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Sharks - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 23 / 8 / 2016

Sharks - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Steve Parsons abour the return of his band Sharks with a new album, 'Killers of the Deep' and first UK tour in forty-two years, and their plans to recreate their car, the Sharkmobile, with the aid of a Crowdfunding campaign

“If I am realistic, this will be Chris and I’s last great adventure together. I am 65. Chris is 72. The fun can’t last forever,” says Steve Parsons. “I am trying very hard to make this thing unique and different, and I think if we got the Sharkmobile back we would attract a lot of attention to it. It is a social media magnet having a terrific car like that.” Parsons is talking to PennyBlackMusic about the return of his early 1970’s band Sharks for a UK tour and the release of ‘Killers of the Deep’, their first album of new material in forty-two years. Central to this is Parsons and Sharks’ plan through a Crowdfunding campaign for £25,000 to recreate Sharks’ custom built band car, the Sharkmobile. Promoted as a supergroup, hard rock band Sharks were formed in 1972 by bassist Andy Fraser, who had recently left Free, and the much acclaimed session guitarist Chris Spedding. They were joined by drummer Marty Simon and the then 21 year old Parsons, who took the stage name of Snips, and quickly signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. An under-acknowledged influence on both the Sex Pistols and the Clash, Sharks’ own career was as brutal and short-lived as that of many of the bands in the punk movement. The original Sharkmobile was a Pontiac Le Mans, which Spedding who owned it had customized by fitting a fin to the roof and huge fibre glass shark-shaped teeth to the front grill. Days before the release of their debut album, ‘First Water’, in February 1973, the Sharkmobile was, however, destroyed when Spedding, driving back from a gig in Cleethorpes to London, skidded on an icy road and crashed it into a tree. It is symbolic that the reformed Sharks should want to resurrect the Sharkmobile, as the wreckage of the original car was the first in a series of misfortunes to hit the band which would lead to their eventual demise. Fraser, who did not get with the others and who had injured his wrist in the crash, left almost immediately afterwards. They replaced him with a new bassist, the Memphis-born Busta Cherry Jones, and a keyboardist, Nick Judd, but this line-up also suffered creative tensions. Sharks fell victims to unscrupulous management and received no royalties for their work. While both albums have since received much critical acclaim, neither ‘First Water’ nor its follow-up ‘Jab it in Yore Eye’ (1974) sold well. Although Sharks had toured America successfully with Mountain, Island dropped them just as they were nearing the completion of a third album, the John Entwhistle-produced ‘Music Breakout’, and they broke up shortly afterwards in October 1974. Parsons, who went on to carve out a successful career as a TV and film soundtrack composer, and Spedding, who is a much in-demand producer, session guitarist and the veteran of fourteen solo albums, have continued to work together. In the mid-1990s they briefly reunited Sharks for a one-off London gig and to re-record the songs from the unreleased ‘Music Breakout’ as a new album, ‘Like a Black Van Parked on a Dark Curve’ (1998). In more recent times they have formed another ‘Supergroup’ King Mob, which also featured the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock on bass and the Pretenders’ Martin Chambers on drums and who released a solitary album ‘Force 9’ in 2012. They have also since collaborated on another project Presence LDN and worked together on Spedding’s latest solo album, ‘Joyland’ (2015). With both Andy Fraser and Busta Cherry Jones having since died and Marty Simon unavailable, the current line-up of Sharks consists, as well as Parsons (vocals), Spedding (guitars) and Nick Judd back on keyboards, of Toshi Ogawa on bass and Paul Cook from the Professionals and the Sex Pistols on drums. A film documentary about Sharks, directed by Tim Pope who is best known for his work with the Cure, is also planned. Self-confessed “motormouth” Steve Parsons spoke about the return of his band. 1. The Campaign We are putting together a Crowdfunding campaign to try and get the car back, the legendary Sharkmobile. The original car, of course, was totalled when it hit a tree in 1973, but we are hoping to get a new one. I have had it priced by a company called Rock Stars Cars and they will make the item for us if we can get 25 grand. I have worked out a package of Crowdfunding material that we can give to people. We might just be able to do it. There will be all kinds of packages. We almost finished our third album which John Entwistle produced in 1974, but Island were being arsy about it so it never came out. John put together almost finished mixes of seven tracks, which I got hold of not that