Derek Anthony Williams by Mark Andrews a2k photography

The Jan Doyle Band Co-Founder Derek Anthony Williams Talks Twenty-Five Years of Insurrectionary Neo-Futuristic Music in This Interview

The Jan Doyle Band refuses to be trapped. The underground Sheffield-based act swerves from darkwave to industrial goth to electro punk, with a live act of defiant flamboyance. There has on occasion been blood involved. Nisha-Anne caught up on Zoom with original co-founder Derek Anthony Williams from his studio to discuss twenty-five years of insurrectionary neo-futuristic music, his glorious costumes, experimenting with cut-up lyrics, and whether the upcoming anniversary gig will feature blood.

Catch The Jan Doyle Band: 10 Years Of Insurrectionary Neo-Futurism onstage at Shakespeare’s, Sheffield, UK, also livestreamed, on Saturday 11 December 2021, doors open 6pm. Purchase tickets here.


Tell me where the name came from because I’ve been Googling and I can’t find a Jan Doyle?

Well, I’m sure if you were to Google, you can find many a Jan Doyle but in this specific instance, we came up with the name partly for reasons of being awkward. We used to write stories in school as opposed to actually doing schoolwork. We used to write ridiculous science fiction stories based in our hometown, and we used to like writing about this character Jan Doyle who was married to Fred Doyle. And basically it was a sci-fi kind of story about an alien occupation but they’ve drugged the water so that most people can’t see them, but some people are immune to such things, and one of those people was Jan Doyle. And she joined this organisation that are fighting the alien occupation. So there you go, that’s the exciting origin of Jan Doyle.

But we also liked that it didn’t necessarily imply any particular style which perhaps has served to our detriment, it could be said, but we didn’t necessarily want to be restricted. So we thought if we have a rather silly name like that, being as there’s no one in the band called Jan Doyle and it was really barely a band, that kind of amused us. So we thought why not? We were searching for something unique so that’s basically how it came about.

I like the contrast of the total ordinariness of the name with the look that you guys present which is completely fabulous.

I do enjoy the certain incongruity between things such as perhaps the incongruity between the music and the image, the name and the music and image and so forth. It doesn’t necessarily all go together but at the same time, it does.

You’ve been saying “we.” Tell me about how the band got together. Because I thought it was just you!

It kind of is and kind of isn’t. Jan Doyle Band has been around in various forms for twenty-five years, as this year comes to a close. It was sometime around September 1996, Duncan Timiney and myself decided through our shared musical inspirations that we fancied doing something ourselves. And just got together and played randomly on bass guitar, a home keyboard, doing drums and doing some vocals which was all put through a four-track tape recorder and recorded live onto a Kenwood hi-fi. So it didn’t necessarily sound exactly like music but we had a lot of fun doing it all the same.

But then that phase of the band – it sort of went through various iterations and things started kind of drifting apart. Duncan moved away. So sort of from 2003 to 2010, it was on hiatus. And then in 2010, I started getting into the live music scene and decided to revitalise the project and recruit a keyboard player and that’s when Michael Stokes joined it. He left to deal with his life in about 2018. And I recruited shortly afterwards Kelly on guitar, and then shortly after that Lady LD50 (or Leanne) on extra vocals and performance, and that’s become the band that you see in the music videos now.

Duncan wrote the lyrics [to The Body Balanced], he wrote the original keyboard line for it, and I sort of wrote everything else. And then Kelly recently added the guitar line and that was kind of interesting.

Have you found with different people coming in, the sound has shifted and developed?

Definitely with the addition of Kelly on guitar – or delanthear as I like to call him, as that’s his Instagram handle, and I think it’s kind of fun having fake names and that, such as calling myself The Futurist.

But certainly with the addition of Kelly on guitar, that definitely caused a significant change in sound, which caused this glorious creativity of complementing the tracks with very interesting guitar lines. I mean, what he did on The Body Balanced, I was just so blown away. I adore what he did there, it’s so wonderful.

Tell me about The Futurist. Who is The Futurist, exactly?

