The Leader of The Pack, Theatre of Hate, Spear of Destiny … the Kirk Brandon interview

Captain Kirk: Kirk Brandon with Theatre of Hate at Chester Live Rooms (Photo copyright: Warren Meadows)

Captain Kirk: Kirk Brandon with Theatre of Hate at Chester Live Rooms (Photo copyright: Warren Meadows)

When I got through to Kirk Brandon, there was an uneasy silence at the other end of the line, his approach similar to mine – if you don’t know a number, let the caller do the hard graft and explain themselves first.

What’s more, who can blame him for any reticence to put his head above the parapet bearing in mind past interest from the media circus?

After I introduce myself, he tells me, “I thought it was another, ‘Have you been in an accident recently?’”

Indeed. Or in Kirk’s case, perhaps ‘Are you a Dead Man Walking?’ judging by his occasional live work with Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns and The Ruts’ Segs Jennings and Dave Ruffy.

Westminster-born Kirk is now 62 but still going strong on the live scene, despite a few health problems over the years. He was at home in Brighton when I called, where I saw in recent years extra-curricular activities included tutoring at a music college. Has the South Coast been home for quite some time?

“Yeah, I went back to London for a couple of years then sort of got fed up with it really. I’m originally from London, but it‘s all just so corporate – everyone chasing the pound, shilling and pence. As my Dad put it, ‘All the rats are chasing the cheese, son, but there isn’t any more cheese and they’re just chasing each other.’ I thought that was a great way of putting it – the old cockney looney!”

Kirk reckons his family go back in Westminster ‘for around 140 years’, although he left the capital for Devon when he was around 10, going to school there.

“I’m really glad he took us out of London. That was basically for one reason – my sister’s poor health. She had bronchitis and pneumonia and living in London was pretty grim, and he wanted seaside air and all that.”

Early Days: Kirk Brandon back in 1978, during his days with The Pack

But while home became Churston in Torbay, eventually the big city called him back at 16.

“Well, unless you want to carry on working the Hobart washing machine for the rest of your life, or wash khazis …

“To be totally honest, I don’t really understand why I ended up in Brighton. I’ve lived in Philadelphia, I’ve lived in Copenhagen, in Hastings and all over London, in Lewes, and now back to Brighton. I do like visiting London though – the art galleries, seeing bands play, and seeing Chelsea play when I can get a ticket. But I wouldn’t want to live there 24/7. It’s just too much.

“I’d rather live in Huntingdon Beach, out on the (US) West Coast, somewhere warm. I’m gonna be a complete old duffer and say it, ‘When you get older, the arthritis starts.’ Ha!”

Or earlier in Kirk’s case, having in 1987 – aged barely 30 – developed reactive arthritis, in the form of Reitter Syndrome, a condition where the joints swell and fill with liquid, causing severe pain. He was unable to walk for more than a year. But he battled back, as he did after heart surgery in later years.

And now he’s going back to his musical roots, reforming The Pack, founded with school friend John Fuller and Scottish drummer Rab Fae Beith (later with UK Subs) as The Pack of Lies, their first songs taking shape in John’s uncle’s house in Stanmore.

The Pack itself formed in 1978 in Clapham, South London on the punk anarchist scene, at a time when Maggie Thatcher was a major polarising figure as Prime Minister.

Remembering those days, he wrote, “Looking back, the lyrics to the songs were simplistic, aggressive, confused, funny and silly – much like myself at the time. Life consisted at the time of trying to survive on the streets and squats of the south London – the whole period was funny, violent, grim and all at the same time, the band mirrored its surroundings – so no excuses made.

“The band’s first gig, now consisting of myself, Canadian brothers John and Simon Werner and Rab, was as much a shock to the band as to startled filmgoers. I remember they showed Marlon Brandon in The Wild One before we went on, so we were all juiced up for some kind of riot!

“What actually happened was about 150 people with thousand-yard stares stood stock-still, stunned at the power at the noise of the band – we were fucking angry!

The Pack: Kirk Brandon, right, with his first band, now back on the road, ‘squaring the circle’.

“A lot of the shows we played ended up in mini-riots and many venues were trashed. One night we played Deptford, South London at The Crypt, and I recall thinking, ‘Great, everybody’s dancing!’ Only when we had finished our set everybody was still dancing – in fact they were all trying to kill each other. We left the stage as The Crypt was being deconstructed.

“All band members, myself included, I would describe as a fairly unhinged bunch, and what passed for normal amongst the band and its constant crowd of friends and supporters, did not tie in necessarily with the outside world as a whole.

“This is a period that only now filmmakers are beginning to see the significance of. With all the violence and drugs, and with one member of the band becoming religious in the end it had to implode sooner or later.

“The music industry would not touch The Pack with a barge pole, apart from ‘King of Kings’, our Rough Trade single. For the band it was a lifestyle, the idea of making money out of it was just too far-fetched and in our own strange way seemed dishonest, preferring instead penury bolstered by dole cheques.

“The last gig took place at the 101 Club in Clapham. Ironically it was completely sold out by the time the band went on stage. However, by this time success was not an option the band was willing to take.

“Along the way we lost a few friends and a lot of idealism, but for a lot of us the memory still lives on.”

So why get the band back together again now, Kirk?

“Very good question! The actual answer is tinged with a bit of sadness. I was living in Hastings when a friend told me someone who played guitar for me wanted to meet up and have a drink, a fella called Simon. I said, ‘Simon who?’ It eventually clicked it was Simon Werner. He wanted to talk over old times.

Double Act: Kirk Brandon with cellist Sam Sansbury, Oswestry’s Hermon Chapel, late 2017 (Photo: Warren Meadows)

“Simon and John were born over here. Their parents emigrated to Canada with them, but they later came back. Anyway, we decided to meet but I got a call at the end of the week to tell me Simon had died in an accident (late November 2010).

“But later his brother, John the bass player, got in touch, we corresponded, and he later told me he was flying over and wanted to meet.

“We met at Foyles in Charing Cross Road, of all places, and spent hours talking about this and that. John really wanted to get the band back together again. But it would be without the drummers we had – one (Jimmy Walker) is I understand a recluse, and the other (Rab Fae Beith) … I don’t know where he is.

“John was really keen to ‘square the circle’, as he put it. A lot of bad things happened back then, and a lot of people died around the band. It was a really violent time. It wasn’t the music, it was just that South London punk rock squat scene – very politicised, very angry, with lots of people on the dole.

“But John wanted to play the music, which was what it was all about in the first place. I’ve always been busy with other projects, and I wasn’t sure as it stirred up so many emotions. Did I really want to put myself through that again? It wasn’t that much fun in the first place.

“Some of the music was quite brilliant and John was always keen to do it. Then, some months ago he said, ‘Look, I’m a few years older than you. If not now, when?’ And the way he said it hit me, so that’s what we’ve done. We’re gonna do these four shows and square the circle for John, and poor old Simon, who left behind a daughter, I think in her early teens.

“And some of the songs really stand up. ‘Brave New Soldiers’ is one of the best songs I’ve ever written. It’s up there with ‘Westworld’, ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Never Take Me Alive’.”

Did that spell in The Pack signify the first time you gained the confidence to believe you were a bona fide songwriter?

“Yeah, with that and ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Heathen’, Number 12’, ‘Machineworld’ … there’s some good times there.”

Rough Trade released ‘King of Kings’ on single, while the SS Label put out a four-track Kirk Brandon and The Pack of Lies EP in 1980, but that was more or less it, studio-wise, first time. it wasn’t meant to be, I’m guessing.

“It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of great music in there, and we could have used the help. Liam Sternberg, who also produced the Bangles and lots of other stuff, came in, did two of those songs and offered us some guidance. He was fantastic, the kind of person you need. If we’d had someone like him to back us and put out a record it would have been one of those benchmark albums.”

I’m guessing though that experience at least inspired you to press on and come back with Theatre of Hate.

“Erm … yeah … although it was a real chequered life.”

So equally it could have put you off doing anything else?

“Yeah, one of the roadies died, and it all got too much. The whole thing was crazy.”

You needed a rethink at that time, then?

“Absolutely, and straight after I had a year on Ladbroke Grove, on my own, and really enjoyed myself, doing what I wanted to do, going to Electric Cinema all-nighters, watching film noir and Robert De Niro seasons. I saw Taxi Driver 27 times! Ha! I kept going back to see it. And Mean Streets and all those Robert Mitchum B-movies and gangster films – Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney … I loved all that.”

That cinematic approach ultimately showed in his next two projects.

“Yes, that’s often quoted.”

Kirk formed post-punk outfit Theatre of Hate in 1980, with Stan Stammers on bass, Nigel Preston on drums, Billy Duffy on guitar (before he joined Ian Astbury in Southern Death Cult, later becoming Death Cult, then The Cult) and John ‘Boy’ Lennard on saxophone. The Clash’s Mick Jones produced their debut album Westworld, the single ‘Do You Believe in the Westworld?’ a minor UK hit (No.40) in early 1982, while the LP reached No.17.

But by the following year, it was all over, Kirk and Stan reconvening with Lascelle James (saxophone) and Chris Bell (drums) to form Spear of Destiny, showcasing a more melodic, less aggressive sound, moving further towards mainstream pop. Their 1985 album World Service, the third, reached No.11 in the UK, while follow-up Outland reached No.16, the latter – from 1987 – ending with ‘Never Take Me Alive’, which made it to No.14.

I reminded myself of those hit singles via the BBC’s Top of the Pops archives this week, Kirk with trademark teased punk peroxide blond hair in Theatre of Hate’s ‘Westworld’ appearance in ’82 (that episode also marking John Peel’s first TOTP appearance since 1968). A real rockabilly romp that still exerts power all these years on, the added sax takes it to a whole new level. And then the 1987 appearance with ‘Never Take Me Alive’ by a five-piece Spear of Destiny, Kirk having traded in capped sleeves for rolled-up canvas white shirt by then, the mohawk long gone, his blond tresses now in something of a wedge, the sax replaced by keyboards, but – his Gretsch in evidence – again with a powerful number, this time more of a slow-burner.

They swelled to a six-piece before slimming down to four again, yet their reputation as a live act never truly translated into sales beyond ‘Never Take Me Alive’, a series of unlucky turns following, from Kirk’s arthritic condition to a high-profile court case, bankruptcy and divorce.

Yet he finally clawed his way back and by 2004 was out as a solo artist supporting The Alarm, touring their In the Poppy Fields album, playing electric and acoustic selections, showcasing old and new.

Then came his first spell with punk supergroup Dead Man Walking, Kirk returning to the road with Spear of Destiny in 2007. And he continues to tour with them, Theatre of Hate, and a revamped Dead Men Walking, as well as putting on acoustic shows, including those with cellist Sam Sansbury.

He’s come a long way from those rowdy beginnings. Or has he? You can be the judge, checking out The Pack’s ‘Dead Ronin’ collection, originally released in 2001 and later this month available on limited-edition coloured vinyl via Newcastle indie label Overground Records. And you can also catch those live dates.

Bearing in mind the inevitable line-up change, I mentioned to Kirk how there have been a lot of personnel swaps over the years in his various outfits. But I guess he’s made some good friends over the years.

“Absolutely, and the guys in Spear – Craig Adams, Adrian Portas and Steve Allan Jones – they’ve been with me for more than 20 years, although the drummer’s only been with us four or five years. But until we got those three it was a floating line-up, and we always say it’s volunteer basis only. If you don’t wanna do it, don’t do it. And we’ve got a bunch of guys who just like the music. It’s really cool to have that. It’s not guns for hire and ‘how much are we getting paid?’”

Remind me about your part in Dead Man Walking, with roles in the past for the afore-mentioned Billy Duffy, The Alarm’s Mike Peters, The Clash’s Mick Jones, Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom, The Damned’s Captain Sensible, Simple Minds’ Derek Forbes, Motorhead’s Lemmy, The Selecter’s Pauline Black, Sex Pistols and Rich Kids’ Glen Matlock, Big Country and Skids’ Bruce Watson, and Pete Wylie. Clearly another band with a revolving door recruitment policy.

“Yeah, and that was always going to be the case. It wasn’t going to be a fixed line-up. But the guys who are currently involved are Segs and Dave from The Ruts, and Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers. Jake can certainly talk, and people love his stories, and we have such a laugh. You get out of the van at the end and don’t even realise you’ve been on tour. It’s fun all the time. A great bunch of blokes. And we will try and do something soon. For definite. I spoke to Jake recently about that. I said, ‘We can’t let it drift – it was such fun!’

Might you drag Mick Jones back out of retirement for that?

“Erm, I haven’t seen Mick in a few years now, and he’s got his own thing with the Rotten Hill Mob. He’s brilliant though, and such a nice bloke. A brilliant guy.”

Were The Clash a big influence on you?

“Yeah, they took us out on tour and Mick produced all the Theatre of Hate singles and the Westworld album.”

He was a big Mott the Hoople fan and The Clash followed their lead in that way – as The Jam did – breaking down barriers between band and fans. Is that something you aspired to?

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone should be too high and mighty just because they play an instrument. I believe that music is a great leveller, and a great communication device. No matter who you are, you get it, even if you don’t like it.”

So what was the main catalyst for you in forming The Pack and predecessors The Pack of Lies?

“I heard ‘Anarchy in the UK’ on a 7” single and that changed everything. I don’t want to be too much of a smartarse, but I was there with a group of mates when we heard it in a record shop, and I said, ‘That’s it. That is it. I don’t know what it is, but that is it!’ They weren’t sure, but I was. I just knew it, that everything changes. I saw The Clash not long after that. I saw the Stranglers, the Ramones, whatever. I saw loads of other bands.”

And you never looked back (until now, maybe)?

“No. It changed lives, didn’t it. Music changed lives. And these people wouldn’t have been what they were without the music. It changed people’s mental outlooks. It was a revolution.”

And now you’re in your early 60s. If you’d had a regular nine-to-five job, you’d be retired by now, wouldn’t you?

“Retired happily in peace and quiet in the countryside with a nice little earner in my back pocket … instead of shouting me ‘ead off!”

What do you think you’d be doing now?

“Ha! I don’t know. A bit of stamp collecting, maybe. A bit of train spotting. Something nice and gentle.”

Instead, you chose punk rock.

“What a silly bastard! I could have had a nice little pension, talking about flowers with the wife. ‘The geraniums are coming up nice, love’. Instead, I’m playing some fucking dive in God knows where.”

I asked Kirk a bit more about home life, but he’s – perhaps understandably – quiet on all that, although he did mention how his daughter was at university in Copenhagen, with no intention of following his career path, something that tickled him. I should add that he’s immensely proud of her.

There have been health issues in recent years for Kirk, and not just the afore-mentioned arthritis.

“I had a (heart) valve replaced in 2009 and again in 2011. I’ve had heart attacks and a couple of mini-strokes, TIAs, and endocarditis … which isn’t much fun – the reason I had the valve replaced the second time. Apart from that, I’m fine!”

Does that inspire you to make the most of what you’ve got now – live for the day?

“I don’t know if you’ve ever had that kind of life-threatening situation, where family are gathered around you, and the nurse says, ‘If there’s anything you’d like to say to him, now would be a good time.’ All my family had that – brother, sister, ex-wife, whatever.

“When you come back from that, you see the world differently. Everything changes. You see your time lifeline, and see you’ve had 60/70 per cent of it already, and it impresses upon you how short life is. Everyone’s under the impression it goes on and on, but it doesn’t, and when people start dying of natural causes, strokes, heart attacks and cancer, your take on life changes.

“The rehab nurse said, and she’s absolutely right, ‘When you leave here, you find out what really matters to you, because that’s all you have left.” And I should spend more time with my sister, fly over to see her, and will sometime this year.

“Also, your immediate family – the people you really care about – have had their take on life change too. They now realise that, hang on a moment, this silly bastard could die, and we’re not going to see much more of him. Their take on your life with them also comes sharply into focus.

Live Presence: Kirk Brandon, still leading from the front (Photo copyright: Warren Meadows)

“It works both ways, not just for the person lying in the bed. And I really hope it’s taught me to be a little bit kinder to people. And a bit more appreciative of other people’s situation in life. I’m not a rich man, but I’m not lying there in minus two degrees on the streets of Brighton with snot all over my face, freezing. This is not funny.

“Can’t we possibly care enough for these people? And the amount of money that goes through the City of London every single day … you could build homes for the whole of Sussex if you wanted to. So why can’t we levy another tax on these corporations?”

And now we have a situation where those with money who helped bring about the Brexit farce are those who reinvested and did well from the financial woes that followed (he says, lighting the touch paper, seeing us off with a proper Kirk Brandon rant).

“Yes, all these money brokers, the moment they saw what was happening, bet on the pound going down. They bought currencies and they bought commodities and got out of the pound, and as they did it slid even further, so there’s no confidence in the pound. They just got the fuck out.”

The Pack, with special guests Desperate Measures, are out and about next week at Portsmouth Dockyard Club (Thursday, January 24), Bristol The Exchange (Friday, January 25), a sold-out Manchester Star & Garter (Saturday, January 26), and London Underworld (Sunday, January 27).

Then, ‘if Donald will allow us’, Spear of Destiny will visit North America, starting at The Red Party, New York on February 9, with four more US dates before a March 3 show at Astoria Hastings, Vancouver, Canada, then a date at Dreadnought Rock, Bathgate, Scotland on May 2, with more transatlantic dates lined up later in the year. There’s also Kirk’s Westworld Weekend XVII on May 10/11 at the Royal Hotel, Crewe, Cheshire. For more details about all those dates and The Pack’s Dead Ronin LP, head to www.kirkbrandon.com or Kirk’s Facebook page.

