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AN INTERVIEW WITH GRAHAM BURNETT of 'SPIRALSEED'
Pic by Robin Woosey, Southend Evening Echo
The following is an interview with Graham Burnett of Spiralseed by Steve Hyland that appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of 'Attitude Problem' fanzine. The interview was actually carried out in two parts. Part one was face to face at Graham's house following a rather lengthy visit to 'The Melrose' pub in Westcliff. Part two was done some time later by post. Thanks to Steve for typing it all up and allowing me to republish it…
I first came across Graham Burnett’s work in an old punk/anarcho zine called "PEACE OF MIND". It was Issue No.4 and inside was an article entitled ‘Reclaiming Something Real – A Personal Account on Cultivating an Allotment’. Reading this article inspired me enough to actually go out and begin cultivating my own allotment and to grow my own vegetables. The above title of the article was not just about gaining an allotment and learning how to grow vegetables, it was also an introduction, to me at least, of the politics of food production and of reclaiming something real for yourself.
Below are the opening three paragraphs of the ‘Reclaiming Something Real’ article. I have included it here because I think it sums up so much and sets the tone for the interview that follows with Graham upon a visit I made to his house in the summer a little while ago.
My thanks go out to Graham for the inspiration and to his family too.
"As any economist will tell you, the central pillar of capitalism is the law of supply and demand. We, the passive consumer, create the demand, and ever increasingly, the supply is furnished by multi-national corporations seeking to expand into every possible area, corner every market. The case against these mega-conglomerates; Unilever, Allied Lyons, Shell, RTZ, B.A.T., CIBA, CEIGY, ICI, has been well documented. In the pages of ‘PEACE OF MIND’ and in books and pamphlets such as ‘FOOD FOR BEGINNERS’, by Susan George and Nigel Paige (Readers and Writers Books), CHUMBAWAMBA’S ‘Dirty Fingers in Dirty Pies’ and ‘Why Aid?’.
Yet even when we reject these companies choosing a vegan diet or a multi-national boycotting lifestyle, too often we still remain passive consumers.
A packet of vegeburgers or a can of baked beans is still a commodity, our relationship to one of the most important aspects of our lives, that is, how our food is produced is still one of being distanced from an understanding of where it actually comes from. The work and the skills, conditions and processes that go into making seed successfully germinate into food we can eat is surrounded in mystery, and what’s more, we’re not on the whole, in the slightest bit interested provided that the health shops keep supplying the goods.
WE REMAIN AS CAPITALIST DYNAMICS RELY ON S TO REMAIN, ALIENATED FROM A REAL UNDERSTANDING OF EVERYDAY LIFE.
Therefore, I would argue, one of the most radical acts we can take on an individual level is to cut out that process of alienation, to take knowledge out of the arenas monopolised by the specialists and experts and re-learn all the skills that are essential if we are to ever truly ‘TAKE CONTROL OF OUR OWN LIVES’. How to house and build for ourselves; how to heal ourselves, how to create energy for ourselves, and how to feed ourselves".
ATTITUDE PROBLEM: AP
Part One: Punk influences, artwork and self-sufficiency
AP: When did you first become aware of punk and what grabbed your attention and made you want to find out more?
G: I think it was ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and when that first came out.
AP: ‘THE SEX PISTOLS’?
G: Yeah, it was back in ‘76/’77, even at school. It was a thing y’know, me and my mates at school, we thought it was terrible at the time. We believed all the stuff in the papers – ‘Violent and Nasty Punk Rockers’ and at the time we had totally dreadful musical tastes like ‘GENESIS’, ‘YES’ and this sort of awful thing but we got to know some local punks and thought it was quite cool really.
AP: Do you remember the first punk gig you went to?
G: ‘SLAUGHTER AND THE DOGS’ 1977.
AP: In London?
G: No, Southend. We were going to see the SEX PISTOLS but it was cancelled due to Johnny Rotten swearing on the ‘Bill Grundy Show’!
AP: What? They were booked to play Southend?
G: Yeah, and me and me mates were going to go along but it was cancelled due to Johnny Rotten calling Bill Grundy a rotter! (laughing). From that, I suppose it was CRASS and that and it became more than just a musical fashion. I don’t know, even before that I got into ‘Rock Against Racism’ and all that stuff…
AP: And CRASS embodied…
G: Well, it was before that. I didn’t know about CRASS until later. It was THE CLASH doing Rock Against Racism and THE RUTS and there was always that element in punk. They always had that political edge and I became aware about those kind of things. I didn’t really know about racism until ‘Rock Against Racism’.
