The Dig 2008

The Dig / Kihohiro Shiroya / 2008

When and where were you born?

I was born in Ipswich, England, in 1954. When I was two years old, I insinuated to my parents that, unless they and I left Ipswich and moved south immediately, I would never speak to them again. Well, to cut a long story short, they did. I did not return to Ipswich until I was persuaded to play there in 1975 on the Hunter-Ronson tour. It may have been just like old times, but I couldn’t remember.

martin-gordon-sparks_ed What was your favourite band/artist when you were a child?

In fact, I had no access to popular media as a child. My parents were teachers and rather saw popular music as the Devil’s Work. I did manage to sneak a primitive transistor (as they were then) radio under the bedclothes, and thus heard the Beach Boys, which I didn’t like, and the Beatles, who were much better. I thought they were a family, I remember, and was rather disappointed when I discovered that they were unrelated. What a psychologist would make of it I will probably find out next week. At school, I developed an unfeasible love for Spooky Tooth. Their lead singer Mike Harrison now calls me up whenever he is in Berlin and we meet for drinks, which is enormously satisfying.

When did you begin to play instruments? Was it a bass guitar that you played for the first time?

First of all it was piano, but I recall clearly being frustrated because the reason for learning piano was to play music, not necessarily to learn to read music. So, at some point, I sadly bade farewell to the stuffy Victorian pederast who was fulfilling this particular duty. I moved onto to acoustic guitar, taught by a fine teacher whose main squeeze was Leonard Cohen, for whom I have enormous respect to this day, and somehow stumbled into the nether regions of bass. Oddly enough, I didn’t really like Chris Squire at that time, even thought when I was first presented with an unlimited budget, I rushed out and ordered three Rickenbackers. Jack Bruce was my real hero, when I became discerning enough to sift the wheat from the chaff. Andy Fraser was another one – the master of the understatement.

Did you join a recording or session with any artist before you became the member of John’s Children?

The sequence of your questions leads me to believe that you are putting the chicken before the carthorse. I did indeed play and record with many other artistes before the John’s Children Era, such as all the bands that I have ever played with. I think that you think that I was an original member of John’s Children, which I hasten to point out is absolutely not the case. It was only after John’s Children broke up, dissolved themselves in piles of other people’s venom, had more or less successful careers in other areas and finally couldn’t come up with an idea about what to do of a dark night, that they finally called me in 1997.

Could you let me know the particulars that you joined John’s Children?

Well, Andy called me, said that Chris was doing it, and would I be interested in playing bass? I was of course very happy to play with Chris, even though Andy and I had not seen eye to eye since the sinking of the Tirpitz. Seeing my leopard-skin jacket being consumed by moths in the hallway, I agreed, possibly against my better judgment, but equally possibly not.

Would you tell me your reminiscences about Marc Bolan?

Marc and I – oh, where to begin…? He thought he was an elf, which is a kind of goblin or sprite. I met him once, on that telly show he used to have, right after the fat period. I think the singer in our band was once knocked over by Marc’s Roller or something, Anyway, as an apology my band Radio Stars was invited onto this TV show, so we went. Well, you do, really, don’t you? He was every inch (which wasn’t very many) the host. We thought that this would lead to many more exciting adventures, or ‘abenteur’, as the Germans say, but we were not right, as he then died in a car crash shortly after. It was a woman driver, so we heard. No one can say that we did not tell him so.

You participated in Sparks after John’s Children, did you play with other band/artist in recording sessions the while?

I can honestly say that I have never participated in Sparks after John’s Children, and must emphatically point out that such a development would never have, and indeed never did, cross my mind. On no single occasion have I ever, either knowingly or unknowingly, participated in Sparks after John’s Children. If someone was to suddenly ring at the door and say ‘Look, would you like to participate in Sparks after John’s Children?’, I can tell you here and now that I would frankly send them away with a flea, or chicken, in their ear. No, no, a thousand times not! Not even if they offered me a facelift and a free plastic kabuki wig.

When you say that I participated in Sparks after John’s Children, I believe, based upon my own personal experience and the above answer, that what you really mean is that I participated in Sparks BEFORE John’s Children, and in this case the answer, grimly, is yes. But that’s another story.

How/why did you join Sparks then?