Chapel Preacher: Kirk Brandon, live in Oswestry in late 2017  (Photo copyright: Warren Meadows)

With special thanks to good friend of this website Warren Meadows for access to his splendid Kirk Brandon live photograph archives.

 

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The enduring appeal of Penetration and the Invisible Girls – the Pauline Murray interview

Smoke Signals: Penetration in live action, and currently gearing up for their 2019 campaign

While Pauline Murray is now four decades down her chosen career path, it’s worth noting that the first incarnation of the band she co-founded as a teenager, County Durham’s pioneering punk outfit Penetration, was rather short-lived. It was certainly a happening time though.

“It probably lasted about three years in duration. We got together probably as 18-year-olds, and our drummer was 16, at the end of ’76. I’d already seen the Sex Pistols and various punk bands that year.

“We started off doing cover versions. We weren’t doing gigs. It was early ‘77 when we sort of established the four-piece line-up – Gary Chaplin (guitar), me, Rob (Robert Blamire, Pauline’s partner) and Gary Smallman (drums). Everything was so intense and fast, so full on, though, that I think we crammed a lifetime’s worth into three years. We did a lot.”

In my recent interview with The Sweet’s Andy Scott, he stressed something similar about the glam-rock movement, how that initial scene was also fairly short-lived.

“Well, punk wasn’t meant to last, by its very nature and what it stood for. It was very nihilistic, against everything. It was more about what we didn’t like, but that was a very necessary way to go about it.”

My excuse for talking to Pauline is her latest visit to the Continental in Preston, Lancashire, on February 1st, barely 14 months after her band dropped in as part of their 40th anniversary tour. And there’s clearly still a lot of love for Penetration out there (so to speak).

Their debut single, ‘Don’t Dictate’, is now acknowledged as a classic punk single, while first LP Moving Targets also proved to have enduring appeal. A second album followed in late 1979, Coming Up For Air, but it would be another 36 years before the next long player, 2015’s acclaimed Resolution.

As it was, Gary Chaplin left in early 1978, replaced by Neale Floyd, second guitarist Fred Purser joining that summer. And it was all over by late 1979, a disappointing response to that second album not helping. But they reformed in 2001, Pauline and Rob rejoined by Gary Smallman, with guitarists Steve Wallace and Paul Harvey drafted in.

Initially known as The Points, the Ferryhill outfit played their live debut at the Rock Garden pub in Middlesbrough in October 1976, soon renaming themselves after an Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges song.

The catalyst for change for Pauline and her bandmates in punk terms was seeing the Sex Pistols play in nearby North Yorkshire market town Northallerton, of all places, soon identified as the ‘Durham contingent’ on the punk scene, perhaps the North East’s answer to Siouxsie Sioux and the Bromley set in the eyes of the music press. But that movement didn’t just start in 1976, as far as Pauline is concerned.

“I think you’ve got to trace it back further, and for me probably to the early ‘70s, when I was a young person into David Bowie and T-Rex. I was massively into Bowie, as a lot of the early punks were. Because he was different I think it wheedled out all the people who were a little bit different at the time.

“We were into Bowie, Roxy Music and Sparks, and the New York Dolls a little later. And I think all those who sort of instigated punk came from that sort of time.

“Everything was short-lived though, even the Bowie thing, and in the mid-‘70s you had Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, and you’d start hearing about New York bands. We were already into the Dolls, but then you’d hear about Television, Blondie, Ramones, Patti Smith, Jonathan Richman, and all that.”

Was pub rock important in that development for you too, bands like Dr Feelgood taking things back to basics?

“Yes, there was a vacuum really. I went to see loads of bands in the early ‘70s, always at the City Hall (Newcastle), a big seated venue, with the likes of ELP and all of that.

“Then there was a big drop-off of stuff, and I started to see in small venues Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Heavy Metal Kids, people like that. But Dr Feelgood, who people would see as the quintessential pub rock band, were also playing City Hall-like venues, as were early punk bands like The Stranglers.

“People like Eddie and the Hot Rods and Ian Dury were playing bigger venues by then, although you did get the pub rock thing in the fact that they we replaying old nightclubs and the like, so that was directly feeding into it as well.”

You mention The Stranglers, who Penetration supported at the City Hall in only their second gig. Was that a nervy moment?

“We were really young, and full of it, and I personally didn’t have any fear. I don’t think you have. But there weren’t many punk bands up here, and we had strong links with Manchester, Liverpool and London bands. So when people were doing gigs up here we’d quite often get asked to be a support.

“I suppose it would have been really daunting, but you just went on and did it. You had no fear, you had nothing to lose, and what you were doing was totally new. There were people who hated punk, so you really were an underdog, in every sense of the word.”

Penetration also played legendary London punk club The Roxy, and in early April ‘77 were on the same bill as Billy Idol’s band, Generation X there, their debut show in the capital. They also supported The Vibrators and toured with Manchester’s Buzzcocks, a band they remained close to, even recording versions of a couple of their songs.

“Well yes, we were true north. It doesn’t get much more north than where we were coming from. We weren’t even coming from a city, but from a pit village, even more startling in a way.

“But when punk started there were only a few bands. It wasn’t established. It was totally new, and we’d ring and go to Manchester, Sheffield, Hull, and up to Scotland.

“We’d go to Manchester and play the Electric Circus with Buzzcocks. We did a lot of gigs with them in the early days and toured with them several times, and covered Pete Shelley songs.

“I saw them the first time at the Screen on the Green (Islington) in ’76, possibly their first London gig, with Howard Devoto still involved, while The Clash had Keith Levene with them.”

From my own research into the early days of The Clash (subtle plug for this publication), I seem to recall they weren’t happy about their early hours slot there, as engineered by headline act the Sex Pistols and their manger, Malcolm McLaren.

“Well, the gig didn’t start until midnight. It was an all-night thing.”

Was Howard Devoto still with Buzzcocks when you started playing with them?

“By the time we played the Electric Circus, he wasn’t in the band, but he’d still come along. He was an intellectual, the sort of guy wandering around with his man bag with lots of books in it, that sort of character, more of a reader. And the punk thing was part-intellectual and part-arty, but a lot of it was raw energy – animal-type energy – and that kind of energy you needed to break things down.”

You mention the late Pete Shelley, and I got the impression you knew him well. An amazing talent, and I’d suggest he helped redefine the love song, making it more accessible in punk terms.

“He found a different way to write the love song. Love songs have been written again and again and again. Most of pop history is based around the love song. But he had a different take on the love song, more of a realistic take, which was what punk was about – trying to say what was happening for real.

“So ‘Orgasm Addict’ – who’d ever written about that? Or a song about falling in love with the wrong person? The gay side of it. Nothing had been expressed like that in the love song.

“A lot of stuff about punk was expressing all things in a new way, and by being nihilistic you actually get something come out that – putting all the other love songs to one side.

“And I’m sure someone like Pete Shelley was a Bowie fan. You can hear a lot of Bowie inflections in what he sings. But it was a new take on the love song, and teenage love was different to how teenagers expressed love in the ‘50s, ‘60s, or even the ‘70s. It was like, ‘We’ve had enough of all these slushy love songs. Let’s look at what love is really like’. And it’s quite angsty, y’know.”

Your Manchester links didn’t just stop with the Buzzcocks either.

“No, we had connections with The Fall, going to Manchester and doing lots of gigs with them, and we had connections with Warsaw, the band that would become Joy Division.

“We invited them up to Newcastle in 1977, jubilee time. We had a manager at the time who ran a record shop and we put an event on at the Guildhall (New Wave Jubilee Bop) – it was us, The Adverts, local band Harry Hack and the Big G, and Warsaw.

“John Cooper Clarke would also come across. And then there was (producer) Martin Hannett. We stayed at his house while we did the album, using Manchester musicians apart from Rob and I, like John Maher (Buzzcocks) on drums and Steve Hopkins (keyboards). So it was almost like Factory Records … but not.”

John Maher seems to have nipped in and out of your career over the years.

“Yeah, he did the Invisible Girls album, then toured with us. We asked him to do the last Penetration album. He lives on the Isle of Harris – that’s the only problem. We did tour with John, but it proved logistically very difficult – it takes him a full day to get here. Playing places like Manchester, we’d have to fly him to Glasgow and on from there. It became really difficult and we couldn’t rehearse as we wanted to.

“We also did a joint-tour with John Cooper Clarke, alternating the bill each night, using the same band apart from the bass player. So it’s all connected, y’know.”

And you recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, I see.

“Yeah, staying at Martin Hannett’s place. We were talking about this recently, how Rob and I wrote all the songs for that album but then put all our trust in Martin, allowing him to interpret the songs in his way, to do his thing. It wasn’t easy, but it was an unusual album that came out of it.”

After their first two singles, Penetration recorded the first of two sessions for legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel in July ’78. Was Peelie a great help to your cause?

“Yes, he was probably the only DJ that would play any of the punk stuff, but it was such a force to reckon with that I don’t think he could have resisted it. It was going to break down at least one door, with the force of it. Somebody had to do it.

“John was a hippie before that. It wasn’t his natural type of music, but he could see it was a force to be reckoned with and somebody had to let it through the door. He was in the right place to let it all through, and the only place it could have got through was the BBC.”

I think people like my brother’s mates only got to know about Penetration through Peelie playing you in the first place. And his show was such a great way to let people in on the whole scene.

“There were so many people listening for new stuff. It was thrilling to get a Peel session, and I think John Peel was the first to play ‘Don’t Dictate’. That was thrilling when you think about it. We were on the radio!

“We did a couple of Peel sessions, and those sessions were great. When you think of all those fledgling bands given an opportunity to go into a studio and record their songs. It was a great thing to hear new music as it’s done by young people. And it was essential really to get it through.”

Their debut album soon followed that first Peel session, going on to reach No.6 in Sounds and No. 13 in the NME critics’ charts later that year.

In 1979, they toured Europe, the US and Britain, but that gruelling schedule took its toll, and a disappointing reaction to second LP, Coming Up For Air, proved to be the final straw, a split following that October.

However, going along with that initial punk ethic, Pauline soon moved on. In 1980 she collaborated with The Invisible Girls, also including Rob as well as Manchester musicians Vini Reilly, guitarist in The Durutti Column, and the afore-mentioned Steve Hopkins (who later pursued a career in experimental cold atom physics) and John Maher. An album followed, produced by Martin Hannett, together with three singles.

Pauline also went out under the name Pauline Murray and The Storm with Rob – who has also worked as a producer for various groups over the years – plus Tim Johnston and Paul Harvey, the latter now part of the reformed Penetration. There was also Pauline Murray and the Saint. In fact, it’s fair to say my interviewee has rarely stood still in her music career.

“Well, I did leave music for a while, after The Invisible Girls and all that. I was 23 and I’d had enough of it, although I did another solo album, self-financed on my label, Polestar Records.

“Then in 1990 I set up a rehearsal studio in Newcastle, called Polestar Studios. And we still have it. We were in one location for 21 years then moved about seven years ago, where we have rehearsal and recording studios.

“I didn’t do anything for about 20-odd years, then we got the band back together. When that came up, I never wanted to do it, but then I thought I’d try it.

“Then last year I recorded another solo album, to come out next year, again done in our own studio. Rob produced it, and we’ve had various people play on it. So yes, it doesn’t stand still.”

Is there another Penetration album in the offing?

“Not yet, but we’re playing the Royal Albert Hall in June. The line-up was set to be Buzzcocks, Skids and Penetration, and although Pete (Shelley) died, it’s still going ahead.

“So we’ve started putting on gigs leading up to that, to get ourselves match fit again. We’re also doing the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool again. While my album’s more or less ready to go, we didn’t want it to tangle up with all that, so it’s probably coming out around August.

“I also do acoustic shows and a lot of the songs were written acoustically, so we’ll do a few of those, and might do something with a band – like The invisible Girls.

“We’ve been working with Steve Hopkins again, and we’ve got Paul Thompson from Roxy Music on drums for some of it. But it’s taken a while, as we had a studio refit in the middle of it all.”

Will you showcase some of the new material at Preston?

“Not the new album, just Penetration songs. Then we’ll probably start writing again as a band, having had a year off in 2018 – only doing one gig.”

I was too young to see the band first time around, but my brother and his mates did, and over time I’ve understood more about your own important part in that whole punk story. And it all resonates.

“It does. You’ll link into it all in a different place from where I linked into it. Punk was a very powerful movement and the early bands were pioneering. We just did it, but when you look back, people hated it, but everything that came after was informed by it.

“The early bands had to find those gigs, whereas for the later ones those gigs were there and all the record labels were there. It showed the way. I mean, Buzzcocks did their Spiral Scratch EP themselves, and it was pioneering in every way. Yeah, that’s why it resonated.”

It was a similar story later across the water with Good Vibrations in Northern Ireland, the Terri Hooley record shop and label that brought us Rudi, The Outcasts and The Undertones, bands having to fold their own record sleeves, and so on.

“Exactly. And that initial energy of people doing it themselves is very powerful. It’s a very powerful statement when you do it yourself.”

So I’m guessing Newcastle-upon-Tyne is your home as well as your office these days.

“We’ve lived here since 1982, so yeah … that’s a long time.”

‘We’ in this case is Pauline and Rob, whose children are now in their 20s, both with musical talent of their own. Did they know much about their parents’ pioneering punk rock past while growing up?

“They knew nothing about it when they were little. We had the rehearsal studios, but weren’t out doing gigs. Our son’s now 25, and our daughter’s coming up to 23. But they didn’t really know anything about it until we reformed in the mid-‘00s.

“We were asked to do a gig on the South coast, a punk festival. We weren’t too keen but the guy supplied a sleeper bus, said he’d bus us down. They came with us, went to the gig and couldn’t believe it. That was the first time they realised their parents did something else.

Going Underground: Transfigure, the band that featured Pauline and Rob’s daughter, Grace Blamire, left

“But they’re both musical and both had bands. My daughter had an electronic band when she was about 17, her and her boyfriend, Transfigure. They went over to Europe and did loads of gigs, with the synth scene big over there.

“My son moved to London with a band, but then got picked up by a model agency, doing that for around three years – high-end stuff. But he’s very musical and is now working in our studio. He’s so good, really talented on the engineering and digital side.

“We’ve just got to draw more people to the studio now. I did my solo album in there and we’ve released various things so far.”

At this point I butted in and told Pauline that I’d seen Transfigure live, not having realised the link with lead singer, Grace Blamire. It makes perfect sense now, of course. Grace’s stage presence truly shone through on that occasion, when her band were part-way through a tour with Blancmange, playing Darwen’s Library Theatre in late 2017 (with my review here).

“It’s a shame that ended, but she’s now working on her own stuff. And our son had a really nice duo. They didn’t really do many gigs, but recorded everything themselves, also working on a project in London with these Swedish producers, but with no sign of anything coming out. That was a little frustrating and I think that’s why he came back. But he played a lot of instruments on this new album.

“So yes, unfortunately they both have the music bug – because it’s not the best life path, in a way!”

And somehow this year marks the 40th anniversary of debut Penetration album, Moving Targets. How often do you listen back to the old records?

“I don’t, unless I need to for reference purposes. We’ve made a conscious effort this time to put more of the second album into the set though, ahead of that album’s 40th anniversary. With something like (Buzzcocks cover) ‘Nostalgia’, you take shortcuts, but then go back and listen again to see how we did it then.”

And will part of the live set at Preston include songs from the third Penetration album, Resolution?

“Unfortunately, this time there’s not a lot, because we’re looking to do this Royal Albert Hall show, so we’ve got to find the right set. We were really happy with Resolution, but it’s difficult to integrate it. But at a later date, we’ll bring more of that in.”

And in the meantime, the studios remain the day-job for you and Rob, by the sound of it.

“Yes, that’s the main thing. That’s our living. We bought the building, and we’ve done up properties. We rented the building for 21 years but then bought an old school dinner depot from the council and moved Polestar into there as a big building project.”

Pauline also told me that the band Maximo Park rent some of the building, as does Arctic Monkeys keyboard player John Ashton.

At that stage, I told Pauline how on past trips to see my beloved Woking FC at Gateshead, I’d look back across the Tyne from the International Stadium, my Newcastle-based friend pointing out the Byker Wall, near where her studios are based.

“Well, we’re on the bottom edge of the Byker Wall, surrounded by allotments. It’s amazing, that wall, an amazing piece of ‘60s architecture.”

You were an art student before all this, weren’t you?

“Yes, I left school at 16 and did a foundation course in art and design at Darlington. I left before it finished but still did my A-levels. I just wanted to get a job and get some money by that time.”

Looking Ahead: The eyes have it for Pauline Murray

Is that where you met Rob?

“No, we went to the same grammar school in Ferryhill, although we didn’t really know each other. He knew Gary Chaplin and joined the band, so it was all connected. And it’s amazing what we achieved.”

The line-up at Preston will see Pauline and Rob joined by Paul Harvey and Steve Wallace, all four involved with 2015’s Resolution album, with Ken Goodinson on drums.

“It’s mostly the line-up we reformed with, although we did change guitarist as Paul – who did a lot of my solo stuff in the ‘80s – left for a while. And it’s a strong line-up.”

