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Monday, October 13, 2008

Red London - Interview - Part 2 - Kid Stoker

Part II: Kid Stoker
Did Red London stem from The Rebels? What is the rough RL family tree?
 The Rebels were Sunderland’s first punk band. Sunderland happens to be my hometown. Gaz Stoker, the founder of the Rebels, happens to be my elder brother. Being just a young kid into music I naturally followed my brother’s band. It was a pretty good musical education, constantly watching the band play live, picking up guitar tricks, finding out how they wrote original songs, being at rehearsals, being one of the first to listen to their demo recordings, and so on.By the time I left school I felt I was ready to start my own band. In 1978,
at the age of sixteen, I formed a band called The Street Boys. Pretty quickly we were up and running and playing local gigs. But we were living out the lyrics to the Clash song Garageland, you know, “five guitar players and one guitar.” By early 1979 we found a new singer called Patty Smith and changed our name to Red London. For the next ten months we gigged all over the city and built up a good little following (including a very young punk fan called Steve Smith, who happened to be Patty’s younger brother). We even recorded a demo (now sadly lost). But by early 1980 we had split-up.I then had a spell in Red Alert, invited to join by none other than Steve Smith, the younger brother of Patty who used to follow Red London. I mentioned that the demo we recorded in 1979 has been lost, so there is no real memento of what Red London sounded like during that period. However, the Red Alert song Sell Out, as found on the Border Guards EP, is an old 1979 Red London song. It was one of the earliest songs I wrote. Perhaps that song gives an idea of what the first Red London sounded like. For a number of reasons, but largely down to the fact I have to be the chief songwriter in any band, I left Red Alert. (Tony Van Frater was the main guitarist in Red Alert.)By now I was totally addicted to music and being in a band. Meeting up with Patty Smith again we decided to reform Red London. This was 1981, a year that saw the end of The Rebels. Gaz was pretty down with the finish of his band and was just drifting for a while and wondering what to do next. We quickly offered him the opportunity to join Red London. He accepted, though he did have to switch from lead guitar to bass.
I've always wondered how "Red" were Red London? Did you support left-wing groups like the Redskins with the Socialist Workers Party, etc. ? What are your views on politics in music, be it punk or whatever?
I’ve always been a socialist. But back in the band’s formative years I was a teenage socialist, and you know how it is when you’re young, you’ve got optimism by the bucketful, the kind of optimism that believes you can write a three-minute punk song and governments will fall. I am still a socialist. I still believe politics and music can mix, though I realised long ago that three-minute songs do not bring about political revolutions. However, I still have enough optimism to believe a simple song can have a profound effect on the individual listener.
 Early on, didn't the band play numerous benefit gigs for Miners as the strikes of the early '80's were in full swing at that time?
The north of England is a traditional working class area of the country. Historically, the industrial revolution started in the north of England. Our hometown Sunderland, in the northeast, played its part in that industrial revolution. As well as supporting a huge coal mine, Sunderland also had a large shipbuilding industry, a tradition that went back centuries. With the election of the Conservative party in 1979, these traditional industries, in fact an entire way of working life came under attack. The Conservative government unofficially declared political and economic war on the north, culminating in the 1984 Miners Strike, the last great resistance of the English working class. Being working class lads from the north, the band just had to take sides and join the fight. It was as simple and as straightforward as that.
You've shared members with Red Alert, gigged with Red Alert, got started about the same time as Red Alert and come from the same area. Did people initially write the band off as a RA offshoot even though on the balance the bands are both quite different?
Not many people realise it but Red London actually pre-date Red Alert. Cast Iron Smith himself used to follow the band, always down the front-row, slam dancing away.  But both the Reds learned so much from The Rebels (Red Alert even took their name from a Rebels song).
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?
Although I appreciated Oi, I always felt GBH held down the punk lid while Discharge fired the last nails into the punk coffin. I instead believed melodies and loud guitars could go together. I saw Red London as having the political songbook of the Clash, the live energy of early Slade, the anger of a young Paul Weller, the alcohol friendship of the early Faces, the force of a mid 60s Who, and all mixed with loud punk guitars.  
Max Muir drummed on "This Is England" as opposed to Raish Carter. But Raish was back for your second EP, "Pride & Passion" What was the story behind that? And what became of Max?
