Johnny Proctor Interview - Ninety Six
Acid house, soccer casuals and underground dance music. Just what the Proctor ordered!
We recently had the great pleasure to speak to and interview mega talented Scottish writer and novelist Johnny Proctor. In this article we delve deep to find out about some of his influences, what inspires him and how he got into writing books. And not to mention a sneaky peek at his latest offering in the Zico book trilogy, Ninety Six.
What was it that inspired you to make a start on a novel?
Initially I hadn’t planned to write a novel. It wasn’t something that had ever been on my radar if I’m honest. For the previous five years I had been writing for various music, fashion and culture websites. Through a connection with one of the sites that I wrote for. The idea of a novel was brought up. Before committing to it I went away to see if I could find any inspiration with regards to something that I could write 120,000 words about. The inspiration came from a few directions but without doubt was kickstarted by a random night where I found myself watching Quadrophenia. For me, the key aspect of that film is where you get to see Jimmy experience both the good and bad sides that would come from being a mod. This provided the catalyst that saw me thinking back over the youth subcultures that exploded (like Mod culture) where I was part of and was able to experience, just like Jimmy, the good and the bad sides. There’s quite a few terrace and Ecstasy culture related books out there where everything seems to be romanticised. I felt inspired to tell a tale that showed how good it could be to be part of the explosion of Acid House in the UK or the buzz of an awayday with your firm but while also not hiding from the potential there was for how bad it could be. They say write what you know so I felt that I had enough experience close to both subcultures that I could then transfer that into a fictional novel.
What was your own involvement in the Acid House movement and would you say parts of this ongoing story are influenced around your own experiences?
I was too young to experience the first wave of Acid House in the UK but by 1990, like a lot of other Scots, was catching up with things a few years later. Musically things had progressed by then and you had your choice of which “house music” you preferred. I hadn’t even been out to half a dozen house nights before, along with some friends, I was putting on a night called Pulse Eight. Obviously I hadn’t the first clue what I was doing and my mixing was like someone falling down a set of stairs but it was good times those early days. We found ourselves always hiring the most unlikely of venues like working men’s clubs and Masonic halls. With the House scene still relatively underground it was always a challenge to secure venues and we would find ourselves generally blagging our way into places that you’d normally find 18th birthdays and shit hosted. After any night that we’d put on it was then automatically difficult to rebook the same venue again due to the capers that had taken place so it was an almost endless search to find another place to hold our next one. Through those days and more specifically as a general paying public customer going to nights across the UK as well as Ibiza it’s hard not to draw parallels with my own experiences from back at the start of the Nineties. I think one of the key elements about Ninety though is that whilst Zico (to a certain extent) mirrors some of my own experiences. They also might mirror yours or your mate that you work with etc. I have had a lot of comments from people who have read it who have felt that when they read it, at times, it was as if they were reading a book about themselves. When you’re writing a book about a specific scene there is always going to be the risk of others who were part of that same culture who may challenge you over the vision of the scene that you’ve put down on print. Instead I have had some amazingly humbling feedback from existing and ex ravers and the same with hooligans across various Scottish and English firms who have commented on how it reflected their own experiences.
Pre internet. The world seemed a much bigger less connected stage. How would you say that the Acid House scene differed north of the border than it did here in England?
I know this is probably just a cliche but bands have always remarked upon how enthusiastic and up for it their Scottish fans are when they play live here in Scotland at venues like The Barrowlands. You know? Bruce Forsyth always used to say “you’re so much better than last week” to his audience so there’s probably an element of that when bands say such stuff but yet even so I still reckon there is an element of truth to it.
That same ethos I feel applied to the party scene in Scotland once Acid House arrived. There were no half measures when it came to what was going on inside the venues. Look, obviously there was the Ecstasy aspect and that can’t ever be ignored or overlooked but there really was such a feeling of unity and togetherness at these parties that had never been known before in Scotland at public gatherings. It’s probably an unfair and overused stereotype about Scots but they do like a drink when enjoying themselves but
unfortunately. If you’re going to have hundreds or thousands of people drinking together there will be “issues”’later on in the night and fights will be almost an inevitability. This was something that was nothing more than expected so to discover parties that had absolutely zero fighting or aggro with everyone getting on right up to the last record being spun was a complete revelation in the country.
Strangers talking to strangers all through the night in that whole “what’s your name? what you had? Where you from?” community vibe. It was a phenomenon that our country had never experienced before and never knew COULD even be possible.
