Mouse Eat Mouse: Scottish musos on independence and working class liberation

March 31, 2017
Mouse Eat Mouse members CD Shade and MP Lehane.

Self-described “extreme folk” Scottish band Mouse Eat Mouse are one of the more obscure acts around, which makes it all the more satisfying to hear any new works.

Last year’s Toxic Tails is an album of beauty, anger and passion, traits often missing in today’s sanitised music industry.

I decided, therefore, to get in touch with CD Shade, the bald-headed, smooth-singing wordsmith who is the backbone of the act.

It turned out to be a fascinating exchange, Shade firing off passionate answers and clearly-thought out arguments.

Asked about the act’s support for Scottish independence, which was expressed eloquently on the album, Shade put it as a choice between “independence or dependency. Being a syndicalist I believe in self-determination.

“Is Scotland the only country in the world genetically programmed to be incapable of running its own affairs? Would you ask your neighbour who is deep in debt to look after your finances? Why are the unionists so in love with the anachronistic absurdity of Westminster?

“It is the mother of all neoliberal politics. Anything that will help to break up the decaying post-imperialist UK state is fine by me.

“An historical fact: Scotland entered the Union (in 1707) with no debt whilst England had massive debts, part of which was accrued to pay off the Scots’ so-called nobility — parcel of rogues and all that.”

And from this we delved into Britain’s relationship to the European Union, which a majority across Britain voted last year to sever. In that referendum, most Scots voted to remain part of the EU, driving another wedge in the relationship between Edinburgh and Westminster.

“The EU is not inherently vindictive, but like all bureaucracies they look after themselves,” Shade said. “A right-wing Westminster Parliament is vindictive.

“We are about to feel the full force of Westminster’s retribution for having had the audacity to almost vote for independence — shipbuilding on the Clyde for starters.

“Two of the most important reasons to be in the imperfect EU: one, keeps the bellicose European nation states from going to war with each other; two, the European Convention of Human Rights [ECHR].

“Without the ECHR, we would have no right to fair trials, privacy, freedom from slavery, domestic violence, torture and degrading treatment. The Good Friday Agreement [in Northern Ireland] is ratified by the ECHR and would fall apart without it.

“The Hillsborough conspiracy [in which police were responsible for the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans in 1989] wouldn’t have reached court without the backing of the children’s charter which is part of ECHR.

“Would you trust a neoliberal government that is more idealistically right-wing than Thatcher’s mob? I certainly wouldn’t allow a bunch of mis-educated private school buffoons at Westminster anywhere near a UK Human Rights charter.”

Part of the charm of Mouse Eat Mouse is the poetic manner in which they convey their music. They are a punk Ivor Cutler, a demented John Betjeman. It is almost spoken word, but Shade’s timbre is theatrical, cutting, edgy.

When I first came across the track “Mair Licht” on an Uncut or Mojo compilation a decade ago, I was struck by how unusual it sounded among all the other standard favourites of that magazine. It wasn’t pop and it wasn’t anti-pop, but it was certainly something.

In an era of plastic soul, punk-by-numbers and the once-maligned middle-of-the-road now being on both sides of the highway, what is the role of those who choose not to talk of lost love and fast cars?

“I see MEM as a conduit for debunking the self-elected elite. Ours is a small voice and if we were nakedly angry we would have called ourselves Dog Eat Mucking Dog.

“I’m from a theatre background and understand the power of the platform – you have to put a bit of colour and emotion into your work. Not angry, but frustrated about the level of miseducation and misinformation in our society.

“In our sectarian school system I was taught a fabled history of Picts, Romans and Kate Barlass. We got a bit of Shelley but it was hygienically cleansed of his polemics. Nothing about the Scots medieval makars (poets) Dunbar, Douglas or Henryson. No mention of John Maclean and the Red Clydesiders.

“I had to go to France to hear about Hugh MacDiarmid and Hamish Henderson. It was the American, George Whitman, who ran the Shakespeare and Co bookshop in Paris who quoted MacDiarmid’s ‘Little White Rose of Scotland’ to me.

“Fluffy singers have their place. What annoys is the way these kids are manipulated by apologies for human beings.”

It took seven years for the band’s second album Woof to arise in 2013 — a self-released sombre, acoustic collection. But, as Shade explains, illness, record company problems and the loss of band members made recording and releasing material somewhat problematic.

“In the gap between our first two albums I had a heart operation. When I was recovering I had other projects to fulfil.

“Nevertheless, Woof was written and ready to go with Matt [Lehane] in charge of the recordings, but our record company [Hackpen] had gone out of business. To compound our problems our management company failed. By this time we only had remnants of the original band.

“I don’t know the music business and not having the support of a label or management behind Woof it made things difficult. We talked with various people to find replacements but didn’t find anyone suitable. This was to be a blessing in disguise as it has allowed us the freedom to do things at our own pace. Matt suggested that we rework Woof which we did.

“Our first joint venture resulted in Toxic Tails.

“Look out for our next album that tackles how the arts are used as propaganda to protect the status quo.”

We look forward to it.

[Abridged from Craig Haggis's site, Porky Prime Cuts.]

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