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

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Life imitating art, or art imitating Life?

A man walks into a bar..

I say man, I mean deluded, fantasist with too many drugs in his bloodstream and even more in his pocket. There is a reason he is here tonight, but, as is often the case, he cannot see further than the next crumpled-up bunch of notes being shoved in his direction in exchange for the opportunity to talk shit and sweat profusely for £50 a gram.

It’s a ‘sliding doors’ moment, he gets in the right carriage this time and the supersonic train leaves Kings Cross (Water Rats) with him on-board, for the time being at least.

27th January 1994, was there then.

27th/28th April 2016…you coming?FullSizeRender (1)Tickets available here

Never trust a man in sandals.


The following is not intended to change anyone’s mind about anything; sometimes you just gotta speak your truth.

The horror of the Paris slaughter, not to mention other equally despicable acts in Africa have rightly caused yet more outrage. It now appears the UK’s response to this is to drop more bombs, to “Take the fight to the enemy” because, obviously, attack is the best form of defence? Would I have any compunction about putting a bullet in the head of those that carried out that despicable slaughter at The Bataclan? Nope not if the opportunity arose at the time and it meant preventing the death of others. But here’s the thing, the question I struggle to find an answer to. Would I be prepared to execute them if they had been captured? Would I? Would you?

I’m not a politician, I’d like to think I’m higher up the evolutionary scale than that, for sure there’s a new/old kid on the block in Westminster, I like him, but he doesn’t need me to speak for him.  Nor am I a clever man, a Christopher Hitchens with a better haircut. I am not a theologian and you may be surprised to find, I’m only an atheist when I’m in a really bad mood. I’m a parent, occasional writer, part-time show-off, but mostly, I’m a parent.  That means I have by far, the greatest responsibility it is possible to have.  Why? Because it is and also because, sadly I believe it is our children who will bear the brunt of ideological extremism as the harbingers of destruction reach further into the society our parents/grandparents fought and died to protect. Those at the helm may well have blood on their hands and deep pockets filled with the profits of division and greed. I don’t though, neither does my daughter and I suspect neither do most of you who may read this. I’m not part of the problem; I’m not an avaricious politician and I’m not ‘god.’



I don’t believe in ‘god’, by which I mean the ‘god(s)’ that have been created by, written about for centuries by, appropriated into the same gender as and forced upon everybody else by, man. You know the ones I’m talking about, the badly dressed bloke(s) with the beard, prone to doing the ‘impossible’. If he was really god, he’d have shaved more often, enjoyed a decent pint and asked more women for their opinion before opening his mouth in his testosterone-fuelled revelations. That’s assuming he would have been a bloke at all of course. If ‘he’ was a ‘she’, I’m guessing we’d be looking at a completely different world. No women I know would be prepared to dress as badly as the pope or blow themselves up on the dubious promise of spending eternity in the company of 72 sexually inept virginal men. There would also have been equality in wages and working conditions probably about the same time as the first of our ancestors said,

“Fuck looking after this baby all day darling, it’s your turn, I’m off to hunt a mammoth with the girls, we might go out for a few celebratory ‘bevvies after too.”

What do I know about ‘god’ anyway? Oh yeah, I was made to read the bible at school.  Of course that’s not even half the story though is it? Some estimates put the number of religions currently being ‘practiced’ in the world at over 400.  My entire ‘education’ was conducted within a catholic school system, at no point were we afforded an insight into other belief systems. I’m guessing my religious teachers realised that the somewhat nonsensical curriculum they espoused, would, in-fact be made to look as utterly bonkers as the ‘other’ faith systems the minute any comparison was made. Even my tiny brain can join the theological dots and conclude that, they can’t all be right, so they are surely all wrong?



As for creationism? When a classmate of mine suggested that if ‘we’ were to believe in Adam and Eve,


“Then that means we are all descended from an incestuous relationship then sir?”

He was theoretically-silenced by 6 strokes of a riding-crop, his flippant but astute comment punished by the headmaster later that day. The same headmaster, who years later, was arrested, tried, defrocked and sentenced to a lengthy spell in jail for sexually abusing young boys, his evil practices going completely unchecked by the church for years. This is not the reason I don’t believe in god though, but it was the starting point of my own thinking on the subject, not that this was encouraged of course. ‘god’ knows what I’m thinking right? His intrusion into my ‘thought-crime’ does nothing to persuade me he’s someone worth getting to know. I hate nosey bastards like that, mid your own fucking business eh god?

So yeah, me and ‘religion’ nah, not having it at all.  We didn’t get off to a very good start and I’m still waiting to be shown some proof?

Oh yeah, the ‘proof’ it’s in a book(s) apparently.

So ok, maybe give me just the slightest reason to accept that people who propagate nonsense like this should be in any position to tell me how to live my life.



1 Samuel 18:25-27

David wanted to wed Michal, Saul’s daughter. He offered Saul anything in order to be able to marry Michal. For whatever reason, Saul wanted 100 foreskins. He told David he needed to deliver that number of foreskins by the next day. David went out and killed 200 men and collected that many foreskins. It was after the fact that he realized he had double the number he needed. Saul was impressed and he gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to David.




That’s about as ridiculous as the time the prophet Mohammed apparently decided to make a few structural changes to the moon by chopping it in half. (Maybe there was no footie on that day?) Said task undertaken on a winged horse obviously so he got home in time for tea and a cuddle with his 9 year old wife too.

The splitting of the moon is confirmed through eye-witness testimony transmitted through an unbroken chain of reliable scholars so many that it is impossible that it could be false (hadith mutawatir).[2]


OK, so that’s the slightly low-brow kinda cheap justification for my lack of faith in ‘god’, however if he/she can manage to keep Danny Sturridge Liverpool’s best striker, fit for an entire season, I’ll have a rethink.

If religion was put on trial, I’d like to think no judge and jury, in possession of the ‘facts’, would sentence the world to another second of it, yet alone a few thousand years. It’s a bit like smoking; before we knew how bad it was for us, everybody was at it.

Is it really bad for us though?

I’d say yes for no other reason than it’s got nothing to do with truth and everything to do with the opposite. At what point are we required to separate metaphor from fact? Apparently not until scientific evidence leaves the custodians of religion, no choice but to admit they’ve got it wrong. Then and only after all other ‘escape routes have gone, are we told,

“Ah, ok, the story of Noah is not meant to be taken literally.”

And it’s probably unlikely David collected all those foreskins and Leviticus was just in a really bad mood when he called for the murder of gay people etc etc.

I wonder if made up a few hundred t-shirts with

‘Leviticus can suck my dick’ on them, I’d make a few quid at the next gay pride?

As ‘real’ science advances, religious explanations back-peddle, although it often seems like trying to prise a confession out of a villain whose deeds have been caught on c.c.t.v.

“But it helps me make sense of the world and we need redemption”

Ah, I see, so we’re not capable of doing that anyway?

Oh yeah, the ‘concept of original sin’

Surely we innately know the difference between right and wrong, surely we can figure that out for ourselves?


“Why not?”

‘”Because it says so in the bible/Torah/front page of the Daily (hate) Mail.

Ah, so we need to follow the instructions, without which, at the very least, an unenviable ‘end’ lies in store for those who don’t.

So live in fear or..?

You get my point right? You can rebrand it anyway you like, but I don’t think it’s good for us, except in tiny weeny moderation, like at a gig or football or… something.


So yeah, it’s just like smoking. (Actually, smoking is never ‘good’ for you; it’s just less harmful the less you do it.)

These days, even though it can be a struggle, most people have chosen to confine the fags to the ashtray of history.  It has to be said though, that generally speaking, where people are less able to make informed choices i.e.; ‘developing’ nations, countries crippled by poverty etc. the big tobacco companies continue to expand their empires. It would appear that the masters of religion and tobacco both do well in such places.

(For the record, I’m still sucking on an E-cig, very much a case of progress not perfection.)

I’m convinced that the weather was shite for pretty much the entire duration as religion made its be-sandaled way from the warmer, but almost entirely illiterate Middle East into Europe.

