Getting the run down on The Higsons, four decades on – the Terry Edwards interview

Among this weekend’s 2023 Record Store Day releases, I was intrigued to hear word of the vinyl release of a mini-album featuring two cult early ‘80s 12” singles by post-punk/funk pioneers The Higsons, celebrating their brief liaison with 2 Tone Records.

Run Me Down – The Complete 2 Tone Recordings is a 500-copy limited-edition black vinyl LP from Sartorial Records, its tracks originally released by Jerry Dammers’ label in 1982 and 1983, out of print for more than 30 years.

The Higsons fitted in with the label’s political nature and were integral to The Specials’ mastermind’s vision of having something other than ‘new wave of ska’ acts on the roster, this reissue arriving 40 years after the initial release of the ‘Run Me Down’ single.

What’s more, Higsons frontman/vocalist turned comedy writer/author Charlie Higson has designed a new cover under sleeve art pseudonym, René Parapap, having been responsible for all the band’s cover art bar the ‘Run Me Down’ sleeve, designed by Chrysalis Records’ art department.

The Higsons came together at the University of East Anglia, Norwich in 1980, releasing several singles before joining 2 Tone, their sole studio LP, The Curse of The Higsons, following in ‘84, the group disbanding two years later.

While Charlie Higson, aka Switch, went on to fame alongside Paul Whitehouse and co. in The Fast Show, my interviewee, brass player/guitarist/vocalist Terry Edwards became a much sought-after session musician, his many engagements these days including shows with Higsons drummer/vocalist Simon Charterton and Madness bass player Mark Bedford in The Near Jazz Experience. Did Terry ever think he’d see these early ‘80s 2 Tone releases reissued on vinyl?

“Ha! Well, everything seems to come around eventually!”

How did that Jerry Dammers link come about, something we perhaps wouldn’t associate with the label’s previous championing of ska.

“Well, he was aware of the band, and it came out around the time they did the More Specials album, I think. Lots of people just loved ‘I Don’t Want to Live with Monkeys’, our first single. It was one of those things that was a bit of a touchstone to a lot of people.

“Bizarrely, my connection with the Tindersticks is slightly through that. The singer {Stuart Staples}, five or six years younger, would have been mid-teens when he heard that, and absolutely loved it. And in later years he got in touch, wanting me to do something because of that record.”

That involved a one-off show at London’s Barbican Centre in 2006, the Nottingham indie outfit, formed in the early ‘90s, performing their second album in full, with a nine-strong string section and two brass players, including Terry on trumpet. And more recently, Terry teamed up with Tindersticks guitarist Neil Fraser for another project. But, back to Jerry and 2 Tone …

“The Specials were also aware of that first single, and on one of those Smash Hits things of what you were listening to, Terry Hall named it as one of his records, saying, ‘It makes me laugh.’ And with the band a bit hot at that moment, Jerry and a couple of guys from the band – not including me – were at some party in Bristol, started chatting … I believe alcohol was involved … and it came from there really – a face-to-face meeting and a chat over a few drinks.”

Was it just a single deal initially?

“Two singles and an album was the deal mooted, our manager holding out for more money for the album, so we made it a two-single deal, which in retrospect … maybe we should have done the album, but you know, hindsight, 20/20 …”

‘Tear the Whole Thing Down’ was the first 2 Tone release, in October ’82, their fifth single – after one on the Romans in Britain label and three on Waap! Records – followed by ‘Run Me Down’ in February ’83. And although I put the band’s take on ‘Music to Watch Girls By’ on more compilations back in the day, ‘Run Me Down’ was my favourite Higsons-penned song, although follow-up, ‘Push out the Boat’, back on Waap! that November, also made an impression on a lad just turned 16. More to the point, ‘Run Me Down’ was playing in my head when I woke up on the morning of this interview.

“It was rather annoying that it didn’t make the Radio One playlist. With Chrysalis and 2 Tone behind it, we thought, ‘Yeah, this is the one that’s gonna break us.’ It didn’t … but it did extremely well on import in New York. Ha! It was on New York University radio all the time, and a lot of college radio stations, and so forth. So it has a bit of a life in the American underground, in a way.

