Saturday, 17 August 2019

Psychedelic Movie: PETER FONDA in 'THE TRIP'


 Review of: 
With Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, and Dennis Hopper 
(1967 American International Productions, 
DVD: MGM Home Entertainment, 2004)

23 February 1940-16 August 2019  

It’s impossible to emulate a dead hero. They’re forever out of reach. Dennis Hopper started his career with a part in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ (1955), and spent his life in awe of James Dean. Living heroes let you down. Dean himself was in awe of Marlon Brando, especially his cool biker role in ‘The Wild One’ (1953), riding that big Triumph Thunderbird 6T. There’s a story that when Dean learned Brando was to be there at a Hollywood party he was due to attend, he went in the full perfecto-style motor-cycle jacket and tilted cap ‘Wild One’ gear, in an attempt to impress his idol. But Brando had moved on. He was less than pleased. ‘Who’s this guy wearing my last year’s wardrobe?’ he sniped, ‘you’d better get him to a doctor, he’s very sick’. James Dean didn’t live long enough to betray his image. Had he lived he might have wound up doing a US Soap, or failing into mid-life tedium. As a cool-looking corpse he set an impossible standard for Hopper to follow. And hip tends to shift and assume new forms.

Hopper set his own brand of counter-culture generational cool with Peter Fonda riding Harley Davidson’s across America in ‘Easy Rider’ (July 1969). But before that, they’d appeared together in cult oddity ‘The Trip’ (1967). The third part of the ‘Easy Rider’ team was Jack Nicholson – as ‘Billy’. He wrote the screenplay for ‘The Trip’. Jack had already appeared in Roger Corman movies, and director Corman is renowned for granting his protégés opportunities. He encouraged Jack’s experimental writing styles and, in the DVD director’s commentary, allocates between 80-90% of the shooting script to him.

Peter Fonda, the son of a wealthy acting dynasty, seems an unlikely ‘Captain America’ hippie hero. But the self-styled ‘American Dreamer’ had already figured in Corman’s cycle of dope and biker flicks, taking the central role in ‘The Wild Angels’ (1966), from which his dialogue was sampled by Primal Scream. He was a mover on the bourgeoning counter-culture scene. John Lennon based his ‘Revolver’ song “She Said She Said” on Fonda, after meeting him at a LA poolside party where Fonda repeatedly related his acid-tripping experience, about how ‘I know what it’s like to be a dead’. A line he uses here. So there was already a potent talent-pool simmering even before shooting began. Like earlier drug-exploitation movies ‘The Trip’ opens with an escape clause pre-credit disclaimer, a warning of ‘great concern to us all’ about the use of ‘mind-bending chemicals’. In the light of what follows this is obviously a legal fig-leaf to deflect accusation. Much as ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936) had started out as a Church-sponsored morality tale, and wound up on the exploitation movie-circuit.

The story? There is no story. Fonda is Paul Groves. He takes LSD and has a series of weird supposedly-significant cod-pretentious hallucinations. That’s about it. The character is going into a painful divorce. He wears ‘very groovy boots’. He shoots glossy TV-ads in the surf. Much as the film he’s part of is pretty much a glossy ad for LSD. Acid was then the magic elixir. The lysergic catalyst behind the psychedelic revolution. Behind ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and ‘Their Satanic Majesties’, behind ‘Axis Bold As Love’ and ‘Surrealistic Pillow’. Behind extravagant new art, poetry and innovative magazines. Timothy Leary was promoting it as an instant tool to meditation, a route to reaching the kind of nirvana-high it took eastern mystics decades of discipline to achieve. Leary is the ghost at this celluloid party. While Vietnam war-news is on TV, the sixties other persistent presence.

Filmed around Laurel Canyon, and Big Sur – where Jack Kerouac wrote one of his best novels, Paul drops in at a graffiti’d crash-pad strewn with stoned hippies. A scrawny Max (Hopper) passes Fonda a joint, ‘a heavy trip’. But Groves wants to take acid. Why? ‘to find out something about myself’. As in Leary’s ‘The Politics Of Ecstasy’ (1968) guide-book, he approaches his trip in the correct approved fashion. He prepares his mind-set, with music and poetry – the City Lights edition of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ prominently on-screen, with John (Bruce Dern) as his guide, who advises him to ‘turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream’ (Dern had also appeared with Fonda in ‘The Wild Angels’ as the doomed ‘Loser’). Fonda washes down a white capsule with a swig of apple-juice. And the trip begins.

Soon, there are kaleidoscopic low-budget effects, swirling drip-art, a girl on a primal beach, dark Tolkien figures on horseback, a girl in body-paint, a dwarf (Angelo Rossitto). His consciousness splits between vast desert, and a Gothic mansion, in a part-Corman exploitation horror style, part Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ – but no, that’s to rate it way too high. He’s suddenly aware of the radiant energy of everyday objects, holding an orange is like ‘the sun in my hands, man’. Words and phrases are loaded with hidden meaning, the living room becomes a room which is living. And ‘that whole sex thing’ is amplified with trippy light-show effects playing over naked bodies, making detail swim uncertainly. There’s clumsy symbolism. A child’s hand. An arboreal forest. His own death, awareness of his own transient mortality. He flips out, ‘I’m frightened to die, man’. Then ‘I’m dead, I’ll never get back’. Hopper appears within the trip as his Inquisitor on a carnival carousel. He poses an accusation, what is Groves guilty of? He’s guilty of TV commercial ‘lies’. Guilty of ‘total self-involvement’. Guilty of his middle-class life-style. Guilty of consumer materialism. In a numinous cascade montage sequence, allegedly contrived by Corman himself, there are flash-frames symbols of it all, of Che Guevara, LB Johnson, Sophia Loren, Khalil ‘The Prophet’ Gibran, and a dollar bill. Plus ‘The Bay Of Pigs’ invasion. LSD shows a better way.

Then he hallucinates that guide John is dead, he panics and escapes into ad-spattered LA, a collage of tacky signs and images. He stumbles into a Laundromat which becomes an ‘incredible’ thing of wonder. He investigates the washing machine’s spin. Its groovy vibrations. ‘Shazam’. He descends into a trippy Sunset Strip Disco where clubbers idiot-dance to endlessly noodling improvisational swirls and where painted nipples shimmer. ‘You’re stoned out of your mind, aren’t you’ observes the waitress, ‘what’s the matter with you guys? Isn’t the real world good enough for you?’ leaving a parting barbed-humorous ‘Love Freak!’ When a pair of cops enter the club Groves runs. Eventually he winds up back with Max who tries to interpret his account of what’s going on in his head, ‘let’s sort the real from the Trip’. There’s a rapid-fire riffing of motifs in a blur of flashbacks. The black hooded figures are revealed as his competing love-interests. Love, sex and death. Does he come out of the Trip any wiser? Does he resolve his dilemma? Waking the following morning with girlfriend Glenn he’ll commit no further than ‘well, I’ll think about that tomorrow’, as his face splinters. What’s it all about? Ask Alice…!

