This week's guest sofa host is Sarah Tipper, writer of "Eviscerated Panda" and interviewed here two weeks ago.
Back by popular demand, here she interviews Larry Paterson, a rare non-fiction visitor to the Cauldron and expert in submarine warfare and WWII. He's also a drummer in a heavy metal band called Iron Knights: that makes him alright by me!
"Even while I was delivering lectures to the Naval Association in Portsmouth I was wearing a Motörhead T-shirt under the suit." (Larry Paterson, 2013)
It was a strange evening which involved me apologising to Blaze Bayley for not having learnt to knit*. I saw Larry drum for a few more metal bands that massively met with my approval including Chokehold, IV Stroke and Iron Knights.
It was after a IV Stroke gig I realised Larry knew his way around a pen as well as a set of drumsticks. I bought his book, ‘At the End Of The Day - The story of the Blaze Bayley band’ from the merch stall. This book would turn out to inspire my own writing about a fictional metal band. I also read part of this book to two-fifths of the metal band Dedlok as a bedtime story.
Larry had the interesting perspective of seeing the Blaze Bayley band from outside and from inside. I later discovered I’d picked his least typical book. He’s been writing about Second World War U-boats for over a decade
When I had the opportunity to carry out this natter, Larry came to mind immediately and thankfully he was happy to oblige.
The following interview meanders around the topics of writing, war, history, drumming, potatoes, Motörhead and much more.
The following interview meanders around the topics of writing, war, history, drumming, potatoes, Motörhead and much more.
I find that when meeting new people shyness makes me either say very little and so appear frosty and aloof or blather on and appear a bit mental. On this occasion my brain picked option two. Picture the scene if you will, it’s late at night. I’ve seen a great gig and I’ve had a couple of vodkas. I’m just hanging around waiting for friends when Blaze says hello. I say hello and tell him it was a great gig. He admires my jumper (it’s a red and black stripy ‘Dennis the Menace’ one) and asks if I knitted it myself. I didn't and I proceed to explain why not, including all my failed attempts at learning to knit (both my Nans tried to teach me, also school, at the Brownie Guides and so on). As BB starts backing away and a bit of my brain tells me to please be quiet I reflect that appearing frosty and aloof might not be so bad.
So. Why are U-boats fascinating?
I have always been interested in the German forces of World War Two. Growing up in New Zealand, the Germans and the Japanese were the ‘bad guys’to most people; unreconstructed villains.
Many of the neighbouring farmers had fought in the war, and so it was an understandable point of view.
However, I had one Grandfather that was an ANZAC in WW1 - from Gallipoli through The Somme and Paschendale and ending the war on the Hindenburg Line - and another who was in the Royal Navy during WW2.
Lessons from them led me to understand that there is very very rarely ever a ‘white hat/black hat’ reality to total war.
U-boats themselves hold a particular fascination for many people, though often for what I consider the ‘wrong’ reason. U-boats have been painted as pure sinister evil; torpedoing out of nowhere, machine gunning survivors and that kind of imagery that, in all honestly, resembles the kind of propaganda that was pouted during the First World War! (No thanks to idiots like Jonathon Mostow and his awful U571 movie – go back to making bad Terminator sequels!)
For myself I find them fascinating for the harsh realities of life inside those boats, as well as aboard the ships they attacked and those they were attacked by. To my mind it is a human story. All war is a human story. Of course the machinery of war, the tactics and so on are all a part of the story, but it is the humanity of it that lends true interest to the topic. I have met dozens of men who fought aboard the U-boats and heard their stories, often watching tears flow as they talk about events as if it was yesterday. Truly humbling.
The day I was thinking about the questions I’d ask you in this interview I was with my Grandad, who is now 86. During the Second World War he was a mechanic stationed in Luneburg and then later in Charlbury where he met my Nan at a VJ day party. Anything I do for him seems like such a tiny thing compared to what he and other young men and women did for future generations.
Do you think reading about the past can stop humankind repeating the unsavoury parts of our history?
I do. Well, not just reading, but understanding. World War Two is a perfect example of this. Terrible things were done by all men from all nations, including my own, who had a terrible reputation for shooting prisoners at various stages of the war. But like I said, it is a human story. Of course politics, religion, propaganda all breed war and help people to fight them, but the sooner that people realise that it can happen again, has happened again and indeed IS happening again, the better.
For example, ignoring the military aspect of the Nazi Germany period and looking purely at the political and racial ideologies that led to the terrible – almost unthinkable – things that happened during The Holocaust, people read it or watch it on TV and ‘tut-tut’ to themselves, vilifying the demons who committed these acts.