The Futurist I see as almost a separate character to myself. Someone existing in this kind of futurist cyberpunk world. There isn’t a very sort of definite character to him, it’s more conceptual, based on say old cyberpunk ideas of like the rockerboy in Cyberpunk, the role-playing game. It’s by way of the likes of Sigue Sigue Sputnik and all that kind of thing, you know? Just the idea of someone existing in the future and maybe is a threat to the corporate world or something like that.

I like that.

It’s an excuse for dressing up, really.

Absolutely. And it’s probably a really great way to be onstage as well, that little buffer between you and the audience, or a way for you to connect to the audience.

It’s certainly a way of creating the more theatrical kind of element of the show. I mean, it’s still the same kind of performance, no matter what I dress like. But I’ve always got my head filled with sci-fi imagery. It’s via the whole goth scene which I like to – much of goth tends to look to the past, Victoriana and so forth. Whereas I prefer the future looking thing. A lot of what you had in the early 80s was looking to science fiction for inspiration, and that is probably what has very much influenced me, growing up in that time.

Even the cybergoth idea. I love that you said The Futurist is a challenge to corporatisation because your project is so wonderfully indie. So it’s anti-corporate and it’s also shaking up ideas of gender, right?

Definitely. I’ve always hated the sort of traditional macho ideas of masculinity. I’ve grown up being inspired mainly by women. My major first inspiration in life was Toyah Willcox and her very sort of sci-fi inflected take on punk and post-punk music, sort of space rock new wave. That was one of my earliest inspirations. Then I’ve also taken inspiration from the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, and Siobhan Fahey [of Bananarama].

It’s so terribly boring being just a man. And even though it wasn’t a direct influence as such, what David Bowie did has obviously influenced the people who influenced me. So I can’t ignore what he created in the first place, and that whole original glam rock scene that is the vein running through everything, and how they challenged the whole gender ideas originally. That led onto me sort of doing it via my inspiration.

I’ve always been drawn to the more theatrical side of music. I think that way of being someone who just walked in off the street, it’s terribly boring. I want more. I want something spectacular. And I don’t see why a man – I mean, I thought that for a long time, really. Even at school, I thought why is it that women are allowed to wear skirts and that’s not acceptable for a man? (Not that I ever did at school.) It just never seemed to sit right. Why does it have to be that these particular ways of putting fabrics together are only acceptable for certain genders? And why can’t I wear that sort of thing? Why can’t I wear high heels? I think they look fabulous, I think I look fabulous in them. (laughs)

Absolutely!

So I’m going to wear them. And as Toyah wrote in 1981 with I Want To Be Free, “I don’t want to be told what to wear. As long as you’re warm, who cares?” So that kind of got in my head, and I thought, “Why can’t I wear those things?” That’s where this sort of gender challenge thing is.

As for the indie, I do tend to like control a lot. And it’s sometimes again something that can be to my detriment, that I like to not let others perhaps have any cut of things, so to speak, in terms of [letting] a record company take a cut of my profits. When really, that might not be a bad thing because they can do a lot to promote you. And perhaps I could have been a bit more successful that way but who knows.

But look, you also happen to be living at a really great time where you can do it yourself, you can put your material out there. You’re not reliant on a record company to do that for you, and you can do livestreams, and you can talk to people in Australia. You know?

As I might be doing right now.

Yeah!

I mean, the way the connection is, you could imagine that you were just next door. It’s quite remarkable how the information superhighway works in allowing people on the other side [of the world] to talk. I mean, we’re eleven hours apart and yet we can communicate in such real time which is truly excellent. Also, the way in which we’ve come to know each other through social media. Some do moan about social media, but I just love the way it can bring people together. It’s solely through the exchange of ideas that happen – I can’t remember which review on Letterboxd it was that made me discover you but yeah.

Guitarist – Delanthear, Centre – Derek Anthony Williams, Keyboardist – Lady LD50 – photography by Coast to Coast Image Works

I was trying to think about it yesterday but I couldn’t remember. [It was Gunpowder Milkshake (2021), I remembered later. Derek and I were two of the first few people to review it on Letterboxd and the only ones at the time to completely eviscerate it. We’ve bickered and commiserated about films ever since.] But in terms of your music, have you had experiences where people have discovered your music through the internet in ways that you wouldn’t have thought of twenty-five years ago?

