Time Doesn’t Stop #1: Kelly Kemp from No Comply

This is the first instalment in a nostalgic series of articles by guest writer Em Johnson, where she interviews people she admired in the past.

A year ago, time stopped. Our lives stopped. Everything we wanted to do stopped.

And then it didn’t stop. Time passed. We lost months. We lost, what seemed like, every possible thing we could lose. Loved ones, relationships, holidays, dreams, careers, hopes, adventure and sanity. For me, those were pretty much my favourite things. You?

So I’ve spent my time thinking about time. Times past. Lives I’ve lived that are different. The life I live now. And amongst that I’ve thought about people who I used to know, watch, and frankly obsess over. I thought about how they have changed too, and that I was quite interested in that.

For a number of years I was a concert promoter and a DJ – not a bank manager who spends too much of her time thinking about potatoes and dog hair. I’ve changed. Or have I changed? I was probably as organised and neurotic as a promoter as I am now. It taught me a lot I still use. It gave me a personality that I still hold to, and some incredible friends. But somewhere along the line, apparently I grew up.

This is the first in a series of short conversations with people who I admired in times past, and who I admire in the present. They probably think I’m a bit mad for asking them these things, but who isn’t a bit mad these days?

My first friend to tell you about is Kelly Kemp. When you ask people to do things like this, it’s like writing into space. People read and don’t respond. They respond and then don’t come back to you (deep stares, you know who you are). Kelly responded immediately. She was the first person to come back to me.

This amazing woman was the coolest person in ska core, as the front of No Comply, for a huge part of the golden years I remember of UK ska-punk. No Comply were depressingly defined as a band with a girl in them. They had more fight and more heart than anything in town. I remember thinking how strange it was to be sound-checking with a fellow lass. I could write a lot of intense musings through a ‘today’ lens about that. But instead I’ll just say again that Kelly wrote back to me first.

I remember Kelly as cool – but she told me she remembered ‘not being very worldly’.

“I was from the West Country and I hadn’t been to many places, so when we started touring, and it really opened my eyes to a lot of things. I thought Princess Street was the most amazing place I had ever been.”

(Little did she know I was stood at the cash point on Princess Street before every gig, trying to work out how I would pay the bands!)

I’m embarrassed about that version of me – so let me deflect again to Kelly, who you’re actually here to read about.

“Oh, there are so many things I am embarrassed about! I see people in their early twenties today and I think they are so switched on comparatively. But all people probably think that, right? I’m still very upfront and forthright but have probably toned that down a little and I definitely have more patience with people as I’ve gotten older; I had a bit of a zero tolerance for bullshit when I was young. Being in your 30s is great though, because now I really feel like I know who I am for the first time and I have done the work to undo some of my bullshit.”

What a cracking thing to hear. When I thought about this series, it was all about translating the people I grew up with into today. Perhaps it’s cheap therapy. But have we grown up? What have we worked out?

“Honestly, I don’t feel grown up at all. I did a career job for a few years and it’s something I’m glad I did. Growing up, my mum and I were really poor and I went from that, to being on tour a lot and working my ass off when I was home. So having a steady income and fixed hours was really great for a while, but then I decided I didn’t find those things that important after all, so I left to help set up a wholefood co-op and that’s one of the things I still do now.”

Reality catching up with your dreams is a theme of my life and most people I know – but your dreams guiding your reality is such a great place to have ended up. We thought we knew it all – and I bashfully admitted being a bit of an idiot to Kelly … who kindly backed me up ….

“I laugh at how I used to talk with authority on things I really didn’t understand or know about, I like to think of it as more of a quirk than being a knob, for sure I was and probably still am a knob sometimes!

“All of the past has built the person I currently am, both the good and the bad, and I’m pretty ok with the person I am. I think we can always strive to be better, sure, but people really give themselves too much of a hard time. My basic philosophy is do more of the stuff you enjoy doing and help others where you can, that’s it, the secret to life!”

A theme of this series is going to be reflecting on how weirdly intense we were in our 20’s. It was fun but exhausting? But the people who told us to be angry, but to hope for more, are setting the stall out for how to be now.

Kelly is still cool as hell. “Funnily, sometimes when I think about my present life, I actually think: this is exactly what I wanted when I was young.”

Always write back first.

Kelly now plays with The Hippaes, she still writes, and you’ll see her by the sea.

Read Em Johnson’s other articles here. Cover photo by Ian Mark Perry.

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