Saturday, 21 April 2012

They split. They reformed. Sometimes that works great. Other times...

Revisiting the good old days isn't always the best of ideas. But sometimes it works beyond everyone's wildest dreams. It just depends on what you may be looking for. 

Sometimes people do it for fun and memories; sometimes, there’s unfinished business. Sometimes it’s just the right thing to do, at the right time. And sometimes the results are just not what you might expect.

And it’s never the same. 

This post covers two bands who have split and reformed. One's Punk, one's Folk. And, before you ask - yes, they do have a lot in common.

Rob Peters is an affable and highly competent studio engineer at Highbury Studio. Back in the day, he drummed for the equally affable Brum punk outfit Dangerous Girls. They kicked up a decent racket in the 80s; they re-form for a one-off 30th anniversary gig at the Hare and Hounds, King's Heath, Birmingham on Wednesday 2nd May.
Tell me about DG gigs back in the day….? 
Very lively. The most memorable was probably Blackpool. The promoter booked us on the same night as a Mod convention. We had maybe 12 people in to see us. Then 200 mods came in, and took one look at our guitarist, Beetmoll. Beetmoll had long ginger hair with pegs in it, and wore a jump suit. So they bottled us off stage, about five minutes into our set. 

Backstage, we meet this guy from a band called Skrewdriver. He suggested we went back out for a confrontation. With baseball bats. It turned out that Skrewdriver were neo-nazis. So why he was backstage at our gig, god only knows. 
We stayed backstage and waited for the promoter to pay us off. Minute for minute, it was the best paid gig we ever played. 

In Birmingham, some of the best gigs were at the Golden Eagle on Hill Street. The promoter, Clive, was fantastic - really looked after us. 

Probably our greatest day was November 7, 1980 when our third single "Man In The Glass", was reviewed on Round Table by Dave Wakeling (The Beat) and John Lodge (Moody Blues). We then played probably our best ever gig in front of a packed house at Keele University...I was high as a satellite!
Happy days, then. What would you have told your younger selves, if you were to bump into yourselves at the Eagle or Cross or some such?
I'd have probably been given an earful from my extremely opinionated younger self. Of course, I knew it all back then.
Dangerous Girls didn’t have the best of luck; a whole album was lost when their record company went bust, and the inevitable musical differences led to a slow decline and fall. But the reformation is going to be fun.
It will be on the 30th anniversary of our very last gig, at the Hare and Hounds. We have to do it now, or it’ll never happen. I’m drumming, and there’s Mykocupa, on guitar - we’re both from the original line up. There’s Micky Harris on bass from the later line up, and Jake Simmons plays lead. Sadly, no Beetmoll. We’ll be doing it differently. More groovy, more sexy, less aggressive, and it sounds great.
Dangerous Girls - Step Out Freshly remixed by Rob from the original 8 track tapes.

What’s different musically? 
It’s the same, really. But we play the songs much better, and slightly slower, which gives them more groove. Mike's voice is less shrill. However, if you know the songs you'll still find yourself singing along and, dare I say, jumping up and down.
So who’s coming to see you? 
I’m hoping people who saw us in the 70s and 80s. I know, though Facebook, that some old fans are coming. A lot of new people who know me through Highbury Studio, are coming, They’re interested: they’ve seen me engineer, now they want to see me behind a drum kit. 
There’s a surprising amount of Dangerous Girls material in the can.
There is going to be an album – I’ve collected the 24 track masters from sessions at the Old Smithy and 8 track masters from an old BRMB session. I’m remixing all that now at Highbury, compiling remasters or remixes of the singles that we issued back in the day… and it  will be available at the gig. 
Dangerous Girls - Sidekick Phenomena also remixed by Rob

 Do your kids and friends think you bonkers or inspiring? 
My daughter is 14 years old and thinks I'm pretty cool. The older she gets the more she realises what I've done. My friends are very excited by the reunion gig...and my new young pals that I've met through the studio doubly so!

From Punk to folk isn’t that huge a jump. There are connections. Rob's done live sound for Red Shoes. He's also toured with Clive Gregson of Any Trouble, who produced Red Shoes.  

