Rob ‘Mid’ Middleton ( DEVIATED INSTINCT, BAIT, SPINEWRENCH, HAAVAT ) talks illustration, Norse mythology, 1980s recording studios, Norwegian Black Metal, budget distortion pedals, and cats.

Were you about in the mid-to-late ’80s punk scene, supergluing patches on your tattered trousers, tramping the streets in para-boots to the soundtrack of underproduced cassette demos with xeroxed covers, crackly flexi-disks and obscure sludgy EPs? Then the noise made by crust pioneers Deviated Instinct will need no introduction, a band renowned just as much for their scruffiness ( although to be fair they had a post-apocalyptic-heroic swagger about it that meant they could actually get girlfriends ) as their music. Or maybe you caught them for the first time on one of their comeback tours? Maybe you’re just curious? Fair play to you if so, let’s keep that black punk candle burning! For winter solstice 2022 OMM grabbed a chat with guitarist and artist Mid to ponder the passing of time, tab one of his riffs, and see how he spends his days in these gloomy times.

So Mid, how is life for you right now, what is a typical day?

Hey there, well life is pretty much okay right now, no big worries or dramas to speak of which is nothing to be sniffed at. I’m kinda just happily bumbling along at the moment which is just fine. I’m just back from the States visiting my wife’s family in upstate New York so I’m getting over the jetlag and back into the groove and catching up with my various creative endeavours I wasn’t able to do while away. I seem to always be one step behind myself.

Typical day is being woken up by my cat standing on my head at the crack of dawn demanding to be fed, biking 5 miles to start work at 7.30am. I work for the NHS as a library clerk in the Health Records dept dealing with patients files from various local hospitals. I’ve worked there for 18 years now. Doesn’t pay great but is easy and incredibly stress free plus is pretty physical and I’m on my feet most of the time so keeps me active. Certainly worse ways to pay the bills.

Bike home, cook, chill with my wife and cat, try to do a little art or music in the evening if I’m not too tired or lazy, fall asleep in front of the TV, repeat. Pretty standard fare I guess.

You are best known for Deviated Instinct and your artwork, both of which you started very young. When did you start drawing, and playing the guitar?

I think I started doing both more or less at the same time. Well obviously I’d always drawn as a kid, like most kids but it wasn’t until I got into punk and started doing goofy drawings for my little goofy bedroom punk bands that it became any sort of passion. I got my first guitar, a really, really crappy and cheap SG copy in 1980 that I bought from this rocker kid at school. It was barely playable though and I don’t think I learnt my first chord until I traded up slightly buying another super cheap guitar, a ‘Kay’ Les Paul copy a couple of years later. So I was about 13 when I started doing both to any degree. Considering that’s 43 years ago I really ought to be considerably better at both by now. Oh well.

How does it feel now, looking back and being remembered for pictures of you, your artwork and your music, when you probably weren’t even 20?

Well firstly it is always nice to be noticed and remembered in whatever small way regardless of when it’s from. Just knowing that if I get eaten by a marauding rabid goat tomorrow at least I made my small mark and will be remembered for a short while at least. It is funny to always see the same old pics getting posted here and there from the mid-80’s and there’s always going to be that “your old stuff was best” attitude that exists with pretty much everything. Also it’s all about context and what was going on at the time, what I was part of and the whole nostalgia thing. It doesn’t matter that I might think records I’m on and art I’ve done in the past few years are much better than what I did 35 years ago. The old stuff is always what people are going to latch on to. I’m not fussed though, I’ll just keep doing my thing whatever that might be, who knows maybe some of it will strike a chord with someone another 35 years from now. I’ll be nothing but dust by then so I guess it doesn’t matter one way or the other.

We would normally associate you with monochrome work which fits the aesthetics of the crust punk scene. But, as a growing artist, maybe you have experimented with colour over the years? Did you ever try straightforward painting, for instance? In fact, did you ever try to be a ‘normie’?

Ha ha, I’m not sure what trying to be a ‘normie’ would entail? Besides it’s all relative and compared to many I’d probably already be considered pretty normal. Artistically though, I’ve never consciously tried to fit in to anything or with anyone but at the same time I’d say much of my art I’ve done on a personal basis wouldn’t be considered ‘punk’ art. The last few pieces I made which I put into a group exhibition with a few friends last year are full colour acrylic paintings on canvas which is as traditional as it gets, in terms of style or media although the subject matter is still very much recognisable as me. I’ve tried my hand at most things and techniques and am always open to experimenting with things. I think I’ve drifted away from that a bit too much over the past bunch of years and probably fallen into the rut of always going back to the safe, comfortable ideas and techniques that I know work for me. I do very, very little of the monochromatic drawing at the moment although I tend to go through phases and no doubt I’ll have a hankering to delve back into it at some point soon.

We like the natural pen and ink with wash compositions you’re doing right now – have you / would you consider pursuing illustration work?

Thanks, I’ve got a commission for the debut lp cover art for Zero Again right now that I plan on doing in that style. As to wanting to pursue illustration, no, been there, done that, failed. When I came out of art school I decided I was going to try and make a living as an artist and tried the whole self employed, sole trader route as Bonehive Designs. I just found it all incredibly stressful, I hated feeling like I was constantly compromising my work to try to fit in with others’ ideas not to mention all the hassle with chasing people to pay up. I didn’t even begin to make any sort of living and it just sapped any passion or enthusiasm I had for making art in the first place. It’s why I very, very rarely take on any commissions these days. I just don’t seem to have the business head and drive for all that. I’m happy just making art for myself. Zero Again was an exception because they’re a killer band plus I’ve known Ian Glasper for over 35 years and have done tons of art for his previous bands and old label over the years so he’s super cool to deal with.

You wear a Mjollnir. How much does norse mythology and outlook feature in your artwork, and perhaps your life? It is an interesting subject because, of course, despite the crazy amoral stories and pansexual characters like Loki and Odin, is most often associated with, how shall we say – more socially conservative types?

Well yes, I do have an interest in norse mythology but I think even being generous I would say it is somewhat rudimentary. This is probably a combination of laziness on my part and also my growing inability to retain any semblance of knowledge. Things go in but rarely seem to stick there, I just need to improve my concentration skills and study smarter. I have a shelf full of half read, lightly browsed and untouched books on norse mythology, runes, general viking history and culture. For example I think it took me several years to finally get through The Northman’s Fury which by all accounts is a good history book but very little of that information stuck. To any scholars it may seem somewhat frivolous but I did recently enjoy Neil Gaiman’s playful telling of the mythology in his book.

Anyway, to dig deeper and do some proper study is one of the many things on my ‘to-do’ list for the new year.

The Mjollnir was a gift from my daughter, obviously I am aware of the recent adoption of such symbols from elements of the far right though no one has ever mistaken my leanings and I certainly think it’s important not to let these things be co opted. Of course, I also just enjoy it as a non christian symbol and well it is just a beautiful piece of jewellery as superficial as some might find that, ha ha.

I might loosely borrow some imagery and ideas, for example the tree/roots painting I did a few years back that formed part of the back cover of the ‘Husk’ painting was inspired by Yggdrasil and I did use some runes in early D.I artwork. I can definitely see myself delving deeper into the imagery through some of my work in the future

“Alone just the night for company, tattered man with just memories….”

We dug out the EP, and apart from the snare, it still sounds like someone threw a blanket over the mix of ‘Welcome to The Orgy’. For those not privy to your explanations in zines at the time, explain the mysterious sludgy sound? Apparently it is a cult classic now and worth a few quid? How does it feel, re-listening to it now?

