Whole lotta Sweet’n’Sour shakin’ goin’ on – Baby Shakes talk transatlantic special relationships with The Undertones

Shakin’ Foundations: Baby Shakes, 2020 style. From NYC with plenty of glam-rock love (Photo: Alexander Thompson)

There was always a healthy relationship between the NYC and UK punk and new wave scenes, each movement inspiring the other, from the inspirational effect of the New York Dolls and Ramones on the Sex Pistols and The Clash onwards, back to Blondie and Talking Heads, and right through.

And it seems that this transatlantic influence continues, judging by the latest 45 from happening New York outfit Baby Shakes. But how did this young outfit end up recording with two members of Northern Irish legends The Undertones? Well, you’re about to find out.

Similarly, the Derry outfit always acknowledged their US influences, from the MC5 and Motown to the US psych and garage scene, and like Baby Shakes there was also a nod to the glam-rock era, both bands citing a love for treasured outfits like Slade, Sweet and T-Rex.

Baby Shakes, founded in 2005 by Mary Blount (lead vocals, guitar), Judy Lindsay (lead guitar, vocals) and Claudia Gonzalez (bass, vocals), and joined in 2015 by Ryan McHale (replacing original drummer Dave Rahn), covered The Undertones early doors, tackling 1979 single ‘Get Over You’ live, and their latest single includes their take on that great 45’s treasured B-side, drummer Billy Doherty’s ‘Really Really’ on the flip of a more recent happening number by Undertones guitarist Damian O’Neill, a glam-tinged twist on 2018 solo LP stormer, ‘Sweet’n’Sour’.

It was during the gap between lockdowns that the girls made their Atlantic crossing to Northern Ireland to record vocals and breathe added life into those two numbers, Billy (drums/percussion), Damian (guitar, bass, organ) and Billy’s nephew Stephen Mailey (guitar) initially putting down backing tracks at Small Town America Studio, Derry.

Considering themselves a rock’n’roll/punk band and touring fairly relentlessly since February 2005, taking in the US, UK and Ireland, mainland Europe, China and Japan, attracting new fans wherever they play, Baby Shakes already a few LPs and several singles behind them, and recently sold out London’s legendary 100 Club as part of a set of dates sadly cancelled due to the pandemic.

Boasting ‘catchy melodic vocals over dirty guitars and a killer rhythm section’, they say their influences range from Chuck Berry to the afore-mentioned Slade, having shared stages with Buzzcocks, The Boys, Iggy Pop, and The Barracudas, among others, en route, including The Undertones.

They formed out of a series of encounters at legendary venues such as CBGBs and the Mars Bar, bonding over a love for the Ramones and The Go-Go’s, The Nerves, early Bangles and Motown girl groups, and were soon carving out their own sound, ‘riffing on sizzling guitars and melodic tunes, wrapped up in a Brooklyn sheen’.

According to the indie label behind their new release, the latest Baby Shakes single is the first of two for Dimple Discs. But let’s cut to the chase and ask them direct. And while regular readers know I’m not one for Q&A style interviews, preferring to get to the heart of things with a phone call or one-to-one (or in this case one-to-four) scribbler-to-artiste meetings, I succumbed to COVID-19 last week and was left with severely low energy levels, so – dreading lots of  transcription, post-NYC phone call, might finish me off – I fired off some questions their way, hence the answers being attributed to ‘Baby Shakes’ rather than any one individual band member. So here goes, and they did a cracking job, as I kind of expected.

As I’ve pointed out in my intro, there’s always been that healthy reciprocal relationship between NYC punk and new wave and the UK scene. But how did you chance upon The Undertones’ back-catalogue? You’re way too young, surely. Who introduced you to Derry’s finest?

“We like to think music is timeless, and so are great bands! No one’s too young to appreciate Mozart or punk. In all honesty though, our taste in music is pretty much influenced by people from different generations; a grandfather who loved Elvis, parents and siblings who were into ‘80s new wave, uncles that loved The Beatles or Black Sabbath, and older ‘cool kids’ at school that made us DIY punk mix-tapes. Can’t remember exactly how we came across The Undertones, but it was probably at the point we discovered Sex Pistols and the Ramones, in our ‘tween years. Those two bands changed everything for us, we got hooked and went digging through the used rock bins at the local record shops for ‘77 punk, and pretty much got our history lesson from there.”

The UK scene took a nod from earlier disreputable acts like the MC5 too, and The Undertones often cite the importance of the late ‘60s US psych/garage scene, not least Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era compilation. Was that something you were aware of?

“Absolutely, we’re big fans of MC5 and the whole Detroit rock scene … especially Suzi Quatro and her first band the Pleasure Seekers! We know Damian is a big Stooges fan as well, and have that in common with him.

“As for US psych/garage, we like The Music Machine, The Seeds, Love, 13th Floor Elevators (R.I.P. Roky) The Merry-Go-Round (R.I.P. Emitt), ? and the Mysterians (we actually got to play with them once), the Sonics, and of course The Byrds, the album Pet Sounds (but all Beach Boys as well), and Flamin’ Groovies are like our Rolling Stones. We actually first discovered The Chocolate Watchband because of The Undertones’ version of ‘Let’s Talk About Girls’. Great band, and The Undertones do a fantastic cover.

“And here’s a fun fact – the Japanese sleeve for the new single was in homage to The Choir’s ‘It’s Cold Outside’ original Japanese 45. The artist, Von Sentimental, was inspired by this cover art and decided to put a modern punky twist on it.”

It’s not just about punk and new wave, early rock’n’roll and ‘60s Motown either. Like The Undertones, I see you have a penchant for glam-rock and treasured UK outfits like Slade, T-Rex and Sweet.

“Yep, we’re glam-rock fanatics! The plan was to do a record with that crunchy boot-stompin’ ‘70s glitter sound. Billy and Damian played the part of Chinn and Chapman! Think we made something together that would’ve been a great fit on RAK Records in the day.”

Still Shooting: Baby Shakes shoot the video for the new 45, a first with Undertones’ Billy Doherty and Damian O’Neill

How did you get to know each other in the band? Were you school or college friends, or edgy neighbours?

“Judy and Claudia met at a punk show at CBGB’s when they were teenagers. They both had studded jackets, pink/blue hair and collected UK ‘82 and ‘77 punk singles, so it made sense they’d become good friends. They used to jam out to Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers songs together in their living rooms. A friend of ours, the artist Avi Spivak, knew we were looking for bandmates, so when Mary moved to New York from Seattle, he introduced us at his DJ night. We all got along so well, and when we heard Mary sing, we knew it was the perfect style for the kind of music we all wanted to play. And she played guitar too! As for Ryan … we’ve had many drummers in the past, but he was definitely the missing puzzle piece. We met him through mutual friends when we needed a drummer for a show.”

What did the first set include? And were you already Baby Shakes by then?

“That first set included our rendition of ‘Get Over You’, along with a couple of our own original tracks we’d been working on for a few weeks before we booked our first gig. We also did a cover by the British all-girl band The Gymslips, The Boys, and would always jam out on a couple of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers tunes at practice, so sometimes those made it into our sets.”

How important was the NYC club scene for honing your skills – was that your apprenticeship of sorts?

“It was incredibly important, because the NYC punk/rock’n’roll scene is all about showing your chops. We needed to prove we could stand up there with everyone else and give it all we’ve got. If you’re just a cover band you automatically get dismissed, but being a DIY-band that writes your own music and plays well earns respect on the scene. Think we managed to surprise a few people that didn’t know what to expect from us, and to inspire some girls to start their own bands along the way, which is a pretty rewarding feeling for us.”

Tell us more about how you ended up meeting then getting to know The Undertones.

“The year we started Baby Shakes we recorded a cover of ‘Get Over You’ on our demo. It was the first cover we ever recorded and somehow the promoter of the show heard it and asked us to support them in Brooklyn. It was a dream come true. We were just starting to play out live, so we were nervous about playing in front of them. Judy recalls her fingers turning into spaghetti when she saw Damian O’Neill watch us during the soundcheck!

Turning Japanese: The alternative cover of the new 45

“But they were all such nice guys! They complimented us on the show, signed our records and took photos with us. We got to chatting backstage and it was such an inspiring experience for us, and to this day they’re still one of our biggest influences. We still cover their songs live and we paid homage to them on our second album, Starry Eyes. Our insert is a replica of the inner sleeve of Hypnotised and has photos of us meeting them. So, I guess you can say we really look up to them!”

Was getting to work with Billy and Damian a logical next career step, bearing in mind their influence on you? And what were your first impressions on meeting The Undertones when you toured together early on? 

“Since day one, the ‘Tones have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. They’re all super-sweet, really funny and very down to earth. Although we’ve been nervous about supporting them and recording together at first, we all get along so well, and it’s always been such a good time in their company. When we got to chatting, we realised we had a lot in common as far as taste in music and a similar sense of humour. We were literally in tears laughing at their jokes some nights in the studio and on the phone! Billy’s nephew Stephen is rad too, he played second guitar on the tracks and we had a blast with him out in Derry. It was just such a fun experience, like no other recording session we’ve ever had.”

You clearly knew their back-catalogue. But how about Damian’s solo record? And what did you think when you were offered the wonderful ‘Sweet’n’Sour’, a song you somehow made your own (as is the case with the wondrous ‘Really Really’)?

“Yes! We thought the songs were so catchy, and absolutely love them! Damian and Billy are brilliant songwriters and producers. This was our first time doing anything like this and we thought the tunes were a perfect fit for our band.

“When we heard the demos of the songs Damian wrote, we instantly loved them! They’re so catchy and fun, and we had the tunes stuck in our heads for days. He’s a brilliant songwriter. Damian and Stephen both did a great job at writing some catchy guitar licks to match it. We were honoured that they trusted us to put our own Baby Shakes spin on them vocally. The music matches our sound so well.

“And Billy’s tune ‘Really Really’ has always been one of our favourite Undertones songs, so it made sense as a cover since it was originally the B-side to ‘Get Over You’, the song we covered at the start of our band that initially linked us up and wound up bringing us all back together years later. It’s almost like things came full circle. We had fun reimaging this song as a modern take on a 60’s girl group tune, Billy being the Phil Spector-esque force behind it.”

It sounds like you were well looked after on your visit to Derry.

“They gave us the grand tour, which was amazing. Being able to see where it all started and getting a history lesson from our muses on the streets where it all began was incredible. We really nerded out, and of course people kept recognising them on the street. Everyone is so nice in Derry!”

“When Billy asked if we wanted to make a record together, of course we said, ‘YES!’ We were thrilled they’d want to work on music with us. It sounded unreal, but the next thing we knew we were on a plane to Derry to record vocals for four explosive tracks that Billy, Damian and Billy’s nephew Stephen played music for. They gave us that personal tour of Derry and we really got to understand how The Undertones grew up and what things were like when they were starting the band.

“It was such an incredible experience for us, we learned so much from them and it was really encouraging to have their guidance in the studio. We’ve never had a producer on any of our previously recorded material, so this was a new challenge, but they really pushed us and we had so much fun with them. We felt so comfortable being ourselves around them. They really got us, we were totally on the same page as far as the sound we wanted and it’s as though we had all known each other and had been working together for years. Overall, it was such a magical experience.”

How would you describe Baby Shakes 2020, as opposed to the initial 2005 version? What have you learned these past 15 years that you wished you’d known at the beginning?

“That anything you want to achieve takes a lot of persistence and hard work. Sometimes people call us lucky, but luck has nothing to do with it. From the day we started we’ve sacrificed a lot and worked really hard for many years just to be in a touring band. Also, you have to be thick-skinned and know how to take criticism and rejection well. Not everyone is going to agree with you or like what you’re doing, but that doesn’t matter as long as you’re passionate about your work and have fun in the process. We’ve gotten really good at working together and learning how to compromise with each other. It’s how we’ve been a band for so long. There are no egos, no laziness and we all do our part, so it’s been an amazingly fun journey as a band family.”

Was it a thrill to first get over here and play the UK?  

“We’ve been wanting to play the UK for so long, so we were thrilled when we first got offered shows there a few years ago. Playing a headline show at the legendary 100 Club in London was a dream come true! We had another gig booked there right before the lockdown, and we can’t wait to be able to go back as soon as it’s safe.”

It’s Billy on drums on this single, but Ryan’s still involved, right? And has social distancing and the pandemic disrupted your rehearsals?

“Oh yeah, Ryan is still stuck with us – ha ha! He hasn’t gotten rid of us yet! We all chat every day, but after the first two months of the pandemic we had to give up our rehearsal studio, unfortunately. We’re trying to get a rehearsal in soon at an hourly space, because they’ve just reopened recently, and we really miss playing together and seeing each other.”

First Footing: The debut LP, 2008’s The First One

These have clearly been testing times with Covid-19 and the orange bigot in charge amidst this crisis. Have there been day-jobs to help you get by?

“Well… it’s been difficult. Since New York is such an expensive city and we were used to having such a busy tour schedule, we were pretty much all working as much as we could, pre-pandemic. We worked overtime in between tours and took extra jobs to afford the rent, because we were taking off weeks at a time for touring every couple of months. During the pandemic some of us have been going to work full-time and the other half have been unemployed or under-employed. Some of our places of business have closed indefinitely and freelance work is skimpy. It’s kind of a huge mess and we’re really hoping things can progress, and we can start recovering … with better leadership by 2021. Besides our trip to Derry and recording the EP, this year has been a huge disappointment. But we’ve still got our chins held high, and we’re doing what we can. It’s so exciting to have a release in 2020, so at least there’s that!”

And while I’m on (bear in mind I asked these questions more than a week ago), have you all voted yet?

“Definitely! We all turned in our ballots early this year. The big day is coming up soon and we’re hoping for the best, it just has to be better!”

Quite right too, and I’m putting finishing touches to this interview the day after it was finally offically declared that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were on their way to the White House, for what promises to be a happy ending to what until now has been a frankly awful year. Meanwhile, from homegrown tours and UK and European jaunts to trips to South-East Asia, it’s been a hell of a blast since 2005 for Baby Shakes, hasn’t it?

“It’s been a dream come true, and we’re very fortunate to be rewarded for all our hard work! Can’t wait to continue travelling, playing and doing what we love again, one day soon!”

So what happens next? Are there plans for another ‘Babytones’ collaboration? And is there a new Baby Shakes LP on the horizon (even if touring it might not be so easy in the circumstances)?

“We’ve been writing some new tunes while we’ve been cooped up inside during the lockdown, and our goal is to have a new Baby Shakes LP written and hopefully recorded when we come out of this pandemic. We also have the second single of the EP that we recorded with the ‘Babytones’ on the way to be released by the lovely folks at Dimple Discs. And you can bet that it’s just as fantastic and catchy as the first one!”

So, there you have it … but I couldn’t just end it there. The following answers came via good friend of this website, Brian ‘No Relation’ O’Neill, on behalf of the Dimple Discs label, grilling Undertones legends Billy Doherty and Damian O’Neill on the BabyTones project, first asking what they make of their NYC buddies.

Billy: “What do I think of Baby Shakes? They are sensationally glam-tastic; my pop rockin’ chums who make you feel good all over.”

Classic Single: The Undertones’ Get Over You, c/w Really Really, a huge influence on Baby Shakes

Damian: “It’s obvious that Baby Shakes live can shake any joint to its very core. They have a pop sensibility and general enthusiasm that could win over the most hardened critics. But it wasn’t until working with them that we discovered a steely determination that they were gonna nail these songs, no matter what. They really worked hard to get it right, and their humour and enthusiasm made it one of the most fun sessions we’ve ever done.”

So how long has this transatlantic ‘special relationship’ and hands across the water affair been going on?

Billy: “I first met Baby Shakes when they supported The Undertones in 2005 at the Southpaw in Brooklyn, and was instantly drawn to them when they made their entrance at our soundcheck. After those initial awkward acquaintance protocol procedures, I was surprised how much we seemed to have in common, especially as it takes ages for me to get to know someone. I instinctively knew they were very special and refreshingly different.

“Actually, one of my all-time favourite memories was playing drums for them that night, when they covered ‘Get Over You’, which they played at a blistering speed … and boy, can they play! I watched their show and was captivated by their energy and genuine commitment. After the show we all met backstage and talked songs and bands, and especially how we all loved the glam-rock era. My administration was going by the second and I just couldn’t stop myself, so I popped the question, ‘Do you fancy making a record?’ ‘Yes!’ they shouted, jumping about in excitement and delight. What a precious moment that was. So we made plans to get a blockbusting tune for them, and thanks to young Damian O’Neill, he penned a golden nugget with ‘Sweet’n’Sour’. Damian, myself and Stephen Mailey, my nephew, recorded the backing tracks in Derry early in 2020. We then arranged to bring them over from New York to record the vocals.”

Damian: “We’ve been fans of the Baby Shakes ever since that Southpaw show. They then supported us again in New York at Le Poisson Rouge in May 2019. What made it extra special was Billy joining them on drums for ‘Get Over You’. Watching them nail the song together was the closest I’ve ever got to hearing what The Undertones would sound like from afar, only with youth and beauty added to the mix! In short, it was wonderful. This prompted Billy to suggest we explore a ‘Baby Tones’ collaboration that would incorporate our mutual musical influences, like ‘70’s glam and pop. We would provide the backing tracks and Baby Shakes the vocals.”

And what did you think of the new versions of your tunes?

Billy: “I really, really love the new Baby Shakes version of ‘Really Really’. Working with them, Damian and Stephen was such a tonic. It was so wonderful, enjoyable and refreshing to be intoxicated with everyone’s enthusiasm. Yes, for me it was truly magical, and I can’t wait to do it again.”

Damian: “I’d like to think ‘Sweet’n’Sour’ and ‘Really Really’ neatly merge Derry poptones with New York sassy attitude. There’s an infectious new freshness and enthusiasm oozing from the grooves.  The entire recording process was a total delight, and that’s obvious when you put the needle on the record for the first time. Billy and Stephen improve ‘Sweet’n’Sour’ by making it more immediate and snappy, especially in the chorus. Stephen’s guitar lifts the song to new heights, backed with Billy’s glam-a-lam floor-tom tribal beat. And not forgetting the girls’ wonderful vocals, which add a toughness that was missing from the original.

“A firm favourite among Undertones fans, ‘Really Really’ finally gets the pop stardust treatment it’s always deserved. It was as if Billy had written the song back in ‘78 with Baby Shakes in mind. Just a pity it’s taken 42 years to finally do it justice! And The Shangri-Las-esque talk over at the end of the song kills me every time I hear it, especially when the girls sing in the closing bars.”

Baby Love: New York City punk-rock’n’rollers Baby Shakes made it over to Derry in 2020 (Photo: Nathan Frohnhoefer)

‘Sweet‘n’Sour’/‘Really Really’ is available on limited-edition 7” vinyl and via various music streaming platforms as a digital download, with details from the Baby Shakes website or at https://dimpledisc.bandcamp.com/music. And to keep a handle on Baby Shakes, you can follow the band via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, including links to the new single’s promo video.

For this site’s most recent interviews with Damian O’Neill (May 2019) and Billy Doherty (October 2016), follow the links. And if you’ve yet to track down Damian O’Neill and the Monotones’ 2018 LP, Refit, Revise, Reprise (with a WriteWyattUK review here), check out his official website and Facebook page. You can also see what else is on offer via Dimple Discs, their roster including fellow WriteWyattUK favourite Eileen Gogan, via Facebook and Instagram.

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Evoking the spirit of early Uriah Heep – a tribute to Ken Hensley

So many times I’ll put a record on and be transported back to specific times and places, that ability and chance to reflect involving many a genre, many a style of music, many an evocative memory. And while there was no real turning around for this Guildford lad once I moved from a diet of The Beatles, ELO, Queen, Slade and Wings towards punk, new wave and post-punk in my formative years, my appreciation of music occasionally drifted back into various unexpected areas.

A ‘60s and ‘70s soul fixation was coming, via Motown and Stax to Hi, Kent, and Philadelphia International. But old school hippie rock and psychedelia hovered in the background, and if I hear hairy-arse prog classics like Uriah Heep’s Look at Yourself and The Magician’s Birthday albums, I’m back to holiday, lunchtime and after-school visits to my friend Neil, aka Burger, in the attic of a four-storey house on The Mount, a stone’s throw (OK, a bloody long stone’s throw, I admit) from Lewis Carroll’s final resting place, for music I still equate with the mystical world the Rev. Dodgson inhabited during his own late 19th century visits to my hometown, the first a century before I was born.

With hindsight, I can’t imagine Uriah Heep ever took themselves too seriously, but they certainly played their mystical brand of heavy rock with straight faces, and within a couple of years of my late discovery of these innovative blues-driven, prototype metal-meets-prog Londoners, This Is Spinal Tap landed, and I couldn’t help but see a few similarities. And believe me, I did my homework in studies of the ‘Eep, my host always keen to put them on as we embarked upon another frame of pool in Burger’s attic (there’s a perfect title for a UH LP if ever there was one), matches I was more often than not soundly beaten in, despite occasional sly practises at The Queen Vic back in Shalford, run by fellow visitor James’ folks’ (where coincidentally, Neil served as landlord a few years later). Whatever time of day I dropped by, out came the vinyl, often initially with a groan from this teen, too cool – at least in my own head – for such heavy hippie fare. But those records made an impact, even if I never willingly admitted it back then.

