Mike Atkinson

Gallery 47 – Fate Is The Law

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on July 31, 2011

(Written for LeftLion magazine)

Once a band, but not for long, Gallery 47 has become the alter ego of 21-year old Jack Peachey, who wrote these sixteen songs while studying English at Nottingham University.  Newly graduated, his student existence drawing to an end, Jack is already gaining some distance on his compositions, recognising them as the work of a young man in varying stages of emotional turmoil.  They are “a lot more about feeling a particular way at a certain time”, he explains, rather than being “about finding or explaining something which is ‘right’ or ‘true’ about life or society”.   Instead, the material has been ordered “precisely to show how wrong I’ve been at certain moments;  call it delusion or naivety, or just being young.”

A case in point is House At The End Of The Road, written while Peachey was so wrapped up in the aftermath of “a particularly horrible break-up”, that he failed to spot a nearby short-stay home for child cancer patients.  The guilt which seeps into the song rears up again in Critic, which traces the singer’s confused reactions to a city centre beggar.

Wary of being pinned to specific interpretations, Peachey keeps some of his lyrical meanings private and hidden.  Coupled with the austerity of his production – for this is essentially a solo acoustic album, lightly augmented with occasional overdubs – this can present certain challenges for the listener.  On the other hand, there is nothing but pleasure to be mined from Jack’s sweetly piercing vocals, and the dextrous fluidity of his playing.

Listen to this album on Spotify.

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Erra – Stax / Jookup

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on July 31, 2011

(Written for LeftLion magazine)

There are underlying tensions at the heart of both tracks on this long-awaited 12-inch release from former Wigflex stalwart (and self-styled purveyor of “cake music”) Luke Mellard, aka Erra.  On Stax,  jerky, clattering, grime and garage-derived rhythms provide the bedrock for a nagging four-note synth riff,  which re-appears in a variety of different treatments: sometimes staccato, sometimes jazzy.  But even as these elements playfully dance around each other – restlessly shape-shifting, never settling into predictable patterns – you’re also made aware of certain gentler, more reflective counter-currents.  These rise to the surface at around the three minute mark, as the track dissolves into a beatless, meditative glide.  The rhythms resume, but at a slower pace, offering respite from the madness.  Eventually, the dance riffs kick back in, with more furious insistence and certainty than ever before – but the battle is only temporarily won, and we’re soon winding back down again.

The rhythms are more fractured on Jookup, but Erra’s sonic palette stretches wider and deeper here.  In the engine room, bassy sproings and rumbling wub-wubs propel the track in multiple directions at once, bouncing off each other with reckless energy.  Meanwhile, up on the top deck, pitched-up vocal cut-ups shimmer daintily, in an almost pointillist fashion.  The overall effect is elastic, frisky, cartoon-like – at least until the breakdown, which once again brings a measure of calm to choppy waters.  Cheerfully chucking the rule-books of genre out of the window, Erra’s approach is fresh, inventive and loaded with youthful promise.

Click here to purchase from Beatport.

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Interview: Clem Burke, Blondie.

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on July 22, 2011

An edited version of this feature originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

Blondie are having a good day.  It’s Debbie Harry’s 66th birthday – yes, you read that right – and the band have just got back to the hotel, after a day of recording at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios.  “It was really exciting – we had a really good time”, says drummer Clem Burke, who is no stranger to the studios himself. 

“I did a record there with Mark Owen from Take That”, he explains, as I try to mask my surprise.  “When Take That broke up, Mark did a solo record, and I was part of his band.  And last year, all our road crew wanted to get a tour of Abbey Road – so, I rang up and we went over.  Especially coming from the States, it’s great to go into that studio.  It’s not something that you do every day.”

Although Blondie’s latest album – Panic Of Girls, their third since the band reformed in 1996 – is now available for purchase in the usual formats, it actually made its UK debut on the magazine racks a month earlier. 

