Takes Two to tangle in Tākaka – in for the long haul with Tim Allen

Adding 11 hours to UK time to set up an interview when trying to work out the best options for both parties can create headaches. But technological advances eventually meant my chat with Lancashire lad turned New Zealand resident Tim Allen proved relatively painless.

In fact, I’ve had more problematic connections talking to Yorkshire-based interviewees.

While his home nation waits for the green light to live music again, Preston born and bred singer-songwriter Tim is getting along just fine in his adopted country.

Part way through a tour to promote latest single, ‘Love is a Pill’, he’s been out on the road on and off since March Fest in Nelson, South Island, making up for an earlier brief grounding after NZ Premier Jacinda Ardern made relatively light work of the coronavirus pandemic compared to her UK counterpart.

Tim’s teamed up with Music Planet to offer all ages matinee shows on afternoons of scheduled dates where the nationwide chain has music shops – playing 11 evening shows and six matinee acoustic sets in all. It’s a fresh approach, the venues chosen as far apart as Bar 605 in Auckland, North Island, and The Dog With Two Tails in Dunedin, way down south, which I make around 1,000 miles.

“We’ve done all that, then go back to Nelson (a sell-out at The Boathouse) and Tākaka (the Mussel Inn in nearby Onekaka) to end the tour, having added a few more as it’s New Zealand Music Month. But I’m working during the week, then doing that … and it’s killing me!”

Tim works as a builder and carpenter to make ends meet. Did he head Down Under with that trade behind him?

“Yeah, I did an apprenticeship. Music doesn’t always pay the bills, so I’ve something to fall back on.”

Is the word ‘tour’ a bit grand? Let’s face it, you must be up and down the roads of North and South Island most weekends.

“Well, we’re doing a big tour – aeroplanes, all that. We got funding from the New Zealand Music Commission to help pay for flights and that, which is pretty good.”

I couldn’t have seen such levels state sponsorship and national support back in the UK if you’d stayed in Lancashire.

“No, I don’t remember anything like that!”

The route he’s taking has me feeling nostalgic about my past world travels in the early and late ’90s, right up to his big finish. But then what? Is he recording another album?

“Yeah, we’re in the process of trying to do that, around two or three songs in, writing at the moment, and we’ve signed a distribution deal in Asia. I also run my own little label, Rubber Soul Recordings, helping me access funds for recording and releasing material, including some of my Dad’s stuff, soon as the tour is finished.”

He credits his Dad, Simon Allen, for introducing him to The Beatles, so Rubber Soul Recordings sounds a perfect name. And Tim followed Simon’s path to an extent, in Dad’s case mostly playing gigs around Preston.

“Until recently he was doing gigs down at Muldoon’s and the like, with a pub band. He was also in Fat Lad’s brother, who did quite a lot of touring, and before that Moscow Philharmonics in the ‘80s, playing The Marquee and all that.”

Tim is based just outside Auckland’s city centre. Has he plenty of work around there coming his way in the day job?

“Yeah, too much! I don’t want it – I want to do music! Since Covid, it’s all gone a bit weird, but the building industry is booming, and has been for 10 years.”

The new single, produced and engineered by former bandmate Ben King, is perhaps one of his more grungy moments, with hints of INXS for these ears, something I guess will go down well.

“Hopefully. When we play it live, people love it. I just got the riff and me and the drummer wrote it together in the rehearsal room. I was thinking more Black Sabbath. That’s what went through my head. And every time we play it, people say, ‘It’s a bit like the Black Keys.”

The All Black Keys, maybe. It’s certainly a mighty riff, and I get the feeling that’s a potential opening track on the new record.

“Probably, but we don’t know yet. We’ve just finished another. I put a monthly showcase on at Bar 605 in Auckland, and it’s owned by the bass player of Six60, a massive New Zealand band.”

Recognise that name? They were all over the news after selling out 50,000-capacity Eden Park, home of the All Blacks, a major celebration for a nation that famously clamped down early and kicked coronavirus into touch.

“They made history. They also played Western Springs twice before that. They’re now the most successful New Zealand band ever, even more than Crowded House.”

Are you a fan of Te Awamutu’s Neil Finn and his band?

“Massively. Really, it’s a bit weird that I live over here now. My Dad’s a massive Neil and Tim Finn fan, and Neil’s got a studio in Auckland, Roundhead, where I’ve done a few sessions.”

Did you get to see them on their recent NZ tour (again, a nation showing off that they haven’t got Boris Johnson in charge, methinks)?

“I didn’t. It’s one of those things – you wish to see them all your life, then when they’re on your doorstep, you can’t get there!”

Incidentally, Tim also sang recently on ‘Clear To Me’ by TheAfter, alongside Eddie Rayner, who featured in NZ national treasures (and Tim and Neil Finn’s breakthrough outfit) Split Enz.

As for the new Tim Allen and the Two single, what’s the outlying message to ‘Love is a Pill? Pensive post-Covid thinking that the best remedies get us through the most severe tests, perhaps?

“Yeah, definitely!”

Talking of deep questions, who are the Two? As far as I can tell, Tim Allen and the Two is just you and your drummer, fellow English ex-pat Freddie Green, who was with The Dirty Youth from 2014 to 2018, and also tour-manged much-touted Reading outfit The Amazons..

“It’s just a name really, but we sometimes play as a three-piece. We also played the first gig in March Fest, but the name’s just a bit of a joke really.”

A bit like successful ‘80s outfit, the Thompson Twins, who had most of their success as a three-piece, with Auckland-born Alannah Currie a key member?

“Erm … someone was asking about them a while ago actually.”

I get the impression from that response that they were before his time, leading me to ask Tim how old he is. He confided that he’s 40 in a few weeks, adding ‘but don’t put that in’. Don’t worry, Tim, your secret’s safe with me. Moving on, how did he end up working with Freddie?

“He’s got quite a background. He’s from Andover but was in The Dirty Youth, from South Wales. When Marshall, the amps people, started their own label, they were the first signing, around four years ago. He was also a tour manager for The Amazons, and like me, he moved here. He worked at a music shop and I was in Hangar 18, who did a lot of touring in Asia, with their guitarist his manager.

“We met at a gig. We were a similar age, we got on, and when I needed a band for my album release – my previous band were doing their own thing – I thought I’d give him a shout, knowing he played drums.”

Was that previous band the ones with you on the ‘Low Man’ promo video?

“Actually, those were some guys I knew from the pub really!”

Well, they looked the part.

“Yeah! They’re good lads.”

I’ve only recently caught up on Tim’s back-catalogue, and deduce from what I’ve heard that he should be a lot bigger. There are some cracking singles there, from the brass-tinged radio power pop of ‘Place to Lay My Head’ and The Coral-like indie of ‘Low Man’ to a more plaintive Chris Isaak meets David Gray poignancy on ‘Ghost’ …

“Ah, everyone loves that one.”

 In short, he’s no one-trick pony. There are lots of styles in there, and he has a great voice.

“Well, I’ve been chipping away at it for a long time. I recorded that first album in Preston in 2011, but only released it in 2013 when I came over. I guess I’ve just been writing songs for a long time.”

Was the brass on that first track mentioned – from his debut LP It’s All About Time – down to producer Alan Gregson (best known for his work with Cornershop and Russell Watson) at West Orange Studios?  

“Yeah, it wasn’t the original West Orange down in Ashton. He built a studio at his house. That was fairly new then, near The Saddle pub. But Alan lives in France now.”

Did you study music in college?

“I left school, failed my GCSEs, then went to Newman College in Preston, studying music production and doing GCSE resits. But I got chucked out – l had something ridiculous like 98% attendance for music but single figures for the rest of the subjects. Then I did an apprenticeship, one day a week at Preston College, doing a joinery apprenticeship.”

Tim had formed a duo at high school with best friend Kurt Czarnota, and was writing songs by the time he was 15, their duo The Little Kings going on to release two EPs and play on the Manchester and Liverpool circuit. At one stage he became a circuit regular – not least as a solo artist – at venues like the Academy 3, Night and Day, Late Room, and the Roadhouse. Does he miss all that?

“I do, definitely. Actually, I went back to the Night and Day when I came back to England, playing a gig. And there’s nothing like all that.”

As a solo act, acoustic shows followed around London before his New Zealand move. Are his first Kiwi band Stormporter still together?

“No, we did two singles then went our separate ways, but we’re still in contact, and Tony Thorburn did the graphics for our albums, singles and posters. And he suggested Ben King.”

Ben, also with Goldenhorse and Grand Rapids, went on to produce Tim, as well as feature in his studio band alongside Pluto pair Milan Borich and Matthias Jordan.

I gather the video for ‘Ghost’ was filmed in level three lockdown in Henderson. Is that where you live?

“It’s not far off, a few minutes’ drive away, where the guy doing the video was. It was a nightmare really – I just got the album together, the publishing company wanted to do a big campaign, then fucking Covid came along!”

That was the splendid The Last Bastion of a Lad, released in June 2020. Did the lockdown ultimately help or hinder that LP’s progress?

“I think it hindered me, playing-wise, although we did manage to get a little tour in. That’s when I first started playing with Freddie though, so that helped – we sparked up a musical relationship. And it did well on the streams.”

What’s it like to be in a nation where the Prime Minister seemed to get it all right regarding reacting to the coronavirus pandemic?

“It’s brilliant. Most people love her, and I think she’s great. I met her before she was Prime Minister. She was campaigning and came into my son’s pre-school. I’ve a picture of me, my son and her.”

His son, Jackson is now eight, a ‘full-on Kiwi’, his name down to his grandma’s maiden name (don’t try and hack his bank account – that won’t work) and ‘the fact I was listening to lots of Jackson Browne at the time’.

Tim’s currently working, via Zoom, with UK-based songwriter Henry Priestman, of The Christians fame. And there’s a man with an impressive CV.

“Yeah, he wrote a lot of Christians songs and was in a band called Yachts who toured with Bowie, The Who, all sorts.”

How did that alliance come about?

“I just asked him! I sent him The Last Bastion of a Lad, and he liked it. His latest solo album did quite well here. It’s actually a Christians song he was working on just before he left, and it’s now going to be one of my songs.”

If you type in ‘Tim Allen’ on computer search engines and song services, you tend to drift between your songs and live routines from your American comedian and actor namesake. Does that work both ways, with those looking for the other Tim Allen finding you?

“I don’t know, but there’s actually a third Tim Allen out there. Recently, with my music distributed via The Orchard, part of Sony, it goes to this other guy. I’ve tried to contact YouTube, but it’s impossible. He’s got all my music on his page. So yeah, there’s a third imposter!”

I’ve got news for you, Tim – I found one more when I looked for you on Instagram (Tim’s proper links are added at the end of this feature). You might have to add a middle name.

“I should have done that right from the beginning. A bit late now!”

Is ‘Different Shore’, which opened the last LP – imagine Paolo Nutini fronting Thin Lizzy, and you’re not far off – you being a little homesick?

“I think so, but I actually wrote that in my Dad’s house at Preston. I came home for 12 weeks after splitting with my son’s mother. I had visa issues and didn’t even know if I was coming back to New Zealand or where I was basically. A long time ago now though.”

Just taking a few great songs from that LP, ‘Get Out Clause’ is more Joe Jackson but with early Paul Weller type gruffness; ‘Won’t Let You Win’ – one of three singles on the LP – has a Doves-type vibe, but perhaps more crossover and should be a hit; and ‘Searching’ is arguably your take on Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’, with added sax. All of which seems to back up my earlier argument about a wide variety of influences.

“I don’t set out to write a song in a specific genre. I just write a song, see what comes out. I’ve been writing with different people, and the producers you work with bring their own stuff, so everything evolves. A bit of variety!”

Silly question maybe, but what made you swap the delights of the North West for North Island, New Zealand? You went to London and it didn’t quite work out?

“Sort of, but I was doing alright in London, although a bit stale. I was living in Camden, loved it, and was dating a Kiwi girl who wanted to go home. I weighed it up, decided to try it. That’ll be 10 years this November.”

Are you a full citizen now?

“Last week my residency came through. That’s a massive weight off my mind. Work visas are a nightmare, but I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Did it help having the building work behind you, rather than being a roving musician?

“It did, but a lot of the stuff was down to my music, going through the Music Commission and that.”

When are you returning to the UK’s different shores (pandemic resurgences willing)?

“I don’t know, to be honest. Hopefully Christmas, but I can’t do the three weeks in quarantine.”

And you don’t want them stopping you get back in after being with the ‘unclean’ here.

“Ha! Well, I am going to Raratonga for my 40th. I’m just looking at flights. They’ve just opened a travel bubble in the Cook Islands.”

Rub it in, why don’t you, Tim. You’re clearly loving it there, and living a bit of a life.

“Yeah, trying to … and keeping out of trouble.”

Is ‘Love is a Pill’ a good example of what we might get on the new LP?

“It’ll be a bit of a mixed bag, I think. The next song we’ve done with a new producer. It’ll probably be a mix of Ben King and Chris Mac, the bass player of Six60. The last one had Ben play bass – he’s also an unbelievable bass player – and we let Chris produce it, and he wants to do the next one, but he’s so busy at the moment, an in-demand producer.”

And when you’re on the road these days, it’s not just a case of being stuck in the back of a van, it would seem.

“No, we’re flying most places, although I drove one leg of the tour.”

Sure beats tackling the M6 and the M62.

“Yeah, although once you’ve been on 30 aeroplanes, it gets a bit boring.”

My heart bleeds for you … but I’m looking forward to the next record.

For more about Tim Allen and the Two, head to Tim’s Facebook page, hop over to Spotify, check out his YouTube links, follow him via Soundcloud, and Instagram, and also check out www.freddiegreenmusic.com.

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A mighty long way from home – remembering Stoned Rose with Pete Hughes

“It’s a mighty long way down the dusty trail …”

Preston Roots: Stoned Rose, way back. From left – Mick Carroll, Chris Allen, John McAuley, Pete Hughes

So wrote Ian Hunter back in 1973 in ‘All the Way From Memphis’, the band’s second top-10 single, Mott the Hoople by then firmly established, barely a year after they considered splitting.

In their case, David Bowie’s gift of ‘All the Young Dudes’ made the difference, the Brixton-born Bromley boy – on the back of success with Hunky Dory – seeing something in this formidable outfit on his first Mott live sighting in my Surrey hometown in April ’72 that others were seemingly slow to grasp.

But that dusty trail was littered with many a rock’n’roll casualty, and among them was a band by the name of Stoned Rose that supported Mott at Liverpool Stadium a year before that pivotal Guildford Civic Hall date (that story retold by Campbell Devine’s splendid 2019 Rock’n’Roll Sweepstakes authorised biography from Omnibus Press). However, don’t think for one moment the band would be bitter about any of that. One would go on to make his name – several years down the line – with Ultravox, and it turns out that this Preston-based outfit would still be remembered five decades on.

And here follows the amazing tale of the two Lancashire lads behnd that band, who paid their dues on that late ‘60s/early ‘70s music scene, playing with an array of big-name acts without breaking through, and going on to score a surprise hit 10,000 miles from home.

Then, half a century after recording their initial demo tapes, one of their early tracks was picked up again, getting a debut official release, much to the surprise of surviving co-founder Pete Hughes.

The name Stoned Rose might not mean much to you, wondering if you’ve misheard and I might be talking about a certain Manchester band who shook up the international scene in the late ‘80s. But in a sense that was, as Ian Brown suggested, ‘The Resurrection’, with the band I’m focusing on making their name at the tail-end of the ‘60s, straight out of Bamber Bridge and Ribbleton, Preston.

Their story was largely forgotten … until now, with the imminent release of a new compilation from Grapefruit, the David Wells-fronted bespoke psych/garage-era imprint of Cherry Red Records, including previously-unreleased Stoned Rose track ‘Day to Day’.

Grapefruit has built a reputation of late for career anthologies and definitive versions of rare and classic LPs from 1966-70 packaged with eye-catching artwork, rare photos, detailed liner-notes and master-tape sound quality.

And its 53-track I’m A Freak Baby 3: A Further Journey Through the British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock Underground Scene, 1968-1973 triple-CD boxset – in a clamshell box with a lavish 40-page booklet – is no exception, the third instalment of pioneering hard rock from the nascent British underground including acts synonymous with the stoner, free festival element of the counterculture, such as seminal underground stalwarts Mick Farren and The Deviants, Edgar Broughton Band, Pink Fairies, and Hawkwind.

Then there are those heard honing their sound before finding success, such as an embryonic Deep Purple, a teenage Free, first-LP Thin Lizzy, Lemmy fronting Sam Gopal, pre-fame Mott the Hoople, and old-stagers The Yardbirds’ 1968 live take on ‘Dazed And Confused’, a song Jimmy Page would take on to his next band.

You’ll also find UFO, Nazareth, Uriah Heep, Chicken Shack, Stackwaddy and Procol Harum, among others, and many acts long since attracting record collector interest, their LPs now going for huge sums. And then there are those that wouldn’t get as far as attracting record companies, with Stoned Rose among them.

There’s no denying that Pete Hughes, now 70, is made up with his band’s inclusion, but there’s added poignancy, Stoned Rose co-founder Mick ‘Caz’ Carroll having died in late 2018, aged 68.

“He’d have been buzzing about this. He would have found it unbelievable, someone picking up on something we did 50 years ago and considering it good enough to be put on a very credible album. Like me, he would have been philosophical about it – he wouldn’t have been jumping up and down, thinking, ’Wow, we’re going to be pop stars again’. But it’s nice for people to hear what we were doing in those days. It deserved to be heard at the time.

“And it’s not like it’s coming out on next-door-but-one’s record label. It’s going out all over the world. Mick was the lead singer, and his vocal on ‘Day to Day’ is fantastic. He had a fabulous voice, and back then it was more Robert Plant-like. And we carried on writing songs from there, touring the world.”

Was there a day-job outside music for father and grandfather Mick?

“When we did all the Ritzi stuff and before, we were full-time. But he had a degree in psychology, studying while in the band, going to college, then working at Runshaw College, Leyland for quite a few years, helping students, trained in counselling. He was good at that and very popular. And at his funeral there were so many people, it was unbelievable.”

Pete was out walking his dog near his home in Walton-le-Dale when I called, telling me ‘songwriting partner and musical cohort’ Mick had been a close friend ‘since we were kids’, the pair initially forming One Step Beyond in 1967, that outfit in time becoming Stoned Rose. But how did it all start?

“We met at Preston Catholic College. Somehow, we both passed our 11-plus in 1962. I was from Bamber Bridge, he was from Ribbleton. We became friends around ‘63/’64, writing songs together from a very early age. We had two things in common that we loved – music and Preston North End.”

A self-taught player, Pete – whose first major influence was The Shadows, learning their songs and buying sheet music as he sharpened his playing skills – has fond memories of the Watkins Rapier electric guitar his parents bought him not long after his 12th birthday in late 1962 from Greenwood’s music shop.

“I’d look at it in the window going to school in Winckley Square, drooling. I adored it, and Mum and Dad bought it for me that Christmas. My cousin was older and we lived together at one stage. He was into Marty Wilde, early Cliff Richard, Billy Fury. I liked all that but when I heard ‘Wonderful Land’ and ‘Apache’, it completely blew me away. Until this day it still does whenever I hear those songs, still getting that magic feeling.

Rose Revival: Pete Hughes, outside the Walton Fox in Bamber Bridge (Photo: Daevid Goral Barker)

“Mick’s first big influence was The Kinks. I’d stop over at his house when we were kids, around 1964. and we’d try to emulate them. The other big influence on me as a songwriter was Bob Dylan. I loved his songs and those abstract lyrics that created such imagery.”

Were you always aware of Mick’s voice, or did it take a while for him to gain that confidence?

“He was always a confident singer. First time we got on stage together was at a Mormon chapel on Ribbleton Lane, which was actually more like a scout hall. My uncle was a Mormon bishop and some of my family were Mormons. There was me, Mick and two girls, playing acoustic guitars, doing around four songs we’d written.”

With the addition of drummer John McAuley – these days in good stead and based in Southport, Pete tells me – they formed One Step Beyond, initial bass player Alan Smith in time replaced by Steve Woodworth, who was on board for around a year until he went to university in London, the band soon becoming Stoned Rose.

“We put an advert in Melody Maker, had answers from all over the country, and ultimately got a guy from Tottenham, Chris Allen, who after Stoned Rose split, returned to London, met Dennis Leigh and formed Tiger Lily, who after a couple of years got a deal with Island Records and became Ultravox. The rest is history.”

There were several name changes before New York Dolls-influenced glam-rockers Tiger Lily became Ultravox! and then Ultravox, by which time Dennis – originally from Chorley, Lancashire, but studying at the RCA – was known as John Foxx and Chris, who first became Chris St John, was Chris Cross. But that’s another story. Right now, I’m more intrigued how Stoned Rose tempted Chris up to Lancashire in the first place. Preston must have been a bit of a backwater for this North London lad back then.

“It would have been. But we became very good mates and I got to know his Mum and Dad, as we’d sometimes go down to Tottenham. His brother, Jeff Allen, was the drummer in Hello, who had a couple of hits, the biggest ‘New York Groove’. I always thought it amazing that two working-class kids from Turnpike Lane ended up on Top of the Pops with different groups. And I knew Tiger Lily from day one, and recall being at Chris’ house when he got to know Dennis, Billy Currie and Warren Cann.”

Is there truth in the rumour that a certain band from Manchester picked up on your band name and a decade or so after you split twisted it a little for their own?

“Ha! Cherry Red asked that, and I haven’t a clue. It’s just one of those things. It could just have been an amazing coincidence. If a band out of Southern California had come up with The Stone Roses, you’d think fair play. But when it’s a band 30 miles down the road from where we were, and the fact that we used to play in Manchester and Liverpool quite a lot …

“The guys in that band would have been to young, but I always thought maybe one of the dads, uncles or older brothers might have seen or heard of us. It was an unusual name. I suspect someone remembered it. But it’s possibly just coincidence.”

Lining Up: The first Ultravox LP, with exclamation mark, caught by Gered Mankowitz‘s iconic 1977 image

And five decades later it turns out that Stoned Rose haven’t been forgotten anyway, Pete sending three tracks recorded on a reel-to-reel demo tape to set the ball rolling for a much-belated release, telling me, “It came out quite well seeing as there was no production or studio – it was just recorded live.”

What’s more, he’s hoping there may be more good news soon, Cherry Red interested in putting out a limited-edition vinyl LP.

“We only have three songs recorded by One Step Beyond, but I’ve 11 by Stoned Rose, five with Chris Allen on bass. Whether that happens or not I don’t know, but it’s work in progress.”

Did you see your original groups as psychedelic rock bands?

“We did more psychedelic type material with One Step Beyond, for instance a song called ‘Heaven Is Pink Primroses and is Everyone’s Sunset’.”

Was that around the time Status Quo had their hit with ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’?

“Yes, in fact we played with Quo just after. Psychedermic, we’d call all that! The songs were a bit hippie. It was that era. We did around 50% our songs, 50% covers, songs like ‘Paper Sun’. We started out around the youth clubs of Preston, getting promoted into working men’s clubs, getting a bit more money. By ‘68 we were playing lots of clubs in Liverpool, doing regular gigs at the original Cavern, the Blue Angel, Litherland Town Hall, all those iconic ‘60s venues. Around 1969, the band split, morphing into the heavier Stoned Rose, performing songs we had as One Step Beyond and new material.”

Always a live draw, Stoned Rose featured in Sounds and shared bills with lots of big-name bands. Why did they split? Were they just not getting a break?

“We played all around the country – in Peterborough one night, Brighton the next, then London. We were all over, living in the van, with no money to stay in hotels. If we turned up at a gig we’d try to get someone to put us up. We played with loads of bands, doing lots of gigs with Blonde on Blonde, Quiver before they became the Sutherland Brothers, Lindisfarne, Fairport Convention.

Blues Club: A May 1970 listing for Stoned Rose at Preston club Amethyst, and all for just four bob

“But the bands that stood out to me who became well known included Canned Heat, who we did a gig with when they were over from America, playing Manchester Uni not long before Al Wilson died. And as well as Status Quo, who became massive, there was Judas Priest – who were on the same level but went on to unbelievable success – and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. And he was a wild guy!”

I’m not sure many venues would get the insurance to put him on today, what with his legendary pyro-antics.

“Possibly not. I remember he started his show on a cross, leaping off amid a load of strobe lights. He was great, a real one-off. And I still do a lot of work with another iconic guy from that era, Geno Washington, still going strong.”

More of all that shortly, but first, how about the band Pete felt stood out among all the others in those days, a legendary outfit with Herefordshire roots, sharing a bill on Saturday, April 3rd, 1971, on a night that legendary Mancunian, CP Lee’s breakthrough band also featured … and all for 65p.

“We only played with Mott the Hoople once, at Liverpool Stadium. Chris Allen was in the band then, before they made it, before ‘All the Young Dudes’ was a hit. But they were already a cult band. We did this gig with them and a bunch of other bands, including Greasy Bear, an up-and-coming band from Manchester. We went on immediately before Mott, did a good set, went down well and were buzzing, thinking we were the bee’s knees, saying to each other, ‘Let’s see if they can follow that’.

“They were in the same dressing room, getting the thigh-length boots on, all that stuff. Me and Caz went out, sat in the crowd, Mott the Hoople came on, opened up and within 30 seconds or so it was, ‘OK boys, back to the drawing board. This is how a real band does it.’

“They were absolutely brilliant, they blew us away, the best band I’d seen at that time. But one thing I will say which was in their favour – though it doesn’t necessarily make you a better band – we turned up with a 100 watt Marshall PA system, as everyone had to use their own, but they had a 1,000 watt PA. Bands play in pubs now with that wattage, but fucking hell … it was mind-blowing!”

Stoned Rose battled on, but perhaps luck had deserted them, Pete and Mick soon seeking another way to try and make it.

Big Night: Stoned Rose and Greasy Bear joined Mott the Hoople, April 1971. But there was only one winner

“When Stoned Rose split, we decided to concentrate on songwriting, without a band, to see if we could get a publishing deal rather than a record deal. We were always good songwriters – more so than being great musicians. We’d knock around with Judas Priest, and were with an agency in Birmingham run by Tony Iommi, us and Priest the main upcoming bands.

“But it was wrong place, wrong time, and one thing led to another, so eventually we decided to write something Frank Sinatra or anyone could sing. And Ritzi was more about quality pop songs, played in various styles. We weren’t rock or heavy metal.

“We recorded an acoustic demo, five songs, and hawked it around London, meeting various publishing companies, getting quite a lot of interest and going with April Music, the publishing arm of CBS. That led us to do a lot of demos at CBS’ studios just off Tottenham Court Road in London, just me and Mick with a session drummer, keyboard player and various other session players.

“And the very first song written in that genre was ‘Too Much Fandango’, the most successful song we ever did. April Music struck a deal with Warner Bros to release it, with a song called ‘Wrongly Accused’ on the B-side. That came out in the UK to fantastic reviews, but Radio 1’s playlist panel turned it down. And if you didn’t get on that at the time, you might as well forget it.

“It did get one or two plays when it came out and was starting to sell, but they didn’t have the same independent radio stations in those days. I think if it had been played on Radio 1 it would have been a hit. But there you go. It did however become a big hit in Australia in 1975, where it did get radio airplay.

“When we did that, we didn’t even have a band – it was me, Caz and these session musicians, including the violin player from the Electric Light Orchestra. There was also a Spanish version, ‘Mucho Fandango’, by an Israeli all-girl band, that proved popular in Spain, our song also making the lower end of the charts for Ritzi in Argentina.”

I should add that according to the discogs.com listing, the Spanish language version was actually called ‘Demasiado Fandango’.

In time, Ritzi would also involve Fylde-based Phil Enright, aka Phil Free, who they’d initially approached to join Stoned Rose before taking on Chris Allen. He’d turned them down and moved to Canada at the time. Which seems a bit extreme.

Ritzi’s success led to a London move, rehearsing at renowned West London studio NOMIS and living in a Kensington mews-house owned by an Australian couple, fans of the band who were only too happy for them to be there. 

“We did lots of other styles with Ritzi, not just acoustic or violin-based. We were more synthesiser-orientated as we got more into the ‘80s. In time, me and Caz were joined by Phil, drummer Pete ‘The Fong’ Long (and before that Steve Wilks), and Chris Skornia on keyboards, who later joined The Boyfriends then saw success with The Truth (as led by Nine Below Zero singer Dennis Greaves). And he was replaced by Nigel Sawyer from Swindon, a friend of XTC’s who it was rumoured they had in mind with ‘Making Plans for Nigel’.”

There are a few Ritzi numbers online, the most recent, ‘The Stroll’, just involving Pete and Mick, recording with The Lurkers’ Nigel Moore (bass) and ‘Manic Esso’ (drums), with added keyboard from Nigel Sawyer, who died in September 2019, shortly before Mick Carroll.

Stadium Rockers: Mott the Hoople, bill-toppers and also featured on the latest Cherry Red compilation

By the early ‘80s though, Pete had swapped Ritzi for a new career as an agent, booking many famous bands down the years. He now works for Rock Artist Management, having known colleague with Pete Barton since the latter’s days in the band Cavern, who were fronted by stalwart John Lennon tribute act Gary Gibson.

“When we came back from London, my girlfriend at the time said this band was playing at The Moonraker, a big Preston pub. So we went to see Cavern, with Gary Gibson the lead singer. I became their manager, having lots of connections in London. They thought of themselves as a local band, but I thought more of them. Me and Caz wrote songs for them and I got them a record deal. They brought out ‘No Reason to Cry’, a three-song EP we wrote that got Radio 1 airplay, Mike Read becoming a good friend.

“I then went to New York for the first time – I got a train from Bamber Bridge to Preston, another to Manchester Airport, got on a plane to Newark, New Jersey, got on a bus to a bus station in central Manhattan, walking out of there not knowing whether to turn left or right, not knowing a soul. But that week I met an agent, Pat George from Boston, a friend of a friend who arranged to meet me, signing a contract there and then for Cavern to do a four-week stint at the Forty Thieves club in Hamilton, Bermuda that July.

“Pete Barton had just joined Cavern – he was about 19 – and in time became a successful agent himself. Where I went with Ritzi Artist Management, Pete formed Rock Artist Management, and we always stayed close.”

The two Petes remain busy on that front, working with the likes of promoter AGMP, their current clientele including The Boomtown Rats, The Blockheads, Blow Monkeys, the afore-mentioned Geno Washington, Hawkwind, Bad Manners, Toyah Willcox, and From The Jam.

And both still play to this day, pandemics aside, with Pete H occasionally out on the road for ‘60s circuit outfit The New Mindbenders, with Chris Jopson, Clarke Taylor and Alan Davis.

“The band started out backing Wayne Fontana. But we were playing in a band called The Shout, featuring former members of Cavern, whom I managed. We put a band together, with Pete Barton on lead vocals and Graham Pollock on guitar, and I ended up on guitar. Wayne saw us play a music festival in a Blackpool holiday camp, a ‘60s week with different headliners every night. I think we were playing The Star, by the Pleasure Beach, and he turned up to watch us, offering us the gig to back him.

“I didn’t actually play with Wayne. I was with The Easybeats at the same time, but when I left them, Wayne had come away from that band. Sadly, his wife had died. But the band decided to continue and wanted me to rejoin.

Ritzi Crackers: Pete Hughes, second right, and his Ritzi pals, including co-writer Mick Carroll, second left

“That was around 1985, and then Eric Haydock joined us, a founder member of The Hollies. By then, Pete (Barton) was on drums, singing lead vocals until he left to join The Swinging Blue Jeans, so we needed a drummer and a singer, and Mick (Carroll) had the perfect voice for singing those Hollies songs. And because The Hollies had so many hits, we changed the name to the Eric Haydock Band.”

Incidentally, the two Petes have also had links down the years with Slade, and were lined up to play shows with Don Powell after his much-publicised fall-out with Dave Hill last year, before the Covid lockdown and Don’s health saw those gigs put back … at least for a while.

Looking back on those Ritzi years and everything before and after, was it as your big hit suggested, a case of ‘too much fandango, tequila and tango’ in the end? Or did you never get to live that life?

“I think we pretty much did.”

You practiced what you preached?

“We certainly tried to. And when I look back at my career … I’ve been in the music business since 1967, originally part-time, then full-time with Stoned Rose onwards – although I did a brief stint of working for about six to nine months in 1978 – I’ve managed to make a living out of music and being a musician, or being an agent, or a bit of both.”

What was that brief day job?

“I worked at Baxi’s in Bamber Bridge. I was signing on but didn’t want a job, went to the dole office and they sent me down to Baxi’s for an interview. I thought I’d be alright – they wouldn’t want to take me on. I think it was a Thursday or Friday. I showed total disinterest in what they said, then they hit me with, ‘OK, that’s fine, start at 7.30 on Monday’. What! I had to do it, or they’d have stopped my dole money. And I did quite enjoy it.”

Did that sharpen your resolve to carry on in music?

“Yes, and even when I look at my contemporaries like Chris (Allen), who made serious money – and I know a lot of people who did – I’ve no regrets.”

Did you not think, ‘That could have been me’, or were you always happy with your lot?

“I was never jealous of anyone. That’s not in my nature. I always thought, ‘Good on you!’. And Chris is a great guy. Besides, when I look back, I find it remarkable how from picking up that guitar when I was 11 or 12, if I’d never done that, my life would have been so different. I never achieved mega-fame or fortune, but I’ve always made a good living out of it. And when I look back at what I’ve done, it amazes me. I’ve been all over the world – Europe and Scandinavia, the Far East, America, Australia, all these places …”

So you did finally get Down Under, the land of your biggest hit.

“Yes, we did two tours of Australia as members of the Eric Haydock Band – myself and Mick. And we always played ‘Too Much Fandango’. The first tour was about five weeks and the second about 10 to 12 weeks – a lot of shows.

“The Hollies had that many hits that we could do an hour of those. But we did an acoustic spot, mid-show, when Eric and the drummer would go off, leaving me, Mick and Graham (Pollock) from Cavern, The Shout, and The Mindbenders, with two guitars and three-part harmonies.

“We’d do ‘King Midas in Reverse’ and another Hollies song, ‘Too Young to be Married’, a big hit in Australia, and we’d do ‘Too Much Fandango’. And the response everywhere we went when we did that was unbelievable – everybody knew it. Loads of people came up to us after the show, saying, ‘I can’t believe we’ve just met the guys from Ritzi!’

“It always went down a bomb. There were TV interviews too, and they spent more time talking about that song than The Hollies. One couple came up to me at the bar at this Twin Towns venue in Coolangatta on the Gold Coast, and said, ‘That’s always been our song, from that beautiful summer of ‘75 when we met. We were on the beach and everywhere we went ‘Too Much Fandango’ was playing. It’s always been a special song to us.’

“They were fans of The Hollies and travelled a long way to this gig, setting off in the early hours of the morning, and this fella said, ‘Before we set off from home, we actually played that song. But the last thing we expected was to meet the guys who recorded and wrote it’.

“That means more than money to me – for someone on the other side of the world to be touched like that. It’s funny to think that a song we wrote in my mum’s house in Bamber Bridge became really special to people on the other side of the world.”

With thanks to Gordon Gibson at Action Records for suggesting I got in touch with Pete Hughes; friend of this website and Deadwood Dog music maestro Daevid Goral Barker for the new image of Pete; and Matt Ingham at Cherry Red.

Ladder Days: Ritzi seek the next flight up, post-Fandango. Pete Hughes and Mick Carroll hang on in there

I’m A Freak Baby 3: A Further Journey Through the British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-1973 is out on June 25 via Cherry Red in triple-CD boxset format, priced £19.99, with a pre-order link at https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/im-a-freak-baby-3-a-further-journey-through-the-british-heavy-psych-and-hard-rock-underground-scene-1968-1973-3cd-box-set/. And for more about Ritzi and the acts that preceded them, try http://www.ritzi.uk/.

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Meeting Tim Keegan at Gate 2021 – the Departure Lounge interview

Lounge Wizards: Departure Lounge. From left – Chris Anderson, Tim Keegan, Jake Kyle, Lindsay Jamieson (Photo: Jim Kirby)

This time last year, it seemed as if we couldn’t move on the internet without some band or solo artist giving living room performances amid the first lockdown.

It’s amazing how soon that became part of our musical world, as was the case for videos featuring bands performing separately but collaboratively in different locations via the wonders of Zoom.

And while we’re a bit more blasé about all that now, recent highlights for me involved early viewings of ‘Australia’, the super-catchy latest single from Departure Lounge, and the band’s ‘bubble pals’ Tim Keegan and Chris Anderson hosting an intimate but lateral flow-friendly online launch event celebrating new LP, Transmeridian, their first in 19 years.

Performing ‘live and direct from a living room in the South of England’, the Worthing-based bandmates – with occasional input from Tim’s son Quincy – played a cracking set of old and new Departure Lounge numbers, selections from the latest addition to the collection equally impressive. 

The new album features all four originals – Tim, Chris, Jake Kyle and Lindsay Jamieson – and even guest performer Peter Buck on ‘Australia’, appearing remotely down the line from Portland, Oregon, the REM guitar legend a long-standing admirer of this treasured UK outfit, who disbanded in 2003 but are now very much back with us again.

Singer-songwriter Tim has recorded and performed with various bands and as a solo artist down the years, past collaborations including those with Robyn Hitchcock – an earlier version of Departure Lounge opening his sets and backing him in the mid-‘90s – and The Blue Aeroplanes.

Setting out with his ‘university band’ Railroad Earth in my hometown of Guildford, Surrey, in 1988, that combo morphed into Ringo in 1992, their sole LP, Call It Home, recorded in Boston, Massachusetts. But within two years Tim had started again, as a solo artist and working alongside a number of other musicians before forming Homer with Patrick ‘Patch’ Hannan of revered indie darlings The Sundays, Andy Metcalfe of the Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (hence the initial link), Andrew Claridge, and future Departure lounge bass player Jake Kyle.

During that period, Homer played on Robyn Hitchcock’s Moss Elixir album and toured with him, opening shows before backing the main act. In time, they became Tim Keegan & the Homer Lounge, Tim and Jake joined by Daron ‘Drugstore’ Robinson and Lindsay Jamieson (formerly of Jim Jiminee, The Deep Season and Supermodel), their two CD EPs eventually reworked on debut Departure Lounge LP Out of Here in 1999, by which time Chris Anderson (also ex-Supermodel) was on board, the band also supporting Hitchcock’s US tour in 1999.

An Out of There EP followed, fused with the first LP for revised US album Out of There (yep, it’s confusing – the band scoring different UK and US deals, Tim seeing Out of Here as the definitive LP, adding, ‘If you have that and the UK-released EP, Out of There, that’s got all the stuff’) in 2000, followed by 2001’s instrumental LP Jetlag Dreams, recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, the first of two Bella Union releases, followed by the Kid Loco-produced Too Late To Die Young in 2002, all receiving warm critical praise.

By then, Lindsay had settled in Nashville, the others had returned home, and it was all over by 2003 … or so it seemed until September 2019, a reunion to mark 20 years since the debut LP leading to new songs being recorded on the back of those celebratory shows. And with the help of a publishing deal advance, the original quartet booked a few days in a studio, jumped in Chris’ car and headed west, to Peter Miles’ Middle Farm Studios in Devon, most of Transmeridian recorded during the first 24-hour session, as Tim explained on the sleevenotes.

“We hadn’t expected to make an album – we came to the studio with one finished song and two ideas for songs. Apart from an unrehearsed bar gig in Worthing in 2015, we hadn’t played together for 17 years, so didn’t really know what would happen. As it turned out we just picked up where we left off. The music poured out of us and it felt really good. As we listened back to what we had recorded the morning after our marathon session, we realised we had enough decent material for a whole LP.”

Co-producer Peter Miles got to work on what they’d put down, the band soon pitching in. And as Tim put it, “Transmeridian constitutes the perfect blend of all that is good about what happens when the four of us get together to make music.”

Tim sees the aptly-named Departure Lounge as a truly ‘global indie’ enterprise, travel and languages running deep with the frontman, who started teacher training a year after the recording of the new LP, and is working towards a new career as secondary school languages teacher. He already spoke French and German, and learned Spanish during the first lockdown, his response to Brexit.

“It’s kind of my protest really. Languages are in crisis in this country. They were already, but it’s got a lot worse these last four years.”

The LP titlecontinues the band’s long-haul air traffic theme, named after the defunct aviation cargo airline for which Tim’s dad was chief pilot, as he explained to me.

“He was a pilot all his life, always fond of telling us the Queen paid for him to learn to fly – he was in the RAF just after the war, then flew helicopters in the Sahara, did crop-spraying in South America, ending up joining this airline his older brother started, Transmeridian, a long-haul cargo outfit in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the pioneering age of long-haul flight, flying out of Southend then Stansted, flying all over – the Far East, Africa …”

Is this what sparked your love of languages?

“I suppose so. I was into travel before I was into music, travelling from a very early age, playing football in the back of empty cargo planes flying down to Africa with my sister, my dad flying. It was pretty exciting.”

Tim’s Dad, who died in 2015, was Kevin Keegan. And you can tell the response this usually gets, as he quickly adds, ‘the original’.

“He was quite a character, and a lot of his mates were a bunch of ne’er-do-wells, big drinkers who liked to party and have a good time. Lots of stopovers with time to kill in hotels, lots of air stewardesses and naughty stuff, I’m sure … he was a bit of a larger-than-life character, my old man.”

But for all that globetrotting down the decades, it turns out we share a little geographical lineage as well as both being born in 1967 and having mutual friends on my old doorstep. In fact, I was surprised I didn’t know him the first time his band were out and about.

Last Time: Back in the day. From the left – Lindsay Jamieson, Jake Kyle, Tim Keegan, Chris Anderson. (Photo: Tom Sheehan)

The thing is, I took my eye off the ball around then. I moved north, was short on cash and had new priorities, not least on starting a family in 2000. But there were moments when surely we rubbed shoulders or frequented the same pubs, clubs and gigs, making it all the more poignant listening back to his song catalogue now, contemplating what I missed out on first time around.

Tim was born in Welwyn Garden City and moved to Romsey in the New Forest when he was around nine, where he still considers home, but his uni studies were in Guildford, and his wife hails from my old neck of the woods. These days though, he’s on the Sussex coast, near bandmate Chris Anderson, before that nearby in Brighton, before that Paris, and before that Nashville, Tennessee, with bandmate Lindsay … which is kind of where I fit in.

I knew Lindsay from late-‘80s Jim Jiminee days, that North Hampshire outfit and the band they became, The Deep Season, a huge influence on this scribe, going back to my Captains Log fanzine days. I kept tabs on Lindsay when he joined the splendid Supermodel (also featuring Chris Anderson), catching them with Lightning Seeds and Molly Half Head at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre in early ’96, the year of their debut LP, Clumba Mar (word of advice, pop kids – careful searching for their cracking debut 7”, ‘Penis Size and Cars’).

I’m not sure when I realised he’d joined North Carolina’s Ben Folds, but I loved 2005’s Songs for Silverman and in more recent years thrilled to his inspired video project Find the Beauty and Nashville trio Elle Macho. But I somehow missed the gap between wondrous 1993 Deep Season LP, Island Monkeys, and all that, where he came into Jake and Tim’s orbit. Thankfully though, I’ve finally caught up now, and Tim filled me in on a few gaps.

“Jake and I went over in 2001 to try and keep the band going. Chris didn’t want to – he had stuff going on over here with his partner and wanted to stay in England. Again, fair enough, we weren’t 18 anymore. We were all about 30. It was just life getting in the way, really. Chris did come over for a couple of visits, and we did the Jetlag Dreams album on one of those. Then we had a residency -Jake, Linds and I – in a lovely little bar in Nashville, now quite legendary, the Slow Bar.”

Jetlag Dreams provideda brief departure, so to speak, into a soundtrack world. But perhaps we need to go back further at this point, not least explaining Tim’s further Surrey adventures.

“I was drawn back after living in London for a while and met Lindsay there. For a few years, he was in Guildford, so we hooked up again sometime in the mid-‘90s.”

I must surely have frequented the same space a few times, having followed The Deep Season – featuring Lindsay and his brother, Kevin Jamieson, plus Nick Hannan, the aforementioned Patch Hannan’s brother – around the London and South East circuit, and bumped into Lindsay in the King’s Head, Stoke Road, Guildford, a pub I still regarded as my local, despite having moved to Lancashire in late 1993.

Transglobal Expression: Departure Lounge’s Lindsay Jamieson, Jake Kyle, Tim Keegan, Chris Anderson (Photo: Jim Kirby)

“I got to know them around then. They were doing those Deep Season nights at the King’s Head. I was living very close to there.”

I did catch Railroad Earth – another transport and travel link, kids – once, supporting The Blue Aeroplanes at Harlesden’s Mean Fiddler, a week before Christmas 1991, writing in my diary, ‘Brilliant night. Two great bands.’ So tell me more.

“They started off as my university band in Guildford, then the line-up ended up being completely different, but we still had the same name. Then when we made a record, we changed the name to Ringo, sort of an evolution really. The purest version of Railroad Earth was quite a bit before that, But we made a record using the new name in 1992 in Boston – my first album.”

Confusingly, that LP included a track called ‘Railroad Earth’. But I was unaware of that, my music fanzine days – with Jim Jiminee among my interviewees, and plenty of mentions of The Blue Aeroplanes – over by then, and me not long back from my world travels.

“Well, before that album, it was just demos at the university. They had an amazing studio, and they were great demos in terms of sonic quality, although we weren’t particularly good as we’d really just started playing. The later version was quite good but not really so much the music I wanted to be doing – I was pulled by the spirit of the times, more into noisy guitars and stuff.”

They were strange days. Many great bands missed out around then, record companies seemingly looking for ‘baggy’ outfits in the wake of The Stone Roses. And then came BritPop, a lot of bands I loved missing out on that step up, despite influencing a few of those who would break through.

“I think that’s always the way. There are always bands that fall through the cracks just because of the timing, and there was a lot of that in the early ‘90s, making me think of The Pale Fountains, Shack, and all that.”

That from a performer now on the same Violette Records label as Palies and Shack frontman Michael Head’s latest band. Incidentally, my 1991 diary suggests Paul Weller played Kilburn’s National Ballroom in NW6 the night I saw Railroad Earth with The Blue Aeroplanes in NW10, the Woking wonder having stepped away from the faltering Style Council and barely nine months off releasing an eponymous LP signalling his creative rebirth.

My choice of show was no doubt determined by guitarist/co-vocalist Rodney Allen adding me to the guestlist at the Mean Fiddler. And I was never disappointed by the ‘Planes. I seem to recall Rodney couldn’t see their worth when they first courted him with a regard to getting him on board. But that juxtaposition of styles worked so well, leading to some fantastic records and live experiences.

“Yeah, that was their golden period, and set up this really interesting dynamic. When you have that in a band, like with The Go-Betweens, it’s always more interesting than with just one front man. If you have the right combination – with Lennon and McCartney the obvious ones – well … And the albums Swagger and Beat Songs, they’re up there!”

They were still coming out with great material when Tim guested on the Rough Music LP, released in January 1995, not least adding 12-string guitar on ‘Dear, Though the Night is Gone’.

“That is nice, isn’t it. But really, my involvement was brief, just standing in for Rodney really, who was unwell for a time.”

On to the new LP, and looking at the website for Peter Miles’ studio in South Devon, I knew I was on to the right one as I recognised the style of the handcrafted oak decor, guessing former Jim Jiminee and Deep Season bass player Nick Hannan was responsible.

“Well, Nick’s the reason we went to that studio. I was in touch, said we wanted to record again, and were looking for a studio in Devon, as Jake lives down there, has young kids, and we wanted to make life easier for him. And Nick said he had the perfect place, calling it ‘Blah Street Mk II’. He’d been doing loads of work for them, and said Pete Miles was brilliant.

“And he was spot on – it was perfect for us. It couldn’t have been better, on this beautiful old farm. There’s films I shot on my phone, including one where you see Nick’s split-screen VW, and while we were there he was in a workshop outside, so we got to hang out with him.”

The original Blah Street studio – near the Surrey and North Hants border, now sadly gone – was the setting for the recording and mixing of 2002’s Too Late to Die Young, produced by Kid Loco and engineered by Nick Hannan. I never got to visit that setting, but popped down a couple of times in Spring 1992 to Nick’s previous Studio Poisson base nearby, where The Deep Season made Island Monkeys.

“I did some demos there, engineered mostly by Patch, who played drums on my stuff in the mid-‘90s with Homer, between my time with Ringo and Departure Lounge.”

Was that also the first time you worked with Jake?

“I met him down in Bristol with The Blue Aeroplanes, so had my eye on him. I thought he was great and asked if he’d play on some stuff. Then I asked Linds to play drums. After Homer, I wanted to do something different, get some musicians I really liked to come and play, and Linds introduced Chris (Anderson). I wanted a piano player for a particular song I was recording in Brighton in a studio Kevin Jamieson had for a while, in a church he rented in Kemptown. That was incredible and we recorded there with Nick, who as well as a gifted woodworker and great bass player is such a talented engineer.”

As Tim discovered with his work on Too Late to Die Young. But let’s get right up to date now, and ‘Australia’, the first song I heard from the new LP. It makes for a perfect single. An all-rounder, written and recorded in the studio, I love the subtle backing vocal melodies, which seem to suggest the miles between band members. And even if I didn’t know Peter Buck was guesting on lead guitar, I’d have suggested there were shades of early REM jangly guitar and spirit there.

“Yeah, that’s why he’s on there. I had that thought immediately, listening back to it in the studio.”

How did you get him involved?

“We played together a bit over the years when I was with Robyn Hitchcock. We’re on a couple of the same records and did some gigs together in various places. We played a festival in Norway which a mutual friend curated, and I ended up playing harmonica and singing backup in his band. That was fun, a collaborative affair with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin.”

That sounds like heavy name dropping.

“Oh yeah, major name dropping! There was Mike Mills and Peter from REM, Steve Wynn from The Dream Syndicate, and Terry Edwards, who I go back a long way with through Robyn Hitchcock.”

I also love those subtle backing vocals on ‘Australia’. It’s almost as if Chris and Lindsay are thousands of miles away on that recording, in a sense true in Lindsay’s case when it came to shooting the accompanying video.

“Yeah, I like that too, and it’s amazing what a difference something can make, even if it’s low in the mix, like Lindsay’s piano in the chorus, which you don’t really hear unless you’re listening for it.”

I assumed that was Chris, and not just because Lindsay’s just drumming in the video.

“I was hoping Linds would do a shot of him on the piano, but if you listen there’s a really nice piano motif. He plays a lot of piano for us, while Chris plays bass here and there, Jake’s on drums on some of it and plays guitar on ‘Al Aire Libre’, something he made up.”

You’ve got such a talented band. You’re spoilt for choice.

“We are, and that’s what gives it breadth really – the fact that everyone plays lots of instruments … except for me really.”

What’s more, as well as Peter Buck’s guest spot, Jake’s daughter adds vocals on ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, and his family add handclaps on ‘Mr Friendly’. And while I could write plenty more about the album here, having had a fair few listens since I spoke to Tim and loving it, time is against me, so I’ll leave the review for later … probably in a best of 2021 section.

It seems to me that Departure Lounge were among the bands who realised during the last year of the pandemic that remote recording might just work in these days of advanced technology, something of a bonus when two of you are in Sussex, your bass player is in Devon, and your drummer lives across the Atlantic Ocean. And maybe that’s something that wouldn’t have been an option 20 years ago when Lindsay headed west. Did they see his move as the end of the band at the time?

“It wasn’t the end, but it was definitely the beginning of the end! I mean, fair enough – he’d met someone, they were having a baby, he got married and made a life over there. But he wanted to keep the band going, so did we, and we thought this should be possible. And it would have been if we had enough money, if we’d been successful enough.” 

It would be 2006 before Tim had family of his own, and was still eager to make it big at the time of the split, adding, “I was still very much on my ‘at any cost’ path of doing music”.

While superstardom never came their way, it’s been an amazing if disjointed adventure, the band earning plenty of acclaim en route … even if when Departure Lounge’s flight came in, I appeared to be at a different gate. Not least when you consider that their first rehearsals and recordings took place at Lindsay’s house in Guildford, a few streets from my old local, Tim revealing, “We’d get together in his lounge, put a mini-disc in the middle of the floor and just make stuff up, there on Rec(reation) Road.”

At the risk of sounding like an old bugger, it’s hard now to recall and explain to the next generation – like my children and Tim’s – how we kept tabs on what was happening then, before the days of social media updates. I soon had less money in my pocket, was seeing less gigs and had other priorities. I’d also given up on the weekly music press, making do with the monthly magazines, and was listening to less BBC Radio 1 at night. 

“I also think we would have been able to keep it going if we had the technology we have now. When we did this record we all got together in one place, but in February this year we were asked to do a session for Janice Long on BBC Radio Wales, which we did completely remotely, all four of us. We couldn’t see each other, but you’d never know, listening back, having got a mate of ours to mix it.

“That’s made us think we can do this remotely now. So while it would be lovely to do another album in Devon, maybe we’ll do that with the next one. The plan now is to do more remote stuff, see if we can make that work.”

The songs recorded for that session, some not broadcast, are included on the deluxe digital and vinyl LP editions of the new record, although Tim tells me the latter’s been held up in Europe so far, ‘and we can blame Brexit for that’.

Was Janice Long a fan first time around?

“I think so. Her producer – Adam Walton, a brilliant bloke – was. He was a DJ for the BBC in the north when I did a tour with Chris plugging one of the singles from the first album, remembered me, and got in touch when he heard this record was out.

“That’s what’s really nice – lots of people around 20 years ago who were into our music are still into it now. It may not be hundreds of thousands, but there’s enough to make a difference.”

This remote version of the group certainly fits in with the band name.

“Yes, and it fits with our vision of keeping it small but global – global indie, if you like. Although I don’t think our music is particularly niche. Someone said in a recent review our contemporaries are Coldplay, Keane and Travis. Well, some of our stuff isn’t that far from what those guys were doing, but there wasn’t room for us, and we didn’t have the timing or the budgets. But what’s nice is that we can still exist … on a lower flying level, as it were.”

You mentioned The Go-Betweens, and you covered the glorious ‘Rock’n’Roll Friend’ recently, an extra track on the new record’s deluxe package. You shared a bill a few times. Were you a fan who happened to be in the right place at the right time?

“Pretty much. It was an early Departure Lounge gig, opening for Neutral Milk Hotel. I was on the same label. In the mid-to-late ‘90s a woman said to us after a show, ‘I loved that, and work for this guy, he’s a manager …’ and basically badgered this manager, said, ‘You’ve got to take these guys on – they’re brilliant!’ That was Bob Johnson, who’s Robert (Forster)’s manager. That’s what got me into that world, and I couldn’t believe my luck – a fan since 16 Lovers Lane.”

I think that’s where I started, going backwards from there, inspired by that and the 1978-1990 compilation.

“Yeah, me too with the first Robert Forster and Grant McLennan solo records as well. Grant’s Horsebreaker Star (1994)was a big one for me, and Robert’s Danger in the Past (1990). I loved all their stuff. And when they got back together and we were supporting them, then did some solo stuff with them as well. And they were so sweet.

“I sent Robert ‘Australia’ recently, saying, ‘I thought you’d like this’. He emailed straight back, said, ‘It’s a knockout – well done!’ He wrote this very effusive email and asked if I could send him the chords – a bit of a flashback to when he asked for the chords to ‘The New You’ 20 years ago.

“He’s quite something, Robert … as was Grant. I consider myself very fortunate, as there was only a small window when they got back together again, and I didn’t see them early on, which I’m sorry about.”

Master Class: Jake Kyle looks on as Tim Keegan tries to recall the chords during 2019’s Devon departure

He expanded on this on social media recently, explaining that Departure Lounge opened for The Go-Betweens’ co-frontmen on a string of US duo dates in June 1999.

“It’s very nice to have had a small walk-on part in the Go-Betweens story, having been a devotee since hearing ‘Spring Rain’ in 1986. From 1998 we shared a manager with Robert and Grant, and Roddy Frame. We opened for them in London and on that US tour, shortly before they made The Friends of Rachel Worth. Then I supported them solo in Brussels and Paris in 2003.

“I have very fond memories of these shows with two of my songwriting heroes, who were both very supportive and became friends. We had a lot of fun and somewhere I have a tape of us making up a song with Grant in a dressing room after one of the shows. I don’t think it was anything earth-shattering, but it’s a lovely memory. I also remember Grant playing and singing me the opening lines of Richard Hawley’s first single, ‘Baby, You’re My Light’. Grant was very tuned in to other people’s stuff and interested in mine, which I took as a huge compliment.

“I went to visit them in the studio in London when they were recording Oceans Apart. Robert was overseeing the Salvation Army brass band players on ‘Darlinghurst Nights’ and Grant and I drank tea in the lounge upstairs.

“I was in my flat in Brighton playing with my four month-old son when I got the devastating news (of Grant’s death) in May 2006. He’s 15 now and does a great version of ‘Coming Up For Air’, my favourite Grant song, which I could never persuade him to play live, as he said it was too personal.”

I love the name of the LP and its emotional attachment to your Dad’s story, but weren’t you tempted to call this one, seeing as it turned up almost two decades after the last one, Too Old To Arrive Late?

“Yes, we probably could have done something clever with that. I take your point!”

And on that front, through circumstances beyond your control, you parted company in 2003 but now you’re back, and you seem determined that this is not going to be a one-off release.

“No, absolutely not! We’re back … although exactly what that means in this covid and post-covid era nobody quite knows, but we’re definitely back and we should be making music together.”

Will you be flying Lindsay back over to record with you again, soon as it’s safe?

“Yeah, I hope so. And at some point there will be live dates and more recording, so we’re looking forward to that.”

Glad to hear it. There was more I aimed to get on to, not least Tim’s past solo projects – having recorded the albums Foreign Domestic in 2007 and The Long Game in 2015 – and links with the likes of Saint Etienne. But we both had places to go, in Tim’s case ahead of a return to school … because we’ve all got to make a living somehow.

“Exactly, and that’s good fun as well, really interesting. It’s great working with kids and I love languages. It’s much more challenging than anything else I’ve done, but that’s good, and you’re never too old to start a new learning process.”

And there’s a future Departure Lounge album title, if ever I heard one.

2021 Return: Departure Lounge, hoping to record and play live again again as soon as it’s safe to do so (Photo: Anthony Oudot)

Transmeridian is out now on Violette Records, available on high-quality vinyl or as a deluxe digital download via https://violetterecords.com/artist/departure-lounge/, each package including bonus material, its 13 tracks accompanied by seven bonus tracks and ‘The Making Of Transmeridian’ 34-page pdf booklet with foreword and introduction from Tim Keegan, photographs and studio notes from the recording, and handwritten lyrics.

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And Everything Changed – the William Doyle interview

Muddy Time: The new LP’s cover image, featuring Melchior d’Hondecoeter’s 17th-century water birds scene

A decade after William Doyle’s musical rebirth as East India Youth – going on to receive a Mercury Music Prize nomination for Total Strife Forever, his debut LP in that guise – this acclaimed artist remains strong on songcraft as well as experimental soundscapes.

After four self-released ambient and instrumental albums, 2019’s Your Wilderness Revisited – with his own name on the spine by then – proved a work of enormous ambition, receiving somewhat ecstatic reviews.

And now he’s delivered Great Spans of Muddy Time, an album borne from accident but pushed forward by instinct following a disastrous hard-drive crash, its material largely saved only on cassette, ultimately forcing William to accept recordings as they were rather than go for a four-year approach to completion again.

And after ‘embracing the wonky and jagged’ to great effect, from the moment the new record kicks in I was hooked, its many highlights guaranteeing it will feature among the best of 2021 LPs come December.

Early review mentions of Berlin-era Bowie, early Eno, Robert Wyatt, Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett set the scene. And for me there’s often an ‘80s feel too, even though it’s in no way retro.

En route, William writes about endless tour van trips, long walks, widescreen views, cosy pubs, and a less likely influence too, having watched long-running BBC Friday evening staple Gardener’s World ‘quite religiously during lockdown’.

“I became obsessed with Monty Don. I like his manner and there’s something about him I relate to. He once described periods of depression in his life as consisting of ‘nothing but great spans of muddy time’. When I read that, I knew it would be the title of this record.

“Something about the sludgy mulch of the album’s darker moments, and its feel of perpetual autumnal evening, seemed to fit so well. I would also be lying if I said it didn’t chime with my mental health experiences.”

‘Theme from Muddy Time’ on the LP also captures ‘an element of breaking through a barrier, either by force or with time,’ Bournemouth-born and bred William adding, ‘Things change. Time does pass. The cloud does make way to reveal the sun’.

Around 10 years after he handed a CD-R demo to The Quietus co-founder John Doran at a gig, who loved it so much he set up a label to release William’s debut EP as East India Youth, it’s been a remarkable journey so far, Great Spans of Muddy Time, recently released on Tough Love Records, launched via an exclusive livestream from Crouch End Studios in London.

Last Time: The critically-acclaimed 2019 William Doyle benchmark LP release, Your Wilderness Revisited

But don’t think for one moment that he’s all about technology, perhaps understandably following that catastrophic computer crash. In fact, he seemed relieved that our conversation was being conducted over a phoneline.

“This is a radical move in it not happening on Zoom, which seems to be the standard way of doing things now.”

Well, maybe we could just paint pictures of what we feel we look like as we go along.

“Ah, I much prefer phone calls, I have to say. It’s a lot easier to sit and look out of the window, rather than pretend to stare at someone.”

True enough. In fact, as one of my music PR contacts put it to me when we spoke about this last week, seemingly taking the Roddy Frame approach, ‘Why can’t we just send letters?’.

William was in East London when I called, but he’s North West-bound soon, moving to Manchester, as we’ll get on to. And talking of ‘up north’, I told him I was intrigued soon as he sang in opener ‘I Need to Keep You in my Life’ about ‘driving in twilight over Pennines’. Was that a memory of past travels between live shows?

“Yeah, I mean, how many times have I driven across there? I’ve been touring since I was 17, and I’m 30 now. And I think the sentiment of the song is laid out in the first line. What I like is that it’s specific to me, but will hopefully resonate with other people.”

I’m with you there. I also like ambiguity, but appreciate that specific feel too, not least on stunning lead single ’And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)’ as he reveals, ‘I’m always dimming the light switch’. A contender for somehow deepest line ever, perhaps? Or am I over-analysing? It certainly brings a smile, either way.

“I’m glad. There was great debate on (BBC) 6 Music between Radcliffe and Maconie about whether one can actually dim a light switch – the on/off switch being the binary part. You can always trust them to bring a banal reading … quite rightly.

“I like it when listening to a song it somehow punctures the way you’re expecting it to go, be that with a very specific mention of the Pennines or dimming a light switch. It’s not standard lyrical fare.”

Strife Guard: William Doyle as East India Youth, on 2013’s Mercury Prize-nominated Total Strife Forever,

I’d hate to lose the mystique of it all, but was that something that just came randomly to you?

“Yeah, that song was done with a David Byrne/Brian Eno-type technique – singing nonsense over backing tracks then listening back, deciphering what the words could be, given the vowels – a good way of wrong-footing yourself rather than fall on more familiar clichés and tropes.”

Seeing as you mentioned Brian Eno, I was going to ask about his spoken-word contribution to ‘Design Guide’ on the previous album. Were you already on his radar? How did that come about?

“I’m not sure who introduced him to my stuff, but in about 2013 he came to a show in my guise as East India Youth. Obviously I was made up about – he’s a pretty big influence. But it wasn’t until a couple of years later, when I did the second East India Youth record, the PR person at XL Records thought it would be a good idea for us to be in conversation with The Guardian. That was the first time I went to his studio and met him, and we stayed in touch, with lots of work and bits and pieces between us ever since, which is amazing.

“When people ask about that particular collaboration, I’d already written the words, but there was a very quick turnaround. I told him I felt he’d be a great fit – he’s a very good orator – and he emailed back, said, ‘I’m about to go away for a few weeks, but if you send it over now, I’ll do it’. He sent it back and asked if I wanted to change anything, and I was like, ‘No, that’s perfect!’ And that was it.”

Well, it’s great, and I love that you asked him to add his voice, rather than to play some obscure piece of space-age technology you know he’s got.

“Yeah, he likes being asked to do things that aren’t what he’s usually asked to do, like producing someone’s record or playing a synthesiser, something like that. He loves being asked to sing too.”

I love the way ‘And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)’ appears to be a continuation of a song that opened on a previous side of a record. And while so ‘now’ in its delivery, it could have burst out of the radio in my formative early ‘80s teenage years. Yet it’s not necessarily retro. For these ears, that and ‘Nothing At All’ almost offer a new take on Soft Cell, without – and I mean this from a place of love – Marc Almond’s off-kilter delivery.