Picture the scene. It’s 1983, I’m 15, it’s the Easter school holidays, and while principal songwriter Ken Hensley – who died this week after a short illness, aged 75 – had left the band three years earlier after 13 LPs, those classic early Uriah Heep records were still getting plenty of traction at No.52.

I’ll digress for a moment to a conversation around then with my old man, who swapped working as a Guildford-based loco fireman on the steam railways for the GPO in 1961, his following 30-plus years as a postie including a spell delivering to The Mount. Telling him one day I was off to a mate’s house there, he enquired, ‘What’s his name?’ and I guardedly replied, ‘Erm … Neil.’ A trademark gruff response followed. ‘Kneel down and …. (I’ll leave that bit out)? I meant, what’s his surname?’ The penny dropped. ‘Oh … Underwood,’ wondering what was coming next. He hesitated half a second, the old grey matter whirring, then announced, “D.J.,52.” And he never seemed to forget those details, even when dementia kicked in many moons later.

I loved growing up where I did, my home village a couple of miles out of town, a council house just a bankside path away from the idyllic River Tillingbourne, with woodland to explore either side of the stream. I saw it as the Beverly Hills of council estates compared to most in the area, and that wonderland over the back fence is a place I often return to in dreams – day and night – to re-live those ‘Tales from the Riverbank’ fellow Surrey lad Paul Weller wrote about, ‘where we ran when we were young’. As with my Woking neighbour, ‘True, it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia, but it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to, that I’ll always run to.’ Yet despite that rural idyll, I also felt I was missing out when I considered that a few mates were so close to one another in town, with Neil barely a 10-minute walk from our secondary school, while for me that journey involved five-mile round-trip bike, bus or train rides.

Neil’s place was an open house back then, and a few of us were regular callers. Even the milkman would walk in, see what was needed by opening the fridge, replenishing it accordingly. ‘I think you might have a burglar,’ I said once, my ears straining, hearing an intruder downstairs. ‘Nah, that’ll be the milkman,’ my host replied, matter of fact, a grin on his face, ‘Checking what we need.’

Anyway, back in the attic, the needle was lowered on to the vinyl, another of Burger’s inherited LPs from his older sister, long since moved out, although her posters of local prog outfit Camel still adorned the wall. Neil’s white soul-boy brother was probably downstairs playing Level 42, his favourites cracking the top-30 earlier that year for the first time, Neil memorably telling us how his brother’s pals left the bar at Guildford Civic Hall in a conga when they played their biggest hit so far.

‘The Chinese way; Who knows what they know; The Chinese legend grows.’

Some days it was Led Zeppelin blasting out of the top window, and again it was initially under sufferance from my point of view, put off by the over-played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and unmoved and distrusting of those mega drum solos like on ‘Moby Dick’. But I was soon seduced by old school heavy barnstormers like ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘The Lemon Song’. I was already a fan of much of 1979’s In Through the Out Door, lured in by Nicky Horne on Capital Radio, and tracks like 1975’s ‘Kashmir’, but here I grew to re-evaluate the band’s earlier dirty blues moments, getting past the unappealing hair and the rock posturing.

On this occasion though, we were back in the time machine to late 1971, listening to an album released within a few weeks of Neil and I’s fourth birthdays, frenetic title track ‘Look at Yourself’ setting the tone, the harmonies of melodic rocker Wanna Be Free’ up next, teeing up side one’s atmospheric climax, introduced by Hensley’s three-deck keyboard, Neil rocking back and forth on an imaginary tottering stool, figurative long hair blowing in the breeze. Then came Mick Box’s searing guitar, Burger providing facial expressions to match, and his take on Paul Newton’s lines, playing that pool cue as an imaginary bass. And there to our imaginary right was Iain Clark on drums, lead singer David Byron at his side, waiting for his moment to step forward, the look of the fox about him, not unlike Vivian Stanshall doing the sublime ‘The Canyons of Your Mind’ with The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, glancing skywards before setting the scene,

There I was on a July morning; looking for love; With the strength of a new day dawning, and the beautiful sun.’  

I only learned this week that Manfred Mann adds Moog synth on that track and ‘Tears in My Eyes’, the song that announces side two, another powerhouse slice of vinyl that takes us through – via the progtastic ‘Shadows of Grief’ and more reflective ‘What Should Be Done’ – to the dirty blues finale that is ‘Love Machine’. Hell, the album cover even featured a mirror so you could, erm … well, look at yourself, kids.

But it’s ‘July Morning’ that resonated most with me, and still does to this day, an epic on a par with that aforementioned Led Zeppelin IV  biggie and Deep Purple’s ‘Child in Time’, if maybe not so lauded in wider circles. They don’t write ’em like that anymore. To quote my Aussie friend Bruce Jenkins’ May 2015 Uriah Heep appreciation for his Vinyl Connection website (linked below), ‘Then comes ‘July Morning’, centrepiece of this album and a stage favourite for years and years. Hensley’s organ features with rich reedy chords and simple but effective melodic lines; the extended final section where the keyboards extemporise over a repetitive guitar riff is organ/synth heaven – the US version cover notes by Hensley reveal that the synthesiser is played by guest Manfred Mann.’

Well, we already knew that last part, didn’t we, readers (* winks to camera). As for the commercial success of that LP, it just about made the UK top-40, their first to do so, but reached the summit in Finland and made it to No.5 in Japan a year later, its title track reaching No.4 in the Swiss singles charts. Not sure what all that proves, but they were on their way, soon filling arenas, selling millions of LPs, sharing bills with Rush – the latest subject of a ‘fanthology’ from author friend of WriteWyattUK, Richard Houghton, Uriah Heep opening for the Canadian outfit on their first US tour – as well as Kiss, Three Dog Night, and even Rory Gallagher.

Of that third LP line-up, the big league closing in, founding members Newton and Clark – perhaps marginalised by that core of Hensley, Box and Byron – soon departed. Clark’s replacement Lee Kerslake arrived in time for 1972’s Demons and Wizards, and arguably made the biggest impact of the new personnel. He died just a couple of months ago, having gone on to work with Ozzy Osbourne in the early ‘80s. As for Byron, real name David Garrick, him of that distinctive operatic lead vocal, he died aged just 38 in 1985, while one of Paul Newton’s replacements, New Zealander Gary Thain, who initially shared bass duties with Mark Clarke, checked out at just 27 in 1975 after his own troubled series of events.

As it was, Byron, Box, Hensley and Kerslake remained at the band’s core until 1976’s High and Mighty, when the original vocalist was fired amid his on-going battle with the booze. Of the four personnel who played on the first three albums, there’s just Mick Box and Paul Newton left now, in their early 70s and quick to pass on respects to their old bandmate and Uriah Heep’s initial chief songwriter this week. And I too salute Kenneth William David Hensley (August 24th, 1945 – November 4th, 2020) here – paying tribute to a gifted multi-instrumentalist and composer with a passion for poetry and fantasy, who realised his ambition to make it in a band, recently reflecting on that period of his life with the classic line-up of Uriah Heep – talking to Eamon O’Neill at Eon Music – as something that ‘was all like a mad dream’.

At the sound of the first bird singing, I was leaving for home; With the storm and the night behind me, and the road of my own.”

Apparently, Ken  Hensley sketched out ‘July Morning’ on his guitar in the early hours while bored waiting for the headliners to finish so the two bands could leave on their shared tour bus, ‘in the North of England somewhere’. My friend Niall, who got to witness Uriah Heep a couple of times in their early ‘70s heyday at Guildford Civic, paid his own tribute yesterday and said Ken was ‘one of the good guys’. And he’s right. We only briefly travelled the same road, but I admired his musicality and sense of vision, this old school prog-rock innovator who encouraged those who followed his path to realise the power of dreams … mad or otherwise. Can’t say fairer than that. Rest in peace, Ken.

For an intimate, detailed interview with Ken Hensley by Eamon O’Neill from just a few weeks ago, celebrating the release of Uriah Heep’s career-spanning ’50 Years in Rock’ 23-CD boxset, follow this Eon Music website link

Furthermore, friend of this website Bruce Jenkins, based in Melbourne, Australia, has his own Yesterday’s Tomorrow appreciation of early Uriah Heep on his splendid Vinyl Connection website, with a link here

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Going viral, 2020 style …

This is a WriteWyattUK public service announcement … without guitars. Hereby follows a written intermission, after a testing fortnight on the home front in which this website’s sole scribe finally succumbed to the dreaded coronavirus. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I’m ever deemed (in my mind or anyone else’s) normal, or at least when energy levels are high enough again. Until then …

Masked Avenger: The author in Falmouth last month, and already awaiting his next fix of post-virus sunshine (Photo: Lottie Wyatt)

Mud-and-leaf-caked trainers fastened. Check. Lumberjacket on, raincoat zipped. Check. Potent mix of hotdog pieces and cheese in plastic cup. Check. Back door open. Check. Now where’s that dog?

Poor Millie. A week stuck in the house, just the back garden to look forward to when it comes to outdoor pursuits. A back garden increasingly resembling a Great War battlefield. Bucket-loads of rain and soggy wanderings taking their toll, the grass-free patches afforded us by taking on a rescued female Labrador-cross just before the first lockdown (our rescued Collie-cross, Tom … RIPee … would wee everywhere, but neatly around the edges, with no damage done– our girl’s alternative is somehow highly toxic) turning from dry earth to gloop.

I’m not complaining. We at least have the luxury of a spacious back garden. Thousands don’t. But it’s become mighty small since that positive test came in for my beloved. This morning, not for the first time, there was hope in those gorgeous eyes that the pre-amble might lead to a proper w-a-l-k. She followed me around a bit, sat beautifully, charged around me, edging closer to that front door. But soon enough she got the picture. If we were going anywhere, it wasn’t beyond the front door. Instead, it was back to Passchendaele, 1917 style. And before anyone picks me up on that, I’m not making light of an historic nightmare. Just think of it as descriptive.

I ventured over the back step towards the trenches (more WWI imagery, but I’ll stop there) and proffered a small chunk of cheese. Millie took it, I carried on. I turned back. No sign. She was gone. She’d sniffed the air, looked out, then darted back through the kitchen and on to my better half’s lap in the back room. I went back to the window, showed her the cup. Her response? The facial expression suggested, ‘You are joking, mate’. Playtime was over for now.

The previous night, a similar tale, but we at least got some exercise in. I threw hotdog on to an armchair, she jumped up and retrieved. I threw the next bit by the living room door. She charged through, click and collect style. I moved to the foot of the stairs, threw the sausage up towards Andrew the chicken (don’t ask) at the top by the stained-glass window. She clambered up and wolfed it down. You get the picture. We got two-thirds of the way down the cup before she’d had enough and burrowed back into the sofa. I needed a sit down and a wheeze by then.

There I guess is the other side of the coin. The joys of COVID-19. Yep, we’re not complaining. Worse things happen at Chelsea. We’re still here, we’re relatively fit, and we’re getting through. Two of us have tested positive, the third reckons she’s got it, but it didn’t show up on her test. My better half got there first, her day-job in a pre-school the likely cause. However amazing her and fellow staff are, sterilising every corner of their setting within an inch of its life, with a meticulously safe regime in place, they’re still dealing with under-fives and – in some cases – parents not quite on that same page. And they’ve been open so long this year, either fully or just for children of those deemed ‘essential’ workers. It was only a matter of time before complacency elsewhere – and I mean among parents and guardians, not staff – had an impact. Now there’s a few of us ‘extended families’ going through this. One positive test for a staff member was quickly followed by news of at least two children feeling poorly, the centre temporarily shut down. Maybe that trotted-out official national line about children not being super-spreaders wasn’t quite true after all.

Lazy Day: Our Millie, taking it easy, wondering when the next proper walk is coming her way (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

I’m not here to set myself up as either an expert or a martyr. I don’t know it all, and some people have got it far worse. But it’s shit, all the same. If you can avoid the coronavirus, please do. Not least as it’ll help keep the hospital wards clear. Those underfunded hospital wards run by committed but underpaid NHS staff. Yep, those care workers this Government was more than happy to stand outside and clap for, but determined not to give a payrise. Scum.

We’ll get through this though. Thankfully, we haven’t got the underlying health conditions that would make this all so much harder. I don’t want to alarm anyone here, but that first night I definitely knew I had this – before the positive, official conclusion – was hard. I was knackered, in bed by nine, but couldn’t sleep. My breathing was fast, and the more I thought about it and others I knew and liked who would struggle in similar circumstances, the worse it got. This was no cold. I struggled to regulate my breathing, and it took me a couple of hours before I finally got there. I eventually drifted off, for at least an hour. My biggest crime that night, after my beloved let Millie out for a wee in the early hours, was letting on to her that I’d been struggling earlier. I dozed back off while she remained awake, listening to my breathing, worried about a repeat episode. Well, they say you drop your guard now and again.

Thankfully that stage didn’t last long, touch wood, although there have been instances since, once when I hear my big sister was waiting at her local hospital to be admitted. Thankfully no COVID-19 there, but your mind still goes into overdrive. I’ve never encountered panic attacks or incidences of claustrophobia but guess there’s something in that. Mostly it’s been a story of fatigue for me, but also lack of appetite, alternate sweats and shivers, and …. did I mention I was tired? A sore throat too, but maybe that was down to my OTT swabbing technique, making sure I’d reached my tonsils at the testing centre last Sunday. At one point, I prodded slightly too far and there was a horrible retching sound. The poor lad manning the tent had a brief glance around the partition flap to make sure I was alright. I apologised a minute later, and he brushed it off, announcing, “I’ve heard far worse noises lately … and that’s just from my fellow staff.”.

And there’s the thing. From the car park attendants to the staff within, they were great. Hats off to South Ribble Borough Council in my case. If only this was all run at local Government level. But how about the track and trace people? Well, let’s be positive first. They were soon on to me, and every time I’ve had a phone call, they’ve been great. The right mix of info and concern. Also, a little humour and a few laughs. The fact that I was throwing in the odd one-liner might have helped break the ice. So fair play to all those manning the phones … in my experience. However, where it seems to go wrong several months down the line is in the actual machinations of the system. There seems to be bugger all joining of the dots, and it’s turned into something of a game at ours as to who’ll get the next call from them and who will then swap places and be the last to get released from self-isolation.

This Wednesday alone, my partner had two calls, one leading to tears of frustration from her as she tried to explain to the woman on the line that while she had in fact come into contact with someone with the virus (i.e. me), she already had it, and that’s why he’d caught it. And this on a day when she was knackered before she even picked up the phone and was really struggling to conjure up the will to go through it all over again. Our youngest also got a call, one which ended with a mighty groan, letting us know her own release date would be a day later than she’d been assured before, on account of my later positive status, meaning she’ll now miss her first day back at sixth-form college. And this in the most frustrating of years for an 18-year-old, already one of the many victims of the algorithm fiasco that put a dampener on her A-level results just a few months ago.

Meanwhile, I got another call, where I had to explain to someone I wasn’t just another sad sap who had been in contact with someone who’d got a positive test, but I too was positive, having found out for sure on my birthday, as made clear by the first line of the message, which confirmed my date of birth. Thanks Serco.

Yorkshire Landscape: The view from Bole Hill, Sheffield, during the author’s brief pre-tier three trans-Pennine trip (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

The most recent call I received was from an Australian operator. We were having a bit of a laugh, to be honest, and I got the impression this was as much fun as she’d had on the phone all day. Well, you’ve got to laugh. ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ she asked at the end of our conversation. Well, you can remove this incompetent Government if you like. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t got that power,’ she replied, with a hint of regret, I felt. The day before, I asked someone else, after the same question, if maybe they could go around Matt Hancock’s house and gaffer-tape it up to stop that arse of a health minister getting out. And on the call before that, I asked a girl with a lovely Irish lilt in her voice that made me feel better for at least a minute to be put on to their incompetent boss, Dido Harding, as I had a few questions for her. Well, it was worth a try. If you’re not feeling weary and frustrated before, you generally are by the time you’ve reached the track and trace call stage. Don’t get me wrong, Lots of genuine people are working hard within that framework, doing their best to provide a system that helps pulls people through some dark times. But never let it be forgotten that this Government handed over the reins to an untested organisation – their corporate pals – instead of bringing in experts in the field working with councils and healthcare professionals at local level. 

My better half was soon informed via her app that she’d be allowed out from the start of Friday (not as if her current energy levels suggested she’d be looking to celebrate in any illicit late-night bar in the area), but an email sent her way once they found out I was positive too suggested she’d be in until Sunday. Surely this far down the line, the company awarded this contract should have in place a system that can work out how to put all those individual bits of information together for the bigger picture. To be fair, they’re clearly making more calls now, as opposed to previous months, but neither of us felt any more assured or clued up after those conversations.

And note that I’m not calling this NHS Test and Trace. It’s a Serco-run system, arguably using the NHS as a good character reference, its £12bn budget seemingly blown, its instigators having failed to drive infection rates below critical levels, its Government sponsors and their allies having exerted ideological commitment to the private sector over over-riding concerns of the health of the nation. This is Boris Johnson’s mate’s company, its leader – Dido, the Queen of Carnage – having previously made a pig’s ear of her time as chief executive at TalkTalk and even more recently remembered alongside fellow Jockey Club board members allowing Cheltenham racing festival to happen earlier this year, 250,000 spectators there for what many deemed a super-spreader event while everything else seemed to be closing down, positive cases soon escalating.

I recognise it’s a difficult situation, but in our cases there are three of us living together, two of whom have officially tested positive at different times, the other convinced she’s had it, even though the results came up negative the day she was tested. The reason my test was only undertaken six days after my better half’s was because I honestly didn’t want to throw my youngest daughter under the bus. She’d put up with having to sit looking at our miserable faces quite long enough. In this shitstorm of a year – one that started with Johnson blundering into office, clambering from one crisis to the next ever since – she’s already put up with far too much, doing everything asked of her, in a year which – reaching her 18th birthday – should really have been about celebrating good grades, hard graft, and life itself.

The same goes for my eldest daughter, studying hard in Sheffield yet somehow truly robbed of her second year there. First, we were all locked down together, and it went fairly well in the circumstances. We made a point of weekly dinner theme parties and kept ourselves entertained through various inventive means. Character-building. But while it’s far easier for two 50-pluses to carry on down that route, it can’t be for two gifted young women at such key stage of their lives. They stayed in, they followed the increasingly confusing advice from atop, and eventually, when the chance arrived, our eldest returned across the Pennines to try and re-establish her independence. She’s been getting by ever since, somehow. It’s not always easy, making that small talk on the phone, but we get by where hugs would often work better.

As it was, eldest daughter was affected first. In a house of six conscientious students, half of them succumbed to the dreaded disease. Accordingly, they locked down, scrubbing away at the kitchen between separate visits, and generally doing commendably. Then after two weeks’ isolation, she heard that Greater Manchester, Merseyside and our own patch in Lancashire were going into so-called tier three level restrictions. You could hear the concern in her voice over the phone, and we decided there and then to do something about it. No specific time had been mentioned for the status changeover, so we planned a Saturday daytrip, meeting in the in-between Peak District. We could walk around Bakewell and properly catch up, try and do something a little more normal. Healthy perhaps. But then came news that tier three shenanigans would come into operation after midnight, first thing Saturday morning. Probably announced first via the Mail, and the telegraph. That seems to be how this elite Government works, with mere contempt for the workings of Parliament. Accordingly, my better half, who’d finished for half-term a week early, and I, jettisoned our immediate plans and instead headed over the Pennines to meet her at a park in Sheffield.

Lounging Around: Millie, keeping this writer as sane as he’ll ever get amid these twisted times (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

There were complications, a landslide at Snake Pass bringing a major diversion – ironically, us driving through the gorgeous Derbyshire countryside we originally planned as the location for our meeting – and it took us two and a half hours to get there. But we had fish and chips in the park, spent two and a half quality hours there, then headed home via the M62 this time, only to realise part of it was closed for repair works late that night. It took us – yes, you guessed it – another two and a half hours to get home. As it turned out, we’d planned something different that day. It was my mother-outlaw’s 75th birthday, and we were set to finally visit the pub (not having taken advantage of any Government-sponsored meal deal back in the summer) for the first time together in 2020. Instead, Grandma and youngest Granddaughter dog-sat in our absence. 

Matters moved on the following day, and on the political front, Andy Burnham dug his heels in for Greater Menchester where Tory-run Lancashire hadn’t. The Government and its hand-in-glove media tried to paint him as just another trouble-maker fighting his corner and trying to get more money for his patch. But he knew the desultory amount offered by way of a help package was nowhere near enough, something Johnson, Sunak and co. clearly realised in retrospect by upping the perecentage for the furlough system after all.

On the local front, we discovered that two children from my partner’s pre-school had been taken ill and were about to be tested. The following day my beloved realised she wasn’t feeling so well either. Maybe we were just knackered from our cross-Pennines round-trip. We felt awful for having possibly brought our eldest daughter into this. She was masked up throughout our visit, but the feeling remained. We felt guilty for having brought the girls’ grandmother to the house too. Thankfully neither have fallen ill since. Within a few days, several more staff from that setting, and their immediate family, had also succumbed.

So where are we at? Things escalated again this weekend of course, Johnson standing in front of his lectern for another display of public incompetence, alongside two leading scientists. Barely 10 days earlier the Tories had been tweeting about how Labour had been advocating another national lockdown, pouring scorn on their plans, saying that it would be ‘the height of absurdity’ to do what their own scientific advisers were calling for: introduce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown immediately to stem what was already becoming a massive second wave. They dithered again, with disastrous results. Total incompetence.

I won’t go far into the mask thing here, but it’s about common courtesy if nothing else. The science may be a little mixed on this, but it’s not hurting me to put a proper bit of cloth over my nose and mouth when I’m back in the shops and treat shopkeepers, shop workers and fellow shoppers with a little respect. We owe them that for them still being there. It won’t be forever.

As it is, my app suggests I’ll be out tomorrow (Monday 2nd), by which time hopefully I’ve got the energy to at least take our Millie for a proper wander, building on whatever my better half has already managed. She manged to do a short walk yesterday, and hopefully will later today too. I’m certainly looking forward to walking the pavements of my adopted Lancashire town again. God knows, Millie needs it. But this is hardly freedom. Nothing much will change until we have a proper antidote. A cure. By then, God knows what a mess we’ll be in as a nation, not least as the chancers in charge are pressing on with their no-deal bullshit on the whole Brexit fiasco front. Don’t get me started on that. I’ve now got to try and add another paragraph so this ends on a more positive note …. the very word positive achieving a rather negative association amid this pandemic.

Rainy Day: The view from the front at WriteWyatt Towers during the author’s self-isolation (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Despite what you might think, I remain optimistic (is that a better word?). Next week, I’m hoping America votes out its national clown and our own clown car of a Government will have to think again on what constitutes its planned UK-US trade deal. While we’re at it, I’d be happy to see Brexiteers finally get their wish for a day if it means we can refuse to allow Nigel Farage back into this country after his further Trump rally buffoonery over the Atlantic. I had my hopes up early in this pandemic that we’d come out of it so much better as human beings. I saw us on the doorsteps clapping for care workers and the NHS and thought, ‘Maybe people aren’t going to stand for being run by some toff elite anymore’.

A side-issue maybe, but the strength of feeling behind Marcus Rashford’s recent free school meals campaign also brought me a little hope. And yet Tory MPs were having none of it. It seemed that an official pat on the back for its architect was deemed quite enough. There are no simple answers there either, but a Government that presides over a nation where the one true successful growth area is in food banks needs seriously re-examine its policies. This council house kid remembers all too well the stigma of being in a separate queue for free meals in middle school days. It made me request – I didn’t enjoy those meals anyway – that my Mum made me sandwiches instead. There are times when you don’t want to stand out from the crowd. But Marcus has been there, and he gets it. Give him the support he needs to make that work.

Talking of which – and starting to wrap up now – I love my football but haven’t been to see my club play since mid-January. I also love live music yet haven’t seen a band play live since mid-March. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen my family in the South-East since early January. I was lucky enough to have a week with my girls in August in North Wales, and a couple of days around a university visit in Cornwall with my youngest fairly recently, but even then we put off visits to friends nearby. It didn’t seem right in these increasingly strange times to go house-calling. But with friends all over the UK and further afield, this year has sharpened my resolve to catch up with many of them when the coast is finally clear. And it will clear.

Thankfully I can still immerse myself in the immediate company of my better half, my daughters and a gorgeous four-legged creature that makes us all smile on a regular basis. Then there are all the others who’ve pitched in on the phone, by video link or knocked at the door – beyond the call of duty – with essential shopping this past fortnight. I’ve got my music, films, documentaries and TV series to further entertain me (all the more reason that those creative industries are properly subsidised too – something I’ll no doubt get back to when I’m next putting together a feature), and it’s fair to say this pandemic has properly reminded me what’s important in life.

So here’s to encouraging the scientists who can hopefully reach those breakthroughs that ensure we safely return to some form of normality again sometime soon. We can’t afford to just follow the science when it suits us. It’ll be too late for so many, but we’ve got to have hope. Here’s to a brighter future and people waking up to what’s truly important in life.  Keep on pushing, as Curtis Mayfield put it in his Impressions days. And while we’re talking Curtis, he perhaps put it best on his self-titled solo LP, released 50 years ago in September and still as pertinent today …

Move on up towards your destination, though you may find from time to time complications’.

Stay safe, my friends.

Autumn Sky: The view from the back at WriteWyatt Towers during the author’s self-isolation (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Talking of going viral, at the end of October 2020 – when the author got his positive COVID-19 test result – this website’s viewing figures topped 11,000 for the first time ever during a calendar month. Yes, going viral in more ways that one. Perhaps it’s not quite as shite a year as I’ve imagined all the way along. That leaves us comfortably on target for another record-breaking 12 months, reading figure-wise – not as if I can do anything else other than cover our website costs with the proceeds of those annoying ads – and now means we’ve had 455,000 page views since we started, more than 400,000 of those in the last half-dozen years. So thanks one and all for reading … and reguarly returning. Much appreciated.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Comedy & Theatre, Football, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Graphic twists on a compelling tale – back in touch with The Wedding Present’s David Gedge

Present Receptive: TWP’s latest line-up, one year on yet with very few stage hours involved in recent times. From the left – founder member David Gedge, Melanie Howard, Jon Stewart, and Chris Hardwick (Photo: Jessica McMillan)

It’s been a long time in the planning, but late next week the first instalment of David Gedge’s long-awaited memoir-in-comic-book-form will be released by Scopitones Books.

Stories featured in 176-page, matt-laminated, hardback Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy! – Tales From The Wedding Present: Volume I were before only available to Tales From The Wedding Present comic book series readers. But this collected edition includes 40 pages of previously-unseen additional material and an introduction by renowned Edinburgh crime writer and Rebus creator Ian Rankin.

David, who co-founded indie legends The Wedding Present in 1985 and is the sole surviving member (his fellow personnel now at least numbering 25, past and present) wrote the book along with long-time musical associate and ex-Wedding Present bass player Terry de Castro, the stories illustrated by virtuoso artist Lee Thacker, the trio – with editing help from David’s partner Jessica McMillan – relating his life and adventures for almost 10 years.

With 19 comics published to date, Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy! is the first compilation of the stories in chronological order, beginning with David’s childhood in England and South Africa and continuing up to the inception of The Wedding Present.

On the way, we discover some of the romantic experiences that may have informed his writing, how he first met his hero – legendary BBC presenter John Peel – and the true story behind classic Wedding Present song ‘My Favourite Dress’.

And on Saturday November 7th, the day after publication, David is taking part in a launch event for the book at the Louder Than Words literary festival, fully online this year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Speaking of which, my last live outing was at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in mid-March, seeing King Creosote live-score the From Scotland With Love film documentary. I’ve certainly missed live music, let alone a band leader on the road for 35 years now and that in 2019 alone played more than 70 live shows across the UK and Ireland, mainland Europe and Asia (from Mongolia and Japan to China, Thailand and Vietnam).

“Well, this year we’ve … I was going to say fortunately, but that’s not really the right word … we did plan to have a quieter year. Really, since Going, Going … came out, and that’s four years ago now, we’ve been doing quite a lot of touring, places where we hadn’t played before like Australia, New Zealand and Asia. So we thought 2020 should be a quiet year … I just didn’t realise it would be this quiet!”

According to your website ‘concertography’, I see January 13th was the last TWP date, at Colchester Arts Centre, the last of four straight dates.

“Yeah, and we had around 10 concerts planned throughout the year, basically festivals and little warm-up gigs before, either cancelled or pushed back into next year. Apart from the (October 10th) live stream, our first proper concerts are next March, and now I’m kind of thinking, ‘Is that too soon?’ Our first ones were supposed to be in May and June, but they were moved to September.”

And how about the planned live stream?

“Yeah, kind of an experiment. There’s a studio in Brighton – more like a rehearsal room – who approached us about doing a series of live streams, like a small venue with nobody in it, basically. I’d be interested to see how this goes. It’s a whole new world.”

Seeing as you’re based in Brighton, I’m guessing this last year marks the longest you’ve really been cooped up there since you moved to Sussex.

“Yeah, but it’s a nice place to live, one of my favourite places, which is why I moved here. To be honest, because we’ve been away so much in the last few years, it’s kind of nice to have been here for a prolonged period, busy with a few admin things, for example our YouTube channel, which we started around 2014 then did nothing with, putting more relevant things on there, and other ideas that have been shelved because we’ve not been at home. And I’ve spent a lot of time writing, songs and also the book. I think I’ve spent more time on that book than an album!”

It’s a fantastic read, and I was trying my best – on first sight of a digital version – to stop myself reading it in one sitting, wanting to savour the experience for when I saw the physical version.  There’s so much detail in the illustrations, for instance seeing John Peel there in his studio, The Fall’s Dragnet LP in front of him.

“Yeah, I’m my own worst enemy in a way – and Lee, the artist – because I naively write these little stories and he draws them, then I go back and think, ‘Wait a minute – was Dragnet actually released by then?’ It gets kind of obsessive really. 

“We had one the other day where I’m in a phonebox, in the ‘70s, and Lee’s drawn one with push-buttons. Someone questioned if they existed in 1977, checking up and realising it should be a rotary-dial.  I tell you what, I’ve got more respect now for when you see period films and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m sure that car didn’t exist then!’. It’s gone backwards and forwards between me and Terry, then back to Lee, and back to us to proof, looking at the comic when it came out, and so on. But I think now we’ve done this first one, we should be more prepared in the future, hopefully not falling at so many hurdles!”

Framed Present: David, with a photo of the band, the closest to a reunion amid the lockdown (Photo: Peter Koudstaal)

The roots of this book go back to the band’s own fanzine, Invasion of The Wedding Present, for which Lee did some work, this latest venture in development for around a decade now. The illustrated version of the story starts with David and partner Jessica talking with ex-bandmate Terry outside a restaurant in Los Angeles in 2008, setting the premise for what follows.

“Terry had this idea of doing my biography anyway, from the viewpoint I suppose of meeting me, joining the band, writing it from her perspective. She did quite a lot of work on that, but it never really picked up any momentum. It was always one of those projects that was never fulfilled. Then came this idea of doing a comic book version, we got in touch with Lee, and he was up for doing it.

“For the comic there were around three issues a year, but they were always kind of random stories, not in any chronological order. What we did here was gather all the early ones, fill in the gaps.”

Well, it looks so good. And whether you would call it a graphic novel or a comic, I wonder if that genre has always been a passion for you. For example, my own bought reading material – other than children’s novels and recycled Topper annuals from local jumble sales – probably went from Shoot! to Smash Hits then the NME and on to Q, Select, Vox, Mojo, and the like. How about you?

“I was always obsessed with the music press, which doesn’t really exist anymore, but I was always interested in comics too, from the Beano and the Dandy, moving on to the Eagle, Lion, whatever. Then I guess I discovered Marvel and DC comics from America, and I guess it was in the ‘90s – when I was probably too old for comics – and that era when graphic novels came out, aimed at people like me who loved comics as a kid. So I carried on really.”

My pal, Alan, a regular at many TWP shows I’ve seen down the years, had a love for 2000 AD which he shared with me at one stage, and I soon loved those too.

“Totally, yeah, that was a big moment. It was almost like punk, coming out around the same time. And in the same way punk revolutionised music, 2000 AD probably revolutionised comics, people like Alan Moore writing for it before going on to other things. I’ve always kinda been obsessed, and I’ve got loads of graphic novels. I got rid of all my comics though. I just felt I needed space.”

Talking of space, I saw online recently that Billy Bragg was part-way through a major cataloguing operation in his cellar in Dorset, someone suggesting when he was looking to shift various early treasured posters for a lofty price that surely he couldn’t be ‘hard up’, somehow missing the fact that live performance is where the money is these days. Artists have already lost more than six months of revenue from that source.

Coming Soon: On December 4th, Leeds’ Come Play With Me Records release Not From Where I’m Standing, a double-LP of 20 Bond film themes covered by current and former members of Cinerama and TWP, 100% of profits from its sale being donated to the Campaign Against Living Miserably [CALM] charity. For more details head here.

“Totally, yeah, and in a sense, it didn’t use to be quite so important. Everyone loved to play live, but I remember when we were on RCA, our major source of income was advances and so on from the label. We did make a profit on tour, but it wasn’t crucial. As long as we didn’t lose money, it was a way of supporting the album really. Now it’s completely the opposite, hoping to break even on the record, whereas live is where most musicians make their money now.

“This whole pandemic has hit really hard. I’ve had the same sort of thing when selling guitars on eBay and such like, people not able to understand why. First of all, I’ve got around 20, and there’s absolutely no need to have more than three. It’s about storage, and I’m just glad they go to homes of fans who appreciate them. I agree with Billy Bragg – that income is useful, and is gonna become even more useful the longer this goes on.”

As well as the live stream and the graphic novel, I understand there’s an imminent musical, Reception, based around your songs. How involved have you been with that?

“I’ve not really been involved that much at all apart from meeting the people a few times, them running ideas past me. I’m not a big aficionado of the musical world, to be honest, so I did need a bit of guiding. But it’s kind of in The Wedding Present oeuvre. We do odd things, going right back to The Ukrainians’ sessions, the Hit Parade venture, and this comic. It’s all stuff outside the realm of The Wedding Present as a band, and I’ve always been proud of that. When they came along and said they wanted to do this musical, it wasn’t the most obvious thing in my mind, however … I’d be interested to see what happens, and it may well be the latest string to our bow, or whatever.”

David added that so far that venture was at a crowd-funding stage, the writer at the synopsis stage when we talked. ‘But now he’s got the green light to go ahead and write it, start a research and development stage, get a cast together, and all that. It’s still a way off, possibly around 2022, which in the current situation is probably a good idea in the circumstances!”

I suppose you’ve always had that detail in your songs, the interpretation ambiguous enough to take it into this world.

“That was why he came to me, really. I think he first saw us in Derby in the ‘80s, he’s been a fan since, he’s also a theatre producer, director and writer, and always thought the lyrical aspect of The Wedding Present songs would lend itself perfectly to this kind of format. And people often say when they see the lyrics written down that it’s almost like a play or dialogue from a film.”

And it’s great to see that Ian Rankin’s written the foreword for the comic book.

“Yes, a lot of these people were fans at university age when the band started, and many have stayed with us, some of them becoming famous in their own right, for instance as writers or working for (BBC) 6 Music. There are quite a few professionals in our audience. We did a gig in Richmond, near London, a couple of years ago where someone collapsed, thankfully not too serious in the end. He fell to the floor, and suddenly there were four people form the audience saying, ‘I’m a doctor! I can deal with this.’ I guess that’s one of the benefits of sticking around for so long!”

Bass Instinct: Melanie Howard, with TWP since 2018, and recently working on a solo LP. Photo: Peter Koudstaal

I also note that the book is dedicated to comedian, writer, actor and TWP fan Sean Hughes, who died three years ago, aged just 51.

“Sean was another of those early fans, although I didn’t actually meet him until the early ‘90s, when we were playing Dublin. Again, he went on to be a good friend, and it was sad when he died.”

In fact, after going to press I was told by Lee Thacker that in a late edit, it was decided to dedicate this volume instead to the memory of John Peel. But Lee added, “A dedication to the late, great Sean Hughes will definitely be appearing in a future volume.”

It’s not giving anything away to say this volume ends around the time of the re-pressing of debut single, ‘Go Out and Get ‘Em, Boy!’

“It was very difficult. As you can imagine, it’s a never-ending project, and I’m still writing stuff for the comic about things happening now. There were lots of stories about recording George Best, for instance, but this seems to be a good place to end this one. I think we actually increased it, writing more stories to fill the gaps. But this is a nice size and sets a precedent for the ones that follow.”

I also glanced ahead to find the story of how you first met John Peel, and I loved the story about you watching The Clash at the University of Leeds, pogoing against your will amid a sea of skinheads up front.

“Yeah, I suppose this volume is mostly the story leading up to the band itself and the influences that went into The Wedding Present, including seeing punk bands like The Clash.”

I note ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones gets a namecheck too, not least in your playlist at the back, and that fits in neatly with the Peel links.

“Yeah, I was kind of obsessed with Peel. I had a friend at school, around 1976 when I was more into Genesis, Yes, Rick Wakeman, and all that. This friend said, ‘Have you heard this guy on the radio, John Peel? He’s been playing tracks by this band called the Ramones, who I’d never heard of’. From that moment, I was like, ‘Whoah! This is a whole new world!’ I stayed with it from there, hardly missing a programme.”

Guitar Jon: Former Sleeper guitarist Jon Stewart, on board since late 2019, caught on film by Peter Koudstaal

It’s of great credit to the three of you that this book carries Peelie’s voice, in my mind.

“Well, I’m glad you said that. I wanted it to be there. He was definitely a guiding influence on me as a person as well as the band.”

So many times I’ve heard bands I love say that the sole ambition they had was to get played by Peel, and rarely more than that. As it was, you found a way beyond that first single being played on his show and that first live session for him, but lots didn’t, and were happy with that.

“Absolutely! I think I would have been happy with that as well. The be-all and end-all was to do a single he would play, and also do a Peel session. When we achieved those firsts, it was like, ‘OK, now what?’ Ha!”

“But after university I was on the dole for a couple of years while the band was forming, and that was all we thought about, really – making the band great and saving enough money to afford to make a record, get that to John Peel. That’s all we thought about really!”

There’s another section of the story I may have briefly sneaked ahead to, seeing you with a couple of your Mum’s suitcases full of that first single, taking the bus up to York.”

“Well, I’ve always been driven …”

You clearly were then … by the bus driver. Sorry, carry on, David.

“I’m not ambitious in the sense of wanting to make a million pounds, but when I have an objective, I’m driven to achieve that. And when it became apparent that taking those records (in a suitcase back to Yorkshire) was the cheapest way of doing it, I was on board for that. Two of us were on the dole (David and Keith Gregory, bass), Peter (Solowka, guitar) was a part-time teacher, and Shaun (Charman, drums) was a student. Between us we didn’t really have any money at all.”

Drum Major: Former my Life Story drummer Chris Hardwick, who also joined in late 2019, by Peter Koudstaal

David’s been based in Sussex around 17 years now, half of that time in Brighton, but the story proper starts with a cross-Pennine relationship between his parents, one based in Leeds, the other Manchester, both cities integral to the band’s Northern roots (he grew up in Middleton, Greater Manchester, and attended the University of Leeds, TWP playing their first dates in Leeds in 1985).

“I don’t think it’s just about the North so much as the regions in general. I’ve always met bands based in London and think you can become obsessed with that – living among all the labels, newspapers, agents, PR people, and so on. But I always think, ‘Yeah, but what about the songs?’ I think once you’re outside of all that, especially in the North or Scotland, even Bristol and places like that, you’re free of all that. People still want to get on and market themselves, but because they’re a bit more distant they’re not quite so on top of it. It gives people a bit more space to breathe and develop, really.”

Talking of space, at times the band have certainly been spaced out at times, so to speak, with members on the US West Coast, Finland, Germany, and so on.

“Strangely, yeah. Not particularly planned, mind. It was quite inconvenient at times. At one point we had me down here, Simon (Cleave, guitar 1996/7, 2004/6, 2009) in Germany, Kari (Paavola, drums 2004/5) was from Finland, and Terry was in America, and is still there now. It wasn’t impossible, but we had to coordinate things very carefully, even for rehearsals.”

In a sense, maybe that gave you a leg-up to these odd times.

“Well, now, strangely enough, all four members of the band live within walking distance, so it’s gone back to how it was in 1985, when we were living in adjacent streets! Again, I’ve not planned that, but people join the band for different reasons, and it’s often word of mouth or they come recommended by someone else.”

On the subject of long-distance travel, I’m guessing Jessica’s not been able to get back with you to Washington in recent times, and her roots.

“Yeah, her parents are over there, and I think we last went at the beginning of 2019, and normally try and go at least once a year. We had flights in summer, but had to cancel. But there you go – there are lots of people in far worse situations.”

Spanish Bonds: David Gedge takes the applause with The Wedding Present at Barcelona BAM Festival in 2019

Meanwhile, David’s parents live on the Lancashire coast in Fleetwood these days. Are they keeping well in these strange times?

“They are. They’re taking it very seriously, which is great. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to see them, but it’s good to have the technology these days, FaceTime them, and all that.”

While I saw you not so far from their base (and mine) in Blackpool last July, at the Waterloo Bar (reviewed here), I also caught you at the Boileroom in my hometown, Guildford in mid-November (with a review here), in what turned out to be the last gig – at least for a while – for Danielle (Wadey, guitar) and Charlie (Layton, drums), the pair about to go ‘on leave’ (David and Melanie Howard, bass, now joined by Jon Stewart, guitar, ex-Sleeper; and Chris Hardwick, drums, ex-My Life Story), their first child born soon after.

“Yeah, they did talk about returning this year, but we haven’t played any gigs anyway!”

In a sense, this was the third of a written trilogy – the book you co-edited with Richard Houghton, Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said, followed by 2019 Pomona publication, Sleevenotes, part of a series where key musicians choose favourite tracks from their back-catalogue, David providing telling insights into their creation, meaning and mood (with a review here). And now this, the comic book biography.

“Yeah, I think I’m writing more books than I’m writing new songs at the moment!”

Was that April 23rd milestone of turning 60 this year the nudge you needed to get this latest publication out there, finally?

“Not really. I think the graphic novel has been on the cards since the last big birthday, 10 years ago, really! And the age thing has never really affected me that much. I think that’s partly because I’m doing now what I was doing when I was 25.”

Live Presence: Danielle, David and Melanie up front, The Wedding Present, Copenhagen 2018 (Photo: Nicklas Rosén)

I get that, but this has been a year for re-evaluating what’s truly important in life – family, friends, and all that.

“Oh, totally. There’s been a lot of reflection. I’ve been really touched by the support from fans, as with the acoustic show we did from home on the 60th birthday, a fund-raiser for our crew. It raised a lot of money, and they were all very humbled by it. I was as well. It was tremendous how they all chipped in. And they continue to support me. I feel very honoured.

“I think Wedding Present fans are a bit different. There is some kind of relationship. It’s not just, ‘Here’s a product – buy it!’ and it’s not just a one-way thing. I’ve always felt that about concerts. It’s not just the band giving you some kind of art. It’s a kind of conversation, almost.”

True, and I think you always seem so approachable, there to talk to before and after a show, and so on. I’ve also noticed there’s a kind of community relationship, such as the fact that when I saw Vinny Peculiar support you at Blackpool last year – and he wasn’t really the most obvious fit – with a true camaraderie towards him from your audience, many of us who saw him support you soon delving deep into his back-catalogue (with Vinny aka Alan Wilkes featured on these pages here).

“Yes, and that’s typified when we do our At the Edge of the Sea festival (this year becoming an online At the Edge of the Sofa festival). There wasn’t a massive budget so we can’t pay big fees to artists, but the amount of times I’ve had people say, ‘I’ve just made 500 new fans here!’ And that’s because Wedding Present fans are very receptive.

“Vinny was an obvious one for that. I’d never heard of him, to be honest, but he was suggested by a Wedding Present fan who lives in LA, I checked him out, and felt he was the kind of act that would work. And he went down really well. He had the audience singing along with him, and there was a tear in my eye. It’s great to be the person who brought that together.”

I also love the fact that you used the word ‘receptive’ there, for a band who initially named their label Reception on account of their band name.

“Ha ha! Foresight!”

Second LP: The Wedding Present’s major-label debut Bizarro was re-issued on LP by Sony Legacy Records this month. Originally released by RCA in 1989, it’s been unavailable on vinyl for some time. For details, head here.

I see there’s a new Bizarro vinyl re-release, and last year we saw a vinyl re-release of the first single via Preston indie label Optic Nerve, one of the factors – along with new releases by BOB and The Wolfhounds – that inspired me to track down the founder of the label this year (with a link to that feature/interview here).

“Yeah, it’s a good label, they do a really nice package – it’s not just banging it out. With ours they did posters and postcards, coloured vinyl, and I think he sells a lot to Japan for collectors. A nice boutique label.”

You mentioned new songs. When do you think the next LP will come our way? It’s been four years since Going, Going … (with a review here) after all.

“Well, there a load of songs that have been written over the last few months. The problem is – because we’ve been social distancing, either the bands or their partners have been immuno-compromised, so we’ve not been in a room together (until the live stream) since January. We’ve done one by sending files back and forth, but it’s just too laborious. When you’re in a room – four people playing together – you play a song and realise a bit doesn’t work, change it, and it’s done in 30 seconds. Whereas doing it remotely, you re-record one version, then ‘what about this?’, and it’s impossible really. So I think we’re going to have to wait until we can do a proper socially-distanced rehearsal. Maybe for this live stream, we can look at that.

“So in answer to your question … I’ve no idea really!” 

Well, whenever it arrives, we’ll be there.

For this website’s Summer 2014 interview with David Gedge, conducted backstage at Hebden Bridge Trades Club, head here.

To pre-order the first instalment of David Gedge’s memoir-in-comic-book-form, released by Scopitones Books on Friday, November 6, try this link

Huts Entertainment: David Gedge, at the edge of the sea and set to publish his latest book (Photo: Jessica McMillan)

David Gedge will also be a guest for the Louder Than Words literary festival, this year online during Saturday, November 7th and Sunday, November 8th, with more details here

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Bea Kristi delivers her pandemic ‘Care’ package – back in touch with Beabadoobee

Bea Movie: Bea Kristi, aka Beabadoobee, has delivered her debut LP, Fake It Flowers, in the year of the lockdown

Last December I caught Beatrice Kristi Laus, aka Beabadoobee, live at Gorilla, Manchester, headlining a sold-out package tour of young artists recording for the Dirty Hit label (with the review here).

She was impressive to say the least, leading a three-piece band – then still a teenager, just about – and proving her worth in a dynamic performance, the culmination of a year in which she received along with Joy Crookes, a Brits’ Rising Star runners-up award (Celeste winning out).

Bea’s confessional bedroom pop/DIY aesthetic has been progressively going down a storm since 2017, this artiste certainly on top form now after a meteoric couple of years, with staggering amounts of Spotify streams for starters. And there was no doubting she was on her way that night near Oxford Road station. But then 2020 happened and … well, you know the rest.

After a 30-date US tour supporting Clairo and her first international headline sell-out in New York last year, there were early 2020 UK arena shows with big league label-mates The 1975, including two sell-outs at London’s O2 Arena. But by mid-March everything ground to a halt, and only now is she truly surfacing again … spreading the word about her debut album, released last weekend.

Despite everything, these are exciting times for Bea, born in the Philippines but moving to London as a three-year-old, Fake It Flowers garnering plenty of interest, lead single ‘Care’ setting the tone perfectly, premiered as ‘Hottest Record in the World’ by Annie Mac at BBC Radio 1 and since streamed more than three million times.

Then came follow-up ‘Sorry’, described by The Guardian as a ‘masterfully restrained expression of regret, eventually pushing sardonic 90s alt-rock into the sky-splitting territory’, and ‘Worth it’, just before the album release, carrying on an impressive catalogue of releases that started with her ‘Patched Up’, ‘Loveworm’ and ‘Space Cadet’ EPs.

I was only a couple of listens into Fake It Flowers when I made contact, but already recognised she’d truly delivered. It must be an exciting time, I put to her, having sat there – no doubt impatiently – waiting for this to drop on the world.

“It is exciting! It’s also really scary. This album has so much of me in it, so much of my life up until now. I didn’t know that this would become what it has, and I never thought anyone would care – I mean look at my artist name! So yeah, it’s exciting and a little terrifying!”

Flowers Girl: Beabadoobee, coming to a town near you next autumn, almost a year after the release of her debut LP

Last time we spoke, you told me that after the Dirty Hit package tour you were looking forward to just chilling with family and friends at Christmas. Who knew what was coming next, eh?

“Yeah, it’s been such a strange year and so much changed, none of our plans could really happen. But really, I’m not sure that I was ready to go away for a whole year touring. I’m sad I didn’t get to meet so many people and play those shows but also, I feel like this has given me the opportunity to really build this world around the album visually and also just see my boyfriend and my family.”

Re-watching the December footage from The Dome of ‘Are you Sure?’, there’s that similar feel I encountered seeing you and your label-mates the previous night at Gorilla. That label package tour must seem an age away now, in view of everything that’s happened since.

“Bro, it feels like a different world! I guess it kinda was. My band and I just spent loads of time rehearsing for something really cool that we’ve made, but it’s weird that we won’t then go and play shows. I usually do a little show around anything I put out with, like, free tickets or something, but not this time.”

If anything, what’s almost shocking now is the complete lack of social distancing in that footage. The dance floor’s a writhing but joyful mess. Those were the days – plenty of public mingling, band and audience alike on a collective high.

“I think losing that is the saddest thing, that togetherness and just jumping up and down with your friends and getting sweaty and, aaargh! I miss it. That tour was great, we could just dance to our best friends every night, party afterwards and meet people.”

I mentioned in my live review at the time a feeling of ‘enveloping love for all three acts, not least the collective spirit between the bands themselves who, when not on stage, were often spotted peering down from the room above, partying along with their label-mates’. Was that pretty much how it was each night?

“Yeah, that’s how the label feels generally, like everyone feels like a family. I know people just say that stuff, but it really does. Oscar Lang I’ve known since I started doing this, and even now Louis, my drummer’s girlfriend, is on the label too. It’s like a gang. All the people at the label and Matty too, everyone supports each other.”

Double Trouble: Bea Kristi, aka Beabadoobee, here to stay after an impressive three year build-up to her first album

Did you manage to get any US dates in before the lockdown? I have it in mind your last date was the Annie Mac presents shows in London in early March with Oscar Lang. Is that right? What happens with the dates you missed out on from Spring onwards – are they rescheduled?

“No! Not since the Clairo tour last year. We had so much fun stuff planned, like Coachella and a headline tour that was sold out. I’m bummed out but, seriously, when we do get over there it’s gonna be so good. Japan too. All these places!”

The first we really heard of the new record was the splendid ‘Care’ in July, setting us up neatly for what’s to follow, yeah?

“I think so, maybe! I guess it just felt like a statement, like something that summed it all up. And it’s kinda fun and angry and just feels like a real moment. It opens the album too, so it felt right.”

The record was recorded in South West London. When and where, how long were you in there, and how did that work in the (trying) circumstances?

“Honestly, most of the album was done before all this happened, like we were already planning everything visually! But yeah, we had to finish during lockdown, so I recorded ‘How Was Your Day?’ in my boyfriend’s garden. There’s literally a dog barking in the background, and it’s kinda dumb but feels like something Daniel Johnston would do. So, fuck it, ha ha!”

I get the impression from what you’ve said, there was an element of ‘word block’ on the songwriting front until you were out touring last year, then it all came relatively flowingly on your return home.

“Yeah, I think I just did so much living and growing up and made a load of mistakes when I was touring, and then it all just came spilling out. It’s definitely very honest, but I don’t really know what else to do with songs.”

Since you served up ‘Coffee’, so to speak (her first track, which gathered hundreds of thousands of streams in a matter of days through a fan-uploaded video, since taking on new life as a sample in Powfu’s TikTok and worldwide chart-dominating hit), it’s been increasingly mad for you, career-wise.

And 2019 was the biggest to date, with the mini-LPs and EPs, the Brits’ Rising Star nomination, the US tour with Clairo, and the sold-out label package tour. Then there were the dates with The 1975. This year we assumed you’d keep that candle burning at both ends, but it hasn’t turned out that way. In the long term, do you think that time to reflect and think on all you’ve achieved so far will work in your favour, creatively, and leave you less burned out?

“It’s been different, but it’s still been a lot. Like we have made five videos and a load of art, and I’ve even made new music that’s ready to go. I don’t think we slowed down, we just had to adapt a bit. But yeah, it’s been cool to be home more too.”

It seems an age away, but live dates are now rescheduled for September and October next year, virus willing, starting at the Ritz in Manchester. Is that something for you that will only be real the moment you step out on that stage?

“Yeah, I can’t wait, we haven’t played a single one of those songs yet. It’s going to be amazing; not touring kills me!”

It’s 14 dates this time, taking in the north and south of Ireland and ending in Glasgow. Do you ever get the feeling before you reach a venue, that people in these faraway towns can’t possibly know your material (but they clearly do)?

“Ha ha! Yes! It’s crazy that anyone would come out and I just appreciate it so much. Just having even one kid or one other girl feel excited or inspired and want to come and see us play makes it all worth it.”

The planned date at The Forum in Kentish Town – like the Tufnell Park show last December – promises to be another momentous homecoming. That must seem pretty unreal. I first visited in the late ‘80s in its Town & Country Club guise, seeing That Petrol Emotion, The Wedding Present and Pixies among others, then Ian Dury and the Blockheads in ‘91, Teenage Fanclub in ’93 (as The Forum by then) and most recently The Undertones in 2016. It’s a big venue. Is that one of those ‘I’ve truly arrived’ moments for you?

“I mean, I used to live in Camden so it’s really just down the road. It’s going to be crazy playing these bigger venues. I kind of like the tiny sweaty shows where everyone just has that crazy energy, crazy London, I call it crack-head energy, because everyone just goes nuts. But polka-ing big shows is cool too. The arena tour with The 1975 was pretty terrifying; on the first night there wasn’t time to soundcheck and I had a full-blown freak out, but then you get used to it. It’s just a different kind of playing. It’ll be amazing to do this, and it’s my show, the Fake it Flowers show.”

Moving Image: Beabadoobee, taking the public transport option on the road to success, and it’s served her well so far

The concentration’s clearly there, but you’re very smiley on stage when you allow yourself that, and rightly so. Is that you thanking your lucky stars most nights?

“Ha ha! Maybe. Or just thinking, whoah, this is crazy.”

Talking about the latest single, ‘Worth It’, you said it’s ‘simply about teenage infidelity and the mistakes one can make when they’re tempted to do things. It’s a bit of a confession song but also an understanding that it’s a part of life.’ But I also get the impression from the accompanying video that it might give us a clue to your lockdown – a touch of cabin fever involved, perhaps?

“It’s really just a song about mistakes that you can make when you’re young and working things out. My boyfriend and my best friend made the video, and it’s a weird situation because it’s almost too personal to do, but we also kind of get to tell the story through the art too.”

What’s kept you sane these past few months when you’ve been away from the studio (particularly the times you were stuck at home)? What did your personal lockdown involve?

“Being able to lock down with my boyfriend and still make things really helped. I was sick early on in the pandemic, so I had to self-isolate and it drove me nuts, but even then I just tried to be creative.”

Tracks like ‘Care’ were where you were heading when I caught you at Gorilla, fitting in neatly with your indie roots. But then there’s the more laidback, dreamy, ‘How Was Your Day?’. I described you last year as ‘personifying post-teen spirit and expertly straddling that line between grunge and indie-pop’. You’re clearly no one-trick pony – there’s at least two sides to Beabadoobee, right?

“It just feels like how I made music when I first started, and the video did too. Just stripped back and kind of innocent, I guess? I love that song.”

Talking of ‘How Was Your Day?’, where’s that rope-swing in the video? Doesn’t look like any part of London I know.

“That would be telling!”

Outdoor Life: Bea Kristi, ready to see the world again as soon as she safely can, and party with her band and fans.

Live, I’d say you give extra bite to the recorded versions of your songs, at the grungier end of the spectrum. My sole niggle was that your gorgeous vocal was sometimes lost in the mix beneath your guitar, but I get the impression that’s how you like it – hiding your light under a bushel, modesty incarnate. You’re very much part of a three-piece, rather than some ‘look at me’ rock idol.

“Haha! Maybe. I had just lost my voice too, we partied a bit on that tour! I love my band though, like it’s not a ‘band’ band, but they’re definitely my band, if that makes sense. They’re my best friends.”

If nothing else, the music we’ve heard these past few months has helped pull us all through. What records have you heard in 2020 that raised your spirits?

“I’ve really reconnected with the music I grew up around, like The Cranberries and Alanis Morrissette, and also music from the Philippines that my Mum played, like Itchyworms.”

This clueless clown car Government seem to think if the opportunity’s not there to make money from the arts industry, maybe us creatives could retrain, try something else. With that in mind, do you fancy a spell in a call centre, or have you got your eye on an even better ‘proper job’?

“God, that sucks. I hate it. Art is important, it saves people. I hate that they just don’t care at all. I hope people don’t stop making things. The world is weird right now.”

Finally, we’ve all had plenty of time to reflect this year, take a breather and think things through. Once we’re back to a semblance of normality, if there ever will be such a thing, what’s the first thing you fancy doing other than play live? What have you realised you’ve missed these past few months that maybe you weren’t consciously aware of until now?

“A huge album release party!”

Confessional Time: Bea Kristi, ready to head out on the road as soon as the coast is clear again, post-pandemic.

For a link to last December’s feature/interview with Beabadoobee, head here.

Beabadoobee has announced a run of headline shows in celebration of the release of her debut LP, the 14-date Fake It Flowers tour taking place across the UK and Ireland next autumn, calling at: Tuesday, September 7th – Manchester O2 Ritz; Thursday, September 9th – Leeds Beckett University; Friday, September 10th – Nottingham Rescue Rooms; Saturday, September 11th – Birmingham O2 Institute; Monday, September 13th – Cambridge Junction; Tuesday, September 14th – Leicester O2 Academy; Thursday, September 23rd – London O2 Kentish Town Forum; Friday, September 24th – Bristol SWX; Saturday, September 25th – Oxford O2 Academy; Tuesday, September 28th – Dublin Academy; Wednesday, September 29th – Belfast Oh Yeah Music Centre; Saturday, October 2nd – Newcastle University Students’ Union; Sunday, October 3rd – Edinburgh Liquid Room; Monday, October 4th – Glasgow SWG 3.

To order Fake It Flowers head here, and to buy tickets for the tour, try this link. You can also keep in touch with Bea via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,  Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music.

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The further adventures of Nohope Cowherd – celebrating the return of Bradford, with Ewan Butler and Ian Hodgson

Clash Roots: Stephen Street, Ian Hodgson and Ewan Butler, under the Westway, London (Photo: Fernando Martins)

They were always something of a conundrum to me. An indie outfit from Blackburn called Bradford, who at the time the North West of England showed the way with the late ‘80s Madchester scene, didn’t quite fit the baggy bill with their skinhead image.

What’s more, local press did something of a hatchet job after the band spoke in less than glossy terms about their down at heel hometown, at a time when Thatcherism had taken its toll on the area.

But you only have to go back and listen to debut LP, Shouting Quietly, to remind yourself what great songs they wrote. And while their adventures in rock’n’roll were somewhat short-lived, they’re back now, carrying on where they left off 29 years after splitting, new single ‘Like Water’ the first release from the Bright Hours album, due to land early next year.

Bradford’s 21st century re-imagining involves just two of the five-piece behind that debut LP, but Ian Hodgson (vocals) and Ewan Butler (guitar) are now joined by Stephen Street, the London producer responsible for Shouting Quietly as well as key Smiths, Blur, Cranberries, Morrissey, New Order, Babyshambles and Kaiser Chiefs LPs.

It was Stephen, off the back of a successful collaboration with newly-solo Morrissey, who signed the band to his fledgling Foundation label back then, praise following for their ‘intelligent and distinctive, finely crafted pop songs,’ as Sounds put it in May 1988That first LP wasrecorded over ‘three intense weeks of creative endeavour’, released in March 1990 to critical acclaim, international tours and shows following with Joe Strummer, The Sugarcubes and Morrissey himself, the former Smiths frontman covering their debut 45 ‘Skin Storm’ at the height of his fame.

Those factors should have been enough for commercial success. But then came the rise of the all-covering avalanche that became known as ‘Madchester’, Bradford’s brand of sharp English pop no longer the order of the day, the band without a label by 1991, ‘adrift again’ and soon going their separate ways.

Back they came in 2018 though, Thirty Years Of Shouting Quietly seeing the debut album lovingly remastered and re-released in a 30-song collection on Turntable Friend Records, re-appraised as a ‘lost English classic’, setting the cogs in motion for Ian and Ewan to record again, finding the original magic alive and well. Confident in a clutch of new songs that were identifiably Bradford by blueprint, they contacted their former producer, and it was game on.

As Stephen put it, “When I brought the original Foundation Label to an end in the ‘90s and Bradford disbanded, I often wondered what happened to the guys in the band, particularly Ian and Ewan, who I regarded as the mainstays. So, although a huge amount of time had passed, and it was a complete surprise to hear from them last year, it felt completely ‘right’ to get involved and help bring the idea of a new Bradford album to full fruition.”

Monochrome Set: Ewan, Ian and Stephen Street – a new-look Bradford, by the Thames, Chiswick (Photo: Fernando Martins)

With an album’s worth of material ready in waiting, Stephen’s studio expertise and resounding confidence in the tracks proved to be the catalyst bringing Bright Hours into focus. And as Ian put it, “To see Stephen’s familiar frame leaning over the control desk in quiet concentration once more after three decades was for Ewan and I nothing short of amazing.  Amazing too was to hear the results. The songs I’d written seemed to become almost immediately wider, brighter, deeper, shinier as soon as Ewan and Stephen bent their ears then began their alchemy with them. They’re like diamond dogs – they hear things I cannot hear in them.”


I caught up with Ian and Ewan at the latter’s home studio set-up, ‘in a place called Blackburn,’ according to the former. Ah, I’ve heard of that, I countered.

Ian: “Yeah, it be a place where there be monsters! It’s on the edge of the world. Don’t sail there.”

I’ll bear that in mind. And to save us from visiting in these socially-distanced times, I asked if they were planning on touring the new songs when it’s safe to do so … sometime this century.

Ian: “Oh, my word. We’ve not really configured that in, to be honest. I mean … you’ll know Stephen Street, of course … well, he lives in a place called London …”

I’ve heard of that as well.

Ian: “Yeah, and it be a long way away … so logistically it’s not that easy for us to rehearse. But we’ll wait to see what’s happening. If we start selling half a million copies of Bright Hours … And we want Elbow to have us as a support at Manchester Arena. Then we might get a band together.”

Did you two stay in touch after the band split?

Ewan: “We always maintained contact, and always been good friends. There have been times when I wasn’t living here and Ian’s been doing other stuff, but our paths would cross from time to time. In the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve seen more of each other, and always got on well, had that kind of vibe.”

New Arrival: The long-awaited new Bradford single, with cover artwork by Tony Bentley at The Bentley Studio

New Arrival: The long-awaited new Bradford single, with cover artwork from Tony Bentley at The Bentley Studio

What about former bandmates John Baulcombe (keyboards), Jos Murphy (bass), and Mark McVittie (drums) – were they out of the picture?

Ian: “We don’t talk about those three! We’re gonna draw a discreet veil over that. Ha!”

Ewan (realising that won’t sound quite so funny in the cold light of print): “There isn’t any animosity.”

Ian: (catching up) “No, there isn’t!”

Ewan: “It’s just that we kind of lost touch. They don’t live local to us anymore, and over the years they never really expressed any interest in doing any work with us.”

Well, thankfully, that Street fella knows his way around the odd instrument.

Ian: “Oh, my word, does he! He’s played some great parts on the album, and this is it, really. We were cracking along in the studio and sending stuff down to Stephen, who took everything to a new level, fixing and mixing, adding performances on certain songs with his bass. It’s been fantastic.”

It’s been quite a year for it. There was reformed late-‘70s/early ‘80s new wave outfit The Vapors, from my hometown of Guildford, Surrey, with a first album in 39 years. Then we had under-sung indie faves BOB with a remastered eventual release of what should have been an LP release in 1992. Both corking records. Now this, a second Bradford LP, three decades after the first. What kept you?

Ewan: “I left Blackburn after Bradford split up, which was about 1991, Ian started working with other bands and went off with different artists, doing different stuff. So it never really arose as a realistic kind of possibility of us working together until 2010-ish.”

Studio Tan: Ewan, Stephen and Ian get down to it at the Bunker Studio in Latimer Road. Photo: Fernando Martins

Ian: “I was offered a support slot for Glenn Tilbrook at Blackburn Museum, and at that stage said to Ewan, ‘Fancy doing a couple of songs for old time’s sake? So we started doing ‘Skin Storm’ again, stuff like that. That was the spark. A record company got in touch, did 30 Years of Shouting Quietly, and that got us into playing again and recording together. I shared it with Stephen (Street) on the off-chance, he loved it, thought it was great and got involved in a really deep way, became a band member. And here we are now.”

Was it unfinished business? Were the songs borne out of ideas that hung around over the years, or was it freshly put together?

Ian: “I live my life through song. I constantly write, not just to make records. I write a couple of songs a month maybe. They flow through me. I had a lot of music and it was quite a process – 30 years of bloody songs! I’m not joking, over 300 songs, and presented them to Ewan. Well … not all of them. And we came out with what we thought was a real strong set. Stephen sequenced it, and if you play your cards right, you’ll get a copy at some stage!”

Talking of your solo days, my pal Jim – a Blackburn lad who’s been to a hatful of gigs with me this past quarter-century since I moved up north – recalls you supporting former Bible frontman Boo Hewerdine in the unlikely rock’n’roll setting of Tockholes Village Hall. And I gather you borrowed Boo’s guitar to join him on a number.

Ian: “Yes, in fact, I saw Boo again at Darwen Library Theatre a year or so ago, supporting Chris Difford. It was a bit of a challenge really, that night. It was a bass guitar, and I didn’t even know the song. He was shouting out chord changes, and when somebody’s shouting ‘D’, it sounds really similar to ‘B’ or ‘E’! But I thought I did okay.”

Well, he didn’t tell me you disgraced yourself. He also told me that part-way through the evening he saw the curtains flap, and someone turned up with a Chinese takeaway. It’s clearly a long way in rock’n’roll from Montmartre with The Sugarcubes to Tockholes.

“Yeah, man. Actually, seeing as you mentioned The Vapors before, me and my missus saw them at Portmeirion on their reunion, doing the New Clear Days album. Absolutely fantastic! There’s a picture of me and (lead singer) Dave Fenton. I was a big fan.”

Clearly a man of great taste. And here’s another link to my past, fellow WriteWyattUK interviewee Jo Bartlett reminding me Bradford were one of the only bands to play her Buzz Club at Aldershot’s West End Centre twice. At the time I was writing my Captains Log fanzine, dispatching a couple of friends to do a review in my absence at the April ’89 date, as I was holidaying in Portugal. But I was there for your November return. Jo told me there were around 170 punters first time, but my diary suggests far fewer when you returned.

Morrisey's Favourite: Skin Storm, the debut single by Bradford, from a Chris Ball photograph

Morrisey’s Favourite: Skin Storm, the debut single by Bradford, its image from a Chris Ball photograph

Ewan: “I do remember those shows. Yeah, first time it was quite full, but second time it wasn’t as well attended, possibly down to the fact that the music scene was in flux at the time. We were slowly being edged out.”

There’s a kind of irony in that – when the record industry finally woke up and took an interest in the region, they were looking for a different kind of band.

Ewan: “Exactly!”

Ian: “When we first played the Buzz Club … we’ve got a poster, and The Stone Roses played five weeks before us …”

Indeed, they did. I was there.

“And it was £2.99 to see them. Then we played in April, and … drum-roll moment … it was £3.49 to see us. So we were 50p bigger than The Stone Roses at the beginning of 1989!”

I’ve seen that poster again recently, via Jo’s Indie through the Looking Glass website, with you billed as ‘Morrissey’s favourites’.

Ian: “That’s right, and it was a pivotal moment. Their album had just come out when we recorded Shouting Quietly in Wales that June, and I remember listening to their album, being kind of jealous – a bit snippy. When you look back, it’s cheeky, but there you go. It’s stood the test of time. And that became the big thing, but we weren’t dancey and weren’t groovy.”

You weren’t The Charlatans, were you … you didn’t quite fit that profile the A&R types felt they wanted.

Ian: “Correct. And that saw us off really.”

Where was the studio you recorded at in Wales?

“Loco, not far from a place called Cwrt Bleddyn, I think.”

The inflatable WriteWyattUK Ordnance Survey globe identifies that long-gone studio as not far from Newport, Chepstow and legendary Rockfield Studios. Was that recording process an enjoyable experience?

Second Out: The follow-up single, its cover shot on the Grane Road, Haslingden, Lancashire

Second Out: The follow-up single, its cover shot taken on the Grane Road, Haslingden, Lancashire

Ian: “An amazing experience! We were all off the dole, and all of a sudden proper professional musicians. It was a glorious summer and although it was only three intense weeks – recording, mixing, the whole shebang – Stephen worked like a Trojan. One of the highlights of my life really.”

There was clearly something in the air. That following month I met my better half in Turkey … and that’s why I’m in Lancashire now. And our first gig together? Seeing you at Aldershot Buzz Club that November. And we’ve now been together more than 30 years. I can’t put that all down to you, mind.

Ian: “Well, that’s a good story! I like that – get that in the article!”

The LP finally landed nine months later, I still have the vinyl, and it’s totally stood the test of time. Tracks like ‘Always Torn’ jump out, with a kind of Orange Juice feel.

Ian: “Interesting. Nobody’s ever said that before. I’m a huge fan of Orange Juice and Edwyn Collins. That kind of fey feel, and he’s very lyrical.”

Listening back, I hear something of Elvis Costello and the Attractions on various tracks. Not just because of Ian’s vocal delivery. And on second single, ‘Adrift Again’, which also really stands up now, there’s almost a feel of old East Anglian favourites, The Farmer’s Boys.

Ian: “My word. I don’t even know who they are … but I was going through a wordplay phase, and ‘To Have and To Hurt’ is a bit Costello-ish. So, well spotted – I was very influenced by Elvis Costello. I think he’s one of our best songwriters.”

It’s heart on the sleeve, heartfelt, and – talking of wordplay – opening track ‘Greed and Peasant Land’ is veritably drenched in it!

Ian: “it is! Yeah, it was a phase. We’ve moved on a bit!”

Don’t take this wrong, but there’s a lovely kind of naivety, if you don’t mind me saying. The lyrics were certainly impassioned, not least the opening verse, something of a statement of intent …

‘I dragged my butt across the town, past empty mills and sad fashion clowns; I walk this Land of Dope and Tory, that would be funny if it wasn’t so true’.

Good to see we’ve moved on in three decades, eh?

Ian: “Yeah, right mate! It’s probably just as relevant.”

Take Three: The third Bradford 45, shot on the Mersey estuary

Take Three: The third 45, shot on the Mersey estuary

Was that written about your hometown?

Ian: “Yeah, we were part of the Blackburn Escape Committee, I suppose. We had an interview in the NME with Sarah Champion. She was lovely, wrote for a Manchester magazine as well. We were very honest about our experiences in Blackburn and the local paper picked up on it, did a hit-piece on us. We got really vilified for that.”

Ewan: “We did. I had someone come up to me in a pub, threatening me. The repercussions were quite significant.”

Ian: “Yeah, I got death threat phone calls! Ha!”

It says on the inner sleeve, ‘Bradford, North of Manchester’. Got that compass fixed yet? And while you’ve probably been asked this 100 times, what was the thinking behind the name? That’s almost provocative in itself, taking the name of another mill-town on the other side of the Roses’ border. How did five lads from Blackburn become Bradford?

Ewan: “The name goes back long before I met Ian. I was working with another singer, when I was about 16, and it was very much a bedroom kind of low-key, ‘let’s make a band’ set-up. The name was something he proposed, and kind of stuck. As the band develoed, others joined, and the name was never really addressed as an issue. Then, before we knew it, Morrissey said what he said, and we were kind of stuck with it. To be honest, if a band’s successful, they take ownership of that name – it becomes something bigger than the connotations of what people might want to make of it.”

Ian: “I mean, who’d have thought a band called The Police would be big? Nobody really warms to that as a name, but it didn’t stop them guys. In this day and age though, I wish we picked something else – if you search ‘Bradford’ online, you come up with Bradford bands and their city council. But it was just a hard name … a bit strange-sounding.”

Ewan: “And it has a kind of working-class element to it, which tied in with where we were at.”

Ian: “It was short of any pretensions. There was no glamour.”

A group of lads (and fellow WriteWyattUK interviewees) from nearby Colne whose debut LP followed in 1991 claimed a name that may have fit better – Milltown Brothers.

Ian: “Yeah! Actually, my friend Paul, who has a studio in Lancaster, is working with them again. They’re recording new things as well.”

My Gang: The fourth Bradford 45, its cover image shot on Queen's Park Lake in their hometown of Blackburn

My Gang: The fourth Bradford 45, its cover image shot on Queen’s Park Lake in their hometown of Blackburn

Glad to hear it. Great band. There was something else that perhaps jarred in some quarters though – the skinhead thing. That probably confused a few people.

Ewan: “In what sense?”

Well, many of us understood the fashionable roots of skinhead culture and a love of Bluebeat, Motown, ‘60s ska, soul, and so on. But there was also the menacing, moronic right-wing mentality of some of those adopting that look.

Ewan: “Fortunately, we’d all grown up with exposure to excellent music, from punk to soul to 2 Tone, and were aware of that kind of music, so it was a development of that kind of vibe. It was never about right-wing, Skrewdriver-type connotations. It was very much related to soul.”

So were you reclaiming that look back from the fascists?

Ian: “Absolutely, and Ewan’s brother Kevin was a proper skinhead who worked with Martin Hewes from The Redskins, printing Socialist Workers Party magazines down in London. We’d go see The Redskins a lot. We loved them. It kind of came from that really.”

Ewan: “We always had that exposure to that kind of ska, early skinhead music, so it was a natural kind of thing … and it’s still a great look, I think.”

Ian: “It was more like a hard Mod thing. I was never impressed by the bonehead kind of MA1 (flight) jacket, shaved head, tattoos on the face, stupidly-long Doc Martens. Come on, man – that’s not cool, is it! I’d rather have loafers.”

Only one band pulls off the DM look, I reckon – WriteWyattUK pin-ups The Undertones.

Ian: “Undertones! Fantastic!”

Back to questionable right-wing sentiments though, and I have to ask about your old pal Morrissey. I imagine it was quite a rush initially to get that plug from him though, in turn offering a tour support.

Getting Flighty: The original Shouting Quietly sleeve image, featuring Horst Tappe's celebrated early '60s portrait of Noel Coward.

Getting Flighty: The original Shouting Quietly sleeve, featuring Horst Tappe’s early ’60s Noel Coward portrait

Ian: “Yes, we played Wolverhampton Civic Hall, his first solo gig, where we first met him, becoming friends. He’d come round my house quite a lot, send postcards, ring me on a fairly regular basis, and yeah … a really fantastic, highly intelligent icon.

“Recently, I think he’s fallen off the perch a little, perhaps, but in a way, he’s doing what he’s always done – for good or ill, speaking his mind, I suppose.”

We’ve had this again recently, John Lydon photographed backing Brexit and Trump. All a bit odd, and disappointing. But because it’s Lydon, you think, does he really believe this, or is it just situationism and provocation nonsense, making you question everything?

Ian: “Yeah, like is it an artist statement and being post-modernist ironic? Ha!”

And is ‘Radio Edna’ still broadcasting, as per the song on your debut LP?

“Yeah, that was a real lady at the top of my street in Mill Hill. She had a corner shop. Basically, nowt got past her, y’know!”

Did she know about the song?

“No! I didn’t want to tell her, really. Mum and Dad used to get their loaf from there – I didn’t want to sour relations!”

Neil Arthur, of Blancmange fame, from nearby Darwen, told me a lovely story about an old dear back home – after he’d been on Top of the Pops with ‘Living on the Ceiling’ – calling him out for singing about being ‘up the bloody tree’ on national TV, bringing him back down to earth with a  bang.

Ian: “Ha! Yeah, and Edna were a bit severe. She really was. She had tripe in the window and everything. Proper cornershop.”

Three’s Company: Ewan Butler, Ian Hodgson and Stephen Street – Bradford’s much-feared defensive formation, the trio shot beneath Hammersmith Bridge on a visit to the capital (Photo: Fernando Martins)

Were you all originally from Blackburn?

Ewan: “Yeah, all scattered about really.”

Ian: “I’m from Mill Hill, which has a bit of a reputation, I suppose. That’s why I wrote ‘Gang of One’ – I didn’t really fit in with a lot of what was going on, and some incredibly dodgy characters.”

Ewan: “Certainly me and Ian came from quite rough neighbourhoods.”

I hope the Lancashire Telegraph doesn’t go big on this, open up the old wounds. And what brought you together? Why did you gravitate towards each other?

Ewan: “It was definitely a shared love of music which brought us to meet each other – a Blackburn Musicians’ Collective meeting. At the time we had a different singer, but I clocked Ian straight away and when I heard him play … He was performing as a solo artist with guitar, and, ‘This guy’s got a lot of talent and can sing really well’. No disrespect to our previous singer, but he was someone who made an impression on me straight away, and I thought it would be great if we could get him in the band. So we kind of hankered after that. Musically as well, we had so much in common – we liked the same kind of bands. It felt natural.”

Ian: “I was volunteering for this community arts (venture) and did my own fanzine there, Just 4 Minutes. It ran to 11 issues and in the last one I interviewed Paul Weller, then with The Style Council, that interview ending up in a book called Mr Cool’s Dream. I was also the chair of that collective – not the chairman, it was the 1980s, all very PC.

“I got people to fill in a form to see what their musical influences were, and when Ewan rocked up with his compadres, first I noticed how fucking cool they looked! A lot of it at the time was middle-class lads, long-ish hair, a bit grungey, ‘aren’t we rebels’. But these guys drifted in and looked sharp. Then I looked at the forms they filled in – it was The Clash, Redskins, Motown … Oh, my God, it was like a dream! All the bands I liked, but they’re in that band and I’m over here on my own. So that’s where it began really.”

Waterside Reception: The five-piece Bradford, in their Foundation label days, with Ian H out front and Ewan on his left shoulder, the image shot on Queen’s Park Lake in the band’s hometown of Blackburn, Lancashire

Seeing as you mentioned The Clash, how about touring with Joe Strummer?

Ian: “Can I tell the story … about the underpants?”

Ewan: (side-stepping his bandmate’s question, but realising it won’t be long before ‘the tale is told’, as Morrissey would say) “Well, supporting Joe Strummer was the most amazing experience. The Clash were my No.1 band, so to be able to support Joe was an absolute dream come true. But it was more than just getting to play with him. We shared a dressing room, rocked up in the afternoon, spent time chatting to him, passing his Telecaster around …”

Ian: “It had the peeling ‘Ignore Alien Orders’ sticker on it, and was like some kind of Holy Grail. We all started picking it up, standing in front of the mirror. I’m left-handed and even I had a do! Then Joe walked in as we were messing around, and oh my God. We all kind of looked at him, and he just smiled, went over to a table and started skinning up. He made a joint like a sleeping bag. Unbelievable. Our bass player was so bombed off it, he couldn’t even soundcheck, he was so blown away! But Joe was doing them all night and managed a blinding performance.

“Also, I saw him get changed before I went on, and was deeply shocked to see he had purple Y-fronts. I mean, what underwear do you think Joe Strummer would wear?”

Joe was with his Latino Rockabilly War outfit at the time, touring the Earthquake Weather solo LP.

Ian: “We were trying to talk to him about the last days of The Clash, and he was really embarrassed about that final incarnation of the band.”

Ian’s now 56, with Ewan five years younger, but both saw The Clash play – Ian twice and Ewan half a dozen times, although both only saw the classic line-up once, on the 16 Tons tour at Blackburn in late January 1980, London Calling newly released.

Ewan: “The rest were on the Out of Control tour and a miners’ benefit. But yeah, just amazing.”

Ian: “I’ll tell you what, that gig at the King George’s Hall – flipping ‘eck! It’s hard to describe the intensity and power. What’s left of the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up just speaking about it! It was incredible, y’know.”

Remastered, Re-appraised: The cover image for the 2018 take on Bradford’s acclaimed Shouting Quietly album

You also supported The Sugarcubes. Did you get to properly meet Björk?

Ian: “Well, there’s another story! Paris, December 1988, playing Elysee Montmartre, where the Sacre Coeur is, but also Pigalle, the Soho of Paris, getting lots of come-ons from transvestite prostitutes. Anyone with a street urchin look … a bit of an eye-opener, to say the least. But we met Björk backstage, and Einar (Örn Benediktsson) from the band was a bit embarrassed, thinking, ‘Oh no, here’s some real skinheads, and I’m just pretending!’ So he was hanging back a bit, but I asked Björk for an autograph. We had a Sugarcubes poster we’d ripped off the wall. She gave me a kiss on the cheek, laughed, and drew a very rude picture on it, writing a word I’ve never tried to translate. A dick and balls and this word. I don’t know if she was calling me a nobhead!”

You may not have fitted in with the Madchester scene, but I hear you in the band Gene – another band with a Stephen Street link – on their debut LP, Olympian from 1995. So were you just jinxed – was it bad timing on your part, missing out on more fame?

Ewan: “The band that became Gene, Sp!n, were stablemates of us on Foundation. That said, I’ve seen Martin Rossiter – maybe responding to Stephen Street – kind of suggest he didn’t know of us.”

In a sense, you went out with a fizzle in the end.

Ian: “Absolutely. It was so disappointing. I remember cockily signing off the dole with a ‘You won’t be seeing me here again’ sort of thing, then three years later had to sign on again with the same effing guy I’d more or less thrown a pen at and said, ‘See you later, mate – you’ll see me on Top of the Pops’. I’m back, saying, ‘Yeah, it’s Mr Hodgson, and I’m available for work’. Absolutely crushing.”

Ewan: “It was sad. We were really ground down as individuals, starting to fall out with each other. At one stage we thought it was gonna work, it was all going to happen, then it seemed to fall apart. And with the collapse of Foundation, we didn’t have an outlet for our music, and the gigs we played seemed to be the worst venues. It really got to us, yet if we’d held out a couple more years … the Britpop thing was right up our street, we’d have fallen with ease into that genre.”

So the rebirth is on some level at least about carrying on where you left off?

Ian: “I suppose. It’s a strange thing, but there’s nothing contrived. It’s all happened organically. Even with Stephen getting involved, we didn’t have a business meeting about it. He was impressed with the material we were sending him. It just feels right, and we’re convinced if people get to hear this record and it gets the right exposure, they’ll really enjoy it.”

Hammersmith Valets: Ewan, Ian and Stephen, are all set to deliver the second Bradford album, three decades after their debut, here on a photo shoot in West London, caught beneath Hammersmith Bridge (Photo: Fernando Martins)

For a link to the Bradford’s ‘Like Water’ and how to get a copy, head here. And for the latest from Bradford, follow them via Facebook.

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Exploring transcendental meditation lockdown blues – talking More Than Time with Carl Hunter

At a time when concerns grow over the possibility of a further national lockdown in the battle against COVID-19, a newly-released short film documenting the streets of Liverpool as you’ve most likely never seen them before gives a timely reminder of a period we’re hoping won’t be repeated.

Carl Hunter’s More Than Time offers a powerful take on the international pandemic, featuring his home city but relevant to many others, fusing evocative images with a stirring soundtrack and spoken-word reflections, leaving a big impression on the viewer.

You may know Carl best as the bass player of Merseyside crossover indie dance  collective The Farm, whose nine top-40 hits included 1990 top-10s ‘Groovy Train’ and ‘All Together Now’, gold-certified 1991 LP Spartacus topping the charts a year later.

While occasionally on the circuit with his band, his working days mostly involve filmmaking and a senior media lecturing role at Edge Hill University, near Ormskirk, these days. And although the pandemic put paid to much of that this year, 55-year-old Carl remained busy.

More Than Time takes us back to when high streets were deserted and the world seemed a very different place, shops and eateries closed on a real-life set of what often resembled a post-apocalyptic movie; city centres thriving on hustle and bustle becoming ghost towns overnight.

And during that period, Carl ultimately saw a creative opportunity to document this unique moment, lockdown leading to what some saw as a ‘less than time’, yet he’d rather view, as per a description by close friend and occasional writing partner Frank Cottrell-Boyce as a transcendent ‘more than time’.

In the film, anonymous messages left on a telephone answer machine concerning loss and memory play over the top of Carl’s photographs and a soundtrack by Farm guitarist/tunesmith and TV/ documentary music scorer Steve Grimes. The result is an eight-minute symphony of image and sound from the streets of a deserted city,  describes by its architect as a ‘poetic response to the COVID pandemic’, where ‘memory populates streets of a once vibrant city, instead of its people’.

Produced by Martin McQuillan of Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE, a ‘hub for connecting ideas and students to cultural industries regionally, nationally and internationally’) and edited by ICE manager Roz Di Caprio (who also produces The Lonely Arts Club podcast), there’s also key input from sound designer Sam Auguste, who previously collaborated with Carl on Sometimes Always Never, among other film projects.

Reflection Time: Liverpool’s sign of the times, the Duke of Welly above, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

As Carl put it, “I was interested to explore strands of sound and image that draw on my experiences as a film director, musician, and academic researcher. It’s important that universities accommodate filmmakers. It’s also important that filmmakers who work in universities have something to say about lockdown.”

The ICE also co-produces films with Moscow’s Bazelevs Studios and Liverpool’s Hurricane Films, the latter’s CV including Sometimes Always Never and with Farm drummer turned writer Roy Boulter its co-director.

Carl was just back from an inspirational visit to an exhibition of the revered Don McCullin’s photography at Tate Liverpool when we spoke, promising to return as soon as possible.

“I decided to spend half an hour there, have a look, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing. I’ll go back tomorrow or the day after, spend a while longer. It’s very humbling. He photographed so much pain and suffering that now he does landscapes, which he sees as cleansing or meditation. If you’re in Liverpool, I’d highly recommend it.”

It’s definitely on my list, not least after a recent visit to the Walker Art Gallery across town to see the Linda McCartney photography exhibition. Did you get to see that?

“Yeah, anything Beatles-connected, I’m a bit of a geek for, but what was great about Linda, aside from that connection, was that she was an incredibly brilliant photographer in her own right, and the exhibition reflects that really well, proving she was a great photographer before she met Paul.

“I’m a huge fan of photography and take photos every day, and after the Linda McCartney exhibition I went home and having seen a lot of Polaroids there, dug my own out, out of curiosity. I’ve got loads and I’ve been going through them, and might do something with those someday, perhaps another book project inspired by those photographs with my friend, Frank (Cottrell-Boyce).”

Sounds good. In the spirit of the project that led to the pair of you co-writing 2011’s The Unforgotten Coat (having previously worked together on the splendid 2007 film Grow Your Own, the first time I became aware of Carl’s path beyond his bass guitar and sleeve design duties with The Farm)?

“Exactly! And a few years later, at some point another copy will arrive through the front door from the publisher, Walker, translated for a new edition. There’s been Japanese, Mongolian, French, German … about once a year in yet another language!”

Clear Message: The writing’s on the wall in a defining year, Liverpool, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

Has he managed to get back to his university lecturing role of late?

“Not a great deal, I’m back there at the moment and students arrive soon. But what happens when they arrive, who knows … one by one universities are deciding to go online, so maybe we will be, which is a shame. The whole point of teaching for me is the interaction between yourself and the students, where A can inspire B, and B can inspire A. It’s two-way traffic, so when it goes online … my heart sinks.

“I do feel for the students, but equally, safety is really important. I don’t know what the answer is. On the other hand, It seem that this Government don’t all want working class, poorer kids in university. They’d rather fatten further education and reduce higher education to a more elite group. That’s fucking dangerous and it’s got to be stopped!

“Everyone has the right to an education and to do a degree. But for some, a degree isn’t the answer. As a society we’ve introduced a value system which is wrong, that somehow if you’ve a BA you’re of more value than someone who’s done their HND or OND or BTEC. That’s nonsense. We need to move back to a time where the value’s the same.

“When I went to art school, it was Liverpool Polytechnic, and those polytechnics were brilliant. It kind of worries me now that this pandemic is playing partly into the hands of this Government, thinking maybe this is a good opportunity to look at universities and which we want to keep and support.

“That’s dangerous, and there’s this argument about the state and people who work in the arts. For me, capitalism and art are enemies. It’s okay if you’re Damien Hirst, securing millions for your work. Capitalism likes that, but art isn’t about making money. I’ve no issue with people making money out of art, but it’s about expression, feeling good, well-being, discovery, exploring things … Sometimes those things don’t have a financial value, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have any value. And there’s a great danger in culture, where we’re heading, where the only value in anything has to be monetary. I cannot agree with that at all.”

Carl’s helping lead the way in a more inspirational sense though, helping show the way through creativity, as seen with the More Than Time project. A lovely idea, and brilliantly pulled off.

“Thank you very much. It came about during lockdown. I’d drive into Liverpool occasionally, out of boredom really, and the city I grew up in and know like the back of my hand, I’d never seen it so empty. It was almost apocalyptic.

Empty streets: An eery Liverpool, locked down during the pandemic, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

“I thought I’d take photos, just out of curiosity, document this moment in time. Initially, I wanted to use Polaroids, but they’re incredibly expensive and the success rate’s about 50%. I’m also a fan of disposable cameras though, so I took shots on my phone with the idea of converting them so they look like disposable camera photos.

“Walking around Liverpool when it was empty, it felt like I was the only person on Earth. Almost like you’re in your own novel, and I imagined that if I’d taken a disposable camera with me then just left the camera somewhere for someone to find, and later someone found and developed the film, they’d have a whole set of prints of an empty Liverpool and begin to imagine what that was all about. Where were all the people?

“When I went back through these photos, I was thinking I’ve got to do something with these, but I don’t know what. Then I had this idea about setting up an answer machine, putting a call out to people in Liverpool to leave a message, say what they were missing about Liverpool. I ended up with loads of messages, using those as a kind of narrative. And sometimes I was completely lucky that I’d photographed the locations they mentioned.”

In a terrible year bridging the gap between dystopia and reality, it’s a great concept, and I recognised at least one voice, the afore-mentioned Frank Cottrell-Boyce contemplating missing mass at his church, while others talk about alternative places of worship – pubs, shops, libraries, theatres, markets, football grounds, and so on.

“Frank is always philosophical, and what he sees is one of the reasons I love him as a writer and a friend. He sees humanity and has a great talent in seeing good in humanity among the horror, defeat and bad times. And when Frank talks about how we’re living in a ‘more than time’, I thought, ‘That’s a great title!’.

As well as the photographs and messages, there’s also a compelling soundtrack, supplied by your good friend and bandmate, Steve Grimes.

“Steve’s a huge fan of Brian Eno, and we were chatting and he said Eno explored all this in the ‘70s. He had an idea, so after we edited the film, I sent it to Steve, who sent back this choral, Eno-esque soundtrack, which is brilliant.”

And you had backing from Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE).

“Yes, I do quite a lot of work with them, and as someone interested in photography, film, music, art and design, I tick a few of those boxes in the fabric of my days, so my relationship with ICE is quite strong and goes hand in glove – that’s where I gravitate towards, and they respond very quickly to ideas.

Booked Out: From Carl’s images of his home city in COVID lockdown, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

“When I mentioned this box of photographs and the idea of an answer machine and soundtrack, they said, ‘Do it! If you need money, we’ll help financially’. It cost virtually nothing to make, but sound design was very important and Sam (Auguste), who did that, also worked on Sometimes Always Never and two shorts I did before. Yes, poor Sam’s had the misfortune of being stuck with me in recording studios for months on end. I tip my hat to that man!

“Sound design was so important. We were developing this idea about how when photos have no people in them, you add this imagined idea of what the sounds were like. When you look at a silent photo, it’s silent, but if you then find that photograph after a film’s been processed, without realising it, you imagine the sound that was there.

“Photographs generate a whole emotive response. But your response would be a different response to the one I’m imagining, based on our own past, or whatever. So you’re kind of populating what’s essentially a silent film with the missing noise.”

I see from your social media posts there’s been another project of late, working on photographs concentrating on typography in the bricks found on the Merseyside coast where you walk every day.

“Yes, the coast is really important to me. I go walking a lot, taking photos, and started to notice something you don’t tend to associate with the beach – words. Words are what you use to describe how you feel about being on the beach – it’s hot, it’s fun, it’s windy, whatever. But it’s all audio. You don’t expect to see words on the beach.

“I became fascinated by seeing these words. But it’s not so much the words as the typography. The specific words themselves aren’t so important. It’s almost trainspotting, isn’t it?”

Not in an Irvine Welsh or Danny Boyle way though.

“Ha! No way. If only. But once I’ve a camera in my hand and go walking, I find it’s impossible not to be inspired by spotting something.”

Six Appeal: The Farm in a Sire Records publicity shot from 1994, with Carl Hunter far left (Photo: Mark McNulty)

It’s been 15 months since our last conversation, at which point I caught you at the airport, about to head to Canada to help publicise Sometimes Always Never alongside one of its stars, Tim McInnerney. A lot’s happened since, and my last gig was in March, one of just three I’ve seen This year, 2020’s live casualties including several shows for The Farm.

“We had a lot of festivals this summer and were out with Madness again, always a real joy for us – being old friends. Every gig disappeared, bas has been rescheduled for next summer, and weirdly we’ve got more next summer, as some two-day festivals have been booked for three days. Of course, that’s sheer optimism, but I hope so. I miss playing and days out in a bus watching a movie.”

Incidentally, has the time arrived for a proper biography of The Farm?

“We’ve never really been interested in doing one, and there’s that thing that you like to think if there was a bio, the world would be waiting for the day of release so they can go to Waterstone’s and buy it. But I think the reality is that the day arrives, you wander into Waterstone’s and there’s your biography hidden in a corner, people crowding around Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s latest interior design book in their thousands while you realise your current place in popular culture!”

A bit like ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron, maybe, his memoir reduced from £25 to £3, I see. I take your point, but The Farm were far more important in a positive, creative sense. Besides, the band continues to this day, but none of you are trading on your past, having used the band as a springboard to several other creative careers, in music, film, art …. An inspirational tale of a group of unlikely scallies coming good, right?

“Mmm … an article, maybe, but I think a book would be probably 88 pages too far! Jayne Casey, a long-time friend of the band and someone I’ve the greatest respect for – one of the heroes of music, culture and art in Liverpool – said something to me years ago which summed up The Farm more than anything anyone else ever did. She was talking about how we went off and became novelists, screenwriters, filmmakers, composers, producers, lots of other things. She said basically you’re a working-class version of Blur, but nobody gives you credit for it. A very good description of us.”

I must say, Carl’s Merseyside accent confused me there, and I thought for a moment he meant a ‘working-class Blair’ … thinking ex-PM Tony (rather than celebrity dancer Lionel).

“It definitely wouldn’t be him!”

I take your point on the biography, but feel there’s at least room for a future documentary about The Farm.

“We should turn us into the smallest deck of Top Trumps. There’s only five in the pack though, so it’d be the shittest game of Top Trumps ever. ‘Peter Hooton – broadcaster, cultural correspondent, 7 … Carl Hunter – film director, 4 …’

Steps Taken: Not a soul around during the COVID-19 lockdown, Liverpool, 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

It could just work. I’ll get my marketing team on to that. We should add ice cream man to Peter’s description too, after his cameo in Sometimes Always Never. Incidentally, you could definitely have more than five cards. As well as Peter (vocals) and Carl (bass), the afore-mentioned Roy Boulter (drums) and Steve Grimes (guitar, keyboards, tunes) plus Keith Mullin (guitar), how about Ben Leach?

“He lives in France. Not seen him for years, but he’s always welcome to join us. We’ve never fallen out. There’s Shona (Carmen), our backing singer, too. She’s great.”

So that’s a Magnificent 7, at least, with several more having featured over the years with a band that initially formed in 1983, Suggs producing debut single, ‘Hearts and Minds’, the following year.

And going back to the question he asked contributors to the More Than Time project, what did Carl miss during the lockdown and over the course of 2020 that perhaps he hadn’t realised he would?

“I think what I missed most in a way was friendship. We all have lots of friends, if you’re lucky enough, so not being able to see your friends and family, that was problematic. But what I missed really was more to do with the worry. And my worry was about the future after this thing passes – and it hopefully will pass – and what’s left behind, the debris of the pandemic.

“Not the death and loss and sadness, although that’s obviously terrible. There’s another kind of debris left behind, and that’s unemployment and poverty. And in a way what I was missing was that I’m normally optimistic in general, and that optimism was beginning to be diluted. When that happens, self-doubt creeps in and that sense that what’s around the corner isn’t good.

“Look at the way we were starting to think about things a lot more. But as we head towards the exit signs – hopefully – that hasn’t happened. The Tories are still bastards, still making a ploy to get the NHS in their hands – some kind of trade deal or private ownership. I thought that wouldn’t happen. I thought if one good thing comes out of this, it’s the fact that these bastards wouldn’t get their hands on our NHS.”

Typography Fieldtrip: among Carl’s collection of images from his coastal walkabouts (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

True. We were all on our doorsteps, clapping medical staff and carers, thinking at last there was a general realisation regarding who was truly important in our society.

“Yeah, and that (thinking) shifted. Healthcare is the most important thing, yet I read the other day how Eton College was doing covid testing for pupils, whereas others (in the health service) can’t get those tests. That fucking sums it up, doesn’t it! If you go to a comprehensive in Bootle, fuck you – the staff and the kids! There’s this argument that class doesn’t exist anymore. But the only ones who don’t think it exists are the upper and middle classes.

“I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I began to feel more like that. In a way though, doing this film was a kind of medicine. My ideas and optimism were being challenged every day, so the film was kind of like a cleansing process that suggested maybe I was wrong after all.”

Well, creativity has the power to afford us all a little optimism, hope and sunshine, right? And we’ve gotta keep on pushing, as Curtis Mayfield would say.

“Yeah, we gotta keep on keeping on, as the Redskins sang. Now, there’s a song!”

Blazer Glory: Carl enjoys a pint at Irlam Live, Summer 2019, modelling the jacket Bruce Foxton wore as The Jam played Strange Town on Top of the Pops, bought for him by his bandmates at a charity auction, (Photo: Steve Grimes)

For this website’s July 2019 feature/interview with Carl Hunter, timed to celebrate the release of the superb Sometimes Always Never, head here.

And for a link to More Than Time, produced by Martin McQuillan and edited by Roz Di Caprio from Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE), head to https://youtu.be/T805_w4B2SA

 

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Staring at the Rude Boy, 40 years on – the Ray Gange interview

Screen Icon: Ray Gange, back in the day, publicising 1980's part-fictionalised rock documentary, Rude Boy. Photo copyright: Buzzy Enterprises Ltd.

Screen Icon: Ray Gange, back in the day, in a promo for 1980’s Rude Boy. Photo copyright: Buzzy Enterprises Ltd.

Four decades after its release, debate continues over the relative merits of Jack Hazan and David Mingay’s part-fictional rock documentary, Rude Boy. But script issues aside, there’s no doubting this 1980 film holds up as something of a cultural timepiece.

It still provides fascinating viewing for fans of punk rock icons The Clash – with a soundtrack that is often sublime – and anyone with an interest in that first wave of homegrown punk rock, youth culture and its relationship with politics in that period, the ’70s coming to a grinding halt and the UK about to be subjected to the Thatcher era.

And although the lines between fact and fiction are sketchy and somewhat regrettable, it certainly proved to be the making of its protagonist, then-unknown Clash fan Ray Gange.

Ray is now in his early 60s and living on the East Sussex Coast, his association with the film that made his name – his sole leading part – still occasionally opening doors, his love for its main focus undiminished.

Rude Boy follows Ray – his real name used in the movie – as he quits a job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for this happening London four-piece. And while few could credibly class it as one of the greatest rock’n’roll films, that’s not to downplay its strengths.

By all accounts, the project was sprung on the band – in typical chaotic style – by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, giving its independent filmmakers full access. But while you get the idea that the crew often made it up as they went along, seeing the band at such close quarters was enough for many, and the live footage is thrilling, the film also providing a valuable portrayal of Britain on its knees as the old decade ended, picking up on the social and political malaise of the time.

It certainly captures an atmosphere of racial tension in a period when the National Front were whipping up ill-feeling among disenfranchised, gullible white youth. The fact that Ray’s character seems to take right-wing arguments on board doesn’t help viewers empathise with him. You have sympathy at times, but he comes over as a naïve young South Londoner not understanding the band’s anti-racist stance.

That’s a long way from the real Ray though, a far cry from the character Hazan and Mingay loosely scripted. And while he gets a part-credit for the script, he says the filmmakers used that as a device to shield themselves from responsibility for some of the ad-libbed dialogue, seeing himself as a then-novice to filmmaking, able to be exploited by the filmmakers for his friendship with Joe Strummer, and not realising the lasting effect once committed to film.

His character certainly spends a lot of time drinking on set, those involved with the band – like road manager Johnny Green – letting it be known he was always more of a ‘ligger’ and hanger-on than a roadie. That said, a few of his scenes stand the test of time, not least those alongside Joe, notably a pub discussion about politics, then another as he dances under the influence while the Clash frontman gives piano renditions of self-penned blues number, ‘No Reason’ (‘Piano Song’), then Shirley and Lee’s ’Let the Good Times Roll’.

Old Friends: Mick Jones with Ray Gange, at a 2013 unveiling event celebrating Gary Loveridge's Ladbroke Grove mural of Joe Strummer (Photo copyright: Peter Stevens)

Old Friends: Mick Jones with Ray at 2013’s Joe Strummer mural unveiling. Photo copyright: Peter Stevens

Then there’s the footage from Victoria Park at 1978’s Rock Against Racism carnival, Ray – egged on by his director – grabbing the mic. and inciting the audience in a bid to further extend The Clash’s set as the Tom Robinson Band wait in the wings for their already-shortened headline slot.

While largely completed before The Clash recorded their landmark London Calling album, the film never saw the light of day until March 1980. Does it really seem like four decades since the premiere, Ray?

“Not really. Only when someone mentions it!”

Has Ray (who also wrote the foreword of Tony Beesley’s Ignore Alien Orders in 2019, with details found in this feature here), been in touch with the film’s producer and director lately?

“Probably not for about seven years.”

Now and again I see a bit of press about the film.

“Yeah, usually for The Guardian, The Independent or the BFI. For one of them it was quite a traumatic experience. I think Jack (Hazan) wishes he could forget all about it, but for David (Mingay) it was a labour of love and I think on some level at least it’s still in his affections.”

It no doubt raised their profiles in the film industry.

“Well, maybe … raised it and ended it at the same time.”

They were filming social history pieces before, I gather, such as Silver Jubilee footage, National Front marches, and so on.

“I guess they were filming what was going on politically in the country, then this seemingly political punk rock band appeared on the scene … although I’m guessing all this. When The Clash arrived on the scene, I’m thinking their ears pricked up and they felt, ‘We could do something with this’.”

They did seem more motivated to catch something of the spirit of the times in a more political sense. Let’s face it, many a filmmaker would instead have gone overboard on the sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll angles. That would have made for a very different film, and – let’s face it – there were plenty of chances to capture that.

“There were, but I think if they’d said that’s what they wanted to capture, the band would have been even less co-operative than they were.”

Do you think there was an element of Bernie Rhodes only agreeing to the filmmakers’ proposals to keep pace with his big rival, Malcolm McLaren, seeing as he was working on the Sex Pistols’ The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle?

“I don’t know how far that film had got by that stage, but I’d have thought Bernie would have definitely seized an opportunity to either keep pace with Malcolm or even get a step ahead.”

Tees Up: Ray Gange has a neat line in Rude Boy-related T-shirts, COVID-19 unfriendly face masks, and much more

There was clearly a creative rivalry there, between these two former business partners.

“Well yeah, Bernie having worked with Malcolm … or for him. According to Bernie and some other people, he was very instrumental in the Pistols, but Malcolm was getting all the credit.”

How did you find Bernie? Opinions seems mixed to say the least. He was certainly an abrasive character.

“He is, he’s very abrasive, and I’ve met loads of people since that have got lots of bad things to say about him. If the things they tell me are the truth, then I understand their point. But he was always okay with me, and I never saw him be ‘cunty’ with anyone else!”

That’s one way of putting it!

“Ha! In my view, I like Bernie. I like him a lot. But other people have got different experiences. The thing is … the truth is a moving dot on a line between points of view, you know.”

In a nutshell, how would you describe your thoughts on the film, all these years on? I know you’ve said before that Rude Boy – for all the negatives – at least allowed you to travel the world, for one thing.

“Yeah, it opened my mind, for sure. It’s a cliché, but it broadened my horizons. It certainly did. It gave me a ton of opportunities. I didn’t necessarily grasp them, but they were there.

“And I think it’s a great document, although it’s a little bit … I’m trying to think of a better word than haphazard …  chaotic in its assemblage, you know.”

 

Coffee Chaser: Ray Gange toasts legendary punk pal and fellow survivor Spizz with a cuppa from his local artisan roast supplier

It seems to have been made up as you went along in places.

“That was quite often the case. I’d get a call to say we were doing some shooting the next day. I’d get there and it’d be, ‘Okay, so what are we doing?’ It was all very vague. A lot of it was improvised.”

In a sense, it was a case of right place, right time though, for the filming unit. That was very much the end of an era, politically, socially, whatever. As the Ramones put it, ‘It’s the end, the end of the century; it’s the end, the end of the Seventies’.

“Well yeah, and last time I watched Rude Boy – I was DJ-ing somewhere in South London and they were projecting it on the wall – I saw it in snippets through the course of the evening. And at the beginning, The Clash are still very loose, still forming really. But by the time you get to the end, when they’re doing ‘Clampdown’ at Lewisham Odeon, it’s a completely different kettle of fish.

“I was standing at the bar and really saw the difference in the way they transformed throughout the film. If you’d tried to make the film at that point, it’s a completely different band in terms of what’s going on around them and where they’re at.”

In a sense, I guess that was part of the problem – it took so long to get it out there that The Clash had moved on again so much and wanted nothing to do with it, albeit partly because of perceptions of a negative message regarding racism.

“Yeah. We finished shooting at the end of ’78, and it didn’t come out until 1980, and when I watched it last, I didn’t remember the ending at all, of Maggie (Thatcher) going into Downing Street. I think they were holding on to see how that (General) Election played out.”

A flimsy script aside, the live footage is amazing. I love the Camden Music Machine clips, belting out ‘Complete Control’, ‘Safe European Home’ and ‘What’s My Name’, and others come close: ‘Police and Thieves’ at Barbarella’s, Birmingham; a slightly-slower ‘Garageland’ in rehearsal; ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, ‘I’m So Bored With the USA’, ‘Janie Jones’ and ‘White Riot’ on a riotous night at Glasgow Apollo; ‘The Prisoner’ in Aberdeen; ‘Tommy Gun’ in Dunfermline; then the ‘I Fought the Law’ Lyceum finale.

“Yeah, even though you have conversations with people about the live element and they say, ‘Yeah, but they overdubbed a lot of the music,’ that’s kind of irrelevant because the film itself still captures the energy of not only them but of the time and what was going on around them.

“I don’t know if it’s unfortunate or not, but if you’ve seen the DVD extras’ interviews, in response to people saying the film is very haphazard, David (Mingay) says in English-speaking countries people found it very confusing, but in non-English-speaking places they’d not only have the dialogue in the subtitles put the lyrics of the songs as well. And when you’re reading it in a linear way, the bit of film before or after the song relates to it, so it makes more of a story.

“France and Italy loved it. For them it makes much more sense, and when I did a Q&A at a screening in France a couple of years ago the response was much more animated than when I’ve done them in the UK.”

At least on film, it seems you’re closest to Joe Strummer, of all the band and others involved.

“Well, that was how I got to know the band, from meeting Joe and becoming friends with him. And the only reason I agreed to be in the film was because Joe encouraged me to do it. Otherwise I’d have still been working in a record shop in the West End.”

Ah, there you go – rather than in a sex shop, as the film suggests?

“Yes! The porn shop was just across the street from the record shop, so I knew the guys who owned that. The name of the record shop was Harlequin, and they had 65 shops around London at that time. I think most of them were bought out by Our Price.”

When you made the film, you were around 18 or 19, yeah?

“Maybe even 20 by the end of it.”

When did you first become aware of The Clash? Had they been on your radar for a while?

“Yeah, I didn’t see them until sometime in early ’77, but I had friends in ‘76 saying, ‘You should go and see this band, The Clash’. Having said that, I was with a friend the other day and he was arguing that I’d seen The Clash at the Royal College of Art. I was saying no, but he maintains I was there … which is quite possible, but I don’t recall it. I remember my first time as early ’77, before the ‘White Riot’ tour. I think it was in Brighton.”

Ray’s roots were in Brixton, South London, as mentioned in the film itself, not least in the scene where he talks to (Clash guitarist) Mick Jones about how he can totally relate to the song, ‘Stay Free’. Speaking of which, on film it appears that there was animosity with Mick. I’m guessing that wasn’t really the case. You said you knew Joe, but were the rest of the band slightly standoff-ish?

“I never knew the others as closely as I knew Joe. The next one I spent more time with was Topper (Headon, drums), but there was never any problems. There’s that scene in the film where Mick ends up saying, ‘I’m watching you’, but when we were shooting that scene, as soon as they stopped shooting, we were just falling about laughing.”

I get that. Mick …how can I put it … seems rather camp-aggressive in that scene, trying to play the hard-man.

Artists United: Ray Gange with Clash legend Paul Simonon back in 2013 Photo copyright: Louisa Philips Kulukundis

“Well, that was the thing. A lot of it, in my memory … the two guys making the film and their crew were not working-class punk-rock people, so there was an element where we spent quite a lot of the time either taking the piss out of them directly, sometimes even when the cameras were rolling. Unfortunately, not understanding the way film works and the history of longevity, that’s not always in your favour, even though you think you’re being clever at the time. Once it’s on there, you can’t change it.”

And over the years, through various Clash-related reunions and side-events, it seems that you’ve got to know the rest of the band quite well.

“Yeah, I was just talking with Topper a couple of weeks ago.”

He seems to be in a good place now, his drug problems and more seemingly long behind him.

“He’s in a fantastic place, mate – a really good place. And a few years ago, someone (Gary Loveridge) put a Joe Strummer mural up on Portobello Road – unfortunately not there anymore – and someone posted pictures from the unveiling, so there’s lots of pictures of me and Mick having a laugh. There’s never been any problem with them. I wouldn’t say we’re close mates, but …”

Well, you’ve all got your own lives. And that was all a long time ago.

“Exactly. But Mick has family around where I am now, so he comes down here.”

At this point, I share a story with Ray about how Mick seems at his happiest – a mutual friend was telling me – blending in with the crowd watching his beloved Queens Park Rangers, rather than talking over and again about a certain band he was in during his formative years.

“Exactly. What are we now? It’s 2020, yet you go back to ‘76 when they formed. It’s ok doing something like this now and again, but for him it’s 44 years of people wanting to talk to you about the same thing. I can’t remember what the event was, but five or six years ago there was something at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, and some guy managed to follow Mick while he was standing near the bar, and he couldn’t get away from the guy without being rude. So he’s standing there having to go through this stuff with drunk people – God bless them – that he’s heard 1,000 times, standing there with a smile on his face, telling the guy what he wants to know. You wouldn’t want to be doing that every day of your life, would you?”

Very true. Meanwhile, this Christmas will mark the 18th anniversary of Joe Strummer’s death. I went into a lot of detail on Joe and his legacy in a feature in 2018 with Lucinda Mellor and Gordon McHarg (with a link here), and for so many of us – not just those who knew him personally, like yourself – he remains in our thoughts.

Covid Warlord: Ray Gange, ready to do battle with coronavirus, models one of his Clash-related face mask designs

“Yeah, he’s frozen in time, isn’t he? And those memories are very strong, and what with what’s going on politically … I mean, what would the 2020 version of ‘Clampdown’ be? What song would Joe write if he was still around?

“For me … he was six years older than me, and he was the first adult – when I was around 18 – that I was willing to listen to. You know that thing where people say if you met your 16-year old self, what would you tell them? Well, it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t have listened! I never listened to my parents or my bosses. If they were upset about something, I was like, ‘What’s your problem?’, But Joe was the first person that I would listen to what he had to say and respect what he had to say.”

A little of that comes over in the bar scene in Rude Boy, however staged it was. There’s certainly a dynamism about Joe on screen, a rock’n’roll and film star quality. As the NME commented on his performance at the time, ‘He has the riveting presence of James Dean or the young Brando. On stage, he is the quintessential rock martyr, frequently unable to control the forces he has summoned.’

“Yeah, for sure. Some people want to slag Joe off for the school he went to, but essentially Mick and Paul were from working-class council estate areas, and Joe was squatting – he wasn’t living in luxury.”

So what happened next for you, after filming Rude Boy? Was that when you first went to America?

“I went to Paris first, for about six months. The only reason I came back was because I had to do some overdubs for the film, after the makers got in touch. So I came back for that, then I was talking to a mate and we decided to go off to America, arrived in LA, got to Venice Beach, and thought, ‘This is a bit better than South London!’ and decided to stay for a while. We ended up there for four years, from the beginning of ‘79 till late ’82.”

I’m guessing there was an overlap there when The Clash were over there too, having first properly visited during the mixing of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, falling in love with the US, as heard on London Calling.

“I don’t know where they first went to in America, but their first LA gig was at Santa Monica Civic, and I was living in Venice at the time, five minutes down the road. That was great. I phoned the Rude Boy filmmakers to get a number. Caroline Coon was managing them at the time. She said just to come down, I took a couple of mates along, and that was great – hugs and beers all round.”

Punk Daze: Ray Gange at the Gaye Advert-curated Punk & Beyond Exhibition in 2011. Photo copyright: Steve Worrall, who runs the splendid Retro Man Blog website, which can be found at https://retroman65.blogspot.com/

Well, you had your reputation as a ligger to live up to, after all.

“That’s right – we need liggers! You see, following what we were saying before, that was an ad-lib joke on Mick’s part! And while I was there, every time they came to LA, I’d hang out with them. I remember a hotel party where Joe Ely was there as well, and I went up to San Francisco on the tour bus with the band and Kosmo (Vinyl). That was all cool, and there was always good relations.

“And when I came back to England, they were playing Brixton Academy, so I went, walked in the dressing room, and Mick went, “That explains why you weren’t at the Hollywood Palladium the other month!”

One issue I know you had with Rude Boy was that the filmmakers used your real name for the character you portrayed. It would have been so much easier for you if they’d given you a character name, like Rudie perhaps.

“Yeah, if they’d have given me a different name, it would have made my life much easier in the conversations I’ve had with people in the interim. But there you go. People watch it and take it as gospel what they see on the screen, even to the point where it’s like … I can’t tell you how many people will walk up to me who I’ve never met before and say, ‘Get this idiot off the fucking stage!’ I laugh, but sometimes I’m like, shall I spoil it for them and tell them that was directed at the cameraman, or should I just leave it with them the way they think it was? And it depends what mood I’m in!”

On that front, I’m sure I read somewhere that you’re totally apolitical. I even added that in a piece on you in my Clash biography. It was properly sourced, I should add. That’s clearly not the case though, as I fully realise now I’ve got to know you better. And while Ray in the film is a rather naïve right-wing apologist, that couldn’t be much further from the truth from where you are today and probably then too, yeah?

“Yeah, even going back to that on-screen conversation between me and Joe in the pub, a lot of people have an issue about that. And they’re even stretching what they’re seeing in front of them. But I try to say to people that what you have to remember is that we were given a couple of scribbled lines on a piece of paper and asked to have a conversation. All I could do – without Joe’s experience of life, or whatever – was figure it out, without any direction from them unfortunately, that me just sitting there agreeing with whatever he says will serve no purpose, so I had to kind of construct not necessarily an argument with him but another perspective to consider.”

And beyond your travels, you got into band management briefly, didn’t you? With the Folk Devils, the post-punk ‘80s outfit (recently reunited, to great effect) I recently featured on these pages (with a link here).

“Only with them. And that just came about because I was sharing a squat in Stockwell with the guitar player (Kris Jozajtis), so I got to know the rest of them and went to their gigs. At one gig, or maybe a rehearsal, they were moaning about not getting any decent gigs, so I said, ‘You need to get yourself a manager’. To which Ian (Lowery), the singer, looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got a big mouth, Ray, why don’t you do it?’ So I was like, ‘Okay’ and started managing them.

Purple Patch: Ray Gange with Buzzcocks legend and fellow WriteWyattUK interviewee Steve Diggle (https://writewyattuk.com/2019/12/11/remembering-pete-shelley-and-entering-a-new-buzzcocks-era-back-in-touch-with-steve-diggle/). Photo copyright: Ingunn Egset.

“They then started getting much better gigs and I said they needed to make a record. They said, ‘Well, we haven’t got a record deal’. But I said that half the records in my collection were made by people who didn’t have record deals, so let’s just do one.

“It was great. I didn’t know how to make a fucking record, but just looked at my old singles and you could see that information about where the cover was made, so you’d phone up and say I want to do a cover, what do I need? And they’d tell me, then you’d phone a recording studio, who’d tell you you needed to get the master-tape cut, and I remember Stiff Records mentioned a ‘Porky Prime Cut’, so I found out who Porky was, rang him up, took the tapes over to him, and Bob’s your uncle. Unfortunately, after two singles on Ganges Records, the whole thing started falling apart really, for the same reason a lot of other people’s things started falling apart in that era – economics and chemistry!”

Talking of chemistry, The Clash eluded to you on London Calling’s ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, and this fella who’d been drinking brew for breakfast. So when did that all stop?

“Oh, my God, I guess that would have stopped when I went to America – you wouldn’t have got Special Brew out there. Whether or not I drank it when I come back, I don’t know. It’s been a few decades now.”

You’ve been teetotal a long while now.

“Yes, 30 years.”

Is that still hard for you?

“No, not really. In fact, I can’t even conceive of why I would bother to drink any alcohol or take any drugs anymore. It’s so long out of my consciousness. I would rather go and stick my fingers in a socket, really. Ha!”

Deck Hand: Ray Gange in DJ mode, not far from home in Hastings in 2017. Photo copyright: Luigia Minichiello

Well, don’t do that, either.

“I’m not planning on it!”

And are you a family man?

“I’ve got a 17-year-old son. I’ve never really lived with him or his mum, but I was at their house at the weekend.”

So it’s a good relationship.

“Yeah, I was telling someone the other day, about six years ago he was spending the weekend with me, he was on the computer and listening to ‘Death or Glory’ as I was walking past. I said, ‘Oh, do you like that song?’ He said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘They’re friends of mine, those guys’. And the moment I said that, he turned it off!”

Is he likely to follow your line?

“Erm … he’s into animation and film-editing. Whether or not he carries on with that, I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, despite the lack of opportunities over the last year during this pandemic to get out there and socialise, DJ, and so on, Ray remains busy, not least through his love of painting and pop-art, making T-shirts, and so on, something he threw himself into when he cut out the drugs and went back to school, initially studying sculpture at Chelsea School of Art at the beginning of the ’90s. And 40 years after he first appeared on the big screen, he’s even designing Clash Crew-theme face masks these days. Respect, Ray. 

For more information about the author’s biography of The Clash, incluing how to purchase a personalised copy, head here.

Pub Philosophy: Joe Strummer and Ray Gange on the set of Rude Boy. Photo copyright: Buzzy Enterprises Ltd.

The Joe Strummer Foundation aims to help create empowerment through music, giving opportunities to aspiring musicians and support to projects around the world. For more details about ongoing charity projects in Joe’s name, head to https://joestrummerfoundation.org/

 

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A passage to indie garage psych-punk rock’n’roll – introducing Ginnel

Cover Art: The debut Ginnel 7-inch single, with artwork by none other than The Teardrop Explodes/The Wild Swans' Paul Simpson

Cover Art: The debut Ginnel 7″ single, with artwork by none other than Teardrop Explodes/Wild Swans’ Paul Simpson

I can’t really think of a more Northern band name than Ginnel, and in a sense this emerging Lancashire four-piece offer – as per the dialect definition behind their handle – a passageway between the houses.

While they’re fairly new to the scene in their current guise, there’s plenty of history involved, the constituent members of this garage punk/psych outfit from the heart of the North West somewhat steeped in the local landscape. To expand on the analogy, you may never have taken this particular shortcut before, but it’s been there quite some time.

Lancashire writer and artist Rob St John evocatively tells us, “Ginnels are spaces in between: the paths and alleys that cut hidden channels through many towns in the north of England. Often following historical routes that pre-date urbanisation and are now squeezed by encroaching buildings, the dialect word for a ginnel varies across the north: snicket, gunnel, jinnel, twitchell, jitty, gitty, 10-foot, passage, shut.

“Ginnel and its variants are amongst a narrow set of dialect words which are still strong in daily life: a local knowledge of short-cuts and escape routes, yet to meet a linguistic dead-end. In many cases, ginnels represent a tangle of lines: blurred spaces between what is safe and what is dangerous; what is natural and what isn’t; what is conserved and what is left to fall into ruin. Snickets cut nicks in the fabric of the town: routes to sneak along, cobbled channels trodden down. Moss on stone on moss on stone.

“Brambles tangled in barbed wire. Holly bushes poking through the dull, mottled metal of turnpike fences. Ragwort, buddleia and Japanese knotweed the ambitious upstarts amongst all the spikes and sharp edges.”

But how do (see what I did there?) this particular Ginnel – comprising this week’s interview victim Mark Wareing (vocals, words, as previously featured on these pages, aka Marcus Parnell; gets confusing, don’t it?), Paul Lakin (guitars), Pete Brown (bass), and Scrub (drums, and despite the enigmatic name, not on the run from a daytime identity, honest) – sum up their approach to leading us somewhere new? They reckon they’re ‘treading in the footsteps of long-forgotten ghosts and taking compress readings along the way from the likes of Stack Waddy, The Modern Lovers, Blue Orchids and The Swell Maps’, eager to ‘bring old sounds to new ears’.

After support slots with The Lovely Eggs, Deja Vega and The Membranes, the band recently set up camp in 6dB studios, Salford with producer Simon ‘Ding’ Archer (The Fall, PJ Harvey, Pixies) to capture the band’s live energy and true sound. A debut single emerged, its A-side, ‘Blueprint’, mixed and mastered by James Aparicio (Spiritualized, Laibach, Depeche Mode), and backed with ‘S.M.XL’.

Set for release on The Sound Mirror Recording Company label on Friday, October 9th, it features some splendid artwork by former The Teardrop Explodes keyboard player/The Wild Swans vocalist Paul Simpson. It also comes with a full-colour inner sleeve, although time will be the essence whe nit comes to securing a copy, considering that there’s a limited-numbered run of 200.

Stood Up: Ginnel, ready for action. From left – Scrub, Pete Brown, Paul Lakin, Mark Wareing. Photo: John Middleham

With barely three weeks until the first single lands, I tracked down Mark, asking the thinking behind Ginnel. What has this outfit got that my interviewee and his bandmates couldn’t have done with any of the other bands him and his fellow members have been involved with?

“We’ve been kicking around together in one form or other for around 15 months, after working with Ajay Saggar, who’s based in Holland. We wanted something closer to home, making it easier to rehearse. And it’s also way cheaper for promoters to book us – ha!”

I should have explained that question better for those playing catch-up here. Remind us of some of the other acts you and your co-conspirators have been part of before now.

“The Dandelion Adventure, Big Red Bus, Evil Blizzard, Notnowkato, The Common Cold, Dreamland, Tree House Three, My Other Car’s a Motorbike, BG Fist ….”

That’s some pedigree, and I’ll let you do your own homework with a few of those. And more specifically, what was my interviewee’s route into this? He’s been involved with Preston and London’s indie scenes for many a year. What does it tell us on the concise version of Mark’s music CV?

“I really got sucked into watching bands live at the age of 13 after seeing The Jacksons. They blew me away with their stage show …”

I can’t just let that pass me by. I hadn’t expected that opening. Where was that?

“At the (Preston) Guild Hall, ’78-ish.”

A quick look online while we carried on suggested February 1979, on the Destiny world tour.

“That’ll be it. All must have happened real fast from there. I saw The Jam later that year, The Clash, and so on. Punk had already taken me by the hand, but me and my mates were too young to get in anywhere. But once I saw The Jacksons … the loudness and stage show … wow, I was hooked on live bands ….

“Ravi Shankar too. I’ve seen them real beauts, like The Jesus and Mary Chain on their Riot tour in Liverpool. Five minutes and it was over. That was like seeing The Jacksons all over again – the power and the art combined … beautiful.”

Soon enough, Mark was very much part of the indie scene, increasingly involved with bands he was watching.

“I watched The Membranes over 150 times and played on their John Peel session in 1984 or ‘85, then started my own band, the Dandelion Adventure, in ’86, involving another Peel session. And in ‘91 I took on working with Cornershop and slept under a grand piano during their session for Peel …”

I’m starting to see a pattern here.

“I went on to looking after Ideal and Ricky Spontane, and in the late ‘90s moved to London, working for Domino Records, doing press for the likes of Pavement, Royal Trux, and many others. And after moving back up north I did artwork for The Fall, used on album and single covers alike, then many years later started The Common Cold … and now Ginnel.”

I’m glad I asked for the concise version. But let’s not beat around the bush. None of us are getting any younger, yet you give the impression you’ve still got plenty to say and ideas to get across.

“It’s all Ajay’s fault! He got me writing again … pushing and pushing, although I always told everyone that a masterpiece is getting completed… somewhere in my head, and my best Is yet to come. Which is true, and the unrecorded new Ginnel songs are pretty full on.”

Inner Sleeve: Paul Simpson’s esteemed inner cover art for the limited-edition run debut Ginnel 7″ single, ‘Blueprint’.

Is this new project about inspiration and showing the way forward to the next generation coming through, as much as anything? Is that the Ginnel mission statement?

“Happens every new generation … kids see the likes of Oasis, and bang! There’s 100 Oasis lookalike and soundalike bands. Or bang! There’s 100 Nirvana-type bands. The kids need to stop hopping on the bandwagon and look backwards on history and check out stuff from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and so on. There’s loads of stuff worth stealing from. We’ve picked up on stuff, added our own twist … and bingo!”

When it comes to influences worn on sleeves, there are hints – on the first listen to ‘Blueprint’ – of that love for The Fall. Perhaps that’s just part of your band’s DNA. I’m getting much more though. Who else is in the mix, do you reckon?

“We love The Fall, The Stooges, Wire, bits of the Bunnymen, Can, Sterolab, Loop, and even a bit of Northern Soul.”

I’ve not caught them live yet, but I’ve seen bits of Ginnel concert and studio footage shared online, including post-punk-esque thriller  ‘Exhale’ and the part-jarring, slow-building and richly evocative ‘I Cuerden’, also both crafted at 6dB, either those crafted in the studio or played to audiences. Were those works in progress? Is there a debut LP taking shape?

“There’s loads going on, with another two singles after this one, and hopefully the album next summer … depending on this COVID thing.”

Last Time: Mark’s previous project’s release, from 2018

How was it working at 6dB studios, Salford with Simon Archer? How did that come about, and work from a creative point of view, not least with James Aparicio’s involvement too.

John Robb (Louder Than War founder, and The Membranes’ singer/bass player) told us about Ding’s place. It’s super laidback, a great price, and he’s a really nice bloke and knows his stuff, which is really important when making and recording music.

“James, on the other hand, was brought on board by Scrub … he just asked, and James, after hearing us, wanted to do it. We were lucky.”

And it’s all out via The Sound Mirror Recording Company label.

“The label was set up so we could release our own records, although we’re already thinking about putting out other bands’ stuff. We’re going to be a bit like Apple, but without the cash!”

How did Paul Simpson end up designing the sleeve?

“I saw some of his art online around six months ago and fell in love with it straight away. Just such a great vision. I’ve always loved art that makes you think.

“It took a while to track him down, but again he loved what we were up to and agreed to do the artwork. I had no idea at the time he was from The Wild Swans and The Teardrop Explodes. The guy is rock’n’roll royalty!”

Was the lockdown a productive time for you and your bandmates, writing songs and working on Ginnel’s own blueprint?

“Not really, but it gave us time to sort out the label and get the vinyl pressed. We work best when together though, and our rehearsal space is tiny, so we couldn’t use it … still can’t. We still write but Zoom is not the way forward, let me tell you.”

I reckon Fat Larry’s Band would disagree, but you’re probably right. How do those songs come about then?

Live Wires: Ginnel at Kanteena, Lancaster, February 2020, afore we ground to a viral halt. (Photo: Gary M Hough)

“The way we write is a musical idea first, then the lyrics are added …. and as the lyric writer I never stop. I’ve always got a notebook on the go. If I hear or see something, down it goes … I’ve got notebooks and scraps of paper going back over 30 years.”

When the time comes and the COVID-19 coast is clear, will there be live outings for the band?

“We’ve cancelled so many shows up and down the country since lockdown and are now so ready for the green light again.”

Live music is so important to us all, this enforced break only serving to make us realise that’s not to be taken for granted, right?

“We all really miss it. Each one of us saw live bands weekly … we are so gutted. But things will change, hopefully.”

You all work for a living. Does this project give you the chance to liberate yourself, in a sense? Are there weekly practises, and hired space to express yourself as a band? And if so, where?

“We rehearse in Preston. A secret location! And each rehearsal is like a mini-Shea Stadium show, even on those where we don’t move much, we’re still showing off!”

And do you class yourself as a band, an arts project, or a musicians’ collective maybe?

“Ginnel are a band … pure rock’n’roll – a proper thorn in the side kind of outfit.”

Monochrome Set: Ginnel. From the left – Paul Lakin, Mark Wareing, Pete Brown, Scrub. (Photo: John Middleham)

Debut Ginnel single, ‘Blueprint’, is out on October 9, available for pre-orders through Action Records, Church Street, Preston, limited to just 200 numbered vinyl copies. For the latest about Ginnel and future releases, you can track the band down via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, contact them via ginnelband@gmail.com, and check out their BandCamp page. 

And for more about Rob St John, including his 2014/15 writings on the ginnel and his own musical interpreation of such things – incorporating the voice of Cyril Black – head here.

 

 

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Forever, after and before – talking Folk Devils with Nick Clift

At a time when so many of us are suffering withdrawal symptoms from missing live music at our favourite venues, it’s odd to think back to a time when we more or less took for granted the fact that there were always a couple of bands we could find time to catch on the circuit every week.

I can’t see that happening in the future. When things are finally – safely – up and running again, I reckon many of us will make the most of just what’s on offer out there. And if I had a quid for every band I’ve missed out on down the years – in some cases while I’m inside the venue – I might even be troubling the taxman when it comes to declaring freelance earnings.

I often use the example of my brother and his mates having another pint in the White Horse ahead of a 1979 Buzzcocks apearance in my hometown venue, Guildford Civic Hall, realising all too soon they really should have nipped in a little earlier to catch support act Joy Division.

In more recent times, in Lancashire, my base for the last quarter-century, the sheer amount of acts Tuff Life Boogie organiser Rico la Rocca put on at John Peel tribute shows in Preston, often meant I’d be having a chinwag outside venues while some bands were giving their all. Among those I missed, with regret, were the Folk Devils at The Continental in December 2016. And when I now contemplate the fact that guitarist Nick Clift came all the way from New Jersey to honour that commitment, that seems somewhat rude.

As it was, not all was lost on that occasion, with someone good enough to film their set so I and many others could catch up on it later, on a night when headliners The Membranes, a stripped-down version of The Wolfhounds, and local lads gone awry Vukovar mesmerised the assembled. But my point remains.

Veterans of three sessions for legendary BBC Radio 1 broadcaster Peelie in 1984/85, this was Folk Devils’ first Lancashire show in more than 30 years and only their second gig back together. While initial singer/songwriter Ian Lowery died in 2001 (gone far too soon), fellow original members Kris Jozajtis (guitar) and Mark Whiteley (bass) in time decided to reform with the afore-mentioned Nick Clift (guitar) and John Hamilton (drums), who featured in a short-lived 1987 version of the band, the new-look band fronted by new singer (and old friend) Dave Hodgson.

Taking their name from Stanley Cohen’s academic text on social scapegoating, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, this ‘fearsome foursome’ formed in Ladbroke Grove, London in 1983,  County Durham native Ian (formerly of The Wall and Ski Patrol) initially joined by Mark, Kris and Alan Cole (drums), and soon blazing a trail across the UK independent music scene with their particular brand of post-punk energy.

Best known for acclaimed indie singles ‘Hank Turns Blue’, ‘Beautiful Monster’, those three Peel sessions, and live outings with the likes of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Fall, The Gun Club, and Screaming Blue Messiahs, they also toured extensively throughout Europe, the second incarnation of the band (1986-87) seeing Ian joined by Nick, John, Robert Mune (bass) and Saul Taylor (saxophone). During that spell, they released one 12″ EP of new material, ‘The Best Protection’, for Beggars Banquet imprint Situation 2, and an anthology collecting all their earlier material, Goodnight Irony.

As for the latest version of the band … well, they soon discovered they’d ‘created a well-oiled twin-guitar juggernaut brimming with the same restless, twisted blues that characterised the first and second iterations of the band’. And as I put it in my Continental show review, ‘They make for a mighty punkabilly five-piece – think Johnny Cash with the Bad Seeds and you’re not far off’.

I caught up with Nick last week at home in Jersey City, where he told me more about the band’s first new recordings since 1987’s “The Best Protection” EP, first mentioning that Conti appearance, and other gigs around then..

“We’ve now played 15 shows as Folk Devils 3.0, only made possible by once or twice-a-year reunions because of distance and career obligations. I work in music marketing, Kris is a schoolteacher, Mark a mental health professional, Dave a graphic designer, and John a transportation specialist. We’re all busy with our respective careers yet a few times a year when the stars align we forget our receding hairlines, bulging midriffs and doctors’ orders, and jump in a van and go on a music adventure.

“Preston was a great evening, and we’ve been impressed at how co-operative our touring partners have been. Back in the day other bands were snotty and competitive and would try to steal your gear. The good thing about maturing is you’re safer in the knowledge of what you do and who you are and more respectful of other musicians. Unless the support act is spilling a pint on your amp … in which case it’s on again!

“Since 2016 we’ve played in Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton and North Wales, and obviously London is always special – it’s where most friends and family are. They usually turn it into a knees-up.”

And now we have brand new three-track ‘Forever’ EP coming our way, set to land on 10” vinyl and in digital format this Friday, September 18th via Preston-based indie label Optic Nerve Recordings, featuring two new compositions – the title track and ‘My Slum Soul’ – plus a new version of old live favourite ‘Ink Runs Dry’.

Good Nick: Folk Devils’ Nick Clift in live action, and having a blast with the reformed version of the post-punk outfit.

You say these new songs were inspired by the reaction to the band’s 2016 career retrospective Beautiful Monsters and the reaction at subsequent UK live shows with kindred spirits The Membranes, Inca Babies and The Cravats. Will there be more live shows when we’re all back up and running again?

“For sure, we’re itching to play, like everyone else is. We had shows lined up for 2020 which had to be indefinitely postponed, including a John Peel night in Brighton with The Wolfhounds. Hopefully there will be more in 2021 though … maybe even a festival slot or two, which we haven’t done yet.”

Dare I ask if there’s an LP coming too? Are these the first of many new songs to surface?

“There’s a lot of new material in embryonic form. Because of the way we work it’s not really possible to do it over the internet, better to knock it into shape when we all convene. If Kris, in Scotland, and I, in New Jersey, still lived in London, where the others reside, it would be a lot easier to write and record. But there’s an album brewing, and it promises to be a … beautiful monster.”

Mark Whiteley describes title track ‘Forever’ as a song about isolation, betrayal, anger at a lost love and a world of venal greed. That seems particularly apt right now. We could say the same regarding the sentiment of ‘My Slum Soul’, which Mark labels its ‘thematic twin … a kind of fever-dream apparition that may well find the core of its neurosis in the modern day political climate’. In fact, he adds, ‘Both songs wrestle with the erosion of trust, shattered lives, consumed and excreted by a world that’s forgotten its soul, a world that patently does not give a fuck’.

As for the re-recording of ‘Ink Runs Dry’, Kris Jozajtis added, ‘It’s a classic Folk Devils song with a brilliant lyric by Ian. So it’s an acknowledgment of the debt we owe him, a nod of respect to one of the great unsung talents of rock’n’roll. It always felt like a ‘BIG’ tune to us; yet despite there being two pretty decent radio session versions of it available, there’s always been a sense of unfinished business because ‘Ink’ had never received the full studio treatment the song deserved. I think the new, turbo-charged, twin-guitar version puts that right.”

The band clearly see themselves as relevant all these years on, I suggested to Nick. You clearly still feel you’ve got a lot to say, 30-plus years after initially folding.

“Many of the issues we faced in the ‘80s haven’t really been addressed or have only got worse. Folk Devils was never an overtly-political group. Ian Lowery wrote all the lyrics and his outlook was more from a personal artistic perspective than a polemical one,with  songs about tragedy, spite, guilt, sexual frustration, drugs, trashed hopes, and universal human themes.

“However, as we’ve inched into middle age and had families, it’s impossible not to be affected by environmental and political calamities, and we are living through one right now … on both side of The Atlantic!”

The new EP was recorded at the famous Konk Studios in North London, set up by The Kinks’ legendary frontman Ray Davies, with the songs mixed and co-produced by Grammy Award-winning engineer Rik Simpson. Was that a thrill in itself? And was there any sign of Ray?

“It’s a cool place to record, with lots of character. There’s a massive old-school reverb plate mounted on the wall as you load in, practically a museum piece from the ‘60s. Ray was there the day we recorded, doing business in the games rooms, but he gave us a friendly wave. Should have asked for a backing vocal! It was the first time we’d recorded using ProTools, so it was not as we remembered, but a great experience all round.”

How did you end up getting in touch with Ian Allcock at Optic Nerve? Was he a fan?

“I was looking for a label to release the recorded works collection I curated, we’d already paid for digital transfers and remastering and knew it was a great sounding set. Dave Callahan of The Wolfhounds tipped me off to Optic Nerve, who had released some of their catalogue.

“I contacted Ian, and he didn’t really even hesitate. He knew the band’s history and subsequently it was a very quick deal and very favourable to both parties. He’s a genuine music fan, especially of the British ‘80s scene.

Drum Major: John Hamilton came into the fold with Nick Clift for the band’s second incarnation and is back again now

“Our style is a bit more aggressive than a lot of his catalogue, but it’s a good fit nonetheless. He works tirelessly to promote the music, and his mail-order operation is excellent, which is critical in these times of shrinking distribution channels for physical products.”

I see you studied in Sunderland, but originally hail from the Midlands. And while you weren’t with Folk Devils from the start, you worked with Ian before in Ski Patrol.

“Sunderland Polytechnic, as it was in 1977, is the genesis of it all really. There was a great art school there and the punk explosion reverberated through art schools around the world.

“Ian Lowery was a local lad making a name for himself in a pub-rock band called The Prefabs. He fell in with the art school crowd and they formed punk band The Wall, who got their music released through Small Wonder, the revered London indie label and record shop that released Crass, Bauhaus, The Cravats, Patrik Fitzgerald, and others.

“They all relocated to London to take advantage of their new success, but after a time Ian fell out with his bandmates and was asked to leave. Since I and others from the Sunderland scene had also headed to the capital, we all ended up living in squats in Clapham and Brixton. That’s how Ski Patrol came together. It was time for him to move past the punk sound anyway, so it was fortuitous.”

What were you up to when the Folk Devils took shape? Is that right you worked for Rough Trade? I guess you were closely following Ian’s work, live and through John Peel?

“After Ski Patrol folded in 1982, I landed a job in sales and despatch in the Rough Trade warehouse, a fantastic and chaotic place to work, nestled in a side-street off Ladbroke Grove. Ian lived just up the road. I remember budding musicians loved to visit, it was like a sweet shop.

Mark Three: This may be the third coming of the Folk Devils, but bassist Mark Whiteley has been on board throughout

“Ian and I were a bit like brothers, we would fall out and not speak for months but then patch things up and get over it. Of all the things he had tried to do since his first foray into music, Folk Devils was the truest to his interests and ability, I thought.

“He loved Dylan, The Velvets, Stooges, MC5, The Fall, The Birthday Party, all those building blocks for a credible anti-establishment rock group. When they recorded ‘Hank Turns Blue’ I went to the session and thought they were capturing something primal and idiosyncratic.

“I suggested to their manager, Ray Gange (leading actor in The Clash-centred 1980 film, Rude Boy), that he come and talk to some people at Rough Trade I knew and get a distribution deal for his new label Ganges Records. That’s how the first single took off, with some support from John Peel of course!

“So Ian and I were always in each other’s orbit and I took a keen interest in helping him move the band forward. It was great hearing them on the radio, especially the Peel sessions, which got better each time. They did three in all, and the last one features the mighty ‘This Traitor Hand’, a favourite in our current set. That could have been their next single if they hadn’t split up in 1986.

“It was wonderfully produced by the BBC engineers and would have been worth releasing as it was. I worked closely with Beggars Group to get the BBC sessions released five years ago, and they’re available on all the streaming services now, for posterity … definitely worth a listen.”

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Ian’s passing. Is he often in your thoughts?

“Of course. I think we all wonder what he would be doing now, and more so what he would make of our new version of Folk Devils. Apart from a few sarcastic asides, I think he’d be impressed by the new material.

“’My Slum Soul’ is based on one of his unused lyrics from 1983. His brother David has meticulously kept all Ian’s hand-written records (you can find examples at www.ianlowery.com) and emailed me these lyrics to a song called ‘Slip and Slide’, which I vaguely remembered.

“Our new singer Dave Hodgson and I took some liberties with them and turned it into the beginnings of this new magnum opus. The whole band knocked it into shape, and it sounds pretty immense, with all due credit to our mix engineer, Rik Simpson.”

Were there concerns it wasn’t right to resume without Ian? Or was this your way of paying a tribute to him?

“Not at all, his extended family was very supportive and all came to the first reunion gig. It was initially only going to be one show, a tribute to Ian and a way to launch the CD compilation, and given that I live in the USA and can’t just pop over whenever.

“But we all vowed to keep doing it after that gig, because it was clear we all wanted to keep playing those songs and revisiting that spirit. But we also resolved to not be a mere nostalgia act, and the promise of writing and recording new songs was always a motivating factor.”

You’ve got original members Kris and Mark, and yourself and John have been involved a long time. What was it about latest arrival Dave Hodgson that fit the bill as frontman?

“Dave is a full-on Geordie, a Jarrow lad. He’d known of Ian from our Sunderland days and formed a band called Parting Shots with Joe Hammond, the original guitarist of The Wall. I’ve known him since 1981, when he was a skinny youth with a sly grin!

Indoor Shades: Dave Hodgson, part of the original North East scene, and now out front with a reconvened Folk Devils

“Because of social media it became easier to catch up with people after years apart, so I just got his contact details and emailed him out of the blue when we were looking for a singer for the reunion gig. He was the natural choice for me, because he knew Ian’s style and knew some of the material.

“He was a bit shocked at first, hadn’t sung for years, but agreed to give it a go and powered his way through, learning the songs in a few months. And believe me, some of those lyrics take some getting used to.

“I’ve often referred to Ian, rightly or wrongly, as a gutter poet. His strength was his inventive use of metaphor and wordplay and a grimy view of existence, so you have to be on your game to get them all out seamlessly and with the right intent.”

Incidentally, Mark Whiteley complemented Nick’s thinking when writing about the band’s decision to reform. He wrote, “After a few decades apart we decided to do one gig to celebrate the release of our anthology. It went well, we enjoyed revisiting our old material and the addition of a second guitarist gave the whole thing a raw, visceral, well-crafted energy. Dave fitted in well, taking on a monumental task of filling Ian’s shoes and smashing it out the park.”

How long have you been US-based, and what took you there? Is the Definite Gaze label the day-job, and how much of your time is spent managing and playing with the Folk Devils?

“I’ve been in the New York area since 1991, I lived through the ugly collapse of the Rough Trade organisation, and was looking for a new adventure, and by chance had fallen into a relationship with a girl from New Jersey who had landed a job in New York and wanted us to be together there.

“It was a big decision, but one I don’t regret. That relationship didn’t last, but I’m now married with an adult son, living in Jersey City, across the Hudson river.

Original Member: Kris Jozajtis was out there with Folk Devils from the very start, and remains integral to the band

“I worked as a project manager for a very respected label in New York for 20 years and I’ve now experienced the music business from both sides of the pond, so like to think I bring that experience to how music is promoted in the modern era.

“I do consulting work for labels and musicians who work in my area of interest. That keeps me busy. Folk Devils work is about crazy bursts of energy for a few months, organising gigs and promotion, and then back into daily life.

“I think the band is very fortunate that each member brings his skill-set to the project. Dave is a very talented graphic designer who’s made three very interesting videos for the songs on the new EP.”

Meanwhile, Kris also elaborated on what the future might hold for Folk Devils, writing, ‘The songs will hopefully still speak to malcontents like ourselves, who are both fascinated and appalled by what we might encapsulate as ‘the human condition’. The dark humour and mordant wit that characterised Ian’s lyrics is still intact, I think, and despite the inevitable encroachments of age we haven’t really lost the dissatisfaction and anger that we tried to articulate in words and music back in the ‘80s. So we’re likely to continue making a mighty and righteous racket, both live and on record, as long as anyone cares to listen.”

But how does it work with regard to geographical dilemmas, getting the band together, I asked Nick. For one thing, you seem to have somehow been ahead of the curve when it comes to social distancing.

“I tend to think of Folk Devils is a diaspora of old friends. It’s hard to plan anything in advance, because ultimately decisions get made in the rehearsal room. We’d been social distancing for 27 years!

“Now the scenario is a little more sobering, people are getting impatient and letting their guard down. We’ll only reconvene when it makes sense for ourselves and our supporters. I don’t think anyone really took The Who at their word when they sang, ‘Hope I die before I get old’.”

Live Wires: The 21st century Folk Devils, still feeling they have plenty to say of relevance in 2020, and here ‘Forever’.

For details of the new Folk Devils EP and their Beautiful Monsters singles and demos (1984/86) compilation head to this Optic Nerve link. And to keep in touch with the band, you can follow them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

 

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