THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LOOKING GLASS
with
THE BEVIS FROND

Some interviews are fun to transcribe, some interviews are interesting and some are a challenge. There are also a few, not many, that are all three - and what follows is to my mind one of the very best examples of that elusive little genre. The interesting part about this one was that for once we weren't trying to convey as much information about the subject as possible in a limited amount of space and time, but rather to touch on some of the less obvious aspects of the Bevis Frond's music, since we can safely assume that most regular readers of this magazine are already familiar with the history and background. The principle challenge for me was to convey some of the sense of fun than ran through the entire interview; the fits of laughter that assailed us, the faces pulled, the funny voices, the strange noises, and at the same time the more serious aspects of the music, and the music business, that were touched upon.

What follows then are edited highlights of two lengthy chats our man McMuffin had with Nick Saloman of Woronzow Records, a.k.a. Bevis Frond [and sometimes Fred Bison], at Terrascope Towers during August '94 and April '95.

PT: It's been over eight years since I first interviewed you about your then forthcoming debut album, 'Miasma'. Do you still feel the same way now about the Bevis Frond as you did then?

Gargoyle No. 1

NS: Well, it's certainly the thing that earns me my money, which is I suppose a bit different because at the time we last discussed it it didn't earn me any money, I was just putting a tentative toe in the musical waters as it were. I also had no idea then that it was going to be as successful as it has been, which as we all know isn't exactly massively successful but then any modicum of success is more than I would have expected. I had no idea really that it would take off at all, and of course I've now put out loads of LPs, done a lot of touring, had a few really surprisingly high moments and to that degree it's a lot more than I'd ever hoped for. Yes, it is still important, but only so far as it's a vehicle to put out my music - it hasn't become a myth or anything, it's just my way of putting out what I do; be it written or painted or musical or whatever, my chosen medium is to put out records and CDs, and as the Bevis Frond I can do it. Which is very pleasant.

Your last album ('Sprawl') was another double album, which would suggest that you're still churning out new songs just as fast and hard as you ever were. You're not running short of material then?

No. I'm not. At the risk of sounding smug, that's never been a problem - I've always found songwriting to be incredibly easy; if I want to write a song I can sit down and write a song and it'll have good lyrics and a good tune - and if it doesn't it gets put in the bin. The stuff that comes out on record is a fraction of what actually gets written, and only a slightly larger fraction of what gets recorded - because a lot of what gets recorded never gets heard. I've got easily enough stuff now for another double album of unreleased material, and that's only stuff that's been recorded. And before it gets recorded I get rid of a ton of stuff because it "isn't up to standard", as Reckless like to tell me from time to time.

Yeah, what's the deal there? One minute Reckless were behind you all the way, and the next...

bevis #4

There IS no deal with Reckless. That's just the point. I did 'London Stone' for them, or rather I was going to put it out in Europe on Woronzow and I thought Reckless were going to put it out in the States, as they had done before. So I sent a tape over to Reckless' head honcho Charlie, and he never got back to me, basically. I wanted to put it out in September or October a couple of years ago and Reckless had always been insistant that the European and American releases came out at the same time. Since I wanted to get it out I thought I'd just have to find out what's going on, I had no idea what the situation was over there so I got in touch with Charlie, and he gave me some hoo-hah about "not being sure that it was up to my usual standard" and "he'd have to live with it a bit longer and play it to a few of his people..." Rightly or wrongly I took this to mean he didn't want to do it, so I just said all right, forget it. I didn't actually say "fuck off", but that's what was going through my mind. And that was the end of the Reckless deal - there's no more to be said really. I mean, Charlie might feel I want to kill him or something, but I really don't feel that way. I'd be only to happy to, you know...kill him.

You have something of a reputation of being a bit of a loony - only too ready to kill someone at a moment's notice.

Nick and Adrian
NICK SALOMAN & ADRIAN SHAW
of
THE BEVIS FROND

I'm not a loony, I'm just super-sensitive. I can't handle criticism very well. If someone says they don't like what I do I do tend to get very upset about it. If people dare to criticise anything really it does rather bother me. It's a constant battle that I have, to realise that it doesn't really mean anything and that it's not that important anyhow if someone makes a snidey comment somewhere. I think what it is is that I have an exaggerated sense of injustice, because I've spent so many years doing what I think is very good stuff, trying everything I knew to get somewhere, and getting told to fuck off all the time. Ditched, rejected, laughed out of record labels and all that, and I suppose I carry with me a bit of paranoia and anger as a result. The thing is, I put everything I can into it. I look after the people who buy the records, I try to be honest, to try not to rip people off, to answer all the letters, to be nice to people... you know, I really go out of my way. So if someone starts criticising I just think, fuck off, why don't you go and criticise someone who deserves to be criticised? Someone who does treat the fans with contempt? They're the ones who you should be shouting at. The record labels who put out CDs lasting 28 minutes and charge full price for them - they're the ones who should be fucking criticised. Not the ones like me at the other end of the spectrum, where I'm actually forced to leave songs off CDs because I haven't got room for them.