Have there been day jobs along the way, between bands, solo projects and bringing up a family?

“Rob’s family had a printing business and he went back and did stuff there for a while, but I didn’t go and get a day job, although I washed dishes for a year in a restaurant.

“But I always wanted to run some rehearsal studios, then found this building. I had no money but took a massive chance, took on the lease then realised what I’d done. That was in 1990.

“I had to make it work, or I was in trouble. So I haven’t really gone back to work for anybody. There’s no money and it’s harder, but you know where you are with things.”

Are you living the dream then?

“Not really. Everything I do is pretty much out of the ordinary. But when I make tea for the customers it’s living my own dream, I suppose.”

Lining Up: Penetration look to see if the author is watching from Gateshead’s International Stadium

Penetration, supported by The Mardigras Bombers (with more details in this December 2018 interview with co-vocalist Bianca Kinane-Ewart) and Vukovar (reviewed on this website in January 2017, linked here), play The Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, on Friday, February 1 (8pm), with tickets (£14 advance) from WeGotTickets, Skiddle and SEE Tickets, from the venue’s bar (01772 499425) and Preston indepedent store Action Records (01772 884772).

For more Penetration dates in 2019 and all the latest from the band, try their official website and Facebook and Twitter pages. And for a personal appraisal of Penetration’s career on vinyl (and a tribute to committed Penetration fan Alan Leadbeater), you can also head to friend of this site, Neil Waite’s Toppermost posting on the band from late 2017. 

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If the Skids are United – the Mike Baillie interview

Monacled Mike: Skids drum major Mike Baillie in action at Newcastle Academy in June, 2017 (Photo: Mick Burgess)

Mike Baillie was a Skids fan from the start, and as a drummer with fellow Fife outfit Insect Bites, he proved the perfect candidate to join the band when the opportunity arose in 1979.

They formed two years earlier in their hometown, Dunfermline, lead singer Richard Jobson and guitarist Stuart Adamson joined by Bill Simpson (bass) and Tom Kellichan (drums), with their debut independent ‘Charles’ EP picked up by influential BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, soon landing a prestigious support with The Clash at the Kinema Ballroom in town, their stock continuing to rise, a deal with Virgin Records following.

Quickly they made a wider impact through singles like ‘Sweet Surburbia’, ‘The Saints are Coming’ and ‘Into the Valley’, the latter reaching the UK top-10 in late March, 1979, a month after the release of debut album Scared to Dance. And there were three further hits that year, ‘Masquerade’, ‘Charade’ and ‘Working for the Yankee Dollar’, all produced by Be-Bop Deluxe’s Bill Nelson, the latter two included on second LP, Days in Europa.

By then, Rusty Egan of Rich Kids and Visage fame had taken over from Tom Kellichan on drums, but it soon became apparent it wasn’t working. And that’s when Mike entered the story.

“I was a huge fan of the music before I had the opportunity to join. I was always completely beguiled by Stuart’s presence and his ability as a musician.”

Richard Jobson told me in May 2017 Mike were already part of the extended network when he joined, ‘a friend of ours … a fan of the band, hanging around with us as a kid … it was a close-knit community and we kind of grew up together through music, which pulled us all together.’ But how did he end up on board?

“I was rehearsing with another band in Dunfermline, and outside the rehearsal room we were listening to them, thinking, ‘My God, what is all this about?’ We were buzzing.

On Returning: The Skids, 21st century style. From left – Mike Baillie, Bill Simpson, Richard Jobson, Jamie Watson, Bruce Watson (Photo: Stephen Gunn Photography)

“I was at the first gig, the Chilean benefit, and a lot of the early gigs, really lucky to see so many. They then went off and became famous, and I played with a band called Matt Vinyl and the Decorators, an iconic sort of Edinburgh early punk band, my first proper full-on band, which kind of mutated into Insect Bites.”

I’ve read about that benefit show, a summer ’78 Fife Chile Defence gig on the outside stage of the Glen Pavilion in aid of Chilean refugees that led to near-riot, halted by police after organisers misunderstood and objected to the song ‘Contusion’, scuffles breaking out between cops and fans as plugs were pulled, police stopping Stuart playing, proceedings coming to an abrupt end. Anyway, I digress. Carry on, Mike.

“Then they just happened to be back in Dunfermline and I happened to be in the right pub at the right time. Richard and Stuart had spoken with the panel responsible for organising the band at the very start of their career, and Mike Douglas, their very first manager, said to me word was it was pretty obvious Rusty and Stuart weren’t getting on very well.

“So I just went up to then and said, ‘I hear you’re looking for a drummer. Here I am, give me a gig!’ Next day, I went back to the rehearsal room and played a bunch of songs with them, and that was basically my audition. Then I had to just kind of follow them around for ages before I got the opportunity to take over from Rusty at the end of the tour. It was great fun though, that Days of Europa tour.”

When I last spoke to Richard, I enquired as to when there would be a blue plaque erected outside the Pilmuir Street venue where that first Skids gig was staged in mid-August ’77.

“Well, it’s ironic that the Belleville Hotel, where that first gig was, belongs to my brother-in-law. He ran it as a club for the last 20-odd years, and actually it’s just closed down. But that’s how close that community is.”

And what do you remember as a fan about that momentous Clash/Skids bill at the Kinema Ballroom?

“It was amazing, and I just remember the whole chaos and this rush of energy, the whole place going absolutely crazy. Richard still talks about it to this day, and how important it was to be accepted by your idols. And it was completely surreal that this could happen in your little town … your grubby little grey town. It was an amazing experience.”

First for Mike as part of the Skids inner circle was that second album tie-in tour, and soon he was in the studio with them for 1980’s The Absolute Game. I’m guessing the making of that album, at The Manor and Audio International with Mick Glossop for Virgin, was his first proper experience of top-end recording, I put to him.

“Yeah, that’s right. It was literally a case of going from playing in punk bands around the pubs in Edinburgh and further afield in Scotland to joining the Skids.”

Living the dream?

“Basically, yeah. It was an incredible experience. And at the time we were aware of something pretty special going on, not just with us and our music, but being part of a whole movement. And having the exposure we did was just tremendous, meeting all these iconic people.”

Early Days: The Skids’ formative line-up. From the left – Bill Simpson (bass, vocals), Richard Jobson (vocals, guitar), Stuart Adamson (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Thomas Kellichan (drums)

But both Mike and Stuart were off before 1981’s Joy, the latter going on to worldwide success with new band Big Country. Yet, as it turned out, it was Stuart’s death in December 2001, aged just 43, that brought the band back together again.

After a tribute show in 2002, they reformed in 2007 to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary with concerts at the iconic T in the Park festival then back in Dunfermline. And a decade later there was a new LP, ‘Burning Cities’, following a ‘Live In London’ album.

In the current line-up Mike, Richard Jobson and Bill Simpson are joined by father and son guitarists Bruce and Jamie Watson, who feature in both bands on the night, Bruce having been there with Stuart from day one in Big Country. And there’s a great dynamic all round, right?

“That’s right. Kindred spirits and all that, y’know. Bruce and Jamie obviously put in a huge effort to pull off two sets in one night, but they can cope with that sort of pressure.”

Is that right Jamie’s been longer in the Skids than Big Country now?

“That’s right, and its quite a thing to go out on the road with your son, do all this touring malarkey. But they have a fantastic relationship, and it definitely works. From Jamie’s perspective it was in 2007 when he stepped up to the plate and first came and played with us. And he’s such an experienced musician himself now. Yeah, those guys put in the miles.”

Up Front: Richard Jobson, lead singer of the Skids from the start (Photo: Nick Henderson).

So is it a case of old boys talking about shared memories when you’re together again?

“Oh God, aye! Our kids are all about Jamie’s age, so there is a bit of a ‘them and us’ kind of thing when we travel together. But it’s great and Jamie’s an incredible talent. I see him picking up a mandolin and it’s just mesmerizing – such a skilful player.”

Any chance of your own children joining the band?

“Ha! My son does play drums – surprise, surprise! Although he’s not playing so much now.”

It turns out that his son, now 29, was part of the Skids crew at one stage. Was it a surprise to his children – he has a 34-year-old daughter too – when the band got back together again, seeing just how much love there was still out there for them?

“When we first got back together in 2002 for Stuart’s tribute concert it was a great occasion but also a very sad and emotional one, but my family were all there.”

It still shocks me that Stuart’s no longer with us. Did you stay in touch?

“We run into each other a few times. I moved to Edinburgh and my family came along, but we did bump into each other a couple of times. Last time must have been around ‘95/’96. I was walking along in the West End of Edinburgh and we met by accident, and it was great. We had a really nice chat. We sat down, had coffee, and half an hour or so together.

“At that time I was working as a wine buyer. He was at that point really disillusioned with the way he was being treated by the press, and at that point in his career felt he’d been completely scunnered by the business.”

So he might have taken your lead and followed you into the wine industry.

“Ha! No, I don’t think so. He was a born musician!”

Burning Citizens: The Skids, back out there, and living the dream. From left - Bruce Watson, Mike Baillie, Richard Jobson, Bill Simpson, Jamie Watson (Photo: Gordon Smith)

Burning Citizens: The Skids, back out there, and living the dream. From left – Bruce Watson, Mike Baillie, Richard Jobson, Bill Simpson, Jamie Watson (Photo: Gordon Smith)

When you stepped away from the Skids, did you stay in music?

“I joined a band in Edinburgh, having been in London when the band broke up. But I still worked as a musician, and played here and there in various bands, ending up becoming a really cynical young man, completely disillusioned by the music business.

“My family had come along at that point. I didn’t really miss it at first. I’d gone through the process of developing with a group of musicians, putting a set together, getting a grass roots following, putting recordings together, and then the band break up, because for whatever reason people didn’t really have the same level of commitment as I did.

“By the late ‘80s and during the whole of the ’90s I didn’t really consider myself a musician anymore. My kit was in storage somewhere, and my focus of attention was far away from music and a lot of music coming out at that point didn’t interest me much, even though I’m sure there was a lot of worthwhile music out there, I’m sure.”

What had changed by the dawn of the new century for you to think about rejoining?

“Well, I got my son into playing, by the time he was around 12, and it was around that time, with Stuart’s tribute, that it sparked off his interest in learning to play. I bought him a kit and that kind of sparked my interest again. Then, wanting to keep my chops up, around 2002, knowing a network of musicians around Edinburgh, I began to play quite a lot, then of course 2007 came along. But we were all in different places and doing different things at the time.”

The idea certainly proved to have legs though, and a decade later came that well-received return album, Burning Cities, good enough to suggest there’s a fair bit ahead of the band from here.

“That’s it, and we’re very lucky to have the chance. I hate the word privilege, that’s the wrong word, but there was that chance to reform and put ourselves back out there. And it’s just absolutely incredible. The initial response we got was very strange to describe. We honestly had no idea so many promoters wanted to book us, and all the rest of it. And before long there was a tour on the cards. But as a musician I’m just so happy to have the opportunity to bring myself back up to speed, so to speak.”

There’s clearly a fresh, re-energised feeling about you all, and you seem to inspire that in your audience too. And it’s a loyal following.

“Yeah, it’s a bit like that analogy of a football manager having a 12th man on the pitch. It’s very much like that with the response we get with the crowd. And it’s not easy doing all this when you’re in your late 50s.”

While Mike moved to Edinburgh in 1981, he relocated back to his native Fife in July 2018, his bandmates all living nearby except for Richard, based in Bedfordshire these days. And are they all a little easier to get on with now? I get the impression there were a few tensions between you all back in the day.

“Ha! That was a very well-put question! Of course, we’re all very much more rounded individuals nowadays, with plenty of life experience and all the rest of it. When you think back to your experiences as a 19 or 20-year-old, there was a nervous energy that went into the performance.

“Your approach to your work was completely different back then – there was a fear of failure and spirit of competition, and the critics might want to cut you down. You’re always aware of the fact that you’re also likely to get bad press. That kind of energy we managed to channel into our music and was a big part of it, giving us that energy to pull it off. And it does require a lot of effort. It’s not something you can casually waltz into. It represents hours and hours of practice and hard work and effort to get to that level of performance.”

Now it seems you’re doing it for the right reasons – love of the job, and that old pressure is no longer there to succeed and sell records, please the record company, and so on.

“Yeah, we’re generally doing it because people respond so well to us. And we absolutely thrive on it. If your driver takes the wrong turn on the way to your hotel at two o’clock in the morning, your sense of humour could easily evaporate. But even through the tough times of touring, it still’s fun now, living for the moment.”

Soul Brothers: The Reid twins, spotted by Mike Baillie in the early days (Photo: Murdo MacLeod)

Footnote: During this interview, talking about Mike’s links to Edinburgh and time in the city, I mentioned another outfit who went on to the big time after being initially inspired by the punk years, having had a conversation about that scene with Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers not long before. And that prompted Mike to tell me a great story about his own early recollections of Charlie and twin Craig Reid.

“D’you know, at the very genesis of The Proclaimers … I was playing in a band in Edinburgh, and the front-man was an amazing artist called Harry Horse (real name Richard Horne, an English author, illustrator and cartoonist who moved to Edinburgh in 1978, later leading late ’80s bluegrass/psychobilly outfit Swampthrash) and we were managed by a man called Kenny MacDonald …”

Ah, that name rings a bell from reading up on and speaking to The Proclaimers.

“Well, Kenny was at that time a restaurateur at a place in Victoria Street, Leith, where we always used to hang out. It was great, and he was a really cool guy. We were in the bar there after a rehearsal once and he showed us a cassette tape and told us, ‘I’ll play you this band. I think you’ll like it.’ He put it on and we heard these bedroom recordings of those iconic early Proclaimers songs they’d written.

“Kenny said they were playing across the road, so 10 minutes later we went to see them. We traipsed across the road, down to this little club, and there was Craig and Charlie standing there with bongos and an acoustic guitar, playing ‘Letter From America’ and what have you. And we just looked at each other, collectively went, ‘Oh, my God! These guys are amazing!’

“It was one of those moments. I’ve bumped into Kenny here and there quite regularly since, and it’s great to see how they went from their bedroom to worldwide global fame, yet still remain so humble.”

And I think it’s fair to say that can be said about Mike Baillie too, on the evidence of our conversation. Long may he rock and roll.

Stage Craft: Skids in live action, and quite possibly coming to a venue near you very soon (Photo: Steve Gunn)

For this website’s May 2017 feature/interview with Richard Jobson, head here. There are also two more Big Country and Skids-related feature/ interviews on this site, with Bruce Watson from October 2014 and Mark Brzezicki from September 2016. And you can also follow this link for a Skids appreciation from Michael Martin for the splendid Toppermost music fans’ website. 

The Skids and Big Country play Preston Guild Hall’s Grand Hall on Saturday, January 19 (tickets £27 via 01772 80 44 44 and online here).

Further UK dates (without Big Country): Friday, January 18 – Swindon Meca (with Charred Hearts and Slagerij); Friday, January 25 – Oxford Town Hall; Saturday, January 26 – Coventry Empire; Friday, February 1 – Cambridge Junction; Saturday, February 2 – Norwich Waterfront; Thursday, February 7 – Cottingham Civic Hall; Friday, February 8 – Northampton Roadmender; Saturday, February 9 – Derby The Venue; Friday, February 15 – Swansea Sin City; Saturday, February 16 – Southampton The Brook; Friday, February 22 – Southend Chinnerys; Saturday, February 23 – Gloucester Guildhall.

For details of these and further late May and June 2019 dates in Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds, Newcastle and Aberdeen, head to the band’s Facebook page. Skids were also on the bill with headliners Buzzcocks and also Penetration at the Royal Albert Hall in London on June 21st. What will become of that show is yet to be revealed, in light of Pete Shelley’s death late in 2018, but Penetration lead singer Pauline Murray is the subject of a WriteWyattUK interview next week. 

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Looking back at 2018. Part two – the second six months

In which WriteWyattUK scans the archives to cull a few choice quotes from the last six months of 2018’s feature/interviews on this site, taking a leaf out of Dr Feelgood’s books, following Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s lead, ‘Looking back to see if she was looking back to see if I was looking back at her’. 

Whild Living: Slade legend Jim Lea looking back on an amazing career

July

“I think a lot of the people I interviewed – because we’re 20 years from the ceasefires and the Good Friday agreements – are talking about it differently now and maybe more openly than we would have before. Every now again, they’d look you in the eye and they would tell you their story. Suddenly there were layers of information that people were divulging that they might not have spoken about before. I think musicians often want to not alienate anyone so they kind of hold their tongue. Whereas now it’s like, ‘Let me tell you about what it was like when I was 16′. So it’s tumbling out a wee bit.” Belfast-based writer Stuart Bailie, who saw success with the excellent Trouble Songs – Music and Conflict in Northern Ireland

“Dave (Hill) broke a string and Don (Powell) said, ‘Hey mate, come over here.’ He’s got this quick wit and he said, ‘It says here you play the violin, is that right?’ I said yeah, and he said, ‘Do you play anything else?’ I said, ‘Well, a bit of piano and err ..’ and I just lied and said, ‘Oh, and the cello’, which I’d never even played. He said, ‘Ooh, cello as well?’ and I said, ‘Well, I didn’t get very far with that.’ And he said, ‘Did the spike keep sticking in your neck?’ Jim Lea, of Slade, on the moment that broke the ice during his ‘N’Betweens auditions, the band going on to major success after a name change.   