long ago. I was staggered by them and Chris was as well. They are really, really good and, given that it was 1974, they are quite futuristic. There are almost touches of Nirvana about them. We have re-mastered them, and we will have packages in both limited edition vinyl and CD and with a new cover of the Sharkmobile and the tree. We will also be offering other packages in which people can get rides in the Sharkmobile or hang out with us in the dressing room at gigs. You can also buy the car for 25K. We will need the car until the end of April, but it is yours after then if you want to buy it. 2. ‘The Return of the Japanese Shark Gods’ The director Tim Pope is mad keen to make our story into a film documentary. We had started filming it already but not with Tim. We have seen two previous directors come and go. I know Tim very well because back in the late 80s and early 90s I did the music for just about all of his TV commercials. I think the guy is an absolute genius. He really is a terrific, talented guy and he has got a treatment for the film involving a production company and the car. Tim had already titled the film ‘The Return of the Japanese Shark Gods’, and now we have been offered a gig in Japan in February. Strangely enough he wanted to shoot us in Japan already because he thought that would make a good film, and, now we have been offered this gig, we will probably end the documentary with us there. 3. ‘Killers of the Deep’ We have recorded a new album, which is excellent. We are all really pleased with it. It was originally going to be called ‘A Shiver of Sharks’’, but now we have finally settled on ‘Killers of the Deep’. It will be coming out on September 26th. I tend to go at things with a kind of abandon. It is just in my nature, but Spedding was very particular that it should sound like a Sharks album and was almost forensic how we should go about it. We have done a bunch of songs, two or three which are from back in the day. There is a tune called ‘Music Breakout’ which is from those John Entwistle tapes. It was originally slow and moody, and then Chris had recorded live it at one point in a kind of punked-up version. We have come up with something somewhere between the two, and there are a couple of other riffed-based pieces also from that era that we have reworked and re-lyriced. There are some things as well from a weird offshoot thing that Chris and I did called Presence LDN. We tried to hide that it was us just to see what would happen. There can be problems with being as heritage band, and interestingly enough the most airplay I have had during the last couple of years was with Presence LDN. We had airplay on Radio 2 and Absolute Radio because they didn’t know who it was. Some of Presence LDN’s tunes have gone on it, and there are also some new pieces that I have written as well. We have recorded old school and on analogue using live tapes. 'Force 9', the King Mob album, was recorded in four days, but that was because I was in charge (Laughs). I had to get used to doing things fast when I was a composer for film and TV, and with King Mob, I was like, “Let’s get the fucking job done. You have got half an hour to get the guitars done, Spedding. That’s it. You’re finished.” I just bossed them about really. I couldn’t do that with Sharks though. It was much more collaborative with Chris. Chris’s ears are unbelievable. He can hear tuning and things that I don’t. Chris has got very, very exact about the making of music. It took a week of recording, followed by five or six days of overdubs, not many of which stayed. It is classic Sharks really in that we do loads of stuff and then go, “No, actually, we don’t want it.” We just ended up using a few bits, and then the mixing took quite a while. We weren’t happy with the guy who was mixing it originally, so we found a young guy, who is twenty-five and quite brilliant, and Chris and I shared duties with him on that. The mixing went on for about three weeks. At the end I had to stop Spedding because we would have still been there now (Laughs). 4. The Reformation I have said elsewhere that Sharks reforming was both surprising and inevitable. It is surprising because if you look at what Chris and I have done over the years neither of us are look back guys. Sharks finishes, and Chris goes off and does ‘Motor Bikin’ (Spedding has a Top 20 single with this in 1975 – UK) , and I go off and join Ginger Baker in the Baker Gurvitz Airforce. Then I go solo for a while, and he carries on soloing and working as a session musician. Then I go off and do film and TV music. To be quite honest, people like Tim Pope didn’t even know that I had been in rock bands. He thought that I was just a working composer on TV. The moment Chris and I first started thinking about Sharks was when he and I did ‘Joyland’, his last solo album. Andy Fraser came down to Brighton and Chris’s place where we recording it and agreed to put a bass part on a track called ‘Shock Treatment’, which could have been a Sharks song. It was something that Chris and