And here it is. The answer is that they asked me to, and, as a well brought-up child (we were domiciled in Hertfordshire by then), it was difficult for me to refuse. They also offered me money. Not much, and they soon got it all back in the long run, but I, at this point, was not to know that.   So I said yes, and was rather pleased to be in a group at last, much better (and cleaner) than all those chickens. We spent a certain amount of time rehearsing and then went into a studio to record the only Sparks album that’s worth listening to, and then I was kicked out, and then I was relieved of all my royalties in perpetuity.

Jet released a single album and broke up the band….

Ah yes, shades of David Bowie. Actually it was two singles and an album, releases which are now described as masterpieces of something or other, and are much sought after by various eccentrics, prog-math purveyors and those on the run from the FBI. I always said that our time would come. Jet broke up because nobody wanted to hear songs that were 45 minutes long played by a group of people with green hair who were permanently pissed. It’s a baffling comment on art as it was perceived at the time, but… well, there we are. There’s no accounting for taste.

Can we have anything about Ian North’s Radio that you jointed with Ian North (ex Milk’n’Cookies)?

Ian North was the main writer in Milk’n’Cookies, a group of American schoolgirls from New York. When people failed to buy their records, in one of the few outbreaks of good taste ever ascribed to Americans of that time, he moved to London, as the band’s only release was on the English label Island Records. I was knocking around the place, and Ian’s manager John Hewlett was also my manager. Hewlett suggested that Ian and I should try very hard to work together and make him some more money. And so I jointed with him as requested. We did our best, but it wasn’t enough. Ian called the band Ian’s Radio. We played a few gigs, and then Chiswick Records offered me a deal. I was going to call the band Martin’s Radio, but thought that it would be too confusing. So Ian changed the name to Neo, and stood on stage with his feet pointing inwards, a popular strategy at the time. Alas, this gambit failed, once again, to pay off. Eventually he went home and was, the last I heard, trying to convert the colonials to the joys of the pigeon-toed stance. I feel that he is not onto a winner, in this task.

Could you let me know the reason why you named the band as Radio Stars?

Following the basic idea that everything has to be called something, we wrote down a list of names on a bit of paper while in the pub with Trevor White one night. The record company demanded that a name should be delivered forthwith. Unfortunately we lost the bit of paper, so in the morning we basically came up with the first thing we could think of. Which was ‘Radio Stars’ and a couple of other ideas, scribbled hastily on a bit of paper and sent over to Chiswick Records, where they made the momentous decision untroubled by us.

Why did you make a contract with Chiswick label? I suppose that you could contract with Stiff or other major label with your musical ability.

Well, the Chiswick loved ‘Dirty Pictures’, and nobody else did, so it was a no-brainer. I think we tried to get interest from other companies, but they weren’t Irish, that was the deciding factor, and Chiswick were.

“Nervous Wreck” became one of punk classics now. However, I think you shouldn’t have accepted such punkish elements and appearances in a way.

Frankly I will accept or decline punkish elements and appearances exactly as I choose to with or without your approval. In fact, the punk nature of Radio Stars was derived from the press, and from the company we kept by being on Chiswick Records. However, given elements of zeitgeist and all, plus the fact that you could get some really quite nice leather jackets for a very reasonable price in Kensington Market, we went with the flow. We didn’t think we were punks either, to be frank, but if other people did and wanted to either write about it or buy the records, then who was I to set them straight?

Could you let me know your musical activities at that time? Which band supported you? Did you have any band you were impressed?

We played with everyone, them supporting us, us supporting them, or both at the same time. A list of people that we played with would include the Only Ones, Squeeze, the Stranglers, the Kinks, Blondie, the Jam, Ultravox and every punk band you ever heard of.

Do you remember The Jook? I think they released just one single.

I remember them well. The manager of the Jook was also the manager of Sparks, which is how I met Jook’s drummer Chris Townson. When Sparks sacked me and employed Jook’s bassist in my place, I naturally got together with Chris, who was also out of a job, and it clicked. They all looked rather fierce, but it turned out it was part of their image. I contributed to the sleeve notes for the recent Jook CD release, but they never got around to sending me a copy.

Why the drummer left the band before releasing 2nd album?

Actually we never had a fixed drummer. Chris Townson played on the first record, and after he left for reasons of a domestic nature, the drum stool was permanently revolving. I think we had about eight or nine of the buggers, in fact. Chris was the best, in retrospect, and we still work very well together on my solo stuff.

When you released the albums, I liked hard rock styled debut album more than power pop styled 2nd album. I listen to these albums again and I realize that I prefer 2nd album now. Could you let me know your self-critics to these two albums?

I haven’t listened to them for a long time until recently, when they were reissued by Ace. They’re both quite different, actually- the first one reflects it’s surroundings, being created at the height of the summer of punk, whereas the second one was created at the low point of inter-band relationships. I had a rather difficult time with the two other members of the band, who were rather bereft of a decent clue about anything at all but who nonetheless demanded their right to be clueless. I felt it was an unsupportable position, and when it came to recording, it was not an enjoyable experience. So the artistic vision of the second album, if I might put it like that, is less sharp than the first – there were ‘Other Issues’ going on that prevented me from achieving what I wanted. But I have a soft spot for both of them, really.

There is a compilation (Somewhere There’s a Place For Us’ which has a pile of things that Andy and I recorded later, at the end of the Eighties, that also has a certain charm – ‘The Ghost of Desperate Dan’, for example, and the title track. Naja, as they say in these parts…

Then you left the band in February 1979, didn’t you?

No, the band actually left me. I was recovering in hospital from having all my wisdom teeth out, when Andy suddenly announced that he was going back on the road, and he was supported in this by the guitarist and the management, rather short-sightedly. I was faced with the choice of legal action to prevent them from touring in support of an album which contained my compositions, which seemed rather perverse, or letting it happen. I let it happen, and thus with unerring skill and vision a very successful project nose-dived right into the ground. Kaput. It was an ex-band.

Ian Macleod was a very attractive guitar player and his guitar sound had full of sharpness. What are Ian and Andy doing now?

Yes, Ian was stunningly attractive, and was much prized in certain parts. He moved up the social pecking order to become a dairy herdsman, providing milk-hungry housewives of Southend with their daily pinta until being summoned back to the footlights by an agency specialising in thespian look-alikes. He treads the boards as King Richard III (Part IV), and by all accounts does it jolly well. Andy has long retired from the ‘pop’ scene, spending his days avoiding Serbian hitmen and luxuriating in his elegant home in the south of France. The English celebrity magazine ‘Who Were They Then?’ recently featured him in an extravagant quarter-page splash about Marc Bolan.

Can you tell me anything about the Blue Meanies that you formed before Jet and Radio Stars?

The Blue Meanies came after Radio Stars, and were formed by me and the guy who played sax and sang backing vocals with Radio Stars, Chris Gent. There was one single and quite a number of gigs. And a TV show presented by a pederast and a parrot. It didn’t do anything at all (the band, not the parrot, the parrot was quite involved, actually). Then we broke up. Chris got married to a party of cross-channel gamblers from Manchester that he met on a ferry, and I went off to work with Boy George. However, the Blue Meanies have been discovered in recent times, and all the back catalogue is now available via iTunes.

I went to John’s Children gig at a club in North London more than 10 years ago. Were you in the band then? I felt Andy was very energetic like Iggy Pop.

Maybe I was playing bass at that time… Andy was indeed energetic, as he was rapidly approaching middle age, or so he claimed. His great skill was being energetic, and being energetic was his great skill. Among his great skills were being energetic, acting energetically and being energetic.

Please let me know your recent musical activity.

I released my first solo album in 2003, the Baboon in the Basement. Chris Townson was drumming and Pelle Almgren from Sweden was singing. With this line-up, we have gone on to make another three releases, the latest being The World Is My Lobster, which came out this year. I also make my solo debut, after about 30 years of being a professional musicians, in Boston, USA. Pelle was along for the ride, and the band was played by members of Tristan da Cunha, a local, marvellous, math-prog combo.

What do you think about Berlin where so many musicians emigrate to now?

Great place, marvelous people, cheap, a bit doctrinaire at times, but then they don’t like it up ‘em, you see. I now have a small boy, as well, so it looks like it’s the Fatherland all the way, at least for a few years.

Why is there a new Radio Stars CD after all this time?

