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Monday, October 13, 2008

Red London - Interview - Part 1 - Gaz Stoker

Part I : Gaz Stoker
Did Red London stem from the Rebels? What is the rough Red London family tree?
No....The Rebels were the first ever punk band to form in Sunderland in 1977. I was the guitarist and main songwriter. At that time I was 16 years old and still at school. We lasted a couple of years and we got quite well known locally and were a big influence on a lot of bands who followed including Red Alert, Red London and Leatherface.
Red Alert actually took their name from a Rebels song of the same name and that song was also recorded by Red London on the first album.
My brother (Kid Stoker) formed a band called Red London and I went to a few of the early gigs. After the Rebels split up I was asked if I wanted to play bass for Red London. What happened was, the original bass player pulled out of a gig they really wanted to play and they didn’t want to cancel it so they asked me to stand in for him. I’d never played bass before but I learnt the songs and did the gig. They must have been impressed because they asked me to stay! This was in 1982 and the year after we signed to razor records
I’ve often wondered just how “Red” were Red London. Did you support left wing groups as the Redskins did with the Socialist Worker's Party, etc? What are your views on politics in music, be it punk or any other genre?
When Red London started I was still in the Rebels and they asked me to suggest a name for the band. I knew Red London was the b side of a Sham 69 song and I thought it sounded like a good name for a band so that’s what I suggested and they took that name. So originally the Red in the title wasn’t really significant. We’ve always been working class and obviously left wing so this came across more and more in the music. As for politics in music…. I think it’s o.k. as long as it’s not extreme and you’re not shoving your views down peoples throats. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of social comment. A lot of bands that really mean something to people sing about real life, social injustice etc and that can be a good thing. It becomes more than just a song and gets people thinking and can unite common causes. This is nothing new, it goes back a long time, long before punk. I admire people like Bob Dylan who stood up for what he believed in during the 60’s
We never supported the Redskins but I met them at a gig in Sunderland and they invited me to a television show they were recording in Newcastle the next day. The show was called the Tube and I went along on their guest list. They were a really talented band.
Early on didn’t the band play numerous benefit gigs for miners as the miners strikes of the early 80’s were in full swing then?
Yes, we played a lot of miners benefit gigs in the 80’s. At that time there was only 2 main ways of employment in Sunderland, one was the shipyards (years ago when Sunderland was a town it was the biggest shipbuilding town in the world) and the other was the coal mines. When the miners went on strike it lasted for nearly a year and broke up whole communities. A lot of our friends were miners so we were happy to play as many benefit gigs as we could to support them.
You’ve shared members with Red Alert, played gigs with Red Alert and got started about the same time as Red Alert and came from the same area. Did people initially write the band off as a Red Alert offshoot even though on balance the bands are both quite different.
No, both bands started within a year of each other and were totally different. We didn’t share members until years later! Red London had Patty Smith as singer and Red Alert had his brother Steve Smith as singer so you can imagine the rivalry!
Both bands inspired each other and were always trying to out do each other but it remained friendly. Years later Red London were going on a European tour and we invited Red Alert along on to the tour. After that we helped each other out as much as possible, that’s how we ended up sharing members a few years down the line
When you released your first EP and album, it was neither Oi nor Discharge/GBH style punk, which I think of as the prevailing sounds in the UK at the time.
Did you feel you were swimming against the current by putting out a melodic punk LP with nods to folk, melody, even a bit of pop at the time? How was"This Is England" received?

The thing was, we were all influenced by the original punk bands such as Chelsea, The Clash, The Ruts, The Jam, The Vibrators and Stiff Little Fingers. All those bands were really melodic so that’s the way we thought punk should be played (and still do!)By the time we got to release records the punk scene and punk sound had started to change (not for the better) the so called second and third wave of punk had came along. Some of it was good but some of it turned into a totally unmelodic mess, where songs got faster and faster and the vocals were just shouting. That’s not what real punk was about, (how can you get a message across when no one can understand you) so we stuck with what we believed in. All the original punk bands were still releasing great tuneful records so we were in good company.The album “This is England” came out in 1984 and it was received really well. We got a five start review in “Sounds” which was the best music paper around at the time, and the following year we started our first tour of what was to become a lot of touring all around Europe
Max Muir drummed on T.I.E as opposed to Raish Carter, who drummed on your first 7"...but then Raish was back for your second EP "Pride & Passion" What was the story behind that?
And what became of Max?

