COOL MATT AND THE FIREBRAND
COOL MATT AND THE FIREBRAND
BRINGING A MENTAL FREQUENCY TO WEEKEND RADIO, WRITES ANDY GRAY.
Dartford’s claim-to-fame as the birthplace of the Rolling Stones’ Jagger and Richards is as well-worn as the page marked ‘dealer’ in Mick and Keith’s 1970s contacts book. Now the town has another noteworthy native to namedrop – Matt Morgan. As well as being a comedy writer of shows including C4’s The Mimic, and the recent BBC ‘pilot’, Mister Winner, Matt’s mirthful incursions are the making of the Russell Brand Show; an uproarious, radio melange of poetry, spiritual ponderings and ruddy ridiculous, but wildly funny prattle. Unlike Brand, his show-off, best-uary mate born across the water in Essex, Matt avoids the spotlight – but he slipped out of the shadows to take Andy Gray on a virtual tour of Kentish landmarks past, present and personal.
Kent Institute of Art and Design (now the University of Creative Arts) Maidstone
I signed-up for an art foundation course at KIAD after being expelled from Dartford Grammar School. I’d drawn a picture of a penis on the cover of a Thomas Hardy novel we were studying in English Literature, The Return of the Native. The kid sat next to me in class started laughing at it. The teacher saw it and sent me to the headmaster. I was told I could sit my exams, but I was no longer a pupil of Dartford Grammar School. It was such a tragic way to get expelled – the penis drawing was actually two-years-old – but indicative of the cynical way the school operated at the time. They had school league tables to consider and I was one of about six kids spuriously expelled ‘cause they obviously felt we would screw-up their ratings system.
I got into massive trouble with my parents – the school threw me out two weeks before I was due to sit my exams. That fortnight I spent at home, I had nothing to do but revise. I ended-up getting a ’B’ in English Literature – which I think was the highest grade in class, but because I was no longer an official Dartford Grammar pupil the school couldn’t include my result in their league table, so that was my revenge.
A teacher at Dartford told me I should try for career in writing, but I was always more interested in art, painting and stuff – hence me and a friend enrolled at KIAD. After being at a strict grammar school where they treated us like robots, KIAD treated us like grown-ups – but my mate and I weren’t grown-up enough to appreciate it and completely squandered the opportunity the college gave us.
Maidstone was a fair distance from where we lived just outside Dartford, so even though we were supposed to arrive at college at 9.30am or something, which wasn’t even that early, we were invariably late. Being the punks we were meant we’d spend half-hour in the morning just doing our hair, so a lot of the time, rather than risk getting into trouble for being late, we wouldn’t bother going in at all. We’d skive-off and take acid until the inevitable happened – we got expelled. We didn’t find out, though, until we eventually made it into college one day and a teacher said, ‘You’re not allowed to come back here’. It turns out they had already informed us we’d been expelled via a letter, but because neither of us had been home for four days we were totally unaware until we showed-up in person. I just really felt disappointed – then I had to tell my parents…
The Red Lion – Gravesend
The Red Lion was our place to hang-out and perform as teenagers. We formed a band, Subculture, and did covers of other groups who were big at that early-90s time – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, etc. I was more confident then, so when they asked me to be the singer I naively agreed and immediately became their really bad singer. I could never remember the words, so on stage I had to have them written down on a piece of paper in massive letters. I never really knew where we were in a song. If I lost my place, because I’m not musical, the guitarist would have to shout something like, ‘We’re going into the verse’. I didn’t know what anything meant.
The only claim I had to any kind of musical or rock and roll credibility was a pair of leather trousers I bought in a charity shop. The trousers came into their own when I fell onto my knees – partly by accident – during one bit of end-of-song showmanship.
With Subculture, we’d rehearse, do a gig then sit back and say, ‘Well that was amazing’. We were a band who rested on our laurels, but we loved it. We all wore our hair as long as Dartford Grammar allowed, with shit, curtain-style centre partings.
There was so much good music around then, especially good British heavy metal. After Kurt Cobain shot himself it was all Britpop and Oasis, which I never got into even though I’ve since become friends with Noel Gallagher. I’ve got some really funny footage of those Subculture gigs somewhere in my collection. I might share it one day.
The Pied Bull – Farningham
It’s totally changed now, but back in the day the Pied Bull was a bit of a biker’s boozer. A lot of our friends who had older brothers and sisters would go there, so me and my mates – who would’ve been about 15 at the time – would tag along.
It’s been totally clamped down upon now of course, but back then, if you were just sat there not causing any problems you were okay to have a drink, even if you weren’t quite old enough. I loved that pub. It had a brilliant jukebox that played all the heavy stuff the biker’s liked – Black Sabbath, Sex Pistols, etc. And being so young, it felt great and grown-up being in a pub.
We were idiots, really, my mates and I. We wanted to be like the cool kids who had cars and went to parties. There were a few girls around, but for us it was all about music and drink. We’d tell our parents we were staying at each other’s’ houses and then go somewhere we could light a fire, drink booze and sleep out. We slept in a storm drain in Eynsford once. As I said, we were idiots, but we had good fun.
