Moving Inside Out with The Mighty Lemon Drops – the David Newton interview

A look at my (mostly trusty) list of live shows attended reminds me it was 37 years ago this week (November 17th, 1985) that I first chanced upon The Mighty Lemon Drops, supporting That Petrol Emotion at The Agincourt in Camberley, Surrey.

The very first Buzz Club show (before Jo Bartlett’s club night moved to Aldershot’s West End Centre, where I became a regular), I was there for the headliners, having seen them several times that summer and autumn around the capital. But I was impressed enough to keep tabs on their Black Country openers and caught them again in the same support role with the Petrols at the Klubfoot, Hammersmith Clarendon on Valentine’s night in ’86, a cracking bill also including The Wolfhounds.

It’s tricky to come up with specifics all these years on, but what you got was more or less always the same with that no-nonsense four-piece, namely Paul Marsh (vocals), David Newton (guitars), Tony Linehan (bass), and Keith Rowley (drums). There was clearly an Echo & the Bunnymen meets The Teardrop Explodes vibe atop a Velvet Underground backdrop, and they seemed effortlessly cool, the short-cropped hair and all-black, ‘60s biker leather chic as dependable as the guitars, bass and drums were powerful.

By the end of that breakthrough year their star had definitely ascended, my next Droppies sighting involving them topping the bill at the Astoria in central London, 36 years ago next week, every line and riff from their Happy Head debut LP – released that September – already firmly etched upon me.

I next caught them with the wondrous Stars of Heaven closer to my patch at the University of Surrey in Guildford in May ’87, by which time they’d got closer than ever to a mainstream hit – ‘Out of Hand’ stalling at No.66 on the UK chart – and saw them again the following February at the same venue, as at The Astoria with The Wild Swans, this time for the release of second LP, World Without End.

I enjoyed that album too, and dutifully bought third LP, Laughter. But I’d already moved on, and it never quite craved the same intimate attention from me … as was the case nationally, more’s the pity. I soon lost touch, but I’m listening again now via a quality new five-CD Cherry Red Records anthology out next week, a great excuse to track down and talk old times and new via Zoom with California-based David Newton, who co-wrote the songs on the first two records with Tony Linehan, stepping up some more from there.

David’s been in America since 1995 – ‘28 years in January’ – but is back at least once a year, give or take the odd global pandemic, and plans on returning next month, ‘fingers crossed.’ What does he miss most about his English and Black Country roots?

“Oh, man, lots of things. I lived in Wolverhampton until 1990, got married in ‘89 and we later moved to London. I was in South-West London until I moved here. When I go back now, I still have a lot of friends in the Midlands, but my social life became a bit – I hate to use the word – London-centric. A lot of people I knew ended up moving there. I still have friends and family in Wolverhampton though, so even on a shorter trip we’ll put in a daytrip to Birmingham.”

The new Inside Out boxset anthology celebrates their 1985/1990 output, featuring 97 tracks in all, including Happy Head, World Without End and Laughter, plus non-album singles, B-sides, bonus tracks, US radio mixes, previously-unreleased demos and rare session recordings, this guitar-driven band, somewhere between post-punk and neo-psychedelic, having appeared on the NME’s hugely influential C-86 compilation before signing with Geoff Travis’ new Chrysalis subsidiary Blue Guitar.

Happy Head, ‘a collection of uncluttered songs with a chiming Rickenbacker sound’, was described by Sounds as one of the 50 best albums of 1986. I had it far higher. Then came the more mature World Without End, which peaked at No. 33 in the UK and reached No. 1 on the US college chart, preceded by further near-hit ‘Inside Out’. As for Laughter, that was described as ‘by far the band’s best’, their sound continuing to evolve, the well-crafted vocal arrangements and sophisticated musicianship duly noted, as well as plenty more memorable melodies.

The latest anthology includes extensive sleeve notes compiled with assistance from David, who also recently contributed to Whatever Happened to the C86 Kids? by Nige Tassell, something else bound to generate renewed interest. In those sleevenotes, David also mentions JBs in Dudley, and I get the impression he was visiting Birmingham for his music fix from a young age.

“Yeah, I first went to JBs when I was 15. I was still in secondary school and started a fanzine with a mate of mine. I really liked the Mo-dettes, they were playing there, and I was like, ‘I wonder if I can find a way to interview the Mo-dettes for my fanzine?’ and somehow be able to get into JBs, under-age. I somehow had the nerve to write to the Mo-dettes manager, and they put me on the guestlist. That made me doubly nervous – not only interviewing these pop stars, also getting into an 18-and-over club. But I managed to pull both off, and from then on it was rare on a weekend not to visit JBs. I got to see so many live bands.”

That was certainly a venue that always seemed to be in the NME gig guide, so important to us in those pre-worldwide web days.

“I know! It’s amazing how we functioned without the internet! I think about that quite often.”

We talked some more about David’s days around his adopted Roehampton patch, me mentioning my own visits to nearby Putney’s Half Moon, seeing the likes of Geno Washington, fond memories stoked of trips up the A3 from Guildford.

“We were looking around Putney, but it was a bit out of our price range. We had friends that lived around Mortlake and Barnes, but Roehampton was an interesting place, a small village, with one of the first big project council estates, in a beautiful area, walking distance to Richmond. We were able to find this gorgeous 1800s property converted into flats. And that was where we stayed.

“The band was still in existence until the end of ‘92 / beginning of ’93, with Marcus {Williams, the bass player who took over from Tony Linehan and featured on the third LP} also ending up in Roehampton, with the others in the Midlands.”

I recall Marcus in Julian Cope’s band at one stage and have it in mind he had a spell in The Blue Aeroplanes, another band I loved.

“We both were! The Lemon Drops were still going but we had the same management. I liked the band anyway and we knew them, and in early 1992 there was a bit of a falling out and half of the band kind of went away but had scheduled gigs lined up, so they scrambled together, put together this emergency line-up, myself and Marcus in there.

“Another band with the same management company was The Katydids, fronted by Susie Hug, and she also featured, so you had this bunch of friends who all knew each other. It was a great time, even though there was work to be done.”

I saw The Katydids twice, first supporting Jim Jiminee at The Marquee in May 1989, then two years later – July 11th, 1991 – at Camden Underworld … supporting The Blue Aeroplanes, that very same line-up David mentioned. But I only checked that out later. The ‘Planes were a visual delight too, I suggested.

“Ha! There was this one concert we did, at the Town and Country Club {later The Forum}, which was filmed at the time and on TV. I didn’t even know. I was looking at the internet one day, saw it came out on DVD a couple of years ago. It’s got me, Marcus and Susie on.”

The sets always seemed to end with a gloriously chaotic version of Tom Verlaine’s ‘Breaking in my Heart’, I recall.

“That’s it, and Pat Fish, who sadly passed away quite recently, features on that too. And Adam {Seymour} from The Katydids, who ended up in The Pretenders.”

The second time I saw the Droppies live, in February ’86, was the last That Petrol Emotion show before heading to Rockfield Studios, South Wales to record Manic Pop Thrill. I’m guessing you weren’t far behind with your debut LP (also recorded at that famed Monmouth studio).

“We’d not got a record deal at that point. But Dan Treacy had put out our Like an Angel EP on his label, Dreamworld.”

That was December ’85, shortly after I first saw them in Camberley. And funnily enough, it was at one of Dan’s promotions upstairs at the Enterprise in Chalk Farm, one of his regular Room at the Top gigs, that I saw my second ever Petrols show that previous July, before I’d even heard of your band.

“That’s how we met. And we owe a lot to Dan. When the band first started in Wolverhampton, we had nothing. We were rank outsiders. We had no management, no record label, nobody looking over us. It was just me and Tony, Paul and Keith. I just sent some tapes out – one to Dan, when it {Dreamworld} was still Whaam! Records; one to Alan McGee at Creation; and one to Martin Whitehead at Subway. Creation as good as passed. Martin Whitehead said, ‘I really like it. I haven’t really got a label at the moment but let me think.’ And Dan got back and said, ‘Yeah, I really like it!’

“He didn’t offer us a deal at that point, but said, ‘I run a club in London, do you want to come down and play?’ We stayed at Dan and his girlfriend Emily’s flat in Clapham, had two gigs. We supported the TVPs on the Friday {at Deptford Crypt}, then Saturday night at Room at the Top, supporting The Membranes.”

Ah, the one where the floor collapsed!

