Priptona Talks – To Graeme Thomson

The day that many a Simple Minds fan has been anticipating is upon us. Today sees the release of a new book, Themes For Great Cities: A New History of Simple Minds by renowned music biographer, Graeme Thomson.

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Graeme for the blog, asking him about his career in writing and in particular the aspect of music journalism his writing centres around. 

Graeme Thomson

I started by asking Graeme what made him decide on a career in music journalism. 

“I’m not sure it was a decision, really. And I’m still not entirely sure it is what I do, I suppose, but I guess it is.

“I always wanted to write and I’ve always loved music. I’ve always listened very intently and very closely to the music I love. I’ve always been quite interested in the people who make the music that I love. So, I guess between those two things, the love of writing and the love for music, that has led me in that direction.”

The passion for writing and music has seen Graeme Thomson release several highly acclaimed music themed biographies, most recent among them, Small Hours: The Long Night of John Martyn and Cowboy Song: The Authorised Biography of Phil Lynott. Thomson has also produced books on George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Kate Bush, Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. 

With a long, well established background on music biographies I was curious as to what attracted Graeme to the Simple Minds story. 

“It goes back to my record collection. In many ways these were among the first records that I really loved. When I was 11 or 12 years old, in 1984 and 1985 when I first got into the band. And then you go backwards and discover the records they’d made previously. That was the first time I had really done that with a band. Really immersed myself in the albums and the whole catalogue. Simple Minds are among my oldest and deepest loves and that has never really wavered over the years. There have been periods in my life where I haven’t really listened to them as much. 

“Also I feel, and I don’t know if you agree, but I felt they were badly underrepresented in literary circles. There hasn’t been a lot. Certainly within the last 20 to 30 years, there hasn’t been anything. And that ties in with the fact that they are underappreciated as well. Because they never split up and they kept going, it becomes a much messier story to tell and less easy to pin down then a band like, say, Joy Division, where you’ve got a very stark beginning and end and you can kind of make sense of it. 

“So, first there was the pleasure. You want to write about music that you love and I wanted to do that. I wanted to shine a light on stuff that I felt hadn’t been overwritten about. Some albums now have been written about so much you feel there’s not an awful lot new to say about them and I didn’t feel that was the case with these records. It was then just the question of getting all the pieces in place. To make it work in the way that I wanted to make it work.”

I asked Graeme if writing had appealed to him from an early age.

“Absolutely. Reading and writing, from as long as I can remember. It has always been a part of my life. So, it was something without ever articulating it or intellectualising it that has always been there.” 

Having asked Graeme who are or were the influences on his writing career I was pleased to get the initial response of, “that’s a very good question”. It’s always great for the renowned amateur to fire off a good question to the professional. It makes one feel as though maybe there is something in the existence of this blog to look positively upon.  

Graeme continues.

 “I’m not really sure that I can pin them down. I grew up as a music fan as a teenager in the 1980s and the writing of Melody Maker in particular in that period was very vivid and kind of adversarial as well, which I don’t think I am as a writer. It was kind of picking sides and I think as a teenager you quite like that. 

“In terms of reading fiction and non-music based writing, there’s so many people I admire that it would be hard to pick any out specifically.”

“Do you have any Scottish writers, per se, that would be particular favourites?”  

“Yeah. I think that movement … I mean, I studied English Literature at Glasgow in the early 1990s and it was quite a potent time then, I think. So, people like James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Jeff Torrington, Tom Leonard, Anges Owen… that kind of school of Scottish/Glaswegian writing, I was very attracted to and found very influential. I still do and I think that sense of that vernacular voice and that language that is rooted in the cultural experience of where people come from, how they think, and how their culture looks to them I think is still probably an influence. 

“Funnily enough in the Simple Minds book it felt important for me to root the band in their own cultural background to get a sense of actually where they came from and where that music comes from. So those writers, those Scottish writers were quite important to me when I was younger.”

My curiosity was piqued, being the Alasdair Gray fan that I am. Thinking of the time and place in which Graeme would be during his days at university – Glasgow in the early 1990s, and knowing that Alasdair Gray would be quite the figure around campus at that time, it begged the question of whether Graeme ever had the chance of meeting Gray. 

“No, but I had a very awkward phone conversation with him once. I was due to interview him for a journal. This would have been in the early 2000s and I had phoned him. He either hadn’t been told or he had changed his mind and … he let me know that quite abruptly! He said ‘I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it’ and put the phone down on me.

“I met James Kelman a few times. He was friends with some of my lecturers at university and he used to drink in The Halt Bar on Woodlands Rd in Glasgow (and he’d frequent The Scotia also) and there was a sense of being around that culture in the 90s which was actually quite inspiring looking back.”

Getting back to the book itself, and more specifically the choice of Graeme bringing out a book on the Simple Minds story, and with my own dalliances in writing about music, I was curious to know how a writer gets themselves motivated to write upon subject matter that may not necessarily appeal to them. I asked Graeme how he went about that.   

“There’s a few books I’ve written where I’d say I wasn’t a huge fan of the music. I liked it, but I was more interested in the personalities perhaps, or the story, or the narrative. Whereas in this case [the Themes For Great Cities book] it was very much music driven I would say. 

“I have picked all my own subject matter with my books. I wouldn’t write about anyone or any group at that length if I didn’t feel there was some substance or something within the music that I kind of responded to. Like with someone like Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy. They weren’t a band that was hugely represented in my record collection but I still like them and I like certain songs and I felt there was something there. 

“In smaller features as a journalist where you do get commissions where you need to write stories about things that you aren’t really that interested in on the surface you just have to make yourself interested in it as a fan. As a music fan. I think you could find something in most things.”

“Is it down to research? That within the research of a topic it opens up doors of interest?”

“I think so. And, you know, people are fascinating. I always try and remember … or not forget, rather, at the back of my mind that these are human beings making stuff for a reason. It’s usually not completely commercially driven and it’s not cynical. It’s people who are trying to say something through the medium of music and there’d be a reason for that. And they’ll be going through a time in their life, for whatever reason, whatever is happening in their life that will be contextualising that as well. It would be hard not to make that interesting and that’s the job. That’s the job. To find something interesting in the music and the context of when it was made and communicate that to the reader. 

“I write for certain people and I don’t write in a pop context and so perhaps I don’t feel qualified to write about certain things in that respect. I generally write about music I’m drawn to. 

“I do turn things down occasionally when it feels I’ve got nothing to say about it. Also if I feel I’ve written too much. I wrote a book about Kate Bush and I am very grateful. It’s led to huge amounts of extra work and commissions on very interesting things but you get to a point where you’ve said all there is to say, from my perspective, about a particular artist. So you kind of stop because it gets a bit tiring, for me and then for the reader as well.”

