If you’ve not read Dan Cox and John Riordan’s Hitsville UK, you’re missing out. Like Daft Punk‘s ‘Get Lucky‘, it’s the sound of the summer.  Or like…. shit, it’s hard to pick just one song at this stage in this icy death machine of a year, so let’s split the difference and say that like ‘Lazarus‘ or ‘Adore‘ its deeper magics might just see you through the colder months too.

I picked up the first issue at Thought Bubble a couple of years back, and while it took my alcohol sodden brain a couple of readings to pick up the rhythm, the  way the first few pages alternated between rows of panels introducing new bands and those wherein the seedy, behind the scenes types (haunted producers, men who made their money in sewage who now fancy a slightly more alluring expression of power) laid out the groundwork for the plot, but when I’d locked into it I realised that I now had a whole host of new favourite characters to care about.

The rest soon followed, issues #2-4 taken in one rush, flashbacks to being a kid and finally getting your hands on the album after wearing out the single you bought from Our Price down the town centre.

There’s so much in there in this soapy story about a new British indie label – a polyphonic reaction against the Toryfied despair of life in the UK 2016, the alienated teenage appetite for destruction, some saggy dadrock longing, plus a smack to the chops to your actual modern day fascists – all adding up to a baffling but somehow familiar map of British pop, complete with itchy annotations about the seedier and more desperate events going on in the background to some of your favourite magic tunes.

There are jokes here that will become fixed points in your mental landscape (“And there’s just time to make the gig!”).  There are faces you’ll find yourself seeing in the mirror in your more wretched moments (Jack Spatz or Gwillum, depending on whether you tend to slick arrogance or despair).  There are beautiful concepts and glorious colours galore:

More than any other comic about bands or music, Hitsville UK mimics the thrill and excitement of its subject.  Somewhat perversely, this comes from its overwhelming commitment to the comic book form.  Where other comics about music feel like extrapolations of zine culture or traditional adventure stories themed around pop stars, Hitsville UK actually feels like music.  By revelling in the joys of putting weird looking characters into even weirder situations, trusting that they can keep a rush of daft words and pictures coming and that they can keep it relevant, Riordan and Cox capture something of the hyped up love buzz of being into music.  A mix of wanting to keep up with the story and wanting to feel part of the moment as it happens around you.

As such, I figured the best way to look into their dark hearts was by dusting off the old Smash Hits interview questions and seeing what the handsome boys (pictured below) made of them…

1. How well mannered are you?

John: I am incredibly mannered, in the stiff and awkward manner of a 19th century drawing room drama. This is to such an extent that at school my nickname was Captain Mannering. Dan has almost no manners as he was brought up in a seaside arcade.

2. Do you ever check your hair when passing a shop window?

Dan: I avoid all reflective surfaces. I fear the hollow eyed man who stares back at me. The bloated shadow cadaver who rots all clocks. The bastard with the seaweed tangle beard who has stolen all my clothes. The one who whispers ‘You will never be this beautiful again’.

Like Medusa it is only possible to look at John via a complex system of mirrors. I normally close my eyes when we’re together.

3. Are you misunderstood?

J: I am misunderstood by Dan. Why won’t he look at me properly? What is he thinking?

4. When was the last time you fell over?

D: I don’t really remember but the bruises must come from somewhere.

5. Do you ever cheat at Monopoly?

John: Monopoly tends to bring out my hippyish, peace-nik excesses. I start singing and giving away all my properties. Unfortunately, this is more or less the same business model as we apply to Hitsville UK. We may have to bring John Harvey-Jones back from the dead and fire ourselves on his advice.

6. Who do you think are the most over-rated band around?

Dan: Serious answer. The Beatles. Nothing is that good. Nothing that important. Growing up on the Mersey in the 80s the Beatles were mythic ghosts of an imaginary brilliant past that all the adults harped on about but we’d missed.

The Yellow Submarine was the centrepiece of the international flower show, Heseltine’s answer to the riots.

Later, when we’d moved to the edge of Dorset and they sang Nowhere Man in assemblies.

So completely overrated.

But then you hear Helter Skelter or the piano bit in Sexy Sadie or Don’t Pass Me By and, yeah, they were bloody good.

Ringo as music godhead started as a joke. An Invisibles riff. Miss Lennon. Even worse, get the wrong Ringo, the guy that narrates trains. But it couldn’t stay a joke as really who else could the music godhead reasonably manifest as?

J: Sorry Dan, Don’t Pass Me By is shit, and don’t get me started on Hey Jude! I like The Beatles a lot but I fondly remember Luke Haines giving them a kicking in an interview: “They were corporate arse-lickers from the off. They should have let Yoko in, she would have given them some balls”.

If I could only keep one 60s band I’d probably choose The Kinks over The Beatles.

D: Blimey. This could be the row that breaks up the band. Don’t Pass Me By is the work of a god at the creative peak. It is only troubled by the Lovecraftian chill of The Frog Chorus and Macca had to be free of the shackles of Les Beats 20 year afore he could create that. The Kinks are the nazz though.

7. What was your biggest hair disaster?

J: My whole life is a hair disaster. I have the head of the Mekon with Ben Whishaw’s hair on top. I have trouble getting through doors. I wake up like that Cure video with the scary spider, except that my hair is Robert Smith and the spider.

D: Shoulder length hair dyed purple. Tried to dye my beard too. It didn’t take but it did dye the skin underneath. Or. Shaved head except fringe grown long down past chin and bleached blonde. Or close cropped Beastie Boys hair, bleached blonde, bleach not left long enough, so weird orange. Or. The pillar box red spikes that came up shocking pink. Or. Any of those growing out. I have had some right divvy haircuts.

