Monday, 29 November 2021

RT-Zed "Why Did I Ever Care" single release & review

 With the new album "ZedNation" due shortly and with an expanded line up with John Magna re-joining the bad alongside Steve Grantley, Jonesy and new bassist Jamie Alleyne anticipation is riding high and if lead in single "Why Did I Ever Care" is anything to go by it's going to be something pretty damn special!

Style wise it's more of a return to the punk stylings of "ZedHed" rather than the funk tinged sound explored on the wonderful "FUNKPUNK" and the expanded line up certainly sound like they mean business with a pretty full on rich sound. Don't be fooled by the acoustic intro "Why Did I Ever Care" wastes no time in kicking off with a drum and guitar assault which stay the course across 3 minutes of perfect punk tunage that will be sure to please Steve's SLF fans as well as gaining new fans.

As a single it's good, very good in fact and as a taste of "ZedNation" well the album can't arrive soon enough!

9/10


Download "Why Did I Ever Care" HERE

"ZedNation" is available in 2022.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

James Stevenson "The Other Side Of The World" interview

 This year saw the release of "The Other Side Of The World", the excellent second solo album by guitarist extraordinaire James Stevenson, so did a global pandemic help or hinder the recording? Talking all things about the album and what we can expect in the coming year it's time to catch up with James!


With a global pandemic happening did that forced downtime spark the idea for the album or was it something that was already underway and did the pandemic help or hinder the recording process?

A bit of both. I always wanted to do a second album - but lockdown definitely gave me the time to do it. I recorded the song "The Other Side Of The World" to be played at my brother Dave's funeral - that was the catalyst.

I emailed the files to Smiley and Peter Walsh and I was really pleased with the results, even though the reason I'd written the song was heart-breaking. So I asked Pete if he thought we could record a whole album like this and he thought we could.

Were all of the songs written with the album in mind or are there some that have been on the back burner so to speak?

Well "New York 10023" was a very old piece of music about a mad night I had in New York in the mid 80s with the model Paula Hamilton. I rerecorded it for the album - and even though it's basically an instrumental people do like it a lot. I got Johnny Pisano (Willie Nile's bass player) and Thomas Trask (who was David JoHansen's guitarist) - two New York mates to speak the script I wrote at the end - just to give it a New York edge.

"Take A Little Love" I wrote with Adam Masterson a few years ago and "Point It To Your Head" is a song by Steve New whose version was never released - so I recorded a version as a tribute to Steve. Other songs like "I'm Getting Over You Now", "Just Like I Do", "Gotta Find That Feeling", "When You're Feeling Sad and Lonely" and "Ugly/Beautiful" are all recent, or finished as the album progressed. "In The Nighttime" I wrote when I was about fourteen or fifteen - but I updated it a bit.

You've used a core "band" for the album featuring yourself, Peter Walsh on keyboards and Smiley on the drums then adding in guests for selected songs - do you think this helped focus the sessions and give a more unified feel overall?

I think it did, yeah. I liked the fact I played all the bass guitars too. I love to play bass and I don't think I'm a bad player if I say so myself! I didn't know Pete Walsh was such a great keyboard player until this album...he's very modest - but he's so tasteful. He produced the album too of course. So Pete, Smiley and I would basically knock the songs into shape and then I'd get people in to embellish. Terry Edwards is incredible and all the girl singers, Jessica Lee Morgan, Elizabeth Westwood, Tracie Hunter. I got my lifelong friend Henry Badowski out of retirement to play sax on "Baby Come On" - it was Henry who encouraged me to record "In The Nighttime" - we were in bands together in school. My friend Rana Rains did some great vocals on "New York 10023" too and Mike Peters added the harmonica on "Point It To your Head" of course.

Peter Walsh co-produced the album alongside you and has a rather impressive CV featuring such household names as Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Scott Walker, Spandau Ballet, Boomtown rats and Heaven 17 amongst others, where did your paths first cross?

You can also add Simple Minds and four Gene Loves Jezebel albums! We met when our A&R man at Geffen, Gary Gersh, wanted him to produce "Desire". It worked out great and he's been a Gene Loves Jezebel staple ever since - right up to GLJs last album "Dance Underwater". He has an incredible pair of ears and is a close personal friend too.

You've kept the guest list quite short with Elizabeth Westwood and Tracie Hunter returning again to provide the majority of the albums backing vocals, your Holy Holy bandmate Jessica Lee Morgan takes that role on the album opener "Baby Come On" and one Michael Peters lends his harmonica skills to "Point It To Your Head". Were there any guests that you would have loved for the album but couldn't get?

