“I have never been so close to any creature as I have to Gladys, and that includes all humans”
Words by Kate Spicer
Brix Smith Start is an indy rock legend, an author, a glitter strewn icon of fiftysomething sassiness and, more importantly, she seriously loves her black pug, Gladys. “I delivered her, she was the first little puppy out of my Pixie. Gladys and I became bonded so deeply because Pixie was a terrible mother at first, so I had to aspirate her to get her to breathe, and rub her down with a towel and feed her. I have never been so close to any creature as I have to Gladys, and that includes all humans.”
Photography Paul Scala
She’s done other things too, aside from mothering pugs. There’s a funny passage in her excellent memoir when she describes her first experience of Manchester. She was 19 then, a glowy Southern Californian singer and guitarist who’d grown up in Chicago and on a ranche in Malibu. What a culture shock all the red brick, swearing and rain of eighties urban Britain was, and the “weird purple salami thing” – black pudding – her new husband served her proudly with a homemade full English breakfast.
Brix had moved to Manchester to marry Mark E Smith of The Fall. Brix E Smith, as she was known then, ushered in what’s known, to The Fall’s fans and all self-respecting music nerds, as ‘The Brix Era’. Mark E Smith is considered a lunatic and a genius iconoclast of British music. But it took our girl Brix all the way from SoCal, to write the tunes that took The Fall mainstream.
Dudley & Co spent many happy hours in her teenage bedroom listening to Brix Era Fall album Perverted by Language. It is neck and neck between Brix and Blondie for ultimate rock goddess of all time. Smith Start describes her bohemian Malibu upbringing and that bonkers Manc marriage with raw honestly in that memoir, The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise.
She never really got used to the rain or, indeed, the black pudding, but after her split from Smith and the band, Brix remained in the UK. She carried on performing, and opened Start one of the coolest fashion stores in London. Today she lives in London’s East End with her second – entirely more wholesome – husband, the fashion entrepreneur, Philip Start.
Brix Smith Start
“Earlier this year, after touring and three albums in a row with my band, Brix and The Extricated, I decided to take a year off and see what happened, I carved out this time to just be. And then what happens? The whole world stops anyway.”
Gladys barks at all animals on TV. Puppets, pantomime horses, cartoons…Aleksandr the Meerkat used to set her off so badly she would bark until she pooped on the floor
Brix Smith Start
What is your idea of perfect dog-related happiness?
Taking naps with my black pug, Gladys. We have a post-breakfast nap, a musician’s day can fit that kind of indolence in. We have encore round siesta time.
What is your greatest fear?
I try really hard not to have fears because they block creativity. But Gladys running into the street and being hit by a car sparks maternal terror in me. Anyone who thinks any dog, apart from a service dog, has any road sense clearly has no sense themselves.
Which historical doggy person do you most identify with?
Marie Antoinette because she had pugs and a fabulous wardrobe, wonderful wigs and that girl knew how to eat and how to keep a good garden. We are practically twins (she says stuffing cake into her mouth)
Which living person does your dog most admire, after you?
My husband, Philip Start.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself that you don’t mind in your dog?
A low pain threshold. She’s a total cry baby, and I really don’t approve of showing your pain.
What is the trait you most deplore in others but that you don’t mind in your dog?
What is your greatest dog-related extravagance?
Gladys wears a pearl necklace from Harrods.
What is your favourite dog walk?
The bluebell woods in Sussex, or the beach in Broadstairs. Gladys like’s what Americans call tide-pooling and I think you Brits call rock-pooling, by sticking her nose right up to the water and watching the little creatures.
Brix Smith Start
What do you consider the most overrated virtue in mankind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue in dogs?
There are no overrated or underrated virtue in dogs because they are perfect. There is always a good reason for what they do, often it is to pull you back into the moment and their ultimate power is pivoting your thoughts so it takes you out of your worries, anxieties, fears.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
What do you most love about your dogs appearance?
Her mushy face.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse when talking to your dog? “Are you ok?” I check in with her constantly to make sure everything’s good. She looks at me and gives a tiny twitch of her curled up tail, which in dog language is a quick little, “Yup.” If I ask her a more emphatic, “Are you sure?” Then she comes back with a big wag, which means, “YEAH I’M GREAT!”
If your dog could talk, what would he/she sound like?
The voice is gravelly, like she maybe smoked a few cigars, and her tone would be matter of fact, no nonsense, succinct, direct, a real straight shooter like CNN’s great foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour
What does your special talking to the dog voice sound like?
It sounds like I am speaking in tongues and verges on an alien accent.
What is your greatest regret when it comes to dogs?
That their lives are shorter than mine.
What or who is the greatest canine love of your life?
I have loved them all so much, but probably both Pixie (now residing in heaven) and her daughter, Gladys
Which talent would you most like your dog to have?
Doesn’t everyone wish their dog could talk?
What is your current state of mind?
Nine weeks into locked down London, it is calm acceptance
What is your dog currently doing?
Sleeping at the end of my bed.
If you could change one thing about your dog, what would it be?
To not bark at the TV, for Philip and I all nature shows are completely off the menu. She even barks at grass on the TV because this means an animal is coming. Puppets, pantomime horses, cartoons, Alexsanders the Meercat used to set her off so badly she would bark until she pooped on the floor. I think she was a bit in love with him because I bought her the meerkat toy and she finally realised it was just a brainless stuffed idiot designed to advertise insurance.
What is your earliest memory of a dog?
Playing for hours with my Dad’s German Shepherds in the woods behind his house in Malibu Canyon. I’d have them do agility courses and then we’d go along the creek like David Attenborough making comment on all the nature. Those dogs were my childhood friends.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Writing my book, The Rise, The Fall and The Rise (Faber&Faber)
What kind of dog do you look like?
A French bulldog [Editors note: Too harsh! I was thinking more like a punk rock Afghan Hound]
Brix Smith Start
What is your most treasured possession?
A double terminated clear quartz crystal I have had for 30 years. Nigel Kennedy [the violinist] and I were massively into crystals and this designer called Kazuko Oshima who find the perfect energy crystal for you, it was really special. I took it to the football World Cup 1990 with Nigel and it helped England a bit, I like to think. The game they lost, you know the one where Gazza cried, Nigel brought a crystal and it was confiscated by the Italians at the gate. I’ll just leave that fact there with you.
What is your dog’s most treasured possession?
Edgard & Cooper jerky.
What do you regard as the depth of misery?
Where would you like to live?
I’m pretty happy where I am, but I fantasise about a beach house in Maui
What do you most value in your friends?
Non-judgement and loyalty
Who is your favourite hero of fiction/art/music; and your favourite canine? Favourite human, David Bowie. Favourite dog, Otis in The Adventures of Otis and Milo.
What do you most dislike?
What does your dog most dislike?
Brix Smith Start