Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Archive Series: Bubblegum Splash!

Bubblegum Splash! are one of the best bands ever, and there's no need to dispute that (or expand on it).

We set up a microsite shrine for them back in the turn-of-the-century days when their brilliance was not a recognised fact, and after we were evicted from our former home, Tom from kindly put the content on his site, even persuading Martin Whitehead to let him post the "Splashdown" EP for download. We're not going to let you do that, but here's the blurb again, for old time's sake. On our original microsite we also put up the lyrics to the seven songs mentioned below, but I suspect you'll all know them off by heart now anyway. We certainly do.

Roque from Cloudberry did a nice interview with the band some years later which followed up a couple of things below, if we remember rightly...

"But on the minus there are groups like Bubblegum Splash! we played with them in Bristol, and they just summed up everything that was wrong in music just now. I mean they had one song that went la-la-la like Primal Scream and another with the bum-de-bum drumbeats a la Shop Assistants. It was just a joke."

- Stephen Pastel , 1987

the pastels were a fine band, but stephen was presumably just jealous, because Bubblegum Splash! are probably the greatest band that ever existed. they were a five-piece from salisbury, wiltshire, england, comprised of nikki barr (voice); dave todd (bass); jim harrison (guitar); marty cummins (tambourine and backing vocals) and "alan" (drums). their legend today is helped by the fact that as far as we can discern, they only ever recorded seven songs. beyond that, as you can tell, we know so little... but it's inconceivable we could ever shake from our heads their lyrics, the cool and rather offhand vocal delivery, the thudding anorak basslines and drums, the jangly guitars and even the occasional two-bar, three-note "guitar solos".

we don't just put down our devotion to Bubblegum Splash! to nostalgia for the age of fourteen, when the journey began with john peel playing "fast of friends". and we certainly weren't alone then, for at the time the fanzine "so naive", named after a rather wonderful song by erstwhile subway labelmates the rosehips, ran an interview with the band and put out a flexidisc, split with the slightly less endearing shop assistants copyists the darling buds. if you'd told us then that one of those bands would go on to top of the pops and a major deal... still, according to the cherry red website, splashdown did get to no 15 on the indie chart.

"I remember the day we heard the Splashdown EP went into the Indie charts as we were playing a gig in Salisbury aswell and couldn't understand why we had a crowd of about 10 whilst the Arts Centre where the Splashies were playing was heaving!"

- Andy Ware, then of Mrs Taylor's Mad

no, since 1987, life has been a futile attempt to come across anyone else who will acknowledge the truth. even now a host of college radio stations in the 'states will think nothing of dropping da Bubblegum bomb into their alt-rock playlists, albeit usually in what we english call "the alan partridge slot".

a lot of people, even at the time, took one listen to the formulaic shambling and dismissed it as identikit c86. that seems to us to both get, and spectacularly miss, the point. they were probably the perfect anorak band - the production, the playing, the melodies, the sentiments - and that should have elevated their status, not detracted from it. it doesn't take a leap of the imagination to relate to the lyrics to "fast of friends" or "someone said" - it really is for everyman. the music has the same attraction and appeal - people like us, no shallow celebrity status.

"the Splashies seemed to have this unique, kinda naive sound that was very original and you couldn't pin it on any band. Jim and Dave had a very eclectic mix of backgrounds in musical tastes and I guess whilst they weren't maestros with their guitars this kinda dictated the way they wrote and played songs. Ask Jim to play a Led Zeppelin solo and I don't think then anyhow he'd get past the first bar"

- Andy Ware

the persistent rumours that jane from occupied europe are a post-splash! outfit, scarcely any longer lived, have now been confirmed - we believe they were the only one. most bands I loved from that era are still producing music today - listen to sportique, cinerama or of course the pastels - even (if you have to) primal scream. (JFOE, incidentally, included jim harrison and dave todd, and did a few records (much more detail here) including a cracking 7" called "ocean run dry" which we also treasure to this day. the fact that they were named after the second swell maps LP probably accounts for the fact that Bubblegum Splash! have been described as "swell maps"-influenced - save for the fact they were a bit d.i.y., this was never really true).

the only time we ever heard Bubblegum Splash! "in public" was back in 1990 when the DJ in the now-defunct islington powerhaus played "plastic smile" - that in itself would have made my evening. (in fact, it was merely a glorious omen, as the second support band that night, brighter, who were starting for the orchids and the hit parade, did the set which turned me into a brighter fan for life). but that's another story, and possibly another web page.

"The boys at ILWTT website have done a Bubblegum Splash! site - it’s the webzine equivalent of a 1 and a half minute flexi song, but ah, it reminded me of the flawed genius of the Splash!"

- Rachel Stevenson, 2003

and now ? well the rumours have it that ex-Bubblegum Splash! personnel are now residing in salisbury and bristol, and variously enjoying beer, teaching, football, music (but of course) and, in one case, motherhood... but we intend to fill out some of those details over time.

until then, if anyone, anywhere, knows anything about Bubblegum Splash! or has any photographs (or can correct the lyrics!) please please contact us at the address opposite, we will love you forever, just as much as we love them. or just write to let us know how brilliant you think the band were - trust us, you won't be the first and the network is international. someone once wrote into us claiming that they knew the ex-bass player, but our entreaties came to nothing - we guess people are always pretending they're mates with the rich and famous...

"I love them too! One chime of 18:10 To Yeovil Junction and I was hooked - they're everything that great pop music should be - kids with guitars who can't play to save their lives but who consequently make the most beautifully endearing music in the world."

- Chris Jones, fan


"splashdown!" 7" ep (august 1987, subway 13)

tracks: plastic smile / just walked away / fast Of friends / one of those things

split flexi (with so naïve fanzine, 1987)

track: if only. (split with the darling buds, track: spin).

"surfin' in the subway" (subway records compilation, november 1987, SUBORG 4)

tracks: someone said, the 18.10 to yeovil junction.

(also compiled on a CD of both subway comps entitled "take the subway to your suburb")

"just walked away" also appears on "whole wide world" (volume 2) compilation CD on subway organisation

*2019 update: "the 18.10 to  yeovil junction" now also appears on both "the subway organization: 1986-1989" CD on cherry red records, and the "c88" box set on cherry red*

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Archive Series: Rosehips

Rosehips. Winter 2004.

“We cared about dirty guitar sounds and pit closures, not jelly babies and girls..."

OK. The Rosehips. Check it out right now.

The Rosehips were... well, kind of like the Shop Assistants, except from Stoke and faster and punkier and perhaps actually not that much like the Shop Assistants at all except they had a girl singer and buzzing guitars and were on Subway so for most people's purposes it was a fair enough comparison to make. Except the Rosehips didn't do those really slow songs like the Shop Assistants ones where Alex's voice was so honeyed up it kind of dripped on to the glockenspiels and purring guitars below. Instead, they looked to the Ramones and generally speaking did their best to make sure the songs tired themselves out after eighty seconds or so. They were - to start with - Yoland (Yo) on vocals, Glenn on guitars, Ant on bass and Mark (Mark 1) on drums. They first struck gold with "Room in your heart", which we always thought wasat least three choruses, plus some great stop / start stopping and starting. And that came, at least on 12", with five other tunes of almost the same calibre. Before we knew it, John Peel was playing us their second single, "I Shouldn't Have To Say", and it was their most Ramones-like, the boys joining in the chorus, and still over pretty much before it began. Again it was accompanied by some brilliant songs - "Loophole" was always a favourite, with its manic 'celebration' of "staying the same forever" then mutating into a two-note slowed down outro in which the two notes always reminded us of our doorbell, and "Sad as Sunday" which flopped through 3 1/2 fantastic minutes, largely with the same repeated refrain which sounded something like "Won't be alone / 'Til it all goes wrong" which if so is such a great line and seems the more so as time passes.

Anyway what happened after this was that the Rosehips slipped beneath the waves as far as the indie media was concerned and by the time they returned they had actually changed (Mark 1 departed, eventually to be replaced on the drum stool by, er, Mark 2, while extra guitarist Pete and ex-Flatmate Rocker on keyboards also got on board) but so had the world and all of a sudden everyone was down on the scene that they'd been celebrating so soon before. So no-one cared when this reconstituted Rosehips came back with an ep "Sympathy for the Rosehips" (which we always took to be a reference to them getting their cards from Subway - at least the answers below put us right on all that) which not only retained their energy, bounce, flair and excitement but managed to combine it with some more ambitious guitar parts - what with the second guitar, the new dimension of, er, Rocker's organ and Mark 2's drumming all handling the new variations in pace, fleshed out arrangements and some marvellous, acerbic and often very humorous lyrics. From nowhere a band who had been dismissed (wrongly we might add) in their previous incarnation as shamblers just singing about falling in and out of relationships were singing about the fur trade, vivisection and the politics of greed, and referencing everyone from U2 to Billy Bragg to Bobby Gillespie. To be honest, by this stage the Rosehips were utterly on fire, but apart from the 4 tracks on "Sympathy" and a few more corralled together on their '98 self-titled retrospective on Secret Records, nothing more was heard from them. This is an injustice we feel honour bound to attempt to correct, and by sheer luck it turned out that Trilemma's Pete used to be a Rosehip. We got badgering, and Pete managed to persuade all seven ex-Rosehips to join us for a virtual cup of tea, hence the formidable length of this feature. And we're dead proud that this is the last ever interview on in love with these times, in spite of these times. When you've read it, their own website (which our pictures are stolen from, with kind permission) is now fully-fledged and available to sate your nostalgia!!

* * * * *

What was the motivation behind getting together originally - just friendship and drinking, or a desire to be the next U2 ?

Glenn: Just the age-old impulse of young men (and women, of course, but usually young men) to be in a rock'n'roll band, I imagine. In my case, I wasn't interested in much except football and music and I was slightly less bad at music than at football.

Mark 1: I was 16 at the time and just got into playing the drums although I was originally a bass player. I used to watch Ant & Glenn's old band practice & thought I could do a better job on the kit than their drummer, so I conned him into swapping my bass and amp for his drum kit. I taught myself a few basic beats & when their old band split up Ant rang me & asked if I wanted to do something with them.

Ant: I don't remember a lot of thought going into the whole thing just 3 chords and a good tune. I think at 17 you think your band is the best in the world! But U2? Me thinks not!!

Rocker: At the time U2 stood for all we were against!

Yo: The "U2 CD plays in my XR3" line [from the third EP's "Designer greed"] was about what we hated. Today's equivalent would be "Radiohead in-car- DVD plays in my Rav 4". Blair's anti-socialists are just as sickening as Thatcher's yuppies were. My reality is "Manics tape plays very loud to compete with the old diesel engine in my Maestro Van".

Mark 2: They promised me I would see the world and girls would want to sleep with me. I was grossly misled about both but have no regrets. Mainly I just wanted to play the drums for a band I was actually a fan of - and knock about with mates at the same time.