“Yeah! Haha! And that got written about in the NME by The Legend – Everett True. Completely out of the blue. We played this gig, packed up our gear, drove back to Wolverhampton, and two weeks later, still living at home with my Mum at the time, 20 years old, the phone rang, and it was Dan, saying, ‘You’re not gonna believe this, but there’s a review in the NME of your gig!’ The Legend with this amazing review.

“And that was the start of it. The phone started ringing, all these record companies ringing up, us thinking, ‘You’ve not even heard us!’ We weren’t arrogant, but we were level-headed really. We just thought, ‘No, they can come and see us live.’

“That gig was also the day of Live Aid. Tony had a Volkswagen caravanette camper van, and Dan let us park outside his flat, so we slept in the van. I remember in the morning Dan woke us up, he’d made us all a tea, and said, ‘Do you want to come in? Live Aid’s on. Adam Ant’s on. So we went into Dan and Emily’s flat and watched Live Aid before the gig that night.”

Apparently, Dan changed the label name from Whaam! Records to Dreamworld after a request from a ‘similarly monikered chart-topping duo.’ And while I’m adding a little trivia, Dan’s girlfriend Emily Brown was later with indie band The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughters. As for The Mighty Lemon Drops, it’s fair to say they hadn’t been together too long by then.

“Only March, really.”

Schoolmates David and Paul had met Tony and Keith at JBs, the latter pair already playing together in The Pow, a ‘raucous post-punk power trio’. Meanwhile, David was in high school punk bands The Lowest Class and Gang Warfare. From there, Paul, David, Tony and drummer Andy Barker formed Active Restraint, their sole single released on Wolverhampton’s The Sticky Label, garnering airplay from John Peel and Kid Jensen on BBC Radio 1, David also moonlighting with labelmates The Wild Flowers, making two singles and an album before regrouping with Paul and Tony in early ’85, becoming the Sherbet Monsters with the addition of drummer Martin Gilks, who was replaced by Keith that August, but ultimately saw success with The Wonder Stuff.

While only embarking on their first UK tour (supporting March Violets) in March ’86, they had their first NME cover by the end of May (Adrian Thrills calling them ‘probably the hottest unsigned band in Britain … practically every leading label in the country falling over its chequebook in a bid to sign them’), and the following month made their Glastonbury debut on The Other Stage, played the NME’s Rock Week at the ICA, and recorded BBC Radio 1 sessions for John Peel and Richard Skinner.

The industry exec race was on by then, leading to those twin Blue Guitar and Sire deals in July, the subsequent recording of the debut LP, then the release and tie-in tour, the UK stint culminating in that November headline show I witnessed at the Astoria, followed by European dates, an amazing year rounded off by a festive homecoming at The Powerhouse, Birmingham, with fellow locals Pop Will Eat Itself and Balaam and the Angel. But David played all that down.

“Well, we were a little careful. It seems a short space of time now, but when you’re younger, it seems like a long spell. We didn’t jump into it. We had a harder time finding management, because we had all these record companies circling around us. We had one person who didn’t work out, then had all these managers and people circling, and felt, ‘Enough already!’

“Eventually, two friends of ours putting on gigs at Bay 63, who put us on a few times and we got on really well with – same age as us, they were music fans – one day came up to us when we were playing a gig, and said, ‘We’ve never actually managed a band before, but …’ One was working at Rough Trade, helping Geoff Travis out, and we actually liked these guys.

“We had this thing about whether we could sit in a van, drive from London to Glasgow with this or that guy. But these, we could tolerate them. Eventually, our record label sorted it out, around June/ July, a collaboration between Rough Trade and Chrysalis, with a different American deal signed with Sire Records.

“Geoff Travis was at our early gigs, and just the nicest guy, and it didn’t feel like he was a record company type. That was what was great. There wasn’t any bullshit or lingo. It was lovely having him as our go-between, someone we could talk to. We could tell him what we would feel, and he would translate it for the record company. It was perfect. And it was great in America, with a lot of the people at Sire Records. I’m still friends with a lot, either college or alternative radio types. They weren’t record company bigwigs. We had the best of both worlds really. Chrysalis Records were good but more corporate, more business-like. I can’t even remember the names of people there. But Geoff was our person to deal with all that.”

