For a year or so I lived in the same city as David Christian. The city was Bordeaux, the years 2005-2006. We never crossed paths yet our lives nearly touched. At the time I was attending a weekly class on Free Cinema and British New Wave at the University (the other day I found a battered, homemade photocopied booklet of the texts we read then – Lindsay Anderson, Penelope Houston, Peter Wollen, etc). After the lectures Anne-Laure (who also attended the classes) and I sometimes took the tramway back into the city together; one day she gravely mentioned that her boyfriend had watched all the kitchen sink dramas we were studying. The information, imparted with such an air of seriousness, deeply impressed my twenty-old year self. Because Bordeaux felt vaguely doomed, I absorbed as many of those precious movies as I could borrow or find. There was music, too – but Anne-Laure and I never spoke about records. We knew very little of one another. When one day she wrote down her landline number on a piece of paper, I carefully kept it yet did not dare to call; I left Bordeaux shortly afterwards.
It is only a few years later, when Plan B published a picture of Comet Gain on its front cover, that I realised Anne-Laure was part of the band and that her cinephile boyfriend and David Christian (aka David Feck aka Charlie Damage) were the same person. It oddly made sense – a striking, meaningful coincidence. All of a sudden, second-hand memories of the elusive David Christian resurfaced. There was something absurd and wonderfully appropriate, I thought, about us never meeting. And while D. Christian seemed to me the shadow of a shadow, or perhaps a gentle, genial ghost, Comet Gain always felt urgently real and immediate. For many years their songs followed me; in my twenties I played them (Réalistes especially) almost every day across unheated rented rooms in the North East of England, Scotland, and Germany. Their beautiful, radical energy – their freedom – inspired me (and many others) to keep dreaming and making things. For Comet Gain never stopped: they were defiantly, sweetly brilliant – all the time.
At the end of November the Berlin-based label Tapete Record will be releasing David Christian’s first solo album – For Those We Met On The Way – recorded in the French countryside with the Pinecone Orchestra.
David answered some of my questions via email – the interview (reproduced below) happened through the label’s promoter, so I didn’t get to say thank you directly: it might still happen, one day – when the time and the place are right.
Thank you, David Christian / David Feck / Charlie Damage – and Anne-Laure.
You have changed names a few times – when did you first become David Feck? Did you enjoy inventing new identities as a child?
Well,in real life my name changed a couple times which was family stuff and I guess as a confused weirdo it was nice to hide behind whatever alias you wanted-the ‘feck’ secret identity thing was from Pete momtchillof(Talulah gosh/would be goods/all round rock n roll guitar animal)-I briefly lived with him and Amelia fletcher in Oxford to escape the rampant evils of London and kept getting into dumb situations which would exasperate Pete so the feck is short for feckless-as he believed I was truly worthy of that word-since then depending on situation, mindset etc I have also inhabited Charlie damage,dr Meinhof,david du lac etc in so much as I’m not sure who I am anymore which is probably the point
Do you recall when your passion for language and writing started?
Well like most shy youths I read a lot when I was younger and I remember certain books or writers-all the usual ones when your young like Burroughs,kerouac,salinger,orwell,thompson,60S+70s marvel comics(the weirder the better)etc plus one lesson at school where I actually paid attention was English literature where the romantic poets etc made me excited-i just loved the way words could be twisted or bent or abstracted to have meaning that was vague but fertile in personal ways-direct simple language wasn’t particularly interesting to me-i would get very ill and have high temperatures where I would hallucinate and reality would get jumbled so bizarre language kind of suited my head-i remember being fascinated by sad Barrett words pretty early on in my ‘getting into records’ phase of youth -they made sense more to me and I found that comforting-at school I would write these insanely long story essays and used to love watching the words join up as I would write them down-i guess even now even if I have s simple direct thought I try to make it more interesting or deformed if I write it down-partly for my own enjoyment
When did you first realise you wanted to make music and write your own songs? And was there another band before Comet Gain?
