Neil Megson, now known as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, stands tall as an almost unique individual who has dedicated h/er entire adult life to h/er art. Best known, perhaps, as the intimidating and provocative lead vocalist in seminal, genre-founding industrial giants Throbbing Gristle, who evolved out of performance art group COUM Transmissions, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge became a key figure in the UK underground, with TG paving the way for the likes of Whitehouse, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.
However, as interviews with, and articles about, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge have consistently proved, there is more to Gen than h/er position as the first leading light of British sonic terrorism. Through h/er work with his post-TG band Psychic TV, and as an artist, s/he has consistently transformed the idea of how an artist can work and live through creativity, culminating in h/er collaborative work with h/er late wife Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, in which their all-consuming love led them to transcend the barriers of gender and identity, until they existed as two halves of one romantic and artistic creation, The Pandrogyne. Since Lady Jaye’s tragic passing in 2007, Genesis has dedicated h/erself to pursuing their shared vision, via the latest, righteously psychedelic incarnation of Psychic TV, and by continuing to share h/er and Jaye’s work, most recently in a lusciously-presented book compiling photos, artworks and writings.
Head to First Third’s website to get hold of the book.
Hapshash And The Coloured Coat – Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids
Do you think it’s an unusual list?
Sort of, but I remember when we last spoke, I said that, contrary to what I’d imagined, you do come across as a bit of a hippie! Or at least deeply psychedelic.
Well, I grew up in the sixties. In 1962, I bought the first Rolling Stones single, and I still have it. I still have every single they released, in order, right up until Brian Jones was murdered. I saw Pink Floyd god knows how many times, and even did a couple of light shows for them…
We started listening to pirate radio and John Peel’s Perfumed Garden, and had a friend at school called Spidey who was very good at spotting interesting new music. John Peel was the first person to play The Velvet Underground, and Spidey said, “Listen to this, you’re gonna love this!”. That’s when we got the first violin.
We used to go to Birmingham, to this tiny little record shop that had nothing of interest except some Albert Ayler and free jazz. There was a record in there, and we recognised the artwork from Oz magazine so we knew it was by Hapshash and The Coloured Coat, because they used to do psychedelic posters and Oz. So we bought it just because of that. It was on Magnet Records. When we pulled out [the disc], we were shocked to see that it was on red vinyl, which we’d never seen before. We later discovered that all these people on the scene in London wanted to raise money for the legals fees of John “Hoppy” Hopkins, the first person who’d been busted for drugs and who co-founded the International Times. He was a real mover and shaker of the times. It’s like twenty to a hundred people high on acid jamming! We fell in love with it and still listen to it all the time. When we DJ, people come up to us and ask, “What was that with that great riff?” Guess what one of them ended up doing? Writing “We Are The Wombles”! That really got me in the head, that was worse than a bad acid trip!
Mike Batt! He also wrote the music for William Hague’s campaign…
Oh no! How could he go from Hapshash to that! That’s disappointing to say the least. Michael Batt, what a twat! I didn’t even like The Wombles…
Acid Mother’s Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. – Lord Of The Underground: Vishnu And The Magic Elixir
It was my manager, Ryan Martin, who also does Dais Records, who said, “You don’t know who Acid Mothers Temple are?!” I knew the name, but had never listened to them, so he immediately burned about 30 CDs! We loved it, and then he rang me to tell me they were playing live at The Knitting Factory the following week. He took me, and I was absolutely entranced. The guy at the front, with hair longer than mine that had gone grey, and he was swaying off the rhythm of the music, in perfect time to something in his head. It just blows you away. And then, what’s his name with the guitar, begins with an M…
That’s it. He then freaks out, and does the opposite to this Zen thing. He’s everywhere, with his big afro. And you just think: “Fucking hell! That’s what music’s supposed to be like!” Psychedelic, free-form, and when you feel like going nuts, you go nuts. And then at the end the one who was so zen suddenly got his guitar and hung it from a pipe in the ceiling and started swinging it so it started to feedback. And then they just walked off. And we just thought: “After my own heart!” [laughs]. Afterwards, Makoto came up to us and said, “We’re such huge fans of yours, we can’t believe you came to see us. Here’s my guitar!”, and he signed and gave me his guitar neck, which he’d snapped off! He had a t-shirt of Che Guevara that he’d turned into himself, and he wrote lots of stuff in Japanese in a silver pen and gave it to me. We were so proud of that t-shirt. And then my fucking cleaner came in and laundered it! All the writing came off, all I had was the Che.
And everyone’s got a Che t-shirt! It’s interesting because a lot of the bands on your list, including AMT, are ones I discovered through Julian Cope.
Oh yes, of course. He loves all our new stuff too. He’s the same: it’s acid jamming. And it’s my roots. My roots aren’t rhythm & blues, it’s this. And a day comes when you think, “Fuck what the world thinks, I wanna hear what I like to hear, and there’s no-one around me doing it so let’s play our music”. And strangely enough, we’re more successful as a result of having just let go of all preconceptions and deciding to go back to this era. The audiences just go nuts. There you go. Be true to yourself.
