On the 23rd of November 2019 I ordered Sea of Love and Watching The Wheels by Simon Morris from Cargo Records.
It was a pre-order. I had absolutely loved his previous book from Amphetamine Sulphate Press, but I couldn’t justify the huge postage cost from America. So I’d been obsessively checking their UK distributor most weeks until the shipment came.
By the time the books reached me in early December, Simon had disappeared. He’d been due to fly to New York to perform with Lancastrian noise absurdists Smell & Quim. He never showed up.
I superstitiously left the jiffy bag on the side. I figured I would open it when Simon had been safely found. Time passed and a lot of us worried. Simon Morris and erratic behaviour were hardly strangers. As a veteran of the 1990s Mad Pride movement he’d worn his demons on his sleeve and bellowed about them across the astounding discography of Ceramic Hobs. A lot of people in that subculture burned twice as bright for half as long, and the first section of Simon’s debut book Consumer Guide is a compellingly raw account of friends and bandmates who died too early. He always seemed to bounce back though… didn’t he?
But by the 20th of December Simon was still missing and I was at home recovering from my office party. Images leaked slowly into my mind of my unprofessional conduct in the pub and the woozy journey home. Of pelting off the train one stop early to vomit voluminously on the platform, much to the disgust of my fellow passengers observing me out of the window. Then staggering the rest of the way on auto-pilot (I wasn’t going to get back on the train to sit with those wankers, no way).
Cringing with a headache, I figured that reading Simon’s latest material would take my mind off my utter wretchedness. So I opened the jiffy bag and got stuck in. It certainly helped, but when I paused from reading about an hour later, I read the tweet that a lot of people had been dreading.
Simon’s body had been found in the River Wyre near Thornton in the North West of England, not far from where he lived in Poulton-Le-Fylde. He was 51.
This hit me pretty hard and not just because of the hangover. Simon wasn’t famous, but he meant huge amounts to hundreds of people. His music was wilfully underground and deranged. His writing unnervingly honest. In person you never knew what you were going to get, but every time I bumped into him, my day was always the better for it.
He’d been drinking “all the way down the motorway” before the Sleaford Mods / Consumer Electronics show at the 100 Club. Still charming, but also going off on rants about the Who Makes The Nazis website and ensuing spats. We were outside for a breather. I remember him slowly drifting backwards off the pavement – almost into the traffic on Oxford Street before I gently tipped him back onto his centre of gravity. Neither of us remarked on this and the conversation continued to flow.
We fell out over the important things, I suppose. Fascism, personal freedom, the big ticket stuff. Simon’s total commitment to freedom of speech and artistic expression was obviously problematic and a complete pain the fucking arse. He would, at times, excuse any old shit. I loved him though and my inner puritan needs calling out occasionally.
Simon emailed me once in the middle of his holiday and demanded that I interview him because he was proper pissed off by what he saw as the creeping censorship and moralising from anti-fascists. I think he thought that he was throwing down the gauntlet, but my first reaction was that this sounded like an amazing idea and I that would love to read something like that. So we did it for my fanzine Turbulent Times along with a Ceramic Hobs feature.
Last year Simon was off on one about The Quietus’ piece on the increasingly dodgy Skullflower. Our emails reached a peak of vitriol and then receded into good-natured taking the piss out of each other. Shortly after this he sent me a draft of a foreword he had written for some art book about Skullflower. It included a good number of sentences by me, slagging them off, from our email chain. He wanted to know if that was OK and it absolutely was – I was delighted. The publishers of the book were less charmed and deigned not to include Simon’s piece, as they “didn’t want to drag ‘real world’ considerations into our sovereign realm of the senses” – which is hilariously pretentious cowardice for an operation so keen on transgression. It fucks me off that I can’t have a laugh about that with him.
The first time I met Simon was in the White Hart in Stoke Newington. I was at a mate’s birthday celebration and he was, oddly, at a different guy’s birthday celebration in the same pub. We’d been emailing each other since the year 2000 I think when he had sent me a CD of Ceramic Hobs’ outstandingly odd “Psychiatric Underground”. Ceramic Hobs were one of the select few “mp3 of the month” features I did at that time. We got on well. I told him how much I’d enjoyed his Bang Out of Order zine and how it had changed my mind slightly about power electronics.
The last time I saw Simon in the flesh was at a Mad Pride matinee at the Lexington in Islington. It was a beautiful Spring day in 2015 and Ceramic Hobs had played a blinder. It was the first and last time I would see them live. The sun shone outside and I spoke to both Simon and Rob Dellar who was one of the organisers of the event. (I’d known Rob even longer and he died about a year later and I failed to write about him when that happened.) Rob’s book Splitting In Two is the best account of Mad Pride in the UK yet and Ceramic Hob’s back catalogue is – in my, relatively sane, opinion – as good a soundtrack to that movement as you will get.
Simon’s on-page and on-stage persona belied his gentle humour and generosity. Now there’s Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, you can see increased interest in his backcatalogue. Which I guess is inevitable but ghouish – and on balance probably a good thing. But of course it isn’t the whole picture. A lot of people knew Simon better than I did, but for me this interview with Ceramic Hobs is a decent enough tribute:
We parted on good terms, thankfully. Over the last year there’s been several things that I desperately wanted to tell him about. It pisses me off that I’ll never get the chance to do that.