The Homosexuals
Magic Moments
by Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

Bruno Wizard seems to find himself just next door to the right place at the right time. He brought the herb to a friend who was helping Led Zeppelin in the studio. He managed to escape the Canterbury Scene after Wilde Flowers broke up, but before Soft Machine made it worth staying. He auditioned Chrissie Hynde for the guitar spot in his first incarnation of the Homosexuals. Bands all around him rose to great commercial heights, but Bruno kept his feet planted in focused artistic expression, right where he wanted them. He formed the Homosexuals after the implosion of the Rejects, a punk outfit he fronted that shared early bills with the likes of the Damned and the Adverts. Moving toward a more art-based sound, the Homosexuals are reminiscent of a coffee buzzed This Heat or early Fall, with the burden of beautiful melody weighing them down. The Homosexuals pressed only a few records on labels so obscure that finding copies is nearly impossible, leading to three-disc CD compilation in 2004. Thankfully, a 10-inch EP of all new material entitled Love Guns? is now available, though, surely close to sold out. After years of obscurity, the dust is being blown off those old records and Bruno’s garnering the credibility he deserves as an artist

Touring America with a group of youngsters from New York who have honed the sound of Bruno’s visionary late-70s records into a scorching buzz of a live show the past few years, he would be forgiven for being a bit tired. Unexpectedly, he’s so full of energy and completely approachable, affable and engaging that it’s sort of a chore to pull yourself away from him. We talked in the back room of the Summit before the Homosexuals’ tour stop in Columbus

How has the tour been?

Bruno Wizard: It’s really amazing; it’s the first time I’ve toured in the States. I just started playing again probably about five years ago, after what seemed like a 20-year break, though it wasn’t really. And in the same way you can’t stop an idea whose time has come, certain ideas you can’t make come before their time. I’m a writer, and the Homosexuals have always been a writing vehicle for me. There’s many different ways for me to write. I can write by looking at an orchid or something. For around 20 years I was just preparing things, and about five years ago—when they put the triple-CD together—that was when I started playing again. I did my ever first gig in America supporting Suicide at the Knitting Factory (New York) and I met that band of people I played with five hours before the gig. I’d never met them before in my life—a bunch of guys from Baltimore. We did one two-hour rehearsal and just went in and blew the place up. So that was confirmation for me. I didn’t need confirmation as a writer, or an artist and a performer, but I had to be a realist and say to myself at the time, “I’m a 53-year old man, arriving in New York supporting Suicide with songs that are beautiful songs that I’ll live or die by. I don’t care what anybody else thinks about it.” I get that feeling when I write, and as long as I’ve got that feeling then it’s of value to me. But actually going out and performing, and people coming up to me afterwards and saying, “Wow, you spoiled it for me. I’m a massive Suicide fan, and I came here and didn’t know anything about you. You’re a support band and you just fucking blew me away. You play all the kind of music that I thought was only possible from listening to eight or nine or ten different bands.” I had people who almost wanted to beat me when I told them I’d never met the guys before, and they thought it was false modesty. I was really pleasantly surprised, and one or two promoters said they wanted to do things.

From that gig on I felt it really was time, not just for me to express myself, and not only was there an audience, but promoters to make it happen. So from then on I’ve been coming to and from America and playing with different people, and about a year ago, I got the present band together. They’re the Homosexuals now. They play the songs better than the original members. They just really really love the music and they’re brilliant. In terms of the tour, this is the first time I’ve ever toured the States, the first time I’ve ever gone out and been able to perform these songs with somewhere near the kind of joy and delight and energy that they brought to me when I first had the ideas.

Where did the impetus for the Homosexuals come from? I mean, do you hear a dub record and say, “I’m gonna put these words to a reggae freak-out?”

BW: It could be anything. I could give you a history of my life and what different songs are inspired from, though it’d be easier to say I have synesthesia. Now it’s not like I need to self-diagnose myself, but for me as an artist, thinking back to when I was a child, I used to listen to the stars singing at night. I was born in 1950, and I can remember from the age of three having dreams where I was in space, in a spacesuit, looking back on Earth. As children, we don’t articulate the same way as adults do, but we’re open to expressions. It’s like the state of being an artist, being wide open to these sensory impressions coming in. If we’ve got love in our heart, we’re not going to be frightened by those things and we’re gonna bring that back down and manifest it in beautiful things that we talk about, things we write, the way we look at somebody, whatever. So children are just naturally in that state of being an artist if they have love in their hearts. I can still hear the sound of me breathing inside of the space helmet, and looking down at the Earth and knowing that was somewhere I was supposed to be. It was almost like a fear, this awesome respect that you have for the universe, but also this feeling that I belonged in space. But it wasn’t time for me to be out there. I’d always had these feelings as a child and since I was very young, words used to appear to me in the window of my imagination. They’d [the words] say, “I’m your only friend. If you’re friends with me, I’ll teach you how to fly forever.”

