A spaceman came travelling: Last Great Dreamers - an interview in Oxford, 28 February 2015
No, they’ve not spiked the Red Stripe tonight - there really is a space-suited gentleman wandering around The Cellar. The Oxford venue, tucked in a side street just seconds away from the hustle and bustle of a city-centre Saturday night, is hosting a single-release party for Last Great Dreamers, and if there’s one thing astronauts love it’s a launch.
The band have christened the besuited character ‘Captain Helmut’ - from the German branch of NASA - and they appear keen to make him a star, man. He’s there on the cover of Supernature Natural, the second release from last year’s acclaimed Crash Landing In Teenage Heaven LP. He also graces the song’s video, which has just started its online orbit. And now he’s space-walking around a small bar in Oxford, handing out spot-prizes to punters whose dancing he deems worthy.
Who on earth - or indeed off earth - is this mystery man? I’d ask roadie Jon but, hmm, he’s disappeared all of a sudden.
This afternoon I asked guitarist Slyder where the suit had come from, to be told: “John Inman lent it to us.”
What was (the late) John Inman was doing with it?
“I don’t know. It might have been Grace Brothers’ old stock.”
“I think he auditioned for The Man Who Fell To Earth,” said frontman Marc, “but it didn’t quite work out for him. So it’s probably left over from that.”
Ah, Last Great Dreamers, how I’ve missed you.
My introduction to Marc and Slyder, as people rather than performers, came via a dressing-room interview that my wife Tara and I did in January 1995 at a pub in Portsmouth called the Air Balloon. It was their first gig of a 12-date UK tour, and we caught the band in a whimsical mood. Sure, they engaged with our questions, but they also happily spun off at tangents about pest control, blind lighting engineers, Thora Hird and fictional musicians called Roy.
Twenty years on, with three hours till tonight’s gig, I’m sitting in the corner of a hotel lounge, fielding a rematch. Marc and Slyder are here, alongside the Dreamers’ 2015 rhythm section - bassist Ian Scruffykid and drummer Ginge - and time has clearly had little effect on the band’s sense of humour, which is a concern for Marc.
“We do look very young there, don’t we? Ginge still had the body of a lithe, 14-year-old Swedish boy.” - Slyder
“We’ll try and keep it serious,” he says. “We don’t want to get too ‘comedy’.”
He needn’t worry. That interplay, the batting back and forth between Marc and Slyder, is part of the band’s charm. The two guitarists riff just as well off stage as they do on it - and with a similar dynamic. In both settings, Slyder tends to take the lead while Marc holds the rhythm, occasionally unleashing some killer licks of his own. I’d planned to interview all four band members separately, so that they weren’t talking over each other and fighting to get a word in, but I think it works out for the best, as group therapy so often does. Last spring I wrote about my own experiences following the Dreamers and called it a ‘fan’s-eye view’. Today I’m keen to get the band’s-eye view.
Last Great Dreamers’ return to the Oxford Cellar - or the Dolly, as it was called back in the day - is significant for a few reasons. It was here that Slyder got talking to a “talent scout, for want of a better word” who advised the guitarist’s now-wife Sue to go and see Silver Hearts, as the band were originally known. It’s also the first venue from the Dreamers’ old circuit that they’ve returned to since their reunion last year. (“It’s about the only one we could find that was still open,” says Marc.) And, most importantly, says Slyder: “It’s always a big town for us, Oxford. A good following - quite loyal and noisy nutters.”
Later at the gig, I note that Slyder is spot on with his adjectives. The Cellar is busy and the punters are boisterous. As the show begins and Sarah Brightman belts out I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper (she’s not here but I’m sure she’d love it if she was), Slyder cuts through the song’s chorus with the opening riff to Chrome Tonic, and the last two decades instantly roll away. After a bouncy Far From Home and a well-placed Hello (third songs are traditionally where the band say bonjour), Marc stops to take stock: “We were trying to work out when we were last here. We think it was about 20 years ago. Anybody here from the '90s?”
Ah, the '90s. I’m from there. The band are from there. How 'bout we all go time-travelling for a bit? It’ll be fun.
