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The Road To Venezuela
An interview with
ANDY DAVIS


 

 

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The Road To Venezuela
An Interview with
Stackridge guitarist Andy Davis

by Robert Silverstein


While it is true that I didn’t have the luxury of hearing the new Stackridge album, Sex And Flags, prior to this interview, I knew enough about the band from their legendary ‘70s releases and getting a chance to speak with one of the band’s co-founders—guitarist and main songwriter Andy Davis was was a chance to bring things full circle. A couple weeks after the interview, after having finally heard the album, I can assure long time fans that the nearly 30 years of waiting for the original band to record again was worth it. Despite a fine comeback without Davis—called Something For The Weekend—by Stackridge in 1999, it was obvious that a full-fledged reunion would only be fully realized with a reunion with Davis. Imagine a living John Lennon not rejoining for Beatles Anthology! Gratefully, four key members of the original Stackridge—Andy Davis, James Warren, Mutter Slater and Crun Walter—have reunited on ten new Sex And Flags tracks with the extra inclusion of five more tracks from their ‘99 Something For The Weekend album. Also interesting to note, that the band formed by Andy and James Warren following the last Stackridge album from 1976, Mr. Mick—The Korgis are also represented with a simultaneously released collection on Angel Air. Not merely an anthology, the Korgis Kollection also features a batch of newly recorded Korgis tracks from Davis and Warren along with some of the now famous early ‘90s rerecordings of their late ‘70s and early ‘80s pop classics. Both Sex And Flags and the new Korgis Kollection puts the unique progressive rock and pop history that Stackridge and The Korgis brought to the music world into perspective in the extensive booklets featured with both releases. One of the premier CD reissue labels in England, Angel Air continues to amaze with great new and vintage reissues. When it comes to the new and vintage classic pop and rock from Great Britain, it doesn’t get any better than Stackridge. It’s an honor to let long time fans and newcomers alike in on one of the great pop surprises of the new millennium. The following transatlantic phone interview between Robert Silverstein and Andy Davis took place on April 27, 2005.

RS: Andy, it’s great to speak to you. I’m a long time fan of you and Stackridge from way back in the day of The Man In The Bowler Hat days.

AD: Yeah, you’re almost as old as I am.

RS: I picked that record up when I was living in L.A. in 1974 and I became a Stackridge devotee.

AD: Wow...good.

RS: I wanted to talk with you about these two new CDs Angel Air over in England has just released. A new Stackridge CD called Sex And Flags and the Korgis Kollection. It was strange that you weren’t with Stackridge on their comeback CD from ‘99 Something For The Weekend.

RS: Well I am now. I wasn’t a few years back, but that’s a long story. Now we’re back to the four main songwriters in the band, me, James Warren and Crun Walter and Mick Slater. So we went through a bit of a troubled time but now we’re all together again, which is good.

RS: So Sex And Flags has new stuff on it?

AD: Oh, lots of new stuff, yeah. There’s about eight or nine brand new tracks on there, yeah.

RS: That’s great, because the ‘99 Stackridge album Something For The Weekend was a cool record but it was missing your music.

AD: Have you heard Sex And Flags yet?

RS: No, Angel Air sent a copy of the Korgis Kollection CD but they said it didn’t come out yet.

AD: Sex And Flags plays very well. It’s a really nice album, from start to finish. I believe there are five or six tracks from Something For The Weekend, but the rest is completely new. I’m very pleased with it.

RS: How did you come up with that name? It sounds like the state of the world.

AD: (laughter) That was Crun, the bass player came up with that. We tend to deal in sort of different departments in Stackridge these days. I sort of do the production and James and I do the writing. Crun, being an old art student loves to do the artwork and stuff. I was stuck for a title and I said, ‘what are we going to call this Crun?’ and he came up with Sex And Flags.

RS: Interesting that Angel Air has also done a new compilation from your other band you have with James The Korgis, called The Korgis Kollection, which also adds in some new tracks. I guess you and James wrote some new stuff as well. It’s a field day for Stackridge fans.

AD: Yeah, that’s pretty much the same. I can’t remember how many but there are, I believe eight or nine brand new tracks on that album, and a few of our old hits and a few various album tracks that we thought were good but were overlooked so we put basically a new album together with that one.

RS: So there are new tracks on the Korgis Kollection CD, though I was surprised that two of my favorite Korgis tracks from the first U.S. release back in 1979, “Young And Russian” and “Chinese Girl” were not on it.

AD: The problems with those tracks are, we don’t own the copyrights, believe it or not. That belongs to Trojan Records and now EMI I think. So we don’t actually own them any more. The reason we put on “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” and “If I Had You” is we rerecorded them. We made sort of carbon copies of them a long time ago, ten years ago now. Anything we want to include on a compilation, we have to rerecord, ‘cause we don’t actually own them. Seems ridiculous to me, but that’s the way it is. So if we wanted to put “Young And Russian” on it, we’d have to rerecord it.