“Ha! Much as I’m influenced by so much from the past, classic songwriting is really dear to me. As much as I like to experiment with sound, if I can marry the two things together, that’s the best of both worlds. Nothing for me beats a good, well-crafted song or hook, but it’s nice to be a little more adventurous with the way those things are presented.

“I wouldn’t say ‘Nothing At All’ is pastiche, but it wears its influences on its sleeve, whereas with ‘And Everything Changed’, the structure’s odd. There are bits you recognise – like here’s the chorus and here’s a guitar solo – but it’s not standard.”

The guitar solo is gorgeous. Are you one to noodle away to your own songs, that giving way to the occasional happy accident?

“I guess the unifying thread of this record is that everything was done quickly, because of the way it came about, where I had to salvage all these songs off a cassette tape following a hard-drive crash. So what’s there is sort of what’s on the record now, bar a couple of things I added on top.”

You’ve forced yourself to be less precious with this record, in a sense.

“Exactly, and with the guitar solo, that’s what I played when I hit the chords, and a first take. The guitar sounds backwards, but really it’s being played forwards – I have an effect which switches things around while you play – and sometimes the sound dictates what you play rather than the other way around. So yeah, I’m not really one to try and get a perfect line – as long as the spirit and feeling is there, that’s great.”

The climax of ‘Somewhere Totally Else’ and its backwards – to use that phrase again – noodlings, could be a synth-like take on The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.

“Yeah, sure. That’s one of the best pieces of music ever made, and I guess there are similarities. And maybe there’s a cassette tape feel, almost a collage-y thing.”

That said, on this occasion Ringo Starr’s mighty drum patterns have been replaced by synth loops.

“There is a drum machine on that track … but if I could play drums, I’d like to do something like that.”

Curious Orange: William Doyle as East India Youth, on the cover of 2015’s album, Culture of Volume

In fact, I’m back to thinking of a day driving across the East Lancashire-West Yorkshire border – in a land that time seems to have forgotten – heading to report on a football match, listening to Revolver. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ came on and seemed to fit perfectly with everything I was seeing – from the people I passed on the paths by the road to the majestic Pennine backdrops landscape serving as my backdrop as I drove through.

“It’s amazing when things have the power to synch up with your experiences of the world.”

Your use of instrumental interludes on this album remind me of a few things, and I see you and Blancmange’s Neil Arthur as fairly kindred spirits – another artist who seems to switch seemingly effortlessly between the occasional pop certainty and more instrumental Eno-esque moments.

“I’m going to have to take your word for that! I haven’t really delved into them, and I don’t know why, because you’re not the first person that’s made the comparison.”

In light of that admission, I felt it was my turn to confess. I’d missed out on William’s rich song catalogue until recently, despite many recommendations from those whose opinions I value and his past work with several acts I rate highly – from British Sea Power to Hannah Peel and Erland Cooper, working on a remix for the latter’s Erland and the Carnival, and collaborating with him on Murmuration more recently.

“Yes, and I made ‘Somewhere Totally Else’ from this album in Erland’s studio, not far from me in Hoxton. He has the main room and I had the middle room for six months, and that was one of the improvisations made while I was in there. I first met Erland and Hannah around 2014 … and these are all the same sort of orbit.”

A mighty orbit it is too, one well worth the cosmic plunge. And beneath the scratchy exterior and synth-based melodies of latest winning single ‘Semi-Bionic’, it’s epic pop, I’d venture, hinting at traces of Roy Orbison or Gene Pitney. Can we expect more of the same next time around?

“I think so. The next album will probably be more traditional, although I’d still like it sonically interesting. But it’ll be more song-based, although there are byways and avenues I explore with different sounds. Maybe it’ll be an amalgam of this record and the one before.

“A blend of those two approaches might be good, keeping the song aspect strong and intact. For the record I’m working on now, all the songs – unusually for me – have been written just on guitar, and I tend to get into the world of those songs, starting to play them every day, working out the idiosyncrasies.”

Was that partly a distrust of technology following your calamitous hard-drive crash?

 “Ha! Actually, those things happened in tandem with each other, working on this next album last summer and having that saved to an external hard drive, whereas these other pieces were on my main computer hard drive, the one that was corrupted.

“This record kind of happened by accident. I didn’t necessarily intend for this material to see the light of day. It took a bit of convincing from people to put it out properly. I was just going to sling it up on Bandcamp as a digital download.”

That sounds similar to Erland telling me about record company interest in his until then private Orkney project, that becoming three great albums … and all because someone influential happened to hear them and love them. So this too was never intended as a proper release?

“Well … I’m not as shy as Erland! But sometimes you have to share things for people you trust to get a good read on it. And I’m glad we’ve done it. People seem to have connected with this record in a way I wouldn’t have thought they would. It’s a challenging, strange prospect to ask casual listeners, but I think there is something to hook people in … long as they’re willing to put the time in!”

‘A Forgotten Film’ carries elements of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘I Won’t Get Fooled Again’ era, with your keyboard work, and that’s something I also hear back in the sands of time on ‘Welcome to Austerity’ in your former life with Doyle and the Fourfathers. It seems you present a fairly wide canvas. Then again, perhaps that love of great songcraft never left you.

“Yeah, it’s hard to know what to focus on. I guess that’s why I make whole start to finish records. You have to put things in an order that makes sense, and that scatter-shot nature – one track sounding completely different to the one before it – can be mitigated if it’s in the right order rather than all over the place. But I guess I’ve done a fairly wide amount of stuff in the last 10 years.”

If East India Youth was seen as your musical rebirth, you seem in places to be veering closer now to the 2010 indie pop of Doyle and the Fourfathers, coming around to where you were as a songwriter back then.

“I just want to try out doing a good song record again. But I might make a completely ambient record after. I don’t see rules there. It’s just about whatever piques my interest in the moment. When I did the first East India Youth record, I was really into dance music, and more abrasive electronic textures, wanting to explore that. I still like all that, but these last couple of years my interests have gone back into songcraft. I like the idea of keeping going in and out of all that though.”

Was this album partly put together pre-lockdown?

“Apart from one synth-line and one guitar bit I did last August, everything else was from 2019.”

So will the next one be more your covid album?

“Well, I’d written most of the songs for that already, mostly in 2019. So I think I’m going to just skip covid out of all this!”

Quite right too. Perhaps, just hold back that material, do it as a retro project in 2045.

“Yes, maybe. I know I had all the time in the world to listen to records last year, but without there being a world out there to experience – gigs to go to, and so on – I found it really hard to connect with a lot of records that came out last year. The context for listening was the same everyday … apart from maybe you’d sit in a different chair while listening. A lot of stuff I connect to while listening on the bus, music on the move. And I had that same experience with making music.

“I spent a long time not touring, between the end of the East India Youth project and Wilderness, but I just started poking my head out at the start of last year, doing a short UK tour for that with a full band. I thought we’d do festivals last summer, but then …

“It was nice to get back into a regular creative practise at home though. So I kind of want to do both now.”

Was the starting point on this LP, ‘Theme From Muddy Time’, or was that a part-way through focus?

“To be honest, everything gets titled retrospectively. That was just a piece I had, but where it landed on the record, it felt like it had a nice resolve to it, like the last scene of a film before the credits. I didn’t try to labour over the idea though.” 

Although not written specifically about covid times, the LP’s theme seems rather apt at a time when we’ve all looked to find solace in our natural surroundings amid these testing times. In your case I understand you became obsessed with Gardeners’ World, hence using that line from Monty Don as the title. And I think we can all relate to that search for something outdoorsy right now … grounding ourselves, so to speak.

“Absolutely. And there’s no better place to do that than in the garden.”

And musically, the ‘theme’ song comes together rather beautifully, like a wonky take on OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, the bagpipe effects there replaced by rather off-kilter synth-lines.  

Meanwhile, it’s been five years since you started using your own name on the records rather than East India Youth. Was that a new-found belief in what you were doing, or was that never an issue?

“I just wanted to draw a line under the things I was doing before. I was working on some ambient records, but Wilderness was the one I wanted to put together. It felt so different from what I was doing before, but it was an idea I had rattling around for 10 years before it came out. And using my own name made me feel truer to myself. Besides, I can’t run away from this name.”

So do you see this album as part two, following Wilderness?

“No, this is totally different. Wilderness had such a big over-arching concept, including lots about my life and my upbringing, and it’s difficult to make that record over and over again. So I wanted to make sure this one was totally different. And I didn’t want to spend another four years making it.”

Is home no longer East India Docks?

“I haven’t lived there for years. I live in Hackney … but I’m about to move to Manchester. My girlfriend works for Manchester International Festival, remotely since January, but needing to be up there when the festival happens. So we’re having a change of scenery. And I’m looking forward to it, having been there a lot during my touring life and having friends there.”

William’s spent time in Brighton and York too, although he’s spent the last three years back in London. But he’s originally from Bournemouth, and his first band was based around Southampton.

It’s been more than a decade since Man Made, a lot happening in your life since. But listening to the Fourfathers, I see not only where you came from, but something that remains in your music. Songs like ‘The Governor of Giving Up’ and the afore-mentioned ‘Welcome to Austerity’ seem somewhere between The Divine Comedy, Arctic Monkeys, Cardiacs, Edwyn Collins, and Franz Ferdinand. But songs like ‘Summer Rain’ – sort of Neil Hannon does Richard Hawley – sits fairly well with what you’re doing now.

“That was like my bread and butter, that and early Scott Walker records. I tried to move as far away from that as possible at one point, but I’ve started to see the value in it, how that’s still part of my DNA.”

That’s what I meant – I can see you taking some of that back on board now.

“Yeah, I like that idea, with everything else I’ve learned in the meantime, about producing and how to make an interesting sound world out of things. Sometimes when I listen back, I’m like, ‘Wow! How did I write that?’ I feel my songwriting chops were really good then, and sometimes feel I’ve lost touch with that a little. And when you’re 17, you haven’t as much responsibility in your life, so can spend all day long writing songs, so you’re bound to become good at it.”

And it’s amazing when you think how many great songs have been made by people in their late teens, down the years. But judging by this new album, you’ve clearly still got it.

“Well, that’s good to know!”  

And apologies for catching up so late, but at least I’ve now got a great back-catalogue to savour.

“Well, I like that. As much as it’s nice that you have a big record that comes out at the time and that’s how you get to lots of people, I do like the idea that you’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs for people to get into.

“I really want to be doing this forever, and like the idea that you don’t get too hung up on whether one record is a success or failure at the time, because who knows what it might mean to someone who’d never heard of something that came out 10 years ago, who then might have a special moment with that. It’s a long game, isn’t it.”

And with that, William was away, telling me that while I’m belatedly checking out his back-catalogue, he’d recently decided to do the same with XTC. A wise move, I agreed, also reminding him to look up Blancmange while he’s at it. I look forward to an update soon.

To order Great Spans of Muddy Time, head here. And for the latest from William Doyle you can follow him via Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Translating the Language of Love – the Boo Hewerdine interview

While many artists are raring to get back out on the road again, soon as it’s deemed safe to do so, it seems that treasured Glasgow-based singer/songwriter Boo Hewerdine is happy just where he is for now.

The former frontman of The Bible, having written for a multitude of artists in recent years – not least Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford, ex-Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader, and 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year Kris Drever – has got along fine in his home studio these past 12 months.

In fact, Boo – recently turned 60 – is as creative and productive as ever, having swapped those long hours zipping up and down the roads of Great Britain for a little quality home time – writing, recording, and producing other artists.

And while live dates will follow, he’s staying put for now, overseeing the release of new collection, Select Works, and working on a follow-up to 20126’s splendid Swimming in Mercury.

The new 20-song compilation album was sequenced by Tom Rose, Reveal Records’ owner choosing the tracks himself, delving deep into an extraordinary catalogue.

His choices include a fresh recording of ‘The Village Bell’ with label-mate Drever, new single ‘The Language of Love’, and a few more tracks only previously available in digital format.

Boo, who has recorded a track-by-track online radio stream with DJ/presenter Adam Wilson discussing the album and songs in depth, was multi-tasking when I called … but remained engaging.

I regret never catching The Bible live in their initial 1985/89 period, their brief 1993/94 return, and more recent reunion shows. I was also slow to pick up on Boo’s solo career … until he came to me – my first sighting in May 2007 at St Bede’s Club, Whittle-le-Woods, a mere five mile round-trip from my adopted Lancashire base.

“Where was that? I can’t remember that. What did it look like?”

A discussion followed about that location and an area I got to know so well from news and sports reporting for a decade-plus from 1996. In fact, I think it was previously missing the legendary Frank Sidebottom in the same setting that made me more determined to get tickets for Boo.

Strange as that may seem to put those acts together, there are similarities, even if Boo’s head is not made of papier-mache, the comedy value of Boo’s between-songs banter often worth the entrance fee alone, as was the case at his Mr Kite Benefit fundraiser in aid of the Arthritis Research Campaign.

I don’t recall a right lot now, and as I paid my own way I was probably reluctant to scribble anything for the local paper, but have it in mind that his other half drove him there that night.

“Possibly, we were probably staying with her sister in Lytham. Yes, my missus is from Lancashire.”

When I asked friend of this blog Jim Wilkinson what he remembered about that occasion, he succinctly replied, ‘Just seeing Boo on the bandit having a fag, pre-gig’.

“Oh, I don’t smoke anymore. That stopped about 10 years ago – all forms of pleasure! I don’t drink or smoke.”

Was that a health consideration?

“I think I thought I’d give myself a break for a week. Being on the road, people give you free booze all the time. And I never missed it and haven’t thought about it since. But if you want free drink, be a musician!”

My most recent live sighting was in April 2017, Jim and I joined by fellow ex-reporting pal Tony in the inspired setting of Wigan’s All Saints’ Church, my review reminding me that Boo was ‘even foregoing the PA system at one stage to make the most of the sonic possibilities’.

This time he was supported by The Huers, joining the North West folk roots scene regulars on their version of ‘King of California’, then inviting them back later for a combined take on the sublime ‘Bell, Book and Candle’.

“That’s right! Very nice people, and a lovely show. And they’ve done a really nice version on one of their records.”

Incidentally, Boo told us in Wigan – just two days after playing the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – that song had been used in no less than seven TV shows where characters die, including Tricia Dingle’s death by chimney-pot one stormy night in Emmerdale, adding a deadpan, ‘So if you don’t make it through this song, thanks for coming anyway’.

Boo’s set also included afore-mentioned number ‘The Village Bell’, one of two contributions to the Ballads of Child Migration project, helping shine a light on one of the more shameful chapters of recent UK history.

“This is a new version, Kris (Drever) and I recording in our flats then sending them off to our friend Chris Pepper in Huntingdon. And I really like it. I think it’s better than the original version.”

I’ve only had chance to hear the new album a couple of times so far – late last night and this morning …

“And you’re still awake?”

Indeed. I’m loving it, and ‘And’ was one of the first songs to jump out at me, a new one to me.

“I think there are six new songs on there, and that was the first after we got locked down, the first we did remotely. It was done here and with my friend in Copenhagen, Gustaf Ljunggren. I’ve worked with him nearly 20 years now. He’s a multi-instrumental genius. I also sent him some files yesterday that I want him to work on.”

Perhaps with that history of remote collaboration, you were ahead of the curve with regard to sharing files online, mid-pandemic. 

“Yes, we’ve been doing that because of where he is for a while. And I’ve produced quite a few records for other people from my flat. When you’re on the road, you have good intentions, but … during this last year I’ve done so much.

“I’ve also written an album with Adam Holmes, which is fantastic. Then there’s another with Lady Nade, which I’m working on right now while I’m trying to concentrate! Yeah, I’ve been working more than ever before. I’ve been out doing up to 200 gigs a year – my record was just shy of that figure. But I just love being at home.”

In fact, his last live show was on March 11th, 2020, at Edinburgh Folk Club.

“That was the day before the first Scottish lockdown, I think. It sold out, but the room was empty, a lot of people already very nervy. I’ve done telly since then, and online gigs, but that was the last proper one.”

Boo has been living in Glasgow for the last two years, having been based close to his old roots in Cambridgeshire, from where The Bible sprang, last time I caught him live.

“I’d worked so much in Glasgow, particularly with Eddi Reader, and also with engineer Mark Freegard and my friend Findlay Napier, who I do workshops with. I had so many friends here that I just thought, ‘Why don’t we give it a go?’. My wife has a fantastic job, working for the Scottish Refugee Council, a fantastic, involving job.

“We both love it, and I’d made albums here, spending up to a month here at times. It was a place I knew, so didn’t feel like a big wrench, moving here. We’re on the southside of Glasgow, which has got loads of parks, and it’s just lovely.”

I knew a couple of The Bible’s near-hits first time around, but didn’t truly appreciate them until the end of their first spell together. In fact, I can place my Road to Damascus moment with Boo’s breakthrough band to somewhere just off the A143 – the Road to Diss really – during a weekend in Norfolk in May 1989, when I was 21, staying with a friend – and visiting a few local hostelries – who ran a farm nearby, something which seemed apt for this fan of Norwich outfits Serious Drinking, The Higsons and The Farmer’s Boys.

Actually, the farmer’s dad was celebrated author, screenwriter and University of East Anglia lecturer Malcolm Bradbury, who just happened to be hosting the visiting Arthur Miller that weekend, but that’s another story. What is relevant though is that our host, Matthew, played an alternative, more organic take of ‘Graceland’ as he drove us to the pub in his Isuzu that first night, me rolling around in the back. And I loved that raw acoustic version, in a sense perhaps a taster for what we were to get from Boo’s solo years.

“I think that was when our second record came out – we did some acoustic versions for promo purposes.”

I was impressed enough to splash out on retrospective collection The Bible on vinyl on my return, but clearly didn’t learn from my slow appreciation of the band, later finding myself playing catch-up with Boo’s solo career too, a state of affairs his writing partner Chris Difford admitted as well when we spoke in 2015, when I asked if he was aware of Boo in his days with The Bible, the Squeeze legend also confessing to catching up retrospectively.

“I work with him all the time, but I’ve never assumed he listens to me. Ha!”

Well, I can confirm he’s definitely a fan, I added, somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

“Actually, I get my guitars from Atkin Guitars, where you can buy a Boo Hewerdine model … and Chris has bought one, designed to my spec … although all that really means is it’s got to have strings and stuff – I’m not a guitar nerd, at all. I do love Alister’s guitars though, and I was recording something using one before I spoke to you.”

While this was my first interview with Boo, he’s popped up now and again in conversations with other interviewees in recent years, not just Chris Difford and Eddi Reader but also US songsmith Dean Friedman.

“Oh right. I did his festival. We had a really nice time – it was a very lovely affair.”

Getting back to Boo’s initial Bible era, how about his own link to Norwich label Backs Records – who put out their self-produced 1986 debut LP Walking the Ghost Back Home – were those happy days?

“Yeah, and I’ve been so lucky with people I’ve met. Actually, I was speaking with them this morning. I’m still working with Backs, now called Shellshock and still distributing records for me. I also have the label I set up with them, Haven, and was speaking earlier about releasing my son’s new single.”

That’s Cambridge-based Ben Hewerdine, 26, who goes out under the name The Entertainment, and co-wrote the impressive title track of Boo’s last LP, David Bowie tribute ‘Swimming in Mercury’, a version of which also appears on the latest collection.

“There’s two songs on this album with his name on. In fact, he wrote one by himself, to be honest, but gave me a credit … which was very nice of him, thinking of his old man. He’s also in a band called Simon and the Astronauts, who’ve just got a record deal in America and made an album.”

What he didn’t add there was that he also features in Simon and the Astronauts, an outfit led by Simon Wells and also involving the afore-mentioned Findlay Napier and Chris Pepper, plus Karine Polwart and Darden Smith, Boo having made an album with the latter in 1989.

With regard to the family line, Boo told me his own ‘old man’, who died last year, was a ‘very good musician, but never did anything with it’. Did he encourage his son’s talent the way Boo does Ben’s?

“Well, he didn’t think I was any good, so I had to go and practise by myself. He gave my sisters piano lessons, but not me.”

Do you think that drove you?

“It kind of did. The moment when he decided perhaps I wasn’t wasting my time was when he was watching Howard’s Way and ‘Graceland’ was playing in the background of a scene. He rang up and said, ‘You’ve cracked it’. I didn’t know what he meant at the time. Once that happened, it was okay.”

Will Boo be publicly celebrating his recent 60th birthday back on the road with live shows later this year?

“Possibly. I’m not really accepting it. I don’t feel it at all. It’s all very weird. I suppose it’s because of what I do. I speak to people younger than me, making first records, and don’t see myself as anything different. I think it’s perceived that age is important, but within it, it isn’t. I remember being at folk festivals where guys of 80 were sharing ideas with new musicians of 16, and that’s a great thing.”

When you made Walking the Ghost Back Home, could you have imagined still being so involved in music at this grand age?

“Yeah, I guess. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s where I feel at home. And in my mind … I may be deluded, but I’m still trying to make the perfect record. I’ve some friends who look back on things with nostalgia, and I love doing that a little, but I don’t really do that.

“That’s one of the reasons it’s so good working with Eddi Reader, because it’s always about the next thing. The other thing is that I don’t think I’ve ever had real success. I’ve sort of pottered along. I haven’t really got a glory era to look back on.

“What I’m doing now always seems to be the most exciting thing I’ve been involved with. I mean, this Adam Holmes record is one of the two or three best things I’ve ever been involved in.”

Talking of just pottering along, I love your live between-song banter, not least the self-deprecating, unlikely rock’n’roll anecdotes, for instance the premise that your ‘big hit’, Patience of Angels – which grazed the top-40 in 1994 for Eddi Reader – helped buy you a shed ‘big enough for the mower’.