Original Priptona artwork featuring photos by Virginia Turbett that appear in the book.

More on Themes For Great Cities itself, I was curious to know when the idea for the book was first in Graeme’s thoughts. Interviews he had conducted with Jim and Charlie in 2012 prior to the 5×5 Live tour feature in the pages towards the end of the book so I asked if it had been those interviews with Jim and Charlie that had planted the idea for the book.

“No, that wasn’t. That was just a piece that I had pitched to The Guardian. It was a couple of years later. It’s taken a while. I remember I spoke to Ian Grenfell, Simple Minds’ manager, and I had explained to him what I wanted to do. By that point I had interviewed Jim and Charlie a few times, probably three or four times, and had written about them. 

“We met at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in 2015. We met with a view to talking about doing a book and everyone was quite keen. Then various things happened. There was talk about Jim writing his own memoir. Then his father passed away. So it got held up and in the meantime I wrote another book about John Martyn.

“These things find their time. We revisited it all in 2019. I got back in touch with Ian and said, you know, ‘where are we with this?’ So at that point I spoke to my agent and my publisher about it and at that point it got going, at the end of 2019. The interviews were conducted in 2020.” 

“So, all pre-Covid?”

“Just! God, yeah…just. I remember meeting Bruce Findlay at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and it wasn’t really pre-Covid. It was right at the beginning of Covid. And we all knew things were going to get worse. Bruce had a terrible cough. Mike Heron from the Incredible String Band was with him and he wasn’t feeling great, so we just sneaked under the radar for that. Mick MacNeil I met up with in the summer just as some of the restrictions were lifted slightly. Other interviews were conducted on the phone. It was tricky.

“It was always the idea that it was my book and I was going to write what I wanted to write and that they were going to contribute, which I thought was very considerate of them. It was good of them to offer their time on that basis.”

“And very good that it happened?”

“Well, I think Ian Grenfell certainly saw from very early on the benefits of revisiting this period again and writing about it in, hopefully, an intelligent and exciting critical way. He saw there was a benefit to that for the band and the brand of Simple Minds, I suppose you could say. 

“Ian’s been a great supporter of the book. I’m very grateful to him for that because he kind of opened doors up. And because everyone is still on reasonable terms, we managed to get hold of everyone who was important to that story.”

The next question was one I grappled with asking Graeme, but I was curious to get his feeling on it. So I asked if he was disappointed with Brian McGee’s decision not to be quoted in the book, having been interviewed for it. And also whether it resulted in any rewriting? 

“To answer the second part, no. It didn’t involve any rewriting because the interview was conducted before I was getting into the nuts and bolts of writing the book. 

“Yeah, I was disappointed. I don’t want to put any words into Brian’s mouth or to speak for him. He was always very amenable. I enjoyed meeting him very much and he had a lot of very interesting things to say. I wouldn’t want to speculate on why he ultimately didn’t want to be quoted in the book. But he’s there, he’s a living presence in the book, I hope. I really wanted to honour his contribution to the band, as I did with all the original members.”

I interject, “Well, you did do that.”

“I hope so. Yeah. I mean… it’s difficult. You’re telling the story of five people and you’re trying to be true to all of their experiences, many of which are kind of conflicting, or their memories are or whatever. Not everyone sees things the same way so you’re trying to be fair to that while also telling the wider story. I just hope he [Brian] feels that I pulled that off for him. But as to why he didn’t want to contribute in the end, that is a question you’d have to ask Brian himself.”

As a fervent fan of the band that I am, there was only really one thing in the book that I learned that knocked me for six, to the point where it made me question the very name of this blog and the moniker that I had chosen to use for my art. Without wanting to give too much away, there is a revelation about the name ‘Pripton Weird’ that, well, made me question stuff. 

With that in mind, I asked Graeme was there anything in writing the book that surprised him most? 

“Do you mean things I found out about the band or just things about the process of doing it?”

My amatuer and gallus response to that rebound question was … “either one?”, with a chuckle, which Graeme reciprocated. 

“Well, one of the things I like about the book is that it’s kind of…well, not scrapbook style, but I like the fact that there are bits in there that take you out of the narrative. There are bits by Bobby Gillespie, James Dean Bradfield and Ian Cook…”

I interject once again, “What I classified as the ‘bridge chapters’ in my review?”

“Bridge chapters. Well, that’s a really nice way of putting it, yeah. And, like an email from Jim or the interview with Malcolm Garrett, which I think sits quite nicely within the linear narrative. I haven’t really done that before and I like that. I like the fact that it broke things up and that it sheds a different shade of light on what’s happening. Things like with Malcolm Garrett’s interview is it retrospectively tells you things that you’ve already read about and I quite like the way that worked.

“In terms of the band, I just really loved… I loved the way they worked. I love the fact that the first album really is songs written by Jim and Charlie together in that very traditional style. And then they had the courage to dump that. I thought that was quite unusual for a band to go, actually, we’re not going to do that, we’re going to let everybody into the process. Which, if you know bands and you know frontmen and guitar players, they’re pretty possessive of their territory, and their songwriting credits and all the rest of it. So to open that up and go we need to be more interesting and need more influences, I thought that was quite courageous, artistically. 

“Then the way they worked. This idea of Jim… I loved this image of Jim just prowling around all day every day, soaking up this music, listening to it. Him just chiselling away at it, trying to find a shape. Or sometimes not trying to find a shape but just kind of leaving it as a little abstract miniature art piece or something. 

“So the more I found out about that process, the more I loved it, really. And to find how heavily invested all five of them were in that. That sort of obsessive pursuit for something. I liked that.”

I responded to these words from Graeme by reiterating what I had said in my review, telling him how I felt that he had captured that wonderfully well and how much I felt as though I was right there in the studio with them, at Rockfield, watching all that work go on. 

“Well, that’s lovely because, you know, so did I. That’s the thing. You put yourself into it. It’s funny that you were talking earlier about fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction can be really very personal and I always find that these books are very personal to me. They’re not just writing about stuff that happened to other people. I feel very there and very present and I’m trying to say something about me as well as them. So it’s nice to feel you felt you were there because that’s how I feel. That I’m right in the middle of it and I’m trying very hard to communicate what it feels like to me to be writing about this stuff, and how important it is for me, I think,  about how people can make art in that environment. It is a weird time travel, personality shift… whatever you want to call it. You do get right into the thick of it. Those bits were really important to me. Those parts in the earlier chapters where you’re really trying to communicate how this band worked.”

