Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Angelic Upstarts: A Meeting Down the Boozer

Publicity Photo: (L-R) Decca, Mensi, Mond, Glyn
In the spring of 1982 I made my first trip to London. I spent three glorious months shopping and sightseeing every day, going to gigs every night, and meeting loads of rock stars (as you do). I returned to San Francisco jobless, homeless and broke - but with enough material to fill the next issue of the new fanzine my friends and I had started. One of the first characters I encountered in London was Decca Wade, the charming drummer for the Angelic Upstarts. While we had a drink in the infamous Ship on Wardour Street, I turned on the tape recorder and Decca shared his views on several subjects including...

LOVE: "I love me mum and dad, sisters, nana... That's what I do love, sincerely. Everybody thinks we're like mindless idiots, but we're not! That's just an image. We've still got mums and dads."

STARDOM: "We didn't start off with the attitude that this band was gonna make records. I mean it was probably in the back of our minds, but we just started off playing gigs and we really enjoyed it!"

FAME: "I know for a fact that there are people who talk to me just because I'm a band member. They treat us differently. We stay close to our old mates. We still drink with our school chums."

PARENTAL GUIDANCE: "My dad's seen our show. He thinks we're fucking horrible! I sent him a copy of our live LP and he said we should all be shot!"

SHOWING A GIRL A GOOD TIME: "We go drinking. You don't expect me to buy meals and stupid things like that, do you? I can't afford it!"

SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS: "That's fair enough, but a lot of people - groupies - want to go to bed with you, not just get your autograph. It's like, if you're going to get their autograph, you might as well go to bed with the stupid fuckers!"

CLEANLINESS: "If I feel like getting a wash, I'll have a wash. Most days I get washed, but today I didn't."

POPULARITY: "The reason we've lasted so long is that we sing what we believe in."

MODESTY: "Somebody once asked me, 'What's the best song you play?' And I said, 'All of them.'"

MAX SPLODGE: "He's not thick; he's my friend."

Originally published in Rave-Up No. 3 Spring 1982

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

In 1998 I Spent My Birthday Seeing The Damned & Interviewing Captain Sensible!

My autographed 45!
By Devorah Ostrov

In 1998 I spent my birthday seeing the Damned at the Maritime Hall in San Francisco, and I interviewed guitarist and founding member Captain Sensible while he ate his dinner prior to the show. The interview should have been published in an issue of Teenage Kicks, but it wasn't and I have no idea why. I recently came across the transcript in a box, so here it is...

Teenage Kicks: I've read that you put together a couple of bands with your brother prior to the Damned forming. What were those bands called?

Captain Sensible: Genetic Breakdown and the Johnny Moped Group. Genetic Breakdown was really the only one.

Teenage Kicks: And that turned into the Johnny Moped Group?

Captain Sensible: Yeah... My brother had a band called the Cowards, and they were the original band to do "Antipope." I've got a tape somewhere. I've been playing it.

February 1998 calendar for the
Maritime Hall, including the Damned
gig on my birthday!
Teenage Kicks: When did they do it?

Captain Sensible: God... That would've been about '77. I liked the song so much...

Teenage Kicks: You stole it!

Captain Sensible: Stole it, yeah!

Teenage Kicks: Did your brother write the song?

Captain Sensible: Him and a bloke called Mark wrote the entire song - lyrics, music, everything! But we gave him a songwriting credit. So, we didn't rip him off entirely. Only a little bit.

Teenage Kicks: What's your brother doing now? Does he have a band?

Captain Sensible: He works for the police force up in Newcastle.

Teenage Kicks: I've also heard that Paul Gray was supposed to be back with the Damned, but he doesn't seem to be hanging around. Is his return just a rumor?
Captain Sensible: Well... Dave and me concocted this new line-up after we'd done a gig at the Mean Fiddler in London. Paul Gray was playing in my band.

Teenage Kicks: Punk Floyd?

Captain Sensible: Yeah... So, Paul rejoined the Damned again. But then... We were doing an important gig in London and Paul arranged a gig in Cardiff, which is his hometown, as a warm-up for the important gig in London. So... Dave didn't turn up for that gig.

Captain Sensible's "Happy Talk" single
A&M Records (1982)
Teenage Kicks: Why not?

Captain Sensible: You're asking the wrong person. But he didn't turn up and Paul was very upset. He had a shouting match on the phone with (manager) Chris Ampofo and said, "I'm not working with that..." blah, blah, blah "... again." So, that's what happened there. But, in actual fact, he did work with us once more. He did the important gig in London. But that was it.

Teenage Kicks: What's Punk Floyd like?

Captain Sensible: They do my songs.

Teenage Kicks: No Pink Floyd covers?

Captain Sensible: No! God's sake, no! I hate Pink Floyd! They're shit! I like Syd Barrett. When he was in Pink Floyd they were great. But he was only in it for five minutes and then they turned into the most boring band in the world.

Teenage Kicks: So why call it Punk Floyd?

Captain Sensible: Because it's got a kind of... there's a bit of Syd Barrett in there. It's anarchic and psychedelic. And the punk bit because... Well, my songs are a bit punky.

Teenage Kicks: Will you be able to do Punk Floyd and the Damned at the same time?

The Captain's calling card
Captain Sensible: No. Punk Floyd is on ice.

Teenage Kicks: Are there any Punk Floyd records?

Captain Sensible: We did one called Mad Cows & Englishman. That's Punk Floyd, really. It's on Scratch Records, but you'll never find it.

Teenage Kicks: And the drummer (Garrie Dreadful) and keyboardist (Monty Oxymoron) currently playing with the Damned are from Punk Floyd?

Captain Sensible: (between chews) Hmmm... Yeah.

Teenage Kicks: What prompted this reunion of the Damned?

Captain Sensible: It was that gig I did with Dave in London. The Phantom Chords and Punk Floyd did a double-headliner gig. And we found out that we ah... you know... kind of liked each other. I always liked Dave, you know. I always liked his voice. I would prefer to stand there and play guitar with him singing, rather than singing myself.

Teenage Kicks: Really?

Captain Sensible: Oh, yeah. I never liked being a frontman. Never liked it in the slightest. Well, I did like some parts of it - like the birds chasing you down the road!

Teenage Kicks: Are the Damned going to record any new material?

Poster for the Damned's 1977 debut LP
Captain Sensible: Definitely!

Teenage Kicks: Do you have anything worked up yet?

Captain Sensible: A lot of song ideas... (lost in chewing and mumbling) Yep... yep. I've written a whole bunch of stuff. Dave's working on stuff. Patricia's (Morrison, bassist) done some stuff. Even Monty's come up with a couple of ideas.

Teenage Kicks: Do you have any song titles?

Captain Sensible: I have. But I tell Dave, "Change anything you want." So, he might change it. But I wrote one about Fergie (Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York). You won't understand the joke... In Britain, we have a chocolate bar called a Yorkie bar. The song's called "The Duchess of Yorkie Bars." 'Cause she's... you know... It's mean, really.

