Nick Cody: This is Nick from Music for the Head and Heart, and I’m with John Keenan. Good afternoon to you, John.
John F Keenan: Good afternoon.
Nick Cody: And you are … My producer actually was quoted as saying, I thought I must mention, “John Keenan put Leeds on the map musically, to a large extent, anyway.”
John F Keenan: To an extent, and there was a time when I was the only promoter around, because nobody else was doing it. Basically, started putting bands on because there were bands we wanted to see that weren’t reaching Leeds, and I put them on for myself, really, because I wanted to see them.
Nick Cody: So I thought I’d start off by, as somebody who’s done promotion for a long, long time, and I looked at your website, and the list was extraordinary. I mean, for those who haven’t looked at it, just off the top, there’s The Police, U2, Human League, Joy Division, New order, Radiohead, Coldplay, Nirvana, Muse, some lesser known, perhaps, people that I love: The Beatnigs, Fred Eaglesmith, Roy Harper, John Martin, Steve Earle. It’s just endless. What makes for a good promoter, from your point of view?
John F Keenan: As somebody who actually loves doing what we do, the best promoters are very knowledgeable about music, and they have an eclectic taste. People say to me, “What’s your favourite kind of music?” I’ve never really joined the pack on a certain type of music. If it’s good of its kind, then it’s good to me, you know? Even pop stuff I like, “Oh, that’s a good song. That’s a good pop song,” you know? I don’t think, “Oh, I don’t listen to anything if it’s not alternative.” You know, there’s the “indie snobs” I call them. You know, that really …
John F Keenan: When I did the Futurama Festivals, I used to put references to the past in, the first one I put [inaudible 00:02:11] in, because that was the music you were listening to before you became a punk or before you became indie. And I put Gary Glitter on, and that was a right success, you know? I thought, “They’ll either go for this or they won’t.” Because 10 years ago, the 19-, 20-year-olds were listening to Gary Glitter.
John F Keenan: And later on I put Bay City Rollers. That wasn’t as successful, as Morrissey refused to go on before them, it was The Smiths. But it was a pretty doomy day. A lot of the goth scene started to come in then, so there were a lot of dark bands on, and I just thought, “Put the Bay City Rollers on for a bit of light, something to send people home with a smile on their face.” They had some good songs, Bay City Rollers.
Nick Cody: Still playing, apparently, certainly in name, so …
John F Keenan: Yeah, yeah. Yeah look, I think Les McKeown is still going, yeah.
Nick Cody: Yeah, so how’s music promotion changed since you started, and what do you say, what’s the good news, what’s the bad news?
John F Keenan: Well, it’s changed completely different. Everybody can call themselves a promoter now, all they need to do is put up an event on Facebook and they’re a promoter. But when I started, you had to do posters and flyers, and to save time, I used to do most of my posters and flyers by hand. You know, cut and paste, Pritt Stick, and and Tipp-Ex. And a lot of the time, I used to do my flyers in my lunchtime, and I’d spend a bit longer on some of the posters. And then you had to take them to the printers, and I didn’t like typesetting, because it just looked ordinary and boring. But they still had to be put onto a litho plate or a silk screen to print them. The first Futurama posters were silk screened. I didn’t do many of them, so the collectors had to … I think they fetch over 100 quid a piece, the originals, yeah.
Nick Cody: Wow, and I know there’s a whole … It’s almost … I looked at the history of John Keenan, there’s almost different eras, and Futurama was definitely something that caught public imagination. What was the thinking behind that as opposed to when you were doing stuff at The Duchess?
John F Keenan: Well basically, I started a club at the Poly with a guy called Graham Cardy, and as I said earlier, we basically put on the bands that we wanted to see. And that lasted through the summer of ’77, and then the Poly chucked us out of the common room, which is the room we had. In that period, in that common room, I put The Slits, and The Police, and The Spitfire Boys, and Slaughter & the Dogs, and XTC as well. All of those, just in that little common room, just in the space of a few weeks. When they chucked us out, I had to look for somewhere else, and I found a fading cabaret club. It used to be a cabaret club, called the Ace of Clubs, and it was on its uppers.
