Joe Ambrose : The Marrakesh Lounge Lizard Interview

Essaouira by Joe Ambrose
"Joe Ambrose, word guerrilla, pulls his pin and hurls his grenade."
Patrick McCabe, author The Butcher Boy
Writer, DJ, film maker and culture terrorist Joe Ambrose has lead somewhat of a nomadic life, writng novels, biographies, interrogative and myth breaking historical studies on his home country Ireland and loads of contributions to journals, as well as film making and album production. Under ongoing guerilla conditions. His subject matter regularly delineated by themes and ideas that sit on the periphery of popular culture, or of revolutionaries or hobohemian travelers, punks, poets, writers, artists with tales to tell.
"That Joe Ambrose is nothing but a mountainy man."
Salaman Rushdie
In 1992 he co-organized the Here To Go Show in Dublin. A celebration of the cultural impact and significance of the work of Tangier Beat Scenesters Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. Destroy All Rational Thought, now an enhanced DVD, documented many aspects of this week long arts show.
"Let me assure you, as someone who knows about these things, that if you took half the "shits" and "fucks" out of that book, you'd sell twice as many copies."
Joe's mother, Mai Ambrose
He is a DJ in art hip hop combo Islamic Diggers, as well as under his own steam and has been living in Marrakesh, Morocco for the past year or so. Whilst Ambrose has been getting down in North Africa, the Islamic Diggers track William Burroughs Don't Play Guitar has featured on the soundtrack to a new Burroughs documentary, Words of Advice, which also features Patti Smith, Hal Willner and Bill Laswell.
"Joe Ambrose, thanks for driving the snakes out of Ireland."
William Burroughs
Ambrose has previously worked with Anita Pallenberg, Richard Hell, Chrissie Hynde and Herbert Huncke. He is Literary Editor of LA-based magazine, Outsideleft. His extreme travel writing book, Chelsea Hotel Manhattan has recently been published by Headpress. Gimme Danger, Ambrose's scandalous bio of punk founding father Iggy Pop has just come out in French with publishers Camion Blanc, as well as Scandanavia, the publishers in Finland are Johnny Kniga. The Italian edition of Moshpit Culture, titled simply Moshpit is out with a new independent Italian imprint, Tsunami Edizioni.
"Joe Ambrose, he understands - beautifully."
B. P. Fallon
You have to check out his website for all the full deal detail to understand where Joe Ambrose has been and where he is now. I conducted this interview with him due to various technical difficulties via the internet at the end of Jan. 2009.
Paul : I know you have been busy writing in Marrakesh, amongst other things, your Fenian Anthology recently came out in Ireland through the Mercier Press the third in a trilogy of books, based on tracing Irish revolt, insurrection and the leading revolutionary figures. Also your essays and contributions to the essential Headpress Journals, the latest being the John Sinclair/White Panther edited Number 28. What else have you been up to whilst living over in Marrakesh Joe?
Joe : I've been getting on with my novel which is going good but which is a difficult one to finish. It’s called The Darker Side of Me / White Irish and is both picaresque and noirish. Almost by accident I've started DJ`ing around town. I was at a party one night in Gueliz, the so-called chic part of town where all the French live. Someone asked me to DJ and there was some hip hop and reggae lying around so that was easy and didn't represent too much of a challenge. So I've started DJ`ing at private parties to make a little money - which is getting pretty thin on the ground now. I've done parties in Agadir, Essouira, and I've been to the Canaries a few times. I do a sort of lounge set as opposed to music for dancing to. People down here love to lounge around. I did this party during the Marrakesh Film Festival and Polanski and Sigourney Weaver showed up... It'll never last.
What gets you off when DJ`ing in your home town?
