Besides their albums, THE THE has launched the imprint ‘Cineola’ for film soundtrack and spoken word releases, ‘Radio Cineola’ for downloadable ‘shortwave’ broadcasts and the latest addition to their operation is the creation of the publishing arm ‘Fifty First State Press’.
At the end of July, the first book was published: ‘Tales of The Two Puddings’. It is a memoir of Eddie Johnson (Matt Johnson’s father), who became the landlord of the Two Puddings, one of the most notorious pubs in the East End of London in the 1960s.
Many books have been written and published about the ‘Swinging London’ of the 1960s, with the emphasis on the flourising fashion and cultural scenes – Mary Quant, Twiggy, David Bailey, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
With his book, Johnson puts the spotlight on daily life in the East part of London – a rough, but no less exciting, part of the City. Pop music was thriving in this part of Town and the Two Puddings became an important venue at which aspiring, but unknown, bands, would perform, including The Who and The Kinks. In addition, many renowned actors, TV personalities, journalists, boxers, and members of the 1966 World Cup winning squad were regulars, rubbing shoulders with crooks and notorious gangsters, such as the Kray twins, who also frequented the pub.
The derivation of the pub’s name arose after a licensee placed two huge Christmas puddings on a table outside from which he handed free slices to the local poor during the goodwill season. Locally, the pub was also known as the ‘Butcher’s Shop’, a reference to the tiles on the walls that reminded people of a meat shop, or to the occassional outbreaks of bloody violence.
In the book, Johnson writes about the violent episodes that occurred in the pub, and he provides the reader with an insight into a publican’s life: the long hours, the stress and the difficulties of finding reliable cleaners or bar staff. The book is filled with tragic and amusing tales of odd characters, such as a chief barman who peed all over the beer barrels in the cellar, or the man who was selling his wife for sex to the pub’s clientele. Another anecdote relates to a regular customer who was cheating on his wife. Whilst with his mistress in Jersey, he was falsely arrested by the Police as he had some resemblance to Roy the ‘Weasal’ James, one of the Great Train Robbers. The incident became national front page headline news. The tales range from hilarious to tragic, but all are described with the imitable Cockney sense of humour.
200% spoke with the author of ‘Tales of the Two Puddings’, Eddie Johnson, but first we kick off with an interview with the editor and publisher of the book, Matt Johnson.
Matt Johnson: My dad has been writing on and off for many years but, apart from regular anti-war letters to the ‘Independent’ newspaper, he has never been published before. He has written about growing up in the Blitz in wartime London and over the past 10 years he has been writing about the Two Puddings. I suggested that, as it’s exactly 50 years since my Dad took over the pub, this year (2012) Stratford is the centre of the world’s attention, and he turned 80 this year, what better time to publish the book. Also, I was happy to launch my own book publishing company and was proud to make this our first book.
200%: Was your interest to become a musician influenced by the fact that there were a lot of young groups performing in your father’s pub and where you, as a child, would mess around with the instruments left on stage by the bands?
MJ: There is no question that this had a major influence on me. Even though I was a little boy at the time, I was aware of the sound of live music drifting up through the floorboards and so, consciously or subconsciously, it definitely impacted my life in a significant way. During closing hours (and pubs used to close between 2:30pm and 5:30pm in those days) my brothers and I used to play around with the various instruments left on stage by the bands in residence and so it is quite possible that the first electric guitar I ever picked up as a little boy could have belonged to Pete Townsend of the Who or Ray Davies of the Kinks, although I would have been too young to understand the significance of that then.
200%: Can you recall performances of bands you saw at your father’s pub that made a big impression on you?
MJ: My brothers and I were too young to be allowed downstairs to watch the bands. In those days the terms of the license to which a licensee had to adhere were extremely strict and minors were not allowed in premises that sold alcohol during opening hours, even the children of the licensees! Also, as we were young, we were in bed fairly early, so we didn’t have the chance to watch the succession of famous bands in the Puddings; although we did hear them, hear about them and, of course, played on their instruments!
200%: Does the name ‘Fifty First State Press’ refer to the ‘Heartland’ lyrics of THE THE?
MJ: Yes, 51st State was a phrase I coined in my song Heartland, actually written in 1984 or so but released in 1986. Since then, of course, more and more people are waking up to the reality that it is not, in fact, Europe who controls the United Kingdom but America. Our foreign policy has been formulated by and dictated from Washington for decades, which is why we are continually dragged into wars that run counter to the interests of the British people. I added the sub-heading ‘A View From The Colony’ to the publishing house to add a humourous twist.
MJ: Well, THE THE was always intended to be a mixed-medium operation, right from its inception. To that end, over many years, I have collaborated with film-makers, poets, painters, photographers, writers, as well as with musicians and producers. I have always hated being pigeon-holed – hence the use of the band name ‘THE THE’, which doesn’t really suggest any particular musical style but instead creates a blank canvas from which the mind can work. It is more of a ‘concept’ group or an art installation than a real group, as I am the only permanent member. I recently decided to grow some new wings on to THE THE by launching the imprint, ‘Cineola’, which is specifically for film soundtrack and spoken word releases, which are published as beautiful, small, hardback books, with lots of text and photographs. I also launched ‘Radio Cineola’ for our downloadable ‘shortwave’ broadcasts and these feature appearances by many of my collaborators, past and present. We are also releasing previously unheard material from the vaults, new recordings and just works in progress. When it came to launching a book publishing arm, the name Fifty First State Press just felt applicable, especially as I was a huge fan of pamphleteering and the old independent printing presses that individuals would start up to express themselves, free from the constraints of proprietors. It has a nice political ring to it, yet the incorporation of the sub-heading provides a uniquely British and humourous view. The next publications may well be a book of my lyrics or a book of my photographs. Due to the recent high profile of ‘Tales From The Two Puddings’, though, I have received book manuscripts from various authors in search of publication.
Share your or a relative’s experience of the ‘Two Puddings’ at the comments section!
Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers. Pictures: The ‘Puddings Gang’ in 2012. From left: Eddie Johnson, Michael Johnson, Kenny Johnson and Peter Ferdinando. Photograph by Matt Johnson; Eddie Johnson taking sons Matt and Andrew to school in mid-sixties Stratford. Photographer unknown; The Two Puddings in it’s sixties heyday. Photograph by Steve Lewis. Copyright Getty Images.