I met Gaye last year at a Penetration show.
It was in the bonfire-y build-up to Halloween, at the London date of Penetration’s commemorative tour celebrating 40 years since their fevered formation. Alone, I was overwhelmed by the unchanging strength of Pauline’s voice, the vibrancy of the band, and the beholden crowd who were abounding with the memories of a past lifetime.
Backstage, already beaming, buzzing, and blushing profusely, I was heading to deliver a gift to the gregarious Geordie Pauline Murray. It was there that I remember my somersaulting stomach when I realized I was sharing the corridor with another face that lined the walls of my teen bedroom. The bassist of The Adverts- arguably the most adept band from the age of rebellion- Gaye Black, née Advert.
After startling her by exclaiming my adoration for her work, and orchestrating a photo of the three of us- we chatted about the show, Underground and vegan shoes. A vegetarian longer than not, Gaye may not have picked up a bass since the late 70’s, but she nevertheless encapsulates the rebellious advocacy that constitutes the true spirit of Punk. Since the tumultuous split of The Adverts in 1979, Gaye has since devoted her life to activism and taking a stand in a number of ways- from social work, animal rights campaigning, and art curation. With hair dyed a vital magenta to match her warming aura, she is the real deal. She reminds me of the old ‘Brighton Rock’ quote that goes ‘It’s like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you’ll still read …’ Punk.
We were fortunate enough to keep in touch, and we arranged to meet for an interview. She came down to the Underground store on Berwick Street on a cripplingly cold January evening. I felt safely certain that I was the more anxious party- as along with being an established 3D multi-media artist, Gaye devotes much of her time to music journalism herself, covering and interviewing the Black Metal community. Though it wasn’t long before I realized my fears were totally unfounded- her amiable self, mutual passions, and dual disclaimers for our nervous stuttering saw any trembles dissipate rapidly.
In the classic chitchat that ensued, Gaye spoke of spending Christmas day with members of the Sex Pistols and watching horror movies. Not remembering the name of the film they watched straight away, she rooted through her bag to look for her diary. She carries a small black notebook boasting various stickers from Black Metal bands, and thumbs to the right page. Turns out that she uses the book to make a note of all the horror movies she watched that particular day. Christmas was spent watching XXX.
We discussed everything, from living without animal products to listening to Black Metal; creepy dreams to seeing ghosts in old buildings.
So I met you a few months ago at the Penetration show with Pauline Murray. Were you and Pauline acquainted back in the late seventies?
G: Yes, we knew each other back in the day. In fact, [Penetration] arranged [The Adverts] the first gig in Newcastle. They supported us, put us up and it was great. It was Pauline’s parent’s house, [laughs] and I remember that her mum would make me banana sandwiches in the morning.
Funnily enough, years later when I was up there doing a solo art show in Newcastle, I got on the phone to Pauline. I said: ‘I know that you’re up here somewhere, but I got this show, where exactly are you?’. Turns out- she was twenty steps away from me!
No way! So, have you met anyone else in recent years from that era that has been a surprise?
G: It’s been going on for quite a while I suppose because Rebellion Festival is a bit like a small reunion for us. Ex-band members, current band members in some cases- you get to see the same faces every year, which is nice. The last one was the 21st Anniversary actually, and it’s full-on- there’s five or six stages.
Like Penetration, the Adverts lifetime stretched from 76-79- is that right?
Yes, that’s right. We formed in 76, but I think our first gig was right at the start of ’77.
And that gig was a The Roxy- how did that come about?
Well, we moved to London in May, and as soon as the Roxy opened we would go and see bands there all the time. It was just one small progression to actually doing a gig there. Well literally- it was about six inches up to being on the stage, and it felt like home. We knew most of the people there by then.
Though, I sense there won’t be a reunion on the cards?
Obviously, I got arthritis in my thumbs now, so I can’t really play anymore. The guitarist died some years ago, the singer moved to Devon.
It seems to be working for Penetration, they’re doing really well. That show was brilliant.
It really was good, and that new album is brilliant. They really do stand out, especially amongst their contemporaries at Rebellion.
Can I ask when was the last time you played bass then? And how did you start?
[She laughs] 1980.
On the rare gigs that we did get to in the West Country, the bass was what would always catch my attention. That bass, it just hits you in the gut, and I thought: ‘That’s what I wanna do’. I wasn’t really interested in twiddly guitar solos.
So, I did it. And of course, it’s a bit of a lonely thing to do on your own, so my partner at the time [TV Smith] was writing songs, he taught me his songs, then we moved to London and formed the band. You can’t get far playing bass on your own.
How did you meet TV Smith?
Art college. My third year of graphics, and he was doing his foundation at the same time. We both knew Bean, who was the bass player at the time, and Bean came over to my flat and brought him with him.
Did you ever think of bringing your art and graphic background into the band?
Well, it wasn’t that sort of dynamic in the band. He controlled everything. Though I did do an album cover as an art project for my graphics course for his previous band, which is quite fun to look back on.
Hard enough as it is for a woman to succeed in the music industry today, you can only imagine what it was like for Gaye in 1970s Britain. Reading back on some of the stuff that happened and was written about her is enough to make your skin crawl. The band hated her having the attention, she hated the attention, and the press loved focusing their attention on her. It was a snake eating its own tail, which contributed to the band’s split.
At what point did you start to feel the strain of the press?
Well, they were pretty sexist. Even the music press, which you wouldn’t have expected. But they really sort of pick on you, and go: ‘Oooh, you’re a woman!’ [she grimaces].
It is so cringey to read some of the stuff back now.
God, yeah. But I just wanted to be a musician. I just wore my normal clothes, my jeans pretty much.
Is there one thing that sticks with you?
Well, it was a bit of surprise to be on the cover of the first single!
I forgot about that- it was the record label that did that behind your back?
Yeah. Well, it was very successful in the end. But at the time, I was like ‘What?!’
Me getting singled out for all the attention, the photos and things, it did cause a bit of friction- particularly with the drummer. But I didn’t want it either!
So, after all the years out of the music scene, what reignited your love in music?
I go through different genres and things, but I suppose you can write the 80’s pretty much off- I was a bit disillusioned. It was Nirvana that turned me around. We were driving round California in the 90’s, listening to college radio. I kept hearing this song come on, and I kept saying ‘When I get back to London, I really am going to get that one that starts with “Hello, hello’ ’[laughs]
I do love that whole Seattle scene- Melvins are one of my favourites.
I saw Melvins for the first time on Halloween! Yeah, I quite liked them. Jesus Mary Chain is one of my favourites. I like Black Metal and I do a lot of reviews for that.
So, speaking metaphorically, what kind of Dream-Team super band will it take to see you performing again?
Ooh, that is a difficult one. I mean, you could do something that will really annoy people, something that is really extreme. One of those Black Metal things that doesn’t make sense at all. Because some of the imagery is so great.
Some kind of satanic panic record where it tells people to kill each other when you play it backward?
Oh I’m sure they wouldn’t bother to do it backwards these days, you could just do it forward I think [laughs].
I did see something really great last Easter, a band called Slagmaur. I had seen them a couple years before at the same black metal festival [Inferno] in Oslo, Norway and they just put this amazing stage set. It has a stunt team, they hung two people, and winched another person upside down and set fire to them. It was supposed to be a witch. It was really amazing. The atmosphere was so… nightmarish. I would love to be involved in something like that. Maybe not being set fire to…
I can see you in that. I love a spectacle. What is it that first drew you to Black Metal?
I think it’s the guitar sound. It just makes my ears twitch. The first time I heard it, I said: ‘Hello, what’s that?’ I had to investigate more and more, and my taste just got more and more extreme. Unwillingly, really.
I think Satyricon was the first. Mary Anne Hobbs played them on the BBC’s rock show. Every now and then she would go: ‘Now for a bit of the black stuff…’ There are so many bands now. I really only like a very specific kind of it though. People always say: ‘ Oh you like Death Metal then?’ No I don’t. I don’t like any other kinds of metal.
I was just focusing on Scandinavia to begin with, but now they are everywhere- Germany, America.
So, can you recommend any Black Metal bands for those who are looking to get into it?
Personally, I would say Slagmaur. It’s so slow, it is repetitive, but you know- it’s creepy. And the other end of the spectrum is the other band that I went abroad for their gig last Easter was Sarcom. They’re the opposite, they’re really full on and they got great riffs. Full on, fast, tuneful.
Would you say that you pretty drawn to the macabre then?
Yes, I’ve always been a bit yet. I loved horror stories as a kid.
What’s your favorite horror film?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. Going back, I remember being really impressed with ‘Christine’, the Stephen King one. Wow, there have been so many. ‘Drag Me To Hell’ was good. There were some quite set pieces for shock value, but that worked. That was Sam Raimi.
You know, I quite like spooky things really. The old kind of suspenseful ones, they are the best. Rather than just the Slashy things- the suspenseful ones are where your imagination can just conjure things worse than on the TV.
I found the Exorcist book way worse than the film- your mind knows how far it can take you to really freak you out…
Yes, that is one film that I did see back then. I don’t think that the book was out, but I saw the film as soon as it came out, that was the only film that did spook me. When I first saw it I think I was 17. I was staying at my then boyfriend’s parents house at the time, and it had all these big antiques in it. It was quite creepy!
Yeah, not one to watch in an old house! So, you create really stunning pieces of art and sculpture, they’re kind of kinderwhore-esque- with that Evil Squirrel which I love. What’s the relationship between your art and your music?
Well, I do listen to [Black Metal] when I am making it. The only exception being the Punk series I did last year for the Forty Year Anniversary, and the Rebellion Anniversary.
When I do try and lighten things up a bit, like when I drew a rose in charcoal that I saw in my friend’s garden, this skull appeared behind it! I was like: ‘Ooh okay!’
It has always been a striking image, though- the skull. And it always will be. It has so many meanings, in art history and everything.
You’ve used a lot of different media, there were some with Tarot cards, do you have an interest in the esoteric? That’s a theme that occurs a lot in Black Metal imagery.
Not really, I like the imagery of the Tarot. I wouldn’t say that I can read tarot cards or anything.
What’s the most too-bizarre-to-be-coincidental thing that has ever happened to you?
There have been a few things that I have managed to talk myself out of. I am very cynical. Well, when I was in Gunnersby Park, and there is this old ruined bathhouse. It’s been done up a bit now, but I remember I just sort of glanced in, on this bright sunny day, clear as anything I saw this guy’s face. He looked quite weathered, like he might be a tramp- quite sort of reddish face. Really clearly, I saw him. And as I was looking round, I looked back- and he wasn’t there anymore. I went in- and there wasn’t anyone there.
I like to illustrate things like that, I have some really good dreams and I am trying to illustrate some of them. One of my recent ones is touching on this. I had this dream where I got out of this spaceship- your typical flying saucer type thing, I had landed on the beach. I was walking across the beach, and there was a rockpool, where the water dips down. I can’t resist still water, so I waded in, and underneath I could see something in the rocks. I went right under the water and started pulling at this thing, and it was this life-size dummy. I was trying to drag it out and it kept fighting back, so I tried biting it. Very weird. When I get a good one like that, the minute I wake up I have to I have to write it all down with a little drawing.
There was this other one, with these men who were underground wearing white coats who were turning people into texts. Kind of runic looking letters. They would just bend them over a desk and turned them into writing! It’s fascinating.
What can you take from that I imagine?
Probably something really mundane!
So, you’re working on new art at the minute? Or will there be another Beyond Punk?
Yeah, I got a few things on the go. I have actually just been putting up some art from a friend, who died recently. I got two of his paintings, so have been making a mess with that. But I should be working on some more dream interpretations.
There was two, Beyond Punk and Punk and Beyond. I think the stakes would be too high. I got Paul Simenon and Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo. Iggy was too busy. John Lydon was too busy. So I thought there’s not many people left really.
With the two I did, I didn’t duplicate anything. And I just feel like I have done that now. I curated a third one called Black Xmas that was quite good. I got to pick my favourite artists. That was a deliberately dark scene [laughs]
It’s kind of a big undertaking- though it is really rewarding.
