All fired up and still seeking the love remedy – back in touch with Andrew Roachford

Andrew Roachford was suffering from the dreaded ‘man flu’ when I called, but insisted, tongue firmly in cheek, ‘I’ll live’, this veteran singer-songwriter looking to steadily build up his energy reserves for impending rehearsals ahead of a 21-date UK tour, some 35 years after his band’s self-titled debut LP, Roachford.

And he’ll need to hit the road running, so to speak, with that tour followed by another nationwide jaunt out front – alongside co-vocalist Tim Howar – with Mike + the Mechanics, in what promises to be another busy year. And as I put it, his cold surely just adds a different timbre to that distinctive voice.

“Exactly. A Barry White manifestation!”

That could set up a whole new set of cover possibilities for a patron of the Music Venue Trust whose latest tour is in support of independent music venues. Billed as ‘An Evening with Roachford’, it arrives on the back of well-received 2020 LP, Twice in a Lifetime and his band’s most recent, much-lauded tour dates. Not as if he’s ever off the road for long.

“I have breaks, but really, I’m one of those touring musicians. That’s kind of what I do. My suitcase is rarely unpacked fully, because I know I’ll be going back out. It’s a lifestyle you either love or hate, and I’m one of those guys that loves it. I wouldn’t be doing anything else. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve never had another job – I’ve always been gigging, since I was a kid. It’s crazy.”

It’s hoped the dates will bring attention to the #OwnOurVenues grassroots campaign, encouraging music communities to buy shares in owning their local venues to protect and improve them. And as he put it, “I’m thrilled to be staging this tour in support of independent music venues and getting out to more regional cities across the UK, to some wonderful local venues and connecting with fans and some of the places I’ve enjoyed playing at so many times over the years. These intimate shows will be something special.”

Seen as one of the most compelling and consistent UK rock and soul artists, Andrew’s someone who – as his press team put it – ‘channels the energy of James Brown before going on stage each night, and who, on record, summons up the spirit of everyone from Al Green to Joe Cocker.’ And there’s nowt wrong with that.

This London-born, Balham-based performer – who turned 58 in late January – has released 11 studio albums and several greatest hits collections since his late ‘80s emergence on the back of the ‘Cuddly Toy’ and ‘Family Man’ hit singles with the band that take his surname, those seeking out his songwriting including Michael Jackson, Joss Stone, and Chaka Khan.

He’s also toured on his own and with contemporaries such as Terence Trent D’Arby and The Christians. And he’s been part of Mike + the Mechanics since 2010, recording and playing live with Mike Rutherford’s post-Genesis band across the world, including upcoming April-June 2023 UK and German ‘Refueled’ tours.

If that link with Mike Rutherford is something of a surprise to you, perhaps it shouldn’t be. Tracks like ‘Won’t Think Twice’ on the last LP put me in mind of the Paul Carrack-era Mechanics covering The Impressions, and in a sense there’s something of a similar feel to Carrack and Roachford’s take on pop soul.

While the wider public may see Andrew’s band as primarily the outfit behind one top-10 hit – and ‘Cuddly Toy’ still receives regular international radio airplay – they have in fact scored eight top-40 singles and five top-40 LPs in the UK. And his most recent long player, Twice in a Lifetime – produced by Jimmy Hogarth (Paolo Nutini, Duffy, Amy Winehouse, his band featuring several members of the latter’s band) – scored five weeks of BBC Radio 2 A-list airplay for inspirational numbers ‘High on Love’, ‘Love Remedy’ and ‘Gonna Be the One’, and reached No.31 on release. But chart positions have never been the focus of this accomplished musician, singer and performer.

Incidentally, all these years on, with those forthcoming dates in mind, does he still get nervous before opening dates, or any other shows? And if so, des he reckon those nerves are essential?

“Ah, always. Especially the first date. Even if you haven’t done it for a month or something, you still feel there’s a bit of rust and wonder, ‘How’s this gonna go down?’ It’s a weird thing that you get into this head trip, but I can’t remember many bad gigs so I don’t know where that’s all coming from, because it always works out. But I think some artists say it’s because you care, and you want it to be the best.

“And I grew up listening to really great live performers and really appreciate a good live gig. I don’t want, you know, lukewarm – people going, ‘Oh, it was okay.’ It doesn’t work that way for me. I’m looking to have people leave there completely blown away, and lifted. So it’s quite a pressure I put on my own shoulders.”

Well, if you’re feeling it, hopefully everyone else will.

“Yes, and they pick up how invested you are in it. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone who’s a jobsworth, going through the motions. But they look at me and go, ‘He’s putting his whole life into this, like it’s his last,’ and yeah, it’s the only way I know.”

Taking that ‘it could be my last’ line, if these past few years taught us anything – and you could come up with many examples of people dear to you that we’ve lost – we can’t take anything for granted.

“Oh, no!”

You worked with the recently-departed Jeff Beck, and we lost Terry Hall of The Specials, Fun Boy 3, and The Colour Field fame before Christmas, plus your friend Maxi Jazz, from Faithless. On an even more personal basis, we lost your brother Stephen (also part of his band and his manager) just before the pandemic kicked in.

“Actually, his funeral was the last thing they allowed before lockdown. So he got out at a good time – he didn’t know anything about Covid. But, yeah, it just shows you can’t take anything for granted. And it may be depressing to people, but it’s a fact that we all have to die at some point, so you have to make sure much as you can that you’ve lived. Other people, I don’t know what they’re waiting for. If someone said to you the world was going to end tomorrow, you’d start living, you know.

“That’s my attitude to life. While I’ve got the gift of life – and not a lot of people have – I’m going to use it as much as I can. Of course, I’m human, so there are days where I might feel down or a bit sorry for myself. But the man in the voice says, ‘Hello, this is reality.’

“And my perspective has really changed since my brother passed and, yeah, Maxi and Jeff Beck – even though he’s from a different generation, I saw him only a few years ago, and he looked so well. Again, he’s a guy that at every gig gave 100%. He wasn’t at all jaded by the music industry. It was like it was his first gig, and he loved it.”

Only last week, I spoke to Graham Gouldman, who gifted Jeff Beck one of his early solo hits, arguably for me his finest single, 1967’s ‘Tallyman’.

“Graham Gouldman? Ah, we’ve worked together too.”  

That doesn’t surprise me, Andrew’s CV including so many high-profile collaborations down the years, a recent example being UK queen of soul Beverley Knight, who duets on the typically soulful ‘What We Had’, from the Twice in a Lifetime LP.

“We often bumped into each other on the gigging circuit, played on some of the same festival stages, and always said, ‘Yeah, let’s do something.’ It was always being said, but not happening, and then I came up with this song and said, ‘That’s it, it’s got to be a duet and she’s got to do the female part.’ I played it to her, she just jumped at it, got to the studio and really nailed it, and I’ve got a lot of respect for her as a singer. And her work ethic – she’s doesn’t mess around. She’s definitely so driven, and that’s one of the reasons she’s had that longevity.”

On this tour, in light of that tie-in with the Music Venue Trust, supporting grassroots venues after a troubled few years – somewhat exacerbated by the pandemic, no doubt – is this you paying your dues to your music past?

“Yeah. I’ve played loads of venues of every different shape and size, and definitely appreciate all that. And I’m a musician first and foremost, and there’s loads of great talent out there that wants to be heard – they want a gig on the circuit. Not everyone can do the O2s or Wembley. There’s so much talent, and it’s a big part of the music culture in this country, so strong and such a big part of the history of the UK, with these venues a big part of that. Also for the punters, so people have got venues on their high street and can actually go and see amazing talent. If that was to go, then it becomes very sterilised, because there’s only going to be a few names that can actually play the bigger venues. So it’s very important.”

Well, we’ve all seen a dearth of tribute acts in the last decade or so, so it’s so good to see artists perform their own material out there. We need that creativity.

“We do. We need the artists, you know, they’re still being born everywhere, they need an outlet, and even when you turn on the radio, there’s stuff you will never hear unless you go to these venues. I’ve been to some of the smaller venues and heard people and gone, ‘Wow!’ I wouldn’t have known about this person ever, unless my mate invited me here. It’s important, and sometimes people make the wrong assumption that if they’re not at big venues, they can’t be that good. That’s not always how it works, and it’s just keeping that live music scene going. It’s not just about people doing social media, you know. And nowadays, it’s not about record sales as much as it used to be when I started out. It’s about gigs.”

That’s kind of flipped on its head, hasn’t it.

“Yes, and it’s so important.”

Have you tried totting up the amount of live shows you’ve done down the years? Do you keep a diary with notes to remind you of each location and venue?

“Oh my God, I really should have, but I haven’t. I’ve played I don’t know how many venues in the UK alone. It’s just ridiculous. Even this next few months, because I’m doing my tour then I’m straight into rehearsals with Mike {Rutherford} and doing the Mike + the Mechanics tour, I’ll be doing, I don’t know how many, 40 dates, maybe?”

Well, on this tour alone it’s 21 days over barely six weeks, and then you’ve got those 30-plus UK Mechanics dates for starters.

“Yeah, it’s going to be really intense. I’ll probably need a holiday after all that.”

You use the word ‘intimate’ when you’re talking about gigs and the Music Venue Trust project. And I get the impression that however big the places you play, you’ll still fix on that one person in the crowd.

“Yeah, I do. When I’m singing, I feel like I’m singing to someone, because you are sort of baring your soul. And I like the fact that when I go to gigs and hear people, it feels real, it feels like if they’re singing a song about an emotive subject, that there’s investment in that way. It gets harder when you start playing bigger venues. If you’re playing an arena or a stadium, it often becomes also about the lights and the screens, and you find you have to projects, put your arms out and be, you know, a performer in that way. And it’s tougher to give it that. I’ve played some big venues, gone off the stage and felt it was a blur.it was all adrenalin. But when you play the smaller venues, you fill that feedback instantly from the people you’re singing to.”

Twice in a Lifetime quite rightly got lots of plaudits. Is there a new LP on its way?

“Well, I’ve started to write some new material. I can’t say when I’ll have an album out. I’m not sure if it will be this year, with all the live stuff I’m doing. But there’s definitely another album in the making.”

And is the contacts book open? We mentioned Beverley Knight, and I guess there will be moments when you get the feeling you need someone or other guesting on this one too.

“Well, I haven’t got to that point, because I like to get enough tracks, so when I do ring these people and saying, ‘Check this out,’ I know they’re going to get blown away. That’s how I start, rather than go, ‘Erm, would you sing on my album?’ Especially if it’s someone who’s really busy, so you need to go there with your gun fully loaded!”

Last time I spoke to you was August 2017. A lot’s happened since, from the horrors of Brexit all the way through the pandemic to the current cost of living crisis and wall-to-wall public services’ strikes. And then there were those personal moments that also impacted on you. But has it at least been a productive period, working through the bad as well as the good times, like so many of us?

“It has been productive. It’s been quite intense, actually, with a lot happening … which I’m grateful for, you know. And I did the right thing, I kept my foot on the gas – I could have just gone, ‘Ah, I can’t be arsed with this.’ I just felt I needed to keep focused and keep going forwards. And from 2017 to today, the time has gone so fast, and I’m thinking that with the next album I make, there’s a lot to draw from, material-wise.

“Yeah, it’s been intense!” And those are the things that inspire writers – the more intense experiences.”

And putting you on the spot, of all the artists you’ve performed with or written songs for, who do you think you learned most from, or who gave you the biggest thrill to be up there with?

“Well, those are two different things, but I’ve learned a lot from Mike {Rutherford}, on a lot of levels – the way he puts songs together or ideas, and his fearlessness. I mean, Mike doesn’t try to sort of please anyone. He just does what he does. It doesn’t always work, but he takes those risks. And I think if you go through life and not take risks, you’re always going to be in the middle somewhere.”

Hearing yourself say that, does that surprise you? Putting yourself back in the mind of the late ‘70s or early 80s you, thinking you’re going to be talking in those terms of inspiration about a guitar-playing member of Genesis?

“Ha! Completely. I didn’t grow up with Genesis, and apart from the commercial side – which a lot of the fans say that’s not the real Genesis – I didn’t know them. And even now I’ve been to the last set of gigs, and it’s like a revelation to me, you know. And it’s about freedom, an artistic freedom of expression. They’re just doing what they’re doing, and somehow it just works. Because you have to trust in the whole process, I guess. Even though you might think this is only going to appeal to me because it’s so out there.

“You can be surprised. I mean, some of the times I wrote over the years, I really thought, ‘This is a bit indulgent. It’s about something that’s very close to me, and it’s not really going to resonate.’ But people go, ‘Oh, that song!’ And I’ll think, ‘Wow, I would never have thought!’  So you’ve got to stick your neck out there, and I think Mike has always been a reminder about that. And I appreciate that he turned up on the scene when he did.”

I guess there’s a great example in that personal aspect that resonates with people, in the Mechanics’ biggest hit, ‘The Living Years’. That must have surprised him, how much it meant to strangers.

“Well, even Mike, when that was being written – because he didn’t write most of the lyrics, that was B.A. Robertson – it had the word die in there, and you know, the rule is, you don’t put that in a pop song. But there’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’, and a few songs. But he didn’t know how people were going to take it. And to his surprise, not only did they take to it a little, but lots of people related to that. And it’s not something we talk about a lot, in society, but I think we need to talk about it more, sort of demystify it, take the dark fear out of that. We’ve got this idea that it’s something and actually it’s … there was a comedian on the radio the other day, Zoe Ball was interviewing him and said, ‘I’m gonna play this song, but it was from before you were born.’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I was dead then!’ And yeah, we’ve all kind of been dead before. Wherever that is that we go to, we’ve come from that. We didn’t exist as what we know we are now. So it’s not that bad, we’ve done it before.”

And who’s in the Roachford band this time on tour?

“Well, this band is Chris Moorhead, who I co-wrote some of the songs with, like ‘Love Remedy’. And my brother introduced me to him. And then there’s Luke {Naimi}, who’s been playing drums for me for a few years now, and David Levy’s been playing bass with me for a while.”

Incidentally, David also features with Paul Young‘s Los Pacaminos. And it seems Andrew’s got a good vibe together with his band.

“Oh yeah, and do you know what, it’s just got an energy about it, because they are invested in it. You don’t want people just playing because they played the songs before. They’re completely … right in it, as I am. I remember going to a Stevie Wonder gig, thinking, ‘How many times has he played ‘Superstition’? But you can hear he plays it like it was the first time, and I get that.”

Last time we spoke, we got on to our mutual love for Al Green and his records for the Hi label with Willie Mitchell, and you’ve clearly got that affinity with all that. In fact, there’s a vibe of all that on ‘Too Much to Lose’ on that last LP.

“Well, I’m planning this year after touring to go out to Nashville, and I want to head out to Memphis. Actually, Beverley Knight did some stuff out there, recording at Al Green’s family studio, and she kept saying to me, ‘Andrew, of all people, you should be going there.’ So that’s gonna happen this year, and I’ll pop down to the church that Al Green preaches out, and hopefully he’ll be around. I’d love to really connect with him. I mean, who wouldn’t? But I just feel there’s an affinity there. We would understand each other. And appreciate. So yeah, who knows what’s going to come from that!”

Well, next time we speak, it could be a case of me asking you to talk me through the recording of Roachy in Memphis.

“Exactly! So yeah, I’m looking forward to that.”

And on a personal note, there was also the awarding of your MBE for services to music since we last spoke. A proud moment?

“Oh man, that moment is etched in my memory. I’ll never forget it. We were driving into Buckingham Palace in the morning, my brother was driving, and it was beautiful blue skies, like we were in the Mediterranean or something, even though it was cold. And as the gate opened, ‘Love Remedy’, one of my songs, came on the radio. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

“Sadly, my brother was gone within weeks of that, but it was just that moment. It meant a lot, and it means a lot on a lot of levels. I may have said to you last time, obviously I don’t make music for awards …”

I imagine so, and I still have that vision of you hiding behind a bank of keyboards, as it was in the early days until you were persuaded to lose them one by one and show us your face.

“Exactly, that was me, and it still is me to an extent. Because it’s about music for me. The music is bigger than me, and I feel sort of like a servant to music. Obviously, I understand the whole fame thing. But when you’ve been through it, you don’t need it. Some people need it, but others don’t need that kind of hero worship, they just want to make the best music that actually resonates with people in the deepest way. And that makes me happy.”

And having mentioned Al Green and Stevie Wonder, are you still discovering music from the past and thinking, ‘How did I miss out on this?

“Always, and even with artists I know really well, I’ll find a track and think, ‘Where did this come from?’ And you just learn. That’s what I’m like, I’m a sponge. You hear something and, ‘What was that?’ And you try to sort of assimilate it, make it part of what you do, if you can. I tend to listen to the greats a lot, and people like Sam Cooke, they’re on another planet. I don’t know how they did it.”

He recorded so much too, in such a short space of time.

“Yeah. Living in the studio. Sam Cooke, Otis Redding … I mean, how much material did that guy have? He died at 27. It’s crazy.”

And just to finish off – I best let you go because you need to save your voice, or I’ll be in trouble for ending the tour before it’s even opened – it’s 35 years this June since ‘Cuddly Toy’s initial release, although it was this time the following year when it properly charted. Looking back at the subsequent Top of the Pops appearances and other TV performances playing that breakthrough hit, do you still recognise that fella fronting the band back then?

“Ha! Erm … not really … In some ways I do, but I’m a lot older now and I’ve been through the journey. I think I was kind of half present and half not. I think that’s what I needed to be to make that music at that time. I could never write the way I wrote then, because I’m just not the same. If you could be the person that you are now and go back then, it would be a completely different story. But what a lovely journey it’s been, and I feel blessed so far. And when people talk about ‘Cuddly Toy’, I’m glad I wrote it. It’s done so many good things for me and made so many people happy, so what more can you want?”

It opened the door, for certain

“Big time!”

And with that, I let him go, sensing a coughing episode, not wanting to be the interviewer responsible for dragging him back to square one on his road to recovery.

For this website’s August 2017 feature/interview with Andrew Roachford, head here.

Special guest at the forthcoming 21-date An Evening With Roachford tour is Acantha Lang, born and raised in New Orleans, and currently building a name for herself on the UK circuit since moving to London. Also writing for Grammy-nominated Robert Randolph & The Family Band. Acantha’s debut EP, Sugar Woman was selected by Soul Tracks as their featured album of the month on its release and earned her a New Artist of the Year award at 2021’s Soul Tracks Readers’ Choice Awards. Debut single, ‘He Said/She Said’ gained praise from Craig Charles (BBC 6 Music Funk & Soul Show), who described Acantha as, ‘brilliant … an independent artist destined for world domination’ in a recent interview for Blues & Soul Magazine. Her music has gained more than one million streams and been playlisted on top Spotify playlists, including its Best Retro Songs of 2021 playlist. Acantha was also accepted into the Recording Academy’s (Grammy) 2022 member class, with her single, ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’ on the first round ballots in three categories at the 65th Grammy Awards nominations.

An Evening With Roachford dates: 15th February – Nottingham, Rescue Rooms; 17th February – Wigan, The Old Courts; 24th February – Holmfirth, Picturedrome; 25th February – Stockton-on-Tees, ARC; 26th February – Shrewsbury, Theatre Severn; 1st March – Blackburn, King George’s Hall; 2nd March – Bury, The Met; 3rd March – Carlisle, Old Fire Station; 4th March – Sunderland, Fire Station; 9th March – Cambridge, The Junction; 10th March – Stroud, The Subs Rooms; 11th March – East Sussex, Trading Boundaries; 15th March – Basingstoke, The Haymarket; 16th March – Coventry, HMV Empire; 17th March – Milton Keynes, The Stables; 18th March – Margate,  Olby’s Creative Hub; 23rd March – Eastleigh, Concorde Club; 24th March – Cardiff, The Globe; 25th March – Buckley, Tivoli; 29th March – Bury St Edmunds, The Apex; 30th March – Lincoln, The Drill. Tickets are on sale now, available at www.roachford.co.uk.