“Do you believe in god mate?”

“Umm, which one? We’ve got a few”

“This god, he’s much better than yours and if you don’t believe me, I’ll fucking kill you ok?”

It’s like playground bullying on an industrial sandals.

The inclement medieval weather continued as did the need for distraction.

Anyone who has kids will tell you you’ve gotta be ‘creative’ when it’s cold and wet outside. Obviously you couldn’t amuse the barbaric population with an Alvin and the chipmunk’s box set, so Pope Pious and the psycho-monks saw their opportunity and grabbed it.

“Do you want a smoothie and some crisps with your eternal damnation, fear-driven servitude and other assorted fairy-tales children?”

“Can’t we just go to the park and play on the swings daddy?”

“No, it’s raining.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt –on men and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24Hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.25Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields –both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.



“We live in Stamford Hill daddy, are we Israelites?”



Back to being a parent, which is primarily why I’m trying to waste my time and hopefully yours, with this badly written god-bashing piece?

Tabitha asks me lots of questions about religion because we live amongst an ultra-orthodox religious community here in Hackney. My Hasidic neighbours seem nice enough, until they get behind the wheel of a car that is. To be honest, other than their insistence on driving like demented Egyptian chariot drivers pursuing the Israelites into the Red Sea; I don’t know much about them. They do what they do, Tabitha and I do what we do, it’s cool, it’s safe round here and also very quiet on Saturdays. It’s a ‘bit’ weird though, but not weird in a strap a bomb to yourself and blow people up kinda way, certainly not on the Sabbath anyway.

The dark and (bloody) middle-ages were a time when we knew little and killed a lot, in the name of what we knew little about of course. Not much has changed really, back then, ‘We’ just trusted that those people afforded an education in exchange for a life of piety and sacrifice (If you don’t include much of the Catholic Church) as they delivered us from eternal damnation  would not lie to us? Time moved on, the weapons got deadlier as the science got smarter. The better the science, the bigger the death-toll, as previously unassailable ‘truths’ were forced to back-peddle and become ‘metaphors’ rather than facts, at least where those of a progressive mind-set were concerned. Religious literature is not lies; it’s just people trying to make sense of things without recourse to facts. People believed because to not do so was unthinkable, they just didn’t know any better, but we do now. Except of course, for those of ‘us’ who apparently don’t want to accept fact over fairy-tale.

Ah, yes, the thorny subject of facts. We have a timeline these days, a way of framing and making sense of ‘stuff’. Put it this way, if despite everything we know about the age of the earth, fossils, DNA and the last time Liverpool won the league; if after all this you still want to say the world is only a few thousand years my opinion, you’re a fucking lunatic. We have empirical proof, you have David and his 200 foreskins.

Does that offend you?

You can’t criticize any religion for fear of offence.

Ah yes, fear of offence! I’m fairly sure if you are of the easily offended persuasion, you’re unlikely to still be reading this? I happen to think, it’s entirely possible for people to hold religious beliefs and retain a sense of humour. Get over yourselves a bit eh? Surely god would want you to do that?  My friend Niall the Vicar is one such example, although as I’ve told him on numerous occasions, he’s better suited to caring for the spiritual well being of his flock than tickling their (spare) ribs.

I’m a libertarian, which is a posh word for minding my own fucking business and expecting others to do the same. I might not be overly happy about it, but people are and hopefully, will always be entitled to believe in whatever they wish, surely that’s a freedom we have make huge sacrifices for as a country over the years? The theological ‘fly’ in this secular ointment though is this, religion is inherently divisive. Yes you may well find quotes in the texts of the world’s major faiths that urge ‘tolerance’ of other people’s fairy-tales of choice, but here’s the thing; For the most part, when our most basic needs are met, we humans are decent and caring beings. When we stumble across something that makes us feel ‘better’ we like to shout about it. I’d go as far as to say, most of us would want others to experience it too. The theocratic ‘chemistry’ that elicits ‘well-being’ is potent, but it’s really only a placebo. Humans are pack-animals, faith makes us feel ‘part-of’, ‘connected’, and it allows us to belong, which is one of our species most rudimentary needs. We inherently ‘fear’ death because of course that is the ultimate separation. It’s easy to see how the promise of being re-united with those we have loved and lost is such an attractive proposition and a ‘promise’ made even more appealing when our mortal life is so short. Once people are scared, they are likely to believe almost anything. We all love a good horror story don’t we?

