Friday, 17 May 2019

Angel: The Heavenly Band With Down-To-Earth Problems, A 1993 Interview With Frank DiMino & Felix Robinson

Angel - photo from the Sinful album cover
Originally published in American Music Press (May 1993)

By Devorah Ostrov & Billy Rowe

Five unbelievably beautiful boys clothed in white satin jumpsuits, purveyors of pomp rock, pure pop enthusiasts, the "anti-Kiss," musical messengers sent from Heaven … Angel was all of these. No wonder it got confusing.

What emerges during more than four hours of telephone interviews with Angel's vocalist Frank DiMino and bassist Felix Robinson is the story of a band that had everything going for it, but seemingly no idea what it really wanted — except fame.

It's also apparent that they were molded (if not downright suffocated) by Neil Bogart's unwavering determination to make them as big as Kiss. Or as Robinson stated when we asked why Angel once flirted with a Giorgio Moroder-produced disco beat: "Our record company was willing to make us do anything to succeed and we were willing to listen to them."

* * *

Casablanca Records advert
DiMino, guitarist Edwin "Punky" Meadows, keyboardist Gregg Giuffria, drummer Barry Brandt, and original bassist Mickey Jones were in various semi-successful East Coast club bands — including Max (featuring DiMino and Brandt), the Cherry People (featuring Meadows), and Bux (featuring Meadows and Brandt) — when they all got together in Washington, D.C. in 1974.

"When we first started, we played two shows a night at a club called Bogies," recalls DiMino. "Everyone knew us from different bands around the area, so there was a lot of interest. We had a lot of people come down from record labels."

One long-held rumor claims Gene Simmons "discovered" the band at Bogies and brought them to the attention of Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart. (Kiss had released its debut album on the label a year previously.)

"What happened was Gene and Paul [Stanley] were playing at Largo in D.C.," says DiMino. "And [rock writer] Gordon Fletcher would bring people down from Largo [to Bogies] because we were good friends with him. He happened to bring Gene and Paul down one night and they stayed for the set. That's when they talked to us about Neil."

At the same time, Angel was approached with numerous management offers, among them Leber-Krebs (Aerosmith/New York Dolls) and Bill Aucoin (Kiss/Starz), but it was David Joseph of the Toby Organization who signed the group and relocated it to Los Angeles.

Angel - publicity photo
According to Robinson, who joined the group in 1977, Angel's image and stance were already in place even at this early stage: "The concept was a band of very good-looking young men who did more than just stand on stage and play extended jams. The effort was put into playing complete songs in four- and five-minute segments, and the band had the ability to present the songs in a more or less theatrical sense with a very aggressive stage presence."

"We wore white on stage from the start," adds DiMino.

Punky Meadows - publicity photo
In LA, the record company bidding wars began in earnest, the main contenders being Capitol Records and the smaller Casablanca.

"We were really close to a deal with Capitol," says DiMino, "but we wanted to go with Neil because we liked the way he talked."

"Casablanca was the label with the least to offer," laughs Robinson. "Neil had a grand vision, but not a lot of money — only a belief in his own abilities. He said, 'If you guys will go with me, I will do whatever I have to do to make you successful.' That's something the other record companies had not said. They were offering large numbers of dollars, but that commitment was not a personal commitment. Neil Bogart was willing to put his name on the line."

And their management company was willing to put its money on the line with the then-novel idea of a self-financed album, giving the group even more leverage.

DiMino picks up the story: "When we finished the album we went to Capitol, ready to sign. But we wanted to talk to Neil one more time. We put Capitol off for a day and went to see Neil. He loved the album and he matched Capitol's deal."

Angel in Japan 
Punky shows off his copy of Music Life
Angel's eponymous debut, released by Casablanca in October 1975, presented an extremely talented and polished (if a bit keyboard crazed — the liner notes credit Giuffria with playing the organ, piano, clarinet, harpsichord, mellotron, string ensemble, and all synthesizers) heavy pomp rock band.

Robinson still considers "Tower," the LP's opening track, to be Angel's "signature tune," and notes that the band kicked off every show with it "right up to the very end." He adds, "It's a great tune! Kind of an ethereal sounding lyric. What's it about? It's about the tower!"

The group's sophomore album, Helluva Band, followed the same pattern, while it racked up comparisons to Queen and fanned the flames of a make-believe rivalry with Kiss.

As Pam Brown wrote in the September 1976 issue of CREEM: "Here they are, kids … Casablanca's new Kiss! Five pretty faces with long, long, British haircuts. Flowing white robes, very sheik in the style of Shah Freddy Mercury. Pink Floyd orchestration and Queen operation with lots of o-o-o-o-o-o's."

"We were always compared to Queen," says Robinson, "but we never paid much attention to them."

Helluva Band (Casablanca Records 1976)
Photography by Barry Levine/Graphics by Gribbitt!
Meanwhile, the publicity machine was on a roll. Circus magazine readers voted Angel the #1 group, and CREEM ran a two-page photo-spread showing the guys applying make-up and blow-drying their hair under the headline "Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, Who's the Prettiest Band of Them All?"

"America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" also created a satirical running gag based around Meadows' pouting lips, which in turn prompted Frank Zappa to write "Punky's Whips."

