Sunday, 9 September 2012

Fathers and Sons: 60s veteran Don Fardon is back working, with DC Fontana

Old and in the way… or possessed of invaluable perspective? With Don Fardon and DC Fontana, it's, emphatically, the latter. 
Don Fardon interviewed. Pic by Mark Mortimer
It’s fair to say that most music ventures tend to draw on people of much the same age range. And the more image-conscious the venture, the more this pattern seems to apply. 

It’s often the fate of veteran musos to find themselves reverently placed on a pedestal, to be worshipped from afar rather than collaborated with. For example, much as 70s Brum metal monsters are venerated by 21st century rockers, I’m not at all sure the new kids would actually welcome any of the old boys onstage. And that’s a great shame, because every generation has creative goodies to pass on to the next. You could look at it the other way too: every new generation, no matter how much it thinks it's  blazingly original, actually feeds from, builds on, and recycles what’s gone before.

It’s not a hard and fast rule. There are exceptions, and when they work, it’s a pure delight. 

The excellent Friendly Fire Band, one of the keepers of Birmingham’s reggae flame, is only too happy to work with reggae veterans whenever they can. World, Blues, Jazz, Country and Folk, too, also all hold their veterans are held in high esteem. With Rock, Pop and Dance / Club / Urban variations, I think it’s a slightly different story; there, image and tribalism carries much more weight.  

So it was nice to learn that a band I really admire, DC Fontana, who have great (but not compulsive/obsessive) love for 60s pop, had forged a link with Don Fardon, who himself had had a fair go in the 60s as a solo artist and with his band The Sorrows

Don (based in Coventry) was hooked up with DC Fontana (based in Tamworth) by a promoter in London; it’s proved a fruitful connection. DC Fontana leader Mark Mortimer was thrilled at the prospect of working with a seminal 60s name; Don, for his part, was very happy to have another canter round the course. 

I met with Don and Mark as Don added vocals to an alternative version of the lead song on the next DC Fontana EP. In keeping with DCF’s nod to the 60s practice of recording multiple language versions of the same song, there’s talk of a Spanish version of the single. Hey, if the Beatles could cut German versions of their songs (Sie Liebt Dich, anyone?)…

The song in question is Pentagram Man; you can see the original YouTube clip down the page in this post. It’s about Aleister Crowley, the Leamington spa-born occultist. This is very 60s in itself: both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath paid a lot of attention to Crowley. The single even has The Great Beast himself intoning at the start...

Pentagram man: DC Fontana with Don Fardon 

Mark, I hope this clip of Crowley is now in the public domain? I’d hate to think of him dropping by in person for his royalty share….
It's a recording taken from a wax cylinder dating right back to the early 1900s. So we are presuming it is in the public domain, and we’re safe to use it - as safe as can be expected when dealing with the Great Beast! We’re hoping to get the 6-track ep released by the end of September. We’re releasing on our own label, DC Tone, but it will also come out in vinyl on an Italian label called Teen Sound records. We release in all forms: CD, mp3 and vinyl. 
Tell me about hooking up with Don?
We’d been asked to do backup for Don; he had re-formed the Sorrows, and this was to cover his solo work as well. We’ve had this sort of thing offered to us before, but it’s never actually happened for one reason or another, so I wasn’t expecting too much. Ironically, I’ve always loved his music. I’m Alive’ by Don, which came out in 1969, is one of my top ten records of all time. 
A couple of months later, we were approached by the same promoter; the gig was definitely on, could we look at contacting Don? 
We met and hit it off well. He’s a lovely guy, with a lot of stories to tell. We worked up a show where we open up with some of our material, and then Don comes on and we play his stuff; it’s looking very promising.   
So when is this show going on the road?
It’s started. We played in August at Euro Ye Ye in Gijón in Spain. It’s a great festival, held in the city square, in front of nine or ten thousand people. Great gig, big stage… we got to do an hour of DC Fontana and then 45 minutes with Don, and it went down an absolute storm. He’s an absolute pro. We’ve now been offered shows in Australia and Europe on the back of this. Don was a big-selling star in the 60s and 70s in those markets; there’s still a lot of fondness for him over there. 
DC Fontana live, August 2, 2012 in Gijón, Spain. Photo: Fernando Da Silva.
 Let me just rewind for a second here, Mark. You’re playing in front of ten thousand people in Spain….and you’re doing Australian tours. I know you do shows in France. That’s great, but how the hell does all that square with the gigs I’ve seen you play in Birmingham – several times now – in front of a small but dedicated audience who certainly like you a lot? There's a bit of a disconnect here…
It is a bit surreal – but I really enjoy that surrealism. I quite like the fact that we do so many different gigs, from the sublime to the ridiculous and back. We do gig a lot, because we need to fund our existence… which is a bit surreal in itself. A lot of bands are struggling to survive; we’re no exception. We deal with this by gigging a lot. We’re very old-school in that respect. But we are phasing out the smaller gigs now.
Like the one I saw you first at, in the Witton Arms behind Villa Park – the one with no stage at all?
Ironically, we’ve just been asked to play there again. They’re actually turning the beer-garden in the back into a bit a venue for bands. They’ve got quite ambitious plans. There is a gig happening on October 6th, outdoors, where they have Aslan coming over from Dublin – where they are huge – to play a fairly low-key gig. We’re supporting. It’s a bizarre combination again, but I like that – it opens us up to a new audience. The plan from the pub’s point of view is that it helps to put them on the map as a Birmingham music venue. 
It’s a welcome addition as far as I’m concerned. North Birmingham simply doesn’t have enough music venues. Turning to the EP again – are you producing a video?
We’re done three – to support a six-track EP.
DC Fontana are issuing series of videos from Pentragram Man EP. Here's number 1  
Wow. Did that cost a lot of money?
Well, we haven’t got a lot of money! We tried to box as cleverly as we can. We try to surround ourselves with people who are really creative, who are quite hungry as well. We want to work with directors and actors and performance artists who want make their name in the world, who’ll be happy to work with people like us on a collaborative basis. We do try to make out videos look a lot more expensive that they really are.
Well, that’s part of your goal, isn’t it?
Well hopefully. It’s not easy to pull off. We do spend thousands… but not tens of thousands like some people do. I used to work for a record label in Birmingham (Network Records, based at Stratford House in Camp Hill) and I can remember the sums of money we spent on bands like Altern8, the rave duo, KWS from Nottingham, who had a number 1 hit… Brum based house duo Mother, and people like Groove Corporation, who we now record with…  we spent an awful amount of money on videos. I can remember hanging out on set and seeing how it was done. I always felt that, as a lot of things were with the music industry back in those days, that everybody was ripping everybody else off, everybody was making a huge amount of money, when it could have been done with a much smaller budget. 
Meantime, back in the studio, Don Fardon was warming up nicely up as he worked up through a bunch of takes. We spent a lot of time talking about his early career, and especially about how the vast sums of money he made in the 60s …. never actually seemed to trickle down to him. Don’s got a lot of solid advice for anybody starting out, and this is going to be the subject of a separate post later in the year. But he’s a contented man. It wasn’t always that way
Don Fardon: The first agency agreement I signed with the Sorrows, we signed at a champagne reception for the farewell tour for the Drifters. We didn’t know until two years later that we were managed, and owned, by the Krays… The company was called Capable Management. My advice is: take advice before you sign anything. We didn’t, and we paid for it. 
Louise and Don Fardon on stage in Gijón, Spain. Photo: Fernando Da Silva.
Not a contract I’d want to break. Here we are in a studio in Balsall Heath, a funky part of Brum in all senses of the word, and you’ve just dropped vocals onto DC Fontana’s 60s psychedelic pop. And it’s 2012. How does it feel?
Pretty good. The big concert we did in July in Spain was such a wow. We all enjoyed it, and they said we’d love you to put vocals down on one of the main tracks of the new album; I said of course I would.  
But are you getting a royalty on this?
We haven’t even talked about it! 
But it's crystal clear that you're having a ball...
Absolutely. This is different. This is for friends! 
DC Fontana's second video from the new EP, shot in Birmingham's Custard Factory
DC Fontana website
Don Fardon Wikipedia page

No comments: