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Masters – Bronco Bullfrog

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Masters3

01.  For those new to Bronco Bullfrog, can you give us a quick account of who, how, when and why the band started?

Andy: 1996 (20 years ago – Jesus!). Mike and I had been in The Nerve and Louis had been in The Beatpack, Immediates, Morticians and probably others. He was in garage bands when he was about 10. These bands were playing the same ’60s/mod circuit in London and slowly got to know each other; dogs sniffing each other’s arses, so to speak. I joined Louis’ post-Immediates band Vibraphone sometime around 1990 but left after we were involved in a motorway accident after a gig in Spain. In ’96 all three of us found ourselves at a loose end and decided to try our luck together with something a little different. The garage/psych/mod approach had been mined pretty deep and we’d all started listening to a wider palette of music; country-rock, folk, powerpop, sunshine-pop. The aim was to absorb all of these influences into one cohesive whole while retaining our roots as Who/ Kinks/Small Faces worshipping fanboys. There were no rules at the beginning: if we liked the sound of it, it was in.

02.  You took your name from Barney Platts-Mills’ 1969 film, and your debut LP included ‘Del Quant’, based on the main character. What was it that captured your imagination about that film?

Andy: We’d all discovered the film around the time the band was starting out and I suspect, like many bands, needed a name for a poster in a hurry. It was to hand and it stuck. I had no idea there was a Spanish Oi! label with the same name. We watched the film endlessly and used to run off copies of my third-generation VHS, taped off Channel 4 in the ’80s, for our mates. When we were writing that first flurry of songs, it loomed large in our world and that’s where the lyrics to ‘Del Quant’ came from. Louis and I wrote it in the kitchen in the house we were sharing in Fosse Road South, Leicester. ‘Down Angel Lane’ is also named after a street in Stratford that appears in the film.

03.  Your debut album, Bronco Bullfrog, came out in 1998 on the small independent Twist label. In the preceding few years swathes of bands with even the slightest 60s echo were signed to big labels and had money pumped into them. Bronco Bullfrog had far more depth, imagination and superior songs (I’m allowed to say this, you can agree….) but got overlooked. Why do you think this was and was it a source of irritation?

Andy: We’ve talked about this a lot over the years (and over the beers) and we’re still not sure. Laziness? Nonchalance? Ignorance probably. When we started there was very little awareness of a lot of the stuff that most bands seem to crave from day one: we had no desire to get signed up or play at certain cool gigs or support Supergrass or whatever. We’d come up through provincial bands where playing to 40 people on a Saturday night was kind of enough. We weren’t chasing any kind of success or acceptance; we were literally doing our own thing. It all felt very insular; us against the world, getting stoned and buying obscure pop and psych records from Leicester market and writing these little songs.

We’d save up our pennies and when we had £150 we’d go into the cheapo studio in Leicester YMCA and cut three or four songs; that was our first album. Mark Le Gallez from Twist asked Louis if he had any Immediates recordings that he could put out. Louis said no but he had a new band, that was that. We recorded a couple more songs and all those short bursts of music on there and Twist put it out. We were on the same label as The Solarflares so all was well.

04.  You enjoyed a greater appreciation in other parts of Europe than in the UK. What were the differences at home and abroad and why do you think that was?

Andy: Again, we’ve asked lots people, particularly in Spain, where we’ve achieved a modicum of success, about this as we have no idea. The over-riding impression we’ve been given is that they like the songs primarily, and secondarily the way we try to put them across, with gusto and without fear of failure! Perhaps our tendency to “over-write” songs, to keep adding more musicality, more chord changes and structural elements, singled us out somewhat. I wasn’t hearing a lot of bands playing songs as naively adventurous as ‘Greenacre Hill’ and ‘7:38’ around that time. Still don’t actually. I guess the balance of downbeat, often melancholic lyrics in a spunky, super-pop framework isn’t that common either.

05.  Talk us through the Bronco Bullfrog albums. Are you self-critical? Some of the songs, particularly early on, appear very autobiographical and personal. What emotions do they provoke in you now?

Andy: Like I said earlier, this was 20 years ago, we were young men writing about the travails that young men go through: break-ups, breakdowns, high times, low times, girls, films, pubs and cake. Life was easier then – we didn’t have responsibilities like we do now.

What I hadn’t done before (as primary songwriter) was to write about myself and my emotions and those of my friends and the world around me. The Nerve was resolutely a psychedelic rock band; the lyrics were, for the most part, meaningless. The wah-wah and the Hammond were more important. It was only when people started telling me how much the words to ‘Paper Mask’ or ‘Sweet Tooth’ meant to them that I started to consider that there might be some emotional depth to what we were doing. Then we’d get on stage and try to be The Who in 1968 and any subtlety went straight out the window!

All three of us are incredibly self-critical of Bronco Bullfrog’s recordings, I can’t bear to listen to anything other than the first album and a couple of tracks from each of the others. They were all recorded cheaply, quickly and honestly – which is the way we wanted it – but that method can result in some rather, er, candid performances. We weren’t confident in the studio and would continually swap instruments if the other guy could do it better. That spirit was lost as time passed. And the red light syndrome always defeated us.

06.  Which three songs would you pick to give the best representation of Bronco Bullfrog and why?

Andy: Tricky. The first batch will always remain the most resonant as they represent a snapshot of our lives and our friendship at that time; precious, life-affirming memories. After that we tried our hand at all sorts of things but ended up gravitating towards a fairly regulation powerpop / power-trio format and some of that variety was sacrificed. Stylistically, a selection that I like would be ‘Paper Mask’ for its emotional heft, ‘Sweet Tooth’ for its blind pop optimism (poptimism?) and something like ‘Down Angel Lane’, ‘History’ or ‘One Day With Melody Love’ for almost capturing the essence of all those ’60s 45s we adore: punch, power, melody and dynamics. And mistakes!

07.  After years away Bronco Bullfrog have reformed in a very gentle manner, releasing a series of stand-alone 7 inch singles and the occasional gig. Tell us about those. What prompted the three of you getting back in the studio? Did you have songs you’d already written or did you write them once the idea had settled?

Andy: I guess we needed some time apart after the band split up in 2004; some growing up had to be done. I’m not saying any of us have grown up but we’re all best mates again now and that’s by far the best thing that’s come out of this reunion.

The singles were a natural by-product of getting back together and not wanting to go straight back on stage; we were more interested in writing and recording a bunch of new songs in as informal and low-key a manner as we could manage. We went to State Recorders when it was in Folkestone, then when it moved to St Leonard’s, as we’d known Mole and Marty since their Mystreated days and liked the rough and ready sound they were busy patenting. I emailed a few labels and low and behold! We’ve done four 45s on four labels so far.

08.  So many bands reform years down the line. People have mixed views about this, what’s your take? What makes a successful reunion, both from the point of view of a musician and a fan?

Andy: I can only speak from my own experience, which is that the whole time we were out of action we were still getting requests to go and play in Spain, Germany and Italy. After a while we realised that people remembered us and maybe we should give it a shot. We did a couple of warm-up gigs late last year to quell the nerves, then headed back to Spain in December and dived in at the deep end at Purple Weekend. We’ve done two tours over there since then and, while we’ve undoubtedly become less ragged, we’ve also realised that playing those songs for 90 minutes when you’re 47 is knackering!

09.  What can we expect from Bronco Bullfrog in the future? More gigs? Singles? An album?

Andy: We haven’t recorded anything for 18 months as we were preparing our sea legs for the Spanish shows. We’re all in other bands too and have assorted jobs and families that require our attention. The plan, however tentative, is to record an album and another single early next year. We’ll probably do it ourselves, in our time and space, on a couple of old four-tracks so a) it sounds more like the old records we dig and b) you can’t hear the mistakes so well.

10.  Finally, your 2013 single for State Records included ‘Never Been To California’ (my favourite track of the new BB-era). For someone whose songs have so often included Californian sunshine pop in their grooves, please tell me this isn’t true!

Andy: Sorry Mark, it is true. Neither Louis, Mike nor myself have been to the US of A so I thought I’d write a song about it and we’d try and make it sound like a Californian sunshine-pop band. Obviously we failed but that’s what Bronco Bullfrog has always been about really: creating something interesting and exciting by failing!

Weblinks:

broncobullfrog.bandcamp.com
facebook.com/broncobullfroguk

Gigs:

Sat 22nd October – Crossfire 29 @ 229 The Venue, London 


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Mark Raison

I've spent three-quarters of my life wandering the mod path with detours down its side streets and dark alleys. From an enthusiastic youth to a still-enthusiastic-but-harder-to-tell grizzled old goat, I've dabbled in all parts of the scene from writing fanzines 'Round Midnight and Something Has Hit Me; to promoting bands; attempting to manage bands; singing in the mighty garage combo The Electric Fayre; putting on indie, psych and soul clubs including Freak Scene, Orange Sunshine, and Shake!; writing liner notes for Reg King releases on Circle Records; and, in fitter times, tucking away the odd goal for the New Untouchables. I still DJ from my box of R&B humdingers but more often you’ll find me tapping away on my blog at monkeypicks.co.uk. I like the poetry of Charles Bukowski and dislike the taste of cheese.

