John Swale and the Missing Pieces – An interview

Yesterday was a sad day for me. I am no longer a property guardian. I’d kept hold of my cheap-as-chips, wonderful space in London’s zone one throughout the pandemic in the hope that some sort of normality will return soon but it doesn’t seem to be imminent. I could no longer justify the cost of my pad that I’ve not properly lived in since the first lockdown. Adios Upper Street.

Whilst feeling mournful about giving up the space, the response to a set of interview questions I’d sent out popped into my mailbox. And they made me chuckle (a lot). Then, they made me feel nostalgic for the group living that I’ve so recently left. And then they made me gasp at the wisdom within. John Swale is an intelligent man and a dream to interview – of that there can be no doubt.

I was initially drawn to John Swale and the Missing Pieces after hearing their song, Party Like It’s 2019. It’s literate, amusing and deserves to be heard by many. We talk about the ‘inspiration’ for the banger he’s created below. Settle down with a coffee and a croissant on this Saturday morning, immerse yourself in these mighty words before then doing your hoovering to the party track.


Most readers of Sonic Breakfast will know nothing about John Swale and the Missing Pieces.What’s your elevator pitch?

Poetry is the underwear of the soul. Here’s mine! Also… don’t take the elevator. Take the stairs. Less carbon emissions.gotta say that, I’m a millennial ya know?

And why should readers of Sonic Breakfast be listening to your music?

Don’t listen to my music, listen to the words! My songs are just poems I’ve put to music. It’s kinda like the poems are the kale…and the music is the mayonnaise. You know the kale is good for the mind but it needs the mayonnaise to make it a digestible prospect for most people. Most people are scared of poetry you see. John Swale and the Missing Pieces is all about making poetry…great again!

Party Like It’s 2019 certainly suggests that you lived it large that year. Care to tell more?

Actually, I thought 2019 was a pretty terrible year for most of us…the election, Trump’s visit, Toblerones got smaller and then Greg and Amber split up two weeks after winning Love Island…tragic really…which made for the double irony of course cos 1999 was way better. I mean, we still had Tony the Tiger on TV back then, didn’t we? Also, going on tour with The Gossip in 2019…was kinda fun. Humblebrag!

What’s been the best gig you’ve ever played? What made it so special?

 I live in a warehouse with 36 people and we put on a gig during lockdown just for us. We were so hungry to see live music after being deprived of it for so long it felt so fucking euphoric to enter that world again. It was a true energy flow between crowd and performers. Although it was only a little one it felt far more special than a lot of bigger shows I’ve done. Bring on the second summer of love, post covid!

If you had to come up with your dream festival headliners, who’d be on the list?

Any festival at the moment would be a dream. And I can’t even dream of festivals right now cos my dreams are too fucking full of anxiety-ridden narratives. Recently I dreamt Hitler and Goring came to my warehouse to kill us all…so I drowned them both in cereal bowls (I mean what else!)…then they turned in to little fish (specifically roach)…which I diced up and fried and fed to my 36 housemates (it’s not complex, I just think I’m Jesus in my dreams apparently)…Then of course The Verve reformed and did an unplugged rendition of Bittersweet Symphony in our backyard in gratitude for us having saved the world from the Holocaust (Oh yeah the dream was set pre-holocaust)…and then we all got beautifully high. Yeah, welcome to my lockdown mind everybody!

So… I’d probably say The Verve would be my dream headliners, LCD Soundsystem and errr John Swale and The Missing Pieces.  I mean, who else?!

Given the nods to Prince in Party Like It’s 2019, what’s your favourite Prince song and why?

I like the silences between the songs with Prince. What the hell was he all about anyway? Just a guy with a Napoleon complex who was deluded about how sexy he was. That’s why I chose to rip his song off. Add to the first world torture inherent to my poem. I mean it’s a poem about not being able to party while the world is in a fucking pandemic. Prince’s 1999 is a tacky as hell song and it needed to be to add to the joke. Plus his song was about an apocalypse not really about partying at all. It was perfect for it! 

As the UK enters a third lockdown, what would be your advice to anybody struggling to cope?

