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WONDERFUL DAY

an interview with
JAMES WARREN AND MUTTER SLATER of STACKRIDGE


The ‘70s rock sound started in the afterglow of the 1960s—full of promise following the amazing progress of rock music as the defining music of the era. In the aftermath of The Beatles, a new British band called Stackridge came to power, releasing at least five great albums before calling it quits in 1978. With the complete original band reforming for the first time in years, Stackridge released a brilliant, underrated collection of new and sort of new tracks called Sex And Flags in 2005, with the band truly rising to the occasion in 2009 with their definitive comeback album, A Victory For Common Sense. Featuring the core four Stackridge founders—Mutter Slater, Crun Walter, James Warren and Andy Davis—A Victory For Common Sense was superbly produced by Chris Hughes, who helped Stackridge achieve a new recording pinnacle in their five decade long career. A Victory For Common Sense was praised by mwe3.com in the Fall of 2009 and amazingly, a year later in October 2010, Strackridge traveled across the wide sea from the U.K. to California to appear on the Late, Late Show, after the Letterman show, and featuring America’s favorite English funny man Craig Ferguson. As you can read in the following interview with James Warren and Mutter Slater, Stackridge had a blast playing the show and meeting Craig and they even got to share a make up room with Condoleeza Rice, who for reasons unknown to me, was actually on the same Ferguson show with Stackridge that night! Of course, also for some reason, only known to the corporate cabal known as American TV, the Stackridge part of the show wasn’t shown when the show aired and to make things worse, the band’s whole 3:45 minute part of the show was pushed back to January 2011! Of course in his favor, Ferguson being English did the right thing inviting arguably the greatest of all the surviving U.K. rock bands from the heyday of the mid ‘70s. MWE3.com had been in touch with the Strackridge camp about the Ferguson show visit to California and on the day after the Ferguson show, still in L.A. on October 26, 2010, Mutter Slater and James Warren spoke to mwe3.com founder Robert Silverstein about their appearance on the show as well as a look back at the brilliant success of A Victory For Common Sense.


James Warren: (phone rings) Hello!

mwe3.com: Andy!

James Warren: Ah, this is James!

mwe3.com: James! It’s Robert from mwe3.com in NYC.

JW: Oh, hi!

mwe3.com: How you doing man?

JW: Fantastic! Yeah, we’re here in Palm Springs and it’s bright sunshine, it’s warm. It’s great.

mwe3.com: It’s pretty hot in New York too. (laughter) That’s great. You guys finally made it to America huh?

JW: I know! At the age of...well I’ll be 60 next year. So it’s taken a long time.

mwe3.com: Well I’m 56 and I’ve been a Stackridge fan for at least 35 years already.

JW: Oh, fantastic.

mwe3.com: So how did it go on the Craig Ferguson show? Did it go okay?

JW: Yeah! Really good. Better than we could have hoped. It all went really smoothly. We did it in one take and they were delighted and the playback sounded great. So it was just really good.

mwe3.com: Did they give you any idea when it would air on the television?

JW: All she said was they were going to be having a meeting over the next day or so and she thinks it’ll be some time in the next two or three weeks.

mwe3.com: He’s quite a character that guy Craig Ferguson...

JW: Yeah! He’s good. I haven’t seen him before but I was impressed. I like him.

mwe3.com: We finally got a British guy with a cool sense of humor.

JW: Yeah, yeah...

mwe3.com: What did you play on the Ferguson show?

JW: It’s a track called “The Last Plimsoul” from the album The Man In The Bowler Hat.

mwe3.com: Oh, wow. Yeah I was reading that song is near and dear to Craig.

JW: That’s right yeah. What happens is, he uses a section of it in his live shows, as his kind of theme music. And when he spoke to us, he said just the other day, he did two sell out shows at Carnegie Hall and he was using the track for that as well so... It’s amazing.

mwe3.com: Wow, he did a show at Carnegie Hall? You mean a comic show.

JW: Yeah! A stand up show. Sold out, two nights.

mwe3.com: Yeah I’m out in the boondocks of Little Neck, all of 25 minutes drive from Manhattan. We don’t know anything out here...

