The Wildhearts Book

Interview with ex-Wildhearts guitarist Mark Keds

23 MARCH 2007

Photo: Copyright Naomi Dryden-Smith

There was a substantial gap between interviewing Jef in 2006 and Mark Keds the year after. This was because, several times when I was supposed to get back to Mark I felt too down to do so, and many times when I had got in touch, Mark just wasn’t at the other end of the phone. Finally, though, we organised to meet in London outside Clapham Common Tube Station at 1.45pm on 23 March.

I had originally wanted Martin to share the experience with me, but he couldn’t get away from work and so texted me this message to give Mark instead:

‘EMPIRE OF THE SENSELESS’ is a classic and should be filed next to Redd Kross’ ‘Phaseshifter’ under the ‘WHY THE FUCK WASN’T THIS HUGE?!’ category.

I got to Clapham Common at 1.15pm and sent Mark a text to see if he wanted to meet a little early. Getting no reply, I waited outside the entrance of the Tube like someone observing snails in the hundred metre slither finals. I’m an impatient fucker! Is that him? Or him? Maybe him? The thing was, the only picture I had of Mark was the one from The Wildhearts’ ‘Just In Lust’ single twelve years previously.

Not to worry, though. Half an hour later, Mark rang and asked if we could meet at The Old Town Café and gave me directions. Upon arriving, I ordered a tea for myself, a coffee for Mark as requested, and sat down near the front door so as to not miss him. At 2.15pm the ex-Wildheart finally arrived.

After chatting a little, I asked Mark if he would kindly sign the Senseless Things’ ‘The First Of Too Many’ LP and The Wildhearts’ ‘Just In Lust’ CD single I had brought along. Mark obliged and, to my surprise, said he’d never even seen the ‘Just in Lust’ cover before.

The Wildhearts’ Just In Lust single cover

We sat outside for the interview, and it went as thus…

Me: “At what age did you start embracing music?”

Mark: “As young as I can remember, really. But when I was about ten, there was always music in the house ’cause my father played music in the sixties and my mother was, like, a Small Faces groupie. They started taking me out. My godmother would take me to see bands. My Mum took me one time. But, yeah, I was about ten years old. The first gig was Siouxsie & The Banshees at The Hammersmith Odeon. John Cooper Clarke was the opening act, so that’s the first thing I ever saw. John Cooper Clarke, swearing like a trooper, funny as fuck, followed by some porno cartoon, followed by The Banshees at their peak. This was, like, the ‘Juju’ tour. I was, like, ten years old and it just fucking blew my mind. I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll ’ave a bit of this.’”

Me: “What are your views on band and fan interaction? Privacy, for example.”

Mark: “I think for me it’s more to do with personal boundaries; whether you’re a plumber, or whether you’re a musician, or whether you think you’re a celebrity, it’s to do with personal space and personal boundaries and just being respectful. I’ll talk to anyone if I’m in the mood. I think we’re all like that.”

Me: “Are there any instances where you might have annoyed one of your idols, or have you been harassed as an artist?”

Mark: “I’ve been harassed, but me doing the harassing…? When I was about thirteen, fourteen, I went up to Manchester and I was a big Buzzcocks fan. I got to know Steve Diggle and his brother, who was an artist, and he liked Jackson Pollock and he had a squat in Highgate. I used to just turn up there in Manchester and they would just bunk me around various mates in Moss Side, and they were all really kind to me, actually. They really fucking looked after me. I dunno how harassed they were. I can’t imagine some thirteen year old just turning up at some gig and being like, ‘Here’s my bag, where we going?’ They were all really kind, actually, up there.”

Me: “I do think it’s interesting, no matter who you are it depends what mood you’re in as to whether you feel like talking to somebody.”