It’s definitely happened a little bit through, say, YouTube. Certainly if you put a cover song on there, that can be a way for people to discover you. It has happened a little bit through Instagram by being excessively vain and posting lots of selfies, but you know, I go to a lot of effort so why not?

Yeah!

It can be partly a form of vanity but I consider what I do on my face as a kind of an artform in itself. It’s presenting something I’ve created. And sometimes people like to see that as a stylish and exciting image. And I think that has attracted a few people via Instagram.

That’s you doing your – aside from being a form of self-expression and a form of art as well – it’s also you doing your own marketing which is fantastic. Not relying on a record company to do that.

Yeah.

Tell me about the lyrics, where do they come from? How do you think they’ve evolved?

I’d have to say that a lot of the time, I probably struggle to write much lyrically myself. But I do enjoy the experimentation with cut-ups which is another thing that comes from the likes of David Bowie. He definitely directly inspired that with his ‘95 to ‘97 era where he used a lot of cut-ups in his lyrics. I enjoy quite often getting a computer program to randomise lyrics from – like I’ve got old stories, poems and so forth. And so with the track Fighters, the lyrics are totally randomly generated from old writings. But it creates such glorious imagery with what it can spit out on the other side.

I mean, a line which forever sticks in my head which I’ve always liked because what can it possibly mean? “Like a knife cut off.” Things like “Reduced to a misty guilt” and “callousness so clean.” It’s not got a definite meaning but what can you make it seem to mean?

I’ve had various lyric writers such as Michael Stokes who have written about past relationships. I’ve written direct lyrics in the past that have just been for the poetic nature of them but also such as The Christmas Present where I’ve got a lot more political. And then there’s misery-fests like Oblivion which are all about my fear of death which is a lovely one to cheer everyone up at parties, you know? Singing about “There’s no punishment, there’s no reward, just oblivion” – that always gets the party started. (laughs)

(laughs) Well, you know, that’s what music’s for. I read an interview you did with Elektro Vox and you were talking about the filming of the videos and you did quite a few videos in one day. And you’ve talked about the look which is theatrical and fucking with ideas of gender. How did that translate to the videos? Did you have an idea of what you wanted the videos to look like? Or was it more spontaneous?

I definitely had a fairly good idea. I scoped out the location in advance. My hometown being mostly demolished by the local council at the time, pretty much anything historic has been destroyed. It mostly dates from the 60s and newer, so there’s a lot of brutalist architecture which happens to rather suit the whole aesthetic that I’m going for.

The area that we actually shot the video [for The Body Balanced] on is a very new plaza where the new theatre was being built. It’s a nice big expansive place, it really suits the whole futurist vibe. And that whole area there is all sort of angular concrete, and it definitely had the right vibe for presenting that kind of cyberpunk world. It’s got both the slight dilapidation and futuristic angles to it that I think just made the perfect backdrop.

When we were doing the Play Pretend video, we had a few people walking by but everyone was saying, “Oh my god, you guys look fabulous.” Which was great, you know?

I think too much there’s been so much ordinariness in music for too long. And can’t we have a bit of glamour? Can’t we have a bit of make-believe? Can’t we have something that’s maybe a bit fantastical and presenting something more than the everyday?

You’re wearing the jacket from the video [for The Body Balanced], aren’t you? I recognise it.

I am, indeed, yes.

I know we’ve talked a lot about the look a lot but I wanted to ask you about that outfit.

The look is about 90% of the band. Never mind all that rubbish music, it’s all about the look.

(laughs) Yeah, all the substance.

It’s just all about me being glamorous.

(laughs) Because you know how I said to you earlier [on Letterboxd] that white strip of the costume was so effective. I noticed in the video for The Body Balanced, there was just the white strip. But then I saw some other promo images where there were lot more of strips of colour. Right?

I know. I can’t remember exactly where that came about, probably some 80s video I had seen where someone had a sash on and I thought that seems like a good idea. Pretty much everything I do is stolen from somewhere, really. Jim Jarmusch said something like “Nothing is original, so steal from whatever sparks your imagination.” Things have gradually evolved over time to become even more theatrical and spectacular. It seemed like a good thing to do. I’m not too sure but it’s possible that in The Body Balanced, there is a black strip and a white strip. Because I do tend to usually wear a black one and a white one.

