Growing up in Scotland during the early 70’s, Douglas Hart was immersed in music from an early age. Whilst still at school he began playing music with brothers William and Jim Reid and alongside them went on to form The Jesus and Mary Chain now regarded as one of the most influential band’s of the 1980’s. His wish to pursue a career in film led him to leave the band in 1991 but in recent years, alongside directing he has once more returned to making music. In the following interview we spoke to Douglas about his life growing up in East Kilbride, the influence of his brothers and his foundations in film.
Who were your musical influences when you were young?
I had two elder brothers, and my eldest brother, Ian, he’s dead now, he was seven years older than me. In 1971 he bought Ride A White Swan. He was into T-Rex first of all so those were the records I heard when I came home from school or when I got up in the morning. Then he became a massive Bowie fan and went to see him on the Ziggy Stardust tour. I shared a bed with him, not just a room but an actual bed. I remember him coming home and waking me up and describing what he’d been to see. I was only 6 or 7 and I thought he actually had seen someone from outer space, like a star man, I was half asleep. It totally blew his mind. All the music, this is like 6,7,8, was Bowie and then later on he got into Neil Young in a massive way. He met him, they hung around in his hotel in Glasgow, a massive fan. He was so into Neil Young that he sent away for those Timberland boots that Neil Young used to wear. You could never get them in Britain. He sent off , this is 1973 or 74 or something, he managed to send off to America to buy a pair. The only person that ever had them. They became massive in hip hop times but this is 1973 or 4 in Glasgow and he managed to find a pen pal in America through the NME or something and managed to get this guy to send them to him a pair because he was such a Neil Young fanatic. He also heard The Stooges through the Bowie thing, he had Raw Power and also the Velvets. The first time I ever heard the Velvets he played me ‘The Gift ‘ but he panned out all the music and just played me it as a story. I think years later when I was starting to get into punk and people mentioned the Velvet Underground, when I was 11, I was like, “what, that Welsh band?” and they were like, “I don’t know, I think they might be from America” but no one really knew (laughs). In the last year of primary school I got that record and I wrote out that story for a school essay competition and I won it. The teacher was saying “this is amazing!” and getting me to read it out to class and I was shitting myself. Of course, no one would have known it was the Velvets because they were super obscure. She was going “we should send this in to some magazine” and I was like “I don’t think we should”. I was shitting it I’d get caught.
What had led your brother to find that stuff?
All through Bowie, or Warhol, you know, I remember being very young and seeing Warhol on TV. I don’t know what it would have been on but I remember my brother telling me who he was. If you’re really a Bowie fanatic…. songs about Andy Warhol , he talked about the Velvets and covered them and also The Stooges connection, so it was all Bowie you know. When punk rock happened my middle brother in 75 was into Dr. Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods and then The Pistols and The Ramones. I remember before going to primary school one morning him playing me, it would have been Pretty Vacant and Sheena is a Punk Rocker and I just floated on air to school and I came home at lunchtime and played them. I loved the music I heard at home, Neil Young, he also played the Beach Boys and everything, he was a music fanatic, he worked in a record shop. So I guess punk rock was the first thing that I was really into, I was a bit older by then, 12, and I totally fell in love with them. I started buying the records, and went to see The Damned when I was 12. It must have been the summer of ’77 and my birthday’s in May so I must have just turned 12.
Were your friends into that music?
Well that’s the thing, and why I ended up meeting Jim and William who were older. There were some friends who were a little bit into punk rock but I was a lot into punk rock and also had The Stooges and The Velvets. There were kids that went to my school that were maybe into punk rock but if you played them the Beach Boys they were like “what?” you know, so even at that young age I had quite a broad taste in music. I remember on the last day of primary school, and I think all over Britain, you’re allowed to not wear your school uniform and bring in records. So it’s 1977 and everyone was bringing in Queen records which I hated and Donna Summer records, which I really liked. I put on God Save The Queen and the teacher, who wasn’t paying much attention to what we were doing in the corner, jumped across the Formica table and took the needle off after the first few bars. I was really happy she did that. Literally, she scratched it off which made me like it even more. She wasn’t paying any attention, it wasn’t until she heard the opening bars of God Save The Queen. She must have known it and heard it and heard it was this offensive thing. Looking back on it now, primary school teachers then, she must have been 21 or 22 or something. She seemed like an old women, she was probably in her early twenties.
So you met the Reids through music?
So basically, when I went to secondary school I used to write the names of the bands on my school books and there was a guy who was into quite a lot of music as well called Ivor. He knew Jim from going to karate, I guess because Bruce Lee was really big so thousands of kids, even if they weren’t very sporty, would join karate just because they wanted to be like Bruce Lee. So I think Jim had gone for a while and met Ivor there. This was 1977, I think Jim was just leaving school, maybe he was there for just a few weeks and he left school really early, same thing with my brother and Jim, they were only 4 years older than me. I went to school the year Margaret Thatcher got in and they all left school that year and walked into apprenticeships, engineering jobs. Jim worked at Rolls Royce and my brother worked at a record player factory but they just walked into these jobs. Only four years later, when I left, all those jobs were gone. My brother had been made redundant.