JW: (laughter)

mwe3.com: Well for the last year I’ve told everybody that A Victory For Common Sense was the best album of 2009. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since it came out.

JW: I know. Yeah, yeah... I don’t feel it’s really sort of happened in the States, in the sense that even though it was released a year ago, there was no kind of...obviously no publicity for it in the States really. So in a sense, it’s still a new album I think. That’s the way we look at it.

mwe3.com: A Victory For Common Sense was a major step upwards from the 2005 Stackridge comeback album Sex And Flags...

JW: Yeah, it was I agree. It was a more kind of concerted, deliberate effort at making a strong album. Sex And Flags was kind of putting our toe in the water again, after a long time. And it wasn’t as coordinated and kind of concerted, as we did with this album.

mwe3.com: I was amazed at the production of A Victory For Common Sense. It was probably the greatest sounding album that I’ve ever heard just about, because it uses the new technology but it sounds like it could have been made around the time of Abbey Road.

JW: Oh wow...

mwe3.com: What was it like working with Chris Hughes at Helium on the new Victory CD?

JW: Oh, it was just perfect working with Chris because...the funny thing is, we’d all known him for like 25 years but had never actually worked with him properly on a project. Andy used to play keyboards for Tears For Fears. He would sometimes go in the studio with them and Chris would be producing that but we’ve never done a project in which it was just us that Chris was producing. He’s a great guy and really knows the best things to sort of go for when making an album. He really kind of formed some of the basic ideas we had and made them special. Yeah, he was really good to work with.

mwe3.com: Is Stackridge planning to do more with Chris and Helium moving forward?

JW: Well actually, I thought really we’re kind of waiting to see what reaction, if any, the Craig Ferguson show has. Because, I think, in the U.K. it’s very difficult for us to breakthrough and so I think having a new, sort of project, like the U.S. is just what we need. So if we did get, for example, invited over to do a little tour or a series of gigs, and things maybe started to happen a bit in the states, I think that would be the springboard to do new recordings. But I think without that, there’s little point in us going in the studio to record fresh material I think, because as I say, in the U.K. we’re not going to breakthrough, I don’t think. So we’re looking towards the States, I think it could be what we need.

mwe3.com: I wish I knew how to do more. I understand what you’re saying though. How did you guys come up with the name A Victory For Common Sense, because I know Andy told me the Crun came up with the name for the Sex And Flags album title.

JW: (laughter) It’s one of those phrases that we have over here that comes from a certain kind of era actually. It’s a kind of old style phrase people don’t use much anymore, but people as old as Andy, Crun and myself, we would have used those kind of phrases in the ‘60s. A Victory For Common Sense was a kind of newspaper sort of headline you’d kind of get in 1965 or something. But people aren’t that familiar with it anymore. So, basically we were just sort of throwing up ideas...what would be a really nice phrase to have as a title. And one of us, it was either Crun or Andy, remembered that phrase that we used to use when we were younger and it just seemed to sound really good.

mwe3.com: A lot of the tracks on A Victory For Common Sense are co-written. Is there a formula Stackridge uses to co-write songs? Like, on the A Victory For Common Sense song “The Old Country” it sounds like kind of a Lennon & McCartney song, picking up on one idea with another idea?

JW: (laughter) Yeah, that was it. We kind of said this time around, let’s really try and work with the group, instead of sort of one person setting up with six or seven songs and saying, ‘these are my songs,’ there will be some on the album. Let’s instead, really try and work as a group. And so everyone has a good chance of ending up satisfied with the end result because everyone’s worked on it, and everyone’s contributed. So for example, with that particular song, you just mentioned, I think it was a tune that Andy and I had started to mess around with and then we said to Mutter and Crun, ‘Why don’t you guys go away and try and write a set of lyrics. And they did so and they’re great lyrics as well, I think. And then we went up in the studio and Chris sort of said, ‘Why don’t you try a bit of this and a bit of that, with the music,’ and so every one was chipping in. Everyone was contributing and it really was team effort. Yeah, it was great. That one, if you’d heard it in its original form, it was a lot kind of less electric and more acoustic sounding and more sort of twee, I suppose. But I think, gradually, as we started to work on it, we came up with this feeling that we should make it more like a kinda Kinks sort of cut, electric, not twee. I think it really works.

mwe3.com: Yeah I love “The Old Country”, it’s really upbeat and it gets you thinking about life. I was amazed you also covered an earlier song you did called “Boots And Shoes”. I always loved the Korgis version you did back in the late ‘70s on Sire.

