Peter Jones of Paranoid Visions - picture kwkfld Photos

PHARMAGEDDON – Paranoid Visions’ Peter Jones On Anarchy, Irish Punk And COVID-19

Dublin’s longest surviving punk band, Paranoid Visions formed in the Irish capital in 1981.

Influenced by UK anarcho-punks like Crass and Flux of Pink Indians – they operate outside the mainstream music industry, releasing music under their own label FOAD (Fuck Off And Die).

Having overcome splits and line-up changes over the years, they’ve been tapping a rich creative vein in the wake of the Missing In Action EP in 2007.

Musically diverse and politically active, they’ve also not been afraid to ruffle the feathers of Irish rock royalty, launching a “Fuck Off And Die U2” campaign in 1987.

The band released a Bono-bating EP, I Will Wallow parodying U2’s album Boy and single I Will Follow.

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, PV announccd an ambitious plan to release a series of five box set albums, every three to six months.

But then COVID-19 got in the way and screwed up the timing a bit.

Not that the band were held up for long.

Working in isolation, they recorded their parts to four new tracks on their home computers, mixing them together with the aid of producer Niall Daly.

The new songs all tackle various aspects of the pandemic and are included in the box set Corona-Verse Reality, complete with a 56-page book of poetry and lyrics an art print and lyric sheet.

To mark the release Matt Catchpole caught up with the band’s founding member and guitarist Peter Jones (aka PA System), to see how he’s coping with life under lockdown.

Eloquent and humorous, Jones outlined the band’s alternative world view, his cunning and successful assault on the Irish charts and fruitful collaboration with  Steve Ignorant of Crass.

Paranoid Visions -with founding members Peter Jones and vocalist Deko (left and 2nd left)

A group named Paranoid Visions seems ideally suited for the Covid-19 pandemic – what made you decide to tackle the outbreak head on with this release?

It was an obvious thing really. The outbreak is clearly one of the more serious issues we have witnessed in living memory, I can’t imagine what the death toll or infection rate would have been without the strict measures that were taken. We were all in a state of flux and unprepared for the days and weeks (and months) ahead, so we thought it would be best to complete the record, while on lockdown and see what we could come up with from scratch to complement the material already completed for side one.

Then the whole thing took on a life of its own –  a revised title (it was originally Converse Reality) and a full book of new poems written during and about the pandemic. So we wanted to get a feeling of our optimism and refusal to let the lack of gigs and human contact ruin our creativity!

Do you think in some ways the outbreak has been a metaphor for the restrictions that governments impose on us and that we sometimes impose on ourselves?

Not really. I think that, for once, everyone is on a level playing field. That means people AND countries. So steps were taken that would likely have been ignored if there was a €10,000 per pill cure. I do think that all areas of society have felt a sense of their own mortality though and that we should all accept that the driving force of life on this planet is not a government, but nature. We need to realise that we are fragile and are only borrowing this Earth.

What has your lockdown experience been like?

Weird. On the plus side: I completed, published and sold out a book. We completed, mixed, created artwork for, pressed and released a record. I kept my head above water workwise. I spent valuable time with family and value my friends a bit more.

On the down side. I got increasingly frustrated with idiots on the internet. I drank FAR too much and I missed gigs!

Dublin Up – Aoife Destruction and Deko share the mic. Picture by kwkfld Photos

Has the Irish government made a better fist of dealing with the virus than the Brits?

Well, yes to a certain degree. The truth is that the Irish government, or more’s the point the chief medical officer, followed the guidelines and strategies that Italy and Spain and China had adopted after their earlier infections. I firmly believe that {chief adviser to Boris Johnson Dominic} Cummings thought he knew better than the medical experts, because he had published papers on Corona viruses – the likes of which we witness every year – but this particular COVID strain is new and not yet understood. So his papers were worthless, and his knowledge was nonsense.  His arrogance and the blind ignorance of  Johnson – who could only see a Brexit-styled “We are better than the EU and can go it alone” attitude – was way off the mark. They believed herd immunity was the way forward, but it clearly was a different beast than they thought.

Did you ever dream the band would still be going after all this time?

Not a chance! We were taking it week by week! Its just happened that way, partly helped by being based here. There’s no overexposure to gigs to get bored with. I always get a laugh out of Ian Glasper‘s books where a band talks about the hardships they had: “We did our first gig after one rehearsal”, “we used to carry the drumkit in a shipping trolley to the garage where we rehearsed,” “we all met a a Crass gig”-  Fucking luxury! Everything has been a struggle, so it’s been fun kicking against the pricks for 40 years!

When you started out as a band, Thatcher and Reagan were in power, now we have Trump and Johnson – does it feel like things are as bad as ever?

It’s worse! Thatcher was a seriously evil bitch, callous, cold, heartless – but she was open about it. There were no popularity contests to win in the ’70s, there was no social media influencing. So Johnson to me seems like a very very dangerous man. He is underhand in the worst way, he is a talentless politician who only believes in the interests of the few, but people – more than  50% of them at least – have voted for him as a leader. People have bought into lies and conjecture and have voted themselves into a potential recession.  At least with Thatcher everyone she shat on, knew they were being shat on. Can you imagine the working class voting for that monster?