Is the film an accurate representation of what it’s like to experience LSD? A true celluloid portrayal of the scrambled transcendent images dancing across the cortex, the derangement of the senses? No. Obviously not. By taking an inner landscape of altered consciousness and projecting it onto a screen, how could it be? But it precedes later attempts at visualising a drugged state, such as Ken Russell’s ‘Altered States’ (1980) or David Cronenberg’s movie of William S Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’ (1991) (in a further connection, Hopper worked on an aborted screenplay of the same writer’s ‘Junkie’ during 1977, with Terry Southern and Burroughs himself). But it also precedes Homer Simpson’s surreal trip after eating the ‘Guatemalan Insanity Pepper’ in ‘The Mysterious Voyage Of Homer’ (episode 162) too.

So is ‘The Trip’ dangerous? Is it likely to subvert vulnerable minds? After all, it was rejected by the British Board of Film Classification four times – in 1967, 1971, 1980 and 1988, before it was finally screened by Film Four in 2002, and not granted an uncut DVD certificate until June 2004. The three protagonists responsible for ‘The Trip’ – Hopper, Fonda, and Nicholson, would lift cult underground into massive overground with ‘Easy Rider’ a few years later. But this slight opportunistic and – objectively, rather silly movie is not consciously a dry run for what is to come. It’s striving for gravitas, but winds up mostly psychsploitation trend-mugging. Yet in its odd way it is sincere, an attempt to express intangible changes that were effecting and transfiguring their lives, individually and collectively, and would continue to do so in their separate future trajectories. With Hopper in particular as the awkward outlaw rebel that James Dean never lived to be.


THE TRIP’ (1967, American International Pictures) Produced and Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Jack Nicholson. With Peter Fonda (as Paul Groves), Susan Strasberg (Sally Groves, Paul’s wife), Bruce Dern (LSD guide John), Dennis Hopper (Max) and Salli Sachse (Glenn, Paul’s girlfriend), plus Barboura Morris, Judy Lang, Angelo Rossitto (the dwarf) and Luana Anders (as the waitress). An uncredited Peter Bogdanovich can be glimpsed at the party. Special Psychedelic Effects created by Charlatan Productions Inc. Music score credited to The American Music Band, but actually Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield. Running Time: 1hr 16mins/ 85-minutes. DVD: MGM Home Entertainment, 2004

A related movie – also on DVD, is ‘PSYCH-OUT’ (American International Pictures, 1968) with Susan Strasberg as deaf-runaway Jenny who arrives at the Haight-Ashbury Hippie nexus hunting her lost brother. She gets involved with free-loving Jack Nicholson (as Stoney, an unconvincing member of the outta-sight ‘Mumblin Jim’ Rock band) – ‘it’s not money, it’s life, it’s human life’ he tells her, and they track down brother Steve in the manic guise of ‘The Seeker’ (Bruce Dern). Despite a soundtrack by Storybook, plus guest sequences showing The Seeds and Strawberry Alarm Clock, with glimpses of a street-vendor selling u/g magazine ‘The Oracle’, and protestors protesting with blank placards, it’s a little too contrived to feel authentic. Produced by Dick Clark. Directed by Richard Rush. Story and Screenplay by E Hunter Willett (with Betty Ulius) 

Originally featured on website:
‘VIDEOVISTA’ (UK – September 2010)
and published in:
‘THE SUPPLEMENT Issue 53’ (November 2010)

Friday, 16 August 2019



Review of: 
With Hayley Mills, Simon Ward and Sterling Hayden 
(Silhouette Film Productions, 1974 DVD, Orbit Media) 


He pulls into the petrol station forecourt. There’s no attendant in sight. So, he circles around the rear of the building where, through a window-crack, he happens to see a girl in white underwear changing into her yellow uniform. His eyes narrow in close-up as he spies on her. This is a film that questions assumptions about male sexuality. A film that plays uneasily with gender expectations. What would be a normal response to this situation? Does his sly voyeurism indicate pervy tendencies… or is his prurient reaction only natural? Something every red-blooded male would do, gifted with the opportunity. Later, he enters the ‘Old Bakery’ store, pausing to glance at a window magazine display of soft-core pin-up magazines, ‘Fotos’ and ‘Men Only’. Of course, his interest is natural – isn’t it? Or is his longing glance evidence of a deeper disturbance?

‘Deadly Strangers’ opens uncompromisingly with a primed syringe. And a nurse pushing a trolley down a corridor of sealed rooms. She checks the spy-hole into room twelve. Once inside, she’s attacked with her own momentarily untended syringe. The occupant of room twelve has escaped. ‘A Nutter escaped from Greenwood’ mental hospital for the ‘guilty but insane.’ Later, a house is burgled, the bedroom ransacked. And a car is stolen as the driver uses a phone-booth. As he rushes out to stop the car, he’s struck and left for dead.

I must have seen this modest film during its first cinema run, and retained a strong memory. But was it Malcolm McDowell? Or was it Hywel Bennett? It’s only when Simon Ward died 20 July 2012, reading his obituary that I realised yes, it could only be him. The role of Stephen Slade could never by Malcolm McDowell, his cruel assured guilt would be an automatic conclusion. Nor Hywel Bennett, his easy charm would take him above suspicion. Slade must have an element of both, but also a weakness stronger than either. And Simon Ward captures that flawed quality as no-one else could. Maybe that’s the very element that kept him from major stardom? He’d started out well as an uncredited schoolboy in Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If’ (1968), then as the romantic interest in Hammer’s ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ (1969). He played Winston Churchill in ‘Young Winston’ (1972), and the Duke of Buckingham in both Richard Lester’s ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973) and ‘The Four Musketeers’ (1974). But it was own easygoing lack of ruthless ambition that determined he’d fail to realise such latent promise. Yet he’s perfectly cast against Hayley Mills in ‘Deadly Strangers’. Likeable, sixties fringe, modish belted suede jacket, fawn slacks, but carrying the hint of something hidden.

It’s a road movie of a particularly English kind. A bleak, flat, colour-drained countryside. Rain drizzles. A tanker from Birmingham pulls into the Roadhouse. The forecourt pooled with lakes of rainwater. Simon Ward feeds five-pence coins into the one-armed bandit. He sees Hayley Mills enter, and the trucker who offers her a lift to Greenwood Station. He drinks directly from a brandy-bottle, and leaves hurriedly as cops arrive to check out the travelers. ‘A maniac on the loose.’ ‘To look at them you’d never think they were dangerous.’ ‘Half of them don’t even know it themselves.’

There was a gratuitous flash of thigh as the nurse is attacked in the opening sequence. Now a titillating glimpse of leg as Hayley settles into the truck-cab. It’s only later that the driver pulls off-road into a lay-by to ‘settle the fare’. A ride for a ride. She struggles with him, spilling out onto the roadside. But the trucker speeds off as Ward happens by in his blue Austin Maxi saloon. He sternly advises ‘you’re asking for it, hitching lifts with those drivers.’ ‘I can take care of myself’ she retorts. He is Stephen Slade, She is Belle Adams. He drives her to the rail station, but deceives her that there are no trains due… but he can take her further, if she wants? As the journey resumes the car is forced to halt at a level crossing. A train speeds by. His lie found out. Are all guys on the make? Is his approach merely a more subtle variant of the trucker’s frontal assault?

She accuses him, that he’s lied. No, he argues back defensively, he just enjoys her company. Can she trust him? In a flashback it seems he’s unable to sexually perform with a party pick-up, something he finds ‘difficult to talk about’. In another flashback a girlfriend finds his stash of pin-up magazines. He’s socially clumsy, uses a primer on making friends to prompt conversation ‘Do you know how long it takes to boil an ostrich egg?’ pause, ‘Four hours.’ But she finds a letter and a farming magazine in the glove compartment. Suggesting that perhaps the car isn’t even his!

