What other projects have you been involved with over the years?
Would love to do a Pete frame style rock family tree of The Heads one day. For now though here’s a brief history of my musical career.
At the age of fourteen I was in The Orgasmic Banana’s. A typical just got our instruments band. Phil Cowley on drums - Now a political correspondent for Radio Five and sometimes seen on the television. Mark Phillips, nickname Hedgemo, a school friend on Guitar. He made his own flying V guitar and was obsessed by Queen as was Phil.Last I heard of him he’d lost his sponsorship from BT for his electrical mechanics degree, as he was spending far too much time sampling mild in Aston. We went down to SAM studio’s by the SS Great Britain in Bristol and recorded hours worth of terrible cover versions and arguments, with one of Phil’s mates Geraint on vocals. Also hung around with a guy called Lee who made his own four track mixer and learnt the violin with guitar tuning. Last saw him in 1988 on a student march in London on a bridge wearing purple loons and big star of david earrings. Got tapes of it, fortunately no tape player for me to hear them.
Then a couple of years later I did the school music competition with Jase and the Jitters. We came second, only to be beaten by the not very inspiring named Smiths who covered a Smiths song. Jase came on stage on a scooter, very Rob Halford but he’d fallen off said scotter recently before and had one of his legs in cast. Jeremy Dix was on keyboards and drum machine duties and Alan Chapel on guitar. He was very good, could hear something once and play it. Think he went on to be in Big Time and did the late 80’s early 90’s cover circuit. We did a pretty good version of Steppenwolf’s ‘ Born to be Wild’.
Then I resurrected The Orgasmic Banana’s with Dan Westleigh and two girls on vocals, one of whom was Chaos from Chaos Uk’s auntie. Don’t ask me how she was even though she’s 10 years younger than him. Did one gig at Easton-in-Gordano comprehensive in Portishead. I was found drunk in a ditch minutes before we were due to play a two bass and drum machine version of Pop Will Eat Itself’s version of Sigue Sigue Sputniks F-1-11. Many years later when we released ‘Under the Stress..’ through Invada I found out that Geoff Barrow of Portishead fame was there.
The next band was Chairhead, first proper band. Asked by Tom Adams who I was at school with to join after seeing me play with Jase and the Jitters (he was in the Smiths). He’d been in The Perambulators who had played the local scene a bit, I think supporting such bands as The Coltranes (featuring Alex Lee and Joe Allen). They’d disbanded but Tom and guitarist Chris Brown, who i’d end up going to Bower Ashton art college with and went out with my sister, wanted to start a new band. Went along to Tom’s parents house in Winterbourne for the first rehearsal. Met Chris,Guitarist, Jaysun Daniels, second guitarist ,Martin Naylor, vocals, for the first time and along with Tom on the kit, we seemed to gel and within a short space of time had a set written. We we’re a one gig wonder playing one gig at The Tropic Club supporting Thrilled Skinny who Martin arranged to come down from Luton to play. Unfortunately all our friends had to go home once we’d played so only about 10 people stayed to watch Thrilled Skinny. Influenced by Dinosuar Jnr, The Fall, Pixies, Pussy Galore, Wedding Present and my obsession with Shimmy Discs. Remember Chris was very nervous and disappeared shortly before going on stage only to be found drunk in a pub round the corner. Could’ve gone on to do a few more gig’s but nothing happened. Made some very good friends and hung out alot, it was good times.
Whilst at Bower Ashton did a couple of non starter bands. Out of Chairhead remnants, Tom, Jaysun and Me teamed up with Dom Lane and a guy known as Potato Head, who was a couple of years younger than Tom and Me at school. We we’re to perform at the Filton Tech’s battle of the bands competition as three of them went there. Dom had come up with the name ‘ Myra Hindley’s Creche Facility ‘. We didn’t play, we had a modified Chairhead set, little under rehearsed, think they got threats at the Tech because of name. Jed Smart though that Tom and Me were in his ‘ Party Sqaud’.
The next live event I did was in the front room at a party in Hanham, can’t remember the name, just that the band had Scott and Jamie who later went on to form Secret Shine. Didn’t pursue it , I was too influenced by Dinosaur Jr at the time for them.
Around this time I was hanging out loads with Tom ( I owe him a pub ) and he was introducing me to people of the local music scene ( including Fat Paul and Ludwig) having been on the live circuit for longer . He’d heard that Steve Yabsley had left the local next big thing ‘ Rorschach ‘. He was looking to form a new band, Tom was going to audition and said i’d ought to try out aswell. Meet up at the student union bar, was introduced to Steve and Andrew Woodward ( brother of Davey of Brilliant Corners fame and had just left the Sex Monkeys with Steve Dew ). We rehearsed, Steve Yabsley had already written alot of material, and because of Steve and Andy’s contact’s managed to play quite a few local gigs, local radio and Ashton Court ( check you-tube ).Self funded by Steve and Andy, we released an album which was produced by John Parrish on The Moonflowers label Popgod . Quinton ran it’s course but made some good mates and had taught me the basic rudiments of being in a band both live and in the studio.
Bristol's very own Fat Paul!