“Future Publications, who do Classic Rock, came to us with the idea of doing a complete Blondie magazine.  It’s something that the fans have been waiting for, for a long time.  There are lots of new photos, there’s archival stuff, and you get the record.  It’s a different way of getting our music out there.  It’s not necessarily new media, but it worked.  We’re very happy with it, and we had a good time putting it together. “

In musical terms, the new album – or the new record, as Clem prefers to call it (“by definition, it’s a record of a performance”) – doesn’t deviate too far from the classic, if eclectic, Blondie template.  Front-loaded with an opening salvo of gutsy, uptempo power-pop numbers, including the recent single Mother, the album begins to stretch out stylistically from the fourth track, before winding down towards a more sedate conclusion, in what used to be known as “Side Two”.

“There are some really catchy pop songs on there”, says Clem, “and there are also more left-of-centre things.  Debbie’s singing in Spanish, she’s singing in French, and this is the first time that we’ve recorded way more material than we needed to.  We recorded about thirty songs.  Some of them will probably see the light of day later on.”

It has been eight years since the last record, but the band weren’t about to be rushed.  “We completed the album more than a year ago, but we had a problem finding a proper way to release it.  We wanted to do something special.  Then when the fan pack came up, it seemed like a good way to launch it.”

Up until now, with just one exception – the glossy Autoamerican, which was recorded in Los Angeles in 1980 – all Blondie’s albums have been made in central Manhattan.  For Panic Of Girls, the band shifted upstate to Woodstock, but the untypically rural location has had no discernible impact on their characteristically urban sound.  Perhaps more surprisingly, the departure of keyboardist Jimmy Destri, who had been with the band since their very earliest days, has been seamlessly absorbed – even though this reduces the core of Blondie to just three founder members: Debbie, Clem, 56, and guitarist Chris Stein, 61.

“It’s definitely affected the dynamic”, Clem admits, while carefully sidestepping any discussion of the precise circumstances of Destri’s departure.

“I particularly miss Jimmy’s input with the writing.  I don’t really know what happened with Jimmy.  I thought he was going to participate in this record, in some way, shape or form, but at the end of the day he didn’t.”

On stage and in the studio, the founding trio are joined by three newer recruits – although bassist Leigh Foxx, who has been with the band since 1996, has become a familiar face to most fans.  Guitarist Tommy Kessler joined last year, while Destri’s replacement on keyboards, Matt Katz-Bohen, picks up three co-songwriting credits on the new album. 

Blondie have always been fond of adding covers to their original compositions, and Panic Of Girls sports a couple of unlikely additions, both rendered in a light reggae style.  At Chris Stein’s suggestion, the band has tackled Sunday Smile, an album cut by Zach Condon’s critically acclaimed indie-folk outfit, Beirut.  A couple of tracks earlier, Sophia George’s glorious Girlie Girlie – a UK top ten hit from 1985 – is given the full “Tide Is High” treatment, giving Debbie the chance to dabble with cheeky excursions into patois.  As for the live set list, recent Blondie covers have ranged from a surprisingly successful reworking of Taio Cruz’s Break Your Heart, to a spirited thrash through The Damned’s New Rose. 

The inclusion of New Rose – the first ever British punk single – is a direct reminder that, for all their later mainstream pop success, Blondie’s roots lie in the punk rock scene of mid-Seventies New York City, when they were one of a gang of bands who hung out at the tiny, grubby CBGB’s club in downtown Manhattan. The scene emerged as a reaction to the perceived excesses of the superstar rock elite that went before it, and it noisily espoused a defiantly grassroots, anti-star ethos.  So when pop stardom happened for Blondie, did this cause any anguished ideological soul-searching?

“Well, we always wanted to be popular”, says Clem.  “We always wanted to be on the radio.  Of the music that we were influenced by, a lot of it was not considered to be cool – whether it be bubblegum music, or disco music.  But people forget how subversive disco music was, when it first began.  It was an underground phenomenon, in the gay clubs of New York.  It was just as subversive as so-called punk rock.”

