Long, long ago, before I was a writer, I was a musician (of sorts). Like many bored kids in the 70’s and early 80’s I played in various bands in Ruislip and Harrow. My first gig was in 1982 or ’83, in a band called The Light, at the Royal British Legion Club in Eastcote. In the audience were most of Ritual, including Jamie Stewart, (the band borrowed my sister’s drumkit after we’d played our set) later of The Cult. In 1984 I formed what began as a punk band but ended up as a pop/rock and roll outfit, briefly with my brother (later of Voice of Europe) but jointly with my sister (A Strange Desire) and Lloyd Pettiford. After recording two demo tapes (one of which was included on the cassette compilation More Tales of Kings and Fools, with London punk/rock bands Christie and The Wickermen), a handful of gigs (supporting Malice, The Lost Cherees and Brigandage) and various line-ups under the name The Joy of Living (and one gig, possibly our first, at the now demolished Green Man pub in Stratford supporting The Assassins of Hope, under the name The Last Few Days), we split up. Yvette and I almost formed a band with Tim, guitarist/singer from The Wickermen, who had also just split up, but after a day spent rehearsing and recording, it came to nothing. Then Andy Martin from hardcore anarchist punk/experimental band The Apostles (who I’d been friends with for some time) asked if some of the remnants of the band (myself, drummer Yvette and singer Sharon Cooper) would work with himself and Dave Fanning on a song called The Wasteland. We ended up playing that song and several JoL songs, over at their house in Hackney. Andy knew Colin Jerwood from Conflict and we were asked to turn the sessions into a record. The result, a four track e.p. (although we recorded five songs) called Death To Wacky Pop, was released in 1986 on the Fight Back label. As far as I was aware, the record (old fashioned 7” vinyl) was more or less ignored, but recently I’ve seen several mentions of it on punk websites and has been described as anarcho/acoustic and folk/punk. Now and again it gets sold on Ebay and Discogs, sometimes for stupid prices.
After the project was finished, Yvette continued in the band she’d just joined, A Strange Desire, who had some success and had their flexi disc (for which I wrote the sleeve notes) played on John Peel’s show a few times. I began rehearsing with Leda Baker and jammed with Kofi Baker once. Zillah from Rubella Ballet invited me and Leda to join her band, which we did, very briefly. It was then I began writing fiction and my life as a musician ended, although I was a co-founder of the Queeruption Festival in London in 1998, a mixture of queer punk music, talks, workshops; a free alternative to the official Pride event which a lot of gay people didn’t connect with.
My influences as a writer are huge and I can only list the main ones here. I’d always been a fan of the horror genre but disliked the misogynist leanings of much of it and the general lack of female horror writers and, therefore, a lack of female experience and lives reflected in the genre. Then Clive Barker came along and things changed dramatically. I began writing what I hoped to be intelligent horror, from a female counter-culture viewpoint, but would not have got there without a lifetime of horrific nightmares (a hereditary condition) and the following:
Fiction: Clive Barker, Susanna Clarke, (early) Stephen King, J G Ballard, George Orwell.
Art: Earliest and probably biggest inspiration was Gee Vaucher, Crass’ amazing, surreal, political artist. Tim Shaw (sculptor living in Cornwall: dark, Pagan, political), Ian Johnstone (has collaborated with Coil on various projects and is now working with Mothlite amongst others), Catherine Hyde, Nick Blinko, Antony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth, The Horse Hospital (Bloomsbury, London).
Films: Night of the Demon, Nightbreed, The Lord of Illusion, Pan’s Labyrinth, All About My Mother, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, the first Hellraiser, Whistle And I’ll Come To You (1960’s version), If… . Many of the Hammer horror series are very good films, their reputation was somewhat soiled by the tits and tack of the last few.
Music: My main cultural influence. I play music almost all the time that I’m writing. Most notably:
Coil: The biggest influence – musically, psychically, spiritually – for more than 25 years and badly missed. Thank you for everything. May your onward travels bring you new adventures.
Psychic TV: Dreams Less Sweet, Unclean, Roman P. As much for their ideas as their earlier music.
Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks. At last I’d found an ally – John Lydon.
Adam & The Antz: Dirk Wears White Sox. Dark and deviant, one of the best albums ever made.
Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams: Nosferatu. Cornwell described it as the soundtrack to a film that will never be made. Released in 1979, it opened my young eyes to different sounds and rhythms and even scared me in places. Music was suddenly more than the sum of its parts. A lifelong obsession with film soundtracks – and what could be film soundtracks – began here.
Bjork: Homogenic. Puts me into a different headspace; super-aware and on a good plane for writing strange fiction.
Seth Lakeman: Kitty Jay and Freedom Fields. The Dartmoor albums – legends, folklore, hauntings and terrible death on the wild Devon moor.
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset: The Bairns. As bleak as life can be, sung by folk with warm hearts and compassion.
Siouxsie & The Banshees: The Scream. All the gothicness and spaces of Joy Division but somewhat overlooked. An album about mental distress.
Lustmord: The Monstrous Soul. This album gave me visions and I wrote The Guinea Worm as a direct result.
Zos Kia: Rape. I’ve only managed to play this record once, perhaps twice, since I got a test pressing of it decades ago, but it stays with me. Terrifying and utterly necessary.
Crass: the ideas, the art, the politics, their way of life. Probably the most important punk band that ever existed, although they are largely overlooked in the punk retrospectives.
Diamanda Galas: I saw her on a tv programme back in the mid 1980s, screaming into several microphones! She was magnificent then and is still magnificent. A powerful and inspiring role model.
And: Antony and the Johnsons, Sex Gang Children, The Apostles, Jon Boden, Kate Bush, Eliza Carthy, The Imagined Village, Swans, Joy Division, Smog, Jarboe, Sister George, The Young Gods.
Environment: Has changed dramatically in recent years. I loved London for a long time and wouldn’t have missed most of my experiences there for the world – the bands I saw, Rough Trade record shop off the Portobello Road (where I spent much of my youth discovering marvels), the Scala Cinema (where I spent much of the mid 1980s, discovering queer/trash/horror masterpieces) the deserted City at the weekends, the anarcho-punk scene, being a musician, the London Lesbian Avengers, CND marches, the huge Victorian cemeteries (I loved opposite Kensal Green cemetery for five years) – but London has a much nastier side to it and living for years in Hackney and Clapton took its toll. My last address in Clapton was in a house with a lesbian Buddhist and the house itself was a haven but the world outside the front door was unrelentingly awful: drug wars and the resultant shootings, poverty, avoiding the daily fights on the bus home from work, pimps pushing prostitutes around, stepping over junkies, homophobic attacks. I intervened in a few situations but was helpless to stop most of it. And the gay scene, once a hotbed of political activity, became fuelled by alcohol, drugs and insecurity. A friend described the capital as ‘a vortex of bad energy’ and he was not wrong. In the end leaving was the only option and I was lucky enough to have a way out.
Cornwall has its problems, too – increasing drug use, poverty (again), appalling housing for many – but there’s space to breathe here, places to be with nature and away from humans, to soak up the energy of the sacred sites and the wildness of the moor. I had Pagan leanings in London but I only connected with it sporadically. Down here it all clicked into place and I have a healthier, wiser spiritual self. The weather, the tides, the seasons, are vitally important things now, not just an inconvenience. We are a long way from Everywhere Else here, and I doubt I’ll ever see London again.
Julie Travis, West Penwith, July 2011
With thanks to Lloyd Pettiford for his support.
(Updated 19 April 2014)
All images and text ©Julie Travis unless otherwise stated.