“We went to America three times in ’82, ’83, ’84, on an absolute shoestring, not having the money to do anything other than get from gig to gig, but we sort of had a bash at it. And that song was big for them.”

Was that on both coasts?

“The third visit went to the West coast, but the first two were just on the East coast, and we got to Minneapolis and Chicago. We didn’t do anything in the middle.”

Taking of New York, listening back to ‘Ylang Ylang’ on this LP, I hear a David Byrne / Talking Heads influence.

“Ah, yeah, well, Charlie’s on record saying we always strenuously denied we sounded anything like the Talking Heads … but always wanted to sound like the Talking Heads!”

Above all else though, I just remember what a great live band they were. I only got to see them once though, and not until 26th January 1986, on my old Guilford patch at the University of Surrey, age 18.

“That was our penultimate gig!”

I didn’t realise that, although I did wonder, seeing as you parted ways that March. So where was the finale?

“The University of Nottingham, although we got back together for one thing, the bass player’s birthday. Colin {Williams} was a mature student, six years older than me, and that was for his 50th in 2004. We got together for a party. He very smartly asked me last, so as everybody else said yes, I had to! I’d just come back from America, having done a few weeks in the theatre, for Tom Waits’ The Black Rider, so my head was very much somewhere else.”

Looking back to early ’86, I don’t recall any rock star petulance or dramatic walks off stage. Was it all pretty amicable when it ended, a natural ending?

“Erm … our popularity had waned. We were together five years, and it hadn’t happened for us, in all honesty. We’d done reasonably well as an independent band, but never broke through that glass ceiling. We still meet now and again, and I play with Simon in the Near Jazz Experience, so we see each other a hell of a lot. We all get on, but I certainly don’t want to do the band particularly, not through anything other than I’ve just got lots of other things on!”

He’s not wrong. There’s not enough space on the internet to walk you through his amazing CV, but I remember talking to his former Essex associate, David Callahan, of The Wolfhounds fame, about something he contributed to one of this records, as if surprised, David responding with a suggestion that there aren’t many records out there that Terry’s not featured on.


Am I right in recalling you go way back?

“We’re from the same neck of the woods. He’s from Romford, I’m from Hornchurch, spitting distance between the two towns. We’ve been aware of each other for some time. Different schools, but we were in various sort of school bands around the same time, knowing each other quite a while.”

In another parallel, I was talking to Martin Ling, from another early ‘80s Norwich scene outfit, Serious Drinking, and he also has Romford roots. And I believe you have mutual friends in Madness’ bass player Mark Bedford, also part of the Near Jazz Experience?

“Yes, in fact Mark was my best man last year. Ha!”

Mention of Serious Drinking (okay, I brought them up, but …) reminds me that both bands released their debut LPs on Upright Records. Mind you, I’m still miffed that I missed out on a triple-CD Cherry Red reissue of The Curse of The Higsons, having to make do with a 1999 CD version that replaced my original 1984 vinyl, one of many downsizing despatches after redundancy a decade or so ago. But that’s another story.

How important was legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel to the cause (he asks, knowing full well the answer)? I’ve heard from some quarters there wasn’t really a Norwich scene until he mentioned there was.

“Well, Colin heard him on the radio saying he lived in East Anglia and there didn’t seem to be any bands around there doing anything. So he wrote in and said, ‘We’re The Higsons, we’re supporting The Fall next week, if you want to come.’ Which was true. We’d just done our very first demo. He said he couldn’t come to that but he’d come to whatever the next one was, and we gave him a cassette of the five tracks we’d done to eight-track, one of which was ‘I Don’t Want to Live with Monkeys’. He gave us a session on the back of that, out just before two of its tracks came out on a local compilation album.”

That was Norwich: A Fine City. And what was your link to Norwich’s Backs Records and Waap! Records (which accounted for their other early singles)?

