Tootal Blog

Tootal Blog
  • All The Pictures On The Wall: Acclaimed Photographer Tom Sheehan Talks To Tootal Blog

    Renowned music photographer Tom Sheehan was born in Camberwell, South London. After working in-house for CBS Records he turned freelance in 1978, becoming chief photographer on the Melody Maker where his work appeared for the next two decades during the height of its weekly circulation.

    His images have since featured in, amongst others, the NME, Q, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Observer and latterly Mojo magazine.

    No one starts out as a top-level photographer. What has your path been to get here?

    Mainly a love of photography, and certainly a love of music. As a kid I grew up in south East London, although we didn’t have electricity in York Close until 1957 or ’58. I’ve got a twin sister and two elder sisters, who were of an age when Rock ‘n’ Roll first hit. We had a wind-up gramophone and they’d take it down in the square on a summer’s eve. They’d be playing it and the Teds, or the kids who thought they were Teds, with the haircuts; boppin’ and all that, and me and my twin sister would be sitting on the stone steps watching them gyrate, “rang tang” around. Mum would give us a call and tell us it’s time for bed. And, you know, it’s, “Oh, Mum…” A summer’s evening at 7 or 8 o’clock, that’s no time for bed. Well, it is if you’re seven, I suppose.

    In the environment that I came from - my parents were Irish immigrants - the only path for me was going to be Electrician or a Priest. One of them meant dirtying your hands and the other one meant dirtying your soul, probably. I harboured ideas of being a painter but I was absolute rubbish, so I ended up being a photographic printer. Learning. Working in a few darkrooms. Assisting people.

    Music seems to have played a big role in your life when you were growing up?

    First Exposure: The young Tom Sheehan circa 1969 (Photo courtesy of Tom Sheehan).

    I just loved music. The bands that were coming through post-Beatles – The Who, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Stones, The Pretty Things and all those important UK bands - they were so relevant to me when I was fourteen. And all the time my love for music had this momentum; it was growing. You know what it’s like when you’re young; you’re insatiable and you’re hungry for new things. It only took a few years for me to realise that there was all this other stuff out there - Soul music, R&B Music. All that stuff was the foundation of a different kind of music. But what really got the better of me in the late Sixties was the music coming out of San Francisco; all the American stuff, I got into that big time. It was just a place that was so magical.

    Can you remember the first record you bought?

    I certainly can, it was “Baby, Please Don’t Go” with ‘Gloria” by Them, it was ’64 or ’65. In the house we got electricity about 8 years before; we had a Dansette and each week we’d buy a single. I did a morning and an evening paper round. My elder sister had moved out, and my other sister and my twin, we’d kind of pool our money. And I can remember going up to buy it in this electrical shop up by Loughborough Junction station. They had huge, great washing machines the size of a small prefab, vacuum cleaners about seven foot tall that didn’t pick up dust, and at the back they had a counter with a couple of racks and two of those funny little listening booths. That was the first single I bought; at the time albums were a bit out of reach, they were about 39 and 11, or two pounds or two guineas, or something. It was a long time until I bought an album, and I think price – or the lack of funds – put me off buying a lot of music.

    Can you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    The Cure in 1990 (Photo © Tom Sheehan)

    We use to go over to Peckham, which is down the road from Camberwell. They had Raoul Shoes, which ended up being Ravel, and they had these wonderful shoes called Sportscasters. They had a moulded soul, and a line round them, and they did them in different colours. And in that same area there was a shop – and I can’t remember what it was called – and when the college boy scarf came in, they had them made up; not a real college one but a “looky-likey” one, and we bought those.

    And coming up from Camberwell to the West End, and Carnaby Street, and spending Christmas or birthday money; pocket money on a button-down; absolutely tremendous. We were well turned out, if not expensively turned out, because I was still a kid. You’d admire older kids who’d maybe started work, when you see them in their tonic suits, and that. My first suit, which was from Burton’s, was a mohair, my Mum and Dad paid for it; it was a two-piece, kind of sandy brown mohair suit; it was fuckin’ brilliant…

    Is that a wistful look in your eye?

    Well, yeah, I think the wistfulness comes from the fact that my folks didn’t have two ha’pence to rub together, and they bought me a suit. Jesus Christ! And I weren’t a moany kid neither, that’s me twin. But it’s that sort of thing, I suppose; my missus can’t believe that I don’t buy clothes now, right? All I buy is button-down shirts, a jumper if it’s winter, a pair of Baked Beans; boots; a zip-up jacket. And scarves. That’s all I’ve worn for years. I just saves fussing, you know?

    You’re a self-confessed fan of Tootal scarves. How did you first discover them?

    Well, I’ve got a few of them now. In about 1964, we were round at a friend of ours, Martin Ellison, who lived in the flats on Dog Kennel Hill, over in East Dulwich. We were “wannabe-Mods”, let’s say, or just smart people. Our parents, the only time you’d see them smart would be a wedding, a funeral or going to church. Nine times out of ten they worked in some kind of manufacturing job, so they wouldn’t be going to work in a suit. Martin’s dad, he’s half taking the mickey out of us, going, “Look at you lot, trying to be Mods, and all that”. He said, “When we were kids, we’d turn out on a Saturday night with our Whistles on, yeah, with the old Mutla on.” He’d say that with his South London accent; “Mutla”, and he’d do this little routine like he’s doing up the old Tootal scarf. And we adopted this name; it has stuck with my friends and me to this day. Our kids call it “Dad’s Mutla”.

    When you left school did you get an apprenticeship or was there a college course?

    Paul Weller: Shoot for Uncut Magazine, February 2006 (Photo © Tom Sheehan)

    Oh no, I never went to college. Because of the background you come from, you’re always told, “It’s never going to happen”. When your English teacher is saying, “Sheehan, you’ll amount to nothing…"

    I was a photographic printer, and there wasn’t even a goal at the end of it. A lot of it wasn’t even printing interesting pictures. Plans for buildings, commercial work… That was in The Times Drawing Office, in Pollen Street, London W1. My brother-in-law, he was a director there, so I kind of got in the back way but I was treated like anyone else. I was in the dark room, mixing developer and making tea, as anybody of my age in 1966 would have been.

    I think it was probably the love of music that spurred me on. When I’m listening to music, I’m enjoying the tunes and all that, but also I’m looking at the images. My heroes were these American photographers, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if…” I hadn’t gone to college and got the qualifications you needed on the commercial side, but there was this other way of working within the music industry where it doesn’t have to be bolted down, you don’t have to be starched; you can just go and do it.

    Was it a natural progression from printing to actually taking the photos?

    My first camera was thirty-nine quid, I think my parents lent me the money and I bought it on Oxford Street. It was a Praktica Nova 1B, and it had a light meter in it. I just used to take my camera to gigs. Me and my mates, we heard on Radio Caroline there was going to be a free concert down at Bishopsbourne, near Canterbury, and a lot of people that were playing at the Isle of Wight festival were coming over. We went to see the Edgar Broughton Band; Rod and The Faces was there, a couple of other bands. We left before it ended because we had to get back but we were there for six, seven hours. So, I’d go down and take some pictures of that, and things like the Hyde Park Festivals then realise there’s 42 million people in front of me, so me and my mate 'No Neck would just go to the pub cause we didn’t want to sit through Roy Harper, or The Third Ear Band.

    What was your first big break?

    Manic Street Preachers, House In The Woods Studios, circa 1992 (Photo © Tom Sheehan)

    I got fed up of reading the music press, because I wasn’t interested in Bowie, I wasn’t interested in Sweet; Glam was builders in blouses, with make-up on. I started buying Zigzag magazine, which Pete Frame and John Tobler had set up. ‘Tobes’ was also Press Officer at CBS Records, and he said, “We’re starting up this photographic department, are you interested?” And I went, whoosh, straight into it. Worked there for three and a half years and it was fantastic; they signed The Clash, The Vibrators but they had a huge American roster too. I started in ’75, left half way through ’78, so there for about three and a half years but I’d always wanted to work for the music press, so I left to start an agency. In my first year, I’ve got stuff that I shot for Record Mirror, Sounds, NME and the Maker, being The Jam, being the Boomtown Rats, being… whatever, you know. And then I was doing The Chieftains at the Royal Albert Hall, with a guy called Harry Doherty (Deceased) from Melody Maker, and he said, “Tommy, do you want to go and do The Cars in Germany?” And that was it; I ended up with the Maker for about twenty-five years.

     Who were the photographers you admired?

    Henry Diltz, Joel Bernstein, a guy called Thomas Weir, he did that fantastic picture on the back of, I think it’s [Grateful Dead] Aoxomoxoa, a fish eye picture of all their family. It’s just the way it’s printed, the technique more than anything. If you like a group like The Dead, or whoever, you’ll see who did their pictures and you’ll be a fan of them too. That’s how it came about; seeing pictures of people like Neil Young, and it’s… wow, this is brilliant. And it wasn’t a brick wall in Camden; it was like a field, seashore or a forest. All the pictures seemed to have a tremendous relaxed element about them, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. To get all the nuts and bolts done before anybody comes in and then give it the illusion that I’m working on the hoof.

    Is that your typical preparation process? Do you have to research your subject?

    Yes, nine times out of ten. It will be a cold day in hell when I don’t know whoever I’m photographing. And sometimes it’s good even if you don’t like them, or their music, let’s say. Sometimes you might personally like someone, like the cut of their jib or whatever, but not particularly groove with their music. But then ten years down the line, the penny drops, and you go, “What have I been missing all these years?” But that’s the great thing about music, isn’t it? Someone tells you something, and you just go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, alright”. And then later on, you have some tune in your head, you re-investigate it and you go, “What have I been missing?”

    Paul Weller, 100 Club, February 2015 (Photo © Tom Sheehan)

    Do many musicians have a strong idea of how they want to be presented?

    Yeah, I think most people do, but certainly with bands like those I’ve done in my books, they do have a strong visual persona. It’s good to continue that, and I don’t think you can willingly try to change someone’s image. I don’t like to get bands to do something daft. I’ve done a few pictures I’m ashamed of because it just “isn’t them”, but if you’re on a brief for an idiot editor, and it’s for a cover, and you’ve got to swag them into doing it, it’s a bit… deceitful. I don’t work that way; I always work upfront and honest.

    Lee Brilleaux (L) of Dr Feelgood, backstage with Tom Sheehan, circa 1980 (Photo courtesy of Tom Sheehan)

    The band usually ends up wearing what they walked in with. They look good; they’re happy with it. There isn’t a lot of time for verbals. If you’re away with a band, you’re allotted ‘X’ amount of time. Even if you’re with a band and they’re mates, you wouldn’t want to photograph them when they’re not looking their best. I only did it once, when Ozzy Osbourne pissed on the Alamo. [Adopts American drawl] “When you piss on The Alamo, you piss on the State of Texas”. I’ve got no great agenda in turning the band into a picture just because it looks like one of my pictures; for me to say, “I did that”. We’re all pulling the same bit of rope; I wouldn’t want a dodgy picture to go out of a band, or a band to be upset with the picture. They can disagree with the fact that it’s not what they want, but it’s just down to trust.

    You’ve now had three collections of your photos published; The Cure, Manic Street Preachers and Paul Weller. How did that come about?

    This friend of mine, Chris Carr, a legendary PR guy, introduced me to Chris Marksberry who owns the Flood Gallery. He also publishes books and he suggested it. I thought, who could I do? And he said, “You could do a Weller one, couldn’t you?”

    Paul Weller, Black Barn Studios, Surrey. November 2009 (Photo © Tom Sheehan)

    It was coming up to Christmas, and I thought, ooh, Paul’s been away on tour, he’s probably going to go to family… I’ll ring him after Christmas. Christmas came and went, and I thought I’d ring him after New Year. So, it’s about a week and a half after New Year, and I texted him, and I goes, “Mature Lensman here. Want a word”. And within fifteen minutes, he goes, “What do you want, Tommy?” “I’m releasing my archive in book form, and you’re going to be me first victim, mate”. And he went, “I told you to do that last year”. And I said, “Oh, sorry, mate. I thought you were just talking about me doing a book of all my stuff”. And he goes, “No, no, no, no. I’ll do a forward for you”. I don’t like asking favours of anybody, so I said, I’ll get Simon Goddard (who has interviewed him) to come down, or get you on the blower. And he goes, “No. I’ll do it myself, Tommy, it will be my pleasure”. And you think, “What a fuckin’ bloke. What a bloody chap”. You know what I mean? Absolutely fantastic!

    Paul always knows what he’s doing. People, like me, that have been photographing him for years, he knows our background, he knows our endeavour, our musical tastes and he furrows his brow every time I mention the Grateful Dead. He’ll come round to it; give him time. He’s still a young ‘un… at 58.

    Tom Sheehan's three books are available from www.thefloodgallery.com

    Aim High: Paul Weller In Photographs, 1978-2015

    In Between Days: The Cure In Photographs, 1982-2005

    You Love Us: Manic Street Preachers In Photographs, 1991-2001

    They are also available from Amazon, Waterstones and other good bookshops.

    Tom Sheehan’s newest collection, R.E.M. Athens, GA., 1984-2005, will be available from Flood Gallery Publications in Spring 2018.

    For more details of Tom’s work visit www.tomsheehan.co.uk

  • A Very British Talent: Artist Pete McKee Talks To Tootal Blog

    Name ten great things about Sheffield, please? Arctic Monkeys?, Yes. Sheffield Steel? Yes. Henderson's Relish? The Crucible, The Full Monty? Parks, pubs, trees and beer? Yes, yes, yes.

    Okay, then. Now, you've all got Pete McKee on your list, haven't you? If not, stay behind and see me afterwards

    Hi Pete. For anyone not familiar with your art, how would you describe it?

    It’s a 60 / 40 mix of every day life, and my imagination. It’s my life story and growing up on a council estate in Sheffield but I’m telling stories about everybody’s lives. So there’s a lot of reference to people I know, people that I see in the street, places I walk past and shops that I used to visit. It’s every day vignettes of the world I see around me. It’s a little bit Pop Art but it’s also got a bit of a cartoon element. It’s working class art. Another key element is my passion for Music, and all the Youth Cultures I grew up with; things like Mod, then 2-Tone, the Indie scene and then Baggy.

    You didn’t become a successful artist overnight. How did you get to where you are now?

    Revolution From Your Bed by Pete McKee

    When I left school I was convinced I was going to be a Pop Star. I was waiting for the moment when I would be playing my keyboards on Top of the Pops. Unfortunately I was still waiting five years later so I switched to Plan B, which was my art. I had to hold down other jobs, so I worked on the post for a while, and then I was five years at Tesco, picking out the orders for Home Delivery. So, I started as a cartoonist and I did that for about thirteen years at the Sheffield Telegraph but the problem was you got paid once, and then you had to hope and wait for the next commission. With commercial art, if it’s good enough, you can sell it time and again. But all those years being a cartoonist, that helped me develop the distinctive style that I suppose I’m known for today. My first exhibition was in a pub. In fact, my first few exhibitions were in pubs or cafes, where you could reach ordinary people, where they would feel comfortable and where they’d have time to appreciate my work.

    Some artists could be described as quintessentially British, or English. Your work seems even more localised than that.

    Well, you take something like my Girl In The Red Coat series and it’s a flight of fancy, something conjured from my imagination, but you have to work with what you know. Even Salvador Dali, he might have had clocks and elephants in the foreground of his pictures but the background, the hills particularly, they are based on the landscape around his home in Catalonia.

    You once wrote, “You know you love a city when you never want to leave”. What it is that makes Sheffield so special for you?

    It’s hard for me to compare it to anywhere else but it’s definitely the people. They say Sheffield is the biggest small village in England. There are supposedly six degrees of separation from any other person in the world but in Sheffield it’s only two degrees. You start talking to anyone in a pub and you soon realise that you have someone or something in common. Particularly if you’re into Music, chances are that you go to the same two or three pubs so there’s a brilliant sense of community. Plus there are all the parks, and the thousands of trees; it has a certain beauty, and a certain pathos. And Sheffield is on seven hills, so you never get the same view twice. And we are on the edge of the Peak District, which Sheffield helps to manage.