Like I’ve said I was a shy, odd kid and found it hard to sleep-one of the mechanisms I used to stop thinking about the void or awful things at night was to invent personas and albums so I would be’singing my head a whole lp in different styles-i was a huge bowie fan from a pretty young age and the fact that he utilised so many different styles and personas probably informed that massively-some of them were genius and wish I had a way to psychically regurgitate them-i remember a hot streak one Christmas when I was ill and spent a lot of time in bed just conjuring up gem after gem-sadly when I actually started making real music the magic was gone and I was just another twig in the bonfire-when me and my friends where bonded by all this hot new guitar music in the mid 80S I was more into doing fanzines but was briefly in a group called the paintermen with 2 friends and a guy who wanted to be Julian cope-it was supposed to be like television meets the Byrds with obviously some cope attack but it never went anywhere-i did a group with a friend Chris who did this fanzine far out and fishy called floral teacup-he would come down from Oxford to where I lived in Tufnell Park and we would do kinks and abba songs -I still have the tape if light in the atticare interested -then slowly all these imaginary bands accidentally became a real moving shambolic monster-comet gain started almost by mistake and before we knew it we had a record out and were playing with my favourite bands like the tv personalities -it was one of those moments in London where you could kind of get away with having a pretend illusionary group that was also real and (slightly)functioning-we got signed after drunkenly playing a horrific excuse for a show where probably nobody had a clue what we were doing and yet in those days that made us endearing and appealing-i doubt you’d get that now, sadly he sighs .it was also easy to do one off groups that usually came out of drunken eurakas like Zorro where we played a gig with masking tape all over our faces then realised its fucking hot and tou cant see what your doing or the other inept musiciians are doing-or you could just turn up at a gig by-prolapse-or someone you knew and say’can me and insert-sottish-drummer-name-here just play Who songs badly before you come on?and it would be no problem-everything seems way too planned out and CORRECTLY DONE now but as an old grumpy guy who doesnt go to gigs anymore i’m just saying that because-y’know OBVIOUSLY it was MUCH BETTER in my days-and pints were only 35pence and you’d get a free fishfinger with every pint.
You are now living in France again – is this a temporary move or would you potentially see this as a more permanent shift? Was London the place where you grew up? Does it still exist in the way you first knew it? What sort of impact (if any) does being away from the UK have on the way you are making music?
The way things are this is currently under the ‘lets stay the fuck here’banner-i have a young son and this is the life he deserves rather than the less certain and less healthy one we would have if still in London which is becoming a mid 70s depressed husk now half the interesting people have fled back to their home countries and taken the nice food with them-its a nice feeling knowing that its not worth being maudlin or sentimental or whatever about living somewhere so different from what you know(we are in a forest pretty much not far from the ocean )because your doing it for somebody you love so they live a good life-also an upheaval is a good thing-its been a year and I dont misss much-seeing friends being the only one.
Yes I grew up in north London and obviously its a different world to what I knew but thats the nature of the big city to evolve and coalesce and ebb and flow so by its nature you slowly lose everything you knew -I worked in soho for about 15 years and it would always be shape shifting with certain stanchions remaining the same as memorials to all-times like the old pubs but on my last day in London I walked through soho to have a goodbye beer with a friend and everything had melted away-including a lot of the pubs-it was eerie as it was the height of the pandemic so it was silent and empty and raining and I felt no kinship with it anymore-the parks I love like the heath remain the same but -mainly due to incessant greed and bad ideas-there wasn’t much of ‘my’london left to hold onto -it had all dissipated into cracks and nooks of sentimental images-messages from friends about ‘do you remember this place?’ Its just the names that are the same-camden market is still called Camden market but nothings left of the Camden market I lived through so what’s the point of going there -and the kids who go there now and are enraptured or frightened by it will feel the same in 30 years-if everything dissipates into memory theres no need to lurk around hoping it will re-coalesce because it won’t.
