Jinx Lennon
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Jinx Lennon

Every now & again an LP drops out of the ether to grab you by the short & curlys & savagely shake yr preconceptions until they burst. “30 Beacons Of Light For A Land Full Of Spite, Thugs, Drug Slugs & Energy Vampires” by Jinx Lennon is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Music as primitive as possible is good for us, claim the sleeve-notes – wise words, indeed.

Utilising vaguely Hamell-esque acoustic abuse, JCC-ian observational humour, Iggy fired delivery mechanisms & a Mark E Smith work ethic, Jinx Lennon takes punk, folk, hip hop & traditional values & mashes them to a pulp round the back of the coal-shed whilst the police are looking the other way. From the acoustic punk of “Bubble Electrician”, via the skewed pop sus of “You Shouldn’t Try To Fuck Someone’s Head Up” - all the way to the affecting “Proud To Be A Nobody From Co.Louth”, “30 Beacons Of Light” contains more ideas in 32 songs than most groups have in their entire careers.

Jean Encoule was so impressed with Jinx Lennon he selfishly kept the LP to himself over the Xmas holidays & subsequently failed to burn off copies for the rest of us in the process. As punishment for this indecent act of supreme ignorance, he was subsequently made to cyber-walk all the way to Dundalk to ‘catch up’ with Jinx & find out what makes him tick:

trakMARX – Jinx, welcome to the humble pages of tMx – how you doing?

Jinx - I’m trying to swim through the apathy molasses that the month of January always seems to imbue my spirit with. I’m trying to ward off the energy vampires - but of course the worst one is inside the head.

trakMARX – You cite The Stooges & Pixies as spurs that have led you on. What other influences inform yr sound?

Jinx - I always loved folk music when I was a kid - whether it was Marty Robbins singing about El Paso or naff stuff like the Christy Minstrels - or the rebel songs that are part of growing up in Ireland - especially near the border. My uncle used to have 8-track tapes of all this stuff when I was a nipper, going to my Gran’s house. I used to learn to sing along to all those songs.

I’m a big pop kid at heart. “There Goes My First Love” by the Drifters really got me when I first heard it on the radio. I was 11 - it was like some beautiful sexy woman sitting on your lap - licking your face and singing lyrics into your ear about all the nice things waiting for you when you reached your teens. It doesn’t sound as good or traumatic now - of course - but at the time it was like a secret code lesson about sex before I learned what the word meant.

There were a lot of interesting things happening just after Punk. Punk itself - I looked down on initially – mainly because the stuff I had heard seemed to be just about vomiting in people’s faces. I secretly loved The Undertones & The Skids - but when I was fifteen I was buying Queen records.

I suppose that amongst the biggest influences that got me into music as a creative force that you could use to express the shit in your head were journalists in the NME, Sounds, Melody Maker around 81,82. People like Steve Sutherland & Paul Morley. Many probably hate Morley now that he is a media darling of sorts - but he was really passionate about music which I could dig - & his diatribes always inspired me. Mark E Smith would always have something interesting to say at this time - even the likes of Simple Minds seemed to have a Spartan essence floating on an invisible raft cooked up by Morley & others with guff about “perfect pop”.

Later on - I got into Television & wordsmiths like Elvis Costello. I bought “Get Happy” & relished the way he played about with his lyrics. I enjoyed the bitter words that he combined with bright soul music - he was like a Venus Fly Trap leading people on with the sweet melodies - only to corrupt them with his jaded view of things. I suppose he was a portal into all the other usual figureheads - like Dylan & Van the Man - but also the Fall - even hip hop.

I listened to a lot of Tim Westwood around ‘95 - when I was fed up with much of the music of the time. I was working as a night-watchman and I became like a kid again - hearing the Wu Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Special Ed - it seemed a lot more fun than listening to fucking Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins. Other shit like Suicide is also important. The Gun Club too - deceptively simple - yet deadly.

trakMARX - Has music still got the power to change perspectives in these complacent times?