The Music Venue Trust is a charitable organisation, founded in January 2014 to help protect, secure and improve UK music venues, and currently provides support to more than 900 venues, helping purchases freeholds, renting them back to operators at a fairer rate than previous landlords, with greater security and better understanding of the sector. Music fans and ethical investors can buy community shares in Music Venue Properties from £200 to £100,000 and receive 3% APR on investments. To the end of 2022, MVP raised £3.5m to buy freeholds for nine UK grassroots music venues. For more details head here.

And for Mike + The Mechanics’ UK and German tour details and ticket information, visit https://mikeandthemechanics.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding her voice again – the Sam Brown interview

I still can’t get used to online video interviews, and this one with Sam Brown was definitely one that caught me out. When in-person one-to-ones are ruled out by time and impracticalities, it’s arguably the next best thing, somewhat more intimate than a phone call. And yet, when you’re talking to people who have helped form the patchwork of your life as a music fan, providing part of the soundtrack to your formative years, you can’t help but feel a little more nervous and, in my case, come over as a bit of an awkward fan boy … a teenage one at that.

Okay, I was already 20 by the time I heard her debut hit single, ‘Stop!’ And she’s barely three years older than me (although she looks far younger). All the same, I had our video call to look back over, but made do with the audio file when it came to transcription, as I struggle to get past my voice and demeanour, squirming as I think, ‘Why didn’t I ask that?’ or ‘What did you say that for, you bloody idiot?’

That said, as much as she does online, it’s clearly as odd a situation for my interviewee as it is me, as became clear soon after my opening gambit, asking if it’s good to be back … or has she never really been away?

“Ha! No, I was definitely away … away with the faeries!”

She’s quoting one of her own songs there, the gorgeous, dreamy last track on Of the Moment. On which the esteemed Herbie Flowers contributes double bass while Sam adds ukulele, tenor guitar, piano, and keyboards, as well as that breathy, rather exquisite voice. 

“It is nice though, and quite strange. And it’s been a long time since I’ve done all the PR stuff. But it’s been really nice to meet new people and have a chat. I get a bit bored of talking about myself, but …”

The release of her new solo LP, Number 8, completes a series of studio and live albums where the first letters spell out her name. Mind you, Sam admits that naming convention passed her by until fifth LP, Reboot in 2000. She carried it on from there though, with this latest offering her first studio album since 2007’s splendid Of the Moment, and following 2021 archive live offering, Wednesday the Something of April, which featured recordings from 2004.

Sam had by last year accepted the loss of her voice as it was as permanent. So how did Number 8 – released last week alongside its lead single, ‘Doll’ come about? Well, apparently it required a little thinking outside the (voice) box.
 
“When I began experiencing difficulties with my voice, I started on a rigorous pursuit of answers. I worked with top voice trainers, here and in America. I saw reputed voice doctors, did speech therapy, hypnotherapy, therapy therapy! Yoga, acupuncture, nutrition, crystal healing …

“Nothing changed my inability to achieve pitch and closure simultaneously. A fundamental problem. Along with my voice, my creative impetus also disappeared. I didn’t play anything or write anything. I didn’t want to. It was upsetting, to say the least.” 

That was until lockdown, when close friend and long-time associate Danny Schogger suggested they try a little writing.

“Long story short, we tried, and we did. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, and there were tears. Danny was amazingly patient, and we ended up with an album’s worth of tracks, the recording a wonderful revelation, all done on Skype and Zoom. 

“Danny did most of the instrumental side of things in his home, I worked at home with my Melodyne programme, allowing me to sing something in any pitch then move it to where I wanted it … and tune it – essential!
 
“It also meant I could add harmonies, double-tracking, etc. My brother Pete came on board at the mixing stage, fine-tuning what I’d done already. The end-result? Like nothing I’ve ever done before. In short, it’s all fake!”

That seems to be typical Sam, doing herself down. Arguably, she never quite fitted into a more egotistical mainstream pop way of operating, and certainly never seemed to take herself too seriously, despite an obvious talent as a singer and also a songwriter.

I had my first exposure to Number 8 this weekend, ‘Doll’ my earlier raised-eyebrows introduction, seemingly pitched somewhere between Thomas Dolby and Goldfrapp. And from more ‘90s dance-centric opener ‘It’s Okay’ to the disco throb of Adamski-esque penultimate number ‘4 on the Floor’, if you listen with ears open, I’d like to think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s not what we would have expected from her a decade ago, but take for example the Art of Noise match-up with Depeche Mode feel of track three ‘Injured’ or Teutonic-electronic feel of ‘Another Day’, a move towards ‘80s electro-pop surprisingly suiting her. And as a long player, it’s a grower.

If I heard this 30-plus years ago I’d have checked to have seen if Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were on the credits, not least on ‘The Story’ and ‘Tribe’, the latter a surefire hit if released with Madonna’s name on it. Meanwhile, ‘Showgirl’ reminds me of Alice Hubble, who I recently caught supporting Blancmange, and who also kind of provides a modern twist on the past.

If I’m honest, perhaps we need a couple of Brown/Schogger instrumentals breaking things up in places, the pitch-too-perfect programming moments a little wearing by the time we reach ‘Marionette’, while ‘Not For Anyone’ has the feel of a lower-charting Spice Girls 45, before ‘Shift’ lifts us again. As for my personal highlight, that’s Gallic-tinged finale, ‘Ghost’. Imagine the Pet Shop Boys channelling Vanessa Paradis, with shades of The Kinks’ ’Village Green’.

More to the point perhaps, Number 8 perhaps proves what the power of optimism and self-belief can lead to, providing an unexpected return, Sam reclaiming her voice, the songs personal and affecting, and the album landing 35 years, give or take a few months, after debut album, Stop! – which sold more than two and a half million copies – followed the hit 45 of that name, both reaching No.4 in 1988.

That first single opened the door on what would prove a busy career, Sam also having featured as a backing singer for some of the world’s biggest artists, from Small Faces (her first work in the music industry was in 1978, aged 14, providing backing vocals on their final studio album, 78 in the Shade) to David Gilmour and Pink Floyd, Jon Lord and Deep Purple, The Firm, Gary Moore, and Spandau Ballet. And then there was a certain fella by the name of George Harrison, plus a long stint on our TV screens and on the road with Jools Holland’s band.

But back to the interview. and Number 8 sounds like it was meant to be, I suggested, the way it all came together.

“Definitely. I am really excited. It’s been quite a while since we finished it, but everyone seems to quite like it, which is really nice.”

It must have been an anguished time with the voice problems. Did that knock your confidence? Because, let’s face it, you had one hell of a voice on you.

“Ha! A bit of a shouter! Yeah, it hasn’t been easy. Singing was my whole life, apart from my children. There’s been difficult moments. But lots of people go through things like that, don’t they, and you’ve got a choice. You’ve got to come through the other end, really.”

The day before we spoke, I started going back through her album catalogue while out driving across Lancashire, playing debut LP Stop! for the first time in a long while. And I couldn’t help but wonder if she brought it upon herself by pushing that mighty voice of yours from the start.

“Ha! You’re not the only person to say that! Maybe. I definitely had a very loud voice, but did a lot of voice training from about 1995, which I hadn’t done with Stop! or Pink Floyd. I went through a marriage breakdown, and definitely channelled everything into my singing. Perhaps not the best thing to do. Who knows? I don’t know is the answer, Malcolm. I’ve no idea why, and I still don’t know what’s wrong with it.”

What also struck me, looking at the credits for that first album, having realised your brother, Pete, had been there with you all this time, was that Danny Schogger was also involved back then.  

“Absolutely. I met Danny in a recording studio when I was 15. He was in the kitchen making tea, and made some cheeky, sexist remark. As he was walking away, I threw a hot tea bag at the back of him, hit him right square on his nice new clean white t-shirt. We’ve been firm friends ever since! He’s a really nice bloke, and on this album we’ve done everything together. It’s been great fun, really easy, lots of laughing and a bit of crying when I couldn’t sing things. But then we got the auto-tune out, you know … fantastic.”

Ah, tea. Sam has long professed a love for a cuppa. Builders’ tea in her case, I understand. I was wondering, now things have changed at the top, sovereign-wise, is it time to replace our national anthem with the delightful ‘Tea’ from her debut LP?

“It’s a fucking genius idea! Ha!”

It’s not too long either. Just about right.

“Yeah, probably shorter than your average national anthem.”

How it would work on the football terraces, I don’t know, but …

“Yeah, I’ll write to the King and suggest it.”

You’ve got his personal email, right?

“Definitely. I mean, he’s gonna go for it, isn’t he?”

Let’s face it, the old one’s tired and dreary.

“Well … you know, change is good.”

I mentioned the first album, but for my better half and I – together since Summer ’89 – April Moon, out the following Spring, was one of the first LPs we both listened to together, when we lived 240 miles apart. She recorded it for me on a C90, and as I told Sam, the first time I played it and heard that doorbell ring at the start, someone answering it, I instinctively wondered if it was – more in the manner of 1970s recordings on tape recorders – my better half inviting some other fella in for a romantic evening, jealousy briefly kicking in, what with me being in Surrey and her in Lancashire.

“Ah, that’s brilliant! And you’ve been together a long time – congratulations.”

If the debut single and LP of the same name announced her arrival and showcased that great voice, April Moon took Sam forward, flagging up that talent for songwriting. And alongside three cracking singles (only one of which, somewhat criminally, made the top-40) for me there’s a melancholy beauty on various tracks. Looking back now, I equate it with Squeeze’s Play, even though that wasn’t out until the following summer. It carries that same Difford and Tilbrook minor key feel in places, both LPs proving perfect for when the days are shorter. A winter warmer.

“I can’t remember what time of year it came out, but I’m very thrilled to be put up against Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, amazing writers. I loved doing that album. The band was very heavy at that time, a good thing in a lot of ways. But I did think it was a bit long.”

I agreed there, but only later recalled that maybe that was because the CD version I later bought carried an extra four tracks. that said, in the years that followed, the music industry tended to ‘front-load’ records, thinking people would only have staying power for the opening tracks, getting the potential hits out of the way. And there are elements of that with April Moon. You were ahead of your time.

“Yeah, it tails off. But there’s some lovely songs on there. Lots of good co-writes.”

True. Here’s a confession though – be it down to personal circumstances or whatever, I didn’t buy another of your LPs until Of the Moment, although aware of and enjoying your work with Jools Holland, not least numbers like the gorgeous ‘Valentine Moon’, which I was convinced at first must be a classic ‘40s or ‘50s cover rather than a Julian Holland/Samantha Brown composition. It has that quality.

“Yeah, it’s quite old-fashioned.”

Was that your song initially, Jools adding to it around the piano?

“Definitely. All the writing with Jools was based around the piano. Always. That’s how we wrote best. And also with ‘Stop!’, lots of people didn’t realise I’d written it. They thought it was an old blues song. The same as with ‘Valentine Moon’, it’s got that old-fashioned feel to it.”

Clearly, you could knock out all those old soul and blues classics, and you got to perform with many an icon via Jools, including the likes of legendary namesake Sam Moore.

“Ah, that was amazing. You’ve never met a bigger character. Him and his wife Joyce are just lovely, lovely people, and Sam’s got such great atmosphere about him. A nice man and a great voice, of course.”

It was only while working on a little background research to this feature that I realised I could have asked about her duet with Nick Cave on ‘Kiss of Love’ with Jools’ band in 2003, but had said I wouldn’t go through all her collaborations, or I would have also asked about Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings and songs played with Kenney Jones’ band the Jones Gang for 2001’s One for the Road: Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert, including Small Faces classic ‘Tin Soldier’. Then there was 2002’s backing vocal duties at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s golden jubilee’s Party at the Palace.

But I did mention rewatching her perform ‘Horse to the Water’ – a George and Dhani Harrison co-write, and George’s final appearance on a record, released on Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra’s 2001 LP, Small World, Big Band – at November 2002’s memorable tribute show, Concert for George, where she was on typical top form. And, I suggested, it must have been difficult to not turn around and lose it, catching sight of a backing band including Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Albert Lee, Jim Capaldi, Dhani, and Jools.

“Yeah, I’d met most of them. I hadn’t met Jeff Lynne. He keeps himself to himself. I didn’t really talk to him. I would have loved to. But yeah, you’re right. It was incredible and I was given such a warm welcome with Jools on that gig. I loved it. I knew George and I know Olivia and Dhani. Nevertheless, it was amazing.”

Sam’s father, pioneering UK rock’n’roll star Joe Brown, also performed that night at the Royal Albert Hall. How’s her dad doing these days?

“He’s good, yeah. He’s 82, bumbling about, you know. He likes to make things. He’s got a workshop and works with wood – always restoring things, building things for the neighbours, fixing things, making cupboards. He made me this clock. Look at that – innit nice?”

Sam holds up an impressive work of art. A new vocation, it seems. My dad, I told her, before becoming a postman for 30-odd years, was a loco fireman on the railways, so I always think of the two of them doing that same role in their formative years. And at one stage it seemed that whenever they talked about steam railways on television, Joe would be invited to add insight from his own days in that role. That would – much to our amusement – rattle my dad, eight years his senior, saying, ‘Oh, here he is again – what a surprise!’ Or words to that effect.

“Yeah, lightweight! Ha!”

In a filmed interview for the National Railway Museum in York’s British Rail – a Moving Story exhibition in the early 2000s, Joe, who spent two years in the late 1950s as a loco fireman at Plaistow, east London, said: “I loved it, but the smell of the diesels drove me out when they took over from steam. There was no shovel to cook your breakfast on.” Does Sam think he could have hacked that role longer term? I’m guessing the pull of the entertainment industry was always too strong.

“Erm, he’s pretty tough, my dad.”

It was a dirty old job, wasn’t it.

“Yeah, really hard work. You don’t really get it anymore, do you. But he always treated doing music like a normal job. He was very workmanlike about it. And he went to work. That’s what he did. So I think he probably – whatever he did – would have been quite good at it. But he’s got a very big personality. I don’t know how that would have been in normal day-to-day life.”

Well, we need those characters to get through life.

“You do. How long did your dad do it for?”

Eight years – from 1953, after RAF national service, to 1961. So their spells would have overlapped. I think by the time Joe left, my dad could also see the writing on the wall, steam coming to an end. As it is, getting out when he did to better support a growing family, financially, helped him retain that love for steam, as was the case with Sam’s dad, I imagine.

And talking of family, have either of her children followed down a similar career music path? Or did she put them off?

“Ha! Well, they both are very musical. My daughter can play and sing really well, but she does photography and videography. She’s doing a degree at the moment, in Edinburgh. But my son’s firmly on that financially unrewarding path of being a singer/songwriter musician. It’s so much harder now, but he’s very good and loves it. I think it’s his vocation. I guess we’ll see what happens.

“Both my kids were born up in Scotland. We moved up in the ‘90s, bought a house and – when I was married – built a studio.”

These days Sam lives in Dorset, and I told her I spotted she had a ukulele club on her adopted patch.

“Oh, there are bloody ukulele clubs everywhere! I still teach in Oxfordshire, where I used to live. I’ve still got three clubs there, I’ve got a couple of clubs in Dorset, and a club I do occasionally in London. In fact, a week tomorrow I’m going out to Australia to teach ukelele.”

In fact, Sam was leading a ukelele show – the culmination of a week of workshops – in Busselton, Western Australia this weekend. She started the first club in 2010, and also runs online classes. Is this something she got more into when she started suffering voice problems?

“Well, I can’t sing at all, I haven’t been able to for a long time, and needed to earn a living. I was on my own with two kids, and needed a job. I tried lots of different things, but that took off very quickly. It started off with nine people and before I knew it there was 20, then 50, then 60. It really snowballed, so I just went with it really. And it’s been great. I’ve met lots of lovely people.”

Was playing the uke something learned from your dad?

“Not really. Dad was often working when we were kids. My ex-husband bought this ukelele, it was lying around the house in Scotland, I picked it up about 2000, started writing songs on it, then started playing.”

Igniting a passion?

“Yeah, I love it. It’s great”

My roots are in Guildford, and I see you tutored there for a while, at the Academy of Contemporary Music.

“That was quite a while ago, when I first lost my voice. I don’t know Guildford that well. I taught there for a while, but it wasn’t really right for me. There are some lovely people there though, and I met some lovely musicians.”

Are you still in touch with Jools Holland?

“I do keep in touch. I went for lunch with him the end of last year. He’s doing the same as he was when I left – touring, making albums, always up to something. I don’t know where he finds the time for it all. He’s great, isn’t he. Brilliant.”

Putting you on the spot, if there’s one recording you made with him that stands out, live, in the studio, or for television, what would it be?

“Erm, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ – a really old song. I did that, I think, on one of the Hootenannys.”

I remember that clearly. Great choice.

“We used to do that live and I’d go and sit with him on the piano at the beginning, and he’d always try and nudge my bum off while we were doing it! It ended up with my knees killing me to stand up, always a bit of a funny moment. And I love that song, loved singing it.”

Regarding friendship with George Harrison and his family, did you get to know him through your dad?

“My mum and dad both knew him. My mum’s from Liverpool.”

Ah, of course, Vicki Brown, who died aged 50 in 1991, having started out with The Vernon Girls before joining vocal trio The Breakaways in 1962, seen as Britain’s premier session vocalists in that era.

“Yes, she met George, presumably in the ‘50s. Then The Beatles supported my dad, and George very cheekily snuck into my dad’s dressing room and had a picture taken with dad’s guitar, which Olivia recently brought out to show us. Other than that, I used to see them because we lived nearby in Oxfordshire. When Mum was ill, we spent some time with them. They were very kind, lovely people, and I did a few sessions for George, when he needed a couple of bits of backing vocals.”

I was also reminded, reading back on your career, of the Homespun band project with David Rotheray, someone I met briefly when The Beautiful South took off. That seemed to be a bit of a swerve-ball career move for you.

“Yeah, but a really nice thing to do. I knew the guy who played trumpet and keyboards, Tony Robinson, and he’d spoken to Dave, who wanted to put together a different thing to everything else he was doing. He’d written some songs on his own, rather than – presumably – with Paul Heaton. I went up to Leeds and sang these songs, which were fantastic, really different, really good lyrics, very gentle. All the people involved were just lovely. Kind of a little holiday in Hull, you know! I sang some demos, and it went on from there. Always very easy, nothing stressful, a really nice departure, musically, for me – something completely different that was original. It wasn’t old blues stuff or my own stuff. I really enjoyed doing it.”

A penchant for the blues and soul always came out in your songs. Was that what you were listening to, growing up?

“Funnily enough, not really. Well, I say that, but I listened to a lot of Stevie Wonder. But that’s not obvious blues and soul, although it’s very soulful. I listened to a lot of Aretha, but other than that, I didn’t really. I listened to Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman …”

“When I wrote ‘Stop!’ I didn’t really realise it was a blue song. I didn’t know where those influences had come from. I know that sounds a bit naive, but I had no idea. I just sort of wrote it, now realising it’s a blues ballad, really.”

I definitely hear Joni in a few tracks on Of the Moment, now I come to think of it, having revisited that record a couple of days over the last couple of weeks.

And did that fine voice come from your mum? Was she the first in the family belting something out?

“Mum had an amazing voice. She was fantastic. I used to sing a lot with her, growing up. We had a studio at home, so I’d help out with BVs in the studio. Then I’d go to sessions with mum and get involved in session work, which I absolutely loved. At the same time I was writing, so it was a very musical life.”

Right from the beginning, your work was at least co-produced with your brother, Pete. Were you both sponges in the studio and live, picking up stuff as you went along?

“I think we were both sponges. It’s just the way it happened. I did more going out and singing, and Pete was always the sort of kid who’d take a radio apart and put it back together. Very natural at being able to fix things. And instinctive, you know, which I definitely am not, never have been.

“He went to work in a recording studio at the age of 16, and was recording full orchestras. From an engineering point of view, he’s been doing it a long time. He can produce, but he’s also an absolutely brilliant musician. He plays guitar, piano. He had piano lessons recently, which was brilliant.

“And he’s got a really fantastic voice. He does everything. We both do all of it, but he’s much better on the technical side. I wouldn’t say I’m any better than him musically. I think writing-wise though, that’s where my experience lies.”

