exclusive interview with
Much too often forgotten and underrated, the RADIO STARS were however a brilliant Powerpop/punk'n'roll band that deserves to be recognized as one of the most remarkable references from the '77 british scene.
Therefore, I'm glad to present to you an interview with
their former frontman !
Exclusive interview with Martin Gordon by Hans Wehrwolf,
27 august 2006
Hell-o Martin ! Can you please remind us briefly of the RADIO STARS' biography and what was the band's line up, especially for the youngest readers who perhaps never heard of you before ?...
|Well, there was me writing the songs, producing the records, playing bass and keyboards. There was a singing person who jumped, called Mr Hemisphere, and a guitarist who looked very much like King Richard III Part IV but who was in reality someone else. Then on drums there was a constantly revolting series of drummers, most of whom expired in a series of bizarre inability-to-keep-time incidents, with the exception of the first one, Chris Townson. He was also in an earlier band of mine called JET, along with the singer Mr Hemisphere and the guitarist Mr King Etc. In fact, to all intents and purposes, the earlier band Jet was identical to and indistinguishable from the subsequent band RADIO STARS, except for the trousers. Since you refer later to the legendary, oft-imitated, never-bettered, copper-bottomed, money-back-guaranteed song ‘Dirty Pictures’, I sadly have to inform you that it was in reality recorded by the above four musicians while they were called JET. As nobody gave a fuck about it – in fact my former manager said to me “Throw that one out, it’s terrible” – I decided that rather than throw the song out I would throw HIM out, and change the name of the band while I was at it. This, more or less, possibly less, is what actually happened. |
Later there came other additions and substitutions of personnel. Chris Gent often joined in on vocals and sax, Trevor White joined in on guitar and vocals, until transvestism and gerbils go the better of him (a sad tale), Hugh McDowall from the ELO provided cello, Paul Jones provided an occasional harmonica, Graham Chapman contributed the odd voiceover and Anthony Sher (dear Sir Ant) played Shylock. The whole thing was directed by Peter Brook on his day off. Unfortunately he didn’t bring any of his identical wives along, so we had to provide out own models. I found mine between the pages of an English national tabloid, the Daily Scum.
The band broke up in 1980 when I was overthrown in a dental coup. Mr Hemisphere roped in a few other players and attempted to continue but the public wasn’t having any of it, quite understandably.
And now, since you specially request it, something for the younger readers who have never heard of me:
“Hello, younger readers who have never heard of me ! It’s me, Uncle Martin ! Look at my big trunk ! It goes Tarrahh ! Tarrahh ! Tarrah ! And all the big nasty animals in the dark dank forest run fastly away away run run run flee flee cos he is very BOG and FRIGHTFUL ! Let’s hide so he cannot see us ! Hide here, hide there, hide everywhere !” (etc, etc. Hope this is enough, it is well known that they have vere short attention span anyway becos of McDonalds, sugar, MTV, narcotics and 97% of all known pop music).
Andy & Martin
How and why did you decide to form this band, at the beginning ?
In Anne Effort to avoid getting up early, I joined a poop group called SPARKS. I was relieved both of my problem of getting up early and, when they kicked me out a year later, of my royalties. I retreated to my bed, emerging after a mammoth or so to place an ad in a musicians’ paper saying that I was prepared to get up for a suitable offer. Chris Townson phoned me, which was a bit odd as we knew each other anyway. He suggested that we form a bass and drums duo. As there were only two of us, and he played drums and I played bass, this notion struck me then, as it still does, as the purest form of realism, pragmatism made flesh. Clearly, definition of attainable goals was not problematic for this wizard of percussion, and still isn’t. But very quickly the appeal of lengthy bass and drum duets ran out, as did the burglars who stole his drum kit. So then we were down to a bass solo which, with the best will in the world, did not have enormous commercial potential, even we could see that. Fully cognisant of being caught between Scylla and Charybdis, we took on board a singer (Mr Hemisphere) and a guitarist called Turnip O’Head. The singer wore a green anorak, the guitarist lay prune, claiming (correctly as it turned out) to be heavenly influenced by elephant tranquilliser. No matter, in a short time we all became heavily influenced by the large amounts of cash that CBS Records insisted that we accept from them, although not in person, and also not in reality. So we took the corporate shilling although, again, not literally, that was more the province of Eddy Seago.
After dressing up in a variety of figure-hugging costumes, making a record, doing a tour with friends of DAVID BOWIE and retiring to the countryside to get it together, we managed to get dropped by the record company and by the management within the same week. The guitarist went on to look for more songs with less chords in them and also his river, which he once owned but seemed to have misplaced, as if you can misplaced an entire river without at least a bit of forethought. And the keyboard player decided to stop following us around. (I realise, belatedly, that the keyboard player has not featured in this chronology through an oversight, but perhaps this is, in and of itself, indicative of his role). He went off to create a thriving career as a Heinrich Himmler impersonator and as keyboard player to Barry Manilow. And then we became Radio Stars, it’s bleeding obvious, I don’t know why I bother.
Radio Stars, 1977
Why did you choose that name of "RADIO STARS" ? Was it ironical, or... ?
|I’m sure I don’t know what you mean with ‘ironical’. As oft recounted, it was on a long list presented to the record company. And they selected one at random following the principles of highest artistic integrity in response to an unknown journalist’s query about something else entirely, probably something like ‘What time do the pubs open?” |
At that time, the RADIO STARS were regarded as a Punk Rock band in its own right, and nowadays they're still affiliated with the original '77 scene. However, your music was quite unusual for a Punk Rock band, since it included lots of classic R'n'R elements, as well as strong Pop and Glam Rock touches. In fact, we could be tempted to say that the RADIO STARS were more a "Powerpop" (punk) band than a "Punk Rock" band in the usual sense of the term. What were your influences exactly, and do you accept to be labelled that way ?
|I did what I always do, rightly or wrongly, and left it to other interested (if there were any) parties to make head or tail of it, define it, categorise it, or indeed ignore it. All of these responses are welcome, to a greater or lesser degree. And my oeuvre (or egg) is basically the same as it ever was, just a bit better. See your later question for expansion about what is the same or not. |
Influences – well, the normal things really; rent, food, electricity for cooking and the hairdryer, and saving up for a little cottage in the country with one and a half dogs and a sea view.
Which other more or less well-known bands from this era did you play with ? Did you especially go along with some persons in particular ?
Personally, I never went along with anyone, I thought they were all bastards. Or idiots. Or, quite often, both.
A stupid question now : I always wondered what the lyrics to your song "No Russians in Russia" were about, exactly...
Can you let us know more about that ?
|Well, a stupid question deserves a sensible answer, as my old mum used to say. It was from the cover of an English satirical magazine called Private Eye. The then-US president Gerald Ford noted that the USSR did not control eastern Europe, and then subsequently said that he was misquoted. I took the Private Eye headline to their cartoon of the incident and turned it into a pop ditty which, interestingly (to me, at least) had all the verses first, then the middle and then finally the choruses, in a kind of simultaneously micro and macro rendition of pop sensibility. No, really…|
When you look back at the past, nowadays, what are your best and your worst memories ?
|Best memory is playing bass with the STONES (more on my website), worst memory is the final RADIO STARS tour and the truly nasty behaviour of the rest of the band towards me, which gave me a stomach ulcer.|
The RADIO STARS did a reunion gig during the "HOLIDAYS IN THE SUN" punk festival in Blackpool, in 1996. Did you enjoy that experience ?
How was it ?
Yes, this was an enormously enjoyable experience, fundamentally because I wasn’t involved in it. I really enjoyed not turning up for the gig, I loved not having to play dreadful songs composed by Anne Elephant, I absolutely rejoiced in not not being paid afterwards, I adored not being spat upon, I relished not enduring the six hour journey back home afterwards which would always result in the singer being dropped off first no matter which route we followed, in fact the entire episode was a thrilling experience which I remember with an inordinate amount of pleasure and I would certainly not hesitate to not be involved again in anything like this should it come along. Or not come along, I’m afraid I have got rather lost in double negatives, as you do.
Did you ever plan to reform the RADIO STARS, and can we expect some new reunion gigs in the near future ? Also, can we expect some new recordings, one of these days ?...
Although having said ‘no’, I should perhaps also say ’perhaps’, in that there may be a one-off gig later this year (2006) in London to support the re-release of the two RADIO STARS CDs. This would, naturellement, be in close proximity to a Martin Gordon Mammal gig. The exact nature of the thing remains to be determined.
As you just said, the 2 original RADIO STARS albums, "Songs for swinging lovers" and "The Holiday album", have been both re-released on CD this year. Nevertheless, some people might be quite amazed by two facts : those CDs have been issued in cardboard slip cases, and "Dirty Pictures", which is however one of the band's greatest hits, is not included on "Songs from swinging lovers". Can you please tell us why ?...
|’Dirty Pictures’ is not included on the new ‘Songs For Swinging Lovers’ CD because it never was, at least on the original UK edition of the LP. There was a European edition (as any fule kno, Britain is not in Europe), and it was to be found on this version but, following a quasi-Beatles ethic of not releasing singles on albums, we decided not to put the first single (or indeed the ‘Stop It’ EP tracks) on the first album. |
It needs to be pointed out, however, that ‘Dirty Pictures’ and all your other fave RADIO STARS tunes are available on the RADIO STARS compilation ‘Somewhere There’s A Place For Us’, including a one-off reformation of the band rendering the title track. Ace Records, who are in fact Chiswick in disguise, decided to maintain authenticity by not including extra tracks and by using the original artwork, so that’s why the CDs are released in a (very small, admittedly) LP-style cardboard sleeve. I suggested there should be a free magnifying glass included with every CD but, for reasons of sensitivity towards the Chinese convicts who would have willingly provided these items, it was decided to forego the idea. So much for solidarity with the masses.
Do you still own some unreleased material, demos, live recordings and video footage ? If so, is there a chance for them to be officially issued, one day or another ??
|In fact there IS a certain amount of unreleased studio stuff (and here I refer to my own time with Radio Stars, not to the subsequent Radio Stars-lite version as rolled out by Anne Elephant) and some John Peel sessions sessions, and live recordings abound. TV performances also exist. I suggested to Ace Records that we might include some extra, unreleased things on the two recent re-releases of the RS catalogue, but they wanted to go for authenticity, it’s much cheaper in the long run. So maybe there will have to be another outlet for this material.|
Let's talk about today, now. Your solo project, that you run under your own name, sounds a very different way. From your own point of view, do you think this solo orientation has something to do with your past involvement
in the RADIO STARS or not ?
|As far as I’m concerned, my music has always been the same, and it has never been more the same than it now is. On previous occasions, niggardly, nit-picking journalists have carped that it (my music) was only partially or momentarily the same but I feel that, with the inevitable passage (not to mention ravages) of time, my music has never been more the same as it is today. I hope that this answers your question. To some extent, anyway. |
On the first solo CD Baboon in the Basement, there are two Radio Stars tunes (‘Greenfinger’ and ‘Hit Him On The Head With A Hammer’) and on the recent ‘How Am I Doing So Far?’’ there is ‘Girls Fight Over Me’, another late (1982) Radio Stars song. I don’t know why I tell you this. I will say no more about it, and trust that this information remains confidential between you and I.
What I am now doing is no more and no less that what I was trying to do in previous times, but now I’m better at it, and have found other musicians of similar skill.
Martin Gordon, 2004
What's your personal taste in music , "old" bands as well
as current artists ?
|Old: Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, George Formby, Noel Coward, Frank Zappa, Beatles. New: System of a Down, Perry Blake, Enders Room, King Crimson. |
I saw that Bob Dylan recently said he has no problem with people downloading music without payment to the creators as “most modern music isn’t worth anything anyway”. And he’s damn right…
What are your next projects, now ?
|We just released the Best Of (How Am I Doing So Far?), the Box Set (Mammal Trilogy), a book (the Companion to God’s On His Lunchbreak, available via the website) as well as the Ace RADIO STARS stuff and so, while I work on the fourth part of the Mammal Trilogy, I think a bit of a breather is in order. ‘Mammal IV: Impossible’ will be due in early 2007.|
Well, thanks a lot for this interview !
Do you have anything to add as a conclusion ?...
|Ole ! Ariba ! Eat more fish ! Buy my records ! Maschi maschi ! Achtung Spitfeuer !|
(Artwork above by http://graphikdesigns.free.fr )
Martin Gordon's official website :