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.

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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