Q&A With Johnny Normal
Q. Hi Johnny. It's just over two years ago you returned a completed Q&A to me and that very same afternoon you were fighting for your life. I think I can say this on behalf of everybody on the scene that 'Thank God' you came through it Johnny! How are you and how is your recovery going?
A. Hello Andy. Thank you, that’s kind of you. Yes, it was actually just after I had finished your Q&A that my wife rang for an ambulance, but I was determined to complete it: I hate letting people down. As you know I suffered a stroke whilst in intensive care (whilst I was in the coma) so my left side is permanently weakened and it causes occasional problems that affect the little things people take for granted like counting out coins, gripping with my left hand, balance, walking and sometimes speech. My lungs are at 54% capacity and my kidneys at 50%, and unlikely to get much better to be honest. I am on lifetime medication that keeps me alive and functioning as well as I can. I can’t complain though Andy. I am so grateful to be here at all and I am determined not to be defined solely by what happened to my health, there’s more to me than that. The people in our little (but growing) scene have been very kind and have been instrumental in my progress. For that I will always be grateful.
Q. You were already an ambitious guy with many projects in mind before your illness, this surely must have made you even more determined than you were before?
A. Absolutely. Although recently I have been made to acknowledge that I was taking on far too much and my recovery/rehab was being affected. Sadly I had to make the decision to stop my radio shows, for the time being anyway, to free up a little space in my head and lower the stress levels. The show takes a lot of time and thinking because I want each programme to sound 100%. Stopping the shows is not something I was happy about, but I have to be realistic. I am having to balance my activities with my family and recovery… which I am getting better at.
Q. Apart from huge strides in your recovery, one of your first achievements was to finally see the release of 'Robot Rock'. That in itself must have been a huge confidence booster?
A. Yes, Robot Rock was about 80% complete when I was taken ill. There were two songs left to add. These final two songs were written in intensive care and were the first things I had tried to write down following my stroke, so the handwriting was pretty messy. The title track ‘Robot Rock’ is about waiting in hospital, listening to the noises and crying around me, the beeps of the machinery, and hoping my family would take me home soon.
‘Alive’ is a very poignant song for me and my family. I wrote it the day I was told by the consultant that I “probably wasn’t going to die”… and to me that was optimistic news! It’s a defiant song about not giving in, fighting back and standing tall against what I was facing. It gives me shivers when we perform this one because it transports me back to intensive care.
Q. A quick sneaky question Johnny, who is that gorgeous Miss Razorblade?
A. Hmm. Miss Razorblade is the girl you can never have. The girl who you maybe were never meant to have. I actually drew her in the back of my maths book at school, but never thought she would materialise in a song. She is also eternal hope and optimism. We all need a Miss Razorblade.
Q. As we speak, Synth Wave Volume 1 has been released globally on Vinyl. I honestly believe this is a huge step forward for the scene because you have given more of the 'less popular' artists a chance to be heard. How did this all come about?
A. Whilst we were putting together last year’s Electro London Festival, Rob Green and I had compiled a CD of acts that were appearing as a record of the event. The show was such a success and had so much publicity surrounding it that we started talking about how nice it would be to have a stylish compilation album of current electronic acts available to a wider market. We both could see that vinyl records were making a comeback and the people who bought vinyl were exactly the kind of audience for this type of music. So why not combine the two components, synth and vinyl… but do it really well, a really lovely quality album with stylish sleeve to hold and read and cherish… like it used to be. And we did! Welcome to Electro London Records and Synth Wave Volume 1.
Q. You mention Rob Green, he is very instrumental in a lot of your plans at the moment?
A. He is. Rob and I have a great partnership with both Electro London Festival and also Electro London Records. We drive each other crazy at times, probably because we are both so passionate about the electronic music scene, the music, the bands… and we want to see as many of these wonderfully talented people become wider known and appreciated. We are very similar in many respects, we have very high standards and expectations and we work bloody hard to help bring this music the attention it deserves. Rob is sharp-minded and astute, a tenacious character with an ear for great music and an eye for great design. We don’t always agree, which is a positive thing that generates great ideas between us, and we have some very interesting adventures and escapades doing what we love… producing and promoting synth music.
Aside from Electro London, I have my own AbNormal Productions outfit that promotes smaller electro gigs around the country and the AbNormal record label for my own releases. Rob has Analogue Nights (now known as Synth Club) for his smaller events and of course his label Hard Cell Records. So we still also operate individually and combine our experience and talents for Electro London projects.
Q. I suppose if you work with Ian Wall for a couple of years, you realise a new man on board is needed (tongue in cheek) :)
A. Lol. I know you know Ian, so you can get away with that one Andy. Ian and I worked together on a couple of Synthetic City events (in fact he took the helm for Synthetic City 2 and also The Ides of March gig whilst I was in hospital). He is a great guy, as you know, and visited me regularly in various hospitals in 2014, keeping me up to date with what was happening in the outside world. His own excellent band Among the Echoes evolved down a more-rock/less-electro direction and that was a different route to the Synthetic City gigs we were promoting, so it was inevitable that we would part company in the live events field at some point. He’s a good egg and a very enthusiastic supporter of independent music acts.
Q. Another interesting fact about the album is the way you have selected artists from across the globe rather than just the UK, Is this the plan for Synth Wave Volume II?
A. Synth Wave Volume II will follow a similar path as Volume I in that it will feature innovative acts from around the globe. We have enough music already to fill about a dozen albums to be honest, but for now we are concentrating on Volume I… it’s a very important and maybe pivotal record for the scene and the genre and we are giving it our best shot. The artists deserve that.
Q. As we digest this Vinyl in all it's glory we will be preparing for a new release from yourself on the 17th June?
A. Yes, we are releasing “Kings of the Wild Frontier (Music for a Future Age)”, a synthesizer-charged version of the iconic Adam and the Ants album.
It’s taken over five years to create and we are very, very proud of the final album. It will be available on CD and download… and we haven’t dismissed the idea of a vinyl record also… the artwork would look lovely.
There will be a web album launch on Friday 17th June at 9pm GMT at https://www.johnnynormal.net/KINGS-OF-THE-WILD-FRONTIER.html Including the 12 tracks and interviews with Marco and myself.
Q. How did you get Marco Pirroni on board and what input did he have on the album?
A. Marco and I were friends on LinkedIn and I contacted him a few years ago to ask advice on a guitar track I wanted to add on a couple of J-No songs. He was very helpful and ended up performing multiple tracks for both songs. It was a real honour. When I came out of hospital in September 2014, Adam Ant was so busy with his own album recordings and forthcoming tour that he had become less involved with our album. I felt our project was too good not to release and I contacted Marco, sending him rough versions of the songs and I just asked him if he would be involved. He said “Yeah, alright”… Imagine how amazed we were! Marco could see what we were trying to do and he liked the approach we had taken musically. In the studio Marco was brilliant. He brought his own guitars in, and also enjoyed playing with Psycho Pete’s classic guitars in between recordings. It was a fabulous session and to see one of my childhood heroes laying down iconic guitar tracks on one of my albums was pretty surreal. Marco was loaded with brilliant anecdotes, which he shared with us over dinner later with his lovely partner.
Q. Was this project on your bucket list of things you'd love to achieve and why KOTWF?
A. To be honest, no. I was a massive Ants fan as a boy. The Kings album is a masterpiece of its time and I would never have considered covering that record at all. It was Antmusic through and through… a genre almost of its own and I would never have thought about doing a new version. It was Adam Ant who contacted me in October 2010 and suggested that a new version of Kings in the Johnny Normal style would be an interesting challenge. Adam said he was a fan of my “There’s Nothing” album and was excited with the idea of a synth version of his album for maybe a new audience. I was stunned that he suggested it but said yes. Then I went into a panic thinking “how the hell do I do this?”.
Q. I have read that Marco isn't keen on performing live, does that mean it won't be taken on the road?
A. I doubt very much that Marco will ever perform live again and I respect that. He absolutely hates performing live. That’s a major factor in why he and Adam parted company. Adam loves performing live and doesn’t like the studio… Marco is the polar opposite.
