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Lotus Eaters - Interview with Jem Kelly

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 22 / 2 / 2002

Lotus Eaters - Interview with Jem Kelly


Recent reformed and back with a second album , Liverpool's the Lotus Eaters were seen to be of the great indiepop acts of the 80's. Guitarist Jem Kelly chats to Anthony Strutt about the reformation and also his time with the legendary Wild Swans.

Jerry Kelly, now Jem Kelly, comes from a rich musical Liverpudlian background. As the guitarist in the Wild Swans, which also featured in its line-up Paul Simpson (Vocals) ; Ged Quinn (Keyboards) and Alan Mills (drums), he appeared on 'Revolutionary Spirit', which, paid for by then Bunnymen drummer Pete de Frietas, was the last single released by Liverpool's famous Zoo label in early 1982. Shortly after its release, the Wild Swans folded and Kelly, Quinn and Wills with new vocalist Peter Coyne, became the Lotus Eaters whose first single 'The First Picture of You' was a massive hit in 1983.The Lotus Eaters, their latter line-up also featuring former Cure bassist Michael Dempsey, broke up after releasing an album 'No Sense of Sin' (1984). The Wild Swans then reformed in 1988 to record two albums 'Bring Home the Ashes' (1988)and 'Space Flower' (1990) before breaking up again. After this, Jem reappeared in the 1998 as a member of former Inspiral Carpets frontman Tom Hingley's group the Lovers. He co-wrote half the songs and plays the guitar on Tom's new album 'Soulfly'. The Lotus Eaters reformed in the late 90's as well and now record for Vinyl Japan, with whom they released a second album 'Silentspace' last year. PB : Before you were in the Wild Swans, you were in the Systems. Can you tell us about this band please? JK : The band name was Systems, and was fronted by John Hawkins, who later formed This Island Earth. I was playing the guitar, but still developing my own style. I only added to one record Systems did on which I turned a filter on an early synth. PB : The Wild Swans was , in your own words, "next" ? How was the whole Wild Swans experience for you. How did you meet Paul Simpson? JK : I was first spotted by Paul in 1979 when I was playing guitar in a post-punk industrial outfit, Psychamesh. I have a photograph that captures Paul looking at me! He suggested we form a band and, without thinking, I agreed. We practised in a basement for 12 months every Saturday, but didn’t make much progress. I left to be in a band called the Dance Party with Mike Head, later of Pale Fountains and Shack fame. I was approached again by Paul and I thought I’d give it another go with him as he was a kind of role model for me. I couldn’t believe it when I walked into the basement at Yorkie’s house, where the Teardrop Explodes and the Bunnymen used to practise, as there was a full line-up – minus guitarist. I plugged in. They played the beginning of a tune and my guitar was just perfect: The Wild Swans sound was born. PB : Were you a big part of the Zoo scene or Eric's ( Famous former Liverpool nightclub where Joy Division, the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes all played early gigs-Ed) ? JK : Zoo signed The Wild Swans, meaning we were ripped off major time by them. None of us saw any royalties for 'The Revolutionary Spirit' or God 'Forbid', the two tracks we released with Zoo. Bill Drummond even got a share of our publishing, being the broker for our deal with Warner Publishing. Eric's was over by the time of The Wild Swans, but when I first met Paul we’d go down there. I had been going there alone since I was sixteen. None of my childhood friends were into music, but something drew me there. I still have my Eric's membership card from ’79. Despite everybody eulogising about that club, it was brilliant. I saw The Pop Group there and, of course Joy Division – the first gig on a Thursday night with 12 people watching. PB : Paul told me there is a whole album's worth of material from the early 80' s that you want released but Paul doesn't. Why do you think this is worth releasing? JK : Paul, Ged Quinn and I are in touch via email. We have decided it is a good idea to release a compilation of our early songs after all. It will be called 'Incandescent' and will be released on Delta Of Venus, our own label. PB : Did you get on with Paul's then flatmate Courtney Love? JK : I remember Courtney Love very well. I wrote the guitar part for 'Enchanted' whilst she and some others were sat around in a spare room – we’d been banished from the main living area as Courtney and her mate were considered ‘Bad Dogs’ and ‘Groupie Slappers’ by our older peers. I was happy to play for them. PB : Why did the Wild Swans split? JK : We’d been