    Is there such a thing as a “typical working day” for you?

    The very talented Pete McKee.

    If I’m preparing for an exhibition then that whole process starts about six months up front, thinking about what I want to show, how I’m going to arrange it, but I do spend a lot of time just looking around me and waiting for inspiration to strike.

    I’m working on a new exhibition for next year; I’m going to try to get a few other friends involved in it as well, to make the show lovely, and varied. It’s a celebration of the Working Class; I’m trying to put a bit of pride back into being Working Class. The media has lambasted it; we’re an underclass of people now and it shouldn’t be that way. There’s a lot of pressure on people to live a lifestyle that’s out of their reach, in some respects. People are encouraged to own a big flat screen TV and then they are criticised for owning one. You can’t have the best of both worlds. Obviously the concept of what it means to be Working Class is changing all the time; it’s evolving but we are the backbone of this society; without the Working Class no one gets anything done, nothing gets manufactured. We should be proud of where we come from, and of our upbringing. For some reason it’s getting a bit distorted at the moment, so I just wanted to have a celebration of what it is to be Working Class.

    Music plays a big part in your art. Was there a lot of music in the house when you were growing up?

    My dad was a steel worker, and used to play in the local pubs, but he had an accident at work and lost a finger, so when we moved house the piano got sold. He used to listen to bands like The Ink Spots, the old Doo Wop music. I have three siblings, all older than me, and I was influenced by the music they were playing. One was into stuff like Alice Cooper, Queen and Supertramp, my other brother was really into the Folk movement, whilst my sister was a fan of The Beatles and the Stones. There’s a Blood, Sweat & Tears album that I still play, and every time I hear it, it takes me back to a time and a place.

    Back when we grew up Social Media wasn’t invented; we just bought what was on Top Of The Pops, what you read about in the NME. Our house was basically on ‘Tick’ or what you could buy weekly from the Club catalogue books; that fashioned what your expectations were. Our TV, our hi-fi systems, our cocktail cabinet unit and bookshelves, everything we sat on was owned by somebody else, and we just paid every week for it. That’s how you did it.

    Can you remember the first record you bought?

    There are two records that I asked my brothers to get me when they were in town. One was Mott The Hoople “Roll Away The Stone” and the other was Sparks ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’. That got to Number Two in the chart. I was so disappointed because I thought just by dint of me buying a copy it would go to Number One. I love that song, though I could never understand the words.

    Your Great Labels In Popular Music suggests that you are a lover of vinyl?

    I am but I’m one of those people that had a moment when they had to sell their collection. I was probably behind with my Council Tax, or something. But recently I’ve been building it all back, bit-by-bit. I’ve got a small record deck and I’ve started replacing the old copies but it’s a lot more expensive this time round. I love that tactile experience that comes with going into a record shop, escaping into this unique environment. That’s one of the reasons why I like having my own gallery. And I like being able to pick up a record and look at the sleeve. I’ve even bought albums based on the artwork alone.

    Can you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    Station To Station by Pete McKee. New for 2017.

    Because my Mum passed away when I was about six, my Dad bought me up, and when it came to clothes purchases I relied on him. When the Mod movement came along and everyone was walking around in military Parkas, I asked my Dad to get me a Parka, and he came back with one from C&A. I was already classed as a ‘Plastic Mod’ and no matter what genre you’re into, you don’t want the C&A version of something that everyone else is wearing.

    So, that was the first part of my upbringing, getting it slightly wrong cause I relied on my poor Dad to get me these things. Then eventually I saw this one jacket - it was like a stud button up, with the different coloured sleeves. The Jam were wearing something similar about this time, I think it’s round about when ‘Start’ came out. And I saw one in a shop window and I just begged my Dad, “Can I get this for my Christmas present?” I remember that as my first proper choice; it was an expensive item but it was the “one thing” that I want; that treasured thing. When you’re into a music culture, or into a fashion culture, you’ve got one of two options; you either buy one item that’s THE thing, and you wear that to death. Or you’re fortunate enough to have enough money to buy several. And I was definitely in the bracket that buys one; has one certain look, one uniform, and wears it to death because I’d got no option. I had one pair of jeans that I’d wear all week, this one jacket, and this one pair of shoes, and I wore to death because that’s all I could afford.

    Youth cults, or music movements figure large in your artwork. Why is that?

    What I loved about Music fashion growing up was the codes, the dress codes. Whether it was the Mod movement, the Skinhead movement, the Suedehead movement, anything, even the Metal Heads, walking around at school with Rainbow embroidered on the back of their jacket, they had to be the right denim jacket. It was either Wrangler, or Levis or Lee but if you got the wrong one you were a fake. So, I love dress codes.

    With the Music fashion thing, the Working Class aspiration is to pick the more expensive brands, to show they’re not poor; it’s a peacock thing, in a way. When the Teddy Boy movement came in, their Drape Coats were like military officers coats, and then the Mod movement was aspirational for an American look, things they’d seen in movies. Look at Hip Hop culture; it’s all linked to the high-end brand stuff. The Casual movement was knicking very expensive Tacchini tracksuit tops because they couldn’t afford them, but that’s the thing with expensive brands, that’s what they want to be associated with. Working Class fashion has always been aspirational but now it’s become a bit more sinister

    Do you have your own particular style now?

    A sort of Fifties look, in some respects. My hair’s been in kind of a quiff thing since I was twenty four, when I saw Edwyn Collins third album, and I thought, “That’s a smart move, that”. I’ve worn a quiff of some kind ever since really. I like that kind of style, an “American-esque” look. I like the Harrington style jackets but with a bit more of a shirt sort of collar.

    How did your fondness for Tootal come about?

    Pete McKee: Enjoying the spoils of his hard won success.

    I remember the famous ‘Mods’ book, the black and white one by Richard Barnes, we got that as kids, or one of us had it and the rest of us all kept looking at it. That was our dress code bible; what was acceptable to wear as Mods. I remember this one photo where some kids are dancing in a nightclub, and one kid has got a scarf tucked into his crew neck sweater. And I thought, wow, that’s a look; I’m going to look out for that. My brother-in-law used to be a Mod, and still had this Tootal from the Sixties in his wardrobe; I remember it cause he used to wear it to work. And he gave it to me; a Mustard Paisley Tootal. So I was the first kid, and only kid, to wear a Tootal scarf in our school. Since then I rarely had one off me neck. And that founded my desire, and love and passion for Tootal scarves.

    You have collaborated with Clark’s Shoes on Desert Boots, and projects with Paul Smith. Any plans for a range of scarves?

    Only if Tootal ask me. I’d love to do something for Tootal. I do love a good brand association, particularly brands with class and cache and coolness; I’d love to be able to work with Tootal at some point in my life.

     

    To see more of Pete’s wonderful art visit www.petemckee.com

    And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Sheffield (once voted Happiest City In The U.K.) Pete’s gallery, A Month Of Sundays, is at 365 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, S11 8ZG.

    You can follow Pete on Twitter @PeteMcKee or on Facebook @PetemckeeArt

  • Mixing Pop and Politics: Author Daniel Rachel Talks To Tootal Blog

    For readers of a certain age there was a golden era for protest songs. A time before reality TV talent shows when passionate messages coupled with infectious melodies could regularly crack the Top 10. A period charted by musician turned author Daniel Rachel in his absorbing book Walls Come Tumbling Down, winner of the Penderyn Music Book Prize for 2017.

    We selected ten “angry anthems” and asked Daniel to share his thoughts on each of them.

    1.The Clash ‘Police And Thieves’ (1977)

    Written by Junior Murvin & Lee Perry. From the album The Clash. U.K. Album Chart #12

    The Clash, particularly Joe Strummer, had enquiring minds. Paul Simonon and Mick Jones grew up in South London, and were imbibed with Black Culture, which intensified when they moved to West London. It was natural that the sound they grew up with would infect their music.

    The Clash: Their 1977 debut album (CBS Records)

    I love the way you get the kind of On/Off Reggae beat of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones’ guitars. Then just before the guitar solo it breaks from the Reggae rhythm and gives way to more typical Clash sounding chugging guitars. Watch the footage of them doing this in Birmingham in 1978; I think it’s at Barbarella’s. There’s a vibrancy to that performance, not only in the close-up of the camera work, which is right on Strummer’s face, but when he moves out of shot the camera remains on the microphone and you’re left waiting for him to come back into shot.

    There’s also footage of a National Front rally outside Digbeth Civic Hall that same day, which turns into a confrontation between the Anti-Nazi League, Rock Against Racism and the police. There are two people that were in that melee; one is me, as a little boy who has inadvertently been driven into the melee by his parents. I thought it was very exciting and I was taken by the colours, and the look of the Skinheads. And the other person there was Ranking Roger.

    2. Tom Robinson Band ‘Glad To Be Gay’ (1978)

    Written by Tom Robinson. From the Rising Free E.P. U.K. Singles Chart #18

    TRB headlined the Rock Against Racism carnival in Victoria Park by dint of their hit ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’, so they had a greater status than The Clash at that point. They are not really a Punk band, but Tom in his sort of school uniform, Roger Huddle’s Black Power fist logo behind them, plus Danny Kustow’s kind of Punk guitar, brings an importance to this song. It’s a hugely important and equally inflammatory song.

    In the introduction, Tom says the World Health Organisation have categorised being Gay as a disease, 302.0. He discovered that because of Paul Furness, who had set up Leeds Rock Against Racism and worked in the medical records department at Leeds Royal Infirmary. It was Paul’s job to get code numbers for the doctors, and he found the classification, and told Tom Robinson about 302.0. It’s printed on the EP sleeve, on the side. That was an astonishing political statement, 302.0 eventually was removed from the World Health Organisation directory in 1990.

    3. Steel Pulse ‘Ku Klux Klan’ (1978)

    Written by Steel Pulse. U.K. Singles Chart #41

    David Hinds of Steel Pulse heard that David Duke, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was going to make a visit to Britain. In the song David is imagining walking down the road, kicking a can, when somebody from the Klan jumps out in front of him. This song brings the politics of Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, West Midlands.

    Steel Pulse 'Ku Klux Klan' (Island Records). The first single from their debut album, 'Handsworth Revolution'.

    Steel Pulse went to the South (of the U.S.), and they played ‘Ku Klux Klan’; David told me the day after the band had left there was a lynching in the city where they had been performing. Because of the age he was he didn’t have any fear about performing ‘Ku Klux Klan’, in that kind of atmosphere and climate, nor the potential danger that the band where in. That’s quite extraordinary.

    David Hinds grew up listening to British White radio. He’s a fan of Pop music; the Stones, The Kinks and The Who, but also bands like the Average White Band. David used to make a 45-minute trip across town, from Handsworth to college in Bourneville. His bus journey charted the change of colour of the city, so when he arrives at college, he’s gone from the black world of Handsworth to the white world of Bourneville. All this influences the way he sees the world, the way he writes music, the way he sings and puts together Steel Pulse. They don’t follow the tropes of what you might associate with Jamaican Reggae. And that’s as valid that Steel Pulse should be playing with ‘White Man’s music’ as The Clash are playing with ‘Black Man’s music’.

    4. Linton Kwesi Johnson ‘Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)’ (1979)

    Written by Linton Kwesi Johnson. From the album Forces Of Victory. U.K. Album Chart #66.

    The most intimidating man I met for Walls Come Tumbling Down but what a hugely eloquent and powerful poet he is. He may have been one of the first people ever to take Patois and put it into a written form; as Linton points out, Robbie Burns spoke in the dialect of his homeland, and so Linton had the right to do so too.

    I think that the impact of the records he made with Dennis Bovell is not dissimilar to how you might consider 16th Century broadsides. The news of the street and of the people being delivered as a bulletin; it was the news that was not being told by the British media.

    As with John Cooper Clarke poetry was beginning to be an accepted form of voicing opposition to the establishment. In the Eighties Seething Wells and Attila The Stockbroker supported The Jam at Hammersmith; then there’s Pop Art Poem on Sound Affects, and, of course, Paul Weller sets up Riot Stories, his own poetry imprint, so there’s a connection there. And a Number One artist has sanctioned it.

    5. Ruts ‘S.U.S.’ (1979)

    Written by Dave Ruffy, John ‘Segs’ Jennings, Malcolm Owen, Paul Fox & Richard Mannah.

    From the album The Crack. U.K. Album Chart #16.

    Ruts 'The Crack' (Virgin Records). Also includes 'Babylon's Burning' and 'Something That I Said'.

    How mad is it that a Reggae band - Misty In Roots - finance and put out a Punk band’s single on their own label (People Unite)? Misty and The Ruts formed an alliance, so when Dave Ruffy, on the drums, and Segs, on the bass, were trying to play the Reggae music they loved they were being tutored, literally, by Misty. But Misty themselves were British. And the interesting thing is that Malcolm Owen was married to a mixed race girl; Ruffy says in Walls Come Tumbling Down that Malcolm was getting hit by traffic both ways. It’s a stunning line. The Ruts also got quite an Asian following, by dint of their Southall connection. That wouldn’t have been easy, for a young Asian girl to be going to a Punk gig in ’78, ‘79.

    During the Southall riots of ’79, the People Unite offices were trashed by the Special Patrol Group. Misty’s manager, Clarence Baker, was clobbered over the head and rushed to Intensive Care, which becomes another Ruts song ‘Jah War’. So, The Ruts, and Misty, were important politically, and played some mean Reggae rhythms.

    6. Stiff Little Fingers ‘Alternative Ulster’ (1979)

    Written by Gordon Ogilvie & Jake Burns. Did not Chart.

    Not all but most of Stiff Little Fingers’ lyrics were written by their manager, Gordon Ogilvie, a journalist writing for the Daily Express in Northern Ireland. Ogilvie wrote the lyrics for this song and then gave them to Jake Burns, saying ‘would you write a song called ‘Alternative Ulster’? When Gordon saw the band at a rehearsal two weeks later Jake said, “I’ve finished it. Listen to this”. Before that SLF were just doing Jam covers, and hadn’t yet become the band that we know them as.

    In 1978 Stiff Little Fingers’ got in touch with Tom Robinson and landed a support tour with his band. SLF weren’t only talking about Northern Ireland; they were talking about the freedoms of youth. Gordon says in Walls Come Tumbling Down that if The Clash can talk about “Sten Guns In Knightsbridge” then there is a legitimate argument for Jake to be singing about the British military presence in Northern Ireland

    I love SLF’s first album; Jake’s voice is like listening to razor blades, really fantastic. As a kid I loved playing it because you knew it would cause maximum offence to anyone in adult hearing vicinity, which is always exciting.

    7. The Specials ‘Ghost Town’ (1981)

    Written by Jerry Dammers. U.K. Singles Chart #1

    On this record The Specials master Reggae. It’s interesting they return to Reggae because in ’78 as The Coventry Automatics, when they supported The Clash, they were trying Reggae with a Punk fusion, and they don’t really get back into that until this point.

    The Specials always sounded more early Reggae / Rocksteady to me than Ska. When you think of ‘Skinhead Symphony’ on the Too Much Too Young EP, those songs are all from ‘68/’69; that’s Reggae, isn’t it? But it is the greatest EP ever. Absolutely! Not even The Beatles can match it. So exciting.

    The Specials 'Ghost Town' (2 Tone Records). Three weeks at No. 1 in 1981.

    The week before this got to No. 1 The Specials played the last Rock Against Racism Carnival in Leeds. They were the headline act, with Misty In Roots and the Au Pairs. Jerry Dammers tells a great story that when they got to the trombone solo, Rico didn’t play. Jerry goes over and say’s, “Rico, Rico! Play now!” And Rico says to Jerry, “Me nah feel for play, Jerry”.

    As a young kid, it never dawned on me that 2 Tone music was political. I would just sing along to, “Just because you’re s a Black boy/ Just because you’re White/ Doesn’t mean you have to hate him/ Doesn’t mean you have to fight”, or when Ranking Roger toasting on ‘Doors Of Your Heart’; “Stick him in your living room and turn off the light / Bet you wouldn't know if he was black or white”. The politics only began to infiltrate my mind as I developed a social conscience. Until then they were just great pop songs, but sub-consciously they were educating me.

