Winter turns to Spring.


Peter Perrett and Mick Head Islington Assembly Rooms,

IMG_9054(1)Friday 4th Saturday 5th May 2018.

Disclaimer…I’m writing as a fan of both these gentle-men, just thought I’d get that out the way, so…

Do you have a couple of friends that have never met, who you think really need to meet each other because they have so much in common? When I saw the dates of these two gigs announced, at the same venue that was the first thing that came to mind. Of course there’s no guarantee that one’s personal musical matchmaking would be successful, but it’s an interesting thought, to this writer anyway.

Two of the most critically revered songwriters of the past 40 years,  both of whom ‘should’ be household names, both of whom ‘should’ probably not even still be alive, neither of whom are probably much concerned with the former, but are now both clearly happily, very much alive and well.

Peter Perret arrives on stage on Friday night to be met by an audience clearly also delighted that he is still here. I spoke to some fans outside prior to the gig asking them their feelings towards this evenings show. The overriding emotions from people who have been watching him since the early days of the Only Ones are all of a similar nature, pure delight and hopeful expectation, if they were able to respond to Peter’s “Good evening and thank you for coming” There would be a resounding, “Thank you for still being here, we’ve been a bit worried.” So we have an audience of fans made up of people who have been on a fairly lean diet of opportunity to hear his songs of love, loss, horror, self-abandonment, light, darkness and interplanetary space travels, but also many people here tonight, including yours truly, that are about to hear all this for the first time. A weight of expectation? Yup, let’s go.

We begin with Baby don’t talk, from his 1994 EP Cultured Palate, when he sings,

“You were in need of a conversion, of biblical proportions”

I’m left wondering if he’s singing to himself as much as to the rest of us?

“All our children, screaming in pain, take it as a warning, I see my baby standing in the rain, there’s a new day dawning.”

His ‘babies’ have now grown up and are both onstage with him, Peter Jnr on bass, Jamie on guitar, it’s a family affair this and no doubt here is a ‘healing’ within that. An Epic Story, from his 2017 release, How The West Was Won follows,

“Together we can face this hard world and laugh about the cruellest of things”

It’s a constant narrative from the album, not surprising at all for anyone who emerges from the isolation and disconnect of addiction, there is a need to find a new ‘tribe’ to replace the drugs and/or the attendant characters within that world, or at the very least, re-connect with those that are already there and want/need to become part of the ongoing recovery.

“The jigsaw pieces next to me, are part of the assembly, of a major work of art” …

a couple of songs later, from Sweet Endeavour? There’s clearly a theme to all this right?

There are few shouts-outs from the audience for ‘old’ songs, but when the band begin ‘No peace for the wicked’ from The Only One’s 1978, eponymous album, the unspoken reverence shifts up a gear for sure.

“Why can’t I be like I always wanted to be, carefree?”

I’m sitting in the back row of the balcony but I’m sure I detect something close to a wry smile as he sings this, or maybe that was just me? Who cares?

Living In My Head, as taught, menacing and beautifully hypnotic a song as you’re ever likely to hear, sees son Jamie and his violinist/girlfriend become almost physically entwined onstage as they weave their respective musical parts together, it is gorgeous in its seductive chemistry and clearly not a ‘performance’ as the song snakes through its journey.  As a song, its right up there with The ‘Stones ‘can’t you hear me knocking’ or Shacks, Streets of ‘Kenny (more of that later though).

It’s impossible to ignore the spectre of death that lives in the lyrical shadows or in this case, the white-light/white-heat of Perrett’s writing, never more obvious than in Take Me Home, the final song on last year’s album.

“I wish I could die, in a hail of bullets sometime, but all I can do, is sing and play on a front-line

One of the hallmarks of truly great songwriters is the ability to pen such words of sorrow, yet imbed them in music that actually leaves you feeling uplifted as Take Me Home undoubtedly does as it closes the album and is the last song tonight before the band leave the stage.

There is no doubt that we are not finished for the evening but I have to say, by this point there’s a part of me that doesn’t actually care if he comes back to play, Another Girl, Another Planet or not, it’s coming of course but before that, we get War Plan Red and Something in my Brain, which could easily, perhaps not surprisingly be lifted from anything Lou Reed produced at his brilliant best. Yeah it’s that good.

Then we get AGAP, which far as I’m concerned is not one of the greatest songs about drugs ever written, it’s not even Peter’s best song about drugs, but, The Beast, that closes the set tonight most certainly is.

“There’s an epidemic, if you don’t believe me, you ought to take a look at the eyes of your friends”

There’s a fella siting up near me who is clearly nodding out as he spills the contents of his pint all over his lap while onstage Peter Perrett and his remarkable resurrection from all that, metaphorically wipe us all clean from the wreckage of all that darkness.

“There’s no cure, there’s no cure”

Hard-won experience that, I hope the fella next to me heard it, but I very much doubt it, maybe like Perrett himself, he’ll have to find his own way through all that, for as long as it takes?

“Thank you all very much for coming, sweet dreams”

From the past-master of the sweetest of dreams, a remarkable performance from a extraordinary songwriter, poet and survivor who clearly still has so much still to offer, I sincerely hope there is more to come, we will all have to wait and see.

I grab a few moments with Peter after the show and ask him, quite simply,

“How are you Peter? You look happy?”

“Every day, is a miracle Simon, every day is a miracle”

I stop myself from reminding him, he’s preaching to the converted, neither of us needs to say anything else, we both know already.


  1. Baby Don’t Talk
  2. An Epic Story
  3. Believe In Nothing
  4. Sweet Endeavour
  5. No Peace For The Wicked
  6. Troika
  7. Living In My Head
  8. Personality Test Freak (Jamie’s Song)
  9. Thy Will Be Done
  10. Once Is enough
  11. Love’s Inferno
  12. How The West Was Won
  13. Take Me Home
  14. War Plan Red
  15. Something In My Brain
  16. Another Girl Another Planet
  17. The Beast



Talking of extraordinary songwriters, poets and survivors, whoever or whatever was responsible for booking events at this particular venue, was clearly on a roll, because the following night, I’m sat in the same seat to see a certain Mick Head and the Red Elastic Band.

