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Oldfield Youth Club - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 8 / 2018

Oldfield Youth Club - Interview


Simon Rivers, the front man with the Bitter Springs, talks to John Clarkson about his decision to form also another band Oldfield Youth Club, and both groups’ forthcoming appearance at the Pennyblackmusic 20th Anniversary gig at the Water Rats in London.

In 1984 vocalist and guitarist Simon Rivers formed what would become the definitive line-up of his then band Last Party with his girlfriend Kim Ashford (keyboards) and former school friends Daniel Ashkenazy (bass) and Neil Palmer (drums). Rivers had played and sung in groups in and around the far West London suburb of Teddington, where he was raised and still lives, since the late 1970s and when he was in his mid-teens. Last Party, which Rivers had first founded in 1982, and its predecessor No Trains at the Bay had featured at different points Ashkenazy, Palmer and latterly Ashford, but this was the first time all four musicians had collaborated with each other. This line-up of Last Party would stay together for ten years until 1994, and record two vinyl only LPs, ‘Porky’s Range’ (1986) and ‘Love Handles’ (1990), as well as several singles and also play a John Peel Session in 1989. It finally began to dissolve when Ashford left to have a baby, her and Rivers’ son. After Ashford left, the trio of Rivers, Ashkenazy and Palmer carried on using the moniker of Last Party for another year until 1995, before changing their name to the Bitter Springs. The Bitter Springs have now released eight studio albums, ‘From the Parish of Arthritis’ (1997), ‘Five Die Filming This Lazy Lark’ (1998), ‘Benny Hill’s Wardrobe’ (1999), ‘The Best Bakers on the Island’ (2000), ‘Suburban Crimes of Every Happiness’ (2001), ‘That Sentimental Slush’ (2006), double album ‘Everyone’s Cup of Tea’ (2013) and ‘Cuttlefish & Love’s Remains’ (2015). Their music has incorporated over the last two decades a range of styles including elements of punk, folk, vaudeville, country and jazz, while Rivers, with his socially conscious, often offbeat and darkly humorous lyrics, has proved time and time again to be an astute annalist of contemporary life. Neil Palmer stayed with the Bitter Springs until 1998 and Daniel Ashkenazy until 2011. The Bitter Springs currently consists as well, as Rivers (vocals and guitar), of Mark Humphrey (bass and vocals), Paul McGrath (drums and vocals) and Vic Godard (keyboards and vocals). ‘The Odd Shower’, its ninth album, will come out later this year. The front man with the Subway Sect and a solo artist, Vic Godard is like Rivers a postman and has also released several albums. Now, alongside the Bitter Springs, Simon Rivers has formed a new band, Oldfield Youth Club which features, alongside Rivers on vocals and guitar, Kim Ashford on vocals and bass and Neil Palmer back on drums. Both the Bitter Springs and Oldfield Youth Club will be playing Pennyblackmusic ‘s 20th Anniversary gig at legendary King’s Cross club Water Rats in London on the 15th September. For Oldfield Youth Club, it will be their third show and debut central London show, after previously playing a one-day mini- festival with the Bitter Springs also on the bill in May in Middlesborough and their own headline gig at the Royal Oak in Hampton, the neighbouring suburb to Teddington, in July. In what is our fifth interview with Simon Rivers, we began by asking, with the Bitter Springs still such a strong concern, why he has also decided to start up another band in Oldfield Youth Club. PB: You have fronted the Bitter Springs now since 1996 and Last Party for thirteen years before that. Why did you want to form another band with Oldfield Youth Club? What do you hope to achieve with Oldfield Youth Club that you can’t do already with the Bitter Springs, who are very eclectic? In what way is Oldfield Youth Club different to the Bitter Springs? SR: It was always meant to be me, Kim, Dan and Neil forever but, as they say, life is what happens while you’re making other plans, or something like that, and as the years have gone on Neil and Kim had both left, and then Dan also left. I slowly realised I was now on my own… I’ve been in a kind of mourning period since, as I found myself slowly becoming a stranger in my own band and, despite being great lads, I was unable to communicate with the rest of the band. Something had to give - and last year ‘Wizard’ (Paul Baker, keyboards, 1998- 2017) left as he was having hearing problems and, as a result, had no enthusiasm for playing live with the Springs anymore. Also, I’d promised Neil we would get together again to do music in some form about seven years ago, and it’s gradually evolved into O.Y.C . He wanted to drum again and came up with the name ‘Oldfield Youth Club’ which I loved, and just the name alone got loads of ideas forming in my mind. Independently of this Kim said she wanted to learn the bass, which I thought was brilliant. She wanted lessons but I managed to persuade her not to, and just let me show her the basics and she could take it from there, and now she’s great, a female Peter Hook… Tina Falmouth I call her (Talking Heads plus her love of Cornwall – nothing to do with having a Falmouth) …because of the three elements Neil, Kim and myself, it’s a new sound, shorter songs generally, although some will be long, and because I always sing and write the songs the essence is the same across all three groups. Someone said to me recently, ‘You should sing more on your records, Simon.’’ I said I do “…No, actually sing,” she said. I’m really enjoying singing with Kim now. PB: Oldfield Youth Club consists of three quarters of the line-up of Last Party. Do you see this group as the partial reformation of that band or something entirely different? SR: Yes, in a way it is and, like I said earlier, it was always meant to be us as friends, knowing and trusting each other musically and personally, and Neil had wanted Last Party to reform but, for reasons I won’t explain, that is impossible for the foreseeable future. PB: Why did you decide to call the group Oldfield Youth Club SR: ‘Oldfield Youth Club’ was where we went at the age of 15/16 for discos and whatever… we have two songs on the subject, ‘O.Y.C (We’re the)’ and ‘Theme from Oldfield Youth Club’. The former is a sort of manifesto come explanation of our origins and intentions – ‘We can say what we like and we can play what we like/I think we’ve earned the right...Have you?’ - and the latter is a song from our times at the youth club. We’ll probably call the LP ‘The Hanworth are Coming’, which refers to the neighbouring town coming down to fight on a disco night. As a footnote Hanworth now doesn’t have any pubs anymore, not one. We grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, a very different time to now. There wasn’t as much information and support for children then and, as kids, we were finding our own way in the world, educating ourselves, and often we’d come in to contact with all sorts of seemingly mad, evil people that only now, years later, you realise that they were probably being abused, or undiagnosed with mental illness and disorders of one sort or another. We have a line on the new Bitter Springs LP that relates to this matter (‘Keep the Rain’) - ‘There are just two types broken or deluded’. The corruption, abuse and gradual loss of youth’s hopefulness is a theme that runs through our first set of songs, which we hope to start recording early next year, and the irony of three fifty-five-year olds called Oldfield Youth Club appeals to me. The site where the youth club used to be is now a block of flats, which incidentally I deliver the mail to… and the name of my delivery is Oldfield Road. PB: If you look on your webpage at the set list for Oldfield Youth Club’s debut gig in May of this year in Middlesbrough, it includes tracks with names such as ‘No Talent Britain’ and ‘Terminal 5’. Your songs often have a broader and wider canvas than can be summed up in a song title. Are those songs just about TV talent shows and the proposed expansion at Heathrow airport which will be quite near to you in Teddington or is there more going on there? SR: That Middlesbrough show was great - what a welcome both the Springs and the O.Y.C. got and some brilliant bands played it... Pellethead, Shrug and Swine Tax to name just three and, of course, the Nightingales… Stephen Harland who put it all together deserves a lot of credit. ‘Britain’s Not Talent’ is the title of that song now, and those shows are more about stifling potential than nurturing it. I saw some asshole judge (he used to be in something called McFly) tell a ten year old kid he was ‘looking forward to seeing him develop as an artist.’ Leave these people alone, let them get on with their lives and maybe they’ll actually find something to sing about. I wrote ‘Terminal 5’ about ten years ago, and the title might not really seem to relate to the song, but after I wrote the words it was the image that popped in to my head and seems to fit it perfect. I’m sure New Order could explain good reasons behind all of their seemingly unconnected titles. As for more planes over Teddington, fuck right off. ‘Terminal 5’ could be five dying people, like a club, perhaps, or ‘5 Die Filming’ (Bitter Springs second album). PB: The Bitter Springs has as its current keyboardist Vic Godard for the “foreseeable future.” When you first played a gig promoted by Pennyblackmusic in the long-closed East London venue The Spitz in 2004 the Bitter Springs were playing as his backing band, which they did for quite a long time. Is this Vic simply returning the compliment after all these years? SR: We do seem to have been doing stuff with each other on and off since I got him to sing that duet (‘Boorman’s Son’) with me on the Springs first LP. The Springs have never really been Vic’s band. We’ve just helped out when he hasn’t had anything permanent and we have had the time to do it. I love singing on stuff with him as he’s got such great melody ideas. Now we have him on keyboards it’s great. He doesn’t really know what any of the notes are but he finds them by ear, as usual with Vic he’s very intuitive and nothing goes as planned. At our last rehearsal round his house he just baked cakes! Maybe you should do a piece on his record label Gnu Inc. - he’s building up quite a roster in Asbo Derek, Pellethead and himself of course. Oh and he released our ‘Addison Brothers’ EP on 7 inch in 1996 with individually