“I don’t think anybody considered themselves to be punks until the genre phrase was coined.  Of course, there was punk rock in the Sixties: American garage bands like The Seeds or The Standells.  But really, CBGB’s was all about a bunch of beatniks; musicians who were just trying to think outside the box a little bit.”

“We never wanted to be an underground band”, he continues, warming to his theme.  “CBGB’s was like a workshop, where we were able to make our mistakes in public, influenced by bands like Television, The Ramones, Patti Smith and Talking Heads, who were there at the same time.  They actually contributed to the sound of the band, and vice versa.  I think all those bands fed off each other.”

“To me, punk rock is a specific kind of music, with very loud guitars and Iggy and the Stooges influences.  We loved all that, but that was only one facet of what Blondie was.  We never really had a problem with the success.  I think a few people were a little overawed by the success, and I also think the fact that Debbie was a woman kind of made it a little different for the guys in the band. “

“I think if she had been a man – if she was, say, Mick Jagger instead of Debbie Harry – it would have reflected differently upon the other guys in the band.  But because she was such a gorgeous, beautiful, charismatic woman, it made for people going: oh, she’s the star, she’s the band.  And she’d be the first person to say that was never really the case.”

One of Blondie’s great achievements was that their pop success was created and maintained largely on their own terms.  Compared to most of today’s pop acts, they were given a remarkable amount of creative freedom.  Nevertheless, their relationship with the music industry wasn’t entirely free from conflict.  Clem remembers one moment in particular.

“The Autoamerican record had Rapture and The Tide Is High on it – but when we delivered it to the record company, the first thing they said was that there were no hits on the record.  Most people didn’t know what rap music was, and things like doing reggae covers didn’t really line up with most people at record companies.”

“I think it’s to our credit that we pushed along the evolution of what pop music was.  But we were never dictated to, and we never had stylists – although we had producers, and we worked hand in hand with people like Mike Chapman and Richard Gottehrer.  But we actually did it on our own terms.  Debbie certainly did whatever she wanted to do, as we all did.  It wasn’t really pre-planned.”

Blondie might have embraced their success, but their commercial highpoint wasn’t necessarily the happiest period for the band members in personal terms.

“Well, it was a whirlwind – and it has been well documented that certain people were on too many drugs, and things like that.  For me, the whole Blondie experience has been bittersweet in a lot of ways.  From 1980 to 1982, which was a real height of success, when Rapture was a big hit around the world, we never really performed live, which I definitely regret not doing.”

In that case, were Blondie tiring of life at the top?  Was there a feeling that they needed to step off the treadmill?

“Personally, no.  Everybody dealt with success in their own way.  Obviously I wasn’t in the limelight as much as Debbie was.  It wasn’t planned as well as it could have been: when to take breaks and when to work, and things like that.  But I’m a rock and roll fan and I love performing.  We all do.  If we didn’t now, we wouldn’t be doing it to the extent that we do it.  But back then, it was a little different.”

Blondie Mark Two has now been together for considerably longer than Blondie Mark One, so why has Blondie Mark Two lasted so long?  According to Clem, “it’s a different kind of success”, fuelled by the rise of new media in general, and YouTube in particular.

“YouTube gives us a longevity that’s unbelievable.  You’d do some TV show in Berlin in 1978, and you never expected that you’d ever see it again.  Now that everything’s on YouTube, younger audiences can go back and research a band, and see what we were about in our heyday.  We had a very high profile back then, with video and things like that, and we did a lot of television.  So that enables us to continue.  I think that’s one aspect of the success that we have today.  And, you know, we’re enjoying it!  As a musician, you’re always learning.  We’re all interested in the creative process, and that helps us to continue.”

Four years from now, the seemingly ageless Debbie Harry will reach her seventieth birthday.  Does this impending “senior citizen” status put a time limit on Blondie, or will the band carry on rocking into their dotage?

“It’s not going to stop right now”, affirms Clem.  “We’re already planning another record, and we’re not going to stop any time soon.  But inevitably, we will stop before we drop.”