We are looking at performing our Kings album live in London in November, Marco may or may not be performing with us on stage, although we are hopeful he will be there.
Q. After that, It's time for Electro London II on the 10th September. Another great line up and again, you have brought artists from across the globe together. I think it's a positive step because I think this way of thinking brings the global electronic scene together and makes the circle bigger. Is that how you see it too?
A. Well, we are very happy to be performing at Infest this year in August, which will be fabulous fun. Rob and I are constantly blown away by the quality and innovation in world-wide electronic music at the moment. Also, it’s being produced globally in bedrooms and garages in towns and cities you never would have expected. This is a truly inclusive scene… which we hope to help bring together and make stronger… and Rob and I are also trying hard to take the music outside of that scene so that more people can appreciate it.
Q. Would you say the electronic scene is in a healthier state just now?
A. I would say it is yes. Of course there are people who are disgruntled and pessimistic as usual, but every scene has those, its almost like some people haven’t made it yet and so why should anybody else. On the whole it’s a very buoyant and exciting synth-world and more artists are producing catchy, memorable and innovative songs with well-written and meaningful lyics, and fascinating stories to tell us. Watch the Synth Wave hit the shores this coming year. It’s very, very exciting.
Q. Any plans to organise an overseas event? You're probably thinking not really but we'll have a look at it now you've mentioned it ;-)
A. Well, that is on the cards at some point in the future and we are already in discussions with some very influential parties about the possibility of taking Electro London abroad.
Q. Is there another Synthetic Xmas penned in for this year?
A. Yes there is! I will be announcing that shortly, but the date is Saturday 17th December at our favourite venue The Actress in Birmingham again. The bands are booked and it’s going to be one hell of a Christmas party for sure. Ticket links etc will be going up in the next few weeks, but book the date in your diary and book your hotel because they sell out round there.
Q. I want to give your justgiving page a mention because it is a brilliant cause raising money for the ECMO team at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester. To date Johnny you have raised £1,792.79!!!
A. I’ve said before that if all of the Johnny Normal followers gave £1, we would have £5000 in the kitty for Leicester Hospitals Charity overnight, and its money that is so badly needed. The NHS funds simply don’t cover the costs of saving the lives of these patients. In the Swine Flu outbreak of 2009 Glenfield were having to turn away over 100 PEOPLE A DAY as they didn’t have enough beds. I know for sure well over 80 people a day would have died. That is shocking. I am so grateful to the kind people who have donated so far, but we could do so much better. Most people have never heard of ECMO treatment, but the trouble is you don’t until your mother, brother, father or wife dies of pneumonia and you find out the treatment would have saved them if it was an option.
Q. After this year successes, what have you got in mind for 2017 and if you could achieve one thing in your life right now, what would it be?
A. Ooh, for 2017… Well, there will be another album, something quite different from Robot Rock, a few more gigs around the country, another Electro London Festival, a few interesting collaborations… and my wife and I will be opening the doors of our two newly renovated holiday cottages in Stratford-upon-Avon … so looking busy already.
As to achieving one thing in life? … I already have Andy… I survived. The rest is all a bonus now.
Q. Johnny it has been an honour to be able to put this to you after the first one in March 2014. I congratulate you in all that you have achieved and I send my love to your lovely family too. Is there anything else you would like to add. Please bear in mind I might have to buy more webspace if you answer in more than 5000 words lol?
A. Ha-ha! You know me, never short of things to say Andy. Thank you for your considerable support, professionally and personally, it’s much appreciated. I am so grateful for everyone that buys the music, supports the gigs, to the radio DJs, bloggers, photographers, radio listeners, gig promoters etc. We all need to continue working together to elevate the scene as a whole and show the world this music is very relevant today.
Special thanks to my wife Andrea, my two lovely daughters, Psycho Pete, the wonderful and invaluable NHS doctors, consultants, nurses, HCA’s and physiotherapists who saved my life on numerous occasions and put me back together again. I am indebted to you all.
Thank You Johnny x