Keston Ponds – Bromley
This area is near to where I’m living now in Bromley. It’s great for mountain biking and that sort of thing. That’s what I love about Kent – you’ve got beautiful woodlands and stuff practically outside your front door. We had nothing like Keston Ponds where I lived in north London. I moved to the city when I was 19 to study art at Harrow College. It’s only when I moved out of Dartford that I realised – for want of a better word – how ‘cockney’ I sounded. Because of the accent I was seen as a bit of a geezer at college – something I’ve never been. It gave me a bit of a vibe among the other students who were from places like Oxford and Wales. There were worse reputations to have, I suppose.
Moving away also gave me a different perspective on Dartford – I saw how rough it was. Travelling to Dartford town centre for a night out was always an edgy experience – there were always fights going-off. My own fighting history around town was quite ludicrous, so trouble wasn’t something we aspired to.
Our lack of city-cred was noticeable when my mates and I trained-it to London at weekends to Pop Scene, a club night at the Astoria which was big with 90s indie kids. Our gang used to wear one gold earring, the way everyone did in Dartford back then; short hair and a gold earring of the hoop variety, rather than the Pat Butcher dangly-style number – we did have certain standards. The London kids we met were obviously more cool, and that was confirmed to us one night when we got talking to these girls at the club and all they said was, ‘Why have you lot got a gold earring in’? It was the first time what we wore and how we looked had been brought into question and I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, why are we fuckin’ wearing one gold earring’?
When we left our various places of learning and got jobs, we lost the gold earring and developed a taste for beery shirts and trips to Dartford’s local nightclub, Zens.
Orchard Theatre – Dartford
A lot of big name comedians have made their way to the Orchard over the years, and as I kid I saw Paul Merton there. All I remember about the gig was the Have I Got News for You-style picture caption competition held during the interval for audience members to provide a funny line for. At this point I’d like to be able to say my entry was deemed the clear winner, but I can’t.
In terms of comedy, I’m not really into stand-up. At universities in the 90s, everyone was into Bill Hicks – he was the cool, edgy comic of the moment. But I was more into Chris Morris and the satirical news stuff he was doing on The Day Today – it totally changed my life. Once I’d seen it, from being into music and bands, all I wanted to do was write comedy. The Day Today encompassed everything I loved about punk and metal music – it was anti-authority, silly, clever and pretty rock and roll.
Ultimately, it was Russell (Brand) who gave me the courage to try my hand at comedy writing. We met when I was an intern at MTV in the 90s and he was a presenter. He told me I was funny and should write something. I’ve also got Russell to thank for my being on the radio. Our first show was on XFM in 2001 – we were sacked two shows later. We brought some homeless people into the studio and then Russell started talking about anal sex, which didn’t go down well with the bosses, particularly as it was being broadcast at 11am. I wasn’t comfortable with the radio format at first – I thought I sounded awful. I’m more relaxed with it now. Mine and Russell’s on-air relationship is very Steptoe and Son – he’s the dreamer, I’m the cynic. We were recording our current Radio X show live whenever we could, but then there was an Ofcom complaint about us talking about sex. We interviewed an Elvis impersonator and Russell asked him if he’d ever had sex in his Elvis guise. It wasn’t that bad, but it led to a chat about genitals or something and someone complained: ‘It’s Sunday morning and I’ve got kids in my car’, blah, blah, blah. The complaint was upheld.
The British Queen – Bromley
This is a really good gastro pub near where I live. It’s not a regular hang-out – my wife and I have two young kids, so our evenings out together are pretty rare nowadays. Having children has made me write at more sociable hours. Before, I’d get up late, muck around all day, then about one in the morning, start work. Although I’d get loads done it meant I’d become embroiled in a ridiculous sleep pattern, which doesn’t work when you have kids.
It’s really hard writing a pilot comedy for TV as I did with Mister Winner. A pilot is like a work in-progress; a chance for you to iron-out little mistakes. But when it’s broadcast everyone gets to see your workings-out in public. That said, you can’t take reviews personally. Comedy gets a particularly brutal review on Twitter. It’s hard resisting the temptation to respond with a few facts, such as pointing-out why the programme – which was written for a family audience – was broadcast as late as it was. It’s different for dramas. They can sometimes start really slow, but TV audiences seem more willing to allow time for characters to bed-in and storylines to develop. With comedy, unless you’ve cast a recognisable talent like Peter Kay, people often decide they hate it straight away. Everyone hated the Mimic first time around (it ran for two series), but as with everything I write for TV, I chose an unknown for the lead role (impressionist, Terry Mynott) ’cause I’d rather give up-and-coming talent a chance to prove itself.
Comedy’s a tough job. You put six months or a year into something that goes out into the world and then you watch it get torn apart. Pure comedy like Mister Winner, involving loads of jokes and characters, is the hardest thing to get right. In future, I’ll probably go back to writing more comedy-drama like the Mimic, which I’m really proud of and written in a style I’m more comfortable with.
My Wikipedia entry might say ‘comedian’, but I’m not. My job is writing and I’m just trying to support my family when I’m doing it. I’ve never done stand-up, and that’s the true test if you want to call yourself a comedian. In the past I’d have always said ‘no’ if you’d asked me whether I’d give stand-up a try. Unlike Russell and others in the industry, I’ve never pushed myself as a performer in that way. I could maybe see myself telling stories about my life the way I do on the radio, but you’d probably have to drag me up on stage.
The Russell Brand Show (co-starring Matt) airs on Radio X every Sunday between 11am and 1pm. It’s also available via podcast – Russell Brand on Radio X.