Gig Reviews and Interviews
"I'd seen Johnny Normal just a couple of weeks previously at the Infest Festival in Bradford, so wasn't surprised to hear that his set today was the same bar one song, Save Me, featuring Neil Francis who was on earlier, on vocals.
Again showcasing his latest album, a synth-heavy interpretation of Adam and The Ants' Kings of The Wild Frontier; what especially struck me this time around was how adaptable Normal's voice is. Wisely choosing not to do an imitation of Adam Ant on the three covers, he nevertheless gave his voice just the right amount of intonation that meant you recognised it was a homage to Adam Ant...And the covers are different enough, thus avoiding those that fawningly seek only to imitate the originals and, in doing do, invariably come off as poor imitations. Antmusic in particular is quite a different beast to the original with added BPMs for good measure.
- ELECTRO LONDON FESTIVAL 2016 Review by Rob Dyer for DSO Audio
"People often say that Johnny Normal sounds like Gary Numan - which I disagree with. Whilst it is apparent that Numan (among other 80s synth acts) is clearly an inspiration, Normal's style is more eclectic, drawing on a variety of genres. So I never hear a Johnny Normal song and think that sounds like Numan. More that you can tell where the influences lie. Stylistically, Normal pulls together a diverse set of musical influences, and mashes it up into what he describes as post-punk, electronic rock-pop.
Normal has just released a tribute to Adam and The Ants' Kings of The Wild Frontier by covering the entire album. Aside from approaching the album by arranging the songs primarily for synths, another distinguishing factor here is that original Ants member Marco Pirroni worked with Normal on the album, contributing guitar elements. So, it came as no surprise that today's set included three Ants songs, opening with Ants Invasion, with Killer In The Home popping up mid-set and closing on a frantic Antmusic. Prior to the festival, I wasn't sure how closely the Johnny Normal sound would align with the Infest crowd, but he went down well.
Johnny Normal setlist: Ants Invasion [Ants cover], Remember Me, Alive, The London Sound, Killer in the Home [Ants cover], Miss Razorblade, Don't Blow It, Robot Rock, Antmusic [Ants cover] - INFEST 2016 Festival Review by Rob Dyer for DSO Audio
"Johnny Normal next. Yet again someone who should be very familiar to anyone who is at all involved in the underground synth scene. He’s the man who, alongside Rob Green, started up Electro London and has also been doing the Synthetic City events for a while now. This time he was joined not only by his regular guitarist but a new drummer. This added hugely to the whole live experience of Johnny Normal and really managed to be the most exciting and engaging performance we’ve seen from Johnny to date. Miss Razorblade is our favourite of his works and had been requested by an audience member so was played despite not originally being in his set (we think we heard this anyway. Always a crowd pleaser that track and utterly wonderful in the live setting. Johnny’s wonderfully authentic I Die You Die cover was the finale of the set which again gave us that connection to the history of synth music to show the continuity of what is being done here. It was and now it can be again, but new and re energised, not just a carbon copy of what has gone before. This really was our favourite JN performance to date." - Derek Anthony Williams, DEFSYNTH.COM
"The next act to command my attention were Johnny Normal, an act I have seen before and even shared the stage with. It is a wonder to have Johnny and co back on stage after dicing with death for pretty much a whole year. They have returned stronger, funkier and more well rounded than ever before, with a magic set of strong ‘pop’ songs delivered through the medium of proper synths and driving guitars. ‘Tick Tock’ the time just flew by. " - Midlands Metalheads Radio, Alice's Wicked Tea Party
"The seventh act was Johnny Normal, and while I have heard (and own) some of his music, this was the first time I had actually seen him perform live. Johnny’s music and vocal always remind me of Gary Numan, in a very good way, but with music style that is uniquely his. I really enjoyed this set and while this is the first time I have seen him performing live, I am sure it will not be the last!" - Mark Smith, Electronically Yours
"I'd never seen Johnny Normal live before and knew little of his music, so other than knowing his take on the 'electro' genre of the day was one blending with often rocking guitars, I wasn't sure how I would take to his sound. But I did. Not least because of the high standard of musicianship on display and a professional, if not 'too-serious' attitude. But there's solid songwriting too which does, indeed, blend rocking guitars with more introverted synthpop. The results are surprisingly compelling. With probably the most equipment and instrumentation on stage that we got to see all day, there was plenty of to engage all the senses. The single Miss Razorblade sounds as good live as its recorded counterpart and is the perfect entry point for anyone not already familiar with Johnny Normal. " - Rob Dyer, DSO Audio
"Johnny Normal who played right after The Department was a total genre change. The first description which comes to my mind is – pleasantly numbing captivating beats. They did this incredible thing where audience could feel the vibration of the air and it was done so subtly, one did not even realize that they were doing it until it was done. Uniquely composed and performed, deeply satisfying as well as profoundly alarming, Johnny Normal had it all" - Milda Bandzaitė, Opus Ultimum at Electro London