“Waap! was our imprint, but two older guys at the university decided to start a label called Romans in Britain. At the time, there was a big hoo-hah about full frontal nudity on stage in a play of that name. There was also a band called Screen Three involved. The label founders wanted the first release to be Nero 1, so that was the catalogue number for Norwich: A Fine City, with our first single Hig 2 … so I think people were looking around for Hig 1, and there never was one! Then they wanted Screen 3 for the third release. Yes, people with too much time on their hands who should have been studying at university!”

On The Curse of The Higsons’ credits, there’s also a mention for Pete Saunders, ex-Dexy’s Midnight Runners and at the time with Serious Drinking, someone else Terry’s worked with since, not least at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Talking of keyboard supremos, there’s also a mention of Frog from The Farmer’s Boys, which brings me on to a certain René Parapap, whose early sleeve artwork also included their first three singles. It never struck me back then that might be a pen name for Charlie ‘Switch’ Higson.

“Well, I think that was the point, wasn’t it, that you wouldn’t guess! Ha!”

Good point, well made. I love the cover he’s done for the re-release. And his artwork is very distinctive, something I also recall from early Farmer’s Boys singles ‘I Think I Need Help’, ‘Whatever Is He Like’, and ‘More Than a Dream’. Like my interviewee, it seems there’s no end to his talent, I suggested.

“Ha! We’ve obviously gone on slightly different career paths, but we’re grafters, really, and care a lot about what we do, we like doing it, we do it well. So we worked at it, and you don’t turn out a piece of artwork like that without throwing a few bits of paper away in the first place.

“Charlie’s always sort of been a doodler and a drawer … and a writer – that was his thing at university. His degree was in English, with a minor in film studies, I think, while mine happened to be in music. And I think we both really toiled at what we do, neither of us wanting to do anything else.”

Did you bond straight away at UEA?

“There were two years between us at university, so he was in his third year when I came in for my first, along with Simon and Colin. Charlie was that cool, slightly older bloke, far as I was concerned. In fact, everybody was cooler and older! Simon had just come off touring with Alex Harvey, at the age of 18. That’s what he’d done in his year between school and university. So I was slightly awed with him. Having been a professional drummer, he was much better than the drummers I’d ever played with.

“And Charlie was one of those people who … I always thought he knew what he wanted. He’d say, ‘I was really insecure at the time,’ but he had a good image and we met in the rehearsal studio, via Simon and possibly Colin, and just started playing together. It was the band that connected us.”

There’s a live photo of Terry on sax alongside Charlie on trumpet among the press information that came my way for this release. But don’t be fooled …

“He learned literally two notes to play along with songs! I showed him what fingers to put down. He was never a trumpet player, but we managed to get enough notes out of it to make a section when we were a five-piece.”

Did the others move on to day jobs after the band split?

“Yes and no. Colin’s background was that he played with an early incarnation of Wah! Heat. He’s from Liverpool, and we supported Wah! on two or three occasions through Colin.

“Stuart {McGeachin, guitar, vocals} was from Bristol and was playing there, and after The Higsons he started working in airline entertainment, putting together all the music and film stuff you would get when you’re sat in your airline seat.

“And Colin became a speech therapist, then helped children with severe autism. He’s retired now.”

How did scriptwriter and Charlie Higson associate Dave Cummings fit into all this?

“He was in the original band. We did three or four gigs before he left – again in his last year while we were in our first. He then moved to London to make fame and fortune with his band, Bonsai Forest, who had Paul Whitehouse playing guitar with them. He was in Charlie’s year, after which Charlie got Stuart involved in the band.”

Dave Cummings left in Summer 1980, his CV also including six years on guitar with Del Amitri (from 1989) and co-writing credits with Paul Whitehouse for early 2000s BBC sitcom Happiness and 2015’s Nurse, 2000 feature film, Kevin and Perry Go Large, and playing the role of the bass player in prog rock band Thotch in 2014’s The Life of Rock with Brian Pern.  

Dave’s place in the band was filled by Stuart that October, when the demo was recorded which found its way to John Peel in January 1981, including two Dave Cummings songs collectively written.