“I’d heard ‘Space Oddity’ on the radio and it was one of those records of our generation that I played over and over again. I couldn’t quite figure out what all the sounds were, and the way he painted a picture with the lyrics of being in outer space floating in a tin can … as a young eight or nine-year-old it was real theatre of the mind for me.” This Day in Music’s Neil Cossar, now a publisher, on a key moment in his music career.  

Lightning Conductor: Ian Broudie, out on tour and busy in the studio this year with the Lightning Seeds

“I didn’t really have a band. I recorded it all in the house on a four-track for that first album and then continued to record at home. And gradually home became a studio. So it was very much just about putting some songs out without any thought of anything else.” Multi-instrumentalist and producer Ian Broudie reflects on the early days of The Lightning Seeds. 

August

“We’re in our 37th year and what you and I are discussing here is about songs we’ve just made. It’s really refreshing and really heartening to me that I’m in a position whereby we’re not having to talk about ‘Sit Down’ and all that. I think that’s testament to the fact that we have pushed it, and we are moving forward. I think it’s great that we’re able to do that so convincingly.” Violinist and multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies, on board with James sincve 1989, and still part of a creative force.

Gear Factor: The Reid twins put the finishing touches to their tour transport (Photo: Murdo McLeod)

“I’m not really big on the flags. It was never about that for me. It was about democracy, and is still about democracy, and I would hope it’s more about getting a more modern country. It’s always ironic when you find the old Tories or even the old Labour left harking back. It’s not about that. It’s about looking forward. And to me the Britain they hark back to – my father’s Britain as a child – has gone. That’s where I’m coming from really.” Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers, on future hopes for his beloved Scotland in post-Brexit vote Britain.  

Band Substance: Cornershop’s first press shot, West Orange Studios, Preston, 1992. From left – Ben Ayres, Tjinder Singh, Avtar Singh, David Chambers.

“Politically, we are in a hot-pot of course, but the time is really ripe for other Cornershops to say something of the situation. Unfortunately, politics seem to have been taken out of music again and we are back to songs that don’t represent the hard political situations we are having to deal with. The youth seem more set on singing about meeting someone in a car park than why they can’t afford to buy a car. Tjinder Singh, of Cornershop, on the need for musicians to make their voices heard in the current poisoned political climate.   

“I started playing guitar 38 years ago, with my older sister’s and Mum and Dad’s record collections on in the background while I was learning to play. It wasn’t so much what I was listening to. I was listening to Hawkwind. I started when I was five, but not properly until I was seven or eight. It was my sister’s guitar. She was having lessons but got bored, so I started playing it, miming in the mirror with it at first. And my finger-style came from ‘Dear Prudence’ and ‘Blackbird’ off the White Album, (The Beatles).” John Bramwell, going solo in 2018, his I am Kloot days behind him, on his musical roots.

September

Hold Tight: Fay Fife with The Rezillos at Butlin’s GB Alternative Music Festival, Skegness (Photo: Gary M. Hough)

“We just completely gelled and took off. And we really communicated with the audience, and you could tell they were getting it. So that was the big moment – that realisation that our performance was quite something.” Fay Fife recalls her first night on stage with The Rezillos, 40 years earlier. 

“Back in the early ‘90s, my friend Lucky Pete, drummer of Gaz Mayall’s band The Trojans, left my Hank Williams book at Joe’s house. I wanted my book back and lived around the corner from Joe when he was living on Lancaster Road. I remember having a Baby Belling cooker and thought I would make a pie and customise the outside of the box – ‘Slim’s Pumpkin Pie’. I was cooking Sunday lunch at The Globe, Talbot Road at the time. Anyway … I turned up, rang the bell; Joe opened the door and I asked for my Hank book. He went and got it from the lounge and said he read it, which made me happy. Standing at the front door sporting my cowboy hat and pie in hand, I said ‘I made this for you’. He immediately invited me in, with my son Hughie and Lucky Pete. He seemed happy with the pie. We chatted and my son played with his kids Lola and Jazzy. This was the beginning of our friendship.” Artist Robert Gordon McHarg III on how he first got to know close friend Joe Strummer, having helped compile the JS001 boxset in late 2018.

All-Round Inspiration: Joe Strummer, Polaroid style (Photo: Bob Gruen)

“I see him in the kitchen with a half-eaten sandwich, his dog asleep on his feet, waving a piece of paper at me and asking me to fax it quick to Mick.” Lucinda Mellor, Joe Strummer’s widow, on her abiding memories of The Clash and Mescaleros legend, who died in late 2002. 

“I suppose it’s just a pop album. I don’t know what kind of pop, but the sound’s pretty simple, and not particularly experimental. I suppose if anything I was encouraging, ‘If in doubt keep it dangerous’. I thought it was quite a heavy record in its raw form, and it’s quite a breezy listen now.” Gruff Rhys, the former Super Furry Animals frontman, mulls over his wondrous 2018 LP, Babelsberg

“If you are a fan of ours, you don’t want to hear the same album all over again. I love well-written songs as much as I love Faust or Can. To write a simple song, and make it sound like something a four-year-old kid whistled on the way to the bus stop, is not easy. That’s what we’ve tried to do.” Musician and author Nick Power contemplates the thinking behind The Coral’s rather splendid 2018 album, Move Through the Dawn

How High: Goat Girl. From left – Rosy Bones, Clottie Cream, L.E.D., Naima Jelly (Photo: Holly Whitaker)

“I think there’s still money in it for the big cheeses. We get money to live off, because we can’t really have jobs, but it’s kind of like fake money really. And I don’t think there’s much in it for bands anymore. There’s a threshold.” Rosy Bones, of Goat Girl on the level of fame that’s come the way of Rough Trade’s latest capture in 2018, suggesting the financial gains are yet t0 follow.  

October

“You cannot control, and they have an absolute need to be a long way away from you in terms of the way a relationship changes. They must be their own person. And with the last track on the album, ‘Wanderlust’, that word’s the closest we can get to it, but another German word, ‘fernweh’, carries far more weight – about this absolute need to be away.” WriteWyattUK favourite Neil Arthur, of Blancmange, talks about the concept behind the latest wonderful Blancmange LP – getting to grips with changing circumstances in the home. 

Rebound Sound: Eleanor Friedberger, back to Europe in 2018 (Photograph: Chris Eckert)

“Yeah, now it seems kind of shocking that I’ve been making records on my own for seven years, almost as long as The Fiery Furnaces, and we made eight albums or something. I don’t know where that work ethic comes from. I’ve been lucky I haven’t had to have another job, and I’ve just plugged away at this.” Eleanor Friedberger thinks back over how long she’s been out there as a solo performer, having initially broken through alongside her brother, Matthew. 

“I’m not a big man for birthdays. They just come and … if you have too much time to think about them it means you’re not busy enough.” Former Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell dismisses talk of 70th birthday celebrations in 2019. 

Lining Up: The Men They Couldn’t Hang at Preston Guild Hall (Copyright: Michael Porter Photography)

“Oh, I’m amazed our voices have held up at all, after all the shouting, smoking and drinking! But I think we’re growing old disgracefully, which is good, and I think the sort of thing we’re doing means that we are able to continue doing things that don’t make us a laughing stock and retain a little dignity as well.” Phil Odgers, co-founder of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, considers the band’s longevity, 34 years after their first gig, in the year they delivered the marvellous Cock-a-Hoop, a 10th studio LP. 

November

“Talking about making a glam record is what we were setting out to do when putting material together and trying to find what would be the true line. We ended up talking a lot about Roxy Music, early Brian Eno, things like that. So I think with a lot of the songs, if it’s not apparent, they are at least in practise shot through with early glam.” Colin Meloy, the Decemberists’ frontman, on 2018’s mighty fine I’ll Be Your Girl album.

Time Out: Hazel O’Connor, enjoying a few moments to herself before the next set of dates.

“The more you experience in life, the more you have to get clued into the idea that it’s not forever and you have to treasure every single person that you treasure – good and bad, warts and all. Otherwise, you might blink and it’s gone.” Singer/songwriter Hazel O’Connor gets reflective, 38 years after her breakthrough moment in the film, Breaking Glass.

“I still expect the phone to ring at 2.15 every day, Walters on, ‘Did you hear The Archers?’ straight after. I miss them both, still. Everyone forgets that about Walters, not just a great producer but a great broadcaster in his own right. They were both great eccentrics of broadcasting.” Broadcaster and writer Andy Kershaw, having been told it’s 14 years since we lost John Peel and 17 since John Walters’ departure, and that both would have turned 80 in 2019.

UK Dates: The Cardigans, set for a return visit in early December 2018.

“After First Band on the Moon and the song ‘Lovefool’ became such big hits, we had to spend so much time talking about those, that we really felt tired of them. When you have a big hit like that, you can really get connected with one song, and the image of us then was happy-go-lucky, funny, ‘60s looking, whatever … which was not at all something we identified with very well, that perception of us. And we started to use different ways of recording. That was the first time we started to work with computers.” Nina Persson recalls the shift within The Cardigans ahead of Gran Turismo, which turned 20 in 2018 and led to a short celebratory run of UK dates.

December

“I went in and there was a Marshall stack there. I didn’t realise it was turned full on. I certainly woke up the room, let’s put it that way. Mick (Tucker)’s comment was, ‘Mm … you’re in, I think,’ pleased to see a bloke who didn’t mind hearing his guitar feeding back.” Guitarist Andy Scott recalls his successful 1970 audition with The Sweet. 

‘Omeward Bound: Dave Hill, back out on the road with Slade for Christmas 2018

“When I come home, I send pictures of the action we got, but then it’s usually, ‘That hedge needs cutting down there!’ And when I go out walking locally, people see me and it’s like, ‘Morning Dave. Alright? Where you been?’ Noddy (Holder) and myself are the most recognised, but I think people see us as friends as well as famous people. Also, we’re not a band people associated with politics or making a point. It’s nothing to do with music being used for a purpose of opinions or reactions. Our music has come from the stable of good records and meaningful songs – a rock’n’roll band.” Dave Hill on life back home, away from the stage, after five decades playing guitar in bands, most notably as part of the legendary Slade.

Stage Presence: Bianca Kinane-Ewart in live action

“It’s not about being better than anyone else. I had plenty of opportunities to be in groups who turned out quite famous, but it wasn’t right for me at that time. And I’ve never been the kind of person who would say I’d do something just because it would be good for my career. As long as I’m happy doing my music, in whatever capacity, that’s all that matters to me. And the older I get the more I realise you can have a bit of it all, really, and be happy, choose what you want to do.” Tipperary-born, Lancashire-based singer/songwriter Bianca Kinane-Ewart on 25-plus years in music. 

So that’s it, folks, another year chalked off. Thanks for your continued support. This website first dipped its toes into interwebtastic waters in the spring of 2012 and has now published more than 500 features, interviews and reviews over six and three-quarter years, attracting more than 300,000 views, with more than 80,000 of them in 2018. That said, don’t think for one moment I’m making any money from this malarkey. In fact, in the last seven months since ‘monetarising’ the site, I accumulated just short of £50 from it, less than it’s costing me a year to run. Ah well. Such is life. The important thing is I still have a roof over my head, a loving family and lots of emotional support, and now and again I get to talk to my heroes in music and comedy. That’s got to be worth it, right? What’s more, this was also the year in which I finally got my name on the front of a book, and you’ll find plenty more about This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash here (including details of how to order a personalised, signed copy). 

Anyway, enough talk of business (with a very small ‘b’). Happy New Year to all my readers. Love and peace from WriteWyattUK HQ, and here’s to more features, reviews, fun and shenanigans in 2019. Bless y’all.     

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Looking back at 2018. Part one – the first six months

As another busy year draws to a close, let’s take a trawl through 2018’s WriteWyattUK feature/interviews, selecting a few choice quotes from within, starting with the half-year up to … well, in the words of Neil and Tim Finn, ‘You can bang the drum, look what we’ve become, I hope there might be one of us who calls the tune, last day of June’. Just click on the links for the full interviews.

January

Rebel Rouser: Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers, giving it some skank.

“It’s been said I invented ska-punk, but really I just played the only way I knew how, and let Lynval Golding handle the ska and reggae. Skabilly? If you go back to the 1950s and early rock’n’roll, ska and country had a lot in common, and there are songs from those genres that have that same offbeat dance feel … so I rest my case!” Guitarist Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers, formerly with The Specials, fronting the Skabilly Rebels.

Mud Reunion: Holly and David enjoy a day out in Morecambe Bay

“We pretty much feel like cosmonauts who’ve landed on an alien planet, and the insanity of life on this planet is crazy. So we’ve made our own alternative reality, and everyone’s welcome to join in. That’s the only way the world’s going to change, if people start to say, ‘This is enough of insane living. I’m not going to keep jumping on the bandwagon and do what other people do … it’s fucking insane!”  Holly Ross, The Lovely Eggs on her and partner David Blackwell’s world view in early 2018.

“I’d talk about it in shows and no one would know what I was on about, looking at me as if to say, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Now there’s The Little Book of Hygge, hygge this, hygge that, a whole bloody industry. I feel I unleashed this on an unwilling nation.” Comedian Bill Bailey taking some of the blame for spreading the word about the Danish concept of hygge to a wider audience.

February

Three Decades: The Levellers, on the go since 1988 (Photo: Steve Gullick)

“People get what we’re on about. It’s very much people’s music – not pop, not indie. It speaks a little bit more about people’s lives than most music does.” Mark Chadwick, frontman of The Levellers, defining the band’s continuing appeal.

“It’s a bit like that with the idea that the Tories are bumbling. It’s staggering. They’re completely fucked. I think it’s hilarious, from a pure comedy point of view … never mind the politics. Every day, they’re just funny! Just watching them is funny, stumbling about, turning up in Brussels, having brought the wrong papers, or Iain Duncan Smith more or less telling you not to take any notice of their latest report, because they’re always wrong. It’s kind of, ‘Don’t listen to us, we’re idiots’.” Mark Steel, comedian, broadcaster and columnist, tries to laugh at a failing Government’s antics. 

“I look back with very fond memories, how we managed to do really good things, achieve a great deal. All the bickering and court cases, that sort of stuff happened after. It was a real shame it did, but it had nothing to do with what people actually remember about The Jam or what actually put us on the road to where we are.” Rick Buckler looks beyond past difficulties with The Jam, focusing on what really matters.

Talking Family: David Baddiel, during his 2018 theatre tour

“I’m very happy for someone else to do The Jacob Rees-Mogg Experience. And he could do it himself, because he is basically a comedy character. We have this situation now where politicians are like comedy characters – Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg … You can imagine them being played by Harry Enfield. Comedian/writer David Baddiel mirrors Mark Steel, recalling his part in The Mary Whitehouse Experience, initially to be called The William Rees-Mogg Experience, andpondering a new spin on that. 

March

People Person: Heather Small, back out on the road in April and May 2018

“I found out after there were people in my family who would sing in church, in the Caribbean. They would sing for people – for religious gatherings, funerals, stuff like that.  But my grandfather would never have condoned them singing outside of church. Making pop music wouldn’t have gone down well at all!“ Former M People singer Heather Small looks back on her musical roots.

“The stars just never aligned for us. I was about to turn 30, I was getting married, and I was teaching and I really love it. I’ve got a mortgage. I’m not that fussed. And I was content. I spend most of my time with these kids. I absolutely love teaching seven year-olds their first chords, and helping teenagers get into writing their first songs. Songwriting can make them feel better. It’s like shouting into a balloon.” Tom Williams, not for one moment regretting his decision to stick with teaching alongside his music career.

“The Fun Boy Three’s manager also popped in, looking for a brass section. And as we were flavour of the month, we ended up on The Telephone Always Rings and did Top of the Pops with them. You can see me dancing with a stupid white hat on!” Gaz Birtles, of The South, on halcyon ’80s days with The Swinging Laurels, guesting on the UK’s foremost TV pop showcase.  

Hip Priests: Ajay Saggar with Mark E. Smith in 2013

“The Fall were the band that made me listen to music differently and really made me appreciate how the highest art form there was within the whole spectrum of art, and how it appeals to people all over the world in different ways. It ignites you and makes you excited. The Fall took that element of making music to a heightened level, with that combination of Mark’s poetic view of the world around him and his way of expressing that and keeping you on your toes when you listen.” Ajay Saggar, of The Common Cold, Deutsche Ashram, and King Champion Sounds, talks about the importance on his music career of close friend Mark E. Smith, who died in late January 2018.  

Bang On: Griff, Dunstan and Harry, collectively known as Interrobang‽

“What happened was that I started writing this around about when I turned 50, thinking about how I fitted into the world, what my role was, and what you could possibly achieve as a 50-something Dad, and what you’re doing with your life. Do you still have a voice? And are you relevant? Songs like Am I Invisible Yet? are about trying to deal with becoming less and less relevant as you get older.” Ex-Chumbawamba singer Dunstan Bruce explains the concept behind one of the key songs on the splendid debut Interrobang‽ album.