AP: Do you actually think those kind of movements made a difference to things?
G: Yeah, I think they did for people my age. A lot of people got into that kind of thing even though people say they have allegedly 'grown out of' it now. It influenced people; it helped shape what people were.
AP: So what bands inspired you the most to become active in the way you are now?
G: I guess it had to be CRASS and FLUX OF PINK INDIANS but bands now? I don’t know. I’m not that inspired by punk bands now.
AP: Do you think a lot of the bands you liked then still motivate you to do things now?
G: I guess so; it’s the soundtrack to your life I suppose. I don’t play my CRASS records much but I still play them from time to time. You have to listen to what is current now. A lot of techno/dance stuff embodies the same sort of values…
AP: As what punk did originally?
AP: When did you first begin to draw for the booklets that you produce?
G: 1985. I was bored at work. It was one of those drawings that have gone into cliché-dom – I don’t know – ‘GREEN ANARCHIST’ have used it and I’ve seen it on various tape covers and God knows where else. It’s a drawing of these two little punks holding hands…
AP: Oh! With the FLUX OF PINK INDIANS on the back?
G: Yeah, and the quote about the wheat field, but I was just bored at work and I just sat there and drew that.
AP: Did anyone tell you, "Yeah, this is good and you should publish it" or did you just do it off of your own back?
G: Not really. Yeah, just off of my own back and I did some more drawings so…
AP: So what happened then? Did you submit drawings to other zines or did you produce your own?
G: I did my own and self-published and other people have picked up on them and used them which I suppose means they can’t be that bad. Never receive any money for any of them but never mind! (laughter)
AP: What sort of reaction did you get? Do people say this is really good or really bad? (laughter)
G: Yeah, people seem to like them so I just do the best I can.
AP: Because a lot of your drawings reflect self-sufficiency.
G: Yeah, they do.
AP: So what motivated you to start drawing about things like that? Was it just things that you saw in everyday life?
G: Yeah, it’s quite idealised really. If you look at the allotments I draw, they’re far tidier than the allotment I’ve got! A lot of the artwork you see in fanzines or punk record covers is pretty negative really, skeletons and dead people and that kind of thing and if we’re trying to build a better world maybe people should be trying to visualise that a bit more.
AP: You think there should be more of a positive attitude?
G: Yeah, positive and there’s that guy who did that fanzine DUHHH, you know the one I mean?
G: He criticises my artwork as being hippyish and takes the piss out of it a bit but I don’t know, I’m not that hippyish but I’m just trying to present a positive image.
AP: rather than a negative…
G: Yeah. People wallow in it a bit.
AP: Do you think that’s plagued punk over the years really because there’s always been this thing like…’war’, and although war is a very serious subject, the images associated with it…
G: Yeah, it does focus on the negatives rather than what we could be doing as an alternative y’know which is what I’m trying to talk about.
AP: Do you think the negatives often turn people away from punk because it can seem from some points of view a depressing outlook on life?
G: Well, people just tend to wallow in it. Self-pity. Well, not pity as such but people…I don’t know. It’s a cliché isn’t it? If you’re unemployed and you’ve got no job and all the rest of it and you don’t do nothing about it and you just wallow in it and it’s the same sort of thing. Does that make any sense?
AP: I can understand what you’re getting at.
G: You’ll always get some CRASS record or some FLUX OF PINK INDIANS record going on about famine but surely the best thing to do about famine in Ethiopia or something in this country is to grow our own food…
AP: …rather than import…
G: Well, if we wallow in the imagery and say ‘Oh government', ‘Oh how awful’, rather than people looking at what they could be doing themselves.
AP: So maybe the answer is to become more self-sufficient and in control over your own life so you don’t need…
G: Yeah, in a way that might sound a little middle-class and escapist but the only way we can get off the ‘Third World’s’ back is if we start depending on ourselves a bit more and creating our own food supplies and actually looking at…we live in a very urbanised society but there’s ways you can still grow food in an urban setting. People might think, "Well there’s not much opportunity for growing food" but everyone’s got a balcony or a windowsill but people would rather moan about it than get an allotment, or squat land if people don’t want an allotment. People just have to use their imagination a little bit.
End of part one
Part Two: Permaculture, Guerilla Gardening and May Day 2000