A Guy Called Gerald & Trevor Miller

From his first release in 1988 onwards, A Guy Called Gerald has regularly found himself at the zeitgeist of creativity and electronic music culture. Self-schooled in the lively and diverse Black music scene across Manchester and the North-West of England, Gerald Simpson was prepared for the imminent arrival of acid house better than most. Indeed, his first major release, the iconic and still inescapable ‘Voodoo Ray’ was that increasingly rare record that revitalised both underground dancefloors and the pop charts. It’s full-length album follow-up, ‘Hot Lemonade’, arguably redefined the vision that could be achieved with a solo electronic album, rich in emotion and groove, arguably the original “dancefloor album can enjoy as much at home as in the club.”

At the other side of Manchester, young author and raver Trevor Miller was no less deep in the party scene, only documenting it from a literary perspective. ‘Trip City’ was, and remains, a wildly experimental, rough-around-the-edges novel that speaks entirely but it’s rambunctious period, while offering an anxious eye on elements of cultural dystopia that might even seem familiar to anyone wading through a pandemic locked 2021.

A novel accompanied by a soundtrack was far from an everyday idea, but then, Gerald and Miller are far from everyday people. With copies of both paper and tape becoming scarce in recent times, Velocity Press have recently released a reissued combination of the two, with Gerald’s groundbreaking musical contribution turning up on vinyl for the first time ever.

Their first interview for the project, we open with Gerald (in East London) and Trevor Miller (in Los Angeles) having not spoken for the past twenty years. Before long, it’s all rushing back like a chemical explosion, from bus routes to ‘East End Villains’. In this edited extended conversation, Miller is self-deprecating and thoughtful about the state of inebriation on which he wrote Trip City, while Gerald looks firmly forward, imagining a safer future for creatives and the rights to their material. Incidentally, since this interview, A Guy Called Gerald has launched a crowdfunding page to raise money for an upcoming legal fight against Rham Records. At the time of publication, it has raised over half of it’s £20,000 target.

Trevor, you used to get the bus to Gerald’s studio in Longsight?

Trevor: It was actually two buses! To my Dad’s from Piccadilly, then another to Moonraker, which was in the middle of nowhere. I just remember all the Mike Harding memorabilia in the lobby. In our day, he was a huge fucking star! Like the English version of Joe Dolce, who did ‘Shuduppayaface’. Mike Harding owned Moonraker. He was as famous as Bernard Manning, or other old comedy television Nazis of our youth.

When did you two first link up? Were you aware of each other's work?

Trevor: I knew Gerald’s music, of course. Voodoo Ray was a huge record. The two records that were massive, in my estimation, at that time were Seal and Adamski’s ‘Killer’, and ‘Voodoo Ray’. I can’t even think of something contemporary that is equally ubiquitous. Not only did you hear ‘Voodoo Ray’ on TV, you heard it in any clothing shop you went into.

Gerald, this project was very different to Voodoo Ray, but produced around the same time period. Writing the soundtrack to a novel is a million miles away from having a record that’s getting constant play on Radio 1. Did you see it as an opportunity to do something markedly different?

Gerald: I was very into the idea of making electronic music seem human. And it was a brilliant opportunity that Trevor had put in front of me. Back then, people seemed to think that electronic music was just blips and squeaks. And we were trying to get a bit deeper. Nobody had done this kind of thing, with a book, it almost seemed like a new kind of format.

And the subject of the book was totally of that time and what was going on with the scene. I didn’t have to change the music, as the music of that time suited the vibe of the book; experimental, dance, something new in a way, post the new wave thing that happened. A stripped down kind of dance style.

At the time, I had to work on some stuff for Sony, and I was trying to get away from that commercial commitment. So it was a brilliant opportunity.

So, what came first, the book or the soundtrack? Was the book complete when Gerald received it?

Trevor: To be honest, I’m trying to remember.

Gerald: Same, it was a long time ago now…

Were people excited about the project?

Trevor: I didn’t know what I would learn later on. I assumed a lot of people around us were about the arts and about making things. But I’ve since learned that’s a fool’s game. We had meetings with people who promised the earth and delivered less than shit. I was so naive, and also really arrogant and I’m sure I was a total cock as well, and impossible. But that was what it took to make anything then, as things were very corporate. And I just got a bit lucky that someone thought what I was doing was good. This is as true now as it is then, but working class people in certain sectors of the arts weren’t there. You had to be posh to be in the book business, or to be a writer. I wasn’t any of those things, so the fact that there could be a soundtrack to my narrative, it was an amazing moment for me.