Teenage Kicks: She does Weight Watchers commercials now. She's not fat anymore.

Captain Sensible: I know! We'll have to scrap that song. There's also one called "Till the End of Time."

Teenage Kicks: That sounds pretty.

Captain Sensible: It's very dark. It's the darkest love song I've ever written. I wrote it for my new girlfriend.

Mad Cows & Englishmen - Scratch Records (1996)
Teenage Kicks: Wait! Rachel Bor (from Dolly Mixture) isn't your girlfriend anymore?

Captain Sensible: She's my official girlfriend.

Teenage Kicks: But there's another one?

Captain Sensible: Yeah...

Teenage Kicks: And she doesn't mind?

Captain Sensible on the cover of 
Record Mirror
Captain Sensible: No, she does mind. I'm going home to a very unusual domestic arrangement. It's going to be difficult. I love Rachel, me official girlfriend.

Teenage Kicks: How did you meet Rachel?

Captain Sensible: She worked with me for three years as a backing singer.

Teenage Kicks: She's on "Happy Talk," isn't she?

Captain Sensible: Yeah. We went all over Europe doing those stupid songs. One day we were having a drink in a pub, sort of holding hands and giggling, and we started kissing. Neither of us had really thought about it, but we were very fond of each other.

Teenage Kicks: And you have three children?

Captain Sensible: Yeah. Fred, Daisy, and Syd - after Syd Barrett.

Teenage Kicks: I've heard that you live in Brighton now. And Brian James has moved there as well, hasn't he?

Captain Sensible: That's right! Isn't that great? It's really good to have him there because Brian likes to drink and so do I!

Teenage Kicks: Could you ever work with Brian again?

Captain Sensible & the Softies
"Jet Boy, Jet Girl" 45 - Polydor (1978)
Captain Sensible: Brian likes things to be done his own way. And Brian's ideas are very rock 'n' roll. In fact, he uses that expression quite a lot. And I detest rock 'n' roll. I remember when we did that Final Damnation thing... We were sitting in the studio and Brian was mixing the stuff he played guitar on. He set the control desk up and he said, "Right, nobody touch those controls." And the engineer said, "No fading up the guitar for the guitar solo?" Brian said, "No." He said, "No effects?" Brian said, "No. Nothing. That's it. Rock 'n' roll." I was kind of shocked. When it got to the second half of Final Damnation, where I'm playing guitar, I was putting all sorts of effects on, turning up the guitar for solos, all that! That's what you do in a studio, you make it sound as good as possible. But I remember thinking at the time that I couldn't work with Brian, not with that attitude. But I do like him as a bloke!

Teenage Kicks: What's been the most fun gig on this tour?

Captain Sensible: I liked all the gigs in New York. We played Coney Island High, it was a dive but it had a really good atmosphere. It was really small. We played it for four nights. Good people who run it; they kept coming down with pitchers of Sam Adams for us.

Teenage Kicks: How many shows are you doing?

Captain Sensible: We've played 40 dates at least. We've been all over the place!

Poster for "Smash It Up!" 
Chiswick/EMI (1979)
Teenage Kicks: I wanted to talk a little bit about the pre-Damned history. Were you guys friends before the group formed?

Captain Sensible: I knew Rat. He lived in Croydon, same as I did. We worked together. He was a floor cleaner with a mop and bucket, and I was a toilet cleaner at a concert hall. And he went off one day to answer an advertisement in the Melody Maker. It was Brian's ad.

Teenage Kicks: What did it say? Something like "drummer wanted..."

Captain Sensible: Oh, God no... I didn't see it myself, but he might have used the expression kick ass... "Kick ass rock 'n' roll band!"

Teenage Kicks: And that was the advert for the Damned?

Captain Sensible: Yeah. Rat came back the next day with all his hair cut off, and he said they were looking for a bass player. I was a guitarist at the time, but I went to see Brian and I had me hair chopped off... The funny thing was, all the people hanging around Portobello Road and Kilburn, which is where Brian lived, all used to hang out and drink in the same bars - people like Tony James, Billy Idol, some of the Pistols and the Clash, Chrissie Hynde, Lemmy... So, for awhile we had a line-up which was Chrissie Hynde on guitar, me on bass, Rat on drums, and Dave on vocals. We did three rehearsals like that and then it was back to Brian. So, everything was kind of in the melting pot. Very interesting days, they were. We had to carry the drums and guitars on the top of a double-decker bus! We didn't have the money to hire a cab or get a van.

Teenage Kicks: Living in Croydon, were you and Rat aware of what was happening in London?

Vote for Captain Sensible!
Captain Sensible: There was nothing happening in London! What I mean is, we didn't know there was something going on in London because it wasn't in the music papers. What was happening in London was completely underground. The punk thing was very... not hush-hush, but it was only happening in this one little area. So, I had no idea until I went up there.

Teenage Kicks: I've also just recently learnt that the Softies were your band. I've heard about this group, but I don't really know anything about them.

Captain Sensible: Hmmm... The Softies weren't actually my band. When the Damned split up (for the first time in 1977) Brian told us in his wisdom, "Right, that's it. The Damned's finished. I'm going on to do better things." I remember I went to see Abba: The Movie that day. I sat in the cinema and cried all the way through it. Being chucked out of the group and Abba's lovely songs just made me blub. So I went over to see my friend Big Mick in Amsterdam; he'd been our roadie for awhile. He had a band called the Softies, and he offered to put me up if I played guitar for him. So I went over and played guitar for his band. We did quite a few gigs in Germany and Holland, and stuff. And we did two singles. One was called "Killing Time in Soho," which had got Mick singing and me playing guitar. The other one was "Jet Boy/Jet Girl," which is me singing. I got paid £100 for that. I told him not to release it in Britain, but of course they lied to me, and it was.

Teenage Kicks: Why didn't you want it released in Britain?

Captain Sensible: Because it's got rude lyrics.

Teenage Kicks: So what?

Captain Sensible's first solo album
Women and Captains First - A&M (1982)
Captain Sensible: Well... My parents... My relatives are Catholics. My auntie is Catholic. She's very strict on it.

Teenage Kicks: They must have known about the Damned! Taking your clothes off onstage doesn't bother them?

Captain Sensible: Umm... They didn't see that, to be honest.

Teenage Kicks: Wouldn't just the name of the group bother them?

Captain Sensible: No... I mean... I'm a nice bloke so... Whenever they did come to see us, we toned it down a little bit.

Teenage Kicks: You kept your clothes on!

Captain Sensible: Yeah! Ha! Ha!

Teenage Kicks: It sounds like you're pretty close to your parents.

Captain Sensible: I've got one parent left, me dad, and we're very close. He's a lovely bloke. He lives around the corner from us. He makes me brew beer for him. I've got a little home brewing concern going. I make exceptionally good beer, I must say. If I'm good at anything, I'm a bit of a connoisseur of beer.