    8. Billy Bragg ‘Between The Wars’ (1985)

    Written by Billy Bragg. U.K. Chart #15.

    The EP was dedicated to the Miner’s Wives Support Group; unfortunately the record was released just as the Miner’s strike finished. It’s an incredible EP. The other songs are ‘Which Side Are You On?’ by Florence Reece, ‘World Turned Upside Down’ by Leon Rosselson and Billy’s ‘It Says Here’. The words to all four songs are imbedded in my mind

    ‘Between The Wars’ is a ‘them and us’ song, isn’t it? You have that; we have this. You say that; we say this; Billy was the one-man Clash. It’s folk-punk. I feel hugely connected to this record. I was at school and we had a production of Pride & Prejudice, and I was The Butler. We were due to perform on a Thursday night – Top of the Pops night - and I knew that Billy was going to be on; I was such a fan. I said to, my drama teacher, “I’ve got a little portable TV, can I bring it in, because I don’t want to miss it?” and she let me! Our ‘backstage’ area was the school gym; I took the TV in and I made everyone watch Billy doing ‘Between The Wars’. He sang it live. I was really excited because not many people were Billy Bragg fans. I thought, “Yes!”

    A couple of years later my best mate, Simon (of Ocean Colour Scene), who was working at the Birmingham Post got in contact with Billy’s press people and got tickets and a bumper press kit sent to him, for Billy’s show at The Alexandra Theatre; Michelle Shocked was supporting him. Simon didn’t like Billy much but afterwards he said, “God! It was like watching a stand up comedian”.

    9. The Housemartins ‘Flag Day’ (1985)

    Written by Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore. Did not chart.

    Billy Bragg’s wife, Juliet, who had managed The Selecter and ran 2 Tone Records with Rick Rodgers, talks so passionately in the book about what Paul Heaton’s voice does to her and the tone in his voice, which cut through to the marrow. “Too many Florence Nightingales, not enough Robin Hoods…” What a strange choice for a single; it didn’t chart but it was followed by ‘Sheep’, which creeps in at the bottom end of the chart and then, ‘Happy Hour’, which was magnificent and went top ten.

    Paul told me at this time he hadn’t yet got his handle on political lyrics. The Housemartins had that lightness that a band like The Redskins didn’t. He said, “You just wanted to tickle them under the arm a little bit”. There are so many great political songs on the second Housemartins album. There’s some telling lines about Margaret Thatcher on ‘Five Get Over Excited’; ‘Feigning concern, a conservative pastime, Makes you feel doubtful right from the start / The expression she pulls is exactly like last time, You've got to conclude she just hasn't a heart’.

    The Housemartins 'Flag Day' (Go! Discs). Failed to make the singles chart but was No. 10 in John Peel's Festive 50 of 1985

    Like Elvis Costello, Paul resisted joining Red Wedge. Paul came down for a meeting in London; he went in and a 'Wedgee' was barefooted. Somebody was probably wearing loafers without any socks on. Paul said, ‘This isn’t my crowd’. Basically, he’d been spending his time on the frontline during the Miner’s strike, and he wasn’t really getting the “Southerners” thing, even though Billy Bragg, and Paul Weller, and The Communards and Junior were all at the meeting; Paul said it wasn’t his scene. He had a few demands of his own; the abolition of the monarchy, and nationalising the record industry. Red Wedge rejected his ideas.

    I told Paul how his lyrics fed into my life and what they meant to me and to my peers and he said, “It’s funny. You tell me my lyrics have influenced you but Paul Weller influenced me and Joe Strummer influenced him”.

    10. The Style Council ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down!’ (1985)

    Written by Paul Weller. U.K. Chart #6.

    In Birmingham, Style Council fans that I knew were people that looked like Casuals. They would wear espadrilles with no socks and jumpers tied across their shoulders. It’s the reason why I resisted The Style Council. I didn’t like the kind of people that liked them. And then, you watch their videos, and Paul’s rubbing Mick’s chest and they’re on boats together and that kind of nonsense. The thing about ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ is, it sounded more like The Jam.

    It is an incredibly didactic lyric, but it’s being delivered in a manner, and with a melody and a rhythm that’s really exciting and that’s the basis of any great protest song.

    Jerry Dammers talks about the reference to the walls of Jericho, and how it has been since discovered that the wall fell because it had been undermined. Jerry’s saying music alone isn’t enough to bring walls down; there’s got to be some form of collaboration. That is why Paul Weller decided, alongside Billy Bragg and Annajoy David, to do what nobody else had ever done in Rock ‘n’ Roll history and go to the corridors of power; and go to Parliament to effect change. To do the opposite of Punk, which was anti-establishment. They were encouraging people to register to vote and to get change from within. Gordon Brown vindicated Red Wedge’s goals in 1990, when he delivered a White Paper on the music industry, and then by Neil Kinnock, whose policy papers for the 1992 General Election had Red Wedge ideas within them.

    Red Wedge was hugely influential, particularly on a generation who would express themselves 10 years later in 1997, and equally in Labour Party policy. That’s an amazing achievement for Pop Stars. That’s the guy that’s on Top Of The Pops rubbing Mick Talbot’s chest; influencing Labour Party policy. It’s incredible.

     

    Walls Come Tumbling Down by Daniel Rachel was the winner of the Penderyn Music Book Prize for 2017. John Harris, writing in The Guardian, described the book as “a triumphant oral history”, whist Shaun Keaveny on BBC 6 Music called it “A colossal and brilliant book”.

     

     

    Walls Come Tumbling Down is published by Pan Macmillan and available in paperback here https://goo.gl/T7AYnL

     

     

     

     

    Daniel is also the author of Isle Of Noises: Conversations With Great British Songwriters (a Guardian and NME Book of the Year). For more details visit www.danielrachel.com

  • Acid Jazz Records Supremo Eddie Piller Gets The Third Degree From Tootal Blog

    The dictionary describes a Polymath as "a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas." In the Tootal Dictionary it adds "see Eddie Piller". His résumé includes M.D. and founder of the permanently hip Acid Jazz record label, DJ, broadcaster, writer, club owner, and now organiser of the Modcast events. We caught up with Eddie over a half of stout to learn more about his remarkable career.

    How are you, Eddie?

    I’ve been very busy the last few weeks. I’ve done two Italian trips; I was DJ-ing with Madness at the weekend, which was really good fun. In Milan, three and a half thousand people, and the band were still just as good. I haven’t seen them since June 1979. I might have seen them once in between but I stopped going to see them because if you weren’t a Skinhead and you went to see Madness, especially if you were a Mod, they would beat you up. So I stopped going.

    I know Suggs quite well and he always joked about me being the only Mod at Madness gigs. I saw them four weeks in a row when they had a residency at the Dublin Castle; they took over from The Fixations. Then literally, three months later… that was it. It was worse at The Specials but, you know, Skinheads were everywhere in ’79, and they were awful. Brick Lane was the big National Front hangout around here. You used to see them every Sunday. I hated them… I was arrested nine times for fighting Skinheads. Nine times. And never convicted once. When the chief witness for the prosecution has a swastika tattooed between his eyebrows, the magistrate tends to say, “You’re not guilty”. Whereas the fact that I probably was guilty… anyway, there you go.

    In the Eighties you ran Countdown Records. Was that your first record label?

    That was my fourth label. I set up my first label in Woodford when I was 18. I released two singles, and one compilation album called The Beat Generation. Then things happened very fast. At the time I had a fanzine I was running with Terry Rawlings, called Extraordinary Sensations. This band from America sent us a demo tape; it was brilliant. I was running a bedroom label and this band was fantastic; I knew we wouldn’t be able to do it justice. So Terry said’ “Let’s take it to Stiff”, and they said, “Actually, this band’s really good”, and they gave us our own label. The band were called The Untouchables, and we had three chart hits with them and a very successful album; I’m even in the video for ‘I Spy For The FBI”. That was a remarkably successful period but then the Mod scene was finished, virtually overnight. By ’84, ’85 it was really on the decline, Countdown got on the end of it in ’86 but I’d already stepped off into the Jazz world.

    How long after that did you start Acid Jazz Records?

    Acid Jazz: The Early Years. "We thought we'd only release two or three records..."

    I started Acid Jazz in ’86, with Gilles Peterson. Stiff Records went bankrupt and consequently took Countdown with them; The Prisoners had just released a fabulous album, In From The Cold, and when Stiff went we lost everything. So, I didn’t have anything to do. I had this idea to get an instrumental Mod band together, like Booker T & The MGs. I persuaded James Taylor to record a couple of demos but he wasn’t really interested, he moved to Sweden and left me with the tape of four tracks. I sent them to John Peel, and John went mad for it. ‘Blow Up’, JTQ; that scene really started to grow. We kind of remade the Mod revival without telling Mods. It was very cool, very fashionable, and gradually what was left of the Mod scene, kind of integrated with Gilles Peterson and Paul Murphy’s Jazz scene, to create this Acid Jazz thing in about ’86.

    What was the ambition when you put out those first Galliano and Brand New Heavies releases?

    It was a laugh, a joke. We just wanted to put out records by our mates; we thought we’d only release two or three records… Galliano, A Man Called Adam, The Last Poets. And then after ten records, including The Style Council under a different name, Gilles left and went to set up Talkin’ Loud, which was brilliant because it allowed me to do exactly what I wanted to do. As soon as he left I thought, I’d better find some product, so that’s what led me to sign Terry Callier. Gilles and I never agreed on music. Ever. He was very progressive, and I was very populist. I wanted to make Soul Pop records, and he wanted to make Esoteric Jazz records. He didn’t want to sign the Heavies, and he’d gone by the time I signed Jamiroquai. That was everything he didn’t want to do. I was much more of a Soul Boy; he was a Jazzer.

    What do you listen out for when someone presents new music to the label?

    Until last year I stopped paying any attention to Acid Jazz for about ten years, because I got ill with cancer, and nearly quit. And then Dean Rudland said, “Why don’t you get back into making music again?” So, that was a year ago, so since then I’ve actually started making records again.

    I found this beautiful girl singer, who is the best thing I’ve discovered since Jamiroquai, and I don’t care if she has success; I’m sure she would like to. I just want to make great records, and that’s what I’ve always done. Some people like ‘em, other people don’t. I don’t really give a fuck.

    Are there any key moments, releases, highlights or lowlights that you can pick out?

    Keep The Boy Happy: Eddie Piller shows of the last of the Rare Mod compilations. Or is it..?

    Jamiroquai selling forty million records, I mean… what?! He was sleeping on sofas; every major record company in the country turned him down. I was taking him round saying, “Please sign this kid, he’s fucking brilliant”. And everyone was going. “He’s an idiot. Look how he dresses. He can’t dance, he can’t write songs”. So I said, “Alright, I’ll do it myself”. And look what happened; Forty. Million. Records. The biggest selling British artist of the Nineties. So that’s a highlight… signing Terry Callier, Brand New Heavies, three-minute records, just making great Soul music.

    And the lowlights?

    Losing my club, The Blue Note in Hoxton Square, that was a disaster. Hackney Council took the license away. I lost a million and a half pounds, and it ruined my life.

    There’s a Polish Acid Jazz compilation that includes the credit ‘Mother Earth featuring Eddie Piller’. What was that all about?

    I used to play alto saxophone, keyboards and percussion. But with Mother Earth, I was present with all their recordings, and I would often play percussion, or something. I don’t know what particular track that was but I just know that album, The People Tree, is the best record I ever made. It’s a brilliant record. Even now it stands up.

    Can you recall the first record you bought?

    “Young Girl Get Out Of My Life” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, from Broadway Records in Woodford - I think it was called Broadway Records. Very soon, by the age of 13 or 14, I got into Punk Rock. I spent a lot of time buying Punk Rock records. From either Downtown Records in Ilford, or Small Wonder Records in Walthamstow.

    Did music feature large in your house as a child?

    No. Funnily enough, I only found out my mother did the Small Faces Fan Club in 1978, when my Dad bought her the Small Faces. Big Hits compilation, and he went, “Ooh, your Mum used to do the fan club for that”, and I went, “What!?” That was before I was a Mod, and people say, “Oh, you must have grown up in a Mod household”. In the Sixties, people got to 21, and they had a real life. Whereas with us, we’ve carried on being children, and being Mods, but my Dad was a Mod until the age of 20 then he ran a business. My mother was a housewife from the age of 19 but a housewife with a little job of running the Small Faces Fan Club. But I didn’t know any of that ‘til I was 14, 15 years old.

    And did you quiz her at that point?

    The Style Council's 'A Solid Bond In Your Heart' video, from 1983. Enter young Eddie Piller stage left; exit Mick Talbot stage right.

    Not really. I can remember the big conversation, when I turned Mod in late ’78, early ’79, and my Dad was driving me to school when I put a cassette on, in the Granada he had. He said, “What’s this sh…”, well, he didn’t say “shit” because he didn’t swear, but he said, “What’s this rubbish?” And I said, “I’m a Mod, Dad, this is Mod”. He laughed and went, “That ain’t Mod.” I was playing The Kinks, The Jam, the Small Faces, The Who, and he said, “That’s not Mod; Tubby Hayes is Mod, Harold McNair’s Mod, Miles Davis…”. And I said, “Shut up, Grandad, what d’you know?’ And, of course he was absolutely right, but I didn’t realise he was right until at least four or five years later.

    Was Punk the moment when the record collecting bug first bit you?

    I remember exactly what happened. I was ill; I had chickenpox when I was 14. I missed out on being the lead role in the school Shakespeare play because I had chickenpox. My mother’s friend worked at EMI, she sent round a box of records and it was Queen, Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Yachts for some reason, and then right at the bottom of the box was this 45 on Harvest by The Saints, called “I’m Stranded”. So, I’d gone through all these records, and I thought, “That’s good. That’s good”. Then I heard this record, and I thought, “All that stuff can go in the bin, ‘cause this is what it’s all about”. And it was; The Saints changed my life. Within four years I’d saved up enough to follow them around on tour in Australia, at the age of 18.

    I went to Australia many times because there was such a great Mod scene there but I went first to see The Saints. But I met all the Sydney Mods; they had a great Mod scene. It was like our scene but they lived it better. Maybe it’s the weather, I don’t know.

    In 2009 you launched your Rare Mod series of records. How deep do you have to dig, and how hard is it to maintain quality?

    Digging Deep: Some highlights from the Acid Jazz Rare Mod series of releases.

    I think that’s finished now because we have literally run out decent quality. The team was Richard Searle from Corduroy, who works at Acid Jazz, with Damian Jones, a record dealer, and ‘Smiler’ Anderson, the author. They were the three curators, and basically the angle was knock on the door of someone who might have been in a band in the Sixties, track ‘em down. “Have you got any acetates in the attic? Oh, yes we have”. That was it. “Would you like some money? Can we release it on Acid Jazz?” So, I think we did about twelve EPs, two box sets, six albums plus six compilation albums, but by the end of it we’d run out. The best selling one was the Steve Marriott Moments EP, we sold about Ten Thousand copies of that. It featured the U.S. only version of “You Really Got Me”, with their own Blues track called “Money”, then some unreleased stuff as well. But we had the previously unreleased David Bowie thing, with The Riot Squad, we had some unreleased John’s Children with Marc Bolan – it was a really good series.

    Your DJ career pre-dates all of this though. How did you get into that?

    Ilford from 1980, probably to ’84; it was a working men’s club. It might have been called Bentley’s; it wasn’t on the High Road but parallel with the High Road and further back. We started there on a Monday night, we’d have 50, 60 people. Ray Patriotic and Tony Matthews were my two partners and we said let’s move it to the Regency Suite, which was a proper, purpose built club. The guy there was very dismissive, gave us Monday’s but we were having 350 people on a Monday, so he gave us Friday’s too. We could have Friday’s on condition we kept Monday’s. We were selling it out; we sold out for two or three years. And then Chris Sullivan, from The Wag Club, said, “Mate, you’ve got a good thing going, come and DJ at The Wag”. So that was my real introduction, not just playing records to my mates, Mods in Essex. Playing in the West End at The Wag Club was a very special thing.