Getting paid. But sheriously...the tide is going out on electronic music and the tide is going out on the economy so being in a tourist town where the tourism hasn't quite dried up yet means there's still a few Dirhams floating round. DJ`ing is a job, like being a carpenter or something. It's not an art form, it's a chancer’s job in the entertainment industry but analogous to being a bartender or a roadie. Anyone can do it. I'm the living proof of that. I don't think there's any comparison between visceral live music played by master musicians - be they the Stones or the Gnoua Brotherhood of Marrakesh - and the kind of high jinks DJ`s can get up to. DJ`ing is what a very great man once called "a nice little earner" and that's all.
Marrakesh by Joe Ambrose
You have been living a fairly nomadic lifestyle for a while now. What keeps you moving around and restless?
Debt collectors. Hound dogs on my tail. Outraged young parents - well, younger than me. Nice decent people who try to make me behave like a better person…My family moved around all the time while I was growing up so I guess I'm a rolling stone. There's no moss in Marrakesh.
Tell me something about the most surreal and wild experience you have had DJ`ing?
I just get these gigs in a very casual way. They just sort of show up, which is a Moroccan way of doing things I'm not necessarily comfortable with, being an uptight white guy. My Moroccan manager is Fouad that I've known since he was about 15 – he's 25 now. So I know when to trust him and when not to. He has his finger on the Moroccan pulse, which beats very roughly, toughly, incessantly, and without pity…One day Fouad says to me that there is this gig on the Canaries, a private party for some Greek rich kid. I dislike rich kids – and rich old folks – and the “free enterprise” that gives rise to them but that's another story. Decent people aren't fussy and neither are DJ`s or guys who make their living playing music or folks who write for the papers and magazines. So I says to Fouad "How much?" and he says "2000 Euro." So I say "Let's go." The deal was that I'd be picked up by a boat at Essouira – which is this gorgeous Atlantic seaport – the following Friday evening with a view to reaching the Canaries Saturday morning for a Saturday night party. I'm a bit nervous about small boats after an experience I had in the Straits of Gibraltar but the thought of picking up around $2600 for staring glumly at my laptop for a couple of hours was just the trick needed to tempt me onto the rolling wave. Fouad couldn't come with me because he'd need a visa to get into Europe - the Canaries is parallel to Morocco, to Essouira or Agadir, but it's a part of Spain - but he came as far as Essouira with me which was just as well because - I don't know - I thought I was going to be traveling on some sort of ferry boat but it turned out, after about two hours rambling around on the quays in Essouira, that my carrier was this lumbering old Spanish fishing boat. Essouira is a great place. It was used by Orson Welles in the movie of Othello which captures the architectural eccentricity of the town. They have this huge fishing port and a ship building industry which specialises in big big wooden boats, ones that'd have a crew of thirty men, boats that go hunting those shoals of herring out in the Atlantic depths. Very exciting just to think about it.
What size was your boat?
It was manned by about 15 surly middle aged Spaniards of the seemingly fascist variety. I was shown to a cabin where I had a bunk bed. I dumped my bag down there before going back on deck to enjoy the voyage out. It was a real fishy smelling boat, and oily, lots of wrenches and oily rags everywhere. They must have been waiting for me to arrive, maybe that's why they were surly, because within about twenty minutes we'd cast off and quit that medieval scene.
Joe by Joe
Reminds me of some of the fishing boats I peered into when I was last down in Andalucia, in Garrucha, there were a few newer boats too, I have to admit, or were they yachts? I dunno. Never got up close to those mothers. Go on Joe.....