I refer you to my initial disclaimer at the start of the piece, fanboy is happily ensconced in the back row of the balcony again as Mick and his band arrive on the same stage 24 hours later.

Like Peter Perrett the previous night, Head also has a back-catalogue to die for (yep that’s a crap pun I know) but he is also shying away from a ‘greatest hits’ set (See what I did there? Yep, another crap pun, so shoot me)

Just like Friday night, there are older songs in the set, all met with the exuberance they fully deserve, but at the same time, celebrated in tandem with recent material, that many never dreamed they’d see or hear. The audience demographic is similar too, maybe more Adidas and less black attire, tonight than Friday and tonight, as ever there is the attendant army of Scouser’s here to support one of their favourite sons. Perrett’s South-London drawl is replaced by the vowels of the Mersey, a tale of two cities indeed, but the stories are too similar for comparisons to not be made.

Major-label album deals given and lost in their early careers? Check

Critically acclaimed work, lost on the masses but devoured by others? Check.

Incredible Songs informed by industrial levels of drug/alcohol consumption, all well documented elsewhere? Check.

We know this right? If you don’t then you should, maybe that’s what Spotify is actually for, it certainly isn’t gonna make these guys financially comfortable, but that would be missing the point entirely anyway.

You will have noticed there is no reference to either of these two ‘smashing it’ ‘killing it’ or any other such lazy soundbite reporting. Yes both of them have fronted incredible live bands in the past, but what primarily made their respective bands so great, were the songs that these two wrote for them. Youngsters please note, surfing into the crowd, does not make you a great artist, or indeed a great band! It’s fun an all, but I’m afraid it’s great songs that are required, not aping your peers in the ‘scene’. No truly great band ever really came out of a scene, they create one. (Yes sometimes this happens in tandem with other bands before anyone starts correcting me) and the rest follow afterwards, usually doing little more than becoming a pale imitation of something that has already happened.

So, back to Mick and the Red Elastic Band, again we have something of a family affair onstage. Guitarist (and Micks record producer) Ste Powell has his son Tom on bass. Mick’s sister Joanne is also present on vocals. In total we have 11 musicians, with Head playing a similar role to Perrett the night before, as the songwriter and lighting conductor through which, the rest of the band members are allowed to flow.

We begin with Sgt Major from Shacks critically-acclaimed but, as far as most people go, almost unknown album Waterpistol (I’m bored with this description already, fuck-knows how many times that’s been written).

“Ahh, come with me, yeah there’s time, come with me

We’re here mate and yeah, we’re coming.

So we start with something from the past but immediately after Mick is inviting us into the here and now with Pretty Child, (actually one of his ‘new’ old songs once performed by Shack once, under a different name and musical arrangement)

The Red Elastic Band, as Head has stated previously is often made up (La) of whomever he can get hold of on the night, so tonight we’re clearly in luck as he’s managed to assemble 11 musicians, including piano, cello, long-term horn section of Martin Smith and Andy Diagram, as well as bass drums, guitars and two backing vocalists.

(He also invites a fan who’s travelled all the way from Tokyo just for tonight’s gig up onstage to sing Newby Street with him, now there’s a man of the people if ever there was one!)

That’s a lot of musicians to fit on any stage, but there never seems there’s too much going on. So we get a huge sounding ‘Streets of ‘Kenny, and then immediately afterwards just Mick and accompanying piano for a beautifully emotive, Winter Turns to Spring. His voice almost cracking as he sings

“Thanks for being honest with me, I’ve got peace of mind”

There’s an intimacy that belies the back story to all, this born out of the debris of the less salubrious neighbourhoods of Liverpool.

Perhaps it’s another trademark of great songwriters that they are able to sing ‘to’ you, rather than just ‘at’ you all time? Either way, he pulls it off effortlessly.

Ask any long-term drug user and they’ll tell you, all you’re ever really trying to do after a while, is find the ‘right’ combination of substances to get and keep your ‘groove’ going.

Like Peter Perrett and yeah again no secret at all, Head has managed to navigate his way through all that and emerged on the other side, so there now seems a genuine resonance when he sings ‘Meant to be’

“Come and join me, on the other side”


But that ‘groove’ previously searched for by other means suddenly seems to appear in a utterly cosmic rendition of Mr Appointment that rolls along with an almost locomotive-like vibe in much the same way as the aforementioned ‘Living in My Head’ and ‘The Beast’ last night.

Sometimes we just need reminding there are other ways to evoke the requisite ingredients to cook up the perfect delivery of certain songs eh?

And to end the evening, we are given an utterly magnificent rendition of ‘Black and White’ from Shack’s 2006 album The Corner of Miles and Gil.

Almost ten minutes of absolutely outstanding scouse cosmic/psychedelia that leaves long-term fans rapturously acknowledging the ongoing reformation in much the same way as those who were here the previous night.

It’s good to have these two artists still with us, they may well have endured more than most could, or indeed have, in terms of personal darkness, akin to the depths of a long cold winter, but you know, eventually, if we survive the barren, wastelands of that, it’s clearly apparent, that as Mick Head sings to us tonight,

Winter turns to Spring.

Enjoy the sunshine gentlemen, you both deserve it, we all do.

Set list.

  1. Sgt Major
  2. Pretty Child
  3. Rumer
  4. Working Family
  5. Overjoyed
  6. Picasso
  7. Streets of ‘Kenny
  8. Winter Turns to Spring
  9. Byrd’s Turn To Stone.
  10. As Long As I’ve Got You
  11. Newby Street
  12. Mr Appointment
  13. Stranger
  14. Adios Amigo
  15. Meant To Be
  16. Comedy
  17. Black and White.


















The story so far. (Feb 2018)

Please forward this to any promoters or live agents you know.

We wanna play.

Hightown Pirates.

Press Release.

“Dry and High, is a joyous, anthem-laden affair, that evokes Arcade Fires sweep; Blood Sweat and Tears’ horns and the finer moments of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. These giant, uproarious songs are propelled by huge guitar riffs, Lilly Vasil’s exhilarating flute and on standout track, Just For Today, the shock and awe of still being alive.”  4 Stars Q Magazine.

