Thanks to Dizzy for setting me up with the interview, and even better, suggesting some questions I should ask following what by all accounts was an uproarious evening meal with Gentleman Jim.
OK, the first thing I wanted to talk to you about was Masterswitch…
It was very short-lived. It shouldn’t have been. We got a £1 million deal with Epic, but the whole thing got so fucked up.
Do you want to talk me through that?
I was already working with Sham 69 at the time.
I only know the bits Dizzy told me.
It was more like – I was a big brother. I was a few years older than them. I was born between the waves, really, not old enough to be a Rolling Stone, and not young enough to be a Sex Pistol! We met in Walton in a chip shop, and I said you look like you’re in a group. I worked with them quite a lot, in the studio, and I had the same management, Tony Gordon. But Masterswitch was all happening just before that. We did a couple of gigs at the Marquee, supporting the Boys and a few other people. We had a girl manager, called Louise, who was a page three pin-up. She was more of a friend than a manager. Then Keith West, of Teenage Opera, Grocer Jack, took over. He had a band called Tomorrow, ‘White Bicycle’. He’d been a friend of mine for years and started to manage us. I was at the Vortex one night. My mate was the drummer in Generation X, Mark Laff. There was a CBS convention going on and we were looking for a deal. We were going to sign with Don Arden, Sharon Osbourne’s dad. A right bastard! I met this guy called Bruce, he had a big cowboy hat on. He said, what do you do? I said I write songs, I’m in a group. He said sing me some of the songs now! And I did, thinking this has be some kind of joke.
It sounds like Pop Idol!
He gave me a hotel number, and said ring me tomorrow at the Grosvenor. I want to hear more about what you’re doing. I thought, fuck, this is stupid. But I rang him the next morning. He said I’d really like to give you a deal on what I heard last night. Just from me singing to him! I’d sung him ‘Action Replay’ and a couple of other things. He organised a deal and we signed to CBS America, to Epic, and got a massive deal. I don’t think it was a great idea as a) we weren’t there b) we were playing new wave clubs and we were English. To cut a long story short, we got Vic Maille, who did Live At Leeds for the Who, he produced ‘Action Replay’. But the whole thing went to the group’s heads really quickly.
I’d been in the business for years before that, making records and helping people out. We just put that one single out and the group got so big for their boots that they’d got such a big deal that I sacked them basically. Then I got bought out of my contract with CBS.
So you didn’t have to give the million quid advance back?
No. But you didn’t get a million quid, the advance was running for three to five years, a certain amount at the start, then for delivery of the album, and it would add up to a million. The only thing that ever came out was ‘Action Replay’! A couple of them weren’t committed and didn’t see things the way I did. I dunno, I just got fed up with their personalities really.
Did you ever put together a new line-up?
I started to, I was going to do it with Terry Chimes, who was in the Clash. But it was very half-hearted. I’ll tell you why. I was absolutely skint. The girl I was living with had two kids and I was really skint. I was doing work with a pop group all the way through this called Flintlock.
Remember them well!
The biggest group that never was! The band used to write all the songs, and I used to fucking hate the songs. But they could have been good. They could really play well. But their dad had a big stranglehold on the material. I used to basically produce them and try to knock the songs into some sort of shape. They just kept offering me work all the time. I remember speaking to Jimmy Pursey saying, what the fuck should I do? I needed the money so I went for the cash and worked with Flintlock for a while. Flintlock bought me out of my contract with CBS.
They had to pay to get you out? Sounds like the army!
I was really pissed off, because Masterswitch could have gone a long way and should have. It was just one of those things. It all became very calamitous. I was also working with Sham at the time. I helped write Questions And Answers and did bits and pieces on the record. I was involved in the politics as well. We remain great friends today.
The reason I was reminded to hook up with you was watching Jimmy Pursey on Newsnight after the Labour Party Conference!
How shocking was that! I don’t speak to Jimmy that much any more… It really is hard work.
You can’t stop him when he gets going.
Terrible singer, great performer!
You can’t knock him really.