Whilst Quinton fizzled out I had already had a few jams with Simon, Dave and Mel so the same day Quinton played Ashton Court it was The Heads first gig at the Fleece supporting Babes in Toyland. Not content with being in 2 bands, Wayne had approached me when I worked in HMV and I was rehearsing with Soundhouse, his and Steve Ropers band, who had both moved up from Exeter. Think we did a couple of gigs and some recording but in a few months we we’re committed to The Heads.
Sat in for absent bassist’s in Mark Hymas’s Family and when a later version of Rorschach supported Flowered Up at the Bierkeller. Whether these were before The Heads or in Heads ‘down time’ I can’t remember. I know early in the Heads, Chubster had asked the Heads to play at the Pineapple behind the council house in Bristol, Pricey and Dave couldn’t do it but it was £50 each. We made a few phone calls and managed to get Davey Woodward on board and we did play a made up on the spot gig. Surprisingly to an appreciative audience. The landlord was drunk and gave us half pints of whisky. Doing the Hacker stuff round then aswell but that was still embryonic and was on and off for a long time. Remember I was on the dole and had alot of spare time but that this was all before we had found Paul and quickly realised with him we could have a go at making it. At which point we we’re all fully focused on the job in hand of trying to ‘Make It’ with our brand of late 60’s early 70’s guitar rock along with Simon Keelers enthusiasm and contacts, we had no time for side projects. Relaxer catches us determined, straight after recording we went to record our Peel Session, felt like we were on the crest of a wave.
Whilst in the Heads and post Everybody era I was in the Rollbars with flatmate Latch, Tan, Matty Dread and Jay, including a gig with Rob Merril on drums. More of a straight forward stoner rock band, playing live was a very important part of the band. A couple of just rehearsal and demo things, Hefner with Andy Woodward and another thing with Delwyn, both with Wayne. Spent a while jamming with drummer Steve Swan ( the Swan-a-gram ),influenced by the Minutemen and Boo Yaa Tribe ! Wrote a good hours worth of material, just drums and bass but when we tried to incorporate Marcus on Guitar and Maddy on vocals it just didn’t click. Around this time Hacker was on going eventually morphing into the Mongolian Emmin Hut High Strikes.
Was asked by Fat Paul if I’d sit on bass duties for Spleen, the bass player they had lined up had worked with Captain Beefheart so was very honoured. It was a great experience, 10 days of straight rehearsal before playing two gigs. Rob Ellis and John Parrish were very patient with me, hard work but very rewarding. Think there is a recording of us live at the Thekla floating around but i’ve not heard it.
After Rocket re-issued Thee Hypnotics 7”, Wayne and Me started to work with Jim Jones. After a series of 24 hour writing and recording sessions we had a 7 tracks, a bit dadrock but none the less good, tried to get a live set together. I had some backing vocal duties and wasn’t confident at all with it live. The organisation was haphazard and I felt that I couldn’t commit myself wholly to it, so handed in my notice. Jim went onto form Black Moses then the Jim Jones Revue.
After the first Gonga UK tour Will the bass player had decided that life on the road wasn’t for him so again Fat Paul asked me if I wanted to replace him. Rehearsed frenetically with George, Tom and Joe learning the set ready to go out again on tour. They’d had lots of press but was back to the playing everywhere to no one. Dismaying but worse for the rest of the band, especially when on George’s 30th in Liverpool, when they started to sweep the floor half way through the set. It was good to tour with High On Fire, Matt, Des and Joe Preston were inspirational . I gave it a good 18 months but promises of earning a living from it hadn’t materialised I decided it was time for me to go back to the Heads and start recording Under the Stress. Managed to play Glastonbury in the new band tent and at Download where we were blown off stage by a bunch of 14 year olds, think the night before’s intake didn’t help.
We’d recorded the most of Under the Stress when Jello Biafra got in touch with the idea of getting something together. You and Simon kindly let him stay at Hotel Hawkwind and working on ‘ Jello time’ we set about writing an albums’ worth of material. Mostly Jello had already written the tracks but a couple of ideas did come from the whole of us. Remember going to Taunton with him to have a look at a studio to do some recording, I got the train times wrong and we ended up hanging around at the station for a couple of hours, where he preceded in doing vocal exercises on the station platform, then on the train ! Some of the tracks he’s used recently but we do have on 8 track tape about 4 or 5 tracks.
Played with Fuzz Against Junk when they supported Comets on Fire at the Thekla a few years back and recently joined them as Billys' left. We've done a couple of gigs, more jazzy prog, Soft Machine orientated, with Paul on a crappy old electric organ he poicked up at a car boot sale. Paul and Me though are now concentrating more on The Heads, seeing as Paul and Wayne have now got Pro-tools. Not sure if Steve Dew is drummng for the Fuzzers anymore but Ian and Aaron are soldiering on, flying the Fuzzers flag.
Paul and Me also teamed up with Jess (who now plays with Gareth in the Big Naturals) and formed Cardinal Fuzz a power trio. Rehearsed lots and have plenty of recordings but we didn't manage to do any gigs before Jess joined the Big Naturals.
