Saturday, 13 February 2010

Our old skin

Twenty years ago, when Nelson Mandela was being freed by the Special AKA and Margaret Thatcher, the world was a very different place. Grimsby Town were on the rise, with one of the best midfields I've seen at Blundell Park; I had a massive dyed black quiff that made me look like 8 Ace out of Viz; and there were still some good programmes about music on the telly.

In Febuary 1990 I saw The Edsel Auctioneer peform a live version of 'Stickleback' on Snub TV. The next Saturday I went into Grimsby to buy it, and I was smitten. Five years later I had the dubious honour of putting on the band's last ever UK gig in Leeds. Well, that's what I've been told.

A couple of years ago, in the printed fanzine that preceeded this shoddy blog, I interviewed Ashley Horner from the band. Here's what he said:

What have you been up to since The Edsel Auctioneer split?

It’s nearly 15 years since we played our last gig, at a fledgling venue called the cockpit in Leeds. Since then I have been working in the film business as a producer and director, making short films and last year completing my first feature film, The Other Possibility, which was shot in Berlin and Newcastle. It’s a border hopping rock and roll movie and was made in a manner similar to the way we ran the band, lots of favours, hard work and not enough money. It will be released on DVD next year.

Tell me what you remember about being in an indie band in the late 80s/early 90s. And how do you think it's different today?

Aidan and I worked together from the ages of 16/17 till our mid twenties, writing songs on beat up acoustic guitars and scraping together enough cash to record the odd song and do the odd gig. I remember listening to John Peel religiously as a kid and at 19 we sent him a three track demo of some songs that we’d recorded for a little record label who didn’t want to release them. I got a letter back on headed BBC note paper and immediately presumed that our mates down the road were on a windup and had gone to the trouble of forging a letter from Peel inviting us to record a session.

It’d be nice to say that doing a Peel session made everything simpler, but it was actually a really tough journey from that to actually making a record, with lots of wrong turns and empty promises. I remember a lot of waiting around for things to happen, being too broke to afford guitar strings, let alone guitars, rehearsing in bedrooms with the mattress up against the window as some sort of soundproofing for our less than enamoured neighbours and many miles in bright orange hired transit vans, sitting on top of our knackered amplifiers, to play support slots and occasional headline gigs to small, but incredibly enthusiastic groups of people. I remember a lot of stage fright and throwing up, too much alcohol, stage-diving onto hard wooden floors, electric shocks, motorway pasties and all for the fantastic thrill of playing a good gig to a room full of sweaty, passionate indie kids from all different sorts of tribes.

Back then every small town had a pub or club that regularly put on a live band. Dance music killed all of that when all the venues became dance clubs and there was nowhere to play. The last five years have seen a shift back to live bands and there’s a different network of live venues to play at, most of them either big chain places like the carling academies, or more mature tasteful little venues that put on the odd gig. We survived by playing live and signing on the dole, and made enough to exist by selling records and T shirts. I reckon that My Space is a great way of raising your profile as a band nowadays, but I think that a band the size of the edsels would find it difficult to put a tour together without the support of a management company and record label clout. We had neither, yet managed to regularly play around the UK, and we even did a really shoestring tour of the east Coast of America one month.

Do you think that The Edsel Auctioneer were a true indie band, and do you think that the upsurge in interest in smaller scale indie(pop) is a sign that people are shying away from NME-sponsored 'indie'?

I think that people who are passionate about playing and dream of being in a band will always find a way to operate outside of the self appointed establishment idea of what is cool and hip (or what the corporations deem marketable). I think we were an indie band in that our ethos came out of that DIY post punk approach of getting on with it and finding a way to create without necessarily having the clout of a major record label behind us, or the incentive of money, in order to make music. Sometimes you have to make the thing that is relevant to you at that time and not wait for the greater opportunity. The first few records by the Edsel’s have an energy and rawness that comes from a group of teenagers recording and writing songs, not the considered and skilful approach of some middle aged muso noodling away and trying to recreate some sound or feel.

One of my favourite music TV clips is where The Edsel Auctioneer were playing live on Snub. What do you remember about seeing yourself on telly? Were you excited?

We were fucking livid. I remember that Phil, the Edsels bass player wanted to go round to Snub TV’s offices and cave their heads in. We thought the sound mix was awful and made us look like a bunch of amateurs. (which we were). I’ve watched it since back on you tube and I love it for it’s crazy energy and excitement. Everything is out of tune but so what. I remember the actual gig itself much better, a really incredibly mental night, with a tiny pub packed to the rafters with people eager to have a good time, and an indie promoter more than a little shocked at the size of the crowd and the subsequent problems that caused with overzealous bouncers and the band playing on the same level as the audience with no crash barriers. It made stage diving very difficult. I must say I’m not sure about the cardigans I sported in retrospect.