Ahh.

It just seems to add a little bit of extra.

Absolutely. It’s so dynamic and it catches the eye and it’s that beautiful contrast amid all the shiny vinyl. How did you source the costumes? They’re really good quality, man!

It’s random chance a lot of time. Such as my gorgeous black and red leggings. They just happened to be in a fashion shop here in Doncaster, and I just thought, “I need those!” To some extent, there was initially “Dare I go buy them?” You know, funny looks at this bloke going in and buying these women’s leggings. But then I thought, “No, why should I even care? No, they don’t even know me and why should I even care about their opinion?” So I thought, “No, I definitely need them.”

I’ve got two pairs of them. One is sort of more red, the other’s more black, both basically black and red. I think I bought this coat slightly before then, and those leggings just came along very shortly afterwards, and I thought they absolutely will work with what I do.

Yeah, I thought they were a whole outfit you bought together.

It’s just fortunate random chance. This coat was very cheap from eBay.

Fantastic!

It was only about £20.

And the boots, the stilettos?

The stilettos – most of those had been bought from charity shops for like £5. So the outfits are very cheap, really. It’s just if you look around enough places, you can easily source these things.

And it’s so punk.

Of course! And if Jason Pearson [of Syd.31] – I want to say – if he happens to read this or happens to see any videos, I wish to stress to him absolutely 100% that I am not punk. It’s an important thing to stress there, I feel.

Okay. (laughs) So tell me about the gigs. You said when you came back to this, you wanted to revive the project for the live performances, that you didn’t want to be somebody just wandering off the street into the pub. How did you approach the live performances?

I always knew I wanted to present something a little bit more than the everyday. But at the time, I hadn’t evolved into this creature. I felt that the live scene was lacking a bit of spectacle so I wanted to try and restore that in some way.

Early on, I was still relatively conventionally dressed. I wore a shirt, I wore a leather jacket, just ordinary jeans, and fairly ordinary shoes, almost like work shoes. I wore mirror shades. I still tried to brush my hair a bit up like this but it wasn’t very long back then. I was just starting to grow it, and over time I’ve let it grow more and more, and it’s got bigger until I’ve reached this excessive stage. Over time, I gradually developed more lack of care worrying if people would think it’s acceptable what I wore and gradually evolved to be more spectacular. The first spectacular thing I did was buy myself a PVC catsuit.

Nice!

Which I think looked very nice. The only problem with that was they were very expensive and wore out very quickly. So that’s the most expensive bit of clothing I’ve ever bought. I just bought a new one and it was about £100 but they’re so nice, I couldn’t resist.

And that’s going to be the catsuit that’s going to be in the anniversary performance?

It will. That indeed is a project which is reflecting the way I’ve adopted these different images over time and evolved. So I’m going to be starting off in that original where I’ll wear ordinary jeans and ordinary shoes and no makeup, and gradually evolve over time into this. It’s going to be an interesting challenge. I achieved it when I did a livestream from this studio. And I think no one else is really approaching doing music in this way, putting it together in this more – obviously, you know perfectly well yourself that I love cinema. And thinking in terms of being cinematic and theatrical is everything that I try to be. Putting on something that’s more than just a band doing some songs is going to be important.

I’m approaching this in effect as a theatrical production. It’s all worked out to flow in that way. When I think of setlists, I think of how it’s going to flow in tone and so forth. To present something as more than just a band doing music. I want it to be a whole experience, a performance.

That’s why I invested in the head microphone to perform live as well. Because I felt it gives a greater ability for my excessive arm expression as I tend to do, all the wavy arms. I thought, “How can I make the live thing like the music videos where I’m unhindered by having to hold the microphone?” So I figured why not buy the head mic and cause the sound engineers a big headache?

Noooo!

It is unfortunate that the head mic does often cause issues for sound engineers to avoid getting feedback. But I think it really adds a unique flavour to what I do. Again, I don’t think many bands of my sort of underground DIY style really approach it in that way. So much seems to be it’s a band doing music, it’s a rock band, it’s an indie band. And I like to vary the style a bit.