I was only at Bay 63 a fortnight before that first Buzz Club date, seeing That Petrol Emotion … although it was far later that I realised it was the same Acklam Hall location – later renamed Subterrania, where I saw both The Wedding Present and That Petrol Emotion (February and March 1990, respectively), and then Neighbourhood – where The Clash played two shows at Christmas 1979.

“Well, being an old punk, I knew!”

And it was the venue where Crisis, from my hometown, played a rather infamous Rock Against Racism show exactly six months prior to The Clash’s visits, a riot following – some dodgy Nazi skinhead types trying to gain admittance, wanting to confront the politically outspoken headliners.

“Ah, I still have a few Crisis records, ‘No Town Hall’ and ‘Holocaust’, and a mini-LP.”

While I was born in ’67, too young to catch all that, I was fairly well placed to catch the C-86 indie movement, including yourselves. And while I didn’t follow your later days so closely, I was pleased to see your continued success, not least Stateside. I get the impression John Peel felt you were too big for him by then though.

“I think so … I mean, that’s kind of a normal thing … like a fanzine thing.”

They build you up then knock you down?

“That is true. We did a Peel session {August ‘86}, but were a little bit known by that time. The first BBC sessions we did was for Andy Kershaw {Manchester, November ’85, around the time I first saw them}, and Janice Long {Golders Green, London, January ’86, with another in April ‘87} …”

There were also sessions for Richard Skinner, Simon Mayo and Nicky Campbell. But how did that Peel date come around …

“We went to a Mary Chain gig at Hammersmith Palais, Peel was there, and I think we just went up to him and asked. I think he liked that {approach}.”

As for Happy Head, produced by Stephen Street, that was in my top dozen or so LPs of all time back then.

“Oh wow!”

I felt it was a great document of where you were at and of what I saw in you at the time. Instant nostalgia, in a sense.

“That’s good to hear. We weren’t sure at the time. Looking back now, I can see Stephen Street did a really good job. We’d done our first record, the Like an Angel EP, in a matter of hours, so were a bit worried when we did the record with Stephen. His job was to capture the energy but also make it palatable for … well, I don’t really want to go there. At the time, we were like, ‘He’s toned us down, took the edges off. But looking back, it’s a good balance.”

Definitely. And ‘Like an Angel’ … what a debut single. No.34 in John Peel’s Festive Fifty that next year, it certainly stands the test of time, and it’s also among the tracks featured on another great new Cherry Red compilation, C85, celebrating the best of the burgeoning indie scene from 1985, that particular 45 recorded for £96 at Electro Rhythm in Hornsey, North London, using vintage equipment, a crack in Keith’s snare drum helping create its big sound (apparently).  

And because you mentioned Janice Long, I still love your cover on that first session for her of The Teardrop Explodes’ ‘When I Dream’. Is that on this compilation too?

“All the Dreamworld stuff is on there, and even earlier stuff, including the first recordings we ever did, with original drummer Martin Gilks, who went on to The Wonder Stuff. Keith, the Mighty Lemon Drops drummer, and Tony were in a band before the Lemon Drops, with Keith our first choice of drummer, but he had a job at the time, and had a lot of other things going on. Martin was recommended by a friend and together we recorded five songs in one studio and a couple of others in another, so put together a mini-cassette album … all we could afford.

“Then when we started doing alright, Keith was kind of wishing he’d been in the band. We got word of that and actually got him in the band. Thankfully it didn’t take Martin long to find The Wonder Stuff, so everything came off for everyone.”

‘When I Dream’ is not on the compilation actually. Perhaps it’s a licensing issue. Ah well, you’ll find it online. And if 1986 was an eye-opener, the following year saw the momentum continue, starting with a 27-date North American jaunt with The Chameleons and that fresh crack at the charts with ‘Out of Hand’, its promo video directed by Derek Jarman. The second Janice Long session followed, then that Spring tour and Glastonbury Pyramid stage debut, before they returned to Rockfield, this time working with Tim Palmer on that second LP.

The Droppies opened 1988 with a Simon Mayo session at London’s Maida Vale, before ‘Inside Out’ was released, as seen on BBC TV’s Saturday morning show, Going Live, another major tour ensuing, another ending with prestigious Astoria and Powerhouse bows as World Without End grazed the top 40, doing even better stateside, the year’s other highlights including dates in Brazil and high-profile arena shows supporting The Mission.