The Gutted ep is wonderful. Do you think you ever really fulfilled its potential? Were you disappointed by the albums, looking back, or happy with them?

Looking back I’m really happy with them, but I do think that a lot of the waiting around between recording songs and releasing records damaged the impetus of the band after those first two singles. There was a lot of good stuff that we wrote prior to the first peel session that we never got to record or release, first Peel session tracks included. We worked really hard at writing songs and developing ideas and you always wanted to record the newer stuff when the opportunity arose and so some great stuff only exists as four track demos. I like the rawness of 'Simmer', which sounds like a snotty angry teenage rock band and I think what we were trying to do on 'the Good Time Music Of...' which was make a musically varied and less uptight record worked really well. You could put that record up next to albums made much later by the likes of Wilco and Beulah and see where we were coming from and where we might have gone….

When did it start to go wrong for the band?

I think that touring America with no money was a bit of a crazy idea and strained the friendship between Aidan and I. We had hoped to record an LP out there with Kramer at Shimmydisc records, but that turned out to be another empty promise. We had a young enthusiastic fan, Lori, who had booked the gigs, but wasn’t very experienced as a tour manager, I was drinking a lot, we were a long way from home etc. etc. I was managing the band by this point and we didn’t have a record deal. We could have imploded during those dates. But instead things came good, we were offered a half a million pound five album record deal by Alias Records from LA after they saw us play a blinding show in New York at the Under Acme during the new music seminar. Sadly we only recorded one record with them which we made for $5000…

The delayed release of the first album 'Simmer' was what probably hurt us most. We’d been playing that heavier power pop that Dinosaur jr and the fanclub were producing and then Nirvana and grunge happened. The album was released over a year after we had recorded it and what do you know, the disinterested press etc just labelled us grunge copyists, and late ones at that. Peel kept the faith, bless him, but it wasn’t the most instant of records either.

What did you all do immediately after the split?

I went to film school in Toronto, with dreams of becoming a Hollywood feature film director, only to discover that I was much closer to some off kilter European Art House Auteur and that North American cinema wasn’t too my tastes….

Aidan had a young family and a proper job as a lecturer in graphic design at Leeds Poly, which I think he still does.

Phil did some bits and bobs on the road for the Pale Saints and then formed a punk band with Chris and Jock when they split, called Lorimer.

Tris who was playing drums for us at the time went off to roadie for Tindersticks and play occasional percussion for them live. I remember going to see them and him in Toronto and he just wanted to be back home, he’d just had a kid.

And are you all in touch still?

No, I think that Phil and Aidan still see each other as they’re based in Leeds, but I’ve been in Newcastle for nearly twenty years and am no longer involved in music. I emailed Aidan regarding the use of a couple of Edsel’s tracks on my last film, but we haven’t spoken for ten years or so. Sad really.

That time in Toronto was the last time I saw Tris, not sure what he’s up to now.

What's your favourite memory of The Edsel Auctioneer?

Two things. Firstly there was an indie club in Leeds called Kaleidoscope Pop and we were there one night and this great sounding song came on, really loud and it was our first single 'Our New Skin'. I couldn’t believe how fantastic it sounded and people got up and slammed around to it. Magic.

Secondly I remember turning up to play at The Armoury, which I thought would be some cool new wave club in Cookeville, Tennessee, only to discover it was the actual armoury of a US Marine base. We had hired it for $400 dollars and been told we’d make at least that if we turned up cos we were “an English band”. We were broke and couldn’t pay. At 7.30 the first set of car headlights climbed up the hill and the good people paid their $5 in. In 30 minutes 300 people turned up and we played this show to a hall full of rednecks. They hated us until Aidan started to play the riff to 'Smoke on the Water' and we muddled through a string of very poorly played Stones and Faces covers. Everyone went home happy and we were able to pay off the rather scary looking Marines we had earlier been planning to do a bunk on.

And what's next for you?

I’m producing and directing an erotic drama set in Northern Britain call 'Fuckart' that we’ve been working on for a couple of years. It’ll be my second micro budget feature film and has been written by Sean Conway who is a rather genius writer from Batley, near Leeds. It’s an incredibly explicit and poetic love story. If we manage to raise the budget we’ll be shooting that next spring, so that will keep me more than busy for the next twelve months or so.

I still pick up a guitar and play the odd Edsel riff, but I think that my indie music days are behind me; indie film has replaced it.

Download 'Unbroken Line' from the amazing Gutted ep here.

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