Saturday, 16 September 2017

Not so Cheap. TV Smith and the best band you never saw

Possibly the hardest working man in Punk, TV Smith has been an integral part of the British music scene for over forty years. His assault on the charts began with The Advertsthe early punk innovators, who upended the charts with Gary Gilmores Eyes, before morphing into TV Smith’s Explorers with the sublimely wonderful Tomahawk Cruise, before, well, basically disappearing into a black hole for a number of years before re-emerging as a solo performer, being the subject of a BBC documentary, and gigging almost non-stop across Europe.

It was that black hole I wanted to know more about, when TV fronted Cheap, a band who rallied against the injustices of the dying years of Thatcherism and produced one of the best pieces of seven inch vinyl I have ever bought, the magnificent and beautifully crafted ‘Third Term’, a sadly ignored plea to the public not to let Thatcher and her cronies ruin Britain with another term in office.

In the pre-internet eighties, where news of your favourite bands was only available from the inky pages of the music weeklies, if you were out of fashion you might as well have been dead. Only the most dedicated of TV Smith fans knew about Cheap, a band entirely out of tune with that decade, with no synths and no ridiculous hair styles, but with a songbag full of some of the best punk tunes that have ever been written.

Cheap are more than deserving of a little historical revisionism  and I caught up with the irrepressible Mr Smith in Bristol recently to dig a little deeper into the band that Leigh Heggarty of the Ruts calls “the best band that you never saw”.

BTA: Before Cheap were formed you were in ‘TV Smith and the Explorers’.

TV Smith: “Well I went straight from The Adverts to the Explorers. The Adverts were irrevocably breaking apart and I was already planning the Explorers before the end of that band.

At the same time the Doctors of Madness were also breaking up so I wanted to grab their bass player (Colin Stoner) to bring across with Richard Cross, who had started playing keyboards with the Adverts, and then we went straight into the rehearsal room. It was a fairly organic transition really.

We got Tomahawk Cruise out and things were looking good. It got to number 35 in the chart for the first week. But it was on such a small label, an offshoot of Chiswick records called Big Beat, and they didn’t think it would sell at all. So when it got great reviews, and single of the week for two weeks running in Sounds, which I don’t think had ever happened before, it really started selling.

Then John Peel started playing it, and all looked really good, when I learnt  Chiswick hadn’t pressed up enough copies, and all the pressing plants were flat out. They had to race around contacting all the plants to press up more copies, and it took way too long, and the moment had passed. An example of  a typical piece of TV Smith luck!

That was the pinnacle of our success. We were hit with the fact that music was changing and no one was interested in a band like the Explorers. By the time we got the album out you had to be either street punk or Culture Club and the like to get any interest.”

BTA: What was the catalyst for forming Cheap?

TV Smith: “I really missed playing live. I had been dumped by the record industry. No deal, no manager, no publisher, I ended up at home, writing lots of songs and demoing them with Tim Cross, and occasionally sending them to labels and being told to “Fuck Off”.

What was missing was going out and playing to people. The plan was for a small-scale band to get out and around to gigs in a couple of cars and gear. We had no thoughts of being mega-successful but only of  getting out and playing pubs and small clubs. We would go anywhere, any gig that would have us and pay the petrol money.

I just wanted to play. It was nice recording again, and getting my songs down on tape, but what was the point if no one heard them? Even it was just twenty or thirty people at a gig we were playing live and I was getting that buzz.

We headed out anywhere, ending up in places like Barnsley, would do the gig, and then sleep on people’s floors. We were on the dole, thinking on our feet, phoning the dole office in London from Cardiff and saying we were terribly ill and could not come in that day.”

BTA: You managed to release one superb single ‘Third Term’ backed with ‘Buried by the Machine’ while together, but the album ‘Everything must go’ did not make it out until the band was no more.

TV Smith: “Third Term was the only thing we got out. It only sold a few hundred copies, which was depressing. We put on the cover ‘Do not pay more than 1 Pound’ but people were still selling it for 4 pounds, or whatever. We couldn’t beat the system, whatever we tried to do. They were terrible times, continually battling against the opposition as an independent musician.

We had no chance of trying to do our own thing as against what the music business wanted. Now it is a dream compared to then. You can make your own records independently, sell them at your merch stand and play your gigs independently. In the eighties there was NOTHING. Unless you were picked up by a label, there was no DIY scene, there was no guitar music, and there was nowhere to play. You were looking into a hole whatever you would do.