When we signed to Razor records it was for a single ( we did an E.P.) and they had an option for an album if the single sold well. They decided to take up their option but our drummer Raish had been sent to jail for 18 months for assault and robbery. The song “Guitars and Crime” on the first album is about Raish. We didn’t tell the record company we didn’t have a drummer for obvious reasons, so we needed a drummer fast. A lad called Max Muir used to play drums in the next room to us where we used to rehearse. He wasn’t in a band but just set up a drum kit and rehearsed on his own. He was a student who wasn’t from Sunderland and was totally different to us but seemed like an obvious choice for us as we needed a drummer to learn the songs straight away. He did the album and a few gigs but then graduated and moved to a different part of the country to take up some job. We never heard from him again! As I said, he was totally different to us and someone who we didn’t even regard as a friend so it was no loss.
A French record label asked us to record an E.P. for them just after Patty (the singer) had left due to his then girlfriend not being happy with him being in a band and going on tour etc. Basically she didn’t trust him and was always trying to get him to leave the band and he finally gave in (this was to be a recurring theme over a number of years)
Anyway, we had a full time drummer (Matty Forster, ex Red Alert) who stayed with us for 14 years! But we now didn’t have a singer just as Raish was released from prison (after serving around half his sentence) He wanted to re-join the band on drums but we told him we were happy with Matty who happened to be 10 times better than Raish on drums anyway, so we gave him a chance on vocals. He sounded o.k. but looking back he tried to copy Patty's vocals but he did the E.P. with us and it sounded o.k.Believe it or not he got jailed again not long after this, so we said that’s the end of Raish being in Red London. He had 2 chances and blew them both! He’s a good friend but his own worst enemy at times!
Unless I'm mistaken, your first vocalist Patty Smith left the band to get married, but later rejoined after his marriage didn't work out? Did that feel like a massive setback at the time?
As I said in the previous question, Patty would fall in love at the drop of a hat. He didn’t actually get married until years later but he would have a constant battle with different girlfriends and he was in and out the band a few times until we said we can’t keep going on like this. A few times it happened at really bad moments just when the band was making progress so it was a setback and it became a bit harder to let him back in, as we sort of knew it was going to happen again despite his reassurances.

Where did you find Marty Clark who replaced Patty? And was that a difficult transition, both sound and image-wise? It seems Clark brought in a bit more "rock" to the band both in terms of sound, singing and hairstyle, although perhaps this was a natural progression for the band anyway? (I have no good images of Marty who,though an excellent singer, will never be thought of as a fashion icon, as he sported a rather alarming series of mullets, bolo ties and vests during his tenure with the band).
We’d known Marty Clark for years. He works on the oil rigs and spends 2 weeks of every month away on the rigs. We used to bump into him now and again at various bars etc. A new music venue called The Kazbah opened up really close to our local bar in the late eighties and we started to make it a bit of a local for all the lads. We started seeing a lot more of Marty along with Steve Smith and Tony Van from Red Alert. We were in that bar a lot! When we needed a singer then it was obvious who we should ask so we asked Marty. He’d been in a few bands before but couldn’t really commit with his job but we told him we’d work tours around him coming back from the oil rigs so he decided to give it a go. Marty is only a year older than me but he never really got into punk. I don’t think he understood it, to be honest! He was more Rock and blues influenced. We always liked rock music but punk was our thing. Anyway we started writing new songs and with Marty's influence and natural progression we started getting more rocky and less punk. Marty was (and still is) a great singer and we had some great times together.

Why did Marty leave and what became of him?

It got to the point where he couldn’t be available for certain tours and in the end we needed to keep gigging and recording.
Even rehearsing new songs got to be a problem because he spent so much time on the oil rigs.He’s still on the oil rigs and we see him now and again and are still best of mates.
Our local bar used to be a bar called “The Howard” in Sunderland and nearly every year around christmas we’d get the likes of Tony Van (guitar), Kid (guitar), me (bass), Matty Forster (drums) or Nobby (Red Alert, drums) and Marty on vocals and do an hour of cover songs by the likes of the Stones, Small Faces, Black Crowes, The Who etc.
One year Mick Geggus and Jeff (Stinky) Turner were up in Sunderland staying with Tony and they came down for the gig. Mick even got up and played 3 songs with us. It was great! We’ve also had Patty getting up on a few songs and Jammy from the Rebels along side a few others over the years. It was always a great party atmosphere.
We don’t do it so much now but it was a sort of tradition for a good few years.
It seems like you guys did well enough in England but were very popular in France and Germany, how do you account for this?

