Former Eater frontman ANDY BLADE spoke to Vive Le Rock for last month's issue. He had quite a lot to say for himself so we thought you'd like to see Hugh Gulland's whole feature in full.....
TRIPLE BLADE ACTION
Andy Blade’s latest release sees the former Eater frontman taking full control of a solo career that’s seen numerous twists since his former band’s demise in 1979. Hugh Gulland skips off school to find out more.
“There’s a lot of old faces,” Andy Blade muses about the demographic at his recent solo gigs. “Old punks, they make up about fifty per cent. And the rest of it are interested people, who are via the internet, thinking ‘There’s a punk rock legend playing’ − doesn’t matter who I was in! I don’t mind the fact, at least they show up − then it’s a case of getting them on board in reality, and not just liking me because I’m an old punk!”
After a somewhat sporadic solo output characterised by various short-lived writing partnerships, Blade’s recent trio of albums represents a more concentrated public campaign than we’ve seen in some years from this often reclusive artist. His latest offering, the darkly claustrophobic Plastic Penny And The Strange Wooden Horse, reveals something of Blade’s inner workings:
“The original title comes from Denim − you know Lawrence? One of his songs on a recent album was just a list of band names that he thought sounded cool. There’s some really funny ones, like Heavy Jelly, funny words that sound good together. And one of them was Plastic Penny And The Strange Wooden Horse, and that’s how I came up with the title.
“But, I saw it as a metaphor, Plastic Penny being us, and The Strange Wooden Horse being authority, government, or whatever it is we’re being suppressed by. Basically Plastic Penny is all the good ideas, and The Strange Wooden Horse are all the bad ideas, and just that fight between them.”
The language of that title track is strikingly sinister, almost sexually threatening…
“Yeah it is, it’s meant to be, sexually threatening is right. The choice of words, I’m not actually saying anything, but they sound sexually threatening. And it’s the idea of having your power taken away from you by a bigger kind of force, but it’s also having a go at all popular culture; the hipster, trends… I think people have been reduced to ignorance, and unless you use this kind of heavily suggestive, in-your-face kind of language to express yourself, our feelings all get homogenised, and made acceptable and nice. With any songwriter, it’s always a case of not toning anything down, and if you can up the ante, with hints or suggestions, just placing the right key word here and there… it’s not really saying one thing in particular, it’s more about lashing out at invisible enemies that you have no control over.”
There’s quite a claustrophobic tone to the album altogether?
“I think that’s because, in my head I feel pretty claustrophobic… not just in music but every single way, socially. I’m not part of a profession, apart from a musician, which is a very loose profession… I’m not part of any particular group, I keep finding out I don’t belong, the older I get the more I find out I don’t seem to belong.
“Even more so than when I was a punk, at least I had a community there to belong to. There was a very identifiable community, anybody that was pissed off can join. Nowadays I feel like I’m totally alone.”
Might some of this be exacerbated by the nature of your current location, Guildford?
“Guildford’s like a second-class Richmond, without the celebrities and stuff, and it’s so homogenised. They’ve got an ACM school there, which is the rock school, and it produced Ed fucking Sheeran! Everybody in Guildford’s got a guitar on their back if they’re under 25, and they’re talking about the course they’re on that’s going to turn them into pop stars…
“That’s the kind of town Guildford is, as long as they can say to their kids that they helped them try to achieve their dream, even though it’s a total waste of time. But yes, it is a bit of a Stepford town, but I don’t think that’s the reason. Because that’s the way I felt from California, to Richmond, to Muswell Hill, it doesn’t really matter where it is, I never felt like part of what’s going on, anywhere.
“Even with punk, it felt to me as though me and Brian [Chevette], the guitarist, were conning people, at school, that we had a band; we said we did before we did have a band for starters! We obviously wanted a band, but we didn’t have the money for instruments, so we eventually nicked our first instruments − and that’s when, for the first time, I realised if you turned around to someone and said ‘I’m this or I’m that’ and you showed them scant evidence, like a guitar or a card, that’s all they need.
“If I’d been more confident with that, Eater would have been have been hugely successful. The only problem being, at fifteen or sixteen, we were under the impression someone’s going to rumble us any second now and say ‘Hang on a minute, you’re not proper musicians!’ Even though punk’s supposed to be not proper musicians, we still felt like ‘We’re getting away with this’!
“It’s only now, lately, that I realise Eater did actually mean a lot to quite a lot of people, and it wasn’t a case of ‘We’re getting away with this, and someone’s gonna come in any minute and say, go home’. It almost felt like things can only be sanctioned with hindsight, which is sad cos at the time something’s happening, you don’t do as much as you could do, because you spend half the time looking over your shoulder!”
Listening to Eater’s catalogue now, it’s almost like you were the crystallisation of what a UK punk band was truly supposed to be – teenagers still working out how to use their instruments!