In response to that I say that short of having a TARDIS, the book is the next best thing. 

“Well, it’s lovely. And it was lovely to get feedback from people like Bruce Findlay and Billy Sloan and people who were actually there saying this is how it really felt, that you really captured the sense of what it was like at the time. And that is massively gratifying because you are taking a punt to a certain extent. You’re trusting your guts and your instincts because I wasn’t there and I was a very wee boy at the time, so you’re kind of trusting your instincts that you’re getting this stuff right. It feels right but you’re just hoping that it is right.”

Simple Minds at Tavistock Square, London, 1980. Photo curtesy of Virginia Turbett.

Going back to the broader subject of music in general I was intrigued to find out how Graeme finds new music. And so I asked him what ways he chooses to discover new music. 

“Well, my kids are good! My kids are 16, 17 and 21and they have very wide ranging tastes so I do listen to what they’re listening to. If they have things that they think I might like then I’ll listen to them. 

“I get sent a lot of stuff. I get sent a lot of emails and new albums and pre-releases, so I do try and make time to listen to things that I feel I might enjoy. I don’t think I’m as good as I could be when I listen to things outside of my comfort zone, perhaps. I could be better at that. 

“And just reading. There’s still a lot of really good stuff out there. I write a lot for Uncut and Uncut always has a picture of the kind of ‘heritage’ rock star on the cover but actually inside there’s a lot about a lot of new music. And the other music mags like Mojo, Record Collector… they’re all the same. They do cover an awful lot of new music although they are orientated towards a kind of nostalgia, I suppose, in some ways. So reading them. 

“So those are a few ways; I get sent stuff, I pick up stuff from people around me and I’ll just read as much as I can.”

“Is there anyone around currently that you particularly like?”

“I love Phoebe Bridges. I think she’s fantastic. Joan Shelley who’s been around for a few years now. Modern Nature I think are a really interesting band. I’m always bumping into new stuff that I think is worth checking out. Others I’d mention would be The Weather Station, Katherine Priddy, Arooj Afrab, Blue Rose Code, Karine Polwart and Young Fathers.”

I asked this next question from more of a personal angle if I am honest. I asked Graeme if he had any advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career in writing and in particular music journalism. 

“I don’t know. It’s a very different landscape than it was when I started out. I’m primarily a print writer and I don’t know how long that’s a sustainable avenue for people to get into as writers. I don’t know if I would have the first idea now if I was coming into writing about music where to start. I’m not ducking the question but I really don’t feel qualified to answer it because it’s a very precarious business now and I would probably hesitate to recognise it. 

“It’s still a worthy endeavour and if you love writing and you love music then it’s something you’ll do and I guess you’ll probably find your path. And I’d like to think that if you’re good enough you’ll definitely have somewhere to get published and that people will read and enjoy your work. But I wouldn’t know where to begin with that.”

With my time chatting to Graeme coming to an end and in light of his success as a writer, gaining copious plaudits for his most recent book written prior to the Simple Minds story, one on John Matyn, my final question to him was this.

“It is said that those in the arts are usually doing something that they perhaps didn’t initially want to pursue – musicians rather be actors and vice versa, actors wanting to be film directors, and so on. Have you ever felt you were a frustrated musician or perhaps a visual artist, say?”

“Definitely not a visual artist, no! What did I get, now? I think I got a G in my GCSE art. I’m not a visual artist in any way, shape or form. But I do play music and I’ve played in bands and I’ve written songs. I’m not frustrated at all because I get a lot out of doing it on a personal level. I suppose if I had my time again and I was 17 and 18, when we were in a band that was potentially quite good and we maybe could have pushed a little harder to do something with that at the time. But it’s not a regret or a frustration at all. I mean still I love playing music and just doing stuff myself with that. But it’s certainly not an ambition I have for a profession or anything like that.”

My sincere thanks to Graeme for his time (and patience!) for this interview. You can find out more about Graeme’s work on his website – graemethomson.net – which includes a list of his published works.

Themes For Great Cities: A New History of Simple Minds by Graeme Thomson, published by Constable is on general release today, January 27th, 2022. Available at all good booksellers, including Hachette.

The Short(bread) News Grapevine

Exciting news! There will be a new “Priptona Talks” interview on the blog soon. I am excited by this one! As I have been with all my previous interviews. More details on that to come, so keep an eye out.

Last week there was a rather unexpected parcel that arrived on my doorstep. The sender of this parcel? One Francis Xavier Gallagher! I had left a comment on a post of his in which he had shown some shortbread for sale in his wife’s haberdashery store. I asked him if he made the shortbread himself. He confirmed that indeed it was he who makes it. I said in reply that I’d love to try it. “Stand by, Madame” was his reply.

At that point I thought “Oh, he’s not going to send me some is he? Nah! He would nae!”

Well, he bloody did! And not just some shortbread, but a Soundman Confidential mug in which to brew the bevvy that would accompany the shortbread, and some badges and a sticker. How bloody wonderful is that?!

Marks out of 10 for the shortbread? Delicious! 10/10! It had the mark of quality – both buttery and crumbly. The only downside to it all was – there wasn’t enough! You get a taste of something that good, you want more!

The best bit about the mug for me? Because I am left-handed, the logo stays facing me. Frank’s eyebrows follow me around the room! Lol.

On top of all that, news that…the rhythm section of Simple Minds (at least) – Ged and Cherisse are back into rehearsing SM material. Not sure what the rest of the band are up to, but at least there is some practice going on! With only seven weeks to go until the tour gets under way – FINGERS ARTHRITICALLY CROSSED – it’s great to have some optimism going on within the band dynamic that the tour WILL go ahead.

Priptona Talks – To The Anchoress

The new album by The Anchoress, The Art of Losing, is the follow up to debut release Confessions Of A Romance Novelist.

Under her everyday name, Catherine Anne Davies, she had been a touring member of Simple Minds since 2015 and also toured as support for the band as The Anchoress during their UK leg of the 2017 Acoustic Tour.

Co-producing and co-writing work also in 2017 and touring as a guest artist with the Manic Street Preachers, as well as featuring on the track Dylan & Caitlin on the Manics’ 2018 release, Resistance Is Futile.

October, 2020, saw the release of her collaborative album with Bernard Butler, In Memory Of My Feelings. The album received many plaudits and could well be nominated for the Mercury Prize this year.

As a writer, producer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist and solo artist, Catherine is quickly amassing an impressive body of work.

It was a huge honour to have Catherine agree to an interview for the Priptona blog.

Please enjoy Priptona Talks…To The Anchoress.