So much stuff had been appearing – bootlegs, private collections, illegal releases – that I thought I should have a listen to some of it, and it was a very good picture of the band doing what they were good at. So, after brief discussions with the Japanese underworld, it seemed that the right way ahead was to release it on Radiant Future. Which we did. Or will shortly do. This in turn led to the radical notion that Radio Stars would play a London gig to mark the 31st anniversary of March 1 1977, and this we will also do on March 1 2008. Andy and Ian will both be along for the ride. I perform what will be only second ever solo gig (albeit with the assistance of Pelle Almgren and a band of mammals) the night before, at the same venue.

How did Jet be formed? Were you a band leader of Jet? I think so. Because of you wrote most of the songs.

After Sparks got rid of me, Jook’s drummer Chris Townson had nothing to do, so we got together. He brought down his friend Andy E, and I brought along my colleague Oxendale from Sparks, who also had nothing to do. Then I called EG Management and got O’List’s phone number. We met and the rest is medical history. As you say, I wrote all the songs, except for Davey’s ode about a river that he mislaid somewhere. He was always losing rivers, as I recall. Anyway – yes, I considered it to be my band, in the sense that I was the musical director, the organiser (but not the organist), and I had the best hair. I also had a pair of riding boots with MG on them, and I think that was probably the clincher.

Andy and Chris claim to have written one other song that we recorded, but it turns out that it was really written by Ambrose Bierce – he wrote the poem ‘Whangdepootenawah’ in his book the Devil’s Dictionary, and I set it to music, as you do…

When did Jet change to Radio Stars?

This was in the heady days of 1976. We got rid of O’List and Oxendale, brought back Ian Macleod who was originally in Jet – there were two guitarists at the beginning, but we couldn’t afford the hairdresser’s bills. We did some rehearsing and recording at Island Studios, and one of the tracks was ‘Dirty Pictures’. Island didn’t want it, and Chiswick Records did. We thought we should try to fool all the people all the time by changing the band name. We wrote done some suggestion and sent them by pigeon post over to Chiswick, where they picked Radio Stars out of a hat. The names were in a hat, you see.

When Radio Stars’ debut, At the same time, there was Punk Movement in the UK. When you feel Punk Movement?

I felt Punk Movement in 1977, when people began to spit at us as a sign of approval. The album came out, and we were considered to be Punk enough for inclusion in the Movement. Andy rushed out and bought a leather jacket, as his old green anorak was getting a bit knackered, and this helped as well. On the other hand, the guitarist Ian looked like King Richard the III Part IV, so that wasn’t really very Punk at all, and he barely Moved either, especially after the enormous curry and three pints of lager that he consumed before every gig. It all depended upon where you stood, I think. As for me, I just took my clothes off for teeny magazines and frankly kept out of it.

What bands do you remember circa 1976-1979.At the time, what bands on the same bill did Radio Stars play with?

Oh, we played with them all, us. A list would have to include the Stranglers, the Jam, Blondie, the Only Ones, the Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel, the Rutles. They all stole everything they knew from us, everything. We began it all.

You produced many bands. How did you became an producer?

I became Anne Producer in the following manner. I was looking over Muff Winwood’s shoulder in the Sparks days, and likewise with Roy Thomas Baker in Jet days. I figured it couldn’t be that hard. And when I found that engineers were a rum bunch who would always find a good reason for not doing something that I thought they should do, I decided to become an engineer as well. If you want something doing well, you might as well do it yourself, is my motto.

What bands did you produce? I know Rings, New Hearts, Boyfriends (I’m In Love today). But I don’t know Ian North’s Radio. They didn’t release the record, do they? Please give me some comments about the bands listed above.

Well, Ian North’s Radio were also known as Neo, and I think they released some records. But I was actually the bass player there, not the producer. As for those other bands: the Rings were quite good, we made a nice single. I was recently in Boston, US, for a gig, and someone asked me to sign the record as it was the soundtrack to his life, he told me. He was a professional lobster catcher. New Hearts – not bad, a bit twee. The band was more fun to be with than to listen to. This is where I met Jamie Crompton, who was later to join Radio Stars disguised as Mickey Mouse on the cover of the Holiday Album. Boyfriends – ghastly, twee stuff, unbearable. Took themselves terribly seriously. I think the name of the band was more aspirational than reality.

Why did you leave from Radio Stars? What band were Blue Meanies?