April

Reprise Asset: Damian O’Neill, on the record with The Monotones (Photo: Rosa O’Neill)

“That track was written before The Undertones did it, written for The Wesleys, which was me, Mickey Bradley and Ciaran McLaughlin in this short-lived, ‘60s spoof band in 1982, when we weren’t doing much. We only played three or four shows. I was playing organ and we had these great names. I was Leslie Wesley, Ciaran was Elvis Wesley, and Mickey was Wesley Hunter. I recorded our shows on a crappy recorder. We played this pub in Derry twice, then the Orchard Art Gallery. I always loved that version – it’s faster, more snappy than The Undertones’ version, which I felt took away from the tune. I decluttered it, sped it up, and it’s more or less like The Wesleys’ version.” WriteWyattUK guitar favourite Damian O’Neill on the reimagined Undertones track that kicks off his stunning 2018 solo album, Refit, Revise, Reprise. 

“At that point in time I think I was living in a rented cottage, costing me £3 a week. Later, you get into the several hundred pounds a month mortgage situation, where the chance of going out and working six days for free or for expenses are gone. I’m still at that stage now. I’m dealing with heritage events and museums, and it’s always, ‘We’d love you to do it, but there’s no budget.’” Chris Hewitt looking back at the early days of the legendary Deeply Vale Festival, taking a punt on the event becoming a success.

Bathroom Idol: The Beat’s Mirror Man, Dave Wakeling, reflects

“The wonderful thing is that we ended up making songs people can still be bothered about today. That’s tremendous. You don’t really know that at the time you’d have songs that people would cover. You go into a bar and a band will be doing your song. That really knocks you sideways.” Guitarist/vocalist Dave Wakeling considers the legacy and continued appeal of The Beat. 

“It was the great days when record companies gave you lousy royalties but had lots of studio time and big studios. They said, ‘Just get on with it, do what you want to do, there’s the studio and engineer.’ That’s how it worked for us.” Singer/songwriter Justin Hayward on the recording of The Moody Blues’ classic 1967 album, Days of Future Passed.

May

Dance Partner: Gretchen Peters returned to the UK to mark the release of Dancing with the Beast (Photo: Gina Binkley)

“I feel strongly about trying to impart that message. I know people in the UK know he doesn’t represent all of us, or even most of us, but after what happened in 2016 I just feel it’s not possible or not morally right to remain silent.” US alternative country singer/ songwriter Gretchen Peters reminds the world that the fella with the orange day-glo tan doesn’t represent the America we feel we know and love.

“It was even less. I think we had eight days, other than a couple of tweaks later. And I really honestly think that with rock’n’roll – or certainly the kind of thing I do – that’s absolutely the best way to do it. You go in and play it, and don’t sit there analysing it and trying to improve this or tweak that. Go in, get a good feel, and if you’ve got a good producer and engineer, they will record that. That’s the way to do it.” Former Dr Feelgood guitarist and R&B legend Wilko Johnson talking about the art of recording, not least 2018’s wonderful Blow Your Mind album.

“I love singing, playing, gigs, and recording, but the thing I love most is the writing. Keith Richards said, ‘A painter’s got a canvas. The writer’s got reams of empty paper. A musician has silence.’ I absolutely love that … although some people would prefer the silence, I’m sure! I love that challenge, that something that’s just in your head. The skill is getting it out of your head into other people’s heads.” Darron Robinson, lead singer/guitarist of The Sha La Las’s,  considers the art of songwriting.

“It was terrifying, the only time I’ve almost frozen on stage. Chris Cradock – Steve’s Dad – was our manager then, and was holding a cine camera. I asked how it worked and he said, ‘Just push that button.’ I walked out with it, up to the crowd, they reacted, and my nerve just melted, looking at 125,000 people.” Simon Fowler, frontman of Ocean Colour Scene, recalls the band’s mid-’90s landmark dates with Oasis at Knebworth Park, which attracted the largest demand for concert tickets in UK history, and finally attracted a combined audience of more than 250,000. 

Bass Instinct: Steve Smith in live action with The Vapors (Photo: Si Root)

“I was a bit of a hippy, to be honest. I had long hair and sat up in the balcony. But the next day I thought, ‘I’m a punk rocker’, I cut all my hair off and threw all my records away. The Clash completely changed my life, just from going to see them at the Civic Hall. Music was so boring at that time. All of a sudden I was looking at this thing and thinking, ‘This is great!’” The Vapors’ bass player Steve Smith on the inspirational appeal of seeing The Clash at Guildford Civic Hall on the first night of the White Riot tour, May 1st, 1977.

June

Laughing Matter: Chas & Dave in 1984

“When me and Chas got together, they were saying, ‘Ah, they won’t understand you up North,’ which was an absolute load of twaddle. We’ve got loads and loads of fans up north, like in Leeds, Newcastle, and especially Glasgow. It’s a myth. Even people in the business ask, ‘Do they understand you, north of Watford?’ Total nonsense. And we were one of the first to start singing in our own accents.” Dave Peacock on how the powers that be didn’t truly understand the wider appeal of the brand of ‘rockney’ created by him and Chas’n’Dave partner Chas Hodges, who died just four months after our conversation.

“When we started playing the Red Cow and places like that, we had groups of young men and women coming up to see us from places like Hampton, Staines and all those satellite towns, and they weren’t like that inner London clique. That was quite exciting, and we’d realise there was a whole army out there who were really ready and interested in punk rock, and they didn’t really have any songs written about them.” JC Carroll, guitarist and singer/songwriter, sums up the post-punk philosophy behind The Members’ biggest hit, ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’. 

Action Stations: Gordon Gibson checks his rising stock at his Church Street HQ (Photo: Neil Cross / Lancashire Post)

“I always think there are some things in life where just one decision can straight away change your whole life. I suppose after being made redundant all those times, you decide, ‘You know what? I’m going to try and see if I can set something up with records’. I had a big record collection and started buying as well as selling.” Gordon Gibson on the roots of Preston’s much-loved Action Records independent music store and occasional record label, which tuns 40 in 2019. 

“Dave Robinson I did as a mad, bullyish Irish navvy type. He wasn’t keen on how I perceived him. But he watched it a few times then calmed down. Once he got into it, I thought, ‘This has got legs. If he likes it, anyone will.’ He’s very hard to please.” Lee Thompson, Madness’ flying saxophonist, on the moment he realised his off-the-wall One Man’s Madness documentary film project might just work, not least his take on the driving force behind Stiff Records. And it does.   

On Board: Madness sax player Lee Thompson clearly still has an eye for fashion

So there you go. Be ready to alight for another recap of our 2018 underground adventure tomorrow, pop kids.

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Stars in her eyes – the Bianca Kinane-Ewart interview

Mardigras Mania: Bianca and co-vocalist Damion in live action with The Mardigras Bombers

You can know a person a long time before you learn more about them. And such was the case for me with a professional singer as good as on my doorstep in Lancashire.

I’d seen Bianca Kinane-Ewart out and about from time to time and on the school run around our mutual adopted base, Leyland, always with a genuine smile and a quick hello as we passed, a strong Irish accent and long red hair stopping you in your tracks.

But I knew nothing of this cheery mum of two’s day-job until the last couple of years. A friend was having a birthday party, and told me ‘Bianca will be singing’, inferring I’d know who the hell she was on about. She clearly didn’t need a surname, whoever her special guest was. Who did she think she was? Cher? I didn’t have a clue. I do now.

Bianca’s toured with Jools Holland’s band and Gary Barlow, has an underground dance following, having appeared on Stars in Their Eyes at the tender age of 16. And that’s just for starters. Yet although we live barely a street away from each other, she was talking to me on her mobile phone at a local coffee shop, getting away from it all.

“I had to go out. I hadn’t accounted for the fact that my carpet guy’s going in and out of the house, so every time the door goes, four high-pitched dogs go ‘rah-rah-rah!’ I left ‘em locked in the front room.”

I’m guessing she meant just the dogs rather than the carpet-fitter too. Who knows though. As it was, the bathroom guy (no relation) was round at mine anyway, so I could hardly invite her in, another of those ‘We can fit you in before Christmas. How does that sound?’ moments that you agree too and then later question. ‘It’s the most chaotic time of the year’, as Andy Williams once sang.

Bianca’s normally busy all over with Christmas performances this time of year, including charity gigs. But a busy working schedule occasionally saps her energy, lots of late-night stints in the recording studio and daytime writing and recording sessions taking their toll, while coping with an auto immune disease.

There was just one more engagement this year when I spoke, a Friday night charity show in Birmingham for the homeless, performing with regular accomplice, keyboard player and fellow Leyland resident Tom Wilson. All a long way from Tipperary, where Bianca put on her first public appearances bakc in Clonmel. But it was in London where a career in music took shape for a girl who had a brief stint at the Brit School for Performing Arts and Technology in Croydon, South London, at 16.

Early Days: Bianca during her spell with the PWL label

“I was working a fair few jobs, doing gigs, working in a launderette, and on a market in Croydon. The gigs were taking off though, and in those days you got paid an awful lot more for live work, so I was thinking, ‘Hang on a minute …’ I could earn quite a bit and not have to work here, there and everywhere.

“Then somebody heard me sing somewhere and said they were part of a writing agency. It turned out they were friendly with Chris White from The Zombies, and his wife Viv, who wrote together. These friends were saying, ‘You should hear this young girl. She’s only 16 and got a great voice. We think somebody could write with her’.

“Chris and Viv came to one of my gigs and asked if I wanted to do something serious. I said, ‘Yeah, of course!’ They said, ‘We’ve got some songs. Come and have a listen, see if you like them. We have contacts. We can put them out there and see where we go’.”

She’d already performed on ITV talent show Stars in their Eyes by then, appearing as Mariah Carey, singing ‘Hero’, giving me a quick blast down the line as we spoke, just in case I didn’t remember the song. I did.

“I was also contacted by EMI for the Pet Shop Boys, who wanted me to do one of their songs, ‘Wish’, more of a dance track, and I did a tour with them. But my actual deal came from a demo I did with Chris and Viv. It came down to signing with Sony or Warner with PWL, involving Pete Waterman and Peter Price.

“I recorded a lot of songs in a studio in Borough (South-East London), a great experience as a kid.”

Incidentally, Bianca told me the first time ’60s legends The Zombies – who are set to be (finally) inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in late March 2019, these WriteWyattUK favourites having been profiled in an interview with lead singer Colin Blunstone in January 2016, with a link here – reformed was for Chris and Viv’s wedding in the mid-‘90s, when she sang with them. And the pair are now back managing her again, after a previous spell in which she was involved with my former interviewee Pete Waterman’s company. How was that relationship with PWL?

“I was told I was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Pete wanted me to be commercial and was getting frustrated they hadn’t had a hit with me. I took that on board but felt I couldn’t be held responsible for other people’s reactions. I’m here, singing, showing off, doing what I need to do and what I like doing. I really needed guidance. I was so young and so happy to be where I was and what I was doing.”

Bianca moved over with her mother from Clonmel at around 12, soon making new friends.

“I was at quite a rough school in South London, all nationalities, and loved it – quite a change and a breath of fresh air from an all-girls convent school in Ireland! I went on to the Brit School, but it wasn’t for me. I left after a year, by which time I was signed anyway.

“My mother hadn’t found out. I kind of bunked off for six months! She got a phone call asking for my address for a Christmas card, and, puzzled, said, ‘Just give it to her on Monday’. She was so pleased I’d got in, I didn’t have to the heart to tell her I didn’t like it.”

It’s a long way from singing Mariah Carey songs on national TV to playing in a punk band though, her band The Mardigras Bombers’ first engagements in 2019 including a support act role with Penetration at the Continental in Preston on February 1st.

“It’s a big, brilliant, mad leap! But I sing in another band too, and it’s good fun, a lot easier than session work. It’s not like you’re selling yourself. It’s enjoyable. The majority of the gigs we do are brilliant.”

I’m guessing you didn’t grow up with punk then.

“I didn’t, although I love people like Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, stuff like that. It’s been a blessing and a curse that I love all styles of music. I sing most styles and it’s hard to pick sometimes – it depends what mood I’m in.”

Did you grow up performing?

”I was in my first band at nine or 10, with my piano teacher from Scotland. He had a jazz band and would play a hotel in Clonmel every Sunday. Sat on the piano with a mic., doing two 45-minute sessions. And I was always getting asked to sing at weddings and birthdays too.

“My mother tells this story. She always had this fear that one of us would be electrocuted through touching a plug or walking over a wire. She was paranoid about it. She was in the kitchen one day and heard Elaine Paige’s version of Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’, and raced up the stairs and told me the stereo shouldn’t have been plugged in. I swore blind that it was actually me singing, and she asked me to prove it. I sang it, and that’s when she thought, ‘Oh, my God, she can sing!”

She was soon involved in various competitions, the die cast for a successful career. And have there been any electrical shocks on stage during the intervening years?

“There was one time, when I was touring with Jools Holland’s band. I think it was in Sheffield. I was singing in the microphone and looking at the drummer, getting his attention, having spotted a fire at the back of the stage, but carrying on singing.”

I’m guessing that was ex-Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis. Not on fire. Her stint with Jools Holland’s band was in the late ‘90s, bandmates including Sam Brown, Eddi Reader, Ruby Turner and even Paul Weller.

“That was amazing. I was 18 or 19 on that tour, and it was just something else, playing the Royal Albert Hall and some other fantastic venues.”

“I was always very shy and would never put myself forward. I more than make up for it now, mind! I didn’t even like having my picture taken. I was very self-aware. People would speak to me and I’d be very polite and very giggly, whereas now I’ll talk the hind legs off a donkey.”

Who did you get on best with in that band?

“Actually, it was Rico Rodriguez. I loved Rico. First thing he ever said to me, I was making a cup of tea and asked if he’d like one, and asked if he wanted milk, and he said, ‘No, milk is for babies!’

“Jools was signed to Warner’s too, and they had me working with him, interviewing him at his place in Greenwich. They were good times. I also did a tour with Gary Barlow, but with backing tracks rather than a full band.”

By that stage she was also making a name on the dance scene under her maiden name, Kinane, crossing over into that world and on the gay scene, touring all around Europe.

In her time in London, Bianca was based in Little Venice and Queens Park and Maida Vale. So – and this has puzzled me for a while – why the move to Leyland, of all places?

“I’d taken a year out. Warner had asked me to go with them but doing the same music, and I didn’t want that. I wanted something fresh. Instead I was working on other writing and sessions. Then I decided to try something different, auditioning for Rent and Thank You For the Music, a Bill Kenwright production. I ended up doing the latter, and Jim – my future husband – was the lighting director. One day we got chatting, and it turns out he’d been eyeballing me!”

Stage Presence: Bianca in live action

Jim was originally from Coatbridge, east of Glasgow, but grew up in Leyland, with family from there. Hence the move.

“We met in 1999 and got engaged after six weeks, while on tour with Thank You For the Music. True romance! And I’m so glad I chose that show, not least as Rent closed after about a year. And I made a lot of good friends on that tour.”

Bianca and Jim soon got to work on a family of their own, her eldest son now 18 and the youngest 16. Does she feel she missed out on wider fame under her name, despite all her experiences in music?

“So many people say that, and my mother gets very frustrated that I haven’t. But it’s not about being better than anyone else. I had plenty of opportunities to be in groups who turned out quite famous, but it wasn’t right for me at that time. And I’ve never been the kind of person who would say I’d do something just because it would be good for my career. As long as I’m happy doing my music, in whatever capacity, that’s all that matters to me.

“And the older I get the more I realise you can have a bit of it all, really, and be happy, choose what you want to do. I certainly don’t feel bitter. I still get a lot of work, and work with younger people, working at the moment with a lad from Leeds, doing a lot of remixes, working with the Ministry of Sound, and still seeing a lot of interest in a track I did, ‘Heaven’.

“I can make a good living out of all this, with the royalties on the old stuff and collaborating with people on new stuff, while I’m out of the limelight. I work a lot with Tom (Wilson) up here, but also Tim Fraser, a songwriter based in London who also has work in Nashville. One of his tracks, a song called ‘Falling’, I did a demo for, and Tina Turner ended up putting on one of her albums (1999’s Twenty Four Seven).

“I also work with Chris and Viv still, and there’s a bit of everything really. If I have the time, I get involved. And in any one week Tom and I could be recording dance stuff with the DJ guys at the Ministry, while at the minute I’m doing vocal coaching in the studio for a 10-year-old girl with a great voice.

“We’re also doing charity work for Manchester bomb victims, doing covers and writing with people, and Tom also joined me in The Mardigras Bombers, playing Hammond organ. We’ve had some raucous times with that band.”

Band Substance: The Mardigras Bombers. From the left – Paddy (drums), Bianca (vocals), Ged (guitar), Damion (vocals), Mark (bass), Tom (keyboards).

Bianca’s band The Mardigras Bombers, along with WriteWyattUK favourites Vukovar, are supporting Penetration at The Continental, Preston, on Friday, February 1st, 2019, with ticket details here. And look out for an interview with Penetration lead singer and co-founder Pauline Murray on this site very soon.

 

 

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Celebrating 40 years of All Mod Cons with From The Jam

Band Substance: From The Jam, from the left – Andy Fairclough, Russell Hastings, Mike Randon and Bruce Foxton in action at Clitheroe, The Grand last December. (Photo: Michael Porter)

Somehow, while based in Lancashire for nearly 25 years now, I’d never visited The Grand in Clitheroe until last month, yet now I’ve caught two great bands there within a month, with two of my teenage heroes visiting – Hugh Cornwell last time, Bruce Foxton this.

The occasion on Friday night was the 40th anniversary of The Jam’s All Mod Cons, put out a week after my 11th birthday and soon becoming one of my favourite albums of all time.

