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Question:  In the history of rock music how many bands can you name from Zion, Illinois?  Using one hand?  Give up?  How about power pop rockers Shoes?  I’m not a big one for labels, but if we do categorize Shoes as “power pop”, the band has always infused more texture, melody, versatility and multi-dimension in their songs than most of that genre.  Who remembers 1979’s Present Tense album?  A classic late 70’s album that’s still being heard today. The interest in Shoes material has been aided by two Cherry Red released compilations of Shoes’ back catalog, which are always “sold out”, by the way.  Perhaps we’re seeing a resurgence in interest in the band and a confirmation of just how good Shoes really are.  Well, the subject of this interview is Present Tense.  Singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeff Murphy has been gracious enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions.  I have relied heavily on Jeff’s book “Birth of a Band, The Record Deal And The Making of “Present Tense” as a reference point for many questions.

Hey Jeff, thanks for agreeing to this musical “inquisition” as it were.

It’s my pleasure, Greg!  Feel  free to ask away.

First off, how have you fared throughout this COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing?

It’s been a tough year, but my wife and I are now fully vaccinated.  So there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.  I know John and Gary are fully vaxxed now, too.  So, we can start to get together again and hopefully, do some recording.

What was your home life like growing up in Zion, Illinois?

Well, my early childhood memories are marred by the fact that our father left one day, never to be seen or heard from again.  I was 7 and John was 8.  But we lived in a close-knit neighborhood with lots of good friends.  A few years later The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and music became a major focus.

What did your parents do?

My father worked at a local Silvertone electronics plant and my mom was a stay-at-home mom, until he left.  Then she took a job at Sears.

How many siblings?

Besides John, I have a half-sister and a step-brother from when my mom re-married years later.

Age difference between you and John?   Any sibling rivalry growing up?

We’re what they call Irish twins; almost exactly 1 year apart. John is 1 year and 10 days older than me.  Of course we had our tussles when we were young.  But I think we developed an incredibly strong bond once my father left.  But he was always very good at art and I can’t draw a straight line.  I was jealous of that until I found my own focus.

At one point in your book you referenced a Chicago Cub baseball game.  Were you a baseball fan growing up?

We grew up with a sandlot directly behind our house and during the summer we would play baseball virtually every day.  Zion is located almost exactly mid-way between Chicago and Milwaukee (There was the Milwaukee Braves, back then) so we followed both teams.  It narrowed to just The Cubs once The Braves left Milwaukee.

Can you recall how you first became interested in music?

Our earliest musical exposure was to the novelty songs of the day; “Alley Oop”, “Big John”, “Purple People Eater”, “Surfin’ Bird, etc. When the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show it jump-started the British Invasion which jump-started the movement of garage bands all across the country.  By the time we were adolescents we wished we could be in a band, but didn’t have any musical knowledge or instruments.  But along with thousands of other kids our age, we dreamed of being in a band.

Were there any local record shops in Zion?  Can you recall one of the first 45’s or LP’s you bought?

John and I got a record player years before the Beatles appeared and we got the single “Jingle Bell Rock”.  We also had novelty albums by The Chipmunks and some comedy records.  The first single that I remember asking for was “Green, Green” by the New Christy Minstrels (Roger McGuinn’s old band).  The first single I bought was “She Loves You” by The Beatles (on the Swan record label) and the first album John and I jointly asked for was The Beatles Second Album.  These were all purchased at department stores like Goldblatt’s and Ben Franklin.  Eventually, an independent record store called Strawberry Fields opened and became our musical Mecca.  That was in the neighboring town of Waukegan, IL.  Later, a small record shop named Brothers opened in Zion.

What bands were you into growing up?

Mainly The Beatles.  But The British Invasion bands dominated Chicago AM radio, so it all had a major impact; those “Pop” bands of the early 1960s, Motown, the bands from Philly, San Francisco, Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Monkees, too.  As rock grew, so did our tastes and musical influences.  By the late 1960s and early 1970s we migrated to bands that were more off the beaten track; Love, early David Bowie, Big Star, Todd Rundgren, Nils Lofgren, early King Crimson, Earth Opera, etc.

At what age did you get into printing for a living?  How did this experience later help with the band Shoes?

I was working at a local Radio Shack store when I graduated high school, but I needed more money and a friend of mine worked in an envelope factory and got me a job there as a materials handler.  I eventually progressed into the printing end of that.  It later gave me insights into some aspects of printing some of the promo posters and record sleeves and inserts we started doing for the band (along with John and Gary’s graphic design ability).

Talk about how the whole idea of forming a band came about.  How were you introduced to both Gary Klebe and later Skip Meyer?

John wanted to be in a band and tried to wrangle together some sort of musical thing in Jr. High, which lasted for about 3 weeks.  When he met Gary in high school, they both worked on an independent (not school sanctioned) school paper they called Lime Magazine with some friends they called The Lime Boys.  It was like a high school version of The National Lampoon magazine.  John drew the cartoons.  They eventually learned they had similar musical tastes and fantasized of having a band.  They called it Shoes, but there was really no band yet, just the idea of a band.  Gary and I were hi-fi nuts and we both had reel-to-reel tape recorders. By the time they graduated they started tinkering with recording some bits on Gary’s stereo tape recorder.  I had gotten a cheap guitar from a friend and was recording things on my own. Some time in 1973 or early 1974, I bought the 4-channel, TEAC 3340S tape machine and we started recording things together.

We met Skip years later, around mid-1976 after we had already been recording for a number of years, as Shoes and had already played our first live gig.  Our then-drummer, Barry Shumaker and I rented a house together, so we had a place to live, record and rehearse.  After that first gig Barry decided to quit the band (at the prompting of his girlfriend) so, we were in need of a new drummer.  Skip was playing in a local cover band and happened to be dating Gary’s sister.  John went to see his band play and reported back to us that he seemed steady and not overly flashy.  So we asked him to join in mid-1976.  We started rehearsing together and played a few gigs and then, a few months later, we started recording the Black Vinyl Shoes album in my little rental house.

The early days. L-R John, Gary and Jeff

Was the guitar your primary instrument of choice?

Absolutely.  But I love the sound of just about any stringed instrument.

Who came up with the name “Shoes”?

John and Gary were batting around ideas, but I’m pretty sure it was John’s idea.  It was simple, unassuming and graphically, a symmetrical looking word.  Plus, we liked that there was no pronoun (no “The”).  Like Wings, Sparks, Queen, T. Rex or Cream.  Ironically, those are all English bands.

Black Vinyl Records was your own record label.  You guys must have known early on the importance of maintaining the copyrights and publishing rights to your music.

We were very lucky that we never lost any of our copyrights or publishing rights.  We thank Greg Shaw from BOMP! Records and Dan Bourgoise of Bug Music, for that.  They educated us on the importance of maintaining control over the publishing rights and the options we had.  We ended up starting our own publishing companies with Bug Music Group doing our administration, in 1977.  BMG administers our catalog, now because they absorbed Bug Music.

Has any other band ever recorded on Black Vinyl?

Well, in 1991 put together a CD project called Yuletunes that was an alternative Christmas album of original songs by us and various other artists. We released it on Black Vinyl Records.   And we did start another publishing company for some of the unpublished songs on that Yuletunes CD that we released on Black Vinyl Records. In the early 1990s, we thought it would be beneficial to expand the label and start releasing things by other bands. There were a number of releases that we did on BVR that were actually fairly notable.  At one point, MOJO magazine called out a number of the releases and included 5 of our BVR releases in their top 10.  The albums, “Oh, Yeah!” and “Textural Drone Thing” by the Spongetones were the first of these releases, followed by “Northern Distortion” by Fun w/Atoms, “Bloody Show” by The Nicholas Tremulis Band, “92 Degrees” by 92 Degrees and “Kadickadee Kadickadoo (A True Story)” by Swingset Police.  Then there was the “Beat & Torn” CD by The Spongetones, which was a 2-album on one CD re-release of their albums; “Beat Music” and “Torn Apart”. But when indie distribution started to deteriorate, it led to a massive problem for us as distributors started to return product and declare bankruptcy, without paying for the CDs they had ordered.  Worse yet, as distributors went belly-up their assets would be sold off to appease their creditors and the CDs that they had would be bought, for pennies on the dollar, by other distributors.  These liquidated CDs would then be returned to us for full credit, by the new distributors.  So not only were we not paid for the original CD shipments, we were actually crediting full-wholesale price for the return of our own product!  It was what caused us to scale back and discontinue signing bands to BVR. We retreated to only selling Shoes releases and only to select distributors, online services and through our own direct mail-order on Shoeswire.com.

 I also did a side project and started a publishing company called Nerktwons (ASCAP) in 1997 for that and my solo record, Cantilever. 

Enter 1977’s self-produced and home recorded “Black Vinyl Shoes”.  How satisfying was having complete creative control in producing this album?

Well, it was great. But our goal was to reach a point that we’d sign a contract with a major label and they’d do all the nuts and bolts aspect of releasing a record.  In theory, the artist creates the art and the record label manufactures, distributes and promotes the art.  Unfortunately in practice, the label wants to influence and control the artist and the content of the creation.

In the networking, production and manufacturing of the album did you use any other band’s work as a template or come up with the process all on your own?

It was pretty much trial and error.  By the time we recorded BVS we had already recorded over 3 albums of material on that 4-track machine and had pressed up one previous LP, One In Versailles on our own.  In our minds, we were competing with the big dogs, the established artists and we would listen to The Beatles or Fleetwood Mac or Led Zeppelin and aspire to that level of sound quality.  For the artwork, it was easier to compete, but a lot more labor intensive to put it all together ourselves.  All the stress, money and worry for the manufacturing and distribution and all the problems that we encountered during that whole process is something a lot of bands never know.  I guess the same can be said for the recording and production.  We never just sat back and let the engineer and producer take over.  We were always involved and co-produced and co-engineered, even after we signed our deal with Elektra.

Before signing your first record contract with someone outside of the band, were you a little scared, anxious after knowing about some of the horror stories in the music business?

Yes, a bit.  But we tried to keep our eyes open and our wits about us.  We were very fortunate to align with some of the people that we did, like Dan Bourgoise who we asked to manage us.  We looked for honesty and respect in those around us.

Talk about signing with Bug Music.

When Greg Shaw asked us to record a single or his label, BOMP! he also asked if we wanted to have him do the publishing or if we wanted to set up our own company, like he did with Bug Music.  We knew it would be better to own as much of the publishing as possible, so we contacted Dan at Bug and set up Shoetunes in 1977.  It’s a testament to Greg’s honesty that he offered that possibility.  Some labels require that they get a portion of the publishing or they won’t do the record deal.

The song “Tomorrow Night” first showed up as a b-side to a single.  Were there any other tracks on Present Tense that were written much earlier in your career?

They always say that you have your entire life to write your first album and 6 months to write the second album.  But we were in a constant state of writing and demoing songs from 1974 through 1984.  So there were often songs that were written well in advance of when they actually showed up on a release.  As an example, “See Me”, the first leg of the song, “Three Times” was written and demoed on the 4-track machine as a short little ditty, not long after BVS was recorded.  I had intentionally clipped the last chord short, as homage to The Beatles’ song, “Her Majesty”.  John suggested that he and Gary write companion pieces and string them all together in a short medley.  That original 4-track demo shows up on the 2020 cd boxset, “Elektrafied, The Elektra Years 1978-1982” from Cherry Red Records in the UK.

This tune was a staple of our live set in the late 1970s, but we never got past this 8-track demo stage with it, so it was never on an album until the limited-edition “As-Is” release in 1996 and then again on the “Double Exposure” release in 2007. We later included it on the 2018 UK box set, “Black Vinyl Shoes Anthology 1973-1978”.

“Ever Again” (Demo)

Describe the basement where you recorded the demos for Present Tense.

We always kept moving forward and trying to move to the next level.  After BVS and the wave of press and modest success that we achieved with that album, we were emboldened to rent a designated rehearsal/recording space and move everything out of my Livingroom (and kitchen and bedroom).  At this time we also purchased a new Tascam 80-8, 8-track recorder and a used Tascam Model 5 mixer with expander module. That way, everyone had equal access, to write and record without me being there.  We found an available space in Zion’s downtown business section, in the basement under a bridal shop.  We briefly shared a section of that space with the local Weight Watchers group. But we soon took over the entire space.  We stayed there from 1978 until early 1983, when we bought our 16-track recorder and built our first official recording studio.

I understand you guys preferred recording to playing live.  Looking back now, do you wish you had played more live gigs?

We did what we had to do.  Playing live was often frustrating and expensive.  Over the years we got more used to it and hopefully, better at it.  In the beginning, clubs wanted cover songs and we wanted to play our original material.  So, we’d mix in obscure cover songs, so we could honestly say, “Sure, we play cover songs!”  But they were often lesser known songs like “Silly Love” by 10CC or “Moon Tears” by Nils Lofgren and “Smash Your Head Against The Wall” by John Entwhistle.  But we also did “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks (pre-Van Halen), “Jeepster” by T. Rex, “I Can’t Explain” by The Who and “Jump Into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson as the more recognizable cover songs.  We even did a Ramones-style version of “Him or Me” by Paul Revere and The Raiders.

In shopping around Shoes for a major label contract, how surprised were you in Elektra’s interest?

Well, things started to get pretty hectic in early 1978-79 and we had already had a few meetings with Seymour Stein of Sire Records.  But he left for the MIDEM music conference in France in mid-January and Elektra came calling shortly after that.  They had heard of us from the BVS re-issue we did through PVC/Passport Records in late ’78.  But, it felt right with Elektra.

Kenny Buttice was Elektra’s V.P. of Promotion.  How was he to work with?

Kenny was the man that changed our trajectory.  He had never signed a band before and was looking to move into an A&R position at Elektra when he made a trip to NYC and met with some of the folks in their east coast office.  Former WBCN DJ, Maxine Sartori had been recently hired after being instrumental in Elektra finding and signing the Cars, which had just broke big.  She knew of Shoes through the BVS re-release on PVC. Marty Swartz had discovered Shoes when visiting Bleecker Bob’s record store and they were playing the BVS album in the store.  They both introduced Shoes to Kenny and he decided to fly in to Zion with Marty to check us out.  He was our main man and cheerleader at the company.  Until he wasn’t.

You guys flew out to Los Angeles in ’79 to negotiate the contract with Elektra.  Was L.A. a bit of a culture shock?

Completely!  It was a record-setting cold and snowy winter in the Midwest and when Kenny and Marty pulled up in their limo to meet us, they were astonished at the amount of snow.  It was like driving through snow tunnels.  They joked, “Where in the hell are we?”  We played them our demos for what became Present Tense, went to dinner, had a few drinks and then we went to our rehearsal space and played some songs for them, live.  A few weeks later, they sent us tickets to fly to LA and when we stepped off the plane, it was 80 degrees and sunny and there were girls on roller skates in shorts and halter-tops all over the place.  We thought we had died and gone to heaven!  John and I had never been on a plane before that.

I’ve heard having publishing rights is everything in the music industry.  In finalizing the contract, how hard was it to keep all your publishing rights?

Actually, it didn’t seem hard at all.  They asked about our publishing and we told them we had already signed a deal with Bug Music for our publishing (which was with Shoetunes, our own publishing company) and they said, “OK” and left it at that.  We also negotiated for a 100% rate for publishing on our records (rather than the 75% “preferred-discount rate” that many labels were asking for) AND we insisted on being paid publishing for 12 songs per album, rather than being limited to just 10 songs, that had also become an “industry standard”.  The publishing is indeed, very important and becomes your main revenue stream over the years, because publishing royalties are not subject to recouping any recording, touring or video costs.  You also get paid from the very first record sold and you own those rights and revenues for your lifetime, plus 70 years!

Talk about some of the technical difficulties you ran into in the Village recording sessions.

We made a couple of trips to LA while negotiating and on one of those trips they asked if we’d like to go into the studio and do some demos.  So, they took us to S.I.R. (Studio Instrument Rentals) and we picked out some drums, amps and guitars.  Then, rather than book us time at a small demo studio, they booked us time at The Village Recorder, where Fleetwood Mac was recording the Tusk album in one of the rooms next door!  They called in David Malloy to oversee and “produce” our demo session.  David had just scored a hit with Eddie Rabbit on “I Love A Rainy Night”.  We knew he wasn’t too happy being called in to do demos on a weekend, with an un-signed band.  We had the worst luck with the gear as, at least one of the vintage Pultec outboard EQ units went up in flames and the logic on the Ampex 24-track tape machine lost its mind while rewinding our tape and ran free, spilling our wrinkled tape onto the floor as the engineer slapped furiously at the reels to try and stop it.  They also had a number of channels fail in the main Harrison console.  It was not a productive session.  When we went back to the studio years later to mix our Tongue Twister album, they were still talking about this tragic disaster of a session they had happen years before.  They didn’t realize WE were the band in that tragedy.

Who is Mike Stone and how did you first find out about him?  What elements did Mike bring to the “mix” as it were?

We interviewed quite a parade of producers before we settled on Mike Stone.  I remember having face to face meetings and phone calls with producers like Barry Mraz, Keith Olsen, Chris Kimsey, Kim Fowley, David Tannenbaum, Martin Rushent, Steve Goodman, Craig Leon and others.  Time was ticking and we were getting frustrated.  Someone at the label suggested Mike Stone who had worked with Queen and even done some of the Kiss solo records.  We met with him and hit it off.  We had a shared sense of humor and we just clicked.  He suggested recording at The Manor in England and we loved the idea. 

But as we were working, we realized that he had a different approach than us and some strict ideas about certain things.  He frowned on us listening to or referencing our demos, which we needed to remember things from song to song.  He also didn’t think John (who mainly played bass) should be playing guitar on the songs he wrote; “You’re the bass player, NOT the guitar player!” In the mixing stage there were discussions about the “right way and wrong way to mix drums”.  His view was, “There’s one way to mix drums, and THIS is it!”  We disagreed, and were able to reach a mutually acceptable compromise.

But aside from all that, we learned a lot from Mike and managed to produce a record we are still very proud of to this day.

The band were scheduled to fly to California for photo shoots including what would become the cover of Present Tense.  Talk about your brush with fate, i.e. Flight 191. 

Once we decided on Mike Stone as the producer for Present Tense there was a rush to get publicity and things done for the album artwork.  We were to fly out to LA for the cover photo shoot and the flight was booked for early afternoon on Friday May 25th, 1979.  We were excited about the date because it was Memorial Day weekend and we figured we’d have a few extra days in LA with little to do, because the offices were closed for the holiday.  Like a paid vacation. We were packed and ready to go on Thursday when we received a phone call for the LA office that they had realized it was a holiday weekend and cancelled our flights to be rebooked later that week.  We were really upset that they would shift our schedule at the last minute and further delay the process.  But what could we do?  We were together driving to lunch or something when the news came over the radio that the flight we had been booked on, American Airlines flight 191 had crashed on take-off, killing everyone on board.  We contacted our parents and friends to let them know that we weren’t on the flight and counted our blessings.  Some folks at Elektra reasoned that it was a “sign from God” that we were destined for great success.  Either way, we were still alive.

It’s interesting about the album cover design.  First, I didn’t make the connection it was designed by the guy who did the first Cars’ cover.  Secondly, I had no idea that your pictures on the cover were actually individual shots cropped together.

Yes, the concept of the album art sounded better than it turned out to appear.  The art department at Elektra described this “new technique” where they could bleach the color out of specific areas of a photo, leaving the color in the rest.  It sounded interesting and the concept was that there were windows of color that we aligned with on the front cover, in the “present tense”, but on the back we would have moved and the color windows no longer aligned with us.  We were shown the photo proofs and mock up just before we boarded the plane to England, literally in the Sky Lounge at the airport.  We were disappointed with the end result, but there was no time to start over without bumping the tight release schedule for the album.  So we approved it.

You were all set to record the album in England.  Quite a trove of equipment you had exported there.  Several Gibson brand guitars were included in the shipment.  Has Gibson always been your “go to” guitar?  What is it about this guitar that you like versus other brands?

We actually took a number of brands and models, Gibson, Fender, Hamer and Ibanez.  Electric and acoustic, 6 and 12-string guitars and John’s Gibson Thunderbird bass and 8-string Hamer bass.  We used a combination of those. But for me, my go-to electric guitar was my Gibson RD Standard and Gary leaned on his custom-made, all white Hamer Sunburst. Gary tended to use Marshall amps and I mainly used Hiwatt amps. They were British made amps, so we rented those and a Mesa Boogie 1 x 12.  John played through an Ampeg B-15 flip-top.

What were your initial impressions of London?  How was the band’s reception?  Did you enjoy sightseeing?

It was all a wonderful experience to be in such an historic place.  The first week was spent sightseeing and doing interviews. We were treated well and enjoyed staying in London for that first week after arrival, while our equipment cleared customs.  We moved out to the studio in Oxfordshire after that and recorded there for about 6 weeks or so, before moving back to London to mix at Trident Studios in Soho. The entire trip was a great experience and remains one of the high points of our tenure with Elektra.

The Manor was chosen as the recording venue.  It’s also quite a nice place to be “holed up” while recording, eh?

We were isolated from any record company pressures, had full run of the grounds and amenities and were in our element, with round the clock access to the studio.  The house was maintained by an all-female staff that worked on rotating shifts and would make breakfast, lunch and do the laundry or run errands.  If we asked for a snack or round of Guinness at 2 AM, they were there to accommodate.  Even our tape op was a girl from Germany named Maris Dunklau. A Cordon Bleu chef came in and made us gourmet dinners every week night.  There were also 2 pools, a tennis court and a go-kart track, so we had ways to relieve the pressure of recording.  It was a great experience.

Funny how you found a big rock to anchor the bass drum.  Hmmm is that why they call it “rock ‘n’ roll”?

It was an organic problem solved organically.

Did you like the studio layout and acoustics?

The studio was great, but there were also tie-lines into the main manor house.  So we were able to move the drums into the more reverberant snooker room and use one of the bathrooms as a place to record guitars with more room ambience. 

For the most part, were you pleased with the recording of the album?

Yes, the recording went well and we were very happy with it.  It was in the mixing stages that we bumped heads with Mike, a bit.  But we ended up with something we were happy with and proud of.

At this point I’d just like to make a few observations of my own on some of the tracks.  I appreciate your feedback.

On “Tomorrow Night” I think the chunky bass really makes the song.  Is that a Stratocaster I hear in there?

Yeah, the combination of John’s Gibson Thunderbird bass and that Ampeg B-15 tube amp really growled! It’s a combination of clean and distorted guitars.  For the clean sounds it was often the Fender Strat and Ibanez Artist.  I believe Gary used his Hamer for the rhythm chords.

I think the rhythm section in “Too Late” is really tight.  Of course I enjoy Gary’s vocals, especially at the end and how the backing harmony vocals go up a scale.

That song was a bit of a sleeper for us.  It wasn’t until we finished mixing it that we realized it’s potential.  It’s gone on to become one of the songs most identified with us.

Ok, my all time favorite Shoes song is “Your Very Eyes”.  I know you have a great affinity for that track as well.  I never tire of hearing it and it always gives me goose bumps.  A classic!  I imagine tons of female listeners swoon upon hearing this one.

John seems to have the ability to write these great, melodic ballads like that one, Karen, Turn Around, In My Mind, etc.  There’s just something about the way he constructs his lyrics and melodies.

Talk about how you got that background guitar sound on “Now and Then”.

Well, the background guitar bit that happens after the chorus vocal line is actually a backwards guitar.  John and Gary wrote that song and that cha-cha-cha-cha staggered rhythm that comes at the end of each verse was inspired by the Dr. Rhythm drum machine they were using to write to.  It added a variation that we thought was cool.

I love the guitar intro and outro on “Every Girl”.  That right there shows a talent on guitar much more than 3 chords.  This is one of my faves.  Nice harmony vocals too.

I love noodling off a D chord.  I did a similar thing on The Summer Rain. So many great songs were written that way, like Something by The Beatles, except that’s capoed-up 7 frets. 

Not so much my impression, but talk about the song “I Don’t Miss You” and the story of the recording and the “metronome”.

That’s a perfect example to us that you should always bring the gear that you normally use, no matter where you’re recording.  Skip’s original drum pattern was initially very straight forward.  But when we demoed it, we ran it through a Roland RE-201 Space Echo that had multiple playback heads that allowed multi-tap delays.  (Remember this is all done before digital delays were around much.) Those echo slaps created an alternate rhythm syncopation.  But we didn’t take that RE-201 with us to England (different power voltage there) and Skip was having a hard time laying down the drums without it.  He became so frustrated with himself that he threw his drumsticks across the room, at one point.  Very uncharacteristic for Skip’s normally laid-back temperament.  So, we sent one of the girls into town to buy a small electronic metronome.  We put a microphone on that and fed it into Skip and John’s headphones at extremely high volume.  It gave them both major headaches, but they got the basic track down.

I had always wondered how “Three Times” came together as a song.  I like how you brought together 3 partial songs, written individually by you, John and Gary, and came up with one fine medley. 

Like I discussed earlier, it was a successful song that came out of trying something a bit different.  On the Ignition album, there’s a 3-way collaboration song called, “Say It Like You Mean It” where we each wrote a section; Gary wrote the verse, I wrote the chorus and John wrote the bridge and we each sing lead in our respective section.  “Girls of Today” on Tongue Twister was another example of us each focusing in on a section.  We enjoy doing those types of song collaborations.