RS: On Sex And Flags is there any instrumental music? In addition to your singing in Stackridge, I also enjoyed the occasional instrumental track the band featured on the album.

AD: No, there are no instrumentals on that. There’s a song from Mutter called “Beating A Path To Your Door”, which has got long instrumental passages on it. It’s like one of our sort of epic prog-rock things we used to do. That’s the only one I think.

RS: Do you see Sex And Flags as sort of a renaissance for the band or a one off kind of thing?

AD: I’d love it to be. We’d all love it to be a renaissance of the band. It depends really how it’s received and if we can get some work generated from it and how it’s viewed by the business really because we would love to take it on the road and do some live work but I suppose only if we get some backing from the music biz on it. Do you understand what I’m saying?

RS: Did you guys ever come over to the States to play?

AD: No, we never did.

RS: Or is that another American music business disaster we created?

AD: We never quite got there. We had about five or six occasions when American tours were penciled in but they were all postponed. We never quite got there, which was a great shame really.

RS: Hank Marvin calls it a bitter pill that The Shadows never played here either. I know Sire Records released several Stackridge albums in the ‘70s, The Man In The Bowler Hat, which they released as Pinafore Days and Extravaganza so it’s a shame you couldn’t come and promote it more.

AD: Yeah, that’s right. Sire Records were pretty good to us. They were really rooting for us to come across to the States but for some reason it never quite happened the way it should have been, y’know? I went across in 1976 and spent some time with Seymour Stein and we talked about how we could do it but after about three weeks I came back and still it didn’t happen. It was very disappointing really. But, there you go.

RS: I really enjoyed your solo album from 1990. You’ve only done one solo album?

AD: Yeah, Clevedon Pier.

RS: What a great album. That had your instrumental version of “Women Of Ireland” on it?

AD: Yeah, that’s right. Angel Air are putting that out again in the Autumn, in September. Did you know that?

RS: That one came out here on Relativity. I was disappointed they didn’t follow that one up. That’s the American music business for you.

AD: Yeah, well pretty much the same here.

RS: Was that album a product of the post late ‘80s New Age kind of boom?

AD: I suppose it was. It’s always nice when somebody asks you to make a solo album. It’s the only one I’ve done. I’d like to do some more. I maybe doing some more with Angel Air. At the time, that was back in 1990, I was asked to do it by a friend of mine, Peter Van Hooke, who used to be Van Morrison’s drummer. He’d formed a record company so I kind of jumped at the chance. At the time I assumed I would do a few more but that turned out to be the only one. So that’s a shame.

RS: Yeah, the smooth, woody sound of Clevedon Pier wasn’t quite as wild as that great Stackridge progressive instrumental “Purple Spaceships Over Yatton”! Back in the ‘70s it always seemed like Stackridge was always bordering between the more progressive rock sound and the sort of Lennon/McCartney approach to pop. Speaking of which, you got to play with John Lennon once right?

AD: Yes, well I did...yes. (laughter) You ask that question as if you know the answer...(laughter)

RS: ‘Cause I heard you played on Imagine.

AD: I did, yeah. I played on Imagine when I was very young, when Stackridge were so poor we were camping out in a forest in south London. We were sleeping in tents. Bizarre, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and got invited down to John’s house and played on three tracks and stayed about three days and played some stuff.

RS: Do you remember which tracks you played on Imagine?

AD: Yeah, I played on “Oh, Yoko”, “Gimme Some Truth” and “How?”

RS: Did you play piano or guitar?

AD: Guitar.

RS: Would you say Hank Marvin was an influence as well, say in the pre-Beatles years?

AD: Definitely. Well Hank was an influence really before I learned to play. I just wanted to be him. By the time I actually started to play the guitar, I was sort of moving on slightly to John Mayall and that stuff. By the time I really got to grips with the guitar I was really into British blues. John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Peter Green...that sort of stuff, all major influences.

RS: It’s funny that all those guitarists cite Hank as an influence yet they went into such different styles.

AD: Yeah, well I know Hank is sort of a superb player isn’t he? It’s just so difficult to imitate him or do what he does ‘cause it’s just so perfectly done. You just can’t do it as good as he does. I suppose Peter Green was my main influence growing up through those years. And George Harrison, who I think is always an underrated guitar player, considering the amount of styles he mastered by the time he was 19 years old for God’s sake. He was a fantastic player really. If you listen to early Beatles, he was playing country-rock and rock and roll and all sorts of stuff, which for a guy so young, was phenomenal.

RS: Also after Stackridge you did lots of session work like playing with Tears 4 Fears?

