John grew up in Anchorsholme and attended Collegiate and Blackpool Sixth. After reading about the emerging punk rock scene in the music press in 1976 he was inspired to start his own band. He supports BFC stating in January 2013, “I was born in Blackpool and supporting your local team is one of those things that gets under your skin for life”.
Robb writes for and runs the Louder Than War website and a monthly music magazine of the same name. He has written several books on music and occasionally makes media appearances as a music commentator. vocalist in Goldblade and bassist and vocalist in The Membranes.
In 2014, Robb started and currently runs a music writing festival Louder Than Words which is held in Manchester, UK every November. In 2019 he launched a vegan festival in Manchester. He is also a TEDx speaker and spoken word artist. In 2021 he launched the North Will Rise Again – a big live-cast music event in Liverpool and Manchester which will be moving into other cities as a conference event.
Q. Greetings …. think the last time we chatted face to face was either at Rebellion or at one of the TED talks you spoke at in Salford Quays. Since then please can you give us a quick update into what has been going on the loves, life and labours of John Robb over the past 5/6 years up to April 2021 ?
It’s got very busy. The lockdown is strange – that veneer of normality and claustrophobia entwined together. The city looks the same but feels different. Personally I was lucky – I worked from home or in cafes and whilst I miss sitting in a cafe typing away I can actually get more stuff done in this period as I am not touring – being in a DIY band means your life is taken over by endless arranging! Sorting out vans and drivers can take a whole week sometimes and then there’s all the other stuff – freed up of that time I’ve written three books – one came out just before Christmas was about the green energy provider Dale Vince who runs Ecotricty – interesting story – he was a traveller who slept on a bus and started building windmills and it went through the roof – he now owns Forest Green Rovers as well and has a green eco vision of the future that we like to call green populism – green ideas that are for everybody. I’ve written a book about the history of Goth music and we are talking to top film people about turning it into a film, and I’ve been asked to write my memoirs ha ha! Also there are some big non music projects that I can’t talk about until they come off…
Well that sounds interesting and productive – will have to root out a copy of the Dale Vince book … that brings us nicely onto our first area of common ground football and as the late great Bill Shankly opined ‘football is not a matter of life and death it is far more important’ so let’s start with our earliest connections your local football team – the mighty Blackpool FC.
Q. After the bitter struggle of boycotts, pitch invasions and high profile court cases the Oystons were finally ousted from Blackpool FC. After Simon Sadler’s takeover and the home coming it’s great to experience a renewed sense of optimism and positivity on TGC towards Blackpool FC.
The Blackpool FC story is a weird analogy for the way the world is – tin pot dictators like Trump/Bolsonaro and even Johnson offer no ideology just their own egos – its power for power’s sake and a scary twist in these time – we are in the century of dictators aren’t we? How did that happen! Old men wrecking the planet has become the theme and the struggle between two visions of the planet. Oyston was a minor player but fitted into that camp – forgetting that the football club was there before him and as we have seen is there afterwards. The FA were complicit as well and still have done nothing about who can run a football club into the ground. At least due to fan power, the Tangerine Knights and Simon Sadler the club is in a far better place. Football clubs are at the heart of the community and the role they can play in a towns well being is massive. There are encouraging noises from the new regime that the football club can be part of a rebirth of Blackpool and the current form of the team as I’m typing is thrilling…
Q. For you what were the main lessons that were learned from Blackpool’s civil war versus the Oystons ?
People power can get results. Power itself is an illusion. The tin pot dictators are in every walk of life. Football belongs to the people .The good will always triumph!
Q. With problems throughout the pyramid exemplified by the jettisoning of Bury FC from the EFL in 2019 and the ‘power grabs’ by elite clubs to wrestle more money and control at home and in Europe how would you describe the state of play in our beautiful game ?
It’s a mirror held up to our society – all through our lives the big players have taken over – whether that’s Man U or Amazon – the super brands own us. I’m typing away on an I-pad – we are all in the matrix. Football reflects this and the juggernauts will not be turning back. The super clubs will have their own super league the minute they can get away with it – it will be a dull spectacle. The flip side is that the sport thrives at grass roots level – maybe like music it has found a way of surviving beyond the elites. A kick around in the park is still football in its purest form and not half watching it on a screen in the background in a pub. The big clubs, though, won’t let go – they have the upper hand and it feels like they are involved in a different sport altogether!
Q. On to more positive matters what are your hopes and expectations for Blackpool FC as we are now in the final 2 months of the 2020/21 season ?
Who would ever want to kybosh things! But it feels like something is going on. Blackpool are good at these last minute sprints. I like the manager and the whole set up at the club and the patience is getting rewarded … I’m fingers crossed for automatic promotion but these things are always knife edge. Championship is where Blackpool realistically should be – premiership is a day trip for a smaller town team.
If my genealogy is correct you started Louder Than War as an online presence in 2010, releasing LTW records in 2014 and took LTW into print in 2015. As Nietzsche said ‘without music life would be a mistake’ – let’s move on to the second connection music matters re the Louder Than War project and The Membranes.