No, he’s Jimmy. He is what he is. He reminds me a vaudeville figure, you know? Sham, at the beginning, were really the true punk band. They really could not play. The only one who could play was the guitar player Dave Parsons. I work with him a lot now, we do things all the time.
Is it true that Sham 69 were a Bay City Rollers tribute band?
Absolutely true. They used to mime it. Jimmy was like the local entrepreneur. He was the local boy that got everyone together, and they’d go out miming. The thing with the music business now, is that everything’s been done. So everyone’s now reviewing it and finding out who was what and what was what. At the time, with all the hype – I don’t think anyone thought that it would last.
I spend a lot of my time tracing people. But people seem happy to talk. Not that many of them haven’t forgotten most of it.
It’s like the 60s, if you can remember it, you weren’t there!
That’s when I started. I was in a band called the Neat Change, the first Mod / Skinhead group.
I know you used to be with the Washington Flyers, Stumpy…
(LAUGHS) They were all-made up groups!
They weren’t real?
Not really. They were made up things. The Neat Change headlined the Marquee, we were the 11th most regular band to appear for about three years, when it really was something to play there. I was 16 when I started, and I went from obscurity bosh to the Marquee. Did an audition one Saturday afternoon. We never did get the set on vinyl though. In the end we were forced to make this psychedelic ditty. Because everything had gone psychedelic. We were left, and we did a song written by Peter Frampton. It will cost you a fortune to find that record now, but I think it’s shit! We were very ahead of our time. My career has been a constant nearly was. I was tomorrow’s big thing for about 25 years. That’s the way it goes. It’s been colourful. I never had a year go by without making one record or another.
So often the case. So the Washington Flyers…
After I left the Neat Change, I made a film called Groupie Girl.
Sounds good! [I later looked this up, and apparently the soundtrack album is worth a fortune]
That was in 1970. I wrote some of the music for it under the name English Rose. My partner Linton Guest used to be in a 60s band called Love Affair. Then Robert Stigwood took over our management.
Oh yeah, the Bee Gees?
Yeah, we were involved with all that. Then one of our managers got shot dead, Rick Gunnell. The Gunnell brothers were big club owners, the Bag Of Nails, the Ricky-Tick, all the big R&B clubs. They looked after Georgie Fame. They amalgamated with the Stigwoods but then he got shot. I didn’t want to stay with them anymore….
I’m not surprised!
It was getting too heavy for me. We went to ATV as producers, Linton and I, as producers, writers and A&R men. I found Kung Fu Fighting!
Nobody wanted it, and it went to number one. Linton Guest and I found it. Our boss, Robin Blanchflower, always took the credit for it, but he had fuck all to do with it.
Where did you find it?
A guy called Bidu came in. He was the producer. He played us a couple of tapes and said, I want £500 and 10%. This was the mid-70s. He played the track, and I loved it. We used to have A&R meetings every Tuesday morning, when we’d bring in stuff that other people had brought in. And they were going, oh, it might be a club hit. It’s a bit too much money… I think we got it for something like £400 and 8% in the end. But they didn’t really want it! Eventually we said, look, I think this is going to happen. Bosh. We got it out, it got played in the clubs and went to number one. I also helped sign Ian Dury when he was in Kilburn And The High Roads to Pye. We were working for ATV for Pye. Stumpy were a little group that came from somewhere in Devon. Nothing to do with us, the signing of the group. But when we got them in there, they couldn’t play! So Linton and I just made the record, wrote it, produced and played it. Along with a guy called Steve Holly who was later in Wings. This is all pre-new wave!
Kilburn And The High Roads would have been mid-70s as well?
The label I looked after with Linton was called Dawn, where the Washington Flyers and Stumpy came out. The Washington Flyers were nearly a hit, we did TV twice. It’s a bit Roxy Music-ey. I was always a bit punky before punk. When punk came along it was great, because I was always out on a limb. I liked listening to the Eagles and stuff but I never liked playing that stuff. A label called RPM, which is part of Cherry Red, they’ve actually put out Another Saturday Morning on some compilation. In 1980, I did an album for Polydor that never came out, because I teamed up with Rick [Buckler] it all got left behind. I’m trying to get hold of the tapes now, because RPM want to put that album out.
