Gang of Four Interview – Temporary Hoarding (Rock Against Racism)
A version of this article originally appeared as ‘The Gang of Three/Quarters’ in TempoRARy Hoarding, Issue no 9 (June/July 1979), so-called because we spoke only to Andy, Hugo and Dave: Jon was absent, I don’t recall why. The interview was conducted by myself and Lucy Toothpaste on 28.5.1979, the day after the group had played at the Lyceum Theatre in London. It’s interest now, I think, lies largely in the extent to which issues of authority and control dominate the conversation. Lucy, Andy and Hugo seem to have been thinking about structuralist notions of power and ideas of commodification – Hugo eventually left the Gang for an academic career in the States. It’s hard to imagine a band today being quite so theoretical or self-reflecting about what they’re up to on stage or in the recording studio. There’s also a sense of the strength of grassroots organisations up and down the country – how much activity punk’s DIY ethos generated at this time – from building your own PA or starting a band, to putting on a gig or setting up a record company. And you get a an idea, too, of the way in which RAR – and bands who played for RAR – struggled to challenge those kids caught up with the National Front. It’s easy to forget now how common it was to see the NF at all kinds of gigs in the Seventies, pop music really was a battle-ground and the atmosphere could be menaacing, often the street fighting of fascist and anti-fascist demonstrations was carried over into the club, pub or town hall where gigs were held. It wasn’t only bands like Madness that drew large number of fascists – I recall a gig of theirs at the Hope and Anchor in Islington packed with Seig-Heiling teenagers – but all kinds of punk and new wave acts, even avowedly anti-racist ones like the Ruts, Mekons and the Gang of Four.
Kate: From the outisde the RAR groups in Leeds seem to present themselves as fairly cohesive, more so than in other areas.
Lucy: The Leeds RAR Club is one of our most active, it’s always got something going on.
Hugo: Yes, that’s the great strength about it. In an organisation as young as it is – a non-professional thing – you’re bound to get some friction and some stupid things going on, but the fact that it has kept going so long is great. [In fact, Leeds RAR, despite combusting on a couple of occasions, stayed the course longer than most, hosting one of the last big Carnivals attributable to RAR mark one, with the Specials in 1981.]
Lucy: Do you think the RAR Club has had an affect on the music scene in Leeds?
Andy: Yes, it’s provided a venue.
Hugo: There’s a lot of bands which wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to play, except the odd wine-bar gig.
Andy: And it gets them out of the continual pub crawl.
Dave: And the F Club. It’s a rotten place.
Lucy: That’s for political reasons though, isn’t it?
Dave: It’s a mixture. The club’s not very well run, I don’t think.
Kate: Who runs the F CLub?
Hugo: John Keenan. There’s a lot of shit flung at John Keenan.
Dave. Yes, some of it sticks.
Hugo: A lot of it sticks, and rightly so, but I respect what he would like to do. He’s trying to do some good things, but he’s not going about it in the right way.
Kate: What is he trying to do?
Hugo: Provide a good venue that people can enjoy, at a decent price, and put on good bands. His platform is, “This isn’t a political venue, it’s just a musical venue.”
Kate: How did all the problems start with bands like The Dentists?
Andy: Well that’s the key thing, it’s a cop-out really, because he allows it to be a meeting ground for the NF. This is the old argument that we’ve had with Keenan. When we played there we’ve had NF pulling us off the stage, and the Mekons have had them marching, Seig-Heiling round the hall and things like this. And we said to Keenan, it’s just not on, and we haven’t played there since.
Kate: You feel he ought to take action to stop certain bands like The Dentists playing there?
Andy: To stop certain people going in. It’s perfectly clear who they are, but he just lets them go in.
Hugo: And they go down to the F Club basically to terrorise people, just to cause trouble or to create a heavy atmosphere. There’s always somebody being threatened, or there’s heavy looks. At the Poly, they can come and go and you don’t really notice them.
Kate: Did Keenan start it by putting those bands on, or did they start going down there first and then bands like The Dentists appeared?
Hugo: The Dentists kept on hassling to get a gig. They sepcifically said, “We’re not political, give us a chance”, and went on at him until he did give them a chance.
Kate: Were their lyrics as inflammatory as they were reported to be?