We got asked to do a tour in France in 1985 a year after the first album came out in 1984 so we thought we’d try it out. It was great, a real eye opener. Then we got asked to record for a French label then a different French label and things started getting really good for us over there. After that we started to tour Germany and that was even better! We started to record for german labels and we loved touring so that seemed to work for us. We still played in England but the gigs and punk scene seemed so much better in Germany at that time so we were happy to keep touring Europe and playing the occasional gig in England.

The Clash's last single was the same title and same theme as your first album, which proceeded it.Did you ever get in touch with them and let them know
they'd--perhaps inadvertently--cribbed your idea?

No, we were too much in awe of the Clash to even bring it up. A lot of people commented on the titles being the same etc but we put it down to co-incidence.

12) How did you end up on two French labels for your mid-period material, e.g. "Pride" and "Outlaws"?

We were asked to tour France in the early days and seemed to make a good impression so the record offers followed on from that. The French labels seemed to know what they were doing and we loved the independence of each deal so we went for it.

It's basically self-explanatory, but what are the details of the story behind "The Day They tore the old school down"?

The first school me and Kid ever went to was called “Stansfield Street ”
some years later the school closed and then reopened as a sort of college. This stayed open for a few years and then it closed again but the building still stood for a long time just boarded up. Then one day without warning the bulldozers moved in and demolished the whole building. It was sort of an end of an era and Kid wrote the song not only about the school but about change and I think he really captured what we felt like at the time. The lyrics are really good and really sad in a way.

The LP "Tumbling Dice" had a very polished sound to it. Did you ever feel that you might be getting too "slick" to be considered punk, or that you were losing touch with the original energy?

That’s a really good question. At the time we were becoming better musicians so we wanted to do better produced albums so we thought we were doing the right thing. We were never afraid to try something different but now we were starting to understand how to record more polished albums. It wasn’t until a few years later that we thought “hang on a minute, this is straying too far away from what we were meant to be” We later tried to re-address the balance by booking Frankie Stubbs (of Leatherface) studio in Sunderland, which was cheap and basic. We got Frankie to produce and got back to basics on the “Days Like These” album.
Your cover of Chelsea's "Trouble Is The Day" blows the original out of the water. Did Gene October (Chelsea vocalist) ever call you up and say "Fuck you guys"? While we're on this topic, did you ever play with any of your inspirations?

We’ve always loved Chelsea. I personally think they are the most underrated punk band of all time! We were playing a punk festival years ago (before we’d recorded “Trouble is the Day” ) but we still played it in the live set. Anyway, before we played Gene October came into our dressing room and we were over the moon to meet him and got some photos took etc. (Marty didn’t even know who he was until we told him!) He didn’t know we played that song until we went onstage to play the live set and it blew him away! He came backstage again afterwards and told us he thought it was a great version.
When we came to recording “Trouble is the Day” we didn’t know the words so we played the original over and over again and wrote down what we thought he was singing. The one line we weren’t sure about was the very first line.
Years later when I was playing bass for Red Alert on a German tour, Chelsea were playing the same venue on one of the dates. I loved it, as I got to play for Red Alert and then got to watch Chelsea at the same show. Later on, I told Gene October that Red London had recorded “Trouble is the Day” and asked him what the first line of the song was? Needless to say it was totally different to what Marty had sang on the album! Gene told me we should of contacted him for the lyrics and he asked for a copy of the album. I don’t think we ever got around to sending him one though.
We’ve played with a few of our inspirations and sometimes it’s great and other times it’s a bit of a shitter when you find out what some of them are really like!

Although you've sometimes been described as a skinhead band--with all the baggage that brings--it's hard for me to categorize the group in with the likes of the 4-Skins,
Last Resort etc. Thoughts on this matter?

We were really a punk group but some of us liked the skinhead fashion and were influenced by it. It’s always been close to my heart because I can actually remember when skinheads first came out. I was only at junior school but the skinhead style of clothes had a massive influence on me. It was the first cult that I became aware of and I became a very young skinhead myself. Fast forward to 1977 and a lot of punks and skins followed punk bands (the in fighting between punks and skins seemed to come later) When the so called second wave of punk/New wave came out followed closely by Oi then is seemed that skins and punks got divided, as if you had to be one or the other and couldn’t mix, which is ridiculous. A lot of skin bands are dodgy but by no means all of them. Look at the Angelic Upstarts who are a punk band but attracted a big skin following when Mensi started wearing skin gear. I don’t think you can label Red London as a skin band because we have very little in common with 4 Skins, Last Resort etc, As I said we were always a punk band but we’ll always have a soft spot for real skinheads, not the bonehead arseholes who fucked the whole movement up.
Back to TD for a moment. How many TD tattoos have you seen? I still kick around the idea of getting one myself!

