***MARTIN GORDON & CHRIS TOWNSON INTERVIEWED*** June 2003
Our man, Mark A. Johnstone speaks to Martin Gordon & Chris Townson…
MAJ: Are you all growing weary of all the John’s Children questions? Is it an Albatross?
Martin Gordon: It’s more like a Blue-footed Booby. No, personally I’m happy to talk about my small role in the thing, but then I have other fish to fry, so to speak. If it was the central thing in my musical life, then it would get a bit irksome no doubt, but it isn’t and so it doesn’t. I can’t speak for the others, though.
MAJ: Chris, will The Silence tracks ever be legitimately released? Will the Legendary Orgasm album ever be released without the dodgy fake live audience screams on it :)?
Chris Townson: I really have no idea who these Silence tapes belong to or where they are. My recollections of them are hazy at best. My only clear recollection centres around the stunning line in a Chris Dorsett song…’ I didn’t know she had LOST A LEG’, .. the last three words delivered at considerably greater volume than the rest of the track and swamped in echo……remarkable!!
As for the legendary Orgasm album….! I hope not, the audience noise was the best bits
MAJ: I assume Martin, that you find the JC songs too elemental and boring to play live?
MG: Now why should you assume this, Mark? They’re JC songs, and that’s how they go. One COULD try to spice them up a bit, or respond to the fact that the date (and century) has changed but life’s too short to discuss it any more. We DO play them live, you know…. There’s nothing wrong with elemental or basic, by my analysis – putting a frame around the possibilities can be a useful device in itself.
MAJ: Chris: Were you involved in any of Andy’s post JC solo tracks, such as “Fool From Upper Eden?” Any post JC memories?
CT: No, I wasn’t part of that process. JC had fragmented into different factions by that time, and to be honest I felt there was an uncomfortable undercurrent going on. For example John was clearly intent, with some ‘grooming’ from Simon Napier-Bell, on becoming more involved in management.
Simon himself was looking to offload JC, hence the deal with Brian Epstein (although I was never quite sure what that was all about, as Epstein died shortly after). Andy’s new Napier-Bell-led direction was a million miles away from what I wanted to do, and to be frank I was becoming heartily sick of the whole thing after my altercation with John, and subsequent return to London (after the last pathetic ‘tour’ of the west of England!). It had all become very complex, and my response to complex in those days was to distance myself from it.
Despite this, it was still suggested we ‘reform’ with Trevor on lead guitar. After a few weeks of cooling down, I agreed to meet Andy, John and Simon to discuss this new proposal. Trevor had in fact always been our first choice as guitarist (before Marc by some way),however Trev had declined our offer on a number of occasions, I think in the main out of a sense of loyalty to his brother Jeff (the J in the A-Jaes). However, this time apparently he had finally agreed .
I turned up to the meeting a few days later to find locked doors, no response to phone calls, and no meeting. This was entirely in keeping with the atmosphere of the time, and was the moment JC absolutely ceased to exist. No bad thing in hindsight, as Trev would have made JC a considerably better band musically, especially as it was whispered that John would cease to ‘play’ bass and turn to management.. but would it have been anything more than ordinary? I doubt it. The prospect of being one of ‘John’s’ children in the truest sense, wasn’t too appealing either. That ‘interesting’ experience would come later with Jook.
JC was about a certain time and place in my own personal development. Both had changed and I was more than happy to tiptoe quietly back to the hills of Surrey with my dog for company.
MAJ: Martin, we all know you from Sparks, Jet & Radio Stars and a lot has been documented previously in many interviews, what were you involved with prior to joining up with Sparks?
MG: Well, I was the Defence Minister in the MacMillan government but came a bit of a cropper over Suez and was awarded the VC, I think that’s it was called. Following the debacle of Rhodesia, I went to college to do A-levels and had a brief period in civvy street as a technical author before joining the delightful Californian stage-school midgets. The rest is history.
MAJ: Were you conscious of John’s Children when they were originally about?
What were you listening to in those days?
MG: In those days, probably Listen With Mother or Gardener’s Question Time.
And what happened to Percy Grainger, anyway? I vaguely remember John’s
Chickens from music papers that were around at school but I didn’t have an opportunity to investigate further. There’s a bit of an age difference between us Chickens, you should remember. When I was about 14, I went to London with my uncle to be bought my first suit, something of a rite of passage. I wandered off on my own and followed hordes of people congregating in Hyde Park. They looked rather…. different… so I went to see what it was all about. It turned out to be some pop group called the Rolling Stones who were about to play free for the unwashed hordes. I left, disinterested.
