Colin Newman : Wire, Swim~, Githead, PostEverything  
Dr. Aaron Prevots, Ph.D.
Southwestern University


Although Colin Newman is most readily associated with Wire, like bandmates Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, he has undertaken numerous additional creative endeavors. Across a range of projects, the Wire guitarist/vocalist has consistently reinvented himself, venturing from post-punk art pop into ambient, electronic territory, along the way producing other artists and setting up his own label.

Newman was born in Salisbury, England, in 1954 and attended Watford School of Art, where tutors included Peter Schmidt, Charles Harrison and Hansjorg Meyer. At Watford, he formed Wire with Bruce Gilbert in 1976 and the band quickly emerged as one of British punk's more innovative, intelligent acts. Having evolved at a breathtaking pace over three albums that were among the period's most influential records (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154), the group went on hiatus in early 1980.

Following Newman's return to Britain in 1984, Wire resumed its activities, releasing The Ideal Copy in 1986. The next five years were especially productive as Newman kept his creative options open, recording and touring with Wire and also pursuing solo projects. Having produced Minimal Compact's Raging Souls, Newman moved to Brussels in 1985 and, in collaboration with Minimal Compact's Malka Spigel, made two more albums, Commercial Suicide (1986) and the synthesizer-based It Seems (1988). Throughout this period, both Wire's and Newman's own recordings became increasingly computer-oriented. While advances in digital technology prompted Wire drummer Robert Gotobed's departure and temporarily ended the band's existence as a foursome, they also stimulated a new phase in Newman's work.

With Spigel, he relocated to London in 1992, founded the Swim~ label, and put out records by diverse electronic artists including Ronnie & Clyde, Lobe, dol-lop, and Pablo's Eye. Energized by the flourishing techno and electronica scenes, Newman collaborated with Spigel during the '90s on her Rosh Ballata (1993) and under various monikers: Oracle, Immersion, Earth, Oscillating, and Intens.

In 1996, as Immersion, the pair contributed a sound installation to a group show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. The following year saw the release of Bastard, an album of instrumental, melodic electronica that was Newman's first self-credited record since It Seems. In addition to working on Spigel's second full-length record, My Pet Fish, co-producing Silo's Instar, and remixing such diverse bands as Bowery Electric, Hawkwind, and Gentle Giant, Newman returned to performance in 1998-1999, playing gigs in Europe and America with Spigel. Another Immersion album, the abstract, ambient Low Impact, followed, and 2000 found Newman and Spigel again playing live as Immersion, this time with more of a multimedia emphasis.

Just as Newman had recaptured some of punk's original D.I.Y. spirit with the foundation of the Swim~ label, in 2001 he continued in the same vein with the launch of PostEverything.com -- a web-based store aimed at the distribution of independently released music.

Amid this flurry of millennial activity, Newman also regrouped with Wire for concerts in the U.K. and the U.S. in 2000 and the band eventually began recording again; the results appearing on the newly created pinkflag label [also run by Newman]. The first entirely new Wire material in over a decade appeared on 2002's EP Read & Burn 01, which was swiftly followed by the mailorder-only Read & Burn 02. 2003's Send became Wire's first new album in 13 years. Pinkflag.com continued to grow, releasing DVDs of Wire performances from 1979 and 2004, and became in 2006, US licensee for Wire's first 3 [EMI] albums.

Inspired by Swim's 10-year birthday event at the ICA, Newman, alongside Robin Rimbaud (sound artist Scanner) and Spigel created Githead. The line-up was augmented in 2005 with Minimal Compact's drummer Max Franken. Githead debuted with an EP "Headgit" and followed up with an album "Profile," touring through Europe in autumn 2005.

(This text is an excerpt re-published from All Music Guide, by Wilson Neate.
All links supplied by the editor.)

 

 

Colin Newman, 2005
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Colin Newman
Photo by Malka Spigel

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LIVE - Spigel Newman Colin Malka
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Colin Newman
Photo by Malka Spigel

Githead - Headgit CD
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Headgit EP
(Swim~ wm 34 cd)


     

Aaron Prevots: The music you’ve been involved in over the years has produced a diverse range of colours and tones. Do you feel it’s important to be conceptually faithful to any kind of set musical framework when working on a project such as Immersion, GitheadWire?

Colin Newman: It’s more to do with people. I try not to put stuff too much into boxes, rules are made to be broken. Malka and I did a show in ’99 which started out as being Immersion – “2 indistinct figures with their backs to the audience crouching over 1 keyboard all in front of a huge video projection” and ended up with us both with guitars rocking out! With any project it’s fun to set up conceptual frameworks and then break them. The people involved find ways to break the conventions in ways peculiar to that formation.