“I’m not just saying this egotistically, I think we were the real definition of a punk band! We were actually the first, when Johnny Rotten made that famous comment, he wants everyone to form a band and bla bla, we took that literally! It’s not like we thought ‘We’ll stop playing jazz fusion now’, or ‘We’ll stop playing rock ’n’ roll’; we hadn’t played anything!
“We were just, tune up and we’ll learn three chords now, and those songs that you apparently can write… and it was after buying that Ramones album, [it] was proof that three chords and a short song could be fine. And so I think we really were the definition, most of the bands that are now punk legends had been in, you know, Bay City Rollers tribute bands! Jimmy Pursey for instance, the year before he formed Sham 69, he really was in a Bay City Rollers lookalike band!
“Others, The Heartbreakers, you know, were hardly spring chickens, they weren’t the same, although they were welcomed when they came over, Eater shared their same manager, they were like heroes of ours, purely because of the Dolls rather than what they actually were… although undeniably tight and undeniably good. I listened to LAMF the other day, and there’s one track on it that’s sort of punky and new wavey, that’s 'All By Myself', all the other songs are rehashed R&B type riffs and stodgy 'Chinese Rocks' type…, it’s all fine, great, they’re played well, but really nothing to make you go ‘Fuck me!’ Just, ‘It’s alright’ − but it was such a change from the weedy sounding people who couldn’t play, on the circuit; you could go and see a band who could play a whole set without guitar strings breaking or without someone walking off in a hissy fit, you could get to the end, applause between each song, professional! It’s all good. But there's surprisingly few who were the definition of a punk band! Eater were!”
Lyrically, you were deliberately provocative?
“I think you have to do that, because what else were we going to write about? We had a rough idea of the nihilism, like of the Ramones lyrics, and the idea of writing a song based around ‘I don’t wanna walk around with you’, it was easy. And then the idea of slagging off teachers and headmasters was easy, because we were still at school, and we made difficulty at school! I was being taken to court, at the time, I didn’t even realise how serious that was until recently when I found letters to my mother from the education services! They were taking her to court cos I’d missed school, and they were about to put me in a special school, right up until my sixteenth birthday, which was when Outside View, the first single, was released.
“They had plans to more or less kidnap me, and take me off to this special school, I’d broken the law by missing school, but that wasn’t the real reason… I won’t go into that! Lots of other reasons (the headmaster) wanted me thrown out of the school, there was a little bit of that, a little bit of the fact that I’d broken the rules, my mother hadn’t made me go to school, although I don’t know how she could have made me go to school. And I didn’t realise how serious it was, they hounded me right up till sixteen, which is so weird; I was doing well in this band that everybody was going on about all the time, we’d taken them to see the proof of the pudding − the records, newspapers with our name in it etc. And yet they were still trying to prosecute, send my mum to jail, or whatever they were going to do, or send me to a reform school… but we had something, we were a real band.
“It’s very unusual to find any band under sixteen years old that hadn’t been put together or manufactured by a label, or by a Svengali, and we were probably the only band ever, tied to rock ’n’ roll, that did everything ourselves, literally everything, and no other involvement until we were established. And then we had people get on board.”
Ah yes, the business dealings, starting with Eater’s signing to Dave Goodman’s fledgling label…
“He approached us, he saw an advert in the back of the Melody Maker, which was the bible for advertising at the time, saying ‘punk band require bass player’. We had Dee Generate and Brian in the band, but we needed a bass player. He phoned up, saying he’s a record label, and a sound engineer, he works for the Sex Pistols, he’s starting a record label with Johnny Rotten called Rotten Records and would we like to sign? So yeah, of course, and then it turns into, well Johnny Rotten’s not actually involved in it, and it’s not actually called Rotten Records. They slowly but surely pulled the wool over our eyes after attracting us in, and tied us to a contract I’ve never ever been able to get out of since!”
Eater folded in 1979, was there a final straw or was it a question of gradual erosion?
“It was really a straw, it was getting to the point of… after we found out about the Polydor (Japan) deal, that was really it, and also we wanted more wages, we were then paid £15 a week − which wasn’t that bad for then! The direction we were going was nowhere, without Brian in the band, someone else to write with. It was just Ian [Woodcock] taking control of the band, and he was, cos I wasn’t turning up to rehearsals − he had a perfect band now, when he joined us there was three crappy musicians and him, and by the time we were about to split there was three good musicians and me! And the good musicians jammed, did what good musicians do – take all the excitement out of the music!