So it was really the cusp of ….
Yeah, and it was really accelerated. Within four years, all of those traditional heavy engineering jobs were gone. Sometimes it takes a generation to lose those jobs, this was over four years. So Jim had left as soon as he could because he had a job but I was still at primary school. Then in ’79, me and Jim and that guy Ivor did a little gig at somebodies party just doing punk covers.
So you had learned to play bass by then?
Well at that time Jim was playing bass and I was singing. It’s funny because there’s a tape of it, Ivor taped it, and I’m obviously putting on a deep voice when I sing because then when the music stops I’m talking to people and it’s like a high squeaky voice.
So how old were you?
That was 1979 so I was 13/14 but I looked much younger then. I was hanging around with him a lot in 1979 and then he left his job and went to try and live in London but he only lasted it year, it didn’t really work out. He didn’t really know anybody. When he came back we started seeing a lot more of each other from 1980/81 and eventually Jim’s dad got made redundant. Like I say, everyone was losing their jobs, including my mum and my brother who were working at the same record player factory, BSR. It closed and then Jim’s dad’s factory closed. He worked at Caterpillar and with the redundancy money he bought him a portastudio, this was 1982. Then Jim started writing amazing songs and we thought we’ve got to do a band, so that’s how I met them. When I met Jim who was four years older than me, because of the way I had grown up with my two older brothers I had quite a brought taste in music. William, who was seven years older than me was a bit like my eldest brother so he had loads of different kinds of music. For a kid like me that was open to that it was incredible.
Did they live in the same town?
Lived in the same town and Jim was in the same year as my middle brother and William was in the same year as my elder brother, same school.
Were your brothers friends?
Yeah, they new each other, Jim was a bit of a loner, a bit like me really, William knew my older brother but they didn’t hang out.
And that was about at hour from Glasgow?
Yeah, East Kilbride, a new town built in the 50’s. It had been a village before , the only thing of note there was a TB hospital where George Orwell wrote 1984. He wrote half of it in Jura but when he got ill they sent him to the TB hospital in East Kilbride where he wrote quite a bit of it.
Were you going to gigs in Glasgow?
Yeah, going to gigs in Glasgow because nothing ever really happened in East Kilbride. I got a job delivering milk so I could buy records. Even though it’s only 40 minutes on a bus from Glasgow it felt quite removed. At that time you couldn’t go to clubs in Glasgow because you couldn’t get back.
Did it feel at that time like something special was happening with the music in Glasgow?
In 1981, when Jim was away, I was getting in to Orange Juice and that, which was on your doorstep, which was quite exciting. I was like 15 but we felt quite removed from it. I did eventually see Orange Juice, and we liked Fire Engines but there was a lot of crap music in Glasgow. Kind of white funk, not very good, and then Orange Juice left Glasgow quite early. There was the Pastels of course and a band called Strawberry Switchblade but we weren’t exactly part of that. I think we also looked a bit more to London.
Which bands in London?
We were into, for me anyway, Echo and the Bunnymen, obviously by that time New Order has started. But we were veracious, it wasn’t that I just liked Orange Juice but I liked Echo and the Bunnymen as well. I was always very broad in my music tastes.
Beyond your brothers being really into music there was no musical history in the family?
No, no, my parents were old when they had me, my parents were born in the 20’s. They had been into trad jazz, quite hip I suppose for the 1950’s. My dad had been treasurer of the Glasgow Lambretta club but in ’55, way before the mod thing. They were into trad jazz at the time, they were lefties when that was a real thing in the 50’s. People like that didn’t like rock’n’roll, they were into trad jazz because they thought it was authentic, a purist thing. I don’t think they were into rock’n’roll, though he had like, Johnny Cash records. For a kid to me to listen to Dixieland jazz was like, I didn’t really get it but now I can see there was a context. It was the equivalent of punk because they were seen as beatniks. There were even riots between trad jazz and beboppers in 1960. At the Beaulieu Jazz festival in 1960 they started to pitch battles with each other and wrecked the stage. The middle page spread in the Sunday People newspaper said “Blame these four men for the beatniks riots” and it was Gregory Corso, Burroughs, Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. That’s what they were into. So my parents, when Elvis came along, my parents were 30. They’re not going to really be getting into that.
Did you meet Bobby (Gillespie) through the same music scene?
Not really, we met Bobby….initially it was only going to be me and Jim in the band, just two of us with a drum machine. We tried to get a gig in Glasgow and I don’t think the guy liked the tape but he gave it to Bobby. We couldn’t afford a new tape so it had a compilation of Syd Barrett and the Velvets. I think he gave it to Bobby both because he thought he might like it, not so much us, but what was on the other side. Also Bobby was in a band with Jim Beattie and there were just two of them so maybe Bobby was thinking initially maybe we could join forces? My name and number were on the tape, he called me and I was on the phone for like two hours talking. Again he was another kid that was into a broad range of music, also talking about films, and books. That was the thing that drew me in in general. It wasn’t just….we knew kids that were into music but it seemed quite limited to us.
It was a wider cultural thing?
Yeah, I was really happy. We thought there was no one really like us, so it was a real joy to find Bobby. He never joined us at that point because we had another local drummer kid by that point. So we met Bobby through that and of course it was him that said, “oh, my friend lives in London. He has a club and a record label” and that was Alan McGee, and Creation Records. Obviously I think they had known each other from school.
Did you move down because of those connections?
We did some gigs, we’d always wanted to go actually. Jim and William had both tried to live in London. We definitely knew we’d always come, so we came down just before the first record came out, Christmas, 1984. So yeah, we always knew. We were only 40 minutes from Glasgow but it didn’t even occur to us to move to Glasgow.
So you never lived there?
Never lived there although people presumed I did so when I’m walking round Glasgow now and I say I’m lost they say “what do you mean your lost”. Jim and William were born in Glasgow and moved there when they were young. I moved to London when I was just 18.
Did you think that record was special at the time?
The first one? I mean, you know what, in all the time we were still in East Kilbride and rehearsing and had Jim and William’s amazing songs we thought it was an amazing thing. We were quite confident. We weren’t confident people but we had a confidence in the music. We kept on thinking this better happen soon because somebody’s going to do it. We thought it was such an obvious idea, such an amazing sound we couldn’t believe why no one else was doing it. We knew it was a pretty special record I think, especially in the context of 1984. I think we knew we could do it better, make better records. It wasn’t perfected as such, we perfected it with Psychocandy but we were really proud of it.
You said you were already into film and literature, did you get into making film and videos pretty early?
Well, you know when you get your record advance, most people buy guitars. I didn’t buy guitars, I bought a super 8 camera. I always wanted to do it but I don’t think I could ever afford it when I was a kid. I took photographs, I had a Russian camera. Me and Jim both took photographs. When I could afford to get a camera, a super 8, I did. Then, I had friends who were in bands like My Bloody Valentine. They were the ones who were like, “why don’t you do a video”, it had never occurred to me to be honest. I did a couple of videos for them and then Kid Congo asked me to do one when I was still in Mary Chain. Then eventually people I didn’t know were asking me. To do it as a living was not a…..I was happy being in the Mary Chain at that point, but when I got to 25/26 after the third album, I was in a band with two amazing songwriters, I loved being in the band obviously and loved what they did but there wasn’t much room creatively. It was limited, not in a bad way, it just was, that’s the way most bands are. I’m glad I did it then and not later.
At that point what were the films and filmmakers that inspired you?
Well, certainly in terms of making films, I was going to the London Filmmakers co-op. Experimental films, Kenneth Anger, all those New York (films), Harry Smith, “Dog Star Man”, Stan Brakhage. At the London Film Makers Co-Op they showed experimental films every night because they distributed them when it was still in Camden. I went to see all kinds of films but they were the films that made me want to make films, experimental films, because there was a freedom. A sense of experiment which was really attractive to me. It was great the Film Makers Co Op. They would show some experimental film at the BFI but the Film Makers Co Op was the place. They also offered courses there, that’s the other thing, courses in 16, hand processing and optical printing. It’s such a shame that it doesn’t exist any more.
It became the Lux?
Yeah but it was much freer. Almost like an old squat by the canal in Camden. The Lux was good but it was a bit more formalized. I think the program became a bit more conservative. It was a really influential place for kids like me that never went to film school, didn’t know anyone who made films. It opened up that whole….it was a really important place.
I suppose at that time getting hold of equipment was much more difficult?
Yeah, you couldn’t shoot on your phone or anything. I mean, Super 8 you could just send it off. There were things like super 8 fairs. They’d take over an old cinema, one of those beautiful old Odeons. You could go and buy equipment, there were fanzines there but the film makers co-op was like a one stop shop. It had that total experimental thing, you know. You could learn to make films in a non-formal kind of way.
Obviously the Lux was the tale end of it but I understand at that time the experimental film community was very strong. Over the years it got mashed in with the contemporary art scene more but at that point it was more…..
Pure film. Yeah, it was definitely. I guess for me going in in 1985/86, it still had something of that 50’s vibe. It wasn’t that long ago, the 60’s underground thing, it still had a feel of that, very open, very free. When it moved to a slightly more sheeshee place in Shoreditch it didn’t have the same feel.