On the evidence of last Sunday’s rapturously received performance at London’s Lovebox festival (a greatest hits set, with two new songs and a riotous cover of an Eighties rap-rock classic), Blondie are in no imminent danger of either stopping, or dropping.

Avi Buffalo, Admiral Fallow – Nottingham Bodega, Wednesday July 14.

Posted in Bodega, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on July 14, 2011

Following a well-received headline appearance in March, Admiral Fallow returned to The Bodega as a support act, filling the venue at an early hour.  Fronted by the wryly lugubrious and magnificently bearded Louis Abbott, the Glasgow-based six-piece delivered an elegant, musicianly set, characterised by Abbott’s poetic, autobiographical lyrics and augmented by deft touches of clarinet and flute.  Tipped by Guy Garvey and Fyfe Dangerfield, and with a renewed buzz building around their re-released debut album Boots Met My Face, the band made good on their promise, setting happy expectations for the headliners.

This time last year, Avi Zahner-Isenberg was an endearingly goofy 19-year old with an exceptional talent, who charmed all who witnessed him on his band’s summer tour of the UK.  Now enrolled at college in his native Long Beach, California, Avi has returned with a revised line-up, with only drummer Sheridan Riley remaining from the original band. 

For the first few minutes of the set, we were left wondering whether there had been a fresh schism in the ranks.  With no sign of Sheridan or new bassist Barbara, Avi and his guitarist George spluttered into action, sounding more as if they were concluding a soundcheck rather than starting a performance.  George drummed while Avi sung – or rather yelped – an unpleasant couple of numbers, stuffed with strong language and gross sexual details, which could almost have been made up on the spot. 

Barbara and Sheridan eventually emerged, and some semblance of order began to prevail – but this was fatally undermined by Avi’s rambling asides and general inability to lead his band.  Avi was looking forward to visiting Amsterdam, we were told, as he was planning to make full use of the city’s unique network of coffee shops.  Given his shambling demeanour and lame attempts at wacky humour – most notably an attempt to convince us that his girlfriend had just been diagnosed as HIV positive (“Haha, I’m joking, there’s no AIDS!”) – it was tempting to speculate that he was already in an advanced state of herbal refreshment.

Flashes of the old brilliance occasionally surfaced, but the band never gelled as a unit, and Avi’s florid guitar runs weren’t enough to compensate.  Applause was muted, and a few walked out.  It was a pale shadow of last year’s glories, and a troubling display of squandered talent from someone who, rather than ascending into adulthood, seemed more intent on regressing into adolescence.

Interview: Ronika

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on July 8, 2011

A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

As a journalist, I want to know all about you – but as a listener, I quite like knowing nothing about you at all.  So I’m a little reluctant to puncture your mystique.

(Laughs) There’s nothing to know!  Mystique is good, but I’m not intentionally trying to hide myself.

Fair enough – but on your last.fm profile you describe yourself as a desolate planet, covered in desert and rock.  What’s all that about?

Oh, sorry – I found that on Wikipedia.  It’s a description of a planet from Star Wars called Ronika, so I decided to go with that as my biog.

You’ve disillusioned me already.  It’s a copy-and-paste job from Wikipedia?  I thought you’d invented a whole mythology about yourself.

Well, no.  I Googled “Ronika” and found that there was actually a planet called Ronika in Star Wars.  With killer wasps.  And a hot surface.  So I thought: yeah, that’s good.

So were your parents Star Wars fans?  Does that have anything to do with the way you were named?

(Laughs)  They’re not Star Wars fans.  They’re Coronation Street fans.  No, my name is Veronica and I shortened it to Ronika.

OK.  So how long have you been making music, and how did you get started?

I’ve been making music since I was a teenager.  I started writing tunes on the acoustic guitar, inspired by people like Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone.  I started getting into producing and making beats shortly afterwards.  That was inspired by electro, old school hip hop, and people like Tiga, The Hacker and Daft Punk.  Then I started building my own tracks.

The influences that come across most clearly to me are taken from early Eighties New York dance music: post-disco, but pre-house.  Do you have a particular attraction to that period?