Mark: “I think I never outstayed my welcome ’cause I didn’t know what I was doing; I’d just sorta got dumped in other people’s houses. It might have been Tony Wilson – I’m not sure – and some mad bird; I remember being there and they were having some screamingly drunken argument, and then someone like Phil Diggle would come round and go, ‘Come on, you’re going to Bolton for a while.’ Or Salford and all round there. I guess they probably just thought more, like, ‘Who’s this urchin?’ more than, ‘Who is this mad fan?’ But I was a proper mad fan of the music. I loved it, all that Manchester thing.”

Me: “So can you think of any instances where a fan’s pissed you off then? Any women?”

Mark: “Yeah, she was a fan. She stabbed me.”

Me: “Eh?”

Mark: “Um, yeah, that was a weird one, actually. There was this one bird I was sort of having it with, and afterwards I started seeing ’er, then about a month down the line she was, like, ‘Yeah, I knew your band when I was at school.’ She was nuts, actually. I remember one morning asking her to leave and get out, and the reaction I expected was for her to sort of get a bit teary or just, like, fuck off. So she left the room as normal, then she came back, dismantled this razor, and the bitch fucking stabbed me! And the sick thing was, at that point I thought, ‘Oh, now I quite like you.’ Ha, ha. I get confused sometimes between strong women and demented ones.”

Me: “Right… When an artist lays down their inner feelings in songs, do you think its right for the fan to probe to find out the real meaning behind the lyrics and not just take their own interpretations from them?”

Mark: “Umm, I guess if you obsess over someone else’s work, it can do your nut in, and if you transfer that onto them it might be a bit… I remember seeing Howard Devoto, the singer of Magazine and formally The Buzzcocks, at a gig at The Electric Ballroom. I think I was studying The Go Between for my English O Level, and I’d sort of come to the conclusion that – probably in the middle of some acid trip, but um – that his song ‘Permafrost’ from his second album, about “I’ll drug you and fuck you on the permafrost” was a direct lift from something. I made the connection with The Go Between by L. P. Hartley. I remember asking him about it at this gig. I don’t know whether he misheard me or not, but he just smiled. I just took that as like a shrug-off, ’cause I was a bit nervous talking to him. I would’ve been about fourteen years old.”

Me: “What are your views on fans getting onstage when you’re playing?”

Mark: “Most definitely, if they’re invited, they should get up there and enjoy themselves. I saw Iggy and The Stooges in December just gone at ATP in Minehead, and he invited them up for about three songs. Like, ‘Hello, English fans come up, and the English dancers,’ and the bouncers couldn’t cope; it was blinding, and there was the best part of about two hundred people on the stage. Ya know, ’cause there’s nothing worse than a dead atmosphere. If you’re a live musician – I mean, I can’t speak for someone like Lou Reed who would probably get upset if someone trod on his fucking slippers – but, if you’re playing like rock music or dance music, you want people to dance, I think. And people participating is all good. I remember playing Derry in Northern Ireland once and someone fucking half-inched my pedals, and I remember thinking, ‘Cheeky sods,’ you know what I mean? But that’s just blatant thievery. The only person that’s smashed my guitar up was in the band with me at the time so… I’ve seen some guys really humiliate people ’cause someone was injured at one of their gigs, so they make a point of don’t get up. So when they get stage-divers, they may corner one and not let him get off and sort of embarrass them. And I remember feeling quite sorry for this poor sod at Kilburn National back in the day, but there’s a band like Fugazi that say don’t get up and you don’t get up. I’m sure if I was doing something and I was a bit sensitive I’d say, ‘Look, you lot have got to stay down there for a bit ’cause you’re doing my nut in’, and then, if someone got up and I was in the mood for a row, then maybe I would have a row. I mean, my problems haven’t been with fans; they’ve been with security on the whole… when I’ve seen security just, like, over-exerting their power.”

Me: “What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen or done at a gig?”

Mark: “I remember hearing Mercury Rev fucking soundchecking. We were supporting Mercury Rev in Paris, and they sounded hot, you know what mean? I remember coming out and just thinking, ‘I’ve never jerked off in a car after a gig at somebody else’s soundcheck.’ And I told ’em, but they had no sense of humour at all.”