 

 

 
 
 

Immersing The South Bank, 1999
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South Bank Center, 1999
Immersion
Photo: Craig Grannell

 

You've been involved with various music scenes and albums and incarnations of groups. Is there any project you're most proud of, and if so, do you find it's usually the most recent?

Difficult question! To be really honest so much of my view of any project is down to the other people involved and because Wire can be so notoriously difficult in its personal relations it sometimes puts a negative cast on my ability to be proud of it. However if I allow myself to take a step back from concentration on the individuals and look at it more how a fan would
then I'm very proud of it and what it has achieved.

Of course, I’m proud of Githead, there’s nothing not to be proud of!

 

 

 
 

Githead, 2005
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Githead:
Max Franken, Malka Spigel,
Colin Newman, Robin Rimbaud
Photo: Frank Lievaart


How might you describe your relationship with the guitar as a tool: admiring, ambivalent, ecstatic, indifferent?

Definitely not indifferent! The last 6 months I’ve been working on the re-issues of the 70’s Wire catalogue. I’ve been involved with every aspect ranging from writing the sleeve-notes, to overseeing the design, to dealing with the distributors and doing the interviews (this range of activity is pretty normal for me). I’ve been made aware (again) how much those records have been influential but one thing I think is very little known about those records is that many of the classic riffs are mine (3 Girl Rumba, Lowdown, 12XU, practice makes Perfect, Mercy, I Am the fly, 2 People In A Room, the 15th etc. etc.) I probably don’t get the recognition as a guitarist that I might get! (then again I might just complain too much ) That notwithstanding I still regard myself as a pretty average guitarist, I never practice. For me it’s all about the right hand (the rhythm) not the left hand (fingering). The guitar is a tool great for certain jobs. I like it as a musical instrument as unlike a keyboard where you have to make every note sound by pressing the key you can make chords involving open strings (ones you didn’t have to fret) this sometimes can give unlikely results.

 

 

 
  

Wire - Pink Flag Reissue CD
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Pink Flag (1977)
Reissue (2006 pinkflag pfbox1 cd)

Wire - Chairs Missing Reissue CD
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Chairs Missing (1978)
Reissue (2006 pinkflag pfbox1 cd)

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Were there any lessons learned in school that have indeed turned out to be invaluable?

Don’t know about particular lessons but I did get a good grounding in art history. I was appalled by the paucity of art history knowledge amongst students when I was later at art school.


 

Wire - 154 Reissue CD
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154 (1979)
Reissue (2006 pinkflag pfbox1 cd)

 

What’s your definition of post-niche? Do genres really exist?

“Post-niche” sounds like a Newman-ism to me! Genres are stylistic boxes which are interesting when they are created and when they break down but tend to be rather boring in between. There are some people who are able to understand what a statement in music or sound is without further explanation. These do not make up the majority of people who consume music or even, I suspect, the majority of people who really need music in their lives. All genres, descriptions etc are for people who need explanations. This is not IMO a matter of intelligence or even intuition, it just happens that some people are tuned into the “creative wavelength” associated with music and sound. The “creative wavelength” of others is different.

 

 

 

 

PostEverything.com
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PostEverything.com Mailorder Logo
Design by Dorian Moore

You brought out some real gems for listeners when doing guest radio spots in the past – XFM, Totally Radio, Resonance FM, etc. What are your thoughts on the direction towards increasingly eclectic mix of styles found in indie radio like ResonanceFM, versus the significance of what makes for "fashionable" listening on some popular radio stations?

I’d love to do radio more, I’ve got the perfect face for it! My approach to radio is pretty much the same as my approach to everything. I want to make what I’d like to hear. Right now, if I had a weekly show I’d play a really diverse mix of stuff both new and old. To be honest I don’t think anyone’s got that mix right. I don’t hear any station doing that and still don’t imagine any station that would give me the opportunity to weekly enthral and exasperate listeners with my genuinely catholic taste!

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

…And – what's in your iPod currently? : )

Are you serious? – it’s 40 gigs! ...But my personal MySpace page
<http://www.myspace.com/headgit
> actually lists every artist in my
iPod and I keep it up to date!

 

 

 

As much as you may have described it before elsewhere, could you say a bit your conceptual influences? Are there particular groups or ideas that you find you always come back to?

Yes, but every time different. I see myself as simultaneously coming from many roots. When I was young I loved every genre of popular music and when I got older I discovered more esoteric styles. I’ve never had any problem about being a “fashion victim” if it’s new and cool I’ll be into it. Perhaps you really do need to see what’s in my iPod!