What if people actually took the time to think about it and realise that these were things that have been committed for centuries against all manner of people. These were things done by, more often than not, normal intelligent people either willingly believing a creed that preached such intense hatred, or persuaded by the insidious nature of well-used propaganda.
By demonising the people that committed acts as terrible as those of The Holocaust, we make it safe for ourselves. “Oh them”, we say, “they were obviously insane.” But they weren't necessarily so. Rudolf Höss, the commander of Auschwitz, was remembered as a kind father. Hitler did not have horns or a tail, he was a vegetarian, non-smoker who was kind to animals and capable of being intensely charismatic.
Once people think about that, I mean really think about it, it truly DOES become a frightening history...because all those facets of life are still here today, in an era thriving on fear of other nations, creeds and colours, and are still being used to push people this way and that. I firmly believe the theory that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, though I also believe it is those who refuse to understand history who will lead that repetition.
I would start reading your books about U-boats with ‘U-boat Combat Missions: The Pursuers and the Pursued - First-hand Accounts of U-boat Life and Operations’I’d start here because the first hand reports and oral histories would draw me in. Would I be right to start here or is there a better book for a novice?
Yes, it’s a good one to start with because it is largely in the words of the men themselves, without text detailing the grand sweeping strategies of the war at sea. It is also a very visual book, matched as often as possible to the content of what people are saying. There is an aspect of ‘Beginner’s Guide To U-boats’, but (hopefully) not at the expense of a coherent book detailing some of the minutiae of life aboard.
What does being in a band have in common with being in a war, if anything? I ask because the Iron Knights use a lot of war imagery in their music.
Well...in my opinion, nothing at all. It does have strange hours and periods away, reminiscent of Army life, but there is no way it can be compared to being at war. The uncertainty and horror of that is something that no band will ever face! As a topic, I find war very powerful. War has a certain primal place in mankind’s psyche and can fit the emotional highs and intensity of metal music. I am preoccupied with the subject so it’s inevitable anyway! However, I have to say that when I joined this band it was called Stuka Squadron. That’s fine, but there were certain aspects of the supposed ‘backstory’ that I wanted changed because it tied this band of vampires in with people like the Thule Society. The person who wrote that band history was not knowledgeable and demonstrated the theory that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.
For example, while the Thule Society may have seemed quite amusing with their fixation on myths and sorcery and all that strangeness, there was nothing light-hearted about their desire to prove the superiority of white people and their anti-semitism. They actually formed the basis of Nazi Party ideology in many ways. Not funny to me at all. I don’t want to be in a band that wears swastikas on stage – it means something. In 1935 or even 1945 it’s fair to say that many would have remained unaware - or at least unenlightened – about the full ramifications of the Nazi reign. Now, it is all there for us to know, and the full impact of the symbol is apparent. I also have a great deal of respect for the military forces that fought in World War Two, and don’t want to be seen as laughing at the Luftwaffe or Waffen SS or whatever. We walk the right side of that line I believe, but it is a line nonetheless.
That was quite a heavy start to the interview. (You're not kidding, Sarah! Don't forget this is the Internet equivalent of the Alan Titchmarsh Show! - Ed :-) )In the best traditions of daytime television, (now you're getting it! - Ed) I’d now like to know, what’s your favourite biscuit?
Hmmm......something with lots of chocolate
Who would you like to read the audio book versions of your books?
Wow! That’s a cool question. Maybe Patrick Stewart. What a voice!
If you wrote something radically different what would it be?
More band histories. The Blaze book actually came out of an idea for a book about ‘Stupid Things That Has Happened To This Aspiring Drummer’. But I thought there was a story to be told with Blaze and the whole band. And a story of two definite halves; one a retrospective history, the other the day to day lunacy of a struggling band.
Writing is generally a solo occupation, whereas in a band you have everyone else to co-operate with and bounce ideas off. It seems to me it’s the solitary versus the social. Is writing ever an escape from music and music an escape from writing? Does doing both keep you well balanced?
In some ways yes writing can be an escape from music. I find it incredibly difficult to switch off the drummer part of me, because really that is who I am. Even while I was delivering lectures to the Naval Association in Portsmouth I was wearing a Motörhead T-shirt under the suit.
I finished my last U-boat book on the tour bus in Europe and it was great sitting there working on it in the morning until everybody else was up at the crack of noon and the metal began. It can be a difficult balance and sometimes I do have to force myself to concentrate on writing.
