Acid Jazz

  • The Sharpest Word: Tootal Blog Talks Modzines With Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland

    This February sees the welcome publication of ‘Modzines’, which is - as the cover explains - a look back at “fanzine culture from the Mod revival”. Tootal blog caught up with the books authors, Eddie Piller and Steve Rowland.

    What was the inspiration for your ‘Modzines’ book?

    Steve: I’m a graphic designer, I’ve always loved subcultures and ’79 was my ‘coming of age’, if you like. The big thing at the time was the Mod revival; it was ours, as in my age group. All the older lads and big brothers had The Jam but we had the Mod revival.

    Growing up, drawing logos at school and eventually making a living as a designer, I’ve always had that interest. And when the digital and online thing came along, fanzines and that whole art form kind of got lost. So, it was a time to record it, and to put something out there.

    How did you go about assembling your list of featured titles?

    48 Thrills, Issue 2, 1976. Direction, Reaction, Creation, Issue 7, 1980.
    Jamming, Issue 8, 1979. Maximum Speed, Issue 8, 1979.

    Steve: When I first got the idea for the book I sent it to Ed straight away, because I knew he had to be involved at some level. And going back to the internet there’s people like Neil Allen, who has a Facebook group for Mod fanzines, and is an avid collector. He’s a contributor to the book and was a great help.

    Eddie: Neil bought most of my collection. My Mod fanzine Extraordinary Sensations started in 1980 and ran until about 1985, and because it was so successful other editors sent me their fanzines for review. I amassed a collection of at least a thousand but sold it about six or seven years before Steve first approached me, so we were working from memory. And basically, with Mod fanzines … it’s like a pyramid. You have Maximum Speed at the top, then you have Direction Reaction Creation, Shake and, dare I say it, Extraordinary Sensations, and so on. But we managed to find fanzines that were literally just circulating in a Derbyshire pit village amongst fifteen friends, you know?

    Fanzines were ubiquitous in the Mod scene because it was the perfect storm of accessibility, desire and the market. Accessibility, as in anyone could make a fanzine – you needed a pen and a photocopier. People weren’t writing about Mod bands in the mainstream music press, and if they were they were disparaging. So, kids in south Wales, Huddersfield, Essex, wherever, they weren’t reading about their bands. So, there was a desire to tell people about your local bands, and that created the market. There were more Mod fanzines than any other genre ever. I’d say probably two or three thousand different titles since 1978. We were only able to scratch the surface.

    Were there many titles that you couldn’t track down?

    Eddie: Some of the editors had passed away, or moved to Jamaica or just felt that they were no longer interested in it. From my perspective, we wrote about most of the fanzines we wanted to feature. There were some that I wish had spoken to us, and some I wish I’d found; Roadrunner and Patriotic didn’t feel they had time. Shake, the guy had moved to Jamaica to be a Dancehall MC in 1984 - DJ Dominic, “The Cheeky Cockney”. But, in principle, we got what we wanted to get. This book could have been ten times longer, and it would have taken ten times longer to write.

    Steve: Ironically, the one cover we wanted to feature and couldn’t get was Issue 1 of Extraordinary Sensations. No one can find it and people did scour their collections.

    Eddie: Yes, the Holy Grail for fanzine collectors. I originally sold it at The Bridge House Hotel in Canning Town, right towards the end of 'Mod Monday'. We’d gone to see the Leyton Mod band Beggar. I made twenty copies of Extraordinary Sensations and sold them all in twenty minutes for 10p each. Twenty-four hours later they were probably all in someone’s bin but that’s what fanzines were supposed to be, disposable. I never kept a copy; I never even thought I’d do a Volume Two, let alone be talking about it forty years later. I found one original typed page in my archive, but the rest of the fanzine… I’ve never seen it since that day. There might be one in existence but I doubt it.

    Generally it sounds as though the response from other editors was good?

    Steve: I think early on it went over peoples heads a little but as we got closer to finishing it, that’s when people realised it was actually happening and then they were like, “I want to be in it”. There was a lot of good will, people wanted to get involved… globally, as well.