When it was released on November 3rd, 1978, I’m pretty sure I was unaware of the two Jam LPs that preceded it, other than the odd single, in the same way I knew little about the first Clash album when follow-up, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, landed a week later, another record that struck a mighty chord with this rural Surrey-based council house lad.

And in light of last week’s departure of the wonderful Pete Shelley, I’ll add that it was a similar tale with Love Bites, the second album from Manchester’s Buzzcocks released six weeks earlier and the first of theirs I heard in full, despite their debut arriving just six months before.

I’d grow to love all three first albums by those bands, and many more from what proved a golden era of new directions for those caught up in the first wave of punk (incidentally, I see now the Ramones’ Road to Ruin was released the day before Love Bites, and Blondie’s Parallel Lines a day later). But first love often strikes deeper.

Just six months before, The Stranglers, a band I was proud to know were formed on my patch, released their third album, Black and White, and now a trio from nearby Woking – from where my Dad and grandparents hailed – had proved they were here for the long haul too.

In time, I properly understood the magnitude of the shift in direction and chain of events that led to that amazing third Jam LP, a defiant Paul Weller – who said in 2006, ‘With All Mod Cons we knew we were going somewhere else, we were creating something new.’ – and bandmates Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton proving their critics and label wrong after a patchy second record and stuttering US tour.

Live Presence: Russell Hastings and Mike Randon at Clitheroe, The Grand last December. (Photo: Michael Porter)

But back then it was enough to hear that album on my brother’s tape recorder (I think that’s what we called ‘ghetto-blasters’ before they were dubbed that), and sit up and take notice, and at Clitheroe last weekend I was bowled over again on hearing it in full, Foxton and bandmates Russell Hastings (guitar, vocals), Andy Fairclough (tucked around the corner from my vantage point on Hammond organ) and Mike Randon (drums) doing it justice.

I’ve written enough about From The Jam in recent years to be able to skip the rudiments. The true spirit of the original band still lies within this Foxton/Hastings set-up, a group I first caught live 11 years earlier, when Buckler was also involved. It’s easy to be cynical about bands re-living past highlights, and I understand totally Weller steering away other than occasional reinterpretations, but Russ and Bruce continue to put heart and soul in, and there’s no doubting their commitment and how much they’re adored for doing it, not least by those of us too young to properly catch The Jam live first time around.

This is far more than just a Jam jukebox, and there are two fine albums carrying the Foxton brand and Hastings’ own songs out there too. But on this occasion, you could argue it was chiefly about nostalgia, celebrating one of the finest albums ever made, although ‘I guess it’s just the music that brings on nostalgia for an age yet to come’, as Pete Shelley put it.

Speaking of whom, there was added poignancy on the night, Russ paying tribute to Pete after a nice touch from support act Spark, a talented semi-acoustic bass and guitar duo who finished with a lovely rendition of ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?’ after singer Mark Stelfox revealed how he wouldn’t have had the confidence to be up there, doing his own thing if not for Shelley.

Then came the main act, Neal Hefti’s ‘Batman’ theme fading away and that opening salvo of title track ‘All Mod Cons’ and ‘To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time)’ kicking in and sounding so fresh, Weller’s pop at the Polydor doubters then his impassioned depiction of how it might have been all over if another stuttering album like The Modern World had been delivered in safe hands.

It’s a similar situation with ‘Mr Clean’, Weller’s bitter foray into Ray Davies storytelling territory still sounding angry, although I noticed Russ let his audience fill in the gaps during the most acerbic line.

Talking of Ray, we were soon into The Kinks’ ‘David Watts’, Bruce taking lead vocal and perfectly delivering, before the order of the LP was changed and we got the mighty ’In the Crowd’, another game-changer, Weller incorporating Revolver-esque backward guitar with Vic Coppersmith-Heaven’s encouragement and cajoling from the booth.

Bass Instinct: Bruce Foxton and Mike Randon at Clitheroe, The Grand last December. (Photo: Michael Porter)

That fresh creative approach certainly paid off, previous producer Chris Parry first to acknowledge they had something special. And live it remains a tour de force, its late ‘Away from the Numbers’ echo a reminder that this was where the band had sought to head from the start. But while that first LP was full-on Feelgoods and Who R’n’B passion, this was more measured, more experimental, more now, while still incorporating those long-held influences.

While I totally get ‘Billy Hunt’, I find it a little clumsy looking back, not least the naive lyrics. But Russ does it justice all these years on, and it’s a neat gateway into ‘It’s Too Bad’, where Weller moulded his love of The Who into a great pop song, one followed live on this occasion by a track truly embodying what The Jam were about, ‘The Place I Love’, no less inspirational today, a delightful number taking me back to my old Surrey backyard, streets, lanes and woods, but more than just a nostalgia trip.

The band needed to draw breath, and Bruce and Russ took to stools at stage-front, Weller’s uncredited love song ‘English Rose’ arguably stronger in Hastings’ hands than when committed to tape by a loved-up songwriter barely 20 at the time. But if maturity was missing from that, Paul certainly nailed it on ‘Fly’, the next sit-down selection and for me the first of many great songs in his Tales From the Riverbank series, another bringing to mind real and imagined childhood and teenage wanderings on my old patch, the imagery just gorgeous in places.

Russ and Bruce veered off the main theme for a few minutes, Bruce’s evocative ‘Smithers-Jones’ and Weller’s claustrophobic ‘Private Hell’ from Setting Sons following before they were back on their feet and straight into ‘’A’ Bomb in Wardour Street’ and ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’, the tracks that ended All Mod Cons but also announced its arrival, the first fruits of this new beginning for The Jam, the first having shared billing with ‘David Watts’ in single form in August ’78, and the second following three weeks before the LP, another clue added in a cover of The Who’s ‘So Sad About Us‘ on the B-side.

If anything, ‘’A’ Bomb’ also signalled Paul’s dismissal and disengagement from a faltering punk scene (despite seemingly adopting a more punk style in its delivery), while Vic’s ‘Tube Station’ production suggested the gloves were off with regard to experimentation, a Davies-like story song given extra edge. And yet neither would have worked without being cracking songs, as proved by the excitement they still generate four decades later, live and on the turntable.

They didn’t finish there, and I highly commend the bobbing heads up front for their stamina throughout. I get the feeling many of those were there first time the band played these songs in the North West and are still going strong. While Bruce’s jumps are rarer these days, the band still give it their all and the audience reciprocate.

It’s not just re-energised Lee Perry-bedecked balding blokes either. At least a couple of generations of fans were mouthing the words and wigging out, including a mother and daughter near me, I reckon. And not just for the hits. Here was someone clearly weaned on The Jam.

On the show went, masterpiece after masterpiece tagged on, ‘Town Called Malice’ followed by ‘Butterfly Collector’, ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘News of the World’, ‘Start’ and ‘Strange Town’, before the band headed off, returning five minutes later to finish in style with ‘In the City’, ‘Eton Rifles’ and ‘Going Underground’. Everyone a winner.

For a link to this site’s review of From The Jam at The Cavern in Liverpool in May 2017, head here. And for an April 2017 interview with Russell Hastings, with links to past WriteWyattUK Jam-related features, interviews and reviews, head here

From The Jam’s 2018 itinerary ends with sell-outs at Reading’s Sub 89 (December 13th) then Brighton’s Concord 2 (December 14th/15th). For details of next year’s dates, the From the Jam Live! album, and much more, head to their website. You can also follow their antics via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Introducing This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash

It’s finally out there, nine months after I delivered the majority of the words, and a year and three-quarters after my first online hint about the project. This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash is available from Amazon or online/in store from Blackwell’sFoylesWaterstones and W.H. Smith, in time for Christmas and already being shipped out in encouraging quantities.

A few factors out of my hands put it back a little, but that at least allowed me to add an interview with Joe Strummer’s widow Lucinda and good friend Gordon McHarg, on the back of the JS001 boxset and archive project. Given the chance I’d add a review of that and the exhibition that followed, and more on Paul Simonon’s latest LP and live dates with The Good, The Bad and The Queen, the wondrous Merrie Land. But you have to draw a line somewhere, press the button marked ‘print, publish and be damned’.

Early on, I felt a bit of a fraud. Why me? I’m certainly not an insider on The Clash camp. But maybe that counts for more, arguably helping me see things a little clearer, not too close to the subject, able to make independent judgements.

If there was – I admit – an initial fear that taking on this mighty task (and I’m grateful, believe me) might colour my love for the band negatively, that hasn’t happened. In fact, I reckon I love and appreciate the band even more, and not once along the way did I regret getting involved. Granted, I only re-listened to Cut the Crap a couple of times, but even that, I felt, helped get a handle on the whole story.

What’s it all about, in a nutshell? This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash details the band’s rise from roots in bands such as the 101’ers to their memorable emergence, and beyond, their place in music history secured even before London Calling took them to a whole new level, putting them on the road to global success before the spark that ignited them ultimately burned them out.

But it’s about far more than that, appraising and examining the studio output, how they broke America, looking closely at the many tours and interviews, and how they fell apart at the height of success. I’ve also sought to detail individual members’ stories, examining post-split careers and the heartbreak surrounding Joe Strummer’s early death, profiling other key personnel involved in a group celebrated for their political stance, rebellious outlook and influential experimentation as much as their music, their legacy intact long after the classic line-up – Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Headon – last shared a stage.

The question I felt I had to answer from day one was, ‘Why even bother with a new Clash biography?’ Esteemed past works by biographers Pat Gilbert, Marcus Gray, Chris Salewicz and Keith Topping, plus film-makers Don Letts and Julien Temple, and former roadie Johnny Green told the story so well, while there are numerous in-depth online resources and quality pieces from magazines and newspapers over the years – from dedicated websites to a wealth of great features and interviews with key and fringe personnel, archived and more recent, out there from many respected writers.

But many of those publications are harder to find these days, and this is my attempt at lovingly compiling a ‘best of’ tome, fully crediting those who put in the hard graft before me. A lot of thought went into what should be included, and as well as an in-depth history of the band and its members – before, during and after The Clash – I’ve added insights from those on the scene and those inspired by the band to get out and do their own thing, including recollections of personal encounters from many of my own interviewees, while Damian O’Neill was good enough to give me his time for an introductory chapter in which he reflects on how The Clash inspired The Undertones and reminisces about their time together in America on such a landmark tour.

Then there are profiles of those around the band and who played their part – from earlier and later bandmates to management, producers and engineers, session men, key videographers, and those who toured with or knew Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper from other projects. There are also appreciations of each album, key moments like the early gigs, Rehearsal Rehearsals and Westway era, Rock Against Racism, the Vanilla and Wessex sessions, the Bond’s residency in NYC, the end of The Clash Mk. I and the painful tale of The Clash Mk. II. I compiled a ’50 Finest’ tracks section (that certainly wasn’t easy) and a piece on The Clash’s London landmarks too, and discuss the main books and films, adding a detailed discography, timeline and links elsewhere.

Hopefully you’ll glean from all this that this is no attempt to write a book replacing all that came before. It’s more my attempt to marry lots of that together, point you in the right direction or help fill any gaps, creating an all-encompassing go-to publication that sits nicely alongside the other Clash and punk rock books on your shelf, including plenty of fresh copy. Think of it as complementary to the rest of the best.

I also go into more detail about my own personal journey with The Clash, and regular visitors here will know there are clues to my love for the band in many of the interviews published on this website, not least in the title itself, and the piece I wrote to mark the 40th anniversary of ‘White Riot’ early last year.

An official endorsement? Well, I’d love to have talked to Mick, Paul and Topper over a pint or a cuppa, not least to explain how this isn’t just another Clash book and it has something fresh to offer. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hoping they’ll look kindly on the result, and interviews will finally follow, not least with a second book planned, he adds tantalisingly.

Mucky Duck: The Black Swan in Sheffield, later rebranded The Boardwalk, 42 years after The Clash made their live debut there, supporting the Sex Pistols (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Update: December 31st, 2018 – Thanks for all your support for the book so far. There are still plenty of copies out there, and if you would like to buy a personalised and signed edition at £12 plus P&P, just send me a note via this WriteWyattUK page link on Facebook or through a private message on this website. You can also buy direct via Amazon.

Did you catch The Clash’s debut live appearance at the Black Swan in Sheffield supporting the Sex Pistols in July ’76? Unlikely, I know, but it’s worth asking. Perhaps you got to see ‘the only band that matters’ during those early years anyway, or at the height of their success, or even in the later days when Mick and Topper had departed. Either way. I’d love to hear your story, in the hope of putting together The Clash – The Day I Was There.

If so, when did you see the band, and where? And what stood out for you? Who were you with? Were you already a fan? Were you still a student or working? Were you a regular on a certain scene? Did you get a photo with your heroes? Did you keep your ticket or other memorabilia to mark the occasion? How did you get to know about the band? What was the spark that made you sit up and take notice?

Ever get to meet Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon or Topper Headon? Or do you go back to the earlier days, or through to Terry Chimes’ return or The Clash Mk. II? What sticks in your mind about those conversations?

If you’ve got a Clash-related story you’d like to share with me, for potential future publication, please drop me a line via thedayiwasthere@gmail.com

For this website’s appreciation of The Clash, in a feature marking the 40th anniversary of the release of debut single, ‘White Riot’, head here

 

 

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Old, new, hallowed and true – back in touch with Slade legend Dave Hill

‘Omeward Bound: Dave Hill, back out on the road with Slade this Christmas

If it’s December, Slade must be doing the rounds again, in the post Holder/Lea configuration they’ve worked in for 25-plus years.

And it’s not long after ‘Super Yob’ guitar hero Dave Hill calls me from his home in the Black Country that he mentions ‘that song’, as bandmate and fellow original, Don Powell, puts it, the festive classic that’s come to define Wolverhampton’s finest at this time of year.

All I did, by way of an ice-breaker, was ask whether Dave (guitar, vocals) was looking forward to his latest festive live outings with Don (drums), Mal McNulty (vocals, guitar) and John Berry (bass, vocals).

“Yes, it’s something that’s always a pleasure and I’m comfy to be doing. And not just because we have the biggest Christmas song ever. I think also it’s all to do with the history of the band.

“It’s 45 years now since 1973, which gives us an immense history in existence as Slade. And I’m still   performing – really I never stopped – carrying on regardless … like an old Carry On film. Ha ha!”

That yuletide smash was of course ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, one of six UK No.1 singles and 16 top-10 hits for Slade (added to three No.1 and five top-10 LPs).

In fact, 45 years ago Slade became the first band since The Beatles to go straight into the UK singles charts at No.1, a feat they managed three times in ’73. The first time was with ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ (four weeks at the top), followed by ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’ (three weeks), and then – having just missed out with ‘My Friend Stan’, which peaked at No.2 – for five weeks with a Christmas ditty recorded in New York City the previous summer, shifting half a million copies in the first week of release. And there wouldn’t be another British chart-topper until The New Seekers got there on January 19th, 1974.

What’s more – and these were the days that record sales really counted for something – that ‘straight in at No.1’ feat wouldn’t be repeated again until The Jam managed it – also three times – with ‘Going Underground’/’Dreams of Children’ (1980), then ‘Town Called Malice’/‘Precious’, and their swansong, ‘Beat Surrender’ (both 1982).

Live Presence: Slade, 2018 style. From the left – John Berry, Don Powell, Dave Hill, Mal McNulty.

But let’s get back to Slade, and last time Dave and I spoke was three years ago, when he told me he was working with Anthony Keates on a project that would became So Here It Is: The Autobiography, sub-titled How the boy from Wolverhampton rocked the world with Slade, published by Unbound in 2017. So a lot’s happened since, I’m guessing.

“It most certainly has, and in a very good way. Anthony was a brilliant choice. It wasn’t on my radar, but it’s a bit like so many things that have happened to me in life. You’re going one direction, when actually it’s the other way. And what Anthony did was help me find my way as to exactly how I would do it.

“I’m quite a good talker and people like listening to me, so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to have a book that sounds like me having an evening with you where I tell you a story’. I’ve got my own accent, and people like that, and I thought that was the way forward. I could record it all, and I had quite a journey with Anthony. We spent quite a lot of time finding people out to help with their personal stories of me at the time. And there was a lot to get through and a lot we discovered.”

It sure beats therapy, and it’s probably a lot cheaper than having your own shrink.

“Well, I think it is therapy. There are some things that weren’t quite explained, like the business of finding your Mum and Dad had a fake wedding, trying to make it look right for the pair of us (Dave and his sister Carol) when they couldn’t actually get married. But I find it quite romantic actually, what they did.”

I’ve only recently read the book, and while I’m familiar with a lot of the back-story, I learned a fair bit about you that I wasn’t aware of.

“And it’s out in paperback now too.”

Ah, good plug, Dave. With an extra chapter too, I see.

“Yes, and two different covers. Sainsbury’s have got an exclusive silver cover for their shelves, and there’s the red version – like the version you’ve got – elsewhere. Red’s always nice for Christmas, and silver’s nice as well … part of my stage clothes were silver, of course.”

Indeed. As Stuart Maconie put it in 2004’s Cider with Roadies, he had a ‘jumpsuit made of the foil that you baste your turkeys in and platforms of oil-rig-derrick height’.

While we were on the book, I also mentioned to Dave the number on the spine of my hardback version, wondering what it related to, prompting him to look at his copy, then admit, ‘I don’t know what the story of that is mi’self!’

So how would Dave best sum up his 2018?