It says at the end of your press release, regarding the Sam Brown LP naming convention, ‘what comes next?’ Well, when the Salvo label repackaged Madness’ albums, they added letters to each LP, but I seem to recalled they had licensing issues over The Madness, so it spelt out M-A-D-N-E-S, followed by an exclamation mark for the following release. Maybe you should call your next one ! That would work … maybe.

“That’s a good idea. There have been all sorts of suggestions, as you can imagine.”

I’m guessing because of how things are with your voice at present, there’s unlikely to be a tour this time … unless you do a Voyage style show, in an ABBA style.

“Haha! I’d like to think I could afford to do that. At the moment I can’t see it happening, but there’s definitely a possibility that with some technical trickery, and I have some fantastic singers and musicians around me, there could be something at some point.

“I couldn’t go out and do a gig now, I just wouldn’t be able to do it, but you just never know. Maybe we can put something together.”

For more information about Sam Brown, including her new LP and back catalogue, head to her website. You can also follow her via Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking back on The Jam, 1982 and all that – back in conversation with Rick Buckler

This time 40 years ago, Rick Buckler must have been wondering just what was next, Christmas and New Year behind him, the ultra-successful group that had been his life for the past decade disbanded, his future uncertain. But as the wording on the back of a new book he’s co-written about The Jam’s final year puts it, ‘It was the end of an era, the start of a legacy’.

The Jam 1982, written with respected music writer Zoë Howe, tells the story of the final year of one of the most iconic UK bands, a tumultuous 12 months that ended with front-man Paul Weller controversially calling time on a three-piece he co-founded a decade earlier, having gone on to amass four UK No.1 and 18 top-40 singles, plus five top-10 LPs by the time that year was out.

As The Jam, Paul (guitar, vocals), Rick (drums) and Bruce Foxton (bass) spearheaded a late ‘70s Mod revival and before that rode the wave of punk, yet always forged their own path, continuing to move forward, their tight live shows, razor-sharp style and perfectly-crafted songs earning a hugely deserved and devoted following.

By 1982 they were bigger than ever, but the pressure of success was taking its toll, Paul’s shock decision – taken at the peak of their powers – far from welcomed by his bandmates, let alone fans.

The Jam 1982 is a neatly compiled, richly illustrated, full colour, 176-page glossy hardback recalling that momentous period – ‘eye of the storm stories of life in and around The Jam from the recording of The Gift just before Christmas 1981 through to the end of that following fateful and unforgettable year’ – and includes previously unseen images (some from Rick’s own collection) and untold stories, in a revealing oral history taking us from the recording and release of final studio album, The Gift, to their last appearances together. 

In addition to Rick’s memories and excerpts from various print and broadcast media interviews, including several with Paul and Bruce, The Jam 1982 brings together testimonies from the likes of broadcaster Gary Crowley, producer Peter Wilson, A&R manager Dennis Munday, music publisher Bryan Morrison, photographers Neil ‘Twink’ Tinning and Pennie Smith, music writers Paolo Hewitt, Mark Ellen, Chris Salewicz and Valerie Siebert, Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki (later Rick’s replacement in From The Jam), Suede bassist Mat Osman, singers Jennie Matthias (Belle Stars, who sang on ‘The Bitterest Pill’) and Tracie Young, touring musicians Jamie Telford (keyboards) and Steve Nichol (trumpet), plus Paul’s sister Nicky Weller and dad John, the legendary Jam manager, all helping put a new spin on the tale of the fateful year three Woking class heroes went out at the very top of their game.

I shouldn’t need to go into the full history, but Rick gives us his take on the early days in the book’s introduction, telling us, ‘From the moment I teamed up with Paul at school to start a band, everything else became secondary. We started out as a three-piece with Steve Brookes on lead guitar and vocals, Paul on his prized Hofner violin bass and backing vocals, and myself on drums. We also had a name – not a very good name we thought – but it would do until we thought of a better one: The Jam.

‘Dave Waller joined on rhythm guitar, learning to play on the way. Rehearsing in Paul’s bedroom we got together a set of ‘60s covers and put on an hour of music as we worked towards our first gigs in Sheerwater Youth Club, county fairs, and anywhere around the Woking area we could secure bookings. Dave soon dropped out, but we continued to go out as a three-piece, improving our set and adding some rather dodgy self-penned love songs along the way.”

In time, Steve left and Bruce joined on bass, while Paul switched to guitar, history in the making, even though it would be 1977 before it all truly came together. But while much has been written about the full tale, Rick felt, four decades on, ‘The real inside story hasn’t been fully told,’ adding ‘The Jam still means a great deal to me and so many others. I’ve always thought it was a great shame that we did not take it as far as we should.’

And as I put it to him, this latest Omnibus Press publication makes for an impressive read, a welcome addition to an already mighty canon of books about the band.

“Yeah, I think the publisher did a good job on laying it out, helped by having access to a set of photographs, which we expanded on. And those photographs tell a lot more about the story at the time. Because it was a decisive year, for all sorts of reasons.”

There’s an understatement if ever there was one, Rick realising that and laughing as the words slipped out. And a lot of those images, including the front and back cover shots, were by ‘Twink’ Tinning, and while I – like so many of us – already knew a fair bit of the story of that decisive final year, I was intrigued by Rick’s take on how his photographer friend came into the band’s confidence and into a position where he could get such close access. For his pictures certainly tell part of that tale.

“They do. Most of the photographs of the band up to 1981 were fairly staged, and normally always associated with us being interviewed. The whole thing was a little one-sided. But I said to the guys about this good friend of mine, Twink, and said let’s take him on the road, so he came along with us on tour, taking shots other photographers simply didn’t have access to.

“And it turned out to be a really good thing. Unfortunately, they were rejected by {Paul’s father, and the band’s manager} John Weller right at the end. He refused to pay Twink, who held on to the rights of those photographs, and a lot of them never got seen. But I always thought he was a really great photographer, as seen on those cover shots, and there’s loads of the audience, like those taken from behind my kit.”

There are certainly some candid pics among them, and on one that springs to minds it looks like Paul’s about to rip Twink’s head off for snapping him and his girlfriend at the time, Gill.

“Ha! Yeah, especially with that one – they’d just fallen out, and weren’t speaking to each other. Paul’s looking one way, Gill the other, and that sort of thing used to happen on a regular basis. Twink would just walk onto the bus and take a photograph. There was real spontaneity, and I suppose there’s a bit of an insight into what was going on.”

At the same time, I’m pleased to hear that Rick and his partner at the time, Lesley, another caught on camera within, remain an item all these years on. Hardly the rock’n’roll way, mind.

“Ha! Yes. Absolutely. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”

Perhaps Rick just got out of the big, bad music business at the right time … not as if he saw it that way at the time. He met Lesley, also from the Woking area, in 1978, coming up to 45 years ago (“I know. It’s frightening. The joke is, you get less for murder!”) and they still live ‘on the edge of Woking’, all these years on.

As the cliche goes, I bet they’ve seen some changes. My nan, and before that my dad and grandad, lived at the Maybury end of Woking. And even back in the ‘80s she’d tell me on weekend visits to ours, ‘I hardly recognise the place, it’s changing so much. They’re pulling everything down.’

“Yeah, I think like all those remote towns, seeing it evolve from after the war, where they were knocking a lot of it down, to the regeneration of town centres. And it is completely different to what it used to be 40 years ago.”

When I walk away from Kingfield after the football these days, I’m met by the sight of all those massive high-rises in the town centre, wondering if I’ve stumbled into Beijing somehow.

“Yeah, I don’t know, some people like them. I’m not sure about them really, but they’ve got plans for more. It’s certainly changed.”

The new book is dedicated to respected music writer Simon Wells, who was working on this project ahead of his illness. Sadly, he died after a battle with cancer in 2022. Did you get to know him?

“I bumped into him a few times. I didn’t know him too well. He was put forward by Omnibus to help do a lot of the research. Unfortunately, we hadn’t really got started before he was diagnosed. He said, ‘We’ll get together once I’ve been in hospital and got this thing sorted, then we’ll get stuck into it.’ Sadly, we never really got started. Yeah, it was very sad, and I was quite shocked at how quickly it took hold.”

Accordingly, publication times came and went, before Zoë stepped up to take the project on, another revered writer with a wealth of previous acclaimed music biographies behind her, past publishing projects including biographies of Lee Brilleaux, Poly Styrene, Wilko Johnson, Florence + the Machine, Stevie Nicks, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Slits. She knows her stuff, and she’s done a great job with you here.

“Yeah, it was a bit strange, because we did most of it at a distance. But she helped out a great deal, doing a lot of the interviews, phoning people up, typing it up, what have you. I’d not worked with her before, but she has a lot of experience with other books.”

Perhaps it helps that she knows how to deal with drummers, I joked, being married to Dylan Howe, from Wilko Johnson’s band.

“Absolutely! She knows the music industry, and we rubbed along alright there.”

Gary Crowley writes in the book’s foreword about a life-affirming Battersea Town Hall date in late June 1977, his first live gig, aged 15, recalling, ‘Paul and Bruce jumped around the stage like synchronised trampolinists plugged into the National Grid whilst Rick sat steady at the back, pounding the skins on that jet-black kit, cool as fuck in those Roger McGuinn shades, keeping the solid beat which underpinned their revolutionary sound and led the charge of their musical attack.” And for me, he sums up the spirit that fans saw in the band, that ‘fire and skill’ we often hear about. As with The Clash, and the likes of Mott the Hoople before, there are plenty of tales of kids being let into pre-show soundchecks. There was a real affinity with fans, I suggested to Rick.

“Yes, a lot of that came from the very early days when we were playing the clubs. A lot of people twigged that if they got there in the afternoon, especially London shows and pubs, we’d be doing soundchecks at about three or four o’clock. They’d come along, get stuff signed, and just talk to us.

“This was prior to us getting signed. And the first thing we did with the record company was sort a tour, which involved only London – the Red Cow, the Nashville, the Marquee, those sorts of places. John {Weller} wasn’t particularly keen on it. But it was something we did and carried on through to playing the larger shows.”

In my experience, I’d say that remained the case long after the split, and it was in late 2007 that I first saw Bruce and Rick, by then with From the Jam, having the pleasure of a backstage audience with the band at Preston’s 53 Degrees university venue. In fact, I recall Rick taking me to task – somewhat bewildered, perhaps – on my then-regular 500 mile round-trips to watch Woking FC home games, despite so much football competition on my adopted Lancashire patch. Meanwhile, there was Bruce, who I’d chatted with earlier, patiently waiting to get a word in so he could say goodbye and get back to his hotel, both equally generous with their time.

It’s been a while now since Rick stepped away from that live line-up. No regrets? Was that a good time to end that chapter of his career and concentrate on his writing and Q&A commitments?

“From the Jam? Well, yeah, it became hard work. It was great, because I really wanted to revisit the songs. And we did, but when Bruce came on board, unfortunately, he took a completely different take on things. I didn’t really want to go down the road of becoming a tribute band, going round and round doing the same old thing.

“Myself and {keyboard player} Dave Moore did try to get into doing new material, and the view from Bruce at the time was that if we did, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot and wouldn’t be able to pull an audience, because they’d only be there for the Jam material, which was fairly true.

“I thought, you know what, it just isn’t working anymore. We weren’t earning any money, all the money we were earning spent on ridiculous things like hotels. You think, ‘I’ve run this, it’s done its course.’ I wasn’t there to support anybody’s ego or what have you. I felt, ‘I don’t need this.’ So I left, and that was that.

“I did a couple of other things later, getting together with Ian Whitewood from Sham 69, a two-drummer thing there. Then I did the autobiography, and that was coming on for six or seven years. So yeah, I think one of the biggest things in the music industry is never to become boring. And I think From the Jam had become a bit boring, and it wasn’t really working for me anymore.”

I take your point, but since then we’ve had a couple of cracking Foxton & Hastings albums outside the live show format, with Bruce and singer/guitarist Russell Hastings (who co-founded the original band, The Gift, with Rick and Dave Moore in late 2005, Bruce joining earlier in the year I first saw them) writing their own material. Very good they are too … as are the live shows. So perhaps Bruce was willing to take that suggestion up after all.

“Well, yeah, the penny finally dropped, I think. But there were lots of tribute bands out there playing Jam stuff {at the time}.”

Only one with a genuine Jam member involved though. Anyway, I didn’t dwell on all that. Instead, I headed further back into the memory banks, picking Rick up on his assertion that there was determination and dedication from the moment The Jam formed at school. Clearly the belief was always there, and they were all very driven, doing their apprenticeship of sorts in pubs and clubs, mostly playing covers at first, largely on the South-East circuit, but gradually adding more and more of their own songs, before that move up to London to take it to the next level. Was there a day that Paul or fellow founder member Steve Brookes turned up with a song and you thought, ‘We’ve really got something here’? Did you hear, for example, ‘I Got by in Time’ and think, ‘yes, we’re on the right track!’?

“I don’t know. It’s difficult from the inside to judge that, but one thing I remember that we did know, but weren’t really sort of facing up to, was the fact that most of the songs written in the early days were love songs, our influences really coming from us being a covers band, so we thought that was okay. But it really wasn’t enough.

“When we encountered what was going on in London, the pub rock scene, and saw all these other bands, that sort of broadened our horizons. It was becoming boring, doing the same thing over and over, but we had the foresight to say we wanted to go and play the London scene.

“Unfortunately, from John’s point of view, that wasn’t a good idea. Because we weren’t going to get paid. A lot of the band were doing it for the love of it, not the money. John didn’t like that at all. From his point of view, we had to borrow a van, there were petrol costs, all that sort of thing. So we came up against a little bit of opposition. But if we weren’t going to be doing the clubs, and we were going to play in London, I don’t think he had much of a choice into anything but going along with it.”

As you point out in the book, as a band you never rested on your laurels. Every LP saw The Jam move forward. And yet you’ve had four decades to ponder over all that now, and accordingly come over as rather philosophical in print on the consequences of Paul’s decision to end it. I wonder if you truly felt that way at the time. I recall bitterness within the ranks when Paul called time on The Jam when he did, yet you seem to convey a more laid-back inevitability now that he was unlikely to change his mind.

“Well, yeah, absolutely. I don’t think there was ever any bitterness as such though. We were grown up enough to sort of accept the decision that Paul wanted to leave the band. Where the bemusement came, let’s say, was the fact that we didn’t really understand his reasons. Having known Paul, and that he can be a bit kneejerk at times, over his reaction to things, we thought, ‘One minute you’re saying this, the next you’re saying something else.’ Then when he was free of having to look us in the face, the reasons changed again.

“I didn’t mind whatever his reasons were. It just became a little hypocritical that he said to us one of the reasons he wanted to leave was because he was on a treadmill. But he’d already signed another treadmill deal with Polydor before our last show. That didn’t make sense.

“I really think there was more going on in the background. I think a lot of it was to do with the way John managed the band. We were beginning to ask questions, like, ‘Why aren’t we earning any money, John? Why are you going around saying Paul is now a millionaire?’ I couldn’t afford to buy a car. Those sorts of questions were beginning to raise their head.

“I’m not being funny, but I really think that was probably a contributing factor as to why Paul jumped ship before … I think that had a lot to do with the demise of the band, which was a real shame, because things were creeping in that weren’t anything to do with us, musically. It was to do with things like the money and the fame, which becomes a vacuous reason to throw things away.

“There were other things as well, and we always got the feeling that Paul didn’t like touring America. And we were getting to the point where we were probably going to have to start doing very large shows. The last shows we did were like the Wembley ones – multiple nights at the same venue.”

There’s a lovely quote from you in the book where you contemplate, on that matter, ‘Maybe we should split up more often.’

“Ha! We could easily have done a worldwide tour as a last thing, ran it right into 1983. But …”

There was a school of thought that maybe you could have just taken a break, then possibly come back again, refreshed.

“Well, that’s right, but there seemed to be a sort of rush from Paul to get it done. And there always seemed to be another reason why such a decision was made. The last shows were great. Anybody who went to those will know we still gave it 100%. We were still doing really well, the record company happy because the records were still selling. All the fairy stories in the world about trying to make the band mean something – complete twaddle. The band absolutely already meant something, and to so many people. The reasons for it just seemed vacuous.”

With that in mind, I wonder what a seventh Jam album might have sounded like. Would it have been anything like the first Style Council album? A few of those songs were demo’d, like ‘Speak Like a Child’.

“Yeah, we already had stuff rehearsed, if not recorded, that we were going to move forward. But I don’t think we would have ended up like The Style Council. The songs might have gone down a different route … which was always the way.

“I’m no fan of The Style Council. It all seemed very sort of one-man band. The production I didn’t think was particularly good. Bruce summed it up to me when we met up, as we often did during the ‘80s. He said one day, ‘If The Jam had evolved into The Style Council, I would have left.’ That’s always one thing that’s bemused me. Why throw away The Jam for what The Style Council would become? No one had a crystal ball, but it seemed very odd.”

Paul has always punctuated his career around such moves though. Most work, but some don’t (and fair play to him for that, as far as I’m concerned). In a sense, I see that period (and I should stress that I enjoyed various aspects of The Style Council, who left us with some great songs, LPs, and memories, and surely Mick Talbot deserves credit there too) as the beginning of his solo career, taking himself somewhere different.

“It was really, if you look at it in the cold light of day, I don’t think The Style Council were regarded as a band. It was all very much a solo project, which also sort of begs the question … I don’t know if he was just trying to be more in charge of the way everything went.

“Anybody who was in a band that became successful will tell you, your life is not your own. Despite the way you might want it to turn out, you always have to step up to the mark as far as commitments that you make towards touring, recording, et cetera. If he thought that was the reason why, I think that was delusional. I don’t think that was going to be the case.”

Then again, so few great bands survive as a creative machine beyond a decade (and in The Jam’s case, they had five years as a bona fide recording success) and retain their fire. And you had lived in each other’s pockets for a fair bit of that 10-year tenure. Or had you? Because by that stage, Paul had been up in London for a long time, and it seems that yourself and Bruce were happy to do day-trips up to town to work on new material. Were you, Bruce, and Paul, very much your own people by then? The days of piling into the back of a van seemed to have been way behind you.

“Well, yes, Paul was the only one who could actually afford to live in London. He was paying more money in rent, probably twice as much, than I was on my first mortgage in Woking. We simply couldn’t afford it, if we wanted to or not. But we did everything we possibly could.

“The record company knew there was pressure on Paul, so we would always record in London – never outside the capital, at a time when people were mostly going to …”

Studios like The Manor in Oxfordshire?

“Exactly. We did all sorts of things to alleviate that, so Paul could be home for tea. I know that sounds funny, but that was the way, and we were quite up to accommodating that. And Woking is actually not that far … I got ribbed by Paul for having a mortgage. Really? Wouldn’t I love to be able to rent a little place in Pimlico! I simply couldn’t afford it.”

And recording in London is surely no bad thing if, for example, Paul McCartney is in the next studio (making Tug of War). Was that another of those ‘where did it all go wrong’ moments?

“Ha! The thing is that I don’t have any regrets over what The Jam did and what we achieved, and all the things that led to it. One thing I wonder about at times is that I think sometimes Paul forgets that everything that happened to all three of us all stemmed from the work we did as The Jam.

“That established us within the music industry. Everything that happened afterwards was because of The Jam. Myself and Bruce used to think, ‘Why is it that Paul won’t play Jam records when he does a radio interview or in his live set?’ There was a period of around 15 years where every time I went into a radio station, one of the things people used to almost pull me up about was, ‘Why when we interview Paul won’t he talk about The Jam?’ But I think one of the reasons was likely what we’ve already spoken about.”

Once that fateful decision was made about splitting, you and Bruce – at least outwardly – seemed to keep your head down, getting on with the job. The professionalism continued. And in a year when you’d already made a classic single like ‘A Town Called Malice’ and given us The Gift, which carried so many great tracks (I’ve been replaying it in the car recently, and it still grabs me), there was still ‘The Bitterest Pill’ and, wow, ‘Beat Surrender’ to come. What a way to go out, and 40 years on still sounds so sharp.

“Yes, it does. I find that quite amazing, the longevity of everything. Which, you know, we didn’t sort of plan for, because I don’t think you can. I just think we must have been doing something right at the time for that to be the case. So that’s something for all of us to be very proud of.”