    Eddie: Goffa Gladding from Maximum Speed was very forthcoming, gave me a lot of time and advice, just as he did in 1979 when I was a fifteen year old Mod. I looked up to these people, the fanzine editors, and when I became one myself it was like joining a private club. Other fanzine editors suddenly treated you in a different way. People like Ray Patriotic and Steve Roadrunner became some of my best friends. Mind you, no one ever called me Eddie Extraordinary Sensations – too much of a mouthful.

    From a design point of view, did you look at any of the fanzines and think, ‘There’s something a bit special there’?

    Roadrunner, Issue 5, 1981. Extraordinary Sensations, Issue 4, 1981. The Café Society, Issue 1, 1983. Beyond All Limits, Issue 5, 1985.

    Steve: There’s a thing now about getting your hands dirty, using pencils and paint and only scanning it after, and that’s what you want to do as a designer, not just staring at a screen. And that’s the beauty of doing this book; we could have done a blog but…

    Eddie: When we started this book we both assumed the world of Mod fanzines has been replaced by blogs and by websites but there are some fabulous magazines now like Heavy Soul and Icon. They don’t sell in huge quantities but obviously there’s not millions of Mods around the world.

    We do a whole section on design and how it grew from literally being a typewriter, a pair of scissors and a PritStick, up to when the first printers got involved. It was either a kid cutting it out, sticking it down and photocopying it or someone approaching it as a magazine, and you find a lot of the people in that second category became journalists. People like Chris Hunt, who wrote Shadows & Reflections fanzine and became editor of Shoot! Magazine; Steve Detra, the editor of Shake & Shout in Australia, he became a successful journalist, Tony Fletcher at Jammin’, that became a full-on magazine and he became an author…

    Steve: A lot of the fanzines were hand written, hand drawn and photo-copied, just to get it done, but the part where they really start to come alive and that I really love is when they discovered Letraset, that took it to a different level. Seeing which fonts they pick out and use, that gave me a bit of inspiration for the book as well - a lot of inspiration, in fact.

    Is there any international element to the book?

    Eddie: We had a fantastic response from all round the world. A guy in Argentina called Kevin Fingier, who is in a band called Los Aggrotones on Acid Jazz, he heard that we were doing the book and asked, “Is my fanzine in it?” I had to phone up Steve and say, ‘Have we finished the book, because I’ve just had some Mod fanzines in from Argentina, can you squeeze them in?’ This was right at the last minute.

    Steve: I was on the Modcast boat when one of the regulars, Jason, said, ‘I’m gutted my fanzine’s not in it’. He grew up in eastern Canada, where he produced the only Mod fanzine. I said, ‘Can you get it to me? There’s an off chance…’ So he got in touch with his Mum, who found the fanzine, scanned it, sent the images to me and it got in at the very last minute.

    Eddie: We also got an all girl Mod fanzine collective from Sweden, very Socialist. What were they called?

    Steve: Gloria International. Beautiful covers, one of my favourites.

    Did the fanzines have a broad agenda or was it limited to reviews of the same old bands?

    Eddie: We came across a guy from Birmingham who ran a fanzine called Hey Sah-Lo-Ney, after the Mickey Lee Lane / The Action song. He got bored doing a fanzine so he did a Mod comic book, called Lumbaba after the African politician. He drew every cell by hand but it would take two weeks to do a couple of pages. It was much easier to cut out ‘Batman’ and fill in the speech bubbles with your own writing. There’s so much of that in Mod fanzines. There’s a whole section on appropriation and copyright in the book – at the time we didn’t know it was illegal. We thought it was Roy Lichenstein style ‘Pop Art’.

    Do you think Mod fanzines left a lasting legacy?

    In The Crowd, Issue 14, 1985. The Catch!, Issue 1, 1985. The Hipster, Issue 3, 1986. Gloria International, Issue 2, 1990.