 

 

 
 

FlagBurning Part 1
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Jake + Dinos Chapman set design
for Wire's performance "flag:burning"
(part 1), Barbican OnlyConnect Series, 2003


As someone accountable in many areas of your chosen career – playing, writing, recording, producing, marketing and distribution – do you have any primary "obsession", so to speak? Maybe, a long-term goal that motivates you, for example the music itself, and the fun of seeing it continue to surface?

Difficult question. There are plenty of times when I wonder what the point of it all is. In a way it kind of comes down to how my Dad described it as “making a living out of something you enjoy doing” which sounds a bit crass and isn’t aided by perpetual financial insecurity. I end up being so diversified because I see how in many cases something just isn’t going to happen unless I do it myself. I’d love it if someone paid me to only care about Art but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

But I also think that any contemporary artist who doesn’t understand that they are involved in something which is both creative AND a business is deluding themselves.

 

 

FlagBurning Part 2

FlagBurning Part 2
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Es Devlin set design for Wire's performance "flag:burning" (part 2), Barbican OnlyConnect Series, 2003

Photos: Mark McQuitty

Have you ever investigated a new course or direction, after reading about a favorite artist, or communicating with others in the field?

Yes, but I never pulled it off!

 

 

 
 

 

And how do you succeed at managing the artist/producer (seemingly-inevitable) Pro Tools obsession? Do you have methods or strategies for streamlining your work? Any tips and tricks for favorite sounds?

Pro Tools is just a “tape recorder”, mixing board and effects. The main difference between that and analogue multi-track is the fact that you can correct timing and in some cases tuning. It’s also a lot cheaper on media and running costs.

The basic mindset of Pro Tools is that it’s an application that a recording engineer would be able to grasp very easily. It wasn’t designed for musicians so it’s not a great way to generate ideas but will record them very well. So ultimately the work in Pro Tools is all mixing. This is why I usually take a mix credit on stuff. I’ve got quite good at transitions – how to get from one bit of a song to another always the place to look out for special effects...

 

 

 
 
 

Wire - Send CD
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Send
(2003
Release / Pink Flag pf6 cd)


For days when inspiration isn't quite at hand, do you have any strategies that help you sort through workflow and move forward in positive ways? Any particular routine to keep the parts and the whole in balance?

Oh I wish my life was so simple! I seem to spend endless hours just reacting to stuff as it occurs. During writing this interview (which I’m doing pretty much stream of consciousness, first thing that comes into my head) I’ve had to - deal with whether or not to go into Time Out offices and enter an “air guitar” competition (I kid you not!) Figure out the best way to inform the bank about the new posteverything office. Answer some of the daily questions about the Wire box set (even though there is a comprehensive FAQ online). Deal with enquiries on my e.bay sales... E-mail a copy of Lobe’s Pet Shop Boys remix to the Girl @ EMI’s press department who was dying to hear it (and have it come back because I put an extra space in the address) all the while there is a part finished song in the studio we put a bass line on yesterday. Just had to break off to deal with someone who wants to license a g-man track to a video game. Later today I’ll probably get roped in to help Ben with his course work.

 

 

 
 
 

SWIM~ Screensaver image
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Swim~ Screensaver
(2004 Edition) by
Eric Scott / Day For Night

Can you tell us about how you and Malka best collaborate? Have you ever identified any patterns or roles (such as creative/organizational) each of you typically plays?

I suppose the funny way to answer that is to say that I do stuff and Malka tells me if it’s any good.

It’s actually true although it’s not the only thing she does. Malka is great at coming up with something very quick and her ability to pick the best out of any given set of items (whatever they might be) is legendary. Malka is not a great organizer (neither am I but I’m probably a bit better than her ) But in the end I think we are forever finding new roles and relationships. Malka has been involved on some level in everything I’ve done musically, more or less since I’ve known her. We are complimentary but it’s dynamic how that works.

 

 

 
 

Malka Spigel - My Pet Fish CD
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Malka Spigel : My Pet Fish
(Swim~ wm 10 cd)

What is for you the significance of deliberately designing a structured environment for the creative process (such as Swim~ studio)? Or is almost any setting (public, private or otherwise) a suitable launch pad for the creative process?

I’m kind of wondering what that is and how it applies to me. In theory I like a structured environment but rarely really get it. I can’t really cut myself off from all the other stuff that’s going on so there are endless distractions with any venture.