“Well … how can I put it? It’s been a year of playing the regular places I do, but also Israel, doing a show in Tel Aviv. That’s not a place that was on my radar either, but it turns out there’s a promoter out there who’s an absolute fanatic of us. And I couldn’t believe they knew the songs.

“I didn’t particularly think of Israel having Slade’s music pumping out of the radio, more associating it with religion, tourism, and all that. But when I got there, Tel Aviv was like any other city, a very vibrant place, and so enjoyable.”

So was there a love for your music there back in the ‘70s?

“It definitely had an impact, as it did in Russia, where they weren’t supposed to listen to our music. It was frowned upon. Western rubbish, I suppose. But I’m afraid the Russians didn’t listen (to that advice), and thankfully we have many thousands of fans there too.

Garden G-Strap: Dave ‘You Write ‘Em, I’ll Sell ‘Em’ Hill takes a turn around his back garden

“It was interesting hearing from this Israeli person discussing with me his memories of the past. And he knew so much about me, not just the regular questions, but probing back to my first guitars, obviously having done his homework. It was great.

“Having said that, I went to the Falkland Islands many years ago, wondering how that would work too, playing to the troops. What would we do? Would we be ‘entertainers, playing to the boys’?”

Dave writes about the band’s South Atlantic visit in So Here It Is, and I seem to recall it was quite soon after the Falklands War.

“It was still tender, a subject you didn’t really bring up with them. Not so much, ‘Don’t mention the war!’ It was more personal than that. Someone had lost his friend, and there was that sort of feeling.

“Our job was to play their club for a full week, staying on the base while they entertained us, taking us out on the helicopters and all that. It was a hell of a long flight, but it was worth it.”

That’s the closest Slade got to playing South America, it turns out. But who knows, maybe they also have a big Argentine following that they’ve yet to discover.

“Possibly. It’s never cropped up.”

These days, is it a family affair when you tour? I don’t mean the immediate 21st century Slade family of yourself, Don, Mal and John. I know your son has travelled with you in the past. How about your beloved, Jan? Or do you prefer to keep those parts of your life separate?

Late Bloomer: Dave Hill gets himself some family time back in his beloved Black Country

“With regards my wife, you’ll see a picture in my book of us and the whole family, and that’s the greatest achievement we could ever really have. In a sense, my wife met me before fame, so she’s been through it all, and she’s more private.

“I’m a very tactile person, so people approach me and I’m very friendly, while my wife’s a lot more reserved and cautious about people.

“I suppose my real answer would simply be that there are two sides to me. There’s the man who walks on the stage, and for that period of time I’m more focused than in anything else I do. That’s when I lose myself in it, the actual experience of entertainment.

“Then, when I come off the stage, I go back to the hotel and go to bed, looking forward to the next date. I treat every show as if it was my first. I don’t under-play and don’t go through the motions.

“When I come home with bits of stories, I send pictures of the action we got, but then it’s usually, ‘That hedge needs cutting down there!’ And when I go out walking locally, people see me and it’s like, ‘Morning Dave. Alright? Where you been?’”

I should imagine that’s what always kept you grounded, and the same goes for Nod, Jim and Don too by all accounts.

“Yeah, Noddy and myself are the most recognised, but I think people see us as friends as well as famous people. Also, we’re not a band people associated with politics or making a point. It’s nothing to do with music being used for a purpose of opinions or reactions. Our music has come from the stable of good records and meaningful songs – a rock’n’roll band.

Over the years you were perhaps seen as an escape for people from everyday concerns, I suppose.

“Well, I’ve probably been escaping the system ever since I got out of that job!”

Fringe Benefits: Dave, Don, Noddy and Jim back in their Slade ’70s heydays

He’s alluding to his time at Tarmac in their offices in Wolverhampton there, when Slade’s predecessors The Vendors, later known as The N’ Betweens, were starting to make an impact. If 72-year-old Dave had stayed in the day-job, how long does he think he would have been retired by now?

“Well, let’s put it like this. It’s no longer Tarmac. It’s now an Indian school (the Ettingshall site is now home to a vocational training centre and the British Sikh School). I did for a period of time before I made it see people still walking the same walk though.

“And let’s not be wrong here – my place was not there. It never was. But I had to have a job and had to start somewhere, and it was a fiver a week. I was an office boy, and three years later I still was. I hadn’t improved. It was a bit like a school report. ‘If he could concentrate … he’s disruptive in the class …’

“The thing is, life is life, and I can’t say what’s right for anybody else, but being involved in something which is not just about the money – if money was the reason I did it, I would have failed dismally on that score, as there was never a great deal of money. It certainly never came my way anyway.

“But I see it now the same way as when I first went professional – it was about a freedom of travel, and the journey continues, and I’ll take it as far as I can in this life, because the purpose is still important to people. If they didn’t want it, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Some of those you worked with at Tarmac probably saw you on Top of the Pops and told their mates the next day, ‘I see Dave Hill’s still got that same job. Did you see him last night on telly, wearing that metal nun get-up?’

“Well, yeah! Probably saying, ‘Get a proper job!’ At Tarmac I was told, ‘Stick with the job, it’s a proper job, musicians don’t always make it’. That was true, but years and years later I was in the Tarmac monthly magazine!”

Dave’s had his health battles in recent years, and my most recent interviewee was with his old adversary-cum-ally, Andy Scott of The Sweet, who’s had his own run-ins as well as losing two bandmates far too early.

“Oh yeah, Andy’s a mate.”

Superyob Splendour: From the March 2006 issue of Guitarist Magazine

So how’s your health these days ?

“Well, I’ve experienced serious depression, but got over that, and the stroke was not planned, but is it ever? I’ve always been a jogger and things, but who knows what led to that? I really don’t know. That was quite a time ago now – 2010.  I’m eight years on and on medication for that, but quite happy.

“Andy had prostate cancer, something our bass player, Jim Lea, had too, and of course Jim suffered some bad health towards the end of the original band. We were in America and he caught hepatitis. That knocked him around. In fact, we never worked together again really. We were having a hit record at the time.

“I’ve not seen anything of him. I see more of Nod, even though Jim only lives up the road, while Nod’s in Manchester. But the point is that I’m thankful to Jim, Nod and Don for their contributions to my life. Without each other … it certainly wouldn’t have happened in the configuration we had.

“I’ve had a brush with stuff, and my wife’s had a brush with cancer this year – a minute form of breast cancer – the surgeon said if anybody was going to have cancer, she had the best type.

“That was something that happened that we dealt with together, and marriage is a friendship and a partnership, and it’s about supporting each other … until you pop your clogs, I suppose.”

If he sounds rather dismissive of his issues with depression and his stroke in that answer, I can assure you that’s not the case. He goes into it all in far more detail in So Here It Is.

And again, we come back to Dave and his bandmates all being very grounded. What’s more, the time he’s been with Jan and the time Jim’s been with his wife Louise seem to defy the cliché about rock’n’rollers, temptation, and long-term relationships.

“I don’t think we were quite like that. There were bands spending lots of money, being flash, and while we were flash in the clothes, I felt quite uncomfortable with some of it.

“When I bought my first house in Solihull I thought, ‘Do I deserve this?’ Going from a humble council house across to that situation felt a little unreal, where people weren’t really like those I grew up with. It felt sort of empty somehow. Nevertheless, it was a good experience, living there, and I certainly did work for it.”

Fasten your seatbelts, dear readers. Dave’s about to get philosophical, even quoting a line from William Wordsworth’s Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought.

“I walk across the meadows in the mornings and think about those things, poetry and all that. We all need to earn money, but there are so many things that give you the trueness of life and what really matters in life. It’s about family and it’s about yourself. As Wordsworth put it, ‘We feel that we are greater than we know.’

“I read a book by a Norwegian explorer (Erling Kagge) who crossed the Antarctic and wrote, Silence: In the Age of Noise (2017), about stillness of mind, a very spiritual thing in a way. And there’s a Tyrone Power film, The Razor’s Edge (1946), where a guy goes up to the mountains, up to a teacher. He leaves him there for months, where he has an experience with the morning sunlight and something touches him in a way that sends him back to civilisation a completely different man, and he starts to help people. And that also  struck a nerve in a way.”

You mention Erling Kagge, and you mentioned in our last interview how there’s something about Norway that draws you in. Meanwhile, Don has his special link with Denmark, where he’s based with his wife and family.

“Yeah, I love it in Norway, and my son proposed to his wife there. It’s a love affair with a country where the scenery is awesome.”

Dave also reiterated that now he’s finished the book, he’s hoping a Who Do You Think You Are? appearance might reveal even more about his family roots, saying, ‘There are one or two subjects that still haven’t been uncovered.’ And he’s got plenty of other future plans.

“I also know they possibly want me to do an audio version of the book, and I’d like to do ‘an audience with’ type format show, playing a bit of acoustic guitar. The book has opened up a few doors for me, and there was also talk of a movie, a drama. I’ll be promoting the book well into next year. But right now there’s work to be done with this tour.”

I should imagine the process of writing the book and dwelling on your past has added a few more years to your life. You seem to be a man at ease with yourself more in recent years.

“I think so. And it’s not selfishness, as some might think. You’re the only person who can help yourself, although people can help you along, give you kind words … as my parents used to do. But when it comes down to the existence of us all, it’s more about an inward contact, rather than talking about God and religion and being dictated to. It’s about self-discovery.”

He might even have a solo album project lined up somewhere down the line.

“It might be a bit too personal, but then again it might be an important journey for me, never mind anybody else.”

Interesting. Would we hear H’s singing voice?

“I’d attempt that. I don’t particularly like my voice, but often you get guitar players – even Clapton – who have a feeling in their voice, not trying to be anyone else. Mark Knopfler’s the same, a guitar player with the voice around it.”

For the first time in a dozen or so years, I watched Flame all the way through over the weekend. It still makes for great viewing, 43 years on, and not just because of that cracking soundtrack. But one thing that’s struck me today and last time we spoke is that you’re definitely not Barry, the character you played in that film. He was a bit of a diva, and a moody one at that.

“Well, I suppose I’ve been a bit of a negotiator. I’ve never been a businessman, but I’ve been someone who probably talks people into something. The idea of manipulating to get hold of a van for the band in that film … well, gosh, I think we were all a bit like that.

“Dad would call me a jammy bugger. He said, ‘If there are no spaces when you come around the car park, there would suddenly be one there!’ I’ve never thought of myself as lucky as such though, and I don’t think anything’s ever come easy. I saw this all as a ticket for a lifetime. It’s not about money, and it’s more than a job. It’s a way of living.”

Grass Roots: Dave Hill takes it back ‘ome

You’ve shared bills with Status Quo too, and I recall the late Rick Parfitt mentioning in his XS All Areas joint-autobiography with Francis Rossi about occasionally driving back to his childhood home in Woking and sitting outside, contemplating his past.

“I’ve done that.”

And I don’t mean going back to Flete Castle in Devon, where your story started, but Rindleford Avenue, the old estate in Penn, Wolverhampton.

“Yeah, I do. I sometimes park outside, where nobody knows I’m sat in the car, with this vision in my mind of the boy from Wolverhampton sat on the grass in front of the house, as it was, this boy with a wind-up record player, putting the needle on. I can still see it all.

“Because you live in an area where you grew up, as John Lennon said (‘In My Life’), people and places, ‘Some have gone and some remain.’ That’s basically what it is to me. The cinema’s gone, where I had my introduction to movies, but the youth centre’s still there, the old school’s been pulled down, and supermarkets have come along and spaces have become car parks. But in my memory it’s all still there, in that personal computer in my head.

“And because I wrote this book in Wolverhampton, I was surrounded by the memories of it. I could walk around this council estate and see the kid that got his first guitar. He might not still be alive, but I’m still here and I still walk around the streets where I rode my bike. Ha ha!”

You did move house at one point, mind, as we discussed earlier … all the way to Solihull.

“Yes, I did. Ha! That was a brief encounter!”

And where will Dave and the Family Hill be spending this Christmas?

“There’s only one place to be … ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’!”

And does anyone dare put that song on over Christmas dinner?

“Well, I’ll keep the radio off. I usually put the Ronettes on!”

Noize Abatement: Slade legend Dave Hill takes some time out at home

Slade’s December UK tour continues at Liverpool 02 Academy (Saturday, December 8th, 0151 707 3200, and online here), Wrexham William Aston Hall (Sunday 9th December, 0844 888 9991, and online here), Oxford O2 Academy (Friday December 14th, 0844 477 1000, and online here), Hull Welly (Saturday December 15th, 01482 221113, and online here), Leicester O2 Academy (Sunday December 16th, 0116 223 1181, and online here), London ULU (Friday December 21st, 0844 477 1000, and online here) and Manchester Academy 2 (Saturday December 22nd, 0161 832 1111, and online here). Mud2 are the support for Oxford, Hull, Leicester, London and Manchester, with more details via www.vmstickets.co.uk.

For July 2018’s WriteWyattUK feature/interview with Slade’s Jim Lea, head here. To catch up with this website’s previous feature/interview with Dave Hill, from December 2015, head here. And for our conversation with Don Powell from December 2017, try here. You can also check out the lowdown on Noddy Holder’s live show with Mark Radcliffe from May 2013 via this link, and find a WriteWyattUK appreciation of Slade from December 2012 here.  

The official Slade Facebook page can be found via this link, while the Slade Are For Life – Not Just For Christmas Facebook page is linked here

 

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Sweet inspirations, five decades on – the Andy Scott interview

 

Four-piece Sweet: Andy Scott, second right, and his fellow Sweet bandmates (from the left – Bruce Bisland, Pete Lincoln and Tony O’Hora), out and about again in December 2018

Can it really be half a century since the pre-glam incarnation of The Sweet threw their first chord shapes, and 45 years since the era-defining ’Blockbuster’ saw the band in their pomp top the UK charts?

What’s more, it’s been 55 years since Sweet guitarist Andy Scott’s first gig, back in his native Wrexham, North Wales.

To help mark those mighty milestones, Andy’s out this month with the latest Sweet line-up – also featuring Bruce Bisland (drums, vocals), Pete Lincoln (lead vocals, bass) and Tony O’Hora (guitar, keyboards, vocals) – to celebrate an outfit that managed 10 top-10 hits between 1971 and 1978 and were key players in the glam-rock movement.

To get in the mood for The Sweet Blockbuster Glam Christmas Party, I had a nostalgic morning on my metaphorical dansette, spinning ‘Teenage Rampage’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Blockbuster’, ‘Action’, ‘Hell Raiser’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam’, to name but half a dozen Sweet inspirations.

And while Andy wasn’t in the band from day one, he provides a link threading past to present, having made vital contributions throughout Sweet’s journey, adding vocals and keyboards as well as those memorable six-string licks.

Based ‘where the Ridgeway and the Vale of Pewsey join’ in Wiltshire since leaving London in 1991, it was ‘absolutely hacking it down’ when I called Andy, his hopes of catching the cricket from Sri Lanka on the box scuppered by bad light there too. But he was about to get out on the road again, attentions once more focused on The Sweet, as they have been so often since 1970.

So, in the immortal words of Brian Connolly on ‘Ballroom Blitz’, are you ready, Andy?

“Yeah.”

Alright, fellas, let’s go!

Actually, it’s been 40 years since vocalist Brian quit the band, and 21 since he died, way too young, the same going for drummer Mick Tucker, who passed away in 2002 after a battle with leukemia. Did such moments ultimately inspire Andy to make the most of life?

“Kind of. As you get older what you thought when you were 30 changes. All of a sudden survival instincts kick in. Eric Clapton is probably one of the big survivors, alongside Keith Richards. I wouldn’t put myself in that league, but I had a couple of hell-raisers in the band who aren’t here anymore, and that probably says enough, doesn’t it?”

Guitar Man: Andy Scott, still out there, still the main man, wanting a piece of the action

Do you think you gave it as much as them, socially, at times?

“Not in the same way. My bit in the band was the music. I was the producer and most of the songs we wrote – or every song – has my starting point or input. From the moment of the ideas you need to write a song, it usually falls on a guitar player if that’s the only chordal instrument in the band.”

There are those who might think Sweet were more a creation of the Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman pop factory production team. But you were songwriters before, through and after those years.

“Well, yeah. I came out of a group called The Elastic Band in the late ‘60s, and while we were touring, I bumped into Sweet once on the road. We were doing a BBC session live in some coastal resort, Great Yarmouth or maybe Weston-Super-Mare, and Sweet came along with one of their early EMI singles.

“They had a couple that got played a lot on the radio, but it just wasn’t successful. Then I had a problem in a band where the lead singer decided to leave and join the Love Affair, a bit of a kick. So my brother (Mike Scott) and I joined a band down in London, Mayfield’s Mule, which is why we ended up down there … and within six months I was in Sweet.

“Even though my brother and I would have loved to have been in a band together again, we decided whatever came our way we would take.”

Mayfield’s Mule recorded three singles, their self-titled album released in Uruguay of all places. But more wide-scale fame was just around the corner. What does Andy remember about his Sweet audition (which according to bandmate Steve Priest involved him blowing a fuse in front of the rest of the group and their joint-managers)?

“I was living in Shepherd’s Bush, and they chose a rehearsal room – I think it was The Cabin in Golborne Road, just a couple of hundred yards from where I was, and they knew me there. We kept some of our band equipment there.

“It was getting to dusk that evening, and I asked Mike Chapman – who immediately recognised me, he’d been in a band called Tangerine Peel – if I could go in next, in case somebody sees me. The band I was in weren’t doing anything, but nobody had told me we didn’t exist anymore. And rather than cause friction, he said yeah.