“I Don’t Wanna Hear It” was the first song I heard off the album.  I think it was being played on a local radio station.  It’s the type of song that really gets the head bobbing and brings out the air guitar player, at least in me! 

Written as a Ramones homage; short and fast.  The original demo was even shorter, with only one solo section. But when we were recording the final in England Mike Stone suggested a second solo section, which panicked me a bit.  I’m not really that type of soloing guitar player, so I had to retreat to my room at the Manor and come up with something quick.  When I had something I liked, we recorded those solo bits with the Mesa Boogie combo amp in a downstairs bathroom to get ambience and that feedback that happens at the end of the second solo.

After recording at The Manor, you moved to Trident Studios in London to do the mastering.  How was Trident?

Historic and mythical.  So much history there.  Many of our favorite bands had recorded there; The Beatles, T. Rex, David Bowie and on and on.  They made a point to point out the Bechstein piano that was reportedly used to record “Hey Jude” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

The band also worked at The Townhouse.  Interesting story on how you ran across the band The Jam while there.  The Jam have always been one of my favorite groups.  Did you get a chance to talk to Paul Weller?

We actually didn’t record anything at The Townhouse.  We just boarded there while we were mixing at Trident.  Richard Branson owned The Manor and The Townhouse studios and it was a nice courtesy to put us up there while we worked at Trident.  We would bump into the guys in The Jam in the game room or during meals.  But I never had any in-depth conversations with any of them.  I don’t know if John or Gary did.

The mixing process took some time, huh?

We mixed a song or two per day, depending on the song and the schedule.  We had to make sure we had time to finish a mix, if we started it late in the day and there was something else booked in after our session the next day.  Because, they didn’t have any type of automation or “snapshot” technology back then.  

As far as the tracking order for songs on Present Tense did you guys try to evenly balance the slower tempo, mid tempo and rocking tracks?

We approach album song sequencing very seriously to develop a sense of pacing and flow.  Sometimes it can be jolting, like the segue way from “Three Times” to “I Don’t Want To Hear It”  at the end of side one on Present Tense or from “Karen” to “She Satisfies” at the end of side one on Tongue Twister. There is no right or wrong way to do it.  Just a way that “feels” right.  The 3 of us are almost always in sync with each other on what works best with that stuff.

Shoes were at the vanguard of the video revolution.  Talk about how you chose the 4 songs for video shoot.  So you sort of liked the way “Tomorrow Night” turned out?

Video was in its infancy in the US, but in Europe they were well into using it as a medium to promote music.  While we were in England recording Present Tense we would see videos of English bands like The Buggles, The Boomtown Rats and M.  When we came back to the US, the label decided we should film some promo clips for the European market and we chose “Too Late” and “Tomorrow Night”, figuring they would be singles, at some point.  I don’t recall the rationale behind doing “In My Arms Again” and “Cruel You”.  We hated the sterile, harsh look of video tape, as opposed to shooting on film, but video tape was much cheaper than film.  So, to soften the look of things, we decided to film the last song, Tomorrow Night with a healthy dose of fog, to try and emulate the softer look of film.  We waited until the end of the shoot, so it didn’t fog up the set for the other songs. If it didn’t work, at least it was only the last song.  We joked that it looked like Shoes were playing in hell, because it was very late and very hot.

Interesting you were one of the first bands played on the fledgling MTV.  What was MTV’s response to your songs/videos?  How much did the video exposure help promote the album?

Elektra was losing patience with us by mid-1981.  We didn’t have a hit, yet and we had started writing songs for our 3rd album.  When MTV came on the air in August of 1981 and they put our 4 videos into rotation, there was quite a surge of interest and mail from the public, but Elektra remained unmoved.  The videos were from the 1st album and we had no videos for the second album.  We tried to convince Elektra to do more videos, because MTV was literally asking us for more clips, but Elektra said, “Nope.  Don’t worry; MTV is just a flash in the pan.”

Present Tense did fairly well upon release, correct?

Yes, out of the box it started moving up the charts.  It peaked at #50 on Billboards Hot 100 Albums chart, but started to fall by Mid-November. Too bad MTV was still 2 years away.

Your best reception was on the West and East coasts.  Can you explain why the album didn’t sell as well in the Midwest, especially in Chicago?

We always felt there was a bit of resentment in the Midwest because we didn’t come up the traditional way of playing gigs for years to build a fan base.  We always focused more on the recording aspect and Chicago was known as a “bandwagon city”; they wouldn’t take the lead in breaking an artist, they would jump on once things were already rolling.  The fact that Elektra had released 4 singles in the span of 10 weeks didn’t help.  Radio couldn’t decide what they were supposed to play.

Date with fate, #2.  In November ’79 Shoes began on a 3 week tour throughout the Midwest.  The Who were also touring.  Were they on the same tour or separate?  Talk about the Time Magazine proposed article and what transpired.

It was pretty much a disaster tour for us!  The tour started the last week of November of ’79.  TIME magazine had decided to run a cover story on The Next Generation of Rock which was to feature The Who (on the cover) and a feature article about them.  As a “sidebar” article they were doing a companion piece about The Next Generation of Rock featuring Shoes.  So, they sent out a writer and photographer to follow us around from the beginning of the tour.  It was a total disaster from the first show!

We didn’t have a lot of road experience and we decided to start out in the Midwest.  Not knowing any soundmen or roadies, we asked the label to find us a road crew.  They flew out some very inexperienced guys from LA that knew nothing about Chicago’s winter weather (they got off the plane in t-shirts and had no coats) and knew even less about running sound and being roadies.  During the first show they literally blew out our entire monitor system with the loudest feedback I had ever heard in my life. It was so loud it literally made me dizzy.   After our soundcheck, they re-strung my guitars improperly, so when I hit the first chord of the show; 3 of the strings were pulled off of the guitar.  It was horrible!  We fired the soundman after that show and after a week of similar disasters, we decided to stop the tour after the December 13th show in Detroit. It should be noted that a week after our first show, on December 3rd, 1979 The Who played in Cincinnati and several people were crushed to death in a rush to get good seats (general admission seating).  As a result of this tragedy, THAT became the focus of the TIME magazine piece and our feature was dropped.  I shudder to think what it might have said about us!

After Present Tense, Shoes have released 6 more studio albums.  What are some of your highlights from these releases.

Each album has its own highlights and memories for us.  After working in England on Present Tense, we recorded the next album in LA with Richard Dashut (Fleetwood Mac) at United Western Studio A, which was one of the most historic and best sounding studios we ever worked at. We did overdubs at a few other studios and mixed at The Village Recorder.  After that, we worked in Chicago at The Chicago Recording Company (CRC) which had a fantastic Cadac console.  From that point (1983) on we recorded ourselves at our own studio, Short Order Recorder which changed, expanded and grew into an official recording studio through the years, where we recorded and produced many, many bands. As digital started to be more widely accepted, we eventually sold our analog gear and the building in 2004 and built studios in our homes, to continue working.

The later years L-R Gary, Jeff, John

You mention The Beatles quite a bit throughout your book.  Obviously they were a huge influence.

They were the touchstone for us and thousands of other bands and musicians, over the years that followed.  In the short period of 8 years they recorded 13 albums of the highest quality and were constantly growing, changing and maturing.  So many things they did had never been done before and the music industry had to grow, to accommodate their success.  From their live performances to their recording techniques, they pushed the envelope.  They were also a great case study of what to do and what not to do from a business stand point.

Were there other bands you liked or were listening to in the late 70’s, early 80’s?

We were influenced by everything around us.  John, in particular would read and discover new music that influenced our direction.  Like Big Star, Nils Lofgren, Todd Rundgren, T. Rex and early David Bowie. These were all before they were discovered by the mainstream music listener.  We’re still listening and searching for new music that excites us.

I’m sure most our readers will recognize this song. Nice cover version.

If You Want My Love

Cheap Trick are from our area so we were able to see them in their very early stages and we were really inspired by their musical choices and professional approach from the very beginning. They stood out from the fray and had a huge impact on us. “If You Want My Love” is one of the only cover songs we’ve ever recorded. We were asked to do it for a proposed tribute album that never materialized.

Drummer Skip Meyer passed away in 2014.  What would you like the reader to remember most about Skip?

Skip was an all-around great guy.  He was easy going, laid-back and a fun guy to be around.  He would always try to make the best of any situation.  But as we focused more and more on being in the studio, we played less shows and this was when he became less interested in drumming.  Skip was very popular, socially and due to the fact that John, Gary and I were always in the studio recording, he was much more visible to our friends in the area.  Folks would say to us, “Oh yeah, you’re in Skip’s band!” He retired from drumming in 1984.  Even though we didn’t see him all that often, we remained friends until his passing.

Here’s something I always ask in every interview.  How do you write songs?  Do you come up with a melody first and then lyrics around the tune or words, then music?

It varies.  Sometimes I stumble across a chord progression I like or a riff I want to use and sometimes I get a word or phrase that inspires more pursuit.  Every time you write a song you plant a little landmine for yourself; can’t use that word phrase again, can’t use that chord progression again, etc. Can The Rolling Stones ever write another song with the word “satisfaction” in it? Words are always the most difficult thing; trying to say something without being trite or redundant.  Something simple, yet heartfelt. Rock lyrics can be pretty lame when seen on paper without the music, but you hope to minimize the cringe factor.  Sometimes it comes easy, but most times it comes hard. Don’t step on that landmine!

Jeff, talk some about your personal life these days.

Life is good.  I listen to and think about music every day. I don’t write that often, because I don’t want it to be a chore.  I want to want to do it.  I play and sing on other people’s songs occasionally, when asked.  That can be fun because I can just react and jump on that train that’s already in motion.  It may be the producer in me, but I feel at ease when I can listen to other people’s music and get ideas to embellish and react to it.

How do you keep busy?

I’m a geek, so I love to work on things and build things.  I did electronic repair work on amps and things for many years and I love doing remodeling on our house.  My wife and I have been working on it for over 20 years now and we’re running out of projects!  But there is still nothing that thrills me more than writing and recording a new song.

Any plans in the works on a new album?

New music, yes!  Album?  Do they exist anymore?  Although we’ve always been album oriented, as a band, everyone is a bit stymied about what the best format is in today’s musical climate.  CD?  Vinyl LP?  EP?  Digital download?  Single?  Full album? No one really knows the answer because there are examples of each of those options being successful and also being a failure.  I recently talked to a longtime record promo guy that worked for decades with major labels.  I asked him what he would do, if he had a full album recorded and ready for release?  He said, “Cut it up into 6 singles”.  We’ll see what the future holds.

Thanks a bunch Jeff and continued good fortune in all you do.

Thank-you, Greg, it’s been my pleasure!

Who remembers the hit songs “Arms of Mary” and “You Got Me Anyway”?  Does the band Sutherland Brothers & Quiver ring a bell?  During their recording career they may not have been a household name, but the Scottish band has most definitely left an indelible mark in pop rock’s colorful history. Gavin Sutherland, along with his brother Iain (d. 2019) were the principles, and recorded as both Sutherland Brothers and Sutherland Brothers & Quiver.  After the breakup of the band Gavin has continued recording several solo albums and he has agreed to take some time out of his schedule to chat with me.

First off, thank you Gavin for agreeing to this interview.  How are you?  What kind of effect has the COVID-19 pandemic had on you?

I’m doing fine, thanks Greg. The covid thing hasn’t really had much of an effect on me. I live in a quiet village on the coast, in a warm and friendly community, where not much happens anyway. But I am of course concerned for my family and friends elsewhere. I know it’s been a difficult time for a lot of folks, but I’m OK. Still sane, I think!

Let’s go back to your earliest memories.  What was life like growing up in Aberdeenshire?  I would have guessed the city was a suburb of Aberdeen, but that’s not the case is it?

I was born and spent the first six years of my life in Peterhead, a fishing town on the east coast. My early childhood memories are all good. As kids my brother and I and our little gang of friends enjoyed a lot of freedom to roam around the place. The beach was close at hand and we’d spend a lot of time there, messing around on the rocks, looking for crabs and all that or sometimes fishing in the harbour with our home-made lines. All the lads had a fishing line.  Football on the links was another favourite pastime, climbing trees was another. There were two cinemas in town, always jam packed for Saturday morning matinees. The Lone Ranger, Batman, The Cisco Kid. Most of what we saw came over from the States.

What did your parents do for a living?

My dad was a civil servant, worked for the government at the local employment office. Mum worked in an office for a while too. Not sure where exactly. For generations past most of my family had been involved in the fishing industry either as fishermen or in the land based trades that supported the fishing. There were several herring curing yards down around the harbour. My grandfather was a cooper, making barrels for the herring exporters. In his later life he worked as a fish buyer for one of the bigger curing yards.

Were either of your parents musicians? 

Dad was a great musician. He played violin and accordion in his part time dance band, ‘The Melody Makers’. They played the weekend dances in the big hotels in the town and surrounding villages. Music was a big thing our house. Dad had a great collection of jazz and swing records, Benny Goodman,  Glen Miller, all that stuff. His hero was Stephane Grappelli. The Hot Club, with Django, were regular favourites on the big gramophone in the living room. Dad’s pride and joy.  I remember Krupa’s drums sounded great on that thing. I’ve always loved the drums and drummers.

Did you have any musical training as a youth?

No, none at all, but there was always talk of music in the house and dad’s band mates would meet in our kitchen to discuss arrangements and all that, so music was a very normal part of life for Iain and me. I thought at the time every household must be like that, but of course that wasn’t the case. Yeah, Iain and I were very lucky to have all that around us as kids.

I got my first guitar for my tenth birthday. Guitar music was the new thing and like so many kids at that time I wanted to play guitar.  It was a really dodgy acoustic but I just loved it. With it came a copy of Burt Weedon’s ‘Play In a Day’, the novice’s introduction to the instrument. I know a lot of guitar players who started with that book, ‘Burt’s Bible’. I’ve still got mine. ‘Play In A Day’ ? Not sure about that! I spent ten years learning to play and the rest of my life learning what not to play.

Talk about your education. 

I started school in Peterhead but only did a year there. When my family moved to Midland England with my Dad’s work my life changed quite dramatically. No more harbour, no more beach, no more sea. All the things that I thought was the real world. Life was tough for a while, but I was lucky to have a big brother to keep an eye on me and make sure I was OK. I spoke with a strong north Scots dialect and nobody understood me, and I still remember when mum, god bless her, sent me to my first school Christmas party in the kilt. In the eyes of my classmates, not only did I make strange noises when I spoke but sometimes wore a skirt. Perfect! But I settled quickly, kids do, and I made a lot of good friends.

Senior school would have been unbearable without my pals.  We laughed our way through all the crap and some lifelong friends were made. 

My musical school memories come down to the school’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan operatic productions of ‘The Pirates of the Penzance’ and ‘The Mikado’. I was never chosen to sing in those things. When our music ‘teacher’ came around the class as we sang boring, dodgy songs like Schubert’s ‘The Trout’, marking the chosen for the choir with a chalk cross on their desk, I whispered so I wouldn’t get picked.  It meant nothing to me. “Three Little Maids From School Are We” ? No, I don’t think so. Sounded a bit dodgy, even then. I couldn’t wait to get home and listen to my Beatles and Stones records. 

How did you become interested in music?  Can you recall one of the first 45’s or LP’s you bought?

A pal of mine had an older brother who had a little Dansette record player. We used to sit in his bedroom and listen to his records. That’s when I found Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and the early rock ‘n’ rollers who changed my life. The Shadows were another favourite of mine. When Cliff and The Shadows ever came on television my attention was always drawn to Hank Marvin, not the front man. The first thing I taught myself to play was a Shadows tune, ‘FBI’. Of course I didn’t know then that one day, many years later, I would meet him and enjoy a chat with him in a dressing room at one of their nightclub gigs. That came about because we knew his old buddy, Bruce Welch. Bruce produced our last SBQ album ‘Down To Earth’. We recorded it at Abbey Road. I have memories of sitting shoulder to shoulder with Bruce as we mixed tracks on the big board there in studio one. Those were the days of ‘all hands on desk’ when everybody had a wee job at the mixer as we finished off the tracks. Pull the vocals in the middle bit, push the last lick in the guitar solo, all that kind of thing. I well remember the day Bruce turned up with a guitar case and put it down on the floor of the control room. When he opened  it all present were amazed. It was Hank’s first Strat, the first one ever to come to the UK, the one Cliff had bought for him because he was looking for that bright, clean Buddy Holly sound. We all took it in turn to have a quick go on it. Of course I played ‘FBI’. Yeah, I never thought I’d get a chance to play the first tune I’d ever learned on the actual guitar Hank recorded it with. A truly magical moment for me.

The first record I bought was an EP by a guy called Frank Ifield, an Anglo-Australian who I later found out was the first guy in the UK to sell a million records. My favourite of the four songs  was a tune called ‘Lovesick Blues’. Somebody told me the best version of that one was by a country and western singer called Hank Williams. That was my introduction to the man himself, Hiram ‘Hank’ Williams, a song writing giant and undisputed master of the three chord trick.

What kind of influence did your older brother Iain have in your life, both personally and musically?

I followed in Iain’s footsteps every step of the way. I couldn’t match him academically, he had a knack of cruising through school exams, even when his school band were gigging in the local village halls while their classmates were buried in books, but I was a better football player than him, and that meant a lot to me as a kid.  He was always there for me and his approach to life influenced me a great deal. He was strong minded, warm hearted and absolutely  fearless. I’d like to think some of that rubbed off on me, but I’m not sure about that. His creative talents were extraordinary, but he was my brother, I’d grown up with him so of course I took all that for granted. As kids we found singing in harmony was really easy. We didn’t have to work on that at all, somehow it was just there. The notes, the phrasing, the whole thing. When we first got guitars we’d sing a lot together, Beatle songs and of course the Phil and Don thing was big with us, for obvious reasons.

Who were you earliest influences?

I remember we used to listen to the top twenty ‘hit parade’ on Sunday nights on our little transistor radio.  The signal from Radio Luxembourg came and went but it always sounded just great to me. ‘Fabulous 208’ was a big deal for us and so many like us. Our window to the world of music we loved. That’s where we found Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee and all that early rock stuff.  I’ll never forget the night I was tuned in to Luxembourg and heard this rough harmonica lick followed by a two part harmony that sounded just wonderful. When the record finished  the DJ told us that was “Love Me Do”, the new single from a group from Liverpool called ‘The Beatles’.  I didn’t realise at the time just how much that few minutes of music was about to change my life.

I was twelve years old in the summer of ’64 when we went for a family holiday on the Isle-of-Man. One evening as we strolled along the Douglas prom we saw a poster saying there would be a ‘Beat Group Competition’ in the grounds of one of the big hotels that night, featuring five bands from Liverpool. Of course we went along to see it, and it was just magical! I don’t know who we saw that night but they all sounded just fantastic to me, all doing the same stuff, Chuck Berry tunes and beat group standards  like Walking The Dog, Hog For You Baby and Hi Heeled Sneakers. A couple of nights later ‘A Hard Days Night’ was released and Iain and I went to see it at the local flix. Wow! Well, that was just it, we came out of the cinema that night knowing exactly what we wanted to do for a living. I think everybody was into the Beatles back then. It was much, much more than music, it was a new way of life for me, all my pals, and thousands like us, with the fab four fronting the whole thing.

Your first band was A New Generation.  You released a trio of singles in 1968. 

Yeah, ‘A New Generation’. We all hated the name but some agent guy in London, for no known reason, was telling everybody that’s what we were called so we got lumbered with it.  We had a few singles released and did quite a few radio shows for the BBC, recorded at their big sound studio complex at Maida Vale.  It was after we’d done one of those sessions and returned to the cheapest hotel in town, that we got a message from our manager. “Be at Hampstead Heath tube station at six a.m. Wear something warm !” That was it. Next morning, bright and early, we  took the tube up there and were met by a guy form some dodgy publicity agency. We walked with him up onto the Heath, still not sure what was going on. Eventually we saw in the distance a lorry and a few people spraying the grass with silver car paint. When the lorry moved away there it was. Oh no! A wooden space ship!! Oh no, WTF was going on!  Being green and keen we followed our instructions and got into the thing. “Just wait in there and keep quiet!”

So there we were, sat on a plastic sheet, covered in baby frogs. The situation was ridiculous.  After an hour or so there was a bang on the space ship door. “Oi, have you got a permit for this?”. It was one of the park wardens. He asked again an we stayed silent.  He went away and soon after that the police arrived and the plan to make the headlines with an ‘Alien Landing on Hampstead Heath’ was scuppered! They were not amused. “Get out of there right now or you’re gonna get done!” We opened the door and stepped out. “Right, fuck off and take all the crap with you before we do you for wasting  police time.” Our publicity guru turned up and we had to carry “all the crap” back to the car park. About half a mile. We were totally knackered and had achieved absolutely nothing. Those were the days!

Then you were in a group called Baby, releasing a one-off single in ’69.  Any memories there?

No, not really. We used that name for a few months and then the band split up. Chris the keyboard player went off to music college to later become a teacher. John the drummer joined another band and went off to Germany to do the Star Club thing. 

Iain and I came up with a cunning plan. We wanted to talk to someone we respected and knew all about the music business. Paul McCartney was our first choice so we set about finding a way to get to see him. We contacted Apple and were told he was unavailable (surprise) and that he was spending some time on his farm on the Mull he would later make famous. OK, now we knew where he was and we were on the case, fueled by the madness of fearless, naive youth.

The more people laughed at the idea the more determined we got. We had no time to waste and somehow managed to persuade dad, against his better judgment, to give us a lift to Keele Services on the M6 where we began our epic hitch-hike journey north. It took about twenty four hours, but we did eventually arrive in Campbeltown  in Paul’s beloved Kintyre.  After a night in a B and B we went down to the police station. We told them we were from Apple records and had some tapes to deliver to Mr Mc. We got a wry smile as the bobby on duty gave us directions. We were closing in on the target. So off we went on a six mile walk out of town. The Gods were on our side as we accidentally missed the track that would have taken us through the farm where the farmer acted as a sort of security guy and took the next turn, a track that eventually faded out to nothing, but we kept going. When we reached the brow of the hill, there it was, the little white buildings  with red roofs, just like we’d seen in some music mags. So on we trod. Then in the distance a couple of figures appeared, with a big fluffy sheep dog. I thought “That must be Martha. Oh dear! With Mr and Mrs Mc.” And so it was, we’d achieved our goal. Paul wasn’t, understandably, too pleased to see us but once he realised we were there with a purpose and not for an autograph or an old school selfie, I think he liked our unorthodox approach and we chatted about all sorts of things. He told us about the time he and John bought black envelopes and silver nail varnish to address letters to agents when they were looking for gigs. “Any response” was the question. “Fuck all” was the answer. I remember the master’s words of wisdom. “It’s all out there, if you want it bad enough, just go and get it.” With that we parted company and headed for home. Mission accomplished. Sorry, Paul, please forgive the intrusion, it just had to be done.

Your first incarnation as “Sutherland Brothers” was circa 1971.  Two albums were released in 1972.  My favorite of the two is “Lifeboat”, especially the ’73 version including Quiver with the added track “Real Love”.    

After our chat with Sir Paul, Iain and I were more determined than ever to give the music bizz a proper go. We knew we’d have to move down to London. Everything was there, record companies, studios, publishers, yeah, everything, with very little happening elsewhere at that time. But we were skint, so to save up some money we took factory jobs. Iain worked on a pot bank, dragging trollies of clay around all day and I got a job in a factory on a production line, putting wiring boxes into night-storage heaters.  When we’d saved up enough we made the move and took up residence in West Kensington’s bedsit land.  We spent all our time writing songs and singing them to each other. Our pal, Wayne Bardell, who we’d met in an earlier brush with ‘Tin Pan Alley’ and would later manage us, was busy trying to get us a record deal. It took some time but eventually Muff Winwood at Island Records got to hear our stuff and liked what he heard. We’d got a pretty cool harmony voice thing going on, and, yeah, I think he liked that. He gave us some recording audition time at Island’s HQ in Basing Street, then the coolest studio on the planet, with my dear friend Digby Smith at the audio helm.  (Digby and I worked together on a couple of very recent recording projects, but that’s another story.)  While Iain and I were in the studio, giving it all we’d got, unknown to us, Chris Blackwell, who owned and ran the label, popped into the control room, liked what he heard and gave the thumbs up to a three album deal. We’d done it! The feeling was way beyond wonderful, it was what we’d been aiming for, for a long time, and we celebrated around the corner in ‘Mike’s Caf’ with egg, beans and chips and pints of tea.

So we got studio time, with Muff producing and Digs at the desk. Our old pal Neil ‘Fred’ Hopwood came in on drums and we auditioned for a bass player in a sweaty, pokey little room in Shepheards Bush. Kim Ludman got the job. ‘The Sutherland Brothers Band’ was born, now all we had to do was make a record. It was a great experience working with those people and in our three or four weeks on that album we learned so much about how to turn sketched ideas into decent records. Muff’s experience and willingness to share his knowledge was invaluable and I will remain forever grateful. Never a dull moment, and a lot of good laughs to help it all rock ‘n’ roll along. Yeah, everybody in that building knew exactly what they were doing. Good times. Barney Bubbles did the sleeve for that one. Having our portraits painted by him was a real blast. Great guy!

