LIKE ALL good wild rock alter egos, the panstick-painted persona of maniac Medics’ leader ‘The Doctor‘, is a confusing character to converse with. No longer playing 300+ gigs a year, he’s today closely reconciled to polite parent-of-four Clive Jackson, whom neighbours in rural Welsh community Libanus know as a chap who sits on the local school board.

It’s a perplexing pair of personalities to put together, and Vive le Rock is only grateful not to have met the man who moved to Mexico in 2003. That bloke appears “when I do local radio - I’ll do you a favour and not let you publish that as the truth”, the Doc cackles (fairly certainly, Clive isn’t the cackler). “I play that card to root out the ones who’ve only read Wikipedia” he smirks.

The Doctor admits a certain amount of the mystery is cultivated, and even endorsed sources’ telling of the truth may be muddied. Although eagerly aiding the remastering and repackaging of the Medics’ first three albums and a singles compilation for reissue recently, the Doc preferred to pass responsibility for the sleevenotes to good friend Hari Oakham, who he remembers “said ‘do you want to check them?’. I said ‘no, I’ll read them when it comes out’. The thing about being ‘not proper famous’”, he muses mischievously, “is that no-one really knows what the truth is”. If he himself knows, he‘s telling only “the more far-fetched stories tend to be the truer ones”.

In a sense, Oakham‘s simultaneously economic and embellished biography is perhaps the truest representation to be drawn for a group who masked themselves in distorting acid trip imagery, to tout a baffling blend of influences. Those hallmarks developed initially at Alice In Wonderland, the 80s London clubnight the Doc and Christian Paris established to be “the direct antithesis to what was going on at the time”. Thinking New Romantic “too serious”, Alice liked to “go back to glam, psychedelic and punk”, and in no particular order. Straight playlists were scorned, and punters “would come down and say ‘ooh, a psychedelic club”, to have their records set skew-whiff; when Alice spun “Johnny Cash, Nirvana - Johnny Cash after Nirvana!”.

While the strange music brewed in London, The Medics’ freaky image and fine-tuned sense of the absurd were nurtured on Alice ‘Mystery Trips’; outings which variously found the regulars caught in a cave during a power cut, and lost in Lowestoft when their coach driver called one way enough. Finally, the pieces fused to form a band for the sum of £5 - bet (and still owed) to the Doctor by a member of The Marble Staircase - who gave The Medics their first gig. “Ravensbourne Art College, 1982”, the Doc remembers, “two weeks earlier he’d said ‘you’ll never form a band….‘”.

It’s thought the money never materialized because of “sour grapes - we blew them off stage!”. Were it that way, The Marble Staircase lost all pride, no doubt, when four years later the monster they made turned up on Top of The Pops. Spirit In The Sky, and the fleeting fame following it, is assumed by many to have become a millstone to The Medics later, and indeed even the distributors’ of the recent reissues in their notes deem the band “unfairly remembered” for it. Here however, the Doctor is unusually generous with the truth, declaring “as life unrolled after Spirit… I loved every minute of it!”.

Looking over the albums, the Medics have certainly made a suitably solid originals catalogue to be creatively content in their career, and the Doc forges forward still, maintaining a steady live schedule and now gearing up to record the long-due next album. He admits to wondering “’what am I going to write about?’” once he’d set this goal and finding little inspiration in available precedents. “I listened to a lot of records by people who’d got to a certain age and they sounded like bitter old men. I didn’t want that, and I certainly didn’t want to get jiggy with kids”, he shudders.

So he took to “looking back to what I used to do”, and realized pretty swiftly the Medics never did need a precedent. And weren’t about to find one, on this plane, at least. Instead, “it was all about this fantasy world, part myth, part history, part religion - once I put it all back in there it just started flowing”.

Alison Bateman


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