But she has flashback secrets too. The childhood car accident that killed her parents. Staying over with her pervy uncle and glimpsing him romping in the hay with a stable-girl. Then the recurrent nightmare of the drunken Uncle raping her. Hayley Mills had been an engagingly cute child-star of the Disney house-of-the-mouse. As the second of six films for them she played both sisters in the original ‘The Parent Trap’ (1961), even dueting with herself on the spin-off hit single “Let’s Get Together” (no.15 in ‘New Musical Express’ 11 November 1961). In the UK she was an outstanding innocent in the Bryan Forbes-directed ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ (1961), as a gullible schoolgirl mistaking fugitive murderer Alan Bates for Jesus. Such iconically charming and hugely popular roles necessitated an uneasy transition to more mature roles. She starred opposite Hywel Bennett as a newly-wed couple unable to consummate their marriage, in the kitchen-sink drama ‘The Family Way’ (1966) – with music by Paul McCartney. The same need to grow presumably legitimises the brief topless sequence in ‘Deadly Strangers’, gratuitous maybe, although there’s some plot legitimacy, for it’s also a defiant assertion of her adult independence. Miley Cyrus, another Disney alumni, would much later go through her own very public growing pains.

Stephen is speeding. The cops give chase. He can’t afford to be stopped – he says, because he’s been drinking. So he veers off onto a dirt-track to avoid them. Later, at a Greasy Spoon, two bikers muscle in. They give chase afterwards, buzzing the car. She advises him to pull over as they smash through a farmer’s roadside milk-churns. But no, it gets personal, he ramps it up into a feud, rams one of the bikers off the road. The bike bursts into flame. She drives now. They’ve another reason to avoid police checkpoints. The biker might have been killed (he’s not, both bikers are later seen in a pub drinking beer). Now they’re both on the run. They both have their reasons.

There’s an odd mid-sequence in which the awkward couple are accidentally parted. They sleep – separately, in the car. In the morning he wakes and finds she’s gone. ‘Bitch’, and he speeds off, passing her as she buys bread for their breakfast in the local shop. Nevertheless, she’s soon picked up by bearded Fortesque-Robarts, a hugely over-the-top eccentric performance by American actor Sterling Hayden in a vivid cameo (he’d been General Jack Ripper in the classic ‘Dr Strangelove’, 1964). As he passes by a petrol station, Stephen sees Robarts’ ‘magnificent motor vehicle’, and gives chase. They maneuver in a series of exchanges and close encounters, teasing out tension and coincidence, by the pier on a windy seaside promenade, in the ‘Crazy Hazy’ out-of-season funfair, the two cars passing each other in alternate multistory spiral-ramps. Director Sidney Hayers knew about mixing light and shade, he’d earlier directed Hammer’s shocker ‘Circus Of Horrors’ (1960), as well as Cliff Richard And The Shadows nuclear hide-and-seek musical ‘Finders Keepers’ (1966). Now, after Belle and Stephen are reunited, Robart buys the ‘Daily Press’ with the headline story of the Greenwood escaper and the murdered filling-station girl, and he makes the connection. But which of the two is he attempting to warn?

By the third section they’ve booked in at the ‘Hillcourt Hotel’. He signs in as Mr Jones – ‘Is it your wife?’ ‘Yeah, sure’, and they take the fishing lodge, £10 a night, in advance. There’s a stuffed fish in a glass case, and a chart of waterfowl on the wall. This is more than just a Slasher-Movie, it is a film that questions assumptions about male sexuality. Whatever his intensions, she makes it clear they will sleep separately. She even braces a chair against her bedroom door, to keep him out. So he spies through the keyhole as she undresses, as he’d fantasised about her in black stockings and suspender-belt earlier. His single close-up eye narrows as she slips her bra off, straining to see better. He selects a sharp knife to enlarge a chink in the chalet-wall, to peer through. Does this furtive voyeurism indicate pervy tendencies… or is his prurient interest only natural? Is this stepping outside normal acceptable behavior patterns, or something every red-blooded male would do, gifted with the opportunity? Is the male always predator, the woman always the victim? These sympathies and gender expectations have been teased and exploited throughout this tense and intriguing film. Now it flips them over.

Finally, the plot spoiler to end all plot spoilers. Re-spool to the opening, who was the ‘Greenwood Escaper’? We never see the face. Later, when they pull in for fuel Stephen tries the phone around the corner. Belle stays in the car… doesn’t she? So who attacks and kills the petrol-attendant girl? When Belle picks up the evening paper, Stephen’s face is prominently headlined. When he later finds the same paper and opens it up fully, the subhead ‘This Man Is In Danger’ runs under his photo. Too late. She attacks and garottes him from behind, as she had her evil uncle. The police arrive. But he’s already dead.

As the police drive her away she tells them ‘do you know it takes four hours to boil an ostrich egg?’ quoting his primer chat-up line with a curious smile on her face. The cell door slams shut again behind the ‘maniac’. Audience preconceptions neatly skewed. But wait. If her murderous insanity was precipitated by her Uncle’s attempted rape, hasn’t she also been the victim of predatory male sexuality all along? This is a film that questions assumptions about gender roles, and it is still asking them.

DEADLY STRANGERS’ (1975, Silhouette Film Productions) Producer: Peter Miller. Executive Producer: Patrick Dromgoole. Director: Sidney Hayers. Screenplay: Philip Levine. With Hayley Mills (as Belle Adams), Simon Ward (as Stephen Slade), Sterling Hayden (as Malcolm Robarts), Ken Hutchinson (as Jim Nicholls), Peter Jeffrey (as Belle’s Uncle), Hubert Tucker (as Café Owner), Nina Francis (as Petrol Station Attendant), George Collis (as First Biker), Ralph Arliss (as Second Biker), Juliet Aykroyd (as Stephen’s Girlfriend), Roger Nott (as Motorcycle Cop), Norman Tyrrell (as Hotel Receptionist). Music: Ron Goodwin. DVD, Orbit Media

Originally featured on website:
‘THE ZONE’ (UK – January 2014)

Wednesday, 14 August 2019



 TV SMITH – frontman of legendary New Wave 
 “One Chord Wonders” THE ADVERTS, plays 
 a solo gig in Leeds, throwing his past and 
 present incarnations into detailed perspective… 


Is this the end of Punk as we know it? Or just new shapes for the nineties?

Tonight at the Leeds ‘Duchess Of York’ TV Smith wreaks angst with ‘what if my teenage clothes, will never again fit?’ thrashed out to stark ‘three-chord-wonder’ acoustics. He’s a hunched-up figure on a nervous twitch of spindle-legs that operate as if independent from his body. But nothing about tonight would fool you into thinking this voice of righteous vengeance once spread chaos and mayhem from ‘Top Of The Pops’ to the ‘Live At The Roxy’ album and beyond. That this TV was once Advert-ised, frontman on the cutting edge of the New Wave. Tonight he’s solo, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Billy Bragg comparisons come easy, but aren’t too helpful.

Ignoring yells from unreformed Punks for his Adverts hit “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” he opens with one-time ‘New Musical Express’ Single Of The Week “Third Term”. Ignoring shouts for Ads-hit “No Time To Be Twenty-One” he sings “Luxury In Exile”. But no, this New Age TV is just the New Age stuck in a microwave oven for fifteen seconds, and though his teenage Adverts leathers no longer fit quite so stylishly, TV Smith is still not about to grow up gracefully.