As 1989 dawned, they were back at work with Tim Palmer again, Tony soon moving on and David stepping up to primary songwriter, Marcus on board by the time they regrouped at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, Laughter not far off, the LP and accompanying singles promoted by more live dates, culminating this time in two sell-outs at London’s Dominion Theatre, a few days before that Nicky Campbell session, the ‘80s almost done.

While Laughter failed to chart in the UK, again they scored a US college radio chart-topper, also entering the Billboard 200 in March 1990, a four-month 100-plus Laughtour following. But on our side of the Atlantic the water turned cold, the Chrysalis/Blue Guitar deal done, two further LPs released by Sire largely ignored here, the band calling it a day after a late ‘92 US farewell tour. And while a December 2000 one-off reunion back in Wolverhampton, with Tony back in the fold, followed, there was nothing more forthcoming … until now, I guess.

So what about the rest of the band, David? Are you all still in touch?’

“Yeah, mainly I see Tony, who lives in London, and Keith, who lives in Birmingham. I haven’t seen Paul in person for a while. The last gig we’d played {pre-2000} was in ’92, and that seemed a long time … but now it’s been another 22 years!”

So this anthology marks 30 years since you originally called it a day.

“Erm … wow, yeah … it is …”

Will there be another reunion gig? Are you saying ‘never say never’ in a Noddy Holder style?

“It is ‘never say never’, you don’t know, but I don’t think at the moment … just because of the logistics. But we get offered things all the time, festivals like Shiine On, and something last year with Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. They were playing the Civic Hall and were asking if we’d like to do a kind of co-headline thing.”

I never really thought of you and The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s being part of the same set, until you reminded me about that link with Martin Gilks.

“And the Poppies.”

Yes, Pop Will East Itself too, of course.

“Again, there was that JBs, Dudley connection. They were regulars at the same time.”

I saw the Poppies at Glastonbury in ’87. But I missed you.

“We did it twice – in ’86 on the second stage … I think the Petrols were on around the same time.  The thing I remember about that time was a game of football – a Go! Discs team, with Billy Bragg and Andy Kershaw, versus The Mighty Lemon Drops and Friends. They were really good. Then we did it again in ’87 on the big stage. That was crazy, but a tough one – we went on before Husker Du. Can you imagine that? I think we went on after World Party, and New Order headlined that same stage.”

That reminds me why I missed you. A smashed windscreen in nearby Castle Cary on Friday evening meant we turned up too late to see anyone but New Order that evening.

“I do remember that New Order flew in by helicopter. Fucking hell – punk rock!”

That weekend marked the first time I saw both The Blue Aeroplanes and future Blue Aeroplanes bandmate Rodney Allen, who opened the Pyramid stage set on Saturday, a truly memorable moment, just this young lad with a guitar, playing to thousands upon thousands.

Anyway, going back to the beginning, you and Paul were at school together, yeah?

“Yes, Parkfield Secondary. I got to know him when I was about 12. He was a year above. We all got to know each other, these punks, really. We weren’t hardcore, but living in the USA since ’95 it’s hard to kind of explain how it was then, with bands like Buzzcocks in the charts, on Top of the Pops and all that. In secondary school there were kids into punk and kids into Rush and AC/DC, and older kids still into Northern Soul.

“One of the great things about growing up in the UK at that time, another thing you can’t convey here, is that you were into everything. I used to buy Northern Soul records and the first records I bought were by Slade, Sweet and Mud. And soul was big, and reggae too. It was great, this mixture of all these kinds of things. The other thing in the States is that radio’s kind of formatted here. You get a rock station, a soul station, a pop/top-40 station … With the BBC, you got a real cross-section.”

Were you a Wolves fan amid all that?

“Absolutely! They’re not doing too good this season though. It’s great that they’re doing better now than when I first moved here though, when they were in the second division. People would hear my accent and say, ‘Hey buddy, who’s your team?’ I’d say Wolves, and it was, ‘Say that again?’ I’d say it again, and they’d be like, ‘Manchester United?’ But finally, I can now say it, and they’ll know.”

We’ll talk more on this at some point, but I guess Slade were important to you growing up, flying the flag for your hometown.