Teenage Kicks: What's your favourite beer?

Advert for the Damned's first 45
"New Rose" c/w "Help"
Stiff Records (1976)
Captain Sensible: In America, I think me favorite is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which I actually saw in Safeway around the corner. It's bloody good! My second favorite is Wild Goose Amber Ale from Maryland. The third would be Sam Adam's Boston Lager. Very nice.

Teenage Kicks: Any plans to bottle your own?

Captain Sensible: No, it's a bit of a chore. I bung it in a barrel.

Teenage Kicks: Did your father ever tell you to get a real job?

Captain Sensible: Definitely! Yes! I was going to become a cartographic draftsman.

Teenage Kicks: Like maps?

Captain Sensible: Maps, yeah. And involved with street planning, town planning, stuff like that.

Teenage Kicks: That would have been a good job!

Captain Sensible: Yeah, I would've loved it. But I couldn't get the mathematics exam. I just couldn't do it. I had plenty of other qualifications but that one eluded me, unfortunately. But I've got a house full of maps! Drawers and cupboards full of them! What a boring bloke I am.

Teenage Kicks: Well, I'd just like to say that I'm happy to see you and Dave back together. You've made me very happy!

Captain Sensible: Ah, how nice. That's lovely.

* * *

You can also read my 1984 interview with the Damned's Dave Vanian and Roman Jugg here:  devorahostrov.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/the-damned-rendezvous

Friday, 16 December 2016

Get Me Outta Your Starry Eyes: The Story of The Records

Originally published in Teenage Kicks #8 (2005)

Promo Photo: L-R: Huw Gower, Will Birch, John Wicks, Phil Brown
By Devorah Ostrov 

"The Records were reborn pub-rockers, who made a giant leap into the present by leaving their history behind and starting afresh with finely honed pop craftsmanship and the full-scale record company support they had never previously enjoyed."
Ira Robbins/Trouser Press

Although he was born a big-city boy in London's East End, when Will Birch was 10-years-old his family moved to Southend-On-Sea, Essex, England - a quaint sounding address for a faded seaside resort community. Once a popular day-trip destination for Victorian Londoners, by the time Birch was coming of age in the 1960s the town's remaining reminder of its glory days was a crumbling Coney Island-style amusement park with an odd German name - the Kursaal.

By the '70s, with tourism a long-forgotten memory, Southend had gained a reputation for something entirely different. Surprisingly, the sleepy suburb was home for many of the UK's top pub rock acts of the era. Dr. Feelgood, Wilko Johnson, Mickey Jupp, and Eddie and the Hot Rods all hailed from Southend. One of the most promising groups from the area was the Kursaal Flyers, who took their moniker from the little locomotive that occasionally still chugged its way around the rusting remnants of the amusement park.

Promotion for the Crashes LP
"It was a stupid name," laughs Birch, the group's drummer and lyricist (the same roles he would later fill with the Records). "No one outside of Southend or Germany knew the word Kursaal. It got misspelled everywhere. We turned up at a gig once and the poster read: Tonight! A Case of Flies!"

Birch was quite possibly destined for a career in music from an early age. "My mum played the piano," he says. "She liked music a lot. Even before rock 'n' roll there were always records in the house, stuff like Guy Mitchell, the Mills Brothers, and Bing Crosby - we had a lot of Crosby records."

The first records Birch remembers wanting for himself were Elvis' early hits. "My mum would buy them for me. I got the 78s of 'Loving You,' 'All Shook Up,' 'Hound Dog,' 'Teddy Bear'... I still have those records. It started an obsession with record collecting!"

Kursaal Flyers' single - "Little Does She Know"
CBS Records (1976)
Greatly influenced by the skiffle stylings of Lonnie Donegan ("I wanted to be Lonnie Donegan," he stresses), Birch got a ukulele banjo and formed his first group with a school friend.

Skiffle gave way to the instrumental sounds of the Shadows and the Ventures, and Birch traded the ukulele for a drum kit. "I wanted to play guitar," he admits, "but it was too difficult. I had these few chords that I could play, but I couldn't get beyond that. I'm quite a lazy person, really, and playing drums looked so easy."

When the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came on the scene, Birch became a devoted fan. "I had to have the long hair, the long bangs, and the clothes - leather jackets and pointy boots. I immersed myself in the beat group look. I can still remember my dad shouting, 'Get your hair cut!'"

Birch played in a succession of "absolutely awful groups" throughout the '60s, changing his style with each new trend. As a mod, he went to the Marquee to see the Who ("Fantastically exciting!"), the Small Faces, the Action ("They looked good, which was the most important thing."), and the Move ("The best group of that whole period."). Mod was replaced with a passion for blues ("There was a blues boom with John Mayall and Fleetwood Mac, and I wanted to have a blues band.") which in turn was replaced by a passion for soul music.

So it should come as no surprise that by late '73, when the Kursaal Flyers formed, Birch's new blueprint was based on West Coast country rock with definite pop overtones. "We were very influenced by the Burrito Bros. and the Byrds, as well as the real stuff - Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. But when I started writing with Graeme (Douglas, guitarist) we became more poppy."

According to Google Translate, this
clipping for the Kursaal Flyers says 
something along the lines of: "You're
only good as your best single."
A couple of years into their career, with two poorly received albums already under their belt, the Kursaals found themselves signed to CBS Records with a hit single called "Little Does She Know." But even cheesy Top of the Pops appearances and thrice-daily radio play couldn't quell the dissention within the band. In the studio, Douglas clashed with producer Mike Batt (whose other production credits included the Wombles) accusing him of over-commercializing the group. Shortly afterwards Douglas left to join Eddie and the Hot Rods for whom he would write the classic power pop anthem "Do Anything You Wanna Do."

Birch seized the opportunity to overhaul the Kursaals and drag them, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the present. It was, after all, 1976. "I loved the Ramones and the Clash," states Birch. "I wanted the group to become more contemporary with what was happening. I really thought the Clash were the future of it all and I wanted to be a part of that new world." Certain band members were told to shave their moustaches and Vic, the pedal steel guitar player, was asked to leave. An ad was placed in Melody Maker and auditions were held for a new guitarist.

When vocalist Paul Shuttleworth suggested they try out his friend John Wicks, an accomplished guitarist, singer and songwriter, Birch resisted. "He just didn't look right to me. He had long hair and flared jeans. I didn't particularly want a punky look, but I didn't want people who looked like early '70s throwbacks."

Born in Reading, Berkshire, Wicks had a proper English schoolboy upbringing. He remembers wanting a guitar after seeing a Tommy Steele variety performance as a small child, but it was the Beatles, he says, "that really changed my life. I would put elastic bands around my exercise books and pretend I was playing the guitar, and I got a bunch of kids to be my Beatles." He adds, "I was John Lennon. I thought, in my juvenile psyche, that Lennon was cooler than McCartney."