To be honest I would have liked Steve Norman to play sax on a track or two. He was incredible on my first solo album "Everything's Getting Closer To Being Over" but he was tied up in Berlin doing stuff.

What are your hopes and expectations for the album?

I just want as many people to hear it as possible. I'm very proud of it.

The album as well as the title track are dedicated to your brother David who sadly passed last year. Is there anything you'd like to tell us about him?

Well he was my best friend as well as my brother - the one person I would always call first to talk about anything. There were only fifteen months between us. I was destroyed when he died even though I knew it was inevitable and because he lived in Australia and died during lock-down I couldn't even go to his funeral. 

I discovered it was caused by a familial gene on my mother's side. You have to inherit it from a parent. If you have a parent with the gene you have a 50/50 chance of inheriting it. If you inherit it you die from Pick's Disease, it's terminal and there's no treatment. 

My mother died very young from cancer when she was only forty eight, before the disease took hold but her sister, my aunt Janet, who I absolutely adored, had the disease and died from it in her 50s but we never realised what it was until my brother started developing symptoms. It came from my mother and aunt's mother Claris Raynes who died of an illegal backstreet abortion in the mid1930s - she was only 28! So it's been hard to work out the trail.

I tested negative but it was a very stressful time.

You write about some very personal subjects lyrically on the album, do you find it cathartic to do so?

I've always written from personal experience - I think most artists in any genre do that don't they?

All the reviews I've seen have been full of praise and seem more positive than those of your debut "Everything's Getting Closer To Being Over" despite that album being a firm fan favourite ever since its release. Are you happy with how it has been received?

Yes, everyone does seem to like it. I'm very proud of both of my solo albums.

One thing that is striking about the release is that your vocals seem stronger and more natural, is this something that you consciously worked on?

Not really - I think they just evolved because I sang more. But I agree with what you're saying. My ex-wife Elizabeth Westwood did help with a bit of coaching - she's an awesome singer.

You've announced one live date for this year so far, do you envisage being able to play more solo shows next year?

Yes. Pizza Express Live in Holborn, London December 12th. I really want to do more solo gigs if I can.


I know Smiley will be playing drums with you in December but have you finalised the rest of the band yet?

Yes. Smiley on drums, Terry Edwards, Patrick Ralla on keys (Mark Taylor sadly couldn't do it) but Patrick is awesome. Peter Rizzo from Gene Loves Jezebel on bass - he's my fave bass player of all time. And Liz Westwood, Jennie "Belle Star" Matthias and Tracie Hunter on BVs. Hope we can all fit on the stage!

What can those people fortunate enough to be able to attend the London show expect to hear in the set, with two albums of original material you certainly have enough to play all your own songs but are you tempted to play anything from your long career so far or even some covers?

It will be songs from my two solo albums...but I might throw in a surprise!

Are there any plans to potentially record the show for a digital release or maybe a livestream?

There aren't, maybe next time. So if you want to see the show get to the gig!

There have been plenty of tours in the news being affected due to band or crew becoming infected and having to cancel shows. Do you have any restrictions yourself that you'd like to see in place for the immediate future?

I think that's just the way the world is right now and we're gonna have to soldier on and hope for the best.

Do you envisage a few short notice calls asking you to fill in to allow gigs to go ahead within the multitude of friendships you have?

I'm always up for that!

One of the lockdown releases saw the rapid writing and release of the album "War" by The Alarm in order to catch the spark and it was very well received even garnering national media attention. With how quickly things move forward with The alarm and that live dates couldn't be played to support and promote it do you think there's a potential it may become somewhat of a "lost" album?

I hope not. I think it's a really strong album. But we are living in very strange times for sure!

Did the impact of the pandemic allow you any more time to develop your autobiography?

A bit, I've been slack there I have to admit - all my focus went on the album.

With the pandemic far from over but with live music making a return (albeit with some dates having to be pulled or rescheduled) what is 2022 looking like currently for you?

Well from March it explodes! Holy Holy first, then The Alarm and then Gene Loves Jezebel UK dates. Then Gene Loves Jezebel have the Cruel World Festival in the USA May 14th - not sure if you've seen the line-up for that but it's incredible! Yeah 2022 looks very busy with tons of cool stuff - thank god!

That certainly sounds like there's a lot to look forward to next year and not forgetting that solo gig in London on December the 12th this year. James Stevenson, as always, thank you very much!

James' excellent second solo album "The Other Side Of The World" can be ordered HERE!


Tickets to the Pizza Express Holborn gig in London on December 12th can be ordered HERE!

Friday, 6 August 2021

Smiley - "2021" review

 The first album from Smiley not to bear the "Friends" tag yet it still manages to sound both new and familiar despite the change to a core band set up. Without having to accommodate the various styles that his always well chosen guests bought "2021" is much more focussed but still explores the trademark indie with sixties influence sound of the previous albums.