Making the album was a fantastic thing though, getting all the songs down, but even that was a struggle. There was a studio closing down, they had gone bankrupt, but they had one band who had paid and booked for the very last week and they went in the day time, while we went in at night for free. Captain Sensible and his manager Andy McQueen stumped up a bit of money to help finish the album, but unfortunately getting a few friends to help us out did not translate to actually getting it released then.

Only after the band broke up did we put it out as ‘Everything must go”. But like you I loved the songs, they outlived the band. The Lords of the New Church covered Lords Prayer, and the German punk band Die Toten Hosen picked up loads of the songs for the album we did together ‘Useless’.”

BTA: How did Die Toten Hosen find out about Cheap?

TV Smith: “They just love UK punk music. They did the punk cover compilation ‘Learning English Lesson One’ and were using Arthur from the Lurkers to get people from the original bands to collaborate and do there parts on the album.

He drove me up to the studio they were using in North London. I’d never even heard of Die Toten Hosen although they are this massive stadium number one  biggest selling punk rock band, and they were this really nice bunch of people who said we don’t really need to do this punk album, we are famous enough without it, but we really love punk music and this our way of saying thank you, and its our tribute, and our way of introducing the original punk rock bands to our German audience. And it really did, it helped out a lot of English punk bands to get a foot in over there.

It was a springboard, I did some gigs with them on tour, and then some solo gigs, and as opposed to Cheap I started off on this trajectory which kept rising and I keep getting larger and larger audiences, whereas with Cheap it seemed to just keep on falling.

Don’t get me wrong. With Cheap we had a fantastic time, we got on well, were great mates, and travelled around without any expectation of having any success. But after a couple of years, particularly after you have made a record, and then are not able to get it out, you say where do we go from here?

How do you write a new album when you are unable to get your first one out? So for me, I couldn’t write the second Cheap album, there was nothing to write, the only thing I could do is look for a different genre, which is why (the solo TV Smith album) ‘March of the Giants’ sounded the way it did. All I had left was to try a different direction, and then I began to feel myself inspired again, as I wasn’t constrained by writing for a band.

Once I started working on that album I got very excited, trying instruments I had never come across before, which brought it all to life again, getting out of rock and having songs as songs. All I had done was rock up to that point. And I can’t stop writing songs! I have a new albums worth now which I’m recording in-between gigs. I can’t stop creating them. Too many maybe! I can’t fit them all in.

BTA:  The need to play live again is what spurred you to form Cheap, but now, as a solo performer, you seem to be out to be breaking records with the number of gigs you do each year!

TV Smith: “I do something like 130 gigs a year, it keeps me fit, and there is no Punk Rock pension plan, so I’m never going to stop. When I was in Cheap in the end it just  wasn’t financially sustainable, but now, if you are prepared to work, use the internet, and sell merch, you can make it sustainable.

Merchandise is a big help financially, and for many it is the only way to get my stuff, it does not sell in record shops or even online. People come and see me after a gig and say I want some of that music at home, and you also make that connection with them. It’s bloody hard, sometimes I get off stage and I am dripping with sweat and all I want to do is collapse onto a seat, but I don’t; I talk to people, sell them records, have my photo taken, its all part of my job.

I know this all started small, having a few committed fans that wanted to talk to me, and support me, and I never forget that’s what has made this possible now. I respect the things that made this happen in the first place. I have had plenty of years when it has not been possible, not been sustainable, so I am not going to break the formula now that it is working.

Obviously a big factor that had made it sustainable for me is that I am solo performer. Inevitably a band like Cheap has four to five people, a driver, and then you need to find places to stay, it all costs much more, and sorry I am not going to sleep on a table in someone’s front room anymore!

I would never give up playing solo to be honest as I love it, I love the challenge of walking into a venue of 50 or 500 people and it is up to me to make it work. It still sends a thrill through me, and I think it always will.”

Prove TV wrong and get some of his wonderful music online, particularly the Cheap Anthology CD packed full of everything they wrote including a wonderful Peel session where the band play incendiary versions of Third Term and Buried by the Machine.

Buy it at the TV Smith online shop along with lots of other goodies, including his autobiographical travel diaries or at the normal online retailers such as Amazon.

Photos by Thierry Kerkhornou, Per-Ake Warn and Ian Dickson

Monday, 24 July 2017

Courtney Barnett. Gumboots and Glastonbury

“It’s all been a bit of a blur, there have been constant new experiences every day.”