I haven’t listened to it for years although for the purpose of answering this I guess I should force myself to. Hang about…

Hmmm, well, as always that was a rather painful experience, ha ha. Firstly I would like to make it known that even from immediately after we’d recorded it we were aware of its umm, shortcomings regarding the sound and were never happy with it. Like everything back then though we were always super skint so it was a one chance thing and if we fucked it up (as we always did), that was it, there was no do-over. It was an odd situation though as we used the same guy who recorded the Terminal Filth Stenchcore demo which we were pretty chuffed with (apart from running out of time and not having the chance to do a second guitar track). We recorded that on an 8-track in the guys house but for reasons long forgotten he wasn’t able to do it there this time so we recorded in the basement of Freewheel Bookshop which was also the Norwich Women’s Centre and local Anarchist Centre. It was just an echoey basement with no kind of damping or soundproofing. Why it ended up quite so muffled I don’t know, I’d imagine we thought it sounded fine down there on the day but as is often the case took the cassette home, played it on our crappy boom boxes and were “oh…what the fuck was that??!!”. To add insult to injury, somewhere between us sending the master tape to Peaceville and it getting to the pressing plant a dropout appeared on the tape, which you can still hear. When we re-released the stuff on the Peaceville ‘Welcome to the Orgy’ cd in 2006 me and Snapa went down to London for the remastering to see if there was much that we could do to improve those original recordings. There really wasn’t. Having said all that, I really don’t hate it or anything and I think it does have its charms and I’m certainly still happy with the actual song writing on that. 3 of the 4 songs on there still get played in the set from time to time some 35 years later.

To some people it is still the holy grail of our back catalogue because there was only that one pressing of the 7” and is probably the hardest to get hold of. I did ask Hammy if he still has all the original cover art with an idea of re-releasing it but unfortunately he said it was lost long ago and the quality of the printing on the original sleeve doesn’t really lend itself to being copied. I’d only want to do it if we could do a really good job.

Do you still have your old crusty patchwork trousers?

Hell no, they would have disintegrated into dust several decades ago although I’m sure if I did have them they would have made an interesting experiment in biodiversity (or just a biohazard).

Leggo’s lyrics were really good, looking back. (Although, I only ever heard him say six words off-stage – ‘Have you got any food, Julie?’ Ed). DI have done a few gigs over the years. Are you / would you consider writing music together again?

Ha ha, a man of few words, so did Julie have any food? Was it good? I have to agree about his old lyrics, having recently typed them all out for the Terminal Filth Stenchcore vinyl re-issue I got to really appreciate his way with words back then and the imagery they conjured.

As for writing new stuff, well obviously we’ve released a couple of 12”s of new stuff since we got back together in 2007 but we are very, very slow at getting anything done and really should have done a lot more over those 15 years. We all live in different corners of the country and don’t get together very often, it’s very frustrating. Having said that, me, Snapa and Tony are getting together to rehearse and try and smash out some new riffs this weekend which will be our first rehearsal in about 6 months. We did get three new tunes together just before the pandemic hit but then went a couple of years without practising by which time everyone had forgotten them so it’s like starting all over again….again. I’d like to think we’re not quite finished yet though. We’d like to finally record a full third album but considering how long it took us to get those two 4 song 12”s written and recorded we might be well into our 70’s by the time that sees the light of day. Terminal Crumbly Senilecore.

Guttural Breath demo – what a great recording, your vocals were as extreme as anything you’d hear from the black and death scenes at the time. Did you not ever consider being a frontman, in later bands?

Why, thankyou kindly. I actually like that demo better than the album, even though we only recorded it in a cheap local 8-track studio. It’s got a rawness and primitive heaviness that I think is lacking on the LP which always felt pretty flat sounding. To be honest though I kind of cringe when

I hear those old vocals, I guess it’s just my changing musical tastes, I think I was pretty happy with them at the time. I never particularly wanted to be a frontman and the times I have taken on full vocal duties (Spine Wrench and Bait) were really more out of necessity than choice. Also it’s funny as my vocals on Guttural Breath are totally different to those I did in Spine Wrench which are different again to the style (much more screamy) in Bait. I only do the odd line or two in D.I. these days and am much happier just concentrating on rocking out on the guitar. The first two gigs we played post Covid as venues started opening up last year we had to play as a three piece as Leggo didn’t feel comfortable about being in crowded spaces yet and having to learn all those lyrics and do all the vocals again really cemented my lack of desire to be a vocalist these days.

What was it like being signed to Peaceville?

It was great. Obviously we had the odd disagreement and butted heads from time to time but mostly it was awesome and I will always really appreciate everything they did for us. We were there right from the start, even before Hammy started releasing any records when it was just a DIY punk tape distro. He contacted us to sell our first couple of demos which is how we became involved and then of course he offered to do our first 7″ which was the very first vinyl release on the label (after the ‘Will Evil Win’ comp flexi).