offered a deal and I was working in a factory, anxious to escape. Paul couldn’t seem to make up his mind what to do (he was just exercising the caution that is most advisable for over 20 year olds). I was impatient and 19. PB : Paul claims that 'The First Picture of You' was a rip off of a Wild Swans track called 'Zimple the Iron Bed' with rearranged melodies? JK : Er, I don’t know of a track called 'Zimple'. There may be some similarities between the keyboard and guitar parts of 'First Picture Of You' and a Wild Swans song, but we weren’t aware of it at the time: Ged and I had developed that sound and had played in both bands. PB : Do you think 'No Sense of Sin' stands the test of time? why didnt you remaster it from a vinyl copy? JK : Yes, I think most of the songs on 'No Sense of Sin' do stand the test of time, especially the bits with acoustic guitar and strings. We remastered from ¼” tapes, not vinyl, as the quality was better. PB : I saw the Lotus Eaters in '85 at the London Marquee. You had a session backing vocalist who was billed as Tom Jones who became Thomas Lang. How did he come aboard? JK : I had left The Lotus Eaters by 1985 and was mightily pissed off that Peter carried on gigging for a few months, but I understand why he did that now. Thomas Lang would never have been invited in to prance around with his arms akimbo in The Lotus Eaters had I had anything to do with it – he was just a cabaret singer looking for a break. PB : The Lotus Eaters at one point also featured Michael Dempsey. How long was a member ? I believe the split was quite bitter. How did you and Peter get back together ? JK : Michael Dempsey left the band around the same time as I did and Peter got in the local session musos. He wouldn’t have been part of the line up you saw at the Marquee. Peter and I started working together again in the late 90s and it felt right. We have released our new album, 'Silentspace', on Vinyl Japan. PB : Any future plans for the Lotus Eaters ? JK : Of course! We played in Paris recently, which was very exciting as it was on a boat called Batofar moored on the Seine. People loved that gig and had waited 17 years for the doors to open. We have recorded another album, just Peter's voice and my acoustic guitar. Stephen Emmer, a former keyboard player and string arranger is going to add string arrangements to it – it’s really exciting stuff and the songs are the best yet. The Lotus Eaters will grow, but it may take some time. The important thing is that we’re writing really good songs and have found our sound again. PB : I believe you have another musical project. Could you tell us about it ? JK : Michael Dempsey and I are working on an album and looking for French female singers. Do you know any? It’s inspired by cinemas and film music – music to make the spirit soar and get you thinking of scripts for Art house movies. PB : After you left the Lotus Eaters you were in the Lovers and you also appear on Tom's new album. Did you enjoy that experience ? JK : Tom is one of my best friends and a true, albeit suffering, artist. He has a big voice and a big heart, so how could I not enjoy writing songs with him? I have a theory, though, about how to make it. It is hard to define, but you need to have the right attitude, one that is a little disinterested in the whole thing, and you need to hone your style, you know, develop a signature that is entirely your own. Peter Coyle has his own signature, so do I, and that’s why it works for us. Tom has the unique sound of his voice and I believe he’s found his signature with his new album. PB : Are you still on speaking terms with Paul Simpson now and do you think you will be painted well in his forthcoming biography ? JK : Paul has always been a role model for me and I always wanted to be his best friend. I was only sixteen when we first started working together and he was, and is , a really cool dude. I think there’s competition between us, though, and that we’ve both moved on. I am also a writer, but of plays, not autobiography. I earn a keep researching Theatre theory and lecturing at The University of Reading, where I’m doing a Phd. PB : Thank you. JS : Thank you

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Lotus Eaters - Interview with Jem Kelly

Lotus Eaters - Interview with Jem Kelly

Lotus Eaters - Interview with Jem Kelly

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Interview Part 3 (2010)
Lotus Eaters - Interview Part 3
In the third and final part of his interview with 80's new wave act the Lotus Eaters, Anthony Strutt speaks to them about their reformation in the mid 90s and plans for the future
Interview Part 2 (2010)
Interview Part 1 (2010)

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