I don’t like to be narrowed down to that one particular thing. There’s different tones and moods to express in music. And I don’t see why I have to be precisely one thing. If a track has a feeling sort of lyrically that seems to suit more synthpop, then it’s going to be a synthpop track such as Reflections. But if it’s got a bit more impassioned side say like Confusion, then it’s a much harder track. I like to mix things up in that way. I think it’s important in many ways to have that freedom of expression, and too many bands stick to being a rock band or a synthpop band. For me, it can be a bit boring.

Quite often, a lot of bands, even very famous ones, can make a track and turn it into an album. Whereas I like to think every one of my tracks has got a very unique identity. Maybe it’s a bit confusing for people, it can sort of hop about between something that’s kind of heavy and something that’s kind of pop. For me, it expresses the feeling of that track in whatever tones are necessary.

It’s a bit like going to a playground or a funfair. You don’t just want to go on one ride or one attraction. You want to go on the swings, you want to go on the roundabout, you want to go on the slide. They’re all different experiences but they’re all equally valid. And that’s how I feel music is, I want to sample everything, do everything. I don’t like to be one particular thing.

Absolutely. I think that’s the great thing about having that sort of name, like you said, that could fit any kind of genre. And having you there and the people moving around you, you can do whatever you want to do. You’re not locked into any particular sound. So with the setlist for the anniversary gig, is it going to be all chronological or are you going to move around in terms of mood? What do you think?

It is going to be mostly chronological. There’s just one bit in the second set which is slightly anachronistic but it’s just because a certain couple of tracks such as the previously mentioned song Oblivion which, as I say, will definitely get the party started. I used to forever do it segueing into this track called Burn You which is a much more synthpop affair, lyrically written by Michael Stokes who now does Future Music From The Robot Lab, and he’s joining me for the first time onstage in three years. He’s coming back for the special anniversary performance.

That’s awesome.

He was writing about a relationship he had, and made excellent lyrics to really get behind. So I was able to write some very good synthpoppy music with a kind of dark miserablist edge to it. But there’s something about the way Oblivion ends and the way Burn You starts which makes it flow really well. So Oblivion is really from the previous era but it goes well in that one bit and it’s so intrinsically linked to the other track. But the rest of it is fully chronological in terms of Combine 1 compilation, Combine 2 compilation, Combine 3 compilation, and finally finishing in the new era with The Body Balanced EP.

First two sets, it’s Michael Stokes onstage with me. For the second two sets will be Lady LD50 and delanthear onstage with me. There will be a special guest for a final encore type performance but that’s going to be revealed on the night.

Nice!

It’s going to be a special little silly little thing at the end of the night which I think will be a lot of fun. It’s special for me.

It’s four sets. How long will it be all up?

There will be around two hours of Jan Doyle Band music, each set being around half an hour. In between those, we have the delights of Astrofaun from Leeds who makes delightful sort of experimentallish electropop, a quite unique artist. You can say a little bit tinged with elements of Bjork. I just adore what Astrofaun does, I wanted to give her a great platform to play what she can do. She’s got fabulous movement onstage and wonderful voice and such expressive different music. And that’s what always excites me. Everything she does is so much a unique experience.

And also fellow theatrical electro rockers from Doncaster, John Merrick’s Remains. I had to ask them along because they were the first band I ever played live alongside. They’ve been there all the time and good friends. It seemed the right fit to have them along for the anniversary, being as we’ve been so connected these last ten years. We’ve done many gigs together, they’re the other local dark electro band. They’re a very theatrical pairing, they do dress in costume as well. So it’s lovely to have them along for the evening.

And where’s it all going to happen? Is it going to happen there in the studio?

It’s going to happen at an actual live music venue, assuming we don’t get locked down again. It’s ironic, really, but when The Body Balanced EP was coming out, I had organised a promotional show for that, and that’s when Covid first hit. Just as the date of the launch gig was happening, that’s when we went into lockdown for the first time. Now I organise another headline show for Jan Doyle Band.

There’s a new variant.

The new variant crops up. It’s like the gods are against me. (laughs)

Do you have a contingency plan? Because you can still do the livestream, can’t you?

I can still do the livestream. We would be able to do it without an audience but I think we’re going to be okay for the next week at least. We’ll see what happens.

What has the last twenty-five years of Jan Doyle Band meant to you?

