“Society Is Rapidly Changing” – an interview with the Bermondsey Joyriders
When it comes to the great albums of 2011 so far, it seems that there’s two types. Firstly the ones that are on the shelves already such as the Eureka Machines’ “Champion The Underdog” and the Urban Voodoo Machine’s “In Black ‘n’ Red” which you already know about. And then there’s bands who, if they can persuade a label to get their album out by December 31st, will almost certainly be up there. For example, anyone who’s seen Patchwork Grace recently would have to draw the conclusion that on te strength of their recent live shows they could potentially be sitting on an absolute belter. And so could the Bermondsey Joyriders.
The Joyriders are arguably the most surprising of the four to be in this bracket – they’ve been around for three or four years now and their eponymous debut album released in 2009 was a solid slice of punk-meets-blues rock with a healthy helping of slide guitar. Possibly what you’d expect from two punk veterans, Garry Lammin (formerly of the Little Roosters and Cock Sparrer’s original line-up) and Martin Stacey (once of punk mainstays Chelsea) trying something different.
However, it’s with their recent shows that the Joyriders have really started to catch fire and catch people’s attention. Gone are the light-hearted songs about football and cafe racers and in have come a set of hard-hitting songs drawing inspiration from the current less-than-stable political climate in the country. Many music journalists in the mainstream press have recently been bemoaning the lack of young bands coming through with something relevant to say about the state this septic isle of ours is currently in and you can’t help but hope that a few young musicians might do themselves a favour, catch one of the Joyriders’ shows and be duly inspired to write something kicking back against the odious government we’re currently stuck with rather than taking the Pete Doherty route and hiding in a drugs bubble rambling on about some redundant notion of “Albion” while Rome (or rather London) burns around them outside.
These new songs are part of the Joyriders’ new punk concept album (a brave move if ever there was one!) “Noise And Revolution” which sees them team up with MC5 collaborator John Sinclair. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Garry Lammin just before the Joyriders’ gig at the 100 Club to find out a bit more…
PR: The new album’s quite a departure from your debut – how did the change of direction come about?
G: Well, the first album was quite a departure as well from ordinary straight-down-the-line punk rock, it was mainly built around slide guitar. So for the second album I wanted to change things around again, break down what I’d built up previously. I’d been reading quite a bit about Bowie and I think he had the right idea by reinventing himself with each album – it’s like the Rolling Stones, they’re a band that everyone likes including me but the Stones in ’72 are the same as the Stones in ’82 or ’92…I guess what I’m trying to say is that you have to keep going forward and bringing new ideas in. I mean you can always go back and revisit things you’ve done before but I didn’t want to do another slide guitar album though that’s not to say that there isn’t slide guitar on this album. But while the last album was built around that, this time it’s not quite pushed to the fore as much.
PR: You’ve described “Noise And Revolution” as a concept album. How did that concept develop?
G: Well the first track I wrote was “Society (Is Rapidly Changing)” and that came about from my day job teaching guitar – when I went to disadvantaged areas like Clapton and Dalston, I’d hear the kids I’d go to teach in those areas having conversations with each other and end up comparing what they were saying to my own thoughts and views and it really made me realise that society really is rapidly changing. And when the riots happened back in August, I mean I’m not advocating those riots but I’d seen it coming, listening to those kids you could pretty much feel the discontent in the air in those areas. I mean it’s easy for people like us to say ‘Oh, rioting’s all those kids know’ but it’s true, it’s all that they do know, they don’t come from the same backgrounds that we do. You can have the most well-behaved dog in the whole world but if you hit that dog with a stick enough times, it’s gonna turn around and bite you.
PR: How did you end up getting John Sinclair involved with the project?
G: John Sinclair is someone that me and Martin (Stacey, bass) have admired for many years and when we first put this band together and were deciding how we wanted it to sound, one of the bands we really bonded over was the MC5 and the energy, directness and honesty that they had. Then when we went out to America for the first time last year we were working with a drummer called Steve Goodeye who was a big MC5 nut as well who ran a tattoo parlour as his day job. So during the day between gigs we were watching all these MC5 films at the tattoo parlour which we’d never seen before, a lot of which featured John Sinclair. I dunno if they were official or bootlegs, but they were fantastic.
So I said to Martin, “That’s the guy we should get, John Sinclair”. And Martin just said to me “We’re not gonna find John Sinclair in this day and age.” But when we came back after that tour, we’d done 12,000 miles and it was really gruelling. And before every gig the three of us would put our fists together and tell each other to remember the MC5 way. And when I came back off that tour, I had a message on my mobile which I hadn’t taken with me ‘cos you can never get a signal over in the States, from a guy called John Brett who runs a couple of T-shirt shops and a vintage poster shop who I’ve been friends with for a while. And in the message he was telling me to get myself down to his poster shop because John Sinclair was there and he wanted me to play slide guitar with him. I was replaying that message over and over again wondering if I’d heard that right! In the end, I went down without my guitar just in case they’d found another guitarist. So I turned up and John was there doing his poetry. And John Brett grabbed me, pushed me through the crowd, stuck a guitar round my neck and I started looping out some swampy New Orleans blues style riffs. And after that, John came up to me and he was like “Man, where did you come from?” And it turned out both of us had been friends with John Brett for several years.