The song writing again shines through and manages to achieve a sense of optimism and healing in "Another Day", acknowledge loss in "Goodbye Old Friend" while the whole album is set up with the mantra of "Just Show Love". Those upbeat Smiley bangers are , of course, present in droves and rest assured "Rise Above", "The Last To Know", "Hollywood" and "The Firm" have hooks galore as well as choruses that you can belt out not to mention a few tasty guitar solos!

So do you miss the "Friends"? Well, yes, no and maybe! It's certainly been a long time coming and building a core that can make live dates more of a possibility as well as grow into each other is a fantastic prospect however there are times where you wish that you had the presence of a voice like Kerry Barnard Schultz to bring something else to the mix but as a debut for the new direction the potential is limitless and you won't be disappointed!


ORDER FROM smileysfriends.co.uk/music

Monday, 1 February 2021

James Stevenson readies new album release!


I'm very glad to be able to announce that James Stevenson will be releasing a new solo album this year: his first album of new material since the fantastic "Everything's Getting Closer To Being Over" in 2014!

The new album is called "The Other Side Of The World" and features eleven tracks including one instrumental with James providing all the guitars and bass as well as lead vocals and Smiley all the drums.

More information as it becomes available and keep an eye out for an interview with James around the albums release!


Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Smiley Talks "Clang!" audiobook and more! Interview

As England nears the end of it's second lockdown I took the opportunity to catch up with Smiley who has just released the audiobook version of his popular memoir "Clang!" of course it also seemed a good chance to touch upon some Alarm plans too!

The initial print run of "Clang!" sold out pretty quickly, that must have been a nice feeling! Did you anticipate that sort of demand?

To be honest I had no idea. I sat with James Walsh, my publisher, and we just stared at each other when trying to guess the reaction and order the right amount of books. I didn't think in a million years it would get the reaction it did and to actually need a reprint was quite a touching moment. What surprised me also was how it was quite a slow burner and the orders were coming from further and further a field. Immensely humbling and truly surprising.

For those that are yet to get a copy from the second run, how are the numbers looking for those maybe asking Santa for a copy?

Well I've just ordered a 3rd run to cover myself for Black Friday ha ha! I was down to one so I've backed myself up just in case. The audiobook version is now available from the same place gatecrashthepartybooks.com That's quite funny. I start off sounding like Alan Partridge and end up like Danny Dyer!


"Clang!" was written in a very conversational style so was an audiobook version always in your plans?

Funnily enough it wasn't. It was the fact that so many people said it was written in the style of sitting in the pub telling stories. The audiobook idea was an after thought...but it makes sense.

Totally! 

How have you approached the audio version, have you gone for a straight reading of the book or were you tempted to elaborate and add in further details?

It took a while to get into my stride. It's actually a lot harder than you think. Every word, every phrase has to be spot on. It was nice to be able to read it the way it was written....I did elaborate a little though.

I've listened to many autobiographies read by the author so can appreciate the importance of getting it right!

Were there any moments that caught you by surprise and caused you to stop the take?

Yes, the spelling mistakes!

Since the publication of the book have many of those name checked been in touch to comment?

Some have, some haven't. I haven't annoyed anyone yet, except for my 2 brothers who took huge offence to me calling them twins, even though they are! That's saved me on Christmas pressies this year!

Before we move on can I ask what the running time of the audiobook is and how long did it take you to record?

It's about 375 mins which in my world is just over 6 hours, or London to Scotland or 3 Big Night In's! It took me about 2 weeks to record. I used my positive Covid test to fill my days...so it's officially a Corona audiobook.

This year's been a tough one for a lot of families but having both you and your wife Kerry earning a living in music must have hit hard?

It's been pretty tough on many levels. We both lost a years worth of shows, theatres, festivals, tours etc all in a matter of days. It's been especially hard on her as I have the studio to keep me busy. I was away with Gene loves Jezebel on The Mission tour in Portugal when I first heard a whisper of what might be happening. It moved so fast and the next day we were all flying home. We got to Heathrow and there were musicians I knew from all over Europe. It was surreal. Nobody knew that was it for the foreseeable.

You've managed a few things around the restrictions in place such as the new Coloursound sessions and did I see some more work with Hard Fi?

I had a really good run initially. I was working with Richard Archer from hard Fi on his Offworld project. That album is finished and amazing by the way. Then both Ian McNabb and Mark Butcher asked if I'd be up for doing their albums from my studio while we were in lockdown so that filled my days. Then the Coloursound album came up so we all went to Lincolnshire for a week. That was really special. Playing with Mike & Billy. It's a superb album. Had to pinch myself a few times. Rock royalty either side of me. I did odd things too. A track for Owen Paul, some film tracks for Chesney Hawkes and a track with Ryan Hamilton. Variety is the spice of life!

