Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Details: Too Late To Stop Now

When is a good time to start a band? And what do you want to do and say when you do start?

The Details attempt louche
Last week, at a motorway service station, two wannabe rock stars waltzed in as I slouched out. They were perfect. Shades, crucial hair, skinny jeans, tats, floppy t-shirts under leather jackets, and the killer look-at-me-I’m-a-star-flounce. 

Of course, had they been the real thing, they wouldn’t have strutted into Cherwell Valley services for a pee with the rest of us. But they wanted attention, throwing shapes while loading up on Krispy Kreme. Bless. 

It’s always a tricky thing, being in a band. But at least these boys had youth on their side to bash through the obstacles.

It’s trickier throwing yourself back in the game again after 40 years. The Details, four excellent musicianly veterans of the Birmingham scene, have just released a thoughtful, demanding album, loaded with sparkling fretwork and crafted songs. The biggest challenges they face will be getting new listeners to work at their music. And... they are old. Very old. Um, like me.

The Details are Andrew Morton, Dave Carroll, Bob Boucher and Colin Edmonds. Older Birmingham hands will recognise the names. If you don’t, let me jog some memories with a few names: Slender Loris, Idle Race, the Steve Gibbons band, The Redbeards from Texas, Mean Street Dealers… Between them the Details can rack up maybe 180 years of playing in a ridiculous number of bands. There’s a partial list at the bottom of the post.

Andrew Morton, one of the two Details songwriters, is sitting comfortably in his garden in Harborne, in Birmingham. He knows about starting bands. He’s in at least two right now. 
Andrew Morton: It would be foolish to think that it’s wise, all of us between the ages of 60 and 65, to wade in with a new band. The word band is almost embarrassing to use at this stage in life. I mean, unless you’re Seasick Steve, you’ve got to be insane to do something like this.
We want gigs, we do everything properly, but we are not lusting after fame and fortune like we were at 25. With Slender Loris, the idea was to make it, in the ridiculous terms under which people defined making it in the 70s: you look for an advance of a couple of hundred thousand quid, and then you get chained to a record company to make five albums, one and a half of which are decent, and the rest are rubbish; and then you fall apart. 
But most members in the band have done all that in their time. So give me the prime motive for this band?
For me, it’s to have a platform for my writing. Dave (Carroll) as well. But Dave is more than a writer, he’s a composer. And that’s the difference. I write a song, I craft it as well as I can, and then Dave takes it and does something great with it. Like I say, Dave composes. He has a proper introduction, he has little variations between the verses; it’s a different thing. And it’s a treat to go out and perform. 
Dave Carroll was one of the twin blonde guitarists in the legendary Steve Gibbons mid-70s line-up. The other was Bob Wilson, who now runs the studio where the Details recorded. They looked the part back in the day, with ridiculous hair and magnificent guitar work. 

Feather In The Dust - The Details by Radio To Go

Andy Morton and Dave Carroll
It’s interesting – and welcome – to see Dave Carroll back. 
Yes, Dave had worked with the RSC for twenty years or so, while developing a separate career as a classical guitarist and composer. This time, I think he sees this as his retirement project... as do I. We don’t have to do this, we want to. 
And we have worked together a lot in the past. The connection most often was Jim Cleary. Some of the most ridiculous bands in our list – Ten Gallon Head, Milkwood – these were bands that Dave and Jim and I were in together, well before the Idle Race or Tea and Symphony. The other thing that led to this collaboration was doing the Jim Cleary tribute night at the Tower Of Song. We got working on this stuff, and that was when we realised we could work together.
Lovely. So we’re getting to the heart of why performers perform. You don’t want to strut your funky stuff on stage, but you do, I think, want to have a conversation with your audience.
Yes. What the nature of that conversation is I can’t really say, but it seems to be working. It changes. Sometimes we’re surprised by what works. 
Tell me?
The reaction varies: sometimes to the lyrics and the stories, and that’s very important. To Dave’s guitar playing. Sometimes to my voice. It’s working. That sort of thing. And we do get grooves going now and again. We played a very drunken afternoon gig at the Hare And Hounds, and The Girl With The Radio On, which has a samba feel to it… people were dancing to that. A rare event for the Details. 
The Girl With The Radio On - The Details