Church Universal And Triumphant, Inc. Featuring Elizabeth Clare Prophet – The Sounds Of American Doomsday Cults
This was the hardest one to track down and gather information about. I found a video of some chanting on YouTube.
Isn’t it weird? How do they do that with their voices [ululates manically]? There’s a really good documentary called Death Cults or something, and it shows you them digging this enormous bunker, and [Elizabeth Clare Prophet] says: “The world is going to end on this date with a nuclear war”. The bunker’s not finished on time, but they go down anyway, come back out about a week later and the world hasn’t changed [laughs]. She says the master’s order wasn’t right, and that the world will actually be in four or five months. So they all go back down, and it doesn’t happen. It turns out she has brain tumours, which probably explains the entire cult, and then she dies. But it’s still going! They interviewed them a few years later. The women all look like Elizabeth Clare, with their suburban haircuts and clothes, and big smiles! There’s one piece on the album where they’re cursing pop music, and it’s just stunning. Hilarious. We play them at the beginning when we DJ!
Hawkwind – Hawkwind
I just saw Nik Turner on Sunday night. He’s doing good. We have a strange history with him and Hawkwind. In 1971, in COUM Transmissions, we somehow managed to con this benefit concert for a commune that had been busted for drugs that Hawkwind were headlining, and got the second slot on the bill. None of us had ever played anything, except me on drums, and it was the era when everyone was trying to have the biggest drum kit, so we borrowed drum kits from some of the other bands involved. We got a dwarf on guitar who’d never even seen a guitar before. We had someone from Bridlington on a surfboard on a bucket of water as the vocalist, who just told jokes because he was actually a comedian. Cosey was dressed as an English schoolgirl with a starting pistol, firing in the air, and her own whips. Nik Turner and Lemmy and everyone remember Cosey!
Then in ‘92 or ‘93, Hawkwind came to tour the West Coast, and Nik called me up and asked if I wanted to play keyboards for Hawkwind. I said “of course!”. We got to San Francisco and Jello Biafra was there and he came running into my dressing room and said, “Gen! I love Hawkwind!” I thought he was kidding, but he was serious and said it was his dream to sing ‘Silver Machine’ with Hawkwind. So we got him to join in on backing vocals on ‘Silver Machine’. He was thrilled.
H.P. Lovecraft – H.P. Lovecraft
Wonderful! Brilliant! It’s very different to everybody else, and it’s all men singing who sound like women. It sounds like Jefferson Airplane at times, and you think, “Who’s that woman?” and then you realise it’s a man. And now that singer does TV commercials and plays accordion in coffee shops.
They were quite big. In England, quite a lot of people bought their records. We DJ-ed a lot with our original one, and somebody stole it from a club. We’ll find one again! H.P. Lovecraft were really underrated in terms of the sixties bands from the West Coast.
I suppose they were quite different.
They were! They were all classically-trained, and refreshing because of that. They weren’t just following everyone else.
The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
I’ve got everything they ever did, and it’s hard to pick one, really. We like ‘A Very Cellular Song’ – who else could write a song about an amoeba and make it sound great? That was Jaye’s favourite Incredible String Band song, so that’s why we picked that album. You can see the connections growing here, can’t you?
Dr. Strangely Strange – Kip Of The Serenes
We came across the song ‘Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal’ on a psychedelic compilation and fell in love with it. I just thought, “Who could write a chorus of, ‘Strangely strange but oddly normal’, and make it a really catchy song?” The whole thing was sort of irrationally brilliant, and later we found out that one of them went off to Japan and tried to become a Zen priest. Of course, when we considered the history of literature in Ireland, with James Joyce and everyone, it started to all gel. And then we found out Joe Boyd was involved. They did the first one in one afternoon, because he didn’t think it would sell. We’re not sure which, who and when, but there was some exchange of personnel with the Incredible String Band at certain times.
Dr. Strangely Strange – Heavy Petting And Other Stories
The second album has the guitarist from Phil Lynott’s wonderful band.
Thin Lizzy? Really?
Yes! He does the guitar on my favourite track on there. It’s very different to the first, it’s a little bit more rocky. There’s a drum kit in there, but they also sing some church hymns. That whole thing that the ISB and Dr. Strangely Strange did, with sudden shifts. You’d think you’d know where [a song was] going and then it would stop dead and something completely different would happen. We always loved surprises and novelty and chaos happening that reprograms the brain to stop assuming things.
Joe Byrd And The Field Hippies – The American Metaphysical Circus
This has a bit of an H.P. Lovecraft feel to it. We were stuck, because there were two albums, the other one being by his band, The United States of America. That one’s much more weird, and we like it a lot, but this one we always found harder to listen to, so for that reason we chose it. Because if it’s still hard to listen to, there must be something in it that’s playing with my expectations, whereas The United States of America is fairly funky. So, it was a struggle to choose one, but in the end we picked that one for the singing.