That sounds like a lot for us to be looking forward to. I'm guessing you're sworn to secrecy about the Coloursound album but is there anything you can share about it?

I am a bit. It's been quite hard keeping so quiet. All I can say is it's a belter. Billy and Mike on top form and it's BIG!!! in every way. I do hope we get to play it live. We would "blow the bloody doors off!"

Live shows seem a million years ago at the moment but there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There's been some smaller socially distanced gigs but I think in Alarm world we all have everything crossed for the Gathering next year. Before that of course we have the virtual Xmas Gathering next month, can you tell us anything more about that?

The Christmas Gathering. I'm afraid I am sworn to secrecy. My contract says I must not tell a living soul, especially if he is a 7ft Geordie!

LOL! So we can expect some surprises on the night?

Well, it's very Christmassy!

So we can expect an appearance from Santa and maybe a festive cover version or two?

Yep!

Everyone will be grabbed by the baubles! How are feeling after your Covid infection? Any lingering effects or are you fighting fit again?

I really swerved the bullet on that. I tested positive and all I did was lose taste and smell. Good as new now.

That's great to hear! Part of your lockdown also saw you revisit your Smiley's Friends releases. Had you already planned on a new album this year before everything changed or was it a result of having more time afforded to you?

I was tinkering with the idea and then decided to revisit some of them. Then I kind of pulled them apart and started rebuilding them. It became quite cathartic. Before I knew it I had my 12 ready and Karl had the idea of including friends on the cover. It was quite a nice way of connecting during a pretty dark time. It's also quite a nice way of drawing a line under the friends and moving off into a different direction.

For those that haven't taken the plunge yet how would you describe the new versions?

Rethought
restructured
replayed
remixed
remastered!

And all sounding great! Having the fans photos on the cover was a nice touch too!

It was a great idea. Karl Parsons is so clever. We did accidentally leave a couple off...I've apologised, offered Curly Wurly's as compensation.

An Internationally recognised currency!

Exactly.

Are you ready to give any hints to where your next solo project is heading?

I've co-written albums with KirbyWalsh and Memphis Stone & The Elevators this year so that's opened my eyes a bit and broadened my thinking.

That sounds interesting as both artists sound fairly different to each other.

I've really enjoyed both projects. Producing them as well I've kind of seen it from a different perspective. That's the joy of working with so many artists. I learn something new every session. You never stop learning.

When are we likely to hear something from the new project?

The KirbyWalsh album is available from gatecrashthepartybooks.com same website as my book and album are. The Memphis album will be coming out some time next year.

I know The Alarm have pushed most live plans into 2022 but are we likely to see a new album next year?

An Alarm album? It's planned. Not sure when yet but I know it's written.

That sounds promising, anything you can share about it at this time or is Mike keeping it close to his chest?

I know George has heard it and said it's amazing. Mike never shares stuff with me until we are in the studio about to press record.

Archive have repurposed this year with the remix project "Versions" but again they are a band that thrive in a concert setting. Are there current plans for a new studio album and is it too early to start talking about live dates again?

Again, they are due in the studio next year and again I haven't heard any of the new songs, There's a pattern forming here isn't there!

I'm sure the end results will still be spectacular! I think that covers most of what I had in mind is there anything else you'd like to cover?


I think that's pretty much it!

Smiley, as always thank you very much for your time!




Tuesday, 5 May 2020

"CLANG! Smiley Drops A Few - Book Review

"CLANG" the art of name dropping someone famous in to a conversation.....and let's face it I would imagine those nights and days on The Alarm tour bus could sound like a gong with the collective Clangs that there must be potential for in any conversation!

In Smiley's memoir Clangs come thick and fast but what would you expect from someone that has played a wide spectrum of music from Robbie Williams to Joe Strummer and even being in The Who (for 2 minutes - read the book!). This isn't a boring by the book autobiography tripping over dates and places or dwelling long on his formative years before hitting the nitty gritty which bought us all to the book in the first place, in fact Smiley lays out very early on that his memory for dates is shocking and is often worked out by which teams were in that years Cup Final! The chapters are short and sweet and are designed to be read mostly in any order so you can skip to read about your favourite bands or to try and track down the juicy bits!



I'm not going to repeat any of the stories Smiley tells as they are there for you all to discover and delight in but his time with Robbie, Strummer and From The Jam get a fair bit of coverage. Even without being a fan of the former Take Thatter I found this time interesting especially the sliding doors moments and the various times he crossed paths with a Gallagher brother! The time of being in the Mescaleros was obviously a key point in Smileys career and there are many stories that will cement your opinion that Joe Strummer was someone special and Smiley handles his departure from the band with class and that is something that comes across again and again, there's no bitterness (or very little) and some doors close allowing others to open.

For those coming to the book from an Alarm point of view then it will obviously be no shock how his passion for his band mates, "family" and fan base obvious, there will be some new info for you - did you know that Mark Taylor had taken a lecturing post at a music school for instance? There is no salacious gossip here and the criticism from some areas of the fan base to the current Alarm line up is given short thrift. Personally I think pointing out that Jules had given up her stage membership in the Poets Of Justice when she and Mike began a family and was now returning to that role might have been a better explanation than the fact she is a grade 8 pianist but hey it's not my book or my story to tell! I would have loved to have had more, a lot more on Smileys time with The Alarm and I'm sure most people reading this will come to the same conclusion.

Archive are an amazing band, every single time I've seen them they've been like no other time and every single time they've been magnificent! The fact that Smiley acknowledges the general fan response of "massive in France, can't get arrested in the UK" says something and I hope after reading CLANG! more Alarm fans may explore Smiley's "other" band! The peanut story was something else!

From The Jam don't appear until the end of the book and to be fair they don't come out of it that well, there is an obvious respect of the material and of Bruce Foxton but both Bruce and vocalist/guitarist Russell Hastings come across as a little petty and a million miles away in attitude from Smiley. Shame as anyone who saw them during Smiley's tenure will attest that they were blinding! 

The writing style here is very conversational, deliberately so and you could imagine all these stories being told over many libations across a few great evenings in your favourite watering hole or as a post gig wind down. This ironically makes it the perfect holiday/airport book at a time when you can neither fly or grab a copy from the local bookshop! Instead you will have to order direct and help Smiley clear the boxes stacked in his living room or head over to Amazon. Either way CLANG! is a must read that will make you smile and in this day and age what more could you want!

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Oxy and the Morons - Steve Allan Jones Interview

Now that Oxy and the Morons has been seen by a much wider audience with many falling in love with the songs, the story and the characters it seems the perfect time to ask Steve Allan Jones one of Oxy's creators and writers a little more about the play that we have taken to our hearts.

The news that there was a play in the works had been around for ages, when did you first start talking about it with Mike?

I think 2009 or 10. Dylan and Evan were going to a local youth theatre that I worked for so in rehearsals I'd go say hi and Mike said one day that we should write a musical.

Was this prior to Vinyl being discussed?

It was roughly around the same time I think. Possibly slightly after. I wasn't supposed to be involved with Vinyl. I did the initial contact with Sara Sugarman. Mike asked me to get on board with Vinyl as there was so much to do.

Was it hard to separate the two projects, both had music to be written, both with an earlier "punky" feel?

Not really. A lot of Vinyl emerged from Mike's early Toilets demos. Most of the rest of Vinyl was written in the mad weekend studio session. I remember James and me working up an idea in one room with other stuff going on elsewhere. A Breed Apart was written in the Chapel. Mike had a lot of it already but I tweaked it with him. I said remember how 68 Guns moved between major and minor chords so let's put a similar sequence into the chorus.

With Oxy Mike and I had some basic ideas which we worked up in my studio. As I said Free Rock and Roll was in this session in a very basic format. Which tells me that the very first writing session for Oxy was just before Vinyl filming.

So....the Vinyl soundtrack was recorded after filming (apart from Free Rock and Roll and a couple of other tunes). Oxy was next worked on once we had started talking to Pete Rowe at the New Wolsey. We had a couple of writing sessions with Paul who we had been introduced to at the Chapel.

Paul is a songwriter himself and plays a mean guitar!

He bought a different vibe to Oxy songs.

What was the original idea for Oxy, was it untitled at the time or was it Peroxide? The suggestion of the leukaemia story line came at the suggestion of Paul Sirett did it not?

Oxy was very early on called Peroxide. We came up with the idea of being a love story. To describe it we said it was a punk Grease. It was based on our experiences in the 1970s being in bands together. Once Paul came onboard he tried rewriting it within our original story. Eventually Oxy evolved. The leukaemia element came about after Paul, Pete Rowe and I had attended an early test screening of Vinyl in London. Mike wasn't with us that day. Paul and Pete had been discussing adding the cancer story to Oxy and asked if Mike would mind. I phoned Mike almost immediately and of course he could see the real world benefits of such a move. Mike said yes and that's when Oxy became something like the final structure.