John F Keenan: So they gave me a couple nights a week to do something there, and I started that in the September. And because we were leaving the Poly, I put out a leaflet saying, “Let’s get the F out of here.” And you know, that’s basically where the F-Club came from. And I thought, and because we had such a good crowd at the Poly, I thought, “How can I keep them all together?” And that’s when I thought of the membership and gave them an F-Club card, and they get a discount when they come in, the original Poly members.
John F Keenan: And I still see a lot of them around today, in their 50s and 60s, you know? But some of them still retain that old punk vibe, and a lot of them are very intelligent kids. They’re very creative and bright. It’s just they didn’t fit in with the normal crowd, and I think punk gave them that excuse to … The misfits and all that to get together, and then they’re not misfits anymore. They’re all part of a big gang. But yeah, it was an interesting time for me.
John F Keenan: I think the first bands I put on at the Ace of Clubs were Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Wilko Johnson, and Gang of Four did one of the first gigs there, and it was Fast Records came down to see them, Mekons, you know, some of the early Leeds university bands, and they just went on from there. It gathered momentum, and basically the Futurama Festivals, I’d done about two years of it, and I thought, “There’s a lot of good bands around these, a lot of bands round here.” And so I thought, “If I put a festival,” and rule of thumb is a festival is as big as its biggest bands.
John F Keenan: So I get a couple of bands to agree to headline, put a few bands, middle bands who were just breaking, and then a lot of little bands, and give them exposure. And that was the thinking behind it, and the working title originally was “The World’s First Science Fiction Music Festival”, because it was going to combine stalls selling comics, and some films, and whatever, just to give it a sci-fi theme. I dropped that later on, but you know, it was too complicated to work out. I had a load of films ordered, and the British Film Institute wouldn’t give them to me at the last minute because they said there were too many people going to see it. You could only show them to about 100 people at a time or whatever. I got one or two films and a few slides to show, but yeah, it was all good fun.
Nick Cody: Well, I know a number of people, including my producer, Carl Rosamond, who’s been long-term producer in Leeds, was just talking about … I mentioned about interviewing you and he said, “Futurama,” he said, “That was a golden era where people still talk about that, like decades on.”
John F Keenan: Yeah, it was like an endurance test. Two days, you know? I didn’t sleep for two days, went straight through. Yeah, it was a bit of an endurance test, but I think people liked it for that, because some people slept on the floor. They had the option to go out to a hotel, you know? But a lot of them were students, kids with no money, so they just brought a sleeping bag and kipped out on the floor amidst the rubbish.
John F Keenan: And the hall didn’t have any skips, any plan for the rubbish, or they didn’t think there would be any rubbish after 12 hours, even though all the burger vans or whatever in there were paying the hall. So we just swept it up into a corner, so by the end of the two days, there was this pile of rubbish in the corner, cans and everything, which the hall charged me for, even though it was their rubbish, but that’s another story.
Nick Cody: Well, did you ever have a sense back then with bands like … You mention, I mean, The Police is a good example, Siouxsie and the Banshees, that decades on these bands would still be of that kind of stature and popularity?
John F Keenan: Well, I didn’t really think in that way. I just thought, “Well, some will make it and some won’t.” You could see the ones who would make it, because they had a kind of aura about them, and you think, “Yeah …” I could see like Toyah is a very determined person, and she … I thought, “Yeah, she’s going to make it.” Billy Idol, Adam Ant, I thought, “Yeah, he wants to be a star.” You could see it in some of them, that they really, really wanted it.
John F Keenan: But the thing is, once they get it, can they hold on to it? And some of them did, and some of them didn’t. The ones that are benefiting now are the ones who didn’t quite make it, but they had a cult following, and you’re finding that alternative and punk bands from that era, and that’ll pull in more people, and they did, at the time, in their heyday. Because a lot of people couldn’t afford to go and see them then, but all the fans who are grown up now and their kids are grown up, and they’ve got spare money, and they can go out and see the bands that they couldn’t see, or the parents wouldn’t let them see, for 40 years, 30, 40 years ago. Here we go. I’ll take it off.