Actually the band left from me, while I was recovering from a dental operation. My own band informed me that they had got a new bass player in Trevor White, that Anne Elephant was going to write the songs in future, and that they were going to become enormously successful. And they were right on two counts, at least.

The Radio Stars sax player was Chris Gent, and he was a great singer. So when the band left from me, I got together with Chris after a time spent in Paris. I was producing a band called Angie, and I got Chris over to add sax. When we came back to the UK, we signed a publishing deal and made a single, called ‘Pop Sensibility’. We did lots of gigs but it didn’t go anywhere, and Chris eventually went off with a party of ferret fanciers that he met on a cross-channel ferry. All the Blue Meanies stuff is now available via iTunes, by the way.

Also on the Angie sessions was cellist Hugh McDowell from ELO. We got along well and so, later in the 80s, I put a short-lived Radio Stars re-union together, which had Anne and I along with Chris, Hugh and a couple of Blue Meanies in it. Or innit, should I say. Some of the tunes which I wrote for this line-up appeared on my first solo release The Baboon in the Basement, many years later.

How did Radio Stars/Jet/John’s Children reunion in the late 90’s?

Carl van Breukelen, a Dutchman of no fixed wealth, suggested it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was only following orders. We did three gigs in 1999 in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, and then released a live CD of the tour (‘Music for the Herd of Herring’). Ian was there, Trevor, and of course Chris, Anne and I. We all had a great time and spent an enormous amount of money, all of it belonging to Dutchman Carl, a fine chap who was much wiser, if poorer, by the end. He won’t do that again in a hurry, I can tell you this much.

How did you begin your career as a solo musician?

Well, for a long time I saw no reason to do anything at all, as I had no idea that anyone would be interested. But one day someone was, and when the first solo CD came out in 2003 to some great reviews, I discovered that that people were interested after all. So there has been one CD per year since then, and even a box set and a best of.

Why did you use Chris Townson as a drummer in the recording for your solo album. I like his drum. But after Jet, Chris left from music business. I don’t know his career after Jet (I will ask him about it). I surprised his drumming in Jet/Radio Stars reunion. Because of It sounds like strong and powerful.

Yes, I like his strong and powerful drum as well, and he is very interesting. He left the music business as you say, but kept playing, and we played together in John’s Adults, of course. So after the 1999 reunion thing, I thought I would ask him if he wanted to play on the first solo recording in return for a trip around the sleazy side of Berlin. He was, to be frank, gagging for it. And I also surprised his drumming, but not as much as he surprised it. And so we do the same thing to this very day (Saturday). He doesn’t play at all for a whole year, and then he comes over here and lets it all out in the studios of the local radio broadcaster, which is where we record my stuff. He’s a great player – he doesn’t play very hard but makes up for it by playing a lot.

Please let me know your action at present and your plan from now on.

I just made my solo ‘debut’ in Boston – we had one radio show and one gig. The singer Pelle Almgren and I flew over and worked with a local band called Tristan da Cunha, who organised the whole thing. This was to support my new release ‘The World is Your Lobster’. There will be some other gigs in the near future, in Berlin and London. More details on the website or on MySpace. There’s also a Japanese Radio Stars CD due in the near future, called Something For The Weekend. It’s got live and studio stuff on it, none of which was ever released.

About Ian North. He is an American, isn’t he? How did you know each other? Did you know Milk ‘N’ Cockies at that time?

He was from New York. Milk’n’Cockles had an album released by Island Records, and were managed at that time by John Hewlett, the Sparks manager. So, when Murk’n’Crockles broke up, but Ian was still in the UK, John thought that perhaps I should work with him. So I joined forces with him, but it didn’t really work, as I had my own notions of what not to do. Following the breakup of Milk’n’Clackers, Ian formed a band called Ian’s Radio, with him, me on bass, guitarist Robin Simon from Ultravox, his brother Paul Simon on drums, and at one point Andy Ellison came down to audition as singer. But Ian didn’t like it. Then, at the same time, Chiswick Records picked up on ‘Dirty Pictures’, and Andy and I got this other record deal together. When Ian found out that we were calling it Radio Stars, he was rather annoyed, as he felt that he had sole ownership of the word ‘Radio’. He changed the band name to Neo – what did I care? I changed the name of the band to Ian North in a fit of pique, but then changed it back again for commercial reasons. I kept on playing with Neo for a month or two while I was putting Radio Stars together.We played the Nashville and the Speakeasy, if I remember correctly.