Rocker: I was lucky enough to be offered the drum seat in one of my favourite bands! (Having just been kicked out of one of my others).

Who were the bands you were listening to at the time? The Ronettes? The Ramones? Contemporary bands?

Glenn: Certainly the Ramones (you mean you can tell?) but I always liked the Shangri-Las more than the Ronettes. I was listening to a lot of reggae, and obvious stuff like the VU, Iggy and Beefheart. My major musical love has always been The Fall and I was also well into The Membranes / 3 Johns / Nightingales etc fanzine scene, Sonic Youth and The Birthday Party / Nick Cave and general Peelie stuff, like everyone else I suppose.

Rocker: Wedding Present, June Brides, Undertones, Shangri-Las, Shop Assistants, A Witness, Pastels, New Order / Joy Division, Roy Orbison, Ivor Cutler, Mekons, Fall, Pauline Murray, Mega City 4, Inspiral Carpets, Buzzcocks, Slade...

Pete: Shop Assistants, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Clash, Primitives, Sex Pistols, Talulah Gosh, The Jam, The Clouds, Undertones, Groove Farm, Primal Scream...

Yo: Ramones, My Bloody Valentine, Husker Du, Pixies, Beasties, Hard Ons, Pastels, Blyth Power, Bogshed...

Rocker: Velvet Underground, Television, Blondie, Husker Du, Butthole Surfers, TV Personalities, Housemartins, Nico, Jazz Butcher, Viv Stanshall, Blue Aeroplanes, Doors, Dooleys, Hawkwind, Stiff Little Fingers, Talulah Gosh, Pixies, T.Rex, Felt...

Pete: Buzzcocks, Meat Whiplash, The Loft, Ramones, early Soup Dragons, MC4, Flatmates, Age of Chance, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Pastels, early MBV, Close Lobsters.....

Rocker: The Cure, Soup Dragons, Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes, Spacemen 3, Velvet Crush, Pink Floyd, House Of Love, Groove Farm, Specials, Pop Will Eat Itself, We've Got A Fuzzbox..., Extreme Noise Terror [yaaay!!!]...

Yo: Half Man Half Biscuit, Stones, Hendrix, Groove Farm, the Seers, Mega City Four, Sonic Youth, Membranes, the Smiths, Cocteau Twins....

Mark 1: Personally I used to listen to stuff like Spear of Destiny, Sisters of Mercy, The Cult, The Jam, The Fall, The Pogues etc. I will listen to anything really, I can find something good out of most types and styles of music.

Ant: All of the above! It was an ace time for me discovering music really. It seemed that me and Glenn were finding a new band every week! You really haven't lived until a new Membranes single is the high point in your week!!!

Mark 2: At the time we were all listening to the same stuff and the others have covered pretty much everything. I can remember that Glenn was always appalled by my refusal to acknowledge the Ramones as the greatest punk band of all time (and because I hated Elvis). But apart from that, and assuming Mark 1 is only kidding about Spear of Destiny, I like all of the above.

How did the band end up on Subway originally ?

Glenn: We sent a (dreadful) tape to about five labels and Subway were the ones who got in touch. I think.

Yo: I think it was cos the Soup Dragons left.

Ant: Martin rang me and asked if we wanted to be on the first Subway compilation album. To cut a long story short me and Yo went to London for the cut and I think I asked Martin if I could buy a Flatmates badge from him and he said "you get them free when you're on the label". Our fifth gig was in Bristol with the Flatmates and after the show he signed us.

We read an interview with Martin Whitehead once [in Tim Alborn's excellent fanzine "Incite!" outta Cambridge, MA] where he said something along the lines, "it's a shame the Rosehips are off the label, but they wanted more money to record and they didn't sell enough records". Is that true?

Glenn: First I've heard of it. I mean, it was a long time ago. As far as I knew, Martin was happy enough with our sales. Obviously they weren't great in any case. We never demanded any particular amount of expenditure, as far as I can remember. He might have got that impression, but then I think any amount of money would have been a problem at that stage because it was very much hand-to-mouth. The contract ran out and that was it as far as I know. No hard feelings this end.

Yo: We certainly didn't want to put out any more demo standard records. The "more money to record" was £25 an hour studios not £16, it was hardly greedy. Martin got a round in at the bar once, that was the closest we ever got to an advance. (Shame, cos I was hoping to blow ten grand on short-arse boys, scrumpy and vegetable vindaloo, at the time)

Ant: We signed for 2 singles, did 2 singles and I don't remember big arguments about money.

Mark 1: I was certainly never in it for the money. I couldn't tell you how many records we sold either, I wasn't really interested.

Rocker: We certainly didn't sell many records at the time! The band didn't want "more" money than usual (i.e. to pay for the recordings, and the usual royalties from the record releases). At that time Martin was finding out how difficult it was to earn a living from selling 7" records, I know he loved The Rosehips, but they were just a luxury he could no longer afford!

Ant: It was all a laugh really. Subway was always a great idea but a bad business decision!

Then came the reshuffle and expansion of the line-up. How did that come about ?

Glenn: Mainly because the first Mark decided to leave.

Yo: Mark 1 was an ace hard-core drummer, we got faster and faster and faster.... he could play and read a paper at the same time, so he got bored and left.

Mark 1: I left because the music was never really my cup of tea so I joined a punk band (Flame On!). It helped me become technically a better drummer and was more the kind of stuff I was into.

Mark 2: I always thought Mark 1 sounded really good with the Rosehips - although he was better (and different) with Flame On.

Ant: It was a sad day for me when Mark 1 left, but I felt we had more left in us.

Glenn: We didn't want to pack in so we looked around for people to help.

Yo: We had wanted extra guitar for ages, so it was a perfect opportunity to ask Pete to get out of the audience and onto the stage.

Glenn: We were already well acquainted with Pete and Mark 2 from various Stoke bands and gigs, and Rocker from the Flatmates. It all seemed very natural.

Yo: We had Rocker on drums for a few gigs until we found a permanent drummer.

Ant: Rocker was shite on drums really, so that changed very quickly.

Mark 2: Rocker had a very individual style. No one else sounded like Rocker on the drums. It was like an entire Boys Brigade band falling down a flight of stairs - but in a fairly co-ordinated way that used to sound really good. I think, in the end, Rocker's organ proved irresistible and I was drafted in to fill the gap.

Rocker: When they realized what a crap drummer I was, I changed to organ - I already played organ for a Bristol band called "The Family".

Yo: Mark 2 was brilliant, luckily, and his Dad used to drum for Sandie Shaw - that swung it really. It's a crime he doesn't use that talent now.

Mark 2: I had no part in any of the decision making. They asked me. I said yes.

Yo: .... And so we were six.

Ant: Pete was always first choice on extra guitar and Mark 2 is the best drummer to walk the planet!! Job done!

Obviously when you came back with the 3rd ep a lot of things changed - not just the music being tighter, and more variety, but in particular the lyrics were suddenly biting, often very funny and sometimes quite brilliant. Was that a conscious thing, or just the way bands get the confidence to start writing about more than "just" boys and girls?

Rocker: I think we just got better at doing it!

Pete: The songs are Glenn's territory really as he wrote them and we fleshed them out, arranged them, added bits and pieces here and there.

Rocker: The basis of the song was usually from Glenn, I think Yo wrote most of the lyrics, but we worked on the songs a lot in rehearsal rooms (as opposed to bedrooms) i.e. at full volume. Ant was also playing guitar with other (pre Venus Beads) bands, and his input was always crucial.

Ant: Glenn always had an ace ear for a good melody and when we started, the words seemed to fit with what we were doing, most of the time. At the beginning we were just happy to get to the end of the song!!! We grew out of the "twee" stuff almost as soon as we were put in with it so the change seemed quite natural to me. It was only towards the end that Glenn's lyrics came into their own.

Mark 2: Don’t think I can really take the credit for any improvement. The organ and the extra guitar gave the band more dimensions and possibilities and Glenn just got better as he went on writing.

Glenn: Well thanks for the compliments about the lyrics anyway! I suppose the boy-girl thing was trite enough to begin with and you certainly can't flog it to death forever, unless you're musical geniuses. I actually cringe a little bit when I hear most of the lyrics. The boy-girl stuff was obviously just a brainless way to prop up the chords, and while some of the later stuff is OK, a lot of it is ludicrously naïve semi-political guff in which the need for rhyming tended to eclipse meaning! Glad you liked it though - I think there are a few nifty little phrases in there and Yo certainly got better at delivering them with those little snarls and things.

Pete: With "That Was Your Life" I remember we were trying to get a track to compete with "Big Black Plastic Explosion" by the Groove Farm in terms of song length!

Yo: The Buzzcocks made us think we could be a band and we got better with practice and experimented more, as you do. (Although our first record has a kitchen sink on it and the next, a can being opened, which Martin didn't like, it soaked the mic and he had to pay for it. You just can't live life like a Health and Safety Officer, never mind make music). We wanted to shout about what we talked about in the pub, rather than what fanzine writers thought we talked about. We cared about dirty guitar sounds and pit closures not jelly babies and girls.

Mark 1: Are you trying to say that my drumming wasn't tight? You cheeky bugger!!

Was there a conscious decision to "beef up" the sound at the same time ?

Mark: Well Ant was getting fatter...

Ant: ...But still the best looking member of the band by far!

Pete: I don't think it was particularly conscious, just that with the line up expansion the sound naturally got fuller.

Glenn: I think it just came naturally from the number of people and the more confident playing. We all listened to far more than C86 stuff (in fact, that was pretty low down the list) so we incorporated bits from post-punk, 50s and 60s rock'n'roll, US hardcore etc.

Rocker: We just found out how to get the stuff to sound more like we wanted it to!

Yo: Most of the band had followed me into vegetarianism by then. We just wanted to sound different.

Mark 2: I just hit the drums as hard as I could and everyone else had to keep turning up to be heard. I think the change was fairly natural. It was not a conscious effort to change but any changes did represent the sorts of stuff we were all into.

And was Chaotic Brilliance your own (aptly titled) label ?

Glenn: Funnily enough, fact fans, the name was taken from a blurb on the back of a Membranes album. The Gift of Life, I think. Ant and I in particular loved the Membranes and it was Ant who organized the label with, I seem to remember, one of those enterprise grants or whatever they're called.

Rocker: They paid you a pittance to set up your own small business, as it kept you off the dole figures.

Yo: It was Ant's way of avoiding a real job.

Ant: Yep kids - me avoiding a job really, loved doing it though!

Which did you enjoy most - making records or playing live? (we're "too young" to remember, but the impression is that playing live was a major part of the Rosehips' whirl...)

Glenn: Making records was much less hassle but of course we didn't get to do it very often! The gigs and accompanying journeys were almost always great fun, although the novelty did begin to wear off after a while. A day on the motorway for the sake of an hour or so on stage can be a drag. I'm glad I did it but I wouldn't wanna 'make a career out of it' as Mark Smith heckled back to that bloke on "Totale's Turns". [forget "Live in Leeds", "Totale's Turns" is the definitive live album].

Rocker: Enjoyed both - especially playing live when the audience were into it!

Pete: Playing live was the biggest fun part for me. My memory of the recordings is that it all seemed a bit stressful - being put on the spot and trying to get a part right. It was just a relief when it was done.

Yo: Gigs were the best thing. Studios are always brown and boring and I was never happy with the majority of our recordings.Mark 1: I loved both really, gigs were always a laugh, cos you didn't know how they were going to go. Most of the gigs we really looked forward to doing were ok and some of the less glamorous (for want of a better phrase) really rocked. As you say, I can't really remember a lot from way back then.

Mark 2: When we played live it all happened so fast - and the sound on stage was so loud, that you could not help get into it. When we were in the studio it was always a bit of a shock finding out how hard it was to play for 3 minutes without making a cock-up once. Fortunately, as the drummer I had to go first so my bits were done in the morning and then I could sit back and watch the others suffer for the remainder of the day. On balance I would say I liked the gigs better than the recordings.

Ant: The studio became more and more interesting each time we went in, but also more frustrating. It seemed really difficult to describe sounds to someone and not get the results I wanted. I think this is why I went into studio work. The live thing was pure chaos most of the time, far too much beer and a blur of ripped up paper!

...And who were the best and friendliest bands you played with ? Any that you were happy not to see again?

Glenn: We always got on very well with Mega City 4, despite having fuck all in common in most respects. Thrilled Skinny were one of my favourite bands anyway, so gigging with them was always a joy. Ditto The Capitols. The Darling Buds were very nice. The Flatmates became good friends of course. As in life, most people were great and you soon forget or learn to ignore the arseholes.

Rocker: Wedding Present, Thrilled Skinny, Inspiral Carpets, Chesterfields, Mega City 4, Bubblegum Splash. Can't remember any total wankers (perhaps that's a benefit of hindsight!)

Pete: The Groove Farm were always great live as were the Mega City Four. Darling Buds were terrific too - ditto the Seers. Everyone in those bands was very friendly to us.

Yo: There were some really good venues - TJ's - Newport, the Bunker - Bristol, Boardwalk - Manchester, Square Club - Cardiff and we played with some nice people - Groovies, MC4, Seers, MBV, Wedding Preseent. Didn't have any issues with anybody except a local band's jealous roadie.

Mark 1: I would say most bands we played with were fine with us, I never came across any arrogant twats or people with their heads up their own arses back then. I've met a lot since though.

Mark 2: Wedding Present, Thrilled Skinny, Groove Farm and Mega City 4 stick out in my mind as being particularly friendly. I can’t really remember meeting any real knobheads.

Ant: I'm with the others on this one. I cant remember any twats at all.

Much later we came across the Secret compilation cd, completely by chance. The mind boggled at the time as to what fairy godmother was responsible for a Rosehips retrospective, especially on what we think was a US label - how did that come about?

Mark 1: Totally out of the blue, and for reasons I still quite can't understand. Ant rang me to ask if I would mind some label putting out the old stuff. I didn't see a reason as to why not.

Rocker: They e-mailed us and asked us if we were interested in releasing a compilation - we were!

Ant: I must admit I thought it was a wind-up, or somebody had won the lottery, decided to put a record out, taken a big bag of drugs, stuck a pin in the a to z of all the bands that ever existed ever and landed on us! Nice though.

Rocker: And also we had the extra tracks sitting around and had no plans for any other releases.

Looking back, should there have been more "sympathy" for the Rosehips?

Pete: No not at all - the recordings are still there for whoever to discover. I thought it a bit odd that the later stuff didn't get much attention as there was a some good material. But the music scene was changing - the 90s and all that were just around the corner, so I suppose it was not surprising.

Mark 2: It is difficult to feel too much sympathy for the Rosehips, in either incarnation. We did what we wanted to do, all had a good time doing it and never really wanted to be big stars or make money anyway. We all came out of it the other end relatively unscathed and we all still like each other.

Yo: It was all a very long time ago, I'm surprised anyone remembers let alone cares, but I'd prefer to be associated with venom than with cuteness, it's truer.

Glenn: I'm glad that whoever liked it liked it. I honestly don't think we were good enough to stick around much longer. It's a shame perhaps that we didn't get to stick out some of those later songs a bit earlier because I agree with you that some of them are the best stuff we did.

Rocker: I think the band was tarnished with a "twee" label that was inaccurate!

But does it bug you that your later songs, especially, slipped under the radar?

Mark 1: No the earlier stuff was always better, especially the drumming!

Mark 2: Poor Mark, he’s clearly mad and his delusional psychosis clearly merits all our “sympathies”.

Ant: I have a massive confession Marks 1 and 2. I played drums on all Rosehips tracks! When you boys were in the pub or chasing women I overdubbed all drum tracks!!

Did you formally split up ? Or did Rosehips mk II just slowly disappear ?

Glenn: Well I decided to finish and I remember telling Ant (and Yo, I think) at some local punk gig in the Sutherland Arms. Just that I was finishing - that didn't necessarily mean the end of the band, although I think Ant and Mark 2 had The Venus Beads going by then anyway, so they obviously decided to concentrate on that.

Rocker: Glenn was frustrated that the band weren't doing better, and we all knew we couldn't carry on without Glenn.

Pete: Without Glenn it wouldn't have been the same.

Ant: I'm with Glenn on this one. I thought it had run its course at the same time as Glenn, its just that he was the first to say. I had started Venus Beads with Mark and all my attentions had become focused on that. Having said that I know that I wouldn't be doing what I am today if me and Glenn hadn't formed the Rosehips!

Mark 2: Me and Ant were on the dole and doing the Venus Beads - but were still into doing the Rosehips as well. I always thought it ended quite well. Everyone was still enjoying it and we had not descended into some kind of collective depression about the way things were going. Everything has to end somewhere and it would have been unthinkable to have gone on without Glenn.

Yo: We all wanted different stuff by then anyway. Ant and Mark 2 had formed the Venus Beads and we were busy working. Our last gig was difficult to do, we said goodbye with our best and biggest bang.

Pete: We had gigs booked so when we played at Busby's in Bristol we'd all known for weeks in advance that it would be the last one.

Some of the tracks that never saw the light of day - at least until the Heaven and Secret reissues - were the best things you ever did - "Bloodstained fur", "I fell in love with a fashion victim", "A slow painful death to vivisectionists everywhere..." ( we were so taken with the vocal version of that - again, the vitriol, particularly in that last verse, fair takes your head off...) um, yes, the question... was it intended to release them earlier ? Is there anyone we can blame for that not happening at the time ?

Glenn: Well nobody offered us a record deal (although, to be fair, I don't remember actually trying very hard to get one) and we'd probably run out of money by then. Just one of the great tragedies in the history of art I guess...

Pete: Yeah I think those tracks are pretty strong. We were just beginning to get our own individual band sound when Glenn decided to finish. Rocker was going to put out a single or something but didn't have the cash or we'd split by that stage.Rocker: I had been planning to put out "Bloodstained Fur" myself, but the band split before it happened.

Yo: You can blame me for "Fashion Victim" I really disliked it, couldn't sing it, or much else for that matter. "A slow painful death to vivisectionists everywhere" with words was recorded for the Animal Liberation Front. It made me realise why Southerners think I'm Scouse when I'm angry. The instrumental version is my favourite Rosehips recording, it twanged like it was born to surf!

Ant: I loved all of those tracks but I think for me, we had run out of steam.

Mark 2: Yeah - I like all those songs the most and no one is to blame for them not ever having been released at the time. The main thing is they were released eventually I suppose (to be discovered and revered by future generations no doubt!)

And what are you all up to now?

Yo: We all do stuff we are interested in I think. I'm still doing (and just about hanging on to my own) Mental Health - very topical, poor old Bruno, the Sun should be litigated into oblivion, etc, etc. Best not to get myself started unless you really want to know about the Recovery Model and the appalling lack of Dual Diagnosis provision...

Mark 1: I'm still writing music all the time, I was in a band called StuntRyder that sort of fizzled away but still sit down with a guitar and drum machine and write stuff (all kinds really). I opened a recording / rehearsal studio in Stoke which I later sold on to Ant, believe it or not...

Glenn: I've just finished a history PhD and begun lecturing part-time in Irish history at Staffs University.

Pete: I make music with Trilemma, run the Blue Minnow label with Rob from Trilemma and work in adult education.

Rocker: I still live in Bristol - haven't been up to Stoke for a couple of years now - I play keyboards for "McDowell" - currently (and slowly) working on our second LP. I also DJ as "B_Man" and play progressive house music.

Mark 2: I never drum to the relief of my neighbours and girlfriend. I still listen to music all the time but am ashamed to admit I can’t really be that arsed with actively seeking out new talent - local or otherwise.

Ant: For my sins I am still in the music business. I did indeed buy Mark's rehearsal studio, then opened a recording studio. I'm currently the co-owner of the Sugarmill, a 400 capacity club/live music venue in Stoke. I manage Agent Blue, who are signed to Island Records having done their first single on Fierce Panda.

No chance of a "sell-out" comeback tour like every other band "from the 80s"?

Pete: The Rosehips had their time and it's to best leave it at that, so no - we won't play together again! No one would really be interested anyway - especially us!

Mark 1: I wouldn't do a comeback tour, I think some things are best left alone.

Ant: Best leave the past in the past.

OK... so what bands should we be listening to, especially from Stoke at the moment ? Are we remiss in only being aware of Trilemma?

Glenn: The Mittens are great. Pete MUST have told you about the Mittens!

Pete: The Mittens are fantastic but I would say that having done some recording with them, helping them out and what-not!

Mark 2: I have seen the Mittens I can confirm they are fantastic. The VC’s - formerly Albino - formally Reverse - are still going from strength to strength. I am sure this is not an exhaustive list of local talent - it’s just the ones I can remember.

Glenn: Agent Blue are also jolly good but they're on some Billy-big-bollocks label now!

Ant: As for Stoke talent, obviously Agent Blue who have just finished their debut album, also VC's, Trilemma, Alfa 9, Shiro etc.

Pete: Agent Blue have bucked the trend of guitar bands from here by signing a major deal. Sculptress are haunting and atmospheric, Japhy Ryder and His Band are working on a lo-fi summery pop gem of a record - not that I've a personal interest in that. Oh no!! Ha!

Mark 1: I've not heard any bands from Stoke that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up for a long time.

Yo: The world should be listening to Texas Radio Band, Man....or Astroman? and Cerys Matthews and should be feeding the birds, remembering the miners and discovering Oatcakes.

Rocker: Bristol bands to watch for: Radon Daughters and Hazel Winter.

Pete: Other stuff, the Hidden Cameras lp is fantastic, all the Low records are amazing, the Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Raveonettes.....

And the quickfire buzzer round to finish...

Favourite Rosehips song ?

Glenn: Well as a result of this website business, I've listened to the stuff again for the first time in years (because people asked me for tapes etc) and I must say, a lot of it is better than I thought. Overall, probably Bloodstained Fur - but they all have fond associations for me.

Rocker: Bloodstained Fur.

Mark 2: Bloodstained Fur or A Slow Painful Death.

Yo: A Slow Painful Death... or That was your life.

Mark 1: The Last Light , 'cos it got us going. ["The Last Light" appeared on the "take the subway to your suburb" label comp - the first ever Rosehips release]

Ant: Dangerous Transmitter and The Last Light.

Pete: Difficult one but I'd probably go for So Naîve or Fashion Victim.

Rosehip tea or earl grey ? [Staffordshire caff proprietors, start taking notes here]

Glenn: Ooh God, neither.

Rocker: Tesco own brand, white no sugar please.

Pete: Earl Brutus for me!

Yo: Hard tap water that's come via old lead pipes.

Mark 1: Coffee white 1/2 a sugar.

Mark 2: Just normal tea.

Ant: PG, dead strong, leave the bag in for about 10 mins, tiny bit of milk and a 1/16th of a sugar... not that I'm fussy or anything.

Hardcore or R&B?

Glenn: Hardcore punk or techno? I'm not mad on techno I must admit, but I love good R&B (in its 1960s and 21st century incarnations) and of course I will always love the Kennedys, the Flag, MDC [oh yes - back of the net] and all those doods.

Pete: Definitely NOT R&B!

Rocker: Which hardcore is that? I have a particular hatred of "The Streets"

Yo: Surf-punk.

Mark 1: Definitely hardcore.... (we are on about porn aren't we??) [again, yes. good spot]

Mark 2: Hardcore every time.

Vale or Stoke City?

Yo: Vale - obviously.

Mark 1: Red and white all the way.

Ant, Mark 2: Stoke City.

Glenn: I'm a City boy, for my sins. Season ticket holder for donkeys' years and currently praying for a miracle.

Pete: I'm a lapsed Stoke City fan. I used to have a season ticket when they had a good team in the top division but lost interest when they started playing rubbish football! [we make this about 1985, fact fans.] Always had a soft spot for the Vale though.

Rocker: Bristol is unique in having two crap teams...

John Peel - god or god ? (sorry for leading question, but he united us with your music, for a start...)

Mark 2: Isn't he that bloke who does Home Truths ?

Glenn: Er, God.

Yo: Pope John Peel...

Rocker: Peel is still god.

Pete: Irreplaceable.

Mark 1: Not trying to be controversial but he plays far, far too much shite for me, he has done for years and I don't know anyone who listens to him on a regular basis any more. Best before end of 1990. Good when he played us though.

Ant: One of the proudest moments of my life was when he started his show with a Rosehips track!... that reminds me I really should try and get out more...

Yo: Radio Times is very dull without his column, yes we are that old, ooh, time for Gardener's World, must go...

* * * * *

and with that, they were indeed gone. thank you to all the rosehips, basically for being so fabulous, but especially to pete for co-ordinating the whole exercise so patiently. er, and sorry to all of them for not flagging more clearly that we were being ironic with the u2 reference (although unlike the rosehips, we are - unironically - lovers of xr3s...) anyway, enough of us. did we mention there is a rosehips website ? thought so - you should go there. now. ILWTTISOTT

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Archive Series: Trilemma

Trilemma. Midwinter 2003.

“Isn't everything about seduction these days ?"

the gentlecore trio trilemma have seeped forth from stoke- on- trent in the past couple of years and gently plied their way to our ears via a four-track ep, "crowded wilderness", on the possibly eclectic kitchen records of bolton. a glance at trilemma's website told us that they're not shy of a bit of verbiage, so we thought we'd test the limits by throwing a few open questions at Rob Trilemma and seeing what bounced back. given rob's expansive replies, we decided to set out the exchange out at some length so as to shed as much light as possible on the deep detail behind their deceptively simple murmurings... so if you want to know how Francis Fukuyama, Guy Debord and that stage-school jeremy Robbie Williams fit into Trilemma's worldview, prepare to be sated. trilemma also have many words on our own passion for d.i.y. (music, not bricolage - in love with these times in spite of tthese times towers are a mess of wonky shelving) which will hopefully inspire more and more of you to c-r-e-a-t-e... indeed, parts of this interview are as close as we've ever come to rockschool. except if rockschool was good. anyway, on to our first incisive, original question...

* * * * *

who are trilemma ?

At present there're 3 of us - Pete, Rob, Mark. But others are welcome to feed ideas and stuff into the fray.

and when and how did you come together ?

Well, I've sort of lost track. Probably 3 or 4 years ago now. Quite possibly more. I approached Pete with the idea of recording some sounds and music. I knew he had home-recording equipment that was sort of gathering dust, plus I'd known him from the local Stoke scene since 1845. We had dabbled in indie-schmindie, punky row pop projects for years before the Trilemma thing. Mark was a drummer we had both known, also through the intricate, meandering and infinitely complex network of Stoke's underground music scene. But Mark is something of an enigma - and hasn't been seen for months now. Of course, this doesn't stop Trilemma from working. Me and Pete just use old fashioned beat-boxes or biscuit tins if we need a groovy rhythm track to accompany our paeans of urban demise.

your name is a comment on what ? the nature of choice and consumerism ? or is that too simplistic ?

No that's not too simplistic. But it gets a bit complex quite quickly. Our notion of the trilemma relates to the idea of the end of the dialectic. I.e. the impasse that appears to have emerged in relation to the primary source of historical development - namely class struggle. The main antagonism, between the owners of the means of production and those who must live by selling their labour power, seems to have been resolved. As Frank Fukayama would say, it is the end of history. The west has won. But FF would, being an apologist for the US, affirm this situation as inherently positive. It is posited as the victory of western democracy and the 'free' market. As you might expect, Trilemma's position is somewhat opposed to this view. Drawing from Debord's idea of the spectacle, we would probably want to argue that all key forms of resistance have been 'recuperated by the spectacle' - i.e. any means of challenging authority in meaningful and effective ways have now been colonised by the market. From the dialectic resolving itself in some Utopian state, the dialectic seems to have been limping along on its negative side. Whenever the coin of history lands, it is face down. Humanity's face, ground into the dust. Hahaha. Bear with my stentorian tones, I'm warming to this. We are sold Nike trainers and wear them as a badge of gangsterism, a symbol that the dominant liberal values are to be rejected, etc. - whatever - with little or no acknowledgement that thhe process of production involves the exploitation of children, etc. etc. In other words, all means of making a statement against the current arrangements seem to be neutralised at a higher level. This higher level is the Trilemma.

Or another possible example is this; I remember when I was little (must have been about 1979) I was watching Top of the Pops when Lennon's 'Imagine' was at number one. Sitting there watching the video for the song, I was just horrified that something so hideously crap was selling so many copies. I wanted the Buzzcocks or X-Ray Spex, etc. Now, in retrospect if you listen to Imagine, it's actually got some quite radical (though also idealist and Utopian) messages - like the blanket critique of religion, etc. I can't believe that most of the people who bought that record also bought into the message of the lyrics. Rather, because it appeared on their TVs - a nice white room, a man, a woman, a piano etc. - they thought it was safe, polite, 'good'. In other words, the process of presenting the message through mass media somehow served to negate and neutralise any radical content. Something like that anyway.

To be brutally honest though, the meaning of the name Trilemma tends to change every time we think about it. Somedays it gets so abstract that it begins to signify a desire to affirm the ontological value of change, rather than stasis or inertia, but always having to rely upon a stable system (i.e. language) to do that. Other days it starts to evolve as a way to explain the death of the city in which we live. There is a triangular shape marking out 3 locations in our locality at which key events tend to occur. For instance, Stoke has the only recorded case of death by vampire. That's actually what the coroner's report said. But there are other places within the triangle that are sites of other more sick and grisly affairs. The vampire thing sounds a bit Carry On, but the plot sickens quite quickly. So that's another mode of the Trilemma. Gosh - there're so many!!! Heh.

is the concept of home recording something you hold particularly dear, as an anti-"industry" principle, say (the detail on the website seems like an attempt to demystify the whole recording process) or is it more just the fact that recording at home suits you as a group ? given the sound and song quality that you've managed to produce without a "traditional" studio, do you think that more people should be doing the same thing ?

I love the fact that you use the term 'demystify'. That is exactly what I've been trying to get at over the last few years or so. We really do believe that a lot of the recording processes needed to realise and convey ideas in sound and music can be controlled by those who are creating and making them. The traditional divisions of labour that used to define pop music have all but dissolved. Key here is that between band and engineer (or producer). This seems to be largely due to the appearance of digital technology, and its increasing availability to mere mortals. In turn, this has made "obsolete" analog equipment even more affordable. Hence a 4-track to cassette multi-tracker can now be bought new for about £60. It's worth mentioning here that single recorded by White Town called 'Your Woman' - it was recorded on a Tascam 488 I think. Anyway, it went to No.1 in about 20 territories or something insane. So there really is no excuse for not recording your own stuff anymore.

Of course, it can be objected that you need 'expertise'. However, it's easily possible to dabble for a few days until you get the basic hang of it. Pretty soon you can be recording a full band. You really don't need to spend that much on (e.g.) mics at all. An old fashioned PZM (£20 2nd hand) and a Shure SM57 are all that 's needed. Admittedly, it probably won't sound like Buch Vig or Albini have been at the controls - but then, if you went into your local demo studio the same will apply. Most small town pro-sound engineers seem to be Marillion or Genesis freaks, sporting horrendous pony tails or, worse, mullets. And then you wonder why your stuff comes out sounding like utter plop. The only way forward is to get going with a humble 4 track, or even 8 track to cassette, if you can manage to find one. If you want proof that this works, simply listen to Grandaddy's first Lp, or Sparklehorse's 1st, or even Elliott Smith's 'Either/Or' or 'X-O'.

Is there any reason to want more of a sound than this? If you feel like a 4 track recording has not done justice to your songs, it may well be that your songs are crap. Go back, write some more - keep recording until you do good stuff. See, you can't do that if you go down the traditional 'book into a studio for 2 days and pray everything turns out great' route. It's too expensive. Much better to get stuck in on the old home-fi front. I know loads of people reading this will probably say 'we know, we know!!!!' But I'd put good money on the fact that there will be many more who are sceptical and think unless you've got a 1/2" machine or a 2" Studer there's no way you can come up with the goods. This is utter shite, and serves to relieve bands of cash they could otherwise pool and buy some little set-up of their own.

