This month marks the release of Crooked Man's debut solo LP on DFA. It is somewhat surprising to believe that Richard Barratt has not in fact released an album independently up until now, for many years he was a driving force behind Sweet Exorcist, a collaboration between himself and Cab Voltaire's Richard H Kirk. In the early nineties the pair were responsible for several releases on Warp and became synonymous with the sound of bleep techno.
Sheffield as a city, holds a likeminded spirit to Glasgow. As a result it is perhaps rather non surprising that Optimo were and continue to support the music of Richard Barratt: whilst Earth Records (a label run by Barratt) put music out down South, JD twitch & JG Wilkes banged the releases out in the clubs up North. Crooked Man's feature on the label in 2014 therefore made perfect sense. On the eve of the album's release we thought it apt to ask Keith and Richard to embark upon conversation, the results can be found below...
TWITCH: Hey Richard / Parrot, Let’s get in about it right away. Sheffield has such a rich musical history and perhaps because of that I have always placed it on a pedestal but then we got that Brexit result.
Has Sheffield gone to shit?
PARROT: Believe me Keith / Twitch, however shocked you are about the Brexit thing, you're not as shocked as I am. It was like happily going to sleep in one of the world's great industrial cities and waking up in a village on the outskirts of Rotherham.
Luckily for you it seems that Scotland is all for staying in the EU. If that does happen it will almost certainly change the balance of power between our respective countries.
Do you think the Scottish government may have to erect Sturgeon's Wall to keep out desperate English asylum seekers?
TWITCH: We are a very welcoming nation with lots of space so hopefully a wall won’t be necessary, though if it is you lot who will have to pay for it. We may be prepared to offer up an island or two for our English cousins to colonise and while I’ve never bought into the idea that immigrants should embrace the culture of where they move to I do think the new English settlers be obliged to eat haggis at least once a week.
Following on from the last question, does Sheffield have anything left to say musically or is it just better thought of as a heritage site?
PARROT: Well me and my co-writing mate Wardy have a theory that despite being highly unpleasant, a bit of unease and upheaval can be good for a chap's creativity.
The infamous Jive Turkey in Sheffield where Richard Barratt held a residency.
As a label boss yourself, what manner of artist husbandry do you find yields the best results? Keeping them fat and contented, or undernourished and angsty?
TWITCH: I have a fairly laissez faire attitude with regard to dealing with my artists but do find that openly mocking their latest submission's lack of worth on Twitter tends to lead to them upping their game a tad.
You have said many times that you have no desire anymore to play in clubs. I’m not much younger than you but still love DJ’ing. Do you think you could ever be tempted back?
PARROT: I really hate the way that people in clubs these days stand staring towards the booth. I really don't want that kind of attention. Maybe I could handle it if I got a special small hut manufactured to conceal me behind the decks. Or I could save the expense of a custom build and just sit in a portaloo. It could have a flashing disco light on the top. A bit like the Tardis. "The Turdis".
What with all these disc jockeys who never seem to retire, playing at revival nights full of escaped-from-the-Gravers - how long do you think it will be before Saga start running Acid House cruises? (Also... You're younger than me? Really? Fucking hell man, what have you been eating?).
TWITCH: No doubt someone is hatching just such a scheme right this minute. I refuse to play at revival nights and don’t succumb to the notion that it was better back in the day but do wholeheartedly agree that staring at the dj booth is a massive dud. As for my diet, it mainly consists of haggis, ale and artisanal purple sprouting broccoli.
As above, some sort of Crooked Man live revue sounds very appealing to me. If not in clubs maybe you would consider a tour of Northern Working Men's Clubs (if there are any left)?
PARROT: Unfortunately there are very few Northern men left who actually work, so I'm not sure who'd pay to get in.
TWITCH: Your tracks are all very long. This resulted in me only being able to fit three tracks on your release on Optimo Trax which was actually quite liberating for me as it unshackled me from the dogma of my four tracks per 12” rule.
Crooked Man's release on optimo Trax.
Do you just keep the tape / sequencer etc rolling and eventually decide the track has reached an ideal length or am I over analysing this?
PARROT: Don't really know why they turn out so long. Maybe I'm subconsciously compensating for deficiencies elsewhere. I do find it interesting how an art driven label boss might be dogmatic about how many tracks he has to have. And how he can turn so very quickly into a razor wielding philistine when things are the "wrong" length.
Can you imagine buying a painting that's too big for your wall? Then cutting four inches off the edge so it'd fit on?
TWITCH: I do that all the time. I have a couple of original Rothkos on my wall and I don’t think anyone has ever noticed that I cut a few inches off them here and there.
I think Testone is one of the greatest electronic records ever made. When you used those bleeps for the first time did you have any idea of the monster you were unleashing? And, were you having a laugh?