Back cover of the Kursaal Flyers' LP - Chocs Away!
UK Records (1975)
At St. Edward's Private School, Wicks became friends with Mike Oldfield, who would later be acclaimed for the song "Tubular Bells." While Wicks was a self-taught guitarist, it was Oldfield who showed him the chords to a then-popular Donovan tune. "I learned to play 'Catch the Wind' after watching Mike play it," says Wicks. "I mirrored what he was doing." By the time he was entering his teens, Wicks' future course was set. "When I was 13 or 14 I was desperately trying to write songs. I'd compile them and make liner notes like it was an album, five tracks on each side."

Like Birch, Wicks progressed through a series of forgettable and regrettable bands. In 1970, he joined his first professional outfit, New Horizon, which was followed by a four-year stint with a covers band. By the time of his Records audition, he was fronting a group called Blokes. "The idea was," says Wicks, "because there were all these glittery bands around I thought the time was right for something that went against that image. We wore roadwork gear onstage. We went out late at night stealing all the traffic cones and the Men At Work signs. I thought everybody would get the point!" Maybe Blokes was just a few years ahead of its time.

And while Birch had reservations about Wicks fitting in with the revamped Kursaal Flyers, the guitarist was equally hesitant to make the move, fearing the upheavals in the group spelt its imminent demise. "Blokes didn't have much success compared to the Kursaal Flyers," admits Wicks, "but at least we were still a band."

And although Wicks professed a willingness to change his image and rock star hair style, he didn't want to burn any bridges with Blokes unless he actually got the Kursaal's job. Which was more than he'd been willing to do when he'd answered Malcolm McLaren's advert for a singer. "You had to ring up this boutique," he laughs. "And Malcolm said, 'You have to have short hair.' And I said, 'Oh, I'm not getting my hair cut!'" The Sex Pistols' loss was the Kursaal's gain.

The Records - back cover of the "Teenarama" single
(L-R) Huw Gower, Will Birch, Phil Brown & John Wicks
Shuttleworth convinced Birch to give Wicks a second try and, although Birch remained "understandably sceptical," a newly shorn Wicks arrived dressed in tight jeans and spiffy pointed-toe shoes and passed the audition. "He looked totally great," says Birch, "so he joined the group. That's how superficial I am."

Unfortunately for Wicks' hair, the Kursaals did break up within months of his joining. The group's final LP, Five Live Kursaals, failed to chart, as did their Muff Winwood-produced swansong 45 "Television Generation." A 1977 UK tour in support of the live album had them sharing the bill with teen punk sensations the Cortinas, who were scoring with "Fascist Dictator." Short hair and pointed-toe shoes couldn't save the Kursaals from running BANG! straight into punk rock. "I always said we were sunk by punk," quips Birch.

There were some cursory discussions between Shuttleworth and Wicks, who had begun a writing partnership in the final days of the Kursaals, about teaming up for another project. But Birch, who had found a kindred pop music fan, was just as keen to form a new band with Wicks. "Something got written in Melody Maker," says Wicks. "I don't know how they got word of it, but someone got the message that Will and I were going to do something together. Paul said, 'It would've been nice to have heard it from you instead of reading about it in the paper.' It was the end of a good friendship."

And the beginning of the Records.

"Starry Eyes" - Netherlands issued picture sleeve 45
According to a partially finished bio on the Records' Internet site, the next few afternoons were spent listening to Revolver, the Raspberries, Big Star, and Badfinger. And while Birch would "have a snooze on the couch," Wicks "grafted wonderful tunes" to some of the drummer's "more juvenile lyrics." Their earliest efforts included "Teenarama," a perfectly crafted pop song about the downside of lechery and "Up All Night," so evocative of Revolver, it could have been an outtake.

"John and I had a kind of telepathy," says Birch. "Although we are quite different kinds of people, we gelled as a writing partnership. I was confident about my lyrics, and equally confident about John's tunes. We trusted each other and respected our respective talents. We didn't analyse it, it just worked."

To pay rent while they dreamt about forming their fantasy group ("We envisaged a classic four-piece of uniform height and head-to-body ratio," writes Birch, only half-facetiously on the website), Birch and Wicks became songwriters-for-hire after a fashion. "We were writing songs for everyone we met," muses Birch, "they just didn't know we were writing songs for them!"

Rock legend Dave Edmunds put a tune to Birch's lyrics for "A1 On the Jukebox" and released it as the A-side of a 45. New wave teenybopper Rachel Sweet recorded the Birch/Wicks' composition "Pin a Medal on Mary" for her Stiff Records release. The aptly titled "All Messed Up and Ready to Go" was written with Wreckless Eric in mind, although he never recorded it. And although it was never used, an alternate version of "Teenarama" entitled "Coca Cola" was pitched to the US soda giant as a jingle.

The Records perform in Walnut Park as part of a free
concert with local pop group the Flashcubes. Remember
to bring your own blanket!
Meanwhile, an ad was placed in Melody Maker and auditions for band members began. Bassist Phil Brown, who listed his previous band as the Janets (a group which may or may not have existed as no one, including Birch and Wicks, had ever heard of them), was an easy choice. "Phil took out his Rickenbacker bass," says Wicks, "and we just thought, Cool!" Finding a lead guitarist would prove a bit more challenging.

Legend has it that Birch and Wicks auditioned 200 guitar players before they found the right one. According to Birch, the exact total was 211! "We ran the ad every week for four weeks. We were rehearsing at this place in London every day and the ad just said: Come Down! And they kept coming and coming and coming."

Wicks recalls, "There were some ridiculous people. There were people that had travelled across the country with an acoustic guitar in their bag. We had to send our manager out... We said, 'You know what we're looking for. If they don't look right, tell them to go.'"

Eventually, Huw Gower, late of Bristol's nicely named Ratbites From Hell, walked in the door. "Huw had this amazing technique," says Birch, "he could simulate a backwards guitar like the Beatles. We played around with all this psychedelic kind of stuff - Spirit, the Byrds, Moby Grape, Love... and Huw knew all of it." And, Birch adds as an afterthought, "He looked great! So, he joined. And we had a group."

Now they just needed a name. Preferably one that everybody could spell, that wouldn't cause any embarrassment, and would stand the test of time. And Birch thought he had one.

"Starry Eyes" - US issued picture sleeve 45
"How's that group of yours?" politely inquired Clash frontman Joe Strummer, while he and Birch shared a drink one night. "Great!" replied Birch. "So, what're called?" asked Strummer. "I think we're gonna be the Cuties," stated Birch. "Is that spelled QT's?" wondered Strummer. "No, Cute... like c-u-t-e," explained Birch. "Lose the name," advised Strummer.