Okay, so how can you justify the fact that Woronzow's CD release of the Fred Bison V album featured three extra tracks which weren't on the vinyl version?

Yes... hypocracy at it's height, isn't it? The idea with that is that the three extra tracks would feature on the next Fred Bison vinyl release. I was going to do an EP, a Fred Bison vinyl EP using those three tracks plus one other which isn't on the CD, and I never did it, simply because I just didn't have the time, the money or the enthusiasm - I just had too many other things going on. So I thought well, I'll stick the stuff out on the CD and then I'll do the nice little vinyl package - and as yet, I haven't done the vinyl package. Which I still intend to do. But, yeah, You're right - initially it appears that I've gone against what I said I'd never do. But honest mate, I haven't. [pause] Take that you bastard! And that!

Ow! Yaroo! Listen though, it does rather seem like the edges between the Fred Bison V and the Bevis Frond seem to be blurring slightly. It's as if both are performing each others' material sometimes.

Well, I'll tell you why that is. It's because they're both me!

No? Really? Well, there's another Terrascope exclusive scoop in the bag.

I suppose you're right though. It is a bit hard to be completely different. All I can say is, the Fred Bison stuff tends to be the more garagey, Vox Continentally, organny end of what the Bevis Frond is, and while you might find some garagey, Farfisa-ish stuff performed by the Bevis Frond, you probably won't find any deep, meaningful, histrionic love songs performed by Fred Bison. It's a bit of fun. Besides, I couldn't release three Bevis Frond albums in a year, could I? Because people would then say I was doing too many....

Which they are saying anyway.

I know. I mean, if someone thinks I do too many then don't buy them! People do get angry about some funny things, don't they? "Oh, he always wears socks with no elastic at the top of them - I ain't playing his records no more".

The other old chestnut of course is "He's toured Germany three times already this year and he hasn't toured England or America once yet"

Well, there's a distinct possibility that we might be doing some UK gigs. That's not confirmed yet, but it's looking possible. As far as America goes though, I have no record label in America, so if I wanted to play in the States - which I do, I'd love to do a tour there - I'd have to finance it myself. And unfortunately I just don't have that sort of money. It's just not feasible for me to put up the money for even three people to fly over and tour around without some sort of help or an agency to book it up and get guarantees etc.

There's a couple of things I wanted to ask you about the last album, 'Sprawl', starting with that wonderfully squeaky bit of feedback right at the start. Was that left on intentionally?

Funnily enough, the engineer at Golddust Studios was under the impression that I wouldn't want that left in. He said "Oh, you're going to do that again, aren't you?" and I said, "No! It's great" and he kind of rolled his eyes a bit, tutted and muttered "I'll never understand him..." He thinks I'm mad anyway. Apparently I'm the only person using Golddust Studio who still records on analogue, 1/4 inch tapes. He got out his old Revox to mix down onto and he said the last person who had used it was me, a year earlier. Everyone else uses DAT, of course. And I don't, because I think it's horrible. Bollocks to that.

What's the story behind the title '74/Gingham Rag'? I thought perhaps it was a rag done in 7/4 time until I heard it.

Superseeder

I couldn't decide whether to call it '74' or 'Gingham Rag'. It's actually about the number 74 bus. I come from St. Johns Wood in London and the number 74 bus was the local bus that stopped at the end of my street, Chalbert Street. I used to go to school on the 74, or if I wanted to go down the West End it was the 74. Well, I went to visit some friends in St. Johns Wood one day, walked past the 74 bus stop and... it's not the 74 any more. They've changed it to the 274, and made it a single-decker "hopper". And I thought, bloody hell, what's the world coming to? They've changed the 74 bus! And it just compounds all the things about St Johns Wood that have changed since I lived there. From being a very pleasant village atmosphere suburb it's become a wealthy, horrible, snooty area. It's embassy area, you know? There's the Cambodian embassy, the American Consulate and there seems to be a lot of Arabs around as well, because they've built a mosque at the end of the road. Also, very annoyingly, you go into Regents Park now for a kickabout, and you can't because there's loads of American kids there playing baseball. You get told off by American people for playing football on their baseball pitches! And that does rather gall me, and galls the local people - few of whom live there now of course because it's so expensive. So '74/Gingham Rag' is all about the fact that St Johns Wood just ain't the place it was.