PARROT: Making that record was a real pain in the arse. Richard had just got an Atari and neither of us knew how to use it. After a week of fucking about, we did end up sequencing from that, but still putting sections down doing drop outs and ins from the mixing desk. Which then had to be edited together on quarter inch tape. So not a right lot of laughs, no.
Speaking of Testone, I'm sure I read somewhere that you sampled the bleeps in your first record? Did you ever pay us any royalties?
TWITCH: We tried to track you down to pay you but you never returned our faxes. I finally invested the money for you and bought some Apple shares. I’m happy to tell you that a quarter of a century later you now own 40% of Apple.
As a teenager it was always a fantasy of mine to appear on Top Of The Pops. I believe you made it on twice with Funky Worm and The All Seeing I. How was it? Was Jimmy Saville presenting?
PARROT: Actually, and I'm not sure how this happened, the All Seeing I got on four times. The funniest one was for the Beat Goes On. It'd had gone in the charts one place higher than the new Pulp single. And they were in the dressing room next door... Mr Saville wasn't presenting unfortunately.
Did you never think of writing to Jim'll Fix It with a request to go on Top Of The Pops? That way you could have lived out your popstar dreams and also got to sit on uncle Jimmy's knee.
TWITCH: I did. Every week for two years but he never replied. He was obviously too busy with his other activities.
The All Seeing I released on Earth Records.
When I started Optimo and was looking for someone to do it with me, one of the main reasons I asked my partner in crime Jonnie to be my partner in crime was because he was the only other person I knew who was a big fan of your Earth Records label. We both still play records on the label. Why did you pack it in?
PARROT: I never officially killed Earth.
If the label did come out of hibernation, would you and Jonnie still buy copies or would you expect to be given them for nothing?
TWITCH: I expect nothing for nothing and actually, I generally appreciate music more if I have bought it.
PARROT: I've heard of this legendary Optimo night, it sounds amazing! Almost too good to be true in fact.
As no sane English person would ever have gone clubbing on a Sunday night in Glasgow, can you verify the place actually existed? Or have you made the whole thing up in the hope of getting DJ gigs in Japan?
TWITCH: I always use the excuse that we were not very good at documenting the night to explain why there is not a single iota of proof that it ever actually existed. This elaborate scam did result in me getting gigs in Japan but last time I played there only around 25 people showed up so I'm not sure it was worth the effort.
A collection of Optimo flyers.
There are a few of us out here who think Rob Gordon is the single most unheralded producer the UK has ever produced and that streets in Sheffield should be named after him. Do you know what he is up to these days?
PARROT: In a manner befitting his genius, Robert can be a little highly strung now and then. The last time I spoke to him he told me off at such high volume I'm sure it's what gave me tinnitus. There is already a Gordon Road in Sheffield, but typically, it can be very hard to find.
Say you went on a Yorkshire walkabout and managed to locate the great man himself, would you put your money where your mouth is and offer him a record deal?
TWITCH: Absolutely. A five album deal his is for the taking.
I like drinking a bit but have never really liked the taste of alcohol. The one exception to that is a good pint of bitter (or heavy) as we call it in Scotland. This is a desperately unfashionable drink and of course never available in night clubs. The best I have ever tasted was Worthington’s from Burton On Trent.
Is there a Sheffield bitter you could recommend that I can put on my rider should I ever have a gig there again in the future?
PARROT: I'm not the best person to be asked about beer as I don't drink. Back in the days when I did still like a tipple, the two beverages competing to cause the most violence and marital disharmony in the city were Wards and Stones. (In the local vernacular, "Waahds" and "Stooanzus"). The governing factor for choosing one over the other seemed to be mainly about what state you wanted your guts to be in come the morning. Nowadays there's all manner of esoteric and expensive liquid entertainments to tempt a visiting Scotsman. I've asked my old friend Richard Hawley (a man who has spent his whole life thoroughly researching all products containing alcohol) to recommend a brew. "Farmer's Blonde" is his pick.
To Sheffield ears, "a pint of heavy" sounds like a metaphor for being soaked in doom, disappointment and despair.
So bearing that in mind, what shall I tell him to sup should he ever be unfortunate enough to find himself in Glasgow? Isn't there an exclusive kind of Highland Champaign called Buckfast or something..?
TWITCH: “Being soaked in doom, disappointment and despair” is a fairly good description of the Scottish condition and I guess one that we share with all supporters of the England football team. Buckfast is in fact an English import and is quite frankly revolting so my suggestion to Mr. Hawley, is he heads to the east end of Glasgow and orders a few pints of McEwan’s 80/-, starts singing the national anthem and waits to see what happens next.
Buy the new Crooked Man album HERE.