I wrote together shortly after Sharks had finished and then when Andy put the bass part on that both of us went, “Yeah, Sharks” (Laughs).” I live just down the coast from Chris now in Lewes, and we started doing some local dates just for fun, and drew in some Sharks things. We enjoyed it. Then Andy died suddenly and we were asked if we would do a tribute thing and then we did that and it evolved from there, even though it only involved a pick-up rhythm section. Chris and I have done a lot of work together over the last five or six years. We did the King Mob album, and then there was Presence LDN and I also produced ‘Joyland’. We also did a set last December at a Free convention. Chris and I went and played some Sharks songs, had a chat when we were there and decided then to bow to the inevitable. The surprise is that it is probably the first time both of us in our whole career has probably looked back at anything. I see us as being both a heritage band and not a heritage band. Yeah, we are a heritage band, but we are not a heritage band that was a success and we are not a heritage band that has played that material for years and years and got sick of it. To us playing the classic Sharks stuff like ‘Sophistication’ is quite liberating because they sound new to us rather than having been hammered away at over the years. If I was Ozzy Osbourne, I wouldn’t want to sing ‘Paranoid’ again. 5. The Original Sharks I have done all of the archiving and all the setting up for the film. I have had to draw the story out for the film people and form it into a narrative. When you look back at it, it was a very weird constellation of events, and I see now why various things happened. What you had with Sharks was outer adversity. We were not looked after properly. Our first manager was Chris Blackwell. He was a lovely man and a great record guy, but for Sharks it was a complete disaster. He was based in Jamaica for most of the time he was managing us, and no one was looking after us at the hub. All of this talent fell into Island's laps. They wanted Andy Fraser back, as Free had also been signed to Island, but they did not give us a lot of money. They spent and wasted quite a lot of money on the band, but we didn’t get a lot of money ourselves. We didn’t get paid any royalties, and Chris paid off Sharks’ debt with some of the money from ‘Motor Bikin’. That was the deal Mickie Most, who produced ‘Motor Bikin’, had to strike for him. Chris gave up a percentage of ‘Motor Bikin’ for a couple of years to pay off what was supposed to be Sharks’ debt, except I have since found out that Blackwell had sold off our American rights to MCA in perpetuity. Now if you look at that back in the day in 1973 and take into account the fact that we were supposed to be a supergroup, you can bet that MCA paid a lot of money to have Sharks but that never showed up on our money at all. In other words Blackwell and Island would have profited from Sharks without us making a penny. The fact that we had an American record company was the reason why Island turned down the third album. The only territory we had any chance of breaking in - and actually had a really good chance of breaking in – was America. Island wouldn’t have profited from us because they didn’t have the American rights. There was a lot of greediness at home as well from our different managers as well. We must have wasted a fortune in the studios. They must have just thought that we would potentially be a goldmine and the next Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin, however, was a wonderfully run thing and Jimmy Page knew what he was doing, both business wise and money wise. He knew that they had to hit the ground running and make that first album electrifying, even though the press and a lot of music fans initially hated it. We weren’t that kind of band. Chris will be first to admit that he has never been a good businessman. He didn’t have much of a clue about that sort of thing. I was a kid and, although I had a few ideas, nobody listened to them. Andy was in a very peculiar space and didn’t really know what he wanted. He was full of contradictions. Part of that was re-signing with Island. He had been very unhappy with what they had done with Free and why he re-signed and encouraged both of us to sign with them I don’t know. What you had initially was four very talented people that were feeling their way into being a band. By the time you get to the second line-up and particularly after ‘Jab in Your Eye’ was recorded all of a sudden for some strange reason it clicked. Everything came together, and we knew it. We knew that we were the business. When we did the American tour, we didn’t just look and sound like the business but felt like it too which I think is equally important. It was, however, at that point two years too late. It should have been like that from the start (Laughs), so, yeah, an actual car crash and a metaphorical car crash. There were drugs, silly clothes, groupies as well, and, of course, a dodgy record deal. It