As a Guildford boy, born at the Jarvis Maternity Home on the edge of town, that Surrey borough my base for the first 25-plus years of my life, it’s a point of pride that I’ve heard it said many times in band and fan circles that your Civic Hall show – the penultimate Jam date – was the proper farewell, with the Brighton finale that followed comparatively rather flat, at least emotionally. I was just shy of 15 when the split announcement came, and although I tried to get tickets for that and The Gift tour before, I had no chance, missing out on that big moment on my patch. But it seemed like that was the big night.

“Well, yeah, quite early on, we realised where we did the last show was going to be of some importance. Initially it was going to be the Guildford Civic, but for one reason or another we couldn’t do multiple nights there, and as soon as we put shows up for sale, they’d be gone, almost overnight.

“The same thing happened with Wembley in the end. We had to say, ‘Stop, we can’t keep adding nights on!’ It was getting ridiculous. Brighton was no real home for The Jam. It was just this sort of frenzy for the Mod thing, the fights on the beach from the 1960s … which in itself didn’t really exist. It was all a bit out there, really. But it was a good place to play, and a fairly large venue.”

Incidentally, putting you on the spot, do you remember your first gig in Guildford?

“Well, I tell you what, we played a club on the same night Guildford got bombed. …”

Indeed. October 5th, 1974 (when two IRA bombs were detonated at different pubs across the town, around half eight to nine in the evening). That was the one I was thinking of.

“I’m trying to think of one earlier. I’m not sure whether there was. And I’m trying to think of the name of the club …”

Bunters. Close to the A281 road heading to Shalford, my home village.

“That’s it! We were supporting Rock Island Line. Their claim to fame was they were in That’ll Be the Day. They were a real sort of Teddy Boy band. We didn’t actually get to play the gig, unfortunately. The bomb{s} went off, and everything got closed down, so it was our first non-gig!”

I was three weeks short of my seventh birthday then. I was packed off to bed that Saturday night, but remember one of the blasts. I thought someone had slammed the airing cupboard door on the landing. That’s how loud it was, two miles down the road. Soon, my dad was tuned in to police radio, as was often the case, everyone listening in downstairs. My older sister and grandad were planning to go for a drink in town, but as it turned out they decided to stop at the village hall social club … not as if we knew. Thankfully they stayed put. Did you hear a blast?

“No. I remember we set up the equipment in there, went home to Woking, had some tea, because we weren’t going to be on until really late at night. But then we got a phone call, saying we can’t come back because they’d literally shut the whole of Guildford down. So we were a good seven or eight miles away. But yeah, it was a devastating blast.”

Incidentally, a later background check, online, reveals The Jam did play Bunter’s before that ill-fated date, possibly appearing there twice in July ’74, in the days when they were Michael’s Club regulars in their own hometown. And moving forward to 40 years ago, January 1983, the festive season well and truly over, the reality of the split having truly sunk in, Rick no doubt thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’, could he remind me of the timeline from there? Did his spell in Time UK follow more or less straight away? Was he on with that before ‘Speak Like a Child’ charted in March?

“As far as I can remember, I was the first member to get back out on the road. I was probably quick off the mark. I found a songwriter, Jimmy Edwards, and we were soon rehearsing, and on the road quite quick, because that was really what I wanted to do. And I remember going to see Bruce later that year when he did his solo thing.”

Well, I did manage to get tickets that time, when Bruce toured his Touch Sensitive show and visited Guildford Civic in May 1984.

“It was a difficult time. Like the music industry still, I assume, the style of things was changing quite quick. Punk had already died out, other bands were coming in. If you look at the chart in 1982, when ‘Eye of the Tiger’ was No. 1 {keeping ‘The Bitterest Pill’ off the top, criminally}, I felt quite good that The Jam was still in there. We were doing well in the charts, even though a lot of the punk bands were not. And in 1983, I don’t think it was a particularly great year for music, but it was certainly changing.”

There was a brief band reunion with Bruce around that period too, the pair forming Sharp with the afore-mentioned Jimmy Edwards, recording for the short-lived Unicorn label, subsequently reissued on a Time UK anthology. Did Rick keep in touch with Jimmy Edwards?

“Yes, absolutely.”

Jimmy Edwards died in early 2015, aged 65, after battling cancer, while Time UK bandmates Ray Simone and Danny Kustow (the latter best known for the Tom Robinson Band) have also passed away.

And getting back to those early days of The Jam, has Rick spoken in recent years to co-founder Steve Brookes?

“No, not really. I mean, it was the typical story when he left. And crikey, that was very early on. I think he just fell out of Paul’s bubble. Paul just stopped seeing him.”

Something of a precursor to what was going to happen later, I suppose.

“It was a bit. I don’t think he spoke to him for 30 years or something. That was a bit of a shame. But I do bump into him now and again, around Woking. The last time I saw him was in a pub near me. Yeah, he’s okay. I think he’s still going out as an acoustic player.”

Absolutely. I saw him at the Boileroom in Guildford, supporting Stone Foundation in late 2021, and he was great. He’s certainly a gifted player.

“Well, yeah. At the time, when we were still at school, Steve was the lead guitarist and the lead singer, and Paul was then on bass ….”

And Steve was on grand piano, quite literally, at a show at Woking Conservative Club, I understand (during a cover of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, ending up being ‘chased from one side to the other in an attempt to stop him scratching the polished surface’).

“He was, yeah! I’ve still got memories of that. That was quite funny. And I don’t think we cared too much whether we went back and played there again! Ha!”

Pleased to hear it. And I’ll not even bother asking if there’s been any reunion with Paul, because we’ve been there, and I don’t think you’ll suddenly say, ‘Actually, I met him last week and we’re buddies again…’

“Ha! Well, I will say one thing, which I don’t really understand … at the time, and still, we never actually fell out. There was a time when Paul was putting it about that we weren’t even friends. I don’t know where that came from. It was always a strange thing that people often think that we sort of fell out at the time. Another reason that didn’t seem to make sense.

“It’s just part of Paul’s make-up that once you fall out of his bubble, that’s it. We saw it happen with girlfriends, Steve, all sorts of people really. He doesn’t seem to have that mentality to stay in touch with people.”

I should add that Steve has also worked again with Paul in recent years, and while you don’t really need my opinion, despite any bad feeling or bewilderment over how it ended, Paul ultimately made the right decision, however skewed you could argue his voiced reasons were for doing so. The Jam ended on a high, and that’s something to be commended. I’ll have the last word here too (it is my website, after all), adding that with so many bands I love, not just The Jam, I always want to say, forget all that fall-out crap, make up, and put aside any petty arguments. I know Bruce and Paul made up again, so part of me hopes the same happens with all three. Just have a big hug and get over it, lads. If the last few years have taught us anything, surely life’s too short. And The Jam have, as Rick put it, so much to feel collectively proud of.

For this website’s February 2018 feature/interview with Rick Buckler, head here. And for our April 2015 conversation, head here.

For more about The Jam 1982, head to https://omnibuspress.com/. A signed, limited edition version, including an exclusive print, is also available. And for Rick Buckler’s upcoming live Q&A dates, try http://www.thejamfan.net/. You can also check out https://www.strangetown.net/.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going back to my roots – talking an crann and more with The Undertones’ Damian O’Neill

Getting on for 45 years since The Undertones recorded debut single ‘Teenage Kicks’ at Belfast’s Wizard Studios, there’s still plenty of love out there for the band and its members, as seen in recent acclaim from critics and fans alike for the third solo LP from guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Damian O’Neill.

While it was older brother John O’Neill who penned that influential first hit – legendary DJ John Peel’s subsequent adoration truly kick-starting this Derry outfit’s international rise – Damian was a key component from the day he joined as a teenager after brother Vinny called time on the band to concentrate on his O-levels, his subsequent writing credits including first two LP openers ‘Family Entertainment’ and ‘More Songs About Chocolate and Girls’, and (with Mickey Bradley) singles ‘My Perfect Cousin’, ‘It’s Going to Happen’ and ‘The Love Parade’ before the original split in 1983.

And in a career that continued apace with London-based That Petrol Emotion and in more recent times The Everlasting Yeah, and of course that Undertones reboot with Paul McLoone out front in Feargal Sharkey’s absence since 1999, plus cameos with the likes of Ash – last guesting with them live in Belfast in December – Damian and the band continue to thrive, and he’s kept himself busy of late between live jaunts, much of his spare time spent on that new record, an crann – Irish for ‘the tree’, the title seen as ‘a symbol of growth and inspiration’ – an inventive collection of largely instrumental tracks, mixed by producer Paul Tipler (Stereolab, Placebo, Julian Cope, House Of Love).

I was lucky enough to buy a signed copy from the merch stand when The Undertones played Lytham’s Lowther Pavilion in the autumn (review here), and was soon beguiled. And as Damian put it, “If someone listened to this record without knowing anything about me, they’d probably never guess I started life in a punk band. I unashamedly wanted to present instrumental pieces that are emotional, evocative and personal and offer to the listener textures and layers of music that can be melodic, childlike and even melancholic at times.

“There’s obviously Irish folk traditional influences, as well as French, Japanese, American and British. And I’m playing virtually all the instruments myself, with added percussion on a couple of songs.”

The LP was recorded mainly on a laptop in the loft of Damian’s family home in South-East London, using an array of instruments, from electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, bass, organ, vibraphone, toy marimba and glockenspiel to melodica, mouth organ, squeezebox, kalimba, bells and percussion.

And after a busy 2022 with The Undertones – on fine form live and bringing out reformation years compilation LP, Dig What you Need, like his solo LP out on his Dimple Discs label – Damian was pleased to see the reaction to an crann, which follows earlier solo offerings A Quiet Revolution (Poptones, 2001) and Refit Revise Reprise (Dimple Discs, 2018). Does he see parallels between all three of those long players?

“There are similarities, I suppose, the first one in the fact that it’s all instrumentals, but that’s where it ends! On the Poptones one, most of it is samples. I played guitar and maybe bass on a couple of tracks, but it was all samples. But this time virtually everything is organically done by me. There’s not much machinery going on, or technology.”

It’s getting great reviews.

“Yeah, I’m really overawed with those. So happy. Especially in Ireland. I’m really happy about the Irish press, because I wasn’t sure how it would go down. There were some good spreads.”

While opening track, ‘Mas o Menos’, is markedly different from a lot of his previous material, I hear something of that underpinning keyboard from Undertones single ‘The Love Parade’, 40 years ago.

“Yeah, there’s a very ‘60 feel to it, and I thought that was a good opener. It’s catchy, and there’s that ‘60s organ – in fact, it’s the same one I played on ‘The Love Parade’, so you spotted that well!”

That’s a Korg CXD-3, incidentally, an electronic clonewheel organ simulating the revered Hammond organ and Leslie speaker, first marketed in 1979, a digital version following in 2001.  

“It’s very hard to find these days. They don’t make them anymore. I think Nick Cave was using one for years, if you’d see him live in the 2000s. But I’d say that {opening} track’s more influenced by The Limiñanas, a French band. I love them, especially their more ‘60s stuff. I wanted to do a Limiñanas-type song, and that’s what came out.”

As for that bassline, I think Booker T and the MG’s’ Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn would love that.

“I know, that bassline is the best thing about it. I came up with that first, then built around it really, the same with ‘La Tengo’. That’s one of my favourites, a great bassline, more like a Massive Attack bassline, and again I built around it. That’s how I come up with things, like a nice guitar riff, which you just enhance.”

As on the splendid ‘Sweet ‘n’ Sour’ on the last record, Dave Hattee features on drums on that opening song. And what with your friendship with sometimes-Undertones deputy Kevin Sharkey and of course Billy Doherty, you seem to have amassed a few drumming mates down the years.

“Yeah, and what’s really good about an crann, there’s another drummer, a percussionist called Liam Bradley, renowned in Derry and Ireland. He used to drum for Van Morrison for years, that’s how good he is, and Sinead O’Connor, and The Chieftains … and Ronan Keating, All the greats! Haha!

“I won’t bore you on this, but I didn’t even want to use him, or didn’t think about using him. That was down to Kevin {Sharkey}. He lives in the Lake District now but he’s a really good friend and a big supporter of my stuff. I sent him a couple of tracks {‘Malin Head Imminent’ and ‘Manannan mac Lir’} and wanted Kevin to put percussion on, but he sent it to Liam in Derry without me knowing, and Liam loved the tracks.

“Liam’s got his own studio in Donegal and came up with his amazing, like 20 tracks of percussion and drums on each song, and ‘woah!’ It just brought it up a different level. So, so good. I was overjoyed.”

It seems as if you had a trip to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for the special effects on the opening song as well.

“Ha! It wasn’t too much, but when we were in the studio, mixing it, we added a few things.”

On the sleeve notes for ‘Mas o Menos’, you say, ‘More or less (but less is more)’ so I’ll understand if you don’t want to over-explain anything, but I’m intrigued by the subtle colour, such as your mention for ‘Malin Head Imminent’ and ‘happy childhood holiday memories at Slievebawn, Co. Donegal.’

“Yeah, most of the album is very introspective, looking back, and the music suits the mood, I think, especially on that – that’s one of the standout tracks. It builds and builds and has this lovely feel about it, this nostalgic look back to when we were kids, staying in this little green hut. Lovely memories.”

I’m reminded of Erland Cooper’s Orcadian trilogy, and his collaborations with Hannah Peel – who has her own Donegal links – and Simon Tong in The Magnetic North that turned me on to his work.

“I’ll have to check him out. I like Hannah Peel. She’s great.”

What strikes me that his records and your latest solo work have in common is that use of nostalgia and imagination through music to take you back to treasured places. Like him, you’re London-based but seemingly dreaming of your formative years and roots, in your case in Derry, Belfast, and thereabouts.

“Exactly. That’s the beauty of home recording technology. And a lot of it was done during lockdown. I had some of the tracks already, but because I had so much time on my hands, I thought I might as well get cracking, do something creative while I’m here.”

That lockdown period has a lot to answer for, creatively, and I get the impression from online pieces I’ve seen that that the likes of Sean O’Hagan (Microdisney/The High Llamas) was doing his thing in his loft elsewhere in London while you were doing your thing in yours.

“Yeah, sure. I saw Sean last night actually, at a friend’s party. He’s working on his new solo LP. The man never stops composing. He’s so prolific. I get so jealous. He can come up with things so quickly. Where it takes me years, it takes him months!”

I hate to bring this up, but on ‘Malin Head Imminent’ there’s a ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ type Pink Floyd feel. Has this punk rock kid from the north of Ireland gone over to the dark side … of the moon?

“Ha! In the past with that year zero thing, we all hated Pink Floyd, like on that Johnny Rotten t-shirt, and that was the case for us for years. But we’d say, ‘Well, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd were okay!’ But two years or so ago I heard something from Dark Side of the Moon and thought, ‘You know what, this isn’t bad!’ I think you do mellow with old age. Even with a wee bit of Tubular Bells you think, ‘Well, y’know, it’s not that bad!’

You heard it here first, discerning punk pop kids. And in far more hip territory, on ‘Tune for the Derry Ones’, there’s something of Paul Giovanni and Magnet’s The Wicker Man soundtrack for me.

“Ah, right, that’s great. Maybe unconsciously, because I love that soundtrack. So good. That’s more of a mandolin piece really, and I got Viv, my wife, to do the choral voices. She’s such a great singer. She got it so quickly, four takes and that was it. She has virtually perfect pitch.

“I didn’t know how good she was, I’d never really recorded her live, but I was like, ‘My God! Do it again.’ And she virtually repeated it exactly, without any sharps or flats. She’s got a great ear … much better than I ever have. When someone’s on the radio, singing, she goes, ‘Oh! Turn that off,’ because they’re flat. I won’t notice, but she does.”

The track that took me the longest to get, if you like, is ‘A Quare Visitation (Belfast ’65)’, with its kind of wonky chord structure and everything, partially reminiscent of Neil Hannon’s theme tune for Father Ted. But it builds and grabs you.

“There’s a good story to that. Me and the family were living in Belfast in 1965. I was born there. I was four years old, sharing the top attic bedroom with my brother, Vincent, who was five and a half, and we were woken up in the middle of night by this sound of marching men, people shouting, and stuff.

“We looked across and could see silhouettes of this tribe, marching across the wall, disappearing again, then reappearing, going on for three minutes or so. You could hear them – swords, shields, marching boots. We froze. We were so scared. Once it disappeared properly, we ran downstairs, told my mum and dad. They were saying, ‘Ah, you’re having a bad dream,’ and we ended up sleeping in their bed that night.

“That was that, but me and Vincent talked about it for years, the rest of the family like, ‘Ah, your head’s cut!’ But fast forward about 20 years, I was talking to my mum, saying, ‘Do you remember that time we thought we’d seen …?’ And she said, ‘Actually, I didn’t want to tell you then or even later, but I’d seen it as well. I was cleaning your room two weeks later – and this was during the day – and heard this noise and could see these shields, and I freaked out. I told your dad when he came home from work.’

“She had the same reaction – ‘Your head’s cut, you totally imagined it!’ But she said she’s seen it, and that confirmed basically what we’d seen. And we moved shortly after, coincidentally, going back to Derry, because my dad got offered a job.

“I like to think maybe something happened on the location where the house was built – it was a battleground, and there were warring trades, way back. Who knows? It could have been Vikings, because they were in Ireland and Antrim especially, and it kind of looked like Vikings, the way the helmets were shaped. Some sort of outer world ghostly thing going on there.”

It is said that children and females are more receptive to picking up those things.

“I think so. And animals. You see cats and dogs staring at the corner, and you’re thinking, ‘What the hell are they staring at!’”

Tell me more about ‘Lament for Loughinisland’, the sleeve notes for which add a Martin Luther King quote, ‘Justice too long delayed is justice denied.’

“That’s an old outtake, from back in A Quiet Revolution days. So that actually is samples. I lost the original track with that mix, the bulk of it, then enhanced it, putting in melodica, harmonica as well, to make it a wee bit more eerie, you know, textured. It’s got a sweet thing going on, but there’s something sinister.

“It was called ‘Bells and Trombones’. But I’d seen a documentary on Loughinisland, this horrible thing that happened in 1994 in this tiny village, a Loyalist attack on this pub {where the locals were} watching a {World Cup} football match, Ireland in Italy, with six people killed, this horrible case of state collusion, people never brought to justice. It made me really angry, and I just wanted to say something about it.”

Regarding ‘La Tengo’, we’ve already mentioned that soulful bass, and in this case it’s fair to say Damian’s wigging out somewhat on guitar too.

“You know what, I’ve never done a solo over 15 seconds … but now was my chance! And hey, it’s my record, I can do what I want! It lasts nearly two minutes or something, which … if you told me that back in the punk rock days …”

First, Pink Floyd, now this.

“Ha! I love that solo. It was done live up here, in the loft. No overdubs. Technically, it’s not very good, but it’s the feel of it. I was listening to a lot of Gabor Szabo, the Hungarian jazz guitarist, and wanted something that sounded a bit like that kind of reverb thing he has. I’m not comparing myself to him – he’s a magnificent guitarist – but I wanted to get that feel of what he might do.”

How about – with apologies for my pronunciation – ‘Manannan mac Lir’?

“Actually, my niece, who speaks fluent Irish, corrected me {on that} the other day!”

 Well, it’s a gorgeous track.

“Thanks! A lot of people tell me – a real compliment – it sounds like Ronnie Lane or early Faces, or something you might find on Rod Stewart’s first solo album. There’s a nice Celtic kind of feel. That’s the most Irish song, I suppose.”

The chord structure reminds me of ‘Demon Days’, arguably the last Grant McLennan-penned classic, recorded by fellow Go-Betweens legend Robert Forster for The Evangelist. And there are echoes of The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ and even That Petrol Emotion’s ‘Cellophane’ for me.

“Oh, I see what you mean by ‘Cellophane’. I wouldn’t compare it with that though – that’s such an underrated song. it’s beautiful. But some people were saying, ‘You should make that into a proper song rather than an instrumental … I nearly held it back because of that, but then thought …”

You can do both, surely.

“You could do both! In fact, I might give it to somebody to come up with lyrics. I tried originally to make it into a song, but couldn’t come up with anything decent … so yeah, maybe somebody will come in and make it a No.1 song!”