Nick Cody: So in ’65, you were 16 at Southport Art College. If you were back then, now what would you send your advice back to the younger John Keenan in ’65?
John F Keenan: I’m not sure whether I would give me any advice, because I wouldn’t take it anyway. I’d just do what I wanted to do, you know? I’m not very good at being told what to do, but I do things, and then I do them to a reasonable level. That’s the thing: I’m not really good at anything, I’m not talented. I was slightly above average at some things, but I’m not really good. I’m not a really good musician, I’m not a good painter, I’m not a good writer, but I can put it all together, and make it palatable.
Nick Cody: Well I would have to respectfully disagree in terms of your ability to pull together what is an extraordinary number of artists. I mean, is Live at Leeds your site?
John F Keenan: Pardon?
Nick Cody: Your site?
John F Keenan: Live in Leeds.
Nick Cody: Live in Leeds. Anybody watching this, look at Live in Leeds, and prepare to be amazed by the sheer scope and variety of artists.
John F Keenan: Yeah, it’s persistence, that’s all. It’s stubbornness, persistence. I just keep on going. I can’t think of anything better to do. When I was a teenager, I think John Lennon made a quote which was from Mark Twain, I think, which was … Hang on, I’ve got to get the quote right. “If you find a job that you enjoy doing, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” and I’ve always gone by that. I’ve always done stuff I’ve enjoyed. I’ve never done it for money. I’ve always worked in entertainment, theatre, whatever, because I enjoy doing it.
John F Keenan: I worked at the Grand Theatre when I was first in Leeds, and I got paid bugger all, you know? It was a pittance, but you’d be working 12 hours a day, and sometimes you’d be doing a get-in through the night, and you’d come out with about eight quid for the week. But I really enjoyed doing it, and because of that, I got a in to ITV when it opened up. And if you do things for nothing and you enjoy doing it, you’ll just find other things that you enjoy that you might make a little … Make a living out of, you know? Make a little bit of cash out of. That’s the way I’ve lived most of my life.
Nick Cody: And we talked a little bit on the phone, we were talking about the head and the heart for certain artists, and that some things are just for the love of doing stuff, which I completely applaud. I mean, this platform is basically out of my love for just corralling artists together in some way. And then also the head, where you have to look at some practical considerations as well. Of the promotions and the bands that you’ve loved over the years, what are the ones that really stand out as moments for you?
John F Keenan: I don’t like this kind of question, because it’s different every day. It’s like people say, “Oh, what’s your favourite song?” They’re different every day. I wake up with a different head. One day I might want a bit of Motorhead, the next day Greek or something. And asking me that, there are some standout moments, but there’s a lot of them, and I can’t really pick a favourite out of them.
Nick Cody: Yeah, or just whatever, for today. Tomorrow … As I think Neil Young was interviewed once and he said at the end, “Bear in mind, tomorrow I may remember it all differently.”
John F Keenan: Yeah, yeah. There are great moments, like when I put Joy Division on several times before they became known and made it, and when they played the Futurama in the Queen’s Hall, which is a big old tram shed, echoey-
Nick Cody: I remember the Queen’s Hall.
John F Keenan: And it was dark, yeah, and when they played, I got them, and just thought, “Wow, this is a stadium band. This is like, they’re not a little club band. They’re a band you should see,” and I just thought, “Wow, they’re going to go places.” And then about six months later, Ian Curtis topped himself, but New Order struggled on. I put them on at the F-Club and Rob Gretton, the manager, said, “Don’t mention Joy Division. If you mention Joy Division at all, we’ll pull the shows.” So I put it on the flyers, “If you don’t know who they are, don’t bother to come.” So people made it their aim to sort of find out who it was, so you know.
Nick Cody: And in the chronological order of things, there was Futurama, and The Duchess was before Futurama?
John F Keenan: No, no, it was after.
Nick Cody: After?
John F Keenan: I did the last Futurama while I was at The Duchess in 1989, with James, and Primal Scream, and The Fall, and all that.
Nick Cody: I know Tim from James very well.
John F Keenan: Yeah, and Cud, and bands like that. But yeah, I took over … I was at the Ford Green after the F-Club. I put up bands like Bo Diddley, and Roy Harper, and Dr. Feelgood, and Loudon Wainwright, and Richie Havens ], people like that. And then I was at The Astoria, where I put The Beatniks and Richard Thompson.
Nick Cody: Was it Notting Hillbillies?
John F Keenan: Yeah, Notting Hillbillies played there. I didn’t do that one actually, I’d left for The Duchess at that time. But yeah, I was doing The Duchess, and you know, loads. People say they wanted a blue plaque on The Duchess, and it was like the younger people, but for me, the better times were when the F-Club started. And I changed the name to the Fan Club a year later, because one or two people were saying, “Oh, the F stands for fascist,” and all that. And so I thought, “I’ll just make it innocuous and call it the Fan Club.” Because at that time, there was a lot of trouble with the National Front, and BNP, and all that.
John F Keenan: But it was more of a psychological buildup, but it wasn’t pleasant. But you know, we dealt with it, we got through it. I think people gave the National Front a lot more importance … But you know, to my mind, the SWP was just as bad. They were just trying to get young people on their side, and I’ve never liked factions. I’ve never liked extremism in any form. I just like an easy life, you know? But I do stand up for things I disagree with.
Nick Cody: Well, I know The Duchess, I mean, The Duchess when I came to Leeds in the early ’80s was just legendary. Everybody knew The Duchess.
John F Keenan: Well, any venue is as good as its programme, and basically, I programmed The Duchess for 12 years. And I took a risk on a lot of the bands, and sometimes they got the money back, sometimes they didn’t. The going rate for a first-time round band was about 100 pound, but if you only had 10 people in, as in the first time I put Duchess on, I think there were 12 people in. It’s still a loss. You’ve got to pay the PA and the advertisers, periphery costs. But the next time we played, they sold the place out, so I got the money back. And that’s the thing, you asked me earlier on about how promotion has changed. In those days, there was an art to promoting.
John F Keenan: Basically, you picked a band that you liked and thought that were going somewhere, and you put them on in a small venue. And then, when they started to build a crowd, you moved them to a bigger venue, and then you moved them. When they started to fill that one, you moved them up to a bigger venue. It’s like building them. So I used to move them to Tiffany’s, which held 2,200, and I put bands like Madness, Toyah, Altered Images, Birthday Party. Loads of bands, Stranglers, Squeeze.
John F Keenan: Moved them up to the Tiffany’s level. And nowadays, if you’ve got a band filling a small club, the big tour promoters will monitor that, watch it, and then the next time they go out, they’ll just buy up all the dates from the agent, and the provincial promoter misses out. Very few of the bands that you built come back, because they believed it was through their own talent and whatever that they made it. They don’t understand that a lot of people were behind pushing them up to help them take off. And it would be nice if one or two said, “Oh, we’re making the big money,” and said, “Oh, we’ll come back, we’ll do you one.”
Nick Cody: Yeah, “There’s a few hundred grand for your help.”
John F Keenan: Well, yeah. They get there, they get high, massive, and then they fall out of favour, and then they come back to me and say, “Oh John, can you put us up?” But that’s the way it works, you know? I’ve become accustomed to that. I’ve made a living, just, and I’m very happy at the moment with what I’ve got.
Nick Cody: Well, I’m a massive fan of music connecting people. Part of the reason for this platform is I see lots of very good artists, but with small circles of groups of people, and the idea is to try and create something with a bit more momentum. And I’m astonished at how talented a lot of people are, but also, it’s a challenge for them to connect to a wider audience.
