Partisans: Blowing a Storm in Cyberspace
While Partisans' future might involve playing virtual gigs from inside the Space Station, the band's past has been firmly on Terra Firma. Individually the quartet's members have strong reputations and all are active across a range of projects, but they have a firm commitment to Partisans: a commitment that has enabled the group to flourish for so many years in an environment where ensembles seem to form, perform and split up in the blink of an eye. Partisans formed in the mid-90s and have been in existence with the same line-up for almost 14 years: "It's frightening" declares Robson about the band's longevity. The first album was called Partisans (EFZ, 1997) but was credited to Julian Siegel and Phil Robson. Despite this, it was a band album. Robson clarifies the point: "It started as the Julian Siegel, Phil Robson Quartet but we certainly wanted to start a band. We started off in the jazz scene and it was a co-led project so it seemed natural to name it after us both. Pretty soon we found a line-up that worked and then it became a different animal."
The addition of Thad Kelly on bass and ex-pat American Gene Calderazzo on drums created the band that soon became known as Partisans. "The name from the first album just stuck" Robson continues: "Other people, not us, just started to call the band Partisans. It was originally just the name of a tune." Siegel takes up the point: "On the record it was the name of the first track. Some people have asked if there was any sort of political connotation to the name, because of its link to World War 2." In fact, the track was originally a song written by Robson for singer Christine Tobin, about the French Resistance. The song was never performed, Robson says, "because it worked so well as an instrumental. It almost became the theme tune for the band for a while: the tune we had to have in every set. It's a feel-good, almost Rolling Stones type tune. We would finish the set with it and we just got known by that name."
Later in the interview Robson returns to the band's history, making a specific point that clearly is important to him. "We started out in a conventional setup, albeit with us as co-leaders, but once we found the lineup we've had for 13 yearsa long time for a band in this day and agetaking on a band name just seemed really apt. The combination of Gene and Thad we knew was right. Although [Julian and me] take on the organization, musically speaking it's a real four-way thing."
It has been said that the band was originally The Partisans, dropping the definite article to avoid confusion with a Welsh punk band of that name. Both Robson and Siegel quickly correct this perception. "It never was," Siegel states emphatically. Robson expands on this: "We were never called The Partisans. We always try to make it clear that it is Partisans." Siegel notes that "We get one email a year"Hate mail" interjects Robson, laughingfrom a punk asking 'Who are you?' but we've never had any contact from The Partisans. I'd never heard of them, I'm ashamed to say."
"It's funny" continues Siegel, "but we actually have a connection with the band Crass, who were contemporaries of The Partisans...They came to gigs at the old Vortex club and we got to know them: people who would sit at the front and shout out and be much more vocal than your average jazz crowd. They became our friends and offered to do art work for us. In fact, all our album artwork has been by members of Crass...we really like what they do." As a result of this connection with Crass, Partisans album covers are very distinctive and have a strong impact: something that is often lost since the 12-inch album lost its popularity. The By Proxy artwork, for example, is a beautiful design by Crass vocalist Bron Jones [aka "Eve Libertine"]. Siegel explains the importance of art to Partisans: "It's so easy to buy music and, unfortunately, to steal music that it's worth making that extra bit of effort to create something that people want on their shelves, want to own. I don't think that will ever die out." Robson is also a lover of album art, explaining that "I absolutely treasure my Black Sabbath records. I love the first album's coverjust great, I think. I personally love interesting artwork on albums."