It was definitely a big learning experience for us all and it was fun to grow and develop together although of course it wouldn’t take long before the label way, way outgrew us. It was a really exciting and fertile time in the UK underground punk/hc scene with new labels like Peaceville, Earache and Manic Ears putting out so many great and iconic releases. It was a blast to be in the thick of all that.

I’d highly recommend reading Hammy’s excellent book ‘Anything for a Peaceville life” where there’s a decent amount of info and tales regarding our time with the label.

The label seemed to, by accident or design, evoke the primitive spirit of the crustpunk bands in emerging Norwegian black metal signings. To our ears, early Darkthrone wasn’t a million miles away from what you were doing, sonically at least…maybe you see it that way, maybe not?

Yeah, I think that’s a fair point. I remember when our first 7” came out on the little flyer that Peaceville were sending out to promote it said “sounds like Bathory meets Rudimentary Peni” which I think is fairly on point (though more in intention than execution) but I think regards bands we were influenced by, especially the original black and death metal bands then bands like Darkthrone were no doubt coming from a similar angle albeit them more from the metal scene and us from the punk scene. Darkthrone are awesome and still releasing killer albums but I’ve quite often heard similarities in their riffs to some of ours, that’s not to suggest for a second that they’d be in any way listening to or influenced by us just that I think we often shared obvious inspirations.

We could only dream of the output and huge inspiration and following Darkthrone have garnered over the decades though. I certainly appreciate their continued passion.

Last question on your music – how did you get your guitar sound, what equipment and pedals do you remember using? I vaguely remember one of the Mermaid scene-police exclaiming that you had the audacity to use a MetalMaster pedal at one gig?

I did indeed have an Arion Metal Master for a good while, that served me very well and I’ll have no aspersions cast upon it. For the record I am 100% not a gear head for 2 reasons, 1- Primarily I’ve never been able to afford decent gear, I’ve always had to get by on dirt cheap, bog standard stuff and I’m fine with that, 2 – Expensive gear would be wasted on me, I’m neither a good enough musician nor someone who spends forever twiddling knobs a fraction in search of the “perfect tone”. The first couple of demos were recorded using that shitty old Kay guitar until I finally bought an Aria Pro II on finance. Amp wise, I did have a fucking killer old 100 watt Hi-Watt that was from the 70’s. We bought that and the cab for about £150 second hand from this old hippy head shop in 1984 and it was loud as fuck. Unfortunately it was also very prone to breaking down. I remember it blew during the soundcheck for our first date on our 1988 European tour with ENT and I had to borrow one for the rest of the tour, It blew during set up on our Peel session and I had to borrow another for that and it blew up before we’d even started recording the guitar during the Guttural Breath session so I had to borrow something for that (that I hated and couldn’t get any sort of decent sound through). It certainly knew how to pick it’s moments. As well as that trusty metal master I did also sometimes use a classic Boss Heavy Metal that then went into a Super Overdrive pedal for a more blown out sound. Any sound I ever got was more from accident than design.

Nowadays I use either my Epiphone Gothic SG or Epiphone Les Paul Vintage edition through a Laney head with yet another cheap pedal, the Behringer, ‘Ultra Metal’ pedal which is plastic and bright pink but has a fucking great sound. Actually for the first time ever I now have a full pedal board with a bunch of other goofy pedals on so I can make extra goofy noises at practice and annoy everyone.

And would you like us to tab one of your Deviated Instinct riffs? Name the song ( or tab it yourself)… 🙂

Haha, good luck with that. As I discovered when I’ve gone back to try and relearn old songs to add to the set it’s pretty impossible to figure out what the fuck I was playing as our (so called) tuning was rather random. I don’t think we ever owned a tuner back in the day so we would just tune to ourselves and each other.

Feel free to pick a pop hit from our two since we reformed though. We downtune to D.

I have to admit to always being somewhat befuddled with tab and only just very recently started using it. I find it slow progress. Perhaps I am just slow.