JW: Well, what it was...that track. I think we started to use it in the live shows because we thought it’s great to have a good, sort of simple, rocking song and that one seemed to fit the bill because we used to, in fact, do it in a very similar way to that when we first wrote the song. But when we came to record that first Korgis album, at the last minute, Andy said, ‘why don’t we try doing it completely differently?’, taking a different approach to it. So we ended up recording it the way that it sounds on that first Korgis album, but in fact, it always was a straight rocker really. So we went back to the original way we did it and it really works I think.

mwe3.com: This version sort of fits in with the hard rock sound of a lot of the tracks here.

JW: Yeah, I think so.

mwe3.com: Talking about that shared co-writing, back and forth kind of thing, that song “Cheese And Ham” was kind of interesting. I call it kind of like an adolescent flashback.

JW: (laughter) Yeah, that’s right. I think that was another case where I think Andy had like the basic melody and we sort of all kind of worked on the musical arrangement. And when it came to the lyric, it was myself and Glenn, who now plays keyboards with the band...we went away and we really tried to fit the lyrics to the mood of the music. And really, I suppose, the mood of the music invokes that particular sort of lyrical approach. And I think it all works really well. I think the words really fit the sound of the music.

mwe3.com: I think A Victory For Common Sense is the first Stackridge album to not have an instrumental track.

JW: I think, at first, we did toy with the idea of doing an instrumental but I think we probably had so many sort of song ideas that we couldn’t really find a place for one on this album. And there’s a couple of really old instrumentals that we’ve never recorded properly that we were considering doing. For example, there’s one called “February In Shropshire” which we’ve had lying around since the early 1970s, but never recorded properly, but we still haven’t found a place for it yet, but one day we might.

mwe3.com: I was surprised that you picked the song “North St. Grande” as the single for A Victory For Common Sense. Mutter sings “The Old Country” too. It’s great to hear those voices too, the three great voices of Stackridge again.

JW: In part, that was Chris’ idea, the “North St. Grande” single. I don’t think we were thinking like that, but Chris heard something in the chorus which he thought was very kind of radio friendly. And so that was entirely his idea.

mwe3.com: What did you think of the Angel Air remasters of the Stackridge back catalog. I thought those were brilliantly done and they sound great. Angel Air and the label chief Peter Purnell is doing a great job sort of documenting the history of British rock in a way.

JW: Definitely, it’s been great, what’s happened there. The only thing with Peter is that he knew we wanted to record an album of completely fresh new material and Peter’s thing really is a kind of archive area, so we knew he wouldn’t be quite the right guy to go to with a completely new album. And as Chris Hughes has his own label, all that’s set up anyway. It just seemed natural, as he’s producing the album, that we should release the album on his label too. But yes, Peter Purnell’s done some great work for us yeah.

mwe3.com: Yeah, it’s great to have the original Stackridge albums remastered on CD in such a devoted way because last time I spoke to Andy in 2005, I told him that there were no Stackridge albums on CD and I later found out people in Russia selling Stackridge albums on CD for fifty dollars or something. I actually bought a CDR (I didn’t know it was CDR though) in the spring of 2006 of Friendliness from a guy in Russia of all the crazy things...

JW: Really wow!

mwe3.com: Yeah, some guy from Russia was bootlegging them on CDR and selling them on ebay. You could tell they were bootlegs. The sound wasn't bad but there was nothing about the album in the packaging. So, thank God for Angel Air. How do you think the record business has changed? Back then, Stackridge was on some big labels like MCA and Sire. Now it seems the 'major' labels aren’t where it’s at in a lot of ways.