 

 

 

Now that Githead is nearly two, how would you say strengths have been developing as a unit? Can you plan gigs and albums and still succeed at being as spontaneous as those first magical jams as a trio? Have your live gigs, for example Max Franken's strong presence and the feel of an audience, sent you in any unexpected directions?

Githead got to be a really great live band in the latter part of last year since then though we didn’t really have the opportunity to play as a 4 piece. We came close to pulling off a US tour for January this year but a couple of strokes of bad luck rendered it uneconomic, so now we’ll wait until after the second album is out. The plan was to record as a band in our engineer Frank Lievaart’s new studio in Rotterdam but this has taken some time to complete so we are doing the new album in a slightly more fractured way. However we have a big bank of Max Franken multi-track drums recorded in a nice room that give us a more convincing sonic pallet for the drums.

I’m still hoping we can do some recording as a band just jam out and see what we get but we need to progress the album or else it’ll be 2008 until it comes out! FYI we reckon that we have 4 tracks actually finished (04.04.06) and mixed + a bunch of stuff at varying stages (some almost complete) – I think this album is going to be even better than the 1st. It’s Heavier, lighter, more pop, more rock and more real!

 

 

 
 
 
 

Githead Live QEH Photo
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Githead
Queen Elizabeth Hall performance,
South Bank Centre, London, 2005

Photo: Mark Pitts

 

Your label Swim~ broke through with some special artists such as Silo, Ronnie and Clyde…and, most impressive – Bumpy! Do you feel at liberty to discuss any recent artist findings, and what's on the horizon for your label Swim~ these days?

It’s very hard these days to make any money out of releasing records. There was a special time in the early and mid-90’s when artists started to be able to produce stuff in their own spaces that could speak to the world and the world was listening (well to a degree anyhow). Nowadays a CD that would have paid its bills and given a bit of return to the artist in the 90’s wouldn’t even sell enough to cover the pressing. We are still trying to figure out the best way to deal with these changed circumstances.

Artists who are used to getting CDs out aren’t really into having stuff only available online, but I guess in the end this will change. But then you might ask – what is the point of a record company? Maybe it’ll be possible to move that debate forward through posteverything. There are some interesting ideas floating round. So apart from Githead the only thing planned right now is a DVD/CD from Akatombo which is basically a movie (very interesting project BTW). We are looking to doing one of those new format DVD on one side CD on the other side discs.

 

 

Compilation - Swim~ Team #1 cd
Compilation - Swim~ Team #2 cd
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Swim Team #1/Swim Team #2
(Swim~ wm 30 cd / wm 33 cd)

 

How much opportunity do you currently see in the online music communities (Last.fm, MySpace, iMixes and others) being able to create momentum in the indie market for those people who produce a steady flow of original music?

Since 10 July 2006, I've also been maintaining the Wire page at <http://www.myspace.com/wirehq> which is absurdly popular!

There's also a Swim~ page at <http://www.myspace.com/swimlondon>, and various other "friends" are linked in to these.

Myself, Duncan and Dorian (from posteverything) all have last.fm accounts. I set up swim~ and pinkflag as labels on last FM. We have been planning some kind of collaboration between them and posteverything for a while. Can’t go into details but this is a space to watch (God, my life sounds so interesting, it really isn’t THAT interesting!) There is a Githead page on MySpace but run by a fan, we get a lot of through traffic to the Githead site from it (now here’s an interesting fact, even though Githead didn’t do anything in public since last October the stats on the Githead site go up month on month. Where are they all coming from???)

There is definitely something in all this and it can’t just be about giving away music. Let’s see where it goes. BTW both Malka and I have flickr accounts (Malka under Maya Newman is already a Flickr star, she has her first show in Tel Aviv later this month).

 

 

 
 
 

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Malka Spigel Self-Portrait
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Malka Spigel,
Lomo Camera self-portrait

 

If you were a book or film, what would you be and why? And what do you most like or dislike about interviews? (…It could be this very type of question.)

I’m not lateral enough to imagine myself as a book or a film. I could be in the world those media portray but that’s not the question.

The kind of interview questions that annoy me are a good deal more stupid than that one. Like....“got any good – on the road stories” (puke!/ )

 

 

 
 

 

Are there any few words that might sum up your approach to music, or who you are as an artist or musician?

Gawd knows! “He tried hard…”

 

 

 

Lastly, is there any famous quote or line that could serve as your motto?

There’s a line in one of the new Githead tracks that Malka sings “patience is a weapon, baby” – I’m sure it’ll become a classic saying, or something…

 

 

Githead - Profile CD
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Profile
(Swim~ wm 36 cd)

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