Melbourne based songwriter, record label owner and hobby gardener, Courtney Barnett is reflecting on how her life has changed in the last year. From recording her first ep with friend Brent DeBoer from the Dandy Warhols (another resident of Melbourne) to playing Glastonbury, life has not been boring.

Her storytelling lyrics sung in an almost spoken delivery, have gained her many fans. The last single ‘Avant Gardener’ is probably the only song to document an anaphylactic asthma attack while tending her garden, and contains the memorable line;

The paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar/ I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying’.

That song, and the album it came from,’ A sea of split peas’, has sent Courtney on a journey around the world.

It is a wet and cold day in Melbourne, definitely not a day for gardening, when I caught up with Courtney and asked what had been her highlight of the year?

"Glastonbury stands out. Big, exciting and wet. We were totally unprepared for the weather, although we should have guessed. When we got there we luckily found an Amnesty International shop and bought some gumboots for 10 pounds.

It was really fun to play and watch the other acts. I saw Blondie, and Money for Rope, I really enjoyed watching them".

You are more popular in the UK than Australia, why do you think that is?

"Maybe because we have a proper label over there and here we are just me running my own label in my spare time (Milk! Records). I also think everyone is more excited with music from somewhere else.

It is just different. I also noticed from my travels that most people also want to live somewhere else, its all part of the same thing, getting away from the familiar".

Where else would you want to live?

"Ah, well I am actually quite happy living in Melbourne now.  But if I had the chance I would like to also live in the bush or even spend time in the countryside in France. Maybe when we sell more records!”.

Your album ‘Sea of split peas’ is getting quite old now, what is coming next?

"It has been such a staggered release. My first two eps were individually released, then combined as an album in Australia, and then slowly getting released overseas. It is still selling well but this has been going on for two years and the time is right for my new album.

We have just finished recording it, and it should come out early next year, and I am very excited to show and play the new songs".

What is your favourite track on the new album?

"Kim’s Caravan.  It’s a seven minute long, epic Crazyhorse type of song, pretty meaningful lyrics, and has us totally rocking out."

You have played quite a few guest spots on Rockwiz (an SBS TV music show in Australia) with Billy Bragg and and  Dave Faulkner among others. I loved the version of Died Pretty’s ‘Everybody Moves’ that you did, was it a favourite of yours?

“At the time I did not know the song or even the band Died Pretty. I am only 26, so they were not one of the most talked about Australian bands, but when I found out about them, I loved them and then went on a musical rampage discovering The Triffids, The Saints and  The Go-Betweens.

Dave suggested that song, and I said ‘yeah you’re Dave Faulkner from the Hoodoo Gurus I’ll do anything you want to do’, and then I went onto discover all this great music. We are now working on a Go Betweens cover, ‘Love goes on’ which may appear in our set".

You have traveled fairly extensively throughout the world in the last twelve months what was your favourite place?

"I never had the money or the time to travel overseas before I started touring. I was working, so it was all new to me. When I was working in Melbourne I got enough to pay the rent and food, and then spent the rest on booze at the weekend, so I never got further than the east coast of Australia. I never thought I would go overseas, but the luck of the last year has changed that.

I quit my day job before the last tour, so this is now my breadwinner. I get paid to travel and sing!

It has all been good; it is hard to pick out a single place. The UK was interesting, we were lucky enough to actually drive around, the shows were fun, but the landscape was beautiful and not what I expected".

Give us your current Top Five songs you love at the moment.

"That is always so hard a question, there is always so much. Here goes:

Shivers - Rowland S Howard 

Streets of your town - The Go Between's

Heavy HeartYou am I

Sally can't dance - Lou Reed

 I fall in love too easily - Keith Jarrett

And I am going to cheat a bit and add another one, how can anyone not love Polly Jean.A superb album, and I will go with the title track".

Let England shake - PJ Harvey

(An edited version of this interview appeared in the UK Music publication, 'Louder than War', September 2014)

Courtney Barnett’s website is here:  and her label is here

Follow Courtney on Twitter

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The end of the Armoury Show

I had met up with the Armoury Show a couple of years earlier, and had an interview published. I loved the bands music and decided I would like to do a follow up. That is when the problems began, the interview had been postponed several times. I finally got it confirmed with the labels Press officer to happen on the same day of a gig at the London Astoria in early March 1987.

