Mark Stewart, one of the founder members of the post-punk band, The Pop Group, chats with Kevin Cooper about reforming the band, their support for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, their new album which we cannot really talk about, and their forthcoming tour of the UK.
Mark Stewart is a British musician and founding member of The Pop Group, which was formed in 1978. Whilst they split in 1981, Stewart went on to make several albums under his own name and in 2005 he released a collection of his best works, Kiss The Future.
Now back with the other members of The Pop Group, to undertake a tour of the UK, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say:
Hi Mark how are you?
I’m good thank you Kevin, how are you?
I’m great thanks Mark and thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
That’s no problem Kevin.
So how is life treating you?
Its crazy mate, simply crazy; crazy busy at the moment (laughter). I have even grown a beard to save some time and I never thought that would happen (laughter). We employed somebody who had a beard as a bass player when we were kids simply because it was so ‘un-punk’ to have a beard (laughter). It’s going completely and utterly mad. I was busy enough already but this Pop Group stuff is going through the roof.
Are you looking forward to touring the UK?
Yes Kevin we are. We are making a definite effort to play towns in England. At the moment they are trying to get us to go to America, Japan, Australia; all over because that whole post-punk period is being referenced left, right and centre and it’s so cool. It’s been really hip now for about eight years. I remember that there was a massive post-punk revival in New York which has never stopped. Wave after wave after wave of people are now discovering the post-punk stuff for the first time; it’s weird.
Is this tour special to the band?
Yes it is because we have hardly ever played in England but at the London show, people just went mad; it was absolutely amazing. They simply wanted to freak out to something a little weird. They really did let themselves be weird (laughter). You can rip-off the strait jackets, do you know what I mean (laughter). The Pop Group never really did a proper tour across England but this time we are making sure that we are going to play in as many cool towns as possible because we are from a small town and we know what it means to the fans.
What can we expect from the show here in Nottingham?
Well Kevin the Nottingham gig is going to be so special. For the first time we will be playing the entire ‘We Are Time’ album as one piece, which is really weird as we never really got the chance to play it when we were kids. We were throwing away songs so fast and mutating and suddenly becoming Spandau Ballet or whoever we thought that we were that morning in the dressing-up box (laughter).
We are really excited because we have the Sleaford Mods playing with us in Nottingham. Some of my mates over in Berlin were going crazy about them about two years ago now. It’s cool man.
Why did The Pop Group decide to get back together?
Its mad Kevin, it is really mad. I am not a person for nostalgia and I have been doing solo stuff since the band split up and I am always looking for new stuff and collaborating with new people. When the idea was first floated, the guy from ‘The Simpsons’, Matt Groening was curating an ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ event. He had a wish list of the bands that he would have always liked to have seen and he asked me to reform The Pop Group, and Iggy (Pop) to reform The Stooges. One of my mates plays in The Stooges and Iggy did it quite soon but it took me a little time to get it together because I was doing a lot of other things.
Are you all pulling in the same direction?
That’s easy to answer Kevin, we are all doing it to express ourselves; it’s like four individuals but instead of somebody being the quiet one, and somebody wearing the stupid hat who we could all tease, now the four individuals are all holding their own ground, unlike it was back in the day. Now nobody back’s down; everybody just says their piece. It’s weird (laughter). Basically we are four little kids again from the youth club who decided to pick up instruments after seeing The Clash.
What is the remit for the reformed band?
Well Kevin, when we decided to get The Pop Group back together, first of all we said that we had got to make something new. We all agreed that there was no point in doing it if we couldn’t make something that was, at least to us, as exciting as what we were doing anyway on our own as individuals or what we were doing back in the day. That was point one of the manifesto and just yesterday we finished something that has blown all of our heads involving some new material that I am not allowed to talk about at the moment. I’m not being rude Kevin but it has shocked me. So that point has been achieved.
