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My Dinner With Rock’s Backpages Mark Pringle

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Don’t look at the pictures, they don’t do him justice. Mark Pringle is a scruffy mix of Nick Lowe and Cary Grant, an opinionated music loving soul man, who failed to break pop in the late 80s with his terrific band Hot!House, featuring a pre-M People Heather Small, before steadying into his current role as one of the director’s of the rock journalism website “Rock’s Backpages”. I became friendly with Pringle on Facebook, where he is smarter than just about everybody else you meet. During a somewhat vicious argument with a fellow writer after I called David Fricke a hack,  he stood up for me, something you’ll never know about a person  till it happens. I took the opportunity to check in on him during a recent trip to London, we had dinner (well lunch) and drinks and spoke for hours.

It is not everyday somebody lives up to your expectations but Pringle will, rolling his own cigarettes, knocking back shots, with a crumpled professorial socialist gentleman visage, the man is a self aware and loquacious one man entertainment center. If his job as rock’s great archivist, after a stint as editor of the BBC movies website, is how he makes his daily bread, a raconteur of immense skills is what he should be toasted as. In conversation,  Pringle bypasses his band Hot!House (he doesn’t mention them by name)  for the most part, though the two songs I’ve heard, “Don’t Come To Stay” and  “The Way That We Walk” are remarkably great, to offer opinions on pop, politics and rock nyc (the pictures should be smaller and it needs an editor). I am not certain whether the never reticent Pringle was either shy or unwilling to explain what could be only understood by listening to his great group, but I wish he had.

Hot!House was the end result of a lifelong obsession with black music culminating in 1987 with the recording of their only album, South, in Muscle Shoals, that paragon of racial music harmony. Despite some success outside of the UK and the US, it didn’t happen. Pringle could have, perhaps should have, entered politics. He would have been following in William Pringle his Grandfather’s footsteps , a Liberal Member of Parliament from 1910 to 1924 with a four year break in the middle. Pringle the Junior, has strong and smart opinions, he ties Brexit to free College educating, concluding that free college meant everybody went for higher education where everybody didn’t need higher education,  instead of learning trades, gardeners say, or plumbers, that people really needed. So, as part of the European Union, people from the former communist satellites, the Poles and Czechs, filled the void and took the jobs. How will Brexit fill the void unless ordinary English people stop wasting their time and learn trades that are actually required?

Pringle spends too much of his time reading bad prose for a living, when he doesn’t do that he spends three nights a week with his disabled daughter, and some time recovering from the cloud of depression with the medicinal use of LSD. Pringle claims that when you’re young and taking acid, you don’t understand what is happening and also your subconscious has many more things hidden from you, at a certain age you have a clear idea who you are and the bad trips end and for some reason the chemicals that cause manic depression seems to disappear. As for his daughter “The Minx”, Pringle speaks of his child with so much love and pride, I wish I had had the chance to meet her. Pringle’s nephew works at the English language Beirut newspaper “The Daily Star” -a great paper, and he took his daughter and her mother to Lebanon earlier this year. He describes it quite precisely, a place where the infrastructure has fallen apart, and the city is still religiously segregated, where state of the art hotels live next to pockmarked buildings, and a trip to Baalbek is like a private playground in the ancient Roman ruins. And the Lebanese hospitality survives and prospers. He was also in Orlando during the terrorist attack and if you have ever been to Orlando, I am sure you know what he thought of the city!

More controversially, Pringle claims that music is so bad today because there is no more new music left to compose, it has all been done before. Hmmm, well at least we can agree upon the greatness of Grime, the last  or at least latest London music movement, he notes something I hadn’t realized, how it is all occurring for and at the London council flats where punk got its start.  Mark also states that  the only sort of live music he enjoys is improvised, the height of the art of live music is improv. We batter the idea around for awhile in a bar on the West End, where my alcoholism won’t allow me a drink, though I’d love one, and Pringle’s drinking habits are under control, whatever he might claim, though he does allow that LSD has helped a great deal.

I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed someone’s company more. I like the way he talks, the way he interrupts with a  repetitive stutter,  the way he takes disagreements in his stride. It’s as though Mark belongs in a  John Fowles novel, a legendary paradise postponed denizen who belongs to an older age, say just post-WWII UK; an age we imagined existed where London was the center of the world but Londoners held themselves with a degree of disparaged humility, something so at odds with the USA’s boastful bullying. It’s like dreaming of a new world where all people could join the UK in civility and equality. We would have shared a city and a world strode by the likes of Pringle: a man who exudes decency and intelligence. His  great soul band deserved to break big and broke big anyway for all of us who are fortunate enough to meet him.

 

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