“Well mainly, justice is best served by screaming LOUDLY:‘GO FUCKING LISTEN TO IT!’ First of all, there are no fillers on this record. Every single composition stands alone, experientially, melodically, and musically.”  9/10 Louder Than War.

“A terrific debut record” GQ.

“”A set of very personal and cathartic songs that are clearly the sound of a man reborn. Coloured by acid house, Britpop, gospel and soul featuring a heavy-duty horn section, Dry And High is a joyous celebration of a life reclaimed with Mason and his band clearly having a ball on tracks including the brass-driven ‘Just For Today’, the house-inspired ‘Perfect Stranger’ and the loved-up ‘Chasing Rainbows’. With hints of Paul Weller and Primal Scream, this is an album that delivers on all fronts. By turns hard rocking, soulful, hard-edged and heartfelt, it’s a warts and all musical journey that’s well worth taking.

Dave Haslam, Rock and Roll magazine.

“This is pure Rock and Roll, and album that is raucous, high energy, but with moments of pure vulnerability.” XS Noise.

Interview with The Quietus magazine is here.

The Tale of Hightown Pirates

“So here’s to tomorrow, all our tomorrows, for you and me, it’s just for today.”

(Just for Today, Hightown Pirates)

We don’t know what tomorrow may bring, we can guess, we can plan, we can dream, but we never really know do we?

Do we?

Summer 2015, the NME once called him Britain’s greatest songwriter, I call him a friend my 6yr old daughter thinks he says “Too many ‘grown-up words daddy”.

He’s sitting on my sofa playing ‘Something like you’ strumming slowly as Tabitha falls asleep on my knee.

“So come on climb in, we know how it’s been.”

Yes we do, we both do but things are different now, older, survivors with stories to tell, stories of love, loss, despair and redemption, it’s big stuff, powerful.

“You should play your guitar more often Simon mate”

“I know Mick, it’s just..

“Just what? Just fuckin do it La..”

“Ok Mick, wanna hear a few of my songs?”

“Go ‘ead mate”

“I’ve not played any of my own songs to anyone in over ten years mate.”

“Just fuckin do it La…”

“OK Mick..”

Five days later, I open the show as my friend plays a low-key gig here in Hackney, later reviewed thus.

“The assembled are here because Head’s songs about everyday life, escaping it, love and drug use are still some of the most gently seductive we have ever come across.”

(Kitty Empire The Guardian)

Yeah, of course they are.

Hightown Pirates were conceived in Liverpool, took our first steps in Hackney at the aforementioned gig,  then went on adventures in Europe with The Libertines in 2016, then onstage with Peter Doherty in the spring of that year.

After a show in Aberdeen somebody asked about my song Just for Today, where could they get it?

“You can’t, it’s not recorded I’m afraid, it’s an old song of mine, but still not found its way out into the world.”

“It’s a great song though, you should record it.”

“Thanks and yes it is, I’ve got a few more too.”

April 2016, Doghouse Studios Henley on Thames, I’m here with PD, he’s with his band in the studio, I’m with my thoughts sitting by the side of the river, I’d love to record here.

“Here’s to tomorrow, all our tomorrows..”

I get a call, someone wants to help me make an album, the person from Aberdeen.

I make some calls, old friends, companions, musical cohorts, other survivors, dreamers, people that believe in the impossible, a day at a time. I get a band, we have 4 rehearsals,  then go to the studio to make our album. We go to Doghouse Studios, of course we do.

We make our own magic, the chemistry is perfect, as is the absence of chemicals..

Its’ called Dry and High. Of course it is.

Our debut album was released, late- summer 2017 on Strike-back records, available on Vinyl/CD/Download. Itunes and Spotify.

2017 saw us supporting The Libertines, Ultrasound, Dodgy and John Power (Cast) as well as playing various low-key festival slots over the summer, including Bearded Theory as well as establishing a residency at London’s Water Rats venue and The Zanzibar in Liverpool.

Hightown Pirates are a collective, it’s various members include the following…

Simon Mason.           Songs, acoustic guitar and words.

Matty Purslow.        Guitars.

David Aird.                Guitars/Vocals.

Lilly Vasil.                  Flute/Vocals

Shona Carmen.         Vocals

Jon Finnigan            Drums.

Cass Browne.            Drums

Eddie Wilson.           Bass.

Josh Walsh.               Bass.

Martin Smith.           Trumpet.

Duncan McKay/       Trumpet.

Andy Diagram.         Trumpet.

Sophia-Marie-Smith.   Trumpet.

Simon James.             Sax.

John Gosnell.             Art.

Oliver Smith.             film-maker (Chasing Rainbows)

And also at various times…

Mark Neary.              Studio bass, recording engineer.

Twitter. @simonmasonsays @HightownPirates

Management by, Andrew Winters Email;

Tel;  00 44 07866 691831.

Simon Mason.                                       

More about one of the best albums you may not have, or maybe ever will listen to.

It’s always something that puts a smile on my face, when an individual has taken the time to review my bands album. You’d be surprised how few actually bother to listen to it first!

Anyways. this from Manchester recently.

Hightown Pirates ‘Dry & High’

It is that time of year when the saner amongst us take sanctuary from the manufactured seasonal bonhomie and turn our attentions to making lists of the year’s best music releases.

One album that has gone under far too many musical radars will be Hightown Pirates debut album ‘Dry and High’

In a year that has seen strong releases from The National, LCD Soundsystem, War on Drugs and releases from both The Brothers Gallagher, ‘Dry and High’   faces some stiff opposition for your attentions.

But demand it does. And it resolutely deserves a wider audience listen to its multi-layered offerings.

It would nigh on impossible to review this album without mention of both Pirate-in-Chief – Simon Mason – and his crew of musician’s backstory. Addiction. Rehab. Despair. Recovery. And redemption.

All concerned have overcome varying dependencies and are in the constant state of recovery. This album is testimony to all their personal struggles and subsequent vanquishing of alcoholic and narcotic demons….