The 1990s were a difficult time for punk and metal bands…many people in the scene wandered away to do other things, start families, concede that they’d need a career, and so on. How were things for you during that time?

Yeah I’d agree with that. My daughter was born in 1992 though I don’t think that had any bearing on my involvement in the scene as I was still playing in Spine Wrench and pretty much doing what I’d always done. It was definitely a general disillusionment. The UK punk scene felt quite stale and splintered. Even during the Deviated Instinct, Prophecy of Doom & Decadence Within tour in 1990 you could just sense things on the wane. Spine Wrench split in 96 and I just felt really burnt out and disengaged. I didn’t so much drop out as just take a step back for a while. I decided at the age of 30 that I wanted to get back into art education and get my degree so went to art school for 3 years and really just threw myself into that. I’d hacked off my bothersome dreads, bleached my hair and started wearing questionable baggy skate trousers etc. I was just enjoying being a dad and a student. I was still going to gigs but not really travelling around the country to see bands anymore plus still making music but didn’t have a full gigging band together. It definitely was an odd time.

I think Bait played our first gig in 2003 so that had been 7 years without playing live. However after that I just gradually just got more and more involved. I think the advent of the internet helped, especially being part of the old Profane Existence message board which was a really great international community. In many ways I think those fallow years did me good in the sense I came back into things with renewed energy and optimism.

On recent events – you would have thought that growing up in a scene like 80s punk would have made its participants immune to propaganda, but none-the-less one or two older contrarians with ego issues have been lost to conspiracy theories and so on. Has the craziness of the last years affected you and your friendships in anyway?

Hmm, to be honest I’m not really surprised. Disappointed and depressed but not surprised. In many ways the Punk scene has often been a microcosm of the wider society, and in that sense then you’re going to get the same with those going off in bizarre, ridiculous and sometimes dangerous tangents.

The problem is that with the ever pervasive effect on all our lives of the internet it has made the world a smaller, yet more complex place where you really have to pick your way through any million of ideological minefields. Remember back in ye olde days when facts seemed to be facts, now trying to get to the root and truth of anything is an exhausting and mind mashing experience. Trying to navigate news you have to establish where it’s coming from, what that particular platform’s political bent or agenda might be, plus everyone is an expert, everyone has an opinion and those with the loudest voices seem to have the most dangerous opinions. Through all of that you have to decide what you trust, read between lines, use your intelligence and (hopefully) common sense and not get sucked in by the noise. Whatever opinion or belief you might have and how totally insane or out there it might be you’ll always be able to find a community (and definitely a YouTube channel) that shares and promotes it. All of us whether on the left, right, middle wherever the fuck tend to surround ourselves with those who’ll support our beliefs, I know it’s a horrid buzzword but it really is a world of a million little ‘echo chambers’. Anyway, I’m rambling and not really saying anything at the same time, getting back on point, no, thankfully I haven’t lost any friends to the dark side, only acquaintances. I do have a friend who lost a friend and band mate to full on flat earth thinking though which pretty much came out of nowhere.

Mostly I just wish I could not look at the internet at all and just go for a walk in the woods. Hell is other people and all that.

For those readers who are perhaps thinking of starting their own bands, do you have any highs and lows to share with them?

I guess it really would depend on anyone’s personal motivation and reason for starting a band, if it is to simply enjoy making noise with other like minded folk then I think there’s pretty much nothing but highs, if it’s in any way to ‘make it’ or find some form of financial success then I certainly wouldn’t be the person to ask, thankfully none of that has ever interested me. Some of my favourite gigs have been where there’s literally been 10 people there. I pretty much get a buzz every time I’m in the rehearsal room or on stage. The main high would be how many people I’ve met through playing in bands and all the amazing places I’ve got to travel to play gigs. Off the top of my head I can think of about 15 countries we’ve played in, many of those multiple times, so many great memories. Just from going ‘chugga chugga, argh, grrrr’, who’d a thunk it?

As long as you’ve integrity and passionate and prepared to give up plenty of time and money then just go for it. Who knows where it may lead. In a few decades time you too could be asked about why that recording you just did was so dodgy, ha ha.

Your new band Haavat plays great D-beat, we love it! Is this going to be your main focus music-wise?

Thanks, I’m glad to hear you dig it. I’m not quite sure how we’ve been labelled as a D-Beat band in some quarters, I think there’s the odd little elements of that in a few songs but mostly I just think it’s a straightforward punk mix. As opposed to D.I in Haavat we’re all living in the same city so can get together pretty regularly which is great. I’d wanted to get a local band together for a long while. Musically it certainly scratches an itch and I really enjoy what we’re doing although there is plenty of stuff, especially the heavier stuff that doesn’t really fit within Haavat so I think I’ll still be keeping a few irons in other fires. I do gig a lot more with Haavat though which I think is likely to be the case for a while. We’re almost done writing for our first album which we’re planning on recording some time in the Spring so hopefully it’s 2023 is gonna be a good year for us. I’m psyched to see where things lead. katri, Alex and Andy are super good peeps and it’s a blast being in a band with them.

To wrap things up, what do you think you learned from being in one of the crustiest punk bands in the world? And what would you say to the younger Mid?

What have I learnt? Crikey, no fucking idea. I guess I’ve learnt that even if you can’t really play and make a hash of most of your recording sessions if you actually have the songs and are honest and passionate in what you’re doing miraculously people seem to remember and amazingly still like listening to what you did and continue to do so almost 40 years later. When D.I initially split in 1991 I really did think our lps would soon be consigned to the bargain bins and we’d be pretty much forgotten in a few years so it does blow my mind somewhat to still have people genuinely appreciate us.

What would I tell my younger self? Probably, life is short so enjoy it while you can but to be honest I was enjoying things rather fully back then anyway, I just wish I could actually remember it. Ah, yes, that’s what I’d tell myself, take more photos and keep a diary because unless people told you you’d done something you’d believe you must have actually slept through the 80’s.

Oh and I’d have told myself to floss.

Do you have any pets?

I do. I’ve always been a cat guy. I’ve had cats all my life but between 2005 and 2018 l lived in a flat where the landlords had a strict ‘NO PETS’ policy which really sucked, so when me and Alicia moved into our current house the first thing we did was look at the various shelters to adopt a rescue cat. We got our cat, Maia aka ‘The Dish’ in 2019 from the RSPCA when she was one. She’d been brought in after being hit by a car and had a broken pelvis. She made a full recovery and is now the centre of our lives. I’m way over invested and obsessed with this fluffball, in fact she’s sat on a cushion up on the desk right by my laptop as I’m writing this. She’s my therapy cat and will brighten any day with her snuggles when I’m feeling blue or struggling with life’s challenges.

Most un-punk-rock thing you do?

Jeez, I don’t know. I’m sure if the punk police followed me around for a day they’d be issuing me tickets left, right and centre for my general very un-punk as fuckedness.

I listen to far more Folk, Country, Americana, Indie, Pop, Classical etc etc than I do punk or metal, I barely drink anymore and I like running around my local park.

Run me out of crust town.

Favourite inspirational quotes?

“Never, ever, bloody anything, ever” – Ade Edmonson in Mr Jolly lives Next Door.

Seriously though, I read a lot and am always reading quotes from people that strike a chord, can I remember any? I should start writing them down. I’m always rather impressed and envious of people who can just throw in a “ blah blah once said…..” into a conversation. I truly am constantly inspired by people….I just forget who, ha ha.

What next for Mid in 2022 and 2023?

Mostly just more of the same. I think the only definite plan I have right now is to get into the studio with Haavat and record an lp. I do have an ever growing ‘to-do’ list of various art and music related projects. I’m loath to mention any though as many things on that list keep getting carried over from the previous years lists. I am possibly the world’s worst procrastinator but I would like to see myself ticking a few things off. It could potentially be a very productive and creative year, it’s all up to me.

Hopefully the world won’t end before I make any headway.

Many thanks for the questions and for the opportunity to ramble on in such a wittering fashion. Much appreciated to anyone who made it this far. Penny chews and ginger beer all round.

Imagine coming back from a nice day’s shopping at WHSmiths with your mom and bumping into this bunch of lunatics in the local park!

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