an interview with
JAMES WARREN AND MUTTER SLATER of STACKRIDGE
70s rock sound started in the afterglow of the 1960sfull
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 foundersMutter Slater, Crun Walter,
James Warren and Andy DavisA 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 Americas 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 wasnt shown when the show
aired and to make things worse, the bands 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.
Warren: (phone rings) Hello!
James Warren: Ah, this is James!
mwe3.com: James! Its Robert from mwe3.com in NYC.
JW: Oh, hi!
mwe3.com: How you doing man?
JW: Fantastic! Yeah, were here in Palm Springs and its
bright sunshine, its warm. Its great.
mwe3.com: Its pretty hot in New York too. (laughter) Thats
great. You guys finally made it to America huh?
JW: I know! At the age of...well Ill be 60 next year. So its
taken a long time.
mwe3.com: Well Im 56 and Ive 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 itll be some time in the next
two or three weeks.
Hes quite a character that guy Craig Ferguson...
JW: Yeah! Hes good. I havent 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: Its 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
JW: Thats 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... Its 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 Im out in the boondocks of Little Neck, all of
25 minutes drive from Manhattan. We dont know anything out here...
mwe3.com: Well for the last year Ive told everybody that A
Victory For Common Sense was the best album of 2009. I cant
believe its been a whole year since it came out.
JW: I know. Yeah, yeah... I dont feel its 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, its still a new album I think.
Thats 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 wasnt
as coordinated and kind of concerted, as we did with this album.
I was amazed at the production of A Victory For Common Sense. It
was probably the greatest sounding album that Ive 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, wed 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 weve never done
a project in which it was just us that Chris was producing. Hes
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
JW: Well actually, I thought really were kind of waiting to
see what reaction, if any, the Craig Ferguson show has. Because, I
think, in the U.K. its 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, theres little point in
us going in the studio to record fresh material I think, because as
I say, in the U.K. were not going to breakthrough, I dont
think. So were 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 youre
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) Its one of those phrases that we have over here
that comes from a certain kind of era actually. Its a kind of
old style phrase people dont 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 youd kind of get in 1965 or something.
But people arent 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.
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,
lets 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. Lets instead,
really try and work as a group. And so everyone has a good chance
of ending up satisfied with the end result because everyones
worked on it, and everyones 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 dont you guys go away and try and write
a set of lyrics. And they did so and theyre great lyrics as
well, I think. And then we went up in the studio and Chris sort of
said, Why dont 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 youd 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, its 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
JW: Well, what it was...that track. I think we started to use it in
the live shows because we thought its 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 dont 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.
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, thats 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 couldnt
really find a place for one on this album. And theres a couple
of really old instrumentals that weve never recorded properly
that we were considering doing. For example, theres one called
February In Shropshire which weve had lying around
since the early 1970s, but never recorded properly, but we still havent
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. Its 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 dont 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.
Definitely, its been great, whats happened there. The
only thing with Peter is that he knew we wanted to record an album
of completely fresh new material and Peters thing really is
a kind of archive area, so we knew he wouldnt be quite the right
guy to go to with a completely new album. And as Chris Hughes has
his own label, all thats set up anyway. It just seemed natural,
as hes producing the album, that we should release the album
on his label too. But yes, Peter Purnells done some great work
for us yeah.
mwe3.com: Yeah, its 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 didnt
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 arent where its
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?
He was saying that he feels its 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 dont 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
Mutter Slater: Hello Robert, how are you?
mwe3.com: Honor to speak to you Mutter. Ive 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
theres 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 havent heard what James just said but of
course Craigs using it on his stand up routine. Its a
tribute to him really that we played that one at this show.
mwe3.com: I was disappointed that you guys didnt play something
from the new album like North St. Grande. (laughter)
MS: Maybe next time. (laughter)
mwe3.com: Thats one of your songs.
MS: Yes it is, do you like it?
Its 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. Were very proud
mwe3.com: I told James I felt North St. Grande was like
an antiwar song kind of with a hopeful chorus. Its very moving.
MS: Yeah, where I live in the west of England, Ive 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 thats 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: Thats right yeah, Andy wrote the tune and Crun and I wrote
mwe3.com: That's a very colorful song too, like a tale of people who
miss where they come from.
Shiftless people that sort of think, 'oh well get a condo and
get out.' Well 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, whos been a long time fan of the group as well.
But hes 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 Im sure Chris Hughes
really should take credit for that.
mwe3.com: It has a really hi-tech kind of sonic glow. Its an
album that really sounds like an album if you know what
I mean. (laughter)
MS: I agree, I agree. Even though theres 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, its a shame
the album as an art form is disappearing really isnt it?
Hopefully itll 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 dont 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 youre put in.
Theres 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. Its just those two because unfortunately,
'Codge', he has full time employment and he couldnt give of
himself to the group. So he had to sort of withdraw from the band
and missed recording the album. So hes on few and then Eddie
John sort of finished off the tracks that we hadnt quite started.
Eddies 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 didnt 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 its a great sound when its
right. I dont think theres an actual mellotron on the
album, its probably a sample of that.
mwe3.com: James said hes hoping Stackridge would like to make
some inroads into the U.S. market and hes hoping the Craig Ferguson
show will bring some attention to the bands legacy. Is that
kind of right?
MS: Absolutely. If we got just a chink of (laughter), daylight...just
to stick a toe in...Im sure that Americans love what we do.
Were hoping. Its 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 well get a chance.
You never know about these things. We live in hope.
Well A Victory For Common Sense is such a treat and I dont
think McCartney can make a record this good.
MS: Oh bless you Robert, bless you. (laughter) We think its
our best one that weve ever done and thats a nice feeling
to have in our ripe old age.
mwe3.com: Well for me, its 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 its 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: Its just amazing that Americas greatest living
composer Brian Wilson, he just made a record for the Walt Disney label
reworking old George Gershwin songs!
Thats right! Yeah. That sounds interesting. I havent heard
mwe3.com: Well great lets 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, everybodys writing material and wed 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 Ive never seen
you guys play live!
MS: Ah! Well now youre missing something there! Live is another
experience completely. Even if I do say so myself, we are a good live
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