By the third album, 1977's On Earth as It Is in Heaven, a small but perceivable change had taken place in the group's music: there was less pomposity, less flash just for the sake of flash. And there was a definite move towards pop.

"It was a conscious effort," states DiMino, before he drops the first hint of Casablanca's control over the band. "It was one of those things where there was so much input from everyone, the label, etc., it got really confusing. We tried to keep, more or less, the style from the first two albums adding it to the pop kinda stuff."

Angel - publicity still from the 1980 film Foxes
One other change took place around this time. Between the release of On Earth and the recording of the next album, Mickey Jones was replaced by Robinson.

"We just had a falling out," DiMino simply states when asked about the bass player's departure. However, Robinson is a bit more expansive on the subject: "Mickey was a rock 'n' roll star, a legend in his own mind — but he was not a musician."

* * *

White Hot album insert - become a member
 of Angel's Earth Force fan club for $5.00
Felix Robinson was a 25-year-old professional musician living in St. Louis, Missouri, when he first met the members of Angel. According to Robinson, it was a less-than-auspicious encounter.

He had just acquired a priceless 1969 Precision bass for $150 when a friend called and told him, "There's a band playing at the Fox Theatre. They just put out a record and the record company gave 'em a lotta money."

Robinson remembers, "I was told if I went down there and negotiated through Bill Schereck [Angel's tour manager] I could sell them this bass for heck, $300 or $400! After the show I went to the Holiday Inn where they were staying. I introduced myself to Bill and said, 'I've got a bass that I think your bass player might be interested in.' I opened the case. Bill said, 'We'll buy it.' They all came by, looked at me and said, 'Who the hell are you?'"

What did Robinson think of Angel at that point — honestly? "I thought it was a pretty lame band! I thought, 'The guitar player looks good, but he's not playing music he's comfortable with. The drummer's too frantic. The singer...' Nothing was right. Of course, I realized they were playing to 3,000 screaming 16 and 17-year-old fans, and so who am I to criticize this?"

Punky applies his make-up
Robinson met the guys again a few months later when he was in LA playing with The Word, an "extremely commercial" pop band managed by Schereck. And this time — perhaps because as Robinson says, "I had hair down to my butt and I looked like a member of Angel," or maybe because they knew they'd soon be in the market for a new bassist — they paid a lot more attention to him.

Meadows and Giuffria approached Robinson during the recording of On Earth to collaborate on material for the group's fourth album, White Hot.

"They said, 'We're doing another record and our bass player is out of town,'" notes Robinson. "At first, I didn't understand what that meant. There's no code word there. 'Out of town' really was kinda out of town. But it also meant that Mickey was not really interested in writing songs for the next record."

Casablanca advert for the White Hot album
When the group returned from touring in support of On Earth, Robinson officially became Angel's new bassist. Because of the timing, it would be easy to attribute the night and day difference between White Hot and the albums that preceded it to Robinson's input.

However, he's of another opinion: "Although I think the direction the band was going in musically was accelerated because of my involvement, the change that occurred was really more in terms of lyrical content. There's a song [on the On Earth LP] called 'Telephone Exchange' and it always seemed to me to be one of the transitional tunes from the third to the fourth album. It actually has some kind of a story behind it. The lyrics seem to speak toward a relationship between people, and less about some kind of ethereal concept of what's going on in the universe."  

Robinson continues: "By the time you get to White Hot you're seeing a lot of songs that have to do with relationships. And Frankie, who had always been responsible for writing the lyrics, really started to blossom. He started to feel more comfortable with telling a story. Punky, who had always been more of a blues guitar player, was able to play more in that style. Barry is a fantastic drummer, but he'd been left to his own devices for three albums, therefore the songs had rhythmic parts that were just like extended jams. So, what we were doing was creating a more definable concept in terms of songwriting."

"Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" b/w
"Flying with Broken Wings" - picture sleeve 45 (1977)
And they finally got the keyboards (somewhat) under control.

"Oh, Gregg was all over the place!" chuckles Robinson, who plays keyboards himself. "Gregg was always trying to play every bass line. He wanted to play along with every guitar part, and he wanted to play with every vocal part. When I joined Angel, for the first time a member of the band was able to interpret to Gregg what the keyboard part needed to be. Punky was very grateful for this. Punky and I would work out tunes and he would say, 'This is a place for the keyboards.' I would play the keyboard part, and when it came time to work it up as a band, I was able to interpret that keyboard part to Gregg."

A veritable pop music masterpiece, White Hot was Angel's most successful album. And DiMino says it was his personal favorite: "It was the one we put the most energy into, and actually, it was the most fun to do. Everyone was a little more clear on the direction we were going in."

Angel - publicity photo
The group's shift in direction paid off when their cover of "Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore" entered the Top 50. Originally a hit for the Young Rascals in 1965, it was the first time Angel had included a cover song on an album (although DiMino mentions that they also recorded a version of the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee" at the same time).

Neither DiMino or Robinson remember precisely who suggested they record the song, but Robinson infers it was a record company decision when he states, "It was an attempt to bring in a song that could be a hit record. We needed a hit record."