    Do you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    I remember it very well. I used to work at the Mr Byrite shop in Ilford. After that I worked at their warehouse in Walthamstow, Blackhorse Road. And they sold tonic suits. Cheap. Everyone goes, “Mr Byrite were rubbish”. Mate, they were great gear, better than Mintz & Davis. Everyone goes, “Oh, Mintz & Davis in Romford, that’s where I got my Sta-Prest.” Rubbish! Mr. Byrite was the place to be, and it was cheap; and I got paid and I got a staff discount. And I’ve still got my staff badge in my bedside drawer.

    Which brings us to your Tootal addiction. Tell us more.

    I have a massive collection; I think I’ve got at least 70, possibly more. For some reason I haven’t been wearing them as much for the last couple of years; I’m only wearing a scarf today because I went on my scooter, and it was a bit chilly but I wore silk scarves everyday, probably for ten years. I have a Thirties brushed silk paisley, which is my favourite. Some are Viyella, or those non-silk fabrics from the early Sixties; some of those patterns, they’re incredible.

    I think it’s a tragedy what’s happened to British industry and British fashion. I think it has never recovered from the big break up of ICI, and the closing down of the mills. I know there’s a big move to re-manufacture in Manchester but I do genuinely believe a lot of the skills have been lost to this country. I’m very keen on British manufacturing; there’s not enough of it.

    And now you have The Modcast. Essentially you are a self-made Mod Media Mogul.

    Eddie Piller: Is this man the Mod Murdoch? (Answer: No, not unless Rupert rides a scooter). Photo by Dean Chalkley

    Not really. I have to thank Sarah Bolshi for the success of Modcast, she pushed me into doing it. Our podcast has been extraordinarily successful but I think we’ve done about 50, and they may have arrived at their natural end. There are people that I’d still to do; I’d do Weller, though he’s a bit shy, funnily enough. I’d do Townshend, who won’t. I’d do Daltrey, who won’t; I’ve asked him twice. I tried to get Roger to talk about Pete Meaden for about five years, and eventually I met him backstage at Paul Weller’s 50th Birthday, and I said, “Right, you can’t get away now”, and he just laughed in my face. These people don’t have to talk to people like me, they’ve already told their story – you can read it anywhere, you can see it on the documentaries. I’d be interested to read Roger’s autobiography though, he wasn’t a fan of Meaden; his only fan was Townshend.

    But whilst the podcasts might have reached their natural end, the parties have gone off the scale. We sell out the Modcast Boat Party four or five months in advance; we do three a year. We do a couple of weekenders, in Brighton, Margate or Southend; we always try and do a different place. I cannot believe this thing has become like a family, where the same people come… well, if it’s not the same people it’s the same type of people. You’ll see everybody once a year at least; it’s a fantastic experience and we love it.

     

    For details of forthcoming Modcast events, and to catch up with previous podcasts visit www.themodcast.co.uk

    You can find all Acid Jazz releases – including the last few copies of their Rare Mod releases – at www.acidjazz.co.uk

    Eddie Piller's Eclectic Soul Show is on Soho Radio every Thursday at 4.00pm  http://www.sohoradiolondon.com/presenters/eddie-piller/

    Need more Acid Jazz artists in your life? Check out our recent Q&A with the excellent New Street Adventure here https://goo.gl/SuC37a

  • Read All About It: Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings of From The Jam Talk To Tootal Blog

    During a couple of rare days off, Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings of From The Jam talked to Tootal Blog about their new ‘Live!’ album, their Winter 2017 UK Tour, and looked back over their ten year partnership.

    What are you up to at the moment?

    Bruce: I just had a Sky engineer come into the office, he’s been up on the roof, threading cables through and I’ve been helping him. When I say “helping” I mean making cups of tea. I’ve not been ‘doing a Rod Hull’; my insurance wouldn’t cover it.

    Russell: Bruce and I often tell people we travel for a living. We spend a lot of time living out of suitcases. When I get a chance I listen to music to relax. The other day I had my iPod on shuffle and it went from Erik Satie to Never Mind The Bollocks. I get as much pleasure from both but then that’s my taste. Drummer Mark Brzezicki and I used to listen to songs just to check out the harmonies. Things like Don McLean, barbershop type arrangements; a good harmony really does it for me.

    Some of the songs on the new ‘Live!’ album are now 40 years old. Why do you think they have endured?

    Bruce: It’s obviously all Jam songs; we record every show good bad or indifferent, but we had a few shows that captured the band live basically, and we selected about a dozen or so songs from there. People want to hear those songs and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. It’s live, it’s not perfect but it captures the band… what we’re all about, basically.

    The crowds are getting bigger. There’s a real cross section from parents, like my age or a bit younger, and they’re getting their kids to come along. Or they want to come along because they like what they’ve heard their mum and dad play on the old radiogram, or whatever, all those years ago.

    It’s still very healthy. Those songs, we love them, we play them with as much passion and conviction as we can muster every night. I love playing those songs still.

    I’m very, very lucky to have been able to do this for so long, at this level. That is a testament to the quality of the songwriting and indeed Paul, Rick and myself.

    "We stole the twinkling stars in the black night." (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Russell: The fans have stayed loyal because Paul’s lyrics captured what was happening in their lives at that time. I understand that because I was a fan too. For me, no one has caught the energy quite like that since. Ultimately they are simply great songs.

    However I do think people overlook the brilliant production from Vic Smith. A lot of people aren’t aware what a big part he played in shaping The Jam sound; great double tracking, particularly on guitar and vocals. Vic was very good at distance mics, it gave the sound a great depth. The 30-foot guitar sound, often recorded at the other end of a corridor. Listen to ‘Monday’ or ‘Scrapeaway’ – two completely different songs but both with phenomenal production.

    Bruce will tell you how one of the first bands he saw was Dr. Feelgood. And it’s well documented how Paul and Bruce caught the early Sex Pistols gigs. For me “In The City” is a brilliant combination of Dr. Feelgood and the Sex Pistols.

    How would you describe your style? Does it go hand in hand with the music?

    Russell: I think what I wear, like my music, that’s who I am. I try to find different or unique bits of clothing but it’s not easy. I like hunting further afield, I will often look for new things when I’m in America. I’m a big fan of basket weave shoes. And jackets. Sometimes I think I should be saying “Hello, my name’s Russell, and I haven’t bought another jacket for a week”.

    Bruce: Onstage or offstage? I mean I might look a bit eccentric if I took the dog for a walk, with one of my stage suits on. In terms of putting a suit on for a performance, that is almost as important as playing the songs well. For me the style – how we appear – goes hand in hand with the music. It’s a very important part of it. It makes me feel we are about to do something of quality, going out there and perform those great songs. If I just went out there in t-shirt and jeans, it wouldn’t work for me; it’s too casual. I want to feel up for it in every sense. Looking – hopefully sharp – is part of it for me.

    Bruce, have you still got that red leather box jacket?

    Bruce: We’ve, at last, got round to having some wardrobes fitted at home. Since we’ve lived in this house we’ve had to keep all our clothes in those temporary clothes rails you get from Homebase. At the back of one rail I found my red leather jacket. I can just about still get in it, which ain’t bad, really. The leather probably needs a bit of treating, it’s a bit like cardboard.

    Do you recall the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    Russell: Yes, I have a crazy memory for this kind of thing. It was a matching pair of jeans and jean jacket, from Shirley’s in Chichester in 1974. I think that song “Float Like A Butterfly” was in the charts around that time. I fell in love with vinyl at the same time as I fell in love with clothes.

    Bruce: I can’t actually remember when it happened, I think it was just a natural transition, really. Probably, towards the end of school, I imagine. I honestly can’t remember saying “Right, Mum, you’re not dressing me in short trousers anymore. I’m going to go and buy some long trousers.”

    The Jam suits, when we first started wearing those, they were made by Burton’s. Are they still going? I know John Collier isn’t but I can still remember the bloody advertising tune for that. There you go, showing my age again…

    Ever looked at some old photos and thought "Why did I wear that?!"

    "For those of you watching in Black & White, this one's in Technicolor" (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Russell: There’s loads that I look back on and wonder “what was I thinking?” I still have a habit of buying things in the wrong colour.

    About 10 years ago we were in New Zealand with Bruce and Rick. Just before we went on they looked at my trousers, raised an eyebrow and asked when are you going to get changed? So now, just before we go onstage you have to glance at someone else’s outfit and raise your eyebrow. An unspoken and long running joke. I do recall saying to a drummer – who shall remain anonymous – you can’t wear that shirt tonight!” But clothes are very important to all of us. The only time you’ll see me out in a pair of tracksuit bottoms is if I’m off to the gym.

    Bruce: Well… Yes. There is a classic photo that resurfaced not that long ago, much to the band’s amusement, It’s myself at a soundcheck, I think it might have been Guildford, actually. Obviously the weather was nice outside because I’m wearing, well, shorts, basically. Very short, Seventies shorts, with white socks and trainers. It just looked awful. The thing is at a soundcheck, you wear whatever you feel comfortable in and think, “Who’s going to notice?” But these things have a way of finding their way out, unfortunately.

    Before The Jam, I was a printer. I went to Guildford Art School for a year, and I won the Best Student Award. There’s a photo of me at the presentation wearing Oxford Bags, a shirt with a big collar, a velvet jacket and a kipper tie. It looked I was in The Sweeney.

    You worked together on your albums Back In The Room and Smash The Clock. Any plans to record more originals?

    Russell: We have an aching desire to record more new material. We’ve got loads of new ideas, plenty of basic demos and rough recordings.

    The song ‘Number Six’ (from Back In The Room) was written about my old house, which I lovingly restored around the time my children were born. The working title was “This Old House”. Charles Rees said, “You can’t call it that! So, I told him the story and he said, “What number was the house?” So the title changed in an instant. It was great fun to play; it came together so easily. I reckon once we had the parts Bruce and I pieced it together in about 20 minutes.

    "You'll see me come running, to the sound of your strumming" (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Bruce: We’ve got quite a few ideas, either choruses or verses. If Russ or I get half a riff, onstage at a soundcheck you can kick it about a bit, record it onto your phone. We’ve got to knuckle down early next year and crack on with that. Recently we enjoyed a couple of weeks off but then it gradually builds and builds. After Newcastle we go up to Scotland, and there on in it’s busy enough for us, so there won’t be time.

    We’re thick through to Christmas, which is great, but the odd days you get off, that’s the time to get your laundry done, and a little bit of time with your Missus. So, we won’t be able to get to the studio but it’s coming along, we’ve got some good ideas, it will be next year at some point. Hopefully we’ll record it at Paul’s place again.

    The new ‘Live’ album has a couple of vinyl editions. How do you feel about the vinyl revival?

    Russell: I’m just glad that people can once again appreciate the artwork, not just the sound. I started to despair when it looked like everything was going to be download. I’ve known our art designer, Tony Ladd, for a few years. He is an amazing concept person. His design for the new album is great. I love the whole package, the sound, the smell, everything.

    Bruce: Definitely. Vinyl is more my era; that’s all there was, so I still think it sounds better on vinyl than it does on CD or Download. And it’s nice that you get more packaging with it, with a record there’s a lot more to look at. I’m as guilty as anybody of downloading tracks but, that’s it; you’ve got the music but you don’t get anything to mull over and look at.

    You've worked with Steve Cropper, Wilko Johnson, Steve Norman, Paul Jones - who is left on the wish list?

    "Take a pinch of white, and pinch of black, mix it together make a movin' flavour" (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Russell: I’m a big fan of Glenn Tilbrook. I think he’s an amazing songwriter; he has a knack of finding the magical chord, then knowing how to resolve it. For me he’s up there with Paul McCartney and Paul Weller. A master of his craft. A bit like Bruce really… though he’s too modest to admit it. He doesn’t realize the effect those great melodic basslines have had on people. The Jam songs wouldn’t have been so great without that great backline.

    Bruce: That’s hard. Some of them are dead. I would have loved to have done something with The Who, and I’d still like to work with Pete Townshend; our paths have crossed here and there, he’s a lovely man. And I was actually involved in a band called Casbah Club with his brother Simon Townshend for a while. I would like to work with Paul McCartney, as well, but he plays the same instrument as me, which is a bit tricky. I’d have to show him how to do it!

    And I’m not just saying it but Steve Cropper. Wilko Johnson… they were all so lovely. Not pretentious or up their own backsides, and some of the stuff they’ve done… you, know, it’s amazing. We were so lucky and proud to get them on our record.

    Russell: And I’m a big fan of Dennis Greaves, of Nine Below Zero; a lovely humble bloke. The measure is would you buy a secondhand guitar from this man? And Mark Feltham, their harmonica player – he joined us onstage recently for a version of ‘Non-Stop Dancing’.

    Bruce: We’ve done a few shows with them (NBZ), and again, they’re not pretentious. They’re experienced, they’re great at what they do and they got on with it. And they are nice guys as well. I think that’s perfect; it’s a pleasure working with them.

    From The Jam have been together quite a while now. What keeps you going?

    Bruce: 2007 we started out From The Jam proper, and here we are in 2017. I love playing music; I love The Jam material. It’s good to keep it alive, and it keeps me alive. Otherwise, what else am I going to do? I’m very fortunate to be in this position; that I can still play those songs and enjoy it, and the crowds are still coming in good numbers.

    Russell: Over those ten years… we speak on each other’s behalf. He knows what I’m thinking, what I like and vice versa. We even get up to go to the bar together. I think we might be turning into the new Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt.

    What's next for you?

    From The Jam "Live!" is released on December 1st 2017.

    Russell: We’ve got a few festival dates then it’s off on tour again, starting in Oldham, right through to two nights in Brighton just before Christmas. It’s the 35th anniversary of The Gift, so we’ll be throwing in a few songs from that album each night.

    Bruce: We are playing a few towns that are off the beaten track, so to speak. We have done some strange towns before, strange names, but wherever we go the crowds come and they really appreciate it. Perhaps they think, “Wow! Bands at this level don’t normally come out to see us; we have to go to so-and-so to see ’em”. It definitely goes down well.

    A lot of fans have pre-ordered the new album on Pledge Music. It looks like you’ve got a lot of album signing to do.

    Bruce: And I’ve got a load of lyrics to write out as well. We’ve got to crack on with it but it’s the least we can do.

    ‘From The Jam Live!’ will be released on 1st December 2017, on CD, Vinyl and Download. For details of all packages visit www.pledgemusic.com

    For details of forthcoming live dates, and to keep up to date with all the band news, visit www.fromthejamofficial.com

    With thanks to Bruce, Russell, John Waller and Derek D'Souza at www.blinkandyoumissit.com

  • The Hardest Working Man In Show Business? Craig Charles Talks To Tootal Blog

    Your list of credits on Wikipedia is the longest we’ve have ever seen: Actor, comedian, author, poet, television presenter and DJ. Do you ever take time off?

    Not really. It’s all about time management. I’ve got very good at sleeping in cars. I’ve got a driver, a pillow and a blanket; I just get in the back of the car and sleep all the way to the next place. I don’t even know I’m travelling. Which is quite good…

    I’ve actually gone on stage and said “Hello” to the wrong country. I do a lot of ski festivals. We did Andorra this year, we did Meribel, we did Bulgaria; that’s just the Skis. Then we did Croatia, Australia, Ibiza, Majorca… it’s quite nice though, to travel and play music. The other day, I come home after I’d finished the radio show and I said to my 14-year old daughter, “I’m really tired”. She said, “Dad, playing music and talking nonsense isn’t really work, is it?” I felt like grounding her! I don’t really see it as work; I see it as fun. I’m lucky; I feel as though I get invited to all these really cool parties and I get to choose the music.

    If you had a business card you’re not going to fit all that under job title. What’s it going to say?

    Chocolate Love Monkey. That’s my wife’s pet name for me; I don’t know how P.C. it is but she calls me her Chocolate Love Monkey.

    One of your first breaks came when you climbed onstage at a Teardrop Explodes gig. What’s your recollection of that evening?

    I was 15 or 16, and they’d just bought out Kilimanjaro. And ‘Reward’ was at the top of the charts. They did these four nights at The Temple, this club in Liverpool. I heard them turn on the speakers and all that, and I jumped up with this poem;

    He’s really into the music scene / No one’s been where he’s been /He saw the Pistols at the Hundred Club / He f***ed a girlfriend of a UK Sub / ‘Cause he’s really into the music scene,

    He told me Strummer was a queer / Said he’d bought Siouxsie a beer / When he mentions Ian Curtis well he always sheds a tear / ‘Cause he’s really into the music scene,

    Taught Pete Wylie all he knows / Used to manage The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes / know a celebrity because he knows loads / He’s really into the music scene,

    What’s his name I hear you shout / I can’t say he’ll sue if word gets out / But I’ll tell you something to give you hope / It begins with Julian and ends in Cope.

    And then I just went, “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Teardrop Explodes!” And I jumped off the stage, and they came on, faces like thunder!

    You were subsequently in a few bands yourself.

    Craig Charles meets The Screaming Eagle of Soul: With the late, great Charles Bradley.

    Yes, I was in a band called Watt 4, with Roag Best. I was 14, 15. We used to rehearse in The Casbah, which is the first place The Beatles played; a coffee shop in West Derby. It was decorated by The Beatles and that’s all still there; it’s worth a fortune. Mona owned it, Pete Best’s mum. Neil Aspinall and Mona had an affair; and Mo had Roag, so he’s kind of Pete’s half-brother. Roag was the drummer in the band; I played keys. And Pete used to be always hovering around. It was quite weird being steeped in that Beatles history from a very early age.

    I was in there for a while but we were shite, and nothing happened. Then I was in a band called Shades Of Grey. And a really cool band called The Lawnmower, who did, “Ride your pony, get on your pony and ride”; all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I’ve done a lot of music.

    Any unfulfilled ambitions in that area?

    Not really. I used to write all the lyrics and stuff like that. I got to the stage where the bands kept breaking up, and I ended up with a surfeit or lyrics and a deficit of musicians, so I kind of re-jigged them and turned them into poems, and that’s how my poetry career started.

    Where you actually signed to Acid Jazz Records at one point?

    I was, the album never came out. Eddie Piller phoned me up the other day, and said he’s found some of the tapes; the tapes got stolen. That’s a real lost, forgotten album, that. I was really proud of the work. And Eddie says he’s found a track called ‘Handgun’, which was way before The Sopranos; “Handgun, handgun, handgun. Put your hands on your head and give me all your money”. Very similar to the Alabama 3 track but years before.

    These days you’re a fixture on national radio. Is it right that one of your first radio appearances was a John Peel session?

    The Red Wedge Comedy Tour, 1986: "Ooh, a little bit of politics there".

    Yes, I did two John Peel sessions. I did one in 1983, and one the year after, ’84. It was featured in John Peel’s Festive Fifty. I was, what, eighteen? So, that was a proud moment. There was a track on it, a kind of Reggae infused track, called ‘Party Night’ which Peel used to really get into.

    Then I did the Red Wedge comedy tour; me, Skint Video, Mark Miwurdz and an all girl troupe called Sensible Footwear. We used to have meetings at Red Wedge with Billy Bragg and Paul Weller. It was about trying to give Socialist musicians and artists a platform to express their work because it was all “Thatcher’s Britain” at the time. It was quite nice to be involved in the early days of that, sort of, agitation, I suppose. I was doing that Red Wedge comedy tour when Saturday Night Live started; Ben Elton, you know, “Ooh, a little bit of politics there”. Fry and Laurie, and Harry Enfield. And I became a regular on that; ‘Angry Young Man’ stuff.

    I remember I used to have a Wendy Dagworthy jacket that I wore on all the shows. I’d love a scarf made out of that now. I do that a lot; I see things and think, “That would make a nice scarf”.

    Your main “occupations” all attract a fanatical audience. Is it the fanatic in you that attracts you in the first place?

    I don’t know; I’ve just been very lucky. I’ve managed to appeal to a lot of different demographics. You’ve got your ‘Corrie’ demographic, you’ve got your Red Dwarf, Robot Wars, Takeshi’s Castle, now The Gadget Show. Then the Funk & Soul Show crowd is completely different; so I suppose if you work hard enough and you do so many things, and they’re not shite, you can build up a following that way.

    In Red Dwarf: Back To Earth, Dave Lister visits the set of Coronation Street, where he meets the actor Craig Charles. To quote The Happy Mondays, that must have “twisted your melon”.

    Two Worlds Collide: Red Dwarf Back To Earth visits Coronation Street (Photo: © Dave TV)

    I did twist me melon; it was such a weird thing. And my mate Simon Gregson, who plays Steve McDonald, we got him into the show as well. I don’t know how they pulled it off. I thought the storyline was brilliant; it was a bit Corrie Meets Blade Runner, really. The Red Dwarf cast arrive back on earth, and they find out they’re actually characters in a sitcom, and unless the writer writes new episodes they’re going to cease to exist. We go off to find the actors who play us, and we end up on Coronation Street looking for me. Walking into The Rovers as Lister was just so bizarre, it’s like two worlds colliding. That’s a very special memory. It was really fun to film; I thought it was a great story.

    Let’s talk about style. Can you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    My Mum said I could buy a Budgie Jacket. I had a black and white one, with a Penny Round collar. I actually saw one online the other day but it was too small for me. It was a proper 1972 one, as well. My Mum used to be a seamstress, and she’d make a lot of clothes for us. We’d have the six-button waistband Birmingham Bags, with pockets wide enough to put an LP sleeve in. And before platforms it was stack heels. I had an Afro; I looked like a little Michael Jackson, to be honest.

    Where did your love of Tootal scarves start?

    Just call him Scarf Ace: Craig Charles in Bristol, 2016.

    I always liked that Carnaby Street, Sixties Dandy look. The Proper Mod, High Fashion look. Everyone seemed to be wearing these scarves. I thought, “Where do you get a scarf like that?” I think it might have been Dean Rudland who said, “That’s a Tootal scarf”. And then I did a bit of research into Tootal, and I know it’s been going for hundreds of years, and all that kind of stuff. Proper, lovely silk, and a lovely feel to it. So, that’s how my love affair began, so much so that Lister in Red Dwarf wears Tootal scarves all the time now. Tootal might have been going for hundreds of years but three million years into the future, it’s still around. Which is quite cool.

    Was there much music in the home when you were a child?

    Yeah, my dad came over to England in about 1958. He was a Merchant Seaman, and he missed his boat back; he was in Holland, and because he had a British Guyanese passport, instead of sending him to Guyana they sent him to Britain. He ended up at Liverpool Dock with a bag full of records and a pocket full of change. When most of Liverpool was listening to The Beatles in our house we were listening to Harry Belafonte, and Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding; Motown, Stax, Philadelphia and Miami Soul. I suppose I kind of grew up in a parallel universe in Liverpool. We weren’t into Beat music – you know, The Kinks and The Who – we were into what has become the golden era of Black American music, and that’s what I grew up listening to.

    What about the first record you bought?

    The first record I bought was the Bay City Rollers. What can I say? My Mum made the trousers; tartan stripes down the side and tartan cuffs at the bottom. “Bye bye, baby, baby, don’t cry, baby”. I must have been 8 or 9, something like that.

    When did you start collecting records?

    Scrubbed Up Nicely: Revisiting the Probe Records site, Button Street, Liverpool L2.

    I started hanging out in Probe Records, in Liverpool. It was when Pete Burns used to work behind the counter. Adam & The Ants road crew used to hang out at Probe, as well, with their ‘Ant Music For Sex People’ tattoos. And Geoff (Davies, owner) took me under his wing, and that’s when I started really getting into music more seriously. I reverse engineered my way into Funk and Soul, really, because I was really into Led Zeppelin. When Houses Of The Holy came out, I thought it was a brilliant album. Then I got Led Zep 1 through 4, and I’d be playing it and me Dad would go, “Him steal that!” He introduced me to John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters and B.B. King, and he’d say, “There’s that lick”.

    When Parliament / Funkadelic started I really got into George Clinton and P-Funk. “Wants To Get Funked Up; Can You Imagine Doobie In Your Funk? P-Funk; Uncut Funk; The Bomb.” That opened up a whole world for me, you know? Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’ is just amazing; I saw them play it live at Glastonbury, and that Eddie Hazel lead guitar lick, man… it goes on for about five minutes and it was mind blowing.

    What about the first time you DJ-ed?

    When Kiss FM stopped being a Pirate station Gordon Mac offered me a job as the breakfast DJ.  The first time I went out playing live I had a friend called Simon Hodge with me, who’d be at the back telling me what to do. I didn’t start mixing for years but now I mix it all up; now I do it all myself. Back in the day I’d just be a selector because I used to like David Rodigan, and people like that; people who could just give you a selection of music that would go through the night. A lot of Northern Soul DJs are like that; you can’t really mix Northern Soul, to be honest.

    The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show on the road.

    We’ve kind of created this genre where its music you know in a way you’ve never heard it before. That’s where all the remixes come in, and stuff like that. We’re trying to take the golden era of Black American music and make it relevant to a modern dancefloor, and that means getting it to the 18 to 25 year olds. My show is not for purists; snobs who want to listen to stuff on the right label, with the right catalogue number, blah, blah, blah; that’s not what we do. We bring a party, and we try and package it in a way that makes it relevant to a modern dancefloor. That’s why there are hardly any men of my age in the audience; it’s generally young people. A lot of the stuff I play has been recorded now, mixed now and we want to make it alive for the next generation; it’s not a history lesson.

    John Peel famously kept a record box with his personal favourite, ‘save in the event of fire’ 7-inch singles. What’s in your own personal “can’t live without ‘em” box?

    I’m kind of into album experiences more than 7-inch singles. I love the idea of, I suppose, the Black response to the Summer Of Love, 1967. When Black bands took off their suits, stopped the syncopated dancing, grew out their Afros, started wearing beads and flares; Psychedelic Soul. I’d definitely have What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life, Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes, The Undisputed Truth, The Main Ingredient, then Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Chi-Lites, that kind of stuff.

    Then the modern stuff; I like the new Allergies album, I think they’re really cool. I love Smoove & Turrell; when you go and see them it’s like a stag night has just arrived in town, it’s crazy. I really like Cookin’ On 3 Burners, who were over from Australia recently and played with me in Manchester. Ivan (from CO3B) has got a label called Choi Records, and he’s put out some really cool stuff.

    I’m actually doing a project with Cookin’ On 3 Burners. I wrote these epic poems, which I did with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. We did two so far, we did Hansel & Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood; they’re about 45 minutes long. I’ve done the orchestral version of them, Iain Farrington wrote the music, but now I’m going to do a Funk & Soul version, with Cookin’ On 3 Burners doing the music.

    You already have your own Fantasy Funk Band, with has featured some amazing talents. If time and money were no object who would be in your ultimate line-up?

    Ooh… I suppose Clyde Stubblefield, or Bernard Purdie on the drums. Let them rotate; one might be doing a session somewhere else. Bootsy Collins is probably on the bass, and Nile Rodgers on the guitar. I’m going to put Georgie Fame in; Georgie or Jimmy Smith on the Hammond would be pretty cool. Or Jimmy McGriff… there’s so many great Hammond players. Tower Of Power on the horns. Now, vocals; Teddy Pendegrass if we’re going for that Soul sound, or Bobby Byrd or James Brown if we’re going for the more rugged, testosterone fuelled approach. Candi Staton, if we want to do a Soul vocal, Betty Davis if you want to give it the full throttle. That would be a band, wouldn’t it!

    Are there any signs of you slowing down?

    My brother, Dean, died when he was 52; I was in the jungle, doing I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. They brought me into this room and said, “Bad news; your brother’s dead”. He was only two years older than me. That’s why I left Coronation Street; I thought if I die tomorrow, like Dean just has, would I be happy with what I’ve achieved? Well, no, I wouldn’t really; I’d been in ‘Corrie’ ten years, and I want some new adventures while I still can; while I can still remember the lines.

    What’s next for you?

    I’m doing The Gadget Show at the moment; that goes out on Fridays on Channel 5. The new Red Dwarf XII is Thursdays on Dave. I’m too busy, really; I’m just trying to keep all the plates spinning. Don’t want to let any drop and shatter, which I’ve been want to do in the past. Staying happy, staying healthy, working hard – living the dream, really. I really enjoy it. I’m 53 years of age and I’ve been on telly since I was 18, so I’ve done alright. I just want to keep it going, you know what I mean?

     

    The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show is on BBC 6 Music every Saturday evening at 6.00pm, and available on demand on BBC iPlayer.

    Craig Charles House Party is on BBC Radio 2 every Saturday evening at 10.00pm.

    Red Dwarf XII is currently showing on Dave TV, Freeview Channel 12, SKY TV 111, Virgin media 127.

    For details of live events and all other information visit www.craigcharles.net

  • A Special Talent: Horace Panter Talks To Tootal Blog

    Although most of his career has been defined by music (as bass player with The Specials), the artist formally know as Sir Horace Gentleman graduated in 1975 with a degree in Fine Art from what was then called 'Lanchester Polytechnic' in Coventry (now Coventry University). It was there that he first met Jerry Dammers and the concept of the concept of the Punk/Ska band materialised.

    He has been exhibiting in the UK since 2009, and his Cassette vs Vinyl exhibition has already visited Manchester, Los Angeles and Dublin. Horace talked to Tootal Blog ahead of his latest exhibition in London.

    You have a degree in Fine Art. Was there ever a risk that music would have lost out to a life dedicated to art?

    For a little while. I did my Foundation Course at Northampton School of Art, and it was very prescriptive. It was, like, Monday morning we will do this. Wednesday we will do this. And there was Life Drawing and Objective Research. I got to the Polytechnic in Coventry in 1972 and it was, “Okay, get on with it”. ; I was waiting for someone to say, “It’s Monday afternoon, you need to do this”. So, I kind of floundered for a while. I was halfway through my second year, and it was like, “Hang on. You could get a degree out of this. Your parents will be so upset if you went home…” So, I buckled down but to be honest I was learning to play the bass guitar at the time, which was far more exciting. So art was something that I did during the day but then by night I dreamed of being Andy Fraser from Free, or the bloke from Booker T & the MGs.

    Why the bass guitar?

    Bass is easy, one note at a time. It was always the thing; the clever guy at school learnt to play guitar, his mate played rhythm guitar because he had been taught by the first guy, and, to their friend who was too stupid to play barre chords, they’d say, “Oh, you can play bass”. That’s always how it was back in the Sixties. Though I’d always wanted to play the bass guitar because I wasn’t very good at playing a six string, but I kind of got on with it and at college I met Bob Carter who taught me the rudiments of the thing then it started to make sense. Bob went on produce Lynx, Junior Giscombe and the first Wham! single (sadly, he died in 1988 and I lost a good friend).

    It sounds like you were a very conscientious student. A bit at odds with the ‘Young Ones’ image of students in the ‘70s?

    Art College in the Seventies was the preserve of the English eccentric or the work shy. Although I had aspirations to be the former I was actually the latter. You went to Art School to join a pop group. It worked for me.

    When The Specials took off did you give up on Art completely?

    The Specials in 1979 (L. to. R) Lynval Golding, Neville Staples, John Bradbury, Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers, Horace Panter, Roddy Byers.

    Art was always there, especially when we (The Specials) started travelling. It was like, “Hey, we’re in New York”. Everybody else went out to Studio 54, or some nightclub, and I went to bed so I could be up early to go to the Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim the next day. So, art and music jockeyed for centre stage for quite some time but art was always there. I could come off a tour, and art was my way to relax, to decompress.

    And then in the Nineties I became an Art Teacher, so I had to focus on art because that was my profession. It was like, “How can I enthuse children, especially children with special needs, about art? How can I make this interesting and exciting?” And that made me focus a lot on what I like about art but it’s been an up and down exercise, really.

    It must be quite a leap to go from being an art student, or an art ‘fan’ to being an exhibiting artist?

    I kind of use the music business model, if you get a great band you don’t just keep it in the rehearsal room, you go out and you do gigs. If you’ve got a collection of paintings you don’t keep them in your attic, you go out and get some exhibitions. The art is a commercial enterprise. I’m not just sitting up in my garret thinking, one day, fifty years after I’ve died these will be worth something. Let’s get these out to people. Let’s make fine art prints of them and see if someone wants to buy them.