Yeah, I’m very much inspired by that kind of sound: Chaka Khan, The Sequence, with some early Madonna in there.  Forget Yourself (on the new EP) came about from me and Joe Buhdha listening to stuff like Tom Tom Club, ESG and Blondie, where late disco met new-wave.

To what extent is what you’re doing a retro homage to that period, and to what extent are you trying to forge something completely new?

Hopefully it’s a mix of both.  Everybody has musical inspirations and references which they bring into their music, and mine happens to be that kind of era – but hopefully I’m adding something to it.

Are you one of those people who thinks that music was better in the old days, or are we living in a golden age for music right now?

I think both, actually.  There’s plenty of good stuff out there, and lots of people are making interesting stuff, but I do obviously have a sweet spot for the old days.  When I was making the tunes, I was thinking: this is very different to what is out there.  But I didn’t especially make them to get played on the radio.

What have you made of the critical reaction to the new EP (Forget Yourself/Wiyoo)?

It’s been amazing.  I wasn’t expecting it.  I’m just really glad that everybody is loving the tracks.  That’s the main thing; I just wanted people to hear them.

When you read people writing stuff about you, do you think: yeah, they’ve got me right?

Absolutely, and I think that’s what has amazed me the most.  With all the stuff that I’ve read, people have totally got me right, and they’ve totally understood where I’m coming from with my influences.

You put out two tracks last year, and you’ve put out two tracks this year.  That’s a fairly slow trickle of music.  How long are we going to have to wait to hear any more material?

I’ve been finishing recording my album; we’re mixing it at the moment.  And the next EP is coming out in September, so you don’t have to wait too long.  It will be on Record Shop, which is my own label.

Have you been fending off advances from larger labels?

There has been interest, so we’ll see.  But for the next release, I’m going to stay indie and put it out myself.

In terms of live performances, do you have it in mind to be gigging more regularly?

I’d like to be doing more gigs.  I’ve been busy in the studio up until now.  But with the coming of the next EP, I’ll be doing more gigs.  Splendour last year was brilliant; I opened the main stage.  I also enjoy playing Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop; I did my first EP launch there.

Morrissey once said that his ideal audience would consist of skinheads wearing nail varnish.  Who would be in your ideal audience?

Robots.  All robots.

Are you a full time creative person, or do you have a day job?

I do work, but it’s not a soul-crushing day job.  I work producing music with young people who have been kicked out of school.  They generally like dubstep, so I make that kind of stuff with them.

It’s been said for years that Nottingham has underperformed in terms of producing artists that get outside recognition, but I get the sensation that this is beginning to change.  What’s your take on it?

Well, Dog Is Dead are doing really well, and Swimming are on the verge of breaking through.  Then you’ve got more established acts like Late Of The Pier and Lone, who are already doing well.  So I think we might be moving to a better time.  Then there’s Spotlight Kid – I’ve seen them and they’re brilliant – and Liam Bailey has just played Glastonbury.  Then of course there are lots of people who have got masses of talent and who are coming up, like Nina Smith, Harleighblu, Marita Metelia and Natalie Duncan.  But if you’re from Nottingham, you have to push a lot harder than if you’re from London, to make things work.

So, is Ronika here to save pop?

(Laughs) I don’t know about saving pop, but I do love pop music.  To me, Eighties Madonna is perfect pop music, and that’s my inspiration.

Just don’t go changing into Noughties Madonna.

No, I’ll leave the leotards.

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THePETEBOX, Nina Smith, Captain Dangerous – Nottingham Bodega, Thursday July 7

Posted in Bodega, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on July 8, 2011

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

There’s a new sense of confidence and purpose in the Nottingham music scene, with several local acts – Liam Bailey, Ronika, Dog Is Dead – being widely tipped to break through on a national level.  All over town, games are being raised, as the shackles of cosy underachievement are lifted at long last.  This new mood of optimism was reflected on Thursday night at the Bodega, as three impressive Nottingham acts took to the stage.