If I’d been able to stay sober and straight enough to know what was going on, it might have worked out differently. But I’d been writing on a manual typewriter in the box room at my Mum’s house, and I didn’t want anyone to know what. I was a blue-collar grammar school boy from Chorlton in Manchester and I was desperate to feel esoteric and international. But being in the studio at Moonraker, working with Gerald, suddenly made the world seem much bigger.

Gerald: There were always people coming in and out of the studio, but what Trevor was doing with his writing was genuinely creative, whereas I was just in the company of A&Rs and business people. I didn’t have that many true creatives around. I remember that you gave me a manuscript the size of a big catalogue. I’d take it along with all my stuff to the studio everyday, all my gear, there and back.

Trevor: Watching Gerald work back then was amazing. He appeared to me like a cross between a car mechanic and an alchemist. I would see him wire up all this shit, but I didn’t even know what it was. I had no idea what the fuck he was doing or how he was making it. I think you had more in common with someone like Alan Vega, especially the early Suicide records, than you were to anything in electronic music. You were closer to New York electronic art rock than what was happening in England.

There was a lot of interesting and often pioneering film soundtrack work taking place in the 1980s. Were you inspired by any composers working within cinema?

Gerald: Yeah, anything like Vangelis, I was into. But my influences at the time came more so from Detroit and Chicago, but by the time it had been through the studio process that Trevor describes, it would emerge very different. It was almost as if you had to paint shades of grey with black and white. I was using midi, gate and clock to get as much out of the music and the equipment as possible.

You had a lot of releases around this time. Were you inspired by the limitations you were faced with?

Gerald: I was inspired by a lot of stuff, and I made a lot of music that I couldn’t mimic now even if I wanted to. What came out of the other end came out as yourself, your experiences mixed up with your influences. And after reading the book, that became stronger. I wasn’t a lyrical person, and I didn’t want to flip in order to suddenly be writing big ballads or spoken-word. And remember, Trevor had written this book in 4/4 time!

Trevor: Someone else said that about the book, I don’t totally believe it. I think what happened was that I was trying to write in a sparse style without punctuation. Someone said that and then it became the reality of everyone’s perception. I’m not sure it was deliberate.

Well, as they say, if you’re faced with printing the facts or the legend, choose the legend. Because that’s a pretty fucking cool idea, even if it was accidental.

Trevor: Nobody had written about the clubs we used to go to. Nobody had even written about somewhere known for nightlife like Soho, since the sixties. Robert Elms had written a book called ‘In Search Of The Crack’, and Will Self had written a few things on the subject. And even Elms was at the glamorous end of things, writing about eating in nice restaurants with Spandau Ballet and Duran. Meanwhile, I was at the opposite end of it, with random birds and on shit drugs, waking up face down in someone’s toilet. I thought, I’m closer to Jack Kareoauc than these motherfuckers! But I didn’t want glamour. Because, I suppose, my emotional maladies, I wanted the sex and drugs and rock n’ roll of it. They wanted to be the Noel Coward of discos, but I wanted the truth of it. My life was shitty student flats, drug dealers and men who would pull guns on me. And I just thought nobody had written about this. And that part of it, I still think I did really well.

“I wanted the sex and drugs and rock n’ roll of it. They wanted to be the Noel Coward of discos, but I wanted the truth of it.”

The book is strikingly prescient in it’s satire and often straight-up criticism of corporate influence on club culture. Thirty years on from the release of Trip City, do you think it’s still possible for alternative and youth movements to exist and flourish, without then being homogenised by corporations?

Gerald: Over the last year, I’ve had a chance to look at how entire systems are silently beginning to crumble. I don’t think people realise it yet, but it’s happening. There’s a whole new cryptocurrency that’s actually the backend of central banks at the moment, they just haven’t really let on. It’s been crumbling since 2008, and we’re all having to go full-on digital. So for the financial industry, it’s been convenient that everything has been at a standstill. They’ve been able to scratch their heads and work out how to monetise, to centralise and have power. Meanwhile, something like bitcoin began around the time of the last financial crash as a protest.

Gerald, are you into Bitcoin?