Me: “Did they think it was the English humour?”

Mark: “I think they were too far up their own arses. I can’t remember who was singing for them at the time, but they were typically American and unsociable. Actually, that’s not fair saying ‘typically American’. They weren’t the friendliest band, but they were fucking good.”

Me: “What comes first on the agenda for you: is it on stage entertainment or the quality of your music, or do they just come hand in hand?”

Mark: “I think since I’ve done The LAMs – with The LAMs we wanted it to be… it was quite calculated, and it was quite artistic. We had an artist we were working with, and then there was a video artist. We were working with this artist Sophie Macdonald, a really great painter from Notting Hill Gate, and also from Ladbroke Grove this girl Kerry Ketamine who was a video director. She filmed Sophie’s work and we projected it on the back wall with The LAMs. I’d been doing spoken word and poetry prior to forming The LAMs, and I just put a band together spur of the moment and just wrote the music real simple, short. Just ninety-second songs formed the basis of The LAMs, around the stuff I’d been performing. And we were very definite; we’d always perform with the visuals, or we wouldn’t do it. You know some people it would be, like, ‘We’re having a bottle of tequila on our rider, or we won’t play.’ We wanted space to do the visuals as well; I mean, it’s all on quite a small scale but it was all important ’cause it looked fucking great and sounded great as well. And that all went out the window when I started working at The Rhythm Factory, and even the club I was actually working in was so fucking greedy they didn’t want the inconvenience. I’d be, like, ‘The LAMs play with visuals,’ and they’d be, like, ‘The LAMs are not special, blah, blah, blah.’ And I’d be, like, ‘That’s one of the things with The LAMs.’ I mean, I accommodated The Libertines, ya know? Yeah, so that did go out the window, but so did the band.”

Me: “What are your other loves apart from music, and do you think there is a better art form for self-expression?”

Mark: “Better art forms? I dunno, I like boxing, umm… I’m not talking about football, especially with the state of West Ham. I like fine art, I like painting, films, umm, darts. I like interactive stuff as well; I like a lot of theatre – but street theatre. If you look at paintings in Shakespeare’s time, you’d have, like, all the barrow boys in the pit and the queen of England in the balcony, and it was much more of an all-inclusive art form. You get this whole idea that art is for the middle classes, always made by the middle classes. I think that’s all rubbish, ya know? That’s why rock ’n’ roll’s so good – and dance music.”

Me: “You like dance music?”

Mark: “Yeah, I’ve got a broad taste in music. Even when I was doing the Senseless Things stuff, I was out in Ibiza in ’89 thinking I’d missed the boat because it wasn’t ’88. Anything that’s got soul and a bit of bollocks and a bit of heart and things like that.”

Me: “What do you think music brings to your life that you might not have without it?”

Mark: “It’s kept me alive. It’s made me very happy. It’s got me through some really fucking horrible times. It’s not quite a cure for loneliness, but it’s not far off it. And it’s led me to meet some really great people; I’ve met a lot of really fucking great people through music.”

Me: “This is a strange one. If one of your favourite artists had been named as a paedophile, what effect do you think it would have on you when you listened to their music?”

Mark: “There are other things I can’t abide, but I think child abuse is, umm… unforgivable.”

Me: “Their back catalogue, you think you would dismiss it?”

Mark: “Yeah I think so, ’cause I wouldn’t be able to listen to it with the same ears to be honest. I mean, it can put you off just meeting someone. I mean, I’ve said about Mercury Rev; I still listen to their records even though I’ve briefly met ’em and didn’t get on with ’em but that’s neither here nor there. People who abuse children are so fucking wrong.”

On that note, I thought it was time to change the subject onto Mark’s brief time within the ranks of The Wildhearts.

Me: “What did it mean to you at the time to be in The Wildhearts?”

Mark: “It meant two hundred and fifty quid a week… ummm… a handful of gigs around Europe and Japan. I really liked them, you know. I really liked them as people. I was already doing this band called Jolt and my former band at the time the Senseless Things who we knew were splitting up. Quite a few people knew that we were splitting up, but, for instance, the record company didn’t know we were splitting up. We had a lot of contractual things we had to do or we’d get sued, so, we were, like, caught up in this thing. I was ending one thing, and I’d already creatively started something else. No disrespect to the fans of their band, but The Wildhearts was a bit of a stopgap for me. I’d met with them over two or three months and said, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this; I don’t have time to do this.’ And then they sort of laid it down and said, ‘We’re not asking you to join the fucking band, and said, ‘Look, our record’s doing really well.’ There were no plans to go to America officially, they wanted to tour Europe and the UK and do like a week in Japan or something. So I spoke to the people that I was playing with and it was, like, ‘Yeah, I can do it.’ I mean, obviously there was all that, ‘You’ll get all this press, and all that – but I didn’t give two fucks about all that; that was an inconvenience, if anything.”

Me: “How was it appearing on Top Of The Pops?”

Mark: “I remember one of ’em, Oasis, were doing it and they were being all lairy, and I’d seen Liam about and Liam was always fucking lairy. I’m not sure about Ginger, but Danny really liked Oasis and was chatting to ’em, so we didn’t end up getting into a scrap; which I thought was a bit of a shame. They dissed us; I remember they made some fucking snidey little comment. Liam is always good to slap, you know.”

Me: “He loves it, don’t ’e.”

Mark: “Yeah, he loves it.”

Me: “I was gonna ask if you have any interesting stories about your time with The Wildhearts, but you’ve mentioned a couple already.”

Mark: “Ginger’s cock size, Danny’s cock size… umm, I dunno. I can’t really remember.”

Me: “I suppose there was all sorts that went on?”

Mark: “Fuck me, yeah! My first experience with crack cocaine; thank you for that, Ginger. I tell you what I fucking loved, right – we were out in Wales rehearsing, and Ginger wasn’t there much, you know what I mean? He was, like, sick of teaching people songs. So it was me, Danny, and Ritch. And, as you know, Danny and Ritch are two of the loveliest men alive. And some of the crew would come down, and we were living in this farmhouse in Wales where Take That had previously been. It was a big barn. There was this geezer called Decca, and we’d do, like, two hours of circuit training and kick boxing with him in the morning. And I loved it! That time is one of the fittest I’ve been and the most fucked as well. And that happens, you know? I know a lot of people in extreme sports, like boxers at the height of their careers start hitting the pipe. I’ve certainly come across quite a few recovering. And you just think, ‘Why do you wanna do that to yourself?’ I guess it’s extremes, ya know? I learnt a lot. This fella Decca, he was a brummie bloke, and he was lovely.”

Me: “What is your proudest moment from being in the band?”

Mark: “I didn’t really get a chance to do much writing with them. Because they were quite high profile and the record had already been done and was out and selling. It was more about the stuff that I don’t really thrive off, which was, like, doing interviews, having the pictures taken. I was always quite uncomfortable round that, quite sort of shy, really. I never did a gig with them, which was a shame; I never played live with them. We had some really good times in Wales rehearsing; we had some good nights out.”

Me: “Is there anything you did or didn’t do that you regret?”

Mark: “We spent quite a long time rehearsing and I never did one fucking gig with ’em and that’s a bit feeble. But I was out in Tokyo and it’s just the way things happened, you know what I mean? We were out in Japan and Tokyo to do a couple of week’s worth of commitments that I had to do else we would have been sued. I made a decision with the Senseless Things before people knew we were splitting up that we weren’t gonna do farewell gigs ’cause it’s not really my style. I already felt that we’d gone on way too long. We managed to get out of our European tour ’cause Sony just pulled the money for it, so I was freed up to get on with Jolt and The Wildhearts stuff. What happened was, I was in Tokyo and I was doing a lot of crystal meth, which was their sort of equivalent of speed, and I got to the airport and I don’t think I’d slept for probably a few days. But, when I was at the airport with the band to come back to London, I just made a spur of the moment decision that I was gonna live in Tokyo. About a month later I got in touch with a couple of people in England, and they were, like, ‘Are you coming back to do this festival…”

Me: “Phoenix?”