Copyright Mike Kwasniak - used with permission
So in the genesis of going from an initial idea between yourself and Mike how did Paul join the creative team?

So this is tied up in how we ended up in Ipswich. We had got about 75% down into the story of Peroxide by our fortnightly meets. Then we had both gone off to do other stuff for some months. In the meantime I was sounding out friends of mine who could write the script. A mate of mine in Cardiff came up with a genius look at Oxy but we felt we wanted to stay closer to the original idea. We met up in the cafe at Dyserth waterfall one day and I said we need to move this on or forget it. I had worked for Theatr Clwyd for a while but I knew that Oxy wasn't something for them at the time. However, Pete Rowe who was artistic director at the New Wolsey used to write and direct the rock and roll Panto's every Xmas in Theatr Clwyd. Pete's partner Sarăh Holmes was chief executive at the New Wolsey. I had got to know Sarăh at Theatr Clwd so I emailed to ask her advice. Mike was keen as he loved the Theatr Clwyd Pantos.

And so Sarăh suggested to Pete our idea and Pete invited us down to Ipswich to see his latest work Mods and Rox. Next day we met Pete. he asked us what we thought of last nights show, we loved it by the way, he then asked us what we needed. We said a scriptwriter. He said the writer Paul Sirett was of a similar vibe to us. And so a week or two on and Mike and I met Paul in a Euston coffee shop. We spent an hour with Paul. Back on the train we both said that Paul was obviously the right person to collaborate with. Paul came on board and we spent a bit of time working on Peroxide, drinking beer and going to gigs! It's important to get on the same wavelength. It was a very easy partnership with a great deal of trust between us from day one.

How did the writing progress considering all of your schedules and geographic considerations?

A lot of the songs were realised in the two writing sessions at the Chapel. Particularly Act One. Paul came up from London and we cracked on. We needed to have some tunes to get a flavour of the show. We recorded as we went. Sometimes emailing Smiley a rough back track to which that ruddy genius would play to and send back a drum track. The rest of the writing was more fragmented and centred around my studio. We used some material from the Chapel sessions. Mike and I wrote new stuff. Paul would send up ideas and lyrics. Sometimes I would phone Mike and say give me an hour this week. He would turn up and play bass or guitar or sing or write. Whatever needed doing. Then I would mould and adapt and rewrite until we had all the tunes in a demo form.

During the writing stage had you already received a commitment for it to be staged or did that come later?

Later. I guess we got most of the story sorted and about 70% of the songs into some kind of state before Pete said yes we would like to put this on. The original plan was to have another theatre involved too. Pete spent a lot of time persuading other theatres to join the Oxy run. There was one agreement from a major theatre to collaborate but sadly they pulled out (don't get me started on that though!) This period went on for a couple of years before Pete said we are going to produce a short run on our own.

Copyright Mike Kwasniak - used with permission
It must have been daunting putting so much into a project that you weren't sure would ever see the light of day?

I suppose writing a song is a similar process. You might finish it but nobody may hear it. It's a calculated risk in the arts sometimes. I guess you have to believe in something yourself enough to finish it.

Once you knew that the New Wolsey Theatre would be putting it on it must have been a great relief and also a vindication of your belief in Oxy.

To be honest it was great news. Mike, Paul and I are lucky that we often have multiple projects in various stages of developement and Oxy was sitting in the ready for an opportunity box. We were all working on other things. And Pete at the New Wolsey has already shown his faith in Oxy. He managed to find a slot at the theatre and a budget to get Oxy up because he really wanted the show to come to life. I think we all immediately cleared diaries. Then came the hardest part of all. The show was on paper. Now we had a production slot that needed more work.The months before the run became another chance to tweak the show.

Was it at this stage that the actual production side started with casting?

Scheduling first. Usually working backwards from the run. But yes we needed actors. We knew we needed a cast of nine. We also knew that eight of them had to play an instrument, Each character has a description and a skill set. We had a great casting agent Debbie whose job is to find us a short list of actors who fit the description. The tricky bit was to cast a younger and older version of each character who could play the same instrument.

How did that work, did you get a short list then hold auditions and across what sort of time was that?

So a number of actors are invited to audition. normally I would be at the first round but Pete told me early on he didn't want me to musically direct so Ben our MD along with Pete and Debbie were at the initial casting. There were two stages. Instrumental prowess and acting ability. I think they wanted to cast the older band first. All of this happened April/May 2017. I attended a recall audition where the initial contenders have been whittled down. I was lucky enough to see the final auditionees for Andy and Brian. Two good friends of mine were up for the parts and they were tremendous. Rob and Sean came in after and they were tremendous too. I was glad I wasn't making the decisions. Pete was right to appoint Ben as I was too close to the show.