If you could steal one piece of artwork to have in your room for one night, what would it be?
The Garden of Earthly Delights. I’ve actually been to see it in the Museo del Prado. There’s a lot to look at in that one!
What do you collect?
I try not to collect too much to be honest, I’m not really into belongings. I suppose I got quite a collection of those Mexican Tin Sacred Hearts and those Day of the Dead stuff. The older you get the more you can accumulate, and it can get pretty bad. [smiles]
Great when you’re there [Mexico] at that time of the year. The shops have rows and rows of sugar skulls all decorated, all slightly different, so bright.
How would’ve your classmates at school described you?
[Laughs] Naughty? Funny. Well, there used to be four of us, and we still meet up. I used to make the others giggle, and the nuns would separate us.
You never thought to leave London? All I hear is people wanting to do a year or two and get out.
Oh no, being from the country I’m done with that. I always thought that the people from London are the ones that want to leave. No, there’s all the gigs here, and the art galleries. I must know every art gallery in London. Like, I saw The Grinning Man last night- that was great!
What did your parents want you to be?
Hmm. Well behaved I should imagine.
They were happy for me to be in the band. And to go to Art School.
What was the first piece of music that moved?
When I was a really little kid, my parents used to take me to a posh little café for tea on shopping day in the nearest town. And there was the pianist, and I used to go up and ask: “Can you play Telstar?” I really liked that!
I remember my first black record- black vinyl. Apart from them little red kiddie vinyl. It was a Fireball XL5 EP. It was great.
I used to pester my parents and all my pocket money went on records.
What was the first band you saw live?
Probably some local band. The first famous band that I saw live was Free. They did this festival in Ilfracombe I think. Four local bands, I think a lot of the local people were a bit disgruntled, they thought it was going to be free. [smiles]
I got taken there on the back of this motorbike, with my boyfriend at the time. Just wearing a sleeveless vest, and going back late in the evening. It was so cold; I learnt a lesson.
Recently then, what was the last piece of music that moved you?
Well, it was the band called A Place to Bury Strangers. It was in the film XXX, and just toward the end I became away of this piece of music. Rather than just going to bed at the end, I thought: “Right, I’m looking that up.” A bit of YouTube. Then sent off for three CD’s. I liked it so much. Very much like Jesus Mary Chain. With a bit of My Bloody Valentine thrown in.
What book changed your life?
I’m wondering how far to go back. I could say in the last year or so. I wanted to read Cloud Atlas because of the title. Sometimes the title really captures my imagination, and the follow up to that The Bone Clocks was very good. Both by David Mitchell, both lovely titles. His latest one Slate House was really good but it was a lot smaller and not such an exciting title, but I recommend it. The night Circus was a lovely atmosphere as well. That was by Erin XXX, and I think they made a film about it. Though it might come out a bit Americanized and sloppy by the time it comes out.
I got an Iggy book lined up- and funnily enough picked up Jennifer Saunders’ autobiography- because we got this free little lending library at my local tube station.
Would you ever write a biography?
No- I have been asked to. But no. It would be slightly awkward with the situation that I’m in.
How do you mean?
Well…I would just have to do it without mentioning other people. That would be difficult. [pauses]
I have been asked if I would do a different kind of book. By someone who does Black Metal books. It would be artwork and a little writing about them.
That sounds great! You know, that’s one of the things that I like about you, you’re still doing new stuff you’re still creating, you have your passions now and you’re not very retrospective.
Well- doing my life story- I can’t remember a lot of it [laughs] and it weren’t that exciting! If you’re like the UK Subs- who will hopefully just keep going, that’s great.
And I’ve just seen The Damned are back!
Yes, we did a tour with them- never-ending it was.
Well, I guess the last two years have been big anniversaries. Do you get waves of it every ten years?
I don’t normally notice it quite so much, but this year I did. It was all the establishment stuff. On stage with the British library quite a few times, once with Danny Fields, and another one with Pauline. What was that- oh, Punk in the Provinces. I’ve just been up to Alton to talk at this Punk academic thing