And the 'gingham rag' part of the title?

That's just part of the lyrics, "she smiled so politely and looked in her bag, pulled out her notebook and a gingham rag". Makes no sense at all, but it sounded kind of good! It's recounting an episode on the 74 bus.

Who is the song 'Remember Me' aimed at?

That's my little song to Stuart Goddard, otherwise known as Adam Ant. It should have a question mark really, like "Remember me?" - to which the answer would be "no, who the fuck are you?" But, I remember him. I remember him as being a very good mate and a good bloke. Sadly, the minute he became world famous he ditched all his old mates and ended up shagging Jamie Lee Curtis. I mean, what would you rather do? Play football with Nick Saloman and Mick Donovan or shag Jamie Lee Curtis? Don't answer that...

There's a story behind 'Boa Constrictor' as well, I seem to remember.

Yeah, a strange tale on 'Boa Constrictor'. I did a track for a Troggs tribute compilation on the Dog Meat label a while ago, a version of 'When Did The Rain Come' which came out on the LP. David Laing of Dog Meat subsequently got in touch with me and said he was doing a Seeds compilation, and could I do a track for that? So I thought yeah, OK, I mean he was quite reasonable about the Troggs thing - I didn't actually get any money for it, but at least he said "thank you" which is ten times better than most, and he sent some copies of the album over. So I did a version of 'Chocolate River' by the Seeds and sent it over to him oh, about, what, a year ago now - and heard nothing. Not even a letter saying thankyou. I just sent it over and it disappeared. So after waiting a little while I thought oh, bollocks to that and wiped off the vocals, wrote some new words and it's now 'Boa Constrictor'. So if he does ever put it out, by some strange coincidence 'Chocolate River' will have exactly the same backing as 'Boa Constrictor'! But different lyrics! Since there's no tune anyhow it didn't really make any difference.

Wasn't it originally intended for a Fred Bison album at one time?

It would have been part of my next Fred Bison thing with those three very contentious missing extra tracks, plus another one that's sitting in the can. But then I thought it's too kind of Bevis-y, you know. Fuzzy edges like you said, it just sounded more like a Bevis track than a Fred track.

Andy Ward plays drums on most of the album, and he's now a regular part of the live band as well. What happened to Bari Watts and Ric Gunther?

Well, what basically happened was, last year Bari Watts and Ric Gunther, who had been very strong members of the band and had been performing brilliantly, started voicing rumblings of discontent. They felt that the Bevis Frond should be more of a band rather than it just being me with them backing me for the live stuff. They always wanted it to be more of a band, y'know, that we should all be on the records and we should all be on the covers. Unfortunately I didn't agree with them. I've always seen the Bevis Frond as my band, not a band that is a four-way or even a partly democratic thing. It's my band and I do exactly what I want and nobody tells me what to do. Nobody. Otherwise I go all sulky and limp and unmanageable. So I thought about what I was going to do, and decided I was going to go out as a three piece with a new drummer. Because you can't really replace Bari. You pick up another guitarist and you'll never get one as good as Bari. So I decided the best thing was to cut it down to doing tighter stuff as a three-piece. Meanwhile I'd done the LP with Andy, who did a really nice job on it, and I started thinking about the tour that was coming up and I really felt that I owed it to Andy to ask him along on the tour, which he wanted to do.

Andy's style is, of course, drastically different to Ric's somewhat, uh, Neanderthal approach...

Gargoyle No. 2

Andy Ward has been a professional drummer since he was a kid. He's only a year older than me, yet he's been playing in name bands for 24 years or something. He was in Camel when he was sixteen or seventeen, and he played in John's Children before that. So I mean, he's a really, really hot drummer and he can play whatever you want him to play basically. He can rock it up and he can jazz it up if it needs to be and the fact that the bands he's been with have been mostly progressive type bands just means that you know him for playing that kind of drums. He's obviously a different type of drummer to Ric altogether - I mean, Ric is a very heavy drummer. He plays loud and heavy and really whacks those skins, he's much more in the Ginger Baker or John Bonham mould - and he's very good at it. Andy is more of a straight rock drummer, he definitely isn't as heavy as Ric, I wouldn't say he was better or worse - he's just not the same kind of drummer at all.