This segues neatly with the next question. How and why. When you’ve willed yourself to draw your last breath then I’m of the opinion that you should be entitled to do what the fuck you like. If this means writing and recording your debut album at the point in your life when you are knock knocking on 50’s door, no pun intended, crack on.

Mason and his collective have life-experience that would make your average Joe on the street grateful for having suffered no more than a nagging hangover. This and record collections brim full of influences have resulted in an expectation defying album.

The resultant album could easily have been the musical equivalent of those cloying ‘inspirational’ meme’s that flood social media with their delusional optimism. A high-wire is indeed walked but mercifully, none of the new dawn new day vibe feels at all cliched. When Mason sings of ‘the day I nearly died ten years ago’ on ‘Chasing Rainbows’ this is resolutely not a lazy metaphor. Neither does the album preach that we should all be embarking on those infamous Twelve Steps.

Musically, the album starts with a gentle acoustic strum before melding with a wistful snatch of flute. We are then lead down the roads and grubby alleyways that Mason & co have trodden. A world weariness iced with the sheer fucking joy of having a second chance makes for ten uplifting and joyous tracks. Stabs of electric guitar collide with buoyant brass on ‘Chasing Rainbows.’ A clarion call to a second chance at life of a track.

Hooks, infectious choruses, parps of brass and strings make for an exhilarating and rewarding listen. I have been in possession of this album for some six months and am still playing it on a regular basis.

Think of ‘The Gift’ by The Jam if it had gone off the rails and lived in a squat and had to duck and dive for a living and you are arriving at ‘Dry and High’ Kindred Spirits that have trodden a different path but at heart will always be Soul Brothers.

A look into the abyss of despair, and Mason & Co thought fuck that and have produced an album that has no right to be either as good or uplifting as it is.

A rock’n’roll recovery album that is never anything other than a musical melting pot to visit over and over.

I’ll raise a glass to that.

And the great thing about that?

Mason won’t give a fuck what’s in it as he’s more than happy living his dream and resolutely happy in his ‘Dry and High’ state of mind.


Steven Gill.





The following event occurred in a primary school in Somerset in 1979.

The girl involved had suffered brain-damage a few years prior to this as a result of swallowing a marble which had blocked her trachea. She was removed from conventional education for a number of years to be given specialist help but then returned to her original school.  Despite her reduced mental capacity she was as much a part of our class as anyone else and she and her family were close friends of my own.

We are talking to our teacher I am in trouble for some mildly attention-seeking disruptive behaviour a few moments earlier while Karen is excited beyond words because her daddy is waiting for her downstairs.

“Miss.. Miss…my dad’s here, my dad’s here..”

“Karen, I’m talking to Simon, please don’t interrupt, just wait a minute!”

I look at Karen to pull a ‘just wait a minute face’, Karen smiles back at me, she spent a lot of her time smiling at people, I guess she enjoyed seeing them smile back.

I’m now smiling at her, she’s smiling at me and neither of us is paying the teacher any attention, kids eh?

And then that childhood innocence is lost forever.

My friend’s eyes roll upwards, the pupils disappear, there is just the milky white sclera remaining as she, like a puppet released from its strings, crumples to the floor and starts to shake, twitch and then, becomes motionless.

There’s a momentary silence that would shame the most remote celestial star

“Simon, quick, fetch the headmaster….run..NOW, run, run run!”

The teacher gives unrehearsed instructions to the rest of the children now all standing in silence in the classroom as I barrel down the stairs and sprint toward the headmaster’s office. As I depart, I hear a girl scream, a boy starts sobbing uncontrollably as they begin to file out of the classroom towards the assembly hall.

Karen’s dad had arrived minutes earlier to collect her and take her to get her hair done, we attend a Catholic school and she was due to be confirmed the following day. As I stagger along the suddenly, seemingly endless main corridor I see him waiting in reception.

“Uncle Dick….it’s Karen, she’s….she’s…dead”.

I shout that at him, I don’t mean to shout, I don’t mean to say the word dead either, but the world has just changed forever, which is a long time when you’re a kid.  Until that morning, life is mostly about playground games of kick the can and kiss-chase, Airfix models, jumpers for goalposts and the utter conviction that girls are to be avoided at all costs out of school hours. Life is a childhood with the safety of a stable home complete with mum, dad and big sister.

Life is now something else altogether, on some level, I’ve been dragged towards unwelcome adulthood. I don’t realise this of course, any more than I actually know for certain that someone has just died or understand why I’ve just bellowed this awful news to her father.

The headmaster hears my shout and comes stampeding from his office to find me and Karen’s dad standing in a momentary, uncomprehending silence, staring at each other.

I unintentionally shout again.

“She’s just…. died upstairs in our classroom…I, I, I…”

‘Uncle’ Dick sprints towards the stairs that lead to the classroom, the headmaster showing him the way, two grown men, suddenly, both looking as frightened as children themselves.

The kids in my class are 10/11 years old, this is our final year of catholic primary school, first Holy Communion, Confirmation, kick the can and not being chased at kiss chase are part of this life, like it or not. The death of a child, a close family friend to boot, should not be, but now it is and of course, there is no ‘like it or not’ option.

The assembly hall fills up with bewildered uncomprehending children as an ambulance crew wheels a gurney past us towards the classroom. We are all told to not look, we all look. Those kids not already crying now do so. Almost all of them anyway, even the class bully from the Oldmixon Estate begins to sob helplessly.

I don’t, I can’t, all I can hear is a cold, unknown voice from somewhere I know not where.

“Don’t cry Simon, don’t cry”

Maybe it’s the newly-arrived ‘adult’ in me, the ‘man’ that if at all possible I would never want to be, but suddenly seem to have no choice but to be?

“Don’t cry Simon, be a man.”

Maybe in Weston-Super-Mare in 1979, expressing ‘feelings’ was still not on the ‘menu’, unlike the then, seemingly ubiquitous Findus frozen savoury pancakes and Breville toasted sandwich makers that had clearly been invented to incinerate our taste-buds and tongues? I don’t recall ‘doing’ feelings in my house; my taste-buds however, have sadly never recovered.

I don’t know why ‘we’ didn’t ‘do’ feelings in public or private; both my parents had experienced the horrors of WW2 in their formative years. Maybe they’d had enough of outward displays of emotion, or perhaps, possibly even more commonplace, the opposite by 1945? Maybe the war had somehow entrenched the British ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude so deeply as to negate the whole concept of ‘feelings’ entirely?

Either way…

“Don’t cry Simon, just don’t.”

So I didn’t.

I am not huddled with the rest of my friends as they cling to each other sobbing, I am standing by the door to the hall, leaving me in some sort of physical and emotional no-man’s land because the headmaster needs me to explain what has occurred upstairs to one of the ambulance crew prior to them driving to the hospital. In essence, I’m required to be a ‘grown-up’, as I try to tell the medic what I’ve witnessed.  In reality I am a ten year old boy who has absolutely no idea what to do say or feel because all I can hear is the collective sobbing of a room full of children being drowned out by the voice in my head that belongs to nobody I know, getting louder and louder.

“Don’t cry Simon, be a man, don’t cry Simon, be a man.”

The ambulance crew ghost past us with a sheet covering Karen’s body, her father is clinging onto the gurney. He is not crying, he looks way beyond that particular demonstration of grief already as he momentarily stares at me and I see the eyes of adulthood attempting to hold back an ocean of tears.

“Don’t cry Simon…it’s going to be ok.”

He was a squadron-leader in the RAF, a hero, just like my dad, so if he’s not crying, I shan’t either.

I’m a 10 year old man now; people need me to not cry right?

The ambulance departs, teachers console children, phone calls have been made to parents as those who live close are already arriving to collect their own kids and intuitively hug them that little bit closer as they escort them to the safety of their own homes.

I don’t know why, but it’s not until almost the entire hall has emptied of distraught children that it occurs to me that I am free to collect my bike from the playground and ride the short distance along Walliscote Road to my home.

Nobody asks me to stay, nobody tells me to leave I just stand at the doorway to the hall saying “It’s going to be alright” to my classmates as they are scooped up by their respective parents and removed from the scene of that afternoons tragic events.

“I’m going home now Mr Dempsey, it’s going to be alright isn’t it?”

The headmaster pats me on the head,

“Go home Simon, well done on being so helpful.”

I done nothing, other than not cry, how that has been helpful to anyone I will never know?  But as I clamber onto my Raleigh Chopper and begin to pedal like a maniac along Walliscote Road, it seems that I’ve somehow, done the ‘right thing’, at least as far as the headmaster is concerned.

I throw my bike into the back door of our house to be greeted by my mum asking why I am home early, as I look up at her, finally and without any restraint, the tears come.

“Mum, mum, it’s Karen, she’s died, Uncle Dick was there, I tried to help, but I couldn’t do anything mum, she’s died.”

I have no real recollection of the rest of that awful day, I know my mum and dad made a call to Karen’s house, but my ‘inner’ man has clearly now deserted me and made way for the unbridled tears of a distraught little boy who lies on his bed sobbing hysterically as his mum tried her best to console him.

“Don’t cry Simon, it will be alright.”

“OK mum, I’ll try not to, I promise I’ll try.”

It was soon explained to all concerned, that Karen had experienced some kind of fatal seizure and had passed away, probably instantly, but no amount of consolatory sermons over the next few days from the school or local priest, that she was now ‘in heaven’, seemed to make that days tragic events any less devastating, at least not to me. Surely nobody wanted her to be in ‘heaven’? We wanted her in our classroom.

At this particular juncture in my childhood, I was already showing an early tendency to pass on the ‘religious stuff’ and devote more time to the ‘kiss chase’ way of life, regardless of what the school or indeed anyone thought best. I’d already figured out that life was not fair.

By 1979,( I was 11) 3 of my 4 grandparents were dead, I had no recollection of either of my father’s parents, nor my mums mother, her father, was the only grandparent I knew as he’d come to live with us a few years previously. My mum’s mother had committed suicide with sleeping tablets and alcohol in the early 70’s, a fate that also took my dad’s sister, my auntie Betty from us a few years afterwards. My sister and I had been very close to her, she had no children of her own, so she doted on us and spoiled us rotten. I wasn’t told she took her own life until years after the event, not indeed did I know my mother’s mum had ended her own life in a similar fashion.

May 1979; Mrs Thatcher arrives at Downing Street for the first time, quoting St Francis of Assisi,

“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony, where there is error, may we bring truth, where there is doubt, may we bring faith and where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

My dad died in November of that year, so neither Mrs Thatcher, nor the man from Assisi, were going to be able to deliver on that promise as far as I or indeed, (for completely different reasons), huge sections of the British public were concerned.

November 11th 1979.

My daddy, a pilot during WW2, my hero, (your hero too) died from a heart-attack aged 57.

I cried, I cried until there were no more tears to cry then I became hysterical and somehow found more tears as our family home, once again was cloaked with loss. I only stopped crying when the family doctor decided I’d become hysterical to the point I needed sedation and prescribed a tablet of some kind.

Tablet administered, tears stop as sedation arrives and yeah, I have a ‘theory’ about that which may go so way to explain a little about what remains in this piece, but we’ll get to that shortly.

I don’t know why, but now there was no more ‘voice’ saying ‘don’t cry’ as my mum, sister and I shed our tears collectively, without restraint, until the next tablet was administered to me that is. Mum took me to see my dad, I remember holding on to her hand as we both kissed him goodbye as he lay in his coffin in the chapel of rest. My mum became hysterical as she kissed his pallid face, so i thought best not cry to show her I was a ‘man’ and could look after her, the notion of which had been given to me by a male family friend earlier that day.

“Your dad’s gone now Simon, you’re going to have to be the man of the house”

Right you are then.

The voice was back.

