AN INTERVIEW WITH POET, PAINTER & PUNK SEXTON MING
"I can't stand conceptualism, I really can't. It does make me angry sometimes that someone can get away with the stuff they do. Some artist blew up a dustbin bag with air and got about a five grand grant to do that! That does annoy me. If you're going to waste money like that why not give it to the homeless not some contentious halfwit!"
Richard Marshall interviews Sexton Ming
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SM: I started writing poetry when I was at school and carried on. When I left school I joined the Gravesend Writers' Circle which was just old ladies writing for Women's Own magazine. I found this one pamphlet that advertised this writers' group called Outcrowd and they did poetry readings. They sounded more my cup of tea because they had publications like Uncle Nasty's Pork Pies and I thought: yeah, that sounds a bit more like it! So I met up with them and through that I met Billy Childish. Then they became the Medway poets. I'm from Gravesend, Kent. Medway is about five miles away from Gravesend so it's not that far.
From there, me and Billy started writing poetry together and bringing out our own chapbooks. We'd staple them ourselves. Someone told me that there was one on e-bay going for £60! We used to give them away. I probably didn't know what I was trying to do with the poetry at the time, but looking back I suppose it was about the punk ethic, anarchy. I don't mean anarchy politically but that idea of anything goes, rocking the boat a bit, that sort of thing. Shock tactics of that time.
3AM: This was the seventies?
SM: It must have been 79. I left school in 78. 79 was when I met up with what became known as the Medway Poets. Charles Thomson, Bill Lewis, Rob Earl (though he left after a little while) and there was another guy, Alan Deadman who left after a little while after punching Billy in the stomach. Billy used to really wind him up.
It lasted for a few years, then it just split up. We had a few reunions a few years ago. Bill Lewis is saying, and Billy too, that we should do a Medway Poets Anthology. Of course there's new poets as well. Wolf Howard, the drummer for Billy's band. I dare say Billy will put some of his stuff in as well. Anyway, we were working round about the time of the ranting poetry stuff. You remember that? Attilla the Stockbroker and all that. I met him once -- he probably doesn't remember me when he was in a band.
3AM: You were in a band?
SM: I've been in loads of bands, but not back then in 79. The first band I got into was in 1991. Gruff really -- basically covers of fifties and sixties songs. "For Your Love", Yardbirds, a lot of Georgie Fame --loads of things like that. We had a sax player. It was good. This was happening in Medway. Nothing happened in Gravesend. There's hardly a music scene in Gravesend. In those days there was a huge music scene in Medway and one in Maidstone as well.
3AM: Was this all off the back of punk?
SM: Yeah, this was on the back of punk. When punk died off, we got interested in other things musically. Billy and Micky Hampshire, they started doing the retro thing. What has become Garage now I suppose. They got a band, the Milkshakes, that was very much like the Beatles in the Star Club days. Quite rock'n'roll. Whereas at the time other people were getting into the Goth thing. I formed another band because there was so much of the Goth crap going around I thought: I know, I'll upset them, I'll get a hippy band going. I grew my hair long, started wearing paisley shirts, doing Pink Floyd covers and that upset quite a few people!
3AM: You like to keep people on their toes?
SM: Yeah. I think there is this thing about me. I will deliberately not go with the flow. If someone tells me to do something, I will go and do the opposite. I've always been like that. It's some kind of rebellion instinct in me or something, I don't know. I think that's why I enjoyed punk so much when it came out because it just totally appealed to me. Sticking your finger up to the system.
3AM: You keep this going.
SM: Yes. My stuff is so off the wall it's difficult for a label to bring my stuff out. I do runs of a hundred CD's. I put my hands in my own pocket and sell them on the Internet. It would be nice if someone else could do all the finance for me but I just want to get the stuff out. At the moment the stuff I'm doing is Captain Beefheart meets Syd Barrett meets Nick Drake.
3AM: I can't imagine that!
SM: Most of the stuff, the majority of the stuff I'm listening to, is stuff I heard when I was a kid. Sometimes it's just sentimental value, but some of it I actually really liked it at the time. Like Pink Floyd to a certain degree. Dark Side Of The Moon I thought was an awful album. But the Syd Barrett Pink Floyd I liked -- Medal was a good album I thought.
3AM: So back at school, what were you like?
SM: I used to get bullied a lot. I was the weird one. I was doing weird drawings. I suppose the poetry was ok. I started writing poetry at about twelve. My mum encouraged me. She was a very imaginative, creative person herself. My dad, he just thought I was weird and left me alone. These days, looking around, there's always shit and always will be shit, you just have to go and look for the good stuff. Some people say, there's no good bands anymore but that's not true. There are good bands around, you just have to go and look for them. I think the eighties was a very dismal time musically, but I think things have been improving since the nineties.
There are bands like Broadcast, the Super Furry Animals -- I think what they do is pretty good, it's not the same old stuff. So, you've just got to look for it. Kids think that the sixties was so fantastic but it wasn't. You switched on a radio in the sixties and you didn't hear the Kinks and the Who constantly. You heard crap like Val Doonigan and Max Bygraves. It wasn't all Carnaby Street! There's always been a lot of shit around. It's about finding the good stuff.
