Howard Marks has drifted into the arena of the unwell. In January, the Welsh counter-cultural icon and passionate pro-cannabis advocate was diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer. Despite the terrible news, he’s remarkably sanguine and eager to talk about the things that make life worth living: friendship, laughter, music and – if you’re so inclined – drugs.
The first three, at least, will feature at Howard Marks and Friends, a tribute to the 69-year-old featuring Super Furry Animals, Cerys Matthews, comedian Andrew Maxwell and more at The Forum. We checked in with Howard, in advance of the celebration next Friday.
Tell me about the event – how did it come together?
‘There was an article published about me being diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer. And quite a few of my musician friends put their heads together and decided they’d like to do a night in my benefit. It’s gained quite a lot of momentum now; quite a lot of bands will be turning up. It’s humbling.’
‘Rhys Ifans, Alabama 3, John Cooper Clarke, Super Furry Animals – they were responsible for bringing my name to a younger crowd when they wrote the song about me [‘Hanging with Howard Marks’ from 1996]. It’s quite a long list of music, spoken word and comedy. People I’ve worked with, people I admire… people who like me, I guess. There‘ll be a lot of surprises on the night. I’m preparing something special myself.’
You sometimes DJ. You’re even known to play dubstep – will you be spinning on the night?
‘Ha. No, I’ll leave that to the real DJs. The only DJing I do is celebrity DJing: a smile and an iPhone, you know? Dubstep is particularly easy to mix because it’s all 140 BPM. That was the initial attraction to it. And I like the aggressive reggae vibe to the lyrics. That became my second speciality genre: my first one is rock ‘n’ roll, which I know a lot about.’
Tell us about your recent spoken word performances.
‘My tours began really as me taking the piss out of the drug laws really. Stuff to do with smoking [cannabis]. Recently I’ve been more experimental, doing Dylan Thomas poems, and other people’s too.’
Have you been able to get your hands on medical marijuana since the diagnosis?
‘Yes, I have been able to. It’s quite simple for me to get it. But the main proponent of my treatment is regular, conventional chemotherapy.’
You’re a passionate advocate for the legalisation of cannabis – will that be your legacy?
‘My big hope is that I’ve helped accelerate the day when it finally becomes legalised. I’m in too much of a rush to be satisfied. I’d like for it to happen tomorrow! But that’s unlikely to happen.’
Where does the fight stand at the moment?
‘The politicians are all wankers. If enough people in the country want it legalised, you’d be surprised how many politicians would want it legalised too. They just get on whatever bandwagon gets them into power.’
Slight tangent: we read that you’re a fan of crown green bowls.
‘Yes! I discovered it was the only game ever to be made illegal in England. This is during the time of Francis Drake. There were only two predominant sports then: one was archery, the other bowls. Archery was encouraged by the rulers – make friends with the bows and arrows, I suppose. Bowls wasn’t and was made illegal. I had a crash course myself. Like a lot of sports you probably learn more in the first 20 minutes than you do ever after. I wasn’t that bad actually!’
Were you high at the time?
‘I’m high most of the time – so probably, yes.’
Howard Marks & Friends is at The Forum on Fri Feb 27.
By Mike Curle