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October 3, 2016 By : Category : Bands Front Page Interviews Music News Tags:, ,
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Masters – The Stairs

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Masters3

The Stairs were truly one of the great lost bands of the early Nineties, championed by Elvis Costello, Paul Weller and many other luminaries, they influenced (along with the La’s), a whole new generation of musicians including The Coral & The Zutons).

We are delighted to have The Stairs headline at Le Beat Bespoke, London, on Thursday 24 March. See full details HERE!

Mark Raison caught up with drummer Paul Maguire  & vocalist and bassist Edgar “Summertyme” Jones.

01. The Stairs first came to most people’s notice after you signed to Go! Discs and released “Weed Bus” in 1991. Can you tell us a bit about the formation of the band and your history up to that point?

Edgar: We were just psychedelically attached friends having a laugh really in bedrooms and bedsits with acoustic guitars banging ashtrays etc . Eventually we were borrowing the only spare time in my bro’s pracky room with a friend Pete Baker (the sleeping mexican on LP sleeve) on bass and me on guitar. Pete didn’t really take to the bass so things were slow. We gradually gained some momentum when I joined in Ian McCulloch’s group on bass (mid 89) and took over the bass duties in the group. Also now we were able to afford are own room and gear.

It wasn’t till we played and handful of our songs at a ridiculously rammed new years eve party (1990) at Mike Mooneys house that we realised that we were capable of pleasing anyone other than ourselves. We got a fortnightly residency at the Cosmos club playing covers & originals. Marc Riley was often in attendance & Alan Duffy from imaginary records came to check us and plans were formulated to record our 1st Ep (later sold on to Go Discs) with them.

Paul: Me and Edgar met on a youth music scheme around 89, we had a similar music interest of 60s garage punk. Ed had a few tunes he had written including weed bus, which we jammed and me and him started there. Ed knew Ged who was on the same music scheme so we roped him in . We skinned up and we got it together. We had our own night every Friday in the cosmos club where we played a set of covers, then we’d dj then we would play our numbers.

02. The first couple of EP sleeves and the shows around that time featured a fourth member, Jason. What was his role and what happened to him?

Edgar: Jason was a friend whose role was originally in his words as personal manager but eventually we managed to Coax him on-stage to play percussion, gob iron & keys as required. I don’t think he really took to the role as he would come & go frequently from the group. The comparisons to Bez & Eric Idle didn’t really help I suppose.

Paul: Jason was meant to be our manager in the beginning, but he wasn’t any good at that stuff. So we gave him a harmonica and maracas which he played. Haven’t seen him for years.

03. Go! Discs seemed to understand where the Stairs were at: recording in mono, strong 60s artwork etc. How was your relationship with them and why did it come to an end? What was their expectation of the band you signed?

Edgar: Thanks to being well-managed at the time by Pam Young we went to them with a strong vision of how we wanted things to look and I think they had fun what with it being a little different from their norm at the time. Our A+R man initially was Carl Smith (chas smash) from Madness. We were his first signing and he was very accommodating and enthusiastic. Unfortunately Madness reformed shortly a few months after our LP came out. With no key man clause in contract that was were our troubles began.

Paul: With go discs we were signed by Carl smith (chas smash from madness) who really loved our band. He got us the deal, liked all the artwork and the mono deal. He understood our band and was good dealing with us.
Then he decided to leave go discs. When Carl left there was no one there who understood the band. They thought we were a bit of a joke and didn’t know what to do with us. We left them pretty soon after.

The Stairs

04. Mexican R’n’B is, quite rightly, regarded is a classic LP. How did you feel about it when it came out and how do you view it now?

Edgar: Why thank you sir! How I felt at the time is a complex affair I’d need Sigmund Freud and couch and a few hours to get to the bottom of that. I’m definitely happier now as it seems to have stood the test of time. We definitely created a little slice of the 60’s in the early 90’s there.

Paul: I loved that album then and I still love it now. I’m very proud to have been involved and made Mexican. We were still all learning our instruments and grooves and singing when we recorded it. I thought at the time and I still think it now that Edgar is a genius. His songs and playing were so fucking cool. We were recording this at a time most of the world was getting into acid house. We wanted to give the general public something else to listen to. Get them on the Weed bus so to speak.

05. People often refer to your marijuana singles – ‘Weed Bus’, ‘Mary Joanna’ – but I’ve always noticed the preoccupation with rain on Mexican R’n’B, at least three songs mention it. Any correlation?

Edgar: I was probably because I was spending too much time in Manchester as their retrogressive shopping experience has always been far superior to ours despite the constant rain!

Paul: Well you’d have to ask Edgar that. Personally I like rain, except when it gets me spliff wet at the bus stop.

06. After being released from Go! Discs you were still gigging, recording and exploring different styles. How were the band developing at that time and why didn’t a second album materialise?

Edgar: Looking back I think we were too eager to move on from the Mexican R’n’B sound (we should have made another 3 of those really) and with having no one at Go to recognise this (not that we’d have listened) and with the copious amounts of weed being smoked I think we just wanted our music to be more mad really both structurally and sonically. The fact that I was just starting wholeheartedly to discover Soul music too just confused matters. We we’re constantly demoing but Go weren’t prepared to let us start a new LP as such. This went on for about 2 yrs and then we left the Label.

Paul: We started to sound a bit heavier, and we got better at playing. We loved touring always a good laugh. But it was hard to get any backing , we weren’t being taken seriously by any record company or music papers. We spent all our money recording the second album, so at the end no one wanted to release it.

The Stairs

07. Viper Records eventually released Who Is This Is. What are your thoughts on that? Is that how you’d envisaged the second album?

Edgar: After leaving Go we thought it a good idea to record the LP ourselves. A long-winded complicated affair with members coming & going. By the time it was done we’d about run out of speed hence it not seeing the light of day till Viper’s release.

Paul: I’m glad we did it, for me it has some great moments. But looking back it also sounds confused,which I suppose we were also at the time.

08. How did you feel about the reaction from your reunion gig in Liverpool? Had you kept in touch? Is it something you’d thought about over the years?

Edgar: Absolutely smashing! We’d all kept in touch but our paths only ever brought us together sporadically but usually only 2 of us in same room at same time. The first rehearsal was great when we kicked into Mary Jo it was more like we’d had 2 weeks off rather than 20+yrs. It was great to see the 2 tiers in our fan base that night. Those who were older and were coming back to see us again and the younguns who were there to witness the legend that got created by word of mouth in the past 20 yrs. The crowd reaction was fantastic I don’t think either tier felt let down.

Paul: The reunion gig was magik, the reaction was just overwhelming for all of us I think. Incredible, old fans , new fans. They knew all the words ha ha. I’ve always bumped into Ed round town when I’m there as I live in Reykjavik. I hadn’t seen Ged for years. We all moved in slightly different circles. I’d been hoping we could do at least one gig for a few years. And when Mike from the Wicked Whispers called me up, it felt exactly right. With the amount of toss that goes by the name of music nowadays, I think you need the stairs in your life.

The Stairs

09. What are the plans for the band now? Will you be recording new material? Any old material we’ve not heard before be resurrected from your archives or will you write from scratch?

Paul: We’re not sure just yet. Anything can happen in the next half hour.

10. There’s a new Stairs collection The Great Lemonade Machine In The Sky out now. Tell us about what’s on that.

Edgar: I’d recently found a suitcase full of cassettes in the loft at my mum’s that I thought had been thrown out when I’d left home way back. The previous Viper comp had come from the collections of friends and colleagues with my own thought lost at the time. So the idea was to create a second volume of ‘right in the back’ . I spent a fair bit of time trawling through them (lots were mix tapes etc.) and mixing down the 4 tracks where available and it was a real nice touch that it all came together in time the reforming of the group.

Paul: I left my copy in Liverpool so I haven’t listed to it yet. But I think it’s old demo tapes and some live tracks.

11. ‘Shit Town’ is a pretty mad single taken from it and might come as a bit of surprise to people who only know Mexican R’n’B. What was the story behind it and is it about anywhere in particular?

Edgar: It’s primarily about Liverpool if I’m right (Ged?). It was definitely one of the finest finds of the suitcase trawling. It was recorded during 2nd LP sessions. What you’re listening to is a remastered monitor mix. It was mixed with the others as Ged had left the group by that point.

Paul: You’d have to ask Ged, It’s obviously about Liverpool. The city was a lot different from it is now. On the other hand…

12. Which are your favourite three Stairs songs and why?

Edgar:

Weed Bus will always be big in my heart as it was my first song written in the Stairs style as such. Although it’s not our song I’ve always been proud of our arrangement of’ You Don’t Love Me. I guess to pick a third from the rest it’d be Right in the Back of Your Mind as its pretty kick ass and stress free to play out live (well for me anyhow?)

Paul:

1. Woman gone said goodbye. It’s just the best of us. Growly, beaty,
big and bouncy.

2. Mundane Monday. I think it’s such cool little groove, and we sing about rain.

3. Skin up. I love playing this live, but it’s a bit tricky to skin up and play the drums at the same time. I used to do it back in the days.

 

Photos: Mark McNulty

Website: www.markmcnulty.co.uk
Blog: www.rivercool.co.uk


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Mark Raison

I've spent three-quarters of my life wandering the mod path with detours down its side streets and dark alleys. From an enthusiastic youth to a still-enthusiastic-but-harder-to-tell grizzled old goat, I've dabbled in all parts of the scene from writing fanzines 'Round Midnight and Something Has Hit Me; to promoting bands; attempting to manage bands; singing in the mighty garage combo The Electric Fayre; putting on indie, psych and soul clubs including Freak Scene, Orange Sunshine, and Shake!; writing liner notes for Reg King releases on Circle Records; and, in fitter times, tucking away the odd goal for the New Untouchables. I still DJ from my box of R&B humdingers but more often you’ll find me tapping away on my blog at monkeypicks.co.uk. I like the poetry of Charles Bukowski and dislike the taste of cheese.

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March 2, 2016 By : Category : Bands Events Front Page Interviews Music News Tags:, , , ,
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Masters – James Taylor

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Masters2

James Taylor was born in 1964 and played organ in Medway legends the Prisoners, making four classic albums between 1982 and 1986. After the band spilt he formed the James Taylor Quartet, initially predominately playing Hammond-heavy versions of TV theme tunes and film soundtracks before developing his own brand of what would soon be known as acid jazz. Taking in jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop, rock and more the JTQ have enjoyed huge success in a near 30 year period which continues to the present day. Ahead of the JTQ’s appearance at the Margate Weekender, James Taylor talks to Mark Raison for NUTSMAG.

01. When did you start taking an interest in music?

As early as I can recall, I remember seeing the Beatles on Top of the Pops in 1968 playing ‘Hey Jude’. I was into all sorts of music from an early age; eclecticism was always my thing and still is now.

02. Where they any musicians in your family?

My uncle had his own band playing sixties soul and my mother and grandmother were piano players and they gave me my earliest musical education. I had my first piano lesson when I was four years old. I was very interested in trying to work out tunes that I had heard on the radio and TV, so no change there really. My brothers and I formed a band playing Stevie Wonder covers.

03. Around the time of recording the first Prisoners LP, Better In Black, you briefly went to university but soon quit. What route do you think your musical path would’ve taken if you’d not made that decision?

Hard to say, I left after a few days when I realised there was no way I could take the whole thing seriously. I wanted to play with the Prisoners. I was not interested in engineering and I was bored of education. It was a scary decision to say to my professor “I want to be a musician” and to turn my back on serious education but I felt gigging was the most exciting thing in my life, so there was not much of a choice really. I still feel the same way.

04. On the first two Prisoners albums, before your Hammond, you got a great sound out of a Casio keyboard.

Thank you. I found the Casio in a keyboard shop and noticed it had a setting called ‘electric organ’. I played along with my 7” vinyl of ‘Green Onions’ and I was able to get a sound not too dissimilar to Booker T. Jones so that’s how I whiled away the evenings. As a sixteen year old before joining a band, I was hooked on all things Hammond-ish.

05. After the Prisoners, how did the James Taylor Quartet take shape and what was your original ambition for the band?

I was pissed off when the Prisoners spilt up because I just wanted to gig, so I put my own band together and just carried on really. You know when things fall apart sometimes it forces you into a new position or way or operating that was unforeseen but that in some way brings you forward unexpectedly. It was fortuitous that Eddie Piller liked our sound and started putting out our records. I was very surprised that other people liked our stuff; I thought I was the only Hammond nut around, turned out there were others.

06. Wait A Minute was a highpoint of the original JTQ line-up and included ‘Theme From Starsky and Hutch’ which is still what many people best know you for. What are your recollections of recording that LP and of Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley from the JB’s who played on it?

We were at a rather posh studio with a very expensive producer. We had a great laugh actually, didn’t want to come home. Pee Wee and Fred were really amazing. They complimented our sound and it felt odd to hear your heroes playing on your own record. I knew ‘Starsky’ would be popular but I didn’t think it would still be doing the rounds now, it’s aged well.

07. With Get Organized came changes to the quartet line-up. After working with the same musicians you’d known from Medway, how was it suddenly working with young jazz musicians known in their own right?

That was a period where I felt a lot of pressure from Polydor to be at the centre of this new emerging musical scene, but at the same time I really enjoyed working with all these great new players. I found a way to use the Hammond alongside all sorts; it was a kind of stretching experience. I felt that the early line-up had sort of extinguished itself and I had to decide how best to go forward. It was very liberating but when you separate from the people who share and understand your musical development closely it’s a shock to discover other people don’t see things quite the same, I had to be flexible. So it was a steep learning curve, it took a while until I found my feet again after the first band finished.

08. That period from the late 80s to early 90s encompassed rare groove, jazz, hip-hop and soul. It moved fast and the JTQ were right in amongst it; making albums at a rapid rate. How do you view those times?

We gigged and recorded flat out so it was tiring but very exciting. I could have taken more time out to examine things a bit I guess, but when you’re moving so fast you kind of don’t want to stop. The band was regularly selling out large venues all around the world. We were considered a very bankable act by the UK music scene and promoters, so we just lived on a bus basically, marriages fell apart, people got stressed out a bit, but it was a non-stop party for the first eight to ten years at least!

09. You had/have a strong reputation as a live act but was there pressure from record companies – when the acid jazz scene was at its height – to have bigger chart success?

Yes. Everyone in the business wanted us to be a vocal act, I was okay with this but instrumentals were always my passion, so it was good to make soul records as long as we could gig Hammond instrumentals as well. We had hits, a lot of commercial success was fun for a while but I soon felt the need to rebalance things and get back into our more core sound.

10. The Template celebrated 25 years of the JTQ in 2011. It’s a great album but you seem to operate more under-the-radar these days.

Thanks, but I wonder why you feel that to be the case? In the last three months we’ve played a week of sold out shows at Ronnie Scott’s, sold out the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Sage in Newcastle, headlined the Liverpool Jazz Festival. These are big gigs and we’ve been played on all the national BBC radio stations. As well as this we’ve recorded an album for TV/film and advertising, another live album for Ronnie’s, and I’ve written and am about to record a huge choral/Hammond piece for Cherry Red. I think you maybe feel we are under the radar because you’re not personally aware of these things. We are still one of the biggest jazz acts in the country and are permanently in demand worldwide, the problem is I’m running out of energy, I’m fifty now!

11. Your recent album, Closer To The Moon, contains elements of classical music. For many ‘classical music’ seems like something impenetrable and intimating, as well as outside their taste. What’s your interest in it?

Closer isn’t a classical record though, it’s just got some of those sounds on it. I’m interested in music which connects directly with me, this could be Stevie Wonder or J S Bach, I don’t really make a distinction. The Hammond works well in a variety of musical genres so I’ll make a record with Billy Childish or with a cathedral choir or Tina Turner, it’s all good. I recognise that classical music is a turn off to loads of people but what can I do? I’m just into it just like I’m into the Small Faces, so I’m excited to represent myself using aspects of the classical idiom. Have you heard those string arrangements of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake?
Classical music.

12. What period of your career so far do you look back on most fondly and why?

I like things as they are now because I have complete freedom musically, so I guess now is the best period for me, it still feels very exciting to play the Hammond on stage, just as it did my first gig with the Prisoners. Being a musician is a privilege and it’s not a thing that I take for granted or shy away from.  I’ve enjoyed my career in music and I’m very grateful for your scene for being so supportive to us for so long. The mod scene got us started really and it’s always great to see mods in the crowd showing the others how to dance and dress. I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions, it’s given me a chance to reflect on many things and I’m very much looking forward to your festival down in Margate. I’ve never played there before so I can’t wait, also pleased to see that we share the bill with other great musicians: Graham, Allan and Simon [Graham Day and the Forefathers]. I reckon it’s going to be a memorable gig.

Find out more info about the Margate Weekender.


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Mark Raison

I've spent three-quarters of my life wandering the mod path with detours down its side streets and dark alleys. From an enthusiastic youth to a still-enthusiastic-but-harder-to-tell grizzled old goat, I've dabbled in all parts of the scene from writing fanzines 'Round Midnight and Something Has Hit Me; to promoting bands; attempting to manage bands; singing in the mighty garage combo The Electric Fayre; putting on indie, psych and soul clubs including Freak Scene, Orange Sunshine, and Shake!; writing liner notes for Reg King releases on Circle Records; and, in fitter times, tucking away the odd goal for the New Untouchables. I still DJ from my box of R&B humdingers but more often you’ll find me tapping away on my blog at monkeypicks.co.uk. I like the poetry of Charles Bukowski and dislike the taste of cheese.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook

April 23, 2015 By : Category : Bands Front Page General Interviews ModJazz News Picks Tags:, , , , , , ,
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Masters – Graham Day

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Masters2

Graham Day, the Medway powerhouse singer, songwriter and guitarist, formed the Prisoners at school in the late 70s and made four albums, including the bona fide classic The Last Fourfathers in 1985, which continue to inspire and thrill today. After a cooling off period following the demise of the Prisoners he headed a succession of bands – the Prime Movers, Planet, the Solarflares, Graham Day & the Gaolers – all tough and uncompromising; his music – granite slabs of his own unmistakable brand of garage rock with tough melodies – eschewing the vagaries of fashion. After the second Graham Day & the Gaolers album, Triple Distilled in 2008, he hung up his guitar until last year when – with long-standing friends and bandmates Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard – he returned, to the delight of his legion of fans, to front Graham Day & the Forefathers, playing songs spanning the whole of his career to date.

What has the reaction been to Graham Day & the Forefathers? Is it what you expected?

It’s been fantastic and pretty unexpected I suppose. We never intended to make it a regular thing but the reaction has been so good we have decided to carry on for a while yet.

You made two great albums as Graham Day & the Gaolers and then disappeared. What happened? What were you doing the meantime?

For me the Gaolers were amazing. I’d sort of retired and had been playing bass with the Buff Medways. Billy [Childish] decided that had run its course and that was that, but my mate Dan from a band called the Woggles was over in England visiting some friends and we met up in London for a beer. He told me I should start a new band with him and the Woggles bass player. Sounded like a great idea so they flew back over a couple of months later and we made the first Gaolers album, Soundtrack To The Daily Grind. There were no real plans to tour as it was a bit of a logistical nightmare with them both being in the USA but it was so good we just had to. It sort of carried on from there. I thought our second album, Triple Distilled, was the best thing I’ve ever done and we did some great tours, but touring takes so much energy and time, and we could never do single gigs as it was too expensive to bring Dan over so we ended up not playing again. I’ve never said it was finished but it sort of fizzled out. What was I doing in the meantime? Retired again I suppose.

What made you get back out there playing again in 2013?

The Prime Movers did our first album, Sins Of The Fourfathers, on a German label, Unique Records. Last year was their 25th anniversary and they asked us to play a one-off show playing that album at their party near Dusseldorf. It sounded like a fun plan but too much effort to just play one gig, so we added three gigs and made it a mini-tour. It also wasn’t interesting or long enough just to play songs off that album so we added a few Solarflares and Prisoners songs to the set. It was so much fun and went down really well so we decided to carry on doing it. But by the end of the mini-tour we’d dropped most of the Prime Movers songs and were playing more Solarflares, Prisoners and a couple of Gaolers songs so it seemed ridiculous to call it the Prime Movers any more. So we came up with the Forefathers because of the Prisoners reference and stuck my name on the beginning just to tie up the fact we were playing songs I’d written in all the bands over the years.

The Prime Movers changed quite dramatically across three albums, most notably with Arc in 1993 which had a strong prog-rock feel. What are your thoughts on those albums?

I love the first album. It’s totally raw and full of energy. We recorded it as a three-piece but never gigged as a three-piece. Fay [Hallam/Day] used to join us on stage for half the set and then started writing songs and was soon with us full time. The band changed pretty quickly due to Fay’s influence. I have no idea what really happened to the sound, it turned into Deep Purple during the next two albums, and live I thought it was great, although pretty self-indulgent and very strange. I was quite happy to go along with it at the time because it was something different but looking back on it I don’t understand it at all. It sounds totally alien and often laughable, like a piss take. When people talk about the Prime Movers I’ve subconsciously deleted those last two albums – Earth Church and Arc – and think of it as nothing to do with me although I’m undoubtedly guilty as charged.

How do you feel about the esteem The Prisoners are held in?

It’s always puzzled me how much people go on about the Prisoners. At the time we did okay in London and France but elsewhere we were pretty unknown and played a lot of gigs to bar staff in mostly empty venues. I never thought of the band as being particularly special; everyone we knew was in a band and it seemed just the normal thing to do. I thought we were pretty good live but never managed to make a record which did us justice. It was the wrong time for our music; the popular thing was New Romantic and recording studio engineers tried to make us sound like the music of the time. We had constant frustrating battles trying to explain what we were about and never getting it. The press mostly hated us and said were out of date and just retro shit.

Have the Prisoners overshadowed your work since?

The adoration people have shown that band over the years astounds me. It’s very touching but has also been annoying at times. Most of the stuff I’ve done since has been fairly well received but totally overshadowed by the Prisoners. Every gig people shout for Prisoners songs and it made me feel like they just wanted a nostalgia trip and weren’t prepared to let me move on. Sometimes people get quite aggressive about it and think I owe them something. Promoters would ring up to offer a gig but they wanted a Prisoners reunion, not the current band. For a songwriter that can be quite damaging, as if my musical career ended at age 22 and has been worthless ever since. There’s no point carrying on unless you really think what you’re doing is the best stuff you’ve ever done and with a couple of exceptions I’ve always believed that. So it has been frustrating to think that no-one else agrees with you.

No chance of any more Prisoners reunions then?

There are still people who want the original Prisoners line-up to get back together, which will never happen again, and it still manages to piss me off. We did some reunion gigs in the 90s and although nostalgic it just wasn’t the same. People have to realise that Johnny [Symons] has never played the drums since so was never relaxed or particularly good when we played and James [Taylor] has made a career out of jazz funk and plays the organ totally differently than he used to; which might be brilliant but unfortunately doesn’t work too well with those songs. Promoters will pay ten times our normal fee to get something which simply doesn’t work, that doesn’t make any sense, and I find it quite insulting that they wouldn’t understand that. The best thing about the Forefathers is that finally I’ve been able to stop fighting against the Prisoners. This is not a new band playing new material; it’s just about embracing the past and enjoying it for what it is. For the first time I’ve been able to appreciate those old songs and have found it quite emotional. Of course we’re now giving the audience what they’ve always wanted so the gigs are no longer a battle and are just one big happy party.

Am I right in thinking you look back at the Solarflares period the most fondly?

I loved the Solarflares. I wrote some of my best songs during that period and also learnt how to sing properly. It started off being quite popular but support dwindled slowly until it wasn’t worth doing it any more. We did some great tours and I look back fondly because we had such a laugh and got on so well together. For the first time we made some records which sounded like the band and I learnt how to produce decent records. I wouldn’t say I look back most fondly at that period; at the time yes, but I’ve enjoyed most things I’ve done and as I said earlier I always believe the current stuff is the best. Following that logic I would have to say the Gaolers was the best period. The happiest period is right now I suppose but that doesn’t count as it’s just a tribute band of ourselves.

If the Solarflares had been your first band in the early 80s and the Prisoners later do you think they’d been judged differently?

Maybe it would be the exact reverse but I’m not sure. There was something really cool about the Prisoners, maybe because we were so young and because of the conflict between me and James which made it explosive at times. I think the Flares were more measured, happier and less cool as a result.

As well as fronting bands you’ve been in Thee Mighty Caesars and the Buff Medways. How was it taking a more back seat role to Billy Childish?

I started playing drums in the Mighty Caesars in 1986 while the Prisoners were still going and I loved it. I was getting pissed off with the Prisoners and loved the freedom to literally take a back seat and bash away on the drums in a cracking rock and roll band without the hassle of singing and feeling responsible for it. Some people got really angry that I did that. When we were gigging one night after the Prisoners split up someone from the audience grabbed me and shouted at me to stop playing this shit and get the Prisoners back together. I never played the drums before but loved it and still do. Same playing bass in the Buff Medways; I loved that for the same reasons. I’m not sure I would like playing guitar in someone else’s band, and definitely wouldn’t sing for anyone else, but on a different instrument it’s great fun.

In what ways are you similar and different to Billy?

Billy and I are very different. We used to live in the same house during the Prisoners days and we’ve always got on really well. He’s much more driven than me, always doing something; be it songs, painting or writing, I’m the opposite and only do something if I’m inclined to. He will record every song he’s ever written and I’m much more self-critical and will bin a lot of stuff before I even play it to anyone else. His life is in the public eye and is a living breathing ‘artiste’ and social commentator; I’m just a normal bloke with a proper job and nothing to say who happens to play in a band for a hobby.

What inspired you to learn to play guitar?

I started off playing bass, playing along to Stranglers and Rezillos songs in my bedroom. When me and Allan started a band in 1978 I found I was too fiddly on the bass and he was a good rhythm guitar player but couldn’t play lead, so we swapped. When I heard Syd Barrett playing guitar on The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn it blew my mind. I discovered how you could make a guitar sound so powerful without being ‘rock’ with loads of unnecessary notes, and it changed the way I viewed the instrument. Similarly with Steve Marriott’s guitar sound and playing, it made me question what a typical guitar player is expected to do.

And to write songs?

I found quite early on that I had some kind of ability to write songs. I suppose it starts off by being inspired by and developing or even copying other people. I’ve found over the years that if you try to do something completely original it’ll be total shit, which is why it’s never been done before. The Prisoners were quite plagiaristic, embarrassingly so at times. Sometimes I did that because I thought a song had a great chorus but rubbish verse or vice-versa and wanted to improve the song. “Midnight To Six Man” is a good example of what I mean. I always loved the song but hated the chorus so I wrote a different one and called it “Be On Your Way”. Generally songs have tended to come to me when I’m trying to sleep at night. I sort of dream about seeing us on stage playing the song and realise I haven’t written it yet. So I have to get up and whisper it into a tape recorder because I know it’ll be forgotten in the morning. If a song doesn’t come together in ten minutes I usually bin it. These days I find it funny to play some of those songs I wrote as an angst-ridden teenager, singing some of those angry misogynistic lyrics now aged 50.

Did you always see yourself as vocalist?

Vocally I struggled for a long time. I never thought of myself as a singer and all the people I loved I tried to emulate to disastrous effect. Phil May, Steve Marriott, all them great soul singers, I quickly realised I wasn’t ever going to be them and had to try to find my own voice. I think I found it sometime during the Solarflares period and I’m only really happy with it in recent years. Just listen to the vocals on Thewisermiserdemelza to hear one of the main reasons I hate that album.

You mentioned about some of the songs you wrote as a teenager. How old were you when you wrote your first album A Taste Of Pink? How do you feel listening back to them?

I think the earliest songs I wrote which made that album were “Say Your Prayers” and “Don’t Call My Name” and I was 16. I still like some of those songs; they have a beautiful naivety and simplicity which can never be recreated. I’ve always been very anal about music and  therefore consequently I’m very narrow-minded. I think that’s why on the whole I was still writing songs with 3 or 4 chords, a guitar riff and a simple melody, recording it in the most basic way possible right up until the last album.

Does song writing come easily now or does it involve a lot of concerted effort? What’s your usual writing method?

I still don’t understand how I write songs. As I said they just come to me. If I sit down with a guitar and say right, I’m going to write a song now, it’ll never happen. I’ve never been someone who always writes songs for fun and have only ever done it when I’m inspired to by having an album or a new band to energise me. I think I’m just essentially lazy. Having said that if we’re recording a new album I’ll probably write a batch of crap first, then the juices will flow and I can normally come up with the music really quickly. Lyrics are another matter completely and I hate writing them. I often used to gig a new song and make the words up as I go along and hope something sticks. The only real exception to that is the last Gaolers album. I had so much fun writing those lyrics as they’re all about touring and past experiences, and some of the best things I’ve written. I absolutely detest some of the shitty lyrics I’ve written in the past particularly about conservation or trying to say something meaningful.

Has the Forefathers got those juices flowing and given you the urge to write any new material?

Not yet. I do have some new stuff I wrote before which was for a possible new Gaolers album and I also started writing an instrumental album but with no real chance of the Gaolers playing again I gave up.

What made you choose “Love Me Lies” as the first single to be released by Graham Day and the Forefathers?

No real reason actually. We recorded the whole set of backing tracks live and when it came to choosing one for a single I just felt drawn to that song.

I assumed it was because you were unhappy with the original on Thewisermiserdemelza. I love that record but you’ve been very critical of it. Why?

Yes I hate Thewisermiserdemelza for lots of reasons. One is the real disappointment with the sound. We had Phil Chevron – rest his soul – as producer; it was the first time we’d had a producer and we had very different ideas about the album. Fair enough but it was our album so he should have listened to us. I’ve already said that at that time studio engineers would try to get you to sound modern and that’s the last thing we wanted. So from the outset we just fought against the engineer and producer. Some conflicts can result in a fiery, energetic battle which can get really good results. This one did the opposite. Secondly I hate the vocals. I just tried to put on some silly gruff voice which sounds completely false. Phil to his credit did try to get me to sing properly but I didn’t listen. It was my 20th birthday during the recording session and I was just pissed most of the time we were there. Lastly I just don’t like many of the songs on the album. I was clearly going through some kind of psychedelic ballad period and just don’t like it.

How has your taste in music changed/developed over the years? What do you listen to now that you wouldn’t have when you were starting out?

I don’t really listen to music that much as I know all my records inside out and I don’t like modern music. I’m cursed by the love of a certain type of recording sound and find it incredibly difficult to like anything if it doesn’t sound like that. I haven’t liked much music since the punk era; although the recording of punk music is really poor I guess I’ve forgiven it because that’s what I grew up with.

What three records have left the most lasting impression on you and why?

Piper At The Gates Of Dawn because Syd Barrett inspired my early guitar playing; The Pretty Things first album because it introduced me to blues, great singing and the ultimate sound of rock and roll; and the Kinks Kontroversy because it showed me how good songs can be.

If you had to pick three of your own albums to best represent your career which would they be and why?

The Last Fourfathers because it’s the best and most representative Prisoners album; That Was Then And So Is This by the Solarflares because we were at our peak then, touring and loving it; and Triple Distilled by the Gaolers because it’s the best album I’ve ever made.

Photos by: © Steve Worrall (www.retromanblog.com)


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Mark Raison

I've spent three-quarters of my life wandering the mod path with detours down its side streets and dark alleys. From an enthusiastic youth to a still-enthusiastic-but-harder-to-tell grizzled old goat, I've dabbled in all parts of the scene from writing fanzines 'Round Midnight and Something Has Hit Me; to promoting bands; attempting to manage bands; singing in the mighty garage combo The Electric Fayre; putting on indie, psych and soul clubs including Freak Scene, Orange Sunshine, and Shake!; writing liner notes for Reg King releases on Circle Records; and, in fitter times, tucking away the odd goal for the New Untouchables. I still DJ from my box of R&B humdingers but more often you’ll find me tapping away on my blog at monkeypicks.co.uk. I like the poetry of Charles Bukowski and dislike the taste of cheese.

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July 8, 2014 By : Category : Bands Front Page Interviews Music News Tags:, , , , , , , , , ,
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Masters – Brenda Holloway

This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series Masters1

Beautiful, talented and possessor of one of the most soulful voices to grace the label, Brenda Holloway recorded sultry ballads and powerhouse dancers for Tamla Records between 1964 and 1967. With Brenda’s hugely anticipated appearance at Modstock fast approaching, she chatted to us about her experience of being a West Coast artist signed to the Detroit hit factory.

Are you looking forward to coming over to London for Modstock?

I’m very excited about this trip, I’m really happy, thank you for inviting me. And The Velvelettes, I look forward to being with them. Those are some beautiful sweet women. They were very nice to me when I went over to Motown. I like to do live shows because you can put more feeling in it. When you have a good crowd you can perform better. You feed off your audience, and they love you, so you have to do a good job.

I think British audiences have always taken you to their heart. Have you noticed that?

I have. When British audiences listen to the music it’s just an everyday thing for them but over here they don’t regard it as hit music because it’s not in the charts at that moment, so it’s a totally different feeling you get, like it’s back in the day when you first recorded those songs. They appreciate the artistry and they’re so happy to see us when we come over, it’s a treat for the artist.

Can you tell us how you came to sign to Motown?

I used to sing and was raised in Watts in Los Angeles and I had a group called the Watesians. This was five local girls who went to high school with me, including my sister Patrice, and we used to sing at Record Hops. When Hal Davis heard about the group and came to hear us. He took a liking to me and took me to a disc jockey’s convention in Los Angeles, at Coconut Grove. I had on this gold pantsuit and gold heels and was singing Mary Wells songs from room to room to every DJ. I sang from about ten o’clock until four o’clock and then said to Hal “Look, these heels, and this pantsuit, I’m getting tired”. There was this group of men that came in to the room, listened, and left. So when told Hal I wanted to go home they came back in. This man spoke out and said “I like what I see and I like what I hear and I want to sign you up”. I said “Sign me up to what?” and he said Motown and I was like “Oh my God!” I was so excited and said “Call my mum, call my mum, and tell her to put on her best clothes as I’m going to sign.” I didn’t ask her if I could, I was just going to do it, but I needed her to okay it. She got dressed up, looked so pretty, and I signed with Motown that day. I was seventeen years old. Berry Gordy told me there was one stipulation to this; I needed to graduate at high school before he’d let me put anything out.

The first record Motown put out was “Every Little Bit Hurts” in 1964 and it was a hit. Was that a surprise?

I was walking around in college, nobody ever noticed me before, but then everybody was like “Are you Brenda Holloway?” I said, yeah, I guess. They said “you have a record out”. I didn’t know, they didn’t tell me anything. They didn’t tell me when they were going to release it. It was only when everybody told me I had a record out, and I got all bashful, and everybody was on me at school. I just stopped going to school. I couldn’t study anyway; I was so excited to have a hit record. I did graduate from high school but not from college, but I later went back and got a degree in dental work.

How did you manage to get on the 1965 Beatles tour of the United States?

When the Beatles had their tour I spoke to Jackie DeShannon, who’d been on their tours overseas, and said “Please Jackie, can I get on the tour, I’ll do anything”. And they called me. I used to go to sleep listening to their records like “Eleanor Rigby”. It was so much fun. We had pillow fights in the air. And John would figure out the meals and say we could have whatever we want. See, I came from a family with one parent, my mother, raising us and we never got enough food, so when told I could have whatever I want, it was so wonderful. I had steak, I had string beans and I had mashed potatoes.

How were your performances received? Did the crowd like you or were they just waiting for the Beatles?

Really they were waiting for the Beatles to come on, I was too. But they did accept me, they clapped and they were happy, but you know, it was a Beatles tour. The crowd broke loose and just charged, the audience looked like cattle. We just threw wigs, and guitars, and everything, to get out of their way. We flew with the Beatles to each venue; they were so down to earth, such good guys.

You were a trained musician. Didn’t you play the violin and the flute and other instruments?

I was going to be a concert violinist before Motown invaded my life. I studied professionally. I just loved the violin. For the first twelve, thirteen, fourteen years of my life I was in orchestras and played symphonies. My boyfriend was my violin. I used to practice in the backyard and dogs would bark and people would be “Can you get off that squeaky thing?” My neighbours hated me. I had to practice outside as my Mum didn’t want to hear it either. But I could really play.

Did you play your violin on any of your records?

I played it on one of my albums, The Motown Anthology. A live version of “Summertime” recorded in Detroit in 1966. I played and I sang and it sounded really very well.

Motown got a good deal with you: you were a singer, a musician, a songwriter.

Yes but everyone at Motown was scared I was going to take their boyfriends. I already had a boyfriend in Los Angeles. I don’t like to have boyfriends at work; they just think they have power over you.

Were all the Motown guys hitting on you?

They were talking to me but I was like “Oh no, I don’t do that”. So they kind of left me alone. I went and practiced my violin by myself. Because I was from the West Coast and would fly in and be in a hotel room and they were doing their own thing.

Did it feel different being from the West Coast and then going up to Detroit? Did you feel any separation from the other artists based in Detroit?

They felt like I was another type of star because I didn’t come from their stable. The girls were kind of feeling I was going to be some kind of competition for them. But I just feel like I always had my own slot, you know. But I became very envious of them with their hits when I got there. Say, when I got to Detroit, they’d be cutting a session with me and if Gladys Knight flew in for just one night they’d cut my record on her, and I’d be like where’s my stuff? That would really upset me and disturb me because I wanted to get all my stuff done too. But I was so young and very inexperienced.

What was Smokey Robinson like to work with in the studio?

He was wonderful. He was very relaxed, he knew everything. Knew all the songs, he could sing them and show them to you. He would let you be yourself in the studio. I did “Operator” with him and “When I’m Gone”, which was a good song for me. If only I’d stayed in the studio with Smokey but I ran away.

At Motown some of the ladies had etiquette lessons and guidance from Maxine Powell. Did you have those?

Maxine showed me a lot of things about how to sit and stand but Berry actually sent me to charm school here in California for a whole year and a half. So although Maxine showed me a lot of stuff, because that was her nature, she just wanted you to be a lady at all times, the major stuff I learned out here.

Your clothes caused some comment as they were different, a bit more hip, than some of the other girls. Did you choose your own wardrobe?

I was so fortunate because my mother had a best friend who owned a dress shop so I dressed out of her store. She was able to go get everything I needed, everything to match, all the new stuff. When I went to Motown I had a full wardrobe and a lot of them didn’t, so it was “What is she trying to do?” I was just trying to sing but I had a lot of beautiful clothes.

I read Berry Gordy thought you were too sexy for British audiences which was why he wouldn’t let you tour over here.

For real? Oh my god, there’s no such thing as too sexy! That’s just somebody’s opinion. No such thing. I don’t know, they just labelled me like that but I never saw myself like that in any way. I was just regular. I didn’t think I was anything special, although evidently other people thought I was.

Did you know what songs you’d be recording when you got into the studio? Did you have much time to prepare or were you presented with them there and then to sing?

I don’t know what the other artists did but I liked to live with my songs. I would come in a week ahead and just stay there and go over and over and over the song until I could put me into it. That was why my songs had so much feeling because I lived with them before I ever went in the studio. Day and night, because I didn’t have any children, I didn’t have any connections with people in Detroit, so all I did was stay there and rehearse the tunes over. So if Smokey cut the record, and I cut the record, it would have a Smokey Robinson feel to it and a Brenda Holloway feel to it. I like to study my songs, I’m not Aretha Franklin, I can’t just go in and sing. My sister Patrice could hear something once and sing it but I’ve never been able to do that.

“Reconsider,” is a great song and one which is huge over here yet didn’t see a release at the time. When where you aware that song was so popular on the soul scene?

Oh, I love what you guys did to that. I only knew about it when I came over to the UK for the first time for the Northern Soul shows I was doing, because it had another title – “Think It Over” – in the United States, but you guys made it “Reconsider”. I like “Reconsider” better because that’s what the song was all about. And “Crying Time”, I forgot I ever did that. My nephew found it on YouTube. “Granny, did you cut this?”

My favourite is “Starting The Hurt All Over Again”. Such an adult narrative to that song and your delivery is so strong, so emotional.

Well thank you. I didn’t have a real happy childhood, you know, because my Mum she worked so hard, she was a single parent and my Father he had so many problems, but that was how I released all my energy was through my singing. If I had something to say I could convert it into a melody and sing it, so that’s how I released a lot of stress, even today. It’s good therapy for me.

“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” was at the end of your time with Motown in 1967 and was a significant hit.

Oh it was a big hit. It sold over four million copies and is still selling. I wrote it with my sister and Frank Wilson, and Berry Gordy was the executive over everything. When I got stuck writing the bridge Frank Wilson was able to put that bridge in there. Berry and I fought in the studio; we were like back and forth. “I don’t want to do it like that Berry”. “You’re gonna do it like that”. The way I wanted to do it was the way Blood Sweat & Tears cut it. I put mine out, it was okay, but Blood, Sweat & Tears somehow got the idea and they really, really did that song justice. I’m really happy but when I go and sing it I have to try and remember how I sang it because theirs is bigger than mine and theirs is more familiar to me.

What prompted you to leave Motown?

Because I was just fed up with not having hits out and everyone around me were having hits. I didn’t have the foresight because I left the company in the middle of a Smokey Robinson session. I could have killed myself. He was cutting all these songs on me and I wanted a hit, like everybody else, but I didn’t have any patience. You know, there’s so much that goes along with the entertainment business backstage. You see a lot of other stuff that goes on that people don’t see and it kind of confuses you. I was a young kid.

After you left Motown what happened to your career?

I just laid it down. I went in the church, married a minister, and just left it and tried to do the best raising my kids but a lot of times we don’t think that if you have a talent you have to use it or it dies out. By me being in the church we have this stereotype of what we think God wants us to do but what he really wants us to do is to use that talent. Then I met this guy in the ‘90s, he was my boyfriend, and he said I needed to be back out there. So I started singing at this high school called Inglewood and then Brenton Wood – the “Oogum Boogum” man – came and he saw me and so I started touring with him. After that I just got back into it and have some friends overseas who were telling me about the Northern Soul and everybody started hooking me up and I did some things for Nightmare Records. So, I’m still singing and thank God I still have a voice and plan to use it as long as I can. It’s really wonderful. I’m just one of the other people until I get over there and I’m a superstar! I love it.

When you look back is there anything that sticks in your memory as highlight: a record, a concert, anything particularly special?

Cutting the album, Every Little Bit Hurts, where I did “I’ve Been Good To You” and “Unchained Melody” and those type of songs, that was one of the highlights, because I did that for my Mother. Then the other highlight was when I first went to Europe in the 1980s and Ian Levine and I wrote a song over the telephone and I really loved it, “Give Me A Little Inspiration”, it turned out so well. And when I first went to Motown and saw snow for the first time in my life and I saw Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Martha & The Vandellas, Diana Ross, Florence Ballad, Holland, Dozier and Holland, Smokey Robinson, Ivy Jo Hunter; that was like being in Disneyland. It was like, if I could just grab you guys and keep you with me. It was such a thrill to see The Temptations, The Four Tops, to see everybody in person. People told me I’d never get on Motown; I was three thousand miles away. When I got to Detroit and I saw the Motown family, it was just too much. It was awesome. So, my life has been beautiful.


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Mark Raison

I've spent three-quarters of my life wandering the mod path with detours down its side streets and dark alleys. From an enthusiastic youth to a still-enthusiastic-but-harder-to-tell grizzled old goat, I've dabbled in all parts of the scene from writing fanzines 'Round Midnight and Something Has Hit Me; to promoting bands; attempting to manage bands; singing in the mighty garage combo The Electric Fayre; putting on indie, psych and soul clubs including Freak Scene, Orange Sunshine, and Shake!; writing liner notes for Reg King releases on Circle Records; and, in fitter times, tucking away the odd goal for the New Untouchables. I still DJ from my box of R&B humdingers but more often you’ll find me tapping away on my blog at monkeypicks.co.uk. I like the poetry of Charles Bukowski and dislike the taste of cheese.

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March 7, 2014 By : Category : Front Page Interviews Music USA Tags:, , , ,
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Masters – The Action (Roger Powell)

This entry is part 9 of 20 in the series Masters1

If ever an excuse was needed to chat about the life and music of mod’s favourite sons, the Action, the forthcoming biography of the band ‘In The Lap of The Mods’ by Ian Hebditch and Jane Shepherd surely provides it. A decade in the making, the book features contributions from all original band members: Reggie King, Mike Evans, Alan ‘Bam’ King, Pete Watson and Roger Powell; over 200 images including many previously unpublished photographs, flyers, posters and press cuttings; first-hand testimonials from fans and musical contemporaries; a complete guide to their gigs; and an examination of how the band’s mod following at clubs like the Birdcage in Portsmouth and the Marquee in London influenced their decision making as a band. In addition, this year also finally sees the release of an amazing new album on Circle Records of Reggie King’s post-Action demos, ‘Looking For A Dream,’ recorded with his ex-band mates during the late 60s. With these hugely exciting projects nearing completion it was a real honour and privilege to share a coffee and croissant with the Action’s drummer Roger Powell.

MR: – It was a wonderful surprise to recently see on the ‘In The Lap of The Mods’ website footage of The Action outside the Royal Albert Hall performing “I’ll Keep Holding On” for the Dick Clark Show. What do you remember about it?

RP: – Not a lot. It was a bit embarrassing to be honest. There were all these people throwing paper airplanes and generally just being shitty and we were miming and we used to hate miming. You couldn’t hear anything and had to pretend you were really getting in to it. We didn’t really like anything like that; we were pretty anti-social, anti-establishment.

MR: – Do you think that might have been why you didn’t go as far as you could’ve?

RP: – Oh yes. When we played with the Move they were saying you’ve got to do all these outrageous things, tie yourselves to railings and wear outrageous clothes, and we thought that was moving towards show business.

MR: – Did your manager Rikki Farr try to push you into a more commercial market and get a hit?

RP: – Yes, we knew we needed a manager as we needed publicity to get gigs. We’d built up a really good following on the circuit and could’ve carried on just doing that but Marquee Artists and Rikki obviously wanted to make money and get the right record for us because we were on £100 a night and once you had a hit record you’d be on £500 or more and go to gigs in cars, have roadies and stay in nice hotels. But none of the records I felt were anything near a hit record or anything edgy enough people would remember. We never felt comfortable going after a hit even though we went along with it putting records out but they weren’t really doing anything. I think “I’ll Keep Holding On” got to number 39 in the charts.

MR: – Was it disheartening to keep putting records out that didn’t hit?

RP: –  It wasn’t disheartening because we were there for the music; we weren’t there for the hit record although all the people around us were getting them: the Kinks, the Small Faces, the Who, Spencer Davis Group, Manfred Mann. It seemed everyone we played with at the Marquee had a hit record except for us.

MR: – Why do you think that was?

RP: – I think because they were doing original stuff and we were doing covers. And we never got an original cover. Something like “Ride Your Pony” would come out in America and someone else would do it in England. At the time we didn’t consider writing our own songs as there was so many cool records to explore we just enjoyed playing them. If we’d had an original cover first we might have had a hit record.

MR: – “Shadows and Reflections” was a very original cover.

RP: –  Yes but it didn’t get played, it didn’t get marketed, no machine behind it. It was who you know not what you know. You needed just the right contacts, like the Who had with Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. They had the key contacts, the money, and were right in with all of the faces of the time, although I think they would’ve hit anyway regardless.

MR: – Having George Martin as your producer must’ve helped.

RP: –  Being with George at Abbey Road helped but although “I’ll Keep Holding On” was alright and “Never Ever” was okay, you couldn’t do it without the machine behind you. You really needed the publicity, to know people at the BBC to actually plug it. And a lot of people bought their records in to the charts. They’d get a little sniff into the charts, once it was there, the DJs would play it, you’d get on the telly and you’d be away.  So from an initial investment of say ten grand you could make it back.

MR: – Mike Evans said when “I’ll Keep Holding On” got to number 39 that was when you needed to start buying up all the records.

RP: –  At that point there was a bit of a woo-hah about it. Early on you had a list of all the special shops they took the chart returns from so you could send boys and girls in to buy a copy of this, two copies of that. There were as many as twenty or thirty record shops in London where they took the charts from, so if you knew the right shops…

MR: – You still managed to get on Ready Steady Go a few times.

RP: –  I think we did it three times. We did it with Pete Stringfellow who was brought down from the Mojo Club in Sheffield to compere it and we played a couple of songs live on there. It was the first time anyone played live on Ready Steady Go and it gave us that appeal for the mods on the circuit and we got a really good following from it.

MR: – The book is titled In The Lap of The Mods, is that how it felt?

RP: –  Someone said it to me that we were in the lap of the mods and I thought it was great, so we used it as the title. That’s how it felt. They’d meet us on their scooters and we’d meet them in the pub before the gigs. We were like mates; there was no differentiation between us and the audience. We were all regular guys; we didn’t put on any airs and graces. It was all, “You got any leapers? Yeah, great”.

MR: – We refer to the Action nowadays as a Mod band but did you consider yourselves Mods? Did you think in those terms?

RP: –  No, I don’t think anybody did. I don’t think people had this idea early on of being this thing called mod. It was just smart blokes. We used to like mohair suits and very smart Italian clothes. We never really had a concept of what it was. I would say we were a sort of soul band.

MR: – The Small Faces had accounts the length of Carnaby Street for their clothes, where did yours come from?  Did you buy them yourselves?

RP: – Yeah, John Stephens, Carnaby Street, all those. We bought them ourselves. There’s a picture of us in the book outside Harry Fenton’s, once we’d put the clothes on and had our photograph taken we had to put the clothes back. “The Action supplied by Harry Fenton” but they never gave us anything. It was the same with drums. If I wanted to play Premier drums I had to buy them, you needed a hit record before they’d give you anything. Keith Moon got a contract with Premier.

MR: – Were you mates with Keith Moon and The Who?

RP: – Sort of because we did a lot of gigs with them and used to support them for quite a while so we were sort of friendly but they were always a bunch of piss takers so I didn’t really want to spend too much time around them. I remember at the press release at the Marquee for “Never Ever” Moonie was throwing peanuts at us.

MR: – Your drum kit had a two bass drum set-up which others also used, where did that idea come from?

RP: – A lot of people may tell you otherwise but I was definitely the first person to get two bass drums at the Marquee. Definitely. Then Moonie got two, Ginger Baker got two, Mitch Mitchell got two, and then most of the other drummers got two. So then I took mine away and just had the one. Buddy Rich had two bass drums and I thought it looked really smart, but it was nice with the tambourine as it gave that off-beat. We didn’t have someone playing the tambourine so when I was playing I didn’t use the hi-hat, just used the bass drum for the off-beat with the tambourine, which was important for The Action’s sound. You could do some amazing things with the two.

MR: – It gave you that good Motown sound. Where were you hearing those kinds of records?

RP: – We got them through Mike’s mum who worked for EMI so she used to get us all these obscure records. We weren’t really into the mainstream Tamla, we were into Stax and really obscure stuff. There was also the DJ at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester. We used to go back to his house after the club to hear them and Guy Stephens used to give us stuff. That’s where we got a lot of the info. Then we’d learn them and try to put our own little spin on them.

MR: – When you did the all-nighters how many sets were you playing throughout the night?

RP: – Sometimes we’d do three sets. Three quarters of an hour each and usually you’d be the only band. They’d be records, we’d do a set, more records, then yet another set.

MR: – There must be a lot of songs you played live but didn’t record.

RP: – In the book there is a playlist of every song we ever played. We didn’t repeat songs in a night. We might occasionally do one twice if it was really popular. We wouldn’t repeat “Land of a 1000 Dances” or anything but “Needle in a Haystack” we might do twice or “Heatwave” as people loved that. We had a good lot of songs and we used to rehearse all the time.

MR: – The collector’s edition ‘In The Lap of the Mods’ includes your audition disc of The Temptations’ “Girl (Why Do You Want To Make Me Blue)” you made for Decca. What do you remember about that and Decca turning you down?

RP: – Nothing! I remember going in to this big executive office at their studios. We played three songs but only one was actually taped which was that one. Jane bought it on eBay. Mike knew it was genuine but was saying it wasn’t, so as to put off the other bidders!

MR: – Did you stay for the all-nighters after you’d played them?

RP: – Yes it wasn’t worth going back. They’d finish at six in the morning and we’d stay up and drive back with a little help so we weren’t falling asleep at the wheel.

MR: – Were you taking many drugs?

RP: – We were all on leapers most of the time because we were doing all-nighters and otherwise you just couldn’t keep going. We got busted at the Birdcage for amphetamines. We were all in the dressing room when suddenly all these policemen came in. Everyone was dropping stuff. I think they found some amphetamines in Mike’s pocket and took him away to the police station so we had to go and try getting him bailed out so we could finish the gig.

MR: – How did LSD enter the scene?

RP: – In the early days we were one of the first people to take acid because it had just come over from America and we knew people in Pond Street who had gallons of LSD. These people came over just to turn on London. And when we were staying with Nick Jones in Bognor this guy came down to turn us on and that was our first acid trip. I couldn’t believe it.

MR: – Was the trip arranged beforehand?

RP: – Yes, it was a party and it was about twelve o’clock and this guy was about to arrive.  We didn’t want to trip with all these people around so we thought we’d better try and get rid of them so we put on a crazy Albert Ayler LP and everyone said “I gotta go now”. He gave us this stuff, I think it was me and Mike, maybe Bam, but not all the band wanted to take it. I remember sitting there about half an hour later and looked at Mike and he looked at me and we just started laughing and laughing and laughing.  It made life so funny and so stupid. We tripped all night and went out to the beach. To be honest it did destroy people, I know a lot of people who didn’t make it. You needed a strong inner core and need to be comfortable with yourself.  We tripped actually on Ready Steady Go, me and Mike and then got spiked afterwards. We’d gone back to this guy’s house and were coming down from the trip and he gave us some toast and we started freaking out again wondering what was happening. He’d put more LSD on it. It was only when he told us that we thought thank goodness for that.

MR: – There seemed such a huge shift from the mod days once 1967 arrived.

RP: – By ’67 all the underground stuff started happening in London with the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road. A lot of the psychedelic bands were self-indulgent nothing.  I didn’t like Pink Floyd or any of those bands, I couldn’t get into it. The all-nighters at the Roundhouse people were all over the place. The drugs had changed. With the old amphetamines everyone liked a chat, wanted to be your mate, it was brilliant. When people were taking acid it was totally different. It’s an important thing drugs and culture, they’re a totally interlinked thing. I mean, but even if the mods weren’t taking uppers they were very chatty, friendly people. At the Roundhouse people were isolated in their own heads, doing their own thing. It was like chalk and cheese. Mod gigs and the Roundhouse, unbelievable difference. I didn’t like the Roundhouse, it was too self-indulgent.

MR: – So what was it like when you were then playing one song for 45 minutes?

RP: – I wouldn’t call it psychedelic by any means. It was more jazzy, rock-jazz, but I liked the three minute things. In the space of half an hour you could get loads of brilliant records rather than one long thing. We lost touch with the club scene after a while, at the end of the Action, and got a bit disenchanted with it. The early days of the Action were the most exciting, when we were playing the Birdcage and stuff like that. That was an incredible time in the clubs.

MR: – When The Action got back together in 1998 it was great it was all original members, which is very unusual. How did that feel?

RP: – It had to be. We wouldn’t have done it otherwise. It was exciting and it felt like there was unfinished business, that somehow we hadn’t really closed the circle.  We knew it wasn’t going to be the same as we weren’t twenty anymore, so we knew it was going to be different but it was still worth doing as it was nice for people to see us again. It was awesome. I’m really pleased we did it as we got to meet people like Jane and Ian, Rob Bailey, yourself.

MR: – On some of the reunion shows you even included a sax player and some percussion; would you have liked to have had a Hammond player or a sax player back in the day?

RP: – I think so, it would have been great. That’s what I liked about Jimmy James and the Vagabonds; they had a nice big fat sound with an organist and a sax but the vocals were the main thing with the Action.

MR: – Did you help arrange the vocals harmonies?

RP: – Oh no, I wasn’t musical at all. Reg used to say, “Just shut up and bang the bloody drums!”  People used to call him Reg, and he’d say “Mister King, to you.”

MR: – Reggie was quite a character.

RP: – Reg was always a bit of wild card. He just started going funny, a bit out of control, towards the end of the Action days. We were playing a gig at the Blue Lagoon and all of a sudden Reg started climbing up this palm tree. The bouncers came up, Reg jumped off the tree, we’re still playing and the bouncers are chasing him around the audience whilst he’s still singing. “You’ll never play here again!” Then he got arrested on the M1 at the Blue Boar services. We’d eaten and had come out and were sitting in the van, ready to go, and it was “Where’s Reg?” We looked around, couldn’t find him and twenty minutes later this policeman comes up and knocks on the window. “Do you know Reg King?  He’s just been arrested for threatening someone with a plastic knife.” I don’t know what it was about, something about where he wanted to eat his egg and chips. Eventually we just decided, a sort of mutual thing, to move on. But he got his head together a bit and we worked with him on his album. The trouble was once we started doing stuff like John Coltrane’s “India” what was he going to do while we played that for half an hour? Stand there and go “Elephants… Elephants”?

MR: – Did you think Reg leaving would give the band more freedom or did you think that was going to be the end?

RP: – No, you just go through a transition you don’t think “Oh I’m changing now into something else.” It was very subtle. It’s only when you look back in retrospect you realise you’ve changed from A to B. So it didn’t affect us that much. After Reg, Rod Stewart was going to join the Action at one point. We knew him quite well and when Reg didn’t make a gig at the Twisted Wheel Rod sang a few songs with us. But it didn’t materialise as he then got into the Faces as they’d had some hits and were bigger than we were.  We also tried to get the organist Keith Emerson. I went round to his flat to ask him if he’d be interested and he said he would’ve been but was just joining the Nice. We got Ian Whiteman and Martin Stone in and became more of a jazz-funk-jamming band.

MR: – How did that go down with your audience?

RP: – It depended where we played. Some people were bored with it; some people sort of liked it. We got to a point where we didn’t know where we were and the audience didn’t know quite what we were doing.  It took us a bit of time to find our direction with Mighty Baby when we started writing our own stuff.

MR: – How long did you keep the Action name after Reg left?

RP: – About six months I think. It was sadly a bit of a mess really. We did want to somehow change. Pete Watson left, even when Reg was still with us people would come up to us at gigs and say “Oi, you’re not the Action!” which was fair enough really because we were doing new stuff we’d written and  we were all wearing Granny Takes A Trip suits. It was a transition period. We started getting into West Coast, Captain Beefheart, Love. Things like “Dustbin Full of Rubbish” which Ian Whiteman wrote was still the Action, but it wasn’t the Action. We didn’t have a new name basically until we went with John Hurd at Head Records and we said we had to change the name and he came up with Mighty Baby, which I wasn’t that keen on as it felt a bit silly but in retrospect it was all right and we then did a couple of albums.

MR: – Do you look back at the periods of the Action and Mighty Baby differently or is it one continuous thing?

RP: – No, as different lives, definitely. The Action was very exciting. The whole scene, the music, the atmosphere in the clubs was brilliant. As soon as you walked in those clubs, the Marquee, the Birdcage, you could feel people were really into it. With Mighty Baby you had to create an atmosphere with the music, you really had to win them over, which was more difficult. With Mighty Baby we were searching, it was a time of introspection and because we’d all downed massive amounts of LSD what we thought was real wasn’t real. Once you’d taken acid, tables were like vibrating with energy and flowers were absolutely stunning, you know. You have to rethink totally who you are and what life’s about. We became like travelling philosophers. I was listening to one of the Mighty Baby tracks on the train coming down, “Tasting The Life”, which is all about seeking, searching, holy islands.  Whenever we’d do gigs as Mighty Baby if there was a castle we’d go there, Stonehenge we’d stop there, so we were always seeking some meaning in life through our music. In Mighty Baby we were analysing life, who we were. In the Action we weren’t, we were just being the life.


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Mark Raison

I've spent three-quarters of my life wandering the mod path with detours down its side streets and dark alleys. From an enthusiastic youth to a still-enthusiastic-but-harder-to-tell grizzled old goat, I've dabbled in all parts of the scene from writing fanzines 'Round Midnight and Something Has Hit Me; to promoting bands; attempting to manage bands; singing in the mighty garage combo The Electric Fayre; putting on indie, psych and soul clubs including Freak Scene, Orange Sunshine, and Shake!; writing liner notes for Reg King releases on Circle Records; and, in fitter times, tucking away the odd goal for the New Untouchables. I still DJ from my box of R&B humdingers but more often you’ll find me tapping away on my blog at monkeypicks.co.uk. I like the poetry of Charles Bukowski and dislike the taste of cheese.

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May 21, 2012 By : Category : Articles Front Page Inspiration Interviews Scene UK Tags:, , , ,
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