Little did I know that, only 21 years later…. I would be a John Chicken myself. I believe there is a connection between these two apparently disparate anecdotes. Actually I was listening to Spooky Tooth rather a lot, and Yes. The ‘in-crowd’ at school used to find my enthusiasm for Spooky Tooth risible but would single out elements to sneer at that were fundamental to their proclaimed Ur-text of Led Zeppelin, such as falsetto vocals…. This was my first exposure to the innate snobbishness of (many) music lovers.
MAJ: Chris, did you actually believe that Bolan would be as big as he was when he left JC? Did you keep in touch at all?
CT: I won’t claim that I thought Marc would achieve everything that he did, but I was always aware that he had a certain ‘something’ that the rest of us in JC didn’t have. His ability to write intense and meaningful words that fitted a tune perfectly, but meant anything you wanted them to ,or perhaps nothing at all, made a particular impression on me, as did his (then embryonic) grasp of how to formulate a ‘hit’ record. However I was never really into Marc’s early ‘pixie’ period, and we didn’t really see each other after he left. It saddens me a little when I read him saying that we kicked him out, and called him a prima donna, this was never the case, but I would be less than honest if I said I sought him out or was into what he was doing.
MG: He was pretty big when we met Marc in King’s Road in 1977, just as Radio Stars were off to rehearsal. He invited us onto his TV show, on which we appeared a few weeks later, and we all sat around afterwards and had photos taken. Less than two weeks later, he had his fatal car crash. He wrote some great songs, my favourite Bolan period being the Tyrannosaurus Rex time, and that’s why you’ll find ‘Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles’ on the Baboon.
MAJ: Chris: what was the thought when putting The Jook together? Why did the band fold?
CT: The thought was the brainchild of Ian Kimmet, who at the time worked for Feldman’s publishers in London. He and Trevor White spent some months in Ian’s native Scotland, fulfilling a long cherished desire to ‘write some songs’, and put a band together. Before they left I had discussed my desire to be part of that project, being of no fixed abode or gainful employment (in terms of drummage!) After six months or so I received a call, asking me to come along and see if my drumming was as compatible with the material ‘what they wrote’ as my drinking habits and general ‘bonhomie’ were with their particular world view. This was particularly relevant to my relationship with Ian ‘Hacker’ Hampton, who Trev and ‘Ralf’ Kimmet had picked up on the way. Happily,I think we all recognized that both elements were of equal value! Jook…. Probably the most fun I had in the music business, but ultimately the most disappointing…a real ‘nearly’ band. Ian ‘Ralf’ Kimmet was without doubt the best ‘front man ‘ I played behind,(and only a very close second to Townshend, because of the way he ‘scratched’ his little black Gretsch into oblivion rather than power chorded it to the same destruction!!). It’s a great shame circumstance didn’t give him the opportunity to ‘sock it to ’em’ on a bigger stage. It gives me great pleasure (oo..er missus!) therefore, to take this opportunity to ‘big up’ Ralf Kimmet……If you read this Ralf..I MEAN IT!! …how about a Jook reunion gig.. or at least a drink?
Why did Jook fold? This is yer ‘classic’ rock’n’roll tale of manipulation, skullduggery and success fuelled by perceived failure,’it’s business y’know’ etc. etc. …tune in next week.. and so on…deeply entwined with the rise of Sparks, and underpinned by the fact that you don’t turn down the opportunity to join a band that’s just become huge and getting huger by the minute to go on tour supporting the Sweet [as Jook were about to do].
This, alas, is music business reality. Still….if that hadn’t happened, the world may never have seen the magnificent edifice that was Jet.. or Radio Stars.. or The Herd of Herring and so on… Sorry, Martin, this is all the solace I can muster…for me this represented a move forward, however short-lived …I know that for you this unsavoury episode represents real treachery and the theft of your talent.
MG: Sod my talent, matey, I wanted my money!
MAJ: Martin & Chris: how did you two hook back up to become involved again in each other’s careers?
CT: I recall that we bumped into each other in a pub in Hackney in 1992. Martin, who lived locally at that time, had let his curiosity get the better of him, and wandered into a Radio Stars Mk 4 gig, to see what further damage was being done to the name’s credibility .I was there, still flushed with the success of JC’s first reunion gig in Germany, involved in a despicable plot to replace the drummer, and blacken the name yet further. My excuse was that I was merely claiming my heritage. I refer you to Andy Ellison for his…..
MG After I joined in the JC thing in the mid-nineties, I remembered how great it was to play with Chris. So when the solo CD came about, there was only one choice about who would fill the drum chair. I couldn’t get him and so I asked Chris.
MAJ: Martin, tell us a bit about your new album, The Baboon In The Basement.