The first time I saw someone with the “Tumbling Dice” tattoo was in Germany at a Red London gig when this skinhead showed me his arm. It looked really good and we took a photo of it and years later it ended up as one of the many small photos on the “Days Like These” album cover. It’s really hard to make a tattoo of a guitar look right but whoever did his tattoo must have been pretty good. We actually got the idea for the Tumbling Dice guitar/heart logo from a Tom Petty album and we asked an artist friend of ours to incorporate the dice and make it look like a tattoo. The guitar on that cover is Tony Van Fraters Kramer guitar. I’ve actually got the “Once Upon a Generation” album logo tattooed on my arm!

What was it like working with Frankie on the "Days" LP? Were you guys Leatherface fans?

It was great working with Frankie. We wanted to get back to basics on the “Days Like These” album so we thought it would be a good idea to book Frankies studio in Sunderland which was only a 16 track studio and very limited technically. The idea was, let's get back to the songs and the spirit of the songs rather than over producing things. We wanted to sound like a punk band again!
During the course of the recording, Frankie told me he was a big fan of The Rebels and was actually at the “Concert in Consett” where the full scale riot kicked off. I didn’t actually know him very well in 1977 - 1978 so I didn’t know he was there. He told me he was really influenced by the Rebels and “Suicide” (first Rebels single) was one of the first songs he learned to play on guitar. I was really surprised but happy to hear that. Frankie is a good friend and a great lad.

You've also worked with Fred Purser who was in both Penetration and The Tygers of Pan Tang? Did you ever tease him about his NWOBHM days?

Fred Purser is the best studio engineer/producer we’ve ever heard. We really took the piss out of him about Tygers of Pan Tang but he laughed along with us and told us some funny stories. We really liked Penetration so we asked him more serious questions about them but still wound him up saying he must have been shagging Pauline (the lead singer) he always denied it but even if he did, I don’t think he’d dare tell us! It’s great to work with Fred and The Dipsomaniacs will be recording the first album there.

The riot that followed The Rebels gig in Consett. Omit nothing!

The Rebels booked a gig in Consett (a former steel town 20 miles away from Sunderland) in 1978 and this town has quite a big following for Newcastle United football team (Sunderlands deadly rivals) there was a lot of our friends wanting to go to the gig so we hired a 45 seat coach and driver and crammed about 60 people on the coach and took a few more with the band in the van. Even before The Rebels started playing there was a few lads with us that began chanting Sunderland football songs which was met with verbal abuse from the mostly hostile Newcastle supporters in the pub. The Rebels started playing and must have been 8 or 9 songs into the set when unknown to us someone had thrown a beer glass over to a group of Newcastle fans and one of them got hit in the eye by he glass. It was pretty dark so most people were unaware what had happened but then the manager of the pub stopped us playing and turned all the lights on. This was probably the worst thing he could of done because all hell broke loose and it became a mass brawl. Even the band were fighting! There was glasses flying everywhere and it seemed like the whole pub wanted to kill the Sunderland lads. Loads of people got hurt on both sides and it really was scary.
Don’t forget the average age of the Rebels was 17. It was the only time I’ve ever been happy to see the cops arrive! The police broke up the last of the fights and stopped further trouble. After the police took a few statements from people in the pub they sent a few police vans to intercept the coach which was by now heading back to Sunderland. The cops got on the coach and arrested the lad that had thrown the glass to start everything off. He ended up going to Borstal (a youth version of jail) for about 9 months.
After we had packed our amps and guitars away we had to take a few people to the local hospital (just a few miles from the gig) in the van. A few of our friends were bleeding and need a few stitches but while we were waiting for them to be treated a load of Newcastle fans had come for treatment as well and the whole thing nearly kicked off again in the hospital waiting room. The lad who had been hit by the first glass was brought out on a stretcher and transferred to Newcastle hospital because his injuries were so serious. We were told he might lose an eye but thankfully he didn’t, and he made a good recovery. The next day the whole band were arrested and taken to the police station. They wanted to charge us with inciting a riot but we told then we didn’t even know what was going on until the manager stopped us playing and turned the lights on. They must of believed us because they didn’t charge us with anything but warned us they would be keeping an eye on us from now on!
Before that gig, Jammy (the bass player) told me he was under pressure from his girlfriend to leave the band so I asked him what he was going to do and he said “Let’s see how it goes tonight” talk about famous last words!
To rub salt into Jammy'swounds he had lent an amp from a friend for that gig and when the beer glasses were flying around a full glass landed on top of the amp and the valves blew up! He had to pay for the amp to be fixed. In case your wondering….. Yes, he did leave the band.