Dave: They’re supposed to play songs like ‘Master Race’.
Andy: But that’s only a shade away from what Iggy Pop was singing about, though, or any early Seventies glam-rock. Of course, that’s a criticism of Iggy Pop too.
Lucy: But also there is a different political climate, so that if you sing that sort of song now, you’re consciously identifying yourself with the NF. But to get back to the RAR Club, you say that it has provided a venue for bands – but do you think it has had any affect on either the bands or the audience, politically?
Hugo: Well, I think on the audience level it’s mixed. There’s a lot of kids involved politically, but on a very naive level. I sometimes feel they’re not really that clued up about what it’s all about – apart from the very basic things of: NF are the bad guys and we’re the good guys. Most of them wouldn’t know a hint of difference between what racism is and fascism is. And I feel sometimes it’s just that identity thing , you know. ANL or RAR becomes the alternative to going to watch Leeds, or being a skinhead, or National Front member. It feels just like another gang sometimes.
Dave: When we played on April 1st I went to the meeting beforehand and the young kids especially looked a bit vague. But what I did like – I was very impressed that they were actually being organised to do something.
Andy: Well, it’s providing a situation that they’re learning in.
Hugo: Yes, but is that learning process being thought about by RAR?
Andy: That’s what RAR’s about, as far as I’m concerned.
Hugo: Yes, but does it do the job efficiently?
Andy: Yeah, sure. There’s Temporary Hoarding for a start.
Kate: What further ways are you suggesting of educating them? Apart from the music and getting involved themselves?
Lucy: I think there ought to be mnore discussions about racism.
Hugo: Yes exactly. What is it really all about? What do the NF really stand for? You need more than just a quarto size sheet with six main points about what they think. Explain a bit of history about it, and difference between fascism and racism.
Kate: But you can’t do that in a gig situation. You can’t have somebody standing up and start to do that. The only situation you can do that in is a meeting, and it’s hard to get kids to come to meetings.
Andy: I think Temporary Hoarding does it perfectly.
Hugo: I don’t. I think it could be better.
Lucy: It would do it better if it was distributed better. But I agree, actually, that often TH doesn’t have enough basic stuff about racism and oppression in general.
Hugo: Another thing about Leeds RAR Club, where they sometimes let themselves down, is they do a bit of leafletting, and they get their main points down and then there’s “Fuck the National Front” written in a corner, or “Pogo on a Nazi”, something really stupid like that, which is unnecessary.
Kate: But that’s the kind of slogans that ANL was running, and whether it’s good or not, that’s what’s mobilised so many people.
Lucy: No, I don’t think slogans do mobilise people, they’re what they use when they can’t think of anything better. I think what mobilised people was having bands, and showing that it was more fun. I don’t think slogans are fun at all.
Hugo: Slogans are things to put on badge, or shout, that’s all.
Lucy: It’s difficult though, isn’t it? There’s all the practical difficulties of running a club apart from the politics, and there’s a shortage of people.
Hugo: And there’s the internal politics against the Poly.
Lucy: Yes, and then there’s the question of the political astuteness and experience of the people who are involved in that area.
Hugo: And given all that, Leeds RAR are fighting an uphill battle. That they’ve kept going so long is really encouraging.
Lucy: It seems like they’re really on the frontline as well. It seems much more urgent in Leeds than in some other places, where there isn’t that direct threat of the NF.
Kate: What do you feel about your own role locally with RAR?
Andy: We can just help keep RAR going. When they got badly in debt, we did that big gig for nothing.
Dave: That’s one of the best ways we can help.
Hugo: They help bands who need help. And as a band, maybe we can do the same.
Kate: What about the free gig you did at the weekend?
Hugo: People kept on saying, “Oh, you never play Leeds”, so we said, “All right, we’ll do a free gig at the University Tartan Bar”. And then somebody from Bradford asked if we could do a RAR benefit for people in Bradford who got arrested at the Leicester anti-NF demonstration. So what we did was, we had a voluntary collection. We got £80, and we’re going to split it 50/50 between Southall Community Centre and the Bradford fund.
Kate: So who paid for the gig?
Hugo: We did. We paid for everything.
Kate: What PA did you use? You haven’t got your own PA have you?