Obviously we wouldn't want to hold up any of our own recordings as the best advert for DIY multi-tracking, though!! There are all sorts of errors (over enthusiastic mastering levels, poor use of compression during tracking, etc. etc.). However, we get close enough for our purposes - and despite the rough edges it seems to us that we've achieved a certain atmosphere in the stuff we've done so far. One way or another I've had a fair bit of experience of recording in professional studios and I honestly think they can very easily detract from the creation of feelings, of meaningful performances (whatever that may mean!!) and of a general sort of ambience that is the band's own personal thang. I liked it when Jason whatsisname from Grandaddy described pro studios as 'hospitals' (in TapeOp magazine) - if he means that they are clinical and slightly morbid then I get that.

But on the subject of why Trilemma do it the DIY-fi way, I'd have to say it's a combination of design and default. The latter in that we are both too mean to shell out on 'proper' recordings, and the former in that we like to lounge around and take our time. Which is difficult when you're paying by the hour, of course. I'd better just qualify this thing of taking our time. We're not painstaking about our recordings - that will be obvious. Most stuff is first or second take. And we don't spend too long over choosing sounds either. If it seems to be in the right sort of area, well that's fine. Let's press record and bloody well waste some ferrous oxide or whatever. We prefer to record far more stuff than we 'need' and then to come back to it at a later date when we can hear it with something like a third party's pair of ears. So what I meant about taking time was more about loafing through ideas - and abandoning them quickly if they aren't working. It's usually apparent pretty soon if something's working or not.

Another point that might be worth mentioning is that DIY-fi suits us because our sound is quite devoutly not RAWK orientated. In other words, we don't make a big racket - this means that we can record our stuff and be as quiet as church mice. We can carry on late at night, despite that Pete's house is an end terrace and his neighbour is a wife-beating psychopath who would rip a person's face clean off at the slightest provocation. This isn't to suggest that the home-fi route isn't for you if you're into creating RAWK sounds - just that to do that genre's sounds justice you'll probably have to record much of it at a local practice studio. Playing big rock drum sounds in your house probably isn't going to pacify the spouse killing lunatic looking for an excuse to bite someone's nose off.

are the four songs on "crowded wilderness" fairly representative of your musical manifesto ? (i don't suppose you have any views on the recent press fad / mantra that "quiet is the new loud" ?)

Basically, yes. However, there're no instrumentals on the 7", and we do like to get into that side of things - where the atmosphere is the key, rather than the melody or tune. Having said that, our main focus tends to fall on straightforward 'songs' - verse/chorus, hummable harmonies etc etc. In some ways, these are the most difficult kinds of things to write and record. We really do want to write a, ahem, 'classic'. We honestly try to create songs that are as good as anything that's commonly regarded as the best songs ever written. We're not embarrassed by this aspiration. And we think we're getting closer to this goal - we have quite a large number of songs waiting to be recorded, some of which promise to be as good as anything that's out there at the moment. In our wilder moments, we sometimes think we can better the best ever - and if you want some idea of what we regard as the best I'll just toss in 'May I' by Kevin Ayers. Yes, yes!!! It's got Mike Oldfield playing bass on it, but even so. If that song doesn't melt you alive then you are beyond help. [umm... ed.]

But what is our 'music manifesto'? Heh, erm. Like I said, we really are primarily concerned with trying to write and record songs that only the most hard-hearted of nay-sayers could possibly turn their nose up at. How do we know when we've achieved this? Ha! Dunno. Our only test, really, is to come back to stuff after a while, and see how it catches us. This is difficult, because obviously you get quite involved with an idea during the process of recording it, but this is partly why we try to work so quickly. The faster you can move from the moment you have the idea, to the point where a final mix is going down, the more likely you are to be able to tell if the thing is any good later. Basically, you don't let the idea become too familiar and you are still in a position where you can begin to hear it as a totally unfamiliar listener might do. This, in turn, links to our wider objective - which is basically to make music that we can enjoy in the same way, and to the same extent, that we enjoy other people's music. Some people I talk to (who're also involved in making music) regard this as a futile goal, or as a mad and strange sort of aim. But what other purpose could there be to making music? I suppose these types would say it's all about communicating or something - that the reall objective should be to convey feelings or meanings to others, not yourself!!! I'd argue that unless you can be convinced that what you've recorded is enjoyable (or 'effective', if you prefer that), then what chance - or what RIGHT - have you got to expect anyone else to regard it in that way? Our aims are really not as narcissistic as they might seem.

But back to the 7" and the question of whether the songs are representative. In some ways, they're just not the whole story. A better picture can be gleaned from the full length cd we've recently done for the paper-based zine Robots and Electronic Brains. We did a 100 run of cds for REBs subscribers. It's a 12 track fiasco and covers more ground than the ep (incidentally it's called 'Push What is Collapsing' - some Nietzsche quote or other, if memory serves). We do get into a kind of punky or new-wavey feel in places, and some pieces are quite influenced by Can too. In other words, we only go so far with this notion of 'Quiet is the new loud.' As I said above, our sound is partly dictated by the environment in which we record - we couldn't do RAWK sounds even if we wanted to. However, we do like to piss about with dynamics, and sometimes loud is necessary. I use the term in a relative sense - we never get absolutely LOUD. But we do use a full drum kit and Mark does lash out occasionally - if we require a bit of drama!! But I think loud is probably the new loud right now. The whole garage punk stylee seemed to nip the quiet thing in the bud.

Speaking personally though, Trilemma are generally more concerned with warping the listener's mind through a process of seduction, rather than aggression. I think aggression is kind of a spent force - certainly for me. But also in a Baudrillardian sense too. Isn't everything about seduction these days? We're no longer kept in line with rifle butts and truncheons! It seems to be more a case of quietly appealing to the senses, to desire and to the flesh. That's how the system is working these days. We're pacified by nice images, by the promise of luxury, by the lush scenery of Utopia. So we want to get into that whole seduction thing, and try and fuck it up somehow. We're not sure if it's possible - but that's where we're heading. Keeping things soft, sweet and incredibly sexy. Haha. As if. But you know what I mean. We want to slip quietly into the listener's consciousness and then plant a seed of dispair. That, hopefully, will grow into a massive tree of behavioural disorder. No, no. I'm fibbing! Well, partly. Trilemma are softly, softly though. And sometimes our intentions are wholesome (we genuinely do want to provide soundtracks for snogging and prolonged frottage sessions), other times we want to unsettle and distress. That's DISTRESS not DE-STRESS, NB.

as you may have gathered, "satellite town" is our favourite song on the ep - i grew up in a satellite town in essex and the song very much pricked many of those memories... we think its atmosphere far better conjures up the real, stilting frustration you feel at times in that situation than a loud, shouty song could ever do... is it very much a song written from personal experience ?

I'm really glad you like Satellite Town - it was my favourite too. It's stupidly ambitious though, and I think an earlier version may have been better. The version on the ep has a bass guitar added, whereas the first recording didn't bother trying to anchor the sound with a big bottom end. We just let the Wurlitzer piano soundalike do that job. But in the second attempt I have a nasty feeling we muddied the sound up. It's a horrible feeling to think that we plumped for the wrong version!

Anyway, shouty songs only get you so far. They do a great job of exploring a certain spectrum of feelings and frustrations, but ultimately, the loud, punky kind of approach only takes you so far. Then you have to get off and walk. Unless, of course, the Trilemma taxi is passing. In which case we will pick you up and take you right into the heart of darkness.

I also think that S-Town's words are the best on the ep, certainly they're the most 'lyrical'. All that shit about 'pylons spitting through the fog' - I like that bit. You see, our home town (which, with well over 1/4 million population, is actually a city) is very much a Town. It's sandwiched between 2 much larger cities - Brum and Manc are both 45 miles away. Noone comes into our town, and noone leaves. It's quite colloquial, inward looking and - let's be honest - backwards. Almost all our songs are about escape, and leaving this place. Sometimes we address this literally as in S-Town, sometimes it's more metaphorical. But what gets confusing is that this idea of escape becomes another kind of metaphor, which ties in with the meaning of the Trilemma. Wasn't there a key Situationist text called 'Leaving the 20th Century'? Guy Debord, again - I think. So leaving the Satellite Town starts to become some sort of metaphor for a much wider idea of moving on - of not being stranded in the old ways of tradition, of conserving, of bolstering what is teetering on the brink of death. Push What is Collapsing! But I think S-Town is in some ways too adventurous for its own good - in terms of its instrumentation, I mean. Haha - you know that Soft Cell song 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye'? Well, that's the kind of sound we were toying with. We love our draggy '80s electro-fops, we really do. Despite that we're very unglamorous ourselves. I'm ruining it for you aren't I? I'll move on swiftly!

do you think the main role of music should lie more as art, self-expression or entertainment (we appreciate they're hardly exclusive) ? the impression conjured up by the lyrics to the ep and the writing on the website is almost that you're looking to introduce something else - music as philosophy too, maybe...

Well, I certainly loathe the almost book-burning attitude of certain celeb-thugs. Remember when Noel Gallagher bragged that he'd never read a book? What are we meant to conclude? That reading is stupid? That those of us who sit down in our draughty rooms and plough through Das Capital are reprehensible losers and terminally unfashionable? It's not the admission of ignorance that bothers me - rather, the apparent pride. Another proud fool is Robbie Williams. Stupid wanker - and we're now invited to believe that he has impeccable rock credentials or something. Please. I shouldn't get worked up, I know. On one level I suppose the attitude of these dicks is inevitable. You pass through a shitty state school system that endows reading and study with all the allure of turd counting or naval picking, so its no wonder we reject anything resembling learning and study, etc. But I'm afraid there really is ultimately no excuse. You have to punch through that shit and realise that the system would love to believe it's managed to convince you you're stupid and that all you're fit for is communicating garbage and less than worthless aphorisms. I know that the whole Gallagher / Williams attitude is about saying "Ha - we're not worthless, we're rich and people love us."' Well, people don't love them. People just buy the shit and forget about it. As for the rich thing, are we honestly meant to think that we too can do it ? That all we have to do is have some kind of self-belief and we too can become celeb millionaires? [and this is what eminem seems to be saying at the moment, too... ed] Utter cack. This is just Thatcherism in the context of popular musical culture. It's another take on the very individualism that serves to negate the possibility of any far reaching resistance born of collective struggle.

So it perhaps goes without saying that Trilemma are trying to do something other than entertain. But the rub is that there's something quite appalling in having a message pushed into your face. Politics and music are difficult to put together without the preaching thing doing your head in. So in so far as we try to communicate something we do it in camouflage, and surreptitiously. Oh, I don't know. Basically though, we are very much into mucking around with philosophical ideas and trying to convey this stuff in songs and sound. Yes, we fail. Yes, we try too hard sometimes. Yes, we believe music can be more than entertainment.

does the "internet age" make it easier for you to find / communicate with others (whether bands, labels etc) who share your artistic vision ? are there others around at the moment, whether writers or musicians, who you do see as kindred spirits ?

I was a luddite for years but recently I made the heroic effort to resolve this. Going to college introduced me to PCs and the internet. I'd still be trying to work out how to change the battery in my digital watch were it not for a series of accidents (girlfriends having PCs and lap-tops etc etc, and me drifting back into F/T education after years of casual employment). I still love paper based zines, but it's great to google stuff and find new ezines that would otherwise have remained unknown to you. Where Trilemma lag behind is with regard to up-loading mp3 stuff. We still haven't sussed that really. Which is a bit sad. But, yes, I'm completely convinced by ICT. I wouldn't be without internet access now at all. It's changed everything for me. I've downloaded WAV files and written songs around them - some of which I think are the best thingss I've ever done. I've logged onto message boards and had hideously vicious and protracted arguments with people (typical here is a series of spats on the TapeOp message board - Christ I really went to town on those wankers, with their hatred of lo-fi approaches and such like).

what other musicians, historically, do you respectively like and / or feel influenced by ?

In some ways I think The Smiths were the last great band - because they really did do it independently. Yes, they sold out to EMI in the end but before that they were perfect. I never realised this at the time and used to gently ridicule a close friend who was besotted by them. I also look back on the Velvet Underground as somehow perfect too. But for years I would just say it was punk that influenced me. From buying Buzzcocks and Stranglers records when I was 10 (in '78), right through to the rise of Husker Du in the early mid '80s. Punk was where I was really. But slightly more recently I don't think there're aspects of any genre I don't like and/or respect. Apart from ambient World Music and New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Well, apart from [Iron] Maiden with Dianno. I'm joking!!! I much prefer Bruce Dickinson [ex-olympic fencer and now charter airline pilot - ! - who also happened to spend many years as iron maiden's lead vocalist]...

when can we expect to hear more from the trilemma camp ? are there planned future releases on the way ?

Uhm, well we're working on stuff constantly. I think we managed to get quite a lot done in 2002, but that was a bit of a fluke because for 2 or 3 years before that nothing much happened. I think we'll be ploughing similarly diverse and varied song styles in '03 and trying to release stuff via cdr and fanzine freebies. That suits us - it's good because it works for us and zines. It's just a matter of finding paper based zines that like us enough to include cdrs in their mail outs and such like. Obviously we'd like to do vinyl releases but it's getting harder and harder and we really don't have much truck with the 'record a demo, send it out' mentality.

a trite question, we know, but what are trilemma reading at the moment ?

I just finished Donna Tart's The Secret History. That was ok, silly in places and a bit long but quite compelling I suppose. I also read Clockwork Orange for the Nth time this year. It gets better, believe it or not. Also Notes From Underground (Dostoievsky) - hilarious. Really very funny. Dunno if that was ol' Fire Door's intention, but the main character is a pisser. I love that Russian novel convention of having the distraught and alienated low-ranking civil servant office drone as the main man. I always think of Mark E. Smith for some reason. Also Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life - he's a much more lucid writer than Debord. The chapter called Down Quantity Street was ringing Big Ben-like bells. Also I bought a copy of Bataille's Bule of Noon - you can do it in an afternoon. Or a long bath, providing you have enough hot water.

and we always have to know... trilemma football allegiances (if any, of course) ?

Well, Pete's a Stoke City boy really - even if he becomes gradually more ashamed to admit it. Me, I probably go for Port Vale, even though Pete will sink a Stanley knife into my thigh for even thinking such a thing.

finally, for those who haven't yet heard trilemma, how would you recommend the experience to them ?

Imagine being immersed in a sensory deprivation tank filled not with water but lysergic acid. You have been enclosed in this vessel for 48 hours and urine and fecal matter have contaminated the liquid. The sounds you begin to hear are actually images of darkness twisted into hallucinations via a process of synaesthesia. Luckily for humanity, Trilemma have recorded these psychic artefacts and used them to accompany nice sing-along ditties for the delectation of the listening public. Mmm-mmmm - tasty snacklets for the ears and brain!!!

* * * * *

i'm sure it was daylight outside when we started reading ?.. anyway, agreed with (big ben-like) bells on, especially about recording studio snobs and the smiths... despite rob's protestations, "satellite town" still shimmers with of all the nervous energy and scary potential of the young hood, distilled into a handful of grooves, and it can be found with three shy but inspired companions on "crowded wilderness", which is available for a two pound coin via Kitchen Records (bother them at [note: no doubt long-out of date address excised]....) and we would like to thank rob and pete trilemma (and in his absence mark trilemma) once more. ILWTTISOTT

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Archive Series: Pinkie

Pinkie. "Summer" 2002.

“Yes, I've been writing this kind of thing for ever..."

ANYONE ELSE OUT there who had a spring put into their step by that little groovy bassline in Brighter's magnificent "Killjoy" ? Who wore a indelible smile from the moment that the multi-layered melodies of Hal's "Election day" oozed gloriously into their ears ? Who dared to move out of the shadows and dance to the likes of Fosca's "All I Know" ? Yes ? First, thank this man. Second, get in touch with us. We will buy you many drinks.

Worthing's own Alex Sharkey released his first solo work as Pinkie on Planting Seeds Records of Virginia, USA last year. The excellent "My little experiment" mini-LP incorporates seven songs, including the two that we gabbled about here. It's an album of careful mood and tone, relatively sparse in the instrumentation when it has to be, but allowing Alex to develop a "solo" personality with his gentle vocal. It mixes those early Sarah guitars with sweeps of keyboard and some softly mournful, but far from suicidal, lyrics. We guess it's one of those records that's just an antidote to the corporate suffocation, the capitalist consumerism, of the professional balladeers. When you're crammed against the doors of the 8.37 to Waterloo, lamenting the lack of staying power of modern deodrant, and have tired of craning your neck in a vain attempt to read the morning papers over people's shoulders, the likes of "Two angels" or "You Shouldn't Have" are manna from heaven, transporting you outside and to a time when your thought processes involved your friends, your hapless attempts at relationships and your aspirations, rather than the constant nagging of work commitments... maybe those cramped around you can even see how you're being transported away, feeling serene, and how suddenly the heat of the carriage and the droning of the bloke next to you into his Nokia aren't bothering you at all...

Um, anyway. With becoming promptness, Alex answered "a few" questions that had been carefully composed for him one overcast Sunday in Bermondsey...

* * * * *

first there was brighter, where we first came across you, shyly plucking bass in unjustifiably small venues... were you a member from the start, or did you get roped in as worldwide fame began to beckon ?

back in our school days myself and keris [howard, 50% of harper lee] used to form bands all the time... though always with just the two of us in them... we didn't really like other people... but I used to write the more poppy stuff and he would knock out the morose numbers... eventually we decided that musically we'd try going our separate ways and shortly after he became involved with Sarah Records and I became involved with a dodgy record mogul from Barrow-in-Furness. Needless to say his venture proved more fruitful and after the second ep/single ("Noah's Ark") I became a full time member of Brighter (along with Alison).

how do you look back on those "brighter" years ?

I do look back on the brighter years with happy memories... excitement... total naïvety... and seeming to believe I was some kind of alternative indie Keith Moon... without the constitution... well maybe I was...

then with Hal (we've always felt "election day" to be cruelly underrated, not to mention underexposed) it sounds like you perhaps took a more prominent role in arranging / programming the songs ?

even if I say so myself... (and probably no-one's going to say it for me) "election day" did form some kind of pop perfection... unfortunately (at the time at least) no-one else agreed. I did all the arranging and programming in my little bedroom in Worthing... with some samples added by our engineer friend Mike Roberts in the studio... so put simply, in answer to your question... yes...

and after hal, you didn't resurface until the start of this century, in the "mk.2" fosca. so what had you been doing with yourself in the meantime ? were there any musical projects going on ?

um... kind of... Hal took a great deal out of me emotionally... myself and keris believed Hal should inherit the earth by right... and when we didn't... we thought the next best alternative was to play playstation games... and I suppose at the same time... whether I knew it or not... I was working on the future Pinkie back catalogue...

how did it feel to be involved in the writing process again (and a collaborative process at that) for the first fosca album ["on earth to make the numbers up"] ? were you happy with the results ?

it was kind of strange... I was ready to get back into circulation... and Dickon [Edwards. Fosca. You know] asked if I'd like to collaborate in Fosca... except... although I had already made a start on Pinkie... and was committed to the 'stripped down' jangling guitar stylee I've come to make my own... he was after a style similar to that successfully created for Hal... does irony work via email... probably not without the smiley face things... so it was back to the programming and arranging and trying to layer tunes and musical flourishes to make things as musically interesting and pleasant as possible... as to how did it feel?... well it felt like really hard work... that's not meant as any criticism of Dickon... it's just that trying to work on a large number of songs in a really short period of time... and produce something you're happy with is hard work... but what kept me going was the assumption of being a springboard to the next step... ie global fame... with Dickon's professional personality brand and my musical genius it was surely a passport to immortality?! What could possibly go wrong??!!

dickon implied in a recent interview that ultimately there wasn't room for both of you in fosca, perhaps because it was always "his" band. but i thought perhaps the reason you left might have been more to do with the impracticality of being a "writing" but not a "playing live" member of a band... could you shed any light on this ?

I suppose if I was anyone else I'd keep a dignified silence on this... but unfortunately I'm not.... I have to admit that the puny male one playing the guitar was me... yes I did play live with Fosca right up until my departure... [bad research. sackcloth and ashes all ours] I haven't actually seen any interviews with Dickon... but I'm sure he was a gentleman as always... I suppose basically that was true... we are both control freaks... and no band can survive with two control freaks in it...

anyway (overdue), on to pinkie proper! was pinkie "born" as an alternative to the more electronic work you were doing with fosca, or had you always been writing your own sort of guitar-based things on the side ?

Pinkie was born a long time before fosca... but while fosca was going on Pinkie took a back seat because fosca was so exhausting... my songs are mostly piano based believe it or not (yes... grade 8 piano... music A level... read it and weep music lovers everywhere) and then I reinterpret them to suit my underdeveloped raw and basic guitar technique... I think it works... and yes I've been writing this kind of thing for ever...

not least given the sleeve of the cd, we don't have to look far to see where the "pinkie" alias comes from. "brighton rock" is one of our favourite books and (apart from the cop-out ending!) films... also, we're sure there are some parallels with your music - beautiful yet sad - and pinkie brown himself, the angelic baby face with a darker side. is that something you identified with in choosing the name, or was it just because the character is a bit of a local (anti)hero ?