I’m guessing ‘New Loft Trio’ was a product of lockdown days, starring yourself, Viv, and daughter Rosa. And despite the fear of what might happen next back then, there was that feeling for those of us who were lucky enough to experience it of a chance to properly bond with loved ones, reminding ourselves of what was most important in our lives.

“Well, we were just messing about when Rosa was about 11, and she came up with this wee riff, we enhanced it, and I taped it. I always thought, ‘Someday I’m gonna do something with this. And there’s a lovely innocence about that track and Rosa’s flute playing. She’s 11, it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t matter. There’s just a lovely vibe. It’s got a real child-like quality.”

And you managed to capture it.

“Yes, it’s great.”

I was however surprised, having mentioned Sean O’Hagan earlier, not to find him on the credits for that. It has the feel of something he would do.

“Well, Sean was a big supporter, and heard these tracks before they were mixed, giving me a wee bit of advice. But he didn’t play on it this time, like he did on the last record.”

Similarly, the afore-mentioned Hannah Peel loves creating music box collages, and there’s a feel of her vibe there too.

“Yeah, and I love music boxes as well.”

As for ‘We Want The Wesleys’, is this your response to Paul McLoone and Billy Doherty going off to resurrect The Carrellines – a call for you and Mickey Bradley to get back out there on the live circuit as your ‘60s-flavoured side-project?

“Ha! Ah, you know about that! That’s kind of the odd track, very short, kind of more like something inspired by that band Bert Jansch was in, Pentangle.”

I see it as something you could play over the PA as you clamber on to stage, as the lights go down.  Before an Undertones show maybe. Either way, I’d like to see The Wesleys come out of retirement.

And then the record ends with ‘Round and Round’, which seems – as the title suggests – to bring everything together. I see that with my cinematic head, the camera fading back down the stairs from your loft, out onto a suburban street in South-East London, a Routemaster bus stopping outside, taking us away.

“Right, you’ll have to do the video for ‘Round and Round’, Malcolm!”

However, that’s not strictly the end, an crann instead concluding with a snatch of Damian’s original ‘Sign and Explode’ demo of a great song that ended up on The Undertones’ Positive Touch in 1981. And that mirrors, neatly, a similar touch on the vinyl edition of previous LP, Refit Revise Reprise, which carried a demo version of ‘It’s Going to Happen’.

As it turns out, Damian has also been involved alongside That Petrol Emotion bandmate Raymond Gorman in that mightily influential outfit’s new Demon/Edsel box set, Every Beginning Has a Future, comprising 121 tracks across seven CDs, featuring all five studio LPs, their live album, non-album B-sides, bonus tracks, remixes, other live recordings and fan club only releases, along with rare images and memorabilia and a 52-page colour book with sleeve notes from music writer John Harris.

Personally, finances rule out a copy for me right now, but it certainly looks a really lovely package.

“It is, it’s a lovely thing. Me and Raymond put it together with designer Tony Lyons. It’s a labour of love, in a way. I haven’t heard all the CDs myself, because of all the extras – there’s loads of remixes and stuff. But I’m so happy there’s finally a decent anthology of That Petrol Emotion. It’s been long overdue.”

Is that everything out there by the Petrols now?

“Well, the John Peel sessions aren’t on it, unfortunately. It wasn’t easy to get them, so we didn’t bother. But that’s it as far as I know, that and a couple of live sessions we did in France which aren’t on either, which is a shame. They’re absolutely wonderful, 1993, I think, or ‘94. But you can’t have everything!”

As for The Undertones, will things carry on as in 2022 this year, out on the road a fair bit?

“Yeah, God willing.”

To put that into context, that remark followed the sad news before Christmas of Terry Hall’s passing, and similarly Iain Templeton and Martin Duffy around the same time, all three departures reason enough to remind us that nothing can ever be taken for granted.

“If we’re all still in good health, I think we start in April, we’re going to be doing a Scandinavian tour which we postponed last time because of Covid. Then we’re doing UK shows, and Germany again. I don’t think we’re going to be as busy as we were in 2022, when we were catching up with Covid cancellations from the previous two years.

“But I’d love to get something new out there – a single or something. It’s been a long time, and the Dig What You Need best of album really invigorated us. We keep selling loads of them at concerts. It’s been great, with a really good reaction.”

For more on an crann, visit https://www.damian-oneill.com/. For the latest from The Undertones, including 2023 live dates, try https://www.theundertones.com/. And for more about That Petrol Emotion’s Every Beginning Has a Future, try here.

And for this website’s May 2019 feature/interview with Damian O’Neill, and further links to othet Undertones-related copy, head here. You can also find a live Q&A with Damian from late last year via the excellent Retro Man Blog site here.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WriteWyattUK’s quotes review of 2022, part two – July to December

July

Chris Hewitt on Jeremy Beadle involving him in 1972’s Bickershaw Festival, ultimately setting him on his career path:“Jeremy was targeting all the colleges and universities, contacting social secretaries, saying you can have free admission if you help work on it, entice students to come. That’s when I got the phone call at the SU office at Rochdale College, asking if I could come and work on tickets and flyers, and travelled down to Bickershaw to meet him. Discussing the festival with Jeremy in 2007 he told me he had wanted to create what he envisaged as an English Woodstock, and although he was managing to achieve many of his objectives, he was forever chasing cheques for everything, including his own wages. To think Jeremy had a gargantuan commitment to pay artists and site contractors and was faced with his main financier/businessman going to jail with three weeks to go, it’s testimony to Jeremy’s amazing ability and self-belief that the event was such an artistic success, given the weather and underlying financial problems. He later told me he always, because of his fight to overcome his disability earlier in life and go into showbusiness, had a firm belief in backing the maverick outsiders of life, supporting crazy ideas. It was this self-belief – to recreate Woodstock with West Coast American bands in a field halfway between Manchester and Liverpool – that saw the festival succeed artistically.”

Katy J. Pearson on her folk roots:“For ages I was kind of jumping around about what I would define my genre as. But if I really think about what I was listening to growing up, it was very folk-orientated. And I kind of forget to kind of mention that and every time I see the word folk. I get a bit annoyed, thinking of Three Daft Monkeys playing at Wychwood Folk Festival, kind of gypsy folk and party folk. When, actually, folk is such a broad term that I can accept I’m in that realm. Growing up, I was into a lot of James Taylor and a lot of Crosby, Stills and Nash era Americana folk-rock. And recently, I’ve listened to a lot of Vashti Bunyan. I’ve just read her memoir, she says she doesn’t like to be referred to as folk … but there’s a side of her that is. In that kind of realm, I’m happy to be defined as that.”

The Chesterfields’ Simon Barber on ‘Our Songbird Has Gone’, a tribute to former co-frontman Davey Goldsworthy: “When Davey died, his ex-girlfriend, Catherine said, ‘I think you should have this.’ I hadn’t seen it before. It’s a little black book, A6, he’s written on the side of the pages, ‘The Slits’, and what really touched me was that it has all the words from the Kettle period to all our songs – he’d written all my lyrics in there as well. I was always in awe of him and his words, and think I became a better wordsmith as a result of being in the band with him. So to see that was quite a thing really. I wrote that song on my birthday, in lockdown, May 2020, the first time I’d walked out to meet my daughter, who lives eight miles away. We both walked four miles, she brought the kids, we had a picnic, it was a gorgeous day, and on the way out, that rhythm got into my head and the words started landing. I’d been thinking about Davey, and sang it into my phone a few times. When I got there my granddaughter, Lexi, nine at the time, pulled a ukulele out, she’d been learning ‘You Are My Sunshine’, and they all sang that to me before the picnic. If I hadn’t sung the song into my phone I might have lost it … another tune in my head. And pretty much, a couple of days later, it was done.”

Music book author/editorand Manchester City fan Richard Houghton on the continuing allure of the Rolling Stones, having publishing two books on the band in 2022:“Quite simply, I’m a fan. I’m not embarrassed to admit I’ve collected over 200 different books about the Stones over the years, and whilst I haven’t quite gone to the lengths of some of the uber-fans out there who’ve got every album, DVD and t-shirt ever produced, I’ve seen them over 30 times and my travels have taken me to the States, Brazil and Europe … and Anfield, which shows just how dedicated I am!”

August

Stockholm-based ABBA biographer Carl Magnus Palm contemplating how love for the band shows no sign of waning:I remember 30 years ago people said to me, when I was working on my first book, ‘You better hurry up, before the ABBA revival dies down.’ Ha! They’re like The Beatles now, in the sense that they’re part of the culture … it’s a reference point, it’s everything else, you know. You don’t have to compare it on any other level, but in that sense, people are always interested.”

Phil Barton on his working relationship with former Beautiful South/Housemartins singer Dave Hemingway in Sunbirds and previously The South:I’ve got to know Hammy well, being on tour and everything, you end up spending a lot of time together. Our life experiences have been extremely similar. And there really is a bond there that isn’t just a kind of professional collaboration. It’s deeper than that. When I send him a load of songs, I don’t give him any clues as to who wrote them. I like to get a genuine reaction, without it being prejudiced. I send him stuff I’ve done and that means a lot to me, and I might send something that’s quite pretty that I co-wrote, more written to order for what we’re doing. That sounds terribly cynical, but there’s a real art in that as well. And the ones he picks out are always the ones he has a connection with. There’s a wavelength thing going on.”

Guitar virtuoso Elliott Morris on ‘Tonnau’ (Welsh for ‘waves’) on 2022 LP, Something Worth Fighting For: “It’s about those things I was missing in lockdown, being in those places where you feel that sort of grounding. Not to say I don’t feel at home in London – it’s my home and I love it to bits, I’m very lucky in the part of London I am to have that green space and can’t imagine what it would be like living in a tower block in the centre of town. And London did become very peaceful – you’d go out into parks, and it would be so quiet, and you’d be like, ‘Oh, wait, I remember why it’s this quiet, and why there are no planes going over.’ It was weird. But I grew up in Carmarthenshire, lived there 10 years, and didn’t go back as much as I wanted to. Then, around 10 years ago, I got an email from a guy who runs a pub called the Pentre Arms in Llangrannog, and remember getting there, thinking, ‘I’ve been here before.’ It was deja vu but more certain than that. I spoke to my Mum and Dad, and they said I went there on school trips. It was just very circular to end up back there, gigging, and that’s one of those I look forward to in the diary every year I play there.”

John Scally on The Orchids’ early days alongside fellow co-founders Chris Quinn and James Hackett, aka the Penilee Three: “We grew up together, lived in the same street, went to the same school, going all the way through to secondary school, and at 14 and 15 – getting into music – it kind of transcended from there. Obviously, there was Postcard Records, stuff like that. But I’d always been a huge Beatles fan, and from 13 or 14 was into early Simple Minds, back to things like ‘Empires and Dance’. James was into things like Steel Pulse, Chris was into New Order, Joy Division … a whole load of things. We were really lucky, because in the early ‘80s the Barrowlands reopened, and there would be something every week to go and see, like Aztec Camera, Echo & the Bunnymen … and at that time the Splash One happening in Glasgow.”

September

Queen of Country Noir, Gretchen Peters, on how the pandemic underlined her decision to quit the road:“I had plenty of time and did a lot of thinking about it. And there’s a certain thing I figured out, a few years ago. When you’re touring, there are nights you’re really tired, or nights when you have something going on, personally, or whatever it might be. And I learned at some point that you bring whatever you have to the stage, and try to channel that into your performance, rather than tamping it down, pretending it’s not there. I don’t know what’s going to happen on this tour, or what’s going to happen tonight, but I have a feeling it’s going to be quite emotional, and I’m welcoming that with open arms, because I know I’m going to feel that way after all this time, seeing those people and hearing them. And if there was one thing that really came home to me during the period when we weren’t able to tour, it was how important being in the same room with people is. Online concerts are great in lieu of nothing, but they’re not the same at all.”

Evan Dando reflects on The Lemonheads’ path to success:“It’s one of those things where we weren’t fully formed when we were making records. We made records just to get gigs, paying for it with our high school graduation money. We came at it backwards, whereas a lot of bands are at their peak when they make their first record, and it’s really hard to beat that. Luckily, we kind of stumbled into it, so we’ve still got room to get better. We ought to make a real mind-blowing one this time. The stakes are high! And it’s so much fun.”

Manchester-born, Derry based singer-songwriter Adam Leonard on music punctuating his leisure time:“I love it. As people like doing sports, it’s a really keen interest. I find it really satisfying. Even last night, I spent about three hours dealing with a track until it was all finished. Every spare moment I’ve got, outside wanting to spend time with family, my wife and kids. It doesn’t pay the bills. I do get some money from it, but not enough to live off. It would change it if I had to do it for money. I’ve spoken to a number of people like that, painters especially, doing commissions, suddenly losing interest in what they were once passionate about. There’s a massive danger of that.”

Neil Arthur on why he’ll never be content just churning out past hits with Blancmange: “A lot of people are frightened of the future and are quite happy to have a repeat of something that was done before. But it’s just not for me. Looking forward you’ve got a hell of a world to try and navigate through at the moment. We’re all moving forward – so we’ve got to try and find some answers.”

Paul McLoone on The Undertones’ post-reformation compilation, Dig What You Need, and the prospect of a new record:“I would absolutely love that. I didn’t really know about the compilation when it was first mooted. But I’m really glad we did it. It makes a lot of sense, displaying the songs in a possibly better context. I don’t want to speak for the others, but with me it’s reignited the idea of maybe doing another. John’s been busy with side stuff, Damian’s got an instrumental album coming in a week or two, which is brilliant, also on Dimple Discs. But maybe next year, the smoke will clear a wee bit. I don’t want to put all the pressure on John, but he’s the instigator.”

October

Cass Browne on Senseless Things’ remastering landmark second LP, The First of Too Many LP: “We found a lot of conflicting frequencies, like with the acoustic guitar. We were still really young and didn’t really know everything. We were still finding our feet. A lot of the frequencies for Mark’s original chord guitar was really piercing, and drenched everything, and we’ve spent a lot more time with this version of the record than we did originally.”

Lightning Seeds creator Ian Broudie on working with Terry Hall again, speaking just weeks before The Specials’ legend’s passing: “Terry’s one of the greatest talents I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We started working together when I produced a couple of things for him …I think the first thing we worked on was The Colour Field, and we struck up a friendship, really … I’d say a bond. And it’s been lovely seeing his career re-blossom with The Specials. Then there was The Fun Boy Three, and … he’s done so many things that have been great. I think he’s brilliant.”

Syd Minsky-Sargeant on Working Men’s Club’s second LP, Fear Fear: “One of the talking points within the tunes is the shift in the way that society had to operate, being a young person within that. I think that was quite a big topic within the record, but it was tied up within an emotive side of that as well. So yeah, I was just trying to make it slightly conceptual, in a way, but also try and keep it personal in another sense.”

November

Fairport Convention’s Dave Pegg pays tribute to Sandy Denny, now 44 years gone:“It is bizarre, but she’s always kind of represented with Fairport when we do gigs. We could never replace Sandy Denny, that’s why we never got a girl singer again. Like you could never replace Richard Thompson, which is why we never got another guitar player. But Sandy’s still there, because we play some of her wonderful songs, like ‘Fotheringay’, and of course, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’”

California-based ex-Mighty Lemon Drops guitarist David Newton on how his Black Country roots proved perfect for an eclectic taste:“One of the great things about growing up in the UK at that time, another thing you can’t convey here in America, is that you were into everything. I used to buy Northern Soul records and the first records I bought were by Slade, Sweet and Mud. And soul was big, and reggae too. It was great, this mixture of all these kinds of things. The other thing in the States is that radio’s kind of formatted here. You get a rock station, a soul station, a pop/top-40 station … With the BBC, you got a real cross-section.”

Kate Rusby on duetting with fellow Yorkshire leading light Richard Hawley on ‘No Names @30’: “I think he’d been there five minutes when there was this power cut, so we all sat around in the studio, around a candle, singing through the song, him learning it, getting used to it, then the lights came on and he was like, ‘Right, come on, let’s go and do this.’ He started singing, and we were just in bits – he just hit the nail on the head. Asking me about it, we had this lovely chat, him saying, ‘When I sing somebody else’s song, I like to get right inside somebody’s head, and it’s like going through the front door and having a walk around the house.’ What a lovely day we had. It was brilliant.”

December

Ska veteran Buster Bloodvessel on the bonus of reaching the big time with Bad Manners: “When we actually started to hit the charts, we couldn’t believe it. It was unbelievable that they would take us seriously, that they’d allow things like ‘Ne-Ne Na-Na Na-Na Nu-Nu’ into the charts … It then became the longest-lasting single that year, to come in and out of the charts. I was so knocked out.”

The Catenary Wires and Swansea Sound co-driver Rob Pursey recalls rock’n’roll excess alongside partner and long-time musical collaborator Amelia Fletcher with indie darlings Heavenly: “I guess my most vivid memory is of the Sarah Records Christmas Party, where Heavenly played. Hair grips were tossed to one side, spectacles were dropped and trodden on, cardigans and anoraks were ripped. It was wild.”

Haircut One Hundred lead guitarist Graham Jones on recording debut LP Pelican West using revolutionary digital techniques at Roundhouse Studios, Chalk Farm, with Bob Sargeant: “There were lots of problems and there was an in-house engineer there to fix the thing, with all these funny little digital blips and hops going on. There was always someone there with a screwdriver. ‘Hang on, we’ll just have to wait for an hour while what’s-his-face gets his head in amongst the wires.’”

Legendary drummer Don Powell recalls frontman Noddy Holder’s 1966 audition for the band that became Slade: “The first song we played was something we knew and Nod was playing with his band, ‘Mr Pitiful’ by Otis Redding. And it worked straight away. We just looked at each other, started laughing, and just went into other things the four of us knew. It worked so well, and we thought, ‘This is it, this is the one!’”

For WriteWyattUK’s quotes review of 2022, part one – January to June, head here.

That’s it for the year, and thanks for reading, folks. It’s fair to say you can expect a change of pace on the feature/interview front in 2023. Stay tuned for that, the next interview already set up and not so far off publication, and several more lined up. Until then though, Happy New Year one and all, stay safe, keep the faith, and cheers again for your support.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WriteWyattUK’s quotes review of 2022, part one – January to June

January

Vinny Peculiar celebrating his 14th solo LP Artists Only, and a magpie’s approach to songwriting: “Those chords have been used by everyone. But you get to a certain point in life when you think, well, everyone’s used them, so I’ll use them as well. That really is the story of songwriting. There’s only so far you can take it, unless you want to get into the world of augmented fourths and triads and strange jazz tempos, and then it becomes almost impossible to relate to.”

John Power reflecting on Cast’s classic 1995 debut LP, All Change:“We weren’t looking for riffs. We weren’t writing in the studio. We had it all, every song was ready – waterproof and bullet-proof! It had all the riffs, all the drums, and we were tight as anything. So it went down like that – probably a big reason why it sounds so fresh and why all the parts work on it.”

Rising indie star Dana Gavanski revealing her musical roots:“I did listen to a lot of radio, you know, like R&B and pop, then I heard Joni Mitchell for the first time and her album, Blue, and then only listened to ‘60s and ‘70s music, mostly folk, until I was about 25. I didn’t listen to any contemporary music and didn’t know anything about anyone until when I was about 27 or 28. I was like, ‘Ooh, who are these people? What’s indie rock? I don’t know what that is.’ Then I listened to a lot of the weirdo soundscape stuff Brian Eno did, then cell music. And I love Meredith Monk. I just think I’m such a slow learner and late bloomer. It takes me a long time to sit with something and realise where I need to go next.”

February

Joe Mount on the pandemic informing Metronomy’s seventh album, Small World:“I wasn’t really wanting to make a record about Covid. But I ended up finding quite a lot of inspiration in all the things that were happening around me and my family, finding out things about myself. Then, towards the end of making the record, I felt it would be unfair to sort of mine the last two years for good inspiration and ignore the reality of it. It’s a bit exposing and embarrassing trying to write something about the experience of it all, but I also feel you shouldn’t shy away from things because they’re embarrassing. So in a way, it’s an attempt at acknowledging all the bad stuff.”