Jan Doyle Band has always been something which has been core to who I am. It’s that element of expression in various ways. It’s just something that I felt I had to do. Because even when I was little, I used to sing songs to myself in pre-teen ways. So I guess it was always going to be something on the cards. Kind of up to, maybe around fifteen or so, I was very, very, very shy and didn’t want any attention at all. I mean, I still remain strangely quite a shy person insofar as I’m not very good at approaching people.

But I think when you’re a performer, you invite people to come to you, and it saves you the issue insofar as the uncertainty of “Am I allowed into this person’s bubble?” That’s how I often look at it.

I do want to mention Lady LD50. Her joining the band was just absolutely wonderful. It’s so glorious to have that extra performer onstage, and I’ve rarely met anyone like her who can improvise on the spot various moves onstage in sync with what I do. She’s got a unique ability to react and improvise and put across extra feeling into the songs in ways that are – it absolutely inspires me onstage.

At the Goth City gig we did in October, people said, “Oh, you must rehearse together a lot to do those moves together, to sync up like that.” I said, “Well, it’s the first time we’ve seen each other in over a year, actually.” (laughs)

Both her and Kelly have really transformed Jan Doyle Band. As much as it was great with Michael on keys and he was absolutely dedicated to the band. Moving to the more guitar-infused stuff and having that three in a line onstage has in many ways reinvigorated things and made it an even greater spectacle. I think that is very significantly due to having that extra female presence onstage. The ironic thing is I’m still the only one wearing high heels.

(laughs) Love it. It really sounds like you’re entering into a new era with the project.

It’s definitely has felt like that, it’s felt like it’s all come together. It’s kind of that age old story of Sheffield acts. You know, they meet a female crew member in a nightclub and take on a lighter poppier direction. Dark electro band meets female member in nightclub, asked them to join the band, takes on a lighter direction, and becomes more successful. See The Human League there.

(laughs) Who knows what will happen? So 11 December UK time, what time?

Doors open at the venue at 6pm. The first bit of live music should be about 7pm. So the livestream should kick off around 7pm.

What are you thinking about in terms of recording? More EPs?

Not too sure what the future holds right now. But if things are going to progress, then there definitely needs to be more writing of new material. I will mention also we’re grateful that at the event, we’ve got DJing between sets by Waltzing Cthulhu with Joel Heyes of Goth City. I’m very grateful to him over the years for being one of the only people who’s really believed in Jan Doyle Band and booked us for more gigs than pretty much anyone else. So very honoured to have him on DJ duties. What he’s going to play on the night is mostly associated with goth but I’ve given him free range to play whatever he feels like playing on the night. No restrictions and I like it that way.

Also, Gertrude Steinacker who does also make music herself but is a supremo sound engineer. I felt it was quite excellent to also have a female sound engineer because, you know, the industry of sound engineers – it’s so often sound guy. And, you know, I’m sick of that. But she’s an absolute dedicated obsessive about live sound, and I’m very grateful that she’s agreed to come along and do our live sound for us because there are truly few people who are as dedicated to doing it as her. That’s @gertielivesound.

It sounds like it’s going to be a fantastic night.

It’s going to be a big spectacle theatrical show that is going to be a unique thing to what Jan Doyle Band can do.

Is there going to be blood?

There will be no blood on this occasion. You’ll have to wait until the 18th – why is everyone so obsessed with my blood routine?! Honestly!

(cracking up laughing) Okay!

You know, you try and get out of being this shock jock act of I’m going to take a knife to my head and get covered in blood. At Goth City, it was like “Are you going to do the blood?” No, I’m not going to do the blood! I’m a serious artistic band now, don’t you know? I’ve moved beyond all these grungy shock tactics, you know?

But I will admit that on 18 December, Jan Doyle Band are playing the Monsters Of Industrial Punk show at Goth City Leeds where we will be releasing our more wild punky side once more. And indeed, by popular request, the blood will be back.

(laughs)

There will be blood.


Event link: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/530553

Catch The Jan Doyle Band: 10 Years Of Insurrectionary Neo-Futurism onstage at Shakespeare’s, Sheffield, UK, also livestreamed, on Saturday 11 December 2021, doors open 6pm.

Derek Anthony Williams – photography by David McKnight
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