    With Music, I’m the Bass Player. I’m a member of the team. Can’t go out to a pub and get my bass out and start singing with it. It doesn’t make sense; I need to work with a drummer, or a keyboard player or a guitarist. I’m a cog in the machine. I’ve often thought I could do a solo album but “No, you can’t. You’d like to but (A) you can’t sing, (B) you don’t write songs and (C) you can’t play a melody instrument well enough”. With the art, that’s my solo album. The work stands or falls by my efforts alone. I can’t blame the drummer if it’s a bad painting.

    Your collections include a portrait of The Specials, but there’s not a lot that points to ‘Horace Panter: Ska Musician’. Is that deliberate?

    Horace Panter: Equally adept with bass and brush (Photo by Conor McCabe)

    I haven’t really thought about that. No, I don’t suppose you can see Horace from The Specials but then I don’t just play Ska or Reggae, I play Blues, I play Country.

    A while back I did what I called my Blues Series. Collages of my favourite Blues musicians and I did a couple of Jazz guys as well – Miles Davis, Charlie Parker. I wanted to actually “paint music”, if you now what I mean. It’s all very well doing a nice portrait of Muddy Waters but loads of people do that. I wanted to do something that explained how the music impacted on me. Blues has got an awful lot to do with history and a sense of place. The people who moved from the Mississippi and Alabama, up to Chicago to work in the factories, and they took their music with them. But then they discovered electricity, and you have Chicago Blues. I wanted to do something that captured that.

    Did music play a large part in your life when you were growing up?

    Oh, enormous, yes. My father bought an orange and lilac transistor radio round about 1962. It was about the size of a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes packet. It was amazing; the Pirate radio stations changed my life. Before them you had a programme that played Pop music for about 45 minutes – ‘Midday Spin’ or something it was called but that was the only Pop music you heard on the radio. Than all of a sudden the Pirates came along and you could hear Pop music all day. It changed my life and I think it changed the music industry here as well. Radio Caroline, Radio London; all of a sudden there was somewhere for all this new music to be heard and the results were tremendous. At that time I wanted to be a Pirate radio DJ; I was obsessed by Pop music when I was younger.

    There are people who were equally as obsessed with The Specials when they were younger. That first album is almost 40 years old now. Why do you think they have endured?

    The songs are great. The lyrics are really clever and the rhythm is just so seductive. I think that’s a testament to the longevity of the band. That Ska music, especially with the energy of Punk Rock is just so infectious. That’s why bands are still playing it.

    The source material for your ‘Master Tape’ paintings must be very rare. Are you painting the original tape, from photos or are these imagined?

    Multi Cassette Technicolour 2 by Horace Panter.

    Let’s think of a seminal album or a seminal session. Then I’ll try and get some research done. If I can’t a get a picture of an actual cassette from that particular recording studio at least I can look on various websites and find the logo for the studio and concoct something. So, some of it is from photos of cassettes and some are sort of, shall we say, my artistic license because out there somewhere something like that does exist. Or did exist.

    The nice thing about the cassettes is you’ve got a very limited time span. I couldn’t really do an Oasis cassette because everything was on CD by that time. And I couldn’t do a Beatles one because that was before it. I think Philips made the first cassette in something like 1962 but they didn’t become popular until the late the late Sixties and they were done and dusted by about ’92, but that’s fine by me because that’s when I grew up.

    If you’re an Undertones fan you’re going to know that they recorded at Wizard Recording Studios in Belfast. You’re going to have a connection with that particular work. It has to be an album that I like; I’m not going to do an ABBA cassette. Another professional artist I know suggested I paint Thriller, because it was the biggest selling album of all time. And I did some research – Westlake Studios in L.A. - but I didn’t have the fire in me to do it. I didn’t like Thriller particularly. Whereas I do like New Boots & Panties. A: It was great and B: It was recorded in the Old Kent Road.

    Are you pleased that the vinyl revival offers an opportunity for artwork to be better appreciated?

    I think that’s great; there’s something to be said for artefacts. I think there’s a general reaction to the Digital era. There’s a really good book called The Revenge Of Analogue by a Canadian writer called David Sax. He documents all this; it’s not just vinyl. You can now buy Polaroid cameras; 35mm film is back on sale. People get together to play board games. Lots of different things where he’s saying there is a movement back towards the actual artefact. Back in the 1960s I was buying albums because I liked the cover. The type face on the Free records, especially their second, I think it’s Arnold Böcklin, I’m not sure. And I fastidiously learnt how to draw like that.

    I’m surprised you haven’t done more album artwork?

    I did a couple for Stone Foundation. I was up for doing the last one but the record company said, “Oh, no, we want photos of the band”.

    I’ve started to branch out. There’s a little independent Reggae label in Holland; I’ve done some work for them. I did some work for the new Doc Marten’s store in Camden, and I’m actually designing a beer can for a small London restaurant chain called Chick’n’Sours. So, it’s kind of putting your different irons in different fires.

    The first Specials album shows the band in the archetypal 2-Tone dress code; suits, button down shirts, skinny ties, pork pie hats. How important was the band image to you?

    An advert for The Specials album (1979). Band photo by Carol Starr

    On the back of that first album, it’s the canal basin in Coventry. We are on the “sea bed’ but the actual canal has been drained. Carol Starr took that one, and we are looking up at Chalkie Davies, who is taking the front cover photo. The white shoes were a bad idea but never mind.

    I think every band had a ‘Look’; The Beatles had those funny collarless suits, whilst The Rolling Stones tried to look as scruffy as possible. But it was a tribal uniform. I’m very aware that you have to look a certain way if you’re on stage, especially if you are connecting with a particular tribe. You announced who you were by what you wore. I always had this idea that the Mods who took acid became Hippies, and the Mods who drank became Skinheads. I was always aware you had to look like something, especially if you were in a group.

    Was The Specials “Look” a collective decision?

    When The Specials first started we were a Punk band that played Reggae, if you like. So, we’d play a Punk song, and then we’d play a Reggae song. Musically it wasn’t particularly cohesive and visually it wasn’t either. I didn’t like the idea of wearing safety pins and bin liners. So, I had my hair cut short and bought some combat trousers and button down shirts. I affected the guise of a Skinhead. When we introduced Ska – which meant that we could play our Reggae songs faster but our Punk songs slower – but still maintain maximum danceability it was like, okay, we should look like a Mod group. And there was this Mod thing doing the rounds at the time – The Merton Parkas, The Chords, Secret Affair – and you could by a second hand tonic suit on Gosford Street, like the suit I wore on that album cover, for seven quid. It probably cost more than that to get it altered.

    Can you remember the first time your parents let you buy your own clothes?

    Vaguely. I think the first fashion item I ever owned was a Batman t-shirt. A bit Pop Art I suppose. I also bought a big Batman poster so that was obviously a big influence in my life. I did own a Paisley shirt. I thought I was absolutely amazing wearing it.

    And can you recall the first record you ever bought?

    The first record I bought was by The Byrds. It was called ‘5th Dimension (5D)’. It was in 3 / 4 time. That was me nailing my cultural colours to the mast. The second single I bought was ‘All Or Nothing’ by the Small Faces. How about that?

    What’s next for you?

    At the launch of Cassette vs Vinyl in Dublin, July 2016. (L. to R.) Chris Barton, Morgan Howell and Horace Panter (Photo by Conor McCabe)

    I’m working on Cassette vs. Vinyl, for the Truman Brewery exhibition. This is great fun. It is three artists – me, a guy called Chris Barton who makes giant facsimiles of cassettes; they’re amazing. It’s an actual cassette and the box it goes in. And Morgan Howell; he makes giant paintings of 45 RPM singles. They are stunning. I’ve seen them hanging in record company boardrooms, and the BBC offices.

    And me and my studio demo cassettes. So the three of us, it really works together because I don’t do vinyl, I don’t do sculptures, and they don’t do cassette paintings, but it’s a music related thing. One example of your childhood is going to be there. We exhibit together, we started off last year in Manchester, and then we took it to Los Angeles. We recently had a show in Dublin, and now we’ve got the Truman Brewery show in Brick Lane, for a week.

    What can visitors expect to see? How would you describe it?

    It’s very good; it’s like a musical experience but a visual musical experience. It’s amazing the number of people that come up to me and say, “I’ve got a box load of cassettes like that in my garage”. Or you hear their children ask, “Dad, what’s that?’ I've also done a painting of a Walkman. That was an amazing piece of Pop history. Totally redundant now but in 1983 everybody had one. These images are like “repositories of memory”, to offer a really pretentious answer. When people look at them the number of sentences that start with “I remember…” I always thought that’s what art should do; it should trigger an emotional response, and these certainly do.

    I have this other bonkers theory that Pop Art was to the art world, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, what Punk Rock was to the music business in the Seventies. Up to that point, you had the abstract expressionists – Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Robert Motherwell – huge paintings with swathes of colour, which dealt with the hefty subjects of doom, tragedy and ecstasy. Then all of a sudden this bloke comes along with a soup can.

    There again, in the Seventies you had Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Yes with their triple album, and along comes Anarchy In The UK.

    On the subject of Pop Art, your other works include a portrait of Elvis Presley, in the style of Peter Blake.

    Elvis with Badges by Horace Panter. A homage to Peter Blake.

    I hadn’t realised this before but I read up a little bit about it and that Peter Blake painting was based on a Gainsborough apparently. I was asked by a friend of mine to contribute to an exhibition commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Elvis Presley recording ‘I Love You Because’. Whilst I’m not a great fan of Elvis I am a great fan of Peter Blake. And on the original self-portrait Peter Blake is standing there with an Elvis Fan Club book. So I just changed it around, so it’s Elvis in the picture with a Peter Blake book. Some of the badges that are on my Peter Blake figure are stuff that wouldn’t have happened in 1961, when the original portrait was done. There’s a (Punk band) Black Flag one, and Rock Against Racism and the Rolling Stones… stuff like that.

    Peter Blake is obviously a big fan of music. Do you know if he’s a fan of The Specials?

    I met him once. It was at a Paul McCartney show at the O2 and I was in the backstage bar. And there was Noel Gallagher over there, and there’s Bob Hoskins over there and all of a sudden this figure appeared in the doorway. A little man with a goatee beard and a stick, with his family. And I thought, “Fuck me, that’s Peter Blake!” And I don’t do all of that Pop Star stuff. I don’t like that “Hey! Great to see you, I’ve got all your records”. I don’t “hang out” very well. But it was, like, “Come on, Horace, you’re not gong to have this chance again”. So, he settled down and I plucked up the courage; walked over and said, “Hi, I’m Horace Panter. I’m in a band called The Specials. I really like your work”. And luckily his family said, “Oh, we saw The Specials at Chelmsford the other week. You were great”. And I thought, “Thank you. A bit of kudos.” And I just slobbered and made a total fool of myself for about 30 seconds in front of Peter Blake. But, you know what? Everybody else can fuck off, because I’ve met Peter Blake.

     

    Cassette vs. Vinyl featuring works by Horace Panter, Morgan Howell and Chris Barton, is at The Old Truman Brewery, London E1, from the 19th to 24th October. Admission is free. More details at www.trumanbrewery.com/cgi-bin/exhibitions.pl

    For details of all Horace Panter Art Editions visit www.horacepanterart.com

    With thanks to Horace and Clare Panter for generously giving up their time for the Tootal Blog

  • The Doctor Will See You Now: The Blow Monkeys' Robert Howard Talks To Tootal Blog

     

    Welcome back. Now you’re living in Spain, how does it feel coming back to London?

    It’s still my favourite city in the world and it’s the people that make it. My father was from Hounslow, all his family came from there, for generations back but I was born in Scotland. Didn’t stay there long as you can tell from my accent. I moved around a lot.

    If there’s anywhere that I call home its Kings Lynn, of all places, where I grew up in the Seventies. I left there when I was 15 and went to live in Sydney, but Kings Lynn was really my formative years, the late Sixties through to ’77. Everything that infected my psyche in terms of music, clothes, fashion; those really important teenage years were spent in Kings Lynn. It was what was known as a London Overflow town but it had this funny thing; it had this Soul thing. There was a place called the Soul Bowl, which was an import record shop. It was like a Mecca for Northern Soul fan. It was mail order but it had a little shop too. So there was a Soul vibe there and there was a music vibe there but it was a tough old town. It was notoriously, how shall I say it... ‘Violent’ is the word I’m looking for.

    Can you recall the first record you bought?

    Top Of The Pops Volume 13, 1970. Just 99 pence from Woolworths.

    Probably T. Rex ‘Metal Guru’. My sister, who is ten years older than me, had bought me ‘Deborah’, which had been reissued at that time. And I think I’ve got one of those Top of the Pops albums, because I did love ‘Band Of Gold’. Back in 1970, I used to go to football; Kings Lynn FC, Southern League, half time, freezing cold, nil-nil; ‘Band Of Gold’ would come on and I’d be transported. It was one of those songs that was the gateway to soul music for me. So, I bought the Top of the Pops version, which is nothing like it because they were just copies, weren’t they? Pickwick, or something they came out on. You’d get them in Woolworths for 99p.

    What were you wearing on the terraces at Kings Lynn FC?

    You know, this is probably a faux pas, fashion-wise, but you know those long army coats… it wasn’t from Millets but it was something like that, some Army surplus store. I wanted one of them. It’s cold in Kings Lynn. You get the Siberian winds coming across the Fens.

    You worked as a music journalist in Australia. Any tips for Tootal Blog?

    I didn’t actually interview people; I reviewed records and gigs. I had a column in Rock Australia Magazine, RAM, which is like the NME of Australia. I did a Talking Heads gig and I did a Ramones gig, and I then I moved up to Darwin, in Northern Territory. From there I wrote the singles column for the Darwin Gazette, or whatever it was. This would have been 1979. In Darwin at this point you were talking about East Coast American music, Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil. And I was writing about a band called The Laughing Clowns. I saw them in Sydney and they were the blueprint for The Blow Monkeys. The drummer was like Gene Krupa - a Jazzer. They had this brass section that was slightly out of tune; like Fela Kuti. And then they had Ed Kuepper, who is a genius, and he’s not very well known. He had been guitarist in The Saints, and was playing this Ramones Punk-ish stuff. And the mixture of it; I thought that’s what I’m going to go back and do. Which is why I needed a saxophone. Of course, we ended up nothing like it ‘cause my DNA comes from Pop and Soul.

    The music industry has changed a lot in the 35 years since the first Blow Monkeys release. For better or worse?

    The Blow Monkeys: The 2015 Model.

    I’d say it’s worse in the sense that the music has become less important to people, in terms of its cultural cache but it always boils down to the same thing in the end, which is a good song. However you want to package it, however you want to sell it. Whether it’s digital, analogue or pidgin, it doesn’t really matter. In the end it’s still about making something that moves people. That’s still the desire, that’s the aim.

    In the world of streaming where every song is a single, I guess you don’t have to think about B-sides anymore?

    What you get is bonus tracks now. It’s not the same though. ‘Metal Guru’ had two B-sides on it. It had ‘Thunder Wing’, and was it ‘Lady’? On a seven inch! Just chucked two gems like that away. Value for money. ‘Jitterbug Love’, the B-side of ‘Children Of The Revolution’ - now that’s a tune. That’s Danny Baker’s favourite T. Rex tune; it’s a classic.

    The Beatles were great at their B-sides. Elvis Costello, The Jam… they always had brilliant B-sides. I love a singles band. In fact, The Jam, some of their B-Sides are better than the A-Sides, in a lot of people’s opinion. ‘Tales From The Riverbank’, ‘Dreams Of Children’… There was a great Style Council one, ‘I Do Like To Be B-Side The A-Side’. That’s Mick Talbot. He played on our new record. In the studio where we overdubbed the strings, I recognised his keyboards. I said to our engineer Ernie (McKone), “Is this Mick’s stuff?” He said, “Yeah, he’s down the road, I’ll ring him up”. Mick came down. He played on about four songs. Absolutely amazing musician.

    In addition to Mick you seem to have a lot of links with the Acid Jazz, Young Disciples, Galliano scene?