Those early days were just a love in of the like minded all congregating for the same joint reasons and like Scots tend to do, made every single second count while they were there. None of this stuff where as the hours would pass the night would start to wind down as people began to get tired. Seeing thousands of people going for it as hard at 8am as they had been at 10pm the previous night still remains one of the most amazing sights I have ever witnessed in my life.
As for the clubber at the time and speaking purely from a boys perspective yeah it was all taking place during a time where football casual culture was rife but inside these events there was no pretensions or judging. Away from them yeah there was cases where you’d have people looking down their noses at others over what labels they were wearing but stepping into the Acid House arena was like moving into a parallel universe. People wore whatever they wanted to without ever feeling out of place and in some ways Acid House created its own fashion through this. Lots of wild day glow and loose fitting gear. I think labels like Gio Goi were instrumental in all of that where they tapped into what the ravers needed for an extended night out that wasn’t just going to come to an abrupt end at 2am like what party people had been accustomed to. You’d never have dreamt of going out for the night dressed in a pair of trainers, shorts and a light cagoule etc until then yet it felt like it was completely natural in doing so. Scotland has never been famed for creating its own fashion look or starting trends. The feeling being that whatever everyone was wearing in a say, London, Liverpool or Manchester would eventually trickle down to us. Acid House I feel was the great leveller in that sense. If you thought it looked good and was going to be comfy then you just went with it. There’s a small nod to that part of the House scene in Ninety where Zico who, as a casual, is obsessed with his designer clothes cannot really get his head around the fact that when going out for his first allnighter his mate advises him not to really worry about wearing his best gear. The thought of going *out* for the night required dressing *down*
As we’re focusing on the second book in the trilogy. Could you give us a brief recap of your first book, Ninety?
Ninety was a coming of age novel which surrounded 16 years old “Zico,” a young Scottish soccer casual who has been seduced by the terrace culture life. Travelling home and away with the Dundee Utility Crew and getting up to all sorts of trouble every week with the boys. The combination of the explosion of Acid House and meeting a girl soon has him questioning his weekend activities and whether he’s actually on the correct path with his logic being that it will only be a matter of time before he either ends up in trouble with the police, or worse. I know that it may now be viewed as a cliché over how Ecstasy changed the face of the UK soccer hooligan but there are *many* examples of the effect that it *did* have on some individuals who were part of the casual subculture. Like for so many in that era. That first House night and that first pill. It was like some kind of an awakening and life was never quite the same again for a lot of people. It was practically impossible not to be heavily impacted by the scene once you’d sampled it. This is the narrative that I went with for Ninety. Taking the character from one polar opposite of engaging in a pastime that was based (in part) on violence to the other that replaced violence with a much unexpected peace love and unity. Of course, life doesn’t always work out as easy as we would all like so without giving any spoilers away I can at least say that Zico moving from being a casual to a raver is not something that you could ever describe as a seamless transition. It’s a novel that I believe carries the dual feature of being able to give the reader a trip down memory lane (if old enough!) while accurately describing the rave scene and the feeling that went along with it in its earlier days if the reader *isn’t* old enough.
I think Dean Cavanagh (writing partner with Irvine Welsh) summed it up perfectly when he described Ninety as ‘A great portrait of a seminal time for youth culture in the U.K. A nostalgic read for those who experienced it and an exciting read for those that didn’t.’
Without any real spoilers what can we expect from the sequel, Ninety Six?
As you’ll have noticed. With the theme that exists with regards to the titles of both novels. The latest novel picks up the story six years on from the end of Ninety. Six years is a long time in the life of anyone never mind Zico so from Ninety covering the story of a 16 year old boy who doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know at that point of life. Ninety Six shows a more mature Zico (although in no way any more wiser) The novel itself moves away from Scotland and takes place in Ibiza over the summer season with the main character having secured a small residency at the world famous ‘Space’ out on the terrace every other night as a DJ. While Ninety was a coming of age novel Ninety Six is more an example of when someone gets the chance to live out their dreams and finding out that sometimes you need to be careful for what you wish for. While Ninety was somewhat restricted in terms of it surrounding a 16 year old living in Scotland with his parents. The follow up being set in Ibiza offers the chance to be a lot more open ended with regards to what life could throw up that simply would not have been possible had the novel been still set in Scotland.