You were also drummer for Mean Street for a while?
Do you remember them? Live at the Roxy? I played drums for them. They had a drummer, but he used to get up and sing a few songs. Again, it was another group I helped. I taught them to play a bit and helped them with their material. But I loved those days. It was great – here’s something I really understand.
It sounds like you were dipping in and out of the business and artistic sides?
Yeah. I used to help people learn to play. All these kids came along and wanted to be in groups, and none of them could really play, and I could. So I helped shape their songs up, and I’d go and play drums for Mean Street at the Roxy!
So, we’ve got Flintlock, Masterswitch, anything else before you moved on to Time UK?
Yeah, do you remember Dave Dee of Dave, Dee, Dozy, Mick and Tich? He was head of A&R at Warner Bros. After I’d had enough of doing the Flintlock thing, I went over to Warner Bros. Jimmy Pursey played my stuff to the Pretenders, who he was friendly with. I did a deal with Warners for a record called ‘Nora’s Diary’. That’s another single that changes hands for a lot of money.
What about the one-off thing you did with members of Sham and the Pretenders?
That was an out-take in between recording the tracks for Warner Bros. We pissed about doing the Public Piss-take of John Lydon’s group Public Image. It wasn’t meant to be a track at all, it was literally us buggering about in the studio. But we used to make an acetate of everything. Do you know Jimmy was going to join the Sex Pistols at one point? I was around at the time, but it was never going to work. He was going to join them, and I was going to join Sham! We’d got to the point of actually recording new material!
Do you have any copies of that?
Dave [Parsons] might have a copy of that. But as soon as Jimmy saw me going into the studio and singing with them, he came running back home! There was a song called ‘Unite And Win’ that Dave and I wrote. But then said, I’m coming back. I thought, who cares. And he went in and put a vocal on top of mine in the studio. That was the last single they did for Polydor. Then I did ‘Nora’s Diary’ as Jimmy Edwards and the Profile, which was, in fact, me and Sham 69. Then I did another single for Warners, 20th Century Time and Seven Hail Marys, which is me and the Pretenders. They both came out on Warners. Mike Reid actually played Nora’s Diary a lot. It was about suicide. I always went a bit against the grain. They call it a powerpop classic now…
You’ve had a rich recording career.
After I did the second Warners single I went over to Polydor. Got a big advance, as usual. And I started recording an album that never got released. But I did put out three singles with Polydor. Once called Toys, on Polydor. I then put out Cabaret, which Time UK later recorded. I'd already released that as a solo single. Then I did a version of the Jam’s In The City. I was making the album and mucking around. I used to do a Bob Dylan version, slow it up and sing that. Polydor got very excited over my version! They brought in Godley and Crème from 10cc to produce! And they produced it.
I’ve never heard that?
I’ve got a couple of copies of it somewhere.
Sounds like fun!
Then after that I teamed up with Rick [Time UK]. Dennis Munday at Polydor is the only one that’s got this album that I’m trying to get hold of. I’ve got pieces of it, but RPM are interested in putting that out. If that went out OK, they would then do a discography of all my old stuff. At the moment it’s coming out in drips and drabs on compilation. It would be nice to see it all on one album.
Dizzy said you were married to Honey Bane?
We had a little thing years ago when she was first making records, around the time of Violence Grows with the Fatal Microbes, and she was working with Crass. We just clicked. But I was already in a relationship and she was very young. Then we met years later and we were both fed up with the relationships we were in, and we got together married. But it didn’t last very long. She’s madder than me! No, she’s lovely, and actually very talented, but she really threw it all away.
Did she do some porn films?
I think so. I think that’s true….
I’ll get battered if I go round websites looking for that…
Call it research!
Good luck to her. If it pays the bills.
(And that was that. Apart from discussing the afternoon’s horse racing)
Interview done by "Alex Ogg"
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