I was let into the Victorian theatre by the back door, to find an extremely agitated Richard
Jobson striding up and down, and in the midst of an argument with the sound man.

Seeing me, he came over and we sat down to chat in the back row of the stalls, but Jobson was in no mood to talk. Of course I knew the band had imploded in the middle of the previous year when John McGeogh and John Doyle had left, but I was unaware at the time of the serious problems with the label, EMI America, leaving the band in financial turmoil.

Jobson seemed most upset about the ticket sales for what would be their last ever gig, “We are
going to lose at least eight thousand pounds on this and we can’t afford it”.

He sat thoughtfully for a while, and then told me “The Armoury Show has changed a lot.
Improved in fact. McGeogh and Doyle have left, to pursue their respective careers with P.I.L
and Pete Shelley. There was a terrible tension in the band, particularly between McGeogh
and Webb. The new guys (Dave Lockwood and Ray Weston) are doing well.”

Did you consider changing the name of the band, with 50% of the original members

“We did consider this, but thought about the work we have done to date and what a
waste it would be to throw it all away. Russell and I have been working together for a long
time and have decided to continue and make a better record than ‘Waiting for the Floods’”.

Would this be still on the same label?

“Yet to be seen. There are people in EMI England who had always believed in The
Armoury Show, but the Americans are so intransigent and causing us.... look, I know we
have been trying to set this up for a while, but I can’t do this at the moment. Can we continue
at another time?"

And that was that, Jobson headed off backstage, and I grabbed a pint before the gig. The
band, with its new members, were tight and the new songs such ‘When Monkeys Cry’ and
‘Love in Anger’ sounded good live.

Jobson though was right to be concerned about the size of the audience, the theatre was only about a third full, and lacked any atmosphere.

We continued the interview via letter, from which I learnt Jobson loved design and style in everything he did with the Armoury Show. I always looked forward to the release of the new records by the band, not just because of the music, but to see the covers, which were always a thing of a beauty. 

The letters he sent were written on high quality vellum paper, with a corner cut, and an embossed green band logo in the right corner.

I asked further about the departure of McGeogh and Doyle. He was brief in his response.

“We were friends, at least when we all formed the Armoury Show. But that did not mean we should ever have been a band. Different intentions obviously bring about a very different outcome.”

Not something he clearly wanted to dwell on. I asked about the new songs for the next album.

“As you would have heard at the concert, we have some tremendous new material. The last single, Love in Anger, is so simple, but so good. It was written by Russell Webb, a string section was the only thing added to his original construction.

We have songs like ‘Monkeys Cry’ which are fierce, and the direction I want the band to move in.

And then something different, New York City. With the John Robie mix, it sounds unlike anything else we have done. It was written about a person involved in the fast moving life of a city which has many different scales.

Looking for a future, a promised land, the narrator soon finds himself subject to migraines, being homesick, and gets a severe beating, which leads to a personality change. Big cities anywhere do not have time for the broken hearted or lost and lonely people. The bigger they are the worse they are.

If New York is the promised land than Glasgow must be heaven.”

There were some other short answers about critics, “I never read them”, tour plans and the like, but I got a sense that whatever happened this would be the last album of the Armoury Show and that Jobson wanted to do something else. He talked about his love of writing and performing poetry, even adding a poem to the end of one of the letters as an answer to a question.

In fact the album was released as a solo record for him a few months later, and the Armoury Show name, and the band, was dead and buried. The Armoury Show, particularly in its first incarnation, was an unforgettable live experience, and had some great songs which still stand the test of time today. It it is one of those sad quirks of the music industry that they never got the attention or success they deserved. 

(Unpublished previously, possibly the last interview with the Armoury Show).

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Coconut palms, buckets of kava and reggae beats - Fest Napuan Review

I was in Vanuatu when the Fest Napaun takes over Port Vila. This has to be one of the best music festivals in the world. Attracting local and international acts, the atmosphere of this festival is unforgettable. Entrance is always free, and the locals converge on Saralana park (next to the Cultural centre and museum). Stalls are erected selling food from different islands, the Tanna bread cakes are particularly recommended, while Kava is brought in buckets from the Chiefs Nakamal.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Straitjacket Fits. Life in Four Chords.