So ‘The Sutherland Brothers Band’ finished the album and took to the road, opening for other bands on the label who were a rung or several further up the ladder.  ‘Mott The Hoople’ and ‘Free’ come to mind. We played all over the UK and lots of gigs in mainland Europe

Some strange things happened  at that time. Not least my near-death experience when I got a massive electric shock on stage at Birmingham City Hall. Yeah that was a close one. Blue light ambulance job , burns on my hands and feet, but after a couple of nights in hospital I was allowed home. I was in pretty bad shape for a while and the band came off the road. Iain didn’t want to do stuff without me around. I think that kind of knocked the stuffing out of the band and after a few shows we split up. The last thing we did was a week in the strangest place I’d ever played, ‘The Zoom Club’ in Freiburg. 

After a long drive south we arrived at the place. We were booked for a week, sharing the bill with Gary Moore and his band. We met the manager. “OK, when do you want us to start?” “Hey, man, when it feels right.” “Oh, right. When do we finish?” “Hey, when it feels right!” We knew then the week ahead was going to be ‘different’.   Just then Gary wandered in. He’d started the night before. “This is the weirdest place on the planet.  I won’t spoil it, but you’re in for a time! “ He told us the bands didn’t start till midnight so we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. We got back to the club late that evening and there were about ten people in there, a liquid light show on back wall and the music was loud. By midnight the place was packed. There was a US army base near the town and this was where the off-duty GIs came to ‘unwind’. The local heads hung out there too, it was pretty chaotic. By the time we went on there was a thick blue fog in the room and it smelt sweet. Everybody was getting smashed, sitting or lying on the floor, but strangest of all, facing the back wall, away from the stage. We kicked off and half way through the first number bits from old black and white movies appeared on the wall. Laurel and Hardy, W C Fields and then a bi-plane dog fight with deafening machine gun noises. Wow! Gary was right, this place was seriously strange! After a couple of nights we got used to it all but it remains unforgettable. When we got back to London we played the Marquee, with everybody looking at the band. That felt quite uncomfortable at first, but we got used to it!

That band just ran out of gas and before our second album was due it was back to just the two of us. Dave Mattacks was booked in to bash the tubs. A great player in the engine room and we could build a band up from there. I remember the night we recorded ‘Real Love’. It was about giving the players room to play. Steve Winwood came in to play piano, Rabbit Bundrick did his Hammond thing and the tune just took off. A great thing to be a part of and a jolly good night was had by all. The album, clearly by the title, had a nautical root that took Iain and I back to our seaboard homeland. Songs like ‘Sailing’ and ‘Lifeboat’ came from the places we’d known as kids, our family ties to the sea and the tunes we’d sang in the kirk as kids. The sea and it’s unpredictable  behavior was a useful metaphor for life in general, you know, the storms, the calms, waves rolling, tides turning and all that. Without thinking about it we looked back to our roots quite a lot and on reflection maybe that made our approach a wee bit different to that of those around us. The sound of the sea never leaves you. What’s the city equivalent? Car engines? Taxi horns? No thanks. I did ten years in London. I had some great times, but ten years was enough for me. I remember being stuck in a traffic jam at the Hammersmith roundabout and thinking “That’s it, I’ve had enough, I’m getting out of here.”

So I made a move, back up north to a farm house I shared with Alex, my lovely wife at that time, and Iain and Pat, his life long Mrs. That’s where we’d often enjoy the company of friends, get loaded on what ever was around, listen to music and watch the sun go down. That’s where Iain saw the lights in the valley and felt the wind blow up the ally and changed the words of a song he’d written years before to a tale about a lass called Mary. 

How had you heard about Quiver?  Is there a story as to how they came up with that name?  As it’s told Muff Winwood was responsible for uniting you and your brother with Quiver, is that right?

At the time of the Lifeboat release Iain and I were gigging around with a couple of acoustic guitars. We were ok with that for a while but always felt more at home in a band. Our manager, Wayne, got word that Quiver were looking for a singer songwriter and suggested we go and see them. The guy in the band who I think wrote a lot of their stuff, Cal Batchelor, had plans to head home to Canada. When we heard Quiver were playing a north London pub one night we went along to see them. They sounded great. After the set we met up with the lads for a pint and a chat. We got on really well and decided to get some studio time and see how working together might pan out. There was no real plan at that time so both us and Quiver wanted to keep our identity. We got a day booked in Basing street studios and recorded a couple of tunes, Iain’s ‘You Got Me Anyway’ and the Buddy Holly classic ‘Not Fade Away’. We all knew that one.  At the top of the session notes, in the ‘artist’ box, Digby had written ‘The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver’. We didn’t know then how things would work out but we were all keen to give something a go so a few days later we all met up for a jam around with some of our tunes at Quiver’s HQ in Elgin Avenue. Pete Wood, a great keyboard player, lived in the ground floor flat and came upstairs to join the fun. We all had a good time and decide to get a gig organized. Iain and I had a night booked at The Marquee Club, we played there quite a lot, and that was where the Quiver lads joined us for the first time.  We did a few tunes, just the two of us, and then on came the boys. The sound was big and we  knew there was something interesting going on. 

‘You Got Me Anyway’, made the charts in the States and at the same time we were invited by Elton John to open for him on his ‘Yellow Brick Road’ tour. That was our first time in the USA and we had a ball. Everywhere we went the “Yellow Brick Road Show” was big news. The crowds were massive and the media attention was pretty intense. We played all those cities we knew from school geography class and Chuck Berry records, from Madison Square to the Hollywood Bowl and everywhere in-between.  Yeah, Elton was good to us, gave us a lift on his plane a few times. Yeah, cool guy. Great touring with him and his band.

You must have liked what you heard in Tim Renwick’s guitar playing.  What did he bring to the SB&Q overall sound?

Yeah, Tim is a very special musician, and a lovely guy. We’re still good friends and keep in touch with each other, and Willie, my old tour room mate, of course too. When Tim got going live he played some beautiful stuff. Standing between his guitar and Iain’s voice, in front of Willie’s kit was, for me, the safest place in the world. Working with those guys really was an absolute pleasure. Pete later moved on and we parted company with Bruce. I moved on to bass, and there we were, with an ‘old school’ beat group line up. Vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. We worked really well together and there was always loads of laughter, a comprehensive selection of refreshments , and a lot of love in the room.

The sound of SB&Q has been described as folk/pop rock.  It may be me but I don’t hear much of a “folk” sound.  Of course I’m not real big on labels anyway.  I will ask you this, back in the day did some fans think you were American?  Was there any intention on sounding “American”, especially with some of the vocal intonations and instrumentation?  Or was it just the sound that you guys created and critics and fans will inevitably compare one band’s sound to others?

Hang on a minute. You guys got it from us! Our celtic song tradition and fiddle tunes travelled across the water with our emigrants, and gently morphed into country songs and blue grass.  You guys disguised it, brought in the Afro groove, called it rock and roll and sent it back over to us. And, of course, we loved it! But we were moving on too at that time. It’s a big wide world and we’re all a part of it. Music is the global language, with no border lines out there to spoil the fun. Let’s just keep it like that.

I must say SB&Q were a very tight sounding outfit.  I won’t go into analyzing each album, but I’ll give you some of my favorite tracks and you can comment if you like.  I like the slower tempo and soulfulness of “Love on The Side”.  “High Nights” is a really nice instrumental.  Can you tell I like slower material?  Of course I already mentioned “Real Love”.  I like the almost “reggae/ska” sound of “Dr. Dancer”.  But probably my all time favorite track is “Moonlight Lady”.  It’s one of those goose-bump inducing songs.  

Moonlight Lady

Rod Stewart had a hit with ‘Sailing’ and that opened a lot of doors for us. We opened for the Faces on a few gigs. Great band and a really nice bunch of blokes. Soon after that we had a hit in the UK and all over Europe with ‘Arms of Mary’. That song was later covered by The Everly Brothers, a bit of a mind blower for both Iain and I as we used to work out their harmonies and sing some of their numbers when we were kids. To know they’d done the same thing with the harmony lines on our record was something special. A thing that stands out in my memory of that time was when ‘Mary’ was number one in the South African ‘white chart’, yeah, back in the days of apartheid when black and white folks couldn’t even share a music chart, (hard to believe, but true) the B side down there was a song called ‘Something’s Burning’. It was picked up by the black stations and went on to reach number one in the black chart. We were all very proud of that, it was like we’d accidentally put one over the system.  A one-off as far as I know.

The ska beat flavour on Dr. Dancer was probably a nod back in the direction of Island records and the label’s roots in the Caribbean Sea.  I loved ska, and then came reggae. I was in the office one day when one of the agency guys told me there was a reggae band playing the Speakeasy Club that night. They’d just signed to the label so I went along to check them out. On the poster on the door it said ‘Tonight, Reggae From Jamaica with ‘The Wailers’. Man, Bob and the band were just brilliant. There wasn’t much of a crowd there that night but it was clear to see I was witnessing something very special. I had a quick chat with Bob after the show, told him how much I’d enjoyed the band, their music and general approach to the whole thing. A lovely guy and obviously destined for stardom. You mentioned ‘Moonlight Lady’, yeah Iain wrote some beautiful songs. John Travolta covered that one. Pretty cool.

Were there any songs that were written that didn’t make it to vinyl?

Yeah, there must have been quite a few. I was writing but nothing like as much as Iain. Songs were just pouring out of him at that time.  But nothing really comes to mind. It was a long time ago and I struggle hard enough to remember what we did, never mind what we didn’t do! 

Who was your favorite producer to work with?

Now, that’s not easy to answer. I learned a lot from all those guys. Muff Winwood has to be top of my list. He gave us our first proper record deal and taught us so much about how to turn songs into records. Working with Ron and Howie Albert was a blast, at CBS studio in London with engineer Steve Lavine in the hot summer of 1976 was really cool. We went on to work with them at ‘Criteria’ in Miami. They took us to a ‘Surf n Turf’ place where I ate the best onion rings in the world.  Then there was Bruce Welch, one of my ‘Shadows’ heroes. He knew what records should sound like, but, for me, it was more about the chat, the little anecdotes about his early days with Cliff and the Shadows. Working in that Abbey Road building , knowing what had gone on before, was something else. Then came Glenn Spreen, out in LA., a guy who had done the string arrangements for some of the later Elvis hits.  A seriously laid back guy who at first we found difficult to read but soon became a good friend with. One of his pals was Billy Hayes of ‘Midnight Express’ fame. Billy came in to the studio one night, took off his coat and threw it onto the loaded tape machine. After all he’d been through he clearly didn’t care much about that kind of thing. We recorded that album with a fine bunch of players Glenn had put together and then went on to mix it in the CBS studio in Paris.  That was a strange place. An old, beautifully preserved music hall theater at Place de la Bastille with the studio set up in what would have been the back stage dressing room area. The tape op, a local guy, introduced us to the cafe next door where we spent some long, happy evenings. It was a little family run place. No menu, they just put on the table some food they thought we would like to eat. Yeah, loved those people and their cooking, and the house wine was wonderful.  Maybe it’s not so much about the studios and producers and more about the food in the local cafes and the chat? Before we’d even attempt a late night vocal session with Glenn in LA,  Iain and I would fuel up at our favourite Mexican place with some spicy food and a few tequilas. We knew we might be in for a long hard night of double tracked three or four part oos  or something. No cut n paste back then. We had to be prepared.

Talk about your songwriting process, both past and present, i.e. inspiration, etc.  Do you typically write the lyrics first and then the music, or vice versa? 

My approach to song writing has changed over the years. When I first started recording the songs had to be ‘studio ready’, OK, you could fine tune intros and things when you got in there with the guys , but the general shape had to be there. Words, middle eight, or whatever might be required. It’s very different now, well for me anyway. Now I can pick up a guitar, get a bit of a groove on and moan and mumble into my mobile phone. A few words might appear from nowhere that start up a lyrical process. I often don’t find out what I’m writing about until the song’s just about finished.  Sometimes I never find out or maybe years later I somehow realise where it all came from. It’s not an exact science with me, it’s more of an organic process. Anything can trigger an idea, something somebody says in the pub, a line in a book or a movie, something you see as you walk down the street, something on the news. Anything that catches your attention. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, tunes and lyrics can just arrive somehow, from a place unknown.

Do you enjoy the creative control in writing and recording your own albums or do you miss the camaraderie of a band effort?

I enjoyed working with guys, the social interaction was as important to me as the music we made. It was all one thing , but I don’t miss the touring. I’m quite happy working on tunes on my own and then bringing in a few friends to play their part.  Input from other players makes the whole thing much more interesting.  The internet has been a god send from that point of view. I work with people I know will put good stuff on the record, people I don’t have to discuss things much with, just let them get on with it. It’s not about flash playing, it’s about getting things to feel good.

Gavin, you’ve released several solo albums with A Traveller’s Tales (2019) and The Wishing Tree (2021) being the most recent. What was your inspiration for A Traveller’s Tales? 

I write songs habitually, maybe it’s an addiction, so I’ve usually got something on the go. Something to get me up in the morning with a sense of purpose. When I’d got a few tunes ready to record a couple of years ago, though I hadn’t planned it, it was clear I’d been writing reflective lyrics based loosely on my experiences through the years.  You, know, ‘the journey’.  I felt the music and the ideas were pushing me in a certain direction so I just went along with it.

Who were the musicians you played with on this album?

Joining me on this one, all hooked up through the net, were a couple of folks I hadn’t had the pleasure of working with before, singer songwriter Heidi Browne on fiddle and fellow clansman Dave Sutherland on double bass. My old pals Dave McGarry and Terry Butters took turns at the piano, Nick Zala played pedal steel guitar, Sam Lumsden played drums and Steve Watts added some synthesizer colour here and there. Nancy K Dillon, who I’d done songs with before, sings a duet with me from her home in Seattle and there are backing vocals from Heidi Browne, Debi Doss, Claire Kennedy and Gillie Nicholls. A lovely bunch of people.  

I hope you don’t mind me comparing a lot of the material to Stealers Wheel? 

No I don’t mind at all. Gerry Rafferty is a great writer. We’re both Scots and probably grew up listening to the same stuff, so the over all approach to melody lines and maybe subjects too are bound to cross over in places. The ‘folkie’ influences show through in a lot of his stuff, and mine too. Yeah, I’ll take that as a compliment.  Bless him!

On listening to the songs, I particular enjoyed “Bright Like the Sun” and “The Master’s Voice”, especially the steel guitar

I was chatting with a pal who suggested a bit of pedal steel guitar on a tune or two would sound cool and add a bit more of a country flavour to the album. I wasn’t sure if that was really where I wanted to go but thought I’d check it out so I had a google around to see if there might be somebody out there who could do the job and handle all the internet malarkey. I found Nick Zala. When I read the notes I saw he’d done some stuff for my old pal and management stablemate, Frankie Miller.  That was good enough for me so I emailed him and told him what I had in mind. The next move was to send him a backing track to work on and a few days later he sent back his pedal steel track. It was bang on so I asked him to try a couple more tunes. A lovely player who really got what the songs were about. Good guy. There’s some ambient synth on ‘The Sun’ track too. Played by my old friend Steve Watts, better known for his analogue synth work with the ‘heavy rock’ band ‘Demon’. Steve did it for a bottle of absinthe. Hey, it’s pricey stuff! A lot of my pals will do anything for a drink.

I think “Picture on the Wall” could be a single. I like the harmonica, tempo and rhythm of the track

Yeah that was a strange one to work on. I had lots of little bits of the song flying around in my head but It took a while before I found a way to glue them all together. Sometimes a lot of time and effort can go into making something  sound spontaneous and effortless. Other tunes just seem to fall out of your head.  That doesn’t happen a lot, but it’s great when it does.

My favorite line comes from “In The Eye of the Storm”. “We’re all in the same boat in the eye of the storm”

Maybe that’s just how I see the big picture these days, but I guess it’s always been like that. Some in the posh cabins and some below decks, but all in the same boat. A quick change of wind direction and anything could happen.

More people in the world need to hear the message of “Voice of Reason”

That would be wonderful, but I’m not sure it will ever happen. There’s always some nasty bastard lurking in the background, ready to pounce on the prey if they see a sign of weakness.

Lastly, who are the background singers on “Wheels Are Rolling”? 

I was thinking a gospel style vocal line or two would suit the song and a friend told me he knew a lass who worked as a hair dresser in a town about ten miles away. I got a hold of her number and asked her over to have a go at the parts. Claire Kennedy arrived at my door, a lovely young woman with a friendly smile, we had a cup of tea and a chat and then went over the song. She put on the headphones and I gave her the thumbs up. She started singing and I was blown away. Man, she was good! Handled it like a real pro. That doesn’t happen every day.  She sang both parts with natural flare.  I’m not sure she realises just how good she is. 

Now The Wishing Tree was recorded during 2020 amidst the pandemic and social distancing. Talk a little about the band members and the recording process. It must have been a bit of a challenge? 

Yes, I was having a bit of a tough time when I started work on that record. I’d just spent a couple of months down in England, dealing as best I could with my brother’s departure followed by a very strange Christmas with the family. Needless to say, it was a real struggle for us all to find some comfort and joy. Anyway, I came home mid January, just before the whole covid thing kicked off. Could things get worse?  I knew I’d have to get stuck into something or I might just lose my mind. So I started twanging around on my guitar and sketching out a few new tune ideas. 

I decided to give Dave Sutherland and Sam Lumsden a call to see if they fancied joining in. Dave’s double bass and Sam’s drums had featured on my last two albums so I knew all that would work out fine. The ball was rolling and we started swapping music files back and forth over the net and letting the whole thing develop as we went along. We didn’t know where it was going, but it felt good. I wanted my old pal Digby to master the songs, and as we discussed matters he suggested I send him the individual tracks (‘stems’ in digi-speak, apparently) down to his studio in Torquay to mix. Great! Game on, and of course really good to have ‘golden ears’ on the case. 

As I was working on the title song it crossed my mind that the intro melody line might sound good on a cello, but as I didn’t know anyone who could deal with that and all the web tech involved, the idea went no further. A few days later, and quite out of the blue, I had a message on my fb music page from Irmi Wolvin, a cellist in Vienna who had been checking out some old Suth’s stuff and said if I ever wanted a cello on any of my songs she’d be up for it. We messaged each other and as we got to know more about each other I found that not only was she a great musician but also a lovely, energetic and enthusiastic person who I knew would fit into our band of locked-down isolatoes really well. Her cello sounded so good on the first tune she played on I decided it would be great to have her on all of the songs we were working with. Irmi was enjoying making music with us and her cello put a new colour in the mix. It gave the band a sort of fresh identity and it’s always good when the Muses step in and lend a hand. I guess some things are meant to be.

The mandolin and cello have always been two of my favorite instruments. I like how they are utilized.

There are a few electric guitar licks on there, but it’s fundamentally an acoustic record. There’s a lot of wood involved and tree based instruments always sound good together. 

In “Look to the Children” explain the meaning of the line “You roll it to me, I roll it back to you”. 

Everybody rocks. It’s always about the rock. but let’s not forget the roll . It’s very important.  When that beautiful music found its way over here in the late 60s from a ‘Big Pink’ house in West Saugerties, it had a big influence on how so many of us would go on to make music. It was like ‘The Band’ had just invented  ‘roll ‘n’ roll’. Yeah, let’s  let the whole thing  roll back and forth. Feels good to me.

Had you considered “Isolation Days” as the title of this collection? Nice song. I like the background harmony vocals. 

It was on the cards as a title but I had a sketch of a scotch pine tree on the wall, a sketch I’d done in the middle of a field  a few years ago, on a pilgrimage to county Sutherland, the place where my family roots lie. The symmetry  of the old tree’s form, out there in the middle of nowhere, caught my eye. I had to sketch it. As night fell the stars appeared. I could have put them in there, but thought no, I’ll leave that to Vincent, he’s really good at that kind of thing.

I like the feel of “Watching Clouds”, especially the spoken word vocals. Who is the female speaking? 

That’s Irmi, the cellist. She put a wee video together for it too. A clever lass and always easy to work with. Her English is really great, but can be amusing sometimes. She once sent me a cello line and told me if I liked it she would do it again and ‘perfectionise’ it. That, of course, became a part of the band’s vocabulary. How cool would it be if Pro Tools and the like  had a ‘Perfectionise’ button.  

I’d never tried the spoken thing before, but I had worked with John Mackie, a poet friend of mine . He invited me to play at a couple of his gigs, ad-lib stuff, as he recited some of his work, and I thought yeah, why not, let’s give it a go. A very different approach to anything I’d ever done before and I enjoyed it. Playing in old book shops, surrounded by shelves full of old books, felt good, and the poetry get-togethers were always interesting. Watching clouds is a favourite pastime of mine, and Irmi’s too, so we got the line swapping thing together and went for it.

The guitar in “The Silent Poet” is very good. 

Thank you, maybe I’m starting to get the hang of it?

The Silent Poet

Two really inspiring, uplifting songs are “Find Your Way” and “Constant Star”. What message(s) are you imparting to the listener? 

I suppose in some ways it’s like talking to my kids or grand children. The road through life can get a bit bumpy from time to time, but just hang in there, keep going. You’ll be fine! I guess when you reach a certain stage in the game reflection and contemplation come into the picture more often. Passing life’s experiences down through the generations I think is really important. My forbears taught me that.

Has anyone ever compared your voice to that of Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits? I hear it on some songs, not all. 

No, nobody’s ever said that before but yeah, maybe there is a bit of similarity there. Probably more in the way the songs are delivered. Not everybody’s got a Paul Rogers or Frankie Miller in their throat so you just have to go with what’s there. Phrasing is a really important part of it for me. The voice on a tune isn’t just a melody line, it’s part of the rhythm section too. Paul Simon is a great example of that. He sings like human bongos on some of his stuff. ‘Boy in The Bubble’, that kind of thing. Yeah, how you phrase a line is important. Dodgy phrasing can kill a decent tune.

Besides writing and recording, what else keeps you busy these days?

I sometimes get the urge to draw something, but that comes and goes. I read a lot, but usually the same books. ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Moby Dick’ on rotation, a pattern occasionally broken with a dive into the magical world of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’. I first met Jonathan at an airport, many years ago, I think it was in New Orleans, when I bought the book just for something to read on the plane. It wasn’t until we were up above the clouds and I’d read the first few pages that I realised I’d found some treasure. I was astonished to learn that Dickens and Melville were both working on those two classics at exactly the same time. I get lost in those books, they take me somewhere special. Brilliant writing.

Have you had the vaccine shot(s) yet?

I had my first one, the ‘Oxford’, a few weeks ago, still waiting for the second.  I know a few folk who had a rough time for a day or so after the shot but I got lucky. Zero side effects, not even a sore arm. Absolutely nothing.  Maybe I don’t have an immune system?  Thank goodness for all those clever, dedicated people who worked and continue to work on developing those vaccines. We owe them such a lot.

Well, it’s been a real pleasure doing this little interview and I wish you the best Gavin!

Always,

Greg

Thanks, Greg. Cheers.

Welcome

Welcome to Tending the Pale Bloom.  Here’s to cultivating, nurturing and rekindling musical tastes!

Check out my recent interview with Rick Altizer.

Here’s my new interview with Bob (Elusive Butterfly) Lind posted 3/7/10.

A really interesting Q&A with Danny Mitchell of Messengers posted 5/16/10

A long time coming interview with Yves Altana posted 9/5/10

A little Q&A with ex-Still Life (“Away From This Town”) member Jon C Newby posted 10/10/10

In the early 80’s remember “Nowhere Girl”, “Marilyn Dreams” and “Remembrance Day”?  Dead Good and Some Bizarre? If so, you’ll want to read the following interview with the artist who has been the driving force behind the band B-Movie.  With new material released in 2013 and an album slated to appear on vinyl this year, there is much to relive and (re)discover in bridging the past 3 decades with the present.  Steve Hovington bw face cover

Thank you Steve for taking the time to answer a few – or maybe more than a few questions.

First, where were you born?

Worksop, Nottinghamshire, a former coal mining town on the edge of Sherwood Forest.

Do you have any fond memories of your early childhood?

Yes. I wasbrought up in a small village, surrounded by fields. The village was owned by the Duke of Portland so it never changed. We lived in an old house and I remember the blazing fires in the winter. It was so quiet – my parents liked to read books, the silence broken by the sound of my sister practicing piano. I had a great childhood – making dens in the woods and fishing on the village pond.

Are there any friends you’ve kept in touch with over the years?

My sister and I still go up there and stay in the local pub every now and then. It keeps us connected to the place where we grew up. There are many familiar faces there. It still kinda feels like home.

Do you remember any of the first 45’s or albums you bought or were given to you?

I was around 11 years old when we got a record player. The first single I owned was ‘Popcorn’ by Hot Butter. Then I bought ‘Sylvia’ by Focus. I must have been into instrumentals!

Were any family members musically inclined?

All my family were  musical. My mum was a singer with a beautiful contralto voice and sang in the local choir. Dad wrote a waltz when he was young. Sarah, my sister learnt piano and would practice for hours, sometimes duets with my mum.

Steve, did you have any formal musical training? 

No. I tried piano lessons but didn’t have the patience. I lasted one lesson on the French Horn.

When did you first take an interest in singing and writing music?

I had an imaginary band with my sister from a very young age. We imagined that we were incredibly famous and ran our own fan club. I wrote a song called ‘Pollution’ which was an early protest song.

What was the name of your first band?

Studio 10. We were named after a hairdressing salon in Mansfield.

Who were The Aborted?  What ex-members went on to form the genesis of B-Movie?

The Aborted were one of the first punk bands to come out of Mansfield. They featured B-Movie members Paul Statham on guitar and Graham Boffey on drums. Martin Boffey played bass and Pete Boffey was the singer. I remember seeing them play. Paul collapsed on stage. I stood at the back wearing a shirt daubed with ‘I want to be a machine’ after the Ultravox song and a ripped school blazer. The atmosphere was electric!

Steve, talk about the beginnings of B-Movie.  How did the band form?

I think it was early summer 1979. Paul Statham came up to me at a party in Mansfield and asked if I’d like to join his band as the bass player had left. I didn’t really get on with ‘Stat’ not to mention I couldn’t play bass but I went along anyway as I harboured dreams to be in a real band. I left the rehearsal as bass player AND singer.

Tell us how you chose the name B-Movie.

I was flicking through an art book in art class and came across a painting by Andy Warhol called B-Movie. I thought it sounded arty and cool.

Your first manager John Fritchley was quite a character.  Any fond memories or anecdotes you’d like to share?

We called him ‘Yank’ due to his liking for flash American cars. He helped get the band up and running. He had a big car with a trailer we could out our gear in and before long were playing places far away from our home town like Lincoln where he introduced us to Dead Good records. He did try to turn us into Mods but we were into Tubeway Army and early Ultravox and preferred synthesisers, glittery ties and face paint. He insisted on being in our publicity shots at a later time. I think he secretly wanted to be in the band but we parted company before that could happen thankfully.

What were the circumstances that led to signing with Dead Good Records?

We played a pub called The Lincoln Vaults and came to the attention of Dead Good Records run by Martin Patton, Andy Stephenson and a guy called Tex from a band called The Cigarettes. It was a rough place and we’d get heckled by the local skinheads. Dead Good asked us to contribute a couple of tracks to a compilation album they were putting together featuring bands from the East of England.

How was Andy Stephenson’s management style different than John’s?

He famously told us “Anything is possible in the music business.” Despite it feeling far-fetched at the time we actually believed him. We were actually managed by the record company.

Talk about some of the early gigs you played while trying to make a name for yourselves.

Our first ever show was a ‘Rock against Racism’ gig. It was held in a room at a local swimming baths. I had visions of thousands of placard waving demonstrators chanting slogans through the streets before a big rally with us playing. I was terrified. In reality there was just us, Fritchley’s family and another band called Xerox at the venue. It was a bit of a let-down but at least we’d played our first show. We played local gigs as a three piece band in the early days. The response from the audience was mixed to say the least. I can remember one person shouting out “You’re rubbish!” halfway through our first song. Thanks to Fritchley we got to play in Nottingham supporting the Angelic Upstarts at The Sandpiper club. I can remember being scared for my life. The place was full of skinheads who flicked cigarette ends and threw bottles at us as we played. It was more scary having to share a dressing room with the Upstart’s singer Mensi who was renowned for his hatred of students and I was one at the time. He prowled around shirtless, spitting on the dressing room floor and swearing with us cowering in the corner. We played the Sandpiper again supporting The Smirks which was less stressful. It was through playing at The Lincoln Vaults that we got our break.

 “Remembrance Day” was one of the first songs you recorded.  Recall the early experiences in the studio.

We recorded it at a 16 track studio called Studio Playground in Wragby, Licolnshire. Wragby was famous for being the toilet break stop for Mansfield people bound for the seaside resort of Skegness. I can remember pulling into the driveway in this quiet rural town and being met by a man with the most amazing mullet hairstyle. He was very laid back and made us feel welcome in our first proper studio. The recording process was quite simple – a live take followed by a few overdubs then off to the pub. ‘Remembrance Day’ was probably the trickiest as it was quite long and had this instrumental bit at the beginning. I never imagined that it would ever be a single. I thought it more the closing track of side two of an album.

Were you pleased with the ‘Take Three EP’ and being aired on John Peel’s show?

Definitely. John Peel was an icon. It was amazing just holding the EP in my hands let alone getting it played on his show. He made some nice comments and supported us through the early period. We were out there in a musical wilderness and he brought us to attention of a far bigger audience.

You realized you needed a breakthrough hit.  Enter “Nowhere Girl”. Were you a fan of Angela Huth? 

No. I never read the book. The lyrics came from personal experience.

A few years ago I found  a cd copy of “The Dead Good Tapes” released on Wax Records at a local record convention.   Was this the only cd comp you know of with Dead Good material? 

There were two albums released in the early 90s on Document Records called ‘Remembrance Days’ and ‘Radio Days’ which were put together by Martin Patton, the former boss of Dead Good. Cherry Red also released an album called The Dead Good years.

From Dead Good you signed with Stevo Pearce’s label Some Bizarre. Did this come as a surprise to the band?

We released a six track vinyl EP on Dead Good in the summer of 1980. Nowhere Girl on the A side at 45rpm and five tracks on the b-side including Remembrance Day at 33rpm. There was a problem with pressing the EP and there were only a few copies made. Luckily John Peel got a copy and played some tracks. I had one copy and a cassette version of the songs. I was conscious that we needed to play further afield than the East Midlands and saw an advert in Sounds for an event at The Chelsea Drug Store in London hosted by a DJ called Stevo. He was looking for bands to play there. Coincidentally he was DJ’ing at our local venue The Retford Porterhouse. On the bill that night were Cabaret Voltaire and The The. I went along with my girlfriend and after the show I sheepishly gave him a cassette of the EP with my phone number on it, thinking nothing would come of it. The next day I got a phone call from him saying he really liked it and it reminded him of Hawkwind. He offered us a show in London at The Canning Town Bridge House. I wasn’t sure to begin with as this guy had a real cockney accent. I wasn’t used to dealing with Londoners. We did the show at the Bridge House with Blancmange as support. Soon after he became our manager and Some Bizzare records was born. It was a smooth transition as Martin and Tex from Dead Good were also involved.

I actually still have a vinyl copy of The Some Bizarre Album.  It was my first exposure to The The and Blancmange.  I was already pretty well acclimated with Depeche Mode by the time I secured a copy.     B-Movie’s contribution was “Moles”.  What was this track all about?

There was a lot of fear around in 1980. Unemployment was rising, the Iranian hostage seize, Blair Peach, the IRA hunger strikers, the threat of nuclear war, the Yorkshire Ripper. There was suspicion and paranoia everywhere in Thatcher’s first year. There seemed to be dark forces stirring up discord, the antithesis to Thatcher’s declaration that she would bring peace and harmony. I was growing up in a mining area. Moles signified underground dwellers but also there was a clash of cultures on the way.

At the time did you get to hang out with any of the other artists on Some Bizarre or have any interaction with them?

Not really. We’d met Blancmange at the Bridge House gig and Matt Johnson from The The who was a mate of Stevo’s. We also did a show with Naked Lunch at The Clarendon Hotel in Hammersmith. DAF were headlining. It was a great feeling because Siouxsie Sioux was there and members of Ultravox!

How was it working with producer Mike Thorne?  Did you like the end result of “Nowhere Girl”?

It was our first experience of working with a name producer in a big studio. Remembrance Day was recorded pretty much live. He’d altered the arrangement as the original version was quite long. We improvised the ending in the studio. He was very professional and open to ideas.

Steve Brown produced Nowhere Girl. Yeah, I think it’s great. It would have been interesting to find out how different it might have been if we’d recorded it with Mike Thorne as the follow up to Remembrance day. I don’t think the piano would have been there. The track would have been more rocky perhaps. But we’ll never know!

Who was Paul Boswell? 

Boswell was our first proper agent. He sorted out our early shows supporting Duran Duran and put together our first European and American tours. He used to come to our shows and was part of the gang.

Did you like the direction the band was headed?

We wanted to record an album. It would have been more in common with Echo and the Bunnymen or early Pink Floyd perhaps than the new Romantic thing. We became conscious of our image and I think it was perhaps the wrong move to get associated with the New Romantic scene.

How was the internal relationship of band members?  You must have been pretty good mates, eh?

I wouldn’t say we were great mates back then. We were very young and treated being in a band as an extension of a Friday night out. There were tensions that occasionally boiled over. We probably could have been more united on certain things. I think a strong manager would have helped.

What material were you most proud of at this point in time?

For me Remembrance Day was my proudest moment but the John Peel session was brilliant too as we were allowed to experiment and let go.

Did you enjoy performing live more or recording in the studio?

To be honest the live work at the time was both scary and exhilarating. I loved both.

Next came the “dream” sequence in song.  First came “Marilyn Dreams” and then a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Julia Dream” which is one of my favorites.  Did this latter track ever see the light of day on vinyl?

We did record it in the summer of 1982 as a possible b-side for Marilyn Dreams. Unfortunately it seems to have disappeared.

How did you feel for the printed media, i.e. NME and Sounds portrayed the band?

Generally the press was positive. We didn’t get the level of exposure that we needed or perhaps deserved.

Tell the story of Lou Codemo.

I think Lou got the job more because he looked quite cool rather than his bass playing. He toured Europe with us in Decemer 1981. He was a little crazy. I remember him running naked through the forest with snow on the ground in Holland.

What venues did you most enjoy playing in the early 80’s? 

Retford Porterhouse was a great little venue run by a real character Sammy Jackson who referred to us as The B-Movies in his thick cockney accent. We played there many times. We played the old Marquee on Wardour Street in London many times too. The Blue Note in Derby was good, The Limit in Sheffield and of course Rock City in Nottingham. Anywhere abroad was good!

Any interesting stories surrounding other bands you shared the bill with?

We supported The Comsat Angels at Sheffield Top Rank and when we got there, there was a dispute about us being able to put our our light show. Their tour manager said we couldn’t. I remember watching our manager Stevo disappear with him behind a curtain in front of the stage. The next thing we know, the curtains are bulging and the main light rig is in danger of caving in on everybody. Stevo had decided to use his fists to settle the argument which he was quite fond of doing.

Was there such a thing as “college radio” during this time since you had a pretty large university age following?

Not so much in the UK. It was college radio that ‘broke’ B-Movie in the States. We did have a big student following and played many colleges at the time.

You had your first European tour in December of ’81.  What memories do you have?

Chaos. There were four of us plus a guy called Pete Buckley and a tour manager Martin Cole. We drove from gig to gig in a mini bus with our gear in the back. The funniest story was when we played the Bains Douches club in Paris. Paul and I went there the night before to check it out. We were given a little card on entry. We ordered a couple of beers which were about £10 a bottle even then. The bartender waved away my cash and took my card punching a hole in it. We assumed that this meant we were VIP guests and the drinks were all free. We continued ordering more beers before moving onto Champagne and we were ‘buying drinks’ for a group of people that had tagged onto us. It was only when the rest of the band arrived (Rick could read a bit of French and could translate the back of the card) that we realised we had to hand the card in at the end and pay. Each hole was £10 and both of our cards were shredded. It all ended with a showdown between the promoter and Martin. The drinks bill was deducted from our fee and we did the show the following evening.

I find it very interesting reading about the Steve Brown produced version of “Nowhere Girl”.  This version has remained timeless for myself and I’m sure I wore many a deep groove in vinyl while spinning at local night clubs years ago.  I mean the song still sounds great today as it did when it was first released.  Not knowing the origin of the female voice(s) on the song, I had assumed it was from one girl.  But not the case, right? 

The laughter at the beginning is a different person to the harmony in the middle. We literally dragged someone in from the street to do the laughing bit. I have no idea who she was. The harmonies were done by a friend of ours Maria.

I thought the piano part was what really set the song apart from anything else I heard at the time.  Who tickled the ivories?

That was Rick Holliday our keyboardist. He really can play!

Lou Codemo exits and Scottish bassist Mike Peden enters.  How did this pan out?

We’d seen Mike play with Everest the Hard Way at the Poly Bar on Great Portland St. His bass playing was amazing. Anyhow we contacted him after ETHW split. He had to fly down from Edinburgh for rehearsals. It was tricky accommodating his fluid bass playing style into our classic sound which was more post punk. I think this eventually led to problems when his bass playing became too dominant. He was a nice guy though and we had some good times together.

What happened on your American Tour in 1982?

The shows themselves were OK. We played Danceteria and Peppermint Lounge in NYC, The 930 in Washington, The Eastside in Philadelphia, Clutch Cargo in Detroit as well as The Glace Club in Montreal, but to be honest it was an ordeal.

Back in the UK, it was decided to get rid of Graham Boffey?  Reasons?

We wanted to go down a more techno route and Graham had struggled a bit with the programming side of things, plus Mike Peden’s style was beginning to dominate the sound. In hindsight it was a stupid decision. Graham was the engine room of B-Movie and a founder member and a great drummer too.

Andy Johnson and Martin Winter joined the band.  Did you know these guys previously?

No. They were in a local band called the International Drum Club. I hit it off with Mart, not so much with Andy!

Then Rick left to work on a solo project.  How did this news affect you and the band?

It was a blow but not completely a surprise. He had been an integral part of the B-Movie sound but had drifted away. I wasn’t sure whether to carry on but Stat was very positive about continuing. So we did with him moving to keyboards.

The band was quiet until “A Letter From Afar” appeared in ’84 with Al Cash on drums.  I still have my vinyl copy of the single.  I was always intrigued by the cover art.  Reminds me of a TV series I watched as a kid – “Rat Patrol” set in North Africa during WWII.

We’d played Israel a few times and I was still into the army chic vibe. It was meant to have some Lawrence of Arabia meets Apocalypse Now kind of look to it.

At the end of 1985 the album ‘Forever Running’ was released.  Unfortunately “Switch On Switch Off” didn’t actually turn on the record buying public nor the press.  Any speculations as to why?

I don’t know. We made an expensive video for it so there must have been an expectation from the record company that it could do well. We hadn’t really made much ground since Nowhere Girl first came out in the UK, although abroad it was a different story.

Then came the moment most bands hope will never arrive – the breakup.  This must have been a very difficult time for B-Movie.  Was this a democratic decision to disband?

Stat was moving onto other things. We lived in a basement flat in Peckham and were getting legal bills from America. Our deal with Sire was terminated. We had no means to keep it going. It was time to move on. I remember feeling very sad as B-Movie was my life, my identity and living without would be difficult.

But Steve, you were not ready to retire from the music business.  At the end of the 80’s you formed a band called One with Seven Webster and Bob Thompson.  Fill us in on how you met up and decided to join forces.

Seven was a DJ at a club called the Pigeon Toed Orange Peel at the Comedy Store in London. He knew my sister’s boyfriend and played Remembrance Day at the club. He was also looking to start up a band and asked whether I might be interested. I headed over to his house and we sat there strumming acoustic guitars for a bit. Seven was quite a character and we decided to meet up again and keep it going. Bob joined later. He was a friend of a friend. He was a great drummer and top bloke.

As One, you released an album of material and 2 singles, “I’ll Wait” and “Son Of The Sun”.  Did you enjoy this creative period?

Yes I did. We had use of a studio in Soho and there was a rush of songs being written, probably too many in hindsight. I was really into DH Lawrence and nature and the music was quite rocky and acoustic and very different to B-Movie. I suppose it was a reaction against the synthesised pop I’d been used to.

After One, you began performing solo acoustic performances with tracks such as “England My England”, “Artificial Trees” and “The Execution Song”.  Was there a bit of therapy in this and perhaps less stress than performing with a band?

I was exploring being a lyricist and writing from the heart about my life and what it felt like to be English. My voice worked well too in sparser context.

In 1994 as Laughing Gas there was just one 7” single “Baroque Chick”.  Double meaning in the title?

I was living near Portobello Road. I don’t know where the pun came from but it sounded good.

In the New Millenium B-Movie reformed and played one-off shows in 2004 and 2006 in London, the UK and Germany.  Was it good to play again with the old gang?

Yes it was and you’re right to say it was a gang. I’d kept in touch with Paul over the years but hadn’t seen Graham or Rick for years. There was a bit of bridge building to be done as the band had broken up acrimoniously back in 1982 but once we started playing together again the old spark returned. We have a good laugh together and love the gigs. I think maybe a couple of the guys took a bit of convincing it would work when we first reformed but now I think everyone looks forward to rehearsals and meeting up.

In 2012 came a new track “Echoes”, the first single in 22 years!  I’m guessing I won’t press my luck speculating this was a cover or tribute to Pink Floyd?   “Echoes”

Ha! No, it was more a tribute to B-Movie! It’s about how we soak up melodies when we’re young and then how we associate certain songs with significant moments in our lives. We hear certain songs or albums now and we’re transported back in time. Music keeps you young, it’s like the fountain of youth.

Last year saw the advent of 2 releases, an EP ‘Distant Skies’ and an album ‘The Age Of Illusion’.  Talk a little about how the songs came together and how you felt about the end product.

Paul and I were very keen to record a new album. We have similar influences and reference points. It began I suppose in 2010. Paul sent me a track he had been working on that he thought would suit my voice. I listened to it a few times then a vocal melody would emerge and a lyrical idea. Finally the song would take shape. I live in Cambridge and Paul in London so we would swap ideas via email. The core of the album are songs that were written this way. We also recorded some of the songs live as a band and some the keyboard and drum parts were done separately. I think Paul and I had a pretty clear idea of where we wanted to go. We ended up with sixteen brand new B-Movie songs which I am very proud of.

Also in 2013 you recorded in France with bass player Emmanuel Defay as The Fountain Of Youth.  How did you meet and decide to work with Mr. Defay? 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLJmNBi–hc  “Days of our Lives”

Manu lived a few doors down from us in Cambridge and his kids went the same primary school as my son Ben. We were brought together to perform at a fund raising concert for the school. We learnt some cover versions and the show went well. I’d been writing some songs since moving to Cambridge and was desperate to see how they would sound with other musicians. Manu was up for continuing and we began rehearsing every week at The Muller Centre at Churchill College where Manu is based (he is a physicist). The songs sounded great with his melodic bass playing style. After about a year we decided to record the songs and I went over to Manu’s home town of Le Puy-en-Velay. We recorded the album in a couple of days in the drummer’s studio. It was so easy as the guys were such accomplished musicians. The album was finished off at Paul Statham’s studio in London.

DSC00130

Now aside from music, along the way you took up an interest in the wine business.  In 2006 you wrote a book and I love the title – ‘The Grape Escape: One Man’s Journey From Vinyl To Vine’.  Within these pages what fruitful lessons might the reader digest?

This was an adventure. I love wine and wanted to have a go at making wine. The gist was that making the wine was like making a record. It was a personal statement and to challenge my comfort zone. The book features flashbacks to my life in music, the highs then the lows and the two stories come together towards the end. Lessons? Get a good manager or mentor who can look after your career when you’re young. Anything is possible in the music business. Wine is the next best thing to rock and roll. If you set your mind on something then you can achieve anything. Don’t give up!

You also are a big football fan.  Do you still keep up your blog “Will The Pleasure Never End”?

This was a tribute to my home town football team Mansfield Town.  I just tried to examine why I supported such a team rather than Arsenal or Man United. I’m obviously a masochist at heart. It’s light hearted and funny.

Steve, tell us about your family. Any kids?

Yes one boy, Ben 13 years old. He’s shot up in the last year and is now as tall as me, similar deep voice too. He’s just won player of the season for his local football club so we’re very proud of him. Who knows he may one day play for Mansfield (I hope not!) Louise and I have been together for 18 years and we live in Cambridge.

Are there other hobbies/interests you have – or have time for?

I go cycling quite a lot. I even got into bird watching at one point. I like the peace and the big skies and some of the land is very wild. I love the outdoors. I like cooking too and crosswords. God I’m so exciting!

What’s on the horizon for Steve Hovington? 

Keep on defying the sands of time being creative, playing gigs and making music. Maybe move abroad in a few years.

And, how would you like to be remembered?  Your legacy as it were?

A true believer! I didn’t give up. I swam against the tides and followed my dreams!

For more info and insight into Steve Hovington, his past, present and future, be sure and check out his website www.stevehovington.com/ And for more on B-Movie, please visit the official website here http://www.b-movie.co.uk/

John Hanlon may not be a widely recognizable name in the annals of popular music, but in his homeland of New Zealand he is somewhat of a cultural icon.  Throughout the early to mid 70’s John has won Composer of the Year, Album of the Year, and had a number of songs reach high into the Kiwi charts.  But, he’s not been averse to covering ecology-sensitive issues and challenging the censorship of his lyrics.  We hope with this reading, a whole new audience will discover his talents.

Johnpicnew

John, thanks for taking time to answer a few questions.

*I will say up front that a majority of the questions reference the outline on Bruce Sergent’s website http://www.sergent.com.au/music/johnhanlon.html*

You have quite a bit of multi-cultural ethnicity in your blood.  How did your mother and father meet?

My father was in the New Zealand Air Force during the war stationed in Malaya. While he was chased down the Malayan peninsula by the Japanese and escaped via Singapore, he liked the country and went back after the war to work as a trouble shooting mechanic for Caterpillar. The Malayan jungle was occupied by Communist Bandits during these years (a hangover from the war) so Dad was armed when he travelled and photos showed he pretty much looked like Indiana Jones when he was on the road. While he was stationed in Singapore his work regularly took him to Malaya and it was in Kuala Lumpur, the Malayan capital, that he met my mother.

You were born in Malaysia.  Do my eyes deceive me in reading your website or were your first digs an iron mine?

I was born in Malaya but went to NZ when I was only 3 months old. We returned to live in Singapore when I was 4 and then back to NZ when I was 8. When I was 10 we headed back to Kuala Lumpur and when I was 12 the family moved to an iron mine deep in the jungle of the then uninhabited east coast of Malaya. They had to build a railroad through the jungle to reach the mine, this took years and, from my memory, so did the train ride to the mine – it as the world’s slowest train. I only lived on the mine during the Christmas holidays since I was sent to boarding school in Perth, Western Australia. I only saw my family for 6 weeks every year, spending the rest of the year alone in another country from the age of 12 – 15. When I was 15 we moved back to NZ.

What are some of your earliest recollections of childhood in Kuala Lumpur?

Life in Kula Lumpur and Singapore was fantastic. While on the one hand we had the privileged life so often enjoyed by ‘ex-pats’ –  Europeans working in the colonies — we had the advantage of a Chinese mother with family who lived locally. The best of both words you might say.

Was your young life mostly a happy one?

Very happy and adventure filled. Both my brother and I share many wonderful memories of an exciting and stimulating childhood – exotic colours, smells, tastes, voices, sounds – a veritable feast for the senses. There were some challenges while in boarding school, since being of mixed race stirred up xenophobia in quite a few of my schoolmates.

Guess it may have been difficult to make long lasting friends with all the uprooting you experienced?

I still have many friends I made in my childhood, especially in New Zealand.

What was your earliest exposure to pop music?

I have always loved pop music, right back into the 50’s when we were in Malaya and Singapore.  But it was the first mouth organ strains of “Love Me Do” by The Beatles that really grabbed me by the ears. And when later I discovered they wrote the songs my life was changed forever.

Do you recall one of the first 45’s you bought or were given?

Hard question. It would have been something by Rick Nelson or Cliff Richards, I imagine.

Were either of your parents musically inclined?

Dad had an impressive whistle – but no.

How, dare I ask, was boarding school in Australia?

The racism was not good, not least because racist bullies are inevitably stupid people. But I quickly learned that people act differently as individuals than they do in groups and I became an extremely good fighter. It took more than one guy to beat me. But boarding school was good in terms of academic things and sports. I did well at school and because I had no one to run home to I learned to be independent and self-sufficient.

Any groups/artists that you liked growing up?

The Everly Brothers, early Elvis, Sam Cooke, Bill Haley, Nat King Cole, The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, Beach Boys  – I could be here all day there were so many I liked.

At what age did you relocate to Auckland?

Went back and forth many times but eventually settled there when I was 15.

Originally you took up an interest in graphic art.   From where did the artistic creativity stem?

I was always good at art but being a scholarship winner I was always pushed towards more cerebral subjects since art was seen as a hobby and not something anyone would seriously consider as a career. So I took art as a hobby course and it was a visit to a commercial art studio that the idea of being a commercial artist was born.

Do you still have any of the original cartoons you drew?

Sadly, no. I have thrown away many significant things in my life that I now regret – not the least of which are recording awards.

Did you enjoy working as an Art Director in Advertising?

Yes, and even more so when I became a copywriter and Creative Director. Advertising was once a wild and stimulating industry. It is far less so now.

You picked up guitar on your own.  Any influences?

Many. Initially I thought it would help me meet girls. (The downside to being trapped for years in a boy’s boarding school was that I was very shy with girls). But I didn’t have the patience or brains to learn to play properly and began to write songs instead. Only I did so in private because I was too shy to perform in public. Years later my mother when asked if she knew her son was a songwriter she said, “No, but when he was a teenager he used to lock himself in his bedroom and jing-a-jang a lot.” Lord knows how that was interpreted over the airwaves. It caused hilarity in our house.

Approximately how many songs and lyrics had you composed before you ever performed live?

About 40.

Talk about that fateful night at a party in 1971.  Did you know a representative from a recording studio was in attendance?

Not a clue. There were only about 12 people there in total.

Bruce Barton liked your material so much he helped you get your first recording contract on Family.  Were things moving fast?

Incredibly. Not the least since it was never my intention. I just wanted to be a songwriter. Imagine getting a 3 album contract today. My first album bombed!

How did you enjoy working with keyboardist Mike Harvey?

I enjoyed it very much. He remains one of my closest friends. We grew together in the studio and I look back with great pride on what we did together.

B-side of your first single “Old Fashioned Music” was “Mickey Mouse House”.  Did you receive any legal correspondence from Walt Disney after this release?  Hehe

No. Strangely I hated that arrangement and so did Mike. He says it embarrasses him to hear what he did now. It was meant to have far more grunt.  A few years later I did another version with a band just for fun.

Have a listen here to the “revamped” “Mickey Mouse House”

Were you pleased with how your first album “Floating” turned out?

I was, yes – Except for “Mickey Mouse House”. However, I did not include songs from that album on my recent 40 songs retrospective release ‘AFTER THE DAM BROKE’. This was because we could not find any tapes. However, in recent weeks I’ve been told a pristine vinyl copy has been found and rescue mission is underway.

That is good news! One of your songs “Knowing” was sung by Wellington pop vocalist Steve Gilpin and entered into a Studio One Television contest.  Was this contest like a localized Eurovision Contest?

Yes.

Can you give some background on the Manapouri Hydro Dam controversy and how this inspired you to compose “Damn The Dam”.

I did not actually write the song about Lake Manapouri but it was adopted by that protest movement. My song was originally written as a two minute radio commercial to promote energy conservation. At that time there were controversial plans to raise the height of the lake for a dam to provide power for a large aluminum plant. It was a case of the right song at the right time. Now everyone thinks the song followed the protest. Not such a bad rewriting of history, really.

Released in 1973 the song really struck a chord with the music public and shot up to #5 on the New Zealand charts and was awarded Single of the Year.  Did you expect “Damn The Dam” to do so well?

Never.

Another ’73 single “Shy Ann” has a b-side that is one of my all-time favorites, “In Love Out Of Love”.  Was this one based on a personal experience?

I love that song, too. Not sure how I wrote it as such a young age. But I’ve lived it many times since.

johnhanlonoldAnother ecology sensitive song “I Care” from your 2nd album ‘Garden Fresh’ did not sell well.  Any thoughts as to why?

Yes. It was written for a contest the government broadcasting authority ran to promote the environment on their stations. I won the contest but had issues with the people. One of the contest rules was that the song would be published by Southern Publishing and not my regular publishers who were associated with my record company, hence, the latter did not push the song.

In 1974 the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) banned the single “Is It Natural” for a couple of lyrics they considered offensive.  But this wasn’t the end of the story, was it?

No. It was played by the pirate radio station Radio Hauraki from a ship moored off the NZ coast, so it became a hit in the Auckland region – within the reach of the station’s airwaves.

Today, would “randy schoolboy” be considered as offensive?

You are kidding, of course!

You yourself entered the 1974 Studio One Contest with “Lovely Lady”, another one of my favorites.  The single release became your most successful of your career.  One of the high points in your career?

Hmmm… not really. It simply showed that if you can get a song on TV it will help it become a hit. I found it almost impossible to get on TV during my career since I refused to do cover versions of pop songs and that was the bulk of the TV work for singers in NZ. This song got me on TV and the rest followed. It was never my best song. Not even close. By the way, it didn’t even win the contest. I came second although most people think I won.

The track “Higher Trails” was actually the first John Hanlon song I ever heard.  Still beautiful with each listen.  It reminds me a lot of John Denver.  Hope that’s a compliment.

It is a compliment. The multi tracking of voices was definitely one of his tricks. It’s a song based on many things going on in my life at that time. And I can’t get near the notes today. It’s in E and I’d have to do it in C today. It would be Lower Trails.

“Higher Trails”

The album ‘Higher Trails’ was voted Album Of The Year.  How proud of you are the work you did on this album?

Very proud of it. I say without fear of contradiction that the production values of that album were as good as anything recorded in the world at that time. And listening back today I have not changed that view.

Your next album, 1976’s ‘Use Your Eyes’ yielded 3 singles and a “Composer Of The Year” award for the song “Night Life”.  Relate the highlights of this album for you.

There were few highlights for this album. Just as it was released my record company closed down. They did not promote the album and it did not sell well at all. The pressings were also terrible. I was so disappointed.  That said, I really liked the songs on the album and was delighted to have the chance to re-master the tapes recently. Damned shame that most people will never ever hear it.

You took a little hiatus from recording until a 1982 single “Romantically Inclined”/b/w “The Culprit” came out on Polydor.  Then came an album in 1988, ‘Short Stories’ on RCA.  How would you compare these later releases with some of your earlier work?

The songs are strong but the recording was tinny (far too bright) and the voice pushed so far back in the mix in the way that was fashionable in the 80s.

So, take us through what transpired to “deter” you from making music to going back to advertising.

After I had a few hits I found that I had to sing the same 6-8 songs night after night, week after week, month after month year after year. I had segued form the creative life of a songwriter into an entertainer who was required to do the same tricks every night. Saying to an audience “Here’s a song I just wrote” was anathema to them – they only came to hear the hits. As well, I was a public figure in a small country and my record company refused to accept the international offers to distribute me internationally.

So John, you’ve returned to Advertising while still writing songs on the side.  Has the journey sort of taken you back full circle?

Ironically I’m writing as many songs as I ever have and am continually being tempted to go back into the studio.

You also are writing some short stories, poems, plays and even film scripts.  I have read a few of these on your website and find you in fine form.

Yes and I will do even more writing in the years to come. Painting also, which I’ve returned to in recent years and have found to my delight that I’m quite accomplished and enjoy it very much. The older I get, the more I will paint.

Any boundaries for John Hanlon, or the proverbial sky’s the limit?

Well, having just sold my house in Sydney I’m about to become a global gypsy for a while. A big adventure awaits.

Talk about your family, kids and grandchildren.

I have one son and four grandchildren – three girls, one boy – all teenagers. They are delightful, bright and happy and have more races in them than the United Nations.

Any pets – or pet peeves, as it were?  Hehe

For years I had Ridgeback dogs and recently lost a beloved cat. For now I have no pets. As for pet peeves – how long have you got? I was recently asked to contribute to a book called Grumpy Old Men.  I’ll see if I can find my piece and send it to you. Or you can always read my blogs from time to time.

How would you like to be remembered, what is your legacy?

As an honest man, a good friend and someone who always did what he said he was going to do. As for my legacy – hopefully that will be whenever someone hums one of my songs or remembers something I wrote or said. Who could ask for anything more?

For more on John Hanlon, check out his website/blog  http://www.johnhanlon.com.au/

You’d be hardpressed to find any club-going alternative music fan in the mid 80’s who didn’t have a copy of The Woodentops’ ‘Giant’ LP spinning in heavy rotation on their turntable.  Infectious tunes like “Good Thing”, “Give It Time” and “Get It On” were catchy, quirky, but anything but mainstream.  A string of singles and a couple of albums dotted the late 80’s into the early 90’s when the band essentially broke up.  Singer/songwriter Rolo McGinty went on to other projects until a rekindled interest arose leading to a brand new retrospective 3 cd release.  Band members, having kept in touch over the years, decided to go back to the studio and record a new album, which is very nearly finished.  Things are definitely looking up for The Woodentops with live concert dates being scheduled as well.  Recently I threw a few questions Rolo’s way and here’s what he had to say.

First off, thank you Rolo for taking time out of your schedule to do a little Q&A.

No problem.

Of course I have to ask Is Rolo your real name?

I  was christened Richard.  At about 13/14 a kid at school thought my initials looked like Rolo M as I’d done little circles instead of dots between the letters.  It spread around the school and never stopped.  Only my mum calls me Richard.

Talk about your childhood, where were you born, and any fond memories.

I was born in Kent south England.  I have a younger brother and we didn’t fight at all, we went to Paris a lot where my aunt lived.  My brother and I were really interested in synthesizers tape recorders, he became an electronics whizz and built them I would play, he too and we’d record on an old reel to reel.  Stuff like that. We weren’t wealthy as a family we moved up and down the country following my dads jobs in the paper making industry.  Amazing huge factories with the biggest loudest machines you could get.  All my family went deaf from that.

Were your parents, siblings musically inclined?

Dad fancied himself as a crooner he told me recently.  Sort of Sinatra copyist.  He decided the living was too precarious.

Any formal training?

Nope.

Do you recall the first 45 or album you bought?

“Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music.  Pink Floyd’s ‘Relics’/the Faust tapes.

How did you become interested in music?

The record player.  Also as a small boy I went to a local school in Grimsby.  It had a choir and I got tested and was invited in.  Ended up singing in the tower of Rekyavik cathedral when the doors opened to the public.

What was the first band you were a part of?

School band, which included a guy who later became the Jazz Butcher.  He played very good flute and sang.  I played bass.

Artists/musicians that influenced you early on?

Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Can, Terry Riley when I was 12/13.

You were a member of Liverpool’s Wild Swans? In what capacity and for how long?

Not long maybe a year?  I loved it and they were great guys, I just couldn’t keep going up and down to Liverpool, couldn’t afford to either.

You mentioned The Jazz Butcher.  How was it being in a band with Pat Fish?

Well, I was in the original band of that.  We did quite a few gigs, first single and album.  He is my longest running still friend in this world.

How did you meet David Balfe (ex-Dalek I Love You, Teardrop Explodes)?  How did you guys come to work together?

Through Julian Cope.  Before I wrote any songs I auditioned for the Teardops and damn nearly got the job.    I did however make a friend in Julian who continued to recommend me to other bands.  I did recordings with other Teardrop members, Dave and Troy and Gary and was up in Liverpool a lot through Wild Swans and all those bands up there were very friendly and I became one of the gang so to speak.  Julian Dave and Bill Drummond pop up later when Woodentops are going, Julian taking us on our first tour, Dave recording our first single and Bill signing my publishing.  In fact Bill Drummond is the distant father of the Woodentops!  My bass got stolen on the Bunnymen/Wild Swans tour.  Bill personally saw to it I got my insurance money and with that I bought another bass a small drum machine and a casio and that’s what I began to write with.

The Woodentops.  Who came up with the name and why?

The name came from Alice our original keyboard player.  It means a lot of things, including “woodenhead” i.e. idiot!

Talk about the genesis of The Woodentops, how things came together as a group.

I had written a few songs, had no confidence so I played them to my friend Simon Mawby, then at college in Bristol.  Then my friend at Jazz Butcher, Alice Thompson and we started to play them.  I sang.  In 1982 we began to search for bass and drums.  It seemed to be my job to sing!

Food Records – a pretty small label, eh?  How did you sign with them?

It was a tiny label.  We were the second single on it.  Not any more!  We only did the one record , signed to Rough Trade afterwards.

Panni Bharti.  How did you meet and start rehearsing in her studio?

Panni I met when she was taking photos of Dexys Midnight Runners.  I was bassist for the support band and we lived near to each other.  Friendship started there and continues to this day.  Spoke with her yesterday.

Did you make an arrangement whereby Panni would do the artwork on your albums for time used in her studio?

Ha no, I helped a bit to set up the warehouse she runs.  We were already mates then.  Record company paid for the artwork.

Interesting how the cover of the “Plenty”  single happened.

Oh yes.  It was carved and photographed.  However Food Records kinda wanted to use their own guy.  So they put a really tight deadline on us.  We said “done it!’  They said bring it in.  This we did as pieces in a bin liner. Haha we set it up on the floor and said that’s it!!

And then Rough Trade became interested in signing you?

We had a few to choose from but ourselves we chose Rough Trade.

1984 and the “Move Me” single.  Andy Partridge of XTC produced.  Frank de Freitas joined you on bass.  I understand you had been friends with his brother Pete (RIP), then drummer with Echo & The Bunnymen?

Oh yes.  Pete and I were the ‘not from Liverpool’ pair on the Liverpool ‘scene’.  We were good friends and it was he that recorded with the Wild Swans .  Loved him and miss him.  He was a bright character and talented as hell.  I was one of the last people to see him alive.  He left our rehearsal room and drove to Liverpool and didn’t make it .  If I could take time backwards…

Andy Partridge was brilliant, one of the Rough Trade producer ideas.  So he came to my flat to meet but we ended up making a tune on my portastudio intead of sitting round talking.  He was inspiring to us and I love what he did in the studio with us.  Im tricky to work with and he had no problem with it.

Talk about the “Well Well Well” single and the development into “hypnobeat”.

Hynobeat was our first ‘dance beat’.  On our first gig that got the place really going.  “Well Well Well” was a wild beat I kind of sang to Paul Hookham our first drummer..also a brilliant one..and he put the life into my idea.  Andy partridge recorded “Well Well Well” but it is a mix by Godwin Logie ( a reggae producer) that was the release.

Why was Godwin Logie, reggae mixer, brought in to remix the song?

He was keen to do the job, we tried him out.  Whoah!  I would go along and watch him work, let him get on with it but be there for any questions.  He brought that beat to the front.  Perfect!  Sadly Godwin is no longer with us.  If he had been I’d like to have given him more to mix.

At this time drummer Paul Hookham left to join left-wing polsters The Redskins.  You auditioned drummers and chose Benny Staples, a Kiwi noted for his funky rhythms.  Was this the “fit” you were looking for?

Oh yes.  Perfect fit.  I didn’t know it until I saw it!

The “It Will Come” single in ’85 had the accompanying home-made video.  Did you enjoy making the video?

Oh yes.  It’s usually other people taking the place over to film in.  This time it was us.  Panni made animations and we filmed live and Derek Burbidge pieced it all together.

The album ‘Giant’ of course is my fondest recollection of The Woodentops.  Songs like “Get It On”, “Good Thing”, “Give It Time” and “So Good Today” were constantly on my turntable as well as included on many mixed tapes of that era.  “Good Thing” – also released as a single – was one of your first compositions from 1983.  Why was it not released earlier prior to ‘Giant’?

We demo’d it, although at the time the ending went the other way.  It got really dreamy.  Then one day, in the early days of Benny’s time with us it built up and worked shockingly well.  I can’t remember if I suggested we try that or it just happened in a jam.  Either way, soon as we heard it we stuck with it .

What are you personal favorites on the album?

“Get It On” and “Travelling Man” to be honest, all of it.  Got my brother’s synth on “History”, the one he made when he was 15.  A Jen, from a kit in a magazine.  Had a hired martin acoustic for the sessions.  A big old thing.  Could hit it really hard.  Playing that was ace.

You must have been pretty pleased the release was picked up in the US on CBS.

I guess.  At the time it just meant we might go there to play.  Very exciting.  Had never been to the US at the time.

Talk about how a live recording for California radio station KROQ became “Live Hypnobeat Live” and how “Why Why Why” became such a big UK club hit.

We were so busy touring ‘Giant’ there was no time to do any writing or recording.  So a live radio broadcast became a live album. “Why Why Why” had not been completed in the Giant sessions.  It was the track we ran out of time for.  Usually there’s always one!  We’d been playing the Spanish coast a lot and a particular young guy Alfredo Fiorito was running and djing nights in Ibiza.  He was a fan and saw us getting the whole place bugging out.  So the live album came out and he chose to play that song, because of the percussion and acoustic guitar, and of course the beat and chorus.  He was one of several DJs then playing that song, mixing it in with other styles.  Balearic.  It exploded over there we had no idea.  However for us it was normal in that our mission was to get a whole place dancing and that’s what we did.  We noticed that the mosh pit was become more a get down and boogie pit.  We did a secret gig at the Wag Club.  Almost a completely different audience.  Packed to the gills and dancing like mad.  I got a call while in the US from Paul Oakenfold in which he explained we had a massive hit on our hands and must get to Ibiza now!  He said there are as many as 10,000 people in these clubs and they go beserk for Why.  However this was at that really opening stage of the whole scene.  Daft Punk are #1 as I write this!  The music business was not focused in this area.  I went out at 11 pm and the business people went to bed.  So we actually could not get approval and help to get there. I was mad about that at the time.  However I’m happy enough to have at least one record in the history books.

Were you surprised there would later be so many dance/trance remixes of the song by the likes of Paul Oakenfold and others?

No.  I did one myself!  Benny did also.

One of your favorite venues to play was the Loft in Berlin.  Recall one night that sticks out in your mind.

It would be hard to recall one.  They blend!  The Loft was special.  It was run by Monica who was an older lady but very artpunk.  Super nice and basically looked after all those guys like Nick Cave and Blixa and the crowd of bad boys there.  For us it would be around half way in a tour we’d do the long drive to Berlin.  The welcome we’d get from her made it feel worth the ride!  So nice.  The gigs were fairly furious and I remember the backstage filled with  musicians and gothy berliners.  A very fun time.

Other favorite places you’ve played live?

Ooh. Zenith Barcelona, Big outdoor disco/club in Valencia,The Ica, Glastonbury (not the man stage one), Tokyo,  I wouldn’t be able to stop.  I live to play live and tour and I enjoy every moment of it.

Your 2nd album ‘Wooden Cops on the Highway’, while not as mainstream as ‘Giant’, had some intriguing guest appearances, in particular Gary Lucas (ex-Captain Beefheart) and Bernie Worrell (founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic).  Had you been a fan of these bands?

Totally!

The band began including sampling and computers with ambient mixes.  Did you feel this was a natural, or rather “un-natural”  progression for the band and music?

Natural.  Our songs were written electronically/manually.  Then we played them acoustic.  Then it became possible to introduce elements of electronic work actually on stage.  We had the first affordable samplers soon as they came out!  Great one was the Casio FZ1.  Drums went in that one.  Emax had a lot of our Casio sounds transferred into it and some of the keyboard motifs and sound effects.

Ok, I have to bring up the cover of the Japanese compilation ‘Wheels Turning’.  I take it you would have chosen a different visual to grace the exterior?

Haha, I had no idea about it until I saw one.  I was pissed.  But it was already out.  I was WTF is that? Impaling myself on my Levin guitar was not a daily occurrence!

There have been a few bootleg recordings that have been in circulation for years.  Which do you feel really capture the essence of The Woodentops?

I only know of the Loft ones.  We were quite unpredictable and shakey in those days.  Still trying to get there. So being recorded from the desk, a kind of upside down balance compared to what people in the hall actually hear, it felt like they were a bit inferior.  I have both of them.  A lot of live cassettes were distrubuted/copied/sold.  I even got a few myself to hear how we were doing!

Rolo, you write all of the material yourself, let me ask you where that inspiration comes from.  In your writing process do the lyrics come first or the melody?

No rules.  Some the words were roughly there, others messing with a drumbeat started it, or a bass line.  Of course a few acoustic guitar and word and voice began it.  Say “Well Well Well”.  “Get It On” sounded like a kind of afro beat mish mash originally.  A whole load of drums!  “Move Me” was like electro pop!  Depeche Mode or something.  “Good Thing” was a bass and drums jam..anything to get the thing going!  Usually solitude is the key.  No solitude=no songs.  Lyrical content is usually personally driven.  Usually real life experience or story.  Very rarely is it political.  I’m too stupid to know big answers to the huge questions of national or international function.

Talk about the various producers you’ve worked with.

Dave Balfe, really methodical and bossy. Did a great job on “Plenty”.  Really improved it.  However we locked him out for the other two songs on the record.  Hahah.

Andy Partridge.  I, we, loved him.

John leckie.  Really got the best of us being us.  To me he was a magic man.

Bob Sargeant.  A hit maker.  Brought with him an awesome engineer John Gallen.  It was life in the deep end. High pressure.  You were under a microscope.  Scary but fun.  No time for whining because your fingers hurt.  You can’t play it quick, he’ll bring one of his team in and do it.

Scott Litt.  Did the live album and ‘Woodenfoot’ with Scott.  Still friends and he had the tricky task of having to produce a hit album in USA too as that’s where his pay came from and deliver on time also.  Except we were almost without any songs at all to record.  I had enforced solitude for a month and a half to write some then straight in.  No time for everybody to rehearse and play around a bit.  More high pressure than the Giant album!  If you are a band doing well you have to be able to work like this.  No cozy few years of playing songs. Straight in!  Blind!

Ian Tregoning .  Ian came from Yello.  We started on “Stop This Car” then went on to do a further 3 sessions before doing a whole (double!) album that never saw the light of day.

The band continued playing live until 1992.  Did you or do you prefer playing live to recording?

I’m afraid I enjoy both.  They both have their perils!

If you could put your finger on it, what would you say really caused the band to break up?

Rough Trade went down.  We had played nonstop for 10 years.  I couldn’t pay people to sit around waiting.  So we kind of agreed to go see what other things we could do in life and get together soonish.  We all got involved into whatever we chose to do.  We kept in touch of course and the catalyst to playing again was a cd someone sent us of a show 1988 in spain.  It was so good it kick started us back to playing.

In the 90’s you wer a part of DJ band Pluto and the Dogs Deluxe electronic project.

What kept you busy at the beginning of the new millennium before the recent One Little Indian retrospective release?

Making club music of varying descriptions under a few different names.  Pluto I loved.  We played live a few times and that was hot.  I got involved with events up in mountains, djing at snowboard events and learnt to board myself.  I also found an opening into experimental music for tv and film.  I did a lot of that, really interesting stuff.  I had creative freedom, a sort of alternative think tank for Boosey and Hawkes.

Now talking about the ‘Before During After’  3 cd release, was it nice to have Panni Bharti do a cover again?

Oh yes.  Pleasing indeed.  Keeping up appearances!

Any surprises or rarities you’d like to note on this compilation?

“Keep a Knockin'”, a really long version without the piano I did.  Great fun mix.  “Tainted World”, probably the most un-Woodentops like track in there.  I have memories of watching Kiss FM NYC dj Tony Humphries mashing up the floor at 4am with it.  3 copies on 3 decks.  I saw him do it twice at the Ministry of Sound ‘superclub’ in its heyday early 90’s.  No other indie band other than the St. Etienne MAW mix of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” got a spot like that.  Couple of tracks thought lost, mastered brilliantly from cassette! Arthur Baker’s “Give it Time” or Adrian’s version of same.  I was so lucky to find them.

According to your website the new album is almost complete.  Very interesting the live retro/futuristic approach to recording.  Shed a little light on that process.

It’s not titled yet.  It has 12 songs.  About 3 we’ve been playing a while.  The same formula, songs that were written electronically then I wrote some parts with guitars and sang on them.  I made a list of about 24 songs and everybody chipped in and chose what they’d like most to work on.  Short list made, then we chipped in together to rent a house for a week down Ashford way, remote so we could bang away at night if we wished. We all moved in together and practiced away.  I did a little film about it (a hobby of mine) and popped it in You Tube of course.  Then we packed up and moved back to London and straight into Dada Studio Clapham where I used to do a lot of Pluto work.  There’s a big room upstairs that is a yoga center.  It being bank holiday it was free , so we set the drums up in there.  I contacted a friend Ed Chocolate and brought him in with his collection of antique mics to get a more old time sound.  More like pre Giant sound.  We recorded the drums and basic parts there, oh yes we got snowed in!  Perfect!  Then over a period of a year 4 more tracks were recorded and back to Dada for vocals/overdubs.  I was thinking I was going to personally mix it but an old pal who I’ve never actually worked with, Mike Nielsen offered to get involved.  Mike does stuff like Underworld,  Jamiraquoi as well as world music and so forth, he’s great.  He lives now in Istanbul so I ftp’d everything to him there and went over for a fortnight to work on it with him.  One more track to go!

And it’s great you are playing live again back as The Woodentops.  Any chance you’ll tour the States?

There is a chance , not sure when.  Of course we can’t wait.  Like before!

Looking back over the years, what songs are you most proud of?

“Well Well Well”, “Steady Steady”, “Why”, “Heaven”, “Hear Me James”, “Plutonium Rock” , “Everybody”, “Tainted World”, “Move Me” – I’m going to say them all aren’t I?  Better stop!

Your thoughts on the current state of the music industry as opposed to earlier on in your career?

Artistically it’s healthy.  Full of music.  Too much to keep up with!  Financially harder than ever.  You earn so little from online sales or performance.  To do a really full on great show feels as good as it ever did so I am still hopelessly addicted.  Therefore the way the business is now makes no change to the good feeling that is generated by a good show.

Rolo, do you have other interests outside of music?

Yeah I ice skate and skateboard.  I enjoy making films and editing them.  As much as possible I like to travel. Have been to Africa, Asia, USA , Iceland is a fave..

Any books/literature that you’ve read that have impacted your life?

When I was very young a funny little book called ‘Birdy Pop Whistler’.  It was about a kid who whistled and his manager getting him to the top of the ‘battle of the bands’.  I’m sure that gave me ideas at 7 yrs old!

What about your personal life?   Family?  Pets?

I have a bit of a tricky family personal life, made so by the musical obsession.  I do have two daughters who live close by.  I’m not with their mother which is ok as we  get on and work together on their happiness and I spend as much time as possible with them.  Although a pram in the hallway is the enemy of the artist I’m hugely grateful to have these two awesome characters in my life.

Finally, what’s on the horizon for Rolo McGinty?  Any other projects – musical or otherwise – in the works?

No, just the attention needed to the ‘anthology’ and the final stages of the new body of work.  We are looking to be playing a lot more in September.  I’m very much looking forward to that.

My wife’s new blog!

Check out my wife Carrie’s new blog showcasing her fantastic artwork and food creations here

http://stovetocanvas.com/

Also, please take time to drool over some of her cakes here

www.DrizzleDippin.com

I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything, but I’m proud to announce (although a bit belated) the release of the long awaited cd release from The Deddingtons (see interview with Chris Morgan and Chris King).  The cd actually came out in June and Mr. Morgan was nice enough to send me a copy and include a very nice “thank you” to yours truly for posting the song “The Last Day” on YouTube.

 

Tom Hartman is known primarily as the ex-singer/composer/guitarist of The Aerovons, the St. Louis based band who flew to London in 1969 to record an album “Resurrection” for EMI, only to be shelved for 32 years and given an official release in 2003.  Being an avid fan of The Beatles with a dream to record at Abbey Road and with a mother as business manager, Tom’s life has been a very unique and fascinating adventure which I’m sure you’ll find by reading the following interview.    “World of You”

Tom, first off, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me and conduct this interview.

I always like to begin an interview with recollections of childhood.  From what I gather yours was a fairly happy one?

Yes and no. From a family perspective yes, my parents took care of us well with much love and attention. But my Dad was always trying to find a better way to make money so we moved a lot. I was always the new kid. I went to many schools and we went back and forth between St. Louis and Florida (which my Mom loved) a lot. So I would just get situated and make friends, etc, and then we’d move again. So in that sense, I was kind of a lonely kid I guess. It made me sink deeper into music though, because that was friend I would never lose. 

What fond memories do you have of Pompano Beach?

Pompano Beach was one of the high points. I had come down here from dark, snowy, cold St. Louis to sunny Florida. The school was open, in that in between classes you would walk out in the “hall” and be outside in the sun, walking to your next class. It’s where I really started putting my first little band together, and where I got my first serious guitar. It was a wonderful time, I still remember driving with my Mother toward the beach one sunny day and hearing “This is brand new by The Beatles!” on WQAM and they played “Eight Days A Week.” The happy sound of that song pretty much sums up my time in Pompano.

Your family has always been pretty tight knit, as well as a strong circle of friends.  That support net must have meant a lot to you not only growing up but in your musical aspirations as well.

My Mother supported my musical desires early on. Mainly in the form of buying me records even when I was about 6, that I would play in my bedroom for hours. I was in love with the sound of guitars on records by The Everly Brothers and Rick Nelson, etc. They had me on piano lessons at 5 or 6 but I didn’t take to them well, I wanted to just play on the piano and make up my own things, which they also encouraged.

Your mother was a singer.  Why did your grandmother not encourage her to pursue singing as a career?

My Grandmother was just being careful I guess. My Mom had been invited to go on the road with a very good Benny Goodman style band but it was felt she was too young. It was probably true, but Mom had a really, really pretty voice. I didn’t realize how nice until I grew up and heard some old tapes of her singing stuff like “Summertime.”

Mom, Maurine Hartman, must have been some kind of special lady.  What is the “pink center” to which she referred and how did this come back to play a central theme in not only your musical adventures, but your life?

You were brought up in a musically inclined family.  You and your sister Carole were raised in classical music.  Talk about your training and Carole’s scholarship to Tampa University.

Carole was a wizard on piano. I grew up listening to her playing concertos on sunny Summer afternoons, and doing endless scales and exercises. We actually had a Steinway Model M (kind of their medium size) in our living room, crammed in there. When Carole would be done I’d get on the bench and start fiddling around. Then back to my room to listen to “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley” or something. There was always music in the house. My sister did get a scholarship, but ended up feeling like she wanted something all her own, that she discovered, and that was not music, but instead, the airlines. She ended up as flight attendant for Eastern for almost 30 years.

Are you and your sister still close today?

Absolutely, she lives a few miles from us and I we speak daily and I see her about twice a month. We’re all so busy it’s hard to find time.

Back to your mother.  I think she’s the kind of mom that most of us would loved to have had, supportive and encouraging your dreams and aspirations.  Later on with your band, The Aerovons she would actually be your business manager.  Great to have a manager you could trust to have your best interests at heart.

Well yeah she just couldn’t have been more supportive. Probably because she wanted to make sure she didn’t repeat the non encouragement from her Mom…..so she got me my first guitar, then after the teacher told her I was kind of a natural, she got my first electric, etc. She made sure I had what I needed musically whenever she could. She became the business manager almost by accident. She heard one of the early incarnations of The Aerovons at practice one day, and we were all talking about how great it would be if we could get on “The Last Train To Clarksville,” which as a local promotion in St Louis, where the city’s top bands would be set up in train cars….a different one in each car….and the train would leave St Louis for Clarksville, Mo, and return all in one afternoon. Tough to get in. She offered to try to get us in (we were a new, unknown band) and I kind of said “Oh Mom, you don’t understand, nobody knows us, this is for the big local names.” The guys said “Hey, let her try man!.” So of course, she got us in, and from then on started booking us.

I learned that just because someone is your Mom, or friend, or whatever, doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to do something you thought you need a professional to accomplish. We were all really impressed with how she got it done. My Mom was just able to talk her way into anything.

Aerovons – the name of a local band that you admired.  So these guys had no problem with you taking their name?

That was part of Pompano. The guy who started the band, Chuck Kirkpatrick, is a dear friend to this day. They were the first “pro” band I ever heard. Absolutely crazy to me. Great harmony, jangling guitars, I used to stand in front of Chuck (lead guitar) all night and watch and listen while girls asked me if I wanted to dance. When I moved back to St Louis Chuck wrote and told me his band broke up, and he was starting a new one with a different name. So he didn’t mind, in fact was flattered.

Talk a little about the formation of the band and different personalities involved.

The first Aerovons band was formed when I was 14, in 10th grade at Bayless Senior High in St. Louis. I had found a few people at school, and we managed to play a few pool parties. Then I replaced the rhythm player with Bob Frank, who is still a friend, and who was pivotal in getting the group really sounding good. So Bob, Gary (drums), Brian (bass) and myself started playing high school dances. We practice at each others houses, except for mine since I lived in an apartment until we could find a house, having just come back from Florida.  Soon we rented a house and everything moved there…where the band developed over the next few years, and eventually where we wrote everything on the album, after some more member changes.

St. Louis, Missouri in the mid to late 60’s.  A relative hot bed of rock music, huh?

Very musical town, just not my kind of music. Very SOUL based, a lot of bands like Bob Kuban with brass, white kids trying to be black. Not my thing;)

What were some of the early gigs you played?  And how did the audiences respond?

Well we mainly played school dances. No DJs then….all live bands. The kids loved us. We were very professional. We had two strips of lights my Dad built in front of us, that sat shooting up on us in the front of the stage. In between songs, the lights would go out, there would be silence, and then BANG!….into the next song. We were like a machine eventually. Really good. It came me a LOT of practice.

Early on you guys played a lot of Beatles cover tunes.  Which ones were your favorites to play?

Well let me think. I loved playing some of the off the beaten track numbers, like “I Don’t Want to Spoil The Party,” which we did well. And we often opened with “I Feel Fine.” We also played “All I’ve Got To Do” which was another good one you don’t hear much. And George’s “I Need You.”

“I’m A Loser,” and “Eight Days A Week” were other faves. We did “Good Day Sunshine,” “Taxman,” good grief we did a lot of them. We actually did  “A Day in The Life” in club in London and got a standing ovation. Never forget that!

Your mom, having a good business sense, realized you needed a demo of an original song to tout to the record companies and radio stations.  “World of You” was chosen as that song.  Talk about how the idea behind that song and how it was composed.

A friend had an old piano and offered it to us. We managed to get it into the basement where rehearsed and I started banging away on it. My childhood piano lessons kind of came back to me, and I started playing that riff and next thing you know “World of You” was born. I was thinking that when you fell in love it was both new and exciting, but also a bit scary. You ARE a stranger there after all….it takes you by surprise and you’re not sure what’s next. Kind of like “This is new, scary, exciting, and I have to watch my footing, because if I slip, it’s back to the old world of emptiness.” I’ve always been a bit too dramatic about everything I suppose.

Were there many choices of local recording studios at that time?

No, just two mainly, an expensive more well known place called “Technisonic,” and another small one called “Premier.” We took that because it was cheaper.

What did the “older” engineers think of Aerovons compared with the musicians and styles in which they were used to working?

Oh I think they got a kick out of these long haired kids and their Mom. They had little idea what to do, but they did their job.

Although you had a scratchy throad, how do you feel the recording session went overall?

It was exciting to be in a real studio, but I didn’t know enough to suggest how to make it better. I thought it was very cool but I heard all the bad things on playback and thought “How come it doesn’t sound professional enough, like the records on the radio?” That kind of thing.

Nice touch using the cello player.  Your idea?  From the classical influence?

Yes I wanted strings. I love strings. To this day. I love orchestration. Whenever someone hears something and says “Oh that’s overproduced” I usually like it 😉 When I was a kid I would go to the movies and the scores would just give me chills. French horns, strings. It sounded epic to me. So I wanted a taste of that. A touch of class as it were.

A rep from Capitol Records called a couple of weeks showing interest.  But you turned him down in favor of recording at Abbey Road in London.  So the old “bird in the hand” adage didn’t cross your mind?  Pretty bold manouever there for a unsigned band.

Yeah I shudder to think now. But I really wanted to go to England and record where The Beatles did. I felt like there was magic there. I felt like it would seem like home to me for some weird reason. And it did.

The risk paid off as the Capitol guy gave you the name of a Roy Featherstone at EMI in London.

And a meeting was set up with Roy, right?

Yes. We got there and played the demo for someone named John something, and he smiled and took us up to Roy’s office. Roy was a warm, wonderful guy and he just loved it. He thought it was great someone from the States wanted to come to record there! “All our groups want to go to America” he laughed.

What was the reaction of everyone that you would be going to England to record?

Stunned. At the end of our last gig, instead of saying “Thanks for coming tonight, next week we’ll be appearing at the such and such club,” I got up and said “Thanks coming….this is our last live show until we return from London, England, where we will be recording for awhile.” Everyone’s eyes got really big. 

You flew to London.  Talk about your first impressions once you arrived.  Did you do any shopping on Carnaby Street?  How were the locals?  Did any think you were English or in a band?

I thought it was amazing. All the stuff you had seen on TV and in books. Right there. We shopped at Carnaby Street and Kings Road, and did the whole thing. Walked around in pink bell bottoms (I still HAVE THEM!). It was cold, the food was awful, and it was exciting as hell. We heard music we had never heard. The people were great. They walked everywhere. We’d say “We want to go to such and such, do we need a taxi?” and someone would laugh and say “Heaven’s no, just go to the next block, turn right and you’re right there.” Yeah well, you would turn right and have to walk about ten blocks in the cold….THEN you were right there. Those people were tough;)

In the meeting with Roy Featherstone, he thinks it’s odd that an American band would travel to England to record since most British bands were trying to make it big in America.  What were your thoughts on that?

It’s the whole grass is greener thing. In reality the studio doesn’t matter as much as the producer and engineer. I didn’t know that then. There WAS certainly magic at EMI, but there was magic wherever The Beatles recorded, they still always sounded like The Beatles. I should have realized that then.

The arrangement was made for you to return home and write as much new material as you could and then return to actually record.  Did the long period of time test your patience or phase the band in any way?

No not at all. We had something BIG to look forward to, and we spent the Winter in the basement writing. Sometimes I think we thought it was SO FAR away that we probably lost focus. But not very much. We pretty much worked every night or every other night, ’til the wee hours of the morning.

Before leaving you got to meet Paul McCartney at a club called The Speakeasy.  Were you guys believing this was happening?

We had heard it was club where celebrities hung out. When we found out he was there we sat and waited and finally saw him. It was the most unreal experience in my life to walk up and speak with him. Just like seeing a spaceship land in your backyard at night. Fortunately he put us at ease. Very funny, relaxed and kind. I said “No one is going to believe this when we get home” and he said “Ah well, but now you’ve got this!” and handed me back the autograph he was signing. It’s still right here on my wall from that night.

Later you took a tour of Abbey Road studios and happened upond George Harrison.  Relate how you saw him in the control room and “coaxed” him down and the visit that ensued.

Well Mal Evans was giving us a studio tour, to show us around. When we looked up we could see a figure looking down at us. We were all dressed in our newly acquired Carnaby Street clothing so I guess we caught his eye. I said “Is that George?” and Mal said “Yes.”

“Do you think he’d have a minute to come down?” I asked.

“Oh he’s very busy right now…” said Mal. He then went on pointing out things in the studio. I looked up, figured what the heck, and motioned with my hand to “COME DOWN.” He immediately walked away from the window. Then the door opened at the top of the steps, he looks out, and says, “Are you with a magazine? (probably seeing my Mom with a camera).

“No, we’re just a band that’s going to be recording here,” I said.

“Oh alright” said George, and proceeded down the steps to meet us. Another saucer lands in the backyard.

You actually got to sit in with a band, The New Formula, for a few songs at a club called Hatchets.  The band told you that as a rule English groups would not play Beatles’ material.  Was this just out of respect?

I think so, I think it was like “untouchable” or “hallowed ground” for some weird reason. We played a Bee Gees tune I think, and we played “A Day in The Life.” They really liked us. I thought we sounded bad because we weren’t using our gear, and the band, The New Formula, was really good. They were doing stuff like “Reflections” by The Supremes.

Through this whole experience at the time you were still so in awe of The Beatles, still huge fans, that your own imminent recording session just had not really sunk in, right?

It was always on our mind that we might see them there, but we had no idea that we actually WOULD. We really thought there was a chance, but no we did look forward to the recording sessions, very much.

In fact, the worst news for you was that pictures taken with George Harrison were overexposed.  At least one picture was salvaged, correct?  Do you still have that photo?

Yes that photo is on our website, and is still with me. My Mom actually got some lab that did work for the FBI to salvage it. We were so heartbroken, but glad that at least one came out.

On your second trip to England in August of ’68 you had a meeting with Dick Rowe who wanted to set you up with Tony Clarke, producer of The Moody Blues.  You did get to meet The Moody Blues.  Very funny how you were caught unawares when Justin Hayward asked you if you smoked!

Yeah I was very naive. They were nice guys. I was just kind of embarrassed when I realized he was asking me if I wanted a joint after asking me “Do you smoke?” …oh boy. But they were fine about it.

And you also got to meet a band you had long admired, The Hollies, even going with them to a pub.  To top it off you got to jam with them on the song “On A Carousel”.  How was that experience?

Well that was simply amazing. Tony Hicks was tremendous. I was so nervous I forgot the chords and he yelled them out to me until I recovered. Funny.

Back home in the Winter of ’68 you set out to write songs in your homemade studio which was a laundry room in the basement of your house?  Small quarters huh?

It was actually a large basement, where we had the stage kind of setup. But when we went to record, we wanted it more “dead” and isolated so we moved into the little laundry room. I have no idea how we fit in there. It was just like what The Beatles did when they recorded “Yer Blues,” come to think of it.

There were also a couple of personnel changes that took place.  For the best?

Yes and no. We lost Bob, as he was afraid he was going to be drafted, and was also very serious about a girl. So we got a replacement at the last minute, Phil Edholm, who didn’t work out. Nice guy, but not really a good fit.

Finally in 1969 you returned to England to record the album “Resurrection”.  I won’t ask you to go over the details of the recording session as the reader can go to your website here http://www.aerovons.com/aerovons_main.html for that account.  I will ask you how you liked working with Alan Parsons and Geoff Emerick. 

Both were great, Emerick was a quiet gentlemen, and Alan was a funny mad scientist type. Great ideas, lots of joking, lots of talent. I still am in touch with him, when he comes to town we get together backstage at his shows. Really wonderful still to know him.

Once the album was recorded you say you were numb and that you missed home.  So it would be a little while til it all soaked in?

I did miss home. I missed the food, and my house, etc. There was nothing left to do there, and now the wait for its release would begin. It would be a 30 + year wait.

Just when it did start to hit you that you had a full length album under your belt, things went south in a hurry.  Not to bring up old wounds, but the band began to splinter for different reasons and EMI did not release the album.  Looking back now, do you feel it was all meant to be?  Things happened for a reason?

I think that had we gotten a hit or two the money would be long gone. So the experience of what I did is what counts. Meeting The Beatles, learning about recording from the greats, that’s a nice start to your career.

Do you think you were more disappointed in the outcome than your mom was?

I think I would have been had I not fallen deeply in love with a girl when I got back. When I look back, I realize that she was just taking the place of my band, which I had learned to rely on as friends, support, etc. It’s almost like I didn’t think about the album anymore. Strange.

Without a band, you and your mom got in touch with Mike Post to record the single “Sunshine Woman”.  From what I gather, you’re not exactly overly fond of that song and experience?

It was great experience with Mike, I learned a lot from him. He’s a monster. He influenced me greatly. I still follow advice he gave me back then even today. But the song was OK, I just can’t sing that kind of thing. So I hate how I sound on it.

Was it at this time you came to realize your talents were more suited to be an arranger and composer rather than a solo artist?

I think I always knew that. I think deep down I knew that I had everything going for me but a strong voice, and you really have to have that as an artist. If not a great voice, then a unique voice, like Neil Young or Randy Newman. I didn’t have that.

In hindsight, do you feel you may have been a little too young at 17 to go through this whole band/signing/recording experience?

Yes. I think I needed more songwriting experience to be sure, but then again, many groups start like that. Back then, companies would give you more of a chance. They might let you do two or three albums to grow. So I think we would have grown, and gotten more savvy had we had the chance. Our biggest problem was I was not concentrating on writing singles. I was writing SONGS. That’s nice but you need hits.

You chose to go to school, moved to Miami and graduated from the University of Miami.

Yes I actually wanted to go to USC Film School but they were filled up. I would have had a one year wait.  I heard UM had a new film department and I could get in, and with our Florida history we just said “OK let’s go for it.”

Talk about how you got into writing music for TV, radio and films.

That old love of movie scores, as I mentioned, was still always with me. So I did a student film at UM, scored it, and that got the attention of people whow started hiring me to do TV and radio spots.

Fast forward 32 years later and you get a phone call from one Kieron Tyler, an English music journalist.  What did you think when he mentioned his interest in getting EMI to finally release “Resurrection”?

I thought it was great, but then I thought, “Do I want people to hear this thing? It really has a lot of problems…” but since it was being bootlegged, I felt it would be nice to have a real release done well.

And EMI did just that in 2003 on RPM Records.  Could you believe after all those years it had finally come to fruition?

I wish my Mom had been alive. She would have been so proud. I get emails from all over, from even young kids, saying “Hey just heard your album, fantastic!” etc. So it was actually worth it all after all. It just took awhile.

What about all the fan mail and letters you’ve received from all over the world?  What does it feel like to be have that kind of cult following and renewed interest in the album?

I respond to each one and thank them profusely. It’s hard to believe that something you did is appreciated so many decades later. Heck, I know it’s faults, and there are many, but all in all, I own albums from the Sixties by groups with hits, and other than the hit, their albums are no better really.

I did read on your “News And Updates” section on your website that as of 2008 I believe you may be working on a follow up LP?   Any updates on that?

I have been working on it FOREVER. It’s become kind of a joke that it may never get done. But you know, what I DO have done, sounds really good. Doesn’t sound like an old guy or some half baked material. It’s very strong. That’s why it’s taking so long, I keep throwing things out. This time I’d like to hear the album all the way through with cringing once. So far that is happening.     “Stopped!”

Back to reality Tom, you now work as a freelance music producer and composer and are married with 5 kids.  Share a little (or lot) of the family situation as well as how busy work is keeping you.

I get hired to do TV spots, and I get hired to do all manner of things, even karaoke, which I did a couple of soundalike tracks for someone once, and now I have people coming to me all the time saying “Could you do a track of such and such for us?” ….really funny.

My kids are all over, from age 8 to 20. All totally different. Several are very musical. My son Tommy is great on guitar, Jonny is picked up bass last year and is just rockin’ on it, Lea plays piano and is just amazing. She’s my Beatles buddy, as she’s the one who will come up and say “Dad, what day is it?” and I”ll say….”Uh…..” and she’s say “DAD….it’s PAUL’S BIRTHDAY!” ….that kind of thing.

I feel very blessed to be alive and kicking, doing music daily, and having people like yourself kind enough to show interest in what I did …all those years ago.

Thank you too so much, and I will let you know when the album is ready. At this point it might shrink to an EP if I ever want people to hear it. Will keep you posted.

Best

Tom

Lastly, thanks again Tom for taking time out of your schedule to do this and my best wishes to you and your family and all the Aerovons/Tom Hartman fans out there!

For more info on Tom and Aerovons check out the website here  http://www.aerovons.com/

Recording as “Eden” and “All Things Unseen”, and with German band Place4Tears, ex-Soft Machine’s Daevid Allen, Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope, and Love Spirals Downwards’ Ryan Lum…who is the “uncommon” denominator weaving his thread of otherworldly resonance throughout the above list?  Meet Sean Bowley, ethereal troubadour and guide to your dreams.  Sean believes music should transcend the mundane and pain of everyday existence and lift the listener to a place that is uniquely all their own.  To quote Sean,“I love music – every day I listen to music, think about music, dream about music. I yearn to be at home with my hi-fi and guitars. I love to sit with my instruments and tinker with my amplifiers and guitar pedals in the quest for another ethereal expression or nuance. I’m at home in my world filled with music. It’s my true home. Without it I truly would not know what to do.”        “Suantraide” mp3 

Click here to watch “Suantraide” on YouTube  http://youtu.be/y3AL-GsrLNc

Well Sean, first off thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.  Let’s go back to the beginning, in what city were you hatched?  Relate some of your fondest memories of childhood.

I was born in a country town, called Bairnsdale, around three hours drive from Melbourne, lush green farming land with a beautiful river flowing to one side of the town. Visiting the ivy clad river banks and dreaming beneath the trees that lined that river features highly in the cannon of my early childhood. My earliest recollection of the magic known as music is connected with Bairnsdale. I’m around three years old and playing in my Nana’s back garden. Somewhere nearby there is a radio and I can hear the eastern flavoured guitar hook in the Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper”.  The modulated ethereal nature of that guitar sound literally struck a chord in a special place and opened the door to what would become the eastern tinged personality of my guitar playing. I do recall that the setting for my early childhood years was completely magical and I feel that I was born into the most appropriate part of the twentieth century for the formation of my personality.

My childhood taught me that it was pointless to compromise a dream as creativity is freedom from restriction.

What do remember as your first interest in music?  Any albums/45’s that began your record collection?

My first record was the 45rpm “Strawberry Fields” EP by the Beatles. Somehow I received this as a child in the 70’s. Musically speaking I have always ‘driven down the other side of the street’. At school I was one of a small group of teenage musical odd bods who were walking around school with an overflowing bag of records by such luminaries as The Electric Prunes, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Doors, The Ramones, Sham 69, The Buzzcocks and many others. Most of the kids listening to what was more or less underground music were a couple of years older than me. I was the younger guy hanging out with the older musically hip kids. Underground or public FM radio broadcasting was a huge way of discovering music back then, really it was the doorway to the new music emerging from the UK. From the radio and hanging out with the older school kids I began to hear about Melbourne’s incredibly interesting music scene that existed in the 1980’s. There were many interesting Melbourne bands back then. The undisputed kings of that music scene were  The Birthday Party. As a teenager I was only partially interested in the underground music of that era. My big thing at that age was music from the 1960’s.  One evening while listening to the radio everything changed. The best public radio station back then was 3RRR FM. The dj’s were a very charismatic lot and were totally into the music they played. The major enigma among these dj’s was ‘Bohdan X’ the front man of  the infamous Melbourne Punk Band – “JAB”. I was listening to his radio show and a song came on which essentially changed my life. That song was the Unknown Pleasures version of “She’s Lost Control” by Joy Division. The opening bars of the song immediately grabbed my interest. All of a sudden I was listening to this incredible droning eastern raga like riff tied down with a repetitive hypnotic mechanical rhythm. And then that icy Morrisonesque vocal crept in with its accompanying flotilla of backing vocal work which sounded something like Gregorian chant sung backwards down a long piece of metal tubing. This music was cathartic – there was something vibrational about it; I could feel it resonating inside me. I had found my perfect music – a music I could truly love and be inspired by. In the coming months I tracked down every seven and twelve inch vinyl release that Joy Division had released. When I first heard “Transmission” it had the same effect as “She’s Lost Control” – an incredibly haunted and ethereal slice of moodiness. ‘Closer’ was easily equal to “Unknown Pleasures”. The first LP, to me, seemed to convey a haunted vision of life in urban city scapes. The second LP felt like it was coming out of the aether – especially ”Heart & Soul” and  the two closing tracks on side two.

From Joy Division  I found my way to The Birthday Party’s first LP –  now often called’ Hee-Haw’, though at the time ‘Hee-Haw” was a separate 12 inch EP. On a humorous note at first I thought that the Birthday Party sounded somewhat like a drunken Joy Division. Joy Division’s music was angular and of a stark meticulous nature. The Birthday party’s music could also be ethereal though it roared and writhed…the lyrical subject was surreal as opposed to Joy Division’s pure introspection. The first Birthday Party record that stopped me in my tracks was the 7 inch single of “The Friend Catcher”. That sonorous other-worldly guitar , courtesy of Mr Rowland S.Howard. Rowland to my mind is the most charismatic individual to have graced Melbourne’s stages. He is Cohen, Cash and Charles Baudelaire rolled into one huge mother load of talent. I had the good fortune of crossing paths with him on several occasions and the absolute pleasure of sharing the stage (gig line –ups) with him in the late 1990’s. He was certainly an example, mentor, fellow musician and an acquaintance. We exchanged humorous banter via various phone conversations, back stage and on the odd occasion when he stopped by my apartment. We shared similar interests and appreciations. I do regret that I did not get to know him better. It was an astounding moment when one night back stage when he commented on my playing and how I was able to do something unique with the 12 string and that he dug it. Obviously I shared this sentiment in regard to his guitar playing. Rowland had been a prime mover in igniting my creative spirit when I was a teenager. Receiving favourable compliment from him compliment favourably in regard to my playing was a high point in my musical career.

At what age did you really start taking an interest in creating your own music?  What was the first instrument you picked up?  Did you take lessons or were you self taught?

I started writing music when I was fifteen. Essentially I began writing crude songs and instrumentals within a few days of owning my first guitar. This was partially because I was untrained and unable to play songs written by other people. I began to make up my own songs; gently experiment with the guitar to see what I could discover. That process has continued to the present day. I have never had any guitar lessons, I’ve never known what note I am playing or what key I am in. For the most part I make up my own chords. I have a poor sense of timing and I do not count while I play. I think about the melody or the mood and not the timing. That said I have developed a sense of pseudo timing which for the most part keeps me in the right place at the right time.

Musical education never ends as it is always a process of discovery. The band I played in before Eden which was “All Things Unseen” was where I learned how to play with other musicians. We were teenagers all more or less starting out in our first band. We all loved alternative music and we were deeply immersed in Melbourne’s alternative culture. To us, there would have been no other culture. We would go and see bands like The Birthday Party, Laughing Clowns or Dead Can Dance play at the Seaview Ballroom St Kilda on a Friday and Saturday nights. After the gigs we would go back to our rehearsal room and sleep on big piles of clothes on the floor. The following morning we would simply stand up, light up a cigarette and start rehearsing. Music was our world 110%. We would see a gig by a given band, be inspired by the performance and write a new song because we were on fire. It was an exhilarating time. I am most grateful for all the fun creative times I had when I was in my teens and early 20’s.

My first instrument was a very inexpensive second hand Japanese made electric guitar. It was considered a relic when I bought it. A crappy cheap guitar was what it was deemed to be. Many years later I discovered that it was the same type of cheap Japanese guitar that Robert Smith had when he was starting out. When The Cure became  a legitimate band and his manager urged him to buy a Fender Jazzmaster, Robert removed one of the pick-ups from his el- cheapo Japanese guitar and had it mounted between the Jazzmaster’s  two pick-ups. He did this because he loved the sound of the pick up’s in the el-cheapo Japanese guitar. From what I remember that guitar actually did have a distinctive sound. In actuality the guitar was a piece of crap and I have no interest in owning another one of those…lol. My current 6 string guitar which is a 1961 Fender Jazzmaster is worlds above any other guitar I have owned.

Talk about the music scene in and around Melbourne at this period in your life.

Sadly I have completely lost touch with Melbourne’s music scene. I have faith that there are still interesting things going on as that’s how it should be. This said I doubt that there is much that is glittering and golden out there. In actuality there never was. In my lifetime, Melbourne’s most creative music scene existed in the 1980’s. Since then the returns diminished with each passing year. Not to mention that the size of the live music scene has continually dwindled due to the increasing gentrification of the inner city areas which were once havens for artists, musicians, migrants and workers on lower incomes. The areas of Melbourne that were areas of flourishing bohemian activity are now home to city based career professionals who can afford to buy into what has become exceedingly valuable real estate. That said – flowers grow in the most unlikely places. There will always be something special happening ; usually hidden away in a place where you would least expect something to be happening.

So basically there were not any local bands that were playing the kind of music that you appreciated.

It’s been a long time since I have thought about the Melbourne’s music scene circa 1988 when Eden began to play live. From what I remember there was still a decent sized audience for underground bands though yes most of the bands were I guess what you could describe as Alternative Rock in format. This is the problem with a given city’s music scene. The scene can stagnate to one where “what is popularly perceived to be cool can actually be incredibly boring”. So in short, yes we did not relate to other Melbourne bands. We could not get what we needed from the music of others so we created our own music to fill that need. We genuinely believed there was not and should not be any limitation placed upon creative vision. Obviously this attitude insured that we remained outside the music scene’s hierarchy. We had to build our own musical world. Fortunately there were plenty of people at the time who wanted to come and see us play. Our live shows attracted a decent sized audience. We gleaned decent attention from the street press and the size of the live audience increased. I can remember some very crowded shows at the Punter’s club in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. To sum up – Eden were a part of the music scene but did not relate to the Melbourne music scene. We did not consider or think about the music around us. We were not influenced by other local bands.

Your first actual band was All Things Unseen.  Nice name.  On your website you talk about this group of musicians quite fondly saying it was really nice working with a group of friends.  What a unique experience that must have been.

Looking back it could be said that “All Things Unseen” was a unique experience. Like Eden we were writing and playing music which did not typically represent Melbourne. Sonically All Things Unseen was closer to The Cocteau Twins or Lowlife than Eden was. We were a four piece band; drums, bass, ARP Omni Strings keyboard and guitars/vocals. We used a lot of modulated delay effects on bass, guitars and keyboards. Carl Carter, William Carter, Ingo Weiben and myself were very close friends. We would rehearse three or four times a week plus go to clubs and venues on the weekends. We spent a lot of time “hanging out” together. I truly miss that high level of comraderie. It was a very special time. We were at the height of our creative and musical ability circa 1985 – 87.

It’s interesting you felt you reached your “creative height” with your “strongest songs” in 1985.  I’ve always been of the impression that 1985 was the best year for alternative music.

1985 was an incredible year! Certainly one of the most wonder filled years of my life. In that year I didn’t so much reach my creative height; it was more like I began to write music and lyrics of much higher quality and crafting. I was at university undertaking a double major in Archaeology and Anthropology. I enjoyed my studies. I became fascinated with cosmology and the varied and different perceptions/interactions that various cultures had with the unseen world. One of my major’s concerned witchcraft and sorcery in Melanesia. I loved reading about the tribal Shaman and their journeys into the unseen world and their quest to bring meaning to the seen via communion with the unseen. A few years later I would develop a similar fascination with the western earth mysteries i.e. The Arthurian mythos and its incredibly rich tapestry of symbolism which has lingered in western culture up until the present day. Something else I received from my time as an Anthropology student was a deepening interest in the power of dreams and symbols on both a cultural and individual level. I loved the writings and research of Carl Jung. For a time I enjoyed the work of Claude Levi-Strauss. Many of the fascinating things I studied began to find their way into my music and lyrics in 1985. Songs such as “Dusk for the Dancers” or “Guardian of the Flutes” concerned Shamanism and taking the rite of passage into the unseen world. More importantly these songs concerned freedom and liberation of the spirit via faith’s ability to transcend belief systems. This theme kept maturing and eventually Eden had cd releases with titles such as “Gateway to the Mysteries” and “Wearyall”. A lot of the music I have written has focussed on being “beyond self”. The other style I work in has been one of pure introspection. i.e. “Fire & Rain”, “Earthbound” or “Midnight Sun”. I have oscillated between these two themes as they have been central in my personal journey.

Eden formed in 1988.  Did you come up with the name?

I remember the frustration we went through in trying to find a name for the group. We spent three or four days writing down lists of names in the attempt to come up with something. The name “Eden” kind of eventuated after this intense filtration process. It was the fruit of an agonizing think-tank and I do not believe it was any single person’s specific idea. It was a word among many other words that made it through the selection process.

What other bands were your contemporaries in Australia at the time?

There were plenty of contemporaries but no one you could accurately compare us to. The late 80’s was a state of flux. There were still bands from the mid 80’s floating around and we played a few shows sharing the bill with some of them. Most of these bands I can’t remember. Our first gig was with a friend’s band – “Captain Cocoa”. They were an upbeat good time band with a ska based flavour. I went to University with Glen and Dave O’Neil – two brothers who founded that band in 1983. It was very kind of them to help out and assist Eden in beginning to develop a reputation on the live scene. When Eden was starting out, the Melbourne Bands I had once loved had either broken up or moved overseas.

Again referring to your website you mentioned you had a hard time finding the right engineers and producers to get the sound you wanted on the EP “The Light Between Worlds”.  Did you consider travelling to England to record?

We did not consider travelling to England to record.  Professional 24 track recording was a very expensive proposition back in 1988. Obviously 1988 was before the era when home recording became an option. We self financed the recording of “The Light Between Worlds”. I had not had any previous experience with professional recording. In the eighties, Melbourne bands did not usually have the opportunity to record unless they were signed to a record company as recording time cost a premium. Because none of us had had any previous professional recording experience I felt that we would be more likely to get an excellent result if we choose to record at a studio which was widely used by Melbourne bands. The theory being that a well known studio would be capable of producing some audio magic for us. Sadly I could not have been more mistaken. Looking back, obviously after now having experienced many years of professional recording working with incredibly good gear I am quite shocked when I recall the first recording experience. The quality of their recording console was fairly average and they literally had no outboard microphone preamps etc. They did not even have a reverb unit. All they had was a single AMS digital delay. OK the AMS is a classic but we didn’t need a delay. The Eden sound required reverb: Lexicon digital reverb to be precise. We spent four days in this “professional” studio expecting to come out with a completed EP. We were wrong – we came out with one finished track – being the instrumental “Dark Beneath Trees”. The other tracks were in various stages of completion. We were extremely disappointed with the first 24 track recording experience. In short – we were amazed at how badly the session went and that not only did we not have a finished EP in hand – we were $3,500 poorer. We certainly did not get value for money…lol. The producer believed that he understood our music and how to translate our vision – if he did he was unable to do so during the sessions. In hindsight it was obvious that this studio did not have the expertise or hardware that we needed for our sound.

After licking our wounds we booked ourselves into a different 24 track studio. We spent another three days in the studio. This session was far more fruitful as we completed the “Light Between Worlds”.

Is this what lead you to think “hey maybe we should try our own hands at producing the material ourselves”? 

You hit the nail on the head! We were so incredibly amazed at the belligerent attitude of the producers towards our recorded work. Particularly because they had forced their decisions upon us resulting in our recordings sounding less ethereal than we wanted them to be. Eden’s music was not only uncommon in the Australian live music scene; it was also uncommon in the Australian recording studio.

So yes after two disappointing experiences in the studio we came to see that we had to produce or at the very least co-produce our recording sessions.

I did not know you signed to Nightshift Records, the home of Lowlife – a band I have long admired.

Even before we signed to an indie label in Australia we were first released on Nightshift records in Scotland. We too were fans of Lowlife’s music. I bought my first Lowlife LP in 1986 – being “Diminuendo”. One of the very best things that came to me during our time with Nightshift was having the opportunity to become friends with Will Heggie (Lowlife’s Bass player). Will’s obviously a great bass player. In a way it was quite surreal to become friends with the guy who wrote that amazing bass part on “Wax and Wane”. Being a song that my previous group – “All Things Unseen” would occasionally jam on at rehearsal. Will had a lot of heart. He was a very rare personality in that he was exceedingly supportive in his role at Nightshift. He had this thing about him. He was always an incredibly easy person to get along with. Definitely my kind of person. It’s a shame he lives on the other side of the world as he is one of the very few musicians I have met whom I could relate to. He was very complimentary toward my guitar playing and we did intend to write and record something together. Sadly that did not fall into place due to distance and the defeatist attitude of the record company.

Talk about your promo visit to the UK in 1990.  Why did you feel British music was on the decline?

The visit to the UK in 1990 was a gas. I enjoyed most of it. I remember being incredibly excited when the Jumbo Jet was landing at Heathrow. It was very early morning and the sun had not come up yet. I was looking down at the city lights and thinking – Wow I am in London! Visiting England can be a special experience for Australians as our heritage is heavily linked to the UK – Oz being part of the Commonwealth etc. In my Childhood, I was heavily exposed to the tales of  merry old England. The topography of my imagination was littered with visions of  longships buried in barrows, Roman Britain, The Magic faraway Tree, The Children of Greeneknow, The Wishing Chair, The Water Babes etc. So many magical stories from England which were somehow a natural and meaningful part of the world I grew up in. Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson were alive and well in the leafy gardens and hedges of the Edwardian style home I grew up in. Rooftop terracotta dragons and gargoyles watched over me and my childhood while I played “make believe” in the gardens of my dreams.

But England and the English were not the people I had imagined them to be. London was fascinating but it was also a hard edged place. The UK culturally speaking was quite different to Australia. I must have thought that Australian and English people would be similar in nature because we had shared the same cultural and genetic background. I was mistaken. There are distinct differences. Not that these differences really matter; it was simply that I was amazed that the two cultures can be quite different. Back in 1990 the standard of living in Australia, generally speaking, was a lot higher than in the UK. It was quite an eye opening experience to see a much more severe poverty level in the UK. I did have the opportunity to visit a few university student households in London. Believe me – they were living a frugal lifestyle by comparison with the Australian counterpart.

Explain the experience in Glastonbury and how this stoked the creative fire for Eden.

When I was in London I was doing as many interviews as I could with fanzines and the music press. One of the interviewers was Tracy Jeffery (later to co-found a band called ‘Orchis”). She was a wonderful person and very much interested, as I was, in the Earth Mysteries. We became friends very easily and before you could say “Marybignon” we were planning a car trip to Glastonbury for the upcoming Beltane celebration. My brother, Simon was with me for the Uk trip and, at her invitation, we both caught the train out to Falmouth where Tracy lived. From there we drove down to Salisbury plain for a contemplative visit to Stonehenge (where on a humorous note I bought a Stonehenge Chocolate bar from the souvenir kiosk as I thought that the concept of  Stonehenge Chocolate was hilarious. As it turned out that chocolate Bar was delicious and I often wondered if that rather isolated tourist kiosk is still selling those delicious Stonehenge Chocolate bars J. Anyway Stonehenge was fascinating ; it certainly has a presence. I remember looking outward from the Stone circle and noticed the many burial mounds or barrows circling Stonehenge – that was a blast.

The township of Glastonbury was even more impressive. To get there we drove down many country roads, passing fields of flowers. The spring weather was heavenly and we had a cassette deck in the car. I remember Tracy playing The Waterboys. It was a idealic. Not long before visiting the UK I had read Dion Fortune’s “Avalon of the Heart” and  was about half way through reading “The Mists of Avalon” when we visited Glastonbury. Can you imagine how amazing  it was to visit the location of the historic tale I was simultaneously reading? I mean – to sit on top of the Tor on Beltane eve and look down over that very green ancient location. It’s an experience; very liberating for the mind’s eye. This is how the creative fire was raised. It’s little wonder that “The Unveiling of Brigid” was written soon after that trip. Every moment of the Glastonbury visit was magical and provided me with creative fuel for the next eighteen months. High points were sitting on the Tor looking out into the haze as the sun went down on Beltane Eve. Glastonbury town was a-buzz with Beltane vibe the following day. I can recall singing 12th century troubadour songs in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. I can still picture the blossoming flowers and spring perfumes in that amazing Abbey. The visit to Chalice Well was wonder filled. Not far away is Wearyall Hill. We walked up to the top of Wearyall and sat with an aged farmer who was walking his dog. I recall him telling me “Glastonbury is just a farming town and nothing special happens here”. Meanwhile I am looking past him at the very special Holy Thorn bush that sits atop of Wearyall – the very thorn bush which legend states sprouted from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff when he planted it in the soil at some point after Christ’s death. It was a beautiful moment as I was being told that there was no magic in Glastonbury just as I was personally witnessing a living piece of historic magic of mystical significance.

Why did you move to Third Mind Records for ‘Gateway to the Mysteries”?

We moved to Third Mind because we had come to know the label via the CD released by “Heavenly Bodies”.  We loved that album and listened to it a lot. Obviously In the Nursery were  also on the label as well as Attrition and Edward Ka Spel (Legendary Pink Dots). Third Mind appeared to be a very good record label with quality artists. Third Mind were aware of  Eden. We were offered a recording contract when it became apparent to Third Mind that Eden was attracting the interest of the American alternative music press. Third Mind had been sent 4 track demo’s of  new songs such as “Heads on the Hearth” and “Saint Genevieve’s Dance”.

There was a shift in the late 80’s to broadening your instrument base, dropping the guitar, picking up the hammered dulcimer, lute, harp, “saz” and “oud” and adopting more of a Middle Eastern/Gothic feel.  First tell us what a “saz” and “oud” are.

Well the Saz is a long necked lute. It consists of three double or triple courses of strings.  In essence it’s a little like playing a 12 string guitar (which also uses double course strings). The Saz is a modal instrument and lends itself to droning eastern style melodies. It is the key national instrument for folk and popular music in Turkey. That said this instrument is not exclusively Turkish. The Armenians also have their own version of the Saz as do various Eastern European countries. You will also find it in various parts of the Middle East. There are Saz makers and players in Israel where this instrument plays a role in native Israeli Oriental music. The Saz is a bardic instrument well suited to the singer songwriter who has a poetic heart with oriental sensibility. The Oud is the large pear shaped lute with four sets of double course strings made from nylon or gut. It has that distinct “crying tone” you hear in Middle Eastern music. Personally I prefer the sound of the Saz.

Was this movement style including adding members for live shows somewhat mirroring what Dead Can Dance was doing?

When I first read this question I wasn’t quite sure what to say as I have not thought about the ambience of my past creative life circa 1989 for many years. In addition, it has been many years since I have thought about Dead Can Dance as I do not listen to their music these days.

Dead Can Dance, like Cocteau Twins, have been a prime influence and motivator for many musical artists. Meaning that in the 1990’s through to now we have seen various niche musical movements develop which have moments of brilliance but for the most part, quality wise the output is second or third rate. Cocteau Twins and DCD sounded great because they wrote quality music, worked with a record company which ensured that they recorded in professional recording facilities and worked with talented sound and production people. The magic of their releases was an overall process where every stage, including cover art, involved creative visionaries and craftspeople. Whereas, in the musical sub genres inspired by the early 4AD artists we mostly see small independent record companies releasing music that does not have the same crafting. The resulting product often sounds something like a 4AD karaoke concept – a sequenced backing track with a non-descript soprano warbling along with the music. And yes most of these cd’s are recorded at home or in small independent studios where sonic magic rarely happens. I’m describing this possible scenario because I found it quite disillusioning that Eden had to release its work side by side with artists whose artisanship was not on the same page. Time and time again we would submit a track to a cd compilation. Sonically and musically speaking the Eden track would be a world above most of the other artists on the cd. Our recordings sounded good because it was important to us to create something of aural beauty.  To aim for anything less would be musically and philosophically disparate with Eden’s work. Highest achievable production standards was always a key central philosophy of Eden’s work. We always wished to improve the standard of production on each successive release.

Going back to your question, my point is that there was only one ‘Eden’. Picture an alternative reality where there are only two groups playing the blues: one being “Dead Can Dance” and one being “Eden.” We were two different but stylistically related groups, which had come from the same Melbourne music scene. I began playing in groups in late 1981. I am a contemporary of Brendan and Lisa. The key difference being that I was a teenager when they were in their twenties. Back then both Brendan and I were inspired by Joy Division, The Jam, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Walker Brothers and more. As a teenager, and in my 20’s, I was certainly inspired by Dead Can Dance, initially by their live work in Melbourne.

Dead Can Dance utilized the Yan Ching, Hurdy Gurdy, Concert D whistle, Saz and Harp. Eden worked with a European hammered dulcimer, a Rebec (Medieval violin played horizontally), The Oud (Middle Eastern gut strung lute), Bowed Psaltery, Steel Strung Bardic Harp and Saz. Speaking of the Saz, I was playing and writing with this particular instrument before Brendan. Brendan and I chatted about this instrument back in 1989 and 1990. When I visited the UK in 1990 I was going to stay with Brendan in Ireland. Instead I hung out with him in London as he and Lisa were finishing the recording of ‘Aion’. Brendan had bought a Saz from an ethnic music shop in London. He was asking for a few tips and insights about the instrument. I was horrified when he showed me his Saz because he had removed the frets and was putting them back on the Saz neck so that the instrument would only play in a Western scale. In one way this is a feasible approach. On the other hand a part of the instrument’s charm is working with its Eastern scale.

Obviously Dead Can Dance are the parent of a particular musical form. Eden was a sibling as opposed to a child of Dead Can Dance. They were a sister group. Lyrically DCD often came from an intellectual or theosophical stance. My lyrics were quite different. I concentrated on the sensual, dreaming, mysticism and the greater or lesser aspects of love. Personally speaking and from the perspective of the present, I was and still am more inspired by Robin Guthrie’s work. Even so I do not meditate on Robin’s work. I’ll hear his recent cd’s and think “yeah that’s great”. I’ll take that inspiration away, sit down and write an unrelated guitar riff or spend hours refining the unique personality of my guitar sound which these days is based on a deeply reverberant baritone twang or soaring ragaesque delay runs. Equally my inspiration comes from other sources; many not relating to music. What do I enjoy listening to at the moment? Early Durutti Column – I adore LC and Another Setting. I have had a returning love affair with these two LP’s since they were released when I was a teenager. I love Hope Sandoval’s two solo cd’s.  I’m crazy about Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61” and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”. At this time I love Donovan’s song “Hampstead Heath Incident”. I also love the Israeli artist Efrat Gosh, especially her second LP “Forgiveness and Me”. Serge Gainsbourg, Air, Beck, John Martyn & Charlotte Gainsbourg are my greatest musical loves of the moment.

In 1992 you had enough material for a full length to be entitled ‘Wearyall’.  The failure of Third Mind to release the recordings as a CD was disheartening to say the least.

Yes I would agree with that statement…lol. Most of the material for the “Wearyall” full length cd was recorded on 24 track tape, though the recordings were never finished or mixed. Three instrumentals featuring Middle Eastern percussion, Saz and bardic harp were scheduled to be recorded but never were. Some of the pieces on “Healingbow” were actually intended for “Wearyall”. Wearyall would have been a very interesting cd and would have showcased an excellent phase of Eden’s musical development that in retrospect is under-documented. Third Mind indicated that they were intending to send an advance for the recording of  “Wearyall”. We waited for the advance for a number of months and decided to start recording the cd via self financing the recording sessions. We had been playing the Wearyall material for a good twelve months before we went into the studio. The situation dragged on another six months and by that stage the material had become stale. We were starting to write new material for the next phase of Eden’s musical evolution. Wearyall had started off as something incredibly progressive but became something incredibly stale (to us). Obviously the music should have been recorded while it was still fresh and exciting. In hind sight it would have been better for us to have not waited for a recording advance. But you can’t blame us as we believed that we had a recording contract and would be supplied with a recording budget. We were becoming tired of the burden of having to find thousands of dollars for recording; financed from our pocket. Meanwhile Third Mind had been bought by Roadrunner which obviously signalled the end of Third Mind.

You contracted glandular fever in ’93 and were ill for several months.  However, being sick did not stop the creative juices, eh?

No it didn’t! I literally came down with glandular fever during the 24 track recording session for the first ‘Sunwheel’ song. I was recording the guitar solo and began to feel incredibly weird. After I had finished recording I lay on the couch in the studio’s control room. I was wearing my beloved black fur coat while shivering and sweating. That night I was horrified to discover that the glands on my neck had swollen to nearly the size of a golf ball. This began three months of being intensely sick. After the first few weeks when I was completely incapacitated I sat in my bed and began to write songs on my acoustic 12 string. The first one was “Why?” When I wrote that song I was thinking that it might be a new song for “All Things Unseen” as we were thinking about reforming to record a full length cd. Obviously “Why?” became a track for Eden’s “Fire and Rain” cd.

Throughout the life of Eden you witnessed various personnel changes.   If you could put together your A-team of players, the best of the best, what would that band look like?

Eden’s life has not ended yet. Not unlike Mazzy Star, Eden has been on a sabbatical for some time but the story has not finished yet. There will be more to come… I’m writing and demoing new Eden songs as we speak.

The new Eden will consist of new players. Ronny K. Bowley (my wife) and myself will be there for sure. Ronny is a keyboard player with a unique feel I admire. I’m also pretty excited about a bass player I may be working with as he has an incredible musical history including touring and recording with Bert Jansch, who’s work I greatly admire. Not to mention that Bert at one point was a musical colleague with an artist I have long adored – Nick Drake.

My ‘A-Team’ of players? That’s an interesting question. The Eden line ups which I personally enjoyed the most were the following –

Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitars

Tracey Ellerton – 12 String guitar

Ewan McArthur – Bass

Peter Barrett – Drums

And

Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitar

Maria – 12 string guitar

Stephen Wattie – Bass

Peter Barrett – Drums

I liked these two line ups because they were line ups which utilized live musicians who played well together. I don’t like the idea of stating who should be in the Eden ‘A team’ as I appreciated everyone’s input and no doubt each member enjoyed the experience to a greater or lesser degree.

But this is a light hearted fun question and I will put together a line up. If this where a perfect world and there could be an Eden built from past players I would like to try the following –

Sean Bowley – Vocals, 6 String Fender Jazzmaster guitar, 12 String Rickenbacker guitar
Maria or Tracy Ellerton – Acoustic 12 String guitar, 12 String Rickenbacker guitar
Carl Carter – Bass

William Carter – Arp Omni Strings Keyboard

Peter Barrett or Ingo Wieben – Drums

Interesting as this Eden would essentially be “All Things Unseen” with an added guitarist.

In a perfect world I would like to make music with –

Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitar, Mellotron and Arp Omni strings

Ronny Kramer – Keyboards

Andrew Kutzer or Ryan Lum – 12 String Acoustic guitar

Will Heggie on Bass

Des Hefner- drums

I’m sure that this line up will get you going as it includes a past Cocteau Twin/member of Lowlife, Dead Can Dance’s original drummer and Ryan from Love Spirals. This players would make an impressive ethereal cd.
A recording from this line up would likely be something that ethereal music lovers would be waiting and dreaming for.     

I find it intriguing that you cite Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” as an impetus for you to fall back on the guitar more so in your writing and performing.

It was Joy Division who inspired me to truly want to become singer/songwriter. I was in my mid teens when I first heard them. Before that moment of revelation I had been listening to bands from the 60’s whom I would describe as instigators of the ethereal psychedelia. I’m speaking of bands such as The Doors and The Electric Prunes. I was a teenager who shunned the popular music of the time and looked back to the highly evocative music of the mid to late 1960’s. Discovering Joy Division brought many elements together. It enabled me to see that moody evocative music had a part to play in contemporary music. Further to that the post-punk music movement was all about breaking rules and that anyone, who wanted to, could play a musical instrument and be in a band. It was a very self empowering time. It was the spark that led me to believe that I had the right to write music and lyrics. I had this creative desire burning brightly and insisting that I do something. That wild creative energy has remained by my side ever since.

Tell me about the recording of the “Fire and Rain” CD and the newfound technology of high end equipment used.  All in all, were you pleased with the sound that you attained?

Ah you are an insightful one, aren’t you – always asking interesting and valid questions. Actually I don’t think anyone has asked me this question before and it’s a central issue in my musical development. The short answer is “YES”. I was extremely pleased with the sound of that cd. For me; it is the best commercially released example of the sonic magic that I seek to attain when making a recording. “Fire & Rain” was a major life experience of a Cathartic nature for me. Eden’s earlier work had had a wonderful mystic spirit. Sadly the earlier recordings missed the sonic mark I had dreamed of due to the lack of the required outboard gear, and access to capable sound engineers. I have had a deeply passionate love of music since I was a child. Eden was not attaining the sonic mark I could picture in my mind. During the earlier recording sessions I had repeatedly played cd’s of artists I loved to sound engineers and asked them “how were these sounds created?” They would repeatedly give the impression that they had no idea how the sonic magic I admired was created, nor were they interested in equalling it. To the contrary they would make comments to the effect that the extensive use of reverb or compression was a sign of bad engineering and they wouldn’t do it. I guess they had their way and they wished to stick with that. At the end of the day I was not playing them examples of bad engineering. I was playing them recordings that were character driven. These recordings obviously were highlighting creative engineering…something Melbourne could not offer its Artists at that time.

Talk about Adam Calaitzis’ willingness and indulgence in creative production.

In regard to “Fire & Rain” more was at play than just the engineering. Before that point Eden had been a band which relied heavily on sequenced backing tracks when playing live. In 1994 Eden ditched this format and re-imaged as a four piece outfit that rehearsed frequently striving to be a very good totally live ethereal outfit. This in part was a personal rebellion against the earlier version of Eden which relied on sequenced backing. My formation as a musician had been with “All Things Unseen”. That band was all about playing live ethereal music. I had missed the drive and flow of playing in a fully live band. Ethereal guitar bands are a very rare commodity. Those which play in a completely live fashion are even rarer. In late 1993 I saw Siouxsie & the Banshees play live in Melbourne. Their performance was absolutely amazing – incredibly powerful and they demonstrated a professional orchestration to their set rarely attained by the majority of live bands. I went away from the show feeling incredibly inspired but also a little depressed because I no longer wanted to play in a band relying on sequenced tracks. Melbourne had several bands at that time who were heavily reliant on sequenced backing tracks when playing live. To me, live music was becoming a little like karaoke. Around this time I saw The Prodigy. They too seemed like live karaoke. Compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ performance, in my eyes, they were incredibly underwhelming.

The Siouxsie & the Banshees show was integral in inspiring me to begin writing new material designed for a fully live band. I began work in earnest on new songs. Initially I was writing these new songs thinking that they may be new material for the reformation of “All Things Unseen”. In actuality these new songs became “Fire & Rain”.

As a side note, circumstance enabled me to meet Siouxsie after the show. I was very impressed with her. She was a very interesting character. I ended up going on an all night drinking binge with Budgie and Martin McCarrick.  Martin McCarrick was the pick of the bunch though. When he discovered that we had a mutual friend in Lisa Gerrard he launched into a wonderful discussion reminiscing his part in the recording of “Spleen and Ideal”. I related well to Martin – he was my kind of person. In a perfect world he would be someone I would love to work with.

Getting back to Adam Calaitzis, as previously stated, Eden was hard pressed to find a producer or engineer in Melbourne who could render the rich atmospheric setting our music required. Luckily we discovered Adam’s small home studio. These days he runs an impressive fully equipped professional recording studio. “Healingbow” onwards his studio was geared up quite well. For “Gateway to the Mysteries” his studio was more like the traditional old school home studio – it looked something like the inside of a Tardis. He was running an Akai 12 track recorder in his living room and recording the musicians in his adjoining dining room. The two rooms were divided by blankets hanging from the ceiling. The great thing about Adam, right from the start, was his interest in experimenting with the recording and production processes. He understood where we were coming from. This may have partly been because he had played in a band in the 1980’s and was familiar with the English school of sound engineering  During the recording of “Fire & Rain” Adam recounted that he had been working on a cd for a Death Metal Band. All of a sudden the band were freaking out at the way he was producing their music. Adam realized that he had begun to give this death metal band the “EDEN treatment”. So he turned down the lexicon reverb etc to give the metal heads what they needed. At that point in time the creative and unusual had become the usual for Adam – working with Eden had that effect on him. Both Adam and Eden mutually enjoyed a continual creative flow when working together. With each release we worked hard to reach creative heights not previously reached.  We made good use of everything on hand. Meaning we would create ambient textures spontaneously by hand. For example it was raining one session and I had this idea to play rain drenched vines growing outside the control room’s backdoor. We placed microphones near the vines and I played them with drumsticks. We then reversed the 24 track tape, increased the tape speed and applied loads of Lexicon 224X reverb. When the tape was played back at correct speed (and around the right way) we had an ambient texture that worked for a given track. We experimented in a similar fashion on a number of occasions and came up with great results. We used to love thinking up these scenarios and seeing if they would work. In most cases they did. You can imagine that this sort of creative play is far outside the usual rock band recording setting. In summary Adam Calaitzis called his studio “Toyland” for good reason. He has a passion for working with quality audio gear. He enjoys pushing the sonic boundaries and in constantly improving the sonic qualities of his work.  In any case, this is how I found him to be when I worked with him.

You call the 1996 recordings “Midnight Sun” CD and the companion EP “Stone Cat” more angular in design.  Explain. 

Well maybe I once described those cd’s as sounding ‘angular’. Time passes and I’m not completely sure what I meant in using that expression except maybe I was conveying that the material on those cd’s was harder edged/harder hitting. The production ethic was taken to greater heights and I certainly gave my all when those cd’s were produced.

Do you think the engineers/producers in and around Melbourne were beginning to bridge the gap a little between their capabilities and your vision for sound?

Absolutely not. I do not recall hearing any recording made in Melbourne in the 1990’s that made me think “at last Melbourne has a recording engineer of the same calibre as John Friar, Martin Hannett, etc.

Aside from Eden you have written for and performed with various other artists.  Talk about how you met Daevid Allen ex-Soft Machine founder and how you contributed to one of his albums.

I first met Daevid in 1984 at ‘the Cafe Jammin’. This was an old school Hippy Cafe and Daevid ran a night at this cafe which I think was called “Dreamtime Dub”. Essentially anyone attending the night was invited to get up and perform.

It had been a happy accident that led to me discovering that Daevid Allen was in Melbourne and running this weekly event. A mutual friend supplied me with Daevid’s phone number. I rang him and told him that one of my favourite LP’s was “Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life”. Much to my surprise Daevid told me that he had not performed any of these songs in years. This surprised me because as music listeners we all have an immediate response and relationship with music we love. You don’t stop to think “Hey this music is no longer performed by the artist who created it”. I turned up to the next “Dreamtime Dub” night. Firstly I was amazed to see Daevid Allen in real life as he had been a musical hero and all of a sudden he was a tangible entity as opposed to a face on record sleeve. Meeting people whose music you love can be a really freaky thing; it’s usually quite uncomfortable. Not so on this evening as Daevid performed “Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do” as a result of me getting him thinking about “Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life”. I don’t quite recall how but some months later I ended up at a restaurant with Daevid Allen and his girlfriend. David recounted wonderful memories of Soft Machine playing gigs with Syd Barrett &Pink Floyd  & The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at the UFO Club, Roundhouse etc. He spoke of one gig (may have been the Roundhouse) where Soft Machine and Pink Floyd played simultaneously at opposite ends of the venue. I remember Daevid saying that Syd had a wonderful demeanour. When playing live he had this look about him which appeared to convey that he seemed to be in a permanent state of embarrassment; a coy and endearing shyness of a sort.

We go forward many years to 1992 and I walk straight into Daevid Allen outside the Supermarket in Auckland Street St Kilda. Daevid remembered me even though by this point I had transformed from a middle class high school student into quite a way out individual sporting purple bell bottom trousers, silver paisley shirt and wild long braided hair. He invited me to play on a recording session for his new cd the following week. I turned up and waited outside the studio door. I remember listening to Daevid singing in the studio and was amazed that I was in this crazy situation where I would be playing on one of his sessions. When invited into the studio, Daevid sat me down and instructed me to be as silly as I wanted because he was going to be even sillier. Daevid as a personality is nothing short of inspirational. He is a global treasure and has given the world a lifetime of innovative thought through music. He deserves to be highly rewarded. I wouldn’t say that he has spent his life dwelling in the fringe as he really is the fringe. He’s the monarch!

Another curious teaming with Peter Daltrey of the late 60’s band Kaleidoscope and the more progressive Fairfield Parlour.  You’ve co-written a couple of songs with Peter and possibly more in the future.  By the way I have the re-released double cd “White Faced Lady/Home To Home” and both are fabulous.  Not a bad song in the batch.  Very much underrated band.

The 1960’s was an intriguing decade. We experienced creative revolution on a culture wide scale seemingly impossible to attain these days. Rules were broken and for a brief period of time creative expression became an everyday norm.  The powers that be did not fully grasp what was happening. Counter culture was simultaneously under and over estimated.

In the 1980’s we began to see the re-release of all manner of seemingly forgotten recorded works from the 1960’s. It became very apparent that there were scores of wonderfully unrecognized artists from this era. Among all these gems surfaced several amazing discoveries. The catch phrase  “Oh my God; how did this artist get overlooked” became quite common in music loving circles. Nick Drake is a now a well known example of a once overlooked super-talent. Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett were well known in their day. Peter Daltrey’s band, Kaleidoscope were known but for seemingly for no apparent reason they were overlooked.  Peter Daltrey’s talent (and enigma) is equal to Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, Daevid Allen, Bert Jansch etc etc. OK that’s a bold statement but its true enough. He still hasn’t had his day in the sun…surely it will come though. And if it does not, it is most significant that his music has and will ignite the creative heart of many a listener. And really this is the single greatest thing any artist can achieve.  A few years ago Peter Daltrey, myself and Andrew Kuzter wrote two songs together. Peter was at the helm in regard to the writing and arranging. Both of these songs are wonderful shards of haunting introspective beauty. I hope that we eventually have the opportunity to record and finish these songs. Let’s see what happens…

You moved stateside for collaborations with Love Spirals Downwards, another one of my favourite bands.  Was this sort of a sharing and uniting of label mates’ visions based on the Projekt Records common denominator?

When I was in the states in 1996, Ryan Lum invited me to stay with him. The idea was to write and record an album together. We did not get to the final recording stage as we did not have enough time to do so. Years later Anji Bee heard some of the demo’s and saw potential in them. A couple of the tracks made it onto a Love Spirals cd. In a perfect world it would have been great to have rearranged and re-recorded those tracks. In hindsight I would have suggested that Anji sing the lead vocal. At the time, as a writing team, we did not have the opportunity to think this equation through.

How did you come to work with the German band Place4Tears?

I met Tyves from ‘Place4Tears’ via myspace. One thing led to another and he invited me to add vocals to one of his songs. Eventually he sent me the digital multitrack and “Tears of Avalon” was remixed in a wonderful high end recording studio owned by Simon Bowley and Tristan Upton. Hence the fat analogue luxuriant sound that eventuated for “Tears of Avalon”. The song was mixed on a classic mid 1970’s British recording console and treated with a Lexicon 480XL, Urei 1176 compressors etc. The finished recording of that song has an absolutely wonderful sonic quality absolutely impossible to attain from digital recording software on its own.

Along with song writing, playing and performing you also write some very nice poetry.  Is there a difference in the way say you write poems vs. how you compose lyrics for a song?  In writing poetry do you have in mind the words being put to music some day?

Yes there is certainly a difference, for me, between writing poetry and writing song lyrics. Poetry is a far less constrained form and in essence it is very ‘stand alone’. Poetry is at the heart of the Troubadour’s soul. It can be read, spoken or sung. Yes many of my poems become songs. I rewrite  poems so that they may work in the song format. For me – in song – less equals more.

What is the most challenging musical instrument you have played?  What is your all time favourite?

The Oud would be the most challenging instrument I have sought to play. This would be why I don’t play it anymore…lol. Second to that would be the Harp. I played medieval steel-strung Bardic Harp for around three years. It was quite challenging to play but I loved the instrument and I kept working at it until I had established the basic stills of a self taught harpist.

My all time favourite instrument has been the 12 string guitar as it feels natural in my hands. I have always had difficulty in playing six string guitars, though I may have remedied this problem as I finally fell deeply in love with my Fender Jazzmaster. I now feel very comfortable on that guitar and I’m creating the tonal textures that I need for the ‘here and now’ with this instrument. Consequently I have not played 12 string guitar in nearly a year.

Where is the most unusual place you have ever recorded a song?

When writing songs I find that melodies or words can come to me at anytime. I used to carry a mini recorder with me and I would quietly sing words or hum melodies into its built in microphone as I was walking along, taking a train etc.

The inspiration to write music – where does it all come from?  Do you write lyrics to compliment the music or vice versa?

Where does inspiration come from? This would have to be one of the classic age old questions. I have read comments from many creative people and many have said the same thing that I believe. Creativity comes from a place beyond time, space and ego. When you create you transcend the everyday and for a time you are in a place where you are free from yourself and everything surrounding you. One of the interesting things about being creative by nature is that you keep finding yourself creating something. The “you” has little say in the process – it just happens when it happens.

Yes I do write lyrics to compliment the music. Though it can work quite differently. I have begun with the lyrics then written music. I often write lyrics and music independently of each other and work out how they will work together at some point further down the track. I like to write a series of related pieces of music as though they are simply instrumentals. Later I will reshape these musical ideas into songs. Often this is because I find the creative process for writing words and music related but different. Often the inspiration for writing lyrics strikes at a different time to when I write music. Though it can also all happen at once. I have set ways of working but I seek to remain open to the possibility that an entirely new way of writing a song might suddenly make itself available to me.

The essence of creativity originates beyond self ; of this I am quite certain. The diverse terrain covered in the progression of life we might describe as the map of experience. Engaging with life is central to the creative process. Life experiences are like little sparks which ignite creative fires. Life experiences can prize open the door that the poet dives through to seek out pearls of creative euphoria. I find that many experiences make their way onto the palette  of creative experience — the look of the sky, frustration related to the lack of the humane in situations, through to the bliss of a special love found in a secluded and special space which is able to remove daily distraction. I regularly return to certain themes. For example, my life with my wife Ronny K. Bowley is a place where I often find inspiration.

Has Sean Bowley come full circle artistically, creatively and musically?  What’s up the old sleeve for the immediate future?  What avenues have you not yet strolled down (musically or otherwise) that you would like to?

Have I come full circle? If you had asked me this last year I would have said that I couldn’t find the circle meaning I was not in creative mode. In the second half of last year I began to play my Jazzmaster guitar after experiencing a long break of not playing at all. At first I just simply wanted to play the guitar; enjoy the moment. This meant being free from the pressure of feeling obliged to write music. I found myself playing every night and for longer periods of time. I looked closely at my Jazzmaster and worked out that I needed to use very heavy gauge strings to get the nice wiry twang that I like. I also realized that an essential tool for enhancing the rich ethereal nature of my guitar playing was to be found in the Fender 63 Reverb tank, Strymon El Capistan tape delay emulator and a Retro sonic compressor.

Interesting that you ask what it is that I have not done that I would like to do in the future. You hit the nail on the head here as this is exactly how I’m feeling at this time. I want to explore certain things I have not done in the past. Meaning to explore musical formats quite different to what I’ve done. I like the idea of doing a full length cd which comprises four or five songs and several instrumentals. I love how this format works for the Durutti Column’s second LP titled “LC”. LC has been a personal favourite of mine since it was released

Secondly I would like to make an instrumental cd. I listen to a huge amount of easy listening music recorded in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I love the rich cinematic orchestration, the period vibe and I’m fascinated with the tone palette they could capture in the recordings that is for the most part lost or non-existent in recordings today.

I’m mentioning instrumental easy listening as I want to create a cd of ethereal echo laden guitar music. I love James Wilsey’s cd “ El Dorado”. He was the guitarist who originally worked with Chris Isaak. James was responsible for creating that wonderful haunting guitar which was the signature sound for “Wicked Game”. James touts himself as a “Guitar Slinger”: the modern interpretation of retro artists like Duane Eddy, Billy Strange, Link Wray etc. I guess I would like to create a Darkwave ‘guitar slinger’ cd. Picture atmospheric twang delivered in a post Joy Division soundscape and you might just be picturing the cd I want to make. The good news is that I have already started writing material for such a cd.

Lastly, do you still have your Siamese cats?

I still have Tiki; He is sixteen and a half years old. He used to sit beside me when I was writing songs for Eden all those years ago. It is absolutely amazing to see him still sitting by my side when I’m writing in the present. He’s an amazing soul; my best animal friend ever. When you invite an animal into your heart there’s nothing like it – a very special and profound love affair that likely transcends life itself.    

For more info on Sean Bowley check out his website here  http://www.blurredlipstick.com/sean/  

The Deddingtons were a short lived indie band formed in the early 90′s.  Members Chris King (bass), Chris Morgan (guitar), Matt Wright (guitar) and Andy Lucko (drums) had one song represented on Volume 3 of The Sound of Leamington Spa series.  The track “The Last Day” is a nice bit of guitar pop with a layered harmonic sound.  Soon after I had uploaded the song on YouTube, Chris Morgan posted a comment to which I responded regarding the subject of a possible interview.  Chris put me in contact with Chris King and here we are.

Chris and Chris, thanks to both of you for taking time to reply to a few questions.

Where were you guys born?

Chris King: Nottingham

Chris Morgan: Bolton

What was life like growing up in Notthingham?

Chris King: Life was fairly dull really.  If you watch Shane Meadow’s This is England, that’s EXACTLY what Nottingham was like in the 80′s.

Chris Morgan: I loved it, my childhood memories are all ‘golden hued’. The miner’s strike was a big deal at the time.

 

Do you remember the first album you bought?

Chris King: I’ve never bought an album. I try not to listen to music as you end up copying it too much. I did have a load of Beatles stuff, but I mostly listened to my friends music.

Chris Morgan: my dad gave me all his old LPs. I totally fell in love with all the Beatles and Beach Boys albums. Pet Sounds remains my favourite to this day. The first album I bought was Outlandos D’Amour by The Police.

 

Bands/artists you were into growing up?

Chris King: Smiths, Beatles, REM, Sundays, Stones.

Chris Morgan: Beatles, Beach Boys, REM, The Sundays, The La’s, The The, Orange Juice, Talking heads, Teenage Fanclub. The list could go on and on…..

First instrument you played?  Self taught or schooled?

Chris King: Piano, self taught.

Chris Morgan: I was playing guitar at the time, but just for myself which I first learned on my Dad’s old Hohner acoustic. He showed me a couple of chords, and I was off… I migrated to the bass a little bit later.

What was the name of the first band you were in?

Chris King & Chris Morgan: The Deddingtons

Talk about how The Deddingtons came together as a band.

Chris King: My friend Matt who went to enfant school with me started up a band called The Social Divide at school, then we formed the Deddingtons with Chris Morgan and Andy Luczsko.

Chris Morgan: I met Matt Wright when we were both working part time for a supermarket and, despite the funky brown nylon uniform, we recognised each other as groovy indie types. We got chatting about The Smiths, which was our favourite band Matt told me he was looking for a guitarist. I went round to Matt’s parent’s house with my really cheap guitar and bass and before I knew it I was in a band called The Social Divide. The SD seemed to have an almost revolving door policy on it’s members and eventually fizzled out.

At around the same time Matt and I started to play in a covers band, The Losers, which really helped us to learn our instruments. Chris King of the SD played keyboards. It also gained us an ace drummer, in the form of Andy Luczko.  For The Deddingtons, we trialled a couple of singers, who both could hold a tune but didn’t quite “hit it”. We realised quickly that Chris King had the most fabulous voice – we coerced him into becoming our front man.

You guys are not from the Leamington Spa area.  How did you come to be included on the V/A compilation “The Sound of Leamington Spa Vol. 3″?

Chris King: Dunno. someone must have got a copy somewhere. They owe us money whoever they are…….

Any other tracks that you recorded as The Deddingtons?

Chris Morgan: There’s a reasonable catalogue of tracks that we recorded. In terms of names: “She”, “Solitary Sunday”, “Happy Again”, “Sheelagh” and “Naively” immediately spring to mind.

You guys never played live.  Was this your choice as a band or were the gigs elusive?

Chris King: No we ended up getting the wrong manager just as we were getting going. He ruined the band and turned it into the Days. I became the bassist. The Days produced five crap singles and a very crap album and were never seen of again. I was too young to tell the manager to go f  himself. Shame as the Deddingtons really had something.

Describe the makeshift 8 track recording studio.  In who’s bedroom did you record?

Chris King: We turned Matts loft into a recording studio. We had to stop recording every time his parents went to the toilet, as the water tank was next to the drum kit.

According to the liner notes in the aforementioned TSLS compilation, Chris King, you are a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to recording – even comparing you to the likes of Brian Wilson.  Describe the process you undertook when recording.

Chris King: We had a naff old 8 track machine that used to keep dropping out. Everything was done live – before they had computers. That’s why everything is so ‘imperfect’.  We spent a lot of time writing parts and had to bounce everything down every so often to get enough tracks. We recorded on mics from Tandy (now defunct).

Chris Morgan: Chris King is a genius. We had eight tracks and he produced and engineered all the demos – what he managed by bouncing tracks and such, was incredible. It’s hard to say where the songs came from, we tended to work on feel. A couple of us would work something up and then we’d kick it around until it formed. We had the luxury of time: only Andy held down a full time job –  we spent two long, blissful summers doing what we wanted to do. We pretty much kept office hours too, kicking off about 10 in the morning and finishing when Matt’s Mum and Dad announced that they were off to bed!

 

Who were The Days and how did they come to play your songs live?

Chris King: We just got the wrong manager I guess. He changed the format of the band, and we ended up playing crap. Lots of Uni gigs and the London circuit. Utterly pointless.

And Chris Morgan, perhaps you made a good decision in not joining up with The Days?

Chris Morgan: We had enlisted the services of a manager, who I didn’t get along with at all. I dislocated my shoulder, which stopped me playing the bass for a few weeks. The new manager introduced a new guitarist, who was a decent bloke, but without any consultation. I fell out of love with the band and quit – perhaps a bit rash but I was only 20 at the time. I haven’t really spoken with Matt or Andy since, which I regret. After I left, manager-bloke brought his brother into the band and pushed Chris King onto bass.

 

So as The Deddingtons a recording contract never came to fruition?  Reasons?

Chris King: We all went our own separate ways. I took a year off before going to Uni, and the rest of the band got jobs. I guess reality kicked in. Funnily enough I ended up being a TV soundman. I do lots of music interviews and meeting successful musicians (I did Robbie last week) does give me pangs of regret. I did my best, but just didn’t get the break.

Chris Morgan: Well we had a couple of moments where we thought we would get a proper release. We sent demos off around the word and the head of A&R at WEA called Matt up late one evening, saying how much he loved what we were doing and could we send some more tracks. We duly sent off more tracks and never heard from him again…

 

Get us up to date on what you guys have been doing since The Deddingtons.

Chris King: I’m singing for The Legendary Hearts now, but I’m way too old now. It’s all a bit sad…..

Chris Morgan: I joined a Derby band called Saltbox in 1994 and we enjoyed moderate success on the local indie-scene and played in London a few times. We had record company interest and got played on the radio – BBC Radio Derby’s Mark Sheldon (now working at 6 music) was a big champion of ours and even suggest in print that people should “ignore Oasis and dry out with Saltbox”. How’s that for a press-clipping? I’m currently recording some solo stuff, mainly as a hobby, under the guise of Reporters. My wonderful kids and wife , as well as work commitments are the main focus now I’m old and boring!

Chris Morgan, exciting news regarding a new video of old Deddingtons material.  Get us up to date and talk about the video being assembled from the dat tapes.

Chris Morgan: Chris KIng and I have always lamented the loss of The Deddingtons. The interest that we’ve had from around the world, thanks mainly to you uploading “The Last Day” onto YouTube, has spurred us to try and make sure that people get the chance to hear a bit more. We’ve got bits of video, photos and the like and we’re going to try to make something interesting.

Glad I could be of assistance in uploading “The Last Day”.  Yeah it’s nice to see so many people still interested in The Deddingtons!