You’ve got to realise that in those days Raish Carter was the world’s most unlucky and incompetent criminal. Don’t get me wrong, we were once as close as brothers, but by Christ, could he not keep out of trouble. We’d go out drinking and by the end of the night he’d end up in a police cell, either by being caught drunkenly pissing up a public wall, or mouthing off to a copper, usually both. He was also easily led astray. One time, drunk in a pub, he was persuaded by a local low-life to rob an innocent late-night drinker at knifepoint. Only they didn’t have a knife, so they used a metal comb! The victim gave a brilliant description of his attackers - because he happened to know them! How Raish failed to spot that only he can answer. It got worse. By the time it got to court on a serious robbery charge, Raish had forgotten to inform his lawyer the so-called knife was in fact a metal comb! He ended up serving a year in prison.About two weeks before our first record was released (the Sten Guns in Sunderland EP) Raish got banged up for three months for failing to pay his mounting fines for getting caught pissing up public walls and insulting the police. Talk about bad timing. We couldn’t even promote the record through gigs without a drummer. We decided to stand by him but when he got released we told him it if happens again then he would be out the band for good. A few weeks before we got the go-ahead to record our first LP Raish got banged up again.That’s how Max got the gig. He was a very eccentric character. He used to practice on his own in the next rehearsal room to us. Anyway, we approached him and asked if he wanted to record an album with us. He jumped at the chance. But it didn’t last for his girlfriend was a modern-day Yoko Ono who accompanied him everywhere. Despite the fact Max was hardly a handsome man, she was convinced women were waiting to throw themselves at his feet should she not be around to fend them off. Max was also the only true stranger we had in the band. He came from outside the city. By the end of 1984 Max and his girlfriend moved away from Sunderland. Unfortunately we never kept in touch. Fast forward to the recording of the Pride & Passion EP and this time it’s Patty Smith who has found himself a Yoko Ono girlfriend. She basically told him it was her or the band. He chose her. Big mistake. So anyway, word is out Red London has lost their singer, and the news reaches Raish Carter who happens to be outside prison. So he convinced us he could not only stay out of trouble but also cut it as a singer. Well, he proved to be okay as a singer but he certainly couldn’t keep his word about not going back to prison. Within a year he was back in the nick.
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?
He left the band through a girl but they didn’t even end up married. In fact they split-up within a year or so.  At the time it did feel like a massive setback but the fact the remaining members were determined to carry on gave us the energy to do just that. By the time Patty Smith rejoined the band he was actually married to another girl, unfortunately she was yet another Yoko Ono. Tensions got to breaking point around the recording of the Once Upon a Generation album in Germany. She just sat and moped in the studio each and every day and every night seemed to have an argument with Patty. We all got the feeling it would be Patty’s last recording with the band. And that paved the way for the one and only Steve Cast Iron Smith to come in as our final singer…but that is another story.
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).
Marty Clark was a long-time friend. I’d known him since junior school, well before I even met Patty and Steve Smith. He also turned out to be a musician, in fact he was the first person I knew who owned a guitar. I remember, as a very young kid in 1972, standing on his doorstep listening to him play the intro to Alice Cooper’s Schools Out on one string. In many ways Marty was never a true punk. He loved the Stones more than the Pistols. But at that time it felt okay to have him in the band. Because he was a fucking great singer it meant we could progress in more ‘rock’ ways. Though we never got used to his dopey fucking haircut.
Why did Marty leave and what become of him?
Marty was in the band the best part of ten years and I guess he just felt enough was enough, time to move on, settle down, that sort of thing. Surprisingly for Red London, Marty didn’t leave the band because he had a Yoko Ono girlfriend. 
It seems like you guys did well enough in England, but were very popular in France and Germany, how do you account for this?
The European music scene, unlike the English, is not obsessed with fashion and what’s in and what’s not. By early as 1978 the New Musical Express, the then bible of the music scene, was pronouncing punk dead. And most people fell for it. So within a year it was considered un-cool to like punk. Even when Oi came along, the N.M.E. first ignored it then attacked it. Punk in England had nowhere to go but underground. But in Europe music fans don’t have this slave obsession with what’s considered to be ‘in’. And also a lot of punks and skins felt they missed out on the original punk explosion, felt it didn’t really get round to playing down their part of the European world. To many of them punk in the 1980s still felt new and exciting.

