The end of the Mussolinis and up to NOW…

Posted: April 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

It was all over then:  official.

Sometime in April of 1988, the Flaming Mussolinis lost their record deal. We knew it was coming, but probably hoped that they might go for one more single. I spoke to our A@R man and he told me he was sorry how things had worked out, but there was nothing he could do about it: the decision had come from the board room and was a financial one. They didn’t see us as a viable proposition any more.

We continued to demo regardless, around our old friend Don Cox’s house on Oxford Road, Middlesbrough. We had now given up our own rehearsal room as we simply could not afford to pay for it. We still had lots of songs, lots of ideas; the well was far from dry. The Flaming Mussolinis third album would have been a strong album, I am sure. But it was not to be.

Don Cox was someone who let us demo songs around his house; we had all known him going back to the early 80s. He was a generous and accommodating man and we appreciated his ‘no charge’ offer to demo at his home.  He was also a gifted photographer and why we never used his services as a photographer, I don’t know!

He also had an endless supply of ginger nut biscuits I seem to recall!

In the meantime we wondered if we should just wipe the slate clean, change our band name and come up with a new plan. We were worried that the band name had left too much bad feeling in some music business corners as we found out our management had left a trail of unpaid bills in our name. A change of name would give us a fresh start too.

Our agent Dan Silver said no: he could get us gigs if we were the Flaming Mussolinis, but not if we were a new name band, as nobody would know us.

In time honoured career suicide tradition, we didn’t listen to him. We decided to go for a name change. As usual, settling on a name was difficult but in the end we opted for ‘Zoom’ as it was short and dynamic. (There was also an acid house club called ‘Shoom’ that may have been on our minds – maybe)

Music was changing again. Acid house was starting to gain prominence and it was music that to be honest, I could not relate to, although I got used to it. I recall going to a nightclub and seeing people dancing like puppets to bleepy acid house music, arms waving in the air. I also remember hearing of a band called Happy Mondays at the time. A good name, I remember thinking. When I got to hear them, I thought they were rubbish though. Sean Ryder could not sing at all and they all looked like a bunch of car thieves from a rough housing estate. (Which in fact, they probably were!) But I was totally missing the point and later realised how good they were for at least a couple of years. Manchester was becoming the new musical lightening rod, the so called ‘Madchester’ scene was already coming to the fore and the rest of the country caught on to it around late 1989 – 1990.

Rave and cries of aciiiiiiid! seemed to be everywhere within six months. Once again, I felt outmoded and outdated.

I wondered if guitar bands were dead?

No.

The Melody Maker one week ran an article on the Pixies and the ‘new noise bands’ that were coming up. I decided that being a guitar band was not a bad thing after all. I heard the Pixies and to be honest, at first, they went over my head, but I eventually got it: elliptical guitar rock that sounded like it didn’t give a shit about making the radio. A good thing, I decided.

Another band catching my ear was the Sugarcubes. They had a unique sound and of course, a great singer in Bjork. I got to see them the following year at Newcastle Riverside and they were fantastic live.

The ‘new alternative’ sounds were starting to catch my ear, but I was also getting more retro in my listening habits: Led Zeppelin, Cream, Sly and the Family Stone, late sixties rock generally.

There was something in the air, something was coming: you could feel it.

Meanwhile, Clune left the band. It was a big blow to us but he was living a totally different and separate life in London. I didn’t bother to try and persuade him to stay, there was no point. The next time I saw Clune he had turned into a Manchester ‘rave’ clone, with forward combed hair like a choir boy. He went on to get involved with ex-Killing joke bass player Youth, calling themselves ‘The Mouth’ and made an acid house 12 inch that I cannot remember the name of. Clune later – ten years later, that is, went on to find success as the drummer with David Gray. He now doesn’t even drum – he left David Gray in 2007 and has done nothing since, living off his substantial royalties from his co-write of the single ‘Babylon’.

A tragic waste of talent…he should be drumming.

Gradually, over the next few months, The Flaming Mussolinis all started to fall apart, leaving only me and Kit.

Doug went to Australia and Jeff got a job as a photographer on a cruise ship, eventually ending up in Australia too.

In summer 1988, we recruited drummer Paul Lynagh, then of local band signed to Fontana, the Shy Reptiles. Paul was no longer with them. He was thrown out of the band for having the sense to put his share of the record company deal into a house. The rest of the band didn’t find that very rock n roll, and sacked him.