“I went in and there was a Marshall stack there. I didn’t realise it was turned full on. I certainly woke up the room, let’s put it that way. Mick (Tucker)’s comment was, ‘Mm … you’re in, I think,’ pleased to see a bloke who didn’t mind hearing his guitar feeding back.”

Early Days: The first Sweet single Andy played on, from 1971

Early Days: The first Sweet single Andy played on, from 1971

Is that right that your live debut with The Sweet was at the Windsor Ballroom in Redcar, late September 1970?

“D’you know, I’m not sure, although I’ve got a couple of guys who do our statistics and they’d know. If you’ve seen that, it could be right.

“In Redcar they had the Jazz Club as a gig, where all the major acts played – like Led Zep and Queen – and I played there many times with The Elastic Band. The same promoter, when he heard I was in Sweet, booked us, but for a hotel gig rather than the jazz club, a Saturday night in a big hotel on the seafront.

“A couple of years later we went back, having had hits by then. It must have been like their version of a Mecca Ballroom, with the support act The Government, whose lead singer was David Coverdale. We had a good long chat. We’d met before. He came to Elastic Band gigs as a very young lad, then showed up at The Sweet gigs, saying, ‘I’m a better singer than him. You should get me in!’ And quite frankly he had a fantastic voice. He was singing Otis Redding material in that band.”

As I understand it, your very first show was almost seven years earlier back in Wrexham, playing bass at St Peter’s Hall with The Rasjaks in November 1963 – 55 years ago.

“Oh, that may well have been the very first gig, but one I remember was on New Year’s Eve. We had an older guy as singer and ended up being his backing band. We had no real name, but he knew someone at the chemical works on the outskirts of town, and they had a New Year do.

“He said, ‘You should book my band’. They agreed. Little did they know we were so inexperienced. We hardly had enough material. With the half-dozen instrumentals we knew and half-dozen vocal songs, we barely had enough time for a 45-minute set, let along four hours.

“When we got there, the microphone wouldn’t work, so we ended up playing the same instrumentals twice. We took a break and by then people had eaten and wanted to dance a bit. We were mainly playing Shadows songs and (Nero & the Gladiators’ Edvard Grieg-inspired) ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, played rather badly.

“This guy came up to us as we were about to launch into the same songs a third time and said, ‘How much are you getting paid?’ We probably told him £1.50 or two quid. He said, ‘If I give you a quid, will you not play anymore?”

What did that do for your ego?

“Well, we were too young. I think I was barely 15.”

Settling In: Andy Scott during his days with the Silverstone Set (Photo copyright: http://www.andyscott.info)

There were also formative spells with fellow North Welsh bands the 3Ds, Guitars Incorporated, Missing Links, Saints, and ForeWinds, before – three and a bit years after his Rasjaks debut – a defining moment while playing with the Silverstones (originally the Silverstone Set), supporting The Jimi Hendrix Experience in Manchester, January ‘67.

“We were in the best band in Wrexham, and there was a lot of good talent there in the early to mid-‘60s, but there was one band slightly outside town, heading towards Shropshire, called the Silverstones, gigging in places like Birmingham, Manchester and South Wales, as well as the odd gig in Wrexham.

“They had ambition, and the lead singer was later in The Elastic Band with me, his mother the manager. They had proper equipment too. When I joined they had Gretsch guitars, Rogers drums and Vox amps. I was thinking I’d not been in a band as together as this.

“Before then it had always been a bit more makeshift, but we went on to win Opportunity Knocks half a dozen times, and from there we were picked up by one of the major agencies in Manchester and used to do this gig in the centre there, at the CIS building, above a Burton’s.

“It was a big venue, the New Century Hall. I don’t think it’s there anymore. It was like a soul night every Thursday. Because Jimi Hendrix was black, someone – not very bright – decided to get his band up for this soul night. He was just having a hit with ‘Hey Joe’.

“The week before they’d had The Drifters and the week before that The Four Tops. But then – here we go – Jimi Hendrix comes on and almost kills half the audience stone-dead, while I’m in absolute raptures, thinking, ‘What the hell is this? This is fantastic!’ I’m trying to tell people not to leave, just stick with this.

“But the hall half-emptied and the singer and I decided there and then that the Silverstones were no more, so long live whatever band we’re going to form. And that was the catalyst.”

The new outfit, The Elastic Band, became prime movers on the UK psychedelic rock scene, Andy joined by his brother Mike on bass, Ted Yeadon (aka Gus Eadon) singing, and Sean Jenkins on drums, splitting in 1970 when Yeadon accepted an offer to replace Steve Ellis as the Love Affair became L.A. They did get to record some singles and an album though, Expansions of Life, making another LP as The Cool, Pop Sounds.

“Three of us were left – me, my brother and Clive, the drummer after Sean decided to join Love Affair with Ted. I couldn’t blame him. Years later I remember him saying we should never have split that band. But these things happen. What can you do about it?”

A spell with Mike (bass, saxophone) followed in the backing band for The Scaffold, working with Paul McCartney’s brother Mike McCartney, aka Mike McGear. Do they keep in touch?

Elastic Trickery: Andy Scott with The Elastic Band, prime movers on the UK psych rock scene (Photo copyright: http://www.andyscott.info)

“I was in touch with Mike earlier this year. He did something at the Portmeirion Hotel, where they shot The Prisoner, an evening there promoting his book, doing readings, answering questions. So we had a little chat.

“The guy I’ve kept in touch with more from that band was Roger McGough, who lived in Barnes, not far from where I was in Maida Vale. We met a couple of times and the year before he came to Devizes, near where I am now, for a book festival.

“I said to him, ‘Next poet laureate, then?’ and he just said, ‘Carol Ann (Duffy) does a fabulous job’. But I hope he gets the next one.”

That would be good … if the position doesn’t go to John Cooper Clarke.

“Oh yeah, he’s out there, isn’t he! Wasn’t he doing something with Hugh Cornwell?”

He certainly was, including a rock’n’roll covers album. And who knew he had a singing voice on him?

“Yeah, it’s called turning the world on its head. All of a sudden, we are the establishment!”

Talking of heroes, going back a year I was lucky enough to speak to a close associate of yours over the years, another of my childhood heroes, Slade’s Don Powell.

“Oh, I love Don!”

A lovely fella … although I had to hold the phone a bit further from my ear for him.

“Well, he’s verging on that area of deafness. I just get him to face me when I talk to him, fed up of him going, ‘Eh? What?’”

Time Out: QSP, Andy Scott’s live and studio project with Suzi Quatro and Don Powell

Andy, Don and fellow ‘70s glam legend Suzi Quatro have played shows together and recorded an album as QSP, which seems like a lot of fun to me, and very bluesy.

“We wanted to get together and go back to our roots. You all start somewhere, and you never forget that. It was down to Suzi’s husband, Rainer (Haas). I produced a couple of her albums and we’ve done TV shows in Germany.

“He said, ‘You should do something together. But you’re gonna need a drummer. And the two of us went, ‘Well, it’s got to be Don!’ It took 10 years to get us all in the right place at the right time, but I thought we made a remarkably good album, considering how quickly we did it.”

Any chance of some dates together over here?

”Don and I talk about it, and I think Suzi’s up for it, but she’s a very busy woman, and a workaholic. She wouldn’t mind me saying that. She calls me a diva, and I just call her a bossy so-and-so!”

That banter between you comes over in the footage I’ve seen. You seem very much at ease with each other.

“Yeah. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and neither do I.”

Looking back, how important do you think the glam rock label was to you? You were kind of lumped into all that, but seemingly gladly so. Yet later your more rock leanings shone through, as they did with Slade.

“I keep trying to say to people, if you weren’t there you won’t realise how short-lived that era was. It didn’t last long. I think Marc Bolan towards the end of ’71 – whether you give him credit or whether he’s to blame – that’s where it kind of started, when he decided to stand up off his little cushion, go electric. Then there was the outrageous sparkly stuff, which only The Tiller Girls on Sunday Night at the London Palladium used to look like.

“Also, David Jones – Bowie – tried lots of things in those first couple of years, and in 1969 had that fantastic hit with ‘Space Oddity’, and before that him and Marc had been in a band. Someone tried to put the two of them together, and that ain’t gonna work – they’d both want to be the front-man.

Inspirational Album: David Bowie's Hunky Dory

Inspirational Album: David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, from late ’71

“But then he did that album, Hunky Dory, and … well, that was never off my turntable. So all of a sudden, Sweet, in our second year, ’72, when ‘Little Willie’ and the tongue-in-cheek stuff was being released, that’s when we started getting involved with the dressing-up box.

“By then Marc was off and running, while we – a little more cynically – thought this is one area that has a little bit of legs. But it only lasted for us until the end of ’73 and the beginning of ’74. By the middle of ’74 anybody jumping on the glam-rock bandwagon, to my eyes, looked a little bit yesterday.”

Prime contenders Slade were soon moving into motion picture territory, their 1975 film Flame not quite what the fans expected. But it’s stood the test of time.

“That was ahead of its time. And there was that film with David Essex, Stardust. They wanted us to do a film, but we were being shoved in with other bands. There were people wanting to make films like Rock Around the Clock, more of a showcase.

“There was one with The Rubettes and a couple of other bands. By the time any others were being made – and Brian really wanted to be an actor – I remember saying, ’Offer us something different’.

“There was also that Dave Clark Five film – brilliant! When you think where they came from in the ’60s, that film was really good. So it was possible to make a film like The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Help – they were different from just being your bog-standard, ‘Set up over there lads and mime a bit’.

At this point I mentioned a complimentary discussion on a friend’s Facebook page that morning about the might of the band’s output during that period, a run of impressive singles.

“Your friend has good taste! And one thing I have to say is that we probably made some of the best records of the era.”

You’re not always given kudos for that.

“Well, (we are) in Germany and Scandinavia and Australia. And to a degree America – where everyone knows the songs but don’t really remember the band. Steve Priest kind of summed it up. He said our manager at the time didn’t want us to do too much TV at the beginning. He wanted to keep it in a kind of bottled-up way, so we could got to the point where we could demand a TV special rather than just be guests on a show.

“But by keeping out of it, nobody really knew what we were about. In hindsight, we should have bloody done everything we could!”

I was watching the ‘Teenage Rampage’ promo before I picked up the phone. That really takes me back … despite me being barely six at the time of its release as a single.

“Well, we‘ve got somebody very organised now in Germany, a company called Aviator who have put together a YouTube Sweet official page, where you’ll get all the high-quality, original footage.

“A lot of that footage was missing. Whichever way you look at it, the band paid for all those promos in one way or another, so they’re all lying around gathering dust, probably since RCA shipped out of their Central London offices. A lot of stuff went in the skip.

“People like Nicky Chinn would probably have said, ‘What do I need that stuff for?’ And nobody told us. It’s scandalous. So when I travel around the world and do TV shows, one of the first things I ask is, ‘Where’s your archives guy?’ I have a chat with them and they say, ‘Whatever I’ve got, I’ll stick it on a super-HD DVD for you’. That’s how we’ve found some of our footage.

“A good friend, one of my partners in crime with video footage and some of the productions I do, also works in archives alongside companies dealing in missing TV shows and that, and sees some of the things that have been unearthed recently. It’s scandalous what the BBC did, for the sake of a piece of tape. Granted, it was expensive in the beginning, but …”

Seeing as you mentioned him before, I have to ask – is there animosity between you and former bandmate, Steve Priest, who has his own Sweet line-up?

“There’s certainly no animosity … I don’t think … between us. Steve sent me an email a couple of weeks ago. He’s had his issues, and I’ve had mine, but … If the moment was going to happen it should have been this year for the 50th anniversary. It didn’t though, and I can only say that if we do anything in the next year or so, so be it.

“We did a big 50th anniversary event in Berlin in June, but I have a feeling that people have an inflated view of what The Sweet possibly were. We’re not The Beatles or the Rolling Stones. It’s a band that realistically should still be around and still doing it, and I’ve always maintained that if you’ve got all four members of your band still alive you’re mad not to at least give it another go.”

And how about Andy Scott at 69? Have you slowed down? You’ve had your health battles, not least kicking prostate cancer into touch. Did that give you a different world view or change your approach?

“It’s bound to. I was just about to turn 60 and was invited to play on stage with Spinal Tap, alongside Justin Hawkins from the Darkness and Keith Emerson, another who’s no longer bloody with us. So sad.

“We were all playing bass on the song, ‘Big Bottom’. And our next foray was to do a festival in Malta. That was cancelled, but we decided to go anyway. It was swelteringly hot, and I’d been suffering diverticulitis, which is not very pleasant, having deep stomach pains.

“I went to see a specialist, who took loads of tests, and a week later found myself in front of a cancer specialist. They found my prostate had a tumour. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be here now. I had no symptoms for that, but maybe a few years previously, perhaps I had and hadn’t noticed. Leave it any longer and it would have spread and be barely treatable.”

We mentioned anniversaries, and it’s now 40 years since Brian left the band, although it wasn’t made official until the following January, 1979. What for you was the lesser-known highlight of all those years?

“Well, I’ve got to say, Brian’s last appearance, on ‘Love is Like Oxygen’. We’d been having real problems – and this is one of the reasons why Steve and I were singing more on albums – trying to get a performance from Brian and keep him away from the gin or whatever it was.

“I said to our tour manager, ‘If you’re going to bring him in, try at 11 in the morning and we’ll see what we get’. That day he arrived looking fresh and clean, had a cup of coffee, went in and within a couple of takes … I sang a lot of other stuff, but the verses are Brian’s, and it was a fantastic performance.

“It actually made my heart sing, thinking, ‘Great. Maybe we’ve turned a corner.’ But then we went on tour in America. The rest is history. He was starting to be more pissed than Jim Morrison on stage.”

Away from The Sweet, you still wear many other hats. Are you still involved in producing artists?

“I am. But right now we’re doing this tour of Britain, which over the last three years has turned from four or five gigs to six or seven, and now 12. I’m starting to think we might well have a tour of the UK every December now.

“It’s mainly small halls and rock clubs, including one in London, the old Irish Club, The Hibernian in west Kensington, now known as Nell’s Jazz Club. Last year we sold it out, and this year sold the first night out almost straight away so put a second on (December 19th/20th). It’s fantastic there, with a really great vibe. It takes you back.

“But yeah, I’m still producing. We’re doing what we call ‘the biggest smallest festival in the UK’, behind my local pub, Rock against Cancer.”

You’ve had some big names there too.

“Oh yeah, some stellar stuff. We had Brian May one year, Roger Taylor the next, and he brought Jeff Beck along. We’ve had 10cc, we’ve had the Boomtown Rats and Squeeze, last year Billy Ocean, Paul Carrack, The Stranglers. They were brilliant.

”There was also a band last year from Bath, Novatines, who I’ve taken into Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath, for an album, and we’ve a couple of things lined up. They’re going to perform with us at Bilston at the Robin 2 (December 17th), and next year are lined up for the Northern part of Germany when we tour there next year.”

Cover stars: Sweet take the front by storm for SuperStar '73. From the left: Mick Tucker, Andy Scott, Bruan Connolly, Steve Priest.

Cover stars: Sweet take the front for SuperStar ’73.  From the left – Mick, Andy, Brian, Steve.

Talking of that Black Country venue, I had a very pleasant chat this year with someone else who’s played there in recent years, another Slade legend, Jim Lea, another prostate cancer survivor, like yourself.

“Jim and I were captains of the Great Rock’n’Roll Tribute Quiz in the late ‘70s, like Pop Quiz but on the radio. But I’ve not seen him in years.”

You’re a family man too, aren’t you?

“Yeah, I’ve got a granddaughter. And my son is The Sweet sound engineer as well as being involved with a big conferencing company, being sent all over.”

Do you get back to your old North Wales roots often?

“I’m still involved at Wrexham Football Club, an unofficial ambassador. And I’ll talk about Wrexham until the cows come home.”

He proved it at that point, not least when I revealed I’d made a few trips of my own to the Racecourse Ground to see his side take on my beloved Woking. And I later learned via http://link2wales.co.uk that in 1977 a Sweet appearance on Top Of The Pops coincided with one of his club’s famous FA Cup runs, Andy playing with a giant red and white rosette on his jacket.

Finally, I told him that I thought I knew the other reason he’s out and about this month. I mean, he couldn’t let his old pals Dave Hill and Don Powell’s Slade – also gigging this December – have Christmas all to themselves, could he?

“Well, theirs is a whole different ball game. We never had a Christmas record, although we did record one about seven years ago, a version of ‘Let it Snow’, and it’s just starting to appear on some compilations.”

Live Wires: Sweet, 2018 style, with Andy Scott, left, joined up front by Pete Lincoln, centre, and Tony O’Hora.

The Sweet’s 2018 festive UK tour continues at Wylam Brewery in Newcastle (December 5th) and runs through to the Welly Club in Hull (December 22nd), including visits to Blackburn’s King George’s Hall Windsor Suite (December 8th) and Warrington’s Parr Hall (December 21st). Tickets for the last mentioned shows are available via 08444 780 898 or the Gig Cartel, with more tour dates, ticket details and much more about the band on their website. There’s also some great background about Andy Scott via his own site.

And make sure you come back to this website again this week for the latest WriteWyattUK feature/interview starring Andy’s old pal, Slade’s Dave Hill. 

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