As for making music here-its harder obviously-i was used to being in bands-and bands are just a good excuse to be hanging out with friends-also its a co-operative thing so I dont have that anymore or simple things like rehearsal rooms, studios to record in, guitar shops when you need guitar strings-the nearest one is 55 kilometres away or something and I had to go halfway across the country to record my record-however,on the other hand I have been making these ‘solo’ ‘albums’ for bandcamp at home and its quite fun to do everything and have no need to teach songs,reharse etc -you do have to worry about pissing off the warthogs with your whinging and wailing though.
Could you tell me more about how The Pinecone Orchestra came to be, and about the day-to-day recording of For Those We Met On The Way? When did you start thinking about doing a solo album? What were the moments you treasured most during the recording process?
Well-i had the songs and a list of people I wanted to ask to help me make them sound less terrible-the main thing was having a drummer live as the rest could be done ‘remotely’o for instance Elton John could add some boogie boogie piano in a cave in Tunisia if he needed to such is modern recording -I recorded it in a barn in a farm in the middle of Aveyron in rural France and asked my old friend cosmic Neman who was in this group herman dune and is one half of the great zombie/zombie to come down from paris which he did and then i felt good as he’s a wonderful drummer and person to be around-i also wanted/needed a friend to make the experience more fun-the owner of said barn and producer of the record was mike Targett and his wife Allison who I had never met but knew friends of mine-they lived here for about 15 years and have a group called heist -we stayed in a gite across from the barn/farmhouse -it was about as far away from my usual experiences of concrete bunkers in Walthamstow or whatever -everyday we would eat food in the main house and just go through the songs-it was such an easy laidback experience I was convinced everything would go horribly wrong at any point-and the best bit of all was in the back room there was a bar, a darts board and table football so I kept pretending I needed to go in there to write more lyrics then play myself at darts and drink beer-it was only 3 days but we managed 15 songs in various forms of finished and then play rare record top trumps at night -one of the nicest things after so long was to talk to a friend and to have something of purpose to do after a year of covid fear and stress-the pinecone orchestra is basically a pretend group of those that helped me-it feels naked just having your own name on that sleeve and the things everyone else did added so much anyway -I wrote to some friends and sent them songs and everyone did lovely things that made me like my own record -which is rare.
I think the idea of a solo record was just A-i needed something to do-to distract me from the end of the world B-comet gain were resting or behind masks or in jail whatever so it made sense C-i’m a 52 year old man whose been making band records for nearly 30 years so why the fuck not
Your songs are alive with allusions and references – both to some of your older songs and to the cultural past in general. Yet nothing about them seem to be borrowed or frozen – and there is immense humour, tenderness and understanding (rather than harsh irony) in the way you relate to the past. It feels very close and alive. Do you deliberately set out to write songs as if they were time capsules or fragile monuments – or is it something which happens of its own accord? A theme which often returns in your songs is that of haunting – are you sometimes afraid of ghosts?
