Grammar Free in the UK: The Lockdown Letter is a book of very silly letters sent to, and with funny replies from, some of the UK’s biggest punk bands. We ask co-author Dave Philpott WTF he was thinking!
The noble pun dates back, so they say, to Egyptian times, and William Shakespeare himself used over 3,000 of them – so, approximately half as many as the average NOFX album. From band names like the Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat to the lyrics of Snuff and The Vandals, puns and other forms of wordplay have long been a staple of punk rock.
Now, adding to this noble lineage is Grammar Free in the UK: The Lockdown Letters. It’s a new book of deliberately obtuse missives sent to, and with replies from, the likes of Cock Sparrer, Subhumans, Angelic Upstarts, Vice Squad, Peter and The Test Tube Babies, GBH, Gang of Four and Sham 69.
It was written during lockdown by pseudonymous duo Derek and Dave Philpott, who delight in picking up on glaring lyrical errors, completely getting the wrong end of the stick and totally misunderstanding the meaning of ‘poetic license.
Or, as Graeme Douglas from Eddie and the Hot Rods, put it: “Half-baked questions to half-pissed lyricists about half-dumb songs – what’s not to half like?”
Grammar Free in the UK was also designed by the real Viki Vortex with Cock Sparrer/Argy Bargy’s Daryl Smith overseeing art direction and a portion of the proceeds from each sale will be donated to a punk-worthy charity.
With copies of the book currently flying off the shelves, Punktuation (clearly no strangers to a good pun ourselves) spoke to Dave Philpott.
Grammar-free in the UK follows your first two books, Dear Mr Pop Star and Dear Mr Kershaw: A Pensioner Writes, so you’ve clearly got form in this area – what was your original inspiration?
Dave: It started as an idea to make us laugh. We’d pick out inconsistencies in lyrics (or just deliberately misunderstand them) and construct a narrative between ourselves. Eventually, we had enough of them to make a small website. It just so happened that a fan said that they could hook us up with the artist and see if they would be happy to perhaps reply to us.
Once we got that first retort it was a real buzz, and after this word started spreading. Roadies, friends of roadies, the bass player’s first cousin twice removed, anyone with a connection got in touch and offered their help.
Suddenly it became a community and the website, once really aimed at a few people, went global. We immediately thought about how good this would be if we could make a book out of it.
Why did you turn your attention to UK punks for the new book?
Dave: I’ve always found the punks to be really good folk, amiable, friendly and with a cracking sense of humour. They completely get us and what we do and are not afraid of taking the piddle out of themselves.
Sadly, this has been a very poor time for the music industry and so I think a lot of the artists were looking for something to get involved with. Although the letters were completely free to read, we realised that many punks don’t ‘do’ Facebook and so we published ‘Grammar Free…’ with the idea that we could give something back, make a donation to charity, avoid big corporations like Amazon and instead concentrate on independent book and record shops.
There’s so much detail in each of the letters, what’s your writing process?
Dave: We’re trying to give a sense that they’ve been dashed off, but actually the process is quite intense. We sort of find a punchline first and then move backwards from that point in order to construct the run up to it.
We like the slow burn – the reader wondering where we’re going with all this and then it all comes together and ties up at the end. There are ‘Easter Eggs’ included in there for fans. We’ll drop in a reference to lyrics, perhaps the title of an obscure song or a B-side, just to keep them on their feet. So, in answer to your question: absolutely blooming ages.
How have the legends of UK punk you’ve been writing to responded to your correspondence?
Dave: Before we start a letter, we will speak to the artist … then it’s up to them how they reply. They can respond politely or tear us to bits if they wish. It’s all good sport, and they and us are completely in on the joke. Some of them tell us to ‘Eff off’ and we think that’s hilarious.
We get surprised all the time because we don’t know what we’re going to get back!
So, if you think a punk rocker is a comfortable seat, Groan Day is a dad joke’s favourite band or that all the best songs are in the key of anarch-E, then this is the perfect book for you.
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I’m a punk rock aficionado, martial arts pupil and fair-to-middling student of the Bengali language. I’m also a journalist, writer and editor, specialising in medicine and technology.
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