Back at the hotel, I wave some Silver Hearts photos under the band’s noses. What do they think when they look at pictures such as these?
“I think ‘The Final Countdown’,” says Slyder. “We do look very young there, don’t we? Ginge still had the body of a lithe, 14-year-old Swedish boy. That’s the archetypal sleaze pose of the era, that one. It could be any band, couldn’t it? No, it’s good. And that one’s our first Marquee performance. We were bottom of the bill - three bands.”
“With Boog, yeah,” says Marc, pointing at the bassist. “He actually came on like that, did he?”
“No, he had less clothes on,” deadpans Slyder. “We made him put his trousers on after the first track.”
Do you still relate to those people, your younger selves?
“It is difficult, being so long ago,” says Marc.
“I don’t, in a way,” says Slyder. “I mean, I do and I don’t. I’m a million miles away as a person. And I think our youthful exploits on stage… I think we’re better now.”
He points at a photo from 1995, when the band were decked out like stylish, perhaps even wealthy, jet-setting pop stars - all sunglasses, fake fur and well-groomed androgyny.
“With these ones we’ve got our own style. [In the early photos] we were learning; we were young. I was 19. It was a funny path, really. Even doing Fire [a track from the band’s third demo tape] was a bit weird, wasn’t it? It was an indie, EMF sort of thing. We were kind of always looking for what we thought we should be doing. Maybe there was a desperation, trying to do what the industry would like.”
“Back then,” says Marc, “six months seemed like six years almost. If you weren’t moving fast enough you were going to be left behind. We had a meeting and said we were going to do something a bit more distinctive. We thought we’d try and get one step ahead of the game, by doing our own thing.”
“I think now,” says Slyder, “finally, 60 years later, we’ve learnt that you’ve got to do what you enjoy, what you love, and be truthful. I think that Crash Landing is an honest album. But even with Retrosexual [the band’s 1994 debut], when we found the ‘Last Great Dreamers thing’, some people accused us of record companies creating that. But it was our own creation - we styled ourselves - and once we got into it, it was ‘hook, line and sinker’. Cars, clothes…”
“If you didn’t know who we were, you thought we were either a tribute band or just some corny ’70s rip-off.” - Marc
“It wasn’t, ‘come back from Tesco’s and put your outfit on’,” says Marc. “But the image was good and bad. It got us attention, but at the same time it got us dismissed very quickly. If you didn’t know who we were, you thought we were either a tribute band or just some corny '70s rip-off, and perhaps we did take it too far at one point.”
Towards the end of their original '90s reign, the band changed their name: first to Jet then Jet City - a move that broke my heart a little, if I’m honest. What happened there?
“That was all part of the reinvention,” says Marc. “We’d come out of our deal [with Bleeding Hearts] - we managed to get out of that because we got messed around quite a lot by the record company. Then we were looking at getting re-signed. And I think we changed our name just before we were about to get re-signed, didn’t we?”
“I thought it was after that,” says Slyder, “as a result of losing the deal that we were almost signing.”
Neither Marc nor Slyder is sure of the timeline here, but they agree on the reason for the change of name: to put some distance between what they’d done and where they hoped to be heading, which was out of the fading glam-rock scene and towards the bright lights of Britpop.
“The West End had died,” says Slyder. “Nobody went to the George [on Charing Cross Road] any more; there was no Marquee. There was no scene any more, was there? Everything was in Camden. We’d go up there, and you did feel ancient at 24 years old, because there were loads of 16-year-olds throwing up everywhere and acting strange. And we kind of felt like the elders.”
“You felt like you were almost at the end of your shelf life,” says Marc.
“So I guess we thought the Dreamers were passé,” says Slyder, “and we wanted to get with these young kids that were all sick.”
But you had such a great name, and you went and threw it away!
“I agree,” says Slyder. “Looking back, I don’t even acknowledge Jet.”
“A lot of mistakes were made,” says Marc. “I don’t even remember changing our name to Jet City.”
“We had a football team,” says Slyder, “which we called Jet City and then Jet City Playboys. And we rechristened the band again after the football team, because we thought that sounded better.”
“Crazy,” says Marc. “You live and learn, I guess.”
After the band split in 1997, both Marc and Slyder continued to make music, albeit apart.
“I started up a project [in LA],” says Marc. “It was kind of a band - Lovers Of Today we were called. I worked with two other guys. We did about half a dozen songs; did some recording. We had a couple of rehearsals with the full band but it didn’t get into a live state, really - we didn’t get to that point. I don’t know why. I probably should have pursued it, but I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing at the time. It was very brief in comparison [to Last Great Dreamers]. I kept writing, and it was good to be doing something. If I’d carried on it would have been okay, I think.”
Before you went to the US, Marc, didn’t you play some solo gigs over here, in London? I saw you in a student-union bar in 1999. I’ve got a flyer, and I can remember going to the gig but I can’t recall much about it.
“I can’t remember that,” says Marc, before I produce the flyer.
“Oh, okay, yes! Yeah, I did an acoustic set of some new material that I’d written. I think there was a bongo player, who sort of strolled on stage by mistake. Thankfully there’s no footage of it. I’d written a batch of songs after the Dreamers. That was a brief sort of foray into… I was ahead of my time, y’see, as an acoustic singer-songwriter.”
“After the band split,” says Slyder, "I went straight into songwriting, and churning out lots of songs. I became quite prolific - I was really keen to get straight back on it, I suppose. So I did a demo with a friend of ours who was an engineer - Marc did some recording with him as well - and I think Paul [Harrison] played bass on my first demo. A guy called Lloyd played guitar, and I programmed a drum machine. And then I put together a line-up from that demo with a couple of lads who were younger than me, and it was okay.
"I mean, you would have seen Toy Eye, Darren - with Matt and José. It was kind of weird, really. It didn’t have the same feel, and I think live the look wasn’t right. I just got a bit tired of being in charge and having two people that weren’t doing as much as I expected them to do - they weren’t as committed to it.
"Then I met this guy that I got on really well with, who was a roadie for Glitterbug, and I persuaded him to play bass. He was like a sort of Sid Vicious character, because he looked cool but he hadn’t really played that much. That was kind of built around the same songs [as Toy Eye], but it was a new line-up [with a new name, Plan 9]. We found a drummer, Gianfranco, who I christened Johnny Stamp, which was quite a good name. I liked the word ‘francobollo’, which is Italian for stamp, as in postage stamp.
"That band was better. It was more rock ‘n’ roll, with more attitude and stuff. We did quite a lot of gigs and got quite a bit of airplay on Xfm and Radio 1, but it ran out of steam. I had a bit of writer’s block then - I think because I was on my own, and I’d written all these songs and felt the musicians I was working with… it wasn’t a conducive atmosphere to being creative. I just found it a bit stifling. I think we played our last gig, which was a great gig, up in Camden somewhere.
“That was 2002, and I moved down to Somerset the following spring, and that was that. I didn’t really do much there. I did a few rehearsals with some guys I’d met, but nothing really happened.”
And now, more than a decade on from your last musical ventures, here you both are, back in business as Last Great Dreamers. What did Ian and Ginge think last year when they were asked to join the band?
“It was something that I’d wanted, as a fan, for years,” says Ian, who was originally a member of the band’s road crew. "But with everybody going away, even with the internet, we couldn’t try. I’d been in touch with Marc, on and off, and Slyder had gone down south, and I’d always chomped at this bit. I set up a Facebook page, and I knew quite a few people who were around back in the day who used to come to the shows. So if nothing else, I’d keep a bit of a flame going. And then I got in touch with Slyder, and I was, like: ‘When are you going to do this reunion?’ And then Marc came over, and I kept pushing.
“Marc and I didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing.”
“I just really wanted one show. I wanted to hear the songs live - the stuff that was to become Crash Landing. I wanted people to hear it because I still listened to it. But it was trying to get it out there. I got in touch with Slyder and mentioned it and, yeah, he’d been in touch with Marc and that was it. And obviously it was down to [original bassists] Paul or Dave or whoever. If they weren’t interested [in rejoining the band] then I was interested.”
