A couple of months ago, this blog’s integrity was compromised by printing press releases for the BBC proms with the quid pro quo that the head of the PR machine, Julian Henry, aka The Hit Parade, aka Acton’s Tycoon of Teen, would grant this blog an interview.
Quite a lot (23) of questions – some of them even quite interesting – were penned, but two months later Julian whinged: “Can't you just pick five? Or maybe I could answer one question a year for the next 23 years.”
Going by the rate of one question a year, the five questions should’ve taken five years, but Julian’s obviously more industrious than he lets on. Still, we’ll never know if The Hit Parade would have chosen a different name to distinguish themselves more easily on internet searches had they started in the digital age, who would play Julian in The Hit Parade biopic, what Julian thinks The Hit Parade’s greatest contribution to popular music is or whether he gives any of his showbiz pals copies of his albums (and what they think of them).
But he did answer these:
Rock love god or PR guru – will the real Julian Henry please stand up?
I work in propaganda because I love good stories, rooting out original sources, discussing what's honest and what's not. Do you remember Winston Smith in 1984, busy re-writing the history books? Well that's me. Like you, Fire Escape, I like playing with words, language and presentation. But I can never be a bona fide PR guru because, sadly, I struggle when asked to lie with enthusiasm.
A rock god you say? Please go and lie down for a few hours, Fire Escape, you have been too long at that computer screen of yours. My gravestone will read simply 'guitar player with the hit parade and father of two fine children' if that's of any help.
Let me tell you more about my life: In days of yore, Fire Escape, ordinary folk would drink their hot chocolate and offer their prayers to the Lord last thing at night. I have adapted this routine. When I get home I sit alone praying to early Beach Boy records and then thumb through poetry anthologies to try and give my songs meaning. I do this until I fall asleep and then I dream about being George Harrison in 1965 or Paul Weller in 1979. Then when I wake up I shuffle off to work much like everyone else.
How did The White Stripes inspire you to pick up your Rickenbacker 330 again and return to the world of contemporary music?
Well they have their priorities right don't they, Fire Escape? They are great and greatness is inspiring. I was at the Chelsea Pensioners gig you know. I was the old bloke in the wheelchair with the red jacket, second on the left. You will probably have seen my hands twitching throughout as I tried to keep up with the beat.
But it's not just the White Stripes. When I saw Busted do 'Psycho Girl' it made me remember that people with a limited talent can make their own modest contribution to pop culture. Any half wit can do it, Fire Escape, even you and I.
Can you tell us about the girl on the cover of With Love From The Hit Parade?
Good question, Fire Escape. You have gone straight to the nub of the matter like any good investigator. She is more important in the overall scheme of things than is probably realised. In fact some people would say it is all her fault.
She is called Jo Wood. I can say this now because she is many miles away in America. Her initials - JPEW – are used as the catalogue number for Hit Parade CDs by those busy people from JSH Records.
Anyway, she had a strange and hypnotic effect on me for several years. Some people say she still does. I was in a trance. I asked her to marry me so many times I lost count. Eventually she said yes. I was very happy. But a few days later she changed her mind and told me she was going off to live with a tall American man instead. We've got over that now, Fire Escape, so it's all buried in the past. Or at least it was until you brought it up.
This started a pattern which has been repeated through my life. It hasn't corrupted my faith in the ideal of falling in love with women tho.
Flaxen-haired indiepop legend Harvey Williams has whispered to FET about new songs of yours called "Rainy Day In Newlyn", "From Here To Land's End" and "The Boy Who Loved Brighter". Tell us more! And tell us why you're so self-referential!
Do you really want to go there Fire Escape? This is about to get very boring…
The song 'Rainy Day In Newlyn' is about a girl who marries a Cornish fisherman. They live in Newlyn, at the top of the hill in a cheap house overlooking the harbour. He works out on the boats and goes to sea for days on end. When he gets back he heads straight to the pub by the fish market, the swordfish, with a few hundred quid in his pocket. He sits there drinking with his mates. He ignores the calls from the wife as she sits at home waiting for him. Eventually he staggers home drunk and abusive. Next day he is hungover and sits silently in front of the telly. A few days later he leaves for another week away on the boats again.
The song is the story of their relationship, how the woman feels neglected, forgotten, insulted and passed over. Her life descends into routine and monotony, and she stares at magazines, waiting and wondering if there's a better life and how she became trapped.
All this is made up and imagined, Fire Escape. I go to these places and sit in the pubs and the chip shops and watch people. Then I go home and write the song. Not sure what you mean by self-referential…I just write stuff about what I see around me, isn't that what everyone does?
The song about Land’s End is more complicated, Fire Escape. Let's save that one for the next time you put a beer in my hand.
The boy who loves brighter is about being obsessed. Matthew Arnold wrote a poem which talked about 'mortal millions who live alone' [“To Marguerite: Continued”] and this boy is one of those. He is introverted and thoughtful. Nothing like you or me thankfully, Fire Escape. The story is told in a song that's supposed to sound like Keris had written it. This boy’s life suddenly comes to a standstill one day as he falls in love with the girl from the flat upstairs.
The boy listens to 'inside out' and 'noah's ark' and 'around the world in 80 days' again and again as he sits in his flat, smoking cigarettes. Each evening he hears the girl come home and listens as she climbs the stairs and goes into her flat. She barely notices him when they pass on the stairs the next morning. In the end the boy sacrifices himself in a failed attempt to get her attention.
This rather predictable story is told in our song through stuff unsaid and gentle suggestion. It's how most Hit Parade songs are written, Fire Escape. Hours of toil and labour go into this meaningless drivel. Imagined vignettes. There's the noise of the gas oven going on. He talks about slashing himself with a knife, and it ends with 'leaves falling from the trees' which is a polite way of saying he kills himself.
OK so now you know what I mean about boring. Every song the hit parade has ever recorded has got this amount of crap behind it and so this is why I am always knackered.
What was your involvement in the launch of The Spice Girls?
Oh dear. I thought this was an interview with Fire Escape not Nuts magazine. I have been involved with them for a long time helping their manager behind the scenes with ideas and planning for how he can promote what they do. Do we have to say any more about this, Fire Escape?