The place I grew up, in the Northeast of England, Sunderland, is the type of place where someone like George Bush would go to recruit soldiers to go and fucking sacrifice themselves in Iraq. And as a child, I always felt this kind of alienation, which is where one of my very first songs came from, “Hearts in Exile.” It’s about anybody that’s in exile within themselves, whether it’s a physical, spiritual, mental, emotional,—any kind of reason. You’re just in touch with yourself, and when you’re just in touch with yourself, you’re happy. But when you bring that into the shared world, that’s where the friction starts to occur, or potential humiliation. When you’re a child, you don’t want to be different from anybody else. You don’t want people to look at you like, “What kind of freak are you?” I learned to sort of translate what I was thinking and feeling into a sort of language that other kids around me didn’t feel threatened by. That became my personality, that was the defense mechanism reacting against any sort of potential hostility. Plus, from the age of five to eleven, I went to a school run by nuns, then after that a school run by Irish Christian Brothers. It was the whole fucking nine yards, complete and utter spiritual and emotional abuse, oppression, sometimes physical abuse. But I managed to avoid that part. Still watching all my friends being physically abused by the headmaster, just knowing about it was enough. I was tainted by it. This school, the Irish Christian Brothers’ school, academically, was a brilliant school, and was something that was going to lift you out of this economic mess in a working class state where one in ten people have jobs. I don’t know why they call it “working class.” People weren’t fucking working there. It was a welfare state, you know? Still somehow all the kids I grew up with managed to find enough money to go into the local workingman’s club and drink like 16 pints of beer at dinnertime, then go out and drink another 12 pints. That was their life, that was what they wanted, and I didn’t aspire to that. I didn’t think I was better than them; it’s just that I didn’t aspire to that.

My only refuge was to words, and this is in relation to your question. From a very early age, words have been something more than communication. When I’m writing and put my words on the page, it’s like I put them to bed and tell them, “You rest there, and I’ll wake you up and you’ll be free to just fly anywhere you want into a beautiful world.” In the case of performing or recording in the studio, I’m not going to put any of these words in a setting that they would disturbed, like if they were actually children waking up in a stranger’s house. I’ve never had a fixed way of writing; songs to me are just another way of writing.

In 1986 I became aware of this law of nature that says at any given time less than 0.000000001% of the planet is conscious of the true nature of things, while the rest are asleep. And I thought “Whew!” Lets just suppose that I’m one of these few people at the moment, it would explain to me why if I just talk to people about the way I feel and the way I think that they’d feel threatened by it. But at the same time, I don’t feel like I’m better than anybody else for it. So, I’ve got to balance this consciousness out with us all being equal in the eyes of “god.” I don’t want to have any sort of superior knowledge over anybody else, or for that superior knowledge to make me feel superior or act superior in any way. I just want it to be an answer to my own pain or to just allow me to be me and to be happy being me and to find a way to interact with the outside world. Also, this law of nature says “at any given time,” so everybody has the potential to wake up. So not only did that revelation give me relief, it also gave me hope and a way to be able to move forward without thinking that I want all those people that have been putting shit on me to catch a mighty sword. No thought of revenge or anything, just this revelation. That kind of connection with the spiritual and accepting whatever kind of gifts I have, it’s fucking amazing, thank you very much. There are things that I know and there are things that I don’t know and in between there are doors in my own perception beyond the unknowable and that’s where I as an artist work. That’s where my words come from, that’s where all my inspiration comes from, and if I’m not connected to that, I’m not writing, I’m not working. I would like to give the world around me an insight into what goes on in my waking moments in my world. If they can relate to that or find some sort of peace from that, beautiful. If they come to me with a kind of empathy, I think that’s beautiful. I’m not preaching, I always hold out the possibility that I might be wrong, and if I end up in hell I don’t want to be responsible for taking one single soul with me.

So, it’s not like you want to push this agenda, waking people up from this lack of consciousness?

BW: I won’t jump on it and say, “Oh this is so important, what I’m seeing,” to impress people with my knowledge or something like I can see into your mind. I don’t regard it as being that. I regard it as vibrating on a certain level, but at the same time being able to see things people wouldn’t pay attention to. I’m just happy to see what I see. I try to make sense of it, then hopefully bring it back out in poetry, words, music—you know, communication. That’s the beauty of music. It is, cliched or not, an international language. Paul McCartney—he’s discovered out the secret of melody. He’s worth £800 million or something, and what’s he fucking done with it? I mean, the Beatles’ first album essentially ripped off black American 1950s R&B artists. When did he lay down money for a university for African-American art students or musicians? He could have already been opening them up in the fucking ‘60s, when Martin Luther King was walking the Earth. [Bruno is wearing blue and white paisley stovepipe Levi’s and a patch covered bomber jacket, with the back panel painted with a larger than life bust of MLK.] Who knows, if they’d’ve done a little bit more, he might not have copped a bullet. Maybe if they had given back a little? Who knows.

