A 2016 interview with Nick Toczek by Vic Wellock, with the added bonus of some questions suggested by Greg Bull.
Nick is a poet who was gigging before the Ranters but was crucial to many of the Northern Ranters in terms of support, editing, and giving them somewhere to gig. He promoted many gigs in Leeds and Bradford and the interview touches on these. He’s also a string of children’s books behind him, as well as published poetry, political books and even appeared on The Oi of Sex with Burial backing him.
He’s a top lad and is still gigging today. Quite right too.
Nick: I’m a bit excited at the moment. I recently found out that a pirate called Pew (or Blind Pew) in Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ was based on my six times great-grandfather named Pew. He was married twice and had 25 children and he raised them all. Naturally, with that many mouths to feed, he was a bit of a bugger. He lived in Whitby and he used to go out at night and steal his neighbour’s land by moving their stone markers back from his boundary. The locals were always complaining about him. He did bits of smuggling and bootlegging. And whatever else he could. I think he managed to be a low enough level crook that they didn’t want him hung; they just knew his circumstances and wanted him to stop pinching their land. I’ve been written into a book with my dog, I die in the first chapter, but I think that’s a nice family tie, that we’re both characters in a book… The dog survives by the way… I’ve brought some poems and stuff, have you got any questions? Shall I just start with some general stuff? If you are ever to make any money out of writing, you have to diversify. I write music columns, and music reviews for R2, as well as doing talks in schools. I travel the world visiting schools. I’ve visited 50 countries: India, Switzerland, Rangoon (now Yang gon), Myanmar, Shanghai, China, North Korea! I still make sure that I write every day.
When did you start writing? I was given a diary as a Christmas gift when I was about six or seven, and I quickly knew that I wouldn’t write in it every day as a diary, I knew I would get bored, so I wrote poems in it. I still write every day, and I have all my old books. Throw nothing away! I have everything I’ve ever written, but I write on a laptop now. I have boxes and boxes of manuscripts. Make sure that you get involved in things. I’ve been very lucky, as well as persistent. You have to make networks. People remember you, too, if you write well. For example, I also write factual books. I wrote ‘Haters, Baiters, and Would-Be Dictators’, which was published by Routledge in April 2015. I’m re-establishing myself as an adult author: children’s literature tends not to be taken as seriously as adult stuff, so… I’m in the process of writing another book. The publisher I initially approached about my new book said that my name sounded familiar. I told him who I was, and what I was writing and he asked me if I wrote ‘Haters and Baiters’, and he offered me a contract there and then. I thought that had gone off the boil, because I hadn’t heard anything for months and months and then a contract landed on my door step to sign. So, I’m working on that a lot at the moment. I’ve got a 30% acceptance rate, and that’s really high. You just have to know who you are sending your stuff to. There is no point sending a childrens poem to a historical publishers. And if you do childrens work, don’t send your work in with illustrations, you double your chances of your work being rejected immediately. Twice the amount of editors, and they both have to agree, you see? Like I say, I still write a bit of poetry every day. Even when I am dog tired: you never know what you will write. I got my most recent poem from watching it rain late at night on a sea front. I was going to go to my room, but I thought I’d write a couple of lines at the table. (ed: Nick then recited several poems and then continues) Do you know I’m also a magician? I have thousands of magic tricks and I practice all the time. I used to have a lodger in Undercliffe, an Asian lad called Steve… He started me up with it. He turned out to be Dynamo’s dad! I practise magic often too. Anyway, alongside all that, I still do interviews and group talks like this: I like to think that it’s worth it if you inspire just one person to keep going. Plus, I enjoy it. I really like getting out there. Questions?
Do you think poetry is better to music? I only recently did the stuff with Threshold Shift. I never did poetry to music before. But it was good, I really enjoyed it. It was something new, and a good laugh. It’s all up on the internet, I didn’t put it up, but you can find all sorts on the net. That’s about four years ago now.
Is it more fun to perform with a band? It’s different. When I was doing stuff in between bands at punk gigs it was different again. My early stuff was pretty shouty then, but it fit really well with the bands that I was sandwiched in between, so it worked well. But I was in danger of being called a one trick pony.
Do you think poetry is inherently anarchic? No. The earlier stuff was stream of consciousness, and it was pretty passionate, but you still thought about the words you used. Poetry is not inherently anarchic, because every word has to carry the same weight – this takes a lot of work. A lot of organising. Some poets are anarchic, but I work and rework everything. I like that re-working of words, especially when I realise that I have to cut something that I thought was intrinsic to a piece, and then you reject it and it changes the whole thing.
I have a much more considered voice now. I’m still passionate, but when you choose your words more carefully, you start to choose the textures of your poems. You can still get away with the ‘in your face’ stuff in song lyrics. No, it’s not anarchic, it’s artistic. I sit in front of a scene and I paint it in words. It’s all true. We notice things no one else sees. I’d say I’m still anarchic, and recently I’ve been doing a lot of activism with 38 Degrees. It works: people power still does change things. I’ve been involved in a few campaigns.
Why did you hand write/design the flyers for your gigs at Adam and Eves? I couldn’t afford a typesetter! I just drew them up because I had no money. Then I realised that when I had money, I couldn’t afford to make changes… in the end, I kept them as preference. I could change them really easily if bands cancelled or moved times. Plus, I enjoyed it.
How did the relationship with that venue begin? They got in contact with me! They gave me £50! They wanted to fill the pub midweek. I didn’t make any money: I made sure the acts got paid. That 50 quid helped a lot, in the early days.
I was going to ask if you made any money. No! We lost a lot of money, we made some later on, but we lost a lot.
Why did you put so many gigs on? Because no one else was putting gigs on. It got to the point where people would contact me to do a show. We put a lot of bands on. And we had an open house at that time, people stayed over every night. I think we must have hosted 7000 people over seven years. And I really liked the bands; we had loads of people on before they broke through. Sonic Youth. Sisters of Mercy… we paid them £80 quid; for them and support…
Why did you stop promoting gigs? We couldn’t afford to keep going. And we’d done it.
Who was your favourite band? Wild Willi Becket, the front man of the Psycho Surgeons. He was also the Shadow Minister for Health, in the Monster Raving Loony Party. His funeral was the last show. We raised some money and released “Kingdom Come, Bring It On”, on lime green transparent record. We had his ashes mixed in with the vinyl. So you’re playing Willie if you’ve got one. I don’t think anyone knew. The Fall were supposed to be really difficult. But they just knew what they wanted and wouldn’t take any mess. We lost hundred quid putting them on, but they were brilliant. Mark E. Smith came up to me later on and said I hear you lost some money. I asked him who told him that and he just asked me if it was true. I said it was, and he gave me 120 quid, the twenty was for a beer and a curry. He said he really enjoyed the gig and the crowd, said it was one of the best gigs he’d done.
Who had the largest crowd? The Fall. Bad Brains, they had a good crowd. Bad Brains stayed at mine for a week. Good people. We had a wall that all the acts had signed. It was the last thing we painted over when we left.
Who was your favorite gig? Toxic Reasons – an American band that I’d recorded with, Subhumans – we toured Canada together. We made a lot of strong friendships.
Who was the most fun band? Toy Dolls were fun but King Kurt were the best! But they made a right mess of the venues. We had to pay for proper cleaners to come in after they had been on. They wrecked everything. The fans brought flour and animal guts, and everything got trampled into the carpets. Stuff was up the walls, it was great.
Who was most miserable? The Meteors. Paul Fenwick pulled a knife on me. John Curd was their manager, he’d also managed The Rolling Stones, and he was well known… he poured a pint on a mixing desk after an argument with a sound engineer one time. That’s what they were exposed to. It turned out alright in the end. We seemed to reach an understanding me and Paul. They came back anyway! They wanted another gig within three months. Obviously, we discussed new terms. He said sorry for pulling the knife on me when I saw him next and thanked me for putting him on again. He said, “I enjoyed that second show. You’re alright. Thanks.” He threw a tour t-shirt at me, and then went back off into the dressing room. Paul was a man with no social graces.
Which bands do you wish you had booked but didn’t? Almost too many to mention! In 1976 I went to see The Clash in Birmingham, Barberella’s: there was 20 people in the audience. You couldn’t get near the following year. They were a brilliant band. I wanted to put on everyone I’d seen. The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Slits… The Prefects, later The Nightingales… I remember their gig very well. I don’t know how he managed to keep singing but he did. He [Robert Lloyd] had a mic and a piece of paper in one hand, and he was pushing his glasses back on. He wore a shirt and tie, the tie was loose and his shirt was ripped. There was this fella in the audience who was spitting at him. You know, cos it was a punk gig. He kept spitting. Bob told him to fuck off, but he just kept spitting, so at one point, bob had a piece of paper, the mic he was singing into and this lad by the scruff, all in one hand – every now and then pulling him in so he could push his glasses back on, then with his other hand he’d punch this fella in the face. Ha!