When we did reform all of us were asking ‘what songs should we play of the old stuff’ and we were all drawn to the really early period of songs, such as ‘Colour Blind’, and all of the early songs on ‘We Are Time’. We were all really drawn to these songs. A lot of those songs on the ‘We Are Time’ album were only played in tiny youth clubs in Manchester to something like ten people. We all really wanted to play them and for us it’s really weird reclaiming our own past. It’s weird but it’s also interesting.
I can remember first hearing ‘She’s Beyond Good And Evil’ in 1979 in Sandpipers here in Nottingham and I was blown away.
Yes I can remember the club Kevin, wicked (laughter). And you have to remember that memories are something that you burn for the future. It’s a weird thing that is currently happening, but I think that it is cool. This is the only time that we are going to be playing that set because by next year it will be a whole new kettle of fish. How this thing has mutated forty years into the future is bizarre.
Do you have the pledges required to enable you to release ‘Cabinet Of Curiosities’ yet?
The good news Kevin is that I have just heard that we are only 3% away from achieving the 100% required. So that is really exciting.
I understand that you are heavily involved with the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)?
Yes, that’s right Kevin. We as a group are really engaged with them on this tour. There is a local group from Nottingham who will be coming to the gig and setting up a stall. We are really pleased to have been linked with them and the campaign. This campaign is really, really close to our hearts and something which we totally believe in.
How did you personally feel when Nick Cave was quoted as saying ‘Mark Stewart changed everything’?
Honestly Kevin, you can’t think about things like that. One album which I made supposedly invented four genres (laughter). You cannot think about things like that. You have simply got to keep on being that same fourteen year old that was pushing Reggae next to Metal Machine Music or something (laughter). Nick’s a good lad and so it’s cool when someone like that claims that they were influenced by you.
I have to ask you, how did it feel to work with Lee Scratch Perry on ‘The Politics Of Envy’?
Wow, that album gave me the opportunity to approach people and to use them as actors in my radio play. I had met him a few times but to actually work with Lee Scratch Perry was just beyond. He is the nearest that we have got to a shaman. I remember when I was fourteen years old and going to my first Sound System in St. Pauls in Bristol and it just blew my head off. Really heavy Dub Reggae is crucial to my existence.
So after ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ why a thirty year absence?
(Hysterical Laughter) We are still prostitutes but there is not a lot of work for older prostitutes (hysterical laughter). Just before the last Pop Group concert I was working for the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND) as a volunteer in the offices and there was a huge rally that took over the whole of London. There was 500,000 people in Trafalgar Square and I was up on the stage with Tony Benn. I had mention in the office that it would be good to have some music on for the younger people and so the very last Pop Group concert and my first solo concert were both on the same day (laughter). None of us have really stopped doing things; this is just the first time in that period that we have all congealed under that name again. It’s not like we have all been sitting around in Asda (laughter) not that there is anything wrong with Asda.
All I know is the thing stopped for no apparent reason; nobody had lots of arguments, and everybody was just doing lots of other things. We were all still mates. There is a quote on the internet which claims that we fell out over internal legal wrangling which is just bollocks. There is no way that we couldn’t be mates because every time that we go home to Bristol, our brothers and cousins are so intertwined with each other. We have to get on with each other otherwise there would be a gang war (laughter). Can you imagine family gatherings if we didn’t (laughter).
You have mentioned the new album which we can’t go into detail about. Will you tour on the back of it once it is released?
Honestly Kevin, we are touring this current thing across the world including Japan, America and Australia. The new album comes out straight away at the end of this and we have a five year plan. There is the new stuff; even more reissues next year, so there is a big plan for the next five years. It really is quite interesting. There is even a rumour that we might even get on the bloody television (laughter). The nice thing is that we have got such a tight organisation and the control that we have got of it, is cool and makes working on it really interesting.
On that note Mark let me say thank you for taking the time to speak to me and good luck with it all.
It’s been a pleasure mate, you take care.