I can’t help point out that some of the older, punkier stuff is full of piss and vinegar. I’m sensing a disconnect from the way you’re talking about being full of love.

BW: Yeah, a lot of the earlier songs that the people that know the Homosexuals for were recorded in a time when I was still suffering from the effect of abuse as a child. I was running with fear in my heart, I was just running away from myself. But music and expressing myself through writing was one way that I knew I could be pure. Through my colorful inventive personality I was able to surround that child inside of me and fend off all comers, keep people away from me. And if I suspected somebody might be getting a little bit too close, I could just cut them to pieces with language.

Then eventually, in like 1980, I was living in a squat with Boy George and loads of other people—you know, before they all got famous. I was really, really strung out—I don’t want to get into too many details—I’d just gotten to a point where I had to confront myself or just carry on with that and go down and down and end up like a tortured sort of junkie. Perhaps being recognized 10 or 15 years after my death or sign up to a major label and become like an English Iggy Pop. You know, dug up by David Bowie. No disrespect to the man, I’ve got a lot of respect for Iggy. When he was first doing it in the ‘60s, that was the birth of pop culture. Nobody knew what kind of hegemonic beast that the music industry was going to become or that he’d end up an archetype. Nobody had the wherewithal to see that it would be set up like that. Like the same people that created the British Empire: divide and conquer, divide and rule. Then, control the means of production and distribution, like the economic empires they created in Africa when they gave them political power but not economic means to push through to autonomy.

In the first few years of me being a teenager in the ‘60s, I can remember the establishment trying to stamp on everything new. My generation was the first generation after the second world war to say, “We don’t want this. What are you fighting about? If you’re fighting about money or power, well fuck the lot of you. We don’t want that.” We felt this empathy with the civil rights movement in America. But at the same time in my town of 250 thousand people, the guys with one tooth and wearing the same checky shirt, not even one black person, not even a mixed-race person—that was the kind of mentality we had to deal with, that village mentality. The music that really affected me, like the Beatles’ first album, the Stones’ first album, ‘50s black R&B, seemed so real. At the same time I’m in the Irish Christian Brothers’ school and just feeling like I was being force-fed concrete. So, I would go to my local library during the evening because I love, love books. The words would come up from the page. It was the only real delight that I had in my life at the time that nobody was interfering with. Then, at nighttime, I would just go and listen to the stars, and it was all part of this experience that I just knew was right for me.

When you were first playing out in the late-70s, what were the crowds’ reactions like to you? Did you feel that love coming back in?

BW: I started the Rejects off in the summer of ‘76, when I was 26. I had never played, but I’d always wanted to. I sensed there was something in the air because I’m very politically astute and aware, and I realized by 1976 what the establishment had done to my potential revolution. Like, a 14-year old kid in his bedroom listening to “The time is right for fighting / but what can a poor boy do / but to sing in a rock and roll band,” I mean, you’ve got Mick Jagger telling you, right there, that you can’t do anything other than sing in a band. And the kids that didn’t sing in bands took acid and got stupid with dope, and the revolution that might have happened with my generation got squashed. I mean at one point what Jagger was singing was really popular, then he got busted. They put him in jail for one fucking night and he cried his fucking eyes out and they said, “Okay, you go around the world and get your dick sucked, and we can arrange for every major city in the world to make sure cocaine flows there. You keep growing your hair long and lead these kids into the fucking wilderness. Make them think that by getting stoned they’re actually doing something.” That’s how the empire was built: divide and conquer, divide and conquer. A house divided in itself can’t stand.

So by the time I got the Rejects together was like ‘76. I was really pissed off about my generation, and I was sure it would happen with the next generation. It took about three years to really destabilize my generation, but I thought, “Well, they learn quickly, these fuckers, don’t they?” I mean, they’ve been ruling the world for a thousand years. In ‘76, the press has started writing about this new music, which made me suspicious about it. The press is also controlled by the establishment; they’re all hearty bedfellows, in the Chaucerian sense. They’re all farting in each others’ faces and eating each others’ shit. They’re out there looking for the next new thing and they were confused, you know, because they had a handle on what the last thing was and this was completely different. So the [Sex] Pistols were out there kicking up some dust, and the whole punk thing was starting to happen. I wasn’t some sort of musician all my life because I’d been put off it at school. But, I’d picked up this History of the Blues book in the library and learned that all this music—everything that the Beatles and the Stones were playing—they just ripped it off from these African cats. I mean, I can play those beats as they’re written and add a beat or two and it sounds like modern day rock & roll. So because the blues was there for Jagger and them to plunder, they could spend their time shoving needles in their arms. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Exile on Main Street, great album. But by then the rawness was all over for me. I mean, why didn’t they bring Little Richard over here and fucking play bottom of the bill? Support Little Richard because it’s just him you’re ripping off, you know?

