For almost four decades, Johny Brown has pursued a musical and literary vision designed to celebrate the ordinariness of everyday life, to bring an added depth to his and our lived experience.
With their eighth full length release appearing earlier this year and a series of live dates underway, Matt Edgar spoke with the Band Of Holy Joy’s mainstay about inspirations, influences and plans.
You’re able to get back onstage now, how does that feel?
Absolutely fantastic, it’s just so good to express yourself, to connect with an audience, and just to have that feeling. It’s a great job, you can’t beat it. Stage and recorded work are both absolutely different. I love the recording process, I love being in a studio, building things up, taking things away and weirding things up, accomplishing something all the time. I also absolutely live for rehearsing with the band, performing with the band, arranging all the different instruments and the visuals, just putting on a show for 45 minutes.
You’re very keen on the idea of literature informing your music.
I’m a great fan of Jack Kerouac, I’ve read everything of his I’ve been able to find. Brendan Behan too, the Band Of Holy Joy takes its name from one of his short stories. Colin Wilson, his books ‘Adrift In Soho’ and ‘The Outsider’ were very influential on me. Desmond Horgan, an Irish writer from the 80s who wrote about hippies and Bowie fans in London in the 60s and 70s, a beautiful writer who just disappeared off the face of the earth, the Liverpool writer Terence Davis, Alan Sillitoe.
I’ve always got a book on the go, I’m always reading poetry, the likes of Ted Hughes and J.P. Donleavy. I love the lyrics of Vic Goddard and I’ve been watching a lot of Alex Harvey on Youtube, just listening to the way he used language and how he expressed himself. Also I’ve been listening to Hawkwind recently, in a way I’ve sort of rediscovered them.
I’ve been listening to some of your 80s music and thought there’s a similarity with what Tom Waits was doing then…
Absolutely although it’s more by coincidence than design. When the band started we shared a basement with Test Department, who used a lot of metal percussion, things they’d found and I started using junk shop instruments, euphoniums, organs, we stated using bits of metal and microphones attached to drums. We didn’t want any guitars in the band, and I was a massive Tom Waits fan although it was just before he brought the ‘Swordfishtrombone’ album out.
It was a bit weird us doing very similar stuff as Waits right at that time, we had a Casio keyboard that had drum rhythm programs and we were doing waltzes and tangos, those kind of dance numbers.
‘Swordfishtrombone’ had a massive impact on all of us, as did the Pogues, their first two albums, we went to see them quite a few times. Northern soul was an influence too, and electronic music such as Suicide, and disco music so there was a really wide range of influences at work in our music. Over the years the band went through a lot of different phases.
You’ve been the mainstay of The Band Of Holy Joy for around four decades now. What is it that really continues to inspire you?
I don’t know, I think I’m pretty inarticulate in my day to day life, it’s writing songs that keeps me going. I have this weird little need to communicate, not on a big scale, just to get things on paper and then into a song and then getting something out of the song. Once something’s recorded I’ve got no interest in it, it’s gone.
I’ve got that need to create something and get it across and it keeps me going.The actual name The Band Of Holy Joy, it’s like it’s stuck around my neck like an albatross, it’s a sort of Coleridge type image, but it’s a blessing.
I’ve yet to find a better name that describes the thing I do in my life, I can’t find a name that’s striving for joy, not to be pure but spiritually elevated in some way, and to have a rabble of people around you, even if it’s just in your imagination. Even if it’s an imaginary band that’s in my head, it’s still the Band Of Holy Joy. I’m trying my best to convey that.
Listening to ‘Dreams Take Flight’ it really does seem to convey the ideas behind your songwriting with the clarity that they require?
We’ve worked with the same producer for the last six years so there’s been a progression there, I think it’ll culminate with the next album and then there’ll be a shift away from what we’re doing at the moment.
Things go in cycles and we’ve got the songs written for the next album. We’ve been in the studio finishing those off and then there’ll be a change of direction, what that’ll be isn’t decided yet, it could be totally acoustic, it could be electronic, I really don’t know at the moment but it won’t be the same band as things are at the moment, it’ll be totally something else.
The ‘Dreams Take Flight’ album is available now via Bandcamp – more on the band at bandofholyjoy.co.uk.