"I thought Joe was the Oracle," says Birch, "so I panicked." Later that evening, while lying in the bath, Birch hit upon the obvious name (given his lifelong obsession) - The Records

To secure their hold on the prized appellation, the Records quickly booked their first show. Perhaps they were a bit too quick. Making their debut at Bristol's Granary Club as openers for the Late Show in April 1978, the half-hour set featured an array of impressively obscure covers including Blue Ash's "Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)" and the Raspberries' "Play On."

Rounding out the setlist were "Teenarama" and "Up All Night," as well as the never-recorded original "The Weather in My Mind" ("It's just embarrassing," says Birch. "We were trying to be the Move."), a reworked version of the Kursaal Flyers' "Girls That Don't Exist" and two new Birch/Wicks compositions, "Insomnia" and "Held Up High" (which would later be tweaked and retitled "Another Star"). But both Birch and Wicks agree that the fledgling band was "under-rehearsed." In an interview for the book Power Pop! Birch recalled: "At one point in the show, I counted the song in, 'one-two-three-four,' and all four members of the group went into completely different songs."

The next several months were a busy time for the Records, as things started happening very quickly. In a highly complementary full-page Melody Maker spread, writer Harry Doherty compared their sound to Badfinger, terming it "rock with sensitivity," while Birch idealistically fretted about maintaining credibility: "You've got to stand by what you believe in. You can't really do anything about the way people interpret you. You can only hope that people see that you've got the best motives for doing what you do. And we have."

Promo poster courtesy of johnwicksandtherecords.com
The band was still unsigned (although CBS had arranged for demos of "Teenarama" and "Up All Night," feeling that it had a claim to Birch's efforts given its contract with the Kursaal Flyers) at the time of the Melody Maker feature, but that was soon to change. In the article, Doherty alludes to a deal being "in the offing," and for once it wasn't just a line. EMI, Warner Bros. and Virgin Records were all vying to sign the group.

Although it wasn't the largest of the three and it was still trying to build its rock roster at the time, UK-based Virgin Records, with US distribution through Atlantic Records, ultimately offered the best deal. The label even agreed to make it look as if the group's initial 45 - a little number Birch and Wicks had recently penned called "Starry Eyes" - was an independent release on the band's own pseudo Record Company imprint. "Everybody had their own groovy little label," states Birch. "We wanted our own groovy little label."

While the Virgin contract was still being negotiated, the Records were put into Scorpio Sounds in London with producer Dennis Weinreich to begin recording what would become their signature song. (Although Birch is given co-producer credit with Weinreich, that may be an overstatement. "I was in the room," he says modestly. "I got the drinks in.")

The Records - Virgin US cassette
Originally nicknamed "Silver Song," "Starry Eyes" was penned as a kiss-off to an ex-manager:

"While you were lost in France
We were stranded in the British Isles
Left to fall apart amongst the passports
and the files
We never asked for miracles
But they were our concern
Did you really think we'd sit it out
And wait for your return?"

Built around marvellous harmonies and a soaring Byrds-like guitar riff, "Starry Eyes" also bore an unmistakable resemblance to a certain Eddie and the Hot Rods' song. "'Do Anything You Wanna Do' was a great single," Wicks once offered when Creem writer Jeffrey Morgan cornered him on the subject. "I agree," said Morgan. "How did it end up on your album?"

Was it an intentional lift? On the Records' website, Birch calls the song "a shameless rewrite." And during our interview Wicks stated, "Eddie and the Hot Rods used to say we stole their song and had a hit with it."

"Basically," admits Wicks, "we heard the Hot Rods' song and were knocked out with it. I thought, 'Wow! I'd love to write a song like that.' But it wasn't like, 'We've got to copy that because they did it.' We didn't steal it. But it is the same vibe and it uses the same kind of chords, just in a different order. I've always liked those jangly chords; I've always played that way. Will had the lyrics written down and I just started playing those jangly chords, and it just fell into place. I said, 'Hey, I've got something! This is gonna be really good!' It took five minutes and it was done."

In October of '78, with work on the single almost complete, Birch and Wicks received a phone call from Stiff honcho Dave Robinson, who remembered them as the writers of Rachel Sweet's "Pin a Medal on Mary." As Wicks recalls, "He said, 'We're gonna do this tour. There's going to be half a dozen Stiff acts going out. A package tour sort of thing. Would you like to back Rachel?' Will put his hand over the phone and I said, 'We're not a backing band. We're a band in our own right. Tell him we'll do it if we can do our own set.'" Much to their surprise, Robinson agreed to the terms and the Records were "on the train" for the infamous "Be Stiff" tour.

Shades In Bed - Virgin UK album cover
The LP came with a limited edition 12" EP.
They couldn't have chosen a more perfect launching pad. For six well-publicized weeks they travelled the UK in a hired Brit Rail coach with the likes of Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich, Mickey Jupp, Jona Lewie, and Rachel Sweet. And each night they opened the show with a 20-minute set that featured "Teenarama," "Starry Eyes," the newly written "Affection Rejected" and a cover of Tim Moore's "Rock and Roll Love Letter."

By the time the tour concluded in New York with eight shows in four nights at the Bottom Line, the first copies of "Starry Eyes" were pressed. "We took 'Starry Eyes' with us," says Wicks, "thinking maybe they'd play it at the club. That's how it all started. We came home, and Will got a phone call saying WNEW were playing it three or four times a day. The next thing we knew we were getting messages from our management office saying it was spreading right across the States. Johnnie Walker at KSAN (in San Francisco) was screaming for it."

In February 1979, the Records entered the newly built Townhouse Studios to begin work on their first album. Primarily produced by Robert John (Mutt) Lange and Tim Friese-Greene, Shades In Bed (retitled The Records for US release, the album would also sport an alternate cover and a reconfigured track listing) was a piece of pure pop (for now people!) perfection, showcasing Wicks' sophisticated tunes and Birch's witty wordplay. "Almost every track could have been a single," raved Trouser Press' Ira Robbins, and he wasn't exaggerating.

"Teenarama," "All Messed Up and Ready to Go," "Girls That Don't Exist," and of course "Starry Eyes" (the UK release featured Lange's production; the US release kept Weinreich's) were all standouts. However, it was the tracks on which the band wore its influences on its sleeve (the Badfinger-esque "Affection Rejected," the Cheap Trick-infused "Girl," and the mid-period Beatles feel of "Up All Night") where the Records proved they weren't just a one-dimensional pop band, but a multifaceted group.

Virgin advert for the Records self-titled US debut LP.
Back cover of Trouser Press #43, October 1979
While Shades In Bed was a confident and oftentimes brilliant debut LP, it didn't come without some behind-the-scenes turmoil. In 1979, producer Mutt Lange was just beginning to make a name for himself. Although the group had hoped to work with either Todd Rundgren or Tom Werman, when Virgin suggested they use Lange, who had just completed a Motors' album for the label, the band agreed, even though it would mean sharing his attention with another project - AC/DC's Highway To Hell.

"Mutt didn't have time to do the whole album," says Birch. "He was flying here, flying there. He'd say, 'I can give you two days.' But what he did do was pick the four songs that he thought might be singles, and he did those." In the end, Lange's production credits only extended to "Teenarama," "Girls That Don't Exist," and "Starry Eyes." The fourth song, "Rock and Roll Love Letter," was dropped at the last minute when the 45 "bombed" - no doubt everyone was still recovering from the Bay City Rollers' sugar-coated '76 version.

That left the bulk of the production duties to Friese-Greene, who Birch feels did an admirable job. "Tim turned out to be far more attentive than Mutt," says Birch. "He spent a great deal of time on the tracks, layering the sound. Tim really cared a lot." But Birch feels the overall quality of the album was marred by serious problems with the studio's sound system, an unfortunate situation that Friese-Greene was unable to resolve.

 Virgin UK picture sleeve 45 (1979)
"The speakers were playing things back that weren't really on the tape," says Wicks. "We'd take the tape home and the bass guitar would disappear. It would go to a certain frequency and it would disappear! The studio was flattering what you heard, so what you thought was really exciting was actually drab and lifeless. Tim agreed that there was something wrong, but he didn't want to step on Mutt's toes and remix it. I said, 'Can't we get Mutt back?' But he'd gone off to produce Highway To Hell. It wasn't Mutt's fault that the record sounded bad, but we were miffed because we thought he just didn't want to come back. Of course, there was no way he could. Things got said in the press that we were disappointed with the record, and it sounded like we were badmouthing him. We really weren't. But he was furious about it. To this day, it's a situation that I desperately want to put right. Essentially he did everything correctly, he just didn't know that the studio was bad."

To make things worse, a crack was starting to develop in the band itself, with Birch and Wicks on one side and Gower on the other. While the lead guitarist was credited as co-writer and producer for "The Phone" (for which he also provides the vocals), apparently it wasn't enough. When bassist Phil Brown was given co-writer credit (and 20% of the royalties) for providing a Rick Nielsen-worthy opening guitar riff to "Girl," Gower demanded the same for a chord change he'd made to "Affection Rejected." It's something that still irks Wicks: "We gave Phil 20% of 'Girl' because his riff was absolutely integral to the song. We gave Huw 20% for 'Affection Rejected' just to shut him up. That's how much of a fuss he made."

Gower was also credited as producer for a bonus four-track EP of cover songs which was included free with the album (the UK pressing featured a 12" disc titled High Heels; in the US it was an untitled 7"). An interesting concept, like David Bowie's Pin-Ups before it and the Ramones' Acid Eaters after it, the EP paid tribute to some of the group's own favorite acts: Birch chose Blue Ash's "Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)" which Wicks sang; Wicks chose the Kinks' "See My Friends" which Birch sang; Gower's choice was Spirits' "1984"; and Brown chose the Rolling Stones' "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby? (Standing in the Shadows)."

The Records - promo photo
In May, with the album finished, the Records embarked on a short UK tour as support to the Jam. "The Jam were massive," says Birch, "and they had a very young audience. I wouldn't say it was totally the right audience for us... But it all went quite well."

"We never had anything thrown at us," Wicks states with evident pride.

But it was just preparation for what was coming next - the group's first full American tour. "This was the realization of a long-held dream," notes Birch on the website. "Eight whole weeks in the land of neon."

Wicks can still remember the ride to the airport. "We got in the minibus going to Heathrow and our manager said, 'The album's just gone in the Billboard chart at 99 with a bullet.' And we just went silent. It was like, 'Nah... it can't be.' It was an awesome feeling!"

With the Virgin/Atlantic promotional machine in high gear, the tour kicked off on the East Coast where the Records opened for the Cars in New York's Central Park. "That was amazing," declares Wicks. "I remember we played everything really fast because Will was really nervous. I was spitting the vocals out. Just looking at this sea of people, 15,000-plus. I loved it!"

Recalling a typical day as the tour progressed across the States, Birch says, "We would visit two radio stations, there'd be an in-store, three local press interviews, a phoner with Australia or someplace, and then the gig, and then the party, a couple of hours sleep and on to the next city."

Crashes album - Virgin Records (1980)
Predominately headlining mid-size clubs (although there were also several dates with Joe Jackson), Birch also found himself gobsmacked by the support bands. "My heroes were opening for us. We'd get to these gigs and the marquee would say THE RECORDS! And underneath, in tiny little letters would be the people whose records I'd been collecting for years. The dB's opened for us in Long Island, the Rubinoos in San Francisco..."

The Midwest was "patchy." A show in Kansas was cancelled before the band got there ("They'd sold three tickets," says Wicks.). But shows in Dallas, Houston, and Austin were "quite good"; St. Louis "wasn't too bad."

While taping a segment for Wolfman Jack's late-night TV concert program The Midnight Special (hosted by the Cars that week, the other performers were Iggy Pop and Suicide), Birch finally got to meet Frank Secich. The former bassist for Blue Ash (whose "Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)" had been covered by the Records on the High Heels EP) was in LA working with ex-Dead Boys vocalist Stiv Bators on some tracks for Bomp Records. "We were in this TV studio in Hollywood," says Birch, "and he walked in and said, 'I'm Frank. I wrote that song.' I couldn't believe it!"

And through it all "Starry Eyes" provided the soundtrack. "We heard it all the time," says Birch. "Every time we turned on the radio, we heard it. It was just wonderful!"

"I came out of a club on Hollywood Blvd.," recalls Wicks, "and I got into a convertible with this girl. It was a warm summer night and we were just driving along Hollywood Blvd. with the top down, and 'Starry Eyes' came on the radio. I've never felt such a high in my life! That's what I had always wanted so much. That night, it was like everything was possible! Everything was right with the world."

"Hearts in Her Eyes"
Netherlands issued picture sleeve 45 (1980)
In fact, there was really only one unpleasant episode on the entire tour, and it led to Gower being fired from the band. The evening began in an English bar in Detroit. "It was a rare thing at the time," says Wicks, "to find a bar that sold Bass Ale." According to Wicks, "Huw wasn't really a drinker; he was into serious stuff, like cocaine. So, we went to this English bar and Huw drank three-and-a-half pints of beer. And because he normally didn't drink, he subsequently got very drunk very quickly. He then proceeded to get into an argument with the promoter because he hadn't gotten him any cocaine."

Onstage, things only went from bad to worse. "Huw threw a complete wobbler," Wicks continues. "He walked up to the mike... there were people from Virgin and Atlantic in the audience who had flown in from New York especially to see us, and Huw decided to introduce one of the songs by saying, 'This is a song that sums up the whole fucking business. It's called 'The Same Mistakes.' The comment probably wasn't directed at them, but it sounded like it was. And that's what they were going to think."

"We were all cringing with embarrassment," adds Birch. "John and I looked at each other and we knew Huw had to go. We couldn't risk that happening again." Backstage, the drama continued. "Our manager grabbed Huw by the neck," relates Birch, "and pushed him against the dressing room wall, shouting, 'What's your problem, Gower?!' Huw said something like, 'I'm getting to think that me and Phil are just sidemen for Will and John.' He was partially right of course; although Phil and Huw were both encouraged to contribute material, the truth is, they were not natural songwriters, whilst John and I could turn out songs by the bucket load."

When Wicks became ill near the end of the tour, the final gig in Vancouver was cancelled and the band flew home, where work would begin on their second album and a European tour supporting Robert Palmer would commence. When Palmer's tour was unexpectedly cut short after three dates, they returned to London and a group meeting was scheduled at the management office. Only Birch, Wicks, and their manager Peter Scarbrow knew what was up.

The Records/Shades In Bed - CD reissue
While Birch allows that Gower "was a great guitar player, and he contributed greatly to the sound of the Records," his fate had been sealed in Detroit. "John and I were resolved to let him go," says Birch. Gower arrived to the meeting last and jokingly quipped, "Sorry I'm late! You're not going to fire me, are you?"

"It took the wind out of everyone's sails," says Wicks. "We were thinking, 'Shit! He just said it as a joke. Now what do we say?' Pete just told him... I remember exactly what he said because the atmosphere was just terrible. He said, 'Well, Huw... the Records, that is John and Will, no longer require your services.'"

Gower's work on the second album was shelved and towards the end of '79 the three remaining Records, with one-time Kursaal Flyer Barry Martin filling in on guitar, returned to the studio to cut the backing tracks for what would become Crashes. (The recently released On The Beach CD reissue of the LP restores two songs featuring Gower on guitar).

"Hearts in Her Eyes"
Virgin UK issued picture sleeve 45
A third trip to the studio in early 1980 would incorporate guitarist/vocalist Jude Cole into the band. Introduced to the Records by Crashes producer Craig Leon, the 19-year-old Moline, Illinois native had been playing with Moon Martin. "Jude's strength was more vocal than guitar," says Birch, "although he was a fair player. He brought a youthful vitality to the group and our vocal sound improved immensely. We liked him a lot and he was a good chap to have on tour."

After surviving the highs and lows of the previous year, the Records had matured as a band and many of the songs that Birch and Wicks were writing reflected a more grown-up outlook. Only two Mick Glossop-produced tracks, "Hearts in Her Eyes" and "Man With a Girlproof Heart" (the former a delicate Birch/Wicks composition originally written for the Searchers, the latter a rewrite of the Kursaal's "When You Meet Your Hero"), recalled the radio-friendly pop of the first album. And both were late additions as Virgin looked for 45 material. Overall, Crashes was much more complex. It was a conscious decision on the part of the songwriters to move away from their trademark melodic sound.

Birch recalls telling Wicks, "Let's try to write songs that are a bit more subtle, less choursy." And the album's strongest tracks were the result: "Rumour Sets the Woods Alight" tackled the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Brian Jones over a decade earlier; "Girl in Golden Disc" had Birch fantasizing about rigging the charts to reflect his own taste in music by dating the girl in the local chart-return record store; and "The Same Mistakes," a mid-tempo bout of manic-depression which got the attention of The Face, whose reviewer poetically called it "An anthem to their own dishevelled melancholy... as battered, wistful and wise as the people who made it."

Two other notable tracks, "Spent a Week With You Last Night" and "I Don't Remember Your Name," show the band still trying to recreate Revolver, and lyrically, especially with "I Don't Remember Your Name," Birch proves to be just as capable as Lennon when it comes to sarcastic wit:

And then there were five!
Back cover of the "Imitation Jewellery" 45
featuring new frontman Chris Gent and
guitarist Dave Whelan.
"There we were in the middle of a room
at a hotel somewhere in the West End
A man that I'd not met before
introduced me to my best friend
Nobody thinks I need a drink,
I'm not asking you to buy
You may smoke a fat cigar,
but if you don't show me to the bar
I'll die..."

Ultimately though, the band was unhappy with the LP. Birch terms it "an unrealized record." In his interview for Power Pop! he places the blame on the songwriting, saying: "There's about five [songs] on Crashes that aren't thoroughly routined, rehearsed, recorded, even written. It's like a demo, an album of demos."

During our interview, he also tactfully points to problems with Craig Leon (best known for his work with the Ramones). "I think the songs have more depth than the first record, but they therefore needed a deeper production gloss to reach the public's ears. This wasn't achieved, mainly because Craig, bless him, wasn't the sort of guy to spend endless hours in the studio, like Tim Friese-Greene did, layering the sound. Craig was a feel merchant, but we weren't a feel group."

Wicks is much less solicitous in regards to Leon's production. "Craig wanted to engineer and produce, and get as much money as he could for both things. So, the studio engineer figured it wasn't his job to line the tapes up in the machine. And Craig thought, 'I don't want to do that; that's his job.' So no one did it, and we ended up with an album with no treble on it. Which is why it doesn't sound very good. That is just unprofessional." Attempts were made to salvage the sound with remixing, but says Wicks, "We couldn't do anything with it. It just wasn't on the tape."

If there were any UK or European gigs in support of Crashes, Wicks can't remember them. "We just thought, 'Let's go back to America!' That seemed to be the sensible thing to do."

Music On Both Sides-era promo photo
Or not. In 1979, Shades In Bed/The Records had been the first album released in the US under the Virgin/Atlantic pact, and the band had enjoyed all the attendant hoopla that implies. A year later, Crashes was the last album released under the pact, with all the disinterest on Atlantic's part that implies. In effect, US distribution and publicity for the LP disappeared. And the difference was dramatic. "When we arrived at JFK for the first tour there were two stretch limos to meet us," says Birch. "When we arrived at JFK for the second tour we were pushed onto a bus, carrying all our gear."

On the first tour their days had been filled with one interview after another, in-store appearances and national TV shows. But the second time around, says Birch, "promotional work was relatively non-existent." And where it had seemed as if "Starry Eyes" was constantly on the radio during the first tour, Wicks doesn't recall if "Hearts in Her Eyes" was getting airplay or not. "I think it probably was. I'm sure some stations were playing it. We were so caught up in thinking, 'Jesus Christ! Everywhere we go we have to drive 500 miles!' We weren't really concentrating on whether or not we were on the radio."

Four weeks into the six-week tour, Virgin's tour support ran out and everything screeched to a halt. Birch's tour diary supplies the details: "Arrived JFK 12th July and flew down to Florida for rehearsals at Criteria Studios, Miami 14th-17th. First gig Boca Raton on the 18th. Our van was involved in an accident on the freeway (no one hurt). Then on through Florida, Georgia, Washington DC, NY - gig at The Ritz on 29th July, Philadelphia, NY, Boston, New Haven, Dover, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, Chicago on 13th August - a great gig opening for Alice Cooper. Today we were advised the tour would be finishing. West Coast dates cancelled. Live recording at Pierce Arrow Studios on 14th August. 'Rebel Rebel' was the encore. Home 16th August. Jude returned to LA."