“I didn’t like the direction it was going in, I went from being totally up for walking half way across London to get to a rehearsal, walking back at midnight, to not being arsed to get out of bed to get in a car to take me to a rehearsal. So when I suggested we all turn up and tell Caruso [Fuller] what a XX!X he is, they loved that idea, and it brought us all back together suddenly, we turned up in a show of force, and so we had this big scene, with him screaming, begging us to come back into the office, ‘you can’t split now, we’ve got a second album to come out’ and came out with this classic line ‘You can’t teach me jack shit about rock ’n’ roll’ − made us laugh all the way back to Finchley!”
So after this you began to work with Brian James?
“That’s when the solo career started, I’d been writing with Brian, and he was looking for a singer for Lords Of The New Church, his next project after Tanz Der Youth, he’d been out of The Damned for a while by then. And I think he was eyeing me up for that job. We recorded a couple of songs that were really OK, and if we’d carried on working together I think it would have been really good, and I was really up for that. But when he started to go to Stiv Bators, it was obvious that was a better move, as far as I could see, for him to do that. Actually looking back, we would have made a good team, I liked his writing, I’d like to have worked with him, but that didn’t come to much, after a bit of recording. And I started working with Billy Duffy, after Slaughter And The Dogs split up. Because of their age, they were closest to our age, they were a bit older than us, but we met them early on, so we were kind of on the same wavelength. They split and formed the band Studio Sweethearts. The band sounded like the name, it was like done up in the studio, all swish production and crap lyrics! And Billy was the best one in it, and we became friends, he moved into the flat above me and we became mates, and he joined my band. Phil Rowland out of Eater, had come in to drum [with Studio Sweethearts], I nicked Billy from him, and we recorded a single together, did a lot of gigs − the songwriting was getting good. He was another guy that I found really good to work with, and he was looking for someone that he could work with, and write lyrics. He’d gone to Morrissey before, and he’d tried to coerce Morrissey into − I think he did a bit, with Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds, a very early incarnation. Just before he met me, he tried again, when he was trying to get out of the Studio Sweethearts, he tried again to see if Morrissey was into doing something rather than sitting in his room, but he didn’t want to do anything! He actually did, he was in The Smiths about a year later, Johnny Marr had to go and get him out his room!
“So eventually Billy and I started to work together, and it was really good, and the songs were great, we wrote about twelve really interesting tracks in the space of a couple of weeks, and just as we’d got a band together and started rehearsing, he got another offer, from Kirk [Brandon, Theatre Of Hate] − it was big compared to ‘the ex-singer out of Eater’, and so he took that, and then nothing came of it, and he then joined The Cult. But again, I think if he’d gone a different route, we could have done something pretty good. After that I gave up looking for a guitarist. This trilogy of albums I’ve released since 2008 − I’d totally given up on the idea of working with someone else. It’s a bit self-indulgent when you play and record everything yourself, but it’s making up for a lot of lost time that you’ve spend watering down ideas by working with people who turn out not to be… you don’t have any faith in someone, writing songs with someone, you really have to have them sussed otherwise you’re at risk of giving them something really valuable, for them to kick the shit out of it and turn it into something that’s horrible, ruin its aesthetic value.
“If you’re the one with the ideas, it’s taken me a very long to realise, I have ideas, that’s always been the case, I feel like I don’t have the time to waste, either to write songs with someone or collaborate in any way. Until I can totally have things my way financially, and get the people I want, I’m stuck with having to do everything myself, because I just don’t trust anyone else!”
You’re out there gigging on the back of this new album, what does the immediate future hold?
“I only have short-term aims, I don’t make plans, a lot my time is spent thinking about mortality. Not that I’ve got anything that’s gonna kill me, but I had a bad scare a few years back that really made me have to question that side of things, so I don’t make a lot of plans. But I have a new book coming out, that I’ve almost finished, that will be out this year, and I have a guy in the States − weird tenuous connection – he worked on that very popular comedy sitcom, [Curb Your Enthusiasm]; one of the writers on that show is an old mate of mine, came out to England from California in the punk years, and he’d back out in Hollywood now, is a top guy out there; he loves the idea of turning my original book Secret Life Of A Teenage Punk Rocker into a movie. He wants it to be a movie but has the idea of turn it into a sitcom, after a movie!”
Beyond this, Andy has been nurturing plans for one particular gig some way off the usual circuit:
“I’m hoping to go to Gaza to play a gig. Because a friend of mine, Palestinian, was killed by the Israelis at a demonstration back in the late nineties. And we were really good friends, he effectively saved my life on one occasion, I was really upset when he died. The problem is, as soon as you say you’re doing something for anybody connected with Palestine or Israel it immediately becomes all political. And I’m sick of arguing about the rights and wrongs of the situation… I’m really not interested in the politics, the only reason I want to do a gig there is I promised my mate one day I would do that. In my heart I would like to do that.”
Plastic Penny And The Strange Wooden Horse is out now through Flycatcher / Cherry Red.