Not tonight, not yet awhile.

--- 0 --- 

‘It’s the latest thing to be nowhere, 
you can blend into the wallpaper, 
but you know we’re always there anyway, 
without the New Wave, 
what about the New Wave? 
did you think it would change things?’ 
(“Safety In Numbers” by TV Smith) 

TV (Tim) and girlfriend Gaye form the ramshackle Adverts in early 1977. And it’s everything a garage-band is supposed to be. The Punk counter-culture is individualistic, aggressively self-centred, and it had odious table manners. Its soundtrack is no hardcore dancefloor, nor interminably improvised guitar solos that extend like knicker elastic. Punk is based on a style Big-Bang – a Bhopal, a Chernobyl, a Challenger Shuttle, with a cult fall-out that soon becomes a global menagerie. It was ‘just a chance to break out of the terrible rut music was in’ says TV (to ‘Vox’, November 1991), ‘an opportunity for youth to get out and DO something.’

He’d been drawn to London from his native Okehampton by the lure of the Punk detonation. And early Adverts are four strutters from the gutter led by an insectoid with a death-throes twitch. Gaye is their visual focal point – but if she’s not a Siouxsie or a Polly Styrene she’s certainly a Honey Lantree (Honeycombs) or a Megan Davies (Applejacks) for the New Wave. Hers is a withdrawn vamp-sexual quality quintessentially captured by her close-up mug-shot on the sleeve of their debut single. ‘The first female Punk star’, while on stage she chews gum with sullen bored charisma, her eyes dark – but luminous.

‘NME’ journalist Chris Salewicz writes up an early ‘Vortex’ gig – an ‘unpleasant amphetamine aggression in the air’ with the band flaunting a ‘fine sense of unhealthy neurosis’ and TV himself ‘so frail, so fragile and vulnerable that you sometimes wonder if he’ll make it through the set’ (13 August 1977). In the sweat, vomit and gob of early ‘Roxy’ dates the Adverts totally epitomise the cult of “One Chord Wonders”, with Howard ‘Pickup’ Boak (guitar) and Laurie ‘Driver’ Muscat (drums) as foil to Gaye Black’s bass and Tim ‘TV’ Smith’s guitar/vocals. London is a city in a state of youth revolt. A city that stinks and shines at one and the same time. But there’s no pain without gain, no action without reaction, no revolution without counter-revolution. On 21 June TV and Gaye are physically attacked by rampaging Punk-baiting Teds in Hammersmith, while a month later (22 July) they sign to Anchor Records.

From its drum-thump intro, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, their second 45rpm vinyl, is – to ‘NME’ ‘easily the most macabre hit single of ‘77’ – ‘Gary didn’t need his eyes to see, Gary and his eyes have parted company.’ It’s a Horror Movie. A true-life drama ripped from the tabloids based around the American mass-killer who demands his right to be executed by firing squad, yelling ‘LET’S DO IT!’ at the levelled guns. The single reaches no.18, and TV is on TV – the distance between playing live at the ‘Roxy’ to miming a chart hit on ‘Top Of The Pops’ measured in weeks. But – according to ‘NME’s ‘Book Of Modern Music’ ‘they fail to capitalise on the hit, due largely to their own technical inadequacy.’ At the time, Tim seems to agree, ‘the Adverts were formed by accident. Everything that happens to us is an accident. The Adverts work as a flawed community.’ And Pickup’s creativity is equally ragged, ‘…you can’t write guitar solos, they have to be stumbled over.’

Yet more fine singles follow, both “Safety In Numbers” and “No Time To Be Twenty-One” (‘life’s short, don’t make a mess of it’) snare and perfectly encapsulate the explosively abrasive roar of the time, ‘we’ll be your untouchables, we’ll be your outcasts’. They tour with the Damned, the posters say ‘THE ADVERTS CAN PLAY ONE CHORD. THE DAMNED CAN PLAY THREE. COME AND SEE ALL FOUR’. The Ads become the first Punks to play Hippie Graveyard ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ on BBC2-TV, with “Bored Teenagers”. They tour Europe and appear in German television documentary ‘Punk In London’, and TV-movie ‘Brennede Langweile’, both produced by Wolfgang Buld. They play north, and beyond – including Wakefield’s ‘Unity Hall’ where I see them for the first time. Visually, in and out of the flesh, they are shattering. The screeching play-in and heavy riffing, the skronking guitar betrayed by the defensive self-deprecating lyrics of “One Chord Wonders” suddenly more naked than you’d expected, ‘I wonder what we’ll play for you tonight? Something heavy or something light, something to set your soul alight, I wonder how we’ll answer when you say ‘We don’t like you – go away, come back when you’ve learned to play…’.’

But, swept up on the New Wave, ‘hope it’s not a passing phase’ – they’re soon stranded by it.

Subsequent vinyl shows TV Smith’s development as a writer outpacing the band’s capacity to keep up. Beyond the regulation Punk minimalism of ‘I don’t care, I don’t care’ TV’s lyrics always hang together as a narrative of wordplay and longform character study, and with the Adverts, the words begin to speak louder than the action. An album for the specially formed Bright label showcases his ‘witty, engaging songs, but again suffers from those inbred musical shortcomings.’ Even so – ‘Summer Salt’ fanzine no.3 deems ‘Crossing The Red Sea’ ‘the best New Wave LP so far, very much superior to ‘Bollox’, ‘The Clash’ et al.’ Perhaps that’s estimating too high, but it IS a chain reaction of everyday stories of politics, power, pain and perversity on a fuel of anger and a barrage of broken riffs. Then original member Laurie Driver is replaced by ex-Generation X drummer John Towe – and then by Rod Latter. The band’s momentum slows. And TV is already thinking beyond the collective restrictions. He’s writing with Kid Strange of Doctors Of Madness, collaborating on the B-side “Back From The Dead”. The respect is mutual. Strange says that ‘TV is the only New Wave songwriter who can string two sentences together and still remember what the first one was’ (‘NME’, 12 November 1977).

Keyboardist Tim Cross joins for the 1979 album ‘Cast Of Thousands’, with its scope broadening into a more experimental direction, but by now it’s too late. Latter and Howard Pickup quit, replaced by Paul and Rick Martinez (guitar and drums) – TV’s lyric ‘birds of a feather, drop dead together’ (“I Surrender”) sounds almost like an Adverts epitaph. The last gig the group play together is at Slough College 27 October 1979. Then Mike Dempsey – book publisher and Adverts manager, dies in what is described as a ‘home accident’ 6 December 1981. From a detached nineties perspective – to ‘Vox’, the Adverts were ‘interesting, but ultimately less than influential.’ While more personally, Steve Lamacq remembers buying ‘Crossing The Red Sea’ ‘as a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old’ and finds it ‘still an absorbing, agitated, but sussed album’ (‘NME’, 31 March 1990).