    Steve: Ironically I think there is, if only because of the internet. There’s fanzine Facebook groups, there’s collectors sharing images of their collections. The book is really the story behind it, going from those earliest titles that Eddie mentioned. We’re just telling the story of where it came from. It’s almost like finding the source of the river. Hopefully we provide some background, some interesting facts, the story of why it happened and the knock on effects… shining a light in forgotten corners, and on fanzines as an art form. It was unique; it’s interesting that none of the fanzines have resurfaced as blogs.

    Eddie: It was a very, very special thing but they all came to an end for one reason – time. The real world catches up. It’s a hobby.

    I think it summed up a time and a place, and an attitude you could do anything. Don’t forget, the reason that Modzines became so popular is Mod was an underground, working class movement, ignored by the mainstream press after 1979. By 1980 it was a dirty word, so we had to do it ourselves. Roger Allan, who wrote Can’t Explain fanzine, told us the early Punk scene was everything he could have wanted; you could make your own fanzine, make your own record, put your own gig on but gradually the powers that be, the establishment, the music papers, the record labels, they created this stereotype of the turgid, depressive, downer taking, motorcycle jacket and Mohican wearing ‘Sid Vicious’ style moron - and that wasn’t for us. Punk had lost it’s ‘do anything you wanna do’ attitude, as Eddie & The Hot Rods said. We looked at those people on the Kings Road and thought ‘Mug’. We took over the attitude and we carried on doing it, against contemporary music media dictats.

    A box set edition of ‘Modzines’, limited to 750 copies includes a 7” single ‘If I Was You’/’That’s What I Want’ by Long Tall Shorty (originally issued as a free flexidisc with the Direction Reaction Creation fanzine), a reproduction of issue one of Maximum Speed and a certificate of authenticity. It is available now from Acid Jazz for £51.99.

    The paperback version is published on 7 February 2019 and available from Amazon for £11.89.

  • Sweet Harmony: Tootal Blog Talks to Music For Robots

    Jan Kincaid, the former drummer, songwriter, producer, and founder of the Brand New Heavies met Dawn Joseph, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, when she started singing for the Heavies in 2013. The pair instantly clicked, and within their first week of working together, they were writing songs. Now they’ve formed their own band, Music For Robots (or MF Robots, for short) – their name, a subtle dig at how generic today’s music climate has become.

    Tootal Blog talked to Jan Kincaid about their new soul vision.

    By way of introduction what does it say on the Music For Robots business card?

    It would have “ironic” in brackets, that’d be the first thing. And then it would just be “music to make you feel good”. Obviously we live in strange times, and there’s a lot of music that reflects that but there’s a lot of things to be happy about still. And we’re very enthused by music, particularly the celebratory side of it. Whenever we play live, it’s a very dynamic and exciting show; that’s what we like from music, which seems to be what we do naturally, so we try and project that. Being introspective is okay but it’s also quite a selfish viewpoint. Sometimes you need to engage with everyone else, rather than just “woe is me” all the time.

    How did Music For Robots come about?

    Really, for the want of something new and exciting to do. I started Brand New Heavies back in the day with Andrew and Simon, and Dawn came on board in 2011. Straightaway we hit it off and started writing a together, just me and her. I was kind of the main writer in the band and used to working on my own but with Dawn I found a songwriting ally. She has an almost telepathic ability; she just knows the same stuff, the same points of reference, and the things I was into. I didn’t have to describe anything; she already knew what we were trying to do. And she’s incredibly open-minded; she doesn’t have a lot of musical boundaries. I know from experience when you get into writing sessions people can be really precious, especially if you’re in a big group of people. I found that quite frustrating sometimes, because everyone wanted to have an input, and sometimes if you know what you’re doing it’s nice to just run with it. And with Dawn, I’ve never had that problem, so before we knew it we pretty much wrote the last Heavies record together (‘Sweet Freaks’, 2014). There’s advantages to being in a band for a long time, in that you establish a sound and you have a way of working, or a framework, but you can only bend and move that a certain amount before people start getting uneasy.

    So this is a response to your personal situation, and to something bigger?

    MF Robots Dawn Joseph and Jan Kincaid.