Like any other trilogy. You will see some characters reprised while others will not be carried over six years later. There will also be some new characters that were not part of Zico’s world in 1990 who feature heavily. With it being set in Ibiza and over that unforgettable summer of Euro 96 I’m hoping that, like Ninety, Ninety Six will once more offer the reader a chance of a nostalgic trip back to a time and a place that they already experienced for themselves. It’s difficult not to give spoilers but the strapline of the book pretty much says what needs to be said ‘Three months in Ibiza – What could go wrong?’ For anyone who has read Ninety and already knows the psyche of Zico they will already be aware of the potential for disaster that spending a summer on the world’s most notorious party island would provide for the poor guy!
What are some of your favourite Acid House tracks from back in the day?
As a DJ (and clubber) Through the years I moved through various genres that fell under the House Music umbrella. Acid House to Techno and then to Drum and Bass but the one genre that I look back on the most fondly was the era of Techno, the majority of which provided by the Belgians at R&S Records. Joey Beltram, Dave Angel and Frank de Wulf and artists of that ilk. Vamp by Outlander, Energy Flash and Mentasm by Beltram as well as the de Wulf remix of Kinetic’s ‘Golden Girls’ will never, ever, get old regardless of how many decades ago they were produced. To highlight this. Towards the end of last year I was in Warehouse Project in Manchester at the Solardo curated night with Claude von Stroke and DJ Heidi where Heidi dropped Vamp to the crowd. Considering this was a track that was 28 years old and a percentage of the crowd barely having even been born during its initial release the song still almost took the roof off the Store Street venue.
I’ll always have a major soft spot for the earlier Acid House tracks that kick started the scene in the U.K. too. Let the music use You by Nightwriters. Can you feel It by the legend himself Larry Heard, under the name Mr Fingers. Marshall Jefferson’s classic ‘Move your Body.’ All of those tunes and all the others around in that era deserve the recognition that they get due to how early the scene was when they were around. Without them we’ll never know if Acid House would have faded away instead of becoming the behemoth (good or bad) that electronic music is today. It seems more relevant to say this today in terms of how big House Music became given the fact that it was only last weekend where Ultra Music Festival were paid an obscene amount of money from KFC to provide Colonel Sanders with a 5 minute DJ slot on the main stage. Days on I still don’t even yet know how I am meant to process that!
With Ninety having the soccer casual aspect to it and passing references to the clothes that U.K firms would wear back then. What are your own favourite items of clothing / labels?
From an early age and as far back as primary school I’d fallen into wearing designer labels, in truth before I was even aware of what a designer label even was. I really had no clue what the crocodile on my polo shirt represented for example. It was just something that my mum had stuck on me for the day! It took the explosion of terrace culture for me to then see that there actually was some kind of a movement going on that was seeing groups of lads all wearing similar types of clothes to me. I think one of the more cooler things about terrace culture is that today in 2019 you could easily go out wearing elements of what you wore in the late eighties / early nineties and not look out of place today. Through this a lot of labels have stood the test of time and are as still relevant today every bit as much as they were decades ago. Stone Island and CP Company specifically are two of the labels that were around all of those years ago yet today are every bit as sought after. Unfairly or not I’d say that both of these labels are now so integrated with terrace culture to the point that it’s practically impossible to see either or and not think of football hooligans. A classic example of this is that I have noticed that on match days when going to see my team, Dundee United, I will normally find myself being searched while going into the stadium when wearing either Stone Island or CP but yet often will go without a search if I’m without either label?!
Apart from those two I will perennially wear Adidas and over recent years have developed a lot of love for the Spezial collection and what Gary Aspden and his associates have been doing with the range. I also have a lot of time for the label, Ma.Strum which is practically cousins with Stoney and CP. I’d also give a small nod towards the Transalpino guys in Liverpool who do a lot of great things with regards to the t shirts that they bring out. Some really good out of the box thinking when it comes to the designs which I feel absolutely nails what terrace culture is all about.
We also noticed from your Instagram that you spend quite a bit of time in the city of Amsterdam. What is this particular city to you? Business, pleasure or do you actually live there?
Amsterdam is almost like my second home although I don’t think that I could ever live there full time! With how close and easy it is to get to it has been the one European city that I always end up back in. There are Scottish cities that I haven’t been to as many times as Amsterdam despite myself only living hours away from! I know that it has its reputation that it will never shake off but anyone with a degree of knowledge of Amsterdam will tell you that there is a whole lot more to the city than the obligatory legal cannabis and red light districts that takes all the headlines. Some of the lesser visited districts like de Pijp are simply perfect for spending a day in. It’s a city that once it sinks its teeth into you it will never let go again.
Pubs or Coffee Shops?
You know? I’m racking my brains here and can’t ever recall having even 1 bottle of beer in Amsterdam in all of the times that I have visited. I guess that probably answers your question!
Who are your writing influences? The Authors who possibly inspired you to write yourself?
Without question the two authors who provided me with the inspiration to write my own stuff have been Hunter S Thompson and Irvine Welsh. Both of them have influenced me in their own ways. Thompson grabbed me in a way that no other writer ever did through his own brand of “gonzo journalism.” The way (notably in Fear and Loathing) that he told the story from the first person viewpoint. I felt, really grabbed the reader and left them feeling like not only was he sat down with you telling you a story over a beer but that with the way that he told it. It left you feeling like you had actually been there with him along for the ride. Irvine Welsh provided his own inspiration due to the fact that (over some of his novels) he is talking about real life situations in Scotland that are not so far removed from myself or my friends and acquaintances. That Welsh was able to write novels that showcased general suburban Scottish life and make it so entertaining was a game changer for me. Sometimes you take for granted your own surroundings and have no concept that while something is just “the usual” for you. If put across in the correct way can provide entertainment for others.
When beginning the trilogy of books did you ever consider the possibility that it would result in the story being picked up as a film?
I’d be lying if I said that it had ever been a consideration of mines. When writing Ninety (as an unknown writer) I wasn’t even sure if anyone would actually buy a copy let alone it selling well with orders from as far flung corners of the world as Australia, Brazil, America, Canada as well as all over Europe. Whilst aware that terrace and rave culture is as popular outside the U.K as it is inside I feel that it would have been kind of hopeful of me to think that it would have captured the attention of anyone outside of Britain. Instead I have had people from all over the world reach out to me through social media asking where they can get their hands on a “Zico” t shirt?! This in itself astonishing as the t shirts themselves were never intended to be sold as were only planned to help with the promotion of Ninety. Throw one or two to a celebrity when you get the chance. You know the deal?
The bucket hat and badly beaten up face emoji however has proved to be slightly iconic which has seen some wearing the t shirt without actually having read the book. Definitely something that I hadn’t planned on happening but each to their own I suppose. In the same vein and as already mentioned. Any thoughts of a film version of the book was the furthest thing from my mind. We’re now approaching the first anniversary of the release of Ninety however and I have received a lot of comments from social media in relation to how good a film or TV show would be if it was to come out of the book. Knowing what I know of what is still to come from the trilogy it would not be dull if it was ever to be moved onto that platform.
While we’re talking hypothetically. Is there any actors or directors that you would like to get their hands on your series of books?
Anyone who has read Ninety will have seen for themselves that while writing about a period of time long since gone. I went to pains to ensure that the novel retained its authenticity to keep in tune with the start of that decade. Writing from the perspective of near on thirty years before at times was a pain in the arse but at all times tried to stay true to that decade. Should any (or all) of the Zico series were ever to transfer over to the screen then I would not ever wish to compromise on the authentic aspect of things. I think it’s pretty much accepted that no actors can fully pull off a Scottish accent apart from actual Scots themselves! With this in mind I feel that it would restrict who may or may not be able to slide into such roles that the Zico trilogy would offer. I’m a big fan of Martin Compston’s work and feel that there are roles in the story that he would be ideal for although due to age this would not include the roles of either Zico or his hooligan associate and best friend, Si. There are lots of amazing young actors here in Scotland that without even knowing it yet themselves were born to play the role of Zico. Whilst indulging in this little piece of fantasy I would say that with regards to the production side of things. I could not ever look further than the team of Danny Boyle, Andrew Macdonald and John Hodge. If ever there were safe hands to hand your baby over to then it would be that trio.
So with Ninety Six now completed and weeks away for release. What are your next plans with regards to bringing the story to it’s conclusion and when can we expect to see it?
Let Ninety Six get itself out for release and then we’ll talk!
Where will Ninety Six be available?
Upon release it will be available worldwide throughout the usual outlets of U.K bookstores and Amazon however during the early stages following release I will be making slightly discounted copies available directly through my Twitter and Instagram accounts.