Dave: No we have to hire one – about £100.
Kate: Did you have problems with loads of people wanting to come in?
Hugo: Yes. It was absolutely sardine-packed.
Dave: It was just chaotic. People went out to the toilet and couldn’t get back in.
Kate: Was it a good gig? Did you enjoy it?
Hugo: Yes. It was potentially a bit heavy, but the audience all really enjoyed it, there were no fights. Down at the front they all linked arms so there was no danger of people getting thrown forward.
Dave: The National Front were there.
Hugo: Yes, about seven of them. And someone said that one of them came past the collection box about three times and threw his coppers in.
Andy: Well that’s the thing, they’re sort of coming and going.
Hugo: And that’s where the strength of a gig like that lies.
Dave: That’s right. They don’t really know where they stand. But if they come to a gig like that and see what’s going on, maybe they’ll think about it.
Hugo: There was no advertising about it being a benefit gig. All we did was, when I came to do the talk-over, I just said, “This is a free gig, but there’s a catch”, and I was expecting a lot of moaning. But when I explained where the money was going, everybody started cheering.
Dave: Nineteen people put in pound notes.
Kate: When we were queuing up last night outside the Lyceum, there was a bunch of blokes covered in Gang of Four badges, Ruts badges, Mekons badges…
Lucy: …and Union Jacks…
Kate: …and they had a whole load of British Movement stickers. They had ‘Anarchy’ signs next to NF badges. And they were plastering the outside of the Lyceum and all down the Strand with these stickers – “Ban red riots, not legal marches”; “Curb the Communists”.
Dave: It was the same when we plated Eric’s [a club in Liverpool]. These two guys came out of the door, making sure we could see them, putting stickers on the door. I went to see what they were and they said, “British Movement – send 10p for a leaflet”.
Kate: They don’t even give you a free leaflet! But think what a dilemma they must be in, when they’re standing there with all their Gang of Four badges and everything, and you come on and play your music.
Hugo: Well it’s better to put them in a dilemma and try to make them think about it, than just beat it into them.
Lucy: Now we’ve come on to what I really want to talk to you about, which is what you’re trying to do with your music and words and performances, and how much effect you think you have on people?
Kate: We were wondering how much your lyrics relate to those kids, for instance?
Lucy: Well, you can’t hear many of the lyrics anyway.
Hugo: That’s always the same with rock music – but ultimately the ideas that we’re trying to put across in our songs are backed up by our artwork and, hopefully, by what comes across in interviews. It’s not just the song, it’s not isolated.
Andy: Also, if you hear it a few times, you start getting the lyrics.
Hugo: And ultimately when we put an album out, you can sit and listen to it all day and work out the lines!
Lucy: Are you going to write the lyrics on the sleeve?
Andy: Some of them, the ones that are difficult to decipher, so that you can sit and ponder them.
Dave: Yes. We always say we’re in complete contrast to someone like Tom Robinson, who is a bit sloganising with his music.
Andy: When Tom Robinson’s going on about, say, “Sing if you’re glad to be gay”, it’s pretty obvious what he’s talking about, and it almost puts forward homosexuality as a marketable commodity, as an idea which needs promotion. [Like many people, Andy seems to have missed the fact that the song is ironic.]
Kate: Couldn’t you say the same thing about your songs about Ireland, for instance?
Andy: No. Well possibly in the case of ‘Armalite Rifle’, but not ‘Ether’. Do you know ‘Ether’?
Kate: We heard it last night but we couldn’t make it out – we just kept hearing words like “Long Kesh” and “torture”.
Andy: Yes. What happens in that one, as you probably noticed, is that Jon is singing about people’s aspirations to a life-style – how they’d like to live their lives in private away from all the forces of society.
Dave: And meanwhile Andy’s going on about [internment]…
Andy: …It’s just putting the two ideas in conflict.
Hugo: Which might sound a bit bitty…
Andy: It intentionally sounds very bitty. It’s like the jarring of two things. He sings, “Locked in heaven’s life-style”, and I go, “Locked in Long Kesh”.
Hugo: You can’t separate your private life and your political business.