I didn’t attend his funeral, but instead was returned to my boarding school within a week of his passing and trust me, crying or any other display of emotion was definitely not a wise move, so the tears and hurt were hidden. There was no ‘counselling’ on offer from the Catholic Church who presided over my boarding school, quite the opposite in fact. Within a week of being returned to their ‘care’, I found myself being whipped with 6 strokes of a riding crop for having the audacity to leave supper before prayers had been said.  I was also subjected to regular sexual abuse from the headmaster of the school until he was ‘removed’ by his seniors, only to be sent to another of their ‘institutions’ I might add, where he was eventually arrested for the serious sexual assault of a 14yr old boy. I digress…

Less than two years after my dad’s death, my grandfather also died. I have no idea why or even how I found myself alone with his body in the care-home he’d been living in prior to his death, but again, a dead person and me, no mum this time. I kissed him goodbye too crying as I did so, until a nurse entered the room, then I stopped.

As for my theory about ‘medication and ‘feelings’?

I started using Heroin in 1989 and didn’t manage to shake off the shackles of addiction until 2006. People died, lots of people died, some I was close to, others I only vaguely knew from hours spent shooting up in crack-houses or standing with them in a collective ,

“Where the fuck is this cunt?”

outside a phone-box waiting for a dealer to turn up at some point between that start of that ill-fated opiated romance and the brutal wreckage that soon ensured and continued for so many years. I attended funerals, way too many funerals, the only ones I have managed to cry at, came after I got clean, make of that what you will.


Getting clean and remaining part of a ‘recovery’ community brings with it the joy of seeing people turn their lives from utter despair to the possibilities that abound when that negative junkie energy is coerced into a more positive way of life. It also brings with it the regular news that another of our number hasn’t survived. I’d guess that if pushed I could name over 40 people, mostly younger than 50 years of age who have succumbed to alcohol and drug addiction. Our joy and our grief is often what bind our ‘recovery’ communities together, we know death, we know about cheating death too.

Maybe with the advent of social-media, we in the ‘recovery’ world hear about the passing of our fellows, perhaps more readily than we might previously. Of course we don’t have the monopoly on grief, tragedy and loss, but where most people might afford themselves the filter of alcohol, or indeed other mood-altering substances to help ‘cope’ with their emotions when there is a death, this is not a choice, or not a choice we wish to take up, in such situations.

I guess it’s fair to say that for someone who, for whatever reason didn’t/couldn’t allow himself the luxury of tears for such a long time, I now have nearly 12 years of unbroken ‘sobriety’ during which time, sleeping aside, I’ve chosen to experience and demonstrate the whole range of human emotions that come with experiencing death on a regular basis. I’ve cried way too much for others, perhaps, not enough for myself just yet, but I’m getting there.

Boys don’t cry?

This one does and happily so.

And so, wherever possible, after all this death, it is crucial we try and celebrate life too, at 11 years clean, I wrote this song for my daughter, because after, just like they say in the film,

“You either get busy living, or you get busy dying”

I’ve seen enough of the latter, to last me a lifetime, so here’s to the future eh?

And greetings of the season to you all.


Simon Mason is the author of the acclaimed memoir,

Too High, Too Far, Too Soon (Mainstream 2013).

He also regularly appears in a one-man theatrical adaptation of the book and is currently the songwriter for his new band, Hightown Pirates, who have just released their critically acclaimed debut album, Dry and High (4*s Q magazine)




























Creativity in Recovery.



Do it Clean.

I got a handful of this, what do I do with it?

I got a barrel of this, what do I do with it?

I do it clean, I do it clean

Echo and the Bunnymen.


There’s a reason I’m citing this song from 1980 and it’s not because it’s writer is a poster-boy for healthy living , either now, or then. Ian McCulloch, as far as I know, is yet to embrace sobriety/recovery, not that it’s any of my business what he does or doesn’t do while he and the latest incarnation of the ‘Bunnymen continue to tour the world to decent-sized audiences.

The reason I’ve kicked off the piece with that lyric is due to a moment of melancholic -clarity I experienced at a gig in London a while back. It was Echo and The Bunnymen, but you possibly just guessed that? If not, like much of the following, it possibly doesn’t really matter, there’s no business like show-business and your business is, quite frankly, none on my business eh?

I was sitting in the ‘I’ve not paid to get in’ section alongside other musical vagabonds of a certain vintage, (we don’t get asked for ID when buying e-cigs) when, for no apparent reason, my companion for the evening turned to me and said,

“There’s fuckin’ loads of us…who aint here tonight that should be right?”

“Yes mate, maybe they’re stuck in traffic or couldn’t get a babysitter eh?”

“Nah..Simon, I mean…

And he proceeds to rattle off a list of friends of ours who will never sit in the ‘I’ve not paid to get in’ section, or indeed anywhere else, ever again.

There are four of us drinking bottled water as we watch McCulloch do his thing,

“I do it clean, I do it clean know what I mean?”

Yeah, these days ‘we’ do,

Handfuls of this, bucketful’s of that, mouthfuls of pills, syringes of heroin, pipes, powders and bottles…. ‘we’ certainly didn’t do ‘it’ or anything else ‘clean’ until we seemed to have no choice to either start doing so, or be added to the ‘guest-list’ nobody really wants to be on? The AAA pass for whatever lies on the other side of this mortal coil that requires a messy, untimely death and leaves so much sadness in its wake?

“I hope I die before I get old”


So the ongoing truth/untruth that you need ‘something’ outside of yourself working its merry way through your bloodstream in order to be creative, has an audience too, and they want to be heard! Come on, make some noise eh?

Quite possibly the main reason for a collective,

“Oh for fucks sake, we WANT you to be fucked up! It’s part of the job and clearly seems to have assisted you in the writing of so many fantastic albums/books. Whereas, being off my face on K aint gonna make this Chia-latte I’m serving you taste any better is it? So be fucked –up for me while I’m working a minimum-wage job and dreaming of getting the record deal I’ve wanted all my life or stop fucking moaning about it! Again, we know this already right?


The other common denominator as we stick our fingers in our ears and mumble ‘I’m not listening’ to you, is that it seems much easier to talk about/enjoy the brilliant creativity born of altered-states and staying up late(s) but ask most people to name ‘artists’ whose work they consider better in sobriety and you’re gonna struggle, or are you?