8. Cows moo, sheep baa, pigs oink, what do goldfish do?

D: Seethe. With incandescent rage.

J: As far as I remember goldfish mainly shit and then swim around with said shit attached like an underwater wind sock.

By the way, did you see this insane article from the Guardian self-parody unit?

9. When was the last time someone tried to punch you?

J: Here’s a weird and true story entitled The Gentleman Thugs of Ladbroke Grove. A good few years ago I was on my way home from a dreadful work Xmas do, desperate for a piss. I got off a bus in Ladbroke Grove, 15 minutes from where I lived, and had a surreptitious wee in a cemetery. Returning to the high street I witnessed a ne’er-do-well pissing against a shop window. As I passed him I remember thinking ‘If I’d have known that you could just blatantly piss on a shop window I wouldn’t have bothered finding somewhere out of the way to go’ and I think I probably smiled ruefully to myself. The next thing I knew the formerly-urinating hoodlum was running after me shouting ‘Oi!’ I turned to see what his beef was and he punched me in the ear. ‘You were looking at my cock!’ he shouted and before I had time to demur he punched me in the ear again.At this point a second hoodlum arrived on the scene and decided that his fist would like a go on my poor ear as well. By this point I wasn’t really in much pain but I was certainly very confused. ‘What’s going on?’ asked hoodlum 2. ‘He was looking at my cock’ claimed hoodlum 1. ‘Were you?’ demanded hoodlum 2, before adding ‘You can tell me, I’m more reasonable then him’. ‘Well, he has a point, he’s only punched me once’ I thought. ‘Listen, I honestly wasn’t looking at your mate’s cock’ I said. At this point, both hoodlums realised that this wasn’t going to be a big fight and lost interest. ‘You should go’ said the ‘reasonable’ thug. I turned round and started walking home, only to hear another ‘Oi!’ My heart sinking (and ear throbbing), I turned round again. Thug 2 said ‘You were wearing glasses. What happened to your glasses?’ In shock (and a little drunk) I hadn’t realised that my specs were no longer on my face. ‘Er, I don’t know’ I said, ‘they must have fallen off ‘. At which point, the gentleman thugs of Ladbroke Grove got down on the ground and searched for my glasses. They found them and handed them to me, undamaged. ‘Thanks?’ I said uncertainly and walked home. Upon reaching my flat I started on the bottle of whiskey that I had won in some stupid work-competition.

10. Where would you like to live when you’re older?

D: I want to live in a country that has thrown off the tyrannical shackles of state provision in favour of the honesty of the private sector. I want doctors and police and teachers armed with credit card readers and if you can’t pay then you don’t get. Constant, detailed surveillance of everyone’s activity on and offline would be nice. And if we can engineer some sort of ongoing, intractable, unwinnable conflict with multiple nations and religious groups that would be perfect. *Checks news.* Quids in. For me the future is so bright I have to wear shades.

11. The answer is ‘no way, no way’…what’s the question?

J: The question is where’s the Death Metal Knitwear festival? And the answer’s actually Norway, Norway. You need to work on your diction.

12. Are you terrified at the thought of going down the dumper?

D: Yes.

13. Are you ever mistaken for another famous person?

J: Another famous person – ha ha ha. I’ve been getting a lot of Ben Wishaw comparisons recently but I don’t think I actually look like him (sadly), it’s just that I am a big-haired Indy fop. I look more like weird-faced ex-Doctor Who Matt Smith, who I have been genuinely mistaken for by a Bristolian barman.

D: I used to look like Kurt Cobain. Occasionally. I mean every so often from certain angles with certain lighting we would look identical. Distant relatives would call me up to say they saw me on telly. Once I was staring at some picture my housemate pinned up in the kitchen trying to work out where it was taken and why I didn’t remember it for 2 days until I twigged it was cut out of a magazine. Only ever occasionally though, odd intersected moments.

Nowadays it’s more ‘Robert Wyatt’s let himself go’.

14. Do you have a special pair of ‘pulling’ pants?

D: I used to. They were orange, brown and white cubist check flares. Girls, brought from a ladies boutique in Royal Leamington Spa so they were dead tight on the thigh. I thought they were the business. The female population of a sizeable chunk of the Midlands and several cities in California disagreed.

15. What last made you really angry?

J: The unceasing war waged on my activities by all inanimate objects. And Jeremy Hunt.

16. Are you a lover or a fighter?

D: Lover! No, fighter. No lover. Definitely lover.

Wait…does this mean anything? Is it like a proposition or something?

Buy us a drink then and take your chances.

17. When was the last time you caught the bus?

J: On Wednesday. It was the 176 and I got a seat upstairs at the front. Score!

18. Do you believe in life after death?

D: I believe in life after love.

I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows.

I believe my throat hurts.

19. What’s your favourite drink?

J: A manhattan, or as I insist on drinking at comic cons, a Dr Manhattan.

20. Have you ever had a dream about someone famous?

D: Not about people. But I dream about… stuff… like I’ll read Emily Bronte’s second novel or listen to a Elvis Costello album that doesn’t exist in the real world. I once dreamed I picked up a copy of Treasure Island with a photo of Jimi Hendrix on the cover as Long John Silver. My brain started to cry foul before I remembered that just before his death Jimi had indeed filmed a series of Treasure Island. Possibly for Swedish television. I used to watch it in the summer holidays, it was miles better than Heidi.

J: I have a friend in real life who is a bit famous. I had a dream in which I was trudging through the rain and he offered me a lift in his car made from SOLID GOLD. I can’t work out what this dream means.

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