About a mile out to sea all hell broke loose with the Atlantic. There were these lurching swells and rough currents. The crew were of course indifferent but I didn't like it. I guess I'm a doughty enough traveler if not exactly an intrepid one. You asked me for a surreal story and this is not a surreal story, it's an all too real one. The swells and stuff were just the start of it. By the time I retired to my cabin it was starting to feel like outtakes from The Perfect Storm. My bed was about five foot long so I kind of jammed myself into it so that my shoulders and my feet kept me pinioned in the bunk no matter how much the boat rolled around. After about an hour things calmed down and sometime I went to sleep, only to be awoken when we were within sight of the Islands. The captain was doing up some breakfast, everyone seemed to be in better form, one of the guys even managed to speak a little English, I got some eggs and a bracing mug of coffee. It was real Joseph Conrad stuff. Soon we were on the docks. I had to leap from the boat onto the quay, something I've gotten used to doing in Morocco despite having chronic vertigo. Then I had to scramble around looking for Immigration. Fouad had given me the number of the party organizer guy who was going to pick me up. I called him, he gave me the name of a cafe I'd have no problem finding. He was there in fifteen minutes and they had a hotel room ready for me where I washed all that fishiness and oiliness away and I watched a Katherine Hepburn movie on TNT and then I slept a while and then the party organiser arrived to take me out to dinner with his naturally vivacious girlfriend and then it was the party and I refused to go back the way I came so they had to fly me to Madrid because that was relatively cheap where I hung out a few days - I like Madrid a lot - checking out a few Spanish Civil War sites in the Jarama Valley where the Irish revolutionary Frank Ryan was such a valiant leader. Kit Conway, who came from my own part of Ireland, was Ryan's right hand man and he died at Jarama. Then I flew back to Marrakesh and I paid Fouad his bung and the sun was out.
Joe, I have to hear about the other harrowing oily ratchet boat story after this one....
The other time I had an experience like that, in the Straits of Gibraltar, I got caught up in what was effectively a tsunami. The next day I went to see Boualem Hamri, the brother of Hamri the Painter of Morocco, in Tangier and I was telling him how the boat I was on nearly capsized . All the time Boualem was giggling mischievously so that I had to say to him, "It's not funny, Boualem, I could’ve died." This caused him to laugh all the more and then he said, "Brion Gysin, he always say, 'If you want stories for writing, you should come to Morocco."
I know you were always keen to work more within film, following some shorts and the Destroy All Rational Thought DVD. The 10% File Under Burroughs double album you made happen with then co-conspirator Frank Rynne was a very cool album. Do you have any thoughts on making another album or film? What are your latest plans or collaborations, at least as far as you can talk about at this stage?
Making "albums" seems to be a disappearing art form and recently I've been thinking in terms of promoting music in other performance forums. You still have to have some sort of an album out in order to tour live gigs but I think albums done solely for the purpose of touring is incorrect thinking and anyway a bit of a sad old way to be touring.
Lazy Lover by Joe Ambrose
Yeah, I agree, and the only way many of those artists who aren't big sellers on a major label can make moolah is staying out on tour selling their merchandise. Chuck Prophet once told me a few years back, "Paul, you have to know this one thing.....merch is king". Whats a Marrakesh day like for you then?
I'm working all the time in Marrakesh. I start work around lunchtime doing internet shit - this might be a bit of journalism or some sort of proposal I have out with someone or it might be paying the bill on my London storage unit - and then I write until the mid afternoon. I go shopping or ramble up to Gueliz for a coffee, go home, eat, then I work on fiction until around 11pm when I head out into the night and hang around with various guys I've gotten friendly with who work late in cafes or shops. I'm not exactly a party animal - I prefer to work.
Whats the music scene out there right now?
A confluence of things - mass tourism, satellite TV, mostly the internet – means Moroccan youth listen to a much broader tableau of music now. Years ago it was Rai and Bob Marley reggae and hiphop. Now there are Death Metal enclaves and QOTSA gangs and even zany kinda Dylanesque types. Marrakesh has some powerful music of its own going on right now. I guess the dominant group are Fnaire who make a totally slick presentation. They even have their own clothes line because they’re a rap group. They have a single out right now and the proceeds are going to their Muslim sisters and brothers in Gaza. That’s a fine thing. Then there are various foreign dance music types who didn't do as well as they might have back home where they came from and who have now washed up in Marrakesh to cash in on town's current chic. And the Gnoua just keep on throbbing like only brothers can.
Looking forward to reading the latest novel you are working on; The Darker Side of Me / White Irish.
For up to date information on all Joe`s output, past and present visit the Joe Ambrose website.
Thanks for the photo`s and words Joe
Interview by Paul Hawkins

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