Andy: And I think that’s a good form for it: him singing one thing, and me singing another. We’ve also got very different voices: mine’s very blergh, and his is almost tuneful. It works on lots of levels. But, then again, as you say, it’s difficult to hear bits of it, and that makes it tantalising. But hopefully if you come a few more times…
Lucy: That seems to make a comment about your performance as a whole. There you are, singing about armalite rifles or whatever, and we’re all dancing around to it in the Lyceum, which is an odd experience.
Andy: I don’t see that as a contradiction. I see the dancing, and the enjoyment of the music, as a way of expressing your unification really, as an audience. The dancing is like joining in with what we’re doing on the stage . You’re not celebrating the armalite rifle by dancing, you’re agreeing with the attitude being expressed.
Lucy: Well you hope so, at any rate.
Andy: Or else you’re just dancing, yes. But presumably you’re dancing because you’re enjoying it, and in that song the lyrics are very clear. It’s been out on record for a long time.
Dave: Everybody, virtually, was singing along with that one, which means they’ve got the lyrics in their heads. So surely it’s quite clear they know what they’re dancing about. I mean, we could have written a poem and put it in Temporary Hoarding, and it wouldn’t have been as effective, I don’t think. To see a thousand people jumping up and down and singing it must be better than having people just read and then discard it, because they’re more likely to remember it.
Andy: And it’s partly the social thing – all doing it together.
Lucy: I found the white lights on the audience a bit aggressive, specially as they were used so much. Where I was standing it was really blinding.
Andy: I wanted them to be lower down, so that the light shone straight out.
Hugo: Instead of spotlighting the band, it was spotlighting the audience.
Andy: Yeah, well the audience were getting it right in the eye.
Dave: We haven’t worked out the light show at all. The lights come with the PA, and we talked to them to tell them what we wanted.
Hugo: But the only way really is when you design your own lightshow to take on tour with you. When you turn the lights on the audience, on a very plain level, it’s nice seeing faces, rather than just the front row.
Lucy: What leads on from that is the whole thing about the power which a band has over the audience. We wanted to know what you felt about that.
Andy: It’s quite complicated. There’s a lot of things about it which bother me, about being in a position where you’re dictating the format.
Hugo: It’s a little bit distrubing that people are so completely malleable.
Lucy: Yes, it’s terrifying.
Andy: And us exploiting that as well?
Dave: I felt completely immersed with the audience myself last night.
Kate: Do you feel a lot more confident now? You certainly struck me, since the RAR tour, as having got a lot tighter, and seeming a lot more aggressive on the stage than you were.
Hugo: Well the RAR gigs were a bit like one big party. They were like a celebration of unification.
Kate: So what was your feeling at the Lyceum?
Dave: I felt that we had sold out the Lyceum and, for us, without an LP out or anything, that was pretty good going. I felt that the audience deserved…
Hugo: …it’s not that we didn’t give everything at RAR.
Kate: No, but it was different.
Andy: For a start you’ve got a stage about three t imes as big as usual.
Dave: That stage makes you move. There’s no way you can stay still.
Lucy: You just spontaneoulsy felt like careering around?
Dave: If the audience is having a good time, and the sound’s alright on stage, everything works – it’s just releasing energy.
Kate: Did you feel you had power over us?
Lucy: I think you do have it though, even if you don’t feel it. If you’re in the audience, the people on the stage do exert power over you, whether you as performers feel it or not.
Hugo: Well I don’t think we abuse it.
Lucy: No, I don’t think you do.
Andy: I think what you’re saying here is, there’s an atmosphere of aggression.
Lucy: No it’s not just aggression. I think it’s volume, and the fact you’re higher up than we are.
Hugo: Well that’s the age-old problem you’re up against, however much you try to close the gap.
Lucy: Yes but it’s a particularly critical problem for a band who want to be anti-hierarchical, isn’t it?
Hugo: Yes. But you have to be on a different level so that everybody can see. I mean, you are performing. I hate not being able to see a band. At the Lyceum where there is a big geographical difference between the stage and the floor, a lot of bands will play to that, and exploit it.
Lucy: I wanted to mention, when you play for Rock Against Sexism, as you have agreed to do in the summer, it might be quite controversial, not for personal reasons but because of the instituion of rock – it being a male thing historically. I think there might be people in the audience who would feel uncomfortable.