Strangest gig? Best gig? Worst?

There’s been a few strange gigs over the years, I remember one in Germany that was in some underground club that used to be a gay club. There was tunnels leading everywhere and while we were doing the soundcheck some really rich looking snobby man and woman came in to complain about the volume, and this was only the sound check! We also played in a small field in France and slept in a barn afterwards and got bit to fuck from the insects living there. It was really bizarre. As for best gig, there’s been loads of great ones and Germany was probably the country where a lot of them happened. There used to be a club in Berlin called the K.O.B. club and we had some brilliant gigs in there.

What's the story and plans for your new band The Dipsomaniacs?

The lads in the Dipsomaniacs are made up from ex and current members of Angelic Upstarts, Red Alert, Red London, Leatherface, The Rebels and The Pits, in fact the whole of the Angelic Upstarts current line up (apart from Mensi) are The Dipsomaniacs! The only difference from the Angelic Upstarts current line up and The Dipsomaniacs is the fact that Steve Smith (Red Alert singer) is the singer for The Dipsomaniacs and Mensi is the singer for the Upstarts.
It got to the point where Mensi will only do very limited gigs so instead of hanging around only playing a gig every few months we decided to branch out and get our own band together and The Dipsomaniacs is the result. Dickie Hammond (one of the guitarists) thought it was a very apt name for us. We found out there’s a band of the same name in New Jersey but we’ve got a star in the logo and I don’t think too many people will get us confused! I hope people will check out the myspace site
You've played now with RA, RL, The Rebels, TheUpstarts and probably some more I don't know about.Have you ever gotten confused and started playing "I'm
an Upstart" when you were supposed to be playing "Downtown Riot"?

It does get confusing at times trying to remember all the songs! Over the years I’ve only ever played in 5 bands though. The 4 you mention above and now The Dipsomaniacs. A few times Red London and Red Alert toured Germany together and I had to play bass for both bands and that was really hard. I used to joke that one plectrum knew the Red Alert songs and the other knew the Red London songs, maybe it was true!

You and many of your bandmates and friends are middle aged now with families. Advice for how old punks age gracefully?

I think it’s all about not losing the spirit you had when you were young. Most people I know in the punk scene are great lads but couldn’t be old and respectable if they tried. To a certain extent life is what you make it. One of The Dipsomaniacs songs called “All of Us” is about the spirit I’m talking about.

When, Where and Why did Red London break up?

Kid had married a German lass he met on one of the Red London tours and went to live in Germany for a while (about 3 years) This made it really hard to function as a band but we used to collect him from Bremen (the German town he lived in) in the tour van and tour Germany before dropping him off again! We even recorded the “Once Upon a Generation” album in Germany. On the last tour we did, we played all the gigs except one in Germany and recorded the “Live in Leipzig” album on one of the dates. The last gig of that tour was in Paris, France and it was really fitting that we should play the last ever Red London gig in France, the first country we ever played outside of England. Someone did a video of the gig and sent it to me, which was the icing on the cake!
Kid came back to England but settled about 100 miles away from the rest of the band so it was still difficult to continue, so we more or less knew that was the end of the band without anybody actually saying anything! Which I thought was great. Nobody left the band but we all knew. As the saying goes…Old soldiers never die, they just fade away!

On the tombstone of Red London in the rock graveyard, what does the epitaph read?

This is not so much just for Red London but it’s for the lads who have gone on to play for the likes of Red Alert, Angelic Upstarts, The Rebels etc.
Sticks Warrington or Wora as we know him, (He played for The Rebels then Angelic Upstarts and then the Cockney Rejects) once said something to me years ago that really stuck in my mind. We were all from around the Roker area in Sunderland and he was reflecting on the things that we’d done between us and he said “Not bad for five raggy-arsed lads from Roker”
I think that sums it up because between us we’ve done practically everything we ever wanted to do and a whole lot more!

And finally....closing comments and last orders!

It’s been great doing this interview. It’s really brought back some great memories. We’ve had some amazing times and met some great lads on the road. Some who have become life long friends and if anybody asks “Would you do it all again”? Guess what the answer would be?



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