I moved over to bass and vocals, and Kit of course, on guitar. We decided to stay as a trio – something new for us.

It was good because it forced us to strip back the music and use space and tempo as a virtue.

Our set mostly comprised of songs that the Flaming Mussolinis would have done for a third album, had we done one: ‘Ghost Train’, ‘Blank cheque Radio’, ‘Ninety Nine Per cent’, ‘Sweet Deceiver’ ‘Blue Horizon’ and a cheeky little song called ‘Kill the star!’.

We were back to being a local band, trying to service debts from our record deal, usually failing to meet them. A big ‘ulp’ was getting a tax bill for twenty four thousand pounds. I had to go to an interview with a tax inspector and an accountant and try to persuade them we didn’t owe it, having made an appeal against it. After a few nail-biting months, it was decided that, yes, we did not owe it.

In the meantime, I was selling some of my equipment just to get by

Zoom were a good band – not original, but we had a good sense of rock classicism and went down really well everywhere we played. We once did a gig in London and a band turned up with their own supporters. It turned out to be the Stone Roses, soon to explode onto the scene in about six months from then.

I later saw them play at Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt in 1989. It was obvious something big was happening around them. I liked them, even though I was a little resistant at first, and soon almost every band in the land had a guitarist with a wah wah pedal and a singer who flopped around, his fringe in his eyes, pretending to be on drugs.

Meanwhile, Zoom – as we were now- got a new manager and a publishing deal too, which allowed us to wage ourselves for about a year, while we chased another deal. Our manager was a laid back kind of guy called Jeff Gilbert. He had once worked at Arista and had ‘discovered’ Lisa Stansfield who had that hit: ‘All around the world’. He liked us and thought he could get us a record deal, although I do recall his annoyingly uninspiring catch phrase was ‘in the music business there is no such thing as a guarantee’.

Still, it was great to have someone with faith in us.

This was the problem for us: always chasing a record deal. We should have just thought ‘sod record companies’ and gone totally independent. But we had tasted the sweet apple of being so close to the big time and we wanted to get back to it, I think is the honest answer to that.

We did see sense the following year when we released our own 12 inch single:  ‘Ghost Train’ backed with ‘Blank cheque Radio’. We gamely called our record label Tank Top Records.

We were now rehearsing a lot in friend Graham Robinson’s studio in Darlington and we recorded a lot of good songs there, mostly live.

We looked different now too. I had long hair, purple dyed jeans and baseball boots. It was, I suppose, an oblique nod to the American alternative scene, soon to explode in the form of grunge and Nirvana.

Zoom of course, were not a pre-grunge band, but we had more extreme elements in our music for sure. We were now rocking out and not caring what people thought. It seemed timely and real.

Speaking of grunge, I remember the first time I heard ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’. It was in Darlington, late summer, 1991. We were packing away after a gig and the DJ put it on. It made me stop in my tracks and listen. It was kind of heavy metal, but somehow punk too. It had an incredible intensity about it. I know it is now one of those ‘oh no, not that again’ records but at the time it was a revelation. I also immediately recognised that it was a bit of a Pixies rip off. Kurt Cobain later admitted that the ‘quiet-loud’ dynamic of a lot of Nirvana’s music was taken from the Pixies.

Zoom did not last very long.

We expanded the line up in early 1990, recruited ex-Jank Mamba guitarist Martyn Alderdice on bass, me moving back over to guitar.

We opted for another name change and became Disraeli Gears. No, we weren’t a Cream tribute band, we just liked the sound of it. I always call us ‘The Gears’ as I got to feel a bit cringed out about the ‘Disraeli’ bit. I should have listened to friend and DJ Alan Rhodes who said ‘that’s a daft name…like calling yourself ‘Sgt Pepper’!’ When I asked him for a suggestion the best he could come up with was ‘Anal Spasm’. Thanks, but I don’t think we’ll go with that!

Alan Rhodes proved to be good connection to new and interesting music. He was always pushing stuff my way: Sebadoh, Pavement, Fugazi and Adrian Sherwood Sound System. I didn’t like listening to these bands though because they reminded me of how musically conservative Zoom was compared to them – but I was not about to pretend to be a 22 year slacker in a noise band from Seattle.