Mark: “Yeah, Phoenix. And I was, like, ‘Na’. I mean, I felt really under pressure from both bands, and I’m so used to, like, when my back’s against the wall, just running. I’ve done it all my life to the point where it doesn’t even feel like I’m running. I just thought, ‘I’m gonna stay here and fuck everyone else.’ ’Cause right then I wasn’t well; I was doing too much crystal meth. I was dealing my way to survive, and it was very dangerous. It was only a few months I was there and people always have their opinions, ya know, and I saw Danny when I first came back, actually. I bumped into him by chance in Waterloo station; he was the one person I really felt like I’d let down because we really wanted to play these gigs. Whereas Ginger had been saying one thing to someone and another thing to another; he was playing the whole press game, so yeah, he was talking a lot of shit to people, to be honest. He knows that and, whatever, you know; it was his place to do that, it was his band. But I’m quite disobedient by nature and, if I think that someone’s fucking with me, for better or worse, I’ll fuck it up. So it might have been my fault, but I think it was equally Ginger’s fault ’cause he weren’t straight with people, and he certainly weren’t straight with me. So that was probably the deciding factor. And the fact that my other band that I’d played with, like my friends for ten years, were being shafted. I had my bank account emptied when I was there; people didn’t think I’d come back – they thought I would die out there. I mean literally, I came back to nothing because people had got other people to sign off on accounts, and I was rinsed. I came back realising that when a band dissolves everyone quickly gets their bills in because you’re not gonna be earning. Senseless Things were quite a humble band; we were on, like, two hundred pounds a week. That was our wage for the best part of our career. We took little out of it and expected very little, ya know? We were quite grateful to be doing it and enjoying it, that’s what we wanted to do… and, subsequently, we made a lot of money for a lot of people, and it was just quite nasty at the end. Our crew were great, we looked after each other. But the people on the industry side… they were quite shocked at me not being very business-minded. My reaction to that was a typical artistic tantrum. They seemed quite normal at the time, you know? Possibly due to all the crystal meth I was taking.”

Me: “From a fan’s point of view, I dunno, it may seem one-sided, but I kinda don’t look at all that, what you just said. I just look at it as this wanker who caused all this hassle and think – well, he’s being an arse. But, after what you’ve just said, you’ve got your own fucking life; you’ve got to look after yourself.”

Mark: “Yeah, I mean when I came back there had been a lot of music press mag coverage on it, some front covers and stuff as well. I remember some magazine having a picture of me with the words ‘c**t’ underneath my face. I never really gave a toss about these papers, so I thought it was quite funny. I kept a scrapbook of all the stuff ’cause I didn’t know what was going on really when I was out there, I was more concerned with how I was gonna eat that night, and the gas attacks on the Tokyo underground. These things were what was concerning me at the time, whereas back in England it was, like, this massive drama because… ya know, rightfully, a lot of kids had bought tickets for the Phoenix Festival and two of the bands they wanted to see weren’t performing, because I weren’t there. But I didn’t get the opportunity to get my story across and, when I got back, there was magazines sorta saying, ‘You’ve got to explain yourself,’ but everyone had hidden agendas. I think I gave a couple of brief interviews to Melody Maker and NME, but by then it wasn’t really a news story so my side of the story sorta got washed away.”

Me: “Is this the first time you’ve put your views across?”

Mark: “This is definitely the first time, actually, that I’ve put my views across. I ran into Ginger a few months later and I was with Lane. Lane just launched at him and it was, like, ‘Do you know what you fucking said?’ and all this, and he had a real go at him. Ginger just said, ‘It weren’t me, it weren’t me.’ And I didn’t have a problem with him, you know what I mean? If he would have come up to me and had a problem, then we would have had words or whatever, but I bumped into Danny and he was upset, and he just came and gave me a big hug and was, like, ‘Are you fucking alright?’ And I was, like, “It’s been fucking hard’, ’cause it was lonely as fuck out there. But, ummm, it may be because I’ve been a junkie for so fucking long, I’m sure that’s something to do with it, but I did this gig in London the other day and I still walk out to a sold-out crowd, but there’s this definite element of people booing and hissing. I feel like a pantomime villain or something. There’s always gonna be an element because of how I’ve lived my life, and people just have opinions about me. And that’s fair enough, they’re entitled to those. I mean I’ve made a lot of mistakes. And I’m sure I’ll make a few more, so hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to survive them, which I have done.”

Me: “Right then, last question now, this is one for my mate Martin who unfortunately couldn’t come. He just sent me a text saying ‘‘Empire Of The Senseless’ is a classic right next to Redd Kross’ ‘Phaseshifter.’’”

Mark: “’Phaseshifter’’s, not my favourite. I think ‘Third Eye’ is better than that; I think it’s called ‘Third Eye’.”

Me: “’Under the ‘why the fuck wasn’t this huge?’ category.’”

Mark: “Ya know, when we were making that album it was hugely unpopular at the time to have a cockney accent, unlike these days. All I remember about that – actually it was a bit of a blur ’cause we were doing a lot of psychedelics and a lot of quite hardcore chemicals – the producer was doing what the record company was saying, which was ‘Mark, Mark, Yank it up’. Make it more American’, ya know? I just spit out the cockney. That’s my only real regret about that album, apart from, I think, that half of it’s really, really good and the other half is just… the songs were rushed and they weren’t really rehearsed, and we ended up spending too long in the studio. My only other thing was, I listen to my voice on that and I just know that over the headphones I’m being told to Yank it up, and I just fucking hate that! Make it more like an American accent; I think Nirvana were big at the time.”

Me: “Why did you do it”?

Mark: “It was not good, but I was on a wage and I also had a habit, so I’d do what I’d do. Like I say, the Senseless Things by that stage, although we were still together for another three years – I’d creatively lost a lot of interest in what was going on there. Not that I had a problem being on Sony, but my happiest times were the first few years when we were releasing our own records and were going through that label [the label Mark mentioned is inaudible on the Dictaphone], and it was all sort of mad times. And maybe because we were growing, we weren’t repeating ourselves; that was a really good time for me. I think creatively as well, and working with people like Jon Langford who I think should have worked with us on ‘Too Many’ because he produced the ‘I Can’t Do Anything’ EP which I love the sound of, and I think we’d reached a peak there. All of the albums I can pick holes in; I can probably pick holes in anything, but… the Senseless Things certainly weren’t a decaying ship, you know what I mean? It was very much a four way thing; everybody had their input and, although I was the songwriter, they kinda took the songs and did what they liked with them, for better or worse, but it’s what worked at the time. It’s very different in The Wildhearts.”

Me: “Ok. Any last words, it’s getting fucking cold!?”

Mark: “I’ve gotta go and have some Chinese man stick some needles into me now and sort me out. Acupuncture. What else to say? I would like to say sorry to anyone who turned up at Phoenix paying the ridiculous money it was and who was expecting to see a couple of bands that day. ’cause I know what that’s like from a fan’s point of view.”

With that, we said our goodbyes and I left, safe in the knowledge that Mark had just given a great interview, as well as putting his side across concerning his time with The Wildhearts.

In 2014 when asked online if Mark Keds had ever rehearsed with the full band in his brief time as a member of The Wildhearts, Ginger answered: ‘We practised as a band quite a few times but, to be honest, it just didn’t sound very good. He wasn’t a good enough guitar player to be able to handle the older songs, but he was an amazing singer and really great fun to hang around with. I liked him a lot.’

Read The Wildhearts: Zealot in Wonderland excerpts

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