There is something about New Zealand bands. Maybe it is due to the remote location causing them to work harder to get noticed, or maybe it is something in the water, either way bands like 'The Chills' and 'The Verlaines' were rarely absent from my turntable for long. I was traveling from Sydney to Los Angeles when I got stuck in transit in Auckland due to an airport fire service strike. I was not in a rush, and I was put up in a nice hotel by the airline and given NZ$100 to spend on food, or vinyl. My fellow passengers stressed about when they could get back on a plane, I stressed whether I could get into the city before the record stores closed. I got a cab into the city and headed for Real Groovy, the most knowledgeable and friendly store in Auckland.

With only 15 minutes to spare before closing time, I grabbed a few recent recommended releases, one of which was a new EP  from a band I had never heard of; 'Life in one Chord' by the 'Straitjacket Fits'. Cool name, with an extremely colourful cover. It was not until I got home and started listening to the frantic violin intro to 'She Speeds' before the guitar and hypnotic vocals kicked in that I realised I had found my new favourite band. The other three tracks on the 12" were almost of equal quality, this band was the best thing I had heard in ages and I wanted to know more.

All I know about the Straitjacket Fits is your first release, which I  have in front of me in a rather distinctive sleeve, tell me more!

Shayne: "Aargh the cover. It was done by John, or drummer, its bloody revolting. The colours came out way more garish than intended. Cringe city baby.

He was in 'The Doublehappys with me, a ramshackle rock'n roll outfit making lots of good noise in Dunedin. The death of Wayne (BTA: From a train misadventure on tour) in mid 1985 led to the demise of that band. I always intended to continue, our resolve was probably made stronger, but it obviously took a while to pick up the pieces. We tried a variety of people and finally ended up with David Wood, who'd been playing bass in a band called 'Working with Walt'. this was in Dunedin at the start of 1986. We played a few gigs as three piece but it was too limited. I really wanted to bring in another guitar so we could get that extra melody on top. I also wanted someone who could sing as I've always been aware of how effective harmonies can really lift a song.

Andrew Brough had just called it a day with his band 'The Orange' and rung up offering his services. It turned out to be a pretty ideal combination in that Andrew's more restrained guitar is a perfect fooil to mine, and he can sing really well. Dunedin is such a small place that you are aware of everyone else, so we all sorta knew each other, although if you had said a couple of years earlier that we would all end up in the same band together you would have received a hale, hearty laugh in your face!

Your music is not typical of other Flying Nun label releases, being maybe a bit more polished, and less DIY. 

Shayne: "Like a lot of bands I think our recorded sound is much more polished than we are live. We are rawer and more full on,  intense is an adjective we continually have applied to us, but yeah I think we have a distinctive bent that makes us stand apart from the others. 

As far as being polished goes, I think that is just a general reflection on the label. I am a pretty typical case in that I made my first record for Flying Nun which I was 16. That was on a four track with a budget of $100 for four songs. As time has gone on Flying Nun has expanded, more records have sold, etc. etc. Now we record on 24 track with a larger budget, not massive, but more than $100! 

We may sound different to other Flying Nun bands, but we share a really similar attitude towards making music, and suspicion of the 'industry'. The goals are the same but musically we've just got different ways of expressing them.

I really enjoy the wordplay in your songs, particularly 'She Speeds'. Where do you get the ideas and inspiration for lyrics?

Shayne: "I can't write crap and expect to sing it with any conviction. To be believable you have got to mean it. There is no stream of consciousness stuff. my lyrics always  relate to each other and each song has a theme running through it. It is based on personal experiences, and while I am conscious to avoid the tiresome, moaning, 'oh how the world is cruel' type of lyric, I do find they are an exorcism of sorts. Apart from the rare exceptions when I am content with the experience of happiness, then I have no need to express it. So that is why there is a melancholic edge to a lot of our songs. 

A stranger would have trouble picking up the meaning of any of our songs because they don't have access to the way I think. The words don't ever reach the point of obscurity, but they do tap into my train of thought at the time. Writing lyrics is hard without worrying about the words, their substance and their meaning. You have to work with their flow, their bounce and rhythm. How they sound in a song. 'She Speeds' and 'Dialling a Prayer' are both deserted lover types of songs... brooding, 2 AM, staring at the walls type of stuff."

How are you faring in New Zealand at the moment? Are you getting lots of local support?

Shayne:"We stand to the left of centre here. Which means the support from commercial radio is non existent. TV NZ are totally ignorant, and the general music industry views us as ratbags. Fuck them. The level of ignorance is very frustrating, they don't seem to realise that our music is probably the most indigenous from these shores, purely because it is representing a time and a place. Most other bands outside of our circle offer pappy pop, and we see a continual stream of soulless bands who we are up against. Still, it's the same for 'alternative' bands anywhere, it's just in New Zealand there simply isn't the population base here to support left of centre musicians. 

'Life in one Chord' did sell well and go to #16 in the NZ chart. The student stations played it, but no one else. But that chart figure can be misleading, to get to #1 and then receive a gold record you have to sell 7,000 copies, compared with a million in the US, so the financial payback is not exactly profound.

You could be at a comparable level to us in England or Australia and make a living out of it. We remain the cliched struggling musicians. The most encouraging thing is that amidst all the local ignorance there is a growing international awareness of bands like us. I have begun to realise that if our music is not going to be accepted here without compromise there is a waiting world eager to accept it for what it is.

Distance obviously makes it harder for us to go places, but on the other hand the isolation is perfect for developing our music at our own pace without being distracted by fashion or public whims. The way things are shaping up I am pretty confident we can  launch sporadic raids of varying time spans around the world, with New Zealand still our home.

You mentioned you started out in music very young. You made your first record when you were 16 with Flying Nun. 

Shayne: "Yeah, as a baby lamb! That was with a band called 'Bored Games'. We were a teen punk outfit, snot dribbling down our noses, who existed in the late seventies in Dunedin. We formed as a direct reaction out of hearing the 'Sex Pistols'. We were too young to play in pubs so we had to organise to play at dances, consequently we played only 24 times in two and half years!

"We used to play with bands like 'The Clean' and 'The Same' (BTA: Who later evolved in 'The Chills'). So we were involved with the people who started Flying Nun. We actually reformed to record the single, as there had been no opportunities when we were playing and we all thought we deserved something to show for all our efforts. After that I formed 'The Doublehappys' with Wayne Elsey and, as they say in cliche land, the rest is history.

All I know is music. It's more than a fun thing, it is my life. Being a musician here involves a lot of impracticalities and and sacrifices, particularly financial, but the rewards, although not always tangible, make it worthwhile. The usual boring things; soul satisfaction, and a feeling of doing something worthwhile with your life.

When will the next record be out?

Shayne: "The recording of our debut LP starts this week. We hope to have that out by the end of the year, although with Flying Nuns penchant for missing deadlines don't take this as gospel. 'Life in One Chord' and our LP chronicle the first set we have written. We started from scratch and did not want to play any pre- Straitjacket Fits stuff, so it has taken two years to build up the set as we set a pretty high standard for our songs. 

There will be a real variety on the album, from real slow sort of ethereal stuff to full on guitar thrashing psychosis. We have developed a very distinctive style, we have learnt a lot about each others capabilities, so I feel our best is still to come.

We just want to get to the stage where we can't be ignored, and that time is slowly arriving."

(Original 1988 Interview planned for an article on Australian and New Zealand bands. Unpublished).

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Bolshoi. Performing third on the bill to a band you hate is not that bad

I had seen The Bolshoi perform third on the bill to 'The Addicts' at the 100 Club in Oxford St, London. This was one of their very first gigs, and the punk audience did not take to them at all. I did, I liked their songs and the way their lead singer, Trevor Tanner, put down hecklers with abuse laced with camp humour. One woman was so upset at the put down that she had to be physically restrained by her partner from attacking Trevor.

I arranged to catch up with them, a few weeks later at Kingston Polytechnic, when they were again third on the bill, this time to the 'Mighty Lemon Drops'.

You seem to be not too choosy in who you support, from dodgy punk bands to dodgy Indie bands?

Trevor: “Ummm. Well we are just getting started in London, and to be honest we will support anyone. As long as they get the audiences in, and maybe we can steal a few of them, like we did to you. We got ten pounds for that gig, which does not even cover our van cost, and then had to put up with the (cough noises) after us. Who said it was easy to be a rock and roll star?

Anyway this is fun, sitting in a cold student building being interviewed. This is what I was born to do! Ha, although I am not too good at these things yet, you are only our third ever interview.”

You have released one single (Sob Story) and a mini-lp (Giants) recently, how have they been selling?

Trevor: “Well to be honest the first single was not very good, the B side was alright. Sales were shit. Not surprising really, 'Sob Story' was a demo, so we were not happy with our playing, the mix or production. Our label (Beggars Banquet) insisted we got it out asap to get the name out, and who are we to argue?

'Giants' we are happier with, but it was a rush job as we had no money. We recorded it in May and mixed it in under a week, and it cost less than 2000 pounds, so Beggars will be happy. It was our first time working with a producer picked by the label, which was not a great experience as he seemed more interested in anything but the music. Particularly lines of white powder.

We have a new single coming out very soon, 'Happy Boy', and we spent much more time on it, and it shows.”

By the accent I am guessing you come from near Bristol.

Trevor: “Close, I have spent a lot of time in Bristol and Bath, but I am from the country. I have been in London for three years now, but Jan (Kalicki, drummer) and me are from Trowbridge and Melksham. Both places are dire, and we had to escape.

We formed the band 10 months ago, but I have been in London for 3 years now. We had one band (BTA: Moskow) but we did not get that far and they were not going to leave the West Country, so we did, and then we added the new boy to make us a three piece (points to Nick).

Nick: “I was already a rock star. I was in 'Praxis', a band that was massive in Woolwich. That is how we met. Trevor and Jan supported us in their first gig in Woolwich and I thought this band is better than us, so joined the support band. I am in Kingston now, which is 20 miles from Woolwich, so I guess I made the right decision!

Saying that, we just came back from going overseas for the first time, Beggars Banquet lined up these club gigs in Switzerland and France…”

Trevor: “The Swiss were really weird, it's as if the second world war had never finished there (BTA: Switzerland was actually neutral in the war, and did not play a huge part, although there are rumours of Nazi’s hiding out there afterwards). Paris went really well, They have less inhibitions than the British, if they don’t like you they shout “crap, crap” but if they like you they give you champagne. Thank you very much. We want to go back there.”

Do you get enough from the label to support you as a full time band?

Trevor: (laughing) “No, we are not on a wage or anything yet. Gig money does not pay the bills, and we have seen no royalties yet. We work as motorcycle couriers, which pays the rent, and is not too bad, except when you fall off. You do meet some bastards though “you are ten minutes late, and we are not going to pay you” and the like. So, at the end of the day performing third on the bill to a band you hate is not that bad.”
With a new single coming out, I expect you will be getting out of London and doing a national tour?

Trevor: “We want to do more gigs, but all the national tours require buy-ons (BTA: Where the support band pays the headline band a sum of money, 5000 pounds and up would be a normal amount) which we can’t afford and Beggars won’t do. We are trying to get them to put us on a tour with one of their artists, but we are getting nowhere at the moment. ‘The Cult’ don’t like us for some reason, we are not goth enough for ‘Pete Murphy’, and ‘The Icicle Works’, well I don’t even want to go there….”.

There is the also the 'Go-Betweens'?

Trevor: “Yeah, I am not sure we are great fit there either. We do have a plan though.

We want to do more gigs, and get the art of interviews sussed out and learn what we are doing. It is still all new for us. When you are in a band back home in the West Country it is not the same as London. You are not on trial the whole time, you don’t have to worry about bad reviews, you just go out and play whereas here you have to work so much harder, trying to keep everyone happy from record companies, to music papers, and of course fans.

We have only done a couple of headlines in tiny places so far, and we seem destined to remain a support band for a year or two. I quite enjoy it. You don’t have to be so organised and you can experiment a bit more to see what songs work, or don’t.

At the end of the day, I just want to get on a stage and play, and earn enough to get drunk”


BTA: Here is a taste of unreleased Bolshoi. This track, 'Billys new boots' was a staple of their early gigs, but was discarded as new songs for their second album 'Friends' were written. This is from their very first demo tape sent to record companies to get a deal. Unavailable elsewhere.

The Bolshoi - Billys New Boots (Demo)

Epilogue: ‘Happy Boy’ was a big alternative chart hit for The Bolshoi, and it ended their days of being third on the bill to anyone. They went on to have many successful singles and albums, and made a huge impact on South America, before imploding. Watch out for my second interview with the band, recorded three years later.

(Original Interview excerpts published in Bludgeoned, 1986. This is the full unpublished interview from October 1985)

Photos taken at various gigs at the London Marquee in 1986 when the Bolshoi were headlining.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

On the beach with the Hoodoo Gurus

Seeing the Hoodoo Gurus at the Bristol Locarno was one of my first ever gigs. No checking of ID’s ensured I could sneak into the 18+ venue on a school night and hang off the balcony listening to an aural barrage of guitar, bass and drums. I had no idea how loud a gig could be.