“That was true, yeah.”

Boo says it was a spell working for The Beat Goes On record shop in Cambridge – his work colleagues including Bible drummer Tony Shepherd, who co-produced the first LP with him – that turned him on to so much great music, irrespective of genre.

“Yeah, you just hear everything – the really cool, good stuff – and that makes you less interested in genre. On a release day you might get Talking Heads, Scritti Politti, Motorhead, and listen to it all, saying, I like that’ or ‘I don’t like that’.

“Musicians don’t always tend to think about genre. I remember hanging out with Manic Street Preachers at one point, one night in a little B&B, just chatting about music – nothing tribal. And that’s really great with my kids – they’ve no concept of the peer pressure we were under in the years before.”

Ever listen back to The Great Divide, your first band, and think, ‘I wish we’d tried this’ or ‘I wish we did that differently’?

“I have a Patreon page, so while I’ve never really dug back before, I now try and put something up every day, whereas most with a Patreon page tend to do something once a month, but every single day I’ll find something.

“I put work in progress up sometimes, but yesterday put up a song I wrote with Chris Difford, ‘On My Own I’m Never Bored’, which was in the Squeeze set for a while, and was thinking how 17-year-old me … his head would have exploded if he knew that!

“So I can go back, but it’s normally just to entertain people. I’m not like Norma Desmond, watching my old movies!”

Do you remain in touch with bandmates from The Bible?

“I spoke to Neill (McColl) yesterday. There’s a lady who plays harp and does these mash-ups, and as his Dad (Ewan MacColl) wrote ‘I First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, I told him about her doing that – singing the words while playing the harp to the tune of ‘Jilted John’ by Jilted John. I had to send that to him to cheer him up. And the great thing was, I knew Ewan but also know Graham Fellows, who played Jilted John, so it was like a perfect storm! And she does it really well, deadpan.

“I don’t speak to the others so much, but not for any other reason than Neil is still very active in music.”

And who remains on the dream songwriting collaborations list?

“Oh, I don’t know! That’s a really good question, but if I was to say Tom Waits or Paul McCartney or somebody, I’d just freeze. Chris Difford talked about nearly writing with Paul McCartney and just feeling terror. And I like finding new people.

“I’ve found some amazing people to work with over the last year. There’s a really nice guy who lives in Bratislava, a young guy in a really cool band in Slovakia. And all my friends are songwriters – it’s a good way of making friends when you’re a bit shy.”

As for the new record, Boo’s taking very little credit for the way it’s turned out.

“It was all put together by the record company. It was Tom Rose’s ideas. I’ve had nothing to do with it apart from approving the mastering. That was the first time I heard it, and I really liked it.

“And I was surprised how much I’d done. I’m working towards the new record, and he wants me to hand that in in October. He’s like a teacher, making sure I hand my homework in!”

I look forward to that, and it was good to finally track you down for a proper conversation, rather than just share snatched exchanges, like when you signed my copy of Swimming in Mercury in Wigan.

“Was I polite?”

Of course, although I probably gushed something in a forlorn bid to say something witty on the spur of the moment in that strange situation, lining up in a church with fellow fans. Actually, come to think of it, I may have mentioned how I expected you to finish with ’Holy Water’, rather than ‘Murder in the Dark’.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played that song. That was the album where Richard Thompson was my guitar player. That was the producer’s idea, but I just felt … I mean, he’s such a hero. Whatever he played, I’d just say (adopts a high-pitched voice), ‘Oh, that’s nice’.”

So you became a fan-boy, like so many of us in those testing situations.

“Yes! And with Danny Thompson on bass, it was all a bit overwhelming!”

For more detail about Boo Hewerdine’s Selected Works, visit the Reveal Records website here or head to his Bandcamp page. You can also keep in touch with Boo via his social media platforms on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

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Looking beyond the lockdowns – the Provincials feature/interview

Shingle Life: Polly Perry, Steve Gibson and Seb Hunter take Provincials’ route to be beside the seaside

Ground-breaking singer/songwriter turned broadcaster and double WriteWyattUK interviewee Tom Robinson described Provincials on his BBC 6 Music show as ‘poetic, brooding, resonant and menacing’, with ‘an edge of Ennio Morricone’, while The Independent deemed them, ‘by turns ethereal, unsettling and hypnagogic’, offering a ‘fresh alternative take on English folk’, ‘beautifully intricate…a stellar, stellar band’.

Similarly, this alternative Hampshire three-piece describe themselves as a ‘dark folk / ecstatic rock trio’, although I take issue with that handle, judging by the tracks I’ve been privileged to hear from their as yet unreleased third LP.

It kind of works for their second album, 2019’s The Dark Ages, but this one sees them move on again, and – on the evidence of five teasers for the 12-track Heaven Protect Us – it’s not altogether folk, and not always so dark, as I suggest to guitarist/main songwriter Seb Hunter.

“Yeah, I don’t know. That’s me, I don’t know what to call us! Dark folk used to fit really well with the stuff we used to do … but we’ve now expanded the sound. First off, it was all dark harmoniums, lap steel and weird tunings.

“That’s probably still the core of our sound, all very soundtracky, and when we play live we tend to turn the lights off, go down to red fairy lights, all very vibey. But we’ve added drums, widening that sound, and like having free sections, coming from an improv background.

“However, that has opened this issue, having initially been pushed towards that folk label. We’re excited about our new material, heading towards a slightly more dynamic, more psychy side. But the album still has the dark stuff as well, so I don’t know if we’re going down the wrong route by leading with these tracks.”

Seb and his fellow Provincials, vocalist/theremin player Polly Perry and pianist/drummer Steve Gibson, hope to deliver Heaven Protect Us soon, and also embark on a full tour to help spread the word. And he assured this Lancashire-based scribe that they’re keen to return north.

“Very much so. Like everyone else we had to cancel everything last year, but we’ve lots of plans … it just depends at this point. Soon as everywhere is open, we’ll be on it. We’d be happy to get in a car and drive anywhere at this stage, with friends in Manchester, Sheffield, and so on.”

Provincials released debut LP, Muhsik seven years ago, although that passed me by then, not crossing my path until their vocalist was out on the road, fronting Polly and the Billets Doux, calling by at The Continental in Preston and Fylde Folk Festival in 2015, when she was the subject of a WriteWyattUK interview.

Casting Aspersions: Polly Perry getting in the lockdown zone for Provincials’ ‘Terms and Conditions’ promo

The Billets Doux story ended not long after, following two fine albums, Polly rejoining Seb and Steve. And a year on from the initial Covid-19 UK lockdown, they’ve just nailed this past 12 months with new single ‘Terms and Conditions’.

In a monochrome-filmed folk noir statement of sorts, the self-made tie-in promo video finds Polly behind a desk, addressing the nation, reading out details of the latest conflicting Government stay-at home lockdown advice, slowly losing her grip amid constant changes and mixed messages; while a masked-up Steve goes haywire with his kit and Seb lets loose on his six-string in a warehouse setting, the shutters symbolically dropping and finally re-opening.

All that’s missing is a sneak-shot of chief shit-stirrer Dominic Cummings brazenly walking past outside, I reckon. And yet … only problem is, I suggested, I’m not sure if we want to be reminded of this miserable pandemic year right now, however spot on its observations.

“Mmm … that’s the thing. At first, we thought it was going to be a spoken-word track with a more zoomy chorus, but then came up with this, and there’s the problem of when we should release it.”

The video certainly carries the vibe of stay-at-home Britain, Polly crammed into office space, Steve squeezed into a claustrophobic setting, and Seb … is he playing guitar while he should be working in that warehouse?

“That’s a storage facility just outside Winchester, run by Polly’s Mum and Dad parents. Under lockdown, you’re kind of limited to where you can do things.

“Steve has his own company, working as a dental technician, so he’s playing drums at his workplace, while Polly’s in my teenage daughter’s bedroom, and I’m stood around throwing stupid rock shapes in a storage warehouse.”

The song ends with the ambiguous line, ‘Take down the walls’, the shutter doors of the storage unit slowly raised again.

“Yes, although every now and again a family would walk past, and I’d be totally mortified. Rock’n’roll, man!”

Seb, a guitar teacher by day (having just tutored a local vicar before we spoke), made a few albums as part of decade-long improv project Crater with Steve, and also played with Owen Tromans in Delphic Vapours, an ‘improv guitar duo who bizarrely put out loads of cassettes and polled No.2 in a Village Voice Noise Albums of the Year chart’. As for Provincials …

Office Surprise: Steve, Polly and Seb take five before their next assault on the outside world as Provincials

“It started just as an idea. I was playing with Steve in Crater for about 10 years, and we were totally out there, really. I was playing lap steel, Steve was playing piano, and there was Polly. It was all entirely improvised.

“We had a session in a rehearsal room in Winchester, I recorded loads of it, that sort of coalescing into songs. I sent it to someone I knew who worked in the music industry in London, they said they loved it, and we took it from there.”

Seven years on, I love all five tracks I’ve heard from the third LP, with ‘Feels Like Falling’ a clear second single for me, music to Seb’s ears at a time when their part-time status suggests they can’t afford outside promotional help, established labels seemingly reluctant to take chances on non-roster artists in this current climate. And they’ve certainly done all the donkey work this time.

“It’s a terrible time for all the arts. But we’re in a fortunate position where we do everything ourselves – from the cover art to the videos, hoping those prove to be our shop window and people pick up on it all and break it out of our own social media bubble.”

They make a great team, the musicianship beyond reproach, the harmonies spot on, and Polly’s voice truly powerful when it needs to be. And I tell Seb that ‘Feels Like Falling’, like a couple of tracks here, reminds me of lots I love, yet nothing in particular … if you get me.

“I think I know what you mean. It’s kind of country, but sort of Aerosmith at the end.”

That’s one way of describing it. First, there’s Polly’s understated approach on the verses, then a gorgeous two-part harmony with Seb on the chorus, then … it goes somewhere else, Polly going airborne in the style of Merry Clayton on 1969’s ‘Gimme Shelter’, pushing that mighty voice of hers, going off at a tangent.

Then there’s the in-your-face ‘Planetary Stand-Off’, introductory hand claps quickly developing into full-blown Led Zeppelin-like heavy blues pomp. But it works, big time, and seems a contender for LP opener or closer, I suggest.

“That’s the opening song, and totally conceived as that, one we were very excited about and get a real thrill from playing.”

Alternatively, there’s ‘Outskirts’ …

Alternative Congregation: Steve Gibson, Polly Perry and Seb Hunter take a pew as they await service

“That’s more like the stuff off the last album.”

I see that, its soothing nature underpinned by melancholy quality. The opening riff reminded me of something I couldn’t place until after the interview, following much racking of the brain, its early chord sequence bringing to mind far removed but equally wondrous, early Psychedelic Furs single ‘Sister Europe’.

On the whole, again it seems familiar yet so different, somewhere between the revered Nick Drake and sadly (so far) forgotten Deep Season, favourites of mine since forming from the ashes of wondrous indie-pop outfit Jim Jiminee in 1990, not far from my South East roots and pretty close to Provincials’ own, that band looking to break through during a period in which it seemed most A&R men were more interested in clambering to sign baggy bands in the slipstream of The Stone Roses.

Anyway, there’s something else there. Maybe it’s just Polly’s laid-back vocal, but there’s a certain French chanteuse feel, I’d say.

“Do you know, that was originally called ‘Paris Film Rain’, my working title. And yes, it was totally that.”

It has that filmic quality, for sure. There’s also a bit of instrumental noodling, two minutes in …

“That’s probably the theremin … and then there’s some skittery drums kicking in …”

Indeed, as if a train’s reached a junction, taking a different road, so to speak.

“Exactly!”

Then there’s ‘Cold Fusioneers’, a song of at least two parts, its more measured verses followed by climactic choruses reminiscent of ‘Mandinka’ era Sinead O’Connor. And again, that big voice.

“Well, that to me is the obvious big single. But I seem to be the only person who thinks that! That’s the massive pop smash for me.”

Seb’s musical roots were actually in heavy metal, as reflected in critically-acclaimed 2004 memoir, Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict, loved by the likes of Bill Bailey, Bruce Dickinson, and various broadsheets and magazines, both sides of the Atlantic.

Dark Folk: Cover art for the second Provincials LP, from 2019, with the next instalment on its way soon

“I ‘escaped’ from metal in the early ‘90s, got into shoe-gazey stuff, only discovering The Beatles in my late 20s. You know how tribal music used to be! But this band came out of improvised music, and I guess we feel we can do anything really. There are no tribal loyalties now, and we’re multi-instrumentalists, so …”

There’s no confirmed LP release date yet, the band happy to put out occasional digital singles and videos to help spread the word. Besides, maybe they’re a little distracted right now.

Spring is on the mind, we’re about to come out of lockdown (hopefully), and there just happens to be a new arrival in the house for partners Seb and Polly, their son arriving two weeks before we spoke. In fact, that’s Bracken’s heartbeat sampled at the opening of ‘Terms and Conditions’.

“We had the scan earlier that day, had a recording, and Polly was like, ‘Right, I want this on there!’ And it works really well.”

Of their addition, proud Seb was more lost for words, however smitten, as if still processing the change.

“We’re slightly in the fog of newborn … getting the hours where we can … although I don’t think you ever make up for that lack of sleep. It’s amazing how little sleep the human being can function on, but you’re still slightly on the back-foot. You get used to it, but it’s a weird existence!”  

Reflection Time: Steve, Seb and Polly wait as the UK gears up to leave its lockdown (Photo: Clive Tagg)

For more information about Provincials and to keep updated regarding live shows and the band’s third album, you can head to https://provincials.bandcamp.com/ and keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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The Continuing Adventures of the Desperate Quartet – in conversation with Robert Lloyd

Shared Space: Andreas, Fliss, Jim and Robert in a relaxed pre-gig state before another rocking Nightingales show

Shared Space: Andreas, Fliss, Jim and Robert in a relaxed pre-gig state before another rocking Nightingales show

Spring is in the air, and with it the distant promise of a return to live music across the UK. But you’ll forgive Robert Lloyd for being a little guarded about the prospects right now.

The legendary Nightingales frontman lit up the small screen recently in the terrestrial TV premiere – via freeview channel Sky Arts – of highly entertaining cult documentary film King Rocker, appearing alongside comedian and indie champion Stewart Lee.

Inspirational and quirky by turns, Lee and Michael Cumming’s inspired ‘anti-rockumentary’ film tells the story of a musical outsider who’s somehow ‘survived under the radar for over four decades’, weaving the story of Birmingham’s ‘undervalued underdog autodidact’ into that of the city’s forgotten public sculpture of King Kong, with cameos from the likes of Frank Skinner (who said of The Prefects, for whom he sat in on a few rehearsals before Robert got the nod, ‘I don’t know if I’m their Pete Best, or they’re mine’), Nigel Slater, Robin Askwith, Duran Duran’s John Taylor, and Samira Ahmed.

But for all the film’s acclaim, and subsequent swift sales for a planned Autumn tour, Robert’s not quite counting his blessings yet.

“To be honest, this is the fourth time this tour’s been rearranged. And in Birmingham, London and Manchester we kind of expect to sell out anyway. For reasons too boring to go into, this is our fifth attempt to play Hebden Bridge. That sold out probably a year or two ago.”

You’ll enjoy that. It’s a lovely venue.

“I haven’t been there yet … but all I’ve heard is glowing reports, and the people who run it are really nice. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it very much.”

From my point of view, I’m looking forward to The Nightingales’ late summer return to The Continental in Preston, set to precede that tour, lined up to be one of their first post-pandemic outings, and my main excuse for tracking him down. Last time, I missed out. I was away. And I believe that wasn’t so well supported.

“I can’t remember the last time, in truth. We’ve been quite a few years. It’s been a while now, but at one stage we seemed to be there at least once a year.”

Live Presence: Robert lloyd and The nightingales, heading towards perfromance fever pitch. just another night.

Live Presence: Just another night as Robert, right, and Jim head towards Nightingales performance fever pitch

The visit prior to that was in 2016, for one of Tuff Life Boogie’s celebrated John Peel tributes, and that was certainly a winner. I recall a fair packed main room for you.

“Well, I like the Conti and obviously Rico (la Rocca, promoter) has been a great supporter … so fingers crossed it will be a hit this time.”

Only The Fall and The Wedding Present recorded more Peel sessions – 16 between 1978 and 1991 – than Robert, half of those recordings made with The Nightingales, two with his breakthrough punk band The Prefects, and the rest as a solo artist.

Since reforming The Nightingales – of whom John Robb, whose Louder Than War label put out 2015 LP, Mind Over Matter, described in definitive post-punk biography Death to Trad Rock as the ‘misfits’ misfits’ – in 2004, Robert’s band have put out more albums than first time around, with numerous live shows in the UK, mainland Europe and the US.

What’s more, as UK music magazine Uncut put it, ‘They genuinely sound more vital than ever’, while The Independent reckoned, ‘Lloyd is the most underestimated songwriter of his generation’.

Only in recent years settling on their current, classic four-piece, this year’s seen an upsurge in interest via King Rocker, which I’d just seen for the second time when I spoke to Robert, these days based in Telford, barely 20 miles west of his Cannock roots and 35 miles from where his music journey started in Birmingham.

There’s a lovely piece from Stewart Lee early on which seems to sum up the premise behind the film with regard to his subject, proclaiming, ‘We live in a culture where mediocrity is rewarded and originality and integrity are punished, and John Peel said of The Nightingales that years after all the others of their era have been revealed as charlatans and chancers, someone would finally recognise that they were one of the greatest bands. Whether that will happen or not I don’t know, but what I do understand is how Rob Lloyd kept that group going for over four decades in the face of commercial and critical indifference’.

But what about those early days? Does Robert ever go back to listen to the songs he wrote and performed with the first band he made headlines with, Peel favourites The Prefects, whose claims to fame included a short spell as a support act on The Clash’s White Riot tour in 1977?

“No, far from it, and if you’d have asked me this question six months ago it would have been a long, long time since I’s heard any of those songs. But Fire Records released all the Prefects records that exist on an album within the last year, and one night – I think I’d had a few drinks – I put it on. That’s probably the first time in a decade or two.”

Were you transported in time to those days, back in the moment?

“Well, I know how the songs go! it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. There’s a bunch of stuff I think is kind of pretty shitty, basic punk rock. Then there were some things I’m quite proud of. I did actually enjoy it more than I imagined I was going to.

“I’m not really a nostalgia type of person, and in my head, I think we were more at the shitty punk rock end, but there is actually some quite decent inventive material.”

Praise indeed. But I get the impression you went your separate ways as some were happy with that punk rock aspect while you and those who followed you wanted to move on. And I suppose that’s been your approach throughout your music career.

“Yeah, I mean I do like rock’n’roll music, but realistically I was more interested in slightly more off-kilter stuff than 1-2-3-4, and I’d done my time really.”

Seeing as you mentioned 1-2-3-4, there were some great photos shown of you with the Ramones, outside the Roundhouse at the time of their first London visit in the Summer of ’76, long before many were aware of the band.

“Yeah, there were a lot of people there, but the Flamin’ Groovies where the headline act, and I’m not sure how many were there for the Ramones. Also, they played their own headline show at Dingwalls the following night.

“Actually, when I got sent the final cut of the film by Michael (Cumming, director) and Stewart (Lee), I genuinely didn’t know they’d spoken to (Ramones manager) Danny Fields, so when he appeared I was really chuffed – that was a bit of a highlight for me.”

Were you back up to Birmingham the next day, or did you make it to that headline show the following night?

“Well, we were due to hitchhike back home. We weren’t interested in the Flamin’ Groovies, so when they were on, we went to the bar, and Danny and the Ramones were the only people in there. To cut a very long story short, they couldn’t get the hats on that three people had actually gone to see them, let alone hitch-hiked down.

Blooming Marvellous: The Nightingales, coming to a venue near you soon … fresh Covid pandemic restrictions willing

“Danny said, ‘Are you coming to the gig tomorrow?’ We said no, we’ve got to be back at school, but he paid for us to stay at the same hotel as them. So we went to Dingwalls as well, and before the gig Sire Records took them out for a big posh slap-up meal, so we went to that – we were just part of the crew for a couple of days.”

The audience on the second night famously – at least in punklore circles – included The Stranglers and The Clash, JJ Burnel and Paul Simonon supposedly involved in a punch-up outside. And within a year, The Prefects got to spend a few days on the road with the latter outfit on their seminal White Riot tour, a spell which sped up Robert’s disillusion with the punk movement – not so much the spirit but its stage-managed elements, with regard to those pulling the strings, like Clash manager Bernie Rhodes (who apparently said to the band, ‘I am a patron of the arts , and you’re just a bunch of amateur wankers’, hence the name of the band’s retrospective compilation album, released 25 years after they split).

“That’s a pretty accurate way of putting it. There were some good bands, but also some not so good ones. I think what happened in general, in every small town around the country there were people who liked The Stooges, MC5, all that kind of stuff, and didn’t like Yes, ELP, and so on. The Sex Pistols and bands that followed in their wake were catalysts that brought all those lone figures from these towns together. That’s the way I see it.”

It’s a generalisation, but with bands like Genesis and Yes, there was a feeling you could never achieve that level of musicianship, whereas some of those punk bands gave you the impression you could follow in their wake, pick up a guitar or whatever.

“Yeah, I’ve never had a downer on anyone who can play an instrument though, and when Mark Perry and Sniffin’ Glue printed their three chords and ‘now form a band’ cover, I wish most of them hadn’t! I’m not a champion of punk rock and down on other music.

“But I was a teenager, I wanted to be in a band, and that was the kind of catalyst to actually get it together and stop daydreaming.”

