It was back in late January when I spoke to John Robinson about his, then forthcoming, Momus book. I'm a huge fan of Momus' work, but it’s not often that I get to speak to anyone that appreciates the artist's music as much as John does, speaking with a Momus expert made for an exceptional afternoon...
I connected with John, via Zoom, (of course) from his home in Scunthorpe. Before we even get to discussing his book, he tells me that the town’s most famous son is Buzzcocks and Magazine founder Howard Devoto. Momus devotees will know the significance of Devoto to their favourite artist, of his references to and covers of his work. In return, I tell John that a 6Music DJ who has enthused greatly about Momus lives just around the corner from me, but it doesn’t resonate in the same way. Let’s get to the first question…
OUTSIDELEFT: So John, the ‘Fifteen People’ book and the website it originated from, it’s a labour of love. When did you first sort of have the inkling that you wanted to write about Nick Currie/Momus?
JOHN ROBINSON: A long time! There’s no retrospective of Momus and I always thought that there should be. I’d put it off for ages because he's got his own blog, he’s a digital hoarder! And everything he’s done from the 90s until now, is there for you to find on his website. It may be a little one sided, but it’s all there!
However, I teach computing and a few years ago I was putting together webpages and I needed a subject for those pages, so I chose the albums of Momus. And, as any fan of his will tell you, he’s made a lot of albums! Writing about his work is a huge task...he just keeps on releasing albums (laughs).
So I put up a picture of my website of Sisyphus rolling a ball up the hill, which was how I felt about the task! But then, that image appeared on his Facebook page. He’d noticed it. And now that he’d seen that I was writing this, I felt morally obliged to get it done.
OL: So whose idea was it to turn this into a book?
JR: It was his, he’d started cooperating on the website and put up on his Facebook page that he thought that it could be a book one day. Then Rob Thomas, who writes for Zer0 books, thought that it would be a good fit for them. I made a proposal and they took it up.
OL: At what point were you first aware of Momus? What was the first music by him that you were aware of?
JR: I’m fairly sure that it was on Annie Nightingale’s Sunday night show on Radio One, the one after the Top 40 rundown. It was around the time of Marc Almond’s version of Jacque Brel’s ‘Jackie’ and she played it back to back with Momus’s ‘Nicky’ and I liked it because it was really funny. It had a sense of humour to it that was lacking from so much stuff at the time.
But this being the nineties, it was way before you could just go on your phone and download it or listen to it on YouTube. It was just the radio. You'd go to your local record shop to ask about something and they’d look at you mystified!
It was only a few years later that I stumbled upon a copy of the compilation ‘Monsters of Love’, so that’s where I really started.
(Note to readers – ‘Monsters of Love’ is the compilation that draws together the singles and EPs from Momus’s first five years at Creation Records, the tracks are now available on the Create 1 – Procreate collection)
OL: As you’ve gone through all of this material, what's really surprised you? What intrigued you the most?
JR: There’s little bits, little connections with people I didn't know of, probably because I wasn't around at the time. I didn't know much about his time at Creation Records and I didn’t know that he’d once toured with Primal Scream. That's hilarious to me. You can only imagine the reactions of each audience to the other!
And I don't think I realised just how entrenched he seemed to be against the music industry. There was a movement against him (the infamous 0 out of 10 review in the NME for the Hippopotamomus album in 1991), partly because of censorship, and partly, maybe his attitude is slightly destructive!
There’s probably a lack of interest on his behalf towards the music industry after a while and that surprised me. There’s a sort of contrariness, he’s trying to get famous and then the moment there’s a hint of it, he's rejecting it by releasing albums with songs about necrophilia, paedophilia etc. on them.
OL: When you look at an artist that makes roughly an album a year, and Nick Currie/Momus has been doing this since the mid-80s, do you see subtle changes? A gradual evolution running throughout his work. Or are there dramatic shifts from the last thing he's done?
JR: It’s really weird isn’t it? Firstly, I think over the last 20 years, it's been fairly subtle in that he's kind of settled into a way of working. It’s very DIY, very ‘at home’. But if you go back to anything from 1982 to 1995, each album is radically different to its predecessor. He’s really taking in different influences between each record, between each set of songs, but throughout he’s maintaining a clear voice.
And he’s trying to articulate what he would call, I guess, ‘forbidden thoughts’ about how you behave, about the girl we sit next to on the train, and just finding different musical ways of doing that, whether it be through Techno one minute or Folk Balladeering the next. The lyrical voice remains the same but the musical voice changes dramatically.
OL: So, is the guy who made Circus Maximus (1986) and The Poison Boyfriend (1987), still evident still there in the likes of Akkordion (2019), and Vivid (2020)?
JR: Yes, he’s still there. I mean, I think he's gone through a lot of, shall we say, cynical changes. I think that he must have gotten a bit more cynical once he'd experienced the music industry and its attitude towards actual creativity, certainly in Britain. I think that he must now have (pause), shall I say, a more mature aspect to what he does. There’s less intention to shock, he doesn't need to do that now. He's got opinions on politics etc; he's kind of singing to the choir with a lot of what he writes about.
I mention to John a line that Momus himself has used about there being ‘no such thing as a casual Momus fan’, I want him to know that this book, and the level of detail in it will be invaluable to the Momus obsessive. We wander off topic, but John brings it back to the matter in hand…
JR: The whole point about the book is that, hopefully, you can read it and get something out of it even if you're not a Momus fan or if you've never heard of him. There’s explanations of themes such as censorship and the media industry in the 80s and 90s. And it is also intended to be funny.
John Robinson Week
An introduction to John Robinson Week →
John Robinson Week, The Excerpts →
Talking Momus All The Time (Interview with John) - Part 2 →
Momus Aside, You Ask? →
John Robinson's Teethgraters and Stuff... →
John's Momus book, Famous For Fifteen People is available now here
Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based poet. He's also a music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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