Brick Briscoe on the September 11th, 2021 album launch show in Indiana that almost became his last ever gig: “We were playing our release show on a rooftop – a Beatles thing – in Evansville, Indiana. A city of 140,000 people probably. We were surrounded by these amazing big buildings, playing with 100 or so of our local followers. We were playing the last song. I remember looking up thinking, ‘Gosh, what a great night! This is just the best. We’re having so much fun’. Next thing I know, I hear a clang and I’d fallen face-first on my guitar. Next thing I know people are trying to revive me. Luckily, two EMTs (emergency medical technicians) happened to be in the audience and they tried to get me to settle down. Very soon I was in an ambulance. I had a 230 beats-per-minute heart rate. I was in distress, but I got it. I knew what was happening. You think you’re having a heart attack or something. That wasn’t the case, but they stopped and started my heart, got it to go back into a rhythm. Next thing I know, I’m in hospital for six or seven days, and don’t make it back home for 11 days, because I’m in a safe house near the hospital for a short period of time.”

(Martin) Noble reflects on Sea Power, the band previously known as British Sea Power, in their breakthrough period, around the time of 2005’s Open Season:“That was a good period, taking us a few places. We went to Cornwall, did an event, made this giant human fruit machine – your arm in Bacofoil, and you had to pull that. Three of us were inside and had loads of bananas and apples to put up randomly. Martin Clunes was walking through the car park. ‘Martin! Come and have a go!’. It was 1p a go. He gave us a pound. He tried to get away after three goes, but we were like, ‘You’ve got another 97 goes!’ The horror on his face!”

Clare Grogan recalls the Glasgow punk scene and how it inspired the formation of Altered Images:“There really was a kind of group of what I describe as baby punks, and we all gravitated towards each other. Although none of us were at the same school, we became a little tribe of people that went to see all those acts, which we loved. Originally, when we heard Siouxsie and the Banshees were doing a Scottish tour, we got in touch with the fan club and asked if we could open for Siouxsie, support her on tour, and they said yes! And I’ll never quite understand why … but they did!”

March

Mickey Bradley on The Undertones being out on the road with ex- Stranglers singer Hugh Cornwell in 2022, and past dates with the band that made his name:“I’m a bit nervous, I think he’s gonna be brilliant. We need to up our game … or else maybe nobble him, de-tune his guitar, nip all his strings! The Stranglers were great. We supported them in 1978 in Ireland, before ‘Teenage Kicks’ came out. They were very considerate, made sure we got a soundcheck, made sure doors were kept closed till we had our soundcheck. Really encouraging. And they had Jean-Jacques (Burnel) jumping into the crowd to beat up somebody who was spitting all night! I still remember that. He jumped off, ‘boom!’, then jumped back up on stage, carried on.”

Bob Hardy on leaving West Yorkshire for Glasgow, paving the way for the birth of Franz Ferdinand: “I moved here ostensibly to study at the art school, because the painting department was really good and I wanted to paint. I was either going to London or Glasgow, but didn’t really fancy London. Glasgow was more appealing. We always came to Scotland on holiday when I was a kid. And the music scene was a big draw. As a teenager in Bradford, I was an obsessive music fan, a huge fan of Glasgow bands like Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, The Arab Strap, The Delgados … that whole Chemikal Underground scene. And it seemed very manageable, because of the size of the city. I had friends that came the year before, I came to visit, the energy was great and you’d see people from bands I’d been a fan of since I was 15 … in the pub! I felt, ‘This is amazing!’”

Jaz Coleman contemplating what makes Killing Joke tick, all these years on:“It’s one almighty clash of wills and personalities. But when it locks in, it’s monstrous! Everybody, I can guarantee everyone … probably except Youth … is going through massive stress at the moment. Because it is stressful before we all get together, every time. I don’t know why, but it just is for everybody. But one thing you can be certain of is that however bad you feel, it’s worse for the other person. Haha!”

Sleeper’s Louise Wener on her family decision to leave the capital for the south coast:“I was pregnant with my second child, we needed more space, and it was like, ‘Bring up our kids by the seaside, that’d be a really cool thing to do’. And Brighton’s a great city … a little town really – quite compact, easy, very relaxed. It took a while to settle. I’d say, ‘I miss London!’. Now, when I go there to work, I relax on the train going back. The air’s different, and I love living by the sea.”

April

Mark Kingston on the difference between writing songs for The Farmer’s Boys and their modern incarnation The McGuilty Brothers:“I come up with ideas, play them to Barry (McGuilty), because he’s got to sing them, make sure he’s happy with the words I’ve written, then we go to the band, say, ‘This is the key’. And because they’re so good, they pick it up straight away. Back in the day, we’d sit in a room for hours, noodling until something came up, and that was probably the wrong way to do it. The songwriting bit was quite hard, trying to come up with something in a democratic way.”

Neil Sheasby contemplates the thinking behind Stone Foundation’s Outside Looking In LP:“When creating music, the goal is to recreate the sound you’re imagining in your head. Sometimes it’s achievable, sometimes you fall short. With this record I believe it’s the closest we’ve come to realising what we set out to achieve. It was important to push ourselves, not get caught up in a musical cul-de-sac of complacency. It had to sound fresh, a leap forward into uncharted territory. I think the songs reflect that.”

Simon Fowler, asked for his thoughts on Ocean Colour Scene’s Brit Pop heydays and how he views them now: “Oh, with great fondness. And quite a bit of pride, to be honest. It was as good as you can imagine, really. Did I get to enjoy the experience? Oh God, yeah … far too much! Haha! I’m glad we did. We did the whole rock’n’roll show. We were just about young enough. I was in my early 30s. Me and Oscar are four years older than Steve (Cradock) and Damon (Minchella). But the idea of that lifestyle now fills me with utter horror! Ha! The idea of going to a nightclub fills me with dread!”

Phil Odgers on coming to terms with losing The Men They Couldn’t Hang co-frontman Stefan Cush in early 2021:“As life gets closer to ‘normal’, you’re constantly reminded of places you’ve been, things you’ve done. Because we were going to do a new album and were talking about an acoustic album, we had a Zoom get-together, our first, and it was four days after that I got the call. We couldn’t believe it. Because of lockdown it was as if someone in Australia had gone. If that had been the case before, we’d have gone round, seen everyone … but you just couldn’t do it.”

May

Simon Wells on how meeting fellow songwriter Boo Hewerdine led to the creation of Simon and the Astronauts: “I met Boo in a pub, and we just talked about music and songwriting. He said, ‘I’ve got a weekend of songwriting, come along’. For me, he’s one of the best singer-songwriters in the country. And over the years, I’ve got to know him, being on residential weeks with him and people like Darden Smith. And through all that, I met Ben one weekend. Boo said, ‘Let’s try and do one song together, see if it works out’. We met Chris Pepper, this recording engineer in Cambridge, Boo suggesting we just do one song at a time, as live as possible. We’d literally write something in the morning, then record it in the afternoon. We didn’t really know if it would work out as a project. And Boo can do that, drive that along. Originally, that project was going to be called Jason and the Argonauts, but I thought I could put a spin on that. When they said, ‘Your name’s got to be on it,’ we became Simon and the Astronauts, because of my love for sci-fi and cartoons and comic books, taking that imagery. And the first album has a booklet where everyone’s got a job title, and what they do on the spaceship.”

James Douglas Clarke explaining how The Goa Express’ mutual love of The Brian Jonestown Massacre informed and inspired the band’s direction: “We all went and saw them when we were like … I don’t even know, we were definitely way under-age for going out in Manchester, going to parties all night! We were probably 16. We got the bus up, and it was just one of them coincidental moments where every single one of us had a ticket. We were already all into music, but after seeing them we were like, ‘This is what we should do!’. And to this day we still love that band. I think they’re on tour soon, and when they play in Manchester, I assume we’re all gonna be there again.”

The driving force behind The Crazy World of Arthur Brown on the Long, Long Road album marking his 80th birthday and how he planned to tour it:“The Human Perspective concept is the exploration of our inner selves while trying to navigate the external world. The God of Hellfire meets The God of Purefire, if you will. This is the live show I always wanted to perform with Kingdom Come in the 1970s, but technology at the time meant it wasn’t possible. But now I’m able to fully realise my vision. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”

Rising indie pop star Alfie Templeman on how the pandemic inspired his Mellow Moon album:“I think people assume I’m this easy, outgoing person, but there’s actually a lot more layers to me, and this record shows that. Writing songs like ‘Broken’, ‘Take Some Time Away’ and ‘Mellow Moon’ were like therapy. It was me asking ‘What’s wrong with me?’ and ‘How am I going to get better?’ and just figuring things out in real time. I had therapy but there were still things unresolved in my mind. So I turned to music for the answers.”

June

Mercury Prize nominee Gwenno explaining the rationale behind Cornish language LP, Tresor:“We live in a chaotic world and what impacts on our ability to make positive decisions is largely circumstantial. The song is about trying to connect with our ability to do the right thing at a point where everything is in flux, in crisis, and the foundation of our society is changing. How do we connect with our responsibilities and instinct to commit to the collective in a largely individualistic society? ‘Tresor’ is an homage to an older, analogue world, the soundtracks to European cinema, and a final fair farewell to the 20th Century.”

Miles Hunt on The Wonder Stuff’s golden days:“Eight years, in each other’s pockets. I don’t care what walk of life you’re in – whether it’s friends you went to university with, got your first job with, first signed on the dole with, whatever – almost every day for eight years … and we were a strange bunch.”

Mick Shepherd on The Amber List co-headlining with West on Colfax and Red Moon Joe at early July’s Ukraine relief fundraiser at The Continental, Preston, Lancashire:“Seeing all the suffering and pain this invasion is causing prompted us to act. We can barely imagine what the Ukrainian people are going through, and putting on this benefit not only shows our solidarity and support, but hopefully will raise money to help those most in need of assistance.”

Broadcaster/ex-music promoter Tony Michaelides on artistic development and a certain Dublin outfit he chanced upon in their early days: “Take as an example when me and Mark Radcliffe went to see U2, 31st May 1980 – I’ll never forget the day. They weren’t that good, they were third on the bill to Wah! Heat and Pink Military at Manchester Polytechnic, most people talking at the bar. You probably had about 20 people watching them. But you were gonna know what that band was called and remember that singer, and were going to be reminded of it over and over again. When U2 played in front of a small crowd, they played to them like it was a stadium. And when they play to a stadium now, they remember what it’s like to play to a small crowd. You bring those people in, so there’s a connection, and great frontmen grab your attention. U2 came out after that gig to meet every single person. We’re only talking a few people, but me and Radcliffe were so impressed. I brought the local radio DJ, playing their type of music on his show, and they were starstruck.”

Part two of the WriteWyattUK annual quotes review – covering July to December 2022 – will follow very soon.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Waiting for the family to arrive – back in touch with Don Powell

If it’s Christmas, it must be time for another chat with a member of glam-rock legends Slade. And it seems that drumming colossus Don Powell has had another happening year.

While the credits on 1973 classic ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ read Noddy Holder/Jim Lea, it’s fair to say that record, as the band tend to address it, shaped the lives of Don and guitarist Dave Hill too.

A long-time resident of Denmark, having clocked up 76 years on the planet, it’s fair to say Don’s as fired up about music today as in Slade’s 1970s heydays. But a little housekeeping first, your scribe telling his distinguished interviewee he hopes he can hear him properly. I still had a croaky voice, a few days after succumbing to the latest flu-like cold virus doing the rounds.

“I can hear you fine, Malc. Are you getting better, mate? Or is it one of those things that’s gonna be there forever?”

Well, you never know, do you. And that’s a rather typical start to a conversation with Donald George Powell. He’s been through no end of life-challenging health episodes down the years, yet wants to ensure I’m getting over my cold.

“I tell you what, it’s been like that over here as well, Malcolm. I’m not feeling ill, but just drained, if you know what I mean.”

I tell him that getting up at stupid o’clock in my mid-50s to change nappies doesn’t always help.

“Yeah, the usual! Been there with grandkids, mate. They always want to get into our bed about five o’clock.”

It’s been another busy year for you.

“It’s been fantastic, and I love it with things on the go all the time. I really get off on that.”

And all these years on it appears there are still festive chart battles going on. But it’s not Slade vs Wizzard or Elton John like in ‘73. It’s Don up against former bandmate Jim Lea in the UK Heritage Chart – Don Powell’s Occasional Flames (also featuring old pals Paul Cookson and Les Glover) following success with ‘Just My Cup of Tea’ and ‘I Won’t Be Playing Wonderwall Tonight’ with a festive resurgence of ‘It Isn’t Really Christmas Until Noddy Starts to Sing’ while Jim follows a run with ‘The Smile of Elvis’ with ‘Am I the Greatest Now’.

“I tell you what, some few weeks ago I was in the UK, Jim was doing some solo things, and he asked me to do some drums for him. That was really nice, the first time we’d worked together in that sense for many, many years. And it was great fun, exchanging lots and lots of memories. Everybody else in the studio looked totally blank, not knowing what the bloody hell we were talking about!

“And it was a nice place, near where he lives, part of a farm, pretty well isolated, so there’s no problems with noise, if you know what I mean!”

Ah, you boys and your noize. And Jim seems to be doing quite well with his health at present. It’s a similar tale with you, I guess, after all those recent scares.

“Yeah, Jim seems okay. And I’m fine, since the doctor kicked me out of hospital, saying, ‘You ain’t normal, get out!’ It’s weird. I mean, with the stroke, it was like in in my drinking days. But luckily, our daughter’s a doctor, and said to my wife – her mum – ‘If he was my husband, I would send him to the hospital.’ I couldn’t hold a cup or a glass, things like that. I was sitting upstairs watching TV, and wanted to change the channel, but couldn’t hold the remote. My wife straightaway talked to her, and sent for an ambulance, and they did some testing inside. It’s incredible, all this equipment they’ve got now. And yeah, everything there’s okay now.”

Then there was a cancer scare …

“That was weird. I had a real pain on the right-hand side of my stomach. My wife said, ‘Go and see our doctor. She was a bit concerned and sent us to this specialist hospital about an hour’s drive away, and they put me on one of those beds to the X-Ray department. They said everthing’s all right on the right side, but bad news – we’ve found a tiny cancer, the size of a pea, on the left colon. This was on the Tuesday, and I asked, ‘What shall I do now?’ And they said, ‘Well, you’re booked in for Thursday to have it removed. Be here for six in the morning.’

“They did the operation and kicked me out on the Saturday, bringing it out through my stomach – and it was the size of a golf ball from the size of a pea in less than two days.”

Someone was clearly looking after you, not least with that mystery ailment that flagged it up.

“I know, mate. Like my wife said, ‘You’ve used your nine lives, mate. Be careful.”

I was looking this week at the UK’s Christmas chart from 50 years ago, featuring so many records I recall first time around (I’d just turned five) – Little Jimmy Osmond’s ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ topping the pile, followed by Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’, T-Rex’s ‘Solid Gold Easy Action’, John & Yoko’s ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over), The Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses’, and Elton John’s ‘Crocodile Rock’. And what do you reckon was at No.6?

“Err … was it us?”

It was indeed. ‘Gudbuy t’Jane’. Its sixth week in the top 10, having peaked at No.2.

“Wow! That’s it. You just reminded me. I think it was ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ that kept us off the top.”

You got it.

“I must tell you, we were on the same show that Chuck Berry recorded that. In Coventry. He was top of the bill, and there was also the Roy Young Band. Do you remember them? They were actually his backing band. He’d turn up about 10 minutes before and say, ‘When I want you to start, I’ll raise my arm, and when I want you to stop, I’ll stamp my foot.’ Everybody knew his songs anyway. We opened the show, and if I remember right, we were all still skinheads then. Then came Roy Young, then Chuck Berry, and he hardly sang, he just let the audience sing. And when that show finished, they cleared the stage, and an hour or so later Pink Floyd were on, doing Dark Side of the Moon. And I’d never seen anything like that. What a bill that was, eh!”

Promoters wouldn’t dream of putting those acts together today, surely. But bearing in mind Chuck’s novelty hit recorded that night, in retrospect maybe if you’d gone backstage and tweaked with the electrics, it might never have happened, and Slade could have had another No.1 that year.

“Yeah, and of all those incredible songs he’s written, and everybody’s recorded, he gets to No.1 with bloody ‘Ding-a-Ling’!”

As it was, a truly momentous year followed, Slade doubling their tally of UK No.1s, the sixth being the festive classic Don prefers to refer to as that record. And in a way it was very much a golden year for the band.

“Yeah, it was that year that we were on a world tour, and had just finished a big American tour. We had a week off before we went on to Australia. And Chas Chandler, our manager and producer, said, ‘Do you have anything? If you have, we can go in the studio, do something.’ I remember Nod and Jim saying, ‘We’ve got this Christmas song.’ They played it to us, and Chas said, ‘We’ve got to do this!’ So we booked the Record Plant in New York City, the Summer of ’73, 100 degrees outside, and there we were, singing that record. And would you believe now that when we finished it, we didn’t want to release it? Chas thankfully said, ‘I don’t care what you lot say, this is coming out!’

I don’t reckon it’s been out of the top 100 at this time of year since.

“Oh, it’s phenomenal! Everybody must have this bloody record, but it keeps on selling. The funniest thing is, when I’m in a supermarket when it’s playing and I’m getting my groceries, all the attendants are singing it at the top of their voices.”

Fast forward to December 1982, 40 years ago, following the release of the Slade on Stage LP, and I finally got to see you live for the first time, Slade headlining one of two memorable nights at Hammersmith Odeon in December 1982. That was such a key show for me, the atmosphere so special, even across the road at the Britannia pub before. I was barely 15 then, yet loving every moment … and pint.

“I think we had three nights. And that was a great gig. I loved that gig. Lovely memories, eh.”

By this time in 1992 it was all over though, Noddy Holder officially quitting, and Jim Lea following. Yet if I recall right, there may still have been live shows for Dave Hill’s Slade II outfit come December. Were you on board with him again by then?

“Well, it wasn’t Christmas, but he did come round. My then-wife ran hotels and I was just helping out, you know, when he came down and said there’s an opportunity for us to get back on the road. I said yes straight away, and that was it. We started touring. And what was nice about that particular line-up, we managed to get to places like Russia, which we could never get to in the ‘70s. That was a great experience. We did a lot of the old Eastern Bloc, and that was really interesting.”

And this year Don was back in tow with Jim, sharing a stage and a few old stories for a sold-out, live-streamed Q&A at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, forming part of the Black Country Beats exhibition.

“That was great. We could laugh amongst the two of us, only things us know. It was nice to reminisce about lots of stuff in the early days that nobody else would know about … and maybe we could do a tour of the country of those shows.”

That would be brilliant. I’ll wait by my phone for confirmation.

“I tell you what, Malc, I’ll keep you in touch about that.”

I really enjoyed the in-conversation tour show Noddy Holder did with Mark Radcliffe, so that would make for a perfect follow-up.

“I never saw that show with Nod. But I heard it was a good one.”

One story I recall was them talking about you and Dave recruiting a singer one day, Nod contemplating coming along in disguise and auditioning. And that prompted another memory from Don, in pre-classic four-piece days with The Vendors.

“Dave and I were with this particular line-up, and he was with the Memphis Cut-Outs, who became Steve Brett and the Mavericks. Even then, Nod reminded me of a John Lennon type. I remember saying to Dave, ‘I tell you who’d be good …’ But Dave didn’t rate him at the time. It was just a pure coincidence that Dave and myself were in Wolverhampton and bumped into Nod, went and had a coffee in the local department store, and mentioned all that. We’d already recruited Jim Lea by then, but had this rehearsal in this pub opposite where Nod lived with his mum and dad, the Three Men and a Boat. They used to have gigs there. We played there a few times before we met him.

“The first song we played was something we knew and that Nod was playing with his band, ‘Mr Pitiful’ by Otis Redding. And it worked straight away. We just looked at each other, started laughing, and just went into other things the four of us knew. It worked so well, and we thought, ‘This is it, this is the one!’”

Speaking of which, at this time in December ’62, six decades ago, you were in an early line-up of The Vendors with frontman Johnny Howells (who also met Don and Jim at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in early August) and Mick Marston (guitar), before Dave Hill joined you.