TV goes on to record with Nick Griffiths, producer of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, for sessions that would become his ‘Last Words Of The Great Explorer’. His lyrics emphasise ‘you can’t please everyone, you have to have fun’ (“Have Fun”) in a way that reads like a personal manifesto. The reaction is, initially, far from sympathetic. The album is dismissed as ‘determinedly dull and criminally uninteresting’ (‘Melody Maker’, 13 June 1981). Equally, the single “Tomahawk Cruise” is ‘widescreen production, weeping synthesisers’ while ‘thundering drums prop up TV’s multi-tracked vocals.’ The Adverts are dead. But Tim Smith is a going concern. He’s exploring the art of splendid solitude. Brought up on the nihilist epiphany of Punk, some music journalists refuse to accept that their heroes are capable of evolution. It will take time and perseverance for TV Smith to return to critical favour.

More perceptively, Waterboy Mike Scott writes in his ‘Jungleland’ fanzine ‘TV Smith knows about disappointment and degradation, about hope and effort, about pain and passion. He knows his faults and his limitations and his successes and ambitions. Enigmatic in black… he walks straight, searching out honesty and justice with an acoustic guitar and a band called the great explorers.’

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Tonight at the ‘Duchess Of York’ MC Richard Mason calls TV Smith ‘the finest lyricist in England’. Perhaps he’s not too wrong. Tim retunes into a song called “Atlantic Tunnel”. Harry Harrison once wrote a Science Fiction novel about that, but then again – Gary Gilmore’s cornea eye-transplant horror-show was Cyberpunk before its time. And TV’s “Atlantic Tunnel” is a huge churning spitting ‘Desolation Row’ of sinister simile and grievous metaphorical harm with lines about ‘smashing through the bedrock and culture shock’ in a high full-frontal whine, then rhyming ‘dinosaurs’ with ‘ocean floors’ in a moment of manic inspiration…

The end of Punk as we know it? Hardly, but instead there’s continuity. Conceding that ‘one way or another, you’re defeating your ideals’, he yet emerges with his political integrity intact. “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay” from his 1992 solo album, leads into an over-prescription of Legal Drugs – in “Ship In A Bottle”, and an exploding smash-and-grab essay on teenage homelessness (“Gather Your Things And Go”), while – if the excellent “Tomahawk Cruise” he wades into the Belgrano-Falklands mess, his “News Hounds” does the same for the Gulf War. Old Waves and New Age merge and microwave into each other. Who needs teenage clothes with a set as confrontational as this?

Perhaps these ARE new shapes for the nineties?


29 April 1977 – ‘One Chord Wonders’ c/w ‘Quickstep’ (Stiff BUY 17) produced by Larry Wallis of the Pink Fairies

June 1977 – ‘THE ROXY: LONDON WC2 (JANUARY-APRIL 1977)’ (EMI/Harvest SHSP 4069, reissued on Harvest January 1987) features Adverts ‘Bored Teenagers’ alongside live material by Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, Eater, Johnny Moped, Slaughter And The Dogs

19 August 1977 – ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ c/w ‘Bored Teenagers’ (Anchor ANC 1043) produced by Larry Wallis. ‘It’s the sickest and cleverest record to come out of the New Wave’ (says ‘Sounds). Enters ‘NME’ chart at no.18, 3 September 1977 and rises to no.16, 17 September. Reissued July 1983 (on Bright Records Bulb 1) it enters ‘NME’ Indie chart 16 July 1983 for eight weeks peaking at no.9. Reissued again March 1990 to coincide with ‘Gary Gilmore’ HBO TV bio-pic ‘Shot In The Heart’

28 October 1977 – ‘Safety In Numbers’ c/w ‘We Who Wait’ (Anchor ANC 1047) produced by Miles of ‘NME’

17 February 1978 – ‘CROSSING THE RED SEA WITH THE ADVERTS’ (Bright BRL 2001, reissued in August 1981 with bonus track ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ as Butt ALSO 002, then reissued in December 1988 as Bright BUL2 and CD CDBUL2, and in March 1990 on Link Records). Produced by John Leckie. ‘A hasty statement that captures an exciting time’ (‘Trouser Press’). Reaches no.38 in 1978. Features TV Smith (guitar/ vocals and all songs), Gaye Advert (bass), Laurie Driver (drums), Howard Pickup (guitar). Includes side one: ‘One Chord Wonders’, ‘Bored Teenagers’, ‘New Church’, ‘On The Roof’ (‘blank-faced, was this what our elders taught? Dim the lights and live like story-book’), ‘Newboys’ ‘Bombsite Boy’. Side two: ‘No Time To Be Twenty-One’, ‘Safety In Numbers’, ‘Drowning Men’, ‘On Wheels’, ‘The Great British Mistake’

20 January 1978 – ‘No Time To Be Twenty-One’ c/w ‘New Day Dawning’ (Bright BR1) On BBC chart from 25 February, up from 43 to 42, peaks at 38. ‘…the Adverts definitely come of age, settling down and hinting at future consistency’ (‘NME’ review). Tony Blackburn introduces them for their ‘Top Of The Pops’ slot

November 1978 – ‘HEROES AND COWARDS’ (Stiff Seez 0) compilation includes ‘One Chord Wonders’ and ‘Quickstep’, plus ‘IT’S WHERE YOUR WORLD BEGINS’ (RCA UK1) with ‘Television’s Over’

10 November 1978 – ‘Television’s Over’ c/w ‘Back From The Dead’ (RCA PB 5128) produced by Tom Newman

February 1979 – ‘TWENTY OF ANOTHER KIND’ (Polydor POLS 1006) with ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ plus previous singles by Jam, 999, Skids, Generation X and others, plus ‘GEEF VOOR: NEW WAVE’ (Ariola) Dutch hits compilation which includes ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’

1 June 1979 – ‘My Place’ c/w ‘New Church (Live)’ (RCA PB 5160) ‘…as simple and as effective a song as ever. Their sound has a lonely desperation now – no more communal stomping, but TV Smith is still master of the minimal chorus chant’ (review in ‘Melody Maker’ 23 June)

September 1979 – ‘Cut-Ups’ anti-vivisection solo GAYE ADVERT single written by TV Smith

12 October 1979 – ‘CAST OF THOUSANDS’ (RCA PL 25246) musicians are Gaye Advert (bass), TV Smith (guitar/vocals), Tim Cross (piano, synthesiser), Rod Latter (drums), Howard Pickup (guitar). Produced by Tom Newman. With ‘Cast Of Thousands’ (featured Richard Strange on synthesiser), ‘The Adverts’, ‘My Place’, ‘Male Assault’, ‘Television’s Over (New Version)’, ‘Fate Of Criminals’, ‘Love Song’, ‘I Surrender’, ‘I Looked At The Sun’, ‘I Will Walk You Home’ (with Tom Newman on synthesiser)

19 October 1979 – ‘Cast Of Thousands’ c/w ‘I Will Walk You Home’ (RCA PB 5191) ‘rape, runaway wives, other people’s lives, births deaths loonie left, murder, divorce, suicide political intrigues, hospital cases, British weapons to foreign places, earthquake, flood, bodies in the mud, poison, crowds, a cast of thousands…’

November 1980 – ‘Tomahawk Cruise’ c/w ‘See Europe’ (Big Beat Records NS 64, reissued February 1981 on Chiswick CHIS 140) as by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS, issued in a Ralph Steadman sleeve. ‘…a slightly hysterical, clean-cut and well-received flop’ (‘NME’, 9 May 1981)

April 1981 – ‘The Servant’ c/w ‘Looking Down On London’ (CBS Kaleidoscope KRLA 1162) by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS

June 1981 – ‘THE LAST WORDS OF THE GREAT EXPLORERS’ (Kaleidoscope KRL 85087) by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS. Musicians are Dave Sinclair (drums), Erik Russell (guitar), Mel Wesson (keyboards), Colin Stoner (bass). Produced by Nick Griffiths. Sleeve by Edward Bell. With ‘The Easy Way’, ‘Have Fun’, ‘The Servant’, ‘Perfect Life’ with free single ‘Walk In A Straight Line’ c/w ‘World Of My Own’

June 1981 – ‘Have Fun’ c/w ‘Imagination’ (Kaleidoscope KRLA 1359)

October 1981 – ‘The Perfect Life’ c/w ‘Imagination (New Edit)’ (Kaleidoscope KRLA 1590) by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS

March 1983 – ‘War Fever’ c/w ‘Lies’ (Expulsion OUT2) TV SMITH solo

May 1983 – ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes (US mix)’ c/w ‘We Who Wait’ + ‘New Day Dawning’ (Bright Bulb 1) by THE ADVERTS

June 1983 – ‘CHANNEL FIVE’ (Expulsion EXIT 4) as by TV SMITH – originally titled ‘Surprise Surprise’. Musicians include Tim Cross (keyboards), Tim Renwick (guitar). With ‘War Fever’, ‘On Your Video’, ‘Burning Rain’, ‘Dominator’, ‘The Suit’, ‘Cracking Up’

December 1983 – ‘GRIME OF THE CENTURY’ (Anagram KILO 1) six-LP set of compilations includes ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’

May 1985 – ‘Coming Round’ c/w ‘Woodpecker’ (Production House PH1) by TV SMITH AND TIM CROSS

September 1987 – ‘MINDLESS SLAUGHTER’ (Anhrefn 010) Animal Rights compilation features ‘Lies’ (re-recorded) and ‘New Ways Are Best’ by CHEAP (featuring TV SMITH) with other tracks by The Three Johns, Membranes, Conflict etc

October 1987 – ‘THE ADVERTS: THE PEEL SESSIONS’ (Strange Fruit SFPS 34) Twelve-inch EP recorded 25 April 1977, makes ‘NME’ Indie Chart for one week at no.23 on 7 November 1987. Tracks are ‘Quickstep’, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, ‘One Chord Wonders’, ‘New Boys’, Bored Teenagers’

November 1988 – ‘TAKING THIS PLACE APART’ (LP TTPA3) includes live ‘Luxury In Exile’

March 1990 – ‘Third Term’ c/w ‘Buried By The Machine’ (Deltic) as by CHEAP ‘…spot-on in a head-shaking earth-quaking way, TV… venting his wrath on Fatch (Mrs Thatcher) with his customary lyrical guile’ (review in ‘NME’ 3 March). Cheap did a ‘John Peel Session’ for BBC, but an album – ‘RIP… EVERYTHING MUST GO’ was shelved until 1993

February 1991 – ‘LIVE AT THE ROXY’ (Receiver LP/CD) by THE ADVERTS, full live set includes ‘Bored Teenagers’, ‘One Chord Wonders’, ‘Safety In Numbers’, ‘Great British Mistake’, ‘On Wheels’, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’. Also Live LP ‘LIVE AND LOUD!!’ (1992, Link Records)

July 1992 – ‘MARCH OF THE GIANTS’ (Cooking Vinyl LP/CD) with ‘Freeworld’, ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ etc. Further solo albums followed, including ‘IMMORTAL RICH’ (1995, Humbug Records), ‘GENERATION Y’ (1999, Cherry Red), ‘NOT A BAD DAY’ (2003, TVS), ‘MISINFORMATION OVERLOAD’ (2006, Boss Tuneage), ‘IN THE ARMS OF MY ENEMY’ (2008, Boss Tuneage), ‘COMING IN TO LAND’ (2011, Boss Tuneage), ‘I DELETE’ (2011, TVS) and ‘LAND OF THE OVERDOSE’ (2018)

1997 – ‘THE WONDERS DON’T CARE: THE COMPLETE RADIO RECORDINGS’ (Burning Airlines LP) – title lifted from the ‘One Chord Wonders’ lyric, and ‘THE PUNK SINGLES COLLECTION’ (Anagram Records) followed by ‘THE BEST OF THE ADVERTS’ (1998, Anagram Records)

2003 – ‘THE ADVERTS: ANTHOLOGY’ (The Devil’s Own Jukebox CD)

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Two Interviews: RED GUITARS


A band from Hull, Red Guitars had an Indie hit with 
 ‘Good Technology’ in 1983. I take a trip into my own past 
 to interview their main-man, Jeremy Kidd… 

‘We’ve got photographs of men on the moon
We’ve got water that is good for us
We’ve got coffee that’s instantaneous
We’ve got buildings that are very tall
We’ve got cigarettes that are low in tar
We’ve got policemen can tell us who we are
We can reproduce a work of art
We’ve got missiles can tear the world apart
Good, good, good, good, good, good technology’

Meanwhile, I’m still here thinking…

Tales unravel in slow loping polymers of speech punctuated by long thoughtful pauses. Me and Jerry Kidd are sat upstairs in his terraced house in Hull, talking through more songs about Facts and Technology. More Hicks From The Sticks. The curtains flag listlessly behind him, around a half-open window that looks out across Tunis Street at another row of terraced houses. He taps a box of matches up and down. We drink ‘coffee that is instantaneous’. While kids chant somewhere downstairs.

Jerry Kidd crosses his t’s and dots his I’s. He explains Red Guitars in meticulous detail, yet attempts to veer into matters not strictly related to the band, and it quickly comes clear that he’s intent on retaining something private for himself. The battered Jack Kerouac paperbacks on the shelf? A vague ‘naw’. They’re remnants of what he calls his ‘American Phase’. He prefers Thomas Pynchon now anyway. The albums downstairs – Duane Allman, Byrds, even Grateful Dead – are THEY influences? Another generalized negative. ‘The records I’ve got are mostly eight years old, because I can’t afford to buy them anymore, you know? They go back to a long time ago. I used to listen to loads of American music, but I don’t think it’s particularly an influence…’

And meanwhile, back at the plot…

‘We’ve had a lot of comparisons with all kinds of different bands. Talking Heads and U2. Comsat Angels. I fact – even bands that don’t feature guitars at all, which kinda makes the whole list seem a bit pointless really.’ The ghost of a grin. ‘But it’s quite good not to fit readily into a category. We’re not bothered too much – on the whole the comparisons are usually with bands we like, even if we don’t think we sound anything like them.’ Comparisons are odious. Comparisons are a neat journalistic device for short-handing bands. Sure, U2 – the basin-cut kid who brings in the coffee even looks like the boy on the U2 album sleeve! But that’s unfair. Better by far to listen.

Red Guitars self-drove their “Good Technology” single clear up the Indie charts powered on little sparks of clean sound bursting like phosphorous grenades around the bleak ponderous industrials and more-obscure-than-thou’s. It has a twisted humour and an accumulative energy that should’ve taken it to no.1, and then into minus figures. Then “Fact” slammed in second, just as distinctively rigged out in its clear ringing startles of guitar and inexorable hook. And now the current single, “Steeltown”… they got songs that stay played, and then some… You might have seen them at ICA’s ‘Big Brother’ Rock Week, on tour with the Smiths, or perhaps on ‘The Tube’?