Yes I probably was a little too literal with the cover of the cd, it may have been wiser to keep everyone guessing... it makes the whole thing more intriguing... I like to think that as in all great artistic concepts (!) it works on a number of levels... the book is important to me because I love the fact that even though written in the first half of the last century, it paints pictures about places I know and wander around in... i think it's wonderful how it mentions Worthing... [as does Alex on "I Can See", fact fans] but you've more or less summed it up... Graham Greene wanted to write a novel about the absolute epitome of evil... i think he acknowledged that it changed somewhat from this during the writing process... but i was inspired by a character that although vulnerable and childish looking (i'm not sure about the angelic bit) and in some ways quite feeble, basically wanted to be feared and hated... however if I think anyone hates me i do tend to feel quite crushed... but i also like the ambiguity of the name... the colour pink... an ambiguous colour...

planting seeds records are not a label that everyone reading this might know that much about. so how did you hook up with them to release the cd ?

I was looking for someone who might be interested in releasing the songs and came across planting seeds because their website mentioned some common themes and so sent the songs and then forgot doing it... it was only when fosca was in full swing that they contacted me and said they'd like to release them... they're a great label and i advise anyone to investigate them further... they have a band called astropop 3 that make guitar pop to die for...

as for the title, "my little experiment", we thought either it was a reference to the way gandhi always used to talk about his "experiments" - or perhaps it was just a self-deprecating way of acknowledging that the album was an "experiment" in terms of allowing you for the first time to release songs that were all your own work, your lyrics and your vocals ?

unfortunately it doesn't have anything to do with Gandhi... though maybe i should start pretending it did... again there's an element of truth in your theory... but it is also partly to do with a picture i have from an old 1950s New Scientist magazine of an elegant lady in a white coat staring at a white mouse in a bell jar... (but only partly).... what I was really alluding to was.... in life when you feel very much under the control and influence of other people's decisions and external pressures... if you believe that it is all part of your own 'little experiment' suddenly you are the one in control... when people are letting you down or being cruel... they don't realise... it is all part of your own plan... it's all part of the experiment...

normally we hear that an artist we like is to release something new, and then we come to it with preconceived ideas, but with "pantomime" i was just listening to my new mobstar comp, as you do, and i just got waylaid by this wonderful song. i actually remember scrabbling for the sleeve to see what i could find out about this new band!

anyway. you then also recorded "she's dead" [brilliant corners tune] for the mobstar "hoppin' on the west coast" compilation. how did you and mobstar come to each other's attention ?

you know i'm not really sure... i think i may have sent something to andy (mobstar) because he's based in bristol and therefore may have heard of Sarah Records... so you see it was cynical marketing from my point of view... but again i do love this label... (aaah so much love)... they did offer to put a single out some time ago but it went a bit quiet... i'm not sure if they're waiting for something from me... or hoping that i've forgotten... but i was pleased with the "she's dead" track... it's the way i record... it can be a little hit and miss...

is there any sense in which the alex sharkey on "my little experiment" is the "real" musical you, given that hal or fosca were much more obviously collaborative affairs ?

obviously Pinkie is nearer the real me as there is no-one else to please or appease... but i'm afraid the electronic / lo-fi dance influences in fosca and hal were all my own doing... and i am thinking of working on another dance/sample based project... but pinkie is certainly a large part of the real me... (is that the title of a country and western song?) [er, wasn't it the who - aged sub-editor]

"my little experiment" is such a fresh record, it doesn't seem reined in by anything, it just floats, with you adding extra instrumentation quite sparingly, so every introduction of second guitar, or keyboards, really works. the lightness of touch also means it seems a lot less "clinical" than many might have expected when they heard there was an alex sharkey "solo project" in the offing. was it deliberate to keep things relatively stripped down ?

Thanks for the compliments... and yes absolutely... with the restrictions of my method of recording i thought the simpler i could make everything the better it would sound... i really didn't want anything programmed or over arranged... as i'd done far too much of that... i just wanted everything to sound as fragile as it really was...

there's a great review of the cd in "popmatters" which really hits the nail on the head... "expressing longing and emptiness without making people want to slap you". it's what brighter managed to do, and we think songs like "i'm afraid you're just like me" pick up a touch of brighter at their best. but our favourite track is probably still... just... "pantomime"... which song or lyric means the most to you personally?

yes... it's never big or clever to hit someone... no matter how much they deserve it... but personally I suppose "pantomime" and "two angels" mean the most...

which came first - "you shouldn't have" on the cd or "my body isn't me" [sharkey-penned track from fosca's "supine" cdep] ?

"You shouldn't have" which was originally a Hal song called "Thorn"... you see i am just a musical slut...

we understand that what's coming next is a new album - also on planting seeds. should we expect it to evidence any change of direction, or is it more your chance, now that the "little experiment" has definitely worked, of refining the essence of "MLE" into a "proper", full record ?

um... yes... I really just want to develop the theme... recording something for the first time (at least as Pinkie) with the intention of a release has inspired me to want to get it right... I know it will never be quite right... but hopefully this will be closer... the thing I want to maintain is keeping things as simple as possible. I would also like there to be a continuous theme... something that sounds like a soundtrack to a film with snippets of instrumentals...but whether I can be this organised is another thing...

have you considered playing live (please!) - and if so, would you be solo and "unplugged", or try and surround yourself with a band ?

yes i have... and in both the formats you suggest... rachel fosca has offered to help out in a band but it's really down to being offered an opportunity...

we'd be interested to know what music you're listening to at the moment...

I've become obsessed by going into charity shops (of which we are blessed by many in Worthing) and finding odd easy listening records to sample... initially for my alternative dance project... but some of it may slip onto the Pinkie album... I suppose this may hint at some sort of change of direction... but it will be subtle, honest... anyway some things you end up becoming a true fan of... even if you think you're being ironic... you end up genuinely liking it and i suppose that's why i've been listening to some of the following... anyway here's a random selection of songs/cds i've been listening to...

Trembling Blue Stars - "Alive to Every Smile", the latest TBS album, and in my opinion the best yet. In a perfect world this would sell millions. Granddaddy - "He's Simple He's Dumb, He's the Pilot" ... yes, used in Trigger Happy TV... but it's a funny show... and a gorgeous song. Osmonds - "Our Best to You"... they could really write good tunes... "Let Me In"... I would love to do a version of this song.... Françoise Hardy - "Françoise Hardy"... Peters and Lee - "We can Make it"... easy listening at its best... and anything by Badly Drawn Boy is never far from my cd player... i suppose that's what's inspired my craving for instrumental snippets.... mmm... reading through that it doesn't look very cutting edge... but then i think the cutting edge is rather rusty and blunt these days...

developing a theme from elsewhere... where would you go, and what would you do, for the perfect "day in the life of alex from pinkie" ?

well it certainly wouldn't be doing the things i did in the "day in the life of alex from pinkie" you're referring to... that's far too tiring... i'm not sure... it would probably be in the highlands of scotland... with a guitar and a bottle of whisky... there... that doesn't sound too tiring...

and to finish, to come full-circle to the literary muse that was part of yr inspiration. what are your favourite novels of all time ?

it's funny... i practically never revisit novels... and as much as i may become drawn into one and believe it's the best thing i've ever read... the next i read could quite possibly do the same... i relate reading a book in much the same way i do listening to music... the state of mind and situation you were in at the time will affect how you remember the book... so with that in mind... i'd say "The Catcher in the Rye" - J.D. Salinger - "A Tale of Two Cities" Charles Dickens - "Nineteen Eighty Four" - George Orwell and of course "Brighton Rock" Graham Greene...

well - of course! 

* * * * *

Pausing only to note that playing playstation games is a noble alternative to making music.... indeed, there are a lot of bands we would recommend it for as a full time diversion... can we just say thank you to Alex... these dots are catching... we're afraid we're just like him... ILWTTISOTT

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Archive Series: The Free French

The Free French. Summer 2002.

“You should be able to bottle that feeling that you got, the excitement of a new Big Flame record when you were about 16..."

THE FREE FRENCH ARE the latest musical nomenclature of the multi-faceted Rhodri Marsden. Perhaps still best known for his role in the marvellous Keatons, who attempted gamely (but vainly) to bounce the spirit of the Fall, the Shrubs and similarly glorious alt-others into the moribund 1990s ("Resividistish" being the should-have-been singalong hit of every summer), Rhodri has been playing in "Peel darlings" Gag for ten years, as well as playing guitar and bass in the now defunct Zuno Men (Walthamstow genii who even more gamely, and even more vainly, tried to find a way in for post-Ron Johnson pop in the mid-to-late 90s). After writing choons for the short-lived Kopek - see below - Rhodri has eventually turned into a solo artiste, the Free French, a five piece on stage but all his own work in the studio (South London, as we now feel compelled to point out to some of you). Rather, though, than being the kind of "tricky" stuff that you might expect from the above c.v., "their" first album "Running on Batteries" is actually a travel through pop history, trying (and mostly succeeding) to play off the tension of yer Guided Missile types with the sophisticated singalong skillz of many a more traditional songwriting talent. Rhodri is also known to random websurfers across the globe as the curator of "" and, more specifically, the bestest Ron Johnson web site in the history of Ron Johnson websites.

In the tradition of Trembling Blue Stars' "Her handwriting" or Steward's "Horselaugh on my ex", the whole record owes much to documenting in passing the breakdown of a relationship, albeit with some green shoots of hope (as to the next one) in perhaps the poppiest song, the jaunty first 45 "Do you come here often ?" Whilst most songs revolve around the balancing of harmonic keyboard laden guitar pop and a quirkier, er, "angular" (sorry) post-Keatons "sound", the album is also not afraid to deviate from the power pop thing altogether, hence the extremely mellow vibe of "Let's stay up forever", or the much more jarring, feral guitar buzz of the closing "Trial separations" (that was the second single). The storming title track would appear to have every conceivable ingredient for a single too, its insistent guitar reminding us (and only us, it seems) of the Buzzcocks' "Sixteen".... Other highlights include "From the seashores", "Cotton buds" ("can we divide 2,000 days / in calm and scientific ways / leave without a parting gaze") and the throwaway but tune-crammed "Unconditional". The album throughout showcases some surprisingly and occasionally unfeasibly high pitched vocals, where tasteful ("My next album for dogs only").

After witnessing the Free French five at the Water Rats, where the smartly dressed band on the stage in the back thrilled most of the punters and so prevailed over the noise levels of the ever crowded front bar, we decided to track down Rhodri in what has become the latest example of us bothering a musician with better things to do - but as ever, he was ineffably polite, articulate and entertaining.

