After her excellent sets at Bonn Folk Folk 3songsbonn.com managed to get a few words with Kathy Freeman about her Punk Past and her many musical projects since.
What do you remember about the punk period of your career Kathy?
It was a lot harder then than it is now. What they don’t say on the retrospectives and such – it was actually a lot grittier. A lot more physical from the fans as well as from the bands. But the music was good!
Did you see some of the seminal bands of the time live?
I was right at the front of the stage for the Ramones. There was this club called Eric’s in Liverpool and all the upcoming bands used to play there like the Ramones and the Stranglers. People are always asking me about life as a punk but I was too busy living the life. If I’d known that years later people would be asking me about that time I might have paid a bit more attention (laughs).
Maybe they see it as some sort of dry historical musical event of the time to be analysed?
Yes. I don’t really like that sort of dry ‘Punk Museum’ attitude.
The people playing it were very passionate. Some thought that the later commercialization, especially when the Sex Pistols signed to a major label was a sell-out. Did you also feel that the ‘real’ punk scene didn’t last long?
Well, I just get on with playing my own music. There’s millions and millions of people with opinions about The Sex Pistols. I love their music and that’s enough to me really.
What did you make of the music that came after punk in the 80’s?
I just found that music was becoming more dominated by synthesizers and things and all the real energy was being sucked out of it. I just pressed on and it was only in the late 1980’s that I found my real rock n roll mojo again with a band called ‘The Birdhouse’.
The Birdhouse are remembered as Trash Metal, after which you went on to form a band in the 90’s (Joyryde) that was punk metal. Then you moved into a very interesting style labelled ‘Psycobilly’. All quite loud and electric. Why the move to rootsy Folk/Blues now?
Because it’s a lot easier to get around playing such music just by myself. If I had a backing band and road-crew sure I would continue with that style of touring, but not everyone has that luxury. I don’t. Instead I’m on the Inter-City train with just my guitar and playing the songs that I wrote and want to play to people. I’m also older now and don’t want to be sleeping in vans and that sort of thing. You have to make a lot of personal sacrifices to do things that way. But the feeling is still there in the songs and in the music when I’m playing – whether it’s with a band or just me alone.
Having heard your set tonight Kathy I can still very much detect that passion and punk attitude in your music and how you deliver it to the audience.
Well it was a very seminal time for me. The time I learned to play music and play rock guitar. I learned it in the way we did at the time. That was how we did it, and of course it stayed with me.
Just looking at the cd’s you have available there’s a broad selection of music that shows your musical experiences – we’ve got some of your punk cd’s and two more recent ones…
The punk cd’s weren’t from my own songs although I did contribute to them. The really old discs are from my band ‘The Accelerators’ where we had a front man. I helped write the songs back then but what I’ve been doing since then is fronting a band and playing songs more or less written written by myself.
So you don’t have a touring band anymore?
I have lots of what I call projects, I don’t really talk about ‘bands’ as such (note: Kathy’s Facebook page reflects this in it’s title ‘Kathy Freeman’s Empire’ which is actually not the name of her band!) I have lots of ‘Projects’. Bands work when you have lots of people living round the corner who can play and are very into it, but band politics can end up killing you. If a band turns up and backs me, then that’s fair enough. I often play with my partner, or drummers that I know, and it’s much more flexible now. It’s not like, ‘that’s the band, and that’s the be-all and end-all of my existence’ as it was with The Accelerators in the 70’s and other band’s since then.
Did you move to Berlin for musical reasons? I know it’s a popular place for Jazz and Blues musicians to call home because of it’s size and musical connections.
I didn’t really think it through to that extent. I just knew I would have a better life there and more time to do what I wanted, which is music. So it kind of worked out right. London had become very sterile when I left, although it’s changed a bit now. It was a very DJ dominated scene at the time. Also, with the cost of living in London I was working a seven day week whereas in Berlin you can have a better life-style. I’m still working my butt off a lot of the time – but I’m doing what I want to!
The move to Berlin is maybe reflected in a song you played earlier and is on a YouTube video of yours ‘Tattered Flag’ (with it’s refrain “England doesn’t love me anymore”) but I also notice it was recorded last year. A reference to Brexit?
Yes it is. I don’t want to go into politics on the subject, but I will say that Germany has been very, very good to me.
The song certainly shows you still have a reactionary streak from your punk days and a desire to be political.
I don’t ‘want to be political’ like I’m sitting on my chair thinking I must say something. I just react when I see a lot of intrinsically evil people trying to manipulate the Country that my Dad actually fought for in the second World War. It just makes me very sad, and if that’s what politics is then yes, I am political.
Many thanks for bringing your music to Bonn Folk Club and thank you for your time Kathy.