There are more people on it…
Yeah. It was done as a project for his college!
The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators
Well, I had to have this on it! We’d like to have it on vinyl. Did you watch the documentary about Roky Erickson’s life? There’s this moment when you first come across him in the documentary. He’s sitting in this room that’s filled with junk. He has about ten or more television sets. Some are black and white, some are colour, some have no picture, just zigzags, but they’re all on full. And he’s got radios on full. And he’s sitting in the armchair and says, “This is the only way I can go to sleep! It drowns out the noises in my head.” And you’re thinking those are the noises in your head! [laughs] But he’s playing again! He’s back, it’s incredible.
I know. It’s hard to believe, because I’ve read interviews with him from years ago where he’s barely coherent. But on that album, vocally he sounds like Mick Jagger, but with screeching!
“Aaaaaahhh!!” And then there’s that jug sound, which is just incredible! I don’t know how they did that!
Blossom Toes – The Psychedelic Sound Of Blossom Toes, Vol. 1
From what I’ve read, this is a bootleg…
You’d have to ask Giorgio Gomelsky. It’s probably a bootleg by Giorgio Gomelsky. Do you know the story about him? He was the guy who first managed the Stones and put them on at the Station Hotel. He was right that he thought the only way to get the Stones publicity, as the house band, was to get the Beatles down to hear them, and they loved the Stones. And then he got Andrew Loog Oldham down to see them, and Brian Jones secretly did a commercial deal with Andrew, because they’d never written anything down with Giorgio, he just trusted them to stay with him. He then went and got The Yardbirds.
A very good ear! Which he still has to this day, because – he lives in New York – he has hundreds of thousands of amazing tapes. But they left him, and he found the Blossom Toes, whom he thought would be the next of his successes, but they weren’t because they were so fucking quirky. There’s one song which goes, [sings] “You should have come home you little frozen dog/ You stupid little frozen dog”, and that’s the chorus. They were trying to do a sort of Sgt. Pepper’s based on Giorgio’s Eastern European understanding, and so it’s just really odd. Very English, and very quirky, and fun, with lots of funny effects and brass bands – the whole thing that everyone was trying to do. And it didn’t sell at all. So he decided, after The Yardbirds became Led Zeppelin, that Blossom Toes should be like Led Zeppelin. So he tried to do a Led Zeppelin album, which is absolutely terrible! Sorry Giorgio, we’re friends, but it’s terrible. So that’s them, the one thing they did, in my opinion, that is worthy of discovery because it’s odd. He should have just let them do their thing.
The Zombies – Odessey And Oracle
That was the first record that Jaye ever played to me when we met. It was surprise. This is a girl who ran away from home at age 14 to Alphabet City in the eighties, lived in a squat there, was into the hardcore scene so went out with one of the biggest hardcore guys in a band so no-one would beat her up or touch her, and yet she loved sixties psychedelic music. The Electric Prunes, The Zombies… Eventually The Zombies reformed to do one gig in New York, in this little club, so I got tickets, and they were spot-on. They did Odessey And Oracle, and afterwards I introduced her to The Zombies and they signed her album. It’s an excellent album. The harmonies and Colin Blunstone’s voice are stunning. That voice with the hissing in it. We had this friend, who did a lot of co-production on early Psychic TV, and he said my voice took to tape really well because it had this hiss in it. Apparently, it gave more resonance, so I accidentally have the same sort of resonances as Blunstone. Sadly, not the same voice or skill!
Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs
I had to. I mean, how do you pick one? Syd Barrett, brilliant. One thing he did which just knocked me out, at a very early gig – and we thought we’d imagined it because we were stoned but we read about it in a magazine – in those days a lot of the bands would do an hour set, and then maybe the drummer would do a half-hour drum solo while the others went off to do drugs, or they’d all go off and we’d all be sitting around for half an hour because we’d do drugs. And then they’d come back. So, anyway, they went off, and we thought, “Oh no, drum solo, I guess it’s time to do drugs”. And they changed into workman’s outfits and old macs and one by one they all came back. One of them brought some wood, another one had a toolbox, another one had a flask and tea-cups, and the floor of the stage was miked. They made themselves things to sit on, and it was all done rhythmically, creating this piece of musique concrète. They made a table and sets of chairs, then sat down, turned on a transistor radio and drank cups of tea! Then they left and came back on as Pink Floyd! I was thinking, “Did I really just see that?”, and for years thought we’d imagined it. And we didn’t, it really happened.
Kind of sums up Syd Barrett in one anecdote!
[laughs] People used to say his solo stuff was all crap, that he couldn’t do it anymore, but as time has gone by, I think anyone with any brains has realised just what a genius he was. My two children grew up with his music and would say that ‘Baby Lemonade’ was their favourite song of his. So, every birthday we’d have to play ‘Baby Lemonade’. Pretty good taste, no?