Of the many names Terry’s worked with, it’s a somewhat eclectic mix, including The Blockheads, The Creatures, Department S, Faust, Hot Chip, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lydia Lunch, Madness, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Robyn Hitchcock, Snuff, and Spiritualised. I half-heartedly ask for his personal highlights, but he wriggles off the hook.

“You take different stuff from experiences, and as a session musician you have to be fairly pliable. What I like about what I do is that people get in touch now because they want Terry Edwards. They don’t want a trumpet or sax player. If you want somebody who’s plays real high Cuban trumpet, you don’t phone me. Robyn Hitchcock was asked by someone, ‘Why did you think you needed a trumpet on such and such a song?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t think I needed a trumpet. I thought I wanted some Terry on it!’ I thought that was really nice.

“So I’m kind of avoiding your question, but I think you learn a lot from playing with other people, because no two people write songs the same way. When you go in and think you understand how something’s going to go, you learn from that, then take that away. Thankfully, I’ve never really had to do something I absolutely detested. But even if it’s music I wouldn’t necessarily listen to, you learn from that experience, how people write those songs. You go against your better judgement.

“Sometimes a song needs that specific style of sax playing, so you do it, then you go, ‘Oh, I understand that now.’ On the same subject, I’ve played with {US pianist and long-time David Bowie collaborator} Mike Garson a few times, via this producer, Tom Wilcox, who gets very interesting things together.

“He was doing one of those Bowie alumni things, I said, ‘I’m gonna come and see you in Manchester,’ and he said, ‘Oh, bring your saxophones.’ He sent me the set-list and said, ‘Why don’t you play on ‘Young Americans’, which I’d never learned to play. You think you know a song because you’ve heard it a million times, then actually having to learn it, you realise how it’s put together, and in fact, it’s got quite a limited number of notes on it.

“You think it’s David Sanborn and he’s all over the saxophone, but he’s really strictly in a six or seven note scale, with no notes outside that. And it’s a discipline that really makes you think about your instrument.

“That was early 2020, just before the shutters came down. So we’re talking quite late in my life to have discovered something. And the absolute beauty of it is that you don’t know everything!”

That was for the Holy Holy project, yes?

“Yeah, there were some shows on a tour that Steve Norman couldn’t do. And funnily enough, Steve and I come from similar backgrounds in the way that we were originally guitarists. There wasn’t really a place for a second guitarist in Spandau Ballet after the initial singles, so he learned the saxophone.”

You mentioned Robyn Hitchcock, and I believe there’s a tribute song of sorts, ‘Listening to the Higsons’.

“Yes, that was my introduction to Robin. I’d never heard The Soft Boys. Somebody said, ‘You know someone’s written a song about you?’ Then I got to know him. We were introduced – Simon and I – backstage at the Town and Country Club in London (now The Forum) by our soundman, who was the house soundman there. And I played with him just a few weeks ago at Alexandra Palace.”

Meanwhile, mght there be a live launch for this Higsons re-release?

“Erm … we’re just hoping that the good people of the world will just buy the 500 that we’ve pressed. Ha!”

Do you think there will ever be a moment when you all step back onto a stage at the same time?

“And for the same reason? Ha! Erm, there are no plans. Things certainly have their time. I didn’t get a ticket to go and see Led Zeppelin when they did their one reformed gig at the O2, but I’d love to see them. But by the same token, I wouldn’t want to do that with my own band … although that’s a bit two-faced.

“I think Charlie feels the same way. I remember him saying, ‘I want to grow old with a bit of dignity.’ I was a bit affronted by that, thinking, ‘Well, actually, I’m still doing this,’ and this was the same week he was on The Chase Celebrity Special. He’s standing there, next to Basil fucking Brush, and there’s a man who wants some dignity! Ha! I have pulled his leg about that!”

I like to think that – like The Beatles in Help! – The Higsons, The Farmer’s Boys and Serious Drinking went through separate front doors of band abodes in a terrace of houses in Norwich back in the day, yet it would all be one room on the inside, maybe with Popular Voice (and possibly Screen Three) coming round for a cuppa now and again. Tell me that’s actually true.

“I don’t think the house would have remained standing for very long with all those bands in!”

Did you live with any other Higsons at the time?

“Stuart and Charlie for a short time.”

Were they good housemates?

“It was just the way the university turned people out, really. You had to find somewhere to live, Charlie had a place, Stuart was already in, and a room came up for me. I took that for the best part of a year, I suppose.”

In the Discogs’ listing for The Higsons’ early 1982 Live at the Jacquard Club performance – included on the Cherry Red reissue of The Curse of The Higsons – one comment reads, ‘The energy in this life performance could be distilled and replicated to replace fossil fuels and address the climate crisis. Waap!” That seems a perfect tribute for the band I recall four years later.

“I think that’s actually one of the things we could never really get on record – what the live band was like. I think the same’s true of Gallon Drunk. What a phenomenal band. I thought Gallon Drunk was gonna be absolutely huge. I don’t think the records ever really … but can you actually do that?”

Terry joined Gallon Drunk in 1993, staying onboard for three albums. Had he completed his degree at UEA?

“I did get a degree in music, yes! I think only Stuart didn’t.”

Going right back, were there musicians in the Edwards family?

“Certainly on my mum’s side. She was an infants’ schoolteacher, the one playing the piano at assemblies. Her sister was a piano teacher and taught me piano, and their mum played piano and their dad played violin.”

That was in Hornchurch, with Terry’s maternal grandfather from Ipswich and maternal grandmother from Hammersmith, with links to Romford and East Ham on the Edwards side, and a Welsh link way back. Was there always a love of brass for you?

“Chronologically, saxophone is very late in the instruments I played. I started off on piano at the age of five, purely because I broke my leg and couldn’t go out running after a ball, and mum’s piano was there in the house.

“Then at senior school, a trumpet was available. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it wasn’t the violin, which my brother played, and a boy who sat next to me in class played trumpet, so I kind of fell into that. I really just wanted to be a pop star. I got a guitar when I was 13, wanting to play pop and then Beatles songs, then discovering Jimi Hendrix, and so on and so forth.

“I just kept plugging away at that, then I got a sax for my 18th birthday, because I really liked The Blockheads, and Davey Payne’s playing, and an amazing R&B saxophone, Earl Bostic. But I don’t come from a jazz background at all – hence the Near Jazz Experience, playing rock music but on jazz instruments.”

There can be a bit of snobbery in that world.

“Oh, not ‘alf, yeah! And because of it you get a bit frightened … until you actually listen to things. The best thing you can do is follow your ears, rather than a trend or your eyes. Follow your ears … although it gets you in a very funny place! Ha!”

There’s no denying you’ve worked hard at this, a love of music the common thread.

“Yeah, and it is largely for the love of it, you know, rather than a way to make money. Ha! I think you have to love doing these things, first and foremost, because you don’t become an overnight sensation overnight!”

As for the Record Store Day release, I look forward to physically seeing this new release.

“Yeah, it’s nice to have those songs all in one place, and it makes sense to have them on two sides. It sounds a bit funny when you hear all six without turning a record over. It makes sense, because the A-side is the A and B of ‘Tear the Whole Thing Down’, followed by the full {12” of) ‘Run Me Down’, then you turn the record over and get the A and B of the second single, then the instrumental. A lot of thought went into that. Ha!”

Maybe I should press pause and step out of the room between them when listening to the digital version.

“Yeah, go and have a cup of tea in between. It’ll make more sense!”

The Higsons’ Run Me Down – The Complete 2 Tone Recordings is out today (Saturday, April 22nd) on Sartorial Records as a limited-edition LP, to mark Record Store Day. For more details, head to The Higsons’ Facebook page. You can also check out a Rough Trade Records link here, and The Higsons’ Bandcamp page.


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 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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2 Responses to Getting the run down on The Higsons, four decades on – the Terry Edwards interview

  1. Diane Ofili says:

    Interesting read

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