31 Jul 2012

Rocket: This Is Where It All Started - The Sawdust Caesars Story

Back in 1998, Simon Healey & Chris Reeder, hot on the heels of their obsession with Sub Pop & the underground music of the pre-grunge scene, started a record label, that record label became Rocket and the Sawdust Caesars featured along side The Heads, as the labels first two releases.

Optical Sounds fanzine (opticalsoundsfanzine) recently ran a feature in their last issue with the Sawdust Caesars frontman Ian Green, what follows is that interview.

Sawdust Caesars 1995 –

“We don’t stop playing til the guitars break” - Well that was certainly the philosophy of the band when it started in 1995. Trying to remember details of what happened 17 years after the event has proved difficult, compounded partly (I’m sorry to say this) by alcohol and drugs. This is not cool, in fact it’s stupid and juvenile, but it happened. We did it so you don’t have to ...or something equally as facile.

Around mid-1995, I’d been playing bass for a couple of years with Cake a very good Bristol band, but was starting to get itchy fingers for playing guitar again. I had an idea for a band that was a cross between early Black Flag and early Grateful Dead. If you remember what music was like in 1995, you know how out-of-synch with the Oasis, Blur, Britpop, drum and bass times that was.

I was hanging out with my mate Jules we were listening to old 60s/70s music, old hardcore/acid house and some of the modern stuff like Guided By Voices. One of our gang Ian Lee (aka Dylan ,aka Cakebear) was playing bass in heavy stoners Wall Of Sleep (who cut an LP on Bevis Frond’s label Woronzow)and came in to play bass with us. We rehearsed with a couple of friends Fraser and Glen alternating different weeks on drums, until a rehearsal when whichever drummer who could make it that week didn’t .

We were standing around in a paid for rehearsal room, scratching our heads trying to think of a half decent drummer we could get in at short notice, when Martin Ward (aka Sketchy, aka Walnut Mouse) walked in – apparently just looking to say Hi to Dylan, he was duly ordered behind the kit.... AND HE WAS GREAT !

That was it, from that point everything about the band started to come together, the attitude, the songs, the camaraderie - whole lost weekends of oblivion, weekend binges from Friday straight through to Sunday ....BANG BANG BANG !!! We were called Sawdust Caesars, not because it’s a Mod thing - it isn’t. The guy who said it, Dr George Simpson, Margate Court Chairman on May 8th 1964 was referring to both Mods & Rockers.

Partly inspired by local heroes Swell Maps (who’s Ripped & Torn we covered), the philosophy was short 2 and a half minute songs with no fat or gristle. Say what you got to say and get out, but with large chunks of weirdness along the way. Taking some songs I had played with my previous band 28IF (that existed 1988-91), we slashed them into bits – alongside covers like Get Yourself Together (Small Faces), So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star (Byrds), War Sucks (Red Crayola), Back To The Coast (Nikki Sudden), Leavin Trunk (Keef Hartley Band), You Got To Hold On (The Deviants), Flower Punk (Mothers Of Invention), and She Never Understood (Biff Bang Pow !)

First gig I seem to remember was an all-dayer at the Golden Cross, Coventry in the shadow of the Cathedral. Second gig was some friend of a friend’s birthday in Leamington. No organisation, some wedding type DJ playing chart CDs gave us the big build up “probably the best band around in the Midlands right now...come on ladies & gentlemen give ‘em a big hand” etc... followed by the sound of us tuning up for 5 minutes. Still, our particular brand of noise seemed to go down very well with everyone, and I can remember being offered a spliff by an enthusiastic consumer afterwards. We left to go to a Techno night as the guy who’s birthday it was, sat on a stool singing Cat Stevens’ awful cringefest ‘Father & Son’ to his dad - we’d seen him snort at least a gram of speed in the toilets barely an hour before – crazy !

More gigs in Coventry followed as well as the obligatory London date (‘provincial non-entities’ as we dubbed ourselves), a date in Bedford supporting members of Back To The Planet (god help us !) where apart from the soundman we started off playing to an completely empty room, it was summer and everyone was outside. We turned our backs and started some serious jamming for about 10 minutes on ‘War Sucks’ so the sound guy could get a level. When it ended there was a massive burst of cheering and applause, we turned round to see everyone had come in AND a coach party had turned up from Coventry PHEW !. At the end of the night I had a couple of people ask where they could get our records, a more permanent souvenir was obviously called for.

The first record we put out was an EP with 3 other bands we hung around Coventry with, Pip Brigade(with Fraser on drums), The Bensons and the Nocturnal Babies(including Julian on guitar and Glen on drums). We recorded one of our rehearsals at Rockhouse Studios, Coventry (RIP) on a 4 track recorder, which Julian then took to our friend John O’Sullivan’s studio to ‘tart up’. John added some extra bass, guitar and percussion and did a couple of different mixes on a song called Harmonium In The Dust. I picked what I thought was the best, but when Julian came to master it, in an amphetamine haze he used the wrong mix....he also spent so long interrogating the engineer it all ended up being done in a massive rush and the track distorts horribly in the breakdown - you’d really never believe it was mastered at Abbey Road it sounds practically mono and underwater. Anyhow, we pressed up 500 copies and it was reviewed in Record Collector. Each band made their own sleeves as the orders came in. I printed ours on the works photocopier out of hours. I did hear recently there was a box found in someone’s flat in Coventry, but I don’t know what happened to them.

Not long after this Dylan went to live in Ireland, so another friend Mick Fitzgerald (aka Dave Monroe) came in on bass and we made plans for our first proper recording.

The second recording session took place at Cabin Studios, Coventry (RIP) in May 1997. Fuelled by amphetamine we managed to coerce engineer Alf Hardy into letting us record a complete album ‘Psychedelic Concentration Camp’ in less than 18 hours. A few friends dropped in to help : Mike Crabb (from Furious Apples) and Steve Dullaghan (from Means To An End and Primitives) on guitars and Helen Fountain (from Chi Chi Squad), Rich Wall (from Wall Of Sleep) and Stu Cameron (from the Bensons) on vocals.

From what I can remember we recorded You Pigs, Death Of A Guru, Harmonium in the Dust (again), Talk Me Down, House Of Shattering Glass (an acoustic extrapolation in the style of John Fahey, which included backwards 12 string and loads of reverb), Psychedelic Concentration Camp and one I can’t remember the name of, but it sounded like early Hawkwind which had Helen screaming on it. There were about 8 or 9 songs in all, but the tapes got lost after being passed around various people, so I can’t remember all the tracks. I believe Julian still has a copy of it. Death Of A Guru actually rips off Happy Mondays’ 24 Hour Party People riff, mixed with some Hendrix chords and Northern Soul backing vocals....although you can’t really tell. You Pigs rips off The Saints, The Damned ....and folk singer Peter Bond ! The title track includes Julian on bass, Mick on keyboards, Steve, Mike& I on guitars and Helen and I reading cut up bits from magazines.

I heard some friends were starting a new label and the first release was going to be a single by The Heads. They were moaning about how it was taking ages to sort out so I bunged them a tape to see if they wanted to use one of our tracks on the b-side. I was surprised to find they were keen enough to want to give us our own single on the label - in fact Si Healey still maintains it’s the best thing Rocket released when he was involved (Gawd Bless Yer Simon!).

There were 3 different designs made up for the cover, but only one was used. The song is actually titled ‘You Pigs Have Ruined It For Everyone’, but was shortened before the covers were done.

1000 copies were pressed and it received a favourable review in Record Collector, with the ever vigilant John Peel giving it an enthusiastic thumbs up on his show – AHHH played on Peel’s show,....now we can die happy ! Hakan Persson on Swedish Radio also picked up on it and gave it a few plays.

More gigs followed including a great support for The Hypnotics who were very complimentary and the infamous Vote With Your Hips night Xmas 1996 in Coventry – where we played alongside all girl punkers Chi Chi Squad and Pigs & Robots. I can’t actually remember the end of the night, but I’m told I enjoyed it

Around this time Dylan came back from his sojourn in Ireland and back to playing bass for us, with Mick moving onto guitar. So now we had 3 distorted guitars, it was a wall of sound. We did a couple of gigs where Martin couldn’t play and Mick took over on the drums. As it wasn’t really the Caesars without him we called ourselves Deathrow Tull for a Coventry gig with Lillydamwhite and Acid Punk Flashback for an all-dayer at Trinity in Bristol in July 1999 alongside Iron Monkey, Electric Wizard and Chaos UK amongst others.