John F Keenan: Well, I think there’s a lot of very good musicians now, but they all learn from YouTube, from the internet. They’re all learning the same things, you know? And individuality is missing a bit in a lot of the bands. And you hear some of the young bands and think, “Yeah, I know they’ve been listening to their dad’s record collection,” or whatever they’ve taken that from there. I can see where they’ve taken the bits, and I think there’s not as many characters coming out.
John F Keenan: We used to have, in the punk era even, we used to have a lot of eccentric British characters, like [inaudible 00:24:00], Wreckless Eric, and Jilted John, and all that. There’s very few of those kind of characters coming out, and I think some of the humor’s missing. We don’t have novelty number ones, like Shaddap You Face and all that, you know? I think the last novelty I can remember was the Crazy Frog, about 10 years ago. But yeah, we don’t have much of that, and it is all very slick and professional, but sometimes it misses out on the character.
Nick Cody: I could not agree more. I mean, I grew up in an era where there was Top … I missed Ready Steady Go! but Top of the Pops, so that was it. And then there was no MTV, so they were very, very different. And now, if I look at a lot of … I go, “Yeah, they’ve been listening to X, Y, Z.” And I remember seeing, I think it was Tom Waits playing Small Change on The Old Grey Whistle Test, thinking, “What is this?”
John F Keenan: Small Change got wasted with an old 45 or something like that, yeah.
Nick Cody: And I think I’m a big fan of that originality, where people have got a voice, and certainly things where you go, “I don’t know what to make of this,” rather than, “Yeah, it’s another person who’s been listening to this.” So for people who are watching-
John F Keenan: Talking about, I tend to think that somebody like Tom Waits would make it on The X Factor or whatever, and now The X Factor seems to be turning out clones of each other. And Simon Cowell tries to get trendy, like he gave them, The X Factor song Hallelujah, which made a lot of money for Cohen just before he died. But it misses the mark a lot of the time. I watch it, it’s interesting to see what’s coming through. But most of them, you know that they started off on karaoke and got it down to a tee, and it’s not coming from the heart or the mind. It’s just coming because they’ve learnt it.
Nick Cody: And also, I think there’s a lot of emphasis on the backstory of where, for me, I’m interested in things that provoke. And even if I don’t particularly like it, I just go, “But it’s something about it that’s interesting.” So for people who are watching this, sort of like the aspiring bands that are looking at YouTube, and they want, in 2019, God, what’s simple advice that’s good for people in this day and age?
John F Keenan: I think work towards a distinct sound, and try and find your own character. I mean, there’s cliches, all the cliches, “Find your own voice, do …” But yeah, it rings true now. Going back to the ’60s, The Beatles just had, when they first came, they had a fresh sound, and they were singing in their own accents. They weren’t trying to be American or anything else, and their chord changes were different from the norm. And yeah, you thought, “This is something different.” And then you go through, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, all them through the ’60s. Then the girl singers, Lulu, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, they were the pop stars, but they had different voices.
John F Keenan: They had, as soon as you heard it on the radio, “Oh, that’s Dusty Springfield, that …” You could tell their voice straight away, and I think that’s what’s to look for. I find a lot of the pop songs now, they’re all overproduced, and they use voice auto tune, and they all start to sound the same, and they use the same kind of backing. Yeah, I’m sounding like an old man, but I would like to see Top of the Pops come back, because that gave you a variety, so your grandparents could watch it.
John F Keenan: And you’d see something new that your grandparents would say, “Oh, that’s horrible. I can’t stand that,” and when they said that, you knew, “That’s going to make it.” But Top of the Pops was a great leveller, and I’m sorry that it’s gone, because I don’t think there’s anything like it at the moment.
Nick Cody: Well, I remember Alice Cooper on Top of the Pops, David Bowie, and this was considered to be outrageous. It’s like almost civil unrest, “Lock up your daughters.” This whole period of-
John F Keenan: “What’s he wearing? Oh, look at his hair.” But yeah, it’s good. It’s something for the family to discuss, and the kids always wanted the rebellious ones. But now you get niche programmes dedicated to a certain genre and all that. And I suppose the nearest to Top of the Pops is Jools Holland’s Later, but it’s probably too cool for school, that. But you know, I think you need a good mix.
Nick Cody: I could not agree more, I could not agree more. You brought some flyers and things, it would be interesting to sort of have a nose at them.
John F Keenan: Yeah, that was the first gig I did in Leeds. As you can see, it’s a hand-done poster, but basically, I rang the agent, I wanted Lou Reed. I wanted to put Lou Reed on, and he wouldn’t give me Lou Reed. He said, “But I’ve got Alan Price,” and I thought I didn’t really want to do it, but it was like a baptism of fire. I thought, “Well, I better take it.” And I put my mate Tymon Dogg on to open up, and he was like … He actually taught Joe Strummer to play, and he used to go out busking with Joe Strummer, and so he was a bit of a punky folk singer, and I think he opened a few eyes. Interesting, I lost about 200 or 300 quid on it.
Nick Cody: A lot of money back back then.
John F Keenan: Well, it was a fair amount, but there were all kinds of extra charges that they add on in these halls. But yeah, it was a start, and it got me into it.
Nick Cody: Well, let’s see who we have here. Oh, The Heartbreaks, The Vibrators.
John F Keenan: Yeah, that’s Unity Hall, Wakefield. In those days, I did Leeds Poly and Wakefield Unity Hall, and The Heartbreakers and Johnny Thunders [inaudible 00:31:12] New York Dolls, and that moved on to the Stars of Today at Leeds Poly.
Nick Cody: The Police?
John F Keenan: Yeah, and The Slits.
Nick Cody: And this was 19-
John F Keenan: ’77.
Nick Cody: 1977, so this would be first Police album?
John F Keenan: Yeah, they just had Roxanne out. They actually made it when Roxanne came out in the States, and Roxanne was a hit in the States before it was a hit in Britain. So then, they were not known.
Nick Cody: Oh, and here we are, Wilko Johnson band.
John F Keenan: That’s at the Ace of Clubs, yeah.
Nick Cody: Who’s still going strong.
John F Keenan: No, the Ace of Clubs.
Nick Cody: Oh, the Wilko.
John F Keenan: Oh, Wilko is, yeah, yeah. He had a hiccup a few years ago, cancer, but he managed to get out of it.
Nick Cody: And The Boomtown Rats, Sham I remember, I lived in Weybridge, and Jimmy Pursey used to work in the local Wimpy bar, and served me in the early ’70s, before he was the singer of Sham 69. So this-
John F Keenan: They’re still going.
Nick Cody: Still going.
John F Keenan: Yep.
Nick Cody: Wow, let’s have a … This is fascinating, and I remember these. Were these ones that you drew, these-
John F Keenan: Yeah, yeah.
Nick Cody: Because these were always-
John F Keenan: I used to do them in my lunch hour, yeah.
Nick Cody: Very … And the lunch hour when you were working …
John F Keenan: ITV.
Nick Cody: ITV?
John F Keenan: Yeah. Some early ones, I’m trying to think if I had the … That was the first one at Brannigans. I moved from Roots in [inaudible 00:33:07] town to Brannigans.
Nick Cody: And the early ones.
John F Keenan: Pardon?
Nick Cody: The early ones as well.
John F Keenan: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think there’s Joy Division in there supporting … No, Cabaret Voltaire. Let’s have a look. Someone like that, and-
Nick Cody: They’re tiny little … Okay, Ultravox at … Fascinating.
John F Keenan: I think that’s it.
Nick Cody: So these are your original drawings?
John F Keenan: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I did them all.
Nick Cody: Wow.