* * * * *

i wanted to talk about the keatons first. not least because the word "resividistish" can still make grown men glow... is that where your musical journey started ?

i lived in dunstable, which was just a cultural fucking backwater, the sort of place good things gravitate away from. i remember seeing stump on "the tube", going out and buying a ron johnson compilation lp, just being blown away by that it didn't seem to give a hoot for protocol at all, and then doing "glottal stop" fanzine and through that meeting a lot of people, and then me and steve [of the keatons] got really matey and i moved to london in 1989 and it just happened. the keatons ended up being a band that if you went to see them often enough, you ended up being in the band...

i suppose the keatons weren't really part of any scene at the time, because all the ron johnson stuff had already happened...

the ron johnson thing had died about '87, and the keatons got their first single out in 1989. we'd kind of reached that level where we decided what bands were on the bill with us. i remember the first gig we did in 1990, with pregnant neck and headbirth, a kind of death by milkfloat from stockwell, and it did feel like - new decade, this is it, a new quirky pop scene... but of course no one liked it at all, it was all very much shoegazing, slowdive, that was the way it was going, so it wasn't part of a scene. we were more akin to the glaswegians, really - dawson and the stretch heads.

having said that, i remember one amazing gig at the lady owen arms [sadly missed islington venue], we had the keatons, shrug, dawson, dandelion adventure, archbishop kebab... and the boo radleys - and we put the boo radleys on at 7 p.m. because it was their first london gig!

thrilled skinny [utterly irrepressible and at one point almost unavoidable luton power punksters who managed brilliantly to get oi-influenced songs on to a slew of otherwise rather precious indie pop compilation tapes in the late 80s] are the other band to mention - the band who got us touring england. it seems unbelievable to think that in 1990 the keatons did a hundred gigs, whereas the free french have done, like, 8.

but we had a horrible tour of germany in about may 1995 where no one was enjoying it any more. there were lots of arguments about money and shit, because there wasn't any. so i left the keatons, and got married that year and enjoyed being domesticated for a bit.

meanwhile there was gag, and the zuno men ...

i'd started with gag in about 1992. the zuno men were haemorrhaging members rapidly, so i did guitar and bass and i seem to remember keyboards for them.

... and then kopek...

me and kev [burrows, also of the keatons, gag etc] were looking for something to do that wasn't gag, and i was kind of writing songs towards the end of the keatons that were never used. so i thought "let's use some of these" and formed a band called kopek, it was kind of dual guitars, more intricate, less straightforward than the free french ended up being. but it was just one of those things, it never took off. "no one phoned".

...and the free french, eventually.

i never liked writing lyrics, so that was always the barrier. but throughout the late 90s i was accumulating recording gear and still looking for a singer and a lyricist. so eventually i just got on with it, and i did "from the seashores". people have said to me that song, that chorus "believe this little lie", it's so simple, but so kind of evocative, and that's when i realised if you have confidence in what you're writing... on the first mixes of every song the vocals were just subliminal, because i didn't want anyone to hear the words, but over the months they got louder as people said "actually, the lyrics are quite good". everything i do now, the vocals are much more in the forefront.

and some of the lyrics are pretty painful to listen to.

there's only a couple that get me still. i probably struck quite a good balance at that stage between the lyrics being suggestive and not overt, but since i got more confident i've started getting less and less oblique and more writing kind of stories.

the album is a soundtrack to...

a crisis...

...a period of someone's life, and it is quite affecting.

i was doing the album and i finished it about 6 to 8 weeks later, by which time my wife had moved out...

the end result was that you've made this record which sits really well as a self-contained pop album. was there any temptation to say "that happened, that was part of my [musical] life", and now on to the next project ?

it's great that it comes across as a cohesive unit of 12 songs, but as always with these things, they're long and slow births, the nature of putting a record out is that it always takes ages. but it's not a contrived, "this is a song about rhodri getting divorced"... yes, it is tempting to say, i've done that, now i'll do something different. but people really liked it, and i'm getting so much encouragement from people, and i think the songs for the next album are much better. so obviously people won't like it as much...

was there any part of you that was intending to, or conscious of, doing an album that mixes lots of different things - sixties, post-punk, new acoustic, mid 80s indie...

so many of the songs are just based around people. i started getting really matey with kev hopper [bass player from c86ers stump, and now musical saw virtuoso extraordinaire] about the beginning of last year, and "let's stay up forever" was really because he's into such a beach boys / high llamas type thing, and that's the most overt attempt by me to actually go out on a limb and try something. but i still think it sits quite nicely. it's not desperately contrived, but it was certainly an effort i made, and i just thought the sentiment of enjoying someone's company so much that you don't want to go to sleep, i just think that's a really kind of nice idea.

a lot of the songs have this tension between the vaguely keatons-esque, faster paced, music, and the much more melodic "slow burn..."

with "running on batteries", the way it was done i'd always wanted it to appeal to keatons people and gag people. when i was in kopek, i knew that by doing songs with kev [burrows] they'd end up being fucked up, just by him being involved. he has an extraordinary slant on putting music together that's just breathtaking. so when it was apparent that kev wasn't gong to be involved in the free french, i still thought, i want to try and fuck it up a bit, so there was always me trying to make that effort not to make it too slick, so i think that's the only driving force behind what it sounds like, it's just a contrast between me writing a very sweet song and then trying to record it so it doesn't sound like... david soul.

and you did everything ?

it's all done at home on a mac, yeah. no-one else was around to do it with me. i was just thrown back on my own, and getting loads of encouragement from friends of mine...

what's your favourite song on the album?

"cotton buds". i just can't believe it's me, that i came up with it. if i'm feeling a bit shaky about a gig, that song always sounds great and it's the only song that's actually about my wife leaving. i get shivers whenever i hear it, i really do, and it's no one else's favourite, either...

what about when it came to choosing the singles?

as far as the singles, i was vehement that "do you come here often ?" was a single, even though no one else really thought it was right. and someone said that "trial separations" was the best thing on the record and it was an astonishing song, and i just think it's ok, but i was pushing for "cotton buds". "unconditional" was the other one that people liked. but i think that "unconditional"'s the most straightforward thing on the record, it's a bit of a joke as i was listening to this finnish band called ultra bra who are one of my favourite bands, a 15-piece eurovision pastiche, every song sounds like a eurovision winner. astonishingly crafted songs, and i sat down and said i want to do a song that ultra bra would be proud of. it's not quite there, but that was what i was thinking...

apart from ultra bra (!) what other influences ? people are reading all sorts of things into the album: buzzcocks, jam, scritti politti, prefab sprout, xtc...

yeah, xtc - what is that about ?... i don't have any xtc records...

this was what we've got at in the past, by saying that we like the free french more than bands that many see you as influenced by - to us, xtc are a part of pop that time forgot, and you assume there must be a reason for that.

they have some wonderful moments, but people say his [andy partridge's] voice is like my voice and i just can't hear that at all. he's got a really annoying voice! i've heard some really great things by them but i don't listen to them. prefab sprout, i do listen to immensely. you can probably hear that, and i've started listening to steely dan a lot and when people say "you can actually hear steely dan in your music", i'm just like, fucking hell, this is really terrifying, i'm supposed to be continuing the lineage of ferocious ramshackle indie pop and here i am sounding like fucking "aja"... [editor's note - do not worry - the free french sound NOTHING like steely dan].

we know you're really into quite a few current bands, though we missed HOST when they supported you the other week. i do like your description of them as the gang of four with "more smiling and less funk"...

they're astonishing, they've got boundless enthusiasm, they're effortlessly great, they have a thing and i don't know what it is, and i don't know whether anyone else can see it, but i can see it, shirley [shirley lee, singer outta spearmint] can see it and we're putting out a record on hitBACK [up until the free french, hitBACK was spearmint's label] by them.

i just wonder if there's any parallels with the early 90s when you see a band, you want that band on your bill...

totally, of course...

you've also obviously had a lot of encouragement from toby slater.

toby, i really like him, he's very intelligent, he's been through the music business stuff, he was in catch [sort of a britpop hanson, though you might have missed them if you blinked in 1997] and they had a top 20 record, and then got spat out the other end, he decided to put on interesting evenings of stuff ["special school"] and the free french don't fit particularly well into that because we don't adapt well to an acoustic or stripped down set-up, but i support everything that toby does, although he does sometimes go a bit nearer the middle of the road than i would...

and your other current favourites ?

kev hopper, when we can get him out of the house, keith john adams (former zuno man), [tooting's] montana pete...

what about the mainstream press ? even though the nme really liked your first single, your album won't get looked at, but they decide they can justify six pages on the vines...

i'm not at a stage where anyone is going to offer paragraphs of critique on what i've done, and the most i can expect is a review will say something which will prompt someone to go and investigate. in that way the reviews are kind of redundant, but i'm not really getting any anyway. jim who does our press just has a really tough time.

but the fanzine, e/zine scene at least provides a second layer beneath the magazines and papers who are likely to ignore 98% of stuff....

anyone showing any enthusiasm or making an effort is clearly a good thing. it's a slow process and it's very small scale, but then again the keatons always operated in a fanzine environment anyway - it doesn't offend me that i don't get 200 hits a day on the site.

it just must get to you when there are labels which will put out some fairly derivative guitar pop, say, and it will sell several thousand and it will get reviews in all the right places, just because there seems to be a network in place for that.

it was great that hitBACK put the record out, and at first that was all i wanted, but having said that, like you say, people have been so positive about it that i did imagine in my heart of hearts that "do you come here often ?" would do something - the zuno men had a mark radcliffe single of the week, for christ's sake - but i don't know what it takes to make people sit up and take notice. obviously a great deal of luck, i don't think the fact that i was in the keatons and the zuno men and gag is going to help, i dont think the fact that i'm on spearmint's label helps... spearmint are absolutely ignored despite having just put out one of the finest albums about lost love ["a different lifetime"] that you will ever hear...

yeah, "sweeping the nation" must have been years ago now...there was a lot of buzz then...

shirley's an inspiration. when you see someone that's 10 years older than you who's just as enthusiastic about stuff and still writing great music and putting it out to not much acclaim but seems undaunted by that. it's just a shame. spearmint had that time, about '97, yes, when "sweeping the nation" came out and "a trip into space" a few months later, and that was when XFM were playing stuff that was good or interesting or you might not have heard, and i would have really benefited from that, had the stuff i was doing been 3 or 4 years earlier. it's easy to say that - if i was around in 1979, like scritti politti putting their own photocopied sleeves together and selling 20,000 records - people were shifting enormous amounts back then, and now if you get a sales return from pinnacle that says you've shifted 500, you go out and have a party. basically i'm dependent on hitBACK to put money up for another record... it costs little to record because i do it all at home. it would be great to be in the position of someone like momus who can just sling something out...

before we go, we can't not mention your ron johnson site, which is legendary...

i got asked to do it by some fanzine, my love for ron johnson, and i actually managed to get all 34 records on ron johnson, and then it was like, what shall i do now ? take photos of all the fucking sleeves, scan them and write about each one, and then i can just put it to bed.

it was a very rich time... you should be able to bottle that feeling that you get, the excitement of a new big flame record when you're about 16, i can't even remember what it feels like... and the last bogshed peel session, i was almost crying; "they're going to play four songs i've never heard before"; it seems so obvious that bogshed were fantastic.

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And because we know we're not the only ones who agree, we (as opposed to you lot) can't think of a better note to end on. Thanks very much to Rhodri ... ILWTTISOTT

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