Did you see it that way at the time?

Sort of yes. I always think collaboration is the best way forward. Ben did a lot of work from audition to run. There's also a lot of good perspective from Ben as to arrangements. The final batch of songs had keyboards on. We were looking for a keyboard and bass playing female actor. It became obvious to get rid of the keyboards. Something I would have had second thoughts about as MD.

And a keyboardist?

Yes, probably. The second batch of songs had quite a lot of keys and indeed backing vocals which I did myself. It needed an outside ear to pick out the important stuff. There are still a few remnants of the keyboards in the show. For example young Sheena plays a keyboard early on in Act two when establishing her character was classically trained.

Copyright Mike Kwasniak - used with permission
Molly-Grace Cutler in her professional debut - she was a great find. Was it a risk casting someone without much prior experience or was this another example of the spirit of punk?

I wasn't at her audition. I heard she blew everyone away. I knew people at her drama school who said she was amazing. She is! No risk whatsoever I would say.

You've touched on the need of the cast to be able to act as well as to be musically competent. Janet Fullerlove said on the Big Night In Oxy stream that she bought a bass and was told to practise, practise, practise! To what level were the cast already musically adept?

As far as I can recall all band members bar Janet were musicians. Janet learnt the bass for the role. A remarkable feat but she was so good as Elizabeth.

I think the cast were absolutely spot on. Was it difficult in getting the "present day" cast to mirror the young Oxy and the Morons?

 Tricky. I think until Act Two it's not an issue. The audience get used to the staging quite quickly. In fact I heard a few cheers at the start of Act Two when the audience realise that now the roles are reversed. I'm not actually sure that the present day cast did mirror the originals. It was more the other way round I think although that's only my perception. Actors when they know they are playing someone real will look for the little traits to mimic. I think there was a little of each cast doing that. The amazing thing was the sort time they had to rehearse and get to know each other. They have to be real bands.
Copyright Mike Kwasniak - used with permission

The staging itself was something, simple in many ways but did the movable stage give you any headaches or concerns?

You would have to ask Pete and the actors!

Did you have any input during the rehearsal stage or were you having to wait like an expectant father for the premiere so to speak?

Yes but there's a limit to my involvement. Paul and I were at day one of rehearsals. I hadn't met everyone and it's important to connect with the team. We sat in on the reading of the script. Notes were made. That was the first time anyone had heard the words aloud - usually there are workshops before a production but that's punk!

We all had a chat about the show. As some of the story was based on Mike and I the actors asked a few questions and Paul could clarify a few things too. I remember that night Sean (Brian) had to rush back to London to appear in Jesus Christ Superstar in Regents Park. I was going to the show anyway so I too ended up in London. We had a couple of beers after the show ended earlier as pouring rain cut the show short.

I returned home and during the week I would get notes from Ben with suggestions and requests to rewrite stuff. I think Mike was away at this time so it was mainly down to me and Paul. There were a few very last minute tweaks. I then watched a first run thru a week later. It's important not to be too precious as long as it's all going forward in a good direction. I write quite a few shows so the process is well known to me but not being musical director really helped me to gain perspective. The team did an amazing job and Pete was so supportive to his cast and crew. One of the best I would say.

What were the reactions to Oxy from the theatre goers and did you receive any feedback from "the trade"?

I watched the final dress rehearsal and it was very powerful. That night I watched the first show too. My impression was that the audience had taken a gamble. Brand new show. Quite revolutionary staging too. It took about twenty minutes until the audience got it. After that it was a roller coaster. I was watching as a punter but also as a writer. But by mid Act Two I was just a punter. You could feel the audience were totally inside the story, Some were old enough to remember 1978 and had been punks. Some were just theatre goers. Without giving spoilers there was a collective audible "oh" when the twist is revealed and a kind of amused sigh : laugh when the final song is announced. Then a standing ovation. Apparently it happened a few times during the run. The audience numbers started to increase as word of mouth got round. We got great reviews from almost every reviewer including The Stage.

One night I was in there was a small London theatre in who loved it. Again other theatre companies / individuals had been and loved it. However nobody took up the show.

Something Pete Rowe said to me - a show he had similarly encouraged was on a national tour at the same time as Oxy was running. It took seven years to get another life. And that show got into the West End eventually. So you never know.

Copyright Mike Kwasniak - used with permission
 Now that Oxy has finally managed to go global, albeit in to peoples homes rather than theatres, there has been calls for access to the songs and even merchandise - would that be practical and what is the likelihood of those things happening?