“That’s right, just playing weddings and youth clubs. I remember one time when they had Saturday morning matinees at the cinema for kids, and there was one around the corner from where Johnny lived with his Dad, where we were just miming along to three or four songs. Then John came to us and said, ‘I’ve got us a gig, we’re playing this wedding reception … and we’re gonna get paid!’ I looked at him, said, ‘We’re gonna get paid for this?’ We were getting £6 – £2 each. That was incredible. We could have a bag of chips each!”

Were you working then?

“Yes, in the laboratory of this foundry. Then we were just sort of gigging, local pubs and clubs. In fact, I kept in touch with my boss – another Don – until a few years ago. He was really helpful to me. He found out I was in a band – I kept it quiet – but I managed to keep my job. One of the kids in another part of the factory saw us the night before in a local battle of the bands, telling my boss. But he just said, ‘You never told me you were in a band.’ He was great and if need be, he’d let me finish early, the van picking me up outside the factory. Lovely memories.”

As for Wolverhampton in December 1952, what would a Powell family Christmas have involved for six-year-old Donald George and his family, while Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’ was topping the very first official UK festive chart?

“Well, music was far from my mind then. It was basically me, my brother and two sisters, Christmas Day a big family thing in our house. Me and my brother were sleeping in the same room, in a council house, trying to keep awake to catch Father Christmas. We never did though – we never caught him!

“There’d be Christmas wrapping paper all over the house from unwrapping our presents, Dad would go over the pub about lunchtime for a couple of pints, while my mum and eldest sister got the Christmas lunch together. And it’d be all around the table with crackers and party hats then, watching whatever film was on that afternoon. Lovely memories.

“I never knew my grandfathers, but I knew my two grannies, mum’s mum only living a couple of hundred yards away. I remember Gran with a glass of stout and Vimto.”

And will you be in Denmark this Christmas?

“Oh yeah. This is my home now. Nearly 20 years now. And we’ve got six grandchildren. Everybody will be here for Christmas Day lunch, and (Don’s wife) Hanne’s mum and dad, all around the table, then the kids go to their fathers the day after or the day before. It’ll be a lovely Christmas Day and we’ll all be doing the tree in a few days. And over here there’s a special song on Christmas Day where we hold hands and dance around the tree. It’s a Danish tradition. I don’t know the song, but I’ll dance around the tree with all the kids and all the family.”

Chewing gum as you go, yeah?

“No, that’s another story! I don’t do that anymore. It started fetching my fillings out! My dentist kept saying, ‘I can’t keep rebuilding your teeth!’ But he built a gum-shield for me, which is fantastic. And it really works. And when we’re doing a show, you see all the kids down the front looking, pointing at this brilliant white gum shield. I wanted the dentist to black one out, but he wouldn’t do it!”

And will you be reading your younger grandchildren your children’s book, The Adventures of Bibble Brick, written with your biographer and friend, Danish writer Lise Lyng Falkenberg?

“Actually, I never thought of that. They don’t really understand so much English, so I’d have to get one of the parents to read it for them. But I actually wrote that book in the late ‘60s, it got shelved and I never thought anything of it. But I just mentioned it to Lise, in conversation, and she said, ‘Let me read it.’ I got the manuscript, she dotted a few i’s and crossed a few t’s for me, it was taken on, and it’s doing alright. I’ve noticed on my bank statement I’ve had some royalties from Amazon, so yeah – it seems like it’s cleared its costs.”

As for his next studio projects, don tells me he’s recording with some Danish musicians at present.

“We’ve released a version of ‘Far, Far Away’, the Slade classic, calling the band Don and the Dreamers.”

Brilliant. And sometimes it’s hard to keep up with, what with Don Powell’s Occasional Flames, and The Don Powell Band too.

“I know. I’ve got different hats for different things. But I’ll keep you in the loop, and have a great Christmas. I really enjoyed that. Thanks, Malc!”

And with that he was gone, no doubt to practise his moves around the Christmas tree. And if he’s not decked out in one of his one-piece outfits with the cutaway sleeves on the big day, I’ll be very disappointed.

Did you ever get to see Slade, the Black Country legends that claimed the world, live? Do you go back as far as The ‘N Betweens, or even The Vendors or Steve Brett and the Mavericks? Were you around when they made the classic film, Flame? Did you get along to its premiere in Sheffield? Ever catch them on the set of Top of the Pops? Were you there to see them at London’s Command Theatre Studio in 1971, Earl’s Court in 1973, or Reading Festival in 1980? Did you attend any of their memorable mainland European, North American or Australian shows? Have you an entertaining tale or two of bumping into Nod, Jim, Dave or Don down the years that you want to share in print? Or did you just want to tell us about your love for Slade and how important a band they were (and remain so) to you, and the joy of buying that treasured copy of ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ or Old, New, Borrowed and Blue? And have you any good quality photos of those meetings that you have copyright to use? If so, we’d love to hear from you via thedayiwasthere@gmail.com, ahead of a new publication lined up for early 2023, those memories sharing the pages with a history of the band and their key releases, plus interviews with band members, the latest in Spenwood Books’ A People’s History series, following titles covering Cream, Fairport Convention, Queen, the Rolling Stones, and Thin Lizzy.

For December 2020’s WriteWyattUK feature/interview with Don Powell, and links to past Slade-related interviews and features, head here.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking the Westway to the sea with Graham Jones – talking Haircut One Hundred, Boys Wonder, and more

Haircut One Hundred are back, celebrating their 40th anniversary with a live show and special edition of Pelican West, the debut LP that saw them on their way all those years ago.

And that was all I needed by way of an excuse to get back in touch with guitarist Graham Jones, who left London for Cornwall in 1990 but is very excited about a 2023 Shepherd’s Bush Empire show that sold out in a matter of days.

But before we get on to that, let’s go right back, Nick Heyward (guitar, vocals) and Les Nemes (bass) setting the ball rolling as early as 1977, although it was only after they relocated from Beckenham, Kent, to central London that Graham (guitar) came on board, the band soon adopting its distinctive name.

“The old story we keep trawling out is that our girlfriends, who were best mates, were the connection. Nick and Les were already doing this band, Moving England, and making demos. I was doing my own punky stuff, not too far away from where they were. Our girlfriends went to the same school.”

I’m guessing you’d been playing guitar for a while.

“Yeah, I was in a band called Strobe Effects, with mates from Forest Hill School, Dacres Road {South-East London}. My mate used to live three or four doors away from the school and we’d rehearse in his converted garage.”

A proper garage band. And as you were born in 1961 and on the doorstep for London, I see you as being right time, right place for punk rock. Were you into prog before getting bitten by that particular bug?

“Not prog. I was always a Sweet, Slade and T-Rex fan, the rockier side of pop, I suppose. And there is there is a little Slade story linked to Haircut One Hundred, because when we recorded Pelican West at the Roundhouse, in the next studio was Girlschool, the heavy metal band. And who was producing them? Jim Lea and Noddy Holder!”

That was Girlschool’s fourth LP, released in 1983, a couple of years after their winning Headgirl collaboration with Motorhead on the St Valentine’s Day Massacre EP.

Meanwhile, it all seemed to come together really quickly with Haircut One Hundred, taking off after recording debut single, ‘Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)’ at that same Roundhouse studio in Chalk Farm.  

“I think the reason Roundhouse was chosen was because it was one of the first digital studios, using the 3M digital {multitrack} recording device. Before that, everything was done on analogue 24-track. The Beat had just done their first album there {I Just Can’t Stop It}, produced by Bob Sargeant. And that’s why we ended up there, because we were using Bob Sargeant, in the early days of when digital was just being trialled.

“There were lots of problems and there was an in-house engineer there to fix the thing, with all these funny little digital blips and hops going on. There was always someone there with a screwdriver. “Hang on, we’ll just have to wait for an hour while what’s-his-face gets his head in amongst the wires.”

And were you soaking this all up? You have your own home studio now, and I imagine Nick and yourself in particular watching very carefully, taking it all in. Did you all have an interest in that process, or were you just about making the music?

“I think some of us took more interest in the engineering side. I definitely did. I didn’t understand what I was looking at, but I kind of picked up the basics, which I’ve carried with me to this day, which I still deal with, recording here at home. And ever since going to the professional studios I’ve always had some kind of recording machine. I’ve always had a four-track machine. And it must have been in the late ‘90s, when recording software became available on computers.”

Have you still got copies of those early demos you made when it was the three of you (Graham, Nick and Les) plus Patrick Hunt on drums?

“Well, I wasn’t using a four-track machine then, not until towards the end of the Haircuts.”

Do any of those early demos appear on this new Pelican West expanded reissue?

“No, but there’s another album if people wanted to hear any of those. But in those days, we went to a normal eight-track studio and you handed over your money, recorded three tracks and went home again. And people recorded over those master tracks. They didn’t always put these things on the shelf, because they’re so expensive. They’d probably sit there a couple of months, then another band would come in and they’d wipe it and record over.”

Did you stay in touch with Patrick?

“I haven’t seen Patrick for a while. He did appear in Cornwall a few years ago, but I don’t know where he is. He went on to work with Sade, I think.”

Was it all a bit of a blur? Because it all seemed to happen so quick, from the first single and album onwards, not least when the teen pop mags took an interest. Did you have time to enjoy it?

“I think with anything in the music industry, you’re either on or off. You’re either a struggling musician, or it’s all full-bore. And once people recognise you’re on the upward trajectory, everything gets chucked at you. Whether you want to do these things or not, a lot of them are part of raising your profile. There’s a lot of things we did which we really loved and a lot of things we did, which we retrospectively look back and think, ‘Oh, no!’”

But you were all so young. You were barely 20 when Pelican West came out.

“Yeah, I remember my 21st birthday, we were off to New York for a gig at the New Music Seminar, I think, right in the middle of Manhattan. Those days, because you’re full of enthusiasm, that’s what drives the band, the enthusiasm for the music.”

I don’t want to muddy any waters, go into any perceived negatives, but for North of a Miracle, Nick was barely 21. I loved that album from the start, and have since gone back to your post-Nick follow-up Haircuts LP, Paint and Paint, and there’s some good stuff on there as well. You were a talented bunch. But part of me wonders if you were listening to Nick’s debut solo LP, thinking, ‘That should have been ours’?

“Unfortunately, when things did fall apart, we already had a body of material ready for a second album, which forms part of this re-release. We’ve got the missing tracks that were unfinished, and some still are unfinished, but it’s impractical – the studio costs for getting it back completely are not really viable.

“Going back and putting stuff on it now would sound a bit weird. And that’s exactly what everyone else thinks. I don’t think Nick would like to sing over a backing track from the ‘80s. But on North of a Miracle there are a couple of tracks which were originally done by the Haircuts, and they’re featured on Pelican West 40.”

Those tracks were Nick’s first solo hit, ‘Whistle Down the Wind’, and ‘Club Boy at Sea’.

“We had Paul Buckmaster in to do the string arrangements. I think some of the parts were replaced by other musicians for Nick’s version. But the original version is on Pelican West 40.”

Those both involve rather sweeping orchestral arrangements on Nick’s debut LP. I kind of assumed that wasn’t the case with the originals.

“We decided there were two tracks we were going to use the orchestra for – those tracks – but it’s an expensive thing to do, to hire a string arranger and an orchestra. You’ll hear these tracks and hear how the band was developing. But we were getting pulled in 50 different directions at once.”

That seems to have been the tipping point for Nick. And I’m guessing it all got a bit too much for everyone.

“Nick would say exactly the same thing, due to those demands for producing a second album, being asked to tour. You know, do you record, do you tour? And being the youngsters we were, we were trying to please everybody, instead of saying, ‘Sod you lot, we’ve got to finish this. Forget about the touring, or do the touring and forget about the album. And in the end, I think if it was too much for Nick.”

When you first heard North of a Miracle, was it a case of, ‘Bastard!’, all a bit raw, or were you ready to face it by then?

“We were kind of under the impression that, you know, there was interference happening, with outside sources. And it’s a really difficult thing to know who’s telling the truth within the industry. It’s a difficult one to answer.”

I guess it was mostly down to the corporate machine and big, bad music industry. You were close friends before and remain so now, right?

“Absolutely. We were always friends. It’s only the industry really, and the things done within the industry are always the downfall of any band.”

Was it a one-album deal with Arista? Only your second record came out via Polydor, I see.

“I think we had a bigger initial deal with Arista. So there was more work that could have been done, but I think we had to change our dealings and record companies after Nick had gone. We had to extract ourselves from Arista just to see what we could do as a second incarnation, if you like. But that wasn’t what we necessarily chose to do. It’s where we ended up.”

Was Marc (Fox) nailed on to be frontman of the reconvened band, post-Nick? Only that was a bit of a surprise that he stepped forward.

“We actually auditioned people, and we had the singer from Secret Affair come along, and interviewed a few other people, putting an ad out. We auditioned a few people around at Phil’s house, but it just wasn’t working. So we thought, why should we bring in someone outside when we could pull someone in-house?”

And there are some lovely moments on that record. It’s just a shame it got lost, really.

“It’s one of those albums … it has got some great moments on it. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s what kept us busy until we all decided this is obviously not the master plan really. We’re just kind of making the best of what we’ve got.”

Was there a big gap between that and where you went next? Was it just the fact that it wasn’t a commercial success that made you think to knock it on my head?

“Like I was alluding to, it wasn’t the thing we’d planned to do. Because we weren’t doing it with Nick, it wasn’t like the authentic article, really. While we were in this kind of situation, I think the band members were probably looking at their futures and whether it was fulfilling their artistic needs or not.”

You clearly made some good mates along the way. For instance, you had that link with Glen Matlock.

“That came later, after Boys Wonder.”

I was coming on to those years, that band having released one album, 1989’s Radio Wonder, and five singles between 1987 and 1990. How did that project come to pass?

“We knew Ben and Scott {Addison} from Boys Wonder back in my punk days, before I joined the Haircuts. We crossed paths in those days, going to a few local punk gigs in London. And we actually asked them to come and do some backing vocals in the Haircuts, part two. They came on tour and did some vocals with us. I think at that point we said, ‘Do you want to join us, do something?’ And they said, ‘Actually, we’ve got our own thing, Boys Wonder, maybe you want to come with us. So I did a bit of an audition with them, ending up going that way instead.”

Do you think you deserved a bit more success there?

“Well, they were kind of the complete opposite of what I’d just come out of.”

Which is what you needed, in a way?

“It fitted my guitar style a lot better. I was kind of going back to my roots, regarding musical influences.”

Our mutual friend, Pete, saw you play a charity show in Cornwall told me when he heard you play it was unmistakably you, despite the passage of time. And you do have that very distinctive style.

“Well, I don’t think so. All I’m doing is chucking my own influences in there. My musical influences were Steve Jones of the Pistols, Mick Jones from The Clash …”

Neither related to Graham, despite their respective London roots … far as I know. Sorry, carry on …

“… Stuart Adamson from the Skids, 100,000 other punk bands, Derwood {Bob Andrews} from Generation X was a huge influence on my playing …”

“I alluded to it earlier that you got the chance to see a lot of those bands in their pomp.

“Yeah, I did, because I used to work in the West End, in ‘77. I was a little too young and just missed on seeing the Pistols, but that’s when I picked up the punk thing at school, but around ‘77 I was buying and going to see The Clash all over the place, Generation X, the original {Adam and the} Ants, the Ramones, The Rezillos …”

Fantastic days, so to speak. The latter two alone, I love their live LPs, really felt like I was there. And you probably were.

“I was at the New Year’s Eve concert …

“At The Rainbow?

 “Ramones, Generation X and The Rezillos, I think, were on the bill.”

Marvellous.

“Yeah, I’ve been to some great gigs and picked up some amazing influences, which is what I put into Boys Wonder and the Haircuts as well – it’s a completely different thing that I bring to Haircut One Hundred. I kind of bring … I don’t know, you’d have to tell me what I bring to them!”

I was going to say – same as I put to Nick a few years ago – you never had the kudos of the Postcard bands, for example. A lot of contemporaries were seen as a lot cooler. But maybe it was the fact that the teen mags and young kids latched on to you more, screaming at Nick and so on. Yet there were so many great influences at play there, and what you were doing wasn’t so far off what Edwyn Collins was doing with Orange Juice, alongside Zeke Manyika and co., a real mix of influences involved. And it worked so well.

“Well, you hit the nail on the head there. We were a lot edgier when we started out and we were cooler in many respects than we might have been perceived to be later. A lot of our early influences were Orange Juice’s, and we had a connection later on, Nick’s girlfriend and my girlfriend both from Glasgow, and they used to love us up in Scotland, along with Aztec Camera and Orange Juice.”

I believe you got to know Jimmy Pursey and Edward Tudor-Pole from your working days in London’s West End too.

“I think that’s when Nick and Les came to see me play. I used to work in a photo lab and one of my friends who worked with me, Phil Payne, was in a band called The Low Numbers, kind of a post-punk /early Mod kind of band. His drummer was a really keen football fan, and I could play drums – I learned drums at school – so whenever their drummer disappeared off to see Arsenal, it was, ‘Derek’s gone off to the football, can you come up and drum for us?’ So I’d jump on the train and go up to the youth club in Great Portland Street.

“Around that time, I was also learning to play guitar and played with The Low Numbers with Jimmy Pursey and Chris Foreman from Madness. And Eddie Tenpole as well. We did a fundraiser for that youth club, where we were rehearsing, a place for the kids on the local estate to hang out. I think it was a Christian club. The bloke who ran it was a really good bloke, always out for the youngsters, this youth club he used to run so passionately in this basement.”

Returning to Boys Wonder, how long did that continue? I see you moved down to Cornwall in 1990. Was it still happening around then?

“With Boys Wonder, it was a real comet. You always hear that analogy about things burning fast and bright, and we were on a really high and fast trajectory, with a following on the fashion scene, our girlfriends and friends all connected with fashion or music, the girls making our clothes for us – Ben drawing the designs and the girls making them, adding their influences. Then we had our musical influences, which was a lot of the punk stuff, a lot of T Rex, while Ben and Scott were interested in jazz, and musicals – there was a lot of Oliver in there – and Anthony Newley, all this stuff being rolled up in Boys Wonder, the creative process.

“The press didn’t get it, there was a very strong underground movement, but we couldn’t get out of that and convince anyone the songwriting was far more superior than what they were perceiving at the time. We were signed by Sire in America, but weren’t really backed to any extent that would enable us to spend more time and more money on it.”

Were you working by day again at that point?

That wasn’t the case with the Haircuts.

“We were all working, trying to get by.”

“No, we were all professional musicians. With Boys Wonder it was completely different, almost going back to square one again, proving ourselves as a band, which we kind of did to some extent. But we ended up as a bit of a cult band as opposed to other bands alongside us, good friends at the time like {Doctor and} the Medics, who got to No.1. But good for them.”

There were so many great bands from that era who missed out on the big time, but were later cited by those who broke through with Brit Pop and so on as big influences. In that case, perhaps the right place but the wrong time.

“Yeah. And we were most definitely pioneers, and we do get quoted by other bands. But that’s the luck of the draw in the music industry. You do your damnedest and then nothing happens.”

As long as you’re having fun doing it though, and have stories to tell your kids about, that’s great, surely.

“Yeah.”

And you did get to play in Glen Matlock’s band and support Iggy Pop in Europe in your next venture.

“Yeah. Well, at the time there was another band called Lightning Strike, and Crazy Pink Revolvers, with Theatre of Hate, CSM 101 … There was a group of bands doing various things at the time. And the singer of Lightning Strike, Dave Earl, writing something for his girlfriend, who wanted to be a singer, and they asked me and another Boys Wonder member to do a bit of backing to record something to see if we could get her a deal. We did that and asked Glenn to play bass on it. I said, ‘You can’t ask Glen!’ But this manager of ours said, ‘If you don’t ask …’ So I asked, and he said yeah.

