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Mat Sargent: Sex, Drugs and HIV project

Wanting to bring awareness to the HIV and AIDS stigma, veteran musician and activist Mat Sargent created ‘Sex, Drugs, and HIV.’ Starting in 1995 and taking a full 15 years to complete, the album/DVD set features an astounding array of artists and artistry.

‘Sex, Drugs and HIV’ offers education, enlightenment, and tons of undeniably great music. This is truly one of the best discoveries I’ve made in a long time. Additionally, Mat is well known for his involvement with Chelsea, Sham 69, and Splodgenessabounds…as if he wasn’t busy enough.

Proceeds from the album will go toward multiple charities, please see the links below.

We had the opportunity to ask Mat a few questions.

Welcome to Metal Digest!

Hello sir. We appreciate your time. First of all, let me thank you for creating such an amazing project. In researching, I have enjoyed the music immensely and have more than a few eye-opening moments. Tell us about the Sex, Drugs, and HIV project. It has been out for a while now, but if I am just hearing about it, I am certain others can benefit from learning about it as well.

I started the Sex Drugs and HIV project in 1995, the first recording session was on the 6th of November and took around 16 years to record.  It was such a big project with 215 musicians and was originally only to be a single album of around 15 songs but the more people heard about it, the more people wanted to get involved.  The album became a double album of 40 songs, with 20 songs on each album.  I’ve been writing songs since I was 14 so I used many of my early songs on the project, some of them were revamped and some of the singers rewrote the words.  With such a cross-section of different musicians, I wrote different styles of songs including reggae, ska, punk, heavy metal, space rock, prog rock, R&B, rockabilly, pop, African, funk, blues.  Some of the songs were written especially for the album and a few musicians brought along backing tracks so some songs were cowritten.  The recording took place at Dave Goodman’s house in Gipsy Hill, South London where the studio was in the basement.  I knew Dave from the albums I recorded with Chelsea, Dave produced the Chelsea albums and of course, was known for being the Sex Pistols soundman and producer.  Musicians would turn up through the day and hand out in the kitchen together, meeting one another, jamming and telling stories which was great.  When it was their time to record, they were taken into the basement and had around an hour to record their parts.  I did 2 one month sessions and after that I did day sessions on the availability of the musicians.  Dave Goodman was a close friend of mine, he taught me a lot about recording & mixing and as neighbors, we used to hang out a lot.  Dave passed away in 2005 which really upset me, I’d worked so closely with him on the project it seemed like the end of an era.  It took me a few years before I could face working on the songs again but I eventually finished off the tracks and recorded a few new songs at Panther Studios in Reigate run by Dick Crippen (Tenpole Tudor / King Kurt).  In the time off from the recording project I went to Germany where I started cutting and editing the footage with my friend Manni Kusters who taught me to use the editing machines.  The project was filmed so you get a rare insight into the recording. 

So many great and eclectic performances on the album. It took a little while, but yes, I’ve heard them all. What guided you on who participated? Is there anything you would have done differently? Or is it perfect as is?

Some of the musicians were just right for the tracks, they were the right man… or woman for the job.  You hear this on tracks like ‘GETTING BETTER’ which was a punky song, so I got punk musicians like Charlie Harper (UK Subs), Max Splodge (Splodgenessabounds), Nick Cash (999), Knox (The Vibrators), Arturo Bassick (The Lurkers) and Nic Austin (Chelsea) who were just perfect for the song.  ‘EASY TARGET’ was a ska song so I got Judge Dread to sing, Pauline Black (The Selecter), Rhoda Dakar (The Body Snatchers, Nick Welsh (The Selecter), Martin Stewart (Bad Manners), Roddy Radiation (The Specials), Lee Thompson (Madness) etc.  ‘GOD HELP ME” a heavy metal song I got Wurzel (Motorhead), Brian Robertson (Thin Lizzy, Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Martin Connolly (Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, Animal (Anti Nowhere League) and Beki Bondage (Vice Squad).  For some of the songs, I took the musicians out of their comfort zone and for example, I’d put a heavy metal musician on a reggae track or a punk musician on an R&B track.  ‘XTC’ was an experimental R&B track on which I got Loretta Heywood (Bomb The Bass), Chilo Eribenne (S Express), Afrika Bambaataa, Tony James (Generation X / Sigue Sigue Sputnik) Kris Dollimore (The Godfathers / Del Amitri), Gizz Butt (The Prodigy / English Dogs), Duke Garwood (The Orb), Paul May (Innersphere), Jerry Dammers (The Specials).  I don’t think I would have changed anything, I like the fact that the musicians had a free range to do what they wanted.  Most musicians were very adaptable and were up for the challenge of playing on a track that was a bit different to what they usually played.  Captain Sensible was originally penciled in to play on a reggae track, ‘SUBWAY 6’, but he didn’t have the feel for it so I put him on a different track, ‘Rich Girls’. 