JW: Exactly right. For this recording we did yesterday, for the Craig Ferguson show, we had an old friend of ours, Jerry Marotta, playing drums for the show...do you know Jerry Marotta?

mwe3.com: Yeah.

JW: He was saying that he feels it’s the same kind of thing happening in the states really that back in the 1980s, the people he played for, they were on big labels. And the labels kind of dominated the scene, but these days it really is down to sort of individuals doing their own thing and record labels don’t have the same kind of power anymore. So it seems to be a world wide phenomenon I think to do with the download age that we live in.

mwe3.com: All the Stackridge albums were so beautifully packaged. You really lose that with downloads and I hate to lose that...

JW: Me too.

mwe3.com: Are any of the other guys available for interviews?

JW: Andy must have wandered off somewhere. Mutter, come here. Here he is.

Mutter Slater: Hello Robert, how are you?

mwe3.com: Honor to speak to you Mutter. I’ve been a huge Stackridge fan for 35 years. I bought The Man In The Bowler Hat in 1974, in Los Angeles as a matter of fact.

MS: Oh, you were the one! (laughter)

mwe3.com: (laughter) I guess so.

MS: The Man In The Bowler Hat did quite well over here, I think, at the time.

mwe3.com: I think Seymour Stein put it out on his then Sire Records.

MS: Sire, correct, yes he did, yes.

mwe3.com: How did it go on the Craig Ferguson show by the way?

MS: Very, very well. We acquitted ourselves very well ‘cause there’s a lot riding on us performing well in three minutes and forty five seconds. But we nailed it first take which is pretty good.

mwe3.com: James told me, you guys played “The Last Plimsoul” which is from The Man In The Bowler Hat.

MS: Yes it is. I haven’t heard what James just said but of course Craig’s using it on his stand up routine. It’s a tribute to him really that we played that one at this show.

mwe3.com: I was disappointed that you guys didn’t play something from the new album like “North St. Grande”. (laughter)

MS: Maybe next time. (laughter)

mwe3.com: That’s one of your songs.

MS: Yes it is, do you like it?

mwe3.com: It’s a beautiful song man. I love it. Because in my opinion, A Victory For Common Sense was like the best album of 2009.

MS: Oh, bless you Robert. Thank you very much. We’re very proud of it.

mwe3.com: I told James I felt “North St. Grande” was like an antiwar song kind of with a hopeful chorus. It’s very moving.

MS: Yeah, where I live in the west of England, I’ve got one or two mates who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and they were telling me how important it is for them to have the food parcels from home from their wives...little parcels from their wives. So I imagined someone in that position looking at their picture of their partner, girlfriend or whatever and sort of having that connection. Bob Dylan was always saying about the protest songs, he always tried to make them personal so they carried more weight, so that’s how it started really. So it is antiwar, but you know, sympathy for the people that are actually there fighting the wars for us.

mwe3.com: “The Old Country” is another one you actually sing the lead on right?

MS: That’s right yeah, Andy wrote the tune and Crun and I wrote the lyrics.

mwe3.com: That's a very colorful song too, like a tale of people who miss where they come from.

MS: Shiftless people that sort of think, 'oh we’ll get a condo and get out.' We’ll emigrate and go over to Australia or New Zealand or Spain or something like that, and then they get there and still have the hankering for the fish and chips and the warm beer and what have you from back home. Never quite sure where they want to be. Good bits on both sides but nothing quite completes the picture.

MS: A Victory For Common Sense seems like a very cohesive album where as Sex And Flags was brilliant but it seemed like more a collection of tracks. How would you compare the two?

MS: Yes, well I think we really have Chris Hughes, the producer to thank for that, who’s been a long time fan of the group as well. But he’s the one that sort of made it sound as though it was the same group playing throughout, rather then in the old days we used to sort of think, ‘Oh well we want this to sound that way or this sort of style,’ and go out of our way to make it sound authentic in a genre. But in this one, it just sounds as though there are different flavors of music on the album but it just sounds like the same band playing it throughout, which I’m sure Chris Hughes really should take credit for that.

mwe3.com: It has a really hi-tech kind of sonic glow. It’s an album that really sounds like an “album” if you know what I mean. (laughter)

MS: I agree, I agree. Even though there’s a fair amount of digital technology behind it, it has got that live, warm sort of sound to it as well which is something we thought would be important really.

mwe3.com: A Victory For Common Sense kind of sounds like a concept album, which sort of rare for the 21st century.

