Early on in the career of Micko Westmoreland, a journalist from The Independent described him as being “half stuck in a timewarp.” And while that might be a slightly simplistic summary of someone who is ultimately a multi-facetted polymath, everything from an actor to musican, programmer and soundtrack creator, as soundbites go there are certainly worse places to start. From calling his debut album ‘One Pound Note’ – needless to say the note in question had long been withdrawn from circulation – to naming his label Landline Records in 2015, he has always drawn on the retro nostalgia of the past in order to subvert and re-invent it. It’s an approach which has stayed central to his sound even as it’s changed and developed across four very different albums, from sampling 70s horror flick ‘The Wicker Man’ on ‘One Pound Note’ to the tales of shoplifting and school age anxieties on ‘Yours etc abc’.
Born and raised in Leeds, he remembers being fascinated by the analog equipment his father, an electrical engineer would leave lying around the house. Growing up, he soaked up influences left, right and centre. Everything from mainstream pop – he once shook Michael Jackson’s hand outside the city’s Roundhay Park after a show – to the scuzzy thrills of punk and the proto electronica weirdness of The Normal and Throbbing Gristle went into the melting pot. He turned first to the guitar because he thought “there was a lot more action with a guitar slung around your neck.” After art school and the usual baptism of fire playing in a succession of local bands Micko, started to cut his production teeth, first making soundtracks for the gay porn films directed by his brother, the now acclaimed Hollywood director Wash Westmoreland.
Having developed his sound and gained in confidence over the course of a series of films, his unorthodox apprenticeship was complete and Micko began recording under the name The Bowling Green. A deal with Blue Planet label (Sony/3mv) lead to the release of the ‘Mingle’ EP and Micko began work on his debut LP in a studio in his flat in Ladbroke Grove, West London.
Given that the twin genres of music and film were already intertwined in his life perhaps it was no surprise that a film role – this time in front of the camera – that would first catapult him into the media spotlight. Having originally auditioned for a bit part in ‘Velvet Goldmine’, a film about the glam rock era of the early 70s, Micko was soon handpicked by its director Todd Haynes to play the pivotal part of Jack Fairy, a character likened to Brian Eno. The ‘Velvet Goldmine’ experience led to all manner of unforgettable moments, from trips to the Cannes film festival and hanging out with R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, to being told by Brian Eno himself that he’d “got the attitude just right”. He learnt a lot, too, working with great actors like Ewan Macgregor, Christian Bale, Eddie Izzard, Jonathan Rhys Myers and performed in front of an adoring crowd during shooting of the film’s closing concert scenes at Brixton Academy. “That was the moment I knew all those hours in my youth I’d spent posing in front of a mirror singing into a hairbrush hadn’t been wasted!” he laughs.
The film’s release coincided with ‘One Pound Note’ hitting the shelves, and with a warm critical reception and some equally well received live shows, Micko’s idiosyncratic and inclusive take on electronica came to the attention of Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor. Reznor was on the lookout for underground electronic music talent to sign to his fledgling label Nothing records, and along with albums by The Squarepusher and Luke Vibert, ‘One Pound Note’ was released in America.
The second Bowling Green album, ‘Fabrications’ saw Micko build on a base of sample-based dance floor music by introducing more live musicians into the mix. The legendary multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards, most recently seen working alongside PJ Harvey and Tony Visconti, contributed a searing trumpet part to ‘Hot Potootie’ and other contributors included members of The Stranglers and Les Rhythmes Digitales, again showing Westmoreland’s ability to join the dots between music’s past and future. ‘Fabrications’ also contained several tracks which marked a move back towards songwriting, a move which indicated where Micko was headed next. “I did two film scores and two long documentaries after the second Bowling Green album, so my interests naturally started to via away from beats and breaks,” says Micko. “I started to pay much more attention to lyrics, it was a new challenge to try and write interesting songs that way. At some point you come full circle with your creativity, playing and singing is where I began. I wanted to combine all that I’d learnt as a producer with what got me started in the first place.”
The result was a decision to leave The Bowling Green behind and release his first album under his own name. “The Bowling Green was very frenetic, quirky and zappy,” he recalls, “I wanted the first album under my own name to be markedly different, so it didn’t make sense to use the old moniker.” ‘Wax & Wayne’ would emerge on Terry Edwards’ own label Sartorial Records and indicated the transition to more traditional songwriting was complete. It was a move further cemented by his second album as Micko Westmoreland, ‘Yours etc abc’, on Landline Records in August 2015. This time the roll call of guest musicians included members of Madness, The Blockheads, Jake Bugg’s band and a return for by now longtime collaborator Terry Edwards.
Its title may hark back to a time of politeness and formal geniality, but a darker truth lies beneath his choice of name, Micko explains. “I was friends with a very nerdy kid at school, one day we were both off games and started mucking about. He was amazed that I had time for him, he had big self esteem issues. All was well until one day money was taken from my pocket at games and a note left written in block capitals and signed ‘yours etc abc’, which I was later to find came from an Agatha Christie novel. The note was a torrent of abuse coupled with a list of all the kids in school that supposedly hated me. More notes came accompanied by smashed calculators and the like and bit by bit I realized it was in actual fact my friend who was sending me the poisoned letters, it felt very bizarre. In a sense it was a step into adult duplicity and the complexities that potentially make up each and every individual.”
This more sinister side is also reflected in the stunning artwork, painted by a friend of Micko’s the artist Harry Pye, including its atmospheric front cover and the vivid painting of Brian Jones, guitar in hand, poised on the diving board of his swimming pool. It was through Pye that Micko formed the Spammed project alongside Rat Scabies, Rutles/Python songwriter Neil Innes, Horace Panter of The Specials and comic actor Kevin Eldon as the band’s vocalist. You might notice Eldon starring as an officious store detective in the video for Micko’s ‘Schmescos’ single.
In 2016 Micko compiled the best reworkings of his four albums to date for a ‘Remixes’ collection featuring Mike Paradinas, Luke Vibert, Si Begg, T Power and Ian O Brien among others. “It’s like coming full circle once again, returning back and reflecting whilst moving ahead,” he concludes.
Photos: Paul London
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2010: Wax and Wayne Remixes
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