Andy: I would completely agree with that.
Lucy: There we would be, in the same situation, with four men having power over us.
Andy: And specially as you’ve pointed out that it is aggressive – which is supposedly a male sphere.
Lucy: Have you thought about how you would do it, if you might modify it? This isn’t a test or anything! I’m just intereseted to know what you think.
Kate: Modify what – appearance or words?
Lucy: For example, when you come out from behind the drumkit, Hugo, what might you say? There will be a Rock Against Sexism banner behind you, of course. And I hope we would do it in such a way that everybody would be aware what the gig was for.
Hugo: Well I don’t think there will be any doubt about that.
Lucy: No. Some of them will just have come to see the Gang of Four.
Hugo: Yes. That’s what you’re up against. But surely that’s the point of putting a band like the Gang of Four on. You’ll get the people who have just fcome to see us, and then perhaps the reson for the gig will sink in.
Lucy: Yes that’s the point: how do we get it to sink in?
Andy: They’ll see four blokes behaving in the normal rock structure.
Lucy: Yes. Looking really strong.
Hugo: We don’t behave in the normal male rock structure.
Andy: Just by having four blokes we’re in the normal male rock structure. Okay, so we don’t adopt macho rock posturing.
Hugo: So what do we do about that? Have we got to get a girl in the band? Does that make it any better?
Dave: But we’re not arguing about rights and wrongs – we’re just saying it’s a problem.
Lucy: Rock Against Sexism have a policy of having at least one all-women band on the same bill as an all-male band. And then if you had a jam at the end, with a lot of women on the stage, and you from the Gang of Four – I think that could be quite powerful.
Hugo: Isn’t there a danger that some people will see Rock Against Sexism as an organisation just for women?
Andy: I don’t think so. I think it’s quite clear that it’s for men and women.
Lucy: There has been quite a lot of confusion actually. But as the months go by, RAS will emerge for what it is.
Hugo: And it’ll develop and pull away from the more obvious ties with RAR.
Lucy: In many ways RAS is not going to be so spectacular as RAR, because working in youth clubs and schools and that sort of thing is not going to catch the headlines. But it would be really worthwhile if just one girl learns to play the guitar. We did a talk and some schoolgirls were there and said that in the boys’ school next door there were drumkits and guitars, whereas the girls had flutes and triangles.
Hugo: It’s not just one girl learning to play the guitar, but one boy who won’t think girls can’t do it.
Lucy: That’s right. And we’ve had lots of letters from boys who’ve read about it in Blot [the school student’s magazine], and I find that really encouraging.
Kate: We’ve left quite a few things out, like the way the Gang of Four change instruments.
Lucy:; That’s right, It goes back to the thing about power and hierarchy, and I do think it’s really great when you swap around. In a way, I wish there could be more of that.
Hugo: Yes, I’d like to do it more. But if one makes too much of a thing of it, maybe the stress would come on what multi-instrumentalists we are.
Lucy: I think it’s particularly strong when Hugo comes out from behind the drumkit because drummers are so stuck in a static position. Usually you can’t even see the drummer because the lead singer is always standing in front.
Andy: The important thing is the idea that the drummer is supposed to be the thick one and about all he can do is hit things. Only here, he actually comes out and opens his mouth.
Kate: How did that evolve? Because the Mekons do a similar thing, don’t they, with different singers, for example?
Andy: We used to have meetings with the Mekons to talk about things – from building the PA to what we were doing with the music in general, and this is something we talked about right from the start.
Hugo: Anyway, the first Mekons gig had Andy on drums, and Mark playing bass guitar. He just put his fingers somewhere on the neck and went like this – there weren’t any specific roles.
Andy: Also, in the songwriting situation, we all contribute to what we’re doing. The usual thing for bands is that someone will come in with a song, everyone else will be shown what’s required, though they’ll add their personal touches to it, and that’s it. Whereas with us, we rarely come in with even an idea. It would be helpful if we did a bit more! I mean, we just sit around and it’s really boring and then it escalates and we start to get quite excited.
Hugo: Then, half an hour later, you’re really excited. Then you kick it out.
Kate: Do you all write lyrics?
Hugo: No. On the whole the lyrics tend to be by Jon.