What about reaching audiences? Most gigs around town are not aimed at us old ‘uns, who probably can’t stand up for four hours anymore….
The pleasing thing is, when we do play gigs like the Yardbird, Sun on The Hill, the Island Bar, where there’s basically nobody over the age of 30, they seem to really enjoy it, because it’s something they don’t normally hear. This isn’t genre music, we’re a songs band, and each song works within a different genre. And I expected to struggle at the Hare, but we didn’t. 
But a promoter wants something he can sell, and you’re an unknown quantity – especially if the promoter’s young. 
We do need to establish ourselves. But we’re not going for the middle; we’re going for the fringes, the outside. We’re knocking on the doors of places that should want us, but it’s slightly problematic. For instance, the Kitchen Garden Café – that would be an ideal gig for us. But I do understand Brett’s point of view, and a purely commercial point of view it is, which is that we have to guarantee we can bring a certain number of people through the door. I can understand that. So from that perspective, it’s up to us to build a little fan base.
As any other band. Maybe there’s a different market. I could see you at Literary festivals and the more genteel summer festivals. You might be seen as dangerous and threatening. And speaking of which, there are two overt drug reference songs. 

A Natural High - The Details

Ah. A Natural High. I wrote that for a musical. It was something I wrote 20 years ago. It’s a nod to Cole Porter, and I Get A Kick out of You. 
African Cargoes – much less comfortable.
It’s partly a tribute to Bert Jansch, and a reference to Needle Of Death. I don’t know about Bert Jansch and drugs…
…It was the sixties…
… but it is a reference to the uncomfortable core of Bert Jansch. Which was there. The sense of shame, being in Leith. Cold wind coming off the North Sea. 

African Cargoes - The Details

It’s not an undemanding album, you know. And one of your challenges now is the very concept of an ‘album’, because the song and its immediate reaction is all. One of the assumptions you and I grew up with was the expectation that you had to work at an album. You had to work at your Dylans, your Leonard Cohens, your Buckleys…to unpeel them, bit by bit. We don’t do that now. 
One of the problems of the digital age. We are now working on doing some videos. Some will be live, some storyboarded. The problem is, looking at us lot, it’s a bit… grim. It’s like bloody Dostoyevsky. There are limits to what skin smoothing can do!
Clearly, Andy’s enjoying himself. As indeed he does with his other band, Café Culture. Or working solo. The interesting mix and challenge the Details face is to combine demanding, personal songs with enough stage craft to engage the audience. Given, as I’ve already mentioned, their near two centuries’ worth of stage work, I don’t anticipate that as being too much of a problem.

Details members band histories
The following is a partial list of bands the various members have played in, compiled by Andy at my request. It is almost certainly incomplete, but it paints a picture about Birmingham bands. I would welcome any additions and corrections for the list - especially from Loon Pants Boomers.

Colin Edmonds
Dave Carroll

The Stubble Brothers
Ten Gallon Head
Red Beards From Texas
Rhythm and Greens
Flying Doctors
Tea and Symphony
Slow Burner
Idle Race
The Delay Rockets
Steve Gibbons Band
Ricky Cool
The System

The Naturals
Bob Boucher

Spirit of Tango

Andy Morton
School Spoirts

The Naturals
Ten Gallon Head
The Hatbox Orchestra
Jack Russell Funtette
Ricky Cool and the Texas Turkeys
Slender Loris
Four on the Floor
The Gentlemen
Ken Harris and Station Break
Café Culture
Big Man Clayton

The 44s

Jazz Bandits

Apex Jazz and Swing Band

Phoenix Jazzmen

Arizona Storm

More music posts on Radio To Go

Get the Radio To Go Newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday.

1 comment:

Sarah Birks said...

When I saw The Details perform at the Old Mow (The Old Moseley Arms)I was absolutely enthralled by their songs and their performance!I was completely oblivious to their former musical pedigree and so judged them on the here and now! Having read this article I now understand why I was so moved by their music!In my opinion The Details possess all the ingredients for musical success and I don't think that their age will get in the way...boy they are just too good!!!