So, there was this time that I toured Canada with a rock band called Chickpea, four of us packed into a Chevrolet Cavalier.
All of our gear was in a trailer we towed everywhere, covered by a piece of crap tarp we bought for about five bucks. It didn’t really matter that nothing was well protected, it was all garbage anyway.
During the endless drives, we had about 10 tapes in the car. I had some Smiths and Weezer’s debut, the bass player had some Primus and Rush and the singer had a bunch of stuff from indie bands the rest of us pretended to enjoy to boost our indie cred.
Pierre had some prime Canadian rap (a Brandon, Man.-group called Farm Fresh, for one) and forced us to listen to Brave New Waves at three in the morning in northern Saskatchewan. Beep-blippety-bleep-womp-womp kind of stuff. Clearly, three chord rock was not his ultimate calling.
Pierre is in England now, married and teaching. He’s also a DJ, and a published poet (and you know he means business, because he has abandoned the traditional laws of capitalization).
Here are five questions I asked him today.
Last I saw you, I kind of assumed the whole poetry thing was a fleeting affectation. How did you get published?
‘Fleeting affectation’ You sonuva…Prior to moving to the UK, I self-published a pamphlet entitled feel, which gathered together about 20 poems which I had written between 1991 and 2000.
I’d become interested in poetry whilst studying English at Ottawa U, and my affection for reading, and later writing, poetry has continued to evolve since then. My 2006 pamphlet, A world of sudden claws, collects 12 poems I’ve written since 2000.
Publisher Les Robinson of tall-lighthouse is constantly scouting for poets to publish. He had seen me perform at a number of London poetry events (there are at least 20 regular readings in London alone, many of them monthly or bi-weekly) and apparently he liked what he heard. Irish poet Aoife Mannix and ex-pat Canadian poet Heather Taylor, both also published by t-l, had been singing my praises as well, which I think helped keep me in the forefront of Les’ mind. He is an amazing supporter of poetry and an astute editor.
I’ve also had two recent pieces published online at nthposition, thanks to Montrealer Todd Swift, a renowned editor and poet who also lives in London. I must admit, I am profoundly ignorant when it comes to the inner-workings of the publishing world -I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time for the right people to read and hear my work.
You do DJ sets in England and have an amazing podcast. What’s the scene like there for the type of jazz you are digging?
The ‘scene’ essentially consists of people who are fans of African-American music or music influenced by African-American music, including jazz, soul, funk, latin, afrobeat and so on.
Whether they are djs, collectors, dancers or simply music lovers, it is a small scene, but global in its reach.
It’s also an older scene – many people on the ‘scene’ are between 30 and 50 years old, as they’ve been into the music since the late 70s through various UK music trends.
The internet is a blessing for a specialist scene like this, because it unites people in the US, Canada, UK, Japan, Finland, Sweden and Italy (amongst other spots), so that djs, fans, record labels, dealers and stores can maintain the scene and, most importantly, enjoy the music.
It will be interesting to see if more 20-somethings will pick up the torch -new funk bands in particular seem to be generating some interest amongst younger music heads here, so who knows? That being said, the scene is much, much smaller than it was in the late 80s & 90s.
It’s definitely a scene for the hardcore. We are lucky enough to play a couple of pub residencies – rarely do you hear this music in London clubs anymore, unless its in support of a live act (like deep funk act Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings of NY, for instance) or if legends like Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay, Patrick Forge are headlining a session.
Let me be clear: I’m a relative unknown here – I certainly don’t spin out for the money or the ego trip – I’d have to be border-line delusional.
You teach school by day and do these things at night. Do your students know what you do?
Like most teachers, I think it’s important to have pursuits that provide an escape from one’s normal routine, so I don’t trumpet my extra-curricular pursuits from the hill tops. That being said, a lot of pupils are aware that I write poetry and some are keen to learn how I began writing, particularly if they themselves are writers.
Sometimes, it makes the process of writing seem less intimidating if pupils see someone working through the process in ‘real-time’. It’s along the lines of: well, if Mr. Ringwald can do it… Occasionally, kids discover that I am a dj via the wonders of Google and it’s so far off their expectations of what a teacher is supposed to ‘be’, that I’m not sure that they know how to digest it.
You toured Canada as an indie rock drummer – what’s your favourite memory?
Ah, man…I have so many fond memories of touring across Canada. Of course, a few of them date back to Chickpea’s summer tour of 1996.
One memory that leaps to mind involves you and I searching for a community centre venue in the car in Calgary. Despite Calgary’s allegedly simple street layout, we couldn’t find the street address we’d been given.
Somehow, we ended up driving the wrong way down a one-way street. I remember that just as we made the terrifying discovery that we were hurtling towards multiple lanes of head-on traffic (who’d just been given the green light) you hit the brakes, threw the car in reverse and executed the most beautiful quick retreat I’d ever witnessed.
Thank god we didn’t have the trailer hitched up at the time. I think that was like, a bonding moment for us. Nothing like a near-death experience to bring two people closer together (I’ve just summarised the plot of every 80s romantic/comedy/adventure film – Turner and Hooch, anyone?).
You once had a pretty decent handlebar moustache. Will you ever bring it back, and if so, under what circumstances?
Ah, moustaches. I have brought out the moustache several times since ’96, when it made a tentative appearance on the indie rock scene. I’ve been wearing it again for about a year – perhaps I’m compensating for my male pattern baldness. It’s like my head is saying: ‘look at the ‘tache, not the bald spot’.
Apart from pathetic male follicular(?) vanity, I just feel that, well, sometimes you just have to rock a handlebar when no one else will – Village People revivalists, leather boys and Australian criminal sociopaths (re: Chopper) being notable exceptions.