Sometimes I do make them these little memorials-i like the idea of preserving something even if its small-trapping it in a song-i believe in certain forms of magic and think that I’m creating spells or aural sgylls sometimes by writing songs -often there will be a small line that has no real connection to the overall song-about a place or person or thing and by embedding it into this living breathing thing called a song that will live on after me even if its just in a rubbish dump behind a closed record shop-then I’m giving it power, purpose, some intangible psychic presence-i’m sure this all sounds stupidly pretentious but I believe it-i also like the idea of leaving things behind by writing about them and dropping their emotional baggage -one of the main things the solo record is was a deliberate exorcism – I thought as my life was changing hugely by leaving London,plus I noticed a surge in nostalgic thought due to lockdown and apocalypse fever -and my own inner war that not only if I am doing an actual solo record it should be personal but by doing that fill it with sketches and memorials and ghosts and moments and places, friends etc and exorcise them-so the LP is like a memory book I can skim through in my old age if I’ve forgotten everything and end that warm wash of ah-yeah-i-remember-theres a song ‘goodbye teenage blue ‘ which could’ve been 2 hours long of me just rattling off things to banish them while preserving them-and another song ‘lockets, dropouts and dragnets’ was for those people or moments you DID totally forget and were perhaps VERY IMPORTANT to you for a brief moment then gone completely only to suddenly be recalled 35 years later-its like that idea of a friend you spent every day with when your 18 or a girl/boy you were madly in love with but now you can’t remember what they looked like and you just want-for just a second-to see a photo or something-to go “ah YEAH!’ and have that proustian rush then throw them back into the wind-sometimes you don’t mean to-your writing a different song and the words that are pouring out-thats kind of how I write-i let them pour out then I just edit and sometimes I see I’m writing about something else entirely and that the buried psychic ghost half of my brain has taken over-like in that song I started to write about this friend I had who used to come round to my flat in Tufnell Park and he was a sweet guy but a bit -dull-i know it sounds awful -he’d juts mumble ramble forever so sometimes I would pretend not to be home and on one occasion I did that then walked to the station and there was this guy who’d been knocked over by a car opposite the boston arms and it was him-i ran over and he was lying there and instead of blood coming out of his head it was what looked like water and he was in shock and saying to me “I came round to the flat but you weren’t there’ he luckily didn’t die but was never the same-he kind of became a shell I think-i lost touch but that still haunts me deeply except for about 10 years I’d forgot it completely and now I’ve forgotten his name or anything else-just that horrible incident -so I felt he deserved to be put in a song-that song is full of the forgotten ones I feel bad about.And of course there all ghosts-you don’t have to be dead to be a ghost.
As for actual spirits I grew up around them or at least I think I did-i had a few encounters and would lie awake at night kind of wanting to see one so I knew it wasn’t bullshit and terrified if I did-i would hear voices calling my name at sightsee shoes walking up walls, all kinds of things and later until probably my late 30s had that thing where you become paralysed and think something is sitting on you or in the room-a terrified feeling-but you can’t scream or look or move-theres a name for it but I forgot-i once saw an illuminated white horse walk through a light at one end of my room into another vortex at the oather end-so that was all a lot of fun and giggles.
Books and records and films seem to be your friends – living deep within the folds of your songs. Are there times however when you feel overwhelmed by their weight? Do you still collect artefacts from the past, and how do you make room for the present?
Well we all need all the friends we can get in this life.Moving to another country means getting rid of lost of stuff and I have anyway over the years and after awhile its easy-you don’t miss much-nowadays I can LOOK at pictures of things on the internet and you get that brief moment then your satisfied and have saved yourself the hassle of getting them and finding somewhere to put it so even though I have still a lot of records and books its because still enjoy them and they have a USE whilst also serving as diary as your memory fails -you know-ah I bought this electric prunes record in rthymn records and it says it came out in 1987 and I was working at-blah blah and you retrace your steps because of a record sleeve-otherwise I don’t bother and I’m very much in the present and as my current present is-to me-all totally new and different with no psychogeographical resonance its very easy to just be here and now and be fine with that.
Your visual aesthetics are very distinctive – how did you start composing images? Could you tell me more about your involvement with fanzines – and the ones you most enjoyed reading besides Hungry Beat?
Well art was my first thing loved and I truly believed thats how I would be but music took over so I was happy to still be involved aesthetically by doing all the sleeves etc and I always wanted comet gain to be not just the music but ideas and a certain look and I guess the look was probably heavily influenced by fanzines -that whole ripped/torn thing as I had made a few and read a million-also some pop art/dada things that appealed to me way more than ‘classic’ art-as well as the actual physical process of letraset,glue,photocopies-i still usually make sleeves in the same way as I enjoy doing it like that although occasionally records like ‘paperback ghosts’ and the new album benefit from a more professional wizadry-it suits the sound more.
Around the time of the great indie pop punk explosion we all communicated through the fanzine-no gig was without its line of grouchy or trembling-with-fear-of-other-humans guys and girls mumbling “50p for a fanzine-its got the pastels in it” usually full of excited frothing about the GENIUS of the sea urchins or how jasmine minks was REAL POP MUSIC! All very exciting and full of pictures of 60s films and pop stars and girls with bob haircuts-it was also a great way to start writing and befriending people-you thought, well if I do a zine I can make some friends- I did one where I wrote to spacemen 3 and they replied on cool spacemen 3 paper (probably soaked in blotter acid) and the thought of your favourite popstars actually writing to you at YOUR HOME was mind-blowing -I did a couple around then-magic christian and beautiful despair both very typical-lots of kitchen sink film iconography, tv eprsoanalties,60s psych and pop-then the the London riot grrrll (how many Rs is it?) scene burst into flame a lot of us that where from the indie scene started again but in a more punk vein -inspired by the communiques from the u.s like germs of youth/jigsaw/nation of Ulysses sleeve notes etc-i did a couple called troublegum until some awful wiiija band called there record the same thing and a mini one with our first single-a few years ago I did a comet gain based fanzine who everyone in the group wrote for but a second issue never came out-i still intend to do another-i still love a good zine-my favourite current magazine is Ugly Things which has been going for over 30 years so I still got my feet in
Have you ever been drawn to writing short stories or even a novel – or would you miss the music too much?
I have every now and then started something but never had the discipline to finish-songs are easy-they only last a few minutes and although -like in interviews-i tend to gibber on and on-its still a limited set of words/chords but stories takes work-i did buy a nice writing pad and its sat there waiting for whatever-short stories, memoirs, whatever so maybe one day I will-before the next pandemic hopefully-or during
How have you managed, on a practical level, to keep making your art for so long without becoming helplessly crushed by the system and its heartless imperatives? It is a miracle you didn’t lose your imagination, your freedom or your courage. What were the most difficult moments?
Maybe the secret is not being part of the contest-or caring about ‘success’ or being so obscure that it just doesn’t matter-if nobody notices you you can get away with anything-i’m guessing the most difficult time is now-i have a record I think is at least okay but its not under the protective cuddle of the group I’m in plus who buys records by old guys moaning about the past with guitars and pianos now?plus I actually have to engage in social media and all these things way out of my depth in order to justify the luxury of being lucky enough to have someone release my gibberish into a further rottening world where the only music that seems to survive is banal and streamlined and made by banal buffoons and narcissists while the planet bursts into flame around us-but I would say that;
How do you feel about the future?
I’m letting it do what it wants.fuck it. The present is alright so I’m fine with that-as long as theres ok weather and good people and cool things-maybe some cocktails…
What is the most precious thing you’ve heard, seen or read recently?
I really don’t want to sound like a hippy but the lake near us as the sun goes down is precious-you didn’t get that in Wood Green(the ‘woodland ‘green’s Wood Green is VERY misleading-should be changed to ‘Wetherspoons kebab vomit green’)-musically I love this LP Ben Phillipson (comet gain/18th day of may/trimdon grange explosion ) has made and the ‘feel flows’ beach boys box set that recently came out suits the place I live especially the beautiful Dennis Wilson songs-i love the willy vlautin books and there is a new one im waiting to read but I know it’ll be sweetly sad and perhaps brutal-otherwise I don’t get around much culturally enough to know what’s good -I wish I did
Do you think you might be playing gigs in the months to come?
I certainly hope so-i have new shit jokes to piss everyone off with.and some songs too I guess though I’d rather not do them if I can help it-just the jokes and some moaning -that’ll be good
Comet Gain discography (albums)
Casino Classics (1995)
Magnetic Poetry (1997)
Tigertown Pictures (1998)
City Fallen Leaves (2005)
Howl of the Lonely Crowd (2011)
Paperback Ghosts (2014!)
Fireraisers Forever! (2019)
— Published online on the 26th of October 2021.