Lucy: But do you all criticise them and change them?
Hugo: Oh yes. Nothing is sacrosanct whatsoever.
Andy: It gets chased around as people come up with ideas.
Lucy: And you change things after you’ve performed them as well?
Dave: Oh yeah. You might not recognise them. ‘Ether’ went through drastic changes. I think it’s good. There are so many bands and you just hear their set again and again and it’s always the same. But we question everything.
Kate: You did a couple of new songs last night – ’Ether’ and ‘Guns Before Butter’.
Lucy: Kate thought that was ‘Scones Before Butter’.
Hugo: Buns and Rubber!
Kate: Did Fast Product [a Leeds record company] play any part in developing and helping any of the Leeds bands?
Hugo: It started with the Mekons. Bob Last of Fast asked if they wanted to make a record – which was totally ridiculous and funny, because the idea of the Mekons doing a record at that time was outrageous. But they did. So we thought we’d best get in there, and for months we were pushing and hassling. Eventually we got to do it.
Kate: Was there already a caucus of bands in Leeds or did Fast or RAR help to develop that?
Dave: There were a lot of bands, but there wasn’t any developed relationship between them. Our relationship with the Mekons was quite cooperative. We built our own PA with them. We did everything together, rather than working in competition.
Hugo: But that arose simply from the fact that we were all friends before the ideas of bands became really concrete.
Kate: So it doesn’t extend to any of the other bands?
Hugo: Yes it has done. Delta Five have come out of it. Other bands have been involved, like the Butterflies.
Lucy: In that case it does sound as if there is quite a strong relationship between the bands – and you get the impression from outside Leeds. Do Fast only promote one-off things?
Andy: You’re mainly talking about Bob Last when you talk about Fast. And I don’t think he sees Fast as a long-term thing for any group. His idea was just…
Hugo: …a springboard for bands.
Kate: What do you think about the Fast concept of packaging – the polythene bags with bits of ornge peel and stuff like that?
Hugo: Well, like Jon said, to charge 70p for plastic bags full of rubbish, and get away with it…
Kate: …it’s very clever.
Andy: You get a lot for that though.
Dave: Yes, but you don’t get much. (Laughter). I mean, it looks a lot, but you get a 12 inch single, and you get a fold-out wrapper for the single, which has a picture of the band, and you get a plastic flesh disk, which is jist a round 7″ disk with “FLESH” stamped on it, and that’s it.
Andy: It’s a sort of New York 60s pop type of operation. Andy Warhol started it, that’s all it is: trivia, the commercialisation of objects. The bits in it aren’t that important. It’s just the idea he’s charging for. It’s a straightforward artist/consumer relationship, but it’s disguised a bit.
Lucy: It’s very perverse because he’s making a comment on consumer society, but still making cash out of it.
Andy: Well surely to make money out of it is just the logical extension.
Lucy: Yes but he’s criticising it at the same time: “How silly you are to pay 70p for a bag of rubbish”.
Andy: I don’t think it’s, “How silly you are”. I think it’s, “How clever you are to get the point”.
Hugo: People who don’t get the point are silly but they don’t know it.
Lucy: Well I think either way you’re silly really.
Hugo: I think he’s just trying to extend the role of the record company, trying different things,
Andy: Well I disagree with you. I don’t think he is actually trying different things at all. I think he’s working in the stereotypical pattern of the small businessman with very flash marketing techniques, which is what small businessmen have to do. He’s not changing the role of the record company.
Lucy: He’s just making it more obvious though, isn’t he? He’s saying, normally when you pay out 70p, you’re paying for rubbish. And here it’s explicit – it is literally a bag of rubbish.
Hugo: Well it’s not ‘Fast Records’, it’s ‘Fast Product’, and I think he’s trying to stress that.
Lucy: Tell us about EMI.
Hugo: They gave us some champagne last night.
Dave: We started negotiating with companies round about November/December. And we more or less outlined what we wanted at that stage: we weren’t going to compromise on a deal.
Andy: Virgin wouldn’t let us do our own artwork.
Hugo: So they were out.
