There’s no one quite like Keith Seatman. His new album, ‘Sad Old Tatty Bunting’, is a psychedelic joyride through a parallel universe, a dreamlike England full of alchemists and scarecrows and gated communities guarded by gnomes

“I started to get up early, going for walks – I wanted to see how far I could get walking straight down the middle of the road,” recounts Keith Seatman of his 2020 lockdown. “It gives you a weird perspective. You can see both sides of the street, as opposed to just one of them, and I suddenly noticed some old bunting outside a pub. I must have walked past it a thousand times, but I’d never noticed it before. It was really faded – the red flags were pink and the yellow flags looked like old piss-stained cloth. I found it fascinating that it had been left there to rot. A symbol from some long-lost celebration that no one had taken down.

“I was talking to Doug [poet and singer Douglas E Powell] about it and I told him I’d seen this ‘sad old tatty bunting’. And he said, ‘Tatty Bunting sounds like the name of a scarecrow’.”

A conversation with Keith Seatman can be a bit of a roller-coaster. An alarmingly wobbly roller-coaster in a shabby Victorian seaside resort with shuttered-up beach huts and sinister Jack Tar dummies. He’s utterly charming but he operates in his own distinct and surreal world, a pocket parallel universe captured perfectly in the beautiful psychedelic whirl of increasingly hallucinogenic records. 

‘Time To Dream But Never Seen’, released in 2020, was infused with the off-kilter, off-season eeriness of his Hampshire home town, Southsea. A Victorian seaside resort with shuttered-up beach huts and sinister Jack Tar dummies. Funny, that. The follow-up, ‘Sad Old Tatty Bunting’, delves even further down the rabbit hole. It’s like Syd Barrett stuck on a ghost train, going round and round for eternity. Doug appears on both albums. If Keith is the Sheriff of Seatman World, Doug is the Deputy. They’re here to clean up this town, probably with a big stick and a battered box of OMO.

The pair of them, Keith tells me, go walking on the South Downs with Jim Jupp from Ghost Box, who is also on the record. We make vague, flippant allusions to ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’.

So is Tatty Bunting a scarecrow? Has he made a concept album about the Southsea Worzel Gummidge?

“Oh no, Tatty Bunting could be anything – a person, a book, a place… ‘Welcome to Tatty Bunting!’. I watched loads of episodes of ‘The Good Life’ during lockdown, which fed into these ideas I had about closed communities. Those new estates on the outside of towns with their gates. They’re a bit, ‘We’re having a street party! Why haven’t you put your bunting up?’. ‘Erm… because I don’t want to?’. 

“So the album also became about those places. I was reading one of Stuart Maconie’s books at the time, ‘Adventures On The High Teas’, which is about Middle England. And he talks about ‘the gnome zone’ – those estates where all the lawns are cut perfectly, and everyone has their gnomes out.”

Well, that solves the mystery of ‘The Gnome Zone’ track. Other titles seem to namecheck the more esoteric inhabitants of Seatman World. I tell him I’m going to throw them at him, and I want him to say the first thing that comes into his head. Get on the couch, Keith – I’m your twisted, phoney psychoanalyst. I’ve got a Richard III wig and a German accent, like Peter Sellers in ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ (Sellers was from Southsea as well).

What’s ‘The Grand Alchemists Parade’?

“That’s just a strange parade I imagined. There’s the closed community of Tatty Bunting and one day this fucking mad procession comes through. Full of misfits and oddities, with this old alchemist sitting up on a chair, waving at everyone. He’s got robes and a big old beard, and every curtain in the street is going absolutely barmy. They’re all there, cutting the grass, then everything flies open and this herd of people come through playing weird music. Again, with lots of bunting hanging off everything.”

‘Mrs Lawes & The Late Mr Pomfrey’?

“They’re solicitors. They were practising as a couple, but Mr Pomfrey passed away. And they never took the brass plate down.”

‘Jumpy’s Playroom’?

“The best playroom ever. Nothing modern, no Xboxes. We’re talking real old tat. The same tat that’s in my head and in your head. This beaten-up old room, filled with boxes of junk-shop crap. Every box you open, something falls out and plays a tune. I tell you what would definitely be in there – those funny little monkeys with the cymbals.”

And are you Jumpy?

“I’m always Jumpy.”

The albums, I suggest, are the mental fallout from his childhood. The curious 1970s childhood many of us shared – Lieutenant Pigeon, inappropriate sitcoms, the three-day week and public information films about stranger danger – an age when children were evicted from the parental home on Saturday mornings and not expected to be seen again until teatime. There’s even a track called ‘In The Fields Round The Back’.

“Council estates were always built out of town, with woods and fields behind them,” he reminisces. “And when we were growing up, we’d say to our parents, ‘We’re going out to the woods for the day’. And they’d say, ‘Get home before dark, because little Jimmy went there years ago and he never came back. He fell off a tree and his head exploded’. And, of course, there never was a little Jimmy, but the stories survived for decades.”

We grew up in a nebulous age, didn’t we? Keith’s records encapsulate that feeling magnificently. There were secrets. Dark secrets. Boarded-up houses we were warned not to play outside, locked spare bedrooms and out-of-bounds attics.

“Absolutely,” he agrees. “My grandad lived in quite a big flat and there was a room my sister and I were never allowed to go in. He got quite uppity with us about it. I peeked in there once and everything was just covered in cloths and drapes. We’d dare each other – ‘You go in!’, ‘No, you go in’ – and when he passed away, we discovered there was nothing spectacular in there. It was just a room full of old junk. So… why?”

Was music a big part of this oddness, then? Keith’s music positively reeks of British eccentricity, the tail end of toytown psychedelia and the whirl of prog-rock organs. Brickies with beer bellies wearing eyeliner and capes.

“My older sister used to make mad mixtapes for me,” he remembers. “She put random music and odd sounds on them that she thought I’d like. Snippets of tracks. Weird squeaky voices from Gong and Pink Floyd’s ‘Bike’. Anything a bit quirky. And then we used to make our own recordings. If you held the play button halfway down when you taped something, it sped up. So we used to do that with the piano in the front room.

“And one of the mates I used to go wandering around with – let’s call him Billy – was a couple of years older than me. He was very much into The Residents, and I was listening to Syd Barrett. This was about 1979, when I was in my last days at school. One day, he said to me, ‘We need to form a band and record an album’.

“So he came round my house. My bedroom was set up with a little toy organ, some cymbals, a really fuzzy Wilson guitar and two cassette machines to dub things backwards and forwards. We called ourselves The Marilyn Monroes and we recorded an album called ‘Oop Boop De Boop’ in one night. My dad came up at 10 o’clock and said, ‘Right, pack it in now’. We sold all 30 copies locally.”

These bizarre experiments eventually coalesced into a band, The Psylons. They were darkly psychedelic, with frontman Keith a barking, baritone Ian Curtis soundalike. And they very nearly made it. Their 1986 release, ‘Run To The Stranger’, was Single Of The Week in the NME and reached Number 13 in the indie chart, a coup that led to the Holy Grail of post-punk – a Radio 1 session for John Peel. Which, in turn, resulted in interest from one of the hottest British producers of the day, a man fresh from unit-shifting chart success with The Stranglers and The Human League.

“Dale Griffin from Mott The Hoople produced the Peel session,” recalls Keith. “Buffin! A genuinely lovely guy. We got to Maida Vale and we were a bit, ‘Durr! Where do we set up?’. Chaotic, but in a good way. And he was open to anything. We’d say, ‘We want to do a whole track of feedback and make these strange noises over the top’. And he’d say, ‘OK!’. It was a fantastic day. And we nicked some BBC mugs.

“Then Martin Rushent heard it and wanted to produce us. It was a bit scary. A feeling of, ‘Shit, something’s going to happen’. For a short while, it was spiralling out of control. We got a manager and tried to get a grip, but then it all fell apart.”

The idea of Keith as a TV-friendly 1980s pop star is glorious. There’s a bizarre alternate dimension where he’s leaping around the ‘Cheggers Plays Pop’ studio with a rubber mallet, egged on by a bus party of cheering Cub Scouts. And, even on our plane of the multiverse, there was further Radio 1 play from Janice Long and Andy Kershaw.

But with more recordings planned and a tilt at stardom imminent, the mercurial Rushent suddenly dissolved his Genetic Studios in 1983 and temporarily retired from the industry. The band, baffled by weeks of radio silence from their erstwhile producer, only found out through an NME news story. They hobbled to a warmly-reviewed 1994 album, ‘Gimp’, but the writing was on the wall.

“We’d all started drifting towards different things,” says Keith. “And I really didn’t know what to do. I’d begun doing stuff with Simon the bassist and Jack the guitarist. Electronic dance music, really pumping stuff. We were called Seatman Separator. It was the name of an ejector seat in an old TV21 comic that Simon had. Simon was Simon Seatman, Jack was Jack Seatman and I was Keith Seatman. Like the Ramones! And the name stuck.

“Then I went away for a while. I was a bit lost and didn’t know what to do with myself, but my mate Jez Stevens – who now directs my videos – said, ‘You really ought to start doing your own stuff’. I wasn’t in a bad place, but I was a bit mopey.”

When was this?

“About 2008. So I dived in and quite enjoyed it. I played safe for a while, then I got braver, ‘Yep, that’s a daft idea. I’m going to do it’. And then the daftness crept in everywhere.”

Interesting, I point out, that he should describe himself as “lost”. I latched onto that, I tell him, when I first found his Bandcamp page. It’s still on his profile there – “Musical Oddness & Wistful Tootling and always slightly lost”. I love it. I like dreamers who drift off the beaten track, unsure of where to ramble for the best. These are my tribe. Does he still feel that way, I wonder? I’m back in Peter Sellers mode.


He pauses and fidgets with his laptop keyboard, perhaps not having expected to self-analyse quite so much. I feel a bit guilty. Then he laughs and shakes his head.

“I just… I can’t describe what I do. I sit down to record something, listen back and think, ‘Nope, it sounds nothing like how I intended. It’s gone off on a strange tangent’. That’s the lost bit, I think. Wandering around in this oddness.

“And I’ve always been drawn to odd things. I remember the first Devo album. A mate of mine said, ‘You’ll like this’, and I did. It just sounded so daft. And Cardiacs… some of it is difficult, but some of it is genius. And The Cramps – they live in this weird world of 1950s sci-fi films. I’ve got a big CD boxset of theirs, and I was playing it at the weekend while I was doing the housework. Everything is about monsters and aliens. They create a whole world, and yeah, I’d like to visit. And I won’t overstay my welcome.”

Keith Seatman’s world is illusory and tantalisingly elusive. Hence ‘Time To Dream But Never Seen’? Come on, Keith, let’s go straight down that rabbit hole into your unconscious. Tell me about your most recent dream.

“I had a strange one the other night. I was in a warehouse and I couldn’t get out. There was a phone lying around and I dialled a number, but my fingers wouldn’t hit the buttons properly. Someone kept shouting the number at me and I kept getting it wrong every single time. I have one or two nightmares a month and there are always phones in there. Big old-fashioned mobiles.”

An anxiety dream about the ubiquity of modern communication, I reckon. After all, we are the generation that grew up “in the fields round the back”.

“I think you’re probably right!”

And, this time, we both laugh. He pulls down treasures from the shelves behind him – a northern soul seven-inch by Yvonne Baker that caught his ear at a recent 50th birthday party and vintage figurines of mutton-chopped Manchester City players (“Francis Lee and Colin Bell… come on, gents”).

We drift instinctively from semi-formal interview mode to chummy reminiscence – the addictive scent of Sharpie pens, the US Dracula toys smuggled into 1970s Southsea by a schoolmate whose dad was in the Navy, how Brian Poole from 1980s synth experimentalists Renaldo & The Loaf became an unlikely Marilyn Monroes fan. And then he becomes distracted by the sound of a worrying shrieking.

“Sorry, I’ll have to go and let the cat in. She’s outside.”

What’s she called?


I promise to give her a namecheck, so I have. Welcome to Seatman World, everyone. Capital City – Tatty Bunting. Population – expanding with every release. It’s a beautiful place to visit, and I will overstay my welcome.

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