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 hes 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
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.
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
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.
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: Its 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.
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
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.
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?
Theres 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
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 Trevors 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
mwe3: In This Romance is track 4 and its
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
mwe3: Track 5 Heartbeat is one of the more experimental
tracks on the Civilians CD. Its 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 whos
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.
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 Trevors 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. Theres some amazing guitar work on that track. The
chorus is quite good too. Is that one of the best songs The Civilians
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.
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
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 ...