interview by Lin Sangster
intro by Elisabeth Vincentelli
outtake from Caught In Flux #2, 1994
(2019 note: I have no idea why this didn’t make it into the print version. Happy to make it available here.)
Jayne Casey was the leading figure in three successive Liverpool bands: Big in Japan, Pink Military and Pink Industry. Big in Japan were briefly around during the first punk explosion, but they brought along a wicked, theatrical sense of humor that was quite unusual at the time. After the band broke up, Casey went on to Pink Military, then Pink Industry. While Pink Industry was mostly a transition between Big in Japan and Pink Industry, that band’s one album still contains a few great songs, showcasing Casey’s unique voice. Pink Industry were more interested electronics, and may well have been too much ahead of their time, as they never got much recognition.
After the demise of Pink Industry, Casey took her distance with the music scene and got involved in an arts center in Liverpool. In the early 90s, she resurfaced on “You’ve Got The Love”, a techno track by G Love, and appeared live with Eight.
Jayne Casey was interviewed in Liverpool by Lin Sangster, who graciously used some of the questions I had sent. The Liverpudlian expressions were left untranslated of course-you figure them out.
The first question goes back to Big in Japan. The band is a big legend, and everybody involved went on to do other things. Did it feel special at the time?
Yes it did, because we were all so young really, and it was our first taste of doing anything creative. So yeh it was. It’s quite funny now, because everyone has gone on to do other things and it’s given Big in Japan a prestige it didn’t have at the time. Like there was no way we could get a record deal at the time. Nobody wanted us, we were all a bit too eccentric at a time when punk was quite macho and clear cut; to have a guitarist in a kilt, Bill Drummond, and a gay boy with a shaved head, Holly Johnson, and a mental girl with a shaved head, guess who, it was a bit too much for people to handle. We always wanted to be like The Monkees or something. We wanted to be a cartoon, and that’s how we tried to sell ourselves to the record companies: there’s some good characters here, and it would make a really good cartoon. We wanted to be The Monkees, and none of them bought it. It would have been great if they had, because you’ve got Ian (Broudie), Bill and Holly, it would have made a fantastic cartoon.
Yeh, cause you always wore colourful stuff when punk got really leather jacket uniform like.
Yeh, it was all drab black leathers, it was fabulous and all that, but it was very male-oriented in the end. Big in Japan were a little bit out on a limb.
How did Zoo start? Did it start because of Big in Japan, or did it start separate from you?
Well, Zoo was Bill’s thing really, after Big in Japan had decided to split up we were gonna do a last record to pay off an overdraft we had. So Bill and Dave Balfe said, “Look, we want to set up a record company and release your record”, and that was Zoo. So the Big in Japan EP was their first release. I paid 22 pounds for it recently.
Do you still see Holly and Bill?
I do. I speak to Bill loads really. He was down last week, we spent the day together. I was on the phone to him yesterday. We still sort of have a lot of feedback between us, most probably because we go back so far that when he wants to put something into perspective he’ll ring me and say, “what do you reckon to that.” I know where he’s coming from, he uses people as sounding boards; it’s not just me, there’s a few people he uses. Holly and I are still bezzy mates, we haven’t seen as much of each other in the last year, but he’s still definitely a bezzy mate.
What was the Liverpool scene like at that time (around 1978)? How did you get on with Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope, etc.?
