What's your poison? John Doran describes 24 years of drunkenness. Photo: Al Overdrive
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Life after addiction: John Doran on music and other drugs

“Alcoholism is a self-inflicted leisure injury. . . I refuse to portray myself as this helpless victim. I sound like some anxiety-ridden heroine in an Oscar Wilde play but I couldn’t deal with life.”

John Doran, the editor of the music webzine the Quietus, describes the process of writing a memoir as being like “a dog going back to its vomit and eating it over again”. Raking through decades of excessive alcoholism and drug-taking was “utterly painful and abject”, he says, when we meet at his home in Stamford Hill, north London, where the walls teem with rare vinyl, books and posters.

The result of his painful self-analysis is Jolly Lad, a pugnacious account of Doran’s descent into addiction – “I started drinking when I was 13,” he writes, “[and] stayed constantly drunk until I was 37” – and subsequent recovery. And yet its author is not, so far as I can tell, ready to evangelise about Alcoholics Anonymous or the benefits of the ascetic life. The book does not seek to be “Angela’s Ashes set in a Wetherspoon’s”. Rather, it tries to address a form of problem drinking that “is never addressed in this country” – that of the Everyman drinker who can maintain a job and a family, yet needs alcohol daily “as a strategy to get through life, until you just end up in a position where you’re poisoning yourself”.

Doran, who is 44, was born in Rainhill, a village on the outskirts of Lancashire and Merseyside. His formative years were defined by a staunch religious upbringing that still affects him. “I used to aspire to be an atheist,” he says, “but I don’t have it in me. Once religion was gone, I felt lost. And it doesn’t leave you – how could it?”

After an aborted attempt at university in Hull, Doran found that his spiritual needs had been replaced by an obsessive interest in music, boozing and drugs. Deranged hallucinations, blackouts and deteriorating mental health became the norm as he spiralled out of control, living in a blood-spattered, quasi-derelict squat and working shifts at a factory in Welwyn Garden City. Incredibly, he kept it together long enough to become a full-time music journalist at the relatively late age of 31, co-founding the Quietus in 2008. The site soon established itself as an expertly curated source of music opinion and insight, with Doran’s passion driving its eclectic and often contentious output.

Music is central to Doran’s life but is also a means for him “not to discuss other things”. After finally becoming sober, he threw his energies into fatherhood and “wasn’t doing anything other than sitting at home, writing about heavy-metal albums and changing nappies”, before realising that he had a well of untapped material from his drinking days – a period he looks back on, for the most part, as a really good time. This forms the basis of Jolly Lad.

A dichotomy is central. The book is stocked with all manner of chaos – endless benders, fluorescent acid trips, self-mutilation and debt – yet it adheres to an unusual ethical code. “I had a responsibility in writing this book,” Doran explains. “The way I was brought up was to be told that if you take acid once, you end up in an insane asylum. That type of scaremongering doesn’t work. If anyone reads this book and it inspires them to seek help, that’s a vindication for me.”

Yet he appears cautiously sanguine about his own recovery. “Alcoholism is a self-inflicted leisure injury,” Doran says. “I refuse to portray myself as this helpless victim. I sound like some anxiety-ridden heroine in an Oscar Wilde play but I couldn’t deal with life. In the short term, drinking allowed me to act out my fantasies of being a cool, level-headed person. But I know I’ll never be that cool guy.

“The coolest I’m ever gonna be is this goofy, middle-aged dad who doesn’t drink. I’m happy with that now.”

This article first appeared in the 19 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Mini Mao

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SRSLY #13: Take Two

On the pop culture podcast this week, we discuss Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, the recent BBC adaptations of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie, and reminisce about teen movie Shakespeare retelling She’s the Man.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen to our new episode now:

...or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on Audioboom, Stitcher, RSS and  SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The podcast is also on Twitter @srslypod if you’d like to @ us with your appreciation. More info and previous episodes on

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we'd love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

The Links

On Macbeth

Ryan Gilbey’s review of Macbeth.

The trailer for the film.

The details about the 2005 Macbeth from the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series.


On Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie

Rachel Cooke’s review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Sarah Hughes on Cider with Rosie, and the BBC’s attempt to create “heritage television for the Downton Abbey age”.


On She’s the Man (and other teen movie Shakespeare retellings)

The trailer for She’s the Man.

The 27 best moments from the film.

Bim Adewunmi’s great piece remembering 10 Things I Hate About You.


Next week:

Anna is reading Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.


Your questions:

We loved talking about your recommendations and feedback this week. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we've discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.



The music featured this week, in order of appearance, is:


Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 



See you next week!

PS If you missed #12, check it out here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.