Kevin Eden interview
Kevin Eden of WMO UK [KE] was interviewed by Graeme Rowland of Cracked Machine [GR]. Kevin wrote the Wire book, Everybody Loves A History (SAF), and co-instigated Wire Mail Order. The interview is split into three parts, which can be accessed via the links below:
2. The Butterfly's Been Pinned!
GR: If you had to choose a favourite Wire release, which one would it be?
KE: 154. I think is the strongest album they've ever made.
GR: And which would be your favourite 'greater Wire' release, excluding the actual Wire and Wir ones?
KE: Solo and collaborations? Dome 1. The first Dome album was a revelation in that, OK it was conceived over a longer period of time, but it was recorded in four days, but it was just so raw yet at the same time so multi-layered. I loved the use of found sounds and noise. I think the Hox CD is the best thing that any of them have done for a long time.
I kept up with all the Dome and Colin albums as they came out. By '83 I was getting very bored with rock and I discovered African music. I spent two years completely absorbed in African music and what eventually became known as 'world music'. There wasn't that phrase then. During that time I had moved to London and it was great to see lots of African bands playing. It was an amazing and educating time for me. Then in '85 I bumped into a friend at a Youssou N'Dour concert and he told me that Wire were playing that night in Oxford.
GR: It was all kept pretty quiet that they had reconvened. I remember the first I knew about it was hearing John Peel play A Serious of Snakes.
KE: I was listening to African music and I'd purged my record collection of a lot of stuff that I was no longer listening to, but Wire and Dome were still in there. The next thing was going to Camden market and finding a bootleg cassette of the Oxford gig.
GR: Listening to tapes of gigs from the mid-'80s it seems to me that they weren't exactly the greatest of live bands back then. They're not all that happy with how they sounded live back then are they?
KE: I don't think they probably knew how they wanted to sound live then.
GR: It seems like they're struggling to build the songs in public. Some of them sound very different to the recorded versions.
KE: It was work in progress, especially the way Kidney Bingos and Over Theirs started out.
I didn't see them live until after The Ideal Copy came out but I was hearing all the bootleg tapes: Bloomsbury, Dalston etc. It was a revelation how they'd completely reinvented the songs for the album.
By '85 I'd rediscovered a band I'd really liked in the late '70s. I noticed there was a book out on Killing Joke, there was a book out on Can, there was a book out on PIL; where's the Wire book? I'd kept all the press cuttings on Wire and when they started to do interviews again and the journalists were quoting all this lazy misinformation about who this band were in the seventies, I just thought something needed to be done. If you're going to interview somebody, get a little bit of research behind you!
So I rang Mute up and they put me in touch with Bryan Grant who was their manager. When I spoke to him, they were in Berlin recording A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck. He said he couldn't promise anything, but he'd tell them. The next thing I knew, I got a phone call from Bruce. He said, "I heard you want to write a book. Maybe you should come and talk to us."
GR: Had you written anything before that and got published?
KE: No. I'd written stuff in fanzines back in the late seventies. I'd interviewed Russell Mills.
GR: Because of his connection with MZUI?
KE: Because of his connection with Brian Eno.
GR: Well they must've thought you were on the ball if you'd interviewed him! Did you tell them?
KE: No, this is the thing. I kept all my allegiances absolutely quiet. I armed myself with all the press cuttings and went to this meeting with Bruce in Islington, and Graham was there. I'd written a synopsis of the book and laid it all out. Graham was really having a laugh looking at all these old press interviews and photographs. Bruce banged his drink down and said, "Well that's it then, isn't it? The butterfly's been pinned! You'd better do it because you're going to do it anyway, aren't you?"
And I said, "No, I'm not! That's the point!" I was not going to write the book unless I had access to their point of view. That was the whole point of the book. Nobody else had got their point of view.
GR: And that's why the book works so well, because it's largely Wire in their own words.
KE: I wanted input from all four of them. Going back to that initial meeting, I got a phone call two days later from a mutual friend of Graham's and mine who knew that I'd interviewed Russell. He said he'd been laughing last night because he'd met Russell and Graham and in the pub and Graham had been blabbering on about "This guy's doing a book about us." This friend, Dave, said, "Yeah I know him, it's Kevin isn't it?" And Russell said, "Is Kevin doing the book?" And Graham goes, "I've been stitched up haven't I?"
Anyway once they knew that I knew Russell and Russell knew me, there was a connection, albeit indirect. So Bruce and Graham said OK and we started from then. Colin was in Belgium so it was very difficult to get hold of him unless he was over rehearsing in London. By this time I was interviewing Graham and Bruce on a weekly basis, in the pub. We'd sit and talk for hours and hours. It took two and a half years to do all the interviewing, and that wasn't just Graham, Bruce, Robert and Colin but all the other people involved. I met Colin and we did two mammoth sessions. I met him once just off the Charing Cross Road in this café. Colin looked up and said, "I don't believe it, this café is No. 154!"
GR: You never got all four of them together at the same time?
KE: No, I didn't want that. Once, when they were rehearsing for Manscape. I did Robert's input for the book in one session on his own. The way it finally came together was that I interviewed Angela Conway and all the other people and eventually sent them a draft to read but Colin is probably the only one who seriously sat down and read it from cover to cover. He pointed out a number of things which were changed, and absolutely so.
Bruce spotted a couple of errors but I think he just scanned his own input. Graham, unfortunately, didn't go through it, because at the time I was doing the book Graham was going through a very difficult period. He was basically homeless and had just come out of a long-term relationship so he was a bit all over the place. At the time the book was being done he was happy to turn up and get on with it but when he was sent the draft I think he read it and didn't like how he came out in it. I think he felt that what he said didn't feel as though it was as articulate as he was. I was only transcribing what he said and he didn't do himself any favours. I think he realised that and wanted to make some changes but by that point we were up against a publishing deadline. So we never did it. There was no big animosity about it, but I was not flavour of the month with Graham for a while!
The day the book came back from the publishers I rang Bruce up and it turned out they were up at Mute recording The First Letter. I had some copies for them so he invited me to the studio. I remember carrying this box up the stairs, with Mike the publisher, and Bruce coming downstairs, saying, "I'm just going to get some fags. I'll be back in a minute!"
So we were up there with Colin and Graham and Paul Kendall. This is one thing I love about Bruce, he is an incredibly generous person. He came back with a big bottle of champagne. It was an excuse to have a drink, but was also incredibly generous and to me, topped the whole issue of doing the book. All four of them had been incredibly generous in allowing me access to them and in opening doors to other people like Angela Conway and Eric Radcliffe etc.
So we got our copies signed. It was so funny, all four of them sat down and went, "Where's my bit?" Graham went to his bit and just put it down. It's an old story and should the time come, we've agreed to redo his bit.
GR: That was something I was going to ask—whether there were plans to update and reprint the book? It's almost sold out now hasn't it?
KE: The book is practically all gone.
GR: How many copies did it sell?
KE: I'd have to check the sales statements! Probably about two-and-a-half to three thousand. As for the book being redone, ask the publishers! It's not just bringing it up to date but it's also going back and correcting things.
There are some songs that aren't commented on, I'm aware of that. That applies not just to Wire but to the solo stuff as well. There are interviews with Mike Thorne and Desmond Simmons to put in. It wasn't for want of trying to get in touch with those people at the time, but I ran out of time and patience in the end. The publishers are the key to it. If they say they want to republish, I'll be the first to say they can't republish until it's redone and brought up to date. So watch this space!
GR: How easy was it to find a publisher?
KE: Totally easy.
GR: How did you go about that?
KE: I saw that SAF had done a Cabaret Voltaire book, Tape Delay (A compilation of eighties features, writings and interviews from Einstürzende Neubauten, Mark E Smith, Sonic Youth, Coil and others) and the Can book had just come out. I thought, "That's a nice, sensible home!" So I wrote to them and they asked for a synopsis of the Wire book, which I sent. They said in principle, yes, and wanted to know when it was going to be ready. I told them it would be ready when it was ready! It was about six to eight months before it was out. It was that easy.
GR: Did they pay you an advance?
KE: No, they don't work on that basis.
GR: How large are they?
KE: Just two guys. Good guys. At the time they were still relatively unknown.
GR: What's the story behind that Italian book that basically reprinted chunks of your book?
KE: Exploded Views. Anglo-Italian. I met the woman who did it and the text was used with permission. I don't think the group themselves were particularly pleased with how it turned out. I don't think they liked the way it looked or the way she went about it.
GR: So presumably writing the book led to starting WMO?
KE: Too simple. The book came out in 1990. Colin was still in Brussels and I just kept in touch with them. Then Colin and Malka moved back to London and were looking for a house, and I remember Colin phoned up and invited me over for a meal at the flat they were staying in.
So I went over and we started talking about the idea that maybe there should be some kind of unofficial information service. I thought it was a good idea, but nobody was doing anything! This was the early nineties, The First Letter had come out in '91. In theory I was all for it...
GR: But there was nothing to tell anyone!
KE: Exactly. I think they realised that the connection with Mute was over. The next thing was another phone call around early '94 and Colin was telling me that a chap from America had emailed him about this thing he was doing called 'The Wire Service' with bits and pieces of news. This was Charles Snider and he was coming to Britain, partly to see Colin and partly to visit his grandmother's birthplace in Cornwall. Colin invited me to meet up with them. Bruce and John Bonnar were there too, and a few other people we know. I was there for curiosity...
So I was sitting back and being non-committal and probably a bit snobbish until Charles said something that almost made me fall off my chair. He mentioned Peter Hammill's 'Sofa Sound' newsletter. We found we both liked Peter Hammill so there was another connection. I'm a massive Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator fan and I knew exactly what he was talking about. He went up a few notches in my estimation. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses and started to fax each other and chat on the phone. Gradually the idea of a newsletter started to be born. I suggested taking it a little bit further and becoming a mail order service as well. We'd try to get everything Wire related under one roof; Mute stuff, Colin had just started Swim...
GR: And Charles was running the American side of Swim?
KE: That was much later on. We called it 'Wire Mail Order' and the first quarterly newsletter came out in '94. It was just one A4 sheet bringing people up to date with who we were and what we were doing. The first question we asked ourselves was whom should we send it to? Charles obviously already had a lot of connections in America and Colin had just started Swim so he just handed us his database.
Very quickly we started referring to it as the acronym 'WMO'. It struck me that we could become a label and issue archive stuff. I just sat down one day and very quickly wrote down a list of things that I was aware hadn't been put out on CD. By then I'd already done the sleeve notes for the Mute reissue of Document and Eyewitness. Then The Grey Area of Mute, which was John McRobbie's baby, decided to put the four Dome albums out on two CD's. I was asked to do the sleeve notes for them. The next thing to happen was Behind The Curtain. EMI was raiding the vaults.
Me, Jon Savage (journalist who wrote England's Dreaming) and Jon Wozencroft (designer and Touch records co-owner) worked together on that. Actually that was the trigger. It got me thinking that there was all this archival stuff.
GR: Do you know why EMI decided to release the demos?
KE: I think Jon Savage had approached EMI with the plan that there were these demos, why not put them out? They were up for it so I went to EMI for a meeting with him, Jon Wozencroft, Bruce and Colin. Bruce and Colin just said, "Right, do it. You three sort it out!" So we went away and hammered out a track listing.
GR: There are some quite different versions that were left off, like the very fast Pink Flag style take of French Film (Blurred). It is vastly inferior, but then most of the demos aren't as good as the final versions.
KE: It's not on it because it's crap! I think that was one I wanted. But we all had our track lists and we all knew the time limitation of the CD and it was a case of all agreeing on some tracks but if two voted for one track and one didn't it would go on and if only one wanted it, it wouldn't. It was done by committee, although I did force myself on one track. I forget which one now. And looking back that was the motivator for starting the label.