Colin Smith of The Blood

Chin up, my son! It’s been thirty years since The Blood released “False Gestures For A Devious Public” and since then, the album has steadily risen to cult status and is now among the crème de la crème of early ‘80s UK Punk and as such, co-founding member, The Cardinal himself, along with a new addition on the guitar, Jesus The Atheist, have resurrected those fantastic old school tunes and are currently breathing new life into them once more. It has been close to two decades since The Blood have even played live, let alone toured, and I made the pilgrimage to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, to witness what would be their first live gig since the resurrection.
We drove for two hours before arriving at a tiny sandwich shop called Pressed, which apparently also doubled as a venue and anxiously waited for the show to get underway. Before local boys Shackles, followed by Chloroform hit the stage, however, my travel buddy and good friend, Mathieu, noticed a friend of ours in the crowd named Tony Salador, who informed us that The Blood’s bassist and drummer hadn’t been able to get into the country for the start of the tour and that he had been asked to fill in on bass guitar. Tony beamed with childlike glee at the thought as he sipped on his can of Strongbow. He had had just two days to learn a whole sets worth of bass lines and spent every possible second in a car outside the venue, practicing them. And then it happened.

All the anticipation, trip planning and build up had led us to this, as The Blood took to what might pass as a stage at a pinch, and began belting out “Stark Raving Normal”, the tiny bistro erupted and I can only hope that the buns and lettuce, ham and cheese went flying behind me but my focus was firmly set on the band mere inches in front of me, rocking the tunes that were, in part, soundtrack to my youth. As each song was chanted back to the band by the raucous crowd, in near soccer hooligan style, The Cardinal seemed to be becoming more and more at ease. He joked with the crowd, recited a few poems and was having as much fun as we were. All the songs I wanted to hear were played, including “Such Fun”, “Degenerate”, “Well Sick” and “Megalomania” and as the night wore on, even the band seemed to lose track of what had been played; “We’ve got one more for you!” yelled The Cardinal, only to be told “Actually, we don’t” by keyboardist and vocalist Eve Of Destruction. “Seems we’ve played the fucking lot!” said The Cardinal, but the show must go on it would seem, to which he bellowed, “Fuck it! Let’s play Stark Raving Normal again”. And they did.
I attempted to speak to tour promoter Janick Varning after the gig, but it seemed she had ripped her throat to shreds as I had, yelling out song lyrics all night. The Cardinal, too, was feeling it. “That was my first show in twenty years, and I am knackered!” he told me, adding “Tell you what, It’s fucking cold here, innit?” referring to -14 degrees Celsius temperature.  We had been invited to follow the band onwards to Toronto but opted out, as we both had prior engagements that needed attending to. The tour would be in Montreal in two days’ time anyway, so we made plans to catch up with it then. On our way back to Montreal, I somehow managed to steer the rotten Dodge Neon off the 417E highway and onto the 17, which took us for a nice detour through frozen farmlands, much to the vocal displeasure of my co-pilot and owner of the vehicle. Cruising on fumes as we passed closed gas station after gas station and even managed a failed attempt at buying coffee when the Tim Horton’s we had pulled into turned out to be closed. I have never witnessed a closed Tim Horton’s until that moment. Eventually we merged back onto the 417E. We arrived, safe and sound back in Montreal, although there were times where we thought the suspension was about to collapse and that the summer tires might send us into a pirouette on the snow and ice beneath us. Further proof that mechanics never maintain their own cars, nor do they abide by tire laws for that matter.
Two days go by, and I find myself waiting inside a bar named Katacombs, waiting for all the bands to show up for sound check. I had arranged to meet The Cardinal beforehand for a chat and he had arrived just as I had finished my pint. “The last gig I did was Brixton Academy with Sham 69 in 1993 or 1994, so that’s about twenty years, innit?” he explained, smiling again like he had been on stage in Ottawa, “I did do an acoustic set for punk assembly or something like that in Berlin. I was called at the last minute and I told them I didn’t have a band together but they said come over anyway so I did I went and did an acoustic set, like. But these songs, they’re kind of like anthems anyway, so the people knew the words”.
The Blood came to be in the early ‘80s, as the brain child of The Cardinal, or Colin Smith, as his birth certificate would have you believe his name is, and JJ Bedsore, also known as Jamie Cantwell. Although the two were the best of friends, they also had their fallings out and the band endured various incarnations, rotating between the pair but the two weren’t in the band at the same time since just after the release of the group’s second record, “Se Parare Nex”.