Jinx - Every so often there is a sort of mass consciousness thing in music - it happened about six or seven years ago when people got fed up of bands & grabbed their acoustic guitars again. Someone who had been doing that for years - like David Gray - who had seemed to be like a pariah in 93 when placed alongside Pearl Jam or something - suddenly found himself in superstar status as a figurehead of this nouveau folk movement. Now Mr. Gray is no revolutionary - but his big album was perfect coffee table music for thirty some-things, wine bars & background music for students cramming in their studies - because it does not make you think.

The average person in the street will always find it too much of a bother to listen to someone like myself - who brings the home truths in - even though I do it with a bit of tongue in cheek. I don’t think music can be both popular to the masses & revolutionary - except in certain eras - and this is not one of those eras - there are too many distractions & choices that dampen the hunger for real polemic. Most people just want comfort - even though the outsiders who dig for fire are out there - burning bright - as you good people @ trakMARX know.

At the end of the day there is just too much fucking music – full stop - & the real jewels find it hard to shine through the murky saturated aural grime. The big modern music festivals are so well planned - & so lucrative - they remind me of the Quatermass TV series in the 80’s: set in a post apocalyptic world where lots of kids had gathered at Stonehenge because they thought aliens were going to take them to a new beautiful planet - when all the time the aliens were just using them for protein for food supplies. Just shootin’ - fishin’ a barrel, my good man!

trakMARX – “30 Beacons” is yr second LP – talk us through yr back catalogue.

Jinx - I was in a few bands in the nineties - Silver Seeds, Novena Babes - local heroes who never escaped the local bubble of hometown hero status.

My first album as Jinx Lennon was “Live At The Spirit Store” - released in 2001. All the tracks are different to the stuff on “30 Beacons”. It’s a document of a gig in my hometown of Dundalk in November 2000. It was a very volatile crowd who were pissed. Some of them were really getting testy - shouting up abuse - as you can hear on the album. I was probably shitting myself - I know I wanted to be anywhere other than playing that gig at the time - so it’s a good document of one of my early gigs. I was walking on a thin line - with disaster threatening to overwhelm my stage show that night -so it feels like a real live album – warts & all. I threw in a few hip hop covers - Public Enemy, Wu Tang Clan, Genius - & a cover of Culture Beats “Mr Vain”. I stand by it in that it still sounds like it was made five minutes ago.

I appeared on an album called “First Transmission” in 1997 - a compilation of local Dundalk bands. It was the brainchild of local scenester - David “Bobo” Manning. Mostly grungy acts - a couple of punk bands - I have a song called “Evening Gown” on it which is a pure ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ pop number inspired by Phil Spector. I went under the name of my old band - Novena Babes.

I appeared on another compilation in 2001 called “Loud” with a song named “Bonfire Summer Song” inspired by the Beach Boys and Suicide.

I also appear on a song on the current album by a great Irish band from Cork called Stanley Super 800 (out on Bingo Records) - which I wrote the lyrics for & sing on - called “The Revenge of the Vinegar Man”. I play a version of this in my current shows. It tells the story of a chip shop owner who gets his own back on a bunch of lads who do something distasteful with a bottle of vinegar.

trakMARX – You toured with Ed Hamell a while back – how did that work out?

Jinx - A lot of people reckoned I sounded like Ed & the guy who runs the only really decent venue in my home town (The Spirit Store) told me to get in contact with the promoters of a tour he was doing in Ireland in Dec 2003 - so I made it my business to do so. The first show was in Dundalk. Ed heard me singing a new song I was trying out called “Forgive The Cunts” - & confided in me that he’d made a point of asking the Irish promoters if the support act for the tour were ‘quiet’. He said he was tired of hearing singer/songwriters playing laid-back songs - I suppose James Taylor-ey type of stuff - so he was pleasantly surprised - I think.

The first tour with him was better than the second. He is pretty dedicated to his art. I always feel a sort of religious fervour with Hamell - every show is played as if it is his last. On the second tour we played a real redneck type disco bar place in the town of Tralee in Kerry. The venue was horrible & he said to me before the gig - “you know this is going to be shit” - in a resigned voice - & it was. The sound was awful & the crowd was drunk - but he won them over like a snake charmer. You cannot help but be impressed by someone like that

trakMARX – You’ve also played out with The Fall. How did you get on with the famously curmudgeonly Mark E Smith?