The Art of Losing is out now and available HERE

Priptona Talks – To Stuart Crouch

Regular visitors to the blog will be able tell how much graphics and the visual arts feature here and in my life in general. I’m a bit of an amateur artist and love creating my own visual interpretations and I also like to draw and paint (even if I am not very good at it). One aspect of art that has featured heavily as a focal point for me personally is album artwork.

In my latest interview in the “Priptona Talks” series, I spoke to Stuart Crouch of eponymously named Stuart Crouch Creative about his career as a graphic designer and of his work with Simple Minds as their current graphic art designer.

The Empires and Dance album cover that helped inspire Stuart’s first cover art he produced for Simple Minds.

What made you interested in graphic design? At school I wasn’t really sure what graphic design was but I liked painting and drawing, creating stuff. I was very into music and would make my own mix tapes and draw the covers – copying the logos and graphics from Smash Hits.

How did you start out? We didn’t have a 6th year at my school but my art teacher let a bunch of us take our O Levels a year early so we could then take our A levels in the 5th. My plan was to then go to art college but for a number of reasons I ended up skipping that and joined the art department at Barclays Bank as an apprentice. From there I went to an company in Covent Garden who specialised in movie video covers and then onto an agency called Peacock. This would have been the early 90s and that was my introduction to album cover design.

Is there anyone else’s work that was a particular influence in pursuing a career in graphic design? I would buy albums just for their artwork, my idol was Malcolm Garrett although he was then known by his company name – Assorted Images. His work was everywhere in the 80s – I would walk into a record shop, pick out the sleeves I liked and then check the credits and it was always Malcolm. That’s who I wanted to be and that’s what I wanted to do.

Who are your influences or other artists you admire (not necessarily in the graphic design field)? Kate Bush has been a big influence on me. She puts as much creativity into the visual side of her work as her music, not only her videos but her artwork, stage sets, everything. It’s that attitude to work and attention to detail that I admire.

Do you work or create in other mediums, or in other areas of the creative arts? I used to be in a band, I think that’s true of a lot of people in the music industry – lots of frustrated musicians around. If you’d heard my lyrics you’d see why I ended up as a graphic designer!

3D model of Celebrate album artwork.

How did you start out with doing graphics for Simple Minds? They had a new management team, who I’d worked with previously on Simply Red, and they needed a poster for the 5×5 Tour. That led to designing the album of that tour and they’ve stuck with me ever since.

What is your favourite work you have produced for SM? Tricky one, I think the Celebrate album cover. Their Claddagh (heart / hands symbol) had been perhaps a little overused by that point and I wanted to try something different. I had a photo of Jim Morrison’s bust from his grave, at Père Lachaise – Paris, and it was covered in graffiti (photo below) – I thought it made a cool image – a mix of classic and punk. I sent it to their management team and suggested we use the stone bust from Empires and Dance with their song titles scribbled on but treated like an art piece in a gallery. We created a 3D model of the head (photo above) based on that one photo and commissioned a lettering artist (Ruth Rowland) to hand write all the song titles. I don’t think the band were convinced by the concept at first but had enough faith in me to see it through and they loved the finished image. When their 40th anniversary came along I thought – shit, what do I do now! That Celebrate image would have been ideal – but it was already done. So then I hit on the idea of the badges in a heart shape and I think that does the same job but in a different way, nostalgic but new.

Jim Morrison’s gravestone in Paris.

The concepts for designs – esp. with the Simple Minds albums – are you given free licence to do whatever you feel suits? Or are you given a basic conceptual idea? Do the band themselves have much input? Each album or project is different, sometimes the artist has a clear idea what they want, sometimes it’s a blank slate but it usually ends up somewhere in the middle. One of us will start with the germ of an idea and we’ll play with it until it sticks. Jim is an absolute dream to work with – he won’t dictate how you do it but he’ll suggest moods and themes to help get you there. You want the design to feel like a natural extension of the music so the writer’s input is invaluable.

As the visual designer for the Doctor Who audio/visual output (Blu-ray/DVDs/Books/Audiobooks) – I have to ask – WHO is your favourite Doctor? That’s easy – it’s always Tom Baker for me. He was The Doctor when I was growing up, which maybe gives him an unfair advantage, but no story was ever boring or under-par when Tom was in it.

What would be your best piece of advice for someone wanting to work or gain employment in the graphic design field? It’s a very different industry now, you no longer have to work for a big agency to be taken seriously and social media means it’s easier to get your work out there and be seen. The downside is that there’s so much more competition because of that. If you want to get into music graphics my advice would be to approach up-and-coming bands or artists and ask to work with them. I get the appeal of aiming straight for the big guns but that’s trickier, you’ll have a lot more freedom with someone new, a chance to create looks and identities that young kids will be drawing on their pencil cases. Musicians are a pretty loyal bunch so there’s every chance they’ll take you with them on their journey. It will probably mean working for free at first but it gives you a chance to develop your skills and create a portfolio.

Portfolio of Stuart’s album cover art produced for Simple Minds.

Are there artists, be they in the entertainment field (bands, musicians, actors, writers, etc) or other visual artists, that you’d like to work with or collaborate with? Duran Duran – if you’re listening, I’m waiting for your call!

Lastly – do you have a favourite colour? Not really, but if you put a knife to my throat I’d go for dark blue.

My thanks to Stuart for his time for the interview.

Photos used were provided to me by Stuart.

Priptona Talks – To Steve Jefferis of Warm Digits

For almost a decade now, Warm Digits have been producing great music. First forming and producing live improv jam sessions together in the mid-2000s, the key duo of Steve Jefferis and Andrew Hodson will soon be celebrating the 10th anniversary of debut album release, Keep Warm, in 2021. Two other albums followed. The conceptual Interchange, released in 2013, was an experimental album that was also released with a film inspired by photography and illustrations drawn from the Tyne and Wear Archives, of the 1970s’ biggest civil engineering project on Tyneside – the construction of Metro. In 2017, they released Wireless World, with new lyrical elements adding an extra layer to their already signature sound, with guest vocal appearances by Peter Brewis of Field Music and Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne, among others. The album was widely lauded.

And now a new album is due for release on April 3rd, 2020. Singles released so far from the album include The View From Nowhere – featuring song-writing and vocal input from Scots musician Emma Pollock, Fools Tomorrow – featuring Maximo Park’s Paul Smith on vocal duties, and the gorgeous Everyone Nervous – featuring the wonderful Rozi Plain on vocals.

On the back of the album’s imminent release, I had the opportunity to interview Steve Jefferis to discuss the album and other probing questions. A transcript follows.

