Der Spiegel (German)
Musik Express (German)
A shambling-heroic figure stands on a hilltop, looking down at the chimneys and mills of his home town, declaiming poetic resistance to the conformity and submissiveness the town represents, speaking words hewn from the rock of a working class upbringing, using tools stolen from the local grammar school.
You could create a whole season of 1960s British New Wave films which feature this scene, the poetic hero played by Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Richard Harris, his language the rugged-romantic new articulacy of David Storey, John Braine, Barry Hines, and he quite often has a girl at his side. I struggle to think of a female equivalent of this rockface warrior, Siobhan Finneran and Michelle Holmes on the hills above Bradford in Andrea Dunbar and Alan Clarke’s ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ were less inclined to reflect on their social conditions, much more interested in getting their next shag. (In reality, those male heroes too were largely driven by the sexual imperative).
These scenes meant a lot to me as a boy growing up in Basildon. I felt the same conflict as those characters on the hillsides, between the dull weight of social expectation my hometown represented and the fire in me to create, to speak and be heard. And I had my hilltop too.
The view of Basildon from Langdon Hills was concrete blocks and roundabouts rather than smoke stacks and slag piles, and escape was represented by the misty sludge of the Thames estuary. I would of a Sunday walk up to One Tree Hill, the highest point in Essex, writing poetry and dreaming dreams of escape, soundtracked by the cacaphony of a hundred dogs at the nearby rescue pound. It sounded to me like the howling captive souls of the town’s inhabitants.
To me, Basildon was a place you had to escape from. I didn’t see until much later the positives of the place – decent affordable housing, open spaces and parks, plentiful supply of jobs – that had enticed my parents and many thousands of others of their generation. All I could see as a teenager in Basildon was apathy, mediocrity, blandness and brutalism, and I had to get out of that place, if it was the last thing I ever did.
Some escaped via music or sports, my own (improbable) route out was to get to university. The final weeks before my leavetaking, I would often go up to Langdon Hills late at night with a girl called Jacqui, who would endure me railing and ranting against the factory farming of humanity that was Basildon. The Estuary had a certain beauty at night, lit by tankers and the oil refineries of Canvey Island, and even Basildon had some charm when one was just about to leave it, and the midnight kisses were sweet. When I had made my escape to university, Jacqui would send me letters soaked in patchouli oil. I would always know there was a letter from her as I approached the communal college mail boxes, it was a trail of patchouli back to Basildon.
These memories were recently ignited when reading Just Can’t Get Enough- The making of Depeche Mode, by Simon Spence, which is far more than the usual band memoir, charting the journey from drafty church halls to sold-out stadia, although it does that well enough. It is also a social history, a description of the rise of the new towns post-war, and the political enviroments in which they were born and then transformed. In focusing on Basildon, it provides reportage from that first generation of children to be raised in these alien new enviroments. Talking ’bout my generation.
(When Depeche started making their records, this Joy Division fan found them silly, poppy, too light to endure. Now I listen back and think, what good songs, what great tunes, and how bloody fantastic these guys did something else than go work on the Fords factory line, which is what we were really all meant for, the Basildon boys.)
Personally the book evoked many memories, my teenages torn between the prog rock descendants of flower power and new energy and anger of punk, one moment making the pilgrimage to Southend Kursaal in ex army greatcoat to see Barclay James Harvest, the next moment, shorn of hair and flares, it was the new noisy anthems of punk. (The bridge between them was the very distinctly Essex sound of Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Kursaal Flyers, and, most wonderfully, Dr Feelgood).
But what struck me most in the book was less about music, more about the restless need to be creative that I and others felt in our Basildon cage. The trouble with the newtowns was they were over-designed for an imagined life of leisure and full employment, a world that never arrived, and many thousands of new settlers were uprooted from large extended families to these virtual battery farms of boxed-in nuclear existence. There were few places to congegrate, to commune, outside of the church, which had its imprint all over the town. I remember with wonder the day a cinema finally opened, thousands queued round the block, one single cinema screen serving a hundred thousand people. There were many mangy youth clubs, and there were hellhole pubs, and one terrible nightclub. A few of us did start to congregate in the local Arts Centre bar (the ‘Arts Centre’ was a bunch of prefabricated sheds, but it served us well), it was a place you could pass your poetry around without getting your head kicked in, and the beer was decent.
The story of Basildon is really the story of post-war Britain; a community with incredible potential and talent and creative possibilities, but where what is expected of you is to keep your head down, obey the rules then die. If the New Town Planning Act was a well-intentioned but catastrophically flawed exercise in social engineering, the Right to Buy legislation was cynical practice designed to assert individualism over community, and to get the working classes voting against their own interests. It worked. So well, that Basildon became the political touchstone for those seeking to hang on to power, and a cliche for evermore.
As a text, the quality of Monument varies, and its opening chapter, with its bald statement that ‘Basildon is boring’ as an explanation for the birth of the band, compares unfavourably with Simon Spence’s nuanced, meticulously researched analysis of their genesis in Just Can’t Get Enough: The Making of Depeche Mode (Jawbone, 2011).
Polska Times feature
Polskie Radio interview
Poland’s state-owned national publicly funded radio broadcasting organization
Record Collector extract
ROD BUCKLE – DM music publisher / key business associate
Some kinds words from ROD BUCKLE (who was interviewed for the book). Without Rod there would be no SONET/MUTE/or DEPECHE MODE…
Appreciate you sending me the DM book, it actually arrived on my birthday – and having taken the afternoon off I spent a nostalgic sunny afternoon at the beach reading it.
Firstly well done, it seems a very fair and accurate representation of the facts. I refer not only to the basic story but also to the detail. Not only well done, but thank you.
To be quite honest here and there it brought a tear to my (very sober) eye..as I do actually feel proud of some of the battles that I won and the subsequent benefit to the band.The Mute they joined was the front of a great team.
Pushing and prodding Daniel to take on Ferret was indeed a key factor…and indeed because I didn’t trust the glam showbiz and glibly professional Ferret to pay attention to a Rough Trade act such as Depeche if the going got tough. The results only royalty was indeed a good scheme and the band really benefitted from it….never forgetting that without the Ferret generated airplay, and the consequent chart boost..we would not have captured the attention of those doing the label/band promotion in the other seriously lucrative countries of the world. So thanks and well done Ferret.
I was also pleased to see the note about us hiring indie promo around the main cities of Germany..again without that,Intercord who were the only interested option in that important touring country,would have given up as their md was both timid and without a real promo budget.
It’s a pity that Daniel didn’t talk to you in detail and he is very lucky that you had the patience to get a good handle on him and his musical ideals. In the early days he was very reserved – shy almost – but it was very clear right from the start that he was an exceptional record man and remarkable guy…honest creative and compassionate. Your picture is very good and makes those points clearly.
Your points about the influence of rootless New Town culture (if that’s the right word) are well made and I found those sections very interesting.
So – again, sincere thanks – good reporting, and with reference to that (genuine) tear in my eye I now have something accurate to give to my four children that explains a little of what their dad did.
My youngest son,when 5 or 6 was asked at his new school ‘and what does your dad do’? …following on from the lawyers,estate agents garage owners etc he replied ‘he takes people out to dinner and listens to music a lot’.
I watch with interest for your next projects.
Best regards Rod Buckle
Daniel Miller courtesy Brian Griffin
Fletch & Martin – live in east London, late 1980. Pic, courtesy and copyright Steve Burton.
first ever pic of Martin playing live? – in his parents’ Basildon front room with Norman & The Worms 78/9… pic courtesy/copyright Steve Burton
Courtesy Brian Griffin
copyright Steve Burton – the Greenbelt festival – 1983
DEPECHE MODE’s long standing GRAPHIC DESIGN collaborator / all 80s/90s record sleeves
provided book cover design (unused)
Inside Dance Music (IDM)