Captain Dangerous are a six-piece outfit, with a two-piece fiddle section in their ranks.  They’re rowdy, rambunctious and heaps of fun, with a front man (Adam Clarkson) who wasn’t afraid to scale the speaker stacks – even if he did need help to clamber cautiously back down again.  Free copies of the new single (Forgive Us We’re British) were made available at the front of the stage, and a polite feeding frenzy ensued.

Although visibly nervous in front of her home crowd, Nina Smith and her trio of backing musicians (“my boy band”) delivered a charming, understated set.  Nina’s songs combine emotional vulnerability with an unexpected streak of sexual assertiveness, and she performed them with a frail but focused sincerity.

Pete Sampson – better known as THePETEBOX, at least when he’s not drumming with the hotly tipped Swimming – was on the last night of a short UK tour, and playing his first full gig in the city for about three years.  Visibly touched by the warm support of the near-capacity crowd, he wondered aloud why it had taken him so long to return.

Having made his name as a straight-up beatboxer of the old school, Pete has progressively widened his range, adding guitar, live looping and full vocals to his box of tricks.  There’s an album in the pipeline, which will feature his own compositions: proper songs, which have allowed him to develop his craft well beyond the usual showy gimmickry.  Indie rock influences have also come to the forefront, as evidenced by his choice of covers:  Crystal Castles’ Crimewave, Nirvana’s Lithium, MGMT’s Kids, and even a Pixies track, Where Is My Mind.

As the looped layers of sound built up around him, it was hard to believe that just one man was creating all this music on the spot, without recourse to pre-recorded samples.  The crowd danced, Pete smiled and swigged from a vodka bottle, and the healthy state of music in this city was ably and convincingly showcased.

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Interview: John Bradbury, The Specials

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on July 1, 2011

A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

You’ll be playing some fairly large venues on your second reunion tour, which starts in October.  How do they compare to the venues you were playing the first time round?

These venues weren’t available in the late Seventies and early Eighties.  We’ve got the chance to play to more people, but putting less strain on the vocalists – rather than doing four or five nights on the trot, like we did in Brixton on the first tour in 2009.  It’s a pretty demanding set, and Terry Hall’s voice has improved in my opinion, but it can take its toll.  So the bigger venues ain’t a bad idea. 

Do you lose something when you scale the show up?

We’ve got such a phenomenal, passionate fanbase, that it translates perfectly.  We’ve done lots of festivals over the past couple of years, but if you really want to see The Specials, then I like to think the indoor venues are the best.  Football stadiums, stuff like that: they’re not really us.

I’ll tell you what I genuinely miss.  In the old days, we used to have our stage invasions.  We never really had a barrier between us and the fans – and I don’t just mean a physical barrier.  We belong to our fans, and they feel very much a part of what we do.  So I miss stage invasions.  But they’re totally not on anymore.  You can’t do it because of the health and safety factor.  And there are good reasons for it.

I saw you play the Sports Hall at Nottingham University in 1980.  There was a massive stage invasion, and you carried on playing well beyond the official encore time.  They even turned the house lights up.  But you carried on playing for about another half an hour.  It was as if the band and the audience were locked into a battle: who was going to drop from exhaustion first?

We used to do about six encores.  So roughly another quarter of the set used to take place as encores.  But how can you possibly leave a crowd like that?  The toughest thing is to stop playing, I find.  OK, we’re a bit older – but we haven’t lost any energy.  To be honest, I think the audience might even get tired before we do, these days. 

There was a knife-edge atmosphere to that 1980 gig.  A lot of people were having a lot of fun, but there was also an air of suppressed violence.  You felt that the whole thing could have tipped over at any minute, either within the audience or within the band.  Was that typical?

In a lot of cases, it was.  We had a bit of a reputation amongst one or two of the extreme parties in this country; the National Front was one of them.  They basically used to follow us about.  Dealing with these people was one of Terry’s fortes.  He was able to deal with it, and Neville (Staple) as well. You’d start off by feeling that sort of vibe, then towards the end of the night, they’d have been frozen out of the building.  So at the end of the night, it was a beautiful feeling.  But yes, there was a tension.  We were targeted by these extremists, and they wanted to disrupt.