Where did you get the title from?
MG: I carry around various grubby bits of paper upon which I scribble ndecipherable words and phrases when the muse strikes. This was one. I decided it was a metaphor for something that has slipped out of sight but which flourishes nonetheless. In my case, the Baboon is pop music. After wandering around in world music for 10 years, I discovered that the Baboon was still flourishing and I was gratified to make it’s acquaintance again after all this time. Actually I thought I had invented this concept but I lately discovered that Jung had beaten me to it. (That’s Cyril Jung, the footballing poet). The Japanese forced me to make an early decision about the title of the CD, and it rather grew on me.
MAJ: Martin: You’ve chosen some pretty great songs to cover on your new release, “Baboon In The Basement.” What made you decide to choose the songs you chose to cover?
MG:The covers (Jagger/Richards ‘We Love You, Roy Wood’s ‘Tonight’ and Bolan’s ‘Crocodile’) all have a different story. I was asked by Pelle Almgren, who sings lead vocals on the Baboon, if I fancied doing something with him for a Swedish Stones tribute album. This was before we began to work together, so I had no idea how it would work out, in fact. Casting around for a tune to record, he mentioned that he didn’t want to go for all the obvious ‘latter-day’ tunes, his favourite period being the psychedelic Stones era. I agreed and suggested ‘We Love You’. Later it became clear that it would be a good (in fact perfect) choice for the title of a Stones tribute record. Anyway, it worked out so well that I asked him if he would sing all the stuff on the Baboon, and we put ‘We Love You’ in there as well, as it seemed to fit. The Bolan song came about because I remember loving Unicorn, Beard of Stars, all those goaty tunes… I sat down with a Bolan collection and narrowed it down, eventually, to this one. I’m a great admirer of Roy Wood and recorded ‘Brontosaurus’ at the end of Radio Stars, when I was considering a solo career. I went around to Ariel Bender’s place to try to get him to play on it as (a) he had the same eccentric unpredictable streak in his playing that O’List had and (b) used to be in Spooky Tooth (see above). We talked about it and, as I was leaving his Shepherd’s Bush flat, he asked me to lend him a fiver, and I was so disappointed that I didn’t pursue it further… Where was I?
MAJ: Were you a Move / Roy Wood fan?
MG: Well, not from that time, of course, but when I discovered them later, working backwards from early ELO and Wizzard, I was knocked out by the songs. My appetite was whetted by Hugh McDowell, a pal who played cello in ELO and then later on in Wizzard, who told me lots of Roy stories. Again, I sat down with a best-of and hit upon this. Roy Wood receives less than his due as one of the founding fathers of British pop music… not that this is going to help much, but every little counts.
MAJ: Chris, you have a life managing a residential project for young people making the difficult transition from public care to a normal fulfilling life – is it hard to divide your time between the two?
CT: No, not at all, my first priority is the ongoing development and success of the project. I consider the resurgent interest in the various entities which have developed since JC a rare opportunity to regress and indulge in some senseless, but therapeutic thrashing of expensive drumkits, preferably in another country….I recommend it!!
Having said that, I am delighted to be involved with Martin’s Baboon. The process was a pleasure and it’s one of the few recordings I have made which I will be happy for my great grandchildren to find and listen to after I have made the last long walk to the pavilion and the stumps are drawn.
MAJ: Will there be more John’s Children/Jet/Radio Stars events this year?
CT: Who knows!.. there are lots of mumblings from various quarters about possible JC gigs in the US and Sweden, and rumours of Japan still abound in terms of Radio Stars. As far as I know, nothing has been pinned down yet. As ever, I think that the availability of Martin and Boz, both of whom still earn their living by making music in various forms, will inform just how much we can do. My own availability can also be tricky to manage, so we’ll see. I’m fairly confident that JC will do some gigs in the States before we finally lay it to rest!!
MAJ: Martin & Chris: Will you be touring this year to support ‘Baboon’?
MG: I hope that some gigs will come along – it depends very much on how the Baboon does, whether it creates enough interest for us to crank it up and do it live. It would be great but I would want to know that there were enough people interested in listening, to be honest. The days of taking great delight in playing to two people and a solitary sheep are long gone.
Although there was one such occasion on the Jet 2000 tour, I must admit.
There are some Japanese and American possibilities that are developing even as I speak…
Martin Gordon’s brilliant new CD, ‘The Baboon In The Basement’, which will be released in the UK on Radiant Future, which is accepting pre-orders:
(Voiceprint Records) http://www.voiceprint.co.uk/catalogue.php/Release/1121/
and http://www.navarre.com/ for the US release.