As part of the Safaplace mental health charity pop-up run by Stoke Newington School, with events, records and books curated by Gilles Peterson, Gilles interviewed Will Ashon and Dave Haslam. Both have been involved in the music business and made that shift to the literary world.

First in Peterson’s hotseat was Will Ashon, the former music journalist who specialised in hip hop. Ashon possesses an intriguing ability to make dramatic shifts – from music to writing, and his literary output is notably diverse: from novels to the highly original Strange Labyrinth – ostensibly a book about Epping Forest, where as he comments, he employs the tactic of ‘taking a small subject and expanding on it’. Loath to be pigeonholed as a writer about nature, Ashon has now delved into a musical connection close to his heart (and to Gilles too, judging by his obvious enthusiasm) – with his new book about the Wu-Tang Clan, Chamber Music, specifically first album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Ashon talks about his retreat from working in the music industry, looking after artists and the inevitable struggle of working in a sphere where success is hard to come by. Ashon first heard the Wu-Tang Clan in 93, he recalls that sensory overload, the sheer exhilaration which had a profound effect on him, even down to the cover, with its masked figures. The references may have been lost on him at first but that initial gut excitement cemented his early love.

Espresso and pan au chocolat

Dave Haslam’s approach has been to keep the music and writing aspects chugging along together in as harmonious a way as possible. The city of Manchester and its iconic music output is part of Haslam’s soul, he’s had his finger on the pulse of the city and has DJ’d and written about it for over 30 years.

Gilles interviews Dave Haslam

Writing Sonic Youth Slept on my Floor took Haslam two and a half years. He remarks that it’s the first of his books where he has put himself first, it’s about him primarily, and his place in the Manchester scene. A huge emotional investment, he had to be disciplined and set a routine in order to write. The memoir proved to be a cathartic experience and he realises his luck in having such a rich history to draw on, from the fledgling Hacienda, to Morrissey visiting his flat, to Joy Division’s final performance.

Haslam also refers to the subject of mental health, which is, after all, why this whole week of events has come together. He describes the inevitable unsociable hours of a DJ’s schedule which are far from family-friendly and the distorting effects it can have on your psyche. Peterson asks how he manages to get through it: Haslam’s solution is to sleep from 8pm, rising at 1am for espresso and pain au chocolat. Haslam talks about the disconnect of being the central point of everyone’s night out, yet somehow removed from it, as Eliot once write: ‘The still point of the turning world’. 

Recommended reading: All the above, plus Gilles Peterson mentioned This is Hip: The Life of Mark Murphy by Peter Jones.

There are more events at Look Up Pop Up, all proceeds go to Safaplace, so catch a final event – details here or pop in to browse the books, T shirts and records.

Events are held at Edwards Lane Gallery, Stoke Newington, N16.

Safaplace event

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