    Definitely, it’s like a joyous release. I just wanted a totally new thing, and not having to think about expectations. And that celebratory side of the album also comes from the release of a lot of frustration, certainly in my part. It’s like being in a marriage for a long time, that’s plodding along and you’re not really expressing yourself in the way you want to. So, I had my massive mid-life crisis, I broke out, bought myself a sports car, and all is good! [Laughs]. I’m on that highway, going into the sunset, Tootal scarf blowing in the wind.

    Are there individual messages and themes that your songs explore?

    There are a lot of themes in there, for example a few of the tracks go into not being afraid. For me, I’ve been in a situation for a long time, twenty-five plus years, so there’s a part of you that’s always saying, “Do you know what you’re doing? Be careful” but a lot of the songs reflect that feeling, of taking that next step. Having enough self-belief and faith in the music, faith in what we were doing, to think actually, no, I’m going to do this. But I’m so much happier, and I’ve never regretted it for a minute. ‘Scary Monsters’ is about that. There’s actually no scary monsters there at all, only the ones you have in yourself, that little voice that’s always telling you to stop. Unless you take that step you’re never going to go anywhere, are you?

    Is Brand New Heavies a closed book now?

    MF Robots take to the stage.

    For me, definitely. It’s no longer a reflection of where my head is at in any way, shape or form. It’s become a bit of a heritage thing really, and it went as far as I could see it going. When you’re playing the same songs for twenty plus years, without really adding anything new it just gets a bit boring. I’m more interested in what we’re doing tomorrow than what we did ten years ago.

    The new album has a very full and rich sound; can it be recreated live?

    We’re taking the best elements, the effervescence and the joyous, celebratory, party side of it and we’re taking that out live. It’s quite raucous, and Dawn’s an amazing performer; she really does know how to engage with a crowd. The thing is, we’re quite a new band, so some of the gigs we’ve done, particularly the bigger festivals, there’s a large part of the audience that have never heard us; we’re very aware of that, but halfway through the set, they’re all over it. They have a really good time, and that’s the best we could ever wish for. It’s not about having to recreate the record, note for note, because it’s quite a big sound but we’re still going out with a horn section, guitar, bass, drums, there’s eight of us on stage, so it’s not a small band but for what we’re doing it’s right, and it sounds great.

    Fourteen unfamiliar songs is asking a lot of your audience. If you had to throw in a cover version...?

    We actually do two quite different cover versions. We do ‘Finder’s Keepers’ by Chairman of the Board, and we do ‘Keep That Same Old Feeling’ by The Crusaders. ‘Finder’s Keepers’ is our encore, it’s a bit raucous, it really gets people going, it’s the kind of song that just keeps going up and up. We’re thinking of adding a Dolly Parton song but we’re approaching it from an entirely different direction; it’s going to be interesting.

    ‘Finder’s Keepers’ is forty-five years old. Why is it that Soul and Funk particularly still sound so fresh and vibrant?

    It has all of those things we’re striving for, it’s celebratory, it’s joyous, it’s that gritty, real feeling, it’s passionate, it projects outward… all of those things, and Soul music is a true expression of spirit. In a musical climate where everything is generic, and boring, and very samey… most of the records you hear seem to be produced by the same producers, and even if they’re not they sound pretty similar. When you have twenty writers writing one record, which seems to be the norm just now, to me that’s just insane. If I’m trying to write something that’s honest and sincere, how can you tell a story that’s written by twenty people? It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t sound honest. It sounds like a business transaction. It’s more like a manufacturing process, rather than a creative process. And that’s where the name Music For Robots comes from, because we’re kind of cocking a snook at that whole vibe. I think that’s why reissues and re-releases are such a booming business for record companies, because it’s music was made with a purity of heart, and I think that’s lacking in a lot of music right now. I think that people want to hear that kind of honesty and that straight forwardness again.

    Did music play a big part in the home when you were growing up?

    MF Robots Dawn Joseph and Jan Kincaid.