Another band whom John Peel loved were The Fall, who featured on the same bills a few times. Mark E. Smith didn’t follow the rules and went his own way. How was your relationship with Mark and his band?

“Pretty good. Yvonne Pawlett, their keyboard player on the first couple of albums, was my girlfriend at the time, so I spent quite a lot of time in the company of Mark, Martin (Bramagh) and Kay (Carroll) in that sort of period.

“I always got on okay if I’m truthful. I’m not a massive fan, but we did a few gigs together in the last few years, and I always got on alright with him. I know people who know him better than I do, and I’ve heard both generous things and things where he come across as a bit of a cunt. But who am I to judge? All I know is that when I’ve been in the same room as him, we always got on okay.”

One former member of The Fall you clearly connected with definitely proved a great supporter down the years – Marc Riley, in a sense taking over where John Peel left off.

“Yeah, he’s been great. Since Peel died, to a certain extent, the media has changed considerably, probably for the worst. We’ve been left out in the cold a bit, so it’s pretty much, ‘Thank God for Marc Riley’. Him and Gideon Coe have played a few things, while others you would expect to play us just ignore us. So yeah – hurrah for Mark and being able to do a session every year or so.

“Although I must tell you that back in the old days – and I don’t want to sound an old fart about it – the BBC actually used to pay you, whereas now it’s an absolute joke.”

I suppose funds are tighter and they work off the presumption that you’re getting the publicity so you’re doing well out of any coverage offered.

“I suppose so. The emphasis has shifted … but you just get fuck all now.”

Peel and (producer) John Walters were symbolic of that era when you were better looked after. Did Peel or Waters used to phone you, invite you in for sessions? How did that work?

“In the end, when I’d got four songs at a demo stage I wanted to record – because we never had a steady record company – and in the period when The Nightingales had ceased working and I was doing solo stuff, I’d call Peel, say, ‘Can I come in for a session?’ and he always said yes.

“Before all that, there was that date where they saw us at The Rainbow and got The Prefects in, and once The Nightingales got started, it was pretty much a case every year at some point that Walters would ring us up, and we’d go in.

“I’m glad you mentioned Walters – he was a big part of it, and Peel was just great to us. One thing I’ll always remember – going back to The Prefects era – he used to do his John Peel Roadshow, DJ-ing at gigs, and part of the deal for being booked was that he’d insist he could choose a band or two.

“One time at Huddersfield Poly, as it was then, he chose us and The Mekons. I might be wrong about this, but his figure I think was £1,000, with us bands getting £50 – about our standard rate. But at the end of the night he gave us and The Mekons £500 each, which was money we’d never seen before! That’s just one story to show the kind of bloke he was.”

It’s easy to get nostalgic about these things, but in your early days in Birmingham, many seminal bands passed through, not least at the Barbarella’s venue. Recently I chanced upon a Classic Albums TV documentary featuring the story of Duran Duran, their Rio LP, and the period leading up to it. Then I watched King Rocker again, and there was John Taylor talking about your old band. Birmingham’s a big city, but I guess those with similar interests would have been aware of each other back then. Were you close at one stage?

“Yeah, I knew John when he was Nigel Taylor. I’ve known him since he was a kid with groups before Duran Duran. And when the Durannies got together, we shared rehearsal space. Well, when I say ‘rehearsal space’, we shared a room at the back of someone’s house, with the same equipment!

“There was a band called the Subterranean Hawks, there was Duran Duran, and there was us. I didn’t know Simon le Bon, but they had two singers prior to that, both of whom I knew.”

Was one of those Stephen Duffy, later of The Lilac Time?

“Yes, there was Stephen and Andy Wickett, the bloke who wrote ‘Girls on Film’, although I don’t think he ever got any credit for it. That’s another story. I do know the story but won’t go into it now … but Nigel, Stephen, Andy and Roger (Taylor) were all decent blokes.

“I never really got on with Nick Bates, now known as Nick Rhodes. I think he always thought I was a bit obnoxious, and I always felt he was a bit pretentious. It still gets me to this day that he’s now famous, a rich man, and gets lifetime achievements and stuff … but there you go!”

So when they were in tropical climes filming blockbuster music videos, there was a bit of resentment and needle back home?

“Well, I remember them in Sounds or somewhere, saying when they filmed that ‘Rio’ video in Sri Lanka that they’d paid the extras with biros or something, and seemed to think this was good. As a socialist kind of figure, I find that appalling.

“But yeah, Nigel’s a good bloke and I’m glad he appeared in the film. That was decent of him. Again, I didn’t know he’d done that, but Dave Twist, the drummer in The Prefects towards the end, went to school with John Taylor, and I’m not going to slag them off.”

Were there bands you saw at Barbarella’s and decided this was what you were going to do with your life?

“I saw some good bands that there’s a good chance you won’t have heard of, but that was after I was first in a band. The bands I saw the inspired me were the Ramones first and foremost, then the Sex Pistols, by which time I was sort of getting there myself.

“But I loved Patti Smith, and when The Clash started out and had three guitar players – with Keith Levene involved – I saw them a couple of times and they were good, and I liked the Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto. But it was the Ramones and the Sex Pistols – they were the two. The Clash and the Buzzcocks jumped on that bandwagon.”

Talking of top entertainment, I always had a soft spot for Ted Chippington, catching him headlining a couple of times in 1986 and 1987, no doubt first aware of him via Peel. ‘Rocking with Rita’ and ‘She Loves You’ still get regular spins to this day. That said, I’m not sure I realised that Vindaloo Records was your label at the time, and the manner of the interconnectivity between Ted, The Nightingales and We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It. Are you still in touch with Ted?

“I am in touch. We shared a flat around the time of the Vindaloo days, and while he lives in Torquay now, he’s doing a couple of the gigs on our tour, and we talk on a regular basis. Yeah, he’s doing okay – he’s in good nick.”

I thought it was Totnes actually, but maybe Ted’s since moved. Anyway, while Robert’s in Telford these days, two of his bandmates are not far off – Fliss Kitson (drums) having relocated from Norwich to Wolverhampton, and Jim Smith (guitar) in Birmingham. However, Andreas Schmid (bass) remains in Germany. Is that creating a potential problem in this post-Brexit nightmare?

“It’s a big problem for sure, and we don’t even know the size of that problem as yet.”

I take it you mean you haven’t been tested yet, pandemic travel restrictions the main obstacle until now.

Street Life: The Nightingales – Fliss, Andreas, Jim and Robert – are looking forward to being out and about again

“Well, March 13th a year ago was the last time we rehearsed as a band. We are due to make a new album in September this year though, and we’ve got these gigs lined up, including the Rebellion Festival (Winter Gardens, Blackpool, August 5th/8th), so we hope we’ll be able to do them. We don’t know if Andy’s even being allowed in the country, so Brexit probably affects us more than most bands.

“In terms of the coronavirus thing, all bands have suffered, but we have that additional aggravation as one of our members is a foreigner in a foreign country. And while it’s not the sort of thing I’d have done anyway, we can’t just do a Zoom gig and all that malarkey.”

You mentioned new material, and there was a lovely reaction to the last album, Four Against Fate, while the feedback from King Rocker has been amazing. I get the impression you’re in a good place right now, and Fliss seems to have you well organised.

“Well, we’ve never had a manager or booking agent, and all that kind of assistance. I suppose I used to do most of it, but when Fliss joined the band, she started helping out and proved far more enthusiastic and better at it, so she’s kind of taken over that side of things, booking gigs and what-have-you and tons of incidental stuff. Like she knows how to draw, so if you want a T-shirt designed she can do that.”

She also did the artwork for the last album, didn’t she?

“Yes, we’d used an artist in Scarborough, David Yates, but he was unavailable, so Fliss stepped in. We’ve a couple of new records coming out this year too, and I’ve done the cover for one, having done a lot of the ‘80s covers. But yeah, as well as being a really nice and fun person and an excellent drummer, she’s also turned out to be a right grafter. There are things like social media that we wouldn’t have otherwise – there was no way that me, Jim or Andy would be bothered to do it!”

And how long have you known Stewart Lee?

“It transpires that it’s longer than I thought, going back to about 2004, when I got a new version of The Nightingales back together. An American record company wanted to put a Prefects CD out, but I wasn’t very keen. Frankly, I was fucking fed up of The Prefects, and told them the only way I’d do it is if they paid for The Nightingales to make a single. They gave me the money, and I put it out on my own label. Then I had this ridiculous idea – which more or less bankrupted me – being like Slade and putting out a new single every six weeks or so. We did four before we realised it was just a mental idea and was haemorrhaging cash.”

Point Made: Robert Lloyd letting us know just where we stand in these socially-distanced time (Photo: Jeff Higgott)

Fellow Peel favourites The Wedding Present managed 12 in one year in the early ‘90s, but that was with the backing of RCA, so that’s a little different.

“Yeah, and this was so different. Here’s a true story. We played SXSW in Austin (Texas) and our merch man at the time had a table with our four 7-inch records on. Now, people forget this now, because it’s all back, but these Yanks were going up to the stall, picking up these records, saying, ‘What is this?’ That’s how unfashionable the 7-inch single was at the time. We had to get them manufactured in the Czech Republic.

“Anyway, having haemorrhaged all the cash that was available putting these records out on my own label, I got a phone call from Stewart – I don’t know how he got my number – and he said, ‘Is there any chance now you’ve got a label again that you’ll be reissuing Ted Chippington’s stuff?’ He was a mad Ted fan.

“I said I wouldn’t have thought so, we’ve no money and Ted’s sort of given up on it – he’s not that interested anymore. But Stewart said, ‘He’s the reason I’m doing stand-up and I know loads of people who love him, so if there’s any help I can give, if he does want to do a record, let me know’.

“I spoke with Ted and we came up with this idea. We didn’t just want to reissue a Ted Chippington record – we thought we’d put out a four-CD boxset of all the recordings we’d got – studio and live stuff.“We wanted to package it like it was a Pavarotti boxset – really slick, with a book in every CD case, and so on. We got back to Stewart and said we want to do this, and – God bless him – he organised a performance at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, with him, Bridget Christie, Phill Jupitus, Simon Munnery, Simon Amstell, Richard Herring … all these comedians who loved Ted … plus The Nightingales of course, doing this one-off performance which sold out instantly, none of the performers taking any money – they gave us all the takings to manufacture this ridiculous Ted Chippington project!”

“That was the first time I remember meeting Stewart, and I took a shine to him straight away, thinking what a generous but also a maverick thing to do. And it transpired during the course of meeting him that not only did he love Ted, but he was also a fan of The Nightingales.

“And despite what he says in the film – which is not exactly true – later, Phill Jupitus, another big Nightingales fan, said we should do a documentary about the band, maybe the BBC would pay for it. In retrospect, knowing more about the process now, they were never going to go for that, and nothing came of it. But at some stage I was in London, maybe to see Stewart perform somewhere, we ended up in a pub, and I told him about this idea of a documentary.

“I thought nothing of it until about three years ago go when Stewart rang and said, ‘I’ve met this director, Michael Cumming, a fan of The Nightingales, and I’ve just been in a film about folk singer Shirley Collins and was really impressed by the film’s producer (James Nicholls). Michael’s keen to direct the documentary and I’m keen to make it. If this producer comes on board, are you still up for it?’

“I said yes, thinking it was going to be a documentary about The Nightingales. I didn’t realise it was going to be about me. I don’t think Stewart knew either. It was kind of ad-libbed as we went along. But he got back to me and James was willing to produce it, which basically meant putting together the initial finance. That’s really how the film was born … which is a very long-winded answer to your question, ‘how long have you known Stewart?’.

Travelling Man: Ted Chippington, apparently barely one mile from the nearest railway station, roughly speaking

Incidentally, Stewart expresses his love for Ted Chippington in 2010’s splendid How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian.

And if not this amazing life as a performer on the periphery of pop stardom, what do you think you’d have been up to? Could you have gone on to manage a bakery, as your first employer might have envisaged when you joined them straight from Cannock Grammar School (the fact that he’d been to grammar school – despite failing all his exams – seemed enough to suggest he had the potential as far as they were concerned)?

“I wanted to be in a band, and I’ve told this story a few times, but it is true. When I was a boy, I was mad about football – I played before school, in the breaks at school, when I got home, and went and watch football at the weekend.”

Was that to see Wolverhampton Wanderers?

“No, I’m actually named after Bobby Charlton. My Dad was a Manchester United fan and I got to see the Best, Charlton, Law and Stiles era side. Wolves is another story altogether. If you come to the Conti, maybe I’ll talk to you about that. But when I was at Cannock Grammar School, around 11 or 12 I suppose, I realised all the boys liked footballers and all the girls liked pop singers. And I’d got interested in girls at that stage, so I decided pop music was the way to go … so it’s rather ironic that I’ve had one of the most uncommercial musical careers ever!

“The theory of the time was when you saw someone like Marc Bolan or even David Cassidy, that was the way … plus I was a talented but limited football player. I was never going to get to the top … like in the music business! Ha!

“So yeah, I wanted to be in a band. I couldn’t play an instrument and didn’t have the wherewithal to learn, so I was always going to be the singer … the one the girls all seem to like.”

In a sense, you became like an alternative Simon Le Bon.

“Well, I had a few bands knocking about in someone’s shed, but never did a gig, and was never anything … then the punk rock thing came along when I was 15 or 16, and it was like, ‘Get a band together rather than talking about it and fucking about!’”

Live Presence: The Nightingales get down on it at the Lexington, Islington, in April 2018 (Photo: Peter Tainsh)

And what do you think was the closest you got to that ultimate pop moment? Was that in your early ‘80s brief major label solo career, or in the mid-‘80s alongside Ted and Fuzzbox with the Vindaloo Summer Special?

“I think the Vindaloo Summer Special. I’m not sure what number it got to in the charts – in my eyes unless it’s in the top-20 or, if you’re really liberal about it, the top-40 – but I don’t consider being No.46 a hit single. And I’ve had a few of those – a No.51 and a No.47.”

Sounds like something you’d order with your vindaloo. But those are the stories I love sometimes – like The Farmer’s Boys reaching No.41 with ‘In the Country’, on the verge of a Top of the Pops appearance only for Alphaville to fly over at the last minute from Germany. And you’ve probably experienced a few similar tales.

“Oh yeah, I could reel a few of those off, but … I don’t want to come over as being bitter and twisted. It’s just the luck of the draw really.”

I should point out – in case it doesn’t come over in print – that Robert is anything but miserable when he says all these things. Watch the documentary and you’ll see that. There’s a lovely quote early on where he confides in Stewart Lee, ‘I always used to think that when I pegged it, all of a sudden people would buy the records and pretend they liked us all along. But I’m beginning to worry that, ‘What if I peg it and they still don’t buy the records?’’, the pair of them then falling about in laughter.

There’s the mark of the man. And to quote Lee in the documentary again, “There’s a distinctive strain of post-war working-class bohemians who have been legislated out of existence by successive Tory governments, never to be seen again. Rob Lloyd has survived decades outside the system, wheeling and dealing in fertile cracks, and continues to produce exceptional work in conjunction with a supporting case of musicians, even after a stroke briefly felled this great oak of a man.”

In King Rocker, I put it to him, he comes over really well. It was a pleasure to watch and the reaction from many others suggest that’s an across-the-board reaction. It’s a great advert for the underground music scene I love. And the fact that you’re still performing and making records to this day suggests you’re still enjoying it, and that has to count for something.

“Yeah, I don’t know. I suppose it’s a mixture of me thinking I’ve got something to say, the band wanting to express themselves, and the quality of the material. I know what pop stars are like – it’s a traditional to say the material you’re working on is the best thing you’ve ever done. If we had a quid for every time we’ve heard that. But I do think this is our best stuff – better than the old Nightingales, and I really like the three people who are in the band. That makes a massive difference.

“All I need now is for us to sell some records and hopefully make a few quid. I don’t want to die a pauper, with everyone saying I was a good bloke!

“There’s a new single out on April 16, a brand-new Nightingales song called ‘10 Bob Each Way’. And on the B-side, Stewart Lee’s doing a version of ‘Use Your Loaf’. And all the ‘80s albums are being reissued as deluxe editions this summer. There will also be the film soundtrack and a DVD somewhere along the line, with a 12” EP available in time for our October dates.

“So there’s quite a bit a lot happening. Of course, I say all this as if this whole COVID thing is going to pan out and everything’s going to be wonderful, and we don’t know about that. But next year there’ll be a new album and we’ll be going back to America …”

Taking some vinyl back with you again?

“Yeah! People can’t get enough of it now. Once we started doing it, everyone wanted to do it.”

Trailblazers. And with that Robert’s away, signing off with a Ted Chippington-like, ‘Alright then, chief. Take care. Goodbye.’ A good bloke and top entertainer to boot.

Waiting Room: The Nightingales await the call before heading out to see us this coming summer and autumn

The Nightingales play The Boatyard venue at The Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, on Friday, August 6, with tickets £12 in advance, and early booking recommended. Then there are those autumn dates. For more details head to the band’s website, and check out their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter links.

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Celebrating Preston Pop Fest 2021 … and the (hopefully) imminent return of live music

Coming Soon:  A cover starring role for Rico's Coco on the Preston Pop fest bill, neatly designed by The Great Leap Forward's Simon Williams

Coming Soon: A cover starring role for Rico’s Coco on the Preston Pop Fest bill, neatly designed by Simon Williams

Whisper it, but while we never seem to be too far away from the latest new wave when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, spring and summer are definitely on the mind, and surely … hopefully … better days await.

It’s been a long, long time since my last live event, and my most recent visit to nearby favourite water hole The Continental in Preston was on Leap Day 2020, when The Amber List, West on Colfax and The Cornelius Crane held court and were on fine form.

By then there was already a feeling that difficult times and decisions were ahead though, with just two more live shows following for me before the first lockdown. And as well as the devastating human toll, there have been business casualties and financial worries for Lancashire’s treasured independent venues, as is the case across the UK.

But while it’s somewhat unnerving seeing those out and about among the daffodils on my adopted patch as if it’s VE Day, and while none of us want to tempt fate, there’s a genuine feeling of optimism right now, the return of live music integral to any ‘recovery road map’ for music lovers.

Across town, The Ferret on Fylde Road, Preston, has already announced and either sold out or shifted plenty of tickets for its first scheduled shows – its guests including Damo Suzuki, The Blinders, Evil Blizzard, The Primitives and Goldie Lookin’ Chain –  and the same is true for The Continental on South Meadow Lane, under its recently-added live venue banner, The Boatyard.

Having already announced a Conti return for The Nightingales – watch this space for a full feature/interview next week – the same promoter, Tuff Life Boogie, i.e. our Rico, announced an ambitious three-day event in late August, taking over The Boatyard and late-night slots at its sister venue, the afore-mentioned Ferret, for a weekend event ‘featuring the cream of the UK’s indie pop scene across two stages over three days’.

By the time last weekend was out, it had already sold out (although there is a waiting list for returns), somewhat negating my need to publicise the event in the first place … but I’m more than happy to celebrate the event all the same, so let’s just go with the flow, right?

Also involving ‘sinister short stories told by some of the country’s best writers and a chance to be Mark E. Smith’ (more of which later), the ambitious event’s headliners include Glaswegian crossover indie darlings The Bluebells, in a super-rare appearance south of the border.

Masked Marauders: The Bluebells, taking precautions while signing the reissued Sisters, and set for Preston

Closing out the Sunday evening of Preston Pop Fest, they’re a band the promoter labelled ‘genuine chart-toppers’ – the power of TV advertising having taken ‘Young at Heart’ to a belated 1993 UK No.1, for a single that first charted nine years earlier.

And it’s fair to say the band’s principal songwriter and guitarist Robert Hodgens, aka Bobby Bluebell, was looking forward to the prospect of a visit.

“Our last gig was actually the last gig played in front of a live audience in Scotland – in October 2020 at SWG3 in Glasgow. We have more festivals lined up though, and we’re coming to Preston straight from a two-night event in Glasgow.” 

Line-up wise, Bobby (guitar) is set to be joined by fellow stalwarts David (drums) and Ken McCluskey (vocals) plus Campbell Owen (bass, also Aztec Camera), Mick Slaven (guitar, Bourgie Bourgie), Andy Alston (keyboards, Del Amitri ), and Douglas McIntyre (guitar, The Jazzateers/Creeping Bent).

Bobby added that fellow Bluebells guitarist Russell Irvine ‘might be there in the audience as our guest’, and as for the last year, it’s clear The Bluebells haven’t sat around waiting for bookings.

“We’ve been very busy with the re-release of Sisters and working with other bands. I was working with Texas amongst others, and we did a hell of a lot of lockdown gigs for ‘charidee’. 

There was also a successful online ‘listening party’ for Sisters, the band’s sole full-length album, originally released in 1984 (a big favourite at Captains Log HQ in my fanzine days),hosted by Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, another ‘highlight’ for Bobby.

And while dates for the Sisters remaster/reissue project were lined up then postponed, he hopes they can be completed soon, adding that the band will record a new Bluebells record ‘eventually’.

Live Wires: The Bluebells, 21st century style, head to Preston from their native Glasgow this August, all being well

Right now, the focus is on his other band, The Poems, and the McCluskey brothers’ own venture, their respective albums Young America and Favourite Colours set for simultaneous vinyl releases. But August shouldn’t be too far away. Any memories and anecdotes spring to mind of past shows in Preston or elsewhere in Lancashire?

“When we played there first in the ‘80s, we were amazed at how many skinheads there were!”

Are you in touch with any of the other bands on the Preston Pop Fest bill?

“Yes, we’re really looking forward to meeting up with Jasmine Minks, The Orchids, and Amelia Fletcher’s Swansea Sound – Amelia used to come to our gigs in the early days.” 

So how did Rico la Rocca (the inspiration behind Tuff Life Boogie) manage to get you on board, what will it cost him with regards to a band rider, and can we expect old school post-punk shenanigans from The Bluebells on the night?

