard, first up it’s a pleasure to catch up with you again. We last caught up in early 2020 following the release of Dark Times… How do you feel do you feel about pre-empting what was to come for 2020? And more seriously, how have you survived it?
Well, I must say I wish I had been totally wrong with my assessment of the state of the Nation and the state of the world. Remember, when the album was written in 2018, all we had to worry about was Trump, a Tory Government, a lurch to the Right, rampant populism, lies, manipulation and Brexit!! Now we still have ALL of them, but a little global pandemic has been thrown into the mix! What has been borne out is that populist governments do NOT look after their populations- The 5 worst hit countries by Covid-19 are the USA, Russia, Brazil, the UK and India. All 5 “led” by Right wing populists. Funny coincidence, eh?
I see you’ve been busy since we last time we spoke with singles, a new radio show, the release of the audio version of your memoir. Can I ask, what’s been spurring you on?
A combination of factors. Obviously, the lockdown has restricted the options that were available for staying creative. As a live performer, I had 4 tours cancelled in the months of April and May- to Finland, Japan, Holland and Sweden. That REALLY hurt. It left me a choice- stay home and feel sorry for myself, or let new situations suggest new solutions. I am lucky inasmuch as I have a modest recording set-up at home, which enabled me to consider the audio book. I got straight into it from Week 1. I decided to read a chapter a day, 5 days a week, and intersperse the reading with music and sounds of the period. I really enjoy audio books, podcasts and the radio- probably more than TV, and my work as an actor has equipped me to be a competent voiceover artist and reader. It gave my days structure, which I sort of need, and it also made the book available to a whole new audience.
How much has the success and reception of Dark Times fed into the projects you’re working on?
It was very gratifying to get such wonderful reviews for the album, and to reach a new audience. In a way it was a validation of everything I have attempted musically…it’s just that this time I am older, wiser, and I hope, a better writer, performer and musician. I have more clarity, a greater certainty of touch, and best of all, no need or desire to appeal to a “market” or a genre of music fans. It’s more a case of “Here it is…come and try it”. It has clearly drawn people’s attention to my back catalogue, but more importantly it has given me the energy and the desire to continue making records. Dark Times comes out on vinyl on International Record Store day, and I am hugely proud of the vinyl version.
Dark Times has rightly been viewed as a heavily political album. I wonder what might be in making following the strangeness and activity of 2020 so far; protest and/or unrest (depending on view), global fights for equality, the effects and responses to a global pandemic, withdrawals from unifying organisations… the list goes on….
Yes Strange times indeed…and of course it is all feeding into the songs I am writing now…though not in an obvious way. The next record will not be called “Now That’s What I Call Lockdown!”
‘Make It Stop’, perhaps one of the most relentlessly menacing tracks of the album, has recently been re-released as a single. What made you choose this track and why now?
Well, when I wrote that song, there were fewer things that needed to be stopped!! The list of things has grown relentlessly of the last 2 years…The lies, the deception, the self -seeking, the surreptitious wheeler-dealers in government lining their pockets at the expense of ordinary working people, the corruption, the Black Lives Matter movement, the environmental chaos, the need to rethink how we live…wow!!
When we last spoke I referenced Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression album as similar sound to that track. I wonder how you found the comparison?
I was flattered!! Martyn Ware (Human League/ Heaven 17)has remixed the track Walk Of Shame from the album , for eventual release. He said that Dark Times is like Iggy’s Kill City album. So we definitely channelling The Ig! So many people have found different things in the album. Julian Cope said “These Dark Times are indeed enormously informing: the RULES OF THE FUTURE are indeed being forged right now” Biba Kopf of The Wire said “Still listening to new DoM with immense interest and pleasure – most recently last night on a ferry crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong island. DoM and Dark Times make for perfect listening matching HK’s strange aura, drive & exhilaration bordering paranoia/hysteria re future uncertainties” And Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, who songs on six of the tracks just said, “This is a GREAT album. WOW!!! “ So the praise in coming from all different directions!
We’ve mentioned the radio show that you’re running, Dark Times Radio. It’s a retrospective journey through music you’ve worked on, people you’ve worked with and the music that had an influence on you. What made you start working on this?
It wasn’t a huge step when the book was finished to think about doing a weekly radio show. I realized that in my 45 years in music and the arts, I have produced a large and varied body of work- songs I have written, sung, performed, produced for others, collaboration with fine Artists, Theatre, film, dance, performance…curating shows for the Tate Gallery and The International Festival of Live Art, my own chat shows (A Mighty Big If) and Cabaret Futura and so on…A radio show/podcast seemed like a perfect vehicle to chat about some of these things, and to play music that may have fallen through the cracks over the last 40 years. It’s also a privilege to be able to showcase music by others that I just simply LOVE
And as you reach through the past and the projects you’ve worked on, and the connections you’ve made through your career, do you surprise yourself by memories that crop up?
I just realize that the things you learn, the references and connections you make, can manifest themselves years later, and in surprising ways. I am blessed that I have, probably uniquely in the world, worked with Jack Nicholson, The Sex Pistols, Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese and Tom Waits. Toured the UK with a show called “Richard Strange performs the songs of Lou Reed” with a knockout band of heavyweight musicians. I have also written a book, run a cabaret club for 6 years, had my own chat show, collaborated with artists whose work has been shown at The Hayward Gallery and The Manchester Art Gallery, made records which have affected thousands of people, who still play them, and managed to be a teacher of degree level students in 5 countries. I am also a Judge on the panel of the Global Undergraduate Awards scheme, and been Creator in Residence at The Hong Kong Design Institute. Not bad for a kid who went to a Brixton comprehensive school, whose dad wouldn’t let him go to Uni, so I bought a guitar instead, to spite him!!!
Lastly on the radio show, are you looking back as well as forwards? Are you able to look back and create at same time?
Back and forwards. It’s the only way. There’s still a lot of great artists making music…some new some old. It continues to excite me!
What can we expect next from Richard Strange?
Hoping to reschedule the dates that were cancelled, make a new record, produce a band called The Glare, and work on some multi-media projects. Life’s a gas!
See links above and below to memoir and radio, and ‘Dark Times‘ is out now and ready for vinyl. Find ‘Make It Stop’ and others from Rats On The Run featured artists right here on Rats On Run Radio.
See: Questions Of Madness Part 1: An Interview With Richard Strange.