THE CIVILIANS
A Taste Of The Future
(Stratotester Records)

 

Not only is U.K. based Paul Simon a great musician and songwriter, a cofounder (along with his brother Robin Simon) of the band AjantaMusic and head of his own Stratotester Records label, but he’s also a musicologist. Having honed his skills in the late 1970s, Simon was affiliated with a range of artists as well as having put together a band called The Civilians. Way back in the late 1970's, The Civilians were slated to work with producer Trevor Horn yet, because Horn was busy rising to fame with his band The Buggles, the Civilians pressed forward without him and the rest is history. A lack of haste might have made all the difference but, missing the chance to work with famed producer Horn has led to a near cult like remembrance of The Civilians among certain music cognoscenti. With drummer Simon the core of the band, the quartet also featured lead singer Trevor Herion, who unfortunately would later go on to take his own life. The songs featured on a 2015 release of the till now unreleased Civilians album, A Taste Of The Future are packed with memorable and quite original sounding New Wave, synth flavored raveups that are highly reminiscent of that frenetic 1977-1980 period. So many great bands came out of that era and you can add The Civilians to that list. Explaining the story of The Civilians in the following interview, Paul Simon tells mwe3.com, “The Civilians lineup was Paul Simon, drums and synthesizer, Michael French, bass and saxophone, Mark Scholfield, guitar, and Trevor Herion, vocals. Of all the lineups I have worked with over many years, the chemistry between Michael, Mark and me was for me the best ever.” Fans of New Age and post-punk synth rock will enjoy The Civilians CD A Taste Of The Future. Perhaps Simon sums it up best adding, “It was a very innovative time for music as a new generation arrived on the scene.” www.AjantaMusic.com

 




mwe3.com presents an interview with
Paul Simon of THE CIVILIANS



mwe3
: With the success of your latest album from your band AjantaMusic, what led you to reinvestigate and reissue the music of Civilians on CD? Tell the readers something about A Taste Of The Future, which is the title of this first ever CD by The Civilians. Was that the original title and tell us about the cool cover art. Also what was involved in locating and restoring the tapes?

Paul Simon: It was initially the interest and enthusiasm of an Irish music fan, Patrick McGahern, that led to all my Trevor Herion related releases. Patrick discovered the music of fellow Irishman Trevor Herion via the original vinyl single of “Dream Soldiers” by The Fallout Club and contacted me several years ago now, first by email then by a visit to my home in London. I literally searched my attic to find what tapes I had and shared them with him. It was Patrick who first told me of Trevor's tragic suicide in 1988. He has since researched Trevor's life, met his remaining family and hence passed on Trevor's mother's blessing for me to release any recordings I have of Trevor's.

mwe3: Who was in the lineup of Civilians and what was the chemistry like in the band? Also interesting that Hans Zimmer was a member. He later went on to become a noted soundtrack composer. Do you still keep in touch with Hans or the other members?

Paul Simon: The Civilians were formed in 1978 by Michael French and me. Michael, one of the few black punks, had been a fan of my band Neo, which had recently broken up. He pestered me to form a group with him and, although he had only just begun to play bass and had no real experience of the music business, he was obviously highly intelligent and determined, so I relented. We found a guitarist, Michael Scholfield, to join us and began writing songs and auditioning singers. I was the group's band leader and principle songwriter, although Michael originated several songs, followed in order of contribution by Mark. We had a couple of other vocalists, eventually finding Trevor via an ad in the London music press. By this time, we already had the bulk of our material written and rehearsed, and in fact Trevor did not contribute as a writer during the time he was with us. We worked very hard, rehearsing incessantly, played a few gigs, and found some well-connected management. After setting up a live showcase for several major labels we received offers from three or four of them and thus The Civilians were signed to a major American record company for a short time before unfortunately losing the deal over a political upheaval within the company that was beyond our control. The other two artists signed by our A&R man Billy Lawrie, also thrown off the label with us, were Iggy Pop and Simple Minds.

We had released one single at the label, recorded in Studio One at Wessex Studios in London. The Clash were recording in Studio Two at the time. These two tracks plus one other recorded at the same time feature the ex-Buggle Hans Zimmer on Prophet 5 synthesizer and are included on the album.

The rest of the tracks are made up of recordings made prior to this, paid for by the band from our own pockets, at various inexpensive London studios. I gave the album its title "A Taste Of The Future" as that is what the Civilians were. We only had a small taste of what could have been, as by early 1980 I had left the group to join Cowboys International and shortly afterwards the group broke up.

As mentioned, I searched my attic to find what Civilians material I had, some on reel to reel, some on cassette, some on vinyl. I paid to have some of the tapes 'baked' to restore them before cleaning the audio and mastering the album with my sound engineer, Tony Bywaters. All the artwork for this and my other releases on my label Stratotester Records is by Los Angeles-based John Mendelsohn. I often suggest the themes and ideas to use.