“He did it, and liked what I was doing, so asked me to join his band. I think at that point Boys Wonder had gone as far as it could go. We kind of hit that rock brick wall again, nobody taking us seriously, kind of going round in circles. So I joined Glenn’s band for a short while and did this tour around Europe, which was good fun. And I was in the band with Steve New {later Stella Nova}, also from the Rick Kids, Glen on bass, Dave on drums, me on guitar, and Justin Halliwell, currently playing with Glen again. We supported Iggy for a bit, but I think at that point Steve was going downhill with his addictions, and I liked being in the band but didn’t really want to go round the whole thing again.”

And you were already heading down to Cornwall a lot in your spare time by then, right?

“I was, I was visiting here since the mid-‘80s, a seasoned traveller to Cornwall and already going surfing, coming back to visit friends here for Christmas and Easter. My life has already taken a turn.”

The heart was clearly pulling you towards Porthtowan.

“Yeah, I think I said to Glen in 1990, ‘Once I’ve done this tour, I’m going to move to Cornwall,’ which I did, and then I kind of stopped music as a profession, just to do something different for a bit.”

You always kept your hand in though, from teaching guitar and everything else, setting up the studio and all that.

“And there’s nothing to prove anymore, is there. It doesn’t really matter. Music should be a creative process and shouldn’t be there for any other reason. It’s an art, and it’s the reason why we started in the punk days, in the early Haircuts days, because we were all enthused and all creating something. We didn’t want a record deal at that time. I mean, everybody dreams about being on Top of the Pops, but you don’t do it for that reason.”

With quite a few of the musicians I speak to, the ambition was just to get a John Peel radio session or make one single, even those who ended up doing far more.

“Well, nobody plans for anything bigger than that, because it doesn’t happen to most people.”

You clearly have that parallel love for Cornwall, something we share, you’re a keen supporter and fundraiser for Surfers Against Sewage {SAS}, and aways had that love of surfing and surf music. It was all meant to be, it seems.

“Yeah, Jan and Dean, Hot Rod music, ‘50s rockabilly, it goes partly hand in hand with the surf culture … not really in the middle of winter though!”

Are you out and about on a board still?

“No, I go in bodyboarding in the summer sometimes, but I decided I was a better guitarist than a surfer, so I let the surfers carry on and get the waves while I’ll go in and enjoy myself if I feel like it. I’ve had some great times surfing, but most of my surfing took place in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.”

“And as you know, the SAS is still going, and I helped set up first surfers’ ball down here.”

It’s a proper community where he is too, and the day we spoke Graham was getting ready for that evening’s Porthtowan Surf Lifesaving Club Christmas Awards at the village hall, along with his wife, Bertha, the pair having met not long after he moved to Cornwall, recently organising a fundraising campaign for a rescue long board made by former British longboard and shortboard surf champion turned ‘shaper’, Ben Skinner, in memory of local former lifeguard and keen surfer, Neil Walters.

“There’s a real connection there, with the surf club, and our daughter’s a lifeguard as well.”

Graham has two sons too, the older lad also a guitarist, working for the RouteNote music company in Truro, the other based in Wales. And while a Londoner through and through, Graham was born in Bridlington on the East Yorkshire coast, his Dad serving in the RAF at the time. But perhaps the call of the sea was always there.

“Maybe.”

And are you looking forward to or secretly dreading that Shepherd’s Bush Empire date with Haircut One Hundred?

“Not dreading it at all. It’s going to bring a lot of people together, a lot of friends who haven’t seen us for a while, and a lot of people looking forward to the release of the unheard material. And we were quite surprised it sold out so quickly.”

Is there a likelihood of a second night being added?

“Erm, I can’t really say. I expect something will follow on from it, and because things sold so quickly, that’s going to prick up the years of other promoters.”

Well, maybe the surfers’ ball next year will feature the Haircuts down at Porthtowan.

“You never know.”

Any details on who’s going to feature in that Shepherd’s Bush show?

“No, we’ll keep it to ourselves.”

Fair enough. At that point, Graham reminded me of his involvement with another band in more recent times, The Continental Lovers.

“I met the singer when he was on holiday in Porthtowan, we got chatting and I ended up being invited to play on a few tracks just to see how it would go. Joe, the singer, was really pleased with it and I really enjoyed playing on it, because it was kind of down the Boys Wonder route as opposed to down the Haircuts route.

“They’re based in Gloucester, so it’s not really practical for me to get involved, and they’ve got another guitarist playing my parts now, more their age group, someone who fits in and has got all the tattoos and everything! But playing the music came quite naturally, and they’re definitely a bunch worth looking out for.”

And if you could just pick a highlight of your days with the Haircuts, in the studio or on stage …

“I think for all of us, probably, going to the States was a massive bonus. For me personally, it definitely was.”

Do you still pick up the phone and talk to each other now and again?

“Yeah, we do.”

And is that easy conversation, old blokes being nostalgic?

“There’s always nostalgia, and you go over old ground and remind each other of the stupid things you did and who we met. That’s all part of it. But we kind of look to the future with a positive and a new vision. There’s no guarantees there for anything.”

That’s one thing with the pandemic and so on. That taught us a few things about the fact that you can’t take anything for granted. I wonder if that formed part of your resolve for getting this together – the whole reunion, reissue and live project.

“Yeah, the reissue was bound to happen because of the 40-year anniversary. But the company that decided to take it on have really done a good job, they’ve been really supportive, and they wanted the band to be completely included. They haven’t done anything that we’ve disagreed with. They haven’t just bulldozed in, licenced the tracks and released any old crap. They’ve really tried to include the band, and the Shepherd’s Bush Empire show is part of promotion for that release.”

The super-deluxe edition of Haircut One Hundred’s debut LP Pelican West – originally released in February 1982 and spending three months in the UK top-10 album chart, 10 weeks of which were it was in the top five – includes non-album single ‘Nobody’s Fool’, added to the CD and 4-LP set, the new version of the LP featuring a remaster of Pelican West, all the 12” mixes and B-sides, a live set from Hammersmith Odeon, and for the first time, demos for their unfinished second album, given the provisional title, Blue Hat For A Blue Day.

Over four CDs, there are 54 tracks, of which 24 are unreleased, including nascent versions of later Nick Heyward solo hits ‘Whistle Down The Wind’, ‘Blue Hat For A Blue Day’, and the ‘lost single’ ‘Sunny Boy, Sunny Girl’.

The 4-CD set features a 44-page booklet with 10,000-word sleevenotes featuring an oral history of the time with all six members, interviewed by the set’s curator, author and DJ Daryl Easlea. The booklet also includes memorabilia and exclusive photographs from the personal collection of Haircuts guitarist Graham Jones and bassist Les Nemes. Pelican West 40 is also available as a half-speed master vinyl LP as well as a 38-track 4-LP edition containing the new half-speed cut of the album along with the unreleased second album tracks and a collection of 12” mixes. For a track listing and details of how to pre-order, with the new package set to be released on February 24th, head here.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Missing You – a tribute to Terry Hall and Iain ‘Tempo’ Templeton

“Love, there was so much love, enough to last a hundred years.

Laughs, we had so many laughs, how come they turned into tears?”

I wasn’t sure it was common knowledge when I got the sad message from Iain ‘Tempo’ Templeton’s sister Claire on Monday evening that we’d lost him, a day which ended with equally awful but more widely received news regarding the wonderful Terry Hall. And then came more grim news yesterday concerning Martin Duffy, of Felt, Primal Scream and Charlatans fame, barely a few months my senior. All that on the back of losing – over the last couple of months alone – his namesake, Brian Duffy, aka Stranglers legend Jet Black, and the hugely inspirational Wilko Johnson, rock’n’roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis, and evergreen singer-songwriter Christine McVie.

Regarding Terry. so many truly lovely words have already been posted about him by so many of you on that front, and for me he was an integral part of my musical journey, key to so many winning combinations around my formative years, an early love for The Specials’ debut LP (one that never waned) leading to having my eyes opened by what he did with Lynval Golding and Neville Staple in Fun Boy Three while Jerry Dammers continued to carve out his own direction with the original concept, neither option any less enlightening. Then there was a further step forward with The Colourfield, followed by Terry, Blair & Anouchka … and I’ve barely touched the first decade there. Often hard-hitting, but with plenty of moments of pop mastery en route.

In fact, talking of great songwriters, he came up in my most recent Ian Broudie interview a few weeks ago, the pair having co-written the Lightning Seeds’ return to form, ‘Emily Smiles’, 28 years after bringing us the wondrous ‘Lucky You’. Ian said at the time, ‘Terry’s just one of the greatest talents I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We started working together when I produced a couple of things for him. It’s been lovely seeing his career re-blossom with The Specials. Then there was The Fun Boy Three, and … he’s done so many things that have been great. I think he’s brilliant.”

No arguments there. Sadly, I never got to chat to Terry, but I at least got to share some priceless stories with many of his old tourmates, not least former bandmates Neville Staple and Roddy Radiation, expressing my love for all they brought us.

As for Tempo, I studied for my Master’s with his older sister, just over a decade ago, yet somehow – not being the mouthy kind – she never mentioned him. I knew her by her married name, and it just never came up – his amazing, rich history in the fledgling La’s, and of course Shack, as well as Michael Head and the Strands. But it certainly wasn’t from any sense on her part of anything less that pride in his amazing talent. And when she finally introduced me to him a few years down the line, there was an instant bond, from a truly loveable guy as well as a great musical talent. He was fragile, I could tell, but also so funny, so passionate, and so talented, as the many unpublished songs he put my way confirmed. Lockdown projects, really, from this true one-off.

I’ve double-checked with Claire that it’s okay to share her initial message to me, one simply reading, ‘I wanted to let you know that my lovely brother died today. He succumbed to the alcoholism that dominated his life since lockdown. I’m so grateful for the interview you did with him and how you made him feel. That was wonderful. He was a complex human being but a brilliant drummer. I’m so very sad but also feeling a sense of relief that he’s no longer plagued by those demons.’

I’d been so absorbed elsewhere that I hadn’t realised I’d not ‘seen him’ online for a fair while. And I should have thought more of him lately … not least in a year when Shack lynchpin Michael Head was (quite rightly) getting so much positive traction for his latest LP. I so loved the music Tempo sent me … even if the accompanying video was a bit in the face. But I guess that was him … at least the public persona. Hopefully, someone will now step up in the right circles and give the recordings I heard (and I gather many more have followed, his positivity shining on through) the true acclaim and wider reception they require.

Until then, Terry, Iain, Martin, I salute you with this Blair Bronwen Booth/Terry Hall classic single from 1990, one that resonates to this day …

“The rain is falling, and I’ve tried calling,

But I just can’t get through to say I’m missing … missing you.”

And for my feature/interview with Ian ‘Tempo’ Templeton, from February 2021, head here.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Christmas gift for you from Swansea Sound – back in touch with Rob Pursey

This time last year, Swansea Sound were reflecting on a happening few months, this indie-pop supergroup of sorts, founded remotely mid-lockdown, not even having met in person until their late August 2021 debut at Lancashire’s Preston Pop Fest, yet soon proving as fast-paced as some of their punk-influenced numbers.

They saw out that year with acclaimed if not over-honestly titled debut LP, Live at the Rum Puncheon, with more dates lined up before spring, those buying the album also receiving a vinyl and digital-release alternative Christmas single, the limited edition 7” version selling out very quickly.

And now they’re not far off a follow-up long player, while the tracks on the festive single – ‘Happy Christmas to Me’ and ‘Merry Christmas Darlings’ – are newly out in CD format, a three-track EP led by a fresh composition called ‘Music Lover’. What’s more, those buying via Bandcamp have the option of the included Christmas card being signed by the band, or left blank so they can write their own festive messages to loved ones.

The band has (rather complicated, if I’m honest) links to indie darlings The Pooh Sticks, Tallulah Gosh and Heavenly, with vocalists Hue Williams and Amelia Fletcher joined by guitarist/bass player Rob Pursey and drummer Ian Button, the latter three also key these days to The Catenary Wires, another band I first caught (at that point featuring just husband and wife Rob and Amelia) treading the boards at the same venue that hosted Preston Pop Fest, supporting The Wedding Present at The Continental in the summer of 2017, Amelia well known to fans of the latter for her winning contributions to a fair few of their seminal late ‘80s tracks.

For Swansea Sound’s first live shows, they were joined by Kent-based guitarist Robert Rotifer, seeing as Rob played guitar and bass on the first recordings, and even he can’t manage both on stage. And it’s Bob Collins adding guitar on ‘Music Lover’, this anti-corporate outfit’s ‘punkpop tribute to Daniel Ek’, releasing the song ‘as a festive gesture’ on Ek’s Spotify digital music platform among other streaming services, ’so he receives most of the financial benefit.’

For those that missed it first time around, ‘Happy Christmas to Me’, described elsewhere as ‘the Christmas song the Buzzcocks would have written’, sees the band’s yuletide feelings to Ek also dedicated to Twitter boss Elon Musk, Facebook/Meta co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. Meanwhile, ‘Merry Christmas Darlings’ is their glam-rock cover of a song by Cheap Trick, its closing party sequence seeing ‘the four billionaires reunited, jovially exchanging corporate mission statements with each other.’ Have you spotted a theme yet, readers?

So how did Rob, speaking to me from his Kent base, think 2022 went for the band. What were his highlights?

“It’s mainly consisted of writing and recording songs for our second album, which will come out next year. We did finally play Swansea though! And Newport and Cardiff.”

Yes, I should point out at this point to the uninitiated that Hue has links to that part of South Wales – the Vale of Glam, as he likes to put it –  and they took their name from Swansea’s lost radio station after it was re-branded by new corporate owners, even using its abandoned logo, what they see as part of their ‘wider protest about the culturally stultifying effect of corporatisation’. 

As for ‘Music Lover’, well, that’s another breath of fresh air, in typical Buzzcocksy-Wiresque style … with the kind of anti-corporate sentiments we expect from Swansea Sound. Go on then, the floor is yours, Rob. Have you got a problem with Spotify?

“Yes, we have a problem with Spotify. Not with the technology – there’s nothing wrong with digital music. The problem is with its ownership and control. It’s not just Spotify who have perfected a ‘trickle down’ corporate model on the back of digital technology. 

“If you’re a cab driver you may have a similar feeling about Uber. If you’re a retail worker you’ll maybe feel the same about Amazon. If the CWU don’t get their way the same thing could happen to Royal Mail. It would be naff to make songs about that – we aren’t cab drivers and we aren’t postal workers – but Spotify is something we can talk about, because it affects us directly. Not all our new songs are going to be on that theme – I realise it can get a bit dull banging on about the same thing too often. But it needs to be said.

“Another group recently claimed it was only ‘old bands’ like us who complain about Spotify. And that ‘the kids’ like using it, which somehow means it’s all fine. It’s worth noting that the group in question are even older than us. But I don’t buy that, it’s a geriatric argument. It’s like saying ‘stop moaning about the water companies, a bit of sewage never did us any harm.’”

And yet you’re releasing the single on that self-same platform. Isn’t that like flicking vees to Elon Musk on Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook? Or buying a toaster from Amazon and leaving a rude note for Jeff Bezos?

“Yes, this time I thought it would be good to have a song that’s directly about Spotify on Spotify. We obviously didn’t make the decision for the money. You’re right, all gestures are compromised these days – the single is advertised on Facebook, and on Twitter. That’s the problem with digital oligarchy. You can’t operate outside it.” 

Like all good Christmas singles, this has been (at least two-thirds of it) out before. How many of those original 7”s are out there now? And will Record Collector coo about the price of them in years to come?

“The two Christmas songs came out a year ago on a Snowflakes 7” single. They sold out quite quickly. So it seemed fair enough to put the songs out again. Also, I’ve this theory that if you release a Christmas song often enough it become a ‘classic’. So maybe we’ll put ‘Happy Christmas to Me’ out again next year, and the year after that, until people accept it’s as essential as ‘White Christmas’.”

No arguing with that twisted logic, and we dearly need more of this agit-punk stuff. What have Swansea Sound heard around them in 2022 which appeals, music-wise? Are there enough bands out there carrying the Spirit of ’76 and all that?

“The most recent thing I bought was a CD by punk band C.O.G. It’s pretty good, like Killing Joke … not the daft, Gothic, later version … and they have this great idea – the CD itself is free, but you pay for it by doing a random act of kindness. I like that, it’s anarchistic and humane at the same time.”

What have those cross-border cousins of yours, The Catenary Wires, been up to in 2022? Can we expect a new record from them – after the excellent Birling Gap – as well next year?

It’s been a bit quiet on that front. There are some more tunes, but the deal with The Catenary Wires is that me and Amelia are supposed to write the songs together, and we’ve not had much time to do that. Also, it’s a lot more challenging to record Catenary Wires songs because we rely on other musicians – for example, Fay Hallam on keyboards – who are more talented than us, so it’s logistically harder. With Swansea Sound, it’s easy, I write all the songs, we record them at home, and it doesn’t require so much, er… finesse.”

There seems to have been a bit of burrowing into your indie pop past too, celebrating your Heavenly days. Tell me more.

“That’s probably the other reason The Catenary Wires have been quiet. It takes ages to restore the artwork for the albums, all of which we are re-releasing, and Amelia has been doing most of that.  We’ve also decided to play a couple of Heavenly shows next year, and we’ve started rehearsing for those. It’s not too onerous for me, the basslines aren’t hard to work out, but Amelia’s got loads of lyrics to remember. And she has to work out how to play guitar again, not having done it for two decades.”

Apart from turning the amps up and letting rip with Swansea Sound, what else grips your attention in a festive way, music-wise? You seem to carry the spirit of The Greedies on these tracks. What Christmas records do you need to put the needle on to get in the festive spirit?

“If I’m honest, I really like old-fashioned Christmas carols best. Old tunes. My favourite modern Christmas recording is ‘Silent Night’ by The Only Ones.”

What was the first Christmas single that grabbed your attention, when was that, and where were you at the time?

“I’m pretty sure it would have been seeing Slade on Top of the Pops when I was a little kid. That is a great song, and I think that for a lot of people of our generation it’s now old enough – and has been repeated often enough – to have achieved ‘carol’ status. It’s a perfectly designed vehicle for nostalgia.”

What was the first Christmas you recall as working band members? When and where were your first festive dates, and was there a raucous after-party? It’s time the tales were told.

“I am sure The Five Year Plan would have done some kind of Christmas gig in Bristol when I was really young, but I guess my most vivid memory is of the Sarah Records Christmas Party, where Heavenly played. Hair-grips were tossed to one side, spectacles were dropped and trodden on, cardigans and anoraks were ripped. It was wild.”

I bet. And what should we do with Elon, Jeff and co. this Christmas? Is there a rocket with their name on it? And where should we set the coordinates for?

“I think they’d actually really like to be on a rocket together. So I’d put them in the Antarctic with bicycles and invite them to cycle back to freedom. If they survived, they would only be allowed to resume their lonely greedy lives if they agreed to sign forms that guaranteed paying income tax at 98%. They’d still be way richer than all of us. Actually, make it 99%.” 

What’s the ratio so far with regard to requests from buyers of the CD EP package with a Swansea Sound Christmas card thrown in? Has anyone specifically requested you don’t sign it, so they can send them to friends and relatives instead?

 “Yes, we’ve had a few like that, but most people seem to want the signed version. Bad news for us.”

Are there still copies of Live at the Rum Puncheon at the back of the Swansea Sound HQ garage?

“Yes, there are. Please buy them! We realise now that the album title may have been an error. A lot of people think, quite reasonably, that it’s a live LP. Actually, it was recorded to a very high standard on our laptop and Hue’s iPhone.”

Will there be a Swansea Sound Christmas party this year? Any live dates, or is it just about bawdy dinner parties?

“We’re all meeting next Friday for a Christmas party and signing ceremony. I will make a festive meal. And then we will do what we have promised, sign the Christmas cards, get them in the post.”

And once the tinsel has been put away, will work commence on finishing that new Swansea Sound record? And will there be an inevitable tour to go with it?

“We really hope to get the new songs mixed over the Christmas period. There’s more than enough for an album. A tour, I don’t know about that, but we’ve just agreed to play Birmingham and Sheffield next March. That’s nearly a tour, isn’t it? And we will definitely be playing in Wales again.”

For the latest from Swansea Sound, check out their social media updates on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and also via Skep Wax Records at www.skepwax.com and www.skepwax.bandcamp.co.uk.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment