The lead singer of indie punk band Carter USM, Jim Bob has always had a way with words. His distinctive lyrics about the darker side of south London were inspired by rather uninspiring times living in Southwark; one of the band’s biggest hits was the 1992 song The Only Living Boy in New Cross. After the band split in ’97 Jim went on to make eight solo albums before taking a break from music to turn his hand to writing. He released his debut novel Storage Stories in 2010 and is now launching his second creation: Driving Jarvis Ham.
The road book is about two old school friends, now in their 40s, on a car journey to London. It’s revealed that the driver has been keeping a secret diary, the contents of which unravel throughout the story.
“He’s a bit of a ridiculous character, an idiot really; he’s desperate for fame but has no talent whatsoever. He was inspired by people I know. I just know a lot of idiots,” Jim chuckles.
Making the shift from musician to author came about at just the right time, the novelist reveals.
“Writing the first novel I found I enjoyed the feeling more than making music,” he says. “I’d made so much music that it wasn’t new anymore; being published is far more exciting than producing an album. I still love music but it’s a very fleeting thrill that I get,” he says. “I write a song and it can be downhill from that point on.”
Born in Streatham, Jim has been a south of the river local for his entire life; he has at different times called New Cross, Herne Hill, Mitcham and now Crystal Palace home.
“I’ve only ever lived here but I’ve had a love / hate relationship with south London,” he reflects. “I’ve written a lot of songs pretty critical of the darker side of south London and spent a lot of time saying I hate it but if anyone else who’s not from here slags it off I get really annoyed.” Laughing at his own contradiction he admits “most places are awful in one way or another. I like Crystal Palace. I’d like to live in the countryside but there’s so much stuff I don’t want to physically move. We live in a warehouse that resembles a charity shop!”
He says a number of songs on the first Carter USM album were inspired by a rather bleak existence in ‘80s New Cross. “I was on the dole, I wasn’t really doing anything apart from writing songs and I used to sit at home and read the South London Press and it was just page after page of crime so I would put that into songs,” Jim recalls.
He reflects on his music career with great gratitude. “Things were much simpler. That was really the time to be in a band,” he laments. “We’d be given huge amounts of money from a record label, we’d concentrate on our gigs and we never had any sponsors or logos anywhere. I wouldn’t want to be a young man now, it’s just so complicated.”
“People have gotten into the habit of not spending money; we’ve dug a huge hole for ourselves. At my cynical age when I hear people saying that we’re living in such exciting times of change I just think they’re lying. It’s all bulls**t.”
The musician is not naïve to the realities of the modern-day publishing and music industries though. “You have to pretend you’re onboard otherwise you come across as a boring old fart. Surely most people want to be in bands because it’s more exciting and creative than a normal job, but now you have to tweet and facebook and all that rubbish and I hate that.”