Can we talk now about the imagery in your songwriting? There's always been an undercurrent of gothic, mediaeval, architectural imagery running through it which I'd like to explore the background to...

Sure. Basically, I've written songs since I was a little boy, but when you're young you just tend to copy people. I mean 'Alistair Jones' is just a straight copy of Syd Barrett, because I liked 'Arnold Layne' - they both begin with an A! So I did that for years, just listened to things I liked and re-wrote them. Then as you get a bit older you think you ought to start to have your own style, you know. There's always that fine line between copying and being influenced by something. I was obviously influenced by people I liked, like the Beatles and early Floyd and the psychedelic stuff from the States and some of the folk people and David Ackles and stuff, and for a while you try and write songs like them. I'm sure you did the same thing, you started out liking certain journalists and writers and you tried to write like them until eventually you think to yourself wait a minute, I shouldn't be writing like them - I should be picking up the good points and making it Phil McMullen's, you know? And it's the same thing with me, after a while I thought "I'm not going to copy people any more, I'm going to develop my own style" and firstly, being English and from London, it seemed best to write about first-hand knowledge and the things that I knew. And so I write a lot of songs about London, and I write a lot of songs about England, and I'm very interested in history, so there's a lot of historical references in there. I like literature, so there's a lot of literary references. I like football, so football crops up a bit, and I like M.R. James so M.R. James crops up a bit. And you can't really go wrong that way, y'know?

Well I suppose it would be a bit difficult if you were into stamp collecting or something.

Hah! Or train spotting! But that's it really, I just write about things that I know about, or which I like, or which I get angry about and which upset me. I also try to put a put of feeling, a bit of emotion into it. Something which makes people think, you know. I must admit, one of the things that's given me the greatest amount of pleasure out of the Frond is, apart from being known as "the psychedelic guru of Walthamstow" and "the greatest guitar player since Wanky McWank", that I have received quite a lot of compliments about the songs and the fact that the lyrics move people. And to me that's a much more subtle achievement, because anybody can get up on the stage and turn up the wah-wah pedal and go "widdly widdly widdly wooow". You can strap a Stratocaster onto a chimpanzee and turn the volume up to twelve and for a few seconds it's going to sound brilliant, you know.

I've got that album here, actually [waves recent release, the title of which is withheld in fear of litigation]. Changing the subject completely, can we talk for a while about the Terrascope, or is that going to look a bit odd?

What, you mean I interview you now?

No... it's just that the Terrascope is over five years old now, and yet it only seems like yesterday that you and I met up at Cyke Bancroft's place to discuss this idea for a magazine that you'd dreamed up.

PT Cover No. 1

And it's turned into a fucking nightmare! No, it hasn't - it's been great. I mean, the Terrascope is again something that I'm very proud of. I'd got sick of reading fanzines that only ever concentrated on one kind of thing, you had the 'Bucketfull of Brains' that only covered all the jangly guitar bands, you had 'Freakbeat' which covered the Ozrics and all the far-out pseudo Hawkwind stuff - and they both did it very well. But I found it so fucking boring reading about the Chills and the Long Ryders and REM over and over and you think well, fuck me, there's more to music than guitarists who wanna be the Byrds. You read Freakbeat and you think well, there's got to be more to it than synthesizers going "bloooooweeeowoooeeebloooweee" with titles like 'Mushrooms Over Stonehenge', y'know? But everything has it's place, and while as co-runner of the Terrascope I'd be only too pleased to do interviews with Ozric Tentacles, REM or whoever, I just don't think that's all there is to it. What really bugged me was that all the other magazines ignored such huge areas of music. Also, that fanzines tend to have this idea that you can't write about old acts. That if you interview someone who was in Writing On The Wall or something, they think "oh dear, you're a bunch of old farty-pants". I would say that is utter, complete bollocks - because I think that writing about Writing On The Wall is just as valid as writing about any modern band. We like music, the people who buy the mag like music... you're not going to tell me that if you look at the average Terrascope reader's record collection that it's only got records made in 1995? Or the average reader of any fanzine. They're going to have a collection that spans their record-buying life, it might have started in 1965, 1975 or 1985. They might be into a bit of rock 'n' roll, a bit of surf - and it's all valid. It's all valid! And my dream was to have a magazine that could cover everything. Which it hasn't really achieved, I must be honest. There are areas of music that the Terrascope hasn't got through to - yet. I don't think we've ever interviewed a soul singer, for example. Which is stupid! Because we should do. But we're also still looking for new stuff. The bulk of my records and CDs are things that were recorded some time ago, but that doesn't mean that I'm not still buying new stuff. The thing about current music though is that when they do an 'Encyclopaedia of Rock Music' and they stick in someone who was thought of as being really big when it was written, say it was written in 1986 and you go through... Little Richard, Righteous Brothers, Rolling Stones, Roaring Boys... and you think, Roaring Boys? Who the fuck were they? They did two singles, somebody spent a billion pounds on them and they were a complete wash-out. But at the time they were mooted as being classic artists, so they get into the encyclopaedia. You can never tell, or at least not until several years later, that the band that everyone's going mad about are a really influential/important band. At the moment, as we speak, Oasis are the band that everyone's going nuts about. I guarantee that if the Guinness Book of Big Important Bands came out next week, section O would have an entry for Oasis. Three years from now, people will probably look through and say Oasis? Who the fuck were they?