Gerald: I’m into the science of it, really. Not so much the practise. If I had millions or billions, I’d still chuck some in, like Elon Musk. What I’m into, as I always have been, is independent artists being able to protect their intellectual properties. And I’m sure you’ve been reading about NFTs? With a blockchain, you can encrypt and store things of value. I’m trying to create a way of storing my back catalogue within a system that I can outsource to Spotify or whatever. Without having to use an aggregator or a publisher. If you can cut the middle man out, you can protect yourself. These people do nothing for you. I’ve been documenting the issues I’ve been having with my intellectual property, and they’re not even taking it seriously.

This sounds like a book in itself…

Gerald: It feels like a book now. It’s longer than just a document, which is how it started. And what I want to see is software or a programme that allows independent artists to publish and protect their own property. And the backstory to that is how I’m being treated right now.

It’s great to be able to see Trip City presented on vinyl, finally. I know that Jay (Palms Trax) is a huge fan, and paid more than a fair amount for the cassette tape.

Trevor: He probably got one of those I sold on the black market, or at Pure Groove.

(Both laugh.)

Trevor: It’s nice to see that people still want to engage with this stuff, to own the record or to read the book. To expand on Gerald’s points, what I feel the pandemic has done has killed lots of ‘bricks and mortar’ things like retail and so what that means is that people in the arts, their future was determined by old-world models of cinema or television. All that’s gone, and nobody cares. Nobody cares who’s in anything, nobody cares who’s made anything. There are things that are popular now that never would have made it before. People just care about content now, it doesn’t matter if it’s subtitled or obscure, and consequently, the knock-on effect is entertainment will become the Wild West again. And while the United State is still riddled with bigotry and institutional racism, there is some access and people will watch shit that they never used to watch.

The Manchester that you wrote Trip City and it’s soundtrack in is long gone, but people still seem to be drawn repeatedly to that passage of history; the early nineties, no-wave evolving into acid house then ‘baggie’ culture and so on. As two people who were navigating it, what do you think could have been so potent? Is there anything original left to observe?

Gerald: In a way, that time period, the location and everything, it was a melting pot. The biggest university city in Europe. So there were always different people and things passing through, constantly. Not only that, but it was really small. So everyone used to meet up in town, whether they were from Chorlton or Salford or Burnage, they would all end up in the Arndale Centre. And I’ve never really seen that anywhere else, but there were always little cultures emerging. To me, that’s what the scenes came out of, all these people sparking off eachother. You’d hear about a a band like The Happy Mondays or The Stone Roses, and they would sound interesting and then make sense when you saw them. It wasn’t quite rock music, hip-hop, or pop. It was just a nice gel of what was going on.

But maybe there are things like that still, I’m just too old? But as soon as something happens, it’s in the media and then it’s all over the planet. Everything happens at the same time. And it’s almost like it gets homogenised, instantly. Things had time to grow and expand. Even with jungle and DnB, it began just as pirate radio stations and groups of mates swapping tunes at the music house, cutting plates. It was a very internal thing at first, and then, when it spread out, it didn’t disappear but it kind of got neutralised in a way. The dangerousness of it.

Finally, I want to talk about the launch party for Trip City in London, which was closed down by the police. Unusual state of affairs for a book launch.... Can either of you recall what happened?

Trevor: You can only print part of this, but the truth is, I already knew we were expecting some questionable characters, a group of South London villains. And then they arrived and got into a ruckus with our security. Then they got inside and ran into a genuine psychopath we knew, a proper nut, and started an altercation. So he grabbed a fire extinguisher and hit this guy around the fucking head with it, must have nearly killed him. So the South London villains ran away outside the venue, which was a Polish club at the edge of Knightsbridge. And outside the club, was a skip filled with rubbish and house bricks. So this crew decided to throw these bricks through the windows of the club, and the staff there called the Metropolitan police.

Our psychopath friend then locked the door, as he was afraid he was going to get busted for ABH, because he was already out on parole for assault. So it was a stand-off for about half an hour, until our mate left out the back.

Sorry, Trevor, which parts of this do you want me to cut? Shall I stop before or after the guy gets smashed round the head with a fire extinguisher?

Trevor: Just change the names. Anyway, luckily my Mum and Dad had left by this point, having spent an hour talking to my friend Peter, who was wearing cycling shorts and had taken three pills and was just hugging everyone. They didn’t know what the fuck was going on, but my Mum couldn’t stop saying, “Ooh, Trevor, your friend Peter’s a lovely bloke.” It was a heavy night.

Words: John Loveless

© CWPT 2023

© CWPT 2023