I see American politics slightly differently. After the optimism of Obama its returned to the cult of personality that started with Reagan. Clueless puppets, self serving fools putting a face on backdoor politricks. Both vile creatures. Trump is a bit worse though as I don’t think anyone at all believed he was as genuinely unhinged as he is.

Corona-verse box set art print

This release is part of a series of box sets to mark your 40th anniversary, how do you think your musical style has changed over the years?

It hasn’t really changed as we have always been very eclectic. Our style is that we have no style! The line up we have held for the past seven years though is the best we have ever had both musically and personally. We don’t have any limitations, so our exploring of new sounds is easier to achieve.

What about your thinking? The band espoused an anarchist viewpoint in your early days – do you still believe in that as a viable system?

I can only speak personally about this. For me, an anarchist attitude was living your life using your own moral compass and trying to treat everyone with the respect they deserve on your own terms. For example, I wouldn’t break into someone’s house, because I personally feel that is the wrong thing to do, not because it’s illegal to do so. I have always believed that if individuals all held themselves accountable and operated with a passive, respectful and autonomous lifestyle, then the world would be a better place. Theoretically if we all felt that way then there would be no need for a government or laws, but that’s a situation that is unobtainable, so really it’s as Flux said: “Strive, survive, causing the least suffering possible”.

Did you always set out to be outside convention, a kind of anti-band if you like?

No it was never contrived like that or was never a conscious decision to operate outside the norms of the musical industry. It’s just the way were are built. It’s in the psyche. The staunch DIY ethos that we utilise is not used as a label or as a mantra, it’s just the way we do things and will always continue to do so. There are a lot of bands who claim DIY status, but DBSE is more appropriate – Done By Someone Else.

What first made you decide to try and form a band?

For me, it was because I just wanted to play music. I loved the creative side of designing, writing and playing, so I HAD to form or join a band. One of the principal catalysts was the {Crass} album Bullshit Detector – here was a collection of people, who for the most part had no musical talent whatsoever and were making a horrific racket. Yet what they were doing was as relevant to me as a Clash record. I now knew it was within my grasp to do something like this. The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when I went to see Poison Girls in Dublin. I met the band and Richard Famous had a lovely conversation with me about playing and said I should keep trying as there’s nothing in the world that compares to getting in a room with likeminded people and making music.

Deko – ‘he may have looked mental, but he was a decent character’

Was it tough to get gigs during the showbands era?

The first wave of punk here did one good thing, it opened the pubs and clubs to the idea of young bands playing gigs rather than showbands in dancehalls. The death of a young punk at a Radiators gig put a stop to punk gigs for the most part, but we all still tried to muddle along and convince pubs to let us play. {frontman and founding member} Deko was always a master at this, it’s weird, but every old person who ran a bar thought he was wonderful and would always end up letting us use their function room. I think he came across as a bright young man who may have looked mental, but was a decent character. They assumed that the rest of the punks were the same, and they also knew that bar takings would be sky high. So we got to play in a few venues, but once trouble started we found it pretty hard to get a gig put on.

We promoted our own shows from the beginning, but there was a period of about 18 months where the only shows we could get were at Battle of the Bands competitions. We usually came second in those,  because even though we got the best reaction (50 starved for entertainment punks descending into a basement where a load of shit pop bands were making an effort), but we weren’t very good, so winning a competition against someone like Sinead O’Connor wasn’t the correct political choice!

Did you ever experience any dangerous moments as a young punk at the time?

Gigs were always a dangerous thing. We had a lot of violence that would usually break out as soon as we stopped playing. We were usually the headline band, even at the early stages, so by the time we were on, everyone was pissed and often those who discovered over the following few years that alcohol didn’t suit them, would get aggressive. So when everyone starts jumping around and beer gets spilled etc, as soon as the music stopped, a fight broke out.

That’s why we still, to this day, run the first three or four songs in the set into one – that way we were guaranteed to get our best few songs heard before the police got called.

Was it the difficulty in getting gigs that prompted you to take things inhouse and Do It Yourself?

It was difficult getting gigs, but the DIY thing was the only way we looked at doing things. We never considered asking other people for gigs or getting other people to set things up for us.

Is Ireland a better place now that when you started out?

It is in many ways. But the Celtic Tiger brought The Wolf of Wall Street out in a lot of people. I’d like to think that we are a better place now. We have ditched a lot of the religious baggage and the country is no longer viewed as being ‘thick Mick and his pick’, so to a certain degree we are definitely more progressive than we were

Were you surprised when you hit the Irish Top 10 in the noughties?

No, because I spent weeks researching how major labels cheated the system and decided to beat them at their own game, just for the laugh. It was a prank akin to a Dead Kennedys stunt!

So on various releases we hit number three in download charts, number four in the physical charts, number six in the national charts and number two in the independent charts. It was fun taking them on at their own game and winning. And as someone in a shop said, once you start playing the same game as the big boys, the results are still relevant. So we can honestly say that one week Steve Ignorant with Paranoid Visions was genuinely the 6th best selling record in Ireland. We were beaten to the Top Five by Ed Sheeran who sold about 20 more records than us I think! Ironically, the latest release would have also made the top five, but I kind of lost interest in the game. It takes a lot of effort and there’s a lot of chinks in the chain and boxes that need to be ticked before it happens.

Parodied Visions’ – PV’s ‘I Will Wallow’ vs U2’s ‘Boy’

U2 have been a target of yours, what is it about them that gets your goat?

The main issue in the early days was that there were a lot of bands who U2 trod all over to get success. It’s not so much that they were a terrible band, it was the way they conducted themselves and the attitude they had that was irritating. At least now that Bono is worth 300 million quid he has the right to be an arrogant gobshite who thinks he’s a god, but when you haven’t got a pot to piss in and you’re getting the bus to gigs, you should have more humility! Our main gripe was that their success brought a flood of A&R men to Dublin looking for the next U2 and everyone started trying to emulate them. There are several cases of bands being signed to their own Mother Records label whose style, music and lyrics ended up on The Joshua Tree, while the bands themselves found they had five-year or five-album deals with no obligation from the label to release a record. Sign up the competition, mine their ideas, keep them stifled.

You were meant to join the Sex Pistols on their Filthy Lucre tour in 1996 – what happened there?

We actually only had one of the gigs… and that one got cancelled! It was great being associated with it though! Great press, great publicity and a great poster on my toilet wall!

Did you feel the Pistols still had something to offer as band?

Yes I did…as Deko was quoted on TV at the time: “It’s sad that 20 years on, The Pistols have to come back again to show the industry that it’s wrong”.

How did they rate against The Damned who you joined on their 25th anniversary tour five years later?

The Damned were lovely. {Captain} Sensible has always been a guitar hero of mine… but they also had Patricia Morrison on bass and she was also a big favourite of mine. I think the Damned are a very genuine bunch of people – funny, brilliant, honest. I love them!

How did your hook up with Steve Ignorant come about?

If you ask Steve he will say: “You know what… I don’t fackin know…one minute I’m having a pint with Pete and the next minute I’m on stage in Las Vegas.”

We promoted The Last Supper tour in Ireland and hit it off with Steve at that. I think he could sense we had similar outlooks on life and music. But also in a world where he was getting hero worshipped, or having people nudge each other and point at him, all he got off us was having the piss taken out of him and treating him as one of the lads. After we did the Irish shows, we also played in Manchester and then got a slot in the New York show which got postponed. By compensation Steve asked us to play the final show. After that gig we were drinking in the backstage bar/party and I told him about a song we had (Split Personality) and that Deko wanted to do a delivery like his, but was struggling.  I wanted to know how he could get so much diction in so fast and so accurate. He said he didn’t know, so I asked if he wanted to do it with us as a guest, as we had Zillah {Minx, Rubella Ballet}, TV Smith {The Adverts} and Shend {The Cravats, The Very Things} as guests on our next record already. He said yes and one thing led to another, and one track led to an album, and one gig led to a tour… and so on!

The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes by The Very Things is a personal favourite of mine – what was it like working with The Shend?

I’m a massive fan of The Cravats. Always have been. We got to know them through playing {punk festival} Rebellion, and like Steve, Shend and I hit it off. He’s a great bloke, hilarious and eccentric in equal measures. I just sent him a mail and asked if he wanted to contribute to a song we had and to do a second one as a B-Side. And he was up for it! At the time there was no new Cravats material on the horizon, so he was missing the creative side I think! I’m currently working on some other material with him, so watch this space!

Is it easier to make a living running a label now than it was in the early days, has technology and the internet helped you to get more material out there?

We don’t make a living out of the label! It’s a means to an end and a vehicle to offload ours and other people’s material! But yes, social media makes advertising a lot easier, although you still have to know what you are doing!

How do you balance the demands of running a label with making music with the band?

Oh it’s easy! We don’t release that many records by others and usually they are completed pieces when we get them to put out!

Lastly, who’re the best Irish punk bands in your opinion and why?

There’s a lot, I think we have been lucky over here. The gene pool is more eclectic, that is to say, if you wanted to form a Discharge type band then you would end up with a band made up from people who are into other types of stuff, so the influences come out to create a more original sound.

I’ll stick with Southern bands: The Nilz are an astonishing hardcore band, Audible Joes are top of the game in terms of poppy music. The Lee Harveys (who I also play in) are about as ’77 as you can get.

The Black Pitts, dirty rock ‘n’ roll in the vein of The Stooges and The Dolls, are the only band who get better the drunker they get at a gig. Then there’s the gothic splendour of Sugarplum Suicide, girl power of Vulpynes, madness of Dangerous Dave. In reality, if you listened to anyone from over here you will get a treat for your ears!

  • For more about Paranoid Visions and their box set releases visit the band’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch

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