When you where in Ian North’s Radio, did Jet continue?

This was 1976, so Jet had ended and Radio Stars was beginning.

Neo released a single .Idon’t have it. I have Ian North’s LP titled Neo from Aura Records .Ifound the name Paul Simon.Was he one of drummers who supported Radio Stars?

Paul played on the Stop It EP, did a few gigs with us, and played on about half of ‘Songs For Swinging Lovers’, even though Steve Parry is credited on the sleeve. In fact, we replaced a lot of Paul’s playing with Steve – but not in the regular sense of recording a new drum kit, as often it was only the kick drum (mostly) that needed replacing. So often you hear (if you are listening) Paul Simon playing the top kit and snare, and an overdubbed Steve Parry playing the bass drum. It was a tight fit in the studio, I can tell you. But they became bosom pals. I also do not have any of Ian North’s recordings.

About Rings. Twink ex-Pink Fairy was in the band. He was over thirty at that time. What did you think that the musician who over 30 sing the punk songs. The Vibrators’ members were also over 30 years old at that time, I think.

I had absolutely no problem with the age of the people that I worked with, and still don’t. The Mole Brothers from Sparks were age fascists, with certain reason, but I’m not driven by that dynamic. Yet. I don’t see, just because Reg and Ron Mole are both in their seventies, that this is any way hinders their appeal to teenagers. I think it is extremely healthy to promote old people as role models for young, confused, sexually-inexperienced teenagers, especially those with plastic hair and facelifts (the role models, not the young, confused, etc. etc.). But then I’m just an old neo-Kantian intersubjectivist, so I would say that, wouldn’t I…

What person / character was Twink at that time? What person / character did the people in the UK recognize him? Incidentally he is falling out with the other Pink Fairies’ members. it is a matter of course that the other members is angry. Many records shops were damaged. I regret it. (More details).

To be honest, I had seen the Pink Fairies a few times prior to our working together, but I don’t think I knew very much about him, as he came from a previous era. He seemed like a nice guy, unlike other reports, and certainly had his lead-singer chops together, in attitude if not technique. We made two rather fine recordings together. I met their guitarist Paul Rudolph once, in an early Sparks session. He had a withered arm but perhaps there was no connection.

About New Hearts, Ian Page formed Secret Affair, later. What do you think the mods revival?

I try not to think the mods revival very much. If they need reviving, why not just grant them a peaceful demise, I said at the time, and still do. The original Mods wouldn’t have had defibrillators in the house, I can tell you this much. What was rather odd was the 90s mod revival where John’s Children were seen as being a mod band, and we played lots of gigs all over Europe. Very nice for us, and good fun, but I was never really sure where it all fitted together. As for Secret Affair – it should have been more secret, I thought, certainly a lot more secrecy about the whole thing would have made it more palatable as far as I am (or was) concerned.

Radio Stars did not have the style like as Mods revival.But you have very special originality.So I like your Radio Stars than mods revival.

Thanks for saying so, I agree. Our trousers were much better as well, you could see everything quite clearly.

Did you appear in the gravure or photo pages of magazine?

Yes. I used to appear in the teeny magazine wearing no shirt, usually on the cover. Quite why it was essential to wear no shirt I had no idea, but nonetheless, when they called, which was every week, I would dutifully turn up and do whatever it was that I was asked to do. Well, up to a point. There used to be a few lingerie models around as well, so it wasn’t all just pointless nudity and sex.

Why did you make your solo ‘debut’ in Boston?

There is a local Boston band called Tristan da Cunha who are great players and fans to boot. We have emailed over the last couple of years. They rehearsed and then performed the entire Jet album live on their local university radio. It sounded extremely good, I thought. Then they asked me to write the sleeve notes for their new album. As a quid pro quo they suggested that I should play with them at their record-release gig in Boston. I proposed a few tunes that we could do, including a Radio Stars song and a Jet song, Pelle came over from Sweden, and we all lived happily ever after, as you can see on YouTube here and at other YouTube locations. Oh, what a ‘debut’ it was, to be sure, to be sure.

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