 Please tell us about your affiliation with the charities; Terrence Higgins Trust, Release and Survivors UK.

The Sex Drugs and HIV project supports 3 main charities and they’re part of the concept of the album.  SEX – Survivors, which is a charity supporting survivors of rape and sexual abuse.  I contracted HIV from being abused as a teenager and I wanted to bring awareness to this great charity.  It takes on average 30 years for survivors of male rape to come forward and talk about their abuse.  Many are ashamed of what happened to them or believe it was their own fault and some never speak of their experience at all.  I wanted to break the silence, bring it forward and let people who have had their own experiences know that they are not alone.  DRUGS – Release, a drugs charity that gives legal advice and support with things like the needle exchange and a helpline.  Many drugs users have contracted HIV from sharing needles so I wanted to bring attention to the great work they do.  Personally, I have never injected drugs but Release is a great charity that fits the concept of the album being that it supports people with HIV and AIDS.  HIV – Terrence Higgins Trust, is an AIDS / HIV charity that supports people that have contracted HIV.  When I was first diagnosed with HIV in 1989, the Terrence Higgins Trust was my first port of call and helped me through a difficult time in my life.  At the time not much was known about AIDS & HIV and THT was one of the few organisations I could turn to for help and advice.  It was a scary time, i’d been given only a few years to live and my girlfriend at the time was pregnant with our baby so our heads were all over the place with what was going to happen.  The concept of the Sex Drugs and HIV album comes from the saying ‘Sex Drugs and Rock n Roll’… the HIV being the rock n roll. 

Regarding the ‘Sex, Drugs and HIV project, what has been your most gratifying moment?

There were a few moments along the way with the project that were quite gratifying.  With the sometimes unpredictability of musicians, it was always gratifying at the end of a days session when all the musicians that were booked had all turned up and played something brilliant on the songs, which was very satisfying.  Finishing the albums and mastering them at Abbey Road was an amazing moment after working on them for 16 years.  All the songs join up on the album so getting the start points for each song was a defining moment, walking out of Abbey Road Studios thinking…I’ve done it !  The release of The Studio Sessions DVD box-set and getting them all shown on London Live TV was great.  As the entire project was filmed, I had 170 hours of footage which took years of editing and putting together, I felt the films were such an important part of the project capturing stuff you just wouldn’t see anywhere else.  The project was finally complete when the DVD box-set went on sale, everyone could see how it was made and the journey of making the album, it was a relief but very satisfying.    

If you had to do it all again (a project, I mean) what cause would you champion, and who would have as contributors?

I wouldn’t do it again, it was an amazing journey spanning 25 years of my life.  From calling around musicians to book the first recording session to releasing the films and completing the project, it’s been a mountain to climb but I got there in the end.  I gave something back and brought awareness to the charities that supported me so I’m pleased the album has done well.  I don’t usually do things if I don’t want to but if I had to do it all again I’d hound the musicians and bands that didn’t play on the Sex Drugs and HIV album and if I had to choose different charities maybe I would support something like Water Aid and I love animals so maybe a sanctuary, or something going into caring for animals. 

In keeping with the magazine’s “bite-size” format, I need to move on a bit. A follow-up interview perhaps? I’d like to ask about you as a person and musician. Regarding Chelsea, Sham 69, and Splodgenessabounds. Briefly (or speak at length if you like) tell us about these three bands. Which song (from each band) is the best introductory tune?

