Jim Bob talks Carter USM and Frank Derrick
Jim Bob tells Bobby Townsend about his new novel, The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine’s farewell gigs:
Hi Jim. So, earlier this year, you announced Carter USM’s final ever gig at Brixton Academy. There was such a rush for tickets that you had to add one more date, at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Were you surprised at just how much of a clamber for tickets there was?
Pleasantly surprised. Obviously it had a lot to do with the gigs being the last ever but even so it was still quite amazing how quickly the tickets went. The downside to it all was that it left some people upset at not getting tickets. We didn’t get the chance to crack open a bottle of champagne because we were too busy apologising.
We’ve been here before. I was at Carter’s first last-ever gig back in 2007. This went so well though, that you decided to come back and play some more shows. Is there any chance that you’ll change your minds again about calling it a day, or is this definitely it and, if so, what has prompted your decision?
This is definitely it. There are a number of reasons why. We’re getting old for a start. We don’t want it to become undignified. But mainly we didn’t want to keep doing the same thing every year until we didn’t enjoy it and were doing it purely for the money. I think we would have had to write new songs to justify carrying on really and we don’t want to do that. It was also partly to remove the safety blanket of Carter that possibly stopped us taking risks elsewhere.
If you had to pick a single standout memory from all of your time with Carter, what would it be?
Some of the older memories are of things that happened so long ago and they feel a bit like films I saw rather than actual things I personally experienced. But all the recent gigs have felt really special. I do remember when we got back together in 2007, the lights and PA were being set up and tested at Glasgow Barrowlands and I was walking around the venue with my headphones on listening to Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone and I got secretly quite emotional about what it all meant.
What can we expect from these farewell gigs? Any surprises? Will you be playing different sets on each night?
Because it’s probably going to be mostly two different audiences rather than the same audience with tickets for both shows I think the set won’t differ radically over the two nights. There will always be surprises. We don’t know what they are yet though.
It must be hard, picking a setlist for an occasion such as this. So many great songs. How do you cut it down to a reasonable length?
We start with obvious ones. The hits and the singles. And we’re already almost there. Then we add songs we like playing and maybe one or two unexpected ones. We have tended to stick to the first four albums too so that maybe makes the choices easier. Putting the songs in the right order is another thing altogether. That takes ages longer than it should.
Before these farewell shows, Carter are making their last festival appearance at Bearded Theory. Do you enjoy playing festivals?
I do. Especially headlining them when you get a bit more time. I don’t really like festivals as a punter. I’ve never had a pleasant camping experience.
How are rehearsals going?
We’ve only done two so far and they went really well. It’s surprising how we remembered the songs to be honest. So it’s mostly a question of getting used to playing and making sure that it all feels natural and we don’t have to use music stands and so on, which looks awful when reformed rock n roll bands do that.
Tell us about your new novel, which is released soon…
Obviously, it’s brilliant. It’s called The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81. Published by Pan MacMillan on June 5th. It’s coming out in the UK but there’ll also be translations in French, Italian, German and Dutch later on, which is beyond exciting for me. I’m now writing under the name J.B. Morrison. The story is about an 81-year-old man living on his own with his blank-faced cat, fending off gas bills and cold callers when he gets run over by a milk float. His daughter hires a private care worker to visit him once a week and it changes his life. It’s funny and sad and all that.
How does your writing process take shape? Do you have a strict plot outline or do you start writing and see where the narrative takes you?
I wish there was a clear method. But it has changed from book to book. I usually start with an opening line or two and then wait for a theme to appear and then develop it. I’ll probably write the first chapter over and over again for ages, all the time thinking about where the story might be going. At some point hopefully the story takes me in its own direction. It’s rewarding but I actually find writing really difficult. I think of a lot of stuff while I’m swimming or in the bath. I don’t know what that says about me bit it’s quite inconvenient.
Have you already started thinking about your next book, or is Carter taking up the rest of your year?
I’m already quite far in to the first draft of the next novel. I won’t give anything away. Carter is more organised upfront than it has been in the past and so hopefully it won’t take up too much time. I can find it difficult to focus on too many different things, so writing a novel while thinking about songs etc maybe isn’t ideal. And vice versa.
Who do you bounce your ideas off – and at what stage – during the writing of your novels?
Up until now either no-one or my daughter, but with the one I’m currently writing my agent is going to be more involved in the editing at a far earlier stage than has happened before.
What does the long-term future hold? Your recent solo album was great, so will you continue making music as a solo artist, or are you focusing completely on being an author from here on?
Before I made that album I said I wouldn’t be making any more music so whatever I say now you can take with a pinch of salt, but I’m planning on concentrating on writing books now.
Jim Bob interview by Bobby Townsend.