Cry Havoc! The Church Of Raism

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“James is an entirely diabolical human being but we had great fun with him at the time.”
Alan McGee

In the early 1990s, I got to know James Havoc quite well. Havoc was a pen name, one of many, used by James Williamson (also not his birth name, but one adopted through deed poll) who had launched Creation Press in 1989 as the publishing arm of Creation Records, with his experimental novel Raism, a free-form and unrestrained study of Gilles De Rais. By the time I got to know him – after we’d reviewed a handful of his books and Sal Volatile had interviewed him for Divinity – the tie-in with the record label was long over, and the renamed Creation Books was publishing a heady mix of avant-garde and extreme literature and pop culture studies.

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The Creation Books catalogue was arguably the best in the country, but Wee Jimmy Havoc (as  Volatile and myself were wont to call him) had a notorious lack of attention to detail, possibly because he spent most of his time in the pub next to his Clerkenwell offices, where he would receive business calls on the pub phone. The book content was impressive, but the execution, as time went on, was often lacking. My own experience as a Creation author was one of disappointment, as the wrong version of the book – an early draft that should have been dumped – was used and the design was frankly appalling. As the years went by, things became worse, with Williamson getting a reputation for not paying authors their royalties – there’s a whole website devoted to the claims against him from authors as varied as Boyd Rice, Terence Sellers and Jane Giles: http://www.creationbooksfraud.com/. In the interests of fairness, I should point out that Williamson has refuted some of the claims against him, while admitting others, namely that Creation experienced financial problems through a distributor problem, which is certainly plausible – we’ve all had those. Whether this was handled well is open to discussion.

Despite all this, I rather liked James – he was obviously a bit of a con man, and his public persona as nihilistic misanthrope all felt like a bit of an act, but he was entertaining to have a pint with. I wouldn’t trust him with another book project – or anything else, really –  but he did at least pay me some royalties for a couple of years, which is more than Plexus Books ever did.

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Interestingly, long before I knew James, I’d bought his LP The Church of Raism, which I found in a local record shop that had a curiously large selection of the unusual (I also found a Radio Werewolf LP in the same shop). I have no idea why I bought the album – obviously, something about it looked intriguing enough to make it worth a punt. It was probably because the novel (which is hard going and pretentious, but not without merit) came bundled with the LP, making the whole thing hard to resist.

The Church of Raism was released by Creation Records as a companion / promotional piece for the novel and publishing arm (as well as a way of clearing unsold stock of the book), and featured Havoc reading chunks of his writing and other musings while members of Primal Scream – who were James’ chums, and had introduced him to Creation Records head Alan McGee – and Rose McDowell of Strawberry Switchblade provided the music and additional vocals. It’s a curious slice of performance art, spoken word, gothic-industrial noise and twee shoe gazing that is not entirely without merit. I won’t pretend that it is dusted off and played very often, but I’m glad to own it. Apparently, one thousand copies were produced, which is either a tiny amount or ludicrously ambitious – either way, you can still pick up copies on vinyl and CD for a reasonable amount. Or you can just enjoy the whole thing below:

The opening track, Crimes Against Pussycat, is also the title of a short film made by Havoc that features Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie as De Rais. Unseen for years, it finally emerged in 1999, and can now be seen online. It’s quite good fun.