Jinx - I never met Mark E Smith when I played with them in Galway - but I did meet him in 84 in Dublin - backstage with Brix and Karl Burns. I was drunk and I was trying to slag him about Echo & The Bunnymen - or something. He just grabbed me by the shoulder and asked me for a fag. In other words – if you don’t give me a fag - fuck off! I knew the drummer - Spencer Birthwhistle - from meeting him one time in Manchester a while back - chit chatting about music to him - not knowing him from Adam - he just happened to be driving a cab at the time - so it was funny meeting him again as sticksman. We were having a laugh about that - nice fella.

The Fall were great that night in Galway last summer. They rocked the fucking place. Mark looked great onstage - like Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgin’s narky brother. Night of the year - I think. Yeah - he’s got it. He’s like James Brown or one of the original Chess blues guys. They just are who they are. Their sheer force of personality keeps them imbued with greatness. Timeless.

trakMARX – Lyrically you use humour to highlight some pretty serious issues. Does it help to make people laugh while yr making them think?

Jinx - What did Julie Andrews say in Mary Poppins? “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”. If I didn’t put a bit of humour in the music it would sound whiney. Irish people have got a natural sense of humour that is generic - all the stuff that works that is Irish has got this essence - just as long as you don’t overdo it. There are some awful Irish comedians making a killing in Ireland spouting the obvious with a few digs at politicians or the catholic church - yet this doesn’t really get anyone’s backs up. It’s feel-good comedy for ‘nouveau riche’ young couples who spend their Sundays worshipping at the alter of B&Q or IKEA. People like Tommy Tiernan in Ireland are put on a pedestal as some kind of Bill Hicks-ian iconoclast while he’s more like a hand puppet on a kids TV show. There are a lot of things that are dark and vicious in Ireland that at the same time become hilarious because of the natural contradictory way of life over here.

“Father Ted” was great - it really caught something intrinsic about Irish people - but it is interesting to me that the show had to be made in another land. It was too real - too full of home truths - & would not have been accepted as a home-grown show. As a Channel 4 production - that was different. It was wrongly seen as a British concoction by many. The attitude was - “foreigners made it” - so it smoothed things over even though it shocked a lot of people at the beginning.

Neil Jordan’s “The Butcher Boy” movie I love - because I empathise with the main character - Frank Pig - who was a fucked up soul from a border town - a bit like myself.

Hilarity is a vital spark that is in some of the best music. You can hear it on the “Velvet Underground & Nico”. Lou Reed and co - they sound like they are taking the piss out of Nico in the chorus of “Femme Fatale”. Mick Jagger constantly sounds like he’s doing the same thing on all the Stones sixties stuff - but it makes it more human - more real. Same with the Fall & Beefheart. I always had a problem with revered things - like Jimi Hendrix - the music just sounds like he’s waving his cock at you the whole time. Testosterone overdose music.

trakMARX – You sing in your native accent – even though this means you run the risk of being misunderstood by some. Was this a conscious decision?

Jinx - I have never been able to disguise my accent. I got tired of listening to local people putting on Kurt Cobain “irrrrrrrrrrrrr” type inflections when they were singing - so I suppose there had to be some sort of conscious decision not to try to hide it - but really I couldn’t do it any other way without sounding stupid. I get compared to a Dublin troubadour named Damien Dempsey who Morrissey took a shine to recently. He sings in his own voice - but I think the fact that there are few Irish people who are not in the traditional folk movement who have the confidence to show where they come from is still a novelty. Feargal Sharkey of the Undertones had a local Derry accent - and they were great - the best Irish pop band ever.

I admire & feel inspired by deceased local Poet/novelist Patrick Kavanagh - who was a rough diamond who never pretended to be from anywhere but the small village of Inniskeen where he originated from. He believed he could see something universal in his own parish that was enough to flesh out the basis of his art. A belief that all the great societies - Greek, Roman, etc - were intrinsically parochial in nature.

trakMARX – It seems a long time since the glory days of The Undertones, Rudi & The Outcasts. Have things really been that bad all these years?