So when you stopped playing did you walk away from it (music) totally?
Yeah, I guess I had done it for 8 years everyday and I didn’t really see myself as a musician, not for a second. I’d still play at home, I sort of regret being a bit absolutist about it. I’d also been in a really amazing band and I thought “how can you better that”, you know. I was a bit militant, maybe I should have been more open,because I did start playing later with Mark Stuart from the Pop Group. I really enjoyed it but that was maybe 17 years later. I had a guitar at home and that but not with other musicians. A couple of people asked but the Mary Chain were quite an amazing band, it’s like “how can you follow that” type thing. That’s true, how can you follow that but that’s the wrong attitude to have.
But you’ve come back to it?
Yeah, the Mark Stewart thing was….I did play with Charlotte and Le Volume Courbe, so that was maybe the first thing actually. I did some live shows with them. Mark Stewart had been asking me to (play) on his solo records then I started to make a couple of singles on my own with Blank Editions. That’s only really 3 years ago.
And is that the plan, you’re going to do more stuff?
Yeah, I’ll keep doing it because I really enjoy it. Maybe try and figure out how to do it live but I’m just enjoying making those records and putting them out, there’s no pressure. I’ll make a video for them and you just put them out. You don’t tour them or do any interviews and I quite like the mystery.
And regarding your filmmaking, you’ve been doing some music videos?
Doing some shorts as well as music videos. I did stop for a while for a pretty bad drug habit but I found I’ve got back into it seriously, as well as making music videos which I always did. I started to make some shorts so that’s the plan, to make a longer drama.
And to end up making features?
Yeah, I’d love to. I definitely feel I’ve got something to say in that respect.
It’s interesting talking about the filmmakers co-op stuff, about how things are available, and about technology. I know you’re into Instagram. What’s your viewpoint on technology, I know you shoot a lot on super 8, but do you see technology as democratizing the arts ?
When I first started to want to make films in 85/86, it was more difficult to get into it. I mean, super 8 was much cheaper and you could have it over night so it was the equivalent of digital, the way digital technology, phones or whatever is now. It was quite easily accessible. So I think it’s always a good thing, but I’m,…..not ambivalent but conflicted. Access is also good, when all is said and done and after all my curmudgeonly “bar humbug” type thing, it is better to have much easier, freer access to all that because a greater range of people are going to be able to do it and that’s the bottom line really. It does also mean if you get way more people making films you’re going to have way more shit but that’s the price to pay for easier access to a greater range of people.
I guess it also means people want stuff done cheaper. They’re not prepared to invest as much.
That’s true and they think anyone can do it. I guess it does affect a certain sense of craftsmanship but I then maybe it’s good to break down those things, I don’t know. Part of me in a punk rock way thinks, “well good”, you know, it’s like when we were first starting the Mary Chain up, sound men and all that would be going “you can’t do that” and we’d go “who fucking says?”.
It’s the same thing.
It’s the same thing. In theory the easier accessibility does open cinema and film to a greater range of voices but it’s not working as it should because the gatekeepers stop that from happening. Theoretically it does open up but you don’t really see the results of that. I guess when home video became ubiquitous people were saying some kid in a state in Russia will make a masterpiece but it’s not happened. Maybe he has made it but no one will fucking listen to him because he doesn’t go to the right showbiz parties. Maybe you can make that but no ones going to get it out there because people are maybe still stuck in the past a little bit.
Are there contemporary filmmakers who are inspiring you?
I have to say I’m badly out of touch, there’s people like Peter Strickland that are doing interesting things. I don’t know why I’m so ignorant of contemporary music or literature, maybe that’s what happens when you become a drug addict for 20 years, you lose touch.
I think the other side of that is that when I was young, I worked in a video store and I was always really confused that everyone would come in and look at two lines of the new releases and I’m thinking there’s a whole….
Well I castigate myself for that, for not watching new cinema but I’m always watching cinema so it doesn’t really matter where you get inspiration from or what gives you that fuel to go out and do it. As long as you’re being fired up by something it doesn’t matter if it’s 70 years old, 7 years old or 7 weeks old, you know, as long as you’re in love with moving images or music it doesn’t matter.
It’s hard, as people always ask what are you listening to that’s new?
I’m sure there are good films out there, I must say there is an American independent cinema out there that I don’t seem that drawn to them, there’s a type of film they make , I have to say I do go and try and see them, I’m sure there are some that are good.
And how about music? The same?
It’s the same, you know. The thing about old music , you’re always finding new music, it’s not like you’re listening to the same stuff. It’s a never ending journey of discovery in any direction you go, contemporary or backwards. It’s old music but it’s new to me, the same way old cinema is new to me so that’s exciting.