Matt Dangerfield - The Boys - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Dom Daley   
Saturday, 30 March 2013 03:20

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When offered the chance to speak to the man who formed The Boys and played such a pivotal role in my music collection you better believe that my response was a "hell yeah!" So, with thanks to Steve Metcalfe, Matt was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

 

After forming The Boys and penning many of their best songs Matt managed to try his hand at management, producing, and journalism, as well as continuing to make music.

 

Having managed to keep a low profile and not being known for doing too many interviews I couldn't turn down this chance. His humble beginnings in the business that hark back to Leeds before upping sticks to the bright lights of London, Matt was a member of London SS with Casino Steel, Mick Jones, Tony James and Brian James before forming The Boys. Been there seen it and done it; Matt Dangerfield  has certainly played his part.  

 

The soon-to-be reissued first two Boys albums - with something of a deluxe makeover that will have Boys fans salivating when they get released - were the catalyst for our conversation. So with the lowdown on the past, present and what the future holds.....a gentleman, scholar and (no doubt) acrobat, Ladies and Gentlemen, Matt Dangerfield....

 

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Hi Matt. Firstly thanks for taking the time to have some questions thrown at you for Uber Rock. Here goes... Firstly, tell us a little about the two reissues coming out? Why now? What will the extra material consist of? You remixed or remastered the originals? How enjoyable an experience was it to revisit such great albums?

 

Well, they're coming out now because the ownership of the first two albums recently fell back into our hands for the first time. Which is why Fire Records approached us and were very keen to release definitive deluxe reissues, and so far they are going to a lot of trouble to make sure they are - with the packaging, design, sleeve notes, etc. All the original tracks have been carefully remastered and we managed to dig out some brilliant never-before-released bonus tracks for these releases.

 

It was indeed enjoyable listening to the album tracks again and although there are naturally a few things I would change today, I still prefer these albums in their original youthful form.

 

In your early days you first met John at art school in Leeds - what were your first impressions of him? Did you feel it was essential at the time to move to London with John and Barry Jones? What do you remember being your aims at the time?

 

Although we were at the same art college we were on different courses so we actually met on another 'arts' course. Everyone at college was required to attend a five-day extracurricular workshop to 'expand our horizons'. You had to choose from a list that sounded pretty dire so I chose one called something like "A Music and Light Extravaganza" purely because it had music in the title. Independently of me John picked the same one, probably for the same reason because he even brought his acoustic guitar along. It turned out to be a drama workshop. There was no music and we all had to pretend we were trees and crap like that. John and I probably both had that "What the fuck is this about" look on our faces and bonded because we ended up going to the pub together at lunchtime, got drunk and played his guitar. From then on he used to come over to the flat I shared with my brother every weekend with his guitar and a big cardboard box full of food from his mum.

 

I met Barry because we were one of the few people at college who had our own flats as opposed to boarding houses or living with parents, so our places were party central.

 

I always felt it was essential to go to London. My aim was always to play in or start a band. Barry and I used to regularly hitchhike down for weekends. Barry went down permanently first, staying with some girls he'd met when they picked him up hitch-hiking, I went to join him soon after and when I told John, he decided to come with me.

 

You owned the recording studio in your basement - what set up was it? Did you originally set it up just to record your own songs or was there always the aim of getting other bands in to use it?

 

A German friend, Ralf (I forget his surname but it was Polish sounding and he was later responsible for most of the photographs in the 100 Nights at the Roxy book), loaned Barry and myself the money to buy a Teac reel to reel, which was the first affordable four-track non-professional recorder and we set up a mattswan300studio in the coal hole of our basement flat. It was very basic, we had an old mixing desk with four big knobs salvaged from the BBC Maida Vale Studios. We were mainly interested in recording our own music but we did have the odd paying client. The only one I engineered was guitarist Tony Hicks from The Hollies who recorded a demo. Nice chap.

 

What are you memories of the mythical beast that was London SS? Mick Jones, Brian James and Tony James is an impressive bunch of musicians, did they have something about them that stood out from the crowd? What was the conversation like when Mick asked you to front The Clash, and did you ever consider Bernie Rhodes to be manager of The Boys?  

 

It was only Mick and Tony and soon after, Bernie Rhodes as manager, when I was involved. Mick and Tony weren't impressive musicians at the time, few of us were. But Mick was very determined to make it and Bernie Rhodes impressed me because he had an unusual take on everything - it was the concept of punk that united us. But then, when the three of us had a try out with Andrew and Cas from the Hollywood Brats with the idea of forming a band together, Andrew and Cas afterwards took me aside and told me they weren't interested in Mick or Tony but wanted me to join them. It wasn't a difficult decision for me because they had already made a great debut album and London SS didn't seem to be going anywhere musically or songwise at the time. There were little or no recordings made while I was with Mick and Tony because there were little or no songs being written as I recall.

 

Mick never asked me to front The Clash as The Clash didn't exist at the time. But when I left to join Andrew and Cas, Bernie did call round to ask me to reconsider. We never considered Bernie as a possible manager for The Boys because when it mattered we found Ken Mewis who was perfect for us.

 

Do you think the way in which people look back on those early days of punk rock is romanticised in a way that is far removed from the reality or did you think at the time that places like the Roxy were indeed ground breaking places in a movement that changed the face of music? I don't think there has been such a musical or cultural movement since. What are your memories and thoughts of that time around '76-'77?

 

I don't think the importance of those days and the Roxy is over-exaggerated because that was the only time ever that new bands had the upper hand in the music business. Suddenly every label was desperate to sign a punk band because almost every other kind of music had become dated overnight. The A&R men didn't have a clue what they were looking for but they knew something was happening and it was getting a lot of publicity. And it wasn't just the bands that enjoyed those days, I remember punk fans charging foreign press photographers £50 to take a picture of them.

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Moving onto The Boys. The original line up of John, Casino, Andrew Matheson, Wayne Manor, yourself and Geir Waade. Did you make any recordings together? How did the line up evolve into the players on the first album?

 

We did a few recordings but most of them are lost or recorded over. When Andrew went home to Canada for Christmas and never returned and Geir and Wayne had moved on, myself, Cas and John decided to carry on. We auditioned Jack and Duncan for the vacant drums and bass slots and they fitted in perfectly from the word go.

 

You sung most of the songs on the first four albums but did share some vocals out. Are there any recordings of you singing the songs the other guys are known for singing? What were the writing processes. Did you prefer writing with Casino? What about recording - you  produced the first two with some help from Casino, did you ever consider another producer? Was it a question of money or control or was it the case that you were all comfortable with the job you could do?

 

To say I sang the majority of the songs would be more exact. Cas and manager Ken Mewis wanted me to sing all the songs but I always thought bands like The Beatles were more interesting and creative because they had no lead singer or several singers. Another factor for me was that we had two Hollywood Brats songs in our early live set (and on the first album) - 'Sick on You' and 'Tumble With Me' - which I thought, and still think, that nobody could sing better than Andrew, so I passed them on to Duncan who was happy to oblige and did them credit. Looking back, I realise I was only really comfortable singing Boys songs I'd written myself. As Duncan didn't write many songs in The Boys he tended to sing the songs written by John as well as some of the songs written by Cas and myself.

 

Interestingly, one of the previously unreleased bonus tracks on the new reissues is a version of 'Tumble With Me' with me singing. Other songs that I originally sang include the first versions of 'Rue Morgue' and 'Terminal Love' that can be heard on 'Anthology', both of which I passed on to Duncan.

 

My songwriting partnership with Cas took off straight away. We would generally write separately but then get together and knock them into shape on an almost daily basis in the early days. And in the recording studio Cas and I generally worked out all the various harmony parts and sung the majority between the two of us.

 

But I've also written songs with John and John has written songs with Cas, I think because we are all naturally structured songwriters it's easy for us to work together.

 

We started out with a producer on our first album, Pete Gage, but the punk energy was getting smoothed out so we decided to sack him and Casino & I produced the album ourselves.

 

I've spoken to Honest John about the NEMS deal and the story about Elvis's death debacle, but I'd like to ask you about Polydor trying to buy out the contract with NEMS who refused, then went on to sign The Jam. Was it frustrating when those negotiations went on? Do you think with hindsight there was anything you could have done to get out of the NEMS deal? It's said you went on mattron300bstrike after the second album of a five album deal - did you have a picket line? Seriously, what communication did you have with the label around the time and what effect did it have on the band?

 

I don't think there was anything we could have done to get out of the NEMS deal but I wouldn't advise anyone in the same position to go on strike like we did because NEMS didn't need to let us go if they wanted to be difficult and that would have finished the band. I still don't know why they eventually let us go but I'm glad they did. All it did was slow us down for a bit.

 

The band influenced many bands since like Hanoi Rocks; the influence on Andy McCoy and Michael Monroe is obvious on songs like 'Wrong Arm Of The Law' and 'First Time', but who influenced you and your songwriting?

 

It's always a big compliment when that happens. I grew up in the sixties which saw the most amazing explosion of musical talent so I think I was influenced by so much - Beatles, Stones, Who, Pretty Things, Small Faces, Kinks, Bob Dylan, Hendrix, Otis Redding, etc. And later on, Bowie, Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop.

 

The band called it a day in the summer of '81 but didn't play the final gig until the year later- what was the catalyst for that? Did you have much contact with the others throughout that period?

 

Was that a Spanish tour with the last gig being in Ibiza? Whatever it was, the catalyst was probably to have a bit of fun. I was in touch with all the others throughout our 'gap year'.

 

Post-Boys you turned to producing: Did you miss performing and being part of the band?

 

I kind of fell into producing because people asked me to, but while I loved, and still love, working in studios, being a producer takes up too much of your waking life. I don't remember particularly missing performing as I am happy doing anything creative.

 

The Boys reconvened in '99 after Thee Michelle Gun Elephant had a number one with one of your songs and albums were selling well in Japan - did this come as a nice surprise, as well as the tribute album, or were moves afoot to get back together before? Who made the first move, and what offers were there to reform prior to '99?

 

Yes, the Michelle thing also coincided with the release of the BBC John Peel sessions we did back in the day so we were suddenly selling loads of stuff in Japan. I used to get calls with offers for The Boys to play punk festivals in Italy etc. but always turned them down. The offer from Japan, however, was too tempting as we had never been there. After that we all agreed we should play more gigs.

 

Is it easier now? The last few Rebellion shows have been superb and the band just seem to get better. Is this something you notice from the stage?

 

It never gets easier! But it's still fun. Rebellion is always great to do because you meet a lot of old friends.

 

You've even managed to venture to South America as well as Europe and the US of A - what were the South American shows like? The  crowds over there seem to be on a whole new level of insanity and people just get so lost in the music - is it noticeable when you play in different countries?

 

I really enjoy playing places I've never been before so to play Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil was brilliant. Every place you go is different and the people are different and therefore more interesting.

 

Moving onto the current. You've recently been reported as being in the studio recording a new Boys album, rumoured to have written 11 songs for it - what can you tell us about that?

 

Yes, we are recording a new album and yes, we are all inveterate songwriters so naturally we've written lots of songs. All I can say is that there are some great new tracks in the bag and more to come.

 

Who plays on it and when can we expect to hear it?

 

It's basically myself, Cas and John. We are recording in short bursts in France and we're using our regular bassist Steve Fielding plus a fantastic French drummer, Stephane Reynaud, plays on some of the tracks. Our long time regular drummer Martin Hansson will also be joining us to play on the next bunch of tracks.

 

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