Chelsea, Splodge and Sham have been a big part of what I do, they’re the three main bands I’ve played for in my 30-year punk rock history.  I first started playing in Chelsea in 1991 and I’d choose EVACUATE as a good song to represent the band.  I’ve recorded 6 albums with Chelsea and done some of my biggest tours, the biggest being the ‘Traitors Gate Tour’ which was around 50 shows back to back.  My most memorable Chelsea gig was at London, Brixton Academy on the Traitors Gate Tour, we’d played there a few times but that night we were on fire.  I left Chelsea and started playing for sham in 1995, I recorded 3 albums, one didn’t get released but I got to work in some great studios including Olympic Studios in Barnes and Dean Street Studios in Soho.  Sham are more of a smash and grab band, we never really toured, 3 gigs on the trot was a tour.  My most memorable Sham gig was The Marina in San Francisco, it was my first time in America so I was blown away by it, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS was always a favorite of mine to play.  With Splodge I was only supposed to be helping Max out for a few gigs but two albums and 23 years later I’m still in the band.  Playing with Splodge has been such a laugh, I think that’s why I still do it.  TWO PINTS OF LAGER AND A PACKET OF CRISPS sums Splodge up in a song and is a punk anthem.  Max is one of the funniest guys I know and the band are always playing jokes on each other, not wanting to go to sleep in case someone shaves your eyebrows off.  My most memorable Splodge gig was at the London Astoria when Wurzel from Motorhead guested with us, we played a blinder and had such a good laugh.     

Tell us about the ever-rotating cast of Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsies. Anything on the horizon you would like to share? Any other musical adventures in the works?

The Rock n Roll Gypsies is a band that plays songs from the Sex Drugs and HIV album.  It’s been an ever-changing line-up of musicians that appeared on the Sex Drugs and HIV album.  The first gig was at Chiselhurst Caves in 2000 and was recorded and filmed and is in the DVD box-set.  I sang and played guitar, Leo Smee (Cathedral) played bass, Wurzel (Motorhead) played lead guitar, Seaweed (Ozric Tentacles) played keyboards and Stuart Soulsby (Chelsea) on drums.  Rock n Roll Gypsies has had a few members over the years, Ronny Rocka (Angelic Upstarts), Noel Hendrick (Splodge), Tracey Lamb (Girlschool), Smeggy (Juicy Lucy), Robin Guy (Sham 69), Andy Anderson (The Cure), Alex Pym (Dream Machine / Damidge),  but the core members have been Monique Maasen (B Bang Cider) on vocals and Richy Stone (Splodge) on guitar.  Rock n Roll Gypsies play key gigs to promote the album and project, we’ve played Rebellion Festival at Blackpool Winter Gardens a few times which are always memorable gigs.  We lost our drummer Andy Anderson just before the pandemic, he was such a lovely guy and a great drummer so it’s been hard to think about a replacement.  I’m talking to Stuart Soulsby at the moment who played the first Gypsies gig so hopefully, he’ll play for us when we get playing again.  I’m currently recording an album that I put together during lockdown with some guest musicians and some musicians that played on the HIV album.  I like writing songs and recording in the studio so it’s been great to record something completely new.        

So…plenty of heavy subjects in the world. Too many, to be honest. Let’s finish up on a lighter note. Tell us the best joke you’ve heard in the last year. Don’t worry; we’re all semi-adults here.

A man goes to the vet and says  “I think my goldfish is epileptic’.

The vet takes a look at the goldfish and says  “there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it to me’.

The man says “yeah but you haven’t taken it out of the bowl yet”.

We thank you for your time and wish you all the best. Any parting words for our readers?

Thanks Metal Digest for tracking me down, it’s been a pleasure talking to you about the Sex Drugs and HIV project.  Readers, if you haven’t yet got a copy of the album or films… get one.  These are a limited edition and won’t be done again so get one whilst you can, when they’re gone… they gone.  %100 of all the money made from the sales goes to charity so not only will you own a piece of music history, but you’ll also be doing something good by supporting the charities.  The album & films are available here –

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