Well, there was no punk circuit around; it was all just tribute bands. So there was this pub circuit that these tribute bands played in and could pack the place because they could study those Hendrix songs or whatever and play it better than Hendrix because he was playing something new. Well, the moment the Pistols started to make a stink in the national media, the labels descended on us all like sharks. So all of the sudden clubs that might have one night a week for rock bands—unknowns, unsophisticated bands—suddenly were pushing the disco nights to Sundays and making the rock night run five or six of the seven nights. And these clubs would have a 15-minute rule, which is one of the best rules. It’s perfect because even if you’re the worst band, everybody’s got at least one idea, right? Well, there was this wonderful brashness going on, and I walked into the Rock Scene [said club], and asked if they had an open slot and the guy asked what the name of the band was, so I said “The Rejects.” He said, “Great, you’re playing next Tuesday.” So I was like, “Fuck, I’ve got five days to get a band together!” So, I found this dishwasher from Goldsmith’s College, Ian. His hairstyle was going one way, his clothes were going the other, and when I found out he was a songwriter, I sat down and wrote 20 songs with him in two days, one of which was about the serial killer Gary Gilmour. So I thought that because I was a singer I needed a microphone, I didn’t know anything about P.A. systems, so I spent the equivalent of 400 quid on a high-end AKG microphone, which it turned out was the same mic you’d use for the bass drum in the studio. So, I’m doing this song, “Gary Gilmour,” which was a really serious song about a man who wants to die, but they won’t let him die. They won’t just kill him, this redeeming penal system that won’t just let him die. We were so into it, and because it was happening in this shark tank, just like a drop of blood and the label reps start charging around trying to find anybody to sign.

It was a really exciting time, but at the same time I just thought, “Well, I’ll give it six months, then it’ll just be co-opted into another commercial product.” It’s a bit like the whole indie scene in London a few years ago. They were all living together in Camden, and at any given time if you were to let off a bomb in a pub there you would’ve blown up Babyshambles, the Kooks, Dirty Pretty Things, Amy Winehouse. There’d be no scene there, no electro scene either. It’s the same as what it was like at the Rock Scene when the Rejects were playing.

When people told me about the Fall and This Heat, nobody ever told me to pick up a Homosexuals record. Do you feel the slightest bit of spite, as if you missed that punk or post-punk train?

BW: No, no, not at all. At the time, we did everything ourselves, printing all the covers designing everything, distributing it to record stores. Then we’d end up with 10 quid here or there, like “Should we buy breakfast or should we buy drugs?” Rough Trade was a savior for us. They grew pretty quickly with the whole socialist/commune business model, and the word got out that they supported any new music and that they’d buy five or ten of anybody’s new music. So people would walk by and scrape shit off their shoe like, “Oh, this is my latest record.” Very quickly they ended up with a million plus records in a warehouse that nobody was going to buy. So they had to restructure more on the lines of a mini-corporate structure, while Geoff Travis still kept on following small new bands . If you think that bands like the Cure or the Fall were underground bands, they weren’t. Never ever. They were popular and dear with labels right away, and it doesn’t mean I don’t respect their work, but they were sort of taking on the respectable face of the underground. I was at the point where I was still being a little bit reactionary, and it wasn’t until like 1980 when I really started to confront my own fears. It was like me being a baby and having to live this new way, so I didn’t have time to resent those people giving into the industry. I thought that it was either you’re selling yourself to the industry, or you have nothing to do with them and you’re playing to two men and a dog in Belgium. And it’s the dog that’s clapping, you know? But, there was this sort of in-between part that people were staking out as the underground, and it was people around bands like that. It wasn’t spite I felt, but bands that signed up [with labels] were just muddying the water for people around this in-between area.

The most impressive thing about this tour has been meeting people, like 55-year old men with just rooms full of records, who have been into it since the beginning, that have the original “Hearts in Exile” record. When I was making the records, I wasn’t trying to be pretentious and say, “This is the way is has to be.” I just need to release that energy channeled though me. So if the industry is trying to control the means of production and distribution and has a monopoly on the word music, they can have it. What we do is called art, and we decide to press 2000 copies and make interesting artwork, and when it gets around the world, they will know that was made for them, and nobody else. We trust that there are people around the world like us without all of the industry, without all the hype, and if it turns out that we’re wrong and we’re the only ones like us, then these records will be a testament of what it was like in London in 1977.