PW:
So, the first question I have is that you seem to be writing more songs with lyrics now and has it been a natural progression to do that?

SJ:
To an extent, yes. The difference this time is that we knew from the start that we wanted to do vocal songs. And that people just seem to like them, really, and I guess they do make it [the music] more accessible generally. So, we had that in mind this time whereas with Wireless World it evolved a bit strangely that record. We actually completed it as a completely instrumental album. We had been thinking about doing vocals for a long time and a few people whose opinions we kind of respected and cared about thought we should think seriously about doing it. Others could hear that those songs could maybe kind of benefit from vocals. So we thought, well, “we’ll give it a go.” And that’s why that record took years and years to complete because we’d finished it, but then we went back, started talking to vocalists and then had to re-edit the songs to incorporate the vocals and then it ended up the record it was. This time having felt that the vocal idea went quite well on Wireless World we thought, well, “what can we do next?” So when we were writing the songs we were much more mindful that the vocalists would come in on this and so we wrote up to a point and went to the vocalists at an earlier stage.  There was a lot more to-ing and fro-ing between us and the vocalists this time around.

There is also a track on the album that has a vocal that isn’t done by a guest vocalist. It is actually me singing. It is mentioned on the album’s sleeve notes that I am singing vocals on the album. I’m quite nervous about it and not sure if I really want it known that it’s me. How it came about was, when we were looking for vocalists for the tracks, I did guide vocals just to say this is what we have in mind for the melody, etc. Andy heard those and said “you know you can hold a tune, Steve, do you want to think about singing?” and I really didn’t want to. We had done the title track, Flight Of Ideas, as an instrumental but it didn’t really seem to work as an instrumental piece. So we thought maybe we should end up singing on this and that’s what we ended up doing. And I think it has come out okay.

PW:
Well you kind of did answer the second question I had as a consequence and talking about this. What I was going to ask was when you started out, did you see yourselves as a purely instrumental band?

SJ:
When we started, it was all improvised. We’d play live with a synth bassline on a loop and then Andy would play and I would play improv on the guitar and after a while we’d get bored and start off another bassline, so it was all completely improvised and then at the point when Andy moved away from Newcastle we thought, we’re not sure this band is going to survive so let’s go into a studio and just record some of the improvisation and that worked quite well and that then turned into the album [Keep Warm], edited down from those improv jams. Tracks like Weapons Destruction, for example, were made up on the spot around the bassline and then edited down. So there has been two evolutions of Warm Digits, really. One is the evolution of very early improvisation to something much more song based, which is one of the big things that’s happened over the last two albums, and then the evolution from pure instrumental to vocal.

I think the label would be quite happy if we’d have given them an album with 10 vocal tracks.

PW:
Really?

SJ:
Yeah. They really love it. You know, they’ve got their eye on things that are going to hook people in or catch peoples’ ear on the radio and although I am very happy that people like the vocal tracks I am also feeling having part of the past two albums as instrumentals feels important as it is still an integral part of the band.

PW:
That’s what really hooked me in with you guys was that you are – or were – an instrumental led band. To me it feels the emphasis on instrumentals in rock and pop music has been lost in recent times.

SJ:
Yes, I agree. For instance, when you saw us Glasgow I think we did three instrumental tracks and three vocal tracks in the set, and that felt like a good mix…that it’s not “Oh, they’re doing an instrumental now to sort of pad everything out”, that actually this is the kind of band we are and the vocals are special guests.

PW:
So when you’re writing the songs with lyrics on them, are those ideas for the lyrics happening first or is it a musical piece first before it’s being worked on lyrically?

SJ:
It is, absolutely [the latter]. If not finished instrumentals then at least coherent songs in their own right before any lyrics evolve.

PW:
Do you ever have any title ideas? Like is there something like just words that seem to develop a track or is it all just musically driven?

SJ:
The titles are right at the heart of everything actually. That’s a good question. When we were purely instrumental all instrumental bands have the problem of “what on earth are we going to call that song?”, because there are no lyrics to take a line from. That was one of the things that got us thinking about concepts for the records. Not for the first album, but for Interchange and for Wireless World, we started working with an idea of what the album could loosely be about and then just thinking of song titles. We both have a background in electronic music, you know like Warp Records, electronica and one of things that those bands often do is to have completely nonsense song titles that are like, you know, a kind of glitchy computer malfunction type. We wanted to get away from that as we felt that would seem a bit of a cop out, so let’s give these proper titles even if they are not vocal tracks. Then what happened from there with Wireless World is we had all the song titles for the instrumentals and the vocalists took the titles and used that as inspiration for the lyrics they wrote. And that was…not in all the cases but in quite a lot of cases. It was a case on this record as well, like The View From Nowhere had a title from the start. We listen out for phrases and ideas that have a ring to them and keep on a list as potential front runners.

PW:
That was the next question I was going to ask about, was your collaboration with Emma Pollock on The view From Nowhere. Was Emma involved in the writing of the lyrics?

SJ:
Yes, that’s right. It is mixed on this record. Some of the lyrics are ours but that one she wrote the entirety of the lyrics. We fed her the title and the kind of idea that was in our minds originally for that…the short conceptual idea of what it could be about and she took that and wrote words around that. There was a bit of back and forth. She did a demo and we suggested a tinkering to a couple of the lines but yeah, that’s all her work. I’m really pleased with how that one came out lyrically. I’ve always been a fan of her work and she has this way of writing these lyrics that are very elusive in a sense that…you can get a sense of what they’re about but they are quite hard to pin down the actual meaning. And that is true of…well, I hope it is true of that song. That is why I am so pleased with it as she did exactly what I was hoping she would do with it.

PW:
This is going to sound a really pedantic question, in retrospect. The bass on Replication…do you play the bass parts?

SJ:
Yes. And that is one of the other things that has evolved over time. It used to all just be synth bass but since we wrote End Times [a track on the Wireless World album] which had that really funky bassline on it, and it just seemed to work, there has been more bass guitar on the songs. I think that song did originally have a synth bass on it as well. How that came about was…that was one of the ones where it was written in the style in which we always used to write, which is to have a synth loop going and just play along with it and you play for a while and then something eventually jumps out and you think “oh, yeah, that could work”.

PW:
You’re a father to two young children. So how do you manage the work/life balance?

SJ:
Oh, God! Well…we kind of don’t in that I don’t think we do it particularly successfully. I spend a lot of my time quite tired and quite stressed because they’re the priorty. I have a day job as well. And so there’s that and the travelling and then the band. I mean…I suppose the answer is it just kind of fits in the gaps, really. And with a lot of support and understanding from my wife who’s enabling it to happen.

There can be advantages to it in the sense that, like, with this record we just needed to get it done because we had so little time. So it can help you to focus a bit because, you know, I’ve got a little bit of time on a Wednesday during the day when I’m not at work to do music whereas 10 years ago I would have probably just noodled around and maybe have come up with something useful but mostly have done nothing productive at all.

And the way technology is these days, you can record from home. You don’t need to be in a studio to record. Andy and I don’t need to be in a studio together to work on things. There are still advantages to being in a studio. You’re working with an engineer and things. But the freedom you have to work at your own time and pace and the quality of home recording now is…well. Andy is more of the technically-minded one, really. He does the production, the mixing and mastering and everything that makes it sound like a proper record. And he tidies up all my mistakes. He makes sure everything is recorded properly. So Andy and I do it all from home.

PW:
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with in future recordings? If so, who would be your dream collaborator?

SJ:
I mean, I’ll take this question as to mean vocal collaboration? Well, we have done a music collaboration before with Field Music [a BBC Radio session that happened in January, 2012, between both bands that was produced as a 10” vinyl record]. But I think me and Andy are so…we’ve just got our way of working together musically that just works. I’m thinking about vocals… Well, do you know what? For this album we did sit down and write a long list of who is on our dream vocal collaborator’s list, knowing that from the off most of them we wouldn’t stand a chance of getting but the one at the time of my list was Sufjan Stevens. He’s an amazing singer-songwriter. He’s been nominated for an Oscar [for Best Original Song for Mystery Of Love in the film Call Me By Your Name in 2018]. He made two albums about two American states. I suppose you’d say he’s folk rock? He just has a beautiful voice and writes very emotional songs that just make you cry. He made an album called The Age Of Adz. It’s much more electronic. I think it’s a beautiful album. So, yes. I would definitely die happy if we were ever able to get him.

One of the other ones on my dream list would be…one of my favourite bands growing up was Wire – they’re a British post punk band who are still going. Again the vocalist, Colin Newman, has an incredible emotional voice – and we’ve done a cover version of one of his songs – which is actually an instrumental. But I consider them [Wire] and him [Newman] a big influence on us. So that would be my other dream collaboration were it to have the chance to happen.

PW:
Okay, this one kind of leads on again from what we’ve just discussed. These questions are blending in very well! I love the description of your sound in the press release for Flight Of Ideas –  “ If Can met Chemical Brothers in a fireworks factory.” It mentions musical influences like Steve Reich, could you expand on the musical influences that you have?

SJ:
Okay, sure. Well, the simplest thing to say is one of the things our previous manger used to describe us is – if My Bloody Valentine played Krautrock. Which is not far off the original idea of the band. We both come from backgrounds in more pure electronic music. We used to play laptop electronica and that is how Andy and I started collaborating. Quite quickly we discovered that it was really hard to make that kind of music exciting live because you’re just standing on stage with a laptop, essentially. Andy had always drummed but he just hadn’t been drumming on our collaborations and so he just started drumming along in rehearsals and it sounded amazing. So we thought “oh, this is good!” and eventually I picked up the guitar. But there had always been this electronic undercurrent to it.

So I suppose the three influences mainly are the classic electronic music, like Kraftwerk, then through to techno and acid house grooves and more contemporary electronic music like the kind of Warp Records type electronica and then cosmic disco and Scandinavian stuff like Lindstrom were the big electronic influences.

The second lot of influences come from Krautrock – particularly Neu! Can, up to a point, and Kraftwerk – that kind of rhythm seemed to just work really well really quickly when we started playing and it’s a lot of fun to play and feel you can  – particurlarly when we’re improvising – you can just play that rhythm for hours and find new things to discover in it.

And the the third set of influences comes from guitar led music, in particular shoe-gazing, so – for Andy as well – but for me, in particular, I’ve always been a massive fan of bands like My Bloody Valentine and the noisier of the shoe-gazing bands. There’s an American band called Medicine who are absolute favourites of mine. And so those blends of influences felt like quite a new thing to do when we started out, blending the sounds of electronic music with Kraurock and shoe-gazing guitar over it. I think Andy has probably got a wider set of influences than me so if he were here I think he might be talking a bit more about jazz. There’s certainly a big sort of jazz element in his drumming, although generally the rhythms are more Krautrock or Indy sounding but the way he plays is quite improvisational, really, so he would probably have that in there.

Off the back of the electronic influences there’s also the more minimalist and classical end as well, we mentioned Steve Reich earlier, that has a looping, repeating electronic motif on it. That wave of American minimalist guys, really. I’m worried I’ve missed out who Andy would say, but you’ll have to do with my version of names and influences.

PW:
The next question is what would be your ‘go to’ album on a good day?

SJ:
Okay. Now I find this really difficult to answer you see because…

PW:
Or, conversely, the album of solace for you on a bad day? So the yin and yang of what would be an uplifting one and what would be your wallowing one, I guess?

SJ:
Erm…I’ll take the – I dunno what this means but – the solace one comes much more readily to mind.  I might mention Richard Dawson, actually. A singer and guitarist from Newcastle. He put out a record called Nothing Important, which – particularly the title track – is incredibly emotionally powerful and very sad but kind of compelling. I’m not sure if I draw solace from it but it is something I would go to if I’m not feeling great. Or the other might be a favourite record of mine and Andy’s which is Music Has The Right To Children by Boards Of Canada. There’s real melancholy in there…which is not always easy to do in a record but it also has an eerie quality to it. I think it’s great.

The uplifting stuff would be kind of…indy pop. The Pastels – the Glasgow band. But I can’t think of one particular album off the top of my head right now. We might have to come back to this one.

PW:
So, getting back to the album itself, to me, Fools Tomorrow and False Positive in particular, those two tracks seem to be the more obvious move away from the usual sort of Krautrock motorik led sound and have more of the funk element to them. So where has….if you can articulate it…where do you feel this more funk based sound has come from?

SJ:
Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean Fools Tomorrow was Andy’s song and that came from the rhythm. I think what it came from was he was just playing around with drum loops and he layered on two loops and came up with this thundering rhythm that that song’s got and it just worked quite quickly because it’s like “Ooh, we haven’t had one like this before”, but that rhythm’s amazing. So that song came from Andy playing around with drum loops and finding something that really worked as a groove. False Positive is one of mine and I think it came from finding a bit of confidence on Wireless World with the more disco-y tracks – End Times and The Rumble And The Tremor – and just being interested to see if we really turned this up a notch and made it really funky what would that be like? So False Positive has got this kind of ridiculous 80s synth on it, slightly cheesy and I tried it and I thought “oh, God, can we get away with it?”