I would say that there are difficulties releasing the songs. All performers gave their permission for the Oxy broadcast. It's something we will explore. The Oxy t shirts were given to us by Janet as a memento but I still wear mine! I would say that's an easy merch product to produce. I'm not in that area of the biz. Mike and I have spoken about something and I'm sure in the coming weeks if we can pull it off everyone asking for Oxy material will be pleased.

That sounds intriguing!

What has the reaction been to Oxy since the broadcast? There's been clips shared of it making news channels in America!

I've been heartened by all the comments. I think we all knew that Oxy was and important and new way of telling a story through a musical. It's had over 4,000 views on YouTube in six days and will be staying up there until the lockdown ends. Before the premiere there was a couple of enquiries from TV. It's a very British story and it certainly could be adapted for the screen. I'm hopeful with the renewed interest that we get a further life for Oxy. If we don't at least more people have seen what a great job the cast and crew made of bringing Oxy to life.

Was it hard getting everyone on board to clear permissions to show it as part of The Big Night In?

Once I had suggested the showing to Mike and Pete it didn't take long really, It was early in the lockdown. Pete took about a week to get the permissions.

Whoever had the idea of involving the front of house team in that broadcast was a genius! That was so fun and great to see!

Mikes idea! Brilliant! And well done to the New Wolsey team for getting it done.

I think we've given Oxy a good insight there....is there anything else you'd like to add in?

No I think you're right. There's seven years of stories mind!

I suppose with hindsight there are areas we would change, rewrite or tweak. We would and already have started to play down the punk angle a bit. I think in these times a bit of positivity is what we need and, rightly or wrongly, punk is seen by some to be a negative thing. For kids like Mike, Paul and I it was liberating. We were given permission to be who we wanted to be. I have no doubt that without punk it's unlikely that any of us would be in the music business. Mike and I were office workers in a small seaside town. How could we get to be on stage in front of thousands? Punk appeared, whipped off the chains and showed us Step 1 - just do it! That's punk! The final monologue of Oxy sums it up. A more life affirming speech you couldn't wish to hear. When Mike and I started the Oxy story we were writing a daft punk rock love story. However with input from Paul and Pete a much more interesting and powerful show emerged. It needed writing and now it's writ. Somewhere in Oxy's story are little bits of Mike, Paul, me and all of us, just trying to get through life as best we can.

Now that's punk!

Exactly!
Copyright Mike Kwasniak - used with permission


Oxy and the Morons photos copyright of Mike Kwasniak and used with his permission
For more information please visit Mike Kwasniak Photography 

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

"Clang!" available to pre-order

Smiley's music memoir "Clang!" is available to pre-order directly from Gate Crash The Party Books priced at £9.99. In fact the initial demand has been so strong a second print is already being mentioned! 




Get yours ordered by clicking on the image or by clicking HERE!

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Carol Hodge - Savage Purge Review

Carol Hodge is incredible! There we are, I've said it, it's out there!

I've been a fan for a number of years through her work with Steve Ignorant in Slice Of Life and amazing vocal work when he revisited his C.R.A.S.S. catalogue live.  With Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts she has made a wider impact on the Alarm fan base and many have sought out her excellent solo album "Hold On To That Flame" released a couple of years ago.

I'm not quite sure when she's found the time but she has recorded "Savage Purge" a new album featuring 10 diverse tracks dealing with some pretty emotional subject matters, that's not to say it is heavy going or preachy as neither could be further from the truth.


Photo by Mike Bennett

The difference in styles from striped back, heart laid bare singer songwriter piano laden tunes rub shoulders effortlessly with uptempo full band numbers and that keeps the album flowing very nicely and all the fresher for it. Carol is definitely at home in a multitude of styles and has created a wide palette to show her songwriting skills and there are plenty of moments that will have you singing along, whether that be the tender "In Case Of Emergency" or the absolute belter of a chorus of "Magic Bullet" which is a track that is crying out to be heard live!

Lyrically the album runs through a full gauntlet of important social themes such as domestic abuse, alcoholism,  beauty standards , self love and mental health but as Carol says "It's an album full of hope,energy, self discovery and positivity" and that is very true as passion and integrity are here in abundance. 

This is an album full of discovery and keeps on giving the more you listen - I highly recommend that you do!

"Savage Purge" can be pre-ordered in a variety of packages directly from Carol HERE!


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Smiley Gig!

Smiley will be supporting the launch of his new book "Clang, Smiley Drops A Few!" with a gig at Jagz in Ascot on April 17th.

Gaz Top will be on hand to host a Q & A session and former England Cricketer turned singer/songwriter Mark Butcher will also be playing!


Tickets are available now priced at £13.75 which includes booking fee. Head over to We Got Tickets to order yours by clicking HERE!