"There are record stores in America that will have a Medway section"
What Steven asked Stephen Morris, author of DIY: A History of Music in Medway
Stephen Morris is a local author and music critic, best known for writing Do It Yourself: A History of Music in Medway. Steven met Stephen in the beer garden at Three Sheets to the Wind to discuss why he got a death threat from a death metal band, the Tap ‘n’ Tin, and why he wrote he literally wrote the book about music in Medway.
Where were you born?
I was born in Gloucester.
How did you end up in the Medway Towns?
A long-convoluted story involving girlfriends. I moved here in about 2008. What kept me here, ultimately, is that I've got family, my daughter. That sounds like I’ve been tied here against my will and it's really not that. I feel that even if I had no other connections, I would still want to be living here.
What jobs did your parents do growing up?
My dad was a printer, a litho-orthographic camera operator to be technical, and my mum was basically a housewife. She had been a teacher and then did supply teaching.
How did you find school and university?
Loved it, loved academia. For A-Levels, I did English, History, and Music. I went to Lancaster University to study History. My main focus was on the 19th century onwards, the British Empire and World War 1. My dissertation was on entertainment during the First World War.
What was your first full-time job?
That was working as a filing clerk for an insurance company in Gloucester.
What is your official occupation?
Oh dear. I am a home ownership officer. I deal with leaseholders, shared owners, and lease owners. We are responsible for the building.
What additional roles, paid or unpaid do you do?
I make absolutely no money from it, but I have a podcast, Songs in the Key of… and I write music reviews. I wrote Do It Yourself: A History of Music in Medway. I'm an unpaid music critic.
What led to you writing your first music review?
I did some work experience at BBC Gloucestershire, and I got to sit with the web team, which was in its infancy in 2002. They had CDs, and I wrote I think a review of four CDs by local bands. I carried on writing after the work experience finished. I carried on writing for BBC Gloucestershire up until I started writing my book even though I was based in Kent. At a Gloucester festival, there was this death metal band vomiting into the microphone, and I wrote a two-liner review: “Not the sort of music you would take your granny to see.” Afterwards, I went into the BBC offices to get some CDs, and they asked if I would mind talking to the head of media at the Gloucestershire Constabulary and I found out that I had been given a death threat by members of the band. They felt that they were the best thing that was on and that I'd done them a huge service by giving them such a shoddy review.
Why did you decide to write a book about Medway music?
I was living in Medway and I had written music reviews for BBC Kent and also a Kent website, called Rock Kent, which is now defunct. My focus has been on bands from around the area. My in-laws had set up (Medway publishers) Cultured Llama. They said to me that their focus was on poetry, but they were looking to branch out into non-fiction and suggested a selection of my reviews. I felt like I should do something new. The first person I interviewed was Bob Collins and he gave me a potted history of his experience in The Dentists, but also everything else that he witnessed that he was aware of. I'd heard about Billy Childish and The Prisoners and realised this was going to be big.
What was your favourite part of the process of writing the book?
It sounds like a cop-out, but all of it. Apart from all the transcription. I got to meet Billy Childish and loads of key players. I didn’t know these people, so I approached them via Facebook. A friend of a friend introduced me to Billy Childish. I’m still financially at a loss from the book because of all the albums I bought. Engaging with the music and the people that created it, it was all good. It was published in 2015, but my first conversation was about two and a half years prior. A lot happened in that time. Bands broke up, and at least one person died, so the book needed constant updating. As a kind of sequel to the book, I started doing video interviews on my YouTube channel, Reviewage.
What music that you weren’t aware of did you most enjoy discovering or re-evaluating through the book?
I started off aware of the folk scene. So, it was fascinating making myself aware chronologically of music I hadn’t been aware of before. I call it a microclimate rather than a scene, completely separate to what was happening in the rest of the country. It was just absolutely fascinating, discovering this whole world within a small area of Strood, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, and Rainham. There are record stores in America that will have a Medway section.
Why is a large section of the book about Billy Childish?
You can’t really write a book about music in Medway and not mention him. I have a difficult relationship with Billy Childish. Not personally, I've only met him once. I thought this question would come up. It has to be purely because he's released such a bloody amount of records. It's difficult to know who he is because there's a Childish persona, but it is so embedded. He's been at the art form for longer than I have been alive. At the same time, the stuff is good. It's not a pretence. He really believes in himself. He does the painting, and he does the writing and the poetry and all that. I wrote an interlude in the book, trying to grasp who was Billy Childish, and it was an impossible task. I am not him or his psychologist. You need someone like him, as a constant, to judge art and music against him. He is absolutely focused and that is something to be admired.
What artist or band if you had had more space and time would you have included?
At the moment there is a bit of a lull. I've got faith that things will return because they always do. I can’t say that there is a really great band now who were just starting out when I was writing my book. I am quite happy with the content. There are some bands who I felt at the time were prevalent but actually aren’t. I am not going to name them. There will always be people who highlight that I didn’t name their cousin’s band, but that was because nobody mentioned them.
Looking back, do you think the criticism of the Tap ‘n’ Tin is warranted?
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