“Well yeah, and growing up in Wolverhampton, you always knew somebody that knew someone connected with Slade. It was great that they were kind of like our band and one of the biggest bands in the country at that time … And when I was a little older, in the early ‘80s, there was this great pub by us called The Trumpet, in Bilston. It was actually The Royal Exchange but had that nickname because there was a lot of live jazz in there – quartets would play there. And Noddy was a regular. You’d go in on a Tuesday night, and he’d be having a pint. You’d never see him sitting down, he was always just leaned up against the bar, and you’d just be on nodding terms. That was up until he moved to Manchester. When they got big again in ‘82 or ‘83, you’d still see Noddy in there.”

Were you playing guitar at school? Or did you pick that up later?

“I was given one of my uncle’s old guitars when I was a kid. Two strings on it! Me and my neighbour across the street had a pretend band in the early ‘70s, and I used to make pretend records out of bits of cardboard. We were originally called Pop Slop!

“By the time I’d progressed to having actually put six strings on it, I know it sounds like a cliche, but I saw The Adverts on Top of the Pops doing ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ and realised I could actually play that! So me and some mates at school formed a punk band, The Lowest Class. Then we changed our name to Urban Kids after the song by Chelsea, and played a gig at our secondary school. That was like 1978, my first proper gig, and it was packed – 150/200 kids. We did all our own songs and covered a Skids song, ‘TV Stars’.”

They still do that to this day.

“Ah, but we changed the words in the verses to all of our teachers!”

What you said about The Adverts – that’s what it was all about, surely. Punk took away the pretentiousness – you felt you could play those songs, which wouldn’t have necessarily been the case if you were copying Steve Howe from Yes or Steve Hackett from Genesis. You’d see bands like The Clash and think, ‘I reckon I could play that!’

“You took the words out of my mouth. Yeah, and punk really made sense, you know. The first band I was really into that got me into punk was early Eddie and the Hot Rods. It was like a sped-up Dr Feelgood. I bought the Hot Rods’ Live at the Marquee EP with my pocket money, summer of ’76, and used to buy records from the out-of-chart box in Woolworth’s, Bilston. I think I got 50p a week pocket money, and 7-inches were 25p, leaving 25p. I bought ‘Anarchy in the UK’ from the ex-chart box for 25p, and was really disappointed because it wasn’t as fast as Eddie and the Hot Rods! But that was my introduction to what became punk.”

Did you know the basic chords, and just tried to play along?

“Yeah, when you’re younger, you’re hearing the entire thing but unable to differentiate between the instruments that are making that noise. But punk clearly made me realise, ‘That’s the guitar … that’s the bass ….’ It kind of broke it all down. It was great. Now you hear about all these bands that met at these music colleges.”

It’s a different world, of set lessons and YouTube tutorials and stuff like that.

“Yeah … the idea of being taught that at school. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I think it was healthier then. That’s why you get all these generic indie bands now, that all sound the same – they probably all went to the same music school with the same teacher that taught them the same bloody generic indie rubbish!

“My one attempt at keeping up with what’s going on in modern music – my wife works in the music industry for a TV network – is going to South by Southwest {SXSW} in Austin, Texas, each year. It’s great for me – I see like a year’s worth of 30/40 different bands and artists in five days, although the last couple of years have been harder because of the pandemic.”

Home for David and wife Bekki is Burbank, a suburb of Los Angeles, ‘a 10-to-15 minute drive from Hollywood.’

“It’s great, just out of town. It doesn’t feel that much different to living in the UK, being a suburban street. There’s a film and TV and music industry around here, but it’s far enough away that it’s not like living in Hollywood or downtown Los Angeles, although things have changed in the 27 years I’ve been here. Burbank is its own little city, with its own shops and local pub.”

As we’re talking, I spot a framed photo of Blur on his wall.

“You know the reason I’ve got that? It’s actually taken at a cafe in Wolverhampton. My wife saw it, and funnily enough one of their first gigs outside London was at JBs, Dudley, before ‘She’s So High’. Now and again, you’d walk into JBs to see a relatively unknown or heard band, and it was one of those gigs where you thought, ‘Wow, they’re really good!’ I had no idea they’d become as big as they did though.

“I don’t see as many bands now as I used to, but I saw a lot of bands and they had everything. They had the songs, they sounded good, and they were good looking lads and could fucking play. They had energy, Damon Albarn climbing up the PA. And he was still playing that Farfisa organ. They reminded me of … I don’t know, Radio Stars, the way Andy Ellison used to play, and they had the energy of a punk band. My missus was with me at the time, and we both thought, ‘Fucking hell, that was great!”