Red London: Songs from the Street. Kid talks about a few of my personal favorite RL songs.
Revolution Times
The music to Revolution Times came about through my attempt to steal the tune from The Beatles song Something. I love that song, especially the mini run down, you know where it goes, ‘Something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover,’ then it’s BAM BAM, ‘Something in the way she…’ and so on.  I just love that BAM BAM bit. So I attempted to work out the chords, only open chords are not going to work that well with a punk fuzz guitar. So I decided to switch to the obvious Steve Jones bar chords and speeded everything up for good measure. By then I realised it sounded nothing like The Beatles Something, instead it was a neat original-sounding punk song.
This is England
This is England became the band’s live anthem, always to be played as the last song on all gig nights. It always worked as a great live song.But we never really liked the first studio recording of the song. It was a track on our very first record, the Sten Guns in Sunderland EP. This was back in 1983. We were only kids and pretty niave in many ways. We were just ushered into this big London recording studio and told to get on with it. We played our hearts out, but in terms of the right sound and production we felt we had lost it. It was annoying because we knew the tracks from the first EP worked live, especially This is England. Nine years later our (then) label Released Emotions Records suggested we do something to mark the up-coming tenth anniversary of the band, an album containing re-recordings of some of our earlier work and also doing cover songs that actually inspired us to pick up guitars in the first place. We readily agreed to this proposal because not only would it be fun recording the odd Clash or Chelsea song, but also to finally give songs like This is England the production values they deserved. We also decided to do the recording totally live in the studio, like a punk version of Let It Be. So a little later we arrived at one of our favourite recording studios, set up the group equipment, then set the studio levels and just played totally live, without any overdubs. And it worked a fucking treat. The subsequent album Live Sessions: A Look Back In Anger was a labour of love that captured the spirit of Red London. However, just one tiny bit of criticism. The original recording session went on far longer than was needed and so was trimmed before release. Unfortunately, our record label or the pressing plant engineer cut out all the banter in-between the songs. On the original tapes you could hear the amps humming in the background between takes, the distinctive sound of beer cans opening and the best bit of all, the lads from the group cracking jokes and clearly having a ball. But it was all cleaned up. Still, I shouldn’t be too pedantic; after all we had finally proven those early songs do work on record.
Soul Train
Soul Train was an attack on the puppet music groups knocking out cheap plastic dance crap. What with modern horror shows like X Factor, it’s become even worse. We always wanted a real soul horn section playing on the record, but there was no way our cheapskate (first record) label Razor would put up any extra money for that kind of musical thing.
Calling Out The Cavalry
This came about through Red London’s singer Patty Smith. He was great for coming out with these one-liners that you just knew would make a great song title.
48 Reasons
48 Reasons was the very first love song I wrote. Personally, I think it’s a fucking absolute classic. It’s certainly the most complete song I ever came up with.
It’s up to you
Probably my best lyrics to any Red London song. Intelligent and passionate words but still leaving the listener to make their own mind up. And of course, played in the style of The Who, it is a gift of a song for any drummer.
The Goodbye girl
My wife is German. So in the beginning of our courtship our goodbyes were pretty emotional, there was after all a sizable landmass, to say nothing of a sea, between us. And she was never any good at saying goodbye, the tears would just well up before she would quickly turn and …well, just run! I always found that quite endearing. The song just followed.
The Day They Tore The Old School Down
I can remember when I was no more than six-years-old walking with my father through our hometown and he pointed something out to me, like a strip of wasteland, and he told me there was once a school on that site – his old school.  And observations like that continued as I was growing up but I suppose by the time I was in my teens I was just smiling at him and thinking yeah, yeah, whatever you say dad, you sound just like them old timers you see in movies, you know the ones, ‘I remember when all this here city was nothing but fields.’ I was young and so the world itself seemed young. And yet, by the time I reached my mid-twenties, that young world I knew began to get torn down. Today, so much of my childhood world has disappeared. Whole streets have been bulldozed, once familiar landmarks have been replaced, riversides transformed, and of course this destruction included my old school. It was a grand red brick school, first built in the early 1900s and generation after generation of kids had passed through its school gates.  I actually wrote The Day They Tore The Old School Down at the still young age of 26, but by then I knew exactly what my father meant when he had first pointed out that strip of wasteland twenty years previously.



Blogger John Liedown said...

I knew you could wtite Sascha but fuck me! When's the rest of the book coming out mate! Brilliant stuff. Great anecdotes as well. I've always been a massive Upstarts' and during the 90's Leatherface fan as well, so it's great to hear some of this stuff. Fairplay to the lads for a great interview. Came across their first Sounds interview the other day in me box of tricks. (similar to the Crux half page spread)which i'll post soon. Excellent work. Anything else you've got hidden away, feel free to post. ;)

10:54 PM  
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