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!

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!

Monday, 3 February 2020

The Escape Club live UK date!

We all know how important getting a support slot can be and back in the days of the Strength tour The Escape Club proved very popular with Alarm fans before landing their own hit "Wild Wild West" and other top 40 singles in the US. 

For the first time in 30 years the band will play live in the UK performing their debut album "White Fields" in full plus other tracks at Nell's in London on 27th June and whats more Dave Sharp will open proceedings as special guest for the evening.

General admission tickets as well as VIP "Golden Tickets" are available via the bands web page by clicking HERE

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Chris Summerill @ 3rd Space Gathering Thursday

There's been lots of talk from those attending this years Gathering about what will be happening on the Thursday "Thirstday" evening as there is no Smiley/James gig this year......... Well Craig Judd decided to make something happen (with the help of a few local folk to do the boots on the ground work!) and now we have a great night lined up with Chris Summerill providing the music!

Chris has provided tunes on many Snowden Rocks walks as well as previously appearing at The Gathering where he went down a storm so it promises to be a great night!

The evening will be held in the relocated 3rd Space Kitchen & Bar so food will be available for all those that avoid the motorway services en route!

Capacity is approx 150 and sales after one night have seen 98 of us take up the offer so if you want to go be quick! Tickets are pay what you can/want but please consider that Chris is doing an 8 hour round trip to give us a great night! Email Craig for the ticket link craig.judd@id7.co.uk  

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Smalltown Glory New London Show

Smalltown Glory @ The Black Heart November 2019 Pic Courtesy of Pete Cole 

Eddie Macdonald follows on from his sold out  Smalltown Glory show at The Black Heart in November with another London gig confirmed for March.

Tickets for the gig at The Water Rats at Kings Cross are on sale now priced at £16.50 and the gig itself is on March 5th with another Special Support promised but not yet revealed.

Book your ticket by clicking HERE!

RT-Zed "Honour The Barbarian" review

I'm guessing a fair few of you own or have heard the Punk Tribute To The Clash album which was released in the early 2000s as it has a few Alarm connections, Mike Peters contributes a couple of tracks, Chelsea's Gene October one and of course James Stevenson not surprisingly is on there too! Then there was RTZ Global featuring Steve Grantley who provided a storming version of the classic "Guns Of Brixton" which for many was one of the albums stand out moments. After the albums release the label responsible approached the duo commissioning them to deliver an album of punk standards which the band would choose themselves but unfortunately during recording the label went under and left the project in limbo....

RT-Zed (let's use that name as that's what they became and is the name on the sleeve for this release!) finished the album but then with no means of releasing it at the time it was shelved. 15 years later it has finally seen light of day and we get to appreciate what an amazing album it is!

Looking at the track listing nearly all the songs will be familiar to those with even a casual interest in punk pulling in tracks such as The Damned "New Rose", X-Ray Spex "Germfree Adolescents", Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop", The Jam's "Pretty Green" and of course "Guns Of Brixton" from the Clash tribute. The only semi deep tracks are the Sex Pistols "I Wanna Be Me" which was the B-side to "Anarchy In The U.K." and "Safe As Houses" by Grantleys Stiff Little Fingers found originally on the "Go For It" album which was obviously before his time in the band. What is massively noticeable is that despite their familiarity these versions are in no way carbon copies of the originals and sound pleasingly fresh. It's great to instantly be able to sing along to every track whilst also discovering them for the first time.

The electronic nature, which isn't quite EBM but certain flirts with it, works well in adding something different to the source material and then of course you have Grantley's vocals which are always on point! The only track which made me initially question it's inclusion was the Siouxsie & The Banshees classic "Happy House" which starts with RT-Zed radically deconstructing it but just as you get into the groove and sparseness it begins to pick up speed and mirror the rest of the album.

This is one of those great releases where it has the ability of taking your expectations and knock them out of the park. It is destined to be one of your go to albums when you want to sing your heart out and have a great time doing it.....if only all cover albums were this good!

Monday, 6 January 2020

"Missing" RT-Zed CD released!

After recording a stand out cover of "Guns Of Brixton" for a Clash Tribute album as RT-Zed Global in the early noughties Steve Grantley and John Magner were asked if they would be interested in producing an entire album of punk cover versions. 

Choosing some of their favourite tracks they went to it deciding on 11 absolute classics however during recording the record company went under and left the project in limbo. They finished the album but now had no means of releasing it so it sat shelved for 15 years....until now that is!

"Honour The Barbarian" by RT-Zed is now available at long last! 

Get yours for £12 HERE!