Andy: Radar were a great improvement all round. But we discovered that Radar was likely to be bought up within two years, so that we’d suddenly find ourselves in WEA. EMI stepped in at the last minute, accepted all the conditions and offerend an extra one or two percent on the royalties. Their A & R man who signed us, Chris Briggs, is very keen that we do what we want to do.
Hugo: He agrees with us, he supports us.
Kate: What happened about the single? You ended up putting ‘Tourist’ out, didn’t you?, but EMI wanted something else?
Andy: You remember ‘Elevator’? It’s just a neither here nor there thing, with quizzical lyrics, pretty straightforward really. And we were going to put it out, just to get rid of it, on a B-side. We started recording it, and then me and Dave were thinking, “Oh Christ, we can’t put that out”.
Lucy: You felt embarrassed about it?
Andy: Yes. It was like a betrayal, you start putting out dross.
Dave: The Fast EP was three really good tracks.
Andy: And this would have been a sudden drop in standards.
Kate: Did EMI use the argument about it being a popular song, and you should use it to get to a wider audience, as they did with the TRB and ‘Motorway’?
Hugo: They didn’t actually pressurise us to use it.
ANdy: But that is exactly what our manager Rob said. That it’s a tactic. But it’s just crap. You increase your market by putting out a pop record which has got a wide base in the public, then once you’ve got your audience, you do the subversive things.
Hugo: Then you lay on the weird stuff.
Kate: What happens in the future, then, if you start having disputes with EMI? Say you want to put something out and they say no?
Dave: There’s a lot of clauses in the contract that we fought for.
Andy: The contract went backwards and forwards between us and our lawyers and EMI, and round and round loads of times.
Kate: So there’s no way they can stop you putting out what you want to put out?
Andy: Yes. It doesn’t just depend on good faith, it’s all there in writing. They can veto things, but once they’ve accepted your demo, they’ve got to put it out. We’ve got a clause which says if they don’t put it out within forty days, the contract is terminated.
Kate: But if they don’t like the record they don’t have to publicise it do they?
Hugo: But they’re cutting their own throats if they do that.
Kate: You seem to have more control than anyone else has managed to get.
Lucy: Have you got to produce x number of LPs?
Hugo: There’s a minimum commitment of one LP each year, and two singles this year.
Dave: Compare that to the original Virgin contract which was for eight LPs in five years and millions of singles.
Andy: And inevitably if you’ve got to do that sort of quantity…
Dave: …it’s going to be rubbish. But you’d never do it in five years, I don’t think. So you’d have to re-sign, because you owe the company product, and you can’t go anywhere else.
Lucy: And it’s bound to rip the band apart, isn’t it, that sort of pressure?
Kate: What kind of help have they given you? Did they give you an advance to go on tour?
[There is much argument here as to how much their advance is. As far as we could make out, they’ve had £15,000 so far, as the first instalment of £250,000 over five years.]
Hugo: If our royalties exceed that amount, we get more; if they’re less, it’s their loss. But our advance was relatively small compared to people like the Clash who go for £75,000 right at the start, and they’re going to see nothing. They’re broke, they’ve got no money coming in from CBS, because their royalties haven’t reached the level of their advance yet.
Andy: A lot of bands get their advance, spend it, and then haven’t got the money to record their albums.
Kate: Are you on a wage now?
Dave: Yes, £30 a week each. The roadies get it and the manager gets its too – all the same. We can’t afford to pay ourselves more, that’s a £210 a week bill.
Hugo: We’ve bought a van, we’ve bought new gear, we’ve paid off old debts.
Lucy: Do you feel relieved now it’s all settled?
Dave: It’s a bit of an anti-climax actually.
Hugo: It’s a slight relief, but the real work starts now. It takes certain pressures off, but it puts other pressures on.
Kate: When you tour in the autumn, are you going to arrange it yourself or go through a promoter?
Hugo: We go through Asgard agency. We tell them where we want play and they get us the gigs – they don’t tell us where we’ll be playing.We work out the itinerary between us, avoiding the places that are nasty, hopefully, or where they won’t…
Lucy: …where they won’t let skinheads in? What about the Lyceum last night?
Andy: I don’t think we were really that happy with the Lyceum, for those sort of reasons – and the sound.
Kate: You’ve got quite a bit of control over the records, what about touring? Some promoters are known pretty much as crooks. What do you feel about working for people like that?
Dave: You tell me a promoter who’s dead straight.
Hugo: You have to face up to the problem. If you want to play in London, where do you go?
Kate: There are other ways.
Hugo: Yes, but there’d be a lot of work involved.
Kate: What I’m saying is that you saw it as a priority to keep control as regards EMI. Do you see control over gigs as a priority too? Obviously not.
Hugo: Well when it comes to a tour…
Dave: …we’ll have to be a lot more rigorous.
Kate: Rough Trade, for example, are not just the first independent label to get a record in the LP charts, they’ve also organised their own tour for Stiff Little Fingers.
Andy: Yes but Rough Trade have put bands on at the F Club.
Kate: You wouldn’t consider promoting your own tour?
Andy: You just go to Asgard and you say this is what we want and get it.
Hugo: Whereas if you go to a promoter they do everything for you, wipe your nose, your arse, they set up the whole thing.
Andy: For something like a one-off gig here and there, you physically can’t do everything. But when we do the tour we’ll spend a lot more time working things out.
Kate: Last night at the end of the gig I was talking to a girl who came up specially from Leeds and she was really upset. She was trying to get backstage to get her coat and they wouldn’t let her through. What do you think about the fact that the bigger you get, the more distanced you’ll get from your fans?
Dave: But we don’t stay backstage. People think it’s a wonderful environment, but it’s really terrible.
Hugo: If you have easy access backstage it becomes totally inefficient, things get stolen, people get in the way.
Kate: But the more famous you get, the more people will want to talk to you, take your time.
Dave: But we just drink in the bar at gigs. No one comes over and swamps us.
Hugo: We were wondering round the Lyceum the whole night. If they get used to seeing you as you build up to becoming more famous, it becomes less of a thing.
Andy: People do come up and say hello.
Hugo: There’s less of a personality cult about us than some other bands.
Kate: But the more interviews you get in magazines like the NME, even if you don’t present yourself as stars, it will happen.
Lucy: We were going to ask you about your relationship to interviews, particularly after that interview in the Melody Maker. What did you think of that?
Dave: Well that was different, with Mary Harron, we all know her. She was building up a dossier on us for quite a while, she came to a lot of gigs.It wasn’t a direct interview situation like this.
Hugo: She’d seen the band, she talked to us a lot and eventually collated a whole load of things together, out of which she wrote a dissertation in which she mentioned the Gang of Four a few times. She wrote a lot about art and music critics.
Lucy: And “stripped away the structuralist jargon”. What did you think about the final product?
Hugo: I disagree with a lot of what she said.
Kate: You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to have aesthetic control with EMI, but what do you think about interviews? I know it was different with Mary because you’ve known her for a long time, but the typical one-off interview, where somebody can come and meet you just once and then say whatever they want?
Lucy: Possibly misrepresenting you.
Kate: Harron’s arguments about what you were saying – she seemed to be drawing conclusions that didn’t necessarily follow.
Hugo: Well this is the gamble you always take doing interviews, because of the personality of the interviewer – they can mould it around when they come to write the article.
Andy: The point is that different meanings are constructed out of discourse really.
Lucy: Aha! Here’s the structuralist jargon.
Andy: I mean it arises out of people’s own contribution to the ideas.
Lucy: Exactly. But we started out by saying you’ve got your system of control over your art-work, but you can’t keep control over what goes in the music press, and that is also a part of the promotion of the band, isn’t it?
Andy: Yes. But people have a right to voice their opinions about us, right? It would be terrible if we determined what people said about us.
Hugo: Yes. And if we demanded to see copy before it was printed. You must accept that it’s a gamble, but after each interview you do you learn to be more specific. That big inteview in Sounds with Dave McCullough, it was fairly straightforward, then he went back and completely twisted it all round, subservient to his own ideas.
Andy: As long as you don’t misquote us it’s fine.
Lucy: But quite often they do.
Hugo: In a way, the press is also having an affect on the audience. Sometimes a misconception can happen in an interview with a band and it gets bigger and bigger in articles which follow.
Andy: Bands get misrepresented, that’s an inevitable thing. But in the end, the truth gets out. It’s a self-correcting process because something happens, and the next time you’re at pains to point the thing out.