Always passionate about the subjects she chooses to write about, Nina Antonia’s speciality is in chronicling the lives of some of rock music’s most wayward figures or ‘damaged icons’ as she calls them. She’s best known for her 1987 debut, ‘Johnny Thunders...In Cold Blood’ but has also penned critically acclaimed accounts of Peter Perrett and the Only Ones, Thunders' band the New York Dolls and most recently the forgotten glam era singer, Brett Smiley.

2013 saw the publication of a collection of her poetry and prose entitled ‘13 Knots’, and Nina has over the years additionally written liner notes for cult artists such as Nico and Wanda Jackson, as well as a range of articles for 'Mojo', 'Uncut' and 'Record Collector'. She recently appeared in Danny Garcia’s new documentary ‘Looking For Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders’ and is currently acting as a consultant with Hollywood independent production company L.A.M.F. Films, who will shortly be adapting her Thunders biography for the big screen.

Last year Nina was appointed as the guardian of Peter Doherty’s journals, and ‘From Albion to Shangri-La’, which she edited from his entries from the period 2008-14, has just been published by Thin Man Press.

I spoke to Nina as Doherty and his fellow Libertines rehearsed for their much anticipated British Summer Time show at Hyde Park in London.


PB: You’ve just returned from Greece where you launched ‘From Albion to Shangri-La’. How was that?

NA: Greece was lovely, but it wasn’t for the launch of ‘From Albion to Shangri-La’. It was for a general signing as there is a dedicated contingent of Thunders' aficionados in Athens. The date co-ordinated with the summer solstice, and legend has it that Pan was born in Greece so it seemed a very timely moment to visit. TBMR, an independent label based in Athens, organised the event.

No one can really launch ‘From Albion to Shangri-La’ except Peter, and it has to be done on home soil, the grassy fields of Albion, although in reality the official signing shindig is at Waterstones, the Oxford Street Plaza branch in London. Albion is a state of mind. The Shangri-Las were a fabulous girl-group (Laughs)!

PB: How easy was it to transcribe Pete Doherty’s journals? From what I’ve seen they might be difficult to decipher with all those inkblots and doodles.

NA: The journals are like art-works but they almost disguise Peter’s skill as a writer and poet. In certain cases, the words were fairly clear but in others it was like transcribing an ancient manuscript; the hieroglyphics of Albion. When I took a proof copy of the book for Peter to look through, he spotted one or two errors, but these seemed to amuse him and remain in the text. For example, I thought he wrote "Drug testing in Sainsbury’s" but it should have been Salisbury!

PB: How did you go about putting the book together? Did you pick out the most interesting entries or did you shape some kind of story-line out of them?

NA: Both is the answer. Initially I read all the diaries as best as I could, and just started pulling the pithiest or most poetic strands from the text. I did this over four months of frenzied late night transcribing sessions. Once the material was transcribed, I put it into a vaguely chronological order. Having known Peter for around seven years gave me an idea of how best to map events out.

PB: What struck me almost instantly is that he has a highly individual and poetic style. How would you describe his writing?

NA: There are influences in his style of writing; Rimbaud, Emily Dickinson, Simpson and Galton, Peter is incredibly widely read ,but he is also very much his own person when it comes to literature. It’s hard to describe how he uses words but candid, creative and vastly imaginative spring to mind, with an audacious sense of humour. It’s a very dream-like book.

On the ‘From Albion to Shangri-La’ website we’ve asked readers to submit reviews, and some of them have been incredibly poetic in their own right. Any author that can take the reader on a journey is special and Peter has that ability.

PB: You’ve also occasionally included some entries from Peter’s friends, as he often leaves his diaries open for people to make contributions?

NA: Yes, although these entries are clearly indicted as not being Peter’s work. Again, all these contributions are very strong statements and give an indication of both their personality along with insights into their relationship with Peter. There are some really funny and endearing messages, included, especially one from Amy Winehouse.

PB: I believe there’s a difference between the e-book and the paperback?

NA: The e-book has more illustrations but the paperback is like a vintage Rimbaud pocket book, designed for literary lounging in your bar of choice.

PB: How do you feel about the rise of the e-book and the technology that allows everyone to have a go at creating books or recording CDs?

NA: While it’s great that these tools are more accessible and that we’ve had a technical DIY revolution,it’s a bit of a ruse. If for instance you release an e-book or a band records a CD, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will actually be able to get any mileage from it as the same rules still apply unless one is very lucky. You still need press, publicity and distribution.

It’s been interesting to see that as far as ‘From Albion to Shangri-La’ is concerned, book sales have surpassed e-books and Kindle. Despite the push on Kindle, books are still a more pleasurable and enduring experience. How can words that vanish into the ether have a lasting impact?

PB: Pete Doherty seems to split opinions like no other musician in Britain. Why do you think this is?

NA: Historically, all truly genuine artistes are contentious figures – Genet was a cat burglar, Van Gogh a manic depressive, Thomas Mallory wrote ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ from a prison cell, William Burroughs shot his wife. Had Sid Vicious or Syd Barrett been around now no doubt both would have been criticised for their behaviour. Johnny Thunders too got more than his fair share of flak in his life-time.

PB: What is the latest news on the Thunders film adaptation of your book?

NA: Script restructures are the order of the day and night! My sleep pattern is ruined.

PB: How did the London premiere of ‘Looking For Johnny’ go?

NA: I had seen an early edit of Danny Garcia’s documentary so I was kind of prepared, but watching it on the big screen was an emotional experience.

Danny has relayed Johnny’s story though the people that knew him intercut with film footage; it’s a very moving story. It’s also a testament to a particular generation with some great interviews including Leee Black Childers and Marty Thau, who both sadly passed away before seeing the documentary. But it was a full house and, despite the loss, people were there to keep the legend alive, and it was great to see some old pals including the Only Ones' John Perry and Peter Perrett, who are also in the film.

PB: More people than ever are aware of Johnny Thunders and his music. How do you think he would feel about the current level of interest?

NA: He probably would have said something like "I guess I always was the best and I still am." Johnny did what he needed to do, he leaves behind a legend. He’s one of the eternals.

PB: And finally, what do you find interesting in current culture?

NA: It is better to be timeless than current. I recently went to a poetry event and met the great Nell Dunn, who wrote ‘Up the Junction’ and ‘Poor Cow’, which are classics of 1960’s literature. I told her how much I love her work, and she said, "Oh my dear but I’m 70 now" as if she was no longer relevant.

Real art is eternal; I don’t mean the faddy stuff that comes and goes like the daily papers but anything that has meaning outside of the immediate, that is carried along imperceptibly, like the Thames. It’s always flowing.

PB: Thank you.




‘From Albion to Shangri-La’ cab be bought directly from Thin Man Press with a 30% discount:

http://thinmanpress.com/order-from-albion-to-shangri-la-special-web-price-10/

More information can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/FromAlbionToShangriLa



The upper photograph of Nina Antonia was taken by Cristina Massei. The lower three of Peter Doherty/Babyshambles taken by Melanie Smith at www.mudkissphotography.com.















Related Links:

http://www.mudkissphotography.com


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