Jerry dips his head to light a hand-rolled cigarette. Then resumes. ‘For me, the influence for being in a band was Punk. Because I used to listen to all those American bands in the early seventies. I had the attitude ‘wouldn’t it be great to do that?’, but you have to BE somebody special to be in a band. Then, quite fortuitously, through a series of accidents, I found myself singing with a band, just for fun. It became apparent that it wasn’t quite as I’d imagined it. Obviously the Punk spirit of ‘just going out and doing it’ encouraged a lot of people to play. But there’s a lot of other influences in there as well. I write most of the lyrics, and little bits of tunes here and there, but most of the music is supplied by the guitar player – Hal Lewis. Hal was brought up in South Africa, and quite a lot of the stuff we play has a vague kind of African feel – without being, or attempting to appear to be, specifically African. It just has that really nice lilting melodic feel.’ (Traits betrayed on their song “Marimba Jive”.) ‘But he’s obviously got other, more traditional Rock influences too.’

Alongside Hallam ‘Hal’ Lewis and Jeremy ‘Jerry’ Kidd there’s Red Guitarist John Rowley, Red bassist Louise (Lou Howard) Barlow, and Red drummer Matt Higgins. Jerry’s personal genealogy goes back to New Zealand, although I can’t detect any Maori in Red Guitars! The band’s evolution, more provincially, comes up through a confusion of Hull line-ups – including the short-lived Carnage In Poland. Geographical isolation can be an advantage. Hull lies a long M62 drive east clear off the map. Some people don’t even consider it part of the UK. Nissan – after some consideration, gave Humberside a miss, and built their shiny new factory in Northumberland. But that very cultural isolation pressure-cooks the local Muso Mafioso into an incestuously tight hepcat clique. I grew up in Hull. We start name-trading and turn in a respectable number of mutuals. As the interview winds down the vocalist from another band, the Luddites, drops in casual-like for a chat.

And being hicks from the sticks, away from the A-and-R stomping grounds, allows a band time to develop, batten onto and define its identity. Red Guitars value their independence – and their musical interdependence. ‘Everybody in the band contributes their part’ Jerry emphasizes. ‘We don’t insist that the drummer plays a particular pattern, although maybe we’ll suggest things to him – and likewise he’ll suggest things to us. The standard format for a song is that I’ll maybe write a lyric. And Hal has got loads and loads of tunes and bits and pieces on tape that he’ll play from time to time. What often happens is that I might spark off a melody line and get a line of lyric or a phrase. Something that seems to fit. And that’s the germination of the song. That’s where it starts. Then it grows through a process of playing it, seeing what it sounds like. We work very hard to get the right kind of final format.’ Their song “Check It Out” describes the process – ‘I just wait for that certain chord, the chord is blue, it swings, it Rocks – and when it comes, I BELT IT!’

The craft and attention to detail in their songs is obvious to anyone with ears. Songs like “Slow To Fade” and “Sting In The Tail” which they perform as part of a ‘Kid Jensen’ radio session. Or their standout single “Steeltown” which I first saw them do on ‘Old Grey White Test’. The lyrics there seem to refer more to the MacGregor-blitzed Sheffield industrial wind-down than the gently decaying trawlers of the Humber estuary – ‘the steel town is closing down, all the mills are rusting./ Everybody’s got a new car, with the redundancy money.’ The bitterly ironic humour emphasized by stretching the word re-dun-dance-sea across five gloriously extended syllables.

‘“Steeltown”? That’s been knocking around for about eighteen months’ he explains. ‘We played it for a while and it wasn’t working properly live. That’s always a telling sign, y’know? If you get to that point in the set and everybody thinks ‘Oh Christ, we’ve gotta do this one,’ you know it’s not quite working. But – it’s like the thing about the sculptor with the lump of stone. Somewhere inside that stone is a sculpture waiting to come out. And we knew there was a good song there somewhere. We just had to find it. It’s taken us a long time. A hell of a lot of work went into it. But we did it, and it turned out really well. We’ve got a lot of things we don’t play yet, and we may never do. Quite often we’ll have a riff which works well, but we don’t ever air them until they become songs. That’s the important thing. We try to keep our eyes very clearly on that, ‘cos otherwise it just doesn’t add up to anything…’

And Red Guitars most definitely add up to something. Something positive.

And meanwhile, I’m still here thinking…

‘We’ve got trains that run underground
Aeroplanes that fly very fast
We’ve got music that is popular
We’ve got machines that sound like orchestras
We’ve got ability to transplant a heart
We’ve got freezers full of body parts
We’ve got computers that can find us friends
We know roughly when the world will end
Good, good, good, good, good, good technology…’


1983 – ‘Good Technology’ c/w ‘Heart Beat Go (Love Dub)’ (Self Drive Records SD 006), reaches no.8 on Indie chart, the video – performed in a scrap-yard (the obsolescence of new technology) screened on Channel Four’s ‘The Tube’, a 1984 12” reissue edition (SD008) has ‘Good Technology’ c/w ‘Fact’ + ‘Paris France’ reaches no.4 ‘We’ve got sounds that can tear us inside out, sometimes I wonder what it is all about. There’s lots of leisure time to sit and work it out, there’s a TV show I’ve got to see, Good, good, good, good, good, good technology, Good technology…’

1983 – ‘Fact!’ c/w ‘Dive (Live)’ (Self Drive Records SD007) Reaches no.7 on Indie chart. At the time of this interview the address was: ‘Self Drive Music’, 40 Tunis Street, Hull HU5 1EZ (Tel: 0482-48557) + 11 Albany Street, Spring Bank, Hull

June 1984 – ‘Steeltown’ c/w ‘Within 4 Walls’ (Self Drive Records SCAR 010). Reaches no.2 on Indie chart. A ‘Steeltown’ John Peel Session version included on 1986 twelve-inch EP ‘Four Your Ears Only’ (PIAS Recordings)

1984 – ‘Marimba Jive’ (Lewis, Jeremy Kidd) c/w ‘Heartbeat Go!’ (Hallam Lewis) (Self Drive Records SCAR 14). Reaches no.1 on Indie chart

November 1984 – ‘SLOW TO FADE’ (Self Drive Records SCAR LP1) with side one: ‘Remote Control’, ‘Dive’, ‘Astronomy’, ‘Cloak And Dagger’, ‘Crocodile Tears’, plus side two: ‘Shaken Not Stirred’, ‘Sting In The Tale’, ‘Marimba Jive’, ‘Slow To Fade’. Recorded at Fairview Studios in Hull, with all tracks written by Kidd-Lewis, except ‘Crocodile Tears’ by Kidd and ‘Heartbeat Go!’ credited to Red Guitars, it reaches no.3 on Indie chart. An October 2002 Cherry Red rerelease includes bonus tracks ‘Good Technology’, ‘Fact’, ‘Paris France’, ‘Steeltown’, ‘Within Four Walls’ and ‘Heartbeat Go!’ Jeremy Kidd quits two months after the album’s release, and releases solo single “Petals And Ashes (A Song For Emma Goldman)” c/w “Crocodile Tears” in 1985 on Self Drive Records

1985 – ‘Be With Me’ c/w ‘Things I Want’ (One Way Records OW1) ‘A’-side produced by Ian Broudie, with Robert Holmes vocals. Reaches no.1 on Indie chart

1986 – ‘America And Me’ c/w ‘Marianne’ (Virgin VS 858)

1986 – ‘Blue Caravan’ c/w ‘Suspicion And Fear’ (Virgin VS899)

1986 – ‘National Avenue (Sunday Afternoon)’ c/w ‘King And Country’ (Virgin VS 832)


‘Beautiful boys with bright red guitars 
in the spaces between the stars’ 
(“Mrs Albion You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” 
by Adrian Henri, 1967) 

When he wrote those lines, poet Adrian Henri’s target was Liverpool musicians, not those from Hull. But although both cities are gradually decaying ports with declining maritime industries, the similarities end there. Some people still consider Hull to be the Land That Time Forgot. Until now, many years later, Humberside is getting its revenge – and it’s become the new home for those bright Red Guitars.