And around that time after I first met John, I remembered this idea I’d had for an album where it’d have narration linking the tracks. And nearly everybody I’d mentioned it to thought it’d be really naff because there’s only a few groups who’ve ever managed to pull that off like the Small Faces. I could see what they were saying but I thought if I found the right geezer it could work. And after a few gigs with John Sinclair, it twigged that he could be the guy to make this work. So I told him the story and ran a few ideas past him and he said “Okay, let’s go into the studio and try it out!”
PR: The other theme in “Noise And Revolution” was about a band who emerge from the society to change the world but mess it up through money, drugs and fame in general. Where did that idea come from?
G: I think to do a concept album is one thing, to do a punk rock concept album is another thing! So we had to breathe some humour into the situation because some of the songs and the narrations are pretty hard-hitting politically. So as well as the concept album we had a sort of comic strip idea that a rock ‘n’ roll band comes along to save the world just like a Marvel or DC comic hero. But of course they’re a rock ‘n’ roll band and even though they save the world, they lose it through drugs, booze, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. But they find redemption in remembering why it was that they formed a band in the first place – the blues heroes like Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Robert Johnson. And I was really pleased with that idea because it really turned it around – things are going well for the band, they get a gig at the coolest club in the world, the Shakin’ Leaves, they blow it and become bloated rock stars but then they remember why they first started doing this and they’re back on course.
PR: You’re currently looking for a new drummer since Rat Scabies’ recent departure from the group – any news on that front?
G: Well, I’ll go on the record as saying that Rat was a really good drummer for us and we enjoyed having him in the band. The thing is, he had other ideas which were a bit different from me and Martin’s. And Rat, if you’re reading this, you wanted me to put you on a wage and I didn’t have a problem with that but if I’m paying the piper, I’m the one who calls the tune, I mean even if it was Charlie Watts drumming for us then I’d say that! But I enjoyed having Rat in the band, he plays on the album and we wish him well with whatever he chooses to do next. But to go back to the question, tonight on drums we’ve got Simon Hanson standing in who’s Squeeze’s current drummer and also works with Roger Daltrey on his solo stuff.
PR: Coming back to the theme of social unrest that we touched on earlier, you were around when punk took off first time and a lot of that was fuelled by social unrest and a society which was falling apart. Do you see any parallels between then and now?
G: Well, when I was in Cock Sparrer and wrote “Runnin’ Riot” (re-recorded by the Joyriders for their first album), those were in the days when we were all going to the Roxy and those were the days when the working class really didn’t have a voice. People can say that you have a vote which is your voice but that’s not necessarily true – my dad who was a shop steward down at the docks in East London always used to say to me that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s the Tories, Labour or the Lib Dems who are in because they all go to the same members’ clubs after Parliament winds up for the night and all go back to big posh houses after that. And I remember thinking to myself that while the punks were making their own political protest, I saw a parallel with the violence you used to get on the terraces, as misguided as it was. I mean back then, Saturday afternoon was a way of people letting off steam for everything people had to put up with during the week. Again, I wasn’t advocating football hooliganism but if you keep repressing people and taking away things that should be theirs, something’s gonna go wrong sooner or later.
PR: You’ve been in a few bands down the years – Sparrer in the ’70s and the Little Roosters in the ’80s. How does the Bermondsey Joyriders compare to your past ventures?
G: I’ll be honest and say that this is pretty much the band I’ve always wanted to try and form. With Sparrer, I was in there as a songwriter mostly – with hindsight I did try and push them into my ideology of being a glam-bootboy kind of band which looking back now I probably shouldn’t have so I guess they could’ve seen me as a bit of an upstart for that. With the Roosters, it was good fun but we were a bit too cartoony – I mean if the New York Dolls were a cartoon version of the Rolling Stones then we were a cartoon version of the Dolls so it was getting a little bit silly by then! But with the Joyriders, this is definitely the band that makes me smile – people leave messages on Facebook for me and tell me it’s a great band and we should keep on at what we’re doing. And that definitely makes me happy.
PR: Looking round at the rest of the music scene nowadays are there any bands that you particularly like?
G: Well that’s a bit of a difficult question as there’s not a lot in my record collection that dates from past 1973 or so! But a band that I saw recently who I really liked were the Bellrays – I mean I know they’ve been going for years and they don’t have much of a following over here these days but I really enjoyed ’em. And of course there’s our good friends Paul-Ronney and the Urban Voodoo Machine – me and Martin go to their gigs a lot.
PR: Last question then – what are the plans for the immediate future for the Bermondsey Joyriders?
G: First and foremost, getting a deal for this album! It’s a very unusual situation in that a lot of critics who’ve heard it have really liked it as have the fans. But you send it to record labels and phone ’em a couple of weeks later and it’s like “Yeah, Gary we need to get round to listening to that some time…” Well, if there’s any labels reading this then listen to the album because it’s all ready to go! There is one label we’re talking to at the moment who have played it which is Overground – their guy rang me up the next day saying he’d really liked it and wanted to listen to it a few more times. So we’re gonna be having a meeting with them – the fact that they’re showing such enthusiasm for it really means a lot to me. I mean we need to work out the finer details but it’s all looking very promising so here’s hoping…
Listening to the Joyriders blasting out a storming set later on in the evening with the songs punctuated by Sinclair’s menacing oratory, you really believe that this band might well be on to something. If they can get that record deal and a release date sorted by the time the New Year chimes ring in then make no mistake about it, the Joyriders will definitely be up there in the stakes of 2011’s best albums.