was very weird. Now that I look at it, it makes a great narrative for a movie. Trying to relive it has been very, very odd. 6. The New Line-Up Toshi was in a band called Snakes of Gravity. He has been a jobbing bass player as well for various punk and heavy metal projects. He is completely different from Andy and Busta, but he is rock solid. His tempo and his timing is excellent. He is very thoughtful and he is a bass player that plays through a note if that makes sense. He is right on it. He is like a machine, which I think Chris found a bit hard to deal with at first. I don’t think that he has played with anyone like that before but now he likes it. Toshi has a distinctive tone, a distinctive attack and like Andy and Busta a distinctive look, so for me there wasn’t much of a choice. He has been my preferred choice of a bass player for four or five years. In our choice of Paul Cook, the things that we looked at are not what people thought. People go, “Oh, you have a Sex Pistol in the band.” It is the second time that we have had a Sex Pistol in the band and, believe me, it is not that great. The Sex Pistols are the most abused band ever. They did not make their legend right. They are up there with Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, except they only made one album. They don’t get any money out of the advertising. They never made any money out of merchandising. They never made any money out of concert dates. They have that stature without actually being that thing. I had to fire one of the directors from this movie because she went stupid about the Sex Pistols and wanted to make a film about that time. It is a great narrative but other people have done it before and will continue to do so. In other words if you are not careful, then it just draws attention to all of that. It turns out that we were quite an influence on the punks. Mick Jones is on record as saying that Sharks were his favourite band of 1974. Steve Jones has said that he used to bunk off school to watch us rehearse. Johnny Rotten used to come and see us. I have found out Topper Headon saw the band, but for years no one would say so. We didn't have quite the musical chaos of those bands but we did have that really aggressive attitude. I didn’t have a problem with punk and nor did Chris as he obviously produced the Sex Pistols demos. They were to us another valid branch of rock and roll, another way to do this, and we played a part in that without ever getting any credit for it. I have known Paul for a long time and have always thought that he was a smashing bloke. He was discussed for King Mob, but if you have a Pistols rhythm section it is all anyone wants to talk about. Now you have got a band that is the Sex Pistols and I am supposed to be Johnny Rotten. It all gets very weird. In the end he is a fabulous drummer. He is also not a person to be under-estimated in the studio either. He is very forthright, made arrangement changes, contributed backing vocals, suggested bits and pieces and asked Chris to do various things. He is quite a forceful guy and a great guy to have in the studio. I am looking forward to playing live with him. The set list for the eight UK shows that we have booked in September is already written. It will be about 50 percent old material and 50 percent new material. I don’t think that anyone will be disappointed. The favourites will be done. We are even going to do ‘Revolutions of the Heart’. God knows how. I haven’t sung that song in a long time and I don’t know how we will go about it. We have road tested already a lot of the old stuff, such as ‘Cocaine Blues’, ‘Perfect Days’, which is off the third album, and ‘Sophistication’, and will take what best fits amongst the new material to put amongst the old material to make for an entertaining hour and ten minutes. The plan was and still is can we make this viable? We won’t come out of the eight dates with much money. The whole point of them and all of this is to see how much traction we can get, how much mention we can get, how we can reach people. Are the gigs good? Is the album well-received? I am really trying to throw as much as possible at people and if we can get a Sharks car to drive about in that will give us a huge promotional tool. It is really about building everything up so that we can make a good fist of things in September with both the tour and the album, so by the time that we get to October we can carry on for longer. We are realistic and we are not looking to making a fortune at it, but it has got to be financially viable. We are really trying to cram everything we can into the Crowdfunding campaign, so that we might get another tour happening and radio play. We would hope that leads us to a second burst of activity in January and lead us to doing some festivals next summer and the kind of stuff that I think that we should be doing. The Crowdfunding campaign can be found at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-return-of-the-sharks

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