He’s probably one of the most famous journalists in the rock and punk movement, and has knocked heads with the likes of Bob Marley and Keith Richards and in this exclusive, Kris Needs talks about his upcoming projects in the UK and his perceptions about the changing face of music.

He is better known for his book ‘Before They Make Me Run’ on Keith Richards, a prominent and founding member of the Rolling Stones and for his widely acclaimed features in Mojo magazine and Zigzag. He is also a performance artist himself who has worked with some of the biggest labels in the music industry such as Universal.

I caught up with him recently to chat about his experiences with legends such as Keith Richards andthe Clash as well as the new book he has coming out about the rock band Blondie, called Parallel Lives, which he co-authored with a writer called Dick Porter.

The book draws upon extensive new first hand interview material from Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and many other significant players in the bands long history. As well as describing the ups and downs of the bands career, the book is also an evocative homage to the unique New York scene of the 1970s.

As a musician who has regularly toured with the likes of Motörhead, the Clash, the Ramones and others, the book will undoubtedly provide a special insight into the lives of the American rock band in a way that has never been seen before.

Rather than writing about some of the UK’s most iconic legends from the comfort of a keyboard, his stories are more of an eye-witness perspective of the colourful lives of those who helped to shape the face of British music.

In fact, at the time of interviewing Kris, he told me that he had just finished compiling an album with his close friend Alex Patterson from the Orb, who he had interviewed on a radio show.

He told Akashic Times of how his friendships with some of the most influential legends of the punk movement inevitably led to the some of the most defining moments of his career.

He said: “The greatest gig I ever saw was Jimi Hendrix because I was only 14 and after seeing Jimi Hendrix in a gig at the age of 14 I was never the same again. Another memorable experience was when I went to see Keith Richards. I spent two days in the Savoy hotel with him which now seems so surreal.

“He had ordered some shepherd’s pie in the morning and was explaining how to cook it and then he played on his guitar. He then had to catch a plane to Jamaica the next day so we had to consume all the supplies that he had in the room and we did that. He then flopped out on the bed and said ‘oh f**k the plane’.

“The other great moment revolved around the Clash. There was that time with the Back to Basics crew at six in the morning when the sun was coming through the windows and Ralph Lawson was playing some absolute classics and people were in tears, hugging each other.

“There were so many incredible moments like that and that is why I can’t pick out one because they’re all so different.”

Back To Basics refers to a club night that started in Leeds during the 90s which attracted big names such as the Clash, as well as Ralph Lawson and others. The name ‘Back To Basics’ has also been used to refer to the tactic of playing busked versions on acoustic instruments and rudimentary percussion.

Kris is no stranger to the underground movement and has been involved in many such gigs himself during his career as both a writer and musician. He believes that a new underground is emerging as people get more disillusioned with mass-produced, commercial X-Factor style music, in favour of the punk era of the 1970s.

“The X-Factor is just totally symbolic of that celebrity thing where some guy who has got absolutely no talent at all gets his photo taken next to Cheryl Cole who is suddenly a household name.

“I still love the mystique and glamour that groups had back in the day and to a teenager, that was an untouchable world. That was exciting, now it isn’t. It has taken away that mystique. Everything has been done before, but it has been done better.

“I’m particularly aware of an electronic, dance move underground. I think Facebook and Youtube have a lot to answer for. There is everything from guys in the bedroom with acoustic guitars to guys with electronic dance tracks and that will cause a new underground if it has got a focal point. All these movements started out of the underground anyway.

“The hippy movement started in the UFO Club – a famous underground nightclub in London during the 60s – and when punk came out of the rock scene in New York, these clubs were like the focal points and headquarters for these underground movements.

“They then got discovered by the music business and they weren’t underground any more. Underground is always destined to become overground if it is any good.”

“I interviewed Bob Marley – before he died a year later. He had his foot resting on a stool in a bandage and I asked him what he’d done to his foot and he just said he’d hurt it playing football. But that turned out to be the start of his cancer which started in his foot for some reason.”

But one thing I was dying to know is, what was Keith Richards really like? When you knock heads with so many legends in the music industry, it’s easy to take that for granted, but how does he feel when he looks back on what were arguably ‘the good old days’?

“I wrote a book about Keith because I’d had several experiences with him. I was a rolling stones fan at the age of 10 when they first came out and I grew up with the stones and Keith was my hero,” he said “I spent a couple of days with him, and one of my best memories was sitting in a hotel room with him when he picked the guitar up and started playing ‘Wild Horses’ at six in the morning, after a bottle of Jack Daniels.

“In the 80s I had a few sessions with him. I saw him again a few years ago and he still remembered and I am hoping to see them when they are going to be playing again at the last gigs that are going to be coming up soon. I tried to meet all my heroes, which included people like Bob Marley who I did the last interview with in 1981.

“But other stuff I just took for granted, and I didn’t think of it at the time as anything particularly out of the ordinary. There was such a whirlwind of stuff going on but I’m still learning things about music.

“Keith Richards was the one who introduced me to reggae because he was talking about it in 1953. He went to record in Jamaica. That is when it really started coming into this country with Burning Spear and Bob Marley.

“He kept going on about reggae and if you went to visit him he’d always be playing his tapes. He made a couple of albums called the wingless angels which is four basic Rastafarian drum beats with chanting over the top. Anytime I spent with him he’d have his big ghetto blaster and all he’d play was the really heavy dub reggae and old musical tapes. He is underrated as someone who spoke the word on reggae and he picked up on Bob Marley really early on.

“I interviewed Bob Marley – before he died a year later. He had his foot resting on a stool in a bandage and I asked him what he’d done to his foot and he just said he’d hurt it playing football. But that turned out to be the start of his cancer which started in his foot for some reason. He wouldn’t go to see the doctor because he didn’t believe in Western medicine.

“He didn’t get it attended to and it spread which led to his death. It was totally unexpected, I didn’t expect him to go that quick. I interviewed a few famous figures back then – Dennis Brown was another artist I really liked, and Culture.”


Another artist who he interviewed was a reggae musician called Don Letts. Don Letts was not just another reggae performer however. As well as being a British film director he is credited as the man who through his DJing at clubs like The Roxy brought together punk and reggae music.

Kris continued: “I still see Don Letts around because he was involved with the Crash and he was Djing down at the Roxy club, the place where punk started in this country. Don would always play reggae and that is how the slips got into it and so what was called the Punky Reggae party started – which was all the punks getting into reggae. That is what I mean when I say that music is interrelated.”

“Primal Scream is one of the few bands around that keep the spirit alive”

Often when people think back to punk or Indie, they imagine that the biggest gigs are destined for London or places like Glastonbury. But Kris told of how some of the big concerts with bands like the Clash also took place right here in Leeds.

“I’ve worked with Primal Scream which brought me to Leeds on several occasions. In the 90s I was a tour DJ and I did a couple of mixes for them. I was their tour DJ and we came to Leeds and once the Back to Basics crew turned up we all ended up in a Mexican restaurant after one gig.

primal scream

“Primal Scream definitely carries the flag for not caring about musical barriers and they are the last group that had the same kind of spirit that the Clash had. They do a lot of festivals now and I think their next record is going to be a big one because they have gone back to political anger.

“They came up in the Indie scene first of all in the 80s but then they were working with Andrew Weatherall in 1991 which is how they got affected by Acid House. They are a brilliant example of a group that didn’t see any political barriers. They have also done some work with Augustus Pablo.

“They are one of the few bands that keep the spirit alive. They have had hits and can sell out at festivals and operate on that level, but their original motivation is still there. ”

Kris now works for an independent record label called Future Noise, which have an offshoot label called Fantastic Voyage. He has done four compilations for them already over the last couple of years.

Two of them are called Dirty Water, the Birth of Punk Attitude which looked at things that happened before punk which had a punk ‘attitude’.

So what is punk attitude? Punk attitude is partly about having a DIY approach to music such as – making music against doorknobs or it could be singing about the political situation, for example.

He also did another called Watch the Closing Doors which tells the history of New York music, and a fourth album called Crime and Punishment which featured prison songs.

His latest book is available on Amazon and most major retail outlets such as Waterstones and Sainsbury’s.


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