“I don’t know if you remember,” says Slyder, “but you said that if we didn’t hurry up and do it you were going to start a tribute band. But obviously Wiggy… I mean Ian, sorry! If anyone calls him Wiggy they’ll get decked…”
Where does ‘Wiggy’ come from?
“It was Jasper Carrott,” says Slyder. “He used to play this character who was an AA man or something. He had this funny little wig on and he was called Wiggy. We used to play around with each other in the van - I used to do a comb-over, because Ian had long black hair. And that’s where the name comes from.”
“It probably could have been a lot worse,” says Ian.
“I heard that you nearly punched someone,” says Slyder, “because they called you Wiggy, up at Nottingham, at Rock City.”
“That was his mum,” quips Marc.
“I’ve punched a lot of people in Rock City,” says Ian. “But going back to the original question, I anticipated, I don’t know, one or two shows - sort of London based. We’d all rehearse, get together and then go and do a show, and maybe that’d be it.”
“I had no idea,” says Marc. “When Slyder got in touch with me, I really wasn’t sure about it at all.”
“I’m sure most of us weren’t sure how and to what extent [it would take off],” says Ginge. “We’ve had to touch and feel our way through. If we’re honest with ourselves, we also probably thought that everything would all click back, and you’d start playing the songs [easily]. But it’s not like riding a bike. There is a bit of a steep learning curve. You can forget quite a lot over 20 years.”
“A lot of the songs you were playing for the first time as well,” says Marc. “Songs that you didn’t actually know.”
“Wiggy had never played them in the band,” says Slyder. “We’re only doing probably two songs that Ginge played. And Marc and I didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing (laughs). We got together, and we were sitting in his front room going: ‘What key is this in? What’s going on? What’s the note?’”
“To a certain extent,” says Ginge, “and I don’t want this to sound wrong, but I’d have been happy if we’d just done the first rehearsal and that was it. That was a great weekend, I really enjoyed it, but the fact that we get to do it a bit more, and we took on the project of getting the first gig under way, and that was it: we’re locked in now… The next thing is the tour, and more gigs, and it just feels comfy.”
“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?” says Marc. “For me, as soon as we’d got to the studio and said our hellos, and then I plugged in the guitar, it was just electric from that moment. It was, like: ‘Wow, why have I not been doing this for the last 20 years?’”
“I think that’s the difference now. There’s a lot more emotion, and more love, around it all.”
“It feels better going on stage now than it ever did,” says Slyder.
“The excitement is there,” says Marc. “You just feel lucky that you’re able to do this again. The intensity’s still there.”
“Coming up here, I was talking to Sue about the fans,” says Slyder. “Whereas maybe you take some of that for granted the first time round, now there wouldn’t be this if there wasn’t anyone who wanted to watch it. So you really value those people. You’ve got people that are flying in from foreign countries and stuff like that to come to a gig. It’s just brilliant.”
“It’s incredible,” says Marc. “I think when you’re a young band you’re going to be a bit more blasé.”
“I think as you get older you have a lot more gratitude anyway,” says Ian.
How did you feel before you went on stage at your comeback gig, last September at the Purple Turtle?
“It was quite an odd one, that, wasn’t it?” says Slyder. “It was a good day. We were nervous. Marc and I stayed the night before up in Hemel Hempstead.”
“We had to rehearse on the day,” says Marc.
“We were in separate vehicles,” says Slyder. “I was driving down the M1 listening to Boney M, which was quite good. And I was really hyper-excited. I don’t think about something for weeks and weeks and weeks. I usually, all of a sudden, think: ‘Oh wow, I’ll just do it.’ But driving down, I was feeling nervous and excited with the adrenaline.”
“It’s different logistics now,” says Marc. “Rather than all piling in a van, and getting the excitement building up together, you’re on separate journeys in a way. When we arrived at the venue, the energy was there.”
“We were nervous about it,” says Slyder, “but getting into the venue was great, wasn’t it? I was worried it’d be too big, but it was a nice little place. I’d kind of envisaged this bonding. I was hiding a lot, because I started feeling like I didn’t want to be around anyone else. So I went and sat on my own for about half an hour or so. But then we didn’t really have much time for bonding before we went on. I went to the toilet and came out, and Marc said: ‘I think we’re gonna do it.’ And we ended up getting on stage and doing it. I don’t know if we’d have ever been prepared musically, however much we rehearsed. It was a bit shambolic in ways musically, personally for me.”
“We probably weren’t quite ready,” says Marc. “But we got through it. The adrenaline got us through it.”
**“**No, I think we were ready,” says Ginge.
“We needed a couple of gigs somewhere else,” says Slyder. “I think by Norwich and Nottingham in December we were hitting our stride and playing a couple of good shows. We’d developed a bit. But it was good. I enjoyed it. And there had to be a first gig, didn’t there? There was a lot of emotion. I was reading your stuff the other day, Darren - there are three pieces, aren’t there? - and there was one where you mentioned somebody shouting out ‘welcome back’. And that just gets me going every time I hear that; it brings a lump to my throat. Because, you know, it’s so important to me. That is everything. It’s like somebody cares, to say that.”
“I went down to see a gig in Islington a few months before,” says Ian. “I’d had one or two sherbets, and I got chatting to someone and mentioned the Turtle gig, and he started singing at me. He was like: ‘Yeah! Love that band! Love that band! Yeah, I’m down there!’ He started singing Sunset Over Suzi, and he sang it all the way through.”
“That’s better than I can do!” says Marc.
“But yeah, you start to realise that it is important to people,” says Ian. “And, well, it’s important to me. I’m so chuffed that this has happened.”
“I think that’s the difference now,” says Slyder. “There’s a lot more emotion, and more love, around it all. And like you said about feeling grateful… maybe we should all convert.”
Are you going to be happy if your audiences are purely made up of your fans from the '90s?
“No,” says Slyder.
“Ideally you want new fans, don’t you?” says Marc. “Because that gives you the incentive to carry on and think it’s worthwhile what you’re doing. You want to play to the biggest audiences possible. We’re not kidding ourselves. We know we’re not young bucks in the news - a band of 20-year-olds who are on the front page of NME. But I think if we can make fans, there’s a big audience out there for mature-type musicians, as we are now.”
“There are more people that don’t know us than do know us,” says Slyder. “So there’s a lot of potential.”
Marc laughs at the phrasing: “A lot of potential, yeah.”
“But I think if we were looking at 16- or 17-year-olds,” says Slyder, “we’re probably kidding ourselves. Because they’re quite weird, aren’t they, teenagers?”
Have you considered marketing the band to audiences outside of the rock genre? I think you’d go down well with fans of power-pop.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re exclusively a rock band,” says Marc. “I never have thought that, and obviously there are a lot of other sides to our music. But how do you get beyond the rock crowd who likes us? That’s where we’ve got a shoo-in, I guess.”
“You start to realise that it is important to people. And, well, it’s important to me.” - Ian
“The business is as hard as it ever was,” says Slyder. “I thought the social networking and all that digital side of it would be easier. There’s just more muck to get through, in a way.”
“It’s probably just trying something and seeing if it works elsewhere,” says Ian. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. We’re talking about different festivals that we might look into, and it might be a good idea to see if we can get on one that might not be necessarily rock orientated and take it to that crowd. It might be a case that you’re first on the bill of four days or something, but you might appeal to 20 or 25 people who may never have heard of you.”
“I think we’ve always wanted to [diversify our audience],” says Slyder. “No disrespect to it, but we’re not a classic Kerrang! band. There is rock in our music, but there’s pop too. I suppose the heavier edge, the sound from the guitars, is coming from my direction, from the stuff I listened to during the '80s.”
“The last few gigs,” says Marc, “some of the people coming up to me afterwards were referencing bands and I thought: ‘What the heck?’ In Norwich a guy came up and said: ‘You guys remind me of the New York Dolls’. Which we’ve never had before. And the next night: ‘You remind me of Enuff Z’Nuff.’ The Monkees. And the Levellers - we have the Levellers a lot. I mean, I don’t see that at all. Three or four times we’ve had that.”
“I think it’s your neck scarf,” says Slyder.
Do you have a sense of distance from the early '90s? Back then we’d look back at our favourite bands from the '70s and they seemed to be from a very different age. That 20-year window felt huge.
“I don’t feel like we’re an old relic that’s been dug up to go and do a little bit and disappear again.”
“I was talking about this with [roadie] Paul on the way up here,” says Marc. “It’s your perception of age, I guess. Looking back you think, 20 years ago a band our age would have seemed ancient. When we split up, we’d almost run out of ideas - we were banging our heads against the wall and we were getting old, in our late 20s. But I think that with our generation, and perhaps people a bit older than us who grew up in the punk generation, that sort of attitude has stayed with them. It hasn’t left them as they’ve got older. So I think that’s why people are perhaps a bit more open-minded to music now, and they still like it.”
“A lot of bands are still doing it,” notes Ian.
“They’ve kept going,” says Marc, “because the energy’s still there. Lifestyles have changed and the culture has changed in the last 20 years.”
“I think your attitude is different when you’re 20,” says Slyder. “So I’m not bothered if people who are 19 or 20 think we’re a load of old bastards. Because I don’t think they will ever understand.”
“But I think if the music is fresh,” says Ginge, “and if there’s something in the music, it transcends the age gap. I think if you play it because you want to play it, on your terms, then kids will love you. I don’t think we’re necessarily in that mass market for a teenage or younger audience, because we’ve been influenced by a load of older stuff, and it’s not necessarily the same kind of thing that they will be into. But I think they can still respect when a band plays for themselves.”
Do you have a sense of being this cult band from 20 years ago?
“I think there is a degree of that,” says Marc, “because us starting again is based on that. So it’s inevitable. But I think from our own insides we don’t feel like that. I don’t feel like we’re an old relic that’s been dug up to go and do a little bit and disappear again. I’m not saying we’re cutting edge, but obviously we still feel relevant to what we are doing. We still feel a part of what’s going on.”
“I’m not bothered if people who are 19 or 20 think we’re a load of old bastards.”
“That’s why I got involved in the band again,” says Ginge. “It’s not because I want to be playing to anyone else. Slyder sent me a rough copy of the second album, and when I listened to it I thought: ‘Bloody hell, I really like that stuff.’ I could visualise myself playing it. And I always maintain that I only play for me - it’s the collective playing together, and what we can achieve in 45 minutes, an hour, whatever. But it’s living for that moment. I know an audience gets to hear that music - and don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing better than when you get an appreciative audience back. But I’ve done loads of gigs where people have come up to me afterwards and said: ‘That was an amazing gig; great fun’ - but I’ve had a rubbish gig because I don’t feel I’ve played to my best abilities or I’ve not been on top of my game.”
What do you think about when you’re performing?
“For me,” says Marc, “it’s just like I’m trying to live in the moment. You’re not really thinking about what’s gone before, or what’s ahead of you, and you are… just there. It’s about being purely in the moment, and that’s the only way to describe it. It’s amazing. There’s nothing that really compares to it, and I couldn’t describe it as anything else - which is probably a bit of a cop-out.”
“I think it’s the performance for me,” says Slyder. “It’s definitely a kind of persona [that I have], a split-personality thing. It’s dressing up; it’s feeling different. When you go on stage you’re in your domain, and you feel a bit of control maybe. It’s just having the confidence to go up there and show off, really. I couldn’t do that if somebody said, y’know: ‘Go and do that and stand over there and talk to these people.’ I’d be too shy to do it, but when I’m on stage I’m not this person.”
So it’s a character performing?
“It feels like that, yeah. And I love the songs; I love playing and I’m aware of what I’m doing. But it’s like a different awareness. And we get into that kind of state in rehearsal - I do anyway, and I think Marc does. But yeah, you go into a different zone, where you’re not aware. Sometimes you know people are looking at you and you revel in it, but other times you’re not aware of anything.”
“It’s spiritual in a way,” says Marc.
“To see people singing the songs,” says Ian, “almost singing it word for word - maybe they’re making it up, I don’t know - but seeing that just does it for me. I’ve played a few gigs [in other bands] where I’ve not expected anybody to know any songs, and suddenly you’ve got three or four people singing, and it’ll be like: ‘That’s it - I’m there!’ It’s lovely. When we played the Purple Turtle and it was coming towards the end, and all the guys were dancing and going a bit loopy… you can’t buy that.”
“You know you’ve had a good gig,” says Slyder, “when you’ve effortlessly gone through it, and you’ve never thought: ‘Ooh, they’re watching me, or this happened or that happened.’ Sometimes things mess it up, if you have problems.”
I think back to this comment later, after the gig, when I ask Slyder how he thought it went and he sounds a bit disappointed. He says that while the audience were probably the best crowd the band had had since they started gigging again, there had been some technical issues. I hadn’t noticed, I say, truthfully - and nor, I suspect, had the fans who’d been cheering their heads off, chanting “Charlie! Charlie!” (the song having made an unscheduled appearance during the encore) and hurling themselves around the dancefloor to set closer Sunset Over Suzi. The two main notes I’d scribbled on my mental notepad were ‘confident performance’ and ‘rock ‘n’ roll vibe’. I’d also caught Ian as he came off stage, and he’d told me: “You bounce off the vibe. You can’t not enjoy it. For me the whole night was awesome.”
You should always trust a bassist. Backbone of the band and all that.
As well as a single-release party, tonight’s gig was a taster of sorts for the band’s April tour - their first decent jaunt around the country since 1995. The first eight shows will see Steve Grainger, the band’s longest-serving drummer, taking over the kit from Ginge, who will return for the final three dates.
“I almost start to feel guilty about the fact that I’m not playing it true to the record.”
“I instigated that,” says Ginge. “With all the commitments that I have, it was taking its toll on my family life. Don’t get me wrong, I love the band to death, but my family do come first. And I don’t feel the need to be protective about, y’know, ‘this is my role’. Although I’m having fun, why can’t Steve have some fun as well?”
So you’ll be job sharing?
"Yeah. Actually, with the other band that I play in [The Zeroes], we have two bass players, so we job share with those as well. And it’ll be great because there might be some songs you play when I’m around, and some songs you play when Steve’s around. It just adds an extra level of interest and dynamic to the group. I’ve still got to be on top of my game. Because I’m going to be playing less gigs, I’ve still got to make sure that when I play those gigs absolutely everything counts. But I’m more than happy to share with Steve because it lightens my load.
“I’ve always thought he had an interesting style. The hardest thing I’ve found with getting back together with these guys was trying to copy Steve’s work on the albums. Because it’s recorded, I’m trying to play like somebody else. There will always be fills or bits that Steve will naturally put in that I might not. So it’s one of those things where I almost start to feel guilty about the fact that I’m not playing it true to the record.”
Do you think it matters if it doesn’t match the record when you’re playing live?
“I dug out a load of songs recently that I’d forgotten about. They’re like a load of excited puppies in a bag, trying to get out.”
“That’s the opinion that I’ve come to: that as long as I’m playing it truthfully, and it looks like I’m playing exactly what I need to play, then that’s all that matters. It’s about the performance. I say this so often: I maintain that I never play the same song twice. The start of the song is the all important thing. Everything else will then click into place. It’s got to feel natural. Otherwise it’s like… you know how you can go to watch a covers band? They’ll be fantastic and they’ll play it dead as per the record, but where’s the emotion?”
Steve had originally planned to be at the gig tonight, as a punter, and I was hoping to arrange a chat with him about his return to the band - the hows and the whys - but in the end he couldn’t make it. However, earlier in the week I tapped him up on Facebook for a couple of quotes, and he told me that he was playing with the Dreamers again because he “was bored and needed to hit things” - which he might not want to mention in court.
I asked him about the Purple Turtle gig, too. What was it like watching his old band from the audience?
“Horrifying,” he said. “I never realised that Marc really does dance like a pony.”
Will he play with the band again when this tour is over, or will this be a one-off?
“We’ll have to see whether we survive this one first.”
“We’ve been gearing up for this tour,” says Marc. “Time flies so quickly when you get to our age. Bloody hell - a year has gone! It was the anniversary of our first rehearsal last week. And because we live so far apart we only meet up once a month, which does hold us back a bit in some things. But we’re now talking about trying to get the next album done. We’ve got a lot of songs between us.”
“On one occasion,” says Slyder, “we spent the day showcasing what we’ve individually written, to each other, and then talking about what we liked, what we’d like to do together and stuff like that. And individually we’ve gone away and listened to each other’s stuff. I mean, we’ve got a dozen songs.”
“It must be more than that,” says Marc. “I dug out a load recently that I’d forgotten about. They’re like a load of excited puppies in a bag, trying to get out. Some of them will make it and some won’t.”
“I can’t believe you were throwing puppies in a bag,” says Slyder. “No, it’s good. Obviously we’ve got a couple of festival-type things in the summer, and it might be nice to unleash a couple of newbies. Certainly some of the stuff I wrote and played - with Plan 9 and Toy Eye - may reappear, either as it was or parts of it. It’s exciting to do that, and I think some of those songs, with the harmonies on, are going to evolve for the better.”
“There’s a lot of good stuff to come out yet,” says Marc. “Probably as good as or better than what we’ve done.”
“It’s just finding the time for us to get together and work on it,” says Slyder. "Realistically if we can do maybe two or three tracks as a kind of single/EP or something in the autumn and tour again, with a view to releasing an album in the spring… We’re probably going to demo stuff over the coming months, and then get together with Tony Harris, who did most of the Crash Landing stuff, and then chat about getting it down. I don’t really know how we’re going to do it yet.
“It’s all changed – recording’s changed. Everything’s digital – there’s no two-inch tape any more. You can record an album to a click-track with no drums and stick the drums down later, and all sorts of stuff. It’s a bit weird, but I think we’re going to have to find ways of doing it that work around ourselves and our lifestyles.”
There’s one more person whose thoughts I ought to get before I finish this piece, and that’s Captain Helmut. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to be around at the moment, but I do manage to grill his stunt double.
Is that you, Slyder, I spy in the space suit in the Supernature Natural video?
“We realised we had the camera upside down after we’d filmed it.”
“Well, y’know, I’m trying to play that down but…”
I can see some hair hanging out the back of the helmet.
“Yeah, we noticed that.”
“Unfortunately my dad couldn’t do it that day,” says Marc.
“He couldn’t run that far, either,” says Slyder. “It was quite hard work; it was raining, and there was a lot of kind of mossy residue around, because there was a bit of tree-hugging, and I was getting quite sweaty in a visor. Basically I couldn’t see where I was going and Marc was chasing me with a camera.”
The video, which you can watch below, was shot by the band themselves at Marc’s house in Norfolk. Eschewing modern techniques such as CGI, they opted to use old-school practical effects.
“It was December and there were some quite good deals on Christmas wrap,” says Slyder. “We couldn’t have done it without Morrisons, really.”
The night before the shoot, the band played a gig in Norwich and got to bed around 4am. The next day they started papering Marc’s living room - a task that Slyder describes as “frantic”.
“We had an hour before we had to leave for Nottingham, for the next gig,” says Marc. “It was very rushed. We realised we had the camera upside down after we’d filmed it. So there were a few schoolboy errors. I did the edit. I’ve done a lot of home movies, so I guess that came in handy. It’s lo-fi and it’s hand-made, and I guess that’s the effect.”
And this whole John Inman thing?
“Rumour has it that the space suit was John Inman’s,” says Marc, “but I don’t believe the rumour personally. We rented it from the local operatic society wardrobe hire. We tried a few outfits, and the guy said to me: ‘What do you actually do when you’re not dressing up?’”
He laughs. “I can’t actually answer that.”
• Space suit supplied by Sheringham Community Wardrobe (Marc: “I’m giving them a plug now”)
• Read Dan Hayes’ review of the Oxford Cellar gig and see some more live photos on Über Röck.
• The single Supernature Natural is available to buy from Amazon MP3 and iTunes
• The band’s second album, Crash Landing In Teenage Heaven, is available to buy on CD from Amazon and digitally from Amazon MP3