3AM: Your poetry, music, painting, do you do it full time?
SM: Yes. I do get frustrated sometimes because I don't see it as a hobby, I see it as my job. But I don't make enough money from it. It's not a regular income. I'm not self-employed either. I do see it as my job. To entertain, if you will, be it the poetry, the painting or the music. I don't see it as being just a matter of hobbies. It is my life. The painting started when I was a kid. The old crayons and that. When I got to school the teachers said I had a gift for that. They encouraged me to take it a bit more seriously.
I started one Christmas. My parents bought me some proper oils and proper canvas. So I started taking it a bit more seriously and learning technique. I tried to get on a Foundation course but I just didn't have the academic qualifications. Also, I definitely had my style, my idea, and thinking back I think the tutors who interviewed me thought: this kid could learn some more technique but he knows what he wants to do. I think they thought I might be trouble! I think they were worried that I definitely knew what I wanted. I think they may have failed me on that. I've been painting for a good twenty-five, thirty years. I get exhibitions, one or two. Charles Thompson's gallery, Stuckism International have shown me from time to time.
3AM: Are you a Stuckist?
SM: Yes. I like to hang around it. I suppose I am a member of the Stuckists but I'm not too keen on it because I don't think it's really got a good reputation. The way Charles goes on, it sounds a bit like sour grapes. He's got this thing about Tracey Emin who Billy went out with, and I think he's got this thing about being jealous because she's a celebrity now and he isn't. There's something sour about it which I don't like. Billy left it. I think he probably felt the same about it.
3AM: Was Tracey part of this Medway thing then?
SM: She was Billy's girlfriend, so she was on the scene. Tracey used to write short stories and read them from time to time at poetry readings. Her short stories are pretty good actually. She was on the scene.
3AM: What do you feel about the art world then?
SM: To a certain degree, I couldn't give a shit. I can't stand conceptualism, I really can't. It does make me angry sometimes that someone can get away with the stuff they do. Some artist blew up a dustbin bag with air and got about a five grand grant to do that! That does annoy me. If you're going to waste money like that why not give it to the homeless not some contentious halfwit! My attitude is more -- concentrate on what I'm doing and not really take any interest in anyone else!
3AM: Do you have influences when you're painting?
SM: I like Edvard Munch. A big influence is Cal Shenkel who used to design the Mothers Of Invention album covers. I think he used to do Little Feet as well. Quite odd stuff. These were guys I was looking at when I was a kid. Shenkel's stuff is odd. I used to love looking at album covers. I also liked cartoons as well. Bugs Bunny. Tex Avery and that kind of thing. I think my style is quite cartoonish. I do covers for my own CDs. I do them for other bands too.
3AM: Going back to your writing, have you written a novel?
SM: Yes, I've written a couple of novels. Never got them published. I will do, eventually. As far as poetry goes, I haven't got any favourites because I find reading poetry on the page really boring. My favourites are lyricists really. Like Don Van Fliet, Captain Beefheart, Arthur Lee of Love, Phil May of the Pretty Things -- I get my inspiration listening to lyrics rather than reading a book of poetry by a poet. Ivor Cutler has been a big influence, and Mervyn Peake's stuff I really like. The Gormanghast trilogy is quite a big influence. I like Peake's drawings too, he was a great illustrator as well. I like Bob Dylan. He's written some bloody good lyrics. It's just a shame that he can't sing them! Same with the Beatles too. Lennon and McCartney have written some bloody good songs, but someone else always does them better in my opinion. Neil Diamond -- he's got a bloody awful voice but he's written some good songs; he's a good song writer. He should just stick to writing the songs rather than perform them.
3AM: So are there things you'd do differently if you had your time again?
SM: Oh God yes! I'd have pleased a few more people. Kissed some arse more. At the end of the eighties I went to live in France for four years in Normandy and really I didn't do anything, I didn't follow anything up whilst I was in France. I wasted four years of not creating and not promoting my stuff. And when I came back I had to do a bit of catching up.
So, for example, in those four years Billy had got things really moving for himself whereas I hadn't done anything. I regret that. I'm happy with the direction my work itself took though. In the future: I'm working on these books that Bill Lewis is talking about. Bill's talking about bringing out a whole book of poetry of mine by the end of the year. I don't think it'll be done by then, but some time anyway! So there's that in the future. I'm going to start writing some new stuff soon. I've got plenty of ideas for poems. I'm going to work on that. I'd like to do some more poetry readings as well, get on the poetry circuit again. Doing the music rounds, it's bloody hard work lugging the stuff about. Mind you, Billy rang me up the other day and asked me if I fancied recording another album, so there's that that I'm going to do in August.
3AM: What's it like working with Billy? Are you on the same wavelength?
SM: Oh yeah. Billy's a control freak, so of course sometimes you have to bite your lip. It's funny though, when we get together there's this chemistry where we're constantly bouncing ideas off each other so I inspire him and he inspires me. Usually we make it up as we go along. What we do is we write a list of titles and then we decide -- let's write this one then. Billy comes up with the melody line on the keyboard and so then we fit in the lyrics to that. It all gets liquidised. You can't really say I wrote that line and Billy wrote that line. It all gets totally liquidised. It's fun. It's constantly bouncing ideas off each other and you can't tell who did what.
3AM: We've just had the 25 years of punk stuff. What are your thoughts on punk?
SM: I never met the Sex Pistols although I've met Cooky (Paul Cook) a couple of times. I think what punk was was, you had the hippies and they were going around saying "The revolution is coming, the Revolution is coming" and I think what punk did was it said to the hippies, "look , you're sitting around on your arses smoking pot saying the revolution is coming, so when is it going to fucking come?"
I tell you what, we are the revolution! Punk did change a hell of a lot of things. People's attitudes to authority now, the way people consider the government, the royal family, I think that people don't take so much shit. I think punk helps people to say, no, I'm not going to take this shit. I'll call you a wanker if I think you're a wanker. Whereas before people thought that they shouldn't knock the royal family and the government. I think it helped with anti-racism and anti-sexism and anti-homophobia because we embraced those things. If you were gay we'd say come and join us because everyone hates us as well. When Tom Robinson sang "Sing if you're glad to be gay" that took guts. Especially at that time because Mary Whitehouse had got the only gay newspaper closed down because there was an article in it suggesting that Jesus was gay or something. So it was a very bad time for gays, and punk helped it some little way to get that pride thing going. The same with the Rock Against Racism gigs. And women for the first time could front a band and they didn't have to be half naked and sexy. They could be screaming their heads off giving the audience abuse. Punk did a lot of good things. Some bad things came out of it as well, like disrespect and an attitude thing where everyone seems to be obnoxious.
3AM: Do you regret its passing? Do you think we need another injection?
SM: Yes. All this retro stuff, all these revivals of Mods, and skins and rockabilly, all this stuff, I think, Christ, can't you the youth of today get your own youth culture instead of borrowing everyone else's? I went to Nils Stevenson, he was a manager of Siouxsie and the Banshees at one time, knew all the Sex Pistols , knew all the punks at one time, and I got to know him. He invited me to this exhibition he had. I was in the bar and they had a disco playing punk rock and there were photos of all the punk rock days that he and his brother had taken of the Roxy and the Vortex and all these old punk places and there were these old punks there. We were all fat and grey and going bald. And suddenly these eighteen year olds came in. And they had their Destroy T-shirts and bondage trousers on and one came up to me and said "Hi, I'm a punk," and I said "Get your own fucking youth culture. Don't you borrow mine! You know, I've had my youth culture, now get off your arses and start your own." All this Rap and Hip Hop, it's been going on for years now. When's it going to end? The stuff I'm doing is who I am. It is important to me.
3AM: You've a new album coming out.
SM: It's called A Lifetime of Nervous Gut Aches: Rare Recordings from 1979 to 2002. It's all stuff that I've recorded over the years with various bands. It'll be good for the hardcore Sexton Ming fan! There are a couple of songs with Billy that never got released. There's me with an embryonic Ten Benson. He's like a tongue in cheek ZZ Top. James Taylor, from the James Taylor Quartet, is on a couple of the tracks. It's a variety.
3AM: You appear on 25 Years of Being Childish don't you?
SM: Yes. It's a good album that!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Sexton 'The Ming' Ming, was born in the dismal town of Gravesend and rejected by Medway College (which actually accepted Bill Lewis and Billy Childish), but subsequently proved himself to be 'all powerful' by becoming a founder-member of The Medway Poets in 1980 along with the other two and Charles Thomson. The Ming is on 15 LPs and CDs with his unique musical and poetic output.
'Sexton Ming, famous for his humungous cock (rumoured by some to resemble a walnut whip) says: "Art has gone all crappy. Any fool can fart and call it art. I might not be technically good but at least it's paint. I don't believe in gimmicks, apart from my own."
ART ARSE TO THE WORLD
"I like painting queers and animals and witches. They are outcasts. Please have kind thoughts when you look at my work. I can hear what you think. Let me rest. I don't like ARTY TYPES. Ralph Steadman called me a failed interlectual (sic)."
And still more, on the eve of the opening of the first Stuckist exhibition, 15 September 1999:
"You want a fisting? I'll fist you, you cunt! And I won't use any lubricant! Your arse will look like shredded wheat when I've finished with you!
"Do you like my paintings? Well, fuck you, you cunt. Go stick some pipe up your arse!
"I don't like you and you don't like me so let's fuck. I don't like anyone really. So I guess I'm fucked over. I'm an angry young man who's getting old."
"I like to shit. And I like painting it. So fuck you up your arse you cunt. Don't talk to me else I'll smash your face in. You can go hang by your bollocks."
"My paintings include:
The Handy Tree
Ploppy the Cow
Deliverance (collection of Josh Collins)
Shemale Stronghold (collection of Steady)
Plus lots more!
I am prolific in fucking you over you cunt! You shoulda been flushed down the toilet at birth. I don't like you. Go away. You smell."
"Up your pipe. I've had enough of you arse bandit types!"