Disraeli Gears again, always went down really well with audiences.

In this band, I wrote what I consider to be one of my best songs: ‘Nothing’s going to get me down’. By now, I was really retro in my listening habits: Dylan, mainly ‘Blonde on Blonde’, Beach Boys: ‘Pet Sounds’ and the Small Faces and the Kinks. I was reaching to the past to try and find fresh inspiration. I didn’t realise at the time that what I was doing was ‘Brit Pop’ before it came about with Blur and Oasis, a couple of years later.

We released a 12 inch EP, this time on our own label Ram Raid Records, which we stole the ‘Rolls Royce’ logo for. But it all felt too little, too late and we just got stuck playing the same old places to the same old faces.  We had played a showcase gig in London for some record labels but they passed on us. This was really the final downturn in our fortunes and despondency started to come into the band.

Disraeli Gears came to an end in 1992 because of me.

I was now feeling like I was banging my head on a wall permanently, I was broke and feeling like crap as my life was just one long struggle and waiting for a change.

We played a gig at the Sun Inn, Stockton, and I remember feeling that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Is this what almost fifteen years in music led to? The back room of a local pub?

I announced I was leaving the band that summer and prepared to go back to University to try and sort my life out. I just gave up on the hope of ever making a living out of music. The wolf had been knocking at my door for a long time and now I was hearing it loud and clear.

I effectively tried to turn my back on music forever. But it took some time before I was totally ready to quit.

I still wrote songs from time to time; it was a compulsive habit that was hard to break. Songwriting comes as natural as breathing to me. I always have songs coming into my head – they just won’t leave me alone!

In fact, in 1994 I wrote a batch of songs that seemed to have a continuity to them and I recorded them, mostly at a studio in Hartlepool over only two days.

 They became a solo album: ‘Songs from the wilderness’, released through Northern Sky, a label set up by old friends Ian Luck and David Thomas. It was a very low budget recording and really, they were demos, but I just could not afford to pay for studio time to make a production of them. It was a mostly acoustic based album, pretty folksy and countryish in parts, and one of the songs ‘The not so great escape’ was very personal for me:  it was me realising I had come to the end of the road with my dreams in music. The album, although patchy, has some good songs on it I feel – one of them, ‘Northern Rain’ was written pretty much on the spot while I was trying to work out a melody for it, recording it around Marty’s flat on his 8 track. It was mostly recorded very quickly and I wanted it to be pretty basic and unfussy. I also recorded a lesser known Kinks song in this session: ‘Big black smoke’ which was one of their b-sides. I cheekily wrote an extra verse for it and seeking permission, Ray Davies would not allow it, so it was kept off the album. I did get him to autograph an old Kinks single though.

The album title said it all: that was where I was: the wilderness.  I felt cast adrift now, my band days getting further behind me.

Still, I wrote a lot of songs in this period, up to thirty I would say, most of which never saw the light of day.

I continued to play solo with my  acoustic guitar for about a year, playing some interesting dates with folk legend Bert Jansch (who was a miserable anti-social git by the way) an also, Roy Harper’s very talented son Nick Harper. But I wasn’t a folkie and I missed playing in a band.

As a way to satisfy my urge for a band, I recorded some rock based tracks as The Reformers: ‘Hey! Jack Nicholson’, ‘I Wanna Sellout’ and ‘Pretty Poison’. The Reformers were a ‘pick up’ band but I could not keep a stable line up. We played only two gigs – one in Darlington, and one at the concert for our good friend and musical journeyman, Dave Johns, then soon to be lost to cancer. The concert was filmed and we played a version of the Byrds ‘So you wanna be a rock n roll star’ at that gig, as well as ‘Success’ – an old Basczax song of mine.

But the Reformers fizzled out. I had a set full of songs for the band too.

By 1996, there were plans for a second solo album, but it came to nothing when Northern Sky ran out of money. Once again, songs I had written just ended up on cassettes on my shelf at home. That old banging my head on the wall feeling was coming back to me.

In 1997, I quit music for good.

Through most of the next decade, I did nothing musically. By 2002, I was a Secondary English teacher and needed to keep my life together. My musical life now started to feel like something I had dreamt.

In 2007 I started to write songs again. I actually wrote a musical play based on the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson called ‘Surfs Up’.  I also wrote a batch of songs for a kind of folk-rock project called The Satanic Mills. It was the result of discovering Fairport Convention, a band I had previously over-looked. I heard ‘Liege and Leif’ for the first time in that year and loved it. I also started to listen to songwriters that I had heard, but not really stuck with: John Martyn was one, and I returned to listening to quality songwriters like Joni Mitchell, who I had not listened to since the 70s when I had her ‘Hissing of the Summer lawns’ and ‘Hejira’ albums.  I was astonished at how the quality of her music stood up after so long. I kind of re-discovered her in a big way. I also started to get back into contemporary music like LCD Soundsystem, whose album ‘Sound of Silver’ I thought was great. The past was there, with all its richness and great music, but I started to realise that there was still a lot of great music around in the here and now.

I was starting to feel reconciled with my past, realising that it had all been a great, unique experience.

I could now listen to some of my old music with a sense of objective distance.

In 2008/9, I started to think about songs I had written for old bands like Basczax but never completed, or left them unheard. I drew up a list from memory and was amazed at how many I had half-written or just left un-aired.

This all led up to an online reunion with old Basczax members online, in 2010. We recorded some old songs I had meant for Basczax:  ‘Sexy Robot’ and ‘Velvet and she’ being two of them. We ended up making a full album and it felt great to be back making music. I had got my mojo back and started to write songs prolifically. In the first six months of that year, I must have written something like forty songs easily – some in a state of progress, but a lot of them ready to roll.

Later in 2010, I did something completely different: an over the net collaboration with old friend and ex-Drop member Richard Sanderson. There was no real agenda: Richard created mash up loops from samples and I wrote words and sang over them, in a kind of persona. A lot of the songs were about life in Teesside, in a very humourous way: we called the ‘band’ FootPump. We recorded a whole album over about four-six weeks and put it up as a freebie.

In early 2011 (up to now), I wrote songs that harked back loosely to the post punk era. I put them out as a series of free EPS on Soundcloud. I called my ‘band’ Dada Guitars.  I had no idea what the music was going to sound like until I almost spontaneously wrote a song called ‘Juvenilia’. It was the most extreme and uncompromising music I had made for a long time. I followed on from there and got back to my long forgotten experimental glam/new wave pop rock muse, last heard in Basczax way back in 1979.

I have finally reconciled myself with the fact that music is a huge part of who I am, and whether it is an audience of three or three million, it is nice to be appreciated and it is mostly a labour of love on my behalf to make music.

So here I am: back to my 19 year old self in spirit, making music for the right reason: because I love it.

Comments
  1. Good to see you still writing.Dada Guitars is dead good.

  2. sav says:

    Thanks Paul – nice of you to say so. Must get on with the April EP – had my time stolen away this month!

  3. jardin smith international An incredibly valuable, educational as well as insightful publish jardin smith international regards.

  4. Vic Woods says:

    I switched on the Chart Show, 25 Apr 1986. One song played on that programme that burned into my memory – Masuka Dan. Bloody wonderful. So good that nearly ten years later I was discussing music with a mate of mine on a ship and he brought up the same show … the same song. Cheers to the Mussolinis. Understated, fantastically overblown but cruely ignored.

  5. John Alderdice says:

    Just been in the cellar. Found my two Mussolinis LPs (demo copies), along with a couple of c90 tapes. One side includes ‘Hogey’s Blues’ (a great song I’d forgotten about). Labelled Disraeli Gears Demos. Courtesy of my brother Martyn. Other tape has some 8-track recordings on one side with…a D.G. live recording from Middlesbrough I did on a Sanyo ‘Walkman-type! Includes the ‘new single’ Ghost Train. It’s not bad. I seem to remember going to see the FMs in Huddersfield…3 quid!
    I remember the Boro Town Hall gig, Zoom supporting the Coal Porters. They broke a snare, borrowed Zoom’s, and broke that too.
    John A

    • Cheers John – yes, ‘Hokey’s Blues’ had its title changed to ‘Nothing’s going to get me down’. I felt that I had written a really good song at the time. Felt sure it was going to open some doors for us. Disraeli Gears were a good band. But on reflection, we had a stupid name. I tend to come from a line of bands with stupid names! Hope life is treating you well.

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