    Yes, Crispin Taylor, our drummer, was in Galliano, for example. That comes from late Eighties, being friendly with Paul Weller, obviously, and then people like Marco (Nelson) turning up at the studios. Young Disciples started demo-ing at a studio we were hanging around in and it ended up that was their album. We would just play on each other’s things; it was that kind of music scene. Always in and out of each other’s house, nicking each other’s milk. I guess there was a little community and I did end up knowing a lot of those guys.

    You crowd funded your new album and it seems there were packages available to suit all tastes.

    You can offer anything you want with these things. I’ve just spent all day wishing I hadn’t agreed to write out all the lyrics to this album by hand. My arm aches; I’ve forgotten how to write. I had to do loads of them, and it’s quite wordy this one. I’ll have to change that; do an album of instrumentals next time.

    You have donated a percentage of the album profits to Wintercomfort, a Cambridge homeless charity. Why them?

    We lived briefly in Cambridge before we moved to Spain, and we got to know them quite well. We did a couple of things with them in the past. And the ‘Cambridge Two’ were these two care workers who got arrested because they were helping some homeless people who were Heroin addicts. And there was a kink in the law that meant the people that were trying to help them could be prosecuted. So my wife, Michele, put on an event to support the care workers and we played at that. We became quite friendly with the Wintercomfort team. And I’ve had quite a bit of homelessness in my family. It’s something that I’m quite close to; I understand it.

    On YouTube there is a 1986 interview for Japanese TV, in which you said you wanted to change the world. Do you still harbour that ambition?

    The Blow Monkeys in 1986 (Photo by Fin Costello)

    I still want to change my world. I think it’s a good ambition to have when you’re young. And I feel it’s probably incumbent on me and my generation to change the world for the next one. In a good way. It doesn’t seem to be going that way but I do think that is our role.

    There’s one song on the new album called ‘An Act Of Faith’, which was inspired by something Michele said, because she’s a big gardener. I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was planning trees. I said, “But you won’t see them”, and she replied. “It’s not for this generation it’s for future generations”. That’s the way to think about things, and we don’t think like that.

    In the Eighties The Blow Monkeys were supporters of the Red Wedge campaign. Can you imagine a collective body like Red Wedge existing now?

    Of musicians? I think it’s more likely they would coalesce around single issues, like raising money and awareness for things like Grenfell; things which are really, really important.

    The weird thing is, everything that Red Wedge fought for might be coming true with someone like Jeremy Corbyn who, it seems to me, has appeared almost like Peter Sellers in Being There. It’s as if, at last, authenticity has broken through everything else. They can throw what they want at him but the one thing that they can’t do is to say he’s a liar, or he doesn’t believe in what he says, because he’s always been, in my opinion anyway, on the right side of history. I remember him protesting outside South Africa House in 1981. He’s not a great communicator though he’s getting better. He should drop the ‘Geography Teacher’ look, but how important is image? (Laughs)

    The bands who were associated with movements like Red Wedge – The Blow Monkeys, Style Council, Billy Bragg, Madness, The Housemartins - were vilified by the tabloids at the time yet their music has endured.

    It definitely didn’t do us any favours in certain quarters. It’s that whole Billy Bragg thing of “mixing Pop and politics”. It would be an excuse for radio stations not to play us, at a time when they had so much power. They were such divisive times, to just sit on the fence didn’t seem an option. That’s not what I got into music for. It was a way of self-expression. It was something where you didn’t have to put a suit on and go to work and kowtow; demean yourself in order to pay rent. You could go out and express yourself, and as you went along you just sing and shout about the world as you see it. And you try to change it. I’ve always thought that; left or right, it doesn’t matter, as long as you express something; tell the truth.

    Apart from having three additional opinions how does your approach to a Blow Monkeys album differ, compared to your solo albums?

    I definitely have in mind the fact that I’m going to make it with these guys. So, there’s a certain sound, and a feel and a groove. There’s a certain key that I know the saxophone player plays in… things like that I take into consideration. In retrospect some of the albums we made when we first got back together, are probably more suited to my solo output. The thing with this one is, in terms of the direction, we’ve found our mojo again. I almost thought maybe I’ll make this a solo album but when I started to demo it and listen back I thought, no, this sounds like ‘us’. This is what we should be doing.

    Collaborators used to figure large in the Blow Monkeys catalogue – Curtis Mayfield, Kym Mazelle, Eek-A-Mouse, Mickey Finn, Joe Brown, Sylvia Tella, Cheb Khaled. Is there anyone left on the collaborators wishlist?

    Mavis Staples. Linda Womack. I’ve already worked with P. P. Arnold. She’s a proper ‘A-Lister’. An amazing voice; it just comes out of her. She’s got that authentic voice of the Southern Baptist Church thing. It was a joy to meet her, get her to come and make the album. It didn’t get the press it should’ve but it was a joy to do. Unfortunately the record company we did it with went bust two months later. We reissued it last year on vinyl and I think it’s going to be out properly again early next year.

    I think I’m suited to doing those kinds of things, because I write a lot more songs than I use and sometimes they suit that kind of relationship. I’m thinking the next thing I do might just be an album of duets. I saw the album Van Morrison did, Re-Working The Catalogue. I quite fancy doing something like that if I can make it work.

    This will be the first Blow Monkeys album since Springtime For The World (1990) to be released on vinyl. Are you glad to see the vinyl revival?

    New At Ten: The Wild River and 30 years of back catalogue.

    Yes, I’m a sucker for it. I kept all mine. It was a pain in the arse every time I was moving, because Michele’s got loads as well but we just kept them. There’s still something about the ritual for people of our generation. The CD is the format that went, and of course you get the Download code in the vinyl, so you can still put it on your phone, play it in your car.

    We really, really went to town on the artwork this time because we knew we were doing vinyl. We did blue vinyl, put little secrets here and there on the sleeve; everything I used to love about it. Vinyl is an event, isn’t it?

    The new album starts with ‘Crying For The Moon’, like a laidback version of ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way’.

    I get the comparison because it’s got a similar kind of chord thing. For me it’s more inspired by Darondo, the Soul singer. I really tried not to edit myself on this album. I sit round the kitchen with my guitar, a little iPad, and I record whatever has happened and later on I listen back to it. If I don’t edit myself it’s usually better. I just thought, well this is what’s naturally coming through to me. I don’t want to over think it; I’m just going to go with it.

    Can you look back across all ten Blow Monkey albums and see an obvious thread?

    I can a little bit. There’s a big gap between Springtime For The World (1990) and Devil’s Tavern (2008). It’s just constantly trying to find something new to say, and not repeating myself.

    I can hear what I went through in the early ‘90s when the band stopped and I was making solo acoustic records, because I did a lot of listening then. I had to educate myself about a lot of music that I wasn’t aware of - that whole Greenwich Village scene; people like Fred Neil. That leads you back archeologically like a dig towards the beginning of recording and you end up listening to Son House, or Robert Johnson. I needed to do that. I think it’s important to know your subject. I always used to think about those New Romantic bands; they’ve grown up listening to David Bowie but they haven’t gone any deeper. David Bowie knew everything about music, going way, way back. The guy was soused in it. But if you’re only copying the guys from one generation back… I needed to educate myself.

    The thing about Paul Weller is he knows his shit; he goes a long way back. His version of Modernism, which I found out when I spoke to him, is a philosophy on life. It includes Debussy; it includes Alice Coltrane and Edward Hopper. I love ‘Hopper’ on his new album, that’s my favourite tune on it. I love it when he draws on things like that. You’ve got to go deep to draw out something original.

    You seem to have struck a comfortable balance between albums full of new songs, and the occasional 80s festival. Is that just you being pragmatic?

    The Blow Monkeys: "Here's another new one..."

    We haven’t done many because I don’t think we fit the revival bill. But when we do them we are the only band that goes onstage and says, “Here’s a new one”. And you can see people going, “Oh…”

    I’ve seen the Human League play them, and they are brilliant. They turn up at the soundcheck, plug the machines in and then its hit after hit after hit. We’re a bit too spikey for that. There’s just the four of us, it’s not high production. It’s a bit Punky. We do new things, and even the old things we might do them in a new way. In the end the equation is you’re playing to a field full of people who want to hear the music.

    Does style still play a big role in the Blow Monkeys presentation?

    Less. In terms of clothes and things like that, I think its less mannered and less thought out, and probably less important. At some point Mick’s bowler hat just felt like nostalgia, and we didn’t want to do that.

    Do you look back through photos or records sleeves and think, “I shouldn’t have worn that”?

    Very early on I wore a few things that I shouldn’t have worn but in general we used to get our things made. Although there were a few haircuts that were a little bit dodgy but we didn’t wear too many of those big shoulder pads and things like that. There were a lot worse, put it that way.

     

    The Wild River, the new album from The Blow Monkeys is out now on CD and Vinyl, and available to Stream.

    For upcoming tour dates and all other information visit www.theblowmonkeys.com

    Wintercomfort supports people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home in Cambridge.

    For more information visit www.wintercomfort.org.uk

  • Soul Legend P. P. Arnold Tells Tootal Blog About Her New Album, 50 Years In The Making

    P. P. Arnold arrived in England as an Ikette with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and was spotted by Mick Jagger who convinced Andrew Loog Oldham to sign her to his Immediate record label. Several hits followed, the best-known being  'The First Cut Is The Deepest', ‘Angel Of The Morning’ and ‘(If You Think You're) Groovy’. P. P. was one of the iconic faces of London's Swinging 60's.

    She has collaborated, recorded and toured alongside such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, with her own band, The Nice led by Keith Emerson, Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart, Barry Gibb, Eric Clapton, Humble Pie, Nick Drake, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Ocean Colour Scene, Primal Scream, The KLF, Dr. Robert, Oasis, Paul Weller… the list goes on and on.

    In 2017 P. P. Arnold finally gets to release an album started almost 50 years ago. Largely written and produced by the Bee Gees Barry Gibb, it also includes contributions from Eric Clapton, Jagger and Richards, Steve Winwood and Van Morrison.

    Tootal Blog spoke to her as she prepares to set out on a U.K. tour in October.

    Tell us something about your life in London in 1968?

    50 Years In The Making: The Turning Tide on glorious red vinyl.

    Well, in 1968 it was actually great. I was living in Clarendon Road in one of the brand new townhouses, in Holland Park. Everybody used to come and visit me there. Ronnie Wood and his girlfriend, Chrissie, lived there for a while; it was just a great, great time.

    I had two kids already so I didn’t party as much as everybody else. I was working, if anything. And 1968 is when I met Barry Gibb, as well. All the recordings with Barry started during that period.

    And Jim Morris and I got married in 1968. That was the end of ’68, ‘cause I moved to Surrey. Very stupidly, we rented this Georgian manor house in Tilford, between Guildford and Farnham. Eighteen rooms… crazy. We paid 30 Guineas a week for it and it cost about 100 Quid a week to heat. It was a very stupid thing to do but it was great while it lasted.

    We had to move out; we only lived there for about 8 months, then we came back to London and lived in Pimlico. I was doing all the pre-production and recordings of The Turning Tide. That was the beginning of my artistic struggle really; of finding where I was going

    How does an album like The Turning Tide, with such an array of talent, stay buried for so long?

    The music industry is a weird business. Once you get put on the shelf, you stay on the shelf, unless you fight to get off. I never gave up on that work because it documents a part of my life, and my development when I was actually searching for my own identity, of who I was as an artist.

    Nobody knew what to do with me. Robert Stigwood was my manager; he didn’t like the recording. I was this “Pop Girl” from the Immediate days, and they weren’t supporting my development.

    The song ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ was released as a single in 1969. Did it do anything at the time?

    P. P. Arnold: A small sample of an enormous musical legacy.

    It didn’t get the attention it probably could have got if my management had been behind it. And ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ is a funny song for me; as beautiful as it is, I always felt that the lyric for me wasn’t positive. I got buried for a long time after that. As a singer you have to be careful about what we sing, words are powerful things. I didn’t have another record out for years.

    You’ve appeared on hundreds of recordings yet this will only be the fourth album bearing your name. Is that a source of frustration?

    Yes it is frustrating but black artists always have a struggle, don’t they? I think if I was a British artist or a white artist with all the credibility I have behind my name, it would be a different story. And I’m just saying it; I don’t like to hide behind any of that, it’s just a fact.

    Were you tempted to go to America and try signing to a label over there?

    I went to America in 1975 and it was the worst thing that I did. America is not a place to go to find a record deal. It’s very difficult to have records out if you don’t have management, if you don’t have a record label, if you don’t have a support system behind you. Today it’s easier. I manage to survive as an independent artist because of the internet. Having my own Facebook page, and my own website. Marketing and promoting and letting people know what you do. Back in those pre-internet days if you didn’t have a record out people just thought you were dead.

    This is a crazy business, you know, but it is the music BUSINESS. I’ve learnt how to survive and I just keep singing. And I have a lot of fans; they have been so loyal, so supportive, you know, so I’m one of the lucky ones. Whether you like it or not, you have to get involved in “The Business”. And the record industry is male dominated; they’re not too keen on doing business with women.

    You’re best known for your performances of other people’s songs but you have written your own material. Is that something you would like to have done more of?

    Well I have written a lot, I’ve got bags full of songs. When I was with Ten Records (mid-Eighties) I was encouraged not to write. They did not want me to write. Steve Lewis, who was head of Virgin Music, told me they were signing me so their writers could have me singing their songs. They weren’t promoting me as a writer. He actually said to me, “Why do you want to write songs? You’ve got a great voice”. I thought I want to write songs ‘cause that’s where the money is, in publishing. As a singer you’re on an artist royalty, it’s WAY not as much money as owning the song. It’s the writers who get paid.

    Did you work with Barry Gibb again in the ‘70s on an Andy Gibb record?

    P. P. Arnold (Centre) with the Small Faces (L to R): Ian McLagen, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones

    Yes, I worked with Barry again. I hoped Barry and I were going to be able to finish my album but he was busy, he had a lot going on. It didn’t happen but we did the duet with Andy; that was the only thing.

    I’m sure you know that you are revered by Mods, and not just for your own work. You are the only living person who can claim to have played with both the Small Faces and Paul Weller.

    That’s my audience. I always say Paul is the Modfather and I’m the Modmother. I am so humbled by the love I get from the fans. I’m just loved up.

    What were your musical influences growing up?

    I’ve been singing Gospel from the time I was four years old. Then, of course, as a teenager; Motown, Stax, Atlantic, you know… all that music of the Sixties, all that West Coast stuff; The Ronettes, Phil Spector, Blossoms…

    And how did your career in music start?

    Ike Turner (L) with Ikette P. P. Arnold and Tina Turner

    It wasn’t an ambition of mine to be a professional singer. Never, never thought about it. It called me. It came from a prayer. I asked God to show me a way out of an abusive marriage that I was in and I ended up being an Ikette. Without ever having a desire to be, it wasn’t an ambition of mine to be an Ikette.

    Ike and Tina had two sets of Ikettes. One went on the road with the Dick Clark tours and the other set worked with the Revue. The girls that went with the Revue, Robbie (Montgomery), Jessie (Smith) and Venetta Fields, who also later worked with Humble Pie, they were leaving ‘cause they had their own record out and Ike Turner wouldn’t let them be independent. So they changed their name to The Mirettes, and they had their own hits on the Mirwood label.

    I had a phone call, from a girl named Maxine Smith and a girl named Gloria Scott – they called me and said they were going to this audition to be Ikettes. They need a girl to go with them to help them get the gig. “Come with us”. BAM! Put the phone down, didn’t give me a chance to say “No”, showed up at the door. I lied and told my husband I was going shopping. Next thing I know I’m at Ike and Tina’s house singing background on ‘Dancing In The Street’. Tina goes, “Right, girls, you’ve got the gig”. And I go, like, “No, not me. I can’t go. I’m in big trouble. My husband’s gonna beat me when I get back. I should have been home two hours ago”. So, Tina said, “Well, if you’re going to get beat for nothing you might as well go up to Fresno with us and at least see the gig”.

    I just went along because my life was miserable. I never did anything. I was still just a young girl but I had two kids already. So, I went to the gig, saw the gig, came home, my husband’s waiting for me, punched me in the head, “knocked some sense into me”. I had asked God to show me a way out and suddenly I have a way out. So, that’s how I came to get into show business. I never planned it. At all.