There’s no fear like the fear of god is there? Some of the stories contained within religious literature are quite good, although not many of them would get commissioned for a TV series ahead of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones methinks. I obviously cannot tell someone that their ‘personal’ experience of jesus is not real to them anymore than I could convince a Manchester Utd fan that watching Stevie Gerrard score against Everton is more fulfilling than seeing Wayne Rooney bicycle-kick the winner against City.

Is there a solution to all this, will we ever ‘learn’ to stop bothering a god that doesn’t exist and spend more time getting to know each other?

I sometimes wonder if, perhaps, with some gentle persuasion, those of a more moderate devotion to religion, akin to the ‘social-smoker’ on weekends, might begin to consider stubbing out their habit altogether one day. Of course, those who hold moderate religious beliefs are not the problem are they? Such believers are unlikely to be offended, or to cause outrage over their faith. I’m in no doubt I could attend a concert with my daughter without risking assassination by the alcohol drinking, chain-smoking Muslim shop-keeper at the end of my road. Yeah he believes in ‘god’, but he’s clearly discovered that being human and getting pissed every now and then is equally as satisfying as Friday prayers.  Wherever religion has been handed down as part of a cultural package, delivered by family and community for generations, when it comes under scrutiny, of any kind, it is seen as an attack. Its difficult engaging in meaningful conversation with creationists whose response to unequivocal evidence as to the age of the earth and the rational explanations we have now have for our evolution is a collective “I can’t hear you”.

Why can’t you hear us though? Because to do so would be seen as an attack on your culture? Then maybe the way forward is to begin to try and separate the two? If I had even the slightest idea how that may come about, I’d tell you, sadly I can only hope that people with far bigger brains than mine, try to do so and soon. At seven years old, Tabitha is as full of questions, as any parent would wish of their own kids. She told me there had been some ‘talk’ in the playground about the awful events in Paris last week, but she didn’t get involved because some of her friends are Muslims and she didn’t want to upset them. She told me that B***** one of her closest friends was really upset because a boy had said it was ‘her people’ who had done bad things in France.

“I told her, that what that boy had said, was part of the problem daddy, not her or her family.”

She’s never prayed in her life, she doesn’t need to because she understands ignorance as well as any 7 year old needs to. She finds the world an exciting place dulled only by certain homework she feels does not challenge her and her daddy’s attempts to convert her musical tastes to his own.

I want her to grow up in a world, where she can think, say, dress and ultimately believe what she likes without fear or feeling the need to justify herself.  Oh wait! She already does! Now THAT’S worth fighting for eh?

I remain convinced that she does not ‘need’ religious dogma to be able to experience this in the life she has ahead of her. Her ‘god’ will never be better than anyone else’s because she doesn’t believe in god. She may well change her mind at some point and that’ll be entirely up to her. As a parent, I’d like to think that if I refrain from the implementation of religion ‘belief’ and it’s myopic, primitive thinking, by the time she is old enough to ask the question pertaining to ‘why’ we are here, her mind will be open enough to see the answer. Religion is heavily dependent on answering that question, it dismisses the most horrific human tragedies as a ‘test of faith’, it holds up nonsense as ‘fact’.  History is stained with the blood of the innocent while people kill in the name of god, in the absurd hope of ensuring a place in the ’afterlife’. I hope she concludes that it doesn’t matter why we are here; all that matters is what we do while we are.

I think it was Gandhi, who said,

“If you think you understand ‘god’ you’re probably wrong.”

Which is quite possibly the wisest thing anyone in sandals ever said.

Actually I don’t know if he did because I wasn’t there, either way, it’s a good quote. If he’d been shuffling about being a cool dude 2000 years ago, he’d definitely be called god wouldn’t he?




Peace, love and The Magical World of The Strands.