PW:
It was FAB live! I really loved you guys performing it live at Saint Luke’s. It really worked.

SJ:
Oh, that’s good to hear because I think I enjoy it but I think it’s one of the ones, partly because I think…so, one of the other things that comes from this album is they [the songs] were written in the studio solo. So False Positive, for example, I sent to Andy fairly complete but not fully formed and so one of the things with the track is that the groove hasn’t grown out of him playing drums on it. When we started to play it live, it was like “oh, god, how do I play this” and it wasn’t feeling natural to him at first. But as we’ve continued to play it live, it seems to be working really well. So it’s good to get that feedback that it works because between the two of us we were thinking “oh, does the feel right when we play it live?”, we weren’t too sure.

So, yeah. It basically emerged from me thinking if we tried to turn up the funkiness from the kind of songs we were doing on the last album what would that sound like and that’s what came out. Also with it being our 4th album in, there is quite a bit on there that is recognisably us, but there’s also things where we’ve tried to stretch things a bit or push the edges of what we’ve done before by experimenting a little bit. So that is part of the idea as well, like, what rhythm hadn’t we tried before that could work within the palette of sounds that we’re familiar with.

PW:
I have two questions left. Well, I think they’re two. I can see that there maybe questions within questions, potentially.

I have to say the tracks (for me), I’m Okay You’re Okay, and Everyone Nervous, as well as that bridge break in Fools Tomorrow – they’re the really emotional pieces for me.
So the question from that is, what do you hope people get from listening to your music? And would you hope that there would be visceral feelings that come from that? Do you hope there’s an emotional impact for people?

SJ:
Yeah, yeah. That’s a really good question. I think both, really. The visceral one is probably the first thing. Largely because the band emerged out of that we want to do something that’s safe live and that people really enjoy to see, so that impact was the first thing we went for, But, you know you’ve got to have a bit of rage as well. I am very pleased that there are emotional elements too. If it is sparked off even just by a chord change, something like that…if it just makes you want to sigh or something like that. I have always felt that element of music is very compelling. There are songs where we try to put those elements in – I’m Okay You’re Okay is probably the one I think we’ve done it most successfully on. That was a difficult song to get right. It’s been kicking around for years. And it used to be a disco song. Andy wrote the song but got fed up with it but I really loved the emotional feeling of the chord sequences and thought “I’m not going to give this up, we’re going to try and make it work” and so we redid it as a Krautrock song and had this synth melody on the top of it.

PW:
It is the melody that does it. Its’s the thing that gives the song it’s emotional impact.

SJ:
Thank you. I hear a yearning quality to it. And it is a lot quieter song than we normally do so that feels good to have that bit of space.

PW:
Final question (questions!) and I’m worried this might seem some kind of loaded question.
How important is the idea of commercial success for you? At a point we are at the moment where, you know, people are exposed to music more than ever before. Do you think that there is less importance attached to music in younger generations? Does it concern you? Or do you think it’s just a cyclical phase?

SJ:
I mean, as far commercial potential goes it’s not overly important to us at all. What does feel important is that it’s got a platform for people to be able hear it. So it’s just brilliant that Memphis Industries picked up on the last record and wanted to do it because that opens the door to radio and festivals and bigger gigs that never would have happened otherwise. You know, we’re quite happy kind of being a Newcastle band with a decent following locally and not much else. But it feels great to have a platform. I mean, but you know… I’m not sure we would get on well with a big kind of bump in popularity because then it would feel that the stakes go up.

Going back to your question earlier about how we juggle it alongside other commitments, I mean that would be what makes me anxious because it’s like if the expectations go up about touring or whatever, then that’s hard on a personal level. I mean, I hope it doesn’t sound like a cop out. It’s lovely that people get the chance to hear it but beyond that, we are not particurlay ambitious about [success] on a commercial level.

Part of the question was about generational differences. I’ve got no idea what music culture is like for teenagers these days, but I do feel nostalgic for how it was when I was growing up which revolved around the weekly music papers of the UK – the NME and the like – and the the new bands you’d discover and go and see live.

I think when I was younger the scarcity of music in the sense that…I mean you had the radio and that…but you had to buy it, really, if you wanted to listen to it repeatedly. And so I think it was that scarcity that drove your curiosity. And so I don’t know how that works now because we’ve all got infinite music at our fingertips now. So I don’t know whether that plays a part in why it seems younger folk place less importance on it.

I do see younger people around who are passionate about music and attached to particular bands, so I think it’s still happening but is perhaps less of a unifying culture than it was in the past.

The current single from the album – the sublime Everyone Nervous.

Priptona Talks – To Bruce Findlay: Part One

20E998DA-CB61-4DB2-9794-FDE0687E3ADA

It’s the summer of 1978. Simple Minds have been alive and kicking for several months. Jim Kerr and David Henderson (sometimes with Graffiti record store manager Scott MacArthur in tow), during days between Simple Minds’ weekly residency at the Mars Bar, go knocking on doors trying to drum up record company interest, handing over a demo tape.

Simple Minds have just secured their first gig outside of Glasgow, in Edinburgh. Upon word-of-mouth recommendations and due partly to his reputation as a knowledgable man of music through his chain of records stores, Bruce Findlay is visited by Kerr and Henderson during their visit to Edinburgh.

I begin my conversation with Bruce by asking how signing Simple Minds to Zoom Records came about.

Did Brian Hogg recommend you sign Simple Minds after having seen them play, or did you make the decision yourself once you’d seen them live?

BF: No, what happened with that was Jim and David Henderson came to see me in Edinburgh and had a demo they wanted me to listen to. They were playing in Edinburgh that night (the gig in question was at The Astoria, Abbeymount on August 10th, 1978), but I couldn’t go so Brian went instead. He just raved about the gig the next morning, saying how amazing they were. ‘You should see them, Bruce’! “The best thing since sliced bread.” He went on to describe how the gig was in detail. How they performed. That Pleasantly Disturbed was like a little symphony in one song. So it just sounded so exciting.

Fortunately they had a residency at the Mars Bar in Glasgow at the time that they had established over the previous couple of months. They’d already made a reputation for themselves. So I went to see them on the Sunday (Aug 13th) in Glasgow. They’d put me on the guest list as their gigs were now selling out every week. I was blown away by the gig. I hung out with them back stage afterwards and spoke to them.

Essentially I would have loved to have signed them right away, except I thought they were too good. Zoom at this point was just a singles label. I had released a few singles independently. I had only just signed a deal with Arista to get more financial backing, but it was still very much for me a singles label. That Zoom was a singles label and bands that I would work with would see it as a stepping stone to getting initial material released and as a consequence drum up further interest from bigger, well-established record labels. I didn’t see Zoom at that point as being a label that would release albums. That was not my ambition for Zoom.