Carolyn and Mark Evans’s revival of Red Shoes is different. After 15 years of uphill slog, they had folded the band. In 2006, A nasty car accident and family issues forced Carolyn off the road and made her pack in the day job. Ironically, she then had more time to work on songs with Mark. 
Carolyn: We both ended up working daily on some ideas for songs. A few lines here and there added to some musical noodlings… and by the middle of 2007 we had a lot of new songs, all acoustic, folk-based songs, mixed in with some Fairport (Convention) covers. 
So then we went along to some singer’s nights. There was never any real intention of it going anywhere, we’d always written songs and we just felt that they deserved an airing somewhere, if only to satisfy our curiosity. 
Mark: But then our daughters stepped in. Our youngest daughter Megan made a MySpace page for our “old” Red Shoes tracks, to prove to her friends at school that her mom and dad had been in a band and released records! We put up songs and pictures – and then nothing. Then, Megan badgered us into doing a video for YouTube. 
We ended up recording “Who knows where the time goes” in November 2007. That kick-started the whole thing, with people leaving comments, asking if we were playing anywhere, did we had a cd they could buy, what other songs did we do? 
Carolyn: Suddenly, we had an audience. The two of us with a guitar, sitting on a sofa in our bungalow was a great way of getting back into it all, relaxed and cosy, and with a bigger audience than playing in a small club. We could reach hundreds of people at a time, around the country, or around the world.
Mark: We then felt that maybe the new original songs we’d recorded on a little Korg 4 track might be listened to. We uploaded some, mailed out to the YouTube audience, and messaged our friends. And we got a great reaction. 
How successful were you then, and how does that compare to now?
Carolyn: Looking back now, I don’t think we were that successful really. We played to a good number of people, we were courted by some labels and A and R men, and we were very lucky to get good reviews. People who came to see us regularly were really supportive and turned out in large numbers. They kept saying 'you’re going to be huge', but the label bosses never really knew what to do with us. We slogged around for years. I suppose our highlight was being signed by Mooncrest and releasing the Sandy Denny song “By the time it gets Dark”, which got loads of airplay in the Spring of 1987. Joe Boyd liked it!
 Mark: Now, we’re older and wiser… we've both learned not to expect too much of the music industry. Then, anything good that comes along is a bonus. We feel more confident in our writing because of what we’ve gone through. We have sadly lost people along the way, friends and parents, and with the good things that having children brings, it makes a rich tapestry that we can dip into to write.
Carolyn: Ironically we are more successful now, as older musicians, which is great, because there are none of the pressures where you have to have a certain image to adhere to. Also, the whole experience feels sweeter, and to be recognised by your peers is a huge compliment. We also get paid for doing what we love . . . . not a lot, but we do get paid!
What would you have told your younger selves, if you were to bump into yourselves at a folk club or festival?
Mark: Hang on in there, keep on writing because your time will come.
What is different musically?
Carolyn: More acoustic/folk based, along with a better understand of serious subjects which find their way into our writing. My singing is, I feel, more passionate and I think my voice has improved over time through life’s experiences. Mark plays purely acoustic guitar now, and we can perform all of our material with just guitar and voice. All the songs stand up, they don’t have to have a band format to get them across.
What about marketing?
Carolyn: We market ourselves as songwriters, then as performers. It’s the song which will survive us all, not the performance and we both enjoy the craft of writing. We use any medium available to us, Social network sites, live, radio, blogs. We’ve used the “free” websites up to now - MySpace, Reverbnation - but we’re having a website built which should give us a higher profile. 
The full band: Bert Priest (l) and Tony Kelsey (r). Red Shoes photos by Suzy Gallier
What were the memorable milestones back in the day? and how do they compare with now?
Carolyn: Ooooh - making our first demo in 1984, then hawking it ‘round the London A and R departments, only to be told “You’re not what we’re looking for at this moment in time”. A local journalist and supporter, Mike Davies, sending our demos to Clive Gregson, and then him producing and playing on our songs – he really taught us a lot about the way we played and wrote. 
Mark: Our first single “All Fall Down” on our own label being played in America. The Mooncrest record deal.
Carolyn: By comparison, working with your musical idols, them playing on your album and then watching them perform one of your songs live in front of 24,000 people at Cropredy takes some beating. Also Robert Plant coming to see us play at Banbury Folk Club, paying to get in, and him buying a raffle ticket was positively surreal.
What’s all this malarkey about dragooning megastars onto the album?
Mark: Chris Leslie and PJ Wright played on the last album, which was fabulous and a dream come true. To have people like that playing with you is a huge compliment to your songs  - the both of us never in a million years thought that something like this would ever happen. 
Carolyn: But the album we’re working on now will be of historic folk importance; Dave Swarbrick will be playing fiddle alongside Peggy on bass, which we believe will be their first time on an album together since the seventies. Chris will also be playing again and also Gareth from Little Johnny England, we still pinch ourselves because sometimes you can’t quite believe that people are willing and happy to have their names alongside your own.
Are you more business-like now? 
Mark: We had to be. Two years ago we went full-time - self employed songwriter/musicians. We’re not making mega-bucks, but we felt it was the right thing to do. We are more professional in our approach to everything these days, something that we’ve learned to do.
Hopeful signs for the future? 
Mark: After “Celtic Moon” was recorded by Fairport on their album “Festival Bell”, we felt that our song writing had been recognised. Now we have a publishing deal which covers America and Canada and things are looking very hopeful over there. We’ve set up our own publishing in this country and have also been writing with another musician, Tony Kelsey, who plays guitar and mandolin with us; he also plays in The Move. The feedback on the new material has been really promising and hopefully the next album will be released towards the end of this year.
Ring Around the Land: The Red Shoes Mayday anthem, produced by Fairport Convention's Dave Pegg

Do your kids and pals think you bonkers or inspiring?
Carolyn: A bit of both really . . . but heading more towards the bonkers! Our daughters do come to our gigs and bring boyfriends and friends, so we can’t be that embarrassing! Friends think it’s great that we’re doing something that we love and getting the recognition all these years later. Many of our friends are musicians as well; they know what a hard struggle it is to make your mark.
When writing a blog post like this, and in the many discussions with the musicians for other posts, there are constant themes. Who are we doing this for, how are we doing it, and why? Are we doing this for ourselves? Are we doing it for our audiences? 

Rob, Carolyn and Mark do it because they love it. All of them, 30 years on, have very different perspectives. Dangerous Girls may be gearing up for a pleasant canter round the old course, but you can bet your last penny that, on May 2nd, they’re not going to be as amiably pretend-shambolic as they were back in the day. Red Shoes are clearly delighted to revisit their older material too, but they are now fully professional, and racking up an enviable list of collaborators and partnerships. 

I think the who and the why are the same for both bands. The how – that’s different. Very different. Very 21st century….  

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