John F Keenan: I’ve always done all my artwork. As I say, I’m not very good. I didn’t do graphics, I did fine art when I was at art school. So I just ended up doing graphics when … I’m a painter, really, at art, but I just …
Nick Cody: For those of us who were around in the ’70s particularly, it is literally like a who’s who of bands. You know, you sort of look and you just go-
John F Keenan: Yeah, you got the-
Nick Cody: Specials.
John F Keenan: The [inaudible 00:34:17] with Echo and the Bunnymen supporting, and Adam and the Ants, U.K. Subs.
Nick Cody: The Rezillos
John F Keenan: B-52s. That was the first Futurama Festival.
Nick Cody: Wow. The Only Ones, The Fall, Scritti Politti, Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes.
John F Keenan: Nobody had heard of the bands at that time. They’d play the club, and that’s why I put them on.
Nick Cody: Absolutely fascinating.
John F Keenan: Killing Joke.
Nick Cody: Killing Joke,
John F Keenan: Yeah, Bad Manners. There was a big ska phase, The Specials, Bad Manners, The Selecter, Mo-dettes kind of stuff, and Bodysnatchers.
Nick Cody: I think it’s great that you kept all of these, because I can remember these posters from way, way back.
John F Keenan: And then I did a bit of the warehouse, you know, Blue Orchids, Depeche Mode, Orange Juice,
Nick Cody: Oh, here we go. So here we’ve got Futurama Three.
John F Keenan: Yeah.
Nick Cody: And this is
John F Keenan: Hall in Stafford, yeah.
Nick Cody: Oh, okay, in Stafford.
John F Keenan: Yeah, basically the second Futurama was successful, and by the time I’d come to book for the following year, a London promoter, John Curd got in, and because I only took it, booked the dates in September. I’d done two. The first one lost a bit of money, the second one made money. Realised it … And he even ripped off the name, he called it Days of Future Past. You know, “Future”, and I knew some of the same bands, so I moved it to Stafford.
Nick Cody: Absolutely fascinating, and I have been to some of these. Strange, I have been to some of these gigs. I saw Loudon Wainwright for-
John F Keenan: Yeah
Nick Cody: More than likely saw Roy Harper there.
John F Keenan: And John Cooper Clarke.
Nick Cody: John Cooper Clarke, who is still alive and-
John F Keenan: Yep, still going. Yep.
Nick Cody: Going. He’s not put on any weight in all these years.
John F Keenan: Yeah, I have.
Nick Cody: Yes, me too. And the Ford Green period was …
John F Keenan: It was early ’80s.
Nick Cody: Early ’80s?
John F Keenan: Yeah.
Nick Cody: So this is post-Duchess?
John F Keenan: Post-F-Club.
Nick Cody: Post-F-Club.
John F Keenan: Fan Club at Brannigans, then Ford Green, and then The Astoria. And in the meantime, I did places like the Trades Club, people like The Last Poets on them. I’m missing a bit of that period in terms of flyers, because I don’t know, I’ve missed some of the early flyers because I had a flood in my cellar, so they got damp. And I’ve missed some of the ones from the mid-’80s, and probably had a similar accident, or something like that. I can’t find any of them.
Nick Cody: Wow, Nico.
John F Keenan: Yeah, I put Nico on quite a few times, and I just watched that film, film about Nico. It’s terrible. I mean, it had good reviews, but it was nothing like her. It was nothing like that. It was all a bit made up. I forget what it was called, but it’s a film about Nico.
Nick Cody: Well, she was definitely individual.
John F Keenan: Yeah, yeah. I stayed where she used to stay in Brixton, because Alan Wise, her manager, was a friend of mine. He managed her once, and New Order was one point. And he had a flat in Brixton where John Cooper Clarke and Nico used to stay, and other visiting musicians, and I stayed there once. I remember her being interviewed by an American journalist, and said, “How would you like to be remembered, Nico?” And she said, “By a tombstone,”
John F Keenan: She had that way of speaking which the actress who played her in the film didn’t quite get. It was kind of a dry humour, but sometimes there was a seriousness to her. She wasn’t a very friendly … She kept a sheet of glass between people all the time. But I remember the last gig I did was at The Astoria, and at the end she came up to me and said, “Why don’t they come and see me? I will be dead soon,” and about six months later she was. She was in Ibiza on a health kick, riding into town on her bike, and she fell off.
