Scritti Politti

Green insists I go to the library and look up Marcel Duchamp.


For months, during our first year at Art School in Leeds, he’s been looking over my shoulder, “I like what you’re trying to do Sebastian but it’s all been done before. Better”.

Yes, between 1974 and 1977 I’m known as Sebastian, influenced by Simon Templer who has the alias Sebastian Tombes in ‘The Saint’, a black and white TV drama I grow up with in the sixties.

On arrival in Leeds, when people ask me my name, I simply say “Sebastian. Pleased to meet you”. I expect them to laugh and say, “Come off it, you’re Keith… Keith Morley from Saltdean. You did your foundation year at Brighton.” 

But they don’t, they say, “Hi. I’m Mimm. Fancy a pint of Tetleys Sebastian?”

Green and I ‘click’ for some reason, I don’t really know why. He’s tall, the eldest child in his middle class family, stylish, philosophically astute and politically active. I’m short, the youngest child in a working class family and a hippy. Coincidentally, on the trip up from Wales, Paul Strohmeyer-Gartside decides to change his name, so maybe that’s it. We share a secret from day one and we’ve got three years to go.

Green is a genius. I’m lucky because even though Jeff Nuttal, author of ‘Bomb Culture’ and a renowned leader of The Situationists, is one of our tutors, it’s Green I learn from the most.

In the library my life is changing looking at these photographs of Marcel Duchamp’s work from the 1920s. My new friend is right, it’s all been done. We don’t need any more art objects. Simply by signing a mass-produced ceramic urinal and exhibiting it in a gallery as a sculpture Duchamp announces to the world that the aesthetic experience is one we activate ourselves. It’s not in the artwork it’s in our heads. We can flick that internal switch any time we want and the whole world becomes our personal art gallery. Actually, Duchamp’s thinking of the 20s aligns with my sixth form LSD experiences of the 70s. Oh yeah, that’s something else we ‘click’ on, teenage trips all through the night. I return from the library shell-shocked and track Green down in the bar.

“Everything my Mum wanted for me. Everything I wanted for myself. My skills. My future. Gone,” I say. “What’s next?”

“Let’s form a band. While the government are paying us to be together let’s write some anti-government songs. Change the world. With a beat. I can sing and play guitar. Can you play the drums?”

“No”, I say, “I’m a visual artist. At least, I was up until twenty minutes ago”.

“Learn”, he replies, draining his pint with a piratical glint in his eye. “Fancy a pint of John Smith’s Sebastian?”

It’s 1977, our Art School time is up and we’re living in a squat in Camden Town. Green is still Green but on arriving in London I tell everyone my name is “Tom from Scritti Politti”. I think they’re going to laugh and say, “Come off it, you’re Sebastian from Leeds Polytechnic” but they don’t. They say, “Hi Tom, fancy a pint of IPA?”.

On another day I’ll tell you more about Scritti Politti and how we get to tread the boards with Joy Division, The Fall, The Slits, The Gang of Four and many more. Following the success of our first album ‘Songs to Remember’, it all gets a bit complicated. I speak with Green’s manager, Bob Last, decades later and he says, “Sorry about that Tom. I had to split the band up and surround Green with session musicians. That’s just what managers do to make it easier for themselves. Nothing personal. Fancy a pint of Stella?”

Green suggests we meet for a drink in The Flask in Hampstead. “Hi Tom, fancy a pint of Guinness? I’ve been a bit of a recluse but I’d like to play you some new songs and see what you could do with them beat-wise. Bring the Linn Drum over, I’ll give you a call”.

Green and I go through so much together, having so many adventures on the road, so many emotional twists and turns, that I can only think it’s Bob Last who stops him making that call forty years ago. 

Whatever my name is, I can’t believe that, like all the session people his management surround him with, he somehow thinks of me as ‘just a drummer’.

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