How did you and Bekki meet?

“At a Primal Scream gig at ULU in 1987. Bekki was 18. I was 22. She was going to school in London. She’d just moved there, she’d only been there about six months. We played gigs with the Primals, and I was living in Wolverhampton at the time. It was a Friday night. The Lemon Drops had a couple of days off, so me, Keith, the drummer, and a couple of our mates decided to go down to London, went to see Primal Scream, and I just bumped into Bekki. I had no idea she was American – originally from Los Angeles – and it turned out she knew somebody I knew. That’s now 35 years ago. She actually moved up to Wolverhampton for a while.”

As you do. It wasn’t like Brix moving in with Mark E. Smith, then? That major culture shock of an LA lass experiencing Prestwich, Greater Manchester?

“Ha! It wasn’t quite that … and I didn’t quite have Mark E. Smith’s lifestyle!”

I’m reminded of Brix’s tale, enquiring on her arrival where the milk was for a cuppa, Mark telling her it was kept outside on the window ledge.

“Well, we didn’t have a fridge until the mid-‘70s. I think the neighbours came round and had a look!”

These days there’s Dave Newton and the Mighty Angels. Is that you keeping your hand in, gig-wise?

“I haven’t done any gigs for a little bit, but because of my day job really. When we moved here, we got this house, and there’s a two-car garage out back. I didn’t have a job, but was always into the recording side, watching what the producers of the Lemon Drops were working with. I used to do my own demos at home, had a little 4-track. I was always intrigued by that and turned our garage into a recording studio, recording my mate’s band around 1997. That turned out all right, they released it, then told somebody else, and before I knew it, I ended up producing bands.

“That was 25 years ago, I was scraping a living doing that, and I’ve got to work with a few bands, mostly Los Angeles based, a couple of them picked up. Heavenly Recording picked up The Little Ones, and they did quite well in the UK, and also The Soft Pack. We both knew Jeff {Barrett} from the label when he was putting gigs on around ‘86.”

I loved Happy Head, liked the follow-up and its singles, but for whatever reason lost touch with the band from there. So I’ll be interested to go back to Laughter now, see what I make of it. It does seem clear though that you became bigger in America than in the UK. As if they ‘got you’ more.

“I think so. And by the time Laughter came out, the climate had changed so much – the dance culture element really kind of merged with the guitar and pop thing. It’s funny really – The Stone Roses would come to our gigs. I remember them being on the guestlist when we played the International in Manchester. There was an element of what they were doing that wasn’t really that different from what we were doing. But we never really embraced the dance culture element the way a lot of those bands did. And even C86 bands like The Soup Dragons did.”

A fair point. In fact, listening back to Happy Head before finishing this feature, I hear the influence they may have had on Inspiral Carpets. And like many bands of their era, they missed out on the adulation that would surely have been afforded them if they were around slightly later and seen as part of the Brit Pop phenomenon.

“You don’t know, that’s the way it is, but yeah, quite possibly. But I can’t complain. And in the US, we weren’t really linked in any particular scene but were kind of alongside – and Sire Records had bands like the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, The Smiths over here – bands we weren’t aligned with in the UK. We toured with Love and Rockets, who didn’t sound anything like us, and even Gene Loves Jezebel and Flesh for Lulu, all bands more popular in the States than in the UK.”

All in all, it was one hell of a ride, and something you can feel immensely proud of … and there are a lot more recordings we haven’t really talked about here.

“Yeah, we did an album called Sound, then did one more called Ricochet in the States, when we were given free rein to do what we wanted. I think that kind of stands up. I can listen to that. I can’t listen to Sound, to be honest. Laughter is a good album though. There’s some good stuff on there.”

The Mighty Lemon Drops: Inside Out – 1985-1990 is priced £27.99 and out on November 25th, with more details here.

The band also feature on the same label’s C85 triple-CD clamshell boxset, celebrating the burgeoning indie scene from 1985, also including tracks from The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Stone Roses, That Petrol Emotion, The Woodentops, James, Del Amitri, and The Housemartins, with details of that 72-track collection here.

With extra thanks to Matt Ingham at Cherry Red Records.

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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