Well, we were the Eric’s (famous Liverpool club) band and everyone hated us because we were dead cocky and dead mouthy. If you walked into Eric’s, there was a little platform, and that was our table. Obviously like all our mates we’d come from gay clubs. Before Eric’s opened, gay clubs were the only ones that would let us in, because of the way we looked. We’d kind of been into dance music in gay clubs, so we brought that with us, and it was a very bitchy scene. People like Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope were quite young in terms, they’re only the same age as Holly and Paul (Rutherford), but we’d been very isolated from our working class background, whereas they’d come straight from it; we were probably a little bit more sophisticated in the way we were looking at life. We were all cynical, we’d been around more, we’d all left home at 14 and kind of got into the same books and the same records. We’d already been well into Warhol and Lou Reed, and we’d sort of got into the New York alternative subculture, and modelled our little scene on that, really. So it separated us a bit from the others, also because all the boys in our gang were gay. So they all really hated us and they formed an anti-Big in Japan society. They got a petition together, and when they had 2,000 names on it we had to split up. Then they got t-shirts with my face printed on them, so they’d all walk around in t-shirts with my face on them, getting everyone to sign these petitions, which we all signed because we were into it you know. “He’s got my face on his chest, he fuckin’ hates me, I love it!” (laughs) So it was very antagonistic. They were into things like Jack Kerouac, quite dry things. We were just into “camping out” and having a laugh. It was two separate scenes, and then they started to play instruments and wanted to be in bands, which is why they hated us so much to begin with, because we were doing it and they were sort of just coming up. You know I have said that when I saw the first Bunnymen gig at Eric’s, when they just had a drum machine, it was the best thing I’d ever seen. You know I did think they were brilliant. In later years we became friends, but it was very antagonistic in the beginning. All through the 80’s, Ian and Julian would slag me in the music papers at every opportunity, because that’s what they felt they had to do. It was the most competitive I’ve ever seen in the Liverpool music scene at that time, and it was quite odd because I was the only girl really there at that time, there weren’t that many girls around doing things at that point.
There were several line-up changes in Pink Military before the first LP. Tell us about that.
I can’t even remember. Pink Military was a bit of a dry period really. I met a girl recently who was sort of talking to me about it, and I didn’t know any of the songs she was talking about, so I said, “Honest to god, I’m sorry, I can’t talk about it because I haven’t heard any of the stuff for years.” So she found me an LP in a second-hand shop and gave it to me as a present. It was funny listening to it, because of everything that I knew wasn’t gonna work at the time. I was saying to the musicians, “You know, this is not right.” Still listening to it now, I was totally right to have that view. It was quite a difficult time, because the whole music scene was very rock-oriented, and the technology hadn’t moved at that point to easily encompass what you were doing on a street level, so it was dead difficult. It was the hardest time I ever had you know, dealing with a rock drummer and saying “Oh, just kill those rolls.” I wanted to be like an electronic Edith Piaf or something, but it just wasn’t happening, I had these “rock drummers” (laughs). At the beginning of Pink Military, it was just like I wanted to do something that everyone would hate, because I’d had so much hassle for years. I wanted to do something that was so uncool. So I found the weirdest-looking kind of New York Dolly hippie types and just put them all together, and just went “fuck off!” So it sort of went through different phases. I think that’s my most hateful period, Pink Military.
Pink Industry sounded quite ahead of their time.
Yeh, I liked Pink Industry because it got a bit closer to the mark, but again the technology wasn’t there. So you’d spend days doing a sample which now would take two minutes to do. Pink Industry was nearer because we’d got rid of all the rock elements by then.
Did you want to give an impression of continuity, with the names being so similar?
I’ve always liked pink, really. I didn’t want to drop the Pink.
Why do you think Pink Industry never got the recognition it deserved? Were you too ahead of your time?
I think it wasn’t developed enough. People used to compare us to the Cocteaus or New Order, those were the bands who were playing with electronic music at that time, and with different voice sounds, but they were far more developed than we were. We never really got past the experimental stage. There were some nice songs in there, but they were sort of basic, very experimental.
That’s possibly what people liked about them.
Yeh, I like it, I think it’s got a certain charm.
What was your favorite Pink Industry thing then?
It’s hard really. I liked songs like “Don’t Let Go” at the time, I thought it was a really good song. Looking back on it, I don’t think it’s that good. It had certain elements that I really liked, a good deep bass line. It was simple.
I liked “Walk Away.” I liked the sentiment.