“Parr Hall, Warrington: Johnny Normal opening for ADAM ANT... Parr Hall was pretty full, and buzzing with anticipation already when the support band appeared... and what a refreshing support act this was... Johnny Normal from Birmingham. Their set began with an ear-shattering extra-terrestrial wall of noise and then bang into 'Remember Me' , a Numanesque synth-led song which saw the guitarist burst into life and command the stage. The second song ‘How You Destroy Me’ struck a chord with the crowd and they were singing back the chorus as if it was an old favourite. Bravely the guys performed two of Adam’s own songs ‘Ants Invasion’ and ‘Killer in the Home’, versions approved by Mister Ant himself. The noisey audience were really into this act as they performed 10 engaging and exciting tracks and it was great to see a connection there, which is unusual these days. Top band, nice guys too. ”— Gareth Stevenson, Liverpool Echo
“Johnny Normal, from the Midlands, have supported Adam Ant before. Adam has chopped quite a few of his support bands, who quite frankly have been mediocre, but now I could see why a revitalised Adam had brought these fellas back. The second song 'How You Destroy Me' provoked more dancing and the crowd joining in with the chorus enthusiastically. More followed, including electro versions of Adam's own 'Ants Invasion' and 'The Magnificent Five', which had the audience virtually singing the rafters down (good move boys!). Vocalist and synth-man Johnny Normal, flanked by his lieutenant Psycho Pete ( an enigmatic guitarist with notable 70's styling) flew through a 35 minute set including some from their new album (notably 'Time', 'The London Sound', 'a song about mermaids and ending on the most fabulous and original version of Bolan's '20th Century Boy' which had the audience shouting for more at the end of the set. ” - Marcus Fleming, SafeConcerts
“One of the highlights of Leamington Peace Festival this year was the appearance of Johnny Normal. Mid-tour, these guys agreed to perform on the Main stage on Saturday evening and despite the rain, were a real hit with the soggy dancing crowd. They flew through an impressive set list of well-rehearsed synth-pop and electro-punk songs which certainly entertained the festival-goers. Charismatic and very good sports too, these guys are set to make it big and we were honoured to have them here.” - S Gallagher - Leamington Observer
“Support for this evening's BLANCMANGE show is Johnny Normal. Normal’s style sits well with the electronic/post-punk tag that has been applied. Indeed at times his vocal and sound is very Numan influenced, but also very raw and punky. NME have described him “as what John Lydon would have sounded like with A-Levels and a pile of synths”. Normal performs a number of songs in his set from his current album “there’s nothing” including “I Like Walking”. He also plays “London Sound” “There’s a girl that lives in the Sea” and also “Ants Invasion” which are well received by the audience. I think that Normal has made a few more fans tonight with his performance, so keep an eye out for him in future.” - Ken Harrison - Gigjunkies review of Blancmange/Johnny Normal
“Act one entered the stage. Johnny Normal. I have heard these guys' names mentioned in dispatches over the last year or so, having already seen them supporting Nash the Slash on the Numania Tour and they have featured at several small festivals already this year. Surprisingly they kicked off with an electro experimental version of Adam Ant's own 'Dog Eat Dog'. Wow! The audience were silenced. A charismatic vocalist/synth man and an incredibly talented Hendrix-style guitarist with a mad hat, Johnny Normal were a hit. Two of their own synth anthems followed before bursting out with more Ant songs, to the delight of the exciteable crowd... Killer in the Home, It Doesn't Matter, Beat My Guest and Physical... A daring thing to do in fron of an Ant crowd...performing Ant songs! I understand it was Adam's own idea...genius! After 30 minutes these two charming and entertaining guys left the stage with the fans demanding more.” - Ewan Davies - BBC London
“First up was Stratford-based musician Johnny Normal, performing with the also superbly named Psycho Pete, an unusual sound which combined Johnny’s Soft Cell, Depeche Mode style synth work with the rock guitar work of Pete. I particular liked the clever humorous, sometimes verging on punk style lyrics, stand out numbers How You Destroy Me and my personal favourite, Time, with plenty of killer guitar-riffing.” - Andrew Lock - Leamington Courier (Johnny Normal supporting Altered Images)
“ Johnny Normal took to the stage at 7pm, as the audience were filing in...not a good welcome for any opening act). This Birmingham duo were a good choice to open, fresh, quirky synth-based rock and post-punk songs with some harder guitar to give a slightly retro, authentic electronic sound. They were amusing, musically talented and the audience liked them. A band with personality, imagine that! Must mention the I die You die cover...the best Numan cover of the night. Great guys too. ” - Roger Davies, Birmingham Post - (Numania/Nash the Slash Tour)
Radio Interview:6th Jan 2013, Johnny Normal & Psycho interviewed by Dave Charles at Harborough FM 102.3
REVIVAL SYNTH Q&A With Johnny Normal
Questions by Andy Jay 13/3/2014
Hi Johnny. You have been in the music business for over 30 years now.