    Massively, yeah. It was in the home, it was on TV, so many theme tunes, film soundtracks, adverts, all kind going around, as well as Pop music, so I picked up on a lot of stuff. When I was about nine, maybe ten, I got really into Rock ‘n’ Roll, and early R&B. I think primarily it was probably because of Grease, if I’m completely honest. Then I heard ‘Blueberry Hill’, and stuff like that, and I got more into New Orleans R&B, artists like Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, that kind of vibe. And when I went to high school I really got into Soul music, then Jazz, Latin music, Hip-Hop and everything else in-between. Now my tastes are really eclectic, as they are when you get older. I was a massive purist when I was younger but now there’s so many things I’m hearing that I love.

    Let’s go back to the first to the first record you bought…

    It was probably a cheap Top of the Pops album, if I’m honest. No idea which one it was, or what year it was – a Seventies one. And it might have been bought for me. I bought a few records when I was ten, eleven, something like that, a few singles probably. And then when I went to high school, I really started buying singles properly, and I haven’t stopped since. Buying records has always been a passion for me.

    When you’re making an album do you think of it in terms of “track one, side one”, etc.?

    Because we weren’t rushing and we started this project before it even became an album, we kind of did it track by track and then suddenly we had six tracks, then twelve, and it was like, “ooh, this has become something special now”. And when we started to apply the polish and to hone it, we were sequencing it from a vinyl point of view, and actually we are doing double vinyl, so I did it as Side A, Side B, Side C, Side D. That’s how the album runs, that was very specifically thought out.

    We wanted to make it a really attractive package because I collect vinyl, so that’s what I look for as well. If you’re going to buy the vinyl, you want to have that full-on aesthetic joy whenever you pick it. And something that I can always go back to and think, “I love this cover” because that’s one thing that frustrates the shit out of me with Spotify, even though I totally get the ease of use, I want to find out who some of the players are sometimes, where it was recorded… all of that kind of thing.

    What about the first time you bought your own clothes?

    MF Robots Jan Kincaid and Dawn Joseph.

    From a very young age I was always the kid that was like, “No, I don’t want those, I want those” but I didn’t always have that choice; my mum was still getting my jeans from Tesco, and more frustratingly my brother is six years older than me but we were still wearing the same outfits, the same cardigans… there’s loads of 1970s photos where we’re wearing the same clothes.

    For me it was a youth culture thing, and the first time I got into something that had a strong identity it was Rock ‘n’ Roll, so I went out and I bought a shoestring tie and some luminous socks – there was a little shop in Ealing that had all that stuff - I started to roll up my jeans, even though I still had Tesco ones. I never had a drape coat or anything like that. Some sides of that fashion I was a bit uneasy with, because I thought it looked a bit silly. I did buy some Brylcreem but I had such fine hair it didn’t work, it kind of half flopped down. I’ve got these photos of my mate and me at eleven years old, looking more Flock of Seagulls than Bill Haley.

    When I got into high school everyone was either a Soul Boy, a Mod or into 2-Tone, maybe the odd Skinhead kicking around. I was very firmly a Soul Boy, so I was into Farah’s and the casual thing, even though I couldn’t really afford it. Everyone had burgundy cardigans and waffle shoes. Soul belts, Hawaiian shirts, and the G.I. thing, I went through all that. When I was fifteen it was putting the seam down the front of your trousers, with a Gabicci shirt, something like that. Slazenger jumpers, Lyle & Scott… I never had a Lyle & Scott, Slazenger was the cheaper alternative.

    Do music and style still go hand in hand for you now?

    Oh, massively. And I really like fashion for its own sake; I’m very much into the thing of where youth culture and fashion meets. There’s an amazing book that’s just come out, ‘Rebel Threads’ by Roger Burton, that book is incredible, because when you see a lot of those histories it is mainly American stuff, so it’s really nice to see all those shots from the Fifties and Sixties and it’s all British style. I really like those little books like ‘The Ivy Look’, and there’s another one called ‘Icons of Men’s Style’, I love all of that stuff.