Angel pose in fashionable street attire
for this Japanese publicity pic
"The band had been spending a lot of money," he adds, "and was barely recouping it for the record company. As a matter of fact, the band never recouped everything that it spent. So, making a lot of money was important."

(Robinson reveals one fun way that Angel threw money around: "A band like Styx — a very popular band that was selling millions of records — would pull up to shows in rental station wagons because when you're somewhere like Flint, Michigan, there are no limo companies. We would have limousines come from Chicago. We would have limousines drive 100 miles to take us from the hotel to the show, which was maybe a ten-minute ride, just so 30 or 40 of our fans and all the truck drivers and roadies would see us get out of the limousine. We did that many times!)

At this point, how committed was Casablanca to pushing the group?

"Very committed," confirms Robinson. "Neil was obsessed by the desire to make Angel succeed. He wanted Angel to be as big as Kiss."

* * *

Angel On Tour - promo poster
When Angel hit the road in promotion of White Hot, they were playing the country's largest stadiums (surprisingly the band only ever toured in America and Japan; also surprisingly they never shared a bill with Kiss), and the show was an awesome spectacle.

Magical illusions designed by Doug Henning and built by Sid and Marty Krofft (creators of H.R. Pufnstuff) got the group on and off stage; and there was "George," a talking and blinking hologram in the shape of Angel's logo. (Apparently, George's face belonged to Toby employee/Angel co-manager Warren Entner).

Each show began with several mysterious cubes spread about the stage. Then, during an opening narration that asserted the band had been sent to Earth as musical messengers from the angel Gabriel, two figures dressed in black began arranging the boxes.

The original cover concept for the Bad Publicity album
"They put five cubes on top of each other," explains DiMino. "Chaser lights would go on, then a light would come on inside the cubes and one of us would appear. Then they'd build the next one, and another guy would appear. So, you had five chances to figure out how we did it."

And, no... he doesn't give away the secret during our interview! Robinson, on the other hand, has no such qualms about telling us how some of the tricks worked.

First he divulges the mystery of the hologram effect: "Rear projection. Face made from plexiglass in the contour of a human face. Much larger than life size — George's face was about six-feet high and about four-feet wide, on a 15-hundred-pound scissor lift that rose from behind the band. At a certain point in our show the lights would come down and we would stop playing. This giant head would come up from behind the amplifiers, open its eyes, and speak to the audience."

Poster included in the
On Earth As it is In Heaven LP
Making an obvious reference to marijuana smoke, George said:

"Tonight, in this place I smell the aroma of the Gods
The gates of heaven are open to all
Do you feel the music? 
Do you feel the music?"

Robinson continues: "And Frankie would scream, 'Do you feel it?' The crowd would cheer, and we would go into another song."

Then he explains the live show's closing effect: "A huge recreation of our album cover would come out of the ceiling. It was about 12-foot by 12-foot and about a foot thick. It would land on a large white table, a hollow table — or so it seemed. When we finished our last song, we would put down our instruments, walk up a flight of stairs and go inside this record cover. The cover would rise up into the air and explode into about 40 pieces. The trick worked as follows: We would go inside the album cover and dive inside this white table that would be wheeled off stage as the album was rising up in the air. The album would explode, our road manager would tap on the lid three times so we would know it was safe to open the trap door, we would run on stage, pick up our instruments and do the encore."

One show from the White Hot tour actually made it into the rock history books, but it had nothing to do with the group's special effects. "Played wild gig w/Godz in San Diego, 1978," states the compendium Headbangers: The Worldwide Book of Heavy Metal Bands. DiMino and Robinson give us the blow-by-blow (literally) account of the evening...

Angel - promo photo
DiMino: In the middle of that night's show everyone was standing up, clapping, having a good time. So, I asked them to come down to the stage.

Robinson: They had a very strict code at the San Diego Sports Arena which said: You Do Not Get Up Out Of Your Seat, and You Do Not Go Down To The Stage! But of course, we were Angel! And when Frankie said, "Come on down!" about three or four thousand 16 and 17-year-old girls got up and ran to the front of the stage!

Angel headline Cleveland's Public Hall with
support from the Babys & Godz - March 8, 1978
(Thanks to Mark Chatfield for the advert!)
DiMino: The security guards decided that they didn't want that to happen and they started throwing people around.

Robinson: Frankie could see that these kids were really getting pummelled. He walked to the front of the stage and looked down at one of the bouncers who was in the midst of picking up some poor 14-year-old girl and throwing her six or eight feet through the air...

DiMino: I called out the guy's name and told him to leave everyone alone.

Robinson: Frankie said, "I invited them down here. If they wanna come down, it's okay with us!" Of course, more kids started coming down!

DiMino: The guy came up to the front of the stage, gave me the finger, and went to grab my mike stand.

Robinson: Frankie proceeded to plant his mike stand in the middle of guy's forehead. Axl Rose would've been proud! Now, this guy was big, and he grabbed the mike stand. Frankie wouldn't let go of it, so Frankie and the mike stand went off the stage! My bass roadie, Steve Brooks, who's about 6'6" and weighs about 240 pounds, came flying from behind me, took a swan dive into the audience, and started fighting. Punky jumped off the stage with a beer bottle in his hand after one of the security guys. I took off my bass and started swinging it over my head at one of 'em. Gregg... I believe Gregg ran behind his keyboard rig.

White Hot LP insert 
DiMino: Barry kept playing!

Robinson: By the time we got back up on stage — nobody was hurt very badly, just ripped up a little bit — the house lights were up, and the Fire Marshal was standing next to my amp, giving me the cross-the-throat thing, "Cut it!"

DiMino: I told everyone we would keep playing until they turned off the power.

Robinson: We played one more song. The audience was screaming! In approval! There were still fights going on in front of the stage. The house lights were still up. There were security people all over the place. And the fun wasn't over yet, we had to get back to our dressing room — about a 40/50-foot walk. The original guy who had provoked us had gotten five or six of his friends together to jump us between the stage and the dressing room. The Godz, a very disgusting bunch of bikers from Ohio who carried loaded weapons with them everywhere they went, had been backstage cheering us on. And, I might add, they were really impressed! They had decided they were going to protect us.

Angel in Japan 
DiMino: The Godz and our road crew made a chain and we went right in between them to the dressing room. The Chief of Police came back and wanted to arrest me for inciting a riot...

Robinson: I stood up and said, "Yes! Let's go to jail! This is great press!" Our manager said, "We can't go to jail. Frank will have to make an apology. Frank has to go out front and try to get calm restored." Frank went back on stage and said, "You gotta cool it … the show's over ... we've gotta leave … we love you all … thanks for coming … be careful … and stop fighting!"

DiMino: It all worked out.

Robinson: One of the funny anecdotes of this was, my mother — who had never seen the band before — was living in San Diego and had come to the show with my aunt. They were both in their 70s. After this whole thing had died down, I went outside and found them. My mom says, "Is it like this every time you play?"

* * *

Foxes promo poster
In 1979 Angel were looking forward to recording their fifth, and ultimately final, studio album (a double live album, recorded at the Santa Monica Civic and Long Beach Arena during the White Hot tour, completed the catalog). And they had some definite ideas about what they wanted.

Firstly, tired of being more known for their all-white image rather than their music, and the constant press ridicule it fostered, the band was determined to lose the costumes. (Perpetuating one old myth, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll states: "Angel was designed as the dressed-in-white counterpart of Casablanca labelmate Kiss.")

"To us it was too much of a formula," says Robinson. "It was a little too like the Monkees, we always had to appear in character. Do you remember platform shoes? How difficult it was to walk in 'em? I wore platform shoes just about every day of my life for a year. I still have a back problem from it. One day I was getting out of a limousine and I fell flat on my butt! I finally got on my feet and said, 'What the hell am I doing this for?' It was absurd!"

Furthermore, in a departure from the usual play on angelic terminology, the new record would be called Bad Publicity. The front cover, photographed by Barry Levine over a two-day period at the Hollywood Blvd. Hyatt House, showed the guys in fashionable street clothes, partying with cards, booze and women. The back cover featured a collage of the group's negative reviews.

Frank Zappa performing "Punky's Whips"
The band was rather pleased with the result. But oops, they had forgotten who was really in charge.

Robinson recalls: "When the photographs were put in front of Neil Bogart, he said, 'I can't have this. You'll have to reshoot the cover.' Our manager said, 'But Neil, we spent $50,000 shooting this cover!' Neil said, 'I'll pay for it.' And he literally wrote a check for $50,000. We had new (white) clothes made and we reshot the cover."

The album was also renamed Sinful, but as a compromise, one photo showing the group in a police line-up dressed in "street" clothes was allowed to stay. (Although super rare, we're assured that a few copies with the original Bad Publicity cover did get out!)

Just how pervasive was Casablanca's control over Angel?

"When Kiss scored a Top 10 hit with 'Beth,' we were told to write a song like 'Beth,' asserts Robinson. "We were told to write a song like 'Rock and Roll All Nite.' They said, 'Write an anthem song.' And we tried."

Angel - Casablanca Records/Toby Management publicity photo
At another point in the interview Robinson fumed: "The management and the record company always had complete control over this band. There was never any time when the band had complete control over what it did musically."

Didn't that drive them crazy?

Koh Hasebe pic for Japanese Burrn! magazine
"It drove us all crazy!" he stresses. "I think we all felt that we were compromising our individuality, that we were selling-out. But we were perfectly willing to do it because we felt it was a guarantee of success."

With Sinful, Angel truly hit its recording stride. On tunes like "L.A. Lady" (with Giuffria pounding out a great honky-tonk piano), "Lovers Live On," "Just Can't Take It," "I'll Bring the Whole World to Your Door," and "Wild and Hot" (featuring Robinson on an upfront vocal mix) the band confidently used elements of R&B, power pop and hard rock to create what should be acknowledged as rock 'n' roll classics.

Robinson calls the album "the musical culmination of the band." And in a Kerrang magazine retrospective of the group, rock writer Howard Johnson raves: "Sinful is without a doubt the finest slab of metal/ pop ever laid down!"

With the '79 tour — a package deal featuring Mahogany Rush and Humble Pie alternating as headliners — there was new management (Leber-Krebs) and an important concession by Casablanca: on non-headlining nights the band was allowed to wear "alternative" clothes.

Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Sinful should have fulfilled Neil Bogart's dream of making Angel as big as Kiss, but instead for the first time, the tour found the band playing to half-full auditoriums and having to cancel some shows.

"Rock N Rollers" b/w "Mariner" 
Japanese picture sleeve issued in 1976
The explanation offered at the time blamed a wide-spread recession in the music business, which Robinson reiterates: "The price of oil had raised the price of vinyl and record manufacturing was becoming too expensive. The cost of touring became very expensive."

And he emphasizes that it wasn't just Angel's problem. "No one was doing well. Anyone who was in the music business at that point will remember what I'm talking about."

Maybe. But there's a long list of bands that sold millions of records in '79 and had no problem packing concert halls: Cheap Trick, the Cars, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dire Straits, Squeeze... It's possible that New Wave, more so than the price of oil, was Angel's real nemesis.

Interestingly, if Angel had stayed the course in which they were headed — less complicated music combined with a toned-down image — they could have easily competed with Cheap Trick and the Cars. However, Bogart was impatient to make Angel a household name and it's likely he didn't understand and/or take new wave seriously.

Angel - promo poster
What Bogart understood was disco. Angel's labelmates included Lipps, Inc. and the Village People, as well as disco queen Donna Summer. And in 1979, Donna Summer (along with her producer Giorgio Moroder) was enjoying huge success with the album Bad Girls.

Bogart also understood the power of promotion. Kiss had already made the monumentally silly made-for-TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, and in 1978 Casablanca's Filmworks division received a Best Picture nomination for Midnight Express (for which Giorgio Moroder won the Oscar for best original score). The idea of using films to feature the label's bands must have appealed to him.

You can almost see Bogart's mind at work: Angel must make a movie and Giorgio Moroder must produce the soundtrack. Released in 1980, Foxes was a coming-of-age story about four teenage girls (amongst them Jodie Foster and ex-Runaway Cherie Currie). It was also, states Robinson, "a culmination of the record company's control over the band."

"We were told we were going to be in this movie," he says. "This was another way to break the band. We'll do some songs in the movie. The movie's going to be about us. It's an Angel movie! It just happens to have Jodie Foster in it."

Angel - promo poster
Apparently, in its original conception, Foxes did focus a great deal more on the band. "We were involved in the script," insists Robinson, "our names were mentioned, we had lines."

But somewhere along the way, going to an Angel concert became just a minor distraction in the girls otherwise angst-filled lives. And although there was extensive filming of entire songs, only two — "Virginia" and "20th Century Foxes," both written by the band especially for the film — were used. "I'm sure the footage is laying in somebody's vault," offers Robinson.

The guys also found it frustrating to work within the strict confines of Moroder's trademark Eruo-disco beat, particularly on the synth-heavy "20th Century Foxes." Robinson groans, "I remember the excruciating hours in the studio trying to get Barry to play on two and four. It was almost impossible to make Angel into a disco band."

R.I.P. original Angel bassist Mickey 
Jones, who died in 2009 after a long
 battle with cancer.
But when Foxes failed at the box office, it didn't seem to matter. Bogart had been diagnosed with cancer (he would pass away in 1982), Casablanca was sold to Polygram, and Angel splintered. Why couldn't they, like Kiss, simply move over to the new label and carry on?

For one thing, explains Robinson, "Kiss were already doing well on their own, but Angel were not yet weaned from the record company. The band had been built up to be completely dependent on Neil Bogart. We were dependent on him for our success and for our future. When Neil died, it was the death of Angel."

But there was more. "We had been used to getting a certain amount of money as an advance for each album," points out Robinson, "and Polygram was not willing to meet the same figure. So, we decided we would strike out and tell Polygram to take a leap!"

DiMino fills in the inevitable outcome: "Polygram wouldn't let us out of our contract, so we went through about a year of litigation where we couldn't play, couldn't tour, couldn't do anything. We recorded some stuff, but it was never released."

Deep in debt (Robinson notes that their contracts were used for a course in Entertainment Law at USC: "What can happen when a record company is willing to invest huge amounts of money to break a group; how commitments can be structured so that a band will be constantly in debt") and unable to continue to record or tour, Angel drifted apart.

Kerrang reports on Gregg Giuffria's (short-lived) revival of Angel in 1984 
Robinson left in the summer of 1980; he later joined vocalist Mike Tramp and guitarist Vito Bratta in White Lion but left soon after the group recorded its debut album and ultimately sued them over songwriting credits and royalties. By 1981, both Meadows and DiMino were gone (although DiMino would once again team up with Giorgio Moroder for the Flashdance soundtrack). Future Toto vocalist Fergie Frederiksen replaced DiMino for a short while, but within months Giuffria had also left.

Robinson states the obvious: "It wasn't Angel anymore."

* * *

A note for the Angel collector: Robinson possesses a tape with several unreleased songs recorded in Atlanta during the band's final tour that are "in line with the stuff on Sinful although there's a couple of harder-edged tunes." And DiMino says some footage for the rumoured film Angel Live at Midnight actually does exist. However, he adds, "I'm sure they never even finished editing it. It's in a vault somewhere."

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Kenickie: Because Rizzo Didn't Have The Right Ring To It!

The ladies of Kenickie: Emmy-Kate, Lauren and Marie
Johnny X apparently skipped this photo session
Originally published in Teenage Kicks #2 (Fall 1997)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov
Intro written by Michael Cronin

More than halfway through the year, only a handful of standout albums have been released. Kenickie's At the Club, a bona fide pop gem, is one of them.

Fuelled by several hit singles, including the maddeningly catchy "In Your Car" and "Punka," At the Club landed in the Top 10 on the UK charts. On the eve of the album's U.S. release, Kenickie came over to play a few gigs in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Kenickie demonstrate proper public transport etiquette
The crowd at Bottom of the Hill was treated to an hour-long set of highlights from the album, interspersed with witty stage patter from dual guitarists and singers, Lauren Laverne and Marie Du Santiago. Bassist Emmy-Kate Montrose and drummer (and Lauren's brother) Johnny X grounded the performance with a steady beat.

Prior to the show, we presented Laverne and Du Santiago with the very first issue of Teenage Kicks, during a poolside chat at the Phoenix Hotel. Lauren and Marie, who've known each other since they were four, seem closer than sisters and frequently finish each other's sentences, filled us in on the Kenickie story — so far.
* * *

At The Club (EMIdisc - 1997)
Teenage Kicks: You're from Sunderland?

Marie: Yes. It's a city on the Northeast coast of England, near Scotland. But we've just moved to a house in Camden. We love our little house.

Teenage Kicks: From what I understand, you formed the band while you were still in school because you always wanted to be friends and didn't want to separate when you got out of school.

Marie: Well, it's true. We had left school, but we'd only just left by about a week. We all went to college to do "A" levels, but during the summer holidays, Emma was going to go to a different college than us. So, we just decided to be a band, because it's a laugh and it would mean we'd get to hang about together quite a lot.

Teenage Kicks: You went to Catholic school. What was that like? They couldn't have encouraged you artistically.

Marie & Emmy show off their home in this magazine feature
Lauren: Oh, it was fucking fantastic! I loved Catholic school. My mild, loving nature shown through under the guidance of the nuns.

Marie: It was hell on earth! But it's over now, so we prefer not to think about it. Don't go there.

"In Your Car" picture sleeve 45  (EMIdisc - 1996)
Teenage Kicks: Did you know how to play anything when you started out?

Marie: No, but we learned.

Teenage Kicks: How long ago was that?

Marie: Two and a bit years.

Teenage Kicks: It sounds like you've been playing a lot longer than that! It doesn't sound like you were groping in the dark, trying to figure out what you were doing. At the Club is a fully realized record.

Marie: Thank you. Well, we always wanted to learn, and we didn't want it to sound amateurish and stupid.

Teenage Kicks: How did you decide which instruments you wanted to play?

Kenickie illustrated as Josie and the Pussycats
Marie: It just turned up. I already knew a chord from watching the telly and copying it. [Lauren's] dad had a guitar and taught it to her. Emma played the bass, because it was crucial; that's what makes a band sound good. X played the drums really well, so he did that. It just turned out that way.

Teenage Kicks: What kind of bands did you listen to growing up?

Marie: Roxy Music, David Bowie...

Lauren: Sparks, Kylie Minogue...

Marie: Kylie Minogue — very important. Betty Boo. Did you have Betty Boo? You have to pursue Boomania, the first Betty Boo album!

Lauren: Suede, Manics...

Marie: Manics, you know, are our favorite band. They're lovely, the Manics.

Lauren: I think James just comes to see us 'cause he knows we fancy him. But I fancy Nicky more!

Lauren Laverne & Emmy-Kate Montrose
Teenage Kicks: Have you played with them?

Lauren: We were going to do a gig with them, but then...

Marie: We did a TV program with them instead. They were big enough to schedule it so they could do the gig after the show. But we had to cancel the gig.

Teenage Kicks: What show was it?

Lauren: Jools Holland. It was a New Year's Eve spectacular, so it had a big celebrity audience. Some of our idols, like Noddy Holder, were there. Charlie Watts, Paul Weller...

Marie: Paul Weller... We think he's saucy!

Kenickie - publicity photo
Teenage Kicks: Did you meet Noddy Holder?

Marie: Yeah, he's great. He talks like he sings! He's the loudest man you've ever heard in your life, and he's only just talking in a moderate tone.

"Born Lippy!" Kenickie on the cover
of Melody Maker
Lauren: Lauren Holder... That has a nice ring to it!

Teenage Kicks: Imagine going through his closet!

Lauren: Oh, God! Apparently, the hat was very heavy.

Marie: He used to reflect the stage lights off it, onto girls he fancied. So he could see them better!

Teenage Kicks: Is there anyone you'd really like to play with?

Marie: I'd like to have the Rolling Stones support us.

Lauren: The Rolling who? Oh, I don't like them — they eat babies!

Teenage Kicks: You put out a couple of independent singles before signing to EMI. Did you get a lot of flak for going from an indie to a major label?

Kenickie - publicity photo
Marie: The first indie label we were on (Slampt) were the only ones that were interested. They were so underground and lo-fi.

Teenage Kicks: They'd print like 100 copies?

Marie: And burn 99!

Lauren: I will not sell my music!

Marie: The indie music people are all over the charts anyway. Nobody's bothered. There's a very fine line between indie and mainstream.

Teenage Kicks: How long did it take to record the album?

Lauren: Four weeks.

Marie: We took one week to do "Punka" and the B-sides, because we needed a single out fast and we didn't have anything recorded.

Lauren: We sort of record very quickly and write very quickly, as well.

"Catsuit City" EP (Slampt - 1995)
Marie: But it's taking longer and longer as we go, because we're doing more stuff. We just did a song for the next album and it's got a string quartet on it. So, that took a day or two to organize.

Teenage Kicks: Is it mostly the two of you that write the songs?

Marie: Mostly. Everybody puts a bit in though.

Teenage Kicks: You used different producers on the album. Why was that?

Lauren: We did the rocky stuff with John Cornfield, who did Supergrass' first album. But for the rest, the more personal stuff, the sad songs like "Robot Song," we got Andy [Carpenter], who's our friend. We just wanted our friend.

Teenage Kicks: How much control do you have?

Lauren: All. Complete. Total.

Marie: Everything that's on the album is on there because we want it to be.

Lauren: That was our main contractual stipulation — total artistic control.

Camp out with Kenickie! The band grace the
cover of Melody Maker's Festival Guide for '97
Teenage Kicks: On "In your Car," you have the line: "I'm too young to feel so old." What do you mean by that?

Lauren: "In Your Car" sounds cheerful, but that doesn't mean the lyrics are all cheerful. It's about starting out on this very hectic "pop star lifestyle." The good times feel completely like, "yeah, yeah, yeah!" But the bad times… You feel very, very old. Like you're living out some 35-year-old's life, living on your own and worrying about money.

Teenage Kicks: The album covers a whole gamut of emotions. Some songs are happy — about clothes or going out and having fun, and some songs are sad and introspective. What are your favorite songs on the album?

Lauren: It's like children — you can't choose.

Marie: I can. I choose the brightest child, who brings in the most money for Mom.

Lauren: Then I choose the crippled child, 'cause I can send him out begging!

Teenage Kicks: It seems that in England the bands are younger...

"Punka" picture sleeve 45 (EMIdisc - 1996)
Marie: There's supposed to be this big uprising of teenagers — bands such as Ash, Bis and Kenickie. But teenagers have always been in bands. It's just that they've not necessarily been signed to major record labels.

Teenage Kicks: And you're all lumped in together and compared to each other...

Lauren: Ash basically sound like Thin Lizzy with Stevie Wonder singing. I couldn't even say what Bis sound like. But we were all teenagers when we started out, so it's an easy comparison. But George Harrison was 18 when he started the Beatles. Pop is a teenage medium. So, I say, why shouldn't teenagers play it? ✨

* * *

Promo video for "In Your Car"

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Sex Gang Children: After We Spent An Afternoon Stalking Him, Andi Politely Invited Us Round For A Cup Of Tea!

Sex Gang Children at the time of this interview
L-R: Kevin, Andi, Cam & Terry
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Originally published in Rave-Up #10 (1985)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Sara Brinker

Andi Sex Gang is soooo nice! How nice is he? He's so nice that not only did he sneak these two fanzine journalists into Sex Gang Children's London Lyceum show last summer (along with several other kids waiting expectantly outside the backstage entrance), he also found relatively comfortable hiding places for everyone and mapped an escape route for us into the main hall. Our hero!

A few days later, Sara and I "bumped into" Andi again (some might say we'd been surreptitiously following him for hours!) on Carnaby Street and he invited us round to his place for a cup of tea. He's polite as well as nice! We swooned while he spoke of Édith Piaf and old movies, and while we waited for the rest of the band to turn up for rehearsal, we asked Andi a few questions...

This photo I took of Andi in 1984 was 
used in CD booklet for Blind!
Rave-Up: We really admire Sex Gang Children's attitude towards the kids that come to see you. Is it important to you to take care of your fans?

Andi: That's human nature. You're either a cunt or you're not. It's not a selling point of the band. Our selling point is our music, the live shows, and our records.

Rave-Up: Sex Gang Children tends to be categorized as a "doom and gloom/ gothic/death rock" band. Do you ever feel a bit trapped by the cult following for that genre of music?

Andi: It's not a matter of being trapped so much by a cult following... I think most of our followers are basically big fans and have a great faith in the band.   You just want to be able to prove to everyone that you're not as limited a band as everyone thinks you are.

Rave-Up: There seems to be a great desire in the music press to limit you and label you.

Andi: There is. It gives you a feeling of being picked apart and exposed. It can make you feel incredibly naked.

Rave-Up: From previous conversations we've had with the band, you guys seem to be great fans of a variety of music and still able to get excited over other's work.

Kevin Matthews & Cam Campbell
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Andi: Yeah, it's true! We are fans of music and excited about what we do, excited about the people and the things in life. I'm excited by the fact that Steven Spielberg is in the position to do what he wants to do, and at the same time he's offering entertainment for millions of people. That's brilliant! It gives us faith.

Rave-Up: Who are your heroes?

Andi: I like a lot of film stars — Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Robert De Niro. I like Divine as well. He's a person of incredible style. I like the real stars, old film greats. They have no grand illusions about themselves.
   You know who I really like and admire? Billy Joel! He doesn't go around saying, "I've got an image." Or, "I'm a Batcave artist." He doesn't need to sell himself with cheap slogans. He says it all with his music.

Rave-Up: Are you guys working on any videos?

Andi: We did a video for the Édith Piaf song ["Les Amants D'un Jour"]. Graham Bentley, who does our lights and works with us behind the scenes, set up an appointment with Radio Luxembourg because they were greatly interested in us and they had a European cable network. We went up to Northampton, chose a location, and made a video on the spur of the moment. Then we stayed up for four nights editing and sussing things out. We went back to London, went to Radio Luxembourg, and the video was flown out to their cable network in Europe to show that very night.

Andi proves he loves Billy Joel by posing with one of his albums.
 Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: Is it true that you finance everything yourselves?

Andi: Everything we do is self-financed. We keep everything to a minimum. We have to!

Rave-Up: So, you don't need the limos or the big hotel rooms?

Andi Sex Gang & Terry MacLeay
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Andi: No, we aren't spoiled by the money. I remember the first time we got involved in a huge festival [Futurama 4, 1982]… We drove up there in a shitty old van that leaked, and we were hungry, and we just jumped onstage. We showed them the best of ourselves, while everyone else had this complacent attitude. It was supposed to be the festival of the year. When we got there, we had never seen such a lethargic atmosphere. Everyone was just waiting for something to happen.

Rave-Up: Nothing was happening, so you made it happen!

Andi: Yeah... That sounds like such a cheap thing to say, but it's true! We blew a lot of bands off the stage. In fact, the only two bands that stood out that night were us and Southern Death Cult. Everyone else just went through the motions. We were the only two bands that gave it something!✨

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

David Kaffinetti Has A Good Time All The Time! Spinal Tap's Keyboardist Talks About His Real-Life Rock 'N' Roll Career.

Publicity photo for This Is Spinal Tap
with David Kaffinetti top right
Originally published in BAM (January 1991)

By Devorah Ostrov

Whenever David Kaffinetti changes his address, he has to submit an additional form to the post office for "Viv Savage" — the fictitious heavy metal keyboardist he portrayed in the 1984 film, This Is Spinal Tap.

An accomplished musician in real life, Kaffinetti (credited as David Kaff in the film) laughs good-naturedly while emphasizing, "There really are people who write to me and put Viv Savage on the envelope!"

Invited recently to speak to the audio-engineering students at USC on the making of Spinal Tap, he entered wearing Savage's trademark doctor's smock and, staying in character, bellowed, "Hello, this is Viv Savage! You folks are so lucky to be here!" Afterwards he signed dozens of autographs — all as Savage.

David Kaffinetti
"I have a great affection for Viv," says Kaffinetti of his affable alter ego whose philosophy is: "Have a good time...all the time."

Instead of being bothered by Savage's popularity, he revels in it. "I played him very close to my heart; just a little bit dimmer. If people like that character, chances are they'll like me."

Born in the port town of Folkestone, Kent (in south-east England), Kaffinetti began practicing classical piano when he was 5 years old. At 10, he discovered rock 'n' roll in the form of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley. He never turned back.

Kaffinetti first played keyboards professionally with Rare Bird, an early progressive rock outfit, which influenced bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Rare Bird featuring Kaffinetti (right)
In 1975, after recording five albums with Rare Bird, he joined forces with Badfinger guitarist Joey Holland and Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley to form the short-lived "supergroup," Natural Gas.

My Spinal Tap 1984 World
Tour backstage pass
Unfortunately, while Natural Gas provided his "meal-ticket" to California, he was fired after completing the demo tapes that secured the group a record deal.

These days, Kaffinetti can be found playing with the Oakland-based Model Citizenz, a band he describes as a cross between Journey and Living Colour!

"It's a wild combination," he agrees. "We definitely have that kind of gritty rock sound, but there's also a very commercial side to it."

Consisting of vocalist Bruce Jay Paul, guitarist Don-Ervin, bassist Brian Abbott, drummer Doug Freedman, and Kaffinetti on keyboards, Model Citizenz has been playing Bay Area clubs for just over a year.

The band has recently completed a four-song demo tape at San Francisco's Secret Studios. Engineering the recording was Michael Ingram, Kaffinetti's songwriting partner for fifteen years.

Included on the tape is "Lost (Without You)," a beautiful ballad written by the Kaffinetti, Ingram and Paul team. Meanwhile, "Gone Too Far," another Kaffinetti/Ingram collaboration (with ex-Billy Satellite bassist Ira Walker), has been submitted for Eddie Money's upcoming album.

David Kaffinetti as Viv Savage in This Is Spinal Tap
As to whether there'll be a sequel to Spinal Tap, Kaffinetti will only say that the three principals involved with the original — Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer — are "talking about it," but hints that it could involve filming a live concert in England, as well as segments cut from the first film.

He adds, "I just hope I'm a part of whatever they do!"