How would you describe the journey?
Hello Andy…You cheeky lad! I did dabble with a Korg Micro-Preset synth at school in my lunch hour, well most lunch hours really… and I was briefly in one or two very dodgy synth bands around that time (Lab XVI was one), but actually I didn’t really touch music again til 2007. That’s when JN came about. It has certainly been an interesting and exciting journey and one that I would take all over again… best of all I’m still travelling.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been a few to be honest… walking out on stage in 2010 at The Scala in London to an audience of 1100 was surreal and something I can’t put into words (and hearing the front row shouting for us freaked me out), meeting and working with some of my boyhood music idols, interviewing them for my radio and journalist projects too. Performing with Psycho is always good fun, he is amazing… and being on stage supporting Adam in our home city in front of almost 3000 people was crazy! The most pivotal moment for me though was the release of Miss Razorblade last Autumn. It was the start of a new era for J-No.
When and what made you wake up in the 80s and say 'I wanna be a pop/rock star' ?
I didn’t really. I tried a few recording projects when I was a lad, but wasn’t really any good and didn’t actually enjoy it that much so I gave up. In 2007, I came back from a fantastic French holiday in the Charente Maritime region and was so fed up coming back to England that I just started writing music to clear the frustration I suppose. So I was a late starter.
You wrote a song for your father and it was very touching. Was your Dad a big part to play in who you have become today?
Thank you, that’s kind. I wrote ‘D.a.d.’ simply as part of my grieving process Andy. I lost my father quite quickly in 1998 and to be honest I hadn’t been able to accept it properly. The song just came out of me. It’s not technically the best song and I don’t mind if people think it’s rubbish either. It was something that just happened and emotionally I didn’t want to dwell on the recording of it any longer than it needed to take. My dad Tony was a very honest, strong and loving man and he never got to hear my music. He was incredibly supportive to me growing up. He probably would have laughed at the guyliner though.
I read a lot of quotes regarding the current synth scene, saying it's either overcrowded or too many acts sound the same – How would you describe it?
Well, there are some who say there aren’t enough quality acts in that crowd. I see a resemblance to 1981 when there were an awful lot of underground synth acts finding their style, and their focus, and learning as they went. The scene is very healthy and through my involvement with the radio show and also Synthetic City Promotions, I can see what a treasure chest of talent there is. Because it is so easy to create and record the music these days, the down side is that some songs are released without the care, attention and technical finishing that they would have with a professional producer… but I am happy with, and enthused by, the strength and diversity of the current electronic scene. So some sound like their peers a little… that doesn’t bother me. If you go to a Depeche Mode or Ultravox gig the chances are you won’t meet the band… these new bands fill that gap nicely. It all goes in phases. Let the audiences decide.
In 2013 You tried to release your album 'Robot Rock' through Pledge Music and although there was a lot of interest and support for it, it sadly didn't reach its target. Was that a frustrating time for you?
The Pledge Music idea was, and is, a very good method of getting your album to market and I can’t fault the process. Once you have generated the interest it takes a lot of hard work and time to convert that support into sales. Support was healthy for the ‘Robot Rock’ album but after about 3 weeks into it I pulled the plug. Andy, Mid-to-end 2013 was a pretty awful time for me personally and I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind, or even had the time, to make it work. There was no frustration to be honest, it was an obvious decision. Emotionally I was shot, but at least I was made to recognise that at the time.
Continuation from the question above. Did you actually sit and think 'F**k It! I might as well call it a day' ?