Q. How and why did you start the project in 2010, and were the label and print publications part of the plan ?
I had too many ideas for websites I was writing for like The Quietus so started my own and it became a monster! There was no plan the label and print were just extensions of the enthusiasm.
Q. What level of involvement do you have with Louder Than War and who does the team comprise of ?
It’s my site but it’s pretty free-wheeling – we have several editors and they can put up what they want – music is beyond niche now and I like to hear about things that I have no idea about – I don’t want to play safe and get stuck in the same old things even though I love them. We have our own successes and our own failures like anyone who sticks their neck out!
Q. I checked out the Louder Than War top 100 albums. What bands are currently spinning on your Jukebox and what releases are in the pipeline for the label ?
That top 100 will have changed within hours…music is now an avalanche – there is so much of it. I still love the old school records I grew up with of course and was immersed in PiL’s Flowers Of Romance album over the weekend. But I also love the Gazelle twin – her current album is amazing off the wall, LIINES, Witch Fever, Ist Ist are great bands coming out of Manchester, Those Fucking Snowflakes are amazing and from Blackpool and I put their single out, Cathal Coughlan new album is great, Godspeed! You black Emperor and Mogwai have both released amazing albums this year, Working Mens Club and that whole Calder Valley scene is really interesting, Gary Numan new album sounds good, Kaelen Mila new single is fab…so much great music!
Let’s finish by mixing the music in with some politics. When interviewed at Rebellion we discussed David Cameron’s love of the Jam and Boris Johnson having some familial connection to Mick Jones and also his admiration of The Clash (was it the track Jail Guitar Doors ?).
Q. Without getting too deep music, football and politics all create strong connections amongst we humans – what do you see as the parallels and tensions between the three ?
It’s about community and identity and as the world in the post internet era becomes more confusing and fractured it gives a place for people to cling onto. An idea of who they are in the madness! It also works on a deep emotional level and creates myths and narratives that help to makes sense of who and where we are!
Q. In the wake of Brexit, the pandemic, BLM and the toxicity of online world what’s your take on the current state of politics in the UK ?
It’s an ugly time isn’t it? Lots of shouting and no-one listening. The pandemic was like a mirror held up to everyone and every government on the planet and you got to see how ‘me me me’ things have become. Brazil is a disaster because of idiot leaders and their disaster will become a disaster for the planet because we’re all joined together. Brexit makes my life very difficult and many musicians will struggle as touring Europe will be off the agenda – that affects bands trying to survive but the cultural knock on effect will be much larger – as new UK acts are replaced on the continent by local acts at the key festivals that break new music we will gradually become a cultural outlier and our position as the key driver of pop culture will be affected. Sad really. Politics in the UK is as messy as Johnson’s hair, as profound as Johnson’s glib twitter politics and as forward thinking as Johnson’s own lack of vision. All surface and no depth and beholden to the super corporations the politics of modern UK is all about social media shouting. The only hope is to fill the world with positive ideas and projects which is part of the stuff I’m working on but I can’t tell you about until it comes off!
Q. If you have anything to ad John about plans going forward or current issues feel free to add in.
Thanks to John – good to catch-up and keep up the good work.
The piece is below is taken from Blackpool Rox II issue 10 August 2015
It’s time UK football had its own punk rock moment.
Football hooligans are killing the beautiful game.
Running amok with their eyes screaming hate and destroying anyone who gets in their way. They care little for the passer bye and their psychotic madness will destroy everything we hold dear.
There they are in the boardrooms and the courtrooms wrecking football with their big business greed and no-one seems to be able to stop them.
The worst of these hooligans are at the top of the game with some of football’s controlling institutions run by power crazed individuals who who are out of control. They strut around like third world dictators and this madness filters down through the whole pyramid with many of the UK’s most famous clubs facing wrack and ruin at the hands of strange and bizarre individuals who crave power and wealth.
Football is finally in the long predicted crisis. The greed of the premiership millions would even make a banker blush and the world’s favourite sport is in hands of dictators and madmen. It’s time for someone to take control. Clubs should be for the community. They should be shining beacons and there to inspire kids to dream and to be fired up by the positive spirit of sport. Politicians need to take notice before our national game becomes our national shame. It should be in the manifestos and a great way to explain how the rest of the UK is run by swag carrying, pin striped, hooligans whose gang known as the ‘Inter City Bankers’ who have gone crazy on a little known drug known as ‘capitalism’ The German clubs are leading the way with fans on the boards and fan initiatives and this should just be the start.
It’s time to return the sport to the people. It’s time football had its own punk rock moment.
John Robb is from Blackpool, runs the website Louder Than War, played in The Membranes, plays in Goldblade, was a journalist at Sounds and is a fellow of Salford University – well done … keep up the good work old son …..
Post Script …….
Left is a photo of Blackpool lad and local musician Kev Smith who sadly passed away just before the release of issue 10 of the fanzine in 2015 (this photo and a tribute appeared pn the inside cover) – almost 6 years on – FFS – RIP Kev lad – last time I chatted with Kev was in the No.4 and he was incensed by what was happening at Blackpool FC – the good news now is those Oyston Bastards have gone mate – UTP x