It’s a tough debate for the bottled water and self-help group for breakfast lunch and dinner brigade to win.

Let’s do the obvious first and when I say obvious, I mean really obvious, a list of bands that burnt the candle at both ends, (or as a certain K Richards once said, “took a blowtorch to the middle”) but made some timeless classics, influenced later generations of musicians almost beyond measure and were, well you know, the best there was and most likely will ever be.

Here’s the list then..

  1. Pretty much any major ‘artist’ from the 60’s onwards whose members had someone like ME on ‘speed-dial’ (see what I did there, funny huh?) during their most creative period.

Me? Oh yeah, me, here.


Yep, we know, we know we know…Beatles/Stones/Who/Zep/Lou Reed/Bowie and so on….

AD-BLOODY-NAUSEAM (dictionary definition of which is ‘something that has been done or repeated so often as to become tiresome’) a bit like drugs after a while no?

But for reasons that’ll be clear a bit later in this somewhat rambling missive, here’s my favourite slice of narco-influenced rocknroll from the good old bad old days..

There’s an epidemic, if ya don’t believe me you should take a look at the eyes of your friends.”




  1. Then we have the counter-argument often from the straight-edge community that they don’t need drugs/booze to make their art.

My personal preference here, again not from a musician currently on a ‘popular’ Spotify play-list but entirely due to the fact that I don’t get asked my age when buying E-cigs either) is this from former Minor Threat /Fugazi, front-man Ian MacKaye.


Both songs as menacing, tense, poetic, explosive and downright magnificent as the other. The main difference being MacKaye can probably remember recording his track whereas Peter Perrett perhaps cannot?

Which finds me asking myself, does that even matter?

It doesn’t matter to me, nor I imagine does it really keep anyone else awake at night because it’s not really important is it?  It’s none of our business right?

If you google ‘Famous sober musicians’ you’ll get a non-surprising who’s-who of musical ‘legends’ most of whom I should imagine are as relevant to Vice readers as ‘er, I am actually. Yep, they are all without doubt hugely successful, or certainly have been, but much of that success, was garnered a very long time ago. We know Eric Clapton, Elton John and Eminem are sober, we know they sell-out whatever ‘enormo-dome’ they chose to perform in, but it’s probably true to say their respective sobriety was due to the choice becoming,

‘Get clean or die’, as is sadly often the case and even more wretchedly, a signpost that is often missed entirely as careers and drug habits barrel out of control in tandem.

This whole question of creativity in ‘recovery’ is at first glance somewhat lopsided, the argument is elastic and seems to be incapable of not somehow measuring creative successes against human cost. For every ‘elegantly wasted’ rock-star/rapper/writer burning £50 notes to cook up their gear on a spoon, there’s countless dead junkies who thought their own consumption of substances would buy them a guitar-shaped swimming pool too.

How many livers/brain-cells were harmed in the writing of this piece? None, I’ve been clean/sober for over 11 years, I did enough damage already and before any of you lot say it, Hunter-S Thompson I aint either, but I think my 9-year old daughter  prefers a very much alive daddy, (albeit not so much literary genius), than a dead one.

I spoke to a few creative friends of mine, who are of the ‘recovering’ variety recently, Amy Dresner, columnist The Fix and author of My Fair Junkie had this to say.


“The success of addicted writers like Hemingway, Bukowski, Burroughs et al give us creative types the false belief that their addiction is a method, not a problem.

  When I was using, I thought everything I wrote was genius and it was far from it.  What was great about being creative while loaded was being uninhibited and shutting up that inner critic.  But you can do that in sobriety as well. It’s just a choice of self-acceptance and allowing your first draft to be, well, shitty. Dropping the ego and perfectionism and polishing the piece later.  If sobriety has given me anything it’s patience, persistence and a work ethic.

I think that in my addiction I was looking for a high, for transcendence, to connect to something bigger, and I can still do that in sobriety by being creative.  There is no drug that beats the high of being in that “flow” state where you feel like you’re channelling something greater, creating something you yourself could never come up with.  Despite being sober for 4 and half years, I still have the addict’s brain which demands stimulation, instant gratification, risk-taking and highs.  Now I just channel all that demonic tyrannical energy into my writing. And I’m a helluva lot more productive and prolific than I was when I was using because half my time isn’t looking for coke or trying to find a vein or recovering from a bender. But you absolutely do have to be more creative in finding material.  There isn’t that constant barrage of drama and metaphorical car wrecks to mine that comes with active addiction.”


You can read all about her ‘research’ here.


Another interesting conversation was with Rusty Egan, a man possibly not afforded the recognition he surely deserves for almost single-handedly bringing electronic music to British clubs when he set-up the Blitz club with Steve Strange in 1979. If you’ve ever enjoyed getting spangled to electro, synth-pop, house, trance or whatever, you kinda owe him a nod of your head, but don’t offer him any booze or drugs he’s been sober for over 21 years now. When interviewing him for this piece, it became apparent that, as if often the case, the story I’d gone looking for, was not as relevant as the story I got. Rusty explained to me as we sheltered from a typical English summers day cloudburst under a tree in Brompton cemetery, that, everything he helped create back in ‘the day’, whether it be drumming with the Rich Kids, (with ex- Sex-Pistol Glenn Matlock,) opening the Legendary Camden Palace nightclub or providing the soundtrack to the New Romantic ‘movement’ by spinning previously almost unknown tunes by The Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk etc. he did completely sober. He was also, one audition, away from actually being the drummer in The Clash, which is most certainly a ‘sliding-door’ moment few could compete with.


I have tried to stay away from the ‘old rocker done too many drugs but clean now’ theme while writing this but over the past few days, my ears have been treated to perhaps one of the greatest comeback stories you might care to hear and it perhaps shapes the final furlongs of this piece in a way, my prose could never compete with.


Let’s be clear and lets again be obvious, the “My band’s better than your band” and the “That band are shite” arguments will roll for eternity. Yes there are a few bands we can say without question that are ridiculously wonderful, at least to the ears of many people and conversely plenty who only a hearing-impaired mother could love. As I mentioned previously, much of the ammunition lobbed in the direction of the

“But I’m clean now and I’m working on new material” brigade, is that, well you know, when you tour can you not do much of the ‘new stuff please” right?