“Rico is a legend, and we thought our pals The Pastels were playing too, so it seemed like a great adventure after a year of nothingness.” 

I wouldn’t rule out that promising possibility of The Pastels performing quite yet, to be honest, and I dare say we’ll hear either way at some stage soon. And on a mighty bill also including Lancashire’s celebrated Ginnel and Vukovar, and fellow Prestonians Baboon and Fighting, the afore-mentioned Rico said, “Preston is proudly following in the footsteps of Paris, London, New York and Madrid by hosting its own Pop Fest: a celebration of inspiring, affecting and resolutely DIY pop music.”

Also from north of the border are Friday night headliners Close Lobsters, from Paisley, who with Essex outfit and fellow returnees and Saturday night headliners The Wolfhounds featured on the NME’s genre-defining C86 compilation, both outfits big favourites of this scribe since the start.

Fully Booked:The Wolfhounds, taking time out before their Preston return this August (Photo: Andrew Springham)

More to the point, perhaps, each of the first two nights’ headliners have produced exceptional new LPs in the last 12 months, and Wolfhounds singer David Lance Callahan will also be playing a solo set during the weekend. 

Meanwhile, defining indie-pop labels of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Creation and Sarah, are represented by The Jazz Butcher, The Jasmine Minks, returning Scots outfit The Orchids – who proved a big hit on their last visit four years ago -and Robert Sekula (of 14 Iced Bears).

Stuart Moxham, the songwriter behind one of the most influential albums of the early ‘80s, Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth, also features, as do indie-pop legends Amelia Fletcher (Talulah Gosh/Heavenly) and Hue Williams (Pooh Sticks), appearing together in the afore-mentioned Swansea Sound. 

John Peel favourites Yeah Yeah Noh, The Great Leap Forward and Dave Jackson (who appears in The Room in the Wood) are also booked, as are ex-members of Age of Chance, Bogshed, Lungleg, and The Stretchheads in new projects.  

Rico added: “Preston Pop Fest also has a cracking selection of new acts, most of whom have never played in the North West before. Jetstream Pony have been picking up a massive buzz since issuing their self-titled debut album last year, and their dreamy, propulsive pop tunes with elements of shoegaze are completely addictive. 

“Sheffield’s Potpurri supply space age bachelorette pad music delivered with a glacial cool that belies their warm hearts. And US Highball are the latest addition to the great tradition of Glasgow jangle-pop bands like BMX Bandits and Teenage Fanclub, and Anglo-French outfit Love Tan recall the untutored sexy innocence of another Glasgow group, The Vaselines.

“Marcel Wave include members of Sauna Youth and Cold Pumas, channel early Fall and Stranglers musically, and feature the trenchant vocals and poetry of writer Maike Hale-Jones : quite simply a stunning combination.

“London outfit Barry provided the indie-pop anthem of last year with ‘Liz Naylor’ and cannot fail to put a smile on your face. Laura Fell is a superior singer-songwriter, who has already established herself as a major talent with her debut album Safe from Me

Peel Favourites: Yeah Yeah Noh are among many fine acts booked up for this August’s ambitious Preston Pop Fest

“Michael and the Angelos are a mystery-solving, draft-dodging beat combo, obsessed with freak-beat and Pebbles compilations, and Thee Windom Earles are the North West’s gnarliest garage-rock combo.”

Furthermore, at midnight each evening, the programme in the Conti will wind down with a sinister tale told by one of the UK’s premier writers.

“Nicholas Blincoe started his career in the arts with a rap 12” on Factory Records in 1987 and Manchester music and nightlife informed his early run of superior crime thrillers like Acid Casuals and Manchester Slingback. 

“Cathi Unsworth was a journalist for Sounds and Melody Maker before publishing first novel, The Not Knowing, in 2005. Since then she’s carved out a reputation as one of Britain’s foremost noir writers, producing five further novels and numerous short stories.

“And Graham Duff wrote and starred in Ideal, the surreal sitcom which featured Johnny Vegas as a small-time dope dealer. This year he publishes The Otherwise, a much-anticipated horror film treatment, co-written with the late Mark E. Smith.  

“Speaking of whom, Preston Pop Fest also offers you the chance to be the Hip Priest yourself, fronting The Fallen Women, the live Fall karaoke band primed and ready with a huge selection from the Salford legends’ repertoire.”

Sound Choice: Swansea Sound, a collaborative project all set to board at The Boatyard this coming August

Preston Pop Fest, scheduled for Friday August 20, Saturday August 21, and Sunday August 22 at The Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston (PR1 8JP), with late-night sets and DJs at The Ferret, Fylde Road, Preston (PR1 2XQ), sold out within a matter of days. However, there is a waiting list for returns, and if you didn’t manage to buy a ticket in time, there’s plenty going on at both The Continental and The Ferret this year, as Rob Talbot and Matt Fawbert recently revealed to me in this handy addition to the above feature.

Matt Fawbert, the new general manager at The Ferret, told me the venue’s last full-capacity gig was back on March 20th, 2020, starring Mancunian singer-songwriter Danny Mahon.

“We managed to do a short run of limited-capacity seated and socially-distanced shows in autumn as well, all of which sold out in advance. This run got cut short by local restrictions hitting Preston, so we had to close before the last of our planned gigs. 

“Over recent months we’ve been running weekly livestream gigs, various live acts from the area – filmed live on our stage behind closed doors, and broadcast over our social media platforms – usually via facebook.com/ferretpreston, many of which can be watched again via Youtube at youtube.com/ferretpreston

“Live music is missed massively by everyone, from performers to audiences. It’s going to be quite emotional when we finally get to open up properly, it will probably feel too good to be true at first. Gigs have a way of connecting people – not only through the music, but the shared experience and friendships that are built in the crowd, on the dancefloor and in the beer garden!

“We’re confident the dates released by the Government are very possible … for a change! The work of the Music Venue Trust has been instrumental in helping keep grassroots music venues not only financially viable but positive about the future and the possibility of opening up this summer.

“There’s definitely an appetite, we have a number of sold-out shows already, and responses to our new announcements are always positive. Also, loads of bands, artists and agents are getting in touch, clamouring for gig dates, which is a great sign – that had all but dried up over lockdown.

“There’s loads in the pipeline for this year, our autumn programme is almost full, with the various rescheduled shows and new dates added recently. Wolfgang Flur (ex-Kraftwerk), Goldie Lookin’ Chain, The Blinders & The K’s are all sold out, with A Certain Ratio, Cabbage and The Primitives not far behind.

“We’re now focusing on the next few months, and May 17th will hopefully see us allowed to run another series of socially-distanced seated gigs, which we’re in the process of planning. Then from June 21st it’s apparently full steam ahead, so we’ll be booking plenty of events to take us through summer.

Hay Festival: The Ferret during its annual transformation for Glastonferret, hopefully returning this August bank holiday

“Also, our annual multi-day music festival, Glastonferret, returns on the August bank holiday after a forced year off. This year is the 15th anniversary – with the first Glastonferret way back in 2006. As usual, we’ll be turfing the inside of the pub, extending our beer garden and booking the best acts to fill the whole weekend, going all out for a four-day event (Thursday, August 26th to Bank Holiday Sunday, August 29th).

Meanwhile, Rob Talbot, events head honcho at The Continental, told me the venue’s last show involved a packed-out night for Ska Face.

“The pandemic hit just as we were due to host a show with folk legend Martin Carthy. After being rescheduled four times, that still hasn’t happened, but hopefully will this September.

If everything goes to the Government’s plan, we’ll be kicking off – live streamed events aside – with a massive weekend at the end of June, with the AC/DC Experience on Friday (June 25th) and The Vibrators on Saturday (June 26th). And people definitely seem to be ready, judging by ticket sales!

“In fact, we’ve loads lined up for the second half of 2021, including The Amber List’s album launch (watch this website for more on that soon), a show with doom-metal giants Conan and Gandalf the Green, The Nightingales (again, watch this space), Salvation Jayne, the Anti-Nowhere League, and the UK Subs.

“What’s more, our world music strand is set to return with Afrobeat combo Alafia and roots reggae from the Golty Farabeau Band. We also have some of the best tribute acts in the country – some you might expect, some you won’t!”

And for more details of all that, you can head to this link for the Conti.  

Bluebells Season: The Bluebells hold up their product to the light to prove its quality, ahead of their Lancashire visit

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The Rilly Groovy return of the Beautiful People – in conversation with Du Kane

Remember the Beautiful People’s If 60’s Were 90’s? If nothing else, you may recall a couple of commercials from the mid-1990s featuring their songs, including a car ad featuring Manchester United and Wales football legend Ryan Giggs and Aussie actor Bryan Brown. And it turns out that several big names were fans.

Consisting of more than 50 guitar riffs, vocal cut-outs, out-take lead breaks, and word raps by guitar god Jimi Hendrix – all under official licence – it was a relatively simple idea, brilliantly executed.

And now this influential indie-dance crossover LP – using more than 30 different Hendrix recordings – is getting the boxset reboot treatment,almost three decades later, to the delight ofWeymouth-based singer/guitarist and former acid house promoter Duncan Elder, aka Du Kane, who was at the heart of the project from day one.

If 60’s Were 90’s also includes ‘spoken steals’ from iconic Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, and a party called the Milky Way Express that featured Frank Zappa, its creators priding themselves on a finished record that operates ‘like some groovy psychedelic time-machine cruising the Hendrixphere’.

Kris Needs, in the NME, called it an ‘ambient dance dream tribute’; Ian McCann, for Vox, referenced ‘super-psychedelic baggy indie dance with Orb-like overtones’; and David Sinclair, in Billboard magazine, described Beautiful People as a ‘bunch of movers and shakers from London’s acid house scene who have a highly developed fascination with the music of Jimi Hendrix’, insisting they were ‘emphatically not a ‘tribute’ band in the style of The Bootleg Beatles or The Australian Doors’, instead using ‘sampling technology to virtually recruit Hendrix into the group’s line-up.’

Then there were those in the business who took inspiration, including The Cult / Dead Man Walking guitarist Billy Duffy, who called it ‘a hidden gem’ and ‘welcome relief from Brit Pop’; Small Faces, Faces and The Who drummer Kenney Jones, who saw Beautiful People as ‘one of my favourite bands of the 90s’; and legendary producer and Killing Joke bass player Youth, who recalled hearing them ‘on a beach on a 20k rig with 2,000 freaks going crazy just after dawn – dolphins were flippin’, naked beautiful people in the waterfall … certainly one of the best and most memorable experiences I’ve ever had’.

And the band are equally proud of the verdict from Karl Ferris, photographer and designer of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s US album covers for Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland, who reckoned the man himself ‘would have loved it and would have wanted to jam with them’.

The initial project came about when Duncan teamed up with keyboard player/studio techno wizard Luke Baldry to create a one-off Hendrix-sampled house track, then happened to drop it off with Eric Clapton, who lived close to their rehearsal space in rural Surrey. Clapton initially wanted to release the track, but on managerial advice passed it to creative head of the Hendrix estate Alan Douglas, who just so happened to be on the look-out for an outlet to sample the iconic guitarist at that time.

They got the gig, taking their band from Duncan’s acid house promotion company, the name inspired by a term used by cult US author Ken Kesey for his team of comrades and followers, the Merry Pranksters. The resultant LP, ready by July 1992, included drums from Robin Goodridge – soon snapped up by US-based UK success Bush – and was first released in 1993 on Castle Communications’ Essential label, including remixes by the afore-mentioned Youth.

The album was generally well received, even if the idea freaked out some purists. But it proved a grower, the New York Post calling it ‘an inspired bit of grave-digging’. In 1994 they toured Europe as a support for Hawkwind, then on the personal request of Noel Gallagher toured the UK on Oasis’ Definitely Maybe tour, soon securing an American deal, subsequently racking up respective No.1 and No.3 US dance chart hits with ‘If 60s Was 90s’ and ‘Rilly Groovy’, the latter featuring James Sunquist, aka Jimi Hendrix, Jr.

But then, after a couple of songs were used on movie soundtracks, with a huge Stateside tour booked and a single set for mainstream release, their US label Continuum Records went bust, the project frozen. For a long time, it looked like that was it – ‘this cult favourite lost in a 90s ethereal mist’ … until now.

The remastered triple-CD/purple vinyl release from Gonzo MultiMedia comes in impressive boxset form, including remixes by Youth, PM Dawn, Ben Mitchell, and Astralasia; a DVD featuring all the band’s TV performances and music videos; an interview with Alan Douglas; and a scrapbook-style coffee table book put together by Ian Brown and Fall producer Mike Bennett with Du Kane, telling the whole story, including official and behind-the-scenes photographs and personal testimonials on the LP’s influence from members of The Darkness, Happy Mondays, The Fall, Sub Sub, Wishbone Ash, The Sisters of Mercy, Oasis, Spiritualised, Steve Etherington, Bush, Primal Scream, Will Johns, Fuzzbox, Dust Junkys, and the afore-mentioned Karl Ferris.

Apparently, there was a follow-up album too, although that’s yet to see the light of day.

“Yeah, we got another deal after that, but it was very hard to cross over from that to … anything! Unless we were sampling The Beatles or something. I did some recording, sampling Vangelis and Demis Roussos’ 666 (the pair recording together as Greek prog rock outfit Aphrodite’s Child). But they’re still unreleased.

“The second Beautiful People album though was just a bunch of really great songs, going back to what we would have done before the Hendrix project came along and we changed direction. We had an album called Beautopia, released on Castle, with one single, ‘Take It’ / ‘Psychedelic Betty’, and another, ‘Not Necessarily Stoned’, which is on the DVD – the only thing that’s on there not from this first album. But they didn’t release the album, which was a shame, one that led to a misunderstanding, mainly because Castle got bought out.

“I went into the label one day, didn’t recognise anyone. Everyone had left. They started a new company, and they weren’t big enough to take us on. We were left with this album and a lot of unreleased material, very Brit Pop/rocky. I’m very proud of it. Great songs, and I probably will put that out, now people can deal with people directly, online. I just want to have my work out there! I’ve been carrying it around for years on my back, proud as I am of it. Until then, I can’t really move forward.”

It all came to a screeching halt with that first album too, as US label Continuum went under.

“Yeah, it just went bang! I signed a deal for £150,000 in my name, that cheque due in September 1994. We all went on holiday and I wrote a few songs … and then they were just gone. We had a tour planned. They’d licensed it for about five years, but that was all tied up.

“I was 29 … I couldn’t wait. I wanted to be on Top of the Pops! So I just left it, didn’t even think about it until around 2010. I knew Alan (Douglas, who died in 2014) was having (legal) problems, being involved with all the court stuff, and then he lost all the rights to his Hendrix material. Whereas our LP was very Hendrix-y, it was considered (by the receivers) a Beautiful People album. I saw Alan around 10 years later, and he said they didn’t take it as it wasn’t a Hendrix album.”

Live, Beautiful People were far from reliant on samples, most of the band originally with Duncan in indie-funk outfit Lax Lifetime, who built a large following in their native South East in the late-‘80s.

“We were all in the same gang, sharing houses, in our own world, and had a unique but tribal feel, all very close friends.”

How did it work with If 60s Were 90s? You assembled a talented group of musicians, not least ex-Lax Lifetime bandmate (sorry, couldn’t resist that ex-lax line) Dave Maskrey on lead guitar. But it wasn’t just a case of playing the parts on the original records.

“Dave played lead guitar on a couple of demo tracks, but all the guitar on the record is Jimi Hendrix. Any other guitars, I added. I was always ‘the wah-wah guy’. When we played live, I was set to play my parts and Dave would play some Hendrix parts, and when the guitar solos came, instead of having them through the speakers from Hendrix, David would play those. So it would be different from the record. And it wasn’t nailed down, it’s him playing it his way.

“He was a Hendrix disciple anyway – we were busking ‘Stone Free’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Foxy Lady’ on the street in Guildford in the late ‘80s, and Hendrix would have loved David’s playing. We just asked him to do his thing, and that’s how he fits in. On the second album, he was co-writing a lot with me, as we had in our time with Lax Lifetime and other bands we were in.”

Duncan, by his own admission now an ‘old bastard’ at 55, and David were in the same school year, albeit different Surrey schools, my interviewee telling me he was a former ‘£10 Pom’, sailing to Australia at a young age, his family hailing from around Woking and Ottershaw.

“I had my fourth birthday on the boat going out. We were there around four years, in St Kilda and Camberwell in Melbourne, then came back again, as my parents split up. But my first memories are of Australia.”

He re-settled in Cranleigh, where he remained until he was around 18, at one stage learning a few guitar riffs while staying with a friend in Leicester, inspired to buy a guitar off a friend for £10 – the seller having bought it off his sister for £5, he added – and soon playing songs at a party.

“I was asked to join a band to make up the numbers, rehearsing at a friend’s house. We were a four-piece called The Gallery. Not as if we called ourselves that in public! We did two gigs, one in Dougie (McLeish’s) lounge and one at a summer fair at Glebelands (his secondary school), doing instrumentals, the same songs over and over. I played bass, but went home and started writing a few ideas, knowing about eight guitar chords, creating something that sounded nice and jangly, Cure-like, and from then on was writing all the songs.

“After that, Fil B (Phil Bushen), in the year below at school, asked if I wanted to start a band. I said yeah, but I didn’t want to play bass. He said, ‘That’s alright – I play bass!’. We started to jam, had a couple of girls try out as vocalists, Siouxsie Sioux type stuff, rehearsing in Ewhurst, where Dave Howick, the drummer had a place. We were there around eight years, every weekday night.”

I’m guessing that’s where the Eric Clapton link came in.

“Well yeah, because it was no big deal to pass his house on the way home from rehearsal.”

I’m ahead of him there though. Back to the tale and how Flow Motion (Du Kane, Phil B, David H and Karl Selfe) became Yellow Lifetime (the same band with a different singer, plus former Shoot! Dispute sax player Scampi) then Lax Lifetime (Scampi moving on, and lead guitarist David Maskrey and percussionist Anton Daniels joining) …

Re Lax: Duncan and Anna-Lucy out front as Lax Lifetime, long before the Beautiful People followed in their wake

“We got a proper vocalist, Karl, a bloke in my year at school. We were pretty good. We did a gig at Woking’s Old Schoolhouse, blew all the other bands off stage. We’d also play The Royal, The Cranley Hotel, Godalming College … it all culminated with this show at the Rock Garden, taking two coaches up. It was absolutely rammed. That was September 1984.

“But then Karl announced he was leaving, joining this band Parallel Motion, soon to become Never B4, a band later managed by Bruce Foxton. Luke Baldry was playing keyboards for them. They were originally a funk band, with Anna-Lucy (Torjussen) singing. Gorgeous voice, lovely looking, and Karl’s girlfriend at the time. But then they nicked him off us and chucked her out. I can’t imagine how that must have gone down! Anyway, I asked Anna if she wanted to join us.

“I didn’t want to sing, but we tried all these singers and it didn’t work, so I said I’d do it in the meantime, as I was writing the songs. I’m more a guitarist who sings, but Phil suggested I should do it. Anyway, we somehow became Yellow Lifetime. I wrote all these names down on a piece of paper, and we went with that as someone saw the name and was telling people how good this Yellow Lifetime were. In time, that became Lax Lifetime. We had our little emblem, doing flyers, arranging clubs, doing gigs in London, but I felt we should do something in Guildford instead, rather than taking so many people up to London, hoping record companies might come down to see us if we told them we’d filled Guildford Civic Hall. So we invented this club, The Rak.

“I invented a false company called the Dance Conglomerate from London who arranged warehouse parties, all very trendy in that period leading up to house music. I got a friend to pretend to be this fella called Lance Lush, head of the Dance Conglomerate, and we went around local papers saying we’d met in New York and I’d won this rap competition – all a complete and utter lie. ‘Lance’ also said our band, Lax Lifetime was fantastic and were coming to Guildford to wake it up!

“We had the whole of page three in the Surrey Advertiser, with this picture of us, and that helped launch our first show in 1988 at Guildford Civic Hall and this new club, The Rak, where Lax Lifetime just happened to be the featured band, with lots of light projections … very house music like. So when all that came in a year or so later, we were right in front.”

I was there with some mates for that first Civic Hall date, on the last Saturday in February ‘88. Not as if I recall too much. I think we’d started early in The Star, the Guildford pub where the Stranglers played their first gig. I seem to recall there was an impressive following though.

“From then on, record companies would send me records, wanting to play my club, becoming an acid house promoter as well as a band guy. For the first two years it was The Dance Conglomerate, then me and Phil fell out, he went his own way, and I came up with the Beautiful People, from a Ken Kesey book that Dave (Maskrey) leant me. The book’s idea of the ‘acid test’ worked well. And to me, those were the first raves, doing a similar thing.

“Then Phil came back from San Francisco, and Luke and I had done this one-off track for a laugh, the first with someone outside our band – I was very loyal otherwise. So we dropped it off with Clapton, and that’s where it all started.”

Common People: Beautiful People take six on Clapham Common, well away from Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Crosstown Traffic’

So, relatively seamlessly, Lax Lifetime became the Beautiful People, Duncan (guitar) once again joined by Dave Maskrey (lead guitar), Anton (percussion), plus the returning Fil B (bass) as well as  Luke (keyboards) and Robin Goodridge on drums, the latter then replaced by Nathan Curran, aka Tuggy Lane. There was also a brief spell within for Chris ‘Chunn’ as well, apparently. Got all that? Good, then I shall continue (stopping briefly only to confuse you more by recalling that for a brief spell they were known as Fab Daze).

After the end of the initial Beautiful People reign, did you keep tabs on all your bandmates?

