The Angler's Rest
Interview Mark Hooper
Photographs Mark Mattock
Shooting the breeze with the men behind Caught by the River…‘I’m trying to think what single thing connects our writers,’ says Robin Turner, one third of the collective that has produced the website Caught by the River since 2007. ‘I’m trying to picture them all in a room – probably the upstairs room of an unreconstructed pub – shooting the breeze about whatever it is they are passionate about. A love of beer and an ability to not take themselves too seriously while being animated and convincing about their specialist field. Mainly the love of beer though; that’s always a good place to start.’
Actually, to describe Caught by the River as merely a website is to do it a disservice. A self-proclaimed ‘Antidote to Indifference’, what was once a blog put together by Turner with co-founders Jeff Barrett and Andrew Walsh has evolved into a regular literary and music night, now with a number of their own books under their belts. With a background in the music industry – Barrett is the founder of Heavenly Records, Turner his press officer for both the record label and the Heavenly Social club nights and pubs, and Walsh the manager of bands including Starsailor and Soulsavers – the subject matter of the site is relatively fluid, but is focused mainly around the core topics of ‘angling, music, books, films, nature and pubs’. Ever the spokesman, Turner discusses this and more in trying to sum up the Caught by the River philosophy…
Did you have a target reader in mind when you launched Caught by the River?
The target reader is someone like the three of us who put it together – bankside daydreamers and bar room philosophers basically. I think there’s a common misconception that Caught by the River is an angling site – angling is a big part of the site but more as part of an overall view of the natural world in action. So I’d cast a wide net and say it’s there for anyone who looks out of an office window and thinks, ‘Christ, there’s got to be more out there than this.’
Was there a single moment that sparked the idea?
The initial inspiration came from Jeff and Andrew’s renewed love of fishing. We all worked at Heavenly during the last days of the Roman empire (read – the death throes of the music industry). An extended period of gardening leave meant that we all had time on our hands. They had a day on the banks shooting the breeze where Andrew said, ‘We should get all this down as a website. We should call it ‘Caught by the River’,’ (the title half-inched from popular Heavenly recording combo Doves). At that time, I was used to writing and editing fanzines and also building quick, freebie websites. We combined their passion and my rudimentary skills as an editor and a blogger to put the initial version of the site together. Jeff and Andrew became so enthralled with the world we created that they very quickly overtook me in the programming department. They also knew how to make pieces work on the web and what kind of content complemented things on the site. Also, Jeff is quite brazen about asking people to contribute: so, Lux Interior dies – ask Bobby Gillespie for an obit! He can only say no, but is highly unlikely to do so as Jeff ’s great like that.
What are your ambitions for it?
There aren’t ever really any massive ambitions; that would make it more like a job, and would make each year comparable with that last one – it seems a bit self-defeating. I think if we can bring interesting people together under one roof and we can spark conversations – one-to-one or a much bigger scale – then things are working out just fine. We’d like to get more women involved in the site – it’s something we’ve tried to encourage as I don’t think the subject matter is in any way exclusively male.
Do you see it as an antidote to your day job, and the music business?
Sometimes Caught by the River is the day job. We’d love to do it full-time but I think that might mean a compromise with content somewhere down the line. We don’t have advertising on the site – there’s a little on the newsletter from friends in record companies and publishers; we’ve never monetised it. And with regards the music industry – we were all-out mentally a few years ago. Then Jeff saw Toy, an incredible band who flipped everything on its head and dragged him back in. That’s a good thing – Jeff with a good band is a brilliant, unstoppable thing to behold.
‘Caught by the River is there or anyone who looks out of an office window and thinks, Christ, there’s got to be more out there than this…’
How do you agree on the content of the site?
There’s an understanding that goes on between us. Jeff does the lion’s share of the work – Andrew and I have very young kids; Jeff ’s are teenagers now and very selfsufficient. We trust him implicitly. Jeff is also constantly immersed in a book, he reads so much more than I do – books were the first thing out the window when my daughter arrived – and that really helps content-wise.
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
Watching a tent at a literary festival go nuts to Andrew Weatherall has to rate pretty highly. And getting my copy of our fi rst book, Caught by the River: A Collection of Words on Water, signed by pretty much all of the authors – everyone from Jon Savage to Jarvis Cocker to Bill Drummond – some proper heroes. And hearing a daft 7in record we’d released that featured Richard Burton reading Under Milkwood over the top of a King Tubby dub track get played loads on the radio.
Talking of books, you’ve written one called The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking for the Moon Under Water (with Paul Moody). Have you found it yet?
The Perfect Pub search started out as a recurring article in Socialism, a mag myself and Paul edited. We were after pubs that hadn’t been buff ed up and prettified; gastro’d, blanded out. It was surprisingly hard– so many pubs in the UK have been homogenised by PubCos. They all look the same, serve the same booze to roughly the same people. The perfect pub ideal came from George Orwell’s 1946 essay The Moon Under Water; give or take a few tiny tweaks, the pub he describes back then is pretty much what you’d look for now. The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town always makes me think of The Moon Under Water. Even the drink he talks about in his glass – breweries like the Kernel are exploring old styles of beer. I interviewed Evin from the Kernel for the book that followed the road trip we did; he worked out pretty much what would have been in Orwell’s pint glass back then. The elements I’d look for – good beer, no Sky Sports, a well-stocked jukebox with a sound limiter and, like George specified, two minutes from a bus stop somewhere where the drunks and rowdies never seem to find. But at the end of the day, sometimes the perfect pub is just one that’s open.
It’s ironic that The Moon Under Water is now a chain…
The Moon Under Water in Manchester is the biggest city centre pub there. It features a lifesize waxwork of Ena Sharples hanging over the bar. Safe to say it’s not really how Orwell described it! That said, I don’t have a problem with Wetherspoon pubs – when we toured the country, they were like a pub backbone – you’d rock up in Newcastle-under-Lyme on a freezing Wednesday and it was the one constant – pretty sure it’s the same clientele, they’re just omnipresent.
What’s your favourite view?
Mine’s the view from just outside the Pilchard Inn on Burgh Island on the South Devon coast while the tide goes out. The pub gets cut off from the mainland tidally – it’s part of the Burgh Island hotel, you can get back and forth by sea tractor. My partner and I stayed there once when we had money (ie before we had kids); pint in hand, watching the tide go out and the causeway shrink to nothing, I really felt I was leaving the country and all attendant worries behind while being rooted to the spot.
And will Caught by the River be back on the road this year?
We’re doing a few festivals this summer. Two new ones (for us anyway) – at Field Day (May 25, Victoria Park, London), we’re eschewing music and having talks about field recordings and nature sound. At East (July 27-28), we’re putting on a Caught by the River event in the heart of the Olympic Park. With a beer festival. We’re also really chuff ed to have been asked back to Festival No.6 this year (September 13-15, Portmeirion, Wales). Last year, this was without doubt one of the best music festivals I’ve ever been to in the UK. The fact that we had Jan Morris talking on our stage only made it better. We’ve rebooked her this year, obviously.
Lastly – what’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
Less a piece of advice, more a recurring ideology that’s run through Heavenly, Socialism and Caught by the River – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
All photographs of the Loddon river (a tributary of the Thames), Berkshire
More antidotes to indifference can be found at,