painted B sides by Mandy Prowse and himself. That came about because the test pressings weren’t checked. Necessity is the mother and all that… PB: The Bitter Springs since 1999 have been playing in large line-ups with as many as six or seven people on stage, yet in recent times have been working as a four-piece with just yourself, Vic, your long-term drummer Paul McGrath and bassist Mark Humphrey. Why have you decided to return to a stripped back line-up after all this time? SR: As I mentioned earlier, Wizard wasn’t into it any more (mainly playing live) and Phil Martin our violin player from 2005 moved to Whitby (both have played on ‘The Odd Shower’ though). That’s when I thought I’d strip it down to just me, Paul, Vic and Mark on bass. Andy Deevey, who played bass for us after Dan left and Nick Brown who played guitar in the Springs from 2005 aren’t with us anymore either. Andy plays on ‘The Odd Shower’ and has made a solo album as well. We’re all still on good terms though and if we ever go big with the line up again… Who knows? Also, you need to think that no one gets paid in any of this. It’s more a case of turning your pockets out to pay for rehearsals. I’m no Mark E. Smith and have never sacked anyone. PB: You have got a set of songs with Oldfield Youth Club already, have been working for a long time on ‘The Odd Shower’ and have also been working on a solo album. How do you decide which song is going to which project? Do you write with a particular project in mind or is that something you decide upon once the lyrics and basic song is written? SR: It’s very easy now for me and Kim to practice as we live together, so the songs are coming thick and fast for the O.Y.C. I listened to hours of unreleased Last Party songs and have re-learned the best ones with Kim for use in O.Y. C. Some were quite hard to work out as we never really knew chords and notes when they were written. I did collect quite a few songs over the last couple of years with the Springs that, for one reason or another, I never took to the band, mainly down to my own lack of confidence and loss of communication skills. Saying that, since the latest Springs line up has settled, things are going great and we have just recorded the last song for ‘The Odd Shower’ LP called ‘The Living Bread’ and it sounds fantastic. I’m in the process of mixing the LP now. The solo LP was never finished due to technical fuck ups out of my control and was a big disappointment, but some of the songs have since surfaced ‘Words of Love’ and ‘Life Goes On Forever’ will be on ‘The Odd Shower’. ‘Peasants and Palace’ is available on our website now as a free download and I’m sure the others will come out eventually in some form. PB: What do you hope to release next? Will it be ‘The Odd Shower’ or some Oldfield Youth Club material? SR: Oldfield Youth Club will contribute ‘A Kind of Loving in a Loveless Town’ to Vic Godard’s Gnu Inc. Records compilation album as a way of getting something out there and letting people hear us before we record our album proper. Aside from that it’s almost certain to be ‘The Odd Shower. I’m toying with a ten track vinyl and a fifteen track CD. We’ve never made a vinyl album with the Bitter Springs and some of the artwork in the past would have made incredible gatefold sleeves. PB: Your last single ‘Love Rat’ came out last year. You’re going to be selling ‘Love Rat’ mugs in a specially limited edition of ten copies at the Water Rats gig. Is this the ultimate Bitter Springs’ collectors’ edition. They are available for pre-order which you can then pick up at the gig. How can you get hold of one? SR: Well, the mugs aren’t great (who wants to look at a dead rat when drinking their cuppa?) but they are incredibly collectable and we won’t make any more than these ten. They will all go at the Water Rats gig (even if I have to smash them on the pavement outside!) PB: What can we expect from both the Bitter Springs and Oldfield Youth Club at the Water Rats’ gig? SR: Well, the O.Y.C. have just been learning an old Last Party single so we might play that. Our headline show locally at the Royal Oak in Hampton went extremely well. We’ll preview songs which will be on our ‘The Hanworth Are Coming’ LP when we record it next year. Loads of passion, the occasional fuck up, tears and laughter. Me and Vic arguing over who has the worst vest on a couple of Vic tunes maybe, some ‘Odd Shower’ previews, never the same set twice. PB: Thank you. The Bitter Springs and Oldfield Youth Club will both play Pennyblackmusic’s 20th Anniversary gig with Idiot Son and Raf and O at the Water Rats in London on the 15th September. Tickets are £8 in advance and £10 on the door.

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Oldfield Youth Club - Interview

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Interview (2024)
Oldfield Youth Club - Interview
Bitter Springs frontman Simon Rivers speaks to John Clarkson about his latest project Oldfield Youth Club and their debut album, ‘The Hanworth Are Coming’.


A Kind of Loving in a Loveless Town (2019)
First-rate download single from Oldfield Youth Club, the new band of the Bitter Springs' Simon Rivers which finds him reunited with his old bandmates

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