The Civilians lineup was Paul Simon, drums and synthesizer, Michael French, bass and saxophone, Mark Scholfield, guitar, and Trevor Herion, vocals. Of all the lineups I have worked with over many years, the chemistry between Michael, Mark and me was for me the best ever. We had been together for over a year and a half before Trevor joined and the happy industrious vibe we had continued up to the point when we signed to the major label. Trevor, a highly talented vocalist and performer, was also an enigmatic and highly-strung character who became surprisingly corrupted by our short brush with fame and the substantial amount of money we received in advance of signing our recording contract and ultimately he was responsible for the breakup of the Civilians. The very last time I saw Trevor, in the Marquee Club in London, around ‘85/86, he took me aside and apologized profusely and at length for the damage he had done to our careers. He explained that he didn't have the maturity to deal with it at the time. My reply was, "I forgive you, Trevor. Forget it."

Hans Zimmer was a guest musician, employed by the group on a session basis. He had recently left The Buggles. By a strange coincidence, the Civilians had performed a private gig for Buggles leader Trevor Horn whilst seeking a producer for the Wessex sessions. He liked what he heard, describing us as unusual and original and wanted to produce us, but shortly afterwards “Video Killed The Radio Star” was released, became an instant hit, and Trevor said it would be at least six months before he would be free to work with us. We couldn't wait that long. I remained in touch with Hans for several years via our mutual friend, arranger-producer Fiachra Trench, although I have not seen him since he relocated from London to Los Angeles in the late ‘80s. I recently regained contact with Michael French, who is still in touch with Mark Scholfield. Michael is now a theatre producer in San Francisco. I believe Mark is also somewhere in America.

mwe3: I only have great memories of that 1978 to 1980 era. What made that era so exciting for you and music in general and how do you feel The Civilians fit into that period of music? Who were some of your other favorite New Wave and rock bands of that era? Why do you think New Wave became such a hugely popular style of music, especially after the prog-rock boom of the early and mid 1970s?

Paul Simon: It was a very innovative time for music as a new generation arrived on the scene. Some of our favourites and influences on us at the time? Dub Reggae, Kraftwerk, Television, Captain Beefheart, The Clash, Ultravox, David Bowie, etc. We just concentrated on song writing and tried to come up with an original style combining guitar-based music with an electronic influence. I think we were a little ahead of our time, which is why I think the band still sounds fresh.

Again, it was generational. After the energy of punk, the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Richard Hell and The Clash, it was time for something new. Synthesizers were just coming in; we were the new generation. Other acts we admired were Japan, Iggy Pop, Chic, Blondie, Talking Heads, Devo, Public Image Ltd and Joy Division.

mwe3: It’s tragic that Civilians lead singer Trevor Herion died so young. Tell us something about Trevor and what made him such an exceptional vocalist. What do you think Trevor might have accomplished had he not died so young? His dramatic vocal approach kind of reminds me of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis who also died so young.

Paul Simon: That is an interesting comparison with Ian Curtis, as Trevor had a similar performance style. Not as energetic as Curtis but stylized and jerky in movement. Trevor had charisma and style. His vocals were very consistent and often first take. I think Trevor accomplished quite a lot but he was a complex character. The traits that made him exceptional hid a troubled mind. He increasingly suffered from mental health problems, eventually leading to his tragic suicide.

mwe3: I had read that Trevor Horn was originally supposed to produce the Civilians CD. Do you think that if Trevor Horn had been involved in the Civilians production, things might have turned out different for the band?

Paul Simon: If Trevor Horn had produced the Civilians he would have no doubt improved us, but Mark, Michael and I had been working hard with no income for almost two years before we found Trevor, signed our record deal and auditioned for Trevor Horn. We were eager to release some songs and couldn't afford to lose impetus by waiting for his availability.

mwe3: After Civilians you formed The Fallout Club with Trevor and Thomas Dolby. Can you compare the two bands musically and conceptually?

Paul Simon: Thomas Dolby was a large part of The Fallout Club sound. My creative input was not as great as with the Civilians. I think Trevor peaked on “Dream Soldiers”, the first song written by him that I worked on. He went on to write all his own solo materials, culminating in his solo album Beauty Life, although I think the Civilians' material, as a body of work, is superior to his later solo releases.


mwe3: The Civilians album A Taste Of The Future starts of with “Made For Television”. That sounds like a great song for the lead singer Trevor Herion. Who wrote the track and how does the song capture the essence of that memorable 1978-79 period?

Paul Simon: “Made For Television” is largely my song. It's an optimistic yet ironic lyric. It has the energy of punk tempered by a certain artiness.

mwe3: “Civilization” is track two on the A Taste Of The Future CD. Is that song a put-down of civilization or kind of a plea? There’s some hot guitar licks on that track.

Paul Simon: “Civilization” is an early Civilians song, also mostly mine. It's a plea for sanity from a sometimes confused viewpoint.

mwe3: Track 3 “Hard To Cry” has some great guitar / keyboard interplay? How did you record the piano to get such a dramatic effect? People have compared Trevor’s vocal here to Roy Orbison. Do you think this track would have made a great single?

Paul Simon: “Hard To Cry” is also mostly mine. I lost my mother to cancer several years before I wrote the song and locked my emotions away. It was hard to cry. The track was rehearsed and recorded very quickly. I like Trevor's ad libs on the outro. I never thought of the song as a single until now, as our music is virtually unheard.

mwe3: “In This Romance” is track 4 and it’s kind of an edgy track. Would “In This Romance” have made another great single? Again what sounds like tack piano and tight drumming is right at the fore again.

Paul Simon: “Is This Romance” is again mostly mine, although on all our songs Michael and, to a lesser degree Mark, would add ideas.

mwe3: Track 5 “Heartbeat” is one of the more experimental tracks on the Civilians CD. It’s a great anthemic kid of track. The guitar work is excellent. Can you tell us something about the approach to recording the guitars on the Civilians CD? Also who’s singing backup on “Heartbeat”?

Paul Simon: I think Michael and I co-wrote Heartbeat. We all sang backing vocals on our tracks but it's Michael you can hear doing the reply on this one. Mark's guitar work is, I agree, excellent. I think the influences are Tom Verlaine and Zoot Horn Rollo from the Magic Band. Again, it's mostly live. We would add my Wasp synthesizer, some piano and extra guitar parts as overdubs to fill out the sound on most tracks. Hans only played on the three Wessex tracks as marked on the hard copy CD credits.

mwe3: “Words” is track six on the Civilians CD. What was the sentiment in that track?

Paul Simon: “Words” is a Michael song. I'm not sure what his sentiments were other than "cut the bullshit". It's one of our later tracks.

mwe3: Speaking of dying young is track 7 on A Taste Of The Future, “Seats In Heaven”. What was the sentiment of that song?

Paul Simon: “Seats In Heaven” is largely a Michael song, although I contributed to the lyrics. I don't remember what the sentiment behind this song is.

mwe3: Track 8 is “When We Dance” and it has some great guitar work on it. Is that track kind of very period piece of that era? Did you try to write and record New Wave dance music to record and play? Someone was comparing Trevor’s vocal with Gene Pitney. Come to think of it, that sounds right.

Paul Simon: “When We Dance” is largely mine. It's a convoluted love song, confused love.

mwe3: Track 9, “In Search Of Pleasure” is another driving rocker with backing vocals and hot guitar licks. Was that track considered as a single from that period?

Paul Simon: “In Search Of Pleasure” is a song I co-wrote with Michael, I believe. We never had a chance to consider what tracks would be singles other than choosing “Made For Television” as the A side of our only release.

mwe3: “I See My Friends” is one of the coolest tacks on the CD. There’s some amazing guitar work on that track. The chorus is quite good too. Is that one of the best songs The Civilians recorded?

Paul Simon: “I See My Friends” is almost entirely mine. I wrote the guitar riffs too. Captain Beefheart's Magic Band was my main influence. It's about the breakup of my previous band, Neo. A bitter commentary on Ian North dumping my brother and me to sign a solo record deal whilst using the group name we had established jointly. The very last chord on the song is from a Neo track, so my brother Robin makes an uncredited appearance here. Is it one of my best songs? It's certainly unusual and it's my engineer Tony Bywaters' favorite track from the album. He prompted me to make the promo video for the song which is on YouTube.

mwe3: The final track on track 11 on the Civilians CD is “To Save Our Hearts” has more great crunching guitar sounds. Was it slated to be the final track the album? Is there a key link in the lyrics on that track that you like best? This song would have made a great single.

Paul Simon: “To Save Our Hearts” is a largely Michael song. I put it last on the album as it sounds anthemic and lyrically it's a kind of tragic manifesto. Nevertheless it has strength and positivity. A song of hope for the hopes we had.

mwe3: What are you hoping fans will come away with after hearing the Civilians CD and where do you think the band will take its place in UK pop history? Also can you tell the readers about what you have planned next with your band your band AjantaMusic and other projects you have planned for 2015 into 2016?

Paul Simon: I hope our listeners will enjoy the energy and inventiveness of our work. Our place in pop history would depend on the profile we achieve from releasing what may be the last lost UK New Wave classic album. The group's career was sadly cut short. Who knows what would have happened, although I get the feeling we would have succeeded. All I can say is judge for yourself.

At the moment AjantaMusic is on hold whilst I work on a new project with more obviously electronic influences. The team for this project so far involves Robin Simon, Jürgen Graf, Colin Minchin, Mauno Paajanen, Tony Bywaters and Gina Watson. I'm still in the writing phase, but will be looking for an exceptional male vocalist once the songs are largely in place. A second Trevor Herion? If you're out there, get in touch!

The fourth AjantaMusic album is partly recorded and is slated for completion in 2016. My next release will be my final Fallout Club EP. The Pedestrian Walkway EP features the original track, which was the B Side of “Dream Soldiers”, the original demo, plus my remixes adding Robin Simon and Gina Watson on guitar and vocals respectively.

I also have a live album by The Civilians for release later this year. It was recorded in London in December 1979 and is the last gig the original lineup played. It's another unheard set of later material and doesn't duplicate A Taste of The Future.

Thank you, Robert, for your continued enthusiasm and interest in my various musical projects new and old. A taste of the future ...






 

 
   
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