I like some of the sentiments in Pink Industry. It tended to be quite sad, you know, about a particular period in life when you come to terms with growing up slightly and analyze situations that you find yourself in. It was very much about that really, Pink Industry.
Did you feel isolated as a woman in music at that time, because there still weren’t many women in that field?
I’ve always found it dead hard to be a woman in music. I’ve always looked at people like Ian McCulloch or Julian Cope, for them it’s always so much easier, because there’s a formula, a very hip male rock & roll formula, that’s been set out, that’s very easy to pick up on. Ian’s influences are The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, people like that, and it’s very hip and very male. So when they first picked up a guitar they could fit and feel very easy into these things. Although my major influences have been males like Lou Reed, etc., I’ve always felt that as a woman I wanted to break some new ground, and I wanted to express female things, and that was quite an isolating thing, because you know, it was never really accepted. The women who did break through, like Patti Smith, were taking the male formula and doing it very well, because they were women, they were making it very successfully. I wanted to find something that expressed my thing as a woman. I always found that very difficult to do from an artistic point of view, because the culture of rock & roll has been male, and I’ve found it difficult to slot myself in. Because you’re either a pretty girl, or you can go down a rock line, which was never what I wanted to do. I wanted to find a different expression that was very female without being typically sexually female, do you know what I mean? I’ve always had difficulty with that, I think women still do. Now I’ve lightened up on it, and I just go “WOOWOW!!!” and camp it out. The thing I do with Eight is much about a female character that’s camping out, that’s grown up in gay clubs, that’s been surrounded by gay men’s images of women. And just playing with that.
I think a woman gets criticized more.
Definitely. Another thing is that if a woman’s writing something that’s soulful or sad or is expressing something, then it’s kind of seen as quite a secondary thing. People like Cohen have expressed where they’re standing in the human race and it’s been accepted.
Was Pink Industry mostly you and Ambrose?
It was, but Tadzio’s guitar was really important. Ambrose and I used to write the basis of the song, then Tadzio would put in his bit.
Do you play an instrument?
No, that’s always been my greatest difficulty, because I’ve always been dependent on musicians, and all the musicians have always been “guys.” I’ll have a vision of how something should be, but really it starts with this person and their instrument. I did enjoy working with Ambrose, but the other thing that I always found is that I’ve only really got one voice. I had an interesting talk with Michael Nyman about it, who gave me a bit of advice and confidence in it. He’d listened to some Pink Industry and said “you’ve got one voice, and that voice is really great, and you should just fuck off every other voice and concentrate on that one voice.” I’ve never worked with a musician who’s really understood that. Peter Coyle (Eight Productions) is the only person who’s ever come to me and has said “I wanna do something with that voice”, and he would never ask me to sing in any other style than this one voice, because that’s what he loves about me, that’s what he wants to work with. He’s the only person apart from Michael Nyman who’s come up and said “That’s your voice there, and it’s really good, but just don’t even bother trying to reach other scales, just restrict yourself to that one thing.” Because Michael Nyman is a classical musician and saying this to me, I think, oh yeh, I have got a voice really, it’s just the musicians I’ve worked with in the past haven’t understood that. I’ve just got this one voice and it’s dead little, it’s very intimate and it’s half-spoken, and that’s all I can do. I’m restricted, but that’s not a bad thing, it’s just knowing your voice. I’d love to be Connie Lush, but I ain’t.
Has Ambrose done anything since The World’s Greatest Hits?
It’s dead interesting what Ambrose is doing. He’s moved into the arts. He’s built this sort of funky machine. It’s got loads of pipes, thick plastic pipes 10 ft. long, cut to scale, you can play them with ping pong bats. It sounds like melodious percussion. He travels all around England and Europe, doing summer schools, workshops. He’s really got it to the point of sophistication, and it’s called Urban Strawberry Lunch. it’s really good what he’s doing. They got a bog award from the Arts Council last year, for about 80,000 pounds. He’s one of the most successful in the country at what he’s doing now, and it’s working with scrap and things like that. Any kid can learn it. If you see him doing a workshop with the kids, within an hour they’re playing almost classical music on this kind of rubbish. it’s brilliant, dead ecologically sound. He’s coming at it from an ecological point.
What happened to Pink Industry? What were your last shows like?
We did a Jesus and Mary Chain tour, can’t really remember. I had been involved in the music industry since I was 17, and I was getting bored with it, and I felt like I’d learned loads through it. Because Pink Industry was quite successful in Europe, we’d spent a lot of time in Italy, Austria, France, and through that experience, I’d come into contact with art festivals and art organizations who were doing something quite different from what was being done in England, and I felt like I wanted to go down that path. I wanted to develop a different side of what I was doing. I knew that I’d learned a lot of skills through the music industry: I’d learned good publicity skills, marketing and things like that. I understood those things, but I’d never put them into anything other than record companies. So I just felt like I wanted to develop that a little bit more. And Rah (Jayne’s son) was getting older. All through Pink Industry he’d been with us. We’d take him all around Europe and all that, so he had had a good time, but he was getting to the point where he needed some stability at school, and I was really in love with Biffa and didn’t want to leave. To make Pink Industry pay, I had to keep going out to Europe and playing, and I was just quite bored with that lifestyle. I wanted a change. So that’s how Pink Industry ended really: it was just that I was bored with it, and that we should move on. I’m really glad I did it, I’m really really so glad that I did it.
The indie scene at that time was quite stale.
The indie scene was rock bottom at that stage. It was horrible, the bands had been around for ages, it was going nowhere. It only started to happen again when dance music happened. And then it took on a new life. But up until that point, it was just so boring. I’d done it, I’d done it to death.
Have you got any more plans with Eight?
Yeh, I’m doing another single with them.
Have you done another mix of G Love’s “Keep The Love?”
Somebody else has, somebody rang up the other week asking to sample it. I enjoyed doing that single so much, because dance music and being in dance clubs had helped me through a really difficult period in my life. I’d been really hurt and really cut up, and I’d walked into a dance club with everyone off their head on E, where they all embrace her and love her, like in Quadrant Park a couple of summers ago. It was just like, wow, I’ve arrived home, this is fantastic. So I felt like dance music had really helped me on almost a spiritual level really. It had healed me to some degree. I really wanted to do something that was about Liverpool, a song that was gonna give back to the dance floor. So it was a real buzz for me to do that single and see people dancing to it and whooping to it and going “YO!” It was like, yeh, I’ve just given something back, because the dance floor gave me loads over a particularly difficult period.
It’s good that this song stands out. Your voice sounds like a growl or something. How come?
I’d just had a throat operation, you can see my scars. They cut off operating because I was a singer, and then it came to the point where they had to do it. The surgeons took me aside, and said, “Look, you’re not going to be able to sing again.” I was saying, well, I’m not that type of singer. So I wasn’t worried about it. They were painting a black picture, saying “You won’t be able to pitch, your vocal chords will be damaged.” But I just felt that it wouldn’t really affect me. So when I was going under anesthesia, the guy was giving me the countdown, 10, 9, 8, etc, saying I’d be out by the time it reaches 2. It was number 4, and I just said to the surgeon, “Give me an Eartha Kitt, make me sound like Eartha Kitt!” And they were all cracking up, laughing. When I got the reviews for the G Love single, they said “It sounds like Eartha Kitt.” So I sent them to the surgeon, saying “satisfied customer”. So yeh, he gave me a growl. It is a weird sound, that’s what Peter (Coyle) was into. He kept on saying “It’ll really stand out on the dance floor cause your voice sounds so weird.” So it does work in my favour a little bit, but I can only do a few things. You know I’m not planning on embarking on a major pop career. We’ll leave that to Kylie (laughs).