    You’re best known as a Soul singer but you’ve sung Folk music – you did the Sandy Denny tribute shows - and on stage for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Do you change your style when you do other types of music?

    Well, of course you do. You change to the music; the song’s about melody. I love doing different styles of music; I love being challenged. The thing that doesn’t change is my sound; I have a very distinctive sound. I’m known for Gospel or as a Soul singer but I can sing Hardcore Rhythm & Blues, like on the tracks that Eric Clapton produced. I sing a lot of Rock stuff; I do Musical theatre. The voice is an instrument so whatever it needs to be adapted to, that’s what you do. I like being flexible and I like fusing different styles of music together. I think that’s going to help my longevity in the industry as well. It’s the element of surprise, isn’t it? When they hear you, they think that you’re one thing then suddenly, “Oh, wow, she can do that too”. That’s an asset.

    Has clothing style always gone hand in hand with the music for you?

    That (Turning Tide) front cover photo, it’s of the times. That’s Granny Takes A Trip there. In those days you didn’t have stylists, you just bought things that you liked and you wore them. All the velvet, and gold braiding and stuff. Then you had all the Mod, Carnaby Street kind of stuff, all the real Dolly Bird looks, with Biba and all the different styles. But now, I hate shopping. My God, I never have time to shop; my life is always hectic. I like colour, old, new; I like vintage stuff but it’s a matter of budget too. You’ve got to have a good eye to find affordable things, ‘cause I’m not in the money yet. I’m not in the chips at the moment.

    It seems the next 12 months are going to be very busy for you.

    P. P. Arnold with Steve Cradock. A brand new album is due in 2018 (Photo © Karen Allen, 2017)

    Yes, I think the next five years, the next ten years. I’m trying to stay healthy and fit so that I can deal with it. It’s demanding, you know. When things start moving, they’re moving fast. I have a lot of experience in the industry, like being able to do all these interviews, I got a lot to talk about. It’s great, I enjoy it but now the main thing on my mind is I can’t wait to get to rehearsal on Monday. It’s all about the music to me.

    We’ve only got five days before the first gig. I’m doing six songs from the new album. These songs, I recorded them but I’ve never performed them live. And I’m doing ‘First Cut’, ‘Angel’, ‘Speak To Me’… I’m doing ‘(If You Think You’re) Groovy’, ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’, ‘Natural Woman’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’. And ‘Tin Soldier’ – I think I’ll put that at the end of the set. It’s a pretty demanding set. Even though I’ve been preparing my voice for two months, until you’re with the band you don’t really know what’s happening. I’ll just have to not think about it and know everything’s going to be alright.

    I’m using Steve Cradock’s band. I’ve got Tony Coote on drums, Andy Flynn on guitar, Jake Fletcher on bass, a guy named Fred Ansell on keyboards and a lovely girl named Coco Malone is going to be singing backing vocals with Jake.

    There’s going to be some limited edition red vinyl available at the gigs, some on the website too but at the gigs I can sign them. Vinyl’s back. I’m back. Full circle.

     

    P. P. Arnold’s new album The Turning Tide is released by Kundalini Music on Friday 6th October 2017. You can order it here https://www.musicglue.com/PP-arnold/

    Details of the P. P. Arnold U.K. Tour in October 2017 with The Steve Cradock Band can be found here http://www.pparnold.com/tour-dates/

     

  • Dennis Greaves of Nine Below Zero and The Truth Talks To Tootal Blog

    How the devil are you?

    I’m really well. I turned 60 this year. I can’t believe I’m still doing what I’m doing. You know what? I feel as fresh as a daisy.

    Tell us about your early life.

    I was born in Tufnell Park. Mum and Dad had bought tickets for the Australia trip. We were going to be Ten Pound Poms but Dad bottled it. Then a flat came up in the Elephant & Castle, Peabody Trust, so we moved from our rented accommodation in Tufnell Park; I had six beautiful years in North London and all my family are still there.

    Was there much music in the house when you were growing up?

    My Grandad played everything. Terribly. There was a harmonica, a piano, an accordion, a guitar; and he could pick up anything. He sung in the Boston Arms in Tufnell Park, my father sung there also and I’ve sung there, so I’m really pleased that the tradition carried on.

    Luckily my Mum and Dad loved their music. When I grew up it was very much Frank Sinatra and Brook Benton. My Mum loved Adam Faith, my Dad sung in the pubs, all the Al Jolson stuff. As a kid we never had babysitters, we got dragged to the pub when they used to go and see Matt Monro in the Boston Arms.

    Take us back to the ‘70s when Nine Below Zero started out.

    Nine Below Zero in 1982: (L. to R.) Brian Bethell, Dennis Greaves, Mark Feltham, Mickey Burkey.

    We weren’t Nine Below Zero until ’79. I’d been to see Beryl, who used to run the Thomas A Becket pub in the Old Kent Road. And it was all boxers, villains, footballers, police, musicians, all in the same boozer, and she said, “Yeah, I’ll give you a gig, every Monday night. What’s the name of the band?” I said “Er… Stan’s Blues Band”. God knows why; terrible name. ’79 was when we did our first gig as Nine Below Zero. And just like the Rolling Stones, whereas they took their name from a Muddy Waters song, ours is a Sonny Boy Williamson song.

    We got our first North London gig at Dingwalls. Had to go back across the water. It changed our lives that gig. Paul Jones, from the Blues Band, was in the audience, and that was where our first manager, Mickey Modern, saw us.

    The guitarist and British Blues legend Alexis Korner was a big fan.

    Alexis was so lovely to us. Oh, I miss that man. Do you know why? Because he was so intelligent and so sussed. He said to me, “You remind me of the Rolling Stones”. I said, “Why’s that?” He said, “Because you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing but you’ve got the feel. You’re so innocent; so naive. Like the Stones were. They just wanted to play Blues.”

    Are you still as enthusiastic now as you were back then?

    I’ve got an 8-piece Nine Below Zero band now. I’ve got some young players in there, a few Jazzers – sax, keyboards, trumpet - and a girl singer, Charlie. They’re all early 30s. And then there’s me, Mickey and Mark, and young Ben on bass, our new bass player. It’s just revitalised the whole band. Very important that you don’t become a tribute to yourself, I’m really aware of that. I didn’t want to slap around doing the same old thing.

    And then three or four years ago, Mick Lister came back into my life, and we put The Truth back together. We’ve got my son, Sonny, on drums. He’s grown up with it all, and he’s given me that energy. Brian Bethell is on bass, me and Mick Lister on guitar, and a new keyboard player. I did have Andy Fairclough, who unfortunately I gave to From The Jam. Russell rung me up and said, “Can you recommend a good keyboard player?” I said, “Well, this guy’s ‘The Bollocks’” and I lost him… I don’t mind at all.

    We were playing these Truth songs the other night, in Brighton – we played with Secret Affair. It was absolutely packed; hot, sweaty; it was really good… - and I went “Wow! They’re not bad songs”. Mick and I sing really well together.

    With a song like Exception of Love, I’ve been waiting to have a drummer like Sonny since Gary Wallis. It’s got that swing [mimes intro]; a lovely, good feeling song.

    Then I’m going out with Mark Feltham as a duo. When me and Mark met 40 years ago the common denominators were Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, John Mayall, Walter Horton, Little Walter, Muddy Waters… and with the duo we’re able to go back to what really made us do what we do. Of course, Nine Below Zero took it to it’s own situation and vibe because we couldn’t be just another Blues band back then. I think I’m the happiest I’ve been for a long time because I’ve got these three little projects.

    Has the Nine Below Zero approach to R&B changed over the years?

    The Nine Below Zero Big Band

    When we started out Mark said, “Ever heard the J. Geils Band?” and I said, “Ever heard Dr. Feelgood?” So we mashed all that up. In ’77 when we started it was all Punk; I was 20, so I think we just picked up on that exuberance. I think we became our own brand; mixing what Mark bought and what I bought.

    When we got back together in the ‘90s we had Gerry McEvoy and Brendan O’Neill, Rory Gallagher’s rhythm section in the band, and it went a bit rockier. The ‘90s were tough for Roots music because you were in the middle of the Nirvana, Oasis, Blur situation and there wasn’t a lot of room for Roots music. And when Stevie Ray Vaughan died it lost its way a bit. We’ve always managed to produce a new album and keep going, that’s very important. That keeps the longevity, having new albums. Five or six years ago I got the original line-up back together; Brian Bethell, Mickey Burkey, Mark and myself, so that was another fresh, albeit vintage, idea and we did a lovely tour.

    And then I had this idea to do a new album, which became 13 Shades Of Blue. I sat in my kitchen and got a playlist together; brilliant Blues songs that went under the radar. And then I’m thinking, “There’s a bit of Ska in that; that’s a bit Soulful, that’s a bit Funky, that’s a bit Rootsy, and I thought, “Wow! Blues just funnels through all these genres”. It’s nice to discover a song like “It’s Your Voodoo Working”; it’s like I went back to university for a year and studied.

    Then I’m thinking I need a bit of piano, a bit of trumpet, a bit of sax. And I run a Blues Jam at the Pelton Arms in Greenwich, last Sunday of every month. A girl walks in, she said, “Can I sing ‘Stormy Monday’?” She got up and the whole pub just went… and stopped. And that was Charlie, our singer. The following week, we’re in the studio, and recorded Aretha Franklin’s “Don’t Play That Song”. It all happened, so naturally, so organically, and before I knew it, I thought, I’m going to have to take this on the road.

    On that last album you pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, Charlie Austin, Aaron Neville, John Mayall… All of these records must have been in your collection?

    Nine Below Zero: The Current Four Piece. (L. To R.) Ben Willis, Dennis Greaves, Mark Feltham, Mickey Burkey.

    If you read Keith Richards book, he said his job was to teach every white kid about Muddy Waters. People come up to me and say, “Hoochie Coochie Coo”, or something as obvious as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”; “That’s a great song that you wrote”. I said, “No”. It’s John Mayall, or Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, so… I walked into a pub – my son runs a pub – and on the jukebox he’s got “Don’t Lay That Funky Trip On Me”. Why have I never heard that? And he says’ “Oh, it’s Señor Soul”. Of course, you find out it’s the harmonica player from War, Lee Oskar. So, there you go, you’re educating yourself, and if I can pass that on…

    You mentioned that in ’77 when you first started it was all Punk, but only a couple of years later you were on an episode of the ITV South Bank Show dedicated to the British R&B tradition

    Oh, wasn’t that wonderful… It was the Blues Band, Dr Feelgood and Nine Below Zero. Sixties; Seventies; Eighties. Fantastic! And do you know what, I often say there would be a gap there to The Strypes. I wish there was more bands like The Strypes, I really do. I think they’re wonderful. I’ve been at a lot of festivals this summer and there’s a lot of them ‘NME’ bands, trendy Indie, all the same… nothing’s jumping out.

    Why has R&B lasted? We are talking about a style of music that’s been around for 70 years.

    Do you know what it is? It’s feel. You feel what they are projecting. Take ‘Smokestack Lightning’. Put that on and I defy you not to feel it. It’s one chord, but the feel and the soul… If you listen to something now from the ‘90s, it’s gone, its lost but you go back to Buddy Holly, all that stuff - three microphones and loads of compression. Those early Elvis Presley recordings… Scotty Moore on guitar; bass and drums. It’s feel. You put that on and there’s something special there.

    Some of your own recordings are almost 40 years old now. 40 years ago what was the expectation?

    Dennis Greaves (L) and Mark 'The Harp' Feltham

    I didn’t think about it too deeply but I wouldn’t have thought I’d be here now talking to you. No way. I’d come out of school, got a little job. I convinced Mark to turn professional. We got a record deal with A&M. We were in the Thomas A Becket one night; we did a demo, and then we signed to A&M Records. We were on The Kinks tour; we were playing with The Who, and it was like… woah! We didn’t stop to think, we were just rolling, going with it. I’ve had a wonderful journey. There’s been loads of ups and downs. I remember going through my wife’s wardrobe, looking for coins to buy a paper or for my bus fare. Though I think those periods really put you in good stead; she’d go to work, I’d be stuck at home writing songs but I think it’s good that you have that fight, that passion.

    After Live At The Marquee and Don’t Point Your Finger… everything seemed primed for you to break into the mainstream. How did you feel when Third Degree didn’t cross over?

    In the days before mobile phones, we stopped the tour bus and our manager, Mickey Modern, ran out to the telephone box. Wipe Away Your Kiss had got to #76, so we missed out by one chart place to get on Top Of The Pops. And the deflation was like… Oh, my God. We didn’t know where to go after Third Degree. Derek Green (at A&M) pleaded with us to make another record and he could have been right but we’d been on the road for two and a half years. We were young; we were angry; we were cheesed off. Everything was primed and nothing came of it. Great videos with some good people. David Bailey’s doing the photograph, everything’s right but if you look at that front cover we look tired. Luckily it made me go and form The Truth because I fell in love with the Hammond organ during Third Degree.

    And is The Truth reformation an ongoing thing?

    The Truth in 1984. Dennis Greaves (seated); the white socks and loafer years .

    Very much so. The thing with The Truth is I think we’ve done four or five shows, and it’s fresh. There’s a lot of bands on the circuit who’ve been slapping about, and the problem is if you ain’t made a new record for thirty years, you’ve got to be really careful. Cherry Red Records bought out a 3CD Truth box set, done a lovely job; great artwork. That gave us a reason to go out. And I’ve been waiting for a drummer like my son. I’m so pleased that we can swing, and we can play those songs better than we did back then. As you mature you can groove a bit more.

    You’ve always been a stylish individual. Does the look go hand in hand with the music?

    I’m not an Elvis Presley gold lame suit guy but I like to be nicely dressed. I saw Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino wearing a top like mine and I thought, yeah, looks good. It’s really important when you get older that you don’t try and dress young. You’ve got to be fresh. I look at Charlie Watts – the man’s stylish. I love Charlie. Mick Jagger… mmm, not so sure. Don’t get me wrong. I have done some Wally things in my time, There was “Jumpergate”, when The Truth turned up in these jumpers… that was a big mistake.

    There was a time at Nine Below Zero gigs when half of the audience would be dressed like you; narrow jeans, suede Chelsea boots, leather box jacket with a Fred Perry underneath.

    Yeah, that jacket, I got it on the Kings Road; what was the name of that market? Kensington Market. I use to get a lot of things from Crampton Clothing in the Old Kent Road, opposite the Thomas A Becket. It was all ‘Dead Man’s Gear’ when you think about it. We’d be picking up suits for £1.50, and shirts for 20 pence.

    In 1981 we played with The Jam, on the back of a lorry at a CND rally. I’ve still got the CND magazine with us on the front. I had a Tootal scarf on; white jeans and a maroon and white polka dot; a classic scarf.

    Can you remember the first time your Mum and Dad let you buy your own clothes?

    Yeah, I was thirteen; My Mum and dad took me to Mr Carnaby in Carnaby Street. I was desperate. I bought a purple zipped up turtle-neck. I really wish turtle-necks would come back. I’ve said to Smedley’s… I can’t get a Smedley turtle-neck; they’ve stopped doing them.

    What’s next for you?

    Lots to be done. We’re going to do the Squeeze tour. I’m really looking forward to it, ‘cause I think a lot of fans have bought into the two bands together. Obviously Squeeze have sold the tickets but I’m getting a good feel for that.

    I must record the 8-piece band live. Then it will be the Nine Below Zero 40th anniversary in 2019. I’m just writing a new album for that. Dave Cairns and I are talking about some dual gigs with Secret Affair and The Truth. They’ll be some gigs with From The Jam and The Truth. And me and Mark are doing the duo, so… I feel energised, I feel fresh. Lots to do still. As long as our manager rings me up and says people want to book the band we can continue.

     

    Nine Below Zero are on tour with Squeeze throughout November. Ticket details at http://www.ninebelowzero.com/tour

    13 Shades Of Blue and all other Nine Below Zero albums are available at http://www.ninebelowzero.com/store

    The Truth: A Step In The Right Direction 3CD Set is available at www.cherryred.co.uk

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