“Well, we didn’t really split up, but the deal ran out and we had no money …”

Rather the band ‘petered out’, as he put it, for his part Duncan becoming a father in 1998, at one stage working as a barman in the Royal Oak pub in Guildford to make ends meet, barely a year and a half after securing that impressive record deal.

“Not that I minded being a barman, but I was staying at my Mum’s with my pregnant girlfriend, with people walking in the pub and saying, ‘I thought you were on tour with Oasis?’ But then luckily, my friend Piers phoned me, said he was starting a magazine, and asking if I wanted to be a writer. I said yeah, and he said, ‘Okay, can you fly to Beirut next weekend with (Birmingham club) Miss Moneypenny’s dancers, write up about them raving in Beirut for the weekend?’. So that’s what I did for the next two or three years, writing for Front magazine.

“As for the others, Anton happened to live near me, so I’d see him now and again, but I didn’t see anyone else from the band for quite some time.”

As for Robin Goodridge, he recalls in the boxset’s accompanying book how he gave Gavin Rossdale a copy, the Bush frontman so impressed he called ‘early the next morning about doing an audition’. Clearly the rest was history in that instance.

“Yeah, I knew Robin from (Guildford music shop) Andertons. He was part of a Loxwood gang, a little more elite, and up on the house music thing. We were drinking in the Mucky Duck, as Luke and I moved to Fittleworth, where we started working on some tracks, using drum loops. We met Rob there, he said he’d come along and drum for us, and got involved in replacing all the loops, generally playing live drums over what we’d done.

Junior Showtime: Jimi Hendrix, Jr. and Du Kane in Hammersmith on the If 60s Were 90s video shoot set, March 1994

“But he couldn’t really commit. He was in loads of other bands and had a Uriah Heep tour when we had a tour with Hawkwind, so he chose that. By then, we’d met Tuggy (Nathan), who was so bloody good, I felt we couldn’t put him on hold – someone would snap him up. He came along in 1993, straight on to the Hawkwind tour. So Robin never really left, but then Bush caught fire …”

See what he did there? Bush, I suggested, are one of those bands famous for doing amazingly in America but never really making it in their home country … at least initially.

“Probably the best way to describe them! Ha! Actually, in the Noughties, Robin lived just around the corner from me. We were good mates, and I introduced him to his wife. He’s in America now, and I haven’t seen him since around 2009.

“I do remember Rob had a night off during the Uriah Heep tour, and we were playing in Worthing that night, not far away from where he was based. He walked into our dressing room, stopped, looked at Tug, looked at me, and said, ‘Someone break one of his limbs for me, will you?’ Ha! He could see how good he was, at just 17 or so.”

Duncan eventually returned to his musical roots, including spells busking on London Underground and playing in a wedding band, with a big gap before The Shakespearos came on the scene.

“I was still with my wife then. We moved to London, and I was busking on the Tube with my battered guitar, talking to the kids down there, asking how it worked. That was after Front went down, and they made it (busking) legal in 2002, and when the press wanted to talk to someone about it, they put me forward. I started a club for buskers in Hoxton for a while.

“I was based in Belsize Park, and also worked in a wedding band at weekends. I guess I was just a musician with no stress, earning enough to get through the day, not having to do some fucking awful job I had no interest in and wouldn’t know where to start. Then, in around 2010, Steve Smith – the Beautiful People soundman, who’d touring with us since Lax Lifetime days – got in touch.”

That’s where we bring the story up to date, Duncan, Dave, past WriteWyattUK interviewee Steve Smith – best known as the bass player in The Vapors – and Nick Horton regularly out and about (give or take the odd pandemic) with punk/new wave covers band The Shakespearos, their name taken from a line in The Stranglers’ ‘No More Heroes’, having first got together 10 years ago this spring.

Whatever Happened: The Shakespearos - Nick Horton, Du Kane, Steve Smith,  Dave Maskery (Photo: Alabama Photography)

Whatever Happened: The Shakespearos – experienced and hopefully out and about and entertaining on a stage near you again rilly soon. From the left – Nick Horton, Du Kane, Steve Smith, and Dave Maskery (Photo: Alabama Arnold)

“I knew Steve from Shoot! Dispute days (Steve’s post-Vapors outfit, John Peel favourites who recorded two BBC Radio 1 sessions for the legendary DJ), and around the time Scampi, their sax player, offered his services to us in our days as Flow Motion (and later Yellow Lifetime). And just knowing I was working with Steve Smith and all these nearly pop stars … I mean, who were we? We were from Cranleigh – we didn’t know anything! Whereas these guys … Steve actually had hits, all around the world!”

They also employed Steve when it came to recording, from Yellow Lifetime days onwards. And then came that decision to form a band together.

“The morning after Steve called, I thought, ‘He’s miles away, he lives in Brighton. Is this a good idea?’ All my gigs were in Weymouth. I’d been here since around 2007. My Mum had a pie shop and café here. I came down to live with her, having previously visited with my boys at weekends. There were always loads of pubs with music. I started getting gigs here and there, and before I knew it, was doing a couple a week, making enough cash to live through the week on.

“But I told Steve there were loads of gigs to be had in Weymouth, and he was happy to drive over. We rehearsed in Guildford, I suggested Dave on guitar, and we met up with him, not having seen Dave for around 10 years. We tried a few drummers, and at first Anton (Daniels) came along. He was staying with his Dad in Ash, so we asked if he’d like to ‘keep time until we got someone else’ – the classic story!

“We worked out a set, mostly punky sings like those by The Clash, with a few baggy and Brit Pop songs, and a bit of The Cure. I always thought it would help if we did the odd Vapors song, but that was something Steve wouldn’t really talk about at the time.

“I’d had the name knocking around for a while, wondering when I heard ‘No More Heroes’ if there’d ever been a band of that name. Someone must have used it, surely. I looked online, and there was a band in Canada, boys around nine, playing a song by The Clash at a fete or something. They were alright, actually, but when I looked back a few years ago I noticed they hadn’t done anything since.”

For the past decade The Shakespearos have built a winning reputation via regular gigs on the South Coast, summer stints in Portugal, and festivals – including Guildford’s Guilfest and Blackpool’s Rebellion. But right now, Duncan’s missing the live circuit, not least additional Sunday lunchtime gigs as part of a Frank Sinatra covers duo.

“I had a whole year of gigs lined up, and around 100 gigs last year with The Shakespearos. This year though, I haven’t planned anything. I’m not chasing anyone until I know we can do them. It’s all the ‘undoing’ … the ‘unpromoting’ – it’s hard work.”

As for that name, I let on to Duncan that we have a mutual friend who always calls them The Shapiros. There are only so many times you can correct someone, after all. I quite like that concept though. Maybe he could start doing a couple of Helen Shapiro covers and play under that name as a sideline. Come to think of it, a take on ‘Walkin’ Back to Happiness’ might prove quite a tonic right now.

“Ha! Well, a guy in Portugal tells us he’s going to start a band called the Fakespearos! Then there’s those who call us The Shakespeareos, which sounds like some kind of fucking breakfast cereal!”

But while the lockdowns, pandemic restrictions and the virus itself have caused frustration and plenty of heartache, and there’s added uncertainty over future European dates as a result of the ongoing Brexit nightmare, Duncan’s kept himself well and truly busy through the Beautiful People boxset project.

“I don’t suppose we’ll sell an awful lot, but people who want to know what it was all about can now have everything.”

Was that good timing, coming during a period where you’ve been able to play live, or is it something you’ve been meaning to fit in for a long time?

“It was a case of someone coming to us, saying they’d like to put this out.”

All because of a chance conversation with Mike Bennett, and him subsequently helping get you a deal with the people at Gonzo?

“Yes, he was full of how good the Beautiful People were, and said, ‘I know so many people who love that record,’ making me realise there were an awful lot of people dotted around who had it and loved it, and it had quite a big effect, historically … on a cult level.

“That’s a really lovely thing, to be thought of like that. I’m really pleased, even though we never made any cash out of the record. It was nice that it had such an effect.” 

Cover Stars: Caught on vinyl, first time around, at Ben’s Collectors’ Records in uptown Guildford (Photo: Ben Darnton)

To purchase the remastered Beautiful People’s If 60’s Were 90’s boxset and related merchandise, head to https://www.musicglue.com/beautiful-people/. You can also learn more about the band via this Facebook link. And for the latest from The Shakespearos, head here.

Compiled with a further nod to David Shephard for his Soundscene Does Facebook page, and his hard graft putting together those Surrey & North Hants rock family trees in the first place.

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Taking the Afrobeat message forward – in conversation with Femi and Made Kuti

Generation Game: Made and Femi Kuti, in tune with each other, Nigeria, Africa and the world (Pic: Optimus Dammy)

At a time when hope and inspiration is needed perhaps more than ever, a brand new two-album package involving solo LPs from both Afrobeat legend Femi Kuti and his son Made fits the bill nicely.

The pair have joined forces to release Legacy +, featuring Femi’s Stop The Hate and Made’s For(e)ward (the cover art featuring portraits of the father and son musicians by Brooklyn-based artist Delphine Desane), both LPs attracting plenty of acclaim and proudly upholding the legacy of Nigerian innovator Fela Kuti – Femi’s father and Made’s grandfather – as torchbearers for change in their own right, the pair’s work steeped in the tradition of the Afrobeat genre he helped establish.

But this is no Afrobeat-by-numbers project. Each album showcases the respective Nigeria-based artists’ own unique vision and sound – Stop the Hate fusing life-affirming songs with political edge, and For(e)ward offering a more modern take, a progressive manifesto, testing boundaries, with Made performing every instrument.

The Kuti family name has been synonymous with Afrobeat since Fela’s breakout in the 1970s, its influence found in everything from hip-hop samples via Missy Elliot to a current London jazz resurgence, with both Femi and Made key to that continuing resonance.

Fela made his name singing out in protest at the Nigeria that stumbled out of British colonial rule, taking aim at the ruling military juntas of the ‘70s, while setting up his own commune, declaring it independent. More than a million mourners attended his funeral in 1997, and five decades after he recorded Fela’s London Scene at Abbey Road Studios, there’s finally a posthumous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination, the latest accolade in a headline-grabbing life for this influential multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, Pan-Africanist pioneer, and political activist.

Already the subject of a full-length documentary film, with a statue in Lagos in his honour, an annual music and arts festival held there on his birthday, celebrating his life and impact (Felabration), and plays and books written about him, many of Fela’s LPs have been remastered and reissued in recent years, alongside new compilations.

But while his legacy remains strong, almost a quarter-century after his passing, Femi and Made are exploring new approaches to Afrobeat, inspired by a man brave and bold enough to speak out on matters affecting his beloved country and continent. And it’s clear from these latest two additions to the Kuti canon that there’s still plenty to rail against. Until now, it’s been Femi leading the charge, keeping the legacy alive while taking his own path forward. But the new joint-release suggests the dynasty is in no way done for yet.

Over the years, Femi has amassed worldwide acclaim as an ambassador of Afrobeat and many humanitarian organisations, his Positive Force band remaining at the forefront of the movement, earning multiple Grammy nominations, performing on prestigious bills and at key festivals, and collaborating with iconic musicians across a wide array of genres, most recently Coldplay on the Everyday Life LP.

As for Made, he recently spoke out in support of anti-police brutality protests across Nigeria, that campaign leading to the government dissolving the notorious SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) police unit, taking to the streets himself, his father by his side.

And songs like ‘Free Your Mind’, the opening track on For(e)ward, are a great place to start in explaining Made’s world view, the 25-year-old, full name Omorinmade Anikulapo Kuti, revealing, “It is very much inspired by the teachings I received from my father and his efforts to make me understand exactly what the black man and woman’s situation is in Nigeria, Africa, and around the world.

“I think freeing your mind is, in a way, the opposite of what the phrase actually sounds like. ‘Free your mind’ almost sounds like decadence, like ‘don’t be constrained by anything, just take things as they are.’ I think the true meaning is to be critical. It means use your mind to its full potential—to think, to try to find answers and ask the right questions.”

Meanwhile, in ‘As We Struggle Everyday’, Femi – full name Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo Kuti , sings, ‘We try to find a better way … we people have the power to make our lives get better’. And he recently stressed, “’As We Struggle Everyday’ is to do with how hard people work every day to make ends meet and still go to vote corrupt politicians into power who are meant to be in jail.”

Then, on ‘Pa Pa Pa’, the joyful opening track on Stop the Hate, he insists, ‘We must face the government; the government must not waste our time’. And there’s a similar theme explored on Made’s ‘Different Streets’, telling us, ‘That’s why I know the difference between making an honest living and corrupt embezzlement.’

It seems, I put it to them during a Zoom call between Lancashire and Lagos, there’s still a determination and perceived need to carry on the struggle, taking on the family’s cultural and political legacy.

Femi: “Yes!”

Made: “And you could argue that there’s more work to do now than there was before. In many ways it’s got even worse here.”

There’s certainly an equal determination from you both – reflected in your music – to fight for a brighter future. Was that part of the thinking behind the joint-LP idea? Two generations for the price of one and strength in partnership, proudly carrying on that legacy as torchbearers for change?

Femi: “Not really. I think we just did our own thing, and it just happened. Everything just came together.”

Made: “I think my Dad’s ‘Set Your Minds and Souls Free’, coming just before ‘Free Your Mind’ was also a coincidence. A lot of it was just us being in synch.”

Femi: “Nothing was planned! The joint album wasn’t really planned. We were supposed to release the albums at different times last year, and I just thought, ‘Wow, it would be great to have a joint album, because no parent and child had ever done that before’.

“That was special, and we should inspire people, show all these good things. I passed it to him, and he said, ‘Wow, we love it, Daddy!’, then we passed it to the label and management. So that’s where we are. But nothing was planned, and nobody knew what was going to happen.”

There’s much talk of legacy and family tradition, but isn’t it also just a story of two guys from different generations who love music and happen to make great records?

Femi: “Ah, the legacy’s there. But of course, we’re passing it about, playing music. Made plays all the musical instruments (on his LP) and recorded it all, and I still do six hours of practise (a day).

“That’s our life! Unfortunately, we have to sing about those things, because we live this situation. This poverty’s right outside our doorstep, we drive bad roads, we have bad healthcare. I don’t see a love story as important as the crimes I see outside – the kidnappings and the hatred. But I hope the music will inspire change, and I think Made can speak for himself …” 

Made: “Because of our upbringing, the books we read, the conversations we have, the life we experience, the music is really just a reflection of our state of mind.”

Where Fela first trod the boards, his son and grandson follow, each having learned their trade from an early age – Femi starting out in 1979, playing saxophone in his father’s band, Egypt ’80, and Made touring with his father, playing bass or saxophone in Positive Force.

Made: “That’s where it started for me. I showed little interest in many instruments at a young age! I’d say, ‘I want to play the trumpet’, then would do one year with the trumpet, drop it for the sax, then do the same with the piano. And during my A-levels I was teaching myself the bass.

“But somewhere after I came back from Trinity (College of Music, London) in 2018, I started to practise a lot, about 12/14 hours every day, and wanted to reflect in my music the possibility that I could communicate every single detail on my own, wanting listeners to have that kind of intimate experience with the sound.”

It’s not just about carrying on a Kuti tradition. There’s also a responsibility to Afrobeat, honouring its past and many components, while taking it on to the next generations, pushing boundaries even further. That’s clearly something you both feel passionately about.

Made: “I feel very passionate about Afrobeat. It’s the fundamental element in everything I publish that I compose. My Dad has said many times it’s like Fela discovered the universe, we understood that universe, then ventured out to find many other universes – my Dad’s family’s universe. I’m still exploring my universe, and he’s still exploring his, with Afrobeat the fundamental element to reach the universe.”

It also seems you’re both still having to hammer the message home about the evils of racism, corruption and division the world over, not least in America and the UK.

Father Figure: Femi Kuti, still with plenty to share, judging by new LP, Stop the Hate (Photo: Sean Thomas)

Femi: “We’ll probably do this for the rest of our lives. I think those problems will always be. That’s why we’ll always have to talk about it. We have to keep on educating the minds of the people, including our minds.  

“Human life is about development, knowledge, wisdom, and its teachings. All we’re doing is … while we’re playing, we’re teaching ourselves, and what we learn, spiritually, we pass to the next person. We train ourselves not to hate, not to be envious, we train ourselves to be tolerant, to be humble.

“This reflects in our albums, and I think we understand we are just mediums. That’s why the artist has always remained humble. Evil will always exist, whether we like it or not, I think, and that’s why we always have to show the positive side of living and encourage people.  

“This has gone on for generations, and thousands and thousands of years, to lead to the path of righteousness and virtues. And that is all we’re doing.  

“I think it’s worse right now. Maybe it’s the age we live in – there’s so much hatred; capitalism has taken a very different form; there’s the right wing; wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria and its kidnappings; then the pandemic comes … things seem to have gone for the worse.

“But whilst we talk about it, we still have to remain optimistic. We can’t give up hope. That’s where people like us come in – in order to give people hope. The suicide rate is high, but maybe music like this just says, ‘Oh, there are people feeling what I feel.”  

Trumpet Messenger: Lagos-based Made Kuti is on fine form with his new LP, For(e)ward (Photo: Optimus Dammy)

Fela wasn’t the first to speak out in the family. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, campaigned for women’s rights and against colonialism, and her husband was a proud union man, Anglican minister and school principal. In short, Femi and Made come from a proud tradition of orators, campaigners and activists.  

Made: “Yes, and we’ve traced the music in the family as well, and it’s going back seven generations.”

A devastating raid in 1977 on Fela’s commune, after Nigerian government forces took exception to his critical message on that year’s Zombie (a raid involving 1,000 soldiers, with Fela severely beaten and his elderly mother thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries, with the commune burned, and his studio, instruments and master tapes destroyed), would surely have proved enough for many. But here you are – his son and grandson – almost 45 years later, still speaking out, taking on the struggle. That says something about a spirit of determination and maybe an inner strength.

Femil: “Mmm … maybe it’s gospel, maybe it’s from outer space somewhere, giving us that courage or wisdom, not to give up. Maybe … who knows! I really don’t think about it. Probably, if we thought deeply, we would probably think of a different path. I don’t know. It’s strange, you know.”  

Made: “I do wonder how my Dad, despite so many things he experienced – like the jailings, the beatings, all those past experiences, the fear of losing a father, of losing your mother and your sisters … I haven’t had that struggle, those risky encounters.”

Femi: “And then the rebuilding of the (New Afrika) Shrine … I really don’t know, when I look back, sometimes … yesterday, I woke up very scared, because Nigeria is going through a very dark period, people drumming the drumbeat of war. There’s the kidnappings …

Trail Blazer: The 1961 LP Fela’s London Scene, by Fela Kuti, introduced many to the emerging genre of Afrobeat

“I fear for my family. I fear for everything. I woke up so depressed yesterday. But this has always been my state … of life. I think that’s where the music comes in. Because the music is what gives me the wisdom or the courage to continue.  

“I wake up, then I practise, and find some faith in music and practising. I just want to practise for hours, and I notice whilst I practise it eases this pain in me. I just think of my family, see the beautiful children I have, and I worry, then I practise – this has always been the vicious circle in my life!”

Fela Kuti was a complex man, a man of his time in certain respects. History records him as a multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, political activist, Pan-Africanist, pioneer of Afrobeat. But how about his role as a father – how did he measure up there?

Femi laughs a little, possibly considering how best to answer that. Instead, I ask Made – who grew up in the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos – about the impact on his life of his grandfather, who died when he was barely two.

Made: “I was too young to remember him. The only encounters I had with him come from stories my Dad has told me, like giving me my name. It’s second-hand memories, not first.”

Femi: “To put it politely, he wasn’t a special father. Just to remain polite! But I will state that I think he will have made a great grandfather. Because at that time he recognised his mistakes with me.

Roots Radical: Zombie, the 1977 LP by Fela Kuti, caused shockwaves in his native Nigeria, and far beyond

“And every time my eldest sister sees Made writing a song or playing with his band, she cries, because she just can’t stop imagining how my father will have reacted. I think Made will have been his favourite person. He will have loved Made. It was already showing.

“Made will have been able to read music, and will have been able to have all these discussions … all that he couldn’t do with me, he was already showing that with Made as a baby and as a toddler.

“Made was born in 1995 and he died in 1997, but as soon as Made was born, he was already very sick. They had to carry him to my house. He said he had to be there to give him his name. And he would ask, ‘Bring him to see me, I want to see him!’ So this bond was already developing very strongly at that time.”

Fela was born when Nigeria was still a British colony, and there are key UK links down the years, not least with Femi born in London in 1962. Furthermore, Made – unlike his father, who didn’t formally study music – studied at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, as did Fela when it was Trinity College of Music (having initially planned to study medicine on arrival in 1958, like his brothers). That must have been a special connection for you, I suggested.

Made: “It really was, and it was even better, because the head of composition was a fan of Fela, and was very interested when I said I wanted to take Afrobeat into a contemporary classical setting and to experiment, which was what the composition course was about – that experimentation.  

“It was a really nice experience, all the way through. I learned a lot of things I never knew before. I only wish that my Dad had that experience as well. But I know he’s given me that experience and my joy … he sees that and can experience it. Trinity was a special experience.”

Finally, Fela was known for his showmanship, his concerts proving memorable events, and that’s something you’ve both taken forward.

Femi: Yeah … in our own way!”

Made: “Yeah, in our own way. Ha!”

Sounding Out: Made and Femi Kuti, spreading the gospel of Afrobeat to new generations (Photo: Sean Thomas)

The two-album Legacy + package is out now via Partisan Records, featuring both Femi Kuti’s Stop the Hate and Made Kuti’s For(e)ward LPs. For more details head to the official Femi Kuti and Made Kuti websites.

You can also keep in touch with Femi Kuti via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and with Made Kuti via Instagram, Twitter and YouTube 

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