Writing over ten books in ten years is impressive, especially considering you’ve also played drums on over ten albums during you career as a drummer. How do you get so much stuff to come to fruition?
|One of Iron Knight's many albums|
I have absolutely no idea! I tend to throw myself 100% into everything, so I guess that’s it. Work hard, sleep little.
You also do web design. Do you love technology or do you adopt it because you have to in our increasingly complex modern world but long for simpler times?
I purely adopt it because it is a fact of life. I do enjoy the problem solving aspect of discovering web programming and image design and all that. I guess I do get a bit of a kick out of it. It’s a double edged sword; web technology allows bands to really present themselves as professionally as the big boys, but you have to keep it constant and active. And then you cannot have the mystique that I so loved about bands in the 80s when, in New Zealand anyway, you never saw their pictures, you craved information and pored over every single word in their thanks lists on albums and even admired the messages scratched into the vinyl near the centre of the album. It’s a shame those days are gone.
Everything you do seems very manly. Surely there must be some exceptions. Do you use a scented moisturiser? Or a fluffy pen sometimes? Or quite enjoy a big bubble bath?
Ha ha! Hmmm...bubbles can be cool.
Who are your favourite writers and your favourite drummers?
Writers: many and varied. Off the top of my head I’d say Joseph Heller, John Irving, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Harris and Lemmy.
Drummers: Mikkey Dee (twice because he’s extra awesome), Nigel Glockler, John
Tempesta, Phil Rudd, Nicko McBrain...and many many others.
Has anyone ever bought you a pen or pencil shaped like a drumstick for Christmas?
No. I’m gutted :(
If I ever picked your name out in an imaginary heavy metal game of secret Santa this is what I’d buy. Would you be disappointed with your pen drumstick and have preferred beer? What should people buy drummers for Christmas?
The pen would be an awesome gift! What should people buy drummers? Either the above, or more snare drums.
(A video of Bill Ward in action would do me, mateys - Ed)
Do you have any favourite words?
"Contrafibularatorie: It is a common word down our way."
Favourite words......hmmm.....just about everything Stephen Fry says! Love to hear somebody use language so well.
If you had a soundproof home studio to play drums in, what posters would you put up to inspire you?
Motörhead ones.....and Star Wars
Where and when do you do your best thinking?
Hmmm....hard question really. Can be just about anywhere. When in the swing of writing I often wake up with something at about 3am that I just have to write down! I can’t think on crowded trains or buses though.
What irritates you? What pleases you?
What irritates me? Arrogant people...and I’ve met/worked with a few. People who are legends in their own mind. Or people that are in bands and expecting the magic to happen rather than working hard to make it so.
"What pleases me? The opposite of the above! Good music, good food, good books, good people, good movies....lots of things. A quiet beach or diving on a good wreck. Very nice!"
What’s the best rumour you’ve ever heard about yourself?
That when I was sick at the end of a tour I was in rehab. Fantastic! Thank you Blabbermouth
Lemmy from Motörhead is interested in WW2, you are interested in WW2. Lemmy is musically prolific and so are you. I’ve seen Lemmy wear a hat and I’ve seen you wear a hat briefly, before the force of your drumming made the hat’s position on your head untenable. If you had your genetic similarity to Lemmy measured, what % do you think it would be, bearing in mind that most humans share half their DNA with bananas and 90% with cats?
Ha ha! I wish that it would be a high percentage! I gave Lemmy one of my books once and we sat and talked about German midget submarines and special forces. Apparently he owns a couple of my books. Awesomely magnificent!! I own his too...and it’s brilliant. He’s a big time hero of mine and I’ve always found him to be very cool.
This next question may not seem important or incisive but ever since my friend Big Gareth asked me, it’s been on my mind. If you had to live without either cheese or potatoes which would it be?
Potatoes. It would be hard...but I’d have to go that way.
(Magnificent all-potato diet. It's all the rage - Ed!)
If you could give your eighteen year old self two pieces of advice, what would they be?
1) Don’t be such an idiot!
2) Make better decisions!
3) Trust your inner instinct a bit more.
What projects are going to keep you busy in 2013 and beyond?
Iron Knights is number one. Then there are a couple of other musical projects to get going when time allows. But also the Scars book and TV documentary series that is getting underway. It’s getting pretty hectic.
I look forward to seeing Iron Knights live and reading more of your books. Thanks very much for answering my serious and frivolous questions.
You're welcome, Sarah!
(Another Iron Knight: "Alright then - we'll call it a draw!")