Nick Cody: All those years of rock ‘n’ roll and then you die on a bike.
John F Keenan: Yeah, bike in Ibiza. Yeah.
Nick Cody: Yeah, so these, so fast forwarding to 2019, you’re still promoting, and currently …
John F Keenan: Yeah, well, you know, I’m in my ’70s now, and obviously I’m slowing down. So I don’t do as many gigs. The little bit of money I make, I put towards holidays. I go away. I like to see some of the places I couldn’t go and see when I was bringing kids. I’ve got four children and five grandkids, and so alongside … A lot of promoters don’t have that. They concentrate. So I’ve been married twice, mind you. It’s difficult to hold a relationship when you’re out two or three times a week until 2:00 in the morning.
John F Keenan: And then at one spell I was doing the club until 2:00 in the morning and then working on Emmerdale at 7:00 in the morning. So there was one point in my life when I was burning the candle at both ends, around the times of the Futurama. But that seemed to help: The more I did, the more energy I got to do things. But now, I don’t have that energy. That’s the thing about getting old. I had a quadruple heart bypass and one or two other things, and they tend to slow you down a bit, and all this starts to come on.
Nick Cody: Well, I’d like to thank you for all the extraordinary music. I mean, personally, and also on the behalf of other people, because there are … liveinleeds.com.
John F Keenan: Yep.
Nick Cody: The catalogue of bands and the sheer variety of bands is extraordinary. I mean, everybody from John McLaughlin, to Loudon Wainwright, to Kate Rusby.
John F Keenan: Well, basically, I like to make people happy, and if people are happy, I’m happy. It’s a very simple philosophy. I’ll just put out things that people enjoy. Don’t live off other people’s grief, you know? I absorb the grief so that people can enjoy the show, that’s what a promoter’s job is.
Nick Cody: Well, thank you so much for dropping by. It’s been absolutely fascinating looking at some of this old information. But just getting the story of connecting up so many people to so many different bands, many of which I know people, friends of mine in Leeds say, “We would never have heard of this band if John hadn’t taken the chance and brought them into Leeds.”
John F Keenan: Well, also, there’s an element of people trusting your judgement , and if people think, “If John Keenan’s putting it on it must be good,” I’ve already got a psychological advantage. That’s it. Plus, I’m very social. I see a lot of people and say, “You must come and see this band. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.” There’s one I’ve got on called Mark Mulcahy, he was in the band called Miracle Legion and Polaris, but he’s probably too left field. He was one of the originators of Americana as it is now. That’s not selling very well, but you win some, you lose some, and that’s it. Sometimes, people’s choice is not the same as yours, as in Fred Eaglesmith.
Nick Cody: Well, I think my idea of the perfect festival would probably have about 30 people come to it, but thank you so much for doing this interview. It’s an absolutely pleasure talking to you.
John F Keenan: No problem.
Nick Cody: And I want people to have a look at liveinleeds.com and see-
John F Keenan: I don’t flog it, it is old fashioned. I built it 20 years ago. But basically, I hadn’t touched a computer until I was 52, and I thought, “I’ve got to get into this game,” and I went to night school for about six months, and I built a website, and not really done much to it since. So a lot of people say, “Oh, you need to update your website.” I say, “Yeah, I’ll get round to it.” But yeah, I’m not au fait with … I can work my way round a computer, work my way round Facebook, I can put publicity out. But when it comes to building websites, that’s for the kids.
Nick Cody: Well, there’s plenty of people who can build websites, but there’s not many people who can sort of bring together literally hundreds of bands to literally hundreds of thousands of people. So I think you may say, “I’m no expert at one particular thing.” I’d respectfully disagree with that, and thank you for all the input you’ve had in bringing these bands to public awareness.
John F Keenan: Thank you.