MS: We were talking the other day and saying, ‘it’s a shame the album as an art form is disappearing really isn’t it?’ Hopefully it’ll return. The right band maybe will bring one out. These days of individual downloads, you can take a track out or put back the tracks you don’t want. Or you can shuffle them so the sequence of the tracks is no longer important. But then, you have to live in the world you’re put in.

mwe3.com: There’s some great drumming on A Victory For Common Sense. How many drummers did Stackridge work with on this album? I know Andy 'Codge' Marsden played drums...was there someone else?

MS: And Eddie John, who is the current drummer of the band. He did some on there as well. It’s just those two because unfortunately, 'Codge', he has full time employment and he couldn’t give of himself to the group. So he had to sort of withdraw from the band and missed recording the album. So he’s on few and then Eddie John sort of finished off the tracks that we hadn’t quite started. Eddie’s doing a great job.

mwe3.com: Is there any mellotron on the A Victory For Common Sense album? You played the tron in Stackridge.

MS: I did, yes back in the old days. (laughter) The blessed mellotron. It didn’t travel well, the mellotron. I can remember at least one gig where we started off...I think Andy was playing the mellotron on the track. I opened up, I think, on the piano with a few bars and Andy played the mellotron that sounded like twelve men strangling twelve cats. (laughter) It was never up to the robust treatment our roadies used to give it. Yes, but it’s a great sound when it’s right. I don’t think there’s an actual mellotron on the album, it’s probably a sample of that.

mwe3.com: James said he’s hoping Stackridge would like to make some inroads into the U.S. market and he’s hoping the Craig Ferguson show will bring some attention to the band’s legacy. Is that kind of right?

MS: Absolutely. If we got just a chink of (laughter), daylight...just to stick a toe in...I’m sure that Americans love what we do. We’re hoping. It’s a great opportunity for us to get on on the Late, Late Show with Craig. Hopefully, the right person will be watching it when it goes out and then we’ll get a chance. You never know about these things. We live in hope.

mwe3.com: Well A Victory For Common Sense is such a treat and I don’t think McCartney can make a record this good.

MS: Oh bless you Robert, bless you. (laughter) We think it’s our best one that we’ve ever done and that’s a nice feeling to have in our ripe old age.

mwe3.com: Well for me, it’s great to still have that timeless thing in the music of Stackridge. Like John Lennon said, ‘all you need is love’ right?

MS: Quite right, yeah. And I think it’s interesting how the young bands that are coming up now, they cite as their own influences as The Kinks and The Small Faces. Bands from the ‘60s that the 20 year olds that are actually coming up through now are sort of getting their inspiration from that period. So we just want them to move on to the ‘70s, and we start again. (laughter)

mwe3.com: It’s just amazing that America’s greatest living composer Brian Wilson, he just made a record for the Walt Disney label reworking old George Gershwin songs!

MS: That’s right! Yeah. That sounds interesting. I haven’t heard it yet.

mwe3.com: Well great let’s see what we can do. I would love to try and help you guys get some more exposure here in the U.S.

MS: Bless you Robert, thank you very much.

mwe3.com: So what would you like to do next?

MS: Well, everybody’s writing material and we’d love to get another album done. And if we could come out and push it over here, then even better. That would be wonderful.

mwe3.com: Well that would be fantastic, because I’ve never seen you guys play live!

MS: Ah! Well now you’re missing something there! Live is another experience completely. Even if I do say so myself, we are a good live band.

Thanks to James Warren and Mutter Slater @ www.Stackridge.net Also thanks to Mike Tobin and to Peter Purnell @ www.AngelAir.co.uk and to Carole Davies and Chris Hughes @ www.HeliumRecords.co.uk







 
 
 
 
 

 


 

 

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