“Well, there’s no replacing him, it was much more with me and Jamie. It was like…” he pauses, his eyes looking downwards as he inhales a deep breath, exhales and continues, “we literally, I’ll say it this way, we literally did begin the day with a Tequila sunrise and did end it with a Southern Comfort and took drugs and narcotics in between and just wrote and when we weren’t writing, we watched everything from Laurel and Hardy to Derek and Clive and cult movies, Bruce Lee and things like that, and so we kind of lived in our own little bubble and to be honest with you, we were more of a stage act off the stage than we were on it, because he was such a funny guy and really, really sharp so, you know, that can’t be replaced and also, the writing of the songs was a battle, you know? I had a Fender Strat (Stratocaster) and he didn’t have a guitar, like all great guitarists, you know? I play, obviously, as well, and we used to fight over every riff and every word and syllable, everything, but eventually we got there and we got the songs done. We used to listen to so much of other people’s stuff and we did used to take stuff from places and I remember, for example, hearing “Women In Disguise” by the “Angelic Upstarts” and saying I want to do a song like that and he Jamie goes “ok” and I come up with the opening and we moved the chorus around to make “Joys Of Noise”, we were like that together, it also has sort of a Motown sound to it if you really listen to it, but that’s how it is, you know, we would take everything and argue and fight over it and so there’s no way he could be replaced. I know most things in life work on a comparative basis, like compare this to this, but what I did do, is try for four years after that acoustic set is to try and find somebody that could play, I even tried to do it myself, but realized I couldn’t do it even though I had written all that stuff along with him so I found somebody that is that good, like, and potentially even a showman but different, too, because Jamie can’t be replaced. I do miss him, of course. Love hate relationships are intense, you know?”

Jamie Cantwell passed away in 2004, at 44 years old, from multiple organ failure due to years of alcohol and drug abuse. Smith and Cantwell were well known to enjoy a good peeve, a factor Smith also attributes to the duo never achieving the full potential of their musical prowess while others passed them by. “The Blood’s lifestyle meant that we were unmanageable. The record companies knew this, and so, too, did we.” Something of a classic catch-22 situation, no matter how cliché that may come off sounding, but to change your lifestyle in order to obtain commercial success would have been the opposite of everything that Punk was meant to be.
“I don’t know what drugs he was doing at that time. He got upset with me back then, you see.” Smith sighs, seeming to briefly drift off down memory lane for a bit, “I had left home and school at 13 and was living on the streets and in squats and living with people and different things and I never had an education, so I would write poetry and try to educate myself, so you know, eventually, after than Sham 69 gig that I mentioned, I decided that I was going to leave and he said you can’t do that and he and his sister came up but I was moving on, you know, I was married at the time but I just wanted to go out and find out what a formal education was. I don’t know why, really, I mean I’m still ‘know what I mean?, turn it out, leave it out, have a look, are you sure? Cockney Londoner and just because, I did a PhD, you know, I wanted to know what all the bullshit was. They hide things from you, like the language of academia or the language of law and I wanted to know what that was because I knew I would be fighting a battle all my life. But Jamie died and it got difficult to work with him before that, because he found it painful, to be honest. I don’t want to say too much about that, but he found it difficult because he was aware like I was that the establishment took the piss. Right from a young age, we were both sharp on it. We knew the way we had both been fucked over by religious people and politicians, we knew! So, for Jamie, all that there was, was the irony, and so we did irony and I understood that but it wasn’t enough. So, at the end of the day, they’re still taking the piss. I was different, and I wanted to go on but he always told me when he was young that he wasn’t, that he was going to get out old, he was going to go out. It’s hard enough when you’re young, dealing with bullshit but as you get old, it’s even worse.”

Now that the band is back and whetting it’s collective feet, globetrotting and hell raising once more. The question becomes what does the future hold; what plans are in the pipeline? The answer I got was the one I wanted to hear; record a new record! “There were eight songs that could have been on “False Gestures For A Devious Public”, that were done. Maybe not as good, but having played those old songs the last few days, I’m not really sure which the best ones are anymore, they’re all just different. There’s probably going to be about eight songs that we wrote together, JJ and I, which I think is going to be exciting for people and for me to try to do, and then put maybe another eight new ones on the record.” The legacy of Jamie Cantwell will live on, even if the riffs we hear won’t be played by the man, himself. With the eight aforementioned tracks written with Smith, and it seems a potential treasure chest filled with more unknown commodities, too. “I know JJ went on and did some work for The Blood but I’ve never listened to it, I mean, not for any reason. I have no bitterness in me about him or The Blood, or about anything. I’m angry still and still fighting for the things worth fighting for but, I don’t know what he did or didn’t do.” Interests are surely peaked at this point and anticipation will be enormous on my part, as I wait impatiently for the end result. “I would like to start working on it like, I’d say” he pauses before switching thoughts mid-sentence, which seems to be a trait of his, and continues; “well, I moved in Jesus… I’m living with Jesus now!” he and I have a good laugh at this, at the irony of it all. A man who has spent his entire musical career singing against the church now lives with a man named Jesus. “I’ve been living alone for a long time and he’s a real character, on and off the stage, again, so that’s what I think is good about it. We’ve been working on new and old songs for a long time. He’s a real slave driver with the band, he demands everything and I’m not like that. I’m pushy in other ways, like with myself. I push myself and I encourage others but I’m not like him, and neither ways JJ as it happens. That’s probably why we never signed a big deal, because we were always so out of it and never organized, but I’ve got somebody organized now, and musically organized too. So he will work with me when we get back and we’ll have to go into the studio in early spring 2013. It’s all there! I’ve learned so much about music, as you do with whatever you do in life and I am excited to try out different things but, you know, I’m not going to try and make any comparison with anything we’ve done before. Although I do really feel that whatever this is, it’ll have a life of its own like “False Gestures For A Devious Public” did, because that album really has a life of its own. So we’ll work hard and it’ll be out probably the end of summer, maybe.”

Their debut was an avant-garde album, released during a time of change, not just in the UK, but around the globe. Punk had set its roots in and was proving not to be the flash in the pan current trend that media moguls had made it out to be. And it was evolving. Fresh ideas were coming into the genre and its sub-categories and expanding the music from anti-fashion into the music of protest and the voice of the working class. Credited with coining the term Oi, former The Blood manager and The Gonads vocalist Gary Bushell was once quoted as saying “Punk was meant to be of the voice of the dole queue, and in reality most of them were not. But Oi was the reality of the punk mythology. In the places where these bands came from, it was harder and more aggressive and it produced just as much quality music.” Testament to the band being ahead of its time, are the wind segments that flow so perfectly. If there was ever a Punk record that featured such instruments prior to “False Gestures For A Devious Public”, I am at a loss in naming it.

“Like the brass section on “Well sick”, you mean?” Asks Smith, “Yeah, we got there on the day and said can you get us a brass section, and one guy come along and he dropped some tenner Saxophone and… not an alto, what is it? The higher one, anyway it works, because it has some real swing to it and I wish we had a saxophone player or two with us right now on tour, you know. If I ever get to it, and I do honestly think that we’ll get to it, not with this tour because of a lack of funding but, I really want to make things theatrical with cult venom, because everything was real to me and him, you know, we didn’t go to art school like Mick Jagger, we actually believed that, even though the anger hasn’t gone anywhere, that, you know, we used a harpsichord on “Sewer Brain” and a few different things here and there, but we should have probably used more. It works as well, which is the real thing. I mean, we put tubular bells on “Waste of Flesh and Bone” and the harpsichord on “Sewer Brain” and the brass on “Well Sick” and…” At that point, the rest of the band began to rehearse during sound check, which started with Eve Of Destruction playing keyboards for “Well sick”, to which I say “there you go!” and we all have good laugh at the continued irony the day was presenting us with, then Colin says “Life is all about timing, isn’t it!” and there are more laughs. “That’s the point though, everything, if you get it in the right time and rhythm, that’s what I’ve learned, you know, to find rhythm with whatever you’re trying to do. The songs show that, even the little synth bit in “Stark Raving Normal”, or the synth bit from the film Assault On Precinct 13, it really works, you know?”

It isn’t long before the venue’s doors swing open, The Cardinal disappears to get himself ready for the stage and the opening acts get rolling, kick starting a great noisy night. The Shotcallers, Thee Nodes, Night School, Proxy and Hold A Grudge, who had also played the two previous shows in Toronto and Ottawa, get the crowd warmed up before The Blood come out and I begin to lose my voice all over again. This time I wasn’t driving, so I kept my throat well lubricated, if you know what I mean.

I woke up the next morning thinking strike a light! I done some brain cells last night!

Interview written and conducted by Kieron Yates.