Oh mate. Yes. It wasn’t the album so much, on all fronts I was completely drained and just wanted everything to go away. The radio show, the album, the live shows, everything. People wanted things off me all the time, it was constant. I felt I needed all the messages, emails, telephone calls, etc to stop. My private life was in turmoil, but I discovered that I have some great friends and that alone turned it round for me.
You are releasing a new album very soon Johnny. Would you like to add a few more details?
The new album has been underway for a while, but other projects got in the way and removed our focus. It has a working title of Robot Rock and the songs are about 70% completed. We are hoping to release it finally in May, at least that’s the plan. There are some exciting recording projects we are working on at the moment, so it’s all down to time and money, as usual.
What can we expect from the new album?
I am so happy with the songs on the album, and we have been playing some of them live already. I think any of the songs could be released as a single… that is the nice thing about Robot Rock, no ‘fillers’. Anthemic, catchy, and we’re not copying anyone really, it’s quite a distinctive album.
I have to mention Psycho Pete. How long have you known each other and has he always been a part of the Johnny Normal sound?
I have known Psycho for about 15 years, we used to work together on live corporate event projects. He appeared on two songs on the There’s Nothing album, but only joined me when in 2010 we got the call from Adam Ant to do the shows with him and my existing guitarist couldn’t make it.
You became a Radio DJ at Radio Happy. Was this your first experience as a Radio DJ and what made you decide to give it a go?
I was interviewed on the Dave Charles Show at Harborough FM. It was fun and afterwards I thought, ‘I’d like to have a go at this’. And I did. Thanks Dave! And Phil Marsh had been a great mentor during my scary early shows. It seems to be popular now an that means such a lot.
Last Year, I attended the SyntheticCity Gig in Birmingham. A great night was had by all and now we see SyntheticCity Promotions organising more events such as Ides of March , SyntheticCity2 & Digital Darkness. Are you the mastermind behind these events?
SyntheticCity Promotions is a partnership of Ian Wall (Among the Echoes) and myself. We could see that synth-based bands were not getting gigs, other than with guitar bands and then nobody turned up to see them. We took on the traditional promoters and created some strategic events with carefully chosen acts using an existing pool of our Facebook friends, the radio show audience, our contacts in the industry and friendly venues. It’s going well. The Digital Darkness gigs will see a slightly darker style of electronic music, and as many of the darkwave/ebm clubs are disappearing, we saw an opportunity to fill the gap.
You recently worked with XMS on your Miss Razorblade single along with Izzie Kirk-Voodoo. Do you plan to work with other artists in the near future?
The XMS involvement in creating a totally different version of Miss Razorblade was very flattering. Izzie will be on the new album and I am so pleased because I have such respect for her as a singer and musician. Collaborating with Alex Juno on ‘Don’t Blow It’ was amazing too. There will be another album coming out soon where we are working with a major artist, but I’d rather not be drawn on that just yet. We are also weighing up some offers to collaborate with other unsigned synth bands. On the live front there will be some surprise appearances at some interesting gigs.
I always ask this question on Q&A's but who has caught your ear the most of late?
There is so much talent out there… I suppose if you look at what I am playing at home the most, Sinestar are making waves now, The Deviant UK album ‘Very.Bad.Things’, I love Vile Electrodes, and having heard parts of the new Among the Echoes album that is sounding amazing. But there are so many good bands coming though.
Looking back now Johnny over your music career, If you could change anything or you wish you had done something differently, what would it be?
I’m actually pretty happy with how it’s gone so far Andy, I have recorded and performed with some amazing people, played live to big and small audiences, got into some wonderfully funny scrapes, and I couldn’t ask for more really. I appreciate everything I have got from this. I am a lucky man.
Finally Johnny, Thank you for taking part in this Q&A. I don't have to ask you if you would like to plug anything because you can plug better than our council plumber :) Would you like to add anything further.
That deserves a ‘lol’!
I really want to thank all the other DJ’s who are part of the current electro scene for promoting the unsigned artists with such passion. There are some very passionate bloggers, yourself included, who also play a big part in advancing the scene… the fans who spend the money coming to see Johnny Normal and the other bands, buying the CD’s and the merchandise. Finally to the wonderful listeners of RadioHappy who sit through my show every Monday night. Keeping the synth scene alive is a team effort and it’s a fantastic community we have.
Read more: http://www.revival-synth.net/interviews/q-a-with-johnny-normal/