Music On Both Sides - Virgin Records (1982)
"It's funny the things you remember..." says Wicks, recalling the Records' final US show. "It was the Chicagofest and it was huge! The stage went right around the lake. And it was pouring rain. We came running out... You're not that far from the water, and you've got all this stuff that you're plugged into. Electrocution is only one step away! Phil came running out, slid on his arse and very nearly went into the lake with his bass on!"

After the show, Wicks continues, "Will had come to the realization that it was all going wrong and he got insanely drunk. He was crawling around on the floor whining and groaning and almost in tears. He ended up swilling Listerine from the bottle." (Birch also somehow managed to take in a Coasters' show that evening; the song "Tired and Emotional (and Probably Drunk)," which Birch co-wrote with Billy Bremner for Bremner's 1984 Bash! album, memorializes his post-Chicagofest drinking binge.)

"It was a really painful night," says Wicks. "We just knew it was all over. It was like, where do we go from here?"

"We blew it," reflects Birch. "We were in a very strong position at the end of '79, and we blew it big time. We made a couple of really big mistakes. I wouldn't say we were arrogant, but we got a little bit carried away with ourselves. We thought we knew everything. We said, 'We don't want Mutt Lange to produce the second album.' Which was mistake number one. We kicked Huw out of the group because he was being an asshole. But that was mistake number two. I think whenever a group tampers with the lineup... the chemistry changes, doesn't it? It was certainly a lot more pleasant without Huw around, but it was his edge that gave the group its edge. Maybe these difficult people should be tolerated. Put them in a different hotel; make them ride in a separate bus. But those were our two big mistakes. I can see it all now! I couldn't at the time."

Cutting from Hartbeat #21
Courtesy of the Records Facebook page:
A lawsuit brought by the Records against manager Peter Scarbrow (apparently some of the group's equipment, including Wicks' Gibson guitar, decided to stay in the US and hang out with another Scarbrow-managed band; Birch would write "Not So Much the Time" in his honor) took up the remainder of 1980. "We won," says Birch, "but it finished us."

Only if you don't count Music On Both Sides. And given its complete lack of promotion and limited distribution through Jem, many Records' fans didn't count it simply because they didn't know it existed.

Produced by Birch (although the liner notes don't make it clear, Birch chose not to play drums as well; Bobby Irwin, at the time the drummer for the Sinceros, plays throughout), the band's third LP was a confused and half-hearted affair. Recorded in early '81, but not released until a year later (by which time Birch and Wicks had parted company) Music On Both Sides finds Birch still trying to keep pace with the latest trend - new wave with a hint of European techno-pop. "I was listening to a lot of Kraftwerk," he says tellingly.

No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The
Great Pub Rock Revolution - first
 published in 2000 by Virgin Books
The Trouser Press review states that the LP "sounds like Rubber Soul with a crappy rock singer." Which isn't entirely true. Sometimes it sounds like the Cars with a crappy rock singer ("Heather and Hell"); sometimes it sounds like Big Country with a crappy rock singer ("Selfish Love"); and sometimes it sounds like early U2 with a crappy rock singer ("Clown Around Town" and "King of Kings").

As Birch's tour diary noted, when the second US tour came to its abrupt end, Jude Cole whose exuberant guitar playing and McCartney-like vocals (it's Cole who sings lead on "Hearts in Her Eyes" and "I Don't Remember Your Name") had fit Crashes perfectly, opted to return to LA. Dave Whelan, vaguely described as "a South London boy who was playing in semi-pro bands," would replace Cole on guitar for Music On Both Sides. And whether it was a bow to record company pressure or Wicks suffering from what he calls "a crisis of confidence," blaming himself for the band's lack of success ("I was always nervous about getting up and singing," he admits. "I just felt like I wasn't good enough."), the third LP would sport a five-piece lineup featuring frontman Chris Gent.

And a frontman - although what they had in mind probably wasn't "a crappy rock singer" - went against the very foundation of the Records. "Getting a frontman was a desperate move," concedes Birch, "a last-ditch attempt at survival."

As far back as their first Melody Maker feature, Birch had told Harry Doherty: "I'm really frightened of frontmen. I don't like them at all... We just want a four-piece group, really. I like the number four. Four guys. It feels like a group. Five is a bit ungainly, isn't it?" In our interview, Birch again emphasized: "We wanted to be the Beatles, copy the whole thing. Three guys across the front with guitars. That was the shape we wanted. It was a concept from the start. In my imagination it was like the Clash meets the Beatles. I wanted four guys!"

One almost feels sorry for Gent. The poor guy probably had no idea what he was walking into. Surprisingly, neither Birch or Wicks seem to know much about Gent's history or how he came to be the Records lead singer. "Chris had been in a group called the Autographs, I think," says Birch. "I think Phil Brown knew Chris," guesses Wicks.

Rotate - John Wicks and the Records
CD released by Kool Kat Musik (2007)
And perhaps it's unfair to call Gent a crappy rock singer when there's so much not right about the third album. It could have been the material: "I don't feel too great about Music On Both Sides," Birch confesses. "If you listen to the lyrics, there's a general pissed-off quality to it and not much humor." Or the tunes: "U2 were really starting to happen," says Wicks. "Everybody was talking about U2. So, I started messing around with this new wave idea. I felt we were being modern. What we should have done was stuck to what we were." Or it might even have been Birch's production. "After the Crashes debacle I thought I could make a good record," states Birch, "although I now accept that it wasn't that great." Wicks helpfully adds, "The production was awful. It was the worst sounding record of all of them."

"Imitation Jewellery," which sounds like a generic, semi-synth Euro pop band with a crappy rock singer, would be the only 45 release, and then only in the UK, where it would "flop." Two pub gigs would quietly herald the album's release. "I seem to remember they were a disaster," says Birch, recalling the last shows.

"We did one gig that was unannounced, in a basement somewhere," remembers Wicks. "We started to play and Dave Whelan was so wound up to show us what he could do, he overdid it to make sure it went across. He started working like a clockwork dummy - just going berserk! And Chris was at the front jumping up and down all the time, to the point where it was like, 'Please stand still!' Will and I were horrified! Then we played the Greyhound. It's a fairly sizeable club and it was packed. We played really powerfully that night. We were all playing really well. I was thinking we were AC/DC. But I looked at Will and he looked at me... We never said anything, but we knew - it was all over. This is rock; this is not the Records. And that was the end of the band. We never did another gig."

Wicks would eventually move to the US and form a new version of the Records. He's currently putting the finishing touches on Rotate, a new CD featuring songs recorded between 1991-2004. Birch went on to produce albums for Billy Bremner, the Long Ryders and Dr. Feelgood, as well as becoming a noted rock 'n' roll historian. His book, No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revolution (Virgin Books), has recently been reprinted.