Jinx - There are some really good album releases coming out of Ireland now - but there has always been an awful lot of bollocks - & although U2 can’t be blamed totally - I would definitely point the finger in their direction as emasculators par excellence. In the 80s there was their facetious Mother Records label – sky-scraping (or barrel scraping) Bono voiced clones at the ready with hennaed forelocks. In fact - besides bands like Whipping Boy & The Slowest Clock - & forgotten heroes, The Blades - there was a total wasteland in Irish alternative music around Dublin until recently.

Cork City is a different matter. Almost all of the most vital outfits in the country come from Cork - and they all sound different - from great pop outfits like Fred to Simple Kid, Stanley Super 800 - loads more. All the best folk troubadours seem to originate from around here too. What happens to Irish acts is that a lot cannot seem hold on to their magic because they want to follow the money & they end up making cunts of themselves. I saw some great bands full of kinetic energy who ended up corseted in stage effects & trendy clothes - compression on their records - their fire pissed on - their Zippo lighters snuffed out.

There is definitely some great stuff about just now. I’m listening to a band from Dublin - a hip-hop act called Messiah J & The Expert. I was wary of it before I parted with my money - but it’s great. Also - there’s a great band from Lurgan (Armagh) called The Blues Experimentation Society that I played with recently.

trakMARX – You describe yr approach to yr art as ‘washing yr hands in dirty water’. What do you mean by that?

Jinx - Hopefully I always will be close enough to my subject to recognise the importance of the truly dark stuff out there - because computers, mobile phones, etc - have a tendency to isolate the natural instincts. Every so often a dose of smugness & comfort arrives at my door like the approaching storm clouds in that film “Elephant”. I’m trying to keep my hands in both dishes of dark & light. I would hate to start thinking I know more than every one else - to be humble is a gift. If I ever see myself being put on a pedestal I feel I will be fucked.

trakMARX – What’s a bubble electrician?

Jinx - This is about the realities of being a musician in a small town where everyone knows you - & your peers give you a swell head when you’re playing gigs - saying you’re brilliant - this & that & stuff. You end up walking on air until you go to the city - & then you realise no one gives a shit. You either deal with that & move on - or else retreat back to where everyone knows you - & bask in the sunlight of this until eventually the milk curdles - & the bubble bursts. You come to resent other people because inside you blame them. People are naturally bubble electricians - as they build you up with their kind words and stuff - but it’s up to yourself to just appreciate it for what it is. Laugh at yourself for rising up in the air like Muttley in Dick Dastardly - & quickly get back down to the making of your music.

trakMARX – Your music blends savagery and beauty – often in the same song. Where did that come from?

Jinx - I had something like “Swordfishtrombones” by Tom Waits in mind when I was making my last album because there’s a real ‘Quality Street’ selection box of styles - things like “Jonesburg Illinois” that just suddenly appear after something gritty - it’s that contradiction that I wanted to communicate because some people think I’m like this human Tasmanian devil or something. A bit of tenderness sometimes makes it very much more real – because that’s what life’s like. A lot of roughness with periods of snapping awake and seeing the magic in things - like a beautiful February blue and gold afternoon.

trakMARX – “You Shouldn’t Try To Fuck Someone’s Head Up” is a very obvious 45 – but it’s never going to get played on the radio. Is this indicative of the Jinx Lennon contradiction?

Jinx - I know I am probably never going to be on TOTP – but so what. I only really began to make something I felt was genuinely worthwhile the day I stopped trying to play music I thought would appeal to the masses. This stuff is like therapy & meditation to me. When I get onstage I know that there are people out there who feel all alone in the world when they go to a gig to see a show most of the time - and they walk out with nothing extra in their hearts - which was the way I felt most of the time when I’d go to a gig. So I try to get across that little bit extra and lose it somewhat onstage - like the holy rolling character Robert Duvall plays in “The Apostle” - making a bit of a twat of myself - but that’s part of the Jinx Lennon show.

A friend of mine with kids says he throws on my live album when he feels pissed off - he says he listens to this ‘madman’ losing his head - & it clears his own head for him. Like Peter Finch in “Network” - articulating his rage - “I’M MAD AS HELL & I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANY MORE”. I do feel resentment sometimes - like anyone with a heart does - that I’m not as popular as Coldplay or something - but I’m better off, really. I look up to people like Alan Vega & Marty Rev of Suicide - they were ignored for years yet they kept on with it - coming out with great timeless albums every so often - solid - ignoring being ignored. It’s important to have the fortitude of these people or the old blues guys playing for themselves - making music for itself.

trakMARX – What’s A Sticky Head?

Jinx - Its actually a term of derision that originated with people within the Republican movement in Ireland - but in the song itself is about certain bars in my home town which don’t take kindly to those who look like they are not the ‘salt of the earth’. Longhairs & students or foreigners. A musician friend of mine was making an album & Nick Cave’s engineer happened to be over making it with him in Dundalk. They both went for a drink in what I call the Mason/Dixon line part of town. They both didn’t add up to specifications in this bar - they hadn’t got regular heads (moustaches, Celtic t-shirts, no.2 haircuts, etc) & they had a sort of bad experience - being stared at by certain parties in the bar when they sat down. The Aussie accent filling the place didn’t help things. They got out quickly when they saw their presence was not wanted & went into the Chinese restaurant next door - but were followed in by someone from the bar - who sat and stared at them ominously all through their meal.

trakMARX – You employ a few Hip Hop shapes here & there. Is that parody or homage?

Homage - definitely. I love hip hop - & as I said already - I used to work as a night watchman & the thing that got me through the night was my hip hop tapes I got from the radio. I used to inhale the Tim Westwood show on BBC radio from 1995 to 2001. I have around 30 hours of the stuff I transferred to mini disc recently. Hip hop is definitely like punk to me in its DIY personality, humour & simplicity. It was not that popular amongst the masses at the time when Blur & Oasis were omnipresent - but the Wu Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, KRS 1, Showbiz, OG records & many others gave me a slowly forming focus for my own music. It saved my life at a time when I was so pissed off with music that I had even bought a Queen tape. I still dig it - there been a lot of good stuff recently - like MF Doom & Skinnyman - even guys like Dizzy Rascal have their own personalities and set out their stalls sufficiently at a time when there is so much music out there yet so little originality. Its definitely part of the public consciousness as far as the slang is concerned - with every halfwit on TV and radio talking about being ‘back in the day’ & giving ‘shout outs’ - & desperate housewives in the News Of The World problems page talking about ‘getting jiggy’ in a threesome with the toy-boy next door & his bit of fluff - but the best stuff remains firmly in the underground while the trendy kids dig Outcast.

trakMARX – “Drug Slug” really hits the nail squarely on the head with regard to the selfish nature of substance abuse. Is it written from personal experience?

Jinx – It is a biographical song & that’s why people like it - cos that’s what it can be like - & I have been in that situation once or twice since I wrote it - so life goes on. I still like a few ‘west points’ from time to time. I indulged in the usual things during the Smartie era because it was there in front of you - at the same time a lot of people I know have recently made acquaintance with the ‘Charley Fella’ & they cannot see the way it has turned them into complete cunts - so I don’t know. Drugs definitely damage you - but I have very political feelings about arseholes running the country who protest about the horrors of illegal substances yet won’t open their mouths about the more devastating ramifications from alcohol abuse because they don’t want to piss off the breweries cos of all the spondulicks they are getting from them.

trakMARX – When can we expect a follow up to “30 Beacons”?

Jinx - I am currently working on new stuff – it’s coming together so far - but I am taking my time with it cos I don’t want to get too wound up around it. I am making it with a guy in Dublin - Steve Lynch - who has a totally different approach from the last person - Jason Varley - who I really enjoyed making “30 Beacons” with. It will be more studio orientated this time - but I have to watch that cos I want to keep it raw and human. What will make it more interesting is my secret weapon in the form of a fantastic singer from Forkhill (Armagh) named Paula “Magic” Flynn who will be sharing vocal duties with me. Should be out this year.

trakMARX – What live dates have you got coming up?

Jinx - I have just been invited over to the Antifolk festival in New York for the 18th of Feb - & I have a tour of Ireland that starts on the 7th of Feb. I will be playing the UK soon - but no definite dates yet.

trakMARX – And finally - what constitutes success to Jinx Lennon?

Jinx - Getting the taste of making a new record - relishing the taste - making sure more people hear my stuff - forgiving those I hate. Trying and be righteous - but letting the devil shake his tail an odd time.

Jean Encoule – tMx 18 – 01/05

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