File next to Klaatu. Funnily enough, I have here a new copy of the 'Guinness Who's Who of Indie and New Wave Music' and under the letter B, it has a rather complimentary entry for some band called the Bevis Frond.

Has it? I shouldn't think it has... fuck me, it has too. There you go, that exactly illustrates what I was talking about.

You've recently returned from a fairly extensive European tour, how successful was that in comparison to previous tours?

Right, we went off and did a month in Europe, 25 gigs and then one back in England so that's 26 in all. It was very successful, yeah, in fact possibly the most successful tour I've done. Whereas on previous tours we'd have a couple of spectacular gigs but then a couple of spectacularly awful gigs, this tour didn't have any awful gigs. The line-up was me, Adrian, Andy Ward on drums and we had Dean Carter as a support act, plus he came on and augmented us on three or four numbers.

A few people asked me at the London gig whether Dean was part of the band on a regular basis.

I don't really think so. There are a couple of numbers that I really do think benefit from having an extra guitarist though, and in those cases Dean does the job.

I saw a flyer from Todd Dillingham the other day concerning a forthcoming release on the Woronzow label, and I noticed that it gave Adrian Shaw's address as a point of contact for Woronzow rather than the regular Walthamstow address. What was the reason behind that?

Well, Adrian has now come into Woronzow to give me that kick up the backside that I sometimes need. I get "great ideas" for doing certain projects and then after I've started them I kind of start thinking "oooh dear, why did I do this? It's a real drag and I'm not making any money and oh dear oh dear oh dear..." and I end up not doing them at all. Also, it's a lonely existence running around delivering boxes of records to people. It's lonely and boring and I just can't be bothered with it any longer. So Adrian coming in makes it more fun, plus he's got a computer and a fax machine which helps. Also, at the time of the Todd Dillingham thing we were contemplating moving out of London, I mean my family and I were, so we gave out Adrian's address because we didn't know whether we'd be moving. But we're not. Not at the moment.

And Woronzow Records has started, uh, embracing new bands again.

Yeah,that's also part of the reason that it's now a two-way thing instead of just me. There's a lot of really good tapes flying around... well, I've heard a few anyway: people who can't get a deal, or who can get a deal but get ripped off in the process, and I thought that Woronzow really should be doing something about it and putting out some of these records. The Wall of Sleep album is just out as we're speaking now, and the next release will probably be Todd Dillingham's famed 'Sergeant Kipper', which sort of fell into our laps really. I'm not that crazed about the title to be honest, but the Dillinghams obviously think it's funny. So anyway, Todd recorded it originally for Voiceprint Records I believe, and since then he's had a minor disagreement with Voiceprint and I was asked if I'd like to put it out on Woronzow. The cover art is all done and it's wonderful and the LP's great so it's more or less ready to go. Then after that we've got an LP by Adrian Shaw, the man 'imself has done his own meisterwerk, and also I think I'm going to be putting out a kind of limited edition Bevis Frond, um, thing. Not a new album, but more a sort of 'Looking Glass' thing. An official bootleg or whatever.

Chatting to Captain Sensible at that same gig the other evening, there was some mention of an album by him for Woronzow.

bevis3

Right, he was with the Space Toad Experience which is Sensible's psychedelic band. I believe Delerium have them lined up for a record or something. Well, I've always rated the Captain as a really hot guitar player, in fact one of my favourites of recent times and very underrated, at least as a guitarist. So I said to him that I'd like to put something out by him not in the Space Toads vein, but which shows everyone what a great guitarist Captain Sensible really is. At the time he seemed quite interested, and then when I spoke to him after this gig we did a few days ago he was even more positive about it, suggesting plans for it and all sorts. So that looks like being a go-er as well.

By: Phil McMullen. Ptolemaic Terrascope, May 1995.

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