Jeremy Kidd has short uncombed hair that erupts in an unexpected spray of rats-tails over his collar. He hand-rolls cigarettes with the same exaggerated care that he’s now reciting the story of the group he fronts – Red Guitars. A slow factual narrative with artfully selected words falling exactly into place. There’s no attempted hype. No outlandish brags. He informs me that “Good Technology” – their debut single, got to no.5 on the Indie list. Most bands would’ve said no.1, what the hell? But not Jerry Kidd. He’s not playing routine promo games. He’s for real.

‘We’ve been together about two years, something like that.’ Then, ‘or is it just a year? No, it’s two years, although we didn’t really do much for the first year, we used to play a lot around here. We established a following in Hull – people used to have a good time when they came to see us. So we thought, rather than just kind-of doing a demo we’d try and get the money together and put a single out ourselves. The result was “Good Technology”… er, do you want me to keep talking? You can ask questions later. I can at least fill you in on roughly what’s going on. The story thus far…’

There are five Red Guitars. There’s Hallam Lewis in red berry and lead guitar, and Lou Barlow in dark wings of hair and bass. While John Rowley holds down that much-neglected role of rhythm guitar, against Matt Higgins sharp articulate drums. Collectively they spearhead that new generation of bands restating the importance of ‘real instruments’. The novelty phase of synth ‘n’ Revox has devolved into a new conformity, reaching a point where clean uncluttered guitar lines kick out against its fussy pretentions with renewed power, clarity and directness.

‘‘We’ve got machines that sound like orchestras’’ Kidd sings in deadpan derision. Then… ‘WE’VE got sounds that can tear us inside out!’ And they carry that directness clear through every aspect of the group. There’s precious little style-selling or danger-mouth sloganeering. They’ve opted out of the style wars. On stage their power is understated. Kidd doesn’t move much, preferring to hang folded in around the mic. The excitement – in songs like “Paris France” or instrumentals such as the Afro-tinged “Heartbeat Go!”, comes more from the controlled use of sonic dynamic. The way it builds gradually and inexorably to towers of power, the way it then fragments around frenetic guitar clusters in sparkling bursts of incandescence. Their debut album – ‘Slow To Fade’ (November 1984) is riddled with such streaks of the unique.

Yet, more concerned with superficials, the Press slagged off their killer set at the ‘Leeds Futurama’ for their ‘visual confusion of styles’. Kidd bestows one of his infrequent laughs at the put-down. ‘A couple of hippie-looking guitarists and a singer with a Mick Ronson 1973 haircut, yeah’ he quotes. ‘But I mean, maybe that’s not quite the priority with us that it is to some bands. At the moment we do tend to come across as though we’re all playing in different bands, and just happened to get together on the night. Our playing’s getting stronger and stronger through playing live. THAT’S what we see as the most important thing. We want to look reasonably RIGHT, we want to put a fairly coherent kind of image together, but I don’t think it’s crucial to our band. That’s something that’ll come together. When people want to come to see you play – that’s what we see as the most important thing. And the songs that we write – THAT’S our strength really! There’s been some good songs around this year, which is very encouraging. There are people out there writing really strong songs. There’s never THAT many about, but now there’s a few, and at least WE’RE trying…’

Yes – despite such emphasis on song, ‘I didn’t write “Good Technology”. It was written by a friend of ours called Stuart Ross who lives in Hull. He used to play bass with Wreckless Eric, who was up here at Art College for a bit! But we always thought it was a very strong, very unusual kind of song. When we first used to play it, it ran to something like seven minutes long, and we spent ages trying to chop it down. It just has this kind of monotonous driving beat, the bottom line of it is very repetitive – and it just BUILDS. It can be quite uplifting when it works properly. We thought people were going to NOTICE it, they were going to LISTEN. They might not necessarily LIKE it, but they were going to NOTICE it. And that’s proved to be the case… it’s been a good move. We’re now in a position to do other material and at least get a listening. That song won us that right.’

“Fact” came second, equally successful, and in some ways even a superior record. Jerry and Hal wrote it, and what it misses out in “Good Technology”s pressure-shaped insistence, it compensates in lyrical and melodic change-ringing. ‘Lyrics are important – especially to me, ‘cos I write them! But we write reasonably good songs, and that means managing to achieve a balance between melody and lyric. I wouldn’t like to isolate the two and separate them – because they work together. The overall shape and form is crucial in the end. To make a statement like ‘take the profit out of war/ we don’t need it anymore’ (in “Fact”) is just what it says it is, nothing more and nothing less. It’s a very bald, straightforward statement, in certain respects – very important, in other respects kind of banal and naïve. Because the verse parts, they’re much more obscure, cloudy and confused (‘for those of us with dented pride, who never reached the top/ I never lost my fear of flying’), it tends to balance out the forthrightness of the chorus. In the context of the overall lyric it achieves something of what I wanted to say. I don’t think you can take one without the other.’

The ponderous but inspired “Steeltown” – introduced by Mark Ellen when they perform it on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, came up for grabs as their third 45rpm, and – with the next single, “Marimba Jive” at Indie no.1, it proves that Red Guitars are far from a two-song band. They have a reservoir of material to draw from, each song distinctively different and as carefully constructed. ‘We do cover quite a broad spectrum of stuff’ he agrees. ‘Again, that just means people will probably have difficulty categorizing us, which – obviously people like to do, y’know? It’d be quite convenient if we could think of a genre-label for ourselves, but we’ve always had trouble with that.’

The ‘Humberside Sound’? Which leads us neatly back to image. Partly thanks to a Channel Four ‘The Tube’ TV mini-feature they’re inexorably linked in people’s minds as ‘RED GUITARS: A BAND FROM HULL’. ‘That’s good in some ways, and bad in other ways’ he admits. ‘But in the end it doesn’t make any difference at all. Since “Good Technology” we’ve had a few vague enquiries from major labels, quite a lot of offers from other small labels, all of which we turn down. All of those people want you to sign contracts for three years. But we certainly have no intention of rushing off down to London or anything. Simply because, as soon as you get among people who’ve spent years involved with the record industry – they start telling you things. And because they’re professionals you naturally listen. And it takes you two or three weeks to realize they’re talking absolute crap! So while we’re sitting up here in Hull, at least we know what WE want to do. And in the end – so far, that’s always proved to be the correct thing to do at every stage.’

The question about the ‘Humberside Sound’ follows naturally. But he’s not impressed. ‘It’s good fun, but it doesn’t mean anything’ he says. ‘I don’t suppose anybody takes it seriously.’

Which is where I start quoting Liverpool poetry at him, about ‘beautiful boys with bright red guitars’ Jerry? But no. ‘I missed that. Who’s that by? Adrian Henri? That’s interesting…’