The third recording session was again at Cabin in April 2000 - Paul Sampson was producing this time and at one point spent ages editing a squeaky lead from one track, which I thought was a waste of time as it added to the general out-of-control-ness. I was quite amused then when he realised he’d missed one Mwahahahaaaa ! For this we recorded The Attack’s Any More Than I Do, Purple Heart Scene (not about drugs, but like a bruised heart), The Day Punk Broke Out (named before the Nirvana video) and Robert Calvert’s Ejection from the Captain Lockheed LP. There were elements of The Seeds, Electric Prunes, The Saints and The Damned...and I can now reveal it included samples of Alex Campbell, the 13th Floor Elevators and Hawkwind. The Label was a rip off of the Toddlin’ Town hard funk label from the late 60s we were listening to alot at the time. 100 copies were pressed on orange vinyl, 200 on normal black with 4 inserts.

Again Peel played it, quite a few times, in fact he actually started his show with it one night and raved about it afterwards, bloody hell.....kill me now! More support came from Hakan Persson, who played tracks off the EP and did a phone interview with me all the way from Sweden. Various folks were getting in touch with Rocket saying how much they loved the energy of our singles and asking what else were we doing.

The only gig I can remember playing was as a 4 piece with Rocket label mates Suncoil Sect in the back room of the Comedy Pub (now the Croft), Bristol. Paul (aka Prof, aka Cardinal Fuzz) and Hugo (aka Hacker) from the Heads guested with us playing audio generator and spoken word records respectively. I made a reel to reel recording of both bands, and gave our portion to Rocket, so maybe it’ll come out one day - I hope not as it was incredibly distorted and we were quite drunk. After the gig I gave my house keys to Dylan and Martin as I had to catch up with a friend. Later on that night Mick and I were walking down the road to my house...I could hear the loud music coming from my flat, really loud and it was 1am. I buzzed the intercom and a very pissed Dylan told me to fuck off...they’d found my bottle of brandy (a leaving present from work) and demolished it ! It took me some time to gain access and they were both completely out of their heads by then. I tried to show Martin a book to calm him down and he grabbed it off me, tore it in half and threw it out of the window.

Something had got to change.

We went into Cabin to record a couple of more times August and December 2001, despite about 10 tracks being recorded, the only thing that was released was ‘Word’s Going Round That You’re Fucked’, which appeared wrongly titled and badly mastered from a cassette I’d given Rocket and they’d passed on to Plastic Crimewave at Galactic Zoo Dossier. He very graciously included it with an enthusiastic testimonial on one of his terrific CD compilations included in the Summer 2005 issue of the mag. A truly incredible work of amazing psychedelic art, I was disappointed our contribution wasn’t all it could’ve been.

Around this time we were listening to The Gorillas, Crushed Butler, The Fugs, The Mothers Of Invention, The Bonzo Dog Band, The Deviants, 3rd World War. We rehearsed regularly into 2002, but people were changing jobs and moving and it became difficult to keep things going. Also, around this time I started Fuzz Against Junk which gradually became my main musical focus.

After a 2-3 year lay-off, we all got together in 2005 and played our 10th anniversary gig at the Beer Engine, Coventry on 27th December. Was a good tight set, the pub was absolutely heaving and we were paid a decent amount for once. Unfortunately Julian gave the other two bands on the bill most of the money, meaning after the cut for posters, flyers etc .was taken, we were left with nothing. Mick later threw Julian downstairs after an argument at his flat over this and that seemed to be the end of that......we’d managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory again.

About 3 years later Rocket approached us to play their 10th Anniversary gig at the Cross Kings, Kings Cross on 24th April 2008. Julian wasn’t out the band, but I thought it would be easier to rehearse and play without him as 3 of the band were living in London by this time and there was also the fight with Mick thing. As it was the first time we’d played in 3 years, Martin, Dylan and I had a rehearsal one week and it sounded, quite frankly, fucking great. Mick came down to London for a second one the night before the gig. Unfortunately due to bad planning we all got pissed, but Dylan got more pissed than the rest of us and decided to change all his stings halfway through the rehearsal. Voices were raised and with him shouting ‘I’m on it baby’ at us, we limped through the rehearsal on 3 cylinders. The gig was surprisingly enjoyable, although in a review it was noted we were the ‘odd band out’ as we were acid punk not stoner as the currency mainly seemed to be than.

We contributed an unreleased different mix of (I think) You Pigs to the CD available on the night, which goes for a few quid these days.

And that’s about it really. I don’t think the band will ever really finish as it keeps bubbling to the surface every now and then, and everyone is still friends, despite us living hundreds of miles apart. Even now, I met up with Martin at Christmas and he is keen for us to play for my 50th birthday in November.......and maybe finishing off some old recordings ?........


Check out 2 of the tracks from the 1st 7" in the Rocket discography mix track 6 & track 9.