AD: I did a lot of different stuff. I played with Tears 4 Fears, Julian Cope, Bill Nelson. Do you remember Bill Nelson, from Be-Bop Deluxe? I played with all those guys.

RS: When did you play with Bill Nelson?

AD: Let me see. It was mid ‘80s when I played with Bill and his outfit then was called the Bill Nelson Orchestra. We recorded some stuff and we did a couple of tours. It was called The Bill Nelson Orchestra then, it wasn’t Be-Bop Deluxe. That was several years afterwards. I did a few session with bizarre people after that. Yeah, Moondog was one of them. Moondog was fantastic. I sung in a choir for him. It was marvelous.

RS: Moondog, the Viking guy?

AD: Yeah! Unfortunately he died a couple years ago didn’t he?

RS: In the ‘60s I used to see him standing like on the streets of midtown Manhattan in his Viking suit and his great beard right near the CBS building on 52nd street. Man, that was a scary sight.

AD: Yeah, I really enjoyed working for him. I did some stuff for Spiritualized. The very recent thing I’ve done is with Goldfrappe, you know Goldfrappe?

RS: Is that the girl singer?

AD: Allison Goldfrappe. She’s very good. Very talented woman.

RS: Did you write stuff for her?

AD: No, I just played keyboards and ukelele. And I did a couple of tours with her as well, which was good fun.

RS: You played all the lead guitar work in Stackridge?

AD: Yeah. Back then we had a mixture. We used a Gibson 330 and a couple of Fenders. A Jaguar and a Jazzmaster, which weren’t very fashionable at the time. I’ve got a small group of guitars I use now. I’ve got a Fender Telecaster, just a standard one from about ‘85, which I love. I’ve got an old archtop, which is anonymous. Somebody told me it looks like a Gibson GI guitar. I’ve never heard of this but somebody, an old jazz player in England told me that during the second world war, Gibson and various makers gave guitars away to troops in Europe during the war, which is news to me but this is what I was told. So they were unmarked, they just gave guitars away and some of them made their way back to Britain. And I believe what I’ve got is one of those but I’m not entirely sure. I’ve got a Fender 12 string, a couple of lap steels and a host of ukeleles. I’m a big ukelele fan, a Martin and several proper ukes, which I think are great for writing on.

RS: George Harrison was another big ukelele fan.

AD: Yeah, yeah...there are lots of ukelele fans in this country now. They all get together occasionally. (laughter)

RS: I could never understand how you could write a song on a ukelele.

AD: Yeah, with difficulty on a standard one, but a baritone is a great instrument. It’s tuned the same as the guitar, but you’ve only got the top four strings. And I spent some time in Nashville about five or six years ago with some great writers there. Roger Cook is the main one. And Roger Cook, I don’t know if you know him, he writes everything on a baritone ukelele.

RS: He’s living in Nashville?

AD: He’s been living in Nashville a long time now. Although he came from Bristol originally, where I come from. He carries a baritone ukelele around in a carrier bag, to writing sessions. He’s slightly eccentric, you could say. (laughter)

RS: He wrote some great stuff for Hank Marvin and also Gene Pitney, “Something’s Got A Hold Of My Heart.” I think he wrote some stuff with Jerry Lordan too.

AD: I don’t know what it is about a baritone uke. I suppose ‘cause there’s only four strings, you have to keep the chords so simple. It’s good for writing, it sort of filters out all the unnecessary complications. It’s tuned exactly the same as the top four strings on a guitar.

RS: I’ll have pick one up! Can you recommend a good one? Which brand of ukeleles do you favor?

AD: I find it’s very difficult to find anything between dirt cheap, 15 pounds or 25 to 30 dollars, up to...the next stage up you got seems to be Gibsons and Martins, which are five or six hundred dollars. Very difficult to find anything between. What you’ve got to look for is something made out of koa wood, which is trees that only grow in Hawaii. And I believe that’s traditionally what ukeleles were made from. It’s very light and has a lovely tone. And if you’re lucky you can find a cheap uke made out of that. I’ve got a lovely one, which is probably worth nothing but it’s got a beautiful tone and it’s made out this really delicate koa wood with a lovely grain on it. I wish I could show it to you, but obviously I can’t. (laughter)

RS: How about acoustic guitars these days?

AD: I’ve got a couple. My favorite one is, again not very fashionable, it’s a Frammus, a king, which I believe is made in Bavaria in Germany. It’s a jumbo with a cutaway. Before I got it, I was always searching for a jumbo with a cutaway because I like a big sort of fat sound but I do like to get up to the top end of the neck. So that was difficult to begin with, to find one with that cutaway. And then I found this one in a junk shop and got a friend of mine to put a new neck on it, and it’s great. It’s lovely and everyone else seems to love it as well. It’s not worth a great deal, but that didn’t bother me.