Stop reading the fucking news! Lockdown seems to me to be a once in a lifetime gift of time and space to reflect on personal internal shit and review what really matters in the scheme of things when all the fake external shit like awards ceremonies, fashion, etc are taken away. I liked how uncool lockdown 1 was. I remember Joe from Idles talking about how he was going to bed earlier and earlier each night. For me, this all seems a potential opportunity to focus more on living inside out rather than the other way round.

Also, trust optimism. It’s very difficult to feel sad when you’re smiling. I don’t wanna get too Deepak Chopra on this shit but suicide is a huge problem at the moment especially in young guys. So much emotion is chemically based. Running and exercise have saved me from the spirals of mental breakdown so many times during lockdown.

And as soon as I stopped reading the news my anxiety started to clear and I found out the important headlines through the people I lived with. Why poison your mind with the fear of huge speculative shit outside of you like Brexit, slowness of the vaccinations, etc that you have no control over in lockdown when instead, taking the time and mind space to think about how to best inhabit your body, learn self-love and what you’d like to give to the world in the future will ultimately be better for you and society. You know…fuck the system…do kind shit. that sort of stuff. Amen.

And looking forward what are you hoping for more than anything else in 2021?

 I hope that people will have taken this pandemic as a formative experience in collective empathy and time to reflect on the personal as I mentioned. It’s kind of like… a good trip, you know. I always think it’s a bit sad seeing people I know, loved up on a trip and treating other people with far more candid love and openness and honesty but then as soon as the comedown hits they’re back to their normal selves failing to incorporate any aspect of those higher vibrations and inhibitions from conditioning into their everyday life. It seems a bit of a wasted gift.

I mean, the lockdown seems to have had some effect already. Things like the George Floyd protests to me wouldn’t have happened in such a beautifully momentous way if we hadn’t all been given the collective experience of stepping out of our homes and immediately feeling vulnerable to the threat from the virus. A collective empathy. A taste of the feeling certain minority groups might have experienced from threats from others in society. 

Also, I hope there will be less focus on the monetary…and the momentary. 

Also also…I’m looking forward to the second summer of love! Socially distanced dating during lockdown, for those of us who haven’t been twats and disrespected it, has kinda felt like living out a Jane Austen Novel or can’t even fucking kiss! And I always hated Jane Austen, haha.

How did you celebrate 2020 turning into 2021? Was it radically different from your New Years Eve in 2019?

Well, after a crazily beautiful chemical Christmas with my bubble of 36, haha, I wanted to have a sober, reflective start to the year with no comedown and I’ll proudly say I missed Brexit day… cos I hadn’t been reading the news I had no fucking idea it was happening that night and had blue sky inside out thinking as a consequence. I have no control over that shit anyway so why let it bring me down?

 I read it had happened in a poem by Roger McGough two weeks after the fact…

‘when Big Ben bongs 

and some sing songs,

 I’m staying in’. 

There’s always a real human beauty in his wit and it was a great way to soften the blow. If I ever get terminal cancer I want Roger to be the one to break it to me…you know..

“Johnny boy, I’m breaking this to you here,  

with the spirit of constant good tumor”

…See where I’m going with this? Ideally, it’ll be whilst I’m rigged up to a massive hand-operated morphine drip.

 As for 1st January, I spent the day writing …my obituary, haha, no not cos of my deathwish but…you know…how I’d like to be remembered…a kind of…reverse-engineering the soul if you will… You know…try to root actions from love not fear…follow my bliss, not my blisters…that sort of stuff. Also, I started ‘John Swale’s 99 days of new shit’ (see @johnswalepoetry), I mean we all need something to stop our souls stagnating over the expanding lockdown, don’t we?

 Course this was all done between taking obligatory breaks to join the cuddle puddle of my still loved up housemates in the basement of my warehouse. In all it was a pretty fucking dreamy start to the year. And no Hitler-fish or cereal bowls in sight, right?!

Tell us your favourite joke?

Apart from John Swale and the Missing Pieces? hmmm…a difficult one…ok how’s about…what’s the saddest variety of gardening implement…a forlorn mower. Not funny?…oh.. ok….what about….

A musician walks into a bar. Oh, wait no he didn’t. It’s lockdown! Sorry about that.

Yeah, take that one.