So when I saw Simple Minds, I didn’t think they were ‘too good’ for me, per se, but that they were beyond the point of releasing a single and needing that stepping stone. And equally they didn’t come to me wanting to be signed or looking for a deal. They weren’t even looking for me to be their manager. They came to me because they were told I was a good guy to talk to.

So after that first initial Mar Bars gig I saw, I went to just about every other one. I also got other gigs for them outside of Glasgow, with the help of George Duffin. I got them more gigs in Edinburgh and got them introduced to [promoters] Regular Music and got them some good support slots. In the meantime, I hung out with them. I used to crash out and stay the night at Jim’s parents flat. Jim and I would sit up til all hours of the morning discussing…’the revolution’. Discussing what the band wanted and what their ambitions were, the state of the music business. We talked about all sorts of things. What we liked. What we didn’t like. [I must admit to getting just a tad envious at this point. Lol.] And we got to know each other. Me and the whole band, you know, but particularly with Jim. I occasionally stayed at Brian McGee’s house as well. His parents had a bigger house.

So that is how it all came about. Brian Hogg, yes, he went to see them before me on the night they had come to see me in Edinburgh and raved about them to me, so that was a big influence.

So Brian went to see them on the basis that Jim and David had been to visit you that afternoon, rather than having seen them by chance?

BF: I think he might have been going to see them anyway. It was a very exciting time with new music and because I had the Zoom label going and Brian was working with me at Zoom, we were interested in new music, and we were excited by it. It was quite a revolutionary kind of time. Quite an exciting time for new bands and new music and it was the birth of what became “the indie scene”. We were there at the beginning. I launched Zoom in 1977. So by the time Simple Minds came to see me in the summer of 1978, I had already released six or seven singles on the Zoom label. We were up and running. And I had a fanzine going called Cripes that was distributed through the record shops that Brian [Hogg] and I edited. So we were enthusiasts, as well as writing about stuff in the fanzine that we were involved with, either through selling the records in our shops or signing bands to the label or wanting to sign them. We’d also plug other labels. We were a broad church and we just liked the whole scene.

I saw a revolution, if you like. I thought the whole country; every little town, every big city, every serious independent record shop should start a record label. I saw the future as being hundreds of little labels, as opposed to five major ones, and the smaller independents would have an alliance with the majors. I started selling my releases to the distributor Rough Trade who then in turn started a record label. I was selling records in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. All over the place. Zoom releases. I was very keen and enthusiastic in encouraging others to start a label. I mean I encouraged Lenny [Love] with Sensible Records. I encouraged Bob Last when he started Fast Records and I promoted his records through Bruce’s record shops. I wasn’t wanting to take over the world. I was wanting to share the world with everyone else. That was the whole philosophy behind the thing.

But what happened with Simple Minds was they created a real buzz and the big guns in London were sniffing around and they were very keen for Simple Minds to go to London to play. So what we did to combat this London-centric idea, this notion that to “make it big” you must go to London, we made the big wigs there come up to us. In fact, initially we didn’t play in England at all. We thought if record companies were really THAT keen, they’d come and see us.

Again, at the point I was just an adviser. Unpaid, non-committal (but fully behind them wishing for them to succeed), and they had no obligation to me but because I began to talk on their behalf to these record companies, when push came to shove, whenever they [the labels] showed any serious interest they were told “speak to Bruce” and I’d speak to them. Finally Arista said to me “why don’t we give you the money so you can sign them to Zoom?” I wanted them to have an album deal. They deserved proper funding to go full-time, pay wages, and go for it. I thought “they’re ready”. Thoroughly professional in their mentality and attitude. Very together. Jim had a terrific vision for the band. He was a very bright kid. Nineteen years of age but he really knew what he wanted. Ruthless as well. He was really strong in his opinions and what he wanted and how he saw the band developing.

I then asked Bruce about the recording of Life In A Day.
The next part of the interview is in audio:

Continuing on from the audio…

BF: And all the songs were kind of there. If anything, in hindsight…I mean the band…within weeks of releasing it kind of went off it and couldn’t wait to start on the next album. They thought it was a bit derivative. All the critics had a go at them. “Oh, they sound a bit like Roxy Music and a little of Lou Reed” … and a little of this and a little bit of that and all of that of course was true. The band wore their influences on their sleeves. Personally speaking, I think it was a brilliant album. I think it was a brilliant debut album and I think it deserves a lot more praise than it got and it should have been a hit album. Life In A Day is a great track. Chelsea Girl was a classic. Some of the album tracks, Someone and Pleasantly Disturbed are fabulous. Yeah, it was maybe a wee bit…”John Leckie production” if you like but he had to put his stamp on it. John’s a lovely guy, but the band’s own confidence wasn’t there at that point, in the studio, but it came very quickly. The next album was dynamic. Completely different and much more experimental. But I was proud of the first album. I didn’t agree with Jim when he dismissed it.

I then asked the next question rather badly, and not very succinctly.
And audio extract follows:

What was the decision behind choosing the Rolling Stones mobile studio to record Life In A Day? Why not choose to record at, say, CaVa Studios in Glasgow instead?

BF: The Rolling Stone mobile was used – and we recorded some of it at Abbey Road Studio as well. I mean, come on, can you imagine the thrill? Derek Forbes in particular, who is a massive Beatles fan, going into the studio where The Beatles recorded all their stuff? So we needed to move away from CaVa and these places. Again, with hindsight, there’s nothing wrong with having…in many ways we could have done it at CaVa as it happens.

I mean nowadays you can record albums at home with Pro Tools and suchlike but in those days the thing was to get into the big and to use bigger studios and to use what the big bands had done. And there was an excitement and a thrill to it. Remember these were young kids. They’re a bunch of teenagers making their first record and although they were bright and they were smart, you know, the thrill of going into the bigger studio, the thrill of working with a serious producer – not that Brian Young wasn’t a serious guy at CaVa. He was a friend. And the demos were all good. In fact, I would still argue that Chelsea Girl, the demo, is ten times better than Chelsea Girl the album recording. But John Leckie got them to change the arrangement a bit. John needed to stamp his thing on it too. John was a terrific producer and the next two albums he produced are classics. Real To Real Cacophony and Empires And Dance, for me, are sensational albums and should have been smash hits. And it was one of the reasons we didn’t stay in the licence deal with Arista…but that’s another story.

Part two of the interview can be read HERE