Fat Paul & Hugo - many years of Djing!
Why did you retire Hacker, and tell us about some of the more legendry shows you did?
Retired itself by constantly breaking down and me knowing very about electronics. Been at the Bailey Brothers for years now. Started from having too much time on my hands. Bored one afternoon and armed with vodka, Hacker dancette at 16rpm, Wah, Distortion, Kettle,Television and mic, recorded a complete improv over three 90 minute tapes. Sat down with Delwyn and edited it all down to a usable 60 minutes, with an idea to release it on his Crawling Eye tape only label. We both had an earlier idea of doing a label were we’d just scratch old charity shop singles and make a simple die cast sleeve for them, so you’d get scratch/noise/ruin your needle sound, not an earner in any way. This new idea of a tape label meant we might not lose any money, perhaps make 20 cassettes and cover costs. He’d done the artwork, Ludwig transferred it to dat, although only in one channel. Think Fat Paul might have it somewhere, I know I don’t, but he did release 666 Squadron on a Swarfinger Compilation and from that teamed up with you guys to do those two 7”s.
Played at the Green and Gold cafe a couple of times, that pissed off a few straight laced people. Then there was the SK8 & Ride where I supported LillyDamWhite, played to no one, engineer thought it was a sound check. Five friends saw it, that was enough for me. More sympathetic was the Cube, they’d asked me to play a couple of times aswell as an interactive bass installation. Chis and the others there were open minded but still think Dyl went a bit far when naked he urinated on stage whilst I was performing Hacker at the side of the stage to an 80’s Green Goddess fitness video, narrowly missing the headliner’s double bass that’d been left on stage.
Brought Hacker back with the Mongolian Emmin Hut High Strikes, teaming up with Neil and Mike smith, Gurhka and Walrus brothers ! We did a performance at the Cube and at the Blackout tent at Aston Court. It was good fun doing a live mash up utilising cash converter style equipment. The gig at the Cube has some really good bits, then at the Blackout tent none of my equipment was working and it was obvious to me It was time to retire it.
Would like to one day put together the 7” sides along with an unreleased track that made Waynes nut’s ache when he mixed it and some live outtakes.
Hacker - Live at the Cube
Early Rocket 'Hacker' single's mix.
Tell me why you joined The Heads, and why you have stuck with the band for 20 years after little commercial success?
I was asked by Simon to have a jam with him and Dave Spencer ( both from the Spasmodics ), at the time I wasn’t a permanent fixture in a band and felt a bit side lined coming into line - ups where I had to just learn the songs and didn’t have any creative input. After a couple of jams and the introduction of Mel on kit duties it felt really good being able to have an input along with the more guitar worship aspect of the Heads. At that point had not played with the Hillage lead style of Dave Spencer, it was apparent we had a different quality to most of the local bands around at that time, even though we were going against all things fashionable in the early 90’s there was a sense of excitement of being outsiders on our own mission.
I’ve spent 20 years with the Heads, from my 20’s to my 40’s, done my growing up with them. We’ve shared so many exciting times and low points, I almost consider Simon, Wayne and Paul as brothers. Don’t get me wrong, we can wind each other up like any siblings.
We’re not in the premier league of rock echelons more the conference, middling to bottom. We’ve won a few trophies in our time though, Peel and Radio One sessions, Man’s Ruin, playing Europe with Motorpsycho and America with Nebula, working with Jello Biafra, supporting Mudhoney even being offered mushroom tea by Gibby Haines. Don’t forget too meeting liked minded people who have opened our minds up to new ideas and being in a position to start up Rooster, our own label again under the watchful gaze of Simon Keeler. So I like to think we’ve had success. Relaxer was our big push at trying to be accepted in the music press, which at the time couldn’t comprehend why anyone from Bristol would make our kind of music. In retrospect it seems that if it didn’t have a Seattle connection then it wasn’t valid.
As Keeler mentions in the Relaxer booklet we played everywhere to few people, hampered by the whole Talking Heads debacle, with them reforming without David Byrne under the moniker of the Heads. Remember turning up to play the upstairs at the Garage only to find out they’d had loads of enquiries asking if Shaun Ryder would be appearing, also being quite dismayed when local boy Roni Size did a remix for them. This pretty much nudged us out of the play offs to be promoted into League 2.
By the time Everybody was hurriedly cobbled together we had resigned ourselves to staying in the conference and armed with experience on the road with Motorpsycho in Europe, realised the U.K. was not the only country with an appreciative audience We soon decided we were quite happy with a few loyal fans enjoying our own particular take on psyche rock . We dream of playing in the premiership and the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel sometimes keeps us going, even though with our seratonin bypass we know it’ll never happen. We’re passionate about our music, passionate players never hang up their boots, it might just be a local five-a-side kick about but we’re still there.
What is the written formula for The Heads, you can be as abstract as you want?
For Relaxer it was pretty much verse / chorus / verse / chorus / middle 8 / chorus and make sure you can play it after 4 pints. I don’t do abstract, everything is real.
Thanks to Hugo for his time & detailed answers, Johnny O (Dec - 2010)