RS: I told you when I first started talking you, how the Stackridge album, The Man In The Bowler Hat was always such a big influence on me. I was always amazed that George Martin produced that album. How did Stackridge meet up with Sir George?

AD: Well, it was through our manager at the time. I don’t know how he made the connection but George wanted to start a sort of stable of bands and a management company. And he chose our manager at the time, Mike Tobin, to head this company. Strangely enough, Roger Cooke and Roger Greenaway were part of the stable of writers at the time. So, we all sort of hooked up together and it seemed only natural that George would produce our album once that happened.

RS: So many great songs on that album. “The Road To Venezuela” still haunts me.

AD: (laughter) It’s one of my favorites too. It’s a shame we didn’t do a second one, really, with George. It’s a terrible shame, but there you go.

RS: After The Man In The Bowler Hat, Stackridge made a very different kind of record without James Warren and a different lineup called, Extravaganza. Did that ever come out on CD? I saw it on Amazon.com for fifty dollars.

AD: Fifty dollars? Jeezus. I’m really not sure who has the rights, second time around on CD. I lose track. They come out on so many different labels. There’s so many different licensing deals. I can’t imagine who would have put them out in the States, but they certainly weren’t limited and I don’t know, to be honest, if they’re available in England at all, or in the States. It’s one of those things I just lose track of. Yeah, when we made that switch in 1974, actually James didn’t leave. The band sort of imploded, like bands do. We’d been going for four years and the wind went out of us and we went our separate ways, which was a terrible shame really. A few years later we were ready to get back together again but we seemed to think it was too late. The scene had so radically changed by the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It wasn’t until now really, the late ‘90s or now, that we can consider reforming. It seems to be taking it a bit to extremes waiting for so long but...

RS: Looking back, do you have any favorite Stackridge period or album?

AD: My particular favorite is Friendliness, the second album, although that was probably the worst produced. We didn’t actually have a producer for that one so we ended up co-producing it with an engineer we’d never met before. He did a good job but I think that the selection of songs is probably the nicest, the best. I like Bowler Hat as well but I think Friendliness had a better selection of tunes on it.

RS: I think it would be great to have a compilation of the Stackridge instrumental tracks. You were one of the few bands that were doing instrumentals in between the vocal stuff.

AD: Yeah. I used to like the instrumentals. “God Speed The Plough” and “Lummy Days”...yeah.

RS: So for future plans, you may consider releasing a second solo album?

AD: Yeah, I’d love to. I’ve got some stuff that I recorded that I really want to put out which are just basic songs with, strangely enough, sort of a country feel. Angel Air is doing Clevedon Pier in the Autumn, I’d love to do that one next year.

RS: Are you going to have bonus tracks on the upcoming Autumn 2005 reissue of Clevedon Pier?

AD: Yeah, one or two. I’m not sure how many yet, but one or two.

RS: Any other new plans for you?

AD: I’m writing music for a film score now. It’s a full length animated movie, believe it or not, of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers!

RS: Oh my god, you’re kidding!

AD: No, I’m not kidding. It’s being made just down the road in Bristol. And Gilbert Shelton, the original artist, you’ve probably heard of, is writing the script and the screenplay. It’s really exciting. I’m having a really great time. We’re only in the early stages. It’s going to be eighteen months before it’s finished. I’m writing it with a banjo player called Leon Hunt. Gilbert likes ukeleles and banjos and tubas. So we’ve been writing all this mad stuff to go for it and so far, touch wood, it’s been going really well.

RS: Gilbert lives over there?

AD: He lives in Paris but he comes over to the U.K. every two weeks to see what’s going on and we go over to the studios where it’s being shot. We play him some new stuff, he listens and says whether he likes it or not.

RS: Do you still follow the music scene these days?

AD: I tend to not sort of go in search of new stuff ‘cause I just think I’ve got enough stuff I’m familiar with to keep me going. I don’t know if that sounds like I should get out more, I probably should, but I’m really happy with my Randy Newman albums and World Party and Blue Nile and Ry Cooder and stuff I listen to. When something new comes my way I love it. I’m not a huge fan of the music scene in England at the moment anyway. It all seems to be pretty much disposable pop. But there you go. I wouldn’t sort of write it off.

RS: So the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers are next? Can’t wait to hear Sex And Flags. And how about another Stackridge album for next year!

AD: There could well be, yeah, I really hope there will be and I hope you like the new album when you hear it. It sounds like a really nice album to me. It’s got a nice mixture of stuff on it. I’m doing vocals on about four tracks. James is doing it on like six tracks. No instrumentals unfortunately but it’s got a really nice selection of songs.

Thanks to Andy Davis @ www.stackridge.net and to Peter Purnell @ www.angelair.co.uk


 
 
 
 
 

 


 

 

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