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

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

January

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

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

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

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

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

February

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

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

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

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

Talking Family: David Baddiel, during his 2018 theatre tour

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

March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April

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

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

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

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

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

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

May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June

Laughing Matter: Chas & Dave in 1984

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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