    Being on the warehouse scene, that’s where I started to see people dressing up, and I used to look up to some of those people like the Duffer’s and that kind of crowd, and I started hanging out with those cats and that was a real exciting time. There’s no tribalism in music any more, and that is really sad, I think. People don’t have that band they can look up to and say, right, I want to be like them. That was everywhere - Punks, Rockers, Skins, Teddy Boys, Soul Boys, Mods, all of that, and now you don’t have anything, and that’s quite sad. I definitely benefited from and enjoyed that tribalism, and it reflects on everything I do, whether it is conscious or not.

    Previously the name Brand New Heavies would have been enough to sell a few albums or tickets. It must be a challenge to start building a new audience from scratch?

    MF Robots debut album 'Music For Robots' is released on 4th May 2018.

    We’ve done quite well on social media so far, building it up kind of organically. We definitely want to get out to America and do some business there because I think potentially that’s a really big audience for us. I don’t think we fit into traditional radio so much, it’s so targeted at specific audiences, and I think that’s its downfall in a way. For me those little online stations are the ones that we were searching for back in the day, and while they come and go there’s some great podcasts as well. It’s a really exciting time in music, but there’s just so much out there – everyone can do something and promote it now. You get a much bigger range to choose from which means some things never get heard. And you have to be a marketeer to a certain extent, and you have to be a salesman and all of these things as well as being a musician, and if you’re from a younger generation that’s all you know

    Going forward, is there a Music For Robots master plan?

    Yes, to carry on doing what we’re doing, and try to do it as organically as we can. We want to do a lot more shows, play to a lot more people, and wake them up to what we’re doing, that’s the plan. And, of course, get the album out there because we’re really excited for people to hear it, because we put a lot of work into it. So far people have been really encouraging but you never really know – you just do something to the best of your ability, you never know whether people are going to accept it. People think, oh, yeah, it’s going to be just like the Heavies but actually, once you hear the album, there’s a lot more going on than that, and that’s the thing I think we will gradually get across. It’s a lot fresher than the last couple of Heavies albums, but it wasn’t a conscious thing, it was a case of the gloves are off and we have that freedom.


    ‘Music For Robots’ by MF Robots is out now on Membran Records, on CD, double vinyl and available to download and stream.

    Find them on Twitter @musicforrobots on Facebook @mfrobots and on Instagram @MFRobots

  • 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

    You can find all Acid Jazz releases – including the last few copies of their Rare Mod releases – at

    Eddie Piller's Eclectic Soul Show is on Soho Radio every Thursday at 4.00pm

    Need more Acid Jazz artists in your life? Check out our recent Q&A with the excellent New Street Adventure here

  • 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

  • New Street Adventure's Nick Corbin Talks To Tootal Blog

    For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to hear you yet, who are New Street Adventure?

    We’re a five-piece soul band based in East London, signed to Acid Jazz Records, released two albums with them in the last three years. We’re currently getting ready for a big U.K. tour with a band called The Milk. Until now we’ve been plying our trade around the Soul and Mod scene but it’s starting to break out a bit more now, whilst still retaining those followers

    Is it full time for you now? Have you given up the decorator / handyman job?

    New Street Adventure, when there were still five of them (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    No, I’m still doing that. We make nowhere near enough money for me not to work.

    Earlier this year you said the band had been through 30 line-up changes. Is the line-up settled now?

    No. Our keyboard player suddenly left quite recently, so for the moment we are down to a four piece, with a session keyboard player who is playing on the next tour.

    Is having all those influences coming in and out a good thing?

    Yes, definitely ‘cause with my guitar and songwriting, I’m self-taught but because we have such a high standard of musicians in the band I learn quite a lot from them. There’s definitely a good array of influences in the band, I’d say.

    According to your website “nobody will ever achieve ‘happiness’ because there’s always something to moan about." Is there much to moan about now?

    Yes, definitely! That particular quote was about our song What’s So Good About Happiness? It was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek, looking at how people use social media and how you moan about the people that moan but you actually love reading it because that’s what makes it entertaining, in a weird way.

    Generally your songs are socially aware; you’re not a ‘lovey dovey’ songwriter.