The reason I put the YouTube link to The Only Ones track, The Beast is twofold, actually maybe threefold, maybe more let’s see.

  1. It’s a fucking brilliant song…about drugs, written while on lots of them.
  2. It’s a brilliant song regardless of anything.
  3. Its writer, now 8 years clean and sober has just released his first new material in a VERY long time and guess what?
  4. It’s also brilliant

If there’s a ‘better’ more menacing, claustrophobic, dirty rocknroll song released this year, I’d like to hear it. Ok there is one but I’ll come to that in a bit.


Whatever my own thoughts are on this topic, I defy anyone who digs guitars and lyrics gleamed from hard-won ‘street-wisdom’, (Probably not the kind of street you’d wanna live on)  to not at the very least, appreciate this tune and indeed the poetic beauty of the entire album.

When as a teenager I first heard ‘Another Girl, another Planet, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t increase my already reckless enthusiasm for getting off my tits. No, of course The Only Ones were not responsible for my slide in heroin addiction any more then were The Velvet Underground or Keith Richards. I cannot pretend though, that as I type, while listening to How The West Was Won by Peter Perrett, I don’t have a wry smile on my face, ‘cos he knows and so do I, that if and often it’s a big if, we survive the entrenched, blackened debris of the battlefield of drug addiction, it’s possible to come out the other side without becoming a creatively impotent (ex) druggie-bore.

Another recent recruit to sobriety and creativity is the man, once lauded by the NME (when it actually meant something) as “Our greatest songwriter”

Former Pale Fountains/Shack frontman Mick Head, now of The Red Elastic Band.

Heads own ‘relationship’ with alcohol and drugs is no secret, it’s obvious that anyone who “Can’t remember it mate” when asked about supporting The Who on a tour, was obviously needing more than the formal backstage rider had on offer to get through the day. Long standing fans are now reporting that the former enfant terrible of Merseyside is currently “Off the ale and off the scale” and he is about to release his first album of new material in over 11 years.

Pete Townshend Loves him, Noel and Liam Gallagher adore him and Vice are also about to release an interview with him as part of Noiseys ‘British Masters’ series so don’t just take their word for it!



Being in an altered state, may well be a constituent part of rocknroll drug/alcohol mythology, but let’s not forget that musicians in the upper echelon of that world, often have various ‘people’ on hand to clear up their mess, pay their bills, book their hotels/studios/rehabs for them. The rest of us mere mortals as the coalface of addiction are left without any such luxury!

Oh, by the way, did I mention that at 11 years clean I’ve also managed to fulfil a dream my younger self, robbed himself of in the pursuit of the sex, drugs and rocknroll (un)holy-trinity?

I finally got to do the rocknroll bit!

I’, just about to release an album, my (our) debut album, something I am ridiculously proud of to the extent it’s entered my personal chart of achievement at number 3 with a bullet, ok maybe not a bullet, perhaps a chai-latte. Top of my pops is obviously my beautiful 9yr old daughter Tabitha.

Nestled at number 2, 11 years of unbroken recovery, so number 3 it is for my band, Hightown Pirates.

Here’s the thing though. The album is a mixture of songs I wrote while absolutely ripped to the gills of all sorts of drugs back in the day/night, plus newer material written in long-term recovery. There was no way I would have been able to get the band together and write/rehearse/record the album if I was using drugs, for me, if I’m using drugs, that’s all I’m doing, simple as that.

So while much of the raw material, lyrically and musically stems from dark and dirty periods of my life, there is an equal amount on this album that comes directly from the life I have now, I wonder if when you listen to it, you’ll be able to figure out which is which? I somehow doubt it and therefore think this is as good a way to sign off as any.


Adios Senor Pussycat By Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band is released by Violette Records on 20th October 2017

Dry and High by Hightown Pirates is out now.

Q Magazine says about the album:
“Dry & High is a joyous, anthem-laden affair that evokes Arcade Fire ‘s sweep; Blood, Sweat & Tears‘ horns and the finer moments of Primal Scream‘s Screamadelica. These giant, uproarious songs are propelled by huge guitar riffs, Lilly Vasils exhilarating flute and on standout Just For Today, Mason’s shock and awe at still being alive.” **** four stars

In September Hightown Pirates supported The Libertines on their Tiddly Om Pom Pom tour of the UK:
“Meet Hightown Pirates, your new favourite band” announced Simon Mason, lead singer of the Hackney based multi genre ensemble who effortlessly fuse rock guitar with the delightful tones of a flute, backed by a heady brass section to bring you a melee of music which astounds and entices in equal measure.
They sounded like the result of an orgy in the 70’s at New York’s Plato’s Retreat with the members of The Style Council and Jethro Tull it was hard to spot influences amongst the varied musical offerings but that’s never a bad thing.
By the sounds of things tonight… their debut album Dry And High will definitely be worthy of your investment ( MusicMuso )



Take care of yourselves out there boys and girls.

Simon Mason, London October 2017.











Listen Up.

Dry and High. Hightown Pirates

Listen up?

It would appear that there are a few people who are interested in my thoughts on the recent musical exertions of the ‘Chief’ and his clearly, restless and somewhat agitated younger brother as their ongoing sibling rivalry is taken to a new level by the release of 2 ‘solo’ albums within the space of a few weeks.

Let’s get  a few things out of the way first before I evoke the gnashing of teeth from the legions of the faithful and quite possibly end whatever minuscule chance my band may have had of basking in their reflected glory and attendant exposure afforded by a highly sought-after support slot in the future.

(Good luck to my mate Jack Jones and his band, Trampoline) Continue reading

Hightown Pirates studio Diary. July 22-29th 2016, Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake, England.

Hightown Pirates….Dry and High.

Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake;

Oxfordshire England July 2016.


Day One; Wake 6am!

Still got bad throat; Yogi tea lemon honey.

Walk to the river listening to The Jams tales from the riverbank.

Stevie G impressions on the 5 a side pitch.

The sound of laughter

Continue reading