Nowadays, our audience has mellowed in a lot of respects.  What really hit me on the first tour was the passion.  You had these massive guys coming up, virtually with tears in their eyes, going “I’ve waited 27 years for this!”

I’ll give you an example.  My wife is diminutive; she’s about five foot tall.  She was down in the audience at Brixton, dancing away, and there were about half a dozen of these huge skinhead guys – lovely guys – who all linked arms and formed a circle round her, so she could dance.  The camaraderie was fantastic.

When you decide to go to one of these shows, you’re motivated to a large extent by nostalgia.  But then the show puts you back in touch with the person you once were.  You’re reliving the emotions, and you realise that you’re still, in some ways, the same person.  That can be quite emotionally overwhelming.

It’s good though, isn’t it?  I get that feeling when I’m on stage.  The weird thing is – and I hate to say this – but I’m a bit of a fan of the band, in a way.  My son films some of the shows, and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I look at them.  There’s still something very special about the band, if you’ll excuse the pun. 

Ghost Town was at Number One exactly thirty years ago.  What do you remember about recording it?

It was recorded up in the Midlands, in Leamington.  It was towards the end of things for The Specials.  We were overworked and stressed, and I think you can almost feel that in the track.  Well, I can; perhaps the listener can’t.  But I knew that things were getting close to the end in the recording stages of Ghost Town.  There was a strained atmosphere.  But then again, there was a strained atmosphere in a lot of the work we did, because we were striving to do our best.  After Ghost Town, Jerry Dammers and I carried on with The Special AKA, and some of the rest of the guys decided that it was time to move on. 

Ghost Town getting to Number One wasn’t like most pop singles getting to Number One, because it accidentally soundtracked the inner city riots of the summer of 1981.  Did that change the way you felt about it being top of the charts?  Or were you all still going “Wa-hey, we made it, we’re top of the world”?

I wasn’t overly impressed by it being Number One.  But I’ll tell you another track that I felt great about being on: Nelson Mandela.  The fact that Nelson Mandela got anywhere was a tribute to the track, but at the same time there was the importance of it heightening awareness of the problem.  I dunno; Ghost Town was a good bit of reportage, about what was going on around the inner cities…

…but  Nelson Mandela actually changed things, whereas Ghost Town reflected things?

That’s a good way of putting it.  I think that heightening awareness does change things, and lyrics in popular music don’t do that too often.  So we felt that it was important, more than we felt that it should be top of the pops.  But we’re in the thirtieth anniversary of Ghost Town this year, and nothing’s bloody changed out there, as far as I’m concerned.

This time, hopefully, we’re making a bit more of Ghost Town in the live performance.  I can’t go into too much detail, but we are celebrating, if that’s the right word, the fact that it’s gone through thirty years.  We’ve got something in mind, in production terms, which will be really nice to hear and see.  But I can’t tell you what, because it would just let the cat out of the bag. 

Is this a purely gigging project now, or has there been any talk of you getting back in the studio?

A few of us have talked about it.  If the truth be known, I don’t see any harm in a project coming out of this.  I wouldn’t like to say we’d ever try to produce stuff like the original Specials material.  I don’t think we can do that anymore.  But we’ve got one big asset, and that is our sound – and that’s not going to stop, let’s put it that way.  We did a thing with MIA recently, on Jools Holland.  It gave (some of) us a chance to stretch our legs a bit, with our rhythm sound.  So we might be carrying a bit of a project on, but we’re not sure yet.  Let’s get this tour out of the way first.

And in terms of the gigs, is this it?  Or are you going to take a leaf out of Madness’s book and go on and on?

You never know what’s round the corner, but I don’t think we’ll be touring like this again.  This will probably be the last tour we do.  I think it’s pretty obvious why.  However, there are some younger people out there, who perhaps could do with a band like The Specials occasionally.  So if we’re called upon, who knows?  I mean, we can still do it.  There’s a few years left in the old dogs.