    I can be but I prefer trying to be a bit challenging and witty. If I can…

    Given the view you put across in your songs I’d say there’s probably a lot to concern or motivate you at the moment?

    I do feel that people, especially with what has happened over recent months - the election campaign, and then what happened at Glastonbury - it feels like there’s a bit more of a political awakening, certainly in my generation, maybe in Music as a whole. It’s not going to happen overnight but, yes, there’s definitely a lot to irk people and get people worked up, and I think if they can relate to that in a song that’s quite a powerful thing, really.

    You wear your musical influences on your sleeve – classic soul and funk, ‘70s singer / songwriters – what do you bring to the mix?

    When people think of Soul music it’s mainly about the voice. I’ve never been able to sing like that, I’ve always bought my own take though it’s not for everybody. I’ve always identified with the voice first and foremost but the music really interests me too – the arrangements and the chord structures because all that Classic Soul has a classic songwriting structure. The phrasing of those great singers isn’t something I’ve got engrained in me but whenever I’m coming up with new stuff I always think “How would Bobby Womack sing it?” or “How would Marvin Gaye sing it?” Even though I don’t have THAT voice - and I never will - I still try to drop little things in that’ll keep people thinking.

    Do you bring a bit of London and Birmingham to it as well?

    New Street Adventure, Live at London's Jazz Cafe (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    The Birmingham connection is only that I was living there when I started the band; I’m not a Brummie. I think people from that area like the fact that ‘New Street’ is in the name. The New Street I know in London is opposite Liverpool Street Station and not as exciting.

    I live in London now but I wouldn’t claim to be a Londoner. I grew up in a leafy part of East Sussex. I think because I was bought up with the values and the musical tastes that I have, it gives my music an authenticity even though it doesn’t really sound like anything else.

    You’ve mentioned before about your father being a big Soul fan…

    Yeah, he’s an avid record collector; he’s an obsessive, definitely.

    On the subject of records, all the New Street Adventure releases to date have been available on vinyl.

    It’s really important, I think. I love it and we definitely have the sort of fanbase that appreciates vinyl more than CDs, but then I think a lot of people are starting to anyway. I don’t think I own any CDs now; maybe a few battered ones somewhere but I’ve always been excited by vinyl. We’re releasing a four track EP in a month’s time, to coincide with the tour we’re doing and that’s only available on vinyl and digital.

    Why do think a style of music made on another continent 50 years ago, in very different circumstances, still finds a passionate audience today.

    It’s that feeling of being the underdog, I suppose. For me Punk was such a big thing as well but more because it was so fast paced and aggressive. It s impact has lasted but with Soul I think it’s that underdog feeling.

    Despite these Soul influences your music, particularly your lyrics, sound very English.

    I’ve always tried to avoid clichés, which is difficult. I’m trying to write a lot for other artists at the moment, and you have to change your own rules a little bit. But I still find it really hard to include clichéd lyrics in a song.

    The Soul scene can be a bit elitist. Have you come up against musical snobbery?

    Nick Corbin of New Street Adventure (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    Yes, a lot. My favourite ever review was when we first started; we where a three piece living in Birmingham, and we played in a bar at this little festival in Manchester, and someone said “It was the strange sensation of listening to George Michael fronting The Jam”. The rest of what he wrote was much more negative but that’s the only bit that I remember.

    When we recorded our first EP it was sent to Snowboy and he said “Who is this guy singing, why haven’t they got a proper Soul singer?” because the music sounded so good.

    There are a lot of people who don’t understand it. Last year, when The Guardian article came out there were loads of people writing horrible things like “How can he compare this band to Dexys?” blah, blah, blah “He’s just a posh Mockney singing on top of some average Soul music”, things like that. It doesn’t really bother me, I’ve been doing it long enough but I know what I’m doing, I know what works. The nice things are what you really try and remember.

    I was in Brighton on the Bank Holiday, outside a pub when someone dragged me in and they said “Oh, they’re playing your song” and when I walked in about 50 people cheered, and they were applauding, and it’s things like that – which hasn’t really happened before – you think if you can make people feel like that, it’s such a powerful emotion. To connect with people like that, it’s pretty amazing.

    It probably helped that they’d had a few beers as well.

    Yeah (laughs)…

    You’ve never branded yourselves as a Mod band but your early audience was the Mod / Northern Soul crowd.

    I like the clothes, I like the music but I think for someone of my generation to call themselves a Mod is a bit confused really. We’ve always got asked to play events that have got ‘Mod’ in the title but we’ve tried to stay away for that reason. People who connect with our music will find it without us having to nail our colours to any particular mast.

    There are some bands that make a big thing of it and it doesn’t work now. There have been so many subcultures that everything has kind of blended into one; the lines between each different one are merged now, aren’t they? None of our original following has fallen away, even though our second album was a bit more progressive, away from that kind of Style Council sound.

    You’ve played at John Simons shop in Marylebone; you’re playing at Bass & Co shoe shop tomorrow night so presumably style is important to you?

    Definitely. I’m not always going to be sharp; I mean, look at me today. I probably look quite scruffy [he didn’t – Ed.]… it’s little things like that, the right type of shoes or the right type of jeans or shirt. I’d never go around suited up or anything like that but I like the Mod style, definitely.

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

    Yes, and it was probably a mistake as well. I was about 14, something like that, and the big thing at my school was baggy jeans and surfer t-shirts… it didn’t last very long, I don’t think. I remember I had these jeans that my Mum washed with so much starch they were just really stiff, so I stopped wearing them eventually. I don’t know if she did it on purpose, I reckon she probably did.

    What’s the ambition for the band?

    I’d love to be able to do it full time but I also see my songwriting as something that is equally important and that’s what I want to work on – songwriting for other people. I’m writing a lot at the moment but I think I could do both simultaneously quite easily.

    Does collaborating interest you?

    Definitely, yeah, because I think you learn a lot from collaborating. Like I said, I’m not the greatest guitar player or musician. Working with somebody new, with fresh ideas would open me up to areas I’ve not been in before. I’ve now got two albums on my ‘cv’, so that’s two really good reasons that someone will want to work with me over someone else.

    Is there a wish list of people you’d like to work with?

    Keep It Burning: New Street Adventure at The Jazz Cafe (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    I don’t know really … one in particular, right, Joss Stone, I think when her first album came out, ‘The Soul Sessions’, it was all covers; it was brilliant, so raw. She’d been working with Betty Wright and Angie Stone, and I don’t think she’s done anything that good since. I’ve got some songs that I think would work really well for her. Other than that it’s people who are my current soul… not ‘heroes’ but favourites in the States; people like Lee Fields, Raphael Saadiq and Charles Bradley, people who have excellent production and bands but I think I could write them some better songs, to be fair. We’ll have to see what happens, I suppose, but I’m writing a lot at the moment.

    And then you’re off on tour with The Milk?

    Yes, I’m really looking forward to that ‘cause their drummer [Mitch Ayling] produced both our albums, we get on really well, so I think it will be good fun.

    What was behind the decision to record the new acoustic EP? Do these songs come across from a different angle if you do them acoustically?

    Most of them are written on acoustic guitar, so that’s usually the kind of blueprint; if it’s going to work on acoustic guitar it will work however. Acid Jazz has always been really keen on us doing them because they like how we perform in an acoustic environment.

    We supported Leroy Hutson at the Union Chapel and we just did an acoustic set; it was really nervy because we walked in during his soundcheck and there was an eleven or twelve piece band and full string and horn arrangements and it sounded incredible, plus he’s also one of my favourite artists. And then we go up there with a couple of guitars and a cajon box, but I think it went down really well. We tried to be very humble, I mean I always am but extra humble, I guess, and it kind of won the audience over and we took a bit longer explaining the songs, and why we were there.

    A good song is a good song regardless of arrangement. That’s kind of how I’ve grown up with it, really.


    One And The Same Acoustic EP is released on Acid Jazz Records on 28th September 2017. Details at

    New Street Adventure and The Milk are playing 9 UK dates together starting 28th September 2017. Details at

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