Johnny Dean Interview
Johnny Goes Rogue!
by little miss pinpoint eyes
It wasn’t supposed to happen again. After 15 years of satisfied silence, menswe@r’s Johnny Dean returned to the stage for a cause close to his heart. The singer, who has Aspergers syndrome, was more than happy to play a set of David Bowie covers for a sold out audience in London earlier this year, with all proceeds going to The National Autistic Society. The plan was for Dean to do the show, raise some money for charity and then return to his regular life. But something wholly unexpected occurred…
“I enjoyed myself more on stage that night than at any time in the past,” explains Dean, still slightly astonished by the revelation. “The entire experience was a joy.” This was largely due to the musicians playing with him, The Nuisance Band. On guitar was Steve Horry, who also runs the popular Britpop Night, Nuisance, at The Buffalo Bar. “Steve had been doing the night for a while with a lady called Allie Bailey,” explains Dean. “She messaged me a few years back asking if I'd guest DJ. I agreed and that's how we met. So, initially, he was the only member of the band I knew. I trusted him to find the right group of musicians. He's such a nice person; he wouldn't get involved with anyone who was a cock. That's all I asked for... oh, and being able to play is handy. There are multi-instrumentalists on the roll now, even a member of the Royal Philharmonic Choir!” It all made for a sweaty, boisterous, glamorous, memorable evening for all involved. Over £2000 was raised.
With that night of fun in mind, Horry was contacted by Emma Cooper, one of the ‘swe@rettes (their backing vocalists and ad hoc brass/strings). She was promoting an event to benefit the PMA Sports Academy. Could they perhaps do another show? “I’m not Bob Geldof,” he smiles, “and I won’t do a show for just any charity. It has to be something personal, from the heart.” And it was.
According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, an estimated 1 in 4 British adults will suffer from mental illness at some time. Also, the UK has one of the highest self-harm rates in all of Europe. Worldwide, a whopping 450 million people are affected. It’s the modern Black Death, and just as deadly if left untreated. Like so many others, Dean and Horry have suffered from it directly, often in silence. The stigma that still stubbornly persists leads many to suicide, the victims unaware that it is universally pervasive and that they are anything but alone.
Knowing that isolation is such an unnecessary burden, The PMA Sports Academy uses sport, education and personal development to help improve the quality of life for people affected by mental illness. A recent BBC3 documentary entitled “Football, Madness and Me” showed how the charity has organized a football team consisting of those dealing with mental illness. The results were remarkable; for some people, this is their only contact with the outside world. Together, they compete, celebrate their triumphs and form lasting friendships-- all things that would otherwise be difficult, at best.
So the boys --and girls-- are back again. The Nuisance Band has been rechristened as menswe@r. “Technically this would be menswe@r v3.0,” he muses, “but to me it's menswe@r. It’s what we should have been.” The move hasn’t been entirely without backlash. “I’ve had people I don’t even know tell me that I can’t do that,” chuckles Dean. “Why is anyone telling me what I can and cannot do with my own band? This band is menswe@r. We sound better. Besides, this isn’t a comeback, we’re doing this entirely for charity.”
Johnny’s experiences in the original band were never so exhilarating as with the current incarnation. He attributes the difference to maturity and circumstance. “We were so young then and it happened very suddenly. I mean, we played 2 or 3 gigs and got signed. I think some members of the band took that ease to mean that we wouldn’t ever have to put any effort into it. People fell asleep at rehearsals because they were too fucked up. It was like they wanted to participate in the drugs and partying aspects but not in actual work. Truthfully, I never felt like I even knew those guys, except for Stuart.”
He stops and thinks for a moment and continues, “I do feel like I've ‘gone rogue’ with this whole thing. But that appeals to me, makes the whole thing seem new. Over the last ten years or so I've been contacted in various ways, usually email, by Simon asking me if I'd like to do a reunion. A couple of times we'd meet up-- the whole band. But I always felt like there was something they weren't telling me. I'll lay my cards on the table and admit I don't trust Chris and Simon. Not an inch. I think they're very duplicitous. Everything's about ‘what you can do for me’ as far as I can see. I want nothing to do with that world. One of them is 100% motivated by money, and again, I'm not interested. It doesn't figure in my value system. Certain members have tried to make me out to be bitter but I’m not. There is a huge difference between bitterness and simply not liking someone. So yeah, for me to actually reform menswe@r with new musicians feels ‘rogue’. Add to that the fact I've been doing it for charity rather than personal gain just makes it seem even better. It feels right. And it's sounding great.”
“This menswe@r is older (although younger than the original members), nicer and there are no ulterior motives. A few of them were teenage menswe@r fans and I get a massive kick out of that. I am so much more relaxed now. I feel like I communicate better with people while I’m on stage than with them one-on-one. I cannot wait to play.”
This show will feature all menswe@r songs. When asked which ones have been most enjoyable in rehearsals, the singer says, “Crash. The One. They're awesome live. And I never thought I could enjoy Hollwood Girl as much as I have been with these guys. It should be illegal.” Those in attendance should be prepared for a few, special surprises as well. Breathe deeper